Monthly Archives: April 2014

I taught my sister how to shave her legs on Easter

When my family was little, every Easter my grandparents would take the whole family out to dinner on Long Island. I’m the oldest of six, and growing up, going out to a restaurant with just my immediate family was pretty much a logistical impossibility. But each year it was everybody on my mom’s side, all of my aunts and uncles, all of the cousins, all of us sitting down to a ridiculously long table at the New Hyde Park Inn on Easter Sunday.

All of these annual dinners were more or less identical. It’s like, when you’re a little kid, everything feels mostly the same, you don’t feel yourself growing up, you don’t notice your brothers and sisters getting older each year. And having a holiday ritual that doesn’t change from year to year, it kind of reinforces that feeling, like you look back on all of those Easters and they all just kind of blend together into one generic Sunday memory.

But one year in particular stands out. Even though by the ninth grade I was pretty far removed from all of that Easter Bunny nonsense, my littlest sister is ten years younger than me, so I kind of had the extra several years where I had to wake up in the morning and act surprised at all of our baskets of candy.

After a traditional breakfast of Cadbury eggs and marshmallow peeps, the festive atmosphere quickly descended into chaos as my mom desperately tried to get us out the door on time for church. My grandparents’ dinner reservations were right after mass, but nobody was dressed and ready to go, so the plan was to swing by the house on the way to dinner so everybody could finish putting on their nice Easter clothes.

The car rides to and from our house were never very far away, but whenever the six of us had to pile into a single minivan, there was always enough time for everybody to get a little crazy. Depending on current alliances, my brother Brian and I might be teasing our little brother Joe, or Kevin might try to torment Joseph and Jessie. Warnings of “knock it off!” from my parents would go mostly ignored. With no way to enforce any sort of behavior behind the wheel, car trips were a free for all of yelling and laughing.

But this one year, for whatever reason, my sister Emily fell into the crosshairs of my oldest-brother mean-spirited wrath. I was actually trying to tease my younger brother Kevin, he was wearing shorts to church, and I wanted to get him crazy by commenting on how he didn’t have any hair on his legs, to make him feel like a little kid.

“Even Emily has more hair on her legs than you!” I pointed and made a face. I started my over-the-top jerk laugh and waited for Kevin to start wailing in protest, but instead Emily got really quiet and cried.

It was probably one of the first times that I actually felt bad about something that I had said. Of course the intent was to make someone else miserable, but not like this. This was beyond the normal crazy inter-sibling rivalries. My teenaged mind wasn’t really capable of processing what was appropriate and not appropriate to say in regards to your little sister, but it was obvious that I had crossed a line, and I wanted to fix it, immediately.

Usually our verbal sticks-and-stones were fairly easily remedied by a joke or an “I’m sorry” or an especially strong yelling from mom and dad, but Emily was clearly hurt here, to the point where I remember my dad giving me this look from the front seat, like, what the hell man? What did you say?

Emily wouldn’t talk to me during church, and she wouldn’t entertain my apologies on the ride home. But I had a brilliant idea. As soon as we got home, I’d help her out. “Emily,” I told her, “I can fix this. Look. I have a Mach 3 razor. Just wet your legs and shave.” And it worked. She wasn’t mad at me anymore. She took the razor and I went downstairs to see if I could get in a game of Mario Kart before my parents started corralling us back into the minivan.

Not even five minutes later, I heard a scream from upstairs. Thirty seconds after that, my mom yelled out, “Robbie! What the hell is wrong with you?” I guess my sister didn’t yet understand the whole razor thing. I don’t know. I mean, yes, looking back now I realize how stupid I was. But at the time, I really didn’t think anything would go wrong.

Not like it did. Not like the three inch gash on my sister’s shin, the one that bled all over her pastel-colored Easter dress, ten minutes before we were supposed to be sitting down at that long table with my grandparents and all of my aunts and uncles and cousins, all of us there for that Easter Sunday dinner at the New Hyde Park Inn.

I still feel bad about that one. She was fine. Like, it didn’t need stiches or anything. But yeah, it was a mess, and we were definitely late. Emily was probably a little traumatized. And my parents were pissed. Like pissed, pissed. And I totally deserved it. I couldn’t have just made anybody’s life a little easier. No, I was always finding some way to be a giant pain in the ass.

Surprise delivery

I have these days off from work, it’s not a real weekend, it’s a Tuesday, I work in a restaurant, and so my week doesn’t really match up with anybody else’s week. There are definitely some perks. Like my days off are really my days. I have them all to myself. All of those things like going to the bank or running errands, stuff that everyone else has to take care of during a lunch break, that’s not really a thing for me.

And so yeah, that’s cool. But today, this Tuesday, it’s been raining out since I woke up. And so I don’t want to go outside at all. At first it wasn’t a big deal. I have enough cereal and coffee in the house so actually leaving the house didn’t have to be an option. Not at first anyway.

But a bowl of cereal only gets you so far, and then it was lunchtime, and I still had zero desire to put on a pair of pants, much less finding a pair of matching socks, an umbrella. I mentioned it was raining, right? It was raining when I woke up and it’s raining now.

And it kind of feels like, come on, this is my day off. What should have been a nice day of getting stuff done turned into this day of lethargy, I’m unable to get out of my seat. My hunger mounted to the point where it was two or three in the afternoon, and while I didn’t necessarily want to eat any more cereal, I really knew that there was nothing that was going to get me outside, not until the skies cleared and the ground dried.

I kept looking at that box of cereal, why was I fighting it? It was almost an inevitability at this point. Eventually I’d get hungry enough and, barring some delivery guy accidentally dropping food off at my house, I’d make a move and pour myself a bowl.

That would be crazy though, right? I mean, if a delivery guy did mistakenly ring my doorbell, I couldn’t just pay for the food. It’s funny because it’s happened before. Not often, but maybe like two or three times, I’d hear the doorbell, it would be the delivery guy, he’d be like, “Dee-LEE-berry,” and I’d be like, “Nah man, you must have the wrong address.” And he’d just kind of stand there for a while.

One time I felt really bad for the guy, he didn’t know any English at all really, and so when I told him that he must have the wrong place, he kind of just stood there, staring at me, holding his hand out. And how do you make hand gestures that spell out, “No. Wrong house?” I mean, obviously I was already shaking my head no, and it wasn’t getting through. So I finally took the order out of his hands, and I walked him the two or so block down to where he needed to be.

But man, if that had happened today, I would have been like, yes, thank you, how much was that again? Here you go, thanks. And it would be like a surprise delivery. In fact, I wish there was such a thing, surprise delivery. Like, isn’t that the worst part about getting food delivered? Figuring out what you’re going to get, where you’re going to get it from? They should start a company, Surprise Delivery, you text your address and however much money you want to spend, and then half an hour later, “Ding-dong! Delivery! Surprise Delivery!”

That would be awesome. But it would never happen. And even if I did get an accidental delivery right now, and even if I did pay for it, I’m sure it would get back to me. Whoever ordered their food would call back eventually, even if they couldn’t get it straightened out, someone’s night would have been ruined, no dinner, just transferring my hunger onto a random stranger. And maybe it would get straightened out. I’d get a knock at the door, that delivery guy, “Why’d you pay for this food? What the hell man?”

No, I just poured some more cereal, I got full. That’s all I’ve had today is cereal and coffee. And I’m just sitting here, I know it can’t be good for me, like aren’t there all sorts of other nutrients and stuff that cereal alone can’t provide for the human body? What kind of a day off is this anyway?

Hey Bill, did you ever watch Storylords?

Dear Bill Simmons:

I don’t know if I’ve ever told you this before, but when I was in the second grade, our teacher, Mrs. Cosgrove, she used to show us these educational videos every now and then. I’m sure teaching a bunch of little kids has got to be a physically and emotionally draining way to spend a day, so I don’t really begrudge the fact that she’d phone it in once in a while by turning on the TV and telling us to be quiet. But while everyone else would get all excited whenever the maintenance guy would knock on the door to wheel in one of the school’s TVs, my heart would stop.


I went into school every single day with a pit in my stomach, a constant fear. Would today be the day? Because there wasn’t a schedule. It wasn’t like, “OK class, it’s 10:30 on Wednesday, so you know what that means, educational TV time.” No, it was just whenever the teacher felt like it. Sometimes we’d go months without so much as a spotting of a VHS tape. But then maybe we’d watch TV for two or three days in a row. I couldn’t rest. There was no escape from the fear. Every day had the potential to turn into a TV day without any warning.

And it wasn’t the TV that I was afraid of, it was this one particular show that we had to watch. It was called Storylords. It was about this little kid around my age and his younger sister. Each episode, they were visited by this wizard guy from another dimension. His world was overrun by this crazy warlord named Thorzul.

Thorzul as a screen presence wasn’t that scary. It was really bad, cheap acting, just some guy in a black cape. He kind of looked like my dentist. But it was his character, this dictator of that other world, he had powers. He could turn people into stone. I’m not sure that it was a central part of the plot, I’m pretty sure the show was all about teaching kids how to read, but every episode, it’s like they didn’t have anything else to fall back on, and so he’d zap someone into a statue.

And I was terrified. Like sitting there, sweating bullets, looking around at all my classmates, unable to understand how they were all just sitting there, smiling, watching TV, all while I was trying my best to keep it together, to not freak out and start screaming, terrified.

I’m a little fuzzy on the specifics of the show, but for whatever reason, that wizard that I was talking about earlier, he would always need the kids’ help. So he teleported them to his home dimension where they’d have to confront Thorzul and, well, they’d have to basically take an oral spelling and grammar quiz. “Spell this word correctly or I’ll turn you into a statue! Just like I turned these two guys into statues!”

And yeah, they always got it right, and then not only would they be spared an eternal hell, a life trapped in living stone, but the other statues would usually be restored back to life also. But man, for whatever reason, the idea of it, of being forced to ace a pop quiz, the pressure of getting it wrong, of feeling my insides harden as my skin turned grey. And what would it look like? What would be the last thing I’d see before my eyes cemented over? Would I be dead? Or just trapped forever?

I’d barely make it through each episode, just quivering in my seat, hands clenched tightly around the sides of my desk, unable to shake that feeling of having just been mentally violated. What was the point of these videos? Why was my school trying to reinforce my already pretty decent reading and writing skills by terrorizing me into never making any mistakes?

And so that’s what most of my year was like, just praying that it wouldn’t be a TV day, that I wouldn’t have to watch Storylords.

But it always happened, maybe not immediately, but eventually, there’d be a knock at the door, everyone would get all excited, the maintenance guy would drag in that set, an old fashioned box mounted on top of a rolling dolly. It all came to a head one day midyear, Mrs. Cosgrove popped in the Storylords VHS, and instead of the usual introductory exposition, this particular episode skipped straight to the terror.

The kids were sitting in school, in a classroom not that different from the one I was currently sitting in. Then, a flash of light, and there they appeared, Thorzul and his little henchman, they had somehow crossed over into our reality, taken the fight to us, a surprise offensive. He skipped the normal pleasantries and used his powers to partially turn the little boy into stone. He could look around, but he couldn’t move or talk. Then the dark lord turned to the sister, “All right! Answer my phonics questions correctly or your brother’s a statue for good!”

At this point I couldn’t take it anymore. I broke down and started screaming, running out of the classroom and straight into the boys’ restroom. Crouched in the corner with my hands covering my eyes, I tried to get myself together, to stop myself from crying at least, hoping that nobody had seen where I’d run.

But of course they knew where to look. And it was a huge deal. Mrs. Cosgrove was like, “What’s wrong with you?” completely unable to make the connection between Thorzul’s wrath and my little episode. They took me to the principal’s, my mom was called in. I remember sitting there in the office while my mom and Mrs. Cosgrove watched the program that had caused my rather extreme reaction.

I felt like such a baby. And this wasn’t the first time my mom had to be called in to quell an emotional panic. A year earlier, one of my classmates brought the whole room some candy for her birthday. I was passed this little yellow box of JujyFruits. I’d never seen this candy before, and on the box was this illustration of a cartoon girl. It was a poorly drawn almost stick-like figure, pale white skin with a little squiggly line for a mouth. For whatever reason, I made eye contact with the drawing and this wretched creature pulled me into some sort of a void. I couldn’t identify the feelings at the time, but they’re the same exact responses I get now as an adult when I’m occasionally lying in bed wide-awake at four in the morning thinking about how someday I and everyone I know will …


Well, there’s no reason to get too morbid here. But it was that same feeling again this time with Thorzul, only now the fear wasn’t as abstract as it was the year before. I sat there and worried if I was going to be in trouble, if all the other kids were going to make fun of me for running out of the classroom.

But no, my mom finished up her talk with Mrs. Cosgrove, she took me home, and that was it, really. There wasn’t anything to talk about, and nobody in school mentioned it when I came back the next day. Also, we never watched Storylords ever again. So there was that, I didn’t have to sit there and worry every day, that was definitely a relief.

Anyway, the only reason I bring this up is because, well, I was just imagining what it’s going to be like when you finally give me a call and ask me to write for Grantland. I thought, what if Bill asks me one of those interview questions, like, “What’s your biggest weakness?” or “Tell me about a situation in which you overcame a great obstacle.” And I thought about this, about the second grade, about Storylords. That story would work for either of those questions. Right? Because I overcame it. Or, I caused a huge scene and got my way. That took initiative. Right? Don’t you want that in an employee?

OK, well, that’s it I guess. Give me a call.

Hope you have a great weekend,

Rob G.

Home Depot

I got lost at the Home Depot the other day. For some reason, it’s always Home Depot. What should have been a routine visit turned into a two-hour session in social anxiety, an exercise in the many subtle social interactions that in thirty years on this planet I’ve yet to learn. I could be feeling at the top of my game, like I’ve got everything figured out. And it only takes one trip to Home Depot to make me feel like a little kid again. A little kid who has no idea what he’s doing in life, just wasting everybody’s time with his presence.


It should have been simple enough. I wanted some cedar to build a vegetable garden in the backyard. The wood comes in these twelve foot long planks, and I know that they’ll cut it right there for you. But figuring out how to get them to cut it, it’s crazy. It’s not like the Home Depot commercials, where everything looks so easy. “You’ve got a project but you don’t know how to start?” the faceless announcer pegs me right away, “Just come over to Home Depot, where we’ll tell you what you need, and how to do it.”

But what they don’t tell you is, there are like three hundred people also shopping at the Home Depot, and while most everybody knows what they’re doing, like they’re able to navigate the maze of endless choices of tools and equipment, instantly zeroing in on precisely the right product that they need for the job, there are always at least ten or fifteen people per aisle doing exactly what I’m doing, staring ahead blankly at the walls, unable to even think about how you’re supposed to start doing whatever it is what you want to do.

Sure, it should be as easy as just grabbing someone in an orange vest, “Can you help me out for a second?” But each orange vest is always helping someone else out. Not only that, they’ve got like two or three other people waiting in line to be helped out. Only, there’s not really a line. You’re just supposed to kind of hover around the orange vest, hoping that whenever they’re done helping whoever it is that they’re currently helping, they’ll turn to you next and go, “OK, so what can I help you with?”

Nobody’s taking numbers, it’s always a free-for-all. You’ll be awkwardly orbiting an orange vest, you’re clearly next in line, in fact, you’ve gone above and beyond what should have been necessary to secure your spot. You might have started out in the tool aisle, you’re waiting as the orange vest helps someone pick out a choice screwdriver, and all you need is some help picking out your own screwdriver. But no, after this guy gets his screwdriver, he’s like, “Also, can you help me pick out a good doorknob?”

“Sure! Right this way!” And then it’s crazy, you have to follow them to the doorknob aisle. You’re lost, very far away from your intended goal, and for all you know, there might be a new orange vest in the tool aisle, someone ready to help out the next tool-seeking customer. But you’re invested. You’ve waited. You’ve tried to give these two enough space so as not to intrude upon their moment while also remaining close enough that everyone knows that you’re there for help, that you’re next.

But how many times does it happen, when you should be next, but maybe you’ve got like two or three other hangers-on, waiting for the orange vest’s attention. It’s your turn, but right before you can jump in, someone else cuts the line, “Hey sorry, just real quick, can you help me pick out a doorknob?” And what are you supposed to say? “Excuse me, I’m next, and we’re going back to the tool aisle.”

No, you have to sit there and wait, and then other people see that you’ve just given up your turn, so when that turn is over, it’s like you’re labeled, go ahead and cut me, I won’t say anything, I’m not going to protest.

That’s what it was like for this wood that I needed cut. I found the wood, right, and I found the cutting machine. “Hey man, do you think you could cut some wood for me?” and he just kept saying, “What? What?” Like, was I not speaking properly? Every single question I asked, “What? Huh?” Finally I had to spell it out, “Can. You. Cut …”

And then he was like, “OK, yeah, fine, go get the wood, I’ll cut it.”

So I got the wood, eight pieces of cedar. I loaded it onto this awkward lumber shopping cart, and I waited by the machine. Only, he was gone. He disappeared. I waited for like fifteen minutes, tried to go on my phone to make the time go by, tried not to look impatient. Finally I felt like I was being had, I stopped some other orange vest, someone walking by with his own posse of hangers on. “Excuse me,” I said really quickly, “I’m not trying to interrupt, but do you know where the wood cutter is? He was here like fifteen minutes ago, but I don’t see him anymore.”

And everyone gave me that stink eye, like what the hell man? Don’t you see the vague circle-like amorphous blob of a line? Nobody here knows exactly who’s up next, but it’s definitely not you.

This orange vest looked around, he told, “I think he’s at the other cutting machine. I can hear it cutting.”

“Thanks,” I told him, leaving my wood behind to go investigate this other cutting machine. Of course there was another cutting machine. And of course there was a new line of people all waiting to have some wood cut. I waited, and by the time it was my turn for assistance, some other Home Depot employee had returned all of my lumber that was waiting at that original cutting machine. I had to start all over again, lifting the wood off of the shelf, trying to get the cutting guy to stay with me, having to speak really slowly all over again so he could understand how long I wanted each piece to be cut.

Does it have to be this hard? Why can’t they make it easier to get help? They should have like a structured system, like you need help, you go find someone at the front, all of the orange vests could help people on a first come, first serve basis. You won’t have to wander the aisles and worry that you’re bothering the wrong people. “Oh sorry, I’m just stocking, I’m not doing customer service.” OK, well how am I supposed to know that? You’re all wearing identical orange vests. And everybody looks like they’re doing something else.

Fix it, Home Depot. Don’t you want me to spend money at your store? Don’t you think I’d be more inclined to visit more frequently if I didn’t feel like such an amateur every time I walked through your giant warehouse doors?

You’re not supposed to hang out on the stairs

I was taking the train a couple of weeks ago. Where I live, the subway is aboveground, so if you want to take a ride, you’ve got to walk up these two flights of stairs to get to the platform. And exactly halfway up, I ran into my old friend Greg, he was coming down the opposite direction, man, I hadn’t seen him in probably like five years, maybe longer. We caught each other’s eyes right away and stopped to say hi.


A lot of the time it’s a pain to have to stop and say hello to someone when you’re just trying to go about your day. But this was different, Greg used to be a pretty good friend, at least for me, this wasn’t your typical “hey how’s it going,” I mean, maybe it was a chore for him, but if it was, he was doing a good job of not letting me know it, trying his best to seem genuinely pleased to see me.

But after maybe fifteen seconds of pleasantries, right after we got the “It’s been such a long time!” automatic intro sentences out of the way, but right before we could really get into any specific “Where are you living these days?” advanced conversation points, this MTA employee comes up from behind me and gives us this really curt, “Listen, you guys can’t congregate on the stairs, OK, you’ve got to move.”

And yes, it wasn’t the ideal spot to catch up with an old friend, but it wasn’t super crowded, and we both made sure to move as far to the side of the staircase as possible. People were going around us. I’m very aware of whether or not I’m causing a traffic jam, and this was definitely not at all impeding the flow of foot speed.

So I kind of motioned to the MTA employee, like I didn’t say anything to him directly, but I made eye contact, I nodded, and then I looked back toward Greg with renewed urgency, like, yes, let’s continue what we’re doing here, but let’s maybe speed it up a little bit, because we are on the stairs, we can’t very well stand here for too much longer.

But the MTA guy wouldn’t have it, he wouldn’t even let Greg and me get in another back-and-forth, I was just about to ask what he was up to these days, but this guy shouts, “Look, I can’t let you just hang out here. OK, you either have to up the stairs, or you have to go down the stairs, but you can’t just stand here on the stairs.”

And I instantly got kind of annoyed, like yes, I know that we shouldn’t be standing here, but this is where this conversation happened to take place, OK, it’s not like I was like, hey, Greg, do you want to get together this afternoon to catch up? Yeah, great, meet me at the Broadway stop of the N train, the Northwest staircase, about halfway up.

Also, I resented this guy’s message, like, here, let me spell it out for you, let me give you one of these long detailed overly worded I’m-in-charge ways of communicating to you what could easily be said in three or four words. So I turned around, I looked this guy in the eye and I said, “Thank you,” while trying not to appear visibly pissed off, like I tried to smile, and I hoped to get the message across that, OK man, I hear you, we hear you, but thank you, now please go back to doing whatever else it was that you were doing before you came over here to start vigorously enforcing the no-standing-on-the-staircase rules.

So Greg and I kind of continued talking, but it was only like a word, maybe two words, because the MTA guy in his orange neon MTA worker’s vest was not having it. “Gentlemen,” he interrupted. And now I thought, OK, this guy’s not going to let up, maybe we should move? But where? Was I going to go all the way back down the stairs? Because Greg didn’t look like he was willing to walk all the way back up. What if one of us made that effort and then the conversation fizzled out? What if it turned out to be nothing more than a heavy initial dose of nostalgia before we both realized, wait a second, there’s a reason I haven’t seen this person in years, it’s because whatever it was that we had in common wasn’t strong enough to sustain a lasting friendship?

And this got me even more annoyed, like what the hell man, you can’t just let two people run into each other and say hi? Can’t you just take a hint? OK? I took your hint, right, you don’t want us standing here anymore. Hint taken. Can you now take my hint and leave us the fuck alone? Just for like a minute? How long do you really think we’re going to stand here? Is it that important to you that we move right this second?

And so I turned my attention from Greg toward the MTA guy, I started giving him the business, throwing out stuff like, “Why don’t you just back off, all right?” and more stuff like, “You’re not a cop, OK? You want to call the cops? Call the cops, because the last time I checked, MTA guys don’t really have too much in the way of actual authority.”

Which, I don’t know what I was going for here, it was a pure reaction. If I was thinking that my display of defiance might have somehow bought Greg and me a little more one-on-one time, I was wrong. Because even though this MTA guy might not have had any actual enforcement abilities, he was still wearing that vest, he still had a few non-arresting powers at his disposal.

Like getting-in-my-face powers, asking me if I was aware that threatening an MTA employee was a felony offense. “Who’s threatening? I’m not threatening?” I shot back with my hands in the air.

At this point Greg started heading down the stairs, “All right man, it was great to see you. Let’s catch up soon!” and I thought about going down with him, continuing the conversation at on the sidewalk, but that was it, the goodbye was said. And would our forced continued discussion be required to talk about the sort-of argument I had just engaged in with this total stranger?

Yeah, that conversation was over, I’d probably never see Greg again, not that it really mattered, not really. I was already feeling that nostalgia buzz start to die down somewhat. And then it was just me and the MTA guy, he was just staring at me, sort of smiling, like, ha, there goes your friend. I just turned and headed upstairs, muttering, “Asshole,” under my breath.

“What was that?” he screamed out after me, I guess I muttered it a little louder than I thought. But just as I considered saying something else, I realized, no, I muttered that exactly as loud as I had intended, just loud enough for him to hear me say it, and now I’ll just slip back into the background of the city, paying no attention to this crazy guy in an orange vest yelling up at some other guy already disappearing into a crowd of people waiting for the N train.