Wednesday, October 31, 2007

What's For Dinner?

As children, and then adolescent people, my siblings and I were made to understand that we could ask our mother anything. No question was taboo and she would answer as straightforward and honestly as she was able. Any time, anywhere, any subject. The lines of communication, she wanted us to know, were always to remain open in our family.

There was one question, though, that was never to be spoken. After a long day of ... working with computers? (I'm still not sure what she does) ... when she returned home, she did not want to hear "What's for dinner?" Now, we were always well-fed and never, for a single night, went hungry, but she wasn't running a boarding house, she was a ... computer person? What was for dinner was whatever she was making for dinner and it will be ready when it's ready. So don't ask.

We haven't had to tell The Quartet yet that they can ask us anything. They ask us anything and everything already. Question after question after question. It's like living with The Riddler times four. They ask who's coming over, they ask what's on TV, they ask where their mother is, they ask what we're going to do next. And they ask, every night, "What's for dinner?" I've told them I didn't want to hear that question because it's rude and because it still scares me a little bit.

The really odd part is that these kids don't eat whatever we're having for dinner. I mean, there's what we (Kristy and I) are having for dinner and there's what they're (they're) having for dinner. And those are never the same thing. Oh, sure, S will accept what the adults are having to push around on her plate and whine about and eat a bit of just so she can get to "What's for dessert?" But you're not going to catch JP having spaghetti or C eating a burrito. It's just not what's for (their) dinner.

So don't even ask, because it's rude. And, coming from you four, it's just dumb.


Recently, over a lunch of flavorless tilapia and cold fries, I was berated for not blogging enough lately. I reminded the assembled audience my intention with Urf! was never to write just to see something on the internet and that I wouldn’t post unless I had something to say. And I haven’t had much to say in the vein of what you’re used to reading here. The truth, though, is that I have had something to say, or an idea of what to say, for some time now, but every time I sit in front of the computer I keep going back to this woman’s blog to read this post and then this one. I bet I’ve read each of them dozens of times and each time I read them I think I’m going to write an entire post around them because a comment just won’t do. But then I don’t because I haven’t been confident enough in my writing to attempt to match her own. And this is all very personal between her and me, so you may not be interested, and may choose to stop reading now, as I make a stab at explaining where I’ve been.

Specifically what I’m trying to figure out as I read these posts is how my wife and I, traveling in the same car at the same speed on the same road have arrived in two very different places. Kristy is happy with her life and comfortable in her own skin. She’s at peace with who she is. And I … am not. I worry. I obsess. I am held captive by the stress in my life. Is it all more than most adults have to deal with? Probably not. Do I realize this? Do I understand that what I’m dealing with is anxiety and a form of depression? I do. I’ve dealt with it for years, 12 of those years I’ve known exactly what it is, yet I’m just now reaching the end of my rope. I’ve controlled it mostly through diet and exercise, and though it doesn’t affect me now nearly as badly as it did when I was 25, it’s still something I can’t shake. It’s like a song you can’t get out of your head. During good times, moments when I shouldn’t have a care in the world, when I’m at the pond with the kids feeding ducks on a perfect Fall day or when friends are over and we’re all talking and laughing, it’s still there. The song. Only it isn’t Sinatra or Costello, it’s impending doom. It’s a recorded loop playing in the back of my mind that reminds me what it is I’m supposed to be worrying about instead of playing with my kids or laughing with friends or reading a book.

Understand, too, that Kristy and I have been going through some difficult times recently. Not with our marriage or anything, but other things, and they have been weighing on me heavily, leaving me both uninspired and unamused. Certainly unable to write a blog post that would do anything other than depress all of you as well. And yet, it was during this time that Sassy wrote the two aforementioned posts. The very situation that was dragging me further down is what inspired her to relish her family and friends and relative wealth compared with so many truly unfortunate across the city and around the world. And I know that this is what I should focus on, what my attitude should be. My family is not yet at poverty level, we can afford to eat well and the kids are healthy. We have great friends, a loving extended family, and we’re all happy. They’re happy. I should be happy but there’s that loop in my skull, remember? I should ignore it, I should know it for what it is and not listen to it, but that’s the problem, isn’t it? That’s the hole I’ve found myself in. This is the rub. I am unable to pull myself up out of the misery and smile and know that things will only get better. I admire the hell out of those who can. I envy Kristy and her optimism. I hope with everything I am that our children inherit her disposition. I also hope that when The Quartet is old enough to read this that it’s all news to them, that they don’t remember their dad as a worried, anxious, pissy man. I try to keep it from them and I hope I’ve hidden it well. Other steps need to be taken, I know, and Kristy and I are discussing them because I’m tired of this particular obsession, I’m tired of the loop. I’m just tired. But I haven’t yet grown tired of writing so I’ll be returning here soon if not immediately. I felt, though, that I needed to get this out of the way, not for you, necessarily, but for myself. And now it’s done.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

High Waters

Mornings around the castilo have been running fairly smoothly so far this school year. Sure, C and S are pretty difficult to wake up, but JP springs out of bed and lately GK has been sleeping in a bit, which helps. So the a.m. unfolds leisurely for the most part. But that time is mainly the calm before the storm. The calm lasts from around seven, when I first start waking them, until about 7:45. That's when the storm hits. That is the moment, regular as clockwork, when the dressing starts and the gathering of backpacks and lunches and the telling me that this or that piece of paper needs to be signed - elementary school teachers love signatures - begins. As much of a whirlwind as it is, though, it's manageable and we're normally out the door by eight. Unless, of course, something goes wrong. Not much has to go wrong, but it's like I learned when I scaled Sugarloaf, one bad foothold or misplaced rock can set you back on the journey to your goal. This morning it was JP and his pants.

Today is picture day and the general understanding seemed to be that jeans were allowed to be worn, but JP questioned this. Questioned it for about 10 minutes, in fact, until I finally told him just to wear his khakis, which he was perfectly willing to do but just needed someone else to voice that solution. But where are his pants? Big Mama is already on the comment button to tell me, and all of you, that JP has more pants than anyone in the house, and this is true. The kid is flush with trousers. However, the majority of them are just a tad too large in the waist and slip right off of his emaciated, Iggy Pop-like frame. I told him to go look in the dryer, the defacto chest of drawers for our family, so he went in the kitchen and peeked into the toaster oven or the dishwasher or whichever appliance confused him this morning, and then came back to report he couldn't find any. So I went in, hunched into the opening with GK in my arms, further straining my back, and pulled a pair of khakis out, threw them at him from across the kitchen and implored him to hurry and get dressed because I could feel me and these kids slipping off Sugarloaf's sheer rock face. The winds were whipping our 15-minute storm into a frenzy now and I almost lost S in it all when she left the house without her ballet costume for her class today, the one I'd set out for her and told her to pack up. GK's lunch, sadly, was lost in the typhoon, I never even located her lunch box.

Tomorrow will be better, I'm sure. I'm sure because yesterday was better, but things have to fall apart every once in a while, the system has to break down. I'm only one man, after all, and not FEMA.

Oh, and I realized as the kids disembarked from the Volvo at school and trudged up to the door that there's a very good chance JP is wearing S's pants today. Should you see him, please don't point that out.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Saying It Loud

When I was a kid in school, I recall taking field trips to Chucalissa Indian Village, where the high point of the visit was buying an authentic Indian arrowhead in the gift shop. We also went to the Pink Palace, when it was actually in the house, to see the shrunken heads. And, of course, there was the zoo when all it boasted was a fetid concrete box housing the lions, just a short walk from an island of monkeys.

Today, I chaperoned C's class at the Rock 'n Soul Museum in the FedEx Forum. We walked there, his school being only a few blocks from this venue, and along the way there were impromptu history lessons given by Dr. Max on the Robert Churches, W.C. Handy and the history of Beale St. The museum tour begins with a 15-minute film on the evolution of blues to soul and rock-n-roll and it was great to see the kids' heads, from my vantage point in the back of the theater, bobbing and dancing along with Carl Perkins, Sam and Dave and Elvis. At certain points, too, they broke out and sang along on "Blue Suede Shoes" and "Respect." The tour was self-guided, each child and adult wandering around with headphones and an MP3 player that allowed its user to punch in a three-digit number to hear a narrator discussing a particular display or, most often, to listen to song lists on any number of juke boxes set up throughout the museum. The kids danced and strutted to everyone from Furry Lewis to Al Green and it was great to hear them singing, with no thought as to their volume, along with "Say It Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud)," "That's All Right (Mama)" and "Walk The Line."

Just as I said about the Stax Museum of American Soul Music last January, music and the history of Memphis music in particular, is a great catalyst for the discussion of civil rights, its history, and the proper way one human should treat another. The Rock 'n Soul Museum is no different as they devote much time in the introductory film to this cause and there is a large display on nothing but the Civil Rights Movement. But as I watched these black and white children, all of whom were born at the turn of this century, dance and sing together while laughing and helping each other with the given assignment, it occurred to me that all of the strife and tension and heartache of the last century is mostly lost on them. And that's a good thing, because it left their hearts and minds wide open to the music in their ears.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Student Becomes Teacher

From the backseat:

Me: JP, do you have piano today?
JP: Yes.
Me: Tell her you want to play like McCoy Tyner.
JP: It's called a pianist.

Monday, October 08, 2007

And Not A Single Missing Toe

There are certain rites of passage for our children, and ourselves, that are always well documented. The first time our babies roll over, first steps, first words, the very first time a Pop-Tart is independently procured and liberated from its foil. And then there were firsts like the one this weekend. Sunday marked the first time C mowed the front yard. He's finally old enough to start earning the cost of his cable television habit.

I sat on the front porch in my seersucker pants, my wide-brimmed Panama hat, sipping lemonade and smoking a cigar while I watched him miss patch after patch of lawn while mowing other strips three or four times. It was hot yesterday, 92 degrees on Oct. 7, which made it all that much better. It made the shade I was in a little more pleasant, the lemonade a bit more refreshing.

I'm not sure what age I was when I began lawn mowing. C is nine-ish now and I want to say I was about seven when I started. I want to say that because it will make him feel worse, and a bit more guilty about what he is and isn't required to do now. I want to say I was seven, so I probably will. I was there, after all, and I write the history book in my house.

The house we lived in when I first cranked up the lawnmower had a driveway of loose gravel, and this gravel would be strewn all over the yard due to our skidding bike tires and handfuls thrown at each other. Mowing across all of those tiny rocks was like mowing a field of shrapnel and I would finish the chore with my thin, pasty shins pitted and red from those angry projectiles. When my mother remarried and Steve moved in, he required the lawn to be mowed twice a week. Twice a week? You can't even imagine my mutterings as I was out there under the blazing Memphis sun for hours twice a week. It made absolutely no sense to me why anyone would need this kind of attention paid to a yard, especially in what is normally a drought-ridden Southern summer. Made no sense, that is, until yesterday. So, Steve, come on by any time to sit a spell on the front porch, the lemonade is on me. Sundays and Thursdays seem like a good schedule.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

On The Seventh Day He Did Laundry

It's already planned out. Has been for a while now. My biography will be written by Michael Chabon (with forward by Richard Russo), the movie version will be filmed by the Coen Brothers with soundtrack by Elvis Costello (starring role is still in negotiations). There will be a documentary of my life directed by Ken Burns with the music of Miles Davis as background. Naturally there will be action figures and various other toys to accompany the opening, these will all be made in China. They make the best toys there.

So, yeah, I've given it all some thought. The consultant on all of these projects will be C, as it turns out. He had an assignment for school this week to produce a time-line of someone's life. Now, he could've chosen anybody in the world, anybody from history. He could've chosen George Washington, Fidel Castro, Mel Blanc, Willie Herenton, Groucho Marx, Bart Simpson or Al Pacino. But he didn't. Who did he choose? Me. He chose to document the life of his old man. Why did he choose me? For the very same reason a kid chooses For Whom The Bell Tolls for a book report, because he can watch the movie instead of reading it. Tracing my life took no studying, hardly any effort. More than an open book, I am a cinematic feature. Or a comedy short.

He did a bang up job on the project, too. He and his mother. I gathered Big Mama was the consultant's consultant when I noticed the gap between kindergarten and meeting her in high school, which becomes very important when you discover what all came after that auspicious day. That's a lot of missing time, though, like the Nixon tapes or adolescent Jesus. Perhaps I'm not as fascinating as I think. Perhaps I should have taken charge and suggest that he begin the story of me with Buddy Bolden stepping out of the chorus with his cornet the way my friend the artist begins his own chronology with Bill Traylor being born in 1854 and Gustav Klimt in 1862.

But I didn't take charge of the project, as I shouldn't have, because here is the time-line of me, according to C (and Kristy) and I wouldn't change a thing:

RJA (he has no clue what my real name is)
a.k.a. My Dad

August 14, 1970 - My dad, RJA, was born to R and E A in Memphis, TN
August, 1975 - RJA entered kindergarten at Idlewild Elementary
August, 1987 - Met KD, his future wife, in drama class at Kirby High School
May, 1988 - RJA graduated from Kirby High School
June 4, 1994 - RJA married KD in Fisher Gardens at Rhodes College
January 5, 1998 - Had his first son, CA
January, 1999 - Bought his business at 152 Madison Avenue
July 1, 2001 - Had his second son, JPA
September 14, 2002 - Had his first daughter, SA
May 28, 2006 - Had his second daughter, GKA

This time-line is made on a poster board with pictures drawn of me reading a book, riding a bike, running and carrying a baby. There are also photographs of me as a baby, a young boy, at my wedding and with each of my kids as babies. Except GK. Apparently we have no physical photo of her so there are, instead, two pictures of me with baby S, but one with the GK label. I'm hoping to add December 2007 - Finally ponies up for a decent camera to the time-line this year.