My Boys

Our house is currently being painted. Before school, Cayde slips out the door, then reappears.

“They’re Argentinian!” he says in a high whisper, almost conspiratorially. He disappears again and soon I hear Cayde’s excited jabbering, and the painters’ bemused response. There are a few deep chuckles; when I go to check in on Cayde, he’s standing with feet planted on the lawn, clutching his backpack straps, recounting yesterday’s conferencia de sciencia, and how there’s a scourge of pez leones—lionfish—in the ocean. Only tiburones can eat them, he explains, and there are fewer sharks in the waters these days.

The painters have their brushes holstered in plastic buckets, smiling.

“He speaks good Spanish,” they say. I don’t want to give Cayde a big head, so I smile, nod, and meet their eyes in response.

Cayde disappears at the Mexican grocer often, then reappears with tortillas in hand. He’s learned that his blonde crown coupled with his adept tongue results in bounty: a free bolillo, pats on the head.

Parent/Teacher conference is delayed a day, the meeting before Cayde’s having gone long and with us having to reschedule. Cayde’s English teacher offers a hug of apology when we do meet, though I warn against it: I reek of penguins. She hugs me anyway—a good and earnest embrace—and remarks that penguin hugs may well be the best. The hug and the fact of her nose ring has her ahead in my book.

During any and all Parent/Teacher conferences, I physically ball up: I lace my ankles tight, I cross my hands in my lap. Much of my upbringing has me wanting to succeed, needing the pat on the head, which is why these meetings necessarily stop me. I want the automatic success for my kid; at the same time, I furiously don’t. Cayde, meanwhile, randoms praise from the fabricante de tortillas, else this morning’s Argentinian painter, and so easily. I know the news from his teacher will most likely be good, but I dislike forums where judgment is du jour and where often I’m suspicious of the judges.

Meaning: all discomfort is mine. Cayde’s coast is clear.

Cayde’s English teacher has two rings on her right hand ring finger: one of copper leaf, and one that looks like white gold. She has on silver nail polish, which bridges the difference, and she smooths out Cayde’s papers and projects purposefully, pointing out the academic things she’s supposed to point out. There’s red ink on the evaluative papers, but she says: ‘That’s just my advice. I tell the kids I’m only giving them advice. Teaching is not correcting.”

Words come up: ‘Seminar’. ‘Smart’. ‘Hasty’. ‘Distracted’. The phrase: ‘I-know-this-already’.

Cayde is very cued in to the fact that I skipped a grade in elementary school; he wants to as well, but his English teacher forces a full stop. “He’s doing everything kids do at the end of the third grade already, but I’m not going to give him an advanced score on his report card—maybe later. I want him to keep performing well at a third grade level. I want him at three, not looking toward four.”

In which case, I want to hug this teacher again.

Cayde talked to the Argentinian painters this morning, then remarked he forgot to ask them their names, something he’s forgotten to do for two weeks. A sign, I worry, that he’s encroaching on over-confidence and missing the point that having smarts is necessary avenue to having heart.

“Hello. How are you?” is the most important sequence of sentences one can utter. Waiting for the response, and patiently, is even more important.

It’s the one most essential lesson I seek to instill in Cayde: make your brain and heart one organ, Kid.

(Yeah—I like that he’s smart. I enjoy that he kicked the first goal of the soccer season, and that he has the best punting ability on the team. I like that he can now stump me at twenty questions; I love that he’s a good big brother…)

Cayde’s Spanish teacher pipes up and shows me his essays. “He does this, he has a voice.” Cayde gets high points for conceptual thinking, low scores for grammar, and I welcome the mixed-bag humility. I love that he misspells things and gets the tenses all wrong. I really want the mistakes.

Spanish teacher: “He’s bilingual, though. He wasn’t deterred by my accent (she’s Puertoriqueno); he gets my jokes.”

Understanding a joke is the highest mark of language apprehension. Taking a joke is not on the same ladder, but still equally—differently—difficult.

Spanish teacher presses her palms to the table, chipped manicure. “I give him a four here.” She points to the report card, and I have to adjust my scratched bifocals, because all my glasses are scratched, and I can only see out of the bottom of my lenses.

She pauses. “He really knows science. And in Spanish! He knows the concept, he explains it to the rest of the class. I’ve worked eight years here. I’ve never given a four.” She brings her voice down: ‘He is such a joy’ she whispers. She taps again on the report card. ‘A four.’

I don’t like numbers. But what the English teacher said erased the arithmetic: “He had problems with his homework, but given guidance, he took advice well.” This is the best thing a parent can hear.

“He knows he can learn by taking advice, and he does.”

I’m relieved. I explain that Cayden is very much me, just blonder and with those better parts of Jenn that lend him temperance.

I confess: ‘knowing it all tempts…’ and my ankles are still crossed in perhaps embarrassment: knowing it all, all these years of knowing it all have proved the exact opposite, the exact opposite of how I’d like to be perceived or accepted.

“It tempts arrogance,” I suggest.

The English teacher says ‘no.’

‘He’s just very excited to be learning, and to know things.’

The Argentinian painter greets me at the door because I have no choice: he’s painting the door. He has a moustache and meaty hands. He sees my guitar in the front room, says: “You play?” I confess: not much anymore. But it’s a great guitar, with a solid mahogany top.

“You like Pink Floyd?”


“What do you like?”

I’m at a loss and reel off some names; I don’t know what I like anymore. At a certain age, and as I tell Cayde, asking about favorites is a useless exercise: life is too big for favorites.

Finn wanders to the door with a fistful of cereal and says, earnestly: “Ah-po-te-ba.”

The painter smiles, his moustache dividing.

“This guy: he is my friend.” And he gives Finn both a hug and a high-five.

“You–you are my friend, Little Man,” and Finn says his syllables; I have my coffee and the painter-man his brush.

“Your son—he speaks perfect Spanish. And this guy. In my family, a kid—especial. You know? Especial, muy. This guy—he my friend. “

I tell the painter that Finn used to be a secret. I tell him I told my friend Leah about him, and that she looked at me stonily, and said from behind sunglasses: “my nephew has Down Syndrome and he is the light of our family.”

At the Parent/Teacher conference, the Spanish teacher showed me an illustration Cayden had done, and it was a red and orange picture of the sun; the moon was in pencil and very small.


“You see? This. He knows perspective. This is why the four.”










Angle of Louis

In sleep, and with the bed a twist of sheets, with my body longer than hers but while our feet remain touching, my chest meets her shoulder at the angle of Louis, which is where there would be an asterisk if the heart had one, above and to the right, that sternal place where the head is most vulnerable to remove from the body should it be removed, the angle of Louis being the aim of the guillotiner; in sleep, though, where the remove of head from body is the aim of the willfully guillotined, the determined sleeper, the angle is simply where my shoulder rests against hers, borrowing something; our bodies are a fact of the bed, the twisted sheets; also a tomorrow-fact when we will make the bed and separate, just never completely.

On Being Dad

You inherit a fierce type of love when you become a parent, different fierce when you are a dad and there is not the organic love of having tethered your child by an umbilicus, nor having felt your body change while growing a body. Being a dad is being a different type of parent by default.

I pick up my oldest from school on Wednesdays, his Minimum Day, when at one the queue circling his school is doubled-up, parents double-parked in complete disregard of transit laws; everyone is there, stubbornly braked and singly there for their kid, and theirs alone. I’m shy to break the law these days, so I always circle the school, which is perched over downtown and the ocean. Mexico is to the left and the ballpark is in view, occasionally transmitting neon things on the big screen: all this coastal architecture of suspended cranes and high-rises, steel and outdated brick. I always remark the sky—have to—this genetic imperative to see what the sky is offering the pavement on this day, whichever day.

And never mind the change in weather—though I prefer afternoons of high nimbus and when the sky is a Crayola-blue—I look forward to picking up my kid everyday. Especially on Wednesdays when he’s home early and I’m the one to gather him from class. I didn’t grow him, perse, I was not his avenue into this world, but he’s me in part; and more importantly he takes that piece of me and makes it better because he is that kid who’s remarkable, who could’ve invented the rainbow or something and wouldn’t be any less remarkable than he already is.

I see his blond head at the curb, which is the cue for my heart to do it’s jump-thing. It’s the jump-thing every time, because seeing him is recognition and love at once, and there’s that emotional spike, that adrenaline, when chemicals understand they must be employed like fireworks when I rest eyes on him, him my kid.


The New Guy is not a new guy, in the sense that he’s done this line of work before–raising penguins that is—which is certainly a strange thing for anyone to have on their resume. New Guy has a decade and a half on me, having raised some of the birds I now give geriatric medications to, back when the penguins were in quarantine and freshly arrived from Cape Crozier; before my arrival, even, into the world. NG is cantankerous to a fault, though he also has a penchant for tossing around rattle-throated niceties on the regular.

Me: Thanks for helping me with that.
NG: Hey–anything for a pal. I’d take a bullet in the head for you.

Me: What’s up, friend?
NG: Aloha, mi simpatico!

(Which is the sort of mashed-up patois that makes NG him).

For lunch, he invariably has yogurt, a piece of fruit, and a cigarette.

NG: I’m gonna go smoke in the ‘Sitting Section’ now.


NG: Well, off to the Leper Colony.

He smokes cheap tobacco while reading the news on his phone. We confer often on’s recent offerings, else what is published on The Daily Beast, Slate, Atlantic, Alternet. He eschews social media but is savvy to the left-leaning politico blogs. We both have grey hair and progressive tendencies, why I’m his chosen simpatico. The guy knows his Sanders; he also know his music, and we relate about—maybe—that Kate Bush song which just came on the radio (The ‘Hounds of Love’ being his Desert Island disc), or The Waterboys’ ‘Life of Sundays.’ His ears prick when there are certain mechanical resonations in the building.

“Hear that? That’s the first three notes of ‘Love Cats.’ Y’know: that Cure song.”

The other day, we were leaving work, and he was singing a ‘Jim Carroll Band’ tune, ‘singing’ being the chosen misnomer for reciting tunelessly: “Those were the people who died, died/ Those were the people who died/ All my friends/ They died.’

“Hey! I love Jim Carroll” I say, punching him on the shoulder. “Didja ever see ‘Basketball Diaries’?

NG was shouldering a khaki backpack and holding an almost pitiable cupcake in his hands. He was off to see his new friend, this elderly woman who, by his definition, walks around like a ‘fucking upside-down ‘J’. He had found her toppled over on the street the other week, walker awry, and with a goose egg forming on her head.
NG: “She was on the sidewalk and everyone was gathered round not doing a goddamn thing. She was saying, ‘Help me up’ so I just helped her up.” NG shrugs at this point in the narrative.

He helped her up, and drove her to the nursing home down the block where, by her estimation, the people running the joint are assholes—them and her goddamn son. No one allows her to smoke despite her at least seven and fiercely independent decades on the planet. Her husband’s already in ashes—why not allow her to ash on these latter and last days, when she’s in a neck brace after back surgery and also a bump-headed curiosity on the sidewalk.

New Guy and her have a pact and sneak smokes in the stairwell. She doesn’t talk much, by his report. But he brings her chocolate and cigarettes, and much-needed company, certainly.

“I liked Basketball Diaries. Think I read the book, too.”

I’m usually the guy who champions the book over the movie, but I admit to not reading the novel; me and NG chat about DeCaprio films and how I prefer his earlier work.

I dunno,” NG drawls, “I’ve never been disappointed too much by recent.”

“Loved Basketball Diaries, and the one where he’s Rimbaud. He grew a jaw, and then I didn’t like his films so much.”

He interjects: “Oh-but then there was that Gilbert Grape crap.”

“I love Gilbert Grape! He was great in that!”

And NG is holding that cupcake and poised to exit work, and I like leaving work with him so we can exchange parting remarks about the RNC and bitch about the middling mammal that is Trump’s hair, as well the lower-echelon crustacean which certainly owns Trump’s brain-stem. We have this thing.

NG owns a truck with Hawaii plates, windows always cranked open to air out the upholstery, I suppose; and before walking out to our respective cars, he voices:

“Gilbert Grape. Proof that any actor can play a ‘TARD.”

A co-worker in the room cackled immediately. “Right?” she encouraged. “So true!”

I considered bristling.

The night before, and in company of a family who also parent a child with Down Syndrome, we discussed the ‘R’ word.

“I can handle ‘retarded,’ was the shrug, ‘Just not retard.’ There being a difference between a watered-down adjective and the direct epithet.

I used to do a great Corky impression years ago. A party trick, when ‘Life Goes On’ was on TV. I would say, smirkedly, after rolling out full-Corky: “I’m going to be cursed with a Down’s kid,” never realizing how awful I was with such tongue-rooted insensitivity, my failed language, the fact that I would have a child with Down Syndrome, and that it would ultimately be so much more a blessing than a curse. I was foolish.

I was a dick.

(Me and the New Guy have grey hair. We are old, him more than me).

‘Tard,” he said. I didn’t correct him, or my co-worker exactly. I’m only corrected by virtue of my own situation, and what I’ve learned in first-person. The words bother me, but I can’t legitimately re-shape anyone else’s lips.

I said: “Please mind my Son.” The only thing I could say. It was not a reprimand, but NG ceased talking, and the laughing stopped.

Me and the NG walked out together and he was still holding the cupcake for his new friend, the broken lady; we were still simpatico. He confessed he was socially retarded. I was convinced he was correct—I didn’t like how he said it at all–but let it be and patted his shoulder good-bye while he left to go give an old lady a pastry while I left to pick up my kid, there ultimately being some kinduv kindness.

Afraid of the Ball

On the sidelines today, I experienced a different brand of dad. The guy next to me sported an American jawline and was outfitted in a Team USA soccer jersey. Something about him suggested an internal combustion engine—pistons pumping, sparks firing—but he was less than motive. Instead, he was heated metal in some slow expansive burn.
It was no coincidence that while watching USA Dad, and when remarking the fast outstanding veins in his neck, I randomed thoughts about acute geologic pressure.
The guy’s jaw was tightly clenched, molars against molars. Alchemy rarely works, in which case his compressed back-tooth fillings didn’t eventuate a diamond: pressure can only do so much. I’m guessing, though, he—at the very least–manifested a tension headache while watching his son slack in the backfield.
His wife, down the fence-line, occasionally offered a placative: “It’s ok, Honey–he probably doesn’t hear you. At least they’re having fun.” There was a question mark in her voice.
Our kids and their kids were both doing really well on the field on this bright and sunny October morning; it was a tight match. Cayde didn’t have a goal to brag of, but had scored some good defensive plays. When in doubt, kick it out. Clenched-jaw dad would occasionally pull out his iPhone to take pictures as the kids scrimmaged. It’s what parents do on a bright and sunny October morning, and when their kids are playing soccer and when the throng of parents cares more about available shade than who’s up by what amount. We take pictures, memorialize the sun, and snap shots of little legs in motion.
When USA guy’s kid was rotated out and took a water break, his dad offered him a seat in much the same way an interrogator would offer a perp a hard-backed chair. I learned American dad had actually been shooting video.
“Look at this, Brian: that’s the ball and ten other kids. Where are you?” He was showing the highlight reel to his kid, waving the iPhone in a vaguely menacing fashion. “You’ve got to be faster–lookit the other team.” Mom came over, I thought to save the poor brow-beaten kid (Dad was on his second reel). But she joined in: bad cop and less bad cop. “Sweetie–you’ve got to run faster. Don’t be afraid of the ball.”
“But the ball’s so fast,” Brian said, dropping his head. At which point, American dad berated him with two more highlight reels.
The game was really good. It was the proudest I’ve been of the kids. 4-3 was the final score and we were all excited, stoked in part by the caffeine that was necessary to fuel an 8 a.m. game, but mostly by the kids’ performance because they were so on point.
Immediately after the game, Cayde and I piled into the Beetle to get down to Liberty Station–a place which remains a blind spot for me in my otherwise highway map of a brain—but we made it to the green space next to the water, the site of this year’s Down Syndrome Awareness Buddy Walk.
We arrived in time and we were fresh off victory; a ‘second-line’ style New Orleans brass band began joyous trumpet as we joined the DS Awareness march–the parade that is the focus of the annual event. Some of my best friends were there, Jenn was wagoning Finn and his new buddy Logan around and–with the planes from Lindbergh following the windsock’s whim and launching slightly to the north today through autumn light and blue skies, it was a fantastic afternoon. Everything about the Buddy Walk is positive. When the trombones quiet, the adults get to talk. The conversations run a full gamut. Finn dances. We don’t reveal to each other that we’re crying behind sunglasses. We hug.
The event last year was intimidating to us, this year joyous. I should’ve taken a video with my phone, and showed everyone the highlight reels. I, for one, am not afraid of the ball anymore.
Luck to Brian.

Ninety by Nine

Walking away from the soccer game this morning, already sweltering despite the 9 a.m. start time, I asked Jenn (I thought rhetorically): “Remember when it used to be brisk in October?” The weather app had at one point this week suggested it would be 92 degrees and raining this morning. A look to the left revealed nothing monsoonish on the horizon–just a particularly white-washed blue and some scattered cirrus; still it was creeping up to ninety by nine.
“No,” Jenn said. “I actually don’t. September and October have always been the hottest.”
Which Jenn empirically knows, having sweltered in the no AC pre-fab trailers of underfunded schools during her tenure.
“It’s always been hot in October.”
But there was a time before that, and I guess it must be a fading memory at this point, but I do remember when the breeze reversed in October and ferried with it an autumnal briskness. Jenn and I spent a lot of time at the coast those days–pre-career, pre-family–up on the cliffs above the Scripps Reserve, catercorner to my school, and late at night when the heat had probably long-lifted.
“No,” I counter–“It used to get cold. The first chimney fires were always in October.”
And this week, the chimneys did get lit: one night only, like a premier event. On Wednesday, it rained. Sweaters were pulled off the shelf briefly, smelling like wool having sat too long, the sartorial equivalent of a dog having dodged a bath for two weekends in a row. Dirty sweater weather, fulminating ash; over-eager chimneys and a new BBQ pit punching mesquite smoke into the air. (The new BBQ joint down the block serves up TX/OK panhandle fare and–seeing as I blaspheme on the regular–could there be Carolina BBQ instead, gawdammit…)
It got hot the next day. Super hot. Back to shorts and rolled-up cuffs. Luckily, we got central air this spring, in which case it’s now hot in October, just outside.
When central air was installed, it was an ordeal: the contractors found the attic trusses ultimately too narrowly configured–old standards–and they had to saw old wood to make room for new work. They labored for days.
I asked Jared, the apprentice: “Seemed like a pretty difficult job, yeah?”
J: “Usually I’d say ‘no big deal’. But, truthfully, that was the fucking toughest job I’ve ever done.”
I asked Jared to rate the gig on a 1-10 scale. He never gave me an exact answer, but there was an ashtray in the backyard full of Camels smoked down to the filter, which was answer enough.
Jenn said: “I don’t remember October being cold.” It used to be, then October and Spring became hot vs. the otherwise; on that rainy day, walking home from my neighborhood, smelling the smoke–the one day it was chimney smoke and not the BBQ pit roiling up a mess of ashes–there was the question: could it just be nice again?

Autumnal, Said Right for Once

Following the soccer game where I was the substitute and halfway-in-control coach, me trying my best to juggle the forward players while the backfield lot meanwhile (and in Thoreauvian fashion) confirmed and catalogued the pitch’s nineteen varieties of cultivated grass, I felt somewhat frustrated; it’s hard work, especially with so many parents watching from comfortable chairs, comfortable chairs being the easiest to judge from. Regardless, there were goals kicked and good plays made.
Bear had demanded Cayde punch him hard in the stomach partway through the second quarter: when Bear then afterward lefted one into the net, he said it was because Cayde energized him with a right to the gut. I didn’t argue.
“I asked him to punch me. Then I got a goal,” Bear shrugged.
Guys do this, right? I never played soccer, I don’t know. Also, I’m not a guy’s guy.
At home, Cayde and Bear donned capes and put on a magic show for me and Jenn, then took their magic show to the front-yard, fifty cents per illusion, while in the partial shade of the fast-crisping sycamore. They made at least three dollars on penny-tricks and never once produced a rabbit, nor guessed the right card. And they were pretty horrible at disappearing, which was ok with me.
They wore sequined caps, forgot their shoes, and sat at a table still mostly in their soccer uniforms. That trick with the rubber band and the ring earned them the most coinage. Some lady still owes them a buck according to Bear. Shouldn’t magic be COD?
I later walked down to the corner store to pick up some chicken for dinner. Woody, always affable and characteristically homespun, rang me up at the counter and, when packing away the produce and the poultry, wished me a good rest of the weekend. Woody walked straight outta TV’s Mayberry some years ago, I’m certain, complete with forename and wire-rimmed glasses. He mentioned the heat, and I of course commiserated, saying ‘Yeah–I wish it were more autumnal.’
Woody smilingly corrected my pronunciation of ‘autumnal’: ‘ah-toom-nal.’ (I said it: ah-tum-nal’).
I always get it wrong, and why choose that word anyways? Always, my strange head.
‘I think you corrected me last year, too, Woody,’ and he shook my hand laughing.
‘You have a good one now,’ Woody said.
‘Ah-toom-nal.’ Fall-ish.
Walking beneath the fern trees left of the fence and dragging my groceries home, I wondered why I always get the word wrong: it probably has to do with that long ‘o’ which I dislike; also ‘–toom’ is similar to ‘tomb’ and though spring is supposed to be the rejuvenating season, green buds, etc., I prefer the Fall when the green buds have spent themselves over the course of a season, and when, come September, the leaves rather scrape the concrete in hull-some fashion, fallen and done. I like autumn, and were there some briskness to it, it would prove better.
Fall is not falling: it’s neither a tomb, nor a –toom, whatever semantic is appropriate, it’s just when I feel better, Jenn too, and all this having nothing to do with pumpkin spice.

Blood moon tonight and I forget. Cayde and I are playing in the street—too late, really—but I promised him a game of catch with the Nerf ball that whistles, and it’s 7 o’clock by the time tomorrows meals are done and when the neighborhood kids are ushered inside and Cayde is left without a playmate.
“Daddy,” Cayde is at the screen door, pleading. He lines up two doors down, next to the spent Corolla, and I’m in front of the driveway. We play catch in the dark, and it’s a good thing the football whistles, because we can’t see much. The sky is still halfway lit, but we are silhouettes on the street, as much as the parked cars and the night-winked hedgerows. We spread out because how are awesome are we that we can throw missiles in the dark, and there are the whistles and k-thunks as the football bounces every which way, never too far from the intended target. At 7:15 I remember the lunar eclipse and shout as much to Cayden. The neighbors across the street emerge from their house and debate the wind. I collect Cayde and hoisting him onto my shoulders to get a vantage point above the apartment rooftop, the neighbors flick some lighters and shuffle a few houses down harboring something. The moon is an apostrophe of red. Without my glasses, I don’t see well.
“What’re you doing?” Cayde shouts to the neighbors from atop my shoulders, who are still testing their Bics but also unfolding a filo-thin piece of fabric, if a bit drunkenly, and figuring out some ignition thing.
“Chinese lantern.”
“What’s that, Daddy?” Cayde wants down, curious. He is also unsure on my shoulders, he being eight now.
The neighbors introduce themselves.
“Hi: I’m Dre.”
We all shake hands.
“Oh–Dre!” I know her from the neighborhood, didn’t know she was now my cross-the-street neighbor, and we hug in the dark.
“Hey! You live there?” she asks pointing to the sycamore tree. “This your kid?”
Yes, on both accounts, and Rob holds onto the lantern while it expands, the ignition having been lit. The lantern fills up with heated air. We all watch as Rob eventually lets go, the blood moon now visible from even Cayde-level, and the lantern floats upwards like a luminescent jellyfish, up and up.
There is a queen palm across the street and Rob worries he’s going to catch the fronds on fire; Cayde runs down the block following the lantern as it rises, the lantern never coming close to the queen, just rising twice the height of the neighboring apartment buildings before glinting out and falling paper-bag harmless to the ground.
I collect Cayden to sit on the front porch with the family. The blood moon is visible. No clouds, and Jenn holds Finn who sucks his thumb while sporting heavy eyes. The bottom half of the moon is red and, were it fully lit, there’d be the face with its craters and seas. Some look at the moon and see a silhouette of an embryo; others see Jack and Jill illustrated, tumbling down. Stupid things you see in the sky sometimes, like when constellations are very much a stretch.
Like when it’s autumnal, which, actually, I say right for once.


A Monday, especially a Monday hemmed in with high clouds and high heat, is no day to celebrate a birthday, but it was Cayden’s birthday today. Yes, he liked the burgers I grilled for him; no, he did not like the brownies, though they were a special recipe. The brownies were “sticky” at the edges, and it isn’t till you get a few years past eight that the crusts become palatable, or the corner pieces become the best pieces. Everyone knows the corner wedges of brownies are the best, c’mon.
Been picking the boys up at school and Cayden whined how far it was walking to the car. Parked as far as we were, it meant a different way home. Usually, we take 16th to the top of the hill. It’s a forty-five degree angle down 16th and an immediate right onto Pershing to get home. Cayde usually turns in his seat, says, ‘Hold on, Daddy,’ and inspects for cars when paused at the summit. He looks around, then conspiratorially whispers, “Go!”, and we gun it down the hill. Daddy is fun.
Went the opposite direction today, east before turning north, and it was over some rough-shod white concrete. Slower streets, so the windows were down, and Finn thought it a roller coaster with the up and down jostling and the fact that his hair was splayed back from his forehead. “Yay! Yaaaaaay!” Hands up the entire time.
Passed the Metamorphosis Center–some sad wellness storefront–then hit green lights on into the narrower streets where the trees bower and we have to slow down.
It was Cayden’s birthday today, and the car in front of us was kicking up dried myrtle leaves by manner of exhaust, autumn confetti, and we followed the leaf litter through the length of South Park and on toward home.
The week is all sorts of anniversaries. Yesterday, three years ago, Finn had his breastbone broken on purpose, and his heart re-stitched.
Finn was a marionette on twenty different circuits following his surgery, a few wires penetrating his chest: it was a hard puppet show to witness.
It was also Cayden’s birthday and, friends being the best of friends, threw Cayden a party when we were entirely incapable of doing so ourselves.
“Daddy–I have to poop,” Cayden says when we’re shopping for ingredients at the neighborhood market. I promised him burgers and brownies and needed to pick up cuts of sirloin and chuck, hamburger buns, all the etc. We’re parked, hurriedly shopping, and Finn is meanwhile threatening the pyramid display of Zinfadel while perched precariously in a grocery cart.
“Hold on, hold on, Dude.”
Cayden clutches the seat of his pants while I pay and while the engine clicks just outside the door in the heat.
“I’ll run home and get there first, ok?” Cayde says nervously.
“But I’ve got the keys, Dude–just get in the car. The house is locked.”
And we get home on time, Cayde bursting out of the car when barely we straighten into the driveway.
He’s eight. The idea of ‘eight’ has always scared me. His face has changed, graduated into boyhood and is already suggesting adolescence; I worry that–after eight–the fact that I have the keys, or that I drive the car home, will somehow change and that closed doors will be my fault; maybe the car ride won’t be as much fun.
Cayde got a magic set for his birthday. While trying to prep dinner, I told Cayde: “Please–show me your magic tricks in a bit, ok?” because he was too much in the kitchen with a silk sack, a wand, and some sorcerer’s box; Finn was wailing not having slept at all during pre-school.
I couldn’t conjure patience, was still in my work clothes; the grill was set too high so that I burnt both my eyebrows and the chicken.
When the evening waned and Cayde re-attempted a magic show, he tried to convince me that this foam ball would, by clumsy sleight of hand, become some other thing. Not a pigeon, certainly, but I wished for it, to have a magic trick work so well as to give us all confidence in the illusory.
No; instead we just take 16th home–usually, even if not today–where the road ramps downward so steep that we fly past the eyesore cinder-block buildings and the rusted-out chain-link. Cayde says ‘Go!’ and Finn throws up his hands in expectation, and I know to hit the brakes two-thirds of the way down so we don’t bottom out. It’s magic making that right-hand turn, when it’s absolutely certain the car won’t crash despite the momentary rush–I can even calmly flick on the blinker before turning into the right-hand lane–and Cayde says, always: ‘Daddy, that was AWE-some.’
Love you, Kid.

Movement, removed.

Yesterday at the gym I rode a stationary bike that was anchored two feet in front of a large plate glass window. Outside the window were three sycamore trees, their leaves already crisping in preparation for the encroaching and inevitable fall. Beyond them sprawled a half-parched lawn, brownish-green, extending toward Friar’s Road in the near-distance. Cars passed eastward in the commute.
There was a devil’s rain at play, something the midday had conjured, with the sun shining simultaneous to the increasingly transient showers.
Had I actually been moving through the weather, on a real bike, I’d probably have been sweating just as much—only differently—with monsoon weather flushing the skin and with the otherwise factor of wind being its own thing, the cooling effect of momentum.
The gym however, was air-conditioned: the wind there is positively pressured and continuously pushed downward through evenly spaced vents. The assorted riders ride nowhere, but the digital read-outs insist otherwise: there are all these measures of miles traversed, spans of time-in, sundry calories spent.
I played this game where I agreed to do just ten minutes on the bike. When that didn’t match up to an even number of calories burned, I figured I’d keep going, pedal toward the five-mile mark. When five miles didn’t amount to an equitable sum of minutes, I continued pedaling, looking for a goal, never of course reaching the plate glass two feet in front of me, nor un-anchoring the cycle; I finally stopped at ten miles, thirty-five minutes, 400 calories disappeared. That’s what the read-out said at least.
Even enough. I stopped the program and dismounted.
The trees hadn’t changed much, but the traffic had slowed and the rain had stopped. I took out my ear-buds, the gym equivalent to parking a bike, and the whoosh of the air-conditioner was immediately apparent: always that substitute wind.
It occurred to me how often we look to digital measurements as something we could otherwise intuit, things we could register ourselves, but don’t; always looking instead to the monitors and LCD displays, the light pollution and digitalized numbers.
When Cayde was being born, the doctor pointed to the monitor left of where Jenn reclined on the bed, epidural in place.
“Look—you’re having a contraction right now,” and what should have been a body-clinching spasm, and where Jenn should otherwise have doubled in pain, the contraction just showed up neatly as a seismographic tic on the hospital’s machine.
Jenn and I nodded as if simply noting a brief change in the weather.
When Carol, Jenn’s mom, was let go in peace, and when we together shuffled into the white-accordioned room to say good-bye—Jenn having gone first and instructing the nurse to please re-bandage her mother’s head as there was a coil of brain exposed beneath the existing bandage—when we gathered around Carol and let her salts find their final shoreline without expectation that a machine stopped could in any way change her condition—she unresponsive, already gone—we still looked to the flickering numbers on the screen to let us know, decisively, that the dwindling electricity and down-trending needles meant she was at last passing, that we were given cue to say our final things, and be allowed exit into the hallway.
It is a modern thing to measure things immeasurable.
At the gym, there are all these mirrors. Self-inventory is recommended, in which case—after a workout—you can remark how your body has changed, if temporarily, by having moved through all these varied yet static stations. The chest is flushed, the iliac crest is pronounced, you have more color, and everything suggests you’ve accelerated to somewhere. Still the plate glass remains, as do the trees outside. The bike stays anchored and on its monitor blinks a heart-shaped cursor—also sensors on the handholds—requesting: please, please, another pulse.
There is the forced air when leaving through the sliding glass doors; when exiting to the parking lot and just walking to the car, the heart either slows or accelerates—however it should when recognizing the familiar lines of the crosswalk or the particular light at whatever time of day. Regardless, it remains its own privately measured thing, this heart: quiet, reticent, beating silently and soundly, always resolute, belonging ultimately and always all to itself.

Thousands and Thousandths

Finn decidedly unwore his backpack on the way out of pre-school today, the backpack being as big as he was. Even when I knotted the straps around his waist and held his hand out the door, he shrugged the monkey-themed rucksack down past his shoulders, and preferred me to hoist him in a crooked arm, alternately waving to everyone, else sucking his thumb while we made our way through the melee of first-day-of-school curbside parents. Cayden skipped along behind, excitedly talking about math and Spanish; it was ninety degrees out and we had to walk five blocks to our car, parked up on Broadway and near the taco shop. Finn happened to see his mom, herself dismissing class out in front of the school, and so for five blocks it was: “Mama! Mama! Mama! I held Finn’s backpack while he reached a hand out back towards Jenn, who was dutifully matching students to parents and abuelitas, all the Sherman Heights neighborhood in one place collecting their children. It was really hot, and by the time we arrived at the car, Finn was limp on my shoulder, his ‘mamas’ having expired. A few minutes into the drive, the AC having kicked in, I asked Cayde: ‘Wait–how was school again?’ He talked about thousands and thousandths, and that his teacher was “pretty wild”. Finn was complacent in the back seat in a fresh school uniform and I remembered when he was born, when our pediatrician draped him across her forearm in the recovery room, his blood already pooling in an imperfect heart, so sleepy in the first shows of congestive failure, that the fact of anything outside his diagnosis was uncertain. Then he woke up, heart tightened, and so did we, and I had to fairly hurl Finn into the carseat today because he’s now so heavy, and did so outside the taco shop that has our favorite chile verde burrito; outside the taco shop where Cayde was excitedly talking about the thousands and thousandths places, and where, while buckling Finn in and thinking of all the chances, I had to agree with the math.