Archive for February, 2010

Messy. Routine. Sort of fun.

I’m at Bj and Claudia’s party Saturday night. Jana and Tre are there. Walt and Dave and Ryan and Justin, too. These are old pals. I’ve gotten kicked out of bars with these people, arrested in Mexico with them, and even gone streaking in a lightning storm with a few of them. We share a history.

But I don’t see my friends much these days. They don’t have kids, which means they aren’t waking up early Saturday mornings for soccer games or enduring birthday parties at Chucky Cheese’s.

At the party Saturday night, we say hey, these old friends and I. We ask each other what we’ve been up to.

“Taking it up the poop shoot like always,” I tell Walt, “But I really can’t complain. Life is a gift.”

“Changing diapers, sitting in traffic, vacuuming up dog hair and Cheerios,” I tell Jana. “Rinse, lather, and repeat.”

My friends tell me about their days—Jana and Tre snowboarding in Ruidoso and building a cabin there, Walt riding his new road bike to New Braunfels, BJ buying an amp. They tell me about shows they’ve gone to and restaurants I’ve got to try.

I don’t talk much about what’s going on with me. Their days are more interesting than mine.

***********

I’m sharing a sandwich at Jersey Mike’s Monday afternoon with our one year old, Slade, who is out of day care because he has pink eye.

“Uh oh,” the infant says, and intentionally drops a handful of turkey on the floor.

“You didn’t mean that,” I tell him. “That was no accident.”

Slade tosses a tomato off his tray and says uh oh again.

“Okay, we’re done,” I utter, but before I can remove the food in front of him, he sweeps it all on the floor with his hand.

“Uh oh,” he says one more time.

Slade’s face is filthy. He has orange eye gunk in his eyebrows, sandwich remnants on his cheeks, and a chunk of provolone glued to the tip of his nose.

Slade smiles and opens his mouth wide. A soggy half-chewed chunk of something becomes visible.

“Ahhhh,” he half yells, and the soggy chunk of something oozes out onto his chin and his shirt.

And that’s lunch. Messy. Routine. Sort of fun. A dad and his boy sitting in a strip mall sandwich shop.

***********

I don’t belong here. That’s the thought and the feeling I can’t kick at BJ and Claudia’s party Saturday as I talk with my friends about music and trips and concerts. I don’t fit here anymore.

I’ve brought Eli along, and BJ reprimands him a few minutes after we arrive for playing with a wind chime. After that, Eli stays close to me. He feels like he doesn’t belong here, either.

On the way out, I run into Dave, who is just arriving. Back in the day, Dave and I raced mountain bikes against each other. One late night, he and I and a couple of other friends broke into the abandoned control tower at the old airport. We sat on the roof of the tower that night and drank warm beer and gazed at the skyscrapers downtown.

“What are you up to?” he asks.

I consider telling him about coaching Eli’s basketball team and Slade walking and Sally scheming about changing jobs, but I know he wouldn’t be interested.

“Nothing much,” I say. “You?”

“Not much, man,” he replies, keeping his days and nights inside.

***********

Eli and I are walking out of basketball practice Monday night towards the station wagon, which is parked across a field.

“Come on, Dad. Let’s run,” Eli says and takes off across the field into the dark.

I chase behind him, an icy wind blasting me in the eyes. He is fast and smooth, and I’m breathing hard as I run. Eli, with his thin legs and stamina and drive, is built for this. He’s a natural runner.

I’m charged up racing with my five year old in the cold and wind, my breathing deepening as I settle into the run.

“I’m going to pass you, Eli Slow Britches,” I yell.

“You’ll never catch me, Daddy Slower Britches” he yells back and laughs and sprints ahead. I let him stay ahead tonight. I almost always do.

“Good race, Dad,” he tells me when we get to the car. Good race I tell him back, and add that next time he needs to slow the heck down so his puttering dad can win.

Eli thinks that’s funny.

“That’s not going to happen,” he informs me. And he might be right. Eli is going to be faster and stronger than me someday soon. He’s going to pass me and keep running. I hope so anyway. I want him to win at everything he does.

It strikes me now, tonight at home, as I type these words, that this is really what I’m up to. I’m racing Eli. I’m eating sandwiches with Slade. I’m shuffling through my days.

And it strikes me that this is where I belong right now, not in that hazy world of bars and parties with my old friends, but here, with Slade and Eli and Sally in this mundane life that is interesting only to me.

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White or maybe black

I was checking email at work when I noticed the smoke, which was white or maybe black. Sitting on the seventh floor with windows and views for miles, I often see smoke in the distance. It never makes much of an impression, and I rarely learn about what’s burning. Fires, I guess, don’t make for news.

But yesterday’s did.

Yesterday morning, a lunatic named Joseph Stack flew his Piper Cherokee single-engine airplane into an office building a couple of miles from where I work. Had I been paying attention, I would have seen the plane flying while I was wading through email and eating a mid-morning banana.

The news spread quickly at work. Only minutes after the suicide attack, a small crowd of people gathered next to the windows to look out at that smoke. I wandered over, stood next to them, and stared, too.

I’d like to say I was broken up by the sight. I knew the smoke meant pain and injury and death. But the truth is, I didn’t feel much. To me, the attack was just an odd story that provided a break during a typical day.

For me it was television.

After a few minutes, I returned to my desk and got back to email. The smoke was still visible then, but I’d lost interest. Besides, I had stuff to get done. There was that overdue specifications review to finish and a mock up to draft and a work out to try to fit in.

That afternoon, I poked around on the web. I learned more about Joseph Stack, that before the lunatic climbed into his plane, he’d ranted about the IRS on a blog and ignited his house. And then I clicked away to read the weather forecast and check my stocks.

I guess I just didn’t care all that much.

And my guess is my co-workers, who stood at those windows with me, didn’t care much either. While we looked at that smoke, we tried to figure out exactly where the plane had crashed. It was close to the Arboretum, we could tell, maybe a little south.

We wondered aloud about the size of the plane, and if it had been an accident. But we didn’t talk about the people. And nobody mentioned the awfulness of the smoke, the death it signaled, the terror it pinpointed, the people with their skin on fire just two miles down the road.

Then we shuffled back to our desks and held our meetings and ate our lunches and drove home and got on with our lives.

That night, I told my dad about the emotionless response at the job, and he said it reminded him of a Robert Frost poem called “Out Out” about a boy who loses his hand to a buzz saw and dies while his doctor and sister look on. “Out Out” ends with this: “And they, since they were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.”

And that’s exactly what we did yesterday morning. The buzz saw snarls and the plane explodes and the kid gets plugged and we turn to our affairs. We keep going.

How I became a basketball coach

Congratulations, you’ve been promoted. This was the subject line in an email from our local youth association to me. Promoted? That didn’t make sense. I didn’t do anything for the youth association. How could I be promoted?

I opened the email.

It said, “We are short head coaches and since you volunteered to be an assistant coach, we promoted you to Head Coach of your child’s basketball team. Congratulations.”

I’d volunteered to coach? I was pretty sure I hadn’t. In fact, I was pretty sure I’d volunteered to do exactly jack squat. I mean, sure, I’d signed Eli up for kinder basketball and paid the association some money and given them my email address, but that was it. Nowhere did I suggest that I’d like to coach.

No doubt, this was all an unfortunate mistake.

Expecting to weasel my way out, I emailed the director of the basketball league. “I have no business coaching a kid’s basketball team,” I wrote and then went on to suggest that they find someone with experience, interest, time, and ability to lead the team.

“Don’t worry” the director responded, “You’ll be great,” which was a euphemistic way of saying, Suck it up, Nancy. You’re coaching, whether you like it or not. The director did tell me I’d get a free tee-shirt, badge, and criminal background check as part of my “promotion,” so there were perks, which was nice. Who wouldn’t want a free criminal background check, after all?

This all went down in early November, which gave me a couple of weeks before the season started to grumble about my promotion. And believe me, I did. To anyone who would listen, I whined about work and how my life was overstuffed already and how I was an inept leader of anything. Poor me, I told them. Poor me.

But then our first practice rolled around, and I have to admit that I enjoyed showing our kids how to dribble, pass, and shoot. I noticed, too, from the get go that our entire team, all six of them, were especially nice. The boys and girls smiled. They listened. They tried.

Unfortunately, our sweet kids were also plain lousy at basketball. The girls didn’t have the strength to make baskets, Eli dribbled the ball by holding on to it and running, and the other boys seemed more interested in looking at their shoes and digging nuggets out of their noses than playing the game.

Despite these deficiencies, we managed to be competitive in our first game. The gym that morning was loud, and the kids were running, and I was yelling “Dylan, Dylan, go the other way. The basket is the other way,” and Ella was waving proudly at her parents as the other team dribbled past, and Eli was scoring our only points, and I was hollering, “Daniel, buddy, remember this isn’t dodge ball. Try to catch the ball when someone throws it to you.” And then the game was over, and we’d somehow tied the other team, three buckets to three.

After the game, I gave our players stickers, and they beamed. The game was okay. The stickers were better.

The next game, and every game since, we’ve gotten drilled, the other team scoring about 10 to our 3, Eli often making all our points. But despite these weekly beat downs, the kids don’t seem to know or care. Every Saturday, they show up again and pick their noses and try and grin when I hand out cheap stickers.

Most of all, the kids seem to be having fun, which, as a dad and a coach, is all I can hope for. I want them to see basketball as play time, as something they get to do, not something they have to do, and I think they do.

I know I do. Coaching has become my play time, and our Saturday morning games—me yelling, “Dylan, the other way, the other way,” me giving Eli a high five after he swishes one through the net, the other team scoring and scoring and scoring while I clap and encourage—is the highlight of my week. And I’d absolutely volunteer to coach again, even without the tee-shirt and the badge and the free criminal background check.

Shoot, I might not even complain about having to do it.

Our own private Planet Zot

You might have guessed that we’d dropped this blogging thing to take up constructive pastimes like hunting Pomeranians or building a bunker for the coming apocalypse or finally cleaning out the garage. You might have guessed that we’d floated away on a spaceship to Planet Zot.

But you’d be wrong. We’re all still here, even our brain-damaged cat, Snurp, who’s ongoing survival makes me question Darwin and his Galapagos finches.

I’m still writing, too. Late at night, I plunk away about family and beliefs and beer and bull fights. I haven’t shared these words I write, which is for the best. Sometimes stories need to be unleashed. Sometimes they need to be euthanized.

But I write to be read, and I started this blog to document this family of ours and these small lives we’re leading. So it’s time I share my simple perspectives again. It’s time I fly back from Planet Zot and write to real people.

Look for a stupid story and plenty of pukey baby pictures soon, soon.