Window Shopping Merit Badge

“What kind of store is this?” They asked in unison, because all the sporting goods and camping gear is just so indiscernible.

It wasn’t even that hot of a day and the boys already wanted to go home after a 90 minute hike. They desperately needed air conditioning. They’re such dregs.

Exiting the High Line park into the Meat Packing District, I made the mistake of telling them we had about two avenue blocks before the nearest subway. They asked if we could “duck into someplace cool for the air conditioning.” Apparently, they’re snow cones.

God must’ve sympathized with my situation at hand and planted a Patagonia store right smack in our path.

“Let’s go in here.” I said “fake” cheerily.

“What kind of store is this?” They asked in unison, because all the sporting goods and camping gear is just so indiscernible.

That’s when he saw it – the ultimate sleeping bag.

Can all the Scouts say ooooh and aaaahhhh?

He immediately touched it – because that’s what boys do – see with their hands. He asked me if I’d buy it for him and I replied no friggin’ way. My instincts told me the price was somewhere along the lines of major home appliance or male-orphan-baby – they’re so hot right now!

Guess how much it is. The closest guess wins it as a giveaway!

Of course, I’m joking. I have nothing worth nearly as much, well, you can have our smelly cat, Oscar, and really – do whatever you want with him because he’s such a pussy or you can seriously, take a guess.

This picture is titled, “First Born Son or Sleeping Bag: Which costs more?”

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The Jolly Shawarma

It’s a chicken and Shawarma platter over rice. They ask if you want it spicy and my husband’s typical response was, “kill me.” S0, he tried to finish it and failed miserably.

The Omar.

It’s a chicken and Shawarma platter over rice. They ask if you want it spicy and my husband’s typical response was, “kill me.” S0, he tried to finish it and failed miserably. He assumes it was the spices – and to his credit, it was spicy enough to attract an empty cab from miles away – but I think he’s just getting too old to eat like that anymore.

It was the kind of meal you need to follow with a three-hour nap, which he did. Even then, he was useless. Because he’s an April born Taurus, he’s headstrong as well as super stubborn and admitted defeat only after diagnosing himself with a failing liver. The conversation went, well…maybe I should get a check up. I agreed, and then he said, nah, I won’t because I’m afraid they might tell me I have Sclerosis of the liver.

And with that, he went to bed.

I don’t know much about Astrology, but every Taurean I’ve worked with always knew when to call it day. When the whistle blew, they had no qualms about punching out no matter how much of the workload was left – but his excuse right there, was probably the best line in the history of clocking out that I’ve ever heard. Don’t bother with a remedy – just say the worst possible scenario and go to bed. I should try that the next time I stay up late crunching numbers for the P.T.A. and say, “I should finish the Treasury report but I’m afraid of finding an inexplicable electronic payment to Lips and Zippers, so I’m going to bed.”

My husband decided that he’s too young to have Sclerosis of the liver, but I pointed out the friends he’s lost – and almost lost – recently to illnesses that were uncommonly premature. He appeared to be contemplating but it turned out, he was considering having a night cap. Should I mention the pirate-like attitude to his overall health? Plenty of rum, poor dental hygiene, and a penchant for crass tunes?

I think he hates it when I compare him to pirates. I’m like that when people bring up Yoko Ono. Is she the only famous Japanese woman on Earth? Well, yeah – apparently. You’d think there would be at least one other widely known Asian sister – apart from Lucy Liu. But no.

We have Lucy Liu and pirates. And the “idea” of an ailing liver.

For all my banter, I know he’s going to wind up like Mr. T, an old family friend who’s been smoking and drinking Budweiser since the dawn of his time. Mr. T stopped contributing to his retirement fund because he assumes he’ll be dead before he had a chance to retire and to be honest, we all kind of see the logic in that. I mean, nobody can pump that much poison in his body and come out alive unless that person was actually a vampire, right? I guess it only proves that vampires can come in all shapes and forms and the best way to weed them out is to ask if they contribute to their “retirement” account.

I’m sure Mr. T appreciates my comparing him to a vampire as much as my husband appreciates being compared to pirates. Fortunately for me, they don’t read either. And really, if anyone needs to put things down in writing, it’s my husband – he forgets every word he’s said as soon as he says them. Hey, maybe that’s why pirates have parrots…who knew?

In any case, he does intend to conquer the Omar someday, and I have no problem with that. King of Falafel made the best Falafel sandwich I’ve ever had. Ever. Soft, fluffy pita, falafel balls so ginormous, they were like eggs! The restaurant is located in Astoria, Broadway and 31st Street with an awning that says, “Yeahhhh Baby!” Who can argue with that?

Yo, ho, ho.

 

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A Serene Place to Scarf Christmas Cookies

The new Path train terminal at the World Trade Center has yet to have its own Antennae Man, but really, who cares? It’s trains to New Jersey. Still, I was curious to see if it had the same serenity as Grand Central.

It’s 2017 and this is what I discovered: that my sons have a Nerf gun arsenal that makes Sarah Connor look like Hillary Clinton.

By the way, I’m convinced that Hillary Clinton is a robot. She’s gone rogue with a lust for power, but she lost the election – so the victory fireworks that would have inevitably melted her face, a la Raiders of the Lost Arc style has yet to happen. But it will. Just think about it. I’m not far off here.

But enough about Westworld meets politics. It gives me great pleasure to announce that the theme for 2017 is – space. Not Star Trek space but Place Space. As in, “this is my happy place, get the fuck out.”

On New Year’s day, I took the boys to the new World Trade Center to visit The Oculus. Among the many reasons I could’ve come up with for going on this adventure, the main reason was we needed to get out of the house. The subways were running uncharacteristically on schedule and that was a good sign as any. Plus, we had to work off the three tins of Christmas cookies we ate over the holidays.

In a nutshell, I had discovered long ago that Grand Central Terminal was my Happy Place. It’s where you would find me if I needed to think and recharge – like after my quarterly getting-fired from the family business, or a dateless Friday night, or trying to remember where I left the keys to my apartment – you would find me there, people watching.

All those people arriving from somewhere, going somewhere, meeting other people they haven’t seen in months – it’s a buzz that can be best described as serenity.

Plus, there’s Antennae Man. He’s this old black dude, dressed in 80’s punk rock black leather with a Kilt and a tin foil hat shaped like an….antennae. He’s awesome.

The new Path train terminal at the World Trade Center has yet to have its own Antennae Man, but really, who cares? It’s trains to New Jersey. Still, I was curious to see if it had the same serenity as Grand Central.

It didn’t.

To be honest, it’s just a huge mall. Inside a whale carcass. About the only interesting feature is the “Eataly” food market on the top floor. Food so insanely good looking and just as insanely priced, it’s pure toture walking the boys through it on an empty stomach (for the record, boys are like dogs – they’re perpetually hungry).

There’s also no place to sit except for the window sills by H&M. That’s where we parked our butts and scarfed down the Christmas cookies I brought from home because I’m low-budget like that. We watched a new mom and dad fussing with an extremely fat baby who was having a fit being Baby-Bjorned to his mother. She was probably about 90 lbs and the baby was at least 15 lbs with an additional three pounds of clothing and from the looks of it, they should’ve just stuck his fat ass into the all-terrain stroller they blocked the aisle with. But no, the $1,200 stroller was for the mountains of shopping bags – and mommy would carry Baby Anvil home and break her back.

So the moral of the story is, serenity is lost because people are clueless.

 

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Layover Brooklyn

After obtaining her idNYC, my mom went on a sightseeing spree. She visted four boroughs in four days collecting her free memberships like an urban senior Zelda.

For a week she was texting me pictures of giraffes and sculptures and I had to figure out where she was. I think she got the idea from that Free Range Chicken in those Geico commercials.

Along the way, she devised a bright idea to take us on a journey of her favorites. Not one, not two – but three jewels of Brooklyn within the time frame of a layover. Crazy right?

First of all, Brooklyn is big and before you can even get to the edge of it, you have to go through most of Manhattan. That’s already too long of a subway ride. Then – there’s a million stops once you get into Brooklyn – it’s like a train in the Twilight Zone – it never gets to your station (cue cheesy music).

Still, we managed and began at the Brooklyn Museum, followed by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden with a grand finale of Coney Island.

With 15 minutes to kill before opening, we enjoyed eating onigiri (Japanese rice balls) while watching the water works at the Brooklyn Museum. It’s amazing the effect water has on people, especially kids who are insanely unfocused. It must be like watching synchronized spitting. It’s more interesting than Teen Titans – not as noisy either.

Inside, we had time enough to go through the “Rise of the Sneaker Culture” and got caught for an hour playing pinball, video games and foosball in theThe FAILE & BÄST Deluxx Fluxx Arcade. Who knew? That was worth the suggested admission right there because my guys could easily blow $50 for half an hour of arcade mania.

We entered the Brooklyn Botanic Garden from the Eastern Parkway entrance and went directly to the Japanese Garden. It was serenity beyond measure. Well, visually. By the time we got there, an outdoor concert in the adjacent parking lot was booming very annoying music. Not appropriate music, but a monotone, rap-reggae-what-the-fuck-are-they-singin’-about music that even annoyed the Koi fish.

To keep our visit to two hours, we skipped the Lily Pool Terrace. Probably regretful, still we saw the Cherry Esplande, Rose Garden, Rock Garden, Herb Garden and though we wished we had more time, we made it through the Discovery Zone. When they begged to play the xylophone that magically can’t play a wrong note for yet another hour, we simply said, “Guess you don’t want Nathan’s hot dogs!”

They clutched their empty bellies like an alien was busting out and busted out the Flatbush avenue exit towards the Q train.

A half hour later, we beelined towards Nathan’s Famous on Surf Avenue. Who thought that six dogs, two fries, hot wings, three medium Root Beers and a large Coney Island Lager would cost only…sixty-two dollars!

Or that the boys would actually eat all of that (minus the lager, of course).

What amazed me the most was that the cashier knew to pour me a large beer. And that it was less than eight bucks.

It was the biggest bill for one item of the day.

A whole seven dollars and fifty cents. That was treated by my mom.

The senior citizen.

With an idNYC card.

And that’s Zoltar.

Zoltar

 

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We Be Silly In Philly

I don’t understand people who go on vacation without their kids either. First of all, I’m pretty sure it’s illegal to leave them home alone if they’re under 10 years of age…

Last week, my husband came home from the bodega pissed off more than usual.

He said, “Do you know what Mr. Singh asked me when I told him we were going on vacation for our anniversary – he said, what are you doing with the kids? Can you believe that?!”

As he’s huffing and fuming, he continues, “So you know what I told him? I said, they’re coming with us you asshole!”

I’m sure Mr. Singh didn’t mind being called an asshole. He’s a professional bodega man –  they can’t really be that sensitive when most of their customers top buying items are beer and Lotto tickets.

But I do understand my husband’s annoyance with the question.

I don’t understand people who go on vacation without their kids either. First of all, I’m pretty sure it’s illegal to leave them home alone if they’re under 10 years of age and even if we did tie them to the radiator like the manual says, I know my boys would still manage to flood the basement or kidnap a three-legged dog by the time we returned.

Besides, kids get priority seating and since we travel like runaways, we take the Chinatown bus.

It’s ten dollars one way from New York to Philadelphia. Considering a subway ride costs $2.75 for getting you as far as Queens to Coney Island sweltering in an underground arm pit without WiFi (or a schedule for that matter), it’s a bargain!

Once we get to Philly, there’s tons of things to do and lots of places to see, but on a Chinatown bus budget, we skip the high admission prices and walk around the city comparing Philly’s homeless to New York’s.

We agreed that the homeless in Philadelphia have better signs. They take their begging a little more seriously, too because they might be drinking a Starbucks but they’re not texting on their iPhone 6 like the homeless hipsters in New York City.

While I looked into the City Pass and the Adventure Aquarium’s after 3 pm special, we decided that for less than the total admission price at the Franklin Museum, we could be enjoying – pub fare!

With boys, given the choice between museums and meat – there’s really no contest.

I have to be thankful that neither of my boys ever had issues eating out. They don’t squirm around, demand only white food or need to have an iPad playing a movie during the meal. The problem isn’t finding something for them to eat, it’s having enough to fill them up without going broke.

In Philly, that’s not hard to do – the restaurant prices are way more broke-ass friendly. Although, we did make the mistake of ordering breakfast sandwiches at a small coffee shop thinking it would be deli prices and came to realize it was in the ground floor of the Omni Hotel.

Six bucks for a bacon, egg and cheese on a croissant. Samu took three bites and sucked out all the bacon, the little prick.

In all, the weekend was about $600, including the Chinatown bus, accommodation that was too classy for us, enough food to produce an inhuman turd by both boys, medicating beer for the parental units, swimming in an actual pool, limitless bed jumping and all the useless knick knacks the boys duped my husband into buying, including a John 5 soda.

This trip we made it to McGillan’s, Monk’s Cafe, Dinic’s, Sonny’s Famous Cheesesteaks, Franklin Square Carousel, Rocket Fizz Soda Pop and CandyBrave New World Comics and stayed at the Wyndham Philadelphia Historic District.

They. Never. Stop. Eating.
They. Never. Stop. Eating.

 

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The Boys of Summer

The air conditioner in our bedroom is a noisy piece of crap. Every time it kicked on, it woke me up. So, counting on a mild August night, I turned it off and hoped the fan setting was enough. In five minutes, the room was boiling. A far cry from the luxurious accommodation of our weekend in Philly. As I labored for sleep, I remembered walking past a woman on her cell phone saying, “Well, sure but it’s hot as fuck out here!”

The bed started to feel like a fresh pizza. Finally, my feet hit a cool spot that just might remain cool enough to drift back to sleep when the door creaked open.

“Mama?” Said a little voice.

“Go back to bed.” I said.

“My head hurts.”

“That’s ’cause you should be asleep.” I said, and groaned because the cool spot was now – hot.

“And I’m thirsty,” continued the little pecker-head, as he proceeded to climb into my bed.

My limbs were groggy as I ushered him out to the bathroom and when I turned on the light, I was astonished.

Samu must’ve grown three inches in his sleep!

Suddenly, I’m overcome by a wave of melancholia. Or terror. Either they’re growing overnight or it’s an invasion of the body snatchers. But I realize it’s really him and not an alien who busted out of an eggplant when he filled his cup with water – dumped it – filled it again – dumped it again – filled it again and took just two tiny sips.

“I don’t want summer vacation to be over,” he whimpered.

It hit me, too. “Yeah, we had a lot of fun this summer – didn’t we?”

My mind took a brief inventory: Track & Field, Golf, Baseball sleepover and let’s not forget sunburn. Nothing like walking the streets of Philly with Daddy looking like a leper.

Samu and I shuffled our way back to his bed. My steps just as heavy and sad as his. Our fun in the sun – was done.

For me, it was more than that. This summer just might be the last when my boys are “boys”. Next year, Zuki will likely be the same height as me. And Samu – should at least have a butt that’ll hold a pair of swim trunks bigger than 3T.

In the dark, I could hear his tears hit the pillow. I could tell he wanted to sing the theme song he created combining the “Titanic” and “Lord of the Rings”. He’d been humming it all summer when he was sad – when he lost an eyeball for his Mixel, when the frog at the beach got plucked by a seagull.

But his big brother was snoring away. And, that kind of ruined it.

“How’s your head?” I asked as he held my hand.

He sighed deeply and answered, “I want to go back to the hotel in Philadelphia.”

I did, too. The air conditioner was quiet.

Boys of Summer

 

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The Cramp About Summer Camp

Summer camp is not the Jim Croce sing along it used to be when I went. Kids today are just too sophisticated. As it is, my boys pack two Nerf guns and five thousand Lego pieces just to play in the backyard. I can’t imagine what girls need – a suitcase of band looms?

Camp is also way more expensive than what I remember. Two weeks of full day camp for my kids cost what my parents paid for one month back then. It’s ludicrous.

Of course there are cheaper city camps. They’re great if you’re content with paying for semi-attentive hipsters to take your kids to the park all day. I already do that – be semi-attentive and endlessly drag them around the hot streets to a sweltering park with deplorable bathrooms. The hipster thing, I’d have to work at.

The way I see it, summer camp is worth the money as long as the kids do things that you can’t deliver. Like play baseball with a team of kids all the same age or do crafts with an adult who isn’t afraid of glitter or drive around with hipsters who can listen to Nikki Minaj without throwing up.

For two years, I enrolled my boys in World of Discovery camp, which was ideal. They were picked up by 07:30 in the morning and dropped off at 5:30, stinky, exhausted and thoroughly played out. They were completely different people when they arrived home – like cyborgs who looked, smelled and talked like my kids – but didn’t act like them. They were behaved. Taking a bath, doing their homework packet without a single tear and they were famished enough to eat salad. Salad!

It was paradise until it ended and the “camp glow” was gone as fast as it came.

Next challenge will be sleep away camp. If Day Camp seems expensive, wait until you hit the sleep aways. Granted, they’re chock full of activities you’d get arrested for doing. Archery, BB guns, rock climbing, throw-them-off-a-pier-and-see-if-they-can-swim-back, but at seven hundred dollars a week, I might risk the heat.

As for academic summer camps – personally, I don’t think the brain absorbs any book knowledge once the snow thaws. There’s probably a scientific study out there to prove it but for now, I say it from experience.

Ever since the State standardized tests were done, the kids academically went on vacation.

“Homework, schmomework!” They would say. Even the second graders – and they didn’t even take the damn test.

To avoid summer learning loss, the Summer Bridges Activity Workbook helped us a great deal last year. Each day is designed for twenty minutes of ELA and math study with bonus science or Social Studies and physical fitness. That, coupled with forty minutes of reading was about all my boys could handle without taking them to court. At the end of the summer, they weren’t any smarter than in they were in June – but didn’t forget how to open a book.

With boys – that’s the most you can hope for.

So if you’re looking to stick your kid in an expensive summer camp, my suggestion is – go with a friend or a sibling. They may not be in the same division – but they’ll be on the same bus. Because we all know that the school bus is the cul-de-sac where bullying thrives.

And while it might be too late now, go to the Open House. They usually set them up from February through May when they do the early bird sign ups.

If you are too late and the camp is all booked, don’t fret. Go on their waiting list – people always cancel. Last minute. Trust me.

Whatever it is you scope out, think long term. You don’t want to enroll them in a group they’re going to be too old for by next year. Ideally, you’d like to get them into a situation that could eventually mean summer work.

My boys could possibly start work next summer – Samu started learning guitar and Zuki’s been practicing drums on his own. They could ride the subways singing Bad, Bad Leroy Brown badly like I did in summer camp. Who knows, they could collect enough small change to pay for sleep away camp by August.

 

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Roots, Radicals, Reese’s Pieces

As a full time mom, I get to chaperone a lot of the school field trips for my boys’ class. I get a kick out of them. While getting to know my son’s classmates and teachers is a huge perk, the real bonus is in watching them act like monkeys who escaped from the zoo.

Recently, we went to the Queens County farm, where they took a “Colonial Kitchen” workshop in a farmhouse. During the presentation, these 4th graders learned about life in the Colonial days – how children did chores all day, ate after all the adults were finished, married early, caught on fire easily and hardly had sugar.

No sugar?!

Kids and their priorities. They were put to work during the workshop, cutting the farm’s fresh vegetables, making cornbread with molasses (remember, no sugar), churning butter from cream. When it was all done, only two kids actually finished their cups of soup – the rest preferred to finish off their 30 oz bottle of Gatorade and barbecue flavored chips.

You only live once, I suppose. Fresh food isn’t a novelty to them when we have three supermarkets in a five block radius who all sell organic produce.

Damned kids – I thought the soup was delicious and had two helpings – screw them. Then again, it was a mere five degrees outside and the class voted to go see the frozen cow while the soup cooked. Dumb cow.

In the end, what I learned was – I could never work on a farm. But somebody has to. Somebody has to know how to grow potatoes. I mean out of the 28 kids in the class, only one knew that flint rock and steel was a way to start a fire. And he wasn’t even a scout.

It’s sad when you think about it, how little city folk know about surviving and how even less they can pass on to their kids. I could teach my kids how to get anywhere by subway but outdoors, I couldn’t guide them to the North Star unless there was a huge white arrow pointed to it. But at least I know it’s crucial to find it if you’re lost.

These kids? Well, the instructor asked the students what sweeter they thought replaced sugar in Colonial days, as a hint she said it starts with an M and rhymes with glasses. All the kids searched the furthest corner of their 4’x5′ brain and one kid stuck up his arm like he was having a stroke.

“Peanut butter!”

I clawed at my face and thought, we’re all gonna die.

See - Men do belong in the kitchen
See – Men do belong in the kitchen

 

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Journey To Oz

Sweet, sweltering summer – it’s like cotton candy. Soft, sticky and gone in sixty seconds. Ever since I can remember, Labor Day weekend was the most depressing weekend of the year. It doesn’t matter how much fun you have – each summer totally erases the one preceding it and the pang of letting it go is never easy. Summer is the true meaning of living for the moment. When you arrive at the end, you realize you’ve been home all along.

This summer, more than any other was like a journey to Oz. Like Dorothy, we didn’t go much further than our own backyard and discovered our true selves in the company of true friends.

I’d like to acknowledge all the good sports who came along for the journey. The summer of 2013 will go down in history! Well – at least in mine.

Thank you, Astoria Park Track and Field: Talk about a day. We did this Monday and Wednesdays and most of the time we followed jumping hurdles and throwing javelins with a dip in the pristine-with-a-prison-feel of Astoria Pool.

The city parks department has been running the Track & Field program for years – at least a decade, according to a dad whose kids have been going there so long that he got a t-shirt.

I reckon that’ll be me, someday. Because when possible, I must get clothed for free.

Thank you, New York Hall of Science Family Premium membership: Let’s face it – museum memberships are a rip off. No museum holds enough interest to warrant more than two visits. Except – the New York Hall of Science.

Despite the numerous school field trips and outings with friends – my guys can never get enough of this place. We’ve been there three times this summer alone and we’ve yet to do the mini-golf.

What sold me was the reciprocal admission to other science museums. We’ve been to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum twice already. If I paid general admission price to the Intrepid, one visit would’ve cost $24 for me and $19 for each of my monkeys.

That’s serious beer money.

With memberships, all you need is I.D. to check in – so I ordered the second adult card under my friend’s name and she did the same for me under her membership to the Bronx Zoo because seriously, would our husbands ever take the kids to these God-forsaken places without us?

So, now we can watch predators and primates in captivity, rather than under the El asking for change in between sips of Georgi vodka. And sometimes, from the window seat at our new favorite eatery.

We’ve probably been eating out a lot more than usual this summer. I think I abused the excuse that it was just too hot to cook, but on the flip side, my Reward points are stacking up.

So, for tax purposes, I’m reviewing the places I felt were truly “Kid Friendly” to my standards. That includes, greeting our party with a smile instead of a sneer and taking drink orders from Mom – not the charming boys asking for seconds of soda.

If you find yourself visiting Legoland Discovery in Yonkers, then you must stop at The Yard House, right outside the plaza. This place was – Spot – Friggin’ – On. As a matter of fact, all restaurants should use this place as an example of “Kid Friendly.” Make good food, bring beer fast, keep it in budget – if that were a girlfriend, she’d be a wife.

When I win the lottery, we plan to revisit Williams Burger, Hinomaru and Landmark Tavern, just because they showed us an awesome time. In the meantime, picnics will do just fine. And for the record, the candidate for Mayor who announces that picnicking moms can serve rice balls with beers – has my vote.

Pass the seaweed, please.

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