Packing for Vacation

Pack the toys, make sure they are by the seats.  If they are not, someone is going to scream.  Scream for the entire drive, scream past Witchita, scream through Texas.  Put the toys in a box, the same box that will somehow catch spilled coke and juice.  Pack trash bags.  Pack baby wipes.

One, two, three suitcases  Enough for 6 days plus any unforeseen nuclear apocalypse.  "I didn't over pack," they will say.  Unpack suitcase, take out winter coats, explain the beach doesn't need coats.  Repack suitcase.

Pack the blue foldable wagon, the one from Costco.  Pack the chairs, pack the umbrella, pack it all on top of the suitcases.  Pack like I'm playing Tetris in the back of the van.  Sit back and admire my handiwork.  I am a packing God, the deity worshiped by all fathers going on a summer vacation.  Wife comes out:  "I forgot to put something in the suitcase." she'll say.  "The suitcase at the bottom?" I say.  She will smile, shrug her shoulders.  Unpack the chairs, the umbrella, the blue folded wagon.  Take out suitcase, unpack suitcase.  Pack suitcase for the third time.  Play Tetris, round 2--expert level.

Pack the cooler, the small soft sided one.  Put water bottles in first, juice boxes second.  Turn back and child will pack a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in there when I'm not looking.  Unwrapped, underneath the water so it's nice and hidden from Dad.  Add ice.  Sandwhich will now be slimy and gross, mushed pieces clinging to the plasitc bottles, jelly floating like mines for my fingers.  I will discover this mushed up sandwhich at our first bathroom stop, 1 hour into 8.  Pack patience and mercy.

Pack the books, put them next to the seats.  Put cargo carrier on top of van.  Pack it with blankets, pillows, more toys but not toilet paper.  Leave toilet paper on kitchen counter.  Curse when you get to rental house and there is no toilet paper.  Attempt to close cargo carrier.  Fail.  Get on ladder, rearrage, close again.  Hold hands up in victory pose when successful.  Wait for kids to take pictures of my awesomeness. Remember to pack kids.

Start car, smile at wife.  Pull out of driveway, find some tunes.  Turn around at first stopsign.  Head back to house.  Grab the phone chargers that are on the counter, next to the toilet paper.  Pack chargers, go out to car. 

Drive 15 minutes the wrong direction to pick up mother in law.  Unpack back of van, find room for one more suitcase by sacrificing chicken and the blue wagon.  Leave wagon by mother in laws front door.  Get back in van, sigh, check time to insure we are an hour late from my scheduled start time for trip.  Mother in Law asks where the kids are.

Head back to the house.  Pack the kids.  


Crazy Shakes

I put the green laundry basket, the one with the half the side missing, on my bed.  I dump out the clothes, an assortment of preteen girl pinks, nine-year-old boy blues, and toddler reds.  This could have been load number 15 this week, maybe 20.  I’m not sure.  The summer with the kids also brings never ending laundry, piles of which no longer fit in hampers but have now overtaken the upstairs hallway.  It's like a mold fungus on the set of an alien film. On autopilot, I begin to fold, mostly wad, and then throw the clothes into other baskets.  A green basket gets my daughters, a blue for my son, and a white for the toddler.
"Dad!" I hear.
I stop for the CRAZY SHAKES.
I head back to the laundry room, 8 by 5 with machines that are older than my children. If guests are coming over, my wife insists that I clean the top of the washing machine off. I have no idea why because for the life of me I can't imagine why any guest would want a tour of the laundry room. Besides which, I'm currently having a contest with myself. Can I let the liquid laundry detergent drip enough on to of the washer so that eventually it creates a recognizable landscape? Maybe something by Normal Rockwell.
"Dad! Umizoomi!"
I stop for the Crazy Shakes.
I put in the next load, my wife's clothes? Maybe mine? Probably the neighbors. We are getting quite the collection of other kids clothes thrown in with ours so far this summer. A pair of pants left over from a slumber party, a towel from that kid that we invited swimming. Sometimes I think other parents are telling their kids to leave things at my house for the sole purpose thinning out their own laundry herd. I like the idea, I'm going to steal it. I head back into my bedroom, I need to dust.
"Umizoomi! Umizoomi!"
I stop for the Crazy Shakes.
I don't think I dust enough. The corners of my room would agree with that. The dusting hasn't happened for a long enough time that normal dust has gained consciousness and banded together. They have created cities near the ceiling, where the beige corners meet the popcorn. If there are dust kids in there, I bet they find a way to add their laundry into mine. Dusting walls are one of those things that you never think about until you see entire countries of dust that have somehow gone unnoticed. Or maybe we are just filthy people. That's probably it.
"1,2,3,4! Umi City!"
I stop for the Crazy Shakes.
This isn't so bad, this time. I can shake and dust all in the same moment. Although I would appreciate it if my four-year-old could get the words to the song right. It's "In a world that's not so far away, Umi City." The counting comes in the verse before that one. I know it by heart. My son has been following me around for the last 30 minutes with that song on repeat on my phone. I tried to just put him in front of the T.V. and turn on the show but apparently, you can't do it that way. He's the world's weirdest stalker.
I lay on the ground to grab some library books out from under the bed. I should dust a little bit under there as well. But I'm not gonna unless of course guest are coming over and they would like a tour under my bed after they see the laundry room. I find 4 books, one of them has a picture of Bot on it, from the T.V. show Umizoomi. He's still and lifeless, I see no Crazy Shakes.
"Umizoomi! Umizoomi!"
I do the Crazy Shakes on the floor. If my other children walked in right now it would look like I'm having a seizure. But they won't walk in because they know that Dad is cleaning and that is the best way to insure that your older children won't come find you. Not the toddler though, he always finds me like some sort of god damn bloodhound.
I've tried to get him to help me clean before. It usually ends with him throwing something in the toilet and trying to flush it. When whatever item doesn't flush he throws a fit. But when something does flush, he throws a fit then too. He likes to do three things in this world at the moment: 1. Throw a fit. 2. Flush things. 3. The Crazy Shakes
I open the closet in my master bathroom, trying to put away some towels that the dog was sleeping on. He doesn't do the crazy shakes. He sleeps and barks. Occasionally, he will rub his butthole on the floor usually right after I vacuumed. I kinda hope he does this the next time we have guests over. I put the towels up and notice more laundry on the bottom of the closet floor. Jesus fuck, there is even hidden laundry now.
"You can count on us to save the day!"
I stop to do the Crazy Shakes.
My four-year-old has learned how to go onto youtube kids. I know that he isn't finding the Umizoomi song by himself, his sister is helping him, I'm sure of it. She denied it because 11-year-olds deny everything. Then they scream "That's not fair!" when you tell them that you don't believe them. I think this is supposed to be a power struggle type thing like maybe it's hard-wired into her DNA to argue with me. Except I don't know what her endgame is supposed to be. I also think 11-year-olds don't have foresight.
My son, the youngest one that is obsessed with the Umizoomi Theme song and likes to follow me around, knows how to scroll his finger back to start the theme song video back over or move it ahead to his favorite part, the crazy shakes. So that's what we do on clean days, the crazy shakes, over and over again.
"Dad! Umizoomi!"
We both stop what we are doing, him following me around with my phone and me cleaning, face each other and then twist our bodies. We jump up and down, our arms go wide and then close again. I stick out one foot and then pull it back quick. He bends at the waist, sticks his but in the air and wiggles it like he's trying to attract a mate. We do the Crazy Shakes.
It takes me 3 hours to do a load of laundry and clean the upstairs. In the bathroom, it takes a good 20 minutes to clean the mirror because, after almost every wipe and spray, I have to stop for the Crazy Shakes. I clean the toilet, doing the crazy shakes after each section. Once after cleaning the lid, once after cleaning rim, once after cleaning the bowl.
I clean my dresser, all the crap that ends up from my pockets at the end of every day. Hair ties, bits of trash, sometimes the white paper parts of band-aids--all end up in a little silver bowl on my dresser. I organize them, start to finally throw some of it away. And do the Crazy Shakes five times.
I could take the phone away, refuse to do any Crazy Shakes at all. But that means that I'm just cleaning, organizing and not doing anything at all fun. And that sucks. The Crazy Shakes? Shit, the Crazy Shakes are awesome.
"We can measure, build it together, you can help us, you're so clever!"
Let's do the Crazy Shakes.


Tara and The Evil Fog

Another piece that I wrote as practice.  It's based on the prompt:  A sulfurous wind blows from deep in the mountains.  Everything it touches becomes twisted and evil.

Tara ran on twig-like legs trying to put distance between her and the smog. Some said the smog came from Hong Kong, some said it came from Hell. It did not matter. What happened when the smog engulfed the world, that’s what mattered.

Tara ignored the reports of the smog until it hit Mcdonald's. Big Macs turned into healthy baked chicken in disgusting green spinach wraps. Delicious grease turned into wheat grass tea. Scrumptious fries turned soggy and the staff all grew man-buns while vegans came by the thousands. Vegans with tattoos about being a vegan! Tara then knew the world was about to change.

The smog made it through Hollywood and soon movies like Ghostbusters II were released. Walter White suddenly became cured of cancer and the Firefly remake starred Scott Baio. Netflix became something unrecognizable. The Ironfist received rave reviews for wonderful writing, Barney the Dinosaur got his own cop drama and Netflix and Chill now meant to go hang with your parents while discussing all your bad life choices.

All art became easily recognizable so even the common man could discuss it without even having a proper chakra alignment. Books became twenty pounds heavier and only discussed the topics of macroeconomics. All great buildings became brown and were built by a guy named Steve who only completed junior college in Cleveland, Ohio.

Tara couldn’t take it anymore, so she ran. She grabbed her cat and ran. In Texas, she turned north because they wouldn’t let her carry a gun. In New York, she turned west because they tried to make her carry a bazooka with no waiting periods and a history of mental illness. Tara found out that Colorado was full of a bunch of people who were not high and hated hiking. She went to Florida and saw that not a single person was committing any crazy felonies, like robbing a 7/11 with an alligator. North Dakota pretty much remained the same. So she ran, any direction she could, she ran. Her legs probably got really tired.

Internet people wrote stories that didn’t make any sense, neckbeards were polite, and Reddit became an understanding and great place to have political discussions. Pornhub became the leader of No-Fap, Twitter expanded so that you could write 150,000 characters and Breitbart had a reputation for honest and fair reporting.

Exhausted, there was a lot of running, she went to the last place she could think of. Dennys. She sat down and waited for the waitress. She ignored the fistfight in the corner booth and gently wiped the cigarette butts off her table. The waitress eventually came over then left without taking her order. She came back sometime the next day, where Tara was still waiting.

But as Tara was about to give her order for a heaping helping of extra lard fried pancakes, she saw the smog creep in under the doors. It spread quickly. The fistfight, which now included 4 different families from 4 different trailer parks, stopped. They sat down and started discussing ways that they could improve nuclear security in the United States with a couple of rubber bands and a case of Miller Light. The lighting in the restaurant also improved, showing how much no one had bothered to bathe in a quite a while. The darkness retreated further to highlight the menus, which now showed nothing but healthy and organic choices, like kelp macaroni cooked in seaweed oil. Drunk food no longer existed. Tara’s waitress came back 20 times in 2 minutes to refill her tea glass, never adding any extra ice but always more tea.

As the smog overtook Tara, she had to fight the urge to call all of her ex-boyfriends to talk about feelings. She fought and fought and looked to the one thing that gave her strength. She saw her cat, Mr. Twinkles, bathed in the yellowish glow of the smog. Mr. Twinkles inhaled thick streams of the smog, breath after breath.

And, as Tara’s mind began to think of doilies crocheted for empty Coke Cans, she noticed something about Mr. Twinkles.

He hadn’t changed at all.


Never Talk About Your Book.

The first rule of writing a book is to never talk about writing a book.  It's an artist version of fight club.  At night, when the rest of the world is asleep, we gather in dirty basements or in the small back rooms of Chinese restaurants and have story duel offs.  Instead of punches, we scream cleverly worded phrases at each other.  Then, when the Alpha writer gets in the middle of the circle, he will write that phrase on a piece of paper.  He will hold it high above his head and yell "Who wants a papercut!"

And of course, since the first rule of writers club is to never talk about writer's club, we talk about it all the time.  We talk about it to everyone.  "Hey, did you know I wrote a book?" we will say to the random stranger on the street.  And this is important because he probably doesn't even know that you wrote a book.  The nice stranger, someone who doesn't have clever phrases ping-ponging around in his head, will usually run away right when we are trying to tell him how the second act is just brilliant.

Our spouses, those that are lucky enough to have cleverly phrased someone into staying with us, have to sit in bed and constantly hear about our book.  We will tell them "Honey, you should really hear this lovely way I described centipedes crawling over the dead body in Chapter 2."  The spouse will try to turn away from us but it makes no difference, we will keep talking about our book and what's in there.  Sometimes we won't even talk about the book itself, but the craft.  But you can't say "craft" like a normal person, like someone who scrapbooks (not a real book) on the weekend.  You have to drag the word out and talk like you have an overabundance of air to go with your overinflated ego.  "Honey, the craaafffftttt (almost leaving spittle on the final T), is so amazing and I'm so good a the craaafffftttt".

They can't divorce you of course because your written response to her divorce papers will be so cleverly written that you will obviously win the judge's favor.  Your awesome twist at the end will just be too much for them to handle and the judge will declare you married forever.  And he will also hear about your book.

When your wife is faking being asleep and you can't find the random stranger on the street, then you will need to talk about your book to your children.  You will lightly tug on your soul patch while you talk about the soul of your book.  You will explain subtext to you children and spout off about situational irony.  At some point, your nine-year-old son will exclaim "Jesus fucking Christ, Dad!  We get it, you wrote a book!"  You won't' get mad at him for the swearing but tell him to use it only sparingly and only if it fits the character.  Don't want to be fucking gratuitous with those type of words, people tend to get turned off by it.  Shit, be careful with the wording you twats.

And maybe, if your phrases have been clever enough, maybe your 11-year-old daughter will say:

"Dad, you need a cover for your book."

"But I don't have a title, honey.  I barely have a manuscript."

"I got you fam," she will say because she loves all your fancy words and non-gratuitous cussing.

Three hours later you have a book cover.  This is great because now you can post that you have a book all over social media because that is what your tech-savvy daughter tells you.  She uses unfamiliar words like "Twitter" and "Instagram."  Since you are a writer, and horrible at self-promotion, you should probably just give your computer to your kid and let them do it while you cluster the words Twitter and Instagram for inspiration.

Now that you have a book cover you can also blog about it.  But it won't be about the book, no that's to direct for a writer, the craft demands subtlety.  So you will write a funny story about a pretentious writer, a cliche for sure, and throw in some f-bombs.  Now everyone, EVERYONE, should know that you have a book.  This is good because you are never supposed to talk about the book you have written because it makes you feel like you are whoring yourself out to the masses.

But you can certainly write about writing a book.  There are no rules about that.


Flaming Arrows

"Can we do flaming arrows!" one of the kids asked me.  Around the porch table a chorus of "No!" could be heard.  The 5 mothers defiantly thought that flaming arrows were a bad idea in much the same vein as the Red Rider BB gun.  If a BB gun will shoot your eye out then a flaming arrow launched from a medieval siege weapon will pierce your skull and completely obliterate any good sense you had in the first place.

"Please!" they children asked.  One of the kids, an 11-year-old boy that had helped build the ballista, then showed us a stick.  I took it and turned it over.  He had taken a cottontail he had found in the fields at the farm we were staying at.  He had used some wire to attach the top of the cottontail to the stick.  To his credit, it very much looked like an arrow.  The stick was straight, other branches had been carved off it, and the tip was secure.  I'm not going to lie, I was pretty damn impressed with the arrow.

"We made a bunch of them," he said.

"Oh my gosh!" the mother's responded.

The dads though began to appreciate the workmanship and gumption of the children.  I mean, come on, they made arrows.

Together as a group, we are quite large.  Five families, sixteen kids and one farmhouse in the middle of Kansas.  The youngest kid is three, our oldest is twelve.  We have ceased to be a dads group at this point and are now into cult territory.  Each year we rent a place out among the fields and the cows, relishing the quiet and space.

The kids get to run around the farm, discovering turtles and the kittens that always show up every summer.  They can get dirty, roughhouse without breaking too much, and build those memories that I am after so much.

The parents get to sit around and talk about adult things, like politics and interest rates.  But mostly we just sit and sip drinks while looking at the stars.  Sometimes one of us will remember that the kids are around somewhere and should go check on them.  That's probably a good idea because each year I also build a siege weapon from 2000-year-old plans.

Two years ago we built a trebuchet, launching baseballs 70 yards down into the tall Kansas grass.  Last year it was a torsion style catapult that didn't shoot it's projectiles of potatoes and eggs as far as the trebuchet.  This year was the ballista.

For those that don't know what a ballista is, it's basically a very large crossbow.  The kids help me build it right before we go to the farm.  While we cut the wood and twist rope, I will get into the mathematics of the machine and why it works.  Halfway through this lecture, they will stop helping.  I will yell "The arm has to be 3/4's the length of the base!  Do you know why!  Let me tell you why!"  They just keep walking.  One day though I'll get them to understand how math helps their everyday lives.

For those that are asking "Why" I build these things, you can go ahead and close your browser now, you don't get to read about the ballista.  You have lost your turn if you can't appreciate it.  The answer is obvious, it's a ballista.  It shoots things.  That's why you build it.

I looked at the arrow more closely, letting the weight slide around in my hand.  The kids did a damn fine job, it even feels balanced like a proper flaming arrow should.  But would it light?  Would the fire go out once we launched it?  Not if I used a little bit of lighter fluid.  We are dads at a farm, I'm sure there is lighter fluid somewhere around here.  Probably not a fire extinguisher, but defiantly some lighter fluid.

The moms would never go for it of course.  They spent the first day a the farm telling horror stories of the diseases you can get from the turtles the kids found. Two of the moms are doctors so you have to take them a little bit more seriously than the WebMD moms you find on the internet.  Salmonella, hospital visits, flesh-eating bacteria.  Moms sometimes like to crap on a good time.  Last year it was the danger of ticks and Lyme disease.

So the dads, and I mean me, made an executive decision.

Can we shoot flaming arrows from the ballista?
You are god damn right we can.  I mean, it's a ballista, it's built for this type of thing!!  We have to ratchet down some of the power though, we have to be sensible about this type of thing.