Comment

THE HARDEST PARTS OF PARENTING THAT YOU HAD NO IDEA WERE EVEN GOING TO BE A PART OF PARENTING 3

1. Keeping your mouth shut on the sidelines of youth sporting events.
2. Not showing your surprise when they figure something out on their own.
3. Sharing your phone.
4. Not vomiting when they vomit.
5. Giving up and tying their shoes for them for the rest of their lives. 
6. TIMING WHEN TO HELP A CHILD WHO'S READING AND STUCK ON A WORD.

7. Stools

8. Futility

The suspect pictured here in 2014.

The suspect pictured here in 2014.

9. Gravity

I don't want to get too dramatic and scary on you, but in 2014 my kindergartner beat the ever-loving shit out of another kid on the playground.

This news came to us as a surprise. My phone buzzed. It was the school. I was pretty sure it was another fundraiser. 

You get three kinds of calls from your kid's school. At least I know only of three so far. I have young children. I have no idea what lurks in the future.

The most common call is them begging you to come buy books or brownies. You know, because why fund education? The driving force of human advancement from fire to the Renaissance, to medicine and Snap-On Tools. 

The second is that your child is sick. Come get him/her.

Three--and something I'm pretty proud to say I have only received this one time--was a call to say that my son, age 5, a round-faced boy named Otto, who's priors included hugging too much and staying up past nine talking to his stuffed animals, had frightened a substitute teacher. She was on playground duty and this is a quote from the sub, he beat up the kid "gangster style." Now when I heard this "gangster style" my eyes lit up. I was intrigued. Otto was 3% on the growth chart. Below the arch of the average children, my two boys' physical advancement shot like hyper rainbows far below the curve. But gangster style? Was that like in Office Space when they beat up the printer?

So I called Sarah and she was already on her way. I asked her if she'd heard that he'd scared the substitute teacher and she sliced my enthusiasm short with a terse, "Don't get excited, Jared. This is really fucked up."

Gangster style.

If I could just drift a bit, I will eventually tributary back into the flow of things. But in that moment--and this is one reason my wife and I co-exist so well--I likened our relationship to me being the kite and she the stalwart force on the ground trying to reel me in. Sometimes I catch a wind and I inspire us together, but mostly it's the reeling.

She was going to handle it. I was at work.

One more tributary: I remembered Sarah going back to work after we had Quin, our first child. That evening she was sad. Not only was she not with her firstborn, but she had to go to work and alphabetize expense reports or some chore so menial compared to creating human life. ANYTHING IS MENIAL COMPARED TO CREATING ANOTHER LIFE. I think right here and now I should propose legislation that, if you have a child, everybody just kicks in and you have a salary. Not that we want you to have a whole bunch of babies, you know, become a baby farmer, but you get a base salary so you don't have to go to some mundane place that ruins the mind-boggling magic that you performed for the world. I mean, think about it. Some dude pulls a rabbit out of a hat and he goes on tour. If he did a trick like a woman does with child birth, we'd be like "Holy shit, a human just came out of that magician!" We'd lose our minds. We'd be building temples and shit.

My wife made a human with little more than wine and Netflix and she had to answer phones for some dude who, it turns out, couldn't even produce a profit.

Back from the tributary, I'm at my 2014 desk with the the gravity of Otto's situation fully set in. I'm slightly suffocated by the realization of how everything else is all so dumb. Coworkers were alerting me to important work things but it was all a mumbling mush compared to our kindergartner perhaps putting himself in the kid clink for a very long time.

My mind jogged into a sprint; a speed far faster than my body could run. I started thinking about Otto. He's the quiet one. You always hear about the quiet one. All of these years he's been duping us. Those sweet 'I love yous' at night were so we just get out of his room and he can do whatever gangster kids do. I was really sinking into thought and wondering what have I done? I'd probably paid too much attention to the firstborn, and then the second born you reel it in a little bit. The second born gets hand-me-down pants and toys with dead batteries. I haven't given him enough attention. He's going to grow up and be dangerous, or worse, be the cat guy. Are there cat guys? Or do they mostly go with reptiles and nunchucks?

He'll be That Kid. There's never a good That Kid. There are good That Guys. "Oh, he's That Guy who gets all the ladies." Positive. Or, I'd say John C. Reilly is a That Guy. Every movie he's in he makes it better but people don't know who he is. "Yeah, it has That Guy in it." Once a kid becomes a guy he can be a That Guy, but a kid starting out as a That Kid usually doesn't pupate into a That Guy. I thought about Otto being that kid. There's no turning back.

Emotions were running high as I sped home to help with the situation. I wanted to sprint in with flowers and say, "Honey, I get it. I get the gravity of all of this. I understand."

When I got home Sarah was quietly making dinner with a smirk on her face. She'd gotten all of the details. Yes, the substitute teacher was marred for life by the violence, but there was another piece. The regular teachers and the assistant principal were less rattled. They explained that this kid had been picking on Otto for some time. This kid had been a problem. He was that kid. The OTHER KID WAS THAT KID.

The teachers explained that they love Otto, and that he's a sweet kid. But they implored that we should talk to him about not fighting at school.

"But this kid was a bully?" I pestered Sarah. I'd forgotten about gravity again. "He went gangster on a bully and he's five!"

Sarah was unmoved. She stirred vegetables and chicken and reasserted that I'd have to talk to him. Without fist bumps and congratulatory high fives. Reeling in the kite.

At bedtime, after books, I pulled up to Otto's lower bunk.

"Otto," I began my lecture, "what you did was, um. It was--" and I looked around the room. "What you did might have seemed necessary. I mean not necessary, but this kid was picking on you, right?"

He didn't say anything; he just looked at me. His reading light illuminating his blond hair.

"Otto, listen." I continued, realizing that I needed to sharpen my point a bit. "You can't fight at school. You gotta talk to a teacher and let them know what's going on. It's much stronger and braver to use your brain instead of your fists...or feet."

Otto looked back at me. I think he'd grasped what I was talking about. I'd made my point.

And then he spoke.

"Dad," he began so thoughtfully. My little gangster grasping the hard lessons.

"Dad," he repeated, probably taking the time to fully understand what I'd imparted.

"Yes, son," I said softly in the quiet night.

And he said, "Do you think anyone's ever gone fishing and caught a duck?"

Comment

Comment

9-11 on your radio dial

I still have the same bike I had then, a Trek that I'd ride from the Parkmoor Village apartments in Colorado Springs to the radio station where I worked just west of downtown. It was an awesome trip. I'd go through Palmer Park on a trail that often had me walking, or limping, out of areas that were too treacherous for me. I'd worry that I'd wreck again. Wreck like I did when I broke my back in 1999, but I'd stay relatively safe. Nothing memorable. Except that breathless cruise across the city after my brother called and said he was rejoining the Navy. They'd need him for whatever war we were going to have to wage. He would be right.

The memory I have is this small, cathode ray day that would begin with the call about the Twin Towers, and end--well, I don't think it's ever ended. In Colorado we'd been preoccupied with how the Denver Broncos were going to do without their star wide receiver Ed McCaffrey. He suffered a horrendous leg break during the September 10th night game against the New York Giants.

All it took was thirty minutes on a Tuesday for that sun set. We were left to find something to illuminate us.

On the dusk of that morning, I emerged from Palmer Park pedaling viciously to get to my radio job. It was all hands on deck for KRDO 95.1 FM and 1340 AM. There was a TV station, too, KRDO TV-13. Everybody was going to have to help decipher cryptic news bits and bring as much calm as possible.

As I left the trail and cruised into the open pavement of the downtown area, a rugged man who looked like a homeless wizard yelled at me. "Did you see what happened to those towers?" I kept riding until I had this notion that maybe I didn't know what happened to those towers. I had this hope, some silver-lined dread, that this guy might have seen something different. I whirled around and asked, "Do you know anything more?" And it's weird when you speak out loud about certain things. Like death. The death of a loved one sometimes doesn't seem real until you talk about it with someone else.

I paused for a moment, wondering how I was even going to be qualified enough to talk about it on the air? How was anyone qualified? This was new. This guy who'd sauntered out of an alley would be as educated on surprise terrorist attacks as anyone. I felt small, and in this short interaction, realized a similar trait: fragility. 

In a strange finishing bit of dialogue that I hadn't even expected, I told the guy that if he found out anything, to give me a call. "I'm about to go on the air and the number is 473-PEAK," I wrapped the conversation like I was finishing an on-air break. My lumbering dumbness floating between us. He wasn't impressed.

I don't remember the rest of the ride other than I was flat-out dangerous, pedaling through lights and jumping sidewalks to get to the station. I wanted to be there. I wanted to be there to inform, but I also wanted to keep rumors from spreading. I wanted to make sure no one was accused before they should be. Not that one jock on one station in the Springs can be such a force, but that's why we get into the media in the first place: we have the delusional temerity to believe that we can make a difference. I'd only been on the air in that market for a year and a half, but it was enough to know that there were those set to go off on a revenge tour without any provocation, let alone the destruction of America's trade center. Trade Centers. 

I would get to the station and it was weird. You know how all the time there are little barriers between people. The boundaries. And not boundaries in a personal space way but boundaries in an unnecessary way. Doubt, suspicion, paranoia, assumptions. Those things that keeps you from truly appreciating each other. 

Well at Pikes Peak Broadcasting on September 11, 2001, those were all gone. We were all communicating. We were all talking. We were nodding, and helping and touching. We were all at each other's bedside. We were walking open wounds. Pouring forth whatever anyone else needed. All of the help that we couldn't give to ground zero, to the injured, to the mourning, to the dead, we were giving to each other. We breezed around the hallway as if we'd all lost twenty pounds and were fueled with newfound purpose. And were younger and faster and hadn't carried any other burden in the world. Bills didn't matter, unpaid bills didn't matter, we weren't upset that the promotions department couldn't get us better on-air prizes, and we weren't bent about Britney Spears showing up on the playlist so often. We were there. Unabridged. Available

Some people might wonder: how do you fill so much time? How do you fill so much time on the air, especially when you're used to Britney Spears doing much of the work. The microphones opened, and so did our brains, and our mouths, and our concerns and our hearts. Pauses became as necessary as the information itself. Fumbling around near a live mic; thinking, looking, paper ripping. Someone from the hallway shouting an update. All of it was on the air.

In the back of my head I kept thinking that I was not the right guy for this. Just yesterday I'd been talking trash about the New York Giants. And here today I'd rolled up to a microphone open to a community in need. People I never knew listened let me know they were listening. They just wanted to know something. Anything. Was there going to be enough gas for their cars? Was it true that there would be martial law? A lot of the calls were speculation about who had done it. A lot of calls about Muslims. So much fear. Shared fear. I'd never heard this before. Yet it didn't matter how inane the callers' concerns, the conversation seemed important. This was important contact. The air was suffocating but we were okay with sharing it. 

"Listen, please, stay home." I asserted in my first attempt at terror advice. "Don't get in line to get gas. Just stay home." I think that may have been the first paternalism I'd ever dispensed. Stay home. Just stay home. Get your kids and go home.

The gas panic was the biggest thing. People wanted to be able to move. They wanted to be prepared for however long the siege was going to last. We had five phone lines coming into the studio and they were all blinking. The fifth line was the hotline from anyone important enough to know it. It didn't blink, it flashed a strobe. When it went off you needed to answer it. On 9/11 it just kept strobing. People that I didn't even know knew the number were calling it.

I looked at my boss and repeated what I said on the air. He agreed. He felt people should just be at home as well. That was weird, too, because he and I dwelled on opposite poles. And not in that way where we'd eventually meet on the other side. Just opposite. Here we were in this little room--imagine about four port-a-johns side by side. He'd always done his best to tolerate me and I would do my best not to get fired. Well, that's not true. That last part. But today we were trying to figure out how to talk. Radio professionals, comm majors, broadcast school alumni in a studio figuring out how to say things.

I called my mom while a song played. She was sad. Turning inward, frustrated. But ultimately, her first born was going back around the world again to join some kind of battle somewhere. Ten years earlier, in 1991, my mom had written this in her journal: "War is such a despicable word; it even tastes bad."

"Dammit, Jared." Weird hearing her cuss. 

"Mom, mom, what am I going to tell people?"

"Tell them to be nicer to each other."

A little girl called. She was a regular requester. She played the violin and I'd put her on the air sometimes to apprise listeners of her progress. "Yeah, hey, Ewy, um, do you think that--well my parents say this is the beginning of a lot of war. LIke the biggest war ever."

"I dont' know," I said, clearing my throat like it might propel better words out of me. "I hope not. I hope that the violence we've already seen helps us...ahem...realize that war isn't the answer."

I hung up. There's going to be war. Probably going to be war. I muttered to myself.  

"Mark, what do you think?"

Mark Goldberg, one of the morning guys, had just gotten back from riding his bike around town. He knew about everyone so I figured he'd gathered something from someone.

"That sounded pretty good."

"What I said to her?"

"Yes, but I think everybody is going to want to kick ass now so we're screwed."

"Ok. I'm not going to say that."

"Good idea. I wouldn't say that."

"Mark, I was even talking to a homeless guy today to help me do this."

"Help you do what?"

"You know, just help me talk about this."

"I know, man. I know."

The woman who was on before me on the midday shift was one of the most comforting souls on the planet. She knew how much I'd struggled when I first got to Colorado Springs. I tried way too much at once. Instead of being the polite guest who came into your front door, I burst through the side of the house like a drunken Kool Aid man. Spilling the contents of my head everywhere. 

She came in with a public service announcement.

She read from the fax paper. "There's a prayer rally tomorrow at 1pm at Focus on the Family--"

"Oh, christ, Focus."

"I know, Jared, but it's...it's good. They can be good."

"I'm not putting that on the air."

"It really should go on the air."

"I'm kidding."

"I doubt that."

"It'll go."

Why am I me? I wondered. I've got to be comforting. It's time. I've got to be comforting. That's it. It doesn't matter--it doesn't matter, Jared. It doesn't matter what they believe and it doesn't matter what you believe. It can't matter. That's when these kind of things happen is when that matters.

There's something about humanity here. It's all about humanity. This lonliest of creatures that has to adopt friends from other species.

I called my girlfriend. She was getting ready for work and watching the TV. 

Here's who we were, in a metaphorical sense: I know a guy who just lost the lower part of his leg. He says he had phantom pains in a phantom leg. Sarah and I, in September 2001, had phantom innocence. 

"I'm not sure we'll be taking off for our trip tomorrow." Sarah said about our first planned vacation as a couple.

"Everything is grounded right now. But who knows."

Sarah had just started a job in the financial sector. People would soon be calling her and asking where their retirement money had gone. Phantom innocence. 

The song had a minute left. Lee Greenwood. I grabbed a phone call.

"Yes, ok. A prayer rally. I got it. That's important. I'll make mention now. Thank you. Thank you."

I got some good feedback that day. An email that I'm still looking for from a man who'd moved from the Springs from Egypt. He appreciated that I kept reminding people that we didn't really know who had done it or why, and even if we did know, we did not yet know who or what they represented.

Inspired, I wrapped up my Focus on the Family prayer PSA break..."Please, let's all be nice to each other. We're cool and we're calm. We're America and we are the hippest cats on the planet and we shouldn't be shaken to the point of acting like ass___!" I went into commercials.

Did I say 'assholes' on the air? Oh god. The phone blinked. The strobe phone. Shit.

"Hello, The Peak!"

"You almost said assholes on the air."

"Oh, crap, did I?"

Laughter. 

Relief.

It was the news guy, Kyle. He wasn't going to sleep for a while.

"No, you didn't say assholes, you paused and said clowns. Still, you know, probably--"

Mike, my boss, popped his head in.

"Jared, good message. No 'ass' please."

"I'm sorry. I was rolling. I'm emotional. Hey, Kyle, whaddya got?"

More phone calls. I couldn't get them all. Boss Mike had already been headed to the studio with an email when he heard the ass.

"This guy's not happy. He says you're getting political at the wrong time."

"I'm not sure what he's talking about," I lied knowing full well what that email was going to say.

He handed me the printout of the man's complaint. His electronic thoughts pressed onto dead trees.

President Bush had landed in Marine One on the White House lawn looking all important and I was pissed about it. Even more so, I was pissed that I was pissed about it. He's the president...of the world. Goddammit Jared. All I'd said was, "Ahhh there's our boy...coming to make a difference." Yes, "our boy." That was bad. It was wrong. It's dumb and wrong. You're being divisive and as dumb as a person that you'd criticize.

I didn't say any of that to my boss. I wish I would have. I stared at the email and then looked up at him.

"I'm sorry. I'm trying to start a conversation, I guess."

"I can have Shawnee come in or--"

"That's OK. I've got this."

"I know you've got this, I just don't want this," he said, flicking the paper email.

Feedback good and bad. I was learning something. I was learning about voice. I was learning to talk again. Typically when you open the mic on a top 40 station, you've got about 30 seconds. You have some focus. You have an idea. You're coming out of one hit song and you're going into the next. You tell them about the weather. You tell them something of the band they're about to hear. And maybe cajole the listeners to join you at a car dealership on Saturday. Yeah, there's more to it, but there's always a focus. Today, the day, 9/11, every time I turned on the mic it was like a pulled a lever to a trap door. 

I'd toggle the mic. Creaaaak, crash. The floor dropped.

"Peak 95.1"

When you come out of a song you always want to say your station, your call letters--the thing you want people to write in the Arbitron diary. Pound it over and over and over. One time a 45-55 year-old male wrote in the Arbitron, "I hate John Ewy." He kind of got the name wrong. Or maybe he was abbreviating some frustration about John Elway. But the Ewy part was a pretty good clue he was talking about me. (My show was 'Ewy in the Afternoon'). I joked with my boss, "I should stop saying my name so much so people won't know who they hate." He smirked in his suit and tie. He was a national guard member. A military man. A conservative pinstriped to the floor. But now he was out of his office and my new partner on the air. We worked on turning terror into talking points.

Back on the air.

"Peak 95.1. (pause) What a day. We have so much to learn and thank you for being here. We're going to be here to...you know...keep you updated. You know...Mike..."

"Yes, Jared."

"We're just going to be here. That's all we can do."

"That is correct. We will also be cutting in live feeds of Peter Jennings as well as Jon Karroll of the local KRDO TV-13 news crew."

"We have a microphone and a phone, so let's talk."

Pause. I was going to cry.

"Oh sheesh. Mike, do we cry. Are we crying yet?"

"I think you can if you want. I certainly have felt emotional and, at times, sick."

I don't remember how we ended, but soon we were sharing Peter Jennings. Oh shit, I thought, as I listened to his voice break.

Strobe light. It's Jay. The night guy who drove down from Denver once a week to record his shows.

"Mike, Jay wants to know if we should delete his tracks..."

"That is a good question. They won't make much sense." 

And that's a good point. We can be torn from innocence--or at least some comfortable level of knowing--to an intestinal-ripping free fall in moments. Jay's tracks had been relevant the night before: promoting music, enthusiastically sharing music news, popping off a quip or two. Yet a few minutes on a fall day alters everything. Going from Jennings to J-Lo would have been sacrilege. So how come we can't reverse it? Go from terror to good times just as quickly? I don't have an answer. I guess it's the difference between falling off a cliff and climbing back up it. That's what I thought about as I deleted Jay's tracks. 

"Hey, Mike!"

"Yes?"

"Jay said he heard Whitney sing the anthem and he did cry."

"If he were here I'd hug him."

"Mike?"

"It's a different day, isn't it?"

I remember my mother. I remember in the future of the past. Star Wars chronology. As it would be two days shy of four years later, in 2005, when I'd be sitting in the same situation wondering how not to cry. Or how to. Some limbo that had me making funny nose noises. She was about out. I needed to talk to her about going. Someone had brought that up to me, that it was time to talk to my mom about dying, and I yelled at that person and she packed up and flew away to Alaska.

I sat at the edge of her bed and I couldn't get through the gummed-up works of the tangled brain. I couldn't get out. Every time I opend my mouth I'd start to bawl. Like my jaw and my tears were connected. Truth to tears more likely.

I would find out later that that crying is OK. The magical women of the hospice would say that she needs to know that you're going to miss her. They would say, "It's okay. She needs to know how much you mean to her."

On the air in 2001, I did not know that. Even when I did in 2005 I really couldn't put it into practice.

Mike adjusted his shirt. His tie was perfect. Sometimes just the jet wing folds of his collar made me feel like a slouch.

"Mike this is tough." 

Paternal laughter.

"It is tough."

"OK....listen...we're here and I daresay frustrated, sad and confused. Just like Peter Jennings and our guys on the AM side, we're still trying to figure out what's next. We're trying to figure out everything. Everything. I guess we're trying to figure out everything again."

"Jared, we're going to get a news update from Kyle and have some traffic from Jan. Isn't that right?" Mike said to push me out of my rut.

"Yes. yep. Kyle?"

I faded him up on the mixing board. I could hear Jan in cue. I dunno, tucking something in. She was a pro.

Are you going to cry, Jared? Just cry. Jesus, you cry over an episode of That 70s Show. It's OK.

They need to know how much you need them. Let them know how much they mean to you.

Comment

Comment

Your Uh Nus: An astronomical misunderstanding

True story. A family fracas as a result of one of the greatest misinterpretations in my lifetime.

The boys were introducing Eliot to a rocket ship I'd built for them out of a large stump and a chainsaw. With a short countdown they were off, exploring the solar system, and working as a team to navigate safely through space. Quin suggested they go to Mars. Otto countered with Uranus.

And Eliot had had enough of the boys making all the decisions.

Otto: Let's go to Uranus!

Quin: Engaging engines.

Eliot: NO NO NO

Otto: What's wrong, Eliot?

Here's the thing about Otto, he takes great care of his sister. So much so that he's going to destroy me. I'll tell Eliot 'no' and she cries and Otto swoops in to make her better. I've warned him that he's making a monster.

Otto: Eliot, we're going to Uranus.

Today, with that declaration, he'd help bring joy and awkwardness to our family vacation. To all of the woodland creatures of Gould, Colorado.

Eliot: NO! WE'RE GOING TO MY ANUS. MY ANUS!!!!

Pause. Shock.

Quin: Eliot, we're going to the planet Uranus.

Sarah: Maybe pronounce it YOUR UH NUS.

Eliot: Not Uranus. MY ANUS. MINE. MY ANUS.

You ever have that time when, in your head, your emotions overpower all other reasonable indicators to the contrary and you feel it's a good time to finally snap?

She unleashed.

Eliot: MY ANUS MY ANUS MYANUS!

Pointing and yelling her maxim at each of us, she exited the craft and stomped away.

Otto, Quin, Me: Eliot, it's a planet!

Sarah: (face in hands) Just go with YOUR UH NUS

Eliot: MYYYYYYYYY AAAAAAAAANUS! MINE!

Otto: We'll go to another planet.

Sarah: I think we're already there.

IMG_8072.jpg

Comment

1 Comment

THE HARDEST PARTS OF PARENTING THAT YOU HAD NO IDEA WERE EVEN GOING TO BE A PART OF PARENTING 2

I want a benefit for people who come here. My stories might do it for some, but I also want to incorporate this important list of things that most people have no idea is part of the parenting package.

1. Keeping your mouth shut on the sidelines of youth sporting events.
2. Not showing your surprise when they figure something out on their own.
3. Sharing your phone.
4. Not vomiting when they vomit.
5. Giving up and tying their shoes for them for the rest of their lives. 
6. TIMING WHEN TO HELP A CHILD WHO'S READING AND STUCK ON A WORD.

7. Stools

8. Futility

How do you write about sadness that's so beyond words the only thing you can do is fall into someone's arms? Can you write a hug? Can you paint with enough adjectives the picture that's scorched itself onto the back of your brain? A flickering slideshow on your mind. Inscrutable evidence of disappointment playing itself over and over again. Yet somehow you end up laughing.

I'll try to explain what that means.

Sadness is avoidable. Maybe much of it can be staved from its gusher; diverted to some happier place. Sometimes the sadness is even predictable, which would make you think it's preventable, but you'd be wrong. And you'd most likely be a parent who somehow hasn't learned that you are powerless in the tidal wave of vengeful tiny people.

It begins with a swing. Maybe a pendulum for the literary, grandfather clock crowd. One day I'll have a grandfather clock. I'll be surrounded by books and in a comfy chair. The ticking will be the only sound as the timepiece pushes me into the grave, but I'll have a stiff drink and be incredibly comfortable with my withering presence. Each swing of the spoon a veritable slice of my life. Until then, however, I must survive the minimal invasion of a toddler punching through my chest and ripping out my heart.

The Homeland Security Advisory System is at orange.

The Homeland Security Advisory System is at orange.

Let us commence. Let us swing one way before the other.

We were driving to Fawn Valley just north of Estes Park. And let me just say, don't go to Estes Park on a Saturday in the summer. It makes Vail look like a ghost town. It's the absolute saddest thing you'll ever see. A beautiful mountain town turned into a carnival. It's the boardwalk without the ocean. Business owners and restauranteurs with representatives in the street calling out their wares. People piled onto the sidewalks for taffy and toys with cars idling, exhausting, going nowhere in traffic they thought they left behind. Estes is the death of the wild. A singular moment in civilization has an obese man with a bag of caramel corn and a cup of Starbucks swigging the last of our resources. If it turns out that we can make it as a species until August, this hypocrite will be hosting a family reunion at Fawn Valley, a resort just outside the tourist town apocalypse.

My family runs deep in the Allenspark/Estes/Lyons area. It's where my mom and dad met. It's where my young parents began a family and where they grew up in the wild early days of Hippy Colorado. Those seeking mountain town solitude and those disillusioned by the overhyped progressive enclaves like Boulder, drifted into the valley below Longs Peak. Quirky people thrived in Allenspark and Estes Park. Our family friend became a national sensation when she was caught with a chainsaw cutting down billboards that promoted the new developments coming to the area. Margaret's new nickname became Chainsaw Maggie. Her husband, Otto, was the postmaster of Allenspark and eventually my middle son would become his namesake. My grandmother would deliver mail up the twisted canyon of the South St. Vrain, and my grandfather would burn all too quickly as one of the boys who liked to have a little too much fun. I never met the guy but I have a feeling I know him.

See that house behind Ethel and Greybeil White and their snazzy car?

See that house behind Ethel and Greybeil White and their snazzy car?

This one. Greybiel would fix it up and I'd live in it as a kid. It's still in tip-top shape on White House Drive, just off Highway 7 about 5 klicks east of Allenspark proper.

This one. Greybiel would fix it up and I'd live in it as a kid. It's still in tip-top shape on White House Drive, just off Highway 7 about 5 klicks east of Allenspark proper.

Otto Walter and his goats.

Otto Walter and his goats.

With all of this provenance like poltergeists in the hills, I was emboldened to survive weekend traffic and get a preview of our family reunion hotel. And I was very clear with the children that this was only a preview. We weren't going to stay. We will eventually, but not tonight, I stressed. Directing most of my rear-view mirror emphasis at Eliot. I knew she could hear me, but I wasn't sure if she could hear me. This is where I predicted sadness. Preventing it might be impossible.

Remember the pendulum, people. It never doesn't swing.

What I had not foreseen was just how high the high would be before the low. We pulled into the inn, a roadside resort that looks like something out of Dirty Dancing, and Eliot squealed. An actual squeal that's spelled squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee with the e's going on for an eternity and compromising the sanity of otherwise peaceful space aliens. Sarah's eyes went wide with that surprised sarcasm face you make when one person says a thing and you must quickly express your disbelief to another. I got to be that other person. We both knew that this was going to turn ugly.

I spoke another message to my daughter about how we were only stopping by, not staying. Before my sound could hit her she was running towards the beleaguered building of a high elevation retreat. There was a pool. I think she could smell it. She bolted across the parking lot with her mom and I doing futile grabs at parking lot safety. This was big. We were at a hotel. It's really my fault that my daughter was losing her mind. Hotels are our vacations. We're a staycation family. Which is something I'd advise any young family: don't get cable because then your kids will think Embassy Suites is an entertainment heaven.

You do a thing at less than your potential when you know that thing is being done in vain. At work, for example, I can't focus when I know a project is doomed. Why? Why are we doing this? But in parenthood, often a doomed project from conception, you must push forth. You know, for example, that your child is only going to destroy new shoes, but you must buy them anyway. You know, for another example, that they're not going to eat what you order them, but you order it anyway. And so we moved in the sluggish fashion of those with reality firmly strapped to their hopes. We knew that our visit to the hotel was toast. Our plan had been simple: We were going to stop by the hotel, ensure that they grounds were to our satisfaction (aka be able to host a small beer party), and then get back home.

We'd had a good day. We'd seen my childhood home and the nearby house that my grandfather built. We stopped in Allenspark and drank from Crystal Springs. We overcame the insidious traffic of Estes Park and maintain family sanity for a late lunch and some browsing. We'd done all of the things. But here, at Fawn Valley, we could feel the puncture wound before we were even poked: Eliot was going to lose her ever-loving shit when she realized we weren't going to stay.

Oh, god, she was adorable running around the lobby. She high-fived her brothers and sang songs, pulling in nearby nouns to be a part of the tune. "I love the hotel and that...chair. Hotel chair, hotel chair, hotel chair." The bass to her choir was me, raining on her song about how we were not staying, simply visiting. A mostly superfluous visit for sure, but since we were braving Estes Park, the mountain town for fat people, then we might as well get all the logistics for the family reunion. WE ARE NOT STAYING I sang in a paternal clang, doing my best to break through her rainbow harmony.

But I would not. I would confirm the rooms and amenities for the incoming family. We would survey the potential for a pool party (good). But I would not be prepared for the face-melting sadness that lingered in the dancing fairy of my third child.

Outside of the lobby, on the sidewalk next to the white siding and brown trim of the weathered walls of a faux Swiss chalet, I would get destroyed by a rocket round of disappointment. I thought I could get away with a gentle gesture to the car. "C'mon, Eliot, it's time to go." I had to gamble. I had to try. Yes, it was one in a million...trillion, that she'd actually listened to my repeated disclaimers about our presence but, as discussed before, parenthood is an exercise in working through futility. You do it because, as a species, we do not yet know anything else.

I'd made a little poke with my right hand to the direction of the car. As far as magnetism goes, it's a zero on the scale of attraction. My little prod was the earth and my daughter's enthusiasm for the hotel was the sun. An orange and a pinhead. I'm assuming you know which one I am. So the sun stood still for a moment. For a moment it paid heed to the tiny man orbiting with instructions to go to the car. For a moment it paused and illuminated the adult trying to communicate the truth of the situation: we were not staying at the hotel. Hotel chair, hotel chair, hotel chair. Only moments ago inanimate objects were brought to life with song. Now, however, mere feelings would shoot fire on the screaming wheels of misfortune.

I'll always remember the casual cowboy dude. He'd been in front of me at the front desk. He was checking in; a videographer and documentarian of the rodeos throughout the west. He'd found his niche. He'd made himself a thing. Or so I imagined as I nodded to him--the western wave--while I made haste to corral the supernova that was my little girl on the sidewalk. I remember him nodding back with that recognition of someone who's happy they're not you. He headed for his Jeep with the Wyoming plates 2 Chill. Oh to be him. to be him.

By the time we exchanged the nod, Eliot was already imploding. Like any transfiguration, the one from small girl to angry beast exerts an incredible amount of energy. You might be used to blasts measured by tons of TNT. Well, this is the sun we're talking about so it's implosion is calculated best by darkness. Even TNT emits light. Eliot's radius would reach across the highway and into the souls of mammals everywhere. People in nearby states probably thought a ghost had passed through their body. First, there's that initial silence before the destruction. Eliot realized that my dumb little gesture to the car was a break in her expectations, so she sent a warning shot to reel me in. It worked. I got onto my knees and grabbed her. In the umbra of her shattered light, I saw a face morph from all the joy in the world into the inverse. Which, by the way, is a ghoulish twist, a stretching of the emoting muscles before the blast. Her smile flattened. Her chin a carjack trembling upward as her eyes widened for a sign that this was all a mistake. The adults had simply misread her joy and would soon realize that staying at the hotel was the only way to maintain it. A second to amend my actions, my gesture, my statement. She searched me for a rejoinder but nothing. Nothing would not do.

And 2 Chill drove slowly by as I got scorched by a star.

One time Quin lost his shit. I mean boom motherfucker lost his mind and ran towards the street. In front of children and school teachers I had to take out my three-year-old son down. He sprinted from me the way a frightened deer flees and leaps a fence. I had no choice but tackle him. Some of those kids on hand that day are about ten now and probably still have anxiety issues around heavy-breathing bald men. Well, who wouldn't. But that day scarred me deeply, too. I wrestled my son away from traffic and carried him back to school. Still screaming with is pants partially down from the physical acquisition, I laid him at the feet of his teacher. She told me it was OK. We all had bad days. I had no idea if she was talking about Quin or me.

That day has always been a benchmark for bad. Eliot's meltdown wasn't that bad. At least on an even scale inclusive of all children regardless of gender. Maybe because she's a girl, or maybe it's because she's an emotionally manipulative genius, or maybe it's because I'm as weak as wet bread for bridge beams. But she hits hard. And her facial opera--her reaction to the letdown--had me feeling the blood-red betrayals all the way back to my earliest ancestors.

I'm not keen to state that girls this or boys that. But I do know that I have two boys and one girl. Well, three boys and two girls if you include the dogs. We probably should. I'm pretty sure they know everything I do and I'm trying to get one to stop peeing in the basement. WELCOME TO THE FAMILY CHO CHO. Of the humans, however, there is an incredible tactical difference between who can inflict the most damage with sadness. The boys have have had a good run in throwing tantrums, welling up with tears, curling up in balls, fake vomiting, going boneless, burying their head, highlighting betrayal, and a variety of tactics to try and crush my will to parent. Much of what they do isn't that dissimilar from their sister. Aside from the lip--I mean Eliot has a natural lower lip thing that sprouted around her first birthday--she uses much of the same maneuvers of manipulation.

What they don't do is prep. Eliot preps. She's been prepping since that first little squeak she released into her new world. I once had a boss who espoused the Ps of success. Something about Poor Planning and Piss Poor Performance. I was 18. I had no idea what he was talking about. I'm proud to report, however, that Eliot gets it. Despite being my daughter, the child of a man who got his masters degree by writing papers during work meetings, she's been preparing me this whole time.

 

IMG_7065.jpg

Eliot's guide to destroying her father!

Step 1: Be born. This is really all it takes for any kid, but don't stop there. Your baby cutes can only get you so far. Many boys must suffer a childhood of being told to toughen up. Skip that rough treatment by taking the next steps.

 

 

 

Step 2: Tell your father you love him. Out of the blue just hit him with it. He'll not know what to do and bank that lopsided engagement as credit in your favor. If you still can't talk yet, go for hugs. Hug all the time for no good reason. Bite your tongue? Go for a hug. Get a barely noticeable scratch on your knee? You need a hug. You need to let the parental figure know that you're incredibly dependent on their strength. This makes them less likely to punish you lest you become a woman who lives with 300 cats.

Step 3: Swing happy. That's right. Raise the stakes at every turn. The happier you are about a thing or a place, the harder it makes for them to make you unhappy. Want a toy? Jack up that happy. Squeal if you want. It's OK, you're a kid. Adults say things like "oh to be a kid again" because you get to react like an overjoyed cartoon animal at the slightest change in environment. That also means you get to melt into an unreasonable, emotional tyrant. Keep them living in fear.

Bonus: Keep it cute. Hold on to that cute as long as possible. Some tips on maintaining cute include: 1. The most random announcements about things you love. "I love the moon" in the middle of the day is solid gold. 2. Request that your boo-boos be kissed. Apparently adults believe they have healing power. 3. Wake them up early with funny announcements. 4. Make your father a lot of fake food. Run up to him with a dirt clod and say it's a cookie. Apparently they think its food.


Eliot's gone ballistic. She's firing all she's got. I go to pick her up and she flops over my arm like a maitre 'd towel. There, with her head hanging upside, she wails. She opens up and fires a swath of brutal sadness. Her range is impressive, filling the space with noise from the wooded hillside along Highway 34 to somewhere near the Rocky Mountain National park ranger station, and back across the valley into town. Sarah stood in the open space between the car and car door--her attempt to get settled thwarted by our spectacle--and smiled.

Sometimes as a parent one of your benefits is that you get to laugh at children. And maybe it's a defense mechanism against your own sadness. And maybe it's all you can do under fire from a much more powerful being. But when kids really lose their shit in bazooka fashion, it's hard to keep it in. So I'm holding Eliot like a firehose and barely strong enough to get her to the quiet insulation of the car because I'm throttled with laughter. And now that I think about it, it's pretty much all you've got in a helpless situation. There's nothing you can do. The one thing you can't do is cater to the child--this cherub so fresh from the heavens. You can't can't can't cave. The best word in parenting is no. You say that a few times and you start to make an impression. But one buckling of your immunity to these sad puppies puts you on a path to parental destruction.

In the futility of it all. Of being a dandelion seed in her firestorm, I tried to point out some positives. "We'll be back," I began through distant tin. "We're coming back but today we get to go home and play." I really hadn't wanted to but I guess for just my own comfort I started listing all the things we could have fun doing at home. I even started listing names of her favorite stuffed animals. Her friends that might give her comfort more than her father and his sadistic laughter. But it didn't work. She was gone, and it would be on her own accord when she'd slide back in on a rainbow. First, there's gotta be a storm.

Safely buckled. Everyone in the car. All of us smirking around the wide-open battle cry of our smallest and most pink. (I hate to point that out, but being crazy mad is often diluted by her pastel palette.) We took back to the road and left a trail wailing deep into the forest.

1 Comment

2 Comments

The hardest parts of parenting that you had no idea were even going to be a part of parenting

You can't help but take mental notes about these things. Here are some of those notes as well as an incident with actual scarring. 

1. Keeping your mouth shut on the sidelines of youth sporting events.
2. Not showing your surprise when they figure something out on their own.
3. Sharing your phone.
4. Not vomiting when they vomit.
5. Giving up and tying their shoes for them for the rest of their lives. 
6. TIMING WHEN TO HELP A CHILD WHO'S READING AND STUCK ON A WORD.

Wait for it...wait for it...

Wait for it...wait for it...

And now #7 Stools.

You'll trip on stools. You'll stub your toes on stools. Yes, I know about stepping on legos. I know that old hilarious trope. And, yes, it's true. Some days you'll have feet made of small toys. A pectin of callouses will form absorbing plastic parts like a Jell-o mold. But try to remember the stools. Your toes are not prepared for a frontal blow, and stubbing your toes is the tongue biting of your southern climes. But it's biting your tongue with the blunt force of an entire leg swinging your helpless foot fingers into a solid object. 

The stool is important to children. Once they figure out how to use it as a tool, it will lurk in every high traffic area. In the early days with our first child, we hadn't yet employed actual child-sized stools. He went after our barstools. And since he was shorter than the stool, all you'd see is wooden seat appearing to move by itself. It looked like a dorsal fin scooting towards the kitchen. It was scary, not so much in a horror movie way, but in an oh-god-it's-going-to-eat-all-our-food reality that's far more terrifying.

I should know that stools are dangerous. I'm kind of an expert at this. Peter...hello, Peter Ewy, my dear elder brother! I'm calling for you so that you can go down memory lane with me. Do you remember my stool in the old Gould house? This house that we lived in as kids didn't have running water, so we had to fill up jugs at our neighbor's place and heat it on an old cookstove. This all sounds quaint and wonderful until you actually live it. Live at 9000 feet in an 800-acre meadow with snow drifts ten feet high. There were days we couldn't get out of the house. Usually on those days we were pretty cool with not going outside.

It would be on a pleasant summer day when the stool would strike.

Around the approximate time and place of the stool accident. 

Around the approximate time and place of the stool accident. 

Peter and I were the family dishwashers. He washed and I rinsed. That meant we had to heat water and pour it into two tin bowls. They were bigger than bowls. They were basins. You don't hear that term wash basin much any more mostly because everyone has discovered technology.

My brother was the bigger of us so he handled transporting the water from the stove to our wash basin station. That's where my stool was. And like all children stools, it was way down below any place anyone would ever look. It's not until you're in your forties when you scout the area around you before you move. You can't afford to fall. But this was 1982. Peter was 12 and I was on my way to 8 when he made his move with the boiling water. As responsible as any youth could be, Peter moved slowly and with two big oven mitts holding the hot rinse. He focused on the counter where he needed to land it--far above that goddamned stool. It's a stool we still have today. It's a small Indian drum/stool that my grandfather built for his grandkids. I never met my you, grandfather, but I must say that I appreciate your craftsmanship, your attention to detail, and raising my mother, who was an extremely comforting presence after Peter would trip over that stool.

I was watching him, not intently, just lackadaisically awaiting my fate as rinse boy, when something appeared to grab him. It was a fast descent. He tangled with the stool and went down, and as he went down, he doused me with approximately three gallons of boiling water.

There's that question. That weird quandary. "If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?" Yes. The same way when a boy gets part of his body burned off and he and his brother are the only two people for miles, people are going to motherfucking hear it. I ran out of the house howling, and somehow my brother had presence of mind to tackle me and pour room temperature water all over me. While we lacked many modern conveniences, we did have a phone. Now, granted, it was a party line, so that meant you had to quietly pick it up and give a silent listen to see if anyone was on it. Yes, this lead to a lot of eavesdropping, and mostly by Earl at the Trading Post (he'd fall asleep and snore and we'd have to shout over the phone to wake him up). On this occasion, it was just dumb luck that someone from the KOA was already on the line. That was the campground where my mom was working. While I lie wrapped in wet towels and moaning, Peter described the horrors that had just taken place. Minutes later my mom was barreling down our dusty driveway in her 1974 CJ-5 Jeep. Anyway, it was the summer of gauze. Layers of my torso had been melted away and I had to rewrap myself every day with a homegrown body bandage. And it was all due to a goddamn stool.

Anyway, by Sarah and my second child we'd conjure some shorter stools. They're always in areas where you're looking up at some cupboard and you're feeling a light sense of accomplishment for doing whatever requires a cupboard and then crush, all of you collapses around a tiny toe. Your height, your prowess, your commanding distance from the bottom implode into a screeching flamingo that hops around the house saying terrible things to inanimate objects. You don't want your kids to see you this way.

So be careful with the stools. 

and come back for more important parenting advice accompanied by the beautiful litter-ature of redneck hippies coming of age.
 

2 Comments

2 Comments

Is your head in the right place?

If I could miniaturize I’d go into my middle child’s mind. I’d see what’s in there. I know it’s good. There are dragons, robots, robot dragons on this racing space treadmill of the weird and undiscovered. It’s a thoroughfare of thought that runs right across the front of his brain. Occasionally this Dr. Seuss smorgasbord of new and wonderful creatures goes out of focus. Gradually emerging in the distant fog is the rest of his family at the dinner table looking at him.

“Welcome back, Otto!”

That could be the name of a TV show but it’s also a household catchphrase. Where did he go? What fantastic beast was he riding into a sunset cloud?

I took the kids to a business meeting the other day. It was spring break. School was out and the family was in. But I needed to finish up some work. The kids joined me in Boulder for a few meetings. The first was at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art. I logged that adventure. The second was at a hip little coffee shop. I outfitted the kids with hot chocolate and cupcakes while Adam Mayer of Boulder Startup Week and I figured out details of their big event in May.

Boulder can vex like a Brillo codpiece but startup week is the very best mix of big brains and neo-hippie flower showers of good vibes. I wish I didn’t cringe when someone said something about good vibes or glowing chakras or some such. Those are things I should respect and care about. I don’t wince a bit when we’re all eating chocolate on the day dead Jesus is supposed to punch his way out the casket. I mean that’s truly disturbing. But you get someone too enthusiastic about your aura and I get nervous and look around to make sure no one else is listening. For the painfully self aware like me, Boulder Startup Week mixes in enough business to balance the Buddha.

But it also makes me think that I shouldn’t care what people think. I’m thinking about that very thing as I discuss money with Adam. I’m wondering, am I pulling off this business talk? Am I believable? And I go on this inner dialogue. Part of me working very hard to follow his explanation of sponsorship levels, and another part of me really worried that I might have early onset of some brain-eating disease. Not only do I have attention issues, but whatever is left is being cannibalized by doubt. I’m getting closer to pulling out of the dive and cobbling together some cognition when Otto starts saying “dad.”

Dad. Dad…dad. He goes a few times before I tell him to hold on because I’m talking business. For a moment I imagine jumping onto the table and ripping off my normal clothes to reveal an sparkly Uncle Sam outfit. “See kids…business!” I shout.

“Dad. Dad…dad..” I finally break down.

“Excuse me, Adam,” I say to my patient counterpart.

“Otto,” I begin. The most business I’ve sounded all day. “Do you have something about Boulder Startup Week because that’s what we’re talking about?”

Otto has this thing where he’s slow to get to the actual words. He builds up. Little head gnomes rushing around piecing together this fantastic thing that just rushed by on rollers. He starts with little vocal fragments. Flecks of words flying out. I’m usually not patient enough to pick them up. So I push.

“Otto, what?”

He’s getting there. He takes great care to get the thought just right; even has Adam watching, eyebrows raise. The garage door to the brain. They’re up. Open to whatever. The woman at the table next to us turns from her book and is trying not to look too interested. What is this excited kid stuttering about? It’s going to be big. When all of it comes together in his head, it’s going to Kool-Aid Man into the room.

Older brother Quin mutters something about Otto. It throws off his game. He turns to glare but his thoughts are still streaming across the room, dangling excitement.

“Otto, don’t let him get to you.” And I’m way beyond hippie chakra conversation uncomfortable. I just want him to get on with it.

And he let’s it out.

“Dad…dad…do you think we could build a dragon out of other animal parts?”

Rarely do long-awaited releases live up to the hype.

We were sidetracked for the next few minutes. I mean, you could do something with genetics. I explained to Otto you’d have some decomposition issues and a raft of problems with getting the guts to work again. He calms my concerns with some backup ideas about animatronics and skin made out of gold. Adam, a successful tech entrepreneur, isn’t entirely confident something like that could be done. The woman with her book smiles and turns back to her book.

We’ll talk about that when we’re heading home, I tell him. He held me to it. And while we’re talking I imagine a gilded dragon bursting out of a quaint little coffee shop and spiraling into the Colorado sky.

2 Comments

Comment

Day 2 of Spring Break: Breaking up the Monopoly

One big pride point I have with my kids is that they love board games. With as much LED illumination that bathes their baby skin in blue, it's so nice finally get back my phone and see them wanting to kill each other instead of something on Minecraft.

Even though I've warned them about Monopoly, they love the game and last weekend we took one into it's fourth hour before I begged them to stop. I was shocked at how reluctantly they folded and put away the cardboard square that was going to have us traipse around it's borders until we ran out of food. But I remember those games with my brother (either Monopoly, Risk or this homemade version of Sorry) and I going at it. It was as if Parker Brothers had come up with a cerebral way for children to get out their physical aggression.

It would all start so innocently. The clearing of the table. Making space for the mental challenge-- our mom so proud that we were inside and doing congenial things. And then, like twenty minutes later, some tiny grievance steamrolled the civility. It is small. It always starts small. It's a jagged marble rolling through your blood stream. Tiny barbs of perturbance bring up other things that you hadn't thought about until you're certain that your brother has collected twice for Passing Go. And you remember things, all those things that he's done wrong to you. "I didn't cheat!" he swears but that one time in July when he ditched you in the woods, and that other instance when he sat on you and dangled spit, well they rip right into you. It wasn't but a flesh wound then but now it's deep. All of these indiscretions add up to evidence of a cheat. They pile up at the front of your brain, pushing your pendulum from peace to war.

This happened yesterday. Otto had traded Reading Railroad to his buddy Max and, at some point, Max moved it to Quin. Paying rent to Max is one thing, but to haveto pay the maximum railroad rent to his brother, well that was a breaking point. At the time of the conflagration, I was playing this kid's game Cariboo with Eliot. The fake money hit the fan and Quin and Otto tangled in the far corner of the basement. I rose from the floor hoping my grunting father ascension would send a message. Quin saw it as a chance to be saved.

"Otto's tearing up the game because he doesn't want to pay rent!"

Quin wore his Nitro Circus baseball cap. It's way too big for him but it's got that big-brimmed look that's hot right now. It's a relic from happier times when I took the boys to the Nitro World Games last summer. There was sunshine and bicycle tricks. Today there was rain and way too much shade. We'd tried some outside games but the wind nearly took Eliot's beach ball and the emotions were too much to bear. We retreated to the basement. To togetherness. In a small space. For too long.

I asked Otto what he though he was doing. Fire poured out of him. He raged that he'd had the railroad and that Quin was cheating. Quin, who was probably innocent this time but comes with much guilt from previous gaming swindles, denied the allegations. I pulled his little brother off of him and did a welfare check on their friend, Max, who'd gotten up from the game and would have retreated further had not the concrete wall gotten in the way.

Moments before the melee. 

Moments before the melee. 

From what I could tell, the transactions had been legit. Max gave Otto St. James place and Tennessee Ave and twenty dollars (In two tens! Quin would stress) for the railroad, and then Quin traded Park Place for the railroad and some other undisclosed properties. Of course sibling crimes aren't always clear. They're not black and white. They're a genetic rainbow that leads to a pot of roiling similarities. They're an inhumane social science anchoring you to anger, grudging a decent afternoon into the murky depths of unforgettable deeds. Quin might not be guilty of insider trading, but he was one hundred percent unfit as anything but the appropriate target for Otto's frustration.

Before I get to the part where Otto lunged out of my arms and went for the kill, I'll tell you about this one time my parents woke me up and I was on top of my brother and trying to choke the life out of him. I don't know what happened. Well, I do know in some larger sense. Years of physical and psychological warfare altered me into a sleepwalking monster. I don't remember anything except for my parents, for once, actually worried about my older brother. It wasn't that they weren't concerned for him in general, as parents do, but as far as the battles between us, they were fairly certain he could handle his own. And then, for the first time in my recorded history (aside from the time I had an older kid help me tie him up in Devil's cabin--remind me to tell that one), my mother and father burst into our room concerned for the fate of their oldest son. My dad grabbed me and I came to. My hands around Peter's neck, his face bluish pale. He'd been listening to Ronnie James Dio before I burst out of the darkness and locked onto his airway.

I looked down at him and he was more shocked than frightened. His huge 80s headphones jostled into poorly placed Princess Leia buns. His teenage moment of solitude ripped open by an eleven year old in tightie whities. I was going to kill him.

It was an odd mix of bewilderment and satisfaction discovering that my dad had to save my brother from me. Even he gave me some space as I dismounted my sibling and made my way back to bed. I believe there was some post-carnage lecturing by my mother but she was like a Peanuts adult as I tried to figure out what had happened. How did I do that?

And then, yesterday, I saw it. Quin, about the physical equal of his brother, but with by far the better grasp on the mental game, showed true terror at his oncoming sibling. Otto escaped from me and dove at Quin. His extreme sports hat stark to his pale visage. Otto shrieked. A shrill warning that told the story of seven years of oppression. His battle cry propelled him into Quin's torso. And from there Otto made an odd choice for a coup de grâce. He grabbed Quin's shirt and began reeling him in. Otto, it seemed, thought of himself as a wood chipper, and he was going to swallow this board game tyrant and spit him out the other side. Quin felt the appropriate level of fear and barked at me with his desperate eyes. "Dad!" he shouted and I...well I wish could have been of more help. But I was laughing so hard. Inexplicably an insane amount of laughter boiled out of me. I held on to Otto as much as the giggle fatigue would let me. Max, still backed away from the game and stuck to the basement wall, worked on a smile as he wondered exactly what was so funny. One adult among four kids and that one adult was losing, helplessly tickle struck in the melee between his own sons.

I really don't know what happened. Otto turned into a wood chipper right after I gave him an ultimatum: either get back in the game and play it through, or cut your losses and go find a book to read. As our middle child went full-on Taz, I was emptied of any cerebral solution. Goddamn siblings. All too often they fly so low that their isn't much an evolved mind can do for them. And that's when I started laughing. I could barely contain the 50 pounds of second-grader that tore into Quin. Quin kind of started laughing, too. But more in the way when you want something not to be true, like really bad news and you hope the bearer is just kidding. "You're laughing at this, dad?" he seemed to ask with his own reticent chuckles. I laughed so hard I was functionless, other than to repeatedly giggle shout "Otto...Otto...Otto...really? Otto?"

I managed to wrestle him to the floor. A demon enraged. Lava everywhere. The older brother freed himself from his little brother's grasp on his shirt--from his little brother's hands around his neck. Fifty years of junior frustration rolled onto the floor as I pulled Otto away from his panic-stricken elder. Fifty years our combined age, we middle children bruised by so many injustices. Often self-assailed in our own unwillingness to let go. But I'm pretty sure one day he'll get to laugh about it.

Earlier that day we'd take this janky pano, yet it eerily predicts what Otto wanted Quin to look like (2nd from right.)

Earlier that day we'd take this janky pano, yet it eerily predicts what Otto wanted Quin to look like (2nd from right.)

Comment

Comment

Another spring break, Day 1: What is art?

Eliot and Otto examine Das Eismeer. Which is German for Oh Crap all we Have is Coors Light.  Actually, it's Sea of Ice and it's on display at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art.

Eliot and Otto examine Das Eismeer. Which is German for Oh Crap all we Have is Coors Light. 

Actually, it's Sea of Ice and it's on display at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art.

What is art? I asked the kids on the way to the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art (BMoCA). Eliot was pretty quiet about it, but from either side came her brothers' responses. Otto went after the sarcasm. "It's what you look at on the wall!" He was quick with his response. Trying to dismiss me, he was. Or draw my ire. Just a bit of vexation; pull me into a battle of words that would turn into imaginary lasers and shields. It's my fault. I talk trash to him all of the time because I know it will take me where I'm most comfortable: at approximately seven years old and shooting fake lasers. My shields are awesome, btw.

Quin leaned into my rear view and said art might be things you make so other people will look at them. His statement started heavy and then floated away on the intonation of a question. The way we do when answering a question about art.

As far as I know they're both right. Maybe Eliot nailed it with the silence. But who really knows what will move you until you're moved? Until you're fresh on the other side of something you never expected. Of course there are things that you know will move you. 

Nicole Dial-Kay, a sparkling blend of snark and sophistication, goes criss-cross applesauce with the kids and Dylan Gebbia-Richards’ Eclipse.

Nicole Dial-Kay, a sparkling blend of snark and sophistication, goes criss-cross applesauce with the kids and Dylan Gebbia-Richards’ Eclipse.

--I'd like to pause here to say that this part might become annoying--

I like playing football. It feels amazing. A throw, a catch, and usually a much faster person tackling me, but I lie on the ground mesmerized by all that had to go right to make that happen. Somewhere someone had to be bored enough with round balls to make an egg one, and somehow an infinite number of scenarios were weeded out until a billion years of spatial relations had me reach out for that ball. A butterfly fart's difference and who knows for what my arms or paws or tentacles would be outstretched.

So, anyway, here's my thought: take that quick appreciation of actually catching the ball for once, and have that happen to you when you least expect it. A few brushstrokes or some bended steel, and you're holy shitting at the experience of the connection. The emotional touchdown.

That's why I've never been an art sceptic. Art makes people talk--that goddamned blue horse, for example. Growing up I was in the middle of nowhere but surrounded by art. Modest, crafty attempts to turn a little something into even more. Blank paper folded and water colored into a Christmas card. Birthday greetings dotted into folk art with a few markers and some quiet time at the table. That's the basic stuff. It's the little bit of expression done mostly out of practicality. Who wants to buy a greeting card anyways? The satisfaction of getting something done on the cheap.

--I think we're probably good with my prying and positing--

This guy was alive when I started talking about art.

This guy was alive when I started talking about art.

That's where I was at with the kids speculating on art. I was meeting BMoCA for work and the kids, availed to me by spring break, were going to get A) a day with dad and B) have their horizons broadened C) for free.

Free stuff for kids. For a parent that's a masterpiece.

I'd asked the kids about art because I wanted to broach the subject about A) What they see might not make sense B) they needed to be polite no matter what it was.

Luckily, one of the first pieces that greeted them was a human skull. It was in a fish tank and had coral reef growing off of it. The boys were enamored. I'm pretty sure they want me to obtain a human head now. Human remains, according to Nicole, the marketing director for the museum, are hard to come by unless you know the right people in Europe. But one day, boys, you can have my enlarged cranium bone for whatever piece you choose to tie the room together. If you don't go with the aquarium, my second choice would be dining room centerpiece. Or garden. Hide a key in it.

The point of the skull in the aquarium? There was some commentary about how humans are killing coral reefs but coral reefs can eat us. I like that. I just read that, if they wanted to, spiders could eat all of humanity in a year. We need these reminders of our fragility. These perspective-inducing trips down reality lane. Instead of burials we may consider human remnants to keep rising seas at bay. I guess that may happen anyway, but it makes so much more sense to protect our coasts with bones instead of having our corpses consuming up more than they need. Jesus, think of that. Even after we're dead we're taking up space. A water buffalo, for example, lies down and feeds a dozen vultures and a pack of wolves. Humans cordon off a chunk of land and hide in a box. (Christ, the art is working. I'm Philip K. Dicking into darkness.)

And then we shuffled around, taking pictures and seeing into the eyes of artists with their molds and paintings and protrusions spread out before us. The artist reaching out of the wall with paint-sticky hands wanting to leave a mark. Or many marks. "Hey, mofo! Look at this pain/inspiration/inheritance!" They shout like beverage vendors pacing the halls, plying you with something to enhance the same old game. Or maybe just a stimulant or depressant.

We enjoyed the space; you could feel what could be in place of whatever wasn't there--like, you know, the big empty offers a lot of opportunity to create. The kids answered. They filtered in and were drawn to the installment. But where they weren't directed they found their own distraction. A particularly large vestibule found them swinging from a railing. Christ, I thought, cut that out--like, yeah, stop doing it, but also with a big pair of scissors cut it out of this early spring day and put it on display. "Space Destroyed. Time Surrendered." 

The whole time I had to reel in the daddy commentary about how the kids could be artists if they work at it. Shut up, old man. You could be something if you work at it, too, and it's the worst kind of person to shellac that over the raw experience of being there.

Comment

Comment

Ghosts are a good thing

My arms are sore. My chest is heavy. I'm pretty sure I'm about to get a cold and my eyes are drinking fire. It's the time of year when I'm awake all of the time. It's when mid-stride I stop on the sidewalk and try and think how much of her I remember. Do I recall how she moved? What she cooked? How did she look at me long before she was sick?

It's March which means it's also the march to her birthday. I couldn't figure it out for a few years, but there's a ghost that haunts me every spring. I don't sleep for about a month. I mean, sure, I close my eyes and sink deep into a tired place but before long I'm up again. In 2007 I didn't know what was wrong. It took another few years after that to fully realize what was happening. I'm being haunted.

Every once and a while I'll pause and look around. Is she really here? My dog comes around the corner and I jump. "Holy shit, Paco!" I berate animal that I've often wondered is the reincarnation of my mother. Wait. Maybe that's it. Maybe she did just come around the corner. And she'd love that she's the one lying on the floor and farting in my tiny studio. She'd really love that.

I'm not going to kid you. I'm tired. You get enough whining on your Facebook, I'm sure, so I'll get out of this little slump in about fifty words. But up until April tenth, it's like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. I get up at the same time with the same song. It's really shit music, but it goes something like this: "What are you doing? I know you should be sleeping, but there are some things that need to be done." Terrible lyrics. And it dances out like a miserable musical. The same actions. The rolling around until I give in and get up.

Get up. Let's talk about that. About how getting up is easier when you do it on a regular basis. Because I slumber all too often. Waking hours zombied into the dirt. Like the undead crawling back into their grave just because it's less than they thought it would be. Where's the carnage? The screaming? Terrified people pounding boards over their windows? There's nothing. It's bloodless. Apathetic. A coup without a battle and not one single person perturbed about the change of power. I'm just lying here, man. I'm not interested in your anarchy.

That last paragraph was a metaphor for being stuck in your own way. Imagine tiny legs trying to bound over a log. I've got regular legs. But sometimes I feel I should donate them to someone who could use them.

So rise, I say. I say now because I have no choice. Goddamn ghosts. And I say, Remember now. I ask, with eyelids dragging across hot pavement, what is it that you remember?

I know what I know--at least as far as what I can conjure. I'm making this up, but it's in my head so maybe that's just as real. But my mom is coming around the corner. It's a sunny day. The sky is blue because of the oceans or whatever makes them blue, but on this day it's a courtesy to the green trees and everything else that needed contrast. Thank you. You all accessorize nicely together.

Winnie the Pooh, I've imagined, would be the perfect host for what I'm painting. He's helpful to paint you this scene. Pleasant Pooh made us all feel comfortable with each other. My mom reading and me lying on her bed, in the sun spread across our memories.

So no actual Pooh, but his idyllic setting: Sarah, the kids and me on a classic picnic blanket. The kind used to sell Coke in the fifties. And we're where our house used to be. I guess I should mention that. Everything is gone. The home, the things, the new-ish diswasher and the fifteen LED screens that turned our kids blue like cheerful choking victims downing another few gigs of Internet entertainment. I can't blame them. I taught them that. But that's all gone. The doubt over everything--that undying self-spewed aspersion of everything you're not sure what you're doing--has dissipated. I'm not sure if it's because my mom has just turned off Oxford onto our street, but I get the feeling that it's part of it.

I get the feeling that it's nice to know what's important.

I hope this is just the beginning. I'll call it part 1.

Comment

Comment

Is Donald Trump the worst human alive?

I popped up at 3am with one question: Is Donald Trump the worst human alive? I can't say for sure if he is, as I don't know all of the humans. But of the sampling I have, he's definitely topping the charts. It's terrifying that he's President, yes, but then again comforting to know that we all know with whom to take warning.

How did the cellar ascend the stairs? When did the mud become the clouds? Where is the sunshine? How come all I want is moonshine? 

I don't know.

And I do know.

I don't know how an actual freedom-loving nation of hard working people would elect a guy who's propelled purely by his own fascination with himself. It's like promoting a toddler to the top office because he's driven to scream whenever he needs attention. He tells it like it is!

This is called the Trump Face. Ironically, it renders you as dumb and dangerous as he appears to be.

This is called the Trump Face. Ironically, it renders you as dumb and dangerous as he appears to be.

I do know that we're a rather entitled bunch. No matter what we have we want more. And if we aren't of those who have, we're easily manipulated by those who promise that they can get it. The trouble is, we're pretty freaking distracted. So instead of focusing on what we should want, whatever that may be--a way to make the car payment and pair of adult footie pajamas--we'll get suckered in by a guy playing on our anxieties. You and I both know the highest office in the land can't land you a better gig, but they can move you to resent your neighbors. And suddenly we're OK with not making our car payment as long as there's someone worse off than us.

You know it. You've heard it. Benjamin Franklin getting OG on some wealthy landowners with his cold, hard, paraphrased ultimatum: If you give up liberty for security you deserve neither. Well eff you Benji! We've given up both! We now have a president who's not only growing terrorists abroad, but those pasty confederates at home. We have a president who's ripping out the infrastructure that keeps us safe from ourselves, while ensuring that people overseas have a shot at us as well.

I know there are people out there who still defend him. Which blows my mind. From a cultural perspective, we've never cheered on the spoiled rich kid. Troy from Goonies. Spoiled rich kid. That Jonny guy who was part of the Cobra Kai. Terrible human. Draco freakin' Malfoy. We never cheer for that guy. Throughout history, in real life or on paper, we loathe the spoiled rich kid. So why? Why? Why would we think that the most overtly self-obsessed sociopath should be in the Oval Office making decisions based on his dick size? And if you think that's just a crass metaphor, then you might have missed that his very first action as leader of the free world was lying about the magnitude of his inauguration crowd.

Oh, I know, you're conjuring a comment right now. Googling phrases and perusing your favorite like-minded sites. I appreciate that. If anything, this douche kazoo that's spouted enough verbal garbage to bury America in an early grave has created some vibrant discussion. We're all agog in either admiration or terror. Here we're led by this guy who is so many mindless contradictions. He wants to #MAGA but he has nothing but contempt for the checks and balances that made us great in the first place. He's the poor man's rich guy. He's dim but Day-Glo. He's scattered but piled right in front of us. In one afternoon he said we need to work on big things and then Tweeted that a department store treated his daughter poorly. All of his mad meanderings lead back to one common source: how did it make him feel? Did it stir in him the smug vengeance of a man who fires his poorly thought-out executive orders at all of those who perturb him? Or did it further swell his pride like the praise he received for a wildly inaccurate but actually lucid address to Congress?

Did it make him respond like an executive leader at all? Any kind of leader?  Like even a shift manager of a TJ Maxx? Was one tiny iota of measured reason detected? Or did he boomerang out of his pants and streak across our once promising vistas of hope and good will?

You don't need to answer that interrogation. I have a lot of question marks lately and this seems like as good a place as any to put them. I'll just end with one final query and then go to bed. Do you think, in a country as comfortable as this one, that so many people would be speaking out if there weren't a serious problem? Even the normally quiet National Park Service is popping off. Christ, Budweiser is chiming in. A lumber company. LinkedIn, Lyft, Uber, Nike. England. My typically quiet neighbors are talking. People are coming out into light, blinking at the empire rising, and commenting on its unusual glare. What is that we say about red skies in the morning?

Comment

1 Comment

About a girl who's nearly three

Eliot came out of the bathroom and announced that she doesn't eat toilet paper. "It's for babies" she reassured me. I don't know if she'd just tried the toilet paper and, upon finding it's not all that good to eat, wanted me to know it's something she's not going to do anymore. Or if she simply thought it would be good for me to know. I appreciate it. The list of parental worries grows every day, from will my family be injured by an election-empowered emotional idget, to if my son will wander into the path of danger pursuing a Pokemon. I mean that phone is brand new.

JUST KIDDING! The phone isn't new at all. But I joke because having a family is terrifying. I thought I had worries when I was twenty. Which begs the question: Why? Why do we breed? Why do we stretch our rather immalleable heart muscle across the lives of children scattered everywhere? But then Eliot emerges from a blanket fort and tells me she loves me. And she means it. And I'm reassured by the multiplying. 

I only have to worry about you for the rest of my life.

I only have to worry about you for the rest of my life.

This is where Eliot is now: lots of announcements. She knows things and she wants us to know the things she knows. Not so much in an arrogant, know-it-all way, but in a genuine The-More-You-Know public service way. For example, she points out that I'm a boy and she's a girl...a lot. Also, on the regular she introduces me to her mom. Turns out she's in the same house. 

Eliot's declarations come at a steady pace. Like I'd say between three and thirty per minute, and right now they're all pretty adorable. I'll say the same for the boys--in that their statements are sweet testaments to clarity and youth--except when they start talking about Pokemon and then they're the worst Tinder date ever, running sentences into a stifling word smog of Japanese monster jargon. That said, the observational comments are ruling the house. The biggest news being that Eliot's birthday is in two weeks and she can feel it. Nay, she can taste it. It's the cake she's excited about. She loves cake, especially cupcakes, and sings about them and praises them and when she gets one takes two bites of frosting before leaving it partially naked and left to dry. Still, she's been singing happy birthday to herself and pressing others to join in. I would feel pressure to exceed her expectations, but this is a kid who lives for the smiley face on the back of a warehouse receipt. And if there's anything that I could impress upon new parents, it's to enjoy the kids while they're cheap. Instead of a clown or a magician, I may just have the guy from Costco come over.

My favorite Eliot proclamation is her love for the family. I mean she really adores us. She hugs all of us, even the cat that scratches her. She'll grab on to your head or neck or whatever she can circumference and cling like a baby koala. They are the best hugs ever. Yet I'm that jaded adult who tries to back out early. And by early I mean five minutes in. I've found myself apologizing to god and my dead mother and to unloved people everywhere when I pull away thinking that the embrace has come to a conclusion, only to find that we're still midway grasp. And then she drops her head back on my shoulder and I'm transported. Transported to the manliest man that I'll ever be. Go ahead, send out your best. I'll take them. I'll take them down with my one free arm and the leg that hasn't gone numb. You get a little kid crawling into your neck nook for comfort and you're a goddamn oak tree. You're not just the Lion King, you're the rock on which that wise monkey guy introduced Simba to the world. Goddamn someone say an Amen. Say it. It's beautiful.

Smile.

Smile.

Pounce.

Pounce.

And hold.

And hold.

 

And then I try and lie her in her bed. Because it's bedtime and it seems like a natural transition.

And then we're back. Standing and hugging. And I imagine a statue made out of us. Actually, there would be no making anything as we are the statue. Just this old dude and this little girl clamped onto him like the cutest goiter ever. How does she get it? How does she know? Surely there's some innate drive for love and warmth and comfort, but what's being transferred in this twelve minute squeeze? Trust. That's good. Warmth. Yep. A surefire message about the power of a tiny person to manipulate the largest person in the house. Seems possible.

I know, it's love. She's a lover. A hugger. An outright adorable brand ambassador for the human race. My getting to hold her is an honor. And she knows it.

1 Comment

Comment

Coming up for air | A Recollection of an Election

On an election’s eve 14 years ago, I was sitting on the floor in a worker’s union building. I can’t remember which union it was, but they’d lent their space to the 2002 Democratic Coordinated Campaign. 

There were many reasons why I was on the floor. I hadn’t slept in two days. I was working three jobs. My wife and I had quit our careers, gotten married, moved to a different city and bought a house. That all took place in a month. 

And our guy for US Senate was down in the polls. He’s what they call in the biz “a good candidate.” He’s tall, handsome in an 80s Magnum PI sort of way, and he belongs to a major law firm. But the week prior he’d talked himself into a hole on national TV. I remember watching and believing he could pull it off, but every word that spilled out of him fell deeper into a well of confusion. It was as if he’d lost control of his mouth. He was stuck trying to explain the three legs of America’s financial stability. He’d gotten out two, but struggled to convey the third. With is hands he gestured what looked to be the shape of a leg, maybe one that belonged to a short stool. Accompanying the pantomime was a smattering of adjectives, none of them really wanting to be together. It was hard to watch.

2002 was a bad year to not want to engaged in a really bad idea.

2002 was a bad year to not want to engaged in a really bad idea.

A few days later I would be talking to voters and one guy would say, “You’ve got balls. Didn’t you see him on Meet the Press?” I tried to focus on the compliment part of it. 

It was tough. Aside from the 80-hour-a-week campaign, I was writing radio copy for four stations and deejaying weekend evenings for another. My working hours sometimes reached into the 120-hour range. My new wife spent a lot of evenings at home, alone, and revisiting that “or worse” part of the wedding conversation. 

But I wasn’t sitting on the floor of the union building because of my little mortgage problem. I was on the floor because I could no longer physically stand. It would have been the best time in my life to be drunk, but I didn’t have time for it. I was high on something else, if you can call it that. What I didn’t know was that I was being killed by carbon monoxide. 

You always hear how people go to sleep and simply slip away. They have a headache but it’s been a stressful day so they do what anyone would want to do: they crash. I had the benefit of being a “Volunteer Coordinator” for hundreds of people who in a few hours were going to fill the very hall in which I sat alone. This meant there was no sleeping until all the preparations were done. Elections don’t leave time for dying.

And let me just say this about working for a campaign. It starts as just a job, or as something you’ll just dabble in a bit. But soon you’ve forsaken sex and food for knocking on a stranger’s door. You start to believe the rhetoric and, despite two hundred-plus years proving the opposite, believe that one person can feed the poor and conjure whipped cream dreams. You really have no choice. If for one second you doubt the momentum, you’ll fall off the treadmill and get trampled by five hundred people with Blackberries. Every third day or so, just when you think you can’t tolerate another drop of coffee, someone you barely know tells you if you stick it out there will “be a spot on his staff.” Rarely is that positive, but in politics staff spots are offered in lieu of money, and reality. Because he has to be elected first, and that’s why you must work harder. And you’re off again, swilling caffeine and surrounded by doers and shakers and suspicious, fat men who buy you beers and swear one day you’ll go somewhere. Plus there’s media involved, and a spitting, blowing maelstrom of rumors and mud. When you’re in the middle, in the huddle of camaraderie and like-minded hugs, you don’t want to get out. So on some Saturday, when a boatload of hot, wealthy yoga moms are taking three hours to help you litter the town with your candidate’s picture, and you’re the frontman for a bevy of beautiful college kids all fresh faced and ready to devour your carcass, you soldier on. 

On this day, my college kids weren’t so hungry anymore. Four young go-getters helped stuff fliers into bags and call potential voters. We were a good team until I found two of the three females lying on the floor. 

“What’s the matter?” I growled in a funny bear voice, trying to make my disappointment sound more like friendly sarcasm. 

They had headaches. They were dizzy. 

I told them to eat something and drink some water. They said they had. I was about to implore the third woman to motivate her friends, until I found her slumped over a desk. 

“Are you sick?” I delivered with ice. 

She nodded and got up. She and her friends were going to go home she said. I couldn’t believe it. They helped each other up and walked out. I turned and rolled my eyes at Brian, the one other guy. He tried to match my incredulity, but was busy crying. 

To be fair, he wasn’t Steel Magnolias weeping, but his eyes were watery and red. He worked a little bit longer, but things weren’t going his way. He’d roll up an informational piece and, while reaching for a rubber band, would let it unroll. Then he’d drop the rubber band while trying to roll up the sheet again. Finally, he gave up and approached me. He kept walking until all the personal space was gone. A few inches from my face he blinked some tears and talked in slow motion about needing to leave. 

And here's an image of our brains shutting down.

And here's an image of our brains shutting down.

I took on kind of a martyr role. I told him it was fine. I’d manage to get everything done. I stormed around the office, drinking bottle after bottle of water. I’m usually a thirsty guy, but now I was going to wash away my pain. And then, at some point, I sat down and started thinking about everybody going home. The two girls who were the first to get sick were petite. And the third was just as thin but taller. Brian was bigger, but at least eighty pounds lighter than me. I wondered if we all had the same thing, but because I was the thickest of the group, it was taking me longer to succumb. At some point my being dense would be an advantage. And then I crawled outside. 

In kind of an industrial rainbow, the bright florescent of the union hall streaked into the dim yellow of the street. I would have a hard time dialing 911. I got to my knees and took a deep breath of outside air. I closed one eye, and focused on the numbers. I wobbled. If I were to die, my final act would be drunk dialing emergency services. 

Other than growing up in a wood-heated home where breathing smoke at least meant you were warm, I had never had any experience with carbon monoxide poisoning. It wasn’t until the firefighters hoisted me into the truck that I realized how lucky I was to be alive. It helped that one of them actually said, “You’re lucky to be alive.” 

One of the guys walked around the room with a CO2 detector. It beeped rapidly and he agreed. It was off the charts. I spent the rest of the early morning leading an ambulance around the Denver metro area to find the other four. Turns out they all were OK, but Brian and I had to spend a few hours in the hospital for oxygenating. 

One of the firefighters said that the building’s exhaust had been blocked with a mound of old clothes. It was intentional, but no one wanted to follow up with an investigation. However, I thought of our candidate baffling Tim Russert and the world by trying to finger draw furniture in the air, and I wondered if someone had done the same thing to his house.

That night, at the big election party, I got a little recognition. It was Tuesday and I hadn’t slept since Sunday. My wife was getting to spend some quality time with a sleepless prick at a depressing event for a losing candidate. On his way to his concession speech, our Senatorial hope stopped and pointed at me. He leaned my way and shouted against the noise, “I lost but you’re still alive.”

I’m pretty sure it wasn’t spite. Like “oh god, not both!” I didn’t want to ask him to try and explain. It was simple, it was true, and it was as right as any politician had ever been.

Comment

Comment

9 years ago to the day, this is what we were doing

Current Score: Little Baby 187, Parents 0

A kid can make you feel really stupid. If anything, a child highlights the dumb in things you once thought to be fairly harmless.  For example, just a few days ago I could have excitedly announced a lopsided football score and the exuberant exhale would have lived just long enough to die of neglect, perishing at my wife's feigned look of interest. Raising a manchild can take its toll. 

And since I did not experience the total man-ization that one is supposed to undergo after watching his child come into this world (I was kind of expecting something instant. I'd hear a Disney chime and immediately yearn for Wall Street Journal), today I gleefully declared that Oklahoma had beaten North Texas 79 - 10. This while my wife tried to get our screaming child to latch on.  It turns out that at that very moment the success of the Sooner football squad was the least necessary information in the universe. 

The raw power of a new father's uselessness is very motivating. I sprung into action.  

I joined Sarah in one of those bungling rookie parent moments. We needed to apply Vaseline to our son's newly circumcised doodad. If you've ever tried to spread cold peanut butter on moist bread than you've only begun to experience the difficulty. In all our gentle attempts to help Quin we did more damage to his psyche than we could have ever done to his delicate and brightly irritated little manhood.  Years later he'll explain to a therapist that he screams whenever he sees a red Christmas bulb. 

I know I will.

I'd be suspicious too, bud.

I'd be suspicious too, bud.


But today he was unable to articulate complaints about his screwed up childhood.  Sarah and my four adult hands tangled with little, flailing legs and diaper small enough to fit a squirrel. Our incompetence was en fuego. Tomorrow we're going to practice parenthood by wearing mittens and counting change. 

So Quin is screaming and wondering why he's being punished when he hasn't even had a chance to taunt Karma, and we're on the verge of biting each other, when suddenly Sarah gets this real quizzical look on her face. She's all puzzled and curious when she says, "what's that?" She's almost smiling, like whatever is sprinkling her, while mysterious, is a pleasant break from the chaos. A neat little mystery. That's when I looked down to see The Mighty Q shooting a magnificent inaugural piss. It arched over his head and at least two more baby-lengths beyond to mist my wife's foot. As his load decreased and the stream receded, our boy left a golden trail up the bed, across his binky, his chest and it bubbled to a stop on his freshly peeled penis. 

He turned up his squelch and let it be known that, for no fault of his own, his innocence had been bruised.  His clean record quite literally soiled. Or he could have been screaming for competent help.  I'm not sure. We're having some communication issues. His evil parents laughed.  We might even have fell a little deeper for each other.

But Quin could give a damn about our little love story. To him we're large and lumbering, and he never once cried until he met us.   He let us have it until Sarah and I swaddled him tight and discontinued our fervent attempts to get him to breastfeed. 

Aside from planting the seeds of deep mistrust in our child, the tribulation resulted in a pitiful diaper application.  It could very well be on backwards. We were so desperate to get him dressed for all I know we wrapped Sarah's hairbrush up in it. But now he's quiet, some guy in a neighboring ward is out of a coma and mom and baby are ogling each other. 

But turn up your TV.  Stuff your earpods. Team Suckle is about to try again. 

And North Texas limps back onto the field...

Comment

1 Comment

Otto and Soccer | A Tribute to Awesome

So if it's possible--and I shouldn't doubt myself as that (I think) will be part of the message here--I'd like to capture one of the most magnificent things I've ever seen in my life. I know, you're preparing yourself to hear another parent piling on superlatives about one of their children's achievements, but I promise you that this is the stuff Rocky is made of. It's the shared DNA that has every human stepping out of their own meager expectations and rocking the mantle to its core. I don't have video of the event, and I have only a few eye witnesses who will vouch for the action I will describe. All of them, however, will most likely lack the conviction with which I'm about Hallelujah into your heavens.

I coached Otto's soccer team. I've never played soccer or even watched much on TV. I even grew up with a distrust for soccer-centered suburban communities. Who did they think they were kidding? That's not football. Also, I assumed they were rich, which in itself is not a bad thing, but you bundle it with my background of small town suspicions and you get ungrateful elitists playing a mystery sport in the swank comfort of carpeted homes and anti-lock brakes. I had to overcome a lot to accept my coaching position. Mostly, though, it was to watch a lot of YouTube videos to figure out the rules of the game. Sarah gave me a quick tutorial (herself being a Baltimore County All Star) and, with her help, took a battery of YMCA coaching tests to become official. I was nervous, but ready. And then on the first day I spent an hour watching a clump of children chase a ball. Other coaching detail included getting them to stop picking flowers and focus on the game, as well as making sure they got to the bathroom on time.

He's got this.

He's got this.

It was cute and fun until our first game. We played a team that started two six year olds with pituitary problems. They brutalized us. Some people complain that nowadays we don't keep score anymore. I'm no longer one of them. Our rival was mostly boys, competitive little retches, as compared to mine, all girls and Otto, who are some of the sweetest people I've ever met. But maybe they could have held off on hugging one another until they actually scored a goal. And maybe don't braid each other's hair in the middle of the game. One of them brought me a ladybug as a present while I watched our opponents high five another open net. 

With the undying lovefest, I thought Otto would be a standout. I figured he was going to run out there and crush some spirits with his buzz-cut intensity and little brother angst. He didn't. He ran and hustled, but fell down a lot. Often he fell down just to fall down. Sometimes he'd stare into space and, in what I have to admit were disappointing moments for his father, my middle-boy beast with the six-chambered heart would ask to sit on the sidelines. I let it go. I wasn't about to be the Great Santini to a five year old in a game I barely understood.

The Ewy boys, Otto (l) and Quin (in his rec center basketball jersey), worked well together against the wall of blue.

The Ewy boys, Otto (l) and Quin (in his rec center basketball jersey), worked well together against the wall of blue.

The season wore on, painfully. The parents asked if we could switch kids from the other team. Every game we played the same opponent, and every game we were crushed. So I recruited. I got Otto's big brother Quin to play a couple of quarters before he left for his 1st/2nd grade contest. Other kids had their six-year-old siblings show up. We  got more competitive, but every game I wanted to make sure our original six got to play together. I was bent on seeing them improve. I had a gut-tangling pang to see them actually score.

It would happen, and it would come in the storm of confidence and childhood awakenings that would have the trash-talking spawn on the other team (the Cheetahs) complain that the game was unfair. For once we were competing. The score we didn't keep was tied. My Silver Surfers were on the verge of victory.

Here's the thing, I had seen Otto improve throughout the summer season. Games one and two he fell down a lot; by game four he was starting to show some interest in competing. This was game seven; our final game of weary parents and waning hope. One father wondered if the experience would discourage his daughter from the game for life (he could thank me later for time, gas and equipment savings.) With the help of Quin and two other six year olds, we were on the verge of dominating, but when one of the better Cheetahs went down with an injury, I pulled the big kids and let my original team have a shot. I wanted the unit--the flower pickers and the sky gazers, the potty breakers, the hair twisters, and the mid-action entomologists--to prove that they could play. I'm happy to report what I'm about to report.

I've not before seen the heart that I saw in these kids. One was so small that she could barely get enough leverage to move a soccer ball. We're talking hip height here. But they all lined up for the final quarter kickoff. My three six-year-old stars watched from the sideline. My Surfers were back in their accustomed position of having the much larger Cheetahs swarm towards their goal. I'd see this first hand not just as a coach, but as a referee. I did both, and I didn't mind it, as my team could use all the help they could get...and you know how hometown refs work. So it was from the center field where I saw it go down. Where I saw the reason my youngest son would bust out dance moves I didn't even know he knew. Dance moves that would paralyze an older soul.

The Cheetahs kicked off. Their big kid, the one with the mohawk (there's always one,) blasted the ball right into Otto. He kept his feet, gathered the ball and kicked it back. In what was really more of a retribution kick instead of well-planned pass to a teammate, the ball launched right back at the mohawk. But this is where Otto woke up. This is that moment you remember as a kid; that time you realized that your aunt was your mom's sister. It's the first time you snap your fingers, or whistle or, as I remember so clearly, discover that yesterday wasn't an actual day of the week, but a generic term for the day before today.

I'm not sure who needed who more.

I'm not sure who needed who more.

Luckily, Otto's awakening was more exciting. His was a hammer. A reckoning. A guy realizing on the run that he had as much right to that ball as any other kid. Otto pursued the ball. He followed up. Something that you don't hear referees shouting at players, "follow the ball...follow the ball!" And he did. He followed pert near through the bigger kid, pushing him aside and kicking the ball out ahead. It was here where we all realized what could happen. I stopped to get clear visual. Sarah stood up. Chloe's parents perked up as did Hallie's and Kiana's. Otto had a one-on-one break to the goal. We rarely had the ball on their side of the field. We rarely had the ball, period. With Mohawk stunned, his teammate was left to defend alone. Typically, even this was more formidable than my Surfers could contend. But not today. The defender stepped in and Otto kicked the ball round him. And then...sweet god I wish I had a camera. I wish I could loop this moment over and over--pull it down on the big screen whenever Otto is feeling down or reeling from a beating by his big brother. The whole field stopped in a modern movie special effect. It was the Matrix and my son had dodged bullets. It's weird when you see your kid do something so cool. I'm a doubting jerk for feeling surprised, but this is a kid I thought had given up. I thought he'd rather be in the shade playing with his baby sister. That, however, was before he knew how good he could be.

With all of the parents, both those of the Surfers and the Cheetahs rapt and wrapped in the silence of a vacuum venue, we paused. I might presume that we weren't so much watching a kid with a ball, but all of us as giant kids with our own proverbial scoring opportunity.

With an unlikely juke glancing the bigger boy to the side, Otto was free to the goal. In a flash I reminded myself not to get cocky. Kindergartners are liabilities with dull scissors. "Could this really happen?" I asked myself. And it did. With his left foot he kicked it in. Otto scored a goal. The underdogs pulled the tarp off their talents. The little guys, the nice kids, those who got to appreciate bugs and flowers for much of the season could still go out on top. The crowd went wild. I mean somewhere around twenty parents shrieked life into the suburbs. Otto went nuts. It was weird and awesome. He flexed and walked like a tiny Hulk. His dark eyes some other place. And then he danced something like an Irish folk dance and an end zone celebration before wriggling into the skip walk of a happy deer. He finished with some wild agreeing with no one in particular. "YES!" he shouted. If yesterday's Otto had fallen down, today's Otto was standing over him and giving a glimpse of his alpha future. The crowd continued to cheer and his teammates relished a valid reason to hug.

Sarah and I can't stop talking about it. Otto is proud but understated. Maybe it is because I was the ref and had to suppress my excitement that I find you here in this space trying to bring my son's achievement to life. On this website of tiny plankton pixels swallowed by the whale of the web. Maybe it's because kids hear enough about how great they are, but it's us who need a reminder. The writer in me wants to capture it in words because the parent in me didn't get it on camera. Or maybe it's that it was awesome. It was so damn awesome.

And now kindergarten should be a breeze.

And now kindergarten should be a breeze.

1 Comment

Comment

Dragging Einstein into this

We all can soar.

We all can soar.

Einstein once said a thing about his difficulties with math. In his typical endearing genius way, he comforted those frightened of numbers by saying if you thought you had issues with arithmetic, then just imagine his. Which, for people like me, is impossible. I can’t even figure out my son’s number lines let alone the rapid expansion of the universe.

This quote always appealed to me because, first of all, I got a D in Algebra. It was my only D ever and one of the most stressful times of my young life. (My mom asked me how school was going and, lacking the lexicon to properly explain, I smashed a wooden bowl.) Secondly, I felt some distant connection. Some 99-cent version of Einstein’s billion dollar bean. My screeching, self-aggrandizing version of that quote would be: if you think you have social anxieties, then just imagine mine.

Here’s my deal. I’m an extrovert for a living. All the money that I’ve ever made had something to do with my being a gregarious (or some might say impetuous) fellow who takes hold of any opportunity to entertain. The rub is that I’m not much of an extrovert at all. I really, really like to be at home. I would pay a thousand dollars not to have to do a gig that pays $500. But I can’t not do it. It’s been a semi-lucrative habit, but every step towards the stage is a terrifying ordeal. I often hope for a lightning strike or a seizure or maybe a mild heart attack. Something that very visibly demonstrates to the organizer that I wanted to do it but, because of a million volts of sky fire soldering me to the floor, I need to postpone.

But I must. Persevere. And. do. it.

It kills me hearing echoes of professors and college friends who encouraged me to try Saturday Night Live or go on tour. It sounded amazing but I didn’t want to leave my comfort zone, which is chopping firewood and thinking. Goddamn thinking. It is the most overrated evolutionary allowance yet. Maybe unless your Einstein and your brain delivers shiny gifts of brilliance (that may take years to unwrap but still.)

I guess I shouldn’t drag Einstein into this. But I will pull you in. Maybe you’re a genius. Maybe you just crafted fusion out of a coke bottle and a pancake. Regardless, I have discovered, through years of arduous efforts in avoidance, that there’s nothing more painful and annoying and all-out aggravating than not doing what you really want to do. It’s weird, but doing nothing is far more work than doing something.

I will pause for a moment — and I’m about done here — to say that I don’t believe everyone has the same fair shake. I don’t believe that bootstraps come standard on every pair of shoes. Or that shoes even come standard at all. Over the years I have seen how better-adjusted upper crust kids get much better shots at everything, while the kid born in the ‘hood or in a violent family can never leave either no matter how many places they go. At the same time, there’s a chance that your shitty upbringing has made you stronger. Don’t let the cockroaches crawl over the crumbs of your resolve. Pull what you can together, no matter how trembly and tenuous. And despite hoping with all of your banging heart that you get run over by a car on your way to that terrifying epicenter of accomplishment, do it.

Do the fuck out of it. And I’m sorry for cussing but let’s dig deep and speak primal. Because no matter who you are or where you came from, we’re all descendants of same primordial ooze. We’re all linked by hopes and fears and this upright thing that leaves your head like a periscope in whatever murk you still wade. There are despots everywhere. There are obstacles that some of us can’t even imagine. I know I’m on the winning end of elevated opportunity and I grew up with an outhouse for god’s sake. Compared to 99% of the world, I’m privileged little prick. And you can’t believe the kind of comedy you get when you had to walk through three feet of snow to go poo.

So, in the vein of the throbbing, pulsating people who mire themselves in a sewer of dreams, all you can do is crawl out and do it. Hate it. Curse it. Burden your loved ones with it. But stop thinking. Stop thinking you have trouble with math. Or life. And do it.

 

So this was last night. It's fun. 

Comment

Comment

Musings from the loneliest species.

Sunny day. First Sunday of summer break. Sarah corralled the kids and took off to the park. They were waiting their chance to cross the street when they saw the neighbor's cat get hit by a car. She dragged everyone back inside and summoned me from the top of the kid’s fort (I was shingling.) “We need your help with something,” she lobbed with the last part of a running breath.

To hear this — to be needed when I’ve spent the afternoon on a fort that’s taken weeks longer than it should to build — was glorious. I mean if I were a contractor my clients would be suing me by now. But my kids don’t yet have that wherewithal. Sarah, however, is keenly aware of the time I’ve spent cobbling leftover wood together to create something like a chicken coop for the children. So to have her want my help while I’m smashing shingles onto an otherwise superfluous structure — or at least unnecessary compared to the things I should be doing to our actual house — is pretty exciting. This sensation would subside.

Kids, get in.

Kids, get in.

The neighbor’s cat, an animal that had found them and, using it’s beguiling kitty ways would convince them to adopt her, was hiding under a bush. A gaggle, which is at least ten teenage girls, stood in a semicircle around the animal. The man who’d hit the animal had a single tear on his left cheek. Eliot had been quarantined to the house and the boys were bounding around the yard trying to figure out what to do.

The driver was clearly disturbed by the incident. He apologized to no one in particular while he clutched the leash of his dog. Just five minutes prior he’d been on a routine trip to the dog park across from our house. Now he was responsible for the terrible suffering of a neighborhood pet. Right now I know he’s thinking about it. It’s going to be a while before he can shake it. Because the cat didn’t die immediately. I’d have to shoot it, which is kind of why they needed my help. I never thought I’d be the gun guy; the suburban sniper, but I’ve been in the position of numbing injured animals before. This, however, was a pet. And I wasn’t sure my BB gun was going to do the trick. And by trick I really mean magic, because this beautiful tabby was in agony. It had dragged itself by it’s forepaws off of the street — the gaggle screeching and wailing. The guy in the car stumbling back to the scene. My wife swooping the kids to some other place than sadness.

It screamed with its meow. I pet it and talked to it and I wondered what it was saying. I mean there’s some pretty obvious verbiage here — “oh shit this hurts” — but I thought I heard anger. I thought I heard disappointment. I don’t know, it was deep long meow and it seemed to be pretty damn mad that we could love and feed a cat, but we were too damn dumb to end the pain. Like there’s been a rumor about us, about humans, but this particular cat had ignored it. Passed it off as heresy. She’d found a home and loving hands scratching her ears on cold winter nights, but when it came down to it we were as helpless as she’d once only heard. She shrieked at her own disavowal. Her being sucked in by our material world. The convenience of being a house cat diluted her senses. She’d once caught a squirrel and didn’t know what to do with it. That sort of thing. And now she was at the bottom of a half circle of these goddamned lies. Lies about safety and shelter if only she relinquished her savagery. If only she pooped in a tiny box of chemical sand and ate whatever in the hell was in that bowl, she’d be OK. She did all that. She loved. She made the absolute loneliest species feel connected to something other than themselves and computer devices, yet here she lay dying on the side of the road with weeping idiots more involved with their own issues than her fiery battle with the night.

I pumped my childhood BB gun until I could barely engage the compression lever back to the stock. It clicked into place and the girls gasped at the little pop of the pellet. I really don’t like shooting things. I grew up with the venerable threat that whatever we shot we had to eat. This came with the story of my father’s father making him prepare and eat a backyard bird he’d gunned down for fun. I don’t even like generously seasoned game animals so that was a very effective parable. Today, however, I was hoping the cat thought, “Holy shit, finally,” as I sent a tiny metal ball through its neck and into its brain. That was the hope. In real life it sent the animal into a series of slow tremors, almost like it was reanimating. And then it stopped. It’s right front leg gently setting down to the ground. It looked like a needle dropping on a record. This time the classic hit of remorse. Of wondering if we’re doing it right this human thing. The B side: Are we the shittiest creature on the planet?

Before I shot. Before the BB could deliver it’s shiny message about death. There was much clamoring on of the whereabouts of the cat’s owners. The gaggle spoke all at once about how they’d pounded on the doors of the house but no one answered. Sarah had tried as well. No one was home. We know these people. They’re nice. They like the Grateful Dead.

Allie (l) and Paco (r) have remained strong.

Allie (l) and Paco (r) have remained strong.

I was petting the cat, and the man with his dog was telling me how it happened. The cat ran right under his car and into the wheel. He was mortified. It was then when our neighbors came walking back from the park with their dog. They couldn’t make out what was happening in front of their house, but they didn’t need long. The excited gaggle and my two sons ran to meet them with the news. Giddy suburban doings whirling around the body of a broken and frustrated and dying tabby. The apex of millions of years of physical and social evolution dying under a plant we’d trimmed earlier that day. It had been unwieldily and leaning into the sidewalk. Now it was square and tame and hopefully made more appealing the greeting that our neighbors were about to receive. The woman broke down immediately and ran into the house. Her boyfriend kneeled with me and talked to the animal.

“Fucking Christ just shut up and do it,” I imagined the cat saying. “Fix me or ditch me. Or…OR…use the same minds that came up with the infernal automobile to make me better.” And we didn’t.

“We only know how to use the cars,” I might one day add to an afterlife panel of murdered animals. The squirrel I hit in Farmington and the little dog that ran into our car on south Broadway. “We don’t know the consequences. We sometimes don’t know how to channel our perceived mental superiority into positive or constructive fixes.”

And it would be strange for the animals seeing the top of the food chain plead ignorance. On varying levels they all know how to hunt and to smell the air. Dogs and cats, for example, all seem to speak the same language. The birds in our backyard talk trash to each other all day.

Humans, on the other hand, are kind of scattered, I’d explain. “These tools for which we’re renowned. Maybe we don’t understand them as much as other species would think.”

It would be one of those moments where I’d want to stop talking but couldn’t. Like the job interview going terribly wrong as I dwelled too long on my list of weaknesses.

“I’m sorry, but it’s a lot I’m realizing right now,” I’d look down after addressing directly the little dog from South Broadway. He’d been mortally wounded under our Camry. And then, to the floor, I’d utter, “I have a feeling that maybe we’ve lost sight as to certain important responsibilities in being top dog.”

I’d later apologize to the non canines. By then they’d already acknowledged that the whole conversation had not gone well. I would be doomed.

And so this little metal ball — one that I’ve since researched to find is steel coated with zinc — made it’s way somewhere into the mind of the doting creature. The breakers gradually turned off. Thousands, millions of electric circuits went dark, a city as infinite as all the stars shot black across the body and the paw of a curious kitten flexed, froze and dropped. The gaggle turned and left. My kids had taken off to the park with their mom. The tabby’s human mother stayed inside. In the street, three grown men were left to fight back tears and consider our task as pallbearers.

Comment

Comment

Spring Break Day 2: The Darkness before Dawn

There’s been a lot written about how counterintuitive it is to have children. Or maybe I’ve just thought it during times of paternal crisis. But I witnessed it today. I saw two grown humans collapse like the Greek economy. They were cornered — they cornered themselves. Let me attempt to paint a picture.

You grow up trying to gain control. At first it’s your bladder and then it’s a bicycle and pretty soon you’re driving and even buying your own booze.

You get an apartment over which you preside, a dog you train, and into a relationship that works within your capacity for love and understanding. And then, with one romantic night or hasty kitchen countertop love scuffle, you breach it all with bowling ball-sized life bomb that explodes into a thing that you cannot, for the life of you, properly control. It’s weird, the pinnacle of mammalian purpose becomes a shot to your fragile ecosystem that takes you out with a tantrum in the candy aisle.

I’ll transcribe for you the conversation I heard from the chairlift. Two people, who were pieced together for the proper pageantry of fashionable snowsuits and the latest skis, shouted down a tiny child who would not perform to their expectations. As I passed over — with my own photocopy in Otto next to me who steadfastly prefers crashing every twenty yards over ski school — I looked down at two handsome people who looked like they were named Karen and Roger. Karen and Roger appeared to be successful people. I sensed entrepreneurship or some accomplishment in management motivating teams of grown people towards a common goal. I saw expensive professional dinners and exotic personal vacations. In short, I saw success in controlling the world in which they live. But as they negotiated their skis and their wills against gravity, a little girl adorned in swirls and polka dots, sat down and refused to move. Now normally you can throw this child over your shoulder and use brute strength to manipulate her whereabouts. But here they were stuck on a slippery slope, quite literally, and it’s really hard to be dominant when you’re wearing shin shackles and ten feet of waxed plastic. With all of their acumen drained by circumstance, they surrounded and shouted crazy street person inanities at thirty pounds of insubordination.

Karen: You know, the bathroom is in the lodge. You have to get up and ski to the bathroom.

Roger: GET UP AND SKI TO THE BATHROOM.

Karen: Your father and I are going to leave you.

Roger: Fine just pee your pants then.

There aren’t many circumstances where in a crowded public place you’d command someone else to pee their pants. But that is parenthood on ice. Your fantastic, lifetime accrual of interpersonal stamina pissed away on the side of a mountain on a Saturday afternoon.

Her faith shaken.

Her faith shaken.

It gave me such great insight. Thank you Karen and Roger! You’re still great leaders to me. As your example helped me cope with my own emotional terrorist in pastel. A little girl who sensed in me great weakness, as well as noticeable drop in my physical ability to move from one place to another. Skiing is the great equalizer. With an 1812 Overture of otherwise upstanding citizens smacking themselves against a mountain, your chances against well-honed manipulative minds are slim to none.

Ski resorts should price accordingly for families with young kids. Your first day is free. If your dumb ass is actually going to suit up a toddler so they can be even more dangerous than they already are, well then the experience is on the house.

The most exhausting part of skiing is getting ready to ski. We’re not so avid to have our own gear, so we must endure the ski rental process. Now I first visited Granby Ranch (then called Silver Creek) in 1986. Still today it has the same cramped, poorly ventilated rental shop. With strained faces, parents step over protesting children. Christmas card facades fade under duress. Smiles are a forced greeting to worried bystanders. But we’re all well-behaved in a rigid ballet of foreboding glares and stifled epithets. There have been families hauled away to their deaths in cramped cattle cars I remind myself as I coral a precocious two year old in the dense underbrush of clearance racks. May I only be tested by the snail’s pace of preparation for ski resort entertainment, I also tell myself as I carry the squirreling, boneless body of a small human back to our family mound of winter clothing. This is where we waited while parents hammer the feet of their fussy progeny into plastic pylons called ski boots. Why in the hell aren’t we sledding?

It is during these times, when I’m hungry, sweaty, and perturbed, when I turn to the darkness. Perhaps from a youth where we were an hour from Colorado’s ski lifestyle but light years from appreciating it. Because, after all, downhill skiing is an elitist pastime. It’s symbolism is reality, lifting those with the means out of the teeming masses. An ascension to the elevations of the economic elite.

As a kid, in our little Colorado town, no one downhill skied. We’d have visitors stop through on their way to Steamboat, and I simultaneously admired and loathed them. I loved their new Subarus, liberated minds, and scientific breakthroughs in mountain apparel, but hated their own self approval. Their patronizing pats on the head fermented somewhere in the shallow depths of a personality puddle shimmering with the petroleum spill of hypocrisy. They criticized the right wing, the rednecks and, of all things, the rich, yet pursued a sport with a yachting-level barrier of entry that takes 15,000 acres of trodden environment to successfully endeavor.

So those are the dark places you go when you’re hoping your children will stop their sit-in at the lodge. You seek evidence that justifies social, emotional and geopolitical reasons to retreat to iPad games, televised sports and the beautiful malaise of a lazy shut-in vacation that you can actually afford.

But then you breathe in and realize that you need to raise your kids with a breadth of experience. They can’t grow to loathe shiny veneers. You want them to be able to fake it like a true American. You want them to rise without the intense dread of people in fuzzy boots and SUVs with “Save the Planet” stickers. We’re all hypocritical assholes when it comes to the chairlift of personal happiness. My kids need to know how to get on that thing and have a freakin ball while giving gravity and vacation budgets the goddamn finger. I want them to be free of the mental ball and chain of judgement. I want them to see that parking lots with way too many Subarus or pick up trucks or Panzer tanks doesn’t mean a wall of frustrating like-mindedness, but individuals who each have their own hopes and dreams, and can be at any moment forcefully removed from their hard-earned adulthood by a tiny person in lollipop snow pants.

I want them to see that their parents will struggle and be grumpy but still pull through and figure out a way to make the day work. Even if it is via alcohol and legal weed. It’s a time to persevere in America — a pretty, if not pubescent, country stumbling around on the bridge to maturity — and goddammit a credit-straining visit to a mountain extravaganza is going to be the way we’re going to do it.

Now to get my angry little girl out from under a shelf of discount hats.

Light on the horizon.

Light on the horizon.

Comment

Comment

The Poop Car

"When I fart it's like a little dinosaur rawr. When dad farts it's like RAWWWWR." -Quin, age 3

The other day we pulled up to the house and I did my Sherpa duties of emptying the car and tracking down the children. When we got inside, I settled into some surfing before realizing I had no idea where Otto was. I asked Quin and he shrugged. I started to panic a little bit because my imagination is horrible. Had I left him alone to suffer on some street corner? Is he still at Target? Did I leave him on the roof like I did the bagels and then later the boys' hot chocolates? Why in the hell would I have put him on the roof of the car? All of these questions pounded my conscience as I burst out of the house and ran towards our 1998 Subaru Forester. Muttering to myself about being an idiot, I orbited the outside of the boxy wagon to find my middle child perched in the doorway of the car. He wasn't entirely in and he wasn't entirely out. He leaned against the open door as if he were about to make a parachute jump.

A little thing about our Subaru Forester. To our boys it's better known as the black car, yet to me it's affectionately titled the poop car. You see, the Forester is the one place where the boys can use potty talk. In the poop car they can flex their foulness and giggle like demented comic book villains over flatulence, diapers and other excretory appreciations. It was our last ditch effort to curb their emissions, and we think it's worked.

The impetus for the poop car came when, like a time-lapse flower, our boys blossomed from mostly innocent vessels of adorability, to biological waste dumps. It happened fast and our parental ordinance was but a baby sneeze amongst their fecal mushroom cloud.

We got our poop car for about two grand off of Craigslist.

We got our poop car for about two grand off of Craigslist.

We offered all of our gentle admonishment; finger snapping, distractions and occasional all-out shut-your-mouth shouting, but it seemed like aside from going Adrian Peterson on our beloved boys, we needed to conjure something creative.

So, we compromised. We offered them a place to get it all out, and sometimes that means we get a quiet reprieve as they go out and sit in a parked car. A small refuge for the literal shit talkers in our life.

That's where I found Otto. He set silently on the edge of the car's exit, gazing up, down and around like he was trying to remember what he'd forgotten. And then it came to him; just the right youthful expletive before giving up his raunch rights for dook-talk downtime. "Poopy!" he shouted, before jumping to the ground and running inside. I was left to close the door on the poop car, but happy to leave their inanities outside in the driveway.

Comment

Comment

Why the NFL scripting games is a good thing

It starts and ends with Peyton Manning. At least this time around. Any player or team who merits it would get their shot at being the star of the story, but this year it's the man affectionately titled PFM. Ask a Bronco fan friend what that stands for. Right now we have the perfect narrative to wrap up the season and get everyone watching, and that's why you script some games.

I first realized the potential for this during Super Bowl 40 between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Seattle Seahawks. It was a terrible game. I was there, having bought cheaper accommodations before my Broncos and their home field advantage were dispatched by the Steelers in the AFC Championship. Hey, at least I was at the Super Bowl, even if it was in Detroit.

Being a fan of neither team, or at least not passionate about any one side, I watched in this weird, sad way that I never want to watch a game again. It seemed as if there were forces beyond the performance on the field that were shaping the outcome of the contest. A Pittsburgh fan asked no one in particular, "What is going on?" and it was the Seahawks who were getting the short end of it.

I'm not crying foul. I've been through it. The sadness of feeling betrayed by a game; the constant wondering if a Bronco victory really was a Bronco victory. Would the Patriots really fold like that in the 2014 AFC Championship? Did Brady have the flu or had Rumba with Giselle worn him out? It's been a decade of suspicion. Ever since that Motor City fiasco where everything seemed so broken. Now, however, I've come full circle and recommend that if the NFL isn't scripting games, then they probably should.

Why? I should discuss that. Well, first, the NFL needs the ratings not only for billions in immediate financial returns, but also to keep us inspired by the game. They need to soothe us with public service announcements about safety. They need to construct a family environment so parents will keep signing up their kids. They need us to keep Sunday a day of football worship. One entertaining way for us to overlook the scandals, the head injuries, and the domestic violence, is a narrative. To create that narrative, that perfect story, you need some help with the details.

It's not all games and it's not every play, but just enough curated moments to help manage the action and keep people interested. You do it with your coordinators--the endlessly shuffled inventory of the same offensive and defensive coaches who already understand what's at stake--who have their hands on the controls of the game. Is your passing team taking too much advantage of a weak defense? Well run a few ill-advised running plays up the gut. And then one more just for good measure.

You can use the litany of gray areas added to the game, too. For example, the new roughing, targeting and celebration penalties can help curb one team's momentum and stoke the others. The referees could get more control of the game with questionable pass interference and reception calls. Instant replay is a helpful tool as well.

The biggest part of scripting games--for even with the slightest swing to one side or the other--is getting some of the players on your side. Initially, this might sound impossible if not downright unethical, but think about how doable this could be. You have at your disposal the greatest athletes in the world and all of the ego that comes with them. These men have conquered every physical challenge thrown at them, but are they so good that they can win it for an entire league? Are they so good that they can manipulate the outcome of an entire game? Let these players and coaches be the gods who pull the strings and see what happens. Maybe even pay them millions of dollars.

I'm sharing this now because I get to be in Denver and part of one of the greatest football narratives to have ever lived. It's the story of the conflicted and sometimes confident Peyton Manning. The NFL should run with it. Wrap it up with the perfect ending.

Manning and the Broncos have stumbled into home field advantage and have a clear shot to the Super Bowl. That's the same situation that lead to disappointment in 2006, but that wasn't their year. It wasn't their story. Back then it was the retiring Jerome Bettis heading back to his Motown hometown. Seattle never had a chance. At that time and place, the Steelers were America's team.

This year I believe is Peyton's year to get his due. Besides, it's time for Manning to be rewarded for being a great quarterback. For being an incredible paid spokesperson for the league and aloof jocks everywhere. This is Peyton's year and now I'm going to kick back and see how they do it.

Because when you have a good story, it's hard to pay attention to anything else.

Comment

Comment

CraigsList and the Never Ending Car Seat

So we have about 15 car seats and three kids and I'm thrilled that Sarah green-lighted a garage-gobbling beast of an infant carrier to set sail on Craigslist. My wife is never hotter than when she gives me that little nod that something can go and, with our kids growing, as they do at a rate of a new car seat every three months, we have a lot of things to let go. The hope, however, is that these released items can be put to good use. I honestly don't know who buys new baby clothes. And if you are that person, please remember that somebody's just going to vomit on them. Most everything that cycles through this house has been worn for generations. I just took a pile of pelts to Goodwill.

Car seats, as you may know, cost somewhere between $150 and the GDP of Brazil, so it's no small victory to get a good used one. And that's the glow that flowed through me as I imagined the uproar of enthusiasm about this highly advanced LATCH system with two bases and lightweight kid carrier on sale for fifty bucks.

The Chicco KeyFit 30 Infant Car Seat. A freakin' steal!

The Chicco KeyFit 30 Infant Car Seat. A freakin' steal!

Not so. All I got--and I mean a lot--were questions about its expiration date. Car seats have expiration dates. People called me and emailed me and texted me with a battery of questions, and all of them included a query about the shelf life. I understand. Kind of. I mean I understand that you should invest in the child safety industry now. They know how to make a buck. But if we know of anything that doesn't destroy plastic, it's time.

I'm not here to complain about advancements in child safety technology and associated legislation, or that we have to have them in the first place. They're life savers no doubt, and that's because car seats are going to be with us forever.

Your child will expire before that car seat does. Three generations of dolphins will gag on the packaging alone. An entire species of birds will perish in a pool of their own plastic piss before that car seat even has an impression from ten years of chubby dumpling butts. It's a hunk of molded plastic that fighter pilots squeeze into in bombers older than your uncle. It's a rigid homage to chemistry that, in my own tribute to child labor, nearly crushed my knee as I pushed down from the car ceiling to marry our son's first throne to the very soul of our Corolla.

Hey, I know, why don't you troll Craigslist for cheap stuff and then get indignant when your shiny, new desires don't come true!

Hey, I know, why don't you troll Craigslist for cheap stuff and then get indignant when your shiny, new desires don't come true!

Let's say something does crack a seat. A horrific car accident followed by a bolt of lightning and a herd of frightened elephants. That could happen three days after it was made and years before its expiration date.

Is it bad that people are concerned about expiration dates on plastic? No. It's what we know. We're hounded by never-ending innovations in vehicular entanglements. But please know that our planet will expire long before your car seat.

The story does have a happy ending. Our seat doesn't lapse until January of 2017. With a full arbitrary year for it being the same invincible hunk of plastic that it was five years ago, a handsome middle-aged couple came and bought it for their newborn grandson. They didn't seem to mind that it could self destruct in mere months. Still, I sold it to them for $20, thirty cheaper than the pre-expiration interrogation price. Two minutes later there was a knock on the door. It was the new grandfather. He'd come back with ten more dollars. He insisted I take it because the seat was way nicer than twenty bucks.

Comment