A Bunker in the Sky

 

We took our Thanksgiving break with my wife’s family in Gulf Shores this year, where my in-laws own a condo. It was a large group and two more condos were needed. One of them, the one my crew stayed in, belonged to a friend of the family and was in the same building as the one my in-laws have on the fifth floor. This borrowed unit was on the fourteenth floor. I will be the first to admit I can get a little squeamish with heights. As long as I look toward the broad expanse of water it doesn’t bother me. But if I look down while standing at the rail, I’m in trouble.  The fourteenth floor only amplified my unsteadiness. The views from within, like the unit I had been in many times below, were unbelievable. And even on the balcony I was good, as long as I didn’t get too close to the rail.

Strangely enough, once we were up there, heights or not, I felt safe. Like I had my little family in a bunker in the sky.

So we did the family event and my sister-in-law downloaded some sketchy virus on her computer and blamed it on me but other than that the time went too fast and too easily.

On the final morning I loaded the car, got everyone downstairs, then make one last sweep of the condo. The view caused me to hesitate. As I was standing there, fourteen floors up, I thought, what if we didn’t leave? What if we squatted in this guy’s condo? How long, legally, would it take him to get us out?

Sure, you could say that doesn’t sound real charitable of me. The guy has let me stay in his condo and I choose to repay him by locking my family in there and not coming out. But, on the other hand, was it really the nicest thing he could have done? Exposing my family to his wonderful place and then expecting us to voluntarily vacate? So, I thought, what would happen if I made a quick run for supplies, barricaded the door with some heavy furniture and set a watch on the balcony? How long could we make it as squatters in paradise?

You don’t hear about this happening much along the Gulf Coast. Most of the time when you see these squatting situations on the news it involves a ranch and some guys in unfortunate combinations of flannel, not a bathing suit and a hot tub. But why is that so?

I began to imagine how it would shake out once we barricaded ourselves inside the condo. Would the authorities be forced to set up a command post in the parking lot far below? Maybe one of them would yell up at us with a bull horn: “Come down with your hands up.” And we would look over the rail while holding a margarita and yell “no thank you”.

For that matter, which child would I let deal to the negotiator when they called? Wayne is so stubborn he will say no just because you said yes, so he would be no good. Beth would be perfect except she doesn’t do old fashioned communications like a phone so unless the negotiator reached out to us through Snap Chat or Instagram she’s out. Jacks seems like the logical choice but he has a sly, devious side so I wouldn’t trust him to keep the flash bang grenades at bay. Maybe Wilkins would be the best, since he talks at length about anything and has a pretty cheery disposition. Yes, he would probably buy us the most time before the SWAT team made their forced entry into our bunker in the sky.

And then I shook myself out of it.

Yes, I voluntarily left the fourteenth floor without any drama. Well, except for the chaos that typically travels in our car. But on the way home I thought about those rancher types with their boots in manure and their compounds and their guns and crazy anti-government rhetoric and decided they have it all wrong. Condos high above the Gulf are where this type of dissent should be going on. A little sun-block and some Vienna Sausages will go a long way. And even now I’m there in my mind. Safely barricaded away with my little brood on the fourteenth floor, my problems and a crazy, scary world looking awfully small far down below.

 

 

Floaters and Frogs

I gave my wife a good Cuban Screw.

It had been a hectic week and I felt like she deserved to relax.

The Cuban Screw was an impromptu decision, and one necessitated by the supplies at hand. No wine. No vodka. Plenty of orange juice. And a weird bottle of rum we had been gifted at some point. It sounded like a decent drink. I looked it up. Sure enough, it is called a Cuban Screw.

We sat in a parking lot waiting for a soccer game to start and my wife enjoyed her beverage while I played the role of responsible adult. (Trust me, the shoe is usually on the other foot.) Summer showers were knocking down the heat and thunderstorms danced around us, clearly visible like black cylinders connecting heaven and earth. Our conversation took its normal route. Our kids. Our families. Our jobs. Our troubles. Entertaining each other has never been a problem for us. We are comfortable with silence, too, but I love to hear her talk. I tried to make her laugh and succeeded a time or two. Finally, we wandered to our place along a soggy sideline. My wife took a seat in a small set of bleachers. She had sunglasses propped on her head and a satisfied smile. She was happy, and that made me happy.

Then a chorus of frogs started up.

Unfortunately, these were not frogs in the distance. My wife could have reached out and kissed one. These frogs would carry on with their croaking racket for about ten seconds, then nothing for about twenty, then start up again. They were clearly opera quality frogs, too, with strong, loud voices. Other parents commented on the amphibian serenade and laughed about it. My wife did too, at first.

The noise itself is hard to describe. And it was the same each time. They sounded not unlike a bunch of drowning sheep. Except they never quite dipped below the surface of the water.

For a woman who had pet frogs as a kid, my wife seemed thrown by them pretty quickly.

“Please make them stop,” my wife said.

“I don’t speak frog.”

“Well do something!”

“What? Splash around in grassy puddles till I squish them?”

“Can’t they go be frogs somewhere else?”

The frogs weren’t the only noise we were contending with. You had the dad yelling at his kid, “Give him pressure from behind! Pressure from behind!” I don’t know exactly what that means but he clearly did and he screamed it throughout the game.

And my twins are now at the age where the curse words the players employ are just loud enough to be heard. “Shit” was the least offensive word a few of the players were using. Just loud enough to catch the “S” and the “T”.

So it was the frogs, the yelling dad, the hushed curses, a rumble of thunder in the distance, and then the frogs again. Whatever my wife got from her Cuban Screw was quickly becoming Cuban Screwed.

By halftime the frogs had carried on long enough that my wife was willing to punch Kermit the Frog in the throat. She is one of the most loving people I have ever met, but she can turn on a dime. You light the fire, you better be ready for the heat, because it is coming. She got out of the stands and tried to locate the frogs. I watched out of the corner of my eye, wondering how I would react if I saw her casually stomp on them. Finally, she came back to sit down, her shoes wet, but without any frog guts that I could see.

After that the frogs mocked her, even louder than before.

My wife pulled out her sunglasses and mumbled something about her floaters. She usually has, in her words, a kaleidoscope of floaters. Different colored and patterned objects that drift before her eyes in different ways and at different speeds, usually late in the day when the air is gray and the sky is orange. And these are Bethany floaters, which would be different from what other people see. I’m sure her kaleidoscope of floaters moves in beat to some Bee Gees song. There is probably a little Richard Simmons dude in there. I suspect there are some huge kissing lips and some peace signs and the floating objects hug each other, dance, and bounce around her mental stratosphere.

My wife’s expectation of what the afternoon would hold had been high jacked by a party of floaters and performing frogs. Maybe expectations exist just to help us survive the mundane moments of life. Or to help us through the rough patches of our existence. Or even the monotony of being a parent. Either way, my wife sat there enduring the game and the noise and the chaos of a world I know she simply wanted to slow down and shut up. And she did it with the sweet taste of Cuba on her tongue, while the acid slowly built in her stomach.

The History of Little Mistakes

So I got called out by a 4th grader regarding a piece I wrote about our recent vacation where I continued my endless and tiresome mining of my middle-age mindset and suggested I might cut off my ear. Anyway, a hundred adults had already “read” the story and I heard not a word from them and then this sweet child says, “Excuse me, but Picasso did not cut off his ear like you said in your story, it was Van Gogh.”

How cute.

One can only hope that this child will continue along the path of educational development and eventually come to realize that in the real world “truth” and “reality” might be a little more fluid.

Yes, it is well documented that Van Gogh cut off his ear. But would that suggest he was the only artist to ever have issues involving a blade and some important appendage? What is not as well known is that Picasso lost a piece of his ear during a terrible shaving accident. See? In the context of my story that MANY of you failed to read with ANY attention to detail, doesn’t it make more sense that I would refer to Picasso’s shaving accident instead of that old, tired Van Gogh cutting off his ear thing? Come on, I was just home from vacation when I wrote it. I NEEDED to shave.

But let’s go back to the well-educated tyke who called me out. I say well-educated because in the classic sense of “truth” and “reality” then maybe this child is right. Still, learning history these days is kind of like learning Latin. People will go on and on telling you how important learning different languages might be but try chatting up your local neighborhood policeman in Latin and you’re liable to end up in chains. And then after getting out of jail you will spend decades waiting tables at the local pizza joint, where you will know the origins of words like “pepperoni” and “anchovy” but that’s about as far as it will get you.

It is worse with a history degree.

Some people say if we don’t talk about history then our mistakes will only repeat themselves. Hello! Need I remind you that we have a World War I AND a World War II? Thinking that you can prevent history from repeating itself IS the mistake. History will repeat itself. There’s no way it can’t.

Look at presidential politics. Except for the last eight years that office has always been occupied by a rich, old, white man. Now we get to choose between another rich, old, white man or, perhaps historically, a woman. Except, why would we call it historic if she won since we have no history by which to judge a woman as president? And yet, I keep hearing people refer to her possible win as a “historic” event. Given that we have nothing else to judge it by, history would suggest that the older, rich, white guy is the best bet for president. EXCEPT, history also tells us that the last old, rich, white dude to occupy the White House was not a big reader of books and was academically indifferent to lessons of the past, just like the rich, white, old dude who is running this year. And given what happened when the last old, rich, white dude was in the White House, then history would tell us we probably ought to take a chance on the broad.

See what I mean? History is confusing.

And what the heck is the big deal about history anyway? History is wrong as much as it is right. Little known fact: Custer sent invitations to the Sioux for a meeting at Little Big Horn. Unfortunately, Custer dictated the instructions to a sergeant whose name history has forgotten and that lame brain misspelled the a word so instead of inviting most of the Sioux Nation to a “Pow-Wow” like he wanted Custer invited them to a “Pow-Pow”. Can you imagine how mortified Custer was when he showed up with his little patriotic table cloths and tubs of Chicken Salad? Is it the sergeant who ends up with mud, and blood, on his face in history’s mind? Clearly not.

Or the guy I mentioned before. One day in the Oval Office he was reminiscing about Yale and asked Dick Cheney a simple question about STD’s and the evil Dick Cheney/”Darth Vader without Life Support” somehow changed the whole conversation around to WMD’s. Another guy complained about it and Cheney shot that guy in the face. That’s a fact. That is history.  Except no one cares to remember.

And besides, keeping up with “HISTORY” can be so inconvenient. Is what REALLY happened on any given day or time THAT important? Clearly sites like Wikipedia, which allow regular people to shape the reality of what may or may not have happened are much better suited for our world today. How bad would it suck to be a Fact Checker in this day and age? Talk about a profession on its way out!

So ask yourself this simple question: What is truth? Can’t answer that one? Well, there can’t be history if there isn’t truth.

And that brings us full circle to my previous story. Did Van Gogh cut off his ear? That’s what people say. Did Picasso have a shaving accident? According to Wikipedia he did. Honest Abe (like he was THAT honest) I’m shooting you straight. Matter of fact I’m looking at it on the World Wide Web right now.

Vacation Truth

 

 

When I go on vacation I always tell myself this will be the time when I get my life together, even if only for a short while. Somehow, I will escape the crazy and chaotic life I lead and enjoy one week of a calm and serene existence. I will exercise on the beach before dawn. There will be sessions of yoga, where I will learn that Downward Dog is nothing to be ashamed of if I accidentally type it into my Internet browser. There will be bran cereal, yuck, but being regular helps with the calm and serene. (And then I remind myself to go easy on the bran since I never eat the stuff and there is nothing calm and serene about being TOO regular.) So, that is what I imagine the yearly family trek to the beach is going to be like.

But, in reality, my vacation always becomes a jail break from responsibility. There is hair of the dog instead of Downward Dog. There are little nephews screaming a dirty phrase in unison again and again, not because they know what it means but because they heard someone scream it… maybe me… six hours before the hair of the dog thing. There is not a shred of bran but plenty of Pop Tarts and Frosted Flakes. And, instead of a new me returning home, it is an older, exhausted me after my vacation becomes a parenting Studio 51 with sand.

I tell myself what I want in life is discipline, but that is only another word for control. I want to eat right, take long walks with my wife, sleep through the night, and generally end each day with hope for what the next day holds and how brilliantly I will manage it. But I’ll probably never get it or do it. Time is going to keep plowing forward. My kids are walking, talking adults when just yesterday they were the Dennis the Menace twosome that are now my nephews.

I also imagine the vacation experience will be moderately high brow, otherwise I would have vacationed in Daytona. Mostly it isn’t. There is late night heckling over vicious games of dominoes, steamy beach reads in well-thumbed paperbacks that are banned in libraries across half the country, and statements yelled down from the balcony at other family members that the Kardashians would consider crass. I heard a couple of gems this past week, like this one from the back seat of the minivan as we traveled there: “Hey Dad, sorry but I gotta drop a deuce. What can I say? You sleep, you eat, you poop. It’s the circle of life, dude.” Or the one that sounded like a Darth Vader imitation as I passed a darkened bathroom with the door closed. Someone was clearly enjoying the echo in the small space: “Yup, I’m peeing in the dark. And from the sound of things I’m doing a pretty good job.”

Now, perhaps you are noticing there is a lot of potty content. I wiped the butts of these little creatures which meant I was involved in every “movement” they had and yet what is currently happening with our digestive systems seems to be even more conversationally relevant now than when I was chasing them down the hall with a slightly uncomfortable but thankfully clean Pampers knock-off. And I know this will not get better as I age. Hell, I might be closer to those diapers than they’re away from them.

I don’t know. Maybe it is time for me to be a little more honest with myself, and with my writing. Truth be told, I am a lazy writer. I start great, I finish not so well. Clearly, lack of sleep or alcohol are not steroids for the sport of writing, despite what some scribes would have you believe. I can barely focus my thoughts long enough to write a check, let alone a novel. I am not taking care of myself. And sometimes I look the other direction when it comes to proper parenting. In some ways, with both my writing and my life, I feel like I’m nearing the point where Picasso cut off his ear. (Except right now I write and live by the numbers, and I have pretty big ears, too.)

And despite all this complaining, I would not give up a single thing I have now to achieve whatever the hell I think I am seeking when I set off on a break from my day to day life. I am desperately in love with my wife. I am so proud of my kids it is probably a little nauseating for those who have to hear it. I still enjoy the company of my extended family. I get satisfaction out of my job. And, at the end of the day, I feel pretty good about the person I am trying to be.

So maybe vacation is supposed to be exactly what it always is for me. A jailbreak from the responsibility of being a husband, a father, and a decent person. (I am not talking about full blown debauchery here, but it ain’t things I’m doing on a typical Tuesday either.)

And now the family unit is setting off for another vacation with the other side of the extended family for the 4th of July. Maybe as we pack the car I will make the same lies to myself about peace of mind and exercise and discipline. Except I’m not sure this crew we’re visiting practices a ton of yoga, and I can’t wait to hear what they say if I ask about bran cereal.

The Graduate

 

(I wrote this last week prior to my son’s graduation.)

 

 

I was sitting on the front steps of my parent’s house. My best friend was there as a witness. My first son was teetering on his feet before us, then he wiped out onto the driveway. Grabbing my best friend’s arm before he could instinctively aid the fallen child, I whispered, “Don’t move.” My son looked around, debated whether it was worth the effort to cry, decided it wasn’t, then went back to the business of getting to his feet. Once again he teetered like the planet was spinning a little too fast. He steadied himself, then took one step, and another, and another. Then my son made a joyous noise as he waddled away from us with alarming speed. We huddled there like we were watching a rare animal on the Serengeti.

“He started doing it last night,” I whispered.

My best friend hadn’t had his first child yet. “Amazing,” he breathed.

My son was ten months old. He had just learned to walk.

 

—————–

 

grad pic

 

 

Fast forward seventeen years. In just a few days my son will take one of life’s other important walks. I doubt his steps will be as hesitant when he accepts his high school diploma and begins a new chapter in his life. And I begin a new one in mine.

(He might fall down though, since he will be wearing actual shoes, something his perpetually bare feet might not understand. He got away with the sandals at his awards ceremony, but he was told the Jesus shoes were a no-go for graduation. We’re praying he doesn’t try to stage some kind of protest.)

I know I am supposed to give him advice at this stage in life. That’s what we do as our children step out into the world, right? And, yet, I am struggling to do so. There are a few things I guess I would offer:

  1. Home is a state of mind that has nothing to do with bricks and mortar.
  2. Being imperfect is a good thing. Imperfections are what make you interesting.
  3. I hope your college introduces you to someone named Al or Lou, a Dan-the-man, a Vinnie, a Ray-baby or a (insert any of 25 names here). Your college friends will entertain you, challenge you, and might even get you arrested. Together you will make memories that will be a big part of the rest of your days, if only in small batches.
  4. And maybe, just maybe, you might meet the love of your life, even if you don’t know it at first.

But as I write those words I know that advice is more about my life and less about his own. It is time for him to chart his path now. The stakes are much higher than in my time. Things are different. Schools are expensive. Money is tight. And but for his own accomplishments the path he takes right now would not be possible.

So why am I not more nervous for him? Maybe that will come later but I don’t think so. This young man truly seems to be made up of the best parts of the people who created him, and a few more good quantities we can’t claim. He is smart, competitive and bullheadedly stubborn. He is also open-minded, accepting of others, and has a gentle heart. Oh sure, there have been a few moments of eyebrow raising stupidity. (Like maybe he needed to prove that he is my son.) But as he enters college I mainly hope that life’s great unknown storms on the horizon don’t burden his mind too much and that he will enjoy the relatively calm waters of any given day. His days in college, like life itself, will pass in a blur.

I had the opportunity to witness a kindergarten graduation the same week my son will graduate from high school. (If only everyone had to attend a kindergarten graduation once a year and wash off the ugliness of being an adult there would be far less hunger, death and anger in this world.) Seeing both ceremonies in the same week made me think about who my son was as a little boy, and the man he is now. And it reminded me that life never stays the same. It always changes. In my rational mind I know it is time for my son to leave. He is a grown man. He is ready. In my emotional heart I know I will miss the boy beyond words.

I have been watching him find his way for eighteen years now.

So life’s safari continues. And I will continue observing his accomplishments from the bushes while searching for a word that means profoundly happy, impossibly proud and terribly sad all at the same time.

Maybe that word is parenting.

Jokers to the Left of Us, A Clown to the Right

 

When was the last time you saw a clown in a police car? A real clown? With the red nose and the painted face and rainbow colored hair? Not a handcuffed clown in the backseat of a squad car. I’m talking about a clown in uniform behind the wheel. This would be an actual clown who has chosen a career in law enforcement. The answer is never. Law enforcement and clowns simply don’t mix. It makes sense. No clown is chasing down a perp in those huge floppy shoes. Good cop, bad cop would be a disaster. And a clown would even be worthless working undercover, UNLESS you were investigating a circus or trying to infiltrate a child’s birthday party.
Clowns simply aren’t suited for law enforcement work.
Just like Donald Trump is not suited to be president.
Being president is not a dictatorship. The job requires tact, restraint and diplomacy. This is not about the issues Donald Trump has presented and whether you’re for or against them. Honestly, those don’t matter because we should only consider where “qualified” candidates stand on the issues. Based on who he is and what is required in the job he is seeking, Mr. Trump is not qualified.
Here’s something cringe worthy to start with. The president serves as the nation’s mourner in chief. How’s it going to go when President Trump is asked to deliver a eulogy?

“Yeah, ok, right, this guy in the casket right there was great. Really great. He invented some scientific thing and he won the Nobel Prize. You know, I coulda’ won the Nobel Prize. I coulda’. Actually I thought about buying the whole Nobel brand and renaming it the Trump Nobel Prize or the Nobel Trump Prize. I don’t know, we never got that far with it because I went with this beauty pageant thing instead. Beauty pageants are huge! Big ratings. The Nobel Prize? Nobody cares.”

Everyone has heard Trump the candidate brag about the negotiation skills he will bring into the Oval Office. The common denominator with his negotiations is always money and money makes people pretty predictable. Inside the Beltway they talk about money all the time but most of their negotiations are rooted in ideology. That makes things different.

“I’ll give you guys 100 trillion dollars if you let the pro-life people come out on top. That’s a win-win for everyone. A 100 trillion dollars? Do you know what you could do with that? That’s more money than I’ve got and that’s a lot. No? You pro-choice people, I swear I do not understand you. Fine, let’s go 200 trillion. No? 300 trillion! We’re not leaving this room until we have a deal. I can do this all day.”

Mr. Trump clearly understands the value of real estate and there is no more prized plot of land in this country than 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. What Mr. Trump doesn’t seem to understand is that you can call the president the most powerful person in the world all you want, that doesn’t change the fact that the president does very little without some sort of compromise: to staff, to Congress, to special interests, a lobby, or to the military. There really isn’t such a thing as a unilateral presidential action. Otherwise the position would be called a dictator. The president decides to do something, then immediately starts compromising so that the thing can actually get done. That is not the weakness of moral uncertainty but the reality of effective governing. As long as you grant everyone a voice, then all voices have to be heard, even if some will be louder than others.
A guy might look great in a cowboy’s hat and downright ridiculous in the one the Pope wears. (And, on that note, a bartender could probably give a great sermon about the human condition, but, if you went to church this week odds are the local barkeep was not delivering the message.) The thing I keep coming back to is that every person who has been president knew the office was bigger than they were. Mr. Trump is the first person who wants to be bigger than the office itself. Donald Trump is a salesman, and he’s best at selling Trump. But saying something is great does not necessarily make it so. Forget the issues. They simply don’t matter. When it comes to the qualities required of a leader on the world stage, they simply don’t exist in Donald Trump. He is the clown we need to keep out of the patrol car.

I’m FED UP… And I Intend to Tweet About it Soon

If I had just one word to sum up the Grammy’s last night I would use… quiet. No, I’m not talking about the actual volume or mic problems or the difficulty these artists faced trying to produce a live version of the canned sound we expect them to make. I just felt like it was a show full of rock stars who were strangely reserved and it occurred to me that while our politicians are loud right now, our music, not so much.
Before I go on, Demi Lovato killed it. And it wasn’t just how good she sounded, it was also the passion she displayed. On a quiet night, SHE was noisy. (Insert a happy face emoji here.) And there were others who stood out and they are all ridiculously talented. I even have a Boy Crush on Girl Crush, which is sounding kind of crowded. (Insert a heart emoji here.) But, as a whole, last night’s Grammys seemed to be a show that wasn’t very troubled in times that are anything but. Don’t our artists reflect what’s going on around us? Even if we can’t put words to it at the time, don’t we ground our collective psyche through a lost Janis Joplin? A depressed Kurt Cobain? A flying Jim Morrison? Even a hell-bent Hank Sr? Yes, these are extreme examples and these artists died too young. Dying sucks, but forget that for a second. These four literally could not make themselves fit into the broken world around them and their art reflects that. (Insert sad face emoji here.) So what did last night’s show reflect? I’m talking product as much as spectacle and it looked like a lot of awfully comfortable people, being kind of quiet.
Now here’s the kicker. This isn’t a criticism of the show last night or the performers on the stage as much as it is a criticism of us. They are feeding us exactly what we want and deserve. Right now, apparently, we respond to quiet music and LOUD politics. Forget a hair-band on a bender, apparently we want political shamans who ask us to look beyond what they have always been and trust them to become something else. (Share an inspirational quote on Instagram here.) In the presidential race the “loudest” politicos right now are a thrice married, reality TV star, casino developing billionaire versus a socialist legislator who really doesn’t have much history of getting things done. (I know, I know, the mainstream candidates don’t light my fire either.)
And last night we saw the trappings of rock stars and none of the trash. Sure, they looked the part and maybe they laid waste to a hotel room off camera (Note to self: Check Taylor Swift’s Snap Chat ASAP) but on camera they told us everything is pretty much OK. In fact, the tone of the show and the way they acted and most of the music they sang and the way it was delivered pretty much told us that everything is fine. (Insert Animal House Gif of Kevin Bacon yelling “Remain Calm” here.)
Look at the state of Louisiana. The government is on the verge of default. Important institutions will have to be cut. But this current budget crisis has been almost a decade in the making and despite a few screaming voices, the band just kept playing the same old tune while the boat took on water. (Tweet a pic of your fave band here and don’t forget your hashtags.)
We have more ways to communicate now than ever before. But we don’t seem to have much to say. Oh, we can bitch with the best of them. And we protest in a virtual world that is full of talk, just like this, but not much real action. (Insert middle finger emoji here.)
Seriously, could there be a better time than this moment for protest and outrage? Pick your poison based on your politics. Climate. War. Spending. Taxes. Income inequality. Racial inequality. Gender inequality. CEO pay. The middle class mirage. The fact that we imprison more of our people than China or Russia. There are plenty of reasons for protest. Our artists should be furiously advocating change and challenging the norm. Except they are a reflection of us. And we are cattle, standing on the fence-line, chewing our collective cud and watching the world go by. (Insert bored selfie here.) And one day soon a truck with a big trailer is going to pull in. Yay! We are going for a ride! (Insert happy face emoji here.) Only we are not going to like where that ride is headed or how it is going to end. (Insert steak emoji here.)
Oh yeah, in full disclosure, I left the room when Justin Beiber took the stage. So if he got righteous and made a lot of noise then you can forget everything I just said. Honestly, I kind of hope he mooned the crowd. (Insert winkey-face emoji here.) Either way, we get the art, and the world, that we fight for. Our politicians are making plenty of noise. And the rest of us, rock stars included, seem to be remarkably quiet.

Winter Love for Bethany

 

This is a time in life where we don’t go on a lot of traditional dates.  They are most often spontaneous gatherings on the back porch. These dates usually involve the drink of choice and most often it is a double date with our dogs.

 

We talk about our problems. (To quote Moneyball: all uptown problems.) We share stories about our kids, our extended family, work and whatever else comes to mind. I get a hug or two but wintertime hugs are not the best hugs since she gets COLD when it drops below 60 degrees outside. So yesterday I was not hugging her so much as I was hugging layers and layers of clothes. I mean, I knew she is in there somewhere. And, I did get to steal a kiss, but it wasn’t a long one because the dogs don’t like it, and if we carry on too long we’ll hear some kid inside the house screaming for us to cut it out.

 

 

winter tree pic

 

 

This was our view yesterday as the sun went down and it got me thinking about rebirth and growth and the quiet times we share with the person we choose love more than any other. I’m lucky because the winters in our relationship are usually mild and short, like the ones here in Louisiana. To say our love is perfect would be a lie. But when we slow down, when the spark between us goes dormant for whatever reason, we always seem to come back stronger, enjoying the bright colors and warmth of our renewed love all that much more.

 

For Valentine’s Day this year the love of my life gets to enjoy new braces, a trip to Costa Rica, another one to Disney and still ANOTHER trip to the mountains of North Carolina. She gets to travel to dusty sports complexes to watch our boys chase and kick a round ball, and after that, she’ll get to watch them throw, catch and hit a smaller ball. She’ll start paying college tuition, too, and she will actually take great pleasure from each of these things.

 

But she’s not really going anywhere and she’s certainly not getting braces. She’ll be on the back porch with me. If things go the way I’m planning, we’ll manage to have a few dates near the garden in the side yard, where we’ll watch the radishes, the cucumbers and the tomatoes grow. The options are limited in such a small space, but maybe we’ll find somewhere different to stand while we share our thoughts and admire each other. Hopefully it’ll be out of sight from the house so I can steal a few more kisses.  At least till the dogs start barking at us, and that’s good enough for me.

The Momma I was Given and the Momma I Got to Choose

 

“Charles, before you got here I checked every single expiration date to make sure not one thing in there is bad.”

My mother-in-law delivered this line with equal parts sugar and salt. I was digging in her refrigerator, putting together a Bloody Mary for my wife. As any decent bartender knows, a good Bloody Mary doesn’t come from a bottle; it comes out of the refrigerator door: the juice of lemon, lime and olives. Maybe add some Worcestershire, some Tabasco, and maybe some garlic or anything pickled. The words from my mother-in-law gave me pause not because I wasn’t building a good drink or because she lacked the items I needed. I paused to consider what was said because many years before I had written a story about some of the out-of-date items I had discovered in her fridge. Perhaps that story had been grounded in the truth but I might have taken a few factual liberties for the benefit of my tale. (I wasn’t lying about that damn butter.) Anyway, no doubt it says something about me that I was willing to throw my mother-in-law under the bus for a few laughs, especially when you take into account that this is the mother I got to choose rather than the one I didn’t.

 
The mother I didn’t choose turned out pretty well for me. The woman who birthed me is strong and kind. The oldest of three girls, raised by a single mother on a teacher’s salary, the mother I didn’t choose loves me unconditionally and would fight a bear on my behalf. (Then she would scold me for being stupid enough to provoke the bear but that’s a whole different story.) The mother I didn’t choose looks at me with eyes that rarely find fault and smiles in a way that propels me forward.

 
As a father to four children, I readily admit no one is more important than a good mother. If we are fortunate, the mothers we don’t choose shape who we become more than any single person in our lives. This mother I did not choose is the reason I cry when our dog dies, empathize with panhandlers, attempt to see both sides of an argument, and do my best to spoil my children with love. The mother I did not choose is the birthplace of the best parts of me.

 
The mother I did choose came with the woman I love. Now, maybe some of you would suggest that a man can love a woman but not her family. I don’t buy it. A family in general, and a mother in particular, can ruin a good love story. (Maybe he took a lot of words doing it, but this pretty much sums up what Shakespeare was all about.) My wife’s family, and the mother I got to choose, have done nothing but strengthen the feelings I have for my wife. A writer herself, this mother promotes what I write like the letters are made of gold. The mother I got to choose has also slogged through more than one of my manuscripts with a red pen and probably plenty of mumbling about commas and grammar. She even put together a big wedding for us that we really could have cared less about. That sounds terrible but we tied the knot on the night I told her daughter I loved her. Maybe the actual marriage proposal didn’t come for eight or nine months after that and the wedding still four months later, but we didn’t need a preacher or a ceremony or even a gathering of the people dear in our lives to tell us what we already knew. Still, without complaint and not nearly enough thanks, the mother I got to choose pulled together a beautiful weekend. We flew in to do the deed and flew right back out.

 
I know plenty of strong women. Two of the strongest women in my life helped me become who I am and helped shape the woman I will forever love. So, here’s to good mommas and those lucky enough to have them. Both the mommas we got to choose and the ones we didn’t. Because they are good mothers they will forgive our shortcomings, they will shine us on when we need to be picked up and they will ease us away from things that will come to no good, like stories born among refrigerator doors and in the untamed mind of an occasional scoundrel.