It takes no thought to lace me up
or to walk in me towards home
where you abuse me.
But I’ll take your little beatings.
The casual wooden raps knocking loose
A few burdensome clumps of clay
to prepare for the run you hope to make
Then you drive my cleats into the ground
and that dirty friction of hard earth
stirs up hints of my own scented body –
plastic, leather, steel.
A strikingly visceral lineup.
If only I were you instead of your shoe
so your twisted beginnings could be batted from me
like the packed dirt underfoot.
A few practiced taps in just the right spot
and with each one, another old scandal
cascades to earth,
lost among the swept remnants
of the others like it.
But let it not be a mere swap.
Shame for shame
crime for crime
regret for heavy, stuck regret.
Let it be a breaking loose of aged burdens
so we may steal a faultless moment
when we strike out for home again.
No doubt I’m a morning person. I like being up and ahead of the game.But it still needs to be mostly dark and quiet. I like, I think, using the time for introspection. I’m not sure any other time of day works as well. Once the sun has come inexorably up, it’s the the dull usuals on a march, slightly out of step. And as I wrote on that post in the link:
I’m a little tired of everything I have, and am frantically searching for something which, next year, will be what I remember about the great way that this summer wound down. The soundtrack to the end of it all, or something.
Or the beginning. As much as I will be railing against it in February, I always look forward to the winter, just like I always look forward to the change of one season to the next both times it happens here in Washington. Winter changes to Summer, and three months later, Summer changes to Winter. You only have to brace yourself once a year.
I’m not tired of everything I have, though. Going back to school has catalyzed a sea change in the tenor, the mood, the psychological weave of things. It creates an anticipation and uneasiness. A worried excitement. But “sea change?” That’s gotta be from…surely it’s another…
Full fathom five thy father lies,
Of his bones are coral made,
Those are pearls that were his eyes,
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change,
into something rich and strange,
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell,
Hark! now I hear them, ding-dong, bell.
Yep, another eternal turn of phrase from Shakespeare. Eturnal Shakespeare. If it wasn’t for Shakespeare and the Bible, I’m not sure we’d be able to have a useful conversation about anything. Which is a pretty good explanation for the miserable gewgaw language of the social justice movement. Tottering as they are through an education whose strictures carefully target the most important influences, while wheedling students with the most useless reassurances of their personal value. When you’re ignorant of what made you, you can’t make anything yourself. But you can certainly, efficiently, make nothing of yourself.
I’m sharing the table with my mother in law right now. She writes and speaks for a living, on various socially useful subjects. I’m not sure what’s she’s working on, but she’s taking calls and typing away and leaning in to the screen and, well, this: If my wife were home to see this dynamic – me, with her mom, the two of us just doing our thing together – she would weep tears of joy, and perhaps kill herself knowing that life has reached its zenith. There can be no more surprises. Unlikely affinity is one of life’s most subtle and rewarding little charities.
I did say “socially useful subjects” which may have pinged your radar once or twice as a pernicious little turn of phrase. You are not wrong. She is political, and devoted to the cause. Refugee-positive in a “we must be universally welcoming and open” kind of way. It’s sentiment over reason, and to my mind it comes apart far too easily far too early, but I do not brusquely shrug it off. She is a thinker and does nothing carelessly and I admire that. It is an unrealistic expectation that all careful thinking will arrive at the same conclusion. In the case of me and her, it does not. In the case of millions of people, it does not. If any of us believed in the virtue of universal agreement, we would hate free speech because it is the ultimate impediment to that brutish uniformity. It is an honor to be sharing writing space with an intelligent dissenter.
I work hard to not be reactionary with people. To be in an argument the way it seems people used to be capable of doing: calmly and with generosity. Jonathan Haidt’s work about the increasing volatility of polarization is instructive here. It’s actually true that people used to be much, much kinder in disagreement than we are now. If I could reach back to the past and pull anything forward, it might be that proclivity. But to be really trite, things are the way they are because they are. We didn’t just decide to be inflexible and abrasive one day. We built the structure for it. Here we live. I’m generally comfortable with the idea of people disagreeing with me, doing different things. But the virtue signaling gets so tiresome. Therefore – cue the cliche – we don’t talk politics. Why would we? Football teams don’t play each other hoping for a tie, or to end the game with the other team’s players wearing their uniform. If you want a fight, face your opponent. If that opponent is family, don’t be a jerk. Leave it.
Though I do giggle when I muse about what my mother in law probably thought I was doing when I was working an intelligence position in the Army. SPIES! And now that Hillary has done what Hillary has done, people who formerly had a contempt for all things governmentally secretive and clandestine have to abandon that contempt for a forced ambivalence. “Security clearances? Well, those aren’t really a big deal, anyway. Certainly nothing to get all ‘legal’ about. Amirite?”
It’s a little dark outside. I think Autumn has finally turned out the lights for the year. Or dimmed them, anyway. But the world doesn’t buzz like the dining room lights do. It’s all just wan and limp, leaves and limbs hanging damply, without actually being damp. This will be the scene Monday, when I head back into the classroom. I have two classes on campus, Creative Writing directly prior to American Government. Online I have Social Ethics and the bonus freebie class: Health and Fitness. I expect a lot proselytizing over high fructose corn syrup and big bad evildoers like Monsanto, but like anything, I’ll take what learning I can and apply it where I am able.
I was in the motor pool on September 11, 2001. Forward observer. My unit was on DRB-1 (Division Ready Brigade. Forgive me, paratroopers, if I remember any of this wrong), bags packed and ready to be wheels-up in two hours in the event of war. The dumbest officer I ever worked for drove up in a Humvee and very dramatically told me what had happened. He said:
“Come with me to the guard shack, they’re listening to it on the radio.” Trained in the leisurely art of media-driven readiness.
I said “Shouldn’t we be getting ready to deploy, sir?”
We got nervous. Our stomachs knotted up while we waited in our barracks for the word. We started hearing about the roads on post being blocked off, the post being closed, searches for bombs. We watched the TV. And we sat and sat and sat while we very definitely received no order to deploy. The greatest ramification for the 3rd Battalion of the 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment was that for several days it took off-post personnel 3 hours to get to work. Every car was being checked at the gate for bombs, underneath and in the engine bay. Ft. Bragg ground to a halt from the intensity of action.
I tottered off to Arizona a year or so later, training for a new job, and leaving the likelihood of combat almost certainly forever in my past. Say what you will – I was relieved to have gotten out alive, for all literal purposes. People I know did not. Few, thankfully, but enough. There was Jared, of course.
In 2008, the entire 82nd Airborne Divison was deployed in either Iraq or Afghanistan, erasing its distinction as the Army’s only unit with a Division Ready Brigade. Odd to think of the mighty 82nd as just another unit. They never will be, of course, no matter how hard Congress tries.
The dumb officer I mentioned up there inhabits my memory in one other infamous episode. After 30 July and August days in the desert of Ft. Irwin California, my RTO and I sat idle while all of the brigade’s After Action Reviews dragged on, wrapping up our rotation at the National Training Center. We were a COLT – Combat Observation Lasing Team – lugging around a giant device used for painting targets for smart munitions. The actual smart munitions are ridiculously cost prohibitive, so they were never actually used in training. The laser was just a very large and very expensive set of binoculars.
Over the course of that rotation, my RTO and I called more fire missions than the rest of the brigade combined. We went somewhat rogue, getting permission from our infantry platoon leader to seek out targets on our own. When we called in our location so that we could direct some fires onto enemy targets, the response from the Fire Direction Center was “What the hell are you doing all the way up there, COLT 1?” SSgt Monti was out there, too, I remember, and our Battalion Fire Support Officer joked later that he could never get through on the radio because Monti and I would not stop calling for fire. Those were good days.
The officer of infamy, who I will name only by the nickname I gave him – Captain Sand-in-my-rear – approached us as we leaned against our rucks, waiting to redeploy to Ft. Bragg. He showed us a nice, shiny coin with the wings of a full Colonel on it and told us: This came from the Brigade Commander, for the good work we did here at NTC, but specifically for the job you two did out there. Well done.” He then put the coin in his pocket and walked away. Asshole. I hope he doesn’t mention us at all when he tells of how he got it.
Those were good days, to be sure. But they were make believe. They were games and laughs, a steady flow of frustration, and a lot of physical distress. But none of it was real. People like Jared Monti never forget the purpose of all those games, and in the end he proved what it meant to him.
I like serendipity. This was one of our poems this morning, June 23rd:
by Shel Silverstein (1930-1999)
Joe yelled, “Happy New Year.” The cow yelled, “Happy Moo Year.” The ghost yelled, “Happy Boo Year.” The doctor yelled, “Happy Flu Year.” The penguin sneezed, “Happy Ah-choo Year.” The skunk yelled, “Happy Pee-yoo Year.” The owl hooted, “Happy Too-woo Year.” The cowboy yelled, “Happy Yahoo Year.” The trainman yelled, “Happy Choo-choo year.” The clock man yelled, “Happy Cuckoo Year.” The barefoot man yelled, “Happy Shoe Year.” The hungry man said, “Happy Chew Year.” There were more “Happy Ooo-Years” Than you ever heard At our New Year’s party… Last June twenty-third.
I also like rituals. They can turn banalities into monuments, which I suppose isn’t always healthy (Hello, #occupy). Making my bed is a ritual. Bed time dessert can be a ritual. If I have a late treat, I will not brush my teeth after because it ruins the ritual. Coffee, sweet coffee, is a ritual. I don’t pour a cuppa just so I can run around making breakfast and handing out vitamins and cleaning griddles and maybe, maybe drinking most of it before it’s cold. I wait until the kids are through with me so I can sit, pull my darling Alexa close to me, and sip my beans over a few keystrokes. Especially this morning, in the defunct Seattle June. It has given up on us again. Ritualistically: 56 degrees, rain clinging like a syrupy apology. I once wrote:
This is not the June of my fonder memories. Smells like November, if you ask me, and I am beginning to be a little suspicious that everyone is in on a big joke against me. Soon I am going to open a closet in search of another blanket to wrap around myself, and see the pile of real calendars that they have hidden from me, replaced by all of these versions with twelve pages that say June. You can get things over on people by assuming certain behaviors like “he won’t flip the calendar ahead a month.” If I did I would see June. Again. And then June again. I would probably roil in a sense of disaster for a moment, and then resolve to continue to play the dupe because I know that eventually, one of these Junes will look like the right thing, and I’ll be able to enjoy it with fascination instead of expectation. The rest of you will know it is coming, and so curse it when it falls short.
Today I read a comment from some disgruntled citizen in the neighborhood, obviously using a police forum about local crime rates to make sure he honors the ritual of meeting a climate change mention quota. He said “Every year, it gets hotter earlier…” Well, I wrote that piece of mine up there, lamenting the pattern of cold, rainy Junes, six years ago. Let’s go easy on the agenda smuggling, shall we?
My agenda is in the link below. Raise your hand if every. single. one. of your friends votes differently than you do. It’s intimidating, but it builds character. They may be safe, but I’m secure. The definitions of those words are important. When you look at them side by side you see how different they are:
Secure: fixed or fastened so as not to give way, become loose, or be lost.
Safe: protected from or not exposed to danger or risk; not likely to be harmed or lost.
“Protected from or not exposed.” Oof. If you have kids, make them secure, not safe. High schools and colleges today are being torn apart by kids raised to think that safety is more important, and teachers who feel the same way about their jobs. Good little employees, bad little citizens. But I digress. I don’t know why I put those definitions in there. I’ve seen what we (and the Supreme Court) do with definitions when they aren’t convenient. Wait a minute…
Definition: a statement of the exact meaning of a word, especially in a dictionary.
I would look up ‘exact,’ but again, once we’ve demonstrated that definitions are subject to whimsy, it’s rabbit hole, futility, chants and protests, etc, in saecula saeculorum. There isn’t a sentence in existence that matters. Not that one, not this one, and not any of the sentences in my paper, linked below.
Today we wake up with no immediate obligations (I haven’t even made the bed yet, lawd), so I’m calling this the first day of Summer Break. A term that has been scoffed at and rightfully derided by full-time parents since Summer Break was invented. How three consecutive months without a reprieve from whining, bored, hungry, fighting children is a “break” I’ll never know. But that’s why we pack in the things: swimming lessons, soccer, various camps, a small vacation. A frenetic Summer awaits, but without those things it goes from frenetic to demonic, and we all suffer for it. Of course, I do know the complaints that are out there: what’s with the constant stimulation? Or is it supervision? My parents didn’t need someone else to raise their kids for them. Yes they did, you dolt. Sending you off with strangers is raising you. And you know that certainly I’ve had HuffPo tell me, via Facebook, via someone who ‘liked’ the article without explaining why, that our parents never would have done this. That when we were kids…summer…until the streetlights…the old rock quarry…ten cent malts from Wade down at the soda counter…stuff it, please. Yes, unfettered, unsupervised play is absolutely necessary, but those cherry Coke bottle lenses through which you are remembering your childhood are distorting things a bit. In any environment, parents assess the dangers and set the parameters, and weigh them against their interest in actually, actively guiding your development a little bit. Being kicked out of the house from sunup to sundown was not the prevailing characteristic of our grand, summery youth. Mom was not simply hanging out, perfect hair, elbow length rubber gloves and an S.O.S. pad, sending you out on a blissful, ten hour frolic through the neighborhood while she hummed her way through the dishes and a box of Zinfandel because WE WERE ALL SO MUCH TOUGHER, THEN. Nope. I keep my kids closer and manage their freedom a little more tightly not because I’m an insecure ninny, but because, well, you should read my neighborhood news source. Daily police callouts for gunshots, weekly attempted lurings of elementary students on their way to school, monthly flashing incidents, package theft season (it’s a thing), car prowl maps, etc. Granted, 75% of the seemingly unceasing school lockdowns are for MAN SPOTTED WITH A GUN that turned out to be a stick, so there is certainly a current of overprotection and overreaction going on. Also, West Seattle is large, and it is divided into neighborhoods like anywhere else, and the worst of things consistently happen in specific areas, but we’re not allowed to talk about that. Our immediate neighborhood stays pretty safe. Mostly because there are a lot of residents around all the time. Retired people, the odd (and I do mean odd) stay-at-home parent, lots of kids and barking dogs. This sort of active presence is a key component to staying safe. If anyone is casing our neighborhood, they’re putting it very low on the target list.
I held my breath a bit on celebrating the end of my school quarter, because I wanted the results of my Philosophy (Symbolic Logic) final. It was far and away the hardest class I took this quarter, and at finals time I had just over a 94% for the quarter. I had to do well enough to keep that above 93% if I was to get a 4.0. I scored 19/20, for a 95%, and my overall grade for the course is a 94.38% I’m still waiting for the grade on my English paper, but unless I seriously bombed it, I’ll be good to go. English definitely made me work the hardest, but PHIL120 taxed me more than a Prince John/Bernie Sanders tag team. I was up late again because of it, taking that 20 question final with a two hour time limit. I used less than half that time to finish it, then went back through and took it again just to be sure. Good thing, too, as it’s funny how quickly you can come to the wrong conclusions (he said quite intentionally, after the Orlando shooting). I changed two answers. Had I not done that, I would have gotten 17/20, which would have given me a 92.38%. Insufficient perfection.
Now it turns out I have almost 10 days until my summer quarter starts. But that doesn’t really matter because I’m already completely confused about this summer. It’s June. It’s maybe sixty degrees out there most of the time. I’m done with school but sort of not because I don’t really understand finals week; my daughter’s last day of second grade was today, except it was yesterday, except there was noon dismissal and a pool party; and my son’s (imma just say it) preschool graduation (seriously) just got canceled because the teacher has the Black Lung or something. But wait! It’s been rescheduled! Evidently there were parents who needed “closure.” On preschool. Graduation from babysitting. You’ll get your closure when they move out of the house, which isn’t likely to happen if you are having preschool graduation ceremonies that simply cannot be canceled. But hey, it’ll be a droll Monday with cupcakes, so I’m all in.
For now, to kick off Summer, I’ve told my charges that they cannot come upstairs until they clean the basement. The noises tell me that after over an hour down there, they have not cleaned anything. But they are having fun, and I don’t like to interrupt that. In a little while I will pay my obeisance to HuffPo and our tough as nails familial heritage by hanging twenty dollar bills out of their pockets and sending them on an unsupervised walk through Highland Park. But not until I go spend 40 minutes in the grocery store while leaving them in the car, LIKE MOM USED TO DO ALL THE TIME. I will make sure the windows are cracked a bit.
The eight year old girl came upstairs just now.
“Papa, it’s clean. That’s why I’m up here. All except The Boy (she calls him that, too). His room is a mess.”
Joy, here comes the boy. You’ll love this:
“Papa, I want you to go down now and expect it.”
“You mean inspectit.”
“Yeah, go expect it. But don’t put away the K’nex pieces that are out. I wanna use those.”
“Those are what I wanted you to clean up.”
“Yeah. Can I have my cookie now.”
“Hang on. Immago expe- inspect it first.”
“Yeah. I’ll just be sitting here on this stool until you come back.”
Expection complete. I’m really glad you could all share this moment with me. I walked downstairs, into the living room for a few turns, then into one bedroom, then the other. Before heading back upstairs I paused and hung my head a little, took a moment to collect myself, and called back some tears that were threatening to come through the breach. For literally the first time in my life with these children, amid all the hollering and crashing that was going on down there, they did a friggin’ awesome job in spite of – oh, let’s face it, because of – having no help from me.
So the house is clean (enough), the sun through the East window is warming the dog on the rug, and we’re all in our pajamas at 8:55 am, instead of being on the road to school. Breakfast has been had. The Girl just told Alexa to “play Wagon Wheel.” It’s time to drain the dregs from my Stanley coffee mug, and pull these kids so close to me that I can finally feel like I’m getting a break. Let’s go have us a Summer.