Captain of the Ship

I am the captain of a sinking ship.

An old and dated vessel that ran aground some time ago.  Bound seaward with the rolling foam, with patchwork sails and scaly sides.   And my men, they sit where I tell them: in rows side by side oars at the ready to fight the tide.  And the waves crash repeatedly.  Those in the back near the rudder, go under.  Those in front stay scarcely above with coughing salty sputtering lungs.  And they all look up at me expectantly, wondering why I seated each one accordingly.  The measure of each man by the filling of his lungs.    

 Some go under in the boiling foam never to resurface.  Some make a panicked swim for a shore.   Some simply  drown into watery obedient nothingness, punished by their captain’s choices.  

I am the captain of a sinking ship.  But I’m the only un-drownable man on board.

Red Wagon

She pulled her little red wagon in the overcast afternoon chill, her thin coat pulled closely against her slender little bones.  The back wheel of her wagon was slightly bent, causing the tire to squeak and twist on its axis ever so slightly with each rotation.  *squeak* *squeak* *squeak* She trudged up the pavement, until at last she arrived at her destination.  Her tiny brow furrowed as she struggled with the sheet of paper against the pillar.  Worn sneakers on tippy-toes stretching tiny fingers as high as they could reach, fumbling with slick – sticking tape, fighting the corners for control until at last her poster was plastered to the pillar for all to see:

“Lost Dog”  

Curious onlookers inside the coffee shop peered over their steamy mugs through the frosty window frames, content to have a reprieve from an otherwise uneventful Tuesday afternoon.  

“Aww… isn’t that the saddest thing?” the patrons cooed.  The coffee shop was abuzz with tepid conversation, of collective pity of the little girl beyond the glass.  Outside, the forlorn little figure stepped back to admire her handiwork for a moment rubbing the heat back into her fingers, and then disappeared up the street– red wagon in tow.  *squeak* *squeak *squeak*

 

Weeks past and the poster tore.  Rained-soaked and wind swept until all that remained were tiny taped corner nubs.  The little girl returned, with her little red wagon with the slightly bent back wheel in tow.  *squeak* *squeak* *squeak* She stood on the tops of tippy-toes on the slick road with arms outstretched way beyond the enormous weight of her lost pet, plastering the pillar with her heart’s honest and earnest plea:


“Lost Dog”

“Aww… that’s the saddest thing I’ve ever seen.”  An outspoken barista declared as she wiped her hands down her apron; murmurs of agreement echoed in ripples across the coffee shop.  They all sat watching through paned glass as the little girl collected herself and disappeared down the street.  Forgotten, the barista poured another cup of coffee.  

Weeks passed and the elements ran their slender icy slicing fingers through her poster, reducing it to ribbons to be rolled down the street in limp tumbling tubes.  The little red wagon with the slightly bent back wheel came rattling up the pavement.  *squeak* *squeak* *squeak* A tall figure stood in front of the coffee shop and with a drooping head and slumped shoulders.  Slender arms with skinnier fingers pressed the poster to the pillar.  Patrons inside craned their necks to get a glimpse:

“Missing Girl.”  

Sentimental Plates

Moving in together is weird.  Relationship semantics aside, just the physical act of combining two people’s things is a feat in and of itself.  I feel like George Carlin put it best:

Now the missus and I have been living together for almost five months now.  Her stuff and my stuff have happily melded together to become our stuff.  But because we took over her grandparents’ house, there’s also a lot of residual stuff left over from them too.   Some of it was useful: her grandfather had a massive collection of tools, most of them in great working condition.  Some of it was clearly old and meant to be disposed of: Like that 1970’s vacuum cleaner with the millions of broken attachments, or the lamp that was more rust than lamp.

But there was one thing that simply could not be touched– The plates.

Her grandmother had amassed quite the collection of plates of the years.  Serving platters from the nearby Chinese restaurant the family loved to frequent.  Dishes brought home all the way from Japan.  The little cat bowl grandma used to serve my girlfriend as a kid.  Each dish has its own unique history and story.

But I don’t know any of these stories.  All I know is I have a cabinet full of plates.  Some of them will blow up the microwave because they have gold flecks inlayed in the edges.  Some of them may contain lead.  None of them stack, because this mismatched menagerie of dishware is amassed from so many different sources.  So our cabinets are full of a Dr. Seuss-ian dystopian toppling towers of dishware.

Now I can’t get rid of any of the dishes.  But I can… disappear some of them.  I am taller than my girlfriend by about three inches and we have one particular shelf that is waaaay up there where where only cobwebs and a rogue cat hangs out.   And ever so slowly, week by week I hide a dish up there.

In a way, I’m preserving them.  Like the Monument’s Men saving priceless artwork from the clutches of evil Nazis, I am saving her grandparent’s dishes from the inevitability of gravity, chipped corners, and explosions… all of which I am prone.

So I’m a hero.  A hero of plates.  Until that day she cleans up there and finds them all again.  And I’m back to square one.  But boy can I dream.

A letter to my Sister

Hey Little Sis,

So Mum said you and Mr. Potatohead broke up.  So obviously if mom knows something I too know it within a matter of hours.  Just kidding, I called her to tell her that Asahi went to the beach and has been pooping out sand all day, and she casually mentioned it.  See mom, I told you I’d be discrete.  *Ahem.*  I feel like I need to bequeath some brotherly wisdom to you.  So here goes:

We are baggage.
And I don’t mean that in some emo metaphor about how we carry around our past with us.  Literally, we are baggage.  We’re made out of hard unyielding suitcases and soft squishable duffel bags.  Being together with someone is making all that baggage fit into one finite shared space.  Some things are soft like duffel bags, able to stretch and squish and fit into the cracks.  Kayla wanted a cat.  We got a cat.  Kayla likes listening to Kpop whenever we drive.  We listen to Kpop when we drive.  These are not choices I would’ve made for myself, but choices I can live with and have grown to enjoy.

But there are hard inflexible surfaces as well; shells and frames and ribs that cannot be compromised, things that shouldn’t be bent or folded because it weakens and cracks the integrity of who we are.   Family, Career, my love of dogs and my long luxurious hair…  these all need to fit together too.  Love is compromise.  But at the same time it isn’t.  It’s not changing or throwing things away, it’s fitting your luggage where nothing breaks on the journey together.

I feel like you’ve been squeezed into an uncomfortable shape of who you thought you wanted to be.  And maybe you’ve been in that position, with a craned neck and tucked knees for so long that maybe you’ve forgotten your natural shape.   Have you ever seen the video of the happy cows?  Where they were kept in the barn all winter and then they get to see grass for the first time in months and they’re stretching and dancing and jumping.  That’s you.  Minus the impending sense of doom of being led off to the slaughterhouse of course.  Stretch out and figure out where all your luggage sits without someone else’s shit in the way.  Honestly, it’s a really good feeling.

You deserve the best.  Now I don’t mean Joseph Gordon Levitt best.  Because I’m pretty sure that guy is married.  Or gay.  Or both.  But the best of someone else, where their best is enough.  Y’know?  If you keep drinking from the same cup and you’re still thirsty… it’s not the cups fault.  You can’t be mad at the cup for being shallow and unsatisfying.  You just need to find a bigger cup.   I’m writing this as I’m sitting at the bar of my restaurant, and I’m drinking a beer.  Which is why I think the metaphor shifted from suitcases to liquids.  Which, side note, can you still only bring three ounces of liquid with you on board?  In which case, yes– you definitely need a big cup.

I love Kayla’s parents because they’re just like Mom n’ Dad.  Kayla’s mom sends us home with food almost every week.  She buys toys for Hibiki and Asahi just because she can.  Kayla’s dad did my taxes and is offering to buy us lawn equipment because he knows that’s my latest project– to fix up our lawn.  They’re not something to contend with or an obstacle to overcome– they’re two more supporting players in our growing relationship.  The only time I stress out about Kayla’s parents is because I don’t want to let them down or disappoint them (mom n’ dad are stuck with me so I can relax there).  But it makes such a difference having in-laws you can be yourself around.  And I want you to find that.  It feels so good not to have to put on emotional armor just to go to a family holiday party.  Because if you marry this person, you will see their people a lot.  Sure I drink less and am uber-polite but I’m still essentially me.  And for some reason, her family likes me.

Mr. Potatohead is a good guy.  And I feel like he’s done his best.  And that says something. When someone does their best you can either lower your standards or keep shopping for cups.  Otherwise you’ll squish like a duffel bag or crack like a suitcase. Or be thirsty.  I forget where I was going with this.

Anyhow, I love you.
Hit me up for anything and everything,

Letters to My Future Son: Get a Tent

I am in my early thirties.  By the time I have any children and they grow to the appropriate age to talk about the proverbial “birds and bees”, chances are I will be at the very youngest– forty five.  That’s if I get to baby making at this exact moment, and for some reason I want to sit down a bewildered fifteen year old and lecture him about sex.  In all likelihood I will be in my fifties by the time this conversation even becomes relevant.  I can’t remember the thoughts I was having as a ten year old… probably something about firetrucks and ice cream.  That’s the same span of age between where I am now– to fifty years old where I am giving you a lecture about sex.

Right now, I’m still a relatively young man.  I am the tiger just entering the cage of commitment.  Willingly, mind you, and lovingly building this structure around me.  But I still remember the rush of the grass and the thrill of the hunt.  I still remember what it’s like to be single, and alone, and horny, and stupid.  But I’m not sure how long I will remember these things; certainly not twenty years. So for your sake… I’ve decided to chronicle and hobble together what little tidbits of advice and experience to give to you. So When you’re asking me about sex and I’m fifty and you’re fifteen, I can give you more than a puzzled look and a blank, “Well your mom lets me do it, sometimes.”

First bit of Advice: Get a Tent

If you have the space for it, get a tent.  Now I don’t mean an outdoor tent with the bugs and the rain and mosquitoes; no buy a brand-new-never-touched-the-earth-tent, and set it up indoors.

Do you remember building blanket tents and pillow forts?  (it feels super meta, asking you about your past experiences which are happening in my presumed future, but I’ll assume with me being me, and you being my kid we’d do a lot of this stuff)  It’s this universal experience for every kid.  It’s fun, and it’s nostalgic, and it’s safe, and intimate.  Having an indoor tent taps into all those emotions.

Girls are the same way.  They did the same fort-building and tent making as children.  Maybe they had cool parents that actually took them camping and that’s a twinkling childhood memory for them.  So when you bring  a girl over and she sees you have a tent, the first thing she’s gonna want to do is go inside.  It’s human nature.  It’s instinct.

At my bachelor pad, long before I met your mother, I had a loft area that was about ten feet off the ground that you had to climb a step ladder to get up to.  The ceilings were low, where you couldn’t ever fully stand up, but high enough for a tent.  I put a tent right in the corner of my loft.  Some days when I was feeling especially shitty, I would climb up there and sit in my tent.  I had perfectly good and usable other spaces of my apartment, and it was only me living there, I wasn’t sharing living quarters with anyone.  But something about crawling into a tent felt safer, more private, more intimate, and more secluded even though it’s just a thin nylon sheet separating the space inside the tent and everything outside.

Okay back bringing girls over.  If you bring a girl over to your apartment, or to your room– it’s awkward.  You know what you want to do, she knows what she wants to do, but there’s all this space.  Do you sit awkwardly on the bed together?  Watch some TV?  Show her some videos on your computer?  There is no nice transition from two people existing in a room together, to playing backgammon.  (I might have to explain this reference to you later.)  Say you makeout.  At what point do you go over to the bed?  Or if you’re already on the bed, at what point do you do the thing where your two bodies kinda accidentally end up lying down on the bed?  There’s a lot of logistics involved, and with each subsequent step there’s room for error, miscommunication, hesitation, or in general you messing it up.

But say you have a tent.  She goes into the tent.  You go into the tent.  You don’t walk into a tent, you crawl into it.  And once in the tent, you don’t stand up… you lie down.  You’ve gone from sharing an entire room to sharing this close intimate space.  Your body is inches from hers.  Your face, inches from hers.  Basically the tent is doing all the work for you.  The tent is the little red crab singing into your ear “Kiss the girl”  (I might have to explain this reference too)  It’s fun, it’s exciting, for most girls it’s a new experience, and you’re the creative charismatic guy who for some reason has a tent in his house.

A gentleman does not talk or brag about his exploits.  But suffice it to say this: I wouldn’t be telling you about a tent unless it works.

best of luck,

What’s Your Secret?

One of the best parts of working in the restaurant industry is the multitude of people I get to talk to over the course of my day.  These are people who I would never otherwise interact with, each with their own unique tapestry of life-experiences trailing behind them.  I’ve met captains of industry, CEO’s and movie stars.  I’ve met small business owners and people from just about every walk of life.   My absolute favorite by far, are the old couples coming in to the restaurant to celebrate their anniversaries.  I always have one question for them: what is the secret to a long marriage?  And I’ve gotten so many beautiful answers, I thought it might be worth writing down.

What is the secret to a long marriage?

“There is no secret.  Marriage is work.”  (wife gives him a cold stare) “…what I mean by that is, you’re constantly working to make the marriage better to find new ways to make the other person happy.  You’re gonna get comfortable in marriage, but you can’t get lazy.”

– – – –

“You have to be able to laugh at yourselves.  Life sends you some big heavy problems sometimes, and you just need to be able to have a sense of humor about things rather than get serious and angry at each other.”

– – – –

“Everyone says marriage is 50 / 50 —  It’s not.  Marriage is 60 / 40.  You always want to be the one giving that 60, because if both people are giving it more than half, working hard to make the other person happier and [the marriage] better then it’ll grow.”

– – – –

“We met when we were seventeen and we were married by nineteen.  I never thought I could love him as much as I did then, but love grows.  You find ways to love your partner, ways to keep that fire going.  And it’s not always *boom* *boom* like in the movies.  That’s the easy part.  It’s finding ways to love the other person in a deeper and more meaningful ways.”

“like football.”  the husband pipes in

“Like football?!”  (she is incredulous)

“She hates football.  But she’s been with me to a hundred football games because she knows I love it.  That’s love.”

“I don’t hate football.”

“Yeah but you don’t like it either.”  he winks.

The Asshole Cat

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This cat and I, we have a weird relationship.  I’m not sure who he belongs to, or where he lives.  He just appeared one night in the middle of my parking stall with these golden glinting eyes that caught the glow from my headlights.  He shuffled off into the darkness as if to say, “sure I guess you can park here tonight.”

Some nights he rolls around on the ground until I pet him.  Some nights hes an asshole and tries to bite me, and I swat at him and I go home.  Other nights he mews and cries indignantly, like I did him some great insult by coming home late.  Some nights I bring him bits of food and we sit on the concrete in silence, eating together and looking up at the stars.

But every night is a new night, regardless of how the last night went.  Whether he sunk his sharp little teeth into my hand, or I threw my slipper at him’ it all seems to slide off the cosmic score-card and every night we encounter each other anew.  Sometimes he’s an asshole.  Sometimes we are friends.

And usually, we are asshole friends.

I Wrote a Chair

“We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence is not an act, but a habit”
~Aristotle

It’s difficult to call myself a writer, when I write so infrequently these days.   Sometimes I feel like the last kid on the empty playground shouting “I‘m gonna be an astronaut some day, just you watch!”  to the dusty nothingness of cracked asphalt and faded lines as the afternoon sun of my youth slinks quickly behind the ever growing shadows and inevitability of adulthood.  Everyone else has gone inside and traded in their dreams for something more practical.  And I’m a waiter, who writes.  But not even the latter all that much.

It’s an empty word.  Writer.  A thin blanket so many others have veiled themselves to excuse their aspirations of greatness never blossoming into fruition.  Writer.  It’s a vague and incomplete title.  Tell someone you’re a carpenter and they’ll ask to see your wood-shop, or sit upon a sturdy chair you’ve built.  I’m a writer.  But I’m still working working on my novel.  Any day now… 

A chair either is– or it isn’t.  It exists in either of those two states.  Useless wood, or functional-something-finished.

And I think I’ve gotten it tangled up in my head.  This idea of the chair I want to make.  With the perfect spine and easy arm rests, and perfect legs, so much so that the very thought of constructing it, has me hiding from the shop.  But in truth.  I just need to touch wood.   To touch wood as often as I can, for as long as I can.  And eventually… something will come to fruition.

Deaf Fight

You just don’t listen anymore…

…what?  

I witnessed perhaps the most beautiful and honest fight of my lifetime.  There I was, stuck in traffic with mere minutes to kill before the lazy light gave me the right to go again.  And to my right through my window I witnessed a battle unfolding.  At first I thought my music was too loud.  So I turned it down.  And then I lowered my window, every the curious voyeur, hoping to catch the stray shouting wisps of someone else’s misery unfolding on the sidewalk.  As my ears perked up waiting for the cacophony of conflict… realizing there was none to be heard.

I was all the more intrigued.

There she blazed, on the walkway of her second story apartment, ready to scorch the world below her with vehement fury.   And there at the bottom of her steps, one foot on the asphalt, one foot on the first tenuous-tremulous concrete step, unsure of how to progress from here, HE stood– the object of her fury.

Her hands moved swiftly and deftly, her fingertips cutting through the sparse space in front of her with such veracity the air seemed to sizzle and pop.  He stood his ground in spite of his heavy-burdened shoulders, his drooping spine, his head tilted to one side, as if to catch her flaming arcane runes all upon his pale and exposed cheek.  And his hands weaving the soft swoops of appeasement and apology.

Her hands exploded in more fury, at her throat and in fists, her eyebrows bent into an angry red chevron in the middle of her face as her dark pursed lips holding back the words her hands shouted.  And he, with his pleading palms upturned to the heavens hoping to catch her mercy but instead finding nothing but the endless torrential downpour of her rage.

It was at that moment… the light changed.  And I was on my way.