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Smackdown in San Juan

The lights flicker once. They flicker twice.

There’s only one way this is gonna end.

The wind and rain rattle the metal louvers and the neighborhood plunges into darkness.

The high school sophomore lets out a shriek.

Because the zombie hiding under her Westchase bed the last 15 years has secretly jumped into her carry-on and is now stumbling down the hallway of her grandparents’ home in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Where six of my in-laws’ seven children, their spouses, 13 of their grandchildren, one of my niece’s boyfriends and me (that’s 25 total for those perplexed by Sunshine Math) are staying in their San Juan home to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.

Just as Tropical Storm Bertha decides to drop in.

When The Sophomore runs out of air, there are actually two full seconds of perfect stillness before the electric generator coughs, sputters and roars.

Puerto Rican Travel Guide Factoid #76: A significant number of families in Puerto Rico own electric generators because the power company down there is as reliable as your Uncle Louie.

The lights flicker back on.

Only now they’re controlled by a collective dimmer.

A collective dimmer entrusted to a 2-year-old Ritalin junkie, forced to quit elevator buttons cold turkey.


Now dimmer.

Now shuddering on and off.

Cough! Sputter! BACKFIRE!

Now brighter again.

The Sophomore emits little bleats of despair with every change.

Having fled to the 15 by 12 foot bedroom (assigned to my entire family) for some quiet Me Time (necessary to preserve my carefully honed effervescent façade), I now need to flee again. It isn’t the bleating. It’s the relentless generator, muttering and sputtering about being overworked and underpaid, just fifteen feet from the window – and my head. It jack-hammers into my skull, seizes my paltry brain stem and begins beating it to and fro like a punching bag.


I flee downstairs with my book. One group is gossiping in front of the kitchen TV, loudly tuned to Sharknado 2’s tornadic-chainsaw-death screams. Fifteen feet away, another group is gyrating to the Wii Just Dance version of Call Me Maybe. The rival groups take turns throwing looks at each other before cranking their TV’s volume:

Someone’s arm gets ripped off by a hammerhead.

Grumpy look.

Carly Rae Jepsen can now be heard in the Dominican Republic.

Grumpy look.

Ian Ziering’s shark-dicing chain saw is now louder than the generator. It’s not clear which is actually vibrating the house more.

I opt for the concrete veranda, whose vaulted ceiling offers the subtle acoustics of a cathedral hosting the National Convention of Pipe Organ Professionals. A third group is seated there, shouting over a Rummy game involving three full decks of cards and an equivalent number of empty wine bottles. 

Welcome to the Enchanted Island.

The only remaining option being the mosquito- and tropical storm-infested pool patio, I plop into a worn, leather recliner on the enclosed veranda, farthest from the generator.

Forgetting, of course, that when any dad plops anywhere comfortable, it triggers an instinctual reaction in all children within 50 feet. They must immediately fling themselves upon him.

And I was in a home occupied by 11 children under 18.

Anna, 1, is the first to toddle over and flop across me. “Hi!” she cries.

“Hi!” I say back. I stubbornly look back down at my book.

She reflops. “Hi!” she shouts louder.

I effervescently smile at her. “Hi!” I say firmly. Back to the book.

“HI!” she screams.

Jealous of the quality time Anna’s getting, her brother Nathan, 2, scales my legs, pulls my book down and actually roars like a lion.

Still reading.

Anna wanders off, intent on knocking more picture frames off tables. But Josh, 3, now arrives with a handful of miniature monster figurines he found in his dad’s old bedroom. Nathan trots out another roar. Two small plastic monsters begin a loud, threatening conversation inches from my ear.

Monster 1: “I’m going to eat Uncle Chris!”

Monster 2: “NOOOO! I’m going to eat Uncle Chris!”


I still ignore them. Because it worked with Anna.

And because my grandmother insisted that if you simply ignore people who are bothering you, they’ll go away.

The monsters start dancing on my cheek.

Because ignoring boys stopped working sometime around World War II.

I foolishly go on ignoring.

One monster is now dancing a merengue on my forehead. The other has jammed itself into my right eye under my eyeglasses.

“I’m going to wipe poop on you!” Josh suddenly cries. He holds his finger out threateningly. Nathan eyes him.

Half blind, I can’t really see if there really is poop on his finger. Given how many diaper changes I’ve witnessed over the last three days, it’s a distinct possibility. So I trot out the big guns. “If you wipe poop on me, I’m gonna take a big one out of my pocket and stick it in your ear.”

Josh screams and dashes away. Nathan screams and follows him.

Having only had daughters that would have avoided me for a week after such a threat, I thought I was actually free to read.

Boys, however, are different. If you threaten to stick poop into the ear of a 3-year-old boy, that 3-year-old boy will fully commit himself to determining just how far he must go before said poop winds up in said ear.

The finger returns.

WWE SmackDown it is.

I drop the book and give chase. Josh screams and runs. Both TVs edge louder. I dash into the kitchen, study the possibilities, and quickly dip a cookie into the Nutella jar.

Josh dashes in, finger extended. I whirl around. He spots the gloppy poop. A horrified look splays across his face. He pitches a scream that could peel paint off a wall.

His mother rushes in from the Rummy game. “What are you doing?!” she cries at him.

He points. “He’s gonna put poop in my ear!”

She looks at me.

I shrug and pop the poop in my mouth.

“It’s time for bed!” she says.

Which sounds like a wonderful idea.

So I climb the stairs. Ten minutes later, I flop into bed and lay my head against the vibrating wall.


And let out a happy sigh.

By Chris Barrett, WOW Pooplisher


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