Chuting

The other night I picked Findlay up off the floor and replaced him in his bed before retiring to sleep myself. Findlay has the bottom bunk, so he can have soft landing if need be despite the hardwood floors.

Finn’s a restless sleeper, prefers nodding atop the covers as opposed to within them. As a kid—hell, still as an adult—I enshroud myself with bed sheets in an act of self-mummification every night. This is opposite Finn. It may look uncomfortable, with only my nose snorkeling out, but it’s great security.

I remember spending the night at my grandma’s years ago, and three times at least she ventured into the bedroom to peel back the covers. It was her futile attempt to maybe try and oxygenate things. She was a former nurse, after all, and it was probably professional memory that said the bed sheets should be crisp and folded back. Meanwhile I was—and am—a furnace, a night-sweater, a raging metabolism, which probably presents as malarial sometimes. I forgive my grandma’s Florence Nightingale attempts, but I always pulled the covers back over my head. Couldn’t—can’t—sleep otherwise.

Finn has the bottom bunk, while Cayden has the top. It’s easy to smooth out Finn’s bed in the morning because he hardly uses it. But top bunks are logistically hard to make. It’s a hassle, but I leave Cayde’s bed alone for reasons other than the difficulty factor. Turns out Cayde has the same nocturnal intuition I do, just in a different fashion. Whereas I’m the near Phoenician master at bed sheet entombment, Cayde is a nester. A pack rat of sorts. There’s the usual array of bed dressing, a menagerie of collected blankets stuffed into the corners, a rolled-up sleeping bag that sometimes gets unrolled, assorted beanies and sweatshirts and cast-off stuffed animals. Occasionally I’ll find Cayde sleeping in a hoodie and a knit cap, and we live in San Diego. Whatever gets you through the night.

In zookeeping and agriculture, there’s what’s called the ‘chute’. It takes myriad forms, but essentially it’s a narrow construction that you can either drop animals into for a procedure, else use to move animals forward, calmly, generally livestock. The alternative in either scenario, without the chute, is nostril-flared panic.

Finn, inevitably crawls into our bed most nights, somnambulistic, yet finds his way in between us regardless. This is something of a chuting, how he nestles between us, but it becomes also something of a quasi-asleep circus, in which he has the comfort of his thumb, still bolts upright every half-hour. He flops opposite directions like a slo-motion trapeze artist, while never even waking up.

I’ll find him at the foot of the bed alongside my cat, both microwaving my feet, else he’ll pin the sheets between the lot of us, and incessantly grasp my hand in his rendition of a comfort gesture. This inevitably wakes me up.

Finn’s chuting, I’m the unfortunate chute.

The compromise comes with the perpetual 4 a.m. tug for sheets, the sheets I need to wrap around my head. Finn’s content with his thumb, so I tuck him into my side, and wrap the Egyptian cotton sheets over the two of us, us paired and sleeping mummies.

Ice Cubes Retaining Right Angles

“And now she wants to fucking sit Shiva!” Maxine says, slamming her tumbler down on the counter, the ice cubes still retaining their right angles, the scotch having been drained.

“My fucking sister!” Maxine pulls on yellow latex gloves to scrub the dishes, which look ridiculous relative to the pima of her Peruvian dress.

Maxine balls these dresses up in lingerie wash bags, then hangs them up still wrinkled to dry off the back porch. The back porch, despite Maxine’s best efforts, is overrun with morning glory and brugmansia. Poison blossoms, she remarks—“Like a fun tea!” (She was at Woodstock after all).

“Shiva! My goy sister!”

And Maxine furiously scrubs a dish, which is barely tainted by her lunch. A faux scampi, and sesame-crumbed seitan. Clean food, clean plates. Maxine, regardless, will later die of a sticky and indelible cancer.

I hold her cat while across the room and glance at a bulletin board Maxine has constructed. It details what birds she’s seen, and where. That sapsucker in Slovakia, the ravens in DC.

“The fucking nerve!”

Maxine scrubs her ashtray, even after two cigarettes, and places every clean plate in the dish holder beneath the kitchen window.

“My mutha never worried about me, goddammit. And now I’m supposed to sit in a goddamn room with towels over the fucking mirrors, because now my goddamn sister—my fucked up oldah sister wants Shiva for the mom…for my mom…” She slumps at the kitchen counter.

Despite everything, the cat purrs. He’s a Norwegian Forest Tabby and prefers clutching your shoulder versus remaining curled in your lap.

“It’s ok, Mags.”

“I’m just tired of being the responsible one, Thawm,” she cries, “Look what happens when you’re the one who was supposed to be ok.”

“’S’alright Mags. I love you. Want me to water your plants?”

I put the cat down, his padded feet thudding on the hardwood floor. He walks away pretendingly nonplussed, the way cats do with ears still held back.

Watering the plants will only encourage the morning glory, but the offer stands. Maxine sobs, not for the first time or last, while I unravel the hose from beneath the back stoop and make sure the door is closed so that only I, not the cat nor anything else, gets out.

I, Palindrome, I

There was a lot of attention paid to palindromic dates in the aughts. With it being the advent of the 21st century, social media its trailer, every ’10-2-01’, every ‘010-22-010’ had its day.

‘This day will never happen again!’

You could share said mathematical phenomenon on Facebook to astound your friends, at least momentarily, in order to have them eye their calendar sufficiently enough to remark, “Hey, yeah—neat!” They could then resume their scroll on a less than palindromic algorithm involving cat videos, family pictures, and the latest TMZ gossip.

Thing is, last Wednesday, 3:00pm, won’t ever happen again, either. Same way that October 2, 2001 has come and passed.

I always thought Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken” as something specious, or at least in the way it’s generally interpreted. Rugged and individual, individuals off the beaten path, paths grassy and wanting wear. It’s hugely and completely American.

Still—and existentially speaking—taking the road more traveled makes just as much difference as taking the one not.

Ask the cat asleep waiting pensively in Schrodinger’s box. Also ask the untromped grass, which I figured never wanted wear.

This could be an incredibly cynical thing for me to say. Perhaps I’m being a chin-jutted contrarian of Ticonderoga pencils and sparklers on Independence Day, or in the practice of refusing the blinker and, at the last minute, deciding to turn left.

Left or right, makes no difference. But Wednesday happened last week, and so did today. Remarkable or not, they happened; they won’t happen again. Nor will 10-2-01.

My son graduated pre-school this week, which is huge, and that won’t have an encore.

Every day won’t ever happen again. There are ominous sayings like, ‘the past is not done with you’, but the same could be said of the present, with different intonation, the kinder nature of the present tense. That’s a wonderful affirmation, because what’s fleeting yet speared in the present can never exactly be done with you, and therefore never exactly lost.

Let the days happen then, in chronological order, with the sun probably rising in the east. The days may be unremarkable by their astronomical PLU code, but when they’re of remark—say, as your kid is promoted, or says his first words, or actually puts his shoes on correctly—that’s when you hit the time-clock like a speed-chess player in the park. You hit the time-clock to freeze the present and take a breath before the pawns are once again moved, most likely not on a palindromic day, but a day just the same.

 

The Continuing Adventures of Professor Plum and Mr. Green

Cayde keeps carting out the old school Milton-Bradleys, though we’re capable of playing a mean game of Chinese poker, and while Colonel Mustard remains simply a roadblock in our preferred and perpetual game of Professor Plum v. Mr. Green.

Sure, sometimes Colonel Mustard is guilty inasmuch as the cards may fall, but I’m Plum; Cayden is forever Green. Sometimes we call each other by these monikers, just like I’ll call him ‘Caydito’ and he’ll call me ‘Tomate´.  As Plum and Green, we’re always one third the field away from each other on the playing board. The fact of Mustard remains irrelevant.

In the game of Plum v. Green, it’s a race to see who can get to all the rooms first, as fast as possible. This is how you beat Clue.

The perp is always the first to be found out. You know this if you play Clue on the regular. Discovering the weapon is always the easy second.

But knowing the room where it happened—well, that’s the trick. And how best you lie to each other, slyly, and while improvising your best put-downs in the process—it’s better than Risk, better than chess.

Were there less decorum, the floor would be spoilt with spent sunflower hulls. The kitchen, however, is clean, so we have to pollute it with the tidier effluvium of pheromones and the slight dispense of testosterone that comes with the housing of our imperfect X-chromosomes.

Boys like to fight, especially if they love each other.

“I went to the bathroom, and you looked at my cards.”

“Did not.”

“You lied TWICE about the wrench. Jerk. What are you doing in the library anyway? When’s the last time you read a book?”

”Oh, just stay in the kitchen, Daddy.”

This is absolute, unadulterated love.

Last night, Cayden lugged out Yahtzee. I like to play Yahtzee. Yahtzee, however, lends itself more to a general kismet, than any sort of verbal kinetic. Shouting at dice only goes so far. A game of dice is not Deerhunter material, especially in a well-lit room with dinner dishes that—having promised to be washed—sit with great domestic placidity, in the sink.

I could bare a light-bulb or something, but that would be overly dramatic.

Finn yelled in our stead. The ageless Pat and Vanna combo was on TV in the living room, and Wheel of Fortune was filling its half-hour.

“A!”

“N!”

“L!”

Cayden scratched off his ‘four of a kind’; I believe, meanwhile, Findlay solved the puzzle. From what I could hear at least. Truly, Finn’s magnificent at shouting letters. Sajak, in all his Dorian Gray-ness grants Findlay this parent-free speech practice a few nights a week.

“T!”

There are muted dings from the TV screen; someone wins a car.

Cayden and I do Jeopardy every night, but as precursor, we’ve set up—Gawd—the ‘Connect Four’ set.

‘Connect Four’ was our tee-ball leading to chess. Cayden was three, and I plied the same strategies over and over to teach him how to lose. It was the best way to teach him how to win.

“The diagonals, Dude. You have to watch the diagonals.” Plunk, plunk.

Eventually he duplicated my method, than added his own riff, to where I would gladly lose on the regular. This is how you win as a dad.

The stakes are high this night. As spoiler, I will beat the current Jeopardy champion later by deadpanning, ‘F. Scott Fitzgerald’, pocketing whatever Monopoly money it is you do when you win Final Jeopardy for again and pretend. Before sending your kid off to bed as the faux and bona fide Merv Griffin champion, no actual change in your purse.

Finn is on my lap, and because we’ve lost many of the pieces, Cayde has taken a Sharpee to a few red tokens, marking them with resolute and carefully drawn crosses.

“These are yours, Daddy.” I’m always black, he’s always red.

Finn did really well in Speech earlier in the morning, hop hop skip skip, pressing way too many elevator buttons, charming everyone. He wouldn’t hold my hand in the parking lot, but played well with his friends in group. He pronounced ‘box’ at his therapist’s prompting time for the first time, with an actual ‘x’ sound.

Finn holds the red tokens, now permanently tattooed with Sharpee crosses and I guide his hand to plunk them into the correct columns. He soundly beats Cayden at his own game, me as marionettist. No one’s letting each other win. I stick my tongue out at Cayden and call him a ‘butthead’ when he loses. Finn charmingly echoes:

‘Bu-head.” He then dances gleefully in my lap with his almond eyes all squinted.

Cayde tells Finn to listen–that this is the best part–and he pulls the lever at the bottom of the game board so that all the pieces come crashing down in plastic chaos on the table.

All the reds and blacks combine so that no one can determine who the actual winner was, only ten seconds after there seemingly was one.

Greenfell Tower, and Life After Buildings

As it were with everyone shouldering past each other to reach the open window, there was the fact of fresh air, thirty floors up, but also a smoldering building whose particular fires had reached the copy machines, the hallways sending up a vicious confetti of orange, and with last night’s FAX coversheets something and suddenly an embarrassment of unimportance.

This, of course, is a re-write, nothing that’s not been written before—this is plagiarism, even–but it remains the second, third, and fortieth draft of every story ever written where Scylla and Charybdis still remain prime players; and where each single day requires a careful tack through the straits. What do you choose to breathe: the window ahead, or the smoke behind?

Robert Rauschenberg approached Willem DeKooning, and Bob was typically drunk. Rauschenberg asked if he could erase one of DeKooning’s artworks as a form of art in itself. Erasure or celebration, searching for that open window, while the canon meanwhile—the ashy but gilt hallway—burnt in fast erasure of itself.

DeKooning sighed, most likely put down his glasses and pressed his eyes with the palms of his hands. He did afford a drawing, eventually, maybe told Bob to ‘please leave’ after fifteen minutes, because when a young kid ups his chins and asks, ‘Can I erase you?’ you want to encourage him, but also show him the door at once.

Fire needs oxygen—the fact of an open window actually fuels fire—you can stand in the middle of it all, though, and weather both forces at once, deciding, certainly, that you’ve already harnessed both, that neither will claim you. Not now, not yet.

This is about life after buildings, a plagiarism, but needing that push of contradictory elements to suddenly be stoic in the middle of it all, finding yourself unexpectedly fine and therefore surviving.

5/9

“Wiley is thirteen. How old is that in dog years?”

I do some quick math.

“91.”

I’m not the dullest tool in the shed, though I sport some rust these days.

“Guess it’s why he’s on those meds. And why he won’t let you pick him up anymore. He’s just an old man,” she muses.

She turns to me: “How old’s your cat?”

I change the multiplier from seven to six.

“84?”

I’m guessing. But I’m an efficient calculator. I think I’m better at words, though all my tests had me better at math.

“84.”

You have to be resolute about these things.

“She’s 84.”

“But she sleeps on my lap every night”, I say to her as if this makes a difference.

To come up with a quick calculation, you have to compile in tens and collect the difference. Math is gorgeous this way, the way it works. Philosophy is fuzzy, math just functions.

 People make fun of the new math, as if there were an old math. Common Core is the current joke.

Cayde hits the math goals very year. This is what happens when you finally stop borrowing from the tens column.

“Your dog is 91?”

“Jeezus,” I conclude.

We get old, our animals get older, a helluva lot faster.

Frida sleeps on my feet every night, and ratchets the Fahrenheit a few notches. I still can’t calculate the Celsius, though I’m pretty good at math. There is something to do with 5/9, which is the worst fraction to deal with.

5/9. It’s not even even. It’s a horrendous rendition of 4/8, the fuller and plumper bride of ½. Why can’t we deal with things in halves?

Maybe I do hate the new math. Regardless, give me a multiplicative of 7×3, and I’ll give you the correct answer every time.

21, 42, 63, 84.

105, if you wish to continue going.

441, if you want it squared.

I do this in my head all day. Still, I’m better at words.

Five-ninths, because I dislike numbers. Five-ninths, because I prefer words.

 

 

What Spectrum Means

Jenn furrows her brow in her sleep. Which seems ironic, because though rest is for the wicked, it seems the appropriate thing to relax your face while in Nod when you’re not actually wicked.

Jenn, of course, is far from wicked.

I know better, now, then to try and smooth her forehead with my thumb; she’ll just consternate worse on the pillow. And then she’ll be grumpy at me for having tried.

Not that she’s mad at me. We all just have ways of holding our face.

We all have ways of holding our face. I realized this with Finn the other day. He’s hypotonic, meaning he has low muscle control. But he walked far earlier than was predicted, and—before that—he learned how to express himself by manners of smiles and ‘Ta-da’s’, with hands held out in comic prediction of an audience.

I have to explain this all the goddamn time.

“Seems your kid’s high-functioning.”

I don’t get mad. I should. Then again, I shouldn’t. You learn things, and instantly you have to become a teacher for things you didn’t know the day before. You can’t be mad at people that didn’t have to do a quick-study, like we did, with absolutely no preparation.

I have to break out my lecture, constantly, the things I forced myself to learn within two nights of Finn being born.

There is no spectrum with Down Syndrome. Hypotonia means any muscle group can be affected. Voluntary, involuntary.

Finn had a bad heart. Everything else worked. But low muscle tone means there can be any number of effects. This can translate as lo-functioning or hi-functioning. But  isn’t that the case for all of us?

I tell people: this is not a spectrum. Just because I don’t want anything to be misunderstood. I have a fierce love for my kids, and being a Dad was my goal in life.

And while Finn was growing, and while we didn’t know what would be diagnosed later, I wrote every night to my friend while Jenn slept her pregnancy sleep.

Delaney had 174 IQ, Asperger’s—whatever is the new name for it. He was spectral, beautiful, a complete constellation unknowingly formed, and my gorgeous gorgeous friend.

I love spectrums, absolutely, like I love prisms; I just hate misdiagnosis. Delaney was my biggest comfort for the year before he died, and I hope I was his, too.

‘Spect’ is the root of ‘spectrum’, ‘spectacle’, and ‘spectacular’.

‘Spect’ means ‘see’.

So Finn: I realize recently how he holds his face. He waddles around the house, and immune to his diagnosis—still crooked like me—always turns his head up and to the right.

Psychiatrists who pretend these things, say that particular and phrenological posture means you’re constantly lying. If you’re looking up and to the right, it means you’re willfully withholding truth.

Finn doesn’t lie.

I watch him roam the house, happy.

I always combine Finn and Delaney as something experienced at once. Spectral, and not. Both, together.

How do I hold my own face? This I’m uncertain of. But I watch Finn play with his toys, everyday.

“My…Name…Is…Finn.”

(He preps for show and tell).

“I…brought…a…”

Doesn’t matter what he picks. He always tells the truth.

 

Inventing a Better Light Bulb

“I do this, Daddy. It’s scientific, really.”

And we’re entwined in the green afghan that my Grandma made while we rest in the top bunk.

“I do this,” and Cayden leans over and peaks out the curtain.

“I can tell what time it is, always.”

He says it’s five-thirty. He’s correct.

“Last night I woke up at two; I could tell because it was dark.”

“How do you exactly know this, Kid?”

I didn’t know he had a seventh sense. I’m genuinely curious, and I smile.

“I can tell when the sun’s about to rise.”

“Me, too.” I continue smiling, a new thing we’ve found together.

“Let’s play truth or false, Daddy.”

Ugh.

“Go ahead.”

“True or false: dinosaurs are extinct.”

I know where’s he’s going with this one.

“No—birds are the only animals to have not gone extinct, and they’re reptilian. T. Rex had feathers. NEXT.”

He can’t fool me.

“Are there more molecules in ten drops of water than there are stars in the universe?”

“Silly question, Cayde. You ARE talking about the universe here.”

He laughs. I kiss him on his head.

He remarks that he tried to trick me, by saying ‘universe’ instead of ‘galaxy’.

“You can’t fool me, Dude.”

“The universe is very different from a galaxy, you know.”

“Yeah, I KNOW Cayde. Unlike you, I’m smart.”

“Heeey,” and he punches me on the shoulder.

He snuggles closer.

“Your turn, Daddy.”

“You sure it’s five thirty? I think you might be wrong.”

He looks out the window again, and he’s correct.

“Megadyptes forsteri is the Latin name for the king penguin,” I pronounce.

“Nope, Daddy. Mega- is that big penguin or something. King is something with an ‘A’?”

“Aptenodytes—yep.”

“How big was that penguin?”

“Eight feet.”

“Taller than you?”

“Obviously.”

Cayden asks me a helluva question, and we’ve already talked about Hitler and Guitane, Gandhi and Lincoln and King, so this is par for the course. Hell, last week we talked about Hitler being a vegetarian and his only having one testicle. We also talked about how Hitler was blinded by mustard gas in WWI and–not leaving behind the opportunity to talk about bodily functions–Cayde reminds me that Hitler was also infamous for his flatulent ways.

Cayde asks: “So if everyone that has died came back to life, how many people would be on the planet?”

This takes some math. 1.78 trillion?(I have facts) Not exactly sustainable if you think about it. We’re already tipping the globe at seven billion.

“Am I right, Cayde?”

He’s satisfied.

“Think you’re close, Daddy,” as if we’re both experts on censes and the tireless logging of the dead.

“Last question to you, Cayde,” and we snuggle closer.

Cayden pops up: “True or false: did Thomas Edison invent the light bulb?”

“False, Dude. You gotta do better. Don’t make me tell you about Tesla.”

It’s five thirty, we fall asleep again.

“Love you, Kid.”

“Love you, Daddy.”

Thomas Edison didn’t invent the light bulb; he simply made it better.

 

 

Be Street

“Hey, Friend.”

I’m beneath the B St. Bridge. My car is parked around the corner.

“’Sup.” He is wrapped in a bed sheet completely, in which case I know him only by his contours, and his right knee sticking up at a strange angle.

I drop off a box of warm clothes. I didn’t feel like dropping it off at Goodwill, anonymously. Besides: the Goodwill on Broadway closed.

There’s a stale plate of taquitos stuck to Styrofoam near—what I imagine—my friend’s head. No bottles, no cigarettes, just a modern day Turin Shroud in the form of bed sheet and a cast-off copy of the Bible. There are snack-food wrappers and one and a half taquitos stuck to a plastic serving tray.

“Be right back.”

I grab a second box and place it by the first one.

“Thanks,” I hear, muffled. Sun’s out; the bridge has shade. There are options, but options can be ridiculous when you disagree with the choices.

I never see his face, but I’m looking up, too, at the overpass, just without a sheet in the way of my eyes.

“Be well, Friend,” I say, talking to myself.

“Thanks,” he says, still from beneath a bed sheet..

I’ve been in the habit of clipping my keys to my right belt loop for years; they jingle as I stand up, no longer with authority. I wrench up my pants and make my way back to the car.

“Thanks!”

Not sure who said that, not sure who said ‘thanks.’

 

 

 

If There Were Men Like This

It happens, always at the wrong moments, when I’ve just had too
much pizza, or as I’m leaving the house to make a bad decision.

Invariably, as if the halo on my shoulder is lecturing me, this guy comes pounding down the sidewalk. He wears clothes, which seem laser-fitted. I say ‘pounding’, because he never jogs; I don’t imagine he’s even a guy that waters the lawn. He probably couldn’t sit still long enough to irrigate a cactus, to tell you the truth.

Bukowski wrote this (and I wouldn’t measure the world based upon Bukowski, but…):

if I were all the man
that he is
cat–
if there were men
like this
the world could
begin

There are guys that water the lawn with great placidity, else guys that put on their running shoes, neon, and hit the curbs at dawn.

I was behind ‘Running Man’ at the store.

I was actually nervous. Or unnerved. This guy always appears in my peripheries, trying, when I try not at all. He pounds down the sidewalk while I enjoy the genetic lottery of svelte. It’s confusing, of course. But it’s not about being thin, since we confuse trim as health. Perhaps riboflavins are involved.

‘Running Man’ bought a wheel of ‘Laughing Cow’ cheese and a bag of bagels. I cradled a dozen eggs. He was breathless; I was waking up, still.

He exchanged words with Lauren, who was running the counter, and then—literally—ran out the door.

He told Lauren how his son, all of ten months, was getting fat.

This guy, who runs with a weighted backpack, was mad at cherubs.

I’ve seen him with his wife–she’s gorgeously complected–and  I’ve seem them altogether, he with a shirt off, there being some mad arithmetic with the number of abs he displays. No such thing as a six-pack with this guy. Twelve is the round approximation.

Every time I see him, it’s like holding a Doppler gun as he runs runs run, I realize he might be outrunning something.

Lauren swipes my eggs, my cereal, my water.

She has an accent:

“I go to the gym everyday you know.”

And she pauses.

“He says he’s fat.” We exchange eyes.

I thank Lauren, tidy my bill. I wonder, as I walk up the street, why why do we all run.