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Home Alone


Robert Schackner

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. I rolled over in bed listening to the incessant tick-tocking of the wanna-be grandfather clock at the foot of the stairs. “I never should have bought that stupid clock,” I mumbled to my wife who had gently nodded off to sleep hours ago. I peered over at the clock on the night table to see what time it was. The clock said three-fifty A.M. in bold red LED numbers. But I knew better. That was Schackner time. In real-world time, it was actually three-thirty AM. That was because before she went to bed each night, my wife engaged in the strange Hamanaptran ritual of moving the clock ahead some arbitrary number of minutes. Sometimes she would advance the clock five minutes. Occasionally it would be ten minutes. When she wanted to be bold, it might even be twenty minutes ahead. Eventually, (after about four years) I caught on. Hence, each night before I went to bed, I compared the time on the alarm clock to the time on my Swiss-made Wenger watch. Then I calculated in my head how much “snooze-time” to build into each morning. So every morning for the last fifteen years, we've been late for

Speaking of time, this reminds me of a prank I once pulled on my poor, unsuspecting mother-in-law. Simply by using flawless logic and argumentative, deductive reasoning I was able to convince her that time zones are treated in increments of 10 minutes rather than hours.

It all started while I was on a business trip in California a few years ago. After I left for the airport, my wife took the kids to visit her mother in New Jersey. After I checked into my hotel room and unpacked, I called them to say hello. It was about 6:30 PM Pacific time. My mother-in-law answered the phone. Here’s how it went:

“Hello,” she said.

“Hi, it’s me. How are ya? Where are the kids?” Cut to the chase I always say.

“They’re outside playing. What time is it there?” This is where I decided to have some fun. “Why, it’s 6:10. What time is it there?”

Somewhat mystified she replied with, “It’s 9:30. How can it be 6:10 there when it’s 9:30 here?”

A legitimate question I conceded. “Well,” I began, trying to maintain a straight face, “I’m on the east side of Los Angeles, not quite at the ocean. If I was in Carmel-by-the-Sea it would be 6:30. Don’t ya get it?”

She didn’t get it. “Are you sure? That doesn’t sound right.”

I countered with, “How often do you travel?”

“Not very often.”

“Right. And when was the last time you ever left the East Coast?”


“Right. So who would know better how this works - you or me?”

“I guess it would be you.”

“Right. So pay close attention and learn this and I promise you, you will impress all of your friends. For every few hundred miles you travel west, you pick up ten minutes. When you finally reach the West Coast, you’ll be at three hours difference – exactly. Pretty neat, huh?”

“Wow – jeez I never knew that. Well I’ll let you talk to the kids – here you go.

Sometimes it’s just too easy. While I was on the phone with my daughter I could hear my father-in-law say, “Oh Mother, jeepin’ creepers! He did it to you again…” Yeah, I know I’m going to hell. But the road sure is paved with fun.

So if you were paying attention before the break, you may remember it was three-something or other in the morning. I attempted to sit up with the notion of getting a drink of water when suddenly I was struck with a severe pain in my head, stomach and some nether regions about which you undoubtedly could care less. I felt the chills racing up and down my body and realized that sometime during the night, either a two-hundred and sixty-four car freight train came through my bedroom and ran me over, or I had contracted the flu. No freight train could have done as much damage.

I fell backwards onto my pillow only to smack my head on the solid maple cannonball of our colonial headboard (I didn’t want that stupid bedroom set either). So pain flowed freely from both the inside of my head, and now the outside where the contusion had already begun to swell significantly. I looked over at my wife. She was still sound asleep. This wasn’t fair. So I poked her in the ribs. “Mmppff.”

“Hey, wake up, will ya?”

“What? Huh? What’s wrong?”

“I got the flu.”

“Yeah? So?”

“So I got the flu. I’m sick.”

“I told you to get your flu shot. Didn’t I?”

I could hear the headlines on the news the following morning: “Local man suffering from cranial contusions and influenza throws wife out of second story bedroom. Story at 11:00.” Or would that be 11:20?

I could see there’d be no sympathy. “What would you like me to do for you?” my wife asked.

“Never mind. I’ll just roll over peacefully and die. It’s no bother. Really. Just be sure to tell the kids their father loved them. A lot.”

She responded with, “Okay.” And she went back to sleep.

I crawled on my hands and knees down to the kitchen and slugged back four aspirin with a gulp of Diet Coke. I reversed the crawling process and went back up the stairs to bed.

My wife stirred as I slipped back into bed. “Hey – you didn’t accidentally take my Midol again did you?”

Whoa – a sliver of compassion. “No, I didn’t accidentally take your stinkin’ Midol again. I took the stuff in the blue package.” Jeez what does she take me for, a mook?

I finally drifted off to sleep about six-thirty. Oh, I mean six-ten. As I lay there trying to decide whether to walk toward the light or to go to the bathroom I opened my eyes to see my son standing over me.

“Yo Dad – Sup? You look like crud. S’matter?”

Bear with me, he’s almost a teenager and I’m having trouble with the new language.

“I’m not feeling too good today, Sharkbait.”

“Too bad. See ya.” SLAM.

I managed to slip back into a coma until I felt the presence of a young, dying-to-be teenage girl who was only approaching seven-and-a-half years old.

“Hi Daddy. Whatsa matter?”

“I’m not feeling too good today, Punkin.”

“Too bad. See ya.” SLAM.

Back into the coma. About an hour passed. My wife was looming over me. Before she could ask, I said, “I’m not feeling too good today, Boofy.”

“Yeah I know. I was here last night – remember?”

“Oh, that’s right. So you were the sympathetic woman I ran into in the middle of the night?”

Half-cocked upside down smile. “Well, I’m off to work. Can I get you anything?”

“Yeah. The phone – I gotta call the office.”

She put the phone on the night table and then kissed her hand and patted my forehead. “I think you may have a fever. You should take your temperature.”

“Yeah. Okay.”

“And make sure you use the right thermometer.” We have two thermometers in our house – the right thermometer - the oral one - and the “other” thermometer for use in the, ah never mind, I’m sure you get the drift.

“Yeah. Okay – thanks. Let me have one final look at you before I pass over into the next world.”

Full of undying compassion, my wife said, “Ah c’mon. It’s only the flu. Stay home – rest in bed and you’ll be fine in a day or so.”

“Thanks for the encouraging words. See you tonight.”

And she was gone. Or so I thought. She stuck her head back in the bedroom and said five words I have yet to forget. “You mook! It was Midol.” SLAM.

“Swell.” All I could hope for was that I wasn’t going to sprout breasts over the next day or so. I slowly and painfully reached over and picked up the phone. I punched in the seven numbers and waited for the automatic voice recording to answer while I fought back the first waves of nausea. Oh, it was going to be a great day. After I heard the phone pick up I pushed zero for the operator. Beverly answered. “Hi Bev. It’s me... I won’t be in today. I think I got the flu.”

Bev, always the maternal figure in my life asked, “How do you feel?”

In a feeble attempt at sounding macho I replied weakly, “Like the floor of a

“Well, feel better. It’s only the flu. Stay home – rest in bed and you’ll be fine in a day or so.”

“Thanks. Please put me through to Ken.” (my boss)

The phone rang four times and went to voice mail. Wahoo. Thanks for small victories. I always hated calling in sick to my boss – it always made me feel guilty. Except that one time I went duck hunting… Anyway, I left Ken a message and told him to call me if he needed me. I hung up the phone and rolled over in order to slip into another coma.

At 9:30 (9:10 really) the phone rang. A bright, cheery voice on the line. “Hello. May I please speak with Mrs. Schnacker?”

“Who?” I asked.

“Mrs. Schnacker. Mrs. Schnacker. I would like to speak to Mrs. Schnacker.” Listening to this voice was like having a sixteen-penny nail driven into my head – through the bump that I sustained the night before. Now I’m known far and wide as a patient man, unless someone screws up my name. It’s a simple name really. A few consonants, a couple of vowels.

I asked the suspected saleslady how to spell it. She said, “S-c-h-a-c-k-n-e-r.”

I persisted, “Could you spell it again, please?”


“Can I ask you a question?” I queried.

“Sure, go ahead,” she replied.

“If it’s spelled like Schackner, then how in the heck do you get Schnacker? Are you stoopid or what?” I was annoyed and I think it may have shone through.

Just before she hung up she said in such a too-pleasant tone, “What’s the matter – got the flu or something? Stay home – rest in bed and you’ll be fine in a day or so.” Click.

I rolled over again trying to put the pain in perspective and to keep last night’s dinner right where it belonged.

At 10:30 the doorbell rang. I waited, praying whoever it was would just go away. Thirty seconds passed and there it was again, “Bing-bong.” Okay, it wasn’t going away.

I put my slippers on my feet, grabbed my bathrobe and limped on down the stairs. Just as I passed under the doorbell chimes, my erstwhile visitor rang the bell again. This time it sounded, BING-BONG!” I picked my head up off the floor and carefully screwed it back onto my neck. I padded over to the door and opened it slowly. The sunlight poured into my eyes causing that old familiar wave of nausea to return. I stood there, needing a shave (and a new life) waiting for the man before me to speak.

“Good morning sir! How are we today?” Another salesman.

“We have the flu today. What can we do for you?”

“Man you do look pretty sick. Well, it’s only the flu. Stay home – rest in bed and you’ll be fine in a day or so.”

It was a conspiracy.

“Thank you Dr. Welby. Now, what do you want?”

“Oh, I almost forgot, Mr. Schnacker. It is Mr. Schnacker isn’t it? I need to take just few minutes of your…”

I closed the door in his face and headed for the kitchen. I reached into the cabinet above the sink and took out a bottle clearly marked, “Aspirin.” I wasn’t taking any more chances. I popped four of them and chased them down with another Diet Coke. I poked around in the cabinet and after rummaging around for about five minutes, finally found the thermometer. After meticulously ensuring it was the “right” one, I slipped the glass thermometer under my tongue and waited four minutes. I took it out of my mouth and carefully looked at where the red line stopped. One hundred and three degrees. Yep, a fever.

I shuffled over to the couch and lay down. I tried to sleep, but since every part of my body (including my hair) hurt so badly, I gave up before too long. I searched for the TV remote control only to spy it sitting placidly on the TV across the room. After convincing myself it was the right thing to do, I slowly made my way to the TV. I retrieved the remote without incident and form-fit myself into the most comfortable position I could find under the circumstances. I pushed button after button, but the TV wouldn’t work. It was then I realized that I had the remote for the VCR. Unceremoniously, I threw the VCR remote control across the room. “Stupid VCR. I should have never bought it.”

After working twice as hard to convince myself it was the right thing to do, I retrieved the real remote control. I pushed every button I could, but it didn’t work. I opened the back and took out the two DuraCell (bing-boing-bing) batteries – the kind with the built in battery tester. I tested the first battery. Not even a blip on the Richter scale. I tested the second battery. I’m not quite sure, but while I was using the last of my waning strength to press the contacts on the battery together, I thought I heard a sound slip from that same battery. While I’ll never be able to prove it, it sure sounded like, “Loser.” Unceremoniously, I threw the TV remote control across the room followed shortly by two copper-top batteries.

I got up from the couch, knowing this was probably the last time I would ever get up and walked over to the TV. I turned it on and at the same time turned on the cable box (no, I wasn’t going to make that mistake). I started to flip through the channels. My plan was simple – find a good movie and stay with it. I would work out the details later of how to change the channel after the movie was over. Finally, after what seemed like two hours, I found a John Wayne film, The Hellfighters. Pay dirt! It was just the pickup I needed. John Wayne battling oil well fires all over the world. A true inspiration. If he could do that, I could get by with this little old flu bug. I shuffled back over to the couch and got all comfortable again. To my horror I realized it was just a promo and not the real movie! This was a crummy turn of events. But hold on, let’s just see. Maybe, just maybe what was really on was going to be even better than The Hellfighters.

Toby the Tugboat had just extracted some critical information from the younger, less-experienced tugboat, named Hank about the cruise ship Aberdeen that abruptly left the Friendliest Harbor in the World. It seems that Hank, that unfeeling clod, called Aberdeen a needle nose! Of all things! Poor Aberdeen was really hurt and the harbormaster was really cheesed at Hank. But since Hank was a new tugboat and not allowed to go to sea, the harbormaster made Toby go after the cruise ship. I’m not going to tell you how it turned out. You’ll need to get the flu on your own.

Sometime later, while I was asleep, I began to feel pressure on my chest. There was no pain, just pressure. I began the steep climb from the depths of sleep still feeling the pressure on my chest. While I had no pain yet, I was sure the heart attack was only minutes away. At my eulogy, the priest would no doubt start out by saying, “He was a quiet man…and he loved his kids…A lot.” Anyway, the pressure stayed but still no pain. I noticed I was having trouble breathing, as if a great weight was perched on my chest. I opened my eyes slowly, pretty much convinced what I was going to see then was my last view of life on earth. Instead I saw Jake, our family fifteen-pound cat sitting on my chest. Stupid cat – I never should have gotten him. I don’t know how he got there but I asked him how long he had been there.

He said, “Only about fifteen minutes, Bob. Why, is there a problem?”

I whacked him upside his little cat-head and realized that cats really can’t talk. Probably was the fever. I rolled over and went back to sleep. But not before I broke a few Corona beer bottles and spread the glass around the couch to keep the cat away. All right, I made up the part about the bottles.

I fell asleep and about a half-hour later my son came home from school. “Sup?”
he said.

“Sup?” I said.

“Going to Dana’s. See ya.” SLAM.

Back to sleep. Another half-hour went by. The phone in the kitchen rang. In my wisdom, I remembered to place the cordless phone next to the couch. I picked it up and pushed the answer button. Nothing happened. The phone in the kitchen rang again. I pushed the answer button on the cordless phone again. Still, nothing happened. The phone in the kitchen rang for the third time. Unceremoniously, I threw the phone across the room toward the dead VCR remote, the dead TV remote and the two dead DuraCell batteries, all of which were already embedded in the wall.

I held onto my head as I answered the phone. “Hullo,” I said.

“It’s me, your wife.” After nineteen years, how many voices sounded like that?

“I’m stuck at work, can you pick up our daughter at the bus stop?”

“I-I-I got the flu. Remember?”

“Oh that’s right. I forgot. Well that’s okay. She’ll wait at the bus stop for about an hour and then realize no one is coming for her. Then she’ll walk the half-mile to our house, all alone in the world and probably scared out of her wits. That is, provided she doesn’t get kidnapped, or get run over, or get hit by lightening, or comes down with beriberi…”

“Okay, okay, you win. I’ll get her.” I mumbled a bunch of bad things, but not until AFTER I hung up the phone.

I put on a clean pair of sweat pants, a clean sweatshirt and clean sneakers, held my head in my hands and got into the car and drove to the bus stop.

My daughter got off the bus all smiles until she saw it was I instead of Mommy.

“Hi Punkin," I croaked.

Serious face. “Where’s Mommy?”

“It’s okay, sweetie, Daddy’s probably not going to die in front of you.”

“Yeah, that’s great. Where’s Mommy?”

We got home and while my daughter went upstairs to change, I stepped over the broken glass and climbed back onto the couch.

A few minutes later my daughter came downstairs. “Goin’ to Jessie’s. See ya.” SLAM.

It was then I made a key decision. I went upstairs, took a hot shower and shaved. I got dressed and went back downstairs. I opened the bottle labeled “Aspirin” and took four more of those babies. I took my temperature again – 102.5. Whoa! A significant improvement.

My wife pulled into the driveway only to see me sitting on the front porch waiting patiently for her. As she got out of the car she tossed her head to the side and said to me quizzically, “What are you doing?”

I responded simply. “It’s only the flu. I’m going to the office where I can rest so I’ll be fine in a day or so.”

She stepped to the side and stared at me as if I had truly gone mad. I got into the car, and started it as I watched her turn around and go into the house. As I slowly backed out of our driveway, my head pounding fiercely, I heard her shouting something at me. I stopped the car and pulled back up the driveway. I opened the passenger window and shouted back, “What now?”

“Nothing much. I wanted to warn you not to take the pills in the aspirin bottle. The other package broke  so I had to put my Midol in the bottle labeled "Aspirin.”

Swell. Now I was sure my body was going to undergo a serious physiological change. “You got any other good news?”

“No. By the way - did you see I left the thermometer on the night table for you? I wanted to make sure you didn't use the ‘other’ one.”

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