Standing in my children’s room, watching them sleep, I am overcome, night after night, by a sense of sadness that cannot be stemmed.
Standing in my children’s room, watching them sleep, I am overcome, night after night, by a sense of sadness that cannot be stemmed.
That’s how this starts.
Standing in a line waiting to purchase the world’s most expensive churro.
These things are huge as well. They’re the Ron Jeremy of churros. 24 inches of styrofoam covered in cinnamon and sugar.
We’re at Disneyland. The airs smells like cotton candy cloaking whatever chemical they dump into the river that hosts Mark Twain’s boat ride. It’s me, my wife and my three kids: eight, eight, and five.
Behind me are two adults – husband and wife, judging by how they stand close but do not speak – each of them wearing Mickey hats and sweaters. They have a bag filled with Disney branded stuffed animals and magnets. The woman wears a Tigger tail and is sweating profusely. The man sports a 25th anniversary Disneyland medallion around his hairy neck. Annual Pass Holders for sure.
In front of me are two teenagers. In my mid-30s it’s now become difficult for me to say if a person is 17 or 23. I used to be able to tell. They are male and female. They are young. And they are in love. That much I know.
They hold hands and she hangs on him and he wraps his arms around her neck and he leans in and kisses her nose and she whispers something in his ear and they both laugh and they move awkwardly and stupidly as they emulate the actions of what they think it looks like to be in love.
Or maybe that is what it looks like.
Maybe the first stage of love is stupidity – flaunting your affections in public – showing the world how mature you are. Touch touch. Kiss kiss. Giggle giggle. They wear it on their sleeve so everyone knows.
Jade and I stifle our own idiotic brand of laughter and roll our eyes. When they aren’t looking I reach over and stroke Jade’s nose and bat my eyes at her and scoff the ground with my foot with unmistakable boy-ish charm. I blow her a kiss.
Jade mimes a blowjob and then begins to choke.
Rory asks if she’s okay.
The sweethearts order a churro. He says he doesn’t have money. She pays and laughs because isn’t that adorable and isn’t he so cute? They walk away, sweetening their lips with sugar.
My kids stand behind me. Three of them trying to casually kick and punch each other when we aren’t looking.
The girl in the churro cart looks sad and starved. Her skin is pale and her eyes are dead. “How can I help you?” She says it the way a porn star would. She says it like, “This is how you WANT IT to sound, right?”
I ask for two churros – four full feet of sweetness to split between us.
My children hear me order “ONLY 2?!” and the apocalypse begins.
Rory: “There are five of us! I want my own! I don’t want to share! Buy more! I’m not eating if I have to share!”
I’m like, “1. They’re huge. You don’t need your own. 2. I am going to break off a piece and hand it to you. If you choose to take it, you will reap the enjoyment of a churro. If you do not take it, your siblings will reap the rewards of your churro. It makes no difference to me.”
Huffy puffy face. Arms crossed. Dissent and argumentative undertones while I tear one off. Fists clenched. Eyebrows furrowed. Frumpy. Frumpy. Frumpy attitude.
I tear off the piece of churro and hold it out to my son. He stares at it but doesn’t lift his hands. I say, “This is your only chance. In who’s belly this churro lives is of no concern to me.”
He reaches out and grabs it, thankless. With a pinched face he starts eating. Life is hard.
The other two are no better.
People are crowding in around us. Shoulder to shoulder. Someone smells like steamed carrots. Someone else smells like garlic toast. Someone else smells like something that reminds me of the summer of 1994 though I can’t place it. It’s like pine needles and rubber tires and soil.
While we stand in line for the train (my favorite ride) the children bicker and argue with one another. They punch and fight. They ask why we’re in more lines. They yell at me for not getting them another churro. They want to go home and watch cartoons.
Glancing around I see that this is business as usual. Every parent in that line looks like they’re about to commit a homicide / suicide against their offspring.
I can feel my eyeball starting to twitch. My brain is getting all wired up. I need to sit somewhere quiet for a moment. I look at Jade and say, “We are reaching critical mass,” and she says, “Is that a church joke?”
Quinn crawls over the turn-style, pausing on the top to howl like a wolf, her face pointed at the sky. Rory kicks it with his foot like Jimmy Bad Ass but can’t execute it properly and it snaps back and hits him in the gut. He revenge punches the machine. Bryce gets trapped halfway between and begins to panic.
We’ve been here for two hours. The day is really just getting going. And yet, all I want to do is turn and walk away, flipping them off over my shoulder and shouting, “Find your own ride home, ya thankless bastards!”
They really do bring out the best in me.
They really do bring out the worst in me.
I look over at them. Pinching each other. Standing up. Sitting down. Crawling under the bench. I shut my eyes because my freaking head is going to explode. Would it be inappropriate for me to stand up, point with a condemning finger and shout, “SHUT UP! SHUT UP! JUST SIT DOWN AND SHUT THE FUCK UP FOR ONE GODDAMN SECOND!”
Jade leans against the rail post and stares into the distance, probably imagining that she’s in a soft bed with Netflix and Diet Coke. We all need an escape.
As the train pulls up, an older woman helps a younger man out. The man is mid-20s. Clearly her son. He has on a bright orange helmet that straps under his chin and matching vest pulled snuggly over his torso. Both his arms are strapped down to his side, tied off so he can’t move them. At the bottom of the vest I can see his little fingers peeking out. As she guides him along, one hand placed on his back, he attempts to reach out and touch things. Tries to make contact with a plant. With the fence. With the garbage can. His fingers twitch and grab hopelessly. His eyes are softly focused and he makes lazy contact with each object. His mother guides him gently down the stairs.
They turn and disappear into the crowd.
I watch them vanish.
The interaction took moments. Here and gone. And now I’m back at the train station. My kids. All of it.
I grow aware that my mouth is dry. I grow aware that the sun is warm. I grow aware that my fingers are sticky from the churro.
I look down at Quinn and see her face is covered with sugar crystals. It looks like she’s just gone on a coke bender. She hisses at me and puts up her hands like claws. I reach out and touch the top of her head. Feel her hair. Feel her skull. Acknowledge her presence.
Acknowledge her health.
Acknowledge the blessing of life. Of hers. Of mine. Of hers inextricably looped into mine.
I touch each of their heads in turn, thankful for each of them. Thankful for this moment on the train station steps.
On the train, Quinn gives Rory a snake bite and he kicks her in the knee.
*** *** *** *** ***
Splash Mountain is closed and the Indiana Jones ride has technical difficulties. They turn us away after our hour wait in line is almost over.
*** *** *** *** ***
In line for The Jungle Cruise I can see the boats pulling up and collecting people. The main source of enjoyment at Disneyland is watching other people get on a ride and living vicariously through them, if even for a moment. “Oh! The ride is moving! I bet they’re having a good time! That will be me soon!”
That will be me soon.
As we draw closer to the boarding station, I see a boat stop. A draw bridge comes down. A mechanical device swivels around. On the dock I see an old woman in a wheelchair. She is pushed onto the mechanical platform and it navigates her onto the boat.
Her hair is thin and white and wispy. Each thread is an albino spider’s web. Her skin is translucent, barely more than Reynold’s wrap. Her veins are blue and purple. Her skin is mottled with brown spots, her body ripening like an old banana.
Her eyes are crusted but there is life in them. She is still there. Whoever she was. Is who she is. Her consciousness trapped inside of a failing body. Her mind aware that her body is rotting away.
As she passes, I stand up a little straighter. Take a deep breath. Hold it. Let it out. Become aware that I am young and becoming less young by the moment. Become aware that I am alive. Become aware that I am healthy.
Become aware that that will be me soon.
That will be me soon.
That will be me.
My own mortality is glass. And the idea that I feel invincible and changeless is an illusion. I am going to grow old. I am going to get sick. I am going to die.
My hair is going to white out. My vision and hearing are going to fail me. My body is going to go rogue. My skin is going to turn ghost on me.
I will need help standing.
Everything that I do. Every choice that I make. Every road that I travel. Leads to old age and death.
The only difference between that old woman and myself is 50 years. The band of time holds us apart but she may as well have been me. I may as well have been her.
Later on I stare into the witch’s mirror and see my own aging face staring back at me. “Mirror mirror on the wall. Whose the fairest of them all?”
It answers back.
“None of you. All are rotting fruit, destined for the compost heap. This is merely your season in the sun. Let the light touch your face. Have self control. Give. Be compassionate. Eat churros.”
Welcome back! This week we’re looking at Chapter 1 from my book Cancer? But I’m a Virgo. If you’d like to start from the top, click here! Otherwise, we’ll see you at the bottom of the page! Let’s go.
“Insert pithy yet poignant quote here that signifies the beginning of a long but life-changing journey.”
It’s 5:45 a.m., and the sky is just beginning to lighten, turning from black, to shades of gray, to purple, to orange, same as a bruise. The sun just begins to peek over the mountains directly in front of me, and it’s one of the most beautiful and serene things I’ve ever seen.
I stare directly into the glowing orb and watch it rise, rise, rise, until it’s a blazing white-hot inferno too bright to look at. I roll my window down and the warm desert wind hits me in the face. After driving straight through a chilly night, it’s the perfect temperature. I crank the stereo; Zack de la Rocha’s latest band, One Day as a Lion, has just released its first five-track EP, and it has been my soundtrack from Los Angeles to Las Vegas for the past several hours.
The wind blows in my ears so I turn the music up louder. I turn the music up louder. I turn the music up louder. It’s at maximum volume and I am simply screaming alongside the lyrics, shaking my head and pounding the steering wheel. Whenever a car approaches, I quickly compose myself, pretending to just be a regular guy driving a regular family-friendly car on a regular freeway. As soon as I’m sure the car is out of sight, I resume my full-body-dry-heave inspired dance moves. Remember, dance like no one is watching . . . unless someone actually is. I am Axl Rose. I am Anthony Kiedis. I am Andrew W.K.
I slowly push my foot toward the floor and watch as the speedometer begins its sluggish ascent up the numeric Mount Everest built into my dashboard—75 . . . 80 . . . 90 mph . . . . I lock it in and cruise, watching cactus and dirt blur past me on the left and right. There is a certain freedom in the desert, a dirty voice that calls out to let everything go . . . a voice that is Reckless Abandon.
At this time of morning, there are almost no cars on the highway so, like a horny high school boy, I begin to nudge a little further, just to see what’ll happen: 95 . . . 96 . . . 97 . . . 98 . . . . I’ve never pushed this or any other car to 100 mph, and being this close makes me want to just stick it in and slam it down.
I take a deep breath, hold it, and juice the pedal. The gage immediately leaps like someone has jammed a cattle prod into the base of its skull . . . 99 . . . 100 . . . 105 . . . 110 . . . 115. At 120 mph I scream out the window at the top of my lungs.
I am twenty-five. It’s one month before my birthday, and I am invincible.
Nothing can touch me.
*** *** *** *** ***
Short chapter this week but please stick around! We’ve got a little set-up to do before we dig into the really bloody, painful, tragic stuff – you know, all the really delightful things!
Next Monday we’ll be experiencing Chapter 2: The Orange and The Sock where we’ll talk about my penis. It’s going to be really uncomfortable and I hope to see you there!
Hit that follow button in the bottom right corner so you don’t miss it!
I wake up in an unfamiliar hotel room, gray light filtering in through the slightly split curtains. It takes my brain a beat to catch up with my surroundings. Where am I? What state? Nevada. Hawthorne. It’s a ghost town. I stick my foot in something cold and damp at the foot of the bed. I sit up and find Quinn’s pajamas lying on the floor and her naked self sleeping across the room. She’s peed in my bed and then abandoned ship. Rory is naked as well but this is typical. He always strips off his PJs sometimes after we’ve put him down but before going to sleep. Getting him to wear clothes is like trying to dress a hurricane.
Where is Bryce? I look around. No sign of her. She’s probably weaseled her way into a mound of blankets somewhere. She’s like a guinea pig – sort of nuzzles into the sweet spots for short term hibernation. When I’d gone to bed eight hours ago she was jumping onto my back and laughing as my ribs popped out of place one at a time.
My elbow is swollen and burning up. I assume I’ve been bitten by some kind of horrible bug in the night. The room was $55 for two queen beds and that cost comes at a price… and sometimes that price is a certain level of sterility… or rather, lack thereof.
Slowly, everyone wakes up. Eyes are opened, limbs are stretched, yawns are ejected. Jade dresses the kids while I pull yogurts from the car. I throw my phone down on the table while Radiohead’s The Bends floats out of the tiny speaker – try to expose the kids to some culture while they enjoy their blueberry / pomegranate mash.
Rory finishes his cup well ahead of the two girls and casually says, “I’m still hungry,” in a way that suggests I should just continue to shovel food into his mouth until he is a plump melon begging me to stop. I grab the keys and go to the car for another yogurt, which he inhales likes a junkie before letting me know that, “Hey! I’m still hungry! I want cereal!” I ask if I can get a please out of him, please. And he relents. I head out the door and get a box of Safari Cocoa Crunch which I guess is either either some kind of healthy version of Cocoa Pebbles or some kind of super generic version of Cocoa Pebbles. It saddens me to think that Fred Flintstone will be nothing more to this generation of kids but a cereal box spokesman.
I pour a hundred little spheres in his yogurt cup along with some milk and tell him to go nuts while Thom Yorke moans about Fake Plastic Trees. Quinn falls out of her chair and Bryce poops her pants. I help Quinn up and change Bryce’s diaper. Rory tells me he’s still hungry and I say, “Tough. Lunch is in four hours,” and he says, “Nooooooo…..”
Jade says she’s going to take a shower so I take the kids for a walk around the block. It’s 8am in desert country and there’s a chill in the air but the sharp briskness reminds me of spring in South Dakota when I was a kid.
The four of us walk up the sidewalk and down a dirt alley. Quinn picks up a rusty bolt and Rory bangs on a gas tank. Bryce stops and watches ants. We make our way to the main street – a completely dead four lane road – and cross to the other side. It’s clear that at one point this town was a place. A real place. A real place with real businesses and real things happening but now it’s about one good month at the mortuary from being a ghost town.
The kids and I explore an abandoned hotel that the Earth has begun to reclaim, dragging it slowly down with it’s green fingers.
Across the street there used to be a car wash but it too has fallen into disrepair at the hands of Time and then was generously decorated by a poet doubling as an entrepreneur in the field of women.
I grab Jade and we head towards a gas station feeling like I’m trapped in an adult version of Children of the Corn.Jade fills up our coffees and cooler while I clean out the car. I find some dirty socks, crunchy peanuts and loose change, which I pocket. Under my seat is a grape, which I toss over my shoulder onto the pavement. Jade exits and says, “Whoa. Look at the size of that bird…” I look behind me and see a crow the size of a small dog hopping towards me. It eyeballs my grape before picking it up in its massive clicking maw. “Take the grape, Crow. Take the whole bag. Just don’t peck my eyes out.”
I reach into the backseat and pull out two clementines and think about my dead dog while I peel them. Poor Clementine – my little cocker spaniel. Hit by a stupid car and thrown away by a homeless man a little over a year ago. A citrus mist pops into the air as I pull back the bright orange skin and it smells refreshing. I throw the peelings on the ground and before I’ve started the car, three tiny brown birds are sniffing them out to make use of.
The Nevada landscape pours slowly past us like sand in an hourglass. It has a beautiful liquid body – the rolling hills, the salted fields. One mound rolls into the next rolls into the next. We pass through several more towns that should be euthanized… or at the very least placed in resting homes.
In Fallon we stop at a restaurant called The Slanted Porch for lunch. It has a dirt parking lot and is across the street from a massage parlor called THE RUB, which looks like it’s inside of someone’s house. I imagine walking in and finding a heavy set Canadian woman lying me down on the bed she sleeps on, crawling on top of me and then using a curling brush against my back and on the top of my head. I have no idea why the woman is Canadian in my imaginings. I shiver and walk up the path to the restaurant instead.
A man that looks like Willy Nelson beats me to the door and opens it up. Jade says, “Go ahead,” and he shakes his head. “Nah, you first. You got more legs than me,” and I say, “Yeah, a little caterpillar,” and he says, “Haw-haw-haw. Boy you sure got your hands full!”
We ask to be seated outside and let the kids run around while we peruse the menu where every item, regardless of its contents, is named after a famous painter. Jade and I each order The Monet – a tomato / pesto sandwich – while the kids all order The Homer – a peanut butter and jelly.
I fail to see the connection in any of it.
The waiter tells me that he drives just over an hour everyday for this job. He drives from Reno. He used to live in The Bay Area in California but now he leaves out here in the desert. Says he needed a change of pace – just packed his car up one day and started over from scratch. Says he likes to serve. I ask him why he doesn’t serve in Reno and he mumbles something that doesn’t make any sense to me. I assume there’s more to his story but he never lets it slip. Our drinks come just as the town’s air raid sirens begin to go off. I pray it’s just a test and we’re not about to be nuked. The missile never comes but the double Monets do.
Rory shouts, “DAD! I GOTTA POOP! NOW!” and two older women at the table next to us pretend not to hear. I say, “Shhhh…” and pretend not to hear him as well. Rory whispers. “Dad… I gotta poop and pee…right now!” I push back my chair and take him to the bathroom whereupon he crawls upon his ivory throne and begins to talk in stream-of-consciousness-I-don’t-even-know-whats. I nod my head dumbly. At one point he stops talking mid-sentence and I glance over at him. His face is beet red and his gaze is a million miles away. I say, “Are you, uh, okay? Are you pooping right now?” I hear a loud PLOP and he says, “OOOOOOOH!… How did you know?”
“Just a hint.”
Then he leans back, like he’s in a recliner, leaning against the toilet tank. Kid is really getting comfortable now and just starts swinging his feet like he’s on a park bench. I ask if he’s done and he says, “Nope. Not yet.” I pull out my phone so I don’t have to stare at a pooping human for the next few minutes. I’m going through my email when Rory releases a super sexually charged, “YESSSSSSSSSS!” and I shout / whisper, “Quiet! Quiet!” and then can’t help but laugh a little. “What are you doing?” and he says, “It’s coming out!”
“Okay. Let’s just… are you almost done?”
“Yeah. I’m done.”
“Awesome. Wipe, wash and let’s be on our way.”
Back on the highway the view is bleeding past us and the road is stretching straight into the horizon, falling off the side of the Earth. I’m strumming my ukelele in the passenger seat while Jade drives. I tell her about “a sweet travel app idea” that I have and she says, “AWESOME!” I say, “Thanks! Really? I mean, I thought it was good but-” and she says, “LOOK AT THAT!” She points and I turn my head. Off to the right of the freeway is a giant monument that looks like a chapel constructed from bones.
I say, “What is it?” and she says, “I have no idea. We need to turn around. We need to turn around right now.”
She pulls the mini over to the left side of the road and finds a turnout that says “No U-Turns” before pulling a U-Turn. A paved road turns to a dirt road turns to a dirt parking lot. The fence surrounding the place is made from old scraps of wood and chicken wire.
We park and pull the kids out. Quinn pees on the tire before we head in – we are in solitude. Bryce doesn’t want to walk and instead just sits in the dirt and cries. No one is around so we let her. “See ya, Bruce!”
We walk in and find what is, essentially, an outdoor exhibit that celebrates Native American culture by creating art from “garbage” found around Nevada; old cars, bottles, cans, car engines, animal bones. There are picnic tables made from spare bulldozer parts and outhouses decorated with license plates. Dolls are scattered throughout, feeling like molested versions of baby cherubs. Life sized Indian statues sculpted from cement populate the premises, making you feel like you’re being watched at all times.
Rory asks why there is barbed wire around some of the exhibits and I say, “Because there are stupid people who try to ruin beautiful things with their garbage.. even when those beautiful things are made out of garbage,” and he says, “Oh,” and then throws the wrapper to the snack he’s eating on the ground and it immediately blows through the fence. I go, “What was that?!” and he looks at me with these blank eyes. “What?”
“What-WHAT? Did you just throw that on the ground? What did I just say. Literally. Just now. What did I just say about this fence?”
“That, uh… people throw their garbage down?”
“Yeah. Okay. So doubly negative points because you were actually listening and should know better. Pick it up.”
“I can’t! It’s on the other side of the fence!”
“Then get on your hands and knees and reach your scrawny arm through and pull it out. Otherwise we’re going to have to do a B&E and get you over this fence to teach you a lesson.”
“What’s a beanie?”
“Another time. Grab your wrapper, knucklehead, and don’t litter. This is the only Earth we’ve got. Haven’t you ever seen the commercial with the crying Indian?”
By the time Rory has re-acquired his trash, Jade and the girls have wandered off. Rory looks down at a plant and says, “Hey… look at this…” He squats down and touches the growth. “C’mere, Dad. Come down here. Look at this.”
I squat down. The plant looks like some kind of desert weed. It’s green with flecks or magenta. I say, “It’s pretty, huh?” and he says, “Yeah. What’s it called?” and I say, “I honestly don’t know… we could name it something,” and he says, “I wish we got here a little earlier so we could’ve asked the people who built this what it’s called.”
I nod my head and stand up.
On the way out Jade suddenly shouts, “There’s a tornado! Go jump in it! See if it lifts you off the ground!” I look down the road and see a dirt devil heading our way. I set off at a dead sprint directly towards it, every moment one step closer to fulfilling a lifelong dream. I shut my eyes and jump into the playful whirlwind. It kisses my cheeks and blows dirt in my face. I turn around and jump back into it. “Here I come, Oz!!!” but no. Nothing. I just get really dirty.
I jump in the driver’s seat and pull onto the road. A dog runs out of nowhere and tries to bite our car and I almost run the stupid thing over, again reminded of Clementine. My elbow still burns and it’s getting worse. Whatever poison that bug shot into my body is working its way into my fingers. My entire left arm is starting to tingle and my bicep is swelling.
Before we’re twenty minutes down the road, Rory is shouting that he has to pee. I pull over, kick open the backdoor, unbuckle him and grab my uke. On the side of the road he pulls his pants down and pees into some weeds while I strum out a simple pattern and sing, “Rory, Rory, peeing on the freeway. Rory, Rory, peeing in the wind.” A trucker drives past us and sees me serenading a half naked child in the middle of nowhere.
Rory turns, mid-stream, and says, “I’m hungry.”
We stop on an Indian Reservation and have dinner in a casino that’s perfumed with smoke and decorated with dormant slot machines. A few locals have bellied up to the bar and no one pays us any attention as we walk through the haze and back into the diner portion. Before we sit down Rory says, “I gotta go potty,” and Quinn says, “Me too!” and I say, “What is with your bladder, kid?”
I take them both to the restroom and Rory gets a burr in his shorts because sometimes that’s just how he is. Sometimes Rory is just difficult. Sometimes he’s a sweetheart and sometimes he’s a monster that can’t be reasoned with. I tell him to wash his hands and he does… sort of. He gets soap on his mitts and scrubs them into a lather and then says, “I’m not washing my hands anymore.” I tell him, “Rory, you need to rinse off your hands,” and he says, “I won’t,” and I say, “Rory. You need to wash your hands so we can go eat. You can’t eat with soap on your hands.”
He fires back, “I’m not going to. You can’t make me. YOU CAN’T MAKE ME!” and he screams the last few words like he wants them to hit like rocks, his voice echoing in the small bathroom. I don’t count with our kids – get over here before I count to ten! I give them two options and I spell out the consequences of both options and then I allow them to choose. Immediately after they choose I deliver them the consequences of their decision
They’ve gotten use to the “I’m going to give you two choices” speech so when I say it, they pay attention. With this method, if they choose incorrectly, they’re not being disobedient, they’re just being stupid. And I can correct stupid behavior. It transforms the situation out of an emotional power struggle into a logical choice making one.
Sidebar: they don’t always choose the right path. It simply shifts the event into something that is more manageable for me.
I lean down close to him and say, “I’m giving you two choices right now so listen closely. I am going to walk Quinn back to the table. If you’re still standing here with soap on your hands when I get back, I am going to take you outside and give you a timeout. If you wash the soap off, we are going to go sit at the table, eat dinner and have pie. Do you understand your choices?” We have a stare off and then I say, “I will be back in thirty seconds.”
I walk Quinn halfway back to our table, never letting the bathroom fully out of my sight, hoping that Rory just needs a few moments alone to collect his thoughts. I stand outside of the bathroom for a beat before I hear him start to moan, “Daaaaad… Daaaaaad…. Daaa-haaad….” Excellent, I think to myself. He’s ready to communicate. Pie over timeout. Easy choice.
I walk back into the bathroom and he’s still standing in the same spot, soap still all over him. I say, “You still have soap on your hands,” and he says, “I’ll NEVER wash them!”
To his credit, he makes firm decisions. It will probably lead him to be a powerful CEO someday if I can funnel it properly.
I take two steps across the bathroom, grab him by the wrists and force his hands under the water. He screeches and shrieks and I’m certain the people in the casino thing I’m beating him mercilessly with my belt. Once the soap is off his hands he pulls away from me and says, “I’ll NEVER DRY MY HANDS! EVER!”
Now, it has occurred to me, in my almost five years of parenting, that at some point, the more intelligent of the party must stop arguing with the less intelligent and simply green light action. And so I grab him by the ear (yeah, I do the ear – it takes very little pressure and the entire body follows with very little effort) and I drag him out of the restroom, through the casino (where no one acknowledges us), out the front door and onto the sidewalk where I place him nose first against the front of the building. I say, “You’re standing here and you’re getting a time out. When you’re ready to talk to me in a nice voice, we can go inside.”
I walk away and stand on the curb where I slowly count to fifty. This exercise isn’t just about letting him calm down. It’s also about letting me calm down. Parenting is, by its very nature, an emotional topic BUT it is my opinion, imperative that we approach it as logically as possible, pushing our emotions aside. Emotions allow us to feel sorry for the child and not see through the punishment. Emotion allows us to strike out in anger. Both things lead to less desirable results.
I count to twenty. I count to thirty. I push my emotions away and think about the process and the consequences. I count to forty. I slow my breathing. I slow my heart. The closer I get, the smaller Rory’s pleas become. By the time I hit fifty he’s completely silent. I walk back up to him, myself in perfect calm, and say, “Are you ready to go inside and eat?” and he says, “You can NEVER make me go inside!”
Inside my head, fireworks are exploding, hammers are hitting anvils and buildings are collapsing. Lord, give me patience, I pray, and then give myself a moment before I speak. Don’t show weakness.
“Rory James… you are going to walk with me right now inside this restaurant. And you are going to sit down at that table. And you are going to eat because you have been telling me all day how hungry you are.” And he looks at me and he says, “I’M TAKING OFF MY SHIRT!” and then he starts to pull off his sweater.
What is happening right now? I just want a mozzarella stick.
The door opens and the sheriff walks out. He stops and looks at me, looks at this kid. Looks back at me and says, “Uh oh.” I say, “Getting a little time out on a road trip.” The sheriff says, “Good luck,” and disappears around the corner. A minute later his cruiser pulls into the street and he doesn’t even look our way.
“Rory. Put your shirt down. You look foolish. WHY… Why are you -”
“I’M TAKING OFF MY SHOES! I’M TAKING THEM OFF!” and he flips his foot and a shoe pops off. In other circumstances it would be comical.
Lord help me.
“You put your shirt down. You put your shoe-”
“I’M GONNA BREAK MY GLASSES!”
I point at him and I say, “Don’t touch them.”
Idiot. You’ve show a weakness.
He grabs them off his face and lifts them into the air. He says, “I’m going to throw them on the ground. I’m going to break them.”
I look him square in the eyes and I play a wild card, “Fine. They’re yours. Do whatever you want with them… but have fun seeing all fuzzy for the rest of your life.” It’s cloaked but it’s another choice – me trying to pull this out of emotion and back into choice and logic.
He stares at me for a full minute before slowly placing the glasses back on his face. I point to the ground in front of me and he walks over. I open the door and he walks in. We find our table and sit down. Rory has a pancake for dinner.
Disciplining your children in the private comfort of your home is one thing. Trying to do it in an unfamiliar public place is a challenge worthy of reality TV competitions. After I get one of the kids to bend to my will, I feel like somebody should be dropping 10k in my lap and throwing a wreath of roses over my neck. I want to high five a stranger and say, “You see that. YOU SEE THAT? I got that kid to reason.”
*Roadside attraction. I bet it’s soft serve.
We get back in the car as the sun is setting – red, yellow, orange. It’s a true vanilla sky. The sun disappears behind the mountains and the creams turn to grays, turn to blacks. We cross into Oregon and pull over for gas. As I open up my door to step out, I bump into a man and scream. “Filler up?” He stares at me, some tall drink of water, his mechanics bibs hanging off of him two sizes too big.
Every single time I enter Oregon I forget that you’re not allowed to pump your own gas. “Yeah, yeah. Everything. All the way. Regular. Thanks. Hey, where’s the next hotel?” He says, “‘Bout sixty miles up you’ll find Nampa, Idaho… but it’s dark. You gotta watch out for deer until you hit the state line.” I thank him and pull down my seatbelt. Just as I turn over the engine, Rory screams. I turn around in my seat and his top lip is covered in blood.
“What is THIS?!”
“Quinn…. PUNCHED ME!”
I look at Quinn but she’s hiding under her blanket. Her voice comes out muted, “Wasn’t me! I don’t know who did that!”
I shove a piece of toilet paper up Rory’s nose and rip the blanket off Quinn before giving her a dirty look and a speech. What is happening today?
Slam the door, snap the seatbelt, fire up the car, pop the headlights, shift into drive, get two miles up the road and Jade screams, “WATCH OUT!” I swerve hard to the right and avoid a bull crossing the street like he’s sauntering up to a broad at some bar, three beers deep. I try to imagine what a bull’s body would do to a mini-van. “Thank goodness, our car wasn’t red! He might’ve chased us!”
I slow down to forty-five MPH and slam a Red Bull because driving at night makes me crazy tired. We reach the hotel after the kids are all asleep. Jade and I crawl out of the minivan and unbuckle all three of them as they try to shake off their sleep. “Are we there? Are we at the hotel?” Quinn asks. “Ho-tey!” Bryce shouts. Rory jumps onto the asphalt barefoot and says, “This place smells like goat’s breath.” I inhale deeply and start to laugh. He’s absolutely correct. All three of them begin to wander like short zombies towards the entrance to another cheap, off-brand hotel, their blankets dragging behind them.
They’re each going to bed with cuts and scrapes they didn’t have when they woke up. But they’re also going to bed with experiences and lessons they didn’t have. Life with these three is not always easy and it’s not always fun and sometimes it tries my patience, not only as a father but also as a human. It tries it to the very edge… and then it pushes it over the edge… and then it expands it. They expand me as a person. Their misbehaviors turn me into a better person. Rob Bell says, “We are going to suffer. And it is going to shape us. Somehow. Bitter or better, closed or open, more ignorant or more aware, more or less tuned in to the thousands of gifts we are surrounded with every single moment of every single day.”
These are my gifts that make me suffer. These are the gifts that make me better and more aware.
The road is not the adventure. My family is the adventure that travels the road. They turn the boring minutia of everyday life into a carnival wherever we go.
*** *** *** *** ***
We head into the hotel and everyone immediately falls asleep.
Everyone except me.
I drank a Red Bull forty minutes ago and I’m wired.
So, with a burning and infected elbow, I write.
And I stare at the kids while I do, wondering what they’ll show me tomorrow.
It’s been pretty quiet over at JohnnyBeBald for the past couple weeks and I have to apologize. First, my wife and I were out of the country celebrating her 30th birthday (Insane Adventures of Two White People Who Don’t Speak English in Nicaragua coming soon) and then upon our return I jumped into directing the below Bud Light spot for a commercial competition.
I’d love for you to click the link and check it out.
In the coming weeks, brace yourself for tales of a mugging I was part of, a gypsy circus we attended and an 80 year old man with a shady past.
When I was in college it seemed like everybody smoked cigarettes; Marlboro Lights, Parliaments, Chesterfields. I knew this guy that used to walk into the liquor store across the street and just say, “Give me your cheapest pack,” and then he’d walk out with some off brand that had been manufactured in the Philippines that he paid $1.97 for and tasted like burning tar.
I’d be sitting outside of the dorms and my friend would smoke his last Filipino Light and he would turn to the guy next to him and say, “Can I bum a smoke?” and the guy would just shrug his shoulders and say, “Sorry, man. I’ve only got three left,” and this would be an acceptable answer in the Smoker’s Community. It was tantamount to saying, “If I had more, I’d give you one but I only have three left.”
The Smoker’s Paradigm: If I had more I would gladly throw them around but now that they are a rare commodity, I want to desperately clutch them to my chest and horde them all to myself.
Fair enough. They are yours and yours to do with as you see fit; to share, to squander, to horde, to trade, to invest like Prison Money but… that’s enough about cigarettes for a bit. Let’s talk about Real World Money and how it slowly creeps into our lives, infects us and causes cancer just like that Prison Currency does.
Let’s talk about how Money can be an addiction and control you and how it’s so very difficult to Quit.
Go to the bank, get a loan, buy a car, drive it to high school, graduate, get a loan for college, go to college, get a job to pay your loans, live in a small apartment because you can’t afford a house because you have loans so get another loan to buy a house with a garage to park your car in, work 50 hours a week to pay off your loans. Sign up for credit cards, buy stuff for your house, so much stuff, so much awesome stuff; 40″ flat screen TV, Blu-Ray player, iPad, iPod, iPhone. How about iPoor? How about uPoor?
Work more, pay the loans, both the bank and the credit card, work more, job sucks but you’re stuck there because of the loans, car is busted. Get it fixed. Car is busted again, sell it for less than a tenth of what you paid. Get another loan, buy a new, nicer car. Something big. Something spacious. Something fancy and glossy with a DVD player inside and seats that warm up. Work more. Pay for insurance. Don’t get sick. Don’t use your insurance. Get sick, pay your deductibles. Never use your insurance. Throw your money in the fire.
Have a baby. Pay the hospital. Pay your insurance. Go to work. Miss baby rolling over, first steps and first words because most of your time is, realistically, spent at that job you have. It’s statistics and odds, folks. You are more likely to miss these moments because you spend more time at a job you hate than with a child you love. Have another baby. Buy a new house. Fix the new house. Take out another loan for the bigger house and the bigger car. Hate your job. Swim in debt. Backstroke in it. Hold your breath because you are drowning.
What if there was another way? What if there was a way to be free of money? What if money lost its stickiness and its bond over us? What if the rope snapped and suddenly we were just floating in space and happy and, like Art Alexakis says, “Everything is Wonderful Now…”
What are we doing, going to jobs that we hate everyday? Why do we choose this for ourselves? Now, wait… I know how this sounds. This sounds like I’m saying, “Stop going to work and be free, you hippy,” but I’m not. I’m just asking… “Isn’t there a better way? Can’t we have the job we want? Can’t we work less and live more?” I’m asking us to look at the box we’ve built. I’m asking us to stand on a tall ladder and look down on the box that we (humanity) have built and I’m asking each of us to examine the individual coffin that we’re in. That 40 hour work week isn’t a thing that is imposed on us. It’s a thing that we impose on ourselves. There are no rules. There is no Guide Book to being an adult.
I’m asking each of us to say, “Why?” I’m asking each of us to ask ourselves what our price is. What are we worth?
Our days are not endless and innumerable. Our days on this Earth are finite and they have a very real number tacked onto them and every time that sun sets, that’s one more stone that’s taken out of the pile and when that pile of stones is gone, so are you. Someday that sun is going to drop below the horizon and the shadows on the ground are going to grow and grow and grow until the darkness ultimately consumes them and then… what?
When I am asked if I want a certain job, the first question I typically ask is, “What is the rate?” and that’s not me asking, “How much money will you pay me to do that job?” it’s me saying, “I have X amount of days on this planet and you are approaching me and asking to purchase one of them. What do you think one day of my life is worth?” How much will you pay me to sit in an office instead of with my family?
What is that answer to you, specifically? $70? $150? $500?
My number is very high because I place great value on my life and my time and my family.
What is your number? You see it in your head? Do you see what you are worth? The numeric equivalent of one day of your life. Stare at it. Hold it in place. Now… would that number change if you knew you only had a week left to live? Would your personal stock, so to speak, rise, in that final week? Would you stop saying yes to Burger King paying you $70 a day and start saying, “I’m worth more than this. My time on this planet is valuable.” Or maybe you would make a bigger statement. Maybe you would say, “There is no price you could pay me to work at Burger King because I don’t want to work at Burger King for the last week of my life.”
If you knew you had a week left to live… what would you do? You’d probably quit your job altogether. Fair enough. But what would you do if you knew you had three years left to live and you knew that it was imperative for you to have a job? After all, one must survive and eat and pay rent.
What job… would you choose for your final three years of life? And if that job is different than the job you have now… what are you doing in the drop-dead horrible line of work you’re currently in? No excuses.
Never say, “But at least I have a job” because that is nothing more than you settling for less and you are worth more than that. You, and I am speaking to you, reader, are worth more than any sentence that begins with, “But at least…” because you are not a “least”.
Imagine, if you were a smoker and imagine, If you knew you had three cigarettes left… what would you do? Clutch them to your chest and savor the drag of each one, smoking them down to the butt until the smoke burned your throat and the heat singed your fingertips.
Look at your life. Every day is just a cigarette in a pack and everyday, one of those cigarettes is going away and if you keep saying yes to that guy that wants to bum one for free then pretty soon you’re going to be desperately wishing you had more, wondering where all your days went.
Life is too short to be in a line of work that does not motivate you. You are so blessed to live in America where you can do any job you want if only you can pay the cost of motivation. That’s it. How badly do you want something? How badly do you want happiness? How badly do you want freedom? Total freedom?
Your days on this planet are yours and yours to do with as you see fit; to share, to squander, to horde, to trade, to invest.
Remember, the only thing more valuable than your money, is your time.
Your time is pearls.
Don’t throw it to the swine.
If it wasn’t for a clock’s ability to keep track of a relative path of time, I would never know where I’m standing in the universe. Time is not like the sun’s movement in that it cannot be counted on. Like a junkie with a speed addiction, Time seems to get the jitters and talk fast before crashing into a slow motion daydream for weeks on end. It doesn’t move the way the sun moves. It jerks and shakes in chaotic shifts and you never know what tide you’ll get trapped in or for how long. Why does Time move so fast when I’m having fun? It’s a horrible trick of existence – to make the wonderful times slide through our fingers like so much watered down gravy.
I look around me and realize everything is moving too fast. I feel like I’m driving through the desert to Vegas and I’ve suddenly glanced down at the speedometer. 110 mph! I wish life had a break pedal or at the very least, cops to pull me over and say, “Kids are turning three. You done everything you need to, son?” Everything is getting away from me. Everyday is this intangible trinket that I can never touch or see again. All I’m left with is a memory of what happened… or what I think happened… the way I remember it…
If Time truly does fly when you’re having fun, then I’ve been in a private jet since my two oldest kids (twins) were birthed into existence. Two nights running I’ve broken down crying while saying prayers with them and I feel like a woman on a cheap Lifetime movie. I just see these two children and they’re so… big. They just look like little… I don’t know… children and this is both beautiful and sad. They don’t look like babies… because they’re not babies. Time, that witch, has stolen my infants. Don’t get me wrong, she’s given me two beautiful children to replace them but… I don’t know… I want it all. I want them both. I want to hear Rory recite his entire bedtime prayers, ABCs, 123s, Itsy Bitsy Spider and color wheel out loud, all alone, without help… but I still want him to be a chubby baby that can’t sit up without assistance.
I want to carry him and hold him and he’s already getting to the age where I ask, “Can I hold you?” and he says, “No,” and even on those occasions where he does stretch his arms towards me, asking to be lifted up, I find that he’s nearly becoming too heavy to carry around for any reasonable length of time, his feet dangling down and kicking me in the dick while I carry him through Target.
I guess it wasn’t really so entirely noticeable until the third baby was born; Bryce has put everything into perspective; locked us all into a new view of ourselves. Before, when it was just the twins, I had that memory, that intangible trinket; I had the memory and the rules and regulations were set by me. I didn’t see them changing. They just… they went to bed and they woke up and they were a little older and bigger and smarter but I never noticed a difference.
Bryce makes the intangible tangible. She says, “This is how small they used to be. This is how helpless. Enjoy me while you can,” and then I’m on my knees trying to scrape those sand grains into my arms, trying to keep every moment from blowing away. I don’t want it to leave me, I don’t want to sleep at night, I keep everyone up until the very last possible moment, knowing that sleep will rob another day from me. I wish, momentarily, that there were Time Machines but, the truth is, Time is the Machine and it will never break and never stop, the most flawless watch to ever be created.
I want to shake Quinn and say, “Never leave! Live with me forever! I’ll build you a tree house in the backyard and it can all be yours! No! I’LL live in the tree house and you can have the front house; just never leave your Papa!” I want to clip her wings so she can never fly but… I know that would be wrong…
My mother is in town right now, staying with us for several weeks to celebrate the birth of our new daughter, having arrived just on the coattails of my mother-in-law, both of them from South Dakota. I look at them and I wonder and I think and I try to imagine what it’s like to have your children living halfway across the country. What is it like to only see them three or four times a year? What is it like to applaud your children’s success and encourage them to chase their dreams even though you know it means breaking your own heart and sending them away into the wild where they’ll be out of reach, out of call, out of touch.
Maybe this sounds like so much hand-wringing to anyone without kids but… you’ve just got to trust me. Children are the party that you never want to end. They are the DJs of your life and the entertainment. They are Fonzie. They are your friend with the trampoline in the backyard. They are Saturday morning cartoons and pancakes for dinner. They are Hide-and-Go-Seek and Jim Henson and adventure and cheese quesadillas all rolled up into one.
There’s nothing we can do to stop time. It’s not a tank we can stand in front of, it’s not a rope we can grab onto and it’s certainly not a vehicle we can drive. Time is just a cannon we’ve been fired from and we have our arms outstretched and we’re watching the scenery pass by as sticks and bugs slap us in the face. The trick is to not shut your eyes. Open them wide and watch. Watch everything as it rockets past you because this is the only trip you’re getting. Touch the grass, smell the roses, whatever you need to do. Just make it worthwhile because when the trip is over… when you hit the ground with a thud… that’s it.
A few months ago I had the pleasure of visiting Seattle and directing a music video for Mark Pickerel and his Praying Hands. I hope you enjoy it.
Directed by Johnny Brookbank
Produced by Nick Antonie
Director of Photography: Chris Harrison
Cam B: Ian Knippel
Cam C: Nate Rogers
Performance Cam Ops: Lonnie Callies & Johnny Podhradsky
Production Manager: Crystal Lane
Playback: Tyson Pickerel