Author: kjbeadling

About kjbeadling

mission-driven entrepreneur, dad, husband, little league coach, teacher, happy warrior, dukie, bay swimmer, composter/recycler, former lawyer, blogger-maybe not in that order.

Bang the (Droopy Ear) Drum Slowly

It’s rare, in my limited experience, to fail a hearing test and to insult a rockstar in the space of a single day. But I achieved both of these ignoble feats just yesterday.

Ignoble Feat #1: My right ear cannot detect low rumblings. This would be a good thing, if by “low rumblings” I meant the kind uttered by my 13 year-old son when he spies the dreaded–but healthy, damnit, so healthy–purple mashed cauliflower on his dinner plate. I really wish I were deaf to those complaints. Alas, my aural shortcoming is of the decibel- and frequency-detecting variety. Despite my best attempts, dizzy from holding my breath in that vaguely claustrophobic, carpeted room that felt like something in a life-sized in a doll house, I could not for the life of me pick up a series of beeps in the lower register. At least not with my right ear. At least that is what I was told afterwards. I couldn’t actually hear the beeps, so how do I really know the beeps existed? I mean, if a beep beeps but nobody hears it….

Turns out I have something called a “droopy eardrum.” I blushed a little when the ear doctor spoke these words. As if I had failed to do something. Let myself go. Ignored some age-old advice about life from an elderly relative somewhere down the line. “Laddy, whatever you do, keep up them firm eardrums, don’t let ’em droop.” I’m still a bit confused about the condition. Whether it is here to stay for as long as I am here to stay. Or maybe I should try acupuncture. Maybe, but I don’t like the sound of, “Hi, I’m here to see the acupuncturist about my droopy eardrum.” And I also don’t like the words “puncture” and “eardrum” to sit in such close proximity. God I love this getting older thing.

Ignoble Feat #2: I cursed a bonafide rockstar last night. I don’t know if he heard me, but I definitely swore at him. The drummer for Metallica. He made the mistake of double-parking his SUV just behind my little Prius at the bus stop in such a way that his headlights shone brightly in my eyes. With my hearing now apparently shot, this behavior eliminated my sight, effectively leaving me with only a couple senses remaining. And I didn’t think I could rely on my sense of smell to ascertain whether the school bus had pulled up a block behind me. “Diesel fuel. Is that diesel fuel?” Nor did I fancy the prospect of crawling on my hands and knees along the darkened side street, searching with my outstretched fingers for a bus wheel or for my 13 year-old’s Nikes as he hopped onto the sidewalk along with his schoolmates who are probably also wearing Nikes.

So I was piqued. A little irritated, when I stepped out of my Prius and muttered (another low rumbling?), “Thanks for the high beams, jackass” in the direction of the SUV’s silhouetted and therefore anonymous driver. Making no attempt to hide my agitation.

When I returned to my car with my son and his Nikes in-tow, I glanced up to see Lars Ullrich, Metallica’s drummer, engaged in a genuinely charming display of domesticity, piling a couple mussed-haired kiddos into his SUV. I think he was even doing someone a favor, picking up another family’s child at the late bus stop. We made eye contact. I froze a little as Lars looked up and he said, pleasant as pleasant can be, “Hey,” before closing his hatchback like an outstanding dad and upstanding citizen.

Fortunately, he used his upper register with this casual greeting. Had he spoken in a lower voice, the remaining strain of adrenaline coursing through my veins would have combined with my newfound inability to hear what he actually said. I would likely have assumed that Lars lobbed a proportionately responsive invective in my direction. Met fire with fire. Jackass with jackass. God knows what would have happened, but for sure we both would have ended up in the newspapers. “Droopy-Eared Dad Pounded by Drummer in School Bus Stop Altercation.” That type-thing.

Fortunately, I heard Lars right, and I responded appropriately, with a quick “Hey, how you doin’?” Shuffling toward my Prius, I really really really hoped he hadn’t heard me call him a jackass 30 seconds ago. I briefly considered walking right past my parked Prius, to eliminate any supposition that I was its driver. Jackass? Who said anything about a jackass?

Or maybe I could fall back on my deafness, blame the whole thing on some sort of misunderstanding brought on by foolishly letting myself go in regards to the shape of my right eardrum. Probably Lars would have said something about how you should always wear earplugs. Maybe he would vouch for the acupuncture or tell me to steer clear of it altogether. I guess I’ll never know.

Regardless, Lars, please accept my humble apologies. The only jackass in our situation was the guy with the droopy eardrum. And he’d had quite a day.

Thanks for reading.

A Sleigh Full of Toys, and Satan too.

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Last night, my wife and I settled our brains for a long winter’s nap (though she wore no kerchief and I wore no cap).  Then on the bedside iPhone, there arose such a clatter. Shortly before dawn, one son called unexpectedly, his parents bolt upright, and ask what’s the matter.  Away through the garage, my wife flew in a flash.  Our dog was whining. If we waited any longer, it’ll be more than just gas.  I heard our 7th grader shuffle to the shower, and thought “Uh oh.” Because I had no frickin’ idea where we’d hid his GoPro. 

Everett turned 13 today, you see. And we had to make him feel as though his parents are good parents.  Thoughtful parents. This despite the gobsmacking associated with now being the parents of two teenagers.  On top of the daily chaos around here. 

For weeks, we refused Everett’s outrageous demands that we purchase something supercilious. Wreaking of consumerism. Totally absent in third-world countries (from which neither my wife nor I came). And likely to trigger well-deserved childhood spankings in first world countries (from which both my wife and I came).  Perhaps we imagined knitting Everett a sweater. Or writing him a long letter filled with witticisms  regarding what we remember about being 13 year-olds. Life lessons. Perhaps an elaborately-choreographed birthday party with his buddies.  Maybe an aardvark or boa constrictor or koala bear from the zoo would be involved. Maybe they would not. (I don’t think our zoo has koala bears.) I had written up to-do lists on top of to-do lists with all sorts of bespoke, Rockwellian birthday gifts–nay, birthday experiences–we would bring to fruition this year. 

OK, so we got him the damned GoPro.

We never planned for Everett’s birthday to fall during the Holiday Season.  I’d like to point that out as one perfectly legitimate excuse for our annual failure properly to observe the passage of another year in Everett’s existence.

But then again, we don’t observe the Holidays very well, either, apparently.  Earlier this week, as I was making something truly fantastic and astoundingly healthy for his breakfast while half-listening to a news segment on KQED, Everett betrayed our family’s Holiday Ignorance. “Oh my God, they just mispronounced ‘Satanic’ as ‘Saintanick.'”  I don’t know what it says about me as a parent that Everett’s brain went right for “Satanic” instead of “St. Nick” as we sit here just a couple weeks from Christmas.  We have a Christmas tree in the living room.  Everett has seen it.  (Now you have, too.) I have been playing on repeat a 147-song “Beadling Xmas” Spotify playlist since the day after Thanksgiving.  Everett has heard it.  I know he has heard it because he has complained about it regularly.  Several times he has screamed at it from the other room, “Alexa! Pause! Off! Off!” We even have the stockings hung by the chimney, with care (more or less). 

And yet, Everett thinks Satan before Santa.  Satan before Saint Nicholas.  My son, raised in a den of devil-worshipping

And now, with this new, high-definition camera of his, we have unwittingly armed him with the means to record for posterity the pagan free-for-all evidently going down in our household. He is probably narrating an all-school presentation right now as I type. With full photographic, slow-motion, high-definition evidence of our shameful parenting.  I would like to think that I’m exaggerating on this score.  Come on, that’s ridiculous, right? We walked him to his bus stop like any other day, without the slightest hint that anything was amiss. By the time we cover those 2 blocks from our house to the gaggle of other moms and dads and kids and dogs, we are good parents once again. 

But I heard him exclaim, ere his school bus drove out of sight. “Happy Christmas to all, you’ll be visited by Child Services tonight!” 

Thanks for reading (oh, and Happy Birthday, buddy).   

The World’s Worst Dad

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God I suck.

That statement holds true for so many of my attributes.  So many that if I were to run through the entire list, I would completely blow through the remaining “Premium Subscription” digital storage generously allocated to me by WordPress.  Probably an accurate accounting of my self-loathing would short-circuit whatever server bears the unpleasant task of capturing and holding all of my drivel. Some nondescript warehouse in Bangladesh would later be identified as the epicenter in a country-wide blackout.  “The Lemonade Chronicles” latest blog post–in which the blogger documents the myriad things at which he truly sucks–is the culprit, destroying the economy of an entire country.  The Official Incident Report later serves as one final, crowning testament regarding how much I really do suck.

I don’t want that, so I’ll limit the scope of my confessional today to the fact that I totally suck as a dad. This admission is especially painful since “being a dad” rolls reflexively from my lips or from my keyboard whenever I am called upon to introduce myself in some group setting. Or to update my Twitter profile so that the profile accurately reflects who I am.  Or more accurately, who I would like to think that I am.  

I basically turned my back on a promising legal career 18 years ago, in part, so that I could have more time to spend with my kids.  Maybe my legal career turned its back on me, but that is beside the point.  Maybe neither of my kids was even born yet, but that is precisely the point.  

I vividly recall shuffling through an unreasonably rainy and cold Napa Marathon in the winter of 2001, several months before I became a dad for the first time.  The race conditions were truly horrendous, and I endured primarily by listening to Marc Cohn’s “Things We’ve Handed Down (Don’t Know Much About You)” on a continuous loop on my mp3 player.  I cry each time the song hits an emotional crescendo as Cohn wonders about the child he has yet to meet.  What an odd and powerful thing, to love someone more than you thought possible, and that someone is someone you have never met. I put one water-logged sneaker in front of the other in order to instill pride in the chest of my unborn child. My someone. I keep running despite the pain in my knees and despite the rain that later turns out to have been sleet. I am gripped by the singer’s ode to the being in his wife’s belly.  Gripped by the hope that my son (or daughter, we didn’t know then) would be proud of me: His (or her) dad.

But no right-thinking person who has ever been in anyone’s belly, I fear, has good reason to be proud that I am their dad today. 

And Christ, I’ve been blogging about this whole parenting thing for nearly five years now, too. Literally hundreds of blog posts, most of which I real tag or hashtag “parenting” (when I remember to real tag or hashtag something). My Bangladeshi WordPress server practically choking on the sheer volume of missives I’ve written in an all out effort to convince myself and others that no greater dad could possibly exist on this, or any other, planet. I’ve even written a book on this stuff!

So it goes without saying that it really really really hurts to admit the truth of being a sucky dad. It is far easier to continue on with humble brags and delusions. But the guy I saw in my bathroom mirror this morning knows the truth: He sucks.

He sucks because, despite the fact that he should know better, over the last couple days he insisted that his younger son parade through a series of soul-robbing travel baseball team tryouts.  If his younger son didn’t quite seem to have the requisite zeal for this endeavor, that’s OK, because his dad would fill the void.  By carrot or stick, by hook or by crook, the son would step in line for the parade.  And he must step lively, with a determined expression on his face.  A faint smile that says “I live for this shit, bring it on!” Unblinking, laser eyes that say “I will work harder than anyone has ever worked in human history!  I am the living embodiment of hustle and grit and persistence and heart!”

He sucks because he insisted that the parade must go on, despite the fact that marching in lockstep likely caused longterm damage to his younger son’s respiratory system.  The entire State of California is embroiled in some of the worst wildfires in our history.  The air quality in the San Francisco Bay Area is worse than Beijing’s.  I have all the apps and the web pages that depict the parade grounds in a malevolent red.  That practically shout at we app users and web page viewers, “Do NOT go outdoors!  You will self-combust!  Have you not watched that scene with the greedy Nazi in “Raiders of the Lost Arc”?!” Yes, I’ve seen that scene.  I’ve seen it fairly recently.  I even wrote a report in 8th grade about the movie, and I think I singled out that scene in particular.  

I remember the report as if I wrote it yesterday, though I was only 12 or 13 at the time.  The same age of my younger son right now, as he is forced to dart back and forth and huff and puff and swing an expensive baseball bat as hard as the other players who are generally bigger and stronger and swinging baseball bats that are generally more expensive.  And to do this with a determined smile and with the proper body language, regardless of the fact that the Particle Count is demonstrably and unquestionably “Unhealthy.” Nearly as demonstrably and unquestionably unhealthy as my over-parenting. Or maybe it’s under-parenting.  Either way, it’s clear I suck. 

And the poor kid just had painful braces installed on his teeth a couple days ago.  His upper lip’s inside has been rubbed beyond raw.  I’m surprised I haven’t seen the orthodontic contraption protruding through his upper lip altogether, like some wiry, aluminum mustache.  (Actually, I don’t even know if the braces are made of aluminum–I suck too much as a father to have bothered to inquire about this particular detail.) The determined smile I have been agitating about and insisting upon–moving his lips in this manner literally sends of jolts of pain throughout my 12 year-old son’s body.  I realize that now.  But I was completely oblivious to this reality during the parade of tryouts. 

And I remember being annoyed, too, when during a break in yesterday’s parade Everett refused to smile broadly while standing next to a $122 Santa Claus (one of several scattered about) positioned near the CVS checkout aisle. I may have even muttered, “Smile, damnit, Everett” during the taking of this photo.  And he did, sort of. Rather than tell his overzealous father that complying with seemingly-innocuous instructions would cause him physical pain, Ev gamely rests his shoulder on Santa’s. As his upper lip is on fire and raw and bleeding. 

Rather than tell his helicoptering father that maybe he doesn’t want to try out for this team, or for that team. Or that maybe he wants to take a break from the sport for a few months. Or maybe forever.  Rather than give voice to those things, my son silently bears the brunt of my quixotic quest to prove that I am the World’s Greatest Dad.  Which of course means that, on this Monday morning, I must acknowledge I have revealed myself, yet again, as the opposite:  The World’s Worst Dad. 

On the plus side, thanks to the CVS Checkout Line Santa, it appears we are way ahead of schedule with our Annual Beadling Family Holiday Card.  That is, if we still did Annual Beadling Family Holiday Cards. I suck at that, too.  

Thanks for reading. 

These Pumpkins Aren’t Gonna Carve Themselves….

Is it possible to get Carpal Tunnel Syndrome from just a couple hours of feverish jack-o-lantern carving? I aim to find out.  A study of one.  Neither double-blind, nor peer-reviewed.  Well, I suppose I could make the argument that this here blog post meets the “peer reviewed” requirement.  So we are in this together, you and I.

Although, at the moment, I don’t see any pumpkin-carving implements in your hand. I wish I could say the same about myself. The dull throbbing in the forearm, near the elbow. The gnarled and clawed right hand akin to Dracula’s when casting a hypnotic spell. Telltale signs of Jack-o-Lantern-itus, a malady with which I alone, apparently, must contend.  

Because my child is lazy.  And so is yours.

In advance of my annual Haunted Halloween Backyard Party, I mean, my son Everett’s annual Haunted Halloween Backyard Party, I capitalized on a too-good-to-be-true pumpkin sale at my neighborhood Safeway.  First there was the sorting out of the math with the cashier (you can’t really carry 10 pumpkins into the checkout aisle; just one and ring up its sticker 10 times). Then I moved on to the dripping of sweat in the parking lot, marking the path from the enormous cardboard bin to my Prius’ cargo bay.  Fortunately, no one recognized me during this portion of my arduous endeavor.  What with all the sweating, the grunting, the duck-walking, and some grumbled curse words–all while shuffling in front of a steady stream of motor vehicles–I probably will need to patronize a different Safeway for awhile.

But I got my pumpkins, didn’t I. 

I then repeated the sweaty grunting duck walk from my garage to the backyard.  Placed the oversized gourds on sturdy benches, surrounded by a motley (but sharp) collection of cutting and poking and sawing tools that were specifically designed in China for this very purpose: Carving pumpkins for Halloween. I allowed myself a momentary proud smile after all 10 pumpkins were set out on display. Then I shuffled into the bathroom to eat a half-dozen Advils–no easy task getting that childproof lock untwisted with hands spent from schlepping a couple hundred pounds of pumpkins around the neighborhood.  

But this is a small price to pay.  Because I knew that in a few short hours, I would be basking in the adulation of all the grateful 12 and 13 year-olds gleefully partaking in an age-old Halloween tradition.  The boys would likely hoist me on their shoulders, parade around the neighborhood half-singing half-chanting some catchy little ditty from Fortnite but with words about me and my pumpkins.  Magic.  

But there was no magic. No basking in adulation.  No gleeful partaking.  No hoisting or parading or little ditty or words about me or about pumpkins. In the space of just one year, somehow the boys had effectively aged out of all of this. My wife wisely advised that I stay the hell away from the backyard.  Other than grabbing a piece of pizza or two and being called upon to plug back in whatever plug the dog had tripped whilst being hazed by the boys mid-movie, I took her advice.

Because it was terrifying down there. 

They blistered the air with swear words, trying (successfully) to impress each other with their robust vocabularies, gleaned from hours upon hours of watching older video gamers play video games on Twitch, I guess. Or maybe on Youtube, I don’t know.  I thought I had blocked anything like that on my kid’s phone so that he could never be exposed to these words. Every content-restricting toggle is toggled. I am happy to explain to him years down the road, when he comes home during his Spring Break from college, the meaning of words like “shit” and “ass.” Sure, he’ll be little behind the curve.  But I am a perfect parent; I can’t have my son’s mind polluted with that stuff at this tender age.   

I must have missed a toggle somewhere, because Everett (the titular host of this Haunted Halloween Backyard Party) strung together a string of profanities for his buddies unlike anything I’ve ever heard.  Standing in the dark near the pizza boxes, I froze. Then, I did what any right-thinking parent would do in this type of situation:  I grabbed another piece of pizza–without making a sound–and snuck back upstairs–also without making a sound. I did not want to be discovered, interloping in the dark, and find myself the subject of the next string of profanities. 

In light of what was going on back there, I had absolutely no business entertaining even a sliver of hope that my ten pumpkins would survive the night.  I fully expected them to be smashed to bits all over the place.  I had already constructed in my mind the heartfelt apology texts I would for sure need to deliver to my neighbors the next morning. They would be unhappy when they awoke to find catapulted and splintered gourds littering their own yards. Worse yet, as I sat on the couch upstairs with the other adults watching the World Series, I privately wondered whether the pumpkin-carving tools made in China would be (foreseeably) misused (on each other) by these boys made in America.  I topped off my wine glass, hoping to bring to a halt the parade of horribles marching toward its logical conclusion in my head. 

Eventually, the party wound down, the kids were picked up, and the pumpkins–miracle of miracles–were unharmed.  Untouched, for the most part.  It’s way easier to cartwheel around the yard screaming “bastard!” at the top of one’s lungs than it is to cut the top off of one’s pumpkin, apparently.  I suspect I do indeed owe a neighbor or two a contrite email or two about a salty word overheard or two, but other than that, I suppose the party was a success.  And now that the throbbing in my elbow has subsided, I see that I still have 6 more jack-o-lanterns that need slicing and dicing.  After all, these pumpkins aren’t gonna carve themselves.

Thanks for reading.

No Sleep Till Hamilton.

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We just returned from visiting The Kraken at his high school on the east coast. Every year as Parents Weekend approaches and my wife coordinates the flights and related logistics, I fail miserably. 

I fail miserably to comprehend the magnitude of the impact the “Here is your itinerary for your upcoming trip!” Jet Blue auto-email will have on my aging body and mind. 

Perhaps the failure here is not in the comprehending, but in the remembering.  I have forgotten or maybe repressed how brutally the redeye ravages my circadian rhythm.  I foolishly purchased one of those blow-up travel sleeping pillow thingies a few weeks back, as if that would somehow make things perfectly cool.  As we taxied down the SFO runway, I knowingly overdosed on melatonin, jammed blue foam earplugs so deeply into my ear canals that those canals may never return to their former shape, and flirted with passing out while hyperventilating into the blow up pillow to achieve the perfect inflation point.  I stopped forcing everything I had in my lungs into the black monstrosity (which smelled very much like the plastic inner tubes my childhood buddies and I careened down Syracuse’s snowy Reservoir) only when my eustachian tubes crackled alarmingly and I realized that I would momentarily burst the majority of the blood vessels in my eyeballs. 

Satisfied with the device’s turgidity, I then spent the next hour or so wrestling with the contraption.  I abandoned any sense of dignity within the first 5 minutes of this epic battle.  My wife rolled her eyes the moment I pulled the to-be-inflated pillow from its little case in my backpack.  (I abandoned any sense of dignity with her years ago.) But I felt the intense heat of my fellow passengers’ stares and judgment all over me as I grappled with this chemical off-gassing bastard likely mutating my DNA strands every time I took another big inhale and wrapped my arms around or inside or all twisted up like an improperly-performed Bikram Yoga Eagle Pose.   Nothing worked. We landed in Boston several hours later, and I hadn’t done anything even remotely close to sleeping. I was wired and exhausted.  And of course I stupidly combatted that with a giant Dunkin Donuts coffee.

My body clock and I are no longer on speaking terms, at least for the foreseeable future.  It will require several days to recover some semblance of an equilibrium. My immune system is laughing at me. If I don’t succumb to whatever super-virulent strain of the flu is making its rounds in San Francisco over the next few days, it will be a medical miracle. 

And of course it is all so totally worth it. 

I will forget about the awful redeye again next year.  I will bravely do battle with the chromosome-bending and eustachian tube-blowing inflatable airplane “pillow.” I will embrace my starring role in other passengers’ “you’re never gonna believe what this jackass was doing on my flight” dinner table conversation the next day. 

I will do all of these things. 

But not because of the cherished moments in full Fall Foliage regalia with our 17 year-old son whom we see so infrequently that it hurts my heart to type these words.  Nah.  Rather, it was worth it because the state of my sleep-addled reptilian brain led directly to landing, at long last, a pair of tickets to “Hamilton!” Had my body not been completely out of whack on Sunday night (as my wife snored blissfully next to me), I wouldn’t have been numbly scrolling through emails and tweets and Instagram posts at the exact moment that the online lottery email snuck in and told me: At 1:00am EST, that it is “my turn” after waiting in a digital line all day and behind (literally) 95,000 other people waiting to buy the same tickets! Bleary-eyed but nimble-fingered, I found some dates that worked, gritted my teeth a bit at the prices, and pulled the trigger.    

So you see, this sleep deprivation is working great for me.  So I’m gonna stick with it, see where it takes me. At least until Parents Weekend 2019 rolls around. 

Thanks for reading. 

Heady Halloween Times at the Road Kill Grill

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I love this time of year.  Even living in the Bay Area, where the changes of season are so subtle that they don’t seem like changes at all.  I play a game in my mind:  Drop me anywhere around San Francisco — blindfolded and ignorant as to the actual date on the calendar — and I seriously doubt I’d be able to divine the month to which I’ve been transported.  No telltale “fall foliage” to speak of.  No markedly lowered air temperatures.  This could be April or August or January, really, let alone two weeks before Halloween. So over the past two decades in California, I’ve learned to mark the autumnal Halloween season by manufacturing my own signals.

The other day, I dragged out from hiding our blue plastic bins with the curled masking tape bearing “HALLOWEEN” in faded marker (written, by the way, in a hand I don’t recognize as belonging to anyone in my immediate family, which is disconcerting). These important boxes have collected only a year’s-worth of dust in the corner of our garage, but in that year I have totally forgotten the details of my Halloween Decorations Master Plan. Fortunately, I can now lean on my 12 year-old’s increasing powers of recollection when it comes to how many red-eyed ghouls are to be hung in the vines of the rose bushes in the driveway, where the styrofoam tombstone with the “RIP” fits and where the styrofoam tombstone shaped like a cross fits, and how many lengths of purple plug-in patio lights are required to generate the proper creepy hue in our upstairs patio.  

We have made our annual pilgrimage up and over to the Noe Valley novelty store that stocks the ceramic Halloween Village pieces we have accumulated over the years.  By now, fully three good-sized shelves in our living room and dining room feature a Witches Brew Pub, a Screamville carnival attraction with a terrifying raspy-voiced clown’s demented rants on a loop, a Road Kill Grill operated out of what appears to be a filthy, old, converted school bus, and a Hemoglobin Blood Bank.  This Bank is one of the recent additions, and I just noticed that it has two 50-gallon drums positioned near the front of the stairs which purport to contain “Jumbo Leeches.” Every year when we visit, the novelty store owners make noises behind the counter about how the Halloween Village company will soon stop making all of these pieces that I count on to mark the season.  The store owners will be fine (they have tons of socks with swear words and silicone kitchen gadgets and cute little dog leashes to pay their rent); I will be lost without this yearly tradition. 

And I think the store owners were serious this year, too, because they had a stack of Village pieces piled on a card table on the sidewalk in front of their store.  Historically during this shopping trip, my wife and I demonstrate for our children important, time-honored principles of patience and discipline. We roam the aisles and slap reaching hands, lecturing a little bit about how good things come to those who wait, and so forth.  This year, however, we descended on Just for Fun & Scribbledoodles like a pack of wild dogs.  We bought just about every single damned one of those Halloween Village pieces.  Some of them I didn’t even really like. The “Into Our Hands” horse-drawn mortuary stage coach doesn’t even have lights that flicker or the sounds of horse hooves clomping or anything.  Nevertheless, it took 3 people to schlep all the boxes to our car, and our car’s trunk gobbled them up (the boxes, not the people). 

And by now we’ve sent out the Paperless Post digital invites for my, I mean, my son Everett’s annual “Backyard Graveyard” Halloween Party. The backyard is not a big one, so the guest list is severely restricted to just a handful of his classmates. But the party-set up will not be severely restricted by anything.  No sir.  I will spike a dozen strobe lights scattered around so that the entire yard appears to be on fire.  I will plug in a fog machine, fill it with fog machine fluid, and trigger period eruptions to “oohs and aahs.” I will do this even though the dog will go crazy and try to bite the fog machine. I will assemble a 15-foot high movie screen tethered to our wooden fence, one side of which is leaning so precariously that a local fence company is on call to install some emergency fence support posts.  Assuming the movie screen doesn’t catch a gust of wind and collapse our fence before it is emergency-supported, I will project on that billowing screen a movie that is suitably horrifying for a gaggle of 12 year-old boys (who think they are up for a horrifying movie and even insist that they are but I know they really aren’t). 

I should add that I had planned on the traditional “Bobbing for Apples” activity (partly because the really nice silver champagne bucket we got from Pottery Barn otherwise sees pretty much zero action).  But Everett — who has been studying biology at school via a unit on germs one encounters every day — put the kibosh on the bobbing this year.  He pointed out that boys repeatedly plowing their heads into a bucket of water and chewing and spitting apples is probably a good way to pass germs back and forth. I can’t argue with this, so I’ll need to come up with some alternative activity to fill the gap between carving pumpkins and watching “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” (I’m just kidding about the “Chainsaw Massacre.” I mean, I think it’s based on a true story, but we will not be watching it. At least not this year….).

I know that at some point, our still-growing Halloween Village will contract. Our faux granite tombstones will not lie scattered about our driveway bushes.  The most recent edition of “Master Everett’s Backyard Graveyard Party” will be the last one.  No more fog machines. The kids will lose interest.  Or my wife will grow weary of playing this game with me every year when Halloween Month rolls around.  Or maybe she or I won’t be able to muster the courage to ascend the step ladder and teeter on its top step in order to pull the Village pieces and hanging ghouls from the storage closet’s high shelves. 

Thinking about the day when I can no longer mark the season this way is terrifying; far more frightening than any jump scares my fog machine and red-eyed driveway ghouls could deliver up.  But today is not that day. So in the meantime, I’m gonna belly up to the Road Kill Grill.  I hear the “Rack of Rodent” is rather fresh today. 

Happy Halloween.  And thanks for reading. 

Runnin’ on Empty.

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I’d like to claim that the subjects of these blog posts arise only after I wrestle like Houdini in a strait jacket during the night’s darkest hours. While the rest of the world sleeps, the veins in my beet-red forehead pop to the surface, pulsating with creative energy that threatens to tear me asunder. But the truth is, sometimes these blog posts practically write themselves.

Take yesterday, for example.

Due to some unexpected free time and my ongoing need to fill a still-painful void where “Little League Baseball Coach” used to be, I volunteered to serve as a race marshal at my son Everett’s middle school cross-country meet.  The venue–Paradise Beach Park–is probably the most accurately named swath of open space ever named in recorded history.  Who wouldn’t want to high-five a couple hundred, fresh-faced 12 and 13 year-olds on a beautiful Fall afternoon with a panoramic view of San Francisco Bay in the eyes and the pungent smell of non-native plants in the nose? I ran breathlessly to the shared Google Sheet, desperate to claim my volunteer spot before someone else deprived me of this autumnal Americana. Me me me! Pick me! Pick me!

Perhaps I should have recognized all the empty spreadsheet cells where parents’ names should have been as an omen, rather than as merely the latest indication of my role as the best father on the planet.  

Omen Number Two was the bus.  I anticipated–and had mentally prepared myself for this all day–a kidney-pulverizing jaunt on a yellow school bus.  Rather, the parking lot featured a snazzy, oversized, luxury cruiser. Like the kind I would travel across the country in with my band if I had a band and the band needed to travel across the country. And if my band could afford to do that in an oversized luxury cruiser.  I looked for the eyes of the half-dozen other parent volunteers poised to board this behemoth, wondering if they, too, harbored visions of careening over a cliff and smashing on rocks and fireballs and the evening TV news.  But none of them betrayed any hint of dying within the next 10 minutes or so in a completely predictable way.  So like a sheep, I plodded up the stairs, said “hello” to the bus driver who I knew would soon be delivering us screaming and barrel-rolling to the bottom of a ravine, and slid into my plush seat.   

The 2- or 3-mile drive lasted somewhere between 15 minutes and 3 hours. Time stretches and compresses and stretches and compresses during stressful experiences, apparently.  The windshield, already bearing a flatscreen TV-sized-and shaped-crack on the driver’s side, thwacked a dozen tree branches overhanging the swerving curves.  Actually, “overhanging” is generous.  Arguably, these impediments stood well clear of the road, and the municipality tree-trimming crews who seasonally cut back the foliage would never have anticipated this sort of beating. But the moms in front of me kept on chatting, the kids behind me kept screaming and/or gossiping, and the bus driver did not appear to be panicking or laughing or otherwise revealing anything disconcerting. I know this because with every “smack” of a branch, I took a quick inventory of the people around me.

That is, when I wasn’t totally consumed with craning my neck to see how far into the oncoming lane we had intentionally veered to navigate a corner. Typically a blind corner, no less. I tried to exercise some control over the situation. So I launched into lecturing Everett (sitting next to me, mindlessly playing some sort of video game on his iPhone with his legs crossed) about how, “when you start driving, this bus is what you should be expecting to find suddenly right in front of your bumper every time you turn around a blind corner.”  “OK, Dad,” was all that Ev gave me, refusing to compromise his assault on some apparently-important high score. 

Ultimately, the luxurious tour bus successfully wound its way to Paradise Beach Park, though there were some tense moments as the driver bent the laws of physics and psychology in order to negotiate a final turn that a luxurious tour bus such as this had no business negotiating.  So I stepped off the bus happy to be alive, taking in the aforementioned panoramic view and pungent scent of all the non-native flora. The pungent scent of all the native fauna shuffling off the bus after me in running shorts, however, was a different matter altogether.  Nevertheless, I was ready to do my duty, poke my head and arms through the lime green course marshal’s vest, and take up my mission-critical position. 

The girls’ race started first. From my spot high up a hill, I could clearly see the line of them winding their way up towards my mission-critical position.  I could also see three deer, one of whom had an enormous set of antlers, also watching the runners head in their direction. Let’s call this Omen Number Three. As is the case with just about everything, I began assembling the pieces for this particular parade of horribles, fast-forwarding in my mind to the worst-case scenario: Pamplona at Paradise Beach Park.  I tried to stifle my anxious visions, mumbling under my breath, Look, the lot of us didn’t tumble down and explode in fiery ball at the Bay’s edge, so nothing awful is going to happen here either.  Shut up shut up, Jesus, shut up, would you? (I wasn’t actually referring to Jesus here, just deploying that word as a point of emphasis to myself.)

But as the girls approached the trail that now separated the two Bambi-looking deers from the increasingly-agitated buck with the antlers evolved to intimidate and gore and maim, the Running of the Bulls began to take shape.  The big buck’s head darted around nervously. He pounced around some low gullies fueled by panic or territoriality or both or something, then exploded up and through the unsuspecting group of huffing and puffing and now screaming girls.  I don’t know how the deer picked its way through or over a dozen 12 and 13 year-olds without spearing any of them, but it did.  I half-expected to see a number of the runners approach my mission-critical position 2 minutes hence with race jerseys bearing evidence of grievous bodily injury.  Nothing.  Just a gaggle of middle school girls sprinting down a hill and around my corner, then running on down over the rest of the course.  Then doing it again for a second time, but this time a loop thankfully without the deers. 

The girls finished their race.  And the boys–including Everett–finished theirs. All without further incident. 

Of course during the luxury tour bus ride to school, I peered over the edge of several steep embankments, calculating both the number of seconds it would take the bus to smash onto the rocks at the bottom and how long before the Coast Guard and TV news helicopters would find us.  But there would be no helicopters. 

Twenty minutes later, I stepped back onto the school’s parking lot pretty much depleted. Adrenals squeezed empty from living through the various imagined scenarios of my death, as well as that of all of the kids or just some of the kids, depending upon the scenario.  For their part, the kids were totally fine.  With all of it.  Right back to strategizing about Halloween costumes, homework, and the approaching weekend. 

And so, all is well in the world, I guess. 

But I don’t think I’ll be quite so quick to volunteer for the next meet.  

Thanks for reading. 

Quotidian Oblivion

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I should be thrilled with my lot in life this morning. Instead, as of 10:30 am, I’m roiled in consternation, embarrassment, and even shame.

Where to begin? I’m a 50 year-old white man.  Although my first home was in a trailer park in a depressed Upstate New York town, I have lived for the past 20 years in San Francisco’s tony Marina District–one of the more expensive real estate markets in the country.  I’m arguably a product of elite schools, too: Duke University, CWRU Law School, Babson’s FW Olin Business School classes. I was an active and enthusiastic member of a 150 year-old fraternity in college. My wife is also a product of elite undergraduate and graduate schools.  And we have chosen to send both of our sons to private schools here and on the east coast.  Those schools are undoubtedly “elite,” as well.

I haven’t done the math, but I expect that my family sits firmly within the 1% of US household income earners.  This is due, by the way, to the fact that my wife has continued her daily commutes to a stable downtown law practice, long after my own legal career took a sharp left-hand turn into entrepreneurial endeavors; ventures that make for interesting cocktail conversation, but that hardly made a dent in our family’s net worth.  More recently, I’ve also taken some “time off” in which to write a book (my first), and the challenging process of securing an agent and publishing house will take even more time.

Still, slipping open the envelopes containing our 401(k) statements every quarter reveals a growing nest egg, as the stock market continues its bullish run.  Our kids’ crooked teeth are straightening thanks to orthodontics.  And to good dental insurance. Any illnesses with which we have struggled have been overcome thanks to our easy access to second and third medical opinions. And to good health insurance.  The people who reside under my roof are happy and healthy, by any objectively reasonably measure. 

And today is a day I have looked forward to for weeks. For months. For years, really, since this milestone has been on my horizon for some time.  

Early this month, my wife and I scheduled a small get together to celebrate with friends my recent 50th birthday. That get together is tonight.  I should be unabashedly and unreservedly excited about tonight. But now it feels like a selfish and narcissistic endeavor.  I raise a glass to 50 years of good fortune with my friends tonight, while others continue to strain under the pernicious–and ongoing–effects of racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, etc.  At the top of my to-do list this morning sits a need to throw together a proper Spotify party playlist for tonight.  What does Dr. Ford’s to-do list look like this morning?  I suspect just about every woman in the country right now couldn’t care less about digital music mixes. I suspect they feel gut-punched, disrespected, insignificant, and helpless.  How could they not?

People who look like me are clearly part of the problem. Am I part of the solution?

The tears I shed while watching Obama’s first election night victory were, in retrospect, naive. My excitement a few years later at the seemingly-imminent prospect of our nation’s first female President was equally wide-eyed and unsophisticated.  I did my best to place Trump’s victory in proper perspective in a blog post that made me feel a little bit better, but not for long.  My building enthusiasm yesterday for the hope that logic, common sense, and the rule of law would prevail at these Senate Judiciary Committee hearings has now taken a nose-dive.  I woke up this morning at 4 am sick to my stomach. A couple hours later, I sat helpless and speechless as my wife, tears in her eyes, sat up from our bed after watching the early reports on CNN, then trudged weary and angry off to work. 

It appears we still live in a world run by people that look like me and that have backgrounds like mine.  And mornings like this one serve as a reminder that this isn’t a good thing. 

And so what about tonight? Maybe we should cancel the event.  Celebrating things like a white guy’s 50th birthday seems insensitive at this moment in particular. Tone deaf.  Plus, I feel drained and defeated and even a little bit hopeless due to the past few days. But I think it’s important to march on, to place one foot after the other, to celebrate simply being. To savor the day-to-day, the hour-to-hour, the moment-to-moment. The quotidian. And I’ve also got to continue to resist the temptation to be comfortable, to be complacent, to be numb, to be satisfied. To slip into a state of oblivion. The public spectacle in D.C. over the past couple days has, sadly, revealed how much further we have to go.  In particular, it would appear that people like me–white men, products of elite schools and privilege, the “top 1%”–have a long way to go.

Onward.

Thanks for reading.

So This Is 50?

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I turned 50 the other day.  It’s not so bad.  It’s certainly not what I thought it would be when I was, say, 10 or 20 or 30, or even 40. I don’t feel 50, I don’t think.  But then again, I guess I don’t really know what 50 is supposed to feel like.  I think maybe it’s as much about what has gone on with the people around me, as it is about what has gone on inside me. This guy looks happy and healthy and fulfilled. He is happy and healthy and fulfilled. But this seemingly contented smile at the beach is more complicated now.  Its owner has lived awhile. And I am aware of the fact that I have endured a fair number of emotional gut punches over the last couple years, for example. College buddies whom I love have died. Lying too still in their beds in the middle of the night as their wife pounds fruitlessly on their chest. Jumping from the kitchen window of their Manhattan high-rise in the morning as their daughters gather their backpacks for school in the other room. Another dear friend has begun a battle with a debilitating neurodegenerative disease that I myself could never withstand. Getting word of these sudden, unwelcome developments left me breathless and sobbing on the curb while walking home from Safeway with my wife and younger son. Another time, pulled over on the side of the road, slumped and gripping the steering wheel for strength. And the third, standing weak-kneed and hollow in my kitchen, tears streaming down my cheeks, hands palm-down on the granite counter for stability.

It seems that even if you (or I, in this case) manage to survive and even thrive at the age of 50, the universe will still do its best to extract a toll.  My smile looks the same, but it is different.  Some friends’ smiles are frozen in time now, never to be surrounded by increasingly grey whiskers. Other friends cherish the fleeting ability to flash a smile at all, and will do so even though it exhausts them.  So maybe when I smile now, I smile for each of them and for all of them. And I know there will be more unwelcome developments in the coming years. Perhaps I will even be among them. But in the meantime, I’m gonna keep looking for reasons to smile this 50 year-old smile. And laugh this 50 year-old laugh.

On that note, as a newly-minted 50 year-old, I offer three random observations (actually, three random observations conceived by other people; but, hey, they don’t blog) — 

Funnel Cakes Are for Winners.  Another college buddy of mine (healthy, thankfully) recently witnessed his son’s lacrosse team’s evisceration at the hands of a far more energetic, intense, and focused opponent. To his credit, my buddy stood on the sidelines supportive and silent all game, resisting the overwhelming urge to shout instructions or admonitions at the kids’ listless and shoddy performance on the field. In the immediate aftermath of the team’s crushing defeat, my friend expected his son to storm from the game with a belly-full of fire and motivation, eyes burning to do better in the next match.  Instead, his son and teammates turned their eyes to a nearby food truck with “Funnel Cakes” painted on the side. Instead of announcing a warrior’s desire to drink the tears of their next opponent, the boys asked to partake in the sweet puffy pastry.  With this, my buddy finally broke, announcing through clenched teeth, “Funnel cakes are for winners!” Not his proudest parenting moment, no doubt. But fabulous grist for the blogging mill, from my perspective.  And one of us needs to trademark this phrase immediately.  For t-shirts for that whole lacrosse team. And probably for t-shirts for all teams populated by kids who belong to everyone who is 50 years old or thereabouts and who stand on the sidelines as the siren scent of funnel cakes whaffs nearby.  Even at 50, I need constant reminders to let my kids be kids.  The t-shirt will help, I think.  

Lazy People Invented Everything. My younger son, Everett, has never lost an argument.  At least not one in which I am trying to hold down the other end. Now that I am 50, he is 12.  This means that his brain has developed to such an extent that I simply cannot predict where these arguments will go. Areas that modern civilization settled long ago are now totally up for grabs. For example, he is an ardent, and effective, defender of at least half of the Seven Deadly Sins. Thankfully, “Lust” is not currently on the menu; I’m sure puberty will pencil that in down the road.  But “Sloth”? Ev has me half-convinced that sloth is actually a virtue. You see, summer vacation basically means that my wife and I engage in a slow-motion chase with Everett all day every day to get him away from Fortnite, his iPhone, the couch, his bed, Fortnite, his iPhone, the couch, his bed. “Do something!” “Move your body!” “Don’t be so lazy!”  So over the last couple months, Everett has in response developed a theory that “Lazy People Invented Everything.” I know that he is trying to justify and defend his inertia by suggesting there is value in gourging on Cheezits in one’s bedsheets wearing pajamas until dinnertime. I try to resist, but resistance is futile.  Because I think he may be right. All the things we take for granted, and that (at least theoretically) have improved the quality of our lives, arguably have allowed us to become increasingly lazy. Everything. Which means, the argument goes, that Lazy People Invented Everything. I am at a complete loss for a winning counter argument.  But I desperately need one.  Because he is upstairs right now, at this very moment, munching on candy from last Halloween with a sticky Playstation controller in his hands and knock-off Beats headphones on his head. I don’t think he’s inventing flying cars up there. 

Two Christmases Are Better Than One. At the end of the day, after I have curated and placed in front of my family what I consider to be a healthy and heartfelt supper, I am prone to giving in to fatigue. Maybe it’s just hitting 50.  Maybe it’s just the end of another summer day with my boys that I know I should savor, that I sometimes am able to savor, but that typically devolves into the two of them arguing about the slow speed at which they are doling out mashed potatoes onto their plates. Or whose turn it is to fill their glasses from the milk carton. Regardless, my mood sometimes darkens, and I feel myself striding purposefully with clenched fists into my own Funnel Cakeville. In these moments, I have heard someone who sounds like me say something about how I don’t think my sons’ miserable behavior would be any different if I were merely a sperm donor or if I were in prison during their childhoods (or both). This provocative statement–intended to shock my kids back into appreciation or submission or obedience or at least into some state where my wife and I can actually enjoy their company–it no longer works. So recently, I upped my game. Much to my chagrin as I type these words, I have suggested things along the lines of, “Hey, you know, you guys should really appreciate these family dinners when we are all together.  If your mother and I ever decided to get divorced….” I let this sentence trail off, after deploying a higher note with the word “divorced,” maybe even an octave above my normal speaking tone, to enhance the effect. For a time, I thought this new admonition was having its desired impact. But then I learned that Everett was recently overheard whispering from his room at night into my older son’s room, “Hey, Max, do you know what it means if Mom and Dad get a divorce? Two Christmases!!”  

As I move past 50, and the realities of spending that amount of time on this earth continue to make themselves known to me, I will be on the lookout for more Funnel Cakes, Lazy Inventions, and Double Christmases. And I hope you will too. 

Thanks for reading.

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….