Beachtrip 2008 (a rerun)

I'm double-dipping into the old, failed blog with this post -- it's the story of our beach trip from two years ago. If it meets popular acclaim, perhaps I'll write the update of this year's beach, river, or raccoon trip. To it:

This summer, there was some dissention in the family as to whether we should go to the water park just south of Greensboro or to the ocean (the Atlantic Ocean), which is way off to the right of us I’m told. Since there have been water parks in all the other states we’ve lived in, but very few oceans, we opted for the latter.

On the way to the beach, we played our modified family version of 21 Questions, which would more accurately be called Infinite Questions. Naomi started. I said, “Is it a mineral?”

Naomi said, “I don’t know.”

Sam said, “Is it a place?”

Naomi said, “Sort of."

Zac said, “Is it a person?”

Naomi said, “Yes.”

I said, “Is the person in this car?”

Naomi said, “Yes.”

traci said, “Is the person Blaisey?”

Naomi said, “Yes, good job, Mom.”

traci’s turn took us through a series of questions in which we determined that the answer wasn’t blue, green, a person, a rock, a giraffe, the direction East, the cat, the Previa, Dad, or a turtle. We asked, "Are you sure it’s not the cat?"


We said, "But what about a really BIG rock?, have you thought about making the answer: Pepsi, what about crackers, Cracker Jacks, Jack Sparrow, an unlaiden Sparrow, I think it’s a swallow, no it’s a sparrow, technically it could be either since neither could carry a coconut, are you sure it’s not the color blue?, I mean like a gigantic rock, like bigger than the moon?"

We were, you all can imagine, just about stumped.

Naomi said, “I know, I know. Can you eat it?”

traci said, “Yes.”

Naomi said, “Are you sure it’s not blue?”

traci said, “Yes.”

Naomi said, “Grapes.”

traci said, “No.”

Naomi said, “Macaroni and Cheese.”

traci said, “Yes. Excellent.”

Nailed it. Naomi said since she had already gone, I could have her turn, which is good, because as is my way in all things, I’d been spending their turns preparing for my turn. We had recently watched the spoof Meet the Spartans, which makes fun of the movie 300, which was based on the graphic novel by the same name. I kept the rest of the family easily at bay through the mineral, animal, etcetera part of the questions. Finally, they found my scent with traci’s, “Is it an idea?”

I said, “Yes.”

It took them a while longer to lock down the fact that it was a sentence, but once that happened, they made quick work of me. traci said, “A sentence? That’s not an idea. It’s probably a line from a stupid movie.”

I said, “Yes.”

Sam said, “Is it, ‘Come let us talk by the giant pit of death.’?”

I said, “Yes. Good job, Sam.”

And it was Sam’s turn.

Sam thought for a few minutes, and he said, “Okay, I got one. It’s a good one. But it’s way too hard to guess. So I’ll just tell you. It’s Nothingness.”

Zac said, “That was going to be my first guess.”

Sam said, “Okay, it’s your turn.”

Zac said, “Got one.”

traci said, “Is it bigger than a breadbox?”

Zac said, “You know, Mom, that’s a relative question. A breadbox, after all, could be as big as the ocean.”

Naomi said, “Is it the ocean?”

Zac said, “Yes. gg.” (gg is video game player, or “gamer,” lingo for “Good Game.” traci and I hold five English degrees between the two of us, and neither of us can explain to the kids why they shouldn’t use such shorthand in their speaking or writing, so we lol when Zac ggs us and move on.)

Zac pointed out that we had all already gone once, except for Desi who doesn’t have language, and except for Leah. He said, “I guess it’s Leah’s turn.” Now, this trip was in the middle of July, and she hasn’t gone yet, but we’re expecting her to bust out a really good one any minute now. She’s already had a long time to think about it.

It’s a four-hour trip to the beach, and the Atlantic Ocean was much as I had left it nineteen years before (my only other trip to the Atlantic to date) when I had taken my family to Myrtle Beach for some sort of Engineering conference, except that this time I couldn’t stop thinking about ee cummings’s characters Maggie and Minnie and Molly and May:

maggie and milly and molly and may

By e.e. cummings

maggie and milly and molly and may
went down to the beach (to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn't remember her troubles, and

milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;

and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles; and

may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.

for whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
it's always ourselves we find in the sea

The poem doesn’t have any relevance to what I’m writing, nor does it add a layer to the letter, nor does it inform our reading of this text. It’s just what I think about while I’m at the beach these days. I hadn’t known of the characters when I was twelve, and otherwise, I jumped into the breakers, trying to beat the ocean at its own game. I jumped sideways, and head on, and dove through the waves, and rolled with the big ones, and I’m certain, if I had only had a little more time, I would have won – the same eternal struggle and conclusion I had drawn when I was younger. On the other hand, I hear that the ocean is very much like an Atari game that just seems to go on and on forever.

And that seems equally likely and unlikely to me.

We put on sunblock. We ran in small circles. We ate sandwiches and chips – I’ve always thought it ironic to eat SANDwiches at the beach. We chased Leah, who was chasing Desi, around the sand. We pretended to build a sand castle, but got distracted by the way the waves kept piling up on themselves and piling up and piling up, but not making anything noticeably bigger.

Then we drove home, listening to Modest Mouse’s album The Moon and Antarctica. "And we're never gonna find another ocean on the planet, given that our blood is just like the Atlantic, and that's how the world began, and that's how the world will end." All told, the beach was a fine decision.

The day after our trip, I made mention of the fact that when we left for the ocean, I had been concerned about Leah, who hadn’t had a bowel movement the evening before, but after a short time in the ocean, she was regular – in fact, one could say, extra-regular – again. traci put a checkmark on the chalkboard beside “Things Daddy Should Keep to Himself.” And I pondered the possibility that the salt water had loosened her bowels up and that maybe it, the ocean, was good for all of us in ways that we don’t immediately recognize.

Naomi, who had been washing her breakfast dishes, said, “Well, the ocean does make shit happen.”

Yes. Little one. I suppose it does. But we’ll talk more about that another time. Right now, we have to compile our shopping lists – school supplies – for tomorrow, and hope that there will be something interesting left to learn when we start fourth, seventh, and tenth grades next week.

I suggest you all do the same. Take care, y’all, and we’ll keep you up to date on N.C.


That was two years ago, and we've all gotten much taller or stronger or smarter or more flexible, and we have done many things in the interim, but, if our trip to this summer's (2010) beach trip tells us anything, the ocean is still pretty much the same size and relative shape. "The universe is shaped excactly like the earth -- if you go straight long enough . . ."


Finding Hamlet

For the past week, Zac has been searching around the house, the car, the rock gym, downtown G-boro, the Enmity Shopping Center, the grocery store, several restaurants, the high school, his friends’ houses, his enemies’ houses, some houses he’d never been to but was always curious about, looking for Hamlet. He opened drawers, unfolded laundry, unmade beds, sucked the marrow from the bones of this old house. He scoured parking lots, dusted railroad tracks, scrubbed courtyards with a toothbrush.

We said, “What’s with all the cleaning?”

He said, “I guess I’ve overwrought the metaphor.”

He had. And still, the Dane was nowhere to be found. “Have you seen Hamlet?” he would say. “I’m looking for Hamlet.” “I should never have left Hamlet alone.” Don’t we know this by now, one should never leave Hamlet alone. We were, of course, distraught. They say if we had twelve monkeys with twelve flashlights, we might have been able to find Hamlet. But that was little consolation and very confusing.

For all of you who have been concerned, I found Hamlet and all of his words words words underneath the blue chair in the family room. We should have known.


The Thumb Holder

Last night, as I was walking away from tucking in the girls, Blaisey said, “Once upon a time, there was a dinosaur.” And it was like the oral-story version of 1,000,000 years B.C, and I wanted to look away, but I couldn’t look away. Luckily, Naomi was very tired, so she said, “Blaisey, maybe you could tell the story about the sissy who was too tired to stay awake for a story and the other sissy who loved her very much, so she didn’t tell a story.” So I chuckled and blew them both kisses and said, “Goodnight.”

I turned off the light and listened to Blaisey say, “Once upon a time, there was a sissy who was very tired and couldn’t stay awake . . .” My job here was done. I moved on.

As it turned out, Naomi really couldn’t stay awake. She drifted off. Moments later, Blaisey appeared at our door and said, “I’m hungry.” I said, “It’s very late. What do you want to eat?” She said, “A story.” I said, “I don’t have time to make a story. How about if I carry you to bed and lie down beside you.” She said, “Okay.”

Naomi was asleep, so Blaisey and I agreed to be very very quiet. We agreed to close our eyes. We agreed that I would lie on the floor beside her bed, and she would hold my thumb so I wouldn’t fall off the floor. Naomi did not budge. I stayed as still as a pantomime miming a rock. Blaisey did yoga or some sort of martial art.

I said, “Are you okay, Blaisey?”

She snored a little.

I started to stand. Blaisey said, “Where are you going?”

I said, “To bed.”

She said, “You said you would sleep beside me for a little while.”

I said, “I did.”

She said, “Not a little while enough.”

I lay back down, her hand wrapped tight around my thumb.

Naomi slept peacefully. I lay there biding my time. Blaisey snored while she did some sort of Civil War reenactment. At one point, her arms and legs, well, scattered about the bed, her breathing tame, I began to move towards the stairs. She said, “Daddy, you said you would sleep beside me for a while.”

I said, “Yes, but I’m tired.”

She said, “You can sleep here.”

“But I need to sleep beside mommy.”

“You can bring her up here.”

“But she’s asleep in our own bed.”

“You can bring it up here.”

“But our bed’s heavy.”

“You’re very strong.”

She had a point. I said, “How about if I just lie here a little while longer?”


She held my thumb. I made lesson plans. I wrote future plans. I redrafted the constitution: it went like this: “Just be nice. And let everyone be nice to you.” I wondered why sweat-wicking socks don’t work for me. I thought about how I always (always) overcook spaghetti. I wondered why I don’t just make coffee the night before, so I don’t have to do it first thing while I wake up. Blaisey snored and did little backwards summersaults.

Eventually – just like the first scene from the first Indiana Jones movie – I moved part of her blankey in the place my thumb used to be, and sneaked off into the night.

Blaisey said, “Where are you going?”

I said, “I can’t sleep here tonight.”

She said, “I allow you.”

I said, “But then Mommy will be alone.”

She said, “She has all your t-shirts.” (Long story.)

I walked to the toy trunk and brought her a penguin. (We call it a “piggy” in our family . . . another long story.) I said, “Here, buddy. Every time you squeeze this, I’ll know how much you love me.”

She said, “It might hurt.”

I said, “Well, then, just squeeze the piggy’s thumb.”

She squeezed the piggy’s thumb. I said, “I love you very much, buddy.”

She said, “I know, daddy. I love you very much, too.”

The moral of the story is this: I don’t want much out of life, in fact just three things. 1.) A good I.P.A. each night – very hoppy, a touch of citrus, very bitter (bitter enough to make me wonder why I like I.P.A.s. 2.) Equality for all people in all ways period. And. 3.) I wish that each night somebody would want to hold onto my thumb for longer than I want anybody to hold onto my thumb – it’s probably the best thing in the world.

I realize that’s a lot to ask, but it’s a big world, and today seems like an appropriate time to ask for such things, so I’ll keep my fingers crossed, my arms folded, and my yin curled infinitely around my yang.

Post Script: if anybody knows where I can get a grant or a fellowship for one or several or all of my kids to hold my thumb each night, please tell me. I’d be eternally grateful, and would reciprocate by holding your thumb at a business meeting or while you call a credit card company or whatever some days.


Running Tip of the Day

Hill Repeats:

Step One: Find a Hill.
Step Two: Wait until Garbage Day.
Step Three: Run up and down the Hill.

Many of the runners I’ve coached – well, so far it’s only been me, but I feel that I’ve developed such a strong bond with myself that the number will grow exponentially (someday to as many as 1^23 runners under my tutelage) – many of the runners I’ve coached have wondered, “Why would you pick garbage day to run up and down hills?

And, to be honest, even I wasn’t certain at first. Today, though, I know that I chose garbage day in order to teach myself to breathe through my mouth and maximize my oxygen intake. Which just goes to show me that I should never question my own coaching advice. Luckily, according to Ray Carver, we all do better in the future.


Back to School 2010

Naomi turned eleven last week – for those of you keeping track, that’s two of the same number. She starts advanced tumbling and trampoline class on Tuesday, middle school and playing the trumpet on Wednesday, and level 4 gymnastics on Thursday. Her true passion, though, is drums, but middle school band doesn’t introduce percussion until January. I only mention this, because a drummer will bring our family one step closer to our dream of being a brass / string / percussion / piano cover band of Modest Mouse.

Zac and Sam are still on the bouldering team, climbing tiny mountains, mostly upside down. It’s frustrating to watch, because if they knew as much about gravity as I know, they’d fall right off the wall, but they seem to have fun.

Sam starts high school this year and is excited about his new academic courses. Too academic, if you ask me. I think we all know that the whole idea behind evolution is for one’s offspring to surpass one’s self in every way – well, I think we all know that Sam’s well past that point. In fact, until he invents a time machine, the only superlatives I have in this relationship are that I’m older and my beard’s bigger.

Zac still works at the rock gym belay certifying the hell out of everything in sight. He’s taking up cross country for his senior year and seems to be having fun. Given the current economic climate, he thinks it’s in his best interest to apply for colleges for next fall. traci and I are all like, “Dude, like, whatever, man. Like maybe you should just hitchhike for a while or learn to ski or just chill out for a year or two.” And Zac said, “Don’t try to control me.” So we all just turned back to our Ironman cartoons and went on with our lives.

Blaisey is excited to start back to her ABC school Wednesday. She graduated with the turtle class last spring and looks forward to being a duck this year. She’ll be continuing on learning alphabet, not-biting, and violin. I don’t need to say it, but The All Connor Modest Mouse Cover Band just sounds so good. Luckily for me, I’m hell with a kazoo, or else I’d have to stick to being the band manager. Meanwhile, she is still much bigger than even the biggest bread box I’ve ever seen, and growing. As the fourth tallest member of our household, I celebrate the notion that it will be another decade before she surpasses me.

traci and I are both teaching three classes this fall, and boy are our brains tired. Meantime, we’ve also started writing a collection of short-short stories, and we’re going to start submitting those to journals soon. More importantly, we’re thinking this should definitely be our year to win the lottery. I guess we’re just going to have to pick the right day to buy the card.

Until then, we wish you all the best in your fall-time endeavors. Keep your eyes open for air sharks. One never knows what such creatures will be up to during migration season.

Also, Desi says Hi:

The Story Prize

traci recently entered her book in The Story Prize contest for 2010. As a follow-up many entrants were asked to respond to some questions or write an essay. She did both.

One of the questions she did not answer went like this: “At what stage do you start seeking feedback on your work and from whom?”

I suggested this answer: “I’d be interested to see what people say in my obituary. Until then, I’d just as soon everyone minds her or his own business.”

traci chose not to include my suggestion. Larry Dark posted her response on his blog. Other good writers' work is there as well. Check it out.

"The Whale Song"

"The Whale Song" has been my song of the day since about early July. I don't really want to say anything about it. Except it's good and I like it.

Queen Itinerary

When I got back from a long run this morning, Naomi had made breakfast in bed for traci – eggs, toast, milk – and had left this note beside her plate:

Itinerary Queen

Movie hour
Hawaiian time
free hour
get dressed

My favorite part of the list: "get dressed" comes, apparently, right around dusk. That’s my kind of life.

Running Update

Towards the end of last school year, after a rather long run, Blaisey said to me, “Daddy, you’re tootie.” I explained to her that sometimes when I run, my G.I. system gets to working and I get a touch of the gas. She said, “Oh,” and kept watching Ironman cartoons. A few weeks later on the way home from her ABC school, we stopped into the convenience store, and she said, “Why are we stopping here, Daddy?” I told her we were getting some gas. She said, “Are we going for a run?” No, little turtle, not this time.

Last night, Desi stayed right beside me for a twenty-five minute run. When I got done, I said to traci, “Why is it that I’m sweating like crazy, and Desi’s not even breathing hard?” She said, “I don’t know. What setting was the treadmill on?” But I couldn’t remember, so we just chalked it up as another mystery of the universe.


Butternut Squash

It's an ancient family story, and one I've heard so many times, as Uncle Dewey would say, that I'm actually starting to believe I was there for it. When I was four, five, six, we were visiting Aunt Jan at her school. Jan had a goat -- Guinevere, if I recall -- and, of course, I wanted nothing to do with it. Pappap told me I might oughtta pet her, that she's very friendly and likes attention. Nuh-uh, are you crazy?

Pappap said, "Why don't you want to pet her?"

I said, "Why would I want to pet her?"

And, according to our family custom, we just kind of stared dumbly at each other for a while.

As dusk settled in, he said to me, "Well. What if somebody asked you if you've ever petted a goat?"

I said, "Dunno."

He said, "Well, this way, you'll be able to say that you have."

I don't remember if I felt like he had me cornered or if I just stumbled over a rock and put my hand on Guinevere, but I did end up petting her that day. She and I got along quite well for many years to come.

About the time I entered high school, Pappap tried to conjole me into cutting the big yard down at the camp with a reel mower. He said, "Well. What if . . ."

I said, "Dad, nobody's ever asked me to pet a goat yet, and they're not likely to care how I tend the yard."

Still and all, I kind of wish I had cut the grass with a reel mower, and I'm not even sure why. I told Pappap that once, and asked him if he knew why. He said he didn't. Proving once again, that Pappap's wisdom is sometimes so deep even he can't see past it.

I mention all this in order to say this: sometimes, the experience has to be sought out, other times, it's just there. For instance, after tonight, if anybody asks me if I've ever burnt a steamed vegetable, I can honestly say, "Yes, in fact, I have." traci and the kids and I will dine tonight on a slightly charred butternut squash. Here's to new experiences.


An Atlas, Some Vikrell, and a Premium Beer

So, yes, it’s true, traci and I and various numbers of our children drove 3,000 miles over the past few weeks, wishing at every turn that we had an atlas. “We always have an atlas,” we told each other. “Where might it have gone?” we asked. But it was nowhere to be found. Until, that is, we pulled into our own driveway in N.C. and looked in the glovebox for house keys. Figures.

Meanwhile, during the 500 mile stretch from Maga and Pappap’s camp to our own home, we stopped into the Store Whose Name Should Not Be Mentioned and tried to buy an atlas. You know how the store is – enormous and blinding – but I walked the quarter mile back to the automotive department. They had three maps of Pittsburgh and one of Canada. No atlas. Still, I asked the man behind the counter if they sold atlases. He said, “You mean like a book of maps?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Oughtta be in with the books.” After I looked through the quarter-acre book section, I asked the woman at the service desk if she had a book of maps. She said, “Like an atlas?” I said, “Yes.” She said, “Oughtta be in automotive.”

Now, here’s the thing. We all know that the Store Whose Name Should Not Be Mentioned started using computers in 19 freaking 68, and I’m not saying I’m super-tech-savvy, but in those past forty-two years shouldn’t someone have taught her how to type “atlas” in the where-it-is-in-the-store box on the computer?

It’s been like that this summer. Earlier, we went to our favorite home improvement store looking for a special order shower basin. Between the two of us, we’ve done a fair amount of building. We’ve done a great deal of research into supplies. As far as amateurs go, we know our stuff. Still, traci pointed at a picture in the catalog and said, “This one says it’s made out of Vikrell. What’s that?” The man answered, “Vikrell.” traci said, “Yes, but what is it? Will it scratch? Is it like porcelain or like fiberglass? Is it heavy? Is it dense? Is it synthetic or natural? Will it dent or rust or what?” The man said, “Oh, it’s nothing. It’s a kind of material.” The three of us stared at each other for a few seconds. Then we walked away and bought our shower basin from our second favorite home improvement store.

At the beer distributor, I asked, “What’s the difference between this brand’s lager and it’s premium lager?” The salesperson said, “One’s premium, one ain’t.”

A teacher once told me, “In order to be a good teacher, you don’t have to know all the answers, you just have to know where to find the answers.” And I’ve found that to be true. But I’ve also found that to be true of working in the steel mill and as a hoddie and as a janitor. I long for a time when people understood their jobs, when, maybe, they cared a little more. I don’t know if such a time exists. I’m probably being nostalgic for a myth. I’m probably longing for a moment which only exists in nostalgia. Might as well pile melodrama on nostalgia and close with some words of Nick Carraway: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”


summer writing

You’ll all recall it’s been a few years since Ange noticed the new external lock on the outhouse door down to the camp. When he asked what was the deal with that, Pappap told him we can’t have an outhouse within X feet of our brand new septic tank. We can, however, put a lock on just about anything and call it a tool shed, and, well, you can put a tool shed just about anywhere. Angelo said, “Oh, I thought you was just worried about someone stealing your shit.”

Long story short, I recently published a series of four short pieces in which Ange figures prominently. Him and Dan, you know, some pieces that are part of my new manuscript of very short writings that I call Man Made Man. Here’s a line from the third piece: “One more thing shoved deep in their guts that makes them, every once in a while, pound their fists on the steel and stone of their respective lives for, what you might say in looking at them, is no apparent reason.”

I only mention this so as to mention the pieces are in Portland Review issue 56 volume 3, which marks the first time traci and I have writing in the same journal at the same time. (We’d both been in Fourteen Hills but not the same issue.) Her short story “Goat” is also in her collection Recipes for Endangered Species (Tarpaulin Sky Press), and here’s a couple lines: “Some of Phil’s friends touch the dog, but only on the nose, far away from the knuckled damage. They are curious and ashamed in the same way they are secretly afraid of black people.” Zing! More proof that I married up.

The above, by the way, is all prefatory to this: traci gave two readings in NYC towards (I’ve been back in PA long enough that “towards” is now pronounced “t’oards” again) the end of July. The first of which was a release party for the new edition of LIT Magazine hosted by powerHouse Books. Here’s a short paragraph from her story “Zombie” which was included in the journal: “I imagine Moab as the earth turned inside out. Sage burgning. Red rocks whimpering in the god-awful heat. A wolf worn-out with howling. Selenographers on bikes, on trails, with packs that fail to open. The sky a tumor and the rare thrust from the earth. Think of the final scene of Carrie, for example.” Hazah! Such range, such beauty – a rare and beautiful talent.

traci read alongside three other amazing writers: Mike Young, Nate Pritts, and Eduardo Jiménez Mayo (who read his own translation of Rafael Pérez Gay). But don’t just take my word for it, watch the video recap by DJ Dolack here: http://coldfrontmag.com/news/launch-parties-in-nyc -- totally worth eight minutes: a great reading.

Meanwhile, after several weeks and a couple thousand miles of travel, we’re back baby in NC where the crepe myrtles are always in bloom and the heat makes you wish you’d stayed home today.