I’m sorry, but what is my temptation? I have to wonder this while I’m marveling at my inability to want anything other than what I have. I don’t want to go out drinking. I really don’t care for another cheeseburger, and I’m not even up for a coffee. A freakin’ coffee? The entering-your-40s delight, especially for a family of five. You NEED coffee, right?
I’m not feeling it. I seem to be happy with everything I have. I know. I am sitting down. This revelation has already shocked me enough to prepare for stability. Even more shocking: I’m not even pining for work. Which is weird, because I’m that guy who’s always thinking he should be doing more. He squirms to get back to the computer or on the stage to try it one more time before trying it one more time. It’s an endless cycle of professional stabbing. Right now I don’t seem to want to assail life anymore than to hang with my boys and watch Spongebob on hotel cable. (Spongebob seems to be the only thing on hotel cable.)
Something must be wrong. This is where I usually stand firm in a room and let it spin around me until something tumbles out of the wobbly gyroscope of centrifugal worry. Something surely needs tending too; there’s got to be a thing that I should be doing. But it hasn’t happened, and I should be worried that not worrying isn’t even worrying me.
I don’t want my sedative state to come to any alarm to anyone who feels I should be concerned for him or her. Paco, I miss you. I hate leaving my dog behind. And at this very moment, for the first time in her young life, Eliot is not with us. I miss her. I miss clutching my giggly little girl and “gobbling her up.” I’m going to get arrested for grabbing a stranger’s baby and pretending to eat it. From what I’ve heard, she’s doing well and most likely being spoiled with love and affection by her doting grandparents. We also hope they’re teaching her things like how to walk and tie her shoes.
So I’m relaxed, and I know the boys are. They’re each in a bed, curled up against the hotel air conditioning and watching the cartoons their parents are too cheap to get. (Parenting tip: Don’t get cable and any hotel seems like a trip to Disney.) We were just in the pool and are preparing for another day in DC. Today we saw the Lincoln Memorial and went to the Air and Space Museum. The boys were appropriately astounded and I got excellent parking, which is the suburban dad equivalent to killing a mammoth.
Lincoln is very moving. The Parthenon-like structure and that huge marble man, one hand open and the other in a fist, a hammer, all carved to an exacting size and posture for mortality and immortality: he’s torn but not divided. There’s even vulnerability in the huge pillars. “We’re only trying to compete with time; we’re doing the best we can to represent you, man.” You do get the feeling though, the literal chill in your gut, that the only thing that’s permanent is the cycle, and you hope (as you walk past the Vietnam wall) that somehow we improve with every lap around the sun. That somehow we’ll understand how it is we die and how it is that the grass gets watered with blood and mothers have to stare at photographs of babies and wonder how it is the little human they coddled ended up splattered across some old man’s doctrine. And you can’t imagine the horror of war and the horror of more. Abraham Lincoln, so large and towering across time, can’t seem to get the message across.
Sarah’s on the phone with her mom getting an update about Eliot. She’s been good, if not a bit fussy (Eliot, that is.) She won’t give too much of a damn about us being gone until we get back. That’s when she’ll look at her grandma, and then her mom, and then wail and rail against the double cross.
Today we’ll walk the Mall. The boys were mesmerized by the Air and Space Museum (understood to be Aaron’s Space Museum when Sarah was a young girl) and seem to be taken by the spectacle as a whole. We have the Washington Monument out our hotel window, and I’m so proud of Quin for appreciating Lincoln. He wrote a report for first grade: “Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves. He wore a tall hat,” although my impassioned speech about the 16th president was interrupted with, “There’s a hole in this ice cube!” His right eye stared back at me through the icy orifice. It’s those distractions, though, that make me want for nothing.
I was on the phone with my friend Ashley the other day. She was at work. I should have been at work but I was at home working, or at least I was, until I moved some furniture around and that led me to realize that if I'm going to move furniture well then I'd better shampoo the carpets. Because that's a normal, healthy male thing to think. When I told Ashley that I was working from home so I could clean the carpets, she wanted to know why. I told her the story of a guy named DY.
DY is only part of the reason that dirty floors drive me crazy. We grew up in a house--well we grew up in several houses. But there are two in particular that have lead to my madness about floors. One of the houses was really, really old. It had been built in the 1880s and had old linoleum with holes worn into it. And where there was not old linoleum there were these wood floors that were not like the wood floors that have you exclaim, "We pulled back the carpet and found marvelous wood floors!" These were big worn out boards that you couldn't roll a Matchbox car across. These floors had been around when hangings were more common and our pioneer ancestors were happy to have something that wasn't dirt.
Then there was our newer house. We built it together as a family. That was a terrible experience. One that would eventually lead to indoor plumbing, sure, but money and patience grew thin so we stopped just short of carpeting our plywood floors. We had only the subfloor that hides under most peoples' actual floors, and plywood floors have a way of saying, "you're poor." They also don't do much to keep your house clean. We lived in the middle of nowhere where pavement was rare and sidewalks did not exist. We had three dogs, two cats, three kids and a father who worked in the mud and snow. Dirt was everywhere. Proper credit to my mom; she did her best to keep up, but those floors.
Adding to my desire for smooth, shiny wooden floors like those of my friends in town, was that my brother and I shared a room in the basement with concrete floors. They were cold and unforgiving in the winter, and any time of year you'd be walking barefoot over the bark and splinters that surrounded the wood stove that heated the house.
I'm just thinking that little history has something to do with why I really like clean floors. But there's another, more intriguing piece: DY.
DY are initials for an actual name that I won't reveal because it turns out he was/is a drug dealer. I didn't know this when I was a kid--or at least I didn't know it right away. My brother and I would have to find the box full of money first.
An observant adult could find enough hints around the house as to what he did for a living. My mom would explain that (after we found the money) the poster above his bed of the snowman that read TO OUR SNOWMAN was a reference to cocaine. He also lived with us in Gould. If you live in Gould and don't work, aren't retired, or about to die of exposure, then it's confusing as to where your money comes from. Also, Gould is a repository for people hiding from the world. My father loves it up there. As a kid, my family was one of three that lived in the town at 9000 feet on the other side of Cameron Pass in Colorado. It drove me crazy. Why did I have to be part of the one family with young kids in the whole damned world that would never leave Gould?
Most of everything I know about DY happened in the summer. We didn't have running water so he would let us take showers at his house. That was when we lived in the house built in the 1880s. It was actually called "The Gould House" because it was built in Gould by a man named Eddie Gould who founded Gould. All of that would have been pretty exciting if we were surrounded by oodles of people who were jealous that we got to live in there. But that wasn't the case. This wasn't like the governor's mansion. Not even Eddie's son, Eddie Gould, Jr, would live in the house. He resided in the town of Walden about 22 miles away. He hung out in the hardware store and he had a little dog and a little house with amenities. And I remember him talking to my mom and saying, "I don't know how you live out there," and me nodding, vigorously, to make sure she knew I felt the same way.
Now was time to take action, I thought, but we didn't. Until we got really dirty and we'd drive down to DY's and all shower at his house. In the summer, a party would break out. Somehow volleyball became the mountain man choice of sports. It could get brutal and sometimes people got caught in the net. Sometimes the ball would get batted into the trees and, on occasion, we'd play in a quiet, more timid fashion while a curious bear would watch us from the edge of the woods. And sometimes my dad, a pretty big guy who still works long, arduous hours logging in the woods, would start playing before he took his shower. His hygiene became a community issue. It was so bad that for the Christmas of 1983 some of the other volleyball participants pitched in and bought him an Old Spice deodorant and shaving kit.
But it was the summer of that year, as my mom and dad enjoyed friends on the sparse grass of DY's cabin, when my brother, Pete, chased me through the woods. If precedent holds any value it was probably because I was about to get a beating. While running I saw a bread sack sticking out of the ground. It was interesting to me because, well, anything on the ground is very interesting to a bored 9 year old. I grabbed the bag, yet the sack didn't give. Instead, it jerked me the other way.
It didn't budge. It was heavy. Even my brother was intrigued enough to forgive any violation that was about to lead to some lopsided violence. In a rare moment of unity, we pulled on the bread sack together. With both of us leaning against the ground's grasp, we purged the earth of a big, square Tupperware.
It seems now that this moment may have been the culmination of my youth; of every child's dream. It was Goonies in real life. We were the explorers who'd actually discovered the treasure.
It's hard to explain the excitement and fear we felt as we ripped the plastic away from the box and found stacks of 20s and 50s and 100 dollar bills, along with a pile of gold bullion coins. I remember not being interested in the money. My face dropped in the amber glow of actual, shiny treasure. And while I obsessed over those coins, 100s and 20s and 50s blew out of the box and all around the woods. My brother, always the one to get in trouble even when he shouldn't have, went to work gathering the cash. While he looked like a frightened game show contestant, I grabbed some of the coins and ran down the hill to tell everyone that we'd found it. We'd found the treasure.
This is one of the dumber things I've ever done. Later that night, after I'd run into DY's house and shouted to all of the adults that I had found gold, my dad would pull me aside and say, "If you ever find a stack of fucking money in the goddamned woods, don't tell a fucking soul. Just put it in the goddamned glovebox."
It still stings how it all went down. I barreled down into the home with the panic and excitement that today would get me on a no-fly list. Everyone stopped. I paused to breathe. The Steve Miller Band took over the room. My announcement would not culminate in my being carted into the sunlight on the shoulders of hard working men and women looking for a break. Instead, everyone would pan their stare from me to DY, and DY would turn bright red. I still remember Ron, the carpenter who would build matching beds for Peter and me, shouting something about "Oh...boy...you've been had!" My mom, a petite woman who looked 20 at 32, smirked at DY and then me. She new I had absolutely no idea what was going on.
DY stormed pastme, and the crowd followed. My mom seamlessly grabbed my shoulder and turned me towards wherever I might have found this fortune. Pete came running down the hill with clumps of money he'd gathered. DY seized it and sprinted towards the trees. And Ron, and all of the other adults, some still barefoot from showers and overall summer protocol, went to work gathering money off the breeze.
Cocaine money blowing around in the middle of nowhere. Cocaine money blowing around in the mountains. Money of the high life; the money of pimps and rock stars, money of high-powered politicians and long-suffering actresses who lived in carpeted homes with automatic heat, all wafting around so far from where it had come...and so far away from where it would end up. But for that moment it swirled around us. It was our day to share in the life of people who I so badly wanted to be.
And those people would actually show up. I would get to know two of the people who had something to do with that money. They were DY's daughters. DY had an ex-wife we'd never meet and she'd send their children to Gould for a short vacation. These two young girls showed up in the coolest clothes that represented everything that was awesome and tacky about the early 1980s. One was my age and the other was 11. She was the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen.
They arrived not too long after we'd found the money and, maybe because DY wanted to make amends for taking my treasure, he allowed his daughters come over to our house. It was the most amazing day of my young life, showing these young women the meadow through which I hiked to find Indian arrowheads in the mountains, the hidden ghost town that stood in eerie silence on just the other side of the furthest aspen grove, and my favorite mound of dirt where Peter and I built summer empires with Tonka trucks. In retrospect, I don't think they were impressed. I can remember them looking around as if expecting to be either saved or killed. I was so crazy excited.
I shared with them the creaky old stairs and the second floor where in the winter it would get so cold that my mom's perfume froze. I showed them how the brick chimney twisted like a spiral staircase through the old workshop and out of the roof. And surrounding the corkscrew masonry was some old wine making equipment with a big cork press that I used to smash things. I also used it's levers to make rudimentary Rube Goldberg machines where with the pushing of one handle would tip over a bucket of water which would fill up another bucket which, if I remember right, might have knocked over some dominoes. In hindsight it probably wasn't that awe inspiring. I worked hard to impress those ladies, but on their way out of the house, as we bid them farewell, I overheard the older one say to the other: "That house is such a pig sty."
I looked at my mom, to make sure she was okay. She worked hard to keep that old homestead clean. It was a house that had newspaper for insulation and plaster chunks that would fall way from the walls. It had bats that hung over us during dinner and barn swallow nests that could fall on you if you slammed the door. It was pretty awesome now that I write about it. But back then it was the worst possible place ever. It was a pig sty.
I never saw DY's daughters again. Actually, we didn't see much more of DY either. He disappeared and faded to a few stories. The weird thing is that when I graduated high school, he sent me a letter asking me if I wanted to work with him. Somehow he'd become the chef on Jimmy Buffet's boat. I didn't do it. I was 17 and pretty sure I was awesome. But I still wonder where that path would have taken me. Would I be running drugs? Maybe tambourine player with Buffet's band? So that question lingers. Always something to think about while I shampoo the rugs.
where I'm sad and I don't realize why until I discover it's April. April 10th is that birthday that I had wanted to make the best. I wanted to make it so fantastic that it might have been impossible to make it as good as I'd hoped. And it is at this point where someone who has lost a loved one tells someone else, anyone else, that they should do everything to make every moment the best with their living loved ones. Well it's a dumb request because it's not in our nature. We know we need to make every moment count but we forget. And then we remember and then we forget and then we remember. We'll tell a loved one to go to hell, and then it dawns on us that we shouldn't have done that. And that's the struggle. That is love. the struggle is love. Because if you're not willing to struggle...
It's true. People say marriage is a bitch or whatever but you're in it because you don't mind struggling for this person. But you have to know that love is not A struggle; it is THE struggle. It is that YOU DO struggle. Children, for example.
That's what I remember with my mom. Sitting there at that stop light outside of Fort Collins, the bandage wrapped around her head. It looked like a beanie on top of a kid. She was such a small woman. Petite but powerful. And often just with a smile. I told her that I wished I could do more for her and she sat quiet and smiling. Smiling. This might have been her seventh brain surgery after the last six were supposed to have done the trick. She told me she liked watching her kids live. She liked following our advenures. Is that enough? For moms, I think, maybe. For others, I'm guessing, that we don't fully comprehend the magnitude of average events. But mom's appreciate their true scale. Her daughter moving. Her son alive. They appreciate it with fear and loathing and love. And by appreciate I mean swallow the whole jagged scenario and mull it into a billion pieces. So even just a day--the sun rising and setting and that space across the sky--in her son's life, unemployed, sweat dripping down his forehead because he doesn't have air conditioning. The western sunset of Portland's hottest summer searing an ancient brick apartment building. He's nearing the end of what would be 10 months in the city, yet it was only a few weeks ago that he realized most of his neighbors were heroine addicts. He's just sitting there dumb and wondering what he's doing with his life.
Mom's appreciate it. They see the good. Well, first they realize with naked nerves the terrible, and then come around on a carousel with the good. They army crawl through the heartbreak, but that's part of the appreciation.
Or so I'm left to wonder.
Life is that moment. Life with someone; life apart from somebody. Life is the struggle.
I've come to this point where I need to get out the Razor. Occam's Razor is that principle where you trim away the fat and get right down to the necessities in life. I need Occam's Ax. I need to hack at some pretty big issues. In my first attempt at this, I've told two people NO. Yes, I have said "No," which to most isn't too startling a story, until you get to know me and realize that I have trouble saying anything but YES. And then, AND ONLY THEN, do I shout NOOOOOOOOoooooo in the privacy of my car. So I do say NO. But only to myself in sad, regretful instances.
I'm not going to get cocky, but I'm pretty stoked about my Two No in a Row streak. It's March Madness here at the Ewy house. But sometimes I've been known to say NO and then, feeling badly, turn around and say "yes." Then I'm twice as sad and still doing what I don't want to do.
What is the typical case of not saying no? Handjobs on the bus? Doing dirty tricks for furry fetish Internet cams? Both would take less time and be less of a hassle than what I typically agree to. My wife might actually prefer my being a low-rent gigolo to the hours I spend editing somebody's wedding. Or whatever it is that usually involves a production that, in my head, will only take a few hours but ends up gobbling up part of a week. My kids are growing and driving and moving on without their father, and I'm a volunteer actor in a community play about being a bad parent. It's amazing irony and very close to the truth.
A fine example of this would be...well there are many...but one that really sticks out is my telling my friend Dave that I would help him run the lights for his children's theater. Why? I mean, really, why would someone say "yes" to something they have no idea how to do? Yes, I've been on stage. Yes, I've turned on lights, but neither of those add up to the qualifications of someone who can control the drama and mood of 150 inattentive children.
What was going through my head? I thought, "Well, I've done radio, and from what I've seen that lighting mixer is like a sound mixer and...yah, sure Dave. I'll do it." What kind of deluded freak says that? And it turns out I'd be doing audio, too. Also, you do much of this in the dark, with only a tiny pen light to keep the children from stampeding out of a blackened theater.
At least the evacuation of a dark building would have been a quick end for everyone. Instead, it was 90 minutes of professional actors pretending to be parched in the desert under cold blue lights and thunder. And then, when it was time to celebrate the rain, there was hot, red light and dust storms. I've never been more impressed with performers than the tests I put these through. Actually, that could be part of the audition: can you pretend you're drowning in these wind chimes?
For me it was an hour and a half of terror. Typically, the kids didn't mind, but every once and a while there'd be a teacher or chaperone looking up at the lighting booth to make sure there wasn't a medical emergency. Dave--who I think is still my friend--was luckily preoccupied with lobby duties, but on occasion would hear me disparaging myself, and make sure I was OK. Which has me wondering how many times the tiny venue shared too much of my struggle.
Professional actor: "And now, children, we will sing the happy song of our people! (darkness, thunder)"
Me: "Are you fucking kidding me?"
I still remember the face of the lead, actually painted as a lion, and standing under the hot lights of a monsoon, pausing, wondering if he'd screwed something up. You're fine, Simba. It's me. The tragic character who could not say NO.
I've gone three days without caffeine, or actually three days and 10 hours. I'd count the minutes but I'm too tired. Now I am not your typical three-cups-a-day coffee swiller, and I'd probably be better off if I were--if I had some kind of traditional beverage I stuck to with religious fervor--but I have this issue where I always veer towards diet soda. And diet soda makes me an irritable asshole who affects the behavior of animals. Worse yet, once I start, I can't stop. I'll get the 44 oz white trash special, and there can't be anything worse for you than what comes in a silo and tastes like chemistry.
So what does diet soda do to me? I'm naturally caffeinated anyway, and often frighten people, and then I add phenylalanine and aspartame and caffeine and I'm a squeaky monkey just short of the awkward chafing primate at the zoo. But I'm the dangerous chafing monkey, with my emotions on a cheese grater. Paco, our lovely dog, went through this phase of, well, being an asshole, and it was brought to my attention by a tiny Argentinian that perhaps he was feeding off of me. "So I'm an asshole?" I asked her in a quick and panicked glance.
Yes. A diet soda asshole.
Now the Argentinian asshole incident took place in '09, but I had been alerted as early as 2007. The epiphany was delivered unto me by a woman named Aditi. We worked at the same fledgling startup company and she told me (and I thank her eternally) that I was very distracting. She said it in the kind of deep earnestness that shows concern for the entire planet. As if I were, at that moment, not only a detriment to her focus, and our careers, but perhaps an epitome of all that's whirling out of control in this crazy world. In the reflection of her deep, dark Indian eyes, I saw the horrible timeline of caffeinated misdeeds that led to a woman gently lobbing darts into my soul.
1997: While co-hosting the Martin & Russell (I went by Jared Russell) the Coca Cola company unveils a new Mountain Dew-like soda called Surge. To promote it, they give us dozens of cases that would sit next to me in the studio. I had a huge cup that I'd fill with ice and then pour in an entire Surge six pack. Jared Russell made many poor decisions.
1999: I'm on stage and emceeing the opening of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. I take a drink of my Death Star-sized theater pop and realize that I've had enough. It tasted like human degradation and uneducated children. It tasted like a handrail at a carnival that had been rubbed down by the hands of a serial killer and 1000 incontinent pedophiles; it was everything that was wrong with the world. After a short pause I got back to promoting the event, but I would not drink much soda until 2002.
2002: We'd just bought a house and I had three jobs. One of them was as volunteer coordinator for the Democratic Party. This was not an easy gig. America had just been attacked by Saudis and we were going to obliterate Iraq. Even the Amish were running into the streets with axes. The party of relative pacifism was about to get trounced. This meant we were awake all of the time trying find someone who might like us. This also meant I needed caffeine. I discovered diet soda.
2004: Producing a morning show meant I had to be at work at 4am. I was also hosting a night program at another radio company. I drank diet soda the way the 80s drank Tab. One time I turned on the microphone and made a high-pitched squealing noise.
2006: I had big plans to take over the world with my entertainment report I hosted out of my house. Instead, I spent much of the day praising the bursting bubbly goodness of diet soda.
2007: Distraction notice.
I remember walking back to my desk and realizing that I really wasn't even doing anything productive for the company. The only reason I was going to the office was because they had soda machine with the 16 oz bottles for the price of a 12 oz can. And there was this other thing where I found that I enjoyed the process of getting a soda. I love going to the store and filling up the cup. I love the coins dropping into the machine and the proper package bouncing out of the bottom. I've explained to Sarah (who noted this long before me) that it might be because I grew up in the middle of the woods and I pine for the interaction of the customer experience and the magic of technology. In fact, I so enjoy the idea of soda machines that I put money in one that I found in a landfill. Nothing came out of it.
Here we are, somehow seven years after the indisputable truth of my soda behavior was delivered like a mallet to the groin, and I'm still battling it. I'll quit, and then, convincing myself I should have one to reward myself for not having one, I have one. And then it's another and another and I'm shrieking with autistic delight at the perfect 32 oz compliment on my drive to work. It's terrible.
When I drink it I can't think. I can't operate normally. I'm crazy. And worse, I can't write. I cannot sit down and get out even a little ditty. It's terrible. There's no upside yet I can't quit. Or couldn't. I feel that if orange juice were the cheap, accessible elixir that buoyed beverage conglomerates, that diet soda wouldn’t see the light of day. But diet soda is the moneymaker, and I hope for Aditi and diligent, hardworking people everywhere, that I've ended supporting the cartel of madness.
It's not until someone demands an explanation that you truly realize what you are doing. It's as if in the entire planning process no one uttered it into the innocent air of unspoken realities. It's just this thing that's in your head and it grows and grows until it finally flops out like a root too big for its pot:
We're here gathering high fives to raise money for the Austin Children's Shelter.
You hear that out loud and then you yourself have as many questions as the person asking. And you're relieved that it all makes sense...it makes sense in the way things make sense at a giant festival in the age of the Internet. It makes sense the way searching for a recipe is called "googling" or a well thought out quote is a "tweet." It makes sense in the way that creatives banging on the walls of convention have hoped it would one day make sense. How many people have been carted away in the name of crazy because their sense was way ahead of everyone else's sense? Or simply different. Only if they'd been alive now. They'd be heralded as geniuses and have half a million Karma points on Reddit.
I'm happy I live in an age that that makes sense, and because we do, a young man with a giant counter on his back gets a nickel donated to a good cause with every high five he gets. And people are all about the High Five Guy. To think that they can make a tiny difference by slapping someone's hand (and oh the irony of the hand slap going from chastizing to charity) makes all the difference as to whether they care or not.
It's funny, though, how this coming together so well has me coming to pieces. I think that's a good thing, to be dismantled and have to build yourself again...or maybe just leave it in pieces. No more need for a facade of any kind of togetherness; just laid out and open and honest and doing the things I should have been doing years ago--or that I did do years ago--but with the confidence that it can all make sense...or doesn't have to at all.
You just have to do it. (he says to himself)