Sunday, July 29, 2012

Scalia sells books on Fox's Sunday politics show

He’s got a book out and the Fox Sunday morning show got an interview with him. In his first few sentences, he underscored my fundamental disagreement with his judicial philosophy. He said he’s an Originalist, meaning that he interprets laws in the context they were initially enacted. To clarify he said, he didn’t apply any “modern” norms or take into account societal changes since the time of the enactment of the laws the Court considers.

Which I guess is his definition of Conservative: that which exists must be preserved as-is; conserved. Which I obviously have a problem with, especially where society continues to evolve and half the court refuses to acknowledge that.

The Missus pointed out that, as an Italian, Scalia wouldn’t have been considered White by most of the people who passed the laws he’s so intent on preserving, and therefore wouldn’t have been allowed to be a judge at the time of their enactment. 

Guess he’s lucky society changed while he wasn’t on the Court, eh?

The Greatest Show On Earth!

Every media outlet is breathlessly demanding to know, “Where was God in Aurora?

He was the same place He is always is. Everywhere and nowhere.

He was on an adrenaline high with the shooter, He was scared to death with the victims, He was demonstrating the last full measure of His love with the men who died shielding their loved ones, He was with the first responders who should have shot the red-headed creep dead on the spot but did not…

If you choose to believe in God, there’s no way you can do so and come to any conclusion other than that He plain doesn’t care about people the way we do, perhaps because we are such an incredibly lower life-form compared to Him.

Or perhaps because we have just not worked out the way He had hoped we would.

Because God was right there in Aurora. He’s in Syria today, as usual in armed and sports conflicts, being invoked by every party in the melee. He’s in cancer wards and hospices and the slums of India and airplanes that are flown into skyscrapers.

And He’s in puppy dogs, a friend’s embrace and perfect summer sunsets after the rain.

Evidence would tend to suggest He’s ambivalent, that God doesn’t give a damn about what happens to us these days, not on a personal level anyhow. At best, we are a spinning top he loosed from its string back around the Big Bang, and has since moved on to cooler toys.

He just doesn’t get involved in our daily affairs like He did back when we were young, in the Old Testament. Back then it was like, “Hey Yahweh, get a hobby or something, eh?”

These days, not so much.

Yes, He built us a self-sustaining universe and gave us genitals that are an awful lot of fun when used correctly, but after a while He seems to have lost interest, maybe when He saw that no matter what He did, people proved themselves the consistent the fatal flaw in his otherwise pristine experiment.

My guess is He went on and created another universe, this one without sentient beings, and that it is doing just fine.

Where was God in Aurora? Watching the show, like everybody else. None of us are here forever, and that appears to be the view that God takes. He’ll take us one-by-one in our sleep, by the handful in calamities, or by the bushel basket-full in catastrophes. Come one, come all, God’ll take you as you are and when you least expect it.

It’s nothing personal.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The six-percent solution

According to The Google, it was H. L. Menken who said, “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”

Every four years, the country bends over backwards to prove him right again.

In a political landscape that most polls agree is about 47% to 47% ideologically split, both presidential campaigns are playing to that handful of patriots who claim to not yet know for whom they plan to vote; hapless yokels who, after three years of Obama as president and nine months of the Republican primary in their rearview mirror, still haven’t quite figured out which snake oil salesman better represents their values and interests.

And that’s who’s going to decide this election. Not the 1%, not the 99%... the six percent who, while not necessarily book-stupid, are clearly not paying enough attention. Let me give you an example of the kind of intellectual featherweight who will decide the leader of the free world in November.

I’m talking about the kind of fellow who goes out of his way to take his kid with him to the voting booth a couple months ago, to show the tyke big-D Democracy in action. He and the kid get into the booth, and because the rocket scientist hasn’t bothered to pay attention the issues or the candidates, he plans to vote the straight party ticket. Except, much to his outrage (“This stupid state!”), none of the candidates are identified by party affiliation. The voter immediately goes into conspiracy-theory mode, assuming that the partisan hacks who run this state deliberately left the party labels off to confuse newcomers, and—let’s face it—idiots like him who haven’t done their homework. He angrily pokes holes in the ballot at random and goes home, fuming, to tell his wife about the injustice he has just suffered at the hands of The Man. She lets him run his mouth until he needs to take a breath, then says, “Honey, it’s a primary. They only gave you one party’s ballot. Did they ask you for your party preference before they gave you a ballot?” He says yes, and that’s when the conspiracy theory began to form in his mind; his wife’s expression suggests she is doubtful anything fruitful can form in her husband’s mind.

The saddest part of this true story—for me—is that I was the paranoid idiot with anger issues who forgot you only get to vote for one side in a primary. And I pay attention to politics, just, eh, not at the local or state level. (Hey, if George Will was on ABC every Sunday morning talking about Boise politics, I probably would have remembered it was a primary.)

But it’s going to be my people, stumbling cluelessly into the voting booth—who haven’t been paying a damn bit of attention—who are going to decide who sits in the White House for the next four years. People who will wake up on election day and mosey on down to the polling place and pull a lever. Reckon they’ll vote for Candidate X because they just plain like the cut of his jib.

In past elections that has been my fear, but this time it is my hope. In terms of likeability, Mitt Romney is for all intents jibless.

He is the Axl Rose of politics; even his biggest fans hate him.

Watching his surrogates on the news and politics shows has been a giddy delight. Every time the TV emcee (I’m sorry, ‘journalist’) brings up Romney’s wealth, or his caginess about it, or RomneyCare, or his very hush-hush religion, or you name it, all the mouthpieces scream “Class warfare!” and switch to rote apocalyptic bleating about the unemployment numbers.

It’s the only trick they’ve got. They answer every question—and I mean every question about anything from the economy to foreign policy to ice cream—with a talking point about the unemployment numbers. I know it’s their job to try to turn all interrogatives into opportunities to repeat their campaign’s chosen mantra, but this year’s crop just cannot be budged off their talking points.

This is because in addition to hating their candidate, the chattering class hate most of the positions he’s taken in the past and are loathe to defend either the man or his policies, lest he lose the election and they’ll have to live with the video clips for the rest of their careers. That’s how they remain so on-message; no one is temped to go off-script by passion or enthusiasm. It’s all they can do to swallow their gorge as they burp up their grim unemployment prognosis to any camera that will have them.

It would actually make a great college drinking game; every time Romney or a surrogate deflects a policy question with a critique of Obama’s handling of the economy, everybody drinks! Warning: You will need some seriously committed Dedicated Drivers.

Even more than Romney’s record and religion, though, his media managers are scared to death of his wealth.

I remember when John Kerry was successfully smeared as being out-of-touch and ‘an Elite’ for windsurfing in 2004. That’s all it took to bury him with Joe Sixpack.

Now imagine if he had traveled to London in the middle of his presidential bid so his millionaire wife could watch her dancing horse compete in the Olympics.

Seriously, think about it.

In the battle of windsurfing versus horse dancing, if you stripped away every piece of political baggage from both activities and asked the average guy on the street, they probably wouldn’t have heard of either. But just the words “Dancing Horse” would almost certainly elicit an involuntary chuckle, it’s so far removed from anyone’s daily reality. It sounds more like the pitch for a ’60s-era Disney family flick than a sporting event for the hoi polloi.

Which distracts from my point that Joe Sixpack doesn’t have jack-doodle to enter into pricey sporting events of any kind unless the Lotto is considered ‘sport.’ Joe Sixpack is doing considerably less well in 2012 than he was in 2004 and 2008—the Republicans are certainly making the case—so one would think the visual of a presidential candidate taking his dancing horse to London to meet the Queen would be even more potentially damaging than the optic of a candidate participating in a water sport that involves a surfboard with a sail.

I see the windsailing photo and, just like horse dancing, I think, “That’s a sport?”

And this year’s national ad wars have barely begun. Wait until after the conventions are over, and every last bit of campaign cash is freed up. It’s going to be an unspeakably ugly spectacle as both sides take whatever measures they deem necessary to sway that critical six percent… who won’t be paying any attention.

Barring unforeseen world or domestic events, this election is going to come down to which campaign apparatus can deliver the most disinterested voters to the polls.

Or as the Romney people would be sure to point out, if all the unemployed people showed up to vote, it would be a record turnout.

Everybody drink!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

This “Dark Knight” ascends

Dark Knight Rises succeeds on every level, dispensing with the old bar and establishing a whole new one.

Even as I was watching and enjoying The Avengers at the beginning of the summer, in the back of my mind I was thinking about the likelihood that this film would kick its ass all over the place. But I needn’t have worried. Where The Avengers was a bubblegum rollercoaster without peer, Rises is more like a speeding cab ride through the bad part of town at midnight with a twitchy driver who keeps shouting about taxidermy.

The Avengers was a comic book brought perfectly to life; Rises is more like a doctoral thesis on the decline of western civilization at the dawn of the 21st Century, plus superhero shenanigans and Anne Hathaway in a catsuit.

[I should mention the new Spider-Man flick here. It was a fine movie with breathtaking web-slinging CGI, and the new leads are adorable. Where it failed was in telling an origin story to a public who had just been acquainted with it a decade earlier in Sam Raimi’s superior inaugural Spider-Man effort. They would have done better to have maybe recapped the origin (with the new actors) under the opening credits, then told a fresher story, with a better villain. I mean, really, a 50-year rogue’s gallery to draw on, and they pick one from 1963? When Gwen Stacy wasn’t onscreen, or Spider-Man wasn’t swinging past skyscrapers, I was bored.]

I was never bored during Dark Knight Rises. I never felt its length, but I sure felt its weight. And its breadth.

Rises is an expansion on 2008’s “The Dark Knight” rather than an extension, completing a distinct three-film cycle, much the same way Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings series did.

Rises picks up plot threads left dangling in the previous film and follows them to their logical conclusions. It opens eight years after the events of the previous film, and on its surface, everything in Gotham is shucky-ducky. New laws have made the city a virtual police state, allowing Batman to retire and the mayor to plan to fire Commissioner Gordon, and it looks like the good times are here to stay.

Even Bruce Wayne, who has pissed away half his fortune on a clean-energy fiasco and retreated into self-imposed exile, still lives in regal splendor.

But underneath, specifically the sewer system that houses the villain’s base of operations, things are getting ugly and scary fast. As The Dark Knight nailed the nihilistic zeitgeist of its release (at a time when Bernie Madoff and the clowns on Wall Street were doing the dirty deals that would eventually lead to the banking crisis, but before they were caught), this film’s allegory is strikingly of a piece with current events, especially for a) a comic-book movie that b) was produced before ‘current events’ even occurred.

Listening to clips of radio funnyman Rush Limbaugh ranting and raving about the ‘coincidence’ [emphasis his] of the villain’s name and the name of Mitt Romney’s former engulf-and-devour firm being the same (Bane/Bain) as evidence of some kind of left-wing conspiracy has been just terrifically entertaining. Doesn’t Limbaugh think that if Christopher Nolan really did have a time machine, he would use it to go back and kill Hitler, not reconnoiter the future to score empty political points in another country’s electoral process?

I tell you what, though, if Christopher Nolan made a movie about it, I’d go see it. This guy hasn’t failed yet. Even 2010’s Inception, weighted down with the usually leaden presence of Leo DeCaprio, was a stunning achievement.

And in Rises, Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman gives the least mannered, most organic performance of his career. I like his work, but often find him one-note. One extremely intense note. But in Rises, he plays many shades of Bruce Wayne, and every one of them rings true.

Michael Caine is also especially good in what is an extended cameo as Alfred the Butler, as is newcomer Joseph Gordon-Levitt, playing an earnest young cop, possibly being groomed to replace Commissioner Gordon.

But the movie belongs to Nolan and his co-screenwriter brother. It lives and breathes on their vision, and it breathes fire. It stands with Prometheus as this summer’s blockbuster popcorn epic unaccountably stuffed with ideas.

And as the swan-song in Nolan’s Batman trilogy, the director makes sure it pays off magnificently. I’ve already read that a lot of reviewers found the film’s ending too pat, but excuse me if the filmmakers give their characters—and the audience—a little closure. If you want to see a movie where the ending leaves you scratching your head and wondering what the hell you just frittered away a couple hours of your life watching, go see a damn foreign film. Or anything by Jim Jarmusch.

If you want to see a film that you’re going to take home with you and live with for a good while afterward, get out to see Dark Knight Rises on the big screen.

It transcends its genre and damn near its medium.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

America: Risk vs Reward

Man, if it wasn’t for Citizens United super-money, poor perennial also-ran Mitt Romney wouldn’t stand a chance in hell…

Look at the odds against this guy.

His base hates him. Voting for him will be like cleaning the yard of dogshit; they won’t do it because they want to, but if they don’t they’re afraid the smell will become unbearable.

It’s not exactly ‘hope and change.’

A lot of people—not anecdotal people, people I know—long-time GOP voters refuse to vote for him because he is a Mormon. It says more about those voters than it says about Mr. Romney, but it is a fact.

Which makes him the first GOP Presidential candidate in a generation who can no longer be counted upon to deliver the Moral Majority vote. That right there would have sunk him in previous election cycles, and says volumes about the Republican money-boys’ confidence in the results their hush-money is going to buy them.

Save us, Citizens United!

Personality-wise, Romney has no game at all. Stiff and awkward on the stump and in press interviews, I’ve never once seen him give a thoughtful answer. I’m not saying he isn’t capable of ‘thoughtful,’ but so far all I’ve heard are talking points, assiduously adhered to and repeated with perfunctory gusto until the interviewer gets tired of finding ways to rephrase the question, and moves on.

When he is required to produce a witticism, or interact with Common Folk, the writers at Comedy Central might as well take that day off. Their shows have just written themselves.

And I don’t just watch the people with whom I agree. I watch Fox News, too, and those on-air people hate Romney. It just oozes out of them, even as they reach for Emmy-worthy performances in support of their employer’s editorial edict. Watching fire-breathing Conservatives like Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity having to twist themselves into knots to find nice things to say about this man they had previously spent their entire professional lives decrying is a sidesplitter.

Speaking of sidesplitters, did you hear the one about the GOP candidate who went to the NAACP to talk smack to black power?

It was a hell of a show. Afterwards, the cackling class went off about what a blunder it was, or how brave it was—depending on their respective marching orders—but I’ll tell you what I saw. I saw B-Roll for a Mitt Romney ad to be played in the cracker states, where he looks resolute, even a little sad, in the face of the rudeness of this audience of, you know, those people. In the background of the ad, someone is whistling a minor-key “Dixie;” just familiar enough that it pushes the buttons of its intended demographic, but not so obvious that Jon Stewart can credibly call them on it.

This was a calculated move to show his base (who hates him) that he is really is one of them. Watch me disrespect this room full of The Help.

It oughtta win him back at least a few of the ‘values voters.’

Then there is the matter of his experience. Besides the Olympics, which seem refreshingly controversy-free, he’s running on his governorship, where he passed the tax plan that is the template for ObamaCare, and his tenure at Bain Capital, making money for a handful of wealthy investors.

Put ObamaCare aside. No matter what anyone says, it’s perfectly clear that ObamaCare mimics Romney’s Massachusetts plan in so many key ways that the similarity is inarguable.

(And Romney’s base hates ObamaCare.)

So let’s look at the single other bullet-point on his otherwise pristine CV: Bain Capital. And just to make it interesting, let’s imagine we’re talking about a Democratic candidate here.

This hypothetical Democratic candidate founds a company that makes a fortune off of buying and usually (meaning more than 50% of the time) liquidating American companies; not only eliminating American jobs, but then taking those suddenly-available jobs and shipping them overseas, to our international competition.

Imagine a Democrat did this.

Then, he took a high-profile side gig. While he was doing that, he remained titular head—Captain of the ship, if you will—as the money-changing company he founded ramped up the domestic unemployment and job export businesses, apparently paying him $100k a year either to do nothing, or buy his silence.

Imagine a Democrat making $100,000 a year for a job he doesn’t have to show up for. I’m picturing a well-connected dockworker, not a Presidential aspirant.

Imagine a Democrat whose company was discovered to have raped and pillaged American industry, said revelations coming out during an election year that is entirely about jobs and the economy. I’m thinking Congressional inquiry, not Romney’s plaintive bleating for an apology.

Quick, who was the last Winner you can name who was also famous for insisting that someone owes them an apology…!

Your Kindergarten teacher doesn’t count, neither does your Nana.

Imagine a Democrat whose Swiss bank accounts have to be outed by busybody members of the press, at the same time as he is refusing to release all his financial disclosure information, a first for a major party presidential candidate.

I’m thinking that is a story Fox News could sink their teeth into. Imagine Rush Limbaugh’s indignation! Oh, the hand-wringing that would follow in all the Murdoch-owned ‘news’ organs in the world…

But these same outrages, perpetrated by their candidate of choice? They’d like to see Obama’s birth certificate, please.

To sum up, Mitt Romney admittedly doesn’t have charisma, at least not the kind that translates to the cameras.

So far, he doesn’t have a single mechanism on the record to enact any of the sweeping changes he has promised to make immediately upon becoming President, or in the case of ObamaCare, what he would do with all the Americans currently enjoying coverage under it.

The religious core of his base doesn’t trust his religion; they’re actively scared of it. And they’re scared of him too, and not in a good, daddy-will-protect-you kind of way.

He’s cagey about his money. Why? When I’m cagey about something, it’s because I don’t want to get caught.

His bona-fides for the Oval Office are limited to the governorship of the most liberal state in the Union—which his base hates—and his career as a corporate raider during a time of Wall Street bailouts and rampant, exhaustively-documented big-business rapacity.

He is in every way, literally the wrong man at the wrong time for the wrong job.

And yet, he stands roughly equal in the polls with the President who saved the American auto industry, provided health care for millions of Americans previously denied by insurance companies for pre-existing conditions, ended the war in Iraq and killed Osama bin Laden, the world’s most-wanted man.

On paper, it’s a rout, shitty economy notwithstanding. Most people go online or turn on the TV and understand the whole world is circling the drain economically, and that the problem is hardly exclusive to America. That Obama has been able to steady the slide is an impressive enough accomplishment. That’s all FDR did until World War II came along and saved us from economic ruin.

Romney’s experience with companies—and in the case his campaign is making, one must assume he would run countries the same way—is to unload the ones that aren’t turning a healthy enough profit. For instance, consider America, long in the red, in hock up to our armpits to our creditors and bleeding money on enforced entitlements and stop-gap infrastructure expenses.

Based on Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital—which the GOP insists we consider—would America be considered a good investment, or a likely prospect for a quick fire sale by occasional-CEO Mitt Romney?

Rescue or resale?

Let the record speak for itself. And hope it can be heard over the sound and fury the money of a few prominent billionaires will buy, the closer we get to election day.

Friday, July 13, 2012

I’m ready to move on to playground equipment

The Boy has mastered starting, stopping and staying up. Game, set and match.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Full Disclosure:

Saturday, July 07, 2012


Thursday, July 05, 2012

The summer of love and hate (Part I)

I started this post when The Missus was away on business and The Boy and I were nearing the end of eight days of compulsory togetherness. Said period of frills-free (no booze, no broads) bachelorhood coinciding exactly with the onset of daily late-morning swim lessons for the lad, beginning about 50 minutes after the scheduled end of his Taekwondo classes, a crazy-quilt of surface street construction delays away.

By the time I began this post, I had been pushed pretty close to the edge. Of course, like the roads to most places you don’t want to find yourself going to, the journey began with high hopes and good intentions.

While business required The Missus to be on the road, The Boy and I agreed to try to hit a milestone every day. Something new, something challenging, that we could then add to the ongoing daily repertoire. I was determined that this would be the summer he learned how to swim and ride a bike. Got him up to grade-level in reading earlier this year (after starting from zero because we waited way too long to start) and he’s already reading books earmarked for third-graders. He still occasionally stumbles over 3- and 4-letter words, but he sounds-out polysyllables like he’s been doing it his whole life. And he gets pissy if you try to help him.

We also took the female-free time to break some bad habits. Specifically, everything we usually did for him just because we’d been doing it for him since he was a baby was re-evaluated and kept or discarded based on his current level of ability.

Turns out he can do an awful lot of stuff for himself these days.

We also turned the TV off during the daytime (except for Colbert with breakfast) and listened to music instead. We got this gizmo that lets my computer talk to the TV’s speakers, so one day we listened to Pink Floyd all day, another day Bing Crosby, another Guns & Roses, another Roger Miller, Tom T Hall… On our last bachelor day this time around, it was Michael Nesmith. If The Boy doesn’t hear Nez here, he’ll never hear it anywhere. But that is a regret for another day.

Mostly though, we just had fun. Stupid, irresponsible (but safe-to-us) fun.

The first night, for instance, we tried a little experiment. We dripped a couple drops of cherry juice on our white Lab’s head to see if cherry stains come out of fur. In our defense, we did not know. It was a legitimate scientific inquiry. For a while, the result was a big “no.” We had agreed to tell people who might have asked that we believed it was stigmata. [Update: The Missus found something, some bleach or astringent of some sort, to remove the spots from the top of Jake’s beautiful, empty blonde cinder-block head. So although technically a valid result for our experiment has been reached, we are disappointed we failed to stain the dog for life.]

I yanked the training wheels, which had never worked anyhow, off his bike, and took him to a local hill to let gravity teach him how to ride a bike.

Might have worked, too, if we didn’t start out almost every day with a new flat tire due to all the steely burrs in the field where we used to practice. Now we never leave the house without a can of Fix-A-Flat®.

I set him to cleaning the yard of the dog’s excreta as well as watering Mommy’s gardens and plants and, you know, whatnot. Taking the kitchen garbage out to the trash. Taking a shower with absolutely zero drama/help from me.

We accomplished so many firsts, big and small, that in my failure to document them as they occurred, many will be forgotten. But I won’t forget the first time he swam across the deep end of the pool by himself.

It was at the local community pool we go to. I let go of him in about 5 feet of water, and he splash/paddled from the middle of the pool to the edge by himself. It wasn’t a stroke that anyone would recognize, but my bar has always been: Stay alive in the water. He’d never done that on his own before that day. And he did it without panicking, even when he spat up about a quart of pool water once he got to the edge.

I have never in my life seen a smile of purer, non-dumb joy than I see on The Boy when he is the pool. And never more so than after accomplishing something he knows is unprecedented. After that, he couldn’t be stopped. Giant leaps into the pool, with me well out of rescuing range when he hit the water, front floats, lots of splashy dog paddling around… I ended up getting out of the pool and watching him play in the shallow end from a deck chair. That was a first for me. Even as I marveled at that fact, he made friends with a little girl and joined her in her game of retrieving sunken plastic pool darts.

Man, it could not have been sweeter.

The next day at Taekwondo, The Boy earned his yellow belt and he actually looked pretty good doing it. He still looks like he’s standing on spaghetti legs in a couple of the ‘stances,’ but he’s getting some real snap and power in his punches and kicks.

The owner of the joint also pulled me into the office and asked me if The Boy would like to be in their Junior Leadership program. They called it an invitation but it felt like a sales pitch to me. But sometimes salesmen are trying to get you to buy something pretty cool, like a Lambor-genie. And I think that’s what they were selling.

The first thing I asked the guy—a huge bear of a man, taller than me and 270 lbs, easy—was if every kid was “invited” to join the Leadership Program. He kinda blanched, then smiled and his manner became more informal. Anyhow, I know they don’t ask everyone. We’ve been there long enough for me to see lots of kids progress through the ranks, past The Boy, without going to Junior Leadership.

It really is kind of a deal.

I talked to the other co-owner, the big bear’s fairly saucy better half, and asked her flat-out what she saw in our son to want him in the program. I was still not sure I was not getting scammed. I said, “When I see him out there, what I see is a kid who is not giving 110%.” Then she smiled and said that The Boy “wanted it” more than a lot of the other kids, and I knew what she meant. The lad is an uncoordinated mess on the mat—when not punching, kicking or throwing—and not focused to my satisfaction, but I would still put him in the top 20% of his peers in terms of staying on point and at least trying to do everything he’s asked.

Then she goes, “And also, he’s tall.” Again, I knew just she meant. If I had started martial arts as a 6-year-old and stuck with it, no matter how clumsy I was when I had started, I would have been formidable by the time I finished. And she’s thinking future Junior Instructors. We got there to test for his yellow belt and one black belt/instructor was swabbing the mats in the Krav Maga (?) room, and another was cleaning the men’s room. Happily, without complaint.

These Junior Leadership kids I’ve seen are impressive kids really have their shit squared away. I talked to The Missus and we’re gonna go for it. We know it’s a gamble, but if it doesn’t pay off all we’ve lost is money we don’t have (yeah, I know, but I really am a hippie that way) and if it does pay off, man, it’ll be so worth it. SO worth it. I will worry a lot less about my kid in the world if he sticks with this.

Every day was full of transcendent moments like that. It should have been perfect, right?

Unfortunately, The Boy was only half the equation. The other half of the mixture—me—is considerably more volatile, especially when you add in stress, heat and road work.

(This is the “hate” part of the piece, where I talk about myself.)

The day I really lost it was the first Thursday The Missus was out of town. Tuesdays and Thursdays everything happened, schedule-wise: Bike riding lessons in the morning before the sun got too hot, race home, clean up and change for Taekwondo, pack bag with everything we need for the rest of the day, race out to Taekwondo and train for 40 minutes, change into bathing suit in Krispy Kremes bathroom afterward, race to swimming, grease up, swimming lesson for a half hour, race home to hit 1:00 deadline but stop at Quizno’s first so I don’t have to prepare lunch; get home and deal with Boy who is in my office by 1:30 complaining that he is bored, make him read me some more of his third-grade book on the Titanic while I answer email and help the kid out with the occasional polysyllable; wish I had time to play guitar or compose a coherent thought before greasing up again to head to the local community pool to practice the morning’s lessons and actually relax for the first couple minutes of the whole day before going home, showering, preparing dinner and either lining up a movie or an activity that will take us both to bedtime.

Sure, it sounds easy enough. But last Thursday I tried to sneak in a trip to the pricey new supermarket between Taekwondo and swimming lessons to buy a cupcake for The Boy. We strolled the aisles, picked up a few items and headed for the check-out. Time was getting a little tight, but even with all the roadwork, I was confident we would make it on time. Punctuality is what I do. After we’d been rung up and I dutifully presented my card, the cashier looked blankly at me. “Uh, we’re only taking cash and checks today.”

If God was truly merciful, He would have erased my memory of the obscenity-laced tirade that followed. If I had a cash dollar for every time I used the word “bullshit” to describe the situation we found ourselves in, I wouldn’t have needed plastic to pay for our purchases. Along the way a manager appeared and told me they had a sign posted about their card network being down. As we stormed out (of course, The Boy bearing mute witness to everything), I looked long and hard for that sign the manager was talking about, but didn’t see it. I was still seething.

A bridge too far, man. A bridge too far. Until the next bridge.

As we were driving away, I noticed The Boy is in full tears. “I [huh huh] really wanted [huh huh] that caaaaake! Weeeaaaaaaaaaah!” 

I realized I was not the only one who had reached his personal limit.

I whipped the car around and snarled, “Then I’ll get you that fucking cake.”

We marched back in—I took a second look for the alleged sign, still nothing—and walked up to the startled, now-scared looking cashier and told him I would pay cash for one cupcake. People parted for us like Moses and the Red Sea. I paid for the cupcake with a five-dollar bill, took my change from his shaking hands, and on the way back out, still could not find their alleged stupid fucking sign.

In spite of my better judgment at this point, we stopped to pick up a sandwich on the way home. I was really in no mood to slow down and make lunch for The Boy. Best I didn’t handle sharp objects right then anyhow. So that is the day Quiznos decided to fall down on the job. They fucked up our straight-off-the-menu order three times, all the while I was telling them it was fine, I didn’t care about their little error, and the line behind us was growing longer and more hostile, then after telling them at least two different times it was a to-go order they served it up on a tray, which we took home with us and finally returned a full week later… on the other hand, I still haven’t dared show my face in the supermarket again.

We finally got home and by late that afternoon, it felt like I was growing peat moss in my lungs.

The next day I woke up with a cold that would have knocked the Hulk to his knees.

That was the last time I lost it, at least until The Missus got back. Even a few days after the supermarket incident, when my wallet went missing for the first time in my entire life and we had to spend the afternoon at the bank and the DMV instead of the pool, my heart rate never climbed above ‘resting.’

I made damned sure the rest of Mommy’s absence went smoothly, even when things weren’t going smoothly, even having to bail on our hiking plans on Sunday due to my cold having taken up permanent residency in my chest, producing a systemic, puppy-like weakness…

Well, I’m all better now, cold-wise, and things have remained pretty awesome since The Missus got back. The Boy learned how to bicycle with her help just a couple of days ago:

Unfortunately, we failed to cover stopping before we zeroed-in on going:

But we worked on stopping today (video embargoed), and even more progress was made. He rode by himself for a full two blocks, in the middle of the street because we are all about safety-first. He’s promised to do it again tomorrow without the whining and whimpering. We watched the video we shot today with the sound on, then off, and agreed he seemed much cooler without all the panicked cries for assistance that he clearly did not require.

He may finally be learning that fear is the common denominator of all the things with which he currently struggling. Once he conquers his fear—like fear of drowning, say—he’s finding he can do the thing, whatever the thing is. He’s promised to apply this new understanding to bicycling tomorrow.

And my unexpected summer cold hipped me to something, too: It ain’t the roadwork or overscheduling or even shitty customer service that lays you low, it’s the stress.

Which is great, because the stress is the one thing you can actually do something about. If I can insist The Boy push past his fear, can I do less than demand that I shrug off my equally debilitating stress? They’re both self-inflicted shortcomings, optional folly.

We’re all learning a lot this summer.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

America: Still Lookin’ Good at 236

I would have sang “Happy Birthday” for you, but a quick search of Google revealed that that would have cost me a fortune.