Torque

My hand was too hot, so Jenn readjusted her hand-hold when we walked to dinner a few blocks up.

I have hot hands, which the palm-reader labelled as ‘passion hands’; the pre-natal masseuse said the same when she allowed me to pass fingers across Jenn’s back, Jenn seven-months pregnant.

My co-worker laughs: says ‘worst super-hero power ever.’ Because I admitted that, when my hands are at ten and two, I fog up my windshield driving to work. True story.

I passed a parked Datsun on the way back from the park today with the kids. My immediate thought was, ‘Man–those Datsuns had torque.’ Which was stupid: I never took physics and fuck if I know what torque is.

My friend’s step-dad tricked out a Datsun and–in neutral–the thing suggested climbing a hill.

My friend–he said something about torque.

There’s that hill in Santee and the Datsun did its thing. Gears tightly wound, the yellow car with knocked-out windows inched up a slope with a disengaged gearshift.

Finn walked the perimeter of the park today. He got really mad when the dry-brush got in his way and he yanked at the clinging branches. He walked a full mile.

I looked it up: torque is something about the ‘moment of force.’ I still don’t know what that means.

I swept up Finn and told a helmeted Cayden to stop on yellow, please–the egress ramps where the sidewalk dips next to the picket fences and where the concrete is white.

‘Mind the alleys, Dude.’ Cayde scootered about. Parked when he should’ve.

‘Moment of force.’ Finn was close to falling asleep in his stroller and Cayde asked: ‘What’s ten times two?’before speeding ahead of my answer.

Leaving the park, he picked up a discarded watermelon rind and threw it into the grass.

‘Worms will get that.’He has an understanding of how things work.

At the corner of Thorn and 32nd, just past the DeLuca’s Pizzeria where we agree we haven’t been that much recently, Cayde slowed because there’s another yellow. I had the flap up on the stroller’s canopy and Finn was pushing a hand against the plastic window to meet mine.

“Why, Daddy,” Cayde asked, “Do we sleep a long time but the dreams are short? Why doesn’t sleep feel as long as it is?”

I swear he asked this.

I paused, and not only because the curb was yellow. My kid turned back in my direction with his silly angles and with his helmet askew. Those teeth, adult in a kid-sized head, and that question.

“Let’s keep going. Alley’s clear.”

Finn had purple eyes but stayed awake until we got home and Cayde ditched his scooter on the driveway alongside his helmet. Skulls and crossbones on the helmet, and that strap I can’t ever adjust right.

Oh. ‘Moment of force.’ My dad drove a Datsun and–torque–I now get you.

I changed my hand-hold with Jenn on the way to dinner. Passion hands. That’s what the palm-reader said. I like that, so yes.

Doris

I’m incontrovertibly happy, which–disclaimer–is not a FaceBook trope or anything. I just am, and my inner misanthrope has his arms crossed and hates me at present.

There’s sour-grass, iceplant, and aloe blooming at once. Let’s blame it on that. The misanthrope can take a break for a while.

I pull into Rady’s for Finn’s weekly Speech and say hello to the parking lot attendant, Doris (I called her Mae in an earlier post; I was lying—it’s Doris). If ever I had to choose a Higher Power, it would be her. She’s maybe sixty, sixty-five. Small in stature, she’s an African-American woman with spider-woven cheekbones and an unwavering smile. Whether rain or sun, she invariably wears an over-sized windbreaker and a straw hat cinched by means of a drawstring beneath her chin.

“Hi, Honey. Good to see you.” She always pokes her head through the window and waves to Finn.

“Hi, Baby. Hi!” Her smile is the warmest.

(Often I wonder if people remember me in the same fashion I remember them, and: do we, would we, recognize each other upon meeting for the third, fourth time? I always think I’m somehow forgettable. Doris remembers me, I remember Doris. It’s obvious every time we see each other).

I take the ticket—I should step outside the door and give Doris a hug–but I park my car instead.

This morning:

“Do I seem better?”

Jenn puts a knife down on the cutting board and nods her head.

We’re both smiling. I say, ‘Ok.’

Doris says: “Always good to see you, Dear.” These days, I believe her. And I like being called ‘Dear’ and ‘Honey’ by someone I don’t exactly know, especially when it’s spring and there’s no flowers sprouting the asphalt outside the parking lot booth.

Speaking of: I get this parking stub every session. A crossbeam rises, I park. Some bored receptionist asks if I or anyone I’ve known has been to Africa or Central Asia recently.

“No. And no.”

My ticket gets validated meaning I’ve somehow been granted free time. ‘Free’ time, as if it’s a commodity. Do you ever wonder why it is you get charged for taking up time and space?

Doris’ shift is done by twelve and I often see her climb into her Corolla for the ride home. I pay the new girl three dollars, and I’m allowed out. The crossbeam lifts, Finn falls asleep, I return home.

I always wave to Doris, but she never sees me. We leave, and apart.

The Heaven Chord

The Hollywood moguls must be in a sudden yet agreeable cease-fire. At least that’s what it seems as the park’s jungle gyms down the block have sprouted a few new superheroes, the lot of them motley and without allegiance to DC or Marvel, let alone Disney.

Batman is riding a scooter. No, really. Velcro is withstanding Newtonian Law and a scowl-some cowl is holding fast to a four-year old’s dome; there’s a cape flagging behind him that flaps in gusts as he pumps furiously around the park’s perimeter.

Obi-Wan has a Quiksilver shirt beneath his knightly robes, and with a light-saber rendered in Nerf. All his future Padawans are frankly doomed. Cayde steals the light saber within fifteen minutes and does some non-damage to the bordering privets.

There’s also Thor.

“Is that your name: Thor?! Is that for real, or are you an Avenger?” (Serious questions among seven-year olds).

Thor has Spicoli hair and impeccable balance on the lesser playground elements, the spring-powered see-saw thingamajigs. He has blonde ringlets and Cayde plays with him for a minute before finding greater intrigue in the kid running around in Obi robes and an undercut hair-do.

Cayde takes off with the Quiksilver Kenobi and Finn putters along. I follow Finn who takes to the perimeters of the park, fingering the chain-link fence and voicing his language of monosyllables. It’s a sing-sang song and he marches along to it, pausing to pick at some nasturtium else flurry a palm at some plumbago blossoms. Cayden reappears every now and then to strike with me some Nerf saber, else hang upside-down on the itinerant exercise equipment. Upside-down, Cayde’s belly shows and I’m reminded of Friday when I picked Cayde up from school. I had Finn with me, and every kid cooed because Finn is Teacher Hofman’s kid; I’m popular too and by default because I’m Mister Hofman. I’ve got a SeaWorld shirt on, and I smell like penguins. This has every six-year olds’ attention.

When holding Finn, his shirt skirts upwards.

“Aww—look at his chubby belly.”

“He’s so cute.”

“What’s that scar?”

Zecariah asks about the scar; he’s truly perplexed. He even puts down his crayon.

Cayden launches into explanation: how his brother had heart surgery and—yes—his brother had his chest opened up. Cayde lifts his brother’s shirt and points out the scar that zippers down Findlay’s breastbone.

Zecariah squints and remains inquisitive: ‘What’s that dot beneath the scar?’

I could explain about the pacemaker, the wires that protruded from Finn’s chest, the ones never connected. Wires that were implanted just in case. There were enough wires as it were, and that’s something you just can’t explain, and especially to a six-year old kid.

(In preparation for Finn’s surgery, Jenn and I wept when we were shown a doll, a model of our kid, with a marionette’s number of strings protruding its chest as the illustration of recovery. Wires upon wires upon wires).

I tell Zecariah: “Oh, it’s just a dot. Look—it makes an exclamation point. You know how Superman has an ‘S’ on his chest? Finn has an exclamation point. He’s a super-hero, too, you know.”

And I leave it at that. So when Batman shuttles around the park, and Obi-Wan wacks evil on the head with Nerf fury, things aren’t so weird. Though they always will be.

Finn wanders the park today—a full quarter mile—pausing occasionally to yell downwards into the drainage gates; he also picks random flowers and chooses to slide down the biggest slides before, finally, just sitting.

I’m at home with Cayde later. I’ve tuned two guitars and I’m teaching Cayde the Em chord. Halfway successful, I train his fingers to the ‘G’ and the ‘C’.

“My fingers hurt, Daddy.”

“I know, Kid—that’s a steel-stringed guitar. You’re doing fine.”

He looks real cute, though, with the strap slack on his shoulder and him trying so hard. I place his fingers on the strings. ‘Here, here, and here. This one’s ‘E’.

He strums it badly.

“Takes practice, Cayde. That was real good.” (‘A Day in the Life’ends on ‘E’).

“You know what that chord means, Dude?”

“No.”

Every chord means something. ‘E’ is the heaven chord.

He tries again; just not there yet.

On Not Wasting the Sun

This lady and I are pushing swings next to each other at Montclair Park. Second week in the row that we’ve seen her. Her granddaughter’s name is Renny, which I find adorable. Renny’s grandma proclaims—for the fourth time in half as many meetings—“I’ve never known anyone named Cayden before. Such a nice name, Cayden. “ The lady wears a wide-brimmed visor and high-waisted pants. She has short grey hair and never ceases smiling this contemplative grin, which matches her eyes, surprisingly un-tracked by crows; she has no worries.

At the top of her swing, Renny shouts down to me: “This is my friend, Grandma!”

As she descends, legs-splayed and scabby-kneed, I tell her: “My grandma’s my friend, too!”

We keep on swinging. I’ve got double-duty pushing both Finn and Cayde. It’s getting near five, and Mama will be home soon.

Cayde shouts excitedly. “Daddy–I see solar panels!” Which are on the hillside beyond the park’s chain-link fence, adjacent to a house that has a view of us and Renny swinging.

“They’re getting energy from the sun, Daddy,” and Cayde goes on an on and may as well have explained the entire Kreb’s cycle to me for as long as he elaborates the sun’s particular workings, the plants, the everything. I push Finn who just laughs.

Renny’s grandma tells Renny that she bets Cayden is fast. Because he’s seven. This is Cayden’s cue to take off running. Which he does, leaving an empty swing creaking its links. But–not being done with his second-grade dissertation on all things solar–Cayde shouts over his shoulder: “Daddy, we can’t waste the sun!”

I didn’t hear the sentence before that one, but that’s perfectly ok. Cayden bolts across the grass bare-footed and the solar panels are due to collect a few more hours.

When the Headbeams Were Otherwise Stopped

At Costco the other day, Cayden scales everything the least bit climb-able. The bin of tomatoes, the refrigerator displays. He puts ‘Hawaiian King’ rolls (the 24 pack we’re certainly not going to buy)in our cart. “Chill!” I say–and less than kindly–while returning the rolls. I grab his hand as means of timeout and this, mind you, makes selecting cottage cheese difficult. “Da-deee,” he whines, “Let me go.” He stresses that holding my hand hurts, and does so–gallingly–in front of the Pellegrino display. Which means: we we are not fancy at this particular moment. I eventually let go when we can check out safely.

This evening, I take Cayden to a family movie event at a local restaurant. This means I can catch up with some guys over pints while Cayde watches a movie in a reserved section out back. I don’t feel guilty in the slightest: we have the ten-block walk to Waypoint and back. Cayde and I talk about my new schedule, the fact of Daylight Savings Time, and there being sunshine when now again I can pick him up from school. He skips ahead of me in a ridiculous Ninja Turtle sweatshirt, sometimes hopscotching ahead of our conversation.

“Monkey–get back here.” (I’m not finished with my sentence, most times). Cayde comes back. He hugs my hip, else jumps on me, and usually inconveniently. Injuries aside, I’m beginning to feel I know this kid better than anybody else even if he’s opposite or, perhaps, the same as me. I endure the sometimes violence of his affection and keep asking questions.

“Think hard, Dude,” I say. “What do you want to do? We’ve got time now. Daddy’s home earlier.”

We come up with: the playground (natch), hikes, visits to the nursery because our front porch is bare. (I tell him about the Mission Hills Nursery where dragging a wagon around is the simplest pleasure. The nursery was founded the same year our gable was constructed). Cayde decides, among all this talk, that we must include Finn always. How good a brother is that. Also–yes–plants are needed for the front porch.

I’m finishing beers with my friend Andy, and settling the bill. Cayde’s wrapped around my neck–he’s practicing some move wherein he leaps off the neighboring bench and catches himself around my collar. I could feign choking or get annoyed. But, no.

Finn is often labelled the ‘good’ kid because he’s so easy. Cayden’s good, but not easy, as I can attest to while paying the tab. Cayde’s impinging my carotid; I’m just trying to sign correctly, and with appropriate blood flow. He hangs on my neck because he’s excited his dad is–from now on–off early. I think in the end I get the signature correct. I know Cayde’s happy.

Cayden’s a good kid. Last night he went to his friends’ house to find out that they had moved away–unexpectedly–in some custody battle. He was wracked with sobs, the same sobs he cries when he watches movies where family members are separated. Such things devastate him. And look: I understand my kid’s smart. But I also know that empathy has its own quotient, and that he’s got that going on, too. He was desperately sad but quick to repair; we took a walk around the block as short-cut to some relief.

Similarly (and because my kid’s just like me) Cayde says tonight : “Daddy–I found a secret way out of here”, meaning the restaurant. And, seriously, he did. It’s something I would do to duck out in an inconspicuous measure. I say good night to Andy and then Cayde shooshes me in confidence and guides me out the back of the restaurant through a series of doors that should belong only to the line-cooks and wait-staff. Coursing his cleverly found-labyrinth makes me wish I had left a better tip.

Back on the sidewalk, we venture home. Past an art gallery, where people are studiously painting still-lifes, Cayde says that he just smells paint. It’s an earnest thing to say. Just as earnestly, he also decrees he wants a cheeseburger when we pass the Jack in the Box. He reaches for my hand when we cross the street and with that suddenly not being punishment, I’m quick to say ‘yes’ when he asks to skip the rest of the way home. Around the corner he goes, and down the alley. ‘Go ahead, Cayde.’ I lose sight of him, but at least he held my hand when the light was green and when the head-beams were otherwise stopped.

Dear, Mr. Vespa Guy

Dear Vespa Guy that lives on my block:

I haven’t met you. I think you have a cool ride and, since you have a ‘Modern Times’ decal on the fender of your scooter, I figure you have impeccable taste in libation, too. You generally park in a conservative fashion, that being a perk of owning something more sub- than a sub-compact. I’ve seen you sometimes–you have natty shoes and a long-hours job. In the morning, you leave to a job I’m unsure of with a neat cup of coffee in hand, and you sometimes return late. Sometimes you squeeze your Vespa in a bit too close to my driveway, but that’s alright.

Dear Vespa Guy: I did you a favor today. You parked parallel  to the curb last night, perhaps taking up five feet, and this morning your ride was littered with post-its and taped-on messages. Let’s review:

“Way to be a d**k. Stop taking up whole spots, you plebian. –Everyone Ever”

“I have diabetes you cis-hetero bastard”

“Way to take up my spot. Eat sh*t and die 4 eva. You R A poophead.”

“You’re a joke. F**k off, Sh*tbrains.”

“I love your bravery. Heart Clarissa.”

“Gargle my goulash Butthole! Signed, Everybody”

“Hey a**holes. This guy is MY enemy. Don’t you butt-faces insult him. He’s MINE. –JB”

“Dear Douche, Why must you trouble my mostly peaceful mind with your selfish parking. You occupied an entire spot when you could have parked betwixt two other vehicles. People like you make a blight on society. Who cares about ISIS: this really gets me hot in the pants. F**k you–signed Everyone.”

“If not for you, I would’ve beaten my wife. Thank you for giving me something retarded to get mad about.”

“Great parking job”–No One Ever

“You smell! Like butt. Fuk off.”

“I would have had sex tonite if not for your terrible excuse for a sneaky poop. p.s.: I hate: JB”

“You park like an asshole and you (probably) smell like one too. Way to suck. –the Universe.”

“Hey F**kface, Why don’t you marry a fat chick so you can park your business in a wide space instead of F**KING with our parking spot. –F**k off.”

Dear Vespa Guy: I tore off every single message this morning so you wouldn’t have to be greeted with that kind of vitriol next time you had to go to work. You may be confused by the scotch tape left behind, but so be it. Hey–you may even actually be a jerk. I dunno. But I know a bigger jerk left the first message on your scooter. And since I’m fond of saying the Golden Rule can often be bankrupt, I know an even bigger jerk left a second message, an even bigger one the third or fifteenth. I’m also very turned off when people resort to ‘retarded’ or ‘fat-chick’ as means of insult; in which case, Vespa Guy, please park however the fuck you want.

Sun Will Set

I listened to Zoe Keating last night, purposefully. I like Keating, mind you, and I saw her a few years ago at a poetry summit. She plays cello, but has at her disposal a confusion of technology—pedals, mixers, the digital gamut—which elevates her into a virtual one-woman orchestra. Amazingly she has only one bow to rosin.

I listened to Zoe Keating because I know that three weeks and five days ago her husband died having had twenty-four new tumors discovered in his brain. I know this because that’s what Oren reported last week.

Oren has since died, and in similar fashion to Zoe’s husband. Metastatic sickness.

“I’ll be dead soon,” Oren wrote. That’s a weighty sentence to read when you otherwise have an expectation of deferred mortality. Forty-something shouldn’t be a viable, die-able age, until suddenly it is.

If you do the math, it’s scary. Not the years part, mind you, but the days. Oren wrote the most existentially heavy sentence he perhaps could’ve written just five days before he passed. “I’ll be dead soon.” He was right. We’re generally not predictors of this.

I saw Zoe Keating at a community college. I had picked up my friend from the airport and I got us lost on our way to the event. It was nighttime and my eyes are bad. We were at the back of the auditorium when Zoe played. She’d play a measure, reach to her left and switch a dial, else tap a pedal. She created layers of sound with just one instrument.

Everything about the cello suggests warmth. The rosewood, the rotund base. Drawing a bow past the strings is in itself a poetic gesture. (In ASL, the sign for music involves stroking the forearm with an upturned then downturned palm. It’s a beautiful sign).

Zoe played until she stopped. “Excuse me,” she said. Her bank of computers had momentarily failed and her orchestra was reduced to one player. In attempting to begin again, she sawed the chorus for ‘Sun Will Set’ a few times over while pressing at buttons.

In interviews, Zoe says that ‘Sun Will Set’ is embarrassingly simple. It’s beautiful nonetheless and I liked the interruption of simplicity when her set faltered. It was gorgeous.

The internet is stupid and all. I know that Oren liked Zoe Keating. I read it on his FaceBook page. How we know these things about each other without knowing each other at all. He said ‘”Heaven is on earth” and I think of Zoe frustratedly playing a very few and exact notes and it being perfect.