“That’s what I miss,” my friend at work said a couple weeks ago.  I recalled this while driving west on the Mass Pike toward I-84 South.


“What’s that?” I had asked, noticing he was reminiscing in a slightly uncharacteristic way.  He was not one to romanticize the past, as I do in almost every post here.


“Singing out loud.  In the car.  You know, when you’re listening to the radio.  I miss that.”


040209rabatallerTrue enough, we both now have been silenced going to and from work, unless we want to regurgitate to our fellow subway riders what we’re listening to on our iPods.  My friend has produced and sung on several CDs; he might get some spare change and even bills from straphangers.  I would be lucky enough to be kicked by a 20-something blonde in Pradas.


So, now in our trusty Honda Odyssey, since my 10-year-year son had fallen soundly asleep behind me—having claimed he’d been awake all night as he played NBA 2K7 on the Xbox with his best friend, Ben T.—I decided to give Sara Evans some back-up support as she sang “Perfect” on WKLB-FM, Country 102.5.


It was a perfect ride in a way.  Carter was sitting sideways in his seat in the middle row—Odysseys come with three rows of seats for the 2.2-kid-Nuclear-Family-challenged (we have 3.0 kids and 2.0 adults).  He was semi-fetal, his head slumped against his pillow that had the Mater cartoon figure from Pixar’s “Cars” movie printed on the pillowcase.


Moments before, he had been sleeping facing forward, and I had pushed the rearview mirror to the right with my thumb, so I could glance at him while still being a responsible driver.  (Being a parent while driving requires two conflicting activities:  watching the road ahead for traffic and cops while simultaneously conversing with however many children are behind you—often sight unseen, sometimes in the swiveling rear-view—and acting alternatively as Sage, Diplomat, Supreme Court Judge and Imminent Grim Reaper If There Is No Peace and Quiet.  This is a task made all the more difficult for fathers, as opposed to mothers, who do, in fact—as we all know, both from our experience as kids if not women’s own testimony—have eyes on the backs of their heads.


I moved the mirror to compensate for my male evolutionary shortcoming.  His mouth was slightly agape; his lips, pink and smooth, looked like they did when he was four, or two, or younger.  His face was relaxed and betrayed no sign that he had ever been disobedient or mean-spirited to Karen or me or his two younger brothers.  It was a blank slate, and I wrote what judgment I wanted on it according to my feelings over the last decade since he came into the world on the 11th floor of Roosevelt Hospital on New York’s West Side.  This is one of the many joys of parenting:  that an unexpected moment watching one’s child can encapsulate all that has come before as well as the hope of what’s to come.  Time does not matter, for the parent can see all ages and experiences of the child up to that point, in a look.


I now recalled Karen’s nine months of watchfulness and nine hours of pain and labor on March 18.  I recall earlier, in August 1998, when Carter was at five months’ gestation, and Karen got dehydrated, started bleeding, and we rushed to Roosevelt to have her hooked up to an I.V. and Carter up to a fetal ECG machine.  I remember sitting there next to Karen, on her back, for five or so hours, celebrating each time his heart rate increased to where it needed to be, praying when it dipped.  I remember later from the amniocentesis that, as first-time parents in our mid- to late-30s—we wanted just to be prepared—learning that one of the ventricles in Carter’s brain was enlarged and how that was a possible sign of birth defects, and thinking that medical technology gives us so much good yet also saddles us with unnecessary and often burdensome awareness of outcomes, however distant or unlikely they might be.  Some of our times in the hospital reminded me that, as King Solomon once wrote, “with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.”  I remember when we lived in South Hamilton, Massachusetts, walking in the early morning with Karen and our second child, Bennett, just an infant, and Carter when he was just over two, and he—spotting some feathery mist hovering inches above the grass—said, “This is ominous.”


This mysterious ability to utter a lovely word in context at age two is a bead on a necklace of memory with the ECG and amnio, with the sucking motion of his lips and wide eyes when he appeared at 9:11 a.m. on March 18, with the use of “buh–” at 14 months to describe any solid object from a house to a boat to his younger brother, with the pride in his eyes at age eight when he passed the 4-hour test for his karate black belt, with the loneliness and despair when his new class at PS 9 in New York found him to be the butt of jokes and not source of them, with more recently finding a friend who promised to teach him two Hebrew words per day, with reuniting with old friends and learning that having one group of buddies doesn’t preclude having another group.


The visor of the Odyssey shielded my eyes as we rode away from Carter’s sleepover at Ben T’s and his birthday pizza party and playground romp with Ben, along with Eric, Ben C., Griffin, Ethan, and JoJo.  The smiles and laughs had not been heard all together since December 2007, when Carter moved back to New York City and left at least one of his Third Grade friends in tears.  On the walk from Hamilton House of Pizza over to Pingree Park, this same friend said in typical exaggerated yet sincere youthful passion, “I am SO glad to see Carter.  I thought I would NEVER see him again!”  And at the playground as they formed two teams—uneven at four on one side and three on another, even with the tallest boy on the team with four—to play a game of War with dried pinecones, I spoke with the Lovely K on my cell and she said, “If it was me with my friends, I’d be sad to know that I’d be leaving soon.  I couldn’t enjoy it fully.  That’s the thing with kids.  They are totally in the moment.”


To be sure, there was not a pinecone flung or squeal and flashing glance that seemed to be aware that in 45 minutes the parents would descend.  After the playground crew dispersed, and back at his host’s house, Carter stood across from Ben T., both boys not sure whether to high-five, hug, shake hands, fist-bump or—as Carter admitted later in a mature observation—cry:  awkward pre-adolescent emotions of separation, closeness, undying devotion borne of the struggles of growing up and of playground rivalries and bonds, of an all-nighter fueled by Coca-Cola and microwave popcorn while trouncing your opponent with half-court dunks over animated 6’9” heads on the Xbox.  All that matters is that we are friends and we are here, you and I.

photo:  rabataller



When you make a wrong turn or – more likely – miss a turn that the kindly mechanical lady with the quasi-British accent on the GPS has told you to take, she gently reminds you that she is “Recalculating.”

I’m in the Bay Area, staying at the Doubletree Berkeley Marina tonight and taking a red-eye back tomorrow night.  Went 030408ohgizmo.jpgto hear my boss speak at an event at UC-Berkeley but the crowd was so great that they ran out of visitors’ passes.  I was a visitor.  Though I might be able to pass for a student, at least a grad student, I opted to return to my hotel room and work.  I have too few piercings, too few tattoos, and too clean-shaven a face, with my shirt too tucked in, to sneak in past the door monitors at Wheeler Hall.

This afternoon I had lunch in Sausalito – which the kindly mechanical lady called “suh-SALL-i-toe” but which I comprehended just the same; I mean, she and I have an understanding:  she gets me where I’m going, and I agree not to unplug her power supply.  It’s a symbiotic relationship, and I’m not sure who’s the parasite.

The restaurant I went to had a deck on the bay, with an unobstructed view of Alcatraz Island and the San Francisco skyline.  It was a clear day and a no-brainer decision to pay slightly more for lunch ($14 for a salmon omelette) than somewhere else with a view of the dumpster out back.

Tonight, I was off to the event but first had to stop at Best Buy to get a web cam and headset for a skype call tomorrow afternoon to Hong Kong.  (I am telling you all this to try to impress you that I am a high-tech, globally minded kind of person…)  I missed the left turn onto Martin Luther King Jr. Way in Oakland, and…


So, basically, you can’t get lost.  Lady tells you to turn right and turn right again and then leads you past a shoelace factory and the corner bodega, past the crack dealers in front of the schoolyard and then by the burnt-out row house, in order to get you back to the “highlighted route.”  Lady is awfully calm during these side excursions down darkened streets.  She seems unfazed, like it’s not her a#$ that’s going to get kicked if, at a stop sign, somebody breaks the window and reaches in for my neck, also grabbing her black metal casing – but oh so gently, for she will be resold and I will pay for it on my corporate American Express card.  No, she is oblivious.  Like she could care less.  Her job is to get me from Point A to Point B and do as few recalculations along the way as possible.  If we go through the ‘hood, we go.  But we’re not lost.  No, high above us there is a hunk of metal circling the earth that knows more about my minute whereabouts than my own wife.  I don’t know whether to be comforted or not.

So I get to Best Buy in Emeryville, and when I approach the checkout counter with the cam and headset, a tall hip black woman of about forty asks me if I want to go ahead of her, because she is buying like a 100-inch TV along with accessories, and says, “I like that shirt.”  She is referring to my Wrangler brand pearl snap shirt, the white one with wide wale blue stripes that I bought at the Cowboy Store in the Hill Country.

“Thanks.  Yeah – a good Texas-style pearl snap shirt.”

“I’m from Texas!” she rejoined.

“Oh, yeah?!  My wife’s from Texas.”



Smiles and knowing acknowledgement.

I paid and looked back.

“Thanks again!  Take care!”

A wave.

photo:  ohgizmo


How the neighborhood guy with the Hummer finds a spot to park on New York City streets is beyond me.

Tonight I saw it on the northwest corner of 84th and West End Avenue.  Other days I’ve seen it on 84th itself, between Riverside and West End.  It is metallic slate, or metallic taupe – if a guy would be caught dead driving a car of this hue, which fits more the color of Karen’s bridesmaids dresses than a machine that can scale sixteen inches of vertical.  Actually, the website calls it “Graystone Metallic.”  In the Hummer 2 that I am building on its website as I read this – in a separate 021108alve.jpgtab of Internet Explorer made possible by the fine vision of Bill Gates and his crew that will one day also bring us YahooSoftCitibankLite – I chose a model with a First Aid and Tool Kit.  ‘Cuz you never know.  So far it is costing me $58,250.

I also included a sun roof, ebony leather seats – can you believe anyone would put upholstery in one of these babies…?!  Please!! – 17″ polished aluminum wheels, wrap brush grille guard (make sure you spell grille with an “e,” please:  I am spending a lot of money to have extra vowels that serve no purpose), chrome wrap brush guard (cuz I can), chrome hood louver (cuz it’s more chrome), and two removable “U” steps to make it easier to get in the cab since I have very little in the way of developed quadriceps or hamstring muscles.  I’m at $60,850, and I better stop while I’m ahead, because my budget’s $61K and I’ll still have enough to buy the Chemistry 101 textbook for my oldest son when he ships off to college in ten years.

And then there’s Ed.  Ed’s a family friend who owned a Honda Accord and for many years kept it parked off Park Avenue on 94th Street, because he could.  He snuggled his two-door coupe in a space only he seemed to know about between a fire hydrant and the corner.  He knew how much room legally had to go between his front bumper and the fire hydrant, and between his rear bumper and the crosswalk, over which he must not extend, and apparently the brownies who ticketed him multiple times thought they knew, too.  Each time he got ticketed, he’d protest in writing.  And he won, each time.

Ed was terrible to drive with in traffic, however.  I once had the pleasure of his company returning from Long Island with his wife and daughter and had a delightful conversation until we hit the 59th Street bridge and stand-still traffic.  He started contemplating jumping a 6″ high concrete divider and driving along a pedestrian walkway.  He would turn the wheel violently to the right and left while we were stopped and shouted obscenities at the drivers in front of him.  His face turned redder than his usual ruddy complexion by about 6 shades on the Benjamin Moore scale.  I thought he would suddenly eat someone, starting with a passenger and continuing his way forward.  Or have a heart attack.

Eventually we got going and, of course, he committed no crimes, whether moving violation or cannibalistic.  Most of my memories of him are much fonder, like how he carved a turkey at holidays:  a jerking action with a long, serrated knife, not producing slices so much as chunks of bird.

But I’m telling you.  Don’t get in front of him in traffic.

Just don’t.

photo:  alve

Philip’s legacy

I don’t want a Porsche.

Really, I don’t.

I saw one crossing in front of me as I took a turn over the north Beverly railroad tracks – that cumbersome intersection of Dodge Row and Route 1-A North where, if you hit it wrong, you can sit for 4 ½ minutes (I’ve timed it) waiting for the red-and-white wooden crossing guards to lift even though the southbound train is not even in the station and you are sitting south of the station, like it’s nowhere near the station and then you sit while it sits and you sit and you sit…and you can’t even sing along to that awesome Dierks Bentley song on the radio because the person next to you is figuring out what to do with their time, too, and you would feel like a fool singing like Dierks and trying to hit those high notes and your neck screaming veins popping out while your driver-neighbor is basically seeing you have a seizure in silence behind two panes of tempered glass – those railroad tracks… and I saw this maroon Porsche with a black whale’s tail and, in fact, it did look like a large mammal, albeit a really fast large mammal. And I thought: I am pleased as punch with my silver Toyota Corolla that gets like 200 miles to the gallon – city – and that fits my 5’9” frame just fine, thank you. Continue reading