Excuse Me, Adonis


So I’ve been offline for some time. Well over two months have staggered on by, it appears, since I contributed anything new in these here parts. Not because the well has run dry, mind you. But because the well is full up. So many seismic and poignant events have transpired within my family over the past 60 days. Hospice bedside vigils, east coast boarding school enrollments, sudden and unexpected health scares. All of this has effectively paralyzed me, writing-wise. I fear I am not up to the task of articulating the enormity of these life-ending and life-changing developments. Perhaps some things are best left unremarked upon. At least in the context of this self-indulgent blog. So many complex thoughts swimming in my head begging to be unpacked and sorted out. I’m stuck. 

And then this morning, my 11 year-old snaps me out of my ink-slinging stupor. Subtly reminding me that even when the shit hits the fan — and perhaps especially when the shit hits the fan — a little levity can be a wonderful thing. 

In the course of our morning pre-work and pre-school ablutions, I teasingly asked my hairdryer-wielding wife, “Hey hon, what’s it like to be married to an Adonis?” I had just caught a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror. Thinning hair mussed and parted in the middle like a geriatric Alfalfa. Eyelids half-mast. Featuring boxer shorts that merited a toss in the hamper 3 days ago. 

Hilary showed mercy and more or less ignored my rhetorical query; Solidarity in our shared journey of 25 years now, both painfully aware that our collective and respective wheels have long since come off. 

Thankfully, my son Everett’s wheels remain intact. On his blue, electric flowboard. On the tiles of our bathroom floor. There are days when I suspect his actual feet might not make actual contact with the actual floor. Hovering unsettlingly in one room or another. At this moment when Hil and I struggle a bit to steel ourselves for another day, our motorized Everett says, “Excuse me, Adonis.” Then he rolls on by. 

With those three words, Ev reminded me that everything will be OK, even when things couldn’t seem further from OK. Even when you hold your mother-in-law’s warm hand during the last hours of her life. Even when you embrace your wife with a full body hug, over and over again, as she grapples with the loss of her mom. Even when you prepare to send your firstborn 3,000 miles away to a new school — fleeing the coop far earlier than you fear you can withstand. And even when your own parents’ recent health scares reinforce the inevitable but unwelcome specter of their mortality. Everything will be OK, Adonis. Excuse me. Get out of your own way, too, while you’re at it. And get back to finding reasons to laugh. 

Thank you, son. And thanks for reading. 

Love Stinks (Still Waters Are Bottomless)


My youngest keeps his cards close to his vest. Doesn’t wear his heart on his sleeve. Well, he is sporting a vest. So really, he doesn’t have any sleeves on which to paste his feelings. Especially what with clutching all those mysterious and unknowable cards to his chest. Everett isn’t one to share his emotions, is what I’m trying to say. His waters may be still, but they are bottomless. Wrong word choice. Strike that. Let’s go with “deep.” His waters are deep. They run deep. There, that’s better. 

Here’s how things transpired: I posed my plain vanilla afterschool standard, “How was your day, bud?” I fully expected the age -appropriate, totally opaque, “Oh, fine.” Instead, I get, “Well, someone I like found out they are someone I like.”

Oh shit. 

I found myself in uncharted territory. Woefully unprepared. I almost wish he had copped to selling smack in the 7-Eleven. Or robbing a Chevron station. Those scenarios seem easier to navigate than that of unrequited love: “Were you caught? Arrested? Let’s get you legal counsel immediately. Wait, are you wearing a wire?” 

That stuff is easy. But capital L capital O capital V capital E? Fuggedaboutit. 

I chose to keep my mouth shut.  Any wrong-headed words in this moment, no matter how well-intended, would surely doom my smitten 5th grader to a life devoid of meaningful attachments. Playing checkers on a park bench with strangers. Pigeons pecking at his feet. Paper-bagged bottle at his side. Emotionally alone. All because his dipshit dad gave the wrong advice at that critical moment: 4:05 pm PST on March 23, 2017. 

The pressure. I bit both of my lips together with both rows of my teeth. Hard enough to leave a mark. The sound of my heartbeat pulsing in my skull. All my energy focused on trying to come up with something useful and important and encouraging and fatherly. Covering up my rising panic with my go-to: slow nodding of my head with a slight, all-knowing squint of my eyes.  Like I’ve seen in the movies. 

“Was it “Livy??,'” I heard someone say.  I froze and held my breath, suddenly realizing that “someone” was me. That incredibly dumb question — dare I say, the worst possible question — was mine. My intrigue regarding the identity of his little heart’s desire overwhelmed my apparently weaker instinct to embrace his little heart. (Note to readers: For what it’s worth, “Livy” is not the real girl’s name here. At least I don’t think so.) 

My faux pas was ignored or instantly forgiven or perhaps catalogued for later, added to the long list of “Dumb Things Dad Said.” Ev soldiered on in the face of my ineptitude, explaining that he had even gotten into a scrap with a classmate whom “Livy” apparently preferred to my second born son. A little physical altercation. I must admit, my spirits brightened for a moment. A fistfight fell well within my smack-selling/gas station-robbing fatherly advice wheelhouse! Now we got ourselves somethin’ to discuss! 

But the moment passed. We were, I realized, firmly ensconced in matters of the heart. Well above my pay grade. Beyond my ken. (Note to readers: For what it’s worth, “ken” isn’t a real person in this particular situation. At least I don’t think so.)

Fortunately for me, a mad dash to Little League practice interrupted our discussion. And bought me some time during which I could (and did) plumb the depths of my better half’s encyclopedic emotional playbook. I will spend the rest of the day now preparing an elaborate Decison Tree. Ready to dispense perfect advice to my heartsick 11 year-old at 4:05 pm PST today.  I only hope he hasn’t put his vest back on by then. Wish me luck. 

And thanks for reading. 

Know When to Fold ‘Em

IMG_7187-1

I’ve always wrestled with fractions.  For as long as I can remember.  You see, I missed a single day of elementary school in the 4th grade.  And I am convinced that the entirety of human knowledge regarding fractions was conveyed to my John T. Roberts classmates in the course of that single, fateful day.  When I returned to school the following morning, my health apparently restored, the Good Ship Fractions had long since left port. Off in the distance, eight of the three topsails dipped low on the horizon.  Then she disappeared completely into the water, which covers 12/7ths of the earth’s surface, as I understand it.

Clearly, I picked exactly the wrong day for a stomach bug.  

A similar phenomenon transpired on a handful of other occasions, whereby I would somehow completely miss out on something that at one time seemed — and on occasion still seems — important.  Video games. I missed that boat, too.  Zero interest.  Maybe I had the flu or just overslept on the morning my neighborhood buddies gathered around a big Zenith TV and lost themselves in the novelty of “Asteroids.” And it’s too late for me now to develop an affinity. Both of my sons would spend way too many hours glued to one violent video game or another if given free reign.  But we don’t give them free reign.  We frequently hide the game controllers in anger. And more often than not (equating to 13/101th of the time, by my calculations), we cannot find the controllers ourselves after our anger has dissipated.

Same deal with playing cards. If I catch a whiff of an imminent rainy day suggestion of a game of “Bob’s Hat,” I experience a visceral, Pavlovian reaction. I slink off in the opposite direction, avoiding eye contact or feigning sudden interest in a television show in another room.  I can’t imagine that my 4th grade teacher revealed the wonders of Texas Holdem to my wide-eyed schoolmates during his “Fractions 101” lesson while I wiped my nose raw at home. But he might have.   That possibility could indeed explain why I have such a deep aversion to playing cards.  Even now, I feel mildly nauseated upon spying an errant card lying at the bottom of our kitchen junk drawer.  My knees buckle as I reflexively clutch the counter to avoid losing consciousness.  

On the plus side, that stomach bug during the winter of 1977 likely spared me from a life of compulsive gambling.  Note to readers: I am in no way implying or suggesting that the lads with which I just spent 3 days in Vegas are compulsive gamblers.  On the contrary, they appear remarkably well-adjusted and properly-perspectived. To my knowledge, for example, none of my college buddies hocked gold-capped molars for one last hand of Pai Gow. Nor am I suggesting anybody had gold teeth, by the way.  I don’t really know, but I don’t think so.  Rather, I am merely reporting that I would definitely be a compulsive gambler but for my complete ignorance regarding how fractions work.  I have a feeling I would gladly pawn 39/32 of my dental fillings for just one more throw of the die.  Crazed look in my eyes and a huge smile with no teeth. 

Here I was, completely surrounded by a sea of legal wagering.  On college basketball games.  Spreads and over unders or under overs. On the pull of a one armed bandit’s lever. On which of us would next disappear, surreptitiously sneaking off to our hotel room for a much-needed midday nap. And I abstained.  Not from the napping part.  I am a gifted napper.  From the gambling part.  I literally wagered nothing.  Not because I am too good for it.  Because I am not good enough for it.  And for me, that is a good thing. 

Thanks for reading. 

Viva Las Vegans (REDRUM)


I’m not a Vegan. Nor a long-winded blogger, at least not this morning. But I am a sucker for plays on words. Hence the title. 

I’m also a sucker for opportunities to congregate with friends I’ve known since I was a jelly-headed 18 year-old. 

Even if said opportunities require a flight to the second-hand smoke capital of the world. Does anyone not have a cigarette or cigar dangling precariously from their lips or pinched between first and second fingers here? I’m an annoyingly militant anti-smoker, but I’m admittedly overrrun. So far outnumbered that I may scavenge a pack of Marlboros on the way to the hotel gym. Don’t want to stick out. And maybe the nicotine will take the edge off of my slightly hungover stair master session. This could be the beginning of a wonderful, new addiction! 

Even if said opportunities require skipping one afternoon of my beloved perch on a bucket of baseballs, flashing pitch calls between my knees to my Little League team’s catcher. Our catchers for tomorrow’s game are on their own, fastball and knuckle curve-wise. Still, I find myself sitting on the edge of my hotel room’s pull-out couch, gazing out the window over the expanse of The Strip, throwing 1 and 2 fingers and wiggling all three. Jonesing to call an outside fastball and revel in my battery’s imminent strikeout. High fives all around. 

Even if said opportunities require stifling my fear of long hotel corridors reminiscent of The Shining. Danny in a slobbering epileptic fit will come peeling around the corner on a Big Wheel any moment now. Those creepy twin girls in powder blue dresses will pop up and block me from my door, droning something in monotone. I’ve seen that movie waaay too many times to be cool with navigating this hotel corridor for the next couple nights. 

All of this I am happy to kick aside for a couple days in order to relive and rehash shared memories from three decades past. And just to tidy up this post, if I were a Vegan, I’d gladly eat and drink whatever Vegans are not supposed to eat and drink. Viva! Bring it on. 

Thanks for reading. 

Side Effects

screenshot-2017-02-23-09-09-08I’ve long since grown accustomed to the mumbly, speed-spoken list of potential side effects rattled off at the tail end of Cialis TV commercials.  I find the droning words calming.  Hypnotic, even.  I stare numbly at the middle-aged virile man’s blue v-neck sweater fibers glowing in the sunlight. Find myself wondering why people have single-sized bathtubs.  With clawfeet.  On their front lawns. Overlooking a lake.  Holding hands.

In a dreamlike state, I wonder: “Am I missing out on something?  Do we need a couple skinny tubs?  Am I showering too much? Should I be able to see a body of freshwater from my bathroom? Where are their towels? Won’t they be chilled by the early evening air?” When I snap out of my gauzy reflections, I have a vague sense that those pills deliver up some truly unpleasant potential side effects.  But I can’t…seem…to…remember…any…details.  It’s as if those twin porcelain tubs at the water’s edge wiped my memory clean like Albert Finney’s Looker movie sunglasses. 

But a new medication from Walgreens yesterday commanded my full attention. The parade of horribles printed in the accompanying literature featured one malady new to me: Seeing or hearing things that are not there.

Say what? 

The linoleum floor at the end of Aisle 1 may as well have fallen completely away under my boots. I rushed towards the front door, squinting my eyes and cupping my ears.  Desperate to avoid imagined stimulus posed by the racks of chocolate Easter eggs and related Holiday paraphernalia.  Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw a single Peep mustering a charge.  Attempting to break through its cellophane prison. Straining against its Peep brothers’ little shoulders. Grimacing from the effort, its tiny Peep brows furrowed.  The cardboard box rattled violently. I quickened my pace before all hell broke loose in there.

Stepping outside into the open air, I held my breath and waited for the Chestnut Street storefronts to fold in on themselves like the psychedelic Dr. Strange cityscapes. For a fleeting moment, it occurred to me that the Dr. Strange movie may have actually been just one long prescription drug warning. A cautionary tale, if you will. Approximately two-thirds of the potential side effects posed by the contents of my new pill bottle, I suddenly realized, had been represented in the film.  

I staggered to the Prius, coming to grips with my parental burden to drive home safely with my oblivious 5th grader reading “Big Nate” in the backseat.  At least I think it was my Prius.  At least I think it was my 5th grader.  At least I think he is in 5th grade.  And as for “Nate,” is that even his real name?  He doesn’t look all that big, after all, if you really think about it. 

Strapping myself in, I thought I heard some complaining from the backseat of my purported car, coming from the mouth of my purported 5th grader. Something about “What took so long in Walgreens?!” and “Where are my Peeps?!” and “WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO TODAY?!” “These damned pills pack a punch,” I thought, since no actual child of mine would ever utter such words, or crave high fructose corn syrup, or speak to me that way.  “Has to be these meds,” I reassured myself.

Somehow, against all the odds, within a few minutes, I managed to arrive safely in our driveway.  At least I think this is our driveway.  “Everett” rolled out of the Prius nonchalantly, with “Big Nate” in-tow, and punched in the garage door code without hesitation.  So at least for now, it appears that I am safe.  Still operating within the constraints of reality.  But I have a bottle full of mind-bending pills, apparently, and the day has only just begun.  Wish me luck.

And thanks for reading. (Is anybody really out there, though??) 

This Is Major Tom to Ground Control….

img_7039

The Russians are among us.  I’m sure of it.  We are overrun.  It’s too late.  That Russian spy ship lurking off the East Coast? A harbinger of things to come.  Things that already have come, actually.  Because like I say, comrade, they are everywhere. How do I know this to be true?

Last night before dinner, I had some time to kill during my 5th grader’s piano lesson.  I walked across the busy parking lot to a nearby bar.  Figured I’d enjoy a nice hoppy beer while Everett was honing his “Old MacDonald.” Instead, I unwittingly stumbled into a clandestine meeting of the Soviet Union Cold War Cosmonauts.

There is no other logical explanation as to the identity of this gathering.  The non-human cosmonaut was a dead giveaway.  And by that I don’t mean a door prize that was once living and now expired.  (Though I can see how one might jump to that particular interpretation.)  The photographed cosmonaut ensconced in his space capsule does not give off much vibrancy, that’s true.  More taxidermy, to be sure.  Nevertheless, I can testify that the spaceman was, in point of fact, very much alive.  

This is an amazing revelation, admittedly.  The spaceship does not look, ehm, space-worthy.  How the USSR could launch this pioneering pooch more than 1,200 miles into orbit at 17,600 miles per hour is beyond me. Could this vessel possibly have withstood the furious 5200-degrees fahrenheit heat blast upon reentering earth’s orbit?  And how has this furry cosmonaut managed to look so good, despite the fact that his space mission took place in the 1950s?  The eyes were a bit clouded by cataracts, but not even a hint of mange. Remarkable.

Alas, I have no answers to these questions. Rather, I sat eyeball-to-eyeball with the enemy for 20 terrifying, unblinking minutes. I finished my IPA in silence, then casually signed the bill (though not using my real signature).  And deftly clambered out the bathroom window to escape a lengthy stint at Camp Gulag.

I am lucky to have survived the encounter.  The next time may not end so well. The Russians are among us, my friends.  Consider yourselves warned.  

Thanks for reading. 

Under My Skin


I’ve been awake for fewer than 90 minutes, but I’ve already managed to accomplish a ton, running at a fever pitch. And this is probably not a good thing. 

My wife is back east with her family for a few days. So the dog’s 645am whines are directed at my side of the bed. She pulls my arm out of its socket while circling the block, clearly unclear as to who is walking whom. My younger son recognizes my frenzied state, and I find him helpfully “doing his laundry” in the garage. Frankly I’m relieved not to wade across a foot of frothy bubbles on the concrete floor. 

I feed the dog. But even the 5 steps across the kitchen floor between her bowl and the 5-gallon food stash requires rigid choreography. En route, with empty food bowl in my hand, Alexa fires up KQED and I fire up the coffee maker. Four heaping scoops of bison meat later, and Wailea takes up her standard position: Hunched over her food with prickly hackles, salivating, and growling at anyone who she suspects has designs on her kibble. This morning, that evidently would be me. 

Alas, I don’t have two minutes of “anti-resource-guarding” training to dole out. It’s not in the strapped time budget. So her low growl persists until I burst through my older son’s bedroom door and loudly malign his inability to awaken on a timely basis. He loudly maligns his busted alarm clock. The clock is not busted. It’s actually a feat of modern engineering, more powerful than the NASA IBM computers supporting the lunar landing missions. But I haven’t the time to deliver my “Wow, are you spoiled!” lecture. 

My younger son is fully and properly dressed by now, thereby deftly avoiding the “Why the hell are you wearing shorts, it’s winter?!” lecture. But my time-pressured psyche is still jonesing for an outlet. Any opportunity for bombast will do. I find it in Everett’s failure to sprinkle organic blueberries over his bowl of gluten free cereal and organic milk. (I would have settled for any blueberries, organic or no.) I lambast him for his negligence, and point out that he is now inexorably pointed down the path of malnutrition. Feeding tubes are unavoidable. His brittle bones will shatter all over the place. Unphased, Everett responds, “Well, by eating this cereal, I am saving the gorillas. Maybe you’d like to eat a bowl too?” I don’t have time to weigh the relative societal impacts of emaciated 11 year-olds against extinct mountain gorillas. So I back out of the kitchen with pursed lips and a curt nod. Momentarily defeated, but alive to fight another day. 

On to the next thing: Locating the mug of coffee I strategically placed…somewhere. I find and grab a half-dozen other ceramic cups scattered all over the house. They are wonderful reminders of little league seasons past, former employers, favorite restaurants, and summer camps. But none of them hold anything close to the drinkable coffee I brewed maybe 5 minutes ago. Normally that would be fine; I’m OK with day old coffee. But I draw the line at the Petri dish state. I find the missing mug minutes later, as I close the garage door. It is hidden in a coiled snake of dog leashes on the work bench where I have never actually done any “work.”

I march Everett — still a little smug in his newfound role as a Jane Goodall disciple — up the block to his bus stop. As I spy Ev stretch for the bus’ first step, I spin on my heels and racewalk back home. On to the next thing. 

Minutes later, somehow, I manage to deliver my eldest to his school’s front door without triggering another check in the shameful “tardy” box. Nevermind that he jumps into his chariot barefoot, subjecting his irritated driver to the spectacle of putting his socks and shoes on during the trip. Don’t ask me why, but this routine drives me mad. I think Max is well aware. Everett has Harambe. Max’s show of civil disobedience involves counterfeit Yeezies and mismatched stockings. 

In any event, and already feeling exhausted by 8am, I plop down in my favorite stained Starbucks chair. While considering which verboten household items my dog is currently chewing to bits at home, I begin a mad dash through my Twitter and Facebook feeds. Flying through The New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle apps. Breathless and cotton-mouthed now, in my bubbling outrage at overnight events. My Fitbit disapprovingly points out that my heart rate is in the “fat burning range,” as if I were exercising somewhat strenuously. But since I’m merely sitting here cross-legged, contemplating another Cuban Missile Crisis, this data suggests instead that my aorta will shred and explode in my chest at any moment.  

And this is when Frank Sinatra steps to the mic, clears his throat, and grabs my attention. Fortunately for me, someone at Starbucks HQ added “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” to this morning’s in-store playlist. My rapid breathing slows immediately. I feel a wave of welcome calm wash over me. I slow down. And I write. 

Thanks for reading.