Enter the Dragon (Part Two)

I haven’t posted a thing to The Lemonade Chronicles since March of 2020. It’s been a crazy, unpleasant couple of years for just about everyone. Problems on top of problems, it seems. No doubt about that. One of the themes I’ve focused on in this here blog, however, is the notion that if we look hard enough, there are always opportunities somewhere in the midst of those problems. Some way of, dare I say, making lemonade out of lemons. So in the middle of this mind-numbing pandemic, I found an opportunity to practice what I preach.

Allow me to elaborate: Nearly 10 years ago now, I published a blog post about my experience with karate–Shotokan Karate of America, specifically. In that post, I bemoaned the fact that I had let this valuable thing slip from my grasp when we moved to the west coast back in 1999. I got busy with work, busy with kids, busy with coaching little league, etc. I stopped practicing karate, cold turkey. In the back of my mind, I wondered whether I might somehow, some way, some day, find my way back to Shotokan. I knew that it wouldn’t be easy to pick things back up. (Probably that has always been one of the main attractions of the whole thing to me–it isn’t easy.)

Welp, I’m here to report that during the dark days of the pandemic, I came back. I dusted off my blackbelt in a cardboard box found in the corner of the garage, and joined the San Francisco dojo’s virtual Zoom practices back on Election Day in November 2020. I joked that it was like regaining consciousness after being in a “karate coma” for 20 years. When I last trained, the current century had not yet turned up on the calendar. Bill Clinton was in the White House. Apple iPhones did not yet exist. That’s how long it’d been since Shotokan was such an integral part of my life. It was a strange experience reliving the mindset and movements from a time before I had kids, when I was a newlywed, before I had really lived much of a life at all, in fact.

I threw myself into knocking the rust off. Re-learning much of what I had practiced with some proficiency two decades ago. Softened skin became blisters. Blisters became callouses. I was amazed when things came back on their own, naturally, as though someone else were controlling my body. And thoroughly humbled when I just couldn’t remember how to do this or that thing. One thing of the humbling sort is a unique, very traditional practice our karate group does, called “Special Training.” A whole bunch of 90-minute-plus, grueling workouts deliberately bunched up over the course of 3 or 4 sleep-deprived days. When I was a younger man, these were the most physically-demanding experiences I had ever struggled through. I’ve done a bunch of stuff since then–Ironman-distance triathlons, marathons, long bike rides, long open water swims, yada yada–but Special Training inspired in me a different sort of fear altogether. I knew I’d never really be back, legitimately back, until I participated in this bedrock element of Shotokan practice.

Mind you, the last time I participated in an SKA Special Training, I was 29 years-old. I learned a great deal from those early Special Trainings–in particular, facing myself and my fears with strict eyes in a way that can only be delivered up by a 90-minute kiba dachi. Kiba dachi is a “horse stance” in which the hips and thighs are dropped down into a deep squat shape. Deep enough that over the course of 60-90 minutes, folks sometimes pass out and fall over, or maybe vomit, and definitely there’ll be some legs jack-hammering. It’s a heavy experience, for sure. Mostly mental, trying to overcome things when the body really really really wants to quit. But back then, I could only learn so much from an experience like that. Because I had yet to live much of my life. Ironically, it was living my life that would pull me away from karate for the next 20-plus years. 

When my wife and I moved from Boston to San Francisco in 1999, we both worked in big law firms, happily signing ourselves up for long hours crouched behind our desks. I later started a handful of modest entrepreneurial ventures. We had one son a month before 9/11. Then another 4 years later. I embraced the life of a Little League coach with gusto. All the while, I scratched the itch for physical endeavors that triggered the feeling of wanting to quit by dabbling in the aforementioned marathons, triathlons, and long open water swims. These all afforded me fleeting glimpses of hardship. Stripping away the nonsense, pushing my limits, and being reminded of who I really was and who I really wanted to be. Always in the back of my mind, though, was Shotokan, and especially that kiba dachi horse stance. I had to admit that something was missing. A void in my life. Something that I was maybe afraid to face again. (Hence that blog post in March of 2014.) I told myself that some day I would come back to karate. I hoped I was telling myself the truth.  

It took a global pandemic to deliver me back to SKA. The SKA organization and the SF dojo leader graciously took me in, despite my 20-year layoff. I spent nearly two years trying to recapture my 29 year-old self, experiencing aches and pains I never experienced as a 29 year-old. And loving every minute of it, because that something was no longer missing. Or was it? Sure, I had been banging away polishing kihon (kicks, punches, and blocks), kata (forms) and a little bit of Zoom kumite (sparring), but that’s not exactly kiba dachi, is it? So when the opportunity to participate in West Coast Summer Special Training earlier this Summer materialized, things got real. I felt a healthy mix of excitement, uncertainty, and fear.

I could write about each of the 11 practices that came and went in a perfectly-sized field on the campus of Cal State Channel Islands. They each left an indelible mark on me (literally, in some cases, and of course I wouldn’t have it any other way). And then there was kiba dachi. I honestly had no idea how things would go once I joined the circled-up group and sunk my hips. My heart initially skittered like a baby bird’s, until I embraced the moment and focused on my breathing. Lengthening each exhale as if it were my last. Then another. Then another. Then another. Then…nothing. As I texted my senior a couple days later, at some point I felt like I had simply disappeared. I felt no pain. My thighs weren’t jack-hammering. I was at peace. An oddly intense peace, but peace nonetheless. When the 60 minutes had passed, I realized that I had completely lost any sense of time. It was all just a single moment. And at the same time, it felt like twenty-plus years lived in those 60 minutes.

Standing back upright, a wave of gratitude washed over me. For the beautiful environment in which we practiced. For all of my seniors who inspired me as a much younger man, and for those who continue to inspire me today. And for the opportunity to dance with kiba dachi once again. An opportunity found right smack in the middle of a global pandemic.

So take a look around you, folks. Sure there are problems. There are always problems. But look more closely. There’s something special in there for you, too. I hope you find it.

Thanks for reading.  


Zombie Apostrophe

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Greetings from shelter-in-place San Francisco, Day 2. Day 2? It’s only Day 2? If the first two days are any indication, this is gonna be a rough slog. We four (five, counting the dog) have not really co-existed under the same roof for several years now–at least not for any meaningful stretch. So we are in the midst of some meaningful, ehm, adjustments. For my part, although I generally work from home (when not sweating with other people in a couple local gyms), I am finding that my thought patterns are beginning to fray. 

This morning, I used a roll of black Gorilla tape to fix a chair (anything to avoid writing, it seems).  This used to be a nice dining room chair, mind you, and I think we paid a decent amount of cash for it maybe 20 years ago along with the rest of the chairs and the table completing the set. Many meaningful, nightly dinners, Holiday meals, birthday celebrations, etc., took place during which this chair played an integral role.  It may even have been the chair with the back slats that one of my kids got his head stuck in, even as I said to him, “Don’t put your head in there, it’ll get stuck.” Well he did and it did. 

Now the chair is relegated to a closet-sized office right next to our garage (not as any sort of punishment for the head-stuck incident).  For the past two days, the closet-sized office is where my wife has been relegated to bill her billable hours, since her actual office is actually closed nowadays. For months (who am I kidding, it’s probably for years), this long-forgotten dining room chair has protested its long-forgottenness by yanking one of its arms out of its socket.  The right arm of the arm chair has been swinging loose–the screw unscrewed–as a trap for the unwary.  We rarely sit in the chair, but when we do, whoooooooooow!, the right side of it gives way and we nearly tumble out onto the floor.  At least this has been my experience. But as I say, the chair is back in action now, and if chairs had feelings, it might be happy. Hilary is down there all day conference-calling and estate-planning and such.  All while balancing precariously on her left side, since the chair’s right cannot be trusted. 

Well I fixed all that this morning (instead of writing). Enter the duct tape. Still in my PJs, I scuffed out into the garage bed-headed, grabbed the rarely-used roll of tape with its dog-hair-and-random-garage-born-unidentifiable-fluffballs stuck to the sides, and strode purposely into the closet-sized office.  I think the chair knew what was coming next. If chairs had feelings, it might have been frightened. I stuck its arm back in the socket, then applied approximately 17 rounds of tape to hold it in place. Halfway through, I noticed that I was grinning a little too hard, and also there might have been a drop of drool involved in there somewhere.  And someone was doing some muttering.

The chair is fixed, sure, but I’m apparently well on my way to being broken.  And it’s only Day 2.  

To Be His Off-Color Court Jester Once More….

I couldn’t make my fingers work. I was utterly unable to thread my leather belt through the pant loops. There was plenty of space to do so; I kept checking, peering down at my waistband to confirm with my eyes what I felt with my shaking hands. Slipping my pair of cuff links through my shirt’s cuffs suddenly seemed impossible. These are the only pair of cuff links I have ever owned. Normally I can pick them out of the bottom of my overstuffed shaving kit in the pitch black of a darkened hotel room with which I am totally unfamiliar, just by their feel. Normally I can slip them into place with a quick twist of the wrist in a matter of seconds, absentmindedly, while reaching for another sip of coffee or maybe tracking down my tie’s location on the bureau. But nothing was working. Nothing felt even remotely normal. Fumbling and confused, I began to lose track of time. Repeatedly  glancing at my watch, uncertain whether 10 seconds or 10 minutes had elapsed since last check. I forgot to breath, hearing myself inhale, but not detecting an exhale. Reminding myself to let that breath out and to take another.

It occurs to me just now, two days later, that my dear friend of 32 years likely experienced this same disorienting sequence of events. This same taken-for-granted routine that suddenly seemed completely foreign and physically impossible. Somewhere early on his battle with ALS, I bet this happened to him.  It occurs to me now, too, given Steve’s delicious sense of humor, that he may have even choreographed my morning’s fumble-fingeredness. “See, you bastard? It’s hard isn’t it? What the hell’s the matter with you?” He would be giggling at me (not with me), maybe even throwing his head back on the way back and grabbing his knees as he folded forward in the opposite direction. Repeating this maneuver, his face reddening and the veins in his forehead popping, each time I dropped an uncooperative cufflink to the carpet cursing. Steve is laughing  uncontrollably. I think that is the only way Steve laughed. Uncontrollably. The man understood the purpose of laughter. The immeasurable value of a laugh.

I’d give anything to see him, to hear him, laugh uncontrollably again. But two days ago I was performing this unintentionally comedic Cufflink and Beltloop Slapstick Routine while getting ready for Steve’s funeral. So how much I would give—everything, of course, all of it—just didn’t matter.

There is something, I suppose, that I have to give. But Steve would never accept this gift from me, since it was his gift to me: A treasure trove of savored mental snapshots, spanning more than three decades, in which Steve is laughing as if he has never laughed before. Beginning when he as a college freshman, gamely enduring our stupid pledge pranks—one of which found me unintentionally scalding his hand in a bathroom sink. His response? A quick gasp of pain then an unmistakable giggle (and pledges were definitely not supposed to be giggling in this moment). In the last months of his life, Steve is even reduced to drooling and choking in a way that made me worry that I might kill him if I pushed this particular off-color joke any further. I’d glance at his wife Shara for reassurance, expecting that she would raise her hand, ask me to stop, “No more laughter, it’s not funny, you’re killing him.” She never raised her hand. She never even looked at me. Her eyes glowing in Steve’s shuddering joy, she took pleasure in these ecstatic bouts of hysteria as if she too had never seen or heard Steve laugh before. I was reminded again that this is what laughter is supposed to look like. It seems to be practically threatening his ongoing existence, and there he is showing us what laughter is supposed to look like. Like this.

I would leave our precious visits with Steve over the last couple years totally exhausted. Gutted. Unable to drive. Clutching the dashboard to regain my composure. Grateful that I had managed to make him laugh again, no matter how deeply I reached into an uncomfortable bag full of gallows humor. No matter how much it pained me to see his body withering, knowing that his mind was trapped inside. Aware that this may have been the last time I would ever get to see him again. The last time I would bear witness to his infectious giggle. To be infected by it. That laugh told me that even as his body slowly and cruelly abandoned him, he was still in there. Steve was in there. As long as I could make him laugh, later only capturing a fleeting glimmer in his eyes, he was still here.

I would give anything for that laugh. Always. Well before he calmly announced his awful diagnosis. But especially since that phone conversation two years ago that left me doubled over in my kitchen, unable to breath.  I would do anything. I would happily make myself the butt of our jokes. Happily revel with him in some long-passed incident revealing me as a total jackass.

And as one example, I’d be happily knocked down a peg or three in the gravel parking lot following a Cape Code triathlon 20-some years ago in which Steve has whipped me without even trying. That famous gap-toothed smile, he chuckles with his back rounded forward a bit, knowing that I had been obsessively training for months. Steve casually borrowed a bike, and  I think he even only swam the breaststroke our there, and yet he thrashed me. I wouldn’t be surprised if his bike tires were half-flat. He could crush me riding on the rims, sparks flying as he flew past me. I’m signed up for another triathlon this summer in Boston. I haven’t done one on the east coast since the one Steve and I did together.

That race now brings with it a great deal more meaning. Steve won’t be there, not physically. But I will picture him in my mindseye so clearly, standing on the beach before the swim, making me self-conscious about the obligatory (for me) Speedo. Probably I will hear him ask me (for the 100th time), “Sheesh, are you still shaving your legs?” And I’ll hear him when he passes me, politely but firmly, and if I’m being totally honest, I’ll tell him “Fuck off,” as I notice him double my bike’s rate of speed and realize that his bike tires are nearly flat but it doesn’t matter. I huff and puff, cursing him. I won’t even bother to imagine seeing him on the run, because I wouldn’t in real life either. But I will imagine him at the finish line. He will have long-since stopped sweating. But he won’t gloat. He’ll nod with understanding when I complain about my rented bike or my lack of sleep or how the on course race drink made me feel sick. And by the time we hit the gravel parking lot, walking our bikes back to our cars to be racked for another day, I will have regained my composure by then. Resumed my role as Steve’s Off-Color Court Jester. Working harder for his laugh than for the new race t-shirt I grabbed at the finish line or whatever participant medal dangles from my neck.

At some point, I will remind myself that Steve is gone. He wasn’t actually in this race. He didn’t actually call attention to my Speedo. He didn’t really blow by me on a bike with its chain rusted red. But I’ll hear that laugh. I’ll always hear that laugh. And in that moment, he will be right there next to me. His gift to me. Love you buddy.

Life, Puberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

“Just tell me. Three years? Five? How long are you gonna hold me hostage to this? What am I in for? If I know how long I’m in for, at least I can pace myself. Otherwise, I don’t think I can survive this.”

Careening southerly around the last sharp corner before the Golden Gate Bridge and it’s $6 toll, I am practically begging my newly-13 year-old. Trying a new tact. Attempting to appeal to his fleeting sense of logic, as if calling up the only stable personality in a stable of split personalities. He vacillates so wildly nowadays between jaw-dropping insights around which I cannot wrap my mind (but which will surely some day land a Nobel statuette on his mantle), and equally jaw-dropping insights about “what a dick move” I just made, and how much I “totally suck.”

Don’t get me wrong, I have made plenty of dick moves in my 50 years. It pains me to conjure them up. To bring to mind the faces of the grade school buddies whom I bullied (when they weren’t bullying me), the former girlfriends with whom I broke up (when they weren’t breaking up with me), and the adulthood acquaintances to whom I have intentionally or unintentionally offended (this one is not reciprocal, as I am for some strange reason very hard to offend). And for sure, I suck. At plenty of things and in plenty of ways. Go ahead, start at the beginning, five years ago with my first blog post. I write about sucking. And maybe my actual writing sucks, as well. A two-fer. So I can’t and therefore won’t quibble with the suck label either.

But I simply refuse to believe that I ever labeled my own parents with any of these ignoble character traits. At least not to their faces. And I suspect they would agree with me on this. They might also suggest that they each and all made lots of dick moves and sucked a fair amount when it came to me. They may even claim that they made way more dick moves and sucked far more than I do as a parent. I bet it’s aspirational: Parents want their own children to have things they never had, to enjoy a more robust and meaningful life than they had. Or simply to commit fewer dick moves and suck less than they did. But according to my 7th grade son, this generational relationship is trending in the wrong direction when it comes to my relationship with him.

Which is why I resorted yesterday to inquiring flat out about the Timeline of Puberty-Driven Hostilities. And why I’m profanely twisting the sacred language from our country’s beginnings at 5 in the morning, sitting in my cramped little booth at Starbucks before the sun has come up.

I’m past the point of point of bemoaning the injustice of having the bejesus beaten out of me. I only want to know when the bejesus-beating will be over.

And for some reason, I posed these questions to my tormentor yesterday afternoon with a genuine expectation of getting a rational response in return. Father Merrin engaging the pea soup-puking demon with biblical incantations and splashes of holy water, eliciting “the sow is mine” answer in return. I’d settle for that. Honestly, I’d be thrilled with that level of discourse. I wish I knew to whom my sow belonged. Yes, I realize that technically my son would be a boar, not a sow. But I have no idea to whom the boar belongs.

So as the sun begins to peek over the Safeway parking lot across the street, I gird my loins for another day of battle with the beast. Perhaps I’ll give the holy water a shot. Wish me luck.

And thanks for reading.

Bang the (Droopy Ear) Drum Slowly

It’s rare, in my limited experience, to fail a hearing test and to insult a rockstar in the space of a single day. But I achieved both of these ignoble feats just yesterday.

Ignoble Feat #1: My right ear cannot detect low rumblings. This would be a good thing, if by “low rumblings” I meant the kind uttered by my 13 year-old son when he spies the dreaded–but healthy, damnit, so healthy–purple mashed cauliflower on his dinner plate. I really wish I were deaf to those complaints. Alas, my aural shortcoming is of the decibel- and frequency-detecting variety. Despite my best attempts, dizzy from holding my breath in that vaguely claustrophobic, carpeted room that felt like something in a life-sized in a doll house, I could not for the life of me pick up a series of beeps in the lower register. At least not with my right ear. At least that is what I was told afterwards. I couldn’t actually hear the beeps, so how do I really know the beeps existed? I mean, if a beep beeps but nobody hears it….

Turns out I have something called a “droopy eardrum.” I blushed a little when the ear doctor spoke these words. As if I had failed to do something. Let myself go. Ignored some age-old advice about life from an elderly relative somewhere down the line. “Laddy, whatever you do, keep up them firm eardrums, don’t let ’em droop.” I’m still a bit confused about the condition. Whether it is here to stay for as long as I am here to stay. Or maybe I should try acupuncture. Maybe, but I don’t like the sound of, “Hi, I’m here to see the acupuncturist about my droopy eardrum.” And I also don’t like the words “puncture” and “eardrum” to sit in such close proximity. God I love this getting older thing.

Ignoble Feat #2: I cursed a bonafide rockstar last night. I don’t know if he heard me, but I definitely swore at him. The drummer for Metallica. He made the mistake of double-parking his SUV just behind my little Prius at the bus stop in such a way that his headlights shone brightly in my eyes. With my hearing now apparently shot, this behavior eliminated my sight, effectively leaving me with only a couple senses remaining. And I didn’t think I could rely on my sense of smell to ascertain whether the school bus had pulled up a block behind me. “Diesel fuel. Is that diesel fuel?” Nor did I fancy the prospect of crawling on my hands and knees along the darkened side street, searching with my outstretched fingers for a bus wheel or for my 13 year-old’s Nikes as he hopped onto the sidewalk along with his schoolmates who are probably also wearing Nikes.

So I was piqued. A little irritated, when I stepped out of my Prius and muttered (another low rumbling?), “Thanks for the high beams, jackass” in the direction of the SUV’s silhouetted and therefore anonymous driver. Making no attempt to hide my agitation.

When I returned to my car with my son and his Nikes in-tow, I glanced up to see Lars Ullrich, Metallica’s drummer, engaged in a genuinely charming display of domesticity, piling a couple mussed-haired kiddos into his SUV. I think he was even doing someone a favor, picking up another family’s child at the late bus stop. We made eye contact. I froze a little as Lars looked up and he said, pleasant as pleasant can be, “Hey,” before closing his hatchback like an outstanding dad and upstanding citizen.

Fortunately, he used his upper register with this casual greeting. Had he spoken in a lower voice, the remaining strain of adrenaline coursing through my veins would have combined with my newfound inability to hear what he actually said. I would likely have assumed that Lars lobbed a proportionately responsive invective in my direction. Met fire with fire. Jackass with jackass. God knows what would have happened, but for sure we both would have ended up in the newspapers. “Droopy-Eared Dad Pounded by Drummer in School Bus Stop Altercation.” That type-thing.

Fortunately, I heard Lars right, and I responded appropriately, with a quick “Hey, how you doin’?” Shuffling toward my Prius, I really really really hoped he hadn’t heard me call him a jackass 30 seconds ago. I briefly considered walking right past my parked Prius, to eliminate any supposition that I was its driver. Jackass? Who said anything about a jackass?

Or maybe I could fall back on my deafness, blame the whole thing on some sort of misunderstanding brought on by foolishly letting myself go in regards to the shape of my right eardrum. Probably Lars would have said something about how you should always wear earplugs. Maybe he would vouch for the acupuncture or tell me to steer clear of it altogether. I guess I’ll never know.

Regardless, Lars, please accept my humble apologies. The only jackass in our situation was the guy with the droopy eardrum. And he’d had quite a day.

Thanks for reading.

A Sleigh Full of Toys, and Satan too.

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Last night, my wife and I settled our brains for a long winter’s nap (though she wore no kerchief and I wore no cap).  Then on the bedside iPhone, there arose such a clatter. Shortly before dawn, one son called unexpectedly, his parents bolt upright, and ask what’s the matter.  Away through the garage, my wife flew in a flash.  Our dog was whining. If we waited any longer, it’ll be more than just gas.  I heard our 7th grader shuffle to the shower, and thought “Uh oh.” Because I had no frickin’ idea where we’d hid his GoPro. 

Everett turned 13 today, you see. And we had to make him feel as though his parents are good parents.  Thoughtful parents. This despite the gobsmacking associated with now being the parents of two teenagers.  On top of the daily chaos around here. 

For weeks, we refused Everett’s outrageous demands that we purchase something supercilious. Wreaking of consumerism. Totally absent in third-world countries (from which neither my wife nor I came). And likely to trigger well-deserved childhood spankings in first world countries (from which both my wife and I came).  Perhaps we imagined knitting Everett a sweater. Or writing him a long letter filled with witticisms  regarding what we remember about being 13 year-olds. Life lessons. Perhaps an elaborately-choreographed birthday party with his buddies.  Maybe an aardvark or boa constrictor or koala bear from the zoo would be involved. Maybe they would not. (I don’t think our zoo has koala bears.) I had written up to-do lists on top of to-do lists with all sorts of bespoke, Rockwellian birthday gifts–nay, birthday experiences–we would bring to fruition this year. 

OK, so we got him the damned GoPro.

We never planned for Everett’s birthday to fall during the Holiday Season.  I’d like to point that out as one perfectly legitimate excuse for our annual failure properly to observe the passage of another year in Everett’s existence.

But then again, we don’t observe the Holidays very well, either, apparently.  Earlier this week, as I was making something truly fantastic and astoundingly healthy for his breakfast while half-listening to a news segment on KQED, Everett betrayed our family’s Holiday Ignorance. “Oh my God, they just mispronounced ‘Satanic’ as ‘Saintanick.'”  I don’t know what it says about me as a parent that Everett’s brain went right for “Satanic” instead of “St. Nick” as we sit here just a couple weeks from Christmas.  We have a Christmas tree in the living room.  Everett has seen it.  (Now you have, too.) I have been playing on repeat a 147-song “Beadling Xmas” Spotify playlist since the day after Thanksgiving.  Everett has heard it.  I know he has heard it because he has complained about it regularly.  Several times he has screamed at it from the other room, “Alexa! Pause! Off! Off!” We even have the stockings hung by the chimney, with care (more or less). 

And yet, Everett thinks Satan before Santa.  Satan before Saint Nicholas.  My son, raised in a den of devil-worshipping

And now, with this new, high-definition camera of his, we have unwittingly armed him with the means to record for posterity the pagan free-for-all evidently going down in our household. He is probably narrating an all-school presentation right now as I type. With full photographic, slow-motion, high-definition evidence of our shameful parenting.  I would like to think that I’m exaggerating on this score.  Come on, that’s ridiculous, right? We walked him to his bus stop like any other day, without the slightest hint that anything was amiss. By the time we cover those 2 blocks from our house to the gaggle of other moms and dads and kids and dogs, we are good parents once again. 

But I heard him exclaim, ere his school bus drove out of sight. “Happy Christmas to all, you’ll be visited by Child Services tonight!” 

Thanks for reading (oh, and Happy Birthday, buddy).   

The World’s Worst Dad

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God I suck.

That statement holds true for so many of my attributes.  So many that if I were to run through the entire list, I would completely blow through the remaining “Premium Subscription” digital storage generously allocated to me by WordPress.  Probably an accurate accounting of my self-loathing would short-circuit whatever server bears the unpleasant task of capturing and holding all of my drivel. Some nondescript warehouse in Bangladesh would later be identified as the epicenter in a country-wide blackout.  “The Lemonade Chronicles” latest blog post–in which the blogger documents the myriad things at which he truly sucks–is the culprit, destroying the economy of an entire country.  The Official Incident Report later serves as one final, crowning testament regarding how much I really do suck.

I don’t want that, so I’ll limit the scope of my confessional today to the fact that I totally suck as a dad. This admission is especially painful since “being a dad” rolls reflexively from my lips or from my keyboard whenever I am called upon to introduce myself in some group setting. Or to update my Twitter profile so that the profile accurately reflects who I am.  Or more accurately, who I would like to think that I am.  

I basically turned my back on a promising legal career 18 years ago, in part, so that I could have more time to spend with my kids.  Maybe my legal career turned its back on me, but that is beside the point.  Maybe neither of my kids was even born yet, but that is precisely the point.  

I vividly recall shuffling through an unreasonably rainy and cold Napa Marathon in the winter of 2001, several months before I became a dad for the first time.  The race conditions were truly horrendous, and I endured primarily by listening to Marc Cohn’s “Things We’ve Handed Down (Don’t Know Much About You)” on a continuous loop on my mp3 player.  I cry each time the song hits an emotional crescendo as Cohn wonders about the child he has yet to meet.  What an odd and powerful thing, to love someone more than you thought possible, and that someone is someone you have never met. I put one water-logged sneaker in front of the other in order to instill pride in the chest of my unborn child. My someone. I keep running despite the pain in my knees and despite the rain that later turns out to have been sleet. I am gripped by the singer’s ode to the being in his wife’s belly.  Gripped by the hope that my son (or daughter, we didn’t know then) would be proud of me: His (or her) dad.

But no right-thinking person who has ever been in anyone’s belly, I fear, has good reason to be proud that I am their dad today. 

And Christ, I’ve been blogging about this whole parenting thing for nearly five years now, too. Literally hundreds of blog posts, most of which I real tag or hashtag “parenting” (when I remember to real tag or hashtag something). My Bangladeshi WordPress server practically choking on the sheer volume of missives I’ve written in an all out effort to convince myself and others that no greater dad could possibly exist on this, or any other, planet. I’ve even written a book on this stuff!

So it goes without saying that it really really really hurts to admit the truth of being a sucky dad. It is far easier to continue on with humble brags and delusions. But the guy I saw in my bathroom mirror this morning knows the truth: He sucks.

He sucks because, despite the fact that he should know better, over the last couple days he insisted that his younger son parade through a series of soul-robbing travel baseball team tryouts.  If his younger son didn’t quite seem to have the requisite zeal for this endeavor, that’s OK, because his dad would fill the void.  By carrot or stick, by hook or by crook, the son would step in line for the parade.  And he must step lively, with a determined expression on his face.  A faint smile that says “I live for this shit, bring it on!” Unblinking, laser eyes that say “I will work harder than anyone has ever worked in human history!  I am the living embodiment of hustle and grit and persistence and heart!”

He sucks because he insisted that the parade must go on, despite the fact that marching in lockstep likely caused longterm damage to his younger son’s respiratory system.  The entire State of California is embroiled in some of the worst wildfires in our history.  The air quality in the San Francisco Bay Area is worse than Beijing’s.  I have all the apps and the web pages that depict the parade grounds in a malevolent red.  That practically shout at we app users and web page viewers, “Do NOT go outdoors!  You will self-combust!  Have you not watched that scene with the greedy Nazi in “Raiders of the Lost Arc”?!” Yes, I’ve seen that scene.  I’ve seen it fairly recently.  I even wrote a report in 8th grade about the movie, and I think I singled out that scene in particular.  

I remember the report as if I wrote it yesterday, though I was only 12 or 13 at the time.  The same age of my younger son right now, as he is forced to dart back and forth and huff and puff and swing an expensive baseball bat as hard as the other players who are generally bigger and stronger and swinging baseball bats that are generally more expensive.  And to do this with a determined smile and with the proper body language, regardless of the fact that the Particle Count is demonstrably and unquestionably “Unhealthy.” Nearly as demonstrably and unquestionably unhealthy as my over-parenting. Or maybe it’s under-parenting.  Either way, it’s clear I suck. 

And the poor kid just had painful braces installed on his teeth a couple days ago.  His upper lip’s inside has been rubbed beyond raw.  I’m surprised I haven’t seen the orthodontic contraption protruding through his upper lip altogether, like some wiry, aluminum mustache.  (Actually, I don’t even know if the braces are made of aluminum–I suck too much as a father to have bothered to inquire about this particular detail.) The determined smile I have been agitating about and insisting upon–moving his lips in this manner literally sends of jolts of pain throughout my 12 year-old son’s body.  I realize that now.  But I was completely oblivious to this reality during the parade of tryouts. 

And I remember being annoyed, too, when during a break in yesterday’s parade Everett refused to smile broadly while standing next to a $122 Santa Claus (one of several scattered about) positioned near the CVS checkout aisle. I may have even muttered, “Smile, damnit, Everett” during the taking of this photo.  And he did, sort of. Rather than tell his overzealous father that complying with seemingly-innocuous instructions would cause him physical pain, Ev gamely rests his shoulder on Santa’s. As his upper lip is on fire and raw and bleeding. 

Rather than tell his helicoptering father that maybe he doesn’t want to try out for this team, or for that team. Or that maybe he wants to take a break from the sport for a few months. Or maybe forever.  Rather than give voice to those things, my son silently bears the brunt of my quixotic quest to prove that I am the World’s Greatest Dad.  Which of course means that, on this Monday morning, I must acknowledge I have revealed myself, yet again, as the opposite:  The World’s Worst Dad. 

On the plus side, thanks to the CVS Checkout Line Santa, it appears we are way ahead of schedule with our Annual Beadling Family Holiday Card.  That is, if we still did Annual Beadling Family Holiday Cards. I suck at that, too.  

Thanks for reading. 

These Pumpkins Aren’t Gonna Carve Themselves….

Is it possible to get Carpal Tunnel Syndrome from just a couple hours of feverish jack-o-lantern carving? I aim to find out.  A study of one.  Neither double-blind, nor peer-reviewed.  Well, I suppose I could make the argument that this here blog post meets the “peer reviewed” requirement.  So we are in this together, you and I.

Although, at the moment, I don’t see any pumpkin-carving implements in your hand. I wish I could say the same about myself. The dull throbbing in the forearm, near the elbow. The gnarled and clawed right hand akin to Dracula’s when casting a hypnotic spell. Telltale signs of Jack-o-Lantern-itus, a malady with which I alone, apparently, must contend.  

Because my child is lazy.  And so is yours.

In advance of my annual Haunted Halloween Backyard Party, I mean, my son Everett’s annual Haunted Halloween Backyard Party, I capitalized on a too-good-to-be-true pumpkin sale at my neighborhood Safeway.  First there was the sorting out of the math with the cashier (you can’t really carry 10 pumpkins into the checkout aisle; just one and ring up its sticker 10 times). Then I moved on to the dripping of sweat in the parking lot, marking the path from the enormous cardboard bin to my Prius’ cargo bay.  Fortunately, no one recognized me during this portion of my arduous endeavor.  What with all the sweating, the grunting, the duck-walking, and some grumbled curse words–all while shuffling in front of a steady stream of motor vehicles–I probably will need to patronize a different Safeway for awhile.

But I got my pumpkins, didn’t I. 

I then repeated the sweaty grunting duck walk from my garage to the backyard.  Placed the oversized gourds on sturdy benches, surrounded by a motley (but sharp) collection of cutting and poking and sawing tools that were specifically designed in China for this very purpose: Carving pumpkins for Halloween. I allowed myself a momentary proud smile after all 10 pumpkins were set out on display. Then I shuffled into the bathroom to eat a half-dozen Advils–no easy task getting that childproof lock untwisted with hands spent from schlepping a couple hundred pounds of pumpkins around the neighborhood.  

But this is a small price to pay.  Because I knew that in a few short hours, I would be basking in the adulation of all the grateful 12 and 13 year-olds gleefully partaking in an age-old Halloween tradition.  The boys would likely hoist me on their shoulders, parade around the neighborhood half-singing half-chanting some catchy little ditty from Fortnite but with words about me and my pumpkins.  Magic.  

But there was no magic. No basking in adulation.  No gleeful partaking.  No hoisting or parading or little ditty or words about me or about pumpkins. In the space of just one year, somehow the boys had effectively aged out of all of this. My wife wisely advised that I stay the hell away from the backyard.  Other than grabbing a piece of pizza or two and being called upon to plug back in whatever plug the dog had tripped whilst being hazed by the boys mid-movie, I took her advice.

Because it was terrifying down there. 

They blistered the air with swear words, trying (successfully) to impress each other with their robust vocabularies, gleaned from hours upon hours of watching older video gamers play video games on Twitch, I guess. Or maybe on Youtube, I don’t know.  I thought I had blocked anything like that on my kid’s phone so that he could never be exposed to these words. Every content-restricting toggle is toggled. I am happy to explain to him years down the road, when he comes home during his Spring Break from college, the meaning of words like “shit” and “ass.” Sure, he’ll be little behind the curve.  But I am a perfect parent; I can’t have my son’s mind polluted with that stuff at this tender age.   

I must have missed a toggle somewhere, because Everett (the titular host of this Haunted Halloween Backyard Party) strung together a string of profanities for his buddies unlike anything I’ve ever heard.  Standing in the dark near the pizza boxes, I froze. Then, I did what any right-thinking parent would do in this type of situation:  I grabbed another piece of pizza–without making a sound–and snuck back upstairs–also without making a sound. I did not want to be discovered, interloping in the dark, and find myself the subject of the next string of profanities. 

In light of what was going on back there, I had absolutely no business entertaining even a sliver of hope that my ten pumpkins would survive the night.  I fully expected them to be smashed to bits all over the place.  I had already constructed in my mind the heartfelt apology texts I would for sure need to deliver to my neighbors the next morning. They would be unhappy when they awoke to find catapulted and splintered gourds littering their own yards. Worse yet, as I sat on the couch upstairs with the other adults watching the World Series, I privately wondered whether the pumpkin-carving tools made in China would be (foreseeably) misused (on each other) by these boys made in America.  I topped off my wine glass, hoping to bring to a halt the parade of horribles marching toward its logical conclusion in my head. 

Eventually, the party wound down, the kids were picked up, and the pumpkins–miracle of miracles–were unharmed.  Untouched, for the most part.  It’s way easier to cartwheel around the yard screaming “bastard!” at the top of one’s lungs than it is to cut the top off of one’s pumpkin, apparently.  I suspect I do indeed owe a neighbor or two a contrite email or two about a salty word overheard or two, but other than that, I suppose the party was a success.  And now that the throbbing in my elbow has subsided, I see that I still have 6 more jack-o-lanterns that need slicing and dicing.  After all, these pumpkins aren’t gonna carve themselves.

Thanks for reading.

No Sleep Till Hamilton.


We just returned from visiting The Kraken at his high school on the east coast. Every year as Parents Weekend approaches and my wife coordinates the flights and related logistics, I fail miserably. 

I fail miserably to comprehend the magnitude of the impact the “Here is your itinerary for your upcoming trip!” Jet Blue auto-email will have on my aging body and mind. 

Perhaps the failure here is not in the comprehending, but in the remembering.  I have forgotten or maybe repressed how brutally the redeye ravages my circadian rhythm.  I foolishly purchased one of those blow-up travel sleeping pillow thingies a few weeks back, as if that would somehow make things perfectly cool.  As we taxied down the SFO runway, I knowingly overdosed on melatonin, jammed blue foam earplugs so deeply into my ear canals that those canals may never return to their former shape, and flirted with passing out while hyperventilating into the blow up pillow to achieve the perfect inflation point.  I stopped forcing everything I had in my lungs into the black monstrosity (which smelled very much like the plastic inner tubes my childhood buddies and I careened down Syracuse’s snowy Reservoir) only when my eustachian tubes crackled alarmingly and I realized that I would momentarily burst the majority of the blood vessels in my eyeballs. 

Satisfied with the device’s turgidity, I then spent the next hour or so wrestling with the contraption.  I abandoned any sense of dignity within the first 5 minutes of this epic battle.  My wife rolled her eyes the moment I pulled the to-be-inflated pillow from its little case in my backpack.  (I abandoned any sense of dignity with her years ago.) But I felt the intense heat of my fellow passengers’ stares and judgment all over me as I grappled with this chemical off-gassing bastard likely mutating my DNA strands every time I took another big inhale and wrapped my arms around or inside or all twisted up like an improperly-performed Bikram Yoga Eagle Pose.   Nothing worked. We landed in Boston several hours later, and I hadn’t done anything even remotely close to sleeping. I was wired and exhausted.  And of course I stupidly combatted that with a giant Dunkin Donuts coffee.

My body clock and I are no longer on speaking terms, at least for the foreseeable future.  It will require several days to recover some semblance of an equilibrium. My immune system is laughing at me. If I don’t succumb to whatever super-virulent strain of the flu is making its rounds in San Francisco over the next few days, it will be a medical miracle. 

And of course it is all so totally worth it. 

I will forget about the awful redeye again next year.  I will bravely do battle with the chromosome-bending and eustachian tube-blowing inflatable airplane “pillow.” I will embrace my starring role in other passengers’ “you’re never gonna believe what this jackass was doing on my flight” dinner table conversation the next day. 

I will do all of these things. 

But not because of the cherished moments in full Fall Foliage regalia with our 17 year-old son whom we see so infrequently that it hurts my heart to type these words.  Nah.  Rather, it was worth it because the state of my sleep-addled reptilian brain led directly to landing, at long last, a pair of tickets to “Hamilton!” Had my body not been completely out of whack on Sunday night (as my wife snored blissfully next to me), I wouldn’t have been numbly scrolling through emails and tweets and Instagram posts at the exact moment that the online lottery email snuck in and told me: At 1:00am EST, that it is “my turn” after waiting in a digital line all day and behind (literally) 95,000 other people waiting to buy the same tickets! Bleary-eyed but nimble-fingered, I found some dates that worked, gritted my teeth a bit at the prices, and pulled the trigger.    

So you see, this sleep deprivation is working great for me.  So I’m gonna stick with it, see where it takes me. At least until Parents Weekend 2019 rolls around. 

Thanks for reading. 

Heady Halloween Times at the Road Kill Grill


I love this time of year.  Even living in the Bay Area, where the changes of season are so subtle that they don’t seem like changes at all.  I play a game in my mind:  Drop me anywhere around San Francisco — blindfolded and ignorant as to the actual date on the calendar — and I seriously doubt I’d be able to divine the month to which I’ve been transported.  No telltale “fall foliage” to speak of.  No markedly lowered air temperatures.  This could be April or August or January, really, let alone two weeks before Halloween. So over the past two decades in California, I’ve learned to mark the autumnal Halloween season by manufacturing my own signals.

The other day, I dragged out from hiding our blue plastic bins with the curled masking tape bearing “HALLOWEEN” in faded marker (written, by the way, in a hand I don’t recognize as belonging to anyone in my immediate family, which is disconcerting). These important boxes have collected only a year’s-worth of dust in the corner of our garage, but in that year I have totally forgotten the details of my Halloween Decorations Master Plan. Fortunately, I can now lean on my 12 year-old’s increasing powers of recollection when it comes to how many red-eyed ghouls are to be hung in the vines of the rose bushes in the driveway, where the styrofoam tombstone with the “RIP” fits and where the styrofoam tombstone shaped like a cross fits, and how many lengths of purple plug-in patio lights are required to generate the proper creepy hue in our upstairs patio.  

We have made our annual pilgrimage up and over to the Noe Valley novelty store that stocks the ceramic Halloween Village pieces we have accumulated over the years.  By now, fully three good-sized shelves in our living room and dining room feature a Witches Brew Pub, a Screamville carnival attraction with a terrifying raspy-voiced clown’s demented rants on a loop, a Road Kill Grill operated out of what appears to be a filthy, old, converted school bus, and a Hemoglobin Blood Bank.  This Bank is one of the recent additions, and I just noticed that it has two 50-gallon drums positioned near the front of the stairs which purport to contain “Jumbo Leeches.” Every year when we visit, the novelty store owners make noises behind the counter about how the Halloween Village company will soon stop making all of these pieces that I count on to mark the season.  The store owners will be fine (they have tons of socks with swear words and silicone kitchen gadgets and cute little dog leashes to pay their rent); I will be lost without this yearly tradition. 

And I think the store owners were serious this year, too, because they had a stack of Village pieces piled on a card table on the sidewalk in front of their store.  Historically during this shopping trip, my wife and I demonstrate for our children important, time-honored principles of patience and discipline. We roam the aisles and slap reaching hands, lecturing a little bit about how good things come to those who wait, and so forth.  This year, however, we descended on Just for Fun & Scribbledoodles like a pack of wild dogs.  We bought just about every single damned one of those Halloween Village pieces.  Some of them I didn’t even really like. The “Into Our Hands” horse-drawn mortuary stage coach doesn’t even have lights that flicker or the sounds of horse hooves clomping or anything.  Nevertheless, it took 3 people to schlep all the boxes to our car, and our car’s trunk gobbled them up (the boxes, not the people). 

And by now we’ve sent out the Paperless Post digital invites for my, I mean, my son Everett’s annual “Backyard Graveyard” Halloween Party. The backyard is not a big one, so the guest list is severely restricted to just a handful of his classmates. But the party-set up will not be severely restricted by anything.  No sir.  I will spike a dozen strobe lights scattered around so that the entire yard appears to be on fire.  I will plug in a fog machine, fill it with fog machine fluid, and trigger period eruptions to “oohs and aahs.” I will do this even though the dog will go crazy and try to bite the fog machine. I will assemble a 15-foot high movie screen tethered to our wooden fence, one side of which is leaning so precariously that a local fence company is on call to install some emergency fence support posts.  Assuming the movie screen doesn’t catch a gust of wind and collapse our fence before it is emergency-supported, I will project on that billowing screen a movie that is suitably horrifying for a gaggle of 12 year-old boys (who think they are up for a horrifying movie and even insist that they are but I know they really aren’t). 

I should add that I had planned on the traditional “Bobbing for Apples” activity (partly because the really nice silver champagne bucket we got from Pottery Barn otherwise sees pretty much zero action).  But Everett — who has been studying biology at school via a unit on germs one encounters every day — put the kibosh on the bobbing this year.  He pointed out that boys repeatedly plowing their heads into a bucket of water and chewing and spitting apples is probably a good way to pass germs back and forth. I can’t argue with this, so I’ll need to come up with some alternative activity to fill the gap between carving pumpkins and watching “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” (I’m just kidding about the “Chainsaw Massacre.” I mean, I think it’s based on a true story, but we will not be watching it. At least not this year….).

I know that at some point, our still-growing Halloween Village will contract. Our faux granite tombstones will not lie scattered about our driveway bushes.  The most recent edition of “Master Everett’s Backyard Graveyard Party” will be the last one.  No more fog machines. The kids will lose interest.  Or my wife will grow weary of playing this game with me every year when Halloween Month rolls around.  Or maybe she or I won’t be able to muster the courage to ascend the step ladder and teeter on its top step in order to pull the Village pieces and hanging ghouls from the storage closet’s high shelves. 

Thinking about the day when I can no longer mark the season this way is terrifying; far more frightening than any jump scares my fog machine and red-eyed driveway ghouls could deliver up.  But today is not that day. So in the meantime, I’m gonna belly up to the Road Kill Grill.  I hear the “Rack of Rodent” is rather fresh today. 

Happy Halloween.  And thanks for reading.