I have felt so oddly out-of-whack for the last week or so, kind of whipsawing all over the place. Haven’t written anything besides the journal (and work-stuff, of course), and even when I’ve sat down to do a little blogging or Propelling or even just Tweeting, there’s just been no interest or energy or anything resembling focus. Lots of hours filled with chainsawing and hacking branches and hauling them to the woods and being exhausted, and then more spent trying to bend a crushed chain-link fence back into place. Restful hours spent making progress on "Zelda: Twilight Princess" because I couldn’t get my mind to stay in a straight line long enough to do much else.
It ends tonight, even if this just turns into a babblefest. Tonight, I mowed the front yard. I watched "Fringe" with my daughter – which, although I think it’s definitely a grade B show, I’m more than willing to watch if it’s something she & I get to share. Besides, it opens the door for Season One of X-Files, which I have a feeling she’ll dig.
I’ve made the phone calls I meant to, I’ve sent the emails I needed to, and now, here. I. Am.
I didn’t cut this piece from the tree specifically with Mr. Buckell’s comment in mind, but when it fell from the branch I was cutting, I made a mental note to go back and snag it during the cleanup. Now it’s sitting here in my office, next to some fossils and action figures and a box of "Collect All 21" copies destined for a friend’s table at next month’s Screaming Tiki Con. With any luck, a week from tomorrow this wedge of maple earns a bit of real estate here amongst the geekstuff.
See that? It’s about 70 feet of massive tree lying across our backyard, courtesy of Hurricane Ike’s remnants that cranked across Ohio on Sunday. Cutting it up is a pain in the ass, and I’m sure fixing the fence will be even worse.
And yet, it’s an excuse for me to say, "Hey, look, for a little while, anyway, I’ve got something in common with John Scalzi and Tobias Buckell!" (Oddly enough, I’m currently reading Buckell’s "Ragamuffin." Before that, it was Scalzi’s "The Last Colony," preceded by Buckell’s "Crystal Rain" and Scalzi’s "The Ghost Brigades.") I should take a branch if I go to their book signing in Columbus next month.
Friday night football this weekend? Not so good.
Saturday night, Buckeyes v. USC? I’m not even linking to it. (Bowling Green/Boise State? Another stinker.)
And after lunch, I met up with someone I hadn’t seen in almost 20 years, hanging out at Borders to give him a copy of "Collect All 21," since he was there for the earliest years of my Star Wars fandom. Eavesdroppers & onlookers would have been hard-pressed, I think, to find a geekier table in the shop: Things started out with Star Wars, shifted to general science fiction books, cartoons, television, moved over to Japanese literature and movies, walked around paleontology for awhile, since I’d brought a box of fossils from last weekend, talked space exploration, moved on to board and strategy games and even squeezed in some recollection of treks we’d made through woods and swamps when we were little.
All things considered, it was good to have stockpiled that fine afternoon, given what happened to the Buckeyes that night.
After turning the TV off on that fiasco, I fired up the Wii again and finally got past my biggest sticking point so far in Twilight Princess and managed to make it past the subsequent puzzle, too.
So my Geekside saves the day vs. Footballfan. And hopefully it carries over, because as die-hard as I am about the Browns, I’m not betting anything on tonight, either.
Check out Broome, Western Australia.
Looks nice. Bonus points for having a community lost-and-found board online. ("Lost: Black, male, short haired cat, has golden eyes, answers to the name Jedi." I’m not making that up, and for what it’s worth, I’m pulling for you, guy.)
Why Broome? Because this week, I shipped a copy of "Collect All 21!" there, and that just astounds me in the coolest way. Direct surface distance? 10,315 miles. (Straight through the Earth would cut a couple thousand off that – 8,904 miles by this calculator.) And according to a couple antipodal maps – yes, I’m nerding out here – it’s almost directly opposite my home on the other side of the planet. The only way I could ship something further would be if someone parked a boat way off the southwest coast of Australia and set up residency.
Confession – In a moment of spaz, I lose geek points by joking to a friend this afternoon that I can only go further if someone from the International Space Station wants a copy. His reply? "I will respectfully point out to you that the ISS is orbiting only
about 225 miles above us when it cruises by, so you’re going way
farther to get to Broome! (Granted, the ISS would be a more DIFFICULT
and COOL delivery, but it’s only as far away as like Dayton in a
Dammit. More mistakes like that and I’ll never get to the Academy like Biggs did.
Someday, I’ll write about a painting I used to have.
For now, I’ll just share this amazing story, "Mister Bookseller" (I don’t know why there’s a 14-and-over age-check – the whole thing’s totally safe) and give tremendous thanks that I have a friend like Adam who knows me well enough to send it my way.
On a lighter note, I stayed home today to take care of my sick daughter, so I watched Pee-wee’s Big Adventure for the first time and wrote about it at Field’s Edge.
…that’s right, I’m quoting the freaking iCarly theme song, right up there in the post header. No regrets. My daughter and I made pilgrimage number seven to Fossil Park and Bowling Green yesterday, reaching new heights of silliness along the way, including both of us belting out that TV show intro at lung-bursting levels. (What? Why do I know the lyrics? Because I drive her and her friend home from the YMCA twice a week and THEY know the lyrics. My brain cells really had little choice in the matter.)
Our fossil haul this year was pretty ho-hum – different kinds of brachiopods, nothing spectacular (except for one really nice complete specimen I found and which disappeared from my pile while I wasn’t looking – I blame one of those boys running around, but I’m not bitter and I’ve >cleansing exhale< given it back to the universe); a few trilobite bits, some coral stems. It was a gorgeous day for digging, though: Sunny but not blazing hot, a nice breeze coming through the quarry.
We were only there about two hours, I think, but the day’s become less about the actual digging and
finding than about the trip itself: Up before the sun, hitting the road while it’s cool outside, snacking along the way and driving two-lane roads through places we’ve never seen. Wellington, Ohio, for example: Never been there before yesterday. Home of Archibald Willard, painter of "Spirit of ’76". Oberlin, too – heard of it, of course, but this was my first pass-through.
Bowling Green was busier than usual, with the Black Swamp Arts Festival going on and Minnesota in town for a football game. The Dairy Queen where we got our traditional ice cream desserts sells glass-bottled pop, so we picked up a couple Cokes to drink during our walk around campus.
I’ve long believed that Coke is best from a glass bottle, but my daughter noticed first that these were particularly sweet & tasty, and then we noticed a couple more things in quick-fire succession: The bottles were bigger than the 8-oz "souvenir" type Cokes you can get in most groceries around here, but not the full 16-ouncers I remember from when I was a kid. In fact, these were marked "355 ml," and while I was noticing that, I read the other stuff printed on the bottle: "Refresco." "No Retornable." And the kicker, of course, "Hecho en Mexico." And there, on a label stuck to near the neck, I read the ingredient list: Water. Sugar. Caramel Color. Phosphoric Acid. Natural Flavors. Caffeine.
We walked around BGSU sipping our Cokes, playing on the marble stairs in University Hall (she took the shot of our bottles sitting on the steps), stopping to look at a squirrel in a tree and the dozens of cicada husks clinging to the branches. She asked where I’d lived, and I pointed out the buildings and, in one case, the window to my room from the second half of my sophomore year.
As we headed east out of Bowling Green in the late afternoon, she fell asleep less than 10 miles out of town (another tradition), and I scanned the AM radio stations for a football game to keep me from drifting myself. While she slept, I passed through a small town behind a guy on a motorcycle with a stuffed moose in the sidecar.
We drove on, living life, breathing air.
This is Charles Wallace. He’s named after the little boy in "A Wrinkle in Time" and was one of a litter born to a stray cat behind a house in Orlando 13 or 14 years ago. When Jenn & I first adopted him, he whined incessantly, climbed almost to the ceiling on the window screens and would run into your ankles full-bore trying to escape the house when you came in the front door.
He got so crazy that we figured he was miserable, so we set him free.
His mother (We called her "Brian." Because she was a Stray Cat, that’s why.) dragged him back to the front porch and wouldn’t leave until we’d taken him back inside. She gave us a look that said, "Uh-uh. You touched him last."
Charles Wallace has also been known to go by Chaz Waz or Cheez Whiz or Chuck, or various nicknames implying that his mental capabilities made his actual moniker ironic.
As I said, we’ve had him more than a dozen years now. He’s a big guy – muscled, not chubby – and he’s getting up there, cat-wise, but he’s always kept his kittenish face, so even as he got larger and older, he still looked a lot like his small, younger self.
Until recently. He started acting funny. Not sick or anything, just … odd. Wouldn’t come to dinner, didn’t eat enthusiastically when we put food in front of him, had a kind of dazed look. Jenn started feeding him baby food by syringe, and he drank water normally, and didn’t seem to be in pain or anything when you petted him or picked him up. Never got angry the way he does when he’s nursing a sore leg from a rasslin’ match with one of the other cats, or when he’s just had enough of your shit and doesn’t want touched, thankyouverymuch.
Then we noticed his pupils were different sizes, and his left eye seemed strangely drooped. Vet time.
No sign of a stroke, they said, no feline leukemia (whew!).
He’s gone deaf. Or is going deaf – he seems to have some slight hearing left. On one hand, this is a relief, because other than that, he’s fine. He doesn’t go outside anymore anyway, and the other cats aren’t picking on him.
But almost overnight, he’s lost that kittenish face, and it’s strange and sad to see him walking through the house more slowly, knowing that his world is different than it was a week ago.
When I was in high school, my Dad gave me his long, heavy United States Air Force overcoat. For two or three years, it was my favorite coat, and I lived for the fall and winter months when I could put it on and flip the navy blue collar up against the wind and rain. My friend Aaron had his own black trench, and the two of us were big into James Bond and spies and notions of espionage. (We turned the Chevy Sprint I drove into our own Goldfinger-inspired car, tying the cord of a massive old-fashioned phone handset to the emergency brake – because, you young’ns, car phones were once super-rare – stocked the sidepanels of the doors with toy pistols, fastened those faux buttons marked "ejector seat" and "machine guns" inside the glove compartment and set one of those "missile launcher" noisemaking black boxes on the dashboard.)
Dad’s coat, though, went beyond the whole spy image: I just loved wearing it. Loved feeling its weight on my shoulders, the sleeves a little long and reaching down past the ends of my wrists. Loved buttoning it up on the cold days, loved windy days when I could wear it open, my hands punched down in the pockets as anchors while the bottom whipped around past my knees.
For my 17th birthday, Aaron got me a shrink-wrapped black-and-white print of the New York skyline – we had an ongoing debate about whether NYC or L.A. would be the better place to live – and on the back, along with a long, heartfelt note, was this cartoon (an Aaron Archer original!) of me wearing Dad’s coat:
I’m saying, "Writers, actors and artists make a difference in this thing called LIFE."
I don’t know if I ever said that directly, but Aaron clearly gets me, because he was right then, and he’s still right now, almost 21 years later.
The night before my daughter’s first day of middle school, she and I went up there after dinner to make sure she could open her locker. She also brought her three-ring binders and stuff so she wouldn’t have to haul it all on the bus the next morning.
We found her locker, and I looked at the piece of paper with the combination typed on it, then closed my fingers and thumb over the tumbler to give it a twirl.
I didn’t even have to think: My fingers just knew the rhythm, even though the numbers were different, and as I pinched the metal grip to lift the latch, I anticipated the small ka-chunk from inside the door of the mechanism sliding into place and then the memories of middle school started coming down like rain.
The locker didn’t open, though, and we had to ask a passing custodian for a little help – you have to kind of jiggle the handle a couple times, it turns out – but this whole middle school thing wound up engulfing me for a few days.
See, we live in the same neighborhood where I grew up, so ever since preschool ended, my daughter has been going through the same halls, classrooms, playgrounds, gymnasiums and cafeterias that I did. When I was a kid, we moved to this school district the summer before I started first grade, so I got the whole 12-year experience here. By the time my daughter graduates, she’ll actually have a year’s edge on me, since she went to kindergarten here, too.
Point is, I’d gotten used to visiting the elementary school and being in those rooms and halls again. Even though there were still some weird, sudden flashbacks from time to time – “See that cupboard door with the hinges that look different from the rest? I broke those when I was in first grade, swinging on it.” – I was comfortable with going back and seeing my kid in those surroundings while still remembering what it was like when the locker tops were above my head.
This year, though, is sixth grade, and talking with people this summer about it, I found myself thinking that the middle school years probably represent the extremes of the social atmosphere.
By the time you’re in high school, I figure, you pretty much know who your friends are and who to steer clear of, and there’s a general looking-ahead attitude since graduation’s on the horizon and you’ve got that whole landscape beyond to think about.
Middle school, though, things were back-and-forth seemingly by the hour. On the one hand, these were the years when I think my friends really started becoming my friends. When we started talking about stuff we could never imagine saying to our parents, pondering actions we’d never have considered just a year before, riding the elementary school bus.
On the other – man, people can be total dickwads in middle school. These were the ear-flicking years; the years of getting shoved for no good reason by someone you barely know; the years when God forbid, you tell someone about a girl you like and sonofabitch suddenly you feel like you’re wearing a big “I (heart) D.B.” sandwich board walking between classes.
The subtle differences between elementary and middle school showed themselves in small places: When my daughter and I sat in the orchestra room, one of the old music stands next to us had the words “dick” and “peckerhead” scratched into the black paint.
Oh, I am NOT, notnotNOT ready for this.
When I was in sixth grade, a friend of mine told me the hottest girl in the school was this eighth-grader I’d never heard of. Toward the end of the year, I think on a dare from this guy, I went to her table in the cafeteria and asked her to sign my yearbook. “To a really sexy guy,” she wrote.
Oh, dear God, that’s not embarrassing, at all, is it? Dad got a kick out of that one, finding my yearbook at home after school. He and mom were also especially interested in my friend Larry’s inscription: “To John, a nice kid who loves insults, D&D and dirty jokes.”
Man, we did know some foul-mouth material, didn’t we? Crap.
When I was in seventh grade – and still in the youngest class of the three-grade building, thanks to a summer shift that brought the freshmen over and bumped the sixth-graders back to the elementary building – I had another encounter with the girl who’d mocked me with “sexy.” This one was total chance happening – I was older and wiser now, naturally, a cool seventh-grader who’d gotten over thinking she was hot – as I passed her in the cafeteria and had to duck her purse as she swung it crazily over her shoulder in a wide arc without even looking around.
“Shit!” I heard myself say, “What the fuck are you doing?” (’Cause swearing’s cool, dammit.)
“Awww, don’t swear, little boy,” she mocked as she walked away with her friends.
“HEY.” Oh shit. “COME HERE.”
Voice of doom; tell my parents I loved them: Mr. Fetters was on cafeteria duty, sitting at his little table a few yards away, now beckoning me with his booming voice. I heard in later years that Fetters was a fantastic guy and a great coach, but since I never played sports and never had him as a teacher, this would be my only meeting with him, and at this point, he was still one scary motherfucker, stocky and red-faced and intense and with this shock of long, curly rockstar hair.
“What did you say?” Ohshitohshitohshit…
“Um, that girl, she almost hit me with her purse and –”
“What did you say?
“I, uh, said some words –”
“What. Did. You. Say?”
“Think your mom would want to hear you talking like that?”
“I don’t want to hear it either.”
And that was that.
The rest of the day, I found myself thinking that I should go home and tell my mom that I’d almost gotten hit in the head with a purse and that I said the F-Word in response, but I thought she’d understand, given the situation, and then I could take her approval verbally back to Mr. Fetters the next day… of course, I did no such thing.
Last week, after the third day of the school year, there was an open house night to meet the teachers that started with everyone gathering in the gym that the school also uses for band concerts and dances.
Those are the bleachers where I sat at one Halloween dance talking with a girl I think might have liked me even if we were both too freaked out to actually dance. And through that door is the hall where there used to be a pay phone, and during another dance, I called this girl who was a friend of my neighbor. She went to a different school, and we’d had kind of a moment the previous summer and I asked her if she wanted to come up to the dance. She didn’t. And over there, in front of the stage…
When I was in seventh grade, a new girl came to our school. Long, dark hair, freckles and serious brains. I admired her from afar that year, mostly across the three rows of desks in science class.
Spring Dance, last big social event of the school year, and they’re announcing the winners of the annual Class Poll. You know the drill: We spent two minutes in homeroom one morning writing down which boys and girls were Best Dressed, Class Clown, stuff like that.
Suddenly, I’m stunned to hear my name called.
Oh. Freaking. Joy. This is an “award” only in the sense that I was “sexy” the year before. Honestly, it’s like handing me a Big Giant Nerd shirt. I tried to be nonchalant, failing miserably, I’m sure, threading my way to the stage to receive my purple-inked, mimeographed award with my name written in blue ballpoint. So wrapped up am I in getting this humiliation over with that I hear nothing for the next few minutes while I grab the sheet of paper, fake a smile, then slink back to my spot along the bleachers with Most Studious folded and crammed into my back pocket.
Almost 25 years later, I can remember that exact spot on the floor where I was standing when my science-class crush well, just appeared out of nowhere, clutching her own “Most Studious” award.
And then she said, in an almost-squeaky but still cute-and-kind-of-assertive voice, “So, would Mr. Studious like to dance?”
You know that shot from “A Charlie Brown Christmas” when the perpetual loser is asked to direct the Christmas play, and his eyes go all googly and he just goes, “Me!?!?” I may have responded in a more collected manner than that, but just barely, because that’s
how I felt inside.
We slow danced to “Heaven,” by Bryan Adams.
The song still gives me faint flip-flops in my stomach, and there’s an echo of strange calm from a long-gone afternoon when the world stopped around me for one dance with a dark-haired girl voted Most Studious in her seventh-grade class.
Then my daughter and I are walking around some more.
There’s the industrial arts room where we built gumball machines out of wood and Mason jars and where I tried to make a ceramic chess set for dad but the shelves inside the kiln collapsed, leaving me with just two pieces that he kept in the den for years anyway. I also slept through an earthquake in there one year during study hall.
Here’s the rust-orange sixth grade hallway where Mike and I used to play our two-man abridged version of Dungeons & Dragons when we could wheedle passes from teachers to get out of study hall.
And there’s my kid, walking ahead with one of her friends, laughing, their heads tilted close together, down a hall that once seemed a lot longer.