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Mosquito Lancelot

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Chivalry is not dead. 

It lives on in post-10pm, darkened bedrooms all over the Marina District this time of year.  For this is the season of the dreaded backyard mosquito.  The one that slips undetected through the sliding doors, lying in wait until evening time. Clinging unnoticed to the ceiling or high on the wall.  Holding its little breath so as not to attract attention due to a heaving little chest or premature vibrating of its proboscis.  Slowly rubbing its little prickly feet together.  Grinning.  Plotting each step of its imminent assault in the dark. 

“When the light switch clicks off, that’s when we’ll get down to business,” whispers the sneaky bastard to his fellow Culicidae co-conspirators. 

But there is no such business to be had this evening.  Not in My Ladyship’s castle.  Not while My Lady sleeps.

Nay. 

For M’Lady’s Champion roams the halls of this particular castle.  I am Lancelot.  Knight of the Round Table.  Killer of Mosquitoes.

At the first audible “wheeeee” I spring from my chamber bed, deftly drawing my sword Tanlladwyr — which looks very much like a modern-day hand towel. 

En gard, you sonsabitches!

Over the next 90 seconds, I lunge, quarte (covering my upper left torso), octarv (swooping over my lower right torso and leg), sixte (for the upper right torso and sword arm), then riposte when one of the midge-like flies buzzes my ear.  Now i seize the moment.  The world nearly stops, and I see everything in slow motion and in 360-degrees.  As in The Matrix.  I deploy a ballestra then flèche — my best move.  Stamping then darting aggressively towards my attackers, arm extended.  Sprinting past them so as to avoid a blood-sucking in the event that my attack does not meet its target. I scream like a banshee, just for effect.  “Aaaayeeeeeeeeeheeee!!”

And then it is over. 

I haven’t even begun to break a sweat.  M’Lady groggily lifts a pillow off her dainty head and looks at me with one squinty eye.  I slip Tanlladwyr back into its scabbard, and retake my position next to M’Lady.  The assault on the castle has been quashed.  The attackers dispatched.  Faint red streaks on the chamber walls the only indication of the bloody battle that has just transpired.  I can feel M’Lady staring at me in wonderment.  Scarcely able to comprehend the sublime perfection to which she alone has borne witness only moments earlier. 

But M’Lady needn’t utter a word of gratitude.  The battle’s euphoric aftermath is repayment enough.  Her Champion drifts off to sleep.  Victorious.  

In actuality, I don’t think I managed to kill a single one of them.  But I’m polishing up my armor for tonight.

Thanks for reading.

 

Home Waters

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It’s interesting to realize how much our lives revolve around water.  By “our” I mean my family’s, but presumably “our” could cover all of us — humans, now and before, probably all living things, now and before, on this planet.  Ever. 

But that’s a little too high-minded for a Friday morning.  So let me just stick with my family.

We’re fresh back from our annual east coast summer vacation.  The first half we spent on Lake Otsego outside Cooperstown for our elder son’s travel baseball tournament.  (I could digress here, and give in to an equally interesting — to me — observation about how our lives revolve around baseball.  But I won’t digress, other than to share the below photo taken during a memorable Giants game the boys and I attended yesterday afternoon.)

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So back to Lake Otsego  Although I grew up only about 90 minutes away, I had never heard of this place.  We rented a very cool but 70% likely to be haunted old home on Otsego’s shores.  We spent as much time in that lake as we possibly could — hunting for crayfish, paddling in $2.99 inflatables from the local Topps Market, fishing (not “catching”), deploying dark ops after the kids hit the sack, and making my cranky right shoulder sore with some open water swimming.  The point is, our reptilian brains were positively drawn to the water; we had a helluva time breaking our grip when it was time to move on.  Not easy to leave this behind —

IMG_4082But leave it behind we did.  On our way to the next phase of our trip on Cape Cod, we toured a boarding school for our soon-to-be-high schooler to gather some data points.  The place was literally on the ocean, and the ocean and being on and in the ocean is a huge part of the curriculum and the entire experience there.  They even have a 1914 schooner on which the students crew and sail to far off places. 

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Whether Max will end up spending 4 years of his life there, I don’t know.  But sitting and typing now, I can’t help but wrinkle my brow over, once again, the central theme of water.  Running through everything in our lives.

We spent a week on the Cape, and it goes without saying that we were in, on, or around the water — fresh, estuarian and sea — nearly every waking moment.

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It was a remarkable trip.  Always is.  It’s hard to leave and come back home to San Francisco every year.  This year a bit more so due to Sunday’s major earthquake.  A reminder of our fragile existence out here.  But then once we get back home, we see this —

IMG_4303Our kids’ playground.  From the Atlantic now into the Pacific (technically, a mix of the Pacific and fresh water run-off).  I hope we’re managing to instill in them our own love of the water. Judging by their faces, I think we’re doing OK in that department.

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Thanks for reading.

The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves.

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And perhaps extend beyond that point, in the interest of setting a stern example intended not to be forgotten anytime soon.

I love my boys, of course.  And as I’ve mentioned previously in the context of “why am I writing?” I suspect nothing is more important, rewarding, and life-affirming than being a (good) parent.

But there are days, I readily confess, where I resort, desperately, to judging my own tyranny at home by comparing myself to “The Bird” in Laura Hillenbrand’s “Unbroken.”  A calm washes over me as I watch the school bus pull away with my two tormentees on board (faces pressed against the glass to take a final breath-fogged peek at their morning’s tormentor). In that moment, I begin the assessment: “OK, that was awful, not to be repeated, I do not feel good about any aspect of myself, I just might be a terrible parent, perhaps the worst that has ever inhabited this or any other planet, how did I get this way?, how did it come to this?, should I dash home to destroy any potential evidence should the authorities come knocking on my door at long last?”

In these moments, I reach for the first of my two yardsticks (maybe “litmus tests” is better) in these dark moments — “The Bird.”

If you’ve read the book, you know what a stereotypically sadistic, miserable S.O.B., out and out bad guy “The Bird” is.  (If you haven’t read the book, you should, if only to make yourself feel better as a human.)  The Bird’s behavior is particularly appalling given the protagonist Louis Zamperini’s incredible courage and resilience.  Louis apparently was a Master Lemonade Maker.  🙂  Anyhow, without boring the “Unbroken” unitiated with the gory details, suffice to say that The Bird is one bad dude, capable of unimaginable atrocities.

Which brings me to my crazed antics of this very morning.  As regular readers of The Lemonade Chronicles may recall, Wednesdays are the mornings when I deal with the Kraken and the Land of Unbrushed teeth, solo.  While my wife Hilary trots out to and back from the Golden Gate Bridge in the midst of a glorious sunrise, lungs filled with pungent sea air, in a “The Hills Are Alive with the Sound of Music” experience.  Back at home, I channel The Bird.

It starts out innocently enough.  First things first, I’m spot-on schedule with the 15-minute dog walk.  Actually an exercise in the physics of jamming something too big (and stinky) into something too small (and too thin).  Anyhow, I’m over that by 6:45am, and on to the next thing:  Getting some sort of healthy breakfast on the table for the boys in about 3 minutes.  No microwave, still, so I boil some water, then ready some oatmeal.  Banana slices, blueberries, and cranberries sprinkled on top, with a touch of lowfat organic milk.  (Supposedly the only kind of milk that is worth a damn.)  Stirred up with the hot-but-not-too-hot water, and set out delicately on hemp placemats with napkin-ringed linen napkins.  So far, I am clearly a great dad, perhaps the best that ever lived, here or on any other planet, and The Bird hasn’t even made an entrance.  How could he?

Then it all starts to unravel.  The “gradual wakening” approach comes first.  Gently opened bedroom doors, shades pulled up (quietly) to expose just the faintest bit of natural light, clicking on blue-lampshaded lights with dim (and eco-friendly bulbs), and a caring peck on each head.  Wailea dutifully trots in to each room, her nails comfortingly click-clacking rhythmically on the boys hardwood floors, before she bounds in to the bed of each, in order, giving them some Norman Rockwellian licks.  I saunter back out to the kitchen, pull up my iPhone’s KQED app to live stream the morning news on our Apple Airplay-connected kitchen speaker (mentally clearing my throat, poised to dish out some high-minded brain stimulation on the President’s “State of the Union” Address), and await my boys’ sleepy-eyed adulation.

But there is no adulation.  Some faint groaning off in the distance.  I glance at the clock.  But there is no clock because there is no microwave.  Only a gaping maw of aluminum framing and some wires.  This is unsettling, but not insurmountable.  I grab the blue plastic Igloo icepack from the freezer, playfully touching it to bare backs and bellies.  This elicits begrudging giggles from one, mumbled curse words (I think) from the other.  The imaginary clock on the imaginary microwave has by now reconfigured its green digital numbers–at least in my head–to tell me that I’m running out of time and getting off schedule.  Taunting my futile attempt to be a good dad.

So I pull out the big guns, though, honestly, still not gritting my teeth, nor bugging my eyes, nor bulging the veins in my neck.  At least not yet.  I’m still calm and in control.  I fill up halfway one of our remnant, plastic Giants cups (maybe the one commemorating one or another of Barry Bonds’ long-forgotten home runs?) with cold water.  I then pad back into Max’s room, peel back the striped cover a bit, and…dump it on his head.  The same tactic is deployed in Everett’s room.  With that, Max responds as I expected, bounding out of bed surprised but enthused by the stimulus, wide awake.  He is on track, with the program, and now officially in the flow of what needs to be done before 7:43am.

Everett, on the other hand, is a different story.  I may have mentioned before that he is a stubborn one.  And these Wednesday mornings, I fear, have become a fruitless attempt on my part to plumb the depths of his stubbornness.  And I can’t find the damned bottom of it.  Everett relocates to the living room, blanket over his head, uttering a stream of “I’m not going to school,” “How could you do that?,” “There’s NO WAY I’m going to eat oatmeal,” “No we CAN’T take a taxi to school and pay for it out of our own savings,” etc.  You get the picture.  I am panicked that my true lack of control here has been revealed.  So I scan my low-balance memory banks for something that might capture Everett’s attention, something that a 2nd grader will respond to (I don’t care if it’s a positive or negative response at this point, I just need a response, and fast, because 7:43am is only 10 minutes away).  Something truly gross, perhaps?

In a flash of brilliance (that now seems like temporary insanity), I announce in a matter-of-fact tone that the “water treatment” actually wasn’t water at all.  In reality, it was a scoop of toilet water from the guest bathroom toilet. I add, in full-on teaching mode now, “You know, the one where the toilet water is always yellow because you guys refuse to flush that no matter how many times I’ve asked?”  Man, I am proud of myself right then: A look of horror and disgust washes across their faces, particularly Everett’s, as he begrudgingly slides into his seat at the breakfast table.

Mission Accomplished!

Sure, if your “Mission” is to do whatever it takes to get your kids to bend to your will and fall in line in a compressed timeframe.  Probably not, though, if your “Mission” is to build long-lasting, loving relationships with the only two human beings that will carry your last name forward, long after you’re gone.  And I’m not sure I want this particular chapter shared with my great-great grand kids.  It probably doesn’t reflect well on their great-great grandfather. Then again, it could be worse.  I could have been The Bird.

NOTE: For those paying close attention, I only mentioned one of my yardsticks/litmus tests above.  The second is George Carlin’s “Seven Dirty Words” monologue.  More specifically, how many of them I am able to avoid giving currency during a flash of anger, stomping around the house trying to get my boys up and out. Today’s tally — Six left unspoken.  Not bad.  But tomorrow’s another day.

Thanks for reading.

Magic Paint

IMG_8326Modern, enlightened parent that I (think I) am, I still have a few hot button issues that I am unabashedly attempting to install into my sons’ operating systems.  Of their heads, not their iThings.  I am willing to endure the exaggerated eye rolls and plaintive “Ohhh Daaaads” to make my point on something that I consider truly important. As in, life and death important.  Repetition is my friend in these matters.  But an exciting event is my best friend in these matters.

San Francisco has a major problem with crosswalks.  More specifically, with how pedestrians treat crosswalks. As if those two parallel, white lines can protect whoever walks between them from anything that might do them harm.  Typically, a couple tons of steel, glass, rubber, and plastic.  Hence the sarcastic moniker, “Magic Paint.”

I have my boys trained (I know how that sounds, but I’m OK with that in this case) so that when they witness an oblivious (but not impervious) pedestrian strolling through a crosswalk in the face of menacing traffic, they shout out “Magic Paint!”  Not in a threatening way, and probably not loud enough for the iWalker with his iFace glued to his iPhone to even iHear the call out.  But loud enough to make my inner Great Santini feel relieved that this is one lesson that just might stick.  So San Francisco crosswalkers — if you hear some sarcastic kids yell out “Magic Paint!” in your direction, please don’t take it personally.  It’s due to an overzealous parent hard at work. Repetition.

It’s even easier for the Magic Paint lesson to settle into the Hippocampus — or is it Cortex? I’m shooting for the both — if some sort of stimulating/dangerous/Jackass the Movie-ish event presents itself.  Now, picture me with a tight, librarian smile (no teeth showing), eyebrows raised, hands delicately crossed with palm edges pressed to the table.  This is my preferred posture when seizing on a “teachable moment.”  And class is in session….

A couple months ago, I was wheeling through the Presidio with a Prius full of carpool kids, my own and a family friend’s.  We came to a stop a few feet away from a fairly new crosswalk.  The crosswalk was empty, like “Soylent Green” empty, I mean deserted, so I let my foot off the brake and the car slid forward.  At that moment, a nice young woman launched herself into the crosswalk, iPhone stuck to her ear in full conversation.  No glance up to check for heavy machinery.  Ahh, Magic Paint.  I stomp on the brakes, lurching a bit. Well, aside from motor vehicles, the Magic Paint also fails to prevent death by coyote attack. At the other end of said crosswalk stood a mature coyote, hackles up, teeth bared, staring directly at our nice young woman.  Our nice young woman was walking directly towards him (or her), completely oblivious.  So I politely honked my little horn as she began to pass in front of our bumper, figuring this would wake her up to her impending evisceration.  I heard her say into her iPhone, without looking up at me, “Nothing, it’s just some a#*hole honking at me in the crosswalk.” I gripped the steering wheel a bit harder rather than revv the engine (my preferred choice 20 years ago).

She was moving closer to the coyote with every step, and the coyote was not backing down, looking increasingly agitated and probably feeling threatened.  From years of coaching grade schoolers in loud gyms and broad fields, I have developed a refined, eardrum-piercing, two-fingered whistle.  I mean, it’s loud.  And it was my last resort.  “Thaaaweeeet!” out my lowered window.  The carpool kids all instinctively reached for and covered their ears, albeit too late. The nice young woman stopped in her tracks and looked at me with a very angry face, appalled that I would dare disturb her so rudely as she glided along within her Magic Paint.  The coyote’s knees flexed at the whistle, then she (or he) instinctively lowered to the sidewalk a bit and sprung the hell out of there at a full sprint. I actually am not sure that the nice young woman ever even saw the coyote, and perhaps that nice young woman is blogging somewhere about the a$#hole driver who honked and whistled at her in a Presidio crosswalk. But the kids in the car totally got the Magic Paint message that afternoon.  So I’m Ok with that.

The photo at the top of this blog post is of course not the coyote in question.  The photo at the bottom of this post indeed is the coyote in question.  Oh, and no coyotes (or other animals) were harmed in the making of this blog.

PS for regular The Lemonade Chronicles readers, San Francisco Bay was 51.1 degrees this dark and foggy morning, I turned off 10 lights in our house (yes, I counted) after my boys had bounded out for the bus stop (yes, on time), and no, I do not believe that Siri could also have saved that nice young woman from being “et”.

Thanks for reading.

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Who Has the Alien Head?

Actually, I know exactly who has the Alien Head. And they know that I know that they have the Alien Head. And I’m fairly certain they don’t read The Lemonade Chronicles, so it’s very tempting to reveal the Alien Head’s current owners, and thus the Alien Head’s current location. But I’ll refrain, since this would violate one of the many unspoken rules of the Alien Head Game.

We’re something on the order of 18-20 years into this. Maybe more maybe less. Same deal with Satchel Paige’s true age. I don’t think anyone really knew. A number of close college buddies of my wife and mine rented a ski house in Vermont many (too many) winters ago. No kids yet, which is impossible to imagine now. So to fill our time more creatively than just the usual 20s-ish self-absorbed behavior, we were heavy into oddball pranks. (Still are, or at least am). One of the gents in this ski house crew, let’s call him “Frank,” stopped at a novelty store on his way up to Vermont from NYC. Spencer’s Gifts. Oh how I miss that place and it’s aisle 3 of forbidden fruit, but I digress. It wouldn’t have been good enough for “Frank” just to pick up a whoopie cushion or fake vomit or pretend poopie. Instead, he eyeballed a merchandising prop that was decidedly not for sale, and somehow managed to convince the teenaged store clerk that the prop should leave the store with Frank. “How much for the Alien Head?” A crumpled five dollar bill exchanged owners and the rest is history.

I don’t remember how the idea was born in that Vermont ski house that weekend, but the Alien Head has played a central role in our group’s lives ever since. The game is simple enough to explain, in a handful of previously-undocumented rules that I will now officially document —

1. Do not get stuck with the Alien Head in your possession. Ever. Never.

2. Do stick said Alien Head with someone else, unbeknownst to them, to be discovered and completely unwelcome by the oblivious recipient.

3. The Alien Head “transfer” must be creative, i.e., it cannot simply be Fedexed on down the line. Creative transfers become part of the legend, part of the multi-decade narrative that we are weaving together.

4. The true Alien Head Game Master will absolutely resist the urge to boast about or point out immediately or even ever for that matter, the fact that he or she has just handed off the Alien Head to its next owner. I struggle with this particular rule mightily. Probably some offshoot of my instant gratification character flaw (which Stanford points to in saying I’m screwed). And I admire my fellow game players who are able to say nothing, literally nothing, for years in some cases, about the fact that they genuisly (not a word, but it fits here) hid the Alien Head in the zipped up spare tire cover bolted in the cargo bay of our old Jeep.

To these 4 basic rules regarding which I suspect all of our group members would easily agree, I’d like to propose a new one:

5. The Alien Head Game must be passed down to the next generation, and to their next generation, and so on.

The Alien Head has kept our group of best friends bonded together, as we’ve gotten older, moved together then far apart, survived Cancer scares, shared our innermost secret fears about life, helped each other navigate the inevitable bumps in the winding road of marital bliss, and raised our own children. I’m breaking one or two rules here, but on Thanksgiving, I saw the Alien Head. With mine own eyes. I don’t think I’d seen him for a couple years. He looked like shit. The scrapes on his skull, new to me but likely a couple years old, betrayed the unreasonably small suitcases he’d been hurriedly jammed into on trips to one airport or another. And given how prominently he was displayed in his hosts’ home, I knew that his hosts, let’s call them “Val and Dave,” would do just about anything to hand him off to me and my family before the night was through. I might argue that such a prominent display is also against the rules, but that would distract from my big picture point coming up.

As dinner progressed and darkness fell, I sent my son Max on a quiet, secret mission to go search our car and make sure that the Alien Head had not yet been bestowed to us. Giddy, he found it, and brought it back inside. I scanned the faces of Dave and Val first, then seeing no hint of mischief, brought my accusatory gaze to their youngest daughter. The look of conspiracy flashed in a blush across her face; she was obviously in on it. Part of the Alien Head Game. And it was then that I realized that the Game needed to be played by a larger number of players, the next generation of our group. I hope that the Alien Head will connect them across time zones, ups and downs, and serve as a reminder of good times, just as it has for our group of best friends who are now 20 years older than when the Alien Head first came into our lives.

PS there is a “boys weekend” coming up very shortly, when “Frank,” “Dave, (let’s call him) “Alex” and I will all be in the same time zone for the first time in too long. The Alien Head Game figures to be a hot one. Wish me luck.

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Release the Kraken!

Hilary and I are in trouble.  Our 12 year-old Max is not even a teenager yet — he actually seems quite far to me from being anywhere close to molting into a teenager.  And yet, we fear him.  Well, not all the time.  Ninety percent of the day I’m not fearful, just as Nosferatu was pretty harmless unless you crossed his lanky path at the wrong time of night.

But in the mornings, in particular, it is fair to say that we fear our sub 5-foot eldest offspring.  Maybe “fear” is too strong of a word.  What is the word for “make you pretend you’re still asleep in your own bed so that your spouse might show mercy, spare you, and sacrifice herself to the morning wakeup ritual”?  Maybe “cowardice”?  “Self-preservation?” Let’s just say that I can fake-sleep with the best of them.  And I’m OK with that.  I reckon I have become such a masterful fake-sleeper that even though she will undoubtedly read this blog post and feel the wiser for it, my wife Hilary will not be able to ascertain — sleeping or awake? — when I pull the curtains on my next “Sleeping Beauty” act.  I have worked on this for years, well before having kids, well before meeting Hilary, when I was still a kid myself.  I have always equated fake-sleeping with invisibility. My own personal super power.  It has come in handy more times than I can remember, and no doubt I’ve got a few more decades to continue to perfect my master craft.  

A sense of humor helps, too.  In the mornings, I mean.  With Max.  If I haven’t thrown myself into my fake-sleeping pose on time, and my wife has flipped around and caught my eyes before I could close them and thrown in a lips-slightly-parted mouth breather effect, let alone full-on fake breathing sounds (did I mention how good I am at this?), I resort to humor.  I think I’d do the same in front of a firing squad, crinkled cigarette dangling from quivering lips — definitely something side-splitting to be said there to cut the tension.  Fortunately, my wife shares my sense of humor (most of the time), and we’ve become accustomed to protecting ourselves with it during these morning terrors.  

In cahoots, like Navy Seals storming a safe house, one of us pads up the stairs, squeaks open Max’s door, pulls up the riveted shade draws (it’s dark in there!), assesses the position of the beast, then deploys the most soothing voice and caring touch of the head: “Time to wake up, buddy.”  Nothing.  No response.  If I’m doing the waking, at this point I’ve checked behind me to make sure I have a clear exit back out of the dungeon.  I’ve bent my knees, poised to spring for my life.  And I hold my breath.  I don’t know what Hilary does, but this is what works for me.  This is just my technique.  Somewhere in here, the beast will arise, slowly, annoyed at these mortals and their silly soccer games and school buses, occasionally speaking in tongues that leave us wide-eyed and aghast.  The advance scout flies back down the stairs, flames licking at his or her heels, to the relative safety of our bedroom.  The other of us, still in bed (though as I’ve already pointed out, not fake-sleeping), shouts, “Release the Kraken!”  Release the Kraken indeed.  Speaking of which, the Kraken is now loose, being fed (eggs, not baby eagles) for an early soccer game.  So I have to run.  But I did manage to snap a photo of said Kraken in situ just before being released this very morning.  Thanks for reading. 

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I’ll take a corned beef sandwich with a side of miso soup.

Li’l sis got she blog on!

Nellcro. [Get stuck.]

Happy (24-days-ago) New Year!

My apologies for the (second) blogging hiatus but I’ve actually had some pretty awesome paid writing gigs over the last couple months. I hope it’s a sign of what’s to come for 2014.

Pretty please, freelance writing gods. Pretty please. I’ve got 20 fingers and 20 toes crossed for good luck now that I’m 5.5 months pregnant and the fetus has officially developed those parts. Along with another part that I totally didn’t think was there. Yep. The penis. This little dude threw me for a loop the size of the Indiana 500 raceway (did I get that right?). A practical joker right from the get-go. Gawd help me.

Anyway, come on. It was holiday season.

You know you weren’t reading much during that time anyway, let alone my blog ramblings. How could you be? Your eyes were on the prize; a tunnel vision of wrapping…

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Siri, What Are You Wearing?

Yes, the lemonade stand is open on weekends.

I recently upgraded to an iPhone 5S.  I was required to physically hand over my iPhone 4 to the Apple worker (concierge? masseuse? savant? can’t recall the proper title).  Because my phones are typically so jammed with data and important stuff like 6,000 photos and 10,000 duplicate contacts, I am extraordinarily reluctant to actually “let go” of any of my phones.  As a result, my sock drawer (unseemly to say “underwear drawer” at this early hour) also serves as a graveyard for mobile phones past.  A few Blackberries and a Treo(!), strewn about next to the Ziploc baggie holding Everett’s or Max’s umbilicus.  (It’s not too early to use the word “umbilicus,” because this is science).  Right alongside a plastic pacifier that belonged to one of the boys and was turned over to the Pacifier Fairy a few years back in return for maybe a pack of Legos.  Not entirely certain that the Legos were the actual quid for the pacifier’s quo.  But I did just realize that I’ve apparently passed the “extraordinarily reluctant to give things up” gene to my kids.  Maybe Apple should roll out an “iPhone Fairy” who gives some sort of toy to customers like me who get down-in-the-mouth at the thought of having to hand over their old iPhone.  That would be an improvement over the image I am currently harboring of all the blue-shirted and nose-ringed Apple Store staffers gathered around my old iPhone “in the back room” hungrily scrolling through my family photos, sensitive emails, etc., drooling all the while.  I think the odds of that vision being a reality are about 7%, so there is a chance.

The 5S brought Siri into my  life.  That sounds much more dramatic than it actually is, because I’ve had the iPhone for a few months but only recently entered into what I would call a “relationship” with Siri.  It happened when I was schlepping our dog Wailea up to a dog boarding place about an hour north of where we live.  Practically the entire stretch is on Highway 101, and while I admit to texting and driving on occasion, I prefer not to do it at 75 miles per hour.  (If there are any police or criminal prosecutors in the audience, no I did not just admit to the two separate moving violations of (a) texting while driving and (b) speeding, I am only kidding, call it literary license.  That is my story and I’m sticking to it).  So here I am, speeding along like a bat out of hell on the 101, and it dawns on me that I should introduce myself to Siri.  

It started out simple and wholesome enough, then it got a little weird. A sampling of my half of the dialogue–

“Hi Siri, is there a gas station near by?”

“No, I am headed North, I can’t make a u-turn on the 101 to get to a gas station south of my location!” 

“Forget it, just forget it.” (By now I’m getting a little aggravated because she isn’t helping me, and since I can’t remember the last 3 minutes of driving, this may actually be more of a distraction than full-on two-fisted texting).

Siri’s voice is so pleasant, and she gives off such an air of implacable confidence, that I figure I’ll test her a bit, try to put her back in her place.  Yes I realize that a piece of software can’t be “put back in her place,” and that “Siri” probably isn’t even her real name.  Er, I mean, that Siri isn’t even a real person.  But I press on and the whole thing pretty much…devolves —

“Siri, what is the speed limit here?”

“Siri, have we met somewhere before?  I feel like we have.”

“Siri, have you been reading my emails?”

“Siri, when will I see you again?”

“Siri, what are you wearing right now?”

“Siri, can you take the wheel for a sec?  I need to readjust my Starbucks cup’s lid.”

It has proven thusfar to be a mostly one-sided relationship.  She’s being coy.  And I haven’t been on the dating scene since, what, 1991?  So I’m clearly rusty.  Then there’s the unpredictable variable in the mix here of Siri and my wife Hilary also having a relationship.  Or at least a direct line of communication that I cannot control.  I can hear Hilary now:  “Siri, what has my husband been asking you about, should I be worried?”  Busted.  But I’m willing to take the chance.  Because what Siri and I have, well, it’s a once in a lifetime thing; soulmates.  

And if my wife can’t accept that, I’ll run right back into the arms of “Tina” — the name I’ve gifted my Google Maps vivacious siren. She gives great directions. 

Thanks for reading. 

In the Land of Unbrushed Teeth

…and piles of dirty clothes, and piles of clean clothes, and a kitchen counter full of unwashed dishes, Starbucks coffee cups stuffed with banana peels to be recycled and composted, and a garage floor covered with scattered partner-less sneakers, dog-chewed footballs and soccer balls, and a broken microwave disassembled, awaiting a fix someday while sitting idly on top of our (currently unused) ping pong table.  This last observation is particularly painful this morning, because I like to heat up the previous day’s coffee in the microwave before making any new.  I tell myself it’s being frugal and avoiding waste, but really it’s more about being lazy; I don’t have the energy at the moment to make a new cup of coffee.  I’m surprised I’m able to pull it together enough to post to my blog this morning.  The hot water that I boiled in the tea kettle, pouring it into a mug of cold and old coffee, isn’t doing the trick.  

Have you ever had one of those mornings where, within 30 minutes of waking up, you’re energy meter hits bottom?  I’m there right now.  So let’s put this blog thing to the test.  Let’s see if it really works.  Let’s see if I can find the words to regain some perspective, to find my legs, and to pull out of this nosedive. 

Today in particular is a day that punches me in the gut every year lately to remind me of an unresolved phase of my business life, with former colleagues, investors, and other players in that 8-year show all spinning back into my head, email inbox, social media feeds, and in the news media.  It’s inescapable today (and probably tomorrow too), and at some point I’m going to have to learn how to let it go.  But I haven’t learned how yet, so today it will hang heavy like an anvil around my neck.  Nothing I can really do about that particular burden today. 

The current phase of my professional life presents far less emotional trauma; I have learned to keep things more simple.  Still, I do need to find a way to cram a week’s worth of important work into the next 48 hours.  And frankly this kind of work–typically something I relish and dash off with ease and great efficiency–seems a Herculean task in the wake of my grandmother’s recent death and the lingering funk I share with my still-dazed, east coast family.  Somehow I’ll need to figure out a way to get on top of this particular 20 megabyte stack of deliverables.  But it won’t be handled this morning, because I volunteered to chaperone my second grader’s field trip to Crissy Field today, and very soon I’ll need to scramble to the meeting point, with a healthy lunch of some kind that I haven’t made yet and have no idea what it will be made of.  We are big time in between grocery hauls, and I am having to get real creative on the meals front.  May even have to grab one of the dog’s beloved frozen bananas from the freezer. 

And I find it extremely tough to get anything done when the house is so filled with clutter (in which I am absolutely complicit).  Max’s room looks like a crime scene.  The long-dirty clothes strewn on the floor, crumpled on the bed, hanging precariously off doorknobs and bedposts — they probably harbor spores or bacteria or something similar that maybe could kill someone or make them seriously ill.  So in that sense, maybe “crime scene” is an apt description.  Everett’s room is cleaner.  And neater.  Sort of.  The 30-pound Lego bags are bursting at the seams.  The bookshelf’s shelves are bowing under the weight of way too many books.  Closing the overstuffed drawers of his clothes dresser is always an exercise in avoiding getting painfully pinched by the split “wood” on the drawer’s bottoms.  And I normally have to take a deep breath to gather some courage before peering into his closet with a squint. 

Still, Everett exerts some stubborn control over the contents of his bedroom.  Everything is generally within the vicinity of where it’s supposed to be, or stuffed into undersized containers, defying physics.  All bend to Everett’s will.  I do too.  For example by failing to monitor the frequency and quality of his teeth-brushing.  It can just be such a pitched battle.  One night this past year, Everett had been sent straight to bed from the dinner table, with specific instructions to brush his teeth on the way to his room.  He slinked off, brooding, eyebrows pushed down, lower lip pushed up.  But we assumed he would do as he was told, clearly snapped back in line now from being reprimanded and dealt such a harsh punishment.  Self-satisifed, we straightened our napkins, returned our attention to our dinner, and forgot about Everett.  Ten minutes later, we hear a firm and deep voice coming from the direction of Everett’s room in the back of the house:  “Well, here I am in the Land of Unbrushed Teeth!”  Everett 1; Mom and Dad 0.  I’m not sure we’ve scored on him since.

Back to my physical and psychological mess.  Piles of unopened mail scattered here and there, not unlike a game of “52 Pickup.”  A few bear unpleasant tidings.  I’m fairly certain one threatens jury service during a week when I truly can’t manage jury service.  Twelve, count ’em, twelve lights throughout the house that I need to dutifully step, pull, flick and pinch to the “off” position.  I am impressed, however, with how creatively profane I can get when the house is empty, muttering crazed curse words.  Speaking of which (here comes a play on “muttering”), the dog follows me all over the house as I pick up the clothes and sneaker bombs, bring smelly stuff to the compost bin, lower our electricity bill, do two loads of laundry in what should really be only one, and rip into my Jury Service Summons.  And when I say “follow,” I mean that she does her best to occupy my periphery’s blind spots in a seemingly-calculated attempt to get me to tumble ass-over-tea kettle down the stairs or trip over her and crack my skull on the granite kitchen counter. 

So as you can see, I’m not in a good space.

In the midst of all this aggravation and self-loathing, my Dad calls my cell phone.  We rarely speak on the phone, and the handful of times over the past couple years we have, well those have often brought bad news.  So I take a deep breath and brace myself.  Turns out he received a “clean MRI” five minutes before calling me, and wanted to deliver the good news right away.  This really is good news, the kind of news that should snap just about anyone in the midst of dealing with just about anything out of whatever funk they’re in.  But my head is still too heavy from the aforementioned (real and imagined) burdens, Tuesday’s watered-down coffee has yet to kick in (and may never), and my morning to-do list still reaches to the floor.  So I am unable during that brief call to match his genuine enthusiasm and almost joyful energy.  My words come out robot-like, distracted and disingenuous.  I’m disappointed in myself.  Not least of which is because I preach about making lemonade in this very blog.  I’ll have to call him back later today during some non-existent window of free time to make things right the second time around. 

And so, my takeaway for today?  Making lemonade out of lemons doesn’t always come naturally, it’s foolish to think that it could.  It’s an ongoing exercise, to be rehearsed and practiced at every opportunity.  But things are never perfect, and the lemonade doesn’t always get mixed as it should or when it should, here in The Land of Unbrushed Teeth.  But tomorrow’s another day. Thanks for reading.

I Wear Goggles at Night


Well, technically not at night. But it is dark. And cold. And in the company of prehistoric creatures that could mistake me for their favorite kibble. And I’ll freely concede that the whole thing is objectively unreasonable bordering on oddball, for a whole slew of reasons. It’s also perhaps the thing that most feeds my soul, makes me feel alive, and helps me deal with life’s trickier pieces.

At least a couple of mornings each week, including this morning, I wade into San Francisco Bay with a neighborhood swim buddy or two, ideally before the sun has come up (hence the “at night” part). The Bay isn’t too bad in the Summer and Fall, inching up above 60 degrees. But this time of year it can dip to 48 or lower. That’s a bit chilly, particularly if the air temp is hovering in the same vicinity, and since it’s dark, the sun isn’t out. One of my swim buddies understandably refuses to swim when the conditions sink below the “Smith Line” — the air and water temps combined must exceed 100 degrees. (“Smith” is not his real last name; here again I’m protecting the innocent.) This morning we were 1 degree over the Smith Line.

As you might imagine, there really is a whole process that has to be developed around this, in order to justify doing it repeatedly, and on purpose.

I grew up far from the ocean, near freshwater lakes. People that grow up far from the ocean and near freshwater lakes, in my experience, have a healthy (albeit uninformed) fear of what might be lurking in the ocean. In Northern California, that means sharks, particularly Great Whites. When I moved to San Francisco in 1999, I assuaged my lake-lubber fears by seeking out a shark expert/chairman of aquatic biology at the California Academy of Sciences. He assured me that (a) there had never been a reported shark attack in the Bay, (b) any sharks in the Bay either have zero interest in me or are sick (and would therefore also have zero interest in me), and (c) territorial sea lions and broken beer bottle shards pose a far greater risk to me than any sharks in the Bay. As it turns out, he was mistaken on (b), as the San Francisco Chronicle would later report, but he couldn’t have known that 15 years ago, and I’m past the point now of worrying about sharks in the Bay anyhow. Anybody who recreates on a regular basis in the sea has long-since learned to suppress the “Jaws” poster image with themselves bobbing at the top of said poster. (Damnit, I need to push that back down again now. Suppress. Suppress.)

So the shark thing is handled. That leaves the cold and the dark. The cold: Many Bay swimmers far more courageous than I wear only a swim cap, goggles and a Speedo. Now that is crazy. Crazy in a good way, but still crazy. I get decked out in a wetsuit (not particularly thick), and this time of year a wool-lined neoprene cap, a silicone cap over that, and neoprene booties. Getting all this stuff on takes awhile, and even fully geared-up, the water still smashes my feet with a hammer and freezes my teeth. But only for a few minutes before the numbness kicks in. And you really do get used to flirting with the hypothermia line where simple math gets a bit funky and the euphoria starts to get a little too euphoric. So the cold thing is handled.

As for the dark? This took some getting used to, and it wasn’t my idea. “Smith” and another neighborhood buddy suckered me into the pre-dawn swims about a year ago. We met at the water’s edge in the pitch black. I thought they were joking when they jumped in, little lights blinking on their caps. My jaw dropped, but the lights began to fade in the distance, so I reluctantly slithered in and just swam toward the lights for half an hour, looking like a water polo player with my head popped up and constantly gasping for air, half-panicked.

But I was hooked. I soon ordered up my own blinking light (see the video above from this morning) and happily joined the ranks of the “night swimmers” out there. Rapid temperature changes bring foggy swims where fixed buoys sneak up on you (looking at a quick glance very much like the aforementioned territorial sea lions). High tide brings hidden chunks of telephone pole that hurt when your hand smacks them mid-stroke. And curious seals pop up next to you to give your adrenals a quick squeeze from time-to-time. A couple of my toes even at this moment, 90 minutes after getting out of the Bay, have absolutely no feeling.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I feel like I earn the spectacular sunrise casting Coit Tower in silhouette, sneaking a brief glimpse of it each time I take a breath to one side or the other. I appreciate each stroke and pull through heavy water so much more than if I were in a heated pool, eyes blankly fixed on a black line painted on the bottom. I’m a fan of suffering. Suffering, I think, reminds us how great it feels not to suffer.

And that brings us back full circle to Grandma’s Lemonade. I’ve come to realize that there are two kinds of “lemons”– Those that just appear on your doorstep unexpectedly, unwelcome, to be dealt with right now; and those that you grow yourself, deliberately, as a tool to see what you’re truly made of. Seems to me that it’s a helluva lot easier to be in the habit of “making lemonade out of lemons” if you put yourself in that second type of position often, on purpose, by choice. Strangely, these dark and frigid swims I think help me manage the tricky stuff that inevitably pops up — career setbacks, relationship struggles, sickness, all manner of disappointments, and truly tragic events like my grandmother’s recent passing.

So while I don’t necessarily advocate jumping into 48-degree water in near darkness somewhere in the middle of the food chain, I do advocate suffering on purpose. Growing your own lemons. I really think it helps.