Abu Halen vs. Abu Dhabi: There is Only Room For One Abu in This Town

Abu Halen has lived in Abu Dhabi for one month. Nothing has really happened. Except I have received three speeding tickets. What can I say. I was born to be wild. And also to meekly pay my fines before they double after four weeks of delinquent non-payment.

You might wonder what the weather is like in Abu Dhabi in the summer. I will tell you. Imagine a sauna. Imagine the sauna is on fire. Imagine you are in the flaming sauna wearing native Inuit clothing. Imagine you are also doing burpees. The weather in Abu Dhabi in the summer feels something like that.

We live in a villa in a housing compound. It is a nice villa. Nice and tall. It is three stories high. The bottom floor is the living area. The second story has all the bedrooms. Except the master bedroom. That is on the third story. Abu Halen must climb 48 stairs to get to his bedroom. We have established an aid station halfway up stocked with electrolytes, orange wedges, and blue M&Ms (blue M&Ms have 4% nitro content, that is a fact).

Those calves are going to be hulking after three years of climbing the stairs to my bedroom. Two is the number of times I have to stop and rest on my way to bed each night.

There are a lot of fun things to do in Abu Dhabi, like drive around in a white Lamborghini with windows tinted so black that they exhibit certain properties of black holes, like being black. Alternatively, if you’re poor, you can drive around in a white Range Rover. And also there is Abu Halen’s pencil lead-colored 12 year-old minivan with a big scratch down the side where Shannon tried to fit into a parking spot intended for compact cars.

The other thing that happened since we arrived in Abu Dhabi is that my teenagers suddenly developed social lives. I just get texts after school that say, “Coming home later sometime, hanging out with friends.” Just kidding, they don’t actually text, they just don’t come home. The good news is that pretty much everything is illegal here, including the Electric Slide, thank goodness, so nothing bad can really happen. All immoral behavior can be traced to the Electric Slide, after all. Except cousin-marriage, which can be traced to the song “Cotton-Eyed Joe,” or the Tudors, depending on how cultured your cousins are.

When the kids have had a tough day at school, we always take them to Sparrows to drown their sorrows.

Leaving DC, Never Easy

I left Washington DC today. Probably not for good. We’re still friends. We might live together again later if nothing else works out, I don’t know. It was just time for a change. And sometimes DC smells like urine in certain places, which bothers me and makes me have to go potty a lot.

How I feel about Bob Evans meat and potatoes, hold the meth. (Wheeling, WV; Aug 2019)

My one-year assignment working at the main State Department building downtown came to close, so I filled out all the paperwork, turned it in, got in my car, and started driving. In three weeks we fly to Abu Dhabi to start something new, provided Abu Dhabi doesn’t smell like pee. Even it does, I’ll probably tough it out for a few years.

DC isn’t so bad. I feel like it gets a bad rap. People call it a swamp. They want to drain it. But it’s not so bad. Sometimes you get to see the presidential motorcade cruising around town, sirens wailing, lights flashing. Once, the motorcade passed me while I was walking to work in front of the State Department. I kind of wanted to stop, turn to the passing cars, and shout my opinion, with my fist in the air, using rude words (don’t worry, it’s just locker room talk, it’s NBD). But then I thought, I don’t want to be on the news in front of the State Department shouting locker room words with my fist in the air. No, I want to be on the news in front of the State Department with myself in the air. Because I’m levitating. Actually it doesn’t really matter where I am, as long as I’m levitating. Think of all the things I could do if I could levitate. Like clean the gutters more easily, I guess.

I’m heading west in a silver Honda Pilot, driving alone, eventually meeting up with my family in Idaho. Today I was forced to listen to Imagine Dragons in the car. In other words, the devil made me do it. I’ll level with you: I don’t know what the Imagine Dragons guy is so pissed about. He’s always shouting, but never about dragons. If I had a band called Imagine Dragons, I would yell about dragons all the time, and then if there was any time left over I’d yell about gnomes.

I guess maybe he’s mad about being from Las Vegas. Maybe he had to work at Chik-Fil-A for spending money when he was younger, and he has strong feelings about waffle fries. Out of the two albums’ worth of material I listened to, my favorite lyric was “just another damn dog.” Or he could also have been saying, “just another down dog.” Either way, it resonates strongly with me, and I’ll be listening again tomorrow.

Award for best town that I passed today goes to Friendstown, Maryland. Nobody lived there. For 20 minutes after passing the town, I felt vaguely sad and found myself absently sawing at my wrist with the side of my cell phone.

I’m overnighting in Wheeling, West Virginia. I’m disappointed that I’ve been in West Virginia for nearly 2.5 hours and have seen no overt evidence of meth. However, this one man did pass me on the freeway, driving a rusted out Audi, and the man looked like that guy from Alice in Chains, three weeks after that guy from Alice in Chains died. I’d categorize that under “circumstantial evidence of meth.”

I didn’t know whether to eat supper at Bob Evans or TJ’s Family Restaurant. There usually aren’t any Bob Evans in the places I live, so I feel like you’ve got to let down your hair and go for it when you have the chance, you know? TJ’s looked good, but there was this topless place called TJ’s down on 122nd Avenue in the town where I grew up, so the name is kind of ruined for me. So is the name “Donner.”

Bob Evans sounded wholesome though, or at least down-homey. I had meat and potatoes, hold the meth.

When Red Taillights Go Out

Several months ago I wrote the following in my journal as I tried to process the deaths of a pair of friends and one of their children in a car accident. We weren’t especially close. I hadn’t seen them in years. But the tragedy still rattled me from a distance for some reason. So, like I usually do, I worked through it in writing. I came across the journal entry recently. I thought it may be a good share.

Isle of Skye, Scotland; Jul 2010

Adam, Elizabeth, and 10 year-old Jane died in a car accident yesterday morning on a long, straight interstate in Texas. Lights went out inside me when I heard. We haven’t seen them since we were their neighbors out West years ago. We’ve communicated here and there on social media since then, but even from a distance they were all-too-rare rays of light in the murkiness of modernity. They found wonder and joy in everyday life and managed to share it widely without coming across as sanctimonious or smug. That’s hard to do. How can you miss somebody so hard who you didn’t see or touch or hear? I don’t know for sure, but I do.

The news reports on kitschy small town Texas media websites said their car slid across the median of I-40 and into an oncoming RV.

What do you think about in the spin and the noise? Do you feel sadness? Fear? Love? Or just glass, plastic, bone, and cold? Three of their kids lived, mom and dad and a daughter did not.

The age-old question bounces around my brain -- why? A couple seconds earlier or later and maybe they would’ve whirled into a break in traffic. If there’s a median in the freeway there, maybe there’s still a complete family too.

Surely God could’ve intervened somehow? But He didn’t, and I don’t know why. I’m okay with that. I guess those who will not abide the mystery of why and when God steps in, and why and when He doesn’t, spell His name with a lowercase g. Those willing to accept the existence of unknowables go on believing, even when reality doesn’t make any sense.

The truth is that things just happen. This accident isn’t God’s fault. It’s the fault of momentum, friction, trajectory, velocity, laws of motion, physics, gravity. Cold and uncaring forces that act on the culpable the same as the blameless. I choose to give God credit when things go well and blame something else when they don’t, however irrational that may be. Is it foolish, blasphemous, to show mercy toward God like that? Maybe. But I need mercy so bad, and so I try to give it, even to a God that doesn’t need it.

Twenty years ago I drove a big white Buick filled with my college friends through the northern Utah emptiness, a lot of miles from anywhere, on a lonely stretch of freeway in the middle of a cold night. The starry sky spit a few tiny snowflakes, benign and sparse. Then the wind started to moan a little, the stars went out, and suddenly the night went crazy, thick swirling snow, eating up the pavement. The windshield wipers waved in futile arcs, they couldn’t keep the glass clear. You couldn’t tell where the freeway ended and the rest of the world started.

I drove slow and blind for a long time, somehow keeping the car on the white road and out of the snowy ditches and farmers’ fields and embankments on either side. There was no depth or shadow, just black night and snow flying cruel and cold and insane across the yellow cone of my headlamps.

Then two little red lights blinked on through the whiteout up ahead. I inched closer. They were moving, the taillights on the trailer of a semi truck mowing its way through the storm.

I thought of my dad. He was a truck driver, slow and sure anytime, on any road beneath any sky. He wasn’t in that truck on that invisible highway that night, but I pretended he was, that he knew the way, that he was going to get us home. And I settled in behind those red taillights and didn’t let them go. The night drug on, white and black and blinding, the snow piled up, the truck pushed it aside, and I just followed. If he stayed on the road, so would I. If he drove off a bridge, me too.

I don’t know how much time passed, I ignored time. The world was a set of red taillights. Then, just as suddenly as it started, the snow stopped. The clouds ripped open, the stars glowed cold again on the empty world. We pulled off the highway at a lonely gas station somewhere vacant in Idaho, safe, alive. The truck lumbered on into the middle of the winter night, red taillights slowly disappearing over the curve of the earth. Thank God for red taillights.

Elizabeth and Adam were red taillights. This world is spiralling down. Ugly men peddle fear, bitterness, and anger and call it strength and progress. Many believe them, they think they’ve found answers to their pain, they think the answers are isolation, outrage, violence. An eye for an eye, I guess. In these dark times I follow red taillights wherever I can find them, even when I don’t know I’m following them. People like Adam and Elizabeth responded to darkness with love. Not militant love, indignant love, angry love, because there’s no such thing. They just saw good, and they told you so, without any trace of self-righteousness, and that somehow cut the darkness a little, made it bleed, and it bled light.

Now there’s a pit in my stomach and I can’t see the road. It’s cold and dark tonight. A red taillight went out. I wish it was morning.

Why Has This Baby-faced Boy Pilfered My Razor (and Tried to Out-Lawyer Me)?

There is allegedly hair on the upper lip of my son. He insists it exists, that it’s there shading the space beneath his nose, looking gross and requiring removal. It must be the kind of mustache that you can only see at precisely midday at the summer solstice while looking through a sacred amulet from an alcove in an underground cavern illuminated by a ray of sunlight streaming through a hole in the ceiling cut by the breath of an angel, while the angel was doing yoga. Because the mustache is really hard to see.

Sometimes guys have to stick together. Like after you waste your money on nappy McDonald’s shamrock shakes. (Reston, Virginia; Mar 2019)

I wouldn’t have even known to look for hair on Halen’s upper lip, but last week I couldn’t find my razor. I queried all the girls in the house, each of whom plausibly denied the heist. Finally, I searched Halen’s basement bathroom. And there was my razor, in plain sight beside the sink. He wasn’t even trying to hide it.

But why would he take it? He’s, like, ten years old or something. Does he feel he needs a weapon to defend himself from the alarmingly large spiders that sometimes sneak into the basement to eat children? Is he taking selfies for Instagram with this manly razor intended to mislead his followers — which include only his grandma and a small percentage of his cousins, who follow him solely out of loving pity — into thinking he’s more masculine than he really is?

So we had a confrontation. I demanded to know why he, my baby-faced son, had horked my razor. He claimed he has a mustache that must be culled. He claimed he is thirteen-and-a-half, has a deep voice, and that girls like him even though he thinks they’re gross. I consulted his birth certificate. He was telling the truth about his age. His voice actually is kind of deep, I have to admit. But I’m pretty sure girls don’t like him. And I KNOW there is no hair on his upper lip. He said that’s because he already shaved it off. That is actually a somewhat reasonable explanation. He isn’t always reasonable though.

I typed up a screen time contract a little while ago in an attempt to limit the amount of time he spends playing Fortnite (he is bordering on getting sponsored, I am told… by him). When he got home from school I cornered him in his bedroom. “I want you to go over this contract and sign it,” I barked.

“No,” he said.

I sort of stared at him.

“Minors can’t enter into contracts,” he calmly continued. “It’s illegal.”

I admirably controlled myself. “The contract isn’t intended to be legally binding. We’re not going to sue you with a lawyer if you violate it. We’re just going to ground the beejeebies out of you. Outside of court.”

He looked at me blankly. “You can’t, because contracts aren’t binding on minors.”

I silently counted to ten so that I wouldn’t throw his belligerent butt out the window. “Okay, you’re partially correct. Contracts intended to be used in courts of law aren’t binding on minors. But this contract is only intended to be binding within our family, not within the court system. So the rules that prevent minors from entering into contracts don’t apply in this case. Read the contract and sign it.” I was worried he would bring in a duress argument, but he must not have learned about that yet.

He relented and read it over. “I’ll verbally agree to it, but I won’t sign. It’s illegal.”

I had a choice to make: demand unconditional surrender, or be pragmatic. I went with pragmatism.

“Okay, but I’m taking your verbal agreement as the legal equivalent of a written signature.”

“Fine, okay,” he said.

I think I won that round?

A Brisk Stroll Around the Reflecting Pool on an Anonymous Sunday

I have to work on a Sunday afternoon in downtown Washington DC. I park in the garage beneath the big block of concrete where I spend my days, and some of my nights. My watch says I’m early. I have time and a Taco Bell burrito to kill.

Washington DC; 4 Jan 2009

It takes about twenty minutes to turn a revolution around the reflecting pool that stretches lazy and muddy between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. Forty-five minutes if you’re out of shape or your dog craps everywhere and you have to pick it up with your hands. People voluntarily do this.

Lincoln slumps on his stone dais and watches weak late-winter sunshine and the Mueller report spill across the city. One hand rests in my pocket, I’m eating my burrito, somebody is getting their picture taken on the edge of the pool. I walk leisurely between the photographer and the poser because life is short not to.

The pool reflects bare trees standing in unnatural lines, holding their breath for spring, which is working its way up I-95 but is stuck in traffic somewhere near Norfolk.

It reflects a woman sauntering by, talking into her Samsung in some Slavic language, and the words sound round, round drops of liquid natter plopping from her throat into the phone.

It reflects guys jogging shirtless, goosebumped in the sunny cold, loose earbuds letting loud music leak all over the rest of us. I bet it’s Daft Punk.

It reflects a pale, blank sky that’s made out of space and sits up there reflecting all us down here made of breath and bone.

The morning of the propaganda storm. (Damascus, Syria; 17 Oct 2003)

I’m reminded of an October day a long time ago when we waited for a bus in Syria under the same distant sky. A helicopter flew low overhead and released a cloud of fluttering slips of paper that rippled down on us in slow motion. Each paper contained words of comfort from the Syrian government to its citizens. We were all little pawns, we pointed our faces into the propaganda storm and we and let it rain.

The sky in America is empty today, flat azure, and we all mill around the reflecting pool. It’s pretty here. Somewhere else it’s starting to rain, and I bet some people wish the sun would shine there too.

I’ve killed my time and my burrito, so I move toward the building where we work in a space without windows. We can’t see the sun, can’t see the rain. Some days I feel blind in there, some days I feel dry.

Mistakes & Someones (or, All the Things You Can Learn from Urge Overkill)

Me and Savannah were driving home from her orchestra competition the other day when we passed an apartment complex where we used to live back when Savannah was in 6th grade. She insisted we stop so she could take a stroll down memory lane, to which I agreed because Savannah doesn’t get enough exercise.

She hoisted herself up on a railing she used to sit on to wait for the school bus. She sat there smiling and the afternoon slid away to wherever they go when they’re gone. She stooped and crawled into some low bushes and happily declared she still fits inside her old secret hideout. The wind stole across the cold grass and I stared for awhile as the bushes shivered and the cool cotton clouds bobbed in the blue sky. Maybe I hoped if I looked long enough the past would come back, just for a little while. So Savannah could be little again and I could have a little Savannah again. Time is a funny thing. It’s so funny you can’t stop crying.

Although it looks like I am being bitten by a dog as this picture is being taken, I am, in fact, not.

I was Savannah’s age on flat, raw winter afternoons a long time ago. Biting wind would rush through enormous pines swaying on the wooded slopes of the butte behind our house. It always smelled cold and the wind sounded all alone up there tangled in the trees.

I drove up the butte with a girl on a bitter day, December probably. We talked a little. Forgettable things. The pines moaned outside. I wondered how the sun could be so cold. There was a disc in the CD player, Urge Overkill was singing about mistakes. “Find someone or you’ll be lost,” they said. We climbed the butte toward the colorless sun, and I looked over at the girl in the passenger seat and then, deep down, I remember feeling just a little lost.

I’m sitting next to Savannah on the railing at her old bus stop, she’s telling me how things used to be when she was younger. The day is cool but the sun is trying. It’s throwing gold. I look at Savannah, all color and life. My wife and I didn’t plan when we married to have kids right away. We were going to live a little first, travel, see the world. Savannah came nine months after the wedding. At the time, she could’ve been called an accident, a mistake.

We have all lived a little since then, traveled, seen the world. Together. Find someone or you’ll be lost, they say. I suppose that’s true, I think as I sit on this rail at this old bus stop beneath this airy sky with my best mistake, my Someone.

Daylight Savings Time is So Hard It Makes Me Sleepy and My Car Got Repossessed

It’s been a challenging week for most Americans, because Daylight Savings Time. It’s harsh and it’s unfair. There you are, minding your own business, then suddenly you’re tired all the time, like you’re pregnant except the smell of undistilled water doesn’t make you want to hurl. The upside is that for the whole first week or two you can blame anything on DST. Late for work? DST. Missed the toilet? DST. Car got repossessed? DST. You got possessed? Well, that’s probably more Satan’s fault than DST, IMHO.

Rocking hard really takes it out of Abu Halen.

You feel like things have been really rough for you with the time change. And I feel for you. I do. But you should feel really sorry for me because I’m in the midst of a year-long assignment made of shift work. So it’s like I’m dealing with the fallout from DST nonstop for a full year. I deserve your sympathy. Not as much as people who live in California on purpose, but almost. Also, I deserve your sympathy because I still maintain a blog ten years after they stopped being cool, and have you seen my dad jeans.

My circadian rhythm has been bullied and slapped around for months on end. It’s confused. If my circadian rhythm were a person, it would be like a long-time boxer, vaguely making sense, unable to visually focus on stationary objects, and looking like if it stepped off a curb it might fall over. That also describes certain elected officials, actually.

Some days I start work at 4 am, other days I get off work at midnight. Some nights I hit the sack early to wake up at 5 in the morning, some mornings I sleep in after getting home at 1 am and not needing to get back to office until noon. On a few unfortunate occasions I’ve worked a late shift, gone to bed after midnight, then woke up at 4 am to get back to work for an early shift. And of course I spend a week out of every five or so working overnight, 10:30 pm to 7:30 am. Fortunately, I’m making ridiculous amounts of money as a public servant, so.

One thing Abu Halen excels at though is finding the silver lining in dark clouds, and then forgetting to do important things because the silver lining is shiny and it distracts me.

I love coming off an overnight shift and walking through downtown Washington DC through the crowds of dour, humorless folks shuffling off to work, but I’m going home. I feel like I might fall asleep on my feet, but I’m going home. Also sometimes the drugged out guy is standing by the metro stop shouting obscenities at hallucinations and I’m feeling a certain kinship with him, because I’m so tired that I too am seeing things that aren’t there, but my hallucinations are blocks of Tillamook cheese, so I feel pretty good about that.

Another cool thing is that I rarely commute during rush hour, so I never have to stand on a crowded subway car and sniff strangers’ BO. Which, I concede has it’s own charm in certain contexts, like when you’re trying to throw up.

When I’m working after business hours, I also effectively have no boss. Autonomy is understood to be a key component to human well-being, and I can vouch for that. There’s nothing like being confronted with a problem at work at ten o’ clock at night and realizing I’m the guy to figure it out, and then figuring it out. And then telling myself, “Good job, you earned a Coke.” And then going into the drawer in my boss’s desk and borrowing a couple dollars for the vending machine. I’ll pay her back later.

So I guess constantly feeling like I’m dealing with the switch to DST isn’t so bad after all. I have a lot of blessings. You probably do too. The DST hangover will pass, and you’ll probably get your car back from impound soon. I just know it.

When I Was in High School Street Gangs Were Nicer

My 20 year high school reunion was a year and a half ago. I addressed the subject in an unfinished blog post at the time. Then I forgot about it, which also describes my relationship with parking tickets. I just found this in my drafts folder. It’s of middling quality, which far exceeds my threshold for this blog. Consequently, I present you an 18 month old draft blog post.

This is a street gang I was in. There’s me in the middle. We look pretty harmless, but watch out when we all get out our bo staffs.

Like all cool high school graduating classes, mine just hosted a reunion commemorating 20 years since we all graduated. Or, rather, most of us graduated (my high school had the highest drop-out rate in the conference -- GO EAGLES!!!)

I couldn’t attend the reunion because I live too far away. But I saw pictures and it looked like fun. People dressed up nice. One guy wore a baseball cap. I guess I could’ve attended. It would’ve cost me over a thousand dollars though to fly over from India. Probably I would’ve got the “Most Devoted” award, if they had such a thing, but I also think my classmates would’ve snickered a little to themselves, like, “Wow, Abu Halen needs to get a life if he’s willing to fly 8,000 miles to come to this party with beer even though he doesn’t drink.” I would’ve worn my Color Me Badd t-shirt though, so there’s that.

Even though I didn’t make it to the reunion, the fact that it happened has given me occasion to reminisce a little bit on those quality years in my adolescent development. I’ll share some with you. You’re welcome.

There were a lot of dumb haircuts in Multnomah County in 1993, but I assure you mine was the worst. I don't know why my mom let me go to school looking like I did. Maybe because she was my barber and stylist. My hairstyle was kind of a mullet, but instead of just being long in the back and short on top, I had the sides shaved clean off. I wasn't even cool enough to have lines shaved into the sides like Vanilla Ice. The sides were just gone, like I’d accidentally started a fire near my ears but got it under control before it reached the top of my head or the mullet in back.

Also, as a freshman my entire wardrobe consisted of t-shirts with Loony Tunes characters on them along with oversized Loony Tunes-themed flannel boxers. Which I wore on the OUTSIDE, over my real underwear. I may have had subconscious issues with growing up, which, to be really honest with you, still kind of afflict me. Strangely, I was not beat up at all my freshman year, possibly because I appeared so out of touch with reality that the bullies worried I could snap at any moment and just go honey badger all over them.

I had a crush on Michelle Dubey. She sat by me in English class and we memorized Romeo and Juliet by practicing on each other. Then she moved to Kansas. I felt bad about that for several minutes, then I moved on to crushing on Stacy, who was in the grade ahead of me and who was dating a guy the grade ahead of her, and he was the captain of the football team, or something manly like that. I was manly too though. As I previously noted, I wore underwear like it was outerwear. So, pretty manly.

Things worked out pretty well between me and Stacy. Two years later, we were in the same AP Biology class. As such, we both occupied the same classroom at the same time three times per week. So basically we were dating. I’m not sure if we ever broke up or not. We never really talked about it, or talked at all to one another, for that matter. I’m suddenly a little worried she may think we’re still dating.

The choir at my school was super good. I wasn't really in it. Once, my junior year, they went on a trip somewhere for a choir competition, and I went to the airport with them. Then they all got on the plane, and I didn't, because I wasn't in the choir. Then their plane left, and I went home. I don't think I comprehended the cosmic meaning of it back then. 

I ran for student body president at the end of my junior year against Luke. It was just me against him. Mano y mano, which I thought meant "man to man,” but which I now know means “Spanish-speaking man to Spanish-speaking man.” We delivered our speeches to the student body late one morning over the school intercom system. My speech listed all the reasons I should be elected, such as, deforestation and Free Willy. Luke's speech was better than mine. Simply reading the day’s horoscopes aloud probably would’ve been better than my speech. Anyhow, when we finished, we both went to the empty cafeteria and we each bought a glass bottle of root beer. And we sat at a table and clinked our bottles and talked and laughed for a long time. Luke was a good guy.

Luke was such a good guy, in fact, that he let me use the 4-track recording equipment in his house to record a demo tape for my senior project. I spent a lot of time at Luke’s house that spring. It may or may not have got to the point where I’d just let myself into his house and call out, “Hi Mom, I’m home. I’m hungry, are there any Fruit Roll-Ups?” I recorded four or five songs I’d written. I wish I still had them. They were pretty good. If memory serves, one had a lyric about a picture of John Denver hanging on a wall in a bar. That was maybe the most cogent thought I’ve ever had.

Proof that I graduated from high school. Or, at least proof that I hung out with people who graduated and they let me wear their clothes temporarily. Jessica there on the left married my best friend. I’m very cool with that.

For reasons that remain unclear to me, I was selected to represent my high school at the Oregon State Mock Legislature my junior year, which was held in the actual chambers of the Oregon legislature in Salem. I think I agreed to go because I felt like something with "mock" in the title had to be at least partially fun. I didn't really understand what was going on most of the time. The other kids were really into politics. Like, they just knew all these big words, and they somehow knew all the issues. Maybe their families talked about the issues at the dinner table. We always talked about the salt and the ketchup at ours, or at least about please passing it.

I remember somebody opening the floor for discussion about euthanasia, which at the time I had never heard of. I was really confused as to why we were having a discussion about youth in Asia. Eventually the Speaker asked my opinion on the subject, and I just looked around at the whole chamber and said, "Well, they're okay, I guess." <Mic drop>

Thoughts on Exploring, and Also Maybe PB&J Could Get You a Girlfriend (Theoretically)

I have been aware of the word “explore” since at least 7th grade. Before that I make no guarantees, except I guarantee that I wore so much neon in 5th grade that I became an independent source of long-wave radiation and so it’s mostly my fault that Andre Agassi’s hair fell out.

Anyhow, I may have learned the word “explore” in 7th grade when we had this class called “Exploratory,” the idea being that we were supposed to “explore” different electives via six-week mini courses. I “explored” wood shop, because I was super not manly, which in my small town was a real liability, so I felt like I needed to learn to wield power tools as a means of increasing my manliness (it is well known that lathes and planers spontaneously produce facial hair in inverse proportion to the amount of sawdust they create). I also inexplicably “explored” drama, which canceled out any manliness I may have gained from wood shop, and also got me beat up once.

Lastly, I “explored” Spanish, largely because the teacher Ms Paine was super cute and I thought maybe we could grab some PB&J sandwiches at my place after class, as long as my mom was home, because I wasn’t allowed to have girls over when Mom wasn’t home, and also I didn’t know how to make PB&J sandwiches.

In any case, even though me and Ms Paine didn’t work out (she had a boyfriend who had already completed puberty, which was hard for me to compete with), I do still like to explore a little. Maybe that’s partially why I grew up and became a diplomat and undertook what I anticipated would be a life of travel and exploration. That said, I was probably a bit naive to assume that one must travel to explore. Nay, exploring merely means having one’s eyes open, and that’s all.

Sometimes when you have your eyes open, you see things you should never have to see, like this moth that is roughly the size of a Howitzer. This moth eats toddlers for breakfast and dachshunds for lunch. It flosses its fangs with the hair of Amelia Earhart (it ate her airplane in midair 80 years ago, and that’s what happened to her. I am telling you this is true). I put my hand close to this moth to prove my moxie — what is not pictured though is the aftermath. Now I only have nine fingers.

Savannah played her viola in a real recording studio. There was only one chair. I invited Shannon to sit in the chair and I would stand like a gentleman. But she said she wanted to stand. Fifteen years ago I would’ve felt conflicted about that situation, but I’ve been with Shannon a long time now. So I was just like, “OK cool, cuz my back hurts anyway,” and I sat down and felt really good about myself.

One of my favorite things is watching Savannah grow up. Sometimes we go driving, and now she’s behind the wheel. We go through the Chik-Fil-A drive thru and I hand her my credit card, and as she passes it through the window and collects our shakes I think to myself, “I think she’s ready for this whole life thing.”

Sometimes when your eyes are open you see other people with their eyes closed. That’s a precious thing. Grace used to be a little sprite of a child, grunting and scampering across the floor on her hands and knees to greet me when I got home from work. Then, suddenly, she got longer and thinner, and also got a laptop somehow, I’m not sure who paid for that. Now there are a lot of dreams inside that sleepy head. She’s going to dream out loud pretty soon. She’s going to hear them and chase them down, exploring all the way down the road until I can’t see her anymore. I’ve got to keep my eyes open or else I might miss it.

It Turns Out I Am an X-Man

Oh man, I have so much to tell you. I need to tell you that I discovered I have the power to control the weather, which I think makes me an X-Man. But I’m less the kind of X-Man who goes to that fancy X-Man boarding school for mutants, and more the kind of X-Man who is too old for boarding school and so takes an occasional online X-Man course and does poorly because he’s interrupted all the time by his kids and is too tired to study very much anyway. I’m like that kind of X-Man.

Here is what my climatic powers can do. I am working on conjuring colored snow.

But that doesn’t take away from the fact that I can control the weather. Simply by being present in the Washington DC metro area, I caused it to snow a whole bunch. Now, it may not appear at first blush that I was in fact the cause of the snow, because there are millions of people in this metro area, and any one of them could be the X-Man causing snow. Alternatively, precipitation coupled with sub-freezing temperatures could cause snow, I guess.

But then how do you explain THIS? I boarded a plane immediately after the snow stopped falling in DC and flew to the desert southwest to visit my parents, and immediately upon my plane landing it started raining in Las Vegas (I apparently can only cause precipitation and cannot yet manipulate temperature, although when I go to sleep the outdoor temperature seems to always fall, so there is clearly some connection there). My dad said it hadn’t rained in Vegas for months until my plane landed, and it proceeded to rain for all four days I was in town. The morning I left dawned bright and sunny, and then when I landed back in DC it started snowing again.

Those clouds are my doing. It’s not hard. Just a flick of the amygdala.

Another thing I need to tell you is that I broke my wrist. I’d never broken a bone before, which is of course another strong indicator that I am an X-Man. Then, when I crashed on my motorcycle a couple weeks ago and the doctor said my wrist was broken, I was disappointed that maybe I’m not an X-Man. But THEN the doctor said that if he put a cast on my arm, my bone would heal ITSELF. ON ITS OWN. And then I was sure I am, in fact, an X-Man.

This is what an X-Man looks like.

How does it feel to be an X-Man, you ask? Well, pretty good most of the time but I am still waiting for my abs to mutate a six-pack. That is kind of an X-Man prerequisite. Maybe they come with your associates degree.

All You Good, Good People (or, "2018 in Review")

Macaroni and cheese and mocktails. Anemic mid-winter sunshine trickles through the restaurant windows. It’s January in Delhi. My daughter is fifteen today. We’re on a lunch date. She’s telling me about school, friends, plans. Says she wants to be an actress, or a singer.

Her mouth is moving and sun rays fall on her macaroni, and my eyes are tracing the shape of her face, my ears are making music from her voice.

A decade ago she and I sat at a table in a restaurant a long ways away, in a desert town, scooping hummus off a plate. Her feet hung off her chair, they didn’t touch the ground, they swayed side to side to the music in her little girl head. She was ringlets and baby teeth, looking up at me, laughing at something I said.

Now her big brown eyes are looking out the window at the world, her feet are on the ground. Time is blowing around her smiling face, through her hair, pushing her forward. She can’t feel it, but I do. You never feel it when you’re rising, only when you’re falling.

I don’t know what the hospital looks like, only how it sounds. Sounds echo-y, like a cafeteria. Lots of people talking, there’s clinking and banging. Footsteps hurrying past, people keep bumping into my legs and elbows. I’m laid out on a gurney. Maybe. I haven’t opened my eyes in hours. Too tired, too tired to move, to think, to talk. Maybe it’s the middle of the night.

My body gave up around 10 pm. I don’t know why or what happened. I didn’t do this to myself, and I don’t understand what did it to me. Fingertips went numb, toes went numb, and the dead spread up my arms and legs towards my chest. I thought I was going to die, and I was more or less okay with that. I closed my eyes and melted into the bed, the world got woolly and muffled, like background noise without anything happening in the foreground.

Shannon on the phone, talking loud but I can’t hear her, a familiar man’s voice distantly seeping down to me, someone stands me up, I think I’m being drug down some stairs. Car doors open and shut, Shannon’s voice, my mouth slurs something, my brain is uninvolved. I’m breathing so slow and shallow, it feels like the deepest dreaming sleep.

Now I think I’m in an Indian hospital, somebody’s asking me questions, somebody’s answering. I am sleeping under water and their sound is far away, way up in the sky. The thought of moving a finger or a toe is unimaginable. I can’t. But I’m vaguely aware I’m not dead, and I’m more or less okay with that.

It’s been a couple months since the hospital. I’m still shaky, a bit confused, uncertain, not myself. Sometimes, though, when it seems like the world’s spinning too fast for you to keep up, that’s when it’s easiest to see all the good, good people in it.

Today I’m walking slowly from my office at work to the chai counter to buy myself a soda to get through the afternoon. A colleague sees me shuffle by, puts down what she’s doing, rises, and walks slowly alongside me. She asks how I’m doing, about my health, about my family, tells me about a vacation. I find I’m smiling, we’re stumbling forward together, I suddenly have the overwhelming sense that if I start to go down, someone is going to catch me. That’s what it means to be alive.

Later that afternoon an email pings on my phone. It’s from my daughter, she’s fifteen. All it says is, “just wanted to tell you I love you.” She’s not familiar with Stevie Wonder, so I know it’s from the heart. The heart is a beautiful thing.

I started out that day riding my kids’ school bus to work. The school is across the street from my office. I sat by Grace, my middle daughter. She’s ten. The sun did its best to shove through the haze, was tired by the time it got to the bus window, but it made it and rested on our laps. Me and Grace stared outside. She entwined her arm with mine, leaned her head on my shoulder, and we held hands. All the way to school. I think I am going to make it.

Lunchables for Thanksgiving (and Other Artifacts of Wisdom)

Thanksgiving was always pretty low key around our house when I was growing up. We didn’t live near very much extended family, so it was always just our tiny little nuclear family. We never really invited any friends over, possibly because we didn’t have any. Mom always insisted on cooking up the full Thanksgiving spread with enough food to feed the state of Wyoming, if the state of Wyoming weren’t populated solely by hunter/gatherers who shun all modernity except Wal-Mart.

Reston, Virginia; Nov 2018

Mom’s fixation on providing proper Thanksgiving meals came despite the fact that me and Dad could kind of take it or leave it. I mean, it was fine, but so were Lunchables. These misaligned preferences came to a head one Thanksgiving when Dad and me went skiing up on Mt. Hood. I remember it being a pretty good day on the mountain — light crowds and decent snow, plus we didn’t have to watch the Lions play football on TV. Watching the Lions play football always made me feel vaguely sad, like I was watching someone drop a hydrogen bomb on a Pomeranian.

On the way home from skiing we got hungry, so we stopped and picked up some pizza, reasoning that Mom would be happy since she could put that whole big Thanksgiving meal in the fridge and she wouldn’t have to cook for several fortnights.

But Mom was not happy. Mom was very mad. Me and Dad had transgressed. Thanksgiving is supposed to revolve around a big meal with cranberries, even though none of us really liked cranberries so we would always throw them out. That’s just how Mom is. There is a way things should be, a natural order of things, ordained by June Cleaver, and Mom hewed faithfully to that order. I don’t blame her for it. Otherwise who would’ve ironed my undies?

With this cultural heritage, Thanksgiving for my own family also tends to be pretty low key. This year we participated in a neighborhood Turkey Bowl, which isn’t necessarily an Abu Halen family tradition but more an activity of opportunity. Abu Halen scored two touchdowns and threw for two more. So, basically I was the MVP. Most of the other participants were under the age of 9, but I don’t see how that’s relevant. Domination is domination, period.

Later in the day, we invited some neighbors over for dinner. We had ham instead of turkey, because I don’t like turkey, and I’ve convinced my kids to not like turkey either. This is alternately known as “parenting” or “brainwashing.” Our neighbors brought over Canada Dry and cranberry juice, which, when you mix them together, create by alchemy the elixir of life. Or, at least, something that tastes very good. Then we talked for several hours while I don’t know what the kids did. What lasting damage could they do to themselves with unfettered access to the internet?

The day before Thanksgiving I got home from work just as the freezing dusk was snuffing out daylight. Me and Halen bundled up and went for a run in the dark woodlands behind our house. The breeze was stiff, the fallen leaves scraped across the icy forest floor in a state of rigor mortis. A full moon hung in the dark sky, coldly flaming through the skeletal trees and throwing pale light and hard shadows across the trail. We ran and talked, breath like tiny frozen universes puffing from our mouths, a dad and his son beneath the trees and the moon. And I wondered for how long this Thanksgiving memory will live with us.

Rock Creek Park, District of Columbia; Nov 2018

Nothing Is Better Than Old Friends, Even Tacos. Actually, Let Me Think About That.

There was a song, “Hold an Old Friend’s Hand,” by Tiffany. Remember Tiffany? She thought she was alone now, that the beating of her heart was the only sound, but now she’s actually been alone for like 30 years and it turns out it sucks. And also she has heart palpitations. I read that somewhere, Reader’s Digest probably. Everything I need to know in life I learned from Reader’s Digest. While I was supposed to be in kindergarten but was actually sitting on the john in the boy’s bathroom. What can I say, I was mature beyond my years.

I really have a soft spot for old friends, even if I don’t hold their hands. Which I think is reasonable. I just think that if you went around holding old friends’ hands, people would get the wrong idea. Like if you’re both married to someone else, that makes holding friends’ hands — at best — weird, right? And at worst it can get you stoned to death, if you for some reason did it in Iran.

And even if you’re both single and you’re holding hands because you’re friends, haven’t you kind of crossed out of the friend zone at that point, so that you’re not holding an old friend’s hand anymore, but rather holding a new “friend’s” hand? I don’t think Tiffany really thought this through. Truth be told, I don’t think Tiffany thought through very many things, like the lyrics to “Mr. Mambo,” for instance. She definitely did not think those through. That is a really horrible song, and whenever I hear it I wish I was Hellen Keller so I wouldn’t have to hear it anymore or see other people watching me listening to it and maybe thinking I like it. Because I don’t. I just want to be clear about that.

One of the great things about living in the United States is that I get the chance to see old friends a lot more than when I live overseas. For some reason I can’t get people to come visit me in the foreign countries I live in. This may be because I usually live in foreign countries where you can be legally beheaded, or where the murder rate is higher than anywhere else on the planet, or where the air and water are toxic beyond all reason and may potentially cause mutations, but not the kind like Wolverine has (I personally would be OK with a mutating to look like Hugh Jackman, and also would be OK with a mutation where he and I share a bank account), but more like the kind of mutations that the Baby Ruth guy from The Goonies had.

But now that I’m in the U.S., sometimes I get to see old friends. For instance, Kristina and Andres came to visit me. They said they came for a “work conference,” but it’s understood that they just told their employer that so the company would pay for the trip to come see me. Also, Kristina’s sister supposedly lives in the same city as me, but it’s understood that Kristina’s sister is imaginary. They definitely came solely to see me. And I appreciate that.

I have known Kristina and Andres since before they got married even. In fact, I actually played a key role in them tying the knot. That is a fact. My role was that I told Kristina, Hey, that guy Andres is kind of good looking, like, speaking as a married heterosexual guy, and she was like, I know, I’ve been thinking that for a long time and in fact I think I’ve told you I think that, so really you’re just repeating something you already know I already think as though it was your idea. And I was like, Yeah, but he’s kind of good looking, like, speaking as a married heterosexual guy. Then they got married. No need to thank me, it was really nothing.

Also my friends Mike and Emily and their kids live relatively near me, which is super cool. They moved here because I live here. This is true even though they lived here first. It’s hard to understand how that can be, but just because something doesn’t make rational sense doesn’t mean it’s not real. Think of Milli Vanilli — it doesn’t make rational sense to like Milli Vanilli yet everyone does. Girl you know it’s true.

Mike and Emily allegedly moved here because Mike “got a job” here. But it’s understood that his “job” is living within 40 miles of me so that I can email him once every other month to ask how bad the ticks are. That’s what bros do.

A few weeks ago, me and Kristina and Andres and Mike and Emily and all their kids met up in downtown Washington. It was pretty epic. We picked up some tacos at District Taco, which is a taco chain inspired the Hunger Games, or maybe just hungry people, I really don’t know. But to me it has an Orwellian ring to it. I am not sure what Orwellian means, to really level with you.

Then we ate our tacos in Lafayette Square, which is right across the street from the White House. I think the President was in New York at the United Nations at the time, or else we would’ve shared our tacos in a non-partisan gesture, a pure-hearted act of altruism. Was it Kierkegaard or the Taco Bell chihuahua who said, “Purity of heart is to will one thing. Tacos."?

Once we finished our tacos, we went and protested a little bit outside the White House. I mean, some unemployed people did, I’m not allowed because of the Hatch Act. It’s a law that says that executive branch employees can’t take part in certain political activities, or play X-Box during work hours, or wear colorful clothing, or like Vince Clarke-era Depeche Mode. So I just watched and enjoyed my time with old friends, holding no one’s hand, because that’s gross.

Summer/Autumnal Highlights, with Photos!! (or, "Sorry, I Forgot About July through October")

I have let the past several months get away from me, and I’m not sorry. They were dumb months anyway. I’m better off without them. They just kept me down so I couldn’t realize my full potential, which is getting Christmas presents, preferably the full DVD set of The Wonder Years. I have not had a crush on Winnie Cooper since at least 2016. That is a fact.

Don’t stop believin’. (Fillmore, Utah; Jul 2018)

All that said, I need to summarize the past few months here on the blog so my mom knows what’s been going on. Other people read my blog too — LOTS of people, like my wife once per quarter, to make sure I’m not libeling her — but mostly it’s for my mom. It’s true I could give my mom the skinny over the phone and spare the internet another asinine blog post, but she never knows where her phone is and sometimes struggles to turn it on.

Had to get up at 4:00 am, but got the purple sunrise!! Who’s the world’s best dad NOW? Not Abu Halen? OK, well, that’s cool. (Kolob Canyon, Utah; Jul 2018)

July: We leave India on a 12 hour flight upon which all of the in-flight entertainment is broken. Shannon ditches me with the kids and claims a seat by herself several rows away. She ends up sitting next to a blind lady and has to take her to the bathroom every hour on the hour. I privately feel very satisfied about this.

Told her I was “just testing the autofocus.” Falls for it every time. (Catoosa, Oklahoma; Aug 2018)

Me and Shannon hunt for rental houses in Northern Virginia. We don’t argue very much about which place to rent, but we can’t agree on where we should eat for lunch. Shannon says I should eat more fruits and vegetables, but I don’t want to because they taste like fruits and vegetables. I want hamburgers hand over fist, because I just lived in India where Burger King sells Whoppers with chicken in them, which is offensive to most deities, except maybe Baal, who doesn’t care about that much, really. We eventually split the difference and just have Ben & Jerry’s for lunch, which pleases Zeus. Then we fly to Las Vegas to see my parents and not gamble, even a little, because I’m no dummy. I’ve listed to Kenny Rogers. I know gambling kills you.

Donald’s Populist Punch. Makes you believe you can act however you want with no consequences. I kind of liked it. (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Aug 2018)

August: I buy a motorcycle in Utah and try to ride it to Washington DC, for reasons that don’t make any sense to anyone, including me. The motorcycle only breaks down once in 5,000 miles, and my tent holds up well for two weeks, but my waterproof backpack falls off the bike in Indiana and rips open on the highway. During a thunderstorm. I call Shannon to complain that the universe hates me, and she tells me that this misfortune has befallen me because I don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables. That is probably true. I am both fat and unpopular with the cosmos. Give me a second here, I’m suddenly depressed.

Here’s our new rental place. Special thanks to Russ and Ellen for moving out for a year so our family of hobos could move in. (Reston, Virginia; Sep 2018)

September: Our children are surprised that the kids in their mega-sized American public school don’t talk to you or express even the vaguest interest in whether or not you are alive. We reveal to them a life hack for forming relationships with American teenagers: when you want to talk to them, just seize their phone, chuck it on the ground, stomp on it a bunch, spit on the mangled remnants, and then look them in the eye and say, “Hey, what’s up man.”

First day of school. We are not sure what this special hand thing is, but so far it hasn’t got them beat up, so. (Reston, Virginia; Aug 2018)

The Foreign Service assigns me to a job in Nicaragua, starting semi-immediately. Two weeks later, after I’ve convinced my family that Nicaragua is not a volatile nation possibly about to plunge into anarchy and chaos, despite the fact that Nicaragua is a volatile nation possibly about to plunge into anarchy and chaos, the Foreign Service tells me just kidding, we made an administrative error, you’re not going. I demand from HR a neck brace to assuage the emotional whiplash to which the past year has subjected me. HR tells me no, on the grounds that I’m fat and unpopular with the cosmos. That’s reasonable, I think.

October: Trick-or-treating is a raging success this year. Grace brings home nine pounds of candy. Her trick-or-treating prowess is directly linked to my superior parenting, or at least that’s what Dr. Phil told me in a dream.

Halloween trunk-or-treat! We are going with the Nebraska/India/Egyptian theme that was all the rage this year. (Reston, Virginia; Oct 2018)

The Foreign Service assigns us to a job in Abu Dhabi starting next summer. I suspiciously accept, wary of having the rug pulled from beneath me again, but conscious of the fact that I have little to no leverage with the Foreign Service, HR, my wife, or most deities, with the exception of Baal, who I find quite pliable.

This is what a small portion of nine pounds of candy looks like. (Reston, VA; Oct 2018)

The daughter of the blind lady from the airplane calls from New Jersey. She tells me how wonderful and amazing and nice my wife is for helping out her mother on that long flight from Delhi to Newark. I listen and smile. Shannon is pretty great, no doubt about it.

Moto X-Country, Part 2 -- Blessed, Man, Blessed (or "Stop Crapping Your Pants")

Belle Fourche, South Dakota – If you haven’t been to Patty’s Place, then you’re probably safer from death by a firearm than I am. This diner in a tiny strip mall on Highway 85 is watched over by a sign at the counter that says, “Guns are welcome on premises. Please keep all weapons holstered unless need arises. In such cases, judicious marksmanship is appreciated.” I think it’s kind of a joke, but one where you laugh but then you can shoot someone and it’s okay, as long as you exhibited good marksmanship, but if you didn’t, then, oops, sorry. I think of Greedo and realize I’m pretty much in Mos Eisley.

I carefully and inconspicuously place the book I was just reading – “Modern Islamic Thought in a Radical Age” – into my backpack, just in case one of my fellow patrons assumes that my choice of reading material unmistakably indicates that I have bombs in my underwear. I do not, by the way. I haven’t had bombs in my underwear since I was like four, but even then the only harm they caused was that Mom would yell at me to stop crapping my pants. Which I have, by the way.

Don’t worry, baby. Everything’s gonna be alright. (Devil’s Tower, Wyoming; Aug 2018)

Devil’s Tower, Wyoming – It’s early morning and I’m standing in the middle of a campground next to a guy named Mark, and Mark is praying for me and my motorcycle. He’s part of a Christian motorcycle association, and he’s real chummy with God. He calls Him “man” a lot, as in, “We just pray that Abu Halen will be… I don’t know, man… just help him not get in any accidents, man.” I’m standing there with Mark in the cool, groggy air with my arms folded and my eyes cracked a little bit to see if my bike suddenly looks, I don’t know, man, blessed. It totally does. I feel like God likes Mark. Mark is super likeable. Probably Satan likes Mark, too. That’s how likeable Mark is. The world is insane, it punches itself in the face every day, but right here the sky goes on forever in blue and Mark is back-slapping with God. Maybe it’s all not so bad.

Intro to X-Country Motorcycle Ride: In Loving Memory of Fruit Loops & Ghetto Water Parks

Cody, Wyoming — I’m riding a small and uncomfortable motorcycle across the United States on a jagged route that doesn’t make any sense, and that’s why I’m in Cody, eating Fruit Loops. I guess I just want to see places I’m usually too busy to notice, places there’s no real reason for me to ever go to. And doing it on a motorcycle takes down all the barriers between you and the world that you don’t even realize that a car throws up.

Some of the crew, thinking of Fruit Loops. (Blackfoot, Idaho; Jul 2018)

Me and Ronnie are sharing a bench in the morning. I am slurping my Fruit Loops from a paper bowl and he’s aggressively chewing a bagel. He’s telling me how he impulse bought 400 trees from some liberal in Colorado. Ronnie lives in Cheyenne. “How did you get them home?” I ask, thinking less about what I’m saying and more about why I don’t eat Fruit Loops more often. They are really good. Ronnie says he just had to figure it out. He’s a get-it-done kind of guy. He would like my dad, whose motto is “Git ‘Er Done." One thing Dad gets done a lot is cleaning bathrooms. And also watching NASCAR racing, he gets that done too.

Ronnie used to fly all over this big ol’ country when he was younger, an engineer, he tells me. Now though, he and his wife drive. They drive to see all the places that Ronnie used to fly way above, too busy to notice. He stops talking for a second to swallow a glob of masticated bagel, and the sun is low and early, stretching sharp dewy sun rays out across these high Wyoming plains. I say, “Weeeeelp,” and stand up, which is what you say in rural America when you’re ready to stop talking to someone but you don’t want to say, “I no longer wish to talk to you.” Ronnie stands too and grins and pumps my hand when I extend it. He likes me. And I like Ronnie. I look west and I see our shadows gripping one another’s hand, long and dark, so much taller than we really are.

Honeyville, Utah — There is a place a few miles north of Honeyville on State Highway 38 called Crystal Springs. Crystal Springs is a water park. It is what a water park would be like if you decided to build an awesome water park, but then the only money you had was what you could find in the couch cushions. Which, I assure you, is not very much. But sometimes enough to purchase two Slurpees from 7-11 as my friend Bing showed me when I was little. He also showed me that a good way to save money on Christmas gifts for your little sister is to steal one of her toys in October, then wrap it up and put it under the tree, and she’s just happy to have it back so she’s not mad at you for being an awful spendthrift.

My kids are pretty spoiled when it comes to water parks, not like Abu Halen, who had to walk eight miles, uphill both ways, through the snow, to get to water parks back in his day. (Dubai, UAE; Apr 2014)

We had a big family reunion at Crystal Springs when I was eight or nine. I thought it was pretty cool back then, because the only water park I had ever been to was my bathtub. And I guess once our downstairs toilet overflowed, and that was fun too, to run and slide on, but it smelled funny. But Crystal Springs was way better than that, and less poopy too. I just remember summer heat and the way your hair got sort of sticky and weedy feeling from the chlorine and sunblock. It was a glorious day a long time ago.

The truth is, I couldn’t have really told you where Crystal Springs actually is. When you’re a kid, your mental map consists of home, Mrs. Ortega’s classroom, the bike jump at the end of the street, and Taco Bell.

But there I was, riding my motorcycle in the slanted late afternoon sunlight on State Highway 38 a few days before I met Ronnie and rediscovered Fruit Loops, when I caught a whiff of chlorine and sunblock, and suddenly the mountainside and the shape of the green, leafy trees seemed overwhelmingly familiar, and I was trying to place it all in my memory bank when I rounded a corner and stumbled upon Crystal Springs, and then I remembered everything. I slowed down and breathed in those sudden memories from a long time ago, heard the kids splashing and shouting, thought about all the places I’ve been between then and now, wondered if any of them have been as good as Crystal Springs in July in 1988. Probably not.

Eighteen Hours in Milford (But Not on Purpose. It Was An Accident. Not My Fault!)

I stayed the night in Milford, but it was an accident. I didn't do it on purpose. When you take a good, hard look at Milford you might wonder whether anyone would stay there and mean to do it. But there are good reasons to stay the night in Milford, like if your motorcycle breaks down there and you'd rather not walk 75 miles to next town, or 54 miles back to the previous town. Also you might stay there if you were there and you caught leprosy and your legs fell off, and you didn't know anyone with a car or a forklift or a skateboard you could you sit on to roll yourself away.

Oh, the places you'll go (assuming you don't break down or crash)!

But let me take a step back here. I'm giving Milford a hard time, but I personally met and befriended approximately 1% of the town's population, and to a person they were awesome. While I was fiddling with my bike's engine by the side of the highway, Shane and his mom pulled over to help. It turned out that Shane's mom was his girlfriend (?), but that doesn't change the fact that Shane's glasses were a quarter mile thick and he knew a ton about engines. Also, his mom/girlfriend gave me some cold water. That's just a nice thing to do, regardless of your feelings on incest. 

While Shane and his mom/girlfriend were helping me out, Mutt pulled up on a four wheeler. "Probably the battery," he said, and then he spit an impossibly huge glob of snuff on the pavement. "Wow," I couldn't help but say. Mutt smiled. Mutt is in eighth grade, even though he looks 28. He said his uncle is 7 feet tall and got a basketball scholarship, but he turned it down because he wanted to be a welder. Man, being a welder must be awesome

Behold, Milford!

Neither Shane nor Mutt could figure out what was wrong, so they left. Then Sheriff Dave pulled up in his patrol car. He said he's Mutt's cousin, and Mutt had told him there was a long-haired progressive man blighting the outskirts of town, so Sheriff Dave came to check things out. Sheriff Dave was really nice. He offered me a Tootsie Pop, which I normally don't accept from strangers. It was starting to feel like there are no strangers in Milford though, so I licked it. Sheriff Dave said my best bet was probably to stay the night and take my bike into Mike's shop in the morning. He said Mike is his sister's neighbor's boyfriend, or something, and that Mike can fix almost anything, including cats in heat. I didn't laugh, because I thought he was serious. But I don't think he was. When he got done laughing, we sort of stared at each other for a second, and the hot wind blew some weeds across the highway. 

After Sheriff Dave left, I pushed my bike to Family Dollar, because I was still thirsty and because Sheriff Dave said Natalie might let me park my bike there overnight. Natalie seemed alarmed that I knew her name, and it didn't assuage her when I told her Sheriff Dave had told me all about her. Maybe her and Sheriff Dave don't get along, or maybe they are star-crossed lovers, or maybe he tried to fix her cat and she's still sour about that. In any case, I bought a Dr. Pepper and asked Natalie where the nearest motel is. She said it's the Hudson Inn, and when I asked if it's nice, she said it has some beds. I feel like Natalie didn't like me much, but I guess in life some people are your friends and some people wish you would get run over by an F350 and then eaten by medium-sized magpies. That's just the way it is.

I pushed my bike to the Hudson Inn, but the office was locked, with a soiled 8 by 11 sheet of paper stuck to the door that said there was no vacancy. A feral cat wandered out of a partially open sliding door and rubbed against my ankles, and I am pretty sure I caught mad cow disease from that encounter. Also, all the cars parked there sported dreamcatchers hanging from the rearview and at least one mismatched hub cap, so maybe there was a meth convention in town and that's why the motel was full.

Clearly, this motel is full.

The other motel in town is a Travelodge. It's about a mile and a half outside of town, up a hill. I am not strong enough to push my motorcycle up the hill, so I left it next to the meth motel because how could that turn out bad. There is nothing at all in the vicinity of the Travelodge, except Penny's Diner. Mallory brought me vegetable soup and checked me into the motel at the same time, which was the highlight of my 2018. I also got a sundae, because I ate all my dinner first so it was okay. Actually, I got two sundaes because I am a grown up so I can do whatever I want.

While eating sundaes at Penny's Diner, I also took this picture of the diner roof. In the biz, we call this "multitasking."

The next morning I ate sundaes and bacon for breakfast (Mallory wasn't there to judge me, so there was no shame), then I walked back to town and found that my motorcycle had not been dissolved into metal alloys and sniffed through a straw by the local middle schoolers, and I was happy about that. I called Mike's, and the receptionist said, "Hi, this is Monday, can I help you," then she swore and said her name is actually Angie but that she didn't get enough sleep last night. I said that's cool Angie, sometimes I lie about my name too (which is not true, except when I need to evade law enforcement authorities). She said they were booked until Wednesday, but then I cried and she said fine, you're a sad little man, bring your bike in.

I left my motorcycle overnight at the bottom of this hill, because, like a gambler, I know when to hold 'em and fold 'em and park 'em when I'm too weeny to push 'em up a hill.

Mike was on vacation in Idaho, but Matt was there. Matt works for the county fixing the roads but he had a paid holiday that day, so he thought he'd make double dough. Within a few minutes, he'd diagnosed my problem as a bad battery. Mutt was right. I thought of Mutt spitting an enormous clump of snuff on the ground, and I smiled and then threw up in my mouth. While Matt went down the street to get a new battery, I leaned against the workbench and read a book called "Modern Islamic Thought in a Radical Age: Religious Authority and Internal Criticism." Then a guy named Chuck with a long beard, a camouflage hat, and a t-shirt with a drawing of an AK-47 on it that said, "Come and take it from me" walked in. I discreetly put my book away, because I want to live.

After Matt fixed my bike, I was filling up with gas and Mutt rode up on his four wheeler. "Was it the battery?" he said, gurgling his snuff a little. "Yes," I said. He smiled and a drip of snuff leaked out the corner of his grin. "I am kind of going to miss this place," I thought as I rode off into the desert. 

The End. And don't trespass.

Travel Review: 240 Hours in Mom's Age 55+ Retirement Community

We are tired of cliched travel to places with old churches or vibrant cultures or pristine beaches. So this summer we are vacationing at my mom's 55+ retirement community in southern Utah. It is off the beaten path and none of the hipsters are doing it yet. I am definitely on the cutting edge of fresh, new travel destinations. Here is my review.

The pool reaches 2-3 feet deep in places, so be sure you're a strong swimmer.

Food Options: 6/10. My mom's pizza pockets are only average. I think it's because she started buying them at WalMart instead of Safeway like she used to. Plus, she makes me microwave them myself now that she's pushing 70 years old. I guess she's afraid the radiation from the microwave might melt her cornea implants. All that said, she still cuts up little squares of cheese for me and puts them in a small Ziplock baggie for me in the fridge, so that's pretty solid. Mom has really stepped up her breakfast cereal game from when I was a teenager and we couldn't afford Count Chocula. Now there is Chips Ahoy! cereal, Fruity Pebbles, and Honey Bunches of Oaks for my dad, who needs the fiber I guess. Unfortunately, unlike my teenage years, I now have to compete with my four kids for the sugary breakfast cereal, which in practice means that I end up eating the dust at the bottom of the Frosted Mini Wheats bag. 

The recreation can be intense, so you'll want to make sure you're in good shape before you visit.

Outdoor recreation: 5/10. Because Mom and Dad live in southern Utah and it's summer right now, all outdoor recreation must be completed before 7:00 am, or else your spine will melt. That's a real downer, pun intended. There's a golf course in the community, and it looks nice, but it's pretty ritzy. And by "ritzy," I mean you have to not be able to walk very well to golf there. I am fairly good at walking, although Shannon says I walk with a distinctive swagger, but when I asked her to imitate my walk it looked like a limp or tourette's. So maybe I would be able to golf there after all. So I'd probably give this community a 2/10 on Outdoor Recreation, but when I went running around the neighborhood the other day, I passed like four old people, and they were riding bikes. That made me feel irrationally good about myself, which bumps my rating up three points.

Sometimes things get crazy down at the retirement community, so you may want to escape to the surrounding hills for some peace and quiet.

Swimming facilities: 3/10. The facilities themselves look amazing, but you can't use them unless you are retired. I tried to make the case at the front desk that I am independently wealthy and retired despite my obvious youth, but they looked at my cheap flip flops and faded rock and roll t-shirt that I clearly picked up at Goodwill and not at the actual concert, which I couldn't afford to attend, and they refused to admit me on the grounds that I'm a fat liar. Therefore, I was going to give the swimming facilities 0/10, but my mom has a puddle in her backyard that she calls a "pool," and sometimes rats fall in and drown, and that's worth three points.

Some of the houses come with these sweet action driveway lights that are probably perfect for Halloween and not really that useful for the other 364 nights per year.

Aesthetics: 8/10. The houses in this community look pretty nice. The driveways have this weird coating that makes them look wet all the time, and it makes me have to go to the bathroom constantly. I just think that's very impressive.

Pet life: 11/10. Everyone in this community has a dog, and the dogs have it SO good. A lot of residents "walk their dog" by putting it beside them in a golf cart and driving around. There is nothing awesomer than exercising by riding on a golf cart, plus you're hardly even putting down a carbon footprint. Everyone wins, the old person, the dog, the earth, and Denny's, because you get hungry driving around and you need something off the Grand Slam Menu. Also, I saw a lady walking her cat on a leash, which puts us up and over 10/10.

Overall rating: 7/10. It's been a solid vacation. After about 8:30 pm, everybody either falls asleep or dies, so it's super quiet. I really like that. Traffic is light, the sun is bright, and I'm really excited to turn 55 so I can move in full-time and sit on my porch swing for 30 years and bicker with my wife.

The End.

Gosh, It's So Blue! (And Other Features the Sky and Cookie Monster Share)

There must be good reasons why some flights leave in the middle of the night. I don't know what they are, though. They probably have to do with capitalism and the broad benefit of humanity.

Just a reminder.

It's past midnight and I've been up all day, the World Cup is on a big screen in this terminal with not enough chairs. Brazil can't score, injury time ends, the Belgians tackle one another on the TV. I wonder where I can get a good waffle. A man with a British accent stands in his ill-fitting suit and discusses money with a disembodied tinny voice leaking from his earbuds. Outside the airport the world is asleep, inside we listen to awful Indian elevator music beneath sterile lights and stay awake. 

They tell us the flight is thirteen and a half hours long, but that's just a ruse. Because really the flight is endless. The in-flight entertainment is down, so there's no way to pass the time, so time simply doesn't pass. You hear the big jet beneath you slicing through the stratosphere, it sounds like one impossibly long mechanical sigh. You stare at a book without reading it, your eyes ache. Time gets frazzled this high up in the sky, you wonder if it's still Friday. The guy behind you kicks the back of your seat, your neck pillow gives you neck cramps, the cabin smells like recycled air, which should smell clean but instead coats your skin with clingy, aseptic little atoms. The cabin is the perfect shade of dark to prevent you from sleeping. Somebody's baby cries and you struggle with the tiny airline-provided blanket, trying to get warm.

We land in America on a Saturday. It's all sky blue, exploding green, straight lines and definition. It tastes like oxygen. I find myself breathing hungrily, ripping the air from the sky and shoving it down into my lungs. And I can't stop staring at the smooth sapphire sheet stretched overhead and saying asinine things like, "Gosh, it's so blue," and, "Gee, I mean, blue, right?"

The Uber picks us up, carries us a ways, then drops us off and charges us ten times more than a ride all the way across Delhi would've cost. I give the guy a 6-star rating, with a comment that says something like, "Wow! Super duper clean car!" Then, later, we take another Uber, and that one is really clean too, then we take another clean Uber, and another, and then I realize that Ubers in America are just all really clean. I guess I had forgotten that.