Showing posts with label parenthood. Show all posts
Showing posts with label parenthood. Show all posts

02 June, 2017

Letters from Trumplandia 11: The story of a beard (or, as socialized as I get)

I was a dog on a short chain /and now there’s no chain. - from "Barking" by Jim Harrison

The two most extreme changes in personal grooming I've ever made were precipitated by the need for a job.

20 years ago, I had long hair. I had really long hair. I was determined that I would always have long hair. At one point, in spite of the protests of an exceedingly attractive woman working in a temp agency office in Lexington, Kentucky, I refused to cut my hair to take a job in that office.

A few years later, living in New Orleans, I'd managed to find a job -- again through a temp agency -- as a dental office receptionist. Everyone there liked me and wanted to hire me on full time, but the big boss man wanted me to (at least) cut my hair.

Now, back in Lexington, it was a little easier to find work. Lexington, at the time, was ripe with monkey work* and it never took me long to find work after losing a job. In New Orleans at the turn of the Century, however -- prior to 9/11 and a few years before Hurricane Katrina -- it was much more difficult to find work. New Orleans is a glorious city to be in if you're poor... not because of the availability of work, but because it's easy to live cheap if you're a little savvy and pay attention. But I was down there to be close to my daughter**, who was five and entering her third Kindergarten in one year because her mother couldn't figure out where to go. I needed the job, and didn't have much of a margin to live if I lost the job. I also thought that maybe being a regular employee, while it paid a dollar less than I was making as a temp (true story) would provide long term stability and maybe allow me to save money and move out of the cock roach infested rooming house I was living in at the time.***

So it was, on one Sunday morning, I went down to Mr. Jack's Barber Shop and told old guy, who could only have been Jack, to cut my hair off. And he did.

And so it was, when I started working catering here in Louisville last October, I was told that I needed to trim my beard. So I did. But that wasn't enough. It came down from on high that I needed to trim it OFF, since the rich folks we typically served food to didn't like it. And there was some other nonsense about food and health standards, but mostly, I think, it was all about getting the monkey man to shave.

And so I did. Mostly. I've worn a goatee in the past, so it was nothing new. But it did not happen without some consternation. I liked my beard. I liked my beard in spite of the fact that there was a whole fashion scene that made having a beard damn near impossible. Ironic mustaches be damned. I just liked having facial hair.

An apple a day keeps the fascists away.
But I shaved because I needed the job. And even though I no longer have that job, I've refrained from growing it back. I find it helps with some of the freelance work I'm doing. But also, I realized after I shaved... just like I figured out after I cut off my hair... that having a beard or not did not actually change who I was. I'm still the same contrary baboon I was before.

But now, sometimes people don't see me coming. This, I think, could have some advantages.

*monkey job, n. Any hourly paying job that does not require specialized training... or one that the boss could simply get done by replacing a disgruntled human with a monkey at a cheaper rate (depending on the market price of bananas). - from The Parsons Dictionary of Oft Used Words and Phrases, Desk Edition
** I was not the custodial parent.  I could have, legally, prevented my ex from leaving the state with The Kid, and I got no end of grief because I didn't. But I was, in a rare turn, trying to be nice. I got smarter later.
*** Never happened. I ended up moving back to Kentucky before I could move to better accommodations. 

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09 June, 2013

Losantiville Lines: Stella's Graduation, Verse 2: Vox Nostalgia

Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself. They came through you but not from you and though they are with you yet they belong not to you. -- Khalil Gibran

When she was very young, I remember thinking how I would still be a young man when she turned 18 and graduated high school. I was not much more than a child myself when she was born. What growing up I've done, I've done in tandem with her -- even at the distance created by a brutal Kentucky divorce and non-custodial parenthood.

The only way that I've been able to keep myself sane is to remember the simple lesson that our children are not our children; it's something I've had to remind myself of over and over, as much for her good as my own. I have watched, over the years, as some other, more conventional parents treat their kids like property. I have listened to the cultural rhetoric which insists that parental responsibility equates to ownership. I have watched as society -- from which no father can protect his daughter without handicapping her with complete isolation -- insists our children behave like adults but gives them none of the privileges generally associated with that behavior, while enforcing all the punishments of perceived misbehavior. I have listened to people talk about protecting children but say nothing of how to help provide a way for them to grow and have a chance; instead we set our children against one another, fighting -- either by action or by passive agreement -- for increasingly limited resources within the context of a failing American Dream.

I have not always been a good parent; but I have always believed that being Stella's dad is among my highest and best accomplishments, and my most important educational experience.

And now she's graduating from high school.

Today I'm here at the beach, watching the Atlantic Ocean crash in waves against the beach and pull back. Where the water meets the sky, I see ships -- barges heading out on the shipping lane. The sun hits the water and sparkles like diamonds, only to disappear into the breakers and the sand. Dark clouds in the distant horizon suggest some rain later. Para-sails, small water craft, kids belly coasting on surfboards, hoping for one more good wave.

Tomorrow Stella graduates. And I'm still learning.

I've been across the country, seen both coasts, and a bit of what's in between. I have meant some interesting, some amazing, some poignant, some terrible, and one or two truly evil people. I've heard some powerful stories, and been witness to a few. There are more to hear. When I'm face to face with the ocean, I begin to feel how it's all connected, how it all washes away, how it all remains. Currents run in all directions. At times, I find myself carried away with them. At other times, I feel myself fighting the impossible gravity of currents and the thought crosses my mind that it would be easier to just be swept away. I feel the urge to erase myself, to be washed clean like the tides washes the sand and rock. I feel the urge knowing that it's not time, because I still have things to do, good will to return, people to meet and stories to hear. My obligations are not yet met.

Stella's graduation is not the completion of an obligation, it's a celebration of her accomplishments, and a building up of positive energy to carry her into whatever future she creates for herself. I am glad that I am young enough to enjoy it.

08 June, 2013

Losantiville Lines: Stella's Graduation, Verse 1: The Wallet

I base most of my fashion taste on what doesn't itch. - Gilda Radner

I see that the fashion wears out more apparel than the man. - William Shakespeare

Dateline: Virginia Beach, VA -- I abandoned all of my ties and "dress" clothes in Arizona along with my few remaining preconceived ideals about higher education as a positive and inherently useful institution. At the time, I swore to myself that I would avoid any work that required me to wear anything resembling "professional" attire. Professionalism, I decided was a matter of know-how and demonstrating that know-how when it's necessary. I don't need to wear a tie to do that.

But the thing that took to an area men's clothing shop was not a job. Jobs are fleeting and not all that important except for the part they play in the larger work of a person's life. But there are some events that warrant an updated wardrobe.

Like a daughter's graduation, for example.

I chose a men's clothing store rather than the open forage of a mall because I hate to shop. Specifically, I hate clothes shopping. I know I'm not alone in this, and the reasons are probably obvious.  Finding clothes that I like AND that fit correctly is a complicated task. My legs  and my arms are shorter than they're supposed to be for someone my size; I carry a few extra pounds, that's true, but clothes shopping has always been a pain, regardless of my size. The designers of men's clothes do not think beyond the idea that any man with a gut must necessarily be self-conscious and therefore would prefer to wear shirts cut to look like circus tents. I like short sleeve button down shirts. But it's difficult to find them in my size with a sleeve that don't look like a mid-sleeve jersey cut.

I also hoped that by choosing a men's clothing shop that I would avoid the usual "Does this match" debacle that all seemingly colorblind men seem to experience.

It's not my fault that there are 50 shades of blue and that you're not supposed to put them all together. I really WANT to look like a giant fucking smurf.

When I walked through the door, I was allowed to wander the crop of overpriced formal and semi-formal wear for a few ticks before the store manager finely said something. I told him I needed clothes for my daughter's high school graduation. I told him I wanted a pair of pants, a nice button down, and maybe a vest. I tried to stay direct and avoid being sold anything above, over, or other than what I went there for.

The manager, who we will call "Stan" introduced himself as he was taking my measurements, which I thought was very polite. Generally, when people get that close to you and you're not in a mosh pit or on a crowded subway, it's good to be on a first name basis. Stan is on the large side, dressed in a dark pinstripe suit, suspenders, a light green button down shirt, and a tie that matched so well I don't remember the color. He wore a short cropped and neatly kept salt and pepper beard that hung to his jaw line. He was professional in almost managing to hide his disdain when I said I had no intention of wearing a tie, though he grunted a bit when I told him I had to leave town in a few days, leaving him no time for alterations. 

He put together some options quickly, matching shirts and slacks and finding a vest that would work. He was a large man, but he moved quickly. I hemmed and hawed a bit over making a decision. Black pants or dark blue ones? Greens short sleeve or blue and black hash design on white? There was only one vest that would fit, and I was inclined to build around that. I also told him I wanted a pair of suspenders for the pants.

I had a particular look in mind, and I knew it wasn't going to be exactly what I wanted. But it was going to be close, goddammit.

So much trouble when I would probably get more mileage out of a JCPenny sale special. But a daughter only graduates from high school once, and I wanted to be able to demonstrate I was proud of her. And I wanted to still be... well... me. If I have to look nice, I'm going to look the way I want to look.

Stan found this quaint, and I could tell he was questioning my wardrobe choices. I have to commend his professionalism once again, however, because rather than simply tell me I was wrong in my choice of the the black and blue hash print white button down with the gray vest, he chuckled and explained that he was a conservative dresser. We agreed that there's no point in arguing about taste. At that point, Stan initiated a fist bump -- which I NEVER do -- but it was polite enough and honestly offered. So I answered with a fist bump that any church marm would find acceptable. 

But then Stan pointed out that the shop was having a sale... a buy one get one sort of thing. And he wanted me to get my money's worth, of course. 

Did I need shoes? 


Did I need socks.


Did I need... a tie?


He explained that he wasn't trying to SELL me anything; he just wanted to make sure I got my money's worth. Did I need any kind of accessories at all?

Then I thought about my wallet.

I've been carrying a duck tape wallet, made by my friend and artist, Heather Houzenga, since I left Mount Carroll and hit the road last January. It held up remarkably well, but I had to repair a few times. It was coming undone on one side. I was planning on just repairing it again. Stan motioned over to a shelf and we walked over. He presented me with three options for wallets, none of which I liked particularly. I picked a brown leather bifold. 

I also ended up walking out with the green shirt, and both pairs of pants. Eh. Stan told me he wanted to keep me as a customer and that I could come back and have everything altered more closely when I got back into town. He was particularly intrigued by the fact that I travel, write, teach, and generally avoid a typical work week.

"You only work when you WANT to, right?"

Sure. That's more or less accurate. Labels are reductive, and certain terms (like conservative, liberal, anarchist, anti-capitalist, collectivist, socialist, communist, and most any other -ist) tend to be arbitrary based on the speaker's definition -- which most people assume is everyone else's definition whether it is or not. I work when I need to. But NEED and WANT are often the same thing in the minds of some folks.

All I wanted at the moment was to have a nice outfit to wear and watch my one and only daughter graduate from high school.

04 January, 2013

Losantiville Lines: Year of the Sea Turtle/Second to Last Sub Rosa/Holiday Plus 1

From now on I shall speak in onomatopoeia,
or better, in metaonomatopoeia. -- Lidia Dimkovska

If Christ had been a woman, the world would already be redeemed. - line from Cincinnati Day Book.

Year Of The Sea Turtle

In these post-apocalyptic days, there is time enough to sit and wonder at the inner and outer workings of the world. And for the time being, I am writing my poems, picking out songs older than I am on the blue guitar, and pondering even more closely a work of some length based on some of my travels in the recently dead and buried year of 2012.

If you have been even a casual reader of this blog, it won't surprise you to hear that the weather will play a prominent role.

As I mentioned previously, I am wintering in familiar territory, here in Cincinnati. Although my initial plan was to go south -- very very south, down to the Florida Keys, far, far away from the arctic chill -- the universe saw fit to deposit me here, nearly broke, not terribly road weary, but aware that in order to travel more in the cheap and lowly way to which I am accustomed, I need to pick up some work and put some cash back into the Travel Fund.

I was not unaware of the particular challenge that could potentially be. In spite of what the corporate owned, government complicit media machine has suggested, the economic recovery is not so much a recovery as much as politicians taking credit/laying blame for the pendulum swing that inevitably occurs when Capitalism is allowed to run amok like a lousy houseguest. Any savvy student of economics will tell you that the markets ebb and flow like the oceans and that most people are subject to the typhoons and droughts that occur over the course of time. And any savvy student of politics will tell you that the recently contested Presidential election which set friend against friend, family against family, and peon against peon was largely a contest over who would get to take credit for said pendulum swing and who would get to sit on the sideline moping like a sad chipmunk. (Look at John Boehner and tell me he doesn't have some semblance of a gin soaked chipmunk.)


But I also wasn't particularly worried, because I knew I'd have a place to sleep and because I have learned to place some faith in the universe. And the universe was indeed kind, because I managed, against any probability in Cincinnati and in this job market, to pick up a little teaching work.

That's right. Someone actually let me back in the classroom.

Not full time. And I'm thankful for that. There is nothing more odious and dysfunctional than trying to teach while carrying the weight of being a full time/fixed term instructor with no hope of tenure and all the expectation of departmental busywork-- committees, non-classroom related paperwork designed to cover someone else's ass and present yours for unwelcome sodomy.

Not me. Not again. I managed two sophomore level writing classes at one of the area universities. In addition, I'm doing some online tutoring and picking up a trickle of freelance writing/editing gigs. This, in addition to poetry, music, and some various other projects, will keep me busy until the thaw.

Second To Last Sub Rosa

But don't think that I plan to sit still for the next four months. I will be making regular sojourns down river to Louisville to visit my Most Amazing Girlfriend/Traveler's Angel.

During my most recent visit, I had the pleasure of being the Featured Reader at the monthly Sub Rosa Creative Courtyard, put on by the River City's very own Divinity Rose. The weather pushed the courtyard indoors at Bearno's on Highland, and the venue, perhaps not wanting to offend potential customers with something as perilous as poetry, pushed the scribbled to a small upper room, while leaving the Featured Music/ Music Open Mic downstairs.

This, as I know from experience, is almost always a disaster. Art grows best when writers, musicians, performers, painters, and burlesque dancers all drink from the same trough. It just does.

I was pleased to be asked, though, and went through the first set in the upper room. An increase in snowfall scared off the few folks who were there, and so Amanda and I went downstairs to the bar to join the folks who were there to listen to the Featured Music, Big Poppa Stampley, and maybe play some music themselves. Divinity was kind enough to make some space for me to do my second set, and as I was stepping up on stage to take over the mic, Big Poppa asked if I wanted him to play behind me.

After the shock wore off, I found my words. When someone of his talent and caliber offers to back you up, YOU SAY "YES" AND THANK THE UNIVERSE.

The second set went better than the first, and I even managed to sell a few chapbooks -- which, by the way, are still for sale. Both The Crossing of St. Frank AND Whitman Under Moonlight are in their second printing and can still be gotten for a measly $2 donation to the Travel Fund.

Holiday Plus 1

My planned trip down river for Sub Rosa coincided with a week long visit by The Kid, who will be a high school graduate/culinary school bound Mostly Grown Kid come June, and her boyfriend, Plus 1. My Dear Sweet Ma was excited about Christmas, and I was too. This past year was the first in many a year that the entire family had been in the same geographic location. Amanda spent Christmas with her family, and had to work for la machina duex hell the day after, but she was going to go back with me after the weekend and spend New Years with me and the Parsons Clan.

I was excited to see The Kid. Those of you who are non-custodial parents will understand that you take the time you can get. Those of you who are parents custodial or not will understand that as your kids grow up, the amount of time available decreases at a near exponential rate. She was initially amused at the notion that we were both showing off new Sig O's. I'm not sure if she thought that prospect would soften my reaction to Plus 1; but I do suspect that maybe Plus 1 assumed that if he made enough ingratiating comments about my beard that I would overlook his clear lack of guest etiquette.

He managed to work down to My Dear Sweet Ma's final nerve, rarely stirring from the couch except for food, to piss with the bathroom door open, or on the rare occasion that he was asked to actively participate in the goings on. He wore through my limited amount of goodwill by offending my mother, and embarrassing my daughter during a game of Extreme Balderdash with a sexually explicit definition that made me want to forget my promise to myself to try and do no harm and erase a 15 year record of NOT laying my hands on anyone with the intent to do violence by reaching over and snapping his neck.

I did no such thing. But he did reconfirm for me the simple truth that other than Harvey Pekar, nothing good ever comes out of Cleveland.

Those of you with near adult children will understand -- just because you can't tell the kid anything and that she will do what she wants to do regardless of your apprehensions, doesn't mean you don't wish you could spare them the grief. It also doesn't mean you love them any less.

Location:Cincinnati, OH

01 March, 2010

3 New Poems (3.1.10)

Excommunicado: (Christ! Not) Another Love Poem

It’s true – the world is
a mediocre place, and
you are too big-hearted
for it. Your eyes, so large
and blue and filled to the forehead
with expectations others
haven’t the will

to fulfill, look upon us all
scampering as we do
over this thin crust
of an old planet – whose driving force
is more akin to the creation
that falls from your finger tips
like a welcome rain

than the crumbling skyscrapers
and endless cracking interstates
our long forgotten antecedents
gambled their souls on (and lost).
You look upon us,
the devoured, the dead,
looking for another soul

not quite excommunicated
who would build something
so magnificent
that Art could not describe it,
that Heaven would burn envious of it.
Watching you struggle daily
makes me ache because

(excommunicated as I am)
I understand
there are so few options
for the one in one billion
born with a heart that beats
as large and as long and as loud
as yours.

Things that Remain (For Stella)

You are too old now
to believe the fairy tales
you heard as an infant
and the world
would not let you believe them
anyway, and your mother
would throw them out
with yesterday’s trash
like all childhood memories
are eventually ignored, discarded,
and forgotten. I am not,

I know, the conventional father,
the doting father who walks in the door
before supper and who
is there to explain
why your last name is different
from your mother’s
(or why it matters)
and why those odd emotional turns you have
are completely normal
and why
you should hold onto
the privacy of your thoughts
with all you have (because
that is all anybody will have.)

I don’t remember the age you were
when I realized you were a stranger;
it was a terrible and glorious day
because the little that’s in me
that passes for real fatherhood
mourned the loss;
but the rest of me was excited
at the new person
I desperately wanted to know.
The only problem then was
(as usual)
I didn’t know how to begin.

Maybe we’re all born strangers
and it’s only that passing physical connection
that deludes fathers into believing
we understand our children. Maybe that mixture
of love and happiness and sadness I felt
the first time I held you
should’ve been some indicator
of what was to come – but
I was too overcome
with that sensation
that there was now
in the world
another human being
who might grow
to see her greatness
in that flash of insight
most people mistake
for a day dream.

Shadow Puppets

What we see when we turn out the lights
are the shadows of our own souls
looking back at us, wanting to know
if we will ever catch up with them, or
if we have fallen behind for good. It happens
when we are children: we fall say our prayers
and fall asleep one night still full
of dreams and the energy that (reportedly)
created the universe and stars and suns and planets
and all the basic elements. We fall asleep and

we fall behind and the dreams suddenly change
and we are so busy chasing them
that we do not notice. As we age
the shadows linger, hoping (as all children do)
that we will return
that we will find ourselves
and reunite ourselves
with the selves we know is missing
but don’t have the sense
to go in searching for. Gradually,

our dreams
take different turns,
adult turns; the scientists say
our dreams manifest our fears
and allow us to play out scenarios
safely without rocking the boat
or pissing off the office manager
who will certainly report us
who will certainly call us
the dirtiest of names:
insubordinate, immature, unqualified, and
(gasp!) not company material.

If that happens, then
all we will have left are
empty midnight emissions
and creditors calling
who will call us names
and tell us we are unworthy
of the American Dream;
though they, too, have forgotten all the dreams
worth having and will not admit
the one they are selling
is one that never existed. Their shadows
haunt them too, but they’re too busy to notice

while you
are lying in bed the following morning
grasping at a memory,
the name of which
is on the tip of your tongue
and whose face
is encased in the dried tears
staining your dirty pillow.