I return to the bathroom where only seconds before I had stationed Eli in front of the pot with instructions to tinkle before bedtime. This is important, you see, because otherwise he forgets to go until he is playing with giant chocolate Lego blocks in Dreamland, where instead of toilets they have golden trees that sing Raffi songs when you pee on them.
As I approach I see that he is bent over like an ostrich, with his head almost completely in the toilet bowl. Apparently the boy is interested in a plumbing career. Naturally, I am horrified, and so I bellow in that idiot-speak we parents have during our worst nobody-warned-me-about-this moments.
"Hey, uh . . . boy! Unh-unh!! No, no, no, no, no!!! Get your, uh, get that, uh, get your head out of the toilet!!!!
He stands up straight as an arrow, his lip quivering. Add one more page to my weighty file of screw ups as a father. He pulls up his pajama pants, grabs his little blue blankie, and stands there looking at me with glistening eyes.
I get down on my knees in front of him. "I'm sorry for yelling, little buddy. Do you forgive me?"
More lip quivering. "No."
"I shouldn't have yelled, because you didn't know any better. I just didn't want you to get any germs. Toilets are dirty. We shouldn't stick our heads in them. But I shouldn't have yelled. Did I scare you?"
"I'm sorry. Do you forgive me?"
He thinks about it for a second. "No."
I pick him up and plant a kiss on his soft little face. "I won't yell again."
He perks up. "Yeah, the next time I stick my head in da toilet, you won't yell at me."
"I won't yell, but you shouldn't stick your head in the toilet, okay?"
More thought. "O-o-o-kay."
And now as I type this he is sitting in my lap, a happy little lamb, last night forgotten. I never used to be an "I'm sorry" person. Now it feels like I say it all the time. But I like "I'm sorry" people more than the other kind. Don't you?
I must confess, I was pleased with yesterday's post, so much that I re-read it this morning. Yes, sometimes I do that. Do you ever glance at your reflection in a store window? Alright then.
So then I saw the typo. Don't bother, I took care of it. But oh, how I hate the typo. Not a Blockbuster kind of hatred, but more a deep soulfully sad kind of hatred, a wretched hatred.
Typographical error. That's not even the right word for it, according to this helpful definition. What's the right word for a mistake that occurs when you are editing with the "cut" and "paste" functions, and you accidentally leave in a whole chunk of words that don't belong in the newly constructed sentence? Or when you just omit a word altogether?
No matter. I despise all of it, because I despise lack of clarity in thinking, almost as much as I despise hyper-rational lack of wonderment in thinking.
Speaking of wonderment, which is close to "wondering," I recall the first really funny post here at Sand in the Gears, a mockery of an actress who misused a couple of words in her narcissistic monologue (if you click the link you have to scroll down, to the one entitled "Mousse Musing"). There's got to be a word for that kind of mistake too, when you mean to write "desert" and instead give us "dessert." A word other than "stupid," I mean.
That in turn reminds me of a student I had at a large major university which will remain nameless because, frankly, I don't like giving them any free publicity on my website. It was for an introductory American government class, and I required each of my students to write three short papers over the course of the semester. This guy's first paper included the phrase "variable plethora." What he meant to say, of course, was "veritable plethora," which, like "dovetails nicely," is an expression that should never, ever be used again except in mockery, like now. So not only was he trying to use a hackneyed phrase where all he meant was, "a lot," or, "a whole bunch," he was getting it wrong. Instead of a "literal plethora" (and don't get me started on the misuses of that word), he used a phrase that means "a plethora that kind of changes from day to day, like, you know, one day you might have too much bread and apples and stuff, and then, like, the next day you might have, I don't know, way too many Fig Newtons."
So I corrected his error, because I actually read my students' papers. Not to be catty, of course, because everybody reads his students' papers. Then, a month later, he writes a paper on a completely different topic, and there is that phrase again: "variable plethora." So I wrote a more strongly worded note.
Next month, another paper, same bloody phrase. My mind kept trying to conjure up exactly what a variable plethora must look like. I noticed that one definition of "plethora" is an excess of blood in an organ. That wasn't a helpful visual, trust me, the thought of some strange new disease causing one's organs to randomly swell up unexpectedly, as if one is a balloon in the hands of malevolent toddler.
Yes, I have an imagination. It's what fuels this site. Give thanks.
So, once again, I wrote a strongly worded note about the importance of reading the notes on one's paper when one is fortunate enough to have an instructor who actually reads papers and provides editorial suggestions. Not to imply, once again, that every instructor doesn't read his students' papers. I even knocked off a few points, and put my strongly worded note in red ink next to his lowered grade. The two dovetailed nicely, if I may, if you will, so to speak, as it were.
Final exam time. Blue books, because Tony requires essays. Yes, I'm cruel that way. My students leave understanding what "bicameral" means (and no, it's not the camel with two humps), and how to write a little better. It's my contribution to society.
You know what's coming, don't you? That's the sign of a good storyteller, you know, when you know what's coming next, and you keep reading anyway because the getting there is just so delicious. Anyway, you are right. He used the phrase again. Variable plethora. So I knocked off some points, and wrote an even stronger note on his exam, which I'm sure he didn't read.
He was a reasonably intelligent student, by the way. I suspect he's working at a law firm somewhere now, mystifying his colleagues with memos about the "variable plethora" of new clients that await if they expand into medical malpractice, or the "variable plethora" of new rulings in employment law.
In any event, we can sum up with the observation that it's a wonderment that English-speaking peoples came to dominate the globe. Unless, perhaps, people who speak other languages have the same problem. But that's literally a question for another time, because I've already written a plethora, which dovetails nicely -- if you think about it -- with my theme, don't you argue?
If you find yourself mildly dismayed by the heavy doses of sentimentality of late, and missing the old, bitter Tony, then this one's for you. The topic today is Blockbuster, also known as the The Company That Robbed My Children of a College Education With Their *$!#%&!! Late Fees. One of the greatest moments of petty vengeance I have ever experienced came the day I signed up with Netflix. No late fees, excellent selection, no bloody late fees, don't have to leave the house, no freaking late fees, an online queue so you don't have to remember everything you want to see, no *$!#%&!! late fees. Life has been great ever since.
Well, the wife and I are nursing a 24 addiction, but it's manageable. I mean, we can quit any time we want. Really. I mention the addiction (and it's really more hers than mine) because it brought us back to Blockbuster. You see, I mismanaged my Netflix queue, and this weekend we found ourselves without the next 24 DVD. "Let's go get it at Blockbuster," said the wife. (See what I mean?)
"Absolutely not," I replied through clenched teeth.
"Just this once."
"Get behind me, Satan."
"Fine, then I'll watch it by myself, and tell you whether Jack Bauer survives the plane crash."
Since we were out anyway, I drove to Blockbuster. She was already committed, you see, and I didn't want her driving at night on her own. As we pulled into the parking lot of the Video Store We Don't Speak Of, I saw that its windows were covered with big red signs announcing that we no longer have to live in a world with late fees, because Blockbuster is taking a stand to eliminate them.
At times like this I wish my mother didn't read this blog, because to do justice to what went through my mind, I would have to lay out some really creative cursing, the kind you need a copy of Gray's Anatomy and a stint in the Navy to really appreciate. So let's suffice to say that I was nonplussed. Whatever "plussed" is, I was very much the opposite of that. Definitely without the plussing. These are the people, you see, who perfected the art of the bait and switch in the field of late fees.
Here's your movie Mr. Woodlief. It's due back on Tuesday unless you bring it back on Monday, in which case it's really due yesterday. In fact, it's already late. That'll be $73.47. Thanks for shopping at Blockbuster.
And now they're making it sound like the world was awash in complex late fee arrangements before they stepped into the breach. Of course their "no late fee" policy really isn't; now if you keep it too long they don't charge you a late fee, they charge you the price of the entire fricking movie.
These aren't late fees, Mr. Woodlief, they're Inadequate Timeliness Assessments.
I confess a fiery burning hatred for firms that behave like an East German water utility, and only modify their practices once they are threatened by upstart competition. I like companies that are constantly innovating and finding better, cheaper ways to suck up to me while selling me schlock I don't need at a ridiculously low price. And I like companies that strike at the very heart of a big, slow, stupid behemoth. Hence my love affair with Netflix. It even sends me DVD's in pretty red envelopes, like Valentines.
I'm not obsessed, mind you. Just mildly infatuated. And irritated. So a pox on your house, Blockbuster. You with your movies that don't stretch back past 1997, your endless supply of video games, your bright cheery interior hiding your dark, cold accountant's soul. One day I will set up my portable DVD player and watch Godfather on your freshly tilled grave. Maybe even Godfather II. Definitely not Godfather III, of course. Even my vindictiveness has limits.
Fourteen years ago this evening, the Wife became, well, my wife. She could have done better, though I don't think she knew it at the time. I've certainly given her cause for buyer's remorse. Talk about perseverance -- that seems to be the theme this week, no?
I remember her coming down the aisle, in the loveliest, classiest wedding dress I had ever seen, and have ever seen since. Her eyes sparkled, mostly because she was crying. This was touching at first, but it pretty much continued for the next two days, so perhaps it was a down payment of sorts, on all the hurt I would cause in the years to come.
But she came up to that altar, and she gave me her hand, and even though I had only an inkling of how undeserving I was I took it, and we were made one. She was so beautiful that day. Since then we've laughed, screamed, cried buckets, and often just . . . endured. Life hasn't been easy for her, for us; fourteen years can put a lot of scars on the soul. So I was amazed when I watched her sleeping this morning and realized, as if seeing her for the first time, what fourteen years has somehow become on her face, in her most unguarded of moments.
Somehow, despite the struggles, despite the worry and hurting and just plain working our way through the years, she is more beautiful today than when she walked down that aisle fourteen years ago, my angel in white.
Something inside draws us home. Last year, two swallows built a nest on the narrow ledge above my front door. We tried to shoo them off, used a broom to sweep away their construction a few times, but they just kept rebuilding. They kept on keepin' on, as Caleb might note. Eventually they won, and for a time they occupied a little mud-cake perched over my door, and then they disappeared.
They returned last week, and though we fuss at them, I think we've decided that they are part of the family. Every time we come out, there they are, circling, little dabs of mud or bits of grass in their beaks, waiting for us to clear a path so they can continue their business. Every time I see them I think of the 84th Psalm:
"Even the sparrow has found a home,
And the swallow a nest for herself."
My mind often drifts to this Psalm even when the little squatters aren't chirping over my door. I think it's because of how the words struck me the first time I read them; it was as if they were my own:
"My soul longs, yes, even faints for the courts of the Lord;
My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God."
I feel a kinship with people who know what it means to have heart and flesh cry out, people who read these words and think: "Yes, I know that feeling. It is a true thing. It is part of me." I suspect it is terrible flaw within me, but I can feel no closeness, no pity, nothing of consequence for someone who does not understand what it means to cry out for . . . home. Beside such a longing all the sects and denominations and tribes, the futile creations and imaginings of man, fall away.
"Blessed is the man whose strength is in You,
Whose heart is set on pilgrimage..."
Yesterday I came home and discovered that the boys had been working for a good part of the afternoon on "painting" their wooden playset, using brushes and a wash bin of cloudy water. They liked the way the water turns the faded wood a darker, richer color. I watched them from the window; they were so diligent, so joyful even though their task was futile, even though they could see it was futile, because in many places the wood was already drying and returning to its grayish hue.
But they didn't care, because for a time they had made it more beautiful than it was. They were like the swallows, cheerful, without care, confident beyond the power of an adult in the knowledge that they are home. Home. And watching them I knew, in one of those tingling moments of clarity that begins to fade even before we have fully embraced it, where my home is. I glimpsed the faintest picture of how it will be, everlasting, bright as this world is faded, joyful as this world is broken. Its language is laughter and silence in equal measures, and its citizens are children.
"For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
Than dwell in the tents of wickedness."
So I quickly changed clothes and went out to join them. Their eyes lit up as they saw me walking across the grass, they way they always do when they see their father after he's been away for a time, the way my heart always does when I see them. "We're painting!" they announced, and attacked the hopeless, hopeful task with renewed vigor.
I watched and encouraged and worried about splinters. Then Caleb handed me a brush. "Can you get that high part? I can't reach it." So I painted it with water, and when I was done they both said, "Ooooh. Pretty."
Monday. The dreaded day. If you're one of those perky, I-can't-wait-to-charge-into-the-week-and-meet-my-challenges-with-a-smile kinds of people, then, just, jolly good for you. Only know this: the rest of us really, really don't like you right now.
I learned a couple of things this weekend. First, I discovered that Home Depot has some competition, apparently from a store targeting people inspired to redo their living rooms after watching Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. It seemed that way, at least, after Eli asked: "Can I go wif you to da Homo Depot?"
The hyper-sensitive will take offense, but you all know in your heart of hearts that Carson would think it's hilarious. Either way, it looks like we got rid of cable not a moment too soon.
And Caleb taught me a little something about endurance. It was Saturday morning breakfast, and I sat at the table huddled over my cup of coffee and a Bible, trying to muster the energy to charge into the day because, if you haven't figured it out by now, I don't really have any enthusiasm for charging anything in the morning. Caleb, sensing my need for encouragement, patted me on the shoulder and said, "Dad, you're persevering, 'cause you're keepin' on keepin' on. That's what persevering is."
Amen, young brother. So that's my wisdom for all of you as we begin another week at the grindstone. Persevere. Or, if it suits your inner Soul Man better, keep on keepin' on.