san francisco

I (Still) Got a Woman.

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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) —

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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.

The End of an Era

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May 29, 2018.  I’ve known this day was coming for me since August of 2006, when my Little League coaching journey began.  That month, my elder son Max (now a high school Junior) first picked up his glove in service of a San Francisco Little League team — the Giants, no less — as a kindergartner.  Team names are picked at random each season by coaches out of a hat (an envelope, really). That first season, we had plucked the name of our hometown San Francisco Giants — the first and last time the folded up piece of paper would have those particular words scrawled on it.  An auspicious beginning to a memorable coaching career.

Over the years I would coach the Grizzlies, Cubs, White Sox, Angels (twice), Red Sox, A’s (thrice), Indians, Mariners, and a couple more I cannot currently bring to mind.  Perhaps because I coached each of my sons throughout this adventure, I was keenly aware, from the very beginning, that each practice and each game meant that I would have one less practice, one less game, to savor before it all came to a crashing halt on a baseball diamond in the future. A silent clock in my head, counting down. In 12 years from now, then 10 years, then 5, then 2, then just one more, than just a matter of months, weeks, days, hours, minutes, then down to a final at-bat, then down to just one last out.  I saw the end coming the whole way. 

And the end made its long-awaited appearance last night. May 29, 2018. Our San Francisco Little League Majors A’s huddled in the left field grass at Tepper Field one last time. My bloodstream was still flooded with bitter feelings from our sudden loss just minutes ago. The sensation of a dozen (somewhat begrudging, if I’m being totally honest) high-fives with the opposing team’s players still buzzed a bit in the palms of my hands.  Now, I silently regretted my deliberate decision not to pencil out an end-of-the-season speech beforehand.  I took several deep breaths in an attempt to gather my thoughts, to ensure that I was going to say the “right” things, rather than rail about missed practices, ground balls slithering through legs, and strike threes taken. And though I was painfully aware that this moment marked the end of an era for me, I tried not to peer down into that new, empty void.  Tried to focus on the boys.   

This is not supposed to be about me, you see. It is supposed to be about them. Sure, I had just coached my final game.  With the second of my sons (and I have but two).  “Dad” is my favorite word in the English language.  “Coach” had always run a close second, but  pulled up lame, as I knew it would, falling behind and off in the distance and suddenly now about to be gone forever. But not until after I try to muster up just one final (and unscripted, regrettably, again) speech on soiled knee in the outfield grass.  So I need to get this right. 

Our season had begun, as all of them do, with promise. A chance to forge a scattered and disconnected group of 11 and 12 year-olds into a cohesive team, applying lessons learned over each of the previous dozen seasons. Just last year, my team (the Mariners) won the regular season, and narrowly missed winning the playoffs, too. Arguably, our loss in the League Championship can be attributed to the overzealous coach bouncing in the third base coaches box.  That would be me. I foolishly windmilled a slow-footed runner around the third base bag, and destined him to a waiting tag at home plate.  Game over.  I expect that he has managed to forget that moment, with the youthful gift of jelly-headed resilience.  I have not been so lucky, replaying that scene over and over again in my own jelly-head. 

With some disappointment, I recognized at the start of this season that a miracle would be required for these A’s to repeat the on-field success of their predecessors, the Mariners. Sweet kids, all of them, but also offering up new challenges.  I struggled to resist my inner Captain Bligh each time players showed up at practice or even a game, invariably late, and without his hat, his cleats, his glove, his bat, his belt.  My assistant coach and good friend John routinely suffered through sunburns on his forehead, having generously, once again, “donated” his own cap to one of our forgetful A’s.  Over the course of the season, we had roughly 30 practices.  Repetition is key, I’ve learned.  And then, more repetition.  But all the sessions I had dutifully reserved, scheduled, planned for, and schlepped bags and buckets and bats and balls to over my shoulders? I believe we only had one practice at which our entire squad was present, and that may have been our very first, remind me what’s your name again? practice of the year.  

Other than near-constant, grumbling emails from me to our players’ parents, this meant that we coaches were simply never able to pontificate on all the subtleties and vagaries and nuances of the game of baseball to the entire team at once.  I never signaled a “bunt” sign during a game.  We never got around to that. We relied on only one “first and third” play when we were in the field, left to ignore the other half-dozen options given currency in every other Little League Majors season I’d coached. We never got around to that. Our most experienced pitcher — who threw the ball harder than anyone I’d ever seen in Little League — was an especially busy lad, such that I never found a meaningful opportunity at practice to iron out a kink in his swing and a rush in his pitching delivery.  We never got around to that, either.  

And so I knew, as early in March, that this would be a season of triage.  Of rushed instructions delivered during the game while sitting on my bucket of balls poised at the corner of the dugout.  Flashing the pitch sign between my legs to our catcher, while reminding him, “Big target! Stick it! Squeeze it!” Then glancing at my players in the field, assessing their body language. Beseeching our corner outfielders (who often hadn’t seen real action for several innings), “Sprint in and out and in and out and in and out, every time!” (It is a tall order, backing up potential pickoff throws from the catcher to the third baseman or first baseman.) Then cajoling our infielders, “Move your feet! Expect ball! Coming to you!” And finally sneaking in one last piece of encouragement to our pitcher, “Take a breath. See it before you throw it. Chest to knee. You got this.” I felt a near-constant, burning need to stuff twelve years of coaching instruction into a single year, into every single game, hobbled as we were from scant practice time together and from forgotten hats and gloves and bats and sunscreen and snacks and water bottles and belts. I never worked so hard on a Little League team. After games, I would pour myself into the front seat of my car and just sit there for a minute or two, trying to regain the energy required to drive back home over the Bay Bridge. 

If I could do it all over again, I wonder, do all of the orders and instructions and pitch-calling really matter? Would I, would we, have been better off had I chosen instead to sit on my hands in the dugout all season, with a smile on my face, simply letting whatever will happen, happen? I don’t know.  I suspect I would have blown out my eustachian tubes trying to hold back all the “helpful” instructions banging around in my head.  But still, I don’t know. 

To my credit (I hope), I generally tried to counterbalance the in-game micromanagement tendencies with more emotionally intelligent commentaries delivered in the outfield after each our games. More often than not, I would apologize for something I did or didn’t do during the game.  Said or didn’t say, in the heat of the moment. The players likely suffered whiplash from this Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde routine, but I think any honest youth coach understands and struggles with this same push-pull dynamic of which I speak.  During a game, I have no fewer than 8 people inside my head shouting orders, or attempting to sooth the savage beast, or thinking make sure you smile so the parents don’t think you are a complete jerk and your players don’t fear you, or why didn’t you practice bunting more, you should have practiced bunting more this would have been a great time for a bunt. It is an emotional whirlwind, immediately followed by (ideally) a much calmer discussion about life lessons and such in the outfield grass.

And this whipsawed dynamic was on full display last night.   

We had managed to hang tight with a team that won, handily, the regular season.  Our previous encounter with the juggernaut Red Sox found the A’s on the unpleasant end of a 12-4 trouncing.  And yet, at the top of the 5th inning, here we were in a tie game, knotted at 3 runs apiece. I began entertaining visions of these A’s miraculously finding themselves playing for the League Championship four days hence.  In my 3 previous Majors seasons, two of those teams played in the championship game.  Last year we nearly won it. Why not these A’s? Why shouldn’t fate smile upon me, at long last — after 12 years — and give me a League Championship? Don’t I deserve it? 

While I fantasized about dog piles and beaming parents and shiny trophies coming my way on Saturday, I lost my full concentration on the field in that moment.  Loosed just a bit my grip on the action in front of me.  Our speedy outfielder drew a two-out walk, advancing the self-glorifying narrative building in my head, and now the meat of our order jogged up to the plate. Things were looking good.

But while standing in the third base coaches box, with my head full of delusions of grandeur, I failed to notice a devilish glint in our speedy outfielder’s eyes.  I had been preaching aggressive base running all season (to the detriment of other bedrock rules dealing with the sanctity of runs when our team is a couple runs behind, for example).  And so, inspired by his coach’s fiery pre-game rhetoric, our outfielder suddenly careened around first base in a courageous but ill-advised attempt to stretch his walk into an extra base. He almost made it, too.  But the throw and tag were true. The home plate umpire’s emphatic thumb and fist-punch ended our season.  

And I knew, right away, exactly what had happened.  Despite all these years, I had neglected the central truth:  It is not about me.  It is about them.  

And so, only minutes later, kneeling in the outfield grass one last time, I tried to look within and find that proper perspective. To come up with a valedictory speech rather than a eulogy.  To leave the boys with something poignant but not saccharine. So that they would remember the right stuff, not the wrong stuff.  To ensure that my last post-game words as a coach would be meaningful.  I told them I was proud of them, and they should be proud of themselves.  Every one of them, proud of themselves.  And of each other.  I told one of our players — whom I have coached for as long as I have coached my son Everett — that I didn’t care how many balls went under his legs. That knowing what I know now, right now, I remain grateful to have coached him all these years, and I wouldn’t have changed a thing.  And then I looked into his eyes and told him that I loved him. (This line I rushed through, because I wanted to get it out before my increasingly choked-up throat cut me off at the pass.) I scanned the others’ faces, and told them to look at each other in our semi-circle.  We live in different parts of the city, we look different from each other, our families came from different parts of the world. But sitting here right now, what you guys have been through together, those differences don’t matter, do they?  Never forget the fun times you had together and how much you learned together. Savor the good stuff. 

I told them that the winning and losing stuff seems really important right now, I know, but it isn’t.  It’s only baseball.  Only a game.  And that each muffed ground ball, or strike out, or whatever, is another chance to see what you’re made of.  To get back up.  To rise to the challenge.  That losing this game, and losing all the games we lost this season, is actually a good thing.  Because down the road when you have girlfriends or boyfriends who tell you one day they no longer want to be together with you, maybe you will have felt that pain before, on a baseball diamond, and maybe you will remember that you can go on.  That you will be OK.  You will fail tests, and suffer disappointments, and lose jobs. People you care about will get sick.  But you have been there before. You have been given the opportunity to play this game and make all kinds of mistakes and learn from them. Grow from them.  Push yourselves up off the floor.  At least try to get up, and keep trying to get up. 

It’s a lifelong journey, I think to myself as they boys scramble to their feet, none of them, thankfully, even remotely aware of the enormous loss I feel in my own belly.  I am still making mistakes, I acknowledge.  And gritting my teeth to remind myself each time that each mistake is an opportunity, not a failure.  A challenge, not a loss.  And while my Little League coaching career has reached it conclusion, as I always knew it would, I am trying to take my own outfield advice. To remember and savor the experience.  To appreciate that it happened. To maybe learn from it, rather than get stuck on this “end of an era” thing.  It is all a work in progress. But I am trying.  And that is enough for now. 

Thanks for reading.  And a heartfelt thank you and tip of the cap to the 2018 San Francisco Little League Majors A’s (and to all the other teams of girls and boys I’ve had the privilege of coaching). 

 

My Final Season (and So It Begins….)

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This is what Opening Day looks like in San Francisco.  Technically not “Opening Day.” That event and its annual parade was actually cancelled a weekend ago. The rainy conditions introduced the unpleasant prospect of baseball-cleated pre-teens sliding around in the payload of rented pickup trucks like a pile of slippery mackerel.  This would have been my last San Francisco Little League Opening Day Parade, since my younger son will graduate out at the end of the current season.  I’ll get over it, but I would have liked just one more trip around the block with a pile of fish. 

Even after 12 or 13 years of these rides, I can almost remember each.  When loaded with a dozen 50-pound first-graders, space comes at a premium back there for coaches who haven’t seen first grade and 50 pounds since 1975. Sixth-graders now, the players on my Majors A’s team this year have doubled in size from their first-grade selves. We coaches have, maybe, added a few pounds here and there as well. Sitting in the open air on the bump of a metal wheel well, pinching one’s knees together as the driver careens around the Marina, the players rhythmically banging their fists on the quarter panels, sounds, objectively speaking, undesirable. But I would have liked to take one more spin around the neighborhood, my own hand stinging at the end of it (it’s not just the kids that do the banging). 

Thankfully, lightning and sneakers losing purchase and liability did not come into play for our team’s actual first game, which transpired this past weekend.  This is not to say that my boys (it’s only boys this season) pranced around in the bluebird skies, blazing sunshine, and fresh cut grass from my youth. Nope. I suspect our field had recently played host to a lacrosse game or rugby match or Friday evening adult softball game featuring a keg drained down in the visitor’s dugout. The field has seen better days. I can’t blame the outfield, pockmarked with ankle-twisting gopher holes, on those other folks, though.  That’s just nature.  The kids have been navigating those vermin-built land mines for so long, we don’t even bother mentioning this hazard to our right fielders anymore. 

Gopher holes? What gopher holes?  

The unusually heavy fog added an interesting variable to the mix. The Golden Gate Bridge’s fog horn moaned the entire night before our game.  The late evening news weatherman, his opinion seconded by the opposing team’s head coach, said it would be thick.  He was right.  At 7:15am on Saturday morning, the fog bank operated as a de facto outfield fence.  If any player was able to jack one out into the fog, literally hitting the ball out of sight, I suspect the home plate umpire would happily circle his index finger in the air.  That would be a very cool sight, and I wouldn’t care whether our team did it, or their team did. 

Fog? What fog?

Given the paucity of playable fields within the 7 mile by 7 mile footprint of San Francisco proper, the League struggles mightily to accommodate the 1,000+ rabid little leaguers with crooked caps and untied shoelaces. Hence our 8am game on Saturday.  My team’s players, presumably still bleary-eyed from an all-night Fortnight video game bender, drifted onto the field one and two and three at-a-time; eventually comprising a full quorum by the time the umpire requested my hand-written lineup. Our pre-game drills turned just-unwrapped official league baseballs into the heavy dirty gummy dun spheres on display at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.  I whack a brand-spanking new ball with my fungo bat out into the outfield, someone (hopefully, eventually, corrals it), and throws back to me an unrecognizeable ball covered in mud as though it had time-traveled (backwards or forwards, I’m not sure which).  But none of the players and none of the coaches complained about the mud balls.   

Mud balls? What mud balls?

As it turns out, we got our butts kicked on Saturday morning.  Wasn’t much of a contest, really. Sure, we talked about it after the game.  A little bit. The strikeouts and botched plays and missed steal signs and such.  But that stuff hardly mattered as we all knelt in the still-wet grass surrounded by the still-lingering fog. I glanced around this semi-circle of boys, ready smiles on their faces, some giggling and poking at each other, no hints of dejection or disappointment over why didn’t I swing at that third strike. In that moment, I thought to myself, “getting our butts kicked never felt so good.” 

This is my last season, and I’ve resolved to savor every moment of it.  So bring on the rain and fog and gophers and mud balls.   

Here comes the (wind and) rain again.

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It ain’t pretty.  This is the ugly underbelly of an improved drought situation here in  California.  The drenching and quenching rains of the last several weeks have generated an embarrassment of riches: A robust Sierra snowpack 170% of normal. Reservoirs topped off, and then some, with drinking water for the masses. And…a wind-blown scattering of chicken bones and cardboard boxes spilled from overstuffed curbside compost and recycling bins. 

Don’t get me wrong, we need the rain.  Big time.  Our Governor declared a drought emergency back in 2014 — the subject of my 2nd blog post ever, in fact.  Here in our little flat, we reduced our own water consumption by waaaaay more than the suggested 25%.  My wife and I still bear the psychological scars from the “if it’s yellow, keep it mellow” toilet war that my sons have waged these past three years.  I have evidently developed a new phobia associated with lifting a toilet lid to see what horrors reveal themselves.  So we as a family are definitely pulling our weight, when it comes to helping out with the drought. 

Which is why this morning felt like such a kick in the ribs. Well, a kick in my 10th grader’s ribs, to be precise.  I am already burdened by my toilet seat peekaboo phobia.  So it’s high time Max cultivates his own debilitating aversions, and the terrors associated with our compost bin offer fertile ground.  As it turns out, I’ve covered said terrors in the past, too. So I know of which I write. Long story short, Max was emotionally and physically unprepared for his civic duty this morning.  Soaking wet and shoeless, trudging through driving rain and puddles.  Perhaps 5 minutes on from being woken up for school (never a fun period of time in the morning).  Irked and disgusted by the street spray of our household refuse from wind-blown bins overturned.  And harboring murderous ill will towards our inconsiderate upstairs neighbor — she apparently views Max as her new houseboy.  Needless to say, Max’s curbside antics this morning are best left forgotten — obscured in the fog of compost war, if you will.  Now we are all equally traumatized, it is fair to say. And the snowpack is looking good. 

Thanks for reading. 

Half Centurions and a Devil Mask (Frank’s Trail)

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I have written before about this cast of characters. Friends who count 30-something years of shared memories.  Beginning way back with fraternity hijinks committed and tolerated as 17 or 18 or 19 year-olds. Mostly run-of-the-mill stuff; but plenty not for public consumption.  Oddly, most of those involved public consumption, as I think back. Now, more or less, grown men.  With mortgages, high school-aged kids, lengthy professional careers of one sort or another. Family pets.  Wives to whom we’ve been serendipitously hitched for 20-something years. And a penchant for scaring the bejesus out of one another on occasion. 

This explains the mask.  I know you have been wondering about that. I am the guy in the red devil mask.  No, this photo is not evidence of some odd paganistic ritual.  Well, maybe that’s not entirely true.  No half-naked people circling midnight bonfires were injured in the making of this particular weekend, however.  So back to the mask, because it is a curious thing.  And I have been meaning to write this particular blog post for over a month.

You see, the 2nd gent from the left turned 50 back in December.  He shares my own mother’s birthdate, which I have always found intriguing.  He shared the altar with me on my wedding day 20 years ago.  I stood there shakily, sweating profusely — from the ambient air temperature, not from the gravity of the moment. Maybe it was both. In any event, fair to say I’m woozy.  Trying desperately to follow and repeat back the muffled words of the pastor before me. And while I’m mildly annoyed that my best man’s best efforts to stem my forehead faucet involve a fistful of fibrous hotel toilet paper, I’m grateful he’s there for me. My face is more or less covered with small, sweaty fragments of Charmin.  Basically “TP’d” in front of a couple hundred friends and family members. But I am overwhelmed with gratitude for this man standing by me. 

Now fast forward. On a similarly auspicious occasion in his own life some 20 years later — turning 50 years old — how do I repay him? Sure, I fly with another great friend from the west coast to the east coast, where Frank now lives.  To surprise him. For most right-thinking people, that should suffice. Gratitude shown.  The debt repaid. Leave it at that. But alas, right-thinking people rightly think that I am not one of them.  

Exhibit A: The Satan mask.  Most folks pack socks and undies in their overnighters. I stuff a terrifying rubber mask in mine — two of them actually — with every intention to deploy said mask during my trip. And not spontaneously, no.  I’ve planned this out.  Thought hard on it. I believe this is known as “malice aforethought.” Can’t you just see the group of right-thinking people shuffling slowly away from me, with sideways glances? 

Exhibit B: During my Uber ride to the unsuspecting birthday boy’s east coast location, I scour my co-conspirator’s neighborhood via Google Earth.  I push through mild car sickness in order to assess where a proper point of entry at my buddy’s Atlanta home might be so as to maximize the jumpscare factor. As I roll out of the car — my Uber driver Yolanda now giddy in cahoots — I confess that images of stealthy Seal Team 6 storming that Pakistani compound flit through my mind.  I tiptoe down the pitch black driveway, quietly unhitch a backyard gate, and crawl.  On my hands and knees. Peering through the devil mask’s eye slits.  Breathing heavily like Michael Myers, I realize.  As I secretly skitter across my buddy’s backyard deck and into his screened patio.  At least I hope this is his deck and patio.  I’ve never actually been here before, and am really really hoping I Google Earthed the right residence. I’m dressed all in black, with a blood red devil mask on, and shouldering what looks like a burglar’s kit.  Crawling across someone’s redwood-planked deck.  Late at night.  What could possibly go wrong?  The right-thinkers shuffle a little further away, now shielding their children’s eyes.

Exhibit C:  My newly-50 friend has had back surgery very recently.  His body is not as sturdy and unbreakable as it once seemed.  He is, I think, still convalescing. Probably having to chew heavy back pills on occasion.  So I don’t ignore this information.  I do the cost-benefit calculation.  Crunch the numbers.  Do the math.  I conclude that (a) this will be one of the all-time scare jobs, and (b) the odds of my causing Frank to wrench his back and pop his stitches and unfuse his fused vertebrae are astronomically low.   My co-conspirators deliver our unwitting victim to the darkened back porch.  A masked figure lurches out of the shadows.  Frank stiffens and shudders a bit — the best scares often look like this, I have come to appreciate. And as far as I can tell or anyone will admit, no drawers were soiled.  This is how I show my deep and genuine gratitude to one of my oldest and dearest friends? 

My saving grace (I hope) lies in the poem I wrote and read aloud through tear-blurred eyes and with halting voice the following night in a room full of people who are also grateful for Frank. At the risk of embarrassing him a little bit, I’ve taking the liberty of pasting that poem below.  Perhaps another ill-advised and ham-handed attempt to show him my gratitude. Admittedly not from the Right-Thinker’s Playbook.  But it’s the best I can do. And if nothing else, it is straight from the heart. Happy birthday, Frank.  I’m grateful. 

Thanks for reading.  

###

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Frank’s Trail

Dear Frank, it seems you’ve turned 50

And you know how these sorts of poems go

In your chair you should be shifting

‘Cause what I’ll say, you just never know…


You see, my man, we knew you when

You ran our dear Theta Chi

But before you ruled our wooden bench

You were only a BOG’er, guy


Later, you landed that sweet gig with Apple 

We all know this much to be true

But along the way, remember, you grappled

With the infamous dead-legged interview


Expertly fielding question after question

So grown up, so very mature

You rose at the end to shake hands — a true gentleman

And here is where fan meets manure


Your leg, now numb, sent you lurching 

Uncontrollably forward

Your boss’ adrenaline surging

Turns into a matador

You crumpled to the floor

Dear Frank, remind us, did that offer letter ever find your dorm room door?


Yes, Frank was a “Big Man on Campus” 

Filled with youthful pride

When he pitched Sergeant Paul Dumas

On the business deal of a lifetime


Frank offered a cut of 20 percent

But Dumas, unmoved, dismissed you 

With a furious face bright red, 

Saying “Don’t let the door hit you where the good lord has split you.” 


Our hero Frank was undeterred 

He wowed us with 94 Cup Daily

USA Today devoted nearly a third

Of a page to Frank’s exploits and savvy


A veritable titan of the industry

But let’s not forget our history…


As I recall, for example, there once was a necktie 

Accidentally dipped

In the toilet bowl of a grand high rise 

During a last minute bathroom trip 

Before a meeting with men old and wise

Whom Frank hoped to wow with quick wit

Undaunted, our Frankie, he improvised

From his neck, the “potty tie” ripped

Showed up in the boardroom as “Business Casual Guy”

I’ve no clue if they bought what he shipped


And on another occasion

About this there is no doubt

Frank was to serve as liaison

Introduce bigshots with a deal to work out

But the night before he’d gone out guns blazin’

Forgot to press the alarm clock button down

Woke up feeling fresh, amazin’!

But that meeting? It never went down. 

So Frank, he had some explainin’:


“I slipped in the shower, fell down!

I was knocked completely out!

I came to after 3 or 4 hours

When cold water came out of the spout.”


Ah, and those wonderful parties

Your Upper West Side garden flat

Disgruntled neighbors, those smarties

Threw down bags of urine, and splat!


In truth, it could have been much worse

Chalk it up to life in the City

If your neighbors were more perverse

Those bags would have been, well, shitty


And let’s not forget your “Rollerblade Years”

Frank, you were simply fantastic!

Those Aquafresh skates fueled by 2 or 3 beers

Threw sparks, though made only of plastic


And how ‘bout that challenging ski trail

Suggested by frat brother McMex?

Called “Our Father,” it was not for the frail 

Frank, what the hell’d you expect?


I’m told your yardsale was something to see

Your slide down the ice quite fun

Your Ironman watch sliced your wrist up the sleeve

A million-dollar lawsuit to be won!

Alas, a courtroom you never did see 

The statute of limitations had run


Well, how ‘bout Frank’s counterfeiting skills, then?

So many New Years Eve Balls — for free!

With just a few strokes of his fine pen

Oh and the Apple-issued laser printer was definitely key


Same goes for the Boston Marathon “race bibs”

Frank’s work gave Dave and I thrills

Though looking back now, this was one of those fibs

That led to the fetal position with chills.


I could go on forever, dear Frank

Salty tales like steaks of Delmonico

But the story of your Pre-Cana

Will stay between you, Noeleen, and Father Philatronico 


Alas, my poem has reached its end

Though I have so much more to say

Here’s to your next 50 years, my friend

With just one final thought, if I may

Your wounds from “Our Father” have mended

Your rollerblades long stowed away

But let’s have a few more adventures

‘Cause we’ll follow your trail all the way

Happy 50th, buddy!

 


 










 

Kiva Me A Break (Chores Too Boring)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading. 

Fight the Power (My Near-Pink Experience)

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading.  

Field of Broken Dreams

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

Take this past Sunday, for example. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading. 

PEOTUS Fixed the Drought!

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I awoke this morning to the most wonderful news:  The drought in California is, at long last, over.  There was only one person who could fix it.  And…he did!  I hereby rescind any and all written or oral statements I’ve ever made that could be viewed by my enemies as negative commentary on Messr. Trump.  Oh, and thoughts.  Any critical thoughts I may or may not have had, I disavow those too.  Actually, it doesn’t matter, because those alleged writings, verbal comments and thoughts are totally unsubstantiated.  Fake news.  Get over it, people.  Move on.  Because as of this morning, America — or at least the California part — is GREAT AGAIN!

I’m talking about the refreshed water table.  Now flush! Filled to the brim. Practically overflowing, thanks entirely to Donald Trump’s largesse.  Apparently, Mr. Trump orchestrated a wonderful climatic event in Russia awhile back, with the direct result of ending the drought here in California.  They even have a name for this sort of miraculous event — a “Golden Shower”!

And who would have thought that it would require British Intelligence to unearth Trump’s enormous contribution to righting my state’s long-standing ecological deficit?  Such modesty!  Rather than accept the well-deserved adulation, Mr. Trump humbly notes the revelation is “unsubstantiated.”  Oh Donald, there’s no need.  Like an anonymous donor writing a yuge check to a worthy charity, later discovered, please just bask in the glow of our unabashed appreciation. You have earned it, sir! 

Note: I grew up in a small town; the child of parents who grew up in smaller towns.  Arguably a bit of a Podunk kind of guy.  So I confess that “Golden Shower” is not a regularly occurring phrase in my lexicon.  And it’s been a busy morning in our household, so I haven’t had a chance yet to cruise around Wikipedia. Urban Dictionary.  Really get up into the etymology of it.  The way I like to when stumbling on a new and interesting turn of phrase.  I’ll get to that work right after my PEOTUS’ press conference. 

In the meantime, thank you, Mr. Trump, for the Golden Shower!  On behalf of my fellow Californians, thank you!   

Thanks for reading. 

The Sky Is Cryin’.

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It’s not exactly “Snowzilla,” “Snowpocalypse,” “Jonas,” or whatever monikered meteorological phenomenon bulldozed our East Coast brethren these past few days.  But El Niño to-date has proven a persistent pain in the ass.  It’s great for the drought, in theory.  Though I’m mindful of Paul Giamatti’s thirsty gulp from the Sideways spit bucket.

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Yeah, it’s a bit like that.  Only instead of a shawl of spitty Cabernet, we end up with puddles in the garage from an unfortunately sloped driveway.  Actually, we don’t.  My wife had the forethought to pick up a half-dozen super attractive sandbags awhile back. These we’ve configured to capture and hold Lake Beadling from the rain runoff, restraining the beast from washing our flat into the Bay.  They are also a fine addition to our homestead, surely sending up the value of our home on Zillow considerably. 

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The sandbags have been in place for so long now, I forget they are there.  So each time I back the Prius out of the driveway,  hyper focused imagining getting t-boned by a speeding SUV, the sandbag speed bump spikes my adrenaline, as I assume for a split-second that I have run over our dog.  I have fallen for this trick at least a dozen times.  Probably will happen again today, too.  

I’m saying I’m weary of the incessant rain.  It keeps me out of the Bay, since swimming amidst the King Tides, storm “runoff,” and random tree-sized pier pilings holds little appeal.  It keeps me off the bike, since one ride across an unexpectedly deep puddle up to one’s ankles is one ride too many. And the dog is unhappy, too.  Her normal weekly walks are cut short. When they do happen, she’s force-marched through pelting rain. The result is that Wailea seeks thrills by eating things in the house that are not meant to be eaten. This results in X-Rays, ultrasounds, and meaty vet bills.  

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Thank you, El Niño.   The kids are fairly stir crazy as well.  All of the screens in our house are hot to the touch, streaming non-stop mind-numbing content into the boys’ (now slowly) developing dorsal anterior cingulate cortices. At least whatever area of the brain is responsible for feelings of guilt and contrition still functions in our 10 year-old —

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We’ll apply this $6.75 towards–you guessed it–our “Rainy Day Fund.”  In other words, we already spent it. Gone.  Depleted.  

Alright, time to run. On a squeaky treadmill. In the garage. Huffing on dangling and exposed puffs of fiberglass insulation.  Waiting for the dog to inadvertently clip my ankles, sending me to the human hospital as payback for the aforementioned unscheduled vet visit and belly shaving. 

No rain, no rainbows?  Thanks for reading.