Friday, June 28, 2013

Texas Wept.

Wow, what a week.

And what a strange land we Americans occupy. In a fragmented political atmosphere that could only be compared to such fickle mindsets as Sybil and those three zany faces of Eve, we experienced both the heroic and the nefarious these past four days.

Actually, both events transpired on Tuesday, which in my opinion, is the most under-appreciated day of the week. Tuesdays are the misunderstood middle children. When God created Tuesday, he sort of mailed it in, throwing together a crock pot casserole in the morning so dinner would be ready after work and he could recover from Monday and ramp up for Hump Day.

Anyway, or as my recent high school-diploma-holding daughter says, "anyways," the United States Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday, in a five-to-four decision, that the Federal Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional. The black-robed majority maintained that the Act violated the Fifth Amendment, disparaging "personhood and dignity" by treating same sex marriages as less respected than those utilizing complementary plumbing.

The usual suspects voted in favor of DOMA: Justices Roberts, Scalia and Alito danced with the Republican presidents who'd asked them to the prom, as did Justice Clarence Thomas, who kept alive his seven-year streak of never asking a question during oral arguments.

Impressive. He insists that justices should listen, rather than interrupt the advocates. I'm not saying he's not paying attention here; all I would submit is that nothing lures away the attention of a bored SCOTUS judge like the deadly cocktail a of an iPhone 5 and Instagram.

I don't want to downplay this decision, though. As former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee proclaimed, "Five people in robes claimed they are bigger than God. Jesus wept."

He did? Like, just sort of choked-up or actual full-on, doubled-over sobbing where snot strings from his mustache and salty tear dollops plop against his strappy sandals?

Next time I see him, I'll have to ask Huckabee how he managed to livestream J.C. on his Jesus Cam.

And then there's the events that transpired in the Lone Star State. On Monday, the Texas State House voted overwhelmingly to pass a draconian proposal that would ban all abortions after twenty weeks, as well as adding stringent new restrictions on how clinics get licensed. The consequences would have essentially eliminated abortion clinics in our nation's second largest state.

Here's the heroic part. In order for the bill to not be voted upon by the Senate and enacted into law, Senator Wendy Davis instigated a thirteen-hour filibuster. Under Texas rules, she was required to speak continuously and only on the topic of the bill in order to continue the filibuster. Beginning at 11:00 AM, she was not allowed breaks to eat, drink, go to the bathroom or even lean against the desk, and only after midnight arrived, thereby ending the thirty-day special session, did Ms. Davis cede the podium. 

Then I'm guessing she went to the bathroom.

The bill was thereby vanquished and the women of Texas were assured a reprieve from Governor Rick Perry's medieval scourge on women's rights. This meat-stuffed suit who calls himself a governor needs to go the hell away. He's now threatening to call another special session to pound this thing through.

Look Rick, while you're at it, why don't you attack your state's obesity epidemic by eliminating all Cheesecake Factories in Texas? By your logic, citizens will abruptly halt consuming shoebox-sized chunks of cheesecake and the entire republic will enjoy a svelter profile. 

There's not a chance that anyone would skirt the law and whip up his or her own curdy loaf of illegal cheesecake, right? 

Come on, Texas, that door to the back alley is still propped open. Toss that pious governor of yours out by the rusty Dumpsters and slam that thing for good.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Gaining Control in Our Lives As We Lose it in Our Bladders.

My wife and I gingerly sank ourselves into the stiff bank lobby chairs. I could only surmise that they were purposely built to look comfortable, yet to inhibit blood circulation enough to quickly herd out the bank's riff raff lest they risk bed sores.

Like McDonald's, only with sugar-free suckers and stale coffee, Chase Bank offered little to promote customer comfort as we waited to sign the paperwork.

I could see our banker from my seat. A woman sat across from him in his semi-secluded cubicle, en rapt in some sort of conversation that didn't look like it would end any time soon.

"Come on," I cajoled. "Just wrap things up, people." I glanced at my bride. "We do have an appointment, right?"

"Settle down, Grampy." She frowned. "Our appointment is for 5:00 and it's only 5:04."

She knows how I hate being called Grampy, so that comment didn't exactly douse the fire. I seethed and stared at the rude interloper who sat hijacking our banker's face time with impunity. I began dissecting the woman's appearance, questioning everything from her ill-fitting bra (I happened to watch that Oprah episode) to her mother's possible alcohol and nicotine abuse during pregnancy. Piss and vinegar overflowed from my emotional rain barrel.

But then, inexplicably, a calming blanket engulfed me as I the Serenity Prayer, that famous Alcoholics Anonymous axiom, seeped into my consciousness:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Aah, that's better, I thought. Listen, man, you're right in the middle of a situation completely out of your control. Could you walk up to this woman right now and escort her out by her earlobe like a deranged playground teacher? Absolutely, but you'd also find yourself removed and possibly tased in the groin by the man who had previously been sanctioned to loan you a nice chunk of change. Go to your freaking happy place, asshole.You aren't currently piloting this jet ski, so just massage that throbbing vein of rage back into your stress-oiled forehead.

That little pep talk helped a lot. Plus the lady got up and left around 5:05. 

I really need to keep that prayer handy. The premise seems so basic, so intuitive, but it's got to be one of the most difficult challenges to my aging sensibilities.

Recently, I've decided to drill into the paradigm permafrost, because otherwise, things will only get worse. Which aspects of my life can I truly control and which are branded for release into the trout pond of destiny?

My health—I think yes, overall, this is something I can control. I don't however, feel responsible for a congenital addiction to Hostess Ho Hos and Reservoir Dogs.

My emotions—Again, a bit of a grey area here. I don't think they can be controlled per se…just the behavior which ensues as the result of emotion. For instance, when you hear that some older boy at school kicked your daughter in the kneecap, you can't manipulate the raw vitriol coursing through your being. The challenge is in preventing the transformation of fantasy into reality. You can't actually meet that kid after school and whisper to him that today's delicious corn beef and cheddar sandwich was actually his new puppie…and cheddar.

My relationships—"Control" is probably the wrong word. People who strive to control relationships often end up in creepy Burning Bed-type situations. But come on—we all know what we can do to improve things, right?

My children—There's no controlling children—not mine, anyway. In fact, it's just the opposite. For God's sake, if I were some sort of machine, my kids would be the vice grips on my hexagonal nuts.

Time—There was a TV show in the Sixties called Time Tunnel, anyone remember it? Two white guys, one who wore a suit and looked like David Byrne, and the other in a turtle neck and resembling Tim Tebow, participated in a top secret government project. Once they entered the tunnel, they couldn't get out and were transported on random occasions to other times and places. Fortunately, everything was filmed from several angles and Doug and Tony always managed to pop into historically significant situations, rather than just materializing on a pizza-stained couch next to two stoned dudes named Lonnie and Mark. 

So yeah, you can't control time unless you were either on that show or are Cher.

I've got to say, that was really a refreshing exercise. Now hand me the remote.

Monday, June 17, 2013

A Series of Fortunate Events.

My daughter graduated from high school last Wednesday.

Loaded statement, that.

How, in a word, would I describe how I felt as the winding rivulets of Columbia Blue and white entered the stadium from the far end and slowly engulfed the track's north turn? How can I accurately portray in a single word, the intensity of my emotion as Pomp and Circumstance ushered the graduates in front of the bleachers, most wearing grins you'd be lucky to see once in a lifetime of Christmas mornings?

I think the word  is "rocked."

As soon as they turned down the home stretch toward their seats on the fifty yard line, I could make out faces. Parading slowly by was a group who'd encapsulated the past eighteen years of both a childhood and a parenthood. I gazed upon the procession, a surreal documentary streaming through my mind as each face unearthed a memory nugget, however small, from earlier days.

Most commencement ceremonies end with the hurling of caps into the air. Not this one. Didn't have to worry about Great Aunt Eufagenia's bloodshot eye being impaled by an errant mortarboard and leaking gelatinous goo onto the toupee of the guy in front of her. Nary a grad wanted any damage done to this or her custom-detailed head covering.

She spent two hours decorating that thing, ensuring that most of the rooms in our house had been lightly dusted with a sparkly reminder of where she'd be going in the fall.

Here she is with one of her best friends,Trevor. 

We love Trevor—and his parents. He'll be a Husky soon, bless his heart. I'm going to encourage my girl to keep in touch with Trevor, maybe grab some frozen yogurt or catch a movie when they're both home. And if, you know, they eventually find themselves with college degrees and jobs and having some sort of children together, that wouldn't suck at all.

She and Jake chose to walk together.

Jake's also highly awesome, as are his mom and dad. As an added bonus, these two will together tread the mossy climes of Western Washington University this autumn.

Grandma and Grandpa came. 

These people have cowboyed up, rain or shine, for just over twelve thousand of her t-ball, soccer, volleyball and basketball games, as well as miscellaneous performing arts and school pageants.

We know how those can be. 

And how could I neglect mentioning the two or three times per school year when they'd drop everything and motor up from Puyallup to care for a pink-eyed tot? Yeah, gold cord for the grandparents.

Last Wednesday was ridiculous in its riches. Here's what happened on June 12, in chronological order:

1. After a six-week construction period, our remodel was completed.
2. My wife was offered and accepted a teaching position she'd been pursuing for months.
3. Did I mention the whole high school graduation thing?

And finally, as I reclined in the living room that night waiting to drop my kid off at her grad night, I scrolled though the usual websites on my iPod. A single email popped onto the screen in the bold typeface of a message not yet opened. In the preview pane, the words read, "Thank you for your query regarding Ben's Fall…" 

That's the name of my book. For the past month or so, I've been sending query letters and sample chapters to literary agencies who are currently accepting submissions. I received a handful of prompt rejections, most saying things like, "It's not really for me, but good luck finding a home for it."

I tapped the screen and the remainder of the message appeared: "…I would like to take a look at the full manuscript. Please forward it as a Microsoft Word document, and I will get back to you as soon as possible."

As if the day hadn't proven to be enough of an emotional meat grinder, apparently Wednesday wasn't quite done making sausage. I read it and then read it again and then read it about nine more times.

Someone who works in New York City wants to read the whole thing! OMfreakingG.

Being of Irish heritage, I grappled with the idea of divulging item number four, since I don't want to jinx anything. But what the hell, if it happens it happens, and if it doesn't it doesn't, right? It's a step closer, after Wednesday.

Thursday was a little boring.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Stones the Size of Drones.

Have you ever seen the TV show, What Would You Do? Formerly a recurring segment on ABC's 20/20, it apparently became so popular that it was spun into its own program, like, you know, a whole box of just Crunch Berries.

The show's focus was on the behavior of innocent bystanders who believed they were witnessing public acts of boorish or unethical behavior. In reality, each situation was crafted by producers and performed by professional actors, who ultimately revealed themselves Candid-Camera-style.

What Would You Do? quickly emerged as one of our weekly staples. My younger daughter and I would sit gasping with indignation as a "mother" chastised her "daughter" for being too overweight to wear a certain type of clothing while shopping in a department store. We wouldn't exhale until a nice lady or guy approached her and said something like, "Hey, step off, Mommy Dearest. Satan called and he wants you home in five minutes for hot yoga."

There was the"pregnant" women downing tequila shots at a bar. Being from south King County, I never really understood the big deal there.

There was the waiter refusing to serve two dudes dressed as drag queens. I tended to agree since they ordered Bud Light, the most abhorrent swill known to humankind.

And of course, there was the testosterone-soaked father who literally beat his son into the pavement during an intense physical workout at a public park. Joggers would pass with mouths agape, occasionally stopping to confront the man as he forced his son to perform push ups and sit ups. I remember desperately wishing that a kindly Samaritan might someday intervene after witnessing the grisly abuse my daughter inflicts upon her own father while playing one-on-one hoops at the Y. 

Someday the emotion won't burn so raw and the healing will begin. Someday.

But over the weekend, the grand poobah of the What Would You Do? lodge stepped to the podium. Former Central Intelligence Agency employee Edward Snowden, released details to London's Guardian newspaper concerning secret United States surveillance programs. Snowden acknowledged being the source of leaks outlining government practices that collect records on domestic telephone calls and overseas Internet activity in the global hunt for terrorists and criminals.

In his capacity working for a private intelligence contractor, Snowden had access to the mother lode."The NSA has built an infrastructure that allows it to intercept almost everything," he told the newspaper. "With this capability, the vast majority of human communications are automatically ingested without targeting. If I wanted to see your e-mails or your wife's phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your e-mails, passwords, phone records, credit cards."

Zowie. I don't care about the passwords and credit cards, but man, do I have a long trail of interesting phone conversations with my wife about how long to microwave a baked potato prior to putting it in the oven. Enjoy my dream life, oh spymasters.

Before you brand this man a traitor worthy to breathe the rarefied air of the Benedict Arnolds and Aldrich Ameses and Brett Favres, keep in mind—this guy has chosen to ruin his life; after all, he voluntarily identified himself. Mr. Snowden abandoned everything—his home, his livelihood, even his girlfriend—to establish a moral stand. Most turncoats are motivated either by financial incentive or revenge. 

Not Edward Snowden.

He's obviously in huge trouble, maybe even worse than the kid in my daughter's middle school orchestra who carved his name into his two thousand dollar, school-owned cello, and got booted off the school's trip to Disneyland. Right now, Snowden is holed up in a hotel somewhere in Hong Kong, peaking through the blinds and waiting to be granted asylum from some, possibly any, sympathetic government. 

But by blowing the whistle on these shady dealings, Snowden has planted his bar stool smack dab in the cross hairs of his jilted lover's favorite toy, the predator drone. Or, if and when he's apprehended, he can plan on the federal hard labor version of Extended Stay America. How about that for a couple of can't-lose propositions?

The United States government insists that it isn't abusing this unbridled power, that it only wants to disrupt and destroy terrorist networks while ensuring its citizens the same privacy and freedoms secured  over two-and-a-half centuries by the blood of so many. I'm just not sure, though. Do you buy it? 

What would you do?

Monday, June 3, 2013


We're surrounded by opposite and competing forces—mortal enemies, if you will. 

Our world is teeming with toxic tandems.

There's Palestine versus Israel, Evert versus Navtratilova, Roadrunner versus Wile E. Coyote. There's Michele Bachmann vs. sound logic and factual data.

And there's me versus my own bloody self. 

In order to properly explain, please allow me to cast a dusty cloud of backstory particulates in your direction. Gesundheit.

Last Friday, my family and I moved back into our house, which has been undergoing an extensive kitchen remodel. Since we were staring squarely at thirty days without a refrigerator, range or kitchen sink, we turned to Uncle Craig and his list to find an apartment a few miles from our construction zone.

The two gentle souls we're proud to call our offspring weren't thrilled with the idea; if there's any trait they share, it's the flexibility of a petrified log. And once we'd settled into our two-bedroom "vacation home," you would have thought they'd been forced to shack up in a half-empty tube of Pringles. 

Let me take this time to reiterate how grateful I am to live in this age of convenience and not back in the pioneer era, because if those two had embarked from Independence, Missourah five generations ago, they'd have killed and eaten each other before the wagon train had reached the muddy outskirts of Independence, Missourah.

So yeah, back to the present. On Friday, I took the day off work to move our stuff back into our house. The countertops and backsplash aren't yet installed, and the floor still needs to be refinished, but we're good to go appliance-wise. 

Manual labor is something with which I've always been comfortable. It's how I spent my summers back in high school and college, and it's still the best remedy for a restful slumber. A little lifting here, some scrubbing and sponging there, no big whoop. I performed a rudimentary cleaning of our temporary home, loaded the final boxes into the hubcap-challenged bosom of the Kia minivan and  gazed at the dwindling image of the vacation abode in the rear view mirror. 

I entered our house, a bag o' shoes draped over my shoulder. Every surface was coated with the dust of plywood and sheet rock and other, more traditional DNA-based sources of household flotsam. Four hours into the project, I felt tired, yet encouraged. The only obstacle remaining, the sole item standing between me and my project's completion…

…was a really, really, really big oak desk. 

A few years ago, we purchased this behemoth from a law firm, and this son-of-a-bitching thing is solid. You could place your computer, monitor and printer on this thing and still have room to play air hockey.  

My older daughter had originally told me that she could help move it outside, but then gave blood at school that day and bagged out. "Blood schmudd," I whispered to myself, rapt in delusional defiance.  "I'll move  it myself."


I removed the drawers, reasoning that they must account for at a half a percent of the wooden pig's body mass, and thereby allow for an effortless transfer to the front curb. I performed a couple test slides along the floor. Not bad. I measured the desk's dimensions to ascertain the best angle to emancipate the lumber Limbaugh from the premises.

The only solution was to rotate it onto its side and slide it along the floor. Again no big deal about scratching the floor since it was scheduled for refinishing. 

First things first. After rocking several times, the juggernaut reached its tipping point. As it cascaded to the floor, a brilliant instinct took control, one which I'm truly amazed hasn't been Darwinistically weeded out of human survival behaviors.

In order to cushion its landing, I placed my foot into the path of its hulking inertia and it landed squarely upon my left big toe.

How can I describe the pain? Similar to a childbirth? Perhaps, based on how I've heard it described. It was as if someone had impaled my toe with a molten fire poker and filled the hole with five star Thai peanut sauce. I cursed so loudly and with such vehemence that an old high school friend in Tacoma called and asked if I could tone down the f bombs since he'd just put his grandson down for a nap.

I jumped around the living room like a Woodstock dancer, waiting for the nausea to evaporate and for Jesus to stop encouraging me to hop toward the light. At length, my emotions calmed.

Admonishing myself quietly one last time for being such an immense idiot, I resolved that, although I may be forced to give my life, so be it. I must purge that fat bastard from my GD house. I slid it along the floor rather effortlessly, bolstering the confidence I'd need to finish the job. I tipped it through the door and slid it down the front steps. Only one more step and this nemesis would be forever banished to the emerald grass of our front yard. 

It's weight shifted slightly sideways and just as I jockeyed myself to stop its momentum...

...Remember when I told you that whole thing about the toe? 

Yeah, it happened again.

Upon regaining consciousness, I lifted my head from its perch between my legs and rolled onto my side, savoring the victory.

The desk remains, in front of our house next to the street, celebrating its fourth day in the elements. Its even been pooped on by one of those practical-joker crows.

And the only evidence of the excruciating soft tissue damage it caused to its boneheaded owner is the weakly scrawled note taped to its front shortly after the apocalyptic struggle of a man against his own stupidity: