Days before we made it, my wife predicted that our move to a house in Greenlake from our Crack Alley apartment on Capitol Hill would fundamentally change our lives for the better. Life-long, knee-jerk pessimist that I am, I’m still inclined to agree. Though only a few fast miles away, the difference between the two digs is like living in another country.

I got nothing against Capitol Hill per se - hell, I lived there for five blissful bachelor years in the 90’s — but the particular block we were on, the heretofore monikered “Crack Alley”, has got to be one of the 10 worst in the city. The summer brings out bangers hawking crack, crank, horse and what-have-you on literally all four corners of an intersection. The handful of half-way houses and itinerate hotels on this single stretch of Summit Avenue creates such an eclectic mix of crazies, junkies and out-and-out thugs, that it really keeps you guessing whether you’re going to get jumped for your wallet, your perceived stash, or for absolutely no reason at all. Back when I was a stay-at-home dad I caught an Oprah (I know, I know, it’s embarrassing; really I’m much more of a Dr. Phil man), which featured a story on child molesters. Toward the end, Oprah told how you could go on line and see if there were any released sexual offenders in your neighborhood. Out of a morbid curiosity and base-line nagging fear for my then 14-month old, I went to the website and plugged in my zip code. I could feel the blood rush to my face when I saw that within my zip there were 63 convicted sex offenders, 10 of whom lived on my block! Numb panic thumped in my chest. I didn’t know what to do. All I could think of was to swear to myself not to tell my wife until we had found new place. I kept the secret a solid six months until we found our Greenlake cottage. I know some of you reading this will be thinking, “Sexual predators can strike anywhere, even in the nicest of neighborhoods.” And you know what? You’re right. But I’ll bet you anything that not a single parent out there doesn’t understand how I felt knowing that there was a good chance that a given person I passed on the sidewalk, my toddler's tiny hand gripping my finger, would happily harm him for their own compelling pleasure.

Anyway, we’re out of that hole. And Seattle seems to be finally opening up to me again. I got a job interview at a major charity foundation. I got a play reading at ACT in April. A full production at the Empty Space space in June. My wife’s auditioning for Camelot and H.M.S. Pinafore and is beaming to have a home to put her nesting energies into. My kid has a small backyard he can play in while I sip beers and listen to the M’s on the radio in the late Northwest summer twilight.

It was like this fourteen years ago, the first time I moved here. Aloof Nordic beauty that she is, cloaked in gray most of the time, sporting sensible shoes, Seattle takes way too long to warm up to you. It was well over a year before I found my feet, felt comfortable. Then and only then did this strange city strip naked and open her drop-dead legs for me (still wearing those damned Birkenstocks!) Everyone says it takes a year to really dig living in New York or Los Angeles, but I’ve moved to Manhattan twice and didn’t find this to be the case at all. If you hit the New York pavement running, you’re usually up to speed in no time; and Angelino’s only love you for the first six months you’re there; after that, you’re old news. Seattle, she's shy and stubborn and completely worth the wait. (Kinda like my wife, come to think of it.)

I’ll let you know if my she's wrong (my wife) about our lives changing, but I doubt it. I got an inkling. And it doesn’t feel like hope, adolescently ardent and vulnerable, but rather like a gentle intimation of better, easier, less stressful times to come.

If it is surgery that must be done, then it will be surgery. If it means wringing my hands on some shitty plastic chair in a hospital waiting room, then I’ll do that. If it means lying in bed awake in the middle of the night because she’s under observation, then by ghod I’ll lay there awake. If this is what has to happen, then let it happen and let it be over with.

I’m sure that she is more terrified that I am at the moment, for obvious reasons. As much as I think and freak out about this situation, she must be doing it four fold. So, I will be strong. I will take care of everything that I can, and do my best to make this all go smoothly. I want to be there for every second she’s trapped in that not-too-sterile place, subjected to nurses poking at her and doctors trying to cut her up. Then I want to hiss at everyone on staff when I wheel her home to safety. I must find the chutzpah inside of myself to make sure we both get out of this the best that we can.

I really thought that she was okay, and that we were done with all this. Sure, she had some indigestion which wasn’t conformable, but who wouldn’t after a visit to the ER and a pint of olive oil? I was looking forward to putting this all behind us. But the specter wasn’t gone. I sincerely hope that this is the last time that one of us has to look at the other one on a gurney. But for now, we’re going to get through this. The both of us will be tough, and not take shit from any of the doctors, or feel like we’re marginalized to the big business of healthcare. I can do this. This is what must be done.

This situation is very surreal. Please make it stop.

1 - 2 - 3

When I become president, I will send a team into the desert to bomb a gigantic warning label into the Earth. It will say:

This planet is populated by stupid people.
Do not expect it to make any sense.
Unless you want really stupid slaves,
ignore this planet
and find another.

That will save the aliens a whole lot of trouble, I reckon.

Lately, it always seems to be about quarter to eleven in my house. AM or PM really doesn’t matter. You see, that’s the time the clock stopped one day. It might have been month’s ago for all I know, and even though the rest of the clocks in the house are correct, it’s still always about a quarter to eleven.

I got this clock many, many years ago at one of those arts festivals that pass through my home town on a fairly frequent basis. If you’ve been to one, you probably know what I’m talking about. Local artists compete with out of towners and set up their booths in order to hawk their wares. You see a lot of younger kids from the local campus vying with aging hippies trying to sell everything that borders on stuff of a practical nature to God knows what. Usually, there’s a place to get food and refreshments and quite often, a stage will be set up and a band playing somewhere off in the distance.

I think it was a year or two or three after my divorce. After laying around, drowning my sorrows and generally feeling sorry for myself, I finally mustered up some ambition and decided to make the rounds of one of the arts festivals that was making its way through town. For an added bonus, I had the company of a young borgette. She must’ve been either 4 or 5 and was this was to be one of our first forays into a public gathering. Any of you single dad’s of little girls out there know the logistics involved in embarking on such an adventure. For those of you who are lucky enough not to be faced with such challenges, let me tell you that finding suitable accommodations should your young one feel the urge can be quite a daunting experience. That’s not the gist of the story though…

So there we were on a fine summer day, wandering up and down and peeking in the various booth’s . I distinctly remember buying her some tie dyed shorts which she has long since outgrown, some “cool” toys that can probably be found at the bottom of her toy box, some roasted corn on the cob, getting her face painted and the accompanying smiles. I think we were there for about four hours or so. When I think back, that seems like such a small amount of time that occurred so many years ago that I’m surprised that it’s so vivid.

Anyway, as we were getting ready to go, I noticed a booth that we hadn’t seen before. It was kinda off the main strip and it didn’t seem like too many people were interested in what was being offered there. We decided to take a look. Turns out, it was a bunch of hand painted clocks. Oh well, nothing to see here.

”Daddy, can we get that one?”

I took a gander at what she pointing at and the first thing I noticed was purple. Now, I’m not exactly a “purple” kind of person and at first I dismissed the idea. Next came the inevitable “Pleeze!” and I decided to take a closer look.

The sides had these squiggly lines etched into them and various symbols of life were painted next to them. The face of the clock was that of a full moon, the hands were little arrows and the numbers were represented by the various phases of the moon. I was intrigued.

Fresh on the heels of divorce, the furnishings in my home could, at the time, best be described as sparse. What little I had lacked imagination and seemed more like a conglomeration of cast-offs from friends or an afterthought brought on by necessity. It would be nice to have something new. Even though said clock would reside in her room and out of sight from most visitors, the price was worth it and the deal was done.

We got the darn thing home and somehow the splash of color didn’t fit in with white walls that were there. So we painted. We painted oranges, yellows, blues and reds. We built a canopy of sorts over her bed. We purchased comforters that depicted puffy clouds and blue skies. We put stars on the ceiling and pictures on the walls. Essentially, we started a home.

The clock hung on her wall for years doing what it was supposed to do, measuring time. After awhile, the ticking seemed to get louder and was keeping her awake so we decided to move it downstairs. I figured the thing was on its last legs and couldn’t hold out much longer. I was wrong. That thing ticked away and got louder and louder as it gazed down upon me from my living room wall. In a way I found the ticking of clock somewhat comforting in a quiet house.

There’s a couple of other things that I’ve managed to figure out over the years. Maybe it was that damn clock and the work that we went through in fixing up rooms and making a home that was enough to shake me out of my doldrums. Maybe not. I’ll never know for sure but something had to be the impetus for a turnaround and I’d like to believe that the memories of that day, at an arts fair many years ago, and the pleading eyes of child brought on by such a simple image of that of a stopped clock had something to do with it.

It still sits on my wall, frozen at about quarter to eleven. I don’t have the heart to take it down or throw it out. Maybe that’s because of the memories I’ve described or maybe that’s because I’ve found a degree of comfort and I want time to stand still for just one more day.

An analysis of the psyche (and other related matters)

It was no surprise to find out that I belong to the personality type that needed a structured group to work in. It was something that I always knew in the back of my mind and had accepted as part of myself without thinking , just like others would accept a mole or scar on their face.

I was always almost "goody-two-shoes" except perhaps that I wasn't that perfect, and others knew it too. "Goody-one-and-a-half-shoes" might hit the mark.

To tell the truth, I didn't like the answer all that much.

I have always had a thing against personality tests. Sure, I think they're much more reliable than astrology. I used to believe in astrology, and even studied it some, until one day an acute bout of cynicism caused me to reevaluate my current psychological state. How could my physical and emotional well-being be affected by a bunch of planets and several arbitrary arrangements of stars several light-years away, too far to even cause a ripple in the ocean?

Personality tests, in similar vein, are also a bane to me. To limit myself and the improvement of my emotional IQ by the aftermath of that test is an abhorrent thought. If you have ever taken personality tests with close friends, you'll know what I mean. Years after, you experience the repercussions of the test you did when you were five years old: "He's an introvert, don't expect him to do this or that, or go to a blind date, or go to a tango class." Humbug!

A friend of mine happens to share the same view as I. He's famous for breaking rules, in fact, he's broken so many that the previous ones are always quickly forgotten in favour of the gossip (and laughter) generated by the latest. In his youth, he defied death in an accident. He deliberately skipped classes even while attending one of the best courses in one of the best universities, and passed with flying colours. He once drank a bottle of Listerine that I had labelled "Do NOT drink -- Listerine." And even ate noodles with moldy, fungus-covered wooden chopsticks without batting an eyelid.

Its people like him that inspire me to want to test the boundaries of indoctrination by the education system. I wonder if I could live life with the same flair he does, and survive. It's interesting that while he does have a certain disregard for authority and the awe that usually accompanies it, he also possesses a knack for knowing which rules are inflexible and strictly cannot be broken. Everyone likes him. Everyone thinks he's fun to have around, even old, strict spinsters treat him like a son.

Break the rules. Go wild. Live Life. (And all the other NikeTM chants.)

You can't define people like him using any old personality test, ever. That's what I'd like to be too. One day.
This is my reaction to someone's comments on the recent decision to ban headscarves and skullcaps and large crosses and Slayer t-shirts and Cock Rings and Pussy Snorkels and whathaveyou in French Schools:
Let the diatribe commence.

First off, no one has the right to tell anyone what the hell they can wear in a democratic society. LET ALONE THE STATE.

I've always admired the French, among other things, for their no bullshit attitude toward secularism. Ver' ver' nice. However, you've got a very skewed idea of secularism if you think this decision has the least bit to do with it. For one, linking clothing to religion is a huge mistake, and if you would like to split hairs, I can trace other garments and apparel back to goddamn Paganism. Furthermore, skull caps and crosses aside, the headscarf is not even an Islamic symbol per se. Restricting its use, therefore, not only makes me laugh my cute tush off, but it reeks of loathsome ignorance. I thought the French would have known better.

Speaking of the French, I'd also like to play around with the notion that thoughts gallop into the sunset like thoroughbreds when you pull a headscarf off. Bing! Yep, this may just be the most boneheaded, albeit commonly cited, solution to a problem some people know zilch about. What a great way to empower people. Afterall, what difference does it make how we were raised and what values we were taught when we can just turn on a dime and become Femme Fatales in gelaming black leather. While we're at it, why not forcefeed women birth-control pills. They were, after all, among the cornerstones of the women's movement, signifying, as it were, a woman's right to her own body. Doesn't sound so feasible, does it? You are working on wardrobes before you work on consciousness. This, I fear, does not bode well for what is to come out of Le Land of Fairy Tales.

To get back, schools are institutions which children have to attend until they are 16, or some other age depending on the respective curriculum. Their right to self-expression in these formative years, before they have to carry the burden of corporate drudgery in adulthood, should be inalienable. In fact, the above-mentioned "strip the bitch's head so she'll sprout wings" approach is exactly what will be irreparably detrimental. The best and only thing a school can be doing to empower people is to give them knowledge replete with the elements to think for themselves. The girl will take that scarf off if she wishes. It's none of your business.

You want everyone to be like you? Lock yourself in the Hall of Mirrors. Bob runs the place, he can lend you the key on weekends.

You gave:

a book. a doll. a box full of string
for making jewelry.
I searched behind the pillows.
the curtains. beneath cushions and chairs
until I found them.

You said:

"I know what you're looking at."

We gave:

angel food cake. wine.
peanut butter cookies with too much salt.
we threw handfuls of confetti
that landed in your hair and on the doorstep.

We said:

"I'm sorry."

She gave:

small toys, lined up on the piano
as I played. a flower. a thimble. a green
plastic dinosaur. pictures of places
I'd always wanted to visit.

She said:

"I don't know where to go anymore."

We asked for:

a smile. a tear. an evening spent
listening to old music. a moment of
stunning realism during
a conversation at the dinner table.

You gave:

silence. a stoic expression.
tabletops covered in origami cranes.
A mouthful of teeth for gnashing;
images of God from a distance.

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