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One of the first things I said when I woke up that morning was, “Ya know, it’s amazing that I’m thirty-six years old and I’ve never broken a bone.” You’d think, being a writer who knows a little something about foreshadowing, I’d know better than to tempt the cruel hands of fate. Alas, I did not, and I was at that time what people in the real world refer to as a horse’s ass. Which brings me to my wife’s birthday.

To celebrate Becky’s most recent trip around the sun, I had leased some horses from a lovely firecracker of a woman named Jane just outside of Kernville, California where my parents have a little place on the river. Becky is an accomplished rider with cardboard boxes — yes, boxes plural — filled with ribbons and trophies from competition horseback riding. As a girl she went to horse camp and wrote her parents a spirited letter, which included this exact quote: “They even let us muck the stalls!” If you’re not a horse person, here is the rough translation of that quote: “Lucky day! There is a god, for we get to clean up horse shit!” So, yeah, my wife knows her way around the corral.

If you don’t know my wife that well, this little story makes no sense at all while at the same time making perfect sense. It makes no sense because Becky’s a girly girl, a former Miss Orange County with a closet full of pink and yellow who is fond of reminding me to be gentle with her because she “bruises easy like a peach,” her words not mine. It makes perfect sense because she’s a walking, talking smile. She wakes up with sunlight shining out of her butt, and it’s rare that you hear anyone say anything negative about her unless it’s to criticize her enthusiasm and happiness as phony, claims which are nearly always repealed once the criticizers realize that, yes, there really are people this lovely in the world. So, ya see, Becky is the kind of person who can even see the bright side of a stall full of horse shit.

That morning, I drove her, our kids, and my mom about twenty miles outside of Kernville to this Jane woman’s house, which is an area I have recorded in my journal as an apt place to bury a body should I ever find myself in a Quentin Tarantino type situation. Still, Jane’s ranch was charming in a knick-knack sort of way. Flooding the yard were antiques and tuffs of fur from a barn cat so big, it seemed that its diet included other cats.

Jane greeted us and immediately set to saddling our horses and pairing us up. She was not much taller than five feet, but her horses obeyed her commands as if she were an eight-foot ogre who had an under-the-table deal with a glue factory. She outfitted my kids, Charlee and Sam, with helmets and plopped each of them onto their own saddled colts.  She then offered Becky and me helmets. Becky declined because she’s a pro, and I declined because I’m a moron. She put Becky on a horse, the more wild of the two since Becky knew what she was doing (at least I assumed so based on Becky’s box of ribbons and trophies, I’d never actually seen her ride) and she put me on a large, 1,200-pound horse called Fingers, Fingers because this horse was so reliable you could count on him.

My mom snapped some pics of all of us, and then she bid us adieu as Jane led us out into the wilderness for our ride to “a plateau where we could give it some gas.” This was no corporate operation. These weren’t the kinds of horses who stuck to the trail because they walked the same pathetic loop thirteen times a day while tourists snapped saddle selfies. These horses knew no routine. If you wanted them to turn, you had to turn them. If you wanted them to stop or go, you had to make them stop or go.

And Fingers, to be fair, knew what he was doing. If I squeezed my left leg, he turned right; if I squeezed my right leg, he turned left. A gentle tug on the reins brought him to a stop. A quick but gentle kick and he took off. He was a living, breathing, 1,200-pound remote control.

Our ride to the plateau took us through a dried river bed — soft sand, Joshua trees, and the occasional cactus patch. We had been at it an hour when Jane led us up the bank of the dried river bed. A pot-holed road that looked as if it was paved during The New Deal cut into the bank about halfway up. Jane rode up first, followed by Becky and the kids, with me bringing up the rear. Fingers’ hooves klip-klopped over the 100-year-old asphalt and then he took a quick gallop up the last part of the bank. And this is where it went bad.

Like Christopher Reeves bad.

Fingers’ front hooves suddenly sank into the dirt up to his knees. I can’t be sure, but I think he stepped into a rabbit hole. As we went up the bank, we were at an angle, and I was leaning forward to compensate, but when he sank, I pitched forward and my chest thumped Fingers in the back of the head.

This was when Fingers lost his grip on reality.

He began to buck.

On a hill.

With me on his back.

I respected horses before this, but what happened next pushed the boundaries of my respect. I managed to stay on for two bucks, all the while hearing Jane curse Fingers to steady himself. On the third buck, though, the 1,200-pound beast sent all 220-ish pounds of me airborne. Given that I was about eight feet tall in the saddle, and that we were on an inclined bank, and that Fingers was jumping, I fell from about ten feet up. We were in the soft, dried river bed for ninety-nine percent of the ride, but because I tempted the cruel hands of fate (about never having broken a bone), it made sense that I made my glorious, helmet-less dismount onto the asphalt.

I came to about two minutes later (though it would take the better part of the day for Becky to convince me that I was actually knocked out). When I staggered to my feet, this is what I did and did not see.

  • I saw double.
  • I did not see Jane. She went after Fingers who had galloped away after bucking me, and Jane figured they would need the horse to haul my dead carcass back to her house as we were out of cell phone range and everyone thought I was dead. Seriously. Which I guess is what you would think when a grown man gets thrown onto his head and doesn’t move for a few minutes.
  • I saw Charlee. She stood up on the bank, her face pale and eyes wide.She was the only one who saw what had happened. She saw Fingers Buck. She saw me struggle to stay in the saddle. She saw me fail. She saw me airborne. And she saw me collide with the asphalt. As soon as she heard me speak, the tears came. I’m hoping that she cried out of relief and not out of disappointment, like, “Damn, the old man’s alive. I guess I will have to clean my room when we get home.”
  • I did not see reason. I kept trying to tell everyone, “I’m fine, I’m fine. No big deal. Everyone calm down.” This was, of course, shock. And because I could not see reason, Becky introduced it to me by saying, “You’re not fine! Look at your arm!” Which was clearly broken, the distal head of my radial bone swollen like a grapefruit and slightly cocked at an angle.
  • I saw Sam. He was cucumber-cool, made anxious only by the fact that someone had promised to let him play iPhone games after the ride, and as far as he was concerned the ride was now over (and in case you missed my story about Children, Smart Phones and Murder, click here).

Finally, and I’m not going to bullet this since it deserves its own space, I saw this: my walking, talking smile of a wife on her horse. She was holding the lead ropes of Charlee and Sam’s colts, and all three of the horses — hers and the two she was leading — were spooked and kicking. This means that while I was laying lifeless on the asphalt, Becky had managed to dismount her bucking horse, get the kids safely off their horses, and then get back on her still-spooked horse so that she could keep them a safe distance from our kids, all the while thinking her husband had just been killed during what was supposed to be a lovely birthday present for her. I didn’t just see Becky. I saw a Becky I had never seen before, and it was the kind of sight that took the sting out of having to walk back two miles to Jane’s ranch with a broken arm.

Obviously, this ordeal wasn’t Christopher Reeves bad. In fact, of all the nightmare scenarios, this was probably the best. No concussion or permanent injury— just some cuts and bruises, a broken arm, and plenty of time to reflect on all I have to be grateful for as a result of this story.

And you might be thinking this was a man versus beast story in which the man clearly and hilariously lost. But it’s not. At least not the way I see it. The way I see it is that it was a boy meets girl story. You might be confused by this, so let me explain. I love being married. More specifically, I love being married to my wife. Occasionally, you hear people complaining about marriage, the cliche about how you’re stuck with the same person, the same old routine of microwaved dinners and boxed wine, and blah, blah, blah. I suppose that’s true. Unless you do what I did. I married a woman who won a crown as a beauty queen one day; coached a new mother through natural childbirth the next; and most recently proved that she is every bit as capable as Clint Eastwood or John Wayne or most rodeo cowboys. And that’s the routine of this marriage. Every day I wake up next to my wife, I’m waking up to meet a new girl, one far better, far more interesting, far more lovely than the one I fell asleep with the night before.

Of course, some of you might criticize that penultimate paragraph for being a little sappy, a little schmaltzy, saccharine even, but I’ve seen my wife handle a bucking bronco — a bucking bronco and two colts, actually — and I’ll do whatever it takes to stay on her good side. She may be the only person who can keep me in line.

Thanks for reading! Don’t forget to subscribe if you haven’t — just enter your email in the box near the bottom of the left side of this page — and share on Facebook, Twitter, email, all that stuff. If you don’t, my wife will probably handle you the same way she handles horses.

 

 

 

 

 

A couple of weeks ago I posted a children’s story about a firefly named Barnaby who can’t light up his butt, which you can read here. Well, I’m currently working with a talented illustrator named Ana-Gabriela Stroe to fire up Barnaby’s light, as it were. I’ll be going to press soon enough, but in the mean time, I thought I’d share one of the early concept images with you all. I’d love to hear what you think. Enjoy!

 

barnaby

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve had a many peculiar writing jobs. I’ve written corporate videos and technical manuals. I’ve written wedding toasts, wedding vows, and wedding ceremonies. I’ve written TV commercials for small and large markets (one for a Texas-based Ford dealership, the theme of which was Texan pride, and having never been there — Austin doesn’t really count, or so I’m told — I haven’t a lick of Texan pride, which you can probably tell from the way I just used the word “lick”). I’ve written ad copy and web content. I’ve written Powerpoint slides for an Orange County charity. I’ve even written jokes for a top-10 American-Idol-contestant-turned-standup.

Last week, though, I was asked to write for a venue for which I had never been asked before.

A funeral.

A funeral? you ask in disbelief.

Yes. A mother-grabbin’ funeral.

Now, this begs a lot of questions. Like, a lot of questions. Like, so many questions. But before I list and address some of these, let me just say that I felt honored and humbled to have been asked to write for what I imagine would be a meaningful and significant moment for so many. That someone would think I have the talent and character to put together words that could adequately address the emotional earthquake that is death softens even my rocky heart, and even now as I type this, I swell with gratitude. Okay, now that I’ve offered some semblance of respect for the dead and grieving, let’s talk about these questions.

First question: Why me? Well, like I mentioned, I’ve written wedding ceremonies, and actually, I’ve officiated the ceremonies, too. And you might be surprised to learn that I have a pretty solid batting average, much higher than the national average and it’ll stay as such as long as my cousin Brian doesn’t blow it. I keep the ceremonies light, short, and religion-free, so I suppose the jump from wedding ceremony to funeral isn’t exactly an Evel Knievel feat. And I have heard many people describe marriage as the end of life (Not me, Buster Brown! I love my wife), so maybe there’s more in common with matrimony and death from some people’s point of view.

Second question: No, seriously! Why me?! My wife will tell you I’m missing a sensitivity chip; though a therapist once contradicted her, arguing that it’s not that I’m insensitive but rather that I have a penis. Still, I’d probably agree with my wife. Case in point: I coached Little League this year (stories for another time) and at opening ceremonies, they wheeled the mayor of Lake Forest out to throw the first pitch. They literally wheeled him out because he was in a wheel chair, and I’m probably the only one who was hoping he’d tip over on the mound because, hell, it would make for a much better story than him lobbing a meatball across the plate. Again, probably not the kind of energy you want to bring into a room of the bereaved.

Third question: What the hell would I say? As a writer, it’s typically my job to say what others can’t or, in my case, what they won’t. Irreverence is really at the core of the authentic me. I’ve been hired many times to write ad campaigns for companies that want something edgy and irreverent, something with the potential to go viral. Asking for my drop-the-hammer irreverence is like asking Gary Busey to show you what he can do to three pounds of cocaine. You’re probably going to be sorry that you asked. Not that anyone asked me to perform an irreverent funeral (but talk about a great opportunity!). They asked me to perform a modest celebration-of-life-style funeral, and that seems like one of those moments that would bring out the authentic me. I’ve done a lot of soul-searching in my time, and I’ve found that I’m consistent when it comes to being in awkward situations. If I feel awkward — usually an unbearable round of small talk will do it — I will say or do something more awkward to put a period on the whole situation. That said, funerals are by nature awkward, so what I say or do would probably not be the most tender of things said or done. I’m just spitballin’ here, but I’d likely work this language somewhere into the service: “Well, this guy’s dead. Who’s next? No reason a funeral can’t be grounds for a little friendly competition. Take a look around, size up your neighbor, and let’s put together a pool. Winner take all ’cause the dead can’t take it with them.”

Fourth question: Do I absolutely have to be appropriate? This is a deal breaker. In fact, this is how I know I have a great marriage, a wife who really gets me. I no longer have to ask her whether or not I have to be on good behavior when we go to soccer games or children’s christenings or cocktail parties at the governor’s mansion. She accepts me for who I am and expects me to have fun the way I like to have fun. On this note, if you haven’t challenged a nun to a game of beer pong or an amputee to a game of leg wrestling, well, your soul is not as full as mine.

Fifth question: How inappropriate can I be? Would a top 10 list of “Things You Wished You Had Said to the Dearly Departed But Didn’t” be over the line? Because that would probably be my opener.

Sixth question: How do you end it? I mean, the main event’s already kinda happened.

Seventh question:Will I have to take pictures? If so, I’ll have to charge extra, a sort of deathly shipping and handling fee.

Eighth question:If I do have to take pictures, can the corpse be in them? And if so, can we pose his body in funny positions? *Side Note: If any producers are reading this and want to do a Weekend at Bernie’s reboot, I’m your man.

Ninth question: Will there be alcohol? If so, when? This is another deal breaker. There should be alcohol.  There should be two hearses — one for the body, one for the kegs.

Tenth question: Is there a bonus in the event that my words resurrect the dead? If so, I’d probably spend the better part of my Sundays with my nose stuck in books bound in human flesh and emblazoned with pentagrams. I believe lawyers refer to this as researching legal precedents.

Eleventh question: Is there a bigger opportunity here? My wife works as a doula, ushering new souls into the world. Perhaps I can be the one to usher them out. We’ll be like Costco, taking care of folks from their diapers to their caskets.

Typically, so many questions in concert with that stomach-dropping feeling, which this proposition aroused, signal a writing opportunity that should not be passed over. And I wanted to take it, if for no other reason than to pad my resume. Unfortunately, the stars did not align, and I was unable to take the job for practical reasons, which may or may not have involved some of the the demands I was making in the contract. It was a sad moment, a missed opportunity to be sure. I am, however, an optimist. There will be other occasions such as this one. More people will croak. I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life.

Thanks for reading! Don’t forget to subscribe and share on Facebook, Twitter, email, all that stuff. First person to share on Facebook gets a eulogy excerpt — just a taste — posted to their page. Memento mori, mother grabbers!

You can broadly chart the development of children in terms of their relationships to smartphones. To wit:

Birth-2-years-old: Kids are subjects of pictures, videos, and Facebook posts, the majority of which are managed by smartphones.

2-3-years-old: Kids are pacified by Talking Tom or a similar app that utilizes The Three Stooges approach to comedy.

3-4-years-old: Kids beg to play Angry Birds, Plants vs. Zombies, and a slew of other games that inundate the app store. These games are weird at best, allowing kids to run a pet shop in which the animals become agitated if you don’t bathe them quickly enough or to fill virtual cavities (seriously, what kind of sociopath-in-training daydreams about dentistry?); and at worse, the games are the kind of fare you’d expect to find in those creepy Japanese airport vending machines that sell used women’s panties.

4-5-years-old: Same as above, but substitute “demand” for “beg.”

5-7-years-old: Kids test the Santa Clause premise, and when you insist that neither Santa nor his elves have the workshop capacity to make iPhones, you can hear their bullshit detectors go ding-ding-ding-ding. And when you try to make the comparison between Santa and the kids’ grandparents who struggle with cell phones the way dogs struggle with the concept of the doorknob, it may or may not buy you another year.

Charlee, my seven-year-old, has been asking for her own iphone, and I’m more inclined to pay for her to get a teardrop tattoo than I am to give her access to the technological equivalent of Walter White’s Blue Sky. Phones are, of course, the modern day pacifier, and it seems that we parents are fighting a losing battle. I suppose I’ll give in soon enough, but for now I’m going to fight the good fight and show my daughter doomsday articles about the links between cell phones and cancer. Sure, I will have to explain cancer to her (or just let her watch the film “Stepmom,” which is a win-win since I won’t have to be the one to watch it with my wife) but sometimes, as I often try to convince myself, uncomfortable conversations are worth the emotional trauma.

And sometimes my kids will just go around me. Case in point: Last week I went to fetch the kids from the neighbor’s house — it was time for dinner, which is the fancy term we use for Costco Chicken Dinos. I knocked on the door and was quickly greeted by Charlee and Sam, the two neighbor kids, and the neighbor kids’ mom. The kids and the mom are nice enough, but we know them only casually, and it seems that each time we’re around them, something awkward happens. For instance, Charlee has regaled them with stories of daddy brewing beer in the bath tub;  Sam has bragged about his ever-evolving penis tricks; and so it goes. This time was no different.

The door whisked open and the first thing said comes from Charlee, and it is this: “Daddy, why does Siri think you’re a son of a bitch?”

Her tone was matter-of-fact. Clearly, she doesn’t know that son of a bitch is generally regarded as a PG-13 term. She has used the same tone when talking about a girl on her soccer team: “She’s gonna be pissed, really pissed, but I’m gonna have to tell her she needs to pass the ball.” Or when she and Sam discussed the correct pronunciation of the big daddy of profanity — Sam thought it was pronounced fock, which is how he heard it when Becky screamed it on one of those days that include one too many hours with the kids and too few glasses of coffee and/or wine (days that we all have, am I right?) but Charlee knew it was fuck since she’s been around a little longer and knows her shit. By the way, she learned that word from her grandma (or Anya as some of you might know her) which you can read about here.

After Charlee asked why Siri, that busybody hussy, thought I was a son of a bitch, I looked up and saw the neighbor’s mom, smiling, her face taut and rigid, clearly employing every facial faculty she possessed to keep up some semblance of neighborly decorum. I muttered something in an attempt to diffuse the tension. I think I remember not laughing but actually saying “Ha… Ha… Ha…” and then muttering something incoherent that included the words kids, alcohol, precocious, and, in the final Hail Mary moment, something about divine forgiveness.

It turned out that Charlee had found my old iphone in the garage. She charged it up and took it to the neighbor’s house where the kids decided to do some Siri Q&A. They quickly discovered that Siri knew my name to be “You Son of a Bitch,” which Becky had programmed into my phone a few years prior after I beat her in a game on the Wii.

I have a hard enough time convincing my kids that I know what I’m doing as a father and as a husband; I don’t need an ornery, vindictive, stupid smartphone to make that job any harder, thank you very much. So I might have to murder Siri, bury her digital fat mouth in the backyard, and mark the occasion by getting a teardrop tattoo myself. Perhaps the tatt will be just the right amount of street cred to make my kids think twice about asking for their own cell phones.

Thanks for reading! Don’t forget to subscribe and share on Facebook, Twitter, email, all that stuff. If you don’t, I may just have to get a whole face full of teardrop tattoos.