Category Archives: Whatever

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:

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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

June Writing Challenge

May went pretty well—except for all the people who didn’t finish. That is not the goal. It needs to be a real challenge, but it also needs to be possible. Rules have been tinkered with for June.

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THE CHALLENGE:
In June, 2015, write for at least half an hour every single day.
Go for 60 if you’re feeling tough.
Yes, that’s it.

FOUR WAYS TO WIN

“A” TEAM: Write for 60 minutes a day
“B” TEAM: Write for 30 minutes a day

24-HOUR TIME TRIAL: 60 minutes a day for 24 days
12-HOUR TIME TRIAL: 30 minutes a day for 24 days


FAQ

WHAT COUNTS AS “WRITING?”

IF YOU WRITE AT A COMPUTER: “Writing” means you are physically present at a computer, and your word processor is the only app that’s open.

IF YOU WRITE ON A NOTEPAD OR TYPEWRITER: It’s in front of you, and so is a pen or pencil.

In writer talk: Your ass is in the chair.

  • Staring at the screen counts as writing, as long as you do it for the appropriate amount of time, with a word processor (and nothing else) open.
  • Going to the kitchen does not count toward writing time.
  • Going to the bathroom does not count toward writing time.
  • Talking on the phone does not count toward writing time.
  • Looking at your phone does not count toward writing time.
  • Playing games does not count toward writing time. Yes, even if it’s your PROCESS.
  • RESEARCH DOES NOT COUNT. Research is not writing.
  • Interruptions do not count toward writing time. That’s right, even though they weren’t your fault.

CAN I BREAK UP THE 30 OR 60 MINUTES?

RULE CHANGE: YES. This is all on the honor system. You know if you did the amount you’re claiming.


CAN I MAKE UP TIME IF I MISS A DAY?

RULE CHANGE: YES, LIKE THIS:

  • ONCE A WEEK, you accrue one “double up” day, for making up a missed session
  • YES, your double-up days roll over to the next week.
  • NO, they do not roll into the the next month’s challenge

HOW DO I SIGN UP?

You don’t sign up. You show up.


DO I NEED TO DECLARE WHICH CHALLENGE I’M DOING UP FRONT?

NO. You know what the four ways to win are. Aim for one. I don’t need to know which. (Though you can feel free to say so, either here or on the Facebook Group.)


WHAT DO I GET IF I WIN?

Self-respect.

Also, there may be stickers.


WHY WOULD I BOTHER WITH THIS WHEN I CAN JUST SIT DOWN HALF AN HOUR A DAY AND WRITE BY MYSELF?

No clue. That’s your business.


WHAT DO I NEED TO PROVIDE AS PROOF?

Nothing. To quote the guy I ripped this off from: As is true for all worthwhile things, this is on the honor system.


YOU RIPPED THIS OFF? WHO’D YOU RIP IT OFF FROM?

Iron Rider, a fellow randonneur (look it up), proposed a 30-day cycling challenge in March: The “A” Team was challenged to ride 60 minutes/day, the “B” Team would ride 30, etc. It didn’t matter how fast, how much elevation gain, whether it was an official event or a grocery run, or even whether the bike had wheels. (Indoor exercise bikes were allowed.) The only thing that mattered was that your ass was in the saddle and your legs were pedaling.

I demurred, claiming (honestly) that I didn’t think I could commit to 30 days with my custody schedule being what it was. Next thing I knew, the “TIME TRIAL” options had been added, allowing more days off. So now I had to either do it or admit I’d been full of crap with my “I’d love to, but the kids…”

So I did. 30 minutes/day, 30 days. “B” Team. If it was snowing, I went out. If it was raining, I went out. If I had a long car trip, I put the folding bike in the trunk and stopped along the way to ride my 30 minutes, and when I got to my destination, I rode there too. But mostly I rode around my new town, aiming the wheel onto roads I hadn’t been on before. My Strava heatmap blossomed. When the challenge ended, I was riding again.

There are things about endurance cycling and novel writing that are the same, not least of which is this:

The truth is, you’re generally the only one who cares if you finish, except maybe your family, and mostly they just want you to be nicer to them.

That will be a blog entry for another time.

But fundamental to both is this: Put your ass in the right place, and keep it there. All things grow from there. (Not from your ass, wisenheimer—you know what I meant.)


OK, SO WHERE’S THE FACEBOOK GROUP?

Right here. Feel free to talk about the challenge, post pictures of your desk, or…you know…whatever.

Facebook does not count as writing.


WHO DO YOU EXPECT WILL DO THIS CHALLENGE?

Honestly? I have no idea.


iron_writer

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Filed under Whatever, writing

BiKes FIXed 5¢

YESTERDAY I TALKED myself into taking my bike to the local shop instead of working. (Except for childcare, I’ve been basically working in this chair by myself for basically a month.) Mental health thing. I figured I could ask them to loosen the clipless pedals I couldn’t get the right leverage on so I could replace them with regular pedals I bought online. I’ve been wanting that since winter ended, so that I could just get on the bike and go to the store in regular clothes instead of either looking for bike shoes or riding clipeless pedals in street shoes.

So while it was there, the mechanic noticed the new bottom bracket they installed maybe 100 miles ago was loose, but he’s backed up two weeks because it’s early spring. So he loosened the pedals and handed me some tools and told me what to do about the bottom bracket.

Which I did.

Then I walked it home, since the clipless pedals were loose.

Today I took them off and put the regular pedals on.

I don’t think he really checked my crank work.

New pedals, installed properly

pedals_installed

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Filed under Bicycling, Bikes, Whatever

Some notes to myself, upon embarking on draft 2

THE PERSONAL

You can tell when it’s special and when it’s not.

You can tell when it’s right and when it’s not.

You know more about words than most readers. Use the right ones. They’ll get it. Eaters don’t need to be chefs. Chefs need to be chefs.

You’ve learned about structure from reading and thinking about mysteries. Use that.

But you’ve never actually cared who did it, and you’ve learned more about structure from jokes than from mysteries. Use that more.

You’ve never dreamed of being a financial star. Don’t start now. Be special, be right, be small.

THE MECHANICAL

Know what everyone’s doing, and where, and why, including the ones that aren’t in this scene.

Know why everyone says everything, including the narrator.

You found out what you were really getting at in draft 1 when you wrote its climax. Write draft 2 like it’s a joke: If you look at the plot backward, everything should hang from the punchline.

But since it’s a novel, what’s hanging on that nail should be a mobile.

If you’ve seen it before, cut it.

2nd_draft_notes

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Filed under Favorite, Fiction, Senseless Acts, writing

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, and they’re not all golden. 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