American Trees

Cayde is running soccer scrimmage in the front yard, somewhat imaginatively, because Daddy is unavailable while re-potting plants on the front porch.  Cayde plays against himself, personing two teams at once: the Cayde Team vs. the Gray Moles.  Surprisingly, the Gray Moles tend to score more goals and—endall—they take away the trophy.  I find this charitable on Cayde’s part—imaginary friends don’t often get the win.

I’m wrist-deep in soil and transplanting sedges and ornamentals.  Plants colored silver, lime, and merlot (that’s what the tabs say at least) make a sudden and complimentary pretty; meanwhile, Cayde’s phosphorescent soccer ball hopscotches off the sycamore tree, pinballing scattershot over surfaced roots, before escaping the lawn’s terracing and out into the street.  The ball rolls determinedly and Cayde watches from the shade of the sycamore.

“Dad-deee!” 

Cayden is his own petit anarchie, but sometimes he abides by rules.  In this case: we don’t run into the street to retrieve soccer balls.  We rattle Daddy’s eardrums instead until Daddy resignedly puts down the potted germander and trots himself out onto the asphalt to collect the ball, wedged usually as it is beneath the tire of a dilapidated Corolla.

 This time, the ball stops against the opposite curb and–before I can wipe my hands off on the thighs of my jeans and jog down the stairs—a bicyclist rounds the corner and slow-spokes a halt in front the wayward soccer ball.

 The cyclist is matted—dirty even—and, this being North Park, one has to gauge whether or not the bicyclist, with his Pigpen aesthetic, is either fashioning an ideological choice or else showcasing some new irony.  I suppose he could just be dirty.  That’s possible.

The cyclist clicks to a halt in front of the soccer ball, and tripods awkwardly to palm it, bicycle tipped on the diagonal.

He throws the ball back to me.  “Thanks, Man,” I say.  He flashes a smile, yellow.  His beard is very much like the germander I’ve just potted in that it is twisted in knotted tendrils.

“You’ve got a good boy,” he replies.  “Stopping short of the curb like that. Figured you didn’t want him crossing the street.”  I agree out loud.  I like this guy. 

He rights himself and finds footing again on his pedals.  “That’s a beautiful tree, there,” he says in exeunt, pointing to the sycamore that is landmark in front of our house. 

“Isn’t it?”  I wave good-bye and flip the ball to Cayden.  Maybe the Gray Moles will score another goal.

The sycamore in front of our house is certainly a hundred years old. The house is, at least: a 1910 construction with original glass.  Glass that has—over time—shimmied down the panes in slo-liquid form.  The bottoms of the windows remain thicker than the tops and light eddies into the house unevenly.

(Glass is in fact a liquid: you can only know this after an amount of time has passed.  After a hundred years, a champagne flute will not be as pretty).

I guess the sycamore is as old as the windows.  The trunk is solid with edified scars and green offshoots. There are fungal growths, which—arrogantly—pretend threaten the tree before desiccating into mere scabs; the tree is resistant and it grows despite everything.  Currently, it’s a goal post: Cayde creates a soccer pitch out of the front lawn and the tree is kinduv in the way.  It can only be useful as a makeshift marker: “if you kick the ball past the tree, then you score a point.”

The sycamore has been injured by a number of arborists over a hundred years.  It is twisted and has grown back against itself.  Bruises from soccer balls are insignificant.  Cayde cuts it often with cleated feet.

Japanese horticulturists have a particular and damning critique of trees grown in the States.  “That’s an American tree” they sigh resignedly, in reference to centurion sycamores like the one that grows in my front yard.  Classic Japanese horticulturists meditate before cutting, measuring how auxins will inform new growth, and how tree branches might react in response to their particular surgeries. Japanese trees are perfectly formed; American trees, meanwhile, are wild and ill-grown.   This is something ideological, sure.

 Still: the bicyclist takes off down the street, and—even if confused—the sycamore stands beautiful and remains something of remark. 

My kid kicks the ball out-of-bounds again.  Onto pristine asphalt, flat and without fault.      

 

     

 

 

 

 

Exchanging ephemera

The porch is brimming with sundry and yet un-potted plants: crimson-tinged sedges; black fringe-flower trees; and silver germanders coiled about themselves, their insignificant purple blossoms play-acting as bees in a hive of branches.

 I ‘bought’ these plants, which—immediately—is a mis-speak.  In actuality: I earned a $500 gift card to Lowe’s for good service at work.  The card was magnetized in such a fashion that suddenly I had purchasing power to the tune of half a K.  With the heavy clunk of Mexican pottery and galvanized tools on the check-out counter—(there also being a random lamp, some picture frames, coils of hose and a gallon of peanut oil for frying)—you would think concrete exchange was necessary, the act of buying not an ‘act’ perse, but rather an action.  Something akin to opening a billfold and presenting splendor-monies, or else negotiating a trade: “I’ll trade you this hydrangea for a shoeshine.  I’ll bake you a cake, as well.  Chocolate, maybe.”  But no.

 I secured my bounty at Check-Out #2, personed by a girl most likely three calendar-days post-highschool: a Breeanna with a tricky spelling I can’t exactly reproduce, someone who just happened to have the same Alvy Singer glasses as me.  I suggest something abstract: ‘Can I buy gift-cards with a gift-card?’ I raise an eyebrow, even. (Amazon cards would be much more useful to me).  I’m almost conspiratorial because the ludicrousness of meta-finance is suddenly a game to me and, even as I’m half-hidden behind a row of yet-to-be paid for bulrushes, the girl decides ‘no’ in tenet with store policy; I’m instantly disappointed in her tattoo which figuratively drips anarchic blood just south of her short sleeve.

 ‘Alright, then.  I’ll just get the plants.’  Kids these days.

 A week later, and my wife and I are in a tax preparer’s office with sheafs of paper, documents heiroglyphed with numbers and red lines; we’re trying to make sense of an audit that threatens us with 2K worth of penalty for mistakes made on ‘09 documents.  We’re just shy of the statute of limitations.

 (On the drive to the tax advisor’s office, a story surfaces on NPR: hacktavist Jeremy Hammond is sentenced to ten years by a federal court.  He is guilty for exposing informations on tax malfeasance and corporate misconduct—information he discovered illegally, sure—but information that discredits Dow and Coca-Cola as parties morally dubious in a world clogged and conundrummed with ephemeral information, numbers and meta-numbers, dupes and duplicity).

 I sit in a chair in the tax-advisor’s office, most likely slouched, because all the mistakes on the ’09 documents are in my handwriting (my fault basically) and I look around the room embarrassed —and when I’m not locking eyes with the nineteen year-old office cat—I’m remarking the décor which is essentially Coca-Cola keepsakes on display, red and white, emblematic but kitsch.  The taxman remarks a number of mistakes on our tax forms and in his repetition of my failed math and in the constant flash of his professionally-veiled smirk, I think: ‘Do taxmen at parties say: this one client of mine—he actually came up with a negative on line 37!!’ 

 ‘Kids these days!’ <clinking of glasses, and hearty laughter>

 There is a backwards logarithm that the advisor–smart and clean and handsome,–utilizes when comparing my numbers to the ones forwarded by the IRS auditors.  He sits in-between two oversized monitors and there is the at once soothing but discomfiting clack of a counting machine.  He raises an eyebrow at one of my mistakes, and then finds one made by the IRS.

 Fed, State, me and my fuck-ups: it’s a volley of numbers and as the mosaic of tax forms becomes more and more complicated, the taxman actually minimizes the complication to a single mail-out form which godspeed, shall find its way to the tax-advisory board, post-haste and certified. The exercise seems less handiwork on the taxman’s part, than a graduated and polished rote.  He is good. 

 We stand to leave and—still—I’m finding new and interesting Coca-Cola things to look at.  (Hammond, jailed, crosses my mind briefly).  Between monitors, audits, and facsimiles, I remain confounded: we’ve exchanged ephemera today, illusory numbers, and I’m insecure knowing that the Treasury creates money from thin air, in unremarkable rooms littered with Snickers wrappers, digital alchemy done with a touch of a button.  It’s all confusing and rather cirrus in nature.   

Meanwhile, the plants sit on the porch concretely and in need of water.  They busy themselves making rather something out of nothing.  The fringe-flower has already taken to blossom, even.

At which point I say ‘Uncle.’

It’s 2 p.m. and despite the glut of one extra hour come Daylight Savings Time, Finn’s eyes are purpled and mine most likely, too. Having finished a bottle–an emergency bottle, because Finn would have nothing to do with his breakfast of chicken and peas–Finn is relatively content and we sink into the orange leather chair together, a kinetic sighing of sorts;  it’s been a long morning–long weekend actually, (weekend also meaning week-beginning because there’s no rest here as we just keep on going, prepping at day’s end for the next one, ad infinitum)–and I play ‘boop’ on Finn’s button nose.  Finn laughs at this game which is simply a game of wearied dad just pressing a tired finger to his son’s available nose; he laughs and I’m smiling for the first time today.  Here at 2 p.m. it seems a very long time from having first been caffeinated or otherwise coherent and here, at 2 p.m.– and were this work–I’d have to punch out on the time-clock, then punch right back in again because the second shift is suddenly and conspicuously now.  There’s soccer practice for Cayde come 4:30 and as much as  I congratulate myself on Finn being especially cute today in his grey cardigan and with neatly combed hair; (there also the fact of homemade baby-food in the fridge and a lentil cake cooling on the range-top); I will be dropping Finn off with Mama soon and ferrying Cayde to Morley Field where it’ll be soccer practice beneath lights, something I don’t think either Coach John or I thought about with the time change and all; soccer practice suddenly nighttime with the lights buzzing on and swaths of moths illuminated in halogenic purple, the sun setting real purple opposite our particular stretch of grass, orange cones deposited in a square, practice-practice, and Cayden just asking at the end of it all: “Did I do good, Daddy?”  On all accounts, yes.

Me and Finn–we hit up the neighborhood markets today.  We always wagon and Jami down at Ripe told me I should write a cookbook.  (I didn’t tell her, but she had a fleck of parsley in her hair).  I was flattered, but: when is there time.  This was midway into Shift 1 and already there was too much to do.  Coming home from soccer practice, in which case Shift 2 was damn near lunch break–and when I was realizing I hadn’t eaten since yesterday, yesterday when Jenn and I split that sandwich and I remarked something about ‘too much mustard’–there was still a chicken to roast, kids to bathe, kids to put to bed.  There’s a text on my phone: I’m flying to Las Vegas next week for work–which is nice, on one hand, because hotel rooms are square and empty and agreeable to me–but I’m nervous because I’m suddenly the senior-most keeper at my job and were there a way to alleviate some responsibility I might say ‘yes’ but most likely ‘no’ and just:  well, just.

I am busy, this is me.   

The wagon is currently parked and Cayden and Finn are in bed.  Jenn had the right idea: she went to hot yoga tonight.  I take a minute to step outside and water a fledgling lime tree I planted a coupla weeks ago.  It hasn’t grown much and–being overly proud of my own productivity–I veritably sneer at this lime tree’s lack of effort.  There are some newly sprouted branches–nothing much–but, in watering it’s roots, I very quietly say: ‘Uncle.”   

 

 

Reagan

We’ve kicked the ball over the fence.  Well, Cayde has actually, in a spirited game of backyard soccer.  We’re at my brother-in-law’s house and the Chargers game is on in the vague background.  We do a spirited march next door–me and Cayde and my niece, Bailey–in hopes of retrieving the wayward ball.  The doorbell is answered only by the yapping of a small dog, most likely something ridiculous, but we can’t see past the pebbled glass entryway to know.  

A single-prop plane passes overhead and we look up instinctively.  “No luck, kiddos.”  A dance back across the grass and I stoop to pluck a dandelion.  Bailey’s beaten me to it–she has two in hand–and Cayde follows suit.

“What are you gonna wish for?”  At first Bailey protests because telling would mean risking the wish.  Spit on your palm when you see a hay-bale-truck, wish on the falling star, close your eyes and blow out the birthday candle–just never tell.

But she changes her mind. “I want a Barbie play-set,” she announces matter-of-factly.  And she looks really cute in her dress-up dress–a velvet thing–with two dandelions in her hand.  Cayde chimes in: “I want the Pegasus Bey-Blade.”  The Bey-Blade: it’s a newfangled toy with a cartoon to match.

“Nooo,” I say, “C’mon–wish for something better.”  And Bailey thinks and finally responds by saying she wants a first-place medal in her next feis–an Irish-dancing competition.  She’s an earnest dancer and medalling is important.  Cayde says: “I want to be the best student ever and get awards at every assembly.”

The plane lands somewhere behind us and both Bailey and Cayden *pfoof* at their dandelions; I’m strangely relieved when the heads remain intact and only a few dandelion fuzzies float over the grass, wishes speeding ground-wards.  These are suddenly tall orders and the wishes, they weigh both heavy and light in the grass, little fuzzy pollen-somethings.

I’m talking to my friend, Ryan, later.  A good way to end a Sunday: with the light going down correctly, and a phone cradled to my shoulder while walking up and down the driveway.  Mid-conversation, I get a text and I check it while just talking.  And it’s an important text because it involves someone dying.  But–in this moment–I just close the phone and let it blink back into darkness somewhere in my pocket. I refuse a sob or even a hiccup; I keep talking.

 

I hadn’t spoken to Ryan in a while.  There were wishes already heavy in the grass, most likely soddened by sprinklers at this point, and my friend on the other end of the wire and a light that was nice.  But there was also someone–in that same moment–steadying a thumb to text the words: ‘Reagan died comfortably and peacefully this morning..”

In which case, you have to note something, something of the moment to acknowledge that the universe just happened, quite unfairly, and what is there? but a dumb sunset and the notion that wishing for a ‘Barbie playset’ was just really very much ok.