The nearness of bees

bee-05.jpg835a2a70-22a7-4ff8-a797-6d6dfe5fd5cfLarger“Daddy, never let that happen to me again!” a very young child of about six was kiwis


scolding his father as they walked one way down Broadway today and I walked down the other. “What?” his father asked. “That bee got too near me.” His father revealed the limit of parental powers. “I can’t keep bees from getting near you,” he tried to explain.

We wish we could wrap our precious progeny in bubble wrap. Keep them forever safe like the Boy in the Plastic Bubble. But they are doomed to fall. Smack their heads. Find ways to injure themselves we never imagined. A friend related yesterday on Facebook how she had just gotten back from the emergency room after having a pea dislodged from her son’s nose by qualified medical personnel. It gave me a flashback.

My son Avery was in a hot dispute with his grandfather (my wife’s dad) once over whether he would eat a bowl of grapes before he ate his macaroni and cheese. He was about 10. Avery angrily jammed a bunch of grapes down his throat and tried to swallow them all. He had only limited success. Some of the remnants of a grape lodged in his larynx. He could speak and breathe, but he could not swallow. We tried having him jump up and down a lot. I suggested we hold him upside down and shake him. My wife thought maybe not. Finally, we headed to the emergency room where a surgeon had to put him under general anesthesia to do a grapectomy.

When my great pal Anthony Williams was a boy of about 10, he had a freak accident. He turned his bicycle suddenly to respond to somebody and crashed into Lisa Winstead’s mailbox. There was some blood and soft whimpering. He remembers it differently. He says he was playing football in a backyard and crashed into a For Sale sign. But, he adds in his defense, that he was wide open. Maybe both happened.

Flash forward to last Thursday when my now 15-year-old son Avery was devastated that a girl he liked didn’t feel as strongly about him as he did about her. On top of that his new school was changing his schedule so he wouldn’t even be in the same classes with her anymore. He wanted to stay home and take a mental health day from school. This was an unfamiliar concept. If I felt a bit sick when I woke up, my dad would always tell me, “Take a shower. You’ll feel better.” Unless I had a temperature of 100 degrees or above or was vomiting blood, I was sent to school even if the shower didn’t improve me. All I wanted was to stay home and eat an entire box of Graham crackers squares smothered in peanut butter and jelly like I did when I had Chicken Pox. But it wasn’t happening. So, a mental health day wasn’t on the agenda for Avery. Instinct told me school was best.

At this point I need to explain that Avery is autistic. Couple that with raging teenage hormones, and you have a dramatic elixir. I was flying solo that morning as Robyn was out of town on business, but I stood my ground. I practically dressed him and got him out the door. He let himself fall to the carpet outside our apartment door and sprawled there a moment. I paused only long enough to take a quick snapshot for posterity, and then I had him out to door and down the elevator and headed to the subway. He had figured out how to ride the subway to and from our home after much guided practice and had been flying solo for a week. But today, he needed me. So, I rode along.

On the 1 train, a prelindsay-lohan-young-and-cutetty girl about Avery’s age who looked like Lindsay Lohan (back when she was America’s sweetheart and not a rehab queen living on borrowed time and probation) was bawling like nobody’s business. Several of us on the subway tried to comfort her, breaking the golden rule of subway silence in New York City. You keep your crazy to yourself. I’ll keep mine to myself. “It gets better,” I told the girl. I showed her the picture I’d taken with my phone of Avery sprawled on the floor. He was siting nearly catatonic with his eyes shut and his head leaned against my shoulder. She nodded. I really hoped she and Avery would get off at the same subway stop and could walk together to school, sobbing and moaning miserably while they held hands. Problem solved. Alas, she continued on with her cloud of misery to some other high school. Avery made it to his school and eventually got through the day, though the security guard had to nudge him gently through the school’s set of inner doors where he had paused to sulk just out of my reach.

It’s a hard truth. We can’t protect them from bees, peas, grapes, mailboxes, For Sale signs or the fickle attentions of tenth grade girls. All we can do is love them, stock up on Graham Crackers for when they are truly sick and keep them away from Lindsay Lohan.

The nearness of bees

Finding your way home

imagesI’ve been trying to forget high school for the last 30 years.

Locked in my own shyness, so terribly self-aware of every fault and inadequacy, I barely poked my head out of a book long enough to notice what was happening for four years. If I could have sped up the time, I would have. I knew my future was golden and beautiful, and this was just a place to suffer through to get to that promised land. But my classmates from West Rowan High School Class of 1983 are gathering today to remember, recall and rejoice at a reunion in Salisbury, North Carolina. At first, I wondered to myself. What can they possibly be thinking?

The few shiny, happy people on top of the social totem pole who ran for touchdowns and partied hard through those years might have something to celebrate. Those were the days, they might say. But I had nothing to offer to that conversation. Then I thought a little harder about it.

I did nearly kill everyone in the car during Driver’s Education class once. We were on a skinny strip of state highway in the middle of nowhere when the instructor asked me to do a three-point turn. I was a bit nervous. We had practiced this sort of thing back in the parking lot with cones, but this was the first real road test of my three-point turning abilities. I began backing up the car into position. A deep gulley stretched down to our right. Not straight down. It was a long and rolling green hill that seemed to have no end. There was a tense moment when the car seemed to want to keep backing right down the gulley. The back wheels may or may not have dangled over the edge of this gulley. Who’s to say this many years later? And then the instructor hit the dummy brake so hard the car shuddered to a stop. My classmates in the back seat had plenty to say about it. Our instructor hit them with an icy stare that shut them up. He had a gravitas that compelled fear. It was unclear what he could do to you, but you never wanted to find out. I completed the three-point turn and we drove back to school in verdant Mt. Ulla (a place so inconsequential it exists more as a postal address than anything else.) A few of my classmates kissed the ground on getting out of the car. I wanted to throw up.

Continue reading “Finding your way home”

Finding your way home

No pain, no pain

For theimages last three mornings when I wake up, the little toe on my right foot is numb. I refuse to give in to temptation to look up symptoms on the internet for little toe numbness. I know from experience I’ll find it’s a symptom of a disease that rots the body starting in the little toe of the right foot. Likely, I have leprosy.
I don’t see myself as some sort of paranoid pain complainer, but apparently others do. My lovely wife said the other day. “My dad thinks you’re such a princess.” Hmm. I wanted to argue her/his premise immediately. Then I reflected on the evidence.
When we were in Colorado this past summer on vacation with her parents, there was the one morning I told Robb I couldn’t go walk with him because it was “too cold.” The man loves his morning walks like oxygen, and I could have worn a jacket and sucked it up. He has a wide assortment of jackets for every type of cold imaginable and gloves to go with them.

Also, when we were dragging suitcases back to the car at the end of the vacation, I was fumbling with my wife’s large suitcase. Robb noticed this. He quickly produced a weight scale, convinced she had over-packed the suitcase so that it must weigh more than the 50 pound limit everyone is desperate to fall under for airport weight limit purposes. In addition to jackets and gloves for every occasion, Robb also has gadgets for every occasion. It was 49 pounds.

“Huh,” he said. “When I saw how much you were struggling with it, I was sure it weighed more than 50 pounds.” “Nope,” I said. “I’m just a weenie.” Robyn has gotten so good at packing suitcases just under 50 pounds without the aid of mechanical devices that I was not shocked to learn at the airport that her suitcase weighed 49 pounds and mine weighed 48. It’s one of her many unsung talents.

Continue reading “No pain, no pain”

No pain, no pain

America’s Got Talent (Kinda)

Pay no attention to theimages man behind the curtain, the disembodied voice of Oz the Great and Powerful says. It turns out reality is a fluid concept when it comes to “reality television.” I guess that’s no surprise. A lot of work goes into making things seem natural and smooth and yet somehow spontaneous. “Remember,” a crowd-wrangler tells us. “You’re not watching a show. We’re making a show.”

We devoted hours standing in line to get into the live shows of America’s Got Talent this summer in Radio City Music Hall. Twice we waited for about two hours before we were told there were no tickets to be had even though we had a voucher to pick up tickets and arrived during the time specified by the voucher. In the end, we made it into one “Results” show, one “Performance” show and one m10408ini-concert with Josh Groban and Gavin DeGraw that served as a pre-taped segment for the live grand finale, which made it only kinda sorta live. I’m not proud of the time we invested in waiting in lines. It seemed worth doing then. I guess the best thing I can say about it is that the shows were free, so only our time was wasted.

We witnessed a group of men drumming on a fat man’s chest and belly. We saw a family of unicyclists balancing family members. We saw singers and dancers of varying degrees of talent. But what struck me more about the proceedings were the way several audience members were given homemade looking signs to hold up and cheer with during the performances. SPOILER ALERT. Although they looked like they were created with glitter, magic marker and exuberant glee; we did NOT make those signs. We were told when to clap, encouraged to clap harder, encouraged to give standing ovations. The poor guy doing all this exuberant crowd control looked at times as if he had Tourette’s Syndrome since he was waving his hands so manically.

Continue reading “America’s Got Talent (Kinda)”

America’s Got Talent (Kinda)

Fear and loathing on the A train

Every budding N15042-large-blackew Yorker should get a brief orientation class for their first week in Manhattan: Subway 101. I would have happily taken it. Often lost and confused in my first days here, I quickly bought a T-shirt for my son Avery that I knew would help. All the Manhattan subway routes and stops were shown in detail on the shirt like multicolored lines of spaghetti. I made him wear it any time we went someplace new, and I believed I was a genius for buying it.

I discovered we live a tad south of Avery’s belly button in the Financial District. We wanted to explore Central Park just above his sternum. But the red 1 line bent along his right side near his gall bladder. Should we take the 4 train to City Hall near his sternum and transfer to the 6, which ran up his left side? So many choices! Avery got tired of me running my fingers up and down his shirt in public as I traced out the potential routes. I started feeling weird about it too. What did it look like from afar?  “No, officer,” I would explain. “I am not touching this young man inappropriately. I am just trying to find my way home.”

Continue reading “Fear and loathing on the A train”

Fear and loathing on the A train

Badminton in Manhattan


Avery and I played badminton shamelessly today on the Hudson River esplanade, using a volleyball court in full view of the tourists, joggers and the Citi Bike cyclists trying not to hit them. It’s an ancient summer sport, but technically the last day of summer was just this past weekend. It was fun. Maybe we will start a new trend – out-of-season outdoor badminton played against a strong North wind driving the ball relentlessly left.

We played to fill a PE requirement to try a new sport. No one plays badminton anymore, and I know why. It’s the actual name of the thing you play it with. You know. The ball with the web attached. If they changed its name, badminton might live again.  Here’s why it’s a nearly dead sport. “Shuttlecock.”  Ack. I need to wash my mouth out with soap. “Police arrested a downtown Manhattan man for playing with his shuttlecock in public. Therapy will be provided. No film at 11.” The shuttlecock is less well known as a “shuttle” or “birdie,” reports Wikipedia. Better. But I have five other ideas I’ll reveal in a minute. Continue reading “Badminton in Manhattan”

Badminton in Manhattan

Ugly Dog Day, NYC

So, today was Ugly Dog Day in New York City.090701-01-ugliest-dog_big

I walked along the West Side of the Hudson River, and I walked along the East River near the Brooklyn Bridge. Every dog I saw was ugly. Strikingly ugly. Ugly enough to have character. You wanted to pet them and praise their owners for taking them in. Give them a hug, even.

I wanted to have a dog like that suddenly. A dog that came with a great back story. Yes, this is my hound Archibald Wrex. I caught him in my bare arms as he leapt from the back of a dump truck on the way to the city dump. He had fleas, mange and needed a lot of dental work, but I cleaned him up and straightened him out. And here he is. A true reclamation project. Not pretty, but serviceable. Won’t fetch, lie down or play dead. He eats the couch cushions if you leave the room. We had to put in patio furniture in the den. But he wags what’s left of his tail if you scratch him just right under his chin. Great with most small children. He only tries to bite orphans, can’t explain how he knows an orphan from any other child. It’s like a sixth sense he has. Anyway, do you like his gold tooth?

Of course my dog is nothing like the complicated, hard-to-love and yet compelling Archibald Wrex. Boo Radley is a beautiful ruby-colored Kin580228_10151692450279730_1027277592_ng Charles Cavalier Spaniel my wife picked out of a store window in a puppy store on the Upper East Side. We bought him in a moment of weakness and economic optimism.

He eats pencils and headphones when he can find them on the floor.  He’s been gnawing on the same large bone for a solid month, one that looks like the femur of a water buffalo, only larger. But he gnaws without as much enthusiasm as he once had. You can tell he thinks of it as a work project with a deadline at this point, whereas once he chewed on it feverishly as if it were his first unpublished novel, an indie masterpiece that would be unappreciated by the masses and loved by the critics.

People love him wherever he goes and stoop to pet him. He wags his tail. He stands on his back legs to allow his golden head to be scratched. How boring is that?

Ugly Dog Day, NYC