Monday, August 29, 2016

The Sounds Of Silence

A long time ago, 6,681 days to be exact, our youngest son was born, joining his two older brothers. And what a time it's been.

We've gone to Field of Dreams

and fields where dreams became real.

We've gone on road trips and hung out in bars.

We've said goodbye to one dog and hello to another.

There's been school

and school plays.

There's been time with family

and, of course, there's been time with Grandma.

There's been playing with friends

and trick or treating with friends

and traveling with friends

and hanging out with friends.

There's been bingo. Oh yes indeed, there's been bingo.

There's been soccer

and basketball

and baseball

and baseball

and baseball 

and a championship at the end.

And now, after a long time, 6,681 days to be exact, there's college and infinity and beyond.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Other, Of Course, Involves Orcs

“Hey Uncle Mark,” I said.

“Hello Snag,” he said, his attention focused on threading a reel-to-reel tape, part of the music collection I envied even if our tastes didn’t exactly overlap. “How’ve you been?”

“Fine,” I replied. “Looking forward to finishing high school next May.”

“Where’s your mother?” he asked, looking around for his sister-in-law. Along with the rest of our family, we had just arrived from Minneapolis for one of our visits.

“She and Aunt Blanche are in the kitchen bossing each other around,” I said. He snickered.

“So, what are your plans once you get to college?” he asked.

“Not sure,” I said. “I haven’t really thought about it.”

He raised his eyebrows at a concept he hadn’t been familiar with for quite some time, if ever. “You haven’t really thought about it?”

“Um, no, not really,” I said. Now I was looking around for my mother.

“What have you been doing instead of thinking about it?”

“Reading?” I suggested.

“Reading. What have you been reading?”

Mostly old issues of National Lampoon, but I wasn’t going to admit that. Fortunately, my mother walked in and interrupted us. 

“How are you, Mark?” she asked.

“I’m fine,” he said. “I was talking with Snag. He said he’s been reading.”

My mother looked at me. “That’s what he said, did he?”

Thanks Mom, throw me under the bus. “I have been reading,” I said. “Philosophy.”

“Philosophy,” said Mark. “That’s an excellent way to spend your time. And what philosophers have you been reading.”

“I like the existentialists,” I said.

“Of course you do,” he replied. “You’re 17 years old. Which ones?”

“Camus. Kafka, Kierkegaard.”

I must have come close to correctly classifying them and pronouncing their names, because he nodded.

“What do you like about them?” he asked.

For God’s sake, I thought. Why did I open my big mouth?

“There’s no meaning?” I guessed.

“What does that mean?” he asked.

Why am I here? I thought. I could be home playing foosball and trying to talk to girls.

I blurted out, “It’s like Kierkegaard said – ‘I feel as a chessman must when the opponent says of it, “that piece cannot be moved.”’

He looked at me, impressed, in a sad way, as though I was a dog that had somehow memorized a Zen koan.

“What else have you been reading?” he asked.

Relieved to be leaving the existentialists behind, I offered, “I’ve been reading a bunch of stuff by this woman philosopher I like.”

“Who’s that?”

“Ayn Rand,” I said.

He flinched, visibly. “Who?” he asked.

“Ayn Rand,” I repeated. “She’s got some really interesting ideas.”

“That’s true enough,” he said. “If you can call them ‘ideas.’”

I’d just finished Atlas Shrugged, and like many a young man before me, was besotted. “Don’t you think she makes some good points about people taking responsibility for themselves?”


“But when she talks about the fact that A is A, you have to admit that makes a lot of sense.”

“No,” he said. “No, I don’t. Because it doesn’t.” He glanced at my mother. “Do you approve of this?”

“As if that would make a difference?” she asked, reasonably enough. She and I had already had this argument. Several times.

He turned back to me.

“Do you remember when I taught you to play 52 Card Pickup?”

“Yes,” I said. Who could forget? I’d been 6 years old. He’d asked me to play, I’d said yes, he thrown a deck of cards in the air and told me to pick them up. I cried and he got scolded by my mother and his wife. It was a safe bet neither of us had ever completely recovered.

“I was trying to teach you to not be gullible,” he said.

“After all these years, that's your best excuse?” asked my mother. He ignored her.

“Now you’re letting a crackpot play 52 Card Pickup with your moral philosophy,” he said.

I stared at him like a dog who had forgotten its koan.

He shook his head in exasperation and walked out of the room. He returned a few minutes later with his book, Generalization in Ethics.

“Here,” he said, handing it to me. “Read it and then we’ll have this conversation.”

In the years since, I did read it, mostly in bits and pieces. We talked about it a few times, but never in depth. There were always other people around or dinner was being served or my own kids were interrupting us. I didn’t, and don’t, understand everything he wrote or everything he thought or everything he taught. I do understand that he made me smarter, and that he did the same for others, and that he made the world a better place. I'll miss him.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Happy Anniversary, O Lovely Bride

Come live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove,
That Valleys, groves, hills, and fields,
Woods, or steepy mountain yields.

And we will sit upon the Rocks,
Seeing the Shepherds feed their flocks,
By shallow Rivers to whose falls
Melodious birds sing Madrigals.

And I will make thee beds of Roses
And a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroidered all with leaves of Myrtle;

A gown made of the finest wool
Which from our pretty Lambs we pull;
Fair lined slippers for the cold,
With buckles of the purest gold;

A belt of straw and Ivy buds,
With Coral clasps and Amber studs:
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me, and be my love.

The Shepherds’ Swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May-morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me, and be my love.
- Christopher Marlowe

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Dragon Lady

"Please tell me that's not real," I said.

"Of course it is," said my mother. "Feel it."

I shuddered and waved her away. "Maybe you really do have dementia."

My mother glared at me. "Can you please make him shut up?" she asked the Lovely Bride.

"I wish," said the Lovely Bride. "He's just like that. It's genetic."

"Thank God he's adopted," said my mother. "I'd hate to think I'm responsible for him."

"Yes, thank God I'm adopted," I said. "At least there's a chance I won't act like a lunatic when I'm your age."

"Is it always like this on Sunday mornings?" my sister asked my oldest. She'd come along to see this.

"Pretty much," said the oldest.

"I see why you went to Miami," my sister told him.

He shrugged. "You get used to it after a while."

"Stockholm Syndrome," said the Lovely Bride.

"Hey, we're kind of getting off the point here," I said. "Specifically, what the hell is wrong with her?"

"I think it's nice," beamed my mother.

"No, 'nice' would be a new hairdo. This is nuts."

"Stop overreacting," she said. "My friends think it's interesting."

"Then it's time to find new friends."

"You're not really one to be criticizing someone else's choice in friends," said the Lovely Bride.

"What's that supposed to mean?" I demanded.

"Let's just say your friends don't always make good choices."

"He was like that growing up," my mother mused. She brightened. "Oh well, at least he never got arrested. That's a small miracle in itself."

My oldest looked up with interest. "Why do you say that?" he asked.

"Can we focus on the issue?" I interjected before things got further out of hand. "What in God's name were you thinking?"

"I'm eighty-one. I can do what I want."

"So you want to be a carny?"

"You're being ridiculous."

"Sorry, my mistake," I said. "I meant a biker chick."

"Well," said my mother, getting up, "I've had enough of you for one day. I am going to drop your sister at home and then I am going to a movie."

"What are you going to see," I asked. "'Caged Heat?'"

"If I had known he'd be this upset, I would have done it years ago," said my mother.

"What did you do, Grandma?" asked the middle kid as he came through the front door.

My mother held out her arm. My son gaped at the green dragon tattoo coiled around her elbow. "Do you like it?" she asked.

"You're the coolest lady ever," he finally said, shaking his head in wonder.

"Thank you," she told him. "I'll see you next Sunday. Have a good week." She turned and smirked at me.  "Don't do anything I wouldn't do."

Wednesday, April 2, 2014


Jennifer to the rescue!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


"Why do you suddenly want a passport?" the Lovely Bride asked suspiciously.

"So we can run away somewhere exotic," I said, trying to give her a kiss. She waved me away.

"Are you certain you don't have another family somewhere?" she asked. "You've sure been 'traveling' an awful lot."

"Of course," I said. "This family turned out so well I couldn't wait to start another one."

"I see your point," she said. "But seriously, why the passport?"

"I want to enroll in the TSA Pre program. I'm tired of standing in security lines at the airport. Besides, our kids all have one. Eventually we'll stop spending money on them and we can go somewhere interesting."

"Fine," she said. "Get a passport."

The next day I diligently filled out my paperwork, enclosed an original copy of my birth certificate, and sent the application off to the appropriate authorities.

Several weeks later, I came home to an envelope from the Department of State. It didn't look like it would contain a passport, and sure enough, it didn't. Instead, it held a letter on very official looking stationary from the United States Department of State, Charleston Passport Center. It began:

Dear Snag:

Thank you for your recent passport application. The evidence of U.S. citizenship or nationality you submitted is not acceptable for passport purposes for the following reason(s):

The document you submitted does not sufficiently support your date and place of birth in the United States since you were a non-institutional birth. Therefore, please submit the following:
  • A combination of early public documents created at the time of your birth. Examples of such documents include: notes created by the midwife regarding your mother's pregnancy and delivery, early religious records, your parent's tax, rent, or employment records created at the time of your birth which indicated their U.S. residency, elementary school records showing your name, date and place of birth, and/or any other document established in your infancy or early childhood that indicates your date and place of birth.
My first thought was, I hate it when people use "and/or."

My second thought was, what the hell?

Fortunately, the people at the State Department had included a telephone number for someplace called the National Passport Information Center. I dialed the number and, after the requisite ten minutes of working through a phone tree, connected with a very nice woman at the Center.

"Hello, may I ask who I'm speaking with?" she inquired.

"Snag," I said.

"What can I help you with?"

"I got a letter that says because I'm a non-institutional birth, I have to provide other records. I'm trying to figure out what that means."

"May I please have your date of birth?" she asked.

I gave it to her.

"And the file number at the top of the letter?"

I gave that to her as well.

"Now, please read the letter to me," she said.

"The whole letter?" I asked.

"Yes, please."



So I did. I kept waiting for her to stop me, but she never did, and I read it all, the salutation, the citations to the Code of Federal Regulations, the closing, every last word.

"Thank you," she said. "Now what is your question?"

"I'm not sure why I'm considered a non-institutional birth. Is there something weird in my birth certificate because I'm adopted?"

"I'm sorry," she said. "I can't tell you that."

"Why not?" I asked.

"We're not authorized to provide that kind of information."

"Okay," I said. "So what am I supposed to do?"

"You should do what the letter says you should do."

"Right. But I was adopted so I don't have any of those documents."

"Could you get a copy of your parents' tax returns from the time of your birth?"

"No, you see, I don't know who my biological parents are. And the birth certificate I sent you before already has my adoptive parents' information on it, and that's apparently not sufficient."

"That is a problem," she conceded.

"So what should I do?"

"You should do what the letter says you should do," she cheerily responded.

 "But I can't," I said. "So what can I do instead?"

"Oh, I'm sorry, we're not allowed to tell you that."

"Let me guess," I said. "You're not authorized to provide that kind of information."

"That's right," she chirped, clearly pleased I was catching on so quickly.

"In that case, who can I talk to?"

"You'll need to talk to the Charleston Passport Office. They're the ones who sent you the letter."

"Fine," I said. "What's their phone number?"

"I'm afraid they don't have phones," she said.

"I beg your pardon?"

"They don't have phones."

"They don't have phones?"

"Right!" she chirped again.

"Look," I said. "I know you just work there, but that's the craziest thing I've ever heard."

"Why do say that?" she asked.

"I'm pretty sure there's phone service in Charleston and I'd be willing to guess the State Department isn't working off the grid."

"Sir, all I know is that we've been told they don't have phones."

"Well, how am I supposed to talk to them if they don't have phones?"

"That is a good question."

"Do they have an email address?"

"Hmm," she said. "I don't think so."

"I suppose if they don't have phones, they probably don't have email either,"  I said.

"I know!" she exclaimed. "You could write them a letter and ask them to call you!"

"That's an interesting idea," I said. "But how can they call me if they don't have phones?"

"They could borrow one!" she said.

"That might just be crazy enough to work!" I said.

"I know!" she agreed.

"Well, thank you very much," I said.

"You're very welcome," she said. "Is there anything else I can do for you?"

"No, thank you," I said. "You've done plenty already."

"Have a great rest of the day!" she said.

"You too," I replied and hung up the phone.

"Who was that?" the Lovely Bride asked.

"Kafka's granddaughter."

 "What are you talking about?"

"I don't really know anymore," I said.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014