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Paco the forever pup

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.

Everyone

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.

 Smile.

Smile.

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.

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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 then...in 2013 I test drove a Tesla Model S (as seen here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G5Vq6...) 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. 

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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. 

 strength

strength

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.

 

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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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The true story of the flying go-karts and nipple pens

If you watched the video, you can start...

I went to a bachelor party this weekend. Things were great. All the laid back macho awesome you could handle. And then I kinda took it a step further. We were all standing around planning our next move when capsule of drugs was passed my way. Now to call these "drugs" in the same hard sense as heroin or crack is a little bit of a strain.* These were psychedelic mushrooms. And they were crushed into a concentrated form. No big wad of fungus to negotiate down (I hate mushrooms) your throat, but an easy-to-use powder. 

I was handed this small capsule of organic plant life. It was so small I was under the assumption it was all mine. But then the guy who brought the psychedelics clapped his hands and said, "OK, let's do shrooms!" 

I replied that I was pretty sure that I had done all of them. 

He responded with a little "Oh?" which I now realize is just the tip of a larger body of concern.

Another guy confirmed that, "Yeah, he ate them all." 

He said he'd never seen anybody take that much. 

There are a few issues here. For one, if it's your mom who thinks you're doing too many drugs, that may not be a problem. She's upset about your Dr. Pepper habit. But this guy--and I mean to cast no aspersion because he's super cool--is an artist who doesn't wear shoes. If an artist who doesn't wear shoes is worried about your drug intake, maybe have a look at your life. 

Secondly, I'm terrible at drugs. You may have read the incident when I ate half a pan of weed brownies and cried for three days. That was purely accidental. I swear. But in life I've been that rookie drug guy who takes a hit off a joint and says, "I don't think it's working." And then I tolk and tolk and suck and inhale like a guy who just emerged from the bottom of a lake and an hour later someone's trying to coax me out from under the neighbor's porch. 

...here.

Thirdly. On this warm fall day in 2017, the guys decided to go go-kart racing. 

It was scary. It felt like the car was going to leave the ground. And the helmet made my head feel huge, like cartoon big. I screamed inside my facemask and wound around the course like an agitated Macy's Day float. I thought about getting out of the car; pulling over and calling it quits. But I needed an alibi. Injury? What would a guy in a go-kart suffer from? I pondered hemorrhoids. 

I finished the race and gave a big Whooo! as I shed my helmet. A young attendee came to see if I needed assistance. "Damn, that is fast!" I declared. 

He gave me that side eye, the one that's curious with concern. He added words to his face by explaining that I had actually been going pretty slow. 

"Yeah, but not like really slow," I argued. 

He said he wanted to show me something. It was the results to the race. I was not surprised I finished last. But what he really wanted to point out is that of 88,000 people who had raced at the track, I'd come in 87,521st. 

So I wasn't last. And for that I was rewarded with the best part of the night. It ends in a very interesting way: with strippers. But first we needed to see one of the guy's kids in a state championship soccer game. And it was fantastic. The evening was cool but there was a warm rain. That was kind of distracting as I kept thinking I was naked. But any fear of public nudity at a high school event was warmed over by the soft grass and the pleasant wind. It was as if a rainbow could breathe. That grass lifted and sank with my feet. I felt as if I was part of the ground. I was immersed in a oneness that would only be severed by my sudden fear of the opposing team's soccer fans. 

I'd been told to fit in as well as I could. And while the constant patting of my pants to ensure their existence might have been a problem, the big reveal might have been my telling anyone near me that the rowdy fans were too angry and liable to become violent. And it wasn't just a local disturbance about which I was concerned, but a rippling of anger shredding my rainbow breeze and blasting far across the universe. It was weird how angry they were, I kept telling the soon-to-be bride. She'd nod, probably more concerned about my concern. 

Now the strip club would come much later. We'd have a meal. A wonderful meal, the shrooms mostly subsiding but every now again finding me struggling with he absurdity of everything. I mean even naked boobs made me giggle. And I love naked boobs. But the women sauntering around with their life-giving glands leading her scantily clad way gave me this crazy and poorly timed insight into how ridiculous the whole system is. How the Hell did this happen? Were we never properly weaned? Do we need a national family sit-down where we discuss why it is that these particular parts are so damned intriguing? Is it the strip club lobby keeping them taboo and banning their appearance at the beach or in a local sand volleyball games?

I sought dark places to hide, but on one occasion a young, an enhanced woman sat on my lap and asked if I wanted a lap dance. I recommended she go to the groom. She stood up, and in a move that demonstrated her overall dexterity and dominance, streaked her left nipple across my face whilst speaking to the guys around the table. Normally this would have been pretty exciting, but on this occasion I was convinced that she'd just drawn on my forehead. Yes, like a flesh crayon had just marked me. Most guys worry about stripper glitter and I was dabbing at my head with a napkin of Red Bull and vodka trying to remove what my mind was certain was a long streak over my eyes. I tried to keep it cool and, for the most part I think I managed to hide my fastidious facial rubbing. If anything, I told myself, it would be a pretty cool souvenir from such an amazing day.

 

*After some mockery I've found that you don't 'do' marijauna. You only do illegal drugs. Like, you don't do alcohol. The only legal drug you do do is Mountain Dew. That's the law.

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The importance of Public discourse

I got up early to walk around the neighborhood. I need to walk around. It burns off energy that would otherwise be paced into a rut.

My head is a good place to be, except for one thing. 

The good part is that it's like you walked into your dreamscape. It's everything you ever wanted. There's a giant ballpit, for example. There's skeeball and shuffleboard and solar-powered hovercraft rides over the bounty of nascent ecosystems. The brutal benevolence of green. There's gluten-free pizza and cold bubbly beverages with none of the side effects of cold bubbly beverages. You'll never have a hangover and diabetes doesn't exist. There are all the neat things you could ever want except for that one thing. Something distracting. Like the high-pitched screech you'd hear on old TVs. Sunny day; gentle breeze. Screeching. Something's always screeching. Imagine, if you will, your friend from the 80s who thought he could play guitar, and now his mom has bought him an amp and he's following you all over this otherwise perfect place with rancid licks of butchered anthem rock.

I'll say to myself out loud, "Wow, I have it all. Life is beautiful." And then I hear fat fingers running the neck of the guitar. It's the music world's version of fingernails on the chalkboard. He's a virtuoso of terrible; his fret stroking a cocking shotgun. Guitar boy unleashes his latest lyrics. 

"Get on stage or on the air, Get off your derrière!
you're wasting time and you're going to perish."

It falls flat in the end but that's intentional. The composition of repentant lyrics are as lackluster as any attempt to overcome them.

 This picture will make sense in minute.

This picture will make sense in minute.

I avert the glare of this query and head to the ball pit. The guitar guy tailing and wailing away on a song titled "What are you doing with your Masters degree?" He's able to rhyme this time with "the back door needs painted can't you see?" 

The best thing I can do is write. When I write, I feel really good for, like, 9 hours. Almost the span of a day. But don't get cocky, Jared. You gotta keep it up. 

Five days later I'm awake at 4am because I haven't written. My mom emerges. She was in my brain's theater that plays It's a Wonderful Life continuously. It was her idea. 

"You're doing just fine!" she pronounces whilst carefully eating one piece of bottomless theater popcorn at a time. 

It's about then, when the lead guitar of my internal panic is groining my leg and flinging sweaty mop droplets from his rock n roll hair, that I see my neighbor. To be clear, the guitarist is in my head. The neighbor's in real life. I'm happy to see her because just a few words with a another person turns off the noise. And this neighbor is not the person with whom you normally get a few words. She's quiet. She's suspect and she's suspicious. Typically she can be found crouching on her lawn picking renegade leaves of grass. It's the opposite of Walt Whitman's passionate classic. She looks like she hates the grass. It's a burden. It's her lot in life. Sometimes there's another woman, maybe her daughter, chugging cigarettes and mourning something. You know how you mourn and it's mostly fast and intense? You grasp at life's handrails and get back on track. These two women have seemed to master tantric mourning. Long-term bleakness.

I don't know their story but I'm always assuming it was some asshole guy. Asshole guys are the apex predator of great expectations. I imagine her as a little girl and her mother worried she'd turn out like her. That kind of scares the shit out of me.

This neighbor who may have turned out like her mother is walking towards me in the new light of 6am. I say 'hello' and she makes this wrinkled face like I'd just farted. That wasn't entirely unexpected. She passes without saying a word, you know, other than the thousands she hurled in silence. I chalk it up to a failed interaction. It's gonna happen in life.

"It always happens with you you YOU! You're so goddamn screwed!" screams the guitarist with double hook 'em horns raised above his head and relishing the spotlight.

And then this woman, in real life, stops and asks "Is that the pumpkins talking?"

Wha- what?

I'm bouyed by this. Any interaction that starts with that question is a success, I quickly decide. I turn and she's looking at the neighbor's yard. They have seven inflatable pumpkins all lit up and smiling. They're the happiest gourds you've ever seen. It's funny these giant, celebratory yard items: They're so strangely out of context. Even if it is a pumpkin in October, it's a plastic pumpkin filled with electric air and smiling so big it looks like they could turn on you.

When she suggests they might be talking, they go from holiday happy to egregiously evil.

I restate the question.

"The pumpkins are talking?"

She paused and then spoke kind of to me but also kind of to the sidewalk. "I thought I heard the pumpkins talking."

I too paused. "Oh" I said, not wanting to be the unimaginative party pooper who shits on someone's incredible perception.

She turned to me. Making eye contact. "It's probably that car idling over there." 

Even more amazing.

"The car?" I squeaked with a mix of confusion and joy. She didn't answer. She turned and walked away, apparently everything that needed to be said had been said. Although the car wouldn't shut up.

And the guitarist smashed his trusty ax and passed out on a bed of edible dreams. 

 Local children wait outside father's brain.

Local children wait outside father's brain.

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And Mice of Men

I've been keeping a secret. Twice everyday I've rushed home before my wife can find out what I've been up to. It's killing me. First off, my back may not be able to take it anymore and, secondly, there's the concern of the spread of disease.  But it ended today.  And for the fifth time the peanut butter was licked clean.
It all started on Monday. I was up late, caught between Facebook and focusing, when a little mouse ran out from underneath our pantry and over my shoe. I was a little disappointed in how I reacted. I leapt. I screeched. The mouse scurried away to his foul little reprieve near our food supply.

Knowing that Sarah would rather not know there's a rodent in our house, I put forth my clandestine plan to get rid of it. It would be pretty run of the mill. I'd move the refrigerator out of its nook, set a trap and sneak the fridge back without anyone ever knowing of the invader and its quick death.  

It didn't work like this. The next morning I checked the trap and the mouse had eaten all the peanut butter without tripping the trap. I set it again and went off to work. I came back for lunch and, much to Paco's consternation, went about grunting the stainless steel appliance across the kitchen floor. Again, the mouse ate the bait, but heaven could wait. He was still alive and I could hear him squeaking from underneath the pantry. He was taunting me.  


So I expanded my efforts. I kept the fridge moved out, set the trap, and put up a camera as well.  I wanted to see how this mouse was getting away with this.  And then in moving the trap to get a better camera angle, the damn thing snapped shut on me. 

Having the kitchen pulled apart and a camera in the middle of the room is the kind of thing I didn't want Sarah walking in on. So before getting the kids from school, I'd swing by the house, take down the camera, move the fridge and, of course, re-bait and reset the trap.  I wasn't only not killing the mouse. I was feeding it. This happened all week. I'd kill my lunch hour setting up video equipment and preparing traps while wasting valuable resources racing around the city living my secret life.  

Finally, on Friday everything started to unravel. And then ravel, before re-unraveling. I was back from my hurried lunch when Sarah called. The pain in her molar meant she was going to visit the dentist at three, therefore leave work early. I became obsessed with timing. If she were to be done with her appointment at four, which seemed likely, then she'd get home and walk in on what looked like a dark obsession for animal snuff films. Worse, I'd have to spend all weekend dismantling and cleaning cupboards.  

My boss is very cool, and probably wouldn't mind if I left early to clean up the scene, but we were working on a deadline and I really needed to show I wasn't really all that distracted by a mouse.  But then a coworker chimes in about how mad his wife got when she discovered mice, and we get into this confirmation of how once your castle is breached you can never live it down. Your manhood is tested by a mouse, and the life you're providing comes into question.  And there begs the interrogation: "how dirty are you?" Am I all the people I've ever made fun of? Am I the redneck with the dirty kids--oh crap, are my kids going to be the ones at school who purportedly give off namesake germs?  

After this conversation I'm cranking to get things done and I'm really getting nervous about being discovered, and then Sarah calls again. She's at the dentist office and she's gotta get a root canal. I'm ashamed at how happy I was. She was going to be distracted long enough for me to get home and keep my manhood intact. I even got cocky. Instead of first going home and cleaning up the crime scene, I went and got the kids.  

We were at the last major light to our house when Sarah called again. The dentist wasn't able to do the procedure so she was on her way home. I turned onto our street and her car was heading at mine. She was equidistant to the house. I sped up and got into the garage, but it was useless.  To hide all my gear I would have to ditch the kids in the car, ostensibly leaving irritated children for the woman who had Novocaine mouth from a painful dental ordeal.  

I gave it up. I was done moving the fridge. I was done moving lamps around the houses for extra camera lighting. I needed to share my defeat with someone--strip away the macho sheath and get some comfort through our shared experience. Which now appears will come through cleaning the kitchen.  

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Worse than fear: The true story of a very poor decision

Friday the 13th does things, or at least that's the superstition. In my case, however, the recent Friday the 13th snagged my brain. Fishhooked something deep. All day I kept thinking that I knew there was something with me and Friday the 13th. I couldn't think of it; almost like my retention was trying to protect me. Like a small, benevolent part of my head just wanted me to move on. But I kept sinking into my chair and doing that frustrated exhale of someone trying to recall something. It went like that all day, until I was riding home on the train and I was staring no place in particular and muttered, "Oh. damn."

It all snowballed into a reckoning. It hadn't actually been Friday the 13th. It was on or about February 26th. That's Bert's birthday. He's my childhood friend and it was at his slumber party where I saw the horror movie, Friday the 13th.

 Some of the kids there that evening (Bert in red) and me apparenlty catching up on sleep.

Some of the kids there that evening (Bert in red) and me apparenlty catching up on sleep.

I was 11 because it was Bert's 12th birthday. Twelve is a big year, I think. We were always at Bert's house anyway so a slumber party wasn't a huge change for him, his sister, Willi, and his mom and dad. Especially for kids like me who lived out of town. I lived twenty-five miles away in the exact opposite of an urban metropolis in a place called Gould. At the time there were three kids in the entire Gould area: my brother, my sister and me. We lived in the absolute middle of the woods. People might be tempted to say we lived in the middle of nowhere, but that's a blatant misnomer. When in a town that small, everyone is somebody. And somebody always knows something they're bound to tell everyone. Instead of the middle of nowhere it might be appropriate to say right smack in the middle of everything.

But we were among the trees and only about two miles from Highway 14. That was the thoroughfare that put ample miles on my mom's hand-me-down station wagon carting her children in and out of Walden. I loved being in town, and my time there was precarious. Without the extra time the town kids had with each other, I had to be on my game and make the most of every visit. This slumber party was a huge opportunity for me to make myself a contender among the guys.

There was a slight hitch however. I don't know what it is with me, but I'm just not good with scary movies. I never have been. I just should've taken stock of the situation you're about to read, and made some better decisions. Had I been a bigger, smarter person, I would have walked out. I would have conjured an excuse. "You know what...I need to, um, get my mom some groceries because, you know, we live out of town." I could have gone to the Fair Share, which was just a hundred feet from Bert's house, and gotten food. It might take me four hours, but that's what would have been necessary for me to miss not only the first Friday the 13th movie, but the sequel. At Bert's slumber party in 1986, we watched both back to back.

Those movies didn't seem to faze the other kids. And maybe because of all the trees. I'd seen Poltergiest earlier that year and, I don't know if you remember the incident with the tree, but I didn't sleep for a week. I wandered scared around the house. I'd turn on lights wherever I went. Occasionally getting the exasperated "Jaaaarrrreeed" from my mom who A) was probably worried about the emotional health of an eleven year old who didn't sleep and B) didn't want me to wake my dad to the reality of his son. I'd pace around our bedroom and hope my brother would wake up and want to do something, like throw the football at 2am.

Some months later, with very little learned from a girl swallowed by a television set (Poltergeist), I settled in with the guys to watch Jason Vorhees. He's the main character in Friday the 13th movies who annihilates young adults in the woods. I told myself, Jared, you can do this. It's not real. Look at all of these other kids. Yeah, sure I was one of the younger kids in class. I wouldn't get my driver's license until I was a junior. But those other kids were still kids, right? And they're watching people being chopped to death and they're not scared! So I watched it. I did my best to play along with being faux frightened. And then they'd all say, "that was so dumb!" and I'd join in and say, "yeah, that was so stupid." Of course they were talking about the movie and I was talking about me watching it.

When the movies ended everybody was really tired. They dropped off one by one. Bert went to his room. Jason fell asleep by the aquarium. Eric and Brent fell asleep on the hide a bed. It left me awake on the edge of the couch. Me and the bubbling fish filter which I'd eventually unplug so I could be sure to hear everything. Everything that could be a threat. Anything that could be that shitty forest killer doing that creepy, breathy laugh. Did you have to do that Hollywood? Blood and guts not enough? You have to add this soundtrack of wheezing and terror.

Bert's house was very old. It actually slanted a little bit. If you put a ball in the middle of the floor it would roll away. This is not to say that it wasn't a wonderful place; a scaffold from which we built many memories. However, when you're alone at night, after seeing people slaughtered at a peaceful retreat, it's terrible. For a little bit I tried to keep Brent awake. I’d throw my sock at him and he'd bat it away. Soon, however, he was incredulous. "I'm really tired," he'd grumble as he turned into his pillow. And then, just like that, he was gone. It was just me and the wind.

Walden is cold and much of that cold is from the wind. Normal cold air, just sitting there, isn't all that bad. But that's not enough for Walden. It's got to move the frigid wash into a tidal wave of ice daggers. I realize that it gets cold all over the country, but Walden is an angry cold. Its wind, this wicked air, is cast away from the mountains and left to seek vengeance across the barren planes

By the time it gets to Walden, it's pretty much set on violating you. It would hit Bert's house with these sporadic blasts. It would be quiet, just me and my thoughts, and then a baseball bat of forced air would hit the side of the house. That was pretty terrifying. I remember thinking that whatever or whomever was out there had to be pissed. The vile wind would derange them enough to burst into the house to rip from me my life.

Soon it was 11pm. I'd lie down and try to sleep but there was a tiny slice of window showing from behind the curtain. It wasn't much, like a wood shim thickness of naked plastic. And not that they had plastic windows, but winter in Walden you had to have plastic over the window, and then one layer of curtains and then another. Often one of those layers being an itchy blanket that no one wanted to use employed as a curtain. Still, I could feel something looking at me. I didn't want to go directly at the curtains and close them, so I stood on the completely closed side with my feet away from the underside of the hide-a-bed, knowing full well that something could grab them. So, watching my feet, and watching the curtains, I used a long lamp stand to seal off the aperture.

I had this brief moment where I thought if I were to break the window--or shatter anything for that matter--how wonderful it would be for everyone to be awake again. We'd be cleaning up glass and I'd be under suspicion but we'd all be together and conscious! I might say that there'd been a squirrel in the house. The adults wouldn't believe me but the kids would be enamored and that's I would need. Everybody would keep me company and I might maintain more kid cred than--well far more--what you're about to read.

I stood in the middle of the room. I listened to everyone and their deep, restful breathing. I was the free radical. The abberation that would be rushed out of a sick body. I'd been lost in the woods before--a lot actually--but I'd never felt as desperate as this. It was just past midnight and very late for me. My dad was a strict 8pm-in-bed guy. I'd tell him that my in-town friends got to stay up late and he'd say, "well, then, move into town." I'd often fall asleep wondering how I could.

1am. I was so awake. I needed water or food, but I didn't dare leave the room. The kitchen had a massive set of windows that looked out into the night, and the door to the outside was perilously close to the refrigerator. I thought about how just a few hours ago the room was filled with the jubilant chiding of young boys taking on the world. I thought how it was only that morning my mom had been making pancakes in our well-lit home under a mountain sun. Now I was weighing my options. My mind was turning everything into a hazard. Emotional havoc was setting in.

Looking north was the TV. The boxy living room necessity gave me an empty dumb look like it had nothing to do with my predicament. It lied (Poltergeist). To the right of that was Willi's room. How was this ten-year-old girl sleeping through such peril? To the right of her door and against the adjacent wall was the fish tank, and just to the right of that was another door. This door was opposite the entrance to the kitchen. It opened to the hallway that lead to Bert and Willi's parent's bedroom.

I wish that at the time that an older me could have walked in and told me to relax and get some sleep. He'd tell me that crawling into bed with your friend's parents could result in social suicide. But that guy didn't yet exist. That guy is here writing this story now because of what I did.

I whipped open to the door to the hallway. I flicked on the light as fast as I could. Bert's mom, being a mom, slept lightly enough that someone panicking in the hallway outside of her room woke her. She would emerge awake and worried. A maternal angel. A warm blanket in white hair and a nighty.

At the time I thought it was a very brave thing to tell her that I needed to sleep with her and her husband. Of course the far braver thing would be to tell her that everything was OK. I'd just heard something but I'm nearly twelve so I'll go back to bed. Because that's what I'd been doing. Sleeping. No problem. Love the big windows and wind shrieking and mental portraits of a soulless mad man coursing a chainsaw through me. And maybe she would have offered me some comfort and a glass of water, instead I just dove right in. I mean I literally made myself at home in her bed. In between Bert's dad, Bob, and Kathy, was me. Two warm parental masses and me, sleeping so soundly. Bob's snoring took me away on a magic digeradoo. I drifted...having no idea what I'd wake up to.

When I did rouse, no one else was in the bed. That gave me time to realize my full situation and appropriately gauge just how far from the inner circle I'd forever be. From the living room I could hear all of the well-rested kids running around and playing. I stood at the door and wondered if there were a fire alarm I could pull. Or if it would be believable for me to go out the front of the house and show up at the back as if I'd just been out all night?

And then I heard it. I heard Bert ask, "where's Jared." It was nice of him to think of me, I thought as I stared into white walls of my friend's parent's bedroom. Everybody joined Bert. Where is Jared? They asked. Sweet god kill me. Take me now. Star Trek, take me. That would be awesome to teleport home. Or anywhere else, really.

Someone asked humorously, "Did he go back home last night?" And, Jason, who'd always been a card replied, "Yes, he walked home to Gould." I chuckled like the chuckling me was a different person trying to make the regular me feel better. I looked around Bob and Kathy's room. I took a moment to escape and examine their mom and dad things. Cologne. Old pictures. I stared of one of a young Bob and wished I could be wherever he was.

At some point I was going to have to enter the living room. I had to pee so badly.

Let's just say that if there's an opposite to the grand entrance of a bride or a guest of honor, it would be when I left Bob and Kathy's bedroom to relieve myself. Although I could have peed in their closet and not lost any more face than I was about to lose.

In my pajamas, the tightly fitting bottoms that my mom had long ago implored me to part, I strolled into the living room as casually as one possibly can after one sleeps with another's parents. Bert, trying to be delicate but also trying to figure out new, chaotic world around him, asked aloud, "Did you...sleep in my mom and dad's bedroom?"

I begin with some kind of word gravy about "maybe, sure, you know...um"

Interjected was an accusation from someone about my being scared of the movies.

I did exactly what anyone in postion would do. I lied. Well, I elaborated. Simply to make me seem more complex and less predictable than a child who'd gotten really freaked out by a television, I said that I'd fallen asleep just fine. I shared with the half circle of curious boys that Brent had rolled over and knocked a pillow on me, and that woke me up. And, you know, once I'm awake...

"And once you're awake you sleep with parents?" queried Eric.

The irony being that for another chunk of my life, weeks maybe, I would not sleep all that well. This time not because of a horror movie, but because I kept thinking about doing it all over again. I'd think about how people were talking about it at school. I'd slept with Bob and Kathy Goemmel at Bert's twelfth birthday party.

No big deal, right? I'd say as I'd toss into another sleepless turn. It would be another six months until I was twelve, and I clung to that threshold, that goal, of when I would never again sleep with somebody's parents.

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

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

7. Stools

8. Futility

 The suspect pictured here in 2014.

The suspect pictured here in 2014.

9. Gravity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gangster style.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then he spoke.

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

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

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

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

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9-11 on your radio dial

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Dammit, Jared." Weird hearing her cuss. 

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

"Tell them to be nicer to each other."

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

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

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

"Mark, what do you think?"

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

"That sounded pretty good."

"What I said to her?"

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

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

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

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

"Help you do what?"

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

"I know, man. I know."

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

She came in with a public service announcement.

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

"Oh, christ, Focus."

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

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

"It really should go on the air."

"I'm kidding."

"I doubt that."

"It'll go."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Hello, The Peak!"

"You almost said assholes on the air."

"Oh, crap, did I?"

Laughter. 

Relief.

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

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

Mike, my boss, popped his head in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I can have Shawnee come in or--"

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

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

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

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

"Peak 95.1"

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

Back on the air.

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

"Yes, Jared."

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

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

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

Pause. I was going to cry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Hey, Mike!"

"Yes?"

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

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

"Mike?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Mike this is tough." 

Paternal laughter.

"It is tough."

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

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

"Yes. yep. Kyle?"

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

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

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

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Your Uh Nus: An astronomical misunderstanding

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

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

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

Otto: Let's go to Uranus!

Quin: Engaging engines.

Eliot: NO NO NO

Otto: What's wrong, Eliot?

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

Otto: Eliot, we're going to Uranus.

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

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

Pause. Shock.

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

Sarah: Maybe pronounce it YOUR UH NUS.

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

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

She unleashed.

Eliot: MY ANUS MY ANUS MYANUS!

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

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

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

Eliot: MYYYYYYYYY AAAAAAAAANUS! MINE!

Otto: We'll go to another planet.

Sarah: I think we're already there.

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

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

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

7. Stools

8. Futility

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

I'll try to explain what that means.

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

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

 The Homeland Security Advisory System is at orange.

The Homeland Security Advisory System is at orange.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Otto Walter and his goats.

Otto Walter and his goats.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Eliot's guide to destroying her father!

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

 

 

 

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now #7 Stools.

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

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

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

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

 Around the approximate time and place of the stool accident. 

Around the approximate time and place of the stool accident. 

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

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

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

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

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

So be careful with the stools. 

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

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Is your head in the right place?

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

“Welcome back, Otto!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Otto, what?”

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

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

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

And he let’s it out.

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

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

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

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

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Day 2 of Spring Break: Breaking up the Monopoly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Moments before the melee. 

Moments before the melee. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Another spring break, Day 1: What is art?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 This guy was alive when I started talking about art.

This guy was alive when I started talking about art.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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