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Fine Standing Still

“Dude, we suck,” I say, gripping an orange ball and glancing at the scoreboard. We haven’t broken one hundred, collectively, and we’ve only a few more frames to go. Cayde’s even requested bumpers, though he’s twelve and should be able to bowl straight enough to avoid the gutters.

But it doesn’t matter. The lane keeps breaking down, enough so that we’re now bowling for free; we munch mediocre pizza in the green light of the East Village Tavern and enjoy each other’s company.

I’ve always liked non-sports sports. Pitch, scrum, gridiron: whatever. Hand me some darts, a shuffle-puck, or a bocce ball instead. The halfways sports that are about communion over commiserate broke-body battle; I’ll take a trip-twenty over a touchdown any day of the week.

“Shuffle-puck?” Cayde agrees and we slide spinning discs over an over-fast board back and forth. Thunk. Thunk.

“Do you want more sand on the board?” the register-guy asks.

“Naw—this is kinduv fun.” It’s like dancing on a newly waxed floor. Thunk.

Eventually we get the hang of it, throwing hangers and knocking each other’s pucks off the board. We’re better at this than bowling. It’s a delicate game where restraint is key—finessing the board like a jazz drummer brushes the snare, discs caroming into certain space, spinning on their axes.

I beat Cayden handily. But he beat me on the last frame in bowling AND decimated me at gin rummy last night. ‘Never let your kid win,’ I say, ‘Let them win on their own merit.’ When they win, you win, too. I mean, in solitaire there are no high-fives.

I danced with Finn earlier this morning, in the kichen, spinning centripetal while listening to Father’s Day music. I famously can’t dance: I’m the itinerant maypole while all those dance around me. A disc spinning in place like on the shuffleboard table. Dizzy standing still.

Jenn and I went out last night to a restaurant where my friend Michael played jazz guitar, and people were whirling in close orbit, swing dancing, smiles on their faces, bows in their hair. I wish I could dance, but there is the interplay otherwise—bad bowling even—and letting others dip and sway. On this Father’s Day, I’m fine standing still.

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My Simon

“Dad, can you pick me up?” the text message read, “This is not my jam.”

This was a complete turnaround from an hour prior when, excitedly, Cayde triumphed: “This is gonna be the best birthday party ever! A bunch of sixth graders beating each other up with swords!” It even sounded fun to me: an anachronist society hosting a bunchuv of boys to ‘Lord of the Flies’ it out with cloth-covered swords and shields. I would have dug it as a kid. My cousins and I used to roam the neighborhood, after all, playing ‘guerrila warfare’ with toy guns and camo fatigues, seeking each other out in an elaborate game of hide-and-seek, replete with faux firefights and friendly snacks afterwards.

I honked the horn at the park, and Cayde came bounding over with a cup of Chex mix, barely turning over his shoulder to wave goodbye. Kids were wailing on each other with play swords in the background, ‘Tis but a flesh wound!’ and Black Knight tomfoolery.

“What’s up, Dude? Not your jam, huh?”

“Naw,” Cayde said picking through his cup to select the rye chips, “After a while it just seemed…”

“Seemed what?” I asked, pulling out of the park’s roundabout and clicking on the blinker toward home.

“Abusive.”

“Abusive?”

“Yeah—just didn’t seem right. I played for a little bit, then just sat out to watch.” He munched laconically on a Chex crisp. Cayde was not exactly bothered, but there was something nagging his heart, and I chose to let him work it out.

“I get it.”

“Just not my thing,” he repeated, which initially surprised me because he spends hours on Fortnite, with all its electronic glyphs of skins and guns and friendly combat.

There was a look in his eye, which spoke suddenly of his fast maturation, adult even, hair falling across his forehead in a weighty block. He shook the hair out of his eyes and contented himself sharing the Chex with me.

Cayde is growing up, and his empathy is growing along with his inseam. He is an itinerant non-reader, but his emotional quotient is encyclopedic.

To wit: Matthew, his non-binary friend reveres him as an ally; Isaac his Lilliputian buddy on the playground came out to him as bisexual before even whispering a word to his parents. The friends he brings over are black, Latino, girls and boys—he gets along with everybody and eschews racism with the heart of a seasoned protestor. One night at bedtime, I had to assuage him when he found out MLK’s house had been firebombed way back in the Sixties.

“How could they DO that?” he cried, “MLK’s kids were in the house.”

Cayde is sensitive to cruelty. He asks me about Gandhi, he is aware of Stonewall; he worries about the bombing in Yemen and the loss of life.

“It just didn’t seem appropriate,” Cayden summarized, thinking back to the party where kids gleefully pounded each other with sticks and played out their aggressions. “I mean,” he said polishing off the last treasure rye chip, “It’s better to be kind.”

And I reached over and patted him on the knee, my heart swelling with infinite pride, with us pulling into the driveway where no hate exists.

“Indeed, Kid.” If Lord of the Flies was the du jour, my kid was definitely Simon. Peace on, my little bodhisattva.

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Melissa

“My name’s Melissa,” they said, while wearing short shorts, a mesh jersey and a three day stubble. Melissa had descended from San Francisco, six years into a meth and drink habit after some fifteen years of sobriety. Their lover had died, and so went off the rails.

I was on my morning constitutional and listened to Melissa’s travails. The cops had harassed them the night prior, and Melissa was suffering the ordeal wandering the streets of NP at five in the morning.

“The worst part,” Melissa sniffed, “Is they kept calling me Sir. I am a transgender female. MY name is MELISSA. I am a Miss.” Melissa had dirty hands and a dirtier headwrap. They were obviously high, but I continued to listen, and acquiesced to buying them a grape soda from the corner store. (“I’m diabetic,” Melissa imparted).

Tonight, come midnight at my meeting, Melissa was there! Across town, as dirty, but also cleaner. “I just graduated from the McAllister Institute and I’m twenty days clean. I want to talk about gratitude,” Melissa said.

When I shared, I reminded Melissa that I had met them before, and that I was grateful my Higher Power acts on me and leads me to people. (I said a lot of other things, but those are reserved for the Rooms).

Melissa gazed at me, then said, “Yes, I remember—you were kind to me. I was high that day, but I remember.”

The meeting continued, then halfway through, Melissa tapped me on the knee with a grubby hand—“Hey.”

I looked up at Melissa’s myopic eyes and they whispered, “I’m leaving for Portland tomorrow, but—” and Melissa slipped a necklace off their neck bearing a ‘One More Day’ talisman, “I want you to have this to remember me by.”

I took the necklace and solemnly slipped it round my own neck. “Thank you,” I mouthed.

I left the meeting early and sat dumbly in my car for a moment before driving home. I slipped the talisman from my throat and hung it on the rear-view mirror where it caught the light of a street lamp. You never know who you’re going to meet, or when you’ll see them again.

Melissa, I’ll always remember you, and be reminded what it means to be ineffably, indefatigably kind. May you do well, and Godspeed Miss.

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Dougie

My name’s Thom, by the way.”

“Doug.”

I pass by Doug every day on my morning constitutional, and today I sat down with him to talk.

“How’s it going, Doug?”

(I give him some bus fare).

“I’ve got a job lined up. Gonna paint some lady’s bannisters. Should take me a day. I’m a painter by trade. Should earn me $200!”

“Good for you.”

Doug is homeless, circulates the Park and 30th Ave. with a neat suitcase and a fresh white ball-cap.

He tells me he’s awaiting the sun, that he’s looking forward to seeing his favorite dog come round the neighborhood. A beagle named ‘Toby’.

He tells me he was the eldest child and that he named all of his own beagles. ‘Penny’, then ‘Nickel’.

“I got so embarrassed taking them to the park. They’d get a squirrel-scent or a rabbit-scent, and then they’d take off.”

“They’re hounds, my friend—it’s what they do.”

“I’d have to run after them. I’d get so shameful.”

“No shame in running after something you love. You’re good, my friend.”