Month: July 2018

Mindfulness 101: Drown and Know That You Are Drowning.

This is my view this morning before the others are up and before a full day of 12 year-old baseball players begins. I’ve nearly made it to the bottom of my navy blue mug of coffee, when I decide to sneak in a quick, app-enabled “mindfulness” session; noting how strange it is to click the “bubbling stream” toggle to the off position. I don’t need the pre-recorded bubbling stream humming in the background of the meditation guy’s directions. I literally have a gurgling stream at my feet. So for 5 minutes, I use my son’s iPhone earbuds that I scrounged from the living room table earlier, cross over from one side of the stream to the other on well-placed stones but wearing hastily-chosen flip flops, slide a couple potted plants over to the side of the seat of a wooden bench, and meditate.

I press “play” on a session from one of the half-dozen apps gathered into my “Meditation” home screen folder. While wearing a layer of Patagucci gear because it’s a little chilly still. And vaguely annoyed (and annoyed with the fact that I am vaguely annoyed) that I am not wearing my Fitbit to measure how far my heart rate drops while meditating. The Fitbit ran out of juice last night, sending me on a fruitless power cord search in the dark, in unfamiliar environs where the light switches are unknown to me and I don’t want to wake up my sleeping, jet-lagged wife. The Fitbit now sits hooked up to the cabin’s electricity in one of the outlets, I can’t remember which one at the moment. And it’s all the way across this bubbling stream there. Despite looking painfully out of place, and totally aware how dependent I am upon technology and wearables and a disembodied voice telling me to “sit and know that I am sitting,” I force myself to close my eyes and breathe. Ahh.

But my mind darts around even more than usual. I even flicker my eyelids open at regular intervals, to defend against any sort of sneaky retribution from my brother or son. Both of whom would be entitled to sneak up on me and scream in my ear due to last night’s series of jump-scares, rocks thrown in the pond surreptitiously to mimic fish jumping while the guys fished, and generally tense, I’m-going-to-be-scared-at-any-moment-where-is-keir-hiding-now? vibe that I whipped up without mercy. So sure, I’m meditating. But I am also on edge with every sound around me that might be my brother in the grass behind me (it wasn’t) or that might be the creaky front screen door opening (it wasn’t).

Plus — and yes, this is exactly the wrong kind of “mindful” for which to be shooting while meditating as I am — I catch myself being mindful of an unpleasant scene captured yesterday at home on our driveway security camera. Late last night, my wife called my attention to some activity recorded earlier in the day (12:39 PM, to be exact). As she slept, I spent half an hour scrolling through the NestCam video footage while lying in bed. Then another 15 minutes composing a rant for my neighbors to read on the NextDoor app. It appears that an upstanding citizen sauntered into the little vestibule in our driveway in broad daylight yesterday, pee’d in my bushes, furtively took two drags from a little pipe, then went speed-walking off in a westerly direction. I’m guessing crack, but really I don’t have any idea. And I’d probably be nearly as irritated if he were puffing on a perfectly legit cigar.

“Sit and know that you are sitting,” my meditation guru reminds me from my son’s borrowed iPods. Ahhh. The stream bubbles on. I can smell the coffee in my mug. Pure bliss. Then my mind wanders to the day ahead, which features a long-ish drive to my younger son’s tournament baseball games outside Cooperstown. I’m antsy because for some reason, the games that I dutifully plugged into my iPhone’s calendar last week (Ev Game 1, Ev Game 2…), careful to ensure that I applied the proper time zone and that I “invited” my wife so that she didn’t need to do all this plugging, well, those entries have disappeared from my calendar. Totally freaking disappeared. It makes no sense. The thought of having to resort to re-doing all this calendaring is near-debilitating.

“Breathe and know that you are breathing,” he tells me. And I am in heaven. For perhaps 10 seconds. Before I am really able to settle back in, and while sprinting through an abbreviated “body scan,” I note that my ass is soaking wet. The little potted plants I slid over to claim a spot on the bench have left me a damp reminder as to why they were placed there in the first place. This bench is meant to be decorative. Not for sitting on, no matter how eco-friendly the sitter’s (now-wet) fleece pants.

“Now gently open your eyes,” he tells me. And with that, it’s over before it really began. I don’t think I ever even got to the “know that you are sitting” part, if I’m being honest.

On the plus side, my Fitbit is charged, no one has managed to sneak around to the bushes behind me, my fleece pants will dry out on their own, and the kitchen’s coffee pot is still pretty full. Now I need only navigate my way back across this raging fjord, relying on the fragile footing of my flip flops. Perhaps I will stumble into the stream. But at least I will know that I am stumbling into the stream. If I knock my head on a rock while falling down, I will know that I am knocking my head on a rock and falling down. If I drown, I will know that I am drowning. This meditation stuff is simple….

The Lady Is in Charge.

Four years ago during our first Cooperstown trip, I managed to book on Airbnb a rental house which, I am 75% certain, was haunted. I did not do so purposely. In that house overlooking Lake Otsego, I stumbled on an especially troubling portrait (dare I say, self-portrait?) of a monkey, hidden away in a side room (the painting, not the actual monkey, I don’t think). This was my Exhibit A (of many) in support of my haunting theory. It seemed to me that Mr. Monkey was in charge.

Probably he still is and probably that house is still haunted.

Which is why, during my online search for a rental home this summer, I carefully combed through all of Airbnb’s search filters, ensuring that I did not check any suspicious boxes described with any remotely troubling words. And if these words were already pre-checked due to some malevolent algorithm, I promptly unchecked them. “Desolate,” “Mysterious,” “Old Hunting Lodge,” “Used as a location for ‘Paranormal Activity’ movies,” and so on. Uncheck, uncheck, uncheck. Nothing but whistling robins and babbling brooks this trip. Whew.

So here we are, back in the Cooperstown area. I got up a bit early this am, and went for a short jog to town and back. I saw no other human beings walking or otherwise ambulating to, from, or in the town of Andes. This was actually a rather pleasant experience, allowing me to pause periodically and snap a photo or two of the Insta-worthy architecture and landscape. The yellow Victorian at the top of this post is a charming example of the local environs. Plus, I could pull out my iPhone and do this without the slightest hint of self-consciousness or concern that I might be invading someone’s privacy. Snap, jog, snap, jog.

Except that I did feel self-conscious near one particular photo stop. I had the unmistakeable feeling that I was being watched. Carefully. I spun my head around, saw nothing, no one, and continued on my way.

It was only later, when scrolling through my iPhotos over a coffee, that I caught a glimpse of something unnerving about that charming yellow Victorian…

And now I see that this time around, apparently, the Lady is in charge. Move over, Mr. Monkey. God help us. And I think I’m going to have to quit Airbnb.

Cooperstown, Take Two (This Time, I Am Ready).

It’s been four years since we last pointed our compasses 2,881 miles to the east, and made our way to baseball’s purported birthplace. The “birthplace” part is a stretch, since the idea that Abner Doubleday invented the sport in Cooperstown has been debunked (a long time ago, to be clear, not in the last four years). A hotel owner conjured up Baseball’s Hall of Fame (and likely played a part in germinating the Doubleday myth) as a much-needed shot in the arm for a local economy reeling from the double whammy of The Great Depression and Prohibition. The rest, as they say, is history. Well, actually there was plenty of history before “the rest,” so perhaps more accurately, “the rest” is a sublime monument to the history that transpired before the Hall’s construction, and to that which has transpired since. And to that which transpires, still. This weekend, in fact, marks the annual rite by which the newly-elected cohort of mostly recently-retired major leaguers are inducted into the Hall with great fanfare.

This weekend also marks my family’s return to an out-of-the-way Airbnb rental house for a climactic youth baseball tournament. We weren’t ready then. 2014 saw my eldest son Max, (The Kraken), trot around on the field with knickers and red socks (not “sox”), and turn 13 when he blew out the candles on a birthday cake my wife had clandestinely carried into the ballpark. I suppose we hadn’t planned ahead with sufficient foresight to avoid some serious rule-breaking (“ABSOLUTELY NO OUTSIDE FOOD ALLOWED!”) with that birthday cake. I believe the statute of limitations on that clear transgression has run. But to be safe, this time around, we are taking our act down the road a bit, to a different ballpark tournament altogether. Because we are better prepared.

Moreover, we have ensured that our youngest son Everett (he of the infrequently brushed teeth), has no expectations regarding any illicit pastries. There are no looming birthdays (nor forgotten birthdays) or other holidays that might otherwise force his mother and I to give in to our baser parenting instincts, Americana baseball field rules be-damned. If Ev sneaks verboten items into his little dormitory (and this is not a very big if), that’s on him. I have deliberately avoided reading through the printed tournament rules carefully, dodging direct confrontation with any prohibitions associated with candy or soda or PlayStations or Fortnite or whatever. I have therefore managed to arrive on the east coast armed with plausible deniability. And I aim to preserve this status. Printed Tournament Rules? What Printed Tournament Printed Rules? Yessir. 2018–Everett’s turn at Cooperstown–will be different. Because this time, I am ready.

This means that I am better prepared for on-the-fly, unexpected developments that might occur away from the environs of the baseball diamond, too. During our last visit, I spied across a restaurant a fraternity brother whom I hadn’t seen in 25 years. This might seem a joyous occasion, but for the rather unfortunate fact that I could not for the life of me recall his actual name. Only his pledge name came to mind. And as is the case with most if not all pledge names, this would not be a pleasant moniker to deliver up at his dinner table as he sat surrounded by his wife and children, no matter how big I forced my smile. I interrupt his reverie out of the blue to remind him of some unflattering physical characteristics rather cruelly called-out a quarter century ago by only slightly older college kids who were themselves still stinging from once being similarly called out and therefore overly eager to pass along this lovely tradition. No, I couldn’t bear to perpetuate this jackassery of my younger self now that I sat at a restaurant as a grown man.

But I still couldn’t remember his name, no matter what sorts of memory tricks I anxiously sprinted through in my mind. No matter how many random first names my wife stage-whispered to me in a generous but totally-unhelpful attempt to come to my rescue (there are a lot of names, you see). I saw my fraternity-brother-without-a-name go through the motions of paying his bill and begin to gather his rental car keys and progeny. I struggle to stifle my increasing panic at the prospect of drawing a blank. An absolute blank on his name when he would pass my table and see my face on his way out to resume his presumably happy life during which no one called attention to any unflattering (or flattering, for that matter) physical characteristics. Reaching under the table cloth, I furtively text another fraternity brother who lives in Reno, whose pledge name and real name I have not forgotten, and who I knew would instantly recall our younger fraternity brother’s given name. “What is Knuckle Dragger’s real name?” I text him this with absolutely no context. There is no time for context. “Phil,” my savior texts me back almost immediately, just as “Knuckle Dragger/Phil” (neither his real name nor his real pledge name) obliviously approaches my table. This last-minute reprieve via an absurd text message exchange allowed me 2 or 3 seconds to compose myself, stand up, and magnanimously greet him (by his real name) as if we were the best of friends.

“Phil” was dumbstruck, literally appearing to be in shock, and maybe just maybe sufficiently flattered that he might forget his “Knuckle Dragger” mistreatment at my hands and those of other slightly-older college kids 25 years ago, each of us overly eager to leave the sting of our own pledge names and unflattering characteristics behind. After a few minutes, we parted ways and I sat back down at my table, emotionally exhausted, having narrowly averted disaster due to a lack of preparation.

This time around, during our trip in Cooperstown, I am better prepared. I will be shouldering a heavy backpack containing every grade school and junior high school and high school and college and law school yearbook I could gather up over the past four years. The pages are taped and flagged and referenced and cross-referenced with classmates long-forgotten but who may pop up with their own baseball-playing son, having made their own pilgrimage to this Mecca of baseball. This time around, for Cooperstown Take Two, I am ready. Wish me luck.

I (Still) Got a Woman.



So this morning I’m sitting on my bed, back propped up with pillows, cranking away at my keyboard, as I have been for the last several weeks-worth of mornings just like this one.  I’m busily transcribing the chicken-scratched edits from a hard copy of my book manuscript, clicking “save” more than is probably necessary, as I am terrified of losing the 260 or so digital pages comprising this memoir that have been over a year in-the-making. And I am in full-on “racing mode,” rather than “creative mode.” It’s as though I am working with someone else’s words rather than my own. So I am not being delicate and emotive here.  I just want to finish typing all the damned edits into the Word doc, like yesterday. Because (although she doesn’t know it yet), a certain famous author will soon have my manuscript pressed into her hands, buttonholed into service by some very helpful friends we share in common (Hi Kelly!). Truth be told, these are more accurately described as my wife’s helpful friends. My own connection to the to-be-conscripted author is rather tenuous (Hi Kelly!). So this is the harried state in which I find myself this morning when I turn to the manuscript’s next page and stumble upon a scene I wrote that transpired exactly 4 years ago today:  On our wedding anniversary.  Woah woah woah, hang on a second, people! Of course I haven’t forgotten about our wedding anniversary; I never do.  But I hadn’t paused yet to savor it. And this sort of thing is definitely worth savoring. So I figured this would be a good time for such a pause to savor. A good time to remind myself how lucky I am to (still) be married to my wife. And a good time to re-post something I wrote four years ago, but that could just as well have been written today (with the addition of a few links here and there for context) —


I bolt awake at 4:00 am. The Kraken has a baseball tournament in Sunnyvale, the first game of which begins at 8 am. Show up time is 7:00 am. The drive will take an hour. We’ll need to be on the road by 6:00 am. Raising Max from his slumber will take 5 minutes. Tyga’s “Rack City” is my go-to “wakeup” song (not to be confused with “walkup” song) with Max. Guaranteed to jumpstart his sleepy head and elicit some questionable hip-hop moves involving thrusting hips that I should probably forbid. Scrambling around the house collecting all the pieces of Max’s uniform will take 15 minutes. This despite my orders last night to have everything packed, zipped, and ready to go. Net, net, this all means a 5:30 am wake-up call. It’s only 4:00 am now, I see. But I slip out from under the covers anyhow, taking inventory on various aches and pains exacerbated by a night’s sleep that has come up short by a couple hours. This is how I begin the morning of Hilary and my 17th wedding anniversary.

This is what my life has come to. And I can’t imagine it any other way.

We’ve had a rough year, of sorts. Family and friends have passed away. I’ve endured several months of being considerably less than 100% myself. We have weathered a handful of bitter disappointments. Slights real and slights imagined. All of which has served to give me perhaps the deepest and broadest perspective on my marriage, and on my life for that matter, that I’ve managed to feel thusfar in my 45 years.

The lemonade–Grandma’s Lemonade–is tasting pretty good.  Still. Even with the wooden mixing spoon picked up off the floor, particles of dirt stirred in there. Maybe a long black dog hair entwined around one of the ice cubes. A few too many lemon seeds swirling around. One of which tries to ruin my sip by jumping into my thirsty mouth along with a big gulp. Gonna need to try harder than that, seed.

So yeah, I’m feeling thankful this morning, 17 years to the day from when Hilary first showed me how much stronger and tougher she is than I. She strode purposefully down the red-carpeted aisle. Standing tall. Clear-eyed. Solid. I, on the other hand, was a puddle. Tears welled up in my eyes rendering me nearly blind, blinking and squinting to keep my burning eyes trained on my approaching bride-to-be. My throat so tight. Had I spoken aloud during her proud walk, Kermit the Frog’s voice would have come out. At best. My mind reeled, as it would years later when our babies popped out in the delivery room (and years later again when my innards were gripped by the elevation and exposure at Angel’s Landing in Zion). It was all I could do to keep my feet and not topple over.

And things only got worse during the ceremony itself. My Best Man had the foresight to bring along something should I need to wipe my brow or corral a cough. Since this was the same guy who bought the Alien Head for $5, perhaps I should have known that that something would be a wad of hotel toilet paper rather than, say, a situationally-appropriate linen hanky monogrammed with something undeniably masculine.  So there I stood, sweat dripping into my burning, bloodshot eyes overflowing with tears. My cheeks blushing red and feeling like they were on fire. Little pieces of hotel toilet paper clinging to my face as I swabbed myself repeatedly in a desperate attempt to keep my shit together.

Probably being in the House of God and all that stuff did not help. I’ve always managed to feel profoundly uncomfortable there (you may recall the 10th Grade Spurious Communion Incident). Never knowing what to do with my hands, either–probably clasped in front, maybe folded behind my back, but I don’t think in my pockets, probably not in my pockets, no definitely not, get your hands out of your pockets! In this wretched state, I glance at Hilary. Her eyes hold mine. Her smile so calm and confident and comfortable. Her right hand squeezing my left just a bit harder now. Not too hard, though; not really a “keep your shit together” squeeze.  And nowhere near the knuckle-crunching vice grip she would deliver as Max came into the world a few years later.  Rather, just enough pressure to push some of her abundant strength and resolve into me. And somehow, I pull through. Depleted. Drained. Spent. Tapped out.  Sweaty red face dotted with toilet paper pieces.  In the end, I made it. Sure. But only because of her.

I mentioned it’s been a rough year. This is when Hilary is at her best, you see. Our wedding day was just my first glimpse of that truth. So during this recent tough patch of ours, she remains: Unwavering. Loyal. Her hand literally or figuratively squeezing mine. Squeezing all of our hands–my hands as well as those of our sons now, too.  And Wailea’s fuzzy paw, even. She’s got us all.

So these are the warm thoughts in my head as I return to Earth and find that I will be forced to sprint across the chewing tobacco-stained and sunflower seed-littered parking lot in order to catch the start of Max’s 8 am game.

Maybe not exactly the sort of anniversary Hilary had in mind.

Then again, maybe exactly the kind of anniversary she had in mind, because I’m spending the morning with our first-born. His birth was the second time Hilary showed me how much stronger and tougher she is than I. So it seems fitting today that I get to sit and just watch Max zip around the field for the next few hours. One of several amazing things in our life together, the product of our union 17 years ago today.

Happy Anniversary, my love. And please keep squeezing my hand.