Monday, April 26, 2004

Paperwork in Green

It's late. It's time for him to go to bed. Before he goes into his room, he runs back out to the living room and shuffles thru his backpack.

He comes running into the study. Here, he says, holding a sheet of paper toward me.

His gestures and facial expression say, You need to sign this for me, because I have to turn it in tomorrow. He doesn't need to say anything.

It's pretty much up to him to make sure such things get done. I am not now, nor have I ever been good with deadlines or paperwork. Paperwork with deadlines is doomed if it ever gets set on my desk. It will disappear. And I think he's almost figured this out.

Here, he said, holding the sheet toward me.

I took my hands of the keyboard and turned to the colored-pens drawer to my right.

One of the marvels of a "colored-pens drawer" is that you never have to sign your child's paperwork in the same color twice. I figure it's the least I can't do for the teachers and staff that have to read this stuff.

I selected a lime-green gel-pen. And I wrote, Please excuse Ben from 7th period ...

I wrote a several paragraphs with looping letters that only a gel-pen can produce. And I signed my name at the end with a swirling D and a trailing tail.

I handed the sheet back.

Wow, he said. That was kind of like an essay.

In lime-green!

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 Saturday, April 24, 2004

I Was On To Him

Does he think that qualifies as brushing his teeth!? Sitting there in front of the computer wiggling the toothbrush periodically. That is not brushing. And he's sitting there forever.

I'm on to him.

Ben, I say.

He instantly stands up from the computer and walks back to the bathroom. I hear him spit. I hear the faucet run. Then silence.

And then the faucet runs again, and while it is running he dashes back into the study to look at his monitor and then dashes out again. The water stops, and then there is silence again.

And then I suppose I lose track of time. But when I came to, he is standing in the doorway with a sheepish grin on his face. Standing in the doorway with his arms held above his head.

What, I say.

Ahh, he sighs. I feel all fresh and clean! And he sits back down at the monitor.

But I am on to him.

No Ben, I say.

He looks at me, but I don't look back.

Ok. Five minutes, I say.

Yay, says he.

I was on to him.

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 Thursday, April 22, 2004

Ranger Tim

Ranger Tim watches a tree come down.

[dervala/A Tree Grew In Brooklyn]: They're having to top the tree a bit at a time from the 90-foot crown on down, without bringing limbs crashing through expensive Cobble Hill windows and awnings and patio decks ...

... May I someday be worthy to carry their gas cans for them.

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Tonight the Moon and Venus

I don't suppose I should say this, but I am going to anyway.

Say what?

What I want to say.


Why what?

Why shouldn't you say it?

I just shouldn't.

Then why say it in the first place!?

Because ... Look at that! Venus is shining over the crescent moon.

So say it.

Say what?

Say what you were going to say!!

I lost my train of thought. But just look at that sky!


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 Wednesday, April 21, 2004


1. Celebrating

It's my grandmother's birthday, my Chachi reminded us today. She is 94 years old.

They celebrated in the cafeteria with banana pudding. And they celebrated in her room with socks and undershirts.

2. Fresh Produce

She would want to know this.

We got our first weekly shipment of organic vegetables from a farm west of here. Little baby carrots. Little strawberries. Onions. Greens. Garlic. Beets. Asparagus.

I grabbed the carrots immediately.

Rinse them off, David, Trudy said. (She knows my ways.)

They're organic.

They're dirty.

My grandmother gave us carrots right out of the ground. And red potatoes, too.

I ate the carrots. But I rinsed the strawberries first -- they were dirty.

3. Strawberry Memories

The evening air outside is like a summer in Michigan 21 years ago. My grandmother, grandfather and I would sit on the porch in the evening and feel the coolness descend.

And during a walk one day, she showed me those wild strawberries -- strawberries that will weave their way one way or another into any story I tell for the rest of my life.

The air outside is cool like it was those nights back then. And the taste of our little local strawberries is like the taste of the ones we picked back then.

4. Quietness

There's a quietness outside that I need to go listen to.

Happy Birthday, Nani.

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 Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Small, Porter, Bedicek, and Bailey

At 5:30 the sun was shining, and the inside of the car was hot, but the wind was blowing hard. I parked the car and walked to the gate. The swallows were swarming under the stadium, swooping out of nests stuck to the bottom of the concrete bleachers and swirling in circles over the nearby fields.

The woman at the table charged $2.00.

For four hours the Middle School boys and girls raced and competed. Teams from four schools (Small, Porter, Bedicek, and Bailey) stood on the infield and gathered in groups near the finish line. The black shirts of Bailey. The green shirts of Bedicek. The red shirts of Porter. And the purple shirts of Small. Seventh graders. Eighth graders. Boys. Girls. Sprinters. Distance runners. Shotputters. Discus throwers. High jumpers. Long jumpers. Relay runners. Hurdlers.

For hours they met.

There were close races with sprints to the finish. There were runners who collided and runners who tripped. There were boys with pumping arms and grimacing faces. There were girls with pony tails tied behind their heads and skinny legs taking long strides down the far stretch.

And there was a boy who ran the 300m hurdles.

He bounced a bit in his starting blocks in the inside lane before the start. At the gun, he dashed out, staggered behind all the rest, steadily closing the gap. One by one he passed the others. As they went around the turn, he overtook the last one. And the lead he opened up in the final stretch was huge.

He won. But he stuck around.

As the evening sky got dark and they made the final call for the 1600m and the second call for the relay after that, he hung out by the track and eventually (with some head nodding and pantomime from a father in the stands) worked his way to the final turn, where keeping with family tradition he cheered on the runners as they hit the straightaway.

And then the meet was over.

The heat of the day was gone, and the wind had largely died down. The woman at the gate was nowhere to be seen. The swallows were quiet in their nests. And I walked back to my car with a hoarse throat. It was 9:30, and it was dark.

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 Monday, April 19, 2004

Disk Activity

He sat at one desk. I sat at another. He brought up Rune Score. I brought up Wired News.

Then his hard disk began to spin. Spin and a cascade of rattling clicks.

I looked over at him. He saw me out of the corner of his eye. He briefly glanced over and then turned back to a loading web page.

The disk made even more noise.

What is that? I asked.

A web site, he said.

No. Why is it making so much noise?

We both looked at the screen. It was grey with a little red and blue steaming cup of coffee in the corner.

Oh, I said. It's bringing up Java.

Is that a bad thing? he asked.

No. But that sure is a lot of disk activity.

Oh. Can't have disk activity, he said.


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 Sunday, April 18, 2004

Weekend Eden

I talk too often about these things...

Yellow Coreopsis blossoms opening. Slender Vervain with spikes of barely-purple. Daisies that look like Daisies, and Daisies that don't. Some kind of wild Verbena-like thing. Two clumps of Blue-Eyed Grass. Four kinds of purple-flowering Salvia. A bush of blooming roses and a pink climber, too.

Cardinals in the trees at dawn. Patches of blue in a cloud-swept sky. Wrens in the trees during the day in the back. Stiff breezes out of the south. Robins in the trees at dusk.

I know I talk too often about these things, but I just can't stop.

Because I've got dirt under my fingernails and a aching back and scratches on my arms and fingers. And now I'm ready to go back to work.

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 Friday, April 16, 2004

Someday Hence

I think that perhaps someday I will look back on yesterday and see it differently.

Maybe then I will recall the purple spikes of Salvia. The Blue-Eyed Grass. The Four-Nerve Daisy with its yellow blossom leaning in the breeze. The Prairie Verbena with its blossom eaten by some bug or stolen by a bird.

Maybe then I will remember the smell of cedar at the magins of the woods. A kite flying high in the cloudless sky. The golden light of the setting sun grazing the treetops.

Maybe then I will even remember fondly that old dead oak. The one the grackles flock to. Cackle in. Its gnarly, fractal silhouette standing black against a sunset sky.

A golden time, it might seem someday hence.

But that is not how it felt yesterday.

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Too Young, Too Old

She sat on the bench, slippers on her feet, a backpack in her lap. She was young, too young to be waiting for a child at soccer practice. But she was too old to be a kid.

She sat on the bench far away from everyone else, seldom looking up. The hood of her jacket was pulled over her head. Her face was grim.

As I walked by, she looked up from the green sheets of stabled paper she was holding in her hands. Only briefly. To look at the dog, perhaps.

I smiled.

She looked back down.

We walked by, the dog pulling at the leash. And as we did, I turned to look back at her and saw what she was reading.

Guide for Pregnant Women

Too young, too old.

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 Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Sheepish Smiles

After the race, he came over and stood with us.

I came in second! he said.

He was proud and maybe a bit surprised.

A girl came running across the track. A smile was on her face. Her eyes were sparkling. She walked up to Ben. She stood there. He stood there. Neither said a thing, but they both had sheepish smiles on their faces.

I'm David, I said after a while, holding out my hand. I'm Ben's dad.

I'm Jessica, she said. Your hand is so warm!

She stood there. He stood there. Neither said a thing, and they both had sheepish smiles on their faces.

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 Thursday, April 8, 2004

Brown Bag Lunch

I thought perhaps I was safe this time. The room was dark. The fan of the projector masked the sound of my reaching into the bag. The presentation had been going on for quite some time.

So I thought I was safe.

With my sandwich finished. With the left over enchilada from Maudi's gone. With the cheese stick eaten. With nothing left of the banana but the peal. I reached into my bag and grabbed my orange.

But when I peeled it, he could tell. And just as I was about to begin eating, he reached across the table smiling and held out his hand.

I gave him a section. What else could I do? But I ate the rest before any others would notice.

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 Wednesday, April 7, 2004

A Blade of Grass

I am a blade of grass.

While orange-breasted scissor-tails dart and swerve.
While swept-wing swallows build their April nests.
While the sky is blue and white clouds roll by.
While wildflowers bloom in the golden sun.

I am but a blade of grass.

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 Monday, April 5, 2004

Was That Thunder?

Was that thunder I just heard in the hills? And lightning? And maybe rain?

Rain for the purple salvia in the front. Russian, Mexican, and some grocery store variety my mother bought a year ago that is blooming with purple spikes in magnificent profusion.

And rain for the Purple Trailing Lantana. And the wild pink lantana that soon will rub the mailman's truck as he makes his run down the street.

And rain for the Four Nerve Daisy and the Copper Canyon Daisy and for the Ox-eye Daisies that Bill was willing to give away. And for his Penstemons, too.

And rain for the Boxcar Willie tomato dwarfed by its cage. And for the white-blooming blackberries growing on the wall. And for the little Desert Willow we just planted in the back.

Was that thunder I heard?

Alas, I think not. Tomorrow is garbage day, and someone was wheeling theirs out to the curb.

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 Sunday, April 4, 2004

Brotherly Burdens

We carry the burdens of our childhood with us through our lives. But I am blessed with small ones. Interestingly enough, many of them involve my brother. I call them brotherly burdens.

Hid and Seek. I used to ditch my brother and little cousin, Jenny. Her brother and I would be on one hide-and-seek team, and we'd make them be the other team. Then zoom we'd run away. I carry that burden with me every day.

The couch. When my brother and I were young, before we got separate bedrooms, he and I were goofing off in the TV room. It later became his bedroom, but at the time it had the TV in it and a large wicker-backed antique couch. He pushed me. I pushed him. And (in slow motion) he fell, his elbow gashing the eight-foot long continuous sheet of antique caning on the back. I carry that burden with me every day.

The white coat. My brother always liked his clothes. He chose them with great deliberation and treated them with care. He still does. He gets this from our father. In 1971 or so, he got a new white coat. One day in winter after the snows had come, we were outside, and I started throwing snowballs. Stop! he said. You'll get my coat dirty. I think I stopped. But I thought mean thoughts about him and his dang winter coat. (Get it dirty!? From snow!? That kind of thing.) I've carried the burden of those thoughts with me every day.

Easy burdens. Brotherly burdens. But burdens nevertheless.

So the other day I got a birthday package in the mail. It had many interesting things, artwork by nieces, a little antique suitcase, cassette tapes. And then there was a set of headphones. Black, Pioneer headphones with padding and separate left/right volume controls. I knew them on sight.

These were Ben's, I said to Trudy. When we were growing up.

I always wanted to listen to them. He usually wouldn't let me. And when he did, he watched me like a hawk and waited until I handed them back.

Of course, this wasn't the exact same pair. He got them on eBay. He went out and found them and sent them to me for my birthday.

I figure he had a little brotherly burden of his own.

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 Thursday, April 1, 2004

What Kind of Future

It was years ago. So many years that library books copyrighted in 1967 seemed brand spankin' new. So many years, that I was younger than my kid is now.

It was fifth grade. And Mr. Thurston had us choose stocks and plot their value day by day.

We picked up newspapers and found our choices. Tim picked Barber-Greene on the Over-The-Counter exchange. (Tim had a talent for the making unique choices. Anyway, I always liked the sound of over the counter.) Bill picked AT&T. I picked Disney and Xerox.

Frankly, I don't remember how they did, but I do remember thinking many years later what a killing I could have made if I'd actually bought some shares.

But wait.

Wasn't Disney up for sale recently. Wasn't some company like Diamond Shamrock trying to buy them? (Perhaps I got the details wrong.) But wasn't Eisner lampooned in Schreck? And didn't his shareholders give him a bit of a jolt just a few weeks ago. That can't be good.

And wasn't AT&T just removed from the Dow Jones Industrial Average today? We're talking Atlantic Telephone and Telegraph. The Long Lines people. And look at Lucent, spun off not so long ago -- not exactly Wall Street darlings right now. This can't be good.

And what about Xerox? The document company. Right. How many waves of innovation have they spawned and then missed? I guess down in my heart I do have a tender place for Xerox. I mean if I were in the market for a Xerox machine, I'd think of Xerox first. But that's not saying much.

These were giants of the mid twentieth century. They were rock solid. They say when you invest, you should invest for the long haul, and these companies were our future.

Well look what kind of future the future dragged in.


[Of course, the joke is probably on me. The return from shares bought way back then might well be high. But that wouldn't make such a good rant, would it?]

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