Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Son Teaches the Father

The first week of June, we went on vacation and spent a couple of days in the Boston area. We saw some of the sights that the city has to offer. We took a Duck Tour, visited the Science Museum, the Boston Aquarium, and took a Swan Boat ride. But the most memorable and touching event of the vacation took place just inside the door of a subway stop near the Boston Commons.

A man sat in the entry to the subway station with ragged clothes matted wiry hair, and hands and face crusted with dirt. He croaked out to us as I hurried my children through the atrium, looking away from him. As we descended the steps to the turnstiles, Ben was pulling on my jacket… “Dad… DAD… that man needs help. We have to help him. I think he was missing an eye! Leah and Isaac jumped in, “Yeah, he looked kinda scary. What are we going to do?”

I slipped my hand into my pocket filled with a lot of loose change from the days travels and collected it all in my hand, maybe $2.00 worth of change, and asked Ben, “Do you really want to help him?”

“Yeah, Dad, we gotta help him,” so I handed Ben the change and said “Here, let’s give him this, it isn’t much, but maybe it can get him something to eat or something.”

Ben dashed back up the subway steps. Stood in front of the man, and said: “Here. I hope that this helps you,” and handed him a fistful of change.

“Thanks a lot, little guy, my name is Steven.”

“I’m Ben,” he replied, reaching out to shake his hand, just as I had taught him in Cub Scouts a couple of weeks earlier. The man’s dirty hand engulfed Ben’s tiny one and he shook it briefly.

“Thank you very much,” he said, “That is very nice of you.”

I stood a few steps away at the top of the subway steps looking at the man’s bright blue eyes (he wasn’t missing an eye after all) and feeling a mixture of shame of myself and extreme pride in my son for creating one of those moments that makes a lifetime memory out of an ordinary event. Feeling tears almost come to my eyes, but not quite getting there. And knowing a couple of facts for sure at that moment:

I think Ben would have given the man all of his birthday money at that moment if the thought would have occurred to him. I felt like I had almost failed as a parent and a role model by simply turning away, and hoping to shield my kids from a desperately poor person, maybe out of instinct or not wanting to answer any questions about the reasons why, which I may never know.

Maybe it was a deep seated greed that wanted to keep all of that spare change for myself, or the assumption that the money would be used for alcohol or drugs, and feeling justified at keeping the money myself, and not wanting to tell the kids that. But who knows for sure? It is not my place to question why a man asks for help, but that I should give it freely. And it took the son to be the role-model for the father to remember that lesson.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Muse Review: _Dead Until Dark_

OK. I read the description for this series in a Science Fiction Book Club magazine -- Dead in Dixie a compilation of the first three books in the Sookie Stackhouse (a great character name)/Southern Vampire Mysteries, and what's not to love? A cocktail waitress that can read minds, who also happens to be the girlfriend of a vampire. Not a vampire with some Gothic Eastern European name, or something snooty and suggestive of French aristocracy, but the name of Bill. Not William, but plain ol’ ordinary Bill.

This mystery series has developed an entire culture surrounding the “outing” of vampires. They exist in our world and the world has developed ways to help accommodate them by developing synthetic blood, and protecting vampires from being staked or drained of their blood, which has healing properties, and is quite valuable on the black market. Vampires are generally considered to be suffering from a disease, not merely that they are supernaturally undead, and some of them even try to integrate themselves into the culture of the living and trying to live the life of a “normal” human.

Sookie is unique because she can read minds, and most of the locals consider her to be crazy for this reason. The way Harris handles this special ability is a textbook example of how to establish rules and limits to a character’s special ability, in this case mind reading. Sookie has to actively try to block out the thoughts of others because they are disturbing to her, and even when she does open herself up to read another’s mind, the thoughts are often jumbled and self-absorbed, rarely providing any useful information to her, and this requires considerable energy concentrate to do this. So Harris can successfully maintain the suspense of the mystery that she has established by using these limitations to a special ability which you would think would spoil any mystery or secret that any character might have.

The story is told though the first person point-of-view, Sookie’s, and she uses it successfully to provide a lot of background info about the vampire culture without overdoing it. There is even an appearance by the “King of Rock-n-Roll.” Ever wonder why there are so many Elvis sightings? Well, Dead Until Dark has a creative explanation for it. This is a fun summer beach read if you’d like to enjoy an offbeat, different type of mystery.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Accepting Loss

Over vacation I did something that I have never done before. Well I did several things that I have never done before, I visited the top of the CN Tower "the tallest building in the world" (a fact that I need to look up to know for sure), took a “Duck Boat” tour on the Charles River in Boston (during a downpour, I might add), and nearly fried my laptop in a cooler leak that soaked the floor of our van when the ice melted (my laptop bag was nearest to the cooler). Fortunately, the inner pocket of the bag seemed to avoid getting too damp and the laptop was fine. Close call.

But the leather zipper binder that I’ve been using to hold my latest journal notebook that I’ve been keeping for the last 18 months or so (one of those cardboard-bound marble composition books) that I bought at the Harvard Bookstore in Cambridge a couple of years ago on a business trip is gone. I have no idea where it is or where I left it.

Part of me is convinced that there is no way that I’d ever leave it behind anywhere. Bury it in a pile of papers that need to be filed, yes. Stuff it under the pillows on top of the couch so Sarge won’t gnaw on it, sure. Accidentally kick it under the bed after tripping over a cat desperate for human contact after 9 days with only one 10-minute visit from a friend, absolutely… But leave it in a downtown Toronto hotel room? Not likely. Leave it on top of the Uplander while stuffing suitcases in the back of it along with all of the new gift shop treasures, Happy Meal toys, and debris from all of our stops along our journey from Ohio to Boston, then Boston to Western Massachusetts and Vermont, on up through New York to Niagara Falls on to Toronto and back to Ohio… well, maybe… I have left things on the roof of vehicles before, but mainly those have been limited to Super-sized orange drink and the occasional occupied children’s car seat (just kidding, DCFS).

But it hasn’t appeared in the chaos created by the unpacking and putting away of stuff, or after we cleaned out the van. I offered the kids 2 shiny quarters to whoever finds it (this is surprisingly still a big motivator for them at these ages), and upped the ante with a paddle ball that Microsoft mailed me this week for some reason (apparently they think that I’m some big internet freelance writing mogul or something), and still no dice. I called the last two hotels that we stayed at to see if anyone found it and turned it in. Nope.

I have never lost a journal or writing notebook before, mainly due to a deep-seated paranoia about just such a thing happening. Not because I fill them with all my dark secrets and local scandals that would warp the space-time continuum, but because I’m always going to wonder if I wrote something brilliant in there that would lead to a best-selling novel or life-changing insight.

I've had a hard time getting writing again on the hope that it will appear… I hate to leave a notebook unfilled, but I think I have to get over it and start a new notebook

I still have this nagging feeling that it is around here somewhere… even though we cleaned out the entire van, emptied all the suitcases and shopping bags of treasures, and begun scouring the less likely places: Under couches, in toilet tanks, and behind . I’ve even considered getting Sarge’s belly x-rayed to make sure that he didn’t devour it in retaliation for leaving him at a kennel for duration of the trip, but I think he is just too happy to see us to hold a grudge… and ecstatic about getting to bark at the mailman, the gas meter reader lady, the garbage truck guys, and of course terrorizing the UPS guy and any bicyclist or jogger who happens to offend him by running on HIS road in front of HIS house… go figure.

I think I need to up the ante again for the kids to 3, no 4 shiny quarters as the reward for finding it… that should do it.