Friday, November 16, 2007

learning not to cry over spilled legos

is it strange for a 2.5 year old to be your role model? it's safe to say that i have a lot to learn from the jackal and sometimes find myself actually wishing i could be him. i have touched on this before, i am sure, but this is not a fleeting feeling, and it begs more dissection from me lately.

the other day i built a lego firehouse for him, so he could park his new tonka firetruck next to it while the crew of ladder company "dos-ey tres-ey" -- a fireman action figure and my orginal boba fett star wars figure -- rested and sat on the potty. construction took about 15 minutes. it might have taken less time, but the little architect submitted several change-orders along the way, such as "no, dad - the potty goes here" or "make boba fett's bed blue." it was exciting stuff, and i could not wait for the grand opening. i even planned to enact a little ribbon cutting ceremony using a piece of leftover spaghetti from the fridge.

alas, when i unveiled the new structure, the jackal transformed into a cuter version of godzilla and reduced it to smithereens in a matter of seconds.

my initial reaction was to frown on the inside. but in the presence of the jackal, regardless of what's going on, a frown is impossible to maintain since he's so damn funny and lovable, so my frown gave way to laughter, and soon i was thrashing the remnants of the firehouse.

me: these are renegade firemen. they don't need a house!

jackal: yeah, renegades!

when we finished the demolition, i noticed that the living room looked "like a cyclone hit it," to borrow a phrase my mother used every day when i was a kid and one that still seems to echo in the archives of my mind to this day. and herein lies today's lesson...

god damn, is it hard to not become our parents or what? i have to say that one of the biggest adjustments i have to work on every day (and admittedly sometimes fail) as a father is accepting chaos. i have anal proclivities, especially when it comes to feng shui around the house. clearly this does not fit into the kid picture. it's like that corner lego piece that the jackal keeps trying to jam into another angled piece -- it just doesn't come together. i know the root of this is my mother, who was, and probably still is to some extent, perpetually fretting over any level of disorder in the house. i would have friends over randomly and her immediate comment would be that "the house is a mess." (recently, in the wake of her blood clot, they hired a house keeper, which is great...)

i am sure this stems from a control issue. perhaps that sounds like me calling my mother out, but make no mistake -- we all have certain control issues whether we want to admit this or not. it does not take a deep psychoanalytical foray to decipher that keeping one's castle in order can lend to the illusion that the rest of one's shit it together. the thing is -- it's impossible to have all of your shit together. while your finances and career might be in great shape, your love life or mental state of affairs could be a completely different story. so what?

still, we all have a tendency to focus on keeping one aspect of our lives together and we keep our eyes on it. we practically cling to that one thing like a life jacket in a fucking tempest. goal as a father is to be more like my son. i know that his innocence will eventually fade and he will start picking up on the realities of the world. i am not so naive to think that someone can apply the paradigms of a 2.5 year old to the complexities of life and get by. at the same time, i roll out of bed every morning and try to do just that. the alternative tends to scare the hell out of me. at the very least, i don't want him to become me.

Friday, November 9, 2007

back to the future

all is quiet in the northwestern front, unless the occasional displaced rat from next door's construction counts as stirring. it seems like i have not blogged since nam. perhaps that's a good analogy since the theme of this blog does not seem to fit into the paradigm shift that seems to be taking place in my life these days. i feel like i'm living on the set of jacob's ladder, where hallucinations are the norm and visions of what could have been and what should be wrestle in front of me like punch drunk boxers waiting for the other guy to give up and fall to the floor.

don't get me wrong. life is good, and i'm nothing but blessed to be breathing in air everyday and soaking up every drop of the jackal's new found jump start theater of life. the thing is this -- i am not so sure it's accurate to say that i am reluctant to grow up. after all, it's reached the point where i don't think i have a fucking choice.

in the past couple of months i have found myself executing some truly grownup behaviors -- invited a financial planner into my life, joined a church, started work on my will, met with my life insurance agent -- and oddly enough, these things have not caused as much angst as you might expect a reluctant grownup to experience. sure, these are unchartered steps in my life, so there exists a rattle of the cage, but it does not feel unnatural. to be honest, it sort of makes sense.

you see, with a second kid imminent, i feel this instinctual need to pull my shit together, to confront all of the things that have lingered in the back of my head and to act on them. with one kid you feel like you can freelance or half-ass it, like you can still feel young and not have it all figured out. with two kids, i feel like i should have certain platforms in place so i can get on with my life and feel sort of "put together." no longer can i pretend that i am responsible for me and only me. it's almost crazy to admit that now i have to think about others. i mean, what am i going to do? i can't wring my hands and act clever or witty about it. i have to step up and put it in another gear.

okay, so let's do it. i hope i am able to get to this medium more often moving forward. i would be lying if i said i didn't miss it. the truth is that i have had a lot to say, but these internal dilemmas have been road blocking me.

all by way of saying, i'm opening the captain's log again. if there are people out there who choose to stay on board, wonderful. i am absolutely grateful for that. i get the fact that blogs are smaller versions of reality television. that said, let's find another sunset and dissect the shit out of it...

(this post is sponsored by a bottle of gigondas and 3 highballs of trustee old macallan 12 year.)

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

barry manilow's wardrobe

One of my clients (named after a certain Brat Pack movie about a princess, an athlete, a brain, a criminal, and a basketcase in detention) retained us a few months ago to find someone to launch their operation in Baltimore. This organization is essentially "a live version of LinkedIn." An "exclusive chamber of commerce" would be another way to describe it. At least, those are the weak-ass catch phrases we have used to convey the concept to candidates for the job. Basically, this job will build the membership base or network in Baltimore and manage monthly networking events. It's sort of interesting but nothing I would ever want to do. For one, I hate sales, and I think I have documented how much I loathe networking events. Ick!

In any case, they recently decided that they only want to interview male candidates. This is not the first time a client has used us as a vehicle for thinly-veiled discrimination. It happens all the time when companies use recruiting firms to do their dirty work. I should point out that I've also had a number of clients specify, not in writing, that they want to hire a woman. For that matter, our diversity practice specializes in hiring, well, diverse candidates. All by way of saying, this shift in scope did not come as a shock, but it did irritate me because it means we have wasted time (which equals money) interviewing and processing female candidates.

In terms of principal, I completely disagree with them on this matter because I know many executive women, my wife included, who can walk into a room and command respect, attention, and power, regardless of the old school, conservative proclivities of the men with whom they will interface. I am unfortunately bound by the "client is always right" rule, so I have to roll with this change in direction.

Interestingly, there is a woman from the last block of interviews, prior to this shift, who somehow made it to the final round. She will be meeting the client tomorrow and, perhaps due woman's intuition, senses that they might prefer a "tall and athletic man" for this job. On a call during which I prepared her for this interview, she posed a wardrobe question to me. (How could she possibly sense that I am an man of style with a specific interest in business suits on women?) Basically she wanted my opinion on whether she should rock a pants suit or traditional skirt suit. As a rubber-necking guy, I always dig the skirt suits, but her question pertained to the message either might send. In other words, she wanted to know how the president might perceive a pants suit (too modern?) versus a skirt suit (too traditional?).

Immediately I thought of my friend and emailed her for her style advice. She is a high powered attorney at a top firm here in DC -- one of the top 50 female partners in the country in her specialty -- who interfaces regularly with conservative, old boy network types. Here's her reply:

yikes that is a toughie. I think most people, particularly in the South, consider the skirt suit to be the most formal (with pantyhose though - I think the skirt suit with bare legs is considered less formal although I never wear pantyhose b/c I think they're ridiculous). but - it's sort of tricky b/c the skirt suit can also be more sexy. this is a dinner meeting, so there is already going to be a looser atmosphere (probably will have wine, chat about life, etc.). if it were me, I would choose the one I felt most comfortable in and the one that made me look best so I felt confident and not worry too much about the formality of skirt versus pants. If I had two that were equal and both nice, both looked good, etc. I would probably go skirt. but not because it's more traditional, because I think they look most put together and the most 'powerful' if that makes sense. I hope she gets it!

I relayed this to the candidate and added a new bullet to my resume: fashion consultant. I really hope she gets the job too. When it all boils down, it will have little to do with her suit, but it provided a good splash of color on an otherwise bland day in the salt mines.

Friday, August 24, 2007

small pictures of the big picture

Ultrasound images have always reminded me of blurred weather maps. On occasions when I witness this "look under the hood", I take the doctor or technician's word for whatever the hell they point out and accept it as medical fact. It's not like I see or even think about ultrasounds on any sort of regular basis, but the topic is really on the brain lately since this procedure intersected my life three times this week, on three separate but consecutive days.

They say things, good or bad, come in threes, and I suppose I can roll with that cute but worthless explanation. What has me grinding my teeth in my sleep this week is how these three things paint the big picture of my life.

Ultrasound 1: Tuesday

For the past year or so, I've experienced an irritating pain downstairs in my groin area. Being a hand-wringing fatalist, especially when it comes to my health, I assumed it was testicular cancer. It has been a good 17 years since I touched myself down there as much as I did the past year. I even cleared the "typical guy" hurdle of denial and paid a visit to my general practitioner so he could lay his hands on my junk. No lumps or signs of cancer. No apparent signs of hernia either.

Doctor: You have an infection. I'm prescribing Cippro. Take it for 10 days; it should clear up.

A quick Google search told me Cippro is commonly prescribed to treat VD. Wonderful, I thought. This guy thinks I'm an adulterer. He probably knows I lied about how much I drink and that I occasionally smoke too.

The Cippro didn't seem to cure it, but then again, I did drink and smoke during the regimen, so I didn't exactly adhere to the plan. The pain did ebb, though, to the point where I could ignore it for a few months. After those few months passed, I was back in a gown getting my netherworld checked out again. This time he sent me to the lab for blood work and urinalysis. A week later the lab work came back clean. No cancer! Still, this annoying pain downstairs. WTF?

My doc deduced that it has to be a hernia and finally referred me to a general surgeon, which finally brings me to Tuesday. After walking me through the concept of hernias and surgical procedures to treat them, he ushered me to the exam room.

Surgeon: Take off your shoes and pants, leave your underwear on, I'll be back in a minute.

Me: Um, yeah...I'm not wearing underwear.

Clearly I forgot the cardinal rule about always wearing underwear when visiting a doctor, so this was sort of awkward. I wanted to explain my reasoning -- that I don't wear underwear with this particular pair of jeans because underwear tend to crowd my junk -- but that would only add to the awkwardness of the moment, so I just stared at the floor while he pulled a napkin the size of bath towel out of some drawer and handed it to me to use as a cover-up.

After poking and prodding me to the point where I almost puked and passed out with a ringing in my ears, he told me to lay back so he could do an ultrasound. The precursory application of that cold jelly on my stomach shocked and left me empathizing with all pregnant women who go through this regularly.

The ultrasound itself was nothing special -- same old fuzzy imagery. For a split second I think I saw the tear in my abdominal muscle that he pointed out, which confirmed the hernia.

So the long and short of it -- I need surgery sometime in the next 6 to 12 months and my situation is not so critical after all. Well, any kind of surgery is no fun, but I can stop fretting for now about death, or at least my own.

Ultrasound 2: Wednesday

I am ashamed to admit that my siblings and I don't stay in touch regularly. Certain factors can be cited for this: geography, age gaps, different priorities, etc. That's not to say I consider them valid excuses, but they certainly create buffers. I sometimes shiver with dread at the notion of some family tragedy becoming the magnetic force that bonds us together. It's very common.

I remember the death of my grandparents five years ago and how it created this magnetic force within the confines of the family. There were aunts and uncles I had not seen in many years crying on shoulders, going on about how family is the most important thing, especially during such times of sorrow and loss. These things magnify the big picture and lead people to take inventory of what matters and what's petty. Strange as it sounds, tragedy can often cleanse the soul. (Unfortunately, as we all witnessed eventually in the aftermath of 9/11, those big picture vibes tend to fizzle with time, and we can find ourselves scowling at some guy in traffic because he had the nerve to cut us off, but that's not the point here really...)

Wednesday my cell phone rings out and I see it's my youngest sister (12 years younger), E, calling. I won't deny that the call stirred some butterflies in my stomach. Like I said, we don't keep in touch so much, so a call in the middle of the work day isn't exactly commonplace. My fears were confirmed when I answered and immediately heard sobs.

E: Have you heard from mom?

Me: No, what's going on?

E: She's in the hospital...with a blood clot in her lung!

Me: Jesus! Where's dad? I need to call him...I'll call you back.

A lump lodges itself firmly in my throat by the time I reach my parents on my dad's cell phone at the hospital, and I regret forgetting to close my office door before calling them, as tears already stream down my face. I turn to face the window and catch the news from my mother, who seems completely calm and collected. Here's the funny thing about my mother -- she can let the most inane things get under her skin in day-to-day life, but when there's a crisis, she has ice in her veins and keeps it together.

The gist of it is that she happened to be at a doctor's appointment, after feeling crummy for a week, and some test revealed this blood clot in her lungs. Apparently it originated in her leg,took the scenic route through her body, including her heart, and parked itself in her lung. It's practically a miracle that she did not have a stroke.

That afternoon she had an ultrasound examination to determine where the clot was born and whether it had any siblings anywhere else in her blood stream. Obviously I have not seen any of the images, but I can imagine that they were hazy and impressionistic to the naked and untrained eye. When it was all said and done, the ultrasound provided positive news -- no other clots.

My mother remains in the hospital for observation and further tests, and I remain at the ready, in case I need to board a plane. The latest news is that she is going to be completely fine, so I am breathing a little easier at the moment.

Ultrasound 3: Thursday

This one was scheduled and something we've been anticipating for many weeks. My wife recently passed the 20 week point in her pregnancy, meaning the time had come for calling out this unborn child on its sexuality.

Thursday morning my jaws, ear drums, and head ached terribly due to me grinding the hell out of my teeth in my sleep the night before. Clearly I experienced plenty of tension the previous day and night, given the situation with my mother, so it's a relief to report that no dramatic back story comes with this ultrasound experience, which is a good thing because my bigger picture could use some light-hearted hues.

So, I'm elated to announce that the Jackal has a brother on the way!!!

The ultrasound images of this little guy, oddly enough, were crystal clear to me. Maybe I'm beginning to see the forest for the trees? Possibly, but I can say for sure that all the less-than-mediocre sentiments I expressed last week about this pregnancy being a drag were washed away as I soaked up this experience. He's beautiful and I can't wait to meet him.

The big picture is getting bigger, so naturally it makes sense that my insurance agent called me this morning (how the hell did he know???) to discuss expanding my life insurance policy. I'm meeting him next week, then I might have to do something shallow and petty just to balance these scales a bit. I mean, a little symmetry is not such a bad thing, right?

Friday, August 17, 2007

a love for white vans

Last weekend I introduced the Jackal to water balloons. I honestly can't believe it took me so long to turn him on to this staple of my childhood summers. Well I guess the obvious reason is that we don't have balloons just laying around the house. For my birthday our wonderful nanny decorated the house with balloons and some of the Jackal's finger-painted masterpieces to surprise me when I returned from work. On a day when it was dog-breath hot outside and he was kicking it in his trailer-trash baby pool in the back yard, I stumbled upon a bag of unused balloons, and the table was set.

I dropped the first one from the deck above, and it exploded on the patio next to the Jackal's feet. Of course this elicited a symphony of giggles followed by a request for more. I obliged him with a couple of targeted tosses at Baci, our chocolate lab, who seemed to have mixed emotions about this activity. While he didn't like the concept of objects being hurled at him, he did not seem to mind the cooling splash of water that came with it.

Not that I needed more encouragement, but the Jackal egged me on, and I was suddenly at the faucet creating a nice arsenal, which lasted about a minute once we got busy throwing them all over the patio. Then, to my wife's chagrin but not to her surprise, I took it a step too far and asked the Jackal if I should throw one at the garage at the back of the yard. It was a rhetorical question, but he still replied with a charged "Yeah!!!"

I was aiming for the roof but evidently didn't put enough mustard on it, so when it hit the window pane on the door, water was not the only thing that splashed everywhere. It's all fun and games until daddy breaks a window, or at least that was the case on this particular day.

If I had a handy bone in my body, this would probably not be a big deal. Since I don't, it would not be a stretch to say that window could remain broken for a couple of years. Okay, that won't happen because I am resourceful enough to dial up someone I can pay to repair it. Still, it's just another task on the seemingly endless list of jobs that keep getting put off because I don't posses the skills or interest in dusting off the toolbox to tackle them. Hell, we have lived in this new house for 8 months and our walls remain naked because I have not drummed up the drive to hang a single piece of art work, so add that to the list as well.

Literally, the prospect of handyman work gives me angst. On the rare occasion that I decide to take on a dreadful chore, it turns into what my wife and I have come to call a "sideshow," marked by no shortage of curse words, plenty of huffing & puffing, and sometimes the birth of some petty argument between us, started by me. It's a hoot, let me tell you.

All that being said, when I look into my crystal ball, I see a white van parked outside our house and that quells the angst, at least until the the Jackal or I break something else, which is absolutely bound to happen.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

intimations on a second pregnancy

I want my wife back. For that matter, I believe my wife wants herself back. Pregnancy this time around is more of a job, less of an adventure. That's not to say we take for granted that we are fortunate enough to have a kid. One unexpected lesson I have learned as I edge deeper into adulthood is that attaining pregnancy can be a major challenge. I have several friends who have jumped through hoops with fertility specialists in their quest to have kids. Some have succeeded; some have not. Remember how you approached your sex life in college (assuming you had one) with the abominable fear of knocking someone up (or getting knocked up)? Then when you actually want to have a kid, you realize it can be a hell of a lot easier said than done.

Candidly, we're tired of it. Bring on the next kid and let's complete this family unit. No more kids for this brood. Don't get me wrong -- I love the Jackal and kids in general. It's just that I love my wife, my best friend, and am pining for some solid time with her. I've said this before -- women are much stronger than men. I can't imagine having to put my life on hold or making major adjustments for 9 to 12 months the way pregnant women do. I recognize how sad it sounds to imply that adjusting to life without alcohol is all gloom and doom. Still, can you imagine? I just can't. Pathetic...

Last night after dinner I sat on the back patio with a Scotch and smoke while she tended to the Jackal's bed time ritual, and I planned in my head every little detail of our first big night out together in, say, February. Then I thought, If we're lucky, and her body bounces back, I'll get to see her carving the eff out of some mountain on her snowboard as soon as March. I'm also thinking of taking her back to Napa for a long weekend. The cheap thrills right now come from planning ahead for all the lost time.

Other than that, the highlight of this 40 week trial is coming in about a week -- an ultrasound to tell us whether the next baby will stand up or sit down to pee.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Birthday Blog

Today is my 34th birthday. I don't want to force too much symbolism less than 12 hours into my 34th year, but I can't help wondering whether there's some meaning in the fact that I woke up in the Jackal's big boy bed this morning. Maybe this is the year I step up and act like a man. Or maybe this year I stop labeling events attended by people 5 years and older than me as "grownup" parties and accept the fact that I am supposed to be a "grownup." Maybe...

Regardless, I think I woke up on the wrong side of the big boy bed this morning. Since the Jackal moved into said bed over a week ago, the nights have been touch and go. It's not completely unusual for me to stumble into his room to comfort him when he cries out only to wake up later confused and slightly out of sorts. It's a bittersweet dynamic really. On one hand, the transition to big boy bed has taken us back in time to the first 3 months of his life when bed time was way more hands-on. On the other, it's wonderful and heart warming to lay there and watch him go through the stages of drifting into peaceful slumber. And when he looks at me in the darkness and says, "I love you," I absolutely melt.

All that being said, I went to bed last night with this romantic idea of sleeping in on my birthday. By sleeping in, I was thinking 7:30 or 8ish. Around 5am I woke up to find him whimpering in our doorway, so I took him to his room and crashed in his bed. Anyone who drinks Scotch now and then knows that no matter how much you brush and gargle, the taste can show up later in the night. Laying there next to him while he tossed and turned and kicked me in the groin, I sensed the taste and flashed forward to the Jackal being on some couch telling some shrink how his old man used to pass out in his big boy bed reeking of Scotch.

By 6:30 or so, I gave up on sleeping and succumbed to the reality that a dull headache will be part of my day. My mood has lightened by now though. The office crew just filed into my office and serenaded me with "Happy Birthday" and cookies. I'm also getting some fun birthday wishes via email. One of my favorites came from my friend Joe, suggesting that I tell everyone "it's going to be the hottest day of the year for the hottest guy." I heard the heat index is going to hit 107 in DC today, so that tag line works for me.

At the end of the day, I'm actually impressed and thrilled to have made it this far. There's one way into this world and infinite ways out. Every day I make it home to my wife and the Jackal, it's an accomplishment. And every night, as I read Goodnight Moon for the millionth time to him in the big boy bed, I truly feel alive and well. Here's to another day, maybe another year, and whatever's around the corner.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

howlee nugget

A friend who put in about 10 years as an expatriate once shared with me that 3 "M"s can be used to describe the personalities of those who choose that lifestyle. He spelled them out -

Missionary: you do it because your heart's in the cause, because you truly believe in it.

Mercenary: the money's great, so you make a killing plus stipend in some foreign place.

Misfit: you are an outcast at home anyway, so a remote spot is just as good.

Another friend who I have mentioned before, JT, recently took a job in Hilo, Hawaii. "Howlee" bombs will be thrown at the new CEO of the local mental facility in Hilo. Apparently that's a racial slur thrown at Caucasians from the continental states there. It doesn't phase him.

He 's leaving Mansfield, OH -- a town where you might stop to get gas on a road trip, and never look back as you jump back onto the I-70 entrance ramp. His flight is tomorrow morning. On the eve of his departure I find myself wondering which of these "m"s applies to him. Maybe he's 33.3% of each.

Bon voyage, my howlee friend! Please stay in touch early and often so that we can talk shit on people.

Friday, July 13, 2007

pushing (toilet)paper

The coffee was not cutting it today, so I just gave myself a nice jolt of adrenaline to jump start. I can't really understand why I am worth less than a warm cup of piss since I only had two glasses of wine last night. Fortunately for me, and unfortunately for some unknown sap, I found an impulse to act upon, and as a result, I am born again. It's a good thing too because this Friday reeks of a Monday, as clients are coming at me from all angles with various blunt objects.

Here's how it all went down...

When I shuffled into the men's room, a funk kicked me in the nuts and singed my throat. I seriously had to fight passing out, like some late night trucker nodding off on the road to nowhere. Under normal circumstances, had I not bloated myself with coffee to the point where my bladder pressed against my eyeballs, I would have u-turned immediately and waited for the air to clear. Instead I pulled my shirt over my nose, a completely futile approach, and took care of business at the urinal. The impulse hit me as I washed my hands, and since it made my heart race, I went with it.

I must have unreeled half a roll of toilet paper. It barely fit into the sink, but it melded together very nicely once I soaked it with water. Over my shoulder I heard the crinkle of newspaper pages, as I shaped the mess into a soggy orb. Then, with silent 1-2-3 count, I threw a strike that splattered with a tremendous echo on the tile above the stall and bolted out of there. In my wake I heard the guy yell something like, "Mike - you prick! I'm gonna get you."

I have no clue who Mike is, but that's his problem, whoever he is. All I know is I that little incident gave me mad game, and I will finish this day (and this week) with some electricity in my veins, even if it's on an immature note.

Now back to the salt mines.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

here we go again

My wife has experienced a number of ailments the past 3 months, none of which are necessarily rooted in the fact that she's carrying our second bambino. She happens to be a little over 3 months pregnant, but the ailments are sort of coincidental. Bronchitis hit her for the first month of pregnancy. A pinched nerve is the latest plague on her existence. Needless to say, she has had a rough go at it this time around, though we are both thankful that morning sickness didn't make an appearance.

Our suspicions of a bun in the oven were born on a trip to Chicago. She was about a week late but wrote it off to the onset of what turned out to be bronchitis, saying illness has induced tardiness before. She knows her cycles, so I was not about to question it. On our last day there, we checked out of the hotel and killed some time meandering around downtown. On a quick Jewel/Osco fly-by for a bottle of water, we found ourselves in the pregnancy test aisle and decided to set the table for the moment of truth. Back on the streets, near a construction site I noticed a row of portable restrooms and urged her to administer the test in one of them. Sure it was a tongue-in-cheek request, but it would have made a good story. Naturally she brushed me off and administered the test when we returned home.

The announcement was not akin to any major event. I was chasing the Jackal around the house and almost ran her over when I turned the corner into the kitchen. The Jackal giggled and tore out of there, leaving the two of us alone.

"You okay?"

"Yeah and pregnant."

Naturally we hugged, kissed, smiled -- all the motions you go through when some wonderful news hits. Truth be told, the news was a shock, and we were not prepared for it. Still, hugging it out felt right, regardless of our initial feelings.

The aforementioned bronchitis made that first month a real challenge for her and left me wondering about my ability to be a long term caregiver. Whether we want to admit this or not (and it's not like I focus on it), as husbands and wives, a time is likely to come when one of us will have to play the residential nurse role for our spouse. It's one of those vows you make, one of those things you say in your wedding ceremony that you really don't grasp at the time. During her bout with bronchitis, my wife was a full scale symphony of coughs and gasps. I'm embarrassed to admit that after a couple weeks of this, there were times, at the onset of a coughing fit, when I would look the other way and bite my lip, cringe, or roll my eyes. Or for example, if she needed me to fetch a bottle of water from downstairs, I wouldn't always tackle the task with a jump in my step, a sparkle in my eye.

What does that say about me? I struggled with this question constantly that month. On one hand it says I'm an ass. On the other, maybe it says I'm human? I mean, I don't recall the vows instructing how to carry myself when confronted with the "sickness/health" deal. Don't get me wrong -- it's not like I loathed taking care of her by any stretch or that I was enslaved by the cause. I am really just saying that after a long stretch it was a drag. The fact that she didn't ask for this illness was not lost on me either. I think much frustration is born out of wanting your wife to get better so you can feel like a normal couple again.

Here's the thing -- this was just a case of bronchitis. If it were a longer haul, I wring my hands over how I would handle it.

Sadly, I have known a handful of people who have some first hand experience with this. In one particular case, the wife, for all intents and purposes, bailed on the husband when he got his eviction notice, and he didn't have her hand to hold as he skidded out of this world. Naturally all family and friends viewed this as completely objectionable, and it was. In another instance, a husband stuck with his perpetually ill wife for close to 15 years and became an alcoholic prick in the process. This is speculation, but I think he stewed and grew resentful over the sacrifices he made until he alienated other family and friends with his hateful actions and words.

Which of these is worse? One spouse bailed; the other became a monster. From the cheap seats it's easy to judge and cast sometimes self-righteous opinions. When you're living it, paying with your grit and tears, it's a different story.

At the end of the day, we can define ourselves or let others define us. The list of adjectives that we use to describe each other can be endless. Generally speaking I guess they all add up to one inescapable description: human. Being human is both objectionable and forgivable. What a raw deal! Sometimes it makes me wish I was a dog.

In closing, I can't help noting that this might be the most morbid vessel for announcing a new baby in the cards for us. Truthfully, I am excited and so in love with my glowing wife. It's true what they say about that glow. After watching her go through 15 hours of labor, without the aid of pain medication, to bring Jack into our lives, she became my hero. It absoultely squashed any questions I might have ever had about how much sense it would make for a woman to be POTUS. Face it, guys, women are way more advanced, and we're just arm candy.

acting my shoe size

Friday night I experienced an epiphany of sorts and it's been nagging me ever since.

It was around dusk when we returned from dinner in Chevy Chase at Indique Heights -- the less hip sibling of Cleveland Park's Indique. As I pulled up to the house I saw two kids, probably 14 years old, in our front yard looking guilty as hell. When I parked they had darted across the street, up a ridiculously steep hill, into Lafayette Park. Impulsively I gave immediate chase and surprisingly scaled the hill with ease. By the time I reached the field, however, they were at least 50 yards away, and at that point I should have bailed on my pursuit. I didn't.

Instead I sprinted, in dress shoes and jeans, until the Indian food in my gut turned to fire works and my leg muscles cramped up. What was I thinking? There was no way I would ever catch them. Even if I did catch them, then what? It's not like I'm going to lay hands on them.

The truth is I admired these kids and wished I could be on their side of this chase, where I had spent so many years of my life in the wake of trouble. It occurred to me as I leaned over with my hands on my knees, gasping for air, that when I dashed into that park I crossed a threshold. I was an old man chasing his youth and failing to reel it in.

Collecting myself, I took one last look at them -- two atomic specs on the horizon, arms and legs flinging wildly -- and nodded in acceptance.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

dog days of summer

I had the pleasure of dropping about $200 on my chocolate lab Baci's annual checkup at the Capitol Hill Vet yesterday. As a result of that expense, my life does not feel much different or improved today. Sure, I have some peace of mind relative to my dog's health, but it's like paying for new tires -- your wallet is lighter, but the car basically drives the same. These expenses give me humorous pause. Having a blog provides an excuse to reflect on such inane matters, so here goes nothing.

Being a bit of an opportunist, I scheduled the appointment last minute when a friend asked if I'd be down with a drink after work at Belga. Baci was about a month overdue for the annual, so it was not too hard to sell my wife on the idea of me"grabbing a quick beer" after the vet. Leave it to me to weave a social event around a vet appointment. I can't exactly apologize though because, as a working dad, these windows of opportunity can be few and far between. When you stumble upon one you have to hold on with both hands and grip the shit out of it.

As I walked my meat head animal to the doc, the bag of his shit that they requested in hand, I mentally prepared myself for whatever sales pitch the lady would throw at me this time. I've been to the vet enough times to know it's not a matter of whether they will sell you on some obscure treatment; it's a matter of how they will position it. Add to the equation that I would be breaking up with them to hook up with the vet in my new part of town and you know they're going to milk me.

In the exam room, the vet went through all the motions and filled me in on the vaccination updates he would need on this visit -- the standard song and dance. Then she seemed to cast this 100 yard stare for a few seconds before telling me about some new bacteria they have heard about and how there have been a few animals (not dogs) that have been hit with it. She went on to tell me animals that drink from streams or ponds are most likely to be candidates for this mysterious bacteria. Here's how the rest of this went...

Me: Well, he doesn't really drink from streams. In fact, I don't know of any streams around.

Vet: Oh, but it might make sense just to be safe and protect him.

Me: Yeah, I don't know if it applies in this case.

Vet: We could add a strand of it to the shot he is getting today.

Me: Okay?

Vet: Then you would just need to come back in 3 weeks for a booster of it to complete it.

Me: Oh, okay. Then definitely not.

Vet: No?

Me: No.

Vet: Okay then. I just want you to be aware of the risks.

Me: Yeah...I'm just not convinced. But thanks.

In the waiting area, I patted myself on the back for shooting down that guilt trip of a sales pitch and shrugged off the vet's blatant view of me as a deadbeat dog owner. While I waited for the receptionist to swipe my card, I marveled at one of the more off putting displays of entitlement I have seen in a while: some crunchy Hill lady filling up her Big Gulp-sized Nalgene bottle at the water cooler. Then I noticed her pathetic cat in the small crate next to her and felt much, much, much better about myself.

Later at Belga we actually toasted my small victory. As we clicked our highball glasses together, my friend said what was lingering in the back of my head: "Murphy's Law -- Baci catches that mysterious shit before summer's out."

barking up the wrong twee?

A couple of Wednesdays ago I managed to defy my old age and decrepitude by making it through a show at the Black Cat. This was a personal accomplishment for me because, as I have mentioned, weeknight shows have this pesky tendency to be the bane of my social existence. True to its antagonistic form, Black Cat slated two opening acts ahead of the headliner,Voxtrot, which automatically translates as two things: "long-ass night" and "torn up tomorrow." Both of those materialized. Go figure.

A close friend in Chicago turned me on to Voxtrot a month or so ago, a couple of weeks before their new album was released. He hooked me up with a few of their EPs, which I devoured. My friend Angie, who I saw the show with, told me that Voxtrot falls into a category of music labeled Twee Pop. Angie is in her early 20s and therefore doesn't flinch at the thought of a late concert. I am jealous of her youthful energy and drive, obviously. She is also more hip, hence her dropping the Twee bomb.

In any case, I'd say that label fits Voxtrot. Their sound evokes images of Morrissey and his mod disciples pedaling bicycles on cobblestone streets without a care in the world. When I listen I pick up hints of the Smiths, the Cure, some New Order and Luna. These are all good ingredients, and I dig it.

Here's the problem -- in this digital world, where you can absorb a bounty of information and gain immediate access to just about everything, it's too damn easy to tire of a band and move on to the next indie sensation without batting an eye. Not to mention, I think in my old age I am starting to become disillusioned about the pedestals on which I have placed these artists (writers too). I sometimes long for the days when I knew next to nothing about a band other than the mystique it projected. Now I feel like I know way too much and find myself turned off by some of this knowledge.

Since that show, which I enjoyed, I have not played a single Voxtrot track. My iPod is too jammed with new music for me to stay in one place. Basically, being a new music fan is akin to speed dating. I feel kind of whore-ish these days. Oh well...

My friend Sean in Chicago wrote a
solid article that speaks to this dynamic much better than this meandering excuse for a post does. Check it out.

Monday, June 11, 2007

the little role model

When I'm carting the Jackal around in his stroller, usually killing time after work by meandering up and down Connecticut Avenue, some passerby inevitably comments on the luxury of being wheeled around town every day. There are many different variations on the shape and delivery of this commentary -- "Must be nice" or "Man, what I would give to be in his shoes today" -- and I suspect I've heard every last one of them. My typical response entails a grunt of sympathy laughter combined with a subtle nod of the head, nothing more and nothing less, but the other day I actually engaged someone with a fleeting piece of dialogue along the following lines...

Someone: Don't you wish you could get pushed around like that?

Me: Not really, no.

Someone: Well why not?

Me: Because I'm a grown man, so that would mean I require a wheelchair, which would be awful.

I don't believe he responded, but I really didn't linger long enough to find out. Obviously this guy hung a meatball over the plate and I swung for the fences on it. I'm aware that he didn't mean any harm with his question and that its context didn't apply directly to me as a grown man. For whatever reason, at that particular moment I couldn't resist. My wife was not with me, so she was spared any embarrassment. As for the Jackal, he laughs at just about anything, which I certainly appreciate.

That same evening we got a call from Mom saying she would be running a bit later, so we scored some play dough at the local toy store and grabbed an outside table at La Lomita Dos. While he rolled the play dough into snakes and guided these creations toward my jugular, I dabbled in chips and salsa and found myself completely absorbed in the idea of being him. The pure joy he displays at the simplest of pleasures erases the truly insignificant abrasions from my work days and makes me feel weightless. Here's an example of how we cover just half of one city block: "Hi, bird! Hi, bus! Hi, cars! No Cars Go! Hey! Oh, hi doggie! Look - one, two, three bus! Hi, bus! Wow - fire engine! Hi, fire engine! Oh my gosh! Look, daddy! Flowers! Hi, flowers! Hi, butterfly! Hi, bird!"

Hanging out with this kid is absolutely refreshing. It's scary how much I have to learn from him and how much I sometimes feel the need to hide from him. It's no mystery to us that with experience comes wisdom, and part of wisdom is reaching a point where you notice those dark circles under the world's eyes. Right now I don't discourage him from chattering with the occasional street person or pan handler. Much of that has to do with the fact that I want him to be extremely open to people. In that regard, I think the exposure to all walks of life that DC offers is a wonderful asset for a kid. At the same time, I can't deny that one day those same street hustlers will be off limits or that I won't institute certain detours on our excursions. There's a fine line somewhere between psycho, protective parent and open-minded, urbane dad. Here's to hoping I find it and walk it.

For now I can't help but sum it up with a snippet of my favorite Eels lyric:

Every moment is built to last, when you're living without a past....

Smacks of optimism, yes?

Thursday, May 31, 2007

would you?

I'll spare the reader - assuming the reader has not already written me off as dead - all the standard window dressing and excuses for giving this blog the red-haired, step-child treatment in recent weeks. I can say that the absence has made my heart fonder and that in said absence I have chicken scratched and stashed many post ideas onto various scraps of paper. Once I get around to collecting those scraps and, assuming the hand writing is legible, I'll whip them up with some special sauce and pour them out. What follows could be considered preheating the oven...

Last weekend, Memorial Day Weekend, the family unit kept a pretty low profile and stayed in town. (Actually, the Jackal and I went to the beach Sunday and Monday, but that's another post for another day.) Saturday morning we quelled a minor temper tantrum - the terrible twos are certainly upon us - by suggesting a bus ride to the National Zoo. Talk about doubling the pleasure - taking his favorite mode of transportation to see the "rillas" (gorillas, obviously) sealed the deal, and he was miles of smiles.

By mid-morning, around 10ish, it was already Africa hot outside. Two blocks into the walk to the bus stop on Connecticut Avenue, I regretted the hell out of my decision to wear jeans. On top of that, the pits of my gray t-shirt were dark with sweat. In other words, I felt really sexy. Oh well - at least the Jackal's mother looked really good, not that any of that matters...unless you have vanity issues. In any case, we eventually reached Connecticut and grabbed the L2 to Woodley Park. As expected, the Jackal's face was a perma-grin the whole ride down. The only objectionable part of the trip was some street hustler sitting behind us for a few blocks, farting up the most foul of storms. Maggots gagged, I swear.

When we hit the mouth of the Zoo it was a virtual stroller derby. At least 30 strollers rolled into the place with us, which initially gave me a mild case of angst since I have a tendency to buy into the whole Jean-Paul Sartre concept that "Hell is other people." I don't discriminate, so in this case, toddlers fall into the category of "other people." Maybe it was just the heat and humidity gnawing at me though. Either way, I got over it and pushed through the crowd into the urban jungle where we clocked all the usual suspects: elephants, donkeys, pandas, birds, zebras, and of course the gorillas.

My favorite spots on that particular day were the buildings that house smaller creatures, such as the Small Mammal House. Strollers are not allowed in these buildings and the A/C is absolutely cranked. It's a nice respite from the sweaty rat race on the main avenue...

A little back story should be shared here before I get on with the rest. I know, in terms of literary style I could probably provide a more subtle or effective vehicle, but my editor is in the BVI getting drunk on Dark & Stormies, so I'm left to my own inept devices today. Okay, my friends and I share many inside jokes. You could almost say we have our own language. Rhetorical questions seem to comprise most of it. Perhaps the most common question, in case you haven't deciphered from the title, is Would you? The root of this question falls into a rather inappropriate concept - a very attractive woman strolls by, so you turn to your friend and mutter Would you? The implied question, to which the answer is obvious, making the question rhetorical, is Would you sleep with her?

I hate to call out the male population on this one, but it's a common practice. Even if men don't vocalize it, they tend to think it. Well, in the name of immature humor, my friends and I have played out this question and extended it to just about anything - animate or inanimate. Now that I think about it, perhaps we are satirizing ourselves for using the question in the first place. Nah, that's giving us too much credit. We are just applying it more liberally for the sake of being able to say it over and over, much to the chagrin of our wives, who don't hesitate to roll their eyes.

Jesus - this back story is turning into a post of it's own. Enough said, I think you get the concept. Back to the Small Mammal House...

The inhabitants of this particular house included howler monkeys, black-tailed prairie dogs, naked mole rats, sloths, tree shrews, bats, etc. The mammal that gave us the longest pause, however, was none other than the golden lion tamarin. Clocking this thing was like rubber-necking at the site of a car accident. I was simultaneously disturbed and intrigued, unable to avert my eyes as one inserted his long skinny digit into a tree stump in search of some insect or another. They looked like little drag queen refugees from the Land of Oz.

When I managed to pull my eyes away for a second I soaked up the adorable look of enchantment on the Jackal's face. Then, with the most matter-of-fact tone and straight face, he turns to me and asks, "Would you?"

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

28 years later

28 years ago, when I was 5, my old man took me to see my first horror flick at a movie theater – Halloween. Naturally I was terrified and spent much of the experience hiding under my seat, asking now and then if the victim was dead yet. As might be expected, this was the genesis of some real fear issues in my childhood. Hell, I still occasionally scamper up the stairs after turning off the lights and calling it a night because I think Michael Meyers could be on my tail with an 8” Wustoff. And don’t even get me started on the soundtrack they played over and over when the boogeyman was stalking his prey. Jesus, it gives me chills just thinking about it.

This begs an obvious question that might be even more terrifying and disturbing: why the hell would a father take a 5 year old to see a horror film?

If he and I cross paths again, it’s on the list of questions I suspect I’ll ask him. Needless to say, he wasn’t exactly a stand-up dad. Who knows – people change, so maybe he has evolved. I’ll leave some room for the benefit of that doubt. That’s neither here nor there and not the point of this post.

Oddly enough, I developed a real taste for horror flicks in my adult life. You might expect that a guy who, as a kid, carried a steak knife in his back pocket when his parents left him home alone would want nothing to do with scary movies. For some reason, that’s not the case, as I generally make it a point to catch as much of that genre that I can.

I paid a visit to my shrink about 6 weeks ago to take an inventory of myself. Too much mental and emotional debris had begun to clutter my cellar and weigh me down, so a psychoanalytical spring-cleaning was needed. It absolutely helped, but some of my follow-through on his suggestions could be occasionally called into question. His primary recommendation was that I have the nanny stay late two nights each week so I can have a couple of hours here and there to round myself out with activities other than work and parenthood, the only catch being that I don’t spend these “off” nights drinking and smoking. My wife tends to work long hours, which lands me in the Mister Mom role 5 nights a week. While I absolutely love the Jackal, that song and dance on the heels of every crazy work day was wearing me thin. Okay, enough said…

Today after work I decided to catch the post-apocalyptic horror flick,
28 Weeks Later, at Mazza Gallery, which is right across the street from my office. I walked away satisfied, not demanding those two hours of my life back. The first installment, 28 Days Later, was more artistic – what I’d call a “film,” if you can buy that. The sequel was more of an adventure in sensationalism and gore, which I expected and accepted. As I took in various scenes showing infected psychos bashing skulls, gouging eyes, or munching flesh, I caught myself wondering if this was the kind of therapeutic use of my time the doctor had in mind. It is kind of odd that today’s refuge from the world happened to take the shape of some ultra violent, bloody, horror flick. Here’s the thing – I never said I was not odd.

An email from a close friend I told about my plans hit my blackberry during the flick: How scared are you right now? More scared than mature?

28 years later, I can’t come up with a straight-faced answer to a question like that, so I just laugh my ass off and continue to not take myself too seriously. Maybe the minute I start taking myself seriously is when I develop an aversion to flicks like 28 Weeks Later.

Now that, my friends, is a thought that scares me

Sunday, May 13, 2007

on the lam again

A sinkhole swallowed me last week. Fortunately I didn't sit well in the catacombs of its stomach, so it retched and retched until it managed to spit me out. Back above ground, most things seem the same as I left them. Some things have changed......

The world is jaundiced. An even blanket of yellow dust covers everything around me and gives me a miserable sinus headache. Every time I get behind the wheel of my black SUV, I curse the ever present pollen that paints the hood and plasters the windshield. Spraying the washer fluid and jamming the wipers into gear only makes it worse - a sludge that resembles some one's urine after a heavy night of drinking and failing, yet again, to properly hydrate. It's nauseating, so I usually squint through it from point A to point B.

What else? Oh, the bee population appears to be in decline. Perhaps admitting this will not make me any new friends, but I have contributed to this factor. You see, I'm anti-insect. Ironically, I also loathe spiders. You'd think I would like or at least tolerate spiders since they rid the world of most insects, but no. The whole lot of them can go to hell for all I care. If I spot a bee (or a spider for that matter) at my house, I drop everything and make it my sole purpose to destroy it. Every once in a while I pose this question to myself - what if there were giants roaming the earth who decided at random to snuff out little humans like myself? And for a second, I empathize with these pests, but the empathy is fleeting, and next thing you know I'm wielding a tennis racket, shoe, or rolled-up newspaper. There's this crew of bumblebees loitering in my back yard. They hover in certain corners of the yard, occasionally coming over to the patio to buzz me or the Jackal. I mean, these pricks are coming into my yard trying to intimidate me with absolutely no clue about my vicious backhand. Two or three of them learned the hard way when I slammed winners and sent them to the afterlife. As for the rest of them - their days are numbered. Naturally my wife chalks this up as yet another demonstration of my insanity. But seriously, I'm amazed by the whole bee issue. Fast forward about 10 years and Whole Foods will be stocking its shelves with free range honey and activists will be raising hell over bee farm and other mass methods of honey production. Maybe not, but stranger things have happened.

Suddenly so many people are shocked about this Alec Baldwin voicemail message to his 11 year old daughter. Did I miss the memo about celebrities having their shit together in the personal life category? I don't see how this makes people shudder. If anything, it brings them down to earth with the rest of us where yelling at kids or veering off the path of perfect parenthood happens every day. Now this cat feels the need to apologize to the world and says he wants to give up acting so he can pursue more philanthropic goals in the world of parental estrangement? Alec, most of us never really pegged you for dad of the millennium or a saint. Your absolutely stunning and beautiful performance in Glengarry Glen Ross, when you ripped apart a gang of two-bit real estate salesman, demonstrated your ability to dig deep and bring the anger. It was too good, too real, so we knew you had it in you. Look - I am not saying it's cool to say that kind of stuff to your kids, but it happens now and then when you are human.

Speaking of being human, I have a story. Friday I managed to leave my work baggage at the door and got home with the idea of taking the Jackal out on a bus adventure. Mom would be getting off late, so what a way to kill some time! Naturally he was thrilled about this plan. The trip would require two legs, which was no problem. One of the bus lines goes right by our house, so we grabbed that bus and smoothly rode to Connecticut Avenue where we got off and waited for our transfer - the L2. At the bus stop, the Jackal pointed out birds, cars, people, coffee shops, strollers, bicycles and every other obvious thing that surrounded us. It was so cute, and I soaked up every bit of it. Then my cell phone interrupted - a work call. So much for edging into the weekend unscathed.

About 5 minutes into the call, the L2 bus pulled up, so I gathered the Jackal in one arm, collapsed stroller in the other, and wedged the phone between my shoulder and ear as I approached. Somehow, I have no idea how, the driver didn't see me behind the three other passengers who boarded and essentially closed the door in my face, eliciting an "Oh no!" from the Jackal. Since I had no hands free, I kicked the bottom of the door, and cracked the window. Well, this didn't seem to get the driver's attention because he edged the bus along to the intersection. Naturally I was pissed but couldn't react because of the work call in my ear, so the Jackal and I planted ourselves back at the bus stop. That's when I noticed the bus I just inadvertently vandalized with my child in my arms had stopped and passengers with scowls on their faces were pouring out the door. As it happened, the driver decided his vessel was "out of service" due to the broken window and ordered the passengers off. I learned this from one crusty old man who ignored the fact that I was on the phone and howled, "You broke that window, so he kicked us off." Then the driver approached me and pointed out what happened in what sounded like the form of a question: "You broke a window?"

At this point I decided it would be a good idea to scram lest I find myself talking to cops, so I shrugged my shoulders and slowly sauntered away from the scene. In my wake the disgruntled commuters probably cursed me. I have to admit I giggled as I pushed Jack in the stroller through nearby alley ways en route to another bus stop further down the line. Always the bus system loyalist, the Jackal was naturally pissed and confused and asked several times about the bus and its whereabouts. "Forget that bus." I explained, though he could not possibly understand. "We're on the lam, my friend."

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

where's win

I'm in between days, about to jump out of my skin. Despite how much I try to ignore it and no matter how spread thin I feel, this blog keeps calling and I eventually answer, for better or worse. I am underwater busy at work, which is a good thing at the end of the day, but also a bad thing when I mostly find myself dying for the Jackal's bedtime to show up. I can't be the only parent who occasionally just wants his kid to go to bed, right? At least I'm not spiking his juice with Benadryl, yet.

Okay, enough pissing and moaning. Life is a box of chocolates, at least this week. The Arcade Fire show at DAR Constitution Hall is looming large on the event horizon. The anticipation has been sizzling through my entire being for months. I've played the shit out of the new Neon Bible and the breakthrough Funeral the past month. The Jackal has not complained for a second; he just absorbs the whole wall of sound and giggles. To sweeten the pot, my best friend JT, CEO of a mental health facility in Middle-of-Nowhere, Ohio, is rolling in for the weekend. The sum of all these parts is one beautiful disaster. JT expects to get so old school, it might be decrepit school. I am so down with that.

As the variables line up and the weekend approaches, I find myself engaging in the familiar debate over which is better -- the anticipation and build-up to a major event or the experience of the actual event itself? At the peak of Friday night, I'll hit the pause button, soak everything in, and let it all wash over me like some spiritual tidal wave. When I press "play" again I still won't have resolved that debate, but that's not the point. The debate itself seems to mean I am alive and electric.

Last night I read a great review of Neon Bible in Paste. One quote from Win Butler, possibly my latest non-sexual man crush, on the topic of fear really grabbed me:

"There are two kinds of fear: The Bible talks a lot about fear of God -- fear in the face of something awesome. That kind of fear is the type of fear that makes someone want to change. But a fear of other people makes you want to stay the same, to protect what you have. It's a stagnant fear; and it's paralyzing."

I am still wrapping my mind around this idea, but I think I can identify with the concept of vacillating between two poles of angst or fear or whatever you want to call it. Or, maybe I am just romanticizing anything this cat might say because I'm excited about the show.

Possibly a review on the show to come next week, assuming there are sufficient words to convey and assuming the moral, physical, and emotional hangover doesn't spill over into Wednesday, which it just may.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

glad handing in the windy city

Tomorrow morning my wife and I are flying to Chicago. My company is headquartered there and will hold its annual conference tomorrow and Friday. We have opted to stay in Chicago for the weekend to kick it with friends and celebrate our 6 year anniversary. My mother is flying into DC today to stay with the Jackal while we're away.

This all adds up to several things, in no particular order:

  • For three days I will sleep past 6:30am.
  • I will fail miserably at glad handing and networking with colleagues from other offices.
  • Accepting said failure, I will saturate myself at the closest bar.
  • My mother will spoil the Jackal (it's a grandmother's job).
  • A minor exorcism will be performed Sunday night to un-spoil him.
  • My wife and I will remember and embrace our husband/wife roles.
  • I will expend sympathy laughter on 39 bad jokes told by colleagues.
  • Suited for two days, I will be pining every second for my Citizens of Humanity jeans.
  • No restaurant on the weekend slate will frown upon said jeans.
  • Shoe shopping with my wife will completely turn me on.
  • Weather that Chicago tries to pass off as "spring" will be constantly cursed.
  • I will miss the Jackal and buy him some piece(s) of designer clothing.

neighborhood watch

Chalk up another rite of passage for me -- I bought a lawn mower yesterday. I had no choice really. The back yard verged on the brink of becoming a safe harbor for disenchanted and delinquent rats. The Jackal is a big fan of animals, but I don't think he's quite ready to share his yard with filthy rodents. For that matter, he's not really into sharing anything these days. In fact, his whole concept of sharing is not sharing. "No share!" has become a mantra of sorts, which is irritating when you hear it the 87th time in a given day. Come to think of it, maybe I will let the rats make a nest out of the back yard. The pure hilarity of Jack screaming "No share!" to a parade of rats might be too good to pass up. Regardless of what goes down in the back yard -- rats or no rats -- it's just so great to be outside again.

We moved to the new hood in January when all inhabitants were basically hibernating. Now that Mother Nature is back on her meds and cooperating, the neighbors are starting to air themselves out. This has produced some decent fodder for me. For one, we have come to realize that not one neighbor in our general vicinity is what you might call "eye candy." Okay, that's completely vain to say, but I'm not here to offer smoke and mirrors. I do enough of that at work. This is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but. I should add that my wife couldn't care less about whether any of the neighbors are nice on the eyes. I guess I'm more into such aesthetics. At any rate, the neighbors have revealed themselves, for better or worse.

For the sake of accuracy, we've only met two sets of neighbors so far -- one on each side of our house. It has not taken long for me to ascertain that these neighbors don't care for each other. I find it remarkable when people give negative preconceived notions about others before an objective party (me, in this case) has the chance to draw his own conclusions. For example, one day I was in the back yard checking out work being done on a new privacy fence and John, a sort of family guy neighbor, stopped by. One piece of the conversation that stands out went like this:

John: So have you met Allen?

Me: No. Who is Allen?

John: He's the creep that lives on the other side of you.

Me: Great, can't wait to meet him.

John: Yeah, he's a piece of work.

I met Allen last weekend when we were grilling on the back deck. Again, the warm weather brought him out to make shit dance on his own grill. Obviously you don't get the full picture during a first conversation, but I wasn't picking up any "creep" or "piece of work" vibes. I will say that John is a very nice guy and that I have more in common with him - working wife, kids, etc. Allen is an architectural photographer who seems to travel 80% of the time. I have little in common with that.

At the end of the day though, these neighbor dynamics don't concern me too much. It's too early to draw lines in the sand or go out of my way to be friends. During both interfaces, the idea of gathering for drinks was broached, so I expect to gather more information on each party in the next month or so. And now that Old Man Winter has taken a hike, we'll run into them here and there. In the meantime, as long as they report shady character sightings in the neighborhood and ignore the fact that we still have not purchased shades for our bedroom windows, they are alright by me.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

adventures in basement sitting

When we moved from our Capitol Hill row house into larger Chevy Chase digs, we were nothing but thrilled to finally have a basement. It's not what you might call a "finished" basement (yet), but it's more than a concrete storage hangar. It's your grandparents' basement -- the asbestos tiled play land where, as kids, you, your siblings and cousins kicked it, secretly said curse words like "shit" or "damn," and exchanged common colds and other bacteria during family gatherings while the grownups did boring grownup stuff upstairs. You always felt safe and secure down there and believed that even a nuclear war, like the one in The Day After that made you piss your pants and gave you night terrors, couldn't touch the place.

You never wanted to leave that basement, but there were certain reasons for ascending the stairs and mixing with the parents:

1 - hydration, usually in the form of kool-aid
2 - tattle tale
3 - defend yourself as the victim of a tattle tale

As all good things come to an end, the symphony of childhood laughter, bouncing balls, squeaky shoes, and belching contests would eventually wind down, and you'd find yourself in deep REM sleep in the back seat of the car on the way home. How much do you miss the simplicity of those days?

I think the Jackal has designs on sabotaging our basement, if two recent incidents are any indication.

Sunday morning before church I walked into the basement's back laundry area in search of clean socks and found a sea of standing water greeting me. It had rained the entire previous night, so we were experiencing our first flood. I'm so not handy, so my mind was reeling over this. I mean, hanging a picture on a wall is a major event and often, as my wife calls out, turns into a side show. Still, I had to pretend to be a man about this, so I went outside to take a look. That's when I saw the Jackal's Tonka dump truck parked next to a disconnected gutter drainage tube. The result was hell and high water. Since we were headed to church anyway, I went ahead and unleashed a tirade of expletives, figuring I'd cleanse my soul in half an hour.

Monday night the flood was a memory, yesterday's news, so the Jackal and I hit the basement to kill some time while mommy worked late. Remembering what my mother drilled into my young head about never passing up a life maintenance opportunity on the fly (often phrased, "make yourself useful"), I took a minute to to throw a load of laundry into the washing machine. Well, I should have remembered a more immediate lesson -- a minute is waaaay more than enough time for a 2 year old to find trouble. The fact that no crying followed that initial burst of breaking glass gave me a shred of solace.

Behind the bar the the Jackal wielded a fluorescent light tube back and forth like a light saber over a puddle of port wine littered with broken bottle shards. I approached gingerly, not wanting to alarm him.

"Hey, buddy, can Daddy have that?"




By then I was right next to him, so I got a front row seat on how the rest played out. In slow motion, the tube slipped from his hand and fell to the floor, creating an explosion of glass that enveloped us in a cloud of shrapnel. Immediately I grabbed him and ran ran upstairs as he buried his face in my shoulder and shrieked.

While he soaked in the tub, I Googled the shit out of key words like fluorescent, light, break, health risk, child, mercury, poisoning and learned that our basement had become a temporary toxic waste zone. Silly me for expecting a run-of-the-mill Monday night.

When mommy got home, daddy spent an hour in "throw-away" clothes with a t-shirt tied around his face cleaning up the mess. Needless to say, we had some wine later that night to decompress.

Also needless to say, while he survived without a scratch, the Jackal is indefinitely grounded from the basement.

Just last night he parked the Tonka truck near the basement door and said, "No basement."

To which I replied, "That's right. And next time you try to take yourself out, maybe try not to take daddy with you, okay?"

"Okay, daddy."

Saturday, April 14, 2007

raymond carver's junk drawer

The dust never settles. You find yourself saying you'll get around to the seemingly endless list of things you want or need to do "when the dust settles." You might not use the exact phrase. Maybe you say "when things slow down" or even "this weekend." Let's face it -- most of us live in a virtual dust storm. We work our asses off Monday through Friday then try to fit errands, social life, and down time into Saturday and Sunday. It's nearly impossible to accomplish the trifecta in a single weekend, so things inevitably get pushed to the next weekend, and by then the list has snowballed to the point where you might decide to bag the whole lot of it. Usually when that happens, I find myself drinking and smoking to forget about it, which leads to a guilty hangover during which I shuffle downstairs and remember that I still have not gotten around to organizing that kitchen junk drawer.

The bane of my existence, that junk drawer, in all of its cluttered glory, is laughing at me this very moment. It has transcended the basic essence of clutter to become a symbol of so much chaos and madness in my life. Also this very moment, the Jackal is upstairs napping while mommy is out shopping. (If he wakes up, I will lose my train of thought, and this post will become another incomplete fragment in my so called life.) So this is the perfect opportunity for me to tackle that mess, to give it the boot and move on to the next thing. Instead I sit here blogging about it.

Raymond Carver was a brilliant writer. Pick up a copy of Where I'm Calling From if you want evidence. You won't be disappointed. He was also good at alcoholism. Shocker, huh? A profound author drinks too much. It's almost cliche', isn't it? Aware and accepting of his parameters, consisting of kids and the regular responsibilities of adult life, he stuck with short stories -- he did not have much time for novels or lengthy works -- and painted some of the most accessible slices of life I've ever read. I think about that aspect of Carver constantly, and today I find myself wondering if junk drawers ever haunted him. Maybe that's part of the reason he hit the bottle so hard -- life maintenance getting in the way of living life. Okay, probably not, but you have to assume day-to-day matters fell into the landscape of his existence. I mean, writers do not live Hollywood celebrity lifestyles by any stretch. The craft doesn't tend to pay much, so it's not like they have butlers buying their groceries or wiping their asses.

Let me make one thing clear -- I am not comparing myself to Carver. His literary accomplishments dwarf anything I could hope for, and his vices mixed with the likes of John Cheever. I have not published anything worth a warm cup of piss or hit the bottle with any literary icons. Still, I can relate to his need to employ brevity due to life circumstances.

My hot list for the weekend looks something like this:

-back up all music and picture files
-unpack 20 boxes and finish moving into new house
-hang pictures so the new house looks "lived in"
-construct Jack's toy box
-buy groceries
-measure windows for blinds
-clean Cholo's fish bowl (Jack named him that,fyi)
-pay bills
-pick up dry cleaning

Okay, I won't bore you further with that or pretend it's interesting. The truth is that making the list might be the most productive thing I do this weekend. I fully expect life to get in the way of most of it. Actually, I don't want to tackle any of it, so I hope for a detour or seven.

Speaking of which, I hear the Jackal calling out to me now. Sorry, junk drawer, it's not going to happen today. I feel a Muppet Movie viewing coming on...

Friday, April 13, 2007

working on networking

After work yesterday I found myself at a networking event at the Georgetown Club surrounded by many filthy-rich cats. Most of them were really tall, which seemed fitting to me. My boss is the president of the club, and he's also made of money (though not tall), but it doesn't go to his head. In fact, he has referred to himself as a fuck-up a number of times. If a fuck-up is defined as someone whose job requires more personality than specific skill and pays in the $2-3 million range annually, then I am pining to be one. Obviously that self-deprecating comment is his way of recognizing that he fell into the right situation at the right time and appreciates the hell out of it. He's down to earth, human, and real, but I didn't get the impression those surrounding him have a clue. Watching him work the room, telling jokes to the president of PNC Bank or offering advice to a Carlyle Group managing director, I took some good mental notes.

I had a few vodkas there, so those mental notes looked more like mental chicken scratch when I went back to them later on my couch in front of my blog. The next thing I remember is my wife waking me up and helping me upstairs to bed. So much for drunk blogging.

This morning some of it is coming back to me, so I'll try to pour it out here. Thankfully a close friend and co-worker was with me at this thing, so we served as mutual wing-men throughout the night, bailing each other out of some bland conversations. As you can imagine, as is usually the case at these things, most interactions were forced. My supply of sympathy laughter dried up almost immediately, and no matter how much vodka I threw down it, my throat was a desert. Don't get me wrong -- I felt honored to be invited and there were some memorable chats marked by sincere laughter and electricity.

For example, a psychiatrist rocking a white suit and the worst panty line I have ever seen gobbled us up for at least half an hour. I saw no ring on her finger, and it didn't really take long to understand why one would be absent. Honestly, I can't get over that panty line. The. Worst. Ever. Our conversation became so slippery and liberal that I almost mentioned it. At one point she claimed to be 45 but didn't really keep a straight face after dropping that information. She was clearly 10 years older than that, but who can blame a woman for lying about her age? It's not the first or last time.

Despite all of her quirks, she was a welcome distraction (even bummed a cigarette from the bartender for us) from the rest of the exchanges there, most of which seemed to go like this:

Big Wig: (firm handshake, squinting to read my name tag) Hi, RG, I'm BW.

Me: Hi, BW, nice to meet you.

Big Wig: What do you do?

Me: Executive search. And you?

Big Wig: President and co-founder of XYZ Corporation.

Me: Great, where's the bathroom?

Okay, that's rather exaggerated, but the point is most of these cats were out of my league, and the truth is that I suck at networking. Maybe one day I'll be better at it, but that's not exactly near the top of my to-do list. Besides, I am suspicious of people who love to network and attend networking events. I can't pinpoint why exactly, but I am.

That said, it probably comes as no surprise that I bypassed goodbyes by slipping out a back door and disappearing into the side streets of G-town, not a single business card weighing me down.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

a chip off the old mud ball?

My brother emailed me yesterday in reaction to my previous post about the Jackal's Easter adventure and pulled a gem from the archives of our childhood:

You're doing fine with your boy, and his rash won't be the last thing that brings you that lump in your throat. Remember how we all barely made it through childhood, and Jack is clearly at least slightly smarter that we were.

After the blog about Jack's b-day party, I'm glad the next one wasn't the same story of hitting on your friends' wives and drinking at 10 a.m. with "Easter" substituted for "birthday" and ending with having to explain to your son why it's better to throw eggs at buses because they can't stop and turn around.

I can always count on him to remind me of some of the ridiculous shit we pulled as kids. That last piece refers to how we killed time one summer (okay, three, maybe four) throwing various blunt objects at commuter buses. Why, you might ask, would you do that? The obvious answer, which he provides, is that they couldn't really do shit about it while automobiles and their passengers could easily give chase. Oh, you meant why would you engage in that kind of activity? Boredom, need for adventure, idle hands -- the basic reason most juveniles would offer in any vacuum.

Eventually we gathered the balls to target cars. I still remember the first time. Three of us were crouched behind a bush at the corner of 39th Street and Flora Avenue. My best friend Bryon, a hearing-impaired mulatto who ironically loathed African-Americans, had the best aim and arm. My role was to shape the mud balls and hand them off to him. Wamser played the part of fretting and trying to talk us out of the whole mission. The cover of darkness gave us the perfect vantage point on the busy 39th Street. Packing a rock into the center of that first mud ball was no mistake, though later I would insist it was an accident. A beat-up station wagon approached, and Bryon nodded to me, loaded mud ball in hand. Wamser shook his head and asked, "What if we break a window?" Literally seconds after I assured him, "Don't worry, we never break a window," the glass splashed from the passenger window all over the street. Catching our breath between cackles, we sprinted to Wamser's house half a block away, ignored his mother's questions on our way in the front door, and stashed ourselves in his basement where we panted and looked at each other and giggled.

Looking back on that and poring over the mental list of other objectionable things I did growing up, the obvious question comes to mind: how will I react when the Jackal is escorted home for vandalism? Okay, I know that I will deny that I ever broke any rules and punish him. I guess a better question is: how will I keep a straight face as I sentence him?

I know that sounds sort of despicable since a respectable adult should find nothing funny about the trouble his kid gets into. Maybe I am despicable. Or maybe I just can't help but laugh at human nature, which sensibly makes little sense and is therefore mostly comedy. Looking back, can I honestly say I would not have packed a rock into the core of that mud ball? No way. That was a piece of childhood that shaped me, so if you take that away, maybe I don't take risks and I walk the line more than not. Boring.

To close, I should offer some follow-up on the last post. I'm glad to report that Jack's rash appears to retreating. He'll be back in the game soon and maybe one day hiding in a bush, waiting for a bus.