Fidgetery

Through the kitchen window screen, I hear the neighbor, and he absolutely sounds like Billy Crystal, just in the most annoying Billy Crystal way you can imagine. (“I would be proud to par-take of your pee-can pie”, if I remember ‘When Harry Met Sally’ correctly).

“Go potty! Go potty!” he tells his brood of papered dogs, these puppy farm terriers he walks too early in the morning. I prefer coffee in the a.m.; he prefers imploring his dogs to pee on command.

Maybe I shouldn’t complain.

The neighbor that used to live in his residence was an absolute tweeker. I’d leave for work early to find the guy Windexing his windshield in exactly one spot, over and over and over, like he was wiping away pretend spiders. His car was some tricked-out Beemer that he’d sliced down to low-rider status. It had a matte paint-job and tinted windows. The neighbor did this all—all this custom work—in his shuttered garage, usually at two a.m. If nothing, he was productive. Except when it came to polishing away those damn spiders. Then he was like a stuck record, needle skipping.

“Go potty! Go potty!”

I’m with Cayde in the kitchen, not cooking, and Cayde’s on a step stool managing his own microwave dinner, the microwave being that thing I’m not exactly fond of perched high atop the refrigerator.

Finn fell asleep an hour before, in his brother’s lap, exhausted from school and therapy and general Finn-ness.

I’m compiling food for tomorrow, which I get excited about, imagining a day of here and there small plates. It’s mostly veg. I eat mostly veg these days, and the little meals are like stepping stones to guide my hours. I get excited finding an avocado in the back of the fridge. It will be my lunch, with labne, cilantro and my one helping of cast-iron chicken. Then it’s apples, carrots, fennel, hummus, barley, eggs and salsa.

“What’s your favorite Mexican food?” Cayde asks munching on <gasp> dino nuggets. “A Benny’s bean and cheese, right?”

I’ve always told him to not engage me in the game of favorites, because life is too big to single things down to one choice, and one choice only. Don’t make me pick my last meal.

But I indulge him. And the questions move to French food, Indian food, Chinese food, then Swiss (?) food (I pull Gertensuppe out of some wrinkle of the brain). We keep talking while the terriers apparently have finished their piss. It’s quiet outside the kitchen window, and Cayde is in his mismatched outfit of stripes and flannel, with a flat-brimmed cap. He’s sitting still(ish) on the step-stool, chatting about German food, then Hitler, then Dude Perfect, then batting practice, and I do my best to keep up. He’s an admitted fidgeter, and his sentences match accordingly.

We’ve got the radio on, we’ve skipped Jeopardy. He obliges an early bed-time after I’ve congratulated him on choosing Kewpie mayonnaise as THE proper condiment. For once he uses a napkin as appropriate sidearm, not the cronch of his pants.

He crashes into me before disappearing to bed.

“Good night, Daddy! Love you!”

It’s quiet in the kitchen, and I smile while chopping vegetables, all the busyness done. All the busyness gone, but missed all at once.

 

 

Answers Like Burning Paper

The questions used to be easy. And if they weren’t easy, they were at least innocent, also answerable with simple Google searches.
Cayde would ask:
“What’s the inside of a blueberry look like?”
“What’s a blue whale skeleton look like?”
“Did tyrannosaurs have feathers?”
(The last one is great, because it’s a matter of both science and whimsy, which are fantastic collaborators in the art of metaphorizing. Imagine a reptilian killing-machine wearing a feather boa. The jokes write themselves).
I’d show Cayde pictures on an iPad while reclining in his bed.
“That penguin’s fat.”
We worked in the declarative.
My friend Maggie Jaffe and I used to run a small press publication years earlier where, over a Spartan plate of salsa and cream cheese, seitan and grapes (also scotch), we’d argue about fonts.
She’d go to a writers’ retreat in Vermont and I’d have to type up the issues and take care of her cat, a Norwegian Forest Tabby. I’m really bad at computers, much better at cats. It was a quasi-agreeable situation.
“Is this going to be the prison issue, or the Ernesto Cardenal issue?”
We were both bird-lovers, birds that sometimes show up in the mouths of felines. We were fashionably ironic, me and Mags.
The poetry overflowed, took up a lot of space. I wound up with boxes that I couldn’t store in my apartment with its one and simple closet. I kept a box of manuscripts in the trunk of my car, my mobile attic.
Attics get broken into as do cars, and long story short, poetry wound up scattered over the streets of North Park one night, and a Florida St. Samaritan returned some of the loose pages to Maggie, tire prints and all, asking: “Are these yours?”
Mags and I spent 9/11 together, watched the buildings go down in a wreck of dust and concrete, with the papery aftermath of dossiers and fax sheets floating light despite the heaviness of everything—this stupid detritus which caught the sun when you wished to God it didn’t look so beautiful in its descent.
Maggie was pretty mad about the poetry, all those ruined papers.
How do you apologize? In a formal letter? Sans serif with a Goodyear watermark? Tough questions.
Cayde has tougher questions these days.
“What’s the Illuminati?”
“Why didn’t Thomas Jefferson and John Adams like each other? They wrote a bunchuv letters to each other.”
“Who killed JFK?”
“Why did they burn Martin Luther King’s house down?”
“Tell me about Gandhi?”
I’m equipped to answer these questions, and why I still have residence in Cayde’s bunk come bedtime. Cayde’s actually carved out time: ‘7-7:30’ Daddy and I talk about things; ‘7:30-8’ we play along with Jeopardy.
These questions are hard, they’re just not declarative in nature anymore. The inside of a blueberry is an easy thing to Google, moral relativism is not.
“What was the worst war?”
“Why were we in Iraq?”
I don’t want to mess him up.
“Let’s not talk about Iraq tonight.”
“There’s no such thing as a good war,” Cayden says, wearing kid pj’s, and I’m not sure if it’s a statement or a question.
Studs Terkel, Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Dwight Eisenhower, MLK. I flip through my mental Rolodex of primary sources.
I kiss him square atop his mop.
“Not tonight, Dude. Later. We can talk later.”
Shit.
We’ll talk later and erase the tire-prints, maybe look at pictures of dinosaurs with fancy feathers. That’s easier.

Icarus, Come Down

On the drive into work, on the day of the windstorm, I see a plane take off backward from Lindbergh Field, which is what happens when weather patterns are not normal and pilots must do their work in reverse.

“Backwards javelin,” I think to myself.

I have these errant thoughts and word-associations that random my brain as caffeine fast-forwards the morning, setting the mind, unready, into motion.

I simultaneously see a gull, wings outstretched and frozen mid-air, kiting in the quickly building wind, determinedly facing opposite the jetliner. The jetliner is riding the wind; the gull is floating in it.

I have no words for the gull, no quick association, though the fact of a stilled and winged thing seems more available to poetry.

Since my eye surgeries a decade back, I see gulls in fantastic light. Especially when the clouds are low, and the dawn-or-dusk sun is trapped by their influence; then, the gulls glow fairly metallic. Reminds me of the titanium white I used to deploy on canvas, back when I used to paint. Titanium’s an almost falsely iridescent hue that bests even the whiteness of the canvas.

With my new eyes, since cleared of cataracts, gulls glow like the glinting underbellies of fuselages. Like they’re encased in light and halo. When gulls are flying machines suddenly stopped, when the winds pick up and they float, it’s like seeing them as miniature glorifications of themselves, hovering on the still.

Gulls have red spots on their under-bills—vermillion no. 11. It’s what their fledglings strike at to signal they want to feed. The red is also a strong suggestion to prospective mates that a more vermillion-sporting bird exudes greater genetic confidence.

Peg is Daedalus from her office chair. I’m across from her on the coach, turning a coffee mug in particular circles, not sure if I want the handle turned left or right.

She deploys the word ‘hypomania’ like a titanium-white diagnosis.

When I’m too hyper, if I feel too much a bright shining point—like the red of a gull’s beak—if there’s an excessive busyness I’m attempting to quell, I’ll sometimes drive home at lunch. There are the fifteen minutes I drive home in my work clothes, absorbing the quiet of my radio and the glitter of the oceanfront. Airplanes pass over the freeway, their fast and steep descent some strange comfort. The jetliners have landing gears already engaged as they pass over the sunroofs on the Five. I’m left with five minutes to collapse on the couch, to absorb the quiet of a still house. This is terra firma, this is my home, with all its made and unmade beds. What follows is the fifteen-minute drive back to work, the further exhale. It’s an exercise in calming down.

Birds have to land most the time. Not albatross—they can float for years without terra firma. Their wingspans are unbelievable, and can ride zephyrs for months. Shoot down an albatross, as Coleridge writes, and you have to wear its heavy carcass around your neck as punishment.

There was that time I levitated off a Librium-anchored bed, floated up through the elevator shaft, and toward the sun, smiling.

You don’t kill an albatross, just like you don’t kill a mockingbird.

Still—Daedalus warned Icarus, “Don’t fly too close to the sun,” and Icarus—the pretend-bird—he didn’t listen and his wax wings melted. He extinguished his bird-ness and fell into the ocean.

‘Backwards javelin.’

When the windstorm was over, planes took off on the regular and gulls flew as they should, and they most likely landed okay in some offscreen way. You never know.

But I lay with Jenn in the grass, today, the sun at proper distance, with wings invisible, folded, and intact behind me, and—to look around—there was no sea.

 

Pole-dancing.

There is a corona around the moon tonight. ‘Corona’ may be the wrong terminology—perhaps coronas only exist around the sun—what it all simply means is that there’s just enough humidity in the air to have light form a crown around the one and present celestial body. Because it’s night, this means the moon; it’s coronated with a halo that is rainbow on the inside despite the present darkness. I see it from my porch where it is lacerated by the knifing of telephone wires and the occasional plane flying in, just over Mt. Miguel and down past Balboa’s tower.

The planes flying in, wingtip lights blinking; the moon exhibiting its strata—it’s signal to walk, which I do because recently I require less sleep. These walks are no longer about clearing the head, rather expanding it.

I don’t believe in fate. But I naggingly insist on symbology, so it’s of no surprise that I live in a neighborhood once torrented by a jet-crash a year after I was born. We all became something different after 9/11; NP became something different the year I was still in a car seat, and when PSA 182 hit the houses that remain, rebuilt, a stone’s throw from where I live currently.

I walk the neighborhood under a full moon and the barbeque pit is extinguishing its last coals, when the pit-masters break up the last and spent embers with their tongs, sending up fast-dying sparks, there still delicious smoke; when patrons weave their way home, women dressed to unnecessary nines and drunk in their own effluvium of perfumes.

I walk down a new alleyway, which I didn’t know was dead-ended. My failure as a mammal—we’re supposed to have a better sense of direction. But I tell people that we are very much unlike our dogs or cats; rather our senses are ordered like birds. We rely on sight, and when that’s blinked out, it’s hearing; followed by smell and taste. I don’t talk about ‘touch’—that’s something different.

At the end of an alleyway, where I can’t see, I’m at the edge of a canyon. There’s houses here, but I best hear the military order of sprinklers, chh-chh-chh; there’s sourgrass , iceplant and aloe—chartreuse and magenta and orange blossoms—but also chaff wettened, all the dead stuff coming back to life. And because I can’t see, I hear the sprinklers, I smell the familiar smell of straw like the sticky smell of buckwheat enliven the near-midnight hour. There’s the sound of a squirrel in the bushes, maybe a late-night and near-terrestrial bird, so I turn around.

My therapist looks at me over her glasses. There are bookcases behind her, and I focus on a copy of Franzen’s ‘Freedom’. Since my therapist has set up a neighborhood book exchange outside her practice, I suggest giving ‘Freedom’ away. ‘Freedom’ is shit next to ‘Corrections.’

Like I said, I believe in symbology.

“Perhaps you’re bi-polar.”

This is the punch in the eye I don’t need.

“You keep saying euphoria.”

“…”

“I don’t want to go back, Peg. Bipolar means you have to go back.”

“You could be unipolar,” she suggests as if we’re watching a butterfly being eaten by a hummingbird.

My grandpa used to sit in front of the television when I was young, the television as furniture and with the faux-gold ash-piece next to it, he smoking and I rooting on the Saints because I had no allegiance; he gave me pennies and would pinch my arm with a wink. He would sit next to me with his arms pounded to the floor, gorilla-like; he liked me and I knew it (my grandma didn’t), and I felt comfortable though he was uncomfortable with just one and a half lungs, why he sat the way he did, holding himself up because it was hard to breathe.

He gave me three cents when the Saints scored a touchdown.

He whispered things to me, flannel-jacketed, which I only now remember. There are papers which had him diagnosed as manic-depressive.

I won’t repeat them, the words he said to me..

I don’t want to go back. Though Grandpa planted a field of iceplant with flowers like fuchsia anemones that I’d navigate in my corduroys, six years old, not knowing what would later be mine.

Inheritance is not always a good thing. And we sometimes say sorry, without being, perse, sorry on purpose.

We apologize on accident.

We apologize for accidents.

We are accidents.

Nothing is anybody’s fault.

With grass-stains on my knees, my Grandpa told me this:

Fifty cents

A guy is leaning against the RedBox at the 7/11. He has clean shirt, a parted afro, and a tightly rolled up sleeping-bag at his feet. He’s young, maybe half my age.
“Excuse me, Sir—can you spare fifty cents so that I could get some food?”
I dig in my pockets—change is change to me—so why not spare two quarters?
“Oh—sure, Man—I’ll help you out.”
I don’t care how the money’s spent. I just know I have fifty cents to give, that karma is incredible, and that we’re all a family. (My kid—when he’s anxious and heartbroken, talks about breaking his piggy bank and giving all the monies to the homeless people who have to be outside in the rare San Diego rain. He’s a great kid).
Before I can give the gentleman my coins, I’m stopped by a police officer who tells the guy: “You can’t harass people outside of this property. Pan-handling is illegal.”
He steps in between me and the gentleman at the Red-Box in order to break the karmic transaction.
I duck into the 7/11 and buy my coffee.
The officer walks in, points at the teller, and says, “He can’t do that. I’ve sent him down to the intersection.”
The officer looks at me, with my coffee and bottle of sparkling water, and says, “Hey—I apologize about that. Guy shouldn’t have harassed you.”
He waves and walks off. Him and his extremely tight haircut.
The teller and I meet eyes.
I shake my head.
“Shit, Dude. That was totally unnecessary,” I say, and he laughs.
We do our transaction and I place all my change and then some in the counter jar.
“For when—you know—that bothersome guy comes back.” Goddammit, sometimes.

Tokeyo, test one, test two

Sorrow.’ –Life Without Buildings.

“This is kinduv sad. Is she talking, or singing?”

“Both. That’s her particular way…that’s her voice.”

“Oh—SCOTtish.”

(I don’t know what that means)

Findlay has vomited pink ice cream in the back-seat, and there are otherwise explosions of almost-pink pencil cacti in the side-view. We talk about the songs.

(My best friends have been Irish, but I’ve got a Scot for an uncle).

Blue Blood’—The Walkmen.

“This has to be about octopi, cuz they have blue blood and three hearts.”

“Do they?”

“In Dory, the octopus had one bad heart.”

“I don’t know that movie. I’ve got three good ones, or maybe just one.”

“OH—DADDY! I found this one thing.”

I hand him the phone; I’m driving.

He punches in some letters on Spotify, and it’s Tokyo Police Club.

“Tokeyo, or Tok-yo?”

“Doesn’t matter, Kid. How’d you know that was one of my favorites?”

I’d kiss him on the head, but I’m driving. He selected one of my favorite songs.

“You get along a lot better with Grampa and Grandma, don’t you,” he asks, and Findlay smells like puke in the rear. His eyes are rolling in a Nod-some way.

“What makes you say that?” while I curse the BMW driver next to me for dodging into my lane, no blinker.

“Well you see them a lot on Wednesdays with Finn, and you talked to Grandma for hours the other day.”

I test him.

(He’s probably too young to be in the front seat).

“Well, I talked to Chris last night for a long time, too; also Derek. Then I hung out with Barbara and Noah. I like talking to people.”

The National—‘Driver, Surprise Me.’

“But, like, FIVE hours.”

Your brand new bones…

“Yeah—I like talking to people, Cayde.”

We hit the summit and Cayde keeps punching the radio, looking for songs.

Whatever works for you
I’m brand new, reinvented
Without a scratch
Daisy-fresh and arrow-straight.

“I like that song, Cayde. Hands off, goddammit.”

And, just like that we’re over the hill.

He’s right.

Turgidity in the Otherwise Times of Iced Mochas

Sitting at a coffee-shop while nearby patrons describes turgidity and aqueation with notebooks open; I wanna jump into the conversation because everything is interesting to me. They mention Rainbow and Mission, water quality, and upcoming rains. Finn does what I cannot. He plops next door to the guy with the dog on the leash (the dog with the white freckles on his nose and an old demeanor), and Finn starts talking and gesticulating like mad.
To the lady at the counter, I say: “The usual, April.”
April has a PJ Harvey shirt, but–shhh–she’s more Chrissie Hynde’s age, and she love the Pretenders. We talk all the time about music while she grinds the beans. She has a t-shirt with Emily Haine’s autograph and I’m a little bit jealous.
“Baa-bah-du-stff,” Finn says, while waving his Jessie doll around and talking to the guys who are talking about water quality.
This is a perfect afternoon. No rain in sight. But that there’s an AFTERmath of rain, and that people have to talk about it is fantastic to me.
I excuse my kid–the guys with the notebooks smile and say, ‘No problem—kids of our own’, etc.–and Finn owns the patio, ducking behind chairs and crashing potted plants.
I finally get Finn seated, which was not my point, and the water quality guys leave, the dog taking a cool drink from the communal dog bowl before limping out.
Finn waves, “Bye!” because he always does, and why am I so lucky to have him?
Finn does dunk his Jessie AND his monkey doll into the dog bowl maybe three times, but we must not battle windmills.
“Findlay, stop.”
I don’t mean it.
I rather mean: Findlay, go.

Women’s Day and Bright Shining Dots

It’s International Women’s Day. There is history and her-story.
There’s this misnomer: ‘Behind every successful man is a good woman.’ This is a misnomer because it suggests a rank and file. If I’m successful as a man, it’s not because women are peeping over my shoulder; it’s because they are standing right next to me.
What does ‘being a successful man’ even mean?
We are human; the genders are equal in their strengths. Sometimes different, but the yin and yang wouldn’t be what it is without a tight compartment of unity despite difference.
You don’t ‘grab crotches’, you don’t prescribe to the Genesis idea that men have headship in the family because Man is the closer iteration of some bearded God.
No—you work together.
Can I list the women who have elevated my life, who are not the ‘behind’ women that have led to my perhaps success?
My wife. I’m a bright shining dot because of her. She is my everything.
My mom. She loves my dad so much, and I learned how to love by watching them together.
My grandmother, and how I miss her: I would tend her garden, she would water my own garden by asking the simple question: ‘How are you?” We would talk for hours.
My Aunt Deb McMahon: She gave me the blueprint for adulthood.
Maggie Jaffe: prolific poet to the end. Sadly beautiful and a force of prose.
Janet: who is my Mamó and oils my Tin-Man joints.
Elaine: my landlady on paper, but better my friend.
Debbie: who takes my kid to plays and brightens his eyes.
The labbies and techs at work, also my sisters and my cousins, all my surrogate moms, the women who teach me things in my career, the women who inspire me to be a better technician and human being; my co-workers, my friends.
Happy International Women’s Day.

Raied

I go see Raied. Everyone calls him ‘Ray.” He’s Chaldean, though occasionally is hit with slurs like, ‘Fucking camel jockey”, “Goddamn Muslim” despite the fact that he doesn’t dispense religion (nor is Muslim); he just dispenses wares at the corner market.
You should get to know this guy.
“Hey, Thom–how’re you doing?” he says in his classically raspy voice; we clasp hands.
“Doing great, Ray!”
“You work today?”
“Did my thing, sure. Just tending to the kids tonight.”
“Sounds great, my friend,” he says. “Family first.”
“Absolutely, Ray.”
He’s got four kids.
Ray fled Iraq in 1991 during the first Gulf War, was detained in Jordan for two years because his paperwork got destroyed in the bombings.
2001 made things tough for him. He couldn’t find a job once in America; he took buses and didn’t know the language.
“Just this tonight, Thom?” he says, packing my business.
“I’m simple–yes.”
Raied has a simply-shaved head, a near-forgotten mustache, and soulful eyes. He’s all Tom Waits gravel.
“You doing ok, Ray?”
He shrugs. “Yah–you know, Thom.”
(I probably don’t).
He smiles, and his body relaxes, and he points: ‘Take care of your kids.’
And he’s the most upbeat guy I know.
We’ll take care of each other. Yes we will.

Birds Flying Away in the Rear-View

“Cayden, how many birds are on that lamp-post?,” I point with one finger while both hands remain on the wheel.

We’re going to the dentist, and Finn’s mugging in the backseat. Cayde keeps asking what time it is, every two minutes, and we’re on time, but I know he wants to be late.

I spawned  a ‘me’. I also spawned a child with an extra chromosome, and this morning we lay in bed with arms around each other and talked, the duvet a half kicked-off thing, while we discussed the ceiling-fan.

“Daddy—I see a head and two arms and two legs.”

The ceiling fan spins, so you can’t see anything of anatomy, but Cayde’s right.

“Well, I see a parachuter, Cayde. The pull-string is like that thing you yank to unleash the parachute.”

“But the parachute should be on his back.”

“Fair enough.”

Finn sits up and bounces in between Cayde and me. He squints his almond eyes, sticks out his tongue and forces us to be silly while the ceiling fan perhaps or perhaps not parachutes down.

“Cayde—how many birds are on that lamp-post?”

Last night, I laid with Cayde in bed, answering all his questions.

(“Care for a game of chess?”

“Care for some Turkish Delight?”)

The ceiling fan in Cayde’s room has only two blades, because. That’s a different story.

“Daddy, I worry about WWIII.”

“Well, I worry about it, too, which is why I talk to people all over the world and find out what they think.”

Finn snores below in the bottom bunk, snug and happy. He’s still probably wrapped up in the remaining Cheerios I didn’t pick up last night when he littered his bed with half a box of honey nut ‘O’s.

I got ‘A’s’ in all my classes; I take IQ tests on the regular because I like to see my numbers go up. It’s the asshole part of me; it’s also prep.

“Why did William Henry Harrison die?”

“A virus. You can’t cure that.”

“And Charlie Guitane shot Garfield and wanted to have his gun in a museum case.”

“Yup—you can’t cure that either.”

Cayden brings up the KKK and Gandhi and MLK and things I didn’t knew he knew about. I grind my jaw but talk gently, the entire time. I have him hold my hand, and we share a blanket. This is hard, but I’m up for the challenge.

Driving to the dentist, the glove-box pops open and a CD falls out.

“Hey! Rural Alberta Advantage.”

I plug it into the CD player, and kiss Cayde on the head as we drive. He hasn’t heard RAA in years, and nor have I. He hasn’t heard it since he was two.

‘And all these things will pass

It’s the good ones that will last

And right here what we’ve had

Is a good thing and it will last.’
Cayde knows all the words. He sings all the words.

“How many birds are on that lamp-post, Cayde?”

I counted ten.

“Nine, Daddy”—one flew away, which I saw only in my rear-view.