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Autumnal, Said Right for Once

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

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

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Magic

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

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Movement, removed.

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

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Thousands and Thousandths

Finn decidedly unwore his backpack on the way out of pre-school today, the backpack being as big as he was. Even when I knotted the straps around his waist and held his hand out the door, he shrugged the monkey-themed rucksack down past his shoulders, and preferred me to hoist him in a crooked arm. He alternately waved to everyone, else sucked his thumb while we made our way through the melee of first-day-of-school curbside parents.

Cayden skipped along behind, excitedly talking about math and Spanish; it was ninety degrees out and we had to walk five blocks to our car, parked up on Broadway and near the taco shop. Finn happened to see his mom, herself dismissing class out in front of the school. For five blocks it was: “Mama! Mama! Mama! I held Finn’s backpack while he reached a hand out back towards Jenn, who was dutifully matching students to parents and abuelitas, all the Sherman Heights neighborhood in one place collecting their children.

It was really hot, and by the time we arrived at the car, Finn was limp on my shoulder, his ‘mamas’ having expired. A few minutes into the drive, the AC having kicked in, I asked Cayde: ‘Wait–how was school again?’ He talked about thousands and thousandths, and that his teacher was “pretty wild”. Finn was complacent in the back seat in a fresh school uniform and I remembered when he was born, when our pediatrician draped him across her forearm in the recovery room, his blood already pooling in an imperfect heart, so sleepy in the first shows of congestive failure that the fact of anything outside his diagnosis was uncertain. Then he woke up, heart tightened, and so did we, and I had to fairly hurl Finn into the carseat today because he’s now so heavy. I did so outside the taco shop that has our favorite chile verde burrito; outside the taco shop where Cayde kept excitedly talking about the thousands and thousandths places, and where, while buckling Finn in and thinking of all the chances, I had to agree with the math.

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Hurricane, home.

Hurricane, Cayden, not tornado. You’re creating a lemon-lime hurricane. And, also—don’t do that. You’re in a restaurant.”
I use the flattest achievable tone to make my point while Cayden furiously stirs his plastic tumbler of soda. Why I’m insisting on his ill manners being meteorologically correct, I don’t know. I just know it’s Wednesday, in which case we have an hour in between lunch and Speech, then another hour before soccer practice. Ramen has become our thing, Underbelly being the neighborhood retreat.
The patio is al fresco, with long stone-slab tables set up family-style. Trenches of lava-rock channel the length of the tables like igneous table-runners, and tea-lights fashion the scene. When the sun goes down, the lights are lit, also the crook-necked lamps lining 30th Avenue.
30th is the North Park’s equator, literally and figuratively, with its resident and well-trafficked cross-streets having their own reputations by virtue of their either north or south latitude. We reside in the land of good-repute, Craftsmen and xenoscaped Mission bungalows lining streets with waists so thin they starve out the generally ill-considered apartment complexes—zones remain something of a thing.
There are lawns, albeit dying now and addresses you may or may not want; but if you’re hazarding to the right while an oncoming car passes on the left, you’re probably in what’s considered a good neighborhood.
Wasn’t always this way. Jokes were about the helicopters circling the area adjunct to the NP adult bookstore, back in the days of lesser-cautioned but wider-open thighs, when junk shots were sanguinal, and the shoddy bungalows were exactly their worth in square footage. There was a bath-house close to next-door.
For scale: it would take seven of my houses to create a square mile. Can’t buy a house for a fourth of that now, or any house within ten square miles of me.
Cayden threatens to create a tornado in his tumbler while I still correct him about tornadoes being vortices of wind, and hurricanes being vortices of water. He stirs his Lemon-Lime and I forget if typhoons or monsoons or all those circular things have to spin clockwise or counter to have proper effect. I forget these things; Cayde meanwhile says his drink is gone.
Finn was sleeping, but is awake now. I order the trio tartare, tell them to replace the salmon with a second helping of spicy tuna and I chopstick portions to Finn in his stroller. Rice and red-tinged albacore, which he agrees to. Because those lower teeth haven’t grown in, he still stuffs food as matter of fact, pushing everything to the back of his mouth. Spice doesn’t concern him.
The hamachi is whitish-gray, and I splash it with sesame, but it still tastes like clean sea-water despite the dressing, amber-jack fishy to a point, but clean, and I consider that seawater runs through fish, through their fern-ish and feathery gills, that sea-water is iodized, negatively charged, positively energized, and that there are creatures that exist in complete erasure of mood by manner of swimming.
“Daddy!”
“What.”
“I want to ride my bike this way.”
“Sure.”
“Can we go to that parking lot?”
“Yeah, sure.”
Cayde wants me to take pictures, thinking he’ll be a dynamic blur. He pedals fast thinking he’ll best the camera shutter-speed.
“I can do tricks here.”
We’re in an abandoned parking space of a dismissed and bankrupt Laundromat, and Cayde tosses his limbs in his own version of abandon, doing tricks and ignoring the pedals.
There is a spent mattress with pornographically-displayed coils, extinguished cigarettes wind-swept against parking curbs. Every picture I take has perfect resolution, and Cayde isn’t the blur he wants to be. I take photos of him riding back and forth in front of a mural. He rides a green bike, and the mural is a ten-foot depiction of Amy Winehouse, the Cleopatra eyeliner collecting age and with no snakes afoot.
“Hey—let’s keep moving. There’s that alleyway.”
That alleyway, and Cayde pedals fast, zoom, fast away; Finn sleeps in the stroller.
When Cayden was a baby, and when I carried him on my chest, I pointed out all the plants, not knowing how to otherwise speak to him. I knew all the Latin words.
Tecoma capensis.
Pandorea jasminoides
.
All these plants peeking through the fences.
Nyctaginacae, which was the bougainvillea, and when parking the bike, is the simple and lone sepal stuck on a stray spider-tangle.
“Take off your helmet, Dude. We’re home.”

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The Strand

When dropping from overhead height into a wave, I unfortunately landed on Cayden who was going the wrong way in the trough, right and not left, all with the wave peeling north; immediately Cayde gave up body-boarding, for five minutes at least, exclaiming boogie-boards as something ‘STUPID!’ But then he rejoined his buddy Harrison and me back in the midriff-deep waters. Because the reef-break in Coronado is unique and the Strand something man-made, there are always marooned silver dollars and periwinkle shells underfoot, also waves doubled and tripled up which make for long, surging rides to shore. I catch the waves out deep, Harrison and Cayden catch the middling waves, and we suddenly ride parallel; there is that best thing when Cayden looks both left and right, decides to grab my wrist, then Harrison’s, and we ride to shore together.