Be here now

imagesMy mind wanders a lot. But it comes back. I try to focus. To be fully and actually present in the here and now and day to day. It’s a battle worth fighting to pay attention to the people we love.

They’ve been trying to get your attention, waving a hand in your face for a while now. It might be a small hand, trying to ask you a big question as you drive or walk down a long path. “Why is the grass green, daddy? What makes the sky blue?” When Avery asked me questions like this when he was a small boy, I took it seriously and thought hard about it and promised that when we got home we would look up the answer on the Internet. I always forgot to look it up, but I always meant it when I said I would.

Are you anchored in the moment? Or are you mailing it in? Time is all we have, the only currency we spend as humans. But are you present in the present, living in the past or dreaming of the future? We hardly know you anymore. We used to know you. Who are you? We forget, but we want to remember. Remind us. Be here now.

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Be here now

Thanksgivukkahversary

imagesIt’s a grand confluence of holidays. A mishmash of events. Thanksgiving and Hanukkah will not align perfectly on the calendar again for another thousand years. Our wedding anniversary on the 28th of November only collides with Thanksgiving every six or seven years in a perfect storm of too-much-to-celebrate-in-one-day. It all happened at once like the coming of Haley’s Comet (only far more rare than that) yesterday.

Robyn comes up with the word. “We’re not Jewish,” I point out to her. She already knows we’re not Jewish, of course. But she says Hanukkah is not an exclusive holiday. Everyone can share in it. I didn’t know that. I also don’t understand how a yamulke perched at an impossible angle manages to stay on a person’s head or what’s going on with the very traditional hats that seem so formal and old school or exactly what a dreidel might be. There’s a lot I don’t know. Clearly.

On CNN, a Jewish man who has a birthday on Thanksgiving this year celebrates Thanksbirthukkah. Robyn thinks this is a nice try. But she expects her new word to appear in a standard dictionary next year while Thanksbirthukkah fades quickly from memory.

It’s dangerous business to combine so many holidays. One may not be given its full due. We’ve been married 16 years, and our instinct is to celebrate our anniversary in a small intimate way. Thanksgiving is designed to be shared by as many relatives as you can possibly cram into one house with one large table and a kids table set up in another noisier room where a vacuum cleaner will be needed later to Hoover up stray kernels of corn.

We have given it all up to Thanksgiving some years while our anniversary seemed to take place without much hoopla. Respect the turkey. Other times we have skipped or slighted Thanksgiving to make a big deal out of our anniversary.  Respect the marriage. Some years we are lucky, and Thanksgiving falls a week apart from our anniversary and they both get their due without a Sophie’s Choice angst entering into it. A perfect union.

My father was born on December 26 — the day after Christmas. While our anniversary and Thanksgiving rarely are celebrated on the same exact day, my dad is always doomed to celebrate his birthday with leftover eggnog and tinsel.

As a child, he hated the confluence of celebrations. Here’s your birthday/Christmas gift, people told him. Enjoy! Multipurpose wide receivers who also function as quarterbacks like Kordel Stewart may sometimes achieve great success in life as a Slash. But my dad is not a fan of slashes. I feel his pain.

We chucked the traditional family Thanksgiving this year, leaving New York City and it’s parade to spend the weekend in Key West. We didn’t join my wife’s parents in Kure Beach, NC or my parents in a big Thanksgivapalooza in Asheville, NC where snow fell just on cue at my grandparent’s house with my aunt and uncle and cousins and their children.

The high today is 78 degrees, and it will reach the lower 80s in each of the next two days while we’re here in Florida. We expect to drive just a mile or two to the southern-most point in the United States today.

I’ve been looking at New York City through a pair of thick rose-colored goggles, loving its weirdness and magnificent tallness. Overlooking its harsh climate and extremes of wealth and poverty. But lately there are cracks in my carefully constructed utopian vision of the sprawling metropolis.

I got a clear picture of a subway rat just this Wednesday on my iPhone. He seemed more insolent than elusive. He skittered away, but there was an arrogance about him that marked him as a product of the Big Apple.

On the platform in Brooklyn waiting for the D Train to arrive Wednesday I actually had to “turn my collar to the cold and damp” to get my face out of a chilly drizzle just like in Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence.” I managed to avoid taking comfort in the “whores on Seventh Avenue.”

One of the best things about living in New York City is leaving the cold and damp city behind for a bit. When I tweet this out on Twitter, it is quickly “favorited,” which I understand is the Facebook equivalent of “Liked.”

We make it to our hotel by 6 p.m. after flying into Fort Lauderdale and driving three hours to Key West. There’s a hammock at the finish line on a dock in the dark. We take turns taking pictures of each other in it before all three of us crowd into the hammock for a few minutes of blissful rest. Our 15-year-old son Avery is bigger than each of us. But we all cram in somehow.

A singer plays The Beatles “Eight Days a Week,” at a local bar as I meander around for just a bit to explore Key West. This is perfect. Thanksgivukkahversary, which can only happen every thousand years or so, should be celebrated naturally on the eighth day of the week.

On the day before we leave New York, I am sitting with a guy I work with who has his share of challenges. He wants to know something. “Do doggies know it’s Thanksgiving, Kevin?” I thought they would struggle with the concept of a holiday and told him so.

He nodded. But he wasn’t quite ready to let it go at that. “Maybe a doggie psychologist or a scientist who studies doggie’s brains would know for sure,” he says. “Maybe,” I say, just to be agreeable.

Even if a dog could somehow grasp the concept of Thanksgiving, I’m certain Thanksgivukkahversary would escape his powers.

Thanksgivukkahversary

Turkeys on the run

imagesWe’re fleeing Thanksgiving like felons. Kissing off tradition and both sides of our family. It’s wrong, and we know it in our bones. I only hope they love us enough to forget our insult and accept us back into the fold when we come to our senses next year and visit North Carolina to see everyone. We’re doing a double header blow-off by escaping everyone we love down South and dismissing our new home of New York City with its massive parade starring giant floats, marching bands and Broadway show performances.

Like seasoned veterans of New York, we understand that when fleeing a cold place you want to go as far South as possible. We grew up in North Carolina. Not nearly south enough. We lived in central Florida in Ocala. A few good steps in the right direction, but we can do better than that. So we are flying down to Key West for Thanksgiving.

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Turkeys on the run

Boys of summer in winter

indexLimitless Ability T-ball is a blast. A kid in a wheelchair comes up to hit, and he is going to get a hit. A blind child plays left field. Not a problem. It’s all good. Many errant throws are made in the general direction of first base. No one cares. Those of us supporting the players are getting a great workout fetching balls thrown in every direction imaginable. Everyone makes it to first base safely, and cheers break out constantly for tiny victories.

My autistic eight-year-old son Avery is at the plate. He looks so serious. When he concentrates really hard, his tongue creeps up above his upper lip like Michael Jordan focusing on his next move. Avery’s tongue is peeking out as he whacks the ball off the Tee and runs like a madman to first base. He’s predictably safe. My heart is so full I may cry. I tear up a little, but no one notices.

We haven’t told Avery he’s autistic yet. We don’t have the right words, and we don’t want him to use it as a crutch in life. We want him to reach and believe he can grasp anything. That nothing is beyond his power to achieve. What does it mean to be autistic? On this particular baseball field near our home in Ocala, Florida where players have so many different challenges, it doesn’t seem to mean anything at all.

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Boys of summer in winter

Consider yourself one of us

imagesHe comes to visit. Never leaves. The little blonde haired blue-eyed boy named John who lives just across the street is fascinated by our family the way a scientist who just discovered a new element would be. He’s in first grade, and Avery is in the fourth. So many years apart, but they become fast friends. John latches onto Avery. No one ever latches onto Avery, but John attaches himself with the zeal of a tick.

We are living in a giant beach house with Robyn’s parents in Carolina Beach, North Carolina. This would normally be quite embarrassing, this business of living with parents as grown people with two sons of our own. Somehow it just isn’t, though I am careful not to mention it to anyone until I know them pretty well. The day-to-day shock of living with Robyn’s parents wore off a long time ago, and now we just accept that it’s happening. So, whatever embarrassment was initially there has been absorbed into the bloodstream at this point.

John shows up one day in our lives and quickly integrates himself. He and and Avery start playing. This is great because Avery is autistic, and I have always been his fumbling social director. Forever trying to introduce him to new people. Getting him into games with other kids. Coordinating his activities. It’s pretty exhausting. So, I’m happy to have John on board.

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Consider yourself one of us

March of the English major

imagesI plod in an endless circle. One short step behind the person in front of me, I pace through the night piecing together pages of a medical brochure along with 17 other bored temps. I am working a graveyard shift at a printing plant in Research Triangle Park in Durham and wondering why I majored in English in college. At this point, it feels like I majored in undecided. The person collating in front of me is slow. This is like waiting in line for bread in Russia, only without the bread.

Did you know it’s possible to screw up collating? Seems impossible, but it happens around 4 a.m. when you’re about to lose consciousness. Everyone in the line must stop when I miss a page, and I have to back up and rearrange. This is not even the worst job I’ll ever have, though it’s easily in the top five. They say working the graveyard shift takes a year off the end of your life. We all talk about how we can see that is possible. But we are all still relatively young, even though you cannot tell from how slowly we are moving at the moment.

The last year of our lives was probably going to be a pretty boring year anyway, we have decided. Spent in a wheelchair or pushing around a walker with tennis balls embedded in its legs. We were going to cough a lot. And spit. I hate it when people spit to clear their throats, but old people seem to do this a lot. We might even be in pain and have to remember to take a ton of pills. I’m not good at remembering to take pills and I hate pain, so I feel losing this last year of my life is no great loss.

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March of the English major

Release the hounds

imagesThe hounds are howling. What else are they going to do? Just what they are born and bred to do. Howling like mad on the scent and on the job. My grandfather and I are sitting in his red pickup truck off a road in a valley in Asheville, North Carolina listening to the hounds chase a fox somewhere up in the mountains above us.
“Hear that?” he asks. “I hear hounds,” I say. My grandfather nods. “That’s Blue. He’s the lead dog. Wait. Listen. That’s Barney. He has a short excited yelp. You can tell the difference, right?”

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Release the hounds