Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Half Empty: Adding years to your life

They say that when you hit your 40s, your life is half over. We prefer to think of it as HALF EMPTY. Our age has finally caught up with our outlook on life. Remember, it is possible to turn that frown upside down...but you might pull a muscle.

By Rick Kaempfer & Dave Stern

This year both of us turned 44, and quite frankly, we’re getting a little worried. Let’s just say that neither of us are exactly in the greatest shape, and both of our fathers died young. We’re peeling off years at an alarming rate and we need to do something about it…and fast!

There are two possible solutions.

1) Exercise, eat right and do yoga.
2) The Rick and Dave solution.

The pundits will have you believe that the first choice is the most prudent option. Try it if you like, but at best, you'll add five, six, maybe eight years to your life. Big deal. That's maybe one Cubs playoff appearance, if you're lucky.

That's not the Rick and Dave way. We’re overachievers. We need more. With the Rick and Dave solution, you can add decades or more to your life.

How do we do it? We lie to ourselves.

Self-deception is not a half-hearted pastime. Simply saying: “Age is only a state of mind” or “Look at John Glenn! He went up in space in his seventies” is not going to cut it. The novice self-fibber's house of cards will come tumbling down the first time he pulls a neck muscle changing lanes. (Shut up. We've done it.)

No, self deception is an art. When you're a pro (like we are), you know you won't actually live longer, no matter how many times you say it. Words alone are ineffective. However, words that make it seem like you're living longer can bring you immortality.

With our help, a few well placed words can turn any situation into an excruciating how-long-have-I-been-here moment. As you continue to experience excruciating moment after excruciating moment, you will slowly but surely add years to your life. Before you know it, it won't even matter how old you are anymore, because it will seem like you've been alive since the beginning of time.

Try it yourself with a few examples for beginners.

1) "Let me take (Child A) to the pre-school birthday party!"
You don't have say another word. Father Time will take care of the rest. Don’t worry if the first few minutes of the party go by quickly--the kids are cute for about five minutes or so. After that, time starts to crawl. The more screaming kids, the better. The more fights, the slower the earth rotates. By the time the party is over, you will already have lived longer than your father.

2)"Honey, tell me more about your job."
Then get specific. Ask about paperwork: "What sort of information do they ask for in the requisition forms these days?" Or, ask about specific petty co-worker squabbles: "So, what's the status of Ralph's stapler. Any sign of it yet? I bet if you open Doris' desk..." Better yet, offer advice on how to deal with issues at work: "You know how I would reorganize your department if I were you?" Any of those office discussions will actually make the clock start moving backwards. Remember, God could have created three universes in the time it takes a typical husband to explain a new office voice-mail system.

3)"I sent back the RSVP for the wedding!"
Oh, not just any weddings. Family weddings don't count. Weddings of close friends don't count either. Any other wedding, however, will do. It’s a little known fact that Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel between the salad and the entrĂ©e at his mother's best friend's daughter's wedding.

4) "So, you're an 80+ year-old die-hard Republican, huh?"

This one is almost too easy. Just bring up any liberal argument about any subject, with this simple opener..."You know what those people say?" That phrase lets a Republican know you're on his or her side. It's code for "You may speak freely on this subject." Buckle up before you do it though. That angry bronco bucks. If you want to add a decade to your life, try this one: "I have never seen such hatred in my lifetime like the hatred these people have for the President." Don't allow yourself to get distracted by the veins popping out of his neck or the throbbing temples of his "I hate their hate" hate. Listen to every word and nod. Then bring up illegal immigrants and welfare mothers living at the Ritz. If you really, really, want time to stop, bring up Bill Clinton. (But not without a paramedic standing by!)

5) "Let's get to your office Christmas party early this year, honey."

Again, time might go quickly initially because of the open bar, but it’s not going to last. After your third drink, your spouse will tell you to slow down before you do something embarrassing. Once the drinks stop flowing, and you have to actually engage in conversations without lubricated assistance, you'll be knocking on the door of the space-time continuum. After the third reference to "Ralph's stapler" and/or the third discussion of the weather with Ralph's wife, time will actually stop moving altogether. Many experts believe that Methuselah didn’t live all that long, he just sat through his wife's wacky holiday slide show a couple of times.

6) "Put little 3-year-old (Child A) on the phone, would you?"
That little three-year-old voice is so cute...for one second. Then, you're liable to get a play-by-play of the paint drying. "And shirt is green...and um...squirrel!..." Don't set the phone down on your end either. That's cheating. You must simply endure. Every time you feel yourself about to say "Can you put mommy on the phone, honey," ask another question about the child's wardrobe or better yet, Dora the Explorer.

There you have it.

You probably never thought that reading this column would actually help you live longer.

On the other hand, if you’re a frequent reader of Half Empty, maybe that's why you're reading it in the first place.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Suburban Man: The birth of Tommy Kaempfer

I wrote the following piece when I returned home from the hospital after the birth of my oldest son Tommy, twelve years ago this week.

October 19, 1995

The phone rang at the office. It was the very pregnant Bridget on the line. “I’m not sure, but I think my water might have broken.”

Like any rational adult, I went into a sitcom panic. “What do you mean, you think your water might have broken? Isn’t that usually accompanied by a huge swoosh of water?”

After we both calmed down (although now that I mention it, Bridget was pretty calm) we decided to swing by the doctor’s office and have him check. It was his day off and he conducted the examination over the phone with another doctor. The fluid was checked under a microscope.


Like any rational adult, I called everyone I knew and said “We’re going to have a baby!”

Of course, reality set in when we got to the hospital. The woman in the room next to Bridget’s was in her second day of labor. Later in the night we heard a woman screaming in such excruciating pain that we thought it was a baby crying. I knew right then and there that my beautiful wife would be numbing the pain with drugs. The more, the merrier.

I’m pretty sure that my mother set some kind of speed record from Mt. Prospect to Chicago in the middle of the afternoon. Bridget called her sometime around 1PM, and she was in the waiting room by 2PM. Apparently we weren’t the only ones anticipating the birth of this child....Oma wanted to be there when her first grandchild was born. As it turned out, she wasn’t.

After sitting there for eight hours with very little progress I sent her home. That’s when all hell broke loose. Bridget had to be induced, and almost immediately she started feeling intense pain. My memory banks have catalogued this beautiful moment between the anesthesiologist and my wife. It went something like this....

Dr: So, you think you need something for the pain?
Br: Yes, yes, yes....oooooh.
Dr: OK, we’re going to have to ask the father to leave the room for a moment.
Br: Groan. Groan. Groan. Groan. Groan.

(Rick leaves the room, returns 1/2 hour later)

Br: Oh, thank you doctor, thank you. I just wanted to really, really, really, really thank you.

We both knew we were in the home stretch then. Well, at least I knew. I’m not sure if Bridget even knew where she was for the next few hours. Thank God. It was so great to see the transformation from the really unhappy Bridget to the really happy Bridget.

It was now 2AM. Time to start pushing. They called Dr. Sabbagha. He checked out the goods and decided that we still had some time, so Bridget kept on pushing while the doc took a little nap. Molly the nurse helped us push. She held one of Bridget’s legs and I held the other and we coached her through each push. About every third push Bridget’s leg slammed me right in the family jewels.

Then I saw it....

At first I wasn’t sure what it was, Molly had to fill me in. It was the baby’s head. The hair threw me off. I didn’t expect to see hair, I was expecting to see a perfectly shaped bald (Michael Jordan-esque) head. But there was no mistaking it...the time was near.

Molly went to get Dr. Sabbagha, and told us we could keep pushing if we wanted. BIG MISTAKE. With her first solo try, Bridget grunted hard, and poof - there was the head...all the way out. I’m not sure what I said, but I think it went something like this....

“STOP. STOP. STOP. Holy Bleep.”

Molly came back in, saw the head and said...”Oh my God, we better get Dr. Sabbagha.”

He barely had time to get his gloves on before the event. Just a few moments later, at 4:06 a.m. we had a bouncing baby boy.

We didn’t even know the name of the baby when I called Mom up around 4:45AM. We hadn’t allowed ourselves to really put a lot of thought into a boy’s name, it just didn’t seem possible that we would have a boy. Bridget's entire family at the time consisted of nothing but girls.

Naming a child is one of the most awesome responsibilities a person ever faces. Our momentous decision was made something like this....

Rick: We need to come up with a name.
Bridget: It’s a boy. I can’t believe it’s a boy.
Rick: I guess the name Grace Anne won’t work now.
Bridget: Well, what do you think?
Rick: Let's name him after our fathers.
Bridget: I'm not naming him Eckhard or Stanley.
Rick: Fine, then let’s name him after our Dad’s middle names. Peter Thomas or Thomas Peter?
Bridget: I don’t know, I’m getting stitched up right now.
Rick: OK. Thomas Peter.
Bridget: Fine.

Most of our friends and relatives heard about Tommy on the radio. As a matter of fact, in one of the earliest broadcasting debuts in history, Tommy was on the air when he was 2 hours old.

The following is a transcript of that telephone conversation that morning. The participants are John Landecker (center), sidekick Vicki Truax (the only female in the group picture), and proud papa Rick.

John: Oldies 104.3 WJMK, It's 12 minutes after 6:00 with John Records Landecker and Vicki Truax. The hotline...the private ringing. Hello.

Rick: Hello.

John: Well?

Rick: I'm a papa.

(Loud cheering and whooping in the studio)

Vicki: A girl or a boy?

Rick: A boy.

Vicki: I KNEW IT!!! What's his name?

Rick: Thomas Peter.

Vicki: What time?

Rick: 4:06 a.m.

John: Wow. How's everybody doing?

Rick: Everyone is fine.

Vicki: Bridget is fine too? Is she exhausted?

Rick: Yup, she's holding Thomas right now.

John & Vicki: Awwwww.

Rick: 7 pounds, 3 ounces.

John & Vicki: Awwwww.

Rick: And I recorded the entire thing on Digital audio tape.

Vicki: You're kidding? She didn't make you turn it off?

Rick: No. I had it put in a nice place where it didn't get in anyone's way.

John: We've got Thomas' birth on tape.

Rick: Yup. And we got his first bath on tape too, and his first cry.

John: Something tells me we better get more tape. OK, here's his first eyelid opening. Better get that on tape. We're going through his first toll...let's get that on tape. Hey Rick, don't you just want to...

John, Vicki & Rick: Hug and kiss them all the time?

(That was something Vicki said so often about her daughter it was a running joke on the show)

Rick: He is so damn cute.

John & Vicki: Awwwwww.

Rick: Wait a he crying? Hold on.

Sound: A tiny baby cry can be heard.

John: Is that him?

Rick: Yup. His on-air debut.

John: Wow!

Rick: He's got some lungs on him.

John: That kid sounds like he's two years old.

Rick: Yeah, he's got good pipes.

John: Does he want to come in and do a few record talkovers?

Vicki: How long is he?

Rick: 21 inches.

John: So what was it like?

Rick: It was so cool. It was just like the movie "Alien." The baby kind of popped out and looked around. Then he jumped up and sucked my eyes out...

John & Vicki: (Laughing)

John: Then Siguorney Weaver came in with some sort of a mechanical device. It was unbelievable.

Vicki: You guys. Is he all wrinkly. Does he have hair?

Rick: Yeah, he does have hair. That was the first thing we saw. I asked the nurse...ewww...what is that? That's his hair. Oh.

John: Did you get it on tape?

Rick: Of course. Uh, oh. I have to go. We need to take Bridget up to the recovery room.

Vicki: You're still in the delivery room?

Rick: Yeah.

Vicki: That's dedication.

John: How many calls have you made so far?

Rick: This is my second call. I called my mom first.

John: Wow. Well take care of everyone.

Rick: Thanks.

John & Vicki: Bye.

John: There they go. Dad Rick, Mom Bridget and now Thomas Kaempfer.

Vicki: I kind of liked the other name Rick was talking about before.

John: I don't think Bridget was ever going to agree to Ringo.