Saturday, November 21, 2009

Boudu Saved From Drowning

Looks like I've been AWOL from blogging for a month. I hit another rough patch. I have been reading quite a bit, and watching a number of films when I feel as if I can focus for two hours without my mind drifting into the Seas of Despair where I've dog paddled way too often.

It was a week or two ago that I watched Boudu Saved From Drowing on DVD (Criterion). One of those films I've heard referenced forever, but have never managed to catch. I had to read the piece on Bright Lights Film to realize I had watched the American remake, Down and Out In Beverly Hills a couple of decades ago. As much as I like Paul Mazursky, Richard Dreyfuss, and Bette Midler, I don't remember liking that film very much and I think I prefer the grainy black and white melancholy of 1930's Paris.

Criterion summarizes that plot as The Lestingois family decides to take in the irrepressible bum, and he shows his gratitude by shaking the household to its foundations. It was a good week later before I realized how my life imitated art once again (and once again, I think I prefer the grainy black and white melancholy of 1930's Paris). After six months of living with us, a stay which we assumed was going to continue on through the remainder of his High School years, our nephew left our home.

This isn't the first time he left. He lived with us several years ago, and returned to his family when they moved up to Seattle. That was a a difficult end for me, although it was without the drama and cursing and anger of this one. It left me sad. There have been many other times when he has been with us for extended stays, and even earlier in the year he was here for about 5/7ths of each week working on getting caught up in school when he was failing. We have been the emergency back up his entire life. It is a job that comes with almost no respect, and zero dollars, but plenty of stress and pain.

Do not misunderstand, I love this kid. He and his older brother have been de facto sons of ours their entire lives, and this one in particular has always had that proverbial special place in my heart. I feel far more responsible for him than I ever had the right. I can't imagine what my life would be like if he hadn't been a major part of it. But I guess it is time when that little boy leaves the dragon behind for his own drifting in seas. He has bounced around different homes his entire life, so staying in one place for six months probably seems an eternity for him. Even a week before he left, he was saying that he liked living here - bragging about it in fact to his friends. But like Boudu, he doesn't do so great with rules. He also isn't used to rules being enforced, having to answer to adults, and understanding the meaning of "No".

As my counselor, who I started seeing a month ago, reminded me two hours after the nephew left our home with a "Fuck Off" tossed to me, this was his decision. He wasn't thrown out. We just set the rules which we thought were pretty minimal - go to school, do homework, let us know where you are, return phone calls on that cell phone we pay for and do a little bit of work around the house. In return you get a place to stay, allowance, family outings to things like movies and trips to Washington D.C., which I thought was a pretty good deal. He thought school was stupid, raves were all important, marjijuana and E are better than stupid books and four in the morning is a perfectly acceptable time for a 16 year old to come home.

I get that - I really do. In spite of all evidence, I too was a teenager and I still hate rules and I think marijuana is pretty cool. But, I also think kids need to learn, and also need to learn how to follow rules. You can't rebel until you know what it is you are rebelling against.

I didn't see this coming. The boys have become our entire life, for better (and there are some "betters") and for worse (and there are some "worses"). But our boys came with lots of baggage, and they came to us at a time when teenagers need to hate their parents and love their friends and try to figure out who they are. At least with the nephew, we had a number of years with him as a small child and "tweener" when he actually liked us and let us know that. Folks say that at some point in the future, he will probably return to thinking we aren't so bad. I'm holding on to those things, instead of that final "Fuck Off". Okay, I confess, my parting words weren't much better. I apologize via email and Facebook. I'm sure he didn't read either.

But I didn't feel so optimistic after he left. I felt horrible. I felt sadder than I remember feeling in a very long time. There was guilt, worry, crying, isolation, and a couple of Bloody Marys. Around the house were all of these reminders of my false certainty of being able to save this kid - comic history books, movies that will change lives, nutritious food that will curb that candy tooth. I failed. Just like that bookseller in Boudu. I've got a house full of an education just waiting to happen, and a heart that wants to do good, but I really can't tame the anarchist soul of a young man who already knows what he needs to know.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


Yva and Esmeralda

Papa Seed found her dead in the chicken coop this afternoon. We have no idea what happened, she seemed the healthiest of the three and was the biggest and the Queen of the bunch. It is so sad, she was a fine lady and we will miss her.

Papa Seed named her after Yva Las Vegass who used to perform on the streets of Seattle, much to our delight, but who now lives in New York. I sent her a message on Facebook earlier in the year to let her know that we are fans, and that we named one of our chickens in her honor. She was very sweet with her response.

When we brought the baby chicks home, our neighbor, who used to have chickens in the coop when she and her partner who used to own this home raised them (a lot of connect the dots in that little phrase), said that having chickens means having to deal with death. About six months later our two favorites and the first to start laying were killed - Josefina and Lyra. We suspect it was a fox, but we will never know. Nicky was put on the bottom of the pecking order and was getting her feathers pulled and bloody spots on her skin. We spent a long period with her in "transitional housing" (a very large cage which took over the entire "movie room") and it took another two months of failed efforts at reintroducing them before we finally had peace in the chicken run.

I knew nothing about chickens when we first got them which may be why I can watch them for hours in complete fascination. I love the girls. They are not the kind of birds you can cuddle with, our hens are fierce and have no problem jumping up to peck, but they also will follow you around the yard if they think you are going to expose some good insects in your digging around. Now it is just Nicky - Mancub named her after an ex-girlfriend - and Esmeralda. From five to two in a year and a half. We buried Yva in the backyard. I suppose there were other options, but that is what we did. She had laid one last egg for us that was with her. I'll miss seeing her hop out of the coop in the morning, and singing good night to her when I shut them in after dark.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Week That Was

Listening to a really beautiful CD, Evan Caminiti's "Psychic Mud Shrine". Very fitting as the day starts to soften, chill, and darken.

Last week was a rebuilding of sorts. I started seeing a counselor again. I had started with him at this time last year, but stopped after a couple of weeks. The American Pharmaceutical Industry is a companion of mine, I guess you could say, and we had a misunderstanding the week before that caused an unintentional estrangement. I can't do that again. It was brutal. It was not the week for it to happen either. There was a good four day period that only Dante would be brave enough to write about.

Mancub and I have started seeing our family counselor again as well, just the two of us. Our second session on Thursday was more hopeful than the first. We listen better to one another when there is that third person in the room, listening to us both. Mancub complains of not wanting to see one, or has in the past, but once there he unlayers that onion pretty quickly. Fascinating to watch, but I am now experienced enough to know that won't translate into an immediate 50's sitcom when we hit the homestead.

Mancub and I also had eye doctor appointments. I'm getting my first pair of bifocals. Right now I have contacts for distance, and reading glasses for up-close. These will be my back-up glasses, but I haven't had the joy of bifocals before. Getting them does not make me feel years younger. On the other hand, Optometry appointments bring me a great deal of pleasure. I've always loved going to see the Eye Doc, the only medical appointment I enjoy. No kidding here, I love going. It is fun, exciting, and the machines are way cool.

The entire family - let me repeat that - THE ENTIRE FAMILY - went to see Abe Lincoln in Illinois at the Intiman, thanks in part to the kindness of a friend who has connections to cheap seats. "Cheap" as in comps - freebies. Free is about the only thing that we can do as a group now, with the extra mouth in our home. In spite of the fact that the boys had some gripe with the adults right before we left the house (I think it was a scolding about grades and homework) and did not want to engage with us or do any pre-play reading or viewing of material posted in the lobby, instead opting for sitting outside of the Men's Room and entertaining each other with "drinking stories" for all to hear (makes a Dad/Uncle so proud), they both loved the play. That surprised me, for I found the first act a bit dry and confusing - but then again my attention as usual was lost as I was worrying about what they were thinking/doing. I have to let it go.

It did build, and the third act was very impressive indeed. Mancub later told us, then his friends, then our family counselor, that it was "actually really, really good - and really emotional". Best gift ever. I have to remember these things.

Thursday was Curriculum Night at Mancub's High School. This is where the parents and guardians get to go through a mini-day of their child's, showing up for each class for a 10 minute talk by the teachers and getting five minutes between classes to get to the next class. Physically, I could not be in High School again. I was winded and sweaty going up and down stairs and running down halls to get there before the bell rang. Oh, the pressure. We had already met two of his teachers - one kind of a slacker football coach teaching Government and one a very popular, most excellent Japanese teacher. The rest were kind of flat-liners. Too bad. This will not help the emphasis we are putting on school, studying, and homework. We always take the teachers side and support them, but I wouldn't last a week with a couple of them myself. The Japanese teacher however is AWESOME. He even had the parents do a little sign to take home to encourage the students to study, learn, practice, and DO.

Still no word if I will have a job in January, but I sure did have one last week. Having been out a few days, and having had some technical issues one the days when I was there, I had a lot of catching up to do, plus I had a few days I had to scoot out early to take care of some of the business above.

One day I walked down to the Market after work to get the fixin's to make dinner. It is three blocks from where I catch the bus, but I never stop there - I'm always wanting to just get home. I walked after my counseling appointment, and I was thinking of all the times I used to stop there when I was a solo kind of guy, leaving work to go live in my solo apartment or solo room in shared housing and doing my solo guy kind of stuff. Life is so very different now, and there are several decades wedged in there to make it so, but there is something at the core that is still the same, but is buried deep now and doesn't know how to resurface.

Industrial Poetry Part I

Few things are as peaceful and centering for me as quiet streets, off hours industrial areas, lonely train tracks, back alleys gone to rust and Sunday afternoons spent wandering within them.

Last Weekend

The last few weeks have been difficult. This whole parenting thing is harder than either of us ever imagined it would be, and now having two teenage bodies as the center of our world has caused some seismic reworking of what is our new normal.

It had been fragile eggshell walking, with last weekend finally shifting our mental status into just fragile, but a bit thicker than an ovum covering. Sunday we took one of the boys with us to the Northwest Tea Festival, a pretty tranquil event. We didn't stay long, but long enough to sample some good teas and learn a little more about how little we know about tea. I've never been a very good tea drinker - I'm a Coffee Dude all the way - but I'm dabbled a few times trying to increase my awareness of all the pleasures and traditions of the world. That's me - always trying to increase my awareness of all the pleasures and traditions of the world. Sounds better than "Glutton", but kind of the same thing going on. I'm not really a wine guy either. I like beer and I like rum. But, I've assigned myself some self-taught adult education courses for the next year or two or three, which includes Introduction to Tea, Wine 101, and Opera for Beginners. I'm both the student and the teacher, so I've got my work cut out for me.

Since I prefer green tea to the other varieties (and was glad to hear one of the speakers totally dismiss "herbal tea" as a tea, because that stuff makes me gag), I now know that like other real teas it is made from the leaves of Camellia sinensis (a fact that was buried in my head, but not available for recall), and that it is the oxidation, or lack of it, that makes a tea green, or black, or something else. I already knew that my favorite of the green teas is genmaicha, and due to my years of studying Japanese (alas, almost entirely forgotten) I know that "ocha" is the Japanese word for tea. I'm going to need a review study session for the basics of brewing, sipping and history.

It was all supposed to be a bonding experience with Mancub. He likes tea (although with a cup of sugar in it) and is studying Japanese. A perfect event for us to go to and have fun and learn, except he didn't want to go because he wanted to hang out with friends. The women at work swear that this is normal, that the idea of a "family outing" is laughable at best in their homes, and that the sounds coming from behind the closed bedroom door are the only way of knowing that this person is in your life. This doesn't stop me from becoming the frustrated and sad 13 year old when my brilliant ideas are ignored, forgotten, or snubbed - usually for the excitement of "hanging out". I would have loved to be my Dad. I know all of the cool things to do and learn. Alas, we don't get to create little perfect humans made up of all of our values, interests, passions, skills and experience. What we get is the opportunity to try to keep someone safe enough to last to adulthood, and sometimes even doing that seems like a tremendous thankless job.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

My Two Cents

* I still think that empty wine bottles make the best candle holders.

* Milk tasted better when it was delivered to your doorstep, and you reused the bottles. You also used to be able to visit the farm where it came from. I know it is more expensive, but I think I'm going to find a dairy that still delivers.

* TV shows were better when they had theme songs and closing songs and credits. Not the little side panel thing where the words zip by faster than anyone can possibly read, but real full screen closings that wrapped up that week's show with an image that stuck in your mind. And they began with a song that set the tone and that helped one transition from your real life to the magical one you were about to enter. Songs that you could hum or sing and they would conjure up the characters and places and fun and drama of the shows.

* There just will never be another voice like Aretha's. There will never be another voice with such power, grace, grit, pain, hope, desire, strength, depth, range, color, comfort, and soul. There are many singers with beautiful, powerful and amazing voices that can still stun, but then you back to Aretha and it is just over. It is done.

* It is good to know the names of your neighbors. It is even better to know a bit about them. And it is a better world when you can greet them, and help them, and check up on them, and borrow from them, and get their mail for them when they are on vacation.

* Joy is a Great Big Musical on a Great Big Screen. Musicals were better when they didn't try to put the songs in a real life context - High Schoolers and nightclub singers. Musicals were able to put difficult subjects such as racism, bad work conditions, poverty, and the pain and struggle of life into a tonic that could heal. Nothing is better than a Sunday spent watching a wonderful musical.

* Racism should always be tinged with horror.

* I liked it better when it was harder to get certain foods, when you had to travel to a certain place, or maybe store, or wait for a specific time of the year. Having access to everything at all times in all places is not a plus, it is a minus. It adds to the shallowness of life, allows us to skim over life, takes away the reflection on the specialness of things that gives life depth.

* Cars looked so much better in the 50's.

* I often wonder if it was better when people were quirky, eccentric, difficult, stubborn, odd and weird instead of labeled with a diagnosis. I know this can lead to what may be dangerous territory, and I'm not in a position to reverse this trend which is probably a very good thing, but I ponder this quite often.

* Brando is the greatest actor of my time. He had an essence that burned on the screen that hasn't been seen again.

I appreciate email and having a computer to research anything at my finger tips and within a moment. I appreciate so much in these times, but I'm constantly longing for what we've lost.

Monday, September 14, 2009


Listening to Art Tatum

Mancub is 18. The neff is back living with us, looks like full time for at least a year, but I suspect until he at least finishes High School. That makes two grown men, two teenage guys, two male dogs, and three chickens. Plus the various spiders, rats, raccoons, and other critters that run about here. I stopped writing here because I wanted to write something brilliant about the Washington DC trip the four XY humans took at the end of July, but it was less than perfect and I wasn't quite sure what to make of it all. Then I thought I should write about my experiences at Bumbershoot, the Seattle "Arts" Festival I loved for a few decades and now feel less than amorous towards. I could have written about Mancub turning 18, which happened during the same weekend as Bumbershoot, or my losing 27 pounds (which I started another blog to write about, and haven't), or my getting a new bicycle or this horrible feeling like I'm running to the finish line, but instead I putter around on Facebook, spilling out all of my computer energy in one spot.

But I gotta get back to this.

Just give me another day.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Where Was I?

Been so long, I've forgotten how to do this. Dang Facebook takes all of my internet time up, and what do I have to show for it? Bloodshot eyes and sore forearms and wrists.

We've taken in one of the nephews, once again. His second "official" living with us period (and then there have been hundreds of shorter unofficial ones). I'll call him The Burr. A week after he moved in, he came down with mono. He had just signed up for, and started, welding classes which he was enjoying. It was a shame he had to drop out. School is not his favorite thing in the world, and finding something that he enjoys that might at some point turn into a job or career is always a goal. We will try to get him in another one soon.

Since he is 15, we are now a two teenager household. With teenagers, you multiply their ages to find out the equivalent of how many adults that would be in your home. We have a 17 year old and a 15 year old, so if you multiply that it comes to...a big number. Like, a lot. There is never a dull moment. Or a stress free one.

I ride the "I feel very fortunate to be able to make a difference" vs "I should never be allowed to do this because I'm terrible at it" roller coaster, which according to a few of the folks I work with is normal for the parent of teenagers. This last week has been rough. We have introduced (reintroduced, really - but this time we are sticking with it) the concept of "bedtime". Now that there are four of us in the house, we need to be a bit more organized, if not respectful. In addition, we have set a maximum number of hours per day to be playing video games during the summer. Four. That seems really generous, but these addicts are coming off of all day and night benders. It has been a learning experience for us all, and by that I mean I've been learning just how good that bottle of Coconut Rum is and how I don't really do a very good job at work on three hours of sleep following a four hour "discussion" with the family in the middle of the night.

Since Mancub will be turning 18 in just over a month, we know we can't come down too hard on the rules. We also really want to get him ready to be an independent person in the next year (and there is a lot of catching up he has to do). He has had it pretty cushy with us so far, which is not how we intended it. In that, we have failed, or at least not lived up to our expectations. Now we are doing that uphill thing getting him to contribute to housework and cooking, taking care of himself, and planning for his future. Way uphill. But, it is very much a two steps forward sometimes two steps and sometimes just one step back. I have to appreciate the forward moves when they happen, and chill around the backword steps.

In addition to Coconut Rum (and Whiskey Sours), I've found solace in Graphic Novels, web surfing, podcasts, and walking. I also bought a bicycle. In just under two weeks, we will be going on a Family Vacation to Washington, DC. This is probably the most ridiculous thing I have ever done. I'm terrified and excited. I have to be there for one day of work, then we will spend a week in the intense heat and humidity taking the video game addicts to museums and monuments, which will excite them as much as the early bedtime I'm sure.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Whadda Day

I struggled to wake up and get out of bed, and felt less than human for the first couple of hours, but today was a good day and not just because I didn't have to use my AK.

Three books I had ordered from showed up today. Since I can't do anything without obsessively gathering, I've been bookmarking links, renting videos from the library, and buying books on food. Today the armchair hunter came home with In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan, The End of Overeating by David Kessler MD, and Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero. This is what I do now instead of plowing through a huge bag of greasy, salty tortilla chips every night - I surround myself with words and images of healthy food, real food, sustainable agriculture, vegetarian and vegan recipes, getting in touch with the earth, natural fitness, being one with the Universe and chanting OM. Actually, the last two - not so much. Yet. And I still have the days when I plow through a half of a large bag of tortilla chips.

Not that I'm going vegan or anything crazy like that. Been there, done that as smartasses used to say even before the generation before the Not Really's said Whatever. But I want to eat less meat, and I want to eat humanely raised meat and I don't want to support, with my hard earned cash, industrial farming.

I'm not aiming for total purity either (yes, that is probably redundant). I hope to hit the target often, but won't always. My Aim Is True.

So after the books showed up, one of my delightful and lovely coworkers shared the web sensation that is sweeping the nation! Several of us spent far too long (actually the right amount of time, but if I was a true professional I'd say far too long) reading The Three Wolf Moon T-Shirt comments. A good time was had by all, but no sooner did we retire from the warm embrace of faith in humankind restored (via carefully crafted biting and hysterical sarcasm en masse), then we started to exchange emails to plan for next weeks Chip Day Potluck. Although we will in fact be dining on potato and corn flats and rounds, for the slightly older folks in the room you can't say "Chips" without thinking Ponch and Jon. This then started an exchange of old television titles, and eventually YouTube vids of great show openings.

The silliness had not yet reached a pinnacle. That didn't come until someone sent out what just may be the funniest blog of all time; Awkward Family Photos. This was wet your pants funny.

I walked to REI to meet up with Papa Seed after work. He got stuck in traffic so I sat on a log bench near the manmade forest (used for trying out walking shoes and hiking boots) and watched some totally wonderful Korean cooking videos I had added to my iPod last night. Back to the food thing. Full circle.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Long & Winding Staircase

Still walking like an obese crazed middle aged man trying to catch up with his runaway youth. Adding a bit more as I go along. Last weekend decided to find out where the many staircases that are on the east side of Delridge go.

Stairs are difficult for me. I'm trying to use them 50% of the time at work (I work on the second floor, and until two weeks ago I always used the elevator except for the twice a year fire drill). My knees no longer work the way the once did. I guess there isn't a part of me that works the way it once did, but my knees really don't work the way they once did. Not that I didn't get a lot out of them back in the day, but now - not so much. So I'm pretty damn slow on stairs. If I hear that clickclickclick of someone bounding up and down the stairs, I wait 'em out. I would just get in the way, and I don't want them to see me do the hunched over crawl with the forehead spouting like a New York fire hydrant in July. But, I'm not giving up. I will keep using them. 50% of the time.

So Sunday I thought I'd take the pretty big stairs up to where there were trees. But when I got to what I thought was the top, there were more stairs leading up to more trees. And this repeated endless times. I had to stop to hack and choke and sweat and catch my breath, but I finally made it to the last step.

That step took me to a street I would otherwise never have been on. The rewards of walking continue - the revelation of the world outside the front door.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Parent Break

Yesterday Papa Seed and I went to a class that was being offered for folks involved in the Foster care system - either as parents or workers. Although we are no longer "Foster Parents", we want to keep our license current. You never know. It always makes me think of Tammy Wynette, who said she always kept her hairdresser license current in case the music industry gig fell through. That probably isn't the best analogy. Somehow it works for me.

Unlike some of the classes we have been to which are total snooze cruises, this one was very interesting - "The Disruptive Teenager" I think it was called. Something like that. We really liked the slightly crazy, totally energetic, very smart woman who taught the class, especially since she introduced the session by discussing how much she hated pathologizing kids by sticking a label on them that they would carry on their foreheads the rest of their lives. Yep. Papa Seed and I totally agree with that. Everyone has to have a diagnosis, a label, a sickness or mental illness. We wanted to be very careful just to call Mancub by his name. I think we've done pretty good with that piece.

It was also all a bit overwhelming. As the class went on, the stories became more intense - the stories about kids who just have everything going against them. The firestarters, the animal torturers, the suicidal ones. It is all so sad. Lives that are chaotic and insane from the time they land on earth - their version of "normal" is something so very shattered it is hard to wrap our minds around it.

We had a lunch break that we took advantage of by hitting a Vietnamese restaurant nearby. Papa Seed and I never get to have lunch together during the week. That was nice.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Alki Walk V

I got a couple of good shots of Papa Seed on this walk. I usually don't take photos of people, but since I knew this one it felt safe. Plus, at least on the anchor, I told him to get in the camera's view.

Satisfying and more than a bit exhausting, but like a good walk should be it left my spirits lifted and once again feeling so fortunate that we live where we do.

Alki Walk IV

Alki Walk III

There are treasures on the sidewalks and along the path - poems, stories, pictures. There are several large viewing machines that you can peer through to see vintage photos and drawings of the way it once looked in the area.

Alki Walk II

Some of the most beautiful homes in Seattle are found along Alki, most weathered and funky and now dwarfed by neighboring condos. Truly charming, but alas - not for much longer.

Alki Walk I

Papa Seed picked me up from work today. We were going to head home to get the boys and take them to the dog park, but instead decided we would head to Alki for a walk. Alki is part of West Seattle, as are we, but it isn't a place we go everyday, although I wouldn't mind if we did. Since I had already had a bit of a walk before stopping at the Thai Truck for lunch this afternoon, this was my second walk of the day. Most amazingly, I not only hit 10,000 steps on the pedometer for the first time since the New Walks, I made it to 11,690 for the day. Not bad for a way out of shape, way obese, middle aged dude with chronic pain and a penchant for blowing through Fiesta Sized bags of Tortilla Chips in one sitting.