Out of the crawlspace, into the tree house

When I was little, my older brother and I would spend hours tunnelling into the piles of snow at the end of our driveway. This was back when we regularly got snowfalls of 17 feet at a time. Or something like that. I was a lot shorter then. And less metric.

Andrew was (and is) a designer, so our snow forts tended to be elaborate and well appointed. He was management, I was labour. This may be faulty memory, but I remember one particular fort we could stand up in. It had a bed and a table, a sink maybe, possibly running water and a working snow pinball machine! Or maybe just the bed. But it was definitely a sophisticated snow cave. Until the bad kids in the neighbourhood came and wrecked it.

But really I think the thrill of snow forts was being in that tiny space. Without getting all Freud about it, for a kid, a confined space is a break from the everyday wide-open vastness of pretty much everything in the world besides himself. The confined world is the child’s world, where no adult can follow, unless they risk severe cramping.

Andrew and I had other spaces. In our bathroom (six people, one bathroom; these were savage times), there was a laundry hamper we could squeeze into during a rousing game of Hide-n-Seek-n-Socks.

But behind the bathroom hamper was a wall panel for a dark crawlspace that allowed access to the pipes for the bathtub and shower. And when I say “crawlspace,” I mean “clubhouse.”

Everything I know about international espionage I learned from this book.

Andrew and I could squeeze into that space and, armed with a flashlight, manage to pull the panel shut behind us. That was about all we’d do in there. Maybe we’d look at comics (including a very cool but borderline inappropriate 1966 James Bond Annual). Climb the wall framing. Shine the light around. Sniff the mildew. That was about it. But it was our space!

At one point, my brother posted a magazine article in there about the impending arrival of Comet Kahoutek, which was hyped to be one of brightest comets to pass Earth’s orbit in centuries. This was in 1973, so I would have been 7 or 8 years old. In my mind, I somehow transmuted the harmless (and ultimately disappointing) Comet Kahoutek into a cataclysmic, life-ending Earth-pulverizer. I don’t know where I got this idea but I’m going to go out on a limb here and blame my brother.

(Sometime later, I half-heard someone on the radio talking about 1984, presumably in relation to the novel. I convinced myself that 1984 was when the world was going to end. I was old enough to calculate that I would have just finished high school but not old enough to have ever heard of George Orwell. Imagine my relief.)

Was the crawlspace a science lab? A post-apocalyptic bunker? An especially damp spy headquarters? Or possibly none of the above. The excitement, I think, was due to being not just in an adult-free space but in a sort of alternate universe inside our house.

(I also used to stumble around our unfinished basement staring at a mirror pointed at the rafters and imagining I was walking on the ceiling. I was the youngest; I spent a lot of time alone.)

Eventually, Andrew and I abandoned the crawlspace. Maybe we outgrew it physically and imaginatively. Later, we had a tree house, which, again, my brother designed while I contributed by way of pestering and hanging around. This tree house was no confined space. It slept three people easily. It had a trap door, windows with sliding shutters, even storage spaces perfect for comic books and earwigs.

There was also purple shag carpeting, so clearly we had a thing for mildew.

Eventually we abandoned the tree house too.

Maybe it isn’t just the confined spaces that appeal to us as children but all the spaces we can escape to, away from the world of parents. It starts with a blanket fort, graduates to a crawlspace, climbs up into a tree house and eventually moves out altogether into the world and a new strange a life of one’s own.

Next thing we know, we have our own kids, and it’s back to snow forts – digging human-sized holes in snow banks, wiggling inside that frozen cocoon with its otherworldly sound and light, lying there under that roof of snow. Until your kids yell, “Dad, it’s our turn!”

Posted in It Really Did Happen! | Tagged , , , , , , , | 27 Comments

Re: New guidelines for the coming in/going out of March

img_4263The management would like to inform you that, in accordance with our recently adopted policy on heightened inclusivity and respect for species fluidity, March is no longer exclusively required to come in like a lamb and go out like a lion (or vice versa, i.e. coming-lion/going-lamb).

This policy is in accordance with non-binding recommendations by an independent panel convened to address a complaint brought against the calendar year by the Alliance for Animal-Mensual Plurality, which raised objections regarding the binary and mammalcentric approach to the third month of the year.

Embracing simile diversity

Consequently, we urge you to be sensitive to the fact that March may come in and go out like any creature it chooses. For example, March may now come in like a spotted sandpiper – barely managing to remain balanced as it runs to and fro in a bit of a tizzy – and go out like a slug – wet, repugnant and leaving a regrettable trail of slime.

Or March may come in like an unfriendly housecat with a weepy eye and go out like the majestic blue wildebeest, as inscrutable as it is difficult to spell.

March may even come in like your neighbour’s escaped python and go out like the bloated carcass of a beached whale.

In short, the animal kingdom is the limit.

Please note that if March does come in like a lion, which it is most certainly entitled to do, it is not required to go out like a lamb. March may come in like a lion and also go out like a lion. It may go out like a cuttlefish. It may even go out like seven chimpanzees on a first-name basis with Jane Goodall. That’s the beauty of animal simile diversity.

What about unicorns, etc.?

A number of you have asked about mythical beasts. Can March, for example, come in like a lamb and go out like a Yeti? We are sensitive to the need for openness regarding the varied interpretations of what is meant by “species” and at this point are willing to accommodate non-documented, faith-based species. This will be done on a case-by-case basis if the mythical species in question can be shown to be integral to one’s cultural/religious heritage. Please speak to Human Resources.

At this time, however, we cannot entertain purely fictional creatures due to the possibility of copyright infringement, among other considerations. For example, March may neither come in nor go out like Hobbes from the beloved comic strip Calvin and Hobbes nor may it come/go like “a stuffed tiger that comes to life only in the imagination of its precocious and borderline sociopathic owner.”

And while we are sensitive to the fact that humans are, indeed, animals, we at this time are unable to allow March to come in like one’s cousin Alice and go out like Don Ameche’s loveable character in Cocoon.

Be aware as well that at this juncture we cannot countenance March coming in or going out like a box of chocolates, like a red, red rose, like a virgin, and so on.


Note as well that we now recognize that March is no longer constrained to a coming-going dichotomy. March may come in like a lamb, go partway out like a dolphin, come back in tentatively like a speckled trout in a cute bowtie, flit about briefly like an intoxicated Chihuahua and finally go out for good like an easily offended emu.

There is also the possibility, though unlikely, that March may come in like an antagonistic long-tailed weasel and simply not go out again. In such an event, please remain calm and await further instructions regarding vacation times, major league baseball schedules and fishing season.

In addition, we cannot predict the reliability of either the coming in or the going out of March now that, based on the recommendations of the panel, we have unfettered ourselves from the patriarchy-based calendar year and its artificial, linear construct. In fact, we have recently convened a separate non-partisan, cross-cultural advisory committee to examine the possibility of doing away with March and its related 11 months altogether. This would empower lions, lambs and all other sentient creatures to come and go in accordance to their natural rhythms.

Either way, we recommend rubber boots.

Posted in Never Happened | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 32 Comments

City of Scars: Remembering Where We Were When La La Land Won/Lost

img_1084I remember thinking about my kids and what I was going to tell them in the morning. They’d been in bed for hours by then, like most people, and I thought, “Can’t they just go on sleeping? Do they have to wake up to this? Can’t they stay innocent just a little longer?” But I knew they couldn’t, that I’d have to explain to them that a frothy retro-musical had briefly reached the pinnacle, shining like a light of pure primary-color pleasure, only to be dashed to earth. Though I hear Moonlight is quite good.

– Martha M., West Warwick, RI

I was in my cab, waiting for a fare. It’s like 2 a.m. by now. I got CDs going so I don’t hear the news, and it’s just your average night, not too many whack jobs. This couple hales me over and gets in. I get the directions, and I notice pretty quick that something’s not right. They’re too quiet. Like they’re in shock or something. “Nice night,” I say. And they go, “Haven’t you heard?” And they tell me what happened. Now, I’m a black man, though I haven’t seen Moonlight yet – I hear it’s real good – so I’m happy, you know? But at the same time I’m thinking: How could this happen? In 2017? These poor white people. These poor people who have been defending the racial and sexual condescension of La La Land for months. “But the chemistry between Ryan and Emma…!” To have that moment and then to have it taken away like that. I felt so sad for them. I let that couple ride for free that night.

– Garrett K., New York, NY

I’ll never forget the look on Warren Beatty’s face. It was a look that said, “Our dreams died tonight,” though really it was almost tomorrow by that point. “Our dreams died tomorrow.” Yeah. I PVRed it, and I can’t stop watching it. It haunts me.

– Sarah V., Shrewsbury, MA

By the end of the broadcast, I was flipping back and forth between the Oscars and the Clippers/Hornets game, which was going into overtime. I didn’t think I could sit through another uncomfortable speech like Casey Affleck’s, so when I saw the La La Land crew jump out of their seats, I switched over to the game permanently. Then I went to bed. As long as I live, I’ll never get over the fact that while I was watching a meaningless sporting event, that was going on. It’s incredible. But the Clippers won, so that was good.

– Russell S., Oak Creek, WI

It’s funny what comes to mind in a moment like that. By this point I’d become essentially numb to the whole thing. Kimmel didn’t seem impish anymore, just secretly nasty, you know what I mean? Anyway, I wasn’t really feeling anything, not even when they announced La La Land, which was a delight, by the way. But when they announced Moonlight, which I have not seen, I was filled with this sudden rage. And I flashed back to when I was 12 years old and Star Wars lost out to Annie Hall for Best Picture and how utterly unfair and… and corrupt that was. In a way, I’m grateful. I must have been holding that in for a long time.

– Alex T., Maryville, TN

I found myself crying. I can’t explain it. I called my mom, because I knew she’d be up, I knew she’d be watching. And she was crying too. We couldn’t believe it. It was like I had to confirm it with someone else. It was good to have that support, knowing that other people were going through the same thing. “Have you seen Moonlight?” I asked her. “No,” she said. “But we should definitely see it.” “Yeah,” I said. “Definitely.” But we’ll probably go see Hidden Figures. It looks nicer.

– Mary L., Teaneck, NJ

Posted in Awards, It Could Happen... | Tagged , , , , , | 13 Comments

Mary, Thunder Road, responds

So I’m listening to the radio, some oldies crap that my stupid mother can’t seem to get enough of. Yeah, fine, I’m still living at home. You think it’s easy getting a job with a lousy high school degree? Anyway, I hear this car drive up, and I think, “Oh, God, no…”

I go out on the porch, and the screen door slams, which is, like, so annoying. And my dress gets kind of caught in it, and I stumble just as I see him, and he’s all, “Like a vision she dances across the porch!” Uh, sarcastic much?

Read more over at McSweeney’s, where I’m happy to be published today.

It’s been five years since I’ve submitted anything to McSweeney’s, and I can’t believe it’s been that long. McSweeney’s will forever be associated for me with my post-newspaper period in the mid-2000s, a highly prolific time when the ideas kept popping out like acne, but less gross. I felt unfettered after more than a decade of structured journalism, and McSweeney’s provided an outlet. I didn’t even care that McSweeney’s didn’t pay, I was so happy to be read on this cool site.

McSweeney’s still doesn’t pay* and it’s still cool. For my (non) money, it’s still the best site for humour, and they’ve been on a tear lately with brilliant Trump takedowns. Glad they’ve found a slot for this piece that’s been rattling around in my head for about, well, five years.

*For the record, McSweeney’s has paid me for pieces that ended up in two of their printed anthologies.

Posted in Reading? Ugh!, Writing | Tagged , , , , | 24 Comments

Oscar’s Revenge

When my son James was in his final year of high school, I made him go to bed at the end of the third quarter of Game 4 of the NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and Antonio Spurs. He had a final exam the next day, and he needed his sleep, I explained.

As I wrote about previously, that fourth quarter turned out to be not just thrilling but pivotal in the series. My son has never let me forget it.

Last night, I sat through the entire Oscar broadcast. I hardly ever do. But whether it was inertia or wanting to see how this La La Land backlash would play out, I made it all the way through. Almost. Continue reading

Posted in It Really Did Happen! | Tagged , , , , , | 16 Comments

A case of refugee envy

img_1058Dear Refugees Fleeing Would-Be American Oppression:

I see on the news that you’ve been crossing illegally from the U.S. into Canada along our vast and largely unprotected border. It’s been happening in Manitoba and it’s been happening in Hemmingford, Quebec, about an hour away from here.

So my question is: Why not Stanstead?

We’re a border community, a pretty famous border community. Surely you’ve heard of us. No? That’s okay, we’ve heard of you. Well, not “you” specifically but the idea of you, the concept of the refugee, and we’re all for it! We’d love to have you illegally enter Stanstead! At least I think we would. But more on that later.

First, though, let me tell you what Stanstead has to offer to fill all your Trump-fleeing needs. Continue reading

Posted in Canada and/or Quebec, It Really Did Happen! | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 34 Comments

I am the face of erectile dysfunction 

Last year, thanks to an anonymous tip by someone looking for a friendly face online, I learned that my not so friendly face, posted four years earlier on this blog, was being used by someone on a dating site. I was less appalled than amused. I mean, look at that face.

A reverse Google image search revealed that the my image was best described as “middle-aged man.” Further investigation revealed that this image was being used as a fake avatar on dating sites, Yelp pages, Google Plus, message boards, an English language instruction site, even as a real reporter’s head shot.

Several months later, a handful of those sites have been taken down. Other cease-and-please-stop requests (so Canadian!) have been ignored.

But worse, new fake identities have popped up. Worse still, they’ve put words in my mouth. Worst of all, I have penis problems. Continue reading

Posted in It Really Did Happen! | Tagged , , , , , | 45 Comments