Confronting Our Deaths in a Pandemic

April 7, 2020

It’s not a good time to be watching the news. The stories of people losing loved ones to COVID-19 can have me sobbing like a baby. Parents, like, me leaving their families too quickly. Some are frontline medical workers, some are educators, some are bus drivers that an idiot coughed on. They were here and then they were gone. Most got a test too late, not that there’s much help that’s available once you slide down the hole. I have a very old friend who is on a ventilator in a hospital room in Atlanta and we’re just hoping the wind shifts direction and blows him back to his family. So turning on the TV at the moment is sure to remind you that the glass is half empty as it’s being used to waterboard you.

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I started this blog in late 2014 because I was inspired by John Lennon’s decision to leave work and become a stay-at-home father for his son, Sean. I wanted to give the same kind of intensive care to our daughter, Cozy. Cozy, 5, is now the same age as Sean was when John was killed by a gunman in front of their New York home. In numerous interviews, people ask Sean Lennon what he remembers about his dad and he honestly replies not much. That answer shakes me to the core. I’ve gotten to meet Sean a few times (and so did Cozy, in the womb), and I always wonder how his life would have been different if he had gotten two or three more years with his fab father.

The specter of death seems very real today, watching the rising death count from coronavirus. (Remember on February 26th, when Donald Trump said that in a couple of days, the virus would disappear, “like a miracle”?) You can tell me that I’m statistically more likely to be killed by a falling Comcast satellite than to die of the novel coronavirus, but that’s not going to register, especially since there’s a pretty good chance I’m already carrying it. My persistent cough worries me. There’s no fever but the “science” on what this thing is seems to change daily. We certainly don’t have any leadership on the issue from our president, just daily campaign rallies where the science is attacked along with journalists and handy scapegoats (“China!”).

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The rate at which people go from fine to dead, body stacked in a refrigerated truck, is horrifying. The Detroit bus driver who went on social media to complain about coughing passengers was dead in 11 days. And like the Class of 2020 high school seniors who will never be in high school again, no prom, no hugging your favorite teacher, there’s little chance to get your house in order and say goodbye. If you’re lucky, you’re isolated from all humans, including your family, with a ventilator tube down your throat. People have brought family members to emergency rooms “just to be safe” and then never seen them again.

I’m not obsessed with death. Other than being over 50, I’m not particularly “high risk,” but what does that even mean? I’m the family member who makes the supply runs to the grocery store, where two employees tested positive. I touched an avocado to see if it was ripe. Then I touched my face. I’m probably gonna die. It’s been nice knowing you. When I was 7, I stole a piece of Brach’s candy from a Piggly Wiggly. There, I said it.

I do worry about leaving my family in the lurch if I succumb to this thing. I know it’s fashionable and all, but it seems like more trouble than it’s worth, and I think my wife would be pissed off if I got COVID-19 after running to the store because I suddenly had a mad craving for Pop Tarts. I think she actually likes me and appreciates my ability to, um, well, do something. God, I don’t even know. I do know my daughter thinks pretty highly of me and I’d prefer to stick around long enough for her to learn that I made some life changing decisions so this wonderful family could exist. Am I the only one who is thinking about how all these fragile relationships turn out if I become a part of the daily corona body count? I mean they can’t even have a funeral for dead me. I require a wake with multiple drunken awkward moments! But I was just cremated along with all the other wheezers. Poof.

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For those of us that have wrestled with depression, there’s a real need to constantly monitor our mental states. The moment it really hit me was the first time I had to wear a cloth face mask in public. I sat in the grocery store parking lot trying to get my courage up to don a cute face covering that one of our crafty neighbors had made. I knew it was the responsible thing to do, maybe even saving lives (I had touched the avocado, after all), but it felt like I was giving into the fear. Once inside the Fred Meyer, mask in place, I saw all the other depressed faces hidden behind their masks. It felt like an awful version of The Handmaid’s Tale. The sinking feeling that this was normal now had me wanting to go lay down in the bread isle and cry. What started out as kind of funny (“Why the hell is everyone buying toilet paper?”) is now centered around saving the lives of family members. On a beautiful spring day, it can seem so dark.

Those of us that don’t die, will get through this. And maybe we’ll have that promised renaissance afterwards. I just wish we had an actual leader to help guide us through the darkness instead of a self-serving madman. I guess it’s up to us. I guess it’s always been up to us. Let’s live. At least until we can have funerals again.

Love In The Time of Corona

March 15, 2020

IT WAS INEVITABLE: Society was due for a course correction. We’d settled into our accepted state of idiocracy, whining about our moron leaders while sipping our over-priced coffee drinks. Their delusions of nationalism were destined to bite all of us on the ass. Brexit, “America First,” Polish nationalism, and all the rest. Build a wall and crime will fall, they said. They were too stupid to know that germs don’t recognize man-made boundaries.

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In less than two weeks the fantasy of “national borders” was laid to waste by the creeping, then accelerating, coronavirus. We are the world, sneezing and coughing together, engaged in a collective fear that our inherent sociability is killing off our elders, one nursing home at a time. Our anti-science president thought he could employ his jingoism by placing his executive power in front of this “foreign virus” (his words). COVID-19 laughed at his hubris. It was already here, spreading like a kerosene fire.

So here we are, in lockdown, trying to “flatten the curve,” riding out the pandemic in our under-stocked bunkers, socially distancing ourselves from our neighbors. Thank the gods for Netflix and chilling. (We now know what will come after Gen Z, the Coronials. See ya in 9 months, babies!) What does this mean for our society, as food servers run out of grocery money and Trump thinks of another way to help his rich friends, again? (“Fed to pump in more than $1 trillion in dramatic ramping up of market intervention amid coronavirus meltdown”) It seems like once they closed down Disneyland, we were racing to a complete social collapse. At least my gym is still open, for now.

In times like this, people crave togetherness, something more than posting memes about empty toilet paper shelves at Costco. Older readers will remember how after 9/11 there was a strange sense of unity that fell over the country. We were all bonded by our grief and needed to be together, hugging strangers and lending handkerchiefs to wipe away others’ tears. Ah, those were the days. How can we accomplish this same cathartic social ritual with three feet between us at all times? I want to hug my elderly neighbors who are already “socially distanced,” but will that kill them?

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Our founding sociologist, Emile Durkheim, asked, over a hundred years ago, why we need religion. In a time of growing scientific explanation, it seemed like religion was less and less required to make sense of the world and yet people were still flocking to churches, synagogues, and mosques. What he found made a lot of sense. People’s need for religion didn’t have anything to do with needing “God,” but needing each other. We needed a sense of community, from the Amish to Zoroastrians. We needed to be in one place together, breaking bread and engaging in rituals that gave us a sense we were connecting the sacred mysteries and the profane reality.  Religion gave us the social cohesion needed grease the wheels of a functioning society. As a kid who grew up in the Bible Belt, you never asked where someone was on Sunday mornings. They were at church, with their friends.

In the twenty-first century, social media has given us much of that sense of community we used to find at our various worship services, but it’s still not the same. Even with online shopping, online dating, and online education, there is still an innate desire to be in a room together. Maybe it is tied to our tribal origins, the rule by consensus. Checking in with each other by taking stock of body languages. “Yeah, I get the feeling people don’t want to go the Chili’s after work.” We need to be reminded of the flesh and bones of us, that we are not a series of illuminated screens.

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So how will we get through this? My intellectual mind understands that limiting social contact will slow down the spread of the virus and put this thing in the dumpster with the swine flu, the bird flu, and various monkey-born illnesses. But my emotional mind wants to take my family out for dim sum to support our suffering Asian community and later grab a drink at my local bar in hopes a few shots of whiskey will immunize me. (Guilty of doing both this week.) Facebooking and ordering delivery just doesn’t cut it. Will my very human need to be in the world (and putting my money where my asymptomatic mouth is) extend this nightmare and maybe take out a few humans in the process? How can I be the needed citizen of the world and also stem the economic collapse in my little part of the world?

Durkheim believed that even horrible things can be functional for society. Maybe COVID-19 is functional as a great reset for the human race, to remind us that borders and nations are luxuries that quickly fade when we realize we’re all in this germ factory together. I’m wrapping my arms around the world. And then washing my hands.

2019 in Review – 22 Snapshots and an Impeachment

December 31, 2019

I guess I’ve been a crummy blogger this year. When Cozy was a baby, I could squeeze out a couple of blogposts a week on everything from housework to feminist cowboy movies. In 2019, I only managed 22 posts. To be fair, I actually taught full-time the entire year. It felt good to be back at work. My wonderful students got to be the recipients of my random thoughts about the state of the world. And now that Cozy is a kindergartener, typing up cohesive essays is more of a luxury. Plus, I’ve spent much of my spare time chasing squirrels out of our attic.

I was excited that my writing still had an audience even though every single post wasn’t about Trump’s racism. My tribute to my late friend (and Atlanta punk icon) David Dickens had the most reads (1,900). My piece on the Christchurch killings was reprinted in The Peace Chronicle, which was a great privilege.

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2018 was a year of global travel. For 2019, I managed to stay mostly on the West Coast, with a few weeks in Mexico to give a couple of lectures in my favorite anthropology field school. I still managed plenty of world media appearances (especially CNN International), but my favorite media interview was when a rare tornado came right down our street. Under my name, instead of usual “HATE CRIME EXPERT” it said, “LIVES NEAR DOWNED TREE.” Much more exciting than an appearance in Turkish TV (which I also did in 2019).

Of course the driving theme of the year was growing blackhole being created by our idiot president, culminating in his impeachment on December 18. By that point I had written so many posts about his inevitable impeachment that the actual thing was anticlimactic and I didn’t even bother to comment on it. (I do wonder what will happen to all the ITMFA t-shirts that are so common here in Portland.) I’m sure I’ll have plenty to say as the divide widens even further in 2020, with Trump loyalists promising civil war if they don’t get their way. It’s like the country is being taken over by hordes of fascist babies.

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For me, the focus of 2019 was on my family. Working steadily gave me a better foundation to be grounded in the real and not the endless yammering on social media. My classes Portland Community College and my CLE trainings for attorneys gave me the professional connections I craved and I got to work on a few murder cases that let me to put my skills to work in very important arenas. This allowed me to not worry too much about financial issues, and focus on being present for Andrea and Cozy. Maybe the best moment was taking Cozy on a surprise trip to Disney in LA that included a stop at their animation studios where a friend showed her the work he was completing on Frozen 2. There was also a trip to Las Vegas to see The Beatles’ LOVE, twice! Family times was its own reward.

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The coming year will have plenty challenges. I imagine I will be commenting directly on the rise of anti-Semitic violence and the Trump cult’s threats to peace and equality. But my personal agenda will be focused on making good educational choices for my daughter, showing my wife how much I cherish her, and finally getting the squirrels out of the attic.

2019 WTW Posts

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“Thanks, punk!” (For David Dickens) (January 10, 2019)

Watching fragile men freak out over a Gillette ad (January 17, 2019)

Raising Honest Children in the Age of Trump (January 25, 2019)

A silly love song for my wife (February 14, 2019)

The Wisdom of Double Nickels: On Turning 55(February 22, 2019)

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On not dying youngish(March 5, 2019)

He Killed My Child: Meditations on Christchurch and the Sociopathy of White Supremacy (March 19, 2019)

I have found what I was looking for, Bono.(April 14, 2019)

Globalization and Nationalism: Get Ready for More Fascist Violence(April 28, 2018)

This War on Women and a Strategy to Defend Choice (May 20, 2019)

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Just Open the Damn Border (June 18, 2019)

Female Role Models For My Daughter (and all those boys) (July 7, 2019)

How Do You Solve a Racist Problem like Donald? (July 17, 2019)

Lita was one cool cat.(July 26, 2019)

Your loved one was just killed by an angry white man with a gun. OK?(August 4, 2019)

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Matterhorn not withstanding, we have a 5-year old (August 29, 2019)

Your biography is history: Taking in the Trump impeachment (October 3, 2019)

White People: If you aren’t actively anti-racism, you are pro-racism (October 23, 2019)

I was 5 once, too!(November 27, 2019)

Reelin’ in the Tens: What was this decade about anyway? (December 29, 2019)

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 Dad’s Top Discs of 2019 (December 30, 2019)

2019 in Review – 22 Snapshots and an Impeachment (December 31, 2019)

 

I was 5 once, too!

November 27, 2019

Cozy and I were sitting at home last week, watching the impeachment hearings. I had to wait until age 9 for my first live impeachment proceedings. (I was glued to the Watergate hearings.) Cozy’s getting a jumpstart on her political awakening. She stopped and said, “I don’t like Donald Trump because he wants to cut down all the trees.” I don’t know if that’s true, but it captures the feeling that Trump is a one-man apocalypse for her generation. I wondered if she will remember any of this when she’s having a beer with her friends in college, reflecting on when America went off the rails.

Some people don’t have a lot of memories from before the age of 5. Others, perhaps due to intense psychotherapy, remember the formative years with crystal clarity. For me, age three was when my little brother came home from the hospital. I can see my mother carrying him past the birch trees in front of our house. Four was nursery school and a cubby whole of my very own. The rest is a swirl of real and imagined.  I assume Cozy might not remember her early days, but perhaps they have all been logged somewhere in her subconscious. Meeting Minnie Mouse on her third birthday may appear in dreams 30 years from now, but probably will never be a clear memory. All the experiences we’ve been giving her are meant to shape her personality, not necessarily give her fond memories. That’s why God invented Instagram. #cozyblazak

But 5 is different. These moments will last. Not all of them, but enough. She will remember many of her kindergarten friends, and being dragged to my meetings, and art projects with her mom, and trips to visit family in Mexico. I can’t find a single picture of  me at 5, but there’s a cloud full of thousands of pictures of her if she ever needs her memory jogged.

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Five was a big year for me. So much of it seems clear as day. For Halloween, I had a Secret Squirrel costume with a plastic mask that scratched my face. My best friend was a neighbor named Cheryl. I’d call her to play by doing a Tarzan yell over the back fence, and she’d climb over like soldier scaling a wall in boot camp. Our kindergarten class had an incubator and we anxiously waited for chicken eggs to hatch. My mom told me today that one of my classmates was a bully who delighted in slamming kids’ hands in the door. I’ve blocked that one out. But I do remember her buying my corrective shoes at a Stride Rite store (next to Mayfair’s) that had ducks in the window. Candy button strips and a friend with a pet turtle. A new Blue Bird school bus and realizing I could swallow Spaghetti-O’s without chewing.

I was 5 in 1969, so there were my first flirts with sixties pop culture, most memorable was the first episode of Sesame Street (November 11, 1969). I still have the album (and can sing “Rubber Duckie”). I cut out Archies records from the back of Honeycomb cereal boxes. I knew most of the words to “Spinning Wheel” by Blood, Sweat & Tears, and got a few of the jokes on Laugh-In (“Very interesting.”) And, of course, I stared at the moon, hoping to see Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong bouncing on it.

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I also processed some of the turmoil at the end of the decade. Our white middle class parents made fun of hippies and warned of the “dangerous jungle” in the city. That gave me plenty to rebel against later. But it was all lodged in my brain. The implicit bias I now hope to purge was being formed inside the mind of that kid 50 years ago.

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I don’t know what Cozy will carry with her from her vast experiences in 2019. We’ve worked hard to block messages of inequity, taking her to sold-out women’s soccer matches and exposing her to her wonderful family south of the border. She is as at home with the music of John Coltrane as she is the soundtrack of Frozen 2. She might not log every single trip to the ice cream shop or cool outfit, but hopefully she’ll remember how much she was loved in all those moments. And she can save the Trump thing for her therapist.

Matterhorn not withstanding, we have a 5-year old

August 28, 2019

I know, I know, it’s the biggest cliche in the world. Time accelerates when you have a kid. But seriously, didn’t we just bring this baby home from the hospital? I am now writing this while a 5-year old takes a bath with a posh bath-bomb and a tub full of mermaid dolls.

Cozy turned 5 on August 17 but has made August her prolonged “birthday month,” which means lots of “I can eat this because” and “I can watch this because.” It’s OK with me, because you remember 5 and she should remember this wonderful summer wonderfully.

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We decided to return to Disneyland for Birthday #5. Number 3 had been a blast thanks to a friend who works at Disney Studios making sure Cozy got the Birthday Girl treatment, which included an epic meeting with Minnie Mouse. Minnie was quite thrilled to shake hands with Social Media Sensation Cozy Valentina.

We had to put a bit more effort into the fifth anniversary of her dramatic entry into the world in 2014.  We kept the California plans a secret. Our flight to LA had a layover in Las Vegas, so, while having breakfast inside the grand pyramid of the Luxor, we told her that Vegas wasn’t the final stop on her birthday trip. A few hours later we landed in Burbank and caught a Lyft to Walt Disney Animation Studios and she figured out what was going on when we pulled up to Mickey Mouse’s giant wizard hat.

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I have a friend who is an animator with Disney and his amazing tour included a peak at a scene he was working on for Frozen 2. Cozy was blown away (as were we). After a night in an old school Burbank motel, it was off for two days at Disneyland (and two nights in the retro-fabulous Disneyland hotel). She was back in her realm. Cozy still loved riding Dumbo but she is starting to appreciate rollercoasters. Well, almost.

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I was at the Anaheim park when I was 5 and really wanted to ride the Matterhorn bobsled rollercoaster. My parents must have thought it would be too scary for 1969 Randy. That didn’t stop 2019 me from dragging my kid, half asleep, onto the wild ride, late on our second night in the park. Blasting through the dark, Cozy not sitting with either of us, and Yetis screaming at bobsleds as they whizzed by, was a recipe for trauma. Poor Cozy was shaking and sobbing after the ride. Later, she made me call my mother and apologize for not trusting her judgement with regard to 5-year-olds and The Matterhorn. There’s going to be Yeti-related therapy down the road.

The Disney Surprise worked well as a rite-of-passage into fivedom. Next week she starts kindergarten and I can leave it all in the capable manos of Señor Siam. My tenure as a stay-at-home dad officially comes to close. It seems to have slipped by as if a dream that now I’m just waking up from. Will I remember any of it? Thank Groot for this blog.

This person that is now our five-year-old daughter is a fully formed sentient being. Not that I would, but I could drop her off at the local Lowes Hardware (What, you’re not boycotting Home Depot?) for a few hours, and find her running the place when I returned. She’s got crazy charisma and can work a room, from front to back. Is that an innate characteristic or did she pick that up from her vaguely politically astute parents? Whatever, I can’t wait to vote for her.

The end of her birthday month has been illuminating. Mom is off exploring Oaxaca, Mexico, so Cozy and I are getting some end-of-summer bonding done. She’s got ideas about God, the value of chutes in Chutes & Ladders, and when it’s permissible to gorge on Mac & Cheese (when one parent is out of the country). I’m endlessly entertained and in awe that we had anything to do with this fascinating creature that exists in this physical plane as “our kid.” I can’t wait for the next five years to fly by. But I’m taking 10-year-old Cozy back on to the Matterhorn.

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Lita was one cool cat.

July 26, 2019

Yesterday morning I got up early and thought I saw Lita, our cat, as usual, in the window giving me her daily look that says, “Where the hell is my breakfast?” I stopped for a second because our 17-year-old cat had died two days before. I once heard Patti Smith say something like, “The dead live on in the memories of those who loved them.” There was some comfort that Lita is still on our porch is some form, waiting for breakfast.

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I got Lita in the summer of 2002 when she was a tiny kitten. I responded to a Craigslist ad for a free kitten and collected her from a young Mexican couple who had their hands full with a new litter. She was born in the City of Roses, so I named her Rosalita, which just became Lita. She was a spritely demon who would tear through the house like she was possessed, putting cat claw scratches on my wood floor.

A few weeks later I had a brain hemorrhage and a stroke. After a month in the hospital, Lita was waiting for me when I got home. As I would work on my physical therapy, she would attack me like the hyper-maniac that she was. It was actually very helpful as I could tell where the feeling was returning to my right side by whether or not the gashes she put in my body hurt or not. One day she left off my right shoulder and I could definitely feel it. Thanks, kitty.

A few years later, Lita, who loved to go outside, got hit by a car and lost her tail. She disappeared for over a week and came back looking like hell, dragging her smashed tail. Amputation was the only option. She also lost control of her bowels and permanently became an outdoor cat. (I used to joke I would rent her out to anybody who had an enemy and wanted their house to smell like cat pee – No takers.) She became known as the cat with no tail and would greet everyone who passed by our house and not even pee on them.

Over her 17 years, this cat saw a lot, including outlasting a few long term relationships. (Each came with a dog which Lita was not thrilled about). When Andrea arrived into my life, Lita gave her a nod of approval and crawled into her lap as we planned our life together. When Andrea was pregnant with Cozy, Lita seemed to accept there would be another small creature in the house, and started to clean up her bad ass act. By that point she had become used to the neighborhood raccoons and opossums stealing the food and the occasional brigade of coyotes patrolling the street. (Coyotes had made off with her brother, Leon the Cat, one night, so she had reason to take them seriously.) She just laid back and became the watcher of the house.

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Coming home from work or a long trip out of the country, Lita was always there to welcome us home. As Cozy got bigger, she loved to carry Lita around the front yard (and never got peed on). Our letter carrier, Anthony, would regularly take time to pick her up and pet her. Every winter I’d build a winter chalet for her to take refuge in and every spring I’d marvel that she made it through another series of snowstorms. That darn cat!

Seventeen is old for a cat. I knew what was coming. Last week she started disappearing and when she showed up she was all skin and bones. We brought her inside to make her comfortable and tried to get her to drink some water with an eye-dropper. She found her way to the bathroom floor where she liked to sleep when she was a kitten. Around midnight on Tuesday, as Andrea and I petted her, Lita gasped her last gasp and the ghost left her body to go look for her tail.

Of course, the larger question became, how would Lita’s death impact Cozy? Cozy is cat crazy and loved Lita in a way that was endlessly endearing. So we sat her down and didn’t sugar coat it. Lita didn’t go away, or go live on a farm, or go off to join the cast of CATS. She died. Cozy paused, and in her pre-school thinking responded with the perfect question. “So are we going to get a new cat now?” Then a little tear came out of her eye and she wanted to know why. “Lita was really old, Cozy. She was at the end of her life.” We read Elisha Cooper’s book, Big Cat, Little Cat, together and she seemed to understand.

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We busied ourselves with funeral plans. Cozy really wanted a “ceremony” to say goodbye to our dear pet. We went to the flower shop and she picked purple roses. At the garden store, she picked out a rock with “Forever” engraved in it. She even selected the spot to bury her, next to her favorite spot on the porch, where Lita would recline in the afternoon sun. Through it, she wanted to see Lita’s body, which was wrapped in one of Cozy’s baby blankets and laid inside a Doc Marten boot box. “I thought she would just be bones,” she said as she petted Lita just one more time.

Lita is now under the ground, buried with pictures her family, drawings by Cozy, and a little bit of cat food, just in case. The lesson is that nothing is forever. Appreciate those you love while they are here, even if they have leaky bladders. Cozy will tell you how much she misses Lita. We all do. But she will also tell you about the little cat that is coming to help the memory of the big cat live on. Thanks, Lita. Wherever you are, I hope you got back your tail and control of your bowels.

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Raising Honest Children in the Age of Trump

January 25, 2019

As a first-time parent it’s been quite the trip watching my daughter’s cognitive development. I started charting it here on this blog but, at almost four-and-a-half, it’s just accelerated to a rate that seems impossible to chart. Last week she appropriately used air quotes and I felt like I had completed my job as a sarcastic father. She’s on her own. I’m quite confident I could drop her off at a faculty cocktail party and she’d be fine. She recently told me, “We don’t say that we hate Donald Trump. We say we don’t like him very much.” Touché, Cozy. Touché.

Which is why part of this stage of development has a troubling facet. Lying. Nothing too big, but she’ll say she washed her hands after going potty and they are perfectly dry. (A tell-tale sign.) Or I’ll ask if she’s picked up her toys and she’ll say yes and I’ll point out all her toys on the floor and she’ll proclaim, “I was just kidding!”

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I’m well aware this is normal for a little kid but biography occurs in the context of history and at the moment the free world is being led by one of the biggest liars in history. The challenge of raising a good child in the era of the bad president will surely be the stuff of many child psychology books to come. How can we bring our children up as decent honest people in the shadow of one of the most loathsome, dishonest, and buffoonish bullies to ever wrap himself in a flag? Even MAGA hat wearing parents must have to tell their kids, “Now just because the president does/says that doesn’t mean you can.” (Although there are probably a few MAGA dads that have said, “Grab ‘em by the pussy, son.”)

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The lies of Donald J. Trump are too voluminous to count. He just makes stuff up on the spot because it sounds good. Just ask him how much his useless vanity wall will cost. It’s something we’ve all done occasionally. We’ve inflated details in a story or thrown out numbers we weren’t 100% sure were accurate. “Yeah, 75 percent of people who vote Republican have never eaten sushi.” Sounds right. But Trump does it every single day. Fact checkers have died of fatigue.

Which makes it harder to convey the importance of truth-telling to our children. In this post-factual world full of massive whoppers (“Global warming is a Chinese hoax!”), fibs and white lies seem almost cute. Truth is a sliding scale. Stephen Colbert coined the term “truthiness” in 2005, but to raise a child in a daily onslaught of “alternative facts” seems impossible. There’s an “If you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em”” devil on my shoulder that wants to tell my daughter, “Kid, lie your ass off if it gets you what you want. Every one else probably is doing it.”

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Trump is the absolute worst role model for anyone, especially children. He’s a spoiled rich kid who throws tantrums when he doesn’t get what he wants. He lies pathologically. He bullies relentlessly. And he lives on buckets of KFC and gallons of Diet Coke. I saw him when I was in DC last month in the back of his limo heading towards the White House. I swear he had an Egg McMuffin hanging from his gullet. I haven’t heard what he’s done with Michelle Obama’s vegetable garden but I’m willing to bet that when he’s dragged off the property by the FBI, the CSI team will be digging it up. 

The good news is outside his weird cult of MAGA loyalists, Trump is the perfect boogyman. If I catch Cozy in a lie, I whip out the Donald. “Cozy, you told me you turned off the TV and you didn’t. You know who lies like that? Donald Trump.” The look of horror on her face. It’s also good at dinner time. “You want ice cream for dinner? Do you want to look like Donald Trump?” She races for the carrots. There was a boy who pushed her in her pre-school. I told her to tell him to stop acting like Donald Trump. It shut that shit down.

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I have to wonder about this generation of youth growing up under the specter of the Orange Menace. Whether or not those MAGA hat wearing prep school pricks from Covington Catholic were harassing a Native American elder, they were at a rally to end reproductive choice for women and girls in America (and caught on camera making jokes about rape, and harassing girls, and appearing in blackface at an earlier basketball game). The white parents couldn’t defend them fast enough. (The lead prick’s mother blaming the whole thing on “black Muslims.”) Is this the fate of Generation Z? Or are they the kids from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School taking to the streets to end gun violence? I’ll send Cozy off with them.

Obviously,  Trump’s otherwise occupied parents never told him the story of The Little Boy Who Cried Wolf, but we tell it in our house. We might have a president than believes science is a hoax, journalism is “fake news,” and math is whatever numbers happen to fall out you mouth, but here the ideals of the Enlightenment still matter and this kid will value the truth. “Don’t be like Trump, kids!”

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“I just had to let it go…” On Parenting and Mortality

December 8, 2018

December 8th is always a rough day, marking another year without John Lennon in the world. A 78-year-old Lennon would be pretty cool but he will never be more than 40, the age he was when he was shot by a “New York gunman” who happened to be from the Georgia town next to mine. That moment is forever frozen, just like December 7th is for another generation. I remember making a vow on December 9, 1980 that I would never laugh again as a silent protest against the insanity of taking this sage out of the world.

I did laugh again, a lot. And tried to keep the messages of the forever-young Beatle in the front of my head. This blog is inspired by him and named after his song I heard on 96 Rock that morning the moment I realized that he was actually dead. For the billions on earth born after the night he died in the back of police car on its way to Manhattan’s Roosevelt Hospital (that includes my wife and daughter), the ghost of John Lennon is omnipresent. Just ask Cozy to sing a few lines of “I am the Walrus.”

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What attracted me to John Lennon as teenager was his wisdom, born of pain. I would read every interview with him I could get my hands on and dissected song lyrics for glimpses of directions for my own confused life. His final album, Double Fantasy, released three weeks before his murder, was full of useful tidbits. I didn’t immediately connect with it because it was the songs of a 40-year-old bouncing off 16-year-old ear drums (although I did love the weird new wavey Yoko songs that were closer to the B-52’s than the Beatles).

Now that I’m a father, I understand the wisdom, and ultimate heartbreak, of that 1980 album. Cozy is now the age John’s son, Sean, was when he started recording the tracks for Double Fantasy. This includes the song for Sean, “Beautiful Boy.” In it John is filled with the deep optimism that comes with parenthood. “Every day in every way, it’s getting better and better.” And the pure thrill of seeing the world through your child’s eyes. “I can hardly wait to see you come of age. But I guess we’ll both just have to be patient ‘cause it’s a long way to go.” Three weeks after the world first heard that song Sean would have his father stollen from him.

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I’ve met Sean a few times and I always want to just give him a hug. His memories of his father are from the perspective of a pre-schooler. There was never a Father John teaching him an E chord on the guitar or nervously explaining the difference between (all you need is) love and sex. His John Lennon is the one shared with the rest of humanity. While it’s the natural order that parents die before their children, it shouldn’t happen that quickly.

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The day just has me reflecting on how I really want to stick around as long as possible to give Cozy the maximum guidance, protection, and exposure to my sick living-room dance routines. As an older parent, I might not make her 30th birthday party and hope I can be there for her college graduation. (The good/bad news is that Blazaks tend to live a long time.) I have to make this time matter because I might not be around to clean up any messes later. When I think about serious risks to me (I have been known to jump out planes and mouth off in biker bars), now the thoughts immediately go to my daughter. I don’t that Nazi to kill me, not because it will hurt, because who will explain to Cozy the dangers of mall jazz and boys who think they are all that? I mean, seriously.

The tragic end of John Lennon reminds me of how we are all here such a short time and do not control when our exit date might be. The rumor was that John was planning a tour in 1981 and I would have been in the front row. It didn’t happen but he made the absolute most of his 40 years. Each stage was focused on making his world a bit better, whether opposing a war or just making bread. That’s the best thing you can give your child, no matter how long you last in this world.

However far we travel

Wherever we may roam

The center of the circle

Will always be our home

Yeah, yeah, yeah 

I’ve been given a small space, against the wall

November 19, 2018

There’s only so much space in our queen-sized bed and as our daughter gets bigger, the little queen annexes more territory. Cozy’s history as a co-sleeper has not yet ended. She started life swaddled in a cradle next to our bed and then Baby C just moved into the bed. But then it was off to the crib and a room of one’s own. Then she did a stint on the couch in her room and finally her own bed. Bedtime for Miss Bonzo with a few books read, the lava lamp on, and the dreaded Mickey Mouse Fun House CD on play. Good night, sweet child of mine.

But there’s a plot a foot. Do we have our marital bed back? Is there the hope of the return of mornings rolling in the sheets? Can I have a chance to stretch out like Abe Lincoln as the sun rises on the new day? Nope. She’s back in our bed. Like a thief in the night, she creeps back in (with a posse of stuffed animals), often waking me up by putting her hand over my morning breath. We never hear her enter. We never feel her climb under the covers. She’s just there. It’s kinda creepy. Cute but creepy. I reach out to sleepily put my arms around my wife and there’s a 4-year-old in her place.

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Because Cozy has moved past the princess problem by just assuming her role as queen, she demands the majority of space in the bed. Which means I wake up each morning pushed up against the wall. That’s my space. When I bought this house in 1999 it seemed so huge, too much space for one guy. Now I have a little space against a wall. “Up against the wall, Daddy, I’m trying to sleep.” The ladies rule this house. I have a drawer and this space against the wall and that’s just fine.

I tried to talk to Cozy about the situation and that she was a big girl now who should wake up every morning in her own bed. She then said, “I want you to understand how much I love you. That’s why I climb into bed with you every night.” What could I say to that? The truth is that the rare night that she stays in her own bed, I wake up in a panic. Where is she?  Did she leave home in the middle of the night? Oh, she’s just asleep her bed. I love seeing her beatific face first thing in the morning, even it is from my tiny space, smushed up against the wall.

There’s a lot of mixed information out there about co-sleeping. It makes sense that older kids who co-sleep probably are less self-reliant and may develop attachment issues. And parents need time away from even the most cuddly child. But what about the kids who creep in at 5 am? I don’t have the heart to ban her from her late night epic journey across the hall. Would that lower or increase her anxiety level? I feel like we might be front-landing issues for her therapy sessions later this century.

But for now, I’ll just be crammed against the wall. Let the queen have her way.

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Taking Manhattan with a 4-year old

Oct. 23, 2018

My first experience in New York City was the summer of 1982. I was 18 and my dad and I were driving to Kennedy Airport from Stone Mountain, Georgia. I was heading off to go to school in London and we made it a leg of the journey. That first glimpse of the Manhattan skyline, with the looming World Trade Center towers and the Statue of Liberty floating in the foreground, injected me with an energy. So much bigger than the biggest thing I had ever seen. And somewhere in there was Lou Reed singing, “Take a walk on the wild side.” I would soon return to explore every corner.

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I’ve probably been to NYC fifty times since, but never like this trip. I was booked to speak at a forum on extremism in mid-town Manhattan and we thought, why not bring the kid? She had just spent a week in Mexico with Andrea and was fine traveling with one parent. Why not the Big Apple? I’ve been traveling so much this year without her I thought it would be fun to bring her along. So I called a travel agent and got her booked on my flight and we started planning what New York City with a 4-year-old and a 54-year-old would look like. No Russian bars. Can you tell me tell me how to get to Sesame Street?

Cozy is great on planes. She’s been flying since she was a baby. But navigating JFK airport was a challenge. I forgot how huge it was and she was tired of walking before we were anywhere near Baggage Claim. I should have taken that as a sign of things to come. Our first night was at an AirBnB up in Spanish Harlem and she fell asleep on the subway ride across Queens and Brooklyn. Once in checked in she was more excited by her bunkbed than the city streets outside. What to see first?

We took the 6 Train down to Grand Central Station and rode a pedicab to Times Square. Her eyes exploded. It’s a pretty overwhelming site for any first-timer, more lights, more people, more out-of-shape Spidermans than the kid could imagine. (And she’s been to Mexico City.) Fortunately, there were no drunk Elmos to contend with. We stopped in the Disney Store that I remember was a dildo store in the mid-1980s. I wanted to tell the kids working there but it seemed inappropriate. 

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Then we caught a train down to the East Village where I had a meeting with an old friend and his colleague who are turning a novel of mine into a stage musical. But first we happened into a diner on Broadway that just happened to be called Cozy Soup ‘n’ Burgers. “When I grow up, I’m gonna be a chef here!” said Cozy, munching on her grilled cheese sandwich. The kid seemed to immediately take to the city, bouncing with its energy, as I had in 1982. I wondered what it would have been like if I had gotten that faculty job at CUNY and this was our life.

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She slept through a noisy night in Harlem. That’s a lot in one day for a 50-month-old. The next morning we moved into our hotel in midtown and started another day of adventure that included going to the Met to where we had a date with Picasso, a trip to the Central Park Zoo, where she saw her favorite animal, the impressive snow leopard, and then dinner in Greenwich Village with some of friends who had kids who were super NYC-savy. Seeing Cozy run around Washington Square with her squad while nobody tried to sell me pot made me reflect at how much New York had changed since the Lou Reed days.

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Day 3 we had breakfast in bed and then headed downtown to hop the Staten Island Ferry for a gander at the Statue of Liberty. She wasn’t prepared for the cold wind off the water as we wandered around Wall Street and tried to compete with a huge crowd of Chinese tourists for a picture with the Fearless Girl statue in front to the Charging Bull at the U.S. Stock Exchange. I don’t know if the tourists understood its significance but Cozy got it. Later, during my keynote, an old friend whisked Cozy off for a matinee of Frozen: The Musical on Broadway and a trip to the M&M Store (apparently her highlight of the entire trip). We topped the day off with a trip to the top of Rockefeller Center and an ice cream sundae from room service.

Our last day we had breakfast with feminist scholar Michael Kimmel at Veselka in the East Village, picking up an order of pierogis to take home to Andrea. Soon we were in a cab for LaGuardia and beginning our journey home.

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I had so much fear about bringing a 4-year-old to the big city, but Cozy was amazing. She mastered riding the subway (including the Lexington line during rush hour). She also loved catching cabs, no booster seat needed, and always had a good conversation with the driver. “Do you like kitties?”  When I go to NYC I just like to walk most places, but after a day Cozy reminded me that her feet were smaller than mine and that I should carry her, “because it’s good exercise.” After a few blocks she’d ask, “Do you feel stronger, Daddy?” Sort of, not really.

Manhattan has evolved so much since I started coming to hang out in the 1980s. Did I ever tell you about the time I accidentally bought heroin in Alphabet City? I was hanging out with the Portuguese boyfriend of a college friend of mine when he saw somebody he knew. “Man, I don’t want to talk to that guy because I owe him money. Would you give him this $20 from me?” I handed the guy his 20 and ended up with a small white packet in my hand. Not cool. But I’m sure there’s a Starbucks on that corner now and we can be all romantic about the drug infested days of the Lower East Side. New York is now a city of families, and it’s not just the Disney-fied Times Square. As a parent, it’s nice to see so many kids inhabit the city and I can still cherish my memories of barfing in the toilet at CBGBs on the Bowery. I’m glad Cozy got this version, because she could see herself in the city.

John Lennon ended up in New York City in 1971 because it was the center of the world. He became a father and househusband here and died on its streets. NYC might not be the center of the world anymore, (Nǐ hǎo, Beijing), but the Big Apple still feels like the place to be. Even though much of it’s twentieth century character has been gentrified into oblivion (I mean, a Target in the East Village?), much of it is still iconic and I could see Cozy soak it up like a Sponge Bob costume in the Hudson River. She gobbled up Denino’s pizza on MacDougal and asked if we could spit on Trump Tower on Park Avenue and threw a mean right arm up to hail a cab. She’s 4 and has been to one more Broadway musical than I have. It’s already her kinda town.

Manhattan is life. It is the culmination of American grit and diversity. It is the world on one island. I’m glad my kid has begun her New York story.

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