The Narwhal

It’s a strange cross section of humanity, is the Kindergarten class.

You see these humans, mostly without the scars and fears, without the protective armor that life sets on you. They haven’t made many big choices yet, haven’t failed (or succeeded) at the tests that give our lives their courses. Mostly. Some have faced tests at 6 that I haven’t yet at 40.

But in some ways they’re fully formed as well. There’s no mistaking the people they are and will become if you watch them. At their core they are fully realized members of the species who just need a little more practice.

And you also get to see them at both their best and worst. Sometimes in the same 60 seconds. If the school is good and the teacher knows her stuff, the kids will mostly try to follow the rules. They’ll want to. But they’re six years old – impulse control isn’t a major strength for a kindergartner.

If you ever question how genetically similar we are to a chimpanzee, come to kindergarten lunch on pancake day. All you need is the last five minutes – it’s like Lord of the Flies with Yogurt tubes.

But so I’ve gotten to spend some time with Little Man’s class. Lunch, field trips, any chance I get to volunteer I usually do. And now, by June, I have a read on all of them. Not only do I know all their names, not only do they all know me, but I know the smart ones , the dumb ones, I know the ones who don’t get enough attention at home but are basically good kids, and the ones who get too much attention at home and are nothing special, really. I know the kids who are rowdy because they’re bored, rowdy because they’re rowdy, and rowdy because they’re just little shits. I know the ones to watch, and I know the ones I could give a thousand dollars, a chainsaw, and a tank of propane and tell them to meet me in Chicago and they’d show up.

And there’s one guy I know who both fascinates and terrifies me. I’ll call him The Narwhal, for reasons obvious only to me.


I sometimes wonder if I’m on the Autism spectrum. I’m a big one, historically, for “supposed to.” Rules have always been very concrete for me.  It’s been the work of my 20’s and 30’s to really comprehend in a visceral practical way just how arbitrary this whole thing is. Just how few consequences there actually are and how we mostly impose these on ourselves. It’s been kind of the “Enlightenment for Dummies” version of what happens to the character in Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta.

Which is why I worry about someone who’s figured this out before he hits first grade.

The Narwhal.

He’s not a bad guy. He’s not on the shortlist of kids you keep in sight on the field trip. He’s very likely never been to the principal’s office, or had a major (for Kindergarten) disciplining. Which, in a way, makes it more frightening.

And I don’t want to make him out as a complete sociopath. Yet. He’s got plenty of time to grow into it.

But he’s not a little Hannibal Lector, wondering how you’d taste on animal crackers. It’s just that as an authority figure with no real authority, he sees right through me in a way other kids don’t. He follows the rules not because he wants to, or has to, but because it’s the most convenient path at this point. He’s already at school, got pants on and everything, he might as well throw his milk carton away, I guess. Any time I try to call him on something I get the sense that if this ever really starts to chafe, he’s just going to walk out the front door and hitch hike to Disney world. It’s like riding a horse with reins made of paper.

Or I could be projecting. This also happens.

Either way, if anything happens, I promise to let you know.




Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Flippin Sweet

I can’t do a backflip into a pool, but I know someone who can.

Well, I may be able to backflip into a pool, I haven’t yet found myself faced with such circumstances as would require this of me.

And I suppose I don’t technically know this guy who definitely can backflip into a pool. I didn’t get his name, you see. In fact, I couldn’t tell you much about him beyond that he could do a backflip into a pool. This is due to the fact that the declaration of his aptitude for such a feat constituted our entire conversation.

I marvel at this.

Little Man & myself were at the pool the other day. And there were these three boys jumping and splashing around. Little Man inserted himself seamlessly into the antics of the moment, so I took the opportunity to sit there not doing anything. As is the father’s wont.

And before long, the vicissitudes of water tag brought one of the boys into my general vicinity, and he paused for a moment to inform me that he could do a backflip into the pool. I expressed what I felt was appropriate awe at such a capability, and on we went with our separate lives.

There are times in my life that I was too self conscious to tell someone I knew that I didn’t want them to borrow my bike. And if you’d asked me even now to list some good qualities I possess I’d have to hem and haw and prevaricate before I mumbled about my good dental history.

And yet this boy saw a total stranger with a terrible tan and was impelled to make sure that if I died that day, I would ascend to the firmament secure in the knowledge that he could, if he so chose, do a backflip into the pool.

It boggles the mind, the qualities we value in ourselves. The beliefs, skill sets, geographic proximities we use to carve out the virtuous “us” from that dastardly “them.” Social media non-withstanding, even.

This boy in the pool makes me think of a guy we’ll call Fitz. Because that’s his name, kinda.

But so I met Fitz in person. We had a friend in common, we were in town for the same wedding, we were both martial arts nerds and we both tended Irish in heritage and liquor choice. And we clicked. We parted friends if not good friends if not brothers-in-arms, after the 30 or so hours we spent together.

And then we became facebook friends and I realized that we weren’t supposed to get along. He’s a republican, I’m a pinko liberal bleeding heart. We don’t pray the same way – well, more accurately, he prays, I don’t. If it was up to the algorithms of likes and favorites and targeted advertising, we’d be holding signs yelling at each other, given that we’d even met at all. Which is unlikely.

And yet, I have met him. I’ve drunk with him. I’ve experienced the warm kind, person of integrity that he is first hand. And if he hasn’t seen something similar in me then he’s a better actor than most professionals.

I don’t watch TV. I barely listen to NPR any more – ever since the Orlando shooting I’ve been avoiding the news in general. But even without all that I still feel like there are a thousand voices telling me how right I am and how wrong and stupid and brainwashed “they” are. Whoever “they” may be.

I really don’t want to be preachy. Calls there are aplenty to arms and action, and I won’t shout to be heard in that racket. But these are divisive days, and memes are to respectful dialogue what Jerry Springer was to family counseling. For myself, I’m trying to start where we all are, with our shared qualities (such as an ability to backflip into a pool, and the admiration of such prowess), and go from there.



Filed under Uncategorized

How To Win Friends And Influence People

There are 4 ways, it seems to me, to reliably acquire influence.

First – and most obviously, money. If you’ve got a Drumpfworth of bling then everybody will laugh at your jokes.

Second is celebrity – even if you don’t have enough cash in your wallet for the fancy bacon at the co-op, if the groupie behind the deli counter remembers your guest spot on Columbo, you might just get it for free.

The third is power, which could almost be considered “Money: Subheading- Power.” Except the garbage man doesn’t have any money, but an angry garbage man can make your driveway just as messy as a happy garbage man can keep it tidy. Thus, power.

The fourth is the most elusive, yet the most democratic of all: charm. If you don’t believe me, talk to the Shamwow Guy.

shamwow guy

Now, it’s obvious to anyone who looks at my page visits that I am not possessed of celebrity. And it is likewise obvious to anyone who looks at my pants that I am not possessed of money.

Power I may possess in certain spheres (if you want your tray of fake pies to be ready for your entrance in Act 2, then hail to the king, baby)

But I have asked strangers for money. If you’ve ever tried to produce theater, you either develop the ability to talk people into things or you get threats of legal action from US Bank.

Or both, in my case.

It’s a skill, is what I’m saying, Charm. Any schmuck who cares to can learn to be charming. And I am indeed a schmuck of passing adequacy. In theater lobbies, at opening and closing night parties, at small-time schmoozefests of all shapes and sizes I learned to quip, to listen actively, to empathize, commiserate, reference Kardashians when appropriate, and generally give the impression that I am interesting.

And so, with this particular skill in my social toolbox did I wake up one day last year in the looming shadow of Public Education. My son was going into public school, my precious, sweet, kind, little weirdo was fated to enter the conformity factory that gave us “The Wall” and “The Basketball Diaries” and the endless angst buffet that made The Cure all their money.

And I know that letting the world beat him up is part of this whole “parenting” thing I’m supposed to be doing. But dear reader, homie don’t play.

So absent money, power, or celebrity, the only way open for my handsome self to try to take a few slings and arrows for the Little Man was to charm these Nurse Ratchit bastards. And so when the (digital) call went out for volunteers I signed up for a shift. Hell, I signed up for 2. Can I do more than two? How many you guys need?

I was going inside. I was going deep cover. By month two I was determined to have the inside scoop on this place. I was going to know them, and they were going to know me. But not only that, those bastards were going to love me. If there was something going on with the Little Dude, I was going to know about it before the teacher did.

Parenthood teaches you that it’s a rare thing for a plan to proceed as you envisioned it. Hell, life teaches you that. Try to make a killer marinara sauce and you’re bound to find yourself schooled. But me? I did it. I found that unicorn, folks, and I rode it to the burrito store. I am a fixture at our district elementary school. The principal is always happy to see me, the front office secretary is always happy to see me, the floating educational aides and I have inside jokes. Boom. Call me Donnie Brasco.

There were two things that didn’t go as planned, though. The first was the school itself. I was going in thinking something along the lines of “Lean On Me” set in Soviet Russia (okay, not really, but kinda really – I’ve been out of school for a long time), but the school is amazing. It totally blew us away – it’s open and creative and supportive and everything you want a school to be. It’s like if Mr. Rogers and Elrond got together and started a school, this would be it.

And I’ll share a trick about the skill of charming – it doesn’t work if you don’t mean it. I’ve had to focus my psychic schmooze-beams at people who gave me nothing back, and let me tell you, that can’t be kept up for long. What I found with the folks at school was that I genuinely connected with a lot of them. Not only are they educated, kind and interesting people, but they also totally get my Little Man.

My little guy’s weird and unique and they get him. His teacher appreciates him like we do, with all his mannerisms and eccentricities and he has thrived. And nothing will endear you to me faster, dear reader, than if you’re on my dude’s frequency.

The other surprise – I’m totally hooked on this volunteer thing. I lurv it. One of my roles is to help out at Kindergarten lunch, and I come with a level of schtick only a theater professional can provide. I talk into bananas like they’re phones, I try to open fruit cups with karate chops, spoons are forks, forks are napkins, I tell ya. All the Dad Jokes get turned up to 11 when I’m on duty. And it is the highlight of my week.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to pretend this yogurt tube is a trombone.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

I Will Play For You The Song Of My People

It’s a big world out there. Especially when you’re 3-foot-nothing and 40 lbs. The living room alone, which can seem airless and coffin-like to me in the depths of a polar vortex, must seem an endless savannah of ikea rugs and outsider chic to persons of the toddler variety.

And that’s just speaking geographically. To say nothing at all of the landscape of the mind. The verdant, chimeric plains of adjectives, the deep fertile valleys of irony. It’s enough to make a rapidly-growing head spin.

I’d hope that the parental filter keeps it all somewhat manageable, though. No parent, of course, can have total control over what a little Man is exposed to -no parent who rides the 21 bus, at least. But generally when some new phrase interest or dance maneuver enters the scene we can source it with reasonable accuracy.

Or at least, we once could.

The other day, as I was about to leave for work I asked Little Man if he would, as is our usual routine, give me a goodbye tickle.

Not interested.

How bout a hug and a kiss? A papa can hope, after all.


I should have expected the brush off anyway, as The Dude was into a project at the time. He had his triangle out of the musical instrument basket and was clanging away with the science and art only tiny hands can manage.

What I couldn’t have expected, however, was when he told me that he was, in fact, playing a goodbye rhythm for me.

His words. Goodbye rhythm.

I have no freaking idea where that came from.

I’ll take it though.


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Don’t Wake Me Up Before You Go Go. Just Go Go.


Fyodor Dostoyevsky once said that man is an animal that can become accustomed to anything.

But who listens to that guy? His books don’t even have any dragons in them. Anything adapted into an HBO series there, Fido? Didn’t think so.

Take me, for example. Most of my life I’ve been a man for whom mornings were a concept. Much like the gut bacteria breaking down food in my intestine – certainly necessary for the day to day, but a process of which I needed no direct knowledge.

I chose my major in college in no small part because there were no classes before 10am. I certainly didn’t pursue a career in theater thinking I’d have to be anywhere before noon. And it worked out great for me. Those were, as they say, the salad days.

Maybe there’s a toddler out there who could get behind that kind of schedule, but he don’t live in my house.

Once naps ended and sleep settled into a pretty regular rhythm, little man was out for the count around 8pm (give or take) and rocking and rolling come 6 in the morning. And whether it’s a body slam, belly slap or tiny knees in my back, papa is roused at the same time as everybody else.

Now, in fairness, I usually can grab a quick nap after mama and little man get set up with videos and/or breakfast and get a second wake up maneuver around 8ish. But this is not the point.

The point is that I love my lady, and I love my son, and I treasure the time I get with them as he grows so quickly and childhood will end long before I’m ready.


I’ve been waking up at 6am for over 4 years now. And in that time I’ve grown accustomed to all sorts of unpleasant things: regularly handling another person’s urine and feces, perpetual joint pain, listening to wheels on the bus for hours at a time. I’m cool with all of this.

But I’ve been waking up at 6am. Almost every day. And I f#!*ing hate it.

But it’s just the waking up, is the thing. I’ve even grown to like mornings. But the transition, the throwing off the blankets and accepting that this is reality, not that place where I’m half-Japanese, half-Klingon. Doesn’t matter how many times I do it, I just can’t get used to it.

I have not grown accustomed to this, Mr. Dostoyevsky.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Death Does Not Wait For You To Be Ready


There’s a scene in Batman Begins where Bruce Wayne, living as a criminal in vaguest Asia, learns of the League of Shadows, and has to climb a mountain to find the secret temple where they train. He gets there and Liam Neeson asks him if he’s ready to begin. Bruce Wayne responds “I can barely stand.” Then Liam wallops him with a stick and says “Death does not wait for you to be ready!”

Liam’s been walloping on me a bit lately.

See, I fancy myself a writer, such as it is. And all writing is, arguably, storytelling of one sort or another. I’m fascinated by stories, the mechanics of them: pacing, escalation, the causal glue that holds the beats together. I love the themes, the way a story can resonate with you.

Another person who, I’m discovering, loves stories is the Little Man.

It started so casually, as all these things do. Snuggled in bed, Mama would tell him stories about when he was born, and he’d listen, then roll over and sleep. Then they’re read a book, and when it was done he’d ask what happened to the characters afterwards. Now, if we’re walking somewhere he wants a story. If we’re in the car he wants a story. If we’re eating at the table he wants a story.

The demand is relentless. Stories, like death, do not wait for you to be ready.

But it’s good. It’s a good problem to have. Every ninja starts as a white belt. I’m trying to view this as training – I used to think writing a blog a week was relentless and unforgiving. Then I thought writing 2 blogs a week was relentless and unforgiving. If I can survive stories on demand, 5-8 times a day, 7 days a week, then in a few months I should be writing all my young adult supernatural soft-core erotic novels during my bus commute.

The series will be titled You Only Live Forever. Or hashtag-YOLF.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Faster Faster


I don’t know the last time Little Man fell asleep on my chest. I didn’t know it when it happened. You only realize well after the fact that he’s done taking naps on you, and bu then, lacking a complete record or a complete set of brain cells that last, precious moment is lost to the mists of somewhere between “the other day” and “earlier that year.”

I wrote a post a while back about this very phenomenon, how parenthood is filled with these unremarked finales, no way to see them coming, so you can’t prepare any goody bags or piñatas in commemoration.

The flip side, of course, are the first times.

These are awesome, these you do see coming. First bike, first bacon, first Boba Fett mask: these are all worth a quality digital camera and a slide show set to Paul Simon.

And he may win the Tour De France (and if he masterminds a doping syndicate to do so, though I’ll frown on his ethical choices, I’d have to admire his organizational skills). It could happen. He certainly was, and continues to be excited about his bike.

That’s the thing – you expose him to everything you can (except those CGI re-release monstrosities of the original trilogy) and he likes what he likes. But you never know if some lasting spark’s been ignited.

But sometimes you do.

Once in a great, great while a parent is given the indescribable honor of introducing their Little Man to what will grow into a lifelong passion. And you can see it right away.

Little Man had his first trip to the MN State Fair this year. For those not hip, the Fair’s a big deal around here. The Twin Cities pretty much shut down like willpower in a donut shop for 12 days while we all look at butter sculpture and giant pumpkins and eat delicious things that have no business being deep fried and skewered.

No business, and yet we have mac & cheese on a stick.

Tractors and Llama parades and Journey plays on Monday – there’s all this and then there’s the midway. On Wednesday, the Dude met rollercoasters. Life will never be the same.

It shouldn’t have been a surprise, really. Nothing moves fast enough for the Man, he will, not infrequently, run in circles or ask to be spun around or otherwise seek out forces centrifugal. It makes perfect sense.

But there’s no equation nor base explanation for the utter magic when he lights up after his first ride, for how he talks about it now. There’s only the epiphany that this is an activity he will relish and treasure for as long as he is physically able. This will be what he can’t wait to share with his child.

And I was there at the beginning.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized