Thursday, February 23, 2006

On Parenting 

The thing about diapers is that there is no worst diaper. Sure, every now and then one comes to a truly awful diaper -- something one believes no other parent has encountered. One may tally the number of wipes used to clean the producer of stated worst diaper ever. One may, with a mix of pride, disgust and accomplishment, proclaim this was a "dozen-wipe diaper". Ah, to what lofty heights we aspire.

But then time passes. It could be a few months. It could be a few hours. That's what's so frightening about it. And all the sudden -- there it is: the new worst diaper. There is no basement to this endeavor. This catcher can always get a little closer to the ground. This is the true asymptote of existence. Anything can happen, but there is always another worst.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Look Here, Princess 

2000 was a great year for me. I started writing a book. I started doing some things I shouldn't have. I got a job. I graduated. I moved into a place. I had lasik surgery. I got a car. I got a dog. I got a girlfriend. We had a lot of fun. Everything began.

If I could take one thing back, it would be that I stood up as best man in a wedding for a guy I was very good friends with as kids. It's easy for me to look back on this now with regret, but there was plenty of reason for me to stand up then. We were good friends for many years. We thought we'd be seeing a lot of each other since I had moved back into the area. It made sense.

That is, it made sense until one night over a beer, he told me how he got a blow job from some random chick a few weeks prior. I knew he and his then-fiance had been fighting a lot. The fighting was quite annoying and revealing. She seemed overly controlling and whiny. His responses always seemed too angry for the context. But there's a difference between fighting and letting some other girl go down on you. That's hard to be an accident.

And if it -- by wild chance -- was an accident, I know it was no accident, weeks later, at his bachelor party, when he tried as hard as he could, even as drunk as he was, to get in bed with some complete random girls in the campsite next to us.

I'm not much one to rail about a drug habit. I don't care to comment much on one's religion or politics, occupational choices, lifelong pursuits or private practices. But something about infidelity rubs me the wrong way. It's my glaring red blotch of paint on the canvas, I guess. The film cliche is "It just happened." But that's just crap. Decisions are made. Thought is involved.

I remember trying to subtlely make this point to this guy -- I know he's never going to come here, which is why I'm writing it, but let's call him Rick, anyway. I tried to tell Rick that maybe he wasn't ready for marriage yet. He didn't really take to this idea, which was fascinating and horrifying at the same time. He didn't date much until mid-high school, but once he started, he couldn't stop. He was a chronic relationship guy. HAD to be attached. Couldn't handle single life. The consequence to that was he never had a day of adult freedom or fun. So with marriage staring him down, he quaked. But the killer for me -- the thing that just haunts me -- is the threat of the unknown, the idea of him being on his own, freaked him out so much that he stuck with this fiance he hated.

Looking back on it, I know I wouldn't stand up for him if I had to make the same decision. Sure, the friendship would be lost -- but it's lost now. Rick's wife didn't like me or my then-girlfriend, and he told me once -- as if in passing (we were on our way to a baseball game) -- that, "I've tried to talk to her, but she feels like she's tried enough and that she's through trying with you guys. But I did marry her, so I have to respect that." I don't think he realized he was shutting the door at that point, but that was the last time I saw him. Later that night he made some comments, like always, about how we should get together, blah, blah, blah. But what would be the point? He never called, and when we moved, I threw out his number.

So in retrospect there was nothing to lose by stepping out of the best man role. But for all I had going on that year, I also had this loss of confidence, this idea that it would just be the right thing to go along with everything and be a good friend. He, in fact, had recently helped me out of my own jam, and I didn't want to be the guy to make the hard decisions. But sometimes somebody has to be the dick. After a while of prodding him about the blowjob from the random girl, he said to me -- in pretty harsh tone -- that, "It didn't happen. That didn't happen. Just forget it." Does a castle come with that make-believe world, I wondered.

So I gave this speech that didn't mention his wife, and everybody thought it was weird, except for me. Now he lives one county west of me, and I sometimes wonder what he does over there. He doesn't seem to belong in Waukesha, with all its upper crust and new development. But I guess maybe he's settled in, like I have. Our choices are made, and the only one I could take back is now almost six years old. It might as well be a country away.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

They've Got Time 

Now that we've cleared the path a bit, I guess I can go back to taking my time.

I got a call this weekend from a friend I hadn't heard from in two or three years. And I had a hard time putting the words together. I guess there was plenty to say, but when enough time passes, the mundane details sound so crushing. I remember going out for a beer with a high school friend of mine. On my way to the bar, I wondered how we could summarize things. I could really go year-by-year of college; it would have been easy enough -- funny how they divided up so cleanly. But it didn't end up that way. I don't even remember what I said, but I remember feeling that a lot was left out. I'm no good at synopsis.

But with that stated, I guess I should summarize recent events: we had a regular holidays. We drove to family and more family. There wasn't enough time off from work. I spent too much money. Nolan had a birthday. He fell asleep in his cake and got 7,844,120,945 gifts. We still haven't found a place for all of them. He's gotten real tall, talky and walky. Or maybe it's walkie-talkie. I still have a good job, but could use some more money. I'm on page 400 of my 300-page book. I've been running more and am in decent shape. I got the wife a few things for Valentine's Day; then I hid them around the house with a note on each of them, leading her to the next one. Then I got mad when she didn't even notice the first gift sitting right in front of her. Then she got mad that she had to run around the house at 6:30 AM, looking for gifts. Then we got into a big fight and I went back to sleep.

A week and a half ago, the wife, boy and I got in the car and drove 11 hours to Grand Forks, North Dakota. I don't recommend doing this with a 1-year-old, by the way. That's my free tip of the day. You're welcome. On our way there, we stopped in the Twin Cities, also known as Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. My thing with the Twin Cities is they're nice. I really have nothing bad to say about them. They are very clean. Well-designed. Traffic isn't bad. Architecture is interesting. People (outside of football season) are nice. See? Many great things to say about this area. I have to say these things -- and I stand by the comments; they're not just filler -- because what I'm about to say about the Cities is going to alienate the one or two readers I have left. I don't mean to do that. Really, I don't. But I have to be honest.

While we were there, the wife and I went to some busy, strip-mall area off of the interstate because she wanted to go to a Babies 'R' Us. So we went, and the whole thing -- the drive through the Cities, the look of the brick faces on the new stores, the cars around us, the business of it all -- it represented my exact memory of the Cities. Everyone there is young. Everyone is busy. Everyone is going places. Successful. Planning. Preppy. Right out there on the cutting edge -- well, about as up-to-date as any Midwesterner can be, I guess. They've got these great big, wide sections of freeway that cut around the entire metro area. And they slice right through these large bluffs -- they're like great, big troughs. And they fill up with traffic with all these preppy, young, enterprising people going to and fro. And along the section of highway we drove, it was all under construction -- widening the trough for more to come and feed on the heart of the Cities. I generally like visiting, but I always feel a lingering disgust at it all . . . and then relief upon leaving. I want no part of that lifestyle. And it's not that it's that different from where I am now! It's like that moment in Psycho in which Janet Leigh's sister is lurking around Mrs. Bates's bedroom, and . . . . BAM! She scares herself. She thought someone was watching her, but nope! It was just her own reflection in the mirror.

I can't explain it very well, I grant you that. The wife and I have even talked about moving out. Milwaukee doesn't always fill our cup of caffeinated as high as we'd like, and I never planned to stay here as long as we have. But all I know is on Monday morning, as the Honda coasted over the St. Croix river and the sun shone down on Interstate 94, lighting it up like a golden necklace, lacing its way through the hills, I sighed relief with all the rat race behind me.

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