Tuesday, May 26, 2009

 

In Which We Do the Math...

[Operational note: If you're reading this, it seems I have successfully used the vastly complicated Blogger option and post-dated my, er, post. It's still the weekend for me, but it should be some time Tuesday for you. This pleases me strangely, especially since I am somewhere on the road now and not in a position to update the blog.

Why am I telling you this? No idea, except it's late and I'm punchy and I couldn't think of a better way to generate a scintilla of suspense about my encounter with the suspected young perverts lurking around my house, spying on my daughter and her friends while they imprudently performed a few backyard acrobatics that was causing them to flash a little more skin than a Daddy like myself would prefer.]



It's a little sad to admit, but one of the unfortunate features of being a father of girls is that I seem to have developed this distressingly overtuned pervert detector--it's a standard feature of my overall array of Daddy Senses, but easily the feature that gives me the most pause. I'm a bit like Blaze in this regard, scowling at every passing male from age 5 (okay, 4) on up, using my vast psychic powers to peel away their defenses and sniff out the slightest trace of unwelcome interest in my daughters. I analyze the merest wave of the man walking his dog (did I see a hidden salacious hand gesture in that salute he just sketched to the Eclair?), or the briefest glance and nod from a deliveryman (did he hold the Brownie's gaze for longer than my personally defined standard of one-quarter to one-half of one second?). It's an awesome and terrible responsibility, this pervert detector, because if that detector trips--it hasn't, but if it does--if the light in my tiny brain goes from green to red, someone will die.

I know I'm given to hyperbole--it's a genetic condition--but on this point I am being my least dramatic, most matter-of-fact, and completely literal. It almost goes without saying that I would kill for my daughters, and since I am not a physically prepossessing fellow, I know I would instantly use every tool at my disposal, from the teeth in my head (having a nose or ear bitten off is a reliable diverter to many perverts) to the very life in my body. It's a simple equation, the Pervert Equation: In a situation where I must solve for any Pervert, I am prepared to die. Since I am already prepared to die, you had better believe I am prepared to make any Pervert die along with me (as a busy guy, I like to express this in my head as a simple formula--P/Dy=D1+D2, where P is the presence of a Pervert, and D1 is my...you know what? Never mind. I know it makes no sense mathematically. But then, neither do I).

I wouldn't say the above was running through my head--not in any sensible way--as I surfed down the stairs on my heels, ready to intercept the little perverts I sensed were spying on my daughter and her friends. But obviously I realized there was a problem with my equation (beyond the obvious fantasy math it represents), and I caught myself. I couldn't just go tearing after those boys. I had no idea who they were, but they must live in the neighborhood (little perverts in my neighborhood!) and I was on the neighborhood watch, for Pete's sake. I had to think this through. I had to measure out a proportionate response to the situation. Aside from anything else, I didn't want to be the reason two kids in the neighborhood would henceforth go by the nicknames Noseless and One-Ear.

Oh, fuck that. At least put the fear of God in them! I thought.

But first, I decided, I needed the element of surprise. I stepped out of my shoes and tiptoed down the hallway to our kitchen, looking for Blaze (the Brownie may have dismissed him as fat and stinky and useless, but Blaze was still my first stop when it came to Fear of God. Also, in my experience, dogs can get away with biting body parts off people far more easily than daddies). But Blaze's kennel was open and empty.

"Thomas?" I hissed. I had just heard him around the kitchen--he'd been haunting the freaking kitchen every afternoon for days, sneaking Blaze treats. But no one, it seemed, was in the house but me. I stood there for a moment, silent, letting the Daddy Sense reach out through the back wall of the house to see what it could see.

A quick layout note: The downstairs on this side of the house is one open space: kitchen flows to eat-in area to family room. Just before the family room, there's a back door onto a raised wooden porch, with an outside stairway that descends quickly from view. I noticed now that the glass door was wide open, the screen door left slightly open too. Instinctively, I leaned over and silently closed the glass door--I could imagine Her Lovely Self returning (from wherever she was with the Éclair) and complaining about bugs getting in. As I backed away from the door, I looked through and noticed the very top post of the porch stairwell was vibrating. Someone, just beyond my vision, was on the stairs leading down from the back porch to the backyard. My money was on Thomas. And I had to assume the dog was with him.

Maybe Thomas IS playing some kind of hide and seek with his friends, I thought.

But then I remembered something the Brownie had said to me in a huff, back on her birthday. "Kids can do a lot if grown-ups would just go away and let them!" she had said. Granted, that was her way of declaring a little independence, but all of a sudden, it occurred to me it might apply here. What if Thomas, knowing his Dad was spending a lot more time in the basement working, decided to take Blaze and handle a situation that his father had clearly been oblivious to? If that was true, what I really needed to do was not put in an appearance (not yet, anyway), but to disappear. Like, right now!

Which explains why, a moment later, if you'd had X-ray vision, or a Daddy Sense of your own, you'd have perceived me, a 40-year-old man, in his own house, in broad daylight, dropping to the floor and crawling on his belly across his own family room rug, just like when he was 10 and playing soldiers with his brother.

Except, man! Who knew that those intervening three decades would make crawling so exhausting? It took me whole minutes to reach my destination--which were the picture windows in the family room, the ones that look out on the back yard--or at least out into the lush spring foliage of the backyard. I had just opened these windows. Curtains were swirling in the breeze. The girlish giggling and screaming wafted in. I couldn't see the girls--this time of year, there's only one window that affords a view of the swingset. The rest are obscured by shade and bushes.

Even over my exertions, even over the sounds of my own heartbeat in my ears and my own surprisingly extravagant grunting, I could hear the creak of sneakered feet on the wooden stairs outside and below me as I passed by the first of the open windows. At almost the same time, I heard from the opposite side a rustling of bushes and the sounds of two--no, it was three--boys breathing hard from their run around the front of the house. I held my breath, which my middle-age body took as an invitation to have a stroke. Blood pulsed in my ears as I waited for the moment of truth. Were we all playing soldiers together, us boys, all hiding behind the bushes (and/or family-room curtains) or was something else going on?

From just below the open window on the left, I heard Thomas, his voice normal, but perhaps a little breathless.

"You been sneaking around here all week, watching my sister," he said evenly.

"So?" I heard one boy answer challengingly from below the open window on the right. His voice seemed very loud to me--I couldn't believe the girls couldn't hear this (although to be fair, they keep up a pretty consistent racket of laughing and jabbering, which would effectively tune out all but a tornado siren). I didn't recognize the boy's voice--he sounded big (I imagined a gross fat-ass). Certainly bigger than Thomas. I waited for my son to respond, probably in a raised, slightly squeaky voice, as he gets when he gets excited.

Instead, he dropped his voice to a low, rumbling whisper. "So get the hell out," Thomas said.

Whoa! I thought, feeling the hairs rise on my neck and arms. I tell you, radio really is the theater of the imagination. Not seeing Thomas's face, just hearing this Dark Knight/Dirty Harry rasp, I suddenly wondered what kind of secret math he had running in his head for this situation. But mostly, I found myself in a state of utter shock and disbelief. Is that little Art Lad? Is that my son talking? I thought.

And almost immediately, a certain voice in my head answered back, No, ass wipe. That's a Big Brother talking.

Now, I waited for Fat-Ass to reply to Dark Lad's command but a new voice--a grating but pipsqueaky one--fired back and this was one voice I thought I did recognize.

"You gonna make us?" Pipsqueak yapped.

"Three on one," Fat-Ass added (with, I imagined, a sneer).

Ordinarily, I'd have simply been dismayed at this pronouncement, since it meant that Thomas had no doggy backup with him, that he was taking on the perverts solo. But my overarching emotional response was indignation at the very cheek of this implied threat to my son. My mouth dropped open (which was unfortunate, as I was on the floor and promptly swallowed a mouthful of lint and random floating dog hair). Suppressing a cough, I focused instead on my annoyance at this impertinence. You little (or possibly big) fat-assed shit! I thought. Trespassing on MY property, spying on MY daughter, threatening MY son? That's it!

I started to get to my knees, preparing to manifest my Dad-ness in its most awful aspect. I imagined myself looming up above them there in the open window, striking wholly justified fear in the hearts of little pervert boys everywhere. I just hoped I could do it before Thomas backed down and lost face. But I had barely raised my ass six inches off the floor when that low, rumbling whisper answered right back.

"Oh yeah?" The Dark Thomas rasped. "Look behind me."

(I couldn't help it--I looked behind me.)

At the same time, I heard Thomas clap once, hard, then yell, "Now!"

And nothing happened.

"Look at what?" The Fat-Ass asked.

Thomas' cool whisper was gone. "Now!" he said, a little louder. And I knew whatever he'd had up his sleeve, it wasn't happening. I raised my ass from the floor again.

Just as I was about to really manifest my Dad-ness in its most awful aspect, something hit me hard in the back of the head. It felt like somebody was driving darning needles into the back of my neck. My head shot helplessly forward, my brow buffing the window ledge. More darning needles in my mid-back and something very heavy landed on me.

Something fat and stinky.

I had just enough clarity for one thought to register (Wow, the sound of a window screen being punched out and the sound of a punted football are weirdly similar) and then there followed a loud clatter and much incidental noise. Such as boys screaming.

I finally got up for a look, no easy task when you first have to shift a large, hairy ass off your shoulders, and back your head out from between the two legs in the house you would least want to have straddling your head.

Fat, stinky, brave, wonderful Blaze had totally stolen my thunder. He stood, front paws and stocky chest halfway out the open window, barking his head off--and also the heads of the stunned boys. The third boy had vanished utterly, leaving me with no verbal or visual impression of him. Thomas reported later that he was just the little kiddo from three doors down, who tends to tag along and do whatever any Big Boys are doing. Fat-Ass's three-on-one scenario was pure bluster.

Speaking of, turns out I had imagined Fat-Ass accurately (if disturbingly older--12 or possibly 13--than I expected), although I had reckoned without the extreme pleasure of seeing him laying flat in the bushes, a bent window screen covering his face, his mouth open and blubbering as he stared up at Blaze, the wild, hairy, curled snout, the bared teeth, raining flecks of foamy spittle down on him. Pipsqueak was exactly who I thought he was--a kid from way down the street and around the corner. And I suddenly guessed that Fat-Ass was his older, seldom-seen brother. Who I gathered--judging from the way he teased and harangued her at the bus stop in the morning--had a thing for Kay, the 12-year-old neighbor girl who tended to shadow her young sister Bee, one the Brownie's girlfriends, all of whom were over at the swingset just a few yards away.

In fact, here came Kay now to see what the commotion was. I noticed instantly that she was wearing a peachy-colored tank top--the sort of color that a Dad (a Dad who couldn't look away fast enough) would have mistaken for flesh from a distance. What's more, it was smartly--and securely--tucked into the waistband of her shorts, so clearly she had not been exposing any skin to any perverts in training. Blaze stopped barking instantly and whined in a friendly way. He adores Kay, and really, all children in the neighborhood (from my vantage, I could see his tail was wagging even as he barked at the boys).

Kay's attention was instantly drawn to Fat-Ass. "What are you doing here?" she said, annoyed. At the sound of her voice, Blaze yipped and tried to wriggle out of the window to get to her.

Fat-Ass got up, brushing the screen away. He was red as a beet and couldn't look at Kay. Instead, he looked up at Blaze, then at Thomas. "That dog's not mean," he said, in a jeering way. "He's just a fat old--"

Thomas clapped, loud, and shouted "Now!" and next to me, Blaze snapped to instantly, a low growl of anticipation in his throat (Fat-Ass jumped five feet straight backward). Smiling now, Thomas fished in his pocket and pulled out a small nugget of food--a piece of beef jerky--and tossed it up towards us. Except for one instance when he bit a bird's head off in mid-flight, Blaze has almost never displayed any talent for catching food in midair, so you can imagine my surprise when he stretched his neck out and, with a dramatic snap and click of his jaws, caught the jerky.

(And I, jerk that I am, finally realized what Thomas had been training Blaze to do with all that roast beef the past several days, prepping his canine backup to take down the little pervs. And I had almost ruined it all by closing the back door! Clearly, I deserved to have my head straddled by a dog's ass.)

I had a brief word with Kay, begging her, as a favor to me, to suggest that the younger girls tuck their shirts in before they invert themselves on my swingset (it seemed the prudent way to pass this information to the Brownie, who wouldn't have appreciated it coming from me). Then, you better believe I escorted Fat-Ass and his brother off the premises, and all the way down to their house, where their father was wondering where his kids had got to. I had a genial but emphatic Dad-to-Dad chat that cogently outlined the dangers of trespass and voyeurism (intended or not) on my property. Then, leaving the boys to their just desserts, I returned to my boys back at the house.

When I walked in the door, Thomas was striving mightily to fit the bent screen back into the window. Blaze sat nearby, tail wagging, whining encouragement. I almost reached in to take the screen from my son, then stopped. "You almost have it," I said. "Just kind of push that one crimp back--there you go! Now pull that holding pin and it'll snap back in." And of course it did.

Thomas stood back, surveying his handiwork. Blaze looked from him back to me, with an expression that seemed to say, "Well, guys, what shall we do next?" Or maybe he was just doing his own math and wondering if the answer would be more roast beef.

"You did good," I said to Thomas, clapping him on the back. "You're a really good Big Brother. I'm sorry I yelled at you when you were trying to train Blaze to back you up. I can't believe you taught him to catch food in the air."

"I've been training him to do a lot!" Thomas said, pleased as anything. "I even--"

But just then, we were interrupted by an aggrieved cry.

"Thomas!" the Brownie shrilled. "Are you still over by the window? You and those boys get OUT!"

Thomas gaped at me, his face expressing the Injustice of the World and Little Sisters. "She's been blabbing at me since you left. I've just about--"

"Tho-MAS! Are you still over there! Go AWAY! Mom! Dad! MOM!! DAD!!"

Clearly at the end of his rope, Thomas was about to yell something back, when I put a hand on his arm. "I got this. You go take the rest of the afternoon off."

I stepped to the family room window--the one that afforded a view of the swingset. The Brownie saw me and, apparently forgetting that she was an independent woman of eight who can do a lot if grown-ups would just go away and let them, began tattling.

"Thomas and some boys were watching us!!" she screamed. "He-"

"I know," I cut across her, manifesting my Dad-ness, at least enough to get the attention of her and her friends. "I know he was watching you," I said. Then I added, "We're all watching you." And before the Brownie could open her mouth again, I turned and walked away.

Which I think is how it has to be some times: A guy--be he a Dad, a dog, or a Big Brother--just has to do his job, without explanation, self-recrimination, or second-guessing. And yes, sometimes even in the face of scorn from someone he loves. I'd like to think that, on some level, the Brownie understood that.

Although...now that I look back on it, since I didn't really explain what I meant when I said "We're all watching you," the Brownie's girlfriends must have thought I was one creepy bastard.

Yours,
From Somewhere on the Masthead


Comments:
Oh, I love this! Makes me want to give my big brother a big hug. Or at least a nice handshake (cooties, ya know.)
 
Fantastic! Even though I guessed what Thomas had been/was planning, I so enjoyed your telling of it. Give Blaze another piece of beef Jerky; good dog!

You raised your son right too.
Jane
 
That was wonderfful.. I am supervising an exam as I read, and trying to muffle the giggles..
Well done - your son is a credit to you - and as a vet, I approve of the dog training!
:)
 
fantastic! seems like thomas is taking after his dad, which must make you proud in so many ways.
 
Way to go, Thomas!
 
Wow, nice resolution! I didn't know what was going to happen at the end of the last episode but I'm glad the boys got sent packing and their parents were notified.
 
Damn, your boy is smart. That's some epic-heroism, there.
 
yeah.
Big bro's never get the appreciation they deserves.

But I like blaze much more now.
 
Bravo, to you (for writing) to Thomas (for guts) and to Blaze (for being his usual highly-entertaining self)!

I couldn't have picked a better time to send folks your way nor a better story with which to introduce them to you. Well done.
 
Thankfully, my daughter here knows I'm a bit on the wacky side but now, after reading this piece and laughing, even guffawing loudly from time to time, my grandson's TSS now knows I'm more than a bit crazy too!
I loved -absolutely loved -this story! Yeah, I know, I know, MM -I love all your stuff but this one was such a mix of pure sentiment mixed with terrific humor. The mouth in the rug and full of lint and dog hair -could be our house except it would be bare hardwood floors, extra special cat hair mixed with dust bunnies one would be choking on in a pose like that.
Don't ever quit writing, especially don't ever stop blogging these wonderful gems you post!
 
Well I certainly expected that, based on your efforts to retrieve the Mighty Blaze nearly 3 years ago (that long? sheesh!), I had little doubt that you would go to any lengths to protect your daughters. I don't have any kids myself, but I do remember a friend of mine, having just come home from the hospital with Hayley, his (well, his wife's) first-born. As he was holding his approximately 48 hour old daughter, he looked up at me and another friend who came over for the congratulations, and bluntly asked if we'd sit on the living room sofa with a shotgun when the first date came over. Can't imagine what it's going to be like when I hit that stage, but I expect it to be not too far off of your example. And Art Lad/Dark Lad...absolutely effin' priceless! I remember backing down older kids who were bothering my little sister, and young Thomas has truly earned his membership in the bad-ass brothers club. And we certainly can't leave out Blaze. MM, you have an absolutely awesome family, everyone playing their role to the nines. Please keep the stories coming.
 
Another masterfully told story, MM. Really enjoyed this. You've done a great job raising your son. I love the way Blaze comes into the story as the "secret weapon" sort of like the time that next door neighbor's dog came after the Eclair.
 
Great. Just great. Perfection even. I have a new favorite MM story now. And I agree with Hoff - Art Lad/Dark Lad = brilliant.
 
Thomas is his Fathers son, for sure.
Way to go Thomas.

Gawd help the boys that come to call on your daughters when they start dating.
 
I love this story. Thank you to honorable big brothers, mine included.
 
Hurrah for the big brother! And the dad who realized what was going on just in time!
 
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