Category Archives: Family

Hoyt’s Hill

Child on bike, resting at top of hill

 

“I DON’T WANT to hear any woohoos. I want to see serious descending.”

He’d just climbed 300 feet over about three-quarters of a mile, and now we were over the crest and he was feeling the start of his reward, rolling T-right onto Spring Hill Road on his little 20″ kids’ bike and aiming it dead-center at gravity.

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“ONE,” I’D SAID to him after making him stop with me at the crest. I was holding one finger up. “You’ll have to brake a lot sooner than you usually do. So do it way early, so you don’t shoot into an intersection and get squished by a car. Got it?”

He broke in with something happy and excited about the climb. I nodded and said, “Did you hear what I just told you?”

“Yes…”

“What did I say?”

“You said…”

“…brakes?”

“Oh, right. I have to brake sooner than I think I will.”

“Correct. I’ll help you with that. When I tell you to do something, you have to do it. Got it?”

“Got it.”

“OK, that’s one. Two is, if your bike starts to shimmy, clamp your knees on the top tube.”

“Oh, I do that anyway.” He showed me.

“So clamp, and also slow down. Don’t do it abruptly, or roughly. Nice and easy, controlled. Got it?”

“Got it! Let’s go!”

He was already rolling.

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FIRST LEG, HE overshot the stop sign by a couple of feet. A mother on the other side of the intersection, twenty-five feet away, just barely started reflexively pulling her kids aside, but it was mom-protectiveness, no danger, and there were no cars anywhere.

I raised a hand in thanks and smiled, and she did the same.

“He just climbed it for the first time, so now he gets to descend it for the first time,” I said as we started up again from the stop, explaining why I’d been calling out directions.

“Oh, that’s fine,” she said, smiling as we passed, and then it changed to, “Oh, wow!”

We flashed down past a roadie coming up the next grade. He was mashing. We were a kids’ bike whipping downhill and fenders and bags behind it yelling NICE! GOOD JOB! NICE TUCK!

“OH MY GOD!” the kids’ bike shouted at the bottom, as we coasted on a short flat. “THAT WAS SO AMAZING! THAT WAS SO FUN! OH-MY-GOD!”

“Nice job. Left turn coming up. See it? That’s the next descent.”

I saw him searching, saw him find it. “Oh my god. That’s–”

“Stay right,” I said, and we tilted down.

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I HAVE LANDMARKS along this hill for braking. Approaching Hoyt’s Hill on Fawn at full tuck and 223 pounds, the white mailbox is too far.

“OKAY!” I yelled. “I WANT YOU TO BRAKE IN THREE…TWO…ONE…BRAKE!”

In a couple of seconds, there was a tiny wobble in his rear wheel. I knew what that was, and I saw him ease off and get back inside it. He wasn’t to the intersection yet. Apprehension got me, as if there was anything I could do if he overshot now.

We put our feet down at the limit line together. This time yesterday, all three of us were out charging around a parking lot in a downpour. This kid’s just like me in a storm—he nearly glows with the thrill. He was very nearly that electric now.

“OH MY GOD, THAT WAS SO AWESOME! How fast do you think we were going? Oh, you don’t know, you weren’t going as fast as I was. Oh my god THAT WAS SO COOL.”

“No, I was right there with you. I’m thinking maybe thirty.”

“THIRTY! OH. MY. GOD!”

“Maybe. Maybe thirty. Maybe mid-twenties. We’ll see when we get back and see what it looks like on Strava.”

“I think it was thirty! Dad, I could hear it in my ears, like–” he imitated the noise.

I grinned and nodded. Now it was something we both knew. Not just me.

“Okay, we’re going to cross and then stay right. … Go.”

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TEN AND a half.

Next summer, adolescence. This summer, “I don’t like being home alone. Can I go too?” and a little red bike and a little white jersey in a tuck.

Going 30.6.

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Filed under Bicycling, Bikes, Family, Fatherhood, Favorite, Kids, Parenting

THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE, translated into kidspeak

 

• THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE •
As translated into kidspeak
For later this afternoon

 

WHEN ONE BUNCH OF PEOPLE decides to be a new country, it’s only fair that they tell the other people why.

We think a few things are obvious:

  • Everyone’s created equal and has the right to live, be free, and try to be happy.
  • Governments are created so people can protect these rights, and people agree to give the governments their power.
  • If their government works against life, freedom, and happiness, the people are allowed to either change it, or get rid of it and start a new one, whichever seems better for safety and happiness.

It’s common sense that changing a government for silly reasons is a bad idea, and people usually won’t do it anyway. They’d rather suffer with what they’re used to than change it.

But when the government keeps doing bad things that all seem to make the people less and less free, the people have to get rid of it and figure something else out.

That’s what it’s been like for the British colonies in America. It’s why they’re breaking with Great Britain and making a new country. Great Britain keeps doing bad things to us and taking things that don’t belong to it, so that it can control us completely.

(LONG LIST OF BAD THINGS MAY BE PERUSED AT SOME OTHER TIME, MAYBE NEXT WEEK WHEN YOU’RE BORED.)

Every time Britain has done bad things, we’ve asked for fairness, but the only answer is more bad things. That’s how a tyrant acts, and a tyrant is not fit to rule free people.

We’ve tried to talk to the British people directly, too.

  • We’ve told them that their government has been unreasonably controlling to us.
  • We’ve reminded them why we left Britain and settled here.
  • We’ve asked them to be fair to us, reminded them that we all have family ties in common, and asked them to speak against the bad things their government does, which will break those ties.

But they haven’t listened, either. Not to words about fairness, and not to words about family ties. So we are forced to give up, and to say that they’re not family anymore. They’re just like everyone else in the world now: enemies if we’re at war, friends if we’re at peace.

As of now, these British colonies are no longer colonies. They are their own country, and can do all the things countries can do. They can start and end wars, become allies or make business agreements with other countries, and all that stuff.

We who sign this declaration pledge loyalty to each other, and hope God will protect us.

Signatures

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Filed under Favorite, independence, independence day, Parenting, united stated, usa

WTF, Willoughby?

WHEN WE’D ONLY been here two months, my new town had its “Trick or Treat Street,” a daytime candy stroll before Halloween arrived. Families strolled, kids ran ahead, shops shoveled candy into bags and little orange buckets, and the local GOP headquarters handed chocolate bars with political stickers on them directly to children.

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Next to GOP headquarters is an Irish dance place. I’m not sure which storefront these two revelers were affiliated with:

gorilla

In case it’s not clear: Picture is of two white people dancing to loud music in front of a store. One is in a gorilla mask topped by a rasta hat and dreadlocks, the other is in a fake mustache and Afro wig. They are being applauded by the other white people around them. (I’ve cropped/blurred the photo to avoid showing faces without permission.)

I stood and just looked for long enough that people noticed me.

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MY KIDS DON’T go to school in my town. They go where their mom lives. She’s not rich, but it’s where a lot of rich people live. (When I drop the boys at school, there are beautiful women out jogging or waving goodbye to schoolbuses when the rest of us are on our way to work. AHA, I thought. I know where I am! I’m in Upper West Side, Connecticut!) That must be why the schools are so highly ranked, which was one of the reasons we moved to the area when separating.

My kids participated in an afterschool program for a while. The auditorium is right at the school entrance, and when I went to pick them up one day, there was a group of kids practicing a song and dance onstage: Aw, Lawdy, pick a bale of cotton…

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THE SCHOOL HAS a DARE program. They had a graduation, where the kids sang a song and presented the cop with the gift that cops always seem to want at these things. (They did repeated collections for their own gift when I attended the NYPD “Citizens’ Police Academy,” too.)

One of the speakers was a selectman. I don’t know what that is, but he had the bearing of someone who thought he mattered. He told the kids to watch out for drugs, and gave them the example of a boy who’d died of overdose only the year before.

“No one would ever have expected it,” the selectman despaired. “He was an all-American kid. Blond hair, blue eyes…”

There were a couple of kids present who weren’t white. I tried to imagine how they’d hear that statement. Then I tried to imagine how the rest would hear it.

I know how I heard it.

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I GOT INTO a conversation with a young woman of color when I was riding my bike around the area. I’d just discovered a little trail that let out on a sidewalk by the train station.

She pointed out where she’d encountered a pickup with KKK members in it, over on the main street.

I told her about having “KKK” and swastikas painted on my house growing up.

I work at home a lot, and sit facing the street. Police cars sweep by my house a lot.

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THIS IS WHERE my kids will grow up.

We moved here from Inwood, at the top of Manhattan, where the cabbies at the airport all tell you it’s the Bronx. It was a largely Dominican neighborhood; my little white boys were in the minority. I think that’s a healthy state for a little white boy. Now they’re in not only a majority, but a near-unanimity. And I’m just Dad. Their friends are about to be more important.

“They get it at home,” says the standard line about various bad -isms. But in our family, they got it from school. The sexism in our neighborhood in Inwood was blatant. Street harassment was nearly unceasing. The leader of a kids’ group was excoriated by parents (of both sexes) for letting boys cook on a camping trip. (That leader was male.) Local women running a summer day camp at a school had the kids put on a skit in which the main character, a boy, went to college and all the girls sat on stage, admired him, and served him food.

My kids didn’t get it at home; they brought it home from the playground, and I had to tell them their friends were wrong.

They just barely believed me. Sort of. Dad countering their friends’ declarations did fly, somewhat, when they were six, seven, eight, nine. Now they’re ten, and starting middle school in a few months. They’ll be big deals, and their friends will be one big barely-differentiated sheet of white.

And the selectman will probably speak again.

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IT’S WHITE, I say, when I’m done saying the things I love about my new town, and start on the things I don’t. Like white. Like white-white-white. There are isolated exceptions, here and there, but it’s white. The main time I see nonwhite people is behind shop counters. Overheard conversations during Baltimore were about why they would do that to their own neighborhoods. Were they stupid?

I haven’t seen any burning crosses. I haven’t heard the N-word.

Still. Willoughby.

WTF?

wtf_willoughby

 

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Filed under Divorce, Favorite, Parenting, racism, sexism

Simple machine

I WAS DEPRESSED when I woke up yesterday morning, and weight loss had reversed since I got sick earlier in the week, and it was 15° out and gloomy and there seemed no point. So I posted on Facebook:

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Because I’d posted something all tough-sounding, now I had to be able to say later that I’d done it, so I eventually found all my winter cycling clothes (not the Lycra ones, the jeans and parka ones) and went outside.

Because I keep a very cheap bottom-end single-speed fatbike outside, and still have the buckskin mittens I got in the Arctic and never thought I’d use again, I could ride to my new workspace without worrying about getting stuck there if it snowed during the day.

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Because cycling drives your psyche clean, I got there in a good mood, and because even 3.7 flat miles is a workout on a 60-pound bike with 15psi tires, I got there in a good mood and invigorated—and hungry.

Because I was now in Danbury, I didn’t have to eat random leftovers out of the fridge.

And because I was invigorated and fed, and have always loved any unfamiliar cold sweet drink, I was friendly and happy.

Because I was friendly, I got into a friendly conversation with one of the guys who started the Hackerspace, and because I’m “the book design guy,” was taken forcibly by the lapels and hauled across the street, to a medium-small press, where I was introduced to the publisher and acquiring editor.

Because I don’t have a headlight on this bike yet, I rode home just before dark.

Because I was home before dark, I had time to check out Open Mic Night at my local coffeehouse, which I liked better than the open mics I’ve checked out at local bars. I have a new song that’s almost done.

Because I hadn’t written all day, I felt the day had been a failure. But not the kind of failure where everything’s hopeless, which is how I’d felt in the morning; the kind where you know it actually is a failure of sorts, but because you got your riding in…eh, you know, no point being despondent. And the lard thing was pretty funny. Just do better tomorrow.

Here’s the lard thing. I have no idea how to count calories when buying Chinese food cooked by the owner of the grocery store:

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 6.30.26 PM

simple_machine

THIS MORNING I weighed in at less than 220 for the first time since November.

I was also a little sorrowful for no very clear reason, and a little sick, still. But the depression wasn’t so bad. And because I didn’t want to break the new streak, I rode to work again.

Bicycling gives you the same ideas you get when you’re falling asleep, only you can write them down when you get there. When I got to the Hackerspace, I wrote down what the climax and ending of this novel are.

(Because bicycling also replays painful old gaffes on a loop, I imagined how people I’ve been weird to—because at specific times of my life, my personality wasn’t back together yet—would react to the book. Eh, Snyder. Yeah, don’t like him. YOU can, I’m not saying otherwise. We all have our tastes, and none are wrong. Just…you know…*raised eyebrows and shrug*.)

(Because bicycling also pumps good mood through your entire being, I remembered I don’t actually care all that much that I sometimes fumble the social thing.)

Because I know the climax now, I’m taking a break from plotting and narrative and working on blurbable reviews. Publishers Weekly will call it one of the first masterworks of the early twenty-first century. The New York Times will marvel that a genre writer could have produced such a layered work of subtle complexity. These are advance blurbs, and subject to change.

I will be accused, by my friends, of snobbishly distancing myself from genre, and will patiently explain what I really meant in the interview. My explanation will be grudgingly accepted, but only four of my friends will still talk to me a month later. That’s a net gain of two, so this works out great.

Metal tubes, cables, rubber, leather. Gears and levers. Miracles.

Bruno the Big-Boned

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Filed under Being a grownup, Bicycling, Bikes, Books, Community, Danbury, Divorce, ebook production, Freelancing, Hackerspace, Makerspace, Senseless acts of beauty

Two minutes in a quiet kitchen, with dishes

MONDAY THE ROADS were slick and slushy between Willoughby and the town eleven miles away where my kids live half the time, and my low-end Kia is terrible in any depth of snow, so I didn’t get the boy I was expecting. The new custody schedule includes twice-weekly “one-boy” nights, which are very important to me, maybe the most important thing in the schedule. Parents of more than one child know what I mean: Even ten minutes with just one is like a little miracle. There’s that little person you like, usually obscured by blankets of homework, sibling rivalry, chores, laundry…and then you have just one, and…hey, little dude! I like you! And we have TWO HOURS! What do you want to do?

I love it, they love it…and we didn’t get to have it. I’m sure they took it better than I did, since they still had each other and Mom. I hung their new magnetic dart board in their room; I was going to do that with them, after surprising them with it, but it cheered me up to think of them discovering it.

Today, Wednesday, it’s still below freezing, but there’s blue sky and sunshine, and the roads are passable. This is the other one-boy night, so even though I didn’t get Red Fish a couple of days ago, I pick up Blue Fish from school this afternoon, drive him back here, get his homework done in 90 minutes instead of his usual three hours, and take him to chess club at the library. It’s once a month, on Wednesdays, which is why I wanted Wednesdays to be my night with him. At last month’s, he ended up with his picture in the Willoughby paper because there was a reporter there.

And I’ll do dishes. I let things go more when the boys aren’t here, because there’s no one to be an example for. And I turn off the heat to half the house. On a predictable cycle, I live in a cold, silent building that resuscitates and warms up again for boys. If I wanted melodrama and sympathy, I’d chisel an epigraph on this entry’s headstone:

I dwell in a lonely house I know
that vanished many a summer ago

Except I like the house, and I’m pretty much never lonely. And it’s odd. I don’t miss my boys when they’re gone; I’m just thrilled to see them when they’re back.

Except when I’m supposed to have them and don’t. Then I miss them. So tonight is hugs. And chess. And darts.

2min_quiet_kitchen

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February 11, 2015 · 12:27 pm

Interlude: Morning, Kitchen, Willoughby

THERE ARE DIFFERENT kinds of morning light. Today’s is pale, but my kitchen has wood and copper in it, and a new bright orange stock pot, and daisies in a washed-out Bulleit rye bottle on the long prep table from the old apartment that the boys and I sanded and restained a weekend or two after we first moved in. You can do that kind of thing when you leave the city and have a small back lawn. The other finishing touch was a red clock, which is ticking above my head, softly. I think a boy may have just gotten up. It’s 8 a.m.

There’s rice waiting in the cooker and bowls warming in the oven. We’ll be watching anime and eating soon. I think I’m up to four kinds of soy sauce in the pantry, but the good stuff isn’t easy to find around here. I’ll get some at Sunrise Mart, one of the items on the notepaper on the fridge that says NYC at the top. I no longer have cats, including the one who loved to pull everything off the fridge. I’ve had cats my whole life. I don’t really miss them. That was unexpected. And I really don’t miss walking barefoot on cat litter in the morning.

No boy. I guess they’re still asleep.

When they’re at their mom’s, I turn the thermostat off and use a space heater. Then I turn the thermostat back on and can’t figure out why it won’t obey my temperature settings. I wrote to the manufacturer and got a manual for it, but my eyes glazed. I’ll try again when they’re not here and we don’t have better things to do on a Saturday, like try out the local comic book store or see what the “tree festival” is.

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I HAVE NEVER been a good housekeeper, and that has always been a nut of conflict. But this is my kitchen. My house. My daisies. My expensive Honeysuckle-scented all-surface cleaner. My sense of what to teach boys about manhood. Endurance, self-sufficience, beauty, efficiency, cast iron. The cast iron is from my mom, mailed cross-country. I remember using it when I was the boys’ age. The slow cooker is brand-new and I expect it to break next year. In the maelstrom of the separation and move, I wanted a slow cooker, and this is the one recommended by America’s Test Kitchen, whose cookbooks I really like. I didn’t read the Amazon reviews; I should have. I also got the front end of my new bike wrong; the stem is too low, so it puts me into a racing posture. I am not a racer. You can look at me and know that.

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I GOT 1) the slow cooker wrong, and 2) the bike wrong, and 3) I signed a car lease I shouldn’t have, and 4) the old landlord outclevered me and kept a few thousand in security deposit.

But:

  1. About a month into our new life, I handed the boys a cookbook and told them to pick dinner from the slow-cooker section. They came back in ten minutes: Korean Braised Short Ribs.
     
    I’m like—seriousl…uh, never mind, YOU’RE ON.
     
    It was excellent. It was less expensive than processed foods. When the accidentally wrong slow cooker breaks, I’ll get a cheaper one.
     
  2. The too-low stem on the bike means I spend a good deal of time out of the saddle, because I don’t like the position. That would be more of an issue if I were spending any time on the bike at all, which is related to it not being quite comfortable enough, and also related to life being an upheaval—but I got the bike built in time to have a finished one at the start of my new life, and I love it in all other ways. It’s not a particularly expensive bike, but it’s got exactly the tires I wanted, and just the front bag and the very fenders, all of which you’d think would be bolt-ons to any random bicycle, but most bikes don’t have the right spaces to accept them.
     
    I ride it around town on errands. When there’s a little more money, I’ll get a fitting and replace the accidentally wrong stem, and it will be the brevet whip I meant it to be.
     
  3. The car lease was a mistake. I can’t afford it. I really wanted to go completely car-free, but the boys ended up going to school twelve miles away. It’s the cheapest monthly rate I could possibly find, on the cheapest car around, but I should have bought a beater outright and paid less for insurance. And the mileage limit is too low and the term is way too long. But we have reliable transportation, and the accidentally wrong lease will—eventually—expire.
     
  4. As for my old NYC landlords:
     
    The ones before these ones were powerful criminals. (No kidding. I spoke briefly with the NY District Attorney a year or two before they finally broke them up and put them out of business. It was in the news. Too late for us.) These ones…benefit of the doubt. Maybe just dishonest slimeballs. So they get my money and I cut my losses and move on. You can’t pull a victory out of everything.

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NOW I HEAR the stairs creaking and crackling, so I’ll wrap it up. A new familiar sound in this new familiar life. And the light’s not as pretty in the kitchen. Rice and anime await, and noise and mess and bickering and comic books and piano and trombone and cello and cookie baking and fart jokes and farts. And, I’ll cop to it, the work I didn’t get done this week for, honestly, not any good-enough reason. The copper canisters and the orange stock pot are steadfastly cheery, and the red clock—it just ticks softly on, but soon I won’t hear it.

 

 

my_city

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Filed under Being a grownup, Bicycling, Bikes, Cooking, Divorce, Family, Fatherhood, Food, Gender, Kids, Parenting

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