You Are The Everything.

Mike was popular. Girls giggled whenever he was around. And the boys did everything they could to try and impress him. He was that guy in the fourth grade. I am absolutely certain everyone knows a that guy.

I was 10. I was so not that guy. I was awkward looking—gangly. Pale as hell. I had impossibly frizzy hair. (I’m the one on the far right, dressed in blue. This shot was taken a year or so after fourth grade, but you get the picture.)

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My family and I had just moved to North Carolina from Pennsylvania. Not only did I feel awkward and uncomfortable in my own preteen skin, but I was also an outsider. I had a strange accent (i.e. not a southern one). I knew not one person at my new school—not one.

In fact, since we’d moved to North Carolina that summer, only one kid had spoken a word to me. His name was Aaron. He lived on my block. He eventually became one of my closest friends. He made me feel OK. He had a way of making most people feel OK.

Other than Aaron, who did not ride my bus, I had no one to talk to. I did have a Walkman and a pair of headphones and they kept me company. Every day, to and from school, I would put on my headphones and disappear. I was really good at it. Escaping everything and everyone around me came easy, easier than actually talking to people. I would turn myself into a ghost by entering a fantasy world that ran adjacent to the one I was supposed to exist in. In my imaginary world, sometimes I was popular. Boys liked me and girls invited me to their slumber parties. Sometimes I was cool. I usually had straight hair. I wasn’t pale. My freckles were gone. Sometimes I could do flips off a diving board or tap dance. My fantasies changed daily, but my worlds always had a soundtrack. Sometimes soundtracks would change along with my internal discourse. It was George Michael sometimes. Then it would be Michael Jackson for a bit. Cyndi Lauper made several appearances. There was a ton of Prince. Sometimes Blondie. When I was really young, like 5 and 6, it was George Burns, Olivia Newton John, Sylvia, and Kenny Rogers.

I loved music.

I still love music. Music has been my confidant, my most trustworthy friend since as early as I have memory. It sticks by me no matter how awkward I am. It stood by me no matter how many times I thought I’d never survive a broken heart. It was there to see me through the deaths of several friends. Music has walked alongside me throughout my entire life. When I’m hurting, I listen to music. When I’m happy, I turn to music. Without music, I don’t think I would have survived, quite frankly. I know that sounds dramatic; and there’s no way to know if it’s indeed true. But I feel pretty comfortable saying that music has been the brightness during my darkest hours, the darkness when I needed more. Music allowed me to escape one minute and arrive the next. Music made me realize that pain was usually temporary, but also very real. When I felt lonely, which was all of the time back then, I knew that as long as music existed, I would never ever truly be alone.

So, back to the bus, Mike and George Michael.

At that time—the beginning of fourth grade—many of my fantasies were born from the song “Careless Whisper”. I loved that damn song. I listened to that song over and over and over again. I would finish it, rewind it, play it again. I did this so many times, I knew exactly how long to hold down the rewind button on my Walkman before hitting the end of the previous song. I was good.

In truth, I really wanted a boy to notice me. I thought that if a boy took notice of me, maybe girls would like me too. I wanted a boy to fall in love with me and write songs about me, maybe even play the guitar. And “Careless Whisper” helped me come up with some pretty remarkable, totally unbelievable fantasies. Sometimes, depending on my mood, my fantasy would become a comically dark one. One that would end with my dying in an enormous, very dramatic, fiery car crash and my imaginary boyfriend would be devastated upon hearing the news. “Careless Whisper” became the song that would remind him of me. And he would cry. And, somehow (I think because I liked the idea of ghosts) I was able to watch him mourn from another mysterious plane of existence. It felt good watching someone miss me that much.

In my fantasy world, nothing was off limits. Even unicorns.

Sometimes, my imaginary boyfriend would leave me for another girl only to realize that the new girl wasn’t nearly as cool and beautiful as me and so he’d leave her, try and come back to me, but I was long gone and in love another amazing boy. I made up fantasy after fantasy to the song “Careless Whisper”. I was really, really good at shapeshifting reality.

I feel so unsure
As I take your hand and lead you to the dance floor

One afternoon, returning home from school on the bus with my headphones on, I was listening to “Careless Whisper” fantasizing about my imaginary life with my super cute boyfriend, when Mike the popular guy walked up to me.

As the music dies, something in your eyes
Calls to mind the silver screen

He hands me a folded, red heart made out of construction paper. He blushes and returns to his seat.

And all its sad good-byes

I open the paper heart.

“You’re cute.”

You know how when you’re in a moving car with the window down and something like a receipt, or a dollar bill gets swept up into a swirling stream of air, and the pressure from the air outside the window sucks that thing right out into the universe before you can even figure out what the hell it it? That was my fantasy that day. Full swirl, then sucked right up and out the window, out to mingle with the humid North Carolina air.

Mike thinks I’m cute?

“Careless Whisper” became even more meaningful after that. I didn’t need to fantasize anymore about the popular boy because a popular boy in my REAL life thought I was cute. I could just listen to that song and relive that entire moment, over and over and over again. I did embellish it a bunch though. He would sometimes sit next to me. Sometimes, he’d hold my hand. My creativity went to shit whenever something remotely real made an appearance.

Anyway, I carried that construction paper heart everywhere I went. It was like a hot secret, burning holes through my paperbacks, my pockets, the bottom of my pillow at night. And for a week I waited for him to write more, say something—anything. I would have settled for a glance. Nothing.

So one day, a popular girl started talking to me. I have no idea why. This wasn’t normal. I’m guessing it was all part of the plan. But she started talking to me about boys and school and I figured maybe I could confide in her about the heart-shaped note. So I told her. I told her Mike had given me a note on the bus saying he thought I was cute.

She laughed. “Yeah. I know. We dared him to do that. I can’t believe he actually did!”

I’m never gonna dance again
Guilty feet have got no rhythm
Though it’s easy to pretend
I know you’re not a fool

While the song still held meaning and I continued to listen to it, I no longer fantasized about Mike and his careless paper heart. I no longer fantasized about anyone to that song. That song was put on a shelf and whenever I did listen to it, I did so simply to enjoy it. Which was perfectly acceptable if not normal for most people.

There are days where I’m amazed that I survived my youth. There are days where I worry about what my kids are going to experience. There are days where I wish I could tell everyone it’s gonna be OK and mean it. I want to say that you should find your friend, even if it’s music, and let that hold you. Because it will mostly be OK.

Mostly.

Time can never mend
The careless whispers of a good friend
To the heart and mind
Ignorance is kind
There’s no comfort in the truth
Pain is all you’ll find

Over the last 24 hours, I have watched messages scroll across my computer screen. Tweets, Facebook posts, articles—thousands of people mourning the loss of George Michael. Some people might call us silly because we didn’t know him. He didn’t know us. But I think many of us needed him. He, like countless other musicians, made us feel OK; they made us feel safe. They were our friends.

Please don’t judge a person for how they mourn or who they mourn for. Compassion grows out of real emotion, and if 2016 has taught me anything, it’s that we need more compassion.

I owe a great deal of thanks to so many musicians. George Michael. Olivia Newton John. Ted Leo. John Darnielle (of the Mountain Goats). Michael Stipe. Jason Molina (Songs: Ohia). Greenday. Quicksand. The Rolling Stones. Lou Reed. Kenny Rogers. Frightened Rabbit. Old 97s. George Burns. Sonic Youth. Built to Spill. Blondie. This list goes on and on, but these few stand out.

Thank you, musicians of the world. You are the everything. You save us all one beautiful note, one relatable lyric at a time.

You are the everything.

Slapped By A Ghost.

Toby Joe has been automating our home lately. There’s probably a better term for this, but I don’t really know what I’m talking about. I just live with a guy who does weird shit all of the time. Most of the time it makes me giggle. Sometimes, I am so confused by it I simply shrug my shoulders and nod. But I always play along because usually he’s working on something much bigger than what he’s showing me. These little things he does are often dress rehearsals for a more lucrative production down the line.

I think all this house automation stuff began when I jokingly asked for a “Kill Switch”. You see, with three boys and a big basement full of beanbags, we have to ask them 57 times to turn off Minecraft or MarioKart and come up for dinner, or whatever basic human necessity we need them to tend to. So Toby got to work and gave me a Kill Switch. We are now able to turn the TV off from anywhere in the house. We can also lock the doors using our phone; tell Alexa to lock our doors. We can ask Alexa to change the colors and luminosity of our hallway lights. Our bedside lights turn on when they detect motion during the day (which is nice when you don’t have overhead lighting in a 100 year old house). Yes, sometimes it’s a little Black Mirror-ish, but it’s also quite useful.

And then sometimes it’s just hilariously weird.

Yesterday morning, as we sat around sipping our coffee, Toby nonchalantly says to me, “Oh, by the way, I programmed our bedside reading lamps to flicker every time Donald Trump tweets in the middle of the night.”

“Oh? Well, that’s weird.” I tell him. “Wait, did you really do that? Or are you joking about doing that? Is this just an idea you had?”

“No. Not just an idea. It’s already done.”

“Cool. That could be quite funny, actually. It’s also pretty fucked up that we’re going to have president who does such a thing.”

At about 10 PM last night, I start drifting off to sleep. It’s dark in our room. The motion sensor has long shut down for the night, so I’m understandably confused when my light flickers. And for a split second, I wonder if maybe I’m having one of those weird brain zaps; you know the ones that jolt the shit out of you, wake you up, leave your heart racing. When I was a kid I used to think those brain zaps were ghosts slapping the living daylights out of me. (Or into me. I never got to ask them which.)

But then the light flickered again. Not a brain zap. Or a pissed off ghost.

I grab my phone from the bedside table and search for Trump’s twitter account. Sure enough, two tweets back-to-back about how awesome it is that he has officially become our next president.

How did we get here again?

I’ll be honest, I think I would have rather been slapped by a ghost.

If That Crackhead Could See Us Now.

Years ago, when Emory was a toddler, we had to take Murray to a veterinarian in the city. The cat had ingested something weird again. He did that a lot. He underwent two surgeries before the age of two. Silicon nipples and pacifiers were his thing, and with a baby around, he managed to find a lot of them. So, the entire family packed up the car and drove Murray to the vet.

It was a snowy morning. The city streets were still warm, so the snow melted right as it hit the ground. But we admired it as it fell. It was a workday. The sidewalks were busy with commuters—people on a mission.

When we arrived, Toby took the cat into the exam room. I waited outside with Emory. I tried to amuse him so he wouldn’t annoy everyone in the waiting area, but he was a crazy, active two-year-old. He also looked the part—blond, wiry hair that stood atop his head as if he’d touched an electric fence. We called him Einstein back then. And he never stopped moving. He bounced from chair to chair, talking to the animals. I could tell he was starting to bother everyone, so I grabbed his coat and said, “Hey, Em! Wanna go outside and look at the snow?”

“Yes!” He bolted toward the door.

Once out front, I tried to put his coat on. I pinned him against my legs and tried to force the coat onto his little body. It was cold, after all. He was wearing a short sleeve shirt and a pair of pants, socks and shoes. But that was it. No hat. No gloves. No layers. He didn’t seem to notice or care. But I did. I looked around wondering if anyone was paying attention; wondering if anyone was silently judging me for my many inadequacies.

Back then, first child, I still worried a great deal about what other parents thought of me. I spent far too much time worrying about the minds of others. I read articles about what I should be feeding my kid. I read articles about how I should be putting him to sleep; what I should be reading to him; how much TV he shouldn’t be watching as I took a shower. I read articles about toxins. Articles about other articles and how those articles were wrong and that this was the right way raise my child. This meant I constantly felt like a failure. How can one possibly do the right thing when the right thing changes every single day? And how can someone do the right thing while also negotiating with a child who has an opinion, free will, and a plan of his own?

My parenting skills back then were far from tidy. I was trying, and given how anxious Emory is as a 9-year-old, perhaps I was trying a little too hard.

So that morning, I opted to pick my battle and this was one I decided to lose. Let the kid go without a coat. Let his tongue touch the snow. Let him frolic. Let him be cold. My final thought before deciding I was doing the “right” thing was: “Well, he’s not going to freeze to death.”

So we frolicked.

And then all our frolicking came to a screeching halt. A woman walked up, bone thin. Grey cheeks. She wore a coat far, far too big for her tiny frame. It swallowed her from neck to knees. Her hands poked out of the massive arm holes like dead, winter tree limbs. She was most definitely on something, or in search of something to be on, or coming down off something and in search of something to be on.

She just started screaming and pointing at me.

“CHILD ABUSE! THIS WOMAN IS AN ABUSER!” Her dark eyes were full of judgement and wild abandon. “CCHILLLLLLLDDDDD ABUUUUUUUUUSEEEEERRRRRR! NO COAT ON THIS SMALL BOY. NO COAT. ABUSE! CCHILLLLLLLDDDDD ABUUUUUUUUUSEEEEERRRRRR!”

I was mortified. I froze. Emory continued to dance, wondering what this lady was going on and on about. I wasn’t sure what to do. The streets were full of people heading to work, coffee warming their hands which were stuffed inside gloves, their scarves draped perfectly so. They watched this all unfold, and to them, she might be correct. The crackhead looked right: my two-year-old was indeed dancing around on a city street in the snow wearing nothing more than a short sleeve shirt and a pair of pants.

“Should I reason with the crackhead?” I wondered. Should I say, “Oh, man! You know kids! Sometimes they just don’t want to wear a coat! Silly kids!” But I decided that was a bad idea, that she was perhaps beyond reasoning (not entirely unlike my 2-year-old when it came to wearing a coat).

I opted to ignore her instead.

She just became louder. She stopped a man, some poor guy trying to get to the office. She said, “THIS WOMAN IS ABUSING HER CHILD. NO COAT!” The guy looked at me, shook his head and then quickly moved on.

Unsure of what to do anymore, but fully aware that this was a battle I was absolutely losing, I scooped Emory up into my arms and headed back into the waiting room.

That was 8 years ago.

It’s 2016. And pretty much every single winter morning for the last three years, I have had the following conversation with my now 9-year-old son who—not kidding—comes downstairs every single morning wearing shorts and a t-shirt.

“Em, it’s below freezing out. You need to wear pants.”

“GOD. Why are you always bossing me around?”

“I’m trying to do what’s best for you. It’s cold out there. It’s a long walk to school. You’re going to freeze.”

“Stop bothering me!”

“It’s winter. You need a coat.”

“OH MY GOD, YOU’RE SO BOSSY!”

He leaves the room. I hear him rummaging around, complaining under his breath about how annoying I am. He returns with one, single sweatshirt. Same shorts. Same socks. Same everything else (or nothing else in this case). There’s no hat. No gloves. No scarf. And he doesn’t even zipper the sweatshirt.

“HAPPY?!!” He huffs.

The door opens, he heads outside. I stand at the window with my coffee. I see the other kids in coats and hats—even gloves. I watch the vapor form as their warm breath hits the freezing air that surrounds them.

I watch my son.

I think, “Well, he’s not going to freeze to death.”

Trump Vows To Tax Businesses 35% If They Ship Jobs Overseas

Trump vows to tax businesses 35% if they ship jobs overseas. In theory, that sounds pretty reasonable to me. But this will also mean the prices of items/goods created and made in the U.S. will rise, mostly likely by quite a bit. That said, if people aren’t ALSO being paid substantially more, they will buy from overseas businesses anyway. Seems to me, we need to work at the problem from both ends. We should tax businesses for shipping jobs, but we should ALSO give tax breaks to businesses that pay their employees a decent wage. Perhaps the more they pay their workers, the more of a tax break they receive—a percentage.
 
I’m also thinking that if we gave stores a tax break for selling U.S. made goods, they might be more likely to carry U.S. made goods. Similarly, maybe the percentage of sales tax on goods made in U.S. be less than anything made overseas.
 
For decades, I have been a huge proponent for buying locally. (I gave a speech in college regarding why shopping at places like Walmart was destroying small towns and local businesses; that the more the local dollar ships out to other states, the worse the locals fair.) I would love to see more items be made in the U.S. And I would pay more for an item made in the U.S. But that’s a luxury I have. Many folks don’t have that luxury. We need to make it so MORE folks who want to buy locally, can afford to buy locally. We need to pay people more. We need to give an incentive to businesses to make that happen.
 
So go ahead and tax businesses 35%, but we need to pay the people working for said bluenesses more as well. I believe most people are good and care about the people around them. If we give everyone the ability to spend their dollar wisely and locally, I truly believe that every single party involved will be a lot happier and healthier.
 
I’m a laymen at best. But he needs to make MORE changes from both ends. And then? I’m all for it.

My Latest Cake

This is for Elliot’s kindergarten teacher. It’s her birthday. She likes chocolate, dark chocolate, cherries and flowers. Behold: an explosion of her favorites. I may have gone a touch overboard with this one, but I REALLY like his teacher. I hope she likes it! The class also came together and got her an Amazon gift card as well as some orchids and roses. Teachers deserve as much love as possible.

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Kids, Man. Kids.

We had a wonderfully calm thanksgiving together as a family. Toby cooked up an amazing feast. I baked some pies. It was relaxing and easy. We did not discuss politics because Toby and I are in agreement and the kids would rather play Minecraft or beat each other up with pool noodles made to look like lightsabers. Toby and I played chess. We built a fire and wore sweat pants. It was easy, which is exactly what we wanted.

On Friday, we decided to visit my parents. I have always been very close to my immediate family. We travel together. My parents visit us every week. They take care of the kids. My mother was at the birth of my first child, for goodness sake. My brothers live in other cities, but we stay in touch. (Although, my youngest brother is no longer speaking to me, but hopefully that blows over because I like him.) Anyway, we have always been very close. And, as I mentioned in my previous post, life is short. So we decided to visit and NOT discuss politics and instead just hang out.

The drive is not long. They live in South Jersey. It’s about an hour and half drive down the Garden State Parkway.

Right after we start off Toby says, “Boys, it’s SUPER important that you don’t bring up Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton with grandma and grandpa. Just don’t. We are going to play and have fun and NOT discuss Trump. Do you understand?”

They all nod in agreement. Even the two-year-old—the kid who loves blurting out Trump’s name at the strangest moments because he always gets a hilarious reaction—even Walter nods in agreement but not before yelling, “DONALD TRUMP!”

Elliot continues, “Donald Trump is ugly, stupid and has a big butt!”

They all giggle.

“Seriously, boys. NO TRUMP TALK.”

“OK. We promise.” Elliot says.

A few exits later, Emory spots a car with a TRUMP bumpersticker. He says, “I can’t believe he wants to build a wall around Mexico!”

Elliot yells, “I KNOW! Donald Trump is so stupid!”

Walter screams, “DONALD TRUMP!”

All three of them giggle again.

Toby repeats himself, “Boys it is SUPER important that you NOT bring up Trump during our visit. We don’t want to talk politics. Let’s just have a good time and not bring up Trump. Ok? Can you guys promise that? No Donald Trump?”

They all nod. “We promise.”

About 30 minutes later, we pull up to my parents’ house. My father is sitting outside waiting for us. The boys are SO excited to see their grandparents; they can’t wait to get out of the car and run in and totally destroy their home. My father walks up to the car to help Elliot out of his car seat. As soon as he opens the door, Elliot yells, “I’M MAD AT YOU, GRANDPA! YOU VOTED FOR DONALD TRUMP!”

My Family

It’s been a rough couple of weeks for a lot of people in my life. So I am going to take a moment and give thanks to my family. I love these positively bizarre creatures.

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