Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Sci-Fi Bike Commute:Part VI

"When I bought my bike last August [2012] and committed myself to riding to work, I added the following spontaneous and bizarre stipulation: I would listen exclusively to science fiction audiobooks." [edit: and some fantasy]

Phase 14: Really, wind? In my face both directions? And on a Monday!

The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold

The Book: This was my first real detour into the lesser known (to me) depths of the fantasy genre. Mostly I've stuck to the well-known stuff, Tolkien and Martin. I've always had it in my head that everything in the genre is ultimately derivative of Tolkien anyway, so what would be the point of reading inferior versions of the same basic tale? This opinion was at first refuted by the fantastic Game of Thrones books, but then more recently confirmed when I read (okay, listened to) the first half of The Eye of the World, which was ridiculously (offensively! preposterously!) similar to The Fellowship of the Ring. But once again, the limits of the library’s Overdrive catalog left me with no choice but to try Lois McMaster Bujold’s The Curse of Chalion. Which was fine. My experience with Gormenghast – which I don’t consider to be a fantasy series at all - has encouraged me to branch out a bit from my initial “sci-fi or die” constraints for this audiobook blog project. So, it turns out I love The Curse of Chalion, particularly the main character Caz and his steadfast humility, his dependability, and his unflappable goodness. I thought of this story as nice counterpoint to the Game of Thrones epic, which now seems like a post-modern take on the fantasy genre, the way it plays against every convention, with its lack of heroes, ambiguous morality, its justicelessness, its absence of Chivalry, and total disregard for such things as romance and happy endings. In light of this, The Curse of Chalion felt delightfully old-school. It’s small,  simple, occasionally brutal, often sweet, and you read it with a genuine sense that things will resolve themselves tidily. It focuses on wholesome things like gratitude and service. And it’s also very clean and chaste, which is surprisingly refreshing after experiencing Martin’s crude treatment of sex, or the way sci-fi writers like Peter F. Hamilton so often cram in unnecessarily graphic and painfully awkward depictions of futuristic humans getting it on. I liked the fact that the dirtiest thing there is in The Curse of Chalion is a passing reference to a concealed erection. This isn’t a book to change your life, or cause you to petition HBO to turn it into a mini-series, but it’s well-written, well-plotted, addictive and weird. And it raises the fundamental question we all ponder in our lives: what if the soul of your defeated mortal enemy took refuge in your gut, where it festered and raged like a depraved sentient cancer?

The Ride: I pass through many different municipal districts and jurisdictions on my bike commute. Each one is responsible for maintaining their own section of the bike path or road. Since I started riding to work much of my route has been rebuilt, repaved, repainted, or repaired. Frequent winds along the path bring sand and debris, which sits there until someone decides to send a crew out to move it. You can learn a lot about a town or a country by studying the quality of the bike path, and how it’s maintained after a big wind. I move from freshly applied black asphalt into a sea of dunes, then out again onto swept concrete, into fields of palm trunk husks, then onto more dunes, a gauntlet of broken glass and razor sharp mussel shells, over sections made bumpy by subterranean tree roots, onto slick new city streets. You learn the ups and downs, the grooves and bumps and little minefields. Most interesting of these obstacles are the sand dunes. Because the sand on the path is dry, most passing bikers fail to carve out a trench to the asphalt. Sand gets pushed back and forth, without a clear thoroughfare ever developing. So I’m pedaling along and there’s a mini-dune of indeterminate length on the path ahead, and I have to decide; do I take it slow and steady and risk losing momentum and steering, and end up dismounting or wiping out at an embarrassingly low speed, or do I pedal as hard as I can and hit the obstruction with the goal of forcing my will upon the sand, and risk losing steering and wiping out for real, with all the attendant consequences? Making the correct decision requires the evocation of a paradox that has confounded me since I was two years-old and put on my first pair of skis: the faster you go, the more control you have. It’s certainly counterintuitive, not to mention dangerous. But it’s interesting to expand this basic tenant of physics to the larger world, which is somehow more manageable, and you yourself become more functional and effective, if you accelerate into danger. If you slow down and try to micromanage a situation, you often flounder. It’s the old “pitch it, don’t aim it” scenario. Certain physical realities in our world seem to intentionally push us out of our comfort zones, into danger, where moments take on greater significance. Kids who are bored in school think inaction is the solution; they don’t want to be there so they do nothing. In reality, the cure for boredom is action. The kid who truly hates school should work at it, so time passes more quickly. The way out, is in. A nice side effect is all the learning that takes place while that student is just trying to beat the clock. It’s sort of all the same thing, isn't it? So I hit the dunes full speed and barrel through upright and unharmed, for now…

Phase 15: End of Daylight Savings = sunrise and sunset, five commutes a week 

Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold

The book: This is the sequel to The Curse of Chalion. But it doesn’t continue the events from the first book; rather, it tells a new story with a new protagonist. I was at first disappointed, because really loved Caz, the hero of the first book. Now, instead of a continuation of his story, I found myself forced to hear about Ista, some crazy lady who had a very minor role in the first book. I didn't enjoy this book as much, even though I eventually came to appreciate Ista every bit as much as I did Caz. What I didn't like was how much the story relied on its own universe’s somewhat abstract and arbitrary natural (and unnatural) laws. As a reader, you don’t know what is possible and what isn't. Therefore, when a problem arises, or a mystery develops, you can’t make assumptions or predictions because you don’t know what the rules of the game are. If a bunch of people get trapped in a castle and are slowly dying of starvation, you don’t know if someone might just summon up some food out of nowhere, or if a god will magically make everyone’s belly full, or if the enemy will be smitten down by some character’s discovery of a secret ability. Anything can happen, so there’s nothing clever about how problems are solved. Every time you think you understand the protagonists gifts, she suddenly has a conversation with a god and realizes she can do even more cool stuff than she thought she could.  That said, I still liked the book for many of the same reasons I liked its predecessor. The story telling is direct and economical. Everything that happens relates to the ultimate conclusion. There are no wasted moments or characters. Everything is neat and tidy. All the messes get cleaned up, everyone finds their intended mate, the bad guys are either vanquished or forgiven, and the gods can relax and go back to whatever it is they do when they’re not preoccupied with human fallibility. I don’t read very many books like this, with nary an ironic twist, a random act of depravity, or a character who doesn't get exactly what he or she deserves in the end. There’s a third book in the series, but I think I've had enough of this good clean fun. I need more nerded-out space sex and less magic.

The Ride: Whether it’s the start of a tough day at work, or the end of a long one, I often daydream about a less complicated and less stressful existence. I’ll do things like watch seagull standing on the beach as I ride my bike to work, and think, those guys don’t have to do anything today. They have no responsibilities, no deadlines, no performance reviews. No inane conversations. They just sit there or fly around. They eat from the bounty of the ocean (and the beach trash cans). And that’s it. A beautiful simple life. Of course any seagull would be happy to tell me it’s not all wine and roses. I get that. I also do the same thing with people, or specifically, with their occupations. During my ride to and from work I pass numerous people who are “on the job”, spending their work-hours engaged in far more satisfying, less stressful, activities than what I do. There are the physical trainers and yoga instructors, the lifeguards, the surf coaches, the garbage men, the delivery drivers, the road construction crews, etc. But there are two jobs in particular I observe with a genuine, somewhat absurd longing. First is the power washer. This is the guy with the wand that shoots pressurized water at the ground to remove dirt and grime and gum. I've used a power washer before on a job years ago, and I've used a similar device at a do-it-yourself car wash.  I find the whole experience to be aesthetically satisfying on some core level. In this case I really couldn't say if it’s just me, or if everyone gets a kick out of feeling the jolt of pressure shoot out at the ground, washing away the sins of the weekend, leaving glimmering virginal concrete. I could do it eight hours a day. Ten hours. Twelve. It could be some kind of Freudian hyper-ejaculatory fantasy. Or not. I don’t know. But it’s deep in there. When I see these guys I try to really look at them, to see if there’s evidence of a primal fulfillment. Usually there isn't. And not only do these guys  get to man the pressure hose all day long, they also get to wear these crazy big rubber boots. The other job I see during my ride, is the sand cleaner. This is the guy who drive a tractor across the beach, pulling some device that rakes and cleans the sand, leaving a smooth uniform surface that reminds me of fresh powder snow. The appeal of this job is similar to that of the power washer, with a lawn-mowing component I relate to as well, having worked as a landscaper for years. I love the way the tractor lays down a smooth clean line, and then lays down another on his next pass, right next to the previous one. And then another and another. I love the uniformity, the systematic approach. When he’s done the beach is all neat and tidy (I must be going through my neat and tidy phase). It’s litter-free, seaweed-free, even seagull poop –free. It’s all so damn satisfying. And the guy driving this tractor gets to spend his whole day at the beach, every day. It probably pays little more than  minimum wage, but in many ways it’s my dream job.

Phase 16: Cops punishing homeless guys by impounding their unlicensed dogs 

File:Evolutionary void cover uk.jpg

The Evolutionary Void by Peter F Hamilton

The Book: Back into space. Back home, actually, in many ways. Peter F. Hamilton’s Commonwealth Saga is the heart and soul of this sci-fi bike commute project. It’s where I began. And John Lee’s narration of this series has warmth and familiarity that lets me settle down into my ride and just enjoy everything. This, unfortunately, is the last book available in the series. I understand Hamilton is writing two more, but it will no-doubt be a few years until they are available as audio books, and even then, there’s no guarantee they’ll be available on Overdrive. I might be going back to Audible soon. In any event, The Evolutionary Void wraps up the Void Trilogy, a richly imagined space opera, full of clever ideas, fascinating technology, and just enough plausibility to keep the whole thing grounded. It’s hard to separate this book from the others. In fact, the whole Commonwealth Saga is really just one long book. I would echo the complaints of many of Hamilton’s readers and say the ending isn't quite as satisfying as I would have liked it to be. I think this is a function of the massive world building the author does, rather than a shortage of ideas. There’s simply too much going on for it all to just come neatly together at the end. Things get pretty abstract down the stretch and I’m not sure if you asked me to explain what happened, if I even could. A couple times in the series Hamilton has broken out of his normal narrative mode and experimented with different ways of delivering his story. The brief history of MorningLightMountain in Pandora’s Star, the Prime’s interrogation of Dudley Bose, and the battle scene in The Evolutionary Void where Aaron reverts to his default cybernetic survival mode, are all examples of non-traditional story telling that give the reader a more immediate understanding of character and point-of-view. I wish he did this sort of thing more. Something else I really liked about this whole Commonwealth Saga is the fact that it really doesn't ever present itself as a cautionary tale. I don’t know all that much about science-fiction writing, but it seems that older, “golden age” writers had a point. Like you get in Star Trek. This is what will happen if we do not evolve as a species. Hamilton’s works, like many contemporary sci-fi books I've read, are more interested in speculating about how technologies (immortality treatments and wormholes and that sort of thing) will drive the human narrative. It’s kind of a Darwinist approach. This is what humans do. We will always do it. We will evolve as a species only to the extent that it serves out own individual interests.

The  Ride: Speaking of technology, there is one truly amazing gift from the future, that allows me to fine tune the experience of riding to and from work, and allows me to alter reality based on my mood, my interests, and my responsibilities. I’m talking about Siri. I know Siri is useful in a number of different situations, but I think she’s most helpful to a bicyclist. I use her to send text messages and make calls, to change the music, to start and stop audio books, and take down notes. The fact that I can do all of this hands-free, while pedaling along is by far the most sci-fi thing I do all day. I mean, what’s more futuristic than talking to a computer and having it do what you want it to? Smartphone and microphone technology in general is pretty fantastic. I’m cruising along. “Call my wife,” I say. Suddenly my audio book stops, my wife is talking through my headphones. I talk without having to break stride or even adjust my head to direct sound into a microphone. We talk. I pedal along. We hang up. The audio book resumes. It’s crazy. I can ride my bike and speak into the air and communicate in real time with someone on the other side of the planet if I wanted to. My wife can put the phone up to my baby daughter’s mouth and I can hear her weird noise-making just like I’m in the room with her. We take some of these things for granted. The telephone itself is an incredible technology. But something about using Siri and a headphone mic to communicate, all while riding a bike on the beach is surreal. We live in incredible times. 

Click here to read part VII: The Sci-fi Bike Commute goes to Mars! 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Five Month Old Baby

I fed my daughter actual food last night. It was a rice cereal and breast milk combination that my wife and I dared each other to try. Neither of us tried it. But that didn't stop me from shoveling spoonful after spoonful of the stuff into the baby’s face. In any event, this first food seemed like a real milestone in her life, and therefore a good opportunity to reflect back on just what the hell has happened to me, my wife, and my daughter these past five months. 

I’ll work backwards, starting with  last night, where I had the singular and delightful experience of waking up to my daughter chewing on my nose - gumming it actually, with quick little milk breath bites. The experience basically made the rest of the day unruinable. And I don’t know if it was the food or the nose, but when she woke up in the morning she was bigger. She was thicker and heavier and taller. Growth spurts are a crazy thing. She cried out in the middle of the night in a way she never does. She was growing. I wonder if you had put one of those high speed cameras on her at that moment if you could see it happen.

Last week, the little girl had her first real fever, and we took our first real trip to the ER. Three days of a 103 degree temperature and it was a full-blown panic. “How have you been taking her temperature?” they wanted to know. “Up the butt,” I told them, unable to come up with the word I was looking for. After tests and prodding they said she was sick. It was viral. There was nothing to be done about it. But if she’s not better tomorrow, they said, bring her back. Back for what? I wanted to scream. BACK FOR WHAT, DAMNIT! Are you people just fucking with me? BACK FOR WHAT! Let’s pretend today is tomorrow and the symptoms are the same. How about you do for her now what you will supposedly do for her tomorrow, and save me the time and money and the nightmare of standing in line for coffee in this dark dark expensive place. My relationship with baby-related doctors started great. Labor and delivery was great, doctor and nurse-wise. But since then, it’s been rough.  Doctors have done little more than charge me a bunch of money for my piece of mind. And what’s that worth? I’m mostly insane these days anyways, so why am I taking my sniffling daughter to doctors who tell me to wait and see wait and see wait and see? At the ER they said they’d suction my daughter’s nose, which is interminably clogged. “We have really good suction here,” they told me. I was picturing some fancy machine, or at least some specialized tool. I figured, well if they can’t do anything for her fever, they can at least help her breathe. But then the nurse took out the same old bulb syringe we've been using all along, and sucked a little snot. “Ooh, that one sounded juicy,” she exclaimed, enjoying her job a little too much. The little girl was clogged up again before we even left the building.

The first night she was sick we were staying in a hotel room, on the way to visit family for the holidays. She cried through the night with her fever. She wailed through the night. Our poor neighbors. At one point I caught myself being more worried about the neighbors than I was about my daughter. This is what I mean about being mostly insane. I felt bad about not ordering my concerns appropriately. Daughter should be first, always. Burning up like she was. But she was third, behind the angry neighbors and my own concerns about not being concerned about things in the right way. And it’s hard to ruminate properly on a way-too-soft hotel mattress. 

But it’s not all panic and desperation. Certainly not. These five months have been full of weird unforeseen delights. Like Goodnight Moon. Or specifically, the “Goodnight nobody” page in Goodnight Moon.  If you've only read the book eight-hundred times, you might not remember what I’m talking about, that ridiculous, amazing blank white page in the middle of the otherwise richly illustrated book that just says, “Goodnight nobody.” I didn't know this prior to observing the miracle of birth, but Goodnight Moon plops out just after the placenta, which is why all parents have a copy. And all those parents know exactly what I’m talking about. The phenomenon is even Googleable. Every time I get to that page my heart swells. I don’t know why. I’d like to think it’s the author’s attempt to be subversive, a kind of in-joke about the absurdity of “children’s literature” in general. And maybe “literature” is too strong a word for what I have stacked on my coffee table. I’d like to think the author wanted to see if she could get away with nothing. It’s a perfect example of literary post-modernism, “written” at a time when post-modernism was just getting started. Posts on online message boards have suggested that the comment “Goodnight nobody” is part of a stall tactic used by the little bunny to stay awake longer. And that makes sense. But it doesn't explain why the fricking page is blank! There are no drawings and no colors. Taken as an isolated event, the page has nothing to offer a small illiterate child. Nothing! In fact, if can put myself in my daughter's head for just a second, the page is downright traumatizing. She's invested herself in the visual vocabulary of the story. It's all she can do. And then it's gone. It's a betrayal - a betrayal that seems to set the stage for a lifetime of betrayals. Which is what makes the whole thing so delightfully ballsy. Dr. Seuss thought of a lot of things, but he never thought of nothing

And then there’s the internet, as experienced by clueless new parents. There’s a whole big universe of bad advice, hysteria, and paranoia. It’s all the same kind of stuff I ran into when I got married. But this time it’s all jacked up on steroids. Every conceivable baby-related issue has the complete spectrum of perspective. There’s so much information, that really, there’s no information. Your kid has a cold? Do nothing. Do everything. There. Have fun. You have to take your kid on an eight-hour car ride? Well, Sally’s four month old slept the whole time, while Kelly’s four month old had perpetual diarrhea and needed to be changed at every other mile marker. Hope that helps. Daycare is a great starting point for the proper socializing of children, where kids meet diverse populations while building immunity. Daycare is a sad dumping ground for unwanted children, a seething cesspool of viral pathogens and sadistic old maids. Please help yourself to the most convenient point of view. Fortunately, Dr. Benjamin Spock’s famous advice turns out to be true; you really do know more than you think you do. Parenting is pretty straight-forward. You trust your instincts, experiences, and common sense, and find you almost always know what to do. Doing what you need to do isn't always easy, but it’s not surprising that our parents and our grandparents all made it to adulthood without the benefit of the internet. 

Onward. I have solved the mystery of faster than light speed travel. He’s how we voyage beyond our solar system with superluminal velocity. We make a huge baby. Then we put a spaceship loaded with people in that baby’s hand. Then the baby drops the spaceship and the people are inexplicable whisked away to impossible destinations at inconceivable speeds. I’m not kidding. My daughter can drop her pacifier in our living room and it will immediately end up on the floor of the back seat of the car that’s parked in the garage. It can’t be explained.

Oh, and now that I'm a father, I've become a ninja master at picking stuff up with my toes.

And here’s something that really changes when you have a kid. You’re on that long road trip with the wife and baby, and you smell something digestive and foul. You stare lovingly into wife’s eyes and say, “Please, honey, please tell me that was you. Please tell me that fetid rotten odor I smell is coming from you and not the baby. Nothing would bring me more joy right now than to know it was you who farted all disgusting like that.” 

Babies and TV. There are certain declarations I think all new parents make, about all the things their own baby will never do. It’s commonly know that these idealistic pre-baby notions don’t stand a chance of holding up in the real world. I don’t even bother to mention my daughter will never have an iPad out in a restaurant, or wear headphones while I’m driving her to school. I know all these things will happen. The laws of entropy cannot be circumvented. Every time one of my friends has a kid watching TV when I come over, they feel the need to explain themselves, to justify, to point out why today is special and different, and that generally, TV is forbidden. I guess I don’t want my five month old watching TV either. I don’t know why, if it’s a social taboo, or some powerful parenting intuition. But it does seem wrong. But she loves football. My nephew loved baseball when he was tiny. And I’m not about to stop watching football just because there’s a baby in the house. How else am I going get enough scratch together to send her to college if not through wagering on professional sports? She loves the lights and the cheering and the voices (not Joe Buck’s voice, of course). She also seems to like it when teams go for it on 4th down. Don’t we all. But is this wrong? Who decides what is right or wrong for a baby? Don’t leave that stuff up to me and my wife to decide. We’ll end up taking her wine tasting (again) or something. What if we let her watch football only on her stomach? She hates tummy time, but supposedly needs to do more of it. Can we use football as the carrot on the stick? Is that wrong? To literally treat my daughter like a stubborn ass? What does feel wrong is believing I’m above bribing and manipulating my daughter, or using potentially bogus concepts like the importance of tummy time in order to justify my own selfish behavior. I find this word selfish comes up a lot more now that I have a kid. I’m suddenly selfish a lot. I'm probably adapting to the changes in my life a little slower than I ought to. Oh well. On the other hand, ignoring yourself and your life and your own interests seems wrong too. I know people with kids who haven’t taken a picture of their spouse in five years. That’s not so great either.

At the five month mark I feel like I finally have enough perspective to look back at the question my wife and I asked ourselves for ten years. Should we have a kid? Having children, or even getting married to your partner are obviously no long givens in our world. For years I assumed I would never have kids. The problem with finding out if you should have a kid (or kids) is that you have to make the decision for yourself. It’s one of the few areas of life where other people really can’t help you at all. They can’t help you because, first of all, they’ll never be honest with you, especially if they hate their kids and their life. This is not something anyone will cop to. And a different kind of person might encourage you to have kids so they can watch you suffer, because misery loves company. Yet another type of person will tell you kids are great because they love all kids. But what if you hate kids? How do know if you will come around and love your own kid? What if you hate your own kid? What if you resent your hated kid for ruining your life? That can be a problem. Soooooo, the question: should I have a kid? My answer is yes. For me. And I now believe people when they say they love being a parent. I used to think they were bullshitting me. Now I know that’s impossible. But I’m almost 40, and I don’t miss much that’s changed. If I was 25 I’m sure I would feel differently. And my kid’s really cute. I don’t know what I’d do with an ugly baby. Give it away probably. 

Click here to read other parenting posts on this blog

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi via Red Mars

"We say a bedtime prayer from the Persian poet Rumi Jalaluddin,” the old woman told him, and recited it:

I died as mineral and became a plant,
I died as plant and rose to animal.
I died as animal and I was human.
Why should I fear? When was I less by dying?
Yet once more I shall die human,
To soar with angels blessed above.
And when I sacrifice my angel soul,
I shall become what no mind ever conceived.

“Sleep well,” she said into his drowsing mind. “This is all our path.”

                        - Kim Stanley Robinson (Red Mars)

Saturday, November 9, 2013

A Shrimp on the Town

With The Shrimp now four months old, my wife and I figured it was time to revisit a pre-baby Saturday ritual, especially given how successful we were revisiting a pre-baby Sunday ritual. For us, a perfect Saturday used to involve a nice long walk along the water into town, where we would eat some lunch, do a little shopping, stop in at a nice bar, and stroll home (or take a cab, or the bus, depending on how things went). We had taken The Shrimp out with us on many occasions, but never had we made a full day of it, where there would be feedings and changings to manage. Plus, we would be on foot, without a car, and therefore without a convenient way to abort the mission should things go wrong. We suited her up, plopped her in the stroller and set off.

Traveling around with a young kid can be fun. Fun in the way going to Mexico can be fun; you know something is going to go horribly wrong, but it will probably be so inconceivably ridiculous you have to laugh before you start crying. Like that time we rode a bus in Mexico and it rained inside the bus.

There’s a new pizza place in town we've had our eye on since the first days of my wife’s pregnancy. It seemed like just the right kind of place to take a little kid for lunch. It’s big and spacious, loud, full of children, reasonably priced. And there's a nice beer selection. I've been trying to nail down exactly why I've gained fifteen pounds since my daughter was born. This has to be reason #254: I only feel comfortable drinking in public with my daughter if there is food on the table in front of me. Without the food on the table, I’m just a guy who brought his four-month old kid to a bar. With the food on the table, I’m a responsible father spending time with his darling daughter, socializing her, including her in all aspects of his life. So given that the impetus for the excursion was to reclaim that pre-baby Saturday euphoria, I wanted a beer, maybe two, maybe four. Which meant ordering an appetizer. Then a beer. Then a salad. Then a beer. Then a pizza. And sure, why not another beer? Who’s going to judge a man drinking beer with his pizza, even if he does have baby on his lap? Maybe people care about this sort of thing, maybe they don’t. And maybe I shouldn't care what other people think about my parenting. But I do. Sue me. And I know myself too well. If I get even the slightest little cross-eyed look, it’ll set me off into an indignant internal rage. Like the time the woman in IKEA pointed out that my daughter wasn't wearing her seat belt while I pushed her around in a stroller. My at-the-time eight-week old daughter, who could barely move, much less crawl out of her stroller. But I ruminate on these things, these observations made by complete strangers, these intrusions into my ways and means and methods. I don’t forget them. Maybe inwardly I’m being defensive because I know I’m in the wrong (I can think of ten good reasons to buckle an eight-week old into her stroller). I don’t know. But the emotion is pure anger. I try to keep a “go fuck yourself” chambered, to fire it off unconsciously at moments like these. But I always forget to keep a “go fuck yourself” chambered. In other words, I don't take criticism very well.

Of course, nobody’s really even paying attention to my little family sitting in the corner, eating and drinking, and enjoying a sunny Saturday excursion. We eat as the little girl naps, wakes up, looks around, naps some more. The waitress, as she's required to do if she expects a tip, tells us how adorable and well-behaved our son is. I make a face and ready a protest, but my wife reminds me that babies are supposed to be color-coded so these gender mistakes don't get made. That's what the pink socks are for, I tell her. It's an honest mistake, so I spare the waitress my recently-chambered "go fuck yourself." We eat pizza. The baby bounces on my wife's leg. My wife dips a slice of pepperoni into a puddle of ranch dressing and takes a bite. The baby coughs. We talk. Drink some more. The baby goes back to sleep. You've got ranch on your leg, I tell her. She dips her finger, puts it in her mouth. She freezes. What? I ask. That's not ranch, that's puke, she tells me. We laugh. Three months ago my wife would not have found that funny at all. 

Meal completed. Check paid. We should take The Shrimp into the bathroom and get her changed. But for some reason we don't. We're out on the street. The baby's getting fussy. And I'm suddenly unhappy too, because I’m full now, but I want more beer, and that unexpectedly ridiculous moment I've been expecting hasn't happened yet, so that’s out there too, waiting for me.

We decide to go next to Starbucks. It hadn't occurred to me to consume anything non-alcoholic on a weekend, but okay. I can get behind this decision. It’s a good safe place for a guy to bottle-feed his daughter, which I know I will have to do, and which I dread doing. Why? Why do I have to do it and why do I dread it? It’s complicated. My wife has convinced me that she cannot bottle-feed The Shrimp because The Shrimp (hey, at least we don’t call her The Little Terrorist anymore) gets angry if mom feeds her anything other than a boob. This hasn't actually been verified to my satisfaction, but okay, fine. I need to make my wife happy and not bottle feeding the baby makes her happy, so that’s that. One does not push one’s luck when one is having a nice Saturday such as this. Things can go south all too quickly and we must protect the happiness. But I hate bottle-feeding in public and here’s why: generally, I don’t get weird about gender roles and child rearing. But this is an exception. I live in a place – slash - come from a community – slash - have been indoctrinated by my associates to believe that men and women should share all baby-related responsibilities evenly. Because men cannot breastfeed, they do the diapers. Even Steve. Fine. However, in some circles this sharing of duties is a point of pride, or is seen as evidence of progressive enlightenment. The pendulum can swing too far the other way, where you get the overcompensating daddy, who equates his level of involvement with his level of personal awesomeness. This guy cries himself to sleep every night because in his heart of hearts he knows he will never lactate. The point is, whenever I bottle-feed The Shrimp in public I become that guy just a little bit. Again, this comes down to public perceptions I shouldn't even care about (and probably don’t even exist), but I do care at least a little bit, as most people do. And are we really going to let the women monopolize all the irrational insanity? Can’t we save some for the guys too? Basically, when I feed my daughter in public it feels like I’m doing in on purpose, to make a point. Which I’m not. And I can’t abide being misunderstood. She’s fucking hungry! Stop looking at me like I'm some kind of Prairie Home Companion Naderite. But honestly, that not even really it. I don't like bottle-feeding in public because I used to sneer at people when they did it. Which makes me a huge hypocrite. I was indignant the way I'm still indignant about people who bring their dogs everywhere. If your baby's hungry, go home! I used to think. Don't crash our party with your mature adult behavior.

So, yes, there I am  bottle-feeding a baby in a Starbucks, drinking a skinny vanilla latte. All I needed was a good fecal blowout so I could take the little girl into the restroom for a change and thereby complete the trifecta of emasculation. We take pictures, we…are having fun. Yes. It’s wonderful. But I want to leave and get another beer. But we already ate and we can’t have beer without food, right? So…so…so let’s eat again!

We crossed the road and headed into our second restaurant. We hadn't scoped this place out, like we did the first place. This one was cramped and crowded, with no children about, and very little room for our stroller. Plus, the only available seats were at a high-top table in the bar area. But the waitress complimented our baby so all was good and right with the world. I'm not really hungry, my wife said. I'm not really either, I said. So nachos then? Obviously. With chicken? Why not? Guacamole? Sure. Sour cream? Sure. We ordered a couple drinks as well. I picked up The Shrimp and realized her diaper was wet. My wife offered to take her to the lady's room, but I was already on my feet with the freezer bag of supplies in hand. I got this. I wanted my wife to enjoy herself. I wanted everything to go smoothly so future excursions would be possible. Walking to the bathroom, all the college football girls make smiley faces at my daughter. This is it, I'm thinking. Here come the absurdity. Should I just drop her in the toilet and get it over with? I'm expecting a gross bathroom, and am pleasantly surprised. The stall is empty, spacious, and clean. Cradling my daughter in one arm, I somehow manage to get her wet diaper off, clean her up, and get a clean one back on in a flawlessly executed series of careful quick maneuvers. I check our supplies and see we still have two diapers remaining. Then we're back  at the table. My beer has arrived, my wife is impressed, and we're all good. The nachos arrive. We both reiterate how not hungry we are and then devour the entire massive plate in ten minutes flat. Then there's a blowout in the stroller. I can sense it the way dogs sense earthquakes. I've had pizza and beer and nachos on this day, and shared it all with my two favorite people on earth. I'm thrilled. I would be happy to change our daughter in the bathroom, I tell my wife. You sit here, get another glass of wine. Relax. I have forgotten that nothing has gone wrong yet. Back in the bathroom I quickly realize the logistics of changing a dirty diaper are far more complex. I put the changing pad down on top of the toilet tank, and am immediately aware that I am violating several tenets of sound parenting. One good twitch and she might really end up in the toilet. I picture myself returning to our table with a soaking wet baby. Focus, I tell myself. You can do this. The supply bag is between my legs. I get the dirty diaper off, put the diaper bag in my mouth, hold the kid with one hand and fish out a baby wipe with the other. I get her cleaned up and then grab a clean diaper, which is stuck to another (the last) clean diaper. There’s a mix up. The baby moves. I lose my focus and drop both clean diapers into the toilet. My first thought is the Five Second Rule. I quickly realize it doesn't apply to diapers dropped in toilets at bars. What do I do? Do I build a diaper out of toilet pap… There is no toilet paper. And, wait, asshole, build a diaper? I get the little girl dressed, fish the diapers out of the toilet and toss them in the trash, and then we go back to our table. I am grimacing when my wife catches sight of me. Something has gone wrong. But what? She is wondering. Oh, to be able to read her mind at that moment. How he could have fucked this up, let me count the ways…

So we pay the check and hightail it home, The Shrimp going commando, which is no big deal, but it feels like a big deal. It feels like we’re dancing on the rim of an active volcano. But she’s got us covered. We make it home and her pants are dry as a bone.

We could have just gone to a market and bought some diapers, my wife says.

That had not occurred to me, dude.

But all in all it was a big success. Though I do feel weird. I made a scene at that bar, even if nobody noticed it. The top of a toilet tank is no place for my precious little girl. I won’t repeat that.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Smoke Monkey International is Available in Paperback

SMOKE MONKEY INTERNATIONAL is now available in a paperback edition as well as a Kindle edition!


Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Bavard's Guide to Unsavory Persons: Volume 2 - Douchebags and Scrotes

      Click here to read Volume 1: Dickheads and Assholes

Douchebags and Scrotes:

Certainly, much has been said about Douchebags. But like the terms “hero” and “genius,” the Douchebag title is bestowed all to readily - and irresponsibly - these days. Which is not to say the world isn’t full of Douchebags. Popularity of the word is partly due to its unprecedented applicability. Ironically, the misuse of the word is a prime example of Douchebag behavior, as the defining characteristic of a Douchebag is a pathological ignorance, be it linguistic or otherwise. True Douchebags possess a certain tone-deafness to the world at large, which accounts for everything from their misguided fashion sense to their appreciation of extra-large vehicles and wearable technology. Much of the misuse and mislabeling associated with the term Douchebag can be explained thusly: First, the word has tremendous aesthetic appeal. It rolls poetically off the tongue, and lends itself to vocal fluctuations and emphatic variations. Secondly, there is inherent ironic humor in the use of the term when one considers its literal definition. Much of the labeling of unsavory persons draws humor from this juxtapositioning (see Dickheads and Assholes). And finally, misuse of the word Douchebag, and its less potent offspring “Douche” and “DBag”, comes from its PG-13 nature. Douchebag is not a curse word, nor does it make direct reference to genitalia or a sex act, though it dances perilously close.

So, then, what exactly is a Douchebag? Well, primarily, a Douchebag is not an Asshole or a Dickhead (or a Fuckface, Jerkoff, or Jackass, but that’s getting way ahead of myself). Douchebags do not know they are Douchebags, or at the very least, their Douchbagginess is unintentional. Douchebags famously unplug things accidentally. Things like powerstrips connecting an array of office or classroom computers. Douchebags make things worse in an effort to make them better. Things like software glitches, copy machine jams, soup, and bad hair dye jobs. Douchebags get caught copying your homework and the teacher rips only yours up to send a message. (that teacher, by the way, is an Asshole). Douchebags, thinking they have some special connection to all living things, get bit by dogs and make babies cry. Unlike certain other unsavory persons, Douchebags are not without friends. In fact, it is common for a person to feel surrounded by Douchebags, at parties or bars or family reunions. One’s Douchebag nature can be transitory (unless it is connected to the permanence of a bad or misspelled tattoo). You can grow into or out of your Douchebagginess. Treatments and interventions are effective. Often times a Douchebag can be cured with a simple item, like a mirror or a credit card statement. Generally speaking, a Douchebag’s antics are harmless. A Douchebag will absolutely make you late for an important meeting – by insisting on driving you, and then running out of gas – but they will rarely hurt you. Women do not make very good Douchebags, as an essential ingredient in Douchebag behavior is an imbalance of testosterone. Birds are nature’s Douchebags, for their reliance on elaborate posturing and vanity, as well as their unique ability to fly into things while trying to move gracefully. Women continue to befuddle the world with their attraction to Douchebags. And certainly, using a pseudointellectual highbrow tone when writing about things like Assholes, Dickheads, and Douchebags in an attempt to entertain people on your blog so they will buy your novel, is Douchebag behavior at its finest (or is it? See below).

Scrotes (or Scroats) and Douchebags are mortal enemies, at least from the Douchebag point of view. The two distinct groups are frequently mistaken for one another. Douchebags think Scrotes are pussies. Scrotes think they themselves are Douchebags.  A true Douchebag would never possess the self-awareness required to self-identify. Anyone who refers to themselves as a Douchebag is probably a Scrote or a Dickhead, depending on their nature. A Scrote is like a benevolent Dickhead, generally fun-loving and utterly harmless. Scrotes lack ambition, either through laziness, or an over-intellectualized, college-based understanding that ambition can get you assassinated. A Scrote will absolutely use Shakespeare as an excuse to sit on a couch and take bonghits and watch Judge Judy. Woman make terrific Scrotes. Male and female Scrotes are exceptionally compatible. In fact, Scotes get along exceedingly well with other Scrotes. Entire Scrote armies can be found on tour with Phish, in churches, and at GameStop. A Scrote’s unsavory nature stems from the fact that they are generally forgetful, irresponsible, and sensitive to a fault. Scrotes cannot handle criticism, which, coupled with drug use, can result in a toxic atmosphere of self-doubt and depression. “I’m such a fucking Douchebag!” is the classic mantra of a certifiable Scrote.

Example # 1 of Scrote behavior: A pack of Scrotes move into a furnished apartment. The dryer venting tube is disconnected from the wall outet. Rather than simply connecting the tube to the outlet, the pack of Scrotes determine the dryer venting mechanism is defective. For one year the dryer simply vents into the small room where the appliances are kept. The paint peels off the walls. Lint on the floor is four inches deep. There is a toilet in this room, and when the pack of Scrotes girlfriends (not Girlfriends) comes over and use the toilet they don’t tell the Scrotes to fix the room (because these girls themselves are Scrotes). The Scrotes are sued by the landlord. They ignore the lawsuit and it “goes away.” For years afterwards, none of the Scotes can understand why they have such a hard time getting approved to rent apartments.

Example #2 of Scrote behavior: This same pack of Scrotes purchase a newspaper subscription. The newspaper is stolen off their porch three or four days a week. Rather than notify the newspaper company or the police, the Scrotes decide instead to wake up early, on a rotating schedule, and collect the paper before the thief has arrived. A Scrote then defecates into the paper, refolds it, and returns it to the porch. The shit-filled paper is then stolen, not by a thief, but instead by an autistic neighbor who is trying to save himself fifty cents and a walk to the corner market. He gives the paper to his bedridden grandmother, who then finds herself covered in Scrote feces. The police are notified. Nervous and repentant Scrotes are questioned. Police are granted access into the Scote lair, where they discover an extensive marijuana growing operation.

Coming up in Volume 3: Fuckfaces, Jerkoffs, and Jackasses

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Bavard's Guide to Unsavory Persons: Volume 1 - Dickheads and Assholes

Dickheads and Assholes:
The defining characteristics of Dickheads are mean-spiritedness, stupidity, and a lack of self-awareness. Dickheads are further characterized by their ineptitude, brutality, and inability to read people. Dickheads are Dickheads by choice. Dickheads think they are being funny when they are not. This often involves the telling of racist jokes. Dickheads' antics hurt. They always laugh at their victims and assume they are endearing to their “friend group”. None of a Dickhead’s friends actually like the Dickhead, but they are too scared of retaliatory pranking to ever say or do anything about it. Dickheads are impossible to kick out of bands. Dickheads can be seen handing out Dixie cups of vodka to marathon runners, who are expecting water. If you start a war, you are probably a Dickhead. All Dickheads are bullies (but not all bullies are Dickheads – see below). You cannot be a female Dickhead. One never accuses a Dickhead of being a Dickhead to his face. Dickheads honk at you to GO! when you are waiting for a pedestrian at a crosswalk.  Dickheads are often cuckolds. Your older brother is probably a Dickhead.  Dickheads wear offensive or inappropriate Halloween costumes. Dickheads give mean or insulting gifts. Dickheads give bad stock advice. At a sports bar, a Dickhead will gloat ostentatiously and laugh at your team’s misfortune even if his team isn't even playing. Dickheads are bad tippers because they don’t know any better. Dickheads are buffoons. There are no Dickheads in the animal kingdom. Dickheads drink beer. Dickheads borrow money and don’t pay it back. Women hate Dickheads.

Assholes are similar to Dickheads, with two fundamental differences. Assholes are intelligent and direct. Like Dickheads, Assholes are mean-spirited and brutal. But their general competency makes them far more dangerous. Being an Asshole is not a choice, it’s a birthright. Assholes do not tell jokes or attempt to win people over with humor or affability. Racist comments made by Assholes represent fundamental beliefs. The animosity an Asshole incurs is intentional. While a Dickhead might be part of a friend group that includes mostly non-Dickheads, Assholes only hang out with other Assholes.  An Asshole would never be a marathon spectator, even to prank the runners. In fact, many Assholes run marathons. They also cycle and rock climb. Assholes are the ones who convince the Dickheads to start wars. Like Dickheads, Assholes are bullies; however, unlike Dickheads, Assholes’ bullying lacks any creativity and shuns tradition. An Asshole does not bully with schoolyard wedgies. An Asshole just sets your car on fire. Women can absolutely be Assholes. Assholes do not need to be told they are Assholes. Assholes do not honk at you, you honk at Assholes. Assholes are remorseless cheaters, at games and in relationships. While your older brother is a Dickhead, it’s your friend’s older brother that’s the Asshole. Assholes don’t participate in Halloween, unless it involves throwing eggs, which is not done out of respect for a tradition, but simply because it hurts and stains. Assholes don’t give gifts and they return all gifts they receive. Assholes don’t give stock advice, especially when they should. Assholes are bad tippers because they lack empathy. The animal kingdom is made up almost exclusively of Assholes (dogs are the exception). From the perspective of the animal kingdom, the human race is a race of Assholes. Assholes drink wine. Assholes don’t borrow money, they manipulate the system and steal it. Women love Assholes.

Alternate Definitions: While the term Dickhead has only two meanings, the one described above, and its literal meaning, the term Asshole has an interesting third application, beyond the one mentioned above, and its own literal meaning. Some Assholes are victims or gullible morons, as in, “I can’t believe he cheated on me again. I’m such an Asshole!” Or, “Jesus, what kind of an Asshole would take the Cardinals +11 on the road in San Francisco?” Or, “Yeah, Mac, some Asshole just okayed us to bill 450 dollars for an alignment, an oil change, and two new tires.”

Click here to read Volume 2: Douchebags and Scrotes

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Sci-Fi Bike Commute: Part V – Extended, Format-Breaking All-Gormenghast Edition

"When I bought my bike last August [2012] and committed myself to riding to work, I added the following spontaneous and bizarre stipulation: I would listen exclusively to science fiction audiobooks." [and some fantasy]

Phase 13: Year 2 of TSFBC: New Job, New Bike, New Baby

The Book: I don’t remember exactly how Titus Groan ended up in my ear buds. I think it was the only unheard sci-fi/fantasy book left in my Library’s Overdrive catalogue that didn’t look like a pulpy mess - no gleaming abs or lightning bolts shooting out of finger tips. I just got lucky. And that’s the way it goes sometimes. The fates hand you the exact book you were looking for, even if you didn’t know you were looking for it. There I was, knee deep in genre-conforming space opera, loving my whizz-bang plots, paper-thin characters, and dubious technobabble.  And suddenly, I couldn’t get my hands on The Evolutionary Void, the last book in Peter F Hamilton’s Commonwealth Saga.  Apparently, the library didn’t see the logic of acquiring the fifth book in a five-book series, when they do carry the first four books. I have a government job, so this makes perfect sense to me. But there was this Titus Groan thing, this brilliantly bizarre cover art. I clicked to learn more and found out Gormenghast is a three book series (Titus Groan, Gormenghast, Titus Alone). Why not give it try?

Cut to me on my bike, riding to work, laughing, giggling, rewinding the trill laughter of Dr. Prunesquallar. Smiling like there’s something deeply wrong with me. What the hell is this? Where did it come from? How had I never heard of Gormenghast before? And how am I supposed to take it all? Is it a comedy? A satire? A commentary on the drudgery of daily ritual in some pre-postmodern kind of way, or just weird high fantasy, to be taken on its own terms?

And more questions: Where the hell is this place, this Gormenghast Castle? And when?

I knew immediately that I didn’t want to read a word about these books. I didn’t want to know the author, his (her?) country of origin, critical responses to the text, or even the publication date. It seemed essential, and consistent with the text, that I experience Gormenghast in a total vacuum. So I won’t spoil the contents for anyone else who’s weird like that. Which puts me in the difficult position of trying to convince would-be readers to get their Gormenghast on, without really telling them anything more about it. (That's the plan, at least.)

So I’ll just talk about myself instead. I’m possessive about these books now. They feel personal to me, not because I relate to the story or the characters in any meaningful way, but because I get it. Everyone knows the feeling. I understand and experience exactly what the author wants me to understand and experience. Of course, that’s a narcissistic and delusional way to think about art, but that hasn’t stopped any person I know from doing the same damn thing. And it's especially gratifying to get it, when it is something so preposterous and complex and precise. Every decision the author makes to take the story further, to make it weirder, less commercial, less genre-specific, is exactly the right decision, like it’s not even a decision at all. It’s just what is. Never do I question the pacing, the authenticity of the dialogue, or the plausibility of the events. This kind of writing, where a place and time and population are evoked, rather than created, is always the most impressive, where the author plays the role of a chronicler or journalist, that really, he may not have a creative bone in his body. It’s the world he’s reporting that’s doing all the work.

Really, this audiobook, bike-commute project is about how the stories playing in my head affect my perception of the world zooming past me, how what I am listening to separates my experience from that of the other bike-commuters, who physically access the same environmental factors I do. What are the innumerable grains of sand to the guy listening to the Euro-trance techno pulse, compared to the guy listening to NPR? The guy listening to Simon Vance bellow, “I shall go to the Tower of Flints. I am the Death Owl!”? So what does Gormenghast do to the ocean and the airplanes and the RV park? Well, it obfuscates them, blurs them, and in some cases, removes them altogether. Which is not to say I am transported to Gormenghast. This isn’t that type of story. For a richly detailed fantasy story, Gormenghast is not particularly illuminating.  There’s really just a big huge fucking castle and then some other stuff – characters like you’ve never met before. Archetypes taken to such absurd extremes they cease to be archetypes at all. The nanny, the butler, various dowager aunts, the villain, the cook, the doctor, the teachers, the heir, the precocious princess, the Lord and his lady, each one unique to an extreme. What I get from these books is the unending delight you get from being surprised by people. People you think you know, who turn out to be far more interesting and original that you expected. The whole book aggressively working against every expectation you could possibly have. Irony with a capital ”I”. It’s the audacity of the whole thing that gets me. That someone would sit in a room for years and write this stuff. That they would commit themselves to such an absurd project, see it through, make it beautiful and haunting and transcendent. Sometimes I tell myself that - to pick an example at random - the guy I pass on the bike path who pulls a painted red gypsy wagon behind his bike is strange. But the existence of Gormenghast establishes a higher level of strangeness, a more evolved and refined state of lunacy. If nothing else, Gormenghast has reminded me just how powerful good writing can be.

I’m certain I will find more science-fiction books to rival the Commonwealth Saga. For all its entertainment value, it is not unique. But this Gormenghast experience has left me a little anxious. Is there anything this good still out there? Something I’ve never heard of before? Something I can experience with total objectivity?

The answer: Of course there is. (suggestions welcome)

Random addendum: Other chance discoveries that (gulp) Changed My Life!

I remember The Crossing calling to me from a display table in a resort town in Idaho. I can’t say what attracted me to the bleakness of those cow skulls, but I had to read that book. I’d never heard of Cormac McCarthy before. It was a similar situation a few years later with Infinite Jest, only this time I was in Phoenix, stranded at my ex-girlfriend’s parents’ house with unfixable car trouble and the need to punish myself with something dense and dry. Next thing I knew I was scraping bits of skull and brain matter off the ceiling fan in their guest room. 

And the rest, quickly: Arctic Dreams in a hotel’s lending library…in Thailand. Cannery Row in the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s gift shop when I was 14 on a school field trip, trying to impress a girl by being the only kid who didn’t buy a stuffed otter. Jude the Obscure in a box of inherited classroom library books. Master and Commander, in a used book store in Boston (again, I think I was just trying to impress a girl with my interest in all things Napoleonic).


Click here for Part VI of the Sci-Fi Bike Commute: More format breaking fantasy! The Curse of Chalion and Paladin of Souls! Plus the end of the Commonwealth Saga!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The NFL Sunday Ritual - A Newborn Meets Her REAL Parents

A couple of years ago I was talking to a colleague at lunch about her fiancĂ©, who she’d known for six months. She told me she was having second thoughts about the wedding. She looked me in the eye and said, “What is it with this football stuff? He’s not the same person anymore.” It turns out they met in March and dated for six months in an NFL-free world of romance and bliss. Just like in the movies. She had no idea he was concealing an inner maniac. This kind of obsessive fandom isn’t uncommon, but I thought it was funny (sorry, but that was my honest reaction to her very real pain), that the timing of their relationship would mask this man’s true nature for so long.

This is about to happen to my daughter.

She has been under the impression, these nine weeks she’s been alive, that she lives with two rational, competent people. She is fed, clothed, and not dropped on a daily basis. They play with her, sing to her, and invite people over to admire her. This week she gets her first real reality check. It turns out, Little One, that Mom and Dad are raving anti-social lunatics. They drink, they gamble, and they gorge themselves on homemade bacon cheddar biscuits. They root for the godforsaken Arizona Cardinals. Your mother, the one who serenades you at bath time, will now be seen pacing with a clipboard, making tally marks, and saying things like, “I forget, do sacks count as negative rushing yards?” And your father, the one who steadfastly changes your diapers any time, day or night, will no longer be able to perform this essential task as his hands have been replaced with cold blue metallic cylinders.

The ritual has been refined these past six years, as we’ve built additions onto this degenerate’s house of cards. It started with Cardinals season tickets. We shared an eight-game package with another couple and drove from Los Angeles to Phoenix four times a year. Here’s what that looks like. Get up early on Saturday morning and escape the city before the traffic can establish itself. Drive through the brutal monotony of the Mohave Desert to a date with bloated digestive destiny—the Taco Bell in Blythe. Continue east into Arizona, listening, of course, to an endless stream of NFL-related podcasts while the wife squirts fire sauce onto my Crunchwrap Supreme. Arrive in Phoenix and hang out with friends and family (eat and drink and eat and drink). Go to bed. Wake up in the middle of the night with gurgling intestines. Curse the fact that the wife’s parents insist on sleeping with their bedroom door open. Suffer. Wake up dehydrated and cramped. Drive to the stadium and hang out with friends (eat and drink and eat and drink and throw a football and stand in line for a Phoenix-heat affected Port-o-Potty. Watch a game. Curse the fact that they play Miley Cyrus tunes in the stadium during TV time outs. Stop drinking at half-time. Lose the game. Drive home to Los Angeles listening to the Sunday Night Football broadcast.  Got to sleep. Wake up. Go to work.

Tell no one.

The non-travel weekends ritual started sanely enough, with my wife and I strolling down to a local sports bar and fighting to get the Cardinals’ game on TV. Drinking and eating and eating and drinking, and walking home to watch the second-half of the second game.  This got real expensive. So we added the DirecTV Sunday Ticket package, locked the doors and windows, turned off the lights, and spiraled down into a web of madness, gluttony, and ribald fandom.

Then came the online fantasy contests, the survivor pools and Pro Pick ‘ems. Contests with friends. Contests at work. Contests with neighbors. My obsession was stoked by a huge dose of beginners luck when I won $1200 the first time I played. So now there’s a full schedule of weekly pick deadlines and payments to submit. Occasional winnings to harass out of various sore losers in my life. A whole universe of unnecessary stress and obligation.

But somehow this all just didn’t seem sufficiently deviant. Something was missing. One day, in between the afternoon game and the night game, in between remarks about Bob Costas’ anti-aging regiment, my wife turned to me and slurred, “Ya know what’s missing from our lives? Gambling losses.” I put down my butter knife and kissed her.

So we added a couple trips to Vegas to the ritual. As much fun as it was hanging out in smoky sports books with all the backwards baseball caps, basketball shorts, and cigarettes-behind-the-ear, we had to admit that there really are not as many good places to watch a full day’s worth of NFL games in Las Vegas as one would expect. Not that we could find. Nothing so nice as our local sports bar, and we still has to fight to get Cardinals games on with volume. If only there was a way to gamble on football without having to go to Vegas…

Which brings us back to Mommy pacing the living room with her clipboard while Daddy slams Miller Lites to replenish moisture lost from the nervous gambling sweats.

Or, maybe it will be different this year. Maybe the Little One’s presence in our lives will cause us to rethink our priorities and consider the impact our behavior will have on her future. The fact that she owns zero Arizona Cardinals onesies indicates there may still be shreds of rationality lurking beneath our sagging couch cushions. Gone as well this year are our Cardinals tickets, though this has more to do with our tailgating buddies leaving town than it does with responsible parenting. On the other hand, it’s looking like full steam ahead with the bacon cheddar lite beer triple teaser parlay bonanza.

At least there’s no fantasy football league in my life. I may be an irresponsible hedonistic degenerate, with a complete lack of will power and a busted moral compass. But I’m not a loser.

And don’t fret, Little One. Your dad exaggerates for effect. Your dad writes a satirical, self-deprecating blog post. He would never actually gamble online, or drink a lot, or root for the Arizona Cardinals. Or follow their punter on Twitter. Or watch San Diego Chargers pre-season games to see what Ken Whisenhunt looks like in pale blue and yellow. Or completely stop watching baseball even though his home team is on a historic run and could very well win the World’s Series. That’s just not your father.