Wednesday, May 30, 2007


Let's say you're lying in bed. Maybe you're trying to sleep; perhaps you're reading, or snuggling with your kids.

Suddenly, someone, unseen, hidden at the foot of your bed jams two or three needles deep into your foot, in the fleshy pad right underneath the piggy that gets no roast beef.

But these aren't ordinary needles. They're wired up, and your unseen tormentor spends the next three, four, six, ten hours (you never know how long it will last) idly flipping switches, sending currents into them at random.

Wouldn't you just want to reach down and pull those needles out? I want to. But I can't, since that particular foot hasn't been around since 1978.

It's called phantom pain. It's going to be a long night.

Welcome to my world.


Monday, May 28, 2007

Trouble in Texas

Or perhaps not.

The good Lt. has been given his PCS (Permanent Change of Station), and in October, will be reporting to a small Air Force Base in Texas, where he will command a squadron and will be, in effect, the second in command of the entire base. It's a position normally given to a Captain. You'll notice my son's name is not Captain Trouble.

Cool for him. His first real challenge, and a chance to show them what he's made of. Everybody's happy.

Well, no.

There's a problem: His girlfriend.

People often underestimate his girlfriend because she's got a bright, sunny disposition, tries to see the positive side of everything, and has a voice that sounds like she's eleven years old. When she was searching for a house for the two of them to move into, she was in Virginia, and he was in Iraq. She had to repeatedly assure her potential landlord that it wasn't a crank call from some preteen in DC.

She's also a shrewd businesswoman who misses few things, and knows her shit big time. When she bought her new car, she had another dealership on her phone, and was playing them both against each other. She got a great deal, which included a new paint job simply because she didn't like the car's color. She has major plans, and isn't afraid to go after them.

And none of them involve living in a West Texas border town.

So there, you see, is the dilemma.

My son has already decided the military will not be his career; he wants to be a cop. He likes the attention his abilities have brought him, but in the end, he has decided, policework is his dream. However, there is the small detail of his commitment to the Air Force to consider.

Plus, his girlfriend doesn't really like the military, to put it mildly. Right now, the staff in the little border town are putting together ideas and job situations that his girlfriend might find attractive. But she has her own dreams. One of the dreams involves studying in London, and opening a business there.

But no matter how good a cop my son is, I doubt he'd be able to get a job at Scotland Yard.

So there's conflicts right now. He's been out looking at engagement rings. I've counseled him against dropping a ring on her as an ultimatum. He's also said flat out he'll leave the Air Force if necessary. I've told him that if he's prepared to do that, make sure he's leaving it for a committed relationship.

It would be nice if all the pieces of one's life would just fall into place, and folks could just live happily ever after. Unfortunately, lives rarely work out that way.

And maybe that's a good thing.


Friday, May 25, 2007

Vegas, Baby

Finally got the camera back from the El-Tee. So here's the long-delayed photo essay on my trip to Las Vegas.

Vegas at night. Very, very busy. How busy? I was standing still when I took this shot. Vegas waits for no one.

A street preacher. This guy was really getting into it. Fire, brimstone, Sodom, Gomorrah, the whole magilla. Who's more whacked-out, though: him, or the folks who thought it would be a good idea to create a power- water- and money- sucking 'entertainment' city in the middle of the frikkin' dessert?

Here is what should be where Vegas currently sits. This is Red Rock Canyon, a dozen miles or so outside of the ever-expanding city limits. See the family in the corner? That's about how many people per acre this area could reasonably sustain. Any more than that, and you would have to start hauling in water, power, and food. Although the four who lived there would have a significantly different body mass index than these folks.

Red Rock was hot, dry, windy, gorgeous, and unforgiving. I wanted to stay there longer. There's a trail that leads to a little place called Ice Box Canyon, but we had been hiking for about three hours by the time we got to the trailhead for it, and I didn't think the kids could take another four hours. Didn't think I could either. The El Tee was ready for a little sprint. Bastard.

So that's what it's supposed to look like. But here's what's really there:

Thank Terry for this picture. She stopped me on a bridge and said 'Shoot that.' So I did.
One good thing about the place: I don't think I would have gotten the Queen of the Dorks to spend any serious time in the canyon. But we did have a really nice evening.

At the top of the faux Eiffel Tower.

We were up there for about twenty minutes, talking, enjoying the sites, and expounding on the incongruity of this city. Well, I was expounding. She was politely listening.

We actually spent about ten minutes longer than we either wanted, because I stopped next to a sign that led me to believe that we were to wait there for the down elevator. Then Terry politely pointed out that the elevator was actually around the corner.


And she thinks she's a dork...

This was the lady at the base of the tower who takes your picture before you go up and tells you that it will be available for purchase when we come back. I took her picture and offered a swap, but she demurred. Oh, well. After returning to the ground, we found the closest thing to a nice, quiet spot in vegas and hoisted a few. I felt mildly embarassed for drinking beer in front of her, but she seemed quite content with the foofy drink* she had in front of her, so it all worked out fine.

After we quenched our thirst, we set off for victuals, and ended up eating in an authentic Mexican restaurant next to a fake Venice Canal. I took this shot inbetween mouthfulls of a very well-prepared tuna. Or flounder. Haddock? Something fishy.

After the meal, we wandered over to Margaritaville where the World's Worst Band was playing. Seriously, they sucked. What they were doing to those instruments was almost, but not quite, exactly unlike music. Luckily, we were outside on a balcony, people-watching and talking some more, so we were only inflicted with superficial wounds, but when the waitress comes over to you and apologizes for the band, you gotta know someone in the booking department's going to get shitcanned soon.

It was close to midnight, so I had to get back to Troubletown. I called my son, and his girlfriend, who was just getting out of work, headed over to pick me up. We waited next to the fountains at the Bellagio

That was pretty much the extent of my time in the heart of the entertainment district. Although later on in the week, we went down to the old heart, and did the Fremont Street Experience:

That was pretty cool, too. What else did we do?

We hiked to the top...or at least, near the top of Mt. Charleston:

We were several hundred feet short of the peak, but we were still about 7500 feet above sea level.

One thing about this part of the world: sunset doesn't linger. It gets dark fast. By the time we made it back down to the bottom of the trail, we were almost out of light. And no, foolish tourists that we were, we weren't prepared for an evening on the mountain. And we were seriously up there, too. On the way back, Trouble put the car in neutral, and we coasted along at 65 mph for about a half hour.

This sign was on the roadside on the way back to the car. It's good to see that elementary geometry is so encouraged in the mountains of Nevada:

Another day, we went onto the base where the LT works.

I suggested that the planes might gain a bit more altitude if they replaced the cement landing gears with a lightweight metal. They're considering my suggestion.

The Grand Prix was in town, too. It was going on the week after we left, but there were time trials being held. We did our own version, though.

That's my little girl taking the inside track. This was probably one of the two biggest things we did while we were there. They were so excited to do this. As a Dad, I was worried they might be in over their heads, but I was wrong. My daughter drives a go-kart better at nine than I did as a teenager. But she was a piker compared to my son:

The 15 car, with the teenager, was the lead car. That's my boy behind him in the yankee cap. He started in the middle of the pack. This was going into the final turn of the second lap. He made up quite a bit of distance already. By the next lap, he was right on the kids tail:

And that's where he stayed, for the next three laps. Just before this spot on the track is an S-turn that neither of them navigated particularly well, but my son was always right on the kids bumper each time, but could never get the inside track.

Until the last lap, when my son, the sneaky little guy he is, put his left-front bumper just inside 15's right rear corner, and ever-so-gently nudged him as they were coming out of the S. Not enough to spin the kid out completely--just enough to fishtail him a bit, and he got around him.

Here you can see them both looking over at the control room. Because it was totally against the rules. Totally. And that's wrong. Yes. And I'm not smiling at the memory of the move right now, I'm not at all proud of his abilities, and yes, one of these days I'll certainly give him a stern talking-to about his behavior.

Yes. I certainly will.

So you may be wondering why, in this city with so much to do, we spent time at a rinky-dink go-cart park? Because the three hours we spent there cost us only slightly more than a three-minute ride for one of us on this:

That's the rollercoaster at New York, New York. We parked in their garage one night, and listened for a few moments to the terrified screams of the passengers as they zoomed past.

So that was some of what happened that week in April. A very laid-back, fun weekend, filled with laughter, swimming, and black-widow spiders, as well as what you've seen here.

It's probably going to be the last time--at least in the forseeable future--that I'll be heading there, too, since the Lt's been given his orders. He's not going to Iraq, thank God, but still, it's a topic for a different post.


*It was probably a cosmo, or martini, or something like that. Not really foofy, but my drinks pretty much all have one ingredient: Beer. Red wine. Single-malt whiskey. So, by comparison, something else in the glass besides that seems excessive.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


I took STBEW to Subway for lunch today. I had coupons. It was a working lunch.

We needed to discuss the divorce. It all came down to one thing:


Even though she's got nothing except an apartment being paid for by someone else, she wants it. Actually, what she wants is joint custody, but I won't do that. I need to be as distant from her as I can possibly be. So it's either her or me.

One of the things that originally endeared me to her was her indomitable spirit. She would not back down, or give up. It enabled her to work her way up from a part-time data entry clerk, to a manager at the local PBS station in about five years.

Maybe it's perspective, or maybe it's something else, but that indomitable spirit seems to have turned to spite-filled stubbornness.

I asked her not to fight for custody. She would lose. All that would happen is that a custody battle would delay the inevitable, and she'd probably get less visitation than what I'm offering.

She said she will get custody because a) my son and daughter share a bedroom* and b) I kissed a girl.**

Umm. Yeah. That all you got?

I offered her quite a bit of visitation: every other weekend, alternating Christmas/Thanksgiving, alternating winter/spring recesses, three weeks in the summer.

Eventually, tearfully, she said she would consider a month in the summer and both recesses. I got one recess back, and agreed to the month in the summer. I wrote it up and emailed it to her and my lawyer.

Then she defiantly demanded that she be allowed to attend school functions, and be able to get the kids after school. I gave in on the first one.

"You're treating me like a common fucking criminal," she said.

I reminded her as gently as I could that in February, she was a common criminal.

I took no joy in any of this. My friend Mike, who is my sponsor in Alanon, went through all of this crap thirty years ago. He's been a great help in this. His view on divorce is that if you're enjoying it, you're doing it for the wrong reasons.

I'm not enjoying this. Although the sandwich was pretty good.

I may not be the best parent in the world, but I'm here. I put in the effort on a daily basis. I've been doing it on my own for three years, and wish to continue to raise my children. And I don't want to keep her children away from her, despite what she might claim.

The problem is, she likes the idea of the kids much more than the kids themselves. And the problem is also that she won't admit it. Yes, she loves them. She's their mother. But that's not enough.

I don't know what the future holds. Maybe she'll get back into society and become a healthy successful person, entirely capable of holding down a job and raising the kids on her own.

Maybe, but that's not how the smart money's betting.


*Thre's actually two bedrooms available for them, but they've decided on their own to share one room, and make the other into a playroom. I've discussed splitting them up, but thre was much dragging of feet at the decision, so I've let them stay this way.

**Yeah, I told her. I told her the truth: that we were attracted to each other, so we decided it would be best for me to leave the group. I thought that partners were supposed to be honest with each other.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Pain Game

As a rule, I try to avoid superlatives.

Words like 'biggest,' 'fastest,' 'most' and 'least' tend to give me the heebie-jeebies. Likewise, I tend to avoid using 'always,' and 'never,' if for no other reason than to prevent me from having to eat my words later.

But when STBEW and her friends talked about childbirth as The Worst Pain Ever, well...

Actually, many times I just let it roll past. But the subject kept coming up. Over and over again. At every gathering, they would swap childbirthing stories, and tell each other that it was The Worst Pain Ever.


Childbirthing is not The Worst Pain Ever.

The guys already know, and the women can guess (and I'm certain that even the guys who disagree with me publicly will, in that dark place inside where only men can go, admit it to themselves):

The Worst PainEver is a hard rap in the testicles.

Don't believe me? Let's do a side-by-side comparison:

I will hereby readily admit that childbirthing is an intense, mindblowing pain, one that I will never truly be able to comprehend, no matter how many times I'm told that it's like passing a watermelon through my urethra. No way, no way, no how am I denigrating the intensity of the pain of childbbirthing. Women are a strong, fearsome lot, and they deserve vast amounts of respect for what they go through to keep the species alive.
  1. AGE: Most women who give birth do so between their late teens and early thirties. Yes, I know that it's possible to give birth as early as 13 and as late as 60, but the predominant childbirthing ages fall inside the aforementioned decade and a half. For men, it doesn't matter if you're aged four or ninety-four. There's no age limit as to when you can get a boot in the crotch.
  2. AWARENESS: Even in unplanned pregnancies, the mother-to-be almost always knows that a bundle of joy's about to be visited upon their household. Whole industries have sprung up around the concept of 'natural' childbirthing, with a lot of time spent on techniques to deal with the pain of the process. And, for many in the western world, there are drugs that will lessen, or completely eliminate, the pain of childbirth. Men, on the other hand, are usually quite surprised by a shot to the nadgers. I honestly can't imagine anyone who would plan to have this happen to them. One minute you're riding you bike, happy as can be, and there's a pothole and boom! Or your four year old son wants to show you his big-leage baseball swing and boom! Or you misjudge the amount of space between your eastbound body and that westbound guy with a briefcase and boom! Your neighbor's Irish Setter is a little to exuberant when he bounds over to sniff you and boom! The asshole in the next cubicle who never outgrew his high school locker room days reaches out and boom! You don't even have to be active; you can be sitting there reading the paper, and cross your legs when Big Jim and the Twins are in the wrong spot, underwear- wise, and, quite embarrasingly, boom.
  3. OPPORTUNITY: Let's put it this way: a whole bunch of things have to happen well before the blessed event in order to have the event happen at all, and if I need to 'splain it further then you shouldn't be reading this blog. And there's lots of women who will live full, productive, happy lives without giving birth. I would love to be able to live out the rest of my life without having something impact me where my personal Alleghany meets my Monongahela to form my very own Mighty Ohio, but we all know that ain't gonna happen.
  4. REPETITION: Once a woman gives birth, even in the most extreme circumstances, it's gonna be nine months at the minimum before it happens again. On the other hand, it can not even be thirty seconds after a shot to the groin, and guess what? Yep...boom! And finally:
  5. OUTCOME: Childbirth, as its name implies, brings forth a child. The only thing a shot to the stones will bring forth is a low groan and a little gas.
Yes, I know, not every pregnancy ends well. I've been there. But even though the US has the highest infant mortality rate in the western world, 99.5% of US births result in a child.

So, ladies: the next time you see a guy inadvertenly rap himself in the sack trying to open a bottle of wine, understand his pain.

And guys, if you have any brains at all, if you hear a woman talk about the intense pain of childbirth, for Pete's sake keep your piehole shut.


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Name Game

First thing you need to know is that STBEW never changed her last name.

She was born a Fornortoner,* and by God, she'll die one as well. I didn't care. I don't know if I would change my last name for someone else, either.

Before we married, we agreed that the first child would have my last name.

Ah--but what about Puddle and Lt. Trouble, you ask?** Weren't they already in the mix?

Well, I'm not their biological father; however, I've been in their lives since they were 3 and 6, and their dads were absentees. And yes, I'm using the plural. Lt. Trouble has his mother's last name, and Puddle has his father's last name. But I never think of them as stepchildren. They're all mine--all four of them. The only real difficulties in this situation weren't ours, but our friends', who had to write really small when they were addressing their Christmas cards to us.

When my wife was pregnant with our third child, we knew quite a few things: we knew the birth date, because since her first two were Cesearean,*** there wasn't any question of her trying to deliver this one traditionally. Her OB/GYN had the delivery date scheduled from the beginning of her second trimester; we also knew what were going to name our child should it be a boy--Frederick Arthur, after his maternal and paternal granfathers. And, we knew the child would have my last name. And we could have also known the sex of the child, but we chose not to find out. We thought there should be some mystery to the affair.

By the way, we also had a list of girl names, but I don't remember what they were. In fact, they were so unforgettable, that we couldn't remember them fifteen months later, when my wife got pregnant again.****

With this fourth pregnancy, there were a few more variables. Mostly in the area of naming the child. Unlike my son, we really didn't feel that there was anyone in the family we wanted to honor--especially if the baby was going to be a boy. And, to be honest, we were sorta betting it was going to be a boy. After all, the first three were boys. I know, I know--having three boys doesn't predict anything about the fourth pregnancy any more than three coin flips coming up heads will predict the odds of the next flip. But it just felt like we were only going to have boys.

As far as girl names--I had considered doing the same thing we did with our son--naming her after her grandmothers. But my mother told me in a very matter-of-fact way that while it may not technically be child abuse, naming a girl Eleanor isn't a very nice thing to do.

My wife's mother, however, was mum on the subject, having been dead for several years. So Natalie, or some variation of it, was in consideration. As was Veronica, which was my Grandmother's name, as well as STBEW's Confirmation name. Those were the early frontrunners, as well as some others pulled out of a baby book, for both genders.

Which was not unusual. What was unusual was the last-name discussion.

She was a Fornortoner, and I was a Pirate. Whose last name would this child take? It wasn't an easy decision. There was already one child with each last name in the family, so neither of us was 'due' (except, of course, in the child-inside-of-you-soon-to-come-out sense; in which case she was certainly due). What other variables could be used? Alphabetical order? Don't laugh--it's a big one in school. Folks whose last names are near the end of the alphabet often have lingering resentments about always being at back of the line. And although my wife's name was in the last 20% of the alphabet, my last name wasn't that far in front of it. Ease of spelling? My last name's Polish, hers is German. Mine has both unpronounced letters, and sounds without their normally corresponding letters. Hers has vowel and consonant clusters so unusual that it, too, needs to be spelled and re-spelled to people in order for them to get it right.

In the end, we agreed to let the baby decide. Or, rather, baby history: On my side of the family, the babies were born with hair. On her side, they were bald. Should the baby have as much hair or more than Frederick, it would be a Pirate. Less than that, and it would be a Fornotoner.

This colored my thinking about the whole event. A typical exchange was the one I had with my butcher the week before the baby was to be born. Like Fred, her birthday had been on the appointment calendar for months. My mom was up from Florida, and we were stocking up. The women at the butchers loved my son from the moment we brought him in, and they were looking forward to the new baby.

"So waddya want?" the woman behind the glass case asked.

"Five pounds of ground sirloin, ten pounds of chicken breasts, that pork loin..."

"No--the baby,"she clarified. "Boy or girl. What do you want?"

"I want hair."

Believe it or not, those sort of responses endeared me to the butcher. After the explanation, she then asked if we had any names picked out. I rattled off the Scotts and Seths and such we had on our list if it was a boy.

"And if it's a girl," I said, "We've got it narrowed down to either Veronica Nathalia, which are variations of family names, or Zoë Lucille. Zoë means 'life,' and Lucille means 'light,' so--

"Oh, don't name her Zoë," my mother interrupted, "I knew a girl named Zoë, and she was just a mean, nasty little girl."

Oh. Wow. What do you say when your Mom drops something like that on you? I didn't say much, really. I was pretty sure a) we'd have a boy, and b) even if we had a girl, we'd call her Veronica.


I should mention here that my wife and I didn't always see eye-to-eye, as our last-name disagreement (and, of course, our pending divorce) point out. One of our milder arguments came in the concept of children's names. She believed that you can't just give a baby a name; that name has to 'fit' the baby. I thought this was a kooky idea. You name the kid, and then the kid has that name. End of story.

"No," she said, "the name has to fit. You have to see the baby first, before you can name it."

I pointed out quite pointedly that we had Frederick's name picked out for him well before he was born. She looked at me as if I asked her why things hit the ground if I let go of them.

"That's because he's a Frederick."

Ah. He's a Frederick. It all makes sense to me now.


The day of the birth was upon us, and the hour of the birth was nigh. I was sitting outside the OR with my wife's OB/Gyn, while his team prepared her for the C-Section. This, by the way, was not the crusty old gasbag who delivered Lt. Trouble.

Her new doc was an energetic, genteel metrosexual Kentuckian, and my wife adored him, partly for the reassuring way he presented things, and partly for his accent. "That's normal," was his typical response to questions and concerns. Only it came out as "Theyat's nuormel." For instance, we used to meet up at the reservoir at lunchtime and walk two laps around it, but she started getting these pains in her pelvis, so we mentioned this at a checkup.

"Theyat's nuormel," he said. "It's not uncommon for women who've had three or four babies into their thirties to have the bones in their pelvises separate, and some of the smaller bones will poke, like little daggers, into the muscles and tissues surrounding the vagina, it's to be expected..."

This was some new meaning of 'nuormel' that I was not familiar with. I had a physical reaction to hearing it. "Gaaah!" I said, covering my ears. "Stop talking about that! My testicles are retracting!"

"Theyat's nuormel," he said. Testicle retraction in the husband when talking about these things is to be expected..."


So, there we were, sitting outside the OR, and he was expressing to me just how nuormel things like spurting blood and amniotic fluid can be, and that since this was a teaching hospital, there would be a group of interns assiting him.

And after he finished telling me about this, he asked, "Is there anything else we need to talk about?" To which I replied, "I will give you $20 if the first words out of your mouth are 'Look at all that hair.'"

And he said it. And although I will never admit it, he shouldn't have. Best twenty bucks I ever spent.

He also said "It's a girl!" Which surprised the hell out of both of us.

And just like with my son, I went over to welcome my daughter into the world, to sing to her, and tell her who I was...

But there was a doctor there. With a stethoscope, and a worried look on her face. "Can I get a nickyou nurse in here?" she asked.

Nickyou? What's a nickyou?

It is, I soon found out, a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. NICU.

What's wrong with my daughter? Soon, they were bundling her into a special gurney, and we went down the corridor to a small little room filled with very small babies. This was a serious room. Suddenly, hair or no hair was of little consequence.

The intern told the nurse that she couldn't hear sustained heart sounds. Or something like that. The nurse thanked the intern, and told her to get back to the OR.

She listened to my daughter's chest for a minute. Then she looked at me and grinned. "She couldn't hear her heart because she's crying so loud. Any baby that's crying like this has no problems. Get her out of here."

The gurney was much lighter on the way to the recovery room.


"What's her name?" My wife asked me. I was holding my daughter in my arms, walking her back and forth. She had stopped crying, but was odd in my arms. Not like my son, who felt right. She didn't. It was unusual.

I walked back and forth, saying names in a low voice. "Veronica Nathalia. Natalia Veronica. Natalie Veronica. Veronica Natalie. Nat. Ronnie." Nothing. I looked at my daughter, and I realized the truth. She wasn't a Veronica. Or a Natalie, or even a Nathalia, or any variation on those names.

Oh, well. Mom's gonna have to live with it. I whispered in her tiny ear:"Welcome to the family, Zoë Lucille." And with that, she settled perfectly into my arms, and my heart, and has lived there contentedly, my Life's Light, ever since.*****

And theyat's entaherly nuormel.


*Not her real last name, nor anyone else's real last name either. Do a google search for 'Fornotoner,' and you'll end up right back here.

**Only if you're a regular reader of this blog, that is. For those who just showed up: Lt. Trouble is my oldest son, an Air Force cop, and Puddle is his brother, a musician/author/artists, which means he works at a video store. Both are in their 20's, and neither lives at home.

***STBEW doesn't dilate. She was in labor with the future Lt. Trouble for 60 hours before her OB/GYN said, 'well, I guess we better do a C-Section, or they'll probably die.' Needless to say, she no longer required his services after the delivery.

****Of course, I can't tell you any of the boy names we had picked out for my daughter either, so maybe that just says something about us.

*****For what it's worth, my Mom recovered quite nicely. "Oh I didn't mean Zoë--I thought you said Zelda. The girls' name was Zelda. Zoë's a lovely, lovely name." Nice save, Mom. You should be playing for the Sabres.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

No, I'm Not A Terrible Person

I didn't stay at the party last night because you were there. That was the one and only reason I left.

I showed up before you, so I managed to say hello to everyone. And I didn't leave the moment you showed up; I stayed and made polite conversation. I informed you that we needed to talk, and I even suggested buying you lunch to talk about it. But it will be business. It will be about the divorce.

But I didn't stay because, frankly, I don't want to be around you. Not because you're a bad person, and I don't think you're a bad person, only a person making lots of bad decisions. You need help. Problem is, you've burned so many bridges so quickly that help is hard to find. You don't know where to look.

Well, you can't look here. This is the biggest bridge you burned. And that's why I said my apologies and left the party. Because I need to remove myself from situations where you might feel the need to ask, and I might feel the need to say yes.

I spent two years ignoring the signs, believing you were getting better. I helped you out when I could. I gave you money, gave you food, let you use my car, encouraged you. You repaid me by stealing from me. Again.

And you can say you were desperate and you can say it was the drugs and you can say you're sick and you will be right because it was the drugs and yes you're sick and you need help and you need compassion but you won't get it from me.

At least, not the help.

Understand this: I will not help you. Those words mean exactly that, and nothing else. They do not mean I don't care for you. I do. They don't mean I won't be civil to you. I will. You seem to think otherwise. You seem to think that if I speak to you in pleasant tones, and attempt to set aside some time with you to talk about how we will end this marraige and what roles each of us will play in raising our children that I have somehow decided that I will go back to helping you.

I won't.

So I'm sorry that the guy you were living with took all your foodstamps and didn't live up to his end of the bargain and now you have nothing. I won't ask you why you weren't staying at the halfway house where they fed you and gave you a bed and fellowship and support, and ended back up with a guy who dumped all your stuff on the curb. I also won't ask you why in the hell you gave him your foodstamps to begin with. And I won't give you money.

And I'm sorry that you have no way of getting the stuff from my house to your apartment. I told you I won't throw it away. It's yours to take, when you can take it. But I won't drive it over there.

And I'm sorry you didn't get to see your kids today. I am. But I saw you yesterday, and you knew as well as I did that today was Mother's Day. You didn't ask to see them today, did you? You know you don't have a phone. You know I don't know where you live. Still, you didn't do anything when you had the opportunity to do it. You asked me for money instead. I'm sorry, too, that we weren't here when you walked over to see them. But I wasn't going to just sit around on this beautiful day waiting for you to show up.

And I'm sorry most of all that it bothers me that I'm not doing these things.

But it's bothering me less and less. It may not seem like it, but it is.

And that's not terrible, at all.


Thursday, May 10, 2007

Splitting the Maraschino

Mom made everything equal. Or at least tried to.

She would spend--right down to the penny--exactly the same amount on her two sons. On clothing, on gifts, on everything. She would scrupulously divvy up everything fifty/fifty between us--right down to the fruit cocktail at dinner. It would only ever have one maraschino cherry in it, so mom would get out the paring knife, and I would get half, and my brother would get half.

For our part, watching our mother carefully weigh and measure every detail of our lives made us realize that she was not playing favorites, since we were of course rational human beings.

Like hell.

There was never any doubt in my mind that my brother was the favored son. He was, after all, the firstborn, the mechanically adept, the chip off the ol' 360-cubic-inch-engine block. Of course mom and dad liked him best.

And my brother for certain knew that I, as the baby, the charmer, quick with a joke and able to worm his way out of all sorts of work because I made my parents laugh, undoubtedly sat at the right hand.

It never occurred to us that we were both wrong.

Of course, it never occurred to mom that no matter how finely she split the maraschino, it wouldn't matter, so why bother?

That lesson is one of the many gifts that I got from my folks. In fact, 'I don't split the maraschino cherry' is my mantra when I get into 'he's getting more than me' situations. I am confident that they will each get enough, and besides, it's the love that's important, and I have plenty of that to give.


All this is by way of saying that, although I do my best, I have an inherent desire to make sure everything is equal between my kids. And since I wrote about my son's birth, I think I'm going to have to post about my daughter's entrance into the world soon.


Wednesday, May 09, 2007

My Future Ex-Brother-In-Law

For the purposes of this post, I'm going to have to give my Soon-To-Be-Ex-Wife's mother a name, simply because I can't write it without one. So, for the purposes of this post only, STBEW's last name will be Fornortoner. If there's anyone out there whose honest-to-God real last name is Fornortoner, you have my apology. And my sympathy.

I never called my mother-in-law anything.

Actually, she was never my mother-in-law, since she died almost a year before the wedding. But, before she died, I never used her name. She was introduced to me as 'my Mom' by my future STBEW, and her father, of course, was 'my Dad.' I wasn't going to call them Mom and Dad, and as a newly-minted adult, I chafed at calling them Mr. and Mrs. Fornotoner, but they didn't give me permission to use their first names. Hell, I didn't even know what they were for several months. So, I spent a lot of time getting myself into situations where I didn't have to call them anything. Which was fairly exhausting. After she died, and after the wedding, I did start to call the widower Fornortoner by his first name, but it was always impersonal pronouns with Mrs. F.

She was a bit of a hard, case, Natalie Fornortoner was. When we told them we were going to get married, all she said to us was: "Well, you've made mistakes before."

At the time I thought she was talking to her daughter. Now I'm not so sure.

Natalie and Fred met up when he was discharged from the Army in the mid1950's, and were married soon after. Even though she had a college degree and a full-time job, she quit the job shortly after getting pregnant, leaving him, with only a high school diploma, as the full-time breadwinner.

They had four children--all daughters, STBEW being the third--in the span of eight years, and her fate was sealed. Her dreams--and we all had dreams, didn't we?--were dashed.

So, she stayed at home and became a housewife, and from all accounts, not a very happy one. Over the years, all her promise turned sour and hard, and resentment became her ever-present, never mentioned secret companion. She was a bitter woman by the time I met her.

There were other secrets in her life too, as we have just recently discovered.

This weekend, the four daughters will be getting together to meet their brother. Half brother, actually--born in Brooklyn (about 350 miles away from Smugtown) in 1954, and put up for adoption at birth. He managed to find out his birth mother's name, and made contact with the oldest daughter earlier this year.

The eldest had apparently known about the adopted brother since sometime in the 1970's, but for some reason didn't think to mention this particular branch of the family tree to her sisters.

So, now the kids and I have been invited to a party to meet a man from a family I will soon be leaving. And honestly, I'd love to meet him.

But here's the thing: STBEW will be there too. And as much as I would like to meet this guy and his family, I don't want to be around STBEW even more.

I almost wrote 'I don't like feeling this anger I feel towards her.' right here. But that's not true. I do like it.

What I don't like--is that I like it. Does that make sense?

What I would like to feel about STBEW, eventually, is neutrality. Which is different than not feeling anything--which is originally what I thought I was going for. Not feeling anything is amoral, and in a way, hurtful. I don't want to hurt her. I also don't want to help her.

But right now, that's not something I can attain. And it's certainly unattainable when I'm in close proximity to her.

So, I must keep my distance. I'll drop off the kids (he's their uncle, after all), shake the man's hand, and then hit the road. At least, that's the plan for now.

Or maybe I'll stay. Because part of me says leaving would be giving STBEW still more power over me. Besides, it would be interesting to see how the Fornotoner genes developed outside of this particular alcoholic family.


Monday, May 07, 2007

Take Me Out

Sunday afternoon, the kids and I took in a ballgame. Smugtown lost 4-2, in a game they could have won. With one out at the top of the ninth, the second batter got on base with a beautifully executed drag bunt. The next batter popped out to short, but the fourth batter of the inning lined a double into the left field corner, scoring the runner from first...

Waitaminnit. The runners on third? Speedy little sucker who can get on base with a drag bunt doesn't score on a double?

Turns out he was watching the ball. What the fuck? With two outs you run on contact. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth and only down by two you run like hell. Even my son knows that. I guess that's why he's in Smugtown, and not in The Show.

So the next guy up--a 6'3" monster of a first baseman, with arms the size of...well, really big arms--grounds weakly to second. Just like he did the previous three at-bats. Game over.

Despite the loss, it was a good afternoon. Any afternoon at the ballpark is a good one. We had hot dogs. We had big salty pretzels. We drank lemonade (them) and Canadian beer (me). They had Dippin' Dots. And we sat right behind home plate for the first five innings, then we sat up high behind third base to try and catch a foul for two innings, then we sat down on a patch of grass that runs right down to the foul line along third base (with, of course, a fence separating the two areas) for the last two. The park in Smugtown is especially nice--it's consistently listed as one of the best places to take in a game. It's also eleven years old, which is the same age as my son, although his ties to baseball predate his birth.

I sing to my kids. I always have. In fact, I sang to them in utero. I chose a song for them, and sang it to my wife's belly every night. My daughter's song was You Are My Sunshine.

My son's song was Take Me Out to the Ballgame. And in case you're wondering, I picked both songs without knowing their gender.*

True Story: My son showed his independent streak from the moment he came out. He pushed his shoulders back, and arched his little back, and made sure the world knew he was there. I knew this, of course, because I was in the room at the time. I was told I could sit next to my wife, but that was it. No moving around The anaesthesiologist, who had his own theories about childbirthing, told me before we went in that I should ignore that, and go and talk to my baby when it was under the heat lamp, before they smeared erythromycn in his or her eyes.

So I did. I said hello to him, told him who I was, told him who he was, and told him I would fight bears for him. And I sang.

Take me out to the ball game
Take me out to the crowd
Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack
I don't care if I never get back
For it's root, root root for the Pirates**
If they don't win it's a shame
For it's one, two three strikes you're out
At the old ball game!

And my son, my beautiful son, stopped crying and looked at me. It was a connection that will never, ever leave me. Then they smeared erythromycin in his eyes, and whisked him away where he cried some more, and shortly took a shit on his pediatrician.

And I continued to sing it to him. When I changed his diaper. While I bathed him. When I fed him, rocked him to sleep or just held him, I would sing it to him.

Take me out to the ball game
Take me out to the crowd...

My son was born in February. In August, we took him to his first baseball game. He was bright eyed and happy, enjoying the evening, and the attention of the folks around him, and even parts of the game. He loved the sound of the crack of the bat.

And in the seventh inning, all nine thousand-plus fans*** in the ballpark stood up and sang:
Take me out to the ball game
Take me out to the crowd...
And my son stopped, and looked around, at everybody in the stadium singing his song with awe and wonder, and when they were done, he clapped. Because they did a good job of it.

And yes, every game we go to--especially at our lovely little stadium--we tell each other the story about the crowd singing to my son.

So it was a good day at the ballpark.

Unfortunately, on the way home, the brakes on my van failed.

But that's another story.


*Which was intentional. Both births were planned C-sections--for some reason, STBEW never dilated. So we figured since we knew pretty much to the minute when they were going to be born, we should keep some mystery to the process.

**Who else? Seriously, they've been my team all my life. It's just a coincidence. By the way, my son's a Yankee fan.

***Which is pretty darn good for a Triple-A team, attendance-wise.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

In Order to Save Our Country, We Have to Destroy Our Country

Thomas Sowell, encouraging his fellow thirty-percenters to keep drinking the Kool-Aid:

When I see the worsening degeneracy in our politicians, our media, our educators, and our intelligentsia, I can’t help wondering if the day may yet come when the only thing that can save this country is a military coup.

In the Wall Street Journal, Harvey Mansfield tells us that the President is in fact above the law:

In stormy times, the rule of law may seem to require the prudence and force that law, or present law, cannot supply, and the executive must be strong.

If you think I'm reading him wrong, be advised that the title of his article is: "The Case for the Strong Executive: Under some circumstances, the rule of law must yield to the need for energy."

Which circumstances he leaves up to us to guess. As long as it's 'stormy.'

And in todays New York Times, a senior administration official tells us that they had their fingers crossed when they agreed to stop the warrantless wiretapping in January.

But on Tuesday, the senior officials, including Michael McConnell, the new director of national intelligence, said they believed that the president still had the authority under Article II of the Constitution to once again order the N.S.A. to conduct surveillance inside the country without warrants.

During a hearing Tuesday of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mr. McConnell was asked by Senator Russ Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, whether he could promise that the administration would no longer sidestep the court when seeking warrants.

“Sir, the president’s authority under Article II is in the Constitution,” Mr. McConnell said. “So if the president chose to exercise Article II authority, that would be the president’s call.”

You may remember that the White House agreed to bring all requests for wiretapping to the FISA court, rather than take this matter to the courts to decide. Kidding! They were just kidding!

Do you remember the good old days, when Republicans were against having a totalitarian state?