Dear Matt Forte…

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“It’s an honor to play for such a great owner,” Forte didn’t say.

We’ve started our 2016 Fantasy Football campaign on the right track, despite a Week 1 loss to something called Oprah’s Circle. And even though you hardly played in the pre-season, you’re over 30-years-old and toting the rock with a new team, the 915 Ballers are looking to devastate the league this season, led, of course, by you. And me.

Us.

Week 2’s tilt versus some team called Year of the Raging Chinamen has our squad up a fat 28 points heading into Sunday. If only I could have picked you up in the other fantasy football league I got suckered into joining (even though my team did manage to beat Kiss My Big *I Can’t mention the rest of the name because you and I are decent men of faith and esteem but it rhymes with Lass), the victory would have been sweeter with you in my lineup.

Thursday was a thing of beauty, you scampering through a porous Buffalo defense en route to 100 yards and three TDs – me with the foresight and cunning to insert you into the lineup.

Can you believe that this is my 20th year playing fantasy football? It seems like only yesterday that I was fidgeting with a team that featured one of your New York Jets predecessors, Curtis Martin. Curtis took me to the playoffs that year – here’s to you doing the same! Together we’re going to beat the likes of the Saltydogs, Yeehawks, Scout Snipers and my brother, Paul’s stupid team: Lick My (And once again, I apologize for his vulgarities, but it rhymes with Malls).

As I reflect on the last 20 years I recall the people who called me and my friends, nerds and dorks and all kinds of names because of our passion for sports. Today the very same people that labeled us are now playing against us, as millions of people throughout the world, from CEOs to porn stars, are playing fantasy sports. Matt, my mother is playing in our league (and I’m too embarrassed to tell you her team’s name).

In essence, Matt, I’d like to think that we were ahead of the curve, trailblazers with foresight – personally I forget my kids’ names at least 20 times a day but ask me who still holds the rookie rushing title set in 1983 and that would be one Eric Demetric Dickerson, thank you very much.

So much has changed in my life since that very first fantasy draft, Matt. Technology has evolved (we don’t need an abacus to figure out scores anymore), the guys in the league are separated by many miles and even oceans but we still manage to talk as much smack to each other in our 40’s (and 50’s Keith Garcia) as we did when we were teenagers going to college in Honolulu.

We’ve managed to weave our league into our every day lives during the season, something that takes skill and moxy. In 1999 while living in San Francisco, I dated a girl with big toes for thumbs (I found it intriguing at the time) that absolutely hated my involvement in the league. So I faked a stomach virus and many “trips to the bathroom (laptop)” for an entire weekend just so I could get through the draft that season. It was the same girl that shared my desire to never have children. Today, I stopped counting after my wife and I gave birth to our fifth child. Or is it four? Anyway…

You know, Matt, I used to think that managing a team in this league helped me stay on top of the happenings and goings of some pretty incredible people I met a long time ago. And that certainly hasn’t changed. But in addition to this, I see this time of year as the outlet I need to keep me from losing my mind. I mean with all these kids (this includes three girls, mind you), the league is the equivalent to how most parents feel using the bathroom in peace, free from interruptions, knocks and tiny fingers sticking under the door.

You understand. You’re a baller – a 915 Baller.

Here’s to an incredible season of domination, Matt (so long as you stay healthy and average 15 fantasy points a week).

Your friend and GM,

Phillip


NEW Book Update: “Pancakes For Dinner!” (Waldorf Press) will be included in Book Expo America, held in New York City in May 2017! The expo is North America’s largest gathering of professionals from around the globe and is the leading business event for publishers, librarians, retailers and more.


Schools are already booking their 2016-17 readings and events. Make sure to schedule yours today!

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My dog is a Son of a Bitch (Literally)

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Rocco, married less than three month and already acting like a dog.

Let’s not mince words – my dog, Rocco, is a punk.

There. I said it. He’s wild, uncontrollable and has little to no regard for anyone other than himself. In essence, he’s exactly the kind of character I want my three daughters to stay away from.

Oh daddy, look at his pretty eyes!

Sure, I suppose that’s where it starts with Rocco (and perhaps future boyfriends). The eyes will draw a person in, the same way Rocco, the con artist, fooled us. As a puppy he didn’t just look at us. He stared into our souls, gave us visions of love and laughter for our children. It’s as if he spoke to us, Take me, I’ll be a puppy pal like no other. Rocco totally fooled us, of course.

He even fooled the puppy trainer when we enrolled him in a 6-week course. There we learned to have him obey basic commands, like sitting and lying down. The catch to all of this was that we needed to reward him with treats. So naturally, Rocco figured it out pretty quickly that he wasn’t into being a good boy unless he got something out of it. The class should have been called Puppy Bribery 101.

Sure, Rocco “earned” a certificate for passing his course, but there’s been no retention of what he was supposed to learn. It’s as if he just went through the motions, like some scoundrel. He can be deceptive, too. During the day when nobody’s around but me, Rocco can be an uncontrollable nightmare. When the kids are home from school he turns into a lovable plush toy, eating up all the attention. The other day, as my daughters were doting over him, Rocco turned to me and winked. True story.

But he’s just so cute, daddy!

Rocco is kind of a metaphor for some of the would-be suitors my daughters will face. And as is usually the case with fathers that have to size up said suitors, I’m the only one that sees what kind of a jerk Rocco can be, mainly because I did some dating in my past life. I know how boys can be, what we want (no matter the age) and what we’re willing to say or do in order to get it.

You see, girls, boys have the potential to be a lot like your dog, I’d tell them. They might be cute and lovable on the outside, but they have the potential to make a huge mess of things. Some of those messes can be pretty filthy to clean up. But you’ll do it anyway. And then they’ll say sorry while looking at you with those puppy dog eyes and make a mess all over again.

I know. Some of you reading this right now are probably thinking that I’m looking waaaay too into this whole thing. And perhaps you’re right. But ask any father of daughters and they’ll tell you that there comes a time when we really start thinking about this topic. We think about how we’re going to protect them. Because let’s face it, some boys can be, well, dogs. They have the ability to draw a person in yet stray to the person that gives them the most attention, forgetting the most important qualities that make for true relationships, like friendship, respect and loyalty (and before you start yapping about how dogs can be loyal, just give me a steak and I’ll show you how loyal your dog can be). Like dogs, boys will run away, never to be seen or heard from again.

A few weeks ago I ran into a girl that married a childhood friend of mine, a friend that I had not seen in years. When I asked her how he was doing, she had no idea.

“I don’t know where he is or where to find him,” she said. “He just disappeared.” The girl was with their son, a spitting image of my friend, and both just looked at me, waiting for me to break that awkward silence.

“Why would you need him when he left you the best piece of him?” I responded to her, referring to their boy.

Fast-forward to last weekend when I caught Rocco digging up a hole I had just filled in for, like, the thousandth time and it hit me. You have to be the example. In some weird way I have to be the example that my daughters see and learn from. It’s in the way I communicate with them, how I treat their mother, even the relationship I have with my own mother. My daughters have to see that and learn from it.

Now, I realize I’m putting a lot of pressure on myself here. We’re talking about a guy who, quite frankly, can be a moron for large chunks of the day. And I was certainly no saint when it came to dating. The scariest thing would be for me to open the front door and find that my daughter was going out with a guy that reminded me of… me. Maybe if I play my cards right while they’re still young, this won’t be such a scary thing after all.


I love visiting schools and talking to kids. I’m currently writing a collection of short stories and essays called Your Poor Mother: The trials of raising 5 sons. My next children’s book, Pancakes For Dinner! will be published by Waldorf Publishing in 2017.

The Very First, First Day

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“Don’t let that smile fool you,” I warned her teacher.

The busy elementary hallway might as well have been a crowded airport terminal, with drop-offs, angst-filled passengers sprinting towards their gates and sloppy good-byes. One kid we passed along our way to my daughter’s classroom was clutching his mother’s leg, sobbing so hard that he…couldn’t…catch…his…breath.

The first day of school is an emotional event for both parents and kids, especially when it’s the first day of Pre-K. And so last Monday, it happened to be my daughter Zoe’s very first day. Zoe represents the last of our four children to begin her educational journey – and it began slowly.

We walked down the hall, every step was carefully measured the way a barefoot parent walks through a child’s toy-riddled room in the dark. I tried to steer her clear of as many crying kids as I could, if anything to help support my efforts in convincing her that school was an awesome place where she could make friends and have fun and eat cool snacks.

This attempt was futile, of course. One kid ran out of his classroom and chased down his mother like a lion to a gazelle, which caught a lot of people by surprise. It reminded me of a jailbreak, the look on the boy’s face was one of sheer determination and panic (“You will not take me alive!”).

“Why can’t I just stay at Grandma’s house?” Zoe asked my wife and I in the days leading up to the First Day.

“Because you have to go to school and learn,” I responded, which, to a smart 4-year-old probably sounded like a stupid canned response all parents are supposed to say as if the government was secretly eavesdropping on us.

The more I thought about it, the more this 4-year-old had a point. Thanks to the extended time she has spent with her grandma, Zoe knows how to speak Spanish, she knows how to share, give and love. She’s learned to be compassionate, not just in seeing her grandmother’s interaction with others, but the child truly has expressed concern over her grandmother’s well being. To say that these two have formed a unique bond would be an understatement.

But sometimes you have to go with the stupid canned response to certain questions kids ask.

Because as much as you have benefitted from being exposed to your grandmother the last several years, going to school and developing relationships with kids your own age is going to help you actually apply the terrific qualities that grandma has taught you. You need school because this is where you get to use those street smarts, the ones that are going to get you in (and more importantly) out of trouble. It’s where you’re going to learn how to adapt, how to respond to adversity, stupid bullies, jealous you-know-whats and other creeps, I wanted to rant but couldn’t because what father actually says these things to a 4-year-old?

Even though I’m all grown up now (my maturity is a little in question, I’ll admit), I still miss my grandma. I miss the way she worked her old stove like some festival DJ, spinning delicious magic at the drop of a hat. I remember feeling safe, sound and carefree every time I paid her visit.

So I totally get where Zoe is coming from.

It’s a feeling I want all four of my children to always remember because even though they’ll grow up and carve out their own paths, I want them to understand that no matter how far that path takes them, no matter how chaotic and noisy the world can be, they will never be too far removed from that feeling of safety, security and love they experienced when they were little.

***

Like a scene out of Platoon, Zoe dropped everything and ran to me as if to avoid a huge grenade blast (in what seemed like super slo-mo) when I picked her up later that day. She cried on my shoulder as I carried her to the car.

“Do we have to do this again tomorrow?” she asked.


I love visiting schools and talking to kids. I’m currently writing a collection of short stories and essays called Your Poor Mother: The trials of raising 5 sons. My next children’s book, Pancakes For Dinner! will be published by Waldorf Publishing in 2017.

I’m not dumb (I’m just not-so-smart)

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Kids do not try this. Ever.

In all sincerity, it seemed like a good idea at the time, taking on a food challenge. And to be fair, the picture of the juicy cheeseburger on the menu at the Rustic Café in Alamogordo, NM was nowhere near the size of the actual burger the waitress (we’ll call her Dottie) gave me. Now that I’ve recovered quietly back home, surrounded by family, I’m reviewing the tape; I’m the Monday Morning Quarterback looking to see just what went wrong (because nothing really goes right when you shove 2 pounds of ground beef down the gullet but hey, YOLO!).

 

The Pre Meal

Now, mind you, I had no idea what the day would bring when I rolled out of the rack on Saturday. Everything about that morning was typical. But something inside me was itching to get out of the house, save the kids from the same damn cartoons, grab my wife’s hand and avoid the lurking Netflix Vortex.

“Let’s go find some fun!” I announced. And to my wife’s credit, she went with it, getting the kids ready and grabbing warm layers in record speed. We were off to go play at White Sands National Monument, a 275-acre gypsum filled wonderland, where the “sand” crystals are as white as snow, shimmering throughout the day, glowing under the desert moon at night.

We found the Rustic Café on the recommendation of a man named John, a hippy living behind an old wooden storefront (although we found out that it’s actually not a store, but a home decorated with an array of old highway and antique motor oil signs. The place along with about 4 acres is for sale and priced at $275,000 if you’re interested – and if John likes you. It’s $300,000 if he doesn’t, just so you know.).

By the time we got to the Rustic I could eat a horse. And now, looking back, I’ll never utter that stupid phrase ever again. Other than a small bowl of oatmeal that morning, I really hadn’t eaten anything all day. If ever there was a time to slap a giant burger in front of my face, now was the optimal time. After ordering I took a walk around the café and checked out the “Wall of Fame” of people who had dared accept the 2-pound challenge.

“If these guys could do it, I certainly can,” I said to myself like a crazy man clearly not thinking straight.

The Meal

My back was to Dottie as she delivered a tray of food to our table, but my wife’s reaction indicated that something big was about to happen. My kids’ jaws hit the floor and they stared at the colossal burger with fear. Zoe, our 4-year-old, told me that she loved me. She looked like she wanted to cry.

Game on. That was my initial thought after feasting my eyes on what would be five patties stacked on a grease-soaked bun topped with cheese and a sliver of bacon. The fried tater tots seemed insignificant, even cute, next to this beast. But I was confident. My game plan was to eat the top two layers of beef and cut the rest in fourths.

“No kids, daddy hasn’t completely lost his mind,” I heard my wife say.

The curveball: Part 1

I’m not going to lie. I was full by the fifth bite. On an empty stomach, even a small bag of chips would have been good to tie me over. But I was all in at this point. Pride and ego have a knack for getting in the way. I wasn’t expecting to start getting full so fast – but I also wasn’t expecting to see pieces of raw meat in the patties, something that factored into my gag reflex, well, reflexing.

“How are we doing over here?” Dottie asked, looking only at me. “Would you like more water?”

Water would be my friend. And ketchup. One can only eat meat for so many bites. Ketchup would at least give my taste buds something else to savor; water would ease the food down my tightening esophagus, which was upset at me.

“Every bite is like the Law of Diminishing Return,” my wife observed.

By the third patty I developed a pattern. Bite, chew, chew, chew, drink and swallow. Rest for two minutes. Repeat. This lasted for about 15 more minutes until Dottie came back to check on me.

“Do you guys have a defibrillator?” I asked.

The curveball: Part 2

I wanted to throw in the towel with 1 more beef patty left on a wet bottom bun. Red, raw beef pieces stared at me (Dottie ruled that I could bypass these) but there were still a good 10 tater tots left on the plate. The kids were falling asleep. I could feel my body shutting down and my wife swears that I started hallucinating.

“Who are you calling jerk heads, the tater tots?” she asked.

“Those people on that damn Wall of Fame,” I replied. “I should have noticed something very important about nearly every photo.”

“What’s that?” she asked.

“None of them are smiling.”

I wiped away beads of meat sweat from my brow and carried on with my Griswald-esque mission. This is when a few of the younger waitresses gathered and began telling puke stories from customers (suckers) past.

“One guy ran right out the front door and emptied into the parking lot over there,” a brunette said.

“Another guy didn’t bother leaving his chair,” another waitress added. “He just blew chunks right there on his plate.”

I will NOT go down that way, I thought. I WILL make it the restroom.

And I did. When I completed the mission, I ended up staring at my reflection in a pool of porcelain. Nothing, and I mean not a damn thing, tastes good when it comes back up. Every heave, every gut exertion a not-so-subtle reminder of how stupid this little stunt was. On basketball courts across the country there were college kids participating in March Madness. Here in Alamogordo I was creating a little madness of my own.

What the hell was I thinking?

Who knows. Maybe it’s the kid in me. Or some deep, mid-life rebellion happening.

“Maybe you’re just dumb?” my wife asked with a look of concern.

“I will never do this again,” I told her when they took my picture for the Rustic Café Wall of Fame.

Postscript

I noticed that someone had left a scratch-off ticket from the New Mexico Lottery on the bathroom counter as I washed up. It was a $15 winner, more than enough to grab some Pepto from the local drug store.


The new book, Summer Son/Hijo del verano, will be released by Floricanto Press Press this spring. Follow me on Twitter @phillipdcortez