Dear People Who Recreate Iconic Movie Scenes With Legos: never, ever stop.
Dear People Who Recreate Iconic Movie Scenes With Legos: never, ever stop.
Of the many things I hadn't done since destroying my right knee last year: a barefoot run on the beach. I woke with the intent of doing just that - it was a Saturday, daylight was shining through the apartment's slats, and I needed to get outside. Sun and sea and sweat.
I parked on Grandview and headed down the somewhat treacherous wooden stairs to the shore - it would be worse coming back, of course, inflated calves and stressed arches. There were a few guys in the water. Surprisingly glassy for midday, a slight swell pushing waist-high mush. The shortboarders were frustrated. The longboarders were feeling it. I hadn't surfed for...a year? Must've been that long. The knee, of course. Life. I'd paddle out tomorrow, I decided. Maybe dawn patrol it and grab a coffee after. Maybe spend the whole day in the water, floating, drifting, seeing where the tides take me. Who knew. The reset button had been pressed. The program was recycling. There wasn't an instruction manual. No playbook. These were the things that I'd need to figure out on my own.
Constants. The bones and muscles remembered the dry sand, pads of my feet digging into substrate, pushing me down the shoreline. I don't like to listen to music when I run on the beach; it's as good a place as any to retreat into my head. That morning I had been working with Lucas on some homework - a report he was writing about the snow leopard, and of course I told him that I had a book for him by a guy named Peter Matthiessen, and he probably wouldn't like it now, but wait until you're in high school, dude, you'll love it. I remembered another homework session, the year before, talking about the water cycle. How water goes from Ocean to Sky, turns to rain, falls to the land and runs back down to the ocean. He was so excited to tell me that he knew this, that age when science really does seem like magic. He'd mention it every time we'd come to the beach. I'm sure he'll do it the next time. Constants.
I ran and ran, past Stone Steps, a few miles, there and back again. Sometimes when I run on dry sand I do so with eyes closed. I think that if I do this it'll help my strengthen my ankles; they'll automatically adjust to minute changes in topography, minature dunes on a small desert, shifting below my feet. Shutting my eyes I thought I remembered what I used to look like when I'd do this run back in my 20's, young dumb and full of come, as it were, slight smirk on my face as I passed slower older guys and hurdled over girls lying on towels, yet another shirtless cocky asshole loping down the sands of Pacific Beach. I smiled and remembered a line from that Tennyson poem about Ulysses: though much is taken, much abides. I guess we'll see if you were right, Al.
The stairs back up. I stopped, slightly winded. The surfers were still out there. I thought about jumping in. It looked cold - probably would be a bit chilly, since May had just begun. Half the guys were in wetsuits. Half were trunking it. No way of knowing, really. Just like everything, one supposes. I thought again about the water cycle. Water falls, goes to sea, returns to the sky. A reset. "Do it", I said aloud.
It was cold. But it felt fine.
I sacrificed a precious nanosecond to glance backward, to make sure my family was safe behind my feeble one-man barrier. Then I squared up to the charging 20-foot alligator and braced for impact.
Did you know that when alligators charge on land, they can run as fast as race horses over short distances? Think about that while you watch the Kentucky Derby this weekend. Those nags got nothing on Florida's reptilian menace. A healthy female gator would burst out of the gate and dash to the front, stopping only for a quick equine snack on the back stretch. She'd win by 40 lengths (and not only because the horses would bolt the other way; although they would do that, of course).
So, we're outside in the yard watching the tropical birds do their thing at sunset, when all of a sudden, here comes this monster gator out of the retaining pond. All teeth and scales and sharp front claws and lashing tail and crocodilian fury. I lined my family up behind me, grabbed the nearest make-shift weapon (a telescoping golf ball retriever) and whacked that gator into sub ... mission. It ... I ...
No. That's not how it went. It was a bear. And it was in Alaska. And it wasn't me and my family, it was Toby Burke, AKA the Baddest Dad On the Planet. Mr. Burke (to me, he'll always be Mr. Burke) fought off a crazed bear with a telescope and his bare hands to protect his wife and three kids in the wilds of Alaska. He FOUGHT A BEAR WITH HIS BARE HANDS and won.
I'd like to think I'd have that kind of presence of mind if a super-crazed mama gator came at us. I'd like to think that I would be the kind of guy who'd calmly direct my family to line up behind me, don't worry, don't run. I'll protect you from the murderous miniature dinosaur that clearly would like to rip out all of our livers.
I'd like to think that I could be that guy. For one day, Mr. Burke was that guy. Whoever else he might be -- and of course, we don't know -- he was that guy.
Toby Burke, people. Toby. Burke.
Oh, and 3-foot gator in our back yard retaining pond? You're not fooling me with that docile, non-threatening swimming, minding-your-own-gator-business thing you have going on every day.
If you want some of this, you know where to find me.
So someone decided to make a fake Lego Breaking Bad videogame trailer. Meth may be bad, but America is still great.
We'd run through our warmup drills and now it was time to beat the shit out of each other: scrum practice. Josh was running things tonight; he pointed at me. "Jay - flanker, blindside." I nodded. He saw vacancy in my eyes. "Dude, you volunteered for this. Wake up."
I blinked. Focus. Get your mind here, now, or you'll end up in the hospital. I had indeed volunteered to play flanker; my tertiary position, after outside center and inside center, respectively. The flankers are the ball hounds in the scrum - when the ball comes out, they're the first to peel off, looking for someone to hit. Between the weeks of practice and a commitment to not eat like shit, I'd dropped some 20 pounds since the beginning of the year. I felt lighter on my feet, which served me well as a back - I needed to be quick. Flankers need to be solid - not necessarily big, but strong. I looked over at my opposite number. Those 20 pounds I'd lost, he had apparently found. The pack bound up, Josh yelled "Crouch, touch, ENGAGE", everyone surged forward and slammed into each other. Flankers are the outside men in the scrum. I knew in theory what my positional responsibilities were: come off the scrum as soon as the ball comes out, go after the guy with the ball if we were defending, run in support and get into the rucks if we were on the attack. In rugby reality, everything goes to hell as soon as the ball is in play. My shoulder, buried in the ass cheek of the prop in front of me, felt like it was going to pop out of its socket. The ball came out, I peeled off. We were defending. My opposite took a pass, I lowered my shoulder and charged into him, I bounced off, and got my left hand stomped on as he ran through me. Of course he was one of two guys wearing standard rugby shoes, with the long aluminum cleats. Of course.
We ended up at Grubby's, as we'd done following the past couple of Sunday night practices. The pinky and ring finger on my left hand were starting to balloon up. I could move them, which was a good sign; not very much, which was bad. I picked a bar stool and ordered a stout. Graydon, my big South African teammate, an affable outgoing guy I'd known for a couple of years as a fellow coach on our boys' rugby team, sat down next to me. "How's it going?", I asked. He looked at me, despondent. "Not good, mate. Janice and I are separating. Getting a divorce." There were about a hundred things I wanted to say. I had only just started telling people about my separation, a few close friends, my parents. Instead, I just held up my throbbing left hand. He saw what wasn't on it. "Oh, shit, mate. Yeah?" I nodded. "Yeah."
We joined a couple of the guys in the back, tearing into burritos. One, Bryan, had been divorced for a few years. The three of us talked, a veteran and two rookies. There was no discussion of reasons, of whys, of pasts, of details. Just of what would come next, and the kids. Always the kids.
It got late. Bryan gave me a bone-crunching handshake (the right hand, thank God) and a pat on the back; Graydon pulled me into a bearhug. We were now teammates of a different sort. I walked to the car, climbed in, winced as I gripped the wheel. It hurt like a motherfucker. Everything did. I'd have to play through it.
"It's like fireworks," she said. A bright, sharp pop and crackle echoed through the night. Then another, and another. Her eyes, her sister's eyes, broad and open and wholly focused on the screen, waiting for the burst of glittering, shimmering lights that seven years had taught them always accompanied these sounds — that moment of pure, shuddering wonder when great streams of sudden, glorious color would fill the sky and give proof to the promise of magic.
But we knew. We knew. And for a moment, as we paused and breathed deep, we allowed that illusion to live: that this was a world of fireworks, of vivid dreams of twisting rainbows falling like rain through soft darkness. And then there were more - whipcrack echoes, whistling through the air, clear and unmistakable even through the filter of a dozen miles and a shifting camera struggling for focus, bringing us to the edge of the moment as it unfolded across the screen - and the time for illusion was gone. "No, sweetie," my wife said gently. "Those are gunshots."
It had been two hours since we'd willfully walled off the world, coccooning ourselves in the quiet, simple solace of dinner and a movie at home. Two hours of losing ourselves in another place and another time: another set of men and women frantically racing against the clock and the odds and the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, taking arms against a sea of troubles as if, by opposing, they might bring them to a just and righteous end. After such a long and strange day, with the city and surrounding towns locked down and immobilized, the crawl of updates telling us minute-by-minute of the frantic search weaving its way through Watertown and Cambridge, along the banks of the warming Charles and across to Allston and Brighton and beyond, the frenzied rush of cruisers and squad cars and busloads of officers plated in thick armor and bright weaponry, and the copters circling overhead and the wait, stretching impossibly far across the bridge of hours — the opportunity to escape into film was irresistible: to gaze through the looking glass into a dream of life where heroics inspire, resolution is possible and villainy...
I want to take a moment to talk about hookers. Did he just say—yes I did. Specifically I want to talk about my personal experiences with hookers which, believe it or not, are quite extensive (and no, not in the way you’re thinking). You may be asking what this has to do with being a father. Well, it might sound like a stretch, but I intend to eventually pass these stories along to my sons to help them avoid such awkward situations later in life and to my stepdaughters so they don’t go down this road because of any daddy issues I may have caused. Think of it as a twisted take on How I Met Your Mother.
I could probably start off any number of over a dozen encounters with hookers such as the Lady Marmalade knock-offs at that dive joint near the San Antonio airport or the country girl in Tahoe who claimed she needed a place to stay because her truck had broke down—and don’t even get me started about my time living in the Far East! Instead, I’ll begin in my mid 30’s when I was between marriages and living the life of a well-to-do bachelor. (My wife refers to this time as my “douchey years.”)
When my friend Asha Dornfest asked me if I'd like to review Minimalist Parenting, the new book that she co-authored with Christine Koh, I laughed in her face. "Review? No. I'm not gonna review your book. I will, however, endorse the shit out of it, because I'm sure it'll be awesome."
See, the word "review" implies that there's some professional objectivity on the part of the person writing the review. There's none here. I've been a big fan of Asha's for a while; her site Parent Hacks is one of the absolute best how-to sites for parents out there. She and I have been Internet pals for a few years, and when we finally met face-to-face at the Dad 2.0 Summit earlier this year, it was like bumping into a buddy who I hadn't seen in a couple of weeks. So, yeah, I was predisposed to be completely biased in regards to Minimalist Parenting. Fortunately, I don't really have to be. The book is full of extremely useful tips, strategies and advice that Henry David "Simplify! Simplify! Simplify!" Thoreau himself would've doled out (well, except for some stuff about social media, because Walden did not, as far as we know, have WiFi). Featuring contributions from parenting bloggers, Parent Hacks commenters, and real-world parenting experts, the book is a quick and easy read - and dads will appreciate the emphasis on gender/role neutral advice and the liberal use of the word "we" in reference to who exactly does the parenting work around the house.
So there's my "review". If you'd like a more polished, professional, and neutral take on Minimalist Parenting, may I suggest noted Atlantic writer Andrew Hinds' piece on the book, which recently appeared in the New York Times' Motherlode blog. You can trust him. He's a professional.
I took a deep breath and began. "Mom and I went to the Encinitas shelter - it was a Super Bowl Sunday, and we were having people over to watch the game, and we really weren't going to get a dog, we were just going to stop in for a look. We walked around for a bit, and one of them - he was Duke then - was standing at his cage door, looking at me and barking. Wagging his tail, too. He was trying to get my attention. So I got the volunteer girl to let me meet him. She warned me that he didn't really like his butt rubbed, so of course when I walked into his pen he turned right around and backed his furry butt right up to me, and gave me a look. I knew right then that he'd picked us. Not the other way around. He picked us."
I paused. Deep breath.
"The thing with good dogs is that...as much as they know how you're feeling and what you're thinking, you know what's going on in their heads. I can't explain it, there's no science behind it, it's nothing more than a feeling you get, but you just know. So last night...when we brought him to the vet, I knew. We had him for 13 years, and I knew that he was ready to go. He wasn't scared, he wasn't sad - he'd said goodbye to you and Zo' and I think...no, I know that he was ready. He loved us and he was ready."
I looked out the window, across the canyon.
"Dad? What are we going to do with his...ashes?"
"I was thinking we'd take him to the dog beach. He loved it there. Next to your room it was his favorite place. We can spread his ashes there and he'll always be a part of it, the sand and the ocean."
He thought about this. "That would be nice. And he'll still be in our hearts. Maybe we can find a nice rock and write his name on it and keep it in the yard?" Such a good boy.
"Sure. Sure we can."