Peanut Butter Jelly Time


I am an absolutely miserable judge of my own stress. In real time, I am generally blind to what might be bothering me, as well as how much. In many regards, this weakness has served me well. If, in fact, my lens on the causes and levels of stress was clear and focused, at some point in the first six months of having twins I am positive I would have bored a hole in the back hatch of the minivan and gone Malvo. Hell, if my internal View-Master was in good order I am not sure Max would have made it through this last weekend.

I like to view mild dissociative disorders as evolutionary, not psychotic. I am, of course, in no way qualified to hold such views.

Amid modular, air-conditioned, ergonomically correct work spaces, a disconnect between the causes and effects of stress is actually quite useful. As crises arise, I can absorb the initial blows, stuffing them deep inside my organs where they can fester into some unnamed mid-life ailment while I address the immediate issue with an unhealthy level of calm. Sometimes, I sort of feel like Kobe dribbling up the floor with 7.3 seconds left in the fourth, no doubt that some seam is going to open up for that game winning shot. Of course, Kobe sucks at PowerPoint and I lost my three-point touch a decade ago, so that arrogant fantasy really does no one much good.

On the flip side, each significant mistake in my life has occurred under the influence of misdirected stress. Eventually the seams on over-stuffed and forgotten mental Space Bags start to leak, and the evil little Pressure Gnomes glom on to some completely unrelated, and usually minor, stress of the day, piling on -- my view askew to what does and doesn't matter, my judgment poor on how to react. I stub my toe on some forgotten corner of metastacized stress poking out from under the bed, and some unrelated decision or reaction inevitably goes really bad.

That's just how I roll.

There are these moments, though, when the Pressure Gnomes get a little too cocky and their usually silent mocking laughter blows their cover. Having spent the better part of the last month navigating a swirl of airports, cars and train stations, my filters got reset. Walking through my front door and back into My Life, the stresses hit me as palpably as those curtains of hot air that office buildings throw down as you enter on cold days. I spent last night staring at the ceiling, a little stunned by it all, suddenly feeling the true weight of things left for another day.


The latter part of high school and pretty much all of college was spent tripping merrily down what seemed a clear, noble -- somehow inevitable -- path toward one or another well-known law school. At some point along the way, however, opportunities to teach and counsel combined with some truly amazing teachers to plant doubts, to insert buggy code into this program. A more self-actualized person would have thoughfully considered these nascent misalignments among outside expectations and internal drives, but I grew my hair out and joined a fraternity.

I still wince at many of the decisions and misguided goofiness of the Late College Era. I am sure I owe several apologies, and I can think of at least one situation for which I solemnly bow my head and thank our Founding Fathers for their wise and righteous insistence on the statute of limitations. My insides had gyroscoped to face a completely different direction than my outsides and I was a mess. Those more qualified might have some more technical term for it, like, "growing up."

One morning, mid-senior year, I inexplicably woke up around 5am (you'll have to trust me on how truly miraculous such an event was...and is), made some tea and went, for the first time ever, and sat on the front steps of my deco Westwood apartment building. I had an oddly clear head, but no thoughts to fill it. As LA began to pulse and shake off its collective hangover, I wandered back inside (of course, as a sensible senior, my earliest class was, always, like, the next day or something).

To this moment, I remember each step of the walk down the hall, up the stairs, fumbling with the lock that never worked right. I stepped into the tiny but functional kitchen, mechanically pulled out some bread, Jif, and Welch's grape. I assembled them according to the Ancient and Honored Rites of PB+J...took a bite. With no connection to the usual flows of causes and effects, at that precise moment, my Space Bagged anxiety about what I did not want to do took an Escher turn to something I...did...want to do. Within 24 hours, I had shelved the Law School applications and had the duck-and-cover conversation with my dad to let him know I was going to apply to grad school.

In philosophy.

(Oh, and I will need a year off to do that, so if you could clear out my old room, that would be much appreciated, kthxbye.)

I still remember everything about that mouthful of peanut butter and jelly.


Being a grown up requires energy and will, and I am generally willing to drink it from whatever well ain't yet dry. With no regard for the consistency of metaphor, I have spent a couple decades running rich on stores of misdirected stress. But, inexplicably waking up at 5am today, I am equally without cause recalling how much more octane is found in moving-toward than can be sucked out of running-away.

I hate to overplay coincidences, but as someone who has lived with little regard for sensible expectations of cause-and-effect I would be somehow hypocritical if I simply wrote them off. While Max was not conscious even ten minutes this morning before his first time out, his absolute most favorite food in the world is peanut butter and jelly. Welch's grape.

Has to be Welch's grape.


A Whale in My Bathtub


At this moment, my only contribution to the right and proper functioning of the world is the addition of a little extra gravity to the considerable task of tugging the tidal covers up to the chin of California's central coast. I am pretty sure my help is going unnoticed, and I expect not even a hint of a thank you. The moon is a bit of an ass that way.

As my physical activity descends into the minimal set of causes and effects that modern physics requires of even the most inert mass, my head is enjoying a rare freedom to assemble the anime flashes of my recent life into steady thoughts and stable memories. Vague yearnings resolve into clear goals and slight discomforts become clear opinions, neatly filed alongside others in my evolving, although still Pleistocene, view of the world. At the moment, I am coalescing a certainty that square coffee mugs are an abomination. Without constant attention to the precise configurations of the lips and tongue, neither the flat edges nor the angled corners rise above the usefulness of a cheap prank dribble cup.

Which reminds me, why hasn't some home office Yoda up in Seattle aligned her metachloria around the fact that all of the untold millions of dollars spent over the last few decades in refining the Starbuck's experience are wasted dozens of times each and every moment by a barrista cluelessly aligning a plastic lid so the drinking hole lands dead on the seam of the cup? I'm not sure how you would do the math, but I am confident that at least 100% of the righteous positivity delivered by the sum total of all the frothy sugary caffeine delivery systems Starbucks served over the years has been sucked from the world by the uncountable ties, blouses, dress shirts and sweaters ruined by the pale brown sputum of a poorly engineered cuppa. Just think of how much early-morning self confidence has been replaced by coffee-stained self doubt? How many sales pitches just missed, how many presentations fell just a little flat? How many interviews tailed off into awkward banter ten minutes early and how many raises went unrequested simply because amid all of the other pomp and circumstance that is Starbucks none of their millions of employees has ever had the combination of insight and voice to end the borderline criminal negligence of aligning the sipper and the seam?

I mean...really?

This has gotten me so worked up that I am ditching coffee for a bloody. The moon will have to work this next set into the shore on her own, ungrateful bitch that she is.


Unavoidable demands and inexcusable procrastination have combined into a five-year gap since the last time I was back in California. The first few hours were spent in the trite reflection of how much the store fronts and mailbox names have changed, running the course of the obligatory musings well-captured in Barenaked Ladies and Nickelback songs. A few days into it, I am finally decompressing enough that my west coast eyes can see without the distractions of my east coast worries. In a couple days, I will switch from sorting through kelp beds for a glimpse of a sea otter to sorting through attic boxes for any remnants of my past that I might want to preserve as a condiment for my own kids' ever-growing stock of memories. Such is a necessary task when your folks' home ends a 25 year run with a July 1st closing date. I am sure there is reverie to spare a couple days and a couple hundred miles up the road.


I need to figure out the whole church thing. My reasons are merely excuses, but I have not reliably added my more-than-it-should-be gravitational force to a church pew for some time now. Of course, a solo attempt to bathe, dress and wrangle a couple four-year olds and a six-year old into an hour of Rome's current-and-best thinking is understandably daunting, but that at best excuses me only one Sunday in two. It's on the to-do list, but there is some attic-cleaning in the headspace that needs to get done on this one first.

I spent my first Sunday morning here at the Pope's local franchise, and amid all of the catching-up and polite waves to people that could not remember my name if their salvation depended on it, I was actually quite stunned by the physical transformation the church had taken on. The pulpit was now bigger than the altar and the trappings of the Eucharistic metaphysics were now pulled back to a small table. The stations of the cross were moved to the back, and the choir was moved more front and center. The traditional gold and gilt were not to be found in the new decor, but the offering and guilt remained reliably represented in the Mass. Most strikingly, the image of the cross was no longer the dominant visual cue, the Friday part of that original Easter weekend consciously and prominently replaced by reminders of what followed three days later. All of the changes summed to an overt attempt to humanize an institution two millenia into distancing itself from the flaws of humanity. Being well-schooled in the details of why everything in the Catholic church had always been thus-and-so, seeing it so clearly otherwise was, frankly, stunning. I may have my issues with how spirituality has been institutionalized, but I am not sure that us Catholics can solve our relavance simply by becoming more Protestant-like. I mean, strong coffee has its place. Water it down too much and folks are likely to simply prefer strong tea. I need to do some more thinking on all this. For sure.


We definitely have something deeply, seriously backward in our day-to-day pursuit of health. Once again, I am feeling -- by far -- the most healthy when I am explicitly trying not to be. My caloric intake over the last few days has been astronomical, a nap beats a run as consistently as rock beats scissors, and I am held in a quasi-conscious stasis by a slow, steady alternation of caffeine and alcohol. I have not walked more than 50 yards in a row for nearly a week. And yet I feel like I could go run a marathon, perhaps do some of that new math -- or maybe even one of those sudoku thingies. Sleep and fresh air mix up one powerful cocktail.


My grandfather passed away last winter, leaving my dad as the family elder and me, as his eldest son, as no one of consequence. He outlived his wife, whom he doted on and took care of in every way he knew how, and was outlived by everyone of his children and grandchildren. He passed comfortably with all of his kids by his side to say goodbye. Lay that deal in front of me and give me a pen, please. Along the always surprisingly long Pennsylvania interstate, I popped in some Dylan in hopes that last generation's incarnation of The Bard would inspire some thoughts for the words I would contribute to the services. Somewhere about Scranton/Wilkes-Barre the meatspace got rolling and by the time I hit the Ohio border I had notes written down (while safely pulled to the side of the road, of course) and had moved on to music that has been scientifically proven to kill brain cells. All good.

My oratory, however, lasted less than two hours after arriving at my uncle's place, flush with lasagnas and mayonnaise-laden salads and sodas and beers which turned into nice bourbons as the night wore on. I owed my grandfather more than I had come up with on the ride down. More particularly, I owed this goofy and amazing family that he and my grandmother had built more than I had jotted down. I just didn't know what it was.

My parents ran from Akron as soon as they could. College done, marriage blessed, first-born delivered and overseas military assignment looming, the three of us left, so far never to return to live in our shared hometown. Despite being the birthplace of arguably the greatest philosopher of the twentieth century and perhaps the greatest basktball player ever, Akron is pretty goddam cold. It may not be the worst place to live, but there are, alas, plenty better.

Nevertheless, my extended family escaped the decaying rust belt city for the bucolic northern Ohio countryside, and over the years my trips back have served as a reflective touchstone for me. My family has had it's fair share of trial and tragedy, but all in, both sides dot the Ohio countryside with a bunch of pretty happy folks, generally sporting shit-eating grins at the accomplishments of those that followed them. It is Middle America to its core. The morning of my grandfather's funeral I realized, so am I.

I hastily scribbled some notes on the back of a mimeographed (yes, mimeographed) hymnal, and delivered them when the time came to do so. After stumbling over how to express how I saw my reflection in a the faces and rolling hills that surrounded us, I concluded, simply, "Thank you, Grandpa. Thank you for...Ohio."


I own a pretty nice pup tent and most of the equipment necessary for a fairly ambitious hike into some less than hospitable woods. One of my lingering regrets of late is that most of those provisions still lie in unopened boxes, although the tent has served some good time as a playhouse for the kids. Now, to be clear, when it comes to outdoorsieness I am much more Bryson than Krakauer (and for those who have read the former, more Katz than even Bryson). That said, I can absolutely correlate the velocity of my inner unrest to how long it has been since I have had a long stare at something truly elemental, like this Pacific tide currently swelling toward my feet. Thinking back on this, my rucksack affinity for the outdoors bloomed when I moved to Northern California back in high school. In LA, you cannot go a hundred yards without being overwhelmed by the crush of the manmade; once you get north of San Luis, you can't go a hundred yards without being awed by some force of nature, however many folks might be scampering about it.

The other day, I leaned back in a bathtub behind a glass of local wine and a view of the rising surf. Suddenly, the lazy two-tone blue horizon was broken by the breach of a blue whale, white spray reaching to where clouds blur with fog. Whatever makes a whale dance, I need to find mine.

I have always been thankful for California, too. Watching that whale perfectly framed in a picture window, now I am sure why.