This Is Major Tom to Ground Control….

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The Russians are among us.  I’m sure of it.  We are overrun.  It’s too late.  That Russian spy ship lurking off the East Coast? A harbinger of things to come.  Things that already have come, actually.  Because like I say, comrade, they are everywhere. How do I know this to be true?

Last night before dinner, I had some time to kill during my 5th grader’s piano lesson.  I walked across the busy parking lot to a nearby bar.  Figured I’d enjoy a nice hoppy beer while Everett was honing his “Old MacDonald.” Instead, I unwittingly stumbled into a clandestine meeting of the Soviet Union Cold War Cosmonauts.

There is no other logical explanation as to the identity of this gathering.  The non-human cosmonaut was a dead giveaway.  And by that I don’t mean a door prize that was once living and now expired.  (Though I can see how one might jump to that particular interpretation.)  The photographed cosmonaut ensconced in his space capsule does not give off much vibrancy, that’s true.  More taxidermy, to be sure.  Nevertheless, I can testify that the spaceman was, in point of fact, very much alive.  

This is an amazing revelation, admittedly.  The spaceship does not look, ehm, space-worthy.  How the USSR could launch this pioneering pooch more than 1,200 miles into orbit at 17,600 miles per hour is beyond me. Could this vessel possibly have withstood the furious 5200-degrees fahrenheit heat blast upon reentering earth’s orbit?  And how has this furry cosmonaut managed to look so good, despite the fact that his space mission took place in the 1950s?  The eyes were a bit clouded by cataracts, but not even a hint of mange. Remarkable.

Alas, I have no answers to these questions. Rather, I sat eyeball-to-eyeball with the enemy for 20 terrifying, unblinking minutes. I finished my IPA in silence, then casually signed the bill (though not using my real signature).  And deftly clambered out the bathroom window to escape a lengthy stint at Camp Gulag.

I am lucky to have survived the encounter.  The next time may not end so well. The Russians are among us, my friends.  Consider yourselves warned.  

Thanks for reading. 

Under My Skin


I’ve been awake for fewer than 90 minutes, but I’ve already managed to accomplish a ton, running at a fever pitch. And this is probably not a good thing. 

My wife is back east with her family for a few days. So the dog’s 645am whines are directed at my side of the bed. She pulls my arm out of its socket while circling the block, clearly unclear as to who is walking whom. My younger son recognizes my frenzied state, and I find him helpfully “doing his laundry” in the garage. Frankly I’m relieved not to wade across a foot of frothy bubbles on the concrete floor. 

I feed the dog. But even the 5 steps across the kitchen floor between her bowl and the 5-gallon food stash requires rigid choreography. En route, with empty food bowl in my hand, Alexa fires up KQED and I fire up the coffee maker. Four heaping scoops of bison meat later, and Wailea takes up her standard position: Hunched over her food with prickly hackles, salivating, and growling at anyone who she suspects has designs on her kibble. This morning, that evidently would be me. 

Alas, I don’t have two minutes of “anti-resource-guarding” training to dole out. It’s not in the strapped time budget. So her low growl persists until I burst through my older son’s bedroom door and loudly malign his inability to awaken on a timely basis. He loudly maligns his busted alarm clock. The clock is not busted. It’s actually a feat of modern engineering, more powerful than the NASA IBM computers supporting the lunar landing missions. But I haven’t the time to deliver my “Wow, are you spoiled!” lecture. 

My younger son is fully and properly dressed by now, thereby deftly avoiding the “Why the hell are you wearing shorts, it’s winter?!” lecture. But my time-pressured psyche is still jonesing for an outlet. Any opportunity for bombast will do. I find it in Everett’s failure to sprinkle organic blueberries over his bowl of gluten free cereal and organic milk. (I would have settled for any blueberries, organic or no.) I lambast him for his negligence, and point out that he is now inexorably pointed down the path of malnutrition. Feeding tubes are unavoidable. His brittle bones will shatter all over the place. Unphased, Everett responds, “Well, by eating this cereal, I am saving the gorillas. Maybe you’d like to eat a bowl too?” I don’t have time to weigh the relative societal impacts of emaciated 11 year-olds against extinct mountain gorillas. So I back out of the kitchen with pursed lips and a curt nod. Momentarily defeated, but alive to fight another day. 

On to the next thing: Locating the mug of coffee I strategically placed…somewhere. I find and grab a half-dozen other ceramic cups scattered all over the house. They are wonderful reminders of little league seasons past, former employers, favorite restaurants, and summer camps. But none of them hold anything close to the drinkable coffee I brewed maybe 5 minutes ago. Normally that would be fine; I’m OK with day old coffee. But I draw the line at the Petri dish state. I find the missing mug minutes later, as I close the garage door. It is hidden in a coiled snake of dog leashes on the work bench where I have never actually done any “work.”

I march Everett — still a little smug in his newfound role as a Jane Goodall disciple — up the block to his bus stop. As I spy Ev stretch for the bus’ first step, I spin on my heels and racewalk back home. On to the next thing. 

Minutes later, somehow, I manage to deliver my eldest to his school’s front door without triggering another check in the shameful “tardy” box. Nevermind that he jumps into his chariot barefoot, subjecting his irritated driver to the spectacle of putting his socks and shoes on during the trip. Don’t ask me why, but this routine drives me mad. I think Max is well aware. Everett has Harambe. Max’s show of civil disobedience involves counterfeit Yeezies and mismatched stockings. 

In any event, and already feeling exhausted by 8am, I plop down in my favorite stained Starbucks chair. While considering which verboten household items my dog is currently chewing to bits at home, I begin a mad dash through my Twitter and Facebook feeds. Flying through The New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle apps. Breathless and cotton-mouthed now, in my bubbling outrage at overnight events. My Fitbit disapprovingly points out that my heart rate is in the “fat burning range,” as if I were exercising somewhat strenuously. But since I’m merely sitting here cross-legged, contemplating another Cuban Missile Crisis, this data suggests instead that my aorta will shred and explode in my chest at any moment.  

And this is when Frank Sinatra steps to the mic, clears his throat, and grabs my attention. Fortunately for me, someone at Starbucks HQ added “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” to this morning’s in-store playlist. My rapid breathing slows immediately. I feel a wave of welcome calm wash over me. I slow down. And I write. 

Thanks for reading. 

Errata Mondata (More Than We Can Chew)

Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream. I have a theory. His was and is way more important, obviously. Mine doesn’t even merit being mentioned in a sentence immediately following a sentence in which his dream is referenced. Nevertheless…

My theory goes like this: We’ve all bitten off waaaaaay more than we can chew. Why do I say this?

I see it at home. My wife and I totally forgot about a school project until very nearly the last moment. Pulling it off only from an 11th hour scamper to Target, and the coordinated (though also half-panicked) efforts of similarly situated parents whose sons’ imminent deadline snuck up on them too. 

I have narrowly avoided smashing my garage door to smithereens on numerous occasions, of late. Lost in an NPR update on my Prius’ radio. Forgetting the rote step of clicking the opener before shifting into reverse. And keeping track of car key fobs? Fuggetaboutit. It’s a near-constant Easter egg hunt. Somehow always resulting in fingernails full of popcorn pieces, scraped from the underside of couch cushions. I should just cut to the chase, and get in the habit of actually putting the car keys under those cushions on purpose. 

And I have no idea how our children have managed to consume proper nutrition in our household over the last few weeks. Frequent, intentional trips to the grocery store for fresh food are a thing of the past. Last night I whipped up some pasta dish, knowing full well that some of the veggies were way past their expiration dates. I’m not really certain those were actually veggies at all. Could have been anything, hastily grabbed and chopped because they were green (or had turned green). This may explain why I awoke this morning with a lower lip swollen to twice its normal size. Some well-deserved allergic reaction to something I absentmindedly threw into that meal. Fortunately, no one else in my family ate what I ate. So I alone will suffer through duck lips today. 

This same level of constant distraction is, I think, at work in otherwise laudable newsrooms across the country. Seems to me that reporters and editors are just like the rest of us when it comes to trying to keep it together while under constant stress. Pick up and read a newspaper. Not for the substance, but for the words used. Yesterday I caught an egregious typo in The New York Times. This morning, another, in The New Yorker. I know these sorts of events to be less frequent than Haley’s Comet sightings. I know that reporters and editors have been outright dismissed for such oversights in the past. Their journalistic shortcoming — “Oh, he’s the guy who had those consecutive ‘and’s’ in that front page Times piece. The poor guy. He’ll never work again. Here he comes, whatever you do, avoid eye contact!”

My point: These mistakes are as revealing as splintered garage doors, hastily thrown-together school projects, and fat lower lips. It seems we are all bursting at the seams. 

I don’t often feel compelled to explain blog post titles, but I do in this case. I’m referencing The Police’s third studio album, “Zenyatta Mondata.” Seems apt, as the band created the album under some duress and purportedly hated the result. From Wikipedia: “Drummer Stewart Copeland said about the time pressures: ‘We had bitten off more than we could chew. … we finished the album at 4 a.m. on the day we were starting our next world tour. We went to bed for a few hours and then traveled down to Belgium for the first gig. It was cutting it very fine.'”

Big bites, and we are all chewing like mad. Wild-eyed. Mistakes a’plenty. Maybe there is some comfort in that. Solidarity. I tell you what: I’ll wear my Julia Roberts lip today as a badge of honor. That New Yorker journalist should print out a couple thousand t-shirts with the offending typo pasted across the chest. I’d buy won. 

🙂

Thanks for reading. 

The 600 Club. 

What do you get by combining a glass vase packed with 600 jelly beans, a folding card table, and three 5th graders posted on a busy street corner? A heavy — and maybe healthy — dose of city living. 

The boys arrived at the appointed hour yesterday morning. Descended upon the preagreed Chestnut Street staging point. Pumped and ready to cajole unwitting passersby into gobbling (collectively) 50 gooey chocolate chip cookies, washed down (collectively) with five gallons of lemonade. In this induced hypoglycemic state, folks were then brow-beaten and propagandized (in a good way) about the merits of micro-finance. Bellies distended and brains overwhelmed, they were then forced to perform mind-bending mathematical calculations in a pressured attempt to surmise how many jelly beans sat encased in glass before them. 

These dynamics produced an interesting array of outcomes. There was the red-faced homeless gent, apparently attracted by all the hubbub, who elected to sit cross-legged a few feet from where I sat. A little too close for comfort, I supposed, given the Norman Rockwellian lemonade stand scene we were working to curate. The boys’ well-rehearsed “would you like to donate” pitches intermingled with some barely coherent mumblings from my new sidewalk buddy.  Upon closer aural inspection, I realized the fellow wasn’t talking to or about the boys, wasn’t referencing the fact that he and I were seated close enough to hold hands, and probably remained more or less unaware of his surroundings. I even came to appreciate his stream-of-consciousness ramblings. 

There were the obligatory gaggles of painstakingly coiffed and costumed Millenials, prepared for a very meaningful “Sunday Funday.” In truth, a depressingly large percentage of these people literally ignored the earnest inquiries from my son and his little buddies. Speed-walked right past, eager to get to their waiting pitchers of mimosas or whatever, I guess. Maybe I did the same at their age, but still. You don’t need to donate, people, but you might want to consider upholding your end of the social compact with an 11 year-old. If he is polite and thoughtful in his question, return his eye contact and appreciate for a moment or two what he is up to. He’s cool with a simple “no, thank you” with a smile. And ultimately, his dad is cool, too: with your giving me an excellent example to share with my son about how not to behave in these sorts of circumstances. Harumph. 

Fortunately, there were also tons of families. Plenty of couples and groups of people who were not in a rush to get somewhere. An older homeless woman whom I have seen asleep in various store entryways over the years but never heard speak. She, as much as these many others, represented the overwhelming majority of smile-inducing, faith-in-humanity-restoring people. Who listened intently to the boys. Read their handmade poster (which, admittedly, was not easy to read). Did not remark on the boys’ unintentionally funny use of exclamation points (Donate!). Asked thoughtful, substantive questions which were (amazingly) met with thoughtful and substantive answers. And for the most part, totally ignored us parents standing or sitting on the periphery — a much-appreciated show of respect for these kids and their serious school project. 

How the boys managed to fit 600 multi-colored and different-looking jelly beans into that corked jar, I’ll never know. But perhaps more impressive was the way they chatted up, mixed with, and maybe even inspired, a couple hundred different-looking people on a busy street corner one Sunday afternoon in 5th grade. 

Thanks for reading. 

How do we sleep while our benches are burning?


Happy Friday, good people. Despite the headline, this blog post will be bereft of current events of the political variety. Or at least I plan to write this post with the clear intention of steering clear of that high glycemic index stuff. Or try to. 

Instead, I want to talk about burning furniture. 

The above image was captured last night on Duke’s West Campus and published in this morning’s Chronicle. In light of news reports of late, one would be forgiven for presuming the photo reflects some sort of violent protest. College kids losing their minds over what’s going on in DC. And recklessly, dangerously lighting ablaze anything that could be lit ablaze. And stoking the fire with piles of more unlikely fuel until the flames practically lick the brooding gargoyles standing sentry in the Gothic towers overhead. 

What is the world coming to?!

In truth, this photo gave me a sense of relief. A brief respite. A breather. Although I had watched the game myself last night with an old friend, I forgot to savor it. I neglected to bask in it for a bit, allow myself to enjoy something simple, primal, and longstanding. But the kids didn’t forget. They do what Duke students have done for decades after a big win — particularly over Carolina — they burn shit. Typically, oversized wooden benches constructed by fraternities and other living groups and such. Ostensibly for sitting; in actuality, fodder for hoped-for celebratory bonfires. 

So given the state of the world, how great is it to see people experiencing genuine joy? Stretching out a moment. Following a long tradition involving building a huge bonfire because they are happy about something. And although it was the kids who lit the fire, I imagine there are some adults smiling this morning. As they meander past the charred embers on campus. As they catch the scent of burnt hardware store pine from a mile away. And as their Facebook feed conjures up visceral memories of better days. Ones from long ago and ones yet to come. 

Thanks for reading. 

I see the photo, and the driver is admirable (Red Dye #5)

“Food coloring’ll kill ya.” This would have been my immediate conclusion had I studied Mandarin at any point. A man or woman posted a comment overnight on a recent blog entry of mine. In Mandarin. So I turned to an “expert” — my earnest 15 year-old who has studied the language for several years and spent a month in China this past summer. He both solved the mystery and inspired today’s blog post. Alas, no good deed goes unpunished. Oh, and he will likely demand that I delete this post in its entirety. But I shall persist. 🙂


So to summarize —

  1. I need better code names for my confidential informants. 
  2. Resist the urge to be helpful to your Luddite dad when he texts you a Mandarin translation request during school hours. A lose-lose situation. 
  3. Lay off the midnight eating of the bright red, cancer-causing, braces-gumming candy. The authorities are not above rifling through recycling bins in search of contraband. 
  4. Digging is admirable, even in Mandarin! 

Thanks for reading. 

We Are The Champions?


Eleven years. Eleven years I’ve waited. Patiently, more or less. Eleven years I’ve sat idly at a plastic table, watching some other San Francisco Little League coach win the draft lottery. Blindly and serendipitously grasping the folded paper ticket granting its holder the first pick in our annual player draft. “A unicorn,” I confess I’ve pondered. “I’m going to graduate two sons from this league all the way through, never once getting that first pick.” Blink. Blink. Blink. 

Well all that changed on Monday night. My heart actually palpitated a bit when I withdrew my hand from the envelope and saw that I had, at long last, pulled the “1.” I’m not much for cards, but I imagine this was like drawing a royal flush or handful of aces or whatever the mustached (mustachioed?) World Series of Poker pros aim for on ESPN. Or Charlie’s Golden Ticket, folded into a candy bar’s wrapper. Yeah, felt like that. 

With a little whiff of hand grenade thrown in, too, if I’m being completely honest. 

Because suddenly, now, we got us some pressure. If our ringer-stacked little league roster doesn’t reach the stratosphere this season, it’s on us. The coaches. On me. The head coach. If our players’ on-field heroics don’t cause the capital “L” capital “L” Little League officials in the Williamsport home office to decree moving the home run fences 50 feet back, I have failed. If our season doesn’t conclude with a ticker tape parade down Market Street, I will be hung in effigy. Or maybe stuck with voodoo pins, also in effigy. Or beaten with a broomstick as a piñata, once again in effigy. 

It’s difficult to imagine the upcoming spring little league season not culminating with me in one or another state of effigy. 

Opening Day looms a mere 24 days, 1 hour, 9 minutes, and 30 seconds hence. But who’s counting? 

Thanks for reading. 

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. 

Smells Like…Victory. 

I love the smell of a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Order and Melissa McCarthy’s Sean Spicer heavy duty hair gel. Throw in the waft of a large Phil’s “Turkish” coffee, and call me Robert Duvall. Sitting here on this soggy, green Rec & Park bench, sporting a Civil War-era colonel’s hat and one of those mustard yellow ascots festooning my puffy jacket collar. No apocalypse now, at least not right at this moment. 

Instead, this morning I feel a little lighter. Some small measure of relief from a month of predictably unpredictable madness. The world feels a tiny bit less malignant for my 11 year-old. Maybe we’ve suddenly stumbled upon the antidote: Mix one measure Rule of Law with one measure of Hilarious Parody. Shake vigorously. Or maybe pound it and grind it with mortar and pestle. Cover and let it sit in the fridge overnight, chilling. Or maybe leave it wide open on the kitchen counter, open season for all the recently-hatched fruit flies. Let the flies get in on that action. 

I confess I am a little fuzzy on the exact proportion of ingredients in this potent paste. But I am reasonably certain that POTUS woke up this morning feeling as if he had downed a half dozen mason jars of Red State Moonshine last night. And the Press Secretary, I bet, is wondering if his own little hands are as little as Melissa McCarthy’s. Probably Trump is pondering the same question, truth be told. 

As for me, I love the smell of three branches of government and late night comedy sketches in the morning. Smells like…victory. 

Thanks for reading. 

I’ll Take the Muskrat

My wife turned on the bedroom TV this morning. For the past month or so, such occasions are few and far between. We watch the pixels come to life peeking warily through the gaps between our fingers. Half-expecting an image of an overnight mushroom cloud. Holding our collective breath until no such cloud image appears during Matt Lauer’s first 30 seconds in our bedroom. 

Instead of End of Days, this morning we got the prognosticating rodent, Punxsutawney Phil. Phil’s weather forecasts once held some meaning for us when we suffered through unbearably long, East Coast winters. Desperate to leave the sidewalk snow banks and biting windchill behind, I’d cling to any hint of imminent relief. “What did he say?! What did he say?! He saw his shadow?! Oh thank God, Winter is almost over!” I don’t remember which is which regarding the causation between shadow-seeing and jet streams. I just remember being so grateful to our woodchuck savior. 

So I guess I had a little bit of this lingering around somewhere in the recesses of my subconscious when NBC streamed the beaver’s shenanigans live this morning. Probably not fair to accuse the hamster of “shenanigans.” I’m sure he is as nonplused and bewildered about this whole thing as I. Still, I found myself straining to hear Phil’s mumbled little answers to the existential questions being posed by a town official wearing a stove pipe hat. I think guinea pigs only appear to be speaking, when in fact they are actually instinctively grinding and sharpening their rodent teeth. I ignored this inconvenient fact, however, convinced that Phil was issuing predictions covering topics far broader than the change of seasons. Pretty sure I even loudly shushed my 5th grader, who had migrated by now to our room en route to the bus stop. He only saw on TV a chubby groundhog surrounded by mostly old people dressed in weird costumes. But I was looking for more. “What’d he just say?! Wait, what?! Shhhh! Damnit, daddy can’t hear what the beaver is saying! Shhhh!” 

So I don’t actually know what ancient wisdom Phil shared with the human race this morning. I suppose, too, that I will search in vain for a transcript of the proceedings. Whatever Phil said, though, I’m sure it was brilliantly prescient. Reassuring, hopefully. Salvation is just over the horizon, or words to that effect. 

Some folks will scour this morning’s papers for clues as to what the future holds. Me? I’ll take the muskrat. 

Thanks for reading.