The Weekend

I’ve received a rare gift: A three day weekend off work with all of my children. This is a blessing I’ll not squander. I’m signing off until Monday. I know all twenty of you will be heartbroken.

I’ve put great pressure on myself to write against all odds over the past year, and I’ve become better for it. Sometimes I’ve probably done too much, between family and work, but the worthwhile things are not the easy ones. My site traffic has grown, and while I’ve experienced ups and downs, much like the arc of history, it bends towards something.

I hope you’ll read the archives if you haven’t already. This isn’t something that happens as often as I like. Every once in a while I view the metrics and notice someone catching up, or engaging in discovery. That’s a nice process to witness. Uncommon, but nice.

2016 Archives by Arbitrary-Ass Category

2017 Archives Organized Whimsically

Events global, local, and personal have granted me even more perspective. Unlike building character, which I am absolutely done with (when someone pulls out that old zinger, I always reply with, “I already have way more character than I’ll ever need.”), perspective is something that always needs refilling. It’s not an accomplishment, it’s a fuel tank, and if insulated from circumstance, we’re susceptible to tunnel vision.

I don’t know if I’m chronicling the fall of Western civilization, as I have so often quipped. I am chronicling the last days of Bob Talbot, long may they be, because anything we record has potential to stand as our final accessible thought. Here it is, on my own website. I hope someone pays the bill after I’m gone. I hope there’s a bill to be paid.

If I had one request, it would be that when you see something you like here, or something that rings true, you share it with a friend. That’s all. I get no money from this endeavor and I don’t want any. All I’ve ever wanted is for people to read what I write.

This sounds a bit morbid, so let me assure you, I am fine, or as fine as anyone can be. These are perilous times, and Bea is here asking for a hug. “Hold me,” she said. I picked her up and told her I have to finish writing one thing and then I’ll play with her all weekend. “I think you want to play with me,” she said. “Can you get Hungry Hippo out of the closet?” I did.

I’m already screwing up my pledge so I’ll sign off here. It can’t always be kid time, but when it is, it is. The bills will get paid when they get paid. Work will wait. The rush beckons, for it needs participants to be considered a stampede. If everyone stayed home for the weekend, what bustle would there be?

Today on the day of the General Strike, which never got legs as far as I can tell, in the middle of February when things seem uncertain, the sun is out, and it’s unseasonably warm, a harbinger of what’s to follow. We have light and life today. There are dandelions for Cora to pick and pile. I’ll call the lawn man soon, and we’ll start over.

Have a good weekend, dear reader. Thank you for your time. It is precious.

Snow Day

“I haven’t been surprised by snow since I was a child,” I said.

“Yeah,” the UPS guy said. “I don’t remember the last time the forecast was this wrong.”

“Oh yeah, it’s crazy,” I said. I was sure there existed a world of weirder events but I wasn’t about to remove my gloves and start Googling. No reason to be that guy while we froze our asses off and shot the shit.

“I’m wearing the wrong shoes for this,” he said. So was I. My leather boots had soaked through to my socks.

In my long-haired youth, I’d attended an outdoor concert on Beale Street and stood there with nothing but black leather Doc Martins and threadbare cotton socks between my poor feet and the 45° F chill. My body shook for hours after I escaped the elements.

I relayed this to the UPS guy. “I don’t know what I’m going to do,” he said.

He lamented having let his girls play in the snow before work. “Just run on out there,” he’d told them. It was still below 20° F, and he was concerned they’d been as cold as he was.

“Yeah, I didn’t let mine,” I said. “I didn’t want to get my work clothes wet.”

This morning, while I prepared coffee (between shushing the girls and fetching their requests), I wondered how many more times it would snow while they were small.

I kissed them goodbye while they stared at their tablets, which they still refer to as Talbots. The journey to the mall wasn’t as terrible as I’d anticipated, even on two-wheel-drive. That said, the combination of conditions and cockiness had landed enough people in the ditch to result in road closings on Jonesboro’s more hilly terrain.

The maintenance man and I entered the building and complained about the inaccurate forecast. “They can’t predict the weather,” he said.

“You’re right,” I said. “It’s too chaotic. You can’t predict that.”

The back buzzer sounded and I opened the receiving door into the alley. The UPS guy had apparently gotten a phone call in the meantime. He scanned boxes with one hand while he told someone he’d be by when he finished the mall.

He stuck his phone in his pocket and looked at me. “Your last name is Talbot, right?”

“Yep.”

“Are you related to someone over at the dress store?”

“Yeah,” I said. “That’s my ex-wife.”

“Ah, okay,” he said. “She was checking to see if I could come by there first because they’re closing early. I didn’t want to say something if-”

“Dude,” I said, “you can say whatever you want. She kept the name for some reason. I guess I’m going to populate the earth with Talbots.”

He laughed. I have no such plans, but I’ll lie in the name of comradery.

“It’s a small world,” he said.

Gina, the last Talbot I’ll make (by legal contract anyway), texted to inform me the girls were going berserk with snowlust. At least that’s how I interpreted the situation. Since I left for work, they’d been alternating between mauling each other and launching towards Willie’s delicate skull.

Their mother arrived, only slightly delayed by the inclement weather, and carried them away before they did any permanent damage. I assume she dropped them off somewhere before she gave UPS a courtesy call. Cora’s preschool was closed, and I’ve had to go get the girls from day care before on account of heavy rain.

They’re probably reenacting Revenant in some friend’s yard. I’m not always privy to such things, but I trust they’re safe.

The roads are clear enough for business. Mother Nature has done what our plow-deficient city planners could not. The occasional sirens remind me it’s not over yet, and the encroaching evening threatens to solidify the slop.

Still, there’s enough pristine powder on the grass to thrill a youngster. It’s probably not the right consistency for construction, but I wouldn’t blame anyone for trying.

Write Caffeinated, Edit Never

Kids are loud. They just are. Once I got called a little shit by someone’s mother on a field trip because I was so damned loud and apparently didn’t know how to act. I don’t remember doing anything other than having fun playing video games. They were the big coin-operated cabinets you see in the movies. I have to explain this because you may have grown up playing Angry Birds on your mom’s phone.

Maybe I’m loud by nature. My family gatherings have always been a cacophony of competing conversations consisting (jesus, bob) of crude remarks (c-c-c-combo breaker) and hilarious anecdotes that increase in volume until we’ve surpassed Sepultura and jet engines in decibel level.

I’m still haunted by a date at Outback Steakhouse where a couple at the table in front of me asked to change booths because I was such an “obnoxious redneck.” It bothers me more that it was two dudes, because that clashes with my self-image of being some kind of hero for the downtrodden (even though that’s a security blanket I pull over the body that houses this poisoned mind).

After ruminating on it for years, I’ve concluded that I must have said something that sounded like a slur but wasn’t. I’ve considered that it might have been my boisterous excitability combined with my accent that led the gentleman (singular, because his partner was sitting quietly while he flailed at the worried waitstaff) to believe that I was leading some kind of two-person Klan meeting, but he sounded just as Southern and flamboyant as I do.

I should have bought him a drink.

By these powers combined, my children are loud. They are rambunctious and impulsive and often berserk. I sound like some sort of odd mansnake following them around hushing, “Shhhhhh. Shhhhh. Guys. Guys. Shhhh. Shhhhhhhhhh.

(I should start doing it in a Cobra Commander voice, one of the few impressions I can actually do, or at least I think I can. It probably sounds like Michael Scott doing an impression, which is what all my impressions sound like. I once performed Bane relentlessly with my hands cupped over my mouth until my coworkers stared at me, silently waiting for the mercy of my exit from that part of the building. It will get funny again if I keep doing it, right? Seth MacFarlane, you are the King of Lies.)

The hipsters recoil at our presence. The moms give me a knowing smile and nod. Yes. Yes, what a good man. The old men chuckle, the old ladies are too old for that shit and the childfree go home and make rageposts about how some guy’s kids ruined their shopping trip they just fucking ruined it.

Yesterday we went to the dentist to get Cora’s semiannual checkup. I brought Bea along, on the advice of my dental hygienist, to get her accustomed to the ordeal. The girls were as good as they could possibly be (a disclaimer that includes playing tug of war with their scarves, instigation of crimes against magazines, and compulsive dancing and seat-switching along with some light grappling), but I was also glad that the waiting room was full of smiling young women, including a mother who kept grinning and whispering something to her adolescent son.

I hope it was something like, “Look at how patient the man is, how he speaks to them so kindly,” and not, “Haha that jackass has no fucking idea what he is doing.”

It is sort of a weird personal fable that I think she was even talking about us at all. She might have been talking about the weather or asking him when we were finally going to get Kony. “Son, you need to remember that this shit is about ethics in videogames journalism.”

Christ, Mom, those memes are so old. why do you always have to try to embarrass me at the dentist?”

“Sorry, bae bae. I’m so wrapped up in this thesis I can’t get my head straight. When I’m the dean of Meme College, we’re going to put all this behind us.”

Gina often refers to the girls as the elephants when they’re running around upstairs. My house was a Kent Arnold Home, which means something to people around here, namely that Kent Arnold is a land developer who weaseled his way onto the jury in the infamous miscarriage of justice known as West Memphis Three trial (Google that and him and go wild, if your heart so desires) and he has filled the bustling city of Jonesboro, population 77,000, with beautiful little cheap-ass homes.

I would catalog its defects in loving detail but I don’t want to get sued. The relevant one is that the thin, popping sheets of plywood that make up the top floor resonate like a drum when the pitter patter of tiny amplified feet, which support 30-40 pounds of little girl, convince me that either Lars Ulrich snuck over for an impromptu jam session or someone dropped a safe down the stairwell.

We’re Talbot Loud and Talbot Proud, which is really the patriarchal gentrification of everything Henderson. My mom’s family is the loud one. I’m always talking about the Talbot Rage™, but once again I don’t recall seeing any person who was born with the Talbot surname flip shit until my generation rolled along. Come to think of it, that part wasn’t even so much Henderson. I have an inkling it may have snaked its way through maiden names for generations but I don’t have any evidence to back it up. See, part of me would love to blame it on women (pay no attention to the misogynist behind the curtain, I am the great and powerful Bob), but it’s probably nature across the board, with a whole lot of nurture dumped on top of it.

So the big shit has little shits. Tough shit, I guess. I hope they can keep it down when I’m forced to throw together an impromptu fallout shelter under the stairs. All that shushing is going to give our position away to the raiders. You know, the roving bands of brigands that will comb the wastes after Donnie tweets at China for the last time.

I’m going to give you guys until next week to figure out a way Bernie can still win. We’re going to be forced to eat the cat and I usually can’t get Cora to finish her tater tots. Gina can’t lactate enough for the four of us. Wait, can she?

THERE’S ONLY ONE WAY TO FIND OUT.

The Night Cow by Cormac McCarthy

The cow stood looming in megablok wreckage while an oscillating fan cranked back and forth on its utmost setting. The revolving constellation lamp reflected a desert sky Milky Way off its inky pupils. Lies made truth of legend. To salivate on follicles like a louse enlarged past practicality and yet its temeritous purpose was prescient. It was here to lick and make a mess of hair that would not yield to brush or comb no matter how the head was handled.

Dad, I am afraid of the Night Cow, she said.

It’s not going to do anything to you. It’s going to lick your head.

It’s going to scream at me.

No it isn’t. It’s going to moo. Cows go moo. Moo.

What does it look like?

It looks like a cow. You aren’t afraid of cows are you?

No.

Okay then. I love you.

I love you too.

Have a good dream.

Have a good dream.

Dad?

What?

Never mind. Goodnight.

Goodnight.

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.

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.”

Face the Namecloud

I’m not sure I realized it when we came up with Willie’s name, but we’ve created a treasure trove of nicknames. I can and will (no pun intended) work with “William” and “Patrick” indefinitely.

So far I have called him:

Willie
Wiggles
Willie Wiggles
Willie P. Wiggles
William
Will
Wills
Squilliam
Squilliam P. Squiggles (but never Squilliam Squiggles)
Squealie
Squeals
Wild Bill Hiccups
Stormageddon
Big Worm
WilliePats

I am certain this list will grow exponentially in the coming years.

These will all be acceptable monikers when he goes into his field of interest, be it Star Ravaging, Baseball, Day Trading, Fencing, Marine Biology, or Ballet.

I will not call him Rick nor will I ever acknowledge Rick. Rick is for radio DJs and switchblade aficionados with snake tattoos. Fathers don’t let their babies grow up to work for Clear Channel.

My goal is for him to have absolutely no idea what his actual name is, but only a general notion of what it may be based on. A virtual name cloud, if you will.

This new fearless approach to nomenclature is going to be all the rage in the mid to late 21st century. You think you have it rough now, baristas. Just wait.

The Secret Chord

It is the eve of All Hallows’ Eve, and we’ve already escaped the clutches of doom. Standard Halloween scares don’t seem so spooky when you’ve seen your uncertain future dangling by its own umbilical cord. I think we’ll be weathering this one with our porch light off.

We checked into the Northeast Arkansas Baptist Memorial Hospital last Wednesday night. Gina’s protein levels were elevated past normal in her last screening and we’d been informed via telephone that she was in the early stages of preeclampsia. In retrospect, it must have been pre-preeclampsia, because the other hospital staff kept expressing disbelief that she actually had preeclampsia. I trust that our physician wasn’t being overly cautious and that the early delivery was warranted, but I also know nurses usually Question Everything. I saw this quirk save my father’s life back in 2008, but I also cannot tell you how many times I’ve had to listen to “well, the doctor” tirades.

The torture began shortly after Gina disrobed and climbed into her adjustable bed. It was hard and lumpy, designed with delivering babies in mind, not comfort. Everyone was kind and sympathetic as they performed their duties, which was appreciated because the onslaught of needle sticks and delivery of chemicals would have seemed like an assault otherwise. I’m not completely ignorant of modern medical practices, but the things we do to people every day, while miraculous, are simultaneously brutal in application. I always think back to Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy saving Chekov from 1986-style brain surgery in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Thirty years later, we aren’t so removed from the “Dark Ages” and “medievalism” that the 23rd century physician denigrated.

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Thursday morning got rolling early with a pitocin drip, which a nurse would come in and crank up periodically. Gina’s answer to the often-referenced 1-10 pain scale question crept up as the day wore on. Four. Five. Six or seven. Seven.

Our OB-GYN attempted to break Gina’s water at midday. I held her hand as he jabbed at her placenta with a dull plastic stick. She weathered this intrusion heroically, which even he noticed and pointed out after deciding the procedure wasn’t going to be effective. He upped the pitocin. I waited while she contracted. Seven or eight. Eight.

I became very aware that my position on this field was waterboy. Gina was the star quarterback and the doctor and nurses were coach and team. I held her hand and watched the monitors, I reminded her to breathe, when necessary, and I told her everything was going to be okay, whether I believed it or not. When the OB-GYN came back later, observed no progress, and asked if she wanted him to perform a cesarean section, she looked at me and said, “What do you think we should do?”

I told her that I couldn’t tell her that because she was the one doing it. “It’s your body,” I said. The OB-GYN said that was the correct answer. She opted for him to try piercing her again. He did.

I held her hand and stroked her forehead while he ripped through. He was simultaneously apologetic about the pain and impressed by her tolerance. We were elated that perhaps now we’d be on the road to a delivery after almost 24 hours of being told that her extreme duress “wasn’t really labor” simply because she wasn’t dilating. I was in awe of her. I always have been, but I felt I was witnessing something extraordinary, as if some caped person had flown down and lifted a bus.

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The contractions were hellish without the cushion of an unbroken amniotic sac. She rode it out for hours and I stood by her, hands squeezed until our knuckles turned white. I shifted my weight from foot to foot because I could not move from that spot. I thought of standing on the deck of the Tia Rose and staring at the horizon as the ship pitched in the sea. The monitors. The mountains. The chart. The waves.

Our RN that shift, a travel nurse whose name I unfortunately do not recall, checked Gina’s dilation again at our request. She was still barely three centimeters, which apparently wasn’t enough to get an epidural. The OB-GYN wanted her to be at least four before she was medicated. As I’ve spoken to people about this strategy over the past two days, I’ve received mixed replies. Some have said it’s necessary in order for labor to progress safely, and some were horrified at the barbarism of it all. Experiences vary from medical facility to medical facility, but in our case, the RN on duty intervened and said it was close enough. She called the anesthesiologist, who arrived a gut wrenching 45 minutes after she said they would. Nine.

Gina’s relief was delivered and I felt comfortable enough to take a break. I reclined on the couch and promptly lost consciousness. I was intermittently aware that people were coming and going but I was mostly out until I heard our new shift RN, Sara, say that dilation was five centimeters, and that she had a hand full of umbilical cord.

I put my glasses on. She was on the gurney, big eyed and wrist deep. “Cord,” she said. People started moving fast. She shouted towards the door for someone. I sat up slowly and put on my old, worn-out running shoes, and my heart was already hammering like I’d attempted a half marathon. Sara quickly explained to Gina that this meant she was going to have an emergency c-section. Game time.

I walked to the head of the bed. Gina was hyperventilating. “Breathe,” I said. “Everything is going to be okay.”

Yeah, that was a fucking lie. It is my job now, I thought, to be stoic and lie. I am the greatest liar. I tell wonderful lies.

Gina asked if I was going with her. I told her that she’d go down the hall and I’d be separated from her momentarily while they got her prepped, but then I’d be by her side. I could see the cord bulging like sausage casing in Sara’s hand. She said, “We need to get something wet. This doesn’t need to dry out.” Sara held Willie’s blue lifeline away from his head and through Gina’s cervix unbent and unbound. I stared at it, knowing that a kinked hose stops delivering its contents. I kept telling myself he was alive. She adjusted the sensor strap and repositioned Gina’s leg with her other hand. His heart rate kept dipping. Sixty-eight. Fifty-four.

Someone gave her a shot to help stop the contractions. Someone made her drink something bitter. I held Gina’s hand with my left hand and pulled my phone out of my pocket with my right. I SwiftKey swiped “labor umbilical cord” into Google with my thumb and hit the first link. Someone asked if they’d called the doctor. Someone said, “I hope he has his flashers on.”

I am a pessimist by nature, so part of me had expected this. They started to roll her out and I followed her down the hall thinking, “This is it. This is the thing that destroys me. This is the thing I will never get over.” Sara was riding on the bed, flying, holding everything in place like a jet pilot. She was a steely-eyed missile woman.

They pushed Gina through the operating room doors and a nurse began to hand me gown outfit pieces from a supply cart. I got my right shoe covered, but I couldn’t find the hole for my left slipper. “My hands don’t work,” I said. She said, “Here,” kindly, and did it for me. We got the other pieces on in a few more seconds and I sat on a plastic chair, ensconced in a wall depression between the two supply carts.

She stood back and looked at me. I was staring, silently. “Come here,” she said, and bent down to put her arms around me. My chest hitched a few times and I hugged her back. “I’m okay,” I said. “I’m fine. I just need a minute.” She nodded, and I dried that shit up fast because I knew I was in it now.

The hall cleared and I was sitting alone. I briefly considered prayer but decided against it. It felt hollow. I switched to singing, but the first thing that came to mind was Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” because the last song I’d heard was the solidly mediocre Pentatonix cover. I was also annoyed at myself because it still felt like praying. Oh well. I opened my mouth and croaked. My voice shook as my vocal cords refused to cooperate. I gave up and exhaled. A moment later, our OB-GYN rounded the corner.

“Well, I guess we’re doing a c-section after all,” he said as he retrieved gloves from the supply cart. I sat and considered a response along the lines of “I believe in you,” or some other sappy shit, but I settled on a stern, staccato, “Good luck.” He paused mid-step, and it looked like he was going to reply, then he turned and strode into the OR. I didn’t blame him any more than I’d blame a coach for a fumble, but he’d definitely had a part in calling the plays.

A small dude in blue scrubs came to retrieve me. I entered the room and moved to my place at the head of the bed. I didn’t notice her at the time because she was under a sheet, but Sara was still on the gurney holding everything in place. Gina had her arms tied out at her sides, crucified, and she was shaking like a leaf. Her breaths were hitching, unproductive. I leaned down from above, took her face in my hands and put my forehead on hers. “Breathe,” I said. “It’s your job to breathe. Everything is fine. Everything is going to be okay.” Her oxygen mask fogged. I was still convinced that I was lying. It was my job to lie.

I peered over the sheet that had been lifted to block Gina’s innards from her view and watched the operation in progress. They were already getting out the big metal shoehorn they use to pry out a uterus full of baby. How long had it been since the Titanic had hit the iceberg? Fifteen, twenty minutes? Our OB-GYN worked away while handing out criticism to his assistants. “That should have been open when you handed it to me,” he said. “That should be within reach so you don’t have to let go of the bladder to get it.”

I was looking at Gina and spinning more sweet lies when they wrenched him out. “Happy birthday,” the OB-GYN said. Willie was already in the warmer when I heard him cry out for the first time, and I looked up again. It was 11:32 pm on October 27, 2016, and life, as it does, had found a way.

“It’s him,” I said. “Do you hear him? He’s okay.” The fates had forgiven my lies and made them retroactively true with swift hands and sharp blades.

“Yes,” she said. “I want to see him.”

I fetched him as soon as they would let me and put his face next to hers. He looked just like her, and I told her so. She kissed him over and over. “Hello Willie,” she said, “I love you.”

Things were routine after that. We experienced a flurry of texts, messages, calls, and visits. There were other petty frustrations that I will not mention in detail here because childbirth ain’t Disneyland, folks. We got out of the hospital with a living infant. I can handle some interpersonal conflict. A wonderful older RN, Kaye, matronly as all get out, spent the night giving us breastfeeding tips and finally got Willie to latch. Sara stopped in and checked on us a couple more times. We thanked her repeatedly. She was beaming.

Gina and I processed our ordeal deep into the night. She wondered if there were such a thing as divine influence. I told her I thought it was more like Captain Sullenberger landing his plane in the Hudson. He had specifically studied that situation previously and if he hadn’t been in the right place at the right time, all those people probably would have died. “That’s Sara,” I said. “She’s the Captain.”

I relayed some of these events to my good friend Scott, which prompted him to ask me what it feels like to be a dad. “Great joy and absolute terror,” I wrote. When he wondered if that was because of uncertainty about the future or financial woes and asked me to elucidate, I did, and he suggested I post it verbatim.

More like, “Will they die today and destroy me forever.” Yeah, what you said, to an extent, but to me it’s more like they are the external representation of your existence. It feels that way, as well, like there’s a piece of me outside my body. It’s wonderful to think that they’ll have their own lives and adventures, but it’s a double-edged sword. I recognize at this point that the key to immortality is mortality, living, making more people, and dying. Then, the big all-encompassing fear is that you outlive them.

There are countless contributions to humanity that have nothing to do with creating more people, and you can certainly “make people” without literally making people, but if you decide to do that, you’re entering a new dimension of pain. There’s nothing more wonderful to us raging narcissists than filling the world with little snippets of our DNA then wringing our hands about their survival. The worry is the human part, but when we obsess over our young instead of dumping a clutch of eggs and swimming away, we’re expressing the very thing that makes us superior.

Whether it’s all hormones, qualia, or je ne sais quoi, we’ve got that shit locked down. We’re homicidal techno-apes with the feels. Sometimes I think it might be better if we don’t get off this rock, but then, wow, kids. We gotta ravage those stars.

Worry is a hurdle, not a finish line. We’ve leaped this one, but as my girls proved by surviving a harrowing car wreck last July, it’s never over. It won’t be over until my heart explodes, which will probably be much sooner than I’d like, but them’s the breaks, kid. So it goes, as Vonnegut used to say.

We live, we love, and we seed the world with little folks and hope that someone gets there, wherever that is. Maybe we’re only there while we’re going there, but that’s okay too.

Come on, Willie. Let’s get going.

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The Catcher in the Yard

I’m standing at the edge of the driveway. Cora has gotten Bea into the Radio Flyer and she’s having a heck of a time rolling her up and down, up and down. People drive way too fast down this street. If I were fifteen years older and bored enough I’d sit out there in a lawn chair with a radar gun and give people the finger. As it is, I keep myself between the babies and the street at all times.

Cora was involved in her regular chatter yesterday when I went to fetch the kids from day care. These days she’s particularly obsessed with her age and the age of others. She told me she’d be five soon and I corrected her.

“No, kid,” I said, “Your birthday was in June. Christmas is in three months and your birthday is six after that. You won’t be five for a long time.”

She said that then she’d be five and after that she’d be as old as GG. This must be the oldest thing ever in her mind. I told her that that, even, would take a while.

She considered this and said, “Dad, will I die?”

I said, “Yes, you will someday.”

Then, she said, “I don’t want to die.”

I’ve been waiting for this moment for a while and I somehow knew that it would happen in the truck. It happened to me in the car. Something profound takes place in a vehicle. The novelization of The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension mentions The Three B’s (that’s the Bed, the Bath, and the Bus). It was surmised that epiphanies arrive in the moments before sleep, while bathing, or while travelling. Maybe it’s confirmation bias, but I’ve found this to be true enough.

I told her that it most likely wouldn’t happen for a long time, but everything dies eventually. She digested that for a moment and moved on to her regularly scheduled four-year-old banter.

Today between battles over pennies and empty paper towel rolls (the least valuable things tend to be the most sought after treasures when children are involved) I was able to separate Bea and Cora long enough to watch the new Space X Mars demo. I had previously tried to distract them with the Chipmunks and Chipettes singing “The Boys (and Girls) of Rock and Roll” but it sent Cora into orbit.

“It’s too loud,” she said. I didn’t have it turned up that much. She probably didn’t have the words for “this is awful.” Heartbroken, I moved on.

The girls were immediately entranced with the computer-generated demo of rockets taking off and landing. Cora started asking simple questions, which I fielded, until something happened to me. What is this? Oh, this isn’t new, but it’s been a while. Not years, but months? Hello Hope, nice to see you again.

I hugged them close to me in my father’s blue E-Z chair that rests in my living room as tears coursed down my face. “You can go,” I said. “Do you want to go to Mars?”

“Yes,” Cora said. “I do. I want to go to Mars.”

“Oh, you can, baby. You will.”

The video was over in four minutes and we went outside. The kids fought over the sandbox while I sat in my patio chair and stared at the sky. Space, the final frontier. How many times did I listen to those words as a child and believe, no, know that it was coming? It was the natural progression, right? Maybe I wouldn’t see it but I’d be a stepping stone. Maybe I’d be a historical figure they’d talk about while they bebop across the stars. At least I’d be someone’s grandfather, someone’s dad, and they’d remember.

I don’t have to summarize recent history or current events to tell you my Star Trek dreams have shriveled into Mad Max nightmares. I’m surely guilty of Scientism, but to an agnostic atheist, getting off this planet is the Promised Land. Screw the problems of mortality. We all gotta die sometime, but humans racing among the stars instead of being snuffed out on this cursed orb, that’s immortality.

There was something about seeing the rockets take off and land upright, 1950s serial style, that sent me right over the edge of verklempt. “We’re here,” I thought. “Late, so late, but here we are.”

And we are. We are, and I won’t apologize if this seems naive or too sincere. I spend days, weeks, months in the dark, and I often wonder if this will all go out like a match someday. As Gary Johnson so helpfully pointed out recently, the sun will engulf the earth, and it doesn’t take much to send me straight into nihilism mode. That’s pretty much where I live, so when it sneaks up on me, the angel of “What If,” I will take that shit any day. I will take that over the dirt. I will take that over the void.

When Elon Musk stood there and let me know that maybe I’ll be not part of a stone falling cold through nothing, but a stepping stone in the brook of life, a link in the chain, that maybe I won’t conquer the stars but my children, their children may? Will! They will!

Well, I’ll shed a happy tear over that. It sure as hell can’t hurt.

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