Month: February 2014

Four Miles Up.



There is an idyllic, 111 year-old place in western Massachusetts’ Berkshires.  I think about this place almost every day: Camp Becket, also known as Camp Becket-in-the-Berkshires.  

The basic facts can be plucked casually from Wikipedia. Becket is a YMCA summer camp for boys founded in 1903 by George Hannum on Rudd Pond. It is one of the oldest continually running summer camps in the United States.  It is consistently rated and considered among the best camps of its kind. The boys-only camp concentrates on traditional values while building a sense of teamwork. The camp still teaches many of the values, such as building individual character by achieving goals in the context of a group setting, espoused by its second director, Henry Gibson, whose tenure began 110 years ago. 

The basic facts, casually plucked, fail miserably to capture the magic of the place.  

The magic of the place–in my humble opinion–is the way it somehow shapes young boys into men like Welles Crowther.  Who was Welles Crowther?  I don’t write nearly well enough to be able to do justice to Crowther’s courage and legacy.  As was ably reported in The Atlantic’sIn Praise of Summer Camp,” and in an ESPN documentary, Crowther is iconically known as “The Man in the Red Bandana.”  Unfathomably heroic actions high up in the World Trade Center’s South Tower on the morning of September 11, 2001.

(You might want to carve out 20 minutes now to read the article and watch the ESPN video from those two links above.)

My wife and I watched in horror the events that morning from the comfort of our living room couch in San Francisco’s Marina District.  We held our month-old baby son in our arms, knowing that his world was now forever changed from our world because of what had just happened in New York, Pennsylvania and D.C.  As we cradled our child, 3,000 miles away Welles Crowther breathlessly traipsed up and down the chaotic stairwell near his 104th floor office, shepherding strangers from shock to safety on floors lower down.  Many of these strangers have said they would not have survived but for the man who draped a red bandana across his mouth and nose to protect himself against fumes, fire and smoke.  

When the South Tower collapsed, it took Crowther and his red bandana with it. 

Watching the unspeakable tragedy unfold on our television screen, my wife and I could not possibly have known that the month-old baby boy in our arms would some day share something very important with Crowther.  Almost exactly eleven years from that day, our Max would attend the same summer camp that a younger Crowther had.  A place that some have credited with helping to inspire Crowther to do what he did on 9/11.  Camp Becket.  

How could a summer camp do that?

The Atlantic article continues, “‘The most fundamental thing we can do as a human being is to not run away in the face of a crisis, but turn around and run into,’ recalled Tim Murphy, a long-time Becket staffer[.]  It’s such a compelling example of the Becket values at work, those lessons we try to instill in campers. Whether or not Welles was manifesting those, or they were in the back of his mind, who knows?'”   

Wow.  Heavy stuff.  

And interestingly enough, this is why I write about what I write about in The Lemonade Chronicles.  Finding something–anything–positive in an otherwise bleak situation. Putting my back into trying to teach my own boys what I think (hope) it means to be a “good man.”  

So elusive, these. 

The ashes of a very dark moment in human history gave rise to an incredibly genuine legacy that continues to inspire.  There are of course many examples of finding positive outcomes from the otherwise desperate and crushing 9/11 experience.  But Crowther and his Red Bandana is an uplifting story given renewed currency–told and re-told–every summer at Camp Becket.  Crowther gave himself over to a powerful legend, shared by camp counselors over smoky campfires in the woods, their skinny-legged audience hanging on every word.  

If that doesn’t give the purest example of what it means to be a good man, to be a good human, then nothing does.  

I’d like to think that we’re raising two boys who would do the same as Crowther did, if put in the same situation.  I’d like to think that I would do the same.  But my sons (and their cousins and cousins’ parents and grandfather) all have an advantage:  Time spent at a magical place called Camp Becket.  A place where skinny-legged boys learn what it takes to become Red Bandana-wearing heroes. 

Thanks for reading. 

By the way, the connection between Welles Crowther and Becket is still strong:  The Crowther Trust was established to make gifts to Camp Becket and to other organizations that helped shape Crowther. 

Long Live the Bushman!



A San Francisco fixture I’ve long considered a kindred spirit passed away this week.  Sixty year-old Gregory Jacobs plied his trade with a couple Eucalyptus branches, a low growl, and clever hiding spots in plain sight.  Mostly he preyed (in a good way) on unsuspecting tourists who roam the streets of San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf by the millions each year.  Jacobs would conceal himself behind the branches, squatting by a railing or trash bin, then scare the bejesus out of someone who happened to walk next to him.  Tips ensued, the frightened-then-relieved tipper happy to be alive, if still shaking from the quick adrenaline buzz.

I say “kindred spirit” because for as long as I can remember, I too have always relished (maybe not in a good way) giving someone a good scare.  In grade school, I took great pride in how many trick or treaters I could terrorize by launching out from under a pile of orange and red leaves optimally positioned near our Strathmore home’s Halloween candy distribution point.  Don’t get them on the way in, get them on the way out, when they’re relaxed, distracted, and convinced that no one is going to jump out at them at this house. That is the time to achieve maximum effect.  

Before you get too judgy, remember that I was a kid at the time, not a full grown man scaring kids.  Sheesh.

And it wasn’t just limited to Halloween.  My old house had tons of dark corners and alleyways, perfect for frightening my friends, on occasion even triggering a loosed bladder.  My friends would try to return the favor; try to catch me off guard as I had done to them. My friend David once lay in wait around a corner of my first floor stairs.  My unsuspecting father padded up said stairs. My unsuspecting friend was about to jump out at my unsuspecting father (thinking he was me).  I heard a “raaaaahhh!”  then a “SMAACK” of skin-on-skin punctured the air a millisecond later.  David stumbled back down the stairs, defeated, holding his hand to his cheek.  When he pulled his hand away, the red mark left by another hand (my father’s) was clearly visible.  

Loyal readers may recognize this instance as yet another example of my modern interpretation of Slapped Cheek Syndrome, by the way.  

My preoccupation with delivering a good scare has, on occasion, crossed the line.  I once terrified my considerably-younger cousin, Shane, with a midnight “zombie with arms outstretched” performance in his bedroom during a sleepover.  My Uncle Nate (Shane’s dad), rather than scold me, took his revenge the next night.  I awoke with a start at the sight of a zombie that was not me, with glow-in-the-dark, blood shoot eyeballs, no less.  Lesson learned:  Don’t scare kids who are considerably younger than you.  At least not the ones whose dads possess glow-in-the-dark, bloodshot eyeball pieces. 

Another time, I delivered a terrifying performance one evening while attending law school in Cleveland.  I crouched down at the innermost brick wall of our darkened garage, awaiting my guest’s car to pull into the garage any second.  Car pulls in, garage remains dark, I conceal myself away from throw of the driver’s headlights.  Driver steps out of car, unsuspecting.  I don’t just jump out and yell “raaaaah!”  I consider myself pretty good at this.  Instead, I crinkle some leaves.  Just loudly enough for the driver to wonder whether they actually heard something or just imagined it.  Then crinkling a little louder, and louder still, calibrating the volume of the crinkling to the increasing pace with which the driver is first strolling, then walking briskly, now running towards the front door of my rented house in a full panic. I give chase, my identity concealed by the fortuitous lack of a streetlight on our particular corner.  We are both at nearly a full sprint before the jig is up.  At which point I double over in high-pitched giggles, overcome with laughter.  The driver?  Not so much.  Lesson learned:  Don’t scare the young woman who would one day become your fiancee, then wife, then mother of your children.  She will have sixty some-odd years in which to plot her revenge.   

So enamored am I of the art of fright that I once “tried out” for a job as a Haunted House actor.  Sitting in a circle of other applicants, I hit my low point when my turn came to give my prospective employer my “best growl.”  Needless to say, I did not get the job.  Embarrassing still, some 20 years later.  Lesson learned:  Keep it spontaneous.  In the moment. You can’t manufacture a good scare where there is no genuine, good scare to be had. 

Which brings me back to the San Francisco Bushman.  His scare was genuine.  No matter how many times he rolled it out, I reckon each scare felt to him like his first scare.  His victims’ jumps, yelps, raised eyebrows, shouted curse-words — he probably lived for that stuff.  

He certainly caught me on more than one occasion; an amateur scarer shown the real deal by a Master Scarer.  And for a second or two every time he got me, I chuckled, reminded of what it feels like to be alive.  To feel something real, fight-or-flight style.  All the nonsense of the day-to-day stripped away in a moment.  Something that provokes hearty, childlike laughter.  From both parties.  I will miss that man.

The Bushman is Gone, Long Live the Bushman!

Thanks for reading. 

We’re Skipping the Immunizations and Going Straight to Exorcism.


Slapped Cheek Syndrome, Chicken Pox, Head Lice, Streptococcal Pharyngitis, Meningitis, Pneumonia, Conjunctivitis, Influenza, Hand, Mouth and Foot Disease, Measles, Mumps, Pertussis, Ringworm, Rotavirus, and Scabies.

This is just a sampling of the infections, parasites and communicable diseases to which our children are exposed in schools and on playgrounds.  And get this, medical experts say that there is nothing we can do to “completely stop” these maladies.  Sure you can insist that your kids develop OCD about washing their hands, or not washing their hands, depending upon whether they are in a gas station bathroom or in the bathroom at the dentist’s office.  And you can encase your child’s head and hair in a bubble-boy hat, or just a green striped Patagonia wool hat or Giants baseball cap, protecting against tiny head lice leaping from head to head.  Actually, the lice’s legs have adapted to grasp human hair, so they don’t leap.  I guess they take a big step, like a landlubber stepping from one row boat to another, risking a full James Brown split. Maybe lice can’t leap, but I bet they can do a split. So your kids shouldn’t touch their heads, or even better, don’t bring them within lice-legsplit distance.

You can dutifully follow your pediatrician’s blue card listing all of the various immunizations over the course of your child’s life, stretching from birth to young adulthood.  The pained look on your baby’s face upon the nurse’s first immunization injection?  The one you can still remember 12 years later? Well, that’s just the cost of doing business.  The dread in the days leading up to a big shot, like Penicillin?  Collateral damage.  A Tetanus shot? Fuggetaboutit. Some nurses report that some of these immunizations actually hurt their thumbs just from pressing the thick-gauged needle into the target. Still, as long as we keep up on our trusty Immunization Record–with regular reminders or scoldings from Summer Camp and school–no ill can befall our children.  Right?

Well, that depends.  Take Slapped Cheek Syndrome, for example.  This doozy, also known as “Fifth Disease” or Erythema Infectiosum, is a type of viral infection that is most common in children, although it can affect anyone of any age.  First of all, what are the First, Second, Third, and Fourth Diseases? I don’t see those on my blue card.  Second, the common name can produce confusion at the morning school bus stop.  So allow me to clear up that confusion right here and now.

We live in San Francisco and send our boys to school in Marin County.  So we are deep into politically-correct, super-sensitive land.  Not complaining, just saying.  So an email from school reporting that your child has “Slapped Cheek Syndrome” is in actuality just a modern, polite way of saying that your son or daughter misbehaved at school today and the history teacher whacked him or her in the vicinity of the cheeks, or maybe on just one or the other cheek.  My adult friends tell stories of rough treatment at the hands of nuns in catholic schools.  Not quite. That’s just “Rapped Knuckles Syndrome.”  Members of our parents’ generation were regularly and routinely spanked in school, they say.  I beg to differ.  That is merely an incidence of “Spanked Butt Syndrome.”  At least I think I am correct with this line of thinking.

Head lice is a personal favorite.  In addition to possessing extraordinarily limber legs, head lice do not discriminate.  One head is as good as the other.  Little League batting helmet?  Head Lice Hotel.  The habit of touching heads to pose for an iPhone photo?  Micro-example of the Bering Strait Land Bridge Migration Theory in action.  Once on your child’s head, chaos ensues.  Think of your home now as one of those decontamination zones in the movies.  Government workers in full-bodied white suits and helmets, giant white tents, Geiger counters.  Rough stuff.  Believe me, you don’t want any part of that.

So we have decided at this point to go with the big guns.  Rather than returning to the blue card, sheepishly filling in the immunization gaps when scolded by camp or school or doctor, we’re turning to exorcism.  That’s right. Wikipedia tells me that this is the ancient practice of evicting demons or other spiritual entities from a person or an area that the demons are believed to have possessed.  If it works for demons, surely it works for Pink Eye.

So from now on, I will fill out the relevant blanks of the school and camp forms seeking confirmation of up-to-date immunizations as follows — 

* Not Applicable.  Our child was exorcised on May 14, 2014.

I’m sure this will work out just fine.  I feel really good about it.

Thanks for reading.

Two Tickets to Paradise.


“At the edge of Cow Hollow, overlooking the Presidio, is the true cornerstone of San Francisco.”

Let me count the ways I love thee, Liverpool Lil’s.  This place, to me, provides a welcome glimpse into Old San Francisco.  Walking in is like walking back in time.  Those glimpses are fleeting in a town with so much change.  How the place has managed to stay in business since 1973 is beyond me, a testament to her rock-solid place in the fabric of the City, I suppose.  Every time I go back, typically punctuated by weeks or even months of not going, it’s exactly as I left it.  Something really great about that.

According to the San Francisco Examiner, “When Ralph Maher first opened his restaurant, he had a friend who lived in Liverpool, England, whom he’d visit several times a year.  Then came Lil, a lovely young lady he met during one of his many trans-Atlantic voyages. Ralph wanted nothing more than to take Lil to San Francisco, and Lil wanted nothing more than for Ralph to pack his bags and settle down in Liverpool. A standoff ensued. Then Ralph, hoping to entice Lil to come and live here, named his bar after her. Unfortunately, their love did not stand the test of geography, and neither of them ever made the move. ”

Local lore of a different sort suggests that Lil either didn’t actually exist, or that if she did, she might have been an, um, trollop.  First use of the word “trollop” in the Lemonade Chronicles, so a little self-congratulatory pat on the back.  I’ll take it.  Sorry, Lil.

The Examiner continues, “What’s so fantastic about Lil’s is there is always the option to make your experience either a high-end or low-end one. At the eatery’s front is its cozy publike cocktail lounge, covered with sports memorabilia, showcasing those athletes who have frequented the place. So that table in the cocktail area dominated by photos and articles written about the star, well, that’s where heonce liked to sit.”

First use of the word “heonce” in the Lemonade Chronicles, even if I’m quoting someone else who is a much better writer than I.  I’ll take it.  Sorry, Examiner writer.

Something fascinating about the characters who have drank and presumably gotten drunk, on occasion, amidst these dark wood walls.

According to a piece on a website called, “Of all the customers and characters who have adopted Liverpool Lil’s as their favorite hideout, rumpus room and pile-it-high-on-the-plate eatery, Joe DiMaggio is the most lionized. Maher [the Founder, evidently] even framed DiMaggio’s scorecard from the nearby Presidio golf course. A notorious loner and a man of few words who hated people to fuss over him or his fame, the Yankee great would slip in solo and sit by himself at a table, underneath his picture and opposite the bar. ‘He’d have a cup of coffee or a glass of red wine,’ recalls Ed Wocher, Liverpool Lil’s host for 30 years. He says DiMaggio liked the place because he could come in and nobody bothered him. If Marilyn ever joined him, Wocher never saw her.”

And the intrigue doesn’t end with Joltin’ Joe.  According to the San Francisco Chronicle, “This English pub-restaurant has been a favored haunt of classical and jazz musicians, [and even] the local FBI and Secret Service.”  Hmm.  OK, so that’s cool,  but it also makes me a bit edgy, given my previously-stated discomfort with Google Search and TSA Gate Agents.

My own personal history with Lil’s is far less fascinating, objectively speaking.  I didn’t down Whiskey or Martinis with Mr. Coffee.  My family did rent a flat for over 10 years from “The Crow” — Joe’s Yankee teammate, infielder Frank Crosetti.  But he and I never shared an Anchor Steam at Lil’s.  I have finished a number of long-ish trail runs, Tam road rides, and the like with a well-deserved pint or two, shared with a buddy or two who equally deserved their own pint or two.  I also conceived a branded concert tour in cahoots with a colleague and friend who formerly ran marketing for Hard Rock.  Cloistered away in a dark corner, lounging on red plastic-cushioned benches, underneath the photos of the aformentioned famous people who drank and presumably got drunk, on occasion, under their famous photos.

So the place is special; think we’ve established that.  Its walls are covered in a haphazard fashion, though sometimes I stumble on something truly unique.  Like last night.  Meeting a friend for a pint over a discussion of inflection points, I found behind my head a framed stock certificate.  Someone had evidently purchased shares in San Francisco Seals, Inc., in 1956.  Two shares, to be specific.  The stockholder’s name is tough to make out, as you can see.  Francis G. Someone.  Leyag?  Leyaf?  Layae? I’ve Google searched every possible permutation of letters, and come up empty.

And the Lil’s bartender who answered the phone tonight was none to happy about being pressed into duty to lean over a customer’s table and try to decipher Francis G’s last name in the dim light.  I suppose that’s part of the charm.

But I imagine the thrill that Francis G.  stoked in his (her?) household the day he (she?) slapped that stock certificate on the kitchen table.  Two shares in the franchise of Lefty O’Doul and the DiMaggios.  History.  Even at that time, it was clearly history-in-the-making.  Must have been quite a thing.  How it ended up on the wall at Liverpool Lil’s is a mystery.  I would be surprised if anyone working there knows the stock certificate’s backstory, has any idea who Francis G. is or was.

But I love the fact that it’s there.

Oh, and one last thing:  If you’re curious as to its value, I stumbled on a site offering a similar stock certificate for the bargain price of $895.

Thanks for reading.

The Big Red Button.



I need a nap. 

It’s only 9:10am and I’m totally exhausted.  Not because I didn’t get some quality sleep last night.  No problem there.  Not because I got up at the crack of dawn.  I didn’t. 

I’m totally tapped out because I just spent the past hour or so putting together a Paperless Post invite for my 8 year-old’s birthday party this weekend.  Typically, my wife Hilary has always handled outbound invites like this one.  It appeared so facile, Norman Rockwellian, sweet, when all I had to do was open my copy of the polished emailed invite. 

But now I’ve seen the guts of it, and it ain’t pretty.

First there’s the what the “card” should look like.  I write “card,” because this is all digital now.  No need to kill any trees.  Or more accurately, no need to use any trees that someone else killed.  No need to shuffle down to the Post Office to scrounge up a roll of stamps, even though those auto-stick stamps are WAY better than the older versions with the stale Doublemint “flavor.” 

And of course, we had already decided on a theme. 

What, you say you don’t choose a proper theme for your child’s birthday party?? You say you don’t think your parents even threw you a “party” for all of your own childhood birthdays?? 

Welp, times have changed, and there must be a birthday party.  Every year.  And it damn well better be meaningful.  And impressive. Consider renting a clown or bounce house.  And not some shitty clown and shitty bounce house — the painted, arched eyebrows better be crisp, and the house better not have any duct tape over bloated seams.  What kind of parent are you?? 

This year’s theme (sound of crisp manilla envelope holding major award on stiff card inside, ripping via pointer finger, me wearing black tie standing at the dais) is baseball.  Fortunately for us, a school family friend has just recently opened up a new batting cage facility in the Presidio.  It’s called Batter’s Box SF.  And I believe young Master Everett’s birthday party at said facility with be the first birthday party at said facility.  How ’bout me?  You can keep your clown and bounce house.  We don’t need no stinking clown and bounce house!  At least not this year. 

So we have ourselves a theme.

Fortunately, the theme limits the Paperless Post digital card options.  Otherwise, given that I am given to distraction, I would have been pouring over a few hundred cards in search of the perfect font.  I choose a baseball-looking card, seems reasonable. 

Then comes the grammar and syntax part.  Exhausting.  I went with the default “Fenway” font for the card.  Looked good, but was so frilly.  I’d say 50% chance that I spelled Everett’s first name wrong or our last name wrong.  I’m not sure; I just can’t tell whether that is an “L” or an “i.”  Hopefully our guests will suffer from vision worse than mine, or maybe they won’t suffer from font-obsession if their vision is good. 

Then comes the invite list.  Stressful.  I have to navigate some written rules and some unwritten rules to make sure that I don’t offend (a) Everett’s school, (b) Everett’s friends, (c) Everett’s friends’ parents, (d) my wife, (e) Everett’s basketball team, (f) said batting cages facility, and (g) my own very tenuous sensibilities.  Because I am the world’s best dad, I made sure to have Everett feel involved and engaged in the invite process.  So this morning I had him hand write a list of his invitees.  The list is awesome.  I would love to post a photo of it, but I would be offending at least three of the potentially offended groups above.  His little list is so cute, quaint, Norman Rockwellian (again).

And totally incomplete.  An absolute land mine had I latched onto only that list.  I can’t even imagine the full parade of horribles that would have transpired had I not scrutinized the hell out of his list. 

Instead, I cross-checked, spell-checked, classroom-checked, YMCA hoops team roster-checked, school website-checked, school family directory-checked.  I don’t think I crammed so much research into writing term papers in undergrad. I am not kidding.  Like I said, totally exhausting.  But I managed to come up with a seemingly bulletproof, offensive-proof list.  I think.  I hope. 

My anxiety reached a crescendo when it came to actually having to click on the “SEND NOW TO ALL GUESTS” button.  The button is bright red.  The font actually seems a little more prominent than any other copy on the Paperless Post website.  I felt like I was faced with hitting the proverbial BIG RED BUTTON launching a nuclear attack.  Felt like JFK mulling over a short list of options during the heat of the Cuban Missile Crisis.  At least he had Bobby.  I wish I could show my birthday party invite “preview” and my draft list of invitees to Bobby.  No Bobby for me. 

So here I am.  My right hand is shaking as I try to guide its forefinger to make the “click” on the touchpad.  My vision blurs, heart pounding and pushing blood now with a new squirt or 3 of adrenaline.  I use my left hand, grabbing the wrist of my right, trying desperately to steady my button-pushing finger.  And out of the corner of my eye, you better believe I am very aware of the “delete” button.  Don’t look at it directly.  Ah, shit I just looked at it.  Don’t look at it!  Don’t…Look…At…It!  Must…push…red…BUTTON!

You get the picture.

The (right) button was pushed, I pulled myself back together, and now I sit in fear of an imminent RSVP with a comment about how I misspelled my son’s name or otherwise truly screwed up royally.  The odds of this whole thing not descending into an exercise in complete, catastrophic failure?  Mmmm, 9%.  But I am in too deep at this point. 

Besides, Everett’s actual birthday was in December, so we’ve already messed it up.  Nowhere to go but up!

Thanks for reading.

Fax Your Passport.



Among a slew of others, one of my favorite bad habits is something that has come to be known around here as “faxing your passport.”  I’m one of the least “handy” people you’ll meet, which is odd because my dad and my step-dad are both ridiculously handy. 


When I was maybe 12, my father one day decided he wanted to build a deck with a sliding glass door off off of our then-deck-less and sliding glass door-less summer camp.  He decided this with seeming spontaneity, while standing in front of a blank wall.  Within a minute or two, he’d jacked the chainsaw to life and carved a man-sized, square hole in the wall.  I can still recall the sweet smell of the saw’s fifty-to-one oil and gas fuel mix.  Over the next few weeks he built the deck.  More or less on his own, as I recall. 

I could never do that.

My step-father, for his part, has crafted room-sized gazebos, legit pieces of furniture.  He’s like the Edward Scissorhands of woodworking.  Amazing.

I could never do that, either.

My creativity in this area, if I have any, lies in conjuring up and executing Homo Habilis solutions to urgent situations.  By that I mean caveman-like solutions.  MacGyver with his IQ cut in half.  In modern times, it turns out that this particular kind of Savant Syndrome is prettied up with the name, “Life Hacking.”  That sounds and looks better than my caveman, but the caveman is mine, so I’ll keep it. 


The memory of the first one is hazy, but I’ll give it a shot:  About 20 years ago, my wife and I sat in the rear of a musty taxi, en route to one airport or another.  Maybe Boston.  Maybe Syracuse.  And she might not have been my wife yet.  Regardless, one of us had forgotten to bring our driver’s license along for the ride.  Rather than turn the taxi around to retrieve the ID, I convinced myself that the gate agent would gladly accept a substitute:  A faxed copy of the license.  We didn’t need to waste valuable time careening through the streets back from whence we had come; we needed to find a friend to break into the apartment, grab the license, and fax a copy of it to me at a number to be determined, at the airport.  The number would be need-to-know for said friend, just get the license, get thee to a neighborhood fax machine place, and stand by for further instruction.  Brilliant, right? 

Um, no.  But this was the genesis of the “fax your passport” phenomenon, at least as best as I can recall.

More recently, my business partner and I were producing an America’s Cup event on board a World War II Liberty Ship here in San Francisco. (I know this sounds completely out of the blue and odd, but it’s true.  More on work-stuff in later blog posts.  So for now, just go with it.)  We had a skeleton crew of our own staff and ship volunteers, and we were expecting a few hundred ticket-holding guests within a matter of minutes. We were stretched thin, chief cook and bottle washer-style.  The ship sits about thirty feet higher than the pier, or “apron,” that runs alongside.  Many many trips up and down the rickety gangway were made. 

Those trips could be time-consuming, particularly if the one-way gangway was trying to accommodate two-way traffic.  My partner was up top, I was down on the apron.  Far enough away that shouting was required to communicate.  He needed a half-dozen plastic zip ties ASAP, in order to secure a decorative red, white and blue bunting to the side of the ship.  No time to waste, and the gangway was packed with harried folks in a rush.  I looked down at the zip ties in my hand, then thought of the Granny Smith I had just sunk my teeth into.  I plucked the apple from my mouth, stuck the zip ties into it like a pin cushion (or voodoo doll, if you want to get a little weird), then hurled my little caveman solution up to my partner.  Good throw, good catch, problem solved.  Caveman-style.  Fax your passport-style. 

This blog format prevents me from regaling you with dozens of other examples.  Plus, I actually can’t remember many more of them.  Oh, there was one where I hoisted a bed frame up three floors to the rooftop deck of my North End apartment in Boston.  With a rope just like the one you climbed in grade school gym class 35 years ago.  Pulling the frame up from the street maybe 40 feet below.  In the middle of winter.  I would get the frame almost all the way up, and my forearms would completely fatigue, fat with blood like a rock climber’s. I wrapped the fibrous brown rope a couple loops around the rickety deck posts, then paced around the snow-covered deck, opening and closing my fingers in rapid succession to regain feeling.  At one point, the poorly-tied loops gave way while I was pacing in circles like Bluto in full-tantrom. I heard a “FZZZZZZZZZZZ” as the heavy frame went weightless and the rope rubbed wood, then a “CRAAAAACK” when the frame found ground. 

I was afraid to peer over the ledge.  Someone would surely be pinned underneath, squashed like a cricket, arms and legs akimbo, poking out from underneath.  Or at minimum, the bed frame would be wedged in the front seat of someone’s DeVille, windshield smashed to bits.  And most likely, said DeVille was the prize possession of one or another of the mobsters or quasi-mobsters who still populated the North End. 

Miraculously, no one was killed and no DeVille’s were devalued.

I resumed, from the beginning.  But the frame kept getting stuck on the “lip” or overhang of the roof, and I just could not maneuver past that.  Enter the passport-faxing.  I re-tied the rope (better, this time), found a broom handle, then positioned the broom handle with my foot so that the rope would drape over the end of the broom handle, giving me a better angle to get the bed frame past the overhang.  Ridiculous, right?  Well it worked.  Caveman-style.  Fax your passport-style.

There was another time, involving the same apartment and an over-sized couch.  Again it was winter time with the requisite, non-cooperative snowbanks.  I had to get the big couch into the tiny apartment, and the only viable point of entry was an alleyway window on the 3rd floor, far smaller than the one my father had chainsawed.  Didn’t have a tape measure handy, so I used my scarf.  Measuring the couch’s width with wool pulled taught between my fists on the street, then running up 3 flights of stairs, fists still clenched, then fists and scarf pushed up to the postage-stamp sized window.  A perfect match!  I’ll spare you the gory details, but that gym class rope was involved, as was a rusty pulley the size of a steering wheel, and a couple barely-willing buddies to help me with the faxing.  One of the buddies nearly lost his head, literally, as I pulled on the rope from the alley below with too much force, dislodging the pulley from the roof, falling in the direction of his head poked out of the window.  I yelled “get back!” just in time to avoid my buddy’s head being plunked from the steel pulley now loose and free-falling towards the alley.  It bounced about ten feet in the air, by the way, which was weird.

Which reminds me:  To the best of my knowledge, no one has been hurt by any of this passport-faxing.  At least not physically.  At least not yet.  But tomorrow is another day.

Thanks for reading.


Release the Hounds!


And thus begins another season of San Francisco Little League baseball….

I’ve just returned from 90 minutes with my new group of fresh-faced, mostly 8 year-olds. Best 90 minutes I’ve spent in recent memory. Felt more like 15 minutes. Maybe fewer than that. Not nearly long enough.

I’ve been coaching Little League now for something on the order of 14 or 15 seasons. I can’t believe I get to do this year after year. It has become a big part of who I am. By now, I have a decent handle on the car trunk full of the requisite gear: polyester jerseys, rationed-out bats, helmets and first aid kits. All of which will fill my trunk and hurt my gas mileage for the next few months.

But I have learned that there are, in particular, a couple of very key ingredients that are the most important:

– One white plastic bucket that used to hold paint or maybe plaster or stucco. Now it holds approximately 55 baseballs accumulated over the course of the aforementioned seasons coached. These 55 balls are the backbone of our season. They will suffer through rain, cold, mud, fog, regular beatings from metal bats and from my wooden fungo, and hopefully some baking sunshine on occasion. They will generally be stuffed into the plaster bucket, musty canvas bags, and dark car trunks, unceremoniously. With nary a complaint. But they will never be left behind, forgotten about in the high grass after a long practice or chaotic late-inning frenzy. I have a strict “No dun sphere left behind” policy.

Some of the 55 in my bucket have been in the mix since my 12 year-old was a 5 year-old. Some have been scarred by permanent black-markered letters. A “B” to distinguish our balls from others’, for sure.

A couple tattooed with “Nice Catch!” or “My Man!” As Max grew older, I’d hit high and l-o-n-g fly balls to him in the outfield at a park near our flat. Just the two of us. I’d scribble one phrase or another on the ball, toss it up with my left hand and crush it with a wooden bat gripped by my 2 hands. Max would manage to corral it (or not), and read my message scrawled between the seams. Big smile, visible even from deep in the outfield. This is good stuff, and pulling these particular old balls up from the bottom of my bucket, unexpectedly during a practice years later, feels pretty damn good.

– One 45 year-old right-shouldered rotator cuff. Has served me well over the years, and seems to be holding up surprisingly OK. Thankfully I wasn’t much of a pitcher as a kid, so I unwittingly managed to save my arm for my own kids some 30 years later.

Over the course of a season (and I am coaching both sons’ teams), I reckon I will throw perhaps 40,000 “pitches” to kids weighing between 60 and 160 pounds. In about a month from today, this will start to catch up with me. My shoulder will ache. I’ll be in the habit of stuffing my back pocket with a dozen or so Advils at all times, and swimming in the Bay–about which I am truly passionate–will be painful. Each reach and pull with my right arm feels a tiny bit nauseating.

I will gladly sacrifice the various parts of my right shoulder as the season wears on. What are those parts for, if not to bond with these boys, maybe teach them a few technical pieces here and there, but most importantly to teach them to love that bucket of balls as I do. And to appreciate what that bucket of balls will teach them (and me) over the course of the long season.

So the Little League season is here. My bucket of red-stitched balls is ready. My shoulder is fresh. Bring it on, boys. Release the Hounds!

Thanks for reading.

I’m Freshly Pressed!


“Freshly Pressed!” I’m clearly fixed, no longer struggling with balancing all that needs to be balanced! I have everything totally figured out! My prayers, if I prayed, have been answered!

The out-of-the blue email from an earnest, affable WordPress editor is welcome news. I’m practically giddy. More than “a major award” shipped in a crate marked “fragile” to the “Christmas Story” dad. Less than, say, a 2am call from the Norwegian Nobel Committee. In between those two somewhere. Yeah.

I’ll take it.

Yesterday, the morning after the WordPress editor’s email, I am reminded how far I am from being “freshly pressed,” as I think of that phrase. Precise in a military boot camp sort of way. Spinning on heels to carve a tight corner. Bed sheets taut. Everything neat and clean. Yeah, like that. I’m just like that.

Well, not exactly.

My sons, 12 and 8, are home from school. This is “Ski Week,” after all. Only we aren’t skiing this week. We all went a few weeks back, and more recently, I’m still in the throes of Coccygodynia. The snow up there still leaves something to be desired, too, but had the timing worked out better, we would maybe be at 6,000 feet for the week instead of at 12 feet for the week.

I’m not complaining, I relish every opportunity I have to breath the same air as my boys. But as any honest parent will admit, that air can get a bit stale at times. “Stale” as in, not “Freshly Pressed.”

Which brings us back to yesterday morning.

Sitting–gingerly still, thanks to my overzealous Tahoe Boys Weekend–at our dining room table. Captain Kirk at the comm, surveying his orderly domain. In total control. Surveying it so competently, in fact, that he’s comfortable going where no man has gone before. That image inspires confidence.

But my chain of command at home is far more tenuous. My competence is fleeting.

I had planned on attending a pretty important all-day meeting in Oakland, the conclusion of an 8-week capital-raising “bootcamp.” Really cool, cutting edge (you might say) stuff, about which I will hopefully blog on a later date. The meeting is supposed to take place, in the real world, in the properly appointed conference room of a law firm. Dark wood. Long rectangular table. Videotaped for posterity. Perhaps 20 attendees paying rapt attention, the future of their nascent companies at stake. Meaningful. Important. Important enough that I pretty much have to go. Hop in the car and go. That’s my plan.

I look into Max’s eyes while assessing his readiness to take the comm for the next several hours. I have been prepping him for about 48 hours now. Innoculating him with “be a good big brother,” “I need you to step up here,” and so forth. I believe he is up to the challenge, though his little brother studies me warily. That could be fear or sizing me up to see how much screen time little brother can squeeze in while I’m away, and I’d never be the wiser.

I assess my troops and come up with a solid plan–I am “Freshly Pressed,” remember.

Condensing 12 years of parenting, 2 years of in-the-trenches co-parenting of my baby sister along with my mom (another blog for another day), a couple developmental psych courses hazily recalled from undergrad, a stack of potentially relevant albeit half-read parenting books, and my God-given wits (if there is a God), I experience a stroke of brilliance.

Brilliance, I said.

A schedule for the boys while I am gone. In half-hour increments. Ensuring they stay on task. 30-minutes of cleaning up our dorm room living room, putting away long-folded clean clothes, walking our animal, hitting a few buckets of baseballs into our loyal backyard Bow Net. Punctuated by equal, alternating increments of “free time.” Watch the Olympics. Play on your iDevices. It’s “free,” baby! Go crazy!

I walk my soldiers through the schedule, written neatly on a small whiteboard the size of a breadbox (really). If I had a red-tipped wooden pointer and Canadian Mountie pants, I would have gladly used both to enhance my authority in this moment.

As if I needed to. This was the perfect plan, rigid yet flexible, playful yet disciplined, the very model of parenting. No wonder I’ve been annointed “Freshly Pressed.” Wouldn’t be surprised if I do get that middle of the night Nobel nod. Wooh! Super parent!

As I’m smiling self-satisfiedly, basking in the glow of my brilliant schedule presentation, packing my bag for the meeting, my youngest comes shuffling into the kitchen behind me. Crying and fighting back crying, with a message for me. Max was apparently not ready for the comm. Instead, he has just delivered a charlie horse-inducing punch to his younger brother’s thigh. And it’s not even 8am yet.

I sigh, probably not taking another breath into my deflated lungs for a solid minute. Defeated, I bail on the meeting and make plans to join by calling in.

From my dining room table. Wearing sweats. And a flat brim cap from Max’s new baseball club. Unshaven. With twice-microwaved coffee in a stained mug. And a half-eaten Clif Bar. With the dog licking my (apparently salty) ankles. My hand-written schedule, propped only minutes ago on the fireplace mantle. It mocks me.

“Freshly Pressed”?

I beg to differ.

Thanks for reading.

A Coccygectomy Is the Last Resort.


I still am not physically able to sit on this chair.  I mean, I suppose I could lower my body to the plateau, achieving a close facsimile of the international sign for “sit.”  But I definitely couldn’t put anything close to my full weight down on that.  Not without yelping in pain, and drawing unwanted stares from my fellow coffeehouse patrons.  Fellow coffeehouse patrons who, fortunate bastards, don’t suffer from my current malady. 

I’m fairly certain I broke my arse.  

It has been 11 days since “the incident.”  I’ve managed to get back on the horse as far as walking, running, cycling, and swimming.  Reaching for an errant toss of the baseball from my 8 year-old during a game of catch?  Feels like someone sniped me with a well-aimed flick of the crossbow string.  Stretching for a low backhand a foot off the grass, searing pain, and I instinctively whip my head around my shoulder, searching for the ill-intentioned archer.  No archer.

Just a broken arse.  I think.

As I mentioned a few blog posts ago, I tripped the light fantastic at a recent Tahoe Boys Weekend.  Although I have used the phrase, “trip the light fantastic” often–I just love the way it feels coming out of my mouth–I suppose I never truly had a handle on what said phrase actually means.  Now I can speak from experience with the phrase.  From a position of authority.  I haven’t looked it up yet, but I’m reasonably confident that the (perhaps the secondary or tertiary) meaning is, “to fall down slick hardwood stairs, landing on one’s coccyx with a full-bodied thud, often accompanied by the tripeee seeing stars.”  Check, check, and check

I took a quick inventory while catching my breath on all fours.  Elated not to have a split-open skull, wrist bent the wrong way, or chicken-on-the-bone lower leg.  My arse was numb.  I cut my teeth on so many Bugs Bunny, Roadrunner, et al cartoons featuring near space falls onto cartoon character buttocks, with our hero or villain dusting himself (always himself) off and moving on to the next frame.  So I do not, as a rule, assign a ton of concern to broken butts.  Plenty of meat down there, anyhow, to protect me.  Evolution at work, you might even say.  Net net, I got to my feet, feeling pretty good about myself. 

But it’s now been eleven days.  That’s practically two weeks.  As with everything else, I run a quick Google Search.  Regular readers will appreciate why I am very careful about exactly what I type into the search box:  “My broken ass,” instead of “a broken ass.”  The latter would surely trigger some silent alarms at my next pass through security at SFO.  I appreciate Google ignoring my profanity-crippled search as a kindly uncle or school nurse would, accommodating the fact that I’m in a pained state.  So I search.

It appears based upon my extensive 30-second research that I may have, indeed, broken my tailbone.  My coccyx.  And the dull ache punctuated by occasional crossbow target practice is known as “tailbone pain,” or “Coccygodynia.”  That is not a good-sounding word.  It definitely does not feel good coming out of my mouth.  If someone told me health officials had identified a strain of “Coccygodynia” in the Bay, I would not swim in those waters.  I am surprised that “Trip the Light Fantastic” and “Coccygodynia” are not listed as antonyms.  They should be.  

Google assures me that my Coccygodynia will go away away on its own within a few weeks.  Or months.  Months?!? In the meantime, I am encouraged to do the following:  First, sit completely upright with proper posture — keeping my back firmly against the chair, knees level with my hips, feet flat on the floor and shoulders relaxed.  If I was the kind of person who habitually sat in chairs this way, very proper and impressive, I probably would’t have tripped the light fantastic in the first place.  

Second, Google tells me to lean forward while sitting down.  I can do this, though I’m not sure I understand given the vague instruction.  And I’m certain my fellow coffeehouse patrons will by this point be keeping a very close peripheral eye on me.  Thirty-five percent chance, too, that my following these first two steps will lead directly to a frightened barrista activating the silent alarm on the counter’s underside.  But I press on.  

Step Three says sit on a doughnut-shaped pillow or wedge (V-shaped) cushion.  That sounds kinda nice, like meditation maybe.  Final Step?  Apply heat or ice to the affected area.  Nope.  No sir.  This would be the final straw, and the odds of my being frogwalked by the local police out of the new Peet’s on Chestnut Street go way up.   Probably 75%, maybe more.

There is one last resort if the other steps don’t bring relief.  Surgically remove the tailbone.  A Coccygectomy.  Say what?!?  Just remove that bad boy–the coccyx–surgically.  Seems a bit extreme to me.  And while I don’t have any particular attachment to my coccyx, I just think I’d like to keep as much of my spine in place, intact, as-is for as long as I can.  

So I guess I will pick up a v-shaped cushion and ice pack and head out for a cup of joe.  At least this dull ache is a reminder of a truly memorable weekend that doesn’t come around that often.  And I’m OK with that.  

Thanks for reading.