Thursday, April 24, 2008

Ships Passing in the Night

Throughout our lives, the random people we encounter mostly cross our paths for such a brief moment, but the impact or the memory of that person can last a lifetime, even if those memories flood your mind unannounced and for no apparent reason. If we look back on the road we have traveled, it is a web of intersections and junctions, crisscrossing with the lives of so many other people on our seemingly austere journey to an ultimate and inevitable end. Most of the people whom we meet we will never see again for the rest of our lives, and even those that we swore to remember forever have drifted into anonymity. Best friends one year, and 10 years later, you can hardly remember their names. The memories, good times, bad times… it all seems to disappear into the fuzziness of the past, and even those friendships you held so dear for so long will eventually fade away, never noticed, never missed…never again.

It’s rather sad, two ships passing in the night, each not knowing of the other nor realizing how close you were to each other or the unsettling feeling of rolling through each other’s wake without understanding from where it came. Nothing but blackness and a hole in the world where something had once been.

My memory is fickle most times and downright unreliable the rest. I sometimes couldn’t tell you what I did the day before last, who I spoke with on the phone an hour after I hung up them or what I ordered for lunch moments after I put down the menu, but I have a knack for remembering the strangest things and the oddest experiences in my past, things that left an impression, an impact, but mostly it is as though I have a random synapse firing off a completely arbitrary memory of something unrelated to anything in my current life.

There’s a quote from “Citizen Kane” when the much older Bernstein is speaking with the reporter after Kane’s death, and he’s sharing his thoughts on the very topic I’m addressing. He says:

“A fellow will remember a lot of things you wouldn't think he'd remember. You take me. One day, back in 1896, I was crossing over to Jersey on the ferry, and as we pulled out, there was another ferry pulling in, and on it there was a girl waiting to get off. A white dress she had on. She was carrying a white parasol. I only saw her for one second. She didn't see me at all, but I'll bet a month hasn't gone by since that I haven't thought of that girl.”

Sometimes the most random of faces and names will flash into my mind for no discernable reason at all. What is stranger than that is the people I most often remember weren’t my close friends all those many years ago; in fact, the people I most often remember I hardly knew at all growing up.

Tony Romano was in the second grade, a year younger than us at the time, and I don’t remember anything about him besides his math skills. He had messy blonde hair, a narrow pale face with freckles and thick black rimmed glasses. He was very easily excited, probably what we’d call ADHD today, but there was no label to describe him then, just hyperactive, somewhat of a geek. I don’t remember him being especially smart, but they had to pull him out of classes during the day so he could get special attention for his math. Not that he was a poor math student, but instead just the opposite. He was doing sixth grade math in the second grade. Part of me thought that was fantastic, but the other part thought it was incredibly strange, considering how immature he seemed at the time. When he got really excited about something, or when something was especially funny, I remember that he used to stick his fist in his mouth like Squiggy on “LaVerne and Shirley,” which of course seemed odd to an eight-year-old.

When I remember Brenton King, for some reason, I always feel just a little sad. I only knew him for a short time, up until the second grade, but after that, he moved away or went to a different school because I never saw him again. He was slow, a soft gentle talker and very sensitive boy. I remember he had a funny smile and he always smiled, his teeth crooked and his hair was always cut really short, a buzz or a flat top. The only two memories I have of him are that I went to his birthday party at Burger King when we were five or six and the time when Sean (I forget his last name) pulled his chair out from under Brenton.

This happened in the second grade, Mrs. Bracken’s class, and Brenton sat on the south side of the room in the middle of a long row of desks. Even thought it was nearly 30 years ago, I remember it distinctly. Mary Kate Leos and I were desk mates and our desk was perpendicular to this long row (picture a multi-legged letter E). One day, when Brenton went to sit down in his chair, which was right next to ours, Sean yanked the chair out from under him, just as a joke. Not only did Brenton plop down on the floor, but he also whacked the back of his head on the chair, which made him cry. I can picture his tear-streaked face like it just happened this morning; Sean got sent to the office and Brenton’s mom had to come and take him home.

Maybe that’s why I’ve always felt bad for him, as that’s the only memory I have of him that still has any clarity left to it, or maybe it is because I knew then that he was a little different, a little slow, disadvantaged. My memories of him now are often coupled with a wish for his success in life. I’d be curious to know what he has become and where he might be today.

There are several other people that I often think about, random unlikely people that have probably never breathed my name after last seeing me… but for some reason, their faces—the faces that I remember most, third grade faces, playground faces, crying faces, are the only ones I can remember. The memories of them surround small snippets of scenes from my childhood, like snapshots in an old photo album, unrelated to each other, out of context and indescribable enough to make any sense out of them.

So why would I remember them, and why is it that those memories haunt me more frequently than do the memories of my close friends of the time? Memories involving my good friends at the time—Mark Lee, Andy Evans, Dom Covello, Scott Graf—hardly ever blink into my consciousness on some random Tuesday when I’m stuck in traffic or brushing my teeth. Maybe it is because of the mystery. I know what Mark, Andy, Dom and Scott have made of their lives. Where is Micah Knowle? What happened to Erin Landers or Brian Leech? Brandy McElliott was a realistic can of soup for Halloween in the fifth grade, while Eric Thornton pushed me down in Mr. Hanchett’s fourth grade class (I faked a knee injury so he’d get in more trouble, that bully!).

Most of the time I just try to picture what they are doing now, who they have become and what accomplishments they might have reached in the years since I had last seen them. I assumed they had all turned out like me: married, children, happy, doing things they enjoyed hopefully, at least content with what life had handed them and what the future has in store.

…at least that’s what I had hoped for another person I knew of in school.

I can’t really say that I knew her as in we were friends or that we even talked at all; I’m not sure if we ever had a class together all throughout school. I knew of her, but I doubt she even knew who I was. In high school, she was in special ed classes and I never saw her. She kept mostly to herself in grade school and middle school, but it wasn’t like she had much of a choice in the matter. Christy Lane was one of those girls in school that had no friends, at least not that I could tell. I don’t remember ever seeing her smile, and in the seven yearbooks I have, she is only smiling in her Senior picture. Behind her antique-looking wide round glasses, she had vacuous eyes that seemed to lack comprehension. The girls called her names behind her back and made ruthless fun of the way she dressed and the things that she said. Gargoyle was the most popular nickname, the one that stuck anyway, and I always hated to hear her be called that…as it was probably one of the cruelest things I had ever witnessed growing up. She didn’t deserve it; it wasn’t her fault that she had some problems.

Christy didn’t have anyone to help her with her appearance as she always looked as if she had just been playing in the dirt. Her hair was long and stringy—probably had never been cut—and it was always loose down her back. In high school, she was probably the only girl never to wear makeup, and her clothes looked as though her mom made them or they came second hand. However, again, her Senior picture contradicts everything I remember about her…

There is no reason why I should remember her at all. Like I said, I don’t remember ever even speaking to her, as our schooling was done in different parts of the campus and we rarely crossed paths, but I will always remember the time that Jason came home told me what had happened to her one day. I was either in the sixth grade or a freshman in high school, I don’t remember, but Jason said that some of the older girls had taken her aside in gym class and gave her kind of a makeover. They washed her hair and put some makeup on her, and every time I think of her, I think of that story and it sometimes restores my faith in society a little… at least it balances out the torment and ridicule I had seen her suffer through.

Last Saturday, I was standing in the bookstore on Glendora Avenue, waiting for the owner to return so we could iron out the details of my book signing engagement (see the last post), and in through the back door walks two women, obviously mother and daughter and more obviously members of the Lane family. To me, there was no mistaking that it was Christy and her mother, as she looked exactly the same as the last time I might have seen her 20 years ago, just perhaps a little chunkier.

Immediately, I approached her and said, “Christy, do you remember me?”

She looked at me with a confused twist in her eyes, amplified by the same style of thick glasses. But instead of an explanation, she only replied, “I’m Cindy.”

There was an awkward moment of silence while they both stared at me, all of us waiting to see what was going to happen next. I was thinking they would tell me how Christy was doing or where she was, but after a second or so, I gave in and asked.

Her mother looked at me somewhat stricken, a little surprised that I might be broaching the topic and even slightly hesitant to speak. She nodded her head a little with an amicable simper on her pursed lips, as if she was still trying to accept what she was about to say: “Christy has passed on.”

My heart sank. I felt terrible, dreadful. What could I say? How do you react to something like this? It was a shock on several levels. “I’m so sorry,” was all I could blurt out. “When did this happen?” I pressed, thinking that it must have been recent, especially considering the level of despondency in her voice and that gloomy pall that came over her as she told me.

Her mother couldn’t remember…and that’s when I knew something was wrong. Looking more closely at her now as she struggled with her thoughts and fumbled over a few odd words, she was overcome with twitches and ticks. Words wouldn’t form. She started to say something, then stopped, and all the while Cindy stood at her side, silent and motionless, arms hanging limp at her sides, just waiting and observing. The mother looked at me with apology in her eyes, shaking her head in frustration because she couldn’t come up with the date, even a rough estimate of when her daughter had died.

I stood there in astonishment, partly struck by the overwhelming grief of dredging up this tremendously uncomfortable scene and partly dumbfounded because her own mother couldn’t remember when her daughter died. I realized, however, that it wasn’t her fault. Whatever had affected the Lane girls throughout their lives had started with the mother, no doubt.

Finally she came up with the answer. Christy had died just before turning 25, but the details were few. “She was in San Francisco,” her mother was able to explain, “when she caught a bug and she died quickly.”

All I could say again was that I was sorry… sorry to hear it, sorry to make her remember it, sorry that the whole conversation had even happened. How was I to know, of course? One thing the mother said to me before they turned their attention to a couple of books that were set aside for them at the store was that Christy’s death “was horrible.” What expression her face now lacked—another trait of the Lane girls—was made up for in her eyes. They were volatile, like a madness trying to break free. Right then and there, the more glassy they got, the more I thought she would begin to scream out at the world for what had happened. “It was horrible.”

After they left, I was told that they have always experienced problems, and I didn’t share that I knew that to be true ever since I first saw Christy in grade school. Every Saturday, without fail, Cindy and her mom would come to the bookstore and pick out a book or two; if there was one they didn’t buy that week, they would ask that it be held for the following week.

For the rest of the day, I was troubled by it… actually, I still am, as Christy joins a short list of only three people I knew during school that have died. Aaron Leos accidentally shot himself while playing with a gun and Chris Williams died of a drug overdose just last year. I’m sure there’s more.

I think I am most upset, not because she died (which is troubling all by itself), but by how she lived. Maybe she eventually ended up being happy life and that she found some outlet that provided her some joy…but for the Christy that I knew and saw from time to time while growing up, that happiness must have been the brass ring, a childhood impossible dream, made even more difficult to obtain by her obstacles, both personal and social.

And what strikes me to be the most devastating is that she was finally at a time in her life when she was free from it all. No little high school bitches calling you names, no stigmas to overcome, no social skills to master, no special ed classes to suffer through…none of it but the rest of your life to make what you want of it. Go where nobody knows you and you can start fresh. I doubt she went to college, but maybe she did. Maybe she got the help that she needed and she was on her way up in life when she left Glendora. Why was she in San Francisco? College? Family? Medicinal reasons? Maybe to get away from Glendora and all the negative memories of a tortured childhood? Whatever it was that took her there, at least she was away from the people that caused her such misery.

I think that’s what hurts the most is knowing that she had gone through so much as a child only to have it taken away right at a time in her life when she might have been on the verge of becoming her own person. Maybe I’m all wrong, but it doesn’t change the fact that there were remorseless kids in school who ruthlessly called her Gargoyle and made fun of what she was just for the sake of being cruel… and now she’s dead.

My memories of her feel more poignant now than ever, and I guess I can be glad that I have them.

What a world this is…

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Who Would You Like Me To Make This Out To?

I have always been one to be in the background, behind the scenes, behind the camera and out of reach from the prying eyes of judgmental people who criticize, evaluate and condemn most everything one does. I know because I do it too. Which is why you’ll never find me purposely attracting attention from large groups of people, and I’ll very rarely put myself “out there.” Perhaps I fear people’s opinion or maybe I don’t want to stick my creativity on the line only to have it chopped off.

Maybe I’m just plain old insecure about my abilities, but one of the joys of writing is that I don’t have to talk to people or interact with them in any way. I can hide behind my words, duck behind the articles without having to face anyone reading it. I can say whatever I want here, because the second I hit “publish post,” I no longer have to deal with it. I’ve satisfied my urge to create without the repercussions of listening to the immediate reaction of doing so. There was no bigger fear in my life growing up than to have my teacher read out loud to the class something that I wrote...and for an introvert like me, it happened all the time. My face would burn with embarrassment like I was being singled out for the firing squad.

Whatever it is, I was hesitant—nay, reluctant—nay again, down right averse—to attend the book signing of my own book, one that I wrote, so much so that I almost didn’t do it at all. It’s not that I don’t want to promote the book, I do, as the more it sells the more I’ll get paid, but I think it comes down to not wanting to pat myself on the back for something that didn’t take a whole lot of skill and effort to accomplish. Eighteen thousand words and 189 pictures is a walk in the park to me, especially put in the context that all of my blog entries here total nearly a half million (this blog alone is over 2800 words). So, after all, I just wrote a book; it wasn’t War and Peace.

Plus, I’m just not that important to warrant all the fuss. For some reason, that sort of promotion, that level of availability, makes me very uncomfortable… I’m not sure why, as it has nothing to do with being in front of people; I can take that with a grain of salt. However, I think it has more to do with an unworthy justification of what I have accomplished. Who am I to inject value in my signature on the end pages of a book that took little effort to complete? Writing a book… more succinctly…writing a bunch of captions, doesn’t, in my opinion, bring cause to celebrate a book signing tour, as if I’m pleading for validation.

It’s arrogant, conceited and self-aggrandizing—I’m just a regular person—and it makes me feel as though I built a pedestal if only for myself to stand upon.

Well, my kicking and screaming went unabated while the publisher scheduled two book signing engagements for me, back-to-back on consecutive Saturdays, this last one and the one coming up. Originally, the first one last Saturday was supposed to be at a small bookstore in Glendora, a hole-in-the-wall place that caters to a surprisingly large clientele of people who have specific tastes and difficulty finding rare short-run titles. I pictured myself sitting at a table in the corner listening to crickets and watching the occasional tumbleweed roll by, nary a pen to paper the whole time.

The entire ordeal unleashed a flurry of emotional anxieties.

First off, I vexed over anyone even showing up. There were a couple of local newspaper articles the week before, and the bookstore does a newsletter, but part of my personality as someone who doesn’t consider what he does as important, I had a tough time thinking anyone would be interested in attending such an affair. The book? Sure, it’s a good one (by comparison to the last one someone did about Glendora) and people will surely buy it, but who is going to go out of their way to have me write my name in it? It doesn’t make it any more valuable. I’m not Steinbeck or even Bombeck, so why bother with the extra trouble? My fame as an author extends to my immediate family and friends (roughly those that have suffered enough to read down this far and who will still read on), and to everyone else (especially to me), I’m just a guy who knows how to type and who has too much free time.

Then I discovered that no, I won’t be able to hide in the corner of a quiet bookstore safely on the fringes of the limelight, but instead, I will be set out in public, smack dab in the middle of an Earth Day Festival on the patio between the City Hall and the Public Library. Great. Just great.

When it was in the bookstore, I had accepted the situation and came to terms with it only because that my insecurities were safeguard and insulated by the fact that the people who came into the store were at least interested in books. That’s an important factor to consider when signing them, that the people you will come into contact can actually read. At a festival, outside, in public… there will be gobs of slack-jawed yokels scavenging the various booths for free swag, logoed bags with witty puns about the environment and informative pamphlets about global warming and what you can do about it. They don’t want to buy a book, not when Wal-Mart is giving away Frisbees two booths over, nor when you can have the company that collects your trash paint semi-adorable animals on your children’s faces. No, these people don’t read. The ones that do are at the bookstore…where the books are.

I just had to suck it up and start to sell myself to the masses… like a John Hancock whore, and make my name big enough so King George III can see it. There was nothing I could do but bring a pen and a smile, all the while hoping the foul thoughts and acrimony for the general public didn’t punch through my teeth. I don’t expect everyone who picks up a copy of it to buy it, but don’t be surprised by the incredulous in the tone of my response when you ask if it is free, okay?
Then, I fretted over which pen to use…I didn’t want it to smear the moment I closed the book and handed it to its new owner. I didn’t want it to look too thick, like a crayon in the hands of a two-year-old. I didn’t want it to leave unwanted spaces while I wrote—some pens do that when I sign my name, like it can’t keep up with the top of my R or the curve of the P. Mostly, I didn’t want the pen to exacerbate my terrifically poor penmanship.

There is a reason I learned to type and there’s a reason I type everything, and those reasons are the same: It is because I was supposed to be left handed. I’m better off right-handed, for sure, as I never had to search out that one left-handed desk in class (which is always in the back). I can cut using 99 percent of all the scissors I’ve ever seen in my whole life. My hand doesn’t get discolored from running through the ink of what I had just written, and I don’t have to distort my wrist, arm and shoulder to write a grocery list. However, I have often wondered that if my parents hadn’t changed me from a lefty to a righty (and I don’t blame them, as it was for the best at the time), that my penmanship might have been better, as if my brain is wired to write with my left more naturally and therefore better.

In his book Right-Hand, Left-Hand, Chris McManus of the University College London, argues that “The proportion of left-handers is rising and left-handed people as a group have historically produced an above-average quota of high achievers. He says that left-handers' brains are structured differently in a way that widens their range of abilities, and the genes that determine left-handedness also govern development of the language centers of the brain.”

Since Matthew’s a lefty (it is a hereditary trait) and we’re going to leave him this way, it will be an interesting experiment.

Either way, I was probably doomed to write horribly, but I am embarrassed by it nonetheless. A writer is supposed to have nice writing. After all, it is right there in his job description. Alas, if you cut off a chicken’s head and beat the rest of him onto a piece of paper, the scratchings from his flailing legs would be more legible than me on my best day. Everyone who has ever received anything hand-written from me has probably said to themselves, “What the hell does that say? Is that an E or a Q?”

Anyways, I needed a pen, a good one, not a Montblanc or a Caran d’Ache, nothing that I’d have to take out a second on the house, just a sturdy pen that would fulfill a few basic criteria. This was the first time I’ve ever signed a book commercially for the general public… so what would J.K. Rowling do (I mean, besides swim in a pool filled with the tears of her ex-husband who divorced her before she started her billion-dollar writing career)? What sort of pen does she use to sign her books?

A couple of days before my signing, I stood before a sea of pens at Staples, deciding on which one to get. I had gone through most of the pens in my general collection, from a couple of my favorites that I use on a daily basis to a few that I’ve actually been keeping for a special occasion (including my Montblanc…which sadly no longer writes) and I discounted them all, deciding that none of them would do. The paper of the book is thick, thirty pounds at least, but it is coated slightly so I figured that any regular ball-point pen would smear. However, given the options, I still wanted a ball-point pen (like a Bic) over a felt-tip one (like a Sharpie), for its clarity and integrity in maintaining a steady line even through the wispy parts of my signature. There are God knows how many pens at Staples, so even my limited criteria hardly narrowed down my options.

I stayed clear of the gel grips with the fancy colors and the one-off body designs, just a flash in the pan of the pen industry, like a Swatch Watch is to a Rolex: sure, they’ll both tell time, but a Swatch is clunky and awkward... and will be out of fashion before you have to replace the battery. I wanted something simple but classy, so I focused on the pens with removable caps. A clicking pen just smacks of a ticket-writing cops or a professor who is about to tear a new hole in your term paper. There is no credibility behind that plastic snap of a pen click; instead it just says I don't have the time to bother taking care of this properly so I'm just going to grab whatever pen I find handy and dash off a quick boilerplate response followed by a reasonable facsimile of my autograph.

On the other hand, when someone pulls out a pen from the breast pocket of their suit that requires the extra effort—two hands no less—to remove the cap before he can write anything, then you know that what he is about to write will have a lasting effect and it will be important... that you are important to him. It says that I won’t lose this cap for the life of the pen and what I am about to put on paper means something to me. Capped pens say that I’m responsible, and I won’t rely on needless mechanism to retract my nib into its housing when I can surround it by a fully functioning case that not only serves a purpose but looks good too.

I looked for something narrow and sleek and definitely a dark body with just a touch of chrome. But also I needed something lightweight so my hand wouldn’t get tired, which contrasts with the pig of a pen I use on a daily basis here in my office. I like it because I don't have to press so hard, as the weight of the pen does that for me. The downside is that fat and heavy pens are difficult to manage, and you’ll end up swinging wide most of your fancy arcs, which will then look fumbled. Unless, of course, you are a slow writer, then get a fat pen so those little hand jerks won’t be so exaggerated as they would be with a lightweight pen.

I ended up going with a black Uni-Ball 1.0mm Jetstream, a three-dollar rollerball pen (an upgrade from a ball-point pen) noted especially for its quick drying ink to resist smearing and its smooth roller action, which is like saying it is a high performance pen. It is a pen endorsed by Frank W. Abagnale, if that means anything to you. I’m sure he’s signed his share of books (as well as forged checks) in his life, so he might know what he is talking about.

So, I sat there on the patio of the library and answered questions from people who became disinterested in the answer as soon as they had finished asking the question, and I started to be able to tell immediately the three types of people in society by merely looking at them:

1. Signed Author Book Buyers: These people would buy any book directly from the author, and you can tell them immediately because they come directly to the table and pick up the book for a quick examination. I fall into this category. If I happen upon an author hocking his wares, I’ll bite and buy a copy of his book. For starters, I intimately know how he feels and I can relate to the bevy of emotions he is carrying around, all of it spread out for the world to see in his freshly printed book. Plus, he might be the next Steinbeck and I’m young enough to be able to wait it out, eventually having in my possession a signed first edition. If not, then it goes on the shelves with the 1300 other books in my library.

2. The Book Wafflers: They want to buy the book because it piques their interests either as a resident of Glendora or a local history readers, but something is keeping them back. They’re distinguishable from the crowd because they’ll study the book for about 20 minutes before making a decision. For one Waffler, I had to defend the publishing company because it got a bad rap for publishing the first Glendora book (mostly because of its crapulence, wrong facts, poorly written captions, you know, the basic suckitude that goes with lack of research on the part of the author, etc.). On the other hand, some people just don’t want to spend the money and I can respect that. Twenty bucks is pretty steep for a book of that size (just under 200 pages), but I don’t set the prices, so there’s nothing I can do about it. The Wafflers usually engaged me in some small conversation about writing the book, then quietly put it back and make their slow exit, trying to be as casual and unnoticeable as possible.

3. The Illiterate Morons: These folks are just trolling for something free, be it an entry card on how to win two hundred bucks, a flyer on hazardous waste dump stations in the valley or a t-shirt for signing up with a credit card (which will end up being the most expensive “free” shirt they ever bought). They stroll by the booth, hardly slowing down while their eyes scan the tables like it is a swap meet at a drive-in parking lot; they’re looking for deals, something for nothing. They have no interest in reading, no interest in history and no interest in learning anything. For them, a D in school meant Done. They might pick up the book and give it a glance, but they’ll quickly put it back when they find out it isn’t free. Thankfully, they won’t say anything to me or ask me any questions. They just move on to the free energy saving light bulbs at the next booth.

Overall, it was a good three hours, and for my first public signing of a book, I found some rewarding moments. My family was there to help take off some of the anxiety and pressure of being exposed to the public, and Natalie was very excited to see someone actually buy one and for me to actually sign it. She kept coming back to the booth to ask me how many I had sold since the last time she asked, which may have been no more than five minutes before. We sold a bunch of books, which was the main purpose for the store owner, of course, but I thought we would have done more.

I accepted a great deal of compliments about the book—which is always nice to hear—and I ended up with a sunburn on my face, which is about par for my pale white skin, something I try hard to keep out of the limelight.

On that note, I was happy when it was over, of course, because it meant that I could slink back into the shadows of anonymity, at least until next Saturday when I’ll be doing it again at Barnes & Noble on Gladstone (from noon until two).


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Swearing in Music

I've got lots of things to blog about, but that would require me going downstairs to find my camera and upload the appropriate photos to illustrate the blog... I just don't feel like it. Instead, there's this, something I thought you might find interesting:

So somebody thought it was a good idea to censor our music, at least, put a big bold note in big bold letters on the CDs that we buy that the music contained therein uses strong language. It always makes me laugh, as if they were trying to protect someone, our young ears, our sensitivities, our innocence.

It makes me laugh considering the fact that these same people who pass these kinds of laws are from a generation that started putting “strong language” into music to begin with. Take the Kingsman’s version of “Louie Louie” for example. Sure, there isn’t a swear word in there, but the lyrics were so convoluted that everyone thought it was chock full of sexual innuendo. That alone made a sub-par song which had failed on the charts three previous times to become a cult success. Instead, it was just a song about a sailor complaining to some guy named Louie about having to leave his girlfriend for the sea.

However, there is a host of songs that get regular play on the radio that have several uncensored four-letter words right in them…and nobody seems to mind for some reason. Have you ever seen a Steve Miller album with a Parental Advisory sticker on it... or the Beatles maybe?

For starters, The Who’s “Who Are You?” their 1966 hit has two instances of the F-word, at 2:16 and 5:43. Both times it is clear as a bell, yet it gets airtime and nobody has made a big deal about it.

At 4:13, Ronnie Van Zant of Lynyrd Skynyrd ad libs “My doughnuts, goddamn” in “Sweet Home Alabama.” Although it isn’t much of a swear word these days, it is one of the few words you can’t get away with on TV… yet you can on the radio.

Steve Miller’s “Jet Airliner” was released in 1977 which included the following lyrics in the third part:

That I don’t want to get caught up in any of that
Funky s**t goin’ down in the city

Of course, sometimes I’ve heard the S-word replaced with “kicks” but more often than not the original is played as Paul Pena wrote it.

One mention of the S-word that is hardly ever edited out is Pink Floyd’s “Money,” from their 1973 Dark Side of the Moon album.

Money, its a hit.
Don’t give me that do goody good bulls**t.

It is hard to find something to replace the rhyme with “hit” so some versions merely leave it out, which is called the “bull-blank” version of the song.

I know I’m missing some… Soundgarden’s “Outshined” has the S-word in it. Pearl Jam takes a little farther by throwing in the "...harmless little F-bomb" in “Jeremy,” both of which always make it onto the airwaves with little trouble. An interesting one that I hear frequently is Prince’s 1984 B-side song “Erotic City,” where he exclaims in the chorus: “…we can f**k until the dawn…” It has been said that he was saying “funk,” which makes no sense, but maybe enough to allow it to remain uncensored, despite the fact that the song is completely sexual in nature, from the title to the last lines (which contains the F-word).

However, here’s one that may surprise you: Have you ever listed to “Hey Jude” by the Beatles? Sure you have. It seems like a pretty innocent song, not one that should be included here, but turn it up loud and pay attention around the three minute mark, 2:57 to be exact. Someone says the F-word, who knows who. The exact words are this: Someone yells out “Chord” for whatever reason, which is then followed by what sounds like “f**king hell.” English accent and all.

And we have to have those black and white Parental Advisory labels on our music these days? C’mon Tipper Gore and the Parents Music Resource Center. Swearing has been in music long before you’ve ever considered looking.

I know, I'm nearly 25 years too late to consider making this arguement against Parental Advisory stickers (and I suppose it might even bother me if I actually purchased music), but I thought the references to these popular songs made for an interesting connection.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

I’m Gonna Knock You Upside The Head

My grandmother use to tell Jason and I that if we didn’t behave, she would take one of us and knock the other in the head with him, which we always found wildly hilarious. Just the image of my grandmother picking up one of us by the ankles like a 2x4 and swinging him at the head of the other had us rolling on the floor. We would further exasperate her by asking such running-gag nonsensical musings like, “What if there were five of us?” She would play along by responding, “I would take one of you and knock the other four in the head with him.” Again, hilarity followed, and we would continue to ask the same question but with an ever-increasing number of kids for as long as she could stand it.

In her honor, I’ve tried to include this little threat with Matthew and Natalie, telling them that I would take one of them and knock the other in the head with him if they didn't behave, but so far, they haven’t caught on to the second dimension of the joke. I look forward to when they do, because it means that my grandmother didn’t threaten violence on us young kids in vain.

Meanwhile, I didn’t fully consider that Natalie would take the whole knock-yourself-in-the-head-so-they-have-to-call-the-paramedics seriously, otherwise I would have answered the phone this morning.

Mondays for me means a long meeting via conference call with all of the guys on my team as well as my immediate editor and sometimes some other project well wishers who have some impractical suggestions on how to get our tasks completed under budget and on time, which we have rarely been either. The call lasts from around 10:30 until nearly noon, at which time I have to pick up Gnat from school. During the beginning of the call, I can keep Matty busy with TV and when he gets bored, he’ll come up and make funny noises/faces at me until I have to cover the phone so my people won’t hear their leader laughing for random reasons (it’s the first sign of insanity).

Today was no exception from any typical Monday. Gnat was off to school and Matthew and I were left to our own devices until my conference call. However, the coincidental thing that made today different was that I was expecting a couple of phone calls. I usually don’t try to do anything that might disrupt my meetings but since we’re getting the house refinanced I expected a call from the broker and one from an appraiser. About 10:45, only 15 minutes into my meeting, the call waiting started beeping. I couldn’t click over at that part of the meeting because I was doing most of the talking, plus I’m not a “click over” kind of guy when it comes to call waiting. That’s why it’s called “call waiting.” I’m on the phone, your call can wait. A couple of minutes later, the call waiting beeped again, which made perfect sense to me: The loan broker contacted the appraiser to call me and set up an appointment and that guy was taking care of business.

But, a few minutes later, call waiting beeped in again. Okay, someone else is calling. Then it did it again… and again. Even though someone was obviously trying their best to reach me, I made the assumption it was the loan broker diligently checking to see if I had returned home yet so I could lock in the current rate (talking to him gave me the impression he was really on the ball).

About 11:00, Matthew arrives on the scene in my office and proceeds in his usual antics, and it is at this time I get up and walk around the house, partly to amuse Matthew and partly to get away from him so I can get a few words in edgewise in my meeting without having a giggly kid in the background. It’s not exactly professional to have a bunch of background noise (though one woman on my team has horses and she sometimes joins the meeting from the stables), and the more I run from Matthew, the funnier it is to him and the more he laughs. Professional Daddy/Professional Editor is a double-edged sword sometimes. Another reason I’m up from my desk is that I don’t need to use my computer anymore, as the part of the meeting where I have reference schedules and protocols is at the first part, and the second part of the meeting is planning. And I’m a phone pacer, as I like to walk around the house when I talk. It helps me think.

The call waiting beeped once or twice more but by this time, I was ignoring it. Whoever it was passed the point of diligence and is now stepping into restraining order territory. While I talked, I got Natalie’s bag ready as she had a play date after school with a classmate at a nearby park. She likes to bring something to drink and a snack that she can share with her little friend.

The meeting ended early for a change, around 11:20, and it was great timing as Matthew looked up at me and announced, “I pooped!” On the way up the stairs to change him, I decided to check the messages and find out who was so rushed to reach me. There were four, which seemed to make sense. The first two were related to the house, the third one was regarding a book signing that I’m doing on Saturday for my book that just came out and the last one was from Natalie’s school. I didn’t catch the name, but she was laughing at our cute outgoing message of Natalie reciting some ABCs… when she was about two… and then she said that Natalie got a little bump on her head and she’d like me to come down and check her out.

Her voice suggested to me that it wasn’t too serious, so I didn’t run out of the house without shoes with a naked Matthew slung under one arm, but I sped up the process a bit. We grabbed the snack bag (hey, a little bump shouldn’t stop us from going to the park, right?) and I drove down to her school.

The paramedics truck parked in the driveway of the school was the first sign that it wasn’t a little bump, and I started to worry a little, and Kara racing into the parking lot was my next clue that it was slightly more serious. She flashed me that “what the hell were you doing while my baby was hurt” look of disapproval that she metes out from time to time. And then the wail of the ambulance fast approaching leaves that uneasy feeling in a parent’s stomach.

When Kara and I (and Matthew too) filed into the front office of Natalie’s school, it was filled with a half-dozen burly firemen surrounded poor little pasty-white-faced Natalie sitting on the assistant director’s lap (actually our neighbor from down the street) with life-saving equipment strewn about. They checked her pulse, breathing, eyes…oh yeah, and that small golf-ball that was trying to push itself out of her right temple. Natalie sat there with a cold compress to her head looking around at all the busy activity directed at her. She wasn’t crying, and they said she didn’t cry at all (though later Natalie admitted that she did and who could blame her?).

The director of the school handed me a little “oops” form she had filled out that I didn’t need to read. From what they told us, the girls were chasing the boys around the playground and she ran into another girl, bounced off of her and slammed her head into a pole. The little girl she ran into called the teacher over, who took Natalie to the front office. When they couldn’t reach me, they called Kara, and when Natalie started to complain that she felt sick to her stomach and was starting to fall asleep, they called the paramedics.

We arrived about five minutes after they did. The lead paramedic said she checked out okay but if we wanted to cancel the ambulance—which was steadily approaching the whole time we were there—we could (which we did …. hey, there’s a standing rule in my house: no blood or broken bones, no free ride in a cool ambulance to drive a mile and a half down the road to the local hospital that would cost good old dad a small fortune).

The paramedics said she’d be fine, but they did suggest we take her in so she could be officially checked out. And as much as I loath urgent care, we sat there surrounded by the unwashed masses (and I mean that literally) to wait to see the doctor for a little peace of mind. I’ve decided that I’d rather bleed to death than sit in urgent care and I’ve given Kara a do-not-resuscitate order if ever I have to go back there again. I’d rather go to Wal-Mart.

The doctor, of course, said she’d be fine. He handed us a piece of paper with symptoms on it, saying that if she has any of them, bring her back. She didn’t, so deciding that the 10 dollar co-pay was money well spent is up for conjecture.

Once we got home, she spent some time on the couch watching some movies while Matthew and I napped… then it was business as usual for the rest of the evening, with the running and the screaming.

So, it was a fairly exciting day... slightly overprotective what with the paramedics, firemen and ambulance, but exciting nonetheless. I am usually critical of people who contact medical professionals at the slightest sign of injury (remember, I scoff at those that see a doctor for a cold), but in all honesty, I'm glad that they called the paramedics on this one. Head injuries can be sneaky and the damages suffered from untreated concussions can be long-lasting and sometimes fatal.

And that's all the difference between having an exciting day and a tragic one.

However, I’m sure when Natalie looks in the mirror at the new bump on her head she'll be pleased to see that it is a nice shade of purple, her favorite color.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Will Somebody Think of the Lawn?

I broke the lawnmower. It isn’t the first time I’ve done such a thing, and the lawnmower isn’t exactly the most fragile piece of equipment, so you’d think doing so would take considerable effort. However, not so much in my case.

The first couple of times I’ve broken the lawnmower was because I was using it as a leaf blower. I don’t have a leaf blower and I’ve lamented that having one would make my life considerably easier, as it would make shooing out of the wood-chipped areas the fallen flower petals from the big tree in the front yard much easier (that sentence was awkward, I'm sorry). Instead, I lift the lawnmower up and over the concrete curbing that lines the area so the whirling of the blade blows out the unwanted debris. It usually works well, except for when it doesn't. One time I tried this a couple of years ago, it didn’t occur to me that a large rock in front of the mower would interfere with the above mentioned whirling. It tore off the blade and drove it into the lawn next to my feet.

Touché lawnmower.

Of course, I didn’t learn my lesson and I did it a second time a few months later. Of course, finding blades for a Craftsman lawnmower can only be done at a Sears, which is somewhat of a trek for me as there isn't one nearby...and once you're there, it failed to occur to me that there would be more than one size. I had to go back home and measure it, and when I went back to Sears, my measurements didn't match up with any available sizes. The third trip, I brought the blade with me, which for certain raised a few eyebrows of fellow customers wondering if I had plans of getting stabby. Always reminded me of "Sling Blade," and I was curious if it was even legal to walk around with a 22-inch double sided lawnmower blade. I tried to look friendly, at least.

The main concern here is that I don’t take good care of my lawnmower, and you’d think that I would because I think that I am one of those people whom others see as someone who would take considerable care of his lawnmower. But I don’t. I bought it probably seven years ago. At the old house, I got in on the communal lawnmower that my neighbors shared with each other…whomever mowed their lawn would just mow everyone else’s too. Which was fine by me, as the front yards were small and I didn’t mind being neighborly... and it only meant that I would have to mow my own lawn once every month or so. However, the fact that I was borrowing someone else’s stuff was bothersome, especially since I would either have to wait until I saw someone mowing their lawn, meaning the mower was out of the neighbor’s shed and available, or I’d have to slink into his backyard and get the mower myself. That always made me feel like I was stealing it or at the very least imposing on their privacy, so I decided to get my own.

I sold a bunch of Volkswagen stuff at a car show (stuff I had gotten for free, mostly) and with that windfall, I plunked it down for a 6.5hp Craftsman lawnmower, my manufacturer of choice. It earned a place in the garage until the newness wore off and then it lived under an old barbecue tarp in the side yard. I’d drag it inside at the first hint of rain though, but for the most part, it became an outdoor pet.

I can’t imagine that did it any favors. But, it has always run beautifully. I’ve never changed the oil. I’ve never replaced the spark plug. I’ve never cleaned it. I’ve never inspected its filters…and I can’t even tell you if it has any. Basically, I fill it with gas, pull on the cord and fire it up. It initially belches white smoke, which I know to be a bad sign, and there’s some strange rattle coming from somewhere. My biggest fear is that if I suddenly complete all of this maintenance on it that it will go into some sort of shock and cease to function properly, as if the gunk and oily crap that is clogging its innards are the only things keeping it in working order.

When I regularly use it, it cuts the grass nicely and without complaint. However, let the summer grass grow for any more than two weeks, and I’ve got to crank up the wheels and make a half dozen passes, lowering the blade slightly for each new sweep. If I don’t, it bogs down and quits in the thick sod or merely sprays cut grass out from under it, which makes a giant mess.

Yesterday, I wasn’t in that great of a mood, so instead of making the situation worse, I decide to take out my frustration on the lawn. Apparently, I was too frustrated, because when I yanked on the cord to start the motor, the cord didn’t retract like it should. I just hung there while the motor purred.

So, my go-to solution to mechanical problems: I took it apart...and found nothing. I couldn’t even figure out how the cord is supposed to retract. Its housing is riveted to the motor casing so I couldn’t even pull it apart to inspect the inside of the cord housing, and it is a total mystery how it even works. Cripes. I am allowed about three or four inches of pull, which is enough to start the motor when it is nice and warm, but when it is stone cold, I need every bit of that cord to turn it over, sometimes pulling three or four times.

Starting like a prop of a plane sounds to me like I’d end up with a few fingers shy of a full hand, and rigging up some kick starting mechanism (with a drill or something else) seems far fetched. When I had it apart, I attempted to wind up the cord manually, but it would only allow me to do that so far before some sort of tension built up and spit back whatever cord I had stuffed back into it. And yet, from what I could see, the winding mechanism and the cord have no contact with any other moving parts, as if magic retracts the cord after the motor has started.

Kara suggested that I take it in to a lawnmower mechanic, if such a person exists, but I balked. A real man should be able to repair his own lawnmower without having to load it into the family minivan and—make sure you don’t get your LL Bean khakis dirty and be sure to put down plastic to keep the grass clippings from getting on the car’s carpet—and haul it down to some guy who will judge me as an incompetent moron who can’t repair a small motor. And then charge me money for it to boot.

It is a matter of personal pride to fix it myself, and how I’m going to do that has yet to occur to me. But whatever I come up with, I’ve got to do it quick. Spring is upon us and my grass waits for no man.

I’ve got two weeks until the grass will grow so high and thick (especially this time of year) that I’ll need a machete and a bushman of the Kalahari to find the sprinkler heads.

And it looks so nice when it is mowed.

Friday, April 11, 2008

At Wit’s End…AKA Friday

I love my kids, but by God they bug me sometimes. It seems to be an escalating scale as the week goes by: On Monday, I’m perfectly happy doing whatever it is they want to do, from building a fort out of the couch cushions to setting up Little People armies and conquering vast swaths of territory in the upstairs bonus room. When they argue and bicker with each other—which seems to happen daily—I calmly separate them and pass out fair and apt judgment after hearing and understanding both sides of the story.

As the week goes by, the likelihood of me wanting to build a salon for the various stuff animals and their mothers to enjoy a pedicure or a good thorough washing or rearranging the furniture so an impromptu store could more efficiently sell its wares begins to decline.

By Friday, my tolerance for complaining, bickering, squabbling and tattle-taling (sp?) hovers near nil. When Natalie runs into the room shrieking that Matthew is not sharing or that he is going to bite her or some such nonsense, it elicits hardly the response she hopes for. “What would you like me to do about it?” I ask, and I’m not sure she’s ever prepared to answer that question. Or when Matthew beings to cry crocodile tears for some perceived injustice (usually smited down by Natalie), I don’t run to his side and comfort him. Instead, I threaten to put him in his room if he doesn’t stop crying. He usually does, which tells me that he was crying for attention…which is the worst kind of crying, ever. Or when he asks for something he should know I’m not going to let him have—sugary fruit snacks or a juice box 20 minutes before lunch (or 20 minutes after he hardly ate any lunch at all)—and he either bursts into tears because I’m not being fair (he actually says, “no fair” to me, something he picked up from his big sister) or he’ll ask me and ask me and ask me again. I get to the point where I won’t let him have anything, even the healthy alternatives… if you’re going to screw up your appetite, at least do it with healthy foods, but he has a singular mind when it comes to what he wants.

“Mommy-Daddy, can I have fruit snacks?”
“No, how about a cracker?”
“No cracker. I want fruit snacks.”
“No fruit snacks. How about an apple?”
“I don’t want an apple. I want fruit snacks. Can I have fruit snacks?”
It goes like that for a few minutes until finally I say, “How about nothing and if I hear one more thing from you about it, you’ll go to your room. Do you understand? Do you want to go to your room?”
“No,” is the reply I always get from him even though I hardly ever realize I ask him two questions which require opposite answers….
“Daddy, can I have fruit snacks.”

But if I’m not in the kitchen, I’ll hear him sliding the chair towards the cupboard, and when I catch him in the act of stealing his own fruit snacks, he becomes a politician.
“What are you doing, Matthew?”
“Moving the chair.”
“What for?”
“Really? Where are you taking the chair.”
“To the cupboard.”
“What for?”
“What are you going to get?”
"Fruit snacks…”

A few minutes ago, the kids were playing well together until Matthew started to do something that Natalie didn’t like (he was putting his stuffed animals with hers inside an upside-down bookshelf that is now a stuffed animal shelter. Natalie came to be screaming and crying that Matthew was doing something that he shouldn’t be doing, and instead of correcting Matthew and telling him to stop it, like Natalie wanted me to do, she’s the one that got barked at for not sharing the space with her brother. After all, I explained, it’s my bookshelf, and if neither one of you can play nice with each other, then I can simply close the office door and let nobody in.

And the messes… Over last weekend, I spent much of the day time purging the kids’ rooms of some of the things they no longer need, old toys, bulky furniture items and other things they won’t miss. Now, I’m intent on keeping it that way, as this house can turn from being on the cover of Better Homes and Gardens to being on the back page of White Trash Weekly in about two to three days, by my observations. The key, as I’ve discovered, is to make sure the kids pick up their toys as they flit from one thing to the next. Matthew loves to dump out bins of stuff and then run off to do something completely different. So now, I’ve got to lord over them to make sure they put the stuff back into the old bin before dumping out a new one.

On Fridays, I usually spend the afternoon searching for a quiet place to hide, where I can avoid the trials and tribulations that usually befall the natives. Invariably, one will do something the other doesn’t like and then I have to hear about it in octaves and decibels reserved for breaking glass or calling dogs. That gets on a guy’s nerves after a couple of hours and the way to avoid it is to avoid being found while staying close enough to intervene when it becomes necessary. Matthew’s already spent some time in his room today for pulling hair…and I hate to admit it but I enjoy when he gets into trouble in the afternoons because it means that he will lay down on his bed, sulk a little bit for getting caught and then fall asleep. Yesterday, they both took afternoon naps—Natalie the easy way by volunteering and Matthew the hard way by getting tossed into his cell for writing in a book after I told him to “draw on paper only” (he thought Harold and the Purple Crayon needed a little more purple crayon).

One thing that always takes up massive amounts of energy is to become involved in Natalie’s very involved projects. Usually, it involves making little presents for Kara…and we all must make little offerings to the Grand Mommy. That involves wrapping paper and tape and drawing pictures and making presents… did I mention that we all must make presents. A couple of weeks after Christmas, I think we had nearly a dozen rolls of Scotch tape…good luck in finding one now. Natalie was playing her educational computer games ( and she told me that I must go and make presents for the dogs—her stuffed dogs, not Elsa—and the way she said it made me laugh out loud, because I don’t know how many bosses I’ve had in my life that ordered me to do something without taking their eyes away from the computer screen, but merely half turning their head to speak.

Natalie comes up with some grand plans as well. For example, today she wants me to help her plant seeds in broken eggs. I don’t get it either, so she drew me a picture…which I didn’t get. Basically, I think we empty out an egg and put a flower seed in it, for whatever reason. Being a rational adult, I suggested that we use one of the 538 plastic Easter eggs that were left over from many Easters past… but wherever she heard of this egg-plant project, you must use a real egg. Maybe the protein in the egg shell is good for the flowers.

That would have been a great Monday project…but today, I told her that Mommy would be disappointed if we didn’t wait for her.

This week has been especially tough for me, considering that I haven’t yet had a break from this weekend when I was Daddy 24/7 for nearly six days. Sure, the parenting part was easy, as I do it every day during the week, but I had to add on dinner, bath time and bedtime to the mix as well. They’re up at 7:30 and in bed by 8:30, 13 hours of yearning for entertainment. Like I said, that wasn’t the bad part, as it is only four or five hours more than I’m used to, but the part that was especially bad was the fact that I also had to work last weekend. There was a big project due on Monday…at least I had to provide the perception that I was done (even though I still had some stragglers to clean up come Monday morning)… so I was burning the midnight oil after the kids went to sleep.

Thanks to that, I haven’t been to sleep before two in the morning all week, which puts me in one heck of a pleasant mood when 7am rolls around. My sleep on Tuesday or Wednesday night lasted all of about three seconds; as soon as I fell asleep, I had to wake up, perceiving no time whatsoever in between. It was so bad, I didn’t believe the clock when I saw it, thinking that my hand may have flopped out of bed soon after slumber and inadvertently hit the hour button, advancing it five hours…triggering the sun to pour into the room.

And Kara complains that she’s tired from her vacation… in Hawaii… from lounging on the beach with umbrellas in her frothy drinks and going to luaus and shopping.

So, I look forward to tomorrow. It’s my birthday. I’m going to sleep in, and God help anyone who disturbs me. Is that too much to ask on a man’s birthday, a little peace and quiet?

I’ve been looking for it all week, but for now, I’ve got to go. Natalie has assigned me to shopkeeper duty while we play store.

“Do you have any money?” I ask.
“No,” she responds, but stops to think for a second. “Everything will just have to be free then.”

Ah, to be a kid again.

That reminds me, I need to do the bills.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Hawaii Not Bound: Day One

Sometimes I don’t get a lot of credit in the daddy department. Kara is off on her Vacation in Paradise on the islands that comprise the 50th State, and for the first time since we’ve been married, she’s the one that has left on a trip. Usually, it is me that has to go somewhere. Years ago it was the occasional business trip that took me away for a few days, but lately it has been camping in the desert or hunting up north (as it will be this October). All the while, Kara has stayed home with “her babies.” Sure, she’s earned it, but her anxiety about going away was palpable this last week, and I’m not sure how many times she attempted to get me to sign a contract that says I won’t let harm come to the kids while she was gone. So much so that she reminded me not to leave the windows open on the second floor for fear of large hawks swooping in and confusing Matthew with prey.

Of course, I'm full of jokes about it which never sets her at ease, but I can't help it. It's the fool in me, send down a long line of sarcastic one-liners in my family tree. Then again, I knew what I was getting myself into because I passed on the trip to Hawaii. I don't know why, but mostly because Kara needs some time with her friends by herself. I mean, really, who wants their knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathing husband around them when they're in arguably one of the most romantically beautiful places in the United States? So, I'm staying home with the kids, playing zookeeper to a bunch of monkeys.

Me? I’m just some dufuss who needs a list of food in the refrigerator that is approved as edible—which is true. I do. She made one for me; it contains all the food in the house that I can make into meals for the kids. Never mind me or what I can eat. I call it epicurean blindness, when you open up the fridge door or pantry and see nothing to eat, as no combination of the various foods therein will provide any sort of sustenance for anybody that won’t get you in trouble with the FDA. Kara, on the other hand, quicker than a flash, can pull out a strange assortment of food from near and far in the chill chest and prove that the sum of a meal’s parts is indeed greater than the whole. Voila, dinner is served. If she hadn’t put some chicken and such in the crock pot before she left, dinner for me would have been Pringles and ice cream—never mind that those two things are now missing from our shelves (I got hungry later). I had some cheese too.

At any rate, near about the 11th time Kara reminded me to keep the front door locked because Matthew can now open it, and that they shouldn’t play outside without shoes on (it’s spider season, you know), and that they should eat food during the day, and that they should dress appropriate for the weather… and that they need to go to bed at a decent hour… near about that time, I had to remind Kara that I take care of these little woodland creatures we call our kids nine to 10 hours a day, all day, every day, and that I’m completely capable of handling most any situation that might come around. Don’t worry. Have fun in Hawaii. Send us a postcard. We’ll be fine.

Funny enough, we were today. Everything went smoothly. I was fearing there would be some crying or some moping around or a little grousing that Mommy was gone and that they missed her. However aside from Natalie mentioning once that she missed Mommy and Matthew calling me Mommy before correcting himself (he does that all the time), nary a word was mentioned. She did call and speak to the kids twice...and that was before her flight left... which I suppose helped assuage that empty chair at the dinner table. And that isn’t said to make Kara feel bad that she isn’t missed. She is, dearly, but it shows that the kids are well adjusted to change and that they understand that Mommy is going on a trip and will be back in a couple of days. Until then, you’ve got dumb-old Dad to make sure that whatever injuries you survive through this weekend will heal before she gets home to see them.

First order of business, of course, was Legos… the most awesomest toy ever invented. Bless the Swedish and their ideas of interlocking plastic love. I’ve had a cowboy-themed Lego set still in its box for about 10 years. In fact, the receipt was still on the box when I pulled it down from the closet shelf this afternoon (I bought it tomorrow on Kara’s birthday, in 1997).

A couple of weeks ago, I deemed that the kids were old enough to appreciate all the wonders that Legos have to offer, so I took down my giant box of Legos that I had collected since my teens (so, I was a nerd…still am when it comes to Legos) to share with the kids. Natalie took to it easily, while Matthew simply liked the build towers, a half-dozen blocks stacked on top of each other. I introduced to them the concept of “The Beauty of Legos” to countermand Natalie’s predisposition to keep everything in its original form. I pictured her building something and then never wanting to tear it apart again, so “The Beauty of Legos” is merely an idea to help her realize it is okay for whatever creation she has put together to be tossed back into the pile at the end of the Lego session to await what wonders we would create the next time. So far, it has worked pretty well, but she has tried hard to preserve a couple of things she has made.

If I had remembered how cool Legos were, I would have never put them in the box high up on a closet shelf to begin with! I could talk about them all night… but I won’t.

Anyways, thinking that Natalie might have a hard time with Kara gone, I decided that I would wait until she left and then open the cowboy-themed box. Natalie was anticipating it all week, and no sooner did Kara’s car leave the driveway was Natalie hopping up and down, “Can we open the cowboy Legos? Can we open the cowboy Legos?”

And so we did. A good time was had by all. Matthew thought sharks (from a pirate set) fit nice and well in the bank. And that’s “The Beauty of Legos,” you can make anything you wish.

Tonight went a lot easier than I had hoped. Dance class, dinner, Legos, bath, snack, part of a movie (Dumbo), and Matthew and I watched some roller coaster videos online (he loves them), read a book and plopped him into his bed. He got up twice, the first time because he wanted to tell me about the scary slide that he went down at a friend’s birthday party nearly a year ago, and the second time because he wanted a glass of water. I told him that he had to stay in his bed after the water otherwise I was going to close the door…it’s the ultimate threat to him right now, that he’d be cut off from the outside world, completely alone in his room with the door shut. That’s usually all it takes, and after that, I assumed since I didn’t hear any other noises coming from upstairs, that he was fast asleep.

Natalie dropped off immediately, as she usually does. I watched a couple of hours of TV downstairs and at 11pm, came up here to take care of some work before bed. I poked my head in to check on Matthew and he wasn’t in his bed. The windows weren’t open so I knew that hawks hadn’t snatched him, but he wasn’t even in his room either. When I checked on Natalie, Matthew was curled up on the floor next to her bed, fast asleep.

What does a good father do? Why take a picture, of course, and then tuck him into his own bed for the night.

I hope they sleep in a little bit tomorrow. I’m sure it’s going to be a long day of, you know... not being in Hawaii.

**By the way, Kara just called. Her flight made it with a few dollars to spare, as the company so far hasn't declared bankruptcy. Of course, the weekend isn't over yet, and I can think of worse places to be stranded.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Just Another Day at the Office

It had been a while since I had last joined my partner Ken on patrol of the various parks in the city, so instead of going to class last night, I donned by city-supplied shirt, police radio and the keys to the volunteer truck and headed out for a few hours of crime fighting on the mean streets.
The night was going smoothly, so much so that the radio was mostly quiet, which is always nice. It means that nothing was going on and the city was somewhat crime free. There’s always something going on, like domestic problems or alarms tripped, etc., but there was nothing serious. We started our patrol on the west side of town, which is usually the easiest to do first and get out of the way. There aren’t that many parks to visit and they are sparsely visited, which means that nothing ever happens there. As we made our way to the east side of town, we received a call on the radio requesting our assistance to patrol the big park, a park I’ll call Central Park. It’s the oldest and largest of the parks in the city, and it is in the worst neighborhood. Frankly, I don’t like going there, and at 10pm, the only people in the park are dealing drugs, passed out drunk or homeless (or all three). It was difficult to tell what exactly was going on, but from what I could read into the police radio jargon, there was some guy with a gun in the area.

What they wanted us to do was to circle the park (it takes up a city block) and keep our eyes open for a guy matching the description they provided… of course, the description they provided matched approximately two-thirds of the people you’d expect to see at 10pm on a Monday night in Central Park: dark long hair, dirty complexion, white shirt, dark pants.

I got to speak on the radio, which is always pretty cool. After the request, I said, “Pace One, Affirmative.” It always gives me little butterflies when I press on the button and say something, because only about 200 people are listening, but it’s a lot like being on stage with everyone looking at you. The last thing I want to do is say something stupid… so I kept it short and simple. Affirmative.

We made about three revolutions around the park, and when we drove by the south driveway into the park, we saw a guy matching the description, but we weren’t entirely sure. I turned the truck into the driveway to take a closer look, and as I did so, the guy we were looking at, jumped up and ran into a break in the bushes next to several trees. It was highly suspicious, so instead of sticking around, I pulled the truck around to the right toward the middle of the parking lot under a big bright light. Ken and I figured it was a safe place to hold up while we observe the area where the guy disappeared.

We didn’t expect to see him again. What criminal is dumb enough to approach a city truck, especially when half the police force is looking for him. Of course, maybe he didn’t know that we were looking for him…but the next thing I knew, the guy was standing right next to my window, which was cracked a couple of inches. He looked dazed, glassy eyed and ruffled. His face was unshaven and he looked dirty, like he’d been living in the woods for a few months. My first thought was that he looked like Charlie Manson, which is never a good first impression of someone. I jumped because it scared me, and I started to say something to him when he began yelling obscenities in a nonsense way. I could only make out a few of the words—which I won’t repeat here—but while he was frothing at the mouth, he reached his fingers into the cracks of the windows and yanked down. The driver’s window shattered, spraying glass all over my face and in my lap and he reached in and grabbed my shirt and arm. From when I saw him until he did that, it took about two seconds to happen, long enough for me to throw the truck into drive and mash the gas pedal to the floor.

The truck’s tires spun on the loose gravelly blacktop and we slid to the right a little before it lurched forward about twenty or thirty feet. As Ken was fumbling for the radio to call in a Code 3, which is an emergency call for backup—one of those calls to the cavalry they teach us how to make and reassure us that we’ll never have to use it. As I’m yelling at him to make the call and he’s yelling at me to watch the road, two things happened that I wasn’t expecting. The first one is that, in the confusion, I wasn’t watching the road and I popped the truck up the embankment at the opposite end of the parking lot. The second was that I heard these weird popping sounds from behind us, like someone banging down the lid of a metal trash can, three times in quick secession. I thought something was wrong with the truck, like it backfired when we hit the curb and embankment.

Just right then, the rear window of the truck shattered, spraying those little beads of safety glass all over the inside of the cab of the truck, and when it did, those three popping sounds were followed by two more, only they weren’t trash can lids slamming down or the truck backfiring. The guy was shooting at us and we were just sitting there with the front tires stuck on the embankment. The windshield in front of us burst apart too, spider webbing in three places, a wide-patterned triangle between both of our heads. They always say that “bullets where whizzing by,” but I heard nothing but the banging of the gun, the breaking of the rear window and my heartbeat suddenly exploding in my chest. Ken was yelling, “The guy’s shooting at us.! He’s shooting at us! Get us the **** out of here!”

I remember yelling back, “I’m trying, I’m trying. The truck won’t go!” The gas pedal was pushed to the floor and the rear tires were spinning, digging the front end of the truck deeper into the grassy embankment. We weren’t moving.

Obviously, I couldn’t go forward up the hill, and I looked the rear view mirror through the large hole that was blown out by the shots and the guy was running towards us with the gun still in his hand. There was nothing I could do but throw it into reverse. There was a large grinding noise as the truck until it found reverse with a jolting lurch. We bounced back over the embankment and the small curb and the jostling knocked the radio out of Ken’s hand just as he was frantically calling in the situation to dispatch. As he’s bent over scrambling on the floor for the radio, we hit something with a banging thump. I wasn’t sure what it was, but the truck didn’t slow down. I looked up from the floor and the radio (on which the dispatch was answering our jumbled partial call with that calm voice that clearly didn’t fit our problem)…anyway, I looked over my shoulder as the truck careened backwards across the parking lot, and what we hit was the guy with the gun! The tailgate must have hit him in the chest with enough force to sweep him off his feet and into the back of the truck. He was face down in the bed of the truck with his legs sprawled up the tailgate. I didn’t see the gun wasn’t in his hand but he looked clearly upset. He got up on his hands and knees and swept the hair from his face.

He still had the gun! By now, Ken had retrieved the radio and was calling in for backup in a frantic voice, yelling into the radio that the guy was in our truck. In shock, my foot relaxed off of the gas pedal and the truck slowly crawled to a slow roll. When that happened, the guy in the back of the truck was able to steady himself to a kneeling position, and he brought the gun up to shoulder level, just about four feet away from us. Instinctively, I pounded my foot back down on the gas pedal, as if to get way from what was happening, and this is where the situation turned from bad to worse.

The truck was still in reverse, so the sudden acceleration threw the guy forward…through the blown out window and over the front seats of the cab, right into our laps. The gun was torn from his hand and bounced onto the floor by my feet. I stomped onto the brakes, as I felt that it was the right time to abandon the truck to the this guy. But the gun must have slid underneath the brake pedal, because the pedal did nothing. I stomped down several times and we were still rocketing backwards across the parking lot with a gun wielding crazy guy in our laps. Meanwhile, Ken and the guy were wrestling over control of the radio, for whatever reason, and I started to hit the guy with anything I could find, a flashlight, the megaphone, papers, the clipboard, a hard hat…anything. Nothing seemed to faze him as he was intent on getting hold of the radio. Maybe he thought it was the gun. He reached around and grabbed the steering wheel, pulling it hard towards him, like he was trying to lift himself upright again. What happened was that it sent us into a dizzying backwards spin.

The wheels were squealing as we spun around in a circle, which threw everything in the truck towards me, including Ken and the guy. Of course, it didn’t occur to me to stop the truck or turn off the key, but I think the longer we were moving, the better off we were for some reason. My right hand was stuck under the guys legs anyways, so there was very little I could do but add to the confusion by continuing to hit the guy with anything else I could find in the truck. I considered unleashing a barrage of pepper spray but I figured it would affect us as much as him, so instead, I smacked in the back of the head with it.

By this time, Ken had unbuckled his seatbelt and was on top of the guy, pounding away at him too, yelling all sorts of strange things. In fact, I was surprised how loud it all was. The engine was redlined and whining in reverse; the front wheels were squealing and filling the cab with smoke from the tires and all three of us were screaming at each other! Things were being thrown around and everything was banging around on the doors, the seats and the roof of the truck.

At this point, the guy must have found out where the gun had gone and he was trying to reach it, his legs kicking wildly in the air between us. He broke the cab light off of the roof and it hit me in the head, which stung surprisingly, given all that was occurring.

The guy’s head and shoulders were upside-down, near the center consol, and his left hand was now grappling for the gun that was stuck under the brake pedal (his other hand still had a death grip on the steering wheel). The area around us was now filled with the red and blue lights from the police cars that must have been surrounding us and the air was full of smoke from the squealing tires, but I really couldn’t see them because I was getting dizzy from the spinning.

Down at my feet, the guy is reaching for the gun and I’m trying to push him out of the way with my legs while keeping my foot on the accelerator. Ken was still on top of him, pushing me toward the now broken driver’s window. I could see down through the spokes of the steering window that the guy had his fingers around the grips of the gun and was trying to yank it out from underneath the brake pedal, and I knew that if he did, he had one more shot left (it was a revolver of some kind and believe it or not, I did the math—three initial shots and two follow up shots).

Just then, the guy did the strangest thing: While he was down there on the floor of the truck scrambling to reach the gun, he started to pull my leg… just as I’m pulling yours.

April Fools everybody!

I was in class last night, safely drafting the covering bracket shown in Fig. 7.45.

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