Thursday, June 28, 2007

Are You Ready To Do This Service For Your Don?

There is a rite of passage at Castilo Urf! that most of you are not aware of. In fact, none of you should be aware of it unless you live here, which you very well may as there are so many people underfoot that I've lost count. This rite doesn't involve a party or circumcision or scarification of any kind. It doesn't involve religion, drinking or sex. This tradition concerns each child of mine, me, grapes and the greatest film ever, The Godfather. When I feel each kid is ready, and there are grapes on hand, I take two of those grapes, stuff them into my jowls and, in my best Brando voice and grieving expression, implore them to "Look what they did to my boy." It would break your heart to see the look on my face, hear the sorrow in my voice. Kristy has seen it and she said it made her want to cry. I'm not an actor, or extrovert, by any stretch of the imagination and this is the only impression of which I'm capable as far as I know, and only five people in the world have seen it. Yesterday was GK's day to witness Daddy as Don, and as she gazed upon me from her seat on the kitchen counter it was difficult to tell if the look in her eyes was one of recognition, elation or gas. I may be done with the routine now since we're out of kids or I may be called upon by The Quartet to repeat it over the years, a tradition which I will gladly uphold, for no father can deny any request of his child when all alone and in the presence of fruit.

The Movies

I just returned home from a showing of Live Free or Die Hard with Uncle Toby. There are many things we as a people want out of life - a solid future for our kids, peace in the world, happiness and comfort. Judging from the reaction of the crowd at the theater this evening, though, what many of us desire is for John McClane to kill some more people. Another life lesson to pass on to The Quartet.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Sketches Of GK

GK and I watched Sydney Pollack's Sketches of Frank Gehry tonight. Here is what GK had to say:

I don't get it. He draws these formless, awkward sketches on paper, then takes those sketches and designs awkward looking structures from them. The buildings look like mistakes, or as though some office intern picked up a discarded model to rush to the client for approval. And that client was drunk, or high on bathtub crank, and approved it. It seems that Mr. Gehry is a very talented sculptor and I would love to have a piece by him on our coffee table, if we had a coffee table, but I wouldn't want to live or go to work every day in one of his sculptures. I'm afraid I would become sea sick.

After GK wrote this critique in longhand with a pencil on a legal pad, we watched Three Days of the Condor while I transcribed what she'd written onto the internet and she took a brand new roll of aluminum foil from the drawer, tore off sheet after sheet, and littered the room with tiny little Frank Gehry-like structures. She then pooped in her pants because she's only a year old.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Late Night Visions

Some time back, Castilo Urf! was having trouble with its high speed internet connection if you can imagine that. We went almost two weeks without the internet (I found that it’s difficult to validate your existence these days when you can’t get online) and then Comcast, in its infinite wisdom, sent us a letter explaining that their rates are going up, but if we agreed to get the most basic cable package, along with their internet service, then our bill would actually go down by $2. We haven’t had cable television since before C was born over nine years ago, and I wasn’t really looking to get it, but who can deny the savings of eight bits every month? Not us! So last Friday Mr. Comcast came out and bestowed the most basic cable package ever considered upon us. And it is basic. In addition to the network channels that we had before, though with much better reception now, we have our choice of a local library channel, a handful of channels that seem to broadcast nothing but old men in their pulpits breathing fire and brimstone and asking for donations, more home shopping channels than I knew existed, TLC, which runs continuous programming about midgets and clothing, and the All-Ultimate Fighting All The Time channel, among others. I’m not sure how we’ve made it this long without all of this brain candy.

Last night I was walking through the living room, heading to bed around 11:30 and C was up watching Vision Quest on ESPN Classic. I don’t like him staying up so late at night, and he doesn’t during the school year, but the fact is I can’t outlast him. Once I’m asleep then he has free rein to sneak the car out, drink, look at porn on the internet or watch Vision Quest on ESPN Classic. We’ve told him before that we don’t have a problem with him staying up late as long as, after a certain time, he reads instead of watching TV. I can’t remember what that particular time was right now, I can’t seem to stay up that late.

The fact that he was watching Vision Quest, though, could actually be a help to me. At his age he’s curious, he has questions about himself and life in general and his watching this movie could save me that awkward conversation where I have to explain bad 1980s cinema, jocks with mohawks and hand size relativity to him. And there are certain things that he would probably be more comfortable learning about on his own, like high school wrestling and Linda Fiorentino. What I can’t explain to him, what I can’t quite grasp myself, is why Vision Quest was on ESPN Classic. And why anyone would want to watch a reality show about how to dress a midget.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Walk On The Mild Side

It’s happening. My little girl is growing up. Yesterday, at the library, GK stood up and took a few steps all on her own. And then last night, with a house full of friends, she toddled from chair to couch and back just to prove that she could. How fitting is it that her first real steps would be at the library? Probably tired already of Beatrix Potter and Cinderella, she decided to stand up and walk over to where they keep the Fitzgerald, the Twain, the Vonnegut and, her favorite, Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

What drives this urge to walk, this need in us to be bipedal? Is it as base as food gathering, hunting, the simple desire for sustenance, survival and independence? Or is it to bring me things? “GK, bring me the remote. GK, grab a beer from the fridge on your way back in here. GK, walk over there, smack C on the back of the head and tell him, again, to chew with his mouth closed.” Yeah, that’s probably it, she wants to walk at a year old to start on errands for me. It’s perfect timing, too, because the other three, while they’ve mastered walking and talking and are potty trained, have also learned a certain amount of reasoning, acquired much free will and seem to be understanding just when and how to ignore me. So I need a new one, one that is so enamored with mobility that she will be willing to do and go almost anywhere her newfound powers will take her and for any reason.

GK has been a very good baby. A good last baby for us and I believe it is bittersweet for her mother to watch her take these first steps and hear her saying her first words. These are memorable occasions, and they’ll be the last for us. No more first steps, no more first laughs, no more first words. I do not share this bittersweetness. I need things done. I need the trash taken out, the lawn mowed, the kitchen painted, and a new alternator put in the Volvo. And I need most of that done tomorrow, so GK better find her sea legs but quick because there’s a short amount of time, I’ve found, between those first, unsteady steps, and the first instance of insubordination.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


I need to say, without going into too much detail, that little boys' underwear should never come in white. They should all be black or a very dark blue, or dark brown.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Body By Toby

For two years The Quartet's Uncle Toby has been involved in boxing training. He’s gone once a week to be put through the ringer by a medieval trainer and he recently began showing me, or inflicting upon me, what he’s learned. For the last three weeks he’s been training me in the sweet science just as he has been. Working out with Toby is like exercising with a grizzly bear. He’s my Louis Fyne, but with a voice like Burgess Meredith and the docile patience of Mr. Miyagi. Let me say this to any of you who may think that Toby is out of shape: he is not. He can out sit-up me, out jump rope me, out shadow box me, and I’ve got the aches to prove it. And if we ever get into the ring and actually spar, I’m afraid he may kill me. And, oh, the exquisite pain of his medicine balls. I credit him with my times in the last two 5ks I’ve run, times that have surprised me, due to the core strengthening from his workouts. I know he’s got more moves in his arsenal and, frankly, it scares me, though I also look forward to them because I know that each time I leave the gym with him my back is just a little bit sturdier than before and that I’ll be able to run a little bit further than I did the week before.

I’m thinking about having him train The Quartet next, his own mini-camp of mini-people. C has been interested lately in running 5ks with me but I’m not so interested unless he can keep up. JP could use the core strengthening to help him reach new heights while climbing the Crepe myrtle in our front yard. S is as scrappy a street fighter as there is, but could use some discipline. GK’s footwork is just sloppy, that’s all there is to it. This could be the perfect second career for Toby if he ever found himself in need of one. He could train whole families to fight. Little armies with little, furious fists and abs of steel.

The best part? You want to know what The Quartet will take to the most with their boxing training? Vegas, baby. Las Vegas.

Home Delivery

A very dear friend of ours is just seconds away from going into labor, that ball-peen hammer should begin mercilessly pounding her skull at any moment if it hasn’t already begun. She’s having this baby at home. I could fill up this post with commentary on just that aspect itself and how I’m opposed to it, but it’s not my fight this time. It’s none of my business. I’m sure everything will go perfectly anyway with a boat builder, two Mid-Western horse wranglers, a needy three-year-old and a Mastiff, as midwife, on hand.

Not being a woman, I can’t speak to this sacramental feel that apparently comes over you during childbirth, this primal snap in the female psyche. What I can speak to is fatherhood and the last great and exciting thing you get to do before a newborn enters your life and sucks all that out of it. I’m talking about driving your pregnant wife to the hospital. Quickly. When each of my four kids were on their way I raced across town like a madman to get Kristy to the hospital. Even with C, who was a planned induction. Nobody was going to take that away from me! The others began the process in the middle of the night, so with barely any traffic and Kristy next to me letting me know again and again that there was plenty of time and no need for me to run red lights, I burned up the miles like I was Steve McQueen. With S, I wasn’t even sure where I was going and turned left when I should’ve turned right, necessitating a cool, full-speed U-turn in the middle of Germantown Parkway. It’s all we have in those final few hours with no screaming, pooping, needy human to take care of. As boys, we never think of childbirth until it’s upon us. We don’t dream of that day, prepare for it, but what we do know is that when the time comes we will be called upon to drive very, very fast, and we cling to that scenario.

I feel for The Admiral. I’m sure S.A.M. will go into labor in the middle of the night and the only thing that will be required of him is to roll out of bed and possibly make a pot of coffee for the midwives, or the Mastiff. No acceleration, no screeching tires, no – I get giddy at the thought – police escort. Nothing but a slow trundle out of labor & delivery, due north with no off-ramp, no construction zone to negotiate, and into the next room, the kitchen.

Thursday, June 14, 2007


I’ve been thinking lately about going into labor. I’m not going into labor, thankfully, but I have witnessed labor four times, though I don’t claim to be an expert on it having never gone through it myself, again, thankfully. And it’s not so much the long-term aspect of labor I’m thinking of, the hours upon hours of contractions and complaining and whatnot. I’m thinking more specifically about knowing that you’re about to go into labor, that at any moment the worst pain you’ve ever experienced could just begin as though flipping on a light switch. With the ability to estimate the day of arrival – or the start of the arrival – I figure it must feel like walking around with someone following you with a hammer poised over your head and at any second that person will begin hitting you with the hammer. And that pounding may stop in a few hours or it may not stop for 24, you just don’t know. Sometimes, too, the hammer person may give you a whack or two in the weeks leading up to the full-time whacking, just to make sure you’re paying attention.

I’m not sure I could live with that kind of stress. Raising the eventual kid is stressful enough, I don’t need to be scared of the very moment it all begins, whenever that may be. Is it starting now? Or … now? Just the thought of it makes me want to beat my own head with a hammer.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Yesterday never got any better. It got a bit worse, in fact, because the Volvo? She’s dead. I’m fairly confident she can be brought back to life. Reasonably confident. About as confident, anyway, as I was that I could replace her water pump, that I could effortlessly repair our toilet, that no one would come into our yard in the middle of the damn day to steal a 9-year-old’s bicycle and that there was no way this week could get any worse (this all eludes to previous posts on Urf! that I’m just not interested enough in linking to, but which you could browse for and research yourself though, as I told Brooklyn Dan, I wouldn’t recommend it). So now I get to find out what it takes to install a new alternator in a 1991 Volvo 740 wagon. Replace the battery, too, though that seems simple enough, even for me. I’ll probably be doing this on Father’s Day, which only seems fitting since I got Big Mama a water pump for that very same vehicle last month for Mother’s Day.

It took me nearly two hours to get home from work last night with the gracious help of Aunt Elizabeth who lent me her Jeep to boost my car and then came to retrieve me a half-mile later when it quit. She then stayed with me through several more attempts at jumping and various other pokes and prods under the hood. Eventually we abandoned the Volvo and she drove me home. I returned a half hour later with my neighbor, the Mechanic Savant, and a battery borrowed from one of his many vehicles. We did a quick, jerry-rig installation (the posts were opposite what they should have been for my car) and five minutes later I was on the way home. The Mechanic Savant has a case of cold Milwaukee’s Best coming his way. The victory was bittersweet, of course. I retrieved the car without the aid and expense of a tow truck, but she’s just sitting out front now, immovable, like a giant Swedish paperweight.

Later, Kristy, GK and I were lying in bed watching disc 3 of season 3 of Rescue Me and, though Denis Leary’s sarcasm and Marisa Tomei’s tomeis were doing their best to distract me from the day’s stresses, my mind would invariably wander to transportation problems, finances and bike thieves. And then GK became very animated and she pointed at me and said, “Dada,” and then to herself and said, “Baby,” and finally to her mother to say, “Mama.” And I smiled, which is something that has been difficult for me these past six days.

After Rescue Me, and after GK fell asleep, I was reading an article on Paul McCartney in the June 4th New Yorker. McCartney’s three grown children are a fashion designer, musician and potter. How wonderful, I thought, to be in the position where your kids could do whatever they wanted without concerns for financial stability or economic success. What I would love for my own children is for them to be able to follow their own dreams and passions regardless of the monetary rewards or the necessity to sustain themselves and their families with those pursuits. But I know they’ll never be in that position, that I will never get them there. And then I wondered what they want for us. I don’t think they want me staying up late at night worrying about bills or me unsmiling and tense because the car or the air conditioning is broken. I remember, as a kid, wanting my father to be an artist. He was just that, though he worked for a major corporation, and I couldn’t understand why he didn’t just stay home and paint all day long. I was sure he’d be happier doing so and that’s how I wanted to remember him. I wanted my mother to tend her plants all day. That’s all. Just take care of my siblings and me and spend the afternoons spritzing her house plants with that little brass watering can.

Obviously those memories of childhood can’t sustain a family of six, but I’m becoming ever more aware of how my weekday life is affecting my weeknight life as the tension follows me home to seep into the fabric of this family. The irony of me working so hard to take care of our home and these kids just to have all of that work and worry make me inaccessible to them later on is overwhelming. It seems that big changes need to be made, some hard questions need to be answered, and I’m just wondering if it’s perfectly sane to take career advice from a group of one- to nine-year-olds.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Weekend Roundup

Every Monday my sisters and I have this thing we do where we E-mail each other a description of what we did over the weekend. It’s a way to keep in touch and keep each other included on what we’re up to with our families. I’ve never done it here because I can’t imagine anyone really caring. I can’t imagine my sisters caring all that much, either, but they seem to. This weekend was so good and, yet, so awful that I feel like sharing. Perhaps writing about the bad will be cathartic, or perhaps I’m just hoping someone can tell me when it will all end.

I have to start by telling you that beginning last Wednesday afternoon it started hitting the fan here at work. Just a couple of small things, one after the other, that made me think, “Well this day is ending badly.” It wasn’t just that day, though, because the next day it got progressively worse – the work stuff I won’t bother you with, but you should know that our air slowly began going out at home. In June. In Memphis.

Things at work began turning around a bit by Friday evening when I ran in the Gibson Guitars 5k and posted an official time of 29:06. I say "official" because the start of the race was so poorly organized that I feel it cheated me out of at least a minute, which would explain why I was over my time of 28:20 the week before in the Harbor Town 5k. But it was a good race and a lot of fun and afterwards we went with S.A.M and Miss M to Fresh Slices to eat an overpriced meal while GK crawled all over the table and the kids complained about various aspects of their food. Then we went back to our un-air conditioned home to lie very still in an effort to stay cool.

Saturday morning I got up early to work on the air. It was the only chance I’d had to do it since it began going out. I thought I knew what needed to be done, and I planned to take the unit apart and clean it out thoroughly as I’d done in the past when it began freezing up. I did just that, spending more than an hour and a half inside the Goodman package unit. And when I was finished and had put it all back together, I turned it on and … nothing. Nothing. No cool air circulating throughout the house, just frost on the pipes. So I resigned myself, mostly, to waiting until Monday to call an air guy and find out how many gold pieces it was going to cost to fix this whole mess. I decided to take C on a short bike ride before Rock-n-Romp started. He had been out riding his bike earlier and was eager for us to ride together. As I got my shoes on he came in and said, “Somebody took my bike.” I went outside to find an inferior bike lying on the sidewalk in front of our house and C’s bike gone. Some piece of crap had come into our yard and taken his bike. So I jumped in the car and drove through the two neighborhoods I was sure this piece of garbage had ridden the bike in to. For half an hour I drove around and it’s probably a good thing I didn’t catch him because had I caught him within that first half hour I would probably be in jail right now. But I was angry and I went home and took it out on various things in the garage because everything that had happened since Wednesday afternoon was piling up on me until I felt like I couldn’t breathe. But I did breathe, and I eventually relaxed and I took the rotted seat and rusted gas tank off the Rebel to help me feel somewhat productive. Then I had a beer. And then we went to Rock-n-Romp since I had the day off, and had a good time talking with friends while the kids played. Afterwards we went to S.A.M.’s where The Admiral grilled out for us and we discussed strategy for the next day of sailing. Later, we went home to lay very still in an effort to keep cool in our still un-air conditioned house.

Sunday morning I woke up and ran six miles. Six miles. I haven’t run that far at once since before my surgery. But I had a Forrest Gump thing going on and I just wanted to run, and keep running. Later in the day we met The Admiral, S.A.M. and Team Greenberg-Oster at beautiful Arkabutla Lake in Mississippi to christen The Admiral’s sailboat he’s been building since last year. The christening was an actual ceremony he’d planned and that’s when we learned that she would be called Nevinston. And then we all went sailing and the winds were good. He even taught me to sail and let me take the tiller and control of the main sheet and I learned what it means to be "close to the wind." It was the best part of the weekend, though surprising that I didn’t sink that vessel to the bottom of Arkabutla Lake with the week I’d been having and everything I’d touched turning to crap. We boated and swam and grilled out and then we went home to lie very still in an effort to keep cool in our still un-air conditioned house.

This morning, Monday morning, I came in to work and parked in the lot but then decided to move my car. The Volvo wouldn’t start. And so it goes.

I realize this is a very long post, and I would have broken it up into various posts, but the brain trust at Comcast has pushed the wrong button or pulled the wrong lever so we haven’t had internet access at home since Thursday. Or maybe I did something wrong and broke it, which seems just as likely.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Happy Anniversary

Thirteen years ago today I was standing in the living room of the small house I rented in Midtown in nothing but my underwear and a starched, white shirt. It was hot and I was putting on the first suit I’d ever owned one layer at a time, standing in front of a straining window air unit. The suit was wool. I was 23. It was my wedding day.

Kristy and I were married in Fisher Gardens on the Rhodes College campus where I’d attended her graduation from that school not a month before. Our reception was held in the room above Zinnie’s East and we spent the night at the Crowne Plaza, now the Marriott, in downtown Memphis. The next morning, wedding loot in hand, we took a train to New Orleans, spent a few days eating and drinking there; flew to Miami to lay on the beach for a few more days; then back to New Orleans to catch the train home.

We arrived home with $8 in cash to a house full of wedding gifts, a Great Dane and a Weimaraner. Kristy and I have moved houses and locations several times over the years, each time filling our home with more things – books, furniture, art, dishes and, of course, children. We’ve also filled each house with enough love to keep us going for 13 years, and for many more to come.

Happy Anniversary, Kristy. I love you.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

12 Minutes

Kristy and I went out to dinner last night without The Quartet. We met our friends (obligatory link, link and link) on the patio of Bosco's for food, drink and merriment, and there was plenty to go around. Almost too much to go around, really. I'll spare you the details of the conversations because those details are still a bit fuzzy (I believe someone slipped something into that drink I had) and because grandparents read this blog. Right now I just need to drink some water, get ready for the party we're throwing here in five hours, and try to remember where it is we left those kids last night.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Harbor Town 5k

Time: 28 minutes, 20 seconds

I Was Running

Today marks my triumphant return to competitive running, so you won't have to concern yourself with this now. And by "competitive," I mean "running towards a finish line clock with a large group of people." It's the Harbortown 5k. It's only 3.1 miles, not a big deal, but a year ago at this time, after back surgery to remove a ruptured disk, I never thought I'd be doing anything like this again. Yet here I am with a one-inch scar on my back and a partially numb right foot. I have no designs to win, of course, but am hoping merely to finish. To finish within 35 minutes, 38 at the most. Regardless, I've put 40 minutes worth of music on the iShuffle, so I can't go over that. So I suppose my real goal is to cross the finish line before the music runs out, and before Click, who is running it with me. It should be a lot of fun either way, with friends and family out for a festive evening on the river to cheer me and all the other runners on. Thanks in advance to all of you.