Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Day one/Dandelion

I came home tonight after another long, rainy day at work. I was chatting with L as I stripped out of my dress pants and shirt, putting on shorts and a t-shirt. I was telling her about my day at work, a day of minor victories and defeats, long waiting hours. I asked her about her day, if she was feeling better from the fever and headache that kept her home. She was feeling better, and in bright spirits, except for a dull headache. The apartment was clean and she looked sweet and pretty, wearing a light blue t-shirt and a summer skirt. L said, "I'm pregnant!"

I started laughing. I was happy but also just amused by the whole thing. We've been trying for a mere three weeks, and you're pregnant already? And, after telling me that a wife's announcement to her husband is like her own version of a proposal, and thus can be done with any degree of creativity and romance, this is how you tell me? These two thoughts were running in parallel through my head. Just this afternoon I was worrying about if it would take a long time, if it would be stressful if it would even be possible. And now this?

I felt so, so happy. Just a big grin on my face. I felt a new wave of energy and we talked about how incredulous we felt. She had already taken two pregnancy tests, as well as made a call to the doctor and done a bunch of research online. It looks like we're in week 4 of the pregnancy. The baby is but a mere bundle of cells. I am happy that we are aware of the kid now; that while it's still forming and developing, something out of nothing, there are already people in the world who love it. We love you.

I still can't believe this is happening. We read about how 20-30% of pregnancies end in miscarriage, and I hope our little babe makes it through. I spent a lot of time tonight kissing on my wife's belly, telling our new kid that I loved him or her. L will be such a beautiful mother. She is already. Of course I told her, half-facetiously, how they say you're not really a father until you see the baby -- but I am enraptured nonetheless.

I wandered to Chipotle to pick up some dinner in a happy cloud. I listened to Musiq's "So Beautiful," which seemed appropriate. We ate dinner, watched television. I called James to tell him this unbelievable, wonderful news. It was so good to tell him. He was impressed, as was I, with my ability to get this job done quickly. We had a good laugh over that -- I told him how I figured I should be able to do it, since even my limited knowledge of my genetic background tells me that indeed, those kids were able to do the trick. I feel proud of myself in a dumb, masculine way, but still proud. I am so happy L and I were able to interlock ourselves in this way.

Tonight I keep thinking of the blossom on a dandelion. Our little guy (or girl) is but a mere puff of cells right now, something small and beautiful and perfect and loved. So delicate, yet strong, the miracle of life itself. Please don't scatter, dandelion -- remain and grow and come to us. We are in love with you already.

Such awe and gratitude tonight. And laughter -- incredulous, genuine laughter.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

State Update: Bethlehem, PA

L and I have spent the last two Saturday mornings taking a bus from Port Authority to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, in order to go visit James. Bethlehem is the kind of snug little town where one might move in order to participate in the Witness Protection Program; James is there, however, for grad school classes at Lehigh, so the only logical thing to do was head over to Bethlehem to check it out.

It seems like the history of that town is symbolized by the great steel mills hunched over the river. They used to be the engine of the town's economy and culture, yet they now rest empty and disintegrating. Walking through the south side of town last week, we were struck by the vacant parking lots and the eerily quiet sidewalks; it seemed like the town had been built for people who were no longer there. All of the mills shared the same rusty color, the same uniform degree of decay. A few broken windows, a few tall weeds.

But if that's the past of this once-proud city, what, pray tell, it its future? The Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem, baby! That bus we took from Port Authority brought us to the door of the casino. To reward us for riding the bus, casino personnel clambered aboard as soon as we pulled up and distributed plastic cards pre-loaded with $30 for use at the machines, a little gift card to encourage your gambling and ever so gently nudge you towards the slots. The casino itself appears to have been built in the husk of an old steel facility. The great central room is bright and vibrant and orange; there is an audible hum coming from the scores of computerized slot machines speckled across the floor, a single golden high note ringing constantly. It sounds like angels, it sounds like money, it sounds like action. To me this strange constant note was the most memorable part of all of it.

If only the patrons of this golden orange palace could match their surroundings. Most people we saw were at least two of the following: old, overweight, pushing walkers, and/or smoking constantly. It was somewhat grim.

When we arrived today we fled the casino immediately to experience the Blueberry Festival in town. This was delightful. We went to a petting zoo, but didn't touch any animals (including goats, sheep, pigs, and a calf, and a number of mangy birds). We ate barbecue. We walked through grassy lawns looking at crafts booths, like hand-woven baskets and homemade baby clothes and ipod cozies. We ate blueberry funnel cake. We saw a horse-powered carousel. We watched a pie-eating contest. We went on a tour of the plantation where the festival was held, and learned all about the Moravians, who, to my disappointment, were not an alien race who colonized parts of Pennsylvania and then interbred with the locals, but rather a group of Protestants who seem perfectly nice and reasonable.

We returned to the casino for a few rounds of gambling with our free $30, as well as dinner at Emeril's Chop House, the fancy Emeril Lagasse restaurant that is his only establishment in the entire northeast. We had a lovely time, although the restaurant seemed surprisingly sophisticated for being nestled in the desperate, smoky heart of a casino. We felt awkward in casual clothes and flip flops, and I was clenching my feet as we walked to minimize that thwacking sound, and holding my head high with the knowledge that I was indeed wearing my finest cargo shorts.

On the way back tonight I just listened to music and watched the darkened countryside slowly assemble itself into the city skyline. It was good to leave the city, even better to spend a few hours with James. Not bad for a Saturday.

P.S. This last picture was from last Saturday, thus the different clothes and the longer hair on me. Do you know how much that beautiful pitcher of beer cost? Maybe four bucks. I'm telling you, it's a great town.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Michael Jackson

I always felt a connection with MJ. As a kid, I found the fact that he had the same name as me confusing, but vaguely positive. Whenever my parents played "Beat It," I would start dancing furiously in a move that came to be known as the "Boot-head Shuffle." Even now, when I hear those first few strains of the song -- those guitar chords pulsing relentlessly, the drum kicking in -- I still feel the ghostly echoes of whatever that old feeling was. Whatever the feeling is that makes a three year old plaster on a scowl and then dance like his ass is on fire for the next four minutes. When I heard "Beat It," I didn't even know the force that was driving me, but lord knows that same thing still pushes me forward every day. I must have heard "Billie Jean" and "Thriller" around that time -- I remember thinking how cool it was that Michael Jackson had a tiger on his album cover -- but nothing shook me up like "Beat It."

Only later did I go backwards to his earlier work -- the disco perfection of "Rock With You," "Don't Stop Til You Get Enough." (Hell, only a couple months ago did I hear "P.Y.T." and think to myself, wow, this song is great.) The kid who did those songs, the kid dancing with his big smile in a '70s spacesuit amid the green laser lights, is the one we've all been mourning. He seems so fresh and talented and new, even now, even knowing everything we do. As an obnoxious seventh grader I wrote a paper about MJ and how weird he was, and why that might be. His decline was such a horrible spectacle. Our shameless pleasure in watching him destroy himself was only tempered by the knowledge that real kids actually seemed to be getting hurt. Had he died tragically in, say, 1992, can you imagine the sterling legacy he would have left? Nothing worse than a few weird habits, a chimp, strange but harmless.

But then again, if he departed in 1992 we might not have had "Remember the Time," and that was my song. Also his later stuff -- "Break of Dawn" and "Butterflies" breathed some life into his music on the contemporary R&B charts.

He was a tragic figure, but there was a time, a time of "Off the Wall" and "Thriller" and the Boot-head Shuffle, when he seemed to capture everything that was great about music and let everybody else experience it, too. He was the genesis. At hip hop on Wednesday night we did "Thriller" as a tribute, and coming up this week is "Remember the Time," but our teacher took a few minutes to talk about her own experience of MJ -- the fact that she had auditioned for his last volley of shows in London, that the energy in the audition room was palpable and unlike anything she had seen before, that the people dancing there were giving everything they had, sweating through their shoes, even though Michael wasn't even in the room until the final round, when he was merely a soft presence in the back row of an auditorium. She said she was telling us about that experience because it didn't solely belong to her, but it belonged to all of us, to everyone, and that we should share it too, because it carries on. And so it does.