Fifteen Flowers Later

I made plans to meet with my friend Jason tonight up in Normal Heights. At the end of yesterday’s text thread, I signed off: “See you Thursday, then, in NH!”

“NH?” he queried.

“NH=Normal Heights.”

“Oh you goddam hipsters and your language,” he responded, “Get off my lawn.”

Jason has an unruly goatee, and I reminded him of the fact. Like something Layne Staley might’ve sported had he lived long enough to have gray hair.

“Get off your own damn lawn,” I wrote back. “Your beard is twice as lumberjack.”

Met Jason for coffee and he told me: ‘Hey! Having that fourth kid!’ This came at the tail end of our conversation about getting older, both of us recently with lessening capacity to drive at night. He wears these little James Joyce glasses, and I’m surprised he can even see past the nosepiece.

I gave him a hug. Inside, I felt a slight twinge. I’m working on a decade as a dad, and though Finn’s not yet five, I sometimes feel: ‘Ok, when are the next eight kids coming?’ They won’t be on their way soon..

Jason’s having a second boy, which he and his wife wanted; they wanted that roundness of two girls and two boys, the somewhat Life-game neatness of having an equal number of blue pegs and pink pegs in the little Bradley car. Jason blames his now son for orchestrating everything.

.“He’s been yelling at my wife’s belly and calling the baby a ‘he.’”

“Well, shit—nature operates in weird ways. Maybe he flipped the chromosomes on you—you’ll never know. Zygotes have ears and all.”

“Yeah, but now he’s gonna be super arrogant. Like it was all his doing.” Jason smirks. “Kid’s gonna punch me in the arm later and say: ‘See? See?! I made a brother.”

Driving home, I thought how much I wanted a girl, that pink peg, too. But I’ve got two boys, and I never expressly told my wife’s belly to do any sort of alchemy to prevent this. I’ve got my two boys, and the door may be closed on any more, but I’m happy. The fact of Finn—the diagnoses and heart surgeries and reelsome unexpectedness—threw me for a loop a few years back. My biggest regret is having been so ambivalent after Finn was born. Were I somewhat of Jason’s kid back then, knowing what I know now, I would’ve shouted at Jenn’s pregnant belly: ‘Grow that extra chromosome!’ Because I have Finn today, and were the door indeed closed on any more kids, I’m ecstatic Finn was born the way he currently is. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Kids decide the parents, in a way; parents decide the kids. You make each other at least. Driving home, a bouquet of carnations settled in the backseat, paper wrap settling. I had initially bought some purple chrysanthemums, but they weren’t what I had wanted. I explained to the florist that I’d been looking for carnations. They were my mother-in-law’s favorite. All the assorted five-gallon buckets of flowers still available at nighttime (and in front of the florist’s stand) were all fancier, or prettier maybe.

“Oh—you want carnations? I have some in back in the fridge.” The florist wrested a bundle from their corner, and turned away from his otherwise task of snipping spent petals and thorns off some un-bought roses.

“12, or 18?”

And I said: ’15? If I could.”

My mother-in-law passed away fifteen years ago today. Jenn and I had spent the night with my father-in-law in a hospital waiting room while Carole underwent surgery, her brain bleeding. The room was scented with bouquets of lilies and superfluous Glade plug-ins–too much perfume, really—in overcompensation for the hospital’s otherwise iodine-scent. Jenn’s brothers joined us in the early morning, in time for the beleaguered surgeon to arrive with his latest and worst news. Jenn’s dad pulled us all into a huddle, and asked, “What should we do?” He looked at each one of us in turn, said, “I love you. I love you. I love you, and I love you. What do we decide?”

At a stoplight on Florida St., two blocks from home, Jenn and I both erupted crying. It was a brilliantly lit day, with these clouds under-girded in silver, sign a storm had passed.

“She’s not gonna be at our wedding.”

“She won’t know our kids.”

Tonight, I walked through the back door with my clumsy bundle of flowers to find Jenn and the boys huddled on the couch, and in tears. Cayde had weathered a bad week already, finding trouble when he could. He’s young—his tears are still less salty than they will be later on, and once he knows more exactly the nature of regret or sadness. And Finn—he was inexplicably gripping a football on the couch, crying at the fact of there being crying.

I placed the flowers on the end table, started cleaning the house of its hastily discarded shoes and backpacks and plastic toys. Jenn had photo albums out, open envelopes with long-ago letters, a spread of relics that she’d been showing Cayde.

“I wish I’d known her.”

“What was her personality like?”

“I wouldn’t have been bad today if I knew you were having such a bad day. I’m sorry.”

Prior to me coming home, Cayde had asked probing questions, lending his particular scalpel to the long-ago and failed surgery. I could see it in Jenn’s face, with her brow knit and reddened eyes, Cayden pressed up against her shoulder in nine-year old devastation. Cayden wore a silly top-knot of tied-together bangs: ‘Why, Mama?’ He meant the surgery, meaning why there had to be a decision made in the first place. In his understanding, surgeries have always been successful. Finn is living proof.

“Why did you have to decide?”

“What would it be like if she were still here?”

Jenn pauses. “It would be different,” she says.

Although Cayde focuses on what there was to decide—what he knows about difference simply being, ‘She could be here, she could be not’—Jenn and I know, being there in that room that night, that there was no decision. ‘She could be here’ was really ‘She isn’t here. Not any longer.’ But we posed the question anyway in our waiting-room huddle.

“What do we decide?” More important to that moment, was Jenn’s dad making the pretend-question an affirmation of love, and saying it to each one of us in turn.

Cayde will figure it out. Just like Jason’s kid yelling at his mom’s belly, believing he could actually sprout a brother by sheer matter of will, Cayde still has a certain naivete about him. It’s fading though. We agree to take the bouquet to the water on Saturday, to take those fifteen flowers and place them in the bay, and to watch them drift away, however which way the currents decide.

 

 

 

 

 

‘Wahples’ on the Night Fidel Castro Died

“Wahples,” Finn announces as he wedges himself in between the arm of the couch and my thigh, nestling in to the cat’s usual nighttime nook before placing a thumb resolutely in his mouth. The cat lowers her ears and endures the trespass, her fight-or-flight reactions having long since been dulled by a half-life of toddlers running amok. Finn’s in his dinosaur pajamas and was asleep—honestly, he was asleep— tucked in with his brother not ten minutes prior.
“Wahples. Ee ehggs,” Finn elaborates, this being his particular manner of ordering breakfast, despite the contrary hour.
“Waffles. Eat eggs.”
We have a candle burning, most lights out. Jenn and I were cuddling on the sofa and working our way through ‘Stranger Things’ (always a few months behind everyone else on the TV trends), but shruggingly make room for Finn. He can watch Episode Six, I guess; Daniel Tiger will just seem that much more comfortable come morning. ‘Meow-meow-meow demogorgon.’
“Wahples.”
“Waffles?”
“Tay.”
‘Tay’ is this new contraction of Finn’s, somewhere in between ‘Yes’ and ‘Ok’, and I don’t make an effort to correct his speech. Cayde’s recently confided to me that he likes knowing what Finn says, even when others don’t. It’s a secret language of sorts, and a brotherly understanding. Cayde’s ears remain precise even when Finn’s language is sometimes lazy. When I seem them snuggling together beneath an afghan and whispering to each other, it’s the best thing. It convinces me more and more that language needs lesser volume and lesser exactness than we pretend. And I say this as a fan of the Oxford comma.
“Wahples.”
The breakfast order has been summarily placed, though it’s nine at night and there’s a full sleep to be had before the kitchen re-opens. Meanwhile, I don’t blame Finn for the confusion—I’m drinking evening coffee and all of us have been sick this Thanksgiving holiday, napping at crooked hours. Jenn exercised her way through a stuffed head this morning; Finn and exorcised our blahs by enjoying a midday Nod. My fault, probably, that he’s awake.
Episode Six credits and Jenn goes to lay down with Finn—“just for a minute”—to have him settle. I already know these to be famous last words. The cat couldn’t be happier, kneading her suddenly extra cushion-space with outstretched limbs. While waiting for Jenn to reappear, I hear her begin to breathe in tandem with Finn the next room over. Maple-coated dreams, everyone.
Scrolling through my phone, I read on Al-Jazeera that Fidel Castro has died. This strikes me. I rouse Jenn briefly.
“I’ll be out in a second,” she says, which I know to mean she’ll soon be out cold. The cat’ll ultimately win her nocturnal roost; surely I’ll be up for a bit. Episode Seven will have to wait, in part because I can’t navigate the television remote.

Castro is dead, fifty-three years and three days after Kennedy. Also, ‘wahples.’ These are facts.

I shoulder into my peacoat and slide on flip-flops—such are the contradictions Southern California allows—and leave to get eggs. We’re out of eggs and the cornershops have since closed. A half-mile up is the late-night market and it’s a nice walk. I don’t look at any more news tonight.
There’s that nice phenomenon when you take a stroll and witness the streetlights wink on, that little bit of synchronicity where you can pretend for a second you’re the reason why the sidewalk is suddenly lit. A similar and more modern phenomenon is seeing news the second it breaks, when you’re at the top of the media micro-cycle, and opinion hasn’t yet formed to churn up the wave and eddy things. There’s just a simple fact, a declaration that something has occurred, and it’s history happening before everyone has had a chance to say what that happening means. With great volume, always, and with pretend exactness. ‘Tay.’
Castro was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2001. He also had scores of human rights violations on his record. Kissinger won the prize back in ’73, as precedent to irony. I don’t look at any more news tonight, though—it would all make as much sense as peacoats and flip-flops, or coffee before bed. There’ll be arguments tomorrow. There are arguments everyday.
This time last year, Jenn and I were looking at houses, which seemed a bankrupt idea considering 2008. On the way to the market, I pass by walk-ups and bungalows—enviable, sure—and one Craftsman has a water element that runs even into the after-hours, a recycled waterfall lending nothing but noise to the xeriscaped chaparral along its borders. Jenn and I don’t know any more. What does equity mean, what’s a house, what future is about to slouch its way toward Bethlehem with demagogues dying, but with others soon to take their place. Today we pondered a new vehicle, a trailer, more attention to date nights and weekends, urban walks, travel! Turning on the streetlamps with our footfalls.

I get eggs at ten-thirty before the market closes and the store clerks say: ‘Oh, yeah, yeah—the Castro thing. What difference does it make though, no?’ We exchange monies.
I like it when Finn is meanwhile declarative, if even at the wrong hour. It’s language and meaning to me, and informs my tomorrow. Waffles—they’re best when the eggs and buttermilk are at room temp, so I leave the eggs on the counter upon coming home and let the coffee go cold.

Grand Marshal of the Gypsy Lemonade Stand

Last week, I looked up from my perch on the couch and saw Optimus Prime cross the street. Following suit, and clutching tight the waistband of some ill-fit harem pants, was a pharaoh in need of a drawstring. The Angry Bird, meanwhile, looked like he had swallowed a coat hanger, arms splayed like a starfish in his nylon get-up.

There were light sabers and ankle leggings, headsman’s axes and Medieval things all done up in plastic—just no jack o’lanterns, though a trip to CostCo predictably confirms that Halloween is already retailing, and at Labor Day prices. You can buy all things black and orange while still fashionably wearing white, and—wait a week—pencil sets will soon be on back-to-school clearance before the first morning bell even rings.

Cayde and his friends had been bursting home from summer camp all last week, hastily discarding backpacks and art projects on the front porch before rushing next door to rifle through the bedroom closets. This was their diversion du jour: digging up costumes to play a go-round of Halloween in August. Broad daylight was absolutely necessary to the game, spectacle being the point and absurdity its sportive vehicle. The more absurd the better. Channel the surreal! Be a carnival! Turn the neighborhood on its head and make every passerby with a stroller or a Fit-bit or a too-consuming cellphone forget their adulting for a minute and take a second look at childhood on parade.

Cayde ramped up the game, leading the plastic menagerie with his Kindle playing at full–if tinny–volume. MC Hammer’s ‘ U Can’t Touch This’ for the most part because Cayde was the pharaoh with the harem pants. Anybody who offered the kids a smile would be offered ‘Hammertime’ lessons in return, Cayde demonstrating the trademark side-shuffle in truly awful fashion. He never landed a dance partner—no trick, no treat—but the gypsy lemonade stand caravanned regardless, past all the bungalows and dying summer lawns, a Rick James disco groove the unlikely pied piper of it all.

Later, down at the corner market, I pushed Finn around in a grocery cart, picking up sundry and unrelated items. Grapefruit water, tomatoes, aluminum foil. Just a trip, really, to get out of the house—maybe grab an iced coffee at Santo’s—to otherwise kill some time before evening turned the switch on the oppressive afternoon heat. On our way to the store, Finn and I had walked beneath the bougainvillea hedge along Thorn Street’s south side. The hedge is manicured in such a fashion that it arcs up and overhead like the curl of a wave. In its tunnel, you can look up and see the network of interlaced brambles trained outward, the spangle of violet sepals like crepe paper lanterns. Finn pointed out the flowers much the way Cayde did when he was younger, when Cayde was still strapped to my chest and when mutually pointing to everything was our shared language. We point before we talk, we remark things before we have words.

When paying for the groceries, Finn bounced in his seat and again pointed.

“Day-den!”

Cayden came bursting through the door with Optimus Prime and Angry Bird in tow. This time, Macklemore was playing on the Kindle and Cayde danced on by, barely waving a hello, as Finn turned in his seat to watch the coterie of misfits bypass the grocery cart on their way to the snack aisle. Optimus had a five-dollar bill: trick or treat after all.

“Hi, Daddy!” (Nine years later, I’m still Daddy—that counts for something). I got a closer look at Cayde’s costume as he pranced toward the soda section. His harem pants were actually makeshift—a Cleopatra blouse worn upside-down—and he wore jeweled cuffs and a matching crown of dangling plastic snakes. It was the neighbor lady’s costume from a couple years ago, I remember—Queen of the Nile.

“What is this—Halloween?” the clerk asked. He said it twice in a numbing display of unoriginality.

“They’re just playing,” I offered, and I stuck around to halfway censor the growing bounty of Ring-Pops and Doritos that the boys were amassing, all the garishly-colored packages they could grab. This was the celebration of their absurdity, hijinks having been rightly conceived and achieved. I naysayed Cayden’s selection of a 16oz. Mountain Dew before quietly walking out, leaving the clerk to say again, “What is this—Halloween?” while Optimus waved money at the register.

Finn and I walked back through the bougainvillea tunnel with our suddenly saggish and adult sack of groceries. Finn pointed out the flowers again and I nodded.

“Yep. Flowers, Finn. Flowers.”

We exited the tunnel, the boys far behind and spilling their carnival onto the street. I wouldn’t see Cayden for another hour or so, I was sure.

“I used to lead that parade,” I told Finn.

‘If two can count as a parade,’ I don’t say, suddenly feeling the absurd length of sidewalk on the short walk home.

 

A Red Belt, and When

“What’s this one, Finn?”

“Su-chle.”

“This?”

“Ye-wow.”

Circle, yellow.

I’m doing flashcards with Finn because he pulled them out of the closet and suggested playing. I have no need for him to get every answer correct, and he doesn’t.

“Red!”

It’s a red belt and the flashcard says ‘belt’. He is half-correct, or maybe all-correct.

He smiles and we say, “Red! Yes!” We move on to the next card which is a square, and he says ‘squawre’, which is just as correct as saying, ‘red’ when shown a picture of a red belt.

We had his Individual Education Program (IEP) meeting today, and the entire team of us–parents, teachers, aides–sat around a low table while in kiddie chairs discussing evaluative needs and benchmarks. Finn slept in his stroller. I kept him up all morning so that he could sleep during the meeting. It’s funny that we were all in those low and plastic chairs–especially the principal in his full suit and tie–while Finn was sprawled out, comfortably and regally napping. We were hunched around a table and planning, talking in big words about everything, and there was something in the IPE about Finn understanding the ‘whats’ and ‘wheres’, but not exactly the ‘whens’ just yet.

Which is perhaps incorrect. I showed Finn a picture of a plant today; he said <sniff> while bringing a hand to his nose, after which he signed ‘flower.’

39

My therapist asks me again: “Did you turn forty this week, or thirty-nine?” (We are new at this).

“Not that you look forty,” she quickly corrects, but I’m in the habit of always playing with my beard, in a sense pointing out to everyone that my body is now melanocytically deficient and that it sprouts white on the regular.

Of course I look forty, then some. As an exclamation point I’ve already had cataracts surgered.

“Is that a big thing for you, getting near forty?” she continues. I raise an eyebrow her direction.

“Of course it is,” I retort. But I make a joke of it. I say I’ve been forty since I was twenty, and she confounds the whole mathematic by saying she really had problems turning sixty, three sets of twenty. Perhaps it’s because I grew up when I did: I can’t imagine not having been terrified before twenty-five. Forty, already, portends its own particular brand of catastrophe.

There’s ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’, there’s: ‘Is it possible getting to 64?’

‘Only existential at sixty?’ I think to myself. ‘What nuclear crisis was she unconscious through?’

(I kid, though. I very much like my therapist, and she is Cuban: by nature of 1962 she trumps my Reagan-era ill at ease automatically).

This past week, Heimlich had a first chance at using his own patented maneuver to save someone’s life; Heimlich is 96. I think: we choke and laugh at the same time, get scared at getting old, save each other regardless the age we ultimately admit to.

I tell my therapist, “I’m thirty-nine.”

“That’s what I thought,” she says, and we go from there.

 

Boys on the Double

Jenn goes to GFit more evenings than not. When the car leaves the driveway, Cayde inevitably announces–‘it’s ‘Boy Time!’ while Finn toddles the house and creates new and geometric sculptures out of his toys, stacking cars and dolls and otherwise plastic pieces into the shelves and hollows of our home. He’s very determined in his task, always, chin down and lower lip protruding. The entire house gets decorated in Hasbro. I try to play records on the stereo, but Finn stomps the rooms straight-legged and diplodocus-like; meanwhile Cayde cannot contain his urge to spontaneously back-flip into the couch cushions. The records always skip in time with the boys’ seismic mismanagement of things, and I wind up just having to stop the needle.
“What’re we gonna do, Daddy?” Cayde asks, upside-down on the orange recliner, his hair all fanned out.
Boys. Jeezus. I rarely was one, or maybe I’ve just been grown-up for too long.
The other day I took Cayde to the park for pitching practice–Friday–and the field was abandoned. I had new bifocals, and the mound was freshly manicured. I told Cayde to wait a sec, and leveled my shoe against the rubber. I hadn’t been on a mound in thirty years, but threw five straight strikes before attempting a side-arm curve-ball that went way left of orbit.
Way left.
Cayde laughed at me. We practiced and wound up running into some old SeaWorld friends who were there to do hitting practice with their son. We relinquished the mound and shagged balls till near sun-down, this kid pounding flies relentlessly to center and Cayde pumping his legs in attempt to get them before they bounced over the fence.
“I shagged fourteen!” Cayde announced, only three having skipped the boundaries of the diamond, over the chain-link and into the grass beyond the home-run line.
I’m not usually this energetic. Cayde’s near nine; I worried I’d have broken him by now. Eight was the age I was irrationally scared of, age eight being the diving board quivering over the fact of nine and ten, that hesitation before the teenage years, before the drop into the acerbic and chlorine-blossomed world of adolescence. I panic over losing my boy. Meanwhile, my eyes are noticeably older.
“What’re we gonna do?”
I snap on the burners and harbor the kids into the kitchen. Finn wants some grapes and gets them: “Tank you da-da-daddy-pa-pa.” He doesn’t know when to stop the syllables. He cuts the grape in half with his teeth and it’s the best sound.
I make a molé quesadilla for Finn, throw some pans around and do a black bean chicken burrito for Cayde. This I’m good at.
I let Cayde pick out some songs on the iPad and Finn wanders away from his dinner to jump–his new-found joy and ability–and Cayde follows suit, dancing in the kitchen. I’m still flipping tortillas on the range and browning what needs to be browned. I stop at saying, ‘Stop.’ I forget sometimes being a boy. I don’t tell them to get back in their seat.
We resume, we happen. We stomp and air guitar, forever high on the neck, playing our trouser legs like Les Pauls, occasionally thrumming an always low-slung bass–too cool to play it high and to the chest–just being boys, boys on the double, and  before Mom gets home.

Ships

The one agreeable ship on the horizon is a cargo freighter, its leaden silhouette gaining color as the sun dials upward. The bulwark is a rusty red, the upper parts gray. Because it’s the safest boat one mile out, there are a number of sail-ships surrounding it, small flecks of triangular light—near fifty—rounding its bulk and flashing white. It’s a beautiful day, and despite a surf advisory, both low and high tide still remain within reason. Cayde mounts the surf, immune to the cold, and gets his shoulders wet, eventually his hair

I count: there are three amphibious landing vessels, two destroyers, and a single cruiser also marking the horizon. They’re in a particular tetris. Some are aft-forward, others remain parallel to the shore.

You forget, sometimes, this is a military town; rather you forget that it’s actively military.

The coastal architecture is usually a line of staid ships, anchored and matte gray: an unmoving buttress, typically. The ships almost count as a line of vacant tenement buildings. In other cities there are the gantry cranes and freight containers all robotically alive, factual even, in the heft and physics of industry.

The San Diego Embarcadero, meanwhile, features a series of moored carriers and cruisers. In between are museums to the fact of retired carriers and motionless battleships–empty conning towers and stopped radar dishes.

There are so many antennae on point. The pelicans, contrarily, float a lazy line, catching the draughts. They else circle upwards on the thermals.

Cayde is excited that we’re going to the beach, more so a beach where there is an actual shipwreck. A shipwreck!

The El Nino has stripped the Coronado Shores of sand, and with the vernal equinox having just passed, the white and daytime moon pulls the water back like a neatly- peeled bed sheet. The tides are recessive and revealing.

The remains of a gambling boat appear, the barge a now shipwrecked thing buried in the sand, trefoil in shape, all patina and barnacle. Red algae furs the hull. When standing on the bow, Cayde points a hundred feet west out into the water, and there’s the prow’s figurehead barely cresting the waves, tangled in sea grass and an eddying foam.

This was a Prohibition boat, liquor and loose petticoats. You used to dodge the law by leaving land and taking your vices toward the horizon. There were no handcuffs, no anchors.

We’re on the beach with friends. We stash a bottle of Grigio and a bomber of IPA beneath the stroller and shield the bounty with a towel. Alcohol on the beach is still illegal here. Sand clings to the bottles’ hips, making Braille of the perspiration. On the horizon and swiftly travelling north, an aircraft carrier passes the Point.

I say to myself: this is all an exercise.

The sailboats stay out of the way, still circling the freighter moth-like. Small ships circle big ships, a curious reaffirmation of molecules and how things are held together.

We’ve set up a canvas teepee for Finn as sunshade, and Jenn’s whimsically decorated it with seagrass, dried to a leathery crepe; also ropes of kelp. Seashells and ocean-polished rock comprise a walkway, and the ‘front yard’ is littered with plastic toys. Finn putters on the beach, thankfully no longer eating the sand as he did when he was two, when his mouth would be ringed in dirt that was both dark and sparkly at once. Putter-putt-putt.

His teepee is a curious homage to this particular beach. We’re south of the Hotel Del Coronado, made a National Historic Landmark the year I was born. When John Spreckels owned the hotel a century ago, a tent city sprung up along the shoreline, a series of either thatched or striped affairs furnished with beds and rocking chairs, washstands, linen and lamps. There was a provisional theater; a reputable steakhouse serving twenty-five cent rib-eyes; a menagerie of ostriches, monkeys, and seals. A diving horse performed four times a day.

Daily registers featured Pacific Steamship timetables as well as railway schedules.

At 12:45, after two hours of serving vague menace, the destroyers break position and travel in opposite directions. The amphibious vessels stay stubbornly in place. The cruiser is gone and I’ve never seen a carrier, in all its enormity, round the Point so quickly as to become disappeared. This is broad daylight and the sun is apparently a vaporizing thing.

Cayde and his friend Bear are exclaiming the shipwreck, constantly boomeranging its way, from towel to tide, with their feet making running slapping sounds in the slurried sand.

“Shipwreck!”

“Let’s go!”

It’s boys being two-parts excited and one-part piratical, looking to conquer either which way.

They grandstand on the stern, Bear with his skinny white arms flexed and Cayde yawping and jumping into the surrounding puddles with resolutely flat feet. It’s as if they sank this boat themselves, their collective and boyish enthusiasm a victory flag.

(The gambling-boat is, meanwhile, a century-gone thing, a relic greenly bronzed and stuck in mud. An old man resting in a sandy mausoleum).

Jenn is new-bodied, and she holds down her dress against the wind. She’s long-fingered like her Grandma—she actually wears her Grandma’s wedding rings seeing as they fit her better than the ones I granted her—and wears big sunglasses and a floppy hat. She shares a name with her friend: they’re Jenn and Jen. The lot of us weild red cups with varying amounts of spirit. Behind us are seven buildings, the buildings named after the shores they replace. They’re ‘Coronado Shores’, white buildings that beg a Miami comparison. They’re too tall and wouldn’t have been built were the Coastal Commission had been instated three years sooner.

I try and figure out why the buildings are angled as they are, silly dominoes that can maybe end in collapse given the right seismic push; I had my first kiss here, late in adolescence and late in the sand; earlier, Orville Redenbacher was lifted out of the whirlpool where he had expired and where he was found at 7 a.m., cold in the hot tub.

Coronado has its history: Frank L. Baum and Charles Lindbergh and Marilyn Monroe, Marilyn and her bare midriff in ‘Some Like it Hot.’ My first kiss here was nice, the later kisses nicer.

Finn runs out to the surf, then back. We make a game of not touching the water. He stomps the foam, runs a fast reverse. He laughs the same as when he was a few months old, the water touching his toes, him inhaling his laughter.

Cayde and Bear mount the shipwreck, and I run Finn back and forth. Jenn is pretty, her torso an upside-down fleur-de-lys.

I’m reading Hemingway, this story where Nick avoids sleep by writing somnambulistic narratives; it’s supposed to be wartime and Hemingway writes it like it’s all about stopped rifles, but really it’s about realizing you can’t always sleep, and how you make up things when you can’t sleep. Hemingway wrote this as a late-stage alcoholic, no sleep being a side effect of excess. Fitzgerald wrote something similar, so did Cheever. They were all swimmers. They all wrote about water. They all wrote about drowning.

(At one point, Hemingway emptied his lungs of air, deep into his liquor, and slipped off the back of his ship, Pilar; he remembered he had three sons, and, resurfaced, gasping)

Cayde makes his way to the prow, atop a ship. And the ships both go away and stay on the horizon. All these vessels at once.

The amphibious boats sit heavy, their bellies un-deployed, and the sailboats remain light and away, white flags upon white flags.

Cayde jumps up and down on the stern. You can’t tell it’s a stern.

“Daddy!”

“What, Cayde?”

“Take a picture!”

I do, the ship maybe buried and pointed north.

 

 

 

Accidental Volcanoes

Cayden suggests an experiment.
“Let’s erase copper from the pennies!” (It’s something he saw on Bill Nye). Not one to disparage curiosity, I agree to his recipe.
“We need a jar.”
“Ok.”
“250 millimeters of vinegar. That one you have.”
“I have all sorts of vinegar, friend. White, probably. Also you mean milliliters.”
“Yeah–millimeters.”
“Milliliters.”
“That’s what I said: millimeters!”
I just shrug and pour into the Pyrex: 250 mL.
“What next?”
“Baking soda.”
“Baking soda?”
“Baking soda.”
“Ya’ wanna get me a lid, dude? How much?”
“A tablespoon.”
“Are you sure?”
“YES!”
“You’re making a volcano–you know that, right?”
He drops in two pennies, I drop in the baking soda and screw on the lid as fast as I can. Cayde bangs his head on the cabinet door jumping back.
“You ok?” and Cayde is laughing, the science experiment puddling the floor, also all in his hair.
“Yeah.” I’m glad he’s laughing. “I’m gonna go take a bath, Daddy,” he says.
Toweling off in his bedroom, I hear Cayde all of a sudden say, “Hey!”
“What, Cayde?”
“Salt! I meant salt, Daddy–not baking soda.”
The pennies are still very coppery in the jar in the sink. Science and all.

The Theory of Gravity

We’re descending Pershing where spring is early. The sour grass and ice plant have bloomed courtesy of the rain, and the resulting palette is fuschia, yellow-green. It’s my favorite and clashingly neon combination. The aloe should sprout soon, too, adding vermillion to the mix.

We’ve established that Daddy likes the song on the radio—not because Daddy has said so —but because Cayden has employed a particular logic in determining this.

“Do you like this song?”

“Yeah, it’s one of my favorites.”

Cayde smiles, self-satisfied, and talks fast as he always does when rushing to a point.

“I know because you said you like every song by Interpol and this is Interpol so I know you like this song.”

He smiles and looks left out the backseat window.

The transitive property: ‘If a=b and b=c, then a=c.” Logic, as we pass plants where bright flowers spring from otherwise grey under-leaves.

The military hospital is in view to the right and across the canyon. A few weeks back, when returning home from the a.m. school drop-off, I was vigorously waved up Pershing by a battery of white-gloved police officers. The news was reporting a live shooter in the hospital basement. Traffic was stopped in the canyon by black and white cars and red flashing lights. The otherwise ascending traffic, the line of cars headed up Pershing, was hurried up the hill—go go go.

“Thanks for taking me to school early,” Cayde says. He has plans to meet his friend before the bell because, as Cayde announces, “We’re writing a book.”

I’m proud, therefore punctual.

“We want to publish it when we’re done.”

The view of the hospital recedes. Turns out, there was no shooter in the basement. Later that day, after the police cars dispersed, the only shooters were the guys with tripods and telephoto lenses set up on Pershing’s west edge, innocuously shooting the hospital for news that didn’t exactly happen.

“I think you told me, Cayde, but what’s your book called? ‘The Theory of Gravity’, right?’

We’re at the stoplight, at the bottom of Pershing and waiting for green. Cars are turning left into the canyon and toward the hospital. I’m thinking of last night’s Florida primaries, which were disappointing. The canyon’s name, incidentally, is Florida: simple Spanish for ‘flowered’. Cars turn toward the brick hospital where the basement was found empty of spent shells, but where there was still resonant fear. The transitive property, kinduv.

At the stoplight, and by the still-dormant aloe, is a guy with a hand-lettered sign saying, ‘Anything can help.’

“Yeah, but I think we might change the name,” Cayde says. “Maybe just ‘Gravity.’

“Why’s that?”

“Well ‘theory’ just means you’re only thinking of something, that you don’t know something.”

“So what are you sure of then?” I ask, curious. “What’s your book about?”

We’re driving through the green, and I have to swerve the car slightly because there’s a CalTrans truck with lights blinking, a group of orange-vested workers jumping off its trailer and tossing hazard cones into the street.

“We’re writing about why the earth has more gravity than the moon.”

“That’s cool. I like the ‘Theory of Gravity,’ though. It’s a good authorial title, “ and I say ‘authorial’ Alistair Cooke-like, amusing myself, knowing Cayden doesn’t know how I’m being funny. I click the blinker to turn left, signaling a drive up the B St. incline.

“Well, ‘theory’ is like ‘hypothesis’ and I’m positive there’s more gravity on earth than the moon,” Cayde insists.

Cayde’s assured of something. I try and explain the scientific method to him while driving up B St., past the reconstructed houses in this fast-gentrifying neighborhood. The windows on the delipadated Victorians have recently been un-shuttered, and suddenly there are ‘For rent’ signs.

“Well, a theory’s means more than a hypothesis. You start out with a hypothesis, and then you do your experiments, and it becomes theory. You know—the theory of gravity, evolution. Theory’s something just short of fact.”

Changing gears on the uphill, I ask: “So why’s there more gravity on earth?”

We’re halfway up B, and in some strange loop, the CalTrans truck reappears from a cross street, still cordoning off lanes with signs and cones.

In the rear-view, Cayde’s hair is in his eyes. “Well, because the moon has no atmosphere.”

“What’s that got to do with anything?” I test him. If this is going to be a published work, there needs to be peer review.

Finn speaks up for the first time, otherwise having been pretzeled in the back-seat, feet by his ears.

“Thing!” he yells, “Tzing!”

“Because there’s no oxygen on the moon, Daddy,” Cayde says matter-of-factly.

I continue to test him as we drive past 21st: “What does oxygen have to do with physics?” (What does this have to do with breathing?)

There’s a liquor store on the corner of 22nd and we’re pulling to a stop at the top of the hill.

Cayde frowns. “Oh, yeah.” He mumbles, “Physics. Inertia. Momentum.” He counts on his fingers. He’s too smart; I worry.

There is the coefficient K and we’re at the top of the hill.

(When Cayde was three, we sat in a splintery jungle gym in the backyard, and the sun hadn’t set. There was a chalky white moon, halved, on the horizon above the yucca tree. It was the Children’s Moon, the premature moon, which kids can see before the sunset.

‘You see that?’

‘It’s pretty’).

What does physics have to do with anything, or with the new ‘Rent’ sign in the window.

I see a jet way high, too high. I get nervous seeing the contrails, a vessel above the clouds. The higher the plane, and the smaller the plane, the more anxious I become.

I kiss Cayden when dropping him off.

“Love you, Kid.”

“Love you, Daddy!”

Driving home, and past the hospital, there are no white-gloved officers. It’s nice being on land, but the news is still and always bad. I bypass Florida, the sourgrass and the iceplant, the news on the radio less than the flowers.

“You remember that Einstein was righter than Newton?”

(I can’t believe I’m saying this to an 8yo)

But, Cayde says, “Yeah.”

According to the theory of gravity, mass displaces everything, like a round object dimpling a swath of fabric. Gravity isn’t a pull, not a push, but a weight.

It’s unbelievable: on the way home, I have to re-arrange my route. The CalTrans guys are still grinning and tossing cones onto the street, spring-heeled and leaping from the flatbed. I have to go down 16th instead of the big hill, turning past the chain-links where there are no cones, just a simple downhill coast, where I turn at the bottom, not having to stop once.

Righting the Morning, Later

Cayde wandered into the bedroom this morning, rubbing his eyes. He asked Jenn: “Where’s Daddy?”
“At work already, Baby,” she said. Cayde burst into tears.
“Why didn’t he say good-bye to me? He ALWAYS says good-bye to me.”
I do. I always climb into bed with him for at least one minute to connect in the morning, to make the day right before it becomes un-right. Days tend to un-right, the nature of things.
I’d put the kids to bed the night prior, all of us in the lower bunk,and Cayde fell asleep with his face pressed firmly to the wall. Found him in the same position this morning, still sleeping. I kissed him on the head while I juggled my coffee, the morning acrobatic of either needing coffee, or just needlessly caffeinating myself. He stirred a second.
“Cayde,” I said over the phone a few hours later, “You know I did say good-bye. You were just asleep.”
“Ok, Daddy.” He wasn’t convinced.
When I get home, he’s playing with a football outside. The next door dog is puking on the lawn, and Cayden grabs me to inspect the mess.
“You’re good with animals, Daddy,” he says, wanting me to diagnose this.
“It’s alright, Cayde,” I say, “He was just eating grass.”
Cayde was afraid the dog was dying, and in that 8yo way got scared that everything was soon not going to be there, like kisses good-bye in the morning.
He made me promise double-snuggles tonight. I was supposed to leave the bed once, then return to make twice the cuddles–his mandate. But I didn’t do that exactly. Just held my boys both at the same time until they fell asleep.