The guy at the pool party had a chest-piece, which looked like spread moth wings. It was bannered with the word, “Misunderstood.” I liked this, thought it was about moths being mistaken for butterflies. He said, “I hate this tattoo. I was eighteen and high.” He then showed me scar-work on his side which was more thought out. It had both Polynesian and Filipino script. I liked them both; said, “I still really dig your moth wings. You shouldn’t hate that.”
Antarctica is something Pre-Cambrian in age. The continent, on the whole, is a great thrustal uplift of limestone and sandstone. The continental rock sits atop dead seas, fossilized and regularly sedimented. Ice covers everything.
It’s ironic: Antarctica houses the global majority of freshwater, but it remains a desert. To date, the highest, driest desert in the world. Antarctica’s wonderment extends outward into the Southern Ocean where—as winds warm the seas and polypnas of calm and unfrozen waters form in between measures of pack ice—life blooms in explosions of phytoplankton and krill; great pink and green sub-oceanic clouds hemmed in by circular tides; heavy salts precipitating into bottom waters. These are waters populated by barnacle-crusted baleen whales, by penguins; and these are waters, by virtue of movement and density, that create convergent lines definitively separating south from north.
In June of 2011, somewhere amid this all, an emperor penguin got lost. Invariably lost. Serendipity doesn’t usually pair well with lostness by virtue of language or circumstance but that’s how I met Delaney: in the crux of it all, the in between space where south and north meet. Turns out words, too, seam a convergence.
Thorn St. Brewery is all distressed wood, chatter-shot floor plank rearranged into ceiling beams, French-bled and cross-wise. There’s a skylight with a retractable panel.
It’s been raining the whole morning through, a hot rain informed by tropical storm Claudette just off the Gulf Coast. Humidity moves over the city in dervishes and a collision of weather fronts has the clouds discharging electricity in a rare show of lightning.
Lightning strikes twice on the sidewalk in front of Alexander’s, the Italian joint just west of the tavern.
Alexander’s is exactly four blocks from my house, upon exit out the back door and up the alleyway. The alley’s overrun with bougainvillea and the neighboring magnolia is meanwhile choked with magenta sepals, high above the fence line. Behind the fence there’s that barking dog, always fucking barking.
The alleyway’s white concrete is buckled because the roots underneath are tuberous and over-tumescent, one hundred years in the growing. The kids jump their bikes here, without oversight from Parks and Rec. A broken street can be a fun playground, just sometimes littered with discarded mattresses and unclaimed dresser-drawers that Waste Authority refuses to pick up.
Ryan and I are still at home when there’s a remarkable crack. Then another. I’m awakened twice. I’d been restlessly day sleeping in the bedroom, pouring sweat into the mattress with windows half-open.
The rain has proven unbearable, its pressure system uncoiling in a clockwise fashion. It’s a Coriolis effect, sent via the Great Basin and with all the Sonoran, Mojave and Chihuahuan deserts combining efforts. Moisture is pushing from both the Gulf of California and the Sea of Cortez, the combination of heat and humidity something particularly Southwestern, an isolated and specifically Arizonan phenomena.
(The classic monsoon prototype hails from Rajansthan, but that’s half a globe away).
The street begins flooding and, as quickly, slows to a trickle.
Squalls obscure certain highways. The 95 way out east, well before it hits the 8, is surely replete with traffic warnings. No doubt there are parking lots of red taillights somewhere across the Anza-Borrego.
Meanwhile, cumulonimbus clouds accumulate upwards. Big boomers on the horizon.
“I dunno, Man. Sometimes waking up. Fuck.”
We exchange the word: ‘dread.’ Of the existential variety, with a modern-day Sisyphus eternally pushing his boulder, clutching a Day Planner that is simultaneously empty and overbooked.
Outside the tavern is a spattered sidewalk. The evidence of rain fades as the lightning advances seaward, and a bar back on break smokes in the stairwell, hair already dry.
“I’ve always said anxiety’s like falling upward. You wake up and you’re already on the ceiling. Depression, though…It’s like prodding the air every morning and asking, ‘Are you here?’ It’s got form. You wake up, hoping to Hell it’s not there, but then you feel the plummet. It’s so physical.”
I order the IPA, and Ryan gets the brown.
“Both are, really—physical, I mean. Anxiety, depression. You just fall in different directions depending on which one you wake up with.”
It’s all vertiginal, as when Ryan quick-shakes his head on the walk here, realigning the humors that otherwise keep him upright and in a straight line. He widened his eyes briefly, shaking it off, trying to shake off that something we’re both currently having a really hard time shaking off.
We’re best friends.
“I’ve been getting that lately,” he said, apologizing for, else explaining his vertigo. I confessed to routinely having tremors, this exchange reducing our neuroses to trading cards.
The physical side effects are new and distinctly middle-aged. He has sciatic issues, mine are lumbar. It used to be that the body would massage out its own pains, a self-lubricating machine, but there’s the recent sense that the body is beginning its protracted stop, rust collecting in the gears. The grey hairs are simply filamental reminders, strawberry days being over.
We have our pints. Foam laces down the glass in neat concentrics and where we sit is a roughshod table, south of the skylight. Pothos plants are tucked high in the corners, too high to water properly; all with anemic leaves mottled white and trailing into smallish limbs.
Thumbs in the house apparently lack green. The glasses pile up as the TV plays the current soccer match.
Mac collects our empty Shakers, says ‘hey’. She’s attractive in her always-tight jeans, and a welcome distraction.
(The first bolt was blue, a straightforward discharge hitting the sidewalk in a frizzled mess of spent ions. The second was its kinder, gentler rejoinder).
The lightning isn’t fancy—it doesn’t fractal or make for anything more photogenic than a bright flash. It’s just determined energy, hitting the earth outside Alexander’s where, currently, there’s a wine special, and where—on Valentine’s Day—lightning is meant to strike exactly once, sealing the deal for patrons patronizing the window-plate tables, having just met, having dinner and sharing the tortellini. Young people, young in love.
Alexander’s is the Italian restaurant with graphics of Vespas on the frontispiece. It’s ‘the most romantic spot in town’ with white trim, white tables and faux marble. The ivy along the sidewall is halfway established, tendrils finding little anchor in concrete, the ‘A’ of ‘Alexander’s’ still only half-covered in leaves after ten years.
Next door is a waxing clinic and the sign features a graphic with a star in replacement of the waxed parts.
“I dunno,” I say fingering my glass, “When I feel my worst, when I relive those worst moments, I imagine a gun to my head. I pull the trigger exactly twice.
“Just, you can’t pull a trigger twice.
“I take it to mean I don’t really want to end things. Mostly, I don’t like myself.”
I pause. “No, that’s not it—I just don’t like how I feel. Not the same thing as not liking myself.”
I like myself, I think, and say so. How different it would be if I could say it more resolutely.”
With the lightning still moving, wandering westward and over the ocean, the skylight opens. Everyone applauds. There are residual thunderclaps, overheated air from the electrical discharges trending away. The sun peeks out. Lightning changes color as the air also changes: blue to green to pink. Clouds dissipate and the sidewalk outside the welcome mat is suddenly dry like the bar back’s hair.
On the sidewalk outside Alexander’s, there are fern-like patterns, looping Lichtenberg figures where the lightning has hyper-heated the sidewalk, alchemically converting sidewalk sands to delicate tubules of glass. These form because lightning is amazingly hot and has a remarkably arabesque signature.
I forget who says: “You just wake up knowing there’s so much to do and you just can’t. Like, terror.”
I have a photo of us and we’re smiling in the grass, smooth-faced and awkwardly adolescent. There are a thousand—a hundred thousand—photos like this in memory, with him and without; the accretion of minutes in snapshot time. It all suggests life is long, so varied in color and contrast. It would take forever to sit through the slide show: green grass, brown grass, scutch, and then chaff. Young face resolving to crow face.
There are those rocks we used to climb, mercurial red, sandy-textured like the ladder-steps up the playground slide, rough-surfaced just like the grip-tapes of the ascendant diving board scaffold.
Gravity used to be a plaything, when falling down or diving in was fun.
We sit across from the CCV’s that contain the wort, cylindrical vessels, which take up space in the tavern.
“They say if you know the end of the story—and most people read the last page first—it’s like 60 percent or something positive saying you’d rather know the end. That the story becomes better, automatically. Attractive. Like you can amplify your own happiness by knowing the end.”
The digital read-outs on the fermentation vessels flicker back and forth. Red numbers climbing and falling, keeping something in stasis. Occasionally there’s a negative number.
“I’m gonna go get another.”
I visited Ryan’s house in summer and the philodendron was untrained in the corner. There were apothecarial details like dried and browned lemon halves in the windowsill—dried flowers, too—earth-toned things decorating the house. The cherry tree was cherry-picked by the mockingbirds and corvids, the garden in need of staking. Ryan showed me his bed of collard greens and flagpole beans, which regardless of everything, was sprouting.
There was still green grass despite the drought that had extended northward. Any green was welcome respite from San Diego’s chaparral where a verdant lawn was recent cause for neighborly suspicion.
Our first day was spent travelling.
“I think we need to be on a mountain,” Ryan announced. This meant driving east and we spoiled ourselves with the rations:
Finnochionna salume, sweet coppa. Cubano sandwiches and pork-fat frites. Baguettes with a walnut pomegranate spread, raw-milk brie.
We rumbled down a road that was persistently green, down a road that Ryan drove fast since it was one he’d frequented most his life. The road’s a one-way by virtue of its ten-foot width. Ryan drove fast, but there was no one driving the other way, so we were safe.
Earlier we had passed the basalt of Steven’s Pass, the amphitheaters still-snowy two hours east of Seattle, even with it being June. It had been weeks without precipitation but the snow clung fast. We wound up at a campground off of Highway Two. After navigating narrowing riparian switchbacks, we parked at a fairly primitive campsite above a waterfall.
The waterfall’s a cataract rushing precipitously downward, dangerously, the whitewater made more impressive by its three-angled course over graduated walls of boulder. It’s somewhere you wish to keep your balance, and where, actually, Ryan’s birth father didn’t when Ryan was just three weeks old.
On that fateful camping trip, near forty years ago, Ryan’s dad fell in, having slipped while dancing stupid on a wet boulder. He wasn’t exactly sober and he was above coursingly lethal water. He actually survived, though his ligaments were twice stretched over, twice having been subject to cascading breakwaters. He could’ve easily been broken in a variety of manners, but he survived. Just his soft-tissues were damaged, stretched and purpled; all his calcium things remained intact.
Ryan and I set up camp above the moss-hewn boulders at the crest of the river, where the water takes its first dramatic turn. We were the only two people populating the place. It was a Wednesday. The yew had new and chartreuse growth, matching the phosphorescent lichens. Our campsite was above the waterfall, and across from tall trees.
Ryan built a fire, fueled it with dried branches while carpenter ants fiddled their antennae at the general goings-on. We weren’t exactly roughing it. We had speakers and music, toasted hazelnuts and dark chocolate, also a full and varied ice chest. Our campsite was given border by a sturdy and smoothed log, which we alternately sat on while the waterfall remained constant.
The sky was on full display. I’ve only seen the full sky with Ryan, not with my kid yet. The skies had been cloudy in Yosemite, also Tahoe, when I took Cayde to places I thought would be appropriately dark.
“The stars will be out tomorrow, Cayde,” I’ve promised, and he still hasn’t really seen them. That the dark can be polluted by light is an ironic phenomenon not lost on me.
In sleeping bags years ago, Ryan and I saw the sweep of the Milky Way. We were kids visiting Arizona. We saw what seemed the whole of the sky, which actually is just an obfuscated view of the universe interrupted by stars. We remarked the satellites unblinkingly coursing the horizon, lapping the slow-dial stars doing their clockwise slow-creep.
Above Highway Two, it was the same: the constellational arc, satellites replacing falling stars by being failsafe and fair-navigating things, nothing you would actually wish upon.
They fall to the peripheral right, these satellites, disappearing, until reaching the apogees of their orbit, furthest from their centers of attraction. Far away but still tethered.
(Satellites land on outgoing comets these days, the newest metaphor for something).
Ryan was looking up at the stars. He’s always been the handsome one, always well tailored, and his hair has since grown long like back in high school. People called him Jesus then. He was the first to point out to me that I had an absurdly long neck, which I hadn’t considered until he said. The mirror did confirm it.
I guess sometimes your neck is a kite string, floating your head, and sometimes your head floats to that apoastic point, ‘apoastic’ just simply that outdated term bandied by astronomers, meaning, in the end, ‘You’re faraway from Earth.’ Just short of leaving orbit.
Ryan and I remarked how bright the moon was before realizing it was the sun rising. We went to bed in sleeping bags again, like when we were kids, just with it being morning. The orange tent smelled of ash.
At Thorn Street, the lightning having passed and quickly, it’s another afternoon. There are the neighborhood neighbors, their loosely tethered dogs getting tangled up in the barstool legs while greeting each other. There’s a feeling of present tense as the place fills up, women in calculated skirt-lengths and ankle boots, guys with beards and ironic t-shirts. Orders are placed and delivered while the soccer guys kick a ball back and forth on the screen.
“How is it I don’t get it?”
There’s laughter, and a new selection on the stereo.
“Why not feel happiness when it happens? I have a problem doing that. I shouldn’t. I feel happiness later, after I’m done thinking about it, after I’m done writing about it.”
Driving back through and past Everett, it was a depressing descent from the mountain and west toward Seattle. Yelp suggested cuisine far and away from its home: seafood too distant from the water, pho buried in strip-malls. Back in the city, nearer to the lakes and Locks, we found a place where one chef manned a single-burner, simultaneously churning out okonmiyaki and Zabuton steaks. We ate there, joined by Ryan’s girlfriend and her noteworthy cheekbones. We devastated the menu and over the course of the dinner decided to swim the bracingly cold lakes the following day. We also decided to visit the spa. Some place we could sit in hot baths and cold plunges, sit in hot rooms to make us ok. Quick changes in temperature do well for the circulation.
At the Korean spa, the bath table presented as a mortician’s slab, resolutely concrete, there being a garden hose and a five-gallon bucket over-foaming with lavender froth. I’m gestured to lie down, naked. The Shinto tradition is about the trinity of thinking as with all other religions, and so the masseuse claps my back three times when he’s done scrubbing my back. He seals his treatment: clap-clap-clap, three times the cupped hands on the large of my back before flipping me over with smoothed palms. Years of water and oil have his plantar pads sealed, like seal-skin, like raccoon paws, and he ladles water onto my chest, then pelvis, before adjusting my penis aside as if it were an afterthought, moving it aside with a sideways brush, covering it unnecessarily with a terry-cloth before scrubbing my stomach in broad strokes.
I’m silent, prone. My skin falls off in small measures and later I sit in a robe in a heated room. The second masseuse places me in angles, beneath an oven-warm sheet, and mashes a palm against my shoulder, trying, and trying and trying again to get rid of something, that something which is beneath the sheet and somehow seated south of my head. There is the scent of cedar and I go ahead and let her just fucking try.
I keep my laptop plugged in next to my corner of the couch and, at night, it sits atop a milk-crate full of records. Some are new—Walkmen and National; there are some plastic-sleeved Smiths bootlegs; most are a bunch of thrift store finds, the Reddings the Beatles, the Dylans. The milk-crate is perfumed, slightly, with attic effluvia.
If you know birds, you’ll know that to truffle their feathers is akin to taking in the comfortable smell of a hall closet, a wardrobe of old wool and mothballs. Musty, in a good sense. That’s how old records smell, too, else old books.
There’s some transference late at night, some communiqué between the records and the laptop.
When I needle Cayden to, please, just pick up a book, he’ll roll his eyes and unswervingly say: “But, Daddy—I’m moodern.” He prefers his electronics, the movie versions of things, all the things I eschewed as a kid while I plied through the 1958 Encyclopedia Brittanicas my parents had on hand. There was also the aged Merriam-Webster with its laminate thumb indexes. It teemed with silverfish, and silverfish: they live off of carbohydrates. The dictionary, having a thousand pages of starch, always proved good home and a constant buffet.
Cayden did read ‘The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe’, so he understands the figurative intrigue of closets at least, the cedar and mink and mothy perfumes that exist before fantastical exit out the back wall of cupboards.
But he doesn’t understand reading, has no patience for it. I mentioned transference, and despite not having kept company with silverfish, Cayde still manages to best me with knowledge he picks up from wherever the place.
Dylan jokes: are you with Pound or Eliot; Morrissey says Wilde is on his side while Keats and Yeats are on yours. Cayde announces: “I saw this on YouTube…”
Second bit of transference: because my laptop sits atop a basement supply of records, currently a pediment of Buffalo Springfield and John Lennon Live from NYC, I’ll occasionally open my laptop to write and a silverfish will fishtail across the QWERTY, probably having lived in the laptop for a night, confused at the lack of starch. Literal bugs in the system, probably transfused from some record or other, querying the silicon and CPU and assorted drivers.
I’m modern, too, Cayden; but I still keep company with the dictionary-eaters. We’ll both at some point win here.
The other night I picked Findlay up off the floor and replaced him in his bed before retiring to sleep myself. Findlay has the bottom bunk, so he can have soft landing if need be despite the hardwood floors.
Finn’s a restless sleeper, prefers nodding atop the covers as opposed to within them. As a kid—hell, still as an adult—I enshroud myself with bed sheets in an act of self-mummification every night. This is opposite Finn. It may look uncomfortable, with only my nose snorkeling out, but it’s great security.
I remember spending the night at my grandma’s years ago, and three times at least she ventured into the bedroom to peel back the covers. It was her futile attempt to maybe try and oxygenate things. She was a former nurse, after all, and it was probably professional memory that said the bed sheets should be crisp and folded back. Meanwhile I was—and am—a furnace, a night-sweater, a raging metabolism, which probably presents as malarial sometimes. I forgive my grandma’s Florence Nightingale attempts, but I always pulled the covers back over my head. Couldn’t—can’t—sleep otherwise.
Finn has the bottom bunk, while Cayden has the top. It’s easy to smooth out Finn’s bed in the morning because he hardly uses it. But top bunks are logistically hard to make. It’s a hassle, but I leave Cayde’s bed alone for reasons other than the difficulty factor. Turns out Cayde has the same nocturnal intuition I do, just in a different fashion. Whereas I’m the near Phoenician master at bed sheet entombment, Cayde is a nester. A pack rat of sorts. There’s the usual array of bed dressing, a menagerie of collected blankets stuffed into the corners, a rolled-up sleeping bag that sometimes gets unrolled, assorted beanies and sweatshirts and cast-off stuffed animals. Occasionally I’ll find Cayde sleeping in a hoodie and a knit cap, and we live in San Diego. Whatever gets you through the night.
In zookeeping and agriculture, there’s what’s called the ‘chute’. It takes myriad forms, but essentially it’s a narrow construction that you can either drop animals into for a procedure, else use to move animals forward, calmly, generally livestock. The alternative in either scenario, without the chute, is nostril-flared panic.
Finn, inevitably crawls into our bed most nights, somnambulistic, yet finds his way in between us regardless. This is something of a chuting, how he nestles between us, but it becomes also something of a quasi-asleep circus, in which he has the comfort of his thumb, still bolts upright every half-hour. He flops opposite directions like a slo-motion trapeze artist, while never even waking up.
I’ll find him at the foot of the bed alongside my cat, both microwaving my feet, else he’ll pin the sheets between the lot of us, and incessantly grasp my hand in his rendition of a comfort gesture. This inevitably wakes me up.
Finn’s chuting, I’m the unfortunate chute.
The compromise comes with the perpetual 4 a.m. tug for sheets, the sheets I need to wrap around my head. Finn’s content with his thumb, so I tuck him into my side, and wrap the Egyptian cotton sheets over the two of us, us paired and sleeping mummies.
“And now she wants to fucking sit Shiva!” Maxine says, slamming her tumbler down on the counter, the ice cubes still retaining their right angles, the scotch having been drained.
“My fucking sister!” Maxine pulls on yellow latex gloves to scrub the dishes, which look ridiculous relative to the pima of her Peruvian dress.
Maxine balls these dresses up in lingerie wash bags, then hangs them up still wrinkled to dry off the back porch. The back porch, despite Maxine’s best efforts, is overrun with morning glory and brugmansia. Poison blossoms, she remarks—“Like a fun tea!” (She was at Woodstock after all).
“Shiva! My goy sister!”
And Maxine furiously scrubs a dish, which is barely tainted by her lunch. A faux scampi, and sesame-crumbed seitan. Clean food, clean plates. Maxine, regardless, will later die of a sticky and indelible cancer.
I hold her cat while across the room and glance at a bulletin board Maxine has constructed. It details what birds she’s seen, and where. That sapsucker in Slovakia, the ravens in DC.
“The fucking nerve!”
Maxine scrubs her ashtray, even after two cigarettes, and places every clean plate in the dish holder beneath the kitchen window.
“My mutha never worried about me, goddammit. And now I’m supposed to sit in a goddamn room with towels over the fucking mirrors, because now my goddamn sister—my fucked up oldah sister wants Shiva for the mom…for my mom…” She slumps at the kitchen counter.
Despite everything, the cat purrs. He’s a Norwegian Forest Tabby and prefers clutching your shoulder versus remaining curled in your lap.
“It’s ok, Mags.”
“I’m just tired of being the responsible one, Thawm,” she cries, “Look what happens when you’re the one who was supposed to be ok.”
“’S’alright Mags. I love you. Want me to water your plants?”
I put the cat down, his padded feet thudding on the hardwood floor. He walks away pretendingly nonplussed, the way cats do with ears still held back.
Watering the plants will only encourage the morning glory, but the offer stands. Maxine sobs, not for the first time or last, while I unravel the hose from beneath the back stoop and make sure the door is closed so that only I, not the cat nor anything else, gets out.
There was a lot of attention paid to palindromic dates in the aughts. With it being the advent of the 21st century, social media its trailer, every ’10-2-01’, every ‘010-22-010’ had its day.
‘This day will never happen again!’
You could share said mathematical phenomenon on Facebook to astound your friends, at least momentarily, in order to have them eye their calendar sufficiently enough to remark, “Hey, yeah—neat!” They could then resume their scroll on a less than palindromic algorithm involving cat videos, family pictures, and the latest TMZ gossip.
Thing is, last Wednesday, 3:00pm, won’t ever happen again, either. Same way that October 2, 2001 has come and passed.
I always thought Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken” as something specious, or at least in the way it’s generally interpreted. Rugged and individual, individuals off the beaten path, paths grassy and wanting wear. It’s hugely and completely American.
Still—and existentially speaking—taking the road more traveled makes just as much difference as taking the one not.
Ask the cat asleep waiting pensively in Schrodinger’s box. Also ask the untromped grass, which I figured never wanted wear.
This could be an incredibly cynical thing for me to say. Perhaps I’m being a chin-jutted contrarian of Ticonderoga pencils and sparklers on Independence Day, or in the practice of refusing the blinker and, at the last minute, deciding to turn left.
Left or right, makes no difference. But Wednesday happened last week, and so did today. Remarkable or not, they happened; they won’t happen again. Nor will 10-2-01.
My son graduated pre-school this week, which is huge, and that won’t have an encore.
Every day won’t ever happen again. There are ominous sayings like, ‘the past is not done with you’, but the same could be said of the present, with different intonation, the kinder nature of the present tense. That’s a wonderful affirmation, because what’s fleeting yet speared in the present can never exactly be done with you, and therefore never exactly lost.
Let the days happen then, in chronological order, with the sun probably rising in the east. The days may be unremarkable by their astronomical PLU code, but when they’re of remark—say, as your kid is promoted, or says his first words, or actually puts his shoes on correctly—that’s when you hit the time-clock like a speed-chess player in the park. You hit the time-clock to freeze the present and take a breath before the pawns are once again moved, most likely not on a palindromic day, but a day just the same.
Cayde keeps carting out the old school Milton-Bradleys, though we’re capable of playing a mean game of Chinese poker, and while Colonel Mustard remains simply a roadblock in our preferred and perpetual game of Professor Plum v. Mr. Green.
Sure, sometimes Colonel Mustard is guilty inasmuch as the cards may fall, but I’m Plum; Cayden is forever Green. Sometimes we call each other by these monikers, just like I’ll call him ‘Caydito’ and he’ll call me ‘Tomate´. As Plum and Green, we’re always one third the field away from each other on the playing board. The fact of Mustard remains irrelevant.
In the game of Plum v. Green, it’s a race to see who can get to all the rooms first, as fast as possible. This is how you beat Clue.
The perp is always the first to be found out. You know this if you play Clue on the regular. Discovering the weapon is always the easy second.
But knowing the room where it happened—well, that’s the trick. And how best you lie to each other, slyly, and while improvising your best put-downs in the process—it’s better than Risk, better than chess.
Were there less decorum, the floor would be spoilt with spent sunflower hulls. The kitchen, however, is clean, so we have to pollute it with the tidier effluvium of pheromones and the slight dispense of testosterone that comes with the housing of our imperfect X-chromosomes.
Boys like to fight, especially if they love each other.
“I went to the bathroom, and you looked at my cards.”
“You lied TWICE about the wrench. Jerk. What are you doing in the library anyway? When’s the last time you read a book?”
”Oh, just stay in the kitchen, Daddy.”
This is absolute, unadulterated love.
Last night, Cayden lugged out Yahtzee. I like to play Yahtzee. Yahtzee, however, lends itself more to a general kismet, than any sort of verbal kinetic. Shouting at dice only goes so far. A game of dice is not Deerhunter material, especially in a well-lit room with dinner dishes that—having promised to be washed—sit with great domestic placidity, in the sink.
I could bare a light-bulb or something, but that would be overly dramatic.
Finn yelled in our stead. The ageless Pat and Vanna combo was on TV in the living room, and Wheel of Fortune was filling its half-hour.
Cayden scratched off his ‘four of a kind’; I believe, meanwhile, Findlay solved the puzzle. From what I could hear at least. Truly, Finn’s magnificent at shouting letters. Sajak, in all his Dorian Gray-ness grants Findlay this parent-free speech practice a few nights a week.
There are muted dings from the TV screen; someone wins a car.
Cayden and I do Jeopardy every night, but as precursor, we’ve set up—Gawd—the ‘Connect Four’ set.
‘Connect Four’ was our tee-ball leading to chess. Cayden was three, and I plied the same strategies over and over to teach him how to lose. It was the best way to teach him how to win.
“The diagonals, Dude. You have to watch the diagonals.” Plunk, plunk.
Eventually he duplicated my method, than added his own riff, to where I would gladly lose on the regular. This is how you win as a dad.
The stakes are high this night. As spoiler, I will beat the current Jeopardy champion later by deadpanning, ‘F. Scott Fitzgerald’, pocketing whatever Monopoly money it is you do when you win Final Jeopardy for again and pretend. Before sending your kid off to bed as the faux and bona fide Merv Griffin champion, no actual change in your purse.
Finn is on my lap, and because we’ve lost many of the pieces, Cayde has taken a Sharpee to a few red tokens, marking them with resolute and carefully drawn crosses.
“These are yours, Daddy.” I’m always black, he’s always red.
Finn did really well in Speech earlier in the morning, hop hop skip skip, pressing way too many elevator buttons, charming everyone. He wouldn’t hold my hand in the parking lot, but played well with his friends in group. He pronounced ‘box’ at his therapist’s prompting time for the first time, with an actual ‘x’ sound.
Finn holds the red tokens, now permanently tattooed with Sharpee crosses and I guide his hand to plunk them into the correct columns. He soundly beats Cayden at his own game, me as marionettist. No one’s letting each other win. I stick my tongue out at Cayden and call him a ‘butthead’ when he loses. Finn charmingly echoes:
‘Bu-head.” He then dances gleefully in my lap with his almond eyes all squinted.
Cayde tells Finn to listen–that this is the best part–and he pulls the lever at the bottom of the game board so that all the pieces come crashing down in plastic chaos on the table.
All the reds and blacks combine so that no one can determine who the actual winner was, only ten seconds after there seemingly was one.
As it were with everyone shouldering past each other to reach the open window, there was the fact of fresh air, thirty floors up, but also a smoldering building whose particular fires had reached the copy machines, the hallways sending up a vicious confetti of orange, and with last night’s FAX coversheets something and suddenly an embarrassment of unimportance.
This, of course, is a re-write, nothing that’s not been written before—this is plagiarism, even–but it remains the second, third, and fortieth draft of every story ever written where Scylla and Charybdis still remain prime players; and where each single day requires a careful tack through the straits. What do you choose to breathe: the window ahead, or the smoke behind?
Robert Rauschenberg approached Willem DeKooning, and Bob was typically drunk. Rauschenberg asked if he could erase one of DeKooning’s artworks as a form of art in itself. Erasure or celebration, searching for that open window, while the canon meanwhile—the ashy but gilt hallway—burnt in fast erasure of itself.
DeKooning sighed, most likely put down his glasses and pressed his eyes with the palms of his hands. He did afford a drawing, eventually, maybe told Bob to ‘please leave’ after fifteen minutes, because when a young kid ups his chins and asks, ‘Can I erase you?’ you want to encourage him, but also show him the door at once.
Fire needs oxygen—the fact of an open window actually fuels fire—you can stand in the middle of it all, though, and weather both forces at once, deciding, certainly, that you’ve already harnessed both, that neither will claim you. Not now, not yet.
This is about life after buildings, a plagiarism, but needing that push of contradictory elements to suddenly be stoic in the middle of it all, finding yourself unexpectedly fine and therefore surviving.
“Wiley is thirteen. How old is that in dog years?”
I do some quick math.
I’m not the dullest tool in the shed, though I sport some rust these days.
“Guess it’s why he’s on those meds. And why he won’t let you pick him up anymore. He’s just an old man,” she muses.
She turns to me: “How old’s your cat?”
I change the multiplier from seven to six.
I’m guessing. But I’m an efficient calculator. I think I’m better at words, though all my tests had me better at math.
You have to be resolute about these things.
“But she sleeps on my lap every night”, I say to her as if this makes a difference.
To come up with a quick calculation, you have to compile in tens and collect the difference. Math is gorgeous this way, the way it works. Philosophy is fuzzy, math just functions.
People make fun of the new math, as if there were an old math. Common Core is the current joke.
Cayde hits the math goals very year. This is what happens when you finally stop borrowing from the tens column.
“Your dog is 91?”
“Jeezus,” I conclude.
We get old, our animals get older, a helluva lot faster.
Frida sleeps on my feet every night, and ratchets the Fahrenheit a few notches. I still can’t calculate the Celsius, though I’m pretty good at math. There is something to do with 5/9, which is the worst fraction to deal with.
5/9. It’s not even even. It’s a horrendous rendition of 4/8, the fuller and plumper bride of ½. Why can’t we deal with things in halves?
Maybe I do hate the new math. Regardless, give me a multiplicative of 7×3, and I’ll give you the correct answer every time.
21, 42, 63, 84.
105, if you wish to continue going.
441, if you want it squared.
I do this in my head all day. Still, I’m better at words.
Five-ninths, because I dislike numbers. Five-ninths, because I prefer words.