• Theater. On Saturday we took the kids to a children’s theater production of “Peter Pan.” There’s a children’s theater organization in my home town that gets the local high schools to stage different kid-friendly plays at different times during the school year—and, to provide continuity for the kids, there’s this giant ear of corn, see, who comes out before every show and sings and dances a little song and offers theater safety tips to the kids. Honest! The ear of corn is called Playtime Poppy and it looks like this (here’s a smaller, full-stalk shot), and this one time when I was in high school and we were doing a Playtime Poppy show, the girl who was in the Playtime Poppy suit fell off the stage into the pit in front of all the kids and broke her arm but she never broke character and she limped out to the hallway saying “Boys and Girls, Poppy’s hurt” and got in an ambulance still wearing her niblets and came back the next day with her
• Dinner. There is something profoundly satisfying to me about feeding and taking care of the people I love—especially my niece and nephew, who are in no danger of starving or freezing to death without their benevolent Uncle Jake, but I still like to feel like I’m an essential component of their survival. Anyway, I took my sister and her family to dinner on my last night in Iowa at a Mexican restaurant that’s actually pretty good considering its cheesy décor and its so-stupid-it’s-almost-insulting commercial jingle that goes—and I am not making this up—“Carlos O’Kelly’s Mexican Café! Carlos O’Kelly’s will make you shout ¡Olé!” I had the Más Macho Burro, which all but sent flames shooting out my rectum, but not before I was able to fill the kids’ tummies with cheesy quesadillas and chocolate milk and a little ice cream for dessert. Which, to me, is worth a lifetime of singed underpants.
• Shoveling. When I was young(er), I was convinced my parents birthed me in a snowy state just for the tortu-tainment of forcing a child to shovel snow. And I resented them for it well into my college years. My all-consuming hatred of shoveling was a large factor in deciding to buy a condo (with a built-in staff of people who shovel) when I moved to Chicago. (Another factor was the fact that I couldn’t afford any houses here. But we won’t mention that for fear of muddying up this engrossing narrative.) But when I got home to Iowa last week and saw how my dad’s rudimentary shoveling had transformed their driveway into an icy boulevard of broken hips, I dragged out their rusty old shovel and spent a good hour carving a few paths to get people safely from doors to cars and garbage cans and other outdoor things. Which officially makes me the adult who worries obsessively about the well-being of his parents. And I kinda like that.
• Irony. After five days of shoveling, throwing kids in the air, sleeping in a bunk bed and driving for hours on end, when I got home yesterday I managed to throw out my back lifting groceries out of my trunk. Yay. In my defense, though, these weren’t your usual side-of-beef or sack-of-potatoes groceries; these were eggs. And there were 12 of them. (Fun fact! A “dozen” equals TWELVE of something.) And they were Grade A. And they were in one of those cardboardy containers INSIDE one of those plastic bags from the grocery store. In my mind, the whole thing was just an accident waiting to happen—and my lumbar region was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. In any case, the pain greatly undermined my ability to unpack and then enjoy last night’s chorus rehearsal. But The Snuggler came over later with his magical powers of healing, and he diddled my sacrum (gosh—I hope that doesn’t sound obscene), which has made me all but completely pain-free today. So I count the whole trip as a success.