I was asked to write about church

Every month Denver hosts the literary combat cage fight known as Write Club. My topic was church. I wasn’t sure what to write about until…well until I found religion.

So my dad had this thing he told that made a huge difference in my life.

I'd come home from school a little upset because some kids were interrogating me as to why we didn't go to church.

And my dad said, "You do go to church."

And I was like, "I'm pretty sure we don't go to church."

And he said, "You do. Church doesn't have to be some building somewhere; church can be wherever you want it to be."

And for my dad, the church was the woods. He'd worked in the woods his entire adult life.

And I thought about this recently because I was in my own new place of worship.

A gently used Subaru Forester.

It's church like. It has higher than normal ceilings. It has a lot of windows. It's also has AC like one of those wealthier suburban getups. And I was worshipping this particular day because I was praying to Jesus because I was caught in traffic. And because I was pretty sure that I was going to shit my pants.

I don't know if you've had this happen where you're in your car and everything is fairly normal, you know might get a gurgle or two—and you think you’re good—but then the abdominal fanfare blares and suddenly it's full on clench. You have to stand and drive. Have you ever done that where instead of being in a car, it's like you're on a tractor? If I were a yoga coach I'd call it the Scared Stiffie.

Well just last Thursday I had to go full Scared Stiffie. Rigid, terrified, religious.

Local man hugs child after harrowing incident.

Local man hugs child after harrowing incident.

I'd purchased the Subaru but it was in Loveland, so I had to go up and get it. I worked from home and did that thing where I was so busy working and trying to arrange a ride that I didn't eat. When my lift showed up, I realized I'd better consume something. I threw open the fridge and discovered the answer to my problems: a quick meal replacement that my wife enjoys. It's called Soylent.

It was good, too. Although, as I drank it on the trip up the Interstate to Loveland, there was this bit of a conversational aftertaste that haunted me. A few weeks prior I'd seen a Soylent in the fridge and I announced that I wanted one. My wife leapt to attention and said, "Maybe you shouldn't!" And then she paused... And thought for a moment before finishing with, "Because it has caffeine." Now through that pause, that ellipses, is where I'd fall, buttocks clenched, a throat full of desperate cries to Jesus hoping that I would not leave a literal stain on the family legacy.

Now I do have a thing with caffeine. It makes me chitter like a randy bird and I've kicked in a door or two in my own unsettling quest for thrones. So my wife left it at that. She didn't volunteer all of the information about the precarious starting point for this kind of beverage.

So I get to Loveland and get the car and it runs and everything is fine. That's the thing about coming into town on the interstate. There are a lot of amenities until there aren't. You're driving past all these island paradises of cold beverages and bathrooms, but if you don't stop you drain into the Russian roulette of unmarked urban exits. I remember passing Furniture Row, and there were some tummy trumpets--no big deal. I thought. No torpedo squeeze of great alarm.

But then I got into the city, and traffic slowed, and I was clenching. I don't know what kind of workout that is, but you sweat. Weird amounts of sweat. And then traffic would slow down even more. I got off the interstate to get home and would get stuck at three light cycles at one intersection. This is where I went deep. One body function turning me into an animal. I was growling. Like a fleshy didgeridoo. Wailing at the gods. Doing my tractor driving—going into survival mode, locking my body with the exception of my feet wriggling around the pedals like panicked marionettes.

So my head's bent against the ceiling of the car and I can barely see what with the opaqueness of the roof and what I believe are properties of hyperventilation. I was doing the pregnancy breathing trying to unbirth my demise. And people were looking at me. I'd already crossed that threshold where I didn't care what people thought of me. A family parallel to me at three light cycles was probably thinking I was passing a hedgehog, but I gave no damns.

I burst through the intersection and I'm the Exxon Valdez of sweat as I pray for anal strength I never thought I'd need to possess. Speed and legalities were of no object. I imagined a new law where everyone gets their own siren they can use three times per year. Maybe certain colors for certain emergencies. Turn your terrifying transit to the hospital into fun gender reveals with blue lights for arriving boys and pink for baby girls. People would get the hell out of the way for the brown one.

I got to about a mile from my home. There was another busy light, so I screeched a hot left into a quiet neighborhood. I didn't know my plan. Was I going to beat on a random door? I mean if someone pulled a gun on me at least my inevitable reaction would be merited. I whirl through the quaintly named streets of a seventies suburb and find an empty lot. I get out and start doing these stretches to the sky as I mumble to myself. I know there were at least half a dozen people on NextDoor discussing a creepy dude sweating hard and breathing heavy next In their neighborhood. And then I saw a reflection of me in the window. I asked my likeness, who are you? Father of three and husband of 17 years. Get in that car and make it. Like a man. But I could barely bend. So I loaded myself like I was a stolen mannequin and, with the necessary sweaty levitation, made one last launch towards the house.

That last 300 yards were tough. I think my body kind of knew it was coming. I screamed past my retired neighbor who sits in his garage waiting for news events like this, what with me standing and driving a new used car.

I lurched up to the house, almost hitting the door. Burst into the living room--the kids greeted me and I stiff armed my daughter as I C3PO-ed to my new church.

Oh sweet, sweet Jesus. Bhudda. Great goddess of Hinduism. I held my head in my hands and stared at the linoleum floor whispering to myself about gratitude and how it's the apex of attributes and I loved everybody so much. I love everyone so much. I was evolving out of the puddle, rising to the exact opposite of what I had been. From a crazed animal to somewhat human again, exhausted but cognitive and flexible and reaching out to the gods. It was all coming back. And then words formed deep inside of me. Roaring out of the soul of my soul, I seethed through my teeth a most powerful message of redemption:

Holy. Shit.



how to say goodbye to a friend

As many of you know, we had to put to rest my buddy and lover, Paco. You can see more about him at, but thought I’d pull from my experience some important information about putting your pet to sleep.

Plan ahead.

You should start worrying about your dog dying as soon as they emerge from the womb. For me, I had 13 incredible years peppered with the notion that the most amazing relationship I ever had would likely end with the better half perishing too soon. (You'll also have to let others in your life--wife and children, for example--know that they're great and all, but tied for second.)

But your friend will age and you'll get to that point. What is that point? You'll know, but if you need some benchmarks, the veterinarian trying to make eye contact with you to say something like, "We're at that point," is a good sign.

How do I know it's the right vet?

You should probably already have one, but if they don't respond to your request about the euthanization of your pet with the soft, friendly tone of the gate angels of heaven, then hang up and call the cops. The slightest briskness is unwarranted. This is the life of the most loyal, loving creature you have ever known. A family member that didn't judge you even if you did leave it in your house ten hours a day, 6 of those with a severe urge to pee. So if Dennis at the front desk is having a bad day, he needs to man up about his mild irritations and deliver the harp string serenade of a goddamned fleet of groveling songbirds.

So what is the protocol?

You'll want to know everything about every moment because you'll be freakin blind with sorrow. Ask the clinic about the most minute details. Which way do I move? And not just to the right or left, but how should I pay and how far will my form of payment need to be extended from my body? Is there any furniture in between me and the death suite? Is there a secret way I can cry my way out? I knew it was going to be difficult enough without having to think, so the velvety voice of South Park Animal Clinic in Littleton guided me through, even pausing patiently when I tried to talk but started making gurgling noises instead.

What should your expectations be?

Your expectations should be along the lines of having ceremonial drummers line the streets while the entire community (that's been given the day off) carries you on a gilded platform to the double doors of the clinic. At that point, there should be a solemn sermon of stringed instruments whisking you to a fantastic brass fanfare (six trumpets, as many trombones, a raptor emerges from the tuba and circles as its dramatic shrieks rise with the rhythmic drumming.) Whereupon you and your loved ones are cradled by large muscular men/women who whisper to you the greatness of your pet as they gently lay you in a mound of pillows. Reality may vary.

Am I doing the right thing?

You did the right thing when you engaged with this relationship. The only wrong thing is that you're in this terrible spot wondering about the right thing. But you know. They know. They're really counting on you to know. Nature would likely have already taken them. Be nature.

Now if you're just some kind of monster who's tired of a poorly trained puppy piddling on your floor then, yes, you did the wrong thing by getting a pet in the first place. Don't be the wrong thing.

Anything else?

The traffic will be traffic and the road will be a road. The sky won't dim so that the rainbow bridge will be brighter. You will get a woefully plain waiver asking you to sign an actual life away. You'll pause at the banality of it all. The first shot will put the animal to sleep; the second to rest. For however peacefully they slip away, it is terrible. Some things are terrible. But oh to have known how great it all can be.




Dad, 1952-2019

We'd land safely. Although there was little certainty that the next bump would end the same. The Jeep had a speedometer that promised 90 miles per hour, and that was our goal. The two seater had enough space for our family of five. Seat belt laws and safety standards not yet encumbering our lifestyle. We'd started a tradition of speedy drives home from the Cookhouse restaurant/bar to our house. A short trip of about a mile. Through the meadow, even less. Fortunately, my dad would stay on the road, his condition making that even more impressive. My mom groaning as my sister bounced on her with every bump. My brother and I on the floor between the seats. Dirt berms launching us home with our chants of "90! 90! 90!" shrieking out of the dark mountain moon shadows and illuminated by the brightest stars that you've ever seen.

It was Gould, Colorado in 1982. And circa. By that time we'd moved up from the trailer and lived in the original Gould Homestead built by Eddie Gould. The home was a testament to 19th century craftsmanship. Built in the 1880s, it was around to see people die in wagon trains. It was pre-penicillin, pre-suffrage; it's dark, tarred house logs rising out of the 800 acre meadow like any other pioneering masochist besieged by wind, rain and snow. So much snow. Ten-foot drifts turning the old buck fence into snow forts unlike the world has ever seen.

We hunted, we fished, we carted water around the county for baths, dishes and hydration. My mom could turn any region of any animal into something we were supposed to eat. My brother wolfing it down, while my sister and I lured dogs with elk parts. Out the dinner window was as much natural majesty as a person could paint. And they did. I think we have at least three portraits of that home donated to us by various artists. I would have gladly traded any of them for running water. Still, when I think of beauty. When I think of the wild. I think of me at about 6 years old bursting out that screen door, across the meadow, and into the hills. Thank goodness my mom could whistle because in the dark I had no idea which way was home.

It was one of these evenings when my mom had us all load up into the Jeep because we needed to find my dad. He was usually late, but this was getting more uncomfortable than normal. I'd say that once every six months we'd assemble a rescue mission that could be aborted by the end of the dirt road. Like this summer evening when we heard the engine brake on his 1969 Peterbilt. Mom pulled over so he could pull up. My dad popped his head out of the truck with horrific comedic timing that's, apparently, impossible to forget.

His face had been pulverized. Nose broken. Cheeks blue. Blood crusted from forehead to chin. He'd been hit by a log binder. If you don't know what that is, let me paint the pain. You have a load of logs, around 30 tons, and you've got to secure it with chains that are pulled to their tightest by a foot long lever that requires your entire weight to secure it in place. One of the lighter parts of the logger life is seeing the toughest humans you've ever met jump in the air and float down with the lever. It was like playground equipment for the insane. And sometimes it would smack back. And at least twice my dad's face would get in its way.

I've joked with my dad that death would eventually kill him. I should say that he's always been safe. But he'd been working in the woods for decades, so encounters with the short side of longevity have been part of his life. As a kid I was intrigued, but as a young adult, I was less than supportive.

One of the first girls I'd meet in college would ask me what my dad did for a living.

"He's a logger." I'd say.

"A lawyer?" she'd ask.

"Yes." I'd reply.

Lurking, however, was one of the hardest reckonings of my life. I was in my twenties when I realized the irreversible descent into becoming my father. I tried to claw my way back up the slide but, by my thirties, I was quietly gathering a shed full of axes, chainsaw parts and accessories. I even spent a small fortune on a wood-burning stove. I knew it was over for me. My father had won the fight. I'd grown up in a home with only wood heat. And that's adorable when you live somewhere with the occasional cold night. "Rodney is so romantic...he lit us a fire and it was so cozy." No no. Rodney would die in Gould. Your ass had better be up all night stoking that thing or perish. And I'm not kidding. It got so cold one time that my mom's perfume froze. Perfume. Which I think is mostly alcohol and skunk butt. One time I got a certificate for going to school when it was 48 below zero. Holding that piece of recognition on the bus home, I dreamed of one day getting a house where the heat turned on automatically. You just sat there and hot air came out of the walls. Magic. I also hoped for a future where I could go somewhere and not smell like lung cancer.

Cut to my 40s and I'm loading up dead pine and eager--I mean really social-sharing zealous--to chop firewood.

My dad knew this was coming. When I was 32 I sent him a 17-page letter complaining about being aggrieved by his choices. In reply, he simply sent me an ax. As if to say, "one day this will make sense."

It did. I used that ax so vigorously that I broke it. I ended up buying the next one as I didn't have another 17 pages in me. And soon I could feel my hand becoming the handle. We merged as one. Since urban officials frown upon felling trees in city parks, I'd drive around and look for discarded wood. So far my life has beget two solid pieces of advice: brush your teeth before you go to bed and big, deciduous city trees will have you die of exhaustion before you lop off even a bit of kindling. But I persevered and soon had a wall of firewood once reserved for my country youth. The one that had pissed my siblings and me off when my dad made us get loads of wood on Christmas Day. 1987.

Beyond what my brother, sister and me saw as forced foraging for fuel, my father was known to be a bit frightening. He was a lightning slice between hilarious and terrifying. My friends will likely recall most of the latter. One hid in the bathroom when my dad went off on a tirade at the dinner table. Another hyperventilated while he threw groceries around the house. And then there was Bart. I've changed his name a little bit. Of my friends, Bart had the most experience with my father. He knew to run, and often did.

This brings me to my father's Renaissance. His true strength, perhaps. It's a story of change. It's a story of surprise. And it's one that left me standing in three feet of snow wondering what in the hell had just happened. I was 16. Bart was the same. We were juniors in high school and the coolest people on the planet. I think Bart might have been in overalls and me in a beret that had been handed down from my grandfather. Oh, and in cowboy country, I may have been the only child who drove a Subaru GL. It was blue and would last less than two months before I'd launch it over a barbed wire fence, nearly wiping out a herd of cattle, and inspiring a forgettable day when I had to explain to the judge that I'd lost control whilst trying to put processed cheese on my Handi Snack crackers.

Before I'd kill it by flying off of Highway 14, I'd be driving on the snowy thoroughfare of County Road 21. To get to my house, you had to drive two miles into the woods. For some reason, despite knowing my life was always hanging in the balance, I decided to demonstrate to Bart how well my car handled snow. This was super dumb because I'd also been tasked to demonstrate that I was mature enough to go to the city--the real freaking city, not just Laramie--to see the Denver Broncos and the Cleveland Browns for Monday Night Football. All I had to do was go home and get some things and be on our three-hour journey. That's it! And I remember Bart saying "Jared, we should just get to your house," because he'd developed a spider sense for my father. Some animals can smell fear. Bart could detect why.

I got stuck. Not just a little bit stuck, but a huge bit. The front of the car was buried. We rocked back and forth for a while. We put tree branches under the wheels. We took turns bouncing on the hood to get traction. Nothing. And then there was something. The death rattle. My dad's downtrodden 1980 Chevrolet Custom Deluxe had been banged into more obstacles than a crash test dummy, and you could hear it coming for miles. Bart took off running. I stood there and wondered how I was going to die.

As my dad rounded the final turn past the cattle guard, I did the last and most terrifying thing I could do. I walked right at him. I leaned into it. I raged.

My friend Eric once shared how you knew it was Don Ewy because he drove twenty miles under the speed limit and always had dogs poking out of every window. Well, here he was. Putting along with dogs out either window, and a beard-framed squint as to what was charging at his vehicle. I pulled up and he slowed down. He opened his truck the way only someone with hands the size of raccoons can handle a door.

"Oh shit," I thought to myself. I'd fucked up. There was a bit of quiet where you could hear Bart crashing through underbrush and small trees.

"What in the hell are you doing, Jerry?" chirped my dad.

Jerry? Who's Jerry? And why was my dad talking to me in this playful tone.

I shouted at him. I shouted at this monolith. "I don't know. I don't fucking know! I just fucked up so what!" It was a remarkable bit of outburst that took even me by surprise. This man was going to kill me, so I guess I was going to go out blazing.

"OK, well, get the chain out of the bed and I'll pull you out," he said as if we were in one of those automatically-heated buildings and he was an accountant who noticed a small mistake on my 1040 form.

I have to say that this was scarier than him yelling and throwing things. I had no idea what I was being set up for. I turned and looked for Bart in the woods. He'd paused some 50 yards off the road and was staring back at me.

My dad would pull up his truck. I would get in my car. He'd pull me out and drag the Subaru a good hundred yards for some therapeutic measure. And then, with Bart gazing in awestruck horror from behind a pine tree, he'd give me twenty dollars to buy something at the game. And then he drove away.

We didn't go to the house to get our things. We just drove to the city. We didn't speak to each other for about 50 miles of slow canyon driving.

When we finally did, it was a catharsis like I'd never felt before. Bart had been through it. I'd been through it. I couldn't get friends to stay at my house because we'd all been through it. This giant of a blue collar man--friend to dogs and birds and bar denizen, but overlord to wary children--had just turned on us in the most fantastic way.

"What do you think is going on?" asked Bart as if we were watching aliens land on the national news.

"I don't know. I have no idea." I said as my blue Subaru hugged some of its final curves and we headed for the city of automatic heat.

I have some idea about this man. After all, I'm becoming him. First, I've had many advantages in life. The biggest may be having a father who scared me out of back-breaking work and broke country living. But here's what I know about him. He was a boy who's own father was a legendary Hell raiser who died when my father was only 12. That turned something off in my young dad, and he didn't talk for about a year. He would grow to be a football star who'd get kicked out of school for getting my mom pregnant. He'd still end up graduating, my brother being there to see it. But that was the end of the pomp and protocol for my father. He'd move to the mountains and grow a life as a logger. The seeds being a borrowed trailer, a 1942 Army truck and the ability to catch trout anytime, anyplace. I'm not even sure he needed water.

Twice their tiny trailer home would be burgled by bears. They ate everything, including a bite out of a shaving cream can. It's rumored to be the last shaving kit my dad ever owned.

I'd come along, and then my sister. We did whatever to pull together a living, and relied on trading chores for the use of the facilities at the nearby KOA campground. My dad worked his ass off. He worked our asses off. He worked my friends asses off. I had a Harriet Tubman-like underground railroad to secret places in the woods where could just play. Those times that we'd be tottering twenty miles under the speed limit to work, I'd complain that other kids got to sleep in and watch TV. He wouldn't reply. He'd wait. He'd wait until our first break. The 10:15 snack when each of the dogs got a cookie. He'd turn off his saw and the silence would whip out across the woods and swallow us whole. And that's when he'd talk .

To the dogs.

"So my little boy doesn't like working in the woods," he'd incant to the dancing beasts. Their bodies bending and flexing to the excitement of the alpha approach. "What are we going to do?" He'd sing like a giant freaking mockingbird.

And then it was silence again before he'd preach a tiny sermon.

"You know, Peter/Jared/Laura" he'd say, taking a bite and staring off beyond the cut. "This is it. This is where it's at. I'll be here until they find me under a tree."

"All I can hope is you find something like this one day," he'd finish before ripping open the roar of another chainsaw day.

So back at the Subaru. Bart's emerging from the forest watching me watch this new version of my dad drive away. Apparently it was a guy doing that thing that guys don't do well: emotionally adapt. At about the same time, his first-born--the baby with which he'd grown up--was preparing to patrol the waters near the Middle East. Desert Storm was mere months away. My dad was younger than I am now and he had a kid headed off to war.

Other battles were on their way, too. The decline of logging meant he needed to diversify. His back and body were starting to complain about years of physical labor.

My mom's tumors would grow a new kind of futility.

In that time, my dad redefined who he was. He became an activist, leading a campaign against a ski resort development on Cameron Pass. He'd keep adding to his resume. He'd always been a firefighter, but he'd get all the training he'd need to be a medical tech, an avalanche rescue expert, and even swallow his pride and get mandatory chainsaw certification on a tool he'd operated since he was in high school. He and his wife became popular builders of custom homes, fences, garages, and have been working on restoring a massive, century-old barn. One of my first jokes on stage was that if a person dies in the city, you're quickly replaced. But when you die in a small town, they need a new fire chief, mayor, teacher, football coach, cobbler...

I'm in the city now. Another number riding the train in and out of the crowd. Two weeks ago I called my dad to get some advice on raising kids. It was a strange phone call to make. I thought about hanging up before he could get to the phone. That one phone that's still in the kitchen of the giant log home we all worked to build together (as romantic as that sounds, don't.) He picked up and I listed off some issues we were dealing with. I was expecting him to deliver a baritone about trust and integrity and instilling honor in today's youth. Instead, he told me he wished he'd spent more time understanding his own kids, and that any time you have is best spent listening.

"Listening?" I asked. I mean I heard him, I was just thrown off guard.

"Yeah, just take your time, Jared," he said, as if we were back staring off into the woods.

"Take your time."

There's this backhanded eulogy that includes the word "complicated." It really isn't that complicated, but it's also not all that simple. It takes someone with a depth of empathy and a breadth of experience to follow the clues, that probably describes my brother and sister more than me, but we've discussed it. We've investigated it. We've compared notes. We've spent a lifetime talking to our own dogs. Frustration is when you want to do great things, but you can't because you're too busy delivering the basics of chainsaw necessity.

Think about this, most months in North Park, just to cut down a tree you have to spend a good part of the day making it through mountain elements just to show up. Many times, he had to actually build a road to get where he needed to go. Backed up traffic is tame compared to a three-day delay to put in a culvert. And then there’s mud or snow. If not that, there are bugs. You’re going to lose a pint of blood just by existing. In the snow you've got to dig out the tree so you can cut it down. Just when you're catching up on the bills, there's so much mud you're better off drinking. So you stay home and work on equipment, the whole time thinking about how you're spending money and not making it. 2019 marked the 50th year he did this.

There's this moment. This sample so thin it's left like a microfiche on my brain.

He'd get home and the dogs would be excited and there was a general thrill about everyone being together, and then it would explode with my dad getting angry because he'd tracked mud into the house. And I can see this now. He was home and good things were going to happen. But goddammit if he didn't just work twelve hours in the snow just to cover his expenses, and now there's mud on the floor. He was right there at the finish line. But his obligations left their footprints all over his life.

I'm doing some guesswork on this transformation. But I ended up with an incredible grandfather to my kids. I mean who wouldn't want to introduce to their small children a guy who looks like a cross between Grizzly Adams and Santa Claus...and who has horses and bulldozers? Hollywood couldn't write him better. Simple goodness make it's way through complicated spaces. My mom would explain to me in my dreams that heroism doesn't happen overnight. My dad, my siblings and myself are the same in that we want to take care of people. We want to provide beyond our home. And if we don't get that opportunity, we come to pieces. Because then why are we here? Are we here just to labor for ourselves all of the time? And Jesus H. Christ there's mud on the floor again...

At some point my dad was able to break free of that cycle and he became the man--well, he became a father who blew our minds. A custodian of the community. A caretaker to nature. A spokesperson for a cause. A grandfather to an entire town of children. It all happened. Peter, Laura, and me watched it. Bemused. Bewildered. But growing with understanding and appreciation. Because at some point you gotta get past the dark of the mountain shadows to become one of the brightest stars we've ever seen.



You might want to skip this one

I'll be up front. You don't want to read this.

I'll pause to give you a moment to walk away.

If you're still here, it's your fault.

So I posted this the other day.

What’s hard to glean from this is that our dog has hemorrhoids.

What’s hard to glean from this is that our dog has hemorrhoids.

Just a quick update on life. To be honest, an overshare. And, for those who know Cho Cho well, a wink and a nod at the most regretful dog adoption in history. But don't doubt us, we're in it for the long haul. Although, I'm never not eager for something to crop up that necessitates a merciful ending. I KID. Kind of. I'm not going to say that I was at all excited when I found a streak of blood leading to her snoozing on Sarah's pillow. I was actually worried my wife was going to have me euthanized. (She's been seeking options.)

Immediately I stripped the bed and hit the sheets with enough Spray n' Wash to trigger a Superfund site. This would have been my burden but Cho Cho's butt doesn't keep secrets. She bled elsewhere, like on every pillow we own. It's as if it were her daily chore; "When I get home you better have butt bled on everything that could potentially touch our face!" I'd yell before slamming the door and going off to work. And she did great. I got home and Sarah was operating a home-based dry cleaner with stacks of naked pillows next to a laundry room full of pillow cases.

With some research, and some unfortunate hands-on training, we've discovered that our dog has hemorrhoids. And it makes sense. She hates the cold so won't go outside and poop. So it backs up and, sweet ever-loving lord, creates a constant crop dusting that could eradicate paint. But constipation comes into play and--Jesus, has my life really cumulated into this blog?

Ok, so anyway, we're applying cold witch hazel via cotton balls and Cho Cho lies there somewhat scared and somewhat intrigued by our new lifestyle.

And this is where I finally get to the thing you shouldn't read (although that could have been any of the last five paragraphs. A trademark of my writing.) Before her final witch hazel treatement and bed, I take Paco and her out for their nighttime walk and scamper. Now normally I let them off leash, but Cho Cho will find a way to screw up anything. Last night she took off into a neighbor's yard, turning on their motion light and crashing into a cache of toys on their porch. I froze in the shadows, whisper shouting her name and wrestling as to whether or not I wanted the household to be a Make My Day family. I finally regained control of the beast and made a vow never to let her off leash.

And this is where I didn't want you to read. Right here.

So both the dogs are on leashes which means they're tugging and bumping into each other. On a few occasions Paco ran into the back of Cho Cho. She'd stopped and he had his head down and boop, he rear ended her. No big deal, right?

Until we got home and in the light.

It’s blurry because I’m a dick and I was laughing so hard. And I think your god is trying to save you from the details.

It’s blurry because I’m a dick and I was laughing so hard. And I think your god is trying to save you from the details.

I told you to stop.

Cho Cho is OK. She's been witch hazeled and is curled up on the beanbag. I would not be concerned about this animal. She's a survivor, unfortunately and, like any loving rescue, has certainly left her mark on all of us. Especially Paco.



1 Comment


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 stuck on a word.

7. Stools

8. Futility

9. Gravity

10. Not laughing

11. Getting Tooth Fairy-ed

We can use this as a lure to rob the tooth Tinkerbell.

We can use this as a lure to rob the tooth Tinkerbell.

I was dozing off when Sarah snapped, “Jared! Tooth Fairy!” I launched upward and forward as if I might see one. Sarah maintained a rhythmic evening brush of her hair while she multitasked some focus to the urgent matter.

"Jared. We’ve got to do the Tooth Fairy!”

This is how the Tooth Fairy works. A kid loses a tooth. You all celebrate. He puts it under his pillow, therefore hiding the entire incident from memory. Blissfully cleansed of your duty to be a fantastical cash-yielding flutterbug, you shut down everything except your desire to sleep. Hopefully, somewhere between then and the next morning you'll remember your obligation to the annals of parenthood and dentistry. One time we didn't. Quin came in and said the tooth fairy had forgotten him. I had been asleep when the allegation was made. Sarah reached into my soft, wispy slumber. Like God's hand coming down on a warm summer day, she ripped me into the cold truth: we were terrible people.

For your reference, we managed to turn things around by saying that maybe the Tooth Fairy was just late on her rounds. It's the kind of thing you sputter while looking at your significant other for approval. The motion nodded forward, Sarah distracted with breakfast while I went to work on the cash. Things worked out, but like every time with the Tooth Fairy, or any of our concocted gift-giving poltergeists, we complained that it's even a thing.

Why IS it a thing? We tell kids not to lie or let strangers in the house and then several times a year we're culturally mandated to fake a home invasion. We piece together the weirdest black-magic mosaic of traditions to ensure that we're creeping around the house at midnight, Easter being the biggest struggle because only like three religious scholars actually know when it is. But my mom has a rejoinder. It's pretty good I think. She's dead, but before she went I had this conversation with her about how she never gave up on Santa Claus even long after all of her children had become jaded little shits. She got comfortable in her chair and told me how it wasn't the kids who needed to believe in Santa. It was the adults. Santa, the Bunny, the Tooth Fairy; they are all necessary for any living, breathing person to really do something great for the children. Adults, she went on, somehow believe more in themselves when imbued with the powers of our holiday heroes. She went on to explain how hard she'd work just to make Christmas right, Easter more enjoyable and, of course, the blood-letting a of a tooth a less terrifying occasion.

"Without Santa, none of us would do that," she finished in a brilliant soliloquy of elder wisdom.

"So your point is that without it, we wouldn't have to work so hard?" I added like a young, cynical prick would

So 14 years later I'm scrambling to find change to ferry unto our son. I had nothing. It's the age of credit, debit and plastic. I wondered if I could put a Barnes and Noble card with around 3 dollars under the pillow. Approximately 1/4 of a book is probably not a good gift but, honestly, we're getting a tooth in return. At what other point in your life would you accept a freshly-extracted tooth for money? This is what parenthood does to you. This is the addictive elixir of our benevolent ghosts.

"Um, Beast, I only have a ten-dollar bill," I explained to my wife. Her nickname is Beast or sometimes Tiny Beast. Also Tiner, Tiny, Itsy, Tinesto, Honus, and Dr. B.

"That's too much."

"I know. I was thinking maybe we leave a note that it's good for the next four teeth."

Well practiced in pointing out my flaws with humor, she quickly mimicked an evil Tooth Fairy.

"You owe me more teeth, little boy," she said with a cackle.

That maybe wasn't the best idea. But I wanted to sleep so badly. I would have put a hundred dollar bill under his pillow with no strings attached. I actually thought maybe I could put a credit card with a note about a spending limit. This is how we go into debt. Dreaming. The America Dream, too many dreams or, in this special case, dreaming of dreaming.

Sarah came back with some change from Eliot's piggy bank. "Are we stealing from the children?" I asked. The answer is yes but no. I mean we most likely gave her the money. And what about room and board? Children are terrible roommates. OK OK YES we were stealing from the kids. But it was to give back to the kids. I'm sure the Trumps have done it and they're leading the world.

So we didn't steal. Besides, Eliot's change would have been sloppy. He'd get an envelope with pennies and nickels and worry if we were going to make the mortgage.

There is the two dollars in fifty-cent pieces in my magic kit. I have this amazing trick with 4 fifty-cent pieces and four cards. I used to do little magic shows for kids. That was before I knew I'd be buying their teeth. The relationship is different now. My biggest trick being that I disappear and sleep.

I told Sarah I needed to think about locations for cash. I usually have some in the ashtrays of the car. But I'd used all the quarters for parking meters. There had to be some somewhere. That's the motto of the recently moved: "It has to be somewhere!" Yes, yes it does. In a box or in a trunk or in a dumpster...or maybe in the Catskills. Yes, it exists somewhere. And I prattled on like that for a few minutes before I realized Sarah was gone. She'd slipped out to get some change at a convenience store. I'm no dummy. I realize this meant she probably got to buy a Snickers or some such. But I was not one bit jealous. I would get to go to sleep. My wife had it covered.

Real-life heroes making dreams come true.

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The downward slide

So I’m checking the light rail schedule and reading the work of modern poets (I think it’s a haiku), when I’m gently jostled to another time and place. It was Jason Park, the beloved swath of urban playground right across from our house. It also has poets. They scrawl their thoughts on the curly slide. One on which my older guy, Quin, was descending. He was about six at the time. He came around the last bend and sat at the bottom of the play structure. It wasn’t his usual enthusiastic dismount.

The poetry of which I speak.

The poetry of which I speak.

“What’s going on, Q?” asked Sarah, sensing an air of melancholy.

“Oh, um...”

He seemed to be struggling with something anew. I mean thirty seconds prior he’d been lumberjacking up the steep stairs to another playful dive. What was up now? What had happened?

Sarah pried a bit more.

“Sweetie?” She asked with a touch of that scary movie timbre when a child is hijacked by ancient spirits.

“Mom.” He faltered. There indeed was a struggle. A steep in a deep mire of uncertainty.

I paused. Sarah paused. The whole world paused. What had happened between the top and the bottom of the slide? Was his youthful exuberance lost? Corkscrewed out by a curly slide?

Sarah moved in to find more. It was a cold day and Quin's winter coat hid most of his face. She leaned in to investigate who this new child was.

Quin would explain.

"Mom, someone has somebody's head."

Disturbing. I had my own questions.

"Quin. A severed head? Like on a plate?"

Sarah sent me wide eyes of urgent termination.

"Quin. What, honey?" She queried with mom softness.

He squinted one eye, the way you do when you're reading a room. His cheek crinkle expressed some doubt as if, despite being his parents, we were the not right people to straighten this out.

"I don't know. It says something about a head."

Again, Sarah used her eyes to direct me. I was on it. Answers. We were desperate. Who in the hell had whose head? And how in the hell was our son privileged to this information?

I tested some old playground agility by swinging from the monkey bars to the platform landing that hosted the steps. Quin and Sarah looked up at me, the latter seeking answers and the former waiting for confirmation that I could do nothing to comfort him.

"Um, Sarah" I kind of asked and stated at the same time.

She was already next to me.

"Oh" she said with a smile and much relief.

The Sharpie scrawl in the turret of the Jason Park slide read:


We slid down the slide together. Relieved that nothing was severed. It was only the public declaration of remarkable oral sex that was bedeviling our son. In this over-exposed world, you take what you can get.

"No one lost their head, Q" Sarah said sweetly amidst the warmth of hidden giggles.

"Well, Mark may or may not--"

Sarah lopped me off.

"Everyone is fine," she said and absolved the playground of its sins.

And here is an ancient video of Quin at that very park. I was practicing two things: video editing and not helping.



We need to have more fun with mental health.

I think we should have more fun with mental health.

At the risk of sounding like the biggest asshole in the room, during a time when people are coming out of the dark to discuss the things that burden them. Tears through rust. Rot that you can only keep scraping away. Brain barnacles. All those things; the idiosyncrasies of the person you should know best. You know, you. The malaise, the weight, the bitterness of your own breath. The lifeless legs. Staring out the window wondering how it is everyone else is doing so much better. Haunting strolls on Facebook. Twitter tightening your noose. Do all those glut goons have to work out that much on Instagram? Am I ever going to follow through on anything?

The quest to kill off the worst part of you which is hard to believe isn't every part of you.

We should have more fun with that.

My son’s middle school. Not sure if they’re having fun with mental health.

My son’s middle school. Not sure if they’re having fun with mental health.

For example, how is it that your friend can saunter out of the bathroom and declare that the nachos were better on the way in than on the way out, yet no one is comfortable with a little brain chemistry? Synapses. Electricity. Good, clean bolts of life-giving lightning. How is that taboo? I want to be able to walk into work and say, "I cried all night last night!" And chest bump colleagues as I proudly proclaim insomnia, anxiety, and the ripped tissue of self-inflicted slugs of doubt.

"Man o' man, it was tough!" I'd shout.

"How about some gender neutrality in your declarations, grandpa!" someone would yell back. And there'd be burn noises and giggles and we'd get to work.

You know when you have the sniffles and everyone either helps or hopes you go home? It's because it's out there. Your illness has manifested itself into the ancient nasal wail of centuries of community care for common ailments. We can handle snot, so tears shouldn't be a far cry. Why not a a junk drawer of feel-good meds not unlike the first-aid kit of pain killers and gauze?

We need to have more fun with mental health.

Because everything that ails us is some battle raging on the inside. Mental health just gets to be all tricky and hide. The internal not emerging until it's too late.

Some lady walks in. A mean bit of open flesh up her leg. "Ahhhh road rash. Son of a bitch!" There's blood and torn skin and we praise her for her recklessness. We should be able to walk into the room with all the scabs on our insides and say, "Oh shit. I just spent all night eating uncooked pasta and listening to Morrissey because I don't know what in the fuck is happening to me!"

I’ll be here if she ever needs to have fun with mental health.

I’ll be here if she ever needs to have fun with mental health.

"Damn! And you're here!" might reply one friend who knows we're having fun with mental health.

"Good job surviving that," would say another. High fiving and nodding knowingly while we wad up terrible poetry that no one will have to read because, finally, we're having fun with mental health.

And then instead of shying away from the crazy. You'd lean right into it and drink some beers together.

Just like road rash girl, you'd been dragged through something. You got peeled. And instead of taking half a second on the pavement, it was a long night of being grated across angst's asphalt. Your brain pulled along a gravel road, but you're showing up like a champ. And that shit should be celebrated. Son of a bitch. Road rash has nothing on that.

Glad you're here, man.

We just gotta have more fun with mental health.

Somebody has a baby. We talk a lot about the production of babies. Dilation, contractions--Jesus Christ, mucus plug. Wide open, spread-leg conversations of everything that makes it happen. It's amazing. Compliments to the women of the world for maintaining the continuation of the species. But if we can talk about that, how about the daily reverse of birth? Which is the little bits of death that everyone deals with on a regular basis.

"Oh, god something crawled up inside of me and died!"

"What do you mean, Janelle?"

"I tried to go on a Tinder date and he was a cunt and it was the last bit of me I could give. I spent the night on the edge of the bed pushing a stray sock around with my toes."

"And you made it to work today?"

It's a freakin miracle.

My mom used to disappear. She used to hide out and close the door to the bedroom. My dad would say, "She's having a low blood sugar day." She'd be down. Occasionally we could get past my dad and find her on the bed. Lying on her side. She'd wipe her face. Staring beyond the hand-me-down dresser at the textured white walls of the house we still haven't finished building.

I'll never forget that warmth. That comfort of knowing. My mom would shake it off and say, "Hey Jer. Whatcha doing?"

I'd rattle off some nine-year-old scheme. Something about a fort or a mystery in the woods. Playing. Probably had some kind of road rash, some scrape, some stab that I could show off.

And this was a lady who loved fun. I wish she could show off what was going on with her. Maybe a chuckle and a "now you most likely will deal with it, too!" We'd laugh, like when she pointed out her dad had been bald and my hair's chances for longevity were thin.

It's pretty obvious that it's good I learned how to joke about hair loss when I was young. And now the last thing I want is my kids slinking into the dark because they're supposed to be ashamed they're not spewing smiles like a high-pressured hose. We don't need whispered hush-hush confessions, but full-throated conversations. That thing that's pulling you down like a concrete whale chained to your taint? That's normal. It's completely fucking normal. I'll tell you more while we're outside running around the sunshine playground of you're-not-alone enlightenment.

People do workouts and diet plans. They eat fad supplements and, right in front of you, pop a prescription that's nationally advertised as a catalyst for suicidal thoughts. People will look you right in the eye and share with great enthusiastic detail the surgical procedure of re-routing their intestine into a small stomach pouch. And they're excited and we're adaptable and we enjoy a tiny meal together. How in the fuck is that more of a conversational centerpiece than how their brain is doing? The brain, makes it all happen. So maybe we take control of it instead of dying alone when it gets the best of us.

And, while we're at it, we should drop the mental. "How's your health?"

"Synaptic plasticity is a bitch. I can't wait to drink a fifth of vodka and forget everything!"

How about half a fifth? We'll split it and have some fun with mental health.

But we can still have pretty mental health pictures.

But we can still have pretty mental health pictures.



If you wondered what it's like to be my wife.

Me (calling whilst pacing in alley): Sarah!

Sarah: Yes, what's going on?

Me: I wish I could small talk but I need your consultation.

Sarah: Ok, well how did the show go?

Me: It was great. I think. I mean people high-fived me, but that’s why I’m calling.

Sarah: Ok…

Me: So the show is going well and then Jonny5 of the Flobots gets on stage and starts talking with me about the comedy…

Sarah: (trying to get things done) mmm-mmm

Me: And he says that people are supposed to drive to the end of the merge lane and then try to get into traffic and I’m saying no, you need to get in earlier.

Sarah: Why are you—What?

Me: It was part of my comedy so he’s on stage countering with his opinion and I’m saying mine and then I say maybe we do a rap about merging in traffic and the little wave…

Sarah: Like, the little wave you make when someone lets you into traff—

Me: YES and that’s my question.

Sarah: About merging into traffic?

Me: No, should I stay and wait to rap battle? I mean he said it on stage but you know how I’m terrible at conversation if I hang around after a show.

Sarah: Well, did he say, “hang around and then we’ll rap battle?”

Me: Well, it was like on stage in the heat of the moment and I said we should and then he said that we should do it later because there were other people still yet to perform.

Sarah: That’s a clear no.

Me: Right, just go. That’s what you’re saying. Don’t wait; just leave. That’s what I should do.

Sarah: Yes.

Me: Because I’d just be hanging around and it would be weird…

Sarah: Leave them wanting more…

Me: That’s what I would say.

Sarah: Yes. yep. I’m gonna get some things done now

Me: You just did a thing. Put it down as a thing. It’s important this guidance.

Me: (just excited noise making as I feel pretty good about whatever just went down)

Sarah: Ok, don’t hang.

Me: I’m gone. I’m not needy. I mean not now anymore.

Sarah: Good night!

Rap battle at any moment.

Rap battle at any moment.



Why did the yuppie cross the road?

I want my kids to be safe. But I don't want them to be pretentious turds.

Also, I’d like to be a little less sensitive about being viewed as a pretentious turd, but it's too late.

I was raised on a healthy diet of loathing rich city people. The yuppies, my dad would proclaim, were going to ruin us all with their greed and selfishness. I didn't even know what those were. Did yuppies have tails? Were they the sea monkey people advertised in my comic books? (I would eventually splurge and get the sea monkeys only to be dunked in the kind of disappointment usually reserved for adults.) The whole hating-the-city-people thing put me on a precarious path: I'm not supposed to like them, but I really want them to like me. Part of that means to not disappoint those around me because, of all places, I now live in the city. In the suburbs of the city. The very yuppie-spawning roost about which my dad had mongered so much fear. (And, to be fair, he may have been onto the whole greed’s-going-to-end-us thing.)

But this brings me to where I need to be for this story, and for this particular bit of insecurity about my kids wanting to be safe. It's at this crosswalk near our house. It has a stoplight because it's by a school and, in the middle of a weekday, it makes sense for kids to punch that crosswalk and herd their way to safety. There's a hill and, well, yuppies hauling ass to and from their greed nests, so it makes sense that the kids get a fighting chance. But...and this is where I reveal just how substandard my strength is, I discourage my kids from pushing the button on weekends and at night. Yes, engaging the crosswalk is still a good habit. But just imagine you're trying to get home and you're on an empty street. It's just you and the lonely road to get you to your final resting place. Sure, there's a pedestrian light, but who's going to push that--oh, those people. And it sets off the walk signal for thirty seconds. That's great when there's fifty middle schoolers, but it's just me and the kids coming home from the park. Well, me, the kids, and this one pissed driver who is forced to sit and watch us dance past and then, while they wait another twenty seconds, see us skip and giggle into the open arms of the life ahead of us.

Green means go. Red means rage.

Green means go. Red means rage.

It just makes me nervous that someone is going to lash out. Do a road rage lurch into the intersection. Peel out and barely skirt us with an anger swerve. I put myself in their shoes and know it must be pretty annoying.

I tell the kids when there's just one car zipping up the hill, don't push the button, just let it pass, then check both ways, and go ahead and go. Not all of life is going to have pedestrian crosswalks so I want them to be prepared.

But that one car. That's going to be the end of us. It's like the opposite of crosswalk safety. That time when a seatbelt kills you instead of saves you. The kids and me celebrating our blacktop freedom as we inadvertently taunt some dude who thought he was so close to home and his toilet. And then 'boop' the road stops and they must sit for half a minute with an excruciating piddle pounding on the front door.

“When I was a kid,” I orate unto the children. “We didn’t have fancy lit-up crosswalks. We just ran and hoped for the best.”

“When I was a kid,” I orate unto the children. “We didn’t have fancy lit-up crosswalks. We just ran and hoped for the best.”

Last night the boys abided by my driver-friendly rule, and I felt good for letting a lone sunset driver get past. But then Eliot snuck up and pushed the button. (Which, btw, if you're paying for trips to Disney and not milking your child's desire to simply push buttons for entertainment, you're getting ripped off.) She loves the button. And, like a guillotine, the red light severed this dude's way home. And the boys skipped across. I bridged the gap between them and Eliot, who did a little dance. It must have looked like a shameless touchdown celebration for cocky pedestrians. I offered a little smile to the blank-stare of the incredulous driver. You know that parent thing you do when your kids shout something about their latest trip to the bathroom at Target, "IT WAS A DIFFERENT COLOR THIS TIME DADDY" and you shoot that little, "kids, mirite?" grin that you hope spans the gap.

Eliot pushes the button.

Eliot pushes the button.

We got a across and continued up the hill. The car was still sitting there, idling away the last daylight of an unseasonably warm December day, as we all did our happy walking into the dusk.

If anything, the kids are safe … while they unwittingly stick it to the yuppies.


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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 stuck on a word.

7. Stools

8. Futility

9. Gravity

10. Not laughing

It's hard not to laugh at children. It's not that you're laughing at them because they did something funny. Although, it should be shot with a bright warning glare that laughing too often at appropriate times could lead to the child doing the same damn thing that was funny the first time, but 12 more times that are not. Of course that's the ultimate goal: to laugh at appropriate times. But the inappropriate times are going to outnumber appropriate times.

Herein lies the challenge: maintaining your composure enough, or at least communicating around your lack thereof, so that your offspring don't mill off into the darkness of adolescence thinking your enjoy their pain.

But it's hard. My kids have done some incredibly ill-advised physical feats that have ended quite poorly. I don't always laugh, but when your daughter gets caught, say, in a lamp post, it'd be a waste not to pause and relish the time together. That's actually a true story. It's really hard to explain how it happened, but it did and, dammit, you owe it to yourself to get a giggle. It's part of the payment of parenthood. You're working your butt off to feed them; you've earned the right to mock them. After extricating my girl from the three adjacent poles that held up the light, I made sure she was OK. I also explained to all the children present that while there is comedic value, it's wise to find other, less awkward ways to get a laugh.

Sir, why are you laughing at this little girl?

Sir, why are you laughing at this little girl?


I could save myself a lot of trouble and just not laugh, but I wouldn't be writing at all if parenting didn't pose these emotional obstacles.

But the biggest trap is laughing at things that they shouldn't do or say. Sometimes the kids have had some pretty good one liners that garner a good guffaw, but aren't things you'd want them saying at Thanksgiving. Or anywhere, really. Like when Quin opined that once people are married they get to kiss each other's privates. Luckily, my laughter was overridden by the disbelief that there's somebody who's married and still getting their privates kissed.

But tonight was really quite special. Eliot pulled off a heist like we'd never seen before.

We were sitting at the dinner table and Sarah, who notices things that I don't, pointed out that something was wrong with Otto's hair. It seemed like he'd try to cut it. A very clear triangle of his bangs were missing. I took action and asked Otto how and when he'd done that. He looked very confused, but he's good that way. He's got the whole plausible deniability down pat.

We stared him down and interrogated him about what happened. When had he cut his own hair? And why? What my investigations overlooked was his little sister face down to her plate eating like a savage animal. This is unlike her and would have been noticed had I not been going full FBI on my son.

The victim.

The victim.

Another side note: Here's a thing that's going to disappoint you about your kids. You don't want them to lie, but it's also bad when they lie and they suck at it. Sarah came home the other day and asked the boys what they'd had for lunch, and they said peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. After a brief investigation she found that the peanut butter had never even been opened, and under the top layer of trash was a can of Pringles they'd shared. Now while it's notable that their diet will stunt them, what really saddened us was how terrible they are at deception. And we told them. Scolded them, really. If you're going to lie, make it worthwhile.

Knowing that Otto has the capacity to at least try and avoid the truth, led us to believe that he was doing it again. And this, of course, compounded in my paternal brain, a brain that has already been turned over to my ancestors and forged into a man that sounds like every father that has ever been a father,

I grilled him. I bequeathed unto the room sage declarations about trust. If you don't have trust, I bellowed, you don't have anything. I invoked Abraham Lincoln and George Washington and paraded words around the table like "honor" and "trustworthy" while making eye contact with each child as to make sure they understood. Otto sank in his chair, drained by bewilderment. And I thought, "this guy is pretty good." He's actually going to pull this off. We're going to leave the table tonight no knowing the truth.

It was among my orating about earnestness and family strength, where Eliot realized that her brother was taking heat for something he didn't do. She stood up on her chair and announced that she had done it. She had cut Otto's hair. At first Sarah was pretty sure she'd caved just to get me to shut up, but she continued. She'd woken up early in the morning, snuck into her brother's room, and snipped off some of his bangs.

I asked her again. Really? She really did. She launched into the story again. Otto looking on, still confused but relieved. Eliot, kind of misplacing why we might be upset, took time in her tale to assure us that the scissors weren't very sharp and that she was very careful when using them.

At this point, we were laughing so hard that I was unabashedly giggle crying. Sarah suppressed her outburst with her hand over her mouth in what could almost be confused with stunned indignation. Good call, wife. Your resolve had Eliot spilling more details. Either that or our daughter loves the laughter feedback and we're screwed for life as she embarks on dangerous pranks with even sharper scissors.

We asked Eliot again for any other details, for if we were going to expunge this from Otto's record, we needed to know the truth. Eliot told us everything: she'd sneaked into his room in the morning, cut his hair, and then threw it away. Otto stared at her, petting the front part of his head like a tongue probing a missing tooth--his face painting a Norman Rockwell of youthful disbelief. And I failed the challenge and continued to laugh at the crime. I know I'll pay for it. I don't have any hair to cut, but who knows what could happen in my sleep.

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Be a man about it

The strongest people I've known are women. I've been the beneficiary of brave, insightful people all of my life, but the ones who've lead me with sheer, unstoppable strength were Y chromosome negative. Many know what my mother went through, in sickness and in health. My wife's biggest weakness is that she won't stop being strong. My sister, well, she's my sister, and grew up in the middle of nowhere with two brothers. The majority of my closest coworkers are women, and all of them are relentlessly ascending the rock face of the corporate climb no matter how much boiling dude douche is poured down the mountain. I'm not here to pander. I'm not here to get laid. It's my little tribute to the root of my success. Or we can just go with survival.

I think of my radio boss when I first discovered an activist voice on, of all things, mainstream Top 40 radio. I think of her trying to beat the studio door down when I got a notion I should attack a major sponsor. I think of losing (like I literally lost her) my government boss's boss's boss, a woman overseeing 50,000 people, in the Grand Canyon. She'd escape the confines of the ravine and wait for me patiently in a nearby hotel. She was so kind when, after a night of riding a rented horse up a winding trail, I was finally able to report back to her. Men have helped me as well. Good men. Freakin' tired, overworked men. But I've always been a gal's guy. My grandmothers, my aunts, the bartenders at the bar where I practically grew up. Wanda used to chase me around the dining room trying to plant kisses on me. She was 20 years my senior, but she knew I was bored out of my mind waiting for my dad to fill up.

And for as much help and guidance as women have provided me--Jesus, let's just cut to the point. Men are dicks. Or can be. Yes, they can be dicks but there is far more potential for dudes to go off the rails than women. Or at least when women do they don't perforate a school with bullets. They just settle for a dude...who could likely go off and perforate a school with bullets. I guess women simply self destruct, while men destruct. Ok, it's not a man-hating speech. It's not a tome to the ladies either. It's a series of personal observations that deserved to be as ignored as a billion blogs laid to rest across the infinitude of the Internet. It's me reminding you, simply, that you know people. You know people and it's easier to demonize someone if you don't.

It's easy to scream into your pillow than tell people what's on your mind. And right now we're getting a little lazy on the curiosity front. We're taking the word of entitled frat boys. Entitled frat boys? Jesus H. Christmas how in the hell did that happen. We spend our young lives being groomed to realize the danger of entitled frat boys. Who is the enemy in every goddamn movie you ever saw. Johnny from Karate Kid. Or Troy from Goonies. Entitled frat boys always threaten to tear down the Muppets theater or roll pavers over cartoon friends in every adorable animated animal rebellion. We're taking the word of sly guys over anyone else, and while this might sound like jest, it's from my heart. It's ripping through my soul. So, yeah, first ripping through my heart and then hooking my soul like a nostril snagged on a passing post and pulling it through my fingers to these words.

What I'm trying to say is that I'm hurting. I'm wailing on the inside and now...this. Now we see women. Women coming forth and getting destroyed by the entitled. My mom. My wife. My---I'm going to pause to breathe a little bit. My daughter. Are they supposed to suffer? If for any reason any of it is at my hands then let me pay. Let me be the example to the world. Let me plead for forgiveness and be laid in a dozen parts on the public square. Let it be known that mistakes were made and lessons learned. Let me welcome insight and enlightenment across my entrails strewn about town like post-war confetti. And let me do it now, before anyone ever gets hurt again. And let me share with you a photo from my wife's phone. You see, I was too mad to go do sleep. Riled up by a week in what is called "politics" but has become more "the predictable manipulation of the public to be moved by hate and resentment over truth and patience."

I'm not going to go to sleep tonight I thought. I'm too frustrated, I said. But there's something about that strength.

eliot sleep.jpg



The sixth grader and the broken clock

Time stopped. 2018.

Time stopped. 2018.

Let me do a little bit of a time stamp. It's about 5am. I just had a nightmare. There were missiles and rogue elements and I was the aid to some kind of politician. He'd said that someone would get our bags from these catacombs from which we'd just ascended, but they did not. I ran back to get them and, while underground, big sliding doors started to close. Indiana Jones style these huge sheets of rock scoot shut and I'm barely squeezing through the narrowing slots to freedom. I emerge with the bags and my life but the convoy of black SUVs has left me behind. 

I pop up out of bed. What did that mean? Immediately I take it as running out of time to do something. I need to act on the things that I really need to do. One of them is write about my son going into middle school. Nothing special. A benchmark. An attempt at halting time, if I'm to be honest. 

Here we are in this moment. You're sleeping. Otto's out. Your sister has chosen to ball up on the floor outside of her room. I left your mom behind in bed and the dogs are too tired to care that I've strayed. I got home from a comedy gig at about 11:30. I had a couple of beers while half conversing and half thinking about getting all of you to school tomorrow. It's on again. The rush to pack lunches and get out the door. I can't tell if you're keeping me young or making me old.

Your locker works. The school was going to put off fixing it until your first day. That meant, as you said, you'd be the smallest kid in school and not be able to get into your locker. Everybody got nervous. You'd handle it, I told myself while I tried to work, but why should you have to? Mom got it. She momma beared a passing maintenance guy and you're ready. Which is a valuable lesson, I think. It's never the big things. 

So you're less sizeable than all of the middle school? Good. You have to use your head. That whip-smart wit cracking the big guys while they count on their size. Don't ever capitulate to pituitarily enhanced. You wouldn't even have had to go to karate three days a week for the past 8 months. You just be you and slide through the doors. Get past where others can't. This isn't a physical challenge, but a tribute to your true size. The little guy who can be bigger than anyone when he uses his advantage: the wiser-than-expected perspective of a dude who's had to work harder to get things. 

Remember what I asked you outside of Home Depot? 

"Quin," I stomped to you in dad seriousness. "Do you want me to correct everyone who thinks you're a girl or not?"

You said you didn't care. I hit you with the query again. You were still resolved in not caring. And then I asked you why you grew your hair long. You said you didn't know. You just liked it.

That's big. Bigger than anyone else I know. I mean I shave my head just avoid the "clowning" that takes place when the sides grow but the top does not. And here you are ahead of the curve. Not giving any damns. 

I know you do. I see you spacing out when I ask you about moving up the academic ladder. But I want you to remember my awe. A grown man's teary-eyed smile as he sees his guy stroll confidently through the years. Yeah, I know we probably shouldn't have shoved you in kindergarten when you were four, but damn those daycare savings are great. Besides, who said you were ready?

You did. At four. You told us you wanted to go. And if it were up to me I'd never let you go anywhere. You should still be screaming in my arms as I spell your mother in the misadventure of trying to get an angry baby to sleep. I remember time stamping then. I remember looking out into the black of your bedroom window and wondering if an older me was looking in. It's gonna pass. And you'll be sad it did.

Now I've got to fight the urge to tail you to sixth grade. I want to hide in a tree and drug dart bullies. I want to make sure you're never once unsure in the squares of brick and tile and convention. But I can't. And I haven't had to. Because you're good, man. You're good.






Paco the forever pup



I wrote this last year to prepare for that damn things that dogs do: leave us way too early. You can skip about 7 paragraphs to get to his actual will.

My dog is getting older. He's almost twelve. He's a little slower. He's more deliberate. He sleeps much harder now. That's pretty much me, with the exception of the sleep. I'm up at 3am thinking about how much time Mr. P and I have left. Mr. P is Paco, a pup we rescued when our neighbor said we couldn't play with her dog until we got our own. It was harsh, we thought, but she was simply pushing her indecisive young neighbors into a direction she knew we needed to go.

Before I go any further, I should tell you two important things:

  1. Paco is still alive and

  2. I’ve made the most amazing discovery.

We don't deserve you.

We don't deserve you.

First, however, the neighbor. Her name is Verlene.

It was about 6am on a weekend morning of June 2006 when she sang a whisper, "We older people get up early, you know!" I jumped and twirled and used the Denver Post to hide my nether regions. I was on the front lawn in my boxers. In an effort for efficiency, I'd tiptoe sprinted out the front door to get the newspaper. I was in full retreat when Verlene came around our maple tree and scared me into a pirouette of fear and curse words. She told me she'd seen it all before and then continued to talk far beyond an acceptable time for me to be standing on a suburban street in my underwear. She was telling me about some puppies that some friends of hers had ended up with. They were affiliated with a dog rescue organization and someone brought them a stray in from the rain. Turns out that girl was pregnant and delivered a surprise litter of seven to an overwhelmed couple of doggie do-gooders. It wouldn't have been so bad had the mommy dog not had a mammary gland infection that kept them (Bill & Lynn, doggie superheroes) staying up 'round the clock bottle feeding starving dog babies.

I quickly agreed to at least visit before prancing back into the house. 

Two weeks later, we had our first child. He wasn't the strongest of the litter, but he was the most determined. We're still not sure with what his mom intermingled. The alpha of the pack was an all black lab looking pup, and the rest were a mess of speckles and dots. Paco ended up with a diamond on his head and a large spot on his butt. I'd get an up close look at the bum spot when, while sitting among a mound of writhing puppy cute, the little guy ran up to me and buried his head in my crotch. Sarah swears this is when the decision was made. 

That little animal would alter our everything.

That little animal would alter our everything.

Back in 2006, Sarah and myself were crawling out of the depths of my mom's death. As I pieced together a livelihood working out of the house, Paco and I became partners. He slept next to me as I began a business in a converted shed. We went to the park twice every day. We slept as spoons. He rode on my lap as we drove around town…until he got too big and once got stuck between me and the steering wheel for a very scary instance on Hampden Avenue. It was one of our first truly frightening parenting moments.

He never isn't out-of-his-mind excited when Sarah comes home, teaching me the sweet simplicity of a friendly greeting. She and Paco are tight. Although she still has some grasp on the human connection. Once, while on a road trip, Sarah suggested that I speak not only to Paco, but to her as well. I lasted about twenty seconds before I announced that I had a special surprise for someone. This wouldn’t have been so bad had the surprise been for Sarah. It was a chew toy and it was for Paco. No one said anything for a while.

Soon, there would be even more people to talk to. Kids were showing up. Kids that people were worried about with a dog “like Paco” in the house. They were right. Paco is such a softie that he did not drive them out. They’re still here eating all of our food and taking up my dog’s space in the car. That first night we brought our newest son home, Paco curled around him like a quarter moon. From then on he became their flustered nanny, following them closely hoping we'd stop letting them do dangerous stuff like walking. He’s been the warmth and their protector. He’s their eyes and ears and often the most annoyed when they cry too much. Not at the kids, really, but with us. Do something about your kids, he says with a little dance and a desperate stare from deep within his doggie soul.

He’s been just about everything a best friend could be. And now, years later, I’m up and thinking about that terrible phrase: the inevitable.

By the third he was by far the best parent.

By the third he was by far the best parent.

Inevitable rarely seems to be associated with good things that are bound to happen. Cake on birthdays is pretty close to inevitable, but it's never described as such. Football in the fall is inevitable, but anyone painting it that way isn't being positive. The inevitable. But there is one such thing I overlooked. All the most outstanding specimens leave a legacy. A good one. And that’s when I found Paco's will. In stumbling upon it I've discovered that, inevitably, he’ll one day leave us more than I could ever imagine. 

Here, take a look.

Last Will and Testament

Paco “El Perro de la Gente” Dotsero Ewy

For the bald one.

To you I leave the ability to get what you need. I can help you with that. Because the only thing you need is to go to the park on a regular basis. When it's time for you to go outside, don't settle for anything less. Don't fold in on yourself and pretend you’re fine. Use your communication skills. Talk. Gesture. Whip your leash around dangerously. Stand at the door and dance. Fart a lot. Do what's necessary to get outside, get fresh air, and patrol your neighborhood. it's good for you. Besides, I've seen you when you haven't gotten outside and, well, you need it. I haven't taken you to the park every day for over a decade for nothing. 

When you're done you can have treats.

Smaller ones. 

Quin. I thought you'd be the only one they'd bring home. It was not easy when you showed up. You were loud and your parents had no idea what they were doing. You hatcheted apart the loving trio I'd had with the bald one and the cuddler. But you've grown up to be smart, strong and caring. For you I leave bravery. Sometimes you just have to throw yourself into things. You might fail. So what. I do all of the time. The mail carrier keeps coming to the house. But I never don't try.

Otto. After you showed up and were pretty persistent about staying, I realized that there was no turning back from this kid thing. But you immediately demonstrated many dog-like traits. Most predominantly, the ability to simply sit and chill. You have a gift. To you, I bequeath perseverance. Sometimes things go wrong, but be you and be strong and you’ll succeed. I mean I was castrated by the very people I can’t seem to live without. Honestly, I can’t think of a rockier start, but with time and an undying desire to have someone to take me to the park, things worked out. So, yeah, there’s compromise, but don’t give up.

Eliot. When they brought home a third puppy, I was pretty sure I was toast. I thought I'd just walk to the park and right on through until I woke up in Pueblo. I'd have a new family and a house full of cats. I didn't know how I was going to cope. But you, Eliot, as soon as you could crawl, would hug me and cover me in blankets. It’s nice to have an ally in comfort, even one as persistent as you. To you I give strength. If you want something grab onto it and growl. Don't let anybody take it. If it turns out they're just playing, well let them be clear with their intentions. Be strong, little one.

Oh, and Cho Cho.

You’re insane. But you’ve earned it. If my nose is correct, your anxiety seems to be a clear connection to a jacked-up past. So, to you, I’ll give confidence. You need to know that they’ll always come back. I wish I could be stronger than to emotionally buckle whenever the bald one gets out the suitcase but, after all, we’re only canine. Just know these people are, well, suckers for dogs. They’ll be back. 

Paco didn't post this pic, but I thought I would to back up his insane claim.

Paco didn't post this pic, but I thought I would to back up his insane claim.


The best for last

Sarah, the Cuddler. To you--unwavering in principle and fireside warm in loyalty--I give heat. Don't settle for a cold bed. That bald guy is right over there and if he's not keeping you warm, then remind him that there are dogs out there who are like I once was: a puppy who needed a home. Warmth is everything. Think about those times you're unsure or nervous or haven't been fed in a while, you become cold. No longer. Wherever you go, take me, an actual hot dog at your side and in your heart.


Demand that others do more than just say they love you. Make them show it. But you must show them how to show it. Get up, grab them, and take them to the park. And if the park isn't enough then give them treats. And if treats aren't enough well then let them sleep on your leg while you watch Netflix. If they don’t get it, well then it may be time to move on or rip the most insidious gas ever known to nostrils. If they stick around, well then you have something to work with.

And stop moving so much. Get comfortable, breathe, rest. Put down the rectangle. Take it in. Inhale the moment, even if someone less experienced is tugging on your leash like the ground’s on fire. 

Twirl around your nap target a few times. Relish the pre-slumber protocol. Oh, and smile. Smile all the damn time for no apparent reason. It's worked great for me. All the right people were charmed by it and all the rest stayed away.



I found these final wishes scribed by his tired head. A block of muscle and affection and, apparently, much thought into attaining the good life. He was breathing tenderly. Rhythmic. A puppy forever. Soon he'd be dreaming and I'd be half awake scolding an actual sleeping dog about making too much noise. We always wonder where he goes in his dreams. I've thought of a machine that projects holograms of what they're seeing as they squeal and sprint in place. I'd like the same thing right now, what with time being the way it is. Things will change. We'll have to move on. And that's when I found one last bit of guidance...

It’s weird that we’ve connected in this ever-expanding off-leash experience of whirling particles, explosions and dust clouds and galaxies and squirrels. Endless squirrels. Somehow we came together and we're able to provide for one another. As unique and amazing as that sounds, you can make it happen again. And I hope you do.




the odyssey of the surprise Tesla

So below is Part 1. It rolls right into part two but, for the most part, part 2 has already been on the Internet. That's the one that Elon Musk liked and my Twitter feed went bonkers. And if you've never been on the receiving end of a bonkers Internet, wow, you are really missing out. The Internet, it turns out, is a typhoon of fucking crazy. I mean all the crazy swirled into spinning mass of the most maladjusted mofos you never thought you'd have to deal with. If you're bored, just scroll through some of the comments on this video. If you're lucky, you'll find the one where the woman thinks my kids are actually Musk's kids and it's all a fake. I may sue for paternity pay. 

But here's part 1. I don't recommend it as compared to part 2 (which comes right after 1.) It's mostly just me wrestling with the fact that my car's smarter than me...and apparently my dog. He knows how to roll down power windows and he's so proud of himself that he won't stop doing it. 

"Oh, so you got a fancy new car and we're supposed to care?"

Yeah. Yes, actually, that's much of it.

You see, I've never been into cars. I get $1500 Subarus off Craig's List and call it good. And 2013 I test drove a Tesla Model S (as seen here and I fell in love.

And we need to start curbing climate change like right freaking now.” -Not quoted anywhere in the article but every freaking pull quote from every article anywhere should just be this important mantra.

Me and my gobsmacked boys ended up in the Tesla sales office and--once the final numbers were revealed--I had to save face and slowly sneak out. But it wouldn't end there. My son, at the time in kindergarten, told his teacher and all of his friends that we'd gotten a Tesla. I remember Mrs. Beecher (the teacher) asking if she could ever get a ride in our Tesla while I wondered what she was talking about. It was hard letting her down. But then the 3 was announced. I reserved one of the first few thousand in March of 2016. Actually, I reserved two. I got a little excited on the button. Thank you to the Tesla support team for helping me resolve that. So in June of 2018 Tesla got a hold of me and said it was ready. At the time I was as sick as I'd ever been in my life. I'd just sent my wife and kids on their own to the mountains of my childhood home of Gould, CO. They'd have to enjoy the hills without me. But getting this most amazing technological wonder righted my physical ship and I took enough Ibuprofen to stunt a horse. That's where we begin my journey.

Oh, and I couldn't leave the dogs behind so there's some canine/human tension. Paco and I have spent a lot of years together and, well, sometimes we bicker. I mean I can roll the window down too but i'm not a dick about it. 



This is your husband, Sarah.

Being sick. I'm not good at it. My wife is much tougher. I actually say, "I'm so cold" like those scenes in movies right before the shooting victim dies. That is my flu forte: cold. Any kind of sick; common cold, flu, strep, I get really cold. And then I sweat all over the bed. I'm the worst. I've often thought of renting a hotel for the family while I alternately sleep and burn mattresses. 



Here's what happened to me (and another note: Sarah wouldn't waste her day at home by writing a blog entry about being sick.) But here's what happened to me. I was at work some time in late January. I felt weak. I'd just put myself on the Tom Brady diet (a promotional stunt) and was about 3000 almonds short of a full meal. I was chugging bone broth at near beer bong speed and trying to make something edible out of dandelion greens. Add to that a new workout with this martial arts guy who wants to end me. I'm but a stain on his gii (karate clothes) and I'm OK with that. I mean I can't but be OK with it because he's been trained to kill me. So I'm losing at exercise on Tuesday and Thursday, coaching basketball Monday and Wednesday and any free time I have is burned off with extra work projects and comedy shows. I have this fear that if I stop I'll never start again. That fear manifests itself on this Friday in late January when I'm trying to get out of my office chair but can't. I do my best to ascend quietly enough to not alert the pod of healthy Millennials that surrounds me (a group of Millenials is actually called a "brunch"). They know I'm older but can't know that I'm acting it. 

As I ascend I can't help but eek a little pain squeal. I manage to segue my elder wheeze into a rough version of When Doves Cry by Prince. I know nothing by Kendrick Lamar or Drake, but thank goodness Prince still sells. Always will. A couple of glances quickly go back to their computers and I'm on my own to get out of the building. Everything is in slow motion. My sadistic instructor had made me do this deep walking exercise; low to the ground and holding it before rising and repeat. The karate hi-ya! is really just a pain exclamation. And it hurts really bad. And I'm getting cold. And it's the longest walk to the train. And from the train to our house is a 1/4 mile. I was sweaty chilled and getting worse. My hoodie doing nothing against the cold. If it were 1840 I'd be left for dead.

I go to bed that Friday night and wake up on Sunday. I lost an entire day, sans the twenty minutes I was up in a NyQuil dream calling parents to see if they could substitute coach my rec team. They didn't know what I was talking about but apparently my incoherence was enough to assume I wouldn't be able to guide children. With that taken care of, I drifted away on a heating pad. I'm pretty sure I asked for my mom a couple of times.

Sarah wouldn't have written any of this. She'd have taken the twenty minutes I've spent so far and made dinner while scheduling thirteen things for her work. All while being sick. She has her battery of vitamins and meds--there's a little baggie ready to go--that she consumes in one elegant gulp. And then she trusts her concoction to get her through the day. I've witnessed her sick for weeks and during that time I've never seen her take a sick day. She just gulps and goes. A warm, soft cyborg of getting things done. Often I wonder if her vision is like that of the Terminator, but instead of armor and ordinance, her digital readout lists necessary school paperwork and all the things that need to be done before her parents show up for the holidays.

So I'm at home on a sick day. Not today, this current sick day, but a sick day two weeks ago, and I try to get an appointment at the doctor. They don't have one because apparently all of Denver is dying. That's when I give up. I'm done. That one doctor said no so I'm just going to sit here and rot on the inside. I get a text from Sarah. She's found a clinic that has an availability. (I'm not sure how she did that without robot vision.) Anyway, I'm on the fence about going because, you know, co-pays and swabs. And then I get a call from Eliot's school. She's fallen and cut her chin. She may need a doctor. I'm chilled and ill and should not be near a school, but figure it's a good opportunity to get a two for one. I pick up Eliot, who's worked herself into a four-year-old frenzy about blood and bones. I think she has too much older brother exposure as she's screaming at me about whether or not you can see her brains. I whisk her out of the school so I don't get tackled for being a suspicious dude stealing an upset child. 

I comfort Eliot that I cannot see her bones, and we go to the Sarah-endorsed clinic. The doc takes a look at Eliot and breaks out the equivalent of a magic wand: A Frozen band-aid. You know, the movie (I clarify here because Eliot had requested a Frozen cake for her birthday and we almost got a lower-case frozen cake. I can't fathom the disappointment in her legal guardians if she ended up with frosted block of icy bread instead of a plastic princess figurine on a swath of room temperature pastels.) For me, he unleashes something like a tragic wand, this huge Q-Tip he stabs into my tonsil. 

Thank you, Disney. And, of course, Sarah.

Thank you, Disney. And, of course, Sarah.

His diagnosis: You are knee-deep in flu and strep throat. Stay away from people for two days. 

This is actually kind of nice. Some sicknesses are hard to externalize how badly it's going on the inside. I feel like a fraud if I can't at least conjure a loud vomit. A doctor’s diagnosis sets me free to sleep and sweat and watch what I want to on Netflix, a veritable fantasy for a dude whose kids have turned his recommended viewing into My Little Pony and Pokemon. I often worry if some sneaky algorithm will churn me out as a potential offender. 

This morning, two weeks after the strep and now mired in some new strain, I'm emerging from a drug-induced sleep tsunami. I'm crawling out from under this heavy darkness when I hear Sarah telling the kids to get dressed and be ready because dad isn't feeling well. She has to get to work and is preparing the children for what's in her room: a creature emerging from the ooze, blinking doubt into a morning haze and smacking its lips from a night of mouth breathing. Oh, kids, you have no idea how much you should hug your mother. 

It wasn't bad, but it was a late start. That meant we had an extra hour before school started. This is good when you need time to get ready. This is bad when you're not as tough as your wife and want to drop the kids off at a Taco Bell and get back to your heating pad. I mean it was an eternity. The kids, I should stress, were fine, but the moving from house to car to car to store and back. Can we just invent an alarm that goes off if you've left your kids in the car for more than five minutes? It's gotta be just as dangerous parading them through a parking lot when they could be in the safety of a station wagon. 

This, however, wasn't just any stop. This is Kid Coffee Wednesday. The 7-year-old tradition of getting hot chocolate with the kids. It's a thing I started that may never stop. Eliot has become the #1 ambassador for Kid Coffee Wednesday (#KCW on Twitter.) I could tell her that lava was going to consume our house on Thursday and she'd calmly remind me that on Wednesday there will be kid coffee. That's good. But Sarah was right. When I heard her tell the kids to be good for their sick father, I honestly didn't believe I was that weak. But she's good. She figures out Common Core all while booking executive travel and figuring out which shoes to wear...a week from now. 

I end up in public with a four year old who spills cocoa and I'm on the verge of tears. I'm counting down the chores in my head: Get to Eliot's school, drop off her stuff, take her to the potty, brush her hair and sign her in. Then, get to the boys school and drop them off. Go home. HOME. It's all I can think about. My pillow and Walgreens XpressHeat heating pad have wound themselves into a sultry body waiting for me on the couch. The dogs will be there, too. Paco routinely snuggles me into a better place. 

The kids' immediate needs (transportation, loving father) are pushed aside by this fantasy with a dog and butt warmer. Otto is going on about some new trend on YouTube or video games and and it's just not clicking. My Millennial coworkers would be disgusted. Eliot has merged with a myriad of same-sized people and I'm pursuing her with a hairbrush and some detangler. I'm admonishing Quin to catch up but he's already ahead and putting away Eliot's nap time blanky and lovie. Jesus, he is like his mom. I apologize while batting at crazy tangles, the single biggest rift between my daughter and me. So far. 

The whole time I'm addled with pillow porn yet there's this one tiny thought screaming at me from beyond the mucous. It's this reminder of how things could be worse. There are many levels of worse, of course. But my worse is this thought of being a single parent. It's Valentine's Day and each kid has a box of litter and sugar to disperse to the classroom. What if Sarah hadn't helped put those together last night while I rode the Xpress Heat? What if she hadn't washed all the little Tupperwares for their school lunches, or gotten them dressed before rushing out of the house to a job that keeps us in comfortable middle class math? I really have no idea how I'd do it. And what...what did Sarah go through when I traveled nonstop for two years? You know that one time she had to have emergency oral surgery while caring for one kid and pregnant with another? I was super hungover in Virginia. 

The examples are endless but at the same time lazy and fruitless. Because samples are simply swatches and not the entire fabric of the beast. This cover I've enjoyed for so many years is someone who's far smarter and much more prepared than me. I should get tips for the enjoyment I provide my wife. She gets to watch how long it will take me to realize something that she's steadied herself for weeks. There may be a betting pool at her work. "How long before he realizes that Eliot is going to kindergarten?" If I were gambling man, I'd say deep into second grade. 

Is it a feminine thing? This strength and foresight? That's how I've known it. If ever a woman throws up her hands and tells everyone to fuck off, there's a good chance it's because she already knows how it's going to turn out. My advice: run with her. She's in tune with natural disasters. She remembers what everyone else has forgotten and can feel the futility far sooner than anyone. I guess that doesn't explain their poor choice in men. The projects. Like the neighborhoods with which they share a name, women somehow survive their precarious living situations. I would criticize the habit if I hadn't just realized that was me. A gummed-up Sasquatch on his second sick day this week. I'm leaning back into the couch and wrestling for leg space with a farting dog. This is your husband, Sarah. There are a dozen things to do in just this room alone and I'm working through the fiftieth paragraph of something like a magnum opus to male deficits. 

Well, I'm going to eat and edit this later. Or maybe I'll just post it whole. You can expect nothing less. 


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Just Deserts

Sitting in a hot tub in Arizona and I can't stop thinking about how shit could go terribly wrong at any moment. Did you know that over ten years ago the Department of Defense put climate change on the list of America's most compromising issues? Yeah, this night in the hot tub with the kids running amuck is just years away from chaos. Pant-shitting-microbe-that-we're-not-used-to-living-in-warmer-waters-fucked-to-the-hilt chaos. People all over the globe suffering, warring, with a vengeful side eye to the country that should be the goddamn catalyst for change. But we're not. And I'm in a hot tub. And ten years from now my teenage daughter could be stick fighting with a family of twelve who wants the last drink from the neighborhood drought puddle.

But I'm in this hot tub and I'm doing my best to enjoy good times without getting tangled in what should be a completely avoidable apocalypse. I splash myself across dimensions; forward, backward, liquid and, in the transparency of the stretch, get a good look at just how much of a douchebag I am. This is not new, but is an important self-check that all men should do. Not unlike that thing in the shower where you roll a ball around with your thumb and forefinger feeling for a lump, you also need to contort yourself in an introspective tumble of internal mirror gandering. There are things you can worry about, I realize. One of them probably should be your kids drowning while you space out about the future of water availability. Because, goddamn, you drink in the good times as soon you could be stick fighting the neighbors for water.

I'm done with that little lecture thing. I think there's an unwritten rule that invoking testicle checks is the immediate end to a conversation.

You're about to walk into a cactus.

You're about to walk into a cactus.

So I'm on the other side of the hot tub epiphany and pretty certain I need to write. Fuck you I know I'm a terrible writer fuck off. Important disclaimer for anyone who thinks they're good but have to spend a monthly fee to publish on a blog.

So, on the other side for eff's sake.

Yeah, I hate me too. Bitching about being in a hot tub.

But on the other side isn't some story about playing with kids and finding the true meaning of life. Of course that happened and if I write about that again I swear I'll stop paying this monthly fee and never bother you for as long as we both shall live.

So we're jumping around the pool and crashing the bella sera of every couple who thought they'd enjoy the palm tree sunset with a dip in the jacuzzi. It's a family meme that we destroy quiet settings. I was mostly alone in the destruction until we brought on our daughter, who just this afternoon was shouting vagina in a breathless staccato as she ran from one side of the hotel room to the other. I was bloated from too much beer and Otto was informing me on what his sister was saying.

"Eliot," I said with the kind of weariness associated with ingesting gluten but magnified by the frustration of doing it despite knowing I shouldn't. 

"We got it kid. But I love your personal pride."

Or at least I did. On the other side of the cathartic jacuzzi moment, we had this very real experience where she refused to go from the cold pool to the hot tub. Freezing in the newly darkened desert (it thinks it's all badass but without the sun it's just as chill as anywhere else,) I had to abandon the "heated" outdoor pool and run for the warmth. Eliot refused so I told her to sit on the step of the cold pool and I'd watch her from the hot tub.

One of the advantages of being from cool climes is that when you go anywhere in the winter you're going to be the only one in the pool. This was the case for the Ewy family in January of 2018. We owned an acre foot of water while half a dozen others reclined under blankets on beach chairs trying their best not to be distracted by our Petri of familial anarchy.

Their efforts would die a terrible death as the only way to communicate in the courtyard at the Embassy Suites Phoenix Airport is shouting over the Top 40 XM/Sirius playlist and surrounding jet planes. The distance, approximately 20 yards, would soon be a tiny trail of tears--not at all like the real Trail, but luckily I only get to live this lighter version with a screaming tot tearing people from their 140-a-night hopes for hotel bliss.

I'd told her no less than ten times that it was time to go to the hot tub, but she refused. The four stories of desert hotel was throwing shade from the setting sun and I was done with cold. And when there's a hot tub twenty yards away, you go to it.

During times of insurgency, I get these little panes of reflection of how I should handle a situation. Yes, a father should courier a kid from the cold even if they don't want to be. Yes, a loved one, genetic or not, should see that one another are safe and secure. So, yes, I abandoned her.

I cannot, in any kind of spirit, let a kid ruin shit with a tantrum. As a matter of fact, I love a kid throwing a tantrum. It's the one time as a parent when I see the solution as clear as day: let them be a dick on their own. I will not be aiding and abetting dickdom. Sadly, I may be hampering their chances at success, as we've all seen that dicks are winning these days. But eff it all to hell: I'll guide my kids down the path to poverty as long as their tantrums don't win a goddamn thing. 

"We're cold, let's warm up," I said to Eliot. "Nature's kind of decided this for us. Your frontal lobe hasn't even developed so I quietly, gently request that you move your tiny buttocks."

Anyway, clearly on the other side of exhibiting first-world inadequacy in a hot tub, I'm now struggling for supremacy in a battle with a four year old who knows her emotional throat punches. She's a manipulative ninja, mostly positive and smiling me into submission. But sometimes she breaks and goes rogue. Earlier today she'd had a vision of pizza delivered directly to the hotel room. I get it. I like that kind of convenience, but we needed to get out. We're low-budget travelers but too much time with a family of five in a small place and you've got to give up on pizza in bed and get outside. She pushed her agenda hard, and even when we got to the restaurant she still believed that pizza was coming to the bedroom. The hostess asked "five?" and I said yes and Eliot threw her hands in the air "We're having pizza in the hotel!" The hostess looked at me as to her role in the situation and I really really wanted to cock my head with a, "well, what are you going to do for my client?" But we managed a smooth lunch with boys brilliantly distracting her room service fantasies. 

The scenery is better when you ignore the needy child.

The scenery is better when you ignore the needy child.

And here's where I pause to say that Eliot is really one of the best kids I've come in contact with. Tonight she spent the evening delivering snacks from person to person. Instead of a handful of potato chips, she brought one every few minutes. Perhaps saving my life from the jaw unlocking fistfuls I backhoe into my head. Sarah and I glanced at each other and smiled because we know she's good and we also know we have a very limited time before she figures we're simply flesh and bone and easily crushed. We got a glimpse of the future when she recently announced with flight attendant enthusiasm that when she's 11 she'll get whatever she wants. Christ, does she have blueprints for this kind of stuff? Are these single-serve potato chips adding up to some kind of debt? 

My point is that these tomes to her occasional insanity are thumbtacks to my brain. A reminder to myself of the good times and a constant training of staying in the neighborhood of parental success. It's also like when Luke Skywalker saw the frightening potential of Kylo Ren and wielded his laser sword at the Jedi camp.

For now, however, I watched through the hot tub railing as my four year old treated six or so hotel goers to an uncomfortable protest by the cold pool. She crawled out and unfolded to her full height like a tiny robot sent from the future to kill me. 

She screamed, "Dad I need your help!" which sounds dire and rife with reasons for a parent to respond but I'm in the hot tub and warm and she needs to figure out how to get that way.

Quin and Otto implore me to get her, but I tell them I'm not caving to her demands. She can walk. I shout the same to her. The book readers are rapt into the conversation. 

"Eliot, just get over here--" 

"But don't run!" lobs Otto. 

Quin adds that running by the pool is dangerous.

She's cold, I can tell. And I'm so warm in the hot tub.

"Dad, I need your help!" she shouts again. It's a trap. I'm not helping. She can walk, I'm telling myself as I fight back every fleshy inch of my fragile self. 

A cross section of my brain.

A cross section of my brain.

Quin gets out of the hot tub and makes a move to assist her. I pull him back into our bunker. "Dude," I say, "I feel like a jerk, too, but I'm not teaching her she can screw up quality hot tub time." Two women among the beach chairs are particularly interested. One is younger and seems kid free. The other is older with a knowing smile. It seems I'm simultaneously entertainment and birth control. It's as if we're in some kind of modern vaudeville. Maybe a series of allegorical plays. Kirk Cameron will play me. 

It's taking so long. I'm feeling genuinely bad. "Honey, if you'd just walk instead of yelling at me, you'd be here," I yell. 

She growls. A deep, guttural didgeridoo bubbles up from within her. The younger woman whips her head in my direction. A-ha, who are you more worried about now, kidless vacationer?

Quin vocalizes his concern again, but this time about the growl. "I know, I know" I say, confidence cracking. "She may kill us all." 

She moves. She starts to walk. She's wet and standing in winter shade for god's sake. If she doesn't know to move from that, I think we might be getting some subsidies for her education. This is a test for all of us.

Every upright burst moves her about five feet before she folds up to get warm. I'm using my outside voice to get her to safety. The older woman is still smirking but the younger lady has alerted her boyfriend. I can't tell if she's mouthing "this is why we shouldn't have kids" or "this is why he shouldn't have kids."

Again, I'll interject with the honest-to-goodness sustenance of a small girl who rainbows outward like I've never seen before. Twelve times a day she announces that she loves me. She skips instead of walks. And I stand on the highest rock and thank the skies for allowing me to be appreciated by tiny beasts still so close to god/good. This is a young lady who once woke me up to say that boys have penises, girls have vaginas, but WE ALL HAVE THE SAME BUTTS! It inspired my friend to make a shirt. 

Back at the Embassy Suites, Quin and Otto are close to breaking. I'd later recount to Sarah, who'd made the smart choice to go shopping in an unfamiliar urban area, that it was five minutes that felt like an hour. 

Eliot looks up from something like a standing fetal position. She needs me to get her she pleads. I held the boys' shoulders and repeated my stance. No. She'd have to get to the hot tub herself. I mean LISTEN TO WHAT I'M SAYING this is a family crisis that involves a bubbling bowl of comfort. Water, warmed to 104 degrees, and poured over little sitting nooks so you can post pictures of your toes. We're not making this any easier.

It's about now when my mother interjects. "Are you making a big deal out of this because she's a girl?" No. I swear. I've written about Quin going ground zero on me and Otto, well, Otto has other issues.

The middle child finds peace.

The middle child finds peace.

"So you're sure you're not another man talking about women like he knows what he's talking about?" Asks my mother, who's vibrancy has appeared in a puddle between pools. 

"I actually don't know, mom," I mutter out of the corner of my mouth as to not draw attention to the conversation. I've always wanted the kids to meet their grandma but this would be weird.

"But I have this theory," I continue unwisely."

"Oh, you all do," rolling the words with her eyes. "Heavens to Murgatroyd."

"I think that very early on guys knew that women were far more powerful. And then we were like, 'let's build this entire structure around elections and not let them vote'."

"Curious. I'm really curious as to hear where you're going with this. But not for too long."  From somewhere beyond the puddle I could hear hooves thumping and the giddy shrieks of children. She'd long ago traveled beyond her body to chaperone cancer kids on fantastical creature tours. I could understand the time constraint what with her wet son mansplaining oppression while dripping hotel pool stew on faux adobe flooring.

"And so the women were like 'eff this stupid alternative to sanity, we have to gather nuts--

"We always end up with nuts. Haha," she gave herself some laughs. 

"--great work mom--and while the women were dealing with reality this whole scaffolding of trickle down bullshit was built to the stars and they had to reluctantly climb this thing to be equal in a world of dip--"

"That needs work, honey. Focus on what you can do because I'm sure then you could do it." 

"How soon before we're stick fighting?" I ask desperately, but it was too late. She escaped my peripheral whisper, the muscular hindqaurters of a centaur clip-clopping her away.

I turned back to the boys who may have noticed me talking to a puddle. 

"She's coming, dad. She's coming!" Otto was ecstatic. 

"It's like your not talking to her made it happen," snarked a ten year old simply riddled with teenager warning signs.

With a surge that will bring joy to me during the dark post-11 Armageddon, Eliot booked it. She didn't run, as the boys had rightly requested. She did that quick scamper perfected by generations of kids seeking post-pool refuge. 

I relished the moment. The victory. The children safe. My demands met. Eliot scooted into a seat at the top step of the tub, and asked when we were going to have pizza delivered to the room. "Probably tonight," I said. Probably tonight.

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48 and life to go

I wrote this story about my brother in 1996. It's pretty much the first of my family pieces. I used to write crazy fantasy stuff--and I'm working on something like that right now--but this was the first giblet where the professor (Dr. Joel Jones, who supposedly "died" but that's impossible for immortals so come up with a different story sad sad obit section of the Durango Herald) said something like, "you should keep doing this." 

Correct me if I'm wrong, Pete, but this is what I remember.

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Another shot in the park

Another evening. Eliot has offered more than I know to handle. I don't think I can channel it all, I worry, before realizing I don't have to. But I have to try. It's the job of a parent, I think.

I say she has a nice dress and she reminds me her dress isn't a dress but a tutu. I'm impressed. She had the noun. Sometimes she disagrees but doesn't have a solid counter. Tutu. The tutu argument will have to be filed away for an early and obvious victory. War propaganda. So terse in it's reply. Often people deny one thing without coming up with something else (and I'm sorry, we live in a world that needs something, but if its going to be someone who can get away with nothing, it'd be a kid. Because we want them to. We want them to be able to say NO and then pause quietly. A respite for all the something we need to conjure.)

Quin is the guy who'd most likely have the gumption to drop a whole lot of nothing. I'll state an adult truism and he smacks it down; not so much to smack it down (although it feels like that to the presumed older and wiser) but to wedge his slim presence into this place you never though existed. Lumps all over the couch that you can't even feel anymore. He occupies the pockets of the forgotten. I'll tell you an example.

"Dad," Otto shouts about his homework. "I need words with U in the middle!" 

"Uhhh, I don't know, 'pup', 'cup,' um..."

"What about soups?" suggests Quin.

"Uh, yeah, that has a U in it," I agree, wondering how long I would have been stuck on the short U sound. Oh please, god, don't let me kill that creativity. That institution-be-damned, untamed jungle of--christ, soup. I would have never thought of that.

geniuses. haha jk.

geniuses. haha jk.

I know every parent claims their kids are geniuses but that's not me. I'm just happy when they get their socks on. But there is somehting, some thing, that can be tendered as brilliant and I'm caught between a college bowl game and kid's voices and straining one last tiny inkling of evening energy to figure out how to invest in the latter.

"Let's go to the park." That's always my goto. Still, I have this quick shot of comparison living where I wonder what actual cool shit other parents are doing with their kids. Goddamn Facebook. You come back from a hot air balloon ride and an afternoon learning long division with Stephen Hawking and your friend post pics of their family circling Mars on a hovercraft they made at Spanish immersion camp in Costa Rica. Fuck. Am I doing this right?

"Guys," I orate unto the mixed gender audience, "we're going to the park." The dogs are on it. Paco owns the park. Based on attendance and overall urine expenditure, it should be his. My conservative math has calculated that, in his 11 years, we've gone across the street to the Englewood P&R property 6800 times. We used to go twice a day but he grew a loathing for Siberian Huskies and German Shepherds, so he had to become a night dog. Fewer of either (often rather cocky dogs, if you ask me) are present. Our new pup, Cho Cho, which we found means cunt in Spain, is beside herself. She's figured out the routine. She leaps from the couch, soaring over Paco and runs to the edge of the rug. She turns and looks at me as if to say, "you sure about this because it's the greatest moment ever."

And she's right. Her enthusiasm moves us all to the door. And I've written about the park before. A lot. As my old neighbor once asked, "Is that your entire social life?" Well, perhaps, unless you count going to the vet.

The kids and their warm clothes could be the title of a dissertation on patience, or lack thereof. If you'd like a tutorial on kids and immersing them in their warm garments, get really day drunk and wake up a few hours later, confused to whether it's morning or night and with very little interest in either, spend half an hour sifting through gloves trying to find a match while one or more children have a panic attack getting into snow pants. It's a painful and infuriating process that's sprinkled with the light ballerina touch of grandmothers everywhere reminding you to be patient and endure.

longing. oil on canvas.

longing. oil on canvas.

There are angry bulls, balls freshly electrocuted, bursting out of rodeo gates less disruptive than the three kids, two dogs and me assaulting our screen door to get into the night. The neighborhood is so quiet and we cannonball the placidity. Riding ripples we get across the street. Quin stopping Eliot at the sidewalk and Otto comforting the dogs. (I'd crossed the street with Paco leashless for years but what we believe is failing hearing and overall old-guy-doesn't-give-a-shitness is having us restrain his stubborn, park-bound mutt butt.) Eliot is super cautious. She sees headlights down the street across another intersection and at least two stop signs away and refuses to go. I'm proud but also kind of worried she'll miss a lifetime of opportunities standing on the side of the road. It's never too early to project.

I really want to stop writing right now and take a shower and throw away some of my kids toys, but I must be stronger than these distractions. And I'm back in the park having been scolded for not paying attention. "He was texting on his phone," shouts Otto. I've missed something. Eliot is mad. She wants off the swing. Nope, wait, she didn't want off the swing. Quin interjects: "She's mad because her butt is sliding off the swing!" Oh, yes. I only got part of it. I put her back on. Twenty-degrees and gloveless she grabs the metal chains and hangs on for a ride in the winter wind. Maybe she's not all that cautious, I wonder. I mean this was a good balance. A wild night ride on a freezing swing but with concern over the security of the vehicle. Nice.

Otto and Quin had required being chased. It was great. We ran and ran. Paco looked like a puppy again. Quin noted that he was running more than he'd seen. Cho Cho ran outside the bubble of understanding. Were we yelling because we were in trouble? Should she take me out again? She's laid some vicious hits and it's hard to fault a dog who can only see a large dude in a hoodie chasing these puppies. I get the bird's eye view and love the massive swaths we're cutting in the quiet. Big circles and lazy 8s under a half moon.

Otto and Quin both agree we should go home. Eliot's hands are red and freezing. We'll have to cross the street again. And there's much confusion as the boys try and coax their sister off the sidewalk. I'm tethered to the dogs and shouting at Eliot that it's OK. As far as I know, getting across that road is our only way back home.




The Gist of the Magi

Over the past few years I've wondered if Christmas is a ruse to test parents tolerance under pressure. How many tiny plastic pieces can you assemble on four hours of sleep? How many times can you peacefully handle cabin fever bicker battles in the suburban Thunderdome of sibling rivalry?

How long do you have before your aunt's homemade caramels make your heart explode?

Questions persist amongst the wrapping paper and Santa requests. A household of petrochemicals trained into toys and only hours from falling out of favor. The latest in science and technology forgotten under a couch. Trickster Jesus cackling.

Christmas gets me in ways I'll explain later. But, in short, I was set up by a woman who's power extends long beyond the grave. (I just wrote about this in the last entry but it turned out poorly--or at least like a hurried journalist taking notes before it all disappears--so I'm trying again and this time with help from American short story icon O. Henry.)

I have something wrong with me where I cry. I don't want to but I'm moved to. The slightest deviation in a day's back and forth shivers me to pre-sneeze secretions. Here are a list of things that move me to tears. It's not heavy crocodile (do they actually cry?) tears but just enough precipitation to think that somewhere jets just flew over the national anthem:

1. Veterans
2. CBS Sunday Morning
3. Struggling mothers
4. Older women in wheelchairs
5. People's stories of overcoming persistent woe
6. Altruism of all sorts
7. Surprise backstage guests on talk shows
8.  Underdog stories
9. Jets flying over the national anthem

10. Anything Jimmy V

11. Christ, Ellen.

Hand over my heart, I can honestly state that I loathe Hallmark Hall of Fame movies but get me near one and it reverberates deep. My nipples do a thing. Sexy as you'll ever see them. Emotionally, I'm a freshly skinned poet at a citrus festival.

Yet Christmas can disgust me as easily as it excites me. Mid-merriment my mind drifts into a tide pool of unrecyclable wrapping paper that's swallowing all the whales. But I'm easily buoyed by beauty. Natural things that occur when all the human juices are aligned. People going with their guts on goodness, etc. And that leads me to O. Henry. He wrote The Gift of the Magi, and the story I'm about to tell you is as organic and refreshing as eating a good salad on a road trip. The potato chip of short-order satisfaction crumbles revealing something sustainable and real. But the moral of the story is how simple—a gesture —it is to come by.

No matter if you’ve read The Gift of the Magi and/or were touched by its broke-ass holiday motif—actually you’ll have to excuse any comparisons to the Magi as that classic is much more poignant and powerful--I think you'll at least get mild tingles from the gist of the Magi. It goes like this: To buy her husband a chain for his watch, she sells her hair, and to buy her some accessories for her beautiful hair, he sells his watch. The point being that their love is a gift greater than all gifts ever. And I wish we’d all read it and believe it and stop buying crap just because we feel we must buy crap.

My version is true and goes like this. 

It was the holiday season of 2004, and I stayed home from work to surprise Sarah by putting up lights around the house. It’s something I don’t normally do because it’s a waste of electricity, but I wanted to show her that I had the spirit and would bring to life a holiday she’d never forget. What I didn’t know is that while I took the day to string some lights, she went out and bought some luggage for me. This luggage was to be a surprise, which meant she’d have to lug it onto a commuter train and then drag it a quarter mile home.

Were we poor? Were we fodder for a wacky modern O Henry RomCom remake? Well, middle middle class, I'd say. But there was that thing we could not know: it would be my mother’s last Christmas. A holiday she adored and thrived upon…for which she did much to sear into her children’s heads as a time that they'd never be able to fully enjoy without her. I’m pretty sure that’s a victory for a mom. Well, mom, you and your homemade cinnamon rolls and wreathes; your craft fair contributions, baking and kitchen caroling. Your I’ll-be-damned-if-we’re-broke holiday fire that burned like a yule log every penny-scraping holiday season. Well it all added up to a major maternal victory because a gilded Jesus could Kool-Aid Man into our living room and we’d still be light years from your awesome MacGyver holidays.

This was our Christmas tree in ‘04. Yes, awesome.

This was our Christmas tree in ‘04. Yes, awesome.

I guess I should add that, at the time, my mom lived with Sarah and me. And that day off of work she was so happy to see me put up some decor and so excited to surprise Sarah. We bounded around and added little touches to the holiday house. That night, my hope was to watch through the window to see Sarah’s shadow hurry home in the streetlights. At that moment, I’d plug in our display and the front yard would light up.

Of course Sarah was later than usual because she was conjuring luggage somewhere along her daily downtown Denver route. I’d call her office a few times but get no answer. This was before she had a cell phone so finding her would be futile. My mom’s sister was in town, too, so it was getting pretty estrogeny (new word) around the house. This is not at all a bad thing but they are both unencumbered by pessimism and I was experiencing out-of-body visions of me getting abnormally giddy about the holidays. I was Price-is-Right excited about Sarah emerging from the dark; something I was letting flutter skyward without societally-mandated checks and balances of macho self awareness.

I even decorated my mom.

I even decorated my mom.

My aunt, my mom and I sat by the window and watched…and watched. I paced around, checked the lights over and over, walked to the end of the block and back but nothing. Finally, my mom whispered from the window, “I think she’s coming!” I sprinted to the switch and confirmed a sighting. We waited for her to get right in front of the yard before illuminating our maple tree. That’s where Sarah stood, slunk low as if ducking the glow, and exhausted from a day at work and a night of sneaking luggage. She glanced around as to wonder what had happened to her usual darkened sidewalk. A passage that would have allowed her to sneak undetected into the garage to hide the surprise.

I still wasn’t sure as to what she was dragging. And I was a little sad she didn’t seem all that excited.

I stepped out onto the front porch and into the clandestine plan of my gift-bearing spouse. “Hi,” I said and left room for a question. “Are you a dragging a body?”

“I was planning on surprising you with some luggage,” she shared, defeated.

“Well, I finally put up some lights,” and she nodded to the obvious.

“Well, I guess, Merry Christmas,” she said. And I replied with the same.


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Crystal cold Christmas oozing everywhere

As a kid I loved Christmas. I would lie in bed on the Eve and wonder how I would ever be able to fall asleep. I didn't think it was possible. I'd need a time machine or else suffer the hundreds of years between then and the next morning. I'd stare at my bedroom wall and follow the little bumps of the texture. Somewhere between there and the moonlit snow, I'd fall asleep.

6am. It was actually morning. The time machine worked.

I could hear my dad stomping around upstairs. This is a man who'd get us up at 3am to go to work, but on Christmas morning he loved to torture us. "We're not ready yet!" he'd yell. "We got firewood first!" Usually, he was kidding. Except for December 25, 1987 when he wasn't and we spent the morning in subzero temperatures loading up his battered Chevy pickup with firewood. I'm 43 and I'm still upset about that.

"Wait til your mom gets out of the shower!" he'd announce.

"She's not even in the shower!" we'd protest.

The Bow and Arrow Christmas. It would be revoked shortly thereafter when my dad discovered me at 4am trying to shoot it in my room.

The Bow and Arrow Christmas. It would be revoked shortly thereafter when my dad discovered me at 4am trying to shoot it in my room.

He would find anything to mess with us. We were too easy, too obvious, teetering off the edge of eager and into a panic. This day wasn't only about gifts, but also getting out of the mountains and into the Front Range. There would be people and sunshine. Rarely has a two-hour drive done so much. We'd pull out of the rugged pines and dormant aspen and into a valley of massive cottonwoods punching their way out of the ground. They'd shed their leaves, but monster limbs meant huge opportunity. Climbing, forts, nearby houses with other kids. I had no idea why we didn't live there. All of these people in pleasant, forced-air houses. How in the Hell did we end up the only ones in Gould? These city kids had dads who went to jobs that didn't make them smell like saw gas and sap and anger. I don't know, they wore white collars and confidence, and they went places on smooth, paved roads.

I can't say I was thinking exactly that as I fiddled with my toes on the edge of my bed, but I felt something like it. Something had me spacing out across the basement floor to somewhere warmer.

And then I could smell the cinnamon rolls.

I can't describe to you the best food on the planet. That doesn't mean I'm not going to try. It's our duty as those who've experienced divinity to scrape together something as dry and brittle as words.

My mom's cinnamon rolls: Soft, warm, sweet. You'd put on a pat of butter and it gave itself to the bread. A sacrifice to the ambrosia. Mombrosia. Butter's had many purposes but these rolls were the apex of achievement. These cinnamon rolls tasted like we no longer needed to try. We'd done it; perfection had been obtained. Opposable thumbs dragged us to the top, and now we could rest with impeccable baked goods. A fork, a dull instrument, would lazily sink through the soft bread. You’d carve out your next dose of blissful awareness and wrestle between primal annihilation or savoring it as a civilized person--crap. I'd need to get another.

My mom would ask how many I'd had. I'd say two as I snuck away a third. Technically, I wasn't being inaccurate. We'd ask her how come she didn't make them more often, but most likely because we would have been dead at twelve. Besides, she wasn't making food. She was making memories. She was making Christmas. Sweet olfactory candy baked at 350 degrees for as long as we can remember.

My mom had her particulars on the holidays, mostly that she loved them. Well, she loved kids. Pristine winter traditions were her time to shine. She was a Jesus Christ Superstar--a pint-sized savior piecing together a holiday for a family of five with nothing but nature. At first it was the nativity scenes she built out of wood scraps. And then she settled on her wreaths. She'd make and sell them. Every year she took orders wherever she went. Before Internet, she'd take them at my basketball games, Laura's volleyball games or Peter's football games. "Hey, Ann, count me in for a wreath!" and she'd log it in her head and make a note when we got home. "Oh oh oh" she'd say, scampering from the stove to the notepad by the phone. I'm not sure how many wreaths she made every year, but at 15 dollars a piece, they added up to her Christmas fund. Those greens we collected in old bed sheets at the base of lodgepole pines would be the smiles on our faces every year, although we'd complain as we trudged through three feet of snow dragging a queen-sized load of tree branches.

Mom also had her decor. The word NOEL in large letters suspended over the living room window. They were probably meant to face outward but with no other humans for miles she turned the message on us. We had no idea what it meant. Ancient French shouting at us about a birthday and we were simply satisfied that mom had found solace in it. Gold-flecked green-and-red block lettering to keep us warm long after the fire burned out.

There were the Swedish horses, too. Small, red, hand-painted ponies with white and green detail. Two of them facing each other on the window sill amongst leftover wreath branches. That's where I'd perch on the coldest days and be so happy I didn't have to be outside. The window bench was the nicest part of our unfinished home. On Christmas day it's where we'd sit waiting to open the gifts. Cinnamon rolled to satisfaction, we'd await the moment when our dad would finally come downstairs and give us the green light.

Collars are hard.

Collars are hard.

Sometimes he would stall to impress upon us how lucky we were to have a home. We'd be more moved by the gesture if we'd ever actually seen someone who didn't have one. In North Park the homeless population is limited. You really can't meander around at 9000 feet in December. My dad would preach gratitude; our complaints of isolated living deflected with an Arctic blast of mockery. We were OK with that. With the exception of 1987, Christmas Day was one when our tolerance of mountain weather didn't have to be tested.

Finally, we'd get to open presents. We'd pick through our stocking first. Candy. Nuts. The orange in the toe. More than once I think it was the orange from the year prior. On top there'd be a stocking gift. A warm up to the unwrapping. And then we'd get under the tree. A melee. My mom's reminders about reading the card buried in torn paper.

We knew that whatever we got wasn't going to be as good as with grandma. First on our trip to the Front Range was Grandma Colleen, a woman who'd delivered mail up the South Saint Vrain from Longmont to Allenspark before there was pavement or plows. Now she'd settled in the overlooked little town of Hygiene. It got its name when, around the turn of the 19th Century, people were sent to the sanitariums of the dry, high country to battle lung diseases like tuberculosis. I have to testify that it always seemed easier to breathe at grandma's house.

Our hand-me-down station wagon would turn off old Route 66, down north 75th and roll onto her gravel driveway. The little rocks would crunch under the family car. It was a pleasant wakeup if any of us would ever sleep. Grandma Coleen would run out, part excited and part panicked. She was that Grandmother. The one where we were always in dire need of warmth or food. And it was amazing. She had everything kids wanted to eat: Sizzlean, candy dishes on every flat surface, and the warmest, most loving grand parental house on the planet. Grandpa Lyle, perhaps still as edgy as his drag racing days, jingled pocket change on his approach to greet us. We kids did our best to be cordial before pounding down the stairs to the basement to play pool.

We'd sit still long enough for family photos and fill our pockets with candy before heading off to Grandma Mac's, whose larger home (and pool table) stirred some envy in Grandma Coleen. And grandma Coleen would worry that Grandma Mac would get us better things. And we would try to explain to Grandma Coleen that wasn't possible, because Grandma Mac had money because she didn't spend it.

Although, there was that Christmas when we thought we'd opened all the gifts, and Grandpa Mac walked up and handed each of us a fifty dollar bill. I'd never even seen one. I wasn't sure if it were real money. Ulysses S. Grant. A Civil War hero. This had to be good. My brother and I ran off to another room and examined the 50s. They were beautiful. Paper gems. Later, I'd be overwhelmed while walking the Twin Peaks Mall in Longmont. There was a knife store and I wanted a butterfly knife. But that would cut my wealth down to thirty-two dollars. I didn't want to break it at all. I wanted to hang onto the beautiful money forever. I walked around with my hand jammed in my pants rubbing the two halves of the 50 together. It had this kind of aggressive crispness. A wealth of friction. Not so much that it slid apart, but just enough so you knew it mattered.

Soon enough we'd be back home. In Gould there was never not a white Christmas. Standing outside, I'd listen to the silence, and be sad that it was over. The winding road of the Poudre Canyon had closed the mountains behind us, leaving the urban Front Range behind. I didn't look forward to the stretch of cold between then and my birthday. It was in the summer. There'd be people in Gould again. Campers, bikers, sometimes girls in cool city clothes. Before that there was January and February. Foreboding cold. By the time April rolled around you could only slip around in mud. Winter was melting. Crystal cold Christmas oozing everywhere. But on December 26th we still had time left in our vacation from school. We still had New Years Eve. That might mean people would come over. A few more guests, some warmth. We'd have a hot fire and the quietest parcel on the planet would light up one last time for the year.

I love backing away from the memory. Lifting up higher and higher and looking down on the well-lit windows and the chimney cranking like a steam engine.

I rise from the memory further and further. I can see the curvature of the Earth, the bending of time. The lights fade away and where there was a house becomes crowded with green. The trees cluster together and dominate the landscape. I back away until I look up and I'm in the city. I'm here. I'm outside of my house looking in. I see the tree decorated by my kids who are sometimes too sophisticated for their own good. For the moment, however, they are in their bunkbeds and whispering to each other about Christmas.

Look, mom, I made these! Helped. I helped.

Look, mom, I made these! Helped. I helped.

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