Nice light from not much light

I went looking for the Jerry Garcia carving in the cutout by the lower greens, on the Halsey side, like the guy said. But it was foggy and damp, and what looked like Jerry on the other side of the green could just as well have been a tree. A small sign said Keep off the grass, and there were maintenance people milling about in little carts, like the guy who’d stopped and told me about the carving. He saw me taking pictures and asked, had I seen the Jerry carving? There was another car trying to get by, but he didn’t seem to notice and spent a good, solid minute giving directions. It was roughly 9 but felt a lot earlier than that, for a place people go to drink and indulge themselves in spas and soaking tubs (and golf). But because it’s got a hippy vibe, the place feels charmed—even the squirrels seem spirited by the way they look at you.

I worked my way to the top of the grounds, by the garden and glass-blowing shop, then ran into the same maintenance guy again. He asked if I found it and I said no, there was a sign saying Keep off the grass, which felt very non-Jerry to me. He laughed and said yeah, Jerry would want it to say Keep on the grass—but that wasn’t what I meant, I meant Jerry wouldn’t like a sign telling you what to do. There was another car trying to get by, so we just laughed and said goodbye.

All of us were pretty compromised from the night before. The first time we’d come to McMenamins in four years, a former poorhouse outside of Portland converted to a bed and breakfast, of sorts.

It’s one thing about overdoing it at McMenamins, you have a three and a half hour drive to look forward to the next day. And no mountains on days when it’s socked in, just cool-looking clouds at best.

So we talked, with Kelly in the front seat and Chris in the back, and Dawn going ahead separately in the other car. And we came back to the topic of where we live and our lifestyle, wondering if it’s the environment of over privilege that’s making it so hard to parent, or if it’s just cell phone addiction, or a combination of several factors.

The maintenance guy was recently retired and lived next door, so he took a job with McMenamins and dropped 20 pounds, he said. Seemed pretty happy. I wondered if we should just keep making as much money as we can now and retire early, or scale back and go somewhere quieter, which is what I really wanted to do. Everything was happening so fast, I wanted to slow it down.

 

 

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Inside a broken clock splashing the wine with all the rain dogs

The rain now is that rain we associate as November rain in the Northwest. It has its own aspect, like no other. It is not a rain to be fucked with, and comes on hard and fouls up the roads, turning everything to slush. Last night we watched it pool off the gutter but on the inside of the gutter (against the house), remarking how glad we were not to live in that old place in West Seattle that always flooded.

Then I had a flood dream, in a house I’d never seen before with a bunch of people and water gushing down the steps, starting to make stuff float. One of the senior managers from my last project appeared and I was trying to get something through to him and he was stroking his beard (a Ulysses S. Grant beard) wearing those BlueTooth, wireless ear buds. I told Dawn about it in the morning and realized the symbolism, the flooding juxtaposed with work.

These mornings are charmless and dark. Today, I put the Tom Waits CD Rain Dogs on, for obvious reasons. It starts right off with the Kurt Weil inspired goose-stepping staccato, and Tom’s lyrics about dwarves, hookers, and drunks. Our friends Jim and Heather live in a town near San Francisco (Sebastapol) where Tom also lives, but say it’s uncool to approach Tom if you see him around town. I’d have a hard time resisting.

Not far from work there was a smudge of indigo in the sky suggesting distant sun, and like I always do, I turned the stereo off as I exited the freeway. I’ve been the first one into the office for several days now, turning the lights on after badging in. And then I set my laptop and mouse down, my tupperware for lunch, my headphones, like a concert pianist with no audience. And I catch myself in the mirror and think how old I look, and bat back that feeling by sitting up straight and spewing out what testosterone I still have left in ways probably no one but me notices. So much of work is in the appearances.

Throughout the week I’ll remark what percentage done we are, and text that to Dawn. Like, Wednesday at noon is 50% exact: end of day Thursday is 80%, pretty simple math. Remarkable how fast it goes. I send her the percentage with a thumbs-up emoji, but she’s stopped responding. It’s the time of year it all goes into a dark slush, a waiting room between fall and spring that doesn’t have any openings until January, at best.

 

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‘Theft by finding’

Sure, I was still the same but my face was starting to look smudged in those new photos where I looked older. The forehead exposed, the jaw gone slack, the eyes hollowed out and the skin, less color to it. I didn’t have that “glow.” Maybe a wood floor that needs refinished from the scratches and scuffs, has gone dull and charmless from all the wear and neglect.

Sometimes when the waste collection comes in the morning I think they should take me too, with that alarm going off on the back of the truck like some music that will drive you mad, that never leads anywhere, with no button to shut it off. Black Friday and we still don’t have a TV, and never have, and debate buying one (they’re so cheap!) but realize we already have about a dozen TVs as a family, one for every pocket or lap…chargers in every room, so many chargers we buy them in packages of three now, direct from Amazon…

So dark in the afternoon the bistro lights came on today at 3, and I cooked a new chicken recipe with wings and bacon to give the broth more depth, anchovy paste in the fond. A terrible urge to drink, the weather like this.

Hanging the Christmas lights, I unwound five sets and tested each one to ensure they still worked before hanging them on the largest tree, out front. Had to get the ladder out and extend it all the way, up to the roof line, leaning with a tree pruning device to balance the lights on the highest limb. When I was all done and plugged in the last set, they all went out. I checked the breaker, ran a number of diagnostics, replaced the bad set, then they all went out again. And I felt so angry and sorry for myself and bitter with the world I just yanked the lot of them out, so hard I shore the wire down and balled them up for the trash.

I woke at five minutes to midnight to the sound of Lily laughing, talking to someone. Either her sister or someone on the phone (midnight, on a school night!), barked at them Go to sleep, then realized as soon as I laid back down I’d have insomnia.

And what pride I had in getting that antique grandfather clock to run for the first time turned against me, as the clanking of the chime rang so shrill—so badly off, the sound makes the dog and cat wince…the cat, flattening her ears…and by 4 I was just hoping I could get at least an hour of rest before getting up at 5…but at 4, Dawn’s cell phone went off and she got out of bed, and I heard her in the kitchen getting the coffee going and then I smelled it, and rose at 4:25 for a cold shower.

Gritting my teeth as I re-entered the house after the lights episode, then snapping at Charlotte and having to apologize to her later. Ugly reflections in the mirror. Noting the time, calculating my first beer.

With the heels of my hands I rocked my eyes in and out of their sockets to sooth the burning. I texted Dawn when I got home, announcing I’m back, about to order pizza. She asked if I could take Lily to a 4:40 ortho appointment, so I did.

Mike dreamt about his mom again, thinks she’s passing into the astral plane and saying her final goodbye.

We broke the roof off the gingerbread house and ate it on our laps in the den.

I got the David Sedaris book out again, his 25-year compilation of journal entries, Theft by Finding. The title is my favorite part, the idea it’s a form of theft to use these found objects, to make them our own. Dawn got it for me on my last birthday and I still have a couple hundred pages to go…and only a few days left until it’s been a full year.

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November 22, 2018 (Thanksgiving).

I went back in time to the chauffeur’s flat, that place we stayed in a remote corner of Scotland one Thanksgiving, unlike any other. Near some small, port town on the coast by the ferries over to Northern Ireland. And getting off the boat on our way to Belfast, the late November rain, the smell of coal fires, cuddling on a sofa with our tea, in between times. All the leaves were down by then, at that Scottish estate. Everything damp and muddy, all the colors run down. Those bright red pheasants the Scots hunt, that look like fallen leaves in clumps by the country roads, too dumb or slow to avoid getting hit. And further back still, to the Thanksgivings we spent at Dawn’s parents’ house by the lake. On the deck with a flannel coat, a big beer and a cigar staring off into the distance, the tall trees and the homes on the far shore, all that gray sky mirroring the lake — the dull, changing light, how time moves like that too, on a slow descent you don’t notice until it’s dark.

It was Thanksgiving again and I was back in the sitting room alone with my chamber music and beer, the sound of Dawn’s mom in the kitchen stirring the gravy, the comfort of a TV, a couple kids mumbling, a dog napping, dishes and spoons, my reflection in the glass older now, but content — the one day a year all we have to do is give thanks for each other and our abundances, all we have, and had to let go.

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The corrections

No matter how much I worried I was growing apart from my kids (or vice versa), there was still time. I picked Charlotte up after work and asked where she wanted to go for dinner. We drove to Issaquah and picked an unassuming, cozy-looking Greek restaurant with a name I couldn’t make out. She ordered a Coke and a salad with a side of pita and when it came, removed the hot pepper from her salad and put it on the table. They had two options for dessert and we picked the baklava (her first time), and she ate most of it though it was rich and flaky, and required a cutting knife, which she managed well. She tried to braid her hair but lost patience, and I refrained from correcting her, re: playing with her hair at the table. So many of our dining arguments were triggered by that, my corrections, the control thing. When we got home, we went to our separate rooms for down time on our devices. I sent pictures of the champagne sabering to a couple people, and reflected on the day.

A colleague brought in his Chambong set and the bottle of Nicolas Feuillatte I gave him for his birthday. He’d been saying we should saber a bottle sometime, and demonstrated the technique on a whiteboard. You hold the bottle by the underside, remove the foil and cage, then give it a good, even stroke down the neck, with a sword. The force of the cork ejecting breaks the collar so pieces of glass actually travel with the cork when it pops. It’s how Napoleon did it after battle, and we were close to wrapping a project, so there you go.

Seven of us met in the employee parking lot by the picnic table and shared the Chambong glasses, pretty much shooting it. Jeff brought a sword that was more Arabic than French looking, curved, designed for chopping and slashing, with a decorative tassel. Then we climbed the stairs back up, feeling both buzzed and crestfallen we had to go back to work, only 11:30. It was my seven-month anniversary at the new job, and while most of my colleagues drink at the office on Fridays, it was my first time, same as my boss, and we high-fived each other at our desks then returned to work.

Dawn took Lily to the Twenty One Pilots concert in Tacoma and didn’t get home until 1. Saturday, we went to our friends Chris and Kelly’s for Friendsgiving, and in the morning Kelly updated us on her sister-in-law, a rare form of cancer that attacks the small intestines, how unimaginable and terrible it must be for her family.

The four of us went out to brunch, just Dawn and me, and the kids, finally getting out as a family like we hoped. And then we ended the meal deciding Charlotte and I probably needed to go to family therapy, and I thought about it again on Monday morning, driving in to work.

And then in the morning I got up to write and saw Charlotte’s homework by the lamp, it said Social Studies Reflection Packet, Unit One: The First People. A mishmash about the Europeans coming to America, timed around Thanksgiving, probably. Admiring Charlotte’s precise handwriting, how they unfurl like that…me scanning for misspellings, thinking I should spend more time to go through this with her, tonight.

 

 

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Ham on rye

In the lobby at the recreational cannabis dispensary they were putting up a Christmas tree, and in the shop where a sign says Enter Here and Pay Here everyone looked confused, and I asked about the CBD vs. THC combination, what’s the meaning there?—and she said the CBD helps with anxiety, for calming, then mumbled something about the THC I didn’t understand. I was interested in microdosing, doing research for my mom who was coming from Germany next month, has problems with arthritis and sleeping. I’d sworn off pot but this was different, more R&D, philanthropic.

And though it was only 5 mg because I’m sensitive to cannabis and haven’t had it in a while it hit me harder than expected in the kitchen grating the ginger, mincing garlic, chopping onion: my vision started to bend and I had to put the knife down and sit outside on a rock with the dog, and settle down.

And once again, I blipped outside of myself and saw my skin so pale, exposed in the sun: and with the trees ripped out of the neighbor’s yard and the softly falling leaves I imagined my own death so palpable, I could feel what it would be like in that last moment, what I’d think: I saw Dawn and the kids and thought of my writing and what I’d make of it, and it was too much to bear…and then I saw my dad in his final moments sobbing, full of regret, missing our kids’ lives…and there was nothing I could say or do, I felt it myself, too…and then I had to go back inside and check on the chili.

For a time I dozed on the couch, then looked up Hot Toddy Recipe on the internet. It explicitly said not to drink hot toddies if you’re sick, or with OTC medicine…but I was set on both, all of the above…and at the bottom of the website was a picture of the author, her curly hair and dog both looking so young and happy. I closed the phone and slammed it down, disgusted by these well put-together, lifestyle blogs. If Bukowski had been alive with all this blogging that’s how I wanted to sound, like him, warts and all.

In the morning I felt the same as I did the night before. I was set on cooking again, this time a curry, but didn’t have the energy to make myself breakfast so I went to the store and then the ale house, for eggs and a thick slice of ham and hash browns, a beer, determined to sleep when I got home, to take another cup of NyQuil…and at the bar I finished a poem on my phone and posted it, and when I got home I felt like I needed to do something, so I folded the kids’ laundry, and got sentimental holding their clothes up, thinking they’re still kids, for a bit.

Then I got in bed and dozed, closed all the shades, took a hot bath, came downstairs and made the curry, wrote, played Jackie Wilson, took more NyQuil, went to bed. There was a lot to celebrate in my life but a lot missing, some kind of final reconciliation before settling up at the end.

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Poem | ‘The remains’

How dim the light in the morning through the last brown leaves

And the look of the limbs curled inwards, slumped low

How soft the heater blows those long, solemn notes

Like the sound of a car scraping down an icy road, it goes

How the clock ticked, doling out scenes through my window pane

How little there was left, but how I longed for the remains

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