(Not Quite) Ready for Takeoff, Batman


This little fella is on his way. Actually, he has been on his way for quite some time. An object in continuous motion. From the moment we first laid eyes on him in the hospital room nearly 16 years ago.  Before then, really, since he was an active little bugger in his mother’s belly, as I recall.  To date, no matter how far he’s sprinted off, his little figure in the  distance was still perceptible to the human eye.  To my human eye. 

I feel that’s about to change.

We have had some test launches, to be sure.  Sleep-away summer camps during which Max would effectively hover on the dark side of the moon, incommunicado, for weeks at a time. A month-long sojourn to China — I still don’t have a firm grasp on the far-flung villages he visited; it all seemed so surreal.  The Terra Cotta Warrior statuette stands vigil on my bedside table, a subtle reminder as I sit here typing in my pajamas, that my firstborn has stood in places I can barely comprehend and likely will never see.  And it feels as though he is poised to do it again. Only this time, to me, feels different. 

We have twisted the dial two years into the future, more or less.  The dreaded thud of college-trunk-on-dormroom-floor will twist my innards two years earlier than they expected to be twisted. My boy is headed to boarding school in the fall. Two thousand nine hundred eighty four and four-tenths of a mile from home. I’ve had a couple months to mull this over. To conjure up the poignant, anticipated images in my mind’s eye, affording my head and heart an opportunity to process things. To try to make peace with it. I am forcing myself to get there, because this is the right thing for Max.

But I’m clearly not there yet.

This streak of consecutive nights I plod up the bedroom stairs to the living room couch?  I have been telling my wife, and myself, that the couch offers respite from the frequent snoring emanating from my bed and/or from the dog’s bed.  There is snoring, but that’s not what gnaws at me.  The bowls of cinnamon squares at 4 in the morning are not the result of low blood sugar or simple hunger. The obsessive Twitter newsfeed binges that settle me back to sleep just as the birds outside begin to wake do not stem from a need to stay abreast of breaking news.  

I am wrestling with what happens — what I know will happen — when a parent gives the greenlight for takeoff. 

I vividly recall watching my preschool, race-bibbed Batman pump his little legs down that short stretch of macadam. I guess I didn’t realize the nondescript strip of pavement was actually a runway. And that he would continue running right through the finish line tape. Off in the distance now, he’s nearly off the ground, feet barely in contact.  I can still see him if I squint, but just barely. And I need to get myself ready.  

Thanks for reading.  

The Monopolist in the Mirror

I pretty much despise board games. I think the genre is misspelled — “should be ‘bored’ games,” I’ve often smartassedly protested. Not at all sure from whence this aversion came. But an aversion, nonetheless, it most assuredly is. Bordering on a full-fledged phobia. Don’t tell me the DSM-IV sits conspicuously silent when it comes to Yahtzee-induced hyperventilation. I recognize a diagnosable malady when I feel one. 

So it was with considerable trepidation that I bellied up to the Monopoly board on our living room carpet last night, ill-advisedly consenting to a competition with my wife and my 11 year-old. Our Little League season had just come to a sudden end, my team losing in the championship game two days ago. So the after-dinner ruminations of the past several months — noodling over various lineup combinations and scanning spreadsheet data describing our opponents’ tendencies — have ceased to ruminate. (Yes, I realize these ruminations likely are covered by the DSM-IV.) 

My annual, post-playoffs, hazy funk left me vulnerable.  Head cocked to the side, drooling a bit, staring off into the distance. Lingering in this addled state, I numbly heard some faint murmurs about “playing a game” as the dinner table’s chairs were pushed back from the dinner table. I vaguely recall the click of the door that secures the closet bursting with boxes of anxiety-provoking “games.” And someone I think asked me if I wanted “the shoe or something else” as my game piece. My head swam a bit as I distractedly shouted from the kitchen, “I’ll take the guy with the top hat!” 

Everyone knows that there is no gamepiece guy with the top hat. Everyone except me, that is. That guy is the iconic, Robber Baron logo who graces the box cover. You can be a schnauzer or you can be a wheelbarrow. But evidently you can’t be the mustachioed industrialist who presumably is or was a constant presence in the local society pages. My wife and son, of course, knew this critical piece of information that I did not. And I have no doubt that, sitting crisscross applesauce in the other room from me, the two shared a knowing, conspiratorial look. If you walk into a room not knowing who the mark is, welp, you, sir, just might be the mark. 

The game did not go well for me. 

We played at an accelerated pace, due to an impending  and agreed upon bedtime. I had little time to ponder my moves before making them. And I exacerbated my poor decisions by going on a property and utility buying rampage. I also deliberately shouted “Yes!” with each roll of the die, knowing this distracting tactic was likely a breach of die-rolling etiquette. An attempt, in retrospect wholly unsuccessful, to mask my general ignorance and bitter disappointment with the piddling $6 “rent” promised by my just-purchased property. I enthusiastically shelled out $50, over and over again, to spring myself from Jail. Sporting a sweaty-faced maniacal grin, probably exactly as a genuine convict would do if given the opportunity to purchase his freedom for $50. 

If I was going to go down, I was going to do it loudly, with style, and following a game strategy so preposterous and wrong-headed that my adversaries would be confused. A little intimidated. Maybe a touch frightened. And with any luck, they would never invite me to join them again. I hope they learned their lesson. 

Thanks for reading. 

Excuse Me, Adonis

So I’ve been offline for some time. Well over two months have staggered on by, it appears, since I contributed anything new in these here parts. Not because the well has run dry, mind you. But because the well is full up. So many seismic and poignant events have transpired within my family over the past 60 days. Hospice bedside vigils, east coast boarding school enrollments, sudden and unexpected health scares. All of this has effectively paralyzed me, writing-wise. I fear I am not up to the task of articulating the enormity of these life-ending and life-changing developments. Perhaps some things are best left unremarked upon. At least in the context of this self-indulgent blog. So many complex thoughts swimming in my head begging to be unpacked and sorted out. I’m stuck. 

And then this morning, my 11 year-old snaps me out of my ink-slinging stupor. Subtly reminding me that even when the shit hits the fan — and perhaps especially when the shit hits the fan — a little levity can be a wonderful thing. 

In the course of our morning pre-work and pre-school ablutions, I teasingly asked my hairdryer-wielding wife, “Hey hon, what’s it like to be married to an Adonis?” I had just caught a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror. Thinning hair mussed and parted in the middle like a geriatric Alfalfa. Eyelids half-mast. Featuring boxer shorts that merited a toss in the hamper 3 days ago. 

Hilary showed mercy and more or less ignored my rhetorical query; Solidarity in our shared journey of 25 years now, both painfully aware that our collective and respective wheels have long since come off. 

Thankfully, my son Everett’s wheels remain intact. On his blue, electric flowboard. On the tiles of our bathroom floor. There are days when I suspect his actual feet might not make actual contact with the actual floor. Hovering unsettlingly in one room or another. At this moment when Hil and I struggle a bit to steel ourselves for another day, our motorized Everett says, “Excuse me, Adonis.” Then he rolls on by. 

With those three words, Ev reminded me that everything will be OK, even when things couldn’t seem further from OK. Even when you hold your mother-in-law’s warm hand during the last hours of her life. Even when you embrace your wife with a full body hug, over and over again, as she grapples with the loss of her mom. Even when you prepare to send your firstborn 3,000 miles away to a new school — fleeing the coop far earlier than you fear you can withstand. And even when your own parents’ recent health scares reinforce the inevitable but unwelcome specter of their mortality. Everything will be OK, Adonis. Excuse me. Get out of your own way, too, while you’re at it. And get back to finding reasons to laugh. 

Thank you, son. And thanks for reading. 

Love Stinks (Still Waters Are Bottomless)

My youngest keeps his cards close to his vest. Doesn’t wear his heart on his sleeve. Well, he is sporting a vest. So really, he doesn’t have any sleeves on which to paste his feelings. Especially what with clutching all those mysterious and unknowable cards to his chest. Everett isn’t one to share his emotions, is what I’m trying to say. His waters may be still, but they are bottomless. Wrong word choice. Strike that. Let’s go with “deep.” His waters are deep. They run deep. There, that’s better. 

Here’s how things transpired: I posed my plain vanilla afterschool standard, “How was your day, bud?” I fully expected the age -appropriate, totally opaque, “Oh, fine.” Instead, I get, “Well, someone I like found out they are someone I like.”

Oh shit. 

I found myself in uncharted territory. Woefully unprepared. I almost wish he had copped to selling smack in the 7-Eleven. Or robbing a Chevron station. Those scenarios seem easier to navigate than that of unrequited love: “Were you caught? Arrested? Let’s get you legal counsel immediately. Wait, are you wearing a wire?” 

That stuff is easy. But capital L capital O capital V capital E? Fuggedaboutit. 

I chose to keep my mouth shut.  Any wrong-headed words in this moment, no matter how well-intended, would surely doom my smitten 5th grader to a life devoid of meaningful attachments. Playing checkers on a park bench with strangers. Pigeons pecking at his feet. Paper-bagged bottle at his side. Emotionally alone. All because his dipshit dad gave the wrong advice at that critical moment: 4:05 pm PST on March 23, 2017. 

The pressure. I bit both of my lips together with both rows of my teeth. Hard enough to leave a mark. The sound of my heartbeat pulsing in my skull. All my energy focused on trying to come up with something useful and important and encouraging and fatherly. Covering up my rising panic with my go-to: slow nodding of my head with a slight, all-knowing squint of my eyes.  Like I’ve seen in the movies. 

“Was it “Livy??,'” I heard someone say.  I froze and held my breath, suddenly realizing that “someone” was me. That incredibly dumb question — dare I say, the worst possible question — was mine. My intrigue regarding the identity of his little heart’s desire overwhelmed my apparently weaker instinct to embrace his little heart. (Note to readers: For what it’s worth, “Livy” is not the real girl’s name here. At least I don’t think so.) 

My faux pas was ignored or instantly forgiven or perhaps catalogued for later, added to the long list of “Dumb Things Dad Said.” Ev soldiered on in the face of my ineptitude, explaining that he had even gotten into a scrap with a classmate whom “Livy” apparently preferred to my second born son. A little physical altercation. I must admit, my spirits brightened for a moment. A fistfight fell well within my smack-selling/gas station-robbing fatherly advice wheelhouse! Now we got ourselves somethin’ to discuss! 

But the moment passed. We were, I realized, firmly ensconced in matters of the heart. Well above my pay grade. Beyond my ken. (Note to readers: For what it’s worth, “ken” isn’t a real person in this particular situation. At least I don’t think so.)

Fortunately for me, a mad dash to Little League practice interrupted our discussion. And bought me some time during which I could (and did) plumb the depths of my better half’s encyclopedic emotional playbook. I will spend the rest of the day now preparing an elaborate Decison Tree. Ready to dispense perfect advice to my heartsick 11 year-old at 4:05 pm PST today.  I only hope he hasn’t put his vest back on by then. Wish me luck. 

And thanks for reading. 

Know When to Fold ‘Em


I’ve always wrestled with fractions.  For as long as I can remember.  You see, I missed a single day of elementary school in the 4th grade.  And I am convinced that the entirety of human knowledge regarding fractions was conveyed to my John T. Roberts classmates in the course of that single, fateful day.  When I returned to school the following morning, my health apparently restored, the Good Ship Fractions had long since left port. Off in the distance, eight of the three topsails dipped low on the horizon.  Then she disappeared completely into the water, which covers 12/7ths of the earth’s surface, as I understand it.

Clearly, I picked exactly the wrong day for a stomach bug.  

A similar phenomenon transpired on a handful of other occasions, whereby I would somehow completely miss out on something that at one time seemed — and on occasion still seems — important.  Video games. I missed that boat, too.  Zero interest.  Maybe I had the flu or just overslept on the morning my neighborhood buddies gathered around a big Zenith TV and lost themselves in the novelty of “Asteroids.” And it’s too late for me now to develop an affinity. Both of my sons would spend way too many hours glued to one violent video game or another if given free reign.  But we don’t give them free reign.  We frequently hide the game controllers in anger. And more often than not (equating to 13/101th of the time, by my calculations), we cannot find the controllers ourselves after our anger has dissipated.

Same deal with playing cards. If I catch a whiff of an imminent rainy day suggestion of a game of “Bob’s Hat,” I experience a visceral, Pavlovian reaction. I slink off in the opposite direction, avoiding eye contact or feigning sudden interest in a television show in another room.  I can’t imagine that my 4th grade teacher revealed the wonders of Texas Holdem to my wide-eyed schoolmates during his “Fractions 101” lesson while I wiped my nose raw at home. But he might have.   That possibility could indeed explain why I have such a deep aversion to playing cards.  Even now, I feel mildly nauseated upon spying an errant card lying at the bottom of our kitchen junk drawer.  My knees buckle as I reflexively clutch the counter to avoid losing consciousness.  

On the plus side, that stomach bug during the winter of 1977 likely spared me from a life of compulsive gambling.  Note to readers: I am in no way implying or suggesting that the lads with which I just spent 3 days in Vegas are compulsive gamblers.  On the contrary, they appear remarkably well-adjusted and properly-perspectived. To my knowledge, for example, none of my college buddies hocked gold-capped molars for one last hand of Pai Gow. Nor am I suggesting anybody had gold teeth, by the way.  I don’t really know, but I don’t think so.  Rather, I am merely reporting that I would definitely be a compulsive gambler but for my complete ignorance regarding how fractions work.  I have a feeling I would gladly pawn 39/32 of my dental fillings for just one more throw of the die.  Crazed look in my eyes and a huge smile with no teeth. 

Here I was, completely surrounded by a sea of legal wagering.  On college basketball games.  Spreads and over unders or under overs. On the pull of a one armed bandit’s lever. On which of us would next disappear, surreptitiously sneaking off to our hotel room for a much-needed midday nap. And I abstained.  Not from the napping part.  I am a gifted napper.  From the gambling part.  I literally wagered nothing.  Not because I am too good for it.  Because I am not good enough for it.  And for me, that is a good thing. 

Thanks for reading. 

Viva Las Vegans (REDRUM)

I’m not a Vegan. Nor a long-winded blogger, at least not this morning. But I am a sucker for plays on words. Hence the title. 

I’m also a sucker for opportunities to congregate with friends I’ve known since I was a jelly-headed 18 year-old. 

Even if said opportunities require a flight to the second-hand smoke capital of the world. Does anyone not have a cigarette or cigar dangling precariously from their lips or pinched between first and second fingers here? I’m an annoyingly militant anti-smoker, but I’m admittedly overrrun. So far outnumbered that I may scavenge a pack of Marlboros on the way to the hotel gym. Don’t want to stick out. And maybe the nicotine will take the edge off of my slightly hungover stair master session. This could be the beginning of a wonderful, new addiction! 

Even if said opportunities require skipping one afternoon of my beloved perch on a bucket of baseballs, flashing pitch calls between my knees to my Little League team’s catcher. Our catchers for tomorrow’s game are on their own, fastball and knuckle curve-wise. Still, I find myself sitting on the edge of my hotel room’s pull-out couch, gazing out the window over the expanse of The Strip, throwing 1 and 2 fingers and wiggling all three. Jonesing to call an outside fastball and revel in my battery’s imminent strikeout. High fives all around. 

Even if said opportunities require stifling my fear of long hotel corridors reminiscent of The Shining. Danny in a slobbering epileptic fit will come peeling around the corner on a Big Wheel any moment now. Those creepy twin girls in powder blue dresses will pop up and block me from my door, droning something in monotone. I’ve seen that movie waaay too many times to be cool with navigating this hotel corridor for the next couple nights. 

All of this I am happy to kick aside for a couple days in order to relive and rehash shared memories from three decades past. And just to tidy up this post, if I were a Vegan, I’d gladly eat and drink whatever Vegans are not supposed to eat and drink. Viva! Bring it on. 

Thanks for reading. 

Side Effects

screenshot-2017-02-23-09-09-08I’ve long since grown accustomed to the mumbly, speed-spoken list of potential side effects rattled off at the tail end of Cialis TV commercials.  I find the droning words calming.  Hypnotic, even.  I stare numbly at the middle-aged virile man’s blue v-neck sweater fibers glowing in the sunlight. Find myself wondering why people have single-sized bathtubs.  With clawfeet.  On their front lawns. Overlooking a lake.  Holding hands.

In a dreamlike state, I wonder: “Am I missing out on something?  Do we need a couple skinny tubs?  Am I showering too much? Should I be able to see a body of freshwater from my bathroom? Where are their towels? Won’t they be chilled by the early evening air?” When I snap out of my gauzy reflections, I have a vague sense that those pills deliver up some truly unpleasant potential side effects.  But I can’t…seem…to…remember…any…details.  It’s as if those twin porcelain tubs at the water’s edge wiped my memory clean like Albert Finney’s Looker movie sunglasses. 

But a new medication from Walgreens yesterday commanded my full attention. The parade of horribles printed in the accompanying literature featured one malady new to me: Seeing or hearing things that are not there.

Say what? 

The linoleum floor at the end of Aisle 1 may as well have fallen completely away under my boots. I rushed towards the front door, squinting my eyes and cupping my ears.  Desperate to avoid imagined stimulus posed by the racks of chocolate Easter eggs and related Holiday paraphernalia.  Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw a single Peep mustering a charge.  Attempting to break through its cellophane prison. Straining against its Peep brothers’ little shoulders. Grimacing from the effort, its tiny Peep brows furrowed.  The cardboard box rattled violently. I quickened my pace before all hell broke loose in there.

Stepping outside into the open air, I held my breath and waited for the Chestnut Street storefronts to fold in on themselves like the psychedelic Dr. Strange cityscapes. For a fleeting moment, it occurred to me that the Dr. Strange movie may have actually been just one long prescription drug warning. A cautionary tale, if you will. Approximately two-thirds of the potential side effects posed by the contents of my new pill bottle, I suddenly realized, had been represented in the film.  

I staggered to the Prius, coming to grips with my parental burden to drive home safely with my oblivious 5th grader reading “Big Nate” in the backseat.  At least I think it was my Prius.  At least I think it was my 5th grader.  At least I think he is in 5th grade.  And as for “Nate,” is that even his real name?  He doesn’t look all that big, after all, if you really think about it. 

Strapping myself in, I thought I heard some complaining from the backseat of my purported car, coming from the mouth of my purported 5th grader. Something about “What took so long in Walgreens?!” and “Where are my Peeps?!” and “WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO TODAY?!” “These damned pills pack a punch,” I thought, since no actual child of mine would ever utter such words, or crave high fructose corn syrup, or speak to me that way.  “Has to be these meds,” I reassured myself.

Somehow, against all the odds, within a few minutes, I managed to arrive safely in our driveway.  At least I think this is our driveway.  “Everett” rolled out of the Prius nonchalantly, with “Big Nate” in-tow, and punched in the garage door code without hesitation.  So at least for now, it appears that I am safe.  Still operating within the constraints of reality.  But I have a bottle full of mind-bending pills, apparently, and the day has only just begun.  Wish me luck.

And thanks for reading. (Is anybody really out there, though??)