REPORT A PROBLEM
I went to a "star party" years ago, and got a great tour of the night skies. By fantastic coincidence, we saw the most incredible meteor trail a multi-colored glittering streak above the tree line. Responding to my amazement, my astronomer friend replied, "Yeah, that was a pretty good one." After that night, I would set my alarm for obscenely early (late) hours in order to watch for meteor showers. I had heard that if you are fortunate enough to witness a meteor storm (something like ten or more per second), you sense the movement of our planet through space.
Our culture is so relentlessly bombarded with statistics of maladies and tragedies that I'm impressed that people go about their days without nervously looking over their shoulder for second-hand smoke or flash floods or a SARS victim close on their heels.
Some sort of rational mechanism must be kicking in to keep us from looking like a nation of OCD patients avoiding the cracks in the sidewalks.
9.6 deaths from liver disease per 100,000.
It's as if murder, war, and terrorism weren't enough, the Nielsen people must be telling the news desks that audiences can't get enough of these figures.
A huge photo in the newspaper showed Kim smiling and flexing in her stars and stripes bikini, a gold medal around her neck. The "full" story was printed beneath the picture, references to hard work and Jesus abundant.
You had to know what a miserable bitch Kim was to appreciate the shock value.
Susie was taken in. She saw Kim differently now. Two years earlier, Kim had pissed all over Susie.
Every gold medalist fell from grace for me that day. It proved that the character required to achieve athletic excellence is completely independent of more important, more human traits.
I'm considered well read in my group. That says much more about my group than it says about me.
My mother tried like hell to get me to read the classics.
It seemed like years before I finished that.
Mom got that in a large text paperback on easy-to-read soft green paper.
Never finished it.
I read the Hardy Boys despite the repeated references to their chubby friend Chet, which would have been me.
Then I got hooked on comic books and "MAD Magazine."
My mother probably came to terms with her powerlessness during that time.
"Tops are five thousand five hundred, clear above."
Here we are, slogging through a miserable day, overcast, gray, and gloomy. Yet less than a vertical mile away, the sun shines brightly on a white plain of clouds.
On those occasions when I have been on an airplane and burst through the top of the cloud layer to be surprised by the sudden change from cloudy day to sunny day, my mood is immediately and dramatically transformed.
Had I not been flying, I would have gone through my whole day unaware that my mood was adversely affected by the cloud cover.
I'm a time bastard.
I resent the time that I just gave to you, my friend. The small voice within me says I should want people in my life, but the time... Maybe I could chat with you sometime while I'm working out, although that's the only time I can find to fit in some television.
I love to read, too, but it is even more resistant to multi-tasking than is friendship.
We ate dinner out last night. Thanks to my handheld and cell phone I was able to check three things off of my to-do list before the entrée.
A fun father-daughter activity.
Cleaning the fish tank.
First thing, she grabs the kitchen sink spray hose. It's pointing out over her right shoulder and it starts shooting water across the counter and into an open cabinet full of dishes, onto the stove, and also on her shoulder, soaking her pajamas. Worse, the trigger is stuck and she just gapes and emits a strangled scream/plea as the thing continues its sprayathon.
I could see the humor in it, but the time bastard within me thought immediately, and of nothing else, save the fifteen minute activity become a forty-five minute chore.
We paid big bucks for our Golden Retriever, and when I don't look the dog in the eye (there is a personality to the damn thing), it's common for me to long for a life sans canine.
It's not enough to have to feed, groom, poop-scoop, and occasionally pay for lodging, Penny Lane (okay, we mostly call her Penny) bugs our visitors, leaves muddy footprints in the kitchen, humps the kids (I had thought that only males did that), and takes off into the neighborhood, leaving me standing in the back yard, bellowing, breaking the calm, sounding like a rube.
A school mom I know, kind of, that is I can't tell you her name just this moment, but I might be able to come up with it in a pinch, well, we run into each other this afternoon as I'm picking up my daughter, and she smiles so brightly, brilliantly is more like it, and she comes up to me so openly, obviously positioning for a hug, and I'm what – a prude? – I parry to a half-hug, I think it's less prudish than it's that I'm hiding my prurient desires, which are so close to the surface. I want.
If you let your eyes go just slightly out of focus, the ARTS tags look like little bugs taking jerky steps about the radar screen.
Of course, most people don't want to hear about air traffic controllers letting their vision go out of focus, even if it is only a silly thing like we all do, albeit infrequently as we get older.
We did stuff like that so often as kids, learning about our bodies by putting all the parts through their paces.
I would hold one eye still while I made the other eye go in a complete circle.
I'm having trouble reconciling my age with my identity. I look and feel young for my age. I always have. But now it's at the point where the decisions I make about clothing and lifestyle quickly cross the line between dignified and pitiable.
Like gray ponytails, comb-overs, and bad hair-pieces. Can these men really be so clueless about their own appearance?
Today it was only a decision about shoes. I have never liked a conservative shoe, but am I too old for Skechers?
I finally have an appreciation for body piercing. It keeps us old guys out of your territory.
One day each spring in Happy Valley the entire student body surrendered to Gentle Thursday, a tribute to hedonism, and a glorious remnant of the Hippie era so recently gone by.
I can't recall any days in my life that compare to the pleasure of that frisbee-playing, dope-smoking, girl-watching, band-playing afternoon on the sunny lawns of campus.
I still use my college days as a touchstone for my happiness.
It serves to confuse happiness with pleasure … but I know the difference.
A million Gentle Thursdays couldn't make me happy, but a few stored away in my memory work wonders.
I'm trying to write honestly, to be authentic.
To bleed a little bit as I write.
But many of these entries make me feel like I'm a war correspondent, hunkered down in an armored personnel carrier in the red zone outside Baghdad, tapping out culinary reviews or children's stories. Filling space on the page, but ignoring the true and painful stories swirling around me.
I'm safely ensconced in the suburbs, and the overwhelming majority of people around the world face daily poverty and danger.
I feel ashamed enough as it is without wallowing in a trough of pathetic middle-American angst.
Wow, the little guy was so upset when I picked him up from Pre-K today. Just before I got there, he'd had a nasty argument over a ball with his best buddy. He ran to me as he saw me walking up the slope to the playground.
The teacher was explaining the conflict in rather odd terminology, but when she started describing how she was having them hug and make up, I started tuning her out.
Not because of the hug, but because I am distrustful of methods that force kids to pantomime emotions that are not what they're feeling.
I happened to be mailing a letter one tax day a few years back. I drove up to the bank of mailboxes in front of the post office some time after dark and I did the typical toss-the-letter-in-the-slot move that is common to most of us, but the letter didn't go in. I found myself still holding the envelope and peering up at the mail slot through the gloom to discover that the slot was full, crammed full. Desperate mailers had pushed their tax returns in tightly enough for them to hang on until retrieval – and the requisite timely postmark.
I spent my writing time this morning listening to a friend wax ecstatic over his daughter's college prospects. I'm happy for him, and I also enjoy some vicarious thrill through his daughter the prospect of an ivy future.
Nonetheless, there is the inevitable comparison taking place in my mind between his daughter and my own who, although only eleven and glorious in her own right, is not thus far academically exceptional.
I found myself immediately concerned if I were projecting this assessment onto my daughter.
That perhaps my subconscious notions of my daughter's abilities have introduced the Pygmalion effect …
I like their food, unhealthy thought it is, so my dislike of Cracker Barrel is not total.
Rather it is fourfold.
First, the country music. This is something I tolerate, thought I can't enjoy it. It also mitigates my enjoyment of the food.
Second is the time it adds to our trip. I have to budget about an hour and a half for this travel stop.
Third, you must walk through the overpriced-gauntlet-of-chintz they call a country store to get to the restaurant.
Fourth and foremost, I have never seen an attractive woman at a Cracker Barrel.
Bookstores fill me with longing, hope, frustration, wonder, curiosity, and feelings of inadequacy. I find myself alternately thrilled by the appeal of the packaging and overwhelmed by the sheer number of books.
It's the authors I will never read that goad me.
In a Harry Potter-esque vision, I see little hands protruding from the spines of the DeLillos and Ecos, brushing one forefinger over another in that shaming gesture.
Little faces form on the Mailers and Vidals with rounded mouths booing my dalliances with Francis and Burke.
They scream, "You have time for Grisham!" But only two, I swear.
This part of South Carolina is filthy with waterfalls.
Karen and I sat at the foot of a dramatic falls for lunch. We were all upbeat and glowing from the hike in, and we spread out a blanket and ate some sharp cheeses and strawberries, and, for the first time, touched one another. Purposely, but tentatively, we spoke our intentions with our fingertips, granting further permissions incrementally, and the passionate anticipation clouded me, blinded me, deafened me.
A week later, Sammy sent me a hyperlink. Without that video, I wouldn't have remembered just how far things had gone with Karen.
When I told my dad that I had played bridge the night before, I sensed over the phone his deep reaction.
My mom died seventeen years ago, and like many widowers, my dad will always suffer from the loss.
I realize that he may share his loss with me more than with anyone else, so when he began recalling his old bridge days with Mom, it was no surprise to me.
I can't help but speculate that he looks at my marriage and thanks his lucky stars for the quality of his marriage to my mom, despite the painful curtailment.
The little guy is playing t-ball in the cold. I'm sitting in the warm car.
I went back out for a while to watch him, but those days of suffering just to build character are long past.
I spent enough cold, forlorn, tired, sore, bored, and otherwise miserable times as I was growing up to last my lifetime.
It amazes me just how comfortable my life has become.
I play inside when it's nasty out, and vice versa.
I have an indoor job, a garage-kept car, and I have the perfect clothing and accessories for every climatic eventuality.
During the long trip we stopped at the New River Gorge.
It's a spot noted for its primordial connections – the "New" is supposedly the oldest river on earth.
In the small museum, I entertained the kids with a geology lesson.
Afterward, we found a nice spot for a picnic lunch, and the kids got a graphic Earth Day lesson as we watched a boy walking along, tossing these paper balls that made small explosions, and spilling the plastic wrappers in his wake.
I must say that I enjoyed my children's obvious disgust.
But it was also a lesson in impotency.
I'm not ready to simplify.
There is an appeal to it, though.
I can attribute a lot of my low-grade angst to trying to fit too much into my life.
As an example, I would like to reclaim just the time I spend managing my to-do lists.
My house and yard alone provide enough demand to keep an energetic adult male and his income maxed out full time.
I'm still not ready to simplify.
I've listened to too many doors of opportunity slam closed already.
I'd like to get my time back, but not if it cost me my dreams.
I have lost touch with my former self and I have lost my desire to reconnect to that part of me for which I have become nostalgic.
It's a pragmatic decision about an emotional issue. I feel my energy is better used toward moving in a new direction altogether.
It was, however, so much easier back when love and joy just happened. Now it seems that I have to breathe away my bad relationships and meditate away years of tainted karma.
I recall someone telling me once not to change, but I had no idea what they were talking about.
Who's idea was Casual Friday?
Such an innocuous concept.
Nobody gets hurt. Does productivity suffer? Perhaps negligibly.
Yes, the professional look at the office takes a bit of a nosedive. I look at my boss differently when he's wearing jeans, but maybe that's a benefit.
The real offense is to a finer sensibility.
I'm just a regular guy, but even to me the travesties of fashion on Fridays are legion.
One of the worst offenders in our office told me that his wife chooses his clothes for him.
That a woman could even abet in that criminal habiliment is inconceivable.
When you wish upon a star...
The little boy excitedly spotted a star last night as we were saying goodbye to our visitors. "What did you wish for?" asked Susie's mom. But he made coy guestures and delcined to say.
I was cleaning up the kitchen later, and barking out bed-time orders to the kids.
"Know what I wished for?" the little boy says from the doorway. "What's that," I ask, expecting to hear about Rescue Heroes.
"I wished that my daddy would never be mean to me again." My whole being sagged. I'm tough, but I'm not mean. Right?
We were standing in the hallway downstairs when we heard that sack-of-potatoes sound that a small child makes when they have a great fall.
I watched the slow-motion moment of comprehension cross the faces of my brother and his wife, and then they were off. It took a hurried coordination for them to dash up the narrow stairs without knocking each other down.
I had expected to hear the baby cry by this time, and the air tightened. Dad and I, the experienced parents, stood at the bottom of the stairs, awaiting the telltale sounds of either tragedy or relief.
Seventy-five mph through narrow Jersey barriers on the Pennsylvania Turnpike is just one risk hidden in "Let's go visit Granddad."
There are others.
I felt I was in the right, but the driver of the eighteen-wheeler had a different opinion. Also, he probably didn't think that there were children in my car when he tried to run me off the road.
I tried bio-feedback to bring my heart rate back down.
Revenge images washed over me. I'm not a violent man, but that's just because of wise self-preservation in a smaller-than-average guy.
The kids remained blissfully ignorant of the drama.
This doctor visit is going all Kafka on me. The doctor I was supposed to see for my cortisone injection was unexpectedly called away to surgery.
Now I am to see Dr. Semeese. He's one of two brothers in the practice.
I have chronic arthritic knee pain. The original trauma occurred over twenty years ago.
Back then, I saw a Dr. Semeese. He blew me off. By the time I got to another doctor, my ACL had withered beyond repair.
At this moment there's a fifty-fifty chance that same guy will stick a very large needle into that same knee.
The ticking gets louder at night.
Daytime comes with distractions and the implied message that problems can be solved.
At night, I am stuck where that day left me. The knowledge that yet another day has gone by when I failed to step up to the plate. Too late to make a phone call, mail a letter, clean, repair, undo, maintain.
At night deadlines become dark shapes, looming in my drowsy mind the way monsters did when I was a kid.
My kids get older, my marriage becomes more tenuous, I feel them turning away from me.
Tick, tick, tick.
The Tip Jar