The Virtuous Banana Split

Dear Will:

Today Seth and I were tooling around in the family Camry when we passed an ice cream shop. “Dad,” he said, “I think we should go get some ice cream at Baskin 31 Robbins,” So I wasn’t surprised when I got home from work to discover that he had charmed his mom into having the whole family pick up Bryn from her class at the ballet studio—with a detour on the way home.

It’s actually a good idea—and not just because a family outing to 31 Flavors makes eating a banana split seem, well, virtuous somehow. I don’t know about you, but I can tell you that around here we spend way too much time getting things done and not nearly enough goofing off together. And we’re trying to do something about it.

So tomorrow we’re going to occupy five really bad seats near the upper reaches of Angels Stadium. More bonus points for our side. We’ll stop at In-N-Out on the way there (an inspired family tradition if you ask me) and spend much of the evening fending off requests for cotton candy. Part of the time we may even watch the game. It will be great. Good for us for sure.

We’re not always this good and messing around, of course. Earlier this week I sent my wife an email suggesting that we go to the theater next week. (I know what you’re thinking: “Nothing’s more romantic than being asked out by email!”) What ensued was the following exchange:

Dana: I’m pooped. I don’t want anything else on my schedule.

Peter: I’m pooped too. How about a date on which we simply go upstairs and take a nap?

Dana: You’re on.

So you see, my kids are fighting an uphill battle in their quest to lighten up Mom and Dad and inject a little more silliness into our day-to-day. Perhaps as a measure of how things are going we should install some sort of Giggle-o-meter somewhere in the family room that measures how often and how intensely we’re having fun. If it doesn’t record enough giggles in a given week it automatically rents a movie and hides the vacuum cleaner. If I could figure out how to make such a contraption work, I could make a killing. I’m guessing it would be a huge gift item on Fathers’ Day.

So let me ask you: What are you doing to goof off this weekend? Will it involve more giggling than vacuuming? If not, may I suggest ice cream and a trip to Blockbuster.

But enough of this. Seth is challenging me to play Animal Rummy with him. Sounds like an offer I can’t—or at least shouldn’t—refuse.


Hoping for a Broken Bone

Dear Will:

My right thumb is swelled up like an Italian sausage and I have a welt on my arm that makes it appear that I went out and got a budget tattoo of Saskatchewan on my left biceps. There’s also a mustard-yellow bruise on my sternum, and my ears are sore (I didn’t even know that was possible). All of which confirms that I have been doing something inappropriate for my 44-year-old body.

That something is jiu-jitsu.

What in the world would compel an otherwise rational, middle-aged bald guy to take up a glorified form of street fighting? That part’s simple: Luke, my occasionally rational, 14-year-old manchild, has done his research and decided that this would be the coolest of all martial arts to learn. Since it’s a half-hour round-trip to the studio where he trains, it quickly became obvious to me that either I should sign up with him or resign myself to sitting in the parking lot with a good book.

Which of course begs the question: Why in the world would an otherwise rational, middle-aged bald guy not welcome the excuse to read a good book? I look down at Saskatchewan and wonder the same thing myself.

Luke, on the other hand, is thrilled. He’s learning a very manly art and gets the chance three times a week to beat up on his old man. What occasionally rational, 14-year-old manchild wouldn’t welcome that? I’m sure, in fact, that the possibility of pummeling and humiliating his dad will keep Luke attending these classes for many months to come. At least, that’s my fear.

Every session we learn some new moves and then “grapple.” It’s little more than a glorified wrestling match at this point, with lots of sweat and grunting and very little that resembles anything that one might consider “martial arts.” And because I sit at a desk all day, my conditioning might best be classified as “abysmal.” So I can go about two minutes before my grunting turns to gasping and I find myself stretched out on the mat hoping for a broken bone or seizure to end my misery.

When I was 14, I played basketball and ran track and  spent long hours visiting the elderly and reading to the blind. (Hey, it’s my story; I’ll tell it the way I want.) Why couldn’t my son take up basketball instead? I could stand under the hoop rebounding for him and not once wonder about the details of my HMO formulary. I could even hold my own in H-O-R-S-E with a distinct competitive advantage in the early going. And while I might still run the risk of bruising from time to time, I guarantee you the welts would look more like Rhode Island than some obscure Canadian province. I would also have the glory of an occasional good shot and even maybe a victory from time to time.

But no—my son wants to be a street fighter, which virtually guarantees that I will return home after each session a beaten man with only the vaguest notion of what to do next time I get jumped in a dark alley. My real fear, of course, is that the guy jumping me in the alley will be Luke, who will already know the only two jiu-jitsu maneuvers I’ve learned and will be able to execute them better besides.  (Note to self: no more dark alleys.)

I guess what I’m really trying to say is that I need to find someone else to give my son a ride to class. Interested? Think of it as a way to see Saskatchewan without ever leaving Orange County.


Chucking It All Vacariously

Dear Will:

You know that feeling you get when you have 8,000 things you ought to do but the only thing you want to do is watch the ballgame? When your list is so long that you want to tell it “so long”? I’ve been feeling that way a lot lately.

There was a moment today when I was talking on my desk phone, another call was coming in on the second line, and my cell phone began to ring. At the time, I was staring at my email inbox, at the 60 or 70 unread messages and the 40 others on which I need to follow up. I pondered the clutter that surrounded me. And I thought how nice it would be to simply get up, walk out, and not come back.

Henry David Thoreau followed that same urge when he went off to live in the woods for a couple of years. He said he went there to live “deliberately.” Afterwards he said the following:

I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.

I fell in love with Walden when I was in high school, for the same reason that he appeals to me now over 20 years hence: Thoreau puts into beautiful prose words of inspiration and aspiration, and if I lack the disposition to chuck it all and head to the woods, at least through Walden I have the option of doing so vicariously.  And rereading this passage reminds me that my next rereading is long overdue. Now I don’t presume to foist Henry David upon you—I have learned over the years that he is an acquired taste. But I figure it couldn’t hurt any of us—myself especially—to be reminded of the benefits of a simpler existence.

It’s probably wishful thinking—correction: it is wishful thinking; but even wishful thinking can be constructive if not done to excess. So I’ll end this brief lament with a few more ascendant words from HDT, words which remind us that there is more to life than the mundane details that preoccupy and distract us from day to day: “Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.”