It’s not “Keenoo” it’s “Kee-ah-noo”

I’m not exactly sure when I stopped caring, but about the time I realised that he’d made a lucrative career out of staring blankly and having one, ONE, expression, I started calling him Keenoo.  Point Break is a fucking awesome movie, but I can truthfully say I have no respect for Keenoo.

That said, he made a cool cameo in my dream last night.  Or rather, he inspired one of the characters, as I don’t really think it was him.  Frequently I get characters in my dreams that either look like popular actors or actually are them.  I had a doozy the other night where Brad Pitt, Scott Bakula and myself were all police detectives in the 70’s, like that show “Life on Mars”.  I remember thinking, “Wow, think of all the great experience I’ll get from two pros like these guys.  Plus, I’ll have been a cop and can tell stories when I get back to the future in 2011.”

But Keenoo was only the inspiration for this stringy-haired, flannel-wearing greaseball loser guy in my dream last night.  He’s not much to look at, our hero, but he’s integral to the story.

It opens with a courier, or an assistant of some sort and not notable, carrying a large ziploc baggie with two fresh (dead) fish in it (no idea what, they were movie fish, where they have no distinguishing characteristics other than you know that they are fish) along with several raw eggs.  The yolks were in tact, and there was some sort of wheatgerm or bran grains in there as well, though it was all unmixed.

We follow the journey of the baggie as it gets carried to this giant lab tank, like an aquarium, but with a human in it.  A woman, whose lithe form was suspended in the water and had tubes and apparatus attached to her head and chest.  She had some sort of light robe floating around and her hair was loose.  She seemed semi-conscious but deeply occupied with whatever was going on in the tank.

Gauges and metres ticked and clicked and digital readouts read out while the assistant person carried the bag toward this tank.  She started talking about the massive amount of protein and nutrients that were going to be needed for this when we turn to see the Keenoo wannabe brooding behind her.  They interact only briefly before she leaves, obviously nonplussed by him and a even a little bit scared.

He approaches the tank with reverence and a small TV in the corner shows a black-and-white talking head, like the newsreaders of the early 60’s, and he is telling the populace about how monumentally historic this moment is.  Scenes of rocket ships, still in grainy black and white, show on the screen and it starts to be understood that this woman is going to need protein and nutrients and this special tank and all this stuff because she is going to be on a rocket that’s launched into space soon.

Keenoo is worried and doesn’t want her to go, but takes extra care in prepping some of the machines and such before the officials get there to do the same thing, only very officially.  He’s still brooding though, and we get the feeling that he not only doesn’t want her to go, but possibly should have gone himself yet didn’t.  He makes his exit before the officials get there to avoid having to answer any questions.

The rocket launches…

And the garbage truck pulls up outside my house.  Between his squeaky brakes and incredibly loud robot arm, I am left wondering how ANYBODY is meant to sleep past 6:40 AM on my street.  Fuck that guy and his truck, seriously.

Herschel

I wrote this in January sometime, and I know it’s long, but I don’t have much to say here and I like writing.

Summers usually sucked balls during my childhood given that I had an abundance of time and a lack of things to do with it.  I hooked up with schoolmates here and there, but had little friendships to speak of and spent most of the time during the day doing odd jobs that my father assigned me and talking to my dog, Herschel.

Herschel was a yellow lab who gained his name during a rare broadcast of a USFL game when a certain College Football superstar ran through an unholy amount of men to score a touchdown and our fat little whimpering puppy scrambled madly across the TV room at Barb’s house.  Barb was the woman my mother left my father for, but that’s a different story.  At this point, we’d just gotten the puppy and my older brother and I were bandying about all the usual simple and inane puppy names with Barb’s kids when we saw that historic run.

My brother looked at the TV, then down at the dog, then across the room to each kid and we all kind of nodded when he said, “Herschel.”

My father, of course, scoffed at the name and assured us that we’d have a dog that never came when we called, but strangely I never experienced that issue with Herschel or later, Pistachio.

In the Summer of ’88, before I began my 8th grade year, I was 13 and too young to get a job at any businesses and too old to simply lay around and watch cartoons all day.  Hell, even my G.I. Joes were feeling a bit dated.  My mother had recently made her move to Dallas and the prospect of flying down there for a couple of weeks was more than a reprieve from boredom, it was heaven.  Sure, Big “D” in the middle of Summer was akin to hanging out at the Gates of Hades, a very, very humid Hades, but I was bouncing off the walls for it.

Mom also told me that, as a surprise, I was going to be attending “The Herschel Walker Football Camp”.  Mom was always pretty good at getting good deals across her lap and while I had no idea how she’d wangled this one, I couldn’t believe my luck.  The fact that I sucked at football and had only marginal interest in it didn’t matter, I was going to hang out with Herschel Walker, and that was going to top my Lifetime List, let alone my Summer.

My brother, of course, did his best to deflate me by pulling me aside and making it clear that football camps with celebrity names on them were run by somebody else, and said celebrity would usually drop by for a solitary hour during the week to shake hands and maybe take pictures with the lucky kids, of whom I would certainly never belong.  I sagged upon hearing this, but did keep in mind that my brother had never actually attended any celebrity football camps, let alone any football camps, and he did have a penchant for talking out his ass.

I flew down to blisteringly hot Texas from comfortably dryheat Montana and was nervous as hell.  Groundbound and slow, I was an offensive lineman by default since I was too slow to do anything else and could, at best, be asked to get in the way so that the fast kids could score touchdowns.  When I got to the camp, I was kind of expecting mom to hang with me, introduce me around and then after I’d settled in and made friends with everyone, she could slip out quietly.  Sadly, she had to work.  And not just “clock in, clock out” either, at the time she was instrumental in the budding organ donation industry and was sometimes flying to Denver, Chicago and Portland in the middle of the night with a cooler full of lungs and kidneys.  It’s not like she could just call in sick.

In the barely dawn the day the camp opened, I sat outside the locked gates to the Dallas Cowboys Practice Facility with a kid named “Phil” who looked like both his parents were Soviet-bloc Olympic Powerlifters and he was relegated to shorts fulltime because no pant in the world would fit his thigh.  The humidity gave the morning that cold/hot feel, which to a nervous and dorky Montana kid is really quite gross, and I contemplated sneaking out of there and going across the road to the shopping mall to spend the day at the video arcade.  About the time that I was formulating a story for Phil about how I was at the wrong camp and was really there to brush up on my Galaga skills a truck came rolling up and out jumped exactly what you’d expect, a nerdy looking skinny white guy with a polo shirt, a whistle around his neck, a clipboard and high-wasted shorts perched above his knobby knees that revealed more than his Presbyterian wife probably knew on their wedding night.

After that, it didn’t take long for the other 40-odd kids to come rolling up, piling out of Cadillacs and luxury sedans with windows tinted so dark I half expected Arab Shieks to come piling out, ready for their gridiron tutelage.  We’d barely begun our signins, checking our names off a list and making sure we’d paid the ungodly amount of money they were asking before setting us off to one side where we were told to group up according to position.  I never asked how my struggling mother came up with the fees for that camp, but I did notice a red star penned next to her name on their list that was also next to the names of the only two black kids that were at the camp, both of whom were wearing other football camp T-shirts that mentioned something about “inner city youth camps” or something similar.

Hardluck case or not, I was there, and when I realised that there were only 2 pasty-white fat kids in the “lineman” group and about eleven thousand in the “running backs/linebackers” group, I took my chances and promoted myself to “linebacker”.  I knew that I could run about as fast backward as I could forward, but what I didn’t have to mention to them was that both were probably outpaced by a lethargic and pregnant cripple.  I just wanted to have someone to talk to, and was prepared to explain the intricacies of my elaborate ankle injury that I was sure to get sometime around the time that we were doing timed sprints or any drill that singled out the slow dorks.

About the time that we were split into our groups and got out onto the field for our “chalk talk” the man himself showed up.  Herschel Walker looked to me like the kind of human that scientists study when they want to look at muscles without all that bothersome fat in the way.  He walked in and among us during his chat about his High School, College and Pro careers and with every emphatic gesture with the football he was holding, I was fascinated by the way the knots and bulges on his forearms all teamed up together to help him tell me that I should follow my dreams and that yes, I really was good enough.  He told us about the 3,500 situps he does every day and how he barely goes in a weightroom, preferring instead to do more natural exercises and running.

I was glowing and instantly excused myself from all weight training sessions for my high school career while also worked on the speech I’d give my brother on how fit I was getting avoiding those troublesome weights.  Thinking of my brother though, reminded me that this pinnacle of football talent was sure to make his escape soon, and when he broke us out into groups and we started doing some stretching, I knew it was goodbye.

Instead it was just a lot of grunting, as even the dorky white dudes with clipboards bagged out of the abdominal workout that Mr. College Football put us through.  Herschel cheerfully explained that holding your legs a few inches off the ground for what felt like days was a great way to warm up, and I took it as implied that vomiting now meant you were lighter and faster when the drills started.  I looked around me at what should’ve been rich white boys, soft from a life of leisure, and instead saw rich white boys (and two underprivileged black kids) whose bodies were all hardened by a life of physical activity.  Even the fat ones had a healthy frame underneath the lard and I was once again pretty sure that I was the most unfit kid at that camp.

Knowing it was unlikely they’d yell at me, though I hadn’t ruled out them contacting my football coaches in Montana and telling them to work me extra hard for my laziness, I took it a bit easy when I realised the eggs and toast mom had stuffed me with were coming up the back of my nose.  It was barely an hour in and I lay on the soft Astroturf while the sun slowly cooked off the humidity and prayed for a quiet death.  Then, just like that, it was over, and I prepared myself again to bid a fond adieu to the camp’s namesake.

But he stayed, and we ran, and we ran, and we ran.  The vomit feeling passed and I felt a huge swell of relief that the laps we were circling were really quite small, so when I got lapped repeatedly almost no one noticed, and when all the other highly competitive boys who were galloping along and finished in a mad sprint, I joined them.  After we all crossed the finish line in an elongated group and stood there panting and heaving I felt about as good as you could for a guy who just got his ass kicked by everybody in the sprint, and also still had 2 laps to go.  Herschel, who had jumped in and lead the sprint, smiled at me proudly and the purity of it told me it wasn’t for my clever cheating.  I looked around again, waiting for him to get “the signal” or something to alert him that he’d spent more time with us than he was contractually obligated to do.

He stayed though, and ate lunch with us, sharing stories of High School football glory with some of the other boys, namely Phil and the two black kids whose names I forget but am sure were announced during televised broadcasts at some point.  The majority of the stories came from the boys too, and I tried to listen for the polite mentions of the time that their father had saved ol’ Herschel in ‘Nam or in vascular surgery, but it appeared that he had actually never met the boys before.  I remembered the starred names on the list and figured that it was a secret sign for Herschel to be extra nice.  Clearly I was missing my chance and he’d forgotten to be extra nice to me too, so I tried in vain to squeeze my way onto the table with the rest of them.  No dice, but when we broke lunch to go back out for our afternoon session I did manage to walk next to him on the way out.

“Hey Herschel!” I dorked at him, “you’ve got a place of honour in my family you know!”  I was extremely pleased with myself for how I’d worded it, it came out perfectly.

He paused and smiled contentedly with me, “Yeah?  Howzat?”

“My dog’s name is ‘Herschel'” I announced proudly, grinning from ear to ear.

His face dropped.  “A dog?” he crinkled his eyebrows at me, “No kids?”

“Well my parents… are ah… divorced and… I uh…” I idioted at him.

“I’m just messin’ wit’ ya!” he giggled.  His smile lit back up and his eyes twinkled at me while he tousled my hair.

My face felt hot and my voice had felt amplified across the entire group of boys.  I was quite sure a bigger dickhead had never graced the floors of the Dallas Cowboys Practice Facility in Irving, Texas since it’s inception, and no doubt one never would.  The vomit feeling was now back and we hadn’t even done any drills.  As we took the field and broke back out into our groups I realised with a crestfall that would never be able to cheat my way through ALL the drills, and I may as well wear my Giant Dorkus Malorkus title resignedly.

Herschel then broke from his usual position of running back and put us through some linebacker drills, holding blocking dummies for us to bash into and then run around, and even doing some of the drills with us when there were uneven numbers.  By the time the day ended and mom came to pick me up, I could actually still smell his sweat in my nostrils and was prepared to describe it to my naysaying older brother.

The following days at camp were much the same and as we neared towards the latter end of camp there were many titterings of the upcoming excitement.  On Thursday, we were going to meet some actual Dallas Cowboys!  I tried to act as excited as everyone else, but honestly didn’t think it got any better than their star running back and kick returner who was running, eating and sweating with us all week.  We got a nice break from our usual physical punishment during the morning for a magical and wondrous visit from… Steve Pelluer!

That’s right, Steve Pelleur!  Right here at the Herschel Walker Football Camp!  Wow!  Steve Pelleur!

“Who the hell is ‘Steve Pelleur’?” was clearly NOT the appropriate response, I said nothing and did my best to pretend to be as excited as everybody else.

In fact, I was actually a bit annoyed at the rest of the boys for making such a fuss over a dude with a last name that was so hard to remember how to spell when they had the nicest, most down-to-earth athletic superstar training with them every damn day.  I decided then and there that, star quarterback or not, I wasn’t going to like this Steve Ploor.  I was going to remain loyal to Herschel.  In fact, when I got my chance to get something signed from the glorious Steve Puhlyoor, I chose instead to hang out at the other end of the table and tell Herschel the story about my puppy scrambling madly toward the television while his namesake made an incredible run for the New Jersey Generals.

Ol’ Herschel liked that story and I think he was glad he didn’t ask again why we hadn’t named any kids after him.  He did get a bit confused as to my lack of explanation as to why the puppy was running toward the television, ribbing me good-naturedly, “I didn’t think dog’s eyes could see television screens?”  As I nearly buried the needle on the Dorkometer and attempted to explain that the puppy’s food bowl was near the TV stand, I was graciously interrupted by the announcement that it was Picture Time.  For only the second time in the entire camp, I deliberately and uncharacteristically defied the rules and lined up on the opposite side of where I was supposed to, so that I could stand by my friend Herschel and NOT Steve Pahhlure.

The day wound down and it was the Cattle Call for parents began, with Herschel being approached by a loud and brash 3-piece suited Texan, proudly driving a Cadillac that sadly didn’t have bullhorns mounted on the front.  Herschel graciously thanked the man for saying hello and laid genuine compliments on his boy, who turned out to be Phil, for his speed.  I knew the compliments were genuine as Phil was the only boy to not only beat the two black kids in the sprints, but also catch Herschel during a rousing game of “Smear the Queer” where we got points for even laying a finger on the Pro Bowl Running Back while he evaded us all over the practice field.

Thankfully, no one pointed out the derogatory name of the game, and I’ll never forget Herschel’s face as he gleefully avoided our stumbling chubby hands only to say “JEEZUS!” when Phil came out of nowhere and knocked the ball loose.  Playing against kids or not, Pro-Bowl Philanthropist or not, Herschel put a little extra foot on the accelerator after that, and gave Phil a hairy eyeball the rest of the drill, asking him while they walked off the field, “You SURE you’re only 14?”

The parents came and went, and the football stars glad-handed and then showered while I wandered out the closing gates and waited in the parking lot for my mom’s red Nissan truck to appear down the distant road off the highway that led only to the practice facility.  After enough cars left that I knew I was looking rather pathetic, I wandered over to the administration building and sat on the curb in the shade.

Pathetic or not, I still had to keep an eye out and wait for mom.  Car after car left until there were only 2 or 3 there.  Slowly trickling out, the dorky coaches in their too-tight shorts and clipboards wandered out and climbed into their air-conditioned oases.  Hope and despair weren’t heavy on me, but I admit I wasn’t sure how to feel when the last vehicle started up and started driving out of the far side of the parking lot.  Built to hold thousands of vehicles, the parking lot and accompanying drive here huge, and as the little black and red blazer pulled up onto the road I couldn’t even see the driver.

He saw me though, and just as the engine whined to pick up steam on approach to the highway, the brake lights shone and the truck slowed, pulling at the last second into the far end of the parking lot and then cruising across the empty expanse toward the admin building.  Not even wanting to think in terms of desperation, I told myself that it was just somebody that forgot something off their clipboard, or worse even, their entire clipboard, though I was incredibly thankful of the chance to have someone to at least talk to.

The modest little truck pulled up right in front of me and the window came down and a glowing smile I’d come to know quite well came peeking out.  Herschel glanced around and asked cautiously, “You alright?  You got somebody comin’ to pick you up?”

Mercifully, I stayed on the lower end of the Dorkometer and explained that my mom usually came and got me, but she was in Organ Donation and I never really knew when she would have to fly out with somebody’s guts in a cooler.  He fished around in his console for a minute and came up with a quarter, then paused and fished out another one, “Just in case.”  He flashed another smile that I took to mean he was then departing and I wandered inside to find the pay phone.  The darkened office hallways were quite foreboding, but I was pretty sure that I could see a phone symbol through the darkness and if there were indeed monsters waiting to eat me, I’d at least die happy knowing that my new hero had given me a couple of his hard-earned quarters.

I paused, pondering going to the toilet, possibly for no other reason than it was the only room with a light on and I wanted to feel it’s comforting glow before wandering into the bowels of the dark building, and then I heard his higher-pitched-than-you’d-think voice coming down from the foyer, “Hallooooooo…”

“Over here,” I called back, wanting him to know I was okay and that, thus far, there didn’t seem to be any monsters.

He came wandering down and told me in a quiet voice that made me think he might’ve been worried about Dark Monsters too, “Just wanted to make sure you remembered the number and got through and all.”  I could tell that he didn’t want to be interfering with familial matters and certainly didn’t want to pry about why my mother had abandoned me, but was also not terribly impressed with me being left high and dry for over an hour.

“Would your mom send somebody to get you, or would you need a ride somewhere?” he asked quietly.

My heart about leapt out of my chest, and I was about to fake an entire phone call where mysteriously the entire department of the Southwest Organ Recovery team was on an emergency when we heard another lighter-pitched voice from the foyer, “Hallooooo…”

“Mom!” I yelled excitedly, my little heart not remembering that now this meant no car ride with my hero but possibly now knowing that I could show him to her like some sort of dog that followed me home.

I came running out of the darkness and hugged her while she apologised profusely and started to explain that, yes actually, she was on a call and was going to get Cyndi to come and get me but then Cyndi took a call and so on, when out of the darkness stepped an incredibly large and muscled black dude.  Mom didn’t make any pant-shitting noises, but I bet she was close.

That 1000-watt smile lit up the hallway when he held his hand out, obviously pleased and relieved that I wasn’t bereft of a parent who cared.  “Hi,” he said pleasantly, “I’m Herschel.”

Mom looked down wide-eyed at his extended hand before blinking and taking it, “Hi!” she dorked at him, “I’m… I’m… Judd’s MOM!”

“Pleasure to meet you,” he said softly, “we were just about to call you.”

“Oh…” it began to dawn on her that this walking Legend of Sports was judging her for leaving her child alone in the blazing Texas heat.  “Well I had a call… and Cyndi…” she began.

His smile interrupted her stuttering and he said, “It’s okay, he told me.  I’m just glad you made it.”

Walking abreast, we pushed open the doors to the foyer and went back out into the heat like 3 new friends about to embark on a new adventure.

My mom’s shiny red truck was purring next to his purring black and red blazer and he asked, “So, organ donation huh?”

Mom blinked, starstruck, and then slipped into a more professional mode with “Uhhhhhhh… yeah!”

He smiled at me and then tousled my hair before mom came back with the Dorkometer still turned up, “Herschel!  Are you a donor?”

His head tipped back in a laugh and he pulled his wallet from those impossibly tiny pockets in workout shorts, showing her his Texas Driver’s License and the box that was indeed ticked as “Organ Donor”.  Mom smiled and nodded her head dorkally and said with a non-asked-for approval, “Oh good!”

He drove off while I told mom about waiting and waiting and how he was the last car and had driven back in and he’d given me a quarter and then came in after me when she’d showed up.  We ambled down the highway while the both of us sat and glowed, and after a bit mom said with growing defiance and complete righteousness, “You know… there are some people in the office that think he’s not worth the money or that he might be just another overpaid sports star, but I’ll never hear a word against that man again!”

My Belushi Foot

The following was written 17-09-2007.

Living on the side of a hill meant that there was a vast array of possibilities of gravitational fun.  Ours was the only house at the end of the lane and our gravel driveway turned to asphalt about a third of the way down.  Summer and the dry weather really only meant that you could push your bike up to the top, near my house, and then coast into town going somewhere near light speed.  Accidents were frequent and my adolescent instinct was finely tuned to the point of precognition when I saw some random kid perched tentatively at the top of my driveway.  Though I’ve never had even a remote urge to follow the path of my physician father, by the time I was 13 I’d patched up many a skinned knee with peroxide and a bandaid.

While the riding of supersonic bikes was about all that dry roads had to offer, winter was whole other story completely.  It may have really only been sledding, but you could do it almost anywhere on that hill, the driveway was just the easiest and most accessible.  On any given day off from school our driveway and the entire length of the lane were both dotted with children, wrapped up tightly in their assorted garments, slogging their little legs slowly up the hill, their sleds in tow behind them.  Occasionally there would be a younger sibling riding in tow, but that would usually mean either a much older sibling or a parent pulling.  It was a pretty steep hill.

The very distinctive whine of my father’s choice of car, the Saab, could be heard for about a block before he would launch himself up our driveway in an attempt to overcome the snowy iciness layering the road.  After his clinic hours on a Saturday morning, the car whine would also be accompanied with the equally whiny and ineffectual honking of his horn in a futile attempt to scatter children off of their slope of pure slippery fun.  The older ones would lackadaisically meander to one side of the road or the other, thinking that they’d provided just enough room between themselves and the far side of the road, not knowing that another kid behind them had done the same only to the other side.  This zigzag pattern of bodies would only allow passage of a vehicle if all the little human pylons didn’t mind getting smacked in the back of the head with the rear-view mirrors as the Saab swished by.  Something that I always wished my father would do, and though I knew in some rational part of my mind wasn’t safe the idea always made me smile.

Our neighbours at the bottom of the lane, like most of the population of my hometown at that point, were Palaeolithically old, and didn’t get out much.  They were more than eager to help The Doctor out by letting him park in their driveway so that he could trudge his way irritatedly up the 100 yards of hill through the snow, past the slack-jawed thrill seekers who seemed to have absolutely no idea as to the part they played in the situation.

It was on one of these Saturdays that I had woken up and made to retrieve some cereal while peripherally listening to my dad and my brother discuss the details of the death of John Belushi.  I remember that I thought they were kidding, or simply relating a comedic routine to each other, waiting for the funniness to wear out before going back to normal.  Belushi was famous for taking seemingly boring and innocuous situations and making them retardedly funny, I was sure that they were talking about one of these now.

Death isn’t that funny though, I remember thinking, and I wondered why anyone would take the joke this far, even Belushi.  The hard plastic of a rear view mirror casing slapping a knitted wool covered head is much funnier than what could, and probably would happen, if such a thing were attempted.  One of my favourite funnymen doing drugs until he died was as funny to me as my dad running down some hapless sledder.  I didn’t get it.

My brother wasn’t ever one for fun with the rest of us, and stayed in the house doing his own thing while I ventured outside for the morning.  For some reason I don’t clearly remember there weren’t many having at the hill that morning.  The haziness of the sky and the cold were probably to blame, but I enjoyed the solitude and simply put a thicker hat on before wandering around on the lesser-used slopes of the surrounding parts of the hill.  Yucca plants and their long spiny leaves frequently ruined a nice and straight run, much like the zigzagged yardapes on our snowy driveway, making it increasingly obvious to me why these parts were lesser-used.

While wandering around the slopes nearest my house I heard some familiar voices and I was pleasantly surprised to be graced with the presence of the Putnam boys, the second-youngest being of “Best Friend” status during our Kindergarten and First Grade years.  As I was in the middle of my second round of First Grade, our friendship had consequently ended.  He and his brothers would forever be that family of “cool kids” that seem to live in stereotypically sports-themed brand-name homes in every G-rated movie and Teen sitcom.  As much as I was anxious of their high opinion and favour, I feared them and would never learn to trust them.

They had probably set out from their home on the far side of town for my particular hill for no other reason than adventure, as they had a few moderate runs from the road embankment at the top of their property and some gigantic slopes on the hills that formed the other wall of our valley.  I was flattered, I suppose, and ever being eager to please invited them onto the slopes around our house.  My hopes of further enticing that spirit of adventure were realised when we had soon not only created a well-formed and quite slippery rut, but also a jump.

The jump wasn’t that impressive at first, as it was only formed as a result of snow being pushed down in the first few passes on the run, but our idea was indeed grand.  Soon we were scooping with anything available, including the sled, and mounding the snow as high as we possibly could.  Simple physics and matters of trajectory are concepts that fall quickly by the wayside in the quest for adventure and the lust for youthful adrenaline, and our jump began to resemble an igloo instead of anything that Evel Knievel would shoot off of.

This may have occurred to at least the two older Putnam boys, and therefore influenced their suggestion that the jump’s maiden launch be attempted by someone other than any of them, including the youngest and foolhardiest.  Running in theme with the rest of my childhood, they singled me out.  I was honoured.  My chest was so puffed up that I felt like I’d shoved a pillow up into my jacket, and I could barely feel my feet as I floated up the hill alongside the greatest ride I was sure to ever have.

The irrigation ditch was empty, because it was Winter, and the back part of old Mrs. Hammond’s circular driveway was as well.  The front part of her driveway was as well, she didn’t get out much at all.  Her back garden shed and it’s accompanying cement stoop were unoccupied and unused in the Winter months, and this entire area was our planned landing strip for our airborne feats.

The ride was great, but only because of the anticipation, which was as short-lived as the ride.  The blast of cold winter air cut across my cheeks just enough to keep the heat from adrenaline and excitement from making me sweat.  Even though I knew I wasn’t flying, yet, I was so close to it that it was easy to believe I was.

The impact of the sled slamming into the base of the jump made me grunt, and for a brief second I wondered why I didn’t explode through it like they would on the “Dukes of Hazzard” or similar high-flying stunt TV show.  I don’t really remember anything about my flight through the air other than the sick feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when the roller coaster goes over a sudden drop.  That sick feeling doubled in intensity for me when I realised that I was experiencing it because of the overly vertical nature of my trip.

If measured, I probably would have covered about 15 feet in total distance from the top of the jump to the ground.  Unfortunately, only about 4 of this was along the ground.  The rest was all done in the air, almost straight up-and-down.  I knew that landing would hurt, so I was prepared, but when I tried to get up quickly in proof of my bravery and fearlessness I didn’t expect my body to hurt so specifically.  I fell down with a cry of pain.

The Putnams had quickly clambered down to first and foremost see how my ride went, and secondly to check for any injury.  I said very emphatically that the problem was my right foot and the middle boy, my former best friend, braced me against his body and told me cautiously that I should try to walk on it.  I stood up and electrified shards of glass shot through my leg.  I sat quickly back down.  The air got suddenly serious, and even the oldest and most capable of the Putnam boys looked worried.  His face changed back to resolute, and he told the youngest to come with him to go get help from my house, either my dad or my brother, it didn’t matter.  I remember telling them that they had to get my dad.  I knew whatever was wrong was serious, and I was still at that age where there wasn’t anything my dad couldn’t answer or fix.

Left alone with my former best friend and I was comforted, secure in the knowledge that I would be alright, and whatever was wrong with my foot would be quickly righted.  The ground that had felt cold and hard, almost unforgiving, when I first landed on it, now felt like it had a giant felt blanket laying across the landscape.  Time passed quickly until my father got there.  I’d heard he and the oldest Putnam discussing what had happened and was perplexed as to why he hoisted me on his back and asked me as well.  Even though I was in pain and not of the clearest of minds, I knew that he wasn’t really asking me a question but expressing exasperation.

His flannel shirt felt cool against my cheek, as if it had been flash-cooled in the contrasting temperatures of our warm kitchen and the wintery outdoors.  I knew he was a small man by comparison to other dads, but the muscles of his back and arms seemed so strong to be carrying me so effortlessly up the driveway.  The encouraging and friendly looks on the Putnam’s faces faded as my father continued to express his frustrated bewilderment at how I could do “something so stupid.”  The youngest Putnam’s eyes looked confused as to how I was in the most trouble when I was the one in the most pain.  I buried my face in-between my father’s shoulder blades in shame.  I stopped crying.

I stopped listening too, though I heard the word “stupid” repeated several times.  Dad parked me on the examining table in the clinic we had in the corner of our basement and the Putnams disappeared.  My brother came out of his room in the other half of the basement and lent his cooler head to the situation.  Dad had settled down and was busy arranging his gear for examination and diagnosis while David did his best to calmly and smoothly distract me with his charm and song lyrics from a Bob Seger song, “Piss on the Wall”.

In light of my father’s disapproval and apathy, my brother’s concern for me and ensuing efforts made me feel something inside, and I started crying again.  Although I was the one seeking, or at least seemingly deserving, of pity during that moment, I found that I was pitying my brother.  For all his confidence and charm, all of his smooth talk and naughty lyrics, he didn’t know the score, and I felt sorry that he was there giving me sympathy and care when I was in so much trouble.  I felt bad about how foolish he’d feel when he found out that he was offering kindness to such an evildoer.

A self-indulgent part of me was enjoying the attention that I so rarely received and therefore made the decision not to clarify the situation for my brother.  I decided to ride it out and see how long my brother could keep being nice to me.  A short car ride to my dad’s office, some quick x-rays later, and my foot was stockinged and bandaged with a plaster cast.  We made our way back home and before the plaster was even fully dry my brother proudly volunteered to be the first to sign my cast.  He made a very big deal out of the ceremony and custom of signing someone’s cast.  He not only wrote his nickname, “Mouse” across the middle front, but also drew a little crooked picture of a mouse’s face, both of which smudging slightly in the wet plaster.

Over the following weeks, I made sure to keep a few inches clear around the Mouse, on even the off-chance that someone else’s signature ink may run into it.  Most eased this fear by using crayon and my return to school didn’t necessarily bring about a bustling crowd all struggling to sign my leg.  As with any kid, I enjoyed the attention being given to me with my crutches and allowances being made, though I would have traded it all in a heartbeat to not have to sit in the lodge at the bottom of the mountain while all the other kids got to go skiing.

By the time the snow had cleared a bit and I was free to run around with a bare cast and my toes poking out the end, the end of my cast had started to crack and fatigue to the point of ineffectiveness anyway.  I started treating it more and more like an itchy, uncomfortable shoe and put the thought forward that if I was okay enough to jump off of the top of the monkey bars at school, I should probably request that my father remove my cast.

I kept it for years though I have no idea what eventually happened to it.  I would occasionally put it on my little foot, showing disbelief and surprise when it finally no longer fit.  Regardless, I would remember the discomfort and feel grateful that it was off of my foot while tracing my fingers over the crayon signatures from the kids learning cursive.  The date, March 5, 1982, was indelibly marked in my mind because it was shared with Belushi’s death and was carefully written in black felt pen at the top of the ankle.

The cast lasted years, and the ink on the plaster hadn’t ever smudged, nor had the crayon cursives, and even the infamous date.  The only smudge on the entire cast was the most important part, slightly crooked and drawn on before the plaster was even dry.

With me, flying is really just a controlled fall.

Woke up way too early this morning, but lovely wife kept monkeys quiet as I went back to bed and slept until almost 9.  This is what happened after I curled back up under our huge blankies.

*************

As frequently happens, I was playing with a plane, a model of a P-40 Warhawk, that started as a toy and eventually became an actual way for me to fly.  It remained in my hands, but I somehow knew that it was the source of my flying abilities as I soared high above the clouds

I could feel the wind whipping past my ears as I looked up and realised that I’d put an extra fuselage on the top of the plane.

“WHOOPS, good thing it still works…” I thought, before reaching out and smudging a few different clouds into the horizon with my thumb, “they look a bit like storm clouds but they’re not, so I’ll just blend them into the bottom so that the people down below don’t get worried.”

As at least a small measure of reality started to dawn on me, I figured out that “flying” was most likely a form of extended free-fall, and I tried to affect my path to the ground accordingly.

It was very cloudy, but I spotted a helmeted figure flailing his legs and thought, “Hey cool!  Another skydiver!” until I saw that his descent into the cloud bank was significantly slower than mine and that he was in fact tethered to the helicopter above him.

Two things occurred to me at this point:

  1. The Navy must be out doing manoeuvres.
  2. I must be very, very close to the ground.

I flattened myself out to send myself into a “coast” and though I knew it would affect my landing I also knew that I wouldn’t have time to get my parachute out otherwise.  I cleared the cloud bank enough to see that I was over the ocean and there were Navy helicopters all over the place.

Hoping I was staying out of their way, I pulled the ripcord on my stomach and landed near a garbage scow that was being used by several ocean-going Ford F-150s.

Hoping to stay out of their way too, I swam to near where the trucks were pulling up and dumping their trailers and simply grabbed onto the back bumper a creme-coloured truck pulled away from the scow.  Just like we used to hookybob when I was a kid, I calmly held my toy airplane in one hand as I was dragged through the water by this pickup truck that was somehow able to float and move about in the ocean.

As it pulled up to a floating resort-type ship with a huge port, I figured this was as good a place as any to try and find my way back to wherever it was that I was meant to land and did my best to blend in with the tourists.

Life Dream

It was a Sunday afternoon and I’d found it the rare occasion that I wanted a nap. The baby was sleeping and Wife was happily occupied, so I climbed into bed and turned the TV on to a Disney movie where Bruce Willis was visited by his childhood self. It was cute and comfortable in that Disney way, and I was soon dozing enough to want the television off.

I awoke on my side and my first thought as I looked up at the pine headboard was of severe disappointment that my dream wasn’t real. While my life is by no means painful, the realisation that I was still in this life and not in my dream wasn’t pleasant. Instead of feeling depressed or terribly bothered by this, I decided to simply revel in the thoughts and feelings that my dream had given me.

In reality, this particular Sunday afternoon was one in which we were to make that long drive North to retrieve our children from their fortnightly visitations with their less-than-noteworthy biological component and his reprehensible parents. In my dream, this was the same, only the place that we were departing from was very different. Quite simply, it was the home of our dreams. Not just the home of our dreams, but the Life of our dreams as well.

We’d pulled out of a winding dirt driveway from someplace nestled in the hills and had come down the main roads towards the city and our destination just North of it. I was driving a taller vehicle than our meagre Falcon, it felt like a Jeep Grand Cherokee or Nissan Patrol, and I had my hat on. I love my hat, as it never fails to symbolise freedom and the dream of being independently wealthy, and I was happy in my “truck” with my wife and youngest child. Even the typically stressful trip to get the kids was made quite pleasant in this context, like an average Sunday drive to town.

The sun was shining at an angle behind me and I could almost feel the warmth that it laid across the door frame and onto the dash. Certain corners brought the sunshine onto me and across the wide brim of my hat, and it felt so comfortably reassuring that I could’ve been fooled into thinking that it would never be cloudy again.

This Life, this Dream Life, is not so unattainable for us. I’ve always lived my life with the knowledge that if you want something enough, if you work for it enough, then it is always within your grasp. This Life is no different, and is within our grasp, despite the ever-present depressing crush of bills and ever-mounting debt.

“Eyes on the Prize” has been something that I’d always found too clichéd or trite to actually use in my common language, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t extremely applicable to the life I’m leading now. I’ve come to learn that thinking and dreaming of something better doesn’t actually add to the depressing awareness of where we are at now, but instead fuels the drive and ambition that it will take to actually get to that better life. I believe that, I’ve always believed that, I just get distracted sometimes and forget.

I spent the rest of the day enjoying this feeling, and was acutely aware of my calm and relaxed demeanour in a way that is pleased that it is here, but is sad in the knowledge that I’m not always this way and that, like my dream, it too will fade away and leave something less attractive behind. Like a base emotion or way of being, my stress and depression at the current state of affairs seems to be the most prevalent, and I am constantly feeling both the need to apologise for being this way and the pressure to not let things get to me the way they do.

That night, after the kids were in bed and the house was winding down, I went outside for a smoke. Even though I had taken off my hat upon returning home, I could still feel it just as strongly as the alternate reality of my dream. I looked up at the stars, winking with a dull glow in the cooling air, and could feel their true shine hidden just past the light pollution of the metropolis I was standing in the middle of. I closed my eyes and let my brain pull that shine through me, allowing the “real” nature of my feelings wind its way through my senses and consciousness. I found myself tuning out the steady blurps and roars of nearby traffic, hearing only the wind on the leaves through the trees and connecting with the movement of nature in such a way that I could tell what season it was and what the weather would be like in the next few days simply by the feeling of that breeze.

This dream, those stars, and that breeze are all things that are “real” in this life, they are what truly speak to my soul, giving me the allowance, the freedom, to actually feel like myself. That grumpy, stressed out, poverty-stricken person isn’t the “real” me any more than that muted and struggling starshine is “real” or that breeze through the trees that carries sirens and V8 engine revvings is the “real” one.

This Life, with its bills and debt, with its not-enough-coming-in vs. too-much-going-out, with its deadlines and hustle and bustle, with its moving and shaking, isn’t “real” to me. Sitting in traffic and watching others zoom in and out of cars, hurrying their way along to whatever destination surely doesn’t need them there so quickly, a question repeatedly grips my brain, “Isn’t there a better way?”

Sadly, this question is answered all too frequently by my own lack of acknowledgement of it. I get bogged down with the best of ‘em it seems, and can only find my head and dislodge it from my ass rarely and with only enough energy and force to get feelings like these documented during a rare moment of “downtime” before I get caught up in it all once again.

What’s the trick then? How does one go about their daily life, fraught with the fragility of money and its importance, and find the willpower to not be affected by it all?

I suppose this question can be answered quite simply, as most difficult questions can, with the idea that if one is doing what they are passionate about, something that truly brings them joy and fulfilment, then they need never worry about being “bogged down” in things as those things can never, will never, outweigh the good that they get from their passionate pursuits. Hence the importance of hobbies, I suppose, though in writing that I have realised, perhaps for the first time, that hobbies are all that I really want to do.

Finding a “hobby” that actually keeps the bills paid turns it into a “job” and has the potential of becoming one of those things that isn’t “real” in context of the rest of one’s life. I suppose there’s the potential of doing something that starts as a hobby that becomes something that pays the bills so well, and comes so naturally and without effort, that one can truly find the joy and passion in it despite it’s importance to one’s lifestyle.

I am a writer. I’m reasonably good at it and I enjoy doing it. It was never felt like a “job”. If I could find a way of turning that into such a substantial income that my own psyche would finally lay off its stressful distractions, then I believe that I would consider myself truly happy. I’m willing to work towards this and I believe that it can happen.

I just have no idea how.

There’s the rub, isn’t it? Isn’t that always the way?

I’m going to write a book, and just get it done. Not in an effort to get that albatross from off my neck, nor in an effort to chase that ever-elusive Life Happiness, but to simply be doing something I love, something I am passionate about.

If I can do this, if I can buckle down and commit myself to this, then who knows what will happen? Worst-case scenario is that I’ll have spent some of my time pursuing pleasure from a hobby, and the best-case… well who’s to say how far that can go?

Wish me luck.

Anzac Day

I get reminded as we walk out the front door that the children have been requested to bring flowers of some sort for the services this morning. Her brother is staying home because of a tummy ache, something that I worried may have been a figment of an overactive imagination until he mentioned cramping and attempted to throw up, and until his teacher informed me that she’d sent 2 home already after they’d yakked at school, bringing the tally of gastro-kids to 6.

We’re already running late, I’ve got to scare up some flowers and my cowboy boots aren’t the best for walking fast, so all signs are pointing to just taking the car the environmentally-Unfriendly 4 blocks to school.

It’s just such a beautiful day though, and I tell her to get her helmet and scooter out while I find the loppers to procure the only full blossom on the rosebushes out front. It’s above my reach, and once its branch has been snipped it tumbles down towards certain doom before settling perfectly on the thorny crook of neighbouring branches. I take this as a sign, pick it up and head out.

At school I pass by the Parent Room, a flurry of activity that doesn’t really register with me, and walk across the campus to the furthest building where Piehead is in Pre-Primary. Being late, we have to hurry kisses and “be good”s while she grabs a patch of carpet and lines up with the rest of her class to head to the assembly. Peggy Jean Patty Sue Mum Of Year gestures at the giant blossom in my hand and adds it to the armload she’s already got. “I’m the Flower Girl this morning!” she announces happily, and I notice that her sense of humour has actually developed a bit since becoming pregnant with what promises to be yet another perfectly balanced progeny.

As I walk back up towards the assembly I notice Peggy taking my flower into the Parent Room, where the earlier activity was making “flower circles” as the kids had mentioned. Realising they meant “wreaths”, I felt a bit stupid for not just dropping it off on our way by, and saving them from last-second scrambles. I get seated in the last 2 rows of chairs on the East side, all of which are empty. The air is chill and I’m re-thinking my earlier t-shirt choice as I notice that the man directly across the street has chosen the exact moment of the assembly to crank up his lawnmower. Thankfully, the fact that it sounds as if it’s running on gravel instead of petrol makes him stop to check it out, instead of making this the worst Anzac Day services in history.

The kids hit “Play” on the CD Player on cue, and deliver their scripted lines about “The Last Post” and other such songs after they’ve played. They read out the appropriate lines, raise and lower the flag appropriately while the somber-faced old gentlemen in suits with medals and ribbons plastered to the breast nod and occasionally read some words that are nigh impossible to hear over the freshly cranked lawnmower.

As my oldest niece’s voice rises above the others in the children’s version of “One Last Parade”, two small kids walk up the aisle with a large wreath. I find serendipity in our tardiness and desperation of the morning as I notice with quiet pride that the largest and most perfectly placed blossom on the wreath is the huge red rose we’d so hastily gathered earlier.

The song they’re singing never fails to bring water to my eyes, regardless of how stoic I struggle to appear, and I once again question my fashion choice of the morning in forgetting my sunglasses. As we settle into a moment of silence, certain truths of the day reveal themselves to me.

Of these men, these soldiers, most of them don’t talk about the memories. Those that do, seem to only fondly recall going on leave, or stories from training, but not fighting. The fighting is something that they either never seem to recall or simply won’t talk about. Their reluctance to speak of their time in the service seems directly proportionate to the level of fighting they’ve seen.

Case in point, my father’s father served somewhere in the Pacific, seeing the enemy only once as a Japanese Zero wandered woundedly and crazily off-course from the Battle of Midway and flew over their ramshackle radio shed while they attempted to bring it down with a .45 pistol. He used to relate this story with some humour, embellishing nothing and pointing out that their efforts were the equivalent of trying to fell an elephant with river pebbles. His memories had no scarring and were unhindered by horror, unlike many of his friends and comrades.

My wife’s grandfather has never spoken of his time in the service, and the details of what branch he even served in are fuzzy and debated. I can only assume that he’s seen things no human ever should. “Haunted” is an undeniable understatement for these men, as I recall listening to my friend’s father, a veteran of Viet Nam, occasionally wake up screaming in the night. Other than his sleep-garbled words resembling someone “in the wire”, he patently refused to ever speak of the war.

I look up and look past the microphone stand to a sign. “Lest We Forget” is pasted in coloured-in letters, collaged together by bright-eyed young primary students. It’s meaning to them lightyears different than from the grizzled old bloke at the microphone, proudly donning his beret and thanking us for being there. When I look into his eyes I get the feeling that he is wishing that he would forget, if only he could.

We bring these two together, these the fresh, sweet and young and these the weathered, wise and experienced, so that none of them forget. While they are young, they are learning not to forget how to be thankful for the freedoms they have, for the lives that they enjoy so thoroughly under the roof of protection that too many have died to build. When they are older and becoming adults, they will learn not to forget that their lives are precious, perhaps too precious to be gambled with on a battlefield, or perhaps so precious that they will choose to give them willingly. They will continue to remember to be thankful for those that have done the same for they will more fully realise the repercussions of this choice.

When they are grown and maybe even have children of their own, they will not forget to be thankful for all they have, all that they have had the opportunity to build and grow on their own. They will not forget that they have led a life where they have never had a friend of theirs get blown to pieces in front of their very eyes. They will not forget that they have never had to take someone’s life simply to prevent theirs from being taken in situations devised and created by people in offices whose lives are not at risk. They will not forget that there are others, sometimes family, who have memories that they cannot forget, regardless of how much they wish they could.

When they remember, they will remember it all. They will even remember to be thankful for the old men’s memories, horrific as they are, for they are a lesson. The pain and even primal scarring they see shadowed in those old men’s eyes is just as important to remember as the freedoms afforded by their sacrifice.

This day really isn’t so that we remember to be thankful, for we really should remember to do that on our own. Every single day.

No. The real reason we remember all of this on this day, is to remember to never do it again.

Joliet Sorry.

It was one of those nights that had an undercurrent of energy so subtle you can never be quite sure if it was positive or negative. All you really know at the time is that you can feel it, and you don’t even really know that it will eventuate in anything, if anything is coming. You just know you feel… charged.

In High School, our source for alcohol was usually Zeke, the freckle-covered red-headed product of the White Trashiest family I knew, before I even knew about White Trash. Zeke worked at the IGA and despite his less-than-stellar IQ, knew how to wangle items that weren’t officially on the inventory books. On this particular night, this included a bottle of champagne and a case of beer that took crappy to the extreme.

Todd, myself, and a newish friend named Chris had decided to just cruise the backroads and consume this alcohol, knowing that we would undoubtedly park in a spot to be designated as “celebratory” and pop the champagne, and then use it for those purposes and not necessarily in getting us drunk. That, of course, was what the beer was for.

Chris was the grandson of an old woman in town whose name we all knew not only for it’s humour factor but for it’s infamy in the Old Schoolhouse Lore. While her first name was the same as Mickey Mouse’s girlfriend, her last name was the same as the bruise-style mark that young lovers leave on each other’s necks. You can imagine how much fun it was to even say. In fact, go for it. Go on, say it. See? Funny.

She’d retired just after most of our older siblings had received her dementia-addled tutelage, so we’d heard all about how crazy she was before she finally became a recluse in her rather nice home in the centre of town. For lack of proper parenting or the fact that he was just a sleazebag, Chris had come to our tiny town to finish out his High School years and do his best to stay out of trouble. Why his parent or guardian thought this would be done best with a batshit-crazy 78-year old woman I have yet to figure out. Regardless, his grandmother was about as grandmotherly as Chris was trustworthy, and she called him “slippery” whenever she got a chance.

If I think about it now, I suppose I was drawn to him because of his strong resemblance to my brother, another very “slippery” character. Maybe Chris was my chance to make up for my brother’s shortcomings and dishonesty by inflicting my better influences on him. An opportunity to show that somehow goodness and honesty will triumph over all. I was 17 and obviously a bit misguided, though to be perfectly honest, I don’t know how much has changed other than that I don’t openly mock old women anymore.

The 3 of us piled into Todd’s ’78 Jeep that night and set off in search of not only somewhere to discreetly drink ourselves into a stupor, but also to suitably celebrate something. Anything, really. We’d taken to habit of having no destination, with a fair bit of instinct thrown in, and headed up a quiet road connecting a neighbouring town with another called “Joliet”. Intelligently enough, we called it, “The Joliet Road”. Low on traffic and heavy with turnoffs and quiet, we eventually just pulled the Jeep over onto the shoulder and continued our drinking in earnest. The energy was at a bit of a lull at this point, but was strong enough for us to think that the best place for this little party of ours was in the middle of the road. Coincidentally enough “Joliet” Jake and Elwood Blues crooned from the stereo about being a “Soul Man” and the atmosphere was right.

This section of road was one of the few decently paved and painted parts, and actually felt quite modern to lay on and suck down awful-tasting beer. The night was cool, even for mid-Summer, and the view was spectacular. The night sky was bountiful with its stars and the crisp air gave them a shine that was almost unnatural. The energy was in them too, but completely positive in nature. For no other reason than we’d run out of beer and it needed opened, we popped the champagne to toast the stars.

Taking turns off the bottle meant that one had to deal with the inevitable blast of bubbles upon tipping the bottle up, so the actions had to be fairly quick. Todd was busy telling Chris a story very animatedly, and while I can’t remember the story I know it didn’t interest me more than the bitter bite of the bubbles and the magnificent constellation-filled sky. Either due to his drunkenness or his innate clumsiness (a debate that would rage well into our adulthoods) Todd inexplicably swung his arm around behind him in a wide arc, illustrating something in his story and hammering the bottom of the bottle with full force into my mouth.

Surprise more than pain was what made me exclaim, and I gently probed the fragmented bits of sharpness in my mouth while Todd barely skipped a beat in finishing his story to Chris. Mixed with something smooth and sharp was a powdery residue, the unpleasantness of such being enough to make me spit all of it onto the road. I swirled my tongue around in my mouth and discovered that my right front tooth had a lower quadrant broken off. Shock hit, in that way that you imagine it feels to a character in a movie about to get eaten by a Tyrannosaur, and I half-expected the world to stop until my tooth could get sorted out, or at least pause long enough for me to get over the sheer vanity of knowing that my smile was broken.

“You broke my fucking tooth man,” I said, trying to impede my speech as much as possible to enforce the gravity of the situation upon my devil-may-care of a friend. Chris lifted his eyebrows and gave the expected “Holy shit…” though the sincerity of this was lost in the fact that he was always superb at giving the expected response. Todd barely gave me a look and commented that this kind of thing must really suck. They both looked concerned enough, for a minute, and then that was it. Todd went back to a recap of his story before the two of them ambled up the closest hillside to take in the view and toast more things with the champagne.

I knelt onto the asphalt in an effort to salvage any of the larger pieces of my tooth, not knowing this makes almost no difference to modern dentistry, and became increasingly frustrated by the cavalier attitude of my friends as well as the fact that little white bits of enamel are impossible to find on a pebble-strewn asphalt road in the middle of the night. I climbed up the incline after them.

I repeated my earlier statement with as much of my frustration and anger I could express, putting my body well into Todd’s personal space. He laughed with a shrug, with as little care as one could imagine, and offered me the bottle with a comment about how I probably needed that more than him. Chris’s laughter only spurred Todd on as I first took a drink and then attempted to clue Todd in to the damage he’d caused. Knowing that I was fighting an uphill battle, I did my best to at least get him to do the bare minimum and apologise. He didn’t seem to understand what it was that I was expecting of him. Or worse, he did and wouldn’t give it up.

The wide expanse of the Montana plains spread out before us, the clusters of lights indicating the various towns neighbouring our own. We settled for a minute and pointed out the names of those towns, feeling the somewhat chilling wind through our denim jackets, and the energy pulsed suddenly as I asked Todd to say that he was sorry. I’d been waiting, patiently I thought, and wanted to hear it now. I demanded it.

His response dumbfounded me, as he looked at my like I was crazy before telling me that he wasn’t at all sorry. The energy spiked through he and I and the next thing I knew Todd and I were yelling at each other while Chris struggled to stay physically in between the two of us. Chris did his best to try and explain that Todd didn’t think he should have to say “Sorry” because he didn’t mean to break my tooth. I did my best to explain how that isn’t how it works, and the energy ebbed. I found myself labouring for validating feedback from Todd, recalcitrant as ever, or even from Chris, who simply wanted the situation over by me shutting up. I grew beyond frustrated.

The energy suddenly peaked as I backed a few feet away and began to lecture from the top of my lungs about how incredibly flawed that thinking was and how that wasn’t what “Sorry” meant at all. I felt strong and invincible as I screamingly explained that I would teach Todd all about having a broken tooth by doing it myself. My fist cocked and his defensive stance told me that he not only wasn’t sorry, but was more than willing to defend himself against what I perceived as justice. This only made me more inclined to teach his ass a lesson. Like a wild animal I began to take the first of a few measured steps before I planned to launch myself at him.

It was in this moment that the energy changed, and I don’t even really know how it did so drastically. Maybe the realisation of two best friends that they shouldn’t be fighting drunkenly over what equates to poor communication, maybe it was just the sheer power of that night, maybe it was the power and innocence of what came wandering towards us from out of the night.

We heard her well before we saw her, cagily walking back along a fenceline and whimpering at us. It was more than just the magic of an animal in need at such a highly charged moment, it was the logical notion that anything domesticated way out there in the wild had to have travelled a very long way and was probably much more than just lost. We discussed the possibility of abandonment as we cautiously approached her in our assumption that it was just a dog making those noises.

I saw the porcupine quills before I saw her face, as they shone in the night like neon whiskers, and instantly figured out the reason for her incessant whimpering. I was more concerned with getting her through the fence without catching any of the quills than of what Chris first noticed and then Todd voiced. “Holy shit, that’s a coyote” he’d stated with gravity. As I crouched and reached my hand to her, I hesitated for a brief second before I figured that this new information didn’t really mean that much to me. Especially given that the animal had sought us out, and not the reverse.

We got her through the fence and scooped her up, all thoughts of violence forgotten as we collectively moved with care with our new friend in our arms. We carefully trekked across the field and down the hill to the Jeep, discussing our next move and eventually deciding on venturing into the nearest town to the only thing open, the 24-hour truck stop.

The wind cut through the holes in my jean jacket and stung my ears as I quietly rode in the truckbed on the way into town. I spoke to her the entire time, soothing her with my words and ensuring her that the pliers on my Swiss Army Knife were more than capable of removing the multiple causes of her distress. By the time we got to the truckstop we were all suitably calm and focussed. We parked under one of the giant lights and Chris and Todd made their way to the back of the kitchen to hopefully find some scraps of food to calm her.

One of the night cooks happened to be outside on a smoke break and asked the boys what they were up to. As the Jeep was parked on the far end of the parking lot, the obvious reason for their request of food scraps wasn’t clearly visible. The cook went inside and a waitress eventually leaned out of the back door, looked upon the dirty and unkempt youths, and handed a well-presented take-out box full of a ground beef hash of some sort with an apologetic, “Sorry it couldn’t be more…”

Only after the coyote had begun happily scarfing down the food did it finally sink in that they obviously thought that Todd and Chris were begging for food for themselves, and not some imagined wounded animal they’d happened upon. As I held her in my lap and watched her eat, I had to admit that the dinner looked pretty appetising and probably meant for human consumption. As if sensing what was to come, she suddenly stopped eating and looked tentatively at my hands and the tool they held.

There’s a trick to extracting porcupine quills from a dog’s muzzle, as the swelling can make it almost impossible to pull them straight out, and I convinced myself that it was my expertise at this trick, and not the amazing bravery of that small coyote, that kept her still and almost unflinching during the ordeal. It was only after roughly 12 of the 14 quills were pulled that she started to squirm, and some tender words quieted her right down.

Our drunken buzz quelled by adrenaline, and the rush of even that fading quickly, we headed back to Todd’s house, dropping Chris off at his crazy grandmother’s on the way. After applying a bit of antiseptic and getting her settled in a blanket-lined cardboard box, we decided that we were going to keep her. Our earlier differences, so all-consuming at the time, were now forgotten as we almost simultaneously both suggested what we name her. More for the road we found her on than our favourite Blues performer, we both grinned as we dubbed her “Joliet”.

Summer passed and school started, the coyote was accompanying us on our afterschool adventures most of the time, though she was increasingly spending more time in and out of Todd’s dad’s truck while he worked his various masonry jobs around the valley. Despite his cursing about “that goddam coyote” he’d taken quite a shine to her and was rarely seen without her. Her easy-going and bouncy demeanour clearly meant that she was tamed, though we never heard of any one having domesticated coyotes as pets despite spreading word that we’d found one on that deserted stretch of road. After a few months though, that didn’t matter, there was no way we would’ve given her up anyway.

The Fall brought football practice and homework, and the grainy texture to my now-repaired front tooth had just started to wear off when Todd approached me one day after football practice with what looked like his English homework in his hand. There was a gravity to the moment as he handed me his writing assignment and said “I want you to read this.”

If I counted the number of times in our life that Todd had ever been anything remotely resembling serious and mature, I could do it on one hand and have fingers left, it was that rare. This was clearly one of those moments, such that I withheld my usual smartass comment when I saw that he’d gotten an “A+” which I honestly thought teachers didn’t do any more. The assignment was to write a story from your life in which you learned a lesson.

Todd had titled his, “The Night I Learned to Say ‘Sorry'” and had written, in detail, about how he’d broken my tooth, how we’d almost fought, and had found our loving little companion. He wrote about how misguided he had been in his thoughts that “sorry” need only be said when there was intent in the actions and that you didn’t have to say “sorry” if you didn’t mean to hurt someone. He wrote about how he’d learned this lesson after nearly 18 years on this Earth. And he wrote it really well.

I’d honestly moved on from the whole thing quite some time before, and when I finished I did my best to hide the astonished look on my face as I faced his awaiting stare. I handed him the paper back as his serious face straightened, he looked me right in the eye and said, “I’m sorry”.

Years later, when Todd and I would have a few beers, a depending on who was around we would occasionally tell the story of the time that we almost had a fistfight, but not much more than that. When near a black light, or whenever it’s brought up, I’ll correct the assumption that my tooth suffered my love of hockey with the statement, “broke it on a bottle”. Further prompting, and a few more beers, and I’ll tell most of the story on my own, but I’ve never really told the whole story until just now.

Thanks for listening.

Breakfast with Jadey

The kind of week that you’re pretty sure is going to be remembered in specifics for at least a month, and the kind of times that you know you’ll remember forever, are finally over.  Over, in the calendar sense only though, and their essence still lingers in the air like a morning fart after an evening of dark beer and barbecued meat.

There are only a few kinds of poverty that seek to definitively sap your soul.  Surviving them will never leave you unscathed, and the scars left behind will instinctively flare up within seconds of noticing that the bank account has dipped below a certain level while after thumbing through a stack of bills.

I’m scarred now.  And it hurts.

The soothing balm of a promise of cash was short-lived, and in it’s place is a bitterness and numbness that seems to transcend the use of monetary devices of this common culture into a Utopian ideal.  As a self-defence mechanism, my mind seems to drift off into a world of make-believe, where we don’t need money to be happy and good times are still readily available regardless of our lack of funds.

My underlying demeanour may betray it, but my mood is a good one this morning as I dance back and forth from the countertop to the stove, a toddling bucket of curls clinging to my only stationary leg.  I whistle a nameless tune and eventually put lyrics to Beethoven’s Fifth that tell the story of the naughtiness contained in my small child.  She humours me with an emphatic, “Gah GAH!” and then smiles up at me while a piece of egg-soaked bread flops limply into the frying pan.  Breakfasts are my specialty.

Breakfast is also her least favourite meal, or at least the hardest to get her to eat.

I do what I can with the cheap white bread and our expansive spice rack, and even without butter (we’ve run out days ago) the French Toast turns out pretty good.  I’ve made some of it sweet, with sugar and some syrup, and some of it savoury, sprinkled with a dash of nutmeg and some tomato sauce, to cater to the two drastically different palates in our household.  I’m curious which the baby will prefer, as it took no fewer than 110 donuts and 13 eggnog banana milkshakes to keep her mother sated during the pregnancy, I assumed she’d have a sweet tooth.

Her mother may insist that the child has inherited her savoury tooth as she points out that her sweet preferences disappeared the instant the baby was born, but I find the child to be quite open to things such as chocolate and ice cream when offered.  Of course, if one followed her small body about her day they would find her real love is bits of fluff off of the floor, typically found in corners or under furniture.  She’ll quite happily chew a ball of dryer lint/random fuzz for as long as she can until you chase her down.  Her resistance holds out until her mouth is forced open and is then redoubled in an effort to not only keep possession of the fluff but to bite my finger as a lesson not to try again.  She’s quite resourceful.

My dance of the frying pan is given intermittent freedom while the toddlecurl discovers that I’ve accidentally left the pantry door open.  As I check out the burning smell that turns out to be the spiced-half of the bread reacting badly to the margarine I’m frying it in (ah butter, how I long for thee) I can hear assorted bottles being shoved aside and something plastic clattering across the slate floor.  I would worry that the perceived violence of the syrup bottle’s trip across the kitchen would indicate anger from the child, but she allays this with a squeal of delight and a loudly exhorted, “DaDAH… gah GAH!  BAHBAH!”  I take this to mean that she is telling me how pleased she is of her actions towards the syrup bottle.

I respond with something dry and sarcastic, and she repeats the same sentence as if to chastise me for not taking her seriously.  I reply again with sarcasm, but feign apology as well, to which she plods the length of our 8-foot kitchen and yellingly smashes her face into my jeans.  As I finish conducting my orchestra of slathering, spicing, flipping and syruping, I realise that I would have preferred her causing mischief in the pantry for a bit longer as I would have been able to finalise breakfast preparations unhindered by the squealing naughtiness gripping both of my legs and talking to the hole above my right knee of my jeans.

Breakfast is served.  My wife, never really being much of a morning eater, dutifully trudges her way through a piece of French Toast before handing it over to me so that I can swap out the sweet half of the baby’s portion for the savoury and gauge scientifically the results.  As I stir the oatmeal banana mush that I’ve prepared as a standby in the event of total French Toast Failure, I notice that the mass of lovely curls, that had mushed peas in them only last night, now have syrup in them as well.  She appears to enjoy playing with her breakfast more than eating it.  I divide a few pieces of the savoury French Toast and leave them on her tray rather surreptitiously for fear that she’ll rebel against things that I actually want her to eat, and throw them onto the floor for pure indignance.  Some days, this one can be a real shit.

My attention turns from my own breakfast and the further stirring of the oatmeal concoction in time to see my child happily taking huge bites from a wad of bread in either fist.  With balled-up syrup-covered fists on the ends of her spread arms, she looks as if she is challenging the World to provide something tastier to her, for what she’s holding would sure be hard to beat.  She’s already eaten most of her mother’s uneaten breakfast.  Just to muck with her a bit, I throw some eggs right in the middle of her tray.  I’d fried up the leftover egg batter in the used cooking bits left in the pan, giving it a horribly grey colour that I prefer to think of as “seasoned to taste”.

As her thumbs become paintbrushes and the slightly runny and oddly coloured eggs become the paint, the canvas that is the tray of her high chair transforms into a masterpiece, complete with a collage of texture and flavour.  “Less is More” she seems to believe, as she very purposely removes some of the leftover sweet toast with her fingers and then places it under her tray on the seat by her legs.  I’m surprised to see such a deliberate act of removal when she is busy with wanton creation, but she’s always been a bit meticulous, and I will undoubtedly find at least half of her breakfast under her butt when I eventually lift her out of her chair.

With her creative juices flowing freely and her eating slowed significantly, I finally employ the use of the oatmeal mush.  I get a few spoonfuls in before she concedes that her artwork may have to wait until after mealtime and decides to eat a bit more.  As is her way though, her concessions are ever on her own terms, and she purses her lips and slaps at the spoon on it’s third trip in.  I back it out and try again, only to be met with a shaking head and flailing arms.  It’s becoming fairly evident to me that she may not be interested in my mushed backup plan.

Now I concede. She watches me put the spoon back into the small bowl before flinging her arms out across her painted tray, grabbing a handful of egg and toast, and shoving it gluttonously into her face.  Her actions of hearty independence appear to be telling me that she may not enjoy the eggs and French Toast so much as dislike the mush and/or the idea of me feeding it to her.  She almost giggles as she grabs a piece of egg-smeared crust and begins munching on it with fervour.

As I lean across the table and put my head in my hand, I realise how much fun she is.  Not just to interact with, as I have been, but also just to watch, as I am now.  So much of who she is going to be, is here already, and so much of who she is, is just wonderful.  It boggles my mind to think that I have such an impact on this small person’s life, and therefore the rest of the World.

It is then that I realise that I haven’t been thinking about the rest of the World for at least an hour and a half, a new record for this stressful week I’m fairly sure, and I am once again humbled by the power that my child has over me.

Go away for a while World, I’m feeding my child.

My office.

Originally written sometime in December or early January, while simply sitting at my desk in my office.

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The skychair and hammock swing quietly in the breeze outside my office window. There’s something about the abundance of greenery as a backdrop that makes them look like lazy day companions instead of lonely objects awaiting a friendly bottom to swing on them. It could also be the dangle of cheap Christmas lights that I’ve strung haphazardly around the patio roof. The fact that they are still on during midmorning tells me, once again, that I should’ve probably spent the extra $3 on a timer from the hardware store.

While this room is smallish and a nice greyish-blue it’s obvious that a teen-turned-adult, who was unafraid of the possible marring of plaster and paint by his daily lifestyle, was the previous inhabitant. The various attempts at covering up or even repairing any of the blemishes are few, and border so closely on pathetic as to be almost insulting. That is, until I remember what I was like in my younger years and my feelings towards the smears of filler putty instantly become somewhat sentimental. I’m comfortable in here.

The crappy-looking and dirty foldable white table, left over in the shed because of its looks most likely, has been cleaned up a little and is holding my sewing machine and assorted bits. A small television sits on an old Ikea drawer setup from an old life of my brother-in-law’s, when he was into purchasing spendy items in the hopes that $65 underwear would land him the perfect guy. The wardrobe would probably overpower the room with it’s immensity were not for it’s complimentary colours and cluttered floor. My armour stands stoically next to the sewing table, a mishmash of different style wear has been hung off the dressmaker’s mannequin with the idea that these items are either the least likely to fall off or in the most need of airing. They’ve turned the 1950’s-esque womanly shape into a powerful and sharp looking Dark Ages Romano-Celtic Norman peasant who’s rapidly ascended into royalty. Thoughts like that and the humour that I find in them that remind me why I’m in such a nerd-filled club.

My desk is small and blue, and I’ve got the top filled with toys. Any desk that I’ve had over the years has been this way and I’ve always had a deep need to treat myself to the toys that I missed out on as a kid. It’s only when I have a child, or the baby, on my lap that I am truly reminded that these are in fact, toys, and may not have been designed with someone like me predominantly in mind.

The wonder and intricacies of transforming from a muscle car to a robot are lost on the small impish one, who sees only what colours and textures would be best in her mouth. She tells me about them though, each and every one, with her little squeaky voice and a pointed index finger. A very serious look comes across her face when relating new knowledge of something interesting-looking.

“Doo!” she’ll say with something dangerously close to a scowl. The scowl then lifts as she meets my eyes and her face breaks slightly with a small smile, she seems to take enjoyment not from the gaining of this knowledge but of the sharing it with me. “Gah!” gets emphatically shoved into my face. We’re here together and it is a good thing.

As my eyes cast about the room in an effort to somehow capture more than just my idiosyncrasies, I see a cricket set, half-finished leather re-enactor projects, giant William Wallace claymore sword, and a 5-year olds Snow White dress in need of zipper repair. It becomes readily apparent to me that this kind of random and somewhat eclectic thing is all that’s really allowed in this room.

That’s probably why it’s mine.

My Hat.

The following was written last May and then apparently forgotten about. I still wear my hat, not so much in the Summer heat, but when I’m feeling like I need reminded of why I’m doing what I’m doing.

If bills are piling up and I’ve got sick kids home from school and I’m wondering for the fifth time that day when I’m finally going to get a chance to sit down and write instead of working until I collapse into bed.

Well, that’s when I put on my hat, and the world changes.

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I’ve got this hat. To be honest, it’s the hat I’ve always wanted. When watching the old Rawhide reruns on Nickleodeon on my Dad’s then-girlfriend-now-wife’s floor as a youngster and seeing Clint Eastwood as Rowdy Yates and then in later years in his Spaghetti Westerns, he was wearing pretty much this kind of hat. Similar to Kleenex and Band-Aid becoming common names instead of brand names, this style is known as Akubra here in Oz.

I bought a knock-off version of an Akubra because of its coolness and foldability quite a while ago and sent it to Steamboat for my friend Willis’s wedding/Christmas/too-late-for-any-occasion-so-here, and was slightly jealous. I knew he’d love it, because I loved it, but it was hard to let it go.Now, I’ve finally got my hat.

It was probably only a day or so after I’d quit working full time, and we were staring very honestly at a decent sized money drought when Wife urged me to say “hell with it” and make the purchase. We were just killing time before picking up the kids after they’re visitations with The Others, and wandering through the touristy shops on the boat harbour, when I saw it.

It called out to me so strongly that I almost ran to it for fear that someone else would step in moments before I got there and decide that they were going to have an impulse buy instead of me. Like some slow-motion movie moment where you can see the humour in the situation but still secretly want to hug the hero, I lunged almost frantically towards it.

Satisfied that I was the first to the hat, I pulled it off the rack and checked the size. Yep, my size. Then I put it on. It fit, and I fell in love. Wife’s jaw dropped and she could only muster some gasps and grunts as she pulled me in front of the mirror. I thought I looked quite alright, and said so out loud, while my wife continued to look at me as if she were about to romance-novel me right there in the store.

So I bought it, and though they probably charged me twice what they should have, I would have paid twice what they asked.

In the weeks following the quitting of my job and my removal from the Rat Race, the hat became a symbol. It was more significant to my life than just having something cool that I always wanted, it was a symbol of my dreams. Wearing it meant that I was doing my own thing and was bound no longer, either monetarily, emotionally, or even physically, to the Man.

I was Free.

I have naturally curly hair and it’s getting quite long. The hat hides its bird’s nestiness in the mornings when I take the kids to school. Even though it flattens out my hair down into my eyes when worn straight after a shower, none of this matters to me. I am my own man in my own favourite hat, and I will give no more of my self and my life for someone else’s capitalistic gains again.

I’m on my own and loving it, and if I go down, at least I’ll go down with my hat on.

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I enjoy reading the local paper if for no other reason than the Real Estate section. Much the same as the toy catalogues of my youth, I flip through and look at the things that I can’t currently possibly afford right along with the things that I’ll never be able to possibly afford, and quite honestly don’t want to. I pretend that I’m doing it because I’m all grown up now and have some working knowledge of the housing market and the likelihood and amount of a bank loan and subsequent mortgage.

Not that I don’t know about these things, but really I’m just dreaming. I used to not want to look at the nice houses, as their price tags only hurt my feelings, and I will ever seek to shield myself from things that hurt my feelings. Again, just like those toy catalogues, I was afraid to look at the big ticket items and dream of owning them.

When enough of the things in your life don’t turn out the way that you figure they should, you become afraid to actually wish for something, because there doesn’t seem to be any way that shit will fly. You learn to take the good things and be thankful for them without inviting further pain, because life will throw enough heartache in your direction without you out there actively seeking it.

Naturally, now that I’m all grown up and all, I don’t prescribe to this theory anymore because adults know better, don’t they?

It took an easing up from the shit of life for a bit for me to actually start applying my dreams to my life. The Real Estate section was my first step. I peruse, I grade and I judge, I price and compare and I consider many of them a viable investment while still others have the potential to be the “end game” house.

My sister-in-law does the same. She and her husband are ever in search of their “end game” house, and while they did indeed coin the phrase and share many of our identical desires and criteria, they are also far, far more capable of purchasing such a thing. It’s actually within their grasp. Regardless of financial capability, it feels nice to discuss features and prices and, for my part at least, pretend and even dream.

Someday, maybe not someday soon, but someday at least, we won’t have to pretend anymore.

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While we were driving up the Brookton Valley to Araluen for Anzac Day, I was noticing the “For Sale” signs and thinking that my sister-in-law probably was too. After enjoying a fabulous day, playing cricket with the kids, eating hot chicken sandwiches, and absorbing the intrinsic beauty that nature and her gardens offer, we drove back down the valley and I thought about what it would mean to live there and have all of that in my own back yard.

There’s a property up there that’s about 12 acres, complete with paddocks and a 3+1 house, and I’m thinking that though the house must be complete shit, thereby making the low price make sense, it probably couldn’t be bad enough for me to NOT want that kind of spread with living accommodations on it. This is where the market isn’t though, as folks don’t want anything that isn’t posh if they’re going to live in the country. No one seems willing to leave their sweet city digs if they can’t be sittin’ just as sweet in the country.

I was born in the country and it’s where I’m meant to be, I care far less about the state of my house as I do with the state of my Nature. I want trees, lots of them, and at least a horse or two, all the dogs I can fit and the wife wants a yard full of chickens.

I want to drive a truck, even a beater, down a dirt lane and up to my house and shop, where I can chop, weld, sand, sculpt, and build to my heart’s content. I want to saddle up my trusty steed and take a wander down to the spring, where we’ll both have a drink and sit and listen to the lack aircraft overhead.

I want to stand in front of my grill, wielding my cooking instruments like a medieval swordsman, drinking a beer and conversing with my wife and kids situated around our oversized kitchen just inside the door. I want those kids to be able to disappear for hours, unhindered by time and fences, and learn as much as they can about the best parts of this world we live in.

I want our favourite evening program to be the sunset and I want Acts of Creation to be just as important as anything else Societally Utilitarian, like grades.

I want to write, paint, sing, and play every day, and I never want to worry about how I’m going to pay the bills again.

I want to look out over my domain and smile with satisfaction.

Someday… I will.

And I’ll be wearing my hat.