“Coach, two,” I say to John who’s barking at his boys in a Ugandan accent. He nods assent while I toss him deuces.
I sit against the chain-link behind Cayde who’s the itinerant goalie, pink shoes and leather gloves.
Cayde glances at me, then returns to the game, which—considering the practice lot’s vicinity to the street—is really just a keep-away game from the cars. He tugs at the thumb of his left glove with front teeth and readies himself for another drive.
“NOW NOW NOW!” and Coach John urges his mid-fielders forward toward Cayde’s cage. There’s the inimitable sound of a ball being punted, then the sound of Cayde crashing to the grass with an <oomph> having deftly caught it.
“Alright, Cayde. Let’s go. End on a good one.”
I shake the coach’s hand.
“Gotta pull him early, Coach.”
“Awight. YOU GO GOOD.” Coach has no volume button. I’m being instructed to leave early, well, though I asked permission. Story of my life. I have a deck of cards in one pocket, a pen in the other.
I show Cayden to the car, which is parked to the side.
“Where are we going?”
“Not sure yet.”
“Why’d you cut seventh period, Cayde? And why’d you destroy your phone?”
(This is all my fault).
“I dunno. BUT they were the worst mistakes I ever did.”
There’s a green light on 30th, so I turn. I know about worst mistakes, so I take pause while the intersection clears.
“Lemme get this straight: you like photo class, right?”
“Why ditch it?”
“They’re only talking about how cameras are made and boring stuff.”
I look at Cayde and smile.
“That’s not boring stuff, y’know.”
The lights on University are Green and we circle aimlessly, like the universe is telling me to ‘go’ but I don’t know exactly where. It’s six p.m. and most the reputable coffee shops are closed.
I clear my throat.
“My friend Brad teaches photography, and the first thing he teaches his students to do is to make a camera out of a Quaker Oat box.” I downshift and park.
We exit the car.
“You see, Cayde,” I say, as we leave the car tick-ticking its heat, “It’s not about the instrument. It’s about YOU.”
We’re in front of the North Park Observatory, where Cayde and I saw one of our first shows. A Starbucks is built into its lobby. We’re going to Starbucks.
“I’ll tell you. First you tell me why you destroyed your phone. Then we can talk.”
(A note about the Observatory: I took Cayden here when he was ten. Phantogram show. He was excited to be with his Dad. I remembered a TV episode from years back—Black Sheep Squadron—and, TV lieutenant to Major Pappy Boyington: TJ told Pappy he was unsure if he loved his dad, that it was getting in the way of his flying. Pappy told TJ that it was ok if he didn’t love his dad. Hearing that, TJ could fly again.
‘Love you, Kid—Jeezus, just settle down.’ And Phantogram came on, and we struggled to the midsection; Cayde fell asleep on my shoulder while the amplifiers played in clip, and I thought, ‘Fucking TJ. Just love your Dad already.’ Me and Cayde walked home, and Cayde narrated the entire walk back to make me remember why I’m a Dad , and why it is that he will never ever be a TJ).
“Why’d you break your phone?”
“I was angry,” we are dealing gin rummy over a hot chocolate and an Americano. We have met the barista. His name is Tomaso. I instruct Cayden to always introduce yourself to your ‘server’.
(“They’re not your ‘server’, Cayde,” scratching my beard, “You have no idea what they might be outside of serving you a drink or a movie ticket or your groceries. Introduce yourself, always. ALWAYS know their name.”)
“I was angry. It was stupid.”
“Thoughts become feelings become actions, Dude. I know it. You gotta stop at the ‘thoughts/feelings’ part.”
We play gin. The rhythm of the game allows me time to think. Cayde’s gotten pretty good, so I have a worthy partner. ‘Bout being a Dad? You make this shit up as you go, and no matter how smart you are, you need time on the ropes to wipe the blood off your face.
“I’m sorry you….”
Cayde lays down ten cards. “Beat you, Daddy!”
I have no time to finish.
“Yes. Yes, you did.” I swipe up the cards.
I quietly lay a pen down on the table. “What’s this, Cayde?”
“What does it do?”
“It writes things and makes essays and stuff.”
I shake my head.
I shake my head again while I replace the pen in my front pocket.
“It does nothing.”
I re-shuffle the cards, and my Americano is getting cold.
“It does nothing. It sits in the goddamn store until someone buys it and uses it. THEN it means something. It’s why you probably shouldn’t have destroyed your phone; there’s a nice camera on there. It’s now like an unbought pen. Lemme show you something.”
It’s near eight at the Starbucks and the baristas are starting to stack chairs and express steam from the machines. The neon lights have come on.
I walk Cayden across the store.
“Look at our coffee cups.”
“Gonna teach you something. ‘Taught this in New Orleans. Look at our coffee cups. OK? Now let’s walk across the store and look at them again. They’re different, right?”
“Let’s walk here.”
“They’re different again.”
“Exactly. Now if I had a pen or a camera, I would take either which one and *note* how things are different while staying the same. I haven’t moved my coffee cup, but it looks different because we’re looking at it from a different angle.”
“Tomaso is cleaning up the floor. What color is his apron?”
“How does that make you feel?”
“No—gimme a word that describes green.”
“His apron is not a plant, but you called it a plant. That’s metaphor, and we’ve just seen how things can look depending on where you sit in the room.”
And I point to his forehead.
“That’s your brain working, Kid. Nothing in this room has changed, except that we’ve moved around it. Good thing I’ve got a pen to write it all down: the simplest, stupidest of all things.
“Don’t wreck your camera. It’s got worth, Dude. Learn how it works, but learn how better to work it. ‘S all important, every part of it. And—seriously—Think. Feel. Behave. In that order.”
I’ve not entirely lost Cayden at this point, though I’m in part talking to myself. We close out the Starbucks and we hold hands on the way to the car, cards neatly tucked away into my pocket.
Think. Feel. Behave. Think. Feel. Behave. Ad infinitum.