Friday, January 27, 2012


Sometimes, even your best friends can still surprise you with their kindness. And when it happens, it makes you appreciate what you have even more.

My home, for some reason, has always been the gathering place for my friends and I to watch major sporting events. If the Yankees are in the playoffs, which they usually are, I can usually count on a room full of guys to be watching the games throughout the entire month of October. I’ve got a finished basement, which serves as our official sports room. It’s decorated with some nice memorabilia, it’s got plenty of seating, a big TV, a fridge, plus its own restroom and entrance. I can’t even tell you how many games we’ve watched down there over the years or how many laughs we’ve shared. We call them our “gatherings,” and we’re good for about a dozen a year.

Recently, however, my basement wasn’t up to the task of hosting a “gathering.”

I’d had a bit of a groundwater problem in one of the basement's rooms for years. Usually, it would only happen about twice a year after a major monsoon, but the excessive rains of 2011 had made it a more prevalent problem. In late summer, when hurricanes and tropical storms seemed to visit us on a weekly basis, I decided to finally get the problem fixed. After consulting with several professionals, it was clear that I needed a French-drain and sump pump, and that it was going to be a pretty big job. They’d be lifting the carpet, jack-hammering the floors inside the house, ripping out some of the drywall, pouring concrete and generally making a big mess of the place. The upside was a lifetime guarantee of permanent dryness. The downside was that once the drain and pump were installed, the company’s work was done. Getting the room back together would be my responsibility. I’d have to find another contractor to replace the drywall and do all of the other work to get the place back in order.

It was a bit daunting, but I had no choice. It needed to be done.

I hired them.

This was back in October, and because the company was still so busy with all of the September flooding, they said they wouldn’t be able to do the job until early December. I said that was fine, and one day, shortly after I’d signed the contract, I was riding out to Yankee Stadium with a few friends when I told them I was finally going to get the water problem in the basement fixed. I told them all that what was involved, and that even after the drain and pump were installed, I’d still have lots of additional expenses in fixing up the room. We were just chatting. I wasn’t seeking any help. And I had no idea that some of my friends knew how to do such work. I was just venting about what a mess I was going to have in my basement and how expensive it was going to be.

“Dude,” they said. “Don’t pay somebody to do that extra stuff. We know how to do it. We’ll help you.”

They explained that dry-walling was easy, and that what might cost me a few hundred bucks to have somebody come in and do could actually be done for much less. I graciously accepted their offer, and told them that after the holidays, I’d be ready for their help.

The big day came about two weeks ago on Saturday. The drain and pump had been installed and my basement was indeed a mess, but I was not surprised at all that the guys that had told me they’d help me three months prior all showed up. I put out some donuts for breakfast, ordered some pizza for lunch, and the plan was to get the project done in one day.

Not happening.

We continuously hit one snag after another. The drywall that was removed while installing the drain was not cut evenly, making patching in the new material much more difficult. The support beams that were partially removed were also not cut evenly, making attaching and securing new wood much more difficult. Even the new concrete over the new drain was not smoothed evenly, which made everything more difficult.

“Those guys,” said my friends, “did a hack job on your house.”

This was frustrating. But through it all, I also I saw what type of friends I had. Clearly, this was going to be bigger job than they’d bargained for. An expected trip to Lowe’s turned into four or five as new obstacles were encountered and new materials were needed. My driveway looked like a lumberyard, full of fine tools that were not mine, but theirs. Some of the guys were back again on Sunday, and even during the week in the evenings. And yet amid it all, we had lots of laughs. Whenever a new unforeseen problem was encountered, we called it a “Funt,” in reference to the late Allen Funt of the show "Candid Camera." And there were lots of “Funts” throughout the week. Too many.

Laughing, occasional swearing … it all happened in the basement as boards were cut, walls were replaced and the radio played. And the conversations were engaging. Who knew that one friend was so disenchanted with Alex Rodriguez that he wished the Yankees would ship him out? Who knew, until an AC/DC song came on the radio, that the same friend preferred Bon Scott over Brain Johnson? Both of these topics led to spirited debates.

Finally, after a week of sawing, nailing, spackling and sanding, the dust settled, both figuratively and literally. And last Sunday, we all sat there in our usual seats comfortably watching the NFL’s Championship Sunday. We had set Championship Sunday as our goal to complete job, and we did it.

Well ... my friends did it.

Throughout the week, I frequently thanked them for all of their help, to which one flatly replied, “This is how America was built. People helping each other out.”

Maybe it is that simple. But their gesture was not. They gave me a lot of their time and put in a lot of work. And though I wasn’t around when America was built, I do know how my basement was rebuilt.

It was done with friendship.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


Though the “Toy Story” saga has been entertaining children since 1995, our family is relatively new to the Disney-produced animated gems. Our daughter, Mary Ann, is only four years old and our son, A.J., is only two. And thus it was the summer of 2011 when we first began to watch the three “Toy Story” films on DVD. And truthfully, it was Dad here who was the last to sit down and watch them. My wife and the kids had been enjoying them for quite a while before I finally got around to sitting through the first one, but once I did, I was just as eager as everyone to see the two sequels. They’re wonderful movies for kids and they come with just enough wit to also entertain adults.

Simply put: I like “Toy Story.” And my kids love “Toy Story.”

At Christmastime, the children let it be known that they would like Santa to bring a little “Toy Story“ to our house. They wanted a “Buzz Lightyear” action figure, as well as “Woody” and “Jessie.” They were told that if they were good, Santa would probably grant their requests, and once my wife and I decided to start our “Santa” shopping, we planned to get them the three “Toy Story” characters that they liked best. At least that was my plan. My wife, however, had another idea.

“We'll need to get two Buzz Lightyears,” she said. “One for each of them.”

“Why?” I asked. “I thought they’d share them.”

“They won’t,” she said. “At least not the Buzz Lightyears. They both love him. And they'll each need to have their own. If they don’t, they’ll fight over him.”

“Well," I said. “We are their parents. Isn’t it our job to teach them to share?”

“Trust me,” she said. ”It won’t happen. It will be a nightmare.”

Knowing that my wife was the one that was usually at home with the kids during the day and that she would be the one that might have to serve as referee in this daily tug-of-war over Buzz Lightyear, I agreed that Santa would bring one to each of them. There was one problem, however. Once we started our holiday shopping, we noticed that some of the “Toy Story” characters were pretty hard to come by, especially the incredibly popular Buzz Lightyear. And though we briefly panicked, I was able to order them online. Two Buzz Lightyears were on their way. Our kids were in fact very good. And Santa would reward them.

And that’s when things got complicated. In fact, that’s when the whole wonderful vision of Santa through a child's eyes was nearly destroyed in our home.

One afternoon, just a few days after we ordered our Buzz Lightyears, my wife pulled the car up in front of the house with the two kids in tow. She parked, unbuckled them from the seats, and as children often do, they ran off ahead of her to the front porch. And that’s when she heard exclamations of sheer joy.

“Buzz Lightyear! Buzz Lightyear!”

Though it took my wife only a few seconds to get there, the damage was done. The Buzz Lightyears had indeed arrived and, inexplicibly, the delivery box was wide open on the front porch. And the kids had them. To say my wife was not only disappointed but also angry would be an understatement. A few days later, she asked the UPS driver how this could have happened. He explained that drivers are supposed to re-tape all boxes that are accidentally opened during delivery, but he said that not all of them do it. Great. Just great.

We had ourselves a Christmas crisis.

Fortunately, she thought quickly, right on the spot. She told the kids that these toys were not ours and that they must have been delivered to our house by mistake. She even went as far as to tell them that they must have been meant for our neighbor across the street, and that our neighbor must have ordered them for her nieces and nephews. And, in full damage control mode, we later asked our neighbor to come over to our house and – in front of the kids - inquire if we had mistakenly received her delivery. We told her that indeed we had and the Buzz Lightyears were "returned" to her.

That seemed to solve at least a part of the problem. But our daughter is now almost five years old and is as sharp as a tack. She doesn’t miss a trick, and we still felt that if the Buzz Lightyears were under the tree on Christmas morning and were “from Santa," she still might somehow connect them to what she had seen on the front porch a few weeks prior. And so we decided that the Buzz Lightyears would be gifts from Mommy and Daddy, and Santa would bring other gifts. And the truth is, once Christmas morning arrived and the hasty unwrapping began, the nametags seemed pretty obsolete. There were lots of gifts under the tree, and that’s all the kids seemed to care about. Of couse we still made a point to emphasize that the Buzz Lightyears were from us, not Santa, and thankfully the kids made no mention of the opened-box incident.

We did it. Was saved the magic of Santa. At least, hopefully, for a few more years.

As far the two Buzz Lightyears go, my wife was right. We needed two. In fact, since Christmas, my daughter has already told me that ”My Buzz Lightyear is the real Buzz Lightyear. A.J.’s isn’t the real one.” I can’t imagine what it would have been like if we only had one. Mommy knew best.

Two Buzz Lightyears are better - and smarter - than one.