Tuesday, August 30, 2005


In Which I Have Promises To Keep...

While Thomas walked to the bus with his friends Monday morning, the air was still ringing with my earlier promise to meet him at his stop at 4:25 that afternoon. All of a sudden, the day seemed to have an ominous feel to it. I tried to ignore it as I got Her Lovely Self more or less upright and into the car for the trip to the clinic. I also had to hustle the Brownie along, since she is a terrible dawdler in the morning. As Thomas rode off to school, we got to the clinic and the Brownie and I waited while HLS saw the doctor.

She was in there a long time, and at length the Brownie wanted to explore the rest of the clinic, which is in a huge office complex. So we wandered around and had to make a potty break and visited all the stuffed animals in the gift shop and totally lost track of time. By the time we got back to the waiting room, HLS was slumped halfway in a chair, clutching a prescription for antibiotics for her strep throat. "Where were you?" she asked hoarsely. "I wanted to come find you but I was too tired." At this point, I felt so much like shit, I'm fairly sure I was taking on the appearance of a large, ambulatory turd.

I got her home and set up the Brownie with about 5 hours worth of Tom and Jerry and Disney Princess DVDs, which I was loathe to do. For months we've been trying to get the Brownie not to be such a TV-aholic, but here I was now encouraging the behavior.

On top of that, I put the dog out in the back yard on a runner. There was no way HLS was well enough to walk him. The problem there is Blaze was abandoned by his first family. They left him tied up. In the back yard. All alone. He HATES to be alone in the back yard. Howls a blue streak, which really endears me to the neighbors, let me tell you. But as I may have intimated, I had no other choice. I had to go to work, HLS was too sick to do anything else, and every mom I could have asked to watch the Brownie or the dog was either out of town or otherwise unavailable when I called.

Feeling like just the worst father and husband, I guiltily slunk off to work for the shortest, most intense three hours of my life.

True to form, I got stuck making a thousand niggling little formatting changes to my last story when I glanced at the clock and saw that I was already late. Would nothing go right for me today? I whizzed through the last of the changes and hustled out to the car.

(Which itself was a disaster, by the way. In an effort to keep the kids from making too much noise, we had spent a good chunk of Saturday cleaning out my car. Of course, with a 6- and a 4-year-old assisting, the task is a bit like trying to bail out the ocean. As fast as I emptied the car of assorted detritus, my kids managed to fill it up with an assortment of action figures, art supplies and various costumes (the kids love to dress up).

As I sat in my rolling toy box, I realized I had two options to get home: take the expressway, which is usually jammed at rush hour but definitely the quickest route home when it's not. Or I could take a series of surface streets, state highways and causeways, which was quicker sometimes, but only if you caught all the lights. Given that it wasn't rush hour yet, I opted for the expressway.

Well, I probably don't have to tell you that I almost immediately regretted my choice, because about two minutes after I was irretrievably committed to the expressway, I rounded a bend and found cars lined up to the horizon. Naturally, this was the day the construction crews decided to close off a lane or two to finish up some late summer work. I hopped and swore in my seat so violently, my car shook.

My dad often says "God loves to make a man break his promises." And here I was, blowing it. I was going to be late. I was going to miss my son at the bus stop.

I know it sounds like an insignificant thing and many of you may think I'm making a big deal of it. After all, it's not like I promised to take him to Disneyworld and then made him wait all day on the curb, only to blow him off. And it's not like I could help traffic. But still, it gnawed at me. I had promised to be there. I gave him my word. Now I was going to be the dad whose word was no good, who made him get off the bus and stare around with a look of bewildered hurt on his face, wondering where I was. Of course, he'd get home just fine. But he wouldn't be fine. He'd remember. I'd drop a notch. After behaving so atrociously over the weekend, I was going to make it worse now by letting him down. If he couldn't count on me for the little things like meeting him at a bus stop, how would he ever trust me to be there for the big things?

I tell you this so you can understand how I might have worked myself up to do what came next.

As we crept along, as the hour grew later, as my desperation grew larger, I took note of the large construction site off to my left. They were putting in a new exit ramp to one of those state highways I mentioned earlier, and the ramp was mostly finished. Finished enough, in fact, that as the current crew came off shift, I saw that they were all getting in their personal vehicles and making use of the exit. One of those vehicles was a Subaru wagon just like mine. When I realized that, a wild plan hatched in my mind.

I reached behind me and began rummaging blindly through the assorted toys and junk my kids had deposited in the car. I started pulling bits of costumes over into the front seat. Fireman's jacket? Not what I wanted. Feathery princess boa? No again. Tool belt full of play tools? Ah, we were getting closer. And then I found it: the child-sized construction worker's hard-hat.

Up ahead, there was a gap in the concrete apron that separated my creeping lane of traffic from the construction site. The opening was right below the sign reading AUTHORIZED VEHICLES ONLY. Already, I had seen one construction worker pull in there in his car. And how did I know he was a construction worker?

Why, he was wearing his hard-hat.

Now I probably didn't need it. I probably could have gotten away with it on my own merit. One trick worth learning early in journalism is the ability to look like you have every reason in the world to be somewhere you're not. Nine out of 10 times, if you just walk (or drive) and look straight ahead with purpose, you can bluff your way past many of the gatekeepers of this world.

But in this instance, I felt I needed a little help. And so, as I reached the opening in the apron, I jammed the tiny yellow toy hard-hat onto my head (it really didn't fit, so I had to angle it forward. I'm sure it looked retardedly rakish) and pulled into the construction site, falling in line behind a truck and a sport-utility vehicle that were rumbling across the gravel, heading for the exit.

Where the gravel turned to concrete underlayer and marked the start of the incline of the exit ramp, I noted a man standing nearby, casually waving or nodding to the cars as he went. Probably a foreman. Crap. I scrabbled for my bag and pulled out my cell phone. Making like it was a walkie-talkie, I held it to my mouth and began talking to myself. As I rolled past, the foreman nodded at me, then seemed to give me a harder look. Maybe he realized I wasn't on his crew.

Or maybe he just wondered why one of his crew would be wearing a hard-hat bearing a Bob the Builder logo.

Regardless, I stared straight ahead, having a heated imaginary conversation with my cell phone. I hit the ramp and accelerated onto the state highway, which was almost utterly devoid of traffic. After a few stoplights, I hit a long stretch that ran parallel to the newer expressway (still backed up for miles) and I gunned it.

I wouldn't like you to think I am an incautious person on the road, gentle reader, but that afternoon, I did put myself in the less prudent category of driver. In a city of any size, you will always get those who observe posted speed limits and those who slalom between cars at a speed that could charitably be called foolhardy. Usually, the drivers who pilot their cars in this manner have vehicles of a certain type. BMW sports sedans. Zippy convertibles. You know the kind I mean. And into this fast-moving school of motorized fish came me in my Subaru. The brochures call it a "sport utility wagon" but let's face it: it's a goddamn station wagon. The engine whined in protest as I tried to keep pace with the faster traffic element.

The whole time, I kept thinking I might make it. I might make it.

Eventually, I reached the exit for the long boulevard that leads to my nondescript suburban development. I accelerated through a yellow light and found myself literally in the home stretch. It was 4:17. As I remembered to finally remove my jaunty Bob the Builder hat, I thought, I'm gonna make it.

And now a logistical point: When my son's school lets out, a squadron of buses heads for my neighborhood. My son's is usually the first or second bus to reach the confines of my particular development. The other buses bank away to assorted side streets and neighboring developments.

But two buses, I discovered to my horror, stopped right on the boulevard to let kids out. One of these buses was about 10 cars in front of me. The other was coming towards me in the opposite lane.

Traffic on both sides came to halt, as of course they must by law. And then about a block later, the bus in my lane did it again. Each time, it disgorged more children than it seemed could physically fit on the bus. It was agony. Traffic was getting hopelessly snarled with the stop-and-go of it. Then a light injudiciously changed far down at a busy five-point intersection and we all sat there to await the glacial changing of the lights.

I looked at my watch: 4:21! So close but yet so far! On my right, there it was: my development, but the road to it was almost a quarter-mile down. There were no shortcuts. To keep traffic to a minimum, there was only the one access road.

I was not going to make it.

Already in my mind's eye, I could see Thomas' bus in the development, dropping off all his friends on the north side of the street, before proceeding across to the corner where he'd be let out. It was foolish to hope they'd be late. Those bus drivers are always on time. They're like my brother's colon. You could set your watch by them.

I fumed miserably, impotently. I had come so close. I had violated speeding laws to get here. My God, I had worn a toy hard-hat onto a working construction site to get here! And now I was going to fail after all, almost literally within sight of my goal. For in the distance, I could see the distinctive crooked evergreen that marked the far corner of the backyard of my house. As the crow flew, there were really only about five or six houses between where I sat on the boulevard and where my house was, just a hundred or so feet from the bus stop.

And then I realized there was a shortcut after all.

"Fuck it," I said. In full view of a sign reading NO STOPPING OR PARKING. VIOLATORS WILL BE TOWED, I clicked on the hazard lights and pulled off the road, up onto the curb, slightly up the grassy embankment, until my car was off the road by at least a foot. It was 4:22. I jumped out, locked the doors, and bolted through a stand of trees into my neighborhood. And into someone's backyard.

I ran, baby. I ran as though my craziest ex-girlfriend was chasing me. I ran as though legs were going to be outlawed tomorrow.

Ours is one of those unfortunate cookie-cutter developments. All the lots are uniform size. The houses pretty much all look alike. And intent though I was on meeting the bus, I happened to notice that all the backyards look alike too. Every one of them has the little stand of trees marked by stones. Every one of them has a jungle gym or play fort for the kids. Every one has a back deck.

To be sure, there are some differences. For example, did you know one of my distant neighbors has a fence covered with thorny raspberry vines? Neither did I, until I buffed my underside with them as I leapt the fence and sprinted through his backyard. And the neighbor next to him has a fence that is just a little higher than the previous fence. Thus when I went over it, my trailing foot caught it. I didn't fall. Instead, I did one of those ungainly maneuvers where my legs splayed in a graceless leap before my feet hit the ground heavily, while my arms pinwheeled for balance the whole time. To the surprised couple sitting on their back deck, I must have looked like I was about to lead them in a cheer.

The next fence was higher still and I didn't even try to vault it. Instead I threw a leg over it as though I was mounting a horse. I lost momentum then and found myself stuck, balanced for a painful moment on the fulcrum of my pubic bone, before rolling to the other side and landing in a tangle of tomatoes. In a second I was back up and over the patch and into another yard. And another.

My heart leapt as I reach the next yard. Here I could cut between houses and get to the sidewalk leading to the bus stop. I didn't dare look at my watch. I bolted into the yard. Straight ahead of me was yet another play fort. But this time, I spied a little girl sitting beneath it, her back to me. She couldn't have been older than 4 and there appeared to be no adult in sight.

Unbelievable, I thought, as I raced across the yard towards her. I could be some crazed child abductor right now and she would--

But we'll never know what she would or would not have been, because at that moment, a furry torpedo flew out from under the back deck. I had just enough time to register the dark blur and a kind of guttural chuffing noise.

Then it clobbered me.

I haven't been hit so hard since my brother convinced me to play football with him. Whatever it was, it was heavy and dense, like a sandbag with legs. It hit me in the backs of my knees, knocking me to the ground. Did I say knock? I went sprawling forward, hands, elbows and knees digging into the grass. Then I felt a weight digging into my rear end, something clawing my lower back, pushing me down. My face hit the turf and then I was like a human combine, gathering grass into my mouth.

The guttural chuffing became an excited growl. Instinctively, I curled into the fetal position, covering my neck with my hands. But as suddenly as it happened, the attack stopped and I heard an all-too-familiar panting sound.

It was, of course, my dog who had creamed me. I was, at that moment, dashing through my very own backyard.

The look on the dog's face was all too familiar. It was the o-o-h-h-h-h-h-h shit look. I wore that very same look the day I vomited in my boss's office, years ago at my first job. But I didn't have time to be mad (and later, when I did have time, I wasn't. He was just reacting instinctively to the deranged man pelting through his yard).

While the Brownie and Blaze exchanged bewildered looks, I noticed Her Lovely Self for the first time, curled up in a hammock under a stand of trees. She stared at me with glazed eyes, her mouth forming the word "What--?" But I didn't stop to hold a press conference. I staggered to my feet, bolted up between the houses, and hit the sidewalk sprinting.

A hundred feet ahead of me, a bus was just pulling to the curb.

I glanced at my watch just in time to see the numbers wink from 4:25 to 4:26.

I came to a gasping halt behind several mothers, two of whom looked at me with frank alarm, as if they had never seen a grown man soaked with sweat, shirt half untucked, grass staining his elbows and knees (and also, incidentally, stuck to his face).

The seventh child off the bus was my son. He scanned the little crowd for a second, then caught my eye. He ran over.

"Hi Dad," he said laconically.

"Hi (gasp) buddy (gasp). How (pant gasp) was school (pant gasp wheeze)?"

And we staggered back down the street to the house, talking about his day. Well, actually he did most of the talking, while I did most of the staggering.

I can't say my mad rush to meet the bus really made any impression on him. Nor could I fairly say that it did anything to make me a better dad, so much as a lucky one. And I can't say what the moral to this story is, if there even is one.

But I do know this: Some days you make the promise, and some days the promise makes you.

I also know one other thing: In my city, it only takes 10 minutes to get your car towed.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

Someday, somewhere, Thomsas will make the same mad dash for one of his children.

He won't know why.

He'll just DO IT.

And as he is wiping the grass off of his face, and calling the impound lot to retrieve his car, the memory of the day that Daddy Met The Bus will flash through his mind...

You are a Good Egg, AND a Good Daddy.

T. :)
sorry to hear about the car... that sucks... but you made it to meet your son!!! that is all that matters
Very entertaining post, MM. Although you think it wasn't that big of a promise, you did keep your word, and it probably WOULD have been a big deal to Thomas if you weren't there. Hope getting your car back didn't cost a fortune.
You should take the "tow money" out of his allowance.

Just kidding.

Great Story. I wonder if all of your neighbors think you're crazy now?
Why can I imagine you running through the backyards of Las Vegas houses? Oh, because they're cookie-cutter as well. :)

Good job on keeping your word, even if you DID had to play Bob the Builder for a bit. :D

Ahhhh, the things we do for our children. Keep this post somewhere safe. When Thomas is 16 and yelling at you that you don't love him (as all teenagers do at least once) you can show this to him. Sorry about the car. You need to keep a camera like Shane in your car, then you could have Vlog'd the whole Bob the Builder hard hat scene. Now THAT would have been funny!
I'm so envious of your story telling abilities. What a great dad. ArtLad, Brownie and HLS are very fortunate.

Don't the kids also have a tow truck costume or police uniform to borrow so you can get your car out of impound?
Never commented here before, but this was so amusing that I had to say something. :-D The hard hat scenario...priceless. Absolutely hilarious!
Add it to the sidebar MM, this is an instant classic. I bow to your storytelling genius!
Unbelievable, beautiful, heroic, HILARIOUS.

Shane's right. Sidebar! Stat!
As usual, worth the cliffhanger ;)
I don't know many Dads that would have stuck with it so long...you go to great lengths for those kids. I can't wait to hear the epilogue though. What was the dinner conversation with HLS like?
I realized halfway through the story that I was literally HUGGING my beer bottle againt the side of my face. Great ride.

And I, too echo the cries of "Sidebar! Sidebar!!"
I am on my out of the house and I just had to stop by and read what you have posted today.

I knew it.

Funny as hell ... and you are definately one good runner.

I hope the tow fine was not too steep ... :)
In which I laugh my ass off. ;)

You're stories are great, MM.
You have GOT to be kidding!!! How do you manage to have such exciting stories practically every day?! Maybe they are just boring stories, but you make them exciting. All wannabe writers could learn a great deal from you.

"Nine out of 10 times, if you just walk (or drive) and look straight ahead with purpose, you can bluff your way past many of the gatekeepers of this world.

So true, so true. You can do practically anything just by looking confident, even if you are shaking inside.

Oh, and "retardly rakish" had me ROTFLMAO :)
Scuse me while I pick my ass up off the floor.

Gawd! Very, very funny. HLS prolly thought she was hallucinating seeing you leap over the fence...

At least I have learned not to be eating or drinking anything while reading here...it would have been a hell of a mess this morning....

Another vote for sidebar worthy. Instead of a vomit rating, you need a "coffee aspiration" rating.
See MM? Sharfa agrees. You need to get that coffee icon you were talking about.
that last part had me seeing Matthew Broderick's mad dash at the end of Ferris Buellor, but much, much funnier!

agreed, must go to the sidebar
Somehow I am immensely pleased with the image of the car's backseat containing a fireman's costume and a feather princess boa.

It makes me wonder am I living the good life. Shouldn't every car have a feather princess boa in the back? (:

Good story.
That's a really heart warming story. Sorry bout the car though.
Haven't been able to read the whole story yet (must get back to work), but I suggest you teach your son a new word: instead of using a word such as "promise" (as in "I promise to get home by 4:25"), try "insha'allah" (if God wills) as in "Insha'allah, I'll get home by 4:25." :)
MM, I thought your story was extremely heartwarming. As one who never really had a Dad I think your aces. Your obvious concern for your sons feelings makes you a great Dad and a good person. Rock on buddy!
If you dont have a t-shirt that says Super Dad on it and a red cape, you need one. That story wins the prize.

By the by- where you been? Strep get you? Hope not. The past two days with no new story has been sad for me. Yes, its all about me:) I like to laugh and you and your stories are always right on time.
You know, I have always been a strong proponant of the "act like you belong there" school of intrusion theory. I'm gratified to see my theory held up, yet again.

Great story dude. You really should write a book.
i linked here through Art Lad's blog - i kept wanting to scroll down to the end but i knew the rest of the story would be too great to miss. will have to come visit your blog again.
This was fantastic. I about died. When I got to the part with the construction area, I knew what was going to happen (essentially), and I gasped aloud, "No. He didn't!" (The rest of the story was punctuated by "Oh my God!"s.)

I'm glad you were able to keep your promise.
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