It was official last night: You could hear boiling in the radiators while the gremlins in our hundred-year-old pipes did their initial mischievous clanging and a final inspection revealed no toy trucks, MacBook power cords or drapes in danger of forge by the finned hulks sentineled about the house. No leaks, either. It would have been nice to make it to the end of the month before firing up the stove but a heap of deferred maintenance means the house is currently a sieve owing to decaying window caulking in high, scary places along with crooked sills and missing shingles. I’ve always taken a certain pleasure being on display at night for nosey dog walkers or wayward tourists hopelessly lost after a long walk in the Arboretum (baffled by where the real top of the hill could be) but come November the blinds and drapes get tucked cozy to keep the outside out.
Last week in the grocery store a bent-over, feisty old lady shuffled after me like an octogenarian Ms. Pac Man. This commenced after she tapped me on the back of the arm, offering a matronly how-do-you-do and explaining her eyes were starting to go south (macular degeneration) and since it’s getting trickier choosing (stuff is going south or long rides from there) I helped her in Produce. She seemed a little off her rocker (forgive me for sounding like an ageist jerk but I had the intuitive sense she had always been bizarro) and while weirdos don’t faze me, small talk with strangers is not my forte and she seemed disappointed yet determined to adopt me as hairy hunchbacked companion and indeed did I have the distinct, out-of-body sensation of mute fairy tale creature reunited with the resident forest godwitch come to benevolently touch him on the head with her wand. Watching her wave handfuls of greens underneath her nose for antteatery whiffs or stare sideways through melons like peepholes in a motel room door brought waves of recollection……… years ago in Willamette Valley country I was acquainted with a retired Lockheed engineer also clinging to self-sufficiency in spite of similarly deteriorating eyes and I remembered what a frustrated, ornery fucker he was when it came to favors (we volunteered together a few times a week and I weathered Jekyll and Hyde swings since I was a kid who knew nothing and feared [or stood in awe] of the man, having been made privy to credible Flash Gordon sort of rumors involving his ideas which had changed the course of history). For the rest of the day I wondered if I’d ever see this woman again and how on earth she got to or from the market. The boys and I have been on our own an awful lot and when this happens, life feels exceptionally fragile and every sunbeam and dark cloud take on exhausting gravitas.
Regarding less weighty matters, I was relieved to finish Jim Bouton’s Ball Four, my copy being the twentieth anniversary edition featuring a never-ending epilogue of cringe-inducing backpatting along with bonus where-are-they-nows. Bouton was ahead of his time for a jock but to distance myself from a detestable sort of hyper-masculinity of sports writing I dove into Stacey May Fowles’ Baseball Life Advice: Loving the Game that Saved Me. It was grating at first what a sentimental shill she could seem for Major League Baseball but there’s more than meets the eye and it was a breath of fresh air. Nevertheless, I’ve exceeded my quota of sports-related books for the foreseeable future. In between Ball Four and Baseball Life Advice I read Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn and The Tripods books by John Christopher (my mother had reminisced to me recently about reading this young adult series and I found it predictably cheesy but enjoyable).
Several nights ago on the way to the Central Library, an excessively above-and-beyond field trip for a fourth grade school project having to do with medieval castles, the Ramones (requested by the boys) were vibrating from the speakers but all the better to drown out the inane banter from one of Adam’s yakkier pals. Following Beat on the Brat a few tracks later was the song about sniffing glue and it dawned on me that a line could be getting stepped over. Speaking of glue, Adam wore a brown ensemble to school, several weeks ago: Brown shirt, brown pants tucked into scuffed-brown cowboy boots because he’s assistant administrator for a group of seven of the smartest, nicest boys in the fourth grade who’ve formed the National Security Secret Club (the boys are heavy into unicorns so it’s not bad as it sounds) headquartered in a den burrowed out of wood chips under the playground’s catwalk or slide, I’m not sure because he was unforthcoming with the coordinates it being a secret club. Your guess is good as mine as to what purpose this fudgily-bureaucratic sounding club could possibly serve and I couldn’t help good-naturedly razzing Adam that he resembled a zookeeper, my only recommendation for the club being the boys switch to more upbeat, less authoritarianish colors. Unfortunately, he (and me) got in hot water because dressing up like a grocery sack for picture day at school is a surefire recipe for retakes and furthermore he origamied his shirt collar dracula-style (repeat of a past prank which was not well-received despite a thousand watt smile) and tonight he and I naughtily reminisced with satisfaction about this during penmanship. While I’d rather be chatting over my last cup of tea with him about geography or natural history, cursive is considered expendable by the school district these days so I’m having us work on it hard now before other things become more important.
Lately, I’ve grown more consumed than usual with the idea of teaching the boys as much as possible before I die as they’ll be needing to take care of their mother when I’m gone. At least one of them will have to pull down a comfortable salary if she’s to remain in the city unless she opts to live out her days quietly on the Peninsula in which case one or the other (or both) boys will need to not mind the periodic long drive out to Port Angeles and they’ll have to be good with their hands for fixing problems such as under the kitchen sink. Last weekend, Adam installed the new tire on the old wheelbarrow. This weekend we’re clearing off the work bench so he can start on his model kit (a classic Dodge number). I’m a little worried about fumes from the glue.
postscript: I’m still here (with run-on sentences, dangling participles and such). These particular musings were borne from a gloomy, rainy evening last October and although I’m making it my first post of January in the new year, I’m backdating it to eliminate confusion. I’ve never really known how to start back up after these extended lay-offs. Still, when I crank up the dusty WordPresser the warm, fuzzy feeling comes back.
After the steep, always delightfully roguish descent down sandy bluff (far easier than usual due to overnight showers which stabilitized the ordinarily terrible footing) through colorful maples and green nettles, Oliver Fern and I spent several hours wandering the beach at relatively low tide. After inspecting untold numbers of tiny crabs and undertaking a handful of meandering detours around ghastly, slippery clay leaching and oozing out of the forest above into the shallows of Elliott Bay, we eventually happened upon a derelict runabout, a garish-orange Whitehouse full of putrid seawater and gravel and we pried the dangling, corroded nameplate off with a mussel shell, loving found objects much as we do (Oliver Fern insisted we tow the boat home, cleverly appealing to my sensibilities with a most intriguing proposal involving containerized Saguaro cacti in the backyard). The boys and I’ve discovered lots of broken-up old boats on the Whulge, over the years. They’re terrific finds for children and their shutterbug fathers, akin to strolling along forest paths which mysteriously lead to meadowy clearings underneath abandoned treehouses with thick rope ladders hanging down. Obviously, if a treehouse appears suspiciously well-constructed of cookies, gingerbread and the like, you turn and run the other way unless your dad insists it looks safe (even tests the rope himself).
The youngest bicyclist in our household is only a few months removed from training wheels and has a bike with one gear so initially the boys and I stuck to sidewalks for our Saturday afternoon ride: Starting with a delightfully long downhill (distant views of the university’s football stadium) and then gradually leveling off into the Montlake neighborhood where tenured professors live in tidy houses with those telltale neat but frumpy yards that convey organized people with not a lot of time and which feature improperly-pruned fruit trees with watershoots like cellular radio towers (not that bad pollarding stuff, either) and that mess the sidewalk with rotting manna and protrude branches which hang down and poke you in the head. Sprinkled in are fancier, somewhat larger older homes lived in by aging code monkeys from 1998 who conscientiously ride their bikes astonishingly long distances but will bus it on rainy days and finally you have the smattering of dark little bungalows inhabited by curmudgeonly native Seattleites who go for walks in the Arboretum to blow off steam and scowl at English ivy like newcomers from Michigan, ripping it all down bare-handed.
After stopping several times to browse uninspiring yard sales consisting of broken radio control cars and embarrassingly bad music collections, we continued across the ship canal (stopping on the bridge to admire boat traffic this magnificent blue-green day) and joined up with the Burke Gilman Trail for a leisurely ride eastward, though the final push to the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks in Ballard was rather unpleasant as a matter of course. Throughout and during this time we paid a visit to the hordes on Kite Hill in Gas Works Park, got milkshakes (root beer and strawberry) in Fremont and whizzed past giddy beerphiles at Oktoberfest.
On Sunday, we rode the full length of the Elliott Bay Trail and that’s where these pictures come from. We were crosstown for Adam’s game in Magnolia, a place which I find positively dreadful to the fullest with the exception of that one Discovery Park (which we have not visited since the Victoria-ish rupture that sent alligator turds streaming like Atlantic Salmon into Elliott Bay) and it being such a pleasant, warm afternoon it seemed like it’d be an awfully fun save to squeeze in another summery ride and so we dodged ornery yellowjackets, swerved around grouchy guys with fishing poles and raced rumbling locomotives that crawled in the train yard next to us. There was a breathtaking popcorn sky over the grain silos on the way to the sculpture park but the boys wanted to keep going so I settled for left-overs on the return to Smith Cove.
I’ve been taking turns the past couple weeks with Adam, reading short stories by Philip Dick. He picks one to work on before bedtime and usually I take my shift super-early the next morning before Oliver gets up and at some point later we’ll discuss the story’s merits, twists and whatnot. Plenty of weird ones in the large volume we’re sampling, like this old lady who keeps baking cookies for a neighborhood whippersnapper so she can steal his life essence. A tad depressing at times, stumbling across some of the more dystopian older stories, especially considering they were a little ahead of the curve back in the day and trickier yet explaining undercurrents to a ten year old in terms he can grasp (truth be told he’s gotten used to plenty of dystopia the past eight months if you know what I mean but maybe you don’t). At any rate, Adam’s definition of science fiction has expanded. So has mine, really. For a voracious reader, I’m not very literate. For years I needed a dictionary at the ready to make it from one page to the next let alone understand sort of deep things. Right now I’m struggling with Jim Bouton’s classic Ball Four but not because it’s hard reading. An indisputable classic and luckily I’m enough of a baseball nerd for enjoying half the name-dropping but……….. it’s dated. Not exactly in the same way but it brings to mind last year when I finally took down from a dusty shelf and slogged through my yard sale copy of Lake Wobegon and by the end had chuckled a fair amount but speaking strictly for myself I don’t find Garrison Keillor’s writing much cleverer than his old radio show.
It was yesterday I was gardening and wouldn’t you know it the sky turned black coming down over the hill and there was a patch of thunder. Oliver Fern was sensible and heeded my warnings to run to the house and stay there until the weather blew over but I decided to take my chances engaged such that I was in a heartless renovation of rockrose (only ever meant to serve as placeholder). Adam was going to be shouldering his forty pound book-bag up the hill from the bus stop at any moment between sometime-and-midnight (on his fourth bus driver because the trainees keep flunking at the hands of Humorless Bus Supervisor who sits behind with the kids) and figuring I may as well distract lightning bolts from an innocent schoolboy lost in daydreams, toiled away. No lightning problems but a handful of cloudbursty downpours had me mildly hypothermic for several hours and while I was trying to remember the President’s name (you’ve gotta be fucking kidding me) Adam took care of dinner for himself and Oliver as he’s pretty good at fixing hot dogs but he did tear the buns all to hell as they were these fluffy brioche numbers I picked up to allay the boys’ mother’s concerns I’ve been feeding them hot dogs five days a week since school started.
Speaking of which, Adam’s loose tooth had fallen out during social studies. The school nurse gave him a hinged, plastic tooth-holder molded into the shape of a back molar for bringing home the nasty little prize. On the International Scale of Weirdly Revolting Things, a fallen-out tooth ranks highly but when Adam showed it off (reddish pulp still attached) I did my best to hide any trace of revulsion, nodding with pretend admiration at what may as well have been moldy dentures. We were standing in front of the house in the pouring rain and I was shivering uncontrollably but as he was clearly blinded by the beam of pride it’s apparent Adam mistook hypothermia for excitement. Loving him dearly as I do…… all for the better, I must say!
postscript: I wrote this a couple days ago but then the earthquake in Mexico City happened and frivolity went out the window. I’ve been worried terribly sick about friends who live in the city. It was no small miracle to me this morning I received confirmation they’re okay and doing what they can to help others.