Tuesday, April 17, 2018

I'm Fine, Dad...

At five, my kid is all about Daddy. We bond over all things guy. We sword fight, we wrestle, we run and jump and we charge into the woods. It's a great way for me to pretend I'm a kid again--I mean uh, hangout with my son.
Only now I’ve been replaced by the two boys across the street. Maybe seven and nine, they have new moves, new ideas, and they out “kid” me in every way. (I mean, hey, I’m only but so immature). They sword fight, only better. They build extravagant Lego space shuttles that put my rudimentary vehicles to shame. They don’t have jobs, so they are free to memorize the names and lines of every Star Wars villain. Simply put, I cannot compete. 

Sure, it’s nice to watch him interact and play in the front yard. Last week I was returning from my walk with the dogs. It was around six or so, that great time in the spring where the sun is low and warm and the trees were budding and I heard the sounds of kids playing in the yard. My yard. It was a nice little moment. 

“Hey buddy,” I said, getting to the driveway. 


He was busy, on the swing out front. The neighbor kids were pushing him (a little too high for my taste) and he was having a blast. I nodded, knowing how the swing sort of veers back into the tree after so many times and I was worried about his head hitting the tree so I edged my way over, you know, just so that I could swoop in if something were to happen. 

But my kid saw me coming, and I swear, I think he might have rolled his eyes. 
“Dad, I’m fine.”

And he was fine.  Completely, wonderfully, fine. SoI trudged up the driveway to the carport, where I found my wife standing there, smiling at me the way Adrian smiled at Rocky after a good pummeling. She wrapped me in a towel, rubbed my shoulders, and we commenced to what I think is considered an adult conversation. 

Okay, it wasn’t quite that dramatic, but after two years of being Mr. Fun, it does feel a little like a demotion. Though it is kind of cool watching this boy—not baby, not toddler, but all boy—run and play and charge and create. And if I’m being honest, my back sort of needs a rest. 

Monday, March 26, 2018

Phased Out

We're always saying how time moves so much slower when you're a kid. When you get to be an adult everything speeds up and the years go swooshing by. Yeah, I suppose,but in some ways maybe not. Think about it, for a kid, every day is one action-packed with rapid growth and development. Change comes hurling itself at them by the hour. Where I'm rigid and set in my ways, my son is still malleable—at least until it comes to lunch options...

For instance, my son and I had this routine, every Saturday I’d pack up the car with recycling then drive across the lot to the Re-Store. There, we’d check out all the junk, the new arrivals, whatever caught out eye. It got to the point that all the guys there new us. And we found all sorts of stuff. I wrote about it here.

I found myself looking forward to those Saturday mornings. The two of us bonding over all things discarded. Pipes, paint, rusty old tools. It didn’t matter what we found, we were hanging.

But then one Saturday  it stopped. He didn’t want to go. He didn’t care to buy any junk with Dad. I couldn’t believe it. I think Mom was relieved.

I blame Star Wars. Once he saw the power of the force, those old trinkets didn't seem so earth-shattering. 

Last summer, same thing. All he wanted to do was play baseball in the front yard. I got him a bat and ball and glove and even these little bases and we pitched whiffle balls and stayed out until dark and I think I may have gotten a teeny bit too caught up with being a kid and maybe-just-maybe had too much fun with it all. But it was great. And then it stopped.

We started hanging in the basement. Guy time. I’d play old records and we fixed up a clubhouse under the steps. Those were some good times. I wrote about it here. But now? Nope. No basement, no clubhouse.

Again. I blame Star Wars.

But seriously. My kid is changing by the day. He's getting older and wiser and bigger and stronger. Me? Not so much. It takes me longer to switch gears. Maybe I just have trouble with change. I still like playing old jazz records in the basement but there will come a time (like now, you're probably thinking) that that might not be so cool. 

It’s like Curious George. One minute we’re watching George play with a squirrel, then, well, Star Wars.

But it’s okay. We all have to change. I mean, I can’t go to his first day at kindergarten with him in a stroller, right? He’s growing. And the important thing is that I’m enjoying watching him live and learn and grow. I have to enjoy these phases and moments for what they’re worth, because at least were together. And then comes along a day like yesterday, where we found an old used soccer ball and then stopped off for a kite. We had the park all to ourselves and the sky was blue and perfect and I'm out there, my hands on my head, watching this kid tearing across the field, pulling a kite along. And I'm just laughing like a maniac because it's just such a moment. It's like a gust of wind came along and swept me away. 

Later still he's in my arms. We're in the driveway. He's got a stick in his hand, pretending to be Yoda. I point up and we stare at the moon. He falls into me and we watch a jet silently make its way across the sky. It last only seconds, but I'm squeezing the crap out of those seconds. Because it’s scary to think how one day soon all these moments will be like one big scrap book in my head. And then he’ll be grown, and these days will be gone completely. 

Man, one day I'll miss Star Wars...

Thursday, February 8, 2018

The Grooves of Time

A few years ago, my dad gave me something more valuable than money--his record collection. Not just any collection, my dad was radio DJ for more than half his life, and over that time he amassed a library of wide-ranging titles that span from classic to quirky to I-can’t-believe-that-was-even-made. 

Moving the collection took time. Crate by crate, box by box, we carted the music from his basement to mine, just as we’d carted those records along with speakers, turntables, mixer, wires and that lead heavy Peavey amp into church halls, bars, lake houses, gymnasiums, and everywhere in between so many years ago.  

I've got some CD’s, tapes and even a couple eight tracks. I've even got a few of my father's old air checks from the station that are a blast. But the records, that's what I remember most. And it's even more fun now, watching my son listen and learn. 

It’s something to see, a five-year-old gently setting the needle on the record. He’s got decent taste, too, although the Star Wars arrangement gets most of the play as we dual it out with light sabers. But he digs Michael Jackson and he loves Inner Circle's Bad Boys theme. And Joan Jett, too. It cracks me up whenever I hear him singing I love Rock and Roll…

The of the album cover has a chunk taken out, right at Joan Jett’s elbow. We had this dog, a German shepherd named Samantha. She was a handful, a pure bred runt that I hand picked from the litter. She ate everything, with a particular penchant for wax. One day we caught her chewing on that record, and well, it’s how it still is today.

Pure nostalgia, those records. It’s where I remember and pass along new memories to my kid. It’s where we don’t watch TV. We don’t play on the computer. It’s analog time. No screens and no modem. It’s where we’ve built a clubhouse under the steps, and where we dance like fools because it's what we do. 

The 45’s (those smaller, one song records for those younger readers) are a goldmine. Anything from the twentieth century lurks in those rows of analog treasures lining the makeshift shelves. From Newcleous’ Jam on It, to The Fat Boys w/ the Beach Boys (yep, look it up), to Sinatra to U2, Simply Red, Blue Oyster Colt  and so on, the most random playlist take shape down there. I remember playing We Are the World followed by Heavy D and the Boyz followed by some Boz Skaggs. It’s pure chaos. You really never know.

And the sleeves, with dedications and quickly scrawled requests. Scribbles about times and dates. You can’t find that on Amazon.  Those records have seen more Proms than an old gym coach. Wedding ceremonies, dance clubs, it’s all there, and even a scribbled out time slots of when to play the records at the station. Stickers to show what sides, notes and trial and error scribbles of advice. FADES AT 3:14, or DON’T PLAY BEFORE 4PM! Yep, apparently to DJ’s everywhere, Kool and the Gang’s, Let’s Groove Tonight, was meant to be taken literally. I can also tell you thatPaul Simon’s, Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard was getting some serious play in 1979.

There’s something about the classics. I mean, what is it about The Beatles that even today you can play The White Album and a kid’s head pops up like, That’s somebody. Who is that, Daddy? We rock out to Jimi Hendrix, Van Morrison, Led Zeppelin. Then of course there’s the old standards. Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, and, Oh my God I must be getting old because I knew Count Basie. But from Big Band, Blues, Jazz. My rap records from the eighties. It’s all down there.

Some of my friends don’t get it, and that’s fine, people are busy, space is limited. Not everyone wants to spend their time in an musty basement, playing the records of yesterday. They say that all these songs come on the radio, and that may be true in some cases. But knowing my dad saved Midnight Serenade from the tile floor of an old AM radio station that is now demolished gives me a little bit of nostalgia that can’t be found on IHeart radio.

It’s that crackle and pop between songs, that dusty groove of Otis Redding or Marvin Gaye. Like I wouldn’t want to fire up those old spray painted Toa speakers, the ones hauled around town every weekend thirty, forty years ago so that he could keep the lights on at home, so that we could have Christmas. Heavy or not, scratches and skips, spray painted or not, I wouldn’t change them for the world.

So I’ll gladly play curator of my past. I’ll turn on the lamp in the radio, flip through the dusty wax and find just the right track, maybe I’m on Fire by Springsteen, or Take the Five Train by Duke Ellington, I’ll take it every time I can get down the steps to relive some magic.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Looking In...

I like to grill in the wintertime. Even if it’s snowing. Especially if it's snowing. For me, there's something about firing up the flames in the cold. Some people disagree, like say, the girl at the Uhaul store where I get my propane tank filled. 

So last night I was grilling burgers and veggie packets. It wasn't snowing but it was cold and rainy and I had to laugh when I noticed I still had my light saber in my belt loop. Having just survived another epic battle with my five-year old son down the hallway, it seemed like these days my dad duties are all over the galaxy. Just another work/school night in the household. 

I brought in the packets and came back to toast the buns on the grill. I had a minute so I wandered out to the driveway. The street was quiet and slick from the rain. I turned to the front window of our house and caught a glimpse of my son performing his newest chore: setting the dinner table. I walked closer for a better view. To anyone outside, I was a man with a light saber standing in the cold staring at his own house. And yeah, that was half of it. But I was a man (with a light saber) taking in his good fortune. 

I saw a little boy carefully placing the napkins and silverware, his little lips moving with a song or thought. I saw the pictures spanning the wall, tiny moments captured in time, held like specimens behind glass. I saw my wife, walking into the room, explaining a custom or memory with a smile, the boy's eyes going bright with wonder. I saw our two dogs, cozying up under the table where they might score a bite.

Without sound or distraction, I peered through my own window at what otherwise was lost in the shuffle. I was a step removed from a scene in the movie that is my life. I smiled, watching these characters I might take for granted. And it really was that simple. Time and Family. This. The good fortune to have the means to live in a house, no matter how modest, and to share a meal on a Monday. But perhaps what made it so special was that I could turn away and walk straight into that scene, take my place at that second table with two people I cherished. What a lucky guy.

So here’s to gray, gloomy Monday nights. To grilling with light sabers. To realizing luck, fate, and that glowing fortune framed in the window. To having no idea where the time went but knowing it was spent well.

Although I did burn the buns….