Sunday, October 3, 2010

if this floor could talk

Daily I am faced with it, wake to it, again and again. Oh, the horror of it! My bare toes shrivel at the prospect of unshielded intercourse upon this great masterpiece of filth that has become of the formerly lush and lusty pile carpet in my home. Alas, and would it were not so.

My carpet is a grungy patchwork of splotches and stains in varying shades of grey, decorating the floor in a gross accidental animal print that stretches across nearly all our living space. The incidents that rendered this impromptu abstract artwork vary wildly, and in truth, I should probably feel more nostalgic about it. What I mean is that these stains, however disgusting they may appear, also serve as a chronicle of the collective lives that have been playing themselves out inside these walls, a timeline of the narrative of my family.

For instance, here near the doorway of the kitchen is the spot where I once bled. There had been a baby gate stretched across that doorway and a baby in my arms when, as I stepped over the gate en route to the living room beyond, the toe of my shoe caught on its top edge and sent me sprawling. An old fashioned wooden rocking chair sat only a couple of feet away, and instead of trying to catch myself, I had cradled the baby to my chest like a wide receiver with a game-winning touchdown pass and fallen full force into the side of that chair, which shrieked, splintered and collapsed beneath us all at once into a pile of broken kindling. Somehow I managed to protect my daughter from injury amidst the calamity of the fall, but I was hurt – arms and side and shoulder badly bruised, one forearm gashed where a spear of snapped slatwood caught and bit, both knees deeply skinned from digging into the carpet to stop the bulk of our weight – and we lay there as my blood dripped onto the floor, the baby screaming like her hair was on fire, me shocked silent as stone.

I stayed sore, scabbed and strawberried for weeks afterward, and the damage to the rocker was irreparable, but as far as we could tell, the baby hadn't even been scratched. The cut on my arm healed cleanly, but I still have a fat purplish scar on my right knee that itches like the devil sometimes when the weather's bad. I don't mind, though. I like to be reminded of that day, when I instinctively sacrificed my own well-being for the safety of my fragile little girl. I might even think that I'd saved her life had my own clumsiness not caused the whole ordeal in the first place. Nevertheless, it still makes me feel good. Makes me feel like a father, a real one. I appreciate anything that leads me to that.

And yet, when I see that stain where my blood fell, one among so many, I still typically think, "Ugh! I hate this carpet." Wherein lies the difference between my itchy scar and the sight of that spot, I don't know.

Look – those spatters not too far away from the bloodstain are from the first time the kids caught the neighborhood ice cream truck down at the end of the driveway, and I bought my daughter a Tweety Bird sherbet and my son a Batman, both their own choices, both with eerie gumball eyes. Over there near the window is where somebody was watching television with a cup of chocolate milk and kicked it over. And that, just to the right of the entryway – yeah, the one that looks like a turtle with a long neck – that's the spot it made when the cat got into the pantry, broke open a bag of flour, and proceeded to sneeze 'til he barfed.

Speaking of pets, I'm pretty sure that one is from the brief period when we had a dog. And that one. And that one. And all those over there.

The really huge stain, the one that occupies almost the exact center of the living room floor, comes from the time when my son was so sick as a baby. During the long recovery period that followed his treatment, he took medications that caused him to throw up repeatedly, enormous awful projectile vomitings up of whatever was inside him, over and over again. He probably puked onto that same spot on the carpet thirty times or more. The old couch used to sit there in the middle of the room, and we would hold him there, or lie down with him there, knowing he'd be throwing up at least once or twice and thinking that letting that ratty secondhand couch take the brunt of the abuse was better than washing bedclothes however many times a day. So we'd sit there, or lie there, and sure as the seconds on the clock ticked off, he would throw up again, down over the side of the couch. That's why one side of that big stain is flat like it is.

All this time spent, all this well-earned wear, these moments, these memories and so many others, ground down into the knap like a diary, and still the sight of it makes me cringe and wrinkle my nose in disgust. I can't help it -- I want a fresh start. Perhaps, when the time comes and we begin the work of pulling it up off the tacks, stripping it away from the subfloor and rolling it up into logs to be hauled away, then my feelings will change. Perhaps, as I throw those great heaps down amongst all the other cast-off debris at the landfill, I'll finally make my peace with its grime and give credit where credit is due: this carpet has been through so much, and it has served us well.

But regardless of my sentiments, next time we're getting hardwood.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

truth in advertising

There are a multitude of prescription drug commercials that have dominated American television for the past decade or so, all attempting to coerce the public into a brand-name solicitation of the product with their local practitioner. The majority of these ads are surprisingly similar to one another, consisting of flowery titles superimposed over a gentle, slightly hallucinatory montage of scenes -- blissful people walking hand in hand on a beach, or laughing at the dinner table, or playing frisbee with a dog, all slightly slo-mo -- that play out on the screen while a comforting, motherly voice proceeds to read a litany of the most ghastly possible side effects of the drug:

“Use of Clandesta may cause headache, dizziness, drowsiness, dry mouth, halitosis, flushed skin, water retention, hives, shingles, scurvy, bloating or gas, stomach or intestinal cramps, diarrhea, constipation, lapses in bladder control, gigantic kidney stones, flop sweat, persistent nausea or vomiting, difficulty sleeping, difficulty hearing, difficulty speaking, shortness of breath, blurred or double vision, impotence, infertility, extreme nervousness or restlessness, paranoia, genital warts or blisters, muscle stiffness or weakness, numbness or tingling in the extremities, decreased coordination, shaking, fainting, seizure, hepatitis, jaundice, gout, low blood pressure, ringing in the ears, strange thoughts or dreams, unusual changes in mood, transient hallucination, racing or irregular heartbeat, unstable temperature, entoptic phenomenon, receding hairline or stretch marks, and may also increase the risk of skin, lung, bone, liver and/or rectal cancer.” After which horrific intonation the voiceover always immediately follows with the caveat, "Ask your doctor if Clandesta is right for you." Because hey, stomach cramps aren’t so bad, right?

My favorite is the spot for a sleep aid that states, "Users have been known to experience sudden depression and suicidal thoughts or actions.”

So what they're really saying, if I understand correctly, is that if you search within yourself and find you prefer your insomnia to, say, a purposeful self-inflicted death, then maybe this isn't the drug for you. And to that I offer kudos, guys; right on. We The People would earnestly appreciate that kind of blunt honesty in our advertising whether you were required by Federal law or not. Considering the content of the other eighty-something percent of television commercials we see, I'd say we need it more than ever. Need them both.

The honesty, and the drugs.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


I was outside working in the yard today as my eldest, who is 6, conducted his usual outdoor canvass of our property for hapless bugs to capture and observe. The focus of these quests is ordinarily worms and slugs, which he loves mightily (some might say unhealthily), but because it is spring and they are plentiful, he has recently redirected his fixation to caterpillars.

If you were to ask him (and quite possibly even if you weren’t) exactly why he feels the irresistible pull to abduct these larval Lepidoptera, my burgeoning research scientist will tell you it is of the utmost importance that he witness the development of a chrysalis and subsequent emergence of a fully metamorphosed moth or butterfly, for as he says, “I’ve never seen that.” If you were to ask me why, I would tell you that yes, I do believe his scientific curiosity comes to bear, sure, but that his true motivation is more likely due to the fact that, as far as bugs go, caterpillars rate pretty high on both the cuteness and handleability scales, and also, they’re slow and easy to catch - in other words, the perfect quarry for a kindergartner with a monster bug jones.

This morning, his hunt began with the acquisition of several ladybugs before he came across his first caterpillar crawling along on the large butterfly bush we have in the back yard (that’s Buddleia davidii, for you botanical types). He showed it to me as I was headed inside to retrieve some water for the two of us, speaking excitedly about how he had “never seen one like this before.” Though it looked small and fairly plain to my jaded adult eyes, I did my best to echo his enthusiasm in my response and demeanor before slipping into the house for the water.

When I returned, he was crouched down over the picnic bench on the back patio, and he looked up at me with an expression of supreme distress on his face.

“We’ve got a big problem, Dad,” he said.

“What is it?”

“I was watching the new caterpillar crawl on the bench right here, and he fell down there in the crack, and now he’s stuck.”

I looked where he was pointing, and sure enough, the little guy had slipped perfectly between two of the slats of wood that make up the sitting surface of the bench.

“Oh no,” I said to him, knitting my brow in concern. “What are we gonna do?”

He thought for a moment, looking back down at the bench, and then said, “We need a saw,” nodding slightly for effect.


“Then we can cut the bench and he can get out.” He looked up at me and smiled. Nay — beamed.

“Well, we could do that, sure, but if we cut up the bench, then where will we sit?”

“We can sit in chairs,” he said, a note of exasperation in his voice, as if wondering how I could be so incredibly stupid. “He’s stuck in there, and we’ve got to rescue him.”

“I know, buddy, and you’re right — we do need to help. I just think we can probably come up with some other way to get him out of there. Don’t you?”

“Well… maybe. But I really think we need a saw.”

Luckily we were able to work out another, less destructive method of rescue together, and our humanitarian efforts were entirely successful for both the caterpillar and the bench. But I have to be honest — if my ‘gentle coaxing with a folded piece of paper’ technique had failed, I’d have been sorely tempted to try his idea. Because in spite of its deleterious impact on my outdoor furniture, I must admit it would have worked like a charm.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

only mostly dead

“They say I got brains, but they ain’t doing me no good; I wish they could.”
     – BRIAN WILSON, ‘I Wasn’t Made For These Times’

“There’s more to life than books, you know, but not much more.”
     – STEVEN PATRICK MORRISSEY, ‘You Handsome Devil’

When I was eighteen years old, I would have told you that writing was every bit as vital to my existence as breathing. Many days have passed between then and now – fifteen years’ worth of steady decline – until the same effort that once would yield a fully imagined story, if not two, now offers only a handful of stonewrung blood, a scant few overwrought sentences heavy with scratchouts and false starts, clotted with waste ink and knots of frustration, and lacking. Now I am thirty-three, and I am no longer a writer. But the memory of my youthful passion and resolve, of that deep faith I once held in my own abilities, is extraordinarily vivid, and sometimes so tangible that I almost believe it could still be hiding inside me somewhere, crouched in the dark and waiting.

* * * * * * * * *

My wife has a habit of saying that she “can’t find” a thing when she has not yet actually looked for it. This rarely fails to make me laugh and has become sort of a running gag between the two of us. A typical exchange goes something like this:

“I can’t find my keys,” she’ll say.

“Well, have you looked for them?” I counter.

To which she’ll respond, always mock-offended, “Well, no,” or, “A little,” or sometimes, “You see me looking, don’t you?”

Then I’ll say, “Why don’t you try…,” and offer up my best guess as to the whereabouts of the Item In Question. She then either goes to check this new possibility or puts on her best exasperated adolescent and says:

“I looked there already. Of course.”

“But did you look look,” I’ll say, “or did you just stand there and stare at the desktop without touching or moving anything?”

Then she’ll put one hand on her hip and sigh heavily and ape further pouty, bottom lip stuck out, and by that point we both usually crack up laughing.

The more I think about this, the more mine seems like nervous laughter.

* * * * * * * * *

Over the years I have found no end of things to blame for my gradual silence, but always I was able to at least feign denial by continuing to write intermittently, however insignificant the results. Then, a little more than three years ago, my son got sick. In addition to the obvious emotional pressure of having a critically ill child, the ordeal also put an enormous strain on our meager family finances. I took as much time off as I felt I could get away with, but it was only perhaps ten days after his initial diagnosis that I was forced to return to work while my wife stayed alone by his side.

The hospital where he received all of his care is about 50 miles away from our house, a commute which made it impossible for me to visit every day. This left me with far too much time on my hands to sit and think unhappy thoughts. One would imagine that this would have been a perfect opportunity to sit down with pen & paper and begin to try working out some of the things I was going through, and I did attempt this on an almost daily basis. But nothing was working. I couldn’t seem to get anything out except a rambling, senseless sort of late night pontification, generally calling into question most everything that had come before in the wake of this profound life-changing event.

And whether it’s always like that when faced with such circumstances, I don’t know. I still have a hard time putting it into perspective. I always thought I had endured life-changing events before – lots of moves, break-ups; a messy divorce; myriad career changes; childbirth; et cetera – but nothing close to this. Nothing anywhere close to this.

At any rate, there I was, still considering myself a writer, in the midst of what should have been the most tragically inspiring events of my life, and I could scarcely turn out a coherent sentence. I made attempts, as I said, not all of which were completely awful, but I was reaching beyond my abilities to express myself, and I could feel it. It felt like pretending, and that disgusted me. As far as I was concerned, the subject matter was sacred, yet instead of rising to the occasion, I found that I’d been rendered virtually mute. One day I reached the point at which I couldn’t go on simply playing at it any more, and just like that, I allowed myself to give up. It wasn’t that I suddenly lost all desire to write, but more that I could finally let go of the idea that I had anything truly worthwhile to say.

And here I am. Largely fruitless, as ever. But feeling, for the first time in a long time, unwilling to quit just yet.

Friday, December 1, 2006


So, I'm a dad, the proud father of two. My son is two and a half (or 32 months, in the odd menstrual shorthand of which parents seem so fond), and my daughter was born just one month ago today. Admittedly, parenthood isn't a job for which I thought I'd be very well-suited. I have never harbored any illusions about my own maturity level (or, rather, lack thereof), and I had serious concerns about my adequacy at the outset. The levels of selflessness and vigilance and determination required to be successful as a parent, not to mention the sheer magnitude of redefinition one's lifestyle must weather, weren't so much frightening to me as they were awe-inspiring, and my torpid self-esteem allowed for only the most marginal confidence as I began this adventure.

To my great surprise, I have found that fatherhood has come quite naturally to me, and in fact now seems like the only truly worthwhile thing I've ever done with my life. Equally surprising was the revelation that this so-proclaimed "world's toughest job" is an absolute riot; though it is not without its myriad vagaries and struggles, of course, I certainly find myself laughing much more often than I am crying.

My son Jeremy (named for Jem Finch in 'To Kill A Mockingbird') is so very cool. He's at the amazing age when some new aspect of his blossoming individuality seems to manifest itself each day, and it's such a blast to watch a person appear from the ground up like that, magically; I can't get enough of talking to him, listening to him, studying the ways he interprets and interacts, watching him puzzle through the intricacies of the world and how it works. The time I get to spend with him, though never as much as I'd like, is always the highlight of any day, and for all my concern beforehand regarding the ways in which my life would change, I can scarcely remember what it was like without him.

Not too long ago, the possibility arose that I would be reminded in the most terrible way; at three months old, Jem was diagnosed with a rare and potentially fatal blood disorder that saw him enduring chemotherapy at four months old and a stem cell transplant two months later. With more than a little luck and grace and the most extraordinary pediatric medical care available anywhere in the world, we're thankfully out the other side of that darkness now. As 'out the other side' as one can ever be after such an experience, anyway; Jem is almost 100% healthy, but still, there are remnants, remainders. He grew sick at such an early age and was sustained on liquid nutrition through such a pivotal period of development that he never learned how to eat properly. This situation continues to improve, though we do still struggle with it, and despite the fact that we must continue to supplement his meager intake of solid food with four-per-day boluses of a prescription formula passed through a little plastic-and-rubber g-tube knob in his stomach (two inches or so to the northeast of his bellybutton). Sometimes I have to remind myself of his age and the fact that two-year-olds often don't eat very much, that it's actually fairly common behavior, circumstances notwithstanding. I wish it didn't require reminding myself.

He also just recently transferred from the care of the oncological team at the hospital where he was treated into what they call their Survivor's Clinic. The Survivor's Clinic is a new team of doctors assigned to kids who are two years post-transplant or into remission. The team's collective expertise is dedicated to the careful study of his physiology with special attention to the countless thousands of ways in which deliberate and sustained administration of radioactive chemicals into the human body can jack it all up. They run lots of tests that monitor his development and then do their best to utterly horrify us with the results. But we have to love them -- they mean well, really they do. Surely, they must.

Through it all, Jeremy has been wonderful, such a happy child, the picture of sweetness and intelligence and spirit. I hate to be one more parent who can't shut up about how their kid's the ideal, but seriously, folks -- the guy's a knockout, a total home run in the child department. He said two things tonight that I can't recall ever hearing him say before. The first was when he answered my wife Holly's admonition of "I love you, Jeremy" with "I wuff you too," and he now acts as though he will never respond to a declaration of love in any other way, having repeated it over and over all night, including when I tucked him into bed.

The second occurred while we were playing in the floor of his room before dinner. I was trying to clean up a bit, and he got distracted and wandered out of the room. About sixty seconds later, he reappeared in the doorway and said, "I'm back!" This kind of happiness is unquantifiable.

And now, as of thirty days ago, we also have a girl. Her name is Ella Caroline, and she is full of piss and something quite unlike vinegar. She also suffers the misfortune of bearing a marked resemblance to her father, but other than that lamentable business, she is perfect in every way.

Not much to say about a newborn, really -- they eat, they sleep, they cry to eat, they poop, they eat, they eat; they poop, they poop again, then pee on you, then puke on you, then sit there looking cute and very old, then sleep, then eat, and eat, and eat. And eat. Holly is working hard to cope with the extraordinary challenges of breastfeeding in addition to the enormous physical and mental strain of the surgery and the sleeplessness and the hormonal revolt, and I am doing a lot of housework and trying to lighten the mood by acting my usual silly self. For example, I have begun to use the term 'boob juice' when referring to breastmilk. Thus far, I have not found its usage to elicit the mirthful response I intended (alternatives under consideration: 'boobiefood', 'breastfruit' and 'teatloaf'.)

Somehow I had forgotten just what a very small thing is a newborn baby. Infants are so very tiny, in fact, that it always makes me feel somewhat uncomfortable to handle them. I realize that I am fully capable of doing so in a reasonably responsible manner, but still the naked reality of their fragility can be enormously intimidating to me. Wow, but this one's supercute though, man. She totally melts my heart. And I find that it's considerably easier to stop worrying so much about breaking them when you can cradle them against a chest filled with something like fresh-baked cookie inside.

I just stood up from where I've been writing this out and took a few steps around the kitchen to stretch my legs. It's almost two a.m., and Holly & Ella have been sleeping on the couch in the next room since before midnight. Standing in the doorway a moment ago, watching their breathing, the sleeping faces of my beautiful girls, I thought about how very lucky I am, and how some days I'm so tired I just want to whimper like a puppy, and how other days I'm so excited about my life that I'll sacrifice precious restful sleep for the equally rare opportunity to stay up late at the kitchen table singing love songs about it with a pen.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


I have begun an experiment wherein all the recent e-mails I've sent have been otherwise perfectly ordinary, but the subject lines are goofy crap I've copied from spam - stuff like 'Wall Street Alert!' and 'R U Big as a Barn?' and 'Be a sperm-man with truckload of sperms' - in an attempt to see if more people scan their new mail by sender or subject.

Incidentally, it would seem that more people scan by subject line, since I haven't received replies to any e-mails sent since I began this brain-damaged endeavor. Either that, or nobody likes me.

Oh, PS - check this out! Cleveland rocks!