Wednesday, September 3, 2003

one more day

There was an event at work this past weekend. It wasn’t a huge race, just a medium-sized amateur regional, but I always have much more help with the larger events, so the smaller ones are almost worse for me, with at least as much work spread out over a wider range of responsibilities. Monday was the last day of racing, and around eight o’clock that morning, Holly and I were preparing to leave.

My wife Holly helps out at work sometimes. The pay is decent for outside, non-salaried employees (unlike myself, for whom the paycheck versus the hours averages out to the wage of a waiter minus their tips), and we inevitably need the extra dosh. The job entails little more than cashier duties, and its low-impact nature has been perfect since she got pregnant again.

Because of her two previous miscarriages within the past year, both Holly and I have distanced ourselves somewhat from what would ordinarily be joyous celebration of her condition. Our emotional nerves have been scrubbed raw by these prior high-to-low crashes, and it’s proven difficult to allow ourselves anything but the most skeptical excitement. Holly wears a pad every day and compulsively checks it for blood. I call her twenty times a day, checking on her condition as if she were deathly ill, making sure she’s eating enough, drinking water, taking naps. We are in limbo, lying on our backs in the floor beneath some imagined cosmic bedside, waiting for the other shoe to drop from the sky and cover us up.

We had a good scare several weeks ago when a cyst Holly had from a preexisting condition ruptured and bled a little into the pad. When she saw it, she calmly began making phone calls, and I laced my hands through my hair and sat motionless on the edge of the bed, marveling at her stability and trying to decide how I felt. After calling the doctor, she went back into the bathroom to check again and determined the true source of the blood. When she told me, we laughed, shuddered, attempted to catch our collective breath, found we could stop pretending everything was okay once it actually was okay. I knelt on the floor in front of her, held both her hands, looked into her eyes, and said, “We get a little longer this time, baby. We get one more day.”

Monday morning, the two of us had pushed our schedule to its limit and were rushing to prepare for work in the short time we had left. Holly was upstairs brushing her hair or her teeth, and I was downstairs hastily shaving. I had finished everything but my stubbly chin when I heard her say “no,” forcefully, from the upstairs hallway.

“What?” I called up, but she didn’t hear me, and after a moment I returned to my chin.

Holly came downstairs and poked her head in the door of the bathroom.

“I’m bleeding,” she said, and I knew from her tone that it wasn’t a false alarm this time. I was silent, as I tend to be when I’m upset, and she went off to call the doctor. Once I’d drained and rinsed the sink, I ran it full of clean cold water, dunked my head inside, and tried not to scream.

After contacting my boss, explaining the situation, and arranging for her to open the store for me, Holly and I got in the car and drove to the hospital. Because it was a holiday, the emergency room was packed with people. We waited for over an hour before being shown to an examination room, and then waited another hour before seeing a doctor. By this time it seemed that her bleeding had stopped. The doctor did a pelvic exam and saw residual evidence of the blood from that morning but no sign of a cause. The cervical plug (couldn’t they come up with something more poetic?) looked to be in place, and he decided to do an ultrasound and take a closer look.

As we waited for him to return with the proper equipment, I thought how terrible, to raise our hopes like this. What an awful man. I could already see the glint of promise in Holly’s eye. We were alone in the room, but we weren’t speaking, as if giving voice to our prospects would shatter their possibility.

When the doctor came back, I sat to Holly’s left, well out of the line of sight of the doctor’s KYed machinations (mentally I can handle such things, but no matter how cool I think I am, no matter how necessary it might be, if I see him, any him, touch her, I know I’ll flip out, so I play the avoidance game). For the first minute, he was tortuously silent. Ordinarily, or at least in my limited experience, a doctor performing an ultrasound gives a sort of running commentary on everything he or she sees and does. This guy wasn’t saying a word.

Oh well, I thought. Shit. And somewhere behind it, please oh please oh please.

“C’mere,” he says. I look up, and he’s beckoning me forward with a curling index finger. I stand weakly, come around to the front of the ultrasound screen, and the doctor points.

There, in pointillist black and white, is my child. I had missed Holly’s first ultrasound appointment last week with work and had only seen the static picture she brought home.

“See that?” the doctor said, still pointing. There was a flurry in the center of the fetus, like the beating of a hummingbird’s wings.

“That's the heart,” he and I both said in unison.

“Everything looks fine,” he said. “The cervix is tight, the heartbeat is strong…”

“You can see it?” Holly asked from the examination table. I looked towards her, and our eyes met.

“Sure,” I answered. “Sure I can.”

I turned back toward the screen, and just then the baby wiggled. I thought the doctor might have moved the wand, but then he said, “Hey, look at that.”

“I thought that was you,” I told him.

“Nope. He’s putting on a show for you.”

“Or she,” I corrected him.

“What? Did it move?” Holly asked.

“Yeah, he bucked a couple of times,” said the doctor. “That’s unusual this early. But as far as I can tell, ma’am, everything’s still ok in there.”

He finished his examination, gave us a smile and a handshake, and was off to help someone else before I was able to speak again. When the door closed behind him, I dramatically dropped to my knees on the floor. Holly laughed, and I looked up into her face, smiling through my tears.

“One more day, dad,” she said to me. “One more day."

Tuesday, August 19, 2003


It’s late, and I can’t sleep. Having one of those nights when the brain won’t stop spinning long enough for the eyes to close. Haunted by the past, the future, the roles of time and fate in our lives. I’m thinking about confusion and understanding, and the subtle web of balance in between.

The year I turned six, my little brother was born on my birthday, the same day that Mount Saint Helens blew her top up in Washington State. The year I turned sixteen, my grandfather died on my birthday, the same day I was spending in Orlando with the choral group from my high school. I handled the tech work (sound and lights and cues) for the group, who’d had a performance at Walt Disney World the day before. We’d spent a few hours in the hotel pool that night after dinner, and I got to see the girls, even the dancers, all wet and splashing unselfconsciously in bathing suits, which are almost better than underwear, and I happened to travel north to my grandfather’s funeral instead of driving south from Atlanta, if I’d been coming from home. But do the details make a difference? Does any of it mean anything?

My grandfather had retired from the U. S. Navy. Once, when I was young, he brought me a pair of wings like the Navy pilots wore, and with them I dreamt of the sky for many years. Then I turned sixteen, and I earned my wheels, and he earned his own pair of wings.

My mother’s water broke on our sofa in the middle of my birthday party, with all of my preschool friends gathered around for cake. A few hours later, my brother cried out loud for the very first time, while on the other side of the continent a million cubic feet of soot and ash rained down across the land like afterbirth, and the moment the chorus teacher Miss Lever knocked on the door of our hotel room, where Chris and Ricky and I had yet to go to sleep, somehow I knew. She came looking for me at seven fifteen in the morning, and I knew he was dead, because he’d already been sick for a long time then, and I held my forehead like an open Bible in both hands, and listened to the secret whisper of my blood against its veins, and I was a few seconds older.

Thursday, August 14, 2003


Each morning I drive a winding 40-mile stretch of backwater highway to get to work. This strip of road is a regular Tornado Alley for small, defenseless animals, and most anything that gets too close is sucked in, chewed up, and then spat unceremoniously onto the gravel shoulder like gristle on the edge of a dinner plate. In the four months since I started the job, I have witnessed a morbid menagerie of mangled corpses littering its path. I’ve seen cats, dogs, squirrels, skunks, rabbits, chickens (and other assorted birds), moles, snakes, turtles, armadillos, countless deer and possum, and even an otter once near the river. I’d say better than half the vehicles on the road in this part of the country are pickup trucks — hell, I drive one myself — and perhaps this statistic has some bearing on the elevated death toll, with trucks being larger, less maneuverable at high speeds, and so forth. Maybe, maybe not; I don’t know.

When I was three or four years old, my father’s best friend was killed by swerving to miss a deer. He lived high in the Rocky Mountains, and the abrupt turn sent his car flying off the narrow road and down into the valley below. This tragedy resulted in my being raised to believe I should never, ever endanger others or myself by attempting to dodge an animal in the roadway. However, I am a big fluffy teddy bear, emotionally speaking, and fortunately for ‘others or myself,’ I haven’t had to test the fortitude of this parental directive yet. Even passing by the crumpled little body of a kitten chokes me up, much less actually being the one who’s done the crumpling. Hopefully, knock on wood, I’ll never have to find out how I’d handle it.

It seems there isn’t much that can be done to prevent these vehicular homicides. A significant amount of research has been conducted in the interest of reducing collision incidence, specifically with deer, which pose a greater risk to vehicles and their occupants. Fencing built along the edges of roadways is very effective, but also quite expensive and labor-intensive. Certain states, specifically Colorado and Alaska, have built underpasses for animals. These special tunnels extend beneath busy highways and provide the wildlife with a safer alternate route, but their construction is also very costly.

Thanks to the Israeli government, I have a better suggestion. Authorities in and around the Negev desert became concerned with the growing number of camel-related traffic incidents in their area. The Negev is home to hundreds of pickup trucks and more than 5000 camels that are used for transportation and commerce. In the effort of preventing further accidents, the Israeli government held a meeting between camel herders, Bedouin elders, and members of the Transport Ministry and the Nature Reserves Authority to determine a helpful solution.

What they decided was simple but extremely successful — they elected to affix phosphorescent strips to the camels. Now, in the event that a camel is blocking the path of an oncoming car or truck, it conveniently glows in the dark. The program was only initiated a month or two ago, but there hasn’t been a single reported camel accident in the Negev desert since.

Just picture it with me, if you will: thousands of tree-hugging, wildlife-loving volunteers hiking hand in hand through the woods, putting little glow stickers on every creature they can catch. Picture camping out in the weeks that follow, the trees alight with phosphorescence, each squirrel and toad become a lightning bug, twinkling new stars everywhere. Envision our highways free of carrion! Imagine all those tire treads clean as a whistle! I don’t think that’s so crazy. Regardless of how my congressman feels.

C’mon, folks — are you with me? Let’s start with our pets.

Tuesday, August 5, 2003

three cheers

Once, when I was a younger man and possessed of a higher margin of optimism and/or foolishness, I packed a box with books, loaded it into my car, and drove across the United States to California, presumably to make my fortune. Only a couple of long weeks later, my pockets were empty and the car had begun to stink from dirty laundry and hot nights spent sleeping parked on quiet, inconspicuous residential streets. It was then that I first began to seriously consider the possibility of my own homelessness. Being lost in a city with an already inestimable population of homeless was, needless to say, not very reassuring in this respect.

Luckily, work came along in the form of a few days cantaloupe harvesting downstate, not far from the Sequoia National Forest/Park. I speak no Spanish (save cucaracha and Fritos and stuff like that), leaving little opportunity for fraternization with my co-workers, and so the days were spent merely sweating, stooping and rising, and occasionally staring contemplatively off toward the horizon. My exposure to California up until that time had been limited to the Bay Area and all points north, so the flatlands were a novel experience for me.

The cantaloupe fields in which I worked were adjacent to another farm and many more acres of tilled, aisled earth, but planted instead with onions. This neighboring farm was also harvesting, a process which caused the papery shell from around the onions to slough off in fluttery flakes all over the ground. When the wind blew, it kicked up a veritable blizzard of onion paper, which would whirl and dance and cling in your hair and seemed to exhilarate half my fellow work crew in a tickertape-paradey sort of way and blind the other half cursing and spitting into the dust. I was fascinated by this dichotomy, and occasionally the feeling of those moments rushes back to me, and I am standing outside in 100° weather, looking out across a long flat stretch of southern California and watching it snow.

One of these occasional rushes came over me this morning as I drove to work. I recently traded in my old blue station wagon for a newer pickup truck, a big white GMC with power windows and a working stereo and 50,000 fewer miles on the odometer. Driving it is heaven, and I finally feel as if I blend into my redneck surroundings, but I’ve noticed a considerable drop in fuel efficiency. And by considerable I mean expensive. The effect is eased somewhat by my refraining from use of the truck’s air conditioner, a luxury whose unfamiliarity makes it easier to do without. But nonetheless, it’s Georgia, and it’s August, and it’s hot, and I'm only human, and it's only money.

Cooler temperatures leave the morning the most tolerable time of day to travel AC-free, and thusly was I rolling along this morning, windows at half-mast, the damp air blowing seductively in my ear. Marvin Gaye was on the radio, asking big questions, and I was zoning out a little, wooed by the breeze and the music, when suddenly a tractor-trailer boomed past me, hauling a full load of chickens to their certain doom. I snapped awake, and it took a moment for me to figure out what was happening. At first it seemed I was seeing spots, and for an instant I even thought I might have collided with the transfer, that this was what dying was like, until I realized I was only watching the soft descent of the ten or twelve white feathers that had been sucked into the cab of my truck when the chickens roared by.

Since I was a child, I’ve had trouble waking up. In the mornings I struggle, sluggish and slow, slurring and surly, nodding in and out of consciousness like a junkie. Regardless of the amount or quality of sleep I receive the night previous, such is the case each new day, again and again, almost without fail.

I have come to accept this as the way things are, the way I am, and have tried to adapt. Currently in my favor is the fact that I make my own work schedule. I do not clock in, and neither do I clock out. And whether I arrive at 7:30 or 9AM is left to my own discretion. This is a privilege of which I take liberal advantage.

The lengthy explanation is to distinguish the fact that I make the drive from home to work at a fairly wide range of different times each morning, depending on when I’ve managed to forcibly drag my sorry carcass out of bed. Yet somehow, against the odds, nine mornings out of ten, I pass the same old man walking carefully to his mailbox.

Carefully, yes, but not so carefully as to take almost three hours. Surely, I think, he must walk up and down his driveway from seven to ten for exercise, thus avoiding the danger of walking the busy road. What else could explain it? It’s too early for the mail to have run. But perhaps he’s sending mail out. Perhaps he’s retrieving the day's newspaper. It seems unlikely that my stilted schedule would be shared by anyone else, but who knows? Maybe he has trouble getting up in the morning too.

Tonight I had one of those moments where you’re in the midst of laying waste to a delicious meal, and in working your way across the plate you notice a bit of Chinese egg noodle stuck to the edge, all by itself. Your hand flies out, grabs the shred, and it’s into your mouth and gone. And then, with an audible clank, the wheels in your head start turning. You wonder, why did I clean each and every morsel of food from my plate yet leave one solitary tatter on the sidelines like that? Did I leave it there on purpose? Oh no, did I drop that on the floor? Did I drop it on this nasty, nasty floor and then forget about it?

By which time, of course, it’s much too late to make any difference.

Sunday, July 27, 2003

the eyes have it

There is a nineteen-year-old kid who works for me in the shop on the rare occasion that I can manage to schedule myself a day off. Yesterday was one of those irregular occurrences, and when I returned to the office this morning, I found the following list on the front desk, bordered on its left side by hand-drawn checkboxes that I would assume classify it as the “To Do” variety. It read:

• Hook up system
• Do laundry
• Tint windows
• Hang poster

Ah, to be ten years younger, when the extent of my concerns was such as this. Nothing that involves business or finance or any greater responsibility than lightening the skidmarks in one’s own underpants. But boo hoo, I’ve broadcast this boring woe-is-me-just-look-at-all-the-wrinkles libretto too recently to rehash. Besides, if I’d written a comparable list at the same age, it would have looked more like this:

• Attempt to further ingrain tenets of Communism in terrarium’s hermit crab population
• Sniff clothing from floor to ascertain degree of odorous objectionability; separate
• Tape aluminum foil over apartment windows
• Hang roommate

Oh, and each item would have begun with “Get stoned and…” to boot, so I think the kid’s probably got me beaten in the responsibility department by a sizable margin.

Sometimes I am struck in a very Jerry Seinfeld sort of way by the warnings printed on product packaging. This happened Friday when I had occasion to examine the label on the outside of a tube of vaginal cream (please don’t ask) and found it to read “Not for ophthalmic use.” The warning wasn’t on the box or even the back, where the other warnings were listed, but right on the front of the tube, just under the product’s name, in big bold letters. Now there’s a story I’d love to hear.

Thursday, July 17, 2003

about the weather

As I write these words, there is a hurricane building strength down in the Gulf of Mexico. Tropical weather systems are multiplying, combining forces and gunning for the coast. Meanwhile, the shockwaves from this meteorologic conflagration have been rolling outward, causing high winds, violent electrical storms, and unseasonably heavy rainfall all across the southern United States.

Earth’s weather affects its denizens in many different ways, some direct and others more circuitous. A sudden downpour can destroy a house as easily as it can a briefcase full of paperwork. Heavy winds can pick up and carry away a beloved family pet as readily, and thoughtlessly, as your hat. Rain and hail and sleet and snow have no flight plan; they simply fall. Wind has no planned trajectory; it merely blows. We can only duck and cover, and hope for the best.

Three weeks ago, at the end of a particularly long day at work, my cell phone rang in my pocket. It was my wife Holly calling.

“I didn’t want to tell you over the phone…” she began, a phrase that always sends my stomach diving down into the heel of my left sock, “…but I couldn’t wait ‘til you got home.”

I thought my silence on the other end of the line would have been answer enough, but she wouldn’t flinch, drawing out the suspense, so finally, timidly, I answered, “What?”

“I’m pregnant.”

And I started laughing.

My wife and I have been trying to get pregnant for a long time now. She was pregnant a little less than a year ago but miscarried about six months along. Since then we’ve both been gunshy about starting back up in earnest, but recently we’d decided we were ready. She had gone off the pill and was one month into the three-month recommended limbo period between halting the flow of extraneous hormones into the system and proceeding with the flow of — well, you know. One month, and suddenly there we were again: Parents Pending.

I was on Cloud Nine. Cloud Ten or Twelve, even. We were in the midst of a huge race at the track where I work, a massive influx of people and product, constant scrambling to accomplish everything that needed doing, and still I coasted through the weekend like I was on roller skates. The weather was beautiful, sunshine and clear skies. It was an incredible few days.

Then, late Sunday night, it began to rain. On Monday, Holly miscarried again. After three days of the nicest weather of the year, that Monday’s temperatures were the area’s lowest in 126 years of recorded data. It seemed only fitting.

The two of us, my wife and I, slipped into a familiar malaise. Work kept me busy, but it couldn’t hold my attention. Holly started back to school, and word problems and quadratic equations vied for her thoughts, but woe was winning. We spent a lot of time staring silently into space, feeling sorry for ourselves.

As for the weather, it continued to be on again, off again, alternating between gorgeous and dangerous. The nastiest storm to hit the area grounded last Thursday night, a week ago today. The rain was bad, but the wind was worse, pulling down trees, billboards, and power lines all over town.

At 5:15 that night, Brad and Lisa Cunard, an Atlanta couple in their mid-thirties, were driving home from the local printing company they co-owned. Brad was at the wheel of their Toyota Land Cruiser, and Lisa shared the back seat with their two sons, Max and Owen. They had just picked Max, 3, up from day care; Owen, only six months old, had been with them at work.

Several minutes from their home in the Virginia Highlands neighborhood of downtown Atlanta, an oak tree that had stood tall and strong for over a hundred years began to sway. It waited until the Cunards’ SUV was almost past it to fall, landing directly across the back seat. Brad’s wife Lisa and their sons were killed instantly; Brad stepped from the wreckage without a scratch, out into the rain and the rest of his life, alone.

The funeral for Lisa, Max, and Owen was on Tuesday. All three were buried in the same coffin, which was the light blue color of a cloudless sky.

I am a lucky, lucky man. No matter what falls.

Tuesday, July 8, 2003

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

excuses, excuses

I work for an entity economically dependent on spectator turnout for a small scheduled series of competitive events per year. This system itself is dependent, of course, upon the endurance of these scheduled fifty-thousand-plus-crowd events by its venue’s employees. The spring and summer slots in the roster are the gauntlet, taking place within a month of one another and comprising the largest percentage of the yearly head count.

I started the job in mid-April. The first of these events was held May 16-18, as earlier reported here, and took an enormous amount of energy from me to succeed. It also tore my store to shreds, and I have only just restored its former lustre.

Well, had.

The second of these events is this weekend: Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. It is the First Annual, a new addition to the list. Advance ticket sales ended last Friday, and each day since, all day long, the phone has rung off the hook in the office with people still trying to buy them. No one knows how to estimate the final turnout numbers. I don’t even like to think about it.

Sunday’s portion of the affair will be nationally televised. Feel free to tune in with your local CBS affiliate around 4pm Eastern and feel the sympathy for me flow from each and every pore of your body. Play the home game, wherein you ask each observer whose face appears on your screen if they want to buy a t-shirt. And if you know what I look like (lucky devil), you can Waldosearch for me in the crowd. But you won’t find me, because I’m invisible. Just ask anyone.

This is an attempt at explaining how buckshot my diary has been of late. All three of you who read this thing: I don’t mean to sound like a wuss, but I’m tired, man. I can only promise I’ve got a few things in the tumbler for later. Meanwhile please send me gnarly positive survivalist vibes and set things ceremoniously ablaze.

(It’s okay if this is only a candle.)

Monday, June 9, 2003

stop me if you've heard this one before

The signs are unmistakable.

First, I began to notice the physiological effects. There was the slowing of my metabolism, a gradual transition from ‘girlish figure’ to ‘pregnant-and-starting-to-show’ that has begun to challenge the strength of the stitching in the waistband of every pair of pants that I own. Then there is my head, whose melanocytes, while not officially on the endangered list just yet, are certainly displaying the effects of lower melanin levels, as evidenced by my silvering temples and their curly rogue counterparts in locations scattered all over my scalp.

There are other indications, though (fortunately) less evident to the casual observer. I used to subsist on the sole blackbrown nutrition of coffee and cigarettes and needed only two or three hours of sleep per night to be right as the mail. Now my eyes feel heavy at ten-thirty, and any more than one cuppa joe attacks my sad bladder with the fury of swarming bees.

Most disturbing, however, are the psychological symptoms. I have begun to notice myself complaining about how much better things used to be. I bitch about the economy; I bitch about Hollywood; I bitch about “those damn kids and their miserable excuse for music.” I am developing a penchant for bad puns and have also begun to be drawn in by the sirenic allure of gardening as a gratifying recreational activity.

These are not psychosomatic indicia brought on by my recent birthday. It is not my imagination. These are facts, and facts don’t lie. Each example points unsympathetically in the same direction—namely, I am getting old.

Nothing could be more surreal than witnessing the many clichés about aging materialize in so many aspects of my being. I’ve always been lucky with regard to my health, and while I still am relatively so, this new plague of minor illnesses and irritations leads my brain (always slow to adapt to change) to conclude that there must be some larger problem. I rack my brain, thinking, ‘Have I forgotten I’m taking something? Is my wife perhaps slowly poisoning me in order to claim our insurance money and then run off to Brazil?”

My wife is not slowly poisoning me. My life is. Not its events but rather its simple passage. My body shop is going out of business. I am dying. I know I’ve always been dying, of course, just as all of us are, but I am only recently beginning to notice. I’m like a cartoon character that runs off the edge of a cliff and doesn’t begin to fall until slowly they realize that the ground is gone. The ground isn’t all that far below me now, but my feet sure aren’t touching any more.

I know that aging is an inevitable part of living. I’m not used to it being a noticeable part of living, but hey, I knew that was coming too. I guess I’d be more upset if it weren’t for all the evidence of my persistent immaturity. For example, a few days ago Holly and I were riding in the car, and she was telling me about some horrible thing that Dr. Laura Schlessinger said or did, and my intellectual response was, “What a stinky butthole.” Then, several minutes later, we passed a traveling carnival that had set up in a local mall parking lot. I watched the ferris wheel spin, saw the neon lights, smelled cotton candy, and for a moment I thought about what it would be like to forsake all of our belongings and ride across the country in an eighteen-wheeler, deep frying funnel cakes and bolting the tilt-a-whirl together every night. And I figure, hell, if I’m not too old to fantasize about running away with the carnival, then I probably shouldn’t be worried about aging quite yet.

Friday, May 23, 2003

androgyny and inclement weather

We have three cats, my wife and I. Their names are Lincoln, Tag, and Cleo. About two weeks ago, Cleo began to sneeze. This behavior is not particularly out of the ordinary for Cleo, who likes to stand under the bathtub faucet and drink, consequently soaking her head to the skull from the dripping water and thereby exponentially increasing her chances of catching cold. She sneezes fairly often. The evening in question, however, she sneezed and kept sneezing, and so Cleo went to the vet the next day.

This stupid cat. Cleo is the only feline I’ve ever taken in directly from outdoors. When she arrived on our doorstep back in December, it was obvious she’d been turned out. Too friendly to be feral, too small and thin to be fed, too clean to have been outside for long, and too cold and shivery to ignore, the sorry animal suckered me into unnatural weakness, and I invited her to stay. She promptly made herself at home and gave the other two cats ear mites. Tag’s left ear grew swollen from his tossing it back and forth in itchy frustration; it required three or four vet visits and a small surgery to remedy and left me feeling like an irresponsible jackass and a terrible father.

And then she started sneezing.

‘Upper respiratory infection’ was the official diagnosis from Dr. Hendrix. The doctor also informed us that we were absolute morons and had somehow lived with this cat for almost six months without figuring out she was a he.

“We have to think of a new name for Cleo,” Holly says on the phone, "since she's a neutered male."

My brother and his girlfriend want us to call him Cletus. We have tossed around Sue (and an accompanying memorial 'June Carter' suggestion) as well as RuPaul, Otto, Marvin, Jolson, and Beano. Having been denied the opportunity to name Tag, whose preexisting moniker we tried desperately to change to ‘Opie’ upon his adoption but failed in the end to break, branding Cleo anew is very important to us and garnering appropriate deep reflection. I don’t want to swear I’ve settled on ‘Shuggie’ and then waffle in a couple of days.

The huge AMA motorcycle race is over at last. 60,000 people turned out and bought up nearly every piece of event merchandise we’d produced. I would have considered the affair a moderate success had its finale not been a brief thunderstorm that pitched the heaviest gust of its precursory winds beneath the eaves of our 16 x 25 x 20 foot marquee tent and flipped it over backwards. Its mass crashed spectacularly down upon a white pickup truck and the two bikes strapped into its bed and also somehow managed not to kill or seriously injure any one of the nine employees standing inside it when the tables turned (this list including my brother, his girlfriend, several eighteen year old kids, and myself). The customers were making their ways home already, and at least everything was in boxes when it started pouring rain immediately thereafter, truly so immediate as to seem divine, like a cosmic chuckle. The storm dumped its bucketsful for each moment we were hustling the perishables to safety and then just as promptly stopped once we were done.

One of the vendors at the race was Sobe, who had arrived in a black and green bus to give away samples of their tasty beverages. I spent most of my weekend in a golf cart, riding between locations to distribute merchandise, handle paperwork, and attempt to resolve issues the sometimes delicate nature of which were revealed to me only in static barks from an ageworn walkie-talkie. In the midst of this business, I drove past Sobe's bus several times before recognizing my old friend Nancy, whom I hadn’t seen in many years, among its employees. The last information I’d received about her placed her in London, but I learned she’d moved back to Georgia after six months’ time and had in fact been living in Athens since before Holly and I moved here. Her apartment is perhaps two miles from ours.

Sunday was my birthday. My boss bought cupcakes topped with plastic Incredible Hulk pinkie rings, and everyone sang while the candles burned. I wished for a nap.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

to distraction

Busy, busy, busy. I’ve been spending the better part of the last two weeks in preparation for a huge motorcycle race this weekend. This is the racetrack’s most attended event of the year, and my running has turned to scrambling in these past few days as all the last-minute details are moved into place. Or pounded into place with the heel of my shoe. I do love t-shirts, and they have provided me no end of variety and comfort in their service as the bulk of my wardrobe for twenty-nine years, but if I see one more I’m gonna start tearing out fistfuls of my hair.

This morning I traveled the fifteen minutes to the Regions Bank in neighboring Oakwood, Georgia, for the purpose of converting a five thousand-dollar check into a plenitude of cash. Two thousand in ones, twelve hundred fives, and so on, all smaller denominations to be split as bank between the several remote store locations we set up at various strategic points around the track. Meanwhile, in a seemingly unrelated floorboard, a slick, smelly, oily something has been leaking from the hidden depths of the steering column in my car for many months, the source of or correction for which the most knowledgeable mechanics have been as yet unable to determine. The optimist in me says it’s cable lubricant; the paranoiac says it’s power steering fluid. Whatever it is, it’s ruined three pairs of pants and thereby inspired me to wear ratty towels draped over my shins whenever I drive. Several times I have walked halfway through a parking lot before noticing these cotton shinguards are still clinging to my feet, and now I try to be more careful about remembering to remove them when I stop, just as I was careful to do upon arrival at the aforementioned Regions branch today.

The bank wasn’t crowded, but it took a little while for the teller to gather the piles of notes I was requesting. I stood to the side while several other customers were processed, drumming my hands on the counter, waiting for his order to come from the vault. They gave me a big bag made of heavy cloth in which to carry the cash, like Scrooge MacDuck without the spats, and I felt more than a little conspicuous walking back out to the car. I began digging in my pocket for the keys, picturing a fast, clean getaway. But I couldn’t find the keys.

I was still walking, about to put the bag down and search with both hands, when I saw them, swaying slightly from side to side where they hung in the ignition. And while the optimist in me believes no one would want the several quarters, old blue yo-yo, Muddy Waters cassette, and Pez dispenser capped with a pointy-eared Yoda bust to be gained by violating the drippy interior of my chariot, the pessimist in me always locks the door. So I’m standing in the middle of a parking lot with a bag full of small unmarked bills, and I have locked my keys inside the car.

As luck would have it, the stoner in me left the hatchback open.

Saturday, May 3, 2003

undue significance

7:53 PM – Nearing the end of a blissfully uneventful several hours, the body of my first day off from work in ages. I thought I might sit down for a portion of this time and write a real entry, something more intelligent than the half-assed throwoffs that have been all I can muster at the ends of recent twelve- and fourteen-hour shifts, but all I’ve done is lay around dormant all day, warming the sofa, and now the hour that my wife Holly returns home from her own work shift is fast approaching, when she’ll find that I’ve accomplished none of the tasks I’d planned to take down. Kitchen a disaster, dishes unwashed, trashcan overflowing and ditto the litterboxes (thank God the vacuum is broken or I’d never get it all done). And speaking of the cats (sort of), I’ve discovered that one or more of the ungrateful bastards has been mistaking my lp collection for a scratching post, inspiring me to grind their furry carcasses into chum with the garbage disposal. Fortunately for them, I don’t have the time. And unfortunately for you, here’s another half-assed throwoff.

About nine months ago the light in the ventilation hood over our stove went out. We used to leave this light on at night so that the aforementioned bastard cats could see their food and so, if Holly or I stumbled downstairs at 3am in desperate need of cookies & milk or something, we wouldn’t have to suffer the wicked glare of the overhead. Then, just as we came to depend on it, the blasted thing went out.

Like a good domesticated manchild, I attempted to change out the bulb and renew our nightlight. However, try as I might, I could not figure out how to get inside it. That seemingly innocent stove hood presented a maddening puzzle for which I could find no solution. After several days of poking and prying and cursing bruised fingertips, I finally gave up.

Then, just a few weeks ago, I went into the kitchen for a drink. As I opened the cabinet to retrieve a glass, the corner of the cabinet door struck the hood, and lo and behold, the light came on. I was awestruck, then giddy—I gleefully ran over to the wall switch and turned off the overhead light just so I could better enjoy the hood’s gentle illumination. I got close, dared to switch it off, then on, then off and back on again. It worked perfectly. Holly won’t believe this, I thought, and switched it off one last time. My plan was to wait until she arrived home, bring her into the darkened kitchen, tell the story slowly and suspensefully, and then, at the moment of truth, click!, I’d share the magic.

Which is exactly what I did. I played it up to be the most wondrous of miracles, and then, as dramatically as possible, I reached for the switch. Click!

Nothing. The hood stayed as dark as the rest of the room, and it hasn’t worked again since.

You may be thinking what a pathetically uneventful life I must lead that such inconsequential nonsense excited me so, and you wouldn’t be wrong. Perhaps that’s the lesson I should be taking from the stove hood. I had thoughts of using the event as a metaphoric standby for years to come, applying it conveniently to any situation wherein I thought someone was trying too hard, etc. I’m bad about such stuff, tagging meaningless little incidents with undue symbolism or significance. Still can’t stop thinking about it, though.

Oh, and speaking of undue significance: there have been two earthquakes in Georgia over the past few weeks. Yeah, Georgia. The first was just outside Athens, where I live, and the other nearer Atlanta, about forty miles away. Both registered relatively high on the Richter scale (4.7 and 4.9, I believe), and both struck in the middle of the night. In neither instance did the earth’s grumblings manage to wake me up.

Wednesday, April 30, 2003

the bag bunny and Newman's Own Underwear

My morning drive to work winds forty miles through the picturesque North Georgia countryside. Thus far, it has been my favorite thing about this new job, entirely compensating for the fact that it cuts a two-hour chunk out of every day. It provides me a terrific vantage point from which to scan the local fields for crop circles, which to my knowledge have never appeared in this state and that, for lack of a more poetic turn of phrase, fascinate the crap out of me. The length of the trip, particularly when coupled with its rural backdrop, also offers the opportunity to catch other sights I might miss on a shorter, hastier journey.

For example, this morning I was trailing a pickup truck that held a large pet carrier in its bed. I kept seeing movement from within the carrier, but the movement seemed off-kilter, inexplicably rapid, and I couldn’t guess what sort of animal it might contain. I sped up, closing the gap between us in order to get a closer look. For all the world, there appeared to be a rabid bunny inside, bouncing wildly from surface to surface like a cartoon character who’s inadvertently set its own ass on fire. Finally I gained enough distance to discover that it wasn’t an animal at all but rather a plastic grocery bag the carrier held, being buffeted ‘American Beauty’-esque in the wind coming over the cab of the truck.

A strange coincidence this morning: the new job I’ve mentioned is as retail sales manager for Road Atlanta, which is a racetrack just outside Braselton. One of my primary duties in this position is to serve as manager for the track’s pro shop (which, consequently, is really just a glorified gift shop that also happens to sell flame-retardant suits and socks and underwear for drivers who I guess might’ve left them at home). This morning, I was standing at the front of the store, contemplating sending a friend who has a young child some toddler-sized something emblazoned with our logo. I picked up a legless onesie (which is a one-piece garment for the littluns, for those of you unhep to the child-rearing lingo) for closer examination and was instantly reminded of one of my favorite movies.

“Looks like the underwear Paul Newman wears in ‘The Sting’,” I said to myself.

Then I looked up through the big front window, and there was Paul Newman. He wore big amber-colored sunglasses and was walking briskly toward the gates that lead down to the pit area of the track. Questioning the office staff later, I learned that Mr. Newman is an avid race car driver and was here in Georgia today testing his car. I was hoping he’d come into the shop so I could ask him if he thought the onesie looked like his underwear from ‘The Sting’ too, but he never showed.

Monday, April 28, 2003

one sorry excuse for an entry

Wouldn’t it be great if the pizza delivery guy worked like the ice cream man and you could just flag the delivery car down when you wanted a pie? I swear I never want pizza more than when one of those marked cars drives past full of other people’s dinners. Maybe I’ll start my own roving oven. I could use an old step-van outfitted with a loudspeaker playing ‘That’s Amore’ or something and drive up and down Fraternity Row. Call it “Catch-As-Can Pan,” or “Sprinteroni,” maybe.

Monday, April 21, 2003


They made it easy to miss. I wouldn’t have caught it myself had I not been zoning out at work, stuck tagging shirts and hats with a needle-tipped pricing gun for hour after hour until I was forced to give myself a break, to stop and relax for a moment or run the risk of sticking the needle through my finger in a momentary lapse of attention.

I say they made it easy to miss, but in truth, for me, they made it easier to find. When I read the newspaper, I look for the good stuff, the strange or uplifting, the offbeat and human interest tales. These do not constitute the bulk of most media, written or otherwise. On Tuesday, the day in question, I skipped through twelve solid pages of downbeat reportage — Iraq, Syria, SARS, school shootings, some dangerous chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid (which resides in Teflon cookware and Gore-Tex clothing and most everything else we own) under investigation by the EPA, and several full-page cries of clearance sales and storewide savings — before I found it, only three short columns, news from Bethesda, Maryland that the Human Genome Project is complete.

It’s been fifty years since James Watson and Francis Crick first discovered the structure of DNA, and now scientists have sequenced and produced a near-flawless map of the 3.1 billion units of DNA that comprise the human genome. In essence, this information is the beginning of the end of disease, all disease: cancer, AIDS, leukemia, meningitis, lupus, Alzheimer’s, on and on. The completion of this work, almost two years ahead of schedule and available in its entirety, for free, on public genetic databanks, means hope for all the hopeless. It changes everything.

But it isn’t front-page, top story news. Hope doesn’t sell papers. Just look at the way news ratings have skyrocketed over the course of the past month if you want proof.

They say no news is good news, but isn’t good news better?

Sunday, March 30, 2003


Yeah, so I didn’t really offer much in the way of summing up the many months since my last entry in that ‘Perspective’ throw-off last night, and since the wife has fallen quietly asleep in the next room without the benefit of her goodnight kiss, I suppose I should use this time to try and put the intervening chronology in some sort of order.

The road has been rocky and full of holes between here and there, friends. As should be obvious by my use of the qualifier ‘wife,’ my sweet babboo and I did indeed tie the proverbial knot at last. It was a beautiful service, just fifteen or so of us standing down by the river, with my father joining our hands and helping us gently with our lines. Sadly, inexplicably, we lost the baby we were expecting, but I have to believe that it simply wasn’t time yet for Little Blindspot to burst onto the scene and save the world from certain destruction. The lady of the house lost her job, too, and has yet to find a replacement, which has left me to work two of my own on a seven-days-a-week schedule. Such is the life of two struggling college dropouts living under Murphy’s Martial Law.

Or, rather, was. Only this past Wednesday, sitting at a long conference room table in front of a window through which the light of grace shone, I got a new job. A GOOD new job, with a real live salary and benefits and everything. You’d almost think I was some kind of adult or something, huh? It doesn’t start for two more weeks, but if I can manage not to ruin it, this will be the gig that’ll carry us through my planned return to the hallowed halls of academia and our planned return to the endless waterslide of parenthood. Even the cats are happy.

Now if I could just start writing again. Something more than a few hasty paragraphs in this poor neglected diary, please. I’m not asking — I’m praying.

Saturday, March 29, 2003


For the past several months, I've been working as a facilities manager at a church. This is a fancy way of saying I'm a janitor. It isn't quite that simple, but it's close enough. Most of my time is spent ridding the floors in the preschool building of their typical childlike droppings — cookie crumbs, Kool-aid splashes, soggy Crunchberries, crushed corn chips, and what must cumulatively have been eighty pounds of glitter by now, having missed its gluey mark and sifted down into the carpet like pixy dust. Funny how it seems the sweeter the mess, the easier it is to clean up. Damn, but they really should be teaching these kids how to flush the toilet.

Anyhow, one of my favorite fringe benefits of the gig has been snooping the stuff that appears on the walls of this same education building. Its upper level houses the church's Sunday school classrooms, and recently a white sheet of posterboard appeared in the fifth grade room which I feel casts an interesting perspective on the recent worldly madness. It reads:


— An old lady in Atlanta was digging through the garbage for food.

— I don't think the President has been treated fairly about Iraq.

— When people get more goldfish than me.