Monday, September 29, 2008

And back to 10...

Okay, actually 11.33. That's what I rode yesterday after spending two days struggling to so much as pedal.

Here's something they don't tell you: If you take a few days off, you're fucked. Really, we should be seriously hitting them for not telling us that.

I took a few days off from cycling - okay, about a week - and starting again was torture. Vicky tried to remind me that I wasn't completely over my cold but that didn't matter because I shouldn't have had to start off at square one all over again! Dammit!

And that's pretty much what I'm doing, struggling to carry myself just a wee bit over 10 miles, straining to take the smallest hills, killing myself just to go 14 mph! It's murder! And I hate it!

I can't wait until I can go further!

By the way, here are a few things I learned about my bike over the weekend. I knew it wasn't the best bike out there... and I hate being right. It's a 1993 model mountain bike. Its steel frame and kevlar tires add a lot of weight to the equation and keep me slow. But, you know what? I'm okay with that. I mean, the primary goal is to help me lose weight and struggling with a heavier bike may actually be good for me.

It could also give me a stroke.

Which would mean I'd have to start all over again... dammit...

Saturday, September 27, 2008

From 50 to 5 in just a couple of weeks...

(Alternate title: When you fall of a horse... kill it. Kill it and eat it. Then, eat some more. Then, kick it - beat it with a tire iron - revel in its innards - ... I'm sorry, where was I?)

Did I mention that I've been sick? Well, I have. I've been sick now for over a week... it sucks.

But I've been dying to get back on my bike, especially after my 50 mile ride. I've wanted to get off the river trail, move into some hills, take on some different scenery... but then, I got sick. Dammit.

Still, last night I gathered myself up and decided it was time to start cycling again. I even lubed up the chain - which isn't the metaphor Vicky thought I was going for when I told her, I actually lubed up the chain! I felt like a real bike mechanic dude and, anyway, I'd done so much riding the chain was squeaking quite a bit.

This morning, I went out at about 5:45 and rode. I rode and rode and returned, sweating, heaving, my nose running, at 6:20, feeling like I'd done myself proud.

... then, I saw the stats from my odometer: 5.5 miles, 11.9 mph average... crap.

Well, time to shoot for 10, I guess.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Anti-smoking that came before Anti-smoking...

Today marks nine months since I quit smoking, with only one three-cigarette detour at my father's memorial service. I officially quit on Christmas Day 2007 and since that time have come to appreciate things like cycling, deep breathing... air...

But my personal anti-smoking marker - at nine months, it's like an anti-smoking baby! - falls serindipitously on the anniversary of another anti-smoking point in history. I'm talking about the move of physicians to stop smoking. No, not in the 1960's. We're talking a long time before then.

September 25, 1878, Dr. Charles Drysdale issued his warnings against smoking.

Well over a hundred years ago.

Thanks, doc. I'm glad I finally listened.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Smackin' my kid around...

Okay. Okay. Not yet.

I don't even have a kid.

But I think about what kind of parent I'll be when I do have one and I hope I'll be good at it.

There's an article on Slate that has me thinking this morning about just that. I often hear people give arguments for and against whopping on a kid. "My kid knows I'll hit him if he misbehaves." "Kids who don't get hit think they can get away with anything."

... not very convincing.

One point this article makes is: Opponents of corporal punishment also advance moral and legal arguments. If you hit another adult you can be arrested and sued, after all, so shouldn't our smallest, weakest citizens have a right to equal or even more-than-equal protection under the law? In this country, if you do the same thing to your dog that you do to your child, you're more likely to get in trouble for mistreating the dog.

Anyway, it's an interesting read and worth your time.

Vicky and Ken: Year Three...

Just weeks after we met, I told her I loved her.

We set a date before we knew it.

After a couple of months, I was on one knee in her mother's restaurant, proposing.

Though I hadn't sworn off marriage, I never really thought I'd meet someone I'd actually want to marry - let alone rush headlong into it at the speed with which Vicky and I were wed.

Now, I'm not going to tell you Vicky is perfect. Don't misunderstand me. She's not.

But every day, when I'm at work, I look forward to seeing her face. My hand instinctively goes for hers. There's nothing better than spending a day with her.

Vicky sometimes complains that, while I'm quick to tell people I love her, I never seem to mention reasons why. And she's right. And I've done a lot of meditating on that problem... and she's right. But it's like trying to find reasons why you love air. Seriously. You take the smoggiest skies. You take the dirtiest air. Bet you wouldn't want to breathe anything else. Sure, there's cleaner air but that's still air. You can only think of one reason why, too, and that's because you'd die if you breathed anything else.

Take it from someone who knows.

Give me Vicky at her worst and there's nobody else I'd rather have by my side. Would I rather have her at her best - well, that goes without saying. Fortunately, the days she's at her worst are few and far between.

... this isn't coming across nearly as romantic as I'd hoped...

Vicky's fond of saying, usually when I'm sick, "In sickness and in health, right?" She repeats snips of our wedding vows back to me as if to say, "You'll make it up to me." I'm grateful that she gets how I can't always be at my best, either, that she allows me my humanity. That's a reason why I love her so much. There's more, of course, because in those times when I can't carry my fair share, she takes the heavier part of the load. That's why I love her so much. And while I'd probably point it out - "By the way, did you notice how I've been taking care of Shipoopi and Suki every day when I get home?" - she doesn't bother... mostly because she knows I'm so fucking neurotic I kick myself when I don't do enough. That's why I love her so much. In short, Vicky's got my back. She looks out for me. She's the best friend I have in the whole world and I probably don't deserve her and she probably deserves far better than me.

... and, yes. That's why I love her so much - but that's not quite it.

I love her because she's Vicky. That's why I love her so much.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

On waiting the day before...

On the day before my third wedding anniversary, I find myself with an uncommon lack of anything to write about. In fact, I kind of wish it was Wednesday so I can write about the actual anniversary. And it's this impatience that reminds me very well of another impatience... and gives me something to write about...

The day before my wedding, for me, was a wasted day. Basically, I watched time pass and thought about the tuxedo that waited for me in Clostio's hotel room.

Clostio, my best man, was staying at a hotel in Garden Grove and Sean drove me over there in the middle of the day. He couldn't stick around long, Megan was sick, so he dropped me off and was on his way. Clostio and I didn't really have anything planned so we mulled about while I looked at my tuxedo and figured I had a full day before I'd get to wear it. Then, we walked, which is something we normally did. We hoofed it up Garden Grove Boulevard to Harbor, stopping at the Dairy Queen for fattenning foods - I was off my diet - and several smokes. I don't remember what we talked about while we were there but the memory of us talking is a good one; I haven't seen Clostio in a couple of years.

We walked and walked, just passing time as the sky turned dark.

I couldn't sleep. I walked around in the middle of the night.

The next morning crawled by as I got my hair cut, and Sean, Clostio, and I hit Denny's for breakfast... and we waited. Now, for a little context, Vicky and her friends were having a blast, whooping it up - but I wasn't having quite so much fun. The truth is I wanted more than anything to see Vicky and to marry her. There were a variety of reasons ranging from me being afraid I'd lose my nerve to just simply that I loved her. It wasn't so much that I wanted to get it over with; I just wanted to do it!

So, not surprisingly, I arrived at The Hacienda on the day of my wedding early. Easily an hour early! The guy at the door said they were still setting up. I, standing there in my tux, almost running in place, asked if the "groom group" could just hang out in the "groom's room". "No," he told me, calmly as though he was talking to a crazy person. "We're still setting up."

I replied, "Of course, you are," and got back in Jeff's car.

Back at the hotel, I was a wreck, pacing, gesticulating, and - yes - smoking.

Gail said, "Just get it out of your system. We can get the smell out." So the smoke was followed by gum, cologne, antibacterial hand wash... "It's good that you're nervous," she said. "You're supposed to be nervous. It shows you don't take this lightly."

Take it lightly? Obviously, Gail did not know with whom she was dealing.

Now, it's the day before our third anniversary. I'm barely getting over a cold and I really hope I'm over it tomorrow. I'd like to lay a big fat kiss - or ten - on my wife but I don't want to get her sick; it would be a bad way to start year four, you know? But the impatience is familiar and, when we go out tomorrow night, I'll probably be ready an hour early.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Obama's got one, too!...

I know. I know. The big news today is McSame and his 13 cars, multi-millions, outta touch, yada yada yada - Isn't it enough that he has horrible policies and lies a lot?

Listen, the real news, for those of you paying attention is Obama and his family's one car. Vicky always says we couldn't make it with just one car but it's going to be harder for her to maintain that argument now that we know Obama and Vicky have...

The same car!!!

That's right. I guess Vicky doesn't need an Obumbersticker cause she has the whole damn car to show her support.

(No truth to the rumor that we planned it this way.)

Friday, September 19, 2008

Just wondering...

Ever have one of those colds that made you think that buying stock in Kleenex might not be such a bad idea??

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Before and After...

I know I've been writing quite a bit about cycling lately. Consider it my addiction. But I promise to cut back soon, on the writing if not the cycling. I'm presently at a point where I keep hitting markers, landmarks if you will, where I exceed what I thought was possible.

... and this afternoon, my sinuses began to cry "Headcold! Headcold!"

Damn. I've fought off so many headcolds since my last that I should be thankful but all I can think of is "Not now! My last ride of the week is tomorrow! I'm missing days this week! I don't want to be sick, too!!"

I think it's just tough luck.

So, today, I thought I'd sit here with my increasingly stuffed-up head and my sneezes and my body aches and look back at how much I've accomplished since I started cycling. Once I started, I realized, I have quite a bit to be proud of.

For instance, the day I was offered my current job I took a long bike ride: 10 miles. Now, I'm up to 50. My daily ride is up to 17 1/2 miles. It used to take me three rest stops to do that. Now, I ride it straight through. Back then, I was lucky to hit 20 mph if I really pushed myself, and could only do it for a very short time. Now, I can maintain speeds of up to 18 and 19 mph for pretty good distances. My normal speed used to be 10 mph, now its about 14.

When I first started cycling, I wore what shorts and t-shirts I had. I still do, but on long rides I wear cycling shorts and t-shirt to keep my cool and, um, padded. My bike now has headlights and taillights and a cyclocomputer on which I've logged nearly 700 miles!

Most importantly, though, is the difference I feel from one year or even five years ago. I didn't cycle five years ago. I'd try to jog now and then, blow out my knee, smoke and drink. Cycling doesn't take its toll on my knee nearly so much and, better still, I don't smoke and my drinking isn't nearly at the same level. (Though sometimes I really feel like tying one on!) Body aches aren't as bad and go away much faster. Hell, I rode 50 miles on Sunday and had recovered by Sunday night!

So, here I sit, sniffling, dreaming about what the future holds. And what is that? Well, I want to do more 50 mile rides, hopefully every Sunday. I also want to start changing up my routes, which includes leaving the security of the Santa Ana River Trail for more street riding. I think I can do that if I chose my streets wisely. That'll introduce more hills and a wider range, all of which will be good for me. Beyond that, though, I would really like to get a proper road bike. As I've mentioned here before, my bike is kind of cobbled together from one given to me by a friend. A real road bike will help me improve my performance and increase my range.

Once I get over this cold...

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Short-haired Ken...

I'm not going to say my hair has gotten long, but is has grown far too long for my helmet. I must look like Animal (the Muppet) with my helmet on and all this hair sticking out at every angle!

Well, it's Animal no more after tonight because I'm going for my Wedding Anniversary cut tonight. I'm going to Terrilynn (who's name I am probably mispelling), the same woman who cut my hair on the day of my wedding.

I remember it very clearly. It was the first time she and I had met but Vicky had assured me she'd do a good job, and this was important because, after all, it was my wedding day. She washed my hair, I sat down in front of her mirror, and she asked, "So, what do you want done?" I told her how Vicky liked my hair short - so I wanted it really short. Really, really short. But I wanted it to look cool and I needed to look awesome because I'd be getting married in a few hours. I told her I'd trust her completely... and she want to work.

Meanwhile, Clostio was outside, smoking and sweating over the toast he'd have to give in a few hours at the reception, and Sean was basically writing it for him, which is ironic because Clostio was the writer.

For those who haven't seen what my hair looked like on that day, you can check our photo site. It was short but I told her, "Go shorter." "Are you sure?" she asked. "Yeah. Go ahead." So, she went shorter. As she cut, I told her about how nervous I was about the wedding, about what a mess I'd made out of my first marriage and how important it was for me to make Vicky happy.

Meanwhile, Vicky and her friends were partying it up, having a grand, old time. She wasn't nervous at all.

But I knew better.

My favorite part of the hair cut were the little accents she put in by twisting my hair. That's probably not going to happen so much tonight because I know I'll be back on my bike tomorrow morning, fucking up any genius Terrilynn puts in my hair, making a mess of her hard work.

Little traditions like this are important to me. They make things like my marriage more sacred, in a way. It's my way of saying, "I am still the man who loves you so much he wants to spend the rest of his life with you."

... besides, I don't think Vicky likes the idea of being married to Animal.

Monday, September 15, 2008

What it's like at 50.35...

I told myself yesterday that I would write about the whole ride today. But details slip from your mind as quickly in real life as when you wake from a dream. The thing that remains most clear to me now is the pain.

And the hurting.

And the misery.

And the pain.

So, let me tell you about it.

I woke up early Sunday morning, giving myself plenty of time to check my bike out, loud up my gear and my food, and dress in my new cycling clothes. Vicky had gone with my down to REI, where I found another pair of cycling shorts, to save my fat ass, along with an orange shirt (that we thought was made of spandex but is actually bamboo!). I had second thoughts about wearing a shirt over that - it was cold out - but decided to let my body temp take care of me. I'd generate enough heat on the road.

As soon as I hit the trail, I began to have my doubts. Cyclists, and there were already plenty of them out there, were wearing these sleeves on their arms. Not attached to their clothes, they looked like 80's leg warmers for your arms: Arm Warmers! And sure enough, I've since found them online - what will they think of next? But I was sure things would warm up eventually and I was making good time. I hit the beach in less than 90 minutes and took in the increasingly familiar sight. Now, the first time I rode to the beach, I was already tired when I got there. This time, hitting the beach was only half the job. Looking up the misty, overcast coast, I was anxious for part two.

The beach was already becoming crowded, even that early, and I veered in and out of groups as I rode. There's a speed limit on the beach of 10 mph and I observed it just as I observe every speed limit... I tried to keep it under 12... Getting to the pier was no problem but, from there, the path narrows significantly and I realized why so many riders were on the street. They were doing 15, 16, 17 mph or more and I was stuck waiting on slowpoke crowds that couldn't go any faster than their feet - seven miles per hour... six miles per hour. Finally, I had to put the brakes on my impatience. It wasn't for speed that I was riding but for the thrill of riding.

Once I started taking in the scenery instead of wondering when I'd reach that spot ahead or how I could increase my speed, I began to enjoy just how beautiful the beach really was. Sure, the western horizon was littered with oil rigs and the east side of PCH has spawned an ugly new growth of oil pipelines and I had to narrow my focus a bit but then I began to see new things I could never see from the street. Flocks of surfers and armies of children, beautiful little parks, stretches that looked right out of some old movie with their squat, little, wood fences, an array of life and story that made being there the best thing possible. And I shared the trail with other cyclists, with joggers, with roller-bladers, and I saw how un-cynical we all were, such a change from everyday life. How can you be cynical when you're trying to improve your life by getting just a bit more fit?

I reached a zone, a whole stretch of coast, where I felt oblivious to any weariness, any fatique both bodily and existentially. I realized I was "that guy". "That guy" is the guy you watch on TV or see in a movie and think, "I wish I could do that. I'd like to do that." I was doing that and everything was good.

I stopped just past the 25 mile mark for an asian pear, some beef jerky, and a few Jelly Belly Sport beans. I had a 20 minute break, enjoying the sea air, the cool morning, the women surfers pulling wet suits over their bikinis - hey, I'm a guy - and then, I was back on the road. I was surprised at how fast the coast passed me by or visa versa. As I neared the Santa Ana River, I thought, "I should find a bathroom and take a leak before I get on the river trail. You don't know how long it'll be before you find another bathroom." Only, I thought that after I'd passed the last bathroom - and I turned onto the river trail without taking a bathroom break!

Dammit. Oh well, I thought, there's a park by the 405 freeway. I'll use the bathroom there. Only, that park had no bathroom. Oh well, I thought, there's a part just after 17th street. I'll use the bathroom there... or pee my pants! Now, in case you're wondering, 17th street is about six miles from home, 10 miles up the trail from the beach. I covered most of the ground on the way home having to pee!!!! On top of that, I was getting very tired. By the time I hit Segerstrom, not yet halfway home, I was losing my grip (my hands sore) and having a hard time keeping up the pace. When I hit the 17th street park, I raced to a place to park my bike, locked it up, raced inside... and realized I had just left my backpack with all my gear laying on the grass. "Hurry up! Hurry up!" I thought. After all, I was back in Santa Ana, my home town, and I knew better than to trust anyone!

But my backpack was still out there and my bike was fine - I'm such a fucking cynic. The sky was still overcast and it was nearing 11am. As I passed beneath the 22 freeway, however, I went from cool, overcast sky on one side - to sunny heat on the other. How the hell does that happen? I knew I was getting close so I gobbled more beans and poured on the speed.

I made it home after about 3.5 hours of riding... in pain... a lot of pain. But I did it. My first half-century. It doesn't matter how much I hurt today or how much I'll hurt after the next time. Pain isn't important; it's just inconvenient. I'll do this ride again and again and maybe, later, I'll go even further.

I just gotta stop hurting first...

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Act One… the first act…

What can I tell you? I finished Act One of Murielle’s Big Date. Is it a better play than After You Fall? Probably. Is it a better play than any of my others? Absolutely.

Is it in any way meaningful or substantial? No fucking way.

Here’s the thing. Murielle’s Big Date is a fever dream. It comes out of me like a geyser from a place I didn’t know existed. It’s not as though I thought I wasn’t possible of silliness, extreme whimsy, bat-shit-whacko… I just didn’t think I could do it this consistently.

You have 40 pages of people being nuts, of joyous, in your face, randomness. A general fuck you to the world.

And I love it. Every bit.

After You Fall turned on the spigot.

Murielle’s Big Date is the surge of sewer water that exploded after.

(First one who says, "Now you have to write Act Two", gets slapped.)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

I want to ride my bicycle - I want to ride my bike...

Who knows the song?

I'm getting ready to hit my first half century - that's a 50 mile ride. For you non-cyclists, that a very long ride for a big, fat fuck like me... laughable for anyone who's serious about biking. But I have to say in my own defense that, aside from being a big, fat fuck, I don't really have a bike for long rides. My bike was a hand-you-down from a friend and, while nice, not really suited to long distances. Vicky says she'd like to buy me a real road bike... but I don't have the heart to tell her how much that would cost.

So, in the meantime, 50 is my goal.

This morning, I tore through my morning ride. I was really proud of myself. I covered 16 miles in 72 minutes. My average speed was 14 miles per hour. According to Bicycling Magazine, that's considered "vigorous effort". When you hit 16 mph, you've entered the realm of "racing speed". Sure, I'm not there, yet. I may never get there. But I'm a damn lot faster than I was just a month or so ago when I was averaging 12 mph (light effort).

Tomorrow, I'm extending my weekly commute from 26 miles up past 30 miles to get some extra roadwork in. Then, on Saturday, I'll ride 30 miles up to the end of the Santa Ana River. That's all prelude to Sunday. The big day. That's when I'll go for the half century, down the river trail to the beach, up the coast to Warner Avenue, and back again!

This is all relatively new to me. Just last year, I was a regular smoker. There was no way I could get on a bike and go five miles, let alone 50! But I knew a change was needed. I didn't know what it would be and I didn't realize what I charge I'd get out of cycling until Vicky suggested we take a ride. If it wasn't for her, I'd still be over 250 pounds and...


Hold on.

See, this is what's really bugging me. This morning I got on the scale and weighed myself. It read 250... and it didn't budge. Not an inch. Vicky heard two loud farts and I said, "Dammit! Farts don't weigh anything!" You'd think that after all this riding, I'd lose more weight. Granted, I've come down from the edge of 260 - only a few months ago - but you'd think I'd lose more.

Maybe after 50 miles. Maybe I have to start looking towards 75...


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Not dead... yet...

I know the Large Hadron Collider has been causing some distress. Will it destroy the world? Will we all die?

Well, as part of the service here, here's a website that can always let you know if it's wiped us out, yet.

Monday, September 08, 2008

How Murielle got her big date...


Bored. Bored. Bored.

See, the thing is I work with people who think it takes weeks to write two pages of copy. And I do that in hours. So, they can't generate enough to keep me busy... and I get bored.

I know I have to study for school. And I know I'll have three papers to write. But, right now, I'm bored.

I know I have a new book to write - but I can't do that without more information, which I'll mostly extract from my class in Epistemology. So, I've got a couple of months before that starts.

Hey! I know! Why not write a play filled with sex jokes and filthy language - you know, the kind I like to write. After You Fall turned out to be a nice dramedy but what about a balls out comedy?

Here's the thing: On the way in today, I had this conversation running through my head - which is usually how I know something wants to be written - between Murielle (a mid-20's modern girl) and Sam (a 21st century free spirit), talking about the virtues of having sex with whoever you want. Murielle is getting ready for her third date with a guy, who's coming over for dinner. Her neighbors, Sam and Angela (a middle-aged slut) give her advice but, mostly, they don't want another guy messing up Murielle's life. They each plan to test this new guy, Mark (a generally decent individual), in their own way - and generally make a mess of their date.

Murielle's Big Date is the name of the new show. Should be fun.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

A final eulogy...

I want to thank everyone for being here. I think if my father were here… if he was alive right now, he’d…

If my father was alive right now…

If my father was alive right now, he’d be a very sick man.

Feel free to laugh. One of the few things my father and I shared was comedy. He left us when I was five or so and one of the few things he left behind was a comedy album by Don Adams – of Get Smart fame. I listened to it over and over again until I had it memorized. I memorized every scratch and tick as the album grew older and worn out and later performed them as sketches in school talent shows.

I didn’t have a father so much. I didn’t really know what that was like. But I had comedy.

When I started writing, I wrote comedy. And I would try to show what I wrote to my father. And he would give me this look that so many of those who knew him would always hope not to receive. It would say, “You are an idiot. A big one. With flashing lights and stereo sound. And now I have to pretend you’re not an idiot... and I really don’t want to do that. So, just between you and me – because I’m not going to say this out loud – You’re an idiot.”

My father communicated in looks. In the years I knew him, it was rarely with words. He was the master of the non-sequiter. I’d say, “Dad, I want to be a comedian when I grow up.” And he’d reply, “Don’t be so sure you’re growing up.” I’d say, “I think I want to be an actor.” And he’d reply, “Act like you’re in a silent movie.” He wasn’t exactly what you’d call nurturing… without laughing…

I can’t stand up here and tell you about my father’s faults. You just don’t have the time.

But we did have conversations. They were so few and far between, though, that I’d hold on like they were jewels of wisdom. Other times, he’d talk to me – a boy of 12 or 14 – about finances and what to look for when you’re buying a house and evil democrats. But I remember what he said when I was 16 or 17, when I’d discovered my muse, and said to him, “Dad, I think I want to be a writer.” He looked over his newspaper at me – he was frequently sequestered behind a singular, imposing wall of a newspaper – and said, “If you want to write, write.”

If you want to write, write. What an amazing gift that was, the summation of every artistic directive ever uttered, condensed, refined, clarified, and spoken to me at a time when I had no clue what writing or art even were. If you want to write, write. The only way you’ll ever become good at what you love to do is to go and do it as often as you can. So, I wrote. I wrote short stories, novels, and plays. I have grown to love writing the way you might love air, all as a result of this invaluable advice. If you want to write, write.

And then, I grew up… and I realized something.

This kid walks up to you. You’re trying to read your newspaper. Over and over, he’s bugged you, saying “I want to be a comedian” or “I want to be an actor.” And now, this time, the kid’s going on and on about this latest, teenage crush he has – not on a girl or even a sport. No, this time, he talks incessantly about how he wants to be a writer. What do you do? You loook over your paper and, in words as kind as you can muster – because what you really want to say is, “Can’t you shut your mouth for ten minutes?” – you say, “If you want to write, write.” Just leave me alone!

My father’s kindest words, his most informative passing of wisdom, always seemed strange to me. Oddly, it gives me some comfort to know he was probably just trying to shut me up.

My father was once an artist, too, so I’ve been told. I’ve heard rumors but we all know he was a musician. He left those dreams, whatever they were, behind at some point. I don’t know his level of regret but I can imagine what it must have been. So, I keep creating, acting, and writing, not because of my wonderful success – that much is clear – but because I am certain he felt some pride that I have not given up.

Most of my father’s life is a mystery to many of us. And I can say that however much I understood him, I doubt I ever really knew him. The way you understand that the sun will rise without knowing the formulae why. The way you might understand a poker hand without knowing if you’ll win. The way I, in my pursuit of wisdom, religion, and philosophy, can understand the value of faith without knowing it myself. I understood my father. But I never really knew him.

Once I heard he went AWOL while in the service, that he took off rebelliously, saying, “No more! I choose a new course for my life, one that doesn’t include militarism or violence or war.” And then, I asked him one day what that was all about. He said he never went AWOL, in that way he said things, that way that defied you to know him. He always seemed to speak through concrete walls. But then, he stopped himself – this was in 1988 after a long silence, when we found each other again and were trying to start a new chapter in our lives – and, remarkably, he explained that he’d been visiting a girl off the base and, without going into detail – wouldn’t want that – he said that he was there too long and didn’t get back to the base on time. He went AWOL cause of a girl – better than what I had made up in my mind in my attempt to figure him out.

I never expected to figure him out. So, on those few occasions when I saw him – and, believe me, they were few – I watched him very carefully. I became anthropological in my study of my father. This became very important from a very early age – 9 or so – and all because of this new person who entered his life: Blanche. You see, my parents had this horrible divorce with three kids who each ended up horribly scarred in his or her own way. Four years – ten years – twenty years after – all of us were branded, broken, bleeding, just mauled by the event.

And here comes Blanche. My first memory was of a time when Dad and Blanche brought the three of us – myself, Keith, and Audrey – to Disneyland. When my father did take us out, it was always to some Disney-centric event, where he would spend the day, the night, the hours, the entire time just going on and on about how much he hated Disney. But he fooled no one. Absolutely no one. So, we have Dad over there on one side, telling us how much he hated Tomorrowland and “Let’s go on that ride” and Blanche over there on the other side. She was smiling. She was completely at ease. She wasn’t neurotic – I didn’t even know what neurotic was and I could tell. She was, in short, some kind of freak. That’s what I was thinking at 9 years of age. What’s all that smiling about? She was a nice person and exactly what my father needed.

When I was 16, I studied my father coming home from work at lunch and calling someone to tell this person how his day was going. It took me a while to figure out that he was calling Blanche. I had no idea what it meant to tend your garden, to keep your relationship strong, but I learned from that. I’m not saying it was his idea – odds are it was something Blanche taught him – but I learned it from him. I never waited for him to tell me – and most of my father’s lessons were “Never act like that” but I learned just the same.

We didn’t really have a relationship until after 1988. After he had walked my bride down the aisle. After he had cried at my wedding – a thought that still leaves me kind of speechless. Most of our conversations consisted of, “Are you still working? Okay, here’s Blanche.” But it was something. The thing was, I didn’t care if he wasn’t a great father. He wasn’t a great father. But he was there.

Anyway, I got a perfect opportunity to do something I never got to do as a teenager: Rebel against my father. Towards the mid-1990’s, I was doing research on a book I was writing and the research consisted of studying the Communist Manifesto. Now, I’d done the long hair thing and I’d done the motorcycle thing, both of which turned my father’s eyes red. But the day I sat down on his sofa and plopped down a dog-eared copy of the Communist Manifesto, the day he came out and looked at it like it was – Dad had a phrase. “Gag a maggot on a gut cart” – He looked down at me, practically shaking with anger and disgust. He pointed at the book. He asked, “What is that doing there?”

I looked up and said, “Oh, hi dad. Yeah, I’m reading it.”

It was priceless. And there was little he could do. My father and I had this unspoken understanding about things like that. Kind of like “You missed your chance.” I had an incredibly amount of fun at his expense. Had this been 20 years before or even 10, he would have probably thrown me out of the house. But he grumbled. And I moved the book. And he sat down where it had been and turned on the TV.

I say we didn’t have a relationship until after 1988 but it really didn’t start until much later than that. We both had some adjusting to do. I was a liberal atheist. He was a right-wing whacko – and I only say that because he’s not here. But when my marriage fell apart eight years ago – I guess we both decided we’d adjusted enough and I began to see that he really did care about me. And I began to see the changes that were taking place, like his hair that went from black to gray to gone.

What do I mean? The story that best sums that up is about when my father first met Vicky, my second wife. I thought I had his number on this. He’d been close to my first wife and I had screwed things up there. My father’s sense of what was right would surely prevent him from welcoming Vicky into his life. This was clear to me and I was pretty nervous about the whole thing. I knew Blanche would accept Vicky but I was doubtful about my father until they came to our door, I showed them in, and my father gave Vicky a big hug as they both welcomed her into their lives.

Something was surely wrong.

And to make matters worse, at our rehearsal dinner, where I kind of expected that my father would insist on paying – his sense of what was right again – he told me he loved me. My father. I don’t think it was the first time he said it but I know it was the first time he sounded like he meant it, as though it wasn’t a formality. He believed it.

I didn’t know what to do. You know, you have a father like mine and being told something like that really throws you off balance. I told Vicky, “He’s gotta be sick or something.”

Sometimes, you don’t want to be right.

We all know about my father’s illness. Even as doctor after doctor was struck puzzled, he withered away. It was slow. It was agonizing. I found myself on the banks of an Egyptian river. By the time I realized what was happening, when I said to my wife, “I’m a writer. I should be interviewing him so I can write his story,” it was already too late. But I take from those three years something just as important as the knowledge of a father I never really knew. I know for sure that I loved my father and that my father loved me. As his illness, struck away pound upon pound of his mortal flesh, it also served to tear down the concrete encasements in which he’d wrapped himself for so many years. He became human, more loving, and more deserving of love.

And now, here we are.

As I have mentioned, I am an atheist, something my father was not too keen about. And so, my meditations on the life of this man do not include thoughts of what may come after. A few words come to mind, however, with which I would like to close.

“People are greedy. They ignore the blessing they have in this life to imagine something that comes after." My father’s passing reminds us all how blessed we are in this life. Even with a man who never felt entirely comfortable talking to me, I know I have been blessed with the relationship we finally grew into. It reminds us that every day is an opportunity to embrace the miracle that is life, something I saw my father grow to understand.

From Shakespeare, “All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players: They have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts...” My father held down a lot of jobs in his life but the most amusing was when he worked for a cruise line. I used to tell a joke about that. “You don’t want to go to Mexico! You want to go to Alaska!” More than that, though, my father showed how change is possible in any life – if you want it.

Finally, from the Gospel of Thomas, “The father’s kingdom is spread out upon the earth, and people do not see it.” So, it is easy to get caught up in details or the way things should be done. My father often got caught up in that dilemma, as do I, as I am sure do my brothers and sister.

Nobody is going to tell you my father was perfect. He can’t, anymore. He was often a shmuck. Other times, he could be a jerk. (See, my father hated it when I used swear words. To this day, he still hasn’t read any of my books or seen my plays… but I keep hoping…) The thing is, yes, he was a shmuck. And, very often, so am I. And are you. And you. And everyone here. And everyone else.

Thank you for coming.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Shipoopi's Big-Assed Adventure

Last night was it. Shipoopi was done fooling around. She barked and barked and barked and barked and barked and barked and barked and barked and barked and barked and barked and barked and barked and barked and barked and barked and barked and barked and barked and barked and barked and barked and barked and barked and barked and barked and barked and barked and barked and barked and barked and barked and barked and barked and barked and barked and barked and barked and barked and barked and barked and barked and barked and barked and barked and barked and barked and barked and barked and barked and barked and barked and barked and barked and barked... and wouldn't shut up.

This is, of course, all Vicky's fault. I tried to tell Vicky from the beginning that Shipoopi has to get used to being on her own at night but Vicky insisted on staying up until 10pm or 11pm or 12am - until Shipoopi fell asleep. You can imagine what it's going to be like when we have a child.

So, last night, when Vicky wanted to go to sleep, Shipoopi started barking, because by that time she knew who was boss.

... I went to sleep.

Vicky brought Shipoopi up to our room and put her on the floor - but Shipoopi wasn't going to stand for that. She wanted up on the bed and wouldn't take "almost" for an answer. So, she barked and barked and... well, you get the picture.

When I awoke this morning, Shipoopi was in the bed with us. Vicky had broken quickly and put her there before going to sleep.

I can imagine what stopped her barking. She was surrounded by giant asses, staring her down! Must not move, she probably thought. The slightest sound might alert them and they'll roll over and crush me! So, she remained still all through the night. Still and silent, praying that neither of us farted.

... hey, she asked for it.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Damn you, Mister Sun...

For those of you keeping track, I've been cycling for a few weeks now. In fact, I passed the 500 mile mark on my odometer - so I've put in a little pedalling time. My usual schedule included cycling 25 or so miles every morning. I get up at 5am, head on out, and return in time to get ready for work.

... at least, I used to...

Thanks to the stupid tilt of the earth, and a sun that is less than reliable, the sun has been rising later and later every morning. Yesterday, it didn't rise until I was nearly back home. Most of my ride was spent in the darkness, despite my headlight, trying my hardest not to veer from the trail. Riding in the morning has been nice and refreshing but riding in the dark just plain sucks.

So, what do I do?

This morning, I started out 15 minutes later, hoping to catch the sunlight as I rode, but wouldn't you know it? The stupid sun rose even later! And, as I observe the Old Farmer's Almanac (the Internet is a fine thing, kids!), I notice it'll just keep getting later and later until the Autumnal time change, when it'll start all over again. Hell, by January, the sun won't be up until nearly 7am!

I guess this means summer is coming to a close, and just as I discover cycling!

Oh well. I guess I'll have to start leaving later, riding faster - or finding better excuses to flake...

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

And it's all because of...

Sunday afternoon, I sat on our love seat and announced to Vicky that I was happy.

I just finished my first 40-mile ride. I had a great shower and was wearing comfortable clothes. Vicky had set out some breakfast and we'd eaten it watching a little TV. She massaged my weary muscles. And we'd both pet our little menagerie, especially our newest member, the little 12-week old: Shipoopi.

It doesn't take much and, yet, things have to work out perfectly.

If my bike had broke down or if the water in the shower had been too cold or if my clothes reminded me how fat I am by being too tight or if there wasn't any breakfast or if she hadn't given me a massage or if there wasn't anything good on TV or if our pets weren't so sweet... even if you take that one item, if Shipoopi wasn't such a love-muffin, the perfection of that morning would have been popped like a soap bubble.

So, it's important to me to understand how much my happiness relies on so many others. Thousands of people - maybe more. The other riders on the trail. The people who keep the water running and the power on. The makers of my clothes. My wife - and everyone who made her as wonderful as she is. Those who bred and raised our pets before we had them. Even, though I hate to say it: TV execs. Sometimes, though rarely, their influence comes together to make me happy.

I'm not a big fan of thanking an imaginary God when it is so important to thank real people.

Thanks for the Sunday, folks.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Approaching half a century…

Cyclists refer to distance in strange ways. They call 100 miles a century. They call 50 miles half a century.

Well, today I rode down the Santa Ana River and up the coast. I snacked near the Huntington Beach Pier and rode my bike on back for a total of 40.5 miles, the longest single trip I’ve done. As an ex-smoker and guy who is pretty obviously overweight, it gives me a good deal of pride to know I can do that and sets my sights on a half century goal.

Vicky was very sweet, by the way. She had coffee brewing when I got home and we sat together with coffee and fruit and biscotti and watched the last of the Democratic National Convention – and wasn’t that amazing – while I rested my incredibly weary bones. She even gave me a massage.

So, today I’m feeling pretty good about my life.

Neurosis returns tomorrow – never fear.