Month: January 2017

Kiva Me A Break (Chores Too Boring)

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It’s that time of year again.  The glorious phase of 5th grade wherein my offspring get a healthy dose of mission-driven business ethos. I know this because my own, enterprising 5th grader — the second 5th grader I’ve had — has recently begun concocting a number of seemingly get-rich-quick schemes.  Most of them involve some element of illegality, though nothing that would likely trigger a long stretch of hard time in the clink.  More a matter of conducting some commercial activity without a required permit in a venue that probably does require a permit.  

Everett’s mom and I are fully onboard, however.  Because this particular scheme has nothing to do with getting rich quickly.  Nor getting rich at all.  Well, depends upon what your definition of “rich” is. 

It’s Kiva Time, you see. A courageous crowdfunding nonprofit founded over a decade ago, Kiva facilitates massive scale micro-lending to otherwise marginalized borrowers in 80 countries. People have lent nearly $1B through Kiva over the years, and the impact is pretty mind-blowingly fantastic. Think a $500 loan that allows a former Indian child bride to jumpstart her sari-weaving business and gain a foothold towards financial independence. Or a Bedouin mother raising five kids in a West Bank refugee camp smack in the middle of one of the oldest cities on the planet. She raises sheep and goats for meat and milk. Sixty nine souls lent her $2,000 via Kiva.  Six newly-acquired pregnant sheep gave birth to more sheep, and this means a growing business in an otherwise economically barren landscape.

I’m not making this stuff up.  And I’m barely scratching the surface. Particularly in our own current political climate, Kiva’s work moves anyone to tears. Feels like the antidote to the toxic nonsense being conjured up within 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  (Quick peach box  (lemonade crate?) digression:  I suspect that Hilary and I will look more closely at Kiva borrowers tonight — a great way to cap off a weekend of re-upping our The New York Times subscription,  and making modest donations to the ACLU and Planned Parenthood. Every little bit helps.)   

OK, enough with the heavy stuff.  That’s not why you’re here, right?  You’re here because I am a bad father.  The kind who spies his 11 year-old’s earnest, handwritten notes re: Kiva planning.  And promptly turns said notes from a perfectly-timed, heartwarming oasis into  something about which blog readers may guiltily giggle.  A little.  (Ev, don’t worry, they’re not giggling at you.)

Everett and his classmates have been tasked with raising $30 in small groups, then applying those funds to a Kiva borrower. Ev and two chums held a “conference call” yesterday, during which they chewed through a few ideas as to how the three of them would raise the requisite $30.  At the risk of Everett running away from home tonight with a bulging sack of Legos slung over his shoulder, here are Ev’s meeting notes, scratched in pencil on a lined sheet of paper I found about an hour ago on our living room coffee table — 

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I’m really really hoping that #4 comes up big.  Because, first, Everett is totally spot-on about the critical importance of advertising when it comes to pulling off a successful yard sale. I’m going to limit my reservation to agreeing with his conclusion on that particular hurdle.  The “gathering” piece sends a little shiver up my spine. I don’t even want to think about what sort of treasured family belongings he and his buddies would splay out for the hocking on a wool blanket up on Chestnut Street. I’m guessing Ev would use the opportunity to exact some vengeance on his older brother.  And that Hilary or I would be consigned to an expensive trip to Sports Basement in order to replace Max’s prized gear. So no yard sale. 

Second, we clearly need to up the “wow factor” of Everett’s chores. First, I will need to apologize to him.  To this point, I have evidently failed to deliver up a Cirque du Soleil-level squeeze of the adrenals when it comes to his one chore of clearing four soiled plates from the dinner table each night. Perhaps I can borrow a chainsaw, a couple electric eels, and an oversized disco ball from neighbors. We are looking for some sizzle, people, on a go forward basis!

Last, yes, Everett and his pals could walk THEIR own dogs. If his project mates are anything like Everett, however, I suspect that none of them ever walks THEIR dogs.  A subtle prompt to the effect, “You know, Wailea is your dog too. Why don’t you take her for a walk around the block?” will elicit sudden dramatic complaints of deep thigh pain, overwhelming homework, or a bout of fake-napping. In this context, no, I don’t believe anyone will pay these lenders-to-be for walking THEIR own damned dogs.  Now, you want to talk about taking on Poop Bag Duty for a week? To whom do I make out MY check?

Thanks for reading. 

Apropos of Everything: A Mystery of Orwellian Proportions


So early this morning, my mother delivered devastating news via text message: I may well be on the hook for 34 years-worth of overdue fees from my high school library. Here’s how this horrifying prospect revealed itself —

So how should we interpret this stunning discovery? Please allow me to summarize the key points:

1. There are not enough spaces on my iPhone calculator to quantify my epic late fee. I suspect it will, however, be sufficient to cover the expense of building Trump’s Wall. 

2. My step-father, Jim, is likely never to speak to my mother or me. We probably deserve that. 

3. Finally, and most importantly, I think I can answer the “How in the hell did we get here?” question of the hour: Only one plausible theory, really — Our country’s current predicament is all my fault. Had I returned 1984 on a timely basis, lo those many years ago, none of this would have happened. None of it. Mea culpa. I only hope you can find it in your hearts to forgive me. 

Thanks for reading. 

Cockroaches In Nuclear Winter

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Happy Friday, good people.  And it is a happy Friday, indeed — if I were a cockroach. 

I say this because if I were a cockroach, I would wake up every morning giddy.  Giggling, probably.  Possibly even guffawing.  Why? Because I know that no matter what, I’m going to survive.  I’ll be just fine.  My cockroach wife? Fine.  My cockroach sons? Fine.  My cockroach dog? Fine.  My entire cockroach species? Fine. 

You see, cockroaches have skittered across the earth’s surface for roughly 300 million years.  They have survived cataclysmic global events like mass extinctions and rough election cycles.  No problem. They put mustard on mass extinctions and eat them like ballpark hotdogs.  They also purportedly bump ugly uglies and reproduce at a shocking rate. Thus helping to ensure their own survival by heeding my friend Dave Pell’s post-election call to, um, “reproduce.” 

Oh, and here’s a good one: Cockroaches can live for a week with their heads completely detached from their bodies. A week.  Heads.  Detached.  Bodies.  I assure you, this trait will not make the ongoing “Best Super Powers List” my 11 year-old and I have been compiling. Sure, I could smugly introduce it when the topic next presents itself. Could be tonight, in fact.  But I would prefer to postpone his inevitable psychotherapy sessions (and the associated bills) for as long as possible.  I also don’t want to give him a ready answer to the routine doctor’s question,”Have you ever been subjected to any kind of abuse?” I am fairly certain that this would check the box: “Well, there was that one time my dad told me he wished he had the super power to live for a week with his head detached from his body….” Everett’s doctor’s lower jaw and ballpoint pen drop.  I am (justifiably) pronounced unfit.  Supervised visitation at best. Perhaps a stint in an insane asylum of some sort. No, I think I’ll keep this particular superpower to myself.  (But I think you and I can both — secretly, if you will  — agree that being able to detach our heads for a week would come in pretty handy right about now.)

Along these same lines, a cockroach, I’m told, can survive for a month without food.  This would render unnecessary those Silicon Valley billionaires’ extravagantly-outfitted fallout shelters that NPR told me about a couple days back. Cockroach Silicon Valley executives don’t need no stinking food caches. And not to nitpick, by the way, but I think technically a roach can survive for 5 weeks without food, if you factor in that week-without-its-head thing. Any way you do the math here, these insects of the order Blattodea have a leg up on us humans.  Actually, six legs up.  I mean, four legs up, if you subtract our two legs from their six.  Geez, the math gets tricky with one’s head detached and having not eaten for a month. 

So you see,  my friends, we have so much to learn from cockroaches.  If only we were willing students. It is highly unlikely, however, that we will sit at a roach’s knee — any of the six of them — and ask for pointers  for surviving a nuclear winter.  This is true because cockroaches are pretty much universally-reviled.  Repugnant. Truly yucky.  I can imagine their little feet clickity-clacking across a linoleum floor — My God, it sounds just like my typing on this MacBook’s keyboard! — and I am instantly repulsed, chin shaking. Our only hope, it seems, is these enlightened people.  Living in harmony with thousands of cockroaches in their home.  I don’t think I’m quite ready for this just yet.  But soon.  Soon. 

Thanks for reading. 

Stop the World — I Want to Get Off (Just Keep Digging).

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Buried. I’m more than a little embarrassed to admit that I think I may have hit my breaking point.  Chagrined about it, really.  A nice little dollop of shame in there, too. Because I know damned well that many people have it way worse.  They have been wallowing in the vicinity of their own breaking point — feeling buried — for days, weeks, months, years, maybe even generations.  And only now I have the nerve to hop on the bus to Overwhelmed City? The bus is jammed already.  Standing room only.  So let’s say that I’m shoulder to shoulder with gaggles of fellow suffering travelers, being jostled about by one pothole after another. Fighting back nausea.  I am not at all prone to motion sickness, so this feeling is new.  

I want off.

There’s just too much going on.  All at once.  And it isn’t letting up. So my personal water table simply cannot return to some semblance of equilibrium. I’m full up.  Emotionally flooded.  This blog helps, though cataloguing my own parade of horribles seems both self-defeating and self-centered.  Still, I write.  

Let’s start with the macro — world affairs.  I’m getting pummeled by a nonstop barrage of the ridiculous and irrational words and actions of our new President.  It’s like a mad, insane sprint in tight circles spiraling around and down the toilet bowl.  I can’t handle the accelerating g-forces. I can’t stay on top of the latest nonsense, so that I might formulate intelligent opinions and competently explain things to my inquisitive kids. Try to help them makes sense of this new world order. I am reduced to cranky grunts and curse words, particularly if my morning coffee hasn’t yet taken root. I am at a loss.  

As for the micro: Our little neighborhood bubble of safety suddenly feels not so safe.  My outdoor Nest camera footage suggests that maybe the bubble never was safe:  Seemingly  upstanding citizens walking briskly down my block, then veering towards my flat’s stoop. Then rifling through my short stack of mail in the middle of the day. Presumably hoping for something good to steal. Post-midnight sketchy visitors, peering into my parked family car’s interior, aided in their search by the throw of my my so-called security spotlights.  And the hyperlocal criminal goings on reported to me daily by the NextDoor app — it feels like I’m suddenly raising my family in a war zone. 

My kids’ school situations are less-than-ideal.  Maybe that’s the new norm, and just the way it is.  But I only have the two sons, so “ideal” is what I’m shooting for.  Not in a helicopter parent way, mind you.  The opposite.  I want to trust that my kids are in safe, nurturing environments when out of my sight. Let the enlightened and ambitious educators and administrators do their thing. This is my default setting.  But alas, that is not always how things have worked out.  And it’s not always the schools’ fault.  I fear that mean or unkind kids are begotten of mean or unkind or long-ago-gave-up parents are begotten of a world that is moving too fast and rattling loose too many moral compasses. “True North” may actually be scattershot.  Imaginary.  Mythical. We’re all pointing in different directions.  I’d like to think I know where True North is, but with so many others’ fingers extended, jabbing all over the place, how can I be sure?

And then there’s the getting older thing.  I’m pushing towards 50, and honestly, way more serious about taking care of myself than my 21 year-old self would ever have anticipated.  I exercise a ton, eat right.  Sleep for 8 or 9 hours every night. I meditate.  I meditate about exercising, eating and sleeping.  I meditate about meditating. Yet now I find out that my LDL cholesterol is high enough to warrant artery scraping drugs.  Pills of Drano, more or less. Really? Maybe I should have been gorging on deep fried Twinkies all those years. Why not?

More broadly, all families, it seems, face the ugliness of things like cancer.  Our extended family is no different, though it feels like a singular experience.  And just recently, some of my oldest and dearest friends and their families have suddenly been forced to grapple with the fleeting nature of their own health and mortality. Given all this, who the hell am I to gripe about the prospect of taking a pill to lower my cholesterol? What the hell is wrong with me that I have been taking for granted my own family, as well as my friends and their families, for so long? How dare I obsess so much about my own situation in the face of others’ who are climbing mountains far steeper than mine?

So what’s the answer?  What to do?  What can I do in the face of all this?

I am uncertain.  I can’t seem to conjure up any of the usual guiding principles that can be counted on to lift my spirits as I typically approach this concluding section of my blog posts. Having a bit of a hard time finding the bright side, quite honestly.  

But I suspect there may be something to the iPhone photo at the top, captured quickly in Lake Tahoe a couple days back:  I think I’m just gonna pick up this here shovel and dig.  It feels like something I can control, though I recognize no actual progress may be made.  And hopefully I will be strong enough to push through the back aches and heart aches. (No guarantees with these awesome LDL numbers of mine, by the way.)  But I’m just gonna keep digging. 

Thanks for reading. 

ALL CAPS IS DEAD; LONG LIVE ALL CAPS

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I remember when “all caps” meant something.  Somewhere high up in the pecking order of A Christmas Story‘s “triple dog dare.” High up. Something that was regrettable the instant a 1990s-era email was pecked out with the caps lock accidentally depressed.  Triggering an immediate “sorry for yelling” follow up email to the recipient dizzied by the digital decibels.

As a history major, I have a vague recollection that all caps was reserved, historically speaking, for really really important stuff.  Say, for example, when by some amazing feat of mathematical magic, we manage to put folks on the moon —

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Or when we achieve other historic firsts —

 

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To be sure, all caps is most assuredly not always celebratory in nature; equally appropriate when something horrible has happened —

 

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Or something horribly important happens —

 

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Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I miss those days. 

THOSE DAYS ARE GONE, APPARENTLY.  Instead, now we have stuff like this —

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All of which is hard on the eyes.  Rough on the ears.  Tough on the soul.

But every now and then, once in a blue moon, someone indulges my All Caps Nostalgia with a spot-on all caps deployment.  

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All caps, dead?  MAYBE NOT….

Thanks for reading.

Fight the Power (My Near-Pink Experience)

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So unless you have been living under a rock or within a self-imposed bubble of alternative facts, you’re likely aware of the widespread Women’s March gatherings past Saturday.   Over a million people, apparently, marched all over the place.  Mostly women.  Sporting those way-too-much-awesome pink knit beanies with the kitty cat ears. If they were lucky enough to plan ahead and source said hats, or maybe make them at home, on an other than last-minute basis. But any kind of pink or near-pink accessory seemed to do the trick.  I saw with mine own eyes a woman walking casually with a group of presumably like-minded friends towards San Francisco’s City Hall, wearing a full length pink Brontosaurus costume. I guess it could have been a T. Rex.  At least it was more reminiscent of Godzilla than, say, Barney.  Way more Jurassic Park raptor than Fred and Wilma housebroken pet “Dino.”

My own contribution to the Women’s March festivities was pretty meager, at best.  I happily agreed to give my wife a lift to the march’s approximate beginning.  “Happily” might be a bit of a stretch, since I did bitch and moan a little when the traffic started to constrict.  The image of Hilary barrel-rolling out of my the passenger door at 20 MPH flickered through my mind.  But only momentarily. I quickly calculated that it would be impossible for Hil to spin out of our speedy car in such a way that she would have landed safely in Godzilla’s cushy arms. I just couldn’t get the math to cooperate; the angles weren’t right.  And this regrettable incident might just go viral, too, in light of all the TV news choppers overhead at the ready.  

So instead, I opted to deposit my pink-beanied partner as close to the starting point as my little Prius would allow, at a full stop. And with a full heart.  I had expected a transactional experience, numbed by traffic.  But now I was genuinely moved by the throngs of (mostly) women. Impressed that my wife would willingly throw herself headlong into the mix. And proud that I married her (or more accurately, that she married me).  Somewhere along the ride, I admit contemplating (to myself, not aloud) what the odds were that pepper spray and rubber bullets might come into play at some point. Those kinds of unsettling thoughts melted back, though, as I watched Hilary fade into the distant pink-accented masses. My concerns about menacing throngs of police in riot gear were now, suddenly and unexpectedly, conflated with choking back tears.  An odd mix of emotions, to be sure. 

As I drove away in this muddled mental state, I fancied myself a Mad Max character with a (pink!) mohawk and ass-less chaps (probably not pink!) and missing teeth and maybe with a head-scratchingly odd Australian accent. Careening through the streets in my battle-ready tank, tossing fiery Molotov cocktails and screaming like a banshee as I, too, pressed the case for certain rights.  But alas, in reality I was cautiously and two-handedly guiding our 38 MPG PC-Mobile back in the direction of our manicured neighborhood, and into the safe harbor of our Nest camera-protected garage. Home, where I would cry all over Facebook for the next several hours.  Vicariously savoring my Near-Pink Experience.

Thanks for reading.  

Gotta be a silver lining in there somewhere.

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Gotta be a silver lining in there somewhere. But saturated as I am in this morning’s live coverage of Donald Trump’s inauguration, I’m having a great deal of trouble finding it.  I am squinting with great intensity at this image.  Not squinting of the fake variety, as if I were trying to manufacture a “this is my serious face” face.  Looks to me like someone was practicing his best Clint Eastwood grimace in a full length mirror at the Blair House last night.  Not me.  I gratuitously popped a NyQuil gelatinous pill.  What my wife and I euphemistically call “a vacation.” But I’m not sick, mind you.  I just wanted a little extra help sleeping through the night. 

This is a very hard day, there is just no way around it.  

This is a hard day to be a friend.  Today would feel a heavy one to me, even if someone’s hand other than Trump’s had found its way to holding that bible opposite Chief Justice Roberts’ hand. I learned last night that a dear college buddy of mine has recently been given a very challenging diagnosis.  He and is family will wake up this morning and find themselves in the midst of a genuine fight.  They are up for it. His wide circle of friends will be up to it, as well.  This development makes what I’m seeing on the U.S. Capitol’s West Lawn feel both far less important and far more important. 

This is a hard day to be a son. Lately, the first text message I see in the morning lets me know how many inches of snow fell during the night at a couple Tahoe ski resorts.  This morning’s first text reported precipitation of a different physical state and salinity.  My mom told me she found herself in tears dealing with the gravity of this morning’s proceedings. No doubt hundreds of thousands of gallons of tears will be shed this morning by millions of troubled souls. My mother’s tears, though, bring a particular sting.  They stung when I was 10 years old, sitting helplessly on our living room couch as she cried in pain for hours on the evening after a root canal operation.  And they sting now, as I sit in my own living room 3,000 miles away from her. I am that helpless 10 year-old once again. 

This is a hard day to be a husband. I vividly recall seeing my wife stumble into our living room on the morning of 9/11, the two of us making eye contact for the first time since the Twin Towers were struck.  Her grief was so raw, and my inability to say or do something in that moment to console her remains a painful memory.  I couldn’t protect my family from the hatred that led to 9/11; that is a gargantuan challenge.  But I couldn’t even assuage my wife’s acute feelings of loss standing in our pajamas all alone.  Helpless.  November 8 and 9 brought vaguely reminiscent emotions to the fore in our household.  And this morning’s inauguration came storming into our bedroom on our flatscreen TV.  Hilary’s face bore a thread of resemblance to her look on 9/11.  I found myself useless again, unable to make her pain go away in that moment. 

This is a hard day to be a dad.  If witnessing NBC News’ coverage standing by myself, in a vacuum, I would give George Carlin’s 7 dirty words some serious currency. Probably invent some new ones.  Switch up the order.  Get really into it, spittle flying, some wildly gesticulating arms that tested the integrity of my rotator cuffs.  But I’m not alone, of course.  Instead, I have to bite back that bile, and solemnly bear witness to the TV screen with my 5th grader, sending him off to school with, “well, buddy, this is going to be a tough day.” I think I told him I love him before he went off to the bus stop.  I hope I did. As for my 10th grader, I agreed to drive him to school today.  Beyond distracted while listening to NPR’s coverage on our local radio, I’m not sure I properly observed any traffic rules.  I do know that I managed somehow neither to betray my anger nor my angst.  I didn’t have that luxury.  Because attempting to fill the driver’s awkward silence, and stirred by the NPR commentary, Max announced, “He’s going to intern jews.” So I found myself suddenly and uncomfortably thrown in the position of being a Trump defender. And I tried to screw Max’s head on more tightly, before I dumped him into a sea of jelly-headed high schoolers. “The things Trump has said and done, and likely will say and do, are bad enough standing on their own.  Let’s not help him out by exaggerating things.  Try to keep it together today.” I probably should have added an “everything will be OK.” But I didn’t, on purpose, because I can’t control that particular outcome.  

I can, however, control my love.  How I dole it out.  To whom, and when.  And today I will make sure I leave no “I love you’s” unsaid or unwritten.  I love you, buddy, hang in there, I’m here for you.  I love you, mom, and I’m sorry this election didn’t turn out the way you hoped. I love you, Hilary,  I share and honor your emotions.  I love you, Max and Everett, and I hope you can find a way to rise above this nonsense as you make your way in this world.  

Gotta be a silver lining in there somewhere, good people.  There always is.  

Thanks for reading. 

These are extraordinary times….

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It must be nice to look at the world unconstrained by 48 years of experiences, conscious and sub-conscious biases, and with senses yet-to-be dulled by the slow march of neural degeneration. Take this iPhone photo above, for example, which I grabbed at the top of an unexpectedly rigorous Marin Headlands hike this past weekend.  In that moment, I assumed without even acknowledging the assumption that my 11 year-old son Everett was looking at what I was looking at, and saw it the exact same way.  But writing now, I have to admit there is just no way. 

I’m sure he could see bluer blues and a more vivid outline of Sutro Tower.  I struggle to decipher ingredient lists on food packaging. Manipulating the relevant variables: Distance between words and eyes, degree of squinting both eyes then one eye then the other eye, distance between words and nearby light source, color of light source, and so on.  I harassed my wife as recently as Saturday night for breaking out her iPhone flashlight to examine a dimly-lit restaurant’s menu.  The truth is, I’m not far off. 

I’m also sure that, although he complained vociferously about the poor snack choices available, Everett can taste that gooey granola bar in a way that I can’t.  Anything without tabasco, cayenne pepper flakes, wasabi, or Sriracha rarely makes it within my maw’s orbit.   According to the medical literature, my taste buds began dying off and shrinking five years ago. So I will soon be headed to Ghostpepper Ville, I fear. 

No doubt, too, Ev standing at that vista can hear soaring birds of prey, ocean breezes whipping through invasive scrub brush, overhead waves crashing off Ocean Beach in the distance, and probably even the annoyed accusations whispered by the young woman standing nearby concerned her boyfriend chose the wrong trail spur. My own slow decent to hard-hearing is like slowly drowning over the course of a few decades.  Realizing only when it’s too late that you’re underwater, and everyone else around you is speaking but no words come out.  Or maybe if you’re lucky, Charlie Brown’s teacher’s wah-wah-wah words are what you can still glean. For now, Ev will occasionally cup his ears in pain while crossing a neighborhood intersection, howling about “the squealing breaks on that car.” “What car?” I say.  I can no longer pick up those frequencies, apparently.

But most importantly, Everett can still enjoy the freedom of playing around with words with abandon. Approaching them without judgment.  Withholding his respect for them, even, unless and until they earn it.  Not intimidated in the least by Hammurabi’s Code’s bona fides, let alone cowed by Noah Webster’s dictionaries.  

Last night, Everett pronounced from the living room couch, “‘Extraordinary’ should mean very very normal, like super boring, not better than ordinary. I think people are using that word improperly.”  I’d like to think he’s both right, and wrong.  That way, I could say that we are both experiencing the world in our own extraordinary ways. Even if my “extraordinary” is the super boring one. 

Thanks for reading. 

And now, let the wild rumpus start….

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“Man I’m gonna miss this guy.”  This was the overwhelming thought dominating my sleep-deprived brain at 2:16 am this morning. But it goes deeper.

Normally and historically, I consider myself a healthy sleeper.  I can usually be counted on for 8 hours or more, no problema. But that bedrock trait apparently experienced a seismic jolt somewhere in the after midnight hours of November 8.  With unpleasant and unwelcome regularity, I now find myself perusing news sites bathed in the flicker of my iPhone’s screen.  Stretched out on the living room couch. Wrapped in a hodgepodge of whatever undersized throw blankets my sons have not smuggled off to their bedrooms for the evening. Shaping and pounding the couch pillows that are not made for sleeping into something more closely approximating pillows that are made for sleeping.  And there I lie, calm and with a heart rate in the mid 40s.  Burning through one after another well-written article published in credible and long-standing news media outlets.

I’m not exactly sure what I’m looking for while ensconced in these strange, lonely hours.  Information, to be sure.  Turns out my brain craves it, and turns sclerotic without a steady flow of it.  But I suspect I search for something more.  Something meaningful.  Something on which I can seize to regain my equilibrium.  To hoist above my head with both hands as a means of clinging to what I hope is a healthy perspective.  Something that will justify an authentic show of optimism to my sons in the morning about the state of the world.  Something that makes me not sound like (or write like) a fool when I posit, “Things are going to be OK.” 

So in the three-hour Witching Hour of last night/this morning, I gobbled the latest information from the usual suspects.  Somewhat guiltily nibbled on a couple op-ed pieces (I always do so with a grain of salt, even if said pieces are preaching to the choir in which I stand nodding vigorously). And then I stumbled on the photo above, depicting President Obama reading “Where the Wild Things Are” to school children a few years back.  The image struck me.  I brought my finger-scrolling and all other voluntary bodily movements to an abrupt halt.  To study the image, let its comforting familiarity wash over me. Feel it sink in and take hold.  

I know this book.  Our firstborn son is named Max, and the book’s author unknowingly bequeathed us with a gift by naming his main character, “Max.”  Our copy was gifted to us by close family friends when our Max was born. They penned a thoughtful inscription to our day-old baby on the inside cover.  I can’t even begin to guess how many times my wife and I held open these pages for our Max in our lap, reading the narrative aloud and absolutely reveling in it. Contorting our faces, stretching our voices, and sprinkling in scene-appropriate hand gestures here and there.  And making that exact same face, with that exact same claw hand, as President Obama evidently conjures up in his own rendition.  Pretty simple, yet pretty profound, this newfound, very human connection. 

Mr. Sendak’s book has sold something like 20 million copies. That’s a lot of people reading and overacting to a lot of children half-asleep on a lot of laps.  I wonder whether any of them felt the same visceral reaction as I when they saw this image published in The New York Times. A gut feeling that somehow, some way, everything is going to be, in fact, OK.

Well then, let the wild rumpus start!

Thanks for reading. (And thanks, Frank and Noel — and Mason — for the gift 15 years ago).

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Field of Broken Dreams

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Well, that was awesome.  Or at least it should have been.  For someone who has been writing a little “Here’s How to Live Your Life and Enjoy Every Moment” blog for the past three years, I am often pisspoor when it comes to heeding my own advice. 

Take this past Sunday, for example. 

I’ve written in the past about this cool group of gents known as the Mission Baseball Club. They congregate weekly, throw together an entertaining and legit intrasquad scrimmage, and allow participants to relive past glories (or infamies) and create new ones.  And while I haven’t had the good fortune yet to join them, the Club also travels regularly to San Quentin State Prison for hard-fought games with the inmates.  “Hard-fought” is probably a poor word choice here, but the prisoners take their baseball seriously.  As do the umpires — themselves inmates, who wisely err on the side of their fellow inmates when any close calls arise. 

For a variety of legitimate and illegitimate reasons, I have not played a game with the Mission boys for perhaps two years.  Two long years.  During those two years, my stepped on ring finger, spiked during an ill-advised attempt at stretching a single into a double, has more or less healed.  This was, as I recall, the last game I played.  But also during those two years, my eldest son got two years older.  Two years stronger.  Two years more skilled at his old man’s game.  So when this Sunday rolled around, serendipity stepped in and delivered up a remarkable, Lemonade Chronicles-esque sitcheeashun:

Max and I playing a genuine baseball game on the same baseball diamond.  Together.  At several points, playing middle infield together. He batting immediately after I did, following me in the lineup.  Me scrambling from one base to another when Max’s bat struck the pitched ball.  Or me watching from the dugout due to my own inability to reach base (happened more often than not). 

All the ingredients for a magical and unforgettable father-son experience, right? But I think I blew it, more or less.  

I managed to sneak a few fleeting glances over at him at shortstop as I stood ready on the dirt between 1st and 2nd base.  And when sitting on the dugout’s green splintered bench, I watched Max in the batter’s box — as I have done from a similar vantage point since he was 5 years old.  And I doled out a handful of high-fives; but not nearly enough. 

As I reflect back, I realize that I was so wound up in my own head, that I neglected to truly appreciate what a lightning strike moment Sunday’s game represented. I’m nearly 50, so the mental gymnastics and emotional swings triggered unexpectedly by some otherwise innocuous event, smell, or feel are fairly overwhelming.  Bending a hard turn around 1st base after hitting a line drive will flash me back to a similar moment during a high school game.  Swinging stupidly at a pitch thrown enticingly near my eyes will drum up moments of doing the same damned thing, years ago, with equally shit consequences.  And then this can spiral into “no wonder you didn’t play at Duke, you never learned this lesson, if you had, maybe you would have played for a long time, you dipshit…” That sort of thing.  It’s debilitating, and compounded by the fact that my body simply can’t do what it could 30 years ago.  I am painfully aware of this when I play.  So I stand in the field with an 18 year-old’s brain, and a 48 year-old’s body.  Agonizing about that contradiction, more or less, for three hours until the game’s end.

None of this is conducive to “being in the moment.” When so self-absorbed with existential nonsense, there are simply no excess brain cycles to manifest gratitude over the imminent prospect of a father-son-turned double play.  Or the sublime satisfaction of immediately preceding my own son in the lineup — I’m digging into the batter’s box, while hearing the “whoosh” of his swing in the on-deck circle. Or watching my firstborn evolve into a young man, almost literally right before my eyes, on the same neighborhood ballfields he played ten years ago.  My failure to seize Sunday by the throat and bring myself to sentimental sniffles makes me want to spike my own finger.   

The good news is, the Mission Baseball Club plays every week.  Next time, I’ll try to get out of my own way and truly enjoy playing with my son on this remarkable field of dreams. Wish me luck with that…. 

Thanks for reading.