Thursday, April 21, 2011

Father Knows Best?

That was the title of Robert Young's brainchild when it debuted on NBC Radio in 1949.  The question mark was important - it added a challenge, a bit of sarcasm.  When Father left radio behind and jumped to television in 1954, it lost more than every member of its cast (except for Young) - it also lost that wonderful question mark.

As a father, I'm here to tell you - they should have left it in place.

Last weekend, Kristina celebrated her fourth birthday.  Her real birthday isn't until next week, but don't tell her that.  When we left the party, Kristina - in the backseat - looked over at her sister and said, Oh boy, Elizabeth.  When we got in the car to go to the party, I was three-years-old.  But now we're in the car again, and I'm four!

Unlike her big sister - who's happy to have intimate gatherings for her own birthday - Kristina is more the social butterfly.  She knew she wanted to have her celebration at Pump It Up, and her guest list quickly numbered into the 20's.  Pump It Up is basically a great big jumpy house - with pizza and cake thrown in at the end.  But I'm concerned with the beginning - with the start of the party - when the kids are ushered into the first of the huge jumpy rooms.

Pump It Up is fun, but it can be overwhelming - with 70's music blaring.  With two dozen kiddos jumping around, kickballs getting kicked, parents trying to keep track of their own kids as those kids jump and tumble and slide.  In the midst of all that, Kristina reaches up for my hand and says, Daddy?  He's not happy.

She points at one of her friends - he's four, but littler than Kristina - who's literally huddled in a far corner, scrunched up in as tight a ball as he can make, his face hidden in that corner, hidden by his hands.  I kissed Kristina on top of her head, said thanks, and hustled over to the boy.  I wanted to give him plenty of room, so I squatted down a few feet away and said, Hey there, tiger.  Are you ok?

The boy cried some words into his hands - but did I mention that he was turned away from me?  Scrunched tight with his face crammed into the corner?  And that Stevie Wonder rocked overhead?  So I scooted a bit closer and said, Sorry there, champ - I can't hear you.

Same thing.  The poor little guy shot something back, but I couldn't hear him.  The music, the screams of the other kids, the fact that he covered his face even harder, cried into his hands even louder.  I scootched again, cutting the distance between us.  Hey you, I said.  Is there something I can do?

More tears.  He knotted himself into an even tighter ball.  And again, his words were muffled by his tears and his hands.  I'm on my knees now, right next to him.  I place a comforting touch on his shoulder - quick but soft.  I'm sorry, I said. I can't hear you  And I'm trying to put my best Daddy-voice on.  Trying to fill my words with care, with gentleness.

I don't know what it was exactly - maybe that delicate touch on his shoulder, maybe the sympathetic tone of my words - but I finally got him to turn his little tear-streaked face towards me.  Finally got him to move his hands down and away from his mouth so I could hear his words clear.  Loud and clear.  The little guy, with his hair all mussed and his eyes red, turned my way and screamed:


I almost fell backwards trying to get to my feet, calling back to him that I was gone - good and gone - and that I'd be sure to do what I should've done in the first place.  Find his mommy.  Because, see, mommies know best.

No question mark needed.

Friday, April 15, 2011

suck -v. Informal: to be repellent or disgusting. See Homewood Suites by Hilton on the Oakland Waterfront

We had bookcases built for the house.  It only took us ten years.

You'd think for a family that likes to read as much as we do, bookcases would get the fast track.  But then, life intervenes and so you just live.  Then you live a little more.  Have a couple of kids.

Finally, though, we had them built.  Loren, who usually does business in Modesto, agreed to craft and install them.  Then came the painting.  Did you know how bad oil paint can smell when you use it on your new bookshelves?  We had some idea, but were unprepared for its full glory.  So, late on a Monday night in March, after doing what any God fearing American would do (internet research that foretold mutations and brain damage in young children exposed to the fumes of naphtha, toluene and xylene), Karen called Homewood Suites by Hilton on the Oakland Waterfront.

While Karen made the reservations, I continued doing internet research - this time on Homewood Suites by Hilton on the Oakland Waterfront.  Yelp review after Yelp review reiterated that if you stayed at Homewood Suites by Hilton on the Oakland Waterfront, be sure to reserve a room overlooking the water.  Rooms on the 880 side were not protected from the sounds of the freeway and it was therefore impossible to sleep - impossible, perchance, to dream.

I yelled this out to Karen - Karen on the phone - who soon asked if there were any rooms at Homewood Suites by Hilton on the Oakland Waterfront that looked out on the water.  Affirmative!  Homewood Suites by Hilton on the Oakland Waterfront did indeed have such a room - would Karen like to make a nonrefundable deposit to reserve the room?

Sure, Karen said, she just wanted to make sure that the room under discussion at Homewood Suites by Hilton on the Waterfront was indeed a room that did not look out over the mass of lanes that was I-880.


In the course of the overly long call to make reservations, it was amusing to hear Karen's side of the conversation - where she asked about the availability of a waterside room, repeated the information that we wanted two queen size beds for two adults and two kids, inquired about breakfast service in the morning, and again verified the availability of a room facing the water, not the interstate.

We hurriedly packed up the kids - it was a school night, after all - gathered together the accoutrement that would make our short stay possible, and headed out on our adventure.  For this, certainly, in the eyes of our girls, was a nighttime frolic.

Shortly thereafter, we arrived at Homewood Suites by Hilton on the Oakland Waterfront.  It was inviting on the outside - and inside?  All high ceilinged lobby, leather chairs in front of a flickering fire, old books placed high up on the mantle - the girls were beside themselves with excitement.  We trooped up to the front desk to check in - and the clerk gave us our key.  As an afterthought, Karen asked, The room does look out over the water, right?  We understand the rooms facing the freeway are a little loud.

No, the clerk said.  We don't have any rooms facing the water.  We only have vacancies on the other side.

Karen looked at me - I looked at Karen.  One of us said, Well, that's just great.  Then one of us said, We just called - ten minutes ago - and were assured that you had rooms on the quiet side.

Well, the clerk said, who were you calling?  And there was a touch in her tone, a touch of passing the buck, a touch of bold certainty that we hadn't spoken to her, so there.

To whom did we speak? one of us said.  We just called the number online - the number next to the listing for Homewood Suites by Hilton on the Oakland Waterfront.

Oh that, the clerk sniffed - and by now the girls are crying.  Our girls are crying because the adventure that we had set out on had taken this ugly turn.

The clerk continued, haughty.  You probably talked to our call center.  They don't know what rooms we have available.

It's about this time that I'm starting to get a little loud.  I do that sometimes.  Get Greek and loud.  So my loudness prompts Vinny - some big guy who'd been lurking in the background - to come join his little cohort behind the counter.  Vinny is not little.  Vinny is about 6'5".  Young.  In any other situation, Young Vinny would be spoiling for a fight.  And he'd be able to kill me in about four seconds.

What's the problem? Young Vinny asks.

We recount the problem.

Well, Young Vinny says, I'll cancel your reservation.  And, he says, like he's doing me a freaking favor, I won't charge you the cancellation fee.

I can't tell you why, just exactly, that sent me over the edge.

Actually, I can.  I had already gone a little Greek, and this was just ouzo thrown onto that fire.  Also, my girls were crying.  Also, Karen had inquired repeatedly on the phone about our concern that a particular type of room be available.  Also, I don't care that the Homewood Suites by Hilton on the Oakland Waterfront has a call center that doesn't have real-time access to room availability.  Also, I really don't like being sniffed at by clerks while my children cry late on a Monday night.

And I really didn't like Young Vinny and his oh-so-kind offer to cancel our reservation - without charging us for the courtesy.  Because, see - Young Vinny made it sound like the normal course of business was to lure customers into his lair after giving them incorrect information and then charging them to cancel. 

The feeling was mutual - Young Vinny also didn't like me because I'd gone into my Hey-Vinny routine.  My Hey-Vinny routine goes something like this:  Hey Vinny, employee of Homewood Suites by Hilton on the Oakland Waterfront.  Guess what, Vinareeno?  I work in a retail environment - can I shoot a few pointers at the Vinster?  Please, VinVinVinny, don't cop an attitude with a customer who's really mad because of really stupid service they've received at the hands of the Homewood Suites by Hilton on the Oakland Waterfront, capiche?

It went on like that for a bit.  In other words, I was being a real jerk there at the end.

Thankfully for us, the story has a happy ending.  The Executive Inn at Embarcadero Cove, also on the Oakland Waterfront, was able to accommodate us - happily, and with a quiet room facing the water.  On our way there - literally one minute down the frontage road next to 880 - our oldest daughter wrote a letter to the Homewood Suites by Hilton on the Oakland Waterfront.  It read, in its entirety:

Dear Hotel,
Why did you lie to us?
Love, Elizabeth.

I really, really, adore that kid.

And in case you were wondering, the Executive Inn at Embarcadero Cove has free candy at check in.  I recommend the butterscotch.  It can take any bad taste out of your mouth, instantly.