Anniversary

Twenty years ago, I punched my first time-card. The clock was a boxy metal affair and aligning the card just so was a mathematic I proved bad at. My time-in/time-out punches were often overlaid in the same cell, and in mimeograph purple; the cards themselves were of the same card-stock you’d find in library card catalogues: manila. Mimeographs and manila are card catalogues are all fast-dying things.

Before my SeaWorld job, I worked under the table and got paid in twenties. I wrote essays for my high school English teacher and did research for her in university libraries. There was also that one summer I helped my friend’s dad build a two-hundred foot retaining wall in his backyard and it was the first time I found myself trim after a prolonged and adolescent pudginess.

SeaWorld was my first real job in that FICA was involved and I was cut paychecks on the regular. I made exactly $4.25 an hour. My job involved sweeping popcorn hulls in the varied stadiums, directing people traffic, selling fish in the feeder booths. I loved it, especially retiring to the car at near-midnight on summer nights and when there was a parking lot culture beneath the fireworks. The nights were always salt-air sticky and how many late night/ early mornings I spent talking far past my scheduled shifts with accidental friends when leaning against car hoods. There was a Denny’s down the street which is designed to be the after-hours hangout. The waitresses knew us by our ill-fitted windbreakers and obvious name tags.

I met my future-wife at company orientation. She chose a seat next to me because I looked like someone she’d like to know. (On a serendipitous note, and a story I like to tell, I had a picture of her dad hanging on my wall for most my childhood: he was the athletic trainer for the Chargers when they were at their winningest, and I had a thumbtacked poster of the ’84 Chargers on my bedroom wall).

The lack of responsibility while first understanding responsibility was a great and questionable suspension, like a bridge to nowhere exactly soon. So much fun and abandon, those days.

I worked Park Ops and the Education Department. I worked Employment (I actually ‘hired’ the people who would later be my tutors in Aviculture). When finishing college, I had late-night gigs at Shamu stadium overseeing the killer whales. There were absurd moments I had my typewriter at orca poolside, finishing essays before clocking out at eight o’ clock in the morning and driving up the freeway for a full day of university.I knew all the orcas by their particular respirations. Kasatka was my favorite. I’d lean against the glass with my typewriter and she’d hover above my shoulder, my essays on Toni Morrison’s ‘Beloved’ being THAT interesting. She’d read my writing and, occasionally, she’d spit a squid over the plexi-wall which was either complaint or particular playfulness. She had a habit of sticking her tongue out, curled, and this was her laugh. She talked in an echolocative whisper, which, most people don’t know can in fact be a whisper.

I got the penguin job. Things happen when you’re busy making other plans. This was certainly temporary, I would say.

That was sixteen years ago.

At lunch a number of months ago, we were talking beards, facial hair having only been allowed at SeaWorld a few years back. I grew the first beard of my life because all the guys are supposed to grow one at the Penguin Encounter. It’s just the thing: the Polar Beard. And my beard was red for exactly a year before it’s fast disappearance. My friend, a younger keeper, called me out on my self-chastising, me eschewing my wrinkling eyes, and the fact that my beard is growing in it’s whiteness.

“Dude: it’s iconic,” he said, meaning my beard.

The red has certainly retreated, and the white has claimed all my chin. The left side of my moustache is currently (ant)arctic-frosted and I’m losing color fast.

On and along a PR trip, another friend said: ‘We’re kinduv elder statesmen, now, in our jobs’ which is an interesting bent. I used to sweep up popcorn, but know I have an enviable keep and it’s easy for me to talk keeper talk, there being no stadium chains to pull or people to necessarily be polite to. Globulins, hematocrit, albumin, WBC, You gain sophistication and you lose pigment and penguins are your friends.
You find yourself twenty years later and ask: ‘how did I get here?’ I open the PE door with its solid ch-chunk. Never gets old. Walking into the exhibit, I mean.

Little Man, my favorite penguin, explodes into an ecstatic display once I step onto the ice. You don’t give this up for anything.

I have my favorite animals; I also have all the people I’ve met along the way, and they remain. SeaWorld: thanks for the twenty years, and my wife and the half my life. I’d probably still clock in wrong on the old machines. 1995 and 2015 would probably be transposed on the same line.

The Opposite of Smooth

I prod my friend Kayla at work when she pouts over some unachievable fairness.

‘You’re such a GATE kid,’ I joke.

GATE kids have an overdeveloped sense of wrong and fair and right–it’s a trademark of the program.

Kayla was a GATE kid; I’m a GATE kid, too.

When taking the GATE test years ago, I was given an antonyms quiz outside of room three. I missed one question:’What’s the opposite of smooth?’

‘Bumpy.’

‘Bumpy?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Not rough?’

‘Bumpy.’ I shrugged. I was in first grade and about to skip second into third.

The proctor checkmarked the question in red, but smirked. It’s cute when you’re a few degrees shy of absolutely correct when all of five.

Cayde scored in the 99.6th percentile today on the GATE test.

I had some tears, mostly because I was proud, his brain and heart being equally big; but I also had tears because ‘bumpy’ is the opposite of smooth, and life is never ever and certainly not fair.

Last Night’s Yesterday.

“Hey, you,” and Mac appears at the food truck I’m considering outside of Thorn St.Brewery. She says she has to take a break, and quickly, so she offers up some of her accidental french fries that the truck deposited in that styrofoam compartment within the styrofoam container. She’s my favorite pourer and a few times I’ve watched her trick too-gone patrons into session ales when, in fact, they ordered the quadruppel.
It’s been a while, but I like the medium volume of TSB on the weekend and when I can take an hour or so to write. Mac used to work weekends, but now works Wednesdays, and I miss our rapport. With greasy fingers we high-five in parting, and she’s still chewing her sandwich because she has to get back to her post by the spigots. There’s a rush of patrons.
I love this neighborhood and, in walking back home, I take the south side of the street which has a cleverly manicured bougainvillea. It pours like a barrel-form wave over a picket fence, and someone had a good idea when training the unruly hedge. There are sepals and thorns overhead and it’s like passing through a botanical tunnel. When the light’s right, red.
I grounded Cayde this morning after a pre-work, pre-school battle of wills. Getting dressed is not that hard, right? But it’s a battle and Cayde had a loose tongue that he apologized for later and when driving home from school. It was one of those wandering conversations with encased apologies. He didn’t seek to earn back screen time; we just talked. Nonetheless, there was a certain scheming when he asked, “So if I go next door and THEY’RE watching TV, I don’t have to come back home, do I?”
Kids are so blankingly transparent. I decide upon, ‘No, Cayden.’S alright.”
But he didn’t go next door tonight and instead he decided he wanted to play guitar with Daddy. I tried to make a math lesson of it all because C-scale instruments are the epitome of math.
Thelonius Monk used to bang block chords to insinuate the space in between the keys, which was something outside of math. I just show Cayde how to tune a guitar, and use the rules of fives. We play, meaning I fret the chords having forgotten to wash the french fry oil off my hands; Cayde uses a spare skewer to bang on mason jar collars and my half-full beer bottle.
Cayde insists we have a band name, and following a mad lib game of suggestions, we settle on ‘Last Night’s Yesterday.’ And I think that’s a remarkable name to have come from a seven year old. The alternative was ‘White-bearded Guitarist’ which is not so much an alternative.
He has three more days of restriction, so I re-tune my guitar and he goes to bed.

Hungry

Norah Jones is singing ‘Happy Pills’ and since last night I somehow survived, I drive my chemistries and Cayden down to school. When you receive bad news, there is the fact of not eating; it’s just as you get older, blood sugar becomes something more of a thing.

Cayden and Finn are both in the backseat, and bahn xeo is for dinner I’ve decided. It’s good I’ve decided on food this early. Breakfast is that thing everyone seems to skip, and lunchtime often requires a reminder. This coming from someone who reads cookbooks as if they were paperback novels.

(No, really. ‘Momofuku’ by David Chang is one of my favorites and there’s that plot device on page 52 wherein eggs are slow-cooked in their shells and when you crack the shell, out comes a perfectly poached egg. That’s way the hell better than ‘David Copperfield’ in my estimation).

Cayden used to say: “Daddy—I feel the burps in my tummy that tell me I’m hungry.” Which is a two-year old’s logic that still applies. I’m bodily relieved when I’m hungry and–if there’s a craving that accompanies it–I’m at its whim. Which is why, more than once, I’ve made soup in the summer and with it being it ninety degrees out and the broiler set to ‘on.’

There was this one time Kat and I drove an hour in what Google Maps said was supposed to be a twenty-minute drive. This involved a craving for Singaporean food and a strip mall in Pasadena. The place didn’t have a liquor license so we bought Asahi from the market next door even though Kat doesn’t drink and we ordered the Hainan chicken rice, which is actually Malaysian; we also ordered the calamari even though I’d just heard an episode of ‘This American Life’ claiming a lot of calamari is just up-sourced pig rectum. You are what you eat? We had salad just in case.

Kat picked out the onions.

Cayde’s in the backseat. He has on untidy hair and a uniform polo I’ve finally convinced him to not button up all the way. There are wardrobe rules, like how you never button three buttons on a three-button suit. He layers like a seven-year old, else something of genius, with interesting sleeve and color combinations. (His mother, mind you, is sartorially creative herself).

He has the habit of shaking the hair out of his eyes even when it’s not in his eyes and who cares if he has a part. He’s a boy and–to prove it–he’s wearing mismatched gloves. Michael Jackson is his current thing, and so he usually wears one glove. In his repertoire, there are two to choose from: the black one with the skeleton-fingers done up in dimensional paint, or, the other one with gossamer threads that got taken away from him in class last Tuesday. (How he cried). Cayden has both gloves on today as if school is an elaborate bank heist.

I drop him off at the curb and there’s a certain gymnastic involved in him getting out of the back seat. It’s a negotiation of straps: seat belts, backpacks, draw-string lunch-bags. Like father, like son. I can commandeer a sauté pan and set off a contained fire; I can do all the restaurant tricks. Give me a car seat, though, and finesse is something en absentia. It’s a wonder I got the brassiere off when making Cayde in the first place.

The Norah Jones song is done. 91X is playing House of Pain and I continue listening which is a weird reminder that we grow more tolerant as we get older.

Cayde climbs out and, with mittened hands, grabs my face and gives me a peck on the lips. This is something that’s become scarcer and I don’t know why we kiss in different ways as we get older. We just do, and while the ‘Y’ chromosome does its decay into something of ill-remark. One time I refused a good-night kiss from my dad and he slapped me so hard on the ass that it left a stingingly-red handprint.

“Bye, Daddy! I love you!”

Finn has snot caked on his nostrils because he’s teething and everything is leaking; he waves bye and says so: ‘By-ee!’ Everything ends in the double-E these days. I wave to Cayde and while idling at the curb. I used to walk him to class and wait,as he climbed the stairwell to rm. 7,for him to turn around that one last time to blow me a kiss. For the entire first month of kindergarten, the school bell was Pavlovian and I cried every single day atop the hopscotch squares.

Cayde turns around and does blow me a kiss, with that oversized backpack on and with that tousled hair he refuses to have combed. He has on his sky-blue polo and a red graphic tee, all of which are un-tucked; I figure this a sign of good parenting and in which case I’m not being the slightest bit ironic.

I settle for traffic. Departure from the norm, but bahn xeo is for dinner which means I have to drive north to get to where the Asian markets are. I need Thai basil and I need daikon. I’ve turned to nauseous because coffee disagrees with me of recent, but that’s ok. It’s ok, even, when that guy cuts me off on the 163. Finn and I converse; I give the white truck a curt honk of the horn and we keep driving on this freeway which used to be our freeway before we moved to the other side of the mesa (we know have the 805).

Finn tells me a story from the backseat. As spoiler alert, it involves drooling. That tooth on the right side is coming in which will finally even out his smile. People on the DS website say: ‘ok—what’s with the shark teeth?’ Finn sports a few jagged incisors and it used to bother me but you get more tolerant as you get older I think I already said. I like Finn’s little jagged teeth and he smiles with eyes winced and it’s the goddamned cutest thing.

Traffic becomes convenient because I turn around in my seat and we continue our conversation that would otherwise have been interrupted by uninterrupted motion. Finn’s hairs are kinduv long, in need of a trim, and—speaking of which—the palm trees decorating the roadside have recently been debrided and they look like the arboreal equivalent of shorn sheep. It’s a slow crawl past the Cabrillo Bridge but a bit faster once the palm trees disappear into the rearview and as we pass through the Valley.

There’s the Children’s Hospital and Mary Birch, where we spend a good amount of time. Jenn’s getting an IUD inserted currently, cross-campus, and I review that I need daikon. Can’t forget the daikon. Also: I’ll probably get oyster mushrooms because I’m not a fan of enoki.

There’s this weird fact that there may be another kid. But there’s also the meantime. In the meantime we don’t predicate a lot of sentences.

Pulling into the 99 Ranch parking lot, I think the store’s closed. It’s 9am. ‘Closed’ is certainly a possibility. The backside of the store, though, is lit with a neon sign saying: ‘Open.’ The backside is where the produce lives so we push through in a dilapidated grocery cart and Finn is momentarily surprised by the turnstiles; we pause at the nmgaio bin which looks like daikon but is not.

Anything can and should surprise us. Turnstiles. Cancer. Things. The goldfish swimming in his bowl is most likely surprised by the castle every time (there’s a song about it, even).

My grandma is 89. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

I ask the guy for Thai basil because Thai basil is important for bahn xeo and that’s why I endured traffic. For Thai basil.

He checks the same shelves I just checked, the shelves I already checked because I know where the Thai basil is supposed to live. We do this thing where we make superfluous gestures, and to rid ourselves of guilt.

“Sorry,” he finally shrugs.

In line at the meat counter, I’m guest number ‘00’. Says so on the red digital read-out thing. I’m usually ‘87’, or ‘323’ and usually I have to elbow my way in alongside the Laotian grandmothers and wish that I understood Cantonese. But it’s early. I still wish I was at least ‘1’ though. Being ‘00’ is fucked up.

I need a pound of ground pork because I’m changing the recipe in my head. My order is pretty unremarkable. Sometimes I order ten pounds of bones and I get a smile which is affirmation that I’m hungry and that the butcher knows I know how to cook. Because you can make stuff from bones. I’m not as fond of the aquarium displays down the aisle; fish are far less substantial.

Finn destroys the receipt in front of the smiling cashier since everything is metaphor these days, and we go home and, since we are hungry, I later make lunch.

What You Can’t Listen to Later

There’s this homeless guy at the taco shop, and I know he’s homeless because I see the bottom of his shoes and generally you don’t fall asleep on a bench outside the taco shop. Not in broad daylight at least, and it is daylight. Also: there is the fact of his knapsack discarded next to him on an adjoining table. Canvas and with those distinctive holes that come from wear. He has his ankles crossed and his head up against the concrete facade of the building, just left of the entrance. Unshaven. Half-smiling with eyes closed.
I walk past him and into the shop where I order my burrito and hesitate when asked, “For here or to go?” I usually say, “To go,” in which case I usually drive back to work and sit at the white tables outside the Penguin Encounter. But I settle on, “For here.” It’s nice outside and the taco shop patio is small but amenable and my company would be the guy who’s sleeping and the pigeon that’s braving the drive-thru entryway despite the arrows that invite cars.

Halfway through the burrito, the man starts talking. Angrily. And I’m not sure if he’s talking to me, so I prick my ears. I’m sitting behind a pillar, and just out of eyesight, but I hear him say: “…and then I got back to the house and all my toys were BROKEN.”

He’s not talking to me.

“You CAN’T DO THAT!”

The sudden escalation is unsettling and I have a very guilty burrito in front of me. The pigeon has since flushed in a scissoring of wings, escaping a drive-thru fate, and I take pause. I do that cinematic thing wherein I stop chewing and my hand tremors.

He starts again. “YOU CAN’T SLEEP WITH YOUR CHILDREN!” “You can’t sleep with your children.”

I freeze entirely.

“I COULD HAVE DIED RIGHT THERE!”

And though I’m behind a pillar and somewhat out of view, I see him launch out of his repose; he throws a crushed aluminum can of something out onto the boulevard and it makes a stupid and impotent clink in the street.

He grabs his knapsack and, still yelling, disappears into the drive-thru corridor that the pigeon has since evacuated. He pounds on the walls, away from me and away from his childhood I’m guessing, and it has me shaken.

Cayde’s been texting me in the meanwhile. He’s hijacked Jenn’s phone and is pretending to be her.

“Guess who?”

I guess wrongly on purpose. Of course I know it’s my kid. When urged to guess again, I give the correct answer and Cayde sends me a picture with his thumbs up.

I reply with a selfie funny face thing while I’m getting into my car, now with half a burrito wrapped-up: that something I just couldn’t finish.

Cayde doesn’t know ‘LOL’ but because he knows how to use a phone, he records himself laughing for a few seconds, a video which he then sends to me.

Later, my co-workers and I are all in the Penguin Encounter kitchen, breezing it, and Leah slides her phone my way. There’s that time-hop feature and a few years ago I wrote to her about Cayden who had just had his first listen of Baba O’ Riley. He marveled that you could have piano and guitar in one song, and to which he decided to have a ‘happy-laugh.’

(Finn was dressed in a Who shirt this morning and I showed Leah the pictures).

Jenn texted something an hour later. A link to that Neil Young song about his boy growing up. Which is wise of me to not listen to past the third line and while at work; Leah remarks that ‘Harvest Moon’ is the sure way to make her cry and she agrees that I should ‘probably listen to that later’ which I do.

Some things you can’t listen to later, like that guy pounding his way down the dumb drive-thru, but there are things you can and do listen to and on repeat, like when Cayden was laughing and when he pressed ‘send’.

The (non) Maillard Reaction

I’m talking to my friend Lara at work and we’re ‘behind the mountain’, the mountain being the Penguin Encounter’s central geography, where the wind is recycled and where it’s colder than the requisite 25 degrees. We’re tending to a penguin and we say ‘What!?’ a lot to each other because there’s a lot of white noise with the air handlers recirculating and because I mumble.

We decided a while back that the ‘what’s’ are not accusatory: we just talk in frequencies that our respective ears don’t exactly register, so it’s “What?” “What?” a lot when we converse. I like Lara.

I mumble. My grandma has always said so.

I mention this thing about unfortunately knowing, upon awakening, how every minute of the day will transpire–sunrise to sunset–and how that’s a bit of an anchor. We agree this is true. She has a long drive home, mine is relatively short, and you just know you have time that’s gonna be spent in different ways–that time is time–and wouldn’t you rather have it not relegated to something, and something all the time.

Spontaneity is a word where I get the vowels all switched up, and I’m fairly ungood at it.

I have this meeting I’m supposed to attend after work. And I want to go, but I just wish 7 o’clock could just be 7 o’clock somedays and without obligation.

I go to the meeting. And, from the parking lot, you can smell the grill marks on whatever three-finger cut of meat it is that Bully’s Tavern is tossing beneath the salamander. I’m with my buddy Dan; we agree that steak is most likely what we do not want although there’s that Maillard reaction thing that smells delicious. We’re here to talk about our kids, and to other dads.

The inside of the tavern is leather and low-light, jerseys and posters on the wall; you may as well just slap aftershave on the wood-panelling. I have on a beard and a riding cap whose brim, I think, shields me from the big-screen UFC that’s broadcasting from one of three televisions transmitting to our table. I have no interest in well-planted elbows or pained, bloody faces. This is the 7-8:30 bloc of time I have allotted to 7-8:30, and ultimate fighting is not part of the plan.

But there’s a framed portrait of a girl on the table,too,and she has Down Syndrome. She belongs to the guy who shrugs some opening words and she’s lovely to me in the way that she shares a face with my child in much the way I don’t share a thing with the hockey game playing on the second screen or the P—- jersey encased in a shadow box above the foyer. So we go around the table and introduce ourselves, interrupted by drink orders and the call for food (in which Dan and I keep to our word and order the fish).

We talk. This is time for talk. And it’s eight disparate dads getting together and sharing something and it’s 38 minutes beyond the expected time that I have allotted to this portion of the evening’s festivities when the bill is finally paid; also eighteen hours since I knew exactly how the day was supposed to go.

It’s nice going home, me and Dan riding in the car.The ahi was nicely seared and for nine bucks, even. We both have kids with too many chromosomes and we both liked that the fish-plate was something complete. I dropped a chopstick on the floor and had to eat the field greens with a fork. The wasabi was something experientially less because of tines having to be involved. But you make do.

I have no idea who won the hockey game, or whose temple got the elbow in the chain-linked stupid dumb death-match. There was that nice yet cantankerous guy at the table, though, who said his thirteen year-old kid had just voiced his first crystal-clear word TODAY and for the first time. Said over a gin and tonic and while I’m having a beer. In which case we really don’t know how the day is supposed to end after all, do we.

Zone

Photo on 4-19-15 at 1.40 AM

An inadvertent but accurate self-portrait. There are nights that Jenn retires early and I retire early, too, though my early is different in that it involves single digits and with numbers on the northeast corner of the clock face.

Writing is a compulsion like anything else in which my chemicals tell me I need do this. It’s like pouring a cup of coffee in the morning even when—and, as you get older—the coffee upsets your stomach. But being in the Zone is like having a purer oxygen. Or maybe less pure—I dunno—as thinking can sometimes flow better with the vessels constricted. Somehow, somewhere serotonin is involved. Write, write, write. And stay up really, really, really, and ungodly late.

The cat—she sits right next to me the whole time and maybe she’s stealing my breath. Isn’t that what cats do? When they sit on the headboard or when they’re comfortable and comfortably menacing with their hands tucked and eyes half-closed. My cat, she purrs. And I type and when I wake up right before I’m supposed to wake up, I move from the couch to the bed and I drag her along with me and she lays on my chest, stealing my breath that second time.

(She also scratches me at 4 a.m. because she’s old and she scrambles getting off the bed because she’s got some reverse-peristaltic thing to attend to, being old. Dammit, Cat).

I went to a blogger conference, and the question was: when as a parent, do you write? And this very humorous panel said ‘keep your eyes open after everyone has closed theirs?’ The other option is waking up early, and—well—no. I know that’s what all the successful writers did. Then again, Marcel Proust had opium delivered with his scones at 5 a.m., and to a cork-lined room; I just stay up late because my coffee probably shouldn’t include oxycontin and I have a job, you know.

It’s pretty dark when it’s 2 a.m. When Cayden was two, I pointed out the Children’s Moon, which is that white thing at 2 p.m. which hangs above public parks and illuminates nothing. It’s the moon for no one looking to sleep. 2 a.m. can sometimes be moonset and when children but not cats are asleep and when why the hell am I not in bed.

On this one occasion, I pressed a button, and took a random photo, being unconscious.

The Wind in the Backseat

There’s that specific stretch of Interstate 8 that is not switch-backed, but has its own particular curves and where the merges border on dangerous. The billboards are garrulous with all their product-positive words; they’re generally marked with Clear-Channel footers.

The freeway’s white and the sun that bounces off the asphalt midday is merciless. It’s all sorts of glare. A two-year-old Cayden shifts in the backseat and complains in the way only a two-year old can when the sun hits his eyes too hard, with light reflecting off the road and also cheating the downturned windshield visors.

“Stop it, Sun. You’re on time-out, Sun.”

The kid places the universe on the time-out rug and it’s something of toddling arrogance to place the Copernican model in the corner.

“Time-out, Sun.” Cayden squints. “Stop it.”

The windows are rolled down. In the rear-view, Cayde looks to the left so that the sun hits the side of his face instead. He has blond hair that becomes a sudden wind-blown corona, and with there being a new center of the universe in my backseat, also reflected in the rear-view, ancient and heliocentric astronomers slouch toward their punitive corner. Cayde is momentarily content and my hands are on ten and two.

With windows cracked, and with it being a few years later, Cayde flags his hand outside the backseat passenger’s side and says: ‘Look, Daddy—a hand kite.” We drive past through the same bleached freeway. Cayde’s hand is cupped and his fingernails are dirty as is the prescribed uniform for any five-year old. The hand he flies outside a fast-moving window directs the wind and therefore the car. The sun’s no longer in his eyes because he’s taller in his seat. There are still billboards for the casinos that are twenty miles in the opposite direction. They remark in succession (and like an old Burma-shave campaign): “Clean.” “Honest.” “Fair.” We drive away from the adverts, pass some sub-par establishments, and Cayde flies this hand outside the window, which sings up and down, transversing its crests and troughs as we barrel down the freeway and with the sun remaining in absolutely no one’s eyes.

Cayden’s right hand is probably cold by the time we find a driveway, but—pretendedly—it directed us home. The hand-kite had us taking all the appropriate lefts because Cayde was in the back passenger seat and opposite of left. The car’s stopped engine ticks and there are wheels in the driveway, us having missed all the rights.

The wind is not always in the backseat. Sometimes it’s in the front. I remember driving home with my dad in the old Ford, the blue one, which was most likely built on a Friday when joints have looser seals and when workers just want to retire to a six-pack and the blue of a television screen. Buy a truck made on a Tuesday is the adage. The truck was blue and, if riding in the front of the cab and on the passenger side, there was a constant wind that was something about a misaligned door. If you were the passenger, you were necessarily cold, especially if it was dark and if you were in the right-hand seat.

We were driving on the 52. Those stuck on semantics hate the ‘the’ we Southern Californians assign the major thoroughfares, as if they don’t deserve it, but–really–every freeway should have an article attached. The 8. The 52. The roads are as important as are the vested wheels. We drive the 52, which is a long and gradual uphill and on the uphill there are breaks in the topography and sometimes canyons. There are bridges that don’t feel like bridges until the vehicles eddy. The buckwheat remains ruddy and consistently low-growing. The bridges happen when the wind rocks the cab and the vegetation doesn’t shake, just the cars.

The Ford was past the crest of the hill; I was cold. On the right-hand side I was freezing.

Pass Santos Road, there was the approximation of a mountain overpass, else two fuzzy hills with fences and shaggy overgrowth, young grasses and a lack of lights. There were certainly a lot of Call Boxes, and yellow signs signalling a peak. You crest the hill and you see Santee and parts of El Cajon and you prefer just making the peak.

I had been ushering a poetry event. It was something my writing professor was curating and at the La Jolla MOCA. I was a student. I got to wear a button on my lapel and tear ticket stubs as extra-credit.

I missed the Ginsberg reading. He, I learned, signed books afterwards and probably when his liver was on something of a jaundiced junket. He was sallow. Yellow tie. Planted a bottle of amber in front of him when signing books. Drunk, but you wouldn’t have known it save for his fifth of an advertisement.

I heard Sharon Olds read Ginsberg’s Walt Whitman poem in requiem the next year. Garcia Lorca was down by the watermelons.

David Foster Wallace slayed and everyone was laughing and he signed books in teeny print and he wore his characteristic bandanna. He’s now dead having hanged himself.

Amy Tan, though: she was very sweet.

Czeslaw Milosz read a poem about wheelbarrows that actually topped William Carlos Wiliams’ poem about wheelbarrows. He had a lot of eyebrows, but what I remember most is that my friend leaned into me and said: “You know his son is bat-shit crazy.” Krista—she lived next door to Milosz’ son who made gun threats and while Milosz won the Nobel prize. Krista had to lock her apartment door and there were authorities involved. This may have been Chicago. I forget the details.

I was eighteen and Krista was my best friend. When shopping for a bridesmaid’s dress, she hid me in the changing room and I saw everything save for her breasts and this was a game that I didn’t know how to play. She had black lace panties. I have a thing about black lace panties; maybe it started then. She slipped a size-zero A-line over her head and we both agreed it was a very nice dress. And who wears white to a wedding anyways?

The sun—it’s sometimes blinding.

On one particular night, Rita Dove read and it was when she was the National Poet Laureate. The benefit of ushering meant the confirmed meet-and-greet and I was with my friend Keri, ebullient and unrestrained. Rita Dove signed Keri’s dirty sneaker on Keri’s request; they exchanged what, by sound alone, were their favorite words.

Keri said: ‘Latrine.’

You could see the tip of her tongue involved in her smile. “La-trine.”

I forgot what Rita Dove said. I think she wrote a poem about it. About words and how they’re maybe about shoes or something different. She signed the sneaker and she was laughing because we were star-struck kids. ‘Latrine’ is also a very funny word.

The backside of the MOCA is some short grass, requisite concrete, and there’s an ocean view. My eyes weren’t bad then. The ocean had three shades of blue that I could at that point determine, and without polarized lenses. Small whitecaps because there was a wind and, with it being the gloaming, the white was something. The husks of dead palm fronds scraped the stucco of the building and there was the occasional vegetative slap when the wind picked up. I wasn’t cold.

My dad picked me up and could I have cranked the heat. He cleared his throat a few times. I had been talking non-stop with Keri and the offshore wind was persistent; but I was mute when my dad and I crossed over the peak and when palm fronds were exchanged for lilac and heavy brown buckwheat.

The coast smells like iodine; the hills just smell sticky. Chaparral flowers bloom and it’s a dusty perfume—savory, something preferred even—but nothing that suggests movement or negative ions or the sour grass that spills phosphorescent onto the beaches. It’s not a downhill into Santee, perse, but the wind was in the front seat and not the back.

I pick up Finn now, and I keep the windows rolled down.

Sometimes I rely on my side-view mirrors for caution and I tilt the rear-view down to watch what it is that Finn does in the back seat. Finn catches my reflection in the mirror and—being watched—Finn feels a need to dance. I don’t ask him to—he just does. He bounces in his seat and waves two hands, smiles, and buh-buh-buh’s some approximation to the song on the radio.

(There’s the stereotype that every child with Down Syndrome is happy and Finn does nothing to discount the notion.

I was walking home once with my friend Jen. Her son Ben, also diagnosed with Down Syndrome, was age eight at the time and—when passing the neighborhood bar—spontaneously hugged a patron out front.

The whiskey guy laughed: “Oh—hey, Buddy!”

Jen muttered to me: ‘Fucking stereotype. I just wish sometimes…” before trailing off).

The windows are rolled down and there’s a wind and Finn revels in its catastrophe. He squints when looking to the left, when his bangs find a wind-swept vertical; he haphazardly smiles, too, when looking to the right and when his hair flies into a sudden and ecstatic part. Both our hairs are long. His eyes open and he claps. His hair is all over the place in an impractical geometry and there is an intermittent smile. He applauds every song ending on the car radio and he’s not sure when to exactly open his eyes. Or when he shouldn’t and I should.

We’re on the 125. This is the freeway that has its beginnings in buckwheat before turning into the 8 with its white concrete and before becoming the 805, which has its traffic and its trucks in low gear.

I keep the windows rolled down,and I drive this route all the time. I keep the windows down and mostly to just keep the wind constant.

On Not Crying, pt. II

It began with what I thought was sensible advice, that being: “Don’t moonwalk naked on the wet bathroom tiles, Cayde,” which is what he was doing. His swimming trunks were discarded on the floor of the Handlery Resort’s bathroom which directly adjoins the pool. You know–the one we’re not supposed to swim in because the sign says so: “Pool reserved for hotel guests only.” (I’m not a lawyer, but I figure there are so many ways you can semantically dodge penalty here). I bought a plastic cup of IPA from the poolside lounge, therefore I’m a customer qua guest. Settled. My kids can swim. Their sleeping schedules had been duly interrupted with the busyness of a weekend, and we were here to (maybe) trespass, kill some time, and speed the kids to Nod. Cayden spent the better part of two hours imitating a fish.

His moonwalk interrupted, Cayde suddenly realized the fact of his eyes. They had been open above and beneath the water in all those daredevil games he had been playing with the friends who’d joined us. Commence screams which were the sudden and dramatic response to his chemically-reddened eyes that–fish out of water–now stung.

The janitor was outside and wanted simply to mop the bathroom, but Cayde was crying and pawing at his face.

“Just a sec,” I said. Cue the moment.

There’s a few ways out of this. One involves a lot of yelling because this is ridiculous and because two seconds prior, Billie Jean almost slipped in front of the urinals, bare-assed naked.

I take the ‘science’ approach. Cayden routinely asks me insane math questions and his bed is bannered with both dinosaur and shark posters.The other day, there was a science experiment involving baking soda and pennies and he was upset when the addition of vinegar didn’t erase Lincoln’s visage.

“Dude–,” I say, and he continues rubbing his eyes, “Put your hands down, Dude.”

“You had your eyes open, right?” And Cayde nods.

“OK”–I point to the spot just above the eye and south of the temple–“These are your lacrimal glands, Cayde, and they make tears, alright? And there are a lot of chemicals in that water. When you blink your eyes, those tears make their way here (corner of the eye) and when you blink, your eyelids take those tears and flush out all the bad stuff. Blink your eyes, don’t rub. Keep blinking your eyes.”

Cayden’s naked and crying and I’m saying ‘lacrimal': all’s normal. This is how we do our thing. Cayde stops crying and,on my urging, takes a few deep breaths. His eyes are really red; he has failed as a merman. I tug on his shorts so the janitor can clean up after the hotel’s not-guests. The floor is slippery.

Cayde blinks and blinks while we’re packing up from the pool; he’s meanwhile swinging 180’s round the stairway bannisters and back, and I’m sure he’s enjoying what must be his own personal nickelodeon reel. He’s blinking on the constant and that must mean his world is currently manifesting as some weird stop-animation thing.

At Cayde’s request we listen to Fats Domino on the way home. During the big blackout a few years back, my car overheated and my phone battery died. I parked at the Handlery and had to walk the six miles uphill to get home. We re-trace this path in the car and we’re not listening to ‘I’m Walkin” which would have been appropriate, but rather ‘I’m Ready’ which has no significance at all. Still, Cayde remarks that this is a good kind of rock n’ roll and we agree and–Jeezus–Finn is still not asleep in the back.

When the car levels off onto University Avenue, I tell Cayde that, during the blackout (something akin to every building suddenly having its eyes closed) everybody was out on the sidewalks and beneath the restaurant verandas. Beers were served lukewarm because the fridges were out, no one served oysters,and the pearl of it all was that everyone was happy things were dark. It was a hundred degrees out: true story. Refrigerator pans collected water; there was a line out Servall Liquor where patrons were individually ushered inside to grab candles and sweating bottles of white.

The hot dog place is right next to Servall and Cayde asks to go there again someday, interrupting my story. We take a right and I say, “Sure.” Cayden’s eyes are puffy, and now it’s ‘Blueberry Hill’ because we’re on a mesa. Things are fine, though I’d like Finn to sleep. He was up till ten-thirty last night and I’m waiting for his eyes to close in surrender.

Cayde screams again at home because his eyes again sting and I have to again coach him to, one, not yell; and, two, quit rubbing. He’s on the bathroom floor with chlorine-reddened eyes and with a towel over his head. Finn’s crying, too, and has his arms interlocked around Cayde’s neck. He’s upset that his brother is upset.

“C’mon, Cayde–let’s splash some water in your eyes.”

Finn is beside himself. It’s important to know that humans are the only animals that overspill their ocular goblet cells with lacrimal excretions out of pure emotion alone. Science, right? Means: we cry when we’re sad. Crying when we’re hurt is something else entirely.

Cayden walks out of the bathroom with red red eyes, but he’s calm and says, “Thanks, Daddy.” And Finn’s ok, too. He was really tired and eventually his eyes just close and because he’s in desperate need of sleep. There was nothing to be sad about after all.

I tell Cayde that every blink passes a tear over the eye. Sometimes it spills over, sometimes not. Finn sleeps easy once Cayden reduces his tears to the occasional sniff.

This is how we not cry. No lesson save for: one should always and probably wear goggles.

Surgeries, Pt. 1

My cat Frida likes to stare for hours out the pet door and I can’t fathom why. I don’t even know when that particular door was installed. The house itself is over a hundred years old, so we could be talking a half-century of doggy commutes here. It’s since yellowed with age and the flap is marked with a myriad of scratches. It certainly can’t afford much of a view. The door is tamped shut, too, and with good reason. Upon moving into the house, Frida—who had until then only known the comfortable interiors of apartment life—decided the outdoors was a temptation worth exploring. Or so she thought. Twice I rescued her from a tangle of vines along the side of the garage, pissing herself and yowling in absolute terror. I figured she’d just realized how big the world really is. Which would terrify anybody.

I imagine Frida’s world is now comfortably smaller from behind the nailed-shut pet door, albeit blurrier and more jaundiced. In which case, I understand Frida’s point of view. For a while my world was plunged into a yellowed soft-focus as cataracts ripened into something ochre, and although my eyes are fixed now, my days—like Frida’s—were similarly sepia-toned.

I was my ophthalmologist’s youngest cataracts patient at age thirty.

By ‘ripened’ I mean ‘proliferated.’ Cataracts are blemishes that affect the lenses: as they grow in multitude, the world slowly loses its sharpness. You don’t notice it at the time because it happens so gradually, but the world begins to lose color while you lose focus. Everything yellows slightly, takes on an unwelcome veneer. Like a plasticizing pet door, or your friend’s poorly chosen filter on Instagram.

Remember when television sets had knobs for adjusting sharpness and color? Imagine you’ve knobs connected to your optic nerve and a random toddler has given them a similarly random twiddle. It’s like that.

When cataracts decide to ripen, it’s a slow disorientation. I discovered I was having problems when I undertook a physical exam prior to a Jackson Hole research expedition.

Mind you, my right eye has always been worse than my left. I could show you grade-school pictures wherein my right eye has a characteristic squint. I said so to the nurse practitioner but—when in socks and a slit-robe—and standing in a doctor’s office hallway, I fairly read Greek when listing the letters I saw on an optometrist’s chart. I had just my left eye open, the right properly shielded with a black plastic paddle. My posterior had a breeze.

“F-Z-…_E?”

The practitioner was confused: “I thought you said your right eye was worse.” There was something judgmental in her tone.

“Maybe I need my eyes checked?” I offered.

Recently, the computer screen had been hovering pretty close to my face. The weekly readers, too. Not out of their particular insistence to be scrutinized. It was just that my eyes seemed simply southward-bound, and that my world was fast getting smaller, too close for comfort.

I left for Jackson Hole to do some bird research that necessarily involved binoculars. I had a referral to the ophthalmologist in my wallet and a particular penchant for rubbing my eyes ten times a minute.

Ironically, I was one of the best bird-spotters on the trip and despite the fact that I could never dial in proper focus on my set of binoculars. The body: it has ways of compensating and—quite frankly—I don’t remember any of my particular tricks. Sometimes you can see well without seeing well. I picked out the osprey on the tree 300 yards away, and that juvie hawk a half-mile out and lazily floating the zephyrs.

At the same time, and back in San Diego, I had to habitually count street signs when driving home. For lack of actually being able to read them.

Jackson Hole, mind you, was beautiful. I got to experience this only ex-post facto. Only when my doctor’s referral became a recommendation for surgery, and only post-expedition; when my eyeballs were sliced open and their lenses summarily removed; when I got pieces of plastic shoved into ocular space and I finally got to see my pictures of the Grand Tetons—literally ‘the Great Breasts’—in full photographic detail like some form of geographic pornography rising high and taut above the meadows of a milk-thistled Wyoming morning.

The photos were fantastic.

A picture of when you’re younger is, of course, always a picture of when you’re younger. That’s the way time works; you can’t say ‘here’s a photo of me five minutes hence’. Seeing pictures of the Tetons, though, was like seeing pictures of me when I was older, the way time’s not supposed to work. I took a few snapshots of these lavender moths in some rapine grass and I didn’t enjoy them until a doctor had done his work and, with eyes suddenly younger, I saw things in the past suddenly present. If you follow.

My eye doctor: he did not so much give a recommendation for surgery as he did surrender it. “I don’t think you have cataracts,” he would muse while gazing through his magnifying devices into the inner workings of my eyes. “I think you have…cholesterol spots marking your lenses. Something granular. Probably’ve had them since birth.” He was the first optometrist of mine to offer this opinion. Ever since childhood, my eye doctors diagnosed me with congenital cataracts. They saw the telltale flecks, seeds that would later proliferate into a gathering of motes scarring my lenses. They said surgery was inevitable. My current eye-doctor, however, refused the diagnosis for years. “They’re not cataracts,” he’d say, “They’re cholesterol spots.”

Once he showed me a model of an eye, carefully disassembling the orb into its component parts with steady, surgeon-like fingers. The lens came apart in numerous pieces. He explained: the lens is made of flexible fibers that interconnect in various concentricities. In effect, he went on, the lens is onion-like in its structure.

(My doctor was not convincing me with his choice of analogy—onions make the eyes water and blur. When I cut onions, I can’t see).

He continued: cataracts are malicious, they enter randomly into these allium-like cells and they form little pattern save for a final one in which light is completely denied access. You’ll wake up suddenly one day, and when cataracts have set, it’s like the ceiling lamp-switch hasn’t been turned on.

“What’s different about your eyes,” he countered, “Is that your blemishes are in perfect order. They’re rather beautiful, actually.”

Go figure. My disease is worthy of a headshot.

My doctor, two inches from my face and with a retinoscope in hand, peered deeper into my eyes than would have an attentive lover; he murmurs that my eyes look like constellations. If I were asked to have read a chart at that very moment, I may have spelled out: F-L-A-T-T-E-R-E-D-? I do like my doctor, after all.

Later I visit an ophthalmologist, post-Jackson Hole, with the goal of alleviating the question marks.

“Yes, you have cataracts. They don’t seem exactly terrible.” That was the surgeon’s summation. My friends’ faces, meanwhile, had been blurring at a rate of two-feet remove per second. That was my empirical summation, and I would have argued against the ‘not terrible’ verdict.

“If it affects your quality of life, then ok.” He’s a white-coated shrug.

Ok, then. I wonder, in this world of scopes and dials, and with eyebrows raised above glorified magnifying lenses, why is a diagnosis so hard to get? Somewhere there’s a mean balancing out subjectivity and objectivity and if I, as the subject and—with fogging eyes—declare genetic foul, doctors should be listening.

“I’m not stupid, actually. I’m just going blind.”

“I want you to cut my eyes open.”

“I can’t rightly see.”

“I get lost, a lot. I can’t read a sentence six inches away from my nose.”

Quality of life: if I need to hold newsprint this close to my face, if I can smell the fiber of the paper better than I can see it, I ask—please—for some help. If end all I can’t read, it’d be like surgically extracting part of my being; I would rather an ophthalmologist surgically extract the blur instead.

The blur, at this point, I envision as gauze soaked in milk; or an onionskin, soggy, and left unceremoniously in the sink. Seriously: I want this shit tweezed out of my eyes.

I’m at last granted surgery. I am assigned a date, an anesthesiologist, and a bed where I will lie—face-up—for open-eye surgery.

(Open-eye, open-heart. Finn is born two years later and he’ll lie, too, on a surgeon’s table, eyes closed but chest decidedly open, breastbone cracked and stretched by calipers, his heart stopped by machines and laid still and bare for surgeons’ fingers to reconstruct and make beat again; I simply go and get my eyes fixed. I want to see. Findlay—he needs to live).

Here’s a moment: the anesthesiologist has already dressed my veins in cold chemicals and the ophthalmologist has dilated my eyes with constancy: drop after drop after drop. My vision has since been reduced to fog. I see only the likeness of shapes, but decided color still—like the purple of the surgeon’s lamp and the blue of the surgeon’s gloves. I am forced to see a steady series of drops glaze my cornea because my eyes are pinned open like a scene from ‘Clockwork Orange’. Consider me Alex. I’m hostage to the operating table at this point, blankets wrapped thrice around my body. I can’t move.

The drops are so constant that all I see is purple. That and the drops themselves, which form in soft-focus, maturing as they do into resolute tear-shape before disappearing into my eye. I’m meanwhile bound to the table. Van Morrison is on the radio and a doctor is moving somewhere in my vicinity, exchanging remarks with the anesthesiologist. I know about isoflourane, and I know I should probably be asleep.

I really shouldn’t be hearing about ‘Gypsie Robin’ or ‘Emma Rose.’

The doctor begins cutting and I am wide-awake.

I have a strange association, and it’ll be hard to explain. This color purple I’m seeing, it has a particular depth to it. I know it’s just a reflection of a surgeon’s lamp relative to my dilated eyes but I’m reminded of when I was a young aviculturist and I opened a wrong egg by mistake.

To best and quickest explain: I’m a bird-keeper. That’s what I mean by ‘aviculturist’. And as a bird-keeper I habitually candle eggs with a bright light. The light illuminates the goings-on inside the egg—vessels, embryonic movement, etc. Sometimes the egg is dead and it’s summarily pulled from the incubator; the egg is generally opened afterwards to find out what or where went wrong.

So one day, I pulled an egg. It was supposed to be dead, but when I capped the shell with a pair of tweezers, I immediately saw purple beyond the cell membrane, a pulsing purple I can only describe as alive. It was a horrible mistake. Generally a dead egg is non-descript in color but there, floating in magenta, was an undeveloped bird embryo, breathing through vessels still, looking up at me in a suddenly mortal WTF. I’ll never forget that shade of violet, that abrupted vitality.

Why the surgeon’s lamp is the same purple, I don’t know, but from within a violet field there are issued continual eyedrops. I’m still puzzlingly unasleep.

Dear God, I’m actually now witnessing a needle being inserted into my eye. I don’t sense it, I observe it, and I’m not sure how I should be feeling. Turn off Van Morrison at least, please. Caravan is over. This becomes the strangest of phenomena. My eye’s supposed to be unseeing, but there it is, a silhouette of a needle exaggeratedly thick two nicks away from my expanding pupil. I’m not asleep and there’s a shadow against the purple. I’m seeing something inside my eye. I’m braced against the wraps, I feel the pressure, but all’s violet and there’s nothing I can do.

The surgeon actually says at one point: “This is not good.”

Really? I can’t speak. I actually watch as my new lens is shoved into place, roughly. The lens—a synthetic disc–unfolds and suddenly my world is in better focus. The drops still rain in continuous fashion, but the old lens has since been discarded and the new lens unfurls slowly, like a starfish arm curling curious, finding place within my eye. Everything is still purple. This, I guess is a color that incision suggests.

When I awake from anesthesia—and easily—never having been completely under, I’m fine. The nurses don’t have to steady me. I’m familiar with my ride home and I walk out the door just—well—fine.

I inform the surgeon that I’ve remembered every moment of the procedure. He says that he doesn’t believe that accurate, and he frowns. Doctors have a lot of ego, and I’ve grown to know this more of recent. I remind him that Van Morrison was playing on the radio and I say this while shrugging on my brown wool coat. Anesthesia makes you cold, not dumb. I list off the songs. I have an eye patch on, but I’m not blind. He frowns further.

I lift my eye-patch in, of all places, a Jack in the Box drive-thru. I never go to Jack in the Box, but I’m there and there are neon signs. The fact of neon is a complicated chemistry and what runs through tubes is something in a vacuum. I think there are noble gases involved; also cheeseburgers.

I see true purple for the first time in years, and oh my God: why does my cat stare out the backdoor? There is purple outlining the drive-thru window and there are tacos here. The windshield reflects the order-board in an amazing andluminescent yellow. I momentarily forget the stars.

The constellations were in my eyes; they were removed.