Thursday, February 25, 2016

Late from school

The kid came home at 3:10.  School gets out at 2:20 and it takes half an hour to get home on the bus, which means he usually gets home at 2:50.  So what the hell made him twenty minutes late?  These are the questions that seem simple, and yet answers elude me.

Where have you been, I asked him.  School, he said.  True enough.  What about after school?  He didn't answer, just grabbed a snack cake from the tall cabinet and stomped up to his room.

And look, I know how it sounds.  I'm not such a hardass that I'll ream the kid for getting home a little late from school.  I try to give him his independence or whatever.  It's just -- to get from school to home takes a known number of minutes.  Five or even ten minutes late suggests traffic, or forgetting a book in class, or chatting with a neighbor -- a brief, unexpected delay.  An hour or more late, ok, sure, he's got something else going on, another activity of some kind, a little heads up would have been nice but I suppose I don't have to know everything.  But twenty minutes late is too long for a delay and too short for an activity -- it's only enough time to do something wrong.

He drinks now -- I know that.  His mother says it's not big deal, and it's not, obviously, but it annoys me.  He knows a server at Chili's, some girl in college, so he and his friends go there every Friday and Saturday and get a table and get a bunch of appetizers and their server friend brings them preposterously colored drinks all night.  I don't know how this has been going on for weeks and the girl hasn't been fired yet.  He comes home with his breath stinking of weak booze and fruit mixes; his teeth are stained blue or red or purple.  I'm always right about to lay into him but his mother cuts me off and says she's just glad he got home safe and asks, did you have fun? like he's coming home from flying a kite.  He says they take turns being designated driver but I've never seen him come home sober.  That's not what he was doing today, obviously, it's just to say -- I know him, and he's rotten.

I went up to his room and knocked on his door.  He was blasting something on his television way too loud.  He called out WHAT, already annoyed.  I told him I didn't want to shout through the door and that he should open up or I was coming in.  He shuffled some papers and shoved them into his desk, it sounded like, and then came to the door.

"Turn off that damn TV," I said.  "We never should have let you bring it up here."  He stomped over and made a big show of turning it off.  I was actually glad he had the TV; it was my idea; it keeps him out of our hair, and it's useful leverage.  "I'm going to cut the cable cord outside, see how you like that."  He sat on the bed and looked out the window, away from me.

"Return to the door," I said.  I wanted him to face me.  He sighed and dragged himself over like his shoulders weighed a thousand pounds.

You never think your son is going to grow up to hate you.  Well, that's not true, I had an inkling.

"What were those papers I heard?"

"What papers?"  He avoided eye contact, which, I knew from television crime shows, was a sign of deception.

"I heard you shuffling some papers before I came in.  You threw them in your desk.  What were they?"

"They were just some magazines."

Preposterous, that he thought I couldn't tell the difference between the ruffling of papers and a glossy magazine, even behind a closed door.  But why lie and say they were magazines?  Even if he thought he could fool me (fat chance), did he not realize that magazines opened himself up to all kinds of uncomfortable questions?  That in many ways, magazines were more suspicious than papers?  I was a bit thrown off, so I decided to respond with that old standby, explosive rage.  "I know the difference between loose papers and magazines, who do you think I am?"

"It was just homework."

I had him changing his story; it was difficult not to grin.  "So first they were magazines, and now they were homework sheets.  Why, if we're here for much longer, soon they'll have been elephants!"

"You're not making sense, Dad."  He always did that; skirt my traps by pretending not to understand their logic.  Well, he's dim, but he's not that dim.

I wanted to press further, but ultimately decided to move on for now and circle back to the papers later if he squirmed free on the main issue.  "Where were you today after school?"

"I don't know," he said, "on the bus?"  Every answer was another question with him.

"So why were you twenty minutes late?"

"I wasn't that late."

"You want to explain to my watch that you weren't late?"  I tapped on my watch for emphasis.

"I didn't say I wasn't late, I said I wasn't twenty minutes late," he insisted.  "I was like five minutes late."

"Well let's start there," I said.  "Now we have an admission from you that you were late, and I appreciate that you're being honest with me."  This was a ploy -- let him feel comfortable with his story, and soon enough he would contradict himself, and then it would just be a matter of pointing out the inconsistencies and he'd have no choice but to acknowledge that I'd been right.  "So the question is, why were you late at all?"

"I don't know, I was just walking slower?"

"Well, that's another lie," I said calmly, "shall we begin to tally them up?"

He scoffed.  "Can I close this door now?"

I burst into the room.  I seemed to pass through his body like it was a mist, odd.  I marched over to his desk and yanked open his drawer.  There was a single sheet of paper inside, with "Fuck Dad" written neatly in pencil on the top line.  "Ah ha!" I cried.

"I told you, it's homework!"

"Homework, indeed!  For your 'fuck dad' class?"

"Give it back!" he screamed, but he stayed where he was, as if his feet were rooted to the spot.  In fact, his feet were still facing out the door, where they were before I'd stormed in; he'd had to spin at the hips to face me.

"So this is what you think of your father!"  I waved the paper under his nose.

"I guess."

"You guess?  You guess 'fuck Dad?'"  We were going nowhere.  The conversation, the situation, the relationship, it was all going nowhere.  "Is this why you were late?  Were you writing this filth?"

"Yes."  He had no spirit left -- I was losing hold of him.

"Don't evade me!"

He put on a pair of sunglasses and pulled a skateboard out from behind the door.  "Surf's up, dude," he said.

"You don't make sense, you don't hold together," I screamed at him, "you lack depth, you have no reason to be, and you're not interesting or amusing!  Why are you even here?"  His posters and his pictures all fell off the walls.

He shrugged and blew a big cocky bubble with his bubble gum.  He mouthed words but all that came out was a low, even whimper.

"Louder!"  The air conditioner and the furnace both started blasting at the same time, the TV turned back on and the vacuum howled from where the downstairs used to be.  My son was saying something to me but I couldn't hear it, and everything was wrong.

I searched for something to say -- something witty and droll, maybe, or something cutting and brutal -- something coherent and true that would bring things to a close, but I reached down deep and there was nothing there.  The fact is he was never there, my son, he was never real to me, it was you.  It was you I was trying to reach, to shout at and beg for clarity or meaning or forgiveness, but the fact is, I don't have anything to say to you anymore.  And I'm not angry, it's just how it is.  You were a light in my head but it got switched off and now all that's up there is the parts that tell me to eat and sleep and go to the bathroom.

"You all right over there, Pops?"  My son punctuated his sentence by rapping on a pair of small bongos and flashing a peace sign.  I ripped the world apart and was absorbed into a blackness that was very bright, and what does that even mean?

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Air Message

Imagine this: a world in which your next communication is just a few keystrokes away.  Type a few words into a box -- as few or as many as you'd like! -- choose a recipient, click the "Deliver" button, and that message appears in his or her Message-Box, not in a few days or a few hours, but AT NEARLY THE SPEED OF LIGHT!  And all of this is done without having to lick a stamp or work a fax machine or hear the sharp hiss of the dial tone in your delicate ear.  It sounds like an insane future, right?  Well that future is here today: with the amazing power of Air Messages.

This invention is completely different from email.

Air Message is a revolutionary communication platform that will change the way we work, play, communicate, and do other stuff.  It will seem unnatural and strange at first, typing everything from quick "hello"s to your most heart-felt declarations of love into a small box on your computer screen and sending them off invisibly.  It's an experience unlike any other, including email.  But once you use Air Message for the first time, soon you will be addicted to filling out the Message-Reason Line and sending cool Affixed-ments to all your friends.

Email is electronic.  It's electronic-mail.  Air Message goes through the air.  So that's one difference, straight off.  Email only works with electricity.  Air Message works wherever there is air, and an electrified computer to send your messages with.  So you do need electricity, but only the DEVICE needs it, not the message itself.

Hear that blaring klaxon?  Get used to hearing it most of the day, and for extended periods of time!  That's the sound your Message-Box being filled with a new Air Message.  It doesn't stop blaring until you've read all the messages.  This is yet another of the major differences between Air Message and emails.  When you get an email, it just shows up, without any declaratory sirens.  Air Message demands more of your attention, which is a good thing, in my opinion, because otherwise I'll just read a few emails and leave the rest of them, but if there were a blaring siren I couldn't shut off, you can bet I'd stay glued to my screen until I read them all!

Sick of Air Messages with ads you didn't ask for clogging up your Message-Box?  Just drop them into your BEEF folder.  BEEF stands for something, I forget what it was, I wrote it down somewhere (I should have Air Messaged it to myself!).  Once the message is in your BEEF folder, it will be "frontwarded" to a three-judge panel who will adjudicate whether the Air Message violated our terms of services, or whether it was a permissible commercial contact.  If it is found to be in violation, then the sender will lose their Air Message account and you will never hear from them again!  If it is found to be permissible, then it will be frontwarded back to you fifteen times and you will pay a fine to cover costs of flying the three-judge panel to arbitration headquarters in Nebraska.  None of the judges live in Nebraska, and they have to be flown there several times a day to handle our many adjudications.

Someone send you a cool Air Message and want to give the sender a quick thanks?  It's easy!  Just click the "Retort" button, complete a twenty-minute survey about your pornography purchase habits for our advertisers, and your retort will be flying through the air in no time!

Air Message accounts are not compatible with email addresses.  If you try to send an Air Message to an email address, our servers will be unable to read the recipient-line and will melt, resulting in a loss of Air Message service for all users for up to 12 hours.  Please do not try to send an email with Air Message.

Hey, ever dreamed about sending an Air Message from your car?  Now you can!  Just plug a heavy microwave-sized box into your exhaust pipe, install wheels on the box, start driving around, and it's fully functional!  The Car Input works by beeping the horn in Morse code to spell out your Air Message.  Just beep several times for every letter!  And don't worry, Air Message won't affect the functionality of your horn -- in fact, many say their horns beep louder, and occasionally without being touched as other Air Message signals floating gracefully through the atmosphere are picked up by your new exhaust-powered box.

People who have never used Air Message often say things like, "this sounds just like email, only worse."  Well, if it's worse than email, then it can't be just like it, can it?  It's a totally different invention then, you've just admitted it, you stupid fucker.

Air Message is entirely free, except for the microtransactions that are withdrawn from your account literally millions of times per day.  This way, you lose money, but just a little at a time, so you don't even notice the subtraction unless you check you bank account less often than every few seconds.  Ever see someone look over a bank statement that is unfathomably long due to countless withdrawals of between zero and one cent, such that their larger transactions are completely buried under lines and lines of useless data?  Well, as for their Air-Message Identification Key and send them a "hello," or select from dozens of Air Message-exclusive "FacE-L-eXPressions," which are like human emotions expressed in typing form, like "O&" which is a sideways head with stupid hair.

I think you should just give Air Message a fair chance.  If you don't like it, well, then just keep using it and keep using it and keep using it until you get used to it and you're too invested in it to change back.  And if you still don't like it after all that then maybe you should look in the fucking mirror to discover what your problem is instead of blaming it all on me and my invention.

Because I don't think you understand.  I quit my job to invent Air Message.  It is my life and it is my passion by default.  I was inspired when I was sending an email, and I said to myself, "there must be another, not necessarily better, but at least different, way to do this, that I can make some money off of."  I used to work at a town park.  My job was to sit behind a little desk on a patio and whenever a kid wanted to play with a ball I took a little key and opened the supply closet and gave them one and made them sign it out, and then collected it back at the end of the day and crossed their name off the list so I knew they were not negligent.  The older kids would jump me when I turned my back on them to unlock the closet and make off with all the balls they could carry, and pour their sodas on my sign-out sheet, rendering it illegible, and throw rocks and hornets' nests at me when I tried to plead with them to follow the rules.  And when an honest kid came up and asked to sign out a ball, I had to explain that I had failed them, and then at the end of the day the stolen balls would just be scattered around the park and I'd have to go and collect them, from the basketball courts and the sandbox and they'd chuck some deep in the woods and a few of them would be in the pond, which always got really cold at night and I'd have to go in there and fish them all out, and many of them would be filthy or popped and I didn't feel right asking for overtime to stay late and fix them, since it had been my fault for them getting in that condition in the first place.  I was a bust at ball disbursement and collection, and my salary was a waste of tax money.  Well if I couldn't do that, I thought, maybe I could do some other thing: maybe I could devise a way to send Messages through the Air, to make communication frictionless and beautiful and without bullies or hornets' nests, and anyone who was cruel would always lose their adjudication hearings.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Impartial Fish-Man

We turned on the TV.  Charlie Rose was on.  He was interviewing a Fish-Man.

"Turn it off," my sister said.  She was burping her son.  "I hate those slimy Fish-Men."

I didn't particularly care for the language she used.  Calling a Fish-Man "slimy" seemed to me to call back to hateful stereotypes of less enlightened times, when Fish-Men and their families were barred from buying homes in certain parts of the city.  Even if it is true that Fish-Men must keep their scales moist to avoid drying out when spending extended periods of time on land.

But still, I can't deny that I felt the same reflexive disgust towards Fish-Men that my sister, and other less-educated Americans still feel.  I think we all do.  It's not because the Fish-Man, with his unblinking eyes or stinking gills, is physically repulsive.  It's because Fish-Men cannot be impartial.

Just look at Congress.  Whenever a Fish-Man is elected to Congress, it's the same old story -- he refuses to work with his colleagues on anything that is not in the interest of his gerrymandered, Fish-Man dominated home district.  And as if that weren't enough, the Fish-Man doesn't go to Congress just to fight for his own issues.  He has to band together with the small minority of Fish-Man and Fish-Man-sympathetic lawmakers and disrupt the entire legislative process, with self-glorifying speeches, hopeless amendments, and time-wasting procedural moves.

And of course the same is true of the Fish-Men we deal with in our day-to-day lives.  I worked with a Fish-Man once and he was impossible.  Ask him to solve a tricky highway access problem (this is when I was working at the transportation department) and instead of brainstorming possible solutions, he'd just go on and on about how highway spending is a massive waste (because Fish-Men don't drive cars, they only swim) and how we should be spending that money instead to solve more important problems like repainting the bottoms of certain buoys to make them more reflective and Fish-Men would be able to see them in the dark.

And I would never ask a Fish-Man to change his opinion, or go along with something he didn't believe in.  But Fish-Men are just incapable of understanding that other people ("Land-Dwellers," they call us) might see an issue differently from them.  You try to explain it to them and they just get confused -- they don't understand.

It's because their brains aren't developed in the same way.

But I didn't change the channel.  I put the remote down.  My sister left the room in a huff.

Charlie said that his guest that day was the world's first and perhaps the world's only Impartial Fish-Man.  I turned the volume up.  The Fish-Man sat quietly across from Charlie.  He looked like a typical Fish-Man -- scaly, moist, with frills and fins styled on his head; wearing the unofficial Fish-Man uniform of a plaid button-down shirt and conservative khakis; with a huge clear fish bowl filled with water on his head so he could breathe.

Charlie thanked the Fish-Man for being on the show.  The Fish-Man didn't say anything, he just sort of nodded abruptly, but that kind of social awkwardness is normal for Fish-Men.

Charlie and the Fish-Man started talking about military expenditures.  The Fish-Man believed we spend too much on the military.  I scoffed -- this kind of position was typical of Fish-Men.  Of course they want the country to spend less on the military.  They don't need a strong military because, faced with any outside threat, they will just abandon the country and slip into the sea.  But I realized the Fish-Man hadn't called for the country to cut all military funding, like most of his brethren.  He was simply calling for cutbacks, and pointing out that much military spending was wasted on foolish projects and unnecessary foreign conflicts and, hell, I can agree with that position.

Charlie smiled.

The Fish-Man rattled off numbers, explaining how many billions of dollars had gone to waste on equipment that was obsolete before it reached the battlefield, or vehicles that were designed to fight the wars of the past but were useless in the small-scale conflicts of the future, or corrupt government contractors.  I don't remember the numbers, but they were big.  He was making a persuasive case.  The Fish-Man said we shouldn't be spending all this money on draining wars overseas when we had so many needs here in the homeland.

He looked at the camera on the word "homeland," hoping to drive home the rhetorical point, without underlining it too much.  Fish-Men typically didn't use words like homeland.  They typically described the United States as their "dry-spots," emphasizing that it was not their homes, but merely a place they were staying temporarily, or as a "sandy hell."  This Fish-Man was shrewd, in a way most Fish-Men weren't.  Even though I knew what he was doing, I had to admit I liked him.

Charlie asked the Fish-Man what kind of projects he would like to see military savings spent on.  The Fish-Man said "eliminating algae bloom."

Charlie stuttered something in disgust.  The Fish-Man crossed his fin-hands defiantly.  I reached for the remote and changed the channel.  The lesson was clear to me: never trust a Fish-Man to be impartial.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Another plane

Another plane crashed into our house a couple days ago.  It tore right through the new siding.  We ran out to the dining room and found the pilot climbing out of the cockpit onto our shattered dining room table.  He apologized and asked to use the phone.

That wasn't even the worst one, the worst one was two before that one.  It clipped the chimney and the chimney sheared one of its wings off, and the cockpit tore through the second floor like a missile and wreckage made it all the way to the master bedroom.  This was in the morning, we were just getting ready for work, but the pilot wouldn't leave because he had to catalogue the damage for his insurance claim.  He was taking pictures of everything, including, it seemed, my wife's lingerie drawer.  When we asked him to leave he started yelling at me and going on about the insurance.  I had to stay at the house until he left and my boss chewed me out for being late, this was after I'd only been working there for a couple weeks and he made me spend the day cleaning toilets even though I'm supposed to be a licensed customer service representative and we only have two toilets in the office, when I'd be done cleaning one he'd go and pour spaghetti sauce into it so I'd have something to clean after I was done cleaning the other.

We live across the street from an airport, is the problem.  Not a real airport, just a small landing strip in our little town.  People land their little two-seater planes here and they have flying lessons.  My wife was worried about the planes when we bought the place, but the realtor pointed out the traffic was so heavy on the street in front of our house that any plane that skidded off the runway would just get hit by a car before it got to our yard.  But mostly they cruise in and crash without even hitting the ground.

We spend most of our time in the back of the house now.  The front of the house we just use as storage, for things that we wouldn't mind too awfully much a plane crashing into.

A hang glider flew off a hill near our house on the other side.  He was aiming for the airport, apparently, but he drifted into our chimney.  We were away for the weekend and he got stuck halfway down and was crushed or suffocated or something or both.  By the time we got home we just saw his stiff bent legs sticking out; the hang glider had crashed through our daughter's window.  The police or whoever it was we called had to saw our chimney off to collect the hang glider's remains so they could be returned to his family.

After the hang glider we went to town hall to complain about the constant air crashes into our home.  We got a meeting with the zoning guy.  He said planes crashing into our house had never been a problem before we'd bought the place, and suggested we must have done something to create the problem, or else we were just complainer, who he said were not generally welcome in his town.  He told us that maybe we should paint our house neon colors so that planes could see it better from the air and could prepare not to crash into it so often.  It was true that our house was a rather drab beige but neither I nor my wife were sure we wanted to live in a house painted neon colors.  While we were in the meeting a student pilot landed on the lawn and half his plane basically bounced off the turf into our home office.  The walls are now charred and stink of fuel.  An engine landed on our other car and it caught on fire so now the kids have to take the bus to school.

One time we got crashed into at about three in the morning.  I didn't even wake up.

We were worried about the effect that planes crashing frequently into our house might be having on our kids, so we sat our daughter (Molly) down and asked her what she thought of all of this and she said she likes to think that each plane is an angel, and when they crash into us it's a sign of God's favor.  We explained to her why that was pretty stupid, explained how plane crashes were not blessings, that there was much mayhem and damaged metal involved, that we were getting hammered on repair costs and the property was worth basically nothing at this point, and then we heard the telltale low buzzing of a plane getting closer and the metallic wumphf of a plane burrowing itself into our home.  You see! Molly cried, You see!  It's a message from Him!  You doubted Him and He sent His messenger!  She grabbed a Bible off her desk (I don't know where she got the Bible) and ran out into the foyer and the two of us followed her.  The room was filling up with cottony puffs of gray smoke.  "What message do you bring from God?" Molly asked.  The pilot didn't hear her as he hoisted himself out of his seat.  "Motherfucker," he said.  Molly's face clouded and she whipped the Bible at him and it caught him in the shoulder.  "Watch the attitude!" the pilot yelled, and Molly stomped back to her room.

The pilot picked up the Bible.  "Hey, I've heard about this," he said.  He flipped open to a page somewhere in the middle.  "'It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to put confidence in man,'" he read.  "'It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to put confidence in princes.'  Hey, this is all right!"  His wings unfurled themselves from his back and he flapped out the hole he'd left in the front of our house, then he clipped a power line and fell onto the road.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Dear Joyce,

Thank you for your generous and thoughtful invitation, but I will be unable to attend your daughter's baby shower.  Is she married yet?  What a tragedy.  I would love to come but unfortunately I am having my jaw rebroken that morning after a botched dental procedure, and my doctor tells me that I will be unable to chew on your delicious buffet.  Wish me luck!  It's a short surgery, thankfully (they just strap the jaw into some kind of medical vise and tighten it until it breaks and then you wake up, is my understanding), but my nerves are still up, as you might imagine!  But I haven't been able to close my mouth since the first break when my dental hygienist leaned on my jaw while cleaning my back teeth back in February, so it will be a relief to get it fixed.  I was hoping to drive over to your house after the surgery and at least catch you and your daughter before things get "out of hand" over there, as they so often do, but the doctor says I need my rest, and I'll have to hold a rigid board to my skull to make sure it heals properly, and so I'm afraid I just won't be much fun!

Thank you for asking about my brother.  He is doing much better since being speared by a marlin the day before your birthday party.

I'm sure you'll have a lovely time with your daughter and all her "friends."  Where may I send the gift? (forks)

Monday, September 21, 2015

Super foods

I am healthy.  I eat hundreds of super-foods a day.  I eat them in massive quantities in order to maximize their nutritional value. 

Super-foods are like regular foods, only their nutritional value has been enhanced, often in labs.  Labs are extraordinarily healthy environments, due to their frequent sterilization and all the scientists around.  Many super-foods were grown in labs, but some occur naturally, in situations where foods have been subject to mutations and rapid evolutionary changes, such as in the ashes of an exploded volcano.  That's where lava-berries come from.  Lava-berries are a super-food that takes the form of a pus-seeping green sac of seeds.  Their name comes from lava, which is the substance that causes their rapid mutation and measurable irradiation levels.  You eat lava-berries by puncturing the seeping sac and eating the seeds.  The pus is rancid and noxious and some will inevitably slime your seeds -- this is just the price one must pay to enjoy high-quality super-foods.

Certain super-foods have made the transition to mainstream success.  Acai berry is one example.  If you have never heard of something, until it is suddenly in yogurt, that is most probably a super-food.  But the super-foods that break through to a mass audience are usually the blandest and least nutritionally exceptional.  Most people have little tolerance for super-foods.  True super-foods will rip holes in your digestive tract.  To safely enjoy super-foods on a regular basis, doctors suggest the removal of your colon.

I haven't had a colon in fifteen years.  It's been, fine.  It's true that the colon performs many vital functions in the human body, but I've found that there are none so vital that they can't be duplicated in a pinch by a plastic bag duct-taped to one's inner thigh.  If duct-taping a plastic bag to my thigh and slowly filling it throughout the day with warm, fetid, nutritionally-rich waste, and emptying it up to ten times per day is the price of keeping my body in peak condition through the consumption of super-foods, well then, I'll continue duct-taping that bag to my thigh.  My waste is so rich in nutrition that a jungle has grown around my backyard compost heap, and the vines in this jungle are so voracious that I no longer have access to my garage, and last week I'm pretty sure I saw a monkey in there.

I've also removed all ten of my fingers intentionally.  There was no medical reason to, but there was also no medical reason not to.  I have a friend who's a doctor and he did it for me.  Now that I have no fingers, I mash up the super-foods with my palms and suck the mash off my knuckles.  It feels like a more efficient way of eating, although it is messy.  To combat the mess, I tie a soggy rag around my forehead and wash by repeatedly smashing my head against the food, or spilled thigh-bag contents, or whatever I'm cleaning.

I wrenched off my jaw to make swallowing super-foods a frictionless process.  Now the lower half of my head is just one big orifice into which I can pour an unending stream of nutritionally modified sludges.  Sludges are best, because solids are difficult to eat without a jaw (I admit I failed to consider this complication before I went through with the jaw removal).  I can still swallow some berries and extremely dense grains, but I will begin choking on them, which can be painful.  I had my throat widened to make it easier to shove my fingerless hands down my throat to push the food through to what's left of my digestive system as it makes its way to my taped bag.

They say that a man who eats enough super-foods will live forever, but I'm still going to eat them, and if the worst-case scenario comes to pass I'll just throw myself off a cliff, or into the sea, or under a truck's grinding wheels.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The piñata

It's Dane's birthday today.  He's eight now, or six, or something.  It's on all the cards, I can look it up.

I didn't want to name him Dane.  I wanted Dan.  A nice, solid, normal name.  My wife, who wasn't my wife at the time, wanted something more unique.  I told her there's no such thing as "more unique," there's only unique and not unique, and if there are two of something, it's not unique.  She told me if I felt that way then we should name him Haoivjnasdlrigh2424 (she was typing this, in an email).  Then she told me to fuck a dictionary next time (this was shouted, not typed, later at breakfast).  Dane was a compromise.  I thought, at the time, that I wouldn't hate it, but I do, I really do.

He looks like a Dane too.  Icy blue eyes and an emphatic sweep of Nordic blonde hair.  He doesn't look a thing like me, or my wife for that matter.  Not that anything happened.  He just took all our greasy, mottled, recessive genes and built something better out of them.

It's a Saturday so we had his birthday party today.  He invited a bunch of kids from his class, like 20 of them.  I was in charge of the piñata.  My wife gave me a piñata and a big bag thing of candy and told me to fill it up.  This is all you have to do today, she said, so don't complain, which, I hadn't.

The bag was huge.  I thought, I don't want all those annoying kids to get all this candy.  What have they done to deserve it?  What have they achieved?  What pain have they lived through?  None of them had even been alive for 9/11.  I'd been there, I mean, in Connecticut.

The piñata was a donkey.  I was the one who picked it out.  Just your normal piñata.

I opened the candy bag.  I took out one candy thing, a Dubble Bubble, and put it in the piñata and sealed the thing up.  I hid the rest of the candy under a pillow on the couch.

The kids were already outside running around by the time I brought the piñata out.  They all stopped dead when they saw it.  Dane hadn't known it was coming -- he looked like he was about to burst with joy.  He ran over and grabbed my leg.  "Daddy, can we do the piñata now?" he asked.  I laughed and waved a finger at him.  "No no," I said, "the piñata comes last!"  I gave him a little wink.  "Besides, it'll be even more fun if you have to wait!"  He trotted off, disappointed, but quivering with specialness.

All afternoon, the kids kept coming back to look at the piñata, which I'd hung up on the branch of the biggest tree in the yard.  My wife kept trying to organize games and activities, but all anyone wanted to do was run around and scream or stand under the big tree and look up at the piñata.  "Is it full of candy?" one of the younger-seeming ones asked me.  "We'll just have to wait and see!" I said, and patted her on her little head.

We'd set up a couple card tables and folding chairs for eating cake and unwrapping presents, but the yard was uneven and the kids kept tipping over, so I suggested everyone sit in the shade of the big tree, under the piñata.  They sat and ate their cake reverently, gazing up at the piñata like it was an icon.

Someone's parents came to pick him up early.  He looked at the piñata and burst into hopeless tears.  His mom asked him what was wrong and he couldn't even speak, so they just grabbed a party bag and dragged him away.

Finally, after everything else was done, it was time to break open the piñata.  I brought an aluminum softball bat out from the garage.  "Be very careful when you're swinging this," I said.  Dane gave me a serious look, like he wanted me to know that he took the responsibility seriously.

I gave him the bat.  "Everyone stand back," I instructed.  "Now Dane, you get three swings.  If you don't break it in three, then it's the next person's turn."  He nodded.  "Everyone, when the candy falls, grab as much as you can, but be careful of everyone else, and make sure everyone gets some.  No fighting and no trampling, this is supposed to be fun, right?"  My wife smiled at me, taking charge like I was.  I stepped back and said, "all right, Dane, when you're ready."

He took one big whack.  "Whoooaaa!" everyone yelled.  He put a dent in the donkey's side but nothing more.  "Good swing!" I said, encouraging my son.  "Try again!"  He took a second swing, very quickly.  "WHOOOAAA!"  He got the foot, it was dangling.  "One more shot," I told him.  "Make it a good one!"  He gathered himself this time, took a breath.  He didn't want to give up that bat.  He swung so hard he came off his feet.  He caught the piñata flush and it burst right through the middle.

The one piece of Dubble Bubble fell to the flattened grass.  All the kids dived on it, instinctively.  One of Dane's older cousins got it.  Only after he stood and held the candy up did everyone else realize that something was not what they expected.  They all looked up.  The piñata was ripped through, emphatically open and empty.  Dane forlornly poked it with the bat and the back half fell.  One kid got on his hands and knees and started frantically feeling around for more, like he thought the rest was invisible.

Dane looked up at me.  My boy's heart was broken.  The planes had flown into the twin towers of trust and innocence that once stood in his heart.  "Dad?" he asked.  I started to laugh.  My wife threw a plastic cup at me and cursed and stomped inside.

I told the kids the rest of the candy was in the trash.  They went digging through the garbage until their parents came and picked them up, one by one.

After everyone left, I took the candy out from behind the pillow -- no one had found it -- and walked down to the bridge down the road from us and threw it all in the creek.

The end result of all of it was, everyone's mad at me, and next year Dane's having his birthday at the mini golf course.