My Father's Words

Tuesday, October 29, 2013 | 0 Comment(s)

My wife's phone recently began the short and rapid decline towards shitting-the-bedsville, and so today she went to the Apple Store to "check out her options."  Unsurprising to me, next to her name on the account were the magic words eligible for upgrade.  For those few of you who have been fortunate enough to avoid such ubiquitous entities as the Comcast Triple Play (the only know reason for people still having land lines), the Discount Double Check, and AT&T's upgrade eligibility, let me explain in brief.

Ever two years, with the renewal of your phone plan, you get about $450 off the price of a new iPhone.    That's about it.  If you aren't considering switching phone companies, it's a pretty sweet deal.

So, Erin is now forced to deal with the uncomfortable situation of treating herself to something nice.  This is not her forte.  It's not that she doesn't ever want anything nice, it is that she, like so many worthwhile people out there,  doesn't feel as if she deserves it.  And she does.  More than most people I know.  She stands in there and does the nose to the grindstone reading leg-work with these elementary schoolers, and then her thoughts hang on their every struggle and accomplishment.  I'm not saying she is female Jesus or the good-girl sister of Mother Teresa, but when it comes to spending $100 to get the phone she wants instead of the one that comes free, she's way good enough for that.  Not that goodness has ever been a requisite for consumption.  Nonetheless, I get the following text (edited):

"Phone's only mostly broke. Upgrade Eligible. Gonna get free one."

And as I respond, I realize they are my father's words I am typing, "Get the nicer one. You're worth it."

"You're worth it."

These three words form the cornerstone of my father's relationship toward my mother.  My dad views his entire galaxy in her eyes, and begs her to see just one of her stars reflected back.  And over the past few years, she's totally found her solar system.  In retirement my mom finally has the time she's needed to invest in herself, to see what a cornucopia of talents she can excavate.  Renaissance men come from renaissance women.

"Get the purple one.  You're worth it."

"Get the lobster.  You're worth it."

"Take the day off to visit your sister.  You're worth it"

And these comments pass by my childhood like lamented photo-album pages, their meaning seemingly insignificant as the page quickly folds over the last.  But the truth of understanding your partner's worthiness is a concept so fundamentally important that while the indirect objects have faded from my memory (the earrings, dinners, shoes…) the singular importance of the direct object (my mother) remains.

My dad stood behind me in the bathroom, applied shaving cream, and then taught me step by step how to shave without turning my face into a Freddie Krueger original.  When he taught me how to drive, he generously applied the lessor known air-arm-break, pumping his left arm vigorously as if trying to both stop our car while simultaneously propelling the oncoming traffic backward.  But, my dad never sat me down and told me how to be a good husband.  In truth, he didn't even pay much attention to my romantic partners over the years.  As an explanation for this uncharacteristic apathy, I would say that in my mind, prioritizing one woman maxed out his available resources.

But my wife's inability to understand that the "S" in iPhone 5S stands for 'spectacular', and that that is what she is, causes a visceral knee jerk response in me.  It propels me to remind her that without her, my legs don't reach the ground.  Without her love, I am Sandra Bullock floating away in space well past the event horizon of any Clooney rescue mission (no, I have not, and will not, see that panic attack of a movie). She warms my galaxies with her starlight, and her unsullied integrity is infinitely more valuable than a few extra dollars spent on a phone upgrade.

And as those words 'You're worth it' rush through the air above our heads in a million tiny little pieces, I think to myself, "my dad did teach me how to be a good husband, he just didn't sit me down first to tell me to pay attention." 

The Hard Cap: Part II

Friday, October 25, 2013 | 0 Comment(s)

Too catch yourself up, Part I can be found here.  Sometimes I like to wait months or even years before writing the second part to a series.  It's called suspense people, take notes!

When we last left our (anti-) hero, I was at a psychology conference in San Diego visiting my long lost friend Eric, his wife, and their three kids.  All of Eric's kids are beautiful, and I'm not just saying that to avoid an angry email from his wife.  Ages 2, 5, and 7(ish) at the time of my visit, I had an absolute blast alternating between pillow fights, iPhone games, and Cheerio feedings.   But what I'm here to tell you is that having 3 kids is absolute insanity.  It. Is. Insanity.

When you have three kids, even parents who stay together are outnumbered.  There is always an empty set of outstretched arms waiting to be picked up, both literally and metaphorically.  Life becomes a perpetual whack-a-mole of children's needs.  I'm not sold on having kids.  But if I do have kids, I've always entertained the possibility of raising siblings.  Perhaps simply as a function of having a sibling myself (and marrying a women with one sibling), I've never set in my mind that it was either no kids or one kid.  

But here's the thing ladies and gentlemen, and I'm putting it in writing, under no circumstances will I father more than two children (triplets aside).  There is an absolute hard cap at two

One night that I was in San Diego, we all went out to dinner.  One set of grandparents in tow, we rolled up to a Ground Round-like dinner joint around 5 pm.   Maybe 5:30.  As you might imagine, at this early stage in the evening the place was deserted, save for a few elderly couples and one other large family.  We were promptly seated at a long wooden table, and the kids were given crayon and menus to draw on.

Thus began Act One of The Loudest Dinner in Human History.  Once again, it's important for you to understand that these are in no way bad kids.  And, with the additional added arms of Grams and Gramps, the situation was never out of control.  But the simple physics of three children in a foreign dining situation is an extremely cacophonous, not to mention wiggly, event. 

fyi.  friends' kids not pictured

There was only one mini-tantrum.  A mere 15 to 20 seconds of true unbridled shrieking.  No big thing.  One of my favorite parts of this, Act Two, was how utterly nonplussed the serving staff was about the miniature person turning crimson whilst turned her volume up to 11.  It was pretty obvious that this was the kinda thing that literally happened every day round these parts.  It was equally obvious who the new guy working at the restaurant was, identified easily by his characteristic running around with milk glasses and small bags of French fries as if he were headed to defuse a bomb.

"I can fit the whole train in my mouth!"
Adult conversation was never an option.  Two sentences into any substantive story, and you would almost certainly be met by some form of food projectile crossing your field of vision.  And so the eight of us sat there, half the time eating, half the time keeping the peace, until slowly the food disappeared from the table.  As the kids settled into their special Kid's Meal desserts, the credits began to roll on this family night out on the town.  

"But, I can fit an even BIGGER train in MY mouth!"
I know that for many of you the gut reaction here is to believe that I'm lying in regard to how well behaved my friend's kids are.   And that is kind of my point.  These children are 'normal', funny, smart, outgoing, well-adjusted, sweet little kids.  Their 5-year-old son still occasionally steals his father's phone to text me a quick hello.  (And my heart grows 2 sizes when he does.) But there are three of them.  In the same way that the third juggling pin causes the whole equation to become perpetually in flux; having three kids is like juggling 7 pins that are covered in food, and screaming, and need to be changed.  On the really tough days, it feels like someone set all the pins on fire.

Often when I go out of my way to open a door for a mother attempting to grab a coffee whilst wrangling her herd of offspring, I get the response, "Oh, you must be a parent!"  When I tell them I'm not, they are dumbfounded.  They simply can't imagine how someone without kids themselves could appreciate how difficult raising them IS (none of this 'can be' bullshit)!  Well I'm here to tell you that raising one child is practically impossible.  Raising two kids is a life's work.  And having three or more kids is just plain bat-shit crazy.  So recognize and give props.  

For the record, there is also no such thing as "good and bad children."

I Can Be Political Too!

Saturday, October 19, 2013 | 0 Comment(s)

You know things are bad for the country when the prospects for the Democrats is at an all-time high, and yet none of them are celebrating.  That's been the situation these days in Washington as our congresspeople put the world on the brink of financial collapse in order to whine about how unfair it is that a watered-down version of universal healthcare that was deemed Constitutional by the Supreme Court and voted on by their bodies of legislature, is now the law of the land.

"We don't like it" cried the Republican Party.

"Obama is Hitler!" chanted the Tea Party Wing-nuts.

And that's all well and good.  Well no, it's not.  It's absolutely ridiculous actually.  It's ludicrous that the very people we have elected to represent us feel they have the moral authority to reject any laws they disagree with.  But, let's but this affront to the side for another day.

Make your stand Republicans.  State your case.  Submit your 'point of orders' in the House and the Senate.  But it should go without saying that you don't all up and shut down the government to make that point.  You don't sacrifice the lives of other human beings around the country, scientific research worldwide, and the financial well-being of every American citizen--just to make a stand for your point of view.  That's called a "hissy-fit," and we even admonish young children not to throw them. Here is an easy rule of thumb: If the Koch brothers are supporting the Democratic position (and the ground beneath your feet isn't crackling into world-ending magma) you need to GET YOUR ASS ON BOARD.  That is like a mongoose and a cobra going out for drinks. No, that's like a KKKlansman going down on a black transvestite.  It's a blue moon having a baby while on birth control and using a condom.  If the planets aline, just go with it.

And now, in the immediate aftermath of this self-inflicted disaster which cost the county billions, there are those in the GOP that are flouting this as a victory. As if they have become a they that is somehow completely removed and unaffected by the realities facing this country.  It's as if they have emotionally ceded from this country while simultaneously infiltrating and infusing themselves into its federal government.  It feels a bit psychotic to me.

But maybe Ted Cruz (I mean Rafael Edward Cruz) knows something we don't.  I mean, maybe he only has a year to live and has decided to try to accumulate as much notoriety as possible, in as little time as possible; consequences be damned.  In that case, this shutdown was a win for him.  And it would actually make a lot of sense, finally illuminating the origin of Ted's inexplicable hatred for health care.

As far as I can tell, Cruz has to be holding back some information, because otherwise it would be unfathomable that a guy born in Canada (his mom is a US Citizen) to the son of a Cuban defector, could be so anti-immigration.  He is against any path to citizenship.  Just to be 100% clear on this: "Ted" Cruz supports the position that were his Cuban father, who came to the States illegally to escape Fidel Castro in 1957, to come to Texas today, his son would not want there to be any way for him to become a U.S. Citizen.  Thankfully for the elder Cruz, his son hadn't been hatched yet, and he became a US citizen in 2005.

If Ted Cruz ran the world, not even his own father could be an American.  Pretty cold Rafael, pretty cold.

But back to the GOP celebration:  "We took them to the brink," they say.

"Three cheers for Boehner!"

Unfortunately for them, this time America seemed to be watching.  It was just too crystal clear this time that it was the Republican party's strategy to 'shut that whole thing down' as a response to the impending health care rape.  Liberals may like to believe that the Republican constituency is unintelligent, but everyone understands what it feels like to get screwed over.  And if you are one of the majority of Americans (political party be damned) who is working their ass off just to make ends meet, this shutdown affected you personally.  No amount of talking-head hedging can change that.  (Or, god forbid, denying that there was much of an effect at all, or even a benefit@!)

A political shift is taking place.  The rift emerging between the Tea Party and the other white Republicans has widened into a chasm, and I believe the next set of elections are going to be an eye-opener. Whether or not that will return our government to a state where it can be deemed a "working legislative body" remains to be seen.  Let's check back in a few months when a simple vote to increase the debt limit comes to the Senate again.

Said another way:

The Mystery of the Vomitous Bartender

Wednesday, October 16, 2013 | 3 Comment(s)

A few months ago I emailed my wife in the middle of the day.  I don't like to do that.  She's at work in an elementary school, and the last thing she needs on top of teaching her perpetual motion machines how to read is an email from her husband complaining about his day.

But on the particular morning in question, I began my morning routine as usual.  I drank a cup of coffee out of my Halloween mug, sat on the couch and responded to correspondences, and then took the dogs for a walk.  Upon returning from the walk, serious waves of nausea began thumping from my diaphragm, pulsing upwards.  Unclicking the dogs' harnesses, I harkened into the bathroom just in time to get my face over the toilet in time.  There really is nothing like watching your morning coffee go both ways.  I took my seat in the corner and continued heaving until every last drop of breakfast had been expelled.

And then, nothing. I felt totally fine once again.  No headache, no fever, just momentary explosive vomiting.  Ten minutes later I was out the door for work; no serious harm done.  It was seriously weird though.  I felt it was enough of a calamity that it warranted a spousal heads up.  I mean, if something happened to me throughout the day, having knowledge of my morning episode may be critical in my future care.  See, I worry sometimes.  And sometimes, sometimes, I worry all the time.  Well, most of the time I do.

Nothing ever did happen later in the day, so this whole scenario passed into my past like a bad memory of last night's drunken buffoonery.

Until about a month later when the same exact sequence occurred.  The coffee, the emailing, the dog walk, and the explosive but short-lived full-body retching.  Once again, about ten minutes after the incident, I felt fine and went on my way to work.  However, now I no longer believed this all to be a coincidence and I began to think there was a potential murder mystery unfolding.  We don't have a butler, but someone seemed hellbent on adding "throw up breakfast" to my morning routine.

Last week, when this horrific version of morning events happened for the third time, I started to Sherlock the situation.  If I had a blackboard at home, you would have seen multiple boxes with lines drawn to connect related events.  Real A Beautiful Mind shit going on.  It wasn't the dogs.  I mean, sure, the walk could be shaking up an already volatile concoction, but the dogs certainly weren't the source of the problem.  Perhaps, most obviously, I should blame the coffee.  I mean, it is the most 'active' ingredient in this whole equation, with its coming and its going.  But I drink that coffee most mornings; at least three days a week.  Why would it be a problem random mornings?  Just don't make no sense.

So I continued brainstorming the days' peripherals: Distressing emails? Corrosive Grape Nuts? My Halloween mug?  MY HALLOWEEN MUG!!! I used that mug on all of the mornings in question.

That has to be it.

I got that mug for my birthday (on Halloween) when I was about 15-years-old, so it has been in heavy and constant rotation for almost two decades.  It is one of my top three favorite mugs.  Or at least it was.  As far as I can deduce, the clear coat which separates the mug's glaze from the human mouth must have worn down to nothing, thus exposing the drinker to any toxins present in the composition of the clay (pewter?) or glaze.  Of course, having a piping hot liquid like coffee poured into the mug could only aid in the toxins' diffusion throughout my drink.  After putting those yummy corrosives into my belly, the walk with the dogs seemed to be the perfect combination of exercise, bouncing around, and digestion time to turn my body into a 2-liter bottle of Coke post-Mento infusion.  And, just as in the Coke-fountain, once the toxins were forcefully expunged, the chemical reactions ceased.
"Vomit, vomit was the case that they gave me..."

Now I know why that mug never looked me in the eyes.  Case closed.

On Parenthood

Wednesday, October 9, 2013 | 0 Comment(s)

As a married guy in his thirties, with a wife who is also in her thirties, I've begun to start giving some serious thought to what it means to be a parent.  And while it is somewhat ironic that we come to this moment, by definition, as current parental virgins (apologies for the mixed metaphor); thankfully most of us at least have the context of being someone's kid to draw from.  I'm lucky enough to have two someone's in my life.

I'm attempting to be upfront about the fact that while I do realize it is somewhat presumptuous to write about parenthood as a person with no children, that this is exactly when a lot of these ideas are functionally flushed out.  My wife will tell you that it is difficult not to at least consider motherhood when her coworkers find new and continually less inventive ways to insinuate that children must be on her imminent horizon.

We rarely have all the facts going into major life decisions.  If you're intelligent or lucky enough to actually get to make a decision in regard to becoming a parent, you'll be comforted to know that this decision is also made primarily in the dark; or at least partially blindfolded at dusk.

If I had to boil the (optimal) Parent/Child relationship into one dynamic (and, again, this is not flippant.  I've been giving it a great deal of thought), it would go something like this.

By (my) definition, parents try with all their might to protect their children from the fundamental truth that life is hard; for everyone. Existence is, at its core, a fickle bitch.  Parents throw themselves in front of the oncoming train of suffering to squeeze in just a few more moments in which their children believe chicken pox are the worst thing out there.

Children, by (my) definition, are born questioners; they are born to seek answers.  And in this developmental trajectory it is inevitable that the child information gatherer will happen upon the slings and arrows that mark the way to adult suffering.  When this happens, the parent reacts as stated above, and uses every resource available to relieve said difficulty and assure the child of its momentary and fleeting nature.

As thus begins the building of tension between the two, parent and child.  The child becoming ever aware that there is a secret being kept and that they are not being let in on.  The parent knowing that once the secret is told, there is no way to close Pandora's box.

Rules. Boundaries. Curfews.  All of these things are seen as necessary tools as part of a parents' continuing attempt to keep their child corralled inside a impenetrable fortress of blissful naiveté.  A place of simple feelings like happy and joy and childhood.

But maybe that kid got fiercely picked on in middle school, or beat up in high school, or embarrassed on the internet, and a wave of suffering came to pass that was so large it surged over the child like a drowning surfer raked over coral.

What happens then?  What happen then, when the red-eyed child, Butterfly-filleted heart in hand, seeks empathy from the parent?

More often than not, they get sympathy.  They get the comfort of being an other, of having somehow a less developed set of emotions.  Because if not, and the parent admits that the suffering is real, and now, and endless, then they must stand there and watch as that inevitable train plows through their child unrepentantly.  And that is unfathomable.

And thus, they find themselves at an impasse.

Drunk Lit. 101

Friday, October 4, 2013 | 0 Comment(s)

Embracing the writing profession has a number of daunting hurdles.  Among the highest of these pommels is the undeniable marriage of writer & liquor.  I can't picture any famous dead writers, men or women, without a scotch/whiskey/bourbon/red wine/port/digestive in their hand.  I mean, the drink may be on the table beside them if their off-hand is weighed down by their cigar/cigarette/pipe/joint.

And while the 20's through the 70's, and then also the 90's (oh 80's, you know you loved your coke best) lauded the noble misunderstood alcoholic; drinking problems jumped the shark somewhere in the mid-2000's.  Now in 2013, enjoying some dark liquid in the afternoon creates long-spreading whispers of "intervention" on the wind.

But now that I've developed somewhat of a writing routine, I am finally beginning to understand why the sauce and script have always gone hand in hand.  Come afternoon, I can no longer throw down any more milligrams of caffeine.  I am the preverbal, 'wired'.  Not only am I vibrating, but my tushie has squished itself into a series of 90 degree angles so as to accommodate the wooden chair I've strapped myself into for the past four hours.  It is time to change locations.

I don't want to go home.  It's not that home is bad, per say.  But at home lies doggies and laundry and dishes and vacuuming and countless other routine responsibilities that can be put off til evening if I don't bail out now.  Panera is always open, but even their free wifi can't compensate for the way I am forced to re-experience their cinnamon-bun frosting coating the inside of my arteries.

So what's left?

I'll tell you what's left, it's the gorgeous mother-fucking bars that spin their signs to WELCOME just as my literary hands require a table.  A noble beer is an exceedingly small price to pay for the jovial camaraderie of a bar hall, and oftentimes a booth all to myself.  So I grab a quick pint and sit down to start tip-tapping away.  And as my hands spin into a blur of beaks pecking away, I no longer have the desire to relocate again.  And so a whiskey it is.  As the pages scroll down and my premise deepens, I feel the tinge of a buzz working its onomatopoeia along the base of my cranium.  I type through the gentle elation, realizing that anything I write from here out will be equal parts genius and in need of later revision. The final drops of liquid drain from my rocks glass and any momentum I have accumulated towards conclusion spills out and over of the lip of my electronic paper.  In the glow of my computer monitor I see the light at the end of the bottle, both literally and literarily.