You’ve Got to Know When to Hold ‘Em

Bea woke up with the superdumps two days ago. I am not sure if it was the roughly half a can of Pringles (or, as she refers to them, “sprinkle chips”) she had consumed the day before, or the half a gallon of apple juice, but baby had the epic shits.

She was being her normal goofy self, so I chalked it up to some bad food choices. When she’d crapped maybe her eighth diaper in an hour, though, I became a bit concerned. Her green froggy blanket was covered in diarrhea. I’d wiped down the easy chair, Resolve’d the couch, and laid down a beach towel where she sat. She was happily eating Ritz crackers and drinking chocolate milk (It was skim milk with Nesquik, okay, give me a break), so I didn’t think it was a stomach bug.

After the 12th diaper and third bath (the first bath that didn’t end in her kicking poop around), I started putting old swim diapers on her and expressed concern that maybe we’d have to run to the store and get more regular diapers. Gina expressed concern that maybe Bea needed to go to the doctor.

“Nah,” I said. “They can’t really do anything for the shits.” Well, except stick an IV in you, but she wasn’t febrile (I love this word), or barfing, and she was still eating and drinking, so I figured this was just one of the Fun Things About Being a Parent.

Something occurred to me as afternoon struck. I’ve had the dumps before. Everyone has. There comes a point when you are experiencing the discomfort of dump contractions, but you’ve already shit your brains out, so you have to kinda hold that shit in. Maybe I’m wrong but I am pretty certain that when most people have diarrhea they don’t sit on the toilet for twelve hours of gaping assitude, leaking brown water every time they have the slightest tickle of a cramp. You suck your asshole in and hope you don’t shit yourself for a few minutes so you can live your life.

I can’t say I am an expert at this. I haven’t eaten at Olive Garden in five years because a bad experience with lobster ravioli had me shitting my jeans in Wal-Mart about 45 minutes after consumption. I’m not talking about a shart. I am saying it was a full-on pile like the one Laura Dern thrusts her arm into on Jurassic Park. You know, right after Steven Spielberg murders that poor defenseless endangered triceratops.

I will never forget the look on the face of the poor lad at the urinal as I leaned against the opposite wall and waited for the man in the single toilet stall to get the fuck out of there. My guts were audibly gurgling as I mustered all of my might to hold back the roiling flood. Wave after wave of ass contractions hit me until it happened.

It is not as if I decided to shit my pants, but at some point your body will collapse no matter the strength of your will or we’d all be lifting cars over our heads willy-nilly. No, the caca decided it was time to emerge, and my bowels emitted the noise the La Brea Tar Pits make on cartoons. The boy had concluded his business and turned to face me, slowly, as a look of horror dawned on his face, and the stall to my left finally opened, revealing some guy whose face I cannot remember because I was too busy having twelve pounds of crap slide into my flimsy Fruit of the Looms.

I waddled into the stall, removed my jeans, dumped my drawers into the toilet the best I could and cleaned myself as well as one is able to with the John Wayne TP they stock in that hellhole. Then, I did something heroic.

I put my shitty jeans back on and opted not to leave the dung encrusted boxers on the tile floor, which is, in my experience after over a decade in retail, what over 99% of the afflicted regularly do. No, I waited patiently for my chance and sprung from the stall to place them in their proper place, a trash receptacle.

Gingerly, I stepped from the restroom and did the walk of shame past Wal-Mart’s front checkout aisles. I drove home with the windows down, and when I arrived, I entered the shower fully clothed. There might have been a manly single tear or two shed in there, but it was hard to tell amongst the laughter and the rain.

With regard to Bea, it occurred to me that she might think pushing every time you have the poop tickle is the thing to do. She had achieved some semblance of potty training before Willie arrived and has experienced an almost total reversion, which is natural for kids to do when a baby comes along. Still, I knew she’d gotten it into her head that since she felt like pooping, she needed to poop. It was all the time now, thanks to being down with the sickness. She had become Dumps, defecator of worlds.

“Bea,” I said. “Stop pooping so much.”

“Stop pooping?” she asked.

“Yes Bea. You don’t have to poop all the time.”

“Oh, okay!” she said, and it was over. She stopped pooping.

Granted, I understand how this could lead to her holding it too much, but we can cross and/or burn that bridge when we get there. I didn’t say, “Never poop again.” I told her to stop pooping so much, and it seemed like she caught my drift. There’s something to be said for the fine art of Holding It.

The rest of the day was pretty uneventful, except for when she caught me playing Fallout 4 after her nap. I kept going because the kids find the settlement-building minigame pretty fascinating, and they seem to enjoy my descriptions of things. Cora thinks the guns are lasers and I rationalized this out loud by saying, “Well, it’s not any worse than Star Wars,” which is full of lasers, right? Gina didn’t buy this for a second.

I made the mistake of venturing out of town, where I was forced to put down some pesky raiders with my trusty sidearm. One guy’s head exploded after a critical hit and Bea said, in her best Shirley Temple, “Oh, no! That’s not very nice.”

I dropped the controller into my lap and put my hands over my face. “I can’t do this,” I muttered. “Guys, this is a game, okay. It’s not real, like a cartoon. You shouldn’t shoot anyone with anything.”

I saved my game and turned it off. “Hey kids,” I said, “it’s suppertime. Let’s go make some cornbread.”

They cheered, and we did.

Coraness Explained

When I’m talking to Cora, I like to ask open-ended questions so I can see how her brain sorts things out. This morning, she mentioned making pizza, and I asked her how she would do that.

She said, “I will get that white stuff, uh-” [inquiry]

“Dough,” I said.

“Yeah,” she said. “Dough. Then I will roll it out and put sauce, and, uh, other stuff [undetermined], and put it in the oven.”

“What other stuff?” I asked.

“Like, uh, cheese,” she said.

“Wait,” I said. “You don’t even like sauce. Why did you put sauce on the pizza?”

[Calculating

“Because that’s how you make it.”

It occurred to me that raising children isn’t far removed from the debugging scenes in Westworld.

I don’t want to gush too much about the new HBO version of Westworld because they aren’t paying me to do so. I wanted to say, “I’m not that guy,” but I am absolutely that guy. I am Don Draper’s dream, the running mouth, the titillated consumer.

Without spoiling too much (spoilers are a fake idea but I represent the minority opinion on that), there is a scene where a robot/android/synthetic person/whateverthefuckitis asks its creator (Dr. Robert Ford, played by Sir Anthony Hopkins) what the difference is between its pain and his pain. “They’re both created in the brain,” it says. It (he!) is obviously asking his creator to define consciousness (which, boy howdy, is a task in itself), and draw conclusions.

Ford throws a curve, and instead of saying he’s the conscious human and the robot is the mindless construct, he says that no one is more than the sum of their parts, and that we’re all built (grown? made?) to do what we do. Someone has been reading Daniel Dennett¹. Ford (who is depicted as somewhat of a Bad Dude) thinks we’re all meat puppets.

The writers of the show are obviously setting this up in opposition to a mysterious, as of yet unseen co-creator who identified with the park’s hosts (which is how they refer to the synthetic people) and thought they were capable of having a mind/spirit/soul/spark/je ne sais quoi/whatever/you know. Consciousness.

There are already hefty tomes on the nature of all that bullshit (and I say bullshit because your life will play out equally whichever you believe, unless you make it a founding principle that guides your actions), so I won’t get into all that, but as someone who agrees more with Sinister Roboticist Ford up there than the latter Dreamy McDreamerson when it comes to the question of consciousness, it’s a hell of a thing to interact with one’s own offspring.

“But Bob,” you’re thinking. “Aren’t you just saying that kids are neat? Is that really a profound discussion for people who are not currently stoned?”

I am, unfortunately, not currently stoned, but what I am saying is that it is something to watch their little meat computers make connections. I can almost see the code raining down like the fucking Matrix when they request input and spit something back out.

Here is an exchange Cora and I had last night, in the style of Cormac McCarthy.


I am making Bea chicken and fries. Do you want waffle fries or curly fries?

I want a orange, she said.

No, I mean for supper. What kind of fries?

I want a orange.

No, I am making Bea chicken and fries. Do you want big chicken?

No, I want a orange.

You can’t have an orange for supper.

I want a orange.

You can have an orange in addition to supper. Do you want chicken and fries?

I want a orange.

I have to make supper. You cannot have just this orange for supper.

No.

I am making Bea chicken and fries. Do you want curly fries or waffle fries?

I want a orange.

You may have an orange. I am asking about fries.

I want a orange.

The orange is here. The orange is happening.

Okay.

In addition to the orange there will also be fries.

No, I want a orange.

There will be an orange and fries together.

Okay.

I will give you this orange and I will cook chicken and fries.

No chicken. Just fries.

No big chicken? You want dino chicken like Bea?

Just fries.

Waffle fries or curly fries?

Waffle fries.

Okay.


The question now is, who programmed who? At the time, I felt as if I had scored a huge victory. We’d negotiated something without a nuclear meltdown occurring. I am sure there are some parents who would have said, “Hell no, you ain’t having an orange for supper,” and beaten her ass. There certainly exist plenty of others who would have tossed her an orange and prepared dinner without her input.

Maybe I’m more of a dreamer than I think. Dr. Ford would have spoken a command and his creation would have complied immediately. He doesn’t have any illusions about what makes anyone tick. Ford is serious about being in control. He’s certain that he’s created life, regardless of the labels society wants to throw at it. He can cause suffering or circumvent it. The meat is made manageable.

Since my children weren’t 3D printed in a lab, I have to deal with the weird, squishy mess behind their eyeballs, and that means parley. If that means we don’t have big chicken then, well, we’ll have it next time.

It’s easy to get frustrated. In some universe there exists a dictionary with my portrait printed in black inked lines, woodcut style, next to a host of entries, and frustration is one of them. Still, when I can be calm and crack the code, I am gripped by the sheer magnificence of it all.

¹Here’s some other books you might like, but you don’t have to take my word for it.

The Almighty Algorithm

Subject 23111978: “It was blue, mainly. Its favor, red, if you had at least one. If it was zero, you had nothing but the cold globe. Your side, of course. Jump on a plane and it would change, but it would be that side of the planet staring at you, silent. It saw and heard what it couldn’t have. They said it was bias, or things you’d searched. That happened, I know, but things I said? Things we never wrote? Things we never spoke? It knew. It knew. When the end came, we didn’t know how to organize. React, sure, but the people who had always fought, fought. The ones who reacted, reacted, and that’s all they could do, react, until there was nothing left to react to. When the screens went dark, we moved on.”

What’s on your mind?

Some of you seem to be confused by my social media strategy.

Actually deleting Facebook would be tantamount to Internet suicide. I am into triple reverse meta-ironic Facebook usage now. By posting on Twitter and Instagram and automatically sharing to Facebook, I can fling rocks at the poop without burying myself in it neck deep.

I have no hope that any of you will receive this message, since roughly ten people click these links on any given day, but maybe it will travel through the grapevine to your waiting ears. I may memorize this URL so that next time one of my co-workers laughs at me for giving up on my Facebook strike after less than a week, I can just start bellowing it over and over. “Get a pen. H T T P colon forward slash forward slash…”

(It’s okay, Veronique. I thought it was funny too.)

If you want to telegraph all your questionable political opinions while the online shock troops of the incoming American President are gearing up for war by sending death threats and showing up at pizza parlors with assault rifles (yes, gun nuts, I just used the meaningless term assault rifle and I also own firearms), be my guest. I will be out here orbiting Star Wormwood in my tin can, tossing down shitty poetry and propaganda leaflets.

I’ve also noticed that you never, ever click these links. IT WON’T FUCKING KILL YOU.

As always, I find that an adversarial relationship with my dwindling readership is best. Mom is out of town, in Boston visiting her other offspring, and there’s nothing left to do but browbeat the rest of you. I reached my highest audience yet in the month of November. December is threatening to plummet me back from semi-obscurity into absolute obscurity. It’s life on the Z List.

I do not often meta-post like this because no one gives a shit, but today isn’t a pity party. This is information you require in order to function in the future. I am not on Facebook, kids. I am not staring at my timeline. I am not plugged into the fucking feed. I do not have the app, I do not open the site in my browser, and I don’t see those delicious notifications. I am not a slave to the Almighty Algorithm. Well, I am, but I’ll stand across the street and yell at it instead of crawling under its boot.

It’s probably best to continue in this Wil Wheatonesque manner, to shit on Facebook from afar but still cross-post to it, to whine on Twitter, and to only respond to inquiries on my blog. My Internet personality is a mix between him and Kanye West. It’s worked for me since last century.

Still, I can’t get bogged down in that when I have other things to do, like raising two girls and an infant, staring at my beautiful wife (who is kind enough to keep me abreast of the important Facebook developments, delivering a Reader’s Digest version so I don’t have to gaze upon Medusa myself), and coming up with the Next Epic Tweetstorm That Will Get Me Noticed (by Eva Green’s oldest unofficial fan page, over 8000 impressions, fam).

Sorry, Zuckerberg. It’s the dopamine economy, and you just aren’t paying off. No amount of cute compilation videos will make up for the days I poured my heart out to the tune of two clicks. I’d rather climb into Kenscott Giga Ball and taste the void.

It’s over, baby. Have fun giving the Gestapo an easy list of people to collect in January, guys. I’ll be here, shitposting harder than ever.

I’d rather die on my blog than live on Facebook.

Crapstronaut

John Glenn died today
I’m the first man to orbit Facebook
’round the boundaries of Fantasia
Dropping tungsten poles, kinetic

Playing cool acoustic versions
Of the posts I never made

Tossing leaflets from my bomber
Tweeting Backderf about Dahmer
Sitting out here in my tin can
With the Cartmel Master Plan

Cranking Houses of the Holy
On the day of the National Whipped Cream Shortage

I’d already be home
If I weren’t killing my phone
For the hits
The hits

They just keep coming.

PsyOps

Commander Awesome of PsyCorps is bad at spellchecking, okay.

If you are gripped by boredom and/or have little regard for the way you spend your free time, check out The Archives. You’ve missed a few.

I’m still giggling about Kenscott Giga Ball. If that’s all I get out of this, I’m already winning.

Have a great day while you can, campers.

 

Kenscott Giga Ball

My life changed forever the day I saw Kenscott Giga Ball on The Ellen Show.

What a joy it would be, to crawl inside that inflatable plastic cocoon and experience the thrill of rolling about or just hiding for hours. I sped onto the Information Superhighway and moved some bitcoin around. “It’s finally happening,” I said to my computer screen.

I paid for top tier shipping, and the United Parcel Service was efficient, as always. Don’t believe those stories people tell you about packages tossed onto balconies or left out in the rain. Those brown-bedecked fellas are really top notch. You do get what you pay for. I could have clicked free shipping and waited two weeks, but this is important.

I called out sick from work the day it was scheduled to arrive. I didn’t want to miss this. There was a knock at the door and a mocha blur out the peephole as my trusty delivery guy made the grade. I was out onto the porch just in time to give him a wave and yell, “Hey, I thought this required a signature?”

He must have been in a big hurry because he didn’t hear me. Oh well, that holiday shipping traffic can be a bear.

I scooped up the box and tore at it while I launched back through the front door. Kenscott Giga Ball was mine at last. I yanked it from the packaging as quickly as I could manage without damaging the merchandise. My hands trembled as I fumbled for the air nozzle, grasping for purchase. Before I knew it, the sweet tangy plastic was on my tongue and I exhaled breath after breath into its cavity, expanding it, bringing it to life.

When it was as full as I dared to inflate it, I stood up and considered the entryway. It seemed a bit small for me, as I’ve put on a few pounds in the last year, but surely I could wriggle inside comfortably. I removed all my clothing just to be certain. My arms went in first and I pulled it over my head. It stopped right past my armpits.

“Don’t panic,” I said to myself. As the Doctor says, there’s always a chance. Maybe it’s one in a thousand, or one in a million, but it’s there, and you just have to find it. That’s Doctor Who, by the way. I’m a huge fan.

I went into the kitchen, scrambling for anything that could be used as lubricant. I settled on some old coconut oil that I’d stopped using (apparently it isn’t quite as healthy as some people had suggested) and slathered myself with it in great fistfuls. “Let’s do this,” I said to my empty home.

I attacked again with great gusto, penetrating it so sweetly until I reached my midsection. It was of no use. I extracted myself and went in legs first. That was even worse. It stuck at my ponderous gut, muffin topping me above its porthole.

A cry, like that of a wounded elk, escaped my lips, and I flailed about, finally falling over on my side. I lay there for a few minutes, sobbing, before I heard the Doctor’s voice. “There is a chance, Bobby” he said in that Scottish brogue. “There’s always a chance.” I arose.

After searching the Internet for a larger size, or even a comparable product, I came up with absolutely nothing. There were giant hamster balls, Wonder Wheels, but nothing approaching the sheer magnificence of Kenscott Giga Ball.

Then, it struck me. I had a plan.

It was my big secret for months. No one was in on this except me and Kenscott Giga Ball. After the first few weeks, I began to receive compliments from my coworkers. I enjoyed extra attention from the ladies, and even some of the guys. Let me tell you, I was tempted, but I did not falter. I kept my eyes on the prize.

A couple more months passed and the questions began. “Are you okay?” they said. I told them I was a bit under the weather, that’s all. The worry was plain on their faces. My boss told me that perhaps I should see a doctor, just to be sure. I know what he thought. It’s the Big C, or the HIV. My body, my business, pal. I wanted to say that, but I just told him I saw an episode of Ellen and it changed my life. That seemed to be good enough to get his conscience off the hook.

Last week, I hit the final phase. I called out sick again for this one. I won’t be going back. I have everything I need right here.

I’m ready now. I approach her (I decided it’s a she), oiled up again, but it’s only an added precaution. I don’t want to damage her. I know I’ll fit.

I go in head first, just as I was born, and pop over her threshold easily. I slither, her rubber squeaking ever so softly against my flesh, and I pull my legs inside. My breath is hot in her pocket and I wriggle about, tight, but with room to adjust. I swirl around like a Betta in a bowl and pop my face out her orifice one last time. Ah, yes. Here is the room where I spent so many hours staring into my laptop screen. Playing Skyrim. Making love to myself when no one else would. Goodbye, room. I have a new room now.

I feel lightheaded, so I curl up for a bit and put my arms around my knees. My heart had been pounding and I’d planned on doing more, but now something flutters in my chest. I wilt below, but that’s okay. Maybe later. I need rest now. Finally within her, I’m home. This is where I was meant to be, the place I’ve always been travelling to. This is my TARDIS. I think of the Doctor’s craggy old face, then I think of Kenscott Giga Ball.

I try to say it, Kenscott Giga Ball, but only a rasp escapes me. She knows I’m thinking of her. Hold me, love. It’s dark. I’m ready.

Plastic Valhalla
I am home.

Hold Me

The drive belt on my record player has gotten a bit tight, so the girls and I haven’t had Dance Party USA in a while. Its ailment is apparently caused by moisture, or age, or something (I can only Google these things). It makes everything play a bit fast, which is strangely okay for some artists, but not others. It turns the Beatles and Michael Jackson to shit. Van Halen is okay, but that’s debatable even in their intended state. I’d stopped listening to vinyl months ago in frustration.

I could purchase a new turntable, and in the past I would have. Thing is, years of financial folly have reduced me to penny pinching, so I make do with my Chipmunkesque combo player, which has paper clips jammed into the tape deck (thanks to Cora). Yes, I’m playing it on the correct speed.

I’ve been languishing on my phone, cranking YouTube videos out its shameful speaker, or silently staring at Fucking Facebook. That damned screen is almost always jammed into my face, and I reached the breaking point last week. If I’m home now, my recently-paid-off Samsung is on the charger. I’ve deleted The Dreaded App. I’m going cold turkey.

Bathtime rolled around and I got the girls set, temperature and toothbrush-wise. Cora is pretty adept at drain handling and faucet supervision, and Bea won’t send waterfalls through the kitchen ceiling if I make sure there aren’t any cups within reach. My office is adjacent to their bathroom and within view, so I’m pretty certain they won’t drown while I select a record.

I have an old greatest hits album by The Association, and I can (and often do) have a religious experience while yelling along to that thing. It might even be enhanced by the speed issues. I hope this isn’t sacrilege to any aficionados of vinyl or 1960s sunshine pop.

“Along Comes Mary” was blasting, and butt naked Bea came slipping and sliding into the room like Tom Cruise in Risky Business. She said, “Let’s rock and roll,” and began to cut a rug. She’s two-and-a-half. I flopped her on my dad’s old rocking chair and popped a diaper on her before the office floor became a pee puddle. It wouldn’t have been the first time. She left a funny wet butt and hand print on the fabric, which was a deeper red where she’d landed.

My father once told me he’d rock his grandchildren in that chair. Oh, we’re rockin’, Pops.

“Mary” was the last song on that side, so I went to lift the needle. “Do another,” she said, insistent.

“Okay,” I said. “If you want to rock, let’s rock.” I pulled Black Oak Arkansas out of my storage crate marked A-F and set the needle on “Hot and Nasty.” I whipped the hand towel I’d used to wipe up Bea’s footprints around like Elvis’s scarf, and bellowed. Bea performed an expert booty shake.

In the meantime, Gina was downstairs with William reading a text from her mother. Her grandfather, a 92-year-old WWII Navy veteran, had been knocked down by his dog. He didn’t break anything, but any fall at that age is harrowing.

Back upstairs, Cora had arrived in the office with her froggy towel over her head like a cape, and now we were really going. It was time. The song ended and I quickly switched out Jim “Dandy” Mangrum for Jefferson Starship’s “Jane,” my speed facilitated by the fact that it’s the first track on that side of Freedom at Point Zero. No eyeballing involved, just put the needle down and let it fly. This Simple Home Office DJ Trick Will Amaze You.

I was hitting all the high notes and making up my own. The girls were whirling dervishes. My hands and head were lifted to the heavens, then down, up, and down, communing with nature.

My wife was below, weeping, while the elephants paraded overhead. Later, she said she was more angry at the dog than anything, which I understood completely. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but when there’s that much at stake with an animal involved, my first inclination is to do away with the beast.

The People First Party going on above concluded its jam session with Fleetwood Mac’s “Hold Me,” good enough to sway to, but not so raucous that it would leave the girls hanging with their dials turned to eleven. It was time for bed.

The song ended to cries of more, but I deflected them with the promise of two bedtime stories. Bea, well on her way to mastering manipulation, made it four. I keep the books I most enjoy closer to the bed, so her choices were predetermined. You can’t outwit the master.

After the lullabies were sung and the kids were tucked and smooched, I floated down from Rock ‘n’ Roll Heaven to find grey-faced Gina, who gave me the news. We contemplated canine homicide together for a moment in the kitchen. This is how we blow off steam. We’re not about to start up Puppy Murder Inc., but someone does need to get that fucking mutt out of there.

I consider myself a semi-reasonable person, especially when I’ve had time to ruminate, so I know it’s not about the harrying hound. It’s about fear of loss. I’ve called it pre-grief before, and the scientists call it anticipatory grief, but it is what it is. Hell, he could live twenty more years, but we think, “What if?” We want to remove every pitfall. We second guess our decisions before they’re even made, then we dissect them afterward until there’s nothing left.

This ain’t my first rodeo, pardner.

Maybe it’s my protestant genetics, but even at the height of elation, guilt remains. It is the voice in the back of my head, like the one that whispered into the General’s ear at the moment of his triumph, “Respice post te. Hominem te memento.” 

Look behind you and remember that you are only a man.

Perhaps we are ridiculous and futile in our efforts. Maybe there’s a dog in your life that you’d sacrifice to defeat death itself! You’d stand victorious, glorious conqueror of entropy, as you somehow trapped the reaper in that canine carcass and set it ablaze, delivering us all from loss. We know, though, that our misdirected cruelty is in vain. It is a totem brutality committed against the ether, which runs through our fingers.

But we can dance, and repeat this stolen prayer (thanks, George), “Not today.” As long as my voice will carry, it is so. It is not now. It is never now as long as I can think it. There are guitars hidden in these grooves. The still autumn air waits to be moshed by our hot breath. The beams of my cheaply-constructed home moan and pop under my weight in reply to my pleas, “Hold me, hold me, hold me.”