Tuesday, June 30, 2009

dangers of re-entry

In high school I experimented with various mood-altering substances. There was alcohol, naturally, but also marijuana and one really lovely afternoon on hash trying to play it straight in front of our friend's mom as she drove us home. To this day I don't know if she knew how high we were, but I can't imagine how she could have missed it. But I never did a LOT of drugs, and never tried anything harder than the aforementioned. Also, incidentally, I've never bought drugs. I wouldn't know where to get them. I suppose I could find my way through people I know, but I've never been that inspired to try. I basically gave up smoking pot after college. At some point I started to have rather strange reactions to it. Like my whole body going numb and noticing I couldn't feel my heartbeat or my stomach and I might actually be dead but not know it and that's just not a feeling I really wanted to seek out, you know?

So I admit it was a little random when, the other night, while hanging out with a bunch of parents from our son's preschool, I decided to try it again. Before I describe what came of all this, I should probably back up a little. There were a few factors which contributed to this turning into a particularly festive evening.

There was the decision to postpone our roadtrip until after Kate's housewarming party. We were supposed to be out of town, but wanted to go celebrate her new place. Next, walking instead of driving. The party was nearby, and we figured if we walked who'd care what state we're in by the end of the party? If we're on our feet, we can get home. In hindsight, had we driven, the car outside might have served as incentive to control the intake of alcohol and other substances. But this was not to be. There was also the bottle of wine we shared over with dinner before the party, the several glasses once we arrived, and having almost no water. When one of the other preschool moms mentioned she'd brought some really good pot, and then one of the dads fashioned a bong from a Coke can and the screen from the sink faucet and started passing it around on the back porch, I was like, "meh, why not?"

So I took a hit. 

Having done this a few times before, the technique came right back to me - inhale deeply, hold it in, talk like Tommy Chong, let it out slowly.

That went fine, so I took another hit. And another. 

And the thing I remembered much later was that unlike booze, I don't feel the effects of pot right away. With wine or liquor, I basically get drunk as I drink. There's not much delay, so I know when to slow down, and when to stop. Pot is different. I took three (really large) hits because I wasn't really feeling it after the first, or the second. When I started feeling it, I stopped smoking. That was so too late. 

First things got a little fuzzy. Like my head. I poured another glass of wine, but didn't finish it before realizing water was probably the better choice. Pretty soon, things became outrageously funny. That is, laugh my ass off funny. Someone said something (do not ask me what it was because I have zero memory of it) that sent me into complete tearful hysterics. I had to leave the room, weeping with laughter. Around that time I lost track of most of what was going on. 

This is another thing about being high versus drunk. When I'm drunk, even really really drunk, I can still kinda see, through the haze, what's going on. Not like "I'm in complete control, no really I can drive, no problem." Not saying that. But it's almost like I can watch from outside myself what's happening and still have clear pictures of it in my mind. I can tell roughly how drunk other people around me are, for example. When I'm high, I have no idea. Everybody else could be totally sober, or just as fucked up as me. No clue. You're all fucking hilarious.

Some time passed. I probably did some stupid things. At some point I might have casually suggested a threesome with my wife and the hostess. That didn't happen. We walked home. I vaguely remember this. I was none too steady on my feet. I know we walked home because eventually we arrived home, paid the babysitter, and I started tweeting. This began with "Dude, I'm REALLY fucked up." Progressed to "I should go to bed. Anybody know where to find the "off" button for the spinning?" And arrived at the classic, "Dude, fuck cottonmouth." There was some other stuff I think my followers on Twitter found quite amusing which I won't go into here. My parents read this blog. But I'm not sure broadcasting my state was the best idea at that point. Of course, now I'm posting this. Whatever.

In the end I managed not to throw up, got myself into bed and closed my eyes and next thing I knew the kids were up at 6am. Which was when our 8-hr roadtrip was scheduled to begin. That's a whole other post, one that may not even be worth writing, so I won't go into it. Suffice to say I did not feel well, it was surface-of-the-sun hot, and one-year olds do not take kindly to being strapped into a car seat for seven hours.

Is there a lesson here? I will say there are indeed some nice things about the weed. Different things than with wine or booze. There are also some downsides. If I do try it again, I'll probably stop before I start propositioning my kid's friend's moms. Hopefully.


Friday, June 19, 2009

father's day is for idiots

I write a dad blog. It says so right up in the title. (A title which, I realize, is not very imaginative. When I started the blog I called it "The Once and Future Badass Dad." But was both pretentious and totally nonsensical, so now it's just Badass Dad Blog. Which is lame, but tells it like it is.) So I think the fact I write a dad blog means I have to write a Father's Day post. So, here it is.

Father's Day is stupid. As are Mother's Day, Valentine's Day, Boss's Day, Administrative Professionals Day, and Arbor Day. Actually, I kind of like Arbor Day. Trees are cool. But all those other ones are stupid.

First, they aren't really holidays. The word holiday is derived from "holy day," so by definition holidays are days of religious observance. In this way Independence Day, Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, and Labor Day are also not actually holidays, but I give those a pass because they're patriotic and that's almost like religion to some people. But the others, especially Father's Day and Mother's Day, exist for two reasons. Reason 1: To sell greeting cards and gifts. Reason 2: To remind people to appreciate people in their lives that no one should need to be reminded to appreciate.

I mean, c'mon. If someone has to tell you to love your mother and give her flowers and tell her she's a great mom, you are an idiot. She's your mom. She gave birth to you, and raised you, and refrained from killing you at any point during your young life. Rest assured, there were many times she wanted to. And she didn't. She is to be honored and admired.

Likewise with dads. They spent their whole lives loving you and caring for you and playing trucks and trains and dolls and house and catch with you and most of them never even ordered up that DNA test that would once and for all prove you were actually their kid. That's true love. And you need Hallmark to tell you one day a year to tell the guy you love him and buy him a card and an Amazon gift certificate? You suck.

Thing is, I also suck.

I don't call my parents enough. I don't visit them NEARLY enough. They come to us much more than we go to them, which I know makes a sort of sense because they don't have small children to cart around but still, we should visit our parents more. I rarely get them really great birthday presents. I have almost no idea what they would like, and am too lazy to put in the effort to find out. I love my parents and appreciate everything they have done for me through my life to support me and care for me and raise me, and I don't say those things to them enough. Because it's mushy and sappy to say that stuff and how often do you really go there in day to day life?

Which I guess is why we have Father's Day. Do tell us it's OK to go there. It's OK to tell your dad you love him, and you appreciate him, and he did an awesome job because you're still alive and basically doing OK. We shouldn't need the greeting card industry to remind us to say these things, but the truth is we need to be reminded.

So I still think Father's Day is stupid, and is basically a day for idiots. Trouble is, I'm an idiot, so I probably need to accept that in the end, I need it. Crap.

I love you, Dad. And Greg. And Thom. All you guys are awesome dads in your own way. And if it's possible you're even awesomer grandpas to Owen and Nicholas. Those kids love you so much, and seeing how much you love them makes me tear up with the joyful humanity of it all. Like I'm doing a little right now.

Happy Father's Day.

p.s. Also in honor of Father's Day, I was interviewed on It Was A Very Good Year. Have a look and also check out what my fellow dad bloggers have to say over the next few days.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

as one door closes

I learned Monday I no longer have a job.

I'll spare you the technicalities and simply say that after 12 years at the same company, working up from an entry level job through the ranks to Senior Manager, in a few weeks I will be unemployed. In fact, other than cleaning out my office and possibly a few transition discussions, I'm essentially no longer working as of today.

So, what does this mean?

First please do not worry about me or my family. We are and will be OK. The upside of being with the same company for 12 years is I will get a generous severance package which will allow me to conduct a sane and thoughtful search for whatever is next. You won't see my pulling shots at Starbucks. Unless the baristas are slow or try to put water in my grande nonfat dirty chai latte. 'Cause then, outta my way.

Before I even think about my next job, I'm going to take a little time to regroup. That may mean I'll be doing a lot more writing on the blog, tweeting in Twitter, and whatever the verb is for what people do on Facebook. (Does that have a name? Is "Facebooking" a thing now?) So for those who read, follow, stalk, or are "friends" with me, this could be a good thing. Or it could be very bad, as it may rapidly devolve into even more mundane minutia than it already is.

Possible tweets/status updates during unemployment:
  • Ate breakfast. Can't believe how many calories are in cheese. So good though.
  • Staring at breakfast dishes. Knife and fork perfectly aligned. Is this plate REALLY dirty?
  • Thinking about clearing breakfast dishes. They look so peaceful there, though.
  • Can this microwavable container be recycled?
  • Have an itch.
  • Are those ants? No, crumbs. Sherman!
  • Where are my pants?

So, be looking forward to that.

Before too long I'll need to find another job. I mentioned my severance was generous, and it is, but not "never need to work again" generous. Besides, even if I thought we could go for months without me working, I honestly think I would lose my mind, both from boredom and the anxiety of needing to support my family. I never thought of myself as the caveman type, but when faced with the possibility of prolonged unemployment and lack of income, with the idea that I might not be able to continue providing my children the things they want and need, I start feeling very Cro-Magnon. "Ugh. Must protect woman and man-cubs. Grg. Must hunt and gather. Mmm. Need more cheese." They probably didn't have cheese, I guess.

Some have already asked me what I want to do next. Truthfully I'm not sure. I'll need to refine my ability to describe what it is I do (and want to do). Not "where do you work," but "what do you do?" Because clearly people are hired to DO things, so there must be a way to tell people what I DO that will make them want to pay me generously to DO that thing for THEM. I'm not sure "I write emails and talk to people and go to meetings" is going to get me very far.

Is there such a thing as a job where I can be at various times focused, silly, raunchy, serious, irreverent, lazy, brilliant, dedicated, aloof, committed, creative, annoyingly specific, argumentative, fiercely logical, self-contradictory, all the while doing something that excites me while still having some time and energy for my family and my non-work life and being handsomely compensated both monetarily and emotionally? That job exists, right? Hm.

So, for now, I'm brielfy hitting the pause button on my working life. I'm thinking about what I want and what should be next, and starting to casually talk to people I know in a slightly less casual way than before - realizing all these people I know are, in fact, a "network," and that before long I will need to "activate" them. Hopefully that isn't grounds for divorce.

There will definitely be more to come about this nascent next phase of our lives. I hope it's more interesting than what I had for breakfast. Though, seriously, really good cheese.


Monday, June 8, 2009

what a badass eats - at eatdrinkandblog.com

I put my recipe for turkey burgers with brie and grilled apples up at the awesome new eat drink and blog. Want to know how to make turkey burgers badass? Here's how.


Friday, June 5, 2009

guest post at a day in the life

Two posts in one day? Crazy, right? One here (see below) and one at Pamela Perez' A Day In The Life. That one is one of our best dog stories.


the birthday party conundrum

What do you do for a four-year old's birthday?

Every parent faces this, right? Do we have a party or take them someplace special with a friend? If we have a party, who do we invite? How big should it be? Do we have to invite the whole class? Do we have to invite THAT kid? Do we have to invite that kid's PARENTS?

We are facing this now. Owen will be four in July. He's old enough to be fully aware of this. He knows the date and will tell you if you ask. At his age, birthday=party. They are the same, inseparable. It's not your birthday if there is no party. I'm already anticipating psychic chaos when we tell him his birthday PARTY is on a different day than his actual BIRTHDAY. His little mind might crack.

But once we're past that, and assuming he's still functional, what are we going to do? Owen and Nicholas are three years apart. Nicholas will turn one about a month and a half before Owen turns four. We're not going to have a big blowout for the one-year old. I mean, he has zero clue. He'll be stoked about cake and ice cream, as this child lives for food. Other than that, who are all these people, and why is that thing on fire?

But for Owen it's a different thing entirely. He's a birthday party connoisseur now. He's been to so many he could plan the fucking things. He has strong opinions, some of which he has expressed out loud, some simply through his actions. Here are some of Owen's rules, as I understand them, of what makes a proper birthday party:

  1. Bouncy house? Yes.
  2. Cool toys and stuff scattered around for everyone to play with? Yes.
  3. Open presents at the party? Yes (we'll fight him on this).
  4. Organized party games? No. Absolutely no. Get that parachute away from me, I'll show you where you can pin the tail, and why is that dude wearing makeup?

So at least we have some clear dos and don'ts if we go the party route.

But is a party the best idea? Parties are expensive, and messy, and stressful. Somebody will end up in tears. Probably one of the kids, and quite possibly also me. When it's over we have to clean up and manage our exhausted children who live in our house and don't leave at the end. We could do it at an indoor playground, but we've done this twice before. Owen seems almost old enough to graduate to the next level of pay-to-play fun, but I refuse to take a child to Chucky Cheese who will not eat pizza. We've told him this. He says he'll eat pizza when he's four. We'll see. We could go to a park, but it's mid-July in Los Angeles. If it's 100 degrees, nobody wins.

So that brings us to Plan B - amusement park with one or two friends. I happened to land four free tickets to Legoland through work. I've never been, but folks tell me it's a cool place for young kids - better in some ways than Disneyland (less commercial and more age appropriate, and hopefully less crowded). So we're thinking we might invite a friend or two of Owen's to come along and spend the day there instead of a party. We'd still do cake and presents and stuff with the family, but no big thing. Lisa floated this idea to Owen, and he was into it. But I'm not sure he understands this would be INSTEAD of a big party. We'll see.

Whatever we do, I'm sure he'll have a good time. And the truth is, he's four - is he really even gonna remember this birthday? I sure don't remember my fourth birthday. I don't really want to try and out-party his friend's parties, and ultimately I'm not sure anything can top our day at the LA Department of Sanitation Open House. The day he got to drive sit in a garbage truck. They even let him blow the horn and run the thing that lifts the cans. I don't know about your kids, but next to spaceships and dinosaurs, garbage trucks are about the coolest thing ever.

Wish us luck with the birthday celebration. Whatever we do I expect you'll hear about it here before long.


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

happy birthday, little brother

Hi. This post is a bit messy. I don't want to start with an apology, but I think an explanation is warranted since this is so different from what's usually on this blog. All this happened 14 years ago. Though I think about it nearly every day, it's doesn't haunt me like it used to. I don't dwell on it. But when Heather and Mike lost their little girl Madeline this year, and so many rallied around them to try and prop them up in their darkest time, many things came back to me. What I went through is not the same as losing a child. My point of view is different. But there are enough parallels that I wanted to get all this out in writing. This also ended up being a lot more about me than I intended, but that's just where it went. So, thanks for reading, and I'll understand if you'd rather not.

Details are fuzzy. I'm not sure this happened the way I remember it. Probably not, considering how scattered my memories are. Time does that to memory, and it's worse when the events themselves were surreal, as these surely were.

I was in San Francisco, on my way back to LA. My stepfather got in touch with me at SFO as I was heading to get on the plane home. I think he called my friend Nate who showed up to tell me I needed to call home. This was 1995, before cell phones were everywhere, and certainly before I had one. So somebody walked up to me and said I needed to call home. I called from a pay phone. Greg sounded serious, worried, and tired. Jeff wasn't doing well. I should be there. I should come now. I was worried, certainly caught off guard, but he was probably overreacting. He can be a bit dire. Sure, I'll come home. But I was sure it'd be OK.

I changed my plans and flew east instead of south. Jeff was in a hospital in Roseville. My dad picked me up and we went from the airport to Jeff's hospital room. What Greg said on the phone was right, he wasn't doing well. He looked like hell - puffy, pale and rough. His breathing was fast and shallow. I think he was asleep when I first got there. He was clearly having a hard time. I remember nudging him to try and get him to breathe normally. I wondered what they were doing to fix it. To fix him. He'd been having problems with his kidneys for months. Something to do with an illness he'd had several years before plus damage from lots of painkillers after surgery. He'd been on dialysis. There was some talk of a transplant, but it didn't seem very focused. Maybe they were talking more to my parents than me. Or maybe it was confusing and vague for everyone. It started with his kidneys, but now his heart was enlarged and he had water on his lungs. Congestive heart failure, they call this. Which is weird, because heart failure sounds like you're dead, but really it means his heart wasn't working efficiently. Did you know when your heart doesn't work well you start getting fluid on your lungs? Apparently they're related. Also, it's weird how when your heart is weak it gets bigger. You'd think a bigger heart would be all strong and shit like The Hulk but it's more like it's swollen and trying hard but just not doing its thing. He wasn't doing well.

I was having a very hard time processing all this. I was in college, missing classes to be there, but clearly needed to be with my family. I spent the next few days hanging around the hospital, sitting in Jeff's room, talking to him when he was awake. Sometimes just sitting. It was an awkward time for us. We hadn't spent much time together recently, and didn't have a lot to talk about. I was 21, he was 18. I'd been out of the house more than a year, off at school, thinking myself very grown up. I had all these plans. Or visions of plans. I didn't really want to hang out in a hospital with my sick brother. I'd rather hang out with him when he got better and we could do stuff. Like have a beer or go to the river or get high or watch TV. Whatever. Not this. I didn't understand how sick he was.

After a few days, I went back to LA. Back to school. Back to my life. It looked like he was doing better. They'd decided to transfer him to a bigger medical center in Davis. That seemed like a good sign. They were better equipped to help him, and I figured they wouldn't move him if they didn't think he had a good shot at recovering. Before I left I went to Jeff's room and we talked a little. He was sleepy, not saying much. We talked about how I'd see him in a few weeks when I came home for Thanksgiving. We hugged. He held onto me a little longer than I thought was normal. Or maybe I held onto him. Maybe both. I don't know.

I flew back to LA. There was this guy from out of town that I barely knew staying with me. Long story why, doesn't matter. My girlfriend (now wife) was at her parents' place in New York. So it was just me and this guy I didn't know. As I said, my memory of the timeline and series of events is fuzzy, but I think I was home for like 12 hours. I got home, said hi to this guy, went to bed.

The phone rang. Woke me up. It was around 3am. It was my dad. Jeff had passed away. He'd died. He was dead. I should come back.

I went back to LA thinking I was going back to school for a few weeks while Jeff recovered, then going home to visit for Thanksgiving. By then we'd know more about what was going on with him and be able to talk about what was next and make plans. And hang out and have turkey.

I fucking left.

Because of school. And because bad things don't happen to us. Bad things happened on TV and to other people, not to us. People got better. People were OK.

So I went home. Except in November 1995 things didn't get better. They got worse. They got worse fast and they tried to save him and there was nothing they could do and he died. And I think maybe he knew when I left, somehow, that things weren't going to get better. I think maybe that's why he held onto me a little longer than usual. Maybe he knew even though we were saying "see you at Thanksgiving" we were really saying goodbye.

Or maybe he didn't know. But that's what we were saying, whether we knew it or not.

Things start spinning. This guy is in our apartment and my brother just died and I have to buy a plane ticket or maybe my friend Chris did that for me because I think he flew home with me though I'm not really sure and I had to leave pretty much right away so I threw some clothes in a bag and told this guy he probably needed to find another place to stay because I didn't know when I'd be back and it was weird for him to stay there alone and I left and my girlfriend still wasn't there and I remember when we came home after what seemed like years after the funeral there was leftover macaroni and cheese in a pot uncovered in the refrigerator and honestly that bothered Lisa way more than seemed logical but what the hell did logic have to do with anything at that point and he'd just left that there in the refrigerator of these people he barely knows and who the fuck does that?

When Jeff died I called Lisa's parents in New York to tell them what happened. I called her dad at work because I wanted to talk to him before I talked to her. She was there for an audition. That day. So we decided not to tell her right away but make arrangements for her to fly to Sacramento after her audition to be with me. But let her do the audition before telling her. I still think that was the right thing to do, though she was pissed about it. She said we should have told her. She didn't get whatever she was auditioning for so maybe it wouldn't have mattered, but we didn't know that then, and we'd only been dating about a year and who knew we'd get married and have two amazing kids and it didn't seem right to disrupt the whole reason for her trip when there wasn't anything she could do except make plans to come home which we were doing for her.

A lot happened in the next few days. A funeral. Many, many people. More than we expected. More than would show up for my funeral. Jeff was an amazing person. He touched a lot of people. He'd been seriously dating a girl for a while and we listed her in the paper as his fiance. What the hell difference does it make now? Clearly they're not getting married. Listing her as "girlfriend" seemed strange, less than the truth. So we rounded her up. I think her parents were bugged by it but who cares. We created a custom headstone with a guitar on it that was supposed to look like his guitar which was all 90s metal. He loved Metallica. I still have that guitar. It's almost unplayable but I won't get rid of it.

I stayed home for a while - I'm not sure how long - before coming back to school in LA and going back to school. Most people at school knew what had happened and they were cool about it but those first few weeks back in LA were the strangest part of this whole thing. Because my world had a huge hole ripped in it but for everybody else it was the same world it had been a month ago. When we were home for the funeral everything was about Jeff and how awesome he was and how crazy and horrible it was that he was gone. And for me everything was still about that but it wasn't about that for anyone else. Except my girlfriend who was incredible and my close friends who were amazing about all of it. And really everyone was pretty great but there's no right way to be at that point. No right thing to say.

And it's been almost 14 years. Jeff was 18 when he died. The way time is speeding up (it is, you know), in a few blinks he will have been gone longer than he was here. That's crazy. I wanted this post to be not just about his death but about his life. But I guess what I needed to write about first was the end. And maybe that means there will be other posts about his life. I think there will be.

Today is his birthday. Jeffrey William Blanchard was born June 2, 1977 in our house on Hughes Road in Grass Valley, CA under a rainbow my father painted on the wall of our little eat-in kitchen. And today he'd have been 32. And I have no idea what he would have done or who he might have become, but it would have been awesome. I wish I could see it.

Happy birthday, little brother.


Monday, June 1, 2009

to my wife on our anniversary

Dearest Lisa,

We've been married seven years today.

Seven years ago we stood up at West End Collegiate Church in New York City and pledged our love for each other in front of everyone. And we didn't mention Jesus because I didn't want to and you said that was OK. And then we walked/floated out of the church to the theme from Star Wars on the pipe organ. That ruled.

Seven years has gone so fast. People talk about the seven-year itch, but we cleared that hurdle by living together seven years before the wedding. When we got the seven year itch, we got married.

We've flown by the seat of our pants much of the time. We've trusted the Force, Luke. We weren't sure we wanted kids. Then we decided we did. Owen was the most amazing thing that could ever be. He was incredible and we were happy and we weren't sure we wanted to have more. Then we decided we did. And Nicholas was also the most amazing thing that could ever be. And it shouldn't be possible for two things to be the most amazing anything, but they both are.

Now we look ahead. There will be new adventures. Uncharted territory. Not sure what, exactly, but things will change. They have, they do, and they will. And we'll do it together.

I'm so lucky.

You are my best friend. You're beautiful. You're fiercely loyal. You like almost all the stuff I like (except Twitter.)

You're a great listener. You're an amazing lay (sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Kable). You're an awesome mother to our kids.

We share things. We work together. I take the cans down to the street and you bring them back up. And it works.

I love you so much.

Happy anniversary, my love.

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