Saturday, November 07, 2015

Spitfire Envy

When GoofBoy was little I would tell him stories about his grandfather, who could fly around in a heli-pack. 

Not wanting to leave BubbeGoof out of these adventures, I explained that she had been a famed aviatrix in her youth. (This came from a flash of inspiration in which I envisioned my mom in a leather jacket and aviator goggles flipping Amelia Earhart the bird - like Tom Cruise in Top Gun but in a Sopwith Camel, not an F-14). I added that she flew with the Eagle Squadron during the Battle of Britain and when Pop got into trouble on his heli-pack adventures she would get the old Spitfire out of the garage and get him out of trouble.

(I also love making jokes at the expense of my mom. For one of her big birthdays, I promised to stop making of fun of her for being old for one year. I lasted about one hour.)

This summer, to celebrate his bar mitzvah the GrandGoofs took their grandson to London. Here is an email I wrote to him:
Today is the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.
In the summer of 1940, France had fallen, Hitler dominated Europe, and Britain stood alone. The Luftwaffe tried to bomb Britain into submission. Heavily outnumbered the Royal Air Force through skill, daring (and radar - a huge technological advantage) fought them off. I grew up reading about the heroism of the British pilots of Spitfires and Hawker Hurricanes downing Nazi bombers by the score.
As a boy when I built fighter planes with Legos they were always Spitfires (they are the Eddie Murray of fighter planes). I built Messerschmitts for them to shoot down, but I wouldn't put a swastika on them, because I knew they shouldn't be in the house.
Hope you do or see something to commemorate the Battle of Britain.
If you get to see a Spitfire flyover I'll be jealous as hell! I know I would have scheduled the trip around it myself. But maybe it's for the best if you don't go. Bubbie might have flashbacks.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Goofy Ghost Story

Halloween is past, but it is never too late for a ghost story.

Shortly after MamaGoof's beloved aunt Nana died we were visiting Abuela. It was one of our more relaxed visits. Papa was finally under good care at a home and Nana had been sick for a long time. Abuela could finally relax some, and so could we. MamaGoof and I had some kid-free excursions.

A very sweet young woman from the Philippines was living with Abuela and helping her out. Besides being a diligent care-giver and helper, she also watched telenovelas with Abuela. But she reported that she sensed a presence, walking back and forth in Nana's room.

MamaGoof believes in ghosts and sometimes thinks she encounters them. Skeptics among you, don't jump to conclusions. MamaGoof is a scientist (PhD in biostatistics!) While she watches horror movies and GhostHunters, she does not revel in her connection to the supernatural. She wants nothing to do with it. She does not go to seances or brag about her deep connections to other dimensions - that isn't her. Instead she wishes this creepy stuff would leave her alone.

Naturally the care-giver's report was a matter of deep concern. There were to be no more excursions, since MamaGoof was deeply concerned GoofGirl might have an encounter.

In this regard - and many others. I am MamaGoof's exact opposite. I don't believe in the supernatural. At the same time horror movies terrify me. (Maybe the reason I don't believe in the supernatural is not due to reason - but to fear, which is perfectly reasonable when you think about it.)

As MamaGoof worried I, for once, said the right thing.

"I understand you are pretty upset and concerned about this. I respect that and want to help. But I really lack the equipment to get this. I'm taking your concerns seriously, I'll do what you need me to do. Just a warning though. If it turns out you're right and there's a ghost I will yell 'zoinks' and jump out of clothes before running full speed to another city."

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Robot Killer!

"Daddy, what do you do at your new job?"

"I fight robots," I could tell them what I actually do, but that would be boring.

"Dad, you're gonna get killed!" GoofBoy, who has recently seen the Terminator movies, exclaimed - deeply concerned.

"I don't fight killer robots, I wouldn't have a chance. I fight workaday robots. Today I fought Wall-E."

"There really are robots like Wall-E?" GoofGirl asked excited.

"Not anymore, I smashed it into tinfoil with a sledgehammer."

GoofGirl went away upset. But the next day, the kids were back asking me what robots I fought.

"They built these special little drones designed to deliver a single flower. It's called the Butterfly. I knocked them out of the air with a baseball bat."

"Dad, you are a terrible person," GoofBoy said flatly.

Yet they kept asking.

I told them about a new robot vacuum cleaner that looked like a ballerina and danced around the room in beautiful unpredictable patterns and makes music instead of vacuum cleaner noises. I used a Nerf disc gun to destroy it.

"What robot did you fight today Daddy?"

"It was a really boring robot today. It was just a cognitive radio."

"How is a radio a robot?" GoofGirl asked.

"Well it is designed to switch places on the radio spectrum depending on the situation. So it senses the environment, processes the information, and takes action. By our working definition, that's a robot."

"That's a pretty boring robot. I'm sure it was a tough fight," GoofBoy said, sarcastically.

"Oh, it was! I had to tear it apart with my bare hands. And it kept playing music at me. When it blared Mumford and Sons I was pumped to wreck it. But then it switched to kids music, Laurie Berkner, The Wiggles... I was almost crying as I threw it to the floor and finally smashed it."

"Daddy, why is the government paying you to break robots?"

"Top secret, I can't tell you."

"If it were really secret you wouldn't be telling us about it."

Good point.

"OK, look, the robots have watched the Terminator movies as well. They aren't stupid. They know we'll be expecting this. So instead, what if they try something sneakier, will all the little robots doing little things to try to slowly get us to do what they want? We need to make sure we can still take care of them. In short, I'm doing it for you."

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Inclusive Little Goofs

When GoofBoy came home from his first summer at Camp Ramah several years ago, one of the very first things he told us about was meeting and getting to know the kids in the special needs program. He relished his time with them. Many had limited vocabularies, but he appreciated how funny they could be given their limited tools to communicate.

Each year GoofBoy was a "buddy" to one kid. He took walks with him on Shabbat and visited with him regularly throughout his time at the camp. One year his buddy was there for eight weeks, but GoofBoy was only there for four. He was disconsolate when he learned GoofBoy was leaving. But GoofBoy introduced him to some of his friends who would be there all eight weeks and could keep him company.

GoofGirl also spent time with the kids in the special needs program. She mentioned visiting them to play games and to dance. She said not every kid in her bunk went out of their way to spend time with the special needs kids, but no one was mean to them - all the kids treated them with respect.

But this inclusive attitude wasn't learned at camp, just encouraged. The little Goofs brought it with them and, as always, I am very proud and touched by their deep kindness. (They are also great about visiting sick, elderly relatives and friends - no easy thing for children, or adults for that matter.)

One day during carpool we saw a social services bus in front of a house. A wheelchair-bound young man who we know from synagogue was being taken to the van. GoofBoy and Carpool Buddy enthusiastically exclaimed, "We know him from shul! So that's where he lives!"

Another time we were sitting at Panera's having lunch. A man sitting near us we gesticulating (a little) and muttering. Out of the corner of my eye I diagnosed him as having Tourette syndrome. In the car on the way home I asked if they had noticed him. They hadn't. I asked if it might have bothered them.

The boys answered in chorus, "No way! Why would it? There was a guy with Tourette on American Idol. He was awesome!"

As it happens, I have a pair of developmentally disabled cousins. They are in their 60s now. One is in a group home near us and comes to our synagogue. The little Goofs are always nice to them and happy to see them. They mention them proudly. My cousins have been told they are "uncles" and are very pleased with this.

This is all very different from when I was a kid. I don't remember us being particularly interested in special needs kids, and almost certainly not particularly nice or respectful.

This is different and different can be wonderful.

People with special needs face enormous challenges to living full lives. But the distances they have come have been enormous and the changing attitudes of today's kids hold promise for an even more inclusive future.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Under the Bus: Lessons on Horrible Humor

Once after buying something at CVS I made a donation with my purchase.

GoofBoy, observing this, said, "Dad, that was really great that you gave that money to kids with diabetes."

"Buddy, I gave it to help kids with diabetes. I wouldn't give it to the kids with diabetes, they'd just use it to buy candy."

GoofBoy laughed hard and then said, "Dad that's really horrible."

"But funny. Lots of things that are really funny are also really horrible. That's how humor works."


Driving we like to put the GPS in other languages. For a while we had it set on German, which is fun because even if you don't understand a word, it is very insistent.

As I drove GoofBoy and his friends around to their practices, I translated the GPS.
Make a right in two minutes.Make a right now!You haf failed to follow instructions. U-turn immediately!U-turn! Schnell! You vill be late.Clearly you vill not follow ze instructions.Alternate route plotted.You vill take ze train. This train vill haf no stops!
GoofBoy laughed, and then said, wisely, "Dad, that's horrible."


I came home from a meeting at the synagogue and observed, "Could we have one synagogue meeting in which someone didn't invoke the Holocaust?"

Note: if we ever really wanted to debunk Zionist conspiracy theories, we should just invite anti-Semites to a synagogue meeting. They will pretty quickly be convinced that Jews can't run anything or keep a secret.

"What was it this time?" MamaGoof asked.

In a bellowing old man voice I yelled, "No gefilte fish after Shabbos services? It's like the Holocaust!"

Everyone laughed, but GoofBoy, again the voice of reason, noted, "Dad, this is horrible."

"But funny," I said, "And you know why? Because there's no business like the Shoah business."

This quickly became a punchline around the house. "We're out of the good maple syrup? It's like the Holocaust!"

"Ten minutes waiting for the ATM? It's like the Holocaust!"

Another aside: So far I've made fun of diabetics, Germans, Jews, and the Holocaust. I hope any outraged comments (assuming I have any readers) are similarly balanced. Also, in fairness, I regularly threaten to sell my kids on the dark web and make fun of their friends mercilessly. I also do truly terrible things to the Spanish language.

It resonated. GoofGirl came home from school the other day and said, "A lot of kids in my class were complaining when the school ran out of their favorite juice box. And I was like, 'We're out of raspberry-lemonade? It's like the Holocaust!'"

Here I sat up, "Did you say this?"

"No," GoofGirl answered, "But I was thinking it."

"OK. Good. Because a lot of people will, as your brother says, think this is horrible. You will get into big trouble. And I will have to go to lots of boring meetings at school. No one wants this. So if you slip up and say something inappropriate - I'm throwing you under the bus."

"What does that mean?" the Little Goofs asked in unison.

"It means that I'll tell them you are out of control and should be sent to juvey."

Just so we're clear.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

First Day Jitters

Lots of first day jitters around Goof Manor earlier this week. The little Goofs returned to school. They weren't worried about bullying since they go to a Jewish day school where the quality of bullying is definitely sub-par. Although there is occasional litigation.

The little Goofs primary worry was other kids in their classes who, by misbehavior, might distract them from focusing on their school work. Really, they were stressed about this.

I was pretty nervous though since I'm starting something new. FatherGoof has been accepted for a prestigious fellowship for brilliant scientists (despite the fact that yours truly is neither brilliant nor a scientist - apparently they have a quota to accept a certain number of middle-aged acerbic goofs to balance the brilliant young biochemists). Having made my own hours (i.e. worked from home while wearing sweatpants) for over a decade, having to go somewhere every day, I mean every single day, while wearing pants and a nice shirt, seems impossible. 

When will I work out, when will I blog? What's that tiny violin sound I hear?

I will be driving less carpool, which is - in a word - wonderful. The children of the Carpool Clan are pretty happy too. Carpool Mom, less so.

But I was pretty nervous. The fellowship includes an extensive orientation. Scientists can be pretty mean. I was afraid the big scientists would take my reactor core, leaving me with nothing but a middle school microscope for looking at slides of snot (remember those, they were pretty cool at the time - I thought I was seeing snot molecules.)

MamaGoof knowing how jittery I was kept tabs by text and email. GoofGirl was doing ok, in her Advisory Group (which used to be called Homeroom) she is in with an old friend. They used to design guillotines together, but now they are working on a laser cannon. (Does the school not know it is a terrible idea to put them together?)

GoofBoy had normal jitters, but things calmed down when they spent math discussing swords. I guess this is part of geometry?

But I was in trouble. When I got there it was just like I thought. No one would let me sit by their table.

I knew what I had to do, I saw it in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Here are the texts MamaGoof recieved.

So everyone had a good first day.