Celebrating independence with friends and explosives
The Fourth of July every year brings with it many great traditions: hot dogs, fireworks, partying to excess with friends and family. And every year I have partied with high school friends in a way that embraces all of these observances.
My high school friend Steve and his wife Paige put on a great 4th of July party that brings in friends from far and wide.
Steve is the center of our social circle among most of my Connecticut friends. When we were in high school, his mother’s house was our central meeting place, and Mrs. Q was a second mother to a lot of us. She is missed. Steve and Paige’s house has become a second home to many. They have helped many friends and relatives who have needed places to stay. Even friends with perfectly good homes of their own nearby wind up spending a lot of time at Steve and Paige’s house.
The day of the party, circumstances delayed our departure until after 2 p.m. Driving on I-95 in Connecticut is its own special hell, and a Saturday on a holiday weekend it was an infernal misery of traffic. A two-hour drive became a three-hour drive, and since our kids had already napped at home, they screamed and cried for much of that three-hour drive. When we finally pulled onto our friends’ property, it was after 5 p.m.
I didn’t have time to make the stop for fireworks like I normally do. The forecast called for rain.
Once we got there, it was great to be among friends again.
Steve is a very handy person. He turned his one-story house into a two-story home and constructed his own out-buildings to keep farm animals on his property. He got me into hunting, gave me good advice on how to move about the woods, and helped me field dress my first deer. He also introduced me to the works of Arthur Schopenhauer and we’ve debated both the immutably dark nature of human existence until the wee hours of the morning.
Steve and I were both financial journalists for a while. After being laid off and being without a regular job for a long time, Steve began working in shipbuilding by helping to renovate the historic Amistad. He has since began working on boats in Newport, Rhode Island. More than a year ago, he told me he could not go back to working behind a desk. At the party he said he hated having to be away from his family for so long for his job, but that he loves his job. He wakes up every morning and looks forward to going to work. It was something I had heard about but didn’t think I’d see.
A man who loves his job today is rare. I expected to see Bigfoot or get kidnapped by a UFO before one of my friends told me they loved going to work every day. Even though he loves to play the part of a curmudgeon, he looked sincerely happier than he’s been in the past. It was great to see and I can’t think of someone who deserves that more than Steve. He brings a lot of good thoughts and much-needed perspective to a lot of his friends. I know I’ve been better for having had long conversations with him and I’m far from alone.
He’s been writing a lot of good poetry lately as well and posting his poems online. He’s getting to see new things, and be inspired by his work with ships. “In so many ways, sailing is freedom like most of us can’t even understand.” He messaged me at one point.
A while into our time at the party, I found Steve sitting on a lawn chair in the back of his pickup truck. With him was our friend Jay. The two were perfectly content to sit with their beer there and observe the party from their perch. But they soon began to attract a crowd. Everyone wanted to stop by and enjoy the conversation. In between searching for and wrangling my children and stuffing my face with food, I discussed poetry with Steve.
We agreed that two men sitting in the back of a pickup truck was good fodder for a poem and we decided to each write a poem with this as the theme.
The party continued and despite my not being able to contribute to the supply of ordnance, there were still plenty of fireworks. My twin girls asked to be brought inside and skip the rest of the barrage after getting a bit too close to the pyrotechnics. Inside Jay was making his outstanding jambalaya, and we got a peek at the culinary genius at work.
We stayed late and got on the road for home after 11:30 p.m. Someday we’ll stay overnight in a tent on our friends’ lawn like my wife and I did before we had children.
It was a great way to celebrate Independence Day. The national politics evolves and devolves, and no matter your perspective, it’s easy to become discouraged. The strength of our country lies in the bonds we form with friends and neighbors, and at Steve and Paige’s house, a strong community thrives on its own.
Surviving One Year as a Parent
Just over a year ago I became the father of two beautiful and perfect twin girls. It’s been a great year and I look forward to many more as a Dad.
When I say my girls are perfect, please take that with a grain of salt. In theory no one who can’t speak any language fluently and soils themselves on a daily basis could be considered perfect. These girls are both unemployed and do not go to school. They waste food by throwing it on the floor or rubbing it into their hair. They rudely grab my wife’s breasts. If they were adults, they’d be the worst people in the world.
I marvel at the things my girls do, but if I wasn’t their father it would be pretty normal baby stuff. Just about every baby learns to walk and talk and makes cute sounds while they’re trying to form words. It’s a pretty normal part of life and not exciting unless it’s YOUR baby that’s doing it.
I try to keep in perspective that not all people have or want children and don’t really care about the details of my children’s lives. Endless child-rearing talk can get pretty old pretty fast even when you have kids. There are a lot of shitty parents out there, and you notice that even more when you become a parent yourself.
A lot of parents adopt a bullshit attitude that doesn’t take other adults seriously unless they’ve had children. I have made it a point not to fall into this trap. Being a parent can become a crutch and I’ve seen ignorant people push strollers around like they were some kind of moralistic steamroller. Way too many parents think that the fact that they’ve reproduced puts them on some higher moral plane.
Here, in no particular order of intensity, are five key things to expect when you become a parent:
You will get disgusting bodily fluids on you. When you set out to paint your house, you know you’re going to get paint on your clothes. When you go to do carpentry you know there will be sawdust on your shoes. You will get unpleasant bodily fluids on you when you are a parent. Just a few weeks ago I had one of my babies on my lap as we flew from New York City to Atlanta to visit relatives over the holidays. My daughter’s diaper sprung a leak, so I had large urine stains on the crotch of my pants
A baby’s cry will push you towards insanity. Do you like loud grating noises that you can’t stop waking you up at 3 a.m.? Then you’ll love this aspect of parenthood. Sometimes a baby will go on a crying tantrum and drone on in the loudest, most annoying crying possible. You will do everything for the baby and it will still cry. Something in the human psyche snaps when it’s subjected to loud, unstoppable noise. Your baby will cry uncontrollably at the worst possible times and push you to the brink of insanity. You will think dark thoughts and not act on them, and the baby will eventually stop crying.
To some extent you will join the parenting herd. If the 25-year-old-me could see the 42-year-old me, he’d be horrified that I do things like grocery shopping and give babies baths on weekends. I’ll sometimes talk parenting crap with other parents. I’ll even consider buying a minivan or SUV. No part of being a parent is immune from looking lame. You think you can remain an absolute badass through any situation? Sure champ, try looking edgy while carrying a Cabbage Patch kid across a crowded restaurant.
You will lose a lot of freedom but gain a measure of immortality. There are great times when someone suggests something at the last minute that leads to a fun outing or great adventure. That tends to stop happening when you have little mouths to feed. Those days when your wife or girlfriend suggested you go to the beach or to a movie and you just drop everything and go won’t be back for a few decades. The kind of sudden outings are gone for now, and your freedom is tremendously curtailed when you have kids. But, you have insured that a piece of you will live on after you. You have helped make another human being, another small version of yourself who has a whole lifetime of glory and possibilities ahead of them.
So enjoy the measure of immortality you achieve by having kids. It will be the most annoying yet the most joyful thing you will ever do. I understand it’s not for everyone, but I highly recommend it.
Making Babies for Fun and Posterity
It’s always been my philosophy to engage in any and all adventure within reason. I have gone skydiving, hiked mountain trails, traveled to foreign lands, acted in a play, started a punk rock band and even had a bit part in a movie.
The one adventure that still terrified the shit out of me was having kids, but I could put it off no longer.
I once held the idea that having kids was a disastrous act reserved for spoiled suburbanites, entitled ghetto-dwellers, or saps too stupid to use birth control. I thought the human race was a doomed enterprise and the sooner the planet was turned back over to the hump-backed whales, baboons, tapirs and sloths, the better.
But circumstances blessed me in semi-adulthood with much younger siblings and I found my tolerance for dealing with children. When I was an underemployed bum living in my father and stepmother’s basement at the age of 24, playing with my stepbrothers and dancing to Johnny Cash songs with my young sister were among life’s few joys.
Over the years many of my friends have married and had children and I have watched people I once saw launch fireworks indoors or drink a jug of Southern Comfort at 10 in the morning suddenly in charge of small human lives and doing a good job of it.
Plenty of people with experience told me never to get married, but everyone I know who has had kids, no matter what misery has befallen them since, recommends having kids with the highest of praise and encouragement.
It’s a natural instinct. Everyone with a soul has the need to leave something behind in this world as a monument to the fact that they have lived. Few of us will wield the influence that will make our names live after for many years. History only has room for so many Caesars, Michaelangelos and Einsteins. But if we have kids, we’ve guaranteed at least a small piece of us will live on. We have made our mark in the world in some small way and shown we are secure enough in our personal survival to make more of our own kind. Of course part of this is ego-driven. I happen to think I’m a good person and that the world could use more people like my wife and me.
So it was with gusto and success that my wife and I set about to conceive. We soon learned that we were having twins and that they would both be girls. We debated names and set about preparing for their arrival.
Nine months passed by quickly, and it was soon time to deliver the goods to a phalanx of family and friends. With great patience and perseverance, my wife brought two beautiful baby girls into the world. They are perfect and destined for great things. If they are anything like me and my brother, they will fight like hell spawn for the first eighteen years of their lives.
So far my brief foray into the adventure of fatherhood has been all it was promised. I have a deep and abiding love for many of my family and friends, but if any of them crapped their pants while they were visiting me, they would be taking that all with them. True parental love is getting human feces on your hands and somehow not minding.
Living in New York City, raising children will be a difficult task. The cost of living is very high, waiting lists for good schools are long; there are dangers everywhere. The city is not designed for the modern conveniences of child-rearing. The streets, sidewalks and shops are too narrow for double-wide strollers, car seats, and screaming toddlers.
We have vowed not to become the worst of what I have seen in child-bearing among the many strangers I encounter in the Big Apple. A lot of people think that because they have reproduced that their lives are somehow more thrilling or important than others. The parents who have thrived in some of the “upwardly mobile” areas of the city have made their neighborhoods by-words for some the worst kind of overindulgent rot the human race has seen since the fall of Rome. I promise on my life and on the blood of my children that I will not become such an effete, self-satisfied, latte-breathed snob that are overrunning parts of Brooklyn and even Queens now. If that happens, I hope someone runs me down with a hijacked city bus.
There are many scary events on the horizon. These kids will get sick; they will say embarrassing things in public. They will refuse to eat their vegetables and maybe set fire to the cat. Eventually they will start dating, go to college and ask us to pay.
I don’t want to think about these terrifying things. I’ll save some money and make all the preparations I can, but this is the greatest and most consequential endeavor of all. There is little one can really coherently do but embrace parenthood as another great adventure. It’s the adventure where the stakes are the absolute highest and that you will never feel really prepared for.
Wish us luck.