Sunday, May 31, 2009

 

Road Vlog #4...

My friend and fellow blogger Jim Sullivan (aka Suldog) has been a faithful online pal--moreso than I deserve, for sure. Certainly the man has bigger fish to fry. I have been so pleased to watch him grow in stature on the 'sphere (have you seen his numbers?), not just because he deserves it, but because I intend to cash in on his fame by using one of his many kind remarks about me as a blurb on my book.

Seriously, Jim has been a great source of inspiration and motivation to me, in ways both special and strange. On the strange side, I live in fear of being placed in the detention zone that he reserves for bloggers who have not posted in 30 days (once was enough!) On the special side: his blog also sets me in a place I do not deserve (although it of course secretly pleases me). He provides unfailingly positive encouragement in the form of his comments and emails. And he regularly sends interesting people my way, most recently through the good offices of the excellent Authorblog.

It was also because of Jim that I received the CD Mister Rogers Swings! Which absolutely SAVED my long day of driving in the rain:





Since the Brownie hijacked the CD when it arrived, I didn't get to make as timely (or as articulate) a post about it as Jim did, but we are most certainly of one mind about its excellence.

Jim's original post had this info about the CD, but such things always bear repeating:

The Amazon page to get your own CD.

Where to go to hear and learn more about my new crush Holly for yourself.

And to Suldog, I just have to say the one thing I don't say nearly often enough: Thank you, my blogging brother.

Yours,
From Somewhere on the Masthead


Friday, May 29, 2009

 

Road Vlog #3...


Still alive, still vlogging.

Sorry for the jiggly camera, the changing perspective, the surprise study of an unexpected portion of my face. I figured out one secret to successful road-vlogging: keep it to surface roads, or freeways where the traffic tends to force you to maintain speeds below 50 miles an hour. Well, that, and also be a talented and handsome performer, which I am neither.

You know how they say men tend to get better-looking as they get older? I am, sadly, the exception that proves that rule. I thought I could just train the camera on my good side, but--turns out, I don't have one. Also, I have that drooping left eyelid. It falls lower and lower when I'm tired, a feature that my tussle with Bell's palsy only seemed to accentuate. It's not the sort of thing, alas, that elicits sympathy from an audience, makes pretty girls go "awww" and involuntarily reach for a blanket and pillow. Instead, it makes people think Why does he look so wall-eyed?

But hey, that didn't stop Claudette Colbert from a career in pictures, and it won't stop me, unfortunately for you--the seven of you--who are still watching.

And since a weird proportion of you emailed or asked, I give you:









Which shows clearly, I hope, the detrimental effect of driving cross-country with no one to talk to but a dog (a real one. I think) and a camera. Don't let this happen to you, kids. You've been warned.

Oh, and for those who wondered last time: the music WAS The Waterboys (as someone correctly guessed) but was in fact the title track from the newer 2-disc "Fisherman's Blues" set. Perhaps my next vlog will be wholly devoted to what I'm listening to.

Ooh, excitement.

Yours,
From Somewhere Along the Mohawk


Thursday, May 28, 2009

 

Road Vlog #2...

Wow, really tired tonight. Either from driving or talking to myself the whole trip.

Here's today's vlog, refreshingly free of excessive nostril focus, but with brief yet diverting coverage of my right ear.








Hey, it came down to a choice between this or some ramblings about the real moral of the story of Clifford the Big Red Dog (which, while information I think every discerning person should have, was nevertheless the longer of the two vlogs, and this WiFi connection is way slow), so count yourself lucky.

And to bed.

Yours,
From Sozzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

 

Road Vlog Number 1 (possibly Number Only)...

Oh, dear lord,

As if we needed more reason to be thankful that Shane and his wonderful vlogs have returned, I offer you a video post from the road, which I originally named "Raining Cops and Dogs."






But which should really be called "MM's Nostril Theater." Especially towards the end. WTF?

Here's hoping I manage to avoid cutting off the top of my head--along with my eyeballs--in future installments. Always assuming there are any. Damn, but Shane makes it look easy.

Still, despite the rain, the brush with the law, the already-crushing longing for my family, my nonexistent camera skills, I must admit:

It is deeply cool to be on the road, headed east, knowing what the next month holds for me.

More soon.

Yours,
From Somewhere in America

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


Friday, May 22, 2009

 

In Which We Emerge from the Basement...


Instead of writing about the birthdays that fall in spring in my family, I seem to be filling the space between them. Mostly that's by accident, but some of it's by design. Not my design, though.

"Dad, do you write something about me every time I have a birthday?" the Brownie asked me last month. She was asking with The Voice. Like her mother's Looks, the Voice tells me more than mere words could ever say. In this case, it dictated my answer for me, sparing me the trouble of thinking, which I suspect my elder daughter thinks I don't do anyway.

"Wellllll," I began, "I guess I don't have to. Would you rather I didn't this year?"

The Brownie did an amazing impersonation of a bobble-head doll, then gave me a "yes" that was three aggrieved syllables long. "I'm glad you figured it out!" she added.

Yeah. My daughter's kind of getting a mouth on her. She doesn't seem to have inherited it from me, because so far as I can tell, it's not getting her in trouble at school. Clearly, it's her mother's mouth. Her Lovely Self was so quiet in school, teachers would call her parents to ask if she had a speech impediment, which caused my in-laws to impersonate bobble-head dolls themselves, because they would get all kinds of sass from their eldest girl.

But it's not really sass the Brownie is giving me, so much as she's asserting her independence. That doesn't mean it doesn't sting a little. At the majestic and all-knowing age of 8, she has her own friends, her own plans, her own agenda, and they don't include us so much. By "us," I mean the males of the house.

Thomas takes it on the chin the hardest, being the closest sibling and therefore the natural object of all scorn. He cannot be anywhere within a 10-block radius if the Brownie is in the back yard, playing (or more often, talking and giggling) with her friends, although my son insists that is just fine with him. He actually does seem to bear it all with a certain quiet resolve. I had no idea just how much resolve.

Poor old Blaze, though, has fallen from the Brownie's grace, and that has been hard to see. The other day, when she got off the bus with her girlfriends, he once again defeated all doors and locks and got out through the garage to meet her in the driveway, ever the faithful companion and protector. He jumped around her and her friends in his big galumphing way, but it broke my heart a little to see the Brownie push him away and squeal, "Ew, Blaze! You're so fat and stinky!" And all the girls laughed and ran off to the backyard. Tail wilted but still wagging, Blaze watched them go and made to follow, but by then I was outside and had a hand in his collar. "Oh, don't," I muttered, dragging him back inside. "Have some respect for yourself."

And of course I've been getting my share of disdain, too, although the Brownie's latest outburst caught me a little by surprise. I didn't think she really knew that I wrote anything about her, but of course, nothing escapes her. She's known for years, and apparently has never forgiven me for it, not since the time I posted pictures of her pissed-off fish face.

"It needs to stop, Dad," she said. "If I want a bunch of people to know about me, I can write it for myself. I'm eight years old now, you know. Kids can do a lot if grown-ups would just go away and let them!" If it were any other child saying this to me, I'd be a little startled by the articulation and assertiveness, but then, this is the same woman who at 4 interrupted her own teary temper tantrum to inform me that she wouldn't have to cry if I would just follow her directions. So I quietly acquiesced and slunk off, fat and stinky, to my basement.

That's how it's been for the past few weeks, and to be honest, it's just as well I was forbidden to write about the Brownie. Because the truth is, a couple of days earlier, I had taken on a huge pile of freelance work--way more than I ever have before (or ever will again). From about seven in the morning til very late in the afternoon (and then again on into the evening) I wrote and wrote and wrote some more. My day was marked not by the passage of the sun (there are two windows in my basement, both of them well out of view from my little cell under the stairs), but by the noises that filtered down from ground level. Most of the day was punctuated by the pitter-patter of the Éclair and the steadfast clack-clack-clack of Blaze following her from room to room. Then, things would be deathly quiet for an hour or so--nap time for the Éclair, and for poor Blaze. And then, not long after that, an explosion of sound--excited paw clacking, the squealing yawn of the front door, followed by the twin Booms! of bookbags hitting the floor. Then the general mysterious muffled sounds of girlish murmuring and giggling from somewhere in the back yard. So it went everyday.

And then there was a new sound pattern. Several afternoons--and continuing for a solid 10 days--I would hear the unmistakable pounding of Thomas coming into the house, followed by Blaze. There would be some noises--Thomas talking a low voice, the squeal of what sounded like a door, some more noises from Thomas. Then I'd just hear Thomas say something emphatic...followed by nothing much. This went on and on, all through the late afternoon, it seemed. After a couple of days, I noticed (in that back-of-the-mind way you notice things when you're a parent in your house, but distracted by work) that after Thomas said his emphatic word, I'd hear a low growl from Blaze, sometimes a low growl accompanied by the briefest clatter of feet.

After a week or so of this--and in particular on a day where I was staring at the screen, trying to solve an annoying writing problem--the endless repetition of this got to me and I pounded up the stairs and threw open the basement door, just as Thomas was dropping a giant piece of roast beef into Blaze's mouth.

"This is what you've been doing? Sneaking him treats all afternoon?" I asked (okay, asked in a shouty kind of way). Thomas and the dog both looked at me, abashed, and slunk off--to the front yard, since the Brownie and her coterie had taken over the back yard.

Next day, though, he and the dog were at it again. But I had a lot to write, and I was ashamed of myself for snapping at Thomas, so I just let it go. And anyway, by then I had eaten all of the roast beef so all Thomas would have to give Blaze would have been dog biscuits, so no harm done.

And thus the routine continued, until today, when I finally finished all of my freelance work. Almost all of it was due next week, but I had decided I wanted to finish it all before my birthday, and the holiday weekend. So it was with a light heart and a full bladder that I came upstairs to stretch my legs and have a celebratory pee. It was stuffy in the house--and warm outside--so after the requisite stretching and celebrating, I cranked open a few windows downstairs, then went up to the bedrooms to do the same. I found a few other chores to take care of--putting my socks in a drawer, leafing through Wednesday's new comics that I hadn't quite got to read. Downstairs, I heard a door slam, heard Thomas and Blaze pounding around, tuned them out. Through a bathroom window, I could hear girlish squealing down in the backyard, tuned them out.

At length, I remembered to finish opening the windows, and as I was opening a side window in my bedroom, I heard a noise outside that was like boyish pounding around, but not quite. It was like giggling, but not quite. I pressed my head to the screen so as to look down at the ground below and saw two--no, it was three--huddled forms at the corner of my house. I couldn't see who it was, but I could hear them. "No! Can't see! Go around the other side like last time!" one--or all of them--seemed to say.

Just Thomas and some friends playing hide and seek, I thought, and returned to my comics.

But just then, very clearly, from somewhere in the neighborhood of the stairwell, I heard Thomas hiss, "Shh!" and I remembered he was in the house. Which was now very silent. It was the loudest possible silence, though, the silence of Children Trying To Be Quiet.

After three weeks of being buried in the basement, my Daddy Sense was tingling, permeating the very walls of the house. I knew instantly that two--no, it was three--unknown boys were now running crouched and fast around the front of my house. My son, either with them or not (I used the extra gear in my Daddy Sense and suddenly divined Not), had shushed the dog (probably locked him up in his kennel, lest he give Thomas away) and was somewhere downstairs, almost certainly near the back door, but not within view of the girls, or the Brownie would have yelled at him.

The girls... I thought.

My Daddy Sense only extends so far, so I went to window in my bathroom for a look. Because of its quirky placement high up on the bathroom wall, coupled with the fact that the yard curves down and away from that side of the house, this window commands almost a bird's-eye view of the back yard. I could clearly see the Brownie and three of her friends, another 8-year-old girl, and the neighbor girls, Bee and Kay, who are 10 and 12, but who still hang out with the Brownie. They were no longer murmuring and gossiping, but were instead making use of the old wooden swingset in our backyard, which includes a couple of sturdy swings set up high (big-kid height) and an even higher trapeze thing. It was a warm spring day today, and there in the leafy confines of our backyard, the girls, younger and older, were in high spirits, engaged in various acrobatics on the swingset.

In point of fact, they were swinging or hanging upside down from either the swings, the trapeze, or the beam of the swingset itself. I couldn't pick out my daughter from among them. Because, as I said, they were all hanging upside down. With their t-shirts or tanktops falling up, over their faces. Exposing their bare chests. Instantly, as though bleach had been hurled in my face, I averted my gaze from this unfortunate if innocent display of immodesty.

And of course, it all clicked into place. Those little peeping perverts! I thought, as I bolted from the window.

This was not a time for letting my daughter have her independence, I decided, as I surfed down the stairs on my heels. This was not a time for hiding myself in the basement like some fat, stinky dog--clearly, I'd been in the basement too long!

It was time to go all Dad on somebody's ass...


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