Thursday, February 28, 2008

A Second Grader Loses His Dad

Yesterday, I hung out with Dylan and his fellow second graders during his morning math class.

A boy in Dylan's math class lost his dad last month.

"A boy in Dylan's math class lost his dad last month." Golly, that just reads like an innocuous little bit of news, doesn't it?

How about this? The little boy's dad fucking died. He died, suddenly, on Super Bowl day, and the little boy had to call 9-1-1 himself as his mom desperately tried to revive him. His dad won't be there to watch any more Little League games. He won't be there to see his son start high school, get his driver's license, or graduate from college.

One of my son's second grade classmates got up one morning to greet his dad. When he went to bed that night, his dad was no longer there to kiss him goodnight.

Yesterday in class, the boy mentioned aloud that his dad's birthday was coming up. The teacher, bless her, stopped teaching and just talked with him for several minutes. She told him that his dad's birthday would probably be hard on the whole family, and that he needed to help his mom through that day. There was no emotion evident on the boy's face, but there was a storm in his eyes. The face and the body were on autopilot, but the storm was gathering.

I had to duck out of the class. I leaned up against the wall, with tears leaking from my eyes. Then I stuffed my sorrow and my spiked phlegm of anger at life back down, and walked back inside to carry on with my big strong adult act.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Goodbye to Bad Ass

My favorite local coffee haunt, Bad Ass Coffee Company, closed its doors last month. It was a franchise store, and started out well, no doubt aided a bit by a barrage of local controversy over its name. But business dwindled over time, especially with higher gasoline prices.

I'll miss it because it was the nearest coffee place equipped with wireless internet to our home. I'll also miss it because Dylan and I had become attached to the girls who worked there, who were always friendly and who always made Dylan feel special. I'd often take Dylan there after school, where he'd have hot chocolate and a snack. I'd have tea. He would finish his homework, and we'd talk about his day at school. It was our Special Dude place.

Dylan's reaction to the name has been funny. Rhonda and I take the position with him that if he wants to use "bad" words while at home, with no company present, he can spew them out to his heart's content. (Public settings are a different matter.) Of course, since we've taken the forbidden fruit aspect of bad words away, he never uses them. In fact, we have our own Language Nazi in the house: if Rhonda or I slip up and use a bad word, he's on us like a duck on a June bug. But then, profit motive may play a part in that, since we've agreed to contribute to his "Bad Language Jar" when we let one of those words slip.

So, Dylan couldn't bring himself to ask, "Can we go to the Bad Ass Coffee place?" No, it would always be, "Daddy, can we go to the Bad A-S-S Coffee place?", or simply, "Can we go to the Bad Donkey?" I tried to explain to Dylan that "ass" is just another word for "donkey," and that in that context, it wasn't really a bad word. Dylan wouldn't buy it.

It was hard to tell Dylan that "our" place was closing down. He's seven, and he doesn't cry very often, but when I told him the news, he got in my lap, buried his face in my chest, and wept. It just slayed me. The closing of a coffee haunt doesn't rank high on the list of Life's Big Tragedies, but I hate it when my son hurts. Heck, I have to remind myself that he has to learn to deal with disappointment, lest he enter adulthood an emotionally crippled wimp.

I was surprised at my reaction to the closing. But then, establishments can sneak into a real presence in our lives, before we're even aware of how much they've become part of what we call "home." Bad Ass was like that for me. I liked the atmosphere, the lighting, the friendliness of the employees (although it took a while for me to get over them yelling "ALOHA!" when I walked in the door), and the mix of customers: from young to old, from professional to proletarian, from hip to staid.

I do most of my writing while away at work, but when I did write while on my off time, it was usually at Bad Ass. When I'm at home, I'm aways aware that I could be out cutting weeds, chopping firewood, or shoveling llama poop. If I were to ever become adept and prolific enough to make a living as a writer, I wonder if I could manage to juggle house husband duties and writing like local crime novelist and newspaper columnist Steve Brewer does. The distractions of being in a public place seem to help me focus on my writing, while the distractions of home chores don't.

This is not to say that I'm always Mr. Productive when I crank up my computer in a public place. The truth is, I often get pulled into what online buddy and soon to be first-time papa Algernon calls the "Laptop Undead." I intend to check my email, read a couple of blogs, and get down to business. But too often, two hours have floated by while I'm plugged in, and when I look at my watch, I wonder if I've been abducted by aliens.

I'll miss the people at Bad Ass Coffee Company, even if they were in cahoots with the aliens. The folks who owned the franchise no doubt poured their hopes, dreams, and lots of time into the place. If that isn't bad enough, they're losing their home of thirty years as well. Damn. That makes me feel kind of sheepish about all of my petty little complaints.

Meanwhile, I have my eyes open for another father-and-son Special Dude place. There's a Starbucks just a bit down the road from the Bad Ass location, but I'm not ready to sell my soul to Starbucks just yet.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Sex Outside My Marriage

"Sweetie, I have a confession to make," I said.
"Oh brother," my wife replied, "what is it this time?"
"While I was away at work, I had a dream about having sex with another woman."

Now, you're probably asking yourself, "Why would he tell his wife about having sex with another woman?" I mean, it was only a dream, right? Dreams are our most private domain, right? Okay, read on, because this ain't about a tryst with Pamela Anderson.

"Someone I know?"
"Well, yeah, sorta," I replied. So I, er, plunged forward.
Here's what I told her: You, Dylan, and I were in a post-apocalypse New York City.

"Oh brother," Rhonda said, under her breath. (I have frequent dreams of the post-apocalypse kind, no doubt fueled by my fondness for the genre in books and movies. Rhonda ribs me that it's "a sure sign of a sick mind.")
We'd run out of food, but we found an entrance to a vast underground bunker. A huge guy with a shotgun apprehended us. We asked him to let us stay. "Are you both good with firearms?" he asked. "Yeah," I answered, "we can hold our own." "What about the little man?" "He can handle a .22." The big guy thought for a while. Then he said, "Follow me; I'm taking you to the boss. She'll decide if you can stay."

My wife seemed more engaged with my story, so I went on.
He took us through a series of passages to a large closed doorway. Another guard stood in front. "Watch them," said the first guard. He walked through the door. After a few minutes, he reemerged. "The boss wants to talk to you." He looked at the other guard. "Take the woman and the boy to get something to eat." He nodded at me. "Come with me."

He led me through the door into a large room. Behind a huge desk sat Rosanne Barr.

"Wait a minute," Rhonda interrupted. "You mean to tell me the woman you had dream sex with was Rosanne Barr?"
"She said that the only way we could stay in her underground compound was if I had sex with her."

Rhonda giggled. "So did you?"
"Well yeah, Sweetie: I had to save my family."

Rhonda laughed. Then she laughed harder. She looked at me, and started laughing again. "You poor thing," she offered, and laughed again. She finally composed herself, then asked, "Would you please feed the chickens before it gets dark?"

I walked out the the chicken's abode, both relieved and stung that my wife thought it so funny that I'd dreamed about having sex with another woman.

One of the hens likes to peck grain out of my hand. She unleashed a cackle that sounded strangely like Rosanne's laugh. Oh yeah, Rosanne laughed while we were having sex. Her laugh was disturbing and vaguely demonic. I dropped the grain and left the hen to her own devices.

Lord help me.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

The Presidential Election

Regardless of where you might stand politically, I hope you'll acknowledge that it's a hopeful sign for our society when a woman and a black man are front-runners in the presidential contest. A generation ago, that would have been a fantasy.

I don't get into discussing politics much, whether here or in a face-to-face conversation. Nowadays, too many people focus on who is supposedly right, instead of what is probably right. That mindset creates a climate poisonous to a genuine exchange of views. Truth too often takes a backseat to agenda.

I'm an independent voter. I'm not a registered Republican, and I'm not a Democrat. Never have been. Like many people I know, I'm a little conflicted in my political leanings: I'm a liberal in my heart, a conservative in my head. I call myself a "half-assed Libertarian." (Half-assed because I'm not so sure that privatizing dang near everything is the best answer.)

But here's the thing: I believe in the Constitution of the United States of America. I also believe the Constitution has been under assault by the Democrats and the Republicans for some time now. And, in today's world, it seems that the Republicans, the so-called "conservatives," are a greater threat to the integrity of the Constitution than the Democrats.

Here's a quote from columnist Charley Reese: The hard truth is that if you are a genuine political conservative, you don't have a party. The Democrats are practically socialists; the Republicans are closer to corporate fascists. Neither one offers conservatives anything but rhetoric.

That's why I plan to vote for Ron Paul. Although he's running as a Republican, his platform is more aligned with the Libertarian school of thought. He probably won't get elected, but to me, he's the only potential savior of the Constitution who even has a chance. (My hope is that he'll choose to run as an independent, should he be denied the Republican nomination.) The idea that the Constitution could have a dedicated guardian in the nation's highest office is one of the most hopeful developments in U.S. politics I've seen.

Look at this video of Jay Leno's "favorite interviews." Although only two of the people interviewed are political figures, after viewing it, you might agree that it's time to try someone besides another Democrat or neocon. (Didn't want to end this on a serious note.)

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Convenient Generosity

One day recently, I stopped in my coffee haunt, our local Bad Ass Coffee Company, where I almost always get tea. I like to be different. Plus, my wife and son tell me that coffee gives me "dragon breath."

There was a medium crowd in the place as I walked in. The owner of a nearby auto repair shop was pointing at a guy lounging on a sofa. Mr. Auto Repair whispered to the girl behind the counter, "If I were you, I'd call the cops." I glanced back at the sofa. The guy on the sofa appeared to be guilty of being homeless. It appeared that he'd taken some effort to get and stay clean, but he had that weather-weary look about him, and a backpack alongside. The weather outside was miserable, with half rain, half slushy snow. The guy sat there, taking refuge from the weather, trying to be invisible.

People were giving Mr. Homeless a clear zone of sorts. I grabbed my tea and entered the clear zone, sitting at a table about three feet from the guy. He looked at me nervously. I'm tall, and as I get older, I've been told that I look like a cop. I liked it better when people told me that I looked like a cross between Tom Selleck and John Ritter, even if they were lying. But, I don't have enough hair for that anymore, and besides, John Ritter is dead. I hope he's having a good time with Tex.

About twenty years ago, still during my single daze, a young woman in a bar told me that I looked like a cross between Tom Selleck and a chipmunk. An amorous adventure did not follow.

Anyway, I can be a bit of a bleeding heart. Rush Limbaugh would probably think me stupid for feeling sorry for all those lazy, good-for-nothing homeless bums. I'll just have to live with that. Once, on an airline flight, I talked with a guy who'd once been a homeless advocate in his town. He said that he got out of it out of frustration, because "half of those bastards are just pulling a scam." Maybe so, but even if that's true, that means that half of 'em aren't.

I have a generous streak, but I can be a selfish jerk with my time. I thought about buying the guy a coffee and some food, but I really wanted to spend time with my laptop, not in conversation. I decided that I'd do my morning blog roundup, check email, then buy the guy something when I left. That way, I could stay in my little sphere of privacy, and avoid the dagger eyes I guessed I'd get from about half of the patrons.

A twenty-something guy walked into the place. He carried himself with a subtle confidence, and something about him let on that he was a child of affluence, despite his neo-hippy long hair and faux-funky attire. He grabbed a coffee, and looked for a place to sit. He chose a seat about four feet from the homeless guy, and checked him out. After a few moments, he asked, "Are you traveling?" "Yeah, I'm on the road."

I finished answering an email, all the while overhearing their conversation. The young guy was asking the homeless guy questions, finding common ground, making the homeless man feel like he belonged, like he was there.

I'd volunteered to help out in one of my son's classes, and it was time to go. I gathered up my stuff and visited the restroom. As I left the restroom, I could see a difference in the homeless man. He sat more erect, he was smiling, and there was a light in his eyes. I walked up and gave him some money. "Really?" I chuckled. "Yeah, really. Take care of yourself."

I walked out and drove away. As I entered Lake Boulevard, I glanced through the windows of the coffee place. The young guy and the homeless man were laughing. For just a moment, as I drove away, I laughed with them.