Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Practically Flying

Maybe it's time to come clean on this whole flying car thing. I have spent years and years complaining to anyone who would listen or read about my desperate need to be shown the future where we get from place to place through the air instead of being chained to city streets by something so mundane as gravity.
Well, as it turns out, there are probably some very good reasons why your average commuter sin't being handed the keys to the very latest hovercar. Let's start with the number of times we witness other drivers who seem to be incapable of operating that most simple of devices, a turn signal. Just a friendly note to those around that you are going to change direction. Or something on a par, physically, such as switching from high beams to low headlights to keep from blinding oncoming traffic? I am sure that everyone reading this is a thoughtful and considerate driver and always maintains correct following distance and slows down in school zones and so forth, but there seems to be a number of unaccounted for individuals who struggle with some of these obligations.
Now go ahead and imagine that this same kind of recklessness would occur any more than a foot or two from the ground. Even with the advent of self-driving cars and collision alerts, we still manage to get in the way of one another on a regular basis. And that's just getting out of the parking lot. Imagine having to deal with that joker a thousand feet above the planet, at speeds required to keep a hunk of metal and carbon fiber aloft.
Yes, suddenly the dream dies. Hard. It's what made Superman so super. He was the one guy who could fly around, zipping off to save this or that. Mostly Lois Lane. But what if everyone had that ability? Men, women, boys, girls, all leaping off to this or that event or whim. The air would be filled with every Tom, Dick and Mary on their way to lunch or to rescue an ocean liner. It would get crowded. Stupidly so. And good luck getting everyone to follow the prescribed speed limits, even if it happened to be that of a speeding bullet.
So what I'm saying here is that I'll be fine for now with the four wheels and the windshield. No need for turbines and pressurized cockpit. Not yet anyway. The future can wait a few years for me to catch up to my own fantasies.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019


In the background, I could hear Rivers Cuomo singing about how "it feels like summer." For him, it would seem that summer feels a lot like unrequited love. Which sort of makes sense since most everything feels like unrequited love for our boy Rivers. And maybe it does a little to me, somewhere. But my story has a pretty happy ending, love-wise. I do remember summers in my youth when I spent hours and days and weeks preparing for what would eventually be a waste of time and energy since interacting with girls would require me to do some actual interaction. Which led to a certain amount of pining and complaining to others about how sad and lonely I was. Without a major label record contract to voice these issues.
Okay. So maybe summer once felt like unrequited love to me. But I pretty much put a lid on that series of chapters when I chose to move, the day after my thirtieth birthday, to California to set up housekeeping with the girl who would become my wife. My birthday is, according to many calendars, the first day of summer. So for a while summer felt like cross-country travel. This theme was repeated for a number of years as I returned to my ancestral home to visit and bring back souvenirs to my family who had no Trader Joe's.
Now they have their own Trader Joe's, and I still make trips back east to what we still refer to as the West, but I don't have to carry chili-lime cashews in my carry-on. So what does summer feel like now? It is currently marked by the unexplainable urge to build something. A fence. A railing for the front stairs. A tree house. These are the months that stretch out with the possibility of construction. Hammer, nails, cordless drill. A circular saw. The scent of freshly cut wood. It is this barely suppressed compulsion to cut and pound and assemble frightens my wife just a little. She knows that her job is to be on call for those trips to the hardware store for the missing piece or that extra piece of pine that didn't make the initial inventory. And she gets to ride the inevitable roller coaster of satisfaction with my own work. Sometimes she offers to help, but my own frothing doesn't always allow me to accept or understand this interaction. This yearning for construction continues until I can step back and admire my own handiwork, imperfect as it may be.
There are no current projects on the calendar. But it's early. And it feels like summer.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Our Little Squirt

Squirt gun.
It was the first break in the arms embargo at our house. When my son was little, he was told that there would be no guns in our house, toy or otherwise. Which was not my personal edict, but one that I acknowledged was probably a worthwhile bit of prohibition in the raising of a child in Oakland, California.
Not that I didn't have my share of squirt guns as a kid. On the first warm day of spring, the neighborhood would troop as a mass to the nearest five and dime to arm ourselves for what would be a long, hot summer. Models that scream out of that haze of memory include a clear blue plastic replica of a Luger. Not much in the way of soaking potential, but deadly cool looking and wasn't that really the point? The other one that made a lasting impression was the sub-machine gun, which was even cooler for two main reasons: It held a boatload of water in its hollow stock and came in matte black. This was the real deal, the squirt gun that could easily make the transition to playing war games once the leaves began to fall and water play was discouraged.
Each year there were attempts to get us to try some new apparatus designed to drench one another. Wham-O's Water Weenie was one of these. The Weenie delivered on its claim to shoot water amazing distances and have a name that made it instantly impossible to discuss with its target demographic. Because the truth was if we were going to go the route of not having a gun, we could opt for the heavy artillery like the hose, or the deadly charm of a water balloon all tied off and tossed directly at the intended target.
Fast forward to the battery-powered Entertech squirt gun I had in college that made no attempt whatsoever to distinguish it from a real automatic weapon. With exchangeable clips and shoulder strap, this was the water weapon I had dreamed of as a kid. A younger kid.
But when it came time to toss water at one another once I was a father, I was stuck with that moral conundrum. And when the rainbow colored Super Soaker series hit the market, suddenly my wife's resolve faded. Everyone had them. Everyone wanted them. Even my son. And so the ban was lifted, and we spent the next six or seven years buying whatever new and more efficient way of delivering blasts of wet to victims suspecting and otherwise. Eventually, each one of these would live out its useful life and then was stuck in a barrel we left in the garage. Perhaps we hoped that we would eventually find the time and patience to rehabilitate them, but when May arrived, we knew where we were headed. Not to the garage. We were going out to buy a new squirt gun. 

Sunday, June 16, 2019

In What Universe Is Time A Constant?

I can't imagine what it would be like to actually be one of those male human beings who flaunt their "manhood" with statements like, "I've just got the one kid - that I know of."
Har har har.
The notion of being some kind of stud service for a planet already overcrowded with people who have grown up without the love and care that they need is unconscionable. I regret that I cannot recall what female comic who made the same statement in her standup. It was one of the funniest and immediately saddest moments of comedy I have ever witnessed. Maybe if men had to pass a bowling ball through their privates at some point during the process, there might be a little more consideration for the entire undertaking.
I cannot imagine being absent from my son's life. Much in the same way that I hung on every bad joke and chased after those moments with my own father, I still cling to the time that I get to spend in the company of my son. I would not have missed a diaper, a late night, a bump on the head or seemingly endless game of catch in the front yard. And still, I want more. Each year that brings him closer to being a grownup with a family of his own is a clock that is ticking. I can only hope that I get to spend that endless amount of time playing catch with grandchildren, but I know there is a difference.
We went all in, my wife and I, when we chose to stop with the one kid. We felt and continue to feel that we had won the lottery when it came to offspring and so we chose not to tempt fate. Which only meant that there would be that much more strain on the minutes that fill up a day for our little boy. "Please stop reading to me so I can go to sleep." But I haven't had a turn yet. How can that be fair?
I suppose I can be thankful that my son hasn't done the favor for me that I did for my dad. From the time I was nine or ten, I began drawing a caricature of him for birthday cards, and father's day cards and the like. I cannot say that it was flattering, but it was generally agreed to be pretty accurate. Even by him. Which is what I have currently decorating the spot where our grandfather clock usually hangs. The clock that he built especially for my wife and I on the occasion of our wedding. Keeping track of the time we spend together.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Looking Up

I do a great portion of the long-distance driving for our family. Not because I like to drive so much. I don't. I do prefer it to staring out the window at seemingly endless strips of asphalt. It gives me something to do. Again, I do not consider my talents as the operator of a passenger vehicle to be anything worth shouting about, but I do manage to keep the machine between the lines and the number of citations I have received in the last twenty-five years numbers somewhere in the low zero area.
Which can't necessarily be said of all the other drivers out there on the highways and byways. One of the ways my wife and I tend to pass time on road trips is to comment on the relative carelessness of the company we find out there. Signal lights, following distance, all that stuff that seemed to be such a bother back when I was younger and had a place to be. It never occurred to me that everyone else might also have a specific time and destination in mind. I could be the impediment to their arriving on time for dinner. Why don't I just get out of their way?
Still, it continues to amaze me that there aren't more collisions of all sorts, interstate, city streets, country roads. It requires a pretty solid set of sensory responses to pilot an automobile from point to point, and even though we seem to be interested in finding all manner of distractions to keep us from paying attention to the task at hand, most of us get from point to point without turning into a charred mass of twisted metal.
Good for us!
Sometimes, as the miles begin to stack upon themselves, I find myself wondering about a Jonathan Livingston Seagull approach to driving. That's when you have that momentary lapse of focus and the horn sounds behind you. No thump. No squealing tires. No broken glass. Just that near miss. What if that was just the way it translated into some new plane of reality, leaving behind the wreckage of what might have been and pressing the reset button once again. I almost fell asleep there. I should have checked my mirror. I shouldn't have looked down on the seat for my wallet. Oops. Never mind. Start again.
And this time, pay attention.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Rubber Meets Road

I was up on the rack for a short while earlier this week. This was my ten thousand mile checkup. Or annual. Or just about time for me to see what might need loosening or tightening before the next scheduled pit stop.
I got to share a bit with my doctor about my least favorite phrase, "at a certain age." As near as I could ascertain, we are all at a certain age. There may be some who at some indeterminate age, but I have yet to run into them. Sure, there are those who defy aging. Until suddenly they don't. But I take some solace in the fact that "for my age" I am holding on to most of my factory-installed parts. I also find that this automotive metaphor suits me pretty well, in spite of the fact that I have no idea what my current Blue Book value might be.
I know that when I used to go out for a run, I would see others doing similarly. I would try and ascertain from their posture, gait and look on their face how old they might be. I have been passed up by plenty of runners more advanced in years than myself, just as I have blown past those young punks who must have over-exerted themselves in the first mile. And more often than not lately, I content myself to putting one foot in front of the other. Every day above ground is a good one.
And every day that I can still get up and find some new way to wear myself out, to build something new, fix something that's broken, touch my toes, I count it as a win against entropy. Things fall apart. It's the nature of things. I make a few more noises than I used to, and I am discovering muscles and bones in ways that remind me to take it easy on the old guy since he's not getting any younger.
None of us are. Which makes my relationship with my doctor an exercise at times in compare and contrast. We share knee stories, and I take comfort in her assurance that I'm in pretty good shape. I try not to manually insert the tag: for my age. Most of the time I don't. I feel pretty good. I'm not going to go ten rounds with the champ anytime soon, but depending to which champ I could be referring that might not be such a difficult chore.
There will be no rolling back of the odometer on this model, so I expect I'll keep it filled up with oil and slap a little Bondo and some primer on as necessary. I've got miles to go before I sleep.

Thursday, June 13, 2019


I have this theory that I like to espouse regarding home repair: I don't mind doing plumbing because if you mess up you could end up wet. I don't feel the same way about electrical matters because if you mess up you could end up dead. This is my story, and I'm going to stick with it. In spite of my Monday battle with our bathroom sink.
It all started innocuously enough on Sunday evening, when I noticed that the sink was draining somewhat slowly. So I applied our household version of drain cleaner: baking soda and vinegar. Great burbles of black goo was what I got in response, so I figured I must be onto something. I remembered my previous trips down this path and left the puddle sit to slowly make its way down and away. I rinsed the excess mung and went on to bed, feeling  lightly satisfied in a plumbing sort of way.
Monday did not bring relief, as the morning's ablutions proved to be more than the drain could handle, and I made the decision to try something more invasive. Sticking a snake down the pipe didn't bring about the rushing flush that I had wished for, and I decided to try something more drastic. This meant going out to the garage and bringing back our real and true pipe wrench. I had hoped that the mere introduction of such a tool would frighten the pipes into behaving in the manner in which we had become accustomed.
No such luck. As I began taking things apart, I noticed that the collar to one of the fittings had a hole in it, and since my wife was busy at the grocery store, I took it upon myself to ride my bike up to the hardware store to buy a replacement. Simple enough. I came right back and started to put things back into place and when water was introduced to this new setup, a spray came out of yet another piece of the trap. At this point, my wife had returned and dutifully raced out to the hardware store to buy a replacement. That needed to be cut to size. Which meant I got to use my hacksaw.
But not before I used a flashlight to peer into the hole where the sink was attached to the wall. There was a pipe full of mud just a few inches away, which suggested that there was a good four feet of goop standing in the way of proper drainage. I chose to let someone with better tools than mine deal with that matter, but I would put things back into place before I gave up completely.
But not without discovering yet another hole in the third piece of the trap, the "J" as we were to learn, so off to yet another hardware store went my supply sergeant. I left a wet, muddy mess in the bathroom as I waited patiently for what I hoped would be the last piece in the puzzle that had been laid out in front of me so casually three hours earlier.
If it had been electricity, it would all be over now.
What doesn't kill us is probably plumbing.