Category Archives: blog

on being thankful

I really like Thanksgiving.
I love gathering with my family, spending the day with people I don’t get to see very often, and sitting down for a massive dinner that I didn’t have to cook.
Is there a better time for a List Of Seven?
Today, I am thankful for:

  1. Creative energy, used to bring Joy into the world.
  2. Seeing my cousin Dustin today.
  3. My invitation to the Cast and Crew screening of Trek X
  4. Finally looking back on my teenage years with more joy than regret.
  5. My wife cuddling me because she loves me…not because she’s trying to stay warm.
  6. Ferris, when she looks at me and says, “What?”
  7. I am thankful for this website, and the readers who have come together from around the world to share in my stupid life, riding the roller coaster of success and failure, triumph and despair. I know for a fact that I never would have grown from struggling actor-slash-has-been to aspiring writer-slash-actor.

Our extended Thought For Today comes from Bob in Iowa, Katie’s father:


What I Am Thankful For
———————-
I am thankful that my daughter’s surgery went smoothly and successfully. Her kidneys will not develop horrible problems later in life, and a small scar is indeed an easy price to pay for her health.
I am thankful for the skill of the pediatric urology surgeon and the team that worked on my daughter. Their skill has proved in her case, as in many others I’m sure, that disciplined modern medicine is something that we should all be glad for. I am thankful for whoever the person or team was that invented the careful system of moving around and passing instruments in the modern surgery room. I am thankful for whoever the person or team was that sterilizes those instruments at the University of Iowa Hospital, and indeed in all hospitals.
I am thankful that my daughter’s recovery has been as impressive as the surgery itself. She is home now, running around like a precocious 16-month-old should, and she will be able to enjoy a Thanksgiving Dinner with her family.
I am thankful that my daughter is running around like a precocious 16-month-old, and I will try to remember that the next time she gets into something that she knows she shouldn’t or knocks something over. I am thankful that she will continue to grow up healthy. I am thankful that I have a daughter.
I am thankful to Wil Wheaton, who responded to an email I wrote at a time when I was at my worst, my most desperate. That simple request, which was fulfilled despite Wil’s having absolutely no obligation to, lead to an outpouring of love that not only affected me very deeply and helped my daughter in a very real way, it seems to have affected everyone involved in some way.
I am thankful to the complete strangers who, upon reading the entry in Wil Wheaton’s blog, made a simple choice to take a moment from their day and send some love my daughter’s way. I swear to God that I felt it, and I believe in my heart that it helped both with the surgery and with the swift recovery. I just wish there was another word to describe a person whom I have never met besides “stranger”, because that name is so ill-fitting to the people who took the time to help my daughter.
But most of all, I am thankful that despite the horrible things that we see every day on television and read about every day in newspapers, there is enough love in the world to selflessly help a little girl in need of love, and that we really are a loving and caring race. More often than not, we seem to forget what we really are. I am thankful that this opportunity arose to remind us all.
Thank you all for your compassion and kindness. Katie is recovering wonderfully, and I don’t doubt for a second that all of your goodwill and love is a MAJOR reason for that. I really cannot thank any of you enough, other than to say, “Thank you.” May you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving surrounded by family and friends.
– Bob Roth, WWDN fan

Last Place You Look

It’s so windy here in Pasadena today, it’s snowing leaves. There is this large area of a hillside in Burbank where there was a massive fire a few months ago, and a huge cloud of dust hovers over it, like a sandstorm.
The Santa Ana Winds are in full effect, and my dry skin, nose and throat are a small price to pay for clear blue skies and warm temperatures in November.
So here’s something unexpected: I did a voice today on this new show for the Kids WB! The call came on Friday, and here’s the cool thing: the director, a wonderful woman named Andrea Romano, who has won seven emmy’s called my agent and requested me, based on my work with her last year on “The Zeta Project.”
I can’t say what voice I did, but I was told when I left today that they were so happy, I would probably be asked back to do the role again in the next thirteen episodes.
The episode I did was written by this really nice guy named Marv Wolfman, who co-created and wrote “Teen Titans” for sixteen years, created “Blade,” and was just an all-around cool guy. We spent some time geeking out about comic books today…it just killed me that he was referring to Alan Moore as “Alan.”
Animation is really fun, because it’s really quick work (usually less than 4 hours for an episode), and the people who do it are all really cool…but it’s also very hard to break into the animation world, because the community is extremely small, and very protective. Being asked by a very respected director to come back, based on her previous experience with me, is just HUGE, and it makes me feel really good, and it may signal my entry into the world of animation.
A few months ago, I made this major decision in my life: I would stop applying a singular focus to getting work as an actor. I would continue to accept auditions as they came along, but I wasn’t going to break my back, or sacrifice time with my friends and family to play Hollywood’s game.
Since I made that choice, stopped caring so much about acting, and started focusing on writing, and being a husband and father, I’ve gotten two jobs almost immediately.
So I guess I’m going to have to start calling myself “Writer-Slash-Actor.”
You’ll note that I did not say “Actor-Slash-Writer.” This is a very important distinction.

Scratch

Ferris is playing this game:
1. She picks up the soggy remains of her rawhide bone, and drops it on the ground.
2. She backs up, tail wagging, and stares at it.
3. She growls at it, then lunges forward, picking it up as she runs around the living room.
4. She brings it to me, and drops it in my lap.
5. I say, “that’s really interesting, Ferris,” and drop it on the floor, where she picks it up, and takes it back to the middle of the room.
Then she goes and does the whole thing again.
See, Anne went up to Oregon this weekend, and the kids are with their dad, so it’s just me and Ferris hanging out. This is how we entertain ourselves in the absence of any real responsible people around.
It’s actually a good weekend for me to take a break, because I’ve been writing and re-writing pretty much non-stop since last Friday –dramatic pause– and I finished my first draft of my book on Thursday. It went off to my editor yesterday morning, and I’m anticipating doing some rewrites next week.
I’m really excited about it, and I hope to have a limited first printing ready in time for Xmas. I’ll post details when I get it all worked out.
The weekend so far:
I went with some friends to see Die Another Day last night at the Arclight. I’m not an action movie guy at all, but I love James Bond, and this is easily the best Bond picture I’ve seen in maybe five years, aside from some inexcusably terrible miniature and FX work, the script is fun, paying tribute to some of the my favorite Bond pictures.
This morning, I went on a hike with my brother and my friend Mykal. We were hoping to find the Dawn Mine Geocache, but we couldn’t even get on the right trail to the damn mine before we ran out of time and had to get back to the car. We went up to a beautiful waterfall, though.
Oh, and last week, when I took the kids to find the Geocache at Rubio? Yeah. I walked RIGHT. FUCKING. THROUGH. Poison oak. It is all over my right forearm, my left bicep, my forehead, on my left knee, my neck, and my right ankle. I think I qualify for some sort of “complete dumbass” award for not seeing it.
Lame.
The really cool thing, though, is that I sort of look like one of those guys in “Scanners” right before they blow up. And kind of like pictures of the moon. And also sort of like an alligator…but a scary X-files mutant alligator from hell who shoots death beams out of his eyes and creeps out of your bathtub at night to suck your skin off, and sing Copacabana in your living room.
I read somewhere that massive itching can make one go a little batty…but I don’t believe it.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

“It’s 4:00 PM?! Holy shit! How did it get to be FOUR FREAKING IN THE AFTERNOON?!”
It’s 4:00 PM, and I only have thirty minutes before I have to leave. Anne will come home while I’m out, and I’ve been spending the last few hours cleaning the house, so she won’t walk into chaos when she arrives. It’s taken me longer than I intended, leaving me little time to iron my pants and my shirt.
I’m a ball of stress, because when I try to handle an iron, I may as well be using my feet. I’m a ball of stress because Ferris refuses to eat, and really wants to play with me while I’m adding wrinkles to my shirt. I’m a ball of stress because I’ve been invited to the formal dinner at Ruddock House, at Cal Tech, and I can’t pull myself together.
See, I desperately wish that I was a smarter, nerdier, more educated person than I am, and I’m about to go sit in a room full of people who know more about math, physics, engineering, and how to creatively blow things up than I ever will. So I am very nervous. I want to make a good impression, and I want to participate in the discussions intelligently. I also know that most of the room will be people who are at least familiar with Star Trek, if not full-on Trekkies, and it’s going to be really embarrassing when they realize that the smart kid from TV totally doesn’t rate.
So I’ve asked my friend Shane to come with me. He is a Cal Tech alum from 1992, and he lived in Ruddock House. I figure that if I clam up, he’ll help me feel comfortable, and draw attention away from what a lamer I am.
it’s 4:15, and my clothes are actually more wrinkled than they were when I started. For a brief moment, I wish polyester was back in fashion. This wish passes quickly as I remember what it felt like to actually wear polyester when I was a kid. I decide to kick Ferris out of the room, and focus, dammit.
I get the wrinkles out of my shirt, and hang it up, expecting it to fall onto the floor. Thankfully, it does not. Ferris has parked herself outside my bedroom door, and is sniffing at the space between it and the floor.
It’s 4:25, and my pants are looking good, but the area near the pockets is giving me trouble, so I add water to the iron, hoping for steam.
What I get is a puddle on my pants.
The door begins to breathe.
I shake off the pants, and press the iron into the puddle, turning it mostly to steam. I hope it will dry before I get to Tech.
The doorbell rings. It’s 4:30. I let Shane in, and while he entertains Ferris, I choose a tie. I wonder if I should go for my Star Wars tie, or my Where’s Waldo tie. I hold them both up, and decide that I’ll go for a much more conservative tie, which I call my “1950’s Science Teacher Tie.”
Shane changes into a shirt and Looney Tunes tie, and we’re ready to go. I sure hope my pants dry.
We make the short drive to Tech, listening to Boingo Alive, catching up. I don’t get to see Shane at all these days, as a consequence of our schedules and stuff, so it’s nice to get a few minutes to talk about what we’re doing, and how our lives are. I don’t tell him how nervous I am, and if he notices, he doesn’t ask.
We arrive at Tech, and make our way into Ruddock. We find Abe, who has invited us to dinner.
Abe and his roommates are dressed casually, sitting in their room. Shane and I realize that we’re an hour early.
Oh jeeze. At least my pants are dry.
I don’t’ want to make this guy entertain me for a whole hour, so I tell Shane to take me around the campus. I haven’t seen it in over 10 years, so it will be fun. We tell Abe that we’ll catch up with him in the dining room at 6, and head out.
Shane gives me a very nice 25 cent tour, and I wistfully long to be in college, when the primary cares in the world are getting good grades and hooking up with a DG on the weekend. I think about how much there is for me to learn, how much there is for me to understand. I think about how much knowledge I don’t have to pass on to my step-kids. I envy the people on the other side of the walls, as we walk past the various residence halls.
Thirty minutes later, we’ve circumnavigated the entire campus, and we’re back in the dining hall. Fifteen minutes later, and the residents begin filing in.
I talk with many of them, answering questions about Star Trek and my website. I find out that Abe is one of the editors of a humor publication for Ruddock House called The BFD, so we talk about satire and comedy. Shane sees people he graduated with, and he slips through the crowd to go talk to them, leaving me. I look inward, expecting to find panic…they’re going to realize that I’m not cool, I think…but the panic isn’t there. Though I’m not nearly as smart as these people, I’m amongst friends. I am amongst people of a similar mind, and I feel welcome and at home.
We joke about nerdy things, though I quickly become aware of the difference in our ages. I’m much older than these guys, so some of my nerdy references sail over their heads — not because they’re dense, but because I’m talking about something that happened before they were born.
Dinner is served, and we take our seats. I really enjoy the company of the people I’m sitting near, and the meal is excellent. The time flies by too quickly, and dinner is finished.
The president of Ruddock stands up and says that there are several guests tonight, and now is the time for them to be introduced.
A student at the end of our table stands, and introduces his guests, and the student sitting across from him does the same. I begin to get nervous, knowing that I’m going to be standing up in front of all these people in less than a minute. I close my mouth and run my tongue across my teeth, hoping that my Standard Issue British Teeth haven’t snagged any food for later. Finding none, I turn my attention back to the students who are now standing across from us. It’s the Ruddock librarian, a very nice, mirthful young man who was introduced to me earlier in the evening as “The Biggest Star Trek Fan Of All Time.” He stands, and announces to the dining room, “Hi. My name is Wil Wheaton…”
There is much laughter, and I shout out, “I hated you on Star Trek!!”
There is even more laughter. I allow myself to smile…that was pretty funny.
It is Abe’s turn to introduce me, and I stand up.
“This is Wil Wheaton,” he says. There is applause and some whistling. I feel really embarrassed and self conscious. It’s really strange to me to feel this way, but it happens every time I’m the focus of people’s attention and I’m not on stage. I manage to wave at them all, and say “Thank you,” before settling back into my seat.
The rest of the introductions are made, as well as some announcements, and the dinner is done.
I could hang out all night with these people, talking about Lord of the Rings and The Simpsons, but Shane has to teach a class early in the morning, so we must leave.
As we’re on our way out, a guy asks me if I’ll participate in the good-natured teasing of their RA, a very pretty girl who, he tells me, had a big crush on my when she was young. I ask him what he has in mind. He tells me that I should go up to her, and kiss her hand. I decline, because it seems a bit presumptuous, and I suggest he think of something else while I sign the Ruddock guest book.
When I return, he has a devilish idea: I should walk over to her, and tell her that I’m a big fan of hers. I agree.
I walk across the room, and she looks up. I guess the group of guys is following me, because she blushes, and proceeds to describe to them the various ways she’s going to dismember them.
“Can I shake your hand?” I ask her, taking her hand in mine. “When I was a kid, I subscribed to Hot RA Magazine just so I could have your pictures on my wall!”
She laughs, I laugh, and the guys laugh. She describes further acts of torture they’ll be enduring, as I produce my camera from my pocket. I ask her if she’ll pose for a picture with me, and she agrees. We snap the photo, and then it’s my turn to pose with some people for a few others.
We thank Abe for the invite, and he tells us that we can come back for a non-formal dinner any time.
I can’t wait to go back and enjoy their company again. The genuine kinship these people seem to have is warm and wonderful. I hope they realize how lucky they are, and don’t take this time for granted.
I certainly didn’t.

Useless

I’m beginning to think that I am the world’s worst Geocacher, man. I’ve gotten to enjoy many nice hikes, which is really cool, but I rarely find the cache, and today was no exception.
After breakfast this morning (made by yours truly for the family while the wife slept in, thankyouverymuch) we took the kids to find the Rubio Haunted Area, but after 40 minutes of searching an area of about 40 square feet, we gave up. We did get to see a deer climbing up the mountain, though, which was really cool.
Been listening to the Oingo Boingo Farewell Concert while I’ve been home today. Boingo is one of those bands which for whatever reason is only associated with positive memories:

  • Gates McFadden dancing around to “Elevator Man,” way back when we were on TNG.
  • Darin and me cranking Boingo Alive while driving down to Disneyland on one of our numerous Annual pass holder’s trips during high school.
  • Going to a Laserium show at the Griffith Observatory to see the KROQ show in 10th grade, which was my first introduction to “Grey Matter.”

Actually, I do have one sad memory associated with Boingo: The Boi~ngo CD was one of my favorites back in the day, and it’s nowhere to be found in my collection. Sadly, it’s out of print, so I’m reduced to digging through the bargain bin at the Car Wash in hopes of finding one amongst all the Bob Goldthwait comedy albums. Oh, and their official website seems to be down.
So that’s two things.
But I saw a deer today. (ECHO $LAME_STAND_BY_ME_JOKE)
UPDATE: 10PM PST: Thank you to all the people who emailed me about picking up Boi~ngo on eBay, or half.com! I spoke with my best friend Darin, and he has a copy of thhe CD that we used to listen to at his house! I’m picking up a copy from him tomorrow. (That’s ethical, right? I bought the CD once, and it got lost, and it’s out of print anyhow…so getting a copy…that’s cool, right? Maybe I’ll “bid” on it from him.) =]

STFU

Took the day off today, and went on a long walk with Anne.
She pointed out that November is her favorite month, and it was easy to see why, with the sun warming our shoulders, as we walked beneath the bluest blue sky I’ve seen over Pasadena in years.
As we walked down Colorado Boulevard, in and out of the cool shadows cast by stores and the occasional tree, we hit upon a wonderful, awful, Grinchy idea: We’d walk quickly to a movie theatre, buy tickets for the next showing of Harry Potter, and we’d race ourselves home, manufacture a reason to snatch the boys from school, and take them to the movies.
It was brilliant. We hit the theatre at 11, bought tickets for the 12:30 show, and had time to grab a bagel before we made it back home. We took the kids out of school for “personal reasons” and settled into our seats with time to spare.
Now, I don’t go to the movies too often. It just strikes me as stupid to pay money to listen to other people talk on their phones and smack gaping mouthfuls of popcorn while slurping the last drops of Coke out of their super-sized drink cups.
I don’t know why people can’t stay quiet, and respectful of their fellow audience members for a few short hours. I suppose they feel that their ticket entitles them to behave however they’d like, so I usually stay home, and spare myself the aggravation.
Well, if you were in the 12:30 show today, I’d just like to say, as a member of the audience: WOULD. YOU. PLEASE. SHUT. THE. FUCK. UP! Talk in your home, talk in your car. Talk anywhere, really, but shut the fuck up when you’re in the theatre.
Sorry. A teeny bit of pent-up aggression there. =]
The movie was entertaining, though I didn’t enjoy it as much as the first one, which I watched in silence in my own house. I haven’t read the books, but Ryan has, and he told us that the film was a more-or-less faithful adaptation. I think it could have been about 30 minutes shorter, but I also think the theater could have been about 30 times quieter.
It was worth it, though, because the kids had an amazing time. We ensured that they wouldn’t be missing anything vital in school, and I think we helped create a fond memory today.
Thought for today:


“Not all those who wander are lost.”

Ouch

I am writing this while I lay on my back in my living room, my iBook sitting atop my chest…because this morning, Anne and I were doing some planting, and I threw out my back.
How did I do that? Oh, I was doing something very manly and difficult…I was lifting a half-empty watering can and moving it. I was bent at the waist, and when I turned to put it down, I felt my back sieze, and I fell to the ground…it was very “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”
So we spent the day trying to get my hips to relax, and take the pressure off my back. Thankfully, my parents live nearby and I was able to sit in their spa for an hour…I’m feeling better, but I’m nowhere near 100%, and I am really freaked about working tomorrow…I checked the schedule and I’m sitting for most of the day, but damn, man, sitting really hurts.
And can I just say that typing while laying on your back isn’t the easiest thing, either? It’s yet another nail in the coffin of my camwhore dreams.
So the gallery opening last night was really fun, and CROWDED! My friend Sean said that there was a bigger turnout than he had ever expected…oh, and the show was amazing. It’ll be open until the 30th, so if you’re in town, you should check it out. I met a few WWDNers there, so that was spiffy. I hope you guys enjoyed the show. It was the first opening I’ve taken the kids to, and they really dug it. I think it helped that there were pictures of skateboarders and punk rockers all over the place. I don’t know if they’d appreciate a Mark Ryden or a Clayton brothers show…but we’ll find out soon enough.
I hope everyone had a great weekend. I work all day with Chef tomorrow…so I’ll have some lame fanboy stuff to share with you all.
Update: I just saw this over at boing boing. Coolest. Thing. EVER!

Home Again

Anne and I are back from the AVON 3 Day.
Our feet are as sore as you’d think, Anne hyper-extended her knee, and I really messed up the arch ofmy right foot…but it was the most amazing experience I have ever had in my life. It was absolutely life-changing, and I can’t wait to write all about it.
It will be several days before I can, though, because when I got home, I found out that I had been cast in a movie.
That’s right.
Just when I decide that I’m not going to be an actor any more, I go and get cast in a movie.
As the lead.
=:o
I am number one on the call sheet, and everything!
I had my first day today, and I will work every day on the production, right up until my anniversary in November…so I fear that entries in the old WWDN Weblog will be shorter, more diary-like, some updates on the movie and stuff.
Right now, I am exhausted, and I have to go to sleep. More updated information about the film and the walk when I have some time.
Oh, I am going to be on Screen Savers on Wednesday. It should be a really funny segment, so check it out.
Unless you’re not into funny tech stuff, and babes. In that case, you’d probably be better off watching Maisy.
Know what’s weird? I had Chinese take out with the kids a few weeks ago, and my fortune said:

“All your hard work is about to pay off.”

Crazy.

Houses In Motion

It’s been almost a year since Aunt Val died.
I’m driving with my dad across the San Fernando Valley, on our way to Aunt Val’s house. Though we were all promised that the house would remain in the family, it has been sold, and there are many things to be picked up and moved out. Thankfully, there has been precious little pettiness and bickering within the family about her things so far.
My dad has asked me to help him pick up a china cabinet which belonged to my grandmother, and is intended for my mother.
I wonder why he didn’t ask my younger, stronger brother to help out, but I don’t ask. I’m always happy when my dad asks me to do things with him, so I decide not to push my luck.
We ride mostly in silence, but not uncomfortably. I’m lost in thought, though it won’t occur to me until later that this is the last time I’ll make this drive. This drive that I’ve made since I was in a car seat. I’m thinking about what I could talk to my dad about: baseball? the kids? my family? work? We end up talking about them all, and the drive passes very quickly.
As we drive down Aunt Val’s street, it hits me: this is it. I’ve been asked to help my dad move furniture, but I’m really here to say goodbye to this house that’s been part of my life since I was a child.
A tremendous sadness washes over me as we back into the driveway.
I exchange polite hellos with Aunt Val’s daughter, who is responsible for the selling of the house, and walk inside.
It’s the first time I’ve been there since her death, and the house feels cold and empty. It’s more than just the furniture being gone. It’s her warmth and love that are missing.
Most of the furniture has been moved out, but certain things remain untouched: her bookcase, filled to overflowing with pictures of the family and children’s artwork…some of it mine…still dominates tne side of the living room, the recliners where my great grandparents spent most of the last years of their lives opposite. I remember sitting in my Papa’s chair, while Aunt Val sat next to me, watching Love Boat and Fantasy Island, thrilled that I was staying up past my bedtime, watching shows intended for grownups, putting one over on my parents who would often drop my siblings and me off for the weekend.
I loved those weekends. When we spent time with Aunt Val we were loved. We were the center of the
Universe, and though she was well into her 70s, she would play with us, walk with us to get snacks,
let us stay up late. It was wonderful.
In the living room, the table where Aunt Val would put the artificial tree at Christmas is gone, though it’s footprints still mark the carpet. In my mind, I put it back, fill the space beneath it with gifts, warm the air with the laughter and love of the entire family gathered around it, singing songs and sipping cider.
I blink and the room is empty again. The warm light of memory is replaced with the harsh sunlight of
the fading afternoon. Aunt Val’s dog Missy is nosing at my hand, asking to go outside.
I lead her toward the patio doors. Aunt Val’s dining room table, where the adults would sit at reunions and holiday meals, is still there, covered in paperwork and trash. It’s a little obscene.
When I was little, Aunt Val would always sit at the card table –the kid’s table– with us, and when I was fourteen or so I was moved to the “adult’s table.” The next year I begged to be granted a spot
with her at the kid’s table again.
Missy is impatient. She urges me through the kitchen. I look at the cabinet where my great grandparents kept their Sugar Corn Pops cereal. Regardless of the time of day my brother and sister
and I would arrive at her house, we were always hungry for cereal, and Aunt Val was always happy to
oblige. This cabinet, which I couldn’t even reach, this cabinet which held so many wonders is now empty, and at my eye level. I am sad that my own children will never get to look up at it’s closed door, and proclaim themselves starving with a hunger that can only be cured by a trip to the Honeycomb hideout.
The kitchen counters are littered with dishes and glasses. Notes written in Aunt Val’s handwriting still cling to the refrigerator, surrounded by my cousin Josh’s schoolwork.
They say that when a house is passed over by a tornado, it can do strange things to the things inside. They say that sometimes a whole room can be destroyed, and the table will still be set, candlesticks standing, untouched by the violence of the storm. As I look at the refrigerator, unchanged in nearly a year, I wonder why some things have been left alone while others have been
completely dismantled. It’s like a half-hearted attempt has been made to honor her memory.
I walk onto the patio. Missy runs after a bird, and disappears around the corner of the house, leaving me alone.
I stand on the patio, knowing that it will be for the last time. I see the backyard through the eyes of a child, a teenager, an adult, a parent. I look at Aunt Val’s pool, and remember when I was so small, riding around it on a big wheel seemed to take all day. I remember playing with my cool Trash Compactor Monster in the shallow end, before I was big enough to brave the deep end and it’s mysteries, known only to the Big Cousins. I remember being unable to ever successfully complete a
flip off the diving board, and reflexively rub my lower back.
I look at the slide, and the sobs which have been threatening since I walked into the house begin.
In summer of last year, I’d taken Ryan and Nolan to spend the day with Aunt Val. The three of us sat
with her on the patio, eating hot dogs she’d grilled for us, drinking punch she’d made. The kids talked eagerly with her about their plans for the rest of the summer and the upcoming school year. I watched her listen to them, the same way she’d listened to me say the same things twenty years earlier, happy that they were getting to share in her unconditional love the way I had.
We went swimming. Nolan and Ryan both doing cannonballs and flips, Aunt Val always giving them an approving, “Good for you, kiddo!” after each trick.
God, I can hear her voice as I write this.
When they grew tired of tricks, they took to the slide. They took turns for a few minutes, going head-first, on their backs, on their knees.
Ryan was sitting at the top of the slide, waiting for Nolan to get out of the landing area, when he screamed and raced into the water. I immediately knew something was wrong, and rushed to the water’s edge to meet him.
I got him out, and saw that he’d been stung by a wasp.
We patched him up with baking soda and some Tylenol, and prepared to spend the rest of the afternoon inside, watching TV.
Aunt Val wouldn’t hear any of that. She picked up a broom, and some Raid, and marched out to the angry nest of wasps, which we now knew was just beneath the upper edge of the slide. The wasps were pretty pissed, and beginning to swarm, and I couldn’t stop my 84 year old great aunt from wiping them out, so the kids could continue to play.
I’m looking at the slide, remembering that day, remembering how scared I was that she’d get stung and would go into shock, remembering how much fun the kids had with her.
I remembered that day, and recalled a thought I had back then, watching her battle with those wasps: Aunt Val isn’t going to be with us forever. Some day I’m going to stand here, and she’ll be gone, and I’ll cry.
So I cry. I miss her. I miss her. I miss her. I miss her. It’s not fair that she died. It’s not fair at all. I miss her. She was in perfect health one day, and the next she was gone. It’s not fair, and I miss her, and I have to say goodbye to this house, and that’s not fair either.
The finality of her loss takes hold, and refuses to let go. I cry until my sides hurt and my throat is dry. My cheeks are soaked, my nose is running. It’s fitting that as I bid farewell to the house and person who played such an important part in my childhood, I sob like a child.
After awhile, I pull myself together, take a hard look at the backyard, run my hand along the slide, and say goodbye out loud.
I walk back into the house, and I help my dad load the china cabinet into the car. It is heavy and cuts into my hands as I lift it. I’m nervous about dropping it.
Aunt Val’s daughter comes out of the house. I want to scream at her for selling off this enormous part of my childhood, but I don’t. I continue tying down the cabinet, tell her goodbye, and get into the car.
We pull out of the driveway, and drive down the street for the last time.
I speak effusively with my dad on the drive home. I talk about the kids. I talk about work. I talk about the Dodgers and I ask lots of questions about when I was a kid. I want to cherish this time with him, make the most of it. I don’t want to waste any of the time we have together.
When we get home with the china cabinet, my mom asks me how it was being at Aunt Val’s house.
“Tough,” I tell her.
She understands.
We unload the china cabinet. My dad hugs me tightly and thanks me for helping with him. I tell them
that I love them, and I drive home, alone and silent.
It’s been a year since Aunt Val died.
Truth is, it could be a day, or a decade. She is gone, and I will always miss her.

If you’re not ready, holler “Aye!”

I am standing in the kitchen making dinner, listening through the open window to Ryan and Nolan as they play whiffle ball in our front yard.. They’re actually playing nicely together, not being overly competitive.
Nolan stands over a patch of dirt, in front of a bush, which represents home plate, while Ryan hurls the ball towards him.
Ryan always tries to throw the ball too hard, and usually has trouble finding the strike zone, so Nolan just sits there, letting the ball bounce off of the house behind him.
Nolan comes in for a drink of water, and without even thinking I tell him, “It sounds like you guys are having a great time out there. Tell you what: you keep up this good attitude, and I’ll come out and play with you.”
Nolan does a little hop, and says, “COOL!” before he runs back outside. I hear him tell Ryan, “Wil says he’ll come play with us!”
They’re both excited to play with me…that’s cool. I’ve been really busy these past few weeks, finishing up my book, so I haven’t been able to play with the kids very much. They’re getting to that age where they want to hang out one minute, and the next minute I’m so incredibly uncool they can’t even stand to be in the same room as me. Hearing the genuine excitement in their voices makes my heart swell.
Dinner is really easy tonight: It’s a curried tofu with rice dish. I put the rice into the rice cooker, cut the tofu into cubes and put them in the pan. I dump a bunch of curry over them, and I race out to play.
I’m thirty years old and a parent, and I’m racing through my “chores” to go play outside.
When I get there, one of Ryan’s friends (who is also called Ryan) has come over to play, so we immediately separate into teams: Nolan and me against the Ryans.
Nolan steps back up to the plate, and Ryan proceeds to walk him. He then walks me, then Nolan again, and we quickly load the bases with ghost runners. The sun is rapidly sinking into the mountains to the west, and the ball is getting hard to see, so I suggest that we call the game so the Ryans can have a few at-bats. Nolan agrees, and we send our ghost runners back down to Triple-A as we head
into the field and take our positions on the grass, and in the street.
Nolan pitches a few balls to Ryan, but it’s really too dark to play any longer. Like every other time we’ve had to call a game on account of darkness, I resolve to install lights over our front lawn so we can play at night, local building codes and my wife’s desire for a normal suburban house be damned.
We’ve been having fun, though, and like the only child who finally has someone to play with, I don’t want to go back inside; back to being a grown up…so I suggest that we play hide and seek.
They all excitedly agree, and I’m It.
We quickly define the boundaries, and “Safe.” I close my eyes and count to one hundred by fives.
As I shut my eyes and begging to count, the world slows, and I hear my own voice, twenty-one years distant, calling out the same numbers. I’m nine years-old, head buried in my arms as I stand at the light pole on our street which was “Safe,” Boston plays on my parent’s Techniques turntable, while my dad cooks fish on the Webber Kettle in the back yard. I can smell the smoke as it drifts over the house and hangs in our yard, in the still summer evening.
5…10…15…20…25…30…
I’m ten years-old, and I run like crazy, trying to evade Joey Carnes. It is summer, hot and smoggy. My lungs burn with each breath.
35…40…45…50…55…60…
I’m eleven years-old, and I can hear the stomp, stomp, stomp of my feet hitting the ground as I look for a hiding place. It’s springtime, and the grass is cool and damp beneath me.
65…70…75…80…85…90…
I’m twelve years-old, hiding behind the side gate, crouched down, my arm just barely touching the arm of the girl I have a crush on as we hide together. While we listen to the kid counting, I try and fail to screw up the courage to hold her hand. In middle school, she’ll break my heart over and over again.
95…100! Ready or not, here I come!
I open my eyes, and I’m back on my street. The kids are well-hidden. Lost in my memories, I didn’t think to listen for their footfalls, and I have no idea where they may be.
I walk slowly around a hedge, and see Ryan begin to run across the street, towards “Safe.” I run at him, hoping to cut him off, but he’s too fast for me. During my pursuit of him, his friend has made it to “Safe,” leaving only Nolan undiscovered.
I walk down our street, towards our neighbor’s house, and see Nolan racing across the front yard next door. I give chase, and we both run straight through the heavy spray of several Rain Bird sprinkles. Nolan runs very, very fast, but ends up going Out Of Bounds. We return to “Safe,” laughing, wiping the water from our faces.
Nolan is It, and begins to count. I run across the street, hiding behind a tree. When I was a kid, I never hid behind trees, preferring cars and fences, with their clever ways to spot an approaching “It”…but I know that if I stand still in the October darkness, he’ll never see me. I’m wearing a black
“Ataris” T-shirt and long olive shorts…I’m practically invisible.
Nolan finishes his count, and the chase is on. It is several tries before he catches someone, but his attitude never sours. We are all having a great time playing together, being kids.
Finally, I am just too wiped out to play any more, and I head back inside. Anne asks me to drive Ryan’s friend home, and on the way to the car, Ryan’s friend tells him, “Your house is so much fun! You’re really lucky that your Step-dad plays with you.”
Ryan agrees, but warns him that we don’t always play like that…Ryan tells him that I’ve been writing a lot, so I spend a lot of time at my desk. It’s the first time in months that I’ve played with them like that, he says.
He’s right. Most of the time these days, I have to be a grown up, and I can’t play very much.
But last night, I got to be a kid again, if only for an hour or so, and while I appreciated the sentiment from Ryan’s friend, he didn’t quite have it right.
Yeah, there was a lucky guy out there playing…but it wasn’t Ryan.