Month: January 2018

48% Dread, 52% Magic


I can’t stop staring at this photograph, though it fairly twists up my insides. Despite the vaguely unpleasant mix of light-headedness and fluttering heartbeats triggered by the rich memories conjured up, I am transfixed. Mesmerized. I’m staring into my own eyes spanning a yawning gap of 36 or 37 years.  One one end, looking into an exhilaratingly unknown future, with absolutely zero idea of what may come. Perhaps wondering whether my older self will have figured things out somewhere down the line. On the other end, looking backwards in time, desperate to catch a glimpse of that deer-in-the-headlights boy’s thoughts, the same age then as my younger son is now, give or take.  

If we were to meet today,  this boy and I, would he feel pride, or disappointment, in the life he and I have lived?

I honestly don’t know.

I stumbled on this photograph of a photograph in the midst of what has become an annual event marked by melancholy and reminiscing. My maternal grandmother passed away four years ago yesterday — a seismic event still felt palpably by my mother’s side of the family.  Still felt by me.  Glutton for punishment that I apparently am, I have not afforded myself the opportunity to let my grandmother’s death clear my system.  Rather, I have been doggedly blogging around and within its periphery beginning a few days after she died.  And for the past year, I have been pounding a book intended to honor her into the keys of my MacBook’s keypad. Running so many laps around Memory Lane that I have lost count.  

The photo above, plucked from my mother’s shoebox of pictures in the wake of my grandmother’s  death, owns a permanent address on Memory Lane. I have passed it repeatedly, rubbernecking at a sprint every time. The boy with the tongue and the boy with the dread, Pete and Teddy, respectively, are still with me.  Pete lives in Calistoga with his family, and thankfully emerged from those recent wine country fires in one piece. Teddy lives in Chicago, newly married on a gorgeous Florida beach, to a woman who sees as much in him as I always have.  Pete’s comical expression is pretty typical for that time period; actually, pretty typical for any time period.  Funny enough, almost, to make me forgive him for smashing my borrowed electric guitar at a college lip synch competition of his.

The purple tongue is admittedly vexing, because I can assure you that my parents stocked nothing in our kitchen cupboards capable of staining anyone’s tongue that particular color.  Or any color, for that matter. Powdered milk and oatmeal molasses cookies and buckwheat pancakes (“thick-ass buckwheat flapjacks,” as Pete reminds me) don’t leave that kind of mark. I’d put my money on a contraband grape lollipop snuck into 115 Robineau Road amidst the chaos of my little birthday party.  I suspect Pete knows precisely how many licks it takes to get to the center of that cartoon owl’s Tootsie Pop

In Teddy’s face, I sense a certain wariness.  A concern about what might happen next.  At the time, he was working his way through the complicated dynamics of his parents’ divorce, and I recall that this took a toll on his emotional well-being.  On the other hand, Teddy knew how emphatic my parents — particularly my father — were about sugar and artificial coloring and health foods and such.  His flat expression is equally likely to have been inspired by a fear of my father’s anticipated reaction to Pete’s Purple Tongue. Maybe my dad would insist on “entertaining” us boys in the backyard with yet another episode of breaking bricks with his bare fist. Thrilling to me; terrifying to my buddies, who always read into the brick-breaking some sort of message to them.  In this case, maybe “This is what will happen to the next friend of Keir’s who brings a Tootsie Pop into my house — CRAAAAAACKKK!”  It’s possible 12 year-old Teddy foresaw this scene, as I suggested in a text I sent to 49 year-old Ted this morning along with the photo.  He responded, “My formative years consisted of 48% dread. My apologies for the facial expression.” 

No apologies necessary, my man. That still leaves 52% for the magic part.

My 12 year-old self may or may not agree, but by this point, I might argue that a life made of 52% magic and 48% dread is a life well-lived. 

Thanks for reading. 

Shaken, Not Stirred

The tables have turned.

Yesterday morning saw me begrudgingly play the role of my wife’s stiff-legged running partner. Plucked from bed by the ankles in mid-slumber. Pressured to leave the cozy confines of our Queen-sized bed in order to shuffle in the chilly rain for 40 dark minutes.

Today, however, I was the heel grabber, not the heel grabbee. Grabbed the bull by the horns, you might say. And somehow, like yesterday, when our roles were reversed, I’m reasonably confident that things worked out well.

Before kids (at the turn of the century), Hilary and I were regular devotees of Bikram Yoga. Eighteen years ago, we would eagerly sweat our way through 26 “poses” intended to pretzel ones limbs in a stifling room, with an ambient air temperature not far removed from our toaster oven’s “broil” setting. It sounds awful, and it is actually worse than it sounds. At least until you settle in and get yourself accustomed to the overheated misery over the course of many sessions. One of my fondest memories of my wife involves witnessing her standing in “Balancing Stick” pose with her 9 month-old pregnant belly protruding proudly (the human we would later meet, called “Max,” was in there somewhere). She looked like a freakin’ warrior, and I was in awe. (As I said just yesterday, she is tough.)

But in the ensuing years, two kids and a mortgage and law firms and start ups and a puppy and slowed metabolisms and pre-arthritic toe knuckles and friends and loved ones coming and going and all of the rest of normal life conspired to keep Hil and me out of the yoga studio.

I missed it.

So this New Year, with some newfound free time due to one child being away at boarding school, I resolved to take a crack at revisiting this small piece of our former lives. Unbeknownst to Hilary, I signed us up for a month of Bikram. I handed her the gift certificate on Christmas Morning, feeling very proud of myself. At the time, we were far away from home with a gaggle of family, so I didn’t think to loop back around afterwards to confirm that my gift was as well-received as it was well-intentioned. I simply assumed that, once again, the “World’s Best Husband” statuette would stand firmly on my bedroom bureau for yet another year. Sigh.

This morning marked the appointed Bikram Day One. I awoke fired up. I assumed we were both fired up. Then I noticed immediately that my enthusiasm was mine alone. Out of the blue, Hilary started giving currency to a litany of (objectively reasonable) excuses. I know about excuses. She was trying to weasel out of Bikram, I realized.

But there would be no weaseling.

Yes, our 12 year-old would be home alone for nearly three hours. Yes, this likely violates one or more criminal statutes regarding child neglect. Yes, our dog is whimpering from some inexplicable, circular chunk mysteriously missing from her hindquarters since yesterday. Yes, it is possible that one explanation for the Silver Dollar Chunk was inattentive driveway driving on my part. Yes, we are at least 16 years older than the last time we twisted ourselves up into sweaty balls among two dozen strangers.

Still, all of this paled in comparison to the angelic vision of my 103-degree wife in Full Locust Pose that I hoped to rekindle. So, against the better judgment of perhaps anyone not named “Keir,” I insisted that we press on.

And off we went.

It was hot. It was hard. My bouts of dizziness verged on passing out more than once. I caught my own eyes unintentionally cross-eyed in the mirror a half-dozen times. But I did manage to sneak a quick glimpse or two at Hilary; spied her face set with intensity and mettle, completely oblivious to my voyeurism. I saw my warrior again. Maybe she saw her warrior too.

Perhaps a better husband would have cut his wife some slack. Let her off the hook this morning. For sure, we will both be terribly sore along our rib cages and such for several days. And our 12 year-old came very close to dialing up Child Services during our absence, assuaged only when we agreed to make him syrupy pancakes for breakfast. And our dog ended up with an unscheduled vet appointment. There she earned an unwanted new accoutrement reminiscent of an adult beverage at cocktail hour (see above photo; see above blog title).

Nevertheless, well worth it, in my view. To travel back in time nearly two decades, recapturing at least a sliver of our younger selves. And maybe setting in motion something old yet new that we can both enjoy together once or twice a week now in the New Year, and perhaps beyond. On the other hand, I may have to wait another 16 years to see my warrior again. I suppose I’m good with either scenario.

Thanks for reading.

It’s Rainin’ Men!



My arguably overly-competitive wife fairly dragged me out of bed this morning by my heels. Insisting I make good on my half-hearted, casually-issued “promise” last night to the effect that I would run with her in the morning. 

I generally love the idea of running with my wife.   I really do. Just the thought of the two of us gallivanting with full lungs and full hearts, holding hands while prancing along Crissy Field, brings a smile to my face.  Look at us! Soulmates! Look at me! World’s Greatest Husband! 

The reality of these runs tends to be quite different.

Take this morning: While admittedly not on par with the Bomb Cyclone, the weather was uninviting. Still dark, pouring rain in big fat drops that the Super Doppler failed to detect and report on a quick check of our iPhone weather apps.   The dog obsessively walked circles in the street, clearly struggling to muster the courage to execute her morning constitution in the midst of this downpour.  So Hilary and I stood witness, helpless and slump-shouldered, getting soaked to the bone before the run had even officially begun. 

Eventually we begin. And with the rain and cold and dark and headlamps and lengthy pooping routine and failure to stretch beforehand, I note that my lower back is knotted up like a fist as we cross Marina Boulevard. I commence with shuffling, reluctantly, in the general direction of the Golden Gate Bridge.  But this is not the worst part. The worst part, I know, is that my own personal drama is about to be magnified exponentially.

Typically, amidst early morning drudgery such as this, my gender is embarrassingly underrepresented.  Don’t get me wrong. There are many males of varying ages who populate my daily existence with myriad admirable qualities and aplomb.  (Exhibit A: The, um, heroic gents photographed above.) Nevertheless, I have long since made peace with my own inferiority, and that of all men, when it comes to the Gumption Department.  Any man who has witnessed a woman giving birth knows what I’m talking about. No man would willingly give birth once, let alone more than once.  Sixteen years after my firstborn’s birth, and I still can’t fathom how or why Hilary agreed to go through that experience twice. 

So this morning, I fully expect that all the dudes will still be asleep. Leaving the suffering of soaking wet, early morning runs to the tougher gender. And Hilary will amplify my shame by uttering a barely discernible “mmhmm” every time we cross paths with yet another woman gamely gritting her teeth through these lousy conditions. Yep, this run is gonna suck, pretty much all the way around. 

Except for some reason, this morning was different. My own physical discomfort never really resolved. But I was able to find distraction through engaging my wife in quantifying this Battle of the Sexes.  Counting up the number of men running compared to the number of women doing the same. Audibly as each human passed us in the opposite direction, completely oblivious to their critical role in my household’s bragging rights.

And of course, as the Battle unexpectedly jockeyed back and forth in the 10-10 range nearing our run’s turnaround point, Hilary and I began splitting hairs. Does a walker count? How about a walker who was apparently or soon will become, a runner? As in, “those are definitely running clothes, so she must be just warming down, she counts!” Are we allowed to interfere with fate by patting a startled walker on the butt in an effort to inspire the runner within, thereby adding another notch to our gender’s count?  

In the end, much to my surprise (and that of my far tougher wife), the men won in a relative landslide, 17 to 12.  It wasn’t even close, as it turns out. I haven’t the foggiest idea how this happened. But I do know that I will spend the weekend beating my chest about the resiliency of my fellow men, maybe this whole giving birth thing actually isn’t that much of a big deal, your “bring home the bacon and fry it up in the pan” refrain pales in comparison to my Spartan qualities, etc.  

Of course I won’t say any of those things.  Nope. Because such boasting will only lead to my being grabbed by the heels again on another cold and rainy morning next week.  And I don’t think we men are capable of repeating this morning’s victory.  So I will have to settle for (quietly) savoring this one glorious morning when indeed, for once, it was rainin’ men. 

Thanks for reading.