If You Listen Real Hard You Can Actually Hear the Good Times Roll

Me and Halen were walking up the stairs to go to bed. "You know, it's snowing back in Utah," I told him, checking the weather on my phone.  We turned the corner into his bedroom, and Halen looked up at me and grinned. "I remember drinking hot chocolate and looking out the window when it would snow," he said. Then he stared for a second out his window, past the swimming pool and the palm trees, across the Red Sea and back through time. "Those were good times," he murmured.

Good times, just running. 2008. Aqaba, Jordan.
About six years ago when I set up this blog, I needed a tag line. Something catchy and witty to slap up beneath the big "Abu Halen" to lure in unsuspecting lurkers, hook them, induce them to waste their valuable time reading my inane blathering. I thought about it for at least forty seconds, discarding the shameless ("Read my blog. Validate me."), the way-too-earnest ("Just a dad, figuring it all out, one day at a time, with Prozac"), and the politically-charged ("No new taxes! Stop clubbing seals! Drill, baby, drill! Coexist! How's my antiquated triangle hat?")

After several dozen seconds of hard, intense analysis, I settled on a tag line about good times. I guess, to me, good times encapsulate the meaning of being alive. When people are really honest with themselves, and they peel back all the layers of existing, they'll tell you that at the heart of it is usually something like "family" or "relationships" or "friends" or "love." But these bedrock elements of existence by themselves are lifeless -- the animating factor of family or friends is experiences. In other words, the meaning of being alive isn't to sit and stare blankly at your friends or your kids, it's to do things with them. To have good times.

And so I tucked my son into bed and left him smiling at the ceiling with all the good times parading across his brain lobes, and I got thinking myself about good times. Sometimes we think of them as big events, trips to memorable places, births and marriages and bar mitzvahs and such. And that's fine and good. But the more I thought the more I realized that the good times are very often just a good, unremarkable moment, blossoming from ho-hum and sprouting into nothing special. Just a fleeting good time.

I'm in the rough on the 10th hole at Glendoveer golf course in Portland. We golf Glendoveer because it's only four bucks for nine holes if you're under 16 -- we're all 17 but they never question us. I swing my old seven iron that I bought used last summer, and the head of the club flies off, chasing my ball down the fairway. My buddies and I look at each other, raise our eyebrows, shrug, and laugh. I am weeks distant from a single care and the two dollar bills in my pocket will buy me a Whopper and a pop on the way home, where I will play Nintendo with a bag of sunflower seeds.

Savannah, Halen and I pause at the edge of the curb in Amman, Jordan. It's any Saturday. We're walking to the tiny neighborhood grocery store to buy candy bars and pop, an unhealthy weekend ritual. They obediently but blankly look both ways for traffic, then each kid grabs one of my hands and we step a full eighteen inches off the curb and into the street. I swing them both -- they're still light enough, Savannah is five and Halen is two -- and they laugh at the simple rush. The sunlight is hard and the air is warm, and I'm about to eat a Twix.

My parents made me move to Utah. I hate 4th grade and I think I don't have any friends, even though I have half a dozen really good friends. A clap of thunder startles me from sleep. My mom appears in the doorway and leads me by the hand to the living room, where wild lightning strikes are illuminating the room like a strobe light that can't keep time. We park on the sofa and gaze out the big window over the valley and watch the sky and the city below fence with strokes of lightning. Even though it's past midnight and I have school tomorrow.

It's 1:30 in the morning in a tent on the Nebraska prairie. I stir from a fitful sleep and pull my son from his sleeping bag to take him to the bathroom so we don't have an accident in the tent. I keep my eyes mostly closed so I don't wake up too much, because then I struggle to get back to sleep. We shuffle away from the tent and I stand there while Halen does his business, and then I wonder why it's so light -- we're miles from a paved road and even further from even the tiny, scattered hamlets that dot this corner of Nebraska. So I open my eyes, and I see stars. They are streaked from horizon to horizon in this dark, flat land, and they twinkle and dazzle and sparkle and I lose my balance because, looking up, I have the sensation that nothing but outer space and stars surround me. Halen sleepily leans against my legs and I return to earth, still swaying a little, and I run my fingers through his hair and wonder if maybe I just took a fleeting trip to heaven with my son that we just can't quite remember.