Month: February 2014

Call the Police, There’s A Madman Around.

Image

A few weeks back I was tooling through the Richmond neighborhood in San Francisco.  Rushing a bit to drop my eldest, Max, onto the Polo Fields in time for a weekday soccer practice.  Feels like I spend a lot of time rushing in this way, now that I think about it.  Must work on that, try to slow down a bit.  But I digress.

I was headed south, in the general direction of the ideal northerly Golden Gate Park insertion point.  I frequently overshoot or undershoot these points, so I was decidedly focused on ensuring I picked the precise, proper avenue.  One number off and I’m stuck in a Pac-Man game, going right-right-right-right or left-left-left to get back on track.  Performing a time-compressed cost-benefit analysis regarding one “do not do this” sign or the other.  And there’s no time for that.  Focused.

In the right-hand side of my windshield, I see something.  It doesn’t register at first, since we’re crossing a street teeming with pedestrians, shoppers, families, bike-riders.  A moment later I realize something is off, so I set my big toe on the brake a bit and slow down, giving my consciousness a chance to catch up with my subconsciousness.  Then I see what triggered my reptilian brain:  An African American gentlemen bee-bopping down the street, joyfully bouncing to whatever music flowed from his Walkman (yes, Walkman) through his in-flight earphones, and into his ears.  He seemed really happy.  A little too happy, even.

Maybe his overly pleasant affect and extra giddyup in his step was due to the axe in his hand.

A big, bright blue-handled axe.  In his hand.

He worked the prop like Willy Wonka tooling around the Chocolate Factory.  Like the lead marcher in the marching band with the ramrod-straight back, Nutcracker caps and batons held like a champagne flute.  Because he wasn’t ranting and raving and otherwise behaving consistent with what one would expect of an axe murderer, those around him were seemingly oblivious.  I don’t often do this–in fact I can’t remember the last time I did this (on purpose)–but I dialed 911.  The call with police dispatch was almost as odd as the axeman.

Police:  “911, What is your emergency?”

Me:  “So there’s a gentlemen walking down the street, at the corner of X and Y, a bunch of other people are around, and he has a big blue-handled axe in his hand.”

Police: “OK.  Can you please describe him?”

Me:  “Uh, sure.  He’s the guy with a big blue-handled axe in his hand.”

Police:  “Can you be more specific?”

Me:  “Um, well, other than the big axe in his hand? Sure, well, he’s African American, wearing a Walkman with headphones, and really really happy.  He’s like dancing down the street. I don’t mean to make light of this, but he looks like he’s in the Soul Train line dance.  He’s pretty distinctive, will be very hard to miss.”

Police:  “OK, thanks, we’ll send a unit out to take a look.”

And so I drive on, still tracking for an on-time arrival at the Polo Fields.  Shaking my head a bit at how weird this was.  How thoroughly unsatisfying.  Not sure what I was expecting.  A Key to the City from Mayor Lee, probably not.  But something other than the dull, disinterested monotone of the 911 operator?  That would have been nice.

Maybe she’s just numb to all the tragedy and chaos out there.  The tragedy and chaos that yuppie folks like me are typically spared thanks to the mind-numbing behind-the-scenes work of people like the woman on the other end of that call.  Is it possible that my axeman–so seemingly urgent to me, about to go on a killing spree at any moment–was only number ten on the threat list on a whiteboard in a precinct conference room?

I have no idea.  I’m still processing this stolen glimpse into the sausage factory that I don’t often see.  (And this is in spite of the fact that I worked for the District Attorney’s Office in Manhattan one hot summer.  A slight risk of contracting tuberculosis from a visit to the lockup, though, apparently pales in comparison to thrill of seeing my jive-walking axeman.)

And what, you may ask, does this all have to do with Grandma’s Lemonade?  I suppose just that I’m hoping the 911 operator and her colleagues make up a shit ton of it, constantly.  If anybody needs one of those molten chocolate machines but customized to dole out infinite volumes of lemonade, it’s these guys.  My chance, once-in-a-lifetime sighting of a crazy gent with a long blue axe makes for a great blog post on my little blog.  But the people who deal with this kind of thing on a regular basis aren’t blogging about it, I don’t think.  They’re trying to process it and partition it and to douse it with lemonade in a courageous attempt to live otherwise normal lives.  I wish them luck.  And all the lemonade they can drink.

Thanks for reading.

The Candy Name That Shall Not Be Spoken

This is one blog post that I will not edit by reading the draft aloud. Not even whispering it. Technically, not even shape my lips to the vowels and consonants of it.

I have taken a vow. The vow is something on the order of 20 years old by this point. So that makes it a “solemn” vow. It is a vow of silence, of a sort. That makes the vow sound even more solemn, doesn’t it?

Roughly 20 years ago, I made a wager. The wager centered around the proper pronunciation of a proper noun. I have been known to fancy myself as something of a connoisseur when it comes to words. A sommelier of words. If words possessed umami, I would profess a preternatural ability to taste and perceive that umami. “Gun metal finish?” I’m not sure I can pick that up in a wine, no matter how pricey. But the proper way to pronounce “ennui?” I am your man.

At least I believed I was your man 20 years ago. When I manufactured the aforementioned wager, recklessly slapping my long-barreled revolver and fancy gunbelt on the sticky-Whiskey table with a thud and puff of sawdust. Walrus-mustached gunslinger. Or wordslinger, rather. You get the picture. That’s how I pictured myself.

Unprompted and ill-advisedly, I announced to our table that there is only one proper pronunciation for “Reese’s.” Only one. It rhymes with “pieces,” not “feces.” (This last sentence I did not say at the time. I wish I had, it may have ended the debate before the debate even got off the ground. But alas,….).

So confident was I in this pronouncement, unsnapping the top of my custom-leather holster, not breaking eye contact with my table mates, that I elected to throw down the gauntlet. “If the waitress pronounces it my way–the only proper way–I win. If she pronounces it your way–the improper way–I vow that I will never again say that word aloud for the remainder of my living days.”

Things did not break my way that day.

My fellow wagerers (as I recall, my future wife and future in-laws) walked away with my Colt Peace Maker, hand tooled leather holster, and cartridge belt. Had I slapped my chaps on the tabletop, they’d have confiscated those too. (Had I worn chaps, this would be a blog post of a different sort.). I twisted the ends of my walrus mustache, fingers tipping the brim of my ten-gallon, and then backed my way slowly out of that particular saloon. One backwards shuffle step at a time, not taking my unblinking eyes off of them. Not even for even a moment.

Well I’ve clearly beaten this particular metaphor to a pulp. I admit that.

However. I have also kept up my end of the hard-struck bargain. Faithfully.

Those bars made of chocolate-coated peanut butter? The candy bar name that has not been spoken, and will not be spoken. Count on it.

Thanks for reading.

20140217-081342.jpg

One Million Tons of Love.

I am in love with a 35 million dollar steel harp. She weighs nearly one million tons. That’s roughly the same as a half million Mini Coopers. She’s held together by 600,000 rivets. You can paint your den her color by mixing the following CMYK colors: Cyan: 0%, Magenta: 69%, Yellow: 100%, and Black: 6%. Nearly two billion cars, trucks and motorcycles have crossed her (not the angry kind of “crossed”) since she was born nearly 80 years ago.

When I am fit and rested, my fist-sized heart will collect my blood and then squeeze that blood back out 14 times between two of her fog horn blasts. That squeezey number can slide to 16 or 18 if I’m under the weather or haven’t been breaking a sweat on a faithful basis.

I see her almost every day. I always make a point of giving her a full-on drooly stare. I take her in with my eyes in a way that would likely violate stalking ordinances in most jurisdictions. Within the last year, I’ve shuffled my regular swim venue so that I can be closer to her, pulling my fingers through the same brackish water that rubbed along her buttress a few minutes ago or that will cruise underneath her a few minutes hence.

The sight of her sends an involuntary wave of relaxation through me. A deep, fulfilling sigh. And I stare.

When I am away from her for too long, I get itchy. When I return home, I am not really “home” until I lay eyes on her, or ears on her fog horns.

I got it bad.

I once was ordered to sit cross-legged on the cold, wet pavement winding towards the base of her South Tower. I had impulsively hurdled the “road closed” sign–oblivious to the high tide waves crashing on the roadway–to extend an early morning run within reach of her. To hell with the rules, I had to get closer. The Park Police were not amused, finding nothing charming in my creepy obsession. They mistook the lovesick pierce of my eyes for malevolence, figuring I had designs on targeting the bridge. This was not long after 9-11. I endured the humiliation–my name was now on their “list,” he scolded–as a small price to pay.

So what’s the point? What does this have to do with Grandma’s Lemonade?

I think it’s this: It’s important to find a way, any way, to preserve a sense of pure, unabashed wonder. Something that presses our “reset” button. That serves to recalibrate our perspective; to remind us to keep it simple.

I’m damn lucky to have this orange beauty in my backyard. I hope you’ve found your own bridge. It’s an obsession worth keeping.

Thanks for reading.

My Hero, the Lesbian.

If there’s one thing I’ve managed to figure out by this point; one thing that has enabled me to enjoy (or at least try to enjoy) every person I’ve encountered in my life, it’s this: People are imperfect. Incredibly imperfect. Predictably imperfect. Perfectly imperfect. Count on it.

Ignore this essential truth, and you will consign yourself to a life of disappointment and disillusionment. Acknowledge it, and you can find something redeeming in just about anyone. After 45 years, my shit list is about 2 people deep. And even then, I’m prepared to move them off that list under the right circumstances. I aspire to have a shit list that is completely empty.

A corollary to this, for me, is that even people that show tremendous courage, that behave in objectively heroic ways–they are beautifully imperfect too. The gifted pop star who can’t mother her children. The home run hitter who is blinded by his narcissism. The ground-breaking politician with a reckless addiction.

So I am loathe to embrace anyone wholeheartedly, because we are all those MacPaint color wheels. A kaleidoscopic hodgepodge of so many traits. “Good” and “bad” but mostly everything in the circumference and in between.

Still, on occasion, someone says or writes or does something remarkable. Something that is so profoundly meaningful, so incredibly courageous, so contrary to their own self-interest. Something that makes my neck hairs bristle and cheeks flush. Something so inspiring that it’s just not good enough to “Like” or “Share” it on Facebook.

For me, the actress Ellen Page’s “coming out” speech yesterday is one such occasion.

To me, this is what it means to show true courage, to demonstrate what genuine humanity looks like. Sure, she’s not destitute and never will be. However, she undoubtedly eviscerated what Hollywood refers to as her “marketability.” Even if there are enlightened, right-thinking studio heads, there are enough movie-goers who will from this point forward refuse to see her movies. Studio heads know this. And studio heads don’t stay studio heads if they don’t churn out highly profitable movies. Ellen Page now represents a very real risk to that model. It takes real courage to act against your own self-interest, particularly acting against your own financial self-interest. Ellen Page just cost herself tens of millions of dollars. Perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars over the remaining life of her acting career. Who among us would be willing to step forward into the hot spotlight, knowing to do so would mean giving up the prospect of hundreds of millions of dollars?

Her speech is way bigger than money, of course, and it feels wrong even to try to quantify it this way. But it’s interesting to apply dollar figures to courageous decisions. World history is full of courageous acts that are aligned with the actor’s own self-interest. Misaligned or even pulling in the opposite direction? Not so much.

While fueling up to head to a testosterone-infused baseball tourney this morning, I placed my iPhone with Ellen’s speech queued up into my 12 year-old’s hands. “I want you to watch this. This is what real courage looks like.” I hope that her speech counterbalances whatever misogynistic, materialistic (but popular) lyrics will be pumping through his headphones this weekend.

I may be a right-thinking, grown man now. But I absolutely called my childhood buddies “fags” so as to tease and demean them. So I am as guilty as anyone else in creating an environment that made and continues to make people like Ellen Page (or, more accurately, anyone with traits or beliefs that are considered “non-traditional”) feel unwelcome. Feel that they are somehow not right. That they are wrong. I can’t apologize enough for my failures there in not being a better young man, a better human. And certainly no amount of blogging at this late date is going to undo the fact that I gave currency to that hateful crap.

But you can be damn sure that I will not allow my own boys free reign to say whatever they wish to “fit in” with the crowd. I’m grateful for opportunities like Ellen Page’s speech to hold up as examples of what it means to be a “good man,” to be a “good human.” I will continue to work my ass off on this. I don’t want bigots squeezing my hands on my death bed. I want solid human beings squeezing my hands; my young men who (hopefully) have learned to look at people by the quality of their character, and to be comfortable in their own character, comfortable in their own skin. I think this is important, about as important as it gets.

Thanks for reading.

Google Is My Co-Pilot.

Image

How did anyone survive without Google?  I almost can’t fathom it.  

If I think about my own, personal use of Internet searches, the bar graphs would be short at first.  Little toes in the water here and there, mostly for fun or curiosity.  No real conception of how powerful is the tool.  I’d searched on Yahoo!, Ask Jeeves, Altavista, Hotbot, Excite, and probably some others I’ve long since forgotten.  But those searches were sure so mundane.  So pedestrian.  “Good Halloween Costume,” maybe.  Or, “Red Sox Schedule.” 

I didn’t realize the unbreakable magnetism Google held over my life, really, until we got a puppy last May.  That little black furry creature brought a whole bundle of “what the hells” with her.  And a whole new epoch of ridiculous-in-retrospect search queries began.  

I’m savvy enough to have long-since discarded lengthy queries with proper sentence structure and punctuation.  I haven’t asked Jeeves anything in a very long time.  Particularly in seemingly urgent situations.  So a brief sampling of my initial, Wailea-related Google searches looked like this —

dog eats vomit

dog eats own vomit

dog eats dog poop

dog eats poop then vomits

These sorts of behaviors are not things that matter to you until you get a dog.  They probably wouldn’t even penetrate one’s consciousness before then.  If you don’t have a dog, I disgust you.  Sorry about that.  The fact that I typed them in then, and now, with such detachment (“hey, what’s the big deal?”) is in itself odd.  I admit that readily.  I love my dog, and I am not afraid to type just about anything in that search box, no matter how seemingly disgusting. 

If, on the other hand, you are searching for the answers to these sorts of questions and you don’t have a dog?  Now that would be weird.  You’re very likely on some NSA list somewhere.  Guess you’ll find out next time you try to slip nonchalantly through the airport security line, doing a quick mental inventory of all your recent Google searches.  

Actually, by now, perhaps we should all be conducting said inventory.  Sock-footed, pants drooping beltless held up by the occasional one-handed tug, eyes darting among grey-trayed valuables about to be x-rayed.  Mannequin-smile covers up the sophisticated mathematical computations jumping from one synapse to the other in our brains.  Thinking, “Let’s see now, is there anything illegal about searching for ‘kill my dog’?  There was that time last week when I had to jet spray her poop off the driveway and some splashed in my mouth.  God, it would be highly embarrassing to have to explain that story to the TSA agents.  But I would do it.  I hope this would be a private conversation in some side room, not right here with all these people staring at my plastic bag of shave cream and splay-bristled toothbrush.  What else?  Well as a joke, I did type ‘bury wife in parking lot’ on my buddy’s laptop the other day.”  

That query sat there for hours, unnoticed in an extra browser window, surviving a few laptop sleep cycles.  It was funny as hell when discovered, the humor enhanced by my steadfast denial that I had any idea what he was talking about.  The vision of his face looking around the room with outstretched hands, eyes leaping from one friend’s to another’s, voice sounding increasingly pinched.  Initially laughing, then pissed as we all stare down on him with (faux) judgment, then even a bit defensive — “C’mon, do you really think I want to bury my wife in a parking lot?!? That didn’t come out right, I don’t want to bury her in a parking lot.  I mean, I don’t want to bury her anywhere.  I mean, I don’t want to bury her at all!  I mean I LOVE my wife, guys!  Aww, goddamnit, this is ridiculous!”  Laptop slammed shut, curse words mumbled inaudibly.  

That was good comedy. But at what price? (I ask myself now, standing in the airport security line).

I mean, that can’t be traced back to me, somehow, can it?  These TSA people with their mall cop uniforms and crisp haircuts and inside jokes amongst themselves and X-Ray screens that we can’t see — do they know about the “parking lot wife” search query?  If they do, I’m afraid I will have only one choice:  To twist the knife a bit further into my buddy’s ribs.  The buddy who left his laptop open, vulnerable.  It will be hard for him to explain this all to his wife —  “Hi honey, I’m, uh, in jail and need you to come pick me up. I was on my way home from the Tahoe trip, sitting at my gate at the airport.  Suddenly two TSA agents tapped my shoulder and started asking all sorts of odd questions about my Google Search usage.  Apparently someone–I have to assume it was Keir– had typed ‘bury my wife in a parking lot’ on my laptop while I wasn’t looking.  Now you know how much I love you, and that I do NOT want to bury you in a parking lot.  I mean I don’t want to bury you…[the scene repeats itself from above, and so on]….

So all of this has flashed through my mind as in a long daydream.  But now I snap to, suddenly, finding that I have miraculously slipped through to the other side.  Scrambling madly now to retrieve all my belongings as my fellow passengers rush around me.  Somehow I made it through security.  My Google Search history has set off no alarms, the TSA agents’ stone-faced gazes have turned on other Google Searchers yet to be scanned.  I breathe a sigh of relief, and shuffle, continuing on my way.  

Safe for now.  Or at least until our dog manifests her next outrageous act, sending me sprinting in a panic with outstretched fingers to the nearest keyboard, blindly mashing out my next Google Search, tripping some silent alarm somewhere.  The next airport trip is going to be really uncomfortable, I fear.

Thanks for reading. 

I Am the Asteroid.

Image

Twice in the last few days I’ve heard a thought-provoking and troubling piece on NPR’s “Fresh Air.”  Terry and her interviewee discuss the idea that we’re on the verge of life as we know it being extinguished.  More or less.  This has transpired, in whole or in part, five times before this time.  The time before this time, called the “Fifth Extinction,” covers the roasting or evaporating or disintegrating of the dinosaurs.  The cause of said roasting/evaporating/disintegrating?  An asteroid, scientists reckon.  Not the 80s video game.  The huge chunk of something traveling at the Earth at a bazillion miles an hour.  Give or take.  This time around?  Scientists have looked around the room and, not finding a huge rock speeding towards our windshield in a tragic but unpredictable path, they’re making the two-thumbed “this guy” gesture.  This time around, they think, the asteroid is us.  We are the asteroid.  Our own activity, that is.

What a powerful image.  It’s one thing to assuage oneself with the comic book picture asteroid crashing into a lagoon a l-o-n-g time ago.  An unsuspecting Brontosaurus or Apatosaurus or two dumbly chewing on prehistoric spinach, half in and half out of their turtle maws.  About to be dust, or spray, or just nothing.  Other than an occasional scare drummed up by an impossibly complicated mathematical computation from someone’s software somewhere in an attempt to secure tenure, a random asteroid crash of that magnitude just seems so…unlikely.  Even it were proven likely, statistically, the utterly random and sudden aspects of such an event wouldn’t suffice to change anyone’s behavior in advance of impact or to avoid an impact.  I just don’t think so.

Terry’s soothing voice and her somewhat bubbly-sounding guest’s, juxtaposed with the content of their discussion — that we are killing ourselves and everyone else’s selves — well that was pretty jarring.  Perhaps so jarring as to be debilitating.  What can we do?

Hell, I compost to the point of vigilantism and martyrdom.  I have one compost bag explosion incident that will serve as a great blog post one day, as soon as I am able to revisit the memory without triggering PTSD. We swapped our gas-guzzling 130,000-mileage Jeep for a Prius.  We are mellow with yellow.  We have little canvas or polyester bags in which to stuff 40 pounds of groceries, canned beer sticking in my ribs on the walk home.  (I grin and bear it, since the bruised ribs are a small price to pay for saving the planet).  I don’t wash my jeans for weeks at a time.  (I know, this one sounds a bit gross, but again, it’s for the Earth, for you people, see?)  We have accumulated a collection of Nalgene bottles scattered throughout our lives, very likely incubating a strain or six of Legionnaire’s Disease.

My point?  This stuff all feels good, feels right, seems right.  Probably is right.  But it also seems like a drop in the bucket.  Or maybe rearranging those deck chairs on that listing ocean liner.  Asteroids are pretty big, and there are an awful lot of people on the planet.  Maybe they’re mellow with yellow, maybe they aren’t.  But is it enough?  Will it really be enough to move the needle in the grand scheme of things?  Hmmm.

I’m going to continue swilling Legionnaire’s, don’t get me wrong.  But I think there are other destructive asteroids that we can control.  I might suggest that each of us is an asteroid in our own little lives, capable of suddenly veering menacingly towards important things in our lives, running the risk of ruining those things or at least altering those things’ trajectory, and not in a good way.

I am the asteroid.

A couple days ago, our 2nd grader Everett awoke with a swollen and stiff ankle.  He’d rolled it on a hill at school the day before, limping around the house a bit.  But his limping was overdone at times, nearly non-existent at others, and generally something I decided was not a big deal.  So I hadn’t factored it into my plan for getting done what I planned to get done the next day.  I had calendared on an hour-by-hour basis the entire next day, dicing it all up in little half-inch blue rectangles on my iPhone’s screen.  Neatly. Orderly.  One little blue brick stacked on top of another little blue brick, and so on.  (Sounds like I’m wound pretty tight, I know, but turns out that people with brains like mine need to do this.  Probably not far from “hot water burns baby.” Story for a later day.)  I hadn’t left any space between my little blue bricks for the prospect of staying home with Everett that day. And in the middle of the “get the kids up and out” little blue brick, it began to appear that one far larger blue brick might have to be slapped over on top of all the others.  With long meetings in sort of far off locales already scheduled, Wailea’s dog-walker already set for the day, I pushed up against the big blue brick as hard as I could.  Atlas gritting his teeth under the globe, thighs shaking.

Triage mode.  I Googled “wrapping an ace bandage around a sprained ankle,” located a second layer, neoprene, to increase stability, helped find a pair of too-big sneakers to accommodate a swollen foot, and we were able to get Everett out the door and off to the bus stop.  I wrote a vaguely apologetic email to school, asking them to keep an eye on Everett’s ankle, hoping I would not get a call from the main office.

I had salvaged my best-laid bricks!  And had a pretty productive day, as it turns out.

But the image of Everett gamely limping down the sidewalk that morning?  The reverberating sounds of my gruff and stressed barks from the kitchen, commanding everyone to snap to attention so as to get Everett bandaged and propped up (to save my own bricks)? Total crap.  The opposite of what I write about and aspire to in this blog.

Thankfully, Terry and guest gave me a name for this.  I was the asteroid.

At least that morning, I had let my inner asteroid rip around our house, burning hot.  A molten wrecking ball, rolling over and igniting everything in its path.  Misguided.  And totally controllable.  By me.  This particular asteroid wasn’t random, ginned up by a science fiction buff, something you shrug your shoulders at. “Oh well,” or “What are you gonna do?” Nope.  Sure I saved my precious little schedule for the day, carefully constructed to preserve some sense of order where there otherwise wouldn’t be much order.  And that schedule advanced the ball for me on a couple key fronts.

But at what price?

I guess my point here is this:  I’m going to keep up the composting and not flushing stuff.  I think that matters, for sure.  But I am also going to try to be more aware of my own asteroid.  That one that I can control.  Even if it’s not what Terry and her author friend had in mind.

Thanks for reading.

Go to Hell

Image

These are not words we use lightly around here.  Right up there with “Shut Up” in terms of a phrase turned by one of the Beadling Boys that will automatically trigger an icy stare, stern reprimand and loss of personal items.  As in, “Did you just tell your brother to ‘shut up'”?!  iPhone? — GONE.  iPod? — GONE.  Big League Chew pack you got from Santa in your stocking that you didn’t think I knew you’d squirreled away in your bedroom? — GONE.  That type-deal.  

We are very strict about words.  It is may be the most helicopter-y piece of our parenting.  Maybe because there’s not much grey.  Minimal ambiguity.  There is no detective work or forensic psychiatry that must be deployed to figure out whether something someone said at the lunchroom at school was prompted, whether something was a proportionate or disproportionate response, whether we need to call and/or email a schoolmate’s parents to either apologize or solicit an apology.  Those are 51/49 situations, at best.  

But a curse word that I hear with mine own ears?  Very easy for our reptilian parenting brains to kick in, a black line clearly crossed, perhaps the easiest wrong for a parent to address.  If parenting were only about keeping your kids on the proper vocabulary train?  Shit, that would be a breeze.  Shit, I said “shit.”  There I’ve gone and done it again.  Shit. 

Our older son, Max, I know, is walking among the forbidden fruit, mouth agape at this shiny, glistening swear word forest, hanging low and delicious.  He and his schoolmates and teammates, I know, are running amok in said fruit forest, swinging curse word machetes wildly.  Not caring whether the words that fall to the ground like a Fruit Ninja massacre go together, make sense at all to anyone, are being used the way they were intended by whoever “invented” these words, etc.  I’m just not going to sweat that too much.  As long as those words aren’t directed at someone in a hurtful manner, as long as a couple of them are truly never said at all (verboten), let the loin-clothed hunters run with their tribe.  

But don’t bring it home.

Unless, of course, it’s Duke-Carolina.  

At least twice a year every year, my alma mater gets it on with a certain rival of a puffy blue variety.  Some might even call it an impossibly silly, puffy blue variety.  I’m not calling it that, I’m merely pointing out what some might say.  I’m of course way beyond that sort of gutter talk.  I’m evolved.  Adult.  Right-thinking.  

However, I am a big college basketball fan.  Always have been.  I’ve already blogged about that particular predilection.  And blogged again about it.  So I guess that means I’m returning to the well a third time here.  So be it.  

On the runup to a Duke-Carolina game, I become my inner hunter, loin-cloth wearing, Fruit Ninja-collateral damage covered looking kid.  Sprinting through the Forest of Forbidden Fruit, cutting the stalks of succulent stuff that splits in half, seeds exploding out, the guts squeezing up between my toes as I run along madly.  I get to say and post and re-post and Tweet, “Go to Hell.”  I even get to direct that malevolent phrase at someone.  At a lot of someones, in fact; at an entire institution.  “Go to Hell, Carolina” might just offend a few hundred thousand people, maybe millions.  I say this in unison with anyone else I can drum up and whip into a frenzy.  Stuff like this video of the annual managers’ hoops scrimmage, this one devolving into elbow throws? Manna from heaven.

I don’t want anyone to be offended, truly, of course.  And I don’t want anyone really to actually “go to hell.”  I don’t know what “hell” is, I frankly don’t believe in whatever it is.  But I know that millions do, and that this particular set of directions might be hurtful.  So I hope that the lost driver forgives my indiscretion at leaning into their window, making friendly eye contact, then pointing with shaky finger straight down to the ground.  Not breaking eye contact.  Sick smile replacing friendly smile that prompted them to seek me out for directions in the first place.  “Go to Hell, Carolina, Go to Hell.”  God that feels good.  Sorry but it does. 

The other piece, the admittedly more important piece, is that to my mind, this game is part of Grandma’s Lemonade recipe.   This game is a constant that I have enjoyed, celebrated a few times each year since I was a far different person.  Seventeen.  Nearly thirty years ago at this point.  My first “GTHCGTH” experience came when I could not possibly have known what life would bring.  Heartbreak and celebration and heartbreak and celebration.  Euphoric “This is Sparta!” victories and gut-punched failures.  So this game represents a manufactured tradition, forcing me (and my family, if they’ll sit and watch) to catch our breath, focus only on 40 minutes of basketball, and enjoy something pure. Something that should be enjoyed.  Something that serves to remind us that life is good.  Win or lose the game, it almost doesn’t matter.  It’s a clean and valuable pill of perspective.  A boisterous card game played by exhausted soldiers in a war-torn country, between enemy engagements.  A long and winding joke told by an uncle with a twinkle in his eye, distracting us from the impending death in this very room of someone who matters to us.  

Of course this game is only a sliver, a shadow, of these other examples.  But I think it’s an important sliver.  It’s important to have even these little miniature replicas of shelter from the storm, a single sunlit ray through the frighteningly dark clouds overhead.  

So I’m gonna run through the forest tonight, shit-eating grin on my face.  (Shit, I said “shit” again.)  Shouting, chanting, even, “Go to Hell Carolina, Go to Hell!” at anyone who’ll listen.  Who’s with me?

Thanks for reading.  

  

I’m Half the Man I Used to Be.

I’m fresh back from a 4-day Boys Tahoe Weekend.  “Fresh” is probably not the right word.  At the other end of the spectrum, “stale” wouldn’t be sufficiently descriptive either.  I’m more a week-old, stale baguette.  Green and mushy, stuck on the floor of the prison-gray dumpster behind Safeway, piles of trash thrown on top of me.

Yuck.

First, I’m physically sore.  In layers.  The diluvial conditions that crushed the Sierras this past weekend made for rough going, both on the mountain(s) with ski gear on, and off the mountain(s) with inadequate footwear and soaked jeans.  I don’t think I actually ever fell while skiing at all.  But trying to hold your shoulders up to your ears for a couple hours to hide from the cold downpour leaves a mark.  And there were plenty of falls as a civilian, whether caused by sheer ice on a walkway or caused by malicious (but admittedly deserved) “payback” from one of the Boys at said Boys Tahoe Weekend.  Even sitting is uncomfortable at the moment.  It will take a week to get myself back together.

Second, I’m spiritually sore.  On Night #1 (arguably it was Night #2), I got into the whole religion thing over Guinness.  I was whipped and beaten savagely, debate-wise.  At the apex, I felt my face begin to get hot.  It was all I could do to avoid screaming at my tormentor(s) using every obscenity I could think of, even making a few up if necessary.  Probably did long-term damage to my eustachian tubes, pushing so hard against pursed lips.  Louis Armstrong comes to mind with those big bullfrog cheeks.  But I think I managed to avoid revealing my inner dipshit.  Stayed out of the gutter, though thoroughly defeated with nothing to show for it.

Third, I’m emotionally sore.  We four are each at least 45 years old, and we definitely covered some heavy topics.  By now we’ve all stared into the maw, over the abyss, and asked ourselves if we have any idea what we’re supposed to do here.  Fourty-five is a not insignificant number.  I’d like to think that’s only 50%, but it could be a lot more.  It could be 97%, and that is a scary thought, can be a debilitating two in the morning staring at the ceiling thought.  Turns out that the stuff I’m wrestling with in this very blog struck a chord with the Boys.

These are good men, and I am incredibly lucky to have them in my lives.  None of them are maintaining second families in the Dominican, putting it all on black at some Vegas roulette table, or oblivious to the innermost thoughts of their wives and kids.  It’s the opposite.  We’re in agony.  At times.  Not all the time, of course not.  But definitely at times.  The abyss is black and scary, and just admitting that it is there requires more gumption that I can personally muster unless I work really hard at it.  And I have the “benefit” of going through only very recently one of those signal moments in life when someone close to you passes away right in front of your eyes.  Having lived a long life, no less.  That should serve as some sort of finger-wagging reminder about what to do, how to make your way.  What’s important.

But then I go back to my first blog post, realizing that that particular experience only gave me the “end of the journey,” a glimpse through the mist at the final stop sign.  (Interesting, too, how this line of thinking starts to loop back around to the spiritually sore thing.)  It’s the winding road, the pounding rain, the treacherously icy sidewalks wearing flat-bottomed plastic ski boots, the too many days in a row of the too many Guinesses, the justifiably irked wives stuck at home keeping our lives together with one less defender on-hand.  Writing like this about this feels self-indulgent given what Hilary had to shoulder over the past several days while I pranced around like a giddy 22 year-old. I didn’t actually “prance,” I don’t think, but you get the picture.

Finally, I’m professionally sore.  I have been an entrepreneur now for nearly twice as long as I haven’t.  I still continue to feel like this is my calling, that it is important in ways that I can sort of articulate.  I have been teaching it to graduate students for 8 or 9 years now.  I have learned incredibly valuable lessons along the way:  Trust, judgment, fire in the belly type stuff.  I’m old enough now that my current business venture reflects the still-burning but less audacious plan of a 45 year-old man, not a 25 year-old newbie.  I honestly believe career-wise it is important to do something important, something bigger than yourself, something that will outlast you, something that will make the world a better place and help people live better lives.  And the good news is that there are plenty of things to do out there that can achieve these lofty goals, or at least pursue them.

It’s the money-making part that can be trickier, elusive, slippery.  Considering my once apparent future path as a gabardine khaki-wearing 30 year-old litigator, I just might be half the man I used to be.

I’ve invested thousands of hours in my kids, other people’s kids, my health, cooking dinners, emptying the dishwasher, being a dog father to the furry black pup sprawled blissfully on her bed three feet from where I type.  And repeatedly charging the windmill on an increasingly bow-backed horse indeed teaches valuable lessons and can feel very fulfilling at times.  These things are important, I tell myself.

Are they more important than what my old law firm buddies have achieved over this same 15-year period?  I know they feel terrible about not being with their kids more.  They tell me this.  But they are able to assuage that by the bazillions of dollars they’ve socked away or used to buy things for themselves and others.  And I’m not just talking about a Tesla.  I’m talking about helping friends and family in need by paying their mortgage or even buying them a house.  That must feel pretty good, and I am jealous of that.  I want to be that guy, who is able to share his humanity, his empathy by writing big checks with no expectation of ever being repaid.

So I’ve coached thirteen seasons of Little League, seven years of YMCA basketball, etc.  So what?  My wife has had to continue on the career path we both embraced 25 years ago, watching me veer off, shouldering the lion’s share of what it costs to live our lives.  While I skip along with a goofy grin, convinced that I’m going to change the world, convinced that I may have made an important difference in a few people’s lives along the way already, convinced that our kids in particular will reap some bounty down the road from all of my time with them, in particular.  Teaching them–I hope–what it means to be a “good man.”

But what if I don’t know?  Maybe a truly “good man” climbs back into the cubicle, even if that feels like failure.  Maybe a good man is content to sit on the bleachers wearing wingtips rather than in the dugout wearing a bright red New Era cap.  Maybe a good man hires a dog walker for every day of the week and finds a family friend or daughter of a family friend to handle the bus stop pickups, the lacrosse practice carpools, the play date shuttling.

I’m standing on the edge of this particular abyss with my headlamp on.  Squinting down.  Trying to ascertain somehow whether it’s safe down there.  Whether I could jump in and land on my feet rather than pinwheel down with no apparent end, yelling and re-yelling when my first yell doesn’t last as long as the dark fall lasts.

I just don’t know what’s down there, I can’t quite make it out, but I’m still peering over the ledge.

Thanks for reading.

Satan Is Real

I’m sitting in the back of a shuttle bus. The bus, or shuttle, plans to disgorge my friends and I three miles away from here. At Alpine. Odd to sleep at Squaw and traipse through puddles of rain to a shuttle headed someplace else. There are four carbon life forms–five if I count the driver–in addition to my friends and I. Nine souls. Windshield wipers on. Averaging maybe 5 MPH. At a standstill more often than not.

And somehow the driver is dialed to perhaps the best radio station that has ever existed. No one has given the call letters yet, so I don’t know what it is, where it is based, and/or how this is possible. Echo and the Bunnymen. And the next song is BB King or at least I think it’s BB. And then? This could be Jim Croce or maybe Asia.

The mix of songs is impossible. Ten minutes ago, I offered aloud, “This is literally the last song I would have expected to hear today. If you held a gun to my head and forced me to list every song that I could possibly hear today, this would be the one at the absolute bottom of the list. Penciled in only at the urging of the individual brandishing said gun to said head.”

One of the songs had a lyric, “Satan is Real.” Maybe he is, maybe he isn’t. Or she. Could be a woman. No?

So it is a very odd bus we’re on. Strange dynamic. Great, unexpected music. And rain. I would handicap the odds of actually skiing today in the single digits. And I’m OK with that. Turn up the volume please, driver.

Thanks for reading.

20140208-105221.jpg

My Gigantopithecus Tooth Fairy

20140207-090223.jpg

I believe in Bigfoot. And the Loch Ness Monster, and UFOs. And DB Cooper. If I had a better understanding of those crop circles, and the prehistoric beast slithering in the depths of Lake Champlain, I’d believe in those too.

I’m disappointed that no one has produced any legit evidence proving Bigfoot’s existence. If I remember this correctly, someone in Roger Patterson’s posse gave a deathbed confession regarding the gorilla suit made famous in the photo a couple inches above here. Might have been Rodge himself. Not sure, and Googling the sitcheeashun goes against the grain of this off the cuff blog. Come to think of it, I believe that famous Nessie photo was similarly debunked. Another deathbed confession, maybe.

Hey if you have been involved somehow in perpetrating some sort of massive fraud on the public regarding the Skunk Ape, Abominable Snowman, Sasquatch, or Yeti, keep it to yourself. If your great grandfather plodded across a mossy bog near Loch Ness, dropping his Wellies in such a way as to look like Brontosaurus tracks, I don’t want to know.

I’m about as “show me prove it to me” as they come. I was a buzz saw in the deposition room. Cross-examination. One of the few things I truly miss about private law practice. So I know, really I do, that it’s pretty unlikely these things actually exist.

Still, I need to believe. In something. Suspension of logic and disbelief. The Skunk Ape is it. I have to counterbalance all the “show me” stuff with something that can’t be shown. It’s one of the few threads of childhood that I refuse to let go.

My own personal, hairy, Gigantopithecus Tooth Fairy.

I think it might be important to preserve some sort of childlike wonder. Adults with kids and jobs and mortgages and straight faces aren’t still water-painting on thick construction paper in art class. Aren’t tilting their heads to the heavens catching snowflakes on their tongues. Excitedly sliding teeth under their pillows. Leaving carrots & cookies on a little plate next to the fireplace. Positive that a man-sized rabbit brought us this basket with green plastic grass and chocolate. Reminders of a simpler time. A time when we were easily pleased. When “pleased” was the default.

I want to get back to that default.

So I am a believer who will stay a believer. You can keep your hair samples and plastic casts. I “know” they’re fake. Still, I’m not letting go.

Thanks for reading.