The guard on the first floor of our building stopped me this morning in the lobby, as I was humming, about to board the elevator.
"You just reminded me of someone I used to work with years ago," he said. "An old, black man from the South who used to say whistling and humming was a sign of contentment. When you came in here humming like that, you reminded me of him."
I took this as a good omen - a compliment, even. First, conjuring the stereotype of a contented and wizened old black man unselfconsciously singing to himself, to describe me, will practically earn you a marriage proposal. Second, I did grow up in the South, and I was humming - and feeling content, no less - so it was nice, as it must always be, to feel seen.
But I couldn’t respond to this guy, couldn’t thank him, couldn’t do anything but vaguely smile, because all I could think about was his breath. His mouth had recently been soaked in either Listerine, or whiskey, or both, and not knowing whether he had admirable hygiene or was spectacularly drunk paralyzed me.
So I smiled - vaguely, like I said, the kind of smile you might expect of a great grandmother’s ghost in a dream - as I backed into the elevator car and waited for the doors to close between us, and I let it carry me to my floor in silence.
With what song/track would you test out a new pair of headphones?
And he got some great answers. And I thought, “I have some answers too.” But unlike people who just answered his question inline like normal human beings, I am full enough of my own cheap self to believe my answers merit broader exposure than they would receive on Ryan’s Activity page alone. Plus, I’m looking for new headphones and his question made me think about how I could better go about my shopping. So here are the four songs I decided to put on my phone today, after thinking long and hard about Ryan’s question. They are the four I will use to decide what headphones I like best.
A Rollerskating Jam Named Saturdays is a misleading, albeit catchy, tune.
Normally, see, we spend Saturday sort of dicking around and half-heartedly running errands. There’s the occasional baseball practice, and those are going to get less occasional shortly. We get groceries, maybe go to half-price books, recuperate from the workweek. It’s an okay routine, but then the pressure is on, on Sunday, to make sure the kids finish homework, to plan dinners for the week, to get the laundry folded and put away, to pick up around the house, and to avoid killing one another as our stress escalates and we bump into one another as the weekend draws to a close. It’s an okay routine, I guess, except that Julie and I have noticed that if there’s going to be a kidsplosion, it’s almost always Sunday afternoon. We can’t always tell when they begin to brew, but it’s generally Conner who escalates it to the level of parental intervention by threatening to murder Jack over something like a disagreement over whose shirt that is or isn’t. Okay, so not such an okay routine.
This weekend, I told the boys about this pattern we’d noticed, and told them we were going to force a change. This weekend, instead of waiting until Sunday to handle obligations, we were going to load them up on Saturday. Homework and chores needed to be done Saturday. No ifs, ands, or buts. They weren’t interested in my rule-change until I told them that I planned to take them to see Captain America at 7:00, but only if all their homework and chores were finished by 5:15. They sprang into action like… well… like springs I guess. By 4:45, everyone had finished their homework, put away their clothes, blah blah blah, and at 5:30, out the door we went to see the movie.
Let me tell you, the difference today has been stark. Conner’s still in his bathrobe (1:56 PM thank you for asking) and for once, I don’t care. Jack cleaned the kitchen floor to earn a few bucks this morning, and he and Alex are downstairs Minecrafting away. I have groceries for the week, clean clothes everywhere, and right now I’m even washing our down comforter, which is how you can tell I really have some time on my hands. I’m even about to go outside and replace my scooter’s battery and see if I can get the thing started. Then I’m taking the dog to the park.
Maybe that sounds like busy-body hell to some of you, but it’s one of the easiest Sundays we’ve had in a long, long time.
Lesson learned: Saturday is for chores, so Sunday doesn’t have to be.
Maybe. Lots of people do just fine with FWD cars. It probably depends on the kind of driving you do. I do a lot of highway driving during the winter and when it's icy, foggy, and blowing snow out in BFE Wyo or Colo with no cell service, the extra piece of mind AWD affords you when going up or down a curvy hill (and needing to swerve around RWD cars who hit an ice patch) is worth lots of dollars.
I really love my current AWD in the winter. It’s saved me from fright a few times, and maybe even from actual harm. But in those cases, so would have plain old caution in a FWD car. Moreover, you never know how well an AWD will do in snow until the moment of truth arrives. Not all AWD cars are created equal.
It might sound like I’m talking myself into an answer I already have, but I appreciate the input. If it weren’t a trade-off, the answer would be simple, right? And I wouldn’t have tried to crowd-source my decision.
People who recommend the CR-V over the Prius cite AWD in my locale as being the reason. I understand this: it’s why I’m considering it as well. But to you guys, I have a question: Do I not benefit from (~60%) better fuel efficiency 365 days/year, vs. benefitting from AWD (by an unpredictable/unquantifiable amount) only a few days per year? Can I not reclaim a decent amount of that benefit by putting snow tires on the Prius during the winter? In other words, is your (and my) favorable view of AWD’s value, perhaps, emotionally driven?
I live in Pittsburgh. There are hills and there is snow. I have a dog and three kids. 50% of the time, I am the only user of the vehicle. The other 50%, it is me and at least two others. Very rarely, it is all five of us excluding the dog. Maybe five times a year, it’s all five of us plus the dog, for up to two hours on the road. On average, I drive ~400 miles per week.
The Prius and CR-V are comparably priced, the difference being that the Prius gets an estimated 44 mpg in the city compared to the CR-V’s 24 mpg, but what the CR-V lacks in fuel efficiency, it gives back in AWD. I do not care about the difference in brand, styling, etc, between the two cars. I am concerned about reliability, durability, fuel efficiency – adequacy for my use case.
I saw it. The tumblr unfollow thing. I saw it happen right before my very eyes. I was in the mobile app, catching up on Michele’s saga from this last week, so I followed a post of hers from my dashboard to her page. I read about 10 posts, liked a few, and then, right before I tapped to go back to my dashboard, I noticed the “Follow” link in the upper right hand corner of her page, where it should read “Unfollow”. Thinking maybe I’d had one too many, I went back to my dashboard expecting to see her posts but, lo and behold, they were no longer in my stream. I searched her name and went back to her page, re-followed, went back to my dashboard, and tried recreating this, but was unable. There and then gone, this was.
But I’ll be damned if I don’t finally believe you guys about all the mysterious unfollowing. And to think I had you all figured for liars or whiners or both.
One weekend afternoon when I was a teenager, a friend named Alan was riding his moped and wiped out in the intersection at Lovers and Hillcrest. He was in the street – down but still alive – when an older lady who apparently hadn’t seen the accident struck him with her vehicle and dragged him several hundred feet to his death before realizing her car was driving funny and stopping to investigate. Everyone said he was on acid at the time of the accident.
Another friend, Paul, was drunk and driving his mom’s Mustang convertible in North Dallas. The police report said he was going upwards of 80 mph when he crested the hill and launched the car into a telephone pole, impaling himself on the steering column upon impact.
Mark wasn’t a friend and he didn’t die, but he had a damn close call when he showed up for a rumble at the 7-11 and allegedly went for a gun in his glovebox. There were some Guardian Angels who had also shown up, and one of them stopped Mark from getting the alleged gun – by slashing his throat.
Dave was a guy from work (whom I considered a pal but of whom I was also somewhat afraid) who was getting into heroin. I would hear stories about friends from work partying at Dave’s apartment. I didn’t party with them when they were doing heroin. I’d like to say I knew better. If fear is the same thing, then I knew better. A week or so after Dave overdosed, I delivered Chinese food to a nearby home. A man in his 50’s answered the door, and there was a little dog at his feet. I recognized the dog and said its name, petted it, not thinking. I looked back up, and the man was crying. “You must have known my son,” he said through the tears. I was 17.
Scott was glowingly nice, the friendliest of the skater punks I hung out with during my childhood summers at Curtis Park. He liked to smoke tons of pot. The way I heard it, a drug deal went bad, and the angry dealer came to his apartment and unloaded 14 .22 rounds into Scott’s chest. I think that was 22 years ago. It’s weird, which specifics stick with you.
My friend Art worked at the school Utrecht in Chicago. He was deadpan hilarious. First gay guy I made friends with. I remember finding out he was gay and being really surprised. I mean, he hadn’t even hit on me or anything. There was never a hint of predatory sexual aggression, no mission to turn me to the dark side, none of what my Texas upbringing had warned me about. Just a mellow, even-tempered fellow artist with the most understated sense of humor and enough kindness to engender my immediate trust. I remember when he found out he had HIV. I felt crushed. With horror, I imagined what it might be like to know that your life was going to be cut short, and precisely how. The following summer, Art died while swimming in the pond at Oxbow, an art camp in Michigan. In a drowning accident.
Bill was my roommate for several years in Chicago, and my best friend for many years, then and beyond. He was my favorite artistic collaborator, nuts and free in ways I needed and adored. At 33, he was living alone and working at DDB. He was struck by a heart attack as he descended the stairs at his El stop one night while returning from a poetry reading at Barbara’s Books in Chicago. He died alone at the bottom of the train-station stairs.
Then there was Craig, a close friend from high school. A rare cancer took him in his mid 30’s. And Diane, another college roommate, who also succumbed to cancer a few years ago. The more I think about it, the more come to mind.
Day before yesterday, I was taking the boys to school when a young woman lost control of her car in the snow and slid into my car. No one was hurt. Both cars were messed up. As I got out of my car to make sure the other driver was alright, I saw another accident happen, maybe 30 feet from where I was standing. When we cleared our accident scene and got out of the way, we passed yet another one, about 100 feet up the road. A Dodge Charger was wrapped around a telephone pole, front and rear windshields blown out from the twist and impact. A baby seat had been partially thrown through the back door’s window, and was dangling from the seatbelt. Everyone in that accident had left the scene in ambulances. It was snowing and the roads where terrible. Nothing was anyone’s fault.
I don’t like the Chevrolet Malibu the rental company gave me while my car’s in the shop. It has cloth seats that feel like the last driver bathed them in soda, and the stereo and ventilation sound wrong. Too tight, somehow. Hollow. And where am I supposed to put the dog?
This is how I woke up today: thinking about death. It’s snowing again and the heat just kicked on. Time to wake the kids.
There are some ducks to put in a row before I can announce details, but I’m starting a new thing on Monday and I’m quite excited about it. Excited because it’s a challenge. Excited because it’s a risk. Excited because it’s a cool opportunity and I get to work with some great people I already know and love, and it all starts Monday.
This month has felt longer than it looks on the calendar. I’m so grateful for March bringing a new adventure.
What you probably think of as Pittsburgh is actually a patchwork of 90-something mostly tiny municipalities, each with its own police force, fire department, and local government. Whereas “The City of Pittsburgh” has a population of only about 300,000, the greater Pittsburgh area - not including outlying suburbs - is closer to 2.7 million.
I live in a borough called Emsworth. Emsworth, with a population of roughly 2,500, sits on the Ohio River, on the northwest side of the city, about five or six miles from downtown.
At last month’s borough council meeting, one of the councilmen resigned his post. I had considered running for council last November but didn’t for mostly dumb reasons. So when I heard there was a vacancy in January, I submitted a letter of interest. The seat was to be filled at the next meeting, which was last night. In a 4-2 council vote, I was selected to fill that seat. I was sworn in and got a stack of papers to study as homework, a seat and a mailbox at the borough building, and some peppermint patties to get me through my 3-hour first meeting as a councilman.
Everyone says all politics is local. I live literally three doors away from the Emsworth borough building, so I expect that platitude to be especially true for me now. If you know me, you know I believe pretty strongly that we are obligated by democracy to participate as public servants at some point, to the extent our lives allow. I delayed this level of participation for many years because the demands of raising a family felt too great to find room for sustained public service. Last night, as I tromped down my snowy street to my first council meeting, my boys waving me off and wishing me luck, promising to clean the dinner dishes and shower and call if there were any emergencies, I could really feel that time having passed. It’s not like they’re all grown-up or whatever (Jack tried to prank-call me as I was being sworn in), but they’re closer. And besides, I can now issue empty-but-convincing threats of legal and/or police trouble should they step too far out of line.
Woke up at 5:45, made a whole mess of breakfasts, took the kids to school, and went to the YMCA. Arrived as Ben was leaving, got to visit for five minutes in the hallway between the locker room and the gym. Because I’m still laboring under the illusion that I am going to run a half marathon in April, I am training as if. So I ran four and a half miles on the treadmill. Guys, this is a big deal. I haven’t exactly made a secret of my surprise that I’m actually able to run at all, and every time my body pulls off something new, it’s a thrill. Today’s thrill was that I ran my second mile in 6:39. Exclamation point. I mean holy shit, right? That’s awfully near as fast as I was ever able to run any mile, period. I’m just a couple of months of training and a time-machine shy of beating the snot out of high-school me (a longtime dream). And the other thing? My average pace per mile was 9:01. Another exclamation point. This running stuff is bringing me enormous satisfaction and joy, at a time when I’m surely more vulnerable than usual to depression and self-loathing. BRB knocking on wood.
After I left the Y, I caught up with my parents on the phone. We talked mostly about me and work - predictably - but also about the boys, what they’re up to in school, who has a girlfriend and who doesn’t, and so on. I’m really fortunate to have a great relationship with my parents. They’re kind and present, and we have a lot in common. Yes, I said that. Anyway, we talked for over an hour. Not too long ago, having an hour to talk on the phone was unheard-of. Carpe diem.
Then I had breakfast, but at lunchtime. Yogurt and blueberries and granola. And I sat down to pay bills and, upon sitting in my chair, lost all ambition to pay the bills and decided to ignore them instead and see what that felt like. And it kinda feels great? Not ignoring an important task, per se, but letting nothing become more pressing than it truly needs to be. Feels like the kind of thing I should turn into a rule, maybe the kind of rule that will be the title of a chapter in my memoir someday.
Let nothing become more pressing than it truly needs to be.
It’s the paradoxical core of my experience right now. Paradoxical because the need to earn a living will eventually become truly pressing. Core because my actual days, right now, provide little by which to feel pressed. It’s a sometimes unsettling, foreign feeling. My thinking brain thinks it’s an ambush. But my being brain is sidling up to it, getting to know the emptiness, working out how to love it just right.
It will pass soon. And when it does, I’m sure I will welcome its passing with exuberance.
But for now, nothing pressing has the wheel, its foot resting gently on the gas, itself dozing off while I gaze out the passenger window and wonder, in a world where all roads connect, if it’s really ever possible to be lost.
Let me tell you a little about being a ward of the state:
You wake up whenever you want to. Maybe the dog farted, maybe you need to brush your teeth. Who can tell? The coffee’s cold by the time you get to it, but you figure that’s why God created microwaves, so you remove the cheesy grits you reheated and forgot to eat yesterday and you pop in your coffee and you press the button that says “Add 30 Secs” - which, come to think about it, sounds pretty good. What if you could just add 30 seconds, like whenever you wanted to? To whatever you needed to. Evil Knievel would be alive if you could do that. That first kiss at homecoming with Kristen when you were 14 might not have slipped away. You take a bite of your grits. What a guy couldn’t do with an “Add 30 Secs” button for life instead of just the microwave. And think, you could press it as many times as you needed to. Need an extra decade? It’s a lot of presses, but keep at it, champ. The world is your oyster. There’s a beep. Your coffee’s ready. Then it hits you. These grits aren’t from yesterday at all. Yesterday is the day before today. These grits are from the week before this week, and that’s not the same as yesterday. I mean in some senses, yes, but not in cheesy grits time it isn’t. And now your stomach is upset, and seeing the green fuzz of life in the bowl doesn’t help. All of a dizzy sudden, you’ve thrown up, and there’s the smell of wet fur and the tinkling of dog tags and at first you try to stop him from licking the floor clean, but it’s futile because he’s a dog, so you let go, slump back against the cabinet, thank God above, and laugh. Because through His Divine Grace and with the help of your faithful companion, you’re going to extend your “Days Since I Cleaned The Kitchen Floor” streak to a solid 100. And life is about nothing if not having goals.