Cayden · childhood · cooking · food · home · parenting


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

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

Maybe I shouldn’t complain.

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

“Go potty! Go potty!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He crashes into me before disappearing to bed.

“Good night, Daddy! Love you!”

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



Cayden · childhood · family · home · Maggie · parenting

Answers Like Burning Paper

The questions used to be easy. And if they weren’t easy, they were at least innocent, answerable with simple Google searches.
Cayde would ask:
“What’s the inside of a blueberry look like?”
“What’s a blue whale skeleton look like?”
“Did tyrannosaurs have feathers?”
(The last one is great, because it’s a matter of both science and whimsy, which are fantastic collaborators in the art of metaphorizing. Imagine a reptilian killing-machine wearing a feather boa. The jokes write themselves).
I’d show Cayde pictures on an iPad while reclining in his bed.
“That penguin’s fat.”
We worked in the declarative.

My friend Maggie Jaffe and I used to run a small press publication years earlier where, over a Spartan plate of salsa and cream cheese, seitan and grapes (also scotch), we’d argue about fonts.
She’d go to a writers’ retreat in Vermont and I’d have to type up the issues and take care of her cat, a Norwegian Forest Tabby. I’m really bad at computers, much better at cats. It was a quasi-agreeable situation.
“Is this going to be the prison issue, or the Ernesto Cardenal issue?”
We were both bird-lovers, birds that sometimes show up in the mouths of felines. We were fashionably ironic, me and Mags.
The poetry overflowed, took up a lot of space. I wound up with boxes that I couldn’t store in my apartment with its one and simple closet. I kept a box of manuscripts in the trunk of my car, my mobile attic.
Attics get broken into as do cars, and long story short, poetry wound up scattered over the streets of North Park one night, and a Florida St. Samaritan returned some of the loose pages to Maggie, tire prints and all, asking: “Are these yours?”
Mags and I spent 9/11 together, watched the buildings go down in a wreck of dust and concrete, with the papery aftermath of dossiers and fax sheets floating light despite the heaviness of everything—this stupid detritus which caught the sun when you wished to God it didn’t look so beautiful in its descent.
Maggie was pretty mad about the poetry, all those ruined papers.
How do you apologize? In a formal letter? Sans serif with a Goodyear watermark? Tough questions.

Cayde has tougher questions these days.
“What’s the Illuminati?”
“Why didn’t Thomas Jefferson and John Adams like each other? They wrote a bunchuv letters to each other.”
“Who killed JFK?”
“Why did they burn Martin Luther King’s house down?”
“Tell me about Gandhi?”
I’m equipped to answer these questions, and why I still have residence in Cayde’s bunk come bedtime. Cayde’s actually carved out time: ‘7-7:30’ Daddy and I talk about things; ‘7:30-8’ we play along with Jeopardy.
These questions are hard, they’re just not declarative in nature anymore. The inside of a blueberry is an easy thing to Google, moral relativism is not.
“What was the worst war?”
“Why were we in Iraq?”
I don’t want to mess him up.
“Let’s not talk about Iraq tonight.”
“There’s no such thing as a good war,” Cayden says, wearing kid pj’s, and I’m not sure if it’s a statement or a question.
Studs Terkel, Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Dwight Eisenhower, MLK. I flip through my mental Rolodex of primary sources.
I kiss him square atop his mop.
“Not tonight, Dude. Later. We can talk later.”
We’ll talk later and erase the tire-prints, maybe look at pictures of dinosaurs with fancy feathers. That’s easier.