Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Fatherhood, Part II


           
When my alarm sounded at 3:30 Mountain this morning, I felt mostly in control of my travel anxiety. All my clothes were washed, neatly folded in my suitcase, the contents of my carry-on tucked and zipped in their necessary compartments. I avoided snooze, had my morning pee, showered, shaved, and summoned an Uber.

            Richard and I made the appropriate amount of conversation for 4:15 a.m. and his Toyota Prius puttered along the Colorado freeway with efficiency. The security line was buzzing as usual at Denver International Airport, and once I was through it, off the train, and seated at my gate, I found myself purposelessly jumping in and out of apps on my phone. When I’d grown tired of this I looked up and noticed a woman across the aisle looking at me. I looked back down in what was likely a normal bit of social awkwardness, but was quick to return another glance when she spoke my name.

            “Lesley Speer,” she said. I jolted out of my chair, likely energized by the strange feeling I’d had in Richard’s Prius that I would run in to someone I know, which happens more often than not when flying to Denver from Kansas City, or in this case, the opposite.

            I sat with her for the 10 minutes or so until it was my turn to get in to the Southwest Airlines’ numerical-order line, and -- the flight being at capacity -- that was the end of our exchange. I’d already downloaded a podcast that was nearly the exact duration of the flight, and as we prepared to taxi, I snorted at the preview for the upcoming Between Two Ferns. I repeated my out-loud chuckles as I consumed the podcast, and probably made the couple sitting next to me think I was a little bizarre.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Dream Fiction no. 6: The Janky Pontiac & the Soaked Tuxedo


           
When Phil and Jennie’s big day’d arrived, my anxiety had reached a pinnacle that likely rivaled their excitement. Their private ceremony, now six weeks in the rearview, along with its 25-person guest list, had carried the energy back to the grind with everyone, but had never waned. Not even, or so it seemed, when it came to me living in their newlywed space for the duration.

            The three of us had managed to avoid toe-stepping in Phil and I’s old East Fourth Avenue pad, but I’d only wound up staying there by accident: car troubles, coupled with their wild generosity, had landed me back in my old college bedroom. The time had come, though, for the party to happen, for my exit to springboard them into their real life of marital bliss.

            There was, of course, the matter of my ’88 LeMans, and whether or not the suffocated-by-faulty-exhaust engine would be able to get me from the San Juans back to the Front Range. The brakes still had enough life in them to get me down the mountain passes; summiting them, though, was a different story.

            At least the heat and the stereo still worked.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Freewriting: Black Pants


            You came to me in a work setting and we were bound by circumstances. Well, at least I think we were. I know I was. And even though it was a lifetime ago I can still remember those black pants. They were over there. By the copy machine. You rooted through the file folders and they were on you, calling to me in a whisper so loud I scanned the room twice, unsure if others’d heard.

            Across a handful of months we crossed paths from time to time, never without mutual smiles. Seeing your name on the computer always brightened my day and the few live conversations we had I cherished. You were good at your job, I think, but that wasn’t why; our dialogue always turned my motivation on its head.

            After a time I was gone and the same would soon be true for you, too, both of us returning to the grinds from which we came. And the tiniest connection we had evaporated into the skies of our respective lives.

            Trying to quantify everything that has transpired since feels like an attempt to assess your cloud-flanked altitude before the pilot announces it. There’s just…too much of everything.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Untimely Reviews: "In Long Lines"


           
Don’t think I’ve ever done one of these for a song, but I’m doing it now. And you should know: There is an enormous chance that this could be the most boring thing you’ve ever read. Could be zero redeeming elements for your invested time. So, now’s your chance to bail.

            I lost track of my listen count a few days ago, which is really a bizarre feeling; it’s typically fairly clear-cut when my obsession over a certain song reaches that Okay, that’s enough feeling. Hasn’t happened yet for this one, though, and I can only chalk it up to it being that goddamned good. If you want a reason to judge me the last time I remember this happening was when Sigh No More by Mumford & Sons dropped.

            Go ahead. Think what you must. That record was crazyfuckinggood before they as an entity blew up. Also from the for-the-record department: It still is.

            A little background, though: Trey Anastasio released Ghosts of the Forest in April, and I did the thing I usually do when it comes to Trey Anastasio solo projects: I didn’t jump.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Freewriting: Sometimes


         
            The grinding of the coffee beans and the songs on the phone,
            The kids’ bedroom doorway and the smells of sensory hone.
            It’s trash day, the compost bowl, the dishes to put away,
            The hours-long wrestling match to remember the name of this day.

            The concept of a manual has perched atop my brain a number of times in the last year and change, its landing style the fashion of double samara. After marination, the concept of grooming youth for adulthood wafts, a familiar, strangely unidentifiable fragrance.

            Pages, it seems, have been ripped, Cliff’s Notes editions composed by a novice.

            Sometimes the difficulty of squinting the eye just right so that the open one can look through the lens and not only see its own lid and lash seems like the hardest part. For some, the contents of the slide always present dollar signs. For others it might be fame. In both cases I think early-life circumstances scrunched something, skewed the vision, knocked the gears askew.

            Those can’t be the things.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Sports Nostalgia: The Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues


            Two months ago, to the hour and possibly the minute, I was watching the St. Louis Blues celebrate their first Stanley Cup championship in 51 years as a National Hockey League franchise.

            The Note was part of the league’s first major block of expansion franchises and they accomplished a lot of things along the journey, but never could find that extra gear. They went to the championship round their first three years in existence, once strung together 24 consecutive seasons of post-season qualification, won a President’s Trophy (best regular-season record), had some Hall of Famers on their rosters, and, well, played a lot of really good hockey.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Behind on Laundry, The First


          
  I haven’t fleshed out what this series is going to be about, but off of the cuff I think there’s a literal and a figurative hybrid behind the motivation.

            By that I mean that right now I am remarkably behind on laundry. Both hampers in my room should have already been transported to the basement and appropriately sorted. There are six baskets of clean, terribly wrinkled clothes in my guest room that need folding, put away. This is not how I’ve been accustomed to managing laundry for most of my life. In the worst of times, the contents of three unfolded baskets would trigger my anxiety, but the only thing this particular state of the state is harming is my ability to be ready for the day and out the door a couple of minutes sooner.

            Laundry’s not the only thing, though. I’m behind on the completion of my to-do list, the creation of the next one(s), bills, exercise, and, above all, piles.

            If you can relate to the piles piece, there’s love in my heart for you. If you don’t know what I mean then you, my friend, have really got life figured out. Or at the very least I envy that element of your existence.

            I think what I’m getting at is angst and the bizarre comings and goings with my willingness or ability to tolerate it, shrug it off, or let it attempt to consume me. On most days it feels like the day itself is completely doable. There’re logic and reason, start times and deadlines, and bare necessities that seem to govern the bulk of things between wake and sleep. And a lot of the time I’m fine -- or at least I’ve convinced myself that I’m fine -- to just plow through it all, head first, correcting mistakes both on the fly and after the fact.

            There’re other times, though. And it’s occurring to me that those other times are often fastened to the absence of my children. There aren’t immediate needs and schedules pinned to every hour and so the collective can kind of sneak up, huddle around, linger.

            So I don’t know…

            Managing life is an imperfect art, is, I think, the gist of it all. Maybe learning to clumsily dance along with that art is the answer. It sure doesn’t feel good sometimes, though.

            I’ve been trying to implement a few new changes to my household, possibly because I wonder if they’ll make me more comfortable in my own skin. For example, I randomly suggested to my daughter that we could try to become a shoeless household, which she jumped on, so we’re doing that, which has made me begin to sweep my kitchen floor every day because the feeling of crumbs under your bare feet is super annoying. I’ve been putting effort in to giving my smoothie preparation extra blend time so that both of my kids will down a small glass. At least that way they’re guaranteed to get some greens in to their system once a day.

            I’ve seen some improvement in them picking up after themselves, requiring fewer reminders to do so, and through all of this there seems to be less bickering in general. Of course summer is slamming shut and what that looks like once the screen-time allowance all but vanishes and bedtime reverts back to an earlier hour remains to be seen.

            Somehow I’ve conjured the discipline to put my butt in this chair enough to get some recent words onto paper. I’ve booked a couple of flights for upcoming trips and am slowly watching a vision unfold in terms of what I’d actually like the inside of my home to look like in terms of cleanliness and organization. Still, though, Friday’s work tends to spill in to Saturday, making Sunday come too soon. I worry about things I probably shouldn’t, like whether or not my yard is getting the proper amount of attention or if my kids are getting enough outside time. I wrestle with bouts of loneliness and feel hyper-critical of some of my less-than-healthy life choices.

            I think, though, what it boils down to, is that I’m afraid of death.

            Not in a sense that it petrifies me or that I feel somehow empowered to control or avoid it. Instead I just stress about the possibility of my time coming quote/unquote too soon, that I won’t live to see my kids graduate high school or college, marry and have kids of their own, become professionals and find their own ways in the world. I worry about whether it’s warranted that I worry about publishing, whether that benchmark deserves the level of esteem I’ve assigned to it.

            And I worry, in general, about being calm, content, connected and happy.

            I suppose, though, that those over-arching, broad-and-general concerns manifest themselves as angst over laundry, crumbs on the floor, and making sure there’s not food going to waste in the fridge. Sometimes all of those things feel very warranted and legitimate; others it seems foolish when there are so many other grave problems in and around the world.

            Anyway, I guess this is all just a game of chips and putts. Sometimes you can crush a drive, but more often than not you’re in the rough or dropping a ball and taking a stroke penalty. Maybe life is about how you manage all of your scenarios on both an individual level and in a macro-sense. Perhaps each phase of life is like 18 holes and it’s up to each of us to develop patience, master techniques, and approach the next round with a keener sense of savvy.

            For now, though, I guess I’ll get after a basket or two. Not that it wasn’t obvious before, but I’m painfully aware of the fact that that shit ain’t gonna fold itself.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Yesterday on the Internet: The Handmaid's Tale


           
I don’t recall how I got dialed in to this show, but it’s the best thing I’ve watched in a long time. To be fair, I watch very little television, and I consider that a good thing, as the very precious commodity occurs almost never in the light switch known as a week.

            It’s so freaking good, though, and of the many reasons why, one cannot be overstated: We are, in this country, insanely close to this setting being a real possibility. And if that doesn’t alarm you then you should probably consult a psychiatrist.

            At this point I don’t have any intention of being an expert on the program, so the chances of me botching a detail or two are pretty high. And as of right now, I’m only toying with starting over with episode one of the inaugural season for the purposes of constructing a per-episode feature.

            The skinny is more or less this, though: The United States as we know it has been taken over. Repossessed, restructured, and refashioned. The government has been overthrown and the nation (or at least a part of it) is being run by a collection of dictators and authoritarians that have basically instilled martial law.

            The biggest takeaway, literally and figuratively, is basic human rights. As in, they’ve been stripped and reconfigured to only include straight males, most of whom are white.

            Women have been categorized into three sectors: the fertile, those whom cannot bear children, and the rejects. The fertile, handmaids, are assigned to a high-ranking official: commanders. They live in the home with the official and his family, and they are forced to participate in a ceremony in which the handmaid lies on the marriage bed, arms clutched by the wife, while the commander pumps repeatedly until his proverbial load is dumped in the handmaid. It is, by definition, rape, and is periodically referred to as such in the program. It’s not what one might normally picture, however, if that concept is a thing you’ve either envisioned, experienced, or witnessed. It’s all in the name of procreation, which, in a sense, makes it even creepier than the definition of rape you might’ve previously had.

            Anyway, the handmaid then delivers this baby and it becomes the child of the commander and his wife. The women whom cannot bear children are called Marthas. They serve as maids, butlers, assistants, housekeepers, etc. Slaves, basically. Unlike the rejects, who have been deemed rebellious, gay, criminal, what have you. They are sent to these mines where they’re harvesting something that basically dumps radiation into them and they die, which, once it’s over and done with, is probably a blessing considering how horrific the conditions are and the treatment is.

            The people that commit crimes or behave inappropriately, i.e. express homosexuality, a desire to change gender, or anything outside the norm, get masked in cloth and murdered. They are hung and placed on a wall, displayed in the square like sausages in an old-time butcher shop. It is nothing shy of horrific.

            And in fact, most of the show is horrific. It’s dark. It’s wickedly intense, frightening, and stressful to watch. The positives in this environment appear with four-leaf-clover frequency.

            The show’s protagonist, June Osborne, displays a first-hand example of what life in Gilead (the new United States) is like. The initial episode shows her, her husband, and their daughter fleeing the country. They’re making a proverbial run for the border (in this case Canada, not Taco Bell) when they become separated. Her husband escapes; June and Hannah do not. From that point on the program centers on June’s varying tolerance of her new normal, how she combats it and in many instances, how she is consumed by it. The level of horrible she experiences is almost impossible to stomach and in a number of circumstances she doesn’t have it as bad as some of the other handmaids.

            When I first discovered The Handmaid’s Tale two years ago, I consumed season one in two sittings. It’s that good. Waiting an entire year was brutal, but proved worth it. Season two did not disappoint. Stakes were upped, worse got worser, and the balance of hopelessness versus possibility was suffocatingly perfect.

            Marking off the calendar days for the current season to start felt akin to trying to get the last couple of doses out of the shampoo bottle, but once it was here, it was great to be back.

            Season Three has had a couple of valleys in the sense that I, on a couple of occasions, wondered if the writers and producers had painted themselves into a corner where new variations of the same theme were going to turn the show stale. Where these trajectories periodically dipped, however, the ensuing peaks have more than made up for what might’ve been construed as monotony, perhaps all of which was by design.

            And now we’re on the cusp of another wait, as only one episode remains.

            Anyway, yesterday’s episode (12 of 13) followed a wild episode 11 and kept up the intensity. Serious shit is taking place within the primary-character circle, and the way they have the season planned to end has likely got most viewers on the edge of their seats. I mean, that’s how these things go, right? Big to-do in a season’s closer, get you mentally committed for next year.

            I’m not a television expert, but this has got to be top-notch production. The acting rings with real emotion, the selected scores scar, delight, and sometimes taint with irony. And again: The very-real, very-frightening possibility of this world shifting from construed to the shelves of non-fiction is alarming and unsettling at best. The environment of The Handmaid’s Tale is the very reason why those that preach inclusion are in perpetual clash mode with those that do not.

            If you haven’t gotten on board, now’s the perfect time to do so. You’ve got the better part of a year to indulge in three seasons of remarkable television. And hey -- Who doesn't love having their life surrounded by terrifying, omni-present, indecipherable citizen's-band-radio garble?

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Fatherhood, Part I


            I’m not supposed to do this for a couple of reasons: 1) their mom is worried about their social-media presence; 2) this means I have to -- to hopefully alleviate future issues of confidence -- do a post about my son, too. Which is fine. I have no problem with that and will actually long for it at some point, I’m sure. Hopefully I can get to it right after I’m done composing the Facebook photo album in his name that features 10 dozen pics of him being new in the world like I did for his sister. Then I gotta figure out a way around the time-stamp issue. Oh, the miseries of making sure your second-born is treated just like your first-born.

            Anyway, my daughter’s now closer to nine than eight, and she’s so many things. She’s super-sweet and considerate. She’s empathic and considerate. She’s also wildly too old for her own age and greased with commercial-grade asshole potential that she can spray you with as though she were the sprinkler you thought you’d perfectly timed and could traverse while staying dry. It puts me absolutely off my rocker that she can literally be the best thing and the worst thing to ever happen to her little brother in the same afternoon. Sometimes within the same hour. Occasionally inside a 15-minute swing.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Dream Fiction no. 5: The Hatchback & the Quart of Breast Milk


           
It was pretty goddamn cold out. Not quite to that level where you’d roll your eyes at a friend who claimed it to be freezing, but still. It was that moisture-level cold where it felt 20 degrees colder out than it really was. Not the take-your-breath-away cold but the kind of feel-it-to-your-core cold, where -- even after half an hour inside -- you just couldn’t seem to warm up.

            I’d lost track of what city we were in or near; the exits had started to blur about 10 minutes ago. Maybe more. I think we were somewhere east of New Brunswick but I coulda sworn we still hadn’t seen the signs for Edison.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Phish Tacos


            I gotta talk to you about tacos.

            Let’s get a few things outta the way first: Tacos are awesome. So are cheeseburgers and pizza. And a nice wedge salad or seared steak that’s been done solid justice. Taco, though, initially meant “snack.” It just happened to involve the ingredients with which we’ve become familiar because those ingredients have always been cultural staples of the people that, um, invented tacos.

            You sharing your tacos on a social-media platform or mentioning that you like them on dating app is, uh…Let’s just say you’re getting put in a folder.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Them Phones, Them Phones Gonna...Walk Around


            It’s Friday night. Kids’re in bed. The Sonos is on the clock. There’s a cold one on my coaster and I’m feeling a little troubled. The dinner dishes have been tended to; coffee’s prepped for the morning. Everyone has clean clothes to wear. The bills are relatively paid. Car has gas in it. Grass needs mowed, but I’ve still got two days to get to that before my anxiety starts to churn. Summer’s sunset is upon us yet we’re mostly dialed in in the back-to-school department. Couple of fun trips on the horizon and of course, we have our health. In spite of all that, in spite of everything that’s relatively amazing about the world right now, there’s a fairly heavy albatross around our necks. And let’s be honest: It’s gaining weight by the day.



            I mean, I’m completely glossing over that our country is still way too unhealthy, way too full of hate, and way too helpless to do anything about the fact that there’s an idiot in charge of us all, but for the most part, I’d imagine that the lives of many United States citizens is pretty okay.

            What I’m talking about, of course, is the goddamned devices that most of us wake to, sleep by, and are engaged with perhaps more than anything across the average day. I don’t need to elaborate on this. You know exactly what I mean. I’m no exception and, what’s worse is that I don’t have a solution.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Confessions of a QuikTrip Junky, #2


           
I’m greasing the wheels here a bit in an attempt to get some fresh momentum stirring, but this is a series I’ve wanted to do for a number of years now. I tried to get it off the ground some time ago with a story about how I almost soiled the leather interior of my mother-in-law’s then brand-new car, but I never went back to the well. At least not outside of my mind.

            Regardless, the gist is this: The QuikTrip Corporation figured out some time ago that the blueprint to dominating your marketplace is simple: Be undeniably better than all of your competition. Be it by far and be it all the time. When it’s time to take it up another notch, do that. Without question. Hold standards. Be attractive.

            Because of this -- their official approach in my mind -- I love QuikTrip.

            I not only love QuikTrip and strategically plan various elements of my days based upon their locations (or lack thereof), I at one time became (and since maintained) and elite level of gas-station/convenience-store snobbery.

            And I mean that to my core.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Blessings





May 7, 2018 (or somewhere thereabouts)

Beginnings

The pieces resemble leaves of a windy fall afternoon. The pile looks right, the mouth of the bag waiting, but when scooped they scatter, pushed to the neighbor’s lawn, the gutter, the air.

            I keep wanting to target 2002 even though that’s not right. Maybe it’s because that’s when we met; maybe it’s because Dad died that year. His time ended on the cold floor of a hospital room, a bruise on the brain his ultimate undoing after the conclusion of a weeks-long bender brought him to the one place he wasn’t supposed to go: home.

            Now I fear, among many other things, that I have seen myself take my first step into becoming George Webber.

            Regardless…we didn’t get together until the following spring, and everything, like the arrival of a new season, seemed so exciting. Our families bubbled, observed. Our introductions to friends teemed with glee.

            We lived a party life that spring and summer of 2003, some combination of envy, happiness, and annoyance in the eyes and minds of our co-workers. We logged significant poolside time, shared beds, and closed down bars. By fall we were never apart, having tucked-in conversations about our lives ahead. And the following February I moved out of my buddy’s house and into my own place, a joint she helped me find, a pad her father came with us to inspect. I’d received an acceptance letter from my graduate school of choice; hers had come in the form of rejection.