Monthly Archives: October 2014

The Man Who Designed Books

I REMEMBERED, WHILE compiling a big list of production managers, small press owners, and anybody else I could think of who might need my services, that they always ask for samples, and it always takes hours to figure out just what they want and which things to send. If they specialize in how-to for sports-loving arthropods, I wonder if the self-help for anxious cetaceans I did will be quite the right thing to send, and I notice, while browsing EXO-STRIKE! An Invertebrate’s Guide to Bowling (in order to familiarize myself with the publisher), that it contains a lot of diagrams; there are none in my design for EASY ECHOLOCATION: Mackerel Without Worry.
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Filed under Anthologies, Arts, Books, Design and production, Divorce, ebook production, Employment, Fiction, Freelancing, Humor, InDesign, Kids, My writing, Other people's writing, Poetry, Self-promotion, Senseless Acts, Short stories, Whatever

Five snapshots of one boy

I LEFT HIM in the building lobby with the last load of divorce stuff. This is my boy who hates being left alone. If his brother falls asleep first, you’ll be seeing him out of bed soon. It was midnight, our move-out deadline, and all kinds of things had gone wrong all day, all week—from the flooded kitchen, to the moving company sending a truck that was too small, to the lapses and errors of communication that worsened an already touchy month and left him with me that night when he wasn’t supposed to be.

“I have to get the van,” I said. The U-Haul van was in a parking lot a few blocks away. “I’m going to jog the whole way and be back as soon as I can.”

“Are you really going to jog? Why?”

“Because I know you don’t like this. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

I left at a run, with my iPad, so I could message his mom, from the Starbucks on Dyckman, that we were leaving and I would just keep him tonight. No Internet in the apartment anymore, and my phone was dead.

But the Starbucks was closed. Surprising, considering the huge-capacity nightclub down the street and the jumping row of bars right next to me. So I stood there for a minute on the corner of Broadway, with the heavy Alcohol Alley foot traffic blurring by me, and then turned the iPad on in case Starbucks left their WiFi on, and got signal and sent my message. But I couldn’t stick around to see if it was received. I knew he’d be at his limit, and I still had to get the van.

He couldn’t see me running to the garage, but I ran.

When I came back in, he was red-faced and holding back his tears. I remember the Hemingway story “A Day’s Wait” whenever a child visibly masters himself. There are things I love and admire about my children, but this is one thing I respect. To have a nine-year-old brain and prevail over fear? Holding back his tears? Mad respect.

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HE HELPED ME load out. I propped the door with something heavy, and we organized and hauled and reorganized.

Am I being a big help? he asked as we passed each other.

You’re being a humongous help.

And on the next pass, I said: I want to tell you something. You’re not working like a boy, you’re working like a little man.

He LIT. UP.

Really?

Yeah, really. Tell you what. It’s midnight. We’re wiped out. Our new place is still an hour away. Make you a deal, you stay awake that whole time, I’ll split a beer with you when we get there.

Oh, you are SO ON.

Another pass…

Dad, because I worked like a little man?

Yeah. I’ll split a beer with you.

A BEER NOTE: He gets ONE SIP. ONE. ONE. A SIP not a GULP! ONE! whenever I have a beer and he happens to be around, which was a couple times a month and is now less frequent. They also get ceremonial quantities of wine on Jewish holidays. Split a beer means he gets about a tablespoon in one of my tiny sake glasses and I get the rest. So don’t write to me.

You’re not going to stay awake.

Oh, yes I am!

No way.

Youuuuu’ll see.

Nope.

What makes you think that?

It’s midnight, you’re exhausted, and you’re nine.

Youuuuuu’ll see.

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WE SAT TRIPLY exhausted, grimy, and sweaty, in the idling van at the curb.

I put it in gear but didn’t move out yet. “You guys don’t like it when we use profanity, do you.”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t know. It makes us feel like we’re not safe.”

“Even hell?”

“Yeah.”

“What about damn?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay. Then I will just say: Let’s get the HECK outta here!”

I checked the mirror and waited for traffic. There was a pause.

“Well, what were you going to say?”

“Well, I was going to use the F-word.”

“Oh, THAT one’s okay!”

“It is?”

“Yeah! That doesn’t bother us. We hear that a lot!”

“Well, then,” I said, looking at my son looking back at me, hesitating, both of us waiting to see if I’d do it. “Let’s get the FUCK outta here.”

He laughed. I laughed. Then he said excitedly:

“Can I say it?”

I paused…

“ONE time. ONCE. You may say it ONCE. Not twice, not three times. ONE TIME.”

“Okay!”

“Got it?”

“Got it.”

And he flung his arms up in the air and shouted, “WE’RE! FUCKING! DONE!”

Then he said, “Wow. That felt GOOD!”

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“Dad, why does that feel so GOOD?” he asked on the highway to Connecticut.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I do not know.” And then added, “ONCE. ONE TIME. That was it.”

“I know.”

“You may not say it at school, you may not say it around Mom–”

“I KNOW.”

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AND BLASTED THE air conditioner to keep myself awake during the drive, so that my hands were in sharp pain by the time we got to our new home full of boxes. And split our beer.

my_city

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Filed under Being a grownup, Divorce, Family, Fatherhood, Favorite, Inwood, Kids, Parenting, Whatever

Brilliance and color


A companion piece to this entry,
Five Snapshots of One Boy
is here.


brilliance_and_color

AT 7AM THE NEXT morning, I got up from the mattress that doesn’t have a bed frame yet and went into my kitchen to make my tea. I can see the wet street because there’s nothing covering the kitchen window—which is probably odd, since I moved here ten weeks ago, but general move-in stuff hasn’t been as important as making one single room beautiful and functional. That’s the kitchen. The boys and I live in it together. We cook together, they do their homework there, and if they don’t want to read in their room, they’re doing it down in the kitchen. That’s what I wanted when I put the kitchen together, and that’s what I got. When they’re at their mom’s, I cook in it, sit at the nook with my computer and work, and keep it nice. (Usually.)

One room at a time, as money allows. The living room is next.

I don’t remember the precise moment when I realized we could use the 25-minute drive to their school as podcast time, but it happened in that kitchen or on the way to it, and I got kind of excited. My more sciencey boy loves Radiolab (so do I), and my less sciencey boy tunes out anything he’s uninterested in and listens to the music and TV shows in his head instead, so I thought it could work well—and Radiolab Shorts are about the right length.

So we would do that. I got them up and we had breakfast and referred to the new checklist on the envelope on the refrigerator and got out the door at very nearly the appointed time.

brilliance_and_color

FALL IN WILLOUGHBY, Connecticut is retina-dazzlingly gorgeous. If you’ve ever had the experience of barely being able to look at someone who was talking to you because they were just too beautiful, it’s a similar sensation, especially along Simpaug Turnpike before it crosses Umpawaug Brook. During this part of October, every morning brings a new shock of rust and gold, and the green and yellow fade, morning by morning, like drying paint.

The Radiolab Short I already had on my phone was about an endangered bird species. There are spoilers for it two paragraphs from now (like, big spoilers for the entire episode), but the episode’s not very long, so you can listen here first if you care about that. I started it playing when we were underway and glanced to see who had noticed. Science boy was forehead-down over Rick Riordan. Music-in-his-head boy was looking out the window. I can never tell what he hears or doesn’t, but it’s generally a good bet that whatever’s already in there is more entertaining than whatever you’re trying to force through his ears.

So I let it play until it got to a point they had to understand, or the rest wouldn’t make any sense, and I paused it and made sure they did, which I also figured would get them listening in the first place if they weren’t. They made the right noises to make me go away, which are indistinguishable from paying actual attention, and I let it play again.

This episode is about a group of people who go to a huge amount of trouble and gargantuan expense to try to turn endangered whooping cranes back into a viable wild species. There was a full-length Radiolab about it; the Short is a sort of coda, in which those people realize some of the cranes are going into this lady’s yard and eating from her bird feeders, which is not good for a variety of reasons, one of which is that whooping cranes in this project have already been shot, so allowing them to learn populated areas are good foraging grounds—that’s bad.

So the endangered-crane repopulators go to the lady’s house and ask nicely, and she refuses to take the feeders down.

At this moment in the show, we’re disappointed in our own species. (Except for those of us who are longtime Radiolab listeners and can see how much time is left in the episode.)

The next thing is a phone call they recorded with her—and she is not what we expect. She’s not a crazy bird lady, or some intractable ignoramus. She’s a widow whose husband of fifty years had Alzheimer’s, and the one thing that brought him back to her was when the birds came back to the bird feeders. And then, in more recent times, amazing huge white ones started showing up. It was magical.

The hosts, as they do, performed our own thoughts and emotions for us. On the one hand…but on the other hand…but how does this change…and I won’t spoil the rest of that conversation. But in the car, driving through the painfully splendid Autumn and making the sharp right onto Cain’s Hill Road—which I refuse to stop reminding them I climbed on my folding bike with a trailer because I didn’t know the hill was there until I got to it—first I asked what they thought. And got the expected responses: Why won’t she take her bird feeders down!?

Which we talked about. And then I pointed out that there were no bad guys in this story. There were only good guys, but what they wanted was different. Then I said, What if you were a judge, and you had to decide how this should go?

Science boy, who was the main one I was talking to, since his brother was still just looking out the window, said, I think she should take them down. It’s a whole bird species!

Then, because I have a thing about including them both whenever possible, even when it’s pretty clear (as during the story the night before) that one isn’t paying attention, I said his brother’s name and repeated the question. If you were a judge, what would you decide?

He said, “I’d tell the lady that even though he’s gone, she still contains him within her.”

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MAY YOUR DAY be gorgeous and humbling.

my_city

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Filed under Divorce, Family, Fatherhood, Favorite, Kids, Parenting