Monday, June 22, 2009

A Terrifying and Reckless Adventure

Early yesterday afternoon, I was sitting in a plush chair at one of the local branches of a well-known and ubiquitous national chain, which I simultaneously deplore and patronize, of coffeehouses, reading a few chapters of Don Quixote. I had been to the exact same branch a few hours earlier to procure for YFU a breakfast sandwich and a frozen coffee beverage with extra whipped cream, and the person taking my order had taken pains to wish me a happy Father's Day, but I was momentarily childless, YFU having left soon after the aforementioned extra whipped cream for a two-week stay at a summer camp located on the Chesapeake Bay and run by an association of young Christian men. I was using the backside of a bookmark that she had made me as either a Father's Day or birthday present in 2008 to help guide my eyes down the page, and I came to the following passage:
"I, Senor Don Quixote," responded the gentleman, "have a son, and if I didn't have him, perhaps I would consider myself more fortunate than I do, and not because he's bad, but because he isn't as good as I would like him to be. He's eighteen, and has spent the last six years in Salamanca, studying Latin and Greek, and when I wanted him to go on to the study of other areas of knowledge, I found him so enthralled with poetry, if that can be called knowledge, that I can't make him show any enthusiasm for law, which I would like him to study, or for the queen of all study, which is theology. I would like him to be the crown of his lineage, for we live in a time when our kings richly reward good, virtuous letters, for letters without virtue are pearls in the dungheap. He spends the whole day determining if Homer wrote well or badly in a particular line of the Iliad; if Martial was indecent in a certain epigram; if specific lines of Virgil are to be understood in this manner or another. In short, all his conversations are about the books of these poets and of Horace, Persius, Juvenal, and Tibullus; he does not think very highly of modern writers, and despite the antipathy he displays toward poetry in the vernacular, his thoughts are now entirely turned to writing a gloss on four lines sent to him from Salamanca, I think for a literary competition."

And I was struck with how it cannot help but be both misguided and pointless to view one's children as an extension of oneself, much less to hope that one or another of them turns out to be "the crown of his [or her] lineage." In some, but by no means all, cases, a child's happiness, is a reflection of his or her parents' behavior, but what children choose to make of their lives is pretty much on them, and trying to control it can only lead to tears. The best you can hope to do as a father (or mother) is not to fuck them up, which is no small accomplishment.

There were fathers out in full force, of course. I particularly noticed a man who appeared to be in his early fifties who came into the coffeeshop with his two sons, both under the age of eight. He was handsome, with a distinctively shaped nose that he had passed on to both his sons. The boys were cute in the way that most temporarily well-behaved six- or seven-year-olds are, and they almost certainly have a lifetime of physical attractiveness to look forward to. They will doubtless be beautiful in fifteen years and will very probably look exactly like their father in another thirty years. The resemblance was emphasized by their identical, completely unnecessary combover haircuts. It was as if he were already preparing them for a future of hair loss that is almost certain never to arrive.

I had called my own father -- to whom, I'm told, I bear a strong resemblance -- in between visits to the coffeehouse. We had spoken at some length about the weather and gardening and the acquisition of hand tools, and he had told me once again how much he appreciated my father's day gift and the sentiment I'd instructed the people sending it to put on the card. My father is absolutely blossoming with gratitude these days. A keen sense of gratitude is one of the many things I appear to have inherited from him, but I am not so forthcoming with its expression. He has always been a kind and loving person, but I attribute some of his current effusiveness to effective pain management. Not that he's in any way loopy; rather, having suffered so much pain for such a long time, its removal has left him ever so slightly untethered. It is a very good thing, but also slightly overwhelming.

An hour or so later, when I had moved from an indoor to an outdoor chair to escape the overly aggressive air conditioning and enjoy one of the few rain-free periods of the last month, EFU called me to wish me a "happy happy happy Father's Day" and to discuss our plans for the rest of the day. I returned home to research movie times and then call her back. She drove over, and we set out to see a mid-afternoon showing of Away We Go, a film that drives home just how rare and difficult it is to not fuck one's kids up. I thought of the movie as an older, sadder, less clever version of Juno, but since my main problem with Juno was its excessive cleverness, perhaps that was a good thing. I could have done with a little less sadness, but then, who couldn't?

When I returned home, I heard b&c in the back yard, hammering. He was installing some fencing, in an attempt to keep the deer from eating the tomato plants, as they did last year. I have suggested introducing natural predators, but others in the neighborhood say that bobcats might go after the runners as well as the deer. They seem to think I'm joking when I say that it sounds like a win-win situation to me, and perhaps that's just as well.

B&c and I had hung the fencing in the top part of the garden the day before, and it had not gone particularly smoothly. The garden, even at the top of the hill, is very wet, and when he encouraged me to wear something other than my New Balances, I changed into my pseudo-combat boots that were sitting in the garage. B&c, reasonably, refuses to allow them in the house because of their strong chemical smell. I attribute this to their having costed only about $25 via mail order. It seems foolish to pay very much for an item of clothing that I own more for the pleasure of ownership than to actually wear. In any case, boots generally make me happy, so I was pleased to have an opportunity to wear this pair and get them muddy. What didn't, at first, go smoothly was the actual fencing, because b&c had purchased some sort of rounded, staple-like tacks to attach the fencing to the posts, and they were nearly impossible to nail into the thin uprights. I had to ask three times and endure a great deal of swearing before he finally agreed that I should go to Home Depot and purchase a staple gun. It was still Saturday then, so I narrowly missed out on the Home Depot/muddy boots/Father's Day trifecta of joy, but I am told that two out of three is not bad.

I was driving into the parking lot at the Home Depot, happy in my boots, when I pulled up behind two early twenty-something men walking side by side towards the entrance. It was warm, and they were somewhat sweaty, and one of them was wearing a tight pair of painter's shorts that were held up only by the sins of his forefathers. He was shirtless, with a long, smooth, slender torso that he was preparing to cover with a wife beater, in anticipation of entering the store. As I passed him and looked in my side view mirror, he bottom hem of the tank was slowly descending his pale chest and was holding just above his nipples. Unanticipated beauty is all around us and nowhere more so than at the Home Depot, the ancestral home of un-self-conscious manliness. It occurred to me that in twenty years, this particular youth would, in all likelihood, have leathery skin covered with the wrong tattoos, chosen for reasons of lust and/or altered consciousness rather than out of sensible aesthetic considerations, but the eventual, inevitable disappearance of his youthful beauty makes it all the more remarkable now.

I might have been tempted into a moment of wistfulness, but wistful is not so much my nature, and, in any case, I had a stapler to acquire. Also some gloves for YFU to use while sailing on the Chesapeake. And some staples, of course. I did not tarry long in the temple of masculinity, and when I returned home and loaded my gun, the upper portion of the fencing was completed in short order.

I removed my boots before re-entering the house, of course, and later I took them to the sink to remove the bulk of the mud from their soles. I felt a twinge of remorse at consigning them, yet again, to the garage. I put them inside a plastic grocery bag, poured some baking soda inside each boot, poured more inside the bag, and sealed the bag before returning the boots to the garage. They had been sitting outside for a long while before I put them on yesterday and they had not yet lost very much of the smell, but perhaps the baking soda will, eventually, do enough to allow them to take a place of honor in one or another of our closets, next to some of the other, less odoriferous boots that I also almost never wear.

Perhaps when they're older, I'll ask the girls for a nice pair of boots for Father's Day. They routinely complain that it is difficult to shop for me because I don't want anything, and because I don't use the things that I do say I want. EFU is still annoyed with me for not using the very nice handmade leather wallet that she brought me from Guadalajara, but the wallet she bought me a couple of years ago is still perfectly fine, and the Guadalajara wallet is so nice that I'm in no hurry to begin the process of wearing it out. Similarly, they disagree with my contention that it is impossible to have too many cotton handkerchiefs. I, of course, am extremely pleased to receive a homemade bookmark, but they also feel that I have too many of these.

They finally agreed, however, that it is difficult to have too many Staples retractable thick-barrelled gel-ink pens, so when I opened my Father's Day gift this year, it was not much of a surprise to find a two-pack of them. It was just what I wanted.

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