18 Years Without A Lost Time Accident

“So Owen, do you have any idea what you’d like to do after you graduate high school?”

“I don’t know. Sleep.”

This was an actual conversation that occurred in our car on the way into the 7th grade awards convocation last night between my wife and my 13-year old son. We’re winding down another school year. My son is going into the 8th grade, while my 15-year old daughter is heading into Freshman high and my oldest is graduating high school and will be attending university in August. Now that response my son gave in regards to the age-old question “What do you want to do with your life?” might have seemed flippant to me any other time, but last night it didn’t. Last night when he said “sleep” I could totally relate to that. Lately, it’s as if I can’t get enough sleep. I may sleep 7 to 8 hours a night, but the days run so raggedly and in a constant state of flux that it’s as if I’m merely power napping between commercials before the internal engine begins to rev once again and I’m off whether I like it or not.

It’s not like I’m not used to being worn out. C’mon, I’ve been raising three kids for the past nearly two decades. I know ragged, ass-dragging tired. I know that feeling that when you’re so exhausted you nearly feel sick. But this is a different kind of tired. It’s a tired that blankets mortality. It’s staring your youthfulness in the eyes and saying “Goodbye” to a part of yourself that you didn’t realize was leaving till the bags were packed and the car was running out front. When your kids go from bugging you to play Barbies or Transformers to them to asking if you can take them to a job interview. That’s a kind of tired that’s unquantifiable.

I’ve always tried to live in the moment. Worry about the now. You really have to do that when your kids are little. It’s not about three months from now or two years from now. It’s pure survival. You’re on watch 24/7 when those mini versions of yourself are running around the house with the big bad world breathing hot, fiery breath on the front door wanting to get inside and taste blood. I’ve always focused on keeping them safe, happy, and healthy right in front of me. Unfortunately living like that seems to make time move much quicker. I’ve successfully kept my children safe and alive through those ragged years of childhood(my son broke his arm when he was 6, but that was on the neighbor’s watch.) The years of falls, illnesses, getting lost at the store, drinking toilet cleaner found under the sink and wandering off from the backyard have been successful; they’ve survived to their teens. So I suppose a congratulations is in order? But in the blink of an eye I feel I’ve gone from telling my kids to stop wiping their noses with their shirt to asking what they want to do after high school in the time frame of just a summer break. It’s weird. It’s also sad, overwhelming, and I can’t quite wrap my brain around it.

It makes me want to just crawl into bed and sleep for a month.

I suppose it’s looking back and seeing that this nearly 20 year phase of my life is coming to a close that’s laid such a heavy metaphorical blanket on me. In 5 years my youngest will be graduating high school. Sure, I’m a parent until the big sleep comes. I’ll be someone’s dad until I no longer exist, but that stage of parenting where you’re directly responsible for that person’s well being is winding down. Before I know it, my son will be coming by for advice on bank loans, home maintenance, and help with his own kids. And I’ll be able to put my arm around him, look him proudly in the eyes, and say “Ask your mother.”

I guess I should be excited more than feeling the weight of change. I’m getting to that point in life where I’m not quite “old”, but just well worn in. Like a leather jacket, or a comfy pair of boxers. The point in life where at the drop of a hat the wife and I can decide to just take off for a week. Maybe we can buy an RV and hit the road. Go see the Grand Canyon, the Hoover Dam, or watch a fireworks display off the coast of Maine. Head to Colorado, find a good place to park the Winnebago, and watch the sunrise in the Rockies with some edibles and a good cup of dark roast. Buying groceries for just two as opposed to five will be a trip. And only worrying about two tickets at the theater will be something as well. A trip to Europe is not out of the realm of possibility when the kids are grown and out of the house.

Man, I’m feeling better already. Next phase of life, here I come. Road trips, transatlantic flights, Rocky Mountain highs, ice cold Ensure and AARP discounts. Count me in. Maybe this getting old thing isn’t as bad as I thought. I mean, if you’re not getting older you’re dead. Or a vampire. Either way, you’re doomed to darkness and a coffin.

I’ve always said that I was never comfortable as a young man. I never felt like I was meant to be a strapping young lad, out painting the town red and doing things that younger adults do. I was always too awkward and sarcastic for my own good. Becoming a dad gave me a reason to be awkward and sarcastic. To lock myself into a self-made castle and stay in. That may sound a bit sad and depressing, but for me it was more like cocooning for a big change. My kids helped me realize that walling myself in isn’t the healthiest thing, but it was what I needed to be able to appreciated the next big phase of my life. That next phase? As a graying, middle-aged guy ready to hit the road with his woman(and dog) and maybe live it up a bit. See things, do things, maybe even shave my head and wear a Hawaiian shirt unironically. I think I’m ready to grab the world by the lapels and slap it around a bit.

But first, maybe a nap.

 

 

 

I’m no manly man. Just a man, man.

I would never consider myself a manly man. From outward appearances I think it seemed as if maybe I might’ve become one. I was always a big guy, even when I was a little guy. “Stocky” was used to describe me as a kid. “Big-boned” was another. Because of this it was assumed I’d be a coveted player on the football team. Relatives would say “Say, you planning on going out for the football team? You’d be great as a defensive linemen or running back, John.” I didn’t know what either of those meant. I knew the rebel forces tried to defend their base on Hoth against the Imperial attack. And I saw The Running Man. Was that the same as a running back?

I grew up amongst manly men. My dad’s dad was a boxer in Chicago back in the 30s. My mom’s dad liberated concentration camps at the end of World War II. Two of my uncles fought in Vietnam(one was a gunner on a chopper, even.) My dad excelled at three different sports in high school and joined the reserves. He worked on cars and built actual working model engines for fun. My brother was a top notch baseball pitcher, partied like a God on Asgard, and has been a lifelong fan of Manchester United.

Me? I had an extensive toy gun collection and set up elaborate battles between the GI Joe forces and the Cobra army in the basement. There would be elaborate lip syncing sessions with a tennis racket in place of a Fender Strat where various Van Halen and hair metal-affiliated songs were performed for an audience of one(a miniature schnauzer named Klaus.) I loved sports. Well, Van Damme’s Bloodsport, anyways. And sports movies were great. The Bad News Bears, Bull Durham, White Men Can’t Jump,  North Dallas Forty, and the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue was always a good workout.

Guns seem to be a big part of my family(immediate and extended.) While I have nothing personal against a gun as a tool, I’m not too sure about the idea of owning an arsenal. In the early 90s when the Clinton Thought Police were going door-to-door forcibly taking American citizens’ personal weapons(wait, that never happened) my uncle and cousin began buying up Chinese assault rifles before they were completely banned. You know, because it should be every guy’s right to own semi-automatic weapons made by a Communist country that armed a Communist regime. I even went to a gun show with my cousin once. If there ever was a time to realize I’m NOT a manly man, it was at that sh*t show.

There’s also lots of hunters in my family. Both my cousins owned shotguns and would often head out at the crack of dawn hunting things small and furry. I was invited to go along but declined the offer. My uncle hunted deer with a bow and arrow(just like Oliver Queen.) My dad owned a .22 rifle and pistol, and even bought my mom a small .25 caliber pistol for protection(against what, I don’t know.) My dad’s hunting experience extended to just noisy crows that would wake him up at 4:30am and squirrels that would destroy his bird feeder(he once ran a dead squirrel through our chain link fence as a warning to other squirrels looking to snag Mr. Bluebird’s seeds.) My brother has recently gotten the Dirty Harry itch and currently owns 5 firearms. 5. Firearms.

Me? I’ve got a couple pocket knives and a boot knife I bought with lunch money when I was 14. I’ve also got a vintage Return Of The Jedi Han Solo laser pistol(batteries not included.) There’s a 3 inch diameter dowel rod that’s been cut down to a 2ft length that could leave some nasty welts if needed for home protection.

I can’t fix much, whereas my dad’s dad built an extra room on his house with nothing but a “How-To” book and lots of swearing. My dad built two rooms in their basement, and helped me finish off our basement as well. I’m what you’d call “helpless help”. I stand there and wait for instruction and/or emergency, with 911 at the ready. I can build things like album cabinets and simple boxes that my kids can store books and display action figures in. I built an entertainment center where my stereo equipment and turntable live. I can do a reasonably good job with yard work, but nothing fancy. You want lines mowed straight in the yard? I can do it. You want pretty flowers and a garden? Ehh, I’m not sure about that. I can get by as a homeowner. I’m slightly above functional. The local handyman and/or heating and plumbing guys and gals love me. I’ve got no problem asking for help(definitely not a manly man.)

Wanna talk arthouse films? Frank Miller vs Jeph Loeb vs Scott Snyder Batman? Would you like a thesis on why Electric Miles is better than Hard Bop Miles? Maybe we could discuss John Irving or Kurt Vonnegut? Hard science fiction or soft science fiction? I’m happy to sit and listen to you while you tell me what’s bugging you. Maybe I can help you work through it? I’m a good listener, or so I’m told. I’m totally down for watching Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color, Terence Malick’s Days of Heaven or Tarkovsky’s Solaris and sit and discuss them all over a couple pints. My son and I will be hitting Chimp’s Comix later, you’re welcome to come and browse with us. Let’s go album diving at the local brick ‘n mortar then grab some sandwiches. I know a great place. I’m not terrible at painting, if you need some help. I can detail a car halfway decent, too(thanks dad.) And if you prefer to eat in, I’m pretty decent in the kitchen. I keep a clean house as well(thanks mom.) We could go downstairs to the studio(that my dad helped me build) and we could just plug in to some amps and see what happens. We could jam or improvise, whatever you prefer to call it.

So yeah, I’m no manly man. I don’t hunt or play sports or work on cars or put roofs on houses or build rooms with my own two hands or fight behind enemy lines or ride a motorcycle or know the score to last night’s game. I can’t fix the toilet or the kitchen sink, and hooking up the water heater is out of my wheelhouse. I can set the timer on the VCR(do people still have those?), or set up your home stereo system. I can tell you which Wilco or Coltrane album to start with. Or the best record shop in a 40 mile radius. That’s the kind of man I am. I’ll cop to my feelings and maybe we can talk it out or something.

I’m no manly man. I’m just a man, man.

 

 

I’m Sorry Mrs. Jackson(I Am For Real)

Didn’t we all have that friend in childhood that stayed in childhood? You know, it was usually a kid that lived next door or maybe two houses down from you. He wasn’t going to be a lifetime friend but was good for summer shenanigans; birthday parties, occasional sleepovers that involved movie rentals, frozen pizzas, and sneaking in music videos his mom and dad wouldn’t allow. He may have had an older sister that was a year older than you, while you were two years older than him. You may have played the adventures of Huck Finn with them and was excited to be Tom Sawyer to her Becky Thatcher.

Okay, so I may be talking specifically about my childhood friend.

The Jackson family moved into the house next door to us when I was 4 or 5 years old. They moved to our neck of the Midwest from Jacksonville, Florida. The dad was an engineer type,  both at a day job and with aspirations of being an actual train engineer(the entire time I knew them he was working on building an actual train with train tracks.) The mom was a stay-at-home mom that was kind of hands off in the parenting department. She was pleasant enough, but she always seemed to be ready for some kind of emotional break(I guess when your husband is in the garage most of the time fantasizing about being Thomas The Tank Engine you’ll have that.) Then there were the kids. Alisa(pronounced “Uhh-Lisa”) and Nathan. I started out as friends with Alisa. We’d swing together in their backyard and apparently sing “It’s A Small World” in an annoyingly loud manner. We’d also dig up dirt and make large holes of soupy mud. It was fun, man. Oh, and yes there was the occasional game of Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher. I would occasionally go to church with them, too. Mostly in the hopes of lunch being served at the Jackson abode after the service. In the summer I’d go to vacation bible school with the Jackson kids. This was, not surprisingly, not a great time. I was raised by beer-drinking, rock and roll-listening parents that did not go to church. I think me going to church with the neighbors was more just a break for my mom than me getting anything from the bible thumpers.

By the time I was 7 or 8 I was just hanging out with Nathan. He was sort of a weird kid, but he was readily available to hang out and do stupid stuff with. How was he weird? Well, he once told me that he had to get a shot because he picked his nose and ate it too much. He once hit a neighbor girl in the head with an actual power drill on purpose(not plugged in or with a bit in it, thank Jebus.) When he was much younger he had a penchant for biting. I once saw him bite his sister in the back so hard that he bit through her shirt and left bloody teeth marks on her. I was once a victim of the Nathan iron jaw, too. After telling him I was going home to watch afternoon cartoons he laid into my chest with a gnaw like Vlad the Impaler.

But despite his peculiarities and apparent taste for human flesh, we got along pretty well. Though there was a two year age difference, we tended to enjoy the same things. Maybe it was more that he liked whatever I liked which made things easy. When I liked Star Wars, so did he. When I got into Transformers and GI Joe, Nathan did too. In the summer I showed him the ways of billiards in our basement and badminton in our backyard. We both enjoyed a good game of war in the woods and had pretty decent imaginations. When I’d spend the night at his house, we’d stay up late in the family den and watch Friday Night Videos and MTV(they had cable, we didn’t.) For a snack we’d eat several pieces of toast with strawberry jam.

The Jackson household was very religious overall(southern Baptists), while mine wasn’t(Midwestern Heathens.) Our households still generally got along, with Mr. Jackson coming over every now and then to borrow some wrench or caliper that measured in the metric system that my dad didn’t have. My mom would run into Mrs. Jackson going out to get the mail, with Mrs. Jackson looking like a southern Jackie O in big, black round sunglasses and a scarf. Nathan’s dad was also a musician. There was always a nylon-string classical guitar lying around, as well as an actual vinyl LP that Mr. Jackson played on(there was a black and white photo of him on the back cover standing in front of a mic.) He liked a lot of the 60s folk stuff(Peter Paul & Mary, Joan Baez, and the like), but it was gospel that tripped his trigger. I think their mom sighed a lot and pined for the southern plantations of her childhood.

Things went okay, that is until I got into music. AC/DC, Ratt, Twisted Sister, Van Halen, and Motley Crue were just a few that I got into when toys were traded in for the PMRCs hit list. Of course, Nathan liked it too, since I did. This was not cool with the ma and pa Jackson. They saw it as the devil’s music, and in turn saw me doing the devil’s bidding. At first they took it in stride, but then they began the propaganda game. I can remember going over to their house one night to stay and the parents sat Nathan and I down in the den to play us a videotape. It was one of those Riefenstahl-like propaganda videos where an ominous voiceover narrates a fable about how rock and roll will kill you. They went so far as to show a guy mindlessly nodding his head as Ozzy Osbourne’s “Suicide Solution” is playing. As the song plays, the idiot in the video slowly raises a pistol to his head as if he’s going to blow his brains out. It was obviously the work of Satan through Ozzy Osbourne. If they really wanted to stick to the narrative, the guy should’ve been raising a glass of Jack Daniels to his mouth instead.

Anyways, this war of attrition between me and the Jackson family continued on for years. With each new metal band and “Explicit Lyrics : Parental Advisory” sticker the chasm grew wider between me and the neighbors. I still hung out with Nathan, though. But as we got older it was apparent Nathan was getting odder as time went on. Was it my fault, as his parents thought? I don’t know. He got plenty of hazing when he’d visit my house. Being kind of a rube, he was susceptible to being messed with. My older brother and his friends loved messing with Nathan. I can remember one summer evening we were heading over to my house to listen to some contraband Shout At The Devil. As soon as we stepped inside my brother and two of his buddies were in the living room and dropped the needle on The Beatles’ “Birthday”. They all started singing it to Nathan, congratulating him on his birthday. It wasn’t Nathan’s birthday, and they knew that. I knew that, too. But by Nathan’s reaction I’m not sure he knew it. He just stood there with a weird smile on his face, really trying to remember when his birthday was. There was also my brother and I talking Nathan into trying these delicious new snacks our mom bought at the store. Loli-pups. Yes, they were dog treats. They looked like a cookie version of a Mentos. Little bite-size, multi-colored dog treats that our mini schnauzer Klaus loved. In order to sell the charade my brother and I had to eat one as well(in retrospect, that wasn’t one of our best gags.)

Nathan and I hung out through my time in middle school. We’d play Nintendo at his house, watch music videos, and listen to the evil rock music when his parents weren’t around. I still had fun hanging out, but I was getting older and had other friends to hang out with on the weekends. I dated a couple girls that Nathan’s older sister was friends with, so that made trips next door sort of weird, too. Eventually I was banned from the Jackson abode because after spending the night one Saturday evening I got up early and went home before I could go to church with them. His parents likened that to spitting in the eye of baby Jesus and so I was no longer welcomed.

A year or so later I was invited to go with Nathan and his uncle Glen to Chicago for an evening. I’d met Glen over the years on a couple occasions. He was the complete opposite of Nathan’s dad. He was funny, boisterous, and had a personality. He was the southern gentleman through and through. Glen wanted to take Nathan to the big city and asked him if he wanted to bring a friend. I’m sure his parents cringed when he mentioned my name, but they relented(probably because of Glen.) It was a fun trip. We went to the top of the Sears Tower, ate at a really nice Italian restaurant, and the next morning I had a cup of coffee for the first time(I was 15 I think.) Glen nearly got us in a wreck on the way home, but hey it can’t all be fun times and balloon animals.

That was the last time I really hung out with Nathan or the Jacksons. I hit my sophomore year in high school and met new friends, really got into guitar playing and progressive rock(and girls), while Nathan kind of disappeared into the ether of just the “neighbor”. I hadn’t talked to him for about 5 years when one day while my brother and I were at Video World renting some NES games I see these two chuckling yokels standing by the CDs. One of them turns to me and I see it’s Nathan. He was taller and more gaunt looking. The other kid was chubby and had the appearance of the Unabomber on a Clearasil high. The conversation we had was short but stuck with me.

Me: Hey, how’s it going?

Nathan: Okay.(chuckles oddly)

Me: What have you been up to?

Nathan: Have you heard of a band called Tool?

Me: Yeah I have.

Nathan: They have a song where they talk about sticking a knife up someone’s ass. It’s pretty wild.

Me: Yeah.

Older Brother: Well, we gotta go. Got games to play.

And that was that. That was the last time I ever saw Nathan. My mom, however, saw him a year or two later. She was taking trash out to the trash can on the side of the house when she noticed someone at one of the bedroom windows of the Jackson house trying to get in. My mom said she yelled at them and when the guy turned around she saw it was Nathan. He told my mom that he lost his key and that he was trying to get in to borrow their VCR so he could watch some movies. My mom told him he should just wait for his parents to get home. Nathan agreed and commenced with some small talk. She said he was acting strange, like he was on something. Twitchy, nervous, and he looked even more gaunt than usual. We eventually found out he had gotten in with some strange folks and pulled a Syd Barrett by burning his brain up with chemicals. Nathan ended up in a halfway house.

Then that was it. The Jacksons moved away. To where? I don’t know. I don’t even know if they took their acid-burnt son with them. I think about him occasionally, and hope he worked his stuff out. I also wonder if his parents blamed me for his path to degradation and drug use. More than likely yes. It probably wasn’t an overbearingly religious upbringing or the spankings or the mollycoddling or the fact that their mom would often hide from sunlight for days at a time or that they were raised partially by a sweet but racist great auntie. I’m sure it was Motley Crue’s Shout At The Devil.

And maybe those Lolipups.

Either way, I’m sorry Mrs. Jackson. I am for real.

Age Of….OPN

The first I really let Oneohtrix Point Never into my brain was after I’d discovered anxiety. Panic had been just under the surface for years with me, but it finally came to a head about 4 years ago. This was also around the same time I bought R Plus Seven. I was pulled into its ghostly world of samples, aged synths, and alien-esque melodies. Daniel Lopatin was conducting a synthetic orchestra of detached melancholy and radiating circuits. I’d never heard anything like what he was doing. I’d dabbled in electronic music up to this point, but other than Boards Of Canada, nothing had ever really grabbed me quite like OPN.

I’d soon amassed quite a bit of his work. Most of it, actually. The earlier records were swaths of ambient tones and ethereal sounds. The ghostly noise has been there since the beginning, but on his first album Betrayed In The Octagon, things were especially new age-meets-psychedelia. Each successive record got more experimental, and outward. Where earlier records were like a shy kid that would occasionally make a weird face or blurt out a strange word, the newer albums were becoming more like the shy kid growing into himself. The records had the feeling of being comfortable in their own skin, regardless of what color that skin was or what planet the kid was from.

How does this work into panic and anxiety? For me, the music of OPN felt like this warm cocoon I could crawl into and calm myself. Even the oddities found on Replica and Returnal were a welcome reprise from the made up doom that would occasionally drop over my head and suffocate me with imagined terror. I’d held onto so much over the years and “toughed it out” when things got heavy that I never stopped to let that existential fear wash over me and deal with it. The fear had decided it was ready to deal with me, whether I was ready for it or not. The music of Daniel Lopatin sounded like the white and grey noise in my brain. Sitting in it there was a feeling of calming. It was like suffocating out the fire before it became all-consuming in my head. There was no great trauma that this sudden bout of anxiety came from. It was more like years of worry building up and up and up until it needed to be released into the world. My world. But listening to Lopatin’s soundscapes was a “take five” kind of moment. I could sit back and look at what was happening to my brain and see the fear and panic wasn’t anything but that. I was existentially “walking it off”.

Oneohtrix Point Never helped me gather my senses.

Daniel Lopatin and Oneohtrix Point Never have a new album coming out June 1st. It’s called Age Of and I’m very excited for it. I might be more excited for this album than any other this year. OPN not only speaks my language, but reinterprets it in a way that makes things much more understandable. As his music becomes even more alien and forward-thinking, I seem to grasp to it even tighter. It becomes more transcendent. That’s how music should be.

If it’s working, that’s how art should be.

College Visits and Existential Crisis

Had the last couple of days off. My oldest is home for spring break and I wanted to be home so I could hang out with her. It’s not like I had two days of fun and exciting activities planned or anything, but I was at least here and not at work. Thursday she went with me and got groceries after I’d spent the morning cleaning the house(I know, exciting.) Before we went back home we stopped at the Light Rail Cafe in Winona Lake for a shot of afternoon caffeine and a fresh-baked good(I had a cheddar ‘n chive scone, and she had a cookie.) It may not have been the mall or some cozy old bookstore, but it wasn’t bad.

Yesterday was a trip to Manchester University for a preview day. We’ve been on the hunt for a college that’ll be a good fit for her since last May. She’s visited Indiana University, Purdue University, Depauw University, Ball State University, and now Manchester. Up to yesterday she had whittled the list down to Depauw and Manchester. She was accepted by all the above, but Indiana, Purdue, and Ball State were just too big. You’re a number with dollar signs all over you at those schools. Great schools, but they don’t need to wow you with scholarship money to get people to apply, so they’re not. Since my wife and I aren’t independently wealthy and have two more kids that will be going to college in the next 5 years, money does matter. My daughter(as will all our kids) will be paying for a good portion of their education through scholarships, grants, and financial aid. We will help, but I’m not going into hock paying for university. We’ll still have a dog at home that needs money for treats and squeaky foxes. He can’t go without.

Anyways, after our trip yesterday I do believe Depauw will be her pick. She loved Depauw when she visited. She was there just last weekend for an interview to get into their Media Fellows program. She said that the campus just felt like home to her. It’s small, but not too small. The’re geared towards academics and not athletics. Plus they offer Russian, which she’s been taking the last two years. I think it’s a right fit for her. They’re also offering her a very large sum in the form of scholarship money to come to their school. It’s a very expensive place to go to school, but being a private college they have lots of money to offer to students if they really want them to attend school there. They must really want our daughter, that’s all I’ll say.

So she may not have been wowed by Manchester, but her eyes were definitely opened to how much she really liked Depauw.

After the preview day we made our way east and hit Half Price Books in Fort Wayne. Wasn’t planning on buying anything but I couldn’t pass up Yaz’ Upstairs at Eric’s for $3 and a brand new copy of Built to Spill’s Ancient Melodies of the Future for $15. Bought my daughter a couple books and then we were on our way home.

I’m still trying to comprehend where the last 17 years have gone. I don’t feel like a 44 year old guy who has a 17 year old daughter getting ready to go to college. I feel more like a 30 year old guy who maybe figured out what life is all about and still has plenty of time to bestow that wisdom on his young children. I guess I can just be thankful that I didn’t screw up too badly in the growing process. My kids respect me and love me despite the faults they never quite saw behind the facade of me pretending I knew what the hell I was doing. I don’t feel I’m pretending anymore. I haven’t been pretending for quite a few years now. I think I’ve got a handle on things. That’s usually when things go to complete shit though, right? Just when you think you found the quickest, smoothest ride to work they close the road for construction? Or just when you’ve found a work-thru the formula fails and you’re back to the drawing board? You’ve written the best song of your life only to find out you pulled the melody directly from a Loggins and Messina b-side?

That’s just defeatist talk, though. That’s the self doubt demon rising from the pit of your stomach. Pushing that thing to the side was part of growing up and moving on from the stupid days. It will occasionally pop up just to let me know he’s there waiting for me to drop the ball right before I hit the end zone, but I don’t let him rule me anymore. I’m too busy trying to keep my world moving along, keeping those I love safe, happy, and thriving. Keeping my own self constantly moving forward, engaging with the world and with art and with the written word. I want to fill my head with as much of the good stuff as I can. I feel I wasted a few years spinning my wheels in the proverbial mud, pining for things that didn’t matter. I don’t ever want to go back there. Despite wondering where the years have gone, I have no interest in getting them back. I’m not concerned about the last 17 years. I’m looking forward to the next 17 years.

When my oldest daughter and I can sit and talk about politics, the #metoo movement, literature, film, indie rock, and the absurdity of The Emoji Movie, all as we sit and wait for our tour of Manchester University to begin, I feel that I might actually know what I’m doing as a responsible parent.

Stranger Danger

I was a worry wart as a kid. I’m a worry wort as an adult, but I was a lot worse when I was much younger. “There’s a thunderstorm warning, which could lead to a tornado watch which could easily become a tornado warning…we’re all going to die tonight in our sleep”, I would usually start to cobble together in my large-ish head when the sky became a yellow-ish hue with a topping of carbon black. “Mom and dad are fighting over a game of Skipbo at 11:30pm on a Saturday night after one too many Strohs…my parents are getting divorced and I’ll be a latchkey kid”, I’d usually begin to assume whenever my parents argued. By morning I’d already have my multiple holidays figured out with each parent, widening the pit in my stomach even further(my parents are still happily married to this day after nearly 51 years together.) “They said I could go blind if I did this too much…I can already notice my sight fading”….

Well, you get the point.

I don’t know if this worrying thing was implanted along with the pale Germanic appearance and eventual thinning of my hair at conception, but it’s embedded and as much a part of me as the freckles on my face and the hearing loss in my right ear. My mom is a worrier as well, so maybe she gave me some of that which she carries around. But I’m of the opinion that a lot of this worrying was something I developed as a kid growing up in the 80s. Sure, the great fear in the 80s was that we’d get into a nuclear pissing match with Russia and we’d all be cruising the open roads with Mad Max looking for gasoline and unopened cans of dog food. But number 2 on the list of ways children would die in the 80s was kidnapping and murder.

The 80s was full of these horrific stories of child abductions. Every other TV movie of the week was about child predators preying on children at the ball pit at Showbiz, or as they perused GI Joes or Barbie dolls at the local Kmart. Ever heard of Adam Walsh? This poor kid was the poster boy for NOT leaving your children unattended at the store(it was also another TV movie of the week that terrified me to no end.) Unsolved Mysteries, America’s Most Wanted, and countless talk shows and magazine articles filled my elementary school-aged head with nightmarish tales of parents who’d lost their kids after turning away just a millisecond. By the time I was 8 years old I was convinced that every stranger looking my way was some mouth-breathing child predator monster looking to use my bones for game pieces. I trusted no one unless they were family, or were close family friends that knew who my favorite superhero was.

By all accounts the 80s were an incredibly dangerous time to be a young kid. I can remember countless times going into town with my parents and my dad pulling into the liquor store to grab beer before we headed home. They both would head into the liquor store and leave me defenseless, alone, and vulnerable to the miscreants of society in the backseat of the 1981 Omni Miser. The windows weren’t tinted. I was in there practically naked to the world, waiting for my horrific fate to befall me. Just as I thought the end was nigh, the front doors would open and in would pop my parents, handing me back a Slim Jim or piece of jerky as some sort of consolation prize.

There was also a time when I had gotten home from school and nobody was there. I was in the living room with a Capri Sun and a Nutty Bar when someone knocked on the door. I froze, but then quickly got up and looked through the peep hole. It was some stranger. Some guy looking kind of frumpy in a worn out winter jacket and a wool cap. I was instantly terrified. There was talk on the news of some guy trying to pick up kids in a town about 35 miles north of us. My mind instantly went there and assumed this frumpy guy was the creeper looking to grab kids(i.e., me.) I was as quiet as I could be and snuck into the hallway where I was at the only spot in the house where a window wouldn’t reveal my location. I made my way to my bedroom and creeped over to my window. There was the guy, seemingly looking for a window to peek in searching for some sign of life. I thought for sure he was going to try and open a window. I sat in the hallway waiting for the nightmare to end. Eventually the garage door went up and my parents returned home. I scolded them for leaving me all alone. I’m sure they both wondered what in the Hell was wrong with me. Looking back, this guy probably had car trouble and was looking for some help. These were the days before cell phones, so your only chance to contact a loved one in the event of an auto-emergency was with the kindness of strangers.

An anxiety-ridden 9-year old boy was not going to be that kind stranger, sorry to say.

There was the time my mom took me clothes shopping just before the start of 7th grade. I was convinced this guy was eyeing me in Sears and I figured he was going to try and nab me. He gave me a creepy look as my mom and I walked out of the store. I told her I was ready to go home, so the entire 45 minute drive home I had the front seat leaned all the way back so in case he was following us he wouldn’t see me in the car and follow us(I realize how absurd and neurotic that sounds.) It was an overwhelming fear. I let that fear ruin a stop at the record shop for the new David Lee Roth cassette and even a stop for some ice cream before leaving the mall. That anxiety of stranger danger beat out any need for dessert or Eat ‘Em And Smile.

The sad thing is that by today’s standards, the 80s were like the wild west for kids. Despite that fear of the creeper in the creeper van and the grocery aisle nabber, it was still a pretty freeing time to be a kid. I can remember going to my cousin’s house in the summer. He lived in town. Granted, it was a small town but it was still in town. We’d ride bikes all over the place and all day. We’d adventure out and about in the evening as well, hanging in parks and setting off “Works” bombs(yeah, we were idiots.) Then my best friend and I would hit the asphalt and head over to the small lake town of Oswego to the corner store and belly up to arcade games and gorge ourselves on candy and soda, not worried in the least about the freakazoid working behind the counter. Maybe it was just a matter of vulnerability that made it all so scary. Strength in numbers. Strength in stupidity. Maybe I was just a nervous kid with an overactive imagination. Maybe?

Fast forward to last night.

I’m driving my oldest over to her friend’s house where a bunch of her old school crew are getting together for snacks and a Disney movie. As we drove over my daughter’s phone rang. It was one of her best friends calling. She was at a local grocery store buying snacks for the night. She was scared because some guy in a wheelchair had cornered her in the store and wouldn’t let her leave. He initially asked her for money for a cab and she kindly(and naively) gave him $5 hoping he’d leave her alone. He then began talking about Jesus and how Jesus has affected him. He had her cornered for over 40 minutes when she called my daughter. We were on the way to the party when I changed gears and headed to the store. By the time we got there my daughter’s friend had made her way out and was in her car heading out of the parking lot. Apparently this guy had come out into the parking lot as she was leaving, made his way to a van(creeper van, I’m sure), and gotten in. He drove around the parking lot, parked, then got back out and into a wheelchair and made his way back into the store. No cab needed? My daughter’s friend was shook up but okay. She knew enough to call someone.

I may have been a paranoid, nervous kid growing up, but I think it served me well. I don’t think it’s any more dangerous now than it was when I was growing up. There’s just easier ways to get to kids now. Creeper vans have been upgraded to message boards and social media. The toy aisle and the walk home from school has been upgraded to coffeehouses and fake profiles. It’s good to raise your kids to be thoughtful, kind, and helpful human beings. But with just the right amount of trepidation, doubt, suspicion, and caution towards the “friendly stranger”, that can go a long way, too.

Just look at me. I’m doing great.

 

Disintegration

Another season begins to wind down. Another set of ups and downs, highs and lows, “down low you’re too slows”. I’m not sure I’ve ever been a summer kind of guy so I’m okay with the endless summer coming to an end. I sweat too easily and don’t look all that good shirtless mowing the yard. Pasty white and love handles are never something you want to see walking in formation behind a lawn mower in the front yard. No, I’ve always been more of a Fall fella. Even as a kid I’d count down the days until I could break out the Chicago Bears jacket my mom bought both my brother and I at the Concord Mall. Way back when it wasn’t considered politically incorrect to worship two hillbillies driving around in a Dodge Challenger with the confederate flag painted on the hood. Back when Reagan was still in his first term and no one had yet succumbed to the cuteness of an adorable little orphan named Punky Brewster.

I longed for rosey cheeks and seeing my own breath as I walked to the bus stop. I looked forward to the grass crackling under my feet because of the frost. There was something quite grand about walking the aisle of 3D and looking for the Halloween costume that would up the ante at the inevitable night of trick-or-treating. When I was really young you could buy them in a box that contained a fragile plastic shell of a mask and a meat cutter’s apron fashioned into the body of Darth Vader, Strawberry Shortcake, or Michael from Knight Rider. As I got older I opted for the thick latex jobs that were formed into the bloody mug of an undead goon, a vampire with blood trickling from the side of his mouth, or some sort of alien creature with a severed human hand hanging from its extraterrestrial mouth(all of these were ones I’d owned.)

One year when I wasn’t quite small enough for the all-in-one box and waited too long to pick up the faux Rick Baker special I went as a robber. I wore an old ski mask, the aforementioned Chicago Bears jacket, and carried along my A-Team-certified M-16 toy rifle. This was the early to mid-80s, so this was acceptable. Nowadays that get-up would get you sent to jail or shot dead by some sweaty, trigger-happy cititzen. But at the time no one batted an eye.

“So what are you supposed to be, son?”

“A robber.”

“Oh my. Take two then.”

For me, both then and now, fall felt like the inevitable step towards an end. An end to summer, an end to another year, an end to green leaves and grass. For some that might be depressing, but in my head with an end there’s a beginning to something else just around the corner. A new year, a new chance to make your mark at school, and a new fall line-up on TV. The season of wither was open to so many possibilities. Brisk fall walks traipsing through the woods behind my house, Halloween decorations ornamenting nearby neighborhoods, and the smell of burning leaves and pine needles in the air that pushed me to some otherworldly level of childhood contentment. It was that feeling that though things were beginning to wither and die off, the windows could be opened and the ghosts of summer could escape. That touch of chill in the living room as you watch some old horror movie on late night TV…there’s nothing like it.

I welcome fall, and all the disintegration it brings.

The last week and a half have been trying times, for those of us here in the states and for those abroad that have been through this kind of social and political upheaval. I haven’t said much regarding what happened in Charlottesville and the reaction of President Trump. Mainly because I don’t know what to say. I’m appalled by the fact that there are American Nazis marching the streets of an American city in the year 2017 and by the fact that the President of the United States can’t even call them out for what they are. He stoops to straw man arguments about “Well the alt-left are just as bad”. How do you justify that? How do you say that there were some “fine folks” in that sea of sweating, swastika-toting Nazi ghouls? There’s no justification for that behavior and our President’s blase faire attitude towards it. I won’t say I’m ashamed to be an American, because I’m not. My grandfather liberated Jewish prisoners from concentration camps in 1945. My dad served in the Army Reserves in the late 60s, and I had two uncles that fought in Vietnam. I’m a man conflicted by the actions of my government(both with this administration and past ones), but I’m not conflicted about who I am and where I’m from. I don’t take for granted the opportunities allowed to me for being born and raised an American. I don’t think there’s a single nation that doesn’t have its share of nasty skeletons in its closet, and has not put its best foot forward in regards to electing officials from time to time.

I know that we’ll right the ship. Those that wore blinders to the voting booth will(hopefully) see what a mistake they made in voting in who they did. When “your guy” is emboldening men to take off the hoods and walk freely putting up Nazi salutes, carrying torches and yelling “BLOOD AND SOIL!!” and “JEWS WILL NOT REPLACE US!!” in your average American city, things are coming off the rails. We’ll get it back on track. Not without some serious soul searching and looking this existential crisis right in the eyes, but we’ll do it. We’re not all blind to the insanity here. I promise you.

What am I getting at here? I don’t know. Fall is approaching. Things will start fading and withering. With endings come beginnings. Let’s hope for some new beginnings this season of wither. Let’s go for a brisk walk on the trail and say nothing because we don’t have to say anything. Let’s tell our loved ones we love them. Let’s teach our kids differences are strengths. Let’s walk through the fall afternoon and take the smell of burning leaves home with us in our jackets and hats.

Let’s go buy a goddamn Darth Vader Halloween mask and have some fun.