Thursday, September 04, 2014

The Great Eights


Our little man turns nine today.

He is very cool and just a little bit weird and I like him a lot. I would hang out with him even if I didn’t have to. Which, now that Minecraft exists, I technically don’t have to anymore. He is a completely self-contained ecosystem when he is attached to a screen.

But I do still hang out with him when I can. When he makes time for me, in between bouts of intensely wiggling his fingers across the screen of my handheld gadget device.

What I did that makes succumbing to Minecraft actual Quality Parenting™ is that I have tied his time playing That %&$#!! Video Game (hereafter TVG) to his first having expended an equal amount of time pursuing real-world accomplishments. For example, if he wants to play TdamnedVG for 30 minutes, first he has to put in 30 minutes of guitar practice. Being the clever fellow that he is, he negotiated the use of the gadget’s native chronometer to keep track of the elapsed time of each exercise.

With a 30-minute minimum buy-in. No 5 minutes here, 10 minutes there. I saw that coming a mile away, and built it into the original agreement.

Mostly, he’s gotten a lot better at playing guitar; but I’ve also had him watch classic movies with me—in dreaded black and white!—as well as read foundational geek literature like The Dark Knight Returns and the first run of The Ultimates. And since I won’t brook talk of TVG in my presence, I’m afraid I’ve consigned The Missus to hours on end of listening to him go on with infinite enthusiasm about whatever it is he likes so much about TVG. I mean, literally enthusiasm without end; there is no end, only the inevitable “STOP TALKING ABOUT IT NOW!!” button. The difference is, I swing for the ‘stop’ button as soon as I become aware of what he’s about to begin going on about. Or has been going on about for a while before I noticed.

So now he not only sings and plays “Ring Of Fire,” but his vocal melody is slightly different in a couple of key places. I don’t think it’s a mistake, but the way he hears it. It’s also a hoot to hear it sung pitch-perfect in his little boy soprano.

He’s learned a Springsteen kids’ song and already agreed to perform it at the school talent show this year. When we play together and I fumble a chord—or several—I can wait for him to come around and jump back in, and he does the same. I’m not saying he’s any kind of genius (that I know of!), but he does seem to have the knack of it.

His reading has tapered off this year, as has his output of artwork. He’s still curious and reads and understands ambitious reading assignments, but only when he’s working for Minecraft time. We’re hoping the non-elective Arts extracurricular at his school this year will rekindle some of that earlier passion for creative expression.


But I decided he had to be up to speed on TVG since all his peers at school and Taekwondo are hip deep in it. My parents didn’t give a shit about my social experience, they stuck to their guns and as a result, I was always a step behind the other kids socially. A step or a good half-decade. I was literally the only kid in my late-1960s elementary school class with a military-style buzz cut whose dad wasn’t active military.

So as a parent, I’ve tried to find a compromise I could live with, and it’s proven to be as successful as it has been frustrating. By definition, the perfect compromise!

He is tall. He is leggy, coltish, dorky tall. He’s made a lot of friends this year. Last year, the birthday party worry was whether we were going to be able to stock it with party guests, this year it was cutting down the list.

I always tell my mom, I do pray, but only ever for two things. I beg for wisdom—sometimes knowing what the right thing to do is can be a little trickier than others—and from time to time, when gratitude overwhelms me, I try to give some of it back. And in a year that has been altogether too rough and rocky along the way for my taste, I am damned grateful how much Young Mr. Bastardson has flourished in spite of it. (It is the custom in Taekwondo to refer to black belts by their title and surname, which custom I have elected to employ here.)

Ostensibly to be a good parent, but really just to keep me from slipping back into clinical depression, I joined the Family Council at Young Mr. B’s school to keep busy. Then I volunteered to ‘liaise’ with the school board since I am acquainted already with a couple of its members, which turned out made me a voting member of the board. As soon as the implications of that position and its attendant responsibilities were spelled out to me, I agreed it would be a good idea to never ever write about, or even mention it again.

Except to say that now I am busy. Busy keeping The Boy busy.

It’s hard to quit calling him The Boy. He’s still our boy… but for the first time since he started going to school, he didn’t turn into an unruly, temperamental tyrant as the school year and his birthday approached. And he only earned his black belt a couple weeks ago.

He should be utterly insufferable right now.

But he’s been Mr. Cool. He and I even saw the summer out last Friday with a trip to the local overpriced Kidzone go-cart/arcade emporium, just like a regular 21st century Andy and Opie. Instead of fishin’ poles, we swung miniature golf clubs over our shoulders.

Since getting flushed from the bathroom of my career this winter (with apologies to Johnny Cash), suddenly I have free time to volunteer during the school day, and I’m doing that too. By God, I may never be able to remember any of these peoples’ names, but I’ll make sure they remember mine!

Young Mr. B. is on his own in that regard. He seems to lack my flair for self-promotion, but he also definitely lacks my facility for self-loathing, which in my opinion is a more than acceptable trade-off.

He’s already making friends this week at school. If we have put the bullying bullshit that marked the beginning of each of his first few years of public education behind us, Taekwondo and I will have done our job.

It’s been a hell of a great year for Young Mr. B, and I’m grateful to everyone along the way who helped. Eight is going to go down in the books as every bit as good a year as 5, the previous standard-bearer.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

This last number of the evening goes out to Young Mr. Bastardson himself. I wish it could be something Sinatra sang—something about paternity, accomplishment, America and pride, with swelling strings and a big roar of cymbals right near the end—but his songwriters knew way too many chords for me to keep up with. Besides, I decided I was going to learn the following tune for your birthday when you performed it for me for mine. If you pay close attention, you may notice me yelling at you. This is an effort to get you to pay close attention.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

A nosebleed seat to the Apocalypse?

We all really need to start getting along.

Since moving to Idaho, I’ve had to put my politics on the back burner. Too many consequences to shooting off my mouth. Fuck it. Too many consequences, balanced against zero actual ability to effect change in any of the areas I’m bitching about. It took me three years to figure out I was pursuing a lose/lose strategy, but as Sarah Connor intones early in Terminator 2, “I’m feeling much better now.”

Because the consequences of ditching that strategy have been deeply rewarding. As a non-partisan fellow now, a man without a country, as it were… without an opinion I’ve been inclined to share… it’s opened up lines of actual dialogue, specifically with the people whose belief systems have historically clashed with mine. And it made me even more bored with the clever rhetoric of the Left. I read old blog entries and I’m among the worst transgressors. I would go back and eliminate (or redact) a lot of stuff I’ve written, except I’ve seen the way attempting to rewrite history turns out in 1984.

I can’t even watch the news anymore, and not just to protect my 9-year-old. It plays like Michael Bay and David Lynch put their heads together to co-produce the Apocalypse.

Commercial airliners being blown out of the sky by unrepentant thugs. Other ginormous planes going mysteriously missing—poof! The violent religious extremists in the Middle East finally becoming our actual worst nightmare by organizing and getting their command and control shit together. Worse, acquiring the wealth and weaponry left behind by a recently conquering army. And when I say wealth, I mean “wealth” with a “b” as in billions. People argue over how many billions, but let me ask you this. How many billions of dollars did Osama bin Laden’s signature terrorist attack cost? Zero. Now add billions of dollars to that capacity for evil. That’s how much more dangerous the international terrorist situation has become.

Here’s my beef. I get that it feels like the new daily horrors we’re living through look and feel and quack like the foreplay to the End Times. What I don’t get is why that fact hasn’t begun to coalesce us as a people yet.

I’m looking at us, America! Not because we’re necessarily the worst offenders, but because I’ve got a dog in this hunt.

Look. I get that it’s easy to point fingers. It’s Obama’s fault because he’s feckless and has neither a strategy nor even a consistent talking point about the Middle East or Ukraine or anything else; it’s W’s fault because he unseated Saddam Hussein on evidence that was later proven inaccurate, and created the power vacuum in the region that the terrorists are currently exploiting; it’s Bush Sr.’s fault for not taking out Saddam when the rest of the world actually seemed on board with the idea; it’s Bill Clinton’s fault for his lack of a vigorous military response when the USS Cole was attacked on his watch; it’s the British Empire’s fault for partitioning up the old Ottoman empire and cutting it up into the merry patchwork of murderous country-states they are now, which error IS* in its questionable wisdom is trying to undo; it’s the inhabitants of the region’s fault for waging this war on themselves for thousands of years before the foreign Imperialists ever got involved… As far as Wikipedia and I know, these are all true facts. This is shit that can be generally agreed upon, one fact at a time, by reasonable people.

[*While our media sources dither between ISIS and ISIL, they refer to themselves simply as the Islamic State. Not “…Of Syria” and not “…Of The Levant.” They really do want to put the old land back together.]

So it’s everybody’s fault. It’s everybody’s fault, and we all stand to get taken to task for it. Especially now that IS is as well-armed and wealthier than the majority of its neighbors most immediately in jeopardy of being engulfed by them, with plenty of money and munitions left over for foreign mischief.

If it’s everybody’s fault, then isn’t it also everybody’s responsibility?

If we’re going to be responsible about this, we have to start listening to our fellow Americans instead of yelling at them. Only by listening can new, different ideas enter our brains. They may be really stupid ideas borne of a philosophy and outlook that is completely at odds with our own, but they may also—in their vast ignorance—spark a New Idea in somebody’s head. An idea that wasn’t put there by a news channel or a blogger or wherever the hell kids get their news these days.

An idea that might start a conversation that might begin to produce a change.

The longer we stand on opposite sides of the ideological chasm and hurl biting witticisms at each other, the longer the enemy has to further get their shit together. I guarantee you, by now they have broken off a little group and granted them unlimited funds with which to plan foreign affairs. IS have started doing lots of other stuff governments do, and these guys’ number one priority is killing. That’s definitely something governments do, and IS really likes killing us. That’s math even I can do.

And still we bicker amongst ourselves! Over on Facebook, left-wingers are politicizing the outlandishly horrific murder of another American journalist, and so are right-wingers. They still can’t agree on anything, except that this butchery is an excellent opportunity to drive their partisan hackery home. It’s unseemly, and worse, it’s counter-productive.

I had a friend on Christmas Island—you know, where we’re from—with whom I used to enjoy party-line give-and-take. He was always more adherent to his party line than I was to mine, though. I used to try to reason him into a corner just for sport, but he’s a wicked smart guy, and except for The Missus, nobody can marshal facts and figures like he can to support any given argument. He really gave me a good rhetorical workout, and in my own defense, I was frequently very clever. I found lots and lots of ways to passively disparage the GOP president at the time. [sigh]

Well, after moving to Idaho and trying to adjust to the very politically conservative climate here, his broadsides were no longer as entertaining. They had gone from a diverting pastime for me to just another reminder that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. Eventually, one issue struck really close to home. I knew The Missus would take to social media about it, and I begged him to resist the temptation to respond. I was, like, super clear. And I contacted him before she unleashed her wrath.

But just like America, he couldn’t resist. And just like I’d guessed, it didn’t help a bit. It was especially unhelpful, actually.

And that, in a nutshell, is America today. We just can’t resist our unreasoning hatred of the other side of the partisan divide. And what I’ve learned is, most of that hate and mistrust of each other is the result of us being expected by our peers to hate and mistrust ‘the other side.’ We do it because it’s what we know. It’s what we’re used to. We just can’t resist.

The only thing we can’t resist even more is drama, which is what our bickering is inevitably buying us. We are working so diligently on not working together that we are certain to be caught unaware—again—the next time there is a catastrophic domestic attack. And even then, I suspect finger-pointing will prevail over problem-solving in the aftermath.

All of a sudden, having relocated to the Hinterlands doesn’t look like such a bad idea at all.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Karen Thomason was here


My friend Karen died while I was on vacation a couple days ago. She had been in what they call a persistent vegetative state for the last 12 years, stemming from a rapid succession of catastrophic health crises that were not diagnosed until after they had laid her low.

Karen and I worked side by side for some years at the same newspaper, and her ex-husband and I had played together in a band of questionable artistic merit. I had already moved away to another town when I received the news, 12 years ago, that she had been discovered, unresponsive, in her apartment after not showing up to work one day.

Going back, I liked Karen right off. She struck me as kind of sad, and broken inside, but had the kindest eyes I’ve maybe ever seen. They were quiet but burned with a keen intelligence. She had clearly been dragged down a rough, rural road throughout her life, but she still had a lot of heart and was a survivor.

She was my kind of people.

Karen had epically low self-esteem, as a result of a childhood worthy of an E.A. Poe or Stephen King story. Being a hard-luck case myself, I found her immediately compelling, with the weird vibe of self-loathing/love for mankind she exuded. She should have hated the world—not herself—by the time I met her. She had every right to, but she didn’t.

She was a better person than I can ever even imagine myself becoming. It seemed to me she needed and deserved a better friend than she had at the time, so I determined I would be that friend.

I remember times the bosses would light into her for this oversight or that miscommunication—as often as not originating from them, not her—and I would march up to their office and champion her cause. Not because she asked me to, or even because she thought herself worth defending, but because in the absence of anyone else taking her side, I felt it incumbent upon someone to do so.

I remember the night her husband left her. Now, Karen never asked for help, it wasn’t in her nature. But that night, she picked up the phone and called me, in tears. I grabbed my dog, jumped in the car and drove over and picked her up. She spent that first awful night at my house because we both knew, I think, that she shouldn’t be alone.

After that, she was my beard and I was hers. We went to innumerable movies together, only one of which she couldn’t find anything good to say about (“The Postman”). We went to dozens of concerts—the good kind, that we had to drive to LA for.

When I made mix tapes for whatever girl I was dating at the time, I always secretly routed her a copy, and she always talked to me about it afterward in much greater detail and with more enthusiasm than the person for whom I had collected the songs.

She also had my back. One night, in the depths of my depravity, I was loaded on tranquilizers and a box of Franzia ‘chardonnay,’ and was talking to her on the phone when I passed out. She contacted a colleague—neither of them drove—but they drove over to my place anyhow to find me unconscious on my couch and non-reactive, the phone on the floor under my hand where it fell. The other employee wanted to call 911, but Karen talked her out of it, and made sure I was revived enough to survive the night on my own before she left.

She was also a voracious reader and consumer of popular entertainment. When I was writing my magnum opus, she was the person to whom I gave the chapters as I cranked them out, and I still thrill at the memory of her running down the office hallway one early morning before business hours and hugging me after reading the second chapter. She loved it, and she told me why in a way I understood and had frankly been looking for it to be loved.

She became, in a word, indispensable to my life, especially after her divorce. Other than my official Best Friend, she was my best friend, although I didn’t appreciate that fact at the time. In my own way, without even realizing it, I also took her for granted. I suppose at some point, I accepted the fact that I wanted to ‘save’ Karen a lot more than she wanted to be saved, and to some extent just went with that.

The worst part for me is, as much as I meddled in her life and kept her close to me socially, when she slipped into a coma a few months after I moved out of town—I mean, like three months—I was plenty narcissistic enough to believe that if I hadn’t bailed on her too, she might still be alive today and one of my best friends.

And the final arc of her life, spending the last twelve years in a persistent vegetative state, is enough to make one question the whole concept of a loving, forgiving God. Nobody would give me a straight answer about whether she was conscious inside her locked-down body, but I can tell you that when I went to visit her, I would sing softly to her, some of our favorite songs, and tears would begin to roll down her cheeks.

That old line of hooey about, “Oh, they’re in a better place now” usually rings awfully hollow, but in Karen’s case, I cannot imagine a truer statement. I miss her still, acutely as I write this, but am so grateful and relieved that her period of torment has finally come to an end.

What follows was one of her favorite songs, and I’ll close with it. She and Hank Williams and I all vibrated at the same frequency, and like Hank Williams, she did not live long enough to rise above it. We always sang this song at the end of our shows and dedicated it to some worthy who had recently passed—the first time I dedicated it from stage, it was for Julio Gallo. Today, this number goes out to my friend, my confidante, my amiga inseparable, Karen Thomason. Requiescat in pace, good and faithful friend. You have earned it, and you deserve it. Really, you do.

Lost Highway

I’m a rollin’ stone all alone and lost

For a life of sin I have paid the cost

When I pass by all the people say

Just another guy on the lost highway


I was just a lad, nearly 22

Neither good nor bad, just a kid like you

And now I’m lost, too late to pray

Lord I paid the cost, on the lost highway



Now boys don’t start to ramblin’ round

On this road of sin are you sorrow bound

Take my advice or you’ll curse the day

You started rollin’ down that lost highway

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Fun at the walk-in clinic


So the doctor I saw this morning wasn’t my usual person. Today’s doctor was all about drilling the rules and regulations of the place into my head. This is the exact same thing I’ve gone in for a number of times before: Zap-a-mole and take a quick look at a couple of other things while I’m there.

So this doctor—who was crazy, smoking hot, so I was initially inclined to LOVE working with her—starts off by telling me that 2 is the number of things they’re supposed to see a patient about per visit, not 3, so I would have to Sophie’s Choice one of my complaints. Then she looks at my mole and sighs (I could imagine her eyes rolling), “THIS kind of mole is FINE. [pause] It looks just like the kind of mole that is dangerous and has all the same outward appearances, but [dismissively] THIS is not that kind of mole.”

I go, well, what then? Leave it alone?

She: (sigh) No, I’ll remove it for you, but there is a 98... 99% chance that it is nothing.

Then I decide to have my athlete’s foot situation dealt with, because if I talk about my bruised but unbroken ribs, she’s at best just going to try to push drugs on me because that’s all that can be done until they heal. Long story short, in the end she forgot entirely to deal with my foot deal, which I’ll have my regular sawbones take care of when I go to have my stitches removed next week.

Oh, that’s the other thing. She must have mentioned it about 6 or 7 times: APPOINTMENTS ARE PREFERRED. (Especially if you’re just going to waste my time with non-life threatening injuries that I can’t run into the next room and blab about on social media.)

I think we all know who’s to blame here... ME! No wait, I meant to say, "OBAMA!!!" [shakes fist angrily]

Sunday, June 15, 2014

This year's Father's Day photo


[Not pictured: The Troubled Dog, left.]

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Dad

The other day at an event at his school, The Boy called out to me, “Daddy—I mean, Dad...!”

I am officially being transitioned from Daddy to Dad. It has been a sweet ride, as long as it has lasted. I will miss the hell out of hearing ‘Daddy’ whenever he talks to or about me.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Sensei, Sunset


[The pic above is from one of The Boy’s first private lessons.]

It’s been almost two years since The Boy started taking private Taekwondo lessons.

When we began, there was this instructor at his school whose sleeves snapped when he punched, even when he was trying to demonstrate an unsatisfactory effort. He seemed like a logical place to start.

This instructor took great pains to not stand out, even more than the rest of the instructor staff at this place. I mean, if they’re running the class, the instructors stand out. But if they’re assisting someone else’s class, it’s their job to be everywhere and nowhere, and only in anyone’s sightline if specifically instructed.

As it turns out, this job description and the young man’s personality were a seamless fit. And that’s part of what intrigued me about him. Despite being a 4th-degree black belt, he was possessed of a very Kwai Chang Caine-like stillness of presence. In the common vernacular, “Thar was somethin’ different about that fella.”

Instructor-wise, I knew hiring this guy would be punching way above The Boy’s belt color, but I did it anyhow. It felt right, and I’ve never had cause to regret it.

The Otherness about this fellow is very much of a piece with The Boy’s Otherness, not to mention my own. At a time when The Boy was actively looking at a future of potential social ostracization because of his own oddness, this picture of him ten years down the road—happy, accomplished and head screwed on straight—walks into our lives.

Two words: Role Model.

And for about 20 months, The Private Instructor performed every part of his job at a black belt level. I give him personal credit for The Boy being able to run and do push-ups. And his name became the Ultimate Nullifier at home. If there was a fracas and we really had to wheel out the Big Guns, we would suggest we take the contested issue up with The Private Instructor and see what he thinks. Long after threatening The Boy with Santa had lost its efficacy, The Private Instructor’s name worked its magic. So well, in fact, that we haven’t had to resort to that old ploy in forever.

Turning our wet noodle white belt into a legitimately competitive red belt has been a team effort at the studio we attend; The Private Instructor’s relative contribution has been growing smaller en toto as his teaching schedule and The Boy’s class schedule diverged over the last year. But the confidence boost of having his very own private black belt—and to be completely honest, a pretty bad-ass one at that—added an immeasurable amount to what we have achieved so far on The Boy’s journey of self-esteem.

The Private Instructor, like The Boy, is no social butterfly and that’s by his choice. The Boy sees this and re-contextualizes his own social isolation. I have explained to him that he will probably never be the BMOC, that he will have to settle for having a few intensely good friendships over time instead of a flood of casual, meaningless ones. That being the Odd Man Out isn’t a curse, but a blessing. I had these talks with him before private lessons began, but with his instructor’s example at hand, my words took on a much deeper resonance.

The Private Instructor even taught me stuff from time to time. Once I was paying attention to the lesson, and I heard one of those things that’s so simple, you say, “Well, duh.” But it was still revelatory to me. He was asking The Boy, “What is a Leader?” And the answer he was fishing for—that he eventually had to supply himself—was “an example.”

Well, duh. But I had never put the two together before. And believe me, that was info I have been able to put to use. When I began to view my actions as examples for The Boy, you know, some of those actions had to change.

Plus, we have discovered an additional bonus: This Taekwondo thing attracts quality kids! Most of The Boy’s peers at the studio, who have stuck with the program as long as he has, are good and decent kids. Smart, focused and respectful. More good role-modeling, this time peer-to-peer, as well as a pool of potential play dates a parent doesn’t have to worry about going horribly sideways.

But The Private Instructor instructs no more. He has moved on as of last week’s lesson. He has allowed The Boy to snatch the pebble from his hand and kicked himself out of the monastery. He’s like a Clint Eastwood character whose work is done and he’s moving on to clean up the next town on the frontier. Or maybe the next young man who needs martial arts instruction and some on-the-DL role modeling.

After almost two years, Friday afternoons are going to have a whole different shape now. I’m glad he timed his departure to coincide with District tournaments and the end of the school year. By the time all that dust has settled, enough water will have gone under the bridge that Friday afternoons won’t feel like Friday afternoons anymore anyhow.

I told him that I hated change, and he pointed out to me the futility of that opposition with the uncomplicated courtesy he would point out that my shoelace was untied.

I will miss this young man, but I feel better about the world knowing that he’s out in it, and the future is in his hands, and his students’, and not mine.

[The photos below are from the last private lesson with The Boy.]