a few memorable moments on the set at big bang theory

A sharp knock on my door, seconds before it opened. The assistant director poked his head into my dressing room and told me they were ready for me on the stage.

I closed my book. “Here I go!”

We walked into the stage together, and I continued on into the set where we were rehearsing this particular scene. Kaley and Johnny were already on there when I sat down next to them.

“You should never take that hat off,” Johnny said to me.

I looked at him to see if he was being sincere, or giving me the business. Before I could figure out which one it was, he said, “it looks really good on you.”

I smiled. “You are one of my fashion heroes, so that really means a lot to me.”

Inside, I secretly felt cool for almost three whole seconds.

“I mean it,” he said.

“Thank you. That was very kind.”

Kaley dramatically put her script down. “WOULD YOU TWO GET A ROOM ALREADY?!”

I gave Johnny a sly look that he did not return. “Do you want to just sit on that couch together?” I asked.

We all laughed together, and the director called for quiet.

We ran the scene, and I killed a joke*. We ran it a second time, and I nailed the beats I needed to nail. I felt calm and focused and — for the first time I think, ever, since I started working on the show — like I really and truly deserved to be there. I’m not gonna lie to  you, Marge: it felt really good.

I thanked the director for the notes he gave me, and returned to my dressing room where I waited to be called back to the stage, to bring Evil Wil Wheaton (who is decidedly less evil than he used to be) back to life.

Later, I saw Melissa and Kaley waiting to run one of their scenes. “Let’s take a picture for the Internet,” I said.

“I really like that hat on you,” Melissa said.

“Thanks,” I said, “I was just lazy this morning and didn’t want to do my hair, because it’s just a tiny bit too long and I can’t get it to behave. But I’m getting compliments, which is pretty awesome.”

I held out my camera, and we took a silly picture that I put on Twitter.

The writers all came into the stage, and we ran the entire episode for them. Everyone laughed really hard in all the right places, and it’s pretty clear that this episode works. I can’t wait for the audience to see it on Tuesday, and I am so grateful that I get to be part of this wonderful experience.

 

*Note that this means I wrecked the joke, because I delivered the line poorly. This can be confusing to normal people who hear us talk about comedy, because when a joke works, we say that the joke “killed”. So: killing a joke is bad, but making a joke that kills is good.

Comedians are obsessed with death, I guess, or at least dying on stage.

midnight highway

The second song on the Kill Bill Volume 1 soundtrack is a fantastic rockabilly number called That Certain Female. It has this great thick guitar riff with a lot of echo and delay and, for me, it conjures up images of Route 66 under a new moon, windows down and radio blaring as a ’58 Chevy puts miles between its mysterious driver and Chicago as fast as he can lay them down.

This music fills the dark and bug-spattered spaces between Amarillo and Tucumcari, staccato white lines flashing by in the headlights, the smell of exhaust and old tobacco swirling with dust.

Is he running toward something or away from something? Or is it a she behind the wheel? What’s in the trunk? What’s in the backseat? When we see the driver’s eyes in the rear view mirror, briefly lit by the glowing cherry of a cigarette, are they determined? Resigned? Afraid? Tear-stained? Vengeful?

Maybe they are all these things.

The road goes on.

 

 

Guest Post by Will Hindmarch: The Record

Will Hindmarch is @wordwill, a writer and designer of games, fiction, and more. He blogs at Gameplaywright and wordstudio.net. 

This is both a plug and a confession. Wil Wheaton is back on dry land, so I’ll make this quick. I’m terrible at interviews.

Almost ten years ago, at the foot of an unfinished Atlanta high-rise, I interviewed architect Turan Duda for Atlanta magazine. My assignment was for a one-page spotlight on creative people doing exciting work in the ATL — one page including a picture of the skyscraper. So it was more like one column of text.

I kept Mr. Duda trapped in that interview for an hour.

We talked about spatial design, about his history and his vision, about Atlanta in general. It was a good talk for the first 35-45 minutes, before I realized how long we’d been talking. Before I realized, I didn’t know how to end an interview. (Spoiler: It’s easy. End it like a conversation, maybe.)

Mr. Duda was very generous, obliging, and impressive to this newbie interviewer. I learned a lot that day about architecture and interviews … and almost none of it helps me when I’m interviewed myself.

Interviews with me make me nervous, whether they’re in person or in text. I’ve done a few interviews lately for my new tabletop RPG, Dark. (The Kickstarter ends today!) I talked online with the Misdirected Mark podcast and I was interviewed via email for this piece at The Escapist. I ramble and I talk too fast and I’m concerned that I’ll say something — something insipid or casual or thoughtless — that will undo or overshadow a work that I’ve spent a long time crafting.

John Updike once put it like this to Terry Gross:

Once you’ve put yourself on record in an interview, and you’re sort of thinking fast and saying the first thing that pops into your mind, basically, anything to fill up the air time or the reporter’s time, it’s a little disconcerting, when you’re younger than I, to realize that these remarks which you toss off, once they’re in print, have an equal weight with all the words that you’ve labored to polish and make come out exactly right.

[via]

Part of it, for me at least, is my Impostor Syndrome. Why should anyone be listening to what I think, right? Who the hell am I?

Here’s what helped me out: the live-lit storytelling scene. I co-produce a show in the Story Club series and we have an open-mic component to our events. It’s never been wasted. Everyone has stories to tell —  I’ve known that for a long time — and I think everyone should get a chance at a mic to talk about their passions, their projects, their past, and their plans. Some of these mics are mics, some of them are blogs, some of them are Twitter, some of them are cameras — whatever.

If you get the chance to tell your stories, take the chance. And if you get a chance to interview someone, to help them tell their stories, try it out. Ask your friends friendly questions. When you meet people, politely ask about them. Let’s get more stories told, more perspectives shared, and more voices at the mic.

It’s like what Wil did this week. He invited people to speak in his absence. He shared stories he might not have been able to tell on his own. Thank you, Wil.

Speaking of which, he’ll be back any minute and I’ve got to clean up. Think he’ll notice if I use his 3D printer to replace all the beer we drank?

 

Guest Post by Ryan Wheaton: Lawst Balloon, Part Two

Ryan Wheaton is an aspiring fiction writer and graphic novelist. He’s been trying to grow a beard too. So there’s that.

(This piece was written in response to a prompt “about a lost balloon.” Part one appears here.)

“Fiona, please,” her mother said. “We’re already late and we don’t want to upset your Grandf—,” a trumpet cracked over an unseen intercom.

“Well, would you look at that,” a voice called out. “My, my, my, my, MY what a beautiful girl. You’ve grown up quite a bit my little Potato.” Fiona’s eyes widened in utter confusion.

“Honey, look up there,” her mother crouched down and pointed at a factory window. A dusted silhouette of a man waved frantically.

“My word, you’re even more majestic than I remembered. Please, please, come in, come in.” The trumpet sounded once more as the man disappeared from the window. Not a second later, a small hatchway swung out from the middle of the monstrous steel doors. Fiona stepped back as her mother dropped her hand and rushed forward. A balsa-framed man shuffled under the half-sized door frame and popped upright.

“Hello, hello, hellOOO,” he said, spinning in place.

“Oh, Grandfather. It’s been far too long,” Fiona’s mother said, bent halfway down, and embraced him. Her shoulder smashed into his nose and jostled his small spectacles.

“Oof,” he said.

Fiona hadn’t moved an inch forward and, in fact, had been slowly tip-toeing her way back to the car. She hoped that the displacement of her Grandfather’s glasses by her mother’s clumsy shoulders would allow her to flee beneath the cover of temporarily muddled vision.

“Fiona,” her mother said. “Fiona, get over here this second and give you Grandfather a hello and a hug.”

Fiona stopped mid-tip and set her toe back to the earth.

“Excuse me, young lady.” It was once her mother resorted to florid address that she knew any objection led only to public abjection. “Fiona Loreli Lawst, you turn right around, march over here, and give your Grandfather a hello and a hug immediately!”

Fiona grumbled before contorting her furrowed face into a plasticine smile.

“Hello Grandfather!” She curtsied before skipping toward him with a stomach full of molten disdain. Despite requiring a pink and purple step stool to reach most anything, Fiona’s Grandfather needn’t kneel nor crouch to greet her. Rather, he bent slightly at the waist and patted her head.

With his eyes squinted and a contented grin he said, “A happy hello to you, my sweet Potato.”

The blurred frantics of her mother’s hand signed, “hug hug hug!” Fiona begrudgingly leaned forward in the hopes this singular hug might suffice for any future expectations of expressed affection, but she groped only air. He had walked away.

“Come now, we have a few things to see, some things to do, and much, MUCH fun to be had. Now,” the double-steel doors howled on their hinges as he continued. “Now, I know it may not appear as ample in amusement on the outside,” his voice trailed a bit as he swung into a shadowed recess on the left wall. Fiona heard crunching gears and clacking buttons. Her mother stood beside her, clapping with anticipation. “… but, aren’t we taught never to,” he trailed off once more. Blue and red lights spun against the furthest wall while whistles and horns screeched and bonked. Her mother squeaked as she bounced in place barely able to keep herself contained. “… a book by her cover,” Grandfather bellowed. He cartwheeled out from behind his magic curtain cheering and dancing as the ceiling almost thirty feet above shattered into thousands of balloons that cascaded onto them in a kaleidoscopic hail storm. The stone wall they faced groaned as it began tottering and teetering. Fiona vaulted back as the immense slab slammed into the ground enveloping her in a cloud of soot and sand. Her mother wailed in delight. Tears sprinted from her eyes as she collapsed in ecstasy.

“It’s… it’s more wonderful, more exquisite than I recall,” her mother choked through tears. Her Grandfather rested his hand on her trembling shoulder. She whirled about, still on her knees, clasping his hand in both of hers.

“May — may I please,” she begged.

“Of course, my dear. There has never been a time you weren’t welcome to come back,” he beamed. She rose, still clutching his hand, “Thank you, oh thank you, Grandfather,” she stammered. “Fiona, Fiona, oh my sweet Fiona. You must come see. You must,” her mother’s eyes were shiny with hysteria.

“Go on, my dear. Fiona and I will only be a moment.” Grandfather removed a handkerchief from within his jacket and handed it to Fiona, “Here little Potato, wipe the dust from your eyes.” She gratefully took it and rubbed with ferocity. Through the cloudy sting and wobble of teardrops, her eyes refocused just as her mother vanished into the mass of dancing, flashing, laughing, singing, and spinning that had revealed itself. It was a golden-glazed paradise. It was in that moment Fiona understood that any prospect of happiness fate had attentively and thoughtfully laid out for the remainder of her life had been stomped out, extinguished, utterly ruined by comparison to the raw bliss that now ensnared her.

Her Grandfather rested his chin on her shoulder and whispered, “Breathtaking, isn’t it?”

 

Guest Post by Shane Nickerson: Old and Stinky

Shane Nickerson is a father of three and a TV producer. He occasionally writes at Nickerblog.

At night, my dog slinks into the living room and jumps up on the couch with me. He’s a whippet mix that we adopted from a rescue fair in 2005. Max. He came with the name.

He’s a gentle dog, eternally happy that we saved him from a lonely life lived, abandoned and sleeping underneath parked cars in South Central Los Angeles. He showed no signs of abuse, but he was found with no tags and covered in dirt and oil stains. When we met him, we immediately liked him. My two year old ran up to him before we could stop her, and he licked her face gently. In the hectic hot sun of a park filled with excited dogs waiting for new humans to please take them home, he was panting and scattered; flitting back and forth on his leash, desperately trying to make sense of the unusual crowded mixture of people and animals around him. We struggled for a moment, still grieving the loss of our previous whippet mix, but his gentle spirit and perpetual smile won us over. After some discussion, we took home our new friend.

It’s become more difficult for him lately. He has arthritis in his right hind leg, and the boundless energy we used to curse has become a casualty of his age. He still gets after the squirrels every morning, but in the same way an old man tries to keep up with the grandkids. The desire is still there, but the pep is waning.

He liked me best, almost right away. We lived in a two bedroom rented beach cottage in the South Bay, and he’d lay with his head on my lap every night as I fell asleep watching TV in our tiny living room. The back yard was an exceptionally large one for Manhattan Beach, and there was nothing he loved more than chasing the tennis ball on a rope that I’d throw endlessly across the yard. When I ran out of energy, he’d stay outside and race around in the overgrown thicketed lot until panting exhaustion. A single abrasive bark was my cue to come let him back inside. It’s one of those barks that’s impossible to ignore. Grating. Unpleasant. It’s incredibly effective at getting me off of the couch.

These days, he goes outside to sniff the air and do a quick patrol around our much smaller yard in the Valley, but within a few minutes, he’s at the back door firing off that same annoying bark. Old man Max.

My kids want a puppy.

(All kids want a puppy.)

They put together a presentation for us on why we should get a brand new puppy. It was cute, but I had to pass on their proposal.

“Max is our dog,” I told them, “and if he could talk, he’d tell you he’s not interested in a new puppy roommate.”

“But puppies are so cute,” they persisted, “and Max is old and stinky!”

A fair point.

“We can talk about a puppy after Max dies,” I mistakenly told them.

“So we can get a puppy after he’s dead?” they asked eagerly.

Oh no.

“We can TALK about it,” I said.

“Yay! As soon as Max dies, we can get a puppy! As soon as Max dies, we can get a puppy!” they sang.

I’ve inadvertently made my children excited for the death of our family dog. Great work, me. Pretty glad Max can’t speak English.

He’s old and stinky, it’s true. But he’s the most loyal, gentle, patient dog I’ve ever lived with. He’s endured three children in all stages of their mayhem. He’s been colored on, had his hair pulled and eyes poked, had his tail yanked and ears gouged, and he’s never so much as nipped at them. He still sleeps with me on the couch for as long as he can endure the discomfort of his arthritic leg. When I come home from work, he’s still as excited as the first day we brought him home.

So yes, maybe someday we’ll get another dog.

But for now, this old stinky one is the only one we need.

A guest post from Brad Willis: A field full of lightning

Brad Willis is a writer, reporter, and aspiring author. His personal blog is Rapid Eye Reality. He is @BradWillis on Twitter.

When I was in grade school, we played outside at recess. Hilldale Elementary had a small playground and a forever-scape of dirt and grass that we turned into our warzones, dragon lairs, and Super Bowl gridirons. A dormant but deep sinkhole sat on the north edge near Highway EE, and that’s where I was headed when the lightning cut out of the clouds. It was one of those bolts that carried its thunderclap on its nose, and for the noise it made, a bomb might as well have dropped on my head. Instead, because I was a pre-teen doofus, I jumped in the air, pulled my knee to my face, and knocked my nose sideways. My nose is still crooked, and I still know lightning doesn’t have to strike on target to hurt like hell.

LINDA

Something looked different about Linda.

It’s been more than a decade since she started handling my finances. We handle most things online. I see her this time every year to settle my business and personal taxes. When I went to her office yesterday, I was struck by a niggling suspicion that something was wrong. She’d stopped coloring her hair. She looked tired.

I was distracted, worried about how much I was going to have to pay, whether I could get in a run before dinner, and every other silly thing that goes along with life as an adult. She asked if my family was planning any big vacations for the year. I babbled about my finances, and then asked her what she trips had planned.

“We usually go somewhere after tax season, but I don’t think we can this year,” she said. She drifted off and looked at my returns on her dual monitors.

“Why not?” I said.

I heard the words leave my mouth just as my brain figured out what was different about Linda.

She had no breasts.

“Oh, Linda,” I said.

Three months ago, she went to the doctor for an ear infection. Something seemed off, and her doctor sent her to a cardiologist. That doctor found a mass, and together they elected for the surgery.

“Don’t go to the doctor for a ear infection,” she said with a half-smile, and then went back to working on my K-1.

MONSTER IN THE FIELD

Last week, police say a man named Craig Wood snatched a ten-year-old girl named Hailey Owens from a neighborhood street on the west side of Springfield, Missouri. Wood, a stranger to Owens, then allegedly shot her in the base of the skull, put her in a bag, and hid her in a plastic tub. When I wrote about it, I took a modicum of comfort in the fact that such crimes were exceptionally rare. I called them lightning strikes without a god to blame for them.

The crime shook the Springfield community in a way few have. Thousands of people took to the streets in the hope of finding some peace in the kind of rare crime that will haunt a city forever.

When you have a career in news, desensitizing yourself to tragedy is a survival skill. You learn to turn off your heart to the daily earthquakes humanity inflicts on itself. I don’t know how many dead bodies I saw in my day, and I’m grateful for that. I moved away from Springfield more than 20 years ago, and I still felt my stomach clench every time I saw a new part of the Hailey Owens story come out.

As children, we feared bogeymen who would snatch us off the street. As adults, we fear what might come up from our guts, attack our insides, and confuse our brains. The rest of the time, we think about how those same invisible creatures might take our friends away from us.

Last month, in the span of a few days, the following things happened: a person I know committed suicide. A guy who went to my high school was arrested for murder in a Texas ghost town. Two of my friends died of cancer. It felt like a veritable field of lightning where every strike tore holes through my eardrums and shook the ground at my feet. It made me wonder which was worse: the fear of losing someone to a monster, or the sadness that inevitably follows.

And then I went to finish my taxes.

TAXED

Linda is worried about the chemo. Six years ago, her mother struggled through it.

“I don’t want that,” she said, shaking her head.

The doctor has convinced her the chemo treatments have improved and that they could save her life. It’s tax season, though, and this is when she has to work. She literally can’t afford to be sick.

“I’ll do chemo on Fridays,” she said, but then as if just thinking of it herself, “but I do returns on Saturdays sometimes.”

She nodded again, as if saying to herself, “I’ll get through it, because I have to get through it.”

“I’ll be thinking about you,” I said when I left. Linda smiled and thanked me. I haven’t stopped thinking about her since. She was handling her cancer with a southern woman’s strength and poise that I couldn’t help but admire. It was like the lightning had struck, and she had managed to grab it with her hand and hold it tight.

COURAGE NONETHELESS

There is a certain freedom in being a child. You’re expected to run with abandon, be careless, and live like tomorrow is as sure as today’s sunrise. That’s how it should be, no matter how dark the sky gets.

As adults, however, we know the dark skies mean more than hidden sunshine. We know they’re  going to slam down on the people we love, and then eventually crush us, too. It scares us, this existential indifference and inevitable end we’ll all meet.

We leave the playground, and as adults we bandy our responsibilities while keeping a close eye the rolling gray in the sky. We worry about taxes, careers, schools, mortgages, and retirement plans. When something starts to look odd, we pretend like it’s something else, sometimes until it’s too late, and, too often, we do it alone.

I think about the people who’ve been struck around me: Frank check-raising with a weak flush draw, Texas Scott donning a tiara and laughing like a loon, Chris clipping coupons and proudly getting 60 cents off on chicken breasts. They were people I played with beneath the clouds. Their deaths have shaken me, but they also remind me of the power of childhood. Maybe life is not so much in its potential or its end, but in how much of its games, music, art, and friendships we can harness. Maybe that’s the only shield that can protect us.

Back on the playground at Hilldale, we grabbed hands and pulled each other into the field. Even as the teachers yelled at us to come in from the storm, we sprinted and laughed and dared the sky to explode. It was a child’s courage, but courage nonetheless. Maybe that was how it was meant to be.

Linda believes she is going to be okay. I’m going to believe that with her. To not would be to disrespect the bravery she’s discovered in a place I’ve not yet found.

* Linda’s name has been changed to protect her privacy.

Guest Post by Stepto: I’m tryin’ to get down, to the heart of the matter.

This is a guest post by Stephen “Stepto” Toulouse. Stepto currently works at HBO and is the former banhammer at Xbox. He is an author, comedian, and leader of The Steptos.

He made a comedy album you can get on Bandcamp (cheapest option), iTunes or Amazon and wrote a book called A Microsoft Life. He blogs at Stepto.com.

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend among the members of my tribe who are my age. We really know how to hold a grudge. Especially if it’s borne out of the Internet or Internet culture. I’m seeing more and more people refusing to forgive even in situations where they should and I wonder if we’re setting a bad example.

I should pause here and let you know up front, I’m going to have to be a little vague in providing good examples for my opening sentence. This is Wil’s blog and thus (through no fault of his own) functions as a sort of orbiting Ion cannon for focusing opinion. I don’t want to name any names or provide concrete descriptions. So please bear with me as I navigate this topic with a tad less specificity than I might my own blog.

Here’s how the situation usually goes:

Person says or does something either on the Internet or at a con or industry event that’s objectionable to about 99% of normal people. In the grand scheme of crimes, “objectionable” isn’t high on the list. However the Internet allows us to elevate and publicize. For many topics that’s good! Because those topics are often ignored or normalized and thus need the shock value of a large mass of people saying “That’s not OK!”

Occasionally this out-sized reaction results in the person who committed the original offense saying they are sorry. Not “sorry you were offended” but “wow. I had no idea I was being that bad. I’m sorry.” Maybe they got fired from their job. Maybe they got hounded or received death threats. Maybe they lost sponsors for their YouTube channel. Whatever the reason, justice was served (sometimes way past the original crime) and they realized what they did was wrong.

Then the geek tribe welcomes the person back, pats them on the back, says ‘that’s OK glad you learned your lesson, maybe you should hold a panel or something on what you learned?” and everyone just gets on with their lives.

Oops that last part doesn’t happen.

Instead many of us assume a bizarre mantle, that of “Well they apologized but I simply can’t accept a person who would do or say such things to begin with!” I know a person who actually keeps a list of all the Internet people who have done something that offended them. They simply refuse to interact with those people ever ever ever. The list is at last count three dozen people, at least four of which I know personally who are not bad people at all just made a mistake and atoned for it.

I’ve carried a lot of hate or grudges in my life and let me tell you something true and strong: they are heavy. You don’t realize it when you pick them up, because the initial umbrage or anger gives you a kind of emotional +15 to STR. But forgiveness is like being morbidly obese then dropping 100 pounds at a go. Not to mention one crucial fact: there can be no salvation without forgiveness.

I want to be clear I’m not saying you have to forgive everyone, I’m not even telling you who to forgive. My fear is that people my age, those of us that grew up before nerd and geek culture resulted in number #1 rated prime time TV comedies, back when we were getting punched in the throat for drawing a dungeon on graph paper by Joey McJockBully or teased for being a girl who liked Super Mario by Susie McEasyBake, we formed an early skill at seething hatred. Sometimes we create a bad example for the younger set who are perhaps no less tormented but far more ingrained in the general culture.

Again, this is merely a concern of mine. I see it, and hey maybe I’m blowing it out of proportion. But what I have learned to do when I see the latest Twitter outrage is I might join the conversation or I might not. But I will watch like a hawk to see how the perpetrator reacts. I watch for actual contrition and regret. And I’m starting to see a lot more “An Open Response to X’s ‘Apology’” then responses to those responses then responses to those responses etc. etc. when maybe, just maybe, we pat X on the back and, if we truly believe it, say “try not to do it again, and share what you learned.”

Everyone says and does something stupid or hurtful at some point. The Internet allows us to do it in front of the Earth. If we’re going to set the bar for forgiveness as high as “some words on a forum or a hurtful comment on a panel are unforgivable crimes even in the face of true contrition*” then I fear for the future of our tribe.

Wil says don’t be a dick, my corollary is to steal from Bill and Ted and that we also should be excellent to each other. Some things really are unforgivable, it’s true. And it’s up to each of us to decide the baggage we want to invest in carrying. But I’m old enough to have inadvertently perfected the art of being a jerk, forgotten it, then reinvented it only to regret it all over again. For that, I am sorry. I have to forgive myself, because that’s what comes with age.

So there but for the grace of the flying spaghetti monster go I.

*While we’re at it let’s define contrition by intent not execution. I watched a guy apologize for his apology because his apology wasn’t apologetic enough (even though it was accepted by the original aggrieved party) and he still ran into the Internet umbrage buzz saw.

Guest Post by Ryan Wheaton: Lawst Balloon

Ryan Wheaton is an aspiring fiction writer and graphic novelist. He’s been trying to grow a beard too. So there’s that.

(This piece was written in response to the prompt “Write about a lost balloon.”)

Fiona was only 4 years old when she first met Grandfather Lawst. When her mother pulled her out of the car seat and set her on the parking lot gravel, she was immediately concerned that maybe they had arrived at an abandoned brick factory, or perhaps a textile warehouse. Certainly, a balloon factory would be more cheerful, brighter, made of rubbery spires and bouncy drawbridges. But, having only just learned to read, she labored through the flaking chiseled banner’s words and mouthed to herself in confusion.

“Mommy, what’s a Last Allin Elteedee,” she asked.

“Sorry, honey, what? Oh, no dear, that says Lawst Balloon,” she replied.

Fiona hadn’t experienced much in the way of disappointment in the 4 short years she’d been alive, but when it came to balloons, there was a specific expectation she had come to rely on.

“But, why is it like this?” she asked.

“Like what?” her mother asked, crouching down.

“Well, um. Why is it old?” she asked.

“Papa’s family has had this balloon factory for over 6 generations,” her mother said as she unrolled her fingers to count. “And when you have something for a long, long time, it changes. Just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s not as fun.” Her mother smiled.

Fiona puffed her cheeks up in protest; without a bouncing drawbridge there’d be no way to get inside. She might’ve been taught the realities of a balloon factory before they had turned down the dirt road some miles back, and even before they had left the house, but she wasn’t ready to accept them and assumed that her stubbornness had some sway. “But…” she paused. She let go of her mother’s hands and turned to face Last Allin. It was gray. Very gray. Even the sun that shone behind her seemed to sink from a vibrant yellow to a flat gray, very gray, as it neared the factory. There was no way it housed balloons. No monolith of apathy so dusted, no facade distraught with shattered glass eyes and rusted, broken-teeth gates could keep an iota of the summer-blue sky caged. It was outright paradoxical, this notion that such happy creatures were birthed within the belly of this brooding behemoth. Then again, Fiona was only 4 and her understanding of the principles underlying the conception of balloons had not yet fully formed.

“It’s scary,” she said.

“Come on now, Fiona, Grandfather has been waiting long enough. I’m sure he already knows we’re here. We don’t want to be rude.”

Fiona struggled against the tide of her mother’s pace, but a quick glance unfastened her knees. She dropped her eyes to her feet and watched as the dust rose and fell with each defeated kick of her toe. The daisies on her dress had already started to fade as they neared the double steel doors of the Lawst Balloon Factory. If she had ever before seen the frown of a child that had just been given a gray balloon, she wouldn’t have to wonder how sad she looked at that very moment.

 

Guest Post From Shane Nickerson: Routine

Shane Nickerson is a father of three and a TV producer. He occasionally writes at Nickerblog.

“We will miss the crying days,” I mumbled to my wife as she crawled out of bed to accompany our three year old back to her room after a bad dream.  “Someday, we’ll wish we could come back to right here.”  She grunted at me with what I’m sure must have been a, “You’re right honey. You’re the best!” I fell back asleep and woke up several hours later to find her already making the kids’ lunches. Halfway through cup two of coffee, she had a significant head start on Monday. I walked to the coffee cabinet of our kitchen and pulled down a silver bag of Tonx beans. I pulled out a scale, and carefully measured 30g of beans for my 16 oz. cup of morning coffee. I dumped them into the hopper of a burr grinder, pulverized the beans into a grainy pile, then savored the perfect aroma before adding the grounds to the chamber of an AeroPress. The AeroPress is a flawlessly designed re-imagining of the French Press.  It makes a great cup. This is my coffee ritual.

“I’ll miss these days,” I tell myself.

My kids are up by 7:20.  By then, I’m usually checking the news or twitter or stocks or Facebook or Reddit or all of them over and over while I drink my coffee. On the couch. In the same spot every morning. I am a modern version of a parent. My newspaper has been replaced by a Macbook.

Shower, choose a pair of jeans, a pair of Jordans and probably an American Apparel Tri-Blend tee in grey or charcoal, put on a watch and go to work. I am 42, but I dress like I wish I wasn’t. In the car, Howard Stern is mid rant. He has become my driving companion over these last six years. A constant voice drowning out the monotonous short drive down the 101 to the 134 Freeway. It calms me.

Routines creep up on you. For so long I resisted them, desperate to stay fresh and chaotic. Lately, I realize how much I savor them, depend on them, and create them. Calm within the chaos.

Exit Buena Vista and make a left. The construction on the overpass is finally over. They fixed it or moved it or widened it or whatever. I can go left again. My drive is back to normal. Stern hands it over to Robin for the news.

Everyone is alive. My parents are healthy, my siblings are healthy, their families are healthy and mine is healthy. My friends don’t feel old yet (although their grey hair is moving quickly from a few strands towards “the battle is lost”), and most of the people I’ve known for a long time are alive and okay. I will miss these days, my routine mind reminds me. These days are numbered. We’ve always known that.

My last ten years blinked by. All of my years have blinked by. I have lived so many lifetimes, each grouped under a banner. High School. College. Actor. Producer. Father. All of it together. None of it possible.

I arrive home at 7ish. My wife has the thousand yard stare from her day long battle against routine, and I hand her the bottle of pretty good wine I picked up at Ralph’s on the way home (she texted me). My kids are happy to see me, partly because I’m their dad and partly because I’m a new face after a day of the same 4 faces. I hug them. They tell me about Minecraft and what they built and the mods they want. I play their games and chase them and hug them and read them books and catch up and try my best to cram a day into an hour. “I need more time for them,” I think. “Cats in the Cradle,” my brain bleats. “Not fair,” I bleat back. That song is my weakness. A constant warning against making the wrong choices.

They finally get in bed and go to sleep and my wife and I watch an episode of House of Cards. I struggle to keep my eyes open, and it’s only 9:30pm. We are turning into parents. That’s what the parenting books don’t tell you. For ten years, you’re a kid pretending to be a parent. And then suddenly, you’re a parent wishing you were still a kid. The chaos you once thrived upon has been replaced by the deep appreciation for those valuable moments of wonderful and calming routine.

I find my place on the couch and open my computer.

At night, the world stops.

I’ll miss these days.

50,000 Monkeys at 50,000 Typewriters Can't Be Wrong

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