All the Books in the Universe

The librarian’s telling dad jokes.

Had things been normal, The Boy’s school year would have ended with field day. Each year, a new t-shirt is designed, and the school meets at Lincoln Park for a day of events that the parents and teachers plan, coordinate, and execute with varying degrees of aptitude. Living so close to the park, we have hosted, for the last few years, most of the students in one or both of our kids’ classes for pre-field day shenanigans and donuts. When the time comes we walk them down to the park

There was no field day this year, and I miss filling the street in front of the house with a dozen screaming grade schoolers at 7:30 in the morning. But at least the commemorative shirts were still made. They were handed out with a few other items at the final drive-thru this morning. When The Boy brought it in and showed me, I couldn’t believe what I saw. I have no idea if a parent drew this up, or if it’s some stock design, but it’s the perfect accompaniment to a poem I wrote years ago as The Boy, then just a baby, was falling asleep on my chest:

The Dreamstronaut

The boy adrift in outer space alone,
His hairless pate in a glassy dome.
The awe, the joy, the dreaming soul.
A six-tooth smile in a barrel roll.

While his hands still search and his toes still curl,
Half in, half out of his old man's world.
The half that's in heaves a sigh at me,
The half that's gone starts its reverie.

With that I guess he's in the stars,
Using them like monkey bars,
To swing amidst the giant rows
While the library of his dreaming grows.

And once it's up he'll float about
In no great hurry to be picking out
His stories or his nursery rhymes;
He knows his dreams aren't bound by time.

He bobs on past hoar-frosted shelves,
And a section with a copse of elves.
With a languid pull he moves along,
To the fantasy he'll settle on.

I've always imagined him like this,
Giggling through the stacks in bliss.
The length and breadth of an innocent's whim,
His snickers and kicks propelling him.

Now in my arms he's settled more,
But he shifts a bit one time before
His searching hand tugs on my nose -
He's grabbed a dream, and off he goes.

Friday in the Grist Mill

A Perfect Vision Plague Subplot

I came downstairs to assume my usual position, and found The Boy, asleep under a blanket in my chair. I don’t know when he got out of bed and headed down there. He’s been out of sorts – sudden bursts of sadness, lots of resistance to school and soccer. He’s a feeler, emotional, and as much as we may think that the heavy things of our big, grown-up world don’t penetrate their gleeful childish ignorance, we are wrong. He’s been, for instance, for weeks now finding ways to work the word “detain” into conversation. “I feel so detained today,” or, in the middle of doing chores or schoolwork, “this feels so detaining.” I don’t know that I use that word very often, but he picked it up somewhere and is feeling it. Of course if I said any of this to twitter I would be told that he needs to check his privilege; that he has no idea what it really means to be detained. Because everything is binary, zero-sum, and a 9 year-old saying he feels detained during the COVID-19 quarantine, while riots are burning the cities, is a slap in the face to 9 year-old immigrants in detention facilities at the border. It can only mean that.

Even Lileks is depressing this week. If you just got your internet this morning, and still don’t know James Lileks, here’s your chance. Click on “The Bleat” and you’re on your way. He’s always taking the angle that I wish I would have been insightful enough to take myself. There’s no one more level-headed and erudite, and this week he just sounds pissed off and tired and sad and well, not himself. Things have taken their toll. On all of us.

The first of several planned and announced demonstrations in West Seattle is at 10:00 this morning. I don’t anticipate problems. This is a gathering of people on a street corner outside of a senior care center. Another one is later this afternoon at a busy intersection, but there’s no retail to speak of out there. Hooliganism also not expected.

It’s tomorrow’s march through the heart of West Seattle that worries me. Someting about the idea of movement seems to excite the mobs, and there are lots of juicy targets for the brick-throwing anti-capitalists.

Let me just say something here that nobody else will (I also hate that I said that just now. As if I’m so special, so unique that I could possibly be the only person to say something. What a jerk). It ties directly to what I’ve said several times about people being exhilarated by tragedy. People taking a, perhaps unintentional and consciously unnoticed, thrill in being a part of something horrible. Like COVID-19 and the excitement that seemed to come out when people talked about how bad it might become. Like watching a grenade get lobbed into a public swimming pool and being a little disappointed, in spite of our better angels, when it turns out to be a dud.

We’re a fodder-fed society, and there’s no fodder in joy.

So what I’m saying is that I see it in me. Just admitting that right here, right now. A part of me wants to see West Seattle burning tomorrow. I want to be able to drive through on Sunday morning and see the broken windows and graffiti, take pictures, write about it, and commiserate with my neighbors about the sadness of it all while working in, every dozen sentences or so, the boilerplate “it’s a shame that they have to make the good protesters look bad like this.” It’s a small part of me that wants this, a part in no danger of becoming dominant. The part that longs to belong, to be able to say #metoo. The allure of locking horns with hell and boasting, later, of my survivability. Especially when I was never in any real danger because the devil doesn’t want me. It’s weak and petty. It’s the side of me that wants something for nothing; to take credit for resilience that I may not have shown in the face of anything more immediate than these approximate dangers that I see on the news. I don’t know if you feel that, too, but I know I’m not the only one who does.

Find something that sucks that you can admit about yourself today. Maybe it’s the part of you that hopes, when you’re reading an article about a murder, that the perpetrator turns out to be not of your race. Or the jolt of happiness you feel when you’re reading an article about a politician in a sex scandal, and they turn out to be not of your party. Drag that feeling out by its tail, give it a little shake, then put it back in and make sure you remember where you left it. I’d like to say that you should throw it away, but let’s be honest.


The boy woke, stirred, accidentally shook a sleeping cat from his lap, then slumped down onto the floor and fell asleep again on the rug, as he mumbled something indecipherable to me. This is not the sleep of bliss under the impenetrable dome of childhood. His is the sleep of emotional exhaustion. The exhaustion of the long-borne illusion, the impotence of childhood. and the weariness of trying to work out just what that thing is, slinking around behind all of these toys and games that seem so nice. That thing that worries you inexplicably and keeps full contentment at bay. The thing that no amount of otter pops and ice cream can sweeten enough to silence. That thing that feels so detaining.

He’ll know it one day as conscience, or Original Sin, or a grand moment of unchecked honesty. Maybe he’ll be careful enough, astute enough, mature enough, to drag it out by its tail, give it a little shake, and then set it free.

The PVP Diaries #46

Just trying to limit the future undoings

 

Update 5-19

I’m just a guy with a pile of damp sand in the driveway.

………

There’s so much that goes on everyday, and yet so little happening. I think that’s where the paralysis comes from. Press conferences and new websites and dashboards and applications for this and that and collapsing bridges and closing streets…masked mayors and lines at the hardware store and yet the sun and rain, and yet the sun, and yet…

There’s a blog I used to read every day (it’s still going strong) that eventually led me to recognize something about the relationship between criticism and character. The author had outstanding, clever, brilliant insights into all the political  happenings in the world. He saw the flaws in all of the more widely accepted and vociferously approved social movements, and was extremely adept at logically, sensibly, rationally deconstructing them to show them for the flawed propositions that they were (are) (as long as they were carried out by progressives). I almost invariably agreed with him. I have no doubt that he has an awful lot to say on a daily basis about the Wuhan Flu and all the turmoil surrounding it. But then I realized that after a year or so of reading and commenting on his essays, I was in the company of someone who spent a significant amount – probably a majority – of his mental and emotional energy, on complaining. Every. Single. Day. Often at great length. However much I agreed or believed him to be right, it was inexhaustible negativity. I thought and wrote:

I can’t imagine a life with my daughter if, even after these scant four years, she had a dour, bitter, angry father. Would she ever smile at anything other than someone else’s misfortune? 

………

3 days later and I am still slowed by my wet sand, but little by little I am drying it out and making progress:

Nearly there 2

Nearly There

I actually got out of bed last night – minutes after climbing in – because I remembered that there was rain in the forecast. I threw on some clothes and swept up my drying sand so I could get a tarp over it. Fool me once…

………

I guess I know what to expect from my mornings for a while:

………

My daughter’s happiness is all simple, and all wonderful, and none of it is dependent upon her own perception of her cleverness among the throngs. There are only two people in the world who know how to smile like a four year old: A four year old, and the person holding her hand. It’s never long before she tells me I’m squeezing too hard.

Please loosen your grip, Comrade Citizen. You’re hurting her.

 

Donut Monkey

A Plague Diaries Interlude

The Girl woke early this morning. Last night she brought out her donut cookbook and arranged a sort of challenge (though let’s be honest here, everyone wins in a donut competition) between herself and her friend/neighbor on our not-so-dead end street. She started making them – raised chocolate cake rings – at about 5:30. Never mind the old man in the kitchen saying “I’m halfway done making your dinner.” She made the rookie mistake of creating the recipe step-by-step, without reading through to the end, whereby she would have learned about the combined hours of resting, rising, and proofing involved. To follow its minimums would have had her dropping the first rings into the oil at about 11:00 pm. Mom assured her the dough would be fine in the morning, or even after school if it came to that. It would not, I already knew because I know her well, come to that.

Her competitor’s dad (my neighbor/friend, if I’m being consistent) sent a picture of her entry into the fray. It’s an impressive offering:

Zo-nuts

So like I said: the Girl woke early this morning. Easily an hour before what’s normal. She’s already in there turning out, rolling, and cutting. Plus, climbing up onto the counter to get the jigger from the high liquor cabinet. The jigger cuts the perfect sized holes in the rings. She doesn’t mount the counters as much as she used to, nor anywhere near as much as The Boy, whose early acrobatics and death-defying shelf-scaling earned him the svelte nickname of the Domestic Urban House Monkey (DUHM). The Girl, with affected disdain (but still-apparent relish), bears the name of Sister of Domestic Urban House Monkey (So DUHM). She’s too tall now to climb around the kitchen with much grace, but anything for donuts.

“Have you turned on the oil yet?”
“No, these still have to sit for another 30-45 minutes. I started them now so I could fry them after my first class.”

So, she can’t pick up a towel from the floor after she showers, but she can backwards plan to cook donuts between classes. I kinda want to flip her off for that. But the donuts will be too good for that kind of attitude. And you’ll just have to wait until tomorrow to see how they came out.

………

Now we’re cooking with Crisco!

Rockpile

Compacted

I love the plate compactor. I’m calling it “the stone zamboni.” There’s a degree of awe that I have for ridiculously specialized tools that do their job beautifully and simply, without apparent complication. The friend who loaned it to me said “it’s finicky.” It is, and it clearly has an awful lot of miles on it, but a little subtle conducting of the choke and the throttle gets it roaring to a terrific, if somewhat irregular, frequency, and it skates around the gravel like something a tenth of its weight, needing only a slight suggestion to turn here and there. My mistake was in not anticiapting what to do with it at the end of each application. It demolishes anything that it runs over, and hitting the dirt makes a cloud that Pigpen would be frightened of. After the first time bucking and heaving it around outside of the patio area, I built a little gravel driveway into/out of the pit so that I could put it aside and turn it around easily enough. Often the bigger jobs require a measure of peripheral work that will never show up in the final product, but nonetheless can’t be done without.

Let’s look back:

Patio Before
April 3

Stone Zamboni
May 13

Wall blocks and pavers come tomorrow!

 

Summerpeek on the Plagueround

I have plague fatigue. The weekend was brilliant with kids and hoses and dirt and sun. And color!

Sumeryard

85 degrees. Let’s run that Summeryard inventory:

  1. Star spangled paddles
  2. Aluminum baseball bat (pink?)
  3. Hose with selectable nozzle
  4. Scooter
  5. One boxing glove
  6.  Bicycle helmet
  7.  Tiny soccer ball (pink?)(and sparkly?)
  8. Camp chair

Note: no children in sight, being so close to cleanup time.

They invented a game wherein they would heave the boxing glove down one end of the not-so-dead end street, then run past me to retrieve it. I was sitting in the camp chair, facing the street, about midway through their run to the glove, wielding the garden hose. They tried to go and get the glove, manufacturing a series of (let’s face it, pretty weak, if tremendously enjoyable) diversions, schemes, misdirections, and covering maneuvers, in an attempt to not be sprayed by the water. The paddles were shields, the baseball bat was used in an as yet inconclusive role (though it was generally menacingly pointed here and there), and a very pathetic, flimsy, plastic football helmet whose logo had long since worn off was passed from head to head. Each new wearer had high hopes for the helmet’s water repellency, but was ultimately disillusioned in turn. The cries were of the timeless variety:

“He got me!”

“You can’t run out of range!”

“Cover me!”

“No, split up!”

“Oh, who cares? Just spray me, I like it.”

………

You were wondering about the patio dig?

May 7
May 7

IMG_3524 (2)
May 9

Not vastly different, but measured and marked off. I’m in a holding pattern until my gravel and sand get here Wednesday. Fine by me – I need the rest. Ran the final numbers today and will order the actual pavers and wall blocks tomorrow. Finalizing the materials – shapes, colors, etc. has been a somewhat fluid endeavor, depending a bit too much on my own personal considerations of what would make things easiest on the installer (you know, me). Christ, I hope I can pull this off.

………

There has been a smell of gasoline in the air all day. It’s 9:30 pm, finally dark. I’m on the porch, listening to a very still night being lacerated every ten minutes or so by the sound of the next someone dragging trash cans to the street. The fuel smell persists. I keep putting my fingers to my nose to see if it could be me, but it isn’t. I haven’t touched gas at all today. The wind changes, and it goes away. I haven’t heard a ferry.

………

There’s been a void since completing Moby Dick. Animal Farm was just too much like reading the internet, so I knocked it off after about half. Steinbeck’s been good – my God why did nobody ever tell me about The Red Pony? What madness! What guts! Alas, I need something bigger/longer. For two bucks I put The Woman in White on my Kindle. I read a Wilkie Collins book a few years back in college – The Law and the Lady. It was a good read in a class taught by a woman who was a total fangirl for the Victorian/gothic/mystery thing that Collins does. I understand it is a long book – 600 some pages. Just what I need. It may become unwieldy on the Kindle. I don’t like the electric format for anything long. It’s best, anyway, for airplane and night reading.

The Brothers Karamazov is also on the way. I want to do that one in paper.

The Butler Rises

 

I’ve always had a hard time writing to a specific theme. I could come home from a hockey game and write a better poem about baseball than hockey. All of this to say that I don’t think I have a specific Mother’s Day poem in the archives. I do have this, written in 2012, when the kids were still 1 and 3 years old. I was only just starting to get good at this dadding business, and their mother’s work travels left them very much longing, and I with my hands very full. I was still working full time then as well, so it was a whirlwind. We celebrated her returns:

The Countermeasure

Mama’s coming home today!
In anticipation, the pancakes fly
From the children’s plates
To the dog, through the sky.
Mama’s coming home today!

The sun makes noise to celebrate!
In obeisance, the butler rises
To quiet the household’s gears
With oils, and compromises.
The sun makes noise to celebrate!

Mama’s coming home today!
In preparation, a runner’s sent
To deliver the angels’ praise
For surviving, and keeping up the rent.
Mama’s coming home today!

………

She hasn’t traveled for months now, and that is what we celebrate. Here’s to a world waking itself up to travel, and a love that never leaves home.

 

 

Easter Respite

Happy Easter, Everyone!

On March 11th I wrote a semi-prophetic first post about the plague. I remember that I wrote it while sitting in my favorite bakery for what would be one of the very last times until we don’t know when. For its title I took a line from the song in the post that says “I’m not sick, but I’m not well.” Yesterday I found it prophesied early in the pages of Moby Dick, as Captain Peleg says of Ahab that “In fact, he ain’t sick; but no, he isn’t well either.” I like it when life shows persistence like that. It makes sense on Easter Sunday. Ahab also “lay like dead for three days and nights.” This according to Elijah — sometimes authors don’t make you work too hard for the meaning.

This is Easter. I would love to sound my soul for something beautiful and reverent, and to turn it out here for you. But I know where I am just now, and it is not there. I also know that I am not religious. I trust God and am respectful of holy things, but I am not religious. I don’t say this as a boast, neither as a confession. It is simply information, meaning to support me when I say that Easter doesn’t excite me for the devotion, or for the story, or for the faith. Though in many ways I wish it did. I wish Sunday mornings saw me in suits, and I wish the darkness above my bed was haunted by peace. It would be something, in the place of nothing.

I say too little when I try to mean too much.

The Pequod has only just got underway in my reading. The two erstwhile captains, Bildad and Peleg, have stayed on board as long as they could stand it. Readying the ship (perhaps more than is their duty) out of fealty to their investments in both money and history.  With some reluctance they have sailed back to port, leaving her in the hands of the as yet unseen Ahab. Green Ishmael boards with a cartload of philosophy; black Queequeg skips from capstan to capstan with his great harpoon and a small wooden idol.

I like to think that at a fresh 45 years old, my Pequod is similarly still in sight of land, though with a grand, blasted adventure still ahead. I have a mighty crew about me, indeed, and I don’t mind not knowing yet who among us steers, who commands, who merely toils, and who’ll be heaving the harpoons when we find us under siege. Who might give a leg, and more, and all, to the whale. Let’s make it me.

It’s Easter, and maybe the song below isn’t full of rejoicing and light. But it seems full of worry and respect and self-doubt, and the self-awareness to know that what we do wrong we do mostly out of fear. Out of confusion. It’s a good day to ask for help seeing a little more clearly.

 

My wife, who worries (understandably but incorrectly) that her job takes too much of her and that she isn’t mother enough, manged to cobble some goodies together for Easter baskets. She is always the one, not me, to cover the details: the Easter baskets and the Christmas stockings, the birthday cards and thank you’s. She manages, and she does it with the magic of the Good Woman – the magic that respects you far too much to trick you, but leaves you awed just the same. Every day she resurrects me. She spent much of last night with our daughter, preparing a French toast casserole for this morning’s breakfast. We will eat today, and expect a lot of sun, and I will cook with charcoal and woodsmoke, and, God willing, we will rest.