Tuesday, May 22 6:40 PM

I cleaned the drain traps, packed my lunch, said goodbye to the kids and left for work. When I got home I took my socks off and went outside barefoot, spilled my beer, had to go inside for another. The cottonwood blooms kept falling like snow, the way snow stops and starts again, sometimes thick. When the dog ran through the grass it rose in the air and fell like packing material. I sat listening to the birds riffing off each other and it felt symphonic. I’d been beaten down again at work but it felt good. I agreed with where they were going and it drove my writing to higher quality. My gut was enflamed which sounds bad and looks worse. I came inside to write on my phone before starting the coals and reset the clock in the den. Tuesday. As a four-day week, it qualified as Wednesday, in a sense.

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Gray of lake combined to sky, the same

Through the narrow path in the nearby park, a semi-circle that crowns my walk, the trees are leaning in and damp with dew. It’s late spring now, past peak, broken petals brought down by an overnight rain. I come to clear my head and clean out my thoughts, to separate one day from the next. Each walk is different, though the route’s always the same. Gray surface on the lake, angled trees on the far side. A sometimes eagle, rare heron, commonplace ducks and crows. But the park is no longer mine, it’s the season of the tourist now: local teenagers, anglers, people with canoes. It happens one day in September when the weather turns and I know I’ll have it all to myself again. My friend Walt Walker says that consciousness isn’t something we possess, but something we enter into: and the lake for me is the same.

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Video of last night’s dream sequence

The dream premise was that I could use my mind for special powers through my hands. It was a new power though, like learning to balance oneself on a bike. To practice, I concentrated hard, felt my jaw tighten, my eyes narrow; I extended my arm, and with my right hand watched as a bubble opened and expanded, a small globe. Then I pushed it forward and it floated. I imagined the globe was a missile of some kind, and fired it in a direction no one could get hurt. Then, I flexed my fist and threw it into a brick wall. The wall shimmered and a mirror appeared, and my arm disappeared into it and the mirror opened to expose a world on the other side. There was something back there, something threatening I might have awakened. I saw my face in the dream, in the mirror, broken and inter-mixed with that other world. Then I stepped back and saw my arm, a cartoon arm, detached and dangling there, in the wall. Clearly I had the power, but didn’t know yet how to use it.

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One Saturday in May, with ’77 million paintings’ playing

The cottonwood started falling and now it feels like we’re in a snow globe that won’t stop. Charlotte and I went to the aquarium and looked at the octopus, its sheep eyes, the valves where the cheeks would be, opening and closing in slow motion. I bought her a book about mermaids and we sat watching deaf tourists sign to one another, people taking selfies with scuba divers in the background waving. The deep-sea coral, the spotted lagoon jelly. It was only 10:30 and we were ready to go, both of us sleepy. We took the 99 south to Royal Brougham and I pointed out the building where I used to work, the Starbucks, the mermaid painted on the parking deck. And then we parked and walked to the bakery, and I said she could get whatever she wanted so she did, and we sat in the corner killing time, watching people with their newspapers. And then we drove to the Silver Platter record store and I asked the effeminate cashier if they had the new, nine-disc Brian Eno collection and he lit up, ‘why let me check…,’ and we talked and talked and talked while Charlotte used the bathroom, and it was $249 but I bought it anyway. Limited edition, collectible. Sixty-four page, color book. The cottonwood started, angled sideways; I redeemed my code for the digital download and sat with my laptop by the grill out back with Eno and the birds, a woodpecker, me swinging in the hammock, nodding off, knowing when I woke it would be time to catch a Lyft to the Roanoke, to meet Walt Walker.

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Testing and failing, most every day

By the time we get to Friday we’re all so tired, we’ve just started going out for dinner. Last night I took the high road and just had a salad but when we got home, a couple slices of pizza and an ice cream cone. There’s no way I’ll lose weight like this, climbing up Cougar Mountain as my only exercise, once a week. I’ll catch snatches of myself going by the mirror in the middle of the night and it’s troubling, I’m reminded of all those aging dads I knew growing up (fat slobs who couldn’t take care of themselves) and now I look just like one of them, and I don’t care. I’m pushing up against my waistline to the point I should buy new sizes but refuse to — and when I get home and out of my clothes, I’m like a sausage released of its casing.

I’ve been thinking about this idea of tests, now that I’ve finished up my first five weeks at the new job. There are the tests to see how fit you are for the work and the workplace, then the tests parents face with their kids, and their relationships, the tests with our own tempers, our self-discipline: most everything breaks down as a test. The word “test” sounds bad though, clipped, probably something I associate from being a kid. It meant buckling down, to be measured. But what I’ve come to learn about tests is, it’s not the score but what you learn in the process of testing. And then to test again, and again.

When I worked at Starbucks I mentored with a guy I really admired, in part because of his thought process, and how he broke down problems. He was a real pain in the ass, but people gravitated around him for similar reasons. You could learn a lot. I often felt diminished after our debates, but it was a lot like losing at chess: each time you lose, you record the reasons why, and then lessen the likelihood you’ll lose again that same way.

What I wanted to talk about in my job interview was all the mistakes I’d made in my career, that made me more valuable I thought, to the firm and the people I’d one day manage. Experience boils down to that, in a sense. It’s like street smarts: it comes from bad things, not good. But talking about mistakes in job interviews is a slippery slope, like verboten topics on first dates, you don’t want to introduce any reason for doubt.

Because it’s a Saturday, I took a few minutes when I got to the lake to sit there on the rocks and watch the water, anglers out on the dock. They were smoking and speaking in some Asian language, and it felt like I was in a movie. A couple crows were in the tree above me, one making a sound I’d never heard a crow make, a sweet ‘caw’ to the other. The marine layer was thick and muggy and a light rain fell. It was early enough some of the street lamps were pink-orange, and it felt buggy, walking by the tall grass off the shoulder.

I sat in the recliner after we got back from dinner and remembered our time in Ireland for some reason, that Christmas my mom came and I picked her up at the airport in Cork, and then we tried to find a quiet place that was still open for a drink. Walking back up the steep street to our flat, then breakfast the next morning at a small café. I don’t know what triggered the memory, just a moment of realizing how precious and strange times like those were. And the fact that they’re still happening with all these memories we make, every day.

Not knowing exactly where I was planning to go with this but feeling compelled to, this post, like most every one that I’ve written, was a test.

 

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Dr. Chan’s office

I went back to the dentist, the first time since that July we left for Europe in 2015. The space between then and now kept growing wider and made me feel unclean. When I sat in the chair the assistant said something abut X-rays in broken English, either “80” or “18.” She held a thing that looked like a fake gun and told me to open up, and bite down. There was a plastic coating on it like you’d expect on new furniture, but not broken in yet, sharp around the edges.

The dentist came in, and apologized: either she’d told him how poorly it had gone or he’d heard me gagging. The good news is, we only have to do that once every five years, he said. But then the pictures were there, right away: a big screen where I could just sit back, and we could talk about my teeth. With the pink of my gums and the yellow of my fillings, it looked like the cover of a prog-rock album, my whiskers around the edges waving like deep-sea creatures.

We talked about the problem areas and he drew with a device, illustrating risk scenarios. There was a new level of understanding now about my dental health, kind of “trust through transparency”: we were on the same page (or screen).

I’d never understood the logic of dentistry really, using filling as a cantilever to bolster a system that’s destined to break down and fail. It was clear to me through all the grooves and gray depressions, that’s exactly what would happen over time. And I learned about crowns, which is something I never really wanted to — they’re not the kind of crowns you want to wear.

I made a return appointment (“restorative,” they called it) and hurried out, drove in to work. Then I got a call through my car’s audio system, which is always strange, and it was the receptionist: did I want a copy of the treatment plan emailed to my G-mail account? I didn’t, but then she explained the treatment plan also shows the cost, so I perked up and said yes. On top of all that, you have to pay for it.

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Broken clouds

In the morning the tops of the trees were pale-pink from a sun I couldn’t see, and it was cool enough I needed a sweater for my walk. It was just me on the road until I got to the lake, and then the same anglers started to appear with their bikes and their buckets. No one sleeps this time of year, there’s no incentive. It’s still light past nine at night, then by five again in the morning. I’ll sometimes get into bed before dark since I go pretty hard during the day. But Dawn reminds me she goes 12, 15 hours sometimes — and on top of that, she picks up most of the kid-responsibilities. I did fix dinner last night and clean up, but it’s small potatoes by comparison.

On Saturday we all got checked for lice, and three out of four of us were infested. Charlotte, with her long blonde hair, was the equivalent of a downtown Vancouver condominium population-wise, but Lily and Dawn just had eggs. They use an oil to agitate your scalp and bring the bugs to the surface, then a wire comb to pull them out. Then, they put the lice on a paper towel so you can see them first-hand. After you get treated, you have to wait with a plastic bag over your head until they die, then get checked again before you can go home.

When we got back, Dawn bagged up all the pillows and washed the bedding. You have to bag up anything you’ve been in close contact with; lice dies after 24 hours without a host.

And it was the same procedure in reverse on Mother’s Day, to un-bag and do all the laundry, which I did dutifully while Dawn went to church and the kids slept in — and we had brunch at Beth’s, then dinner at our house — and come Monday morning, I realized I’d forgotten Dawn’s card and wrote in it while wearing my bath towel before work, then got a text from her at the office saying, thanks — and I wrote back, “looking forward to getting home tonight and having a drink,” — and we did, and then I climbed into bed, tried to get Charlotte to come in with me but she wasn’t into it, so I slipped off as the sun went down, and got up to do it all over again.

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