Just after 1 AM I stand in the wet grass behind my aunt and uncle's suburban home south of Minneapolis. I'm scanning the sky for shooting stars. For five minutes, maybe more, I see nothing. The sky is hazy and almost purple. A bat swoops low and I duck.
Then, over my left shoulder, I see one. A flash of light. A pixel. I turn in that direction and stare hard. My neck hurts from looking up and I want to sit down but the lawn chairs are as wet as the grass and we leave tomorrow and my extra clothes are all packed and dirty besides. I stand and stare. I try to make my eyes wider, to take in more sky.
If I don't see a second one in a few minutes, I'll lie to my kids. I'll tell them I saw nothing. I'll let them think I did them a favor by letting them sleep. If I do see a second one, I may still lie to them. Two meteors in six minutes, seven minutes, eight minutes. Is it worth it to wake them? I'm thinking most of my oldest. She's thirteen now, a milestone that occurred a few weeks ago but I failed to announce to the Internet mostly because I didn't want to send eighteen thousand replies to your "Good luck!" tweets. If I woke up the rest of the family, I didn't know which thirteen-year-old I'd get. Maybe the one that fits just under my shoulder who looks up at the sky with sleepy patience. Maybe the one who comes outside just long enough to feel her first mosquito, then storms back in and stabs her sisters with eye daggers tomorrow when they don't shut up about how many shooting stars they saw. Or the one that comes outside and lies about how many meteors she sees because everything's a contest. There are so many of her now.
I see a second meteor. I couldn't miss it. It crossed half the sky.
My kids have never seen a shooting star. We live twelve miles from Manhattan. Most nights, just seeing the moon is a cause for celebration. A little victory of nature over man.
I wake up the family.
We spread out two thick blankets on the wet grass. My parents are here vacationing with us, as well and the kids' great aunt. I wake them all up. We all lay down and stare.
The bat flies over again. "Batty!" calls the twin who doesn't give a damn that she sounds like she's four. She's closest to me and I roll over on the blanket to kiss her head. "I like batty!" she says again, a challenge to anyone to tell her to grow up. Nobody does.
Then a shooting star. My kids' first. And then their second. It's not what they expected. A quiet streak. Nothing like the movies. Blink and you miss it.
The thirteen-year-old doesn't blink. She pulls the edge of a blanket over her long, bare legs and doesn't blink.
Those two are the only ones we see. We say we'll stay outside until we see a third, but that third takes a long time to come, longer even once the Minnesota dew soaks through the blankets. I take my family inside and tuck them back into their vacation air mattresses strewn across their cousin's living room floor.
We've been here for two weeks. We leave tomorrow (today) to go back home, back to New Jersey. The Perseids are supposed to continue for one or two more days.
Maybe some will follow us back.
So yesterday, Kathryn's tarantula, Imelda, looked like this:
It looked like that for a long time. I know it was a long time because it was my job to keep Kathryn from seeing it. Apparently even children who keep tarantulas have feelings. Though possibly not feelings you or I would recognize as such.
Luckily it looked like that long enough for me to google "upside down tarantula" and learn that it was not, in fact, dead. (Sharon, for her part, googled "is it safe to flush a tarantula," so sewers of New Jersey, you narrowly escaped some serious made-for-SyFy-channel movie shit last night.)
This is how tarantulas molt. They lie still on their backs for nearly a day, then they split their skins and crawl out, all soft and floppy. Then they inflate themselves and grow. Sometimes nearly doubling in size.*
That's right. They lie perfectly still and defenseless for a whole day just before they grow larger. I'm considering this last time a wasted opportunity.
Today, Imelda hasn't done much. She's stayed almost perfectly still in her floppy new skin, just taking a moment here and there to SHARPEN HER FANGS. Oh my god she is sitting right at the edge of the terrarium glass and scraping her fangs back and forth. Just like Whoopi Goldberg about to shave Mister with that flat-edge razor in "The Color Purple." Shink shink shink. Except tarantula fangs aren't made of metal plus nobody had to pass me an entire boxes of tissues when the movie was over.
Shink. Shink. Shink.
Bonus fang view:
You probably shouldn't look at any of these pictures if you're afraid of spiders. Maybe I should have put that at the beginning of the post.
*No outside sources were consulted for this fact-like information. Just my nightmares.
This week, the Supreme Court is hearing arguments for and against California's odious Proposition 8 and as my legal wife and I slowly recover from our 15th anniversary weekend
Waitress: Would you, um, like some food maybe? Something to go with this new round of drinks?
Sharon: No, thank you.
Waitress: Maybe just an appetizer? We have--
Me: THE LADY SAID NO THANK YOU
I thought I should revisit a post I made with the indomitable Lesbian Dad back in 2008, when Prop 8 still had a chance to be defeated. Like this post, that one was called Because Everybody Should Have the Right to Be Awesome, but unlike this post, it was limited to California's fight against Prop 8. Five years ago, California seemed to be the all-or-nothing state for marriage equality. If it could be stopped there, some thought, it could be stopped anywhere.
And millions of dollars poured in. And it was stopped there.
And then Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, DC, New York, Maryland, and Washington joined Massachusetts in a giant "Suck it, Bigots!" and all of the sudden, Prop 8 didn't seem like so many nails in the coffin after all.
Now, with an openly supportive president and a faltering DOMA and a population that is more for than against, it's time again for you and me to make sure our support is public and loud. It's time to dust off the old photo albums and once again show exactly why we feel Everybody Should Have the Right to Be Awesome.
Show your support! Steal these photos, make your own, or send me pictures for a future post! If you have any pics to share, please oh please send them to lookydaddy [at] gmail [dot] com.
Warning: This in an anniversary post, where I say things about the woman I married fifteen years ago. It's short, but feel free to skip it anyway. God knows I wouldn't read it on your blog.
Sharon and I got married fifteen years ago today, almost exactly six years after she cut short our first date by telling me she had plans to go out with friends afterward. It's a fact I've actually sworn not to mention anymore, but really, when you're reading the dessert menu and the woman you will eventually marry pulls back her sleeve, checks her watch, and says, "Will this take much longer? I'm meeting friends for bowling," you can't just let a story like that go. That's the goddamn Hope diamond of a first date story.
Well, Sharon, it did take much longer. A lot much longer.
Happy fifteenth anniversary. Ironically enough, it's the watch anniversary. I got you a nice one. I'll give it to you tonight when you get back from bowling.
This is what it was like at bottom of the canyon, on the banks of the Colorado River:
And this is the weather near the rim, ten long miles up the Bright Angel trail:
It's like hiking from Mexico to Canada in one day.
We started hiking out at 9 AM, most of us still sore from the knee-shredding hike down two days before. We didn't reach the rim until 5:30 in the afternoon. Not counting breaks and a stop for lunch, we hiked for just over seven hours total. Or at least some of us hiked that. What the twins were doing by the end couldn't really be called "hiking," more an exhausted stagger, veering wildly from side to side while I yelled at them because really there were no sides to veer toward. There was a canyon wall and death. Those were the veering choices. Canyon wall. Death.
We made it, though, mainly because our kids are amazing, and I say that knowing full well that parents who call their children amazing are really calling themselves amazing because, let's be honest, this was not our kids' idea. All our kids did was successfully not die. They joined my wife and I on a trip up and down the Grand Canyon and what they did was not die.
Don't get me wrong. I recognize that as quite an accomplishment. Our kids have the survival instincts of the dodo. We have a sign at the bottom of our stairs that says "This house has been accident-free for ___ days" and that number has never made it to the double digits. Had Lord of the Flies been written about my children, it would have been less a study of our base, primal, ugly instincts and more a study of how quickly children die when parents aren't there to open their granola bars. For them, "not dying" wasn't simply the bare minimum of what they did on our trip, it was a genuine achievement.
May all our holidays be as successful.
Somewhere around here are two drawings of our cats' butts. My twins drew them and showed them to me and I immediately whipped the drawings from their little hands, ran downstairs, and placed them on my scanner, delighted to have something to post on this blog for once.
That was three weeks ago. I have no idea where the drawings are anymore, which is a shame. They were amazing. Like our actual twins, the cats are twins, too. Both black, both the same size, both completely indistinguishable from the other. We've never called them by names because none of us can tell which is which. We just call them "the cats." Like "the neighbors" or "the police." For the longest time, our girls didn't even know the cats had names, didn't know that naming cats was something people did.
It's probably a twin thing, but now that Lila and Victoria are older, they have decided it's important to tell the cats apart. Maybe, as the other set of identical twins in the house, they see the writing on the wall, that it's just a matter of time and indifference until we stop using their names as well. That, unless one of them gets a visible tattoo or loses an arm, they will be the next ones in the family to be identified by shrugs, embarrassed laughter, and a handy group name. So they drew the only thing they could find to tell the cats apart: Their buttholes.
The wrinkles in their buttholes, to be exact. One cat, they determined, had a distinct "Y" shape to the wrinkles in its backward-facing belly button. The other, more of a star. They drew each one on a sheet of white paper, blown up to about the size of a drink coaster or small cereal bowl. And they were so very proud. They had finally cracked the code. Each drawing contained carefully labeled arrows helpfully pointing out distinguishing features and though they were simple, just pencil and paper, they were painstakingly shaded in techniques surprising in artists so young.
And they are not the only example of butthole art in our house. Right above our living room mantle is a far larger, though less useful, set of squinty-eyes.
Vonnegut fans should recognize them instantly. Hand-signed by him, they are representations of the butthole Vonnegut drew in his preface to Breakfast of Champions. Vonnegut included the drawing as a testament to his immaturity even at age fifty. We framed them and put them on the wall for much the same reason. It's pretty much the only piece of Art we own. Art with a capital A, that is, because of course, there's cat butt art around here somewhere, too.
And there's also this I found when looking for the cat butts:
I have two daughters in the second grade. Once every two days, they go to gym class. Once every three days, they have music. Once every six days, they study Spanish, and once every eighteen days, they pretend people have come to their school to kill them.
It's New Jersey law. Passed in 2010, it requires schools to perform monthly security drills, including a specific number of lockdowns and "active-shooter" drills. Our principal tells the children that the drills are practice in case a stray animal, a dog or a cat, comes into the school. This has led to a popular rumor that my daughters have repeated to me many times over about the principal and how terribly allergic he is to animals. God bless our principal. The number of interactions he must have about his affliction with curious and disbelieving students warrants a pay raise great enough to bankrupt our entire district.
On a side note, two years ago, a stray cat did indeed get in through the front door and into my daughter's classroom. It took the students a while to notice the animal as it walked along the walls, looking for an exit, but when they did, from all reports, they all collectively lost their shit. The principal had to send a letter of explanation home with each terrified pupil.
When I was a kid growing up in Texas, we had tornado drills. We had tornado drills because we had tornados. Now my kids have "active-shooter" drills because my kids have active shooters. I don't remember having any kind of say on the prevalence of tornados when I was growing up. That's not the case with active shooters.
Talking about reasonable gun legislation after the horrific acts in Connecticut is not politicizing the tragedy. The tragedy is already political. If anything, deliberately not talking about gun legislation is the political decision. It is also the wrong decision. Loopholes must be closed, effective background checks must be instated, mental health needs to become a priority, and assault weapons need to simply stop existing.
Now is not the time after the shootings in Connecticut. Now is the time before the next one.
For a year, Sharon and I lived in what used to be an elementary school in a small town in the Czech Republic. It was an amazingly spacious place by Eastern European standards. We had three classrooms, a kitchen, and a bathroom whose door opened up directly toward the front door. I may have mentioned that door before.
One summer night, sometime around 2 AM, two local Czech police officers came through the window into the classroom I was using as my bedroom. They surprised me, I surprised them, it was all very Scooby-Doo-esque except two of us had guns and one of us was naked and hadn't yet studied the chapter on what to say to the police in your bedroom in my Czech-English phrasebook.
There was never any explanation of the event. After a few minutes of tense shouting on their part and frightened Czech words on my part, the officers left the way they came, through the window, and I put on all my clothes and went back to sleep never ever again.
Last night there was a meteor shower. The Geminids were passing by the Earth and, with no moon, the view was supposed to be excellent. The shower was to peak between 1 and 3 AM, and I set my alarm for 2, thinking that if I went out and saw anything worthwhile, I'd wake up the rest of the family. There's a big open field down the street from my house, and I headed there, wearing my boots, pajamas, and the first winter hat I found, an Oscar the Grouch hat that will probably no longer fit any of my daughters.
I saw nothing in the park. The lights from Manhattan clouded half of the sky, and the lights from my neighborhood the other half. Before I headed inside, though, I thought I'd check the view from my backyard, in case the nearby houses could dampen the radiant light.
You know where I'm going with this, don't you? While I don't know what I did in the Czech Republic to invite the unwarranted police attention, I know exactly what I did here. I walked from a dark park, down a dark street, and into my dark backyard at 2 o'clock in the morning.
Though I hope to not make a habit of these types of interactions, I will say they go much, much smoother when everyone speaks the same language and nobody is naked. To the officer's credit, he never once mentioned the Oscar hat.