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Greg Bardsley

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fatherhood

Minutiae Monday

What was I thinking? Of course my minutiae posts are better suited for Mondays, not Wednesdays.

“Minutiae Monday” sounds so much better.

So here goes my minutiae as I see it at the end of a long weekend:

My son Dylan, 3, is so thrilled to wear clothes that weren’t previously worn by his 6-year-old brother, Jack. Two of his favorites are the recently purchased basketball outfits, “Hotshots 52” and “Superstar 39.” Whenever Jack pulls out a basketball, Dylan whips around and mumbles to himself as he runs to his bedroom, “I get my Hotshots 52.” … Few things match the energy of 9 first-grade boys gathering for two hours of birthday-party dodgeball and basketball (today) … I made my second batch of guacamole of the season tonight, and my wife said, “Too salty.” … It was physically painful to write my property-tax check tonight … By pure chance, I helped eight boys with their costumes for the musical, “Snow Biz,” at Jack’s school on Friday — pure mayhem. … I got all dandied up on Saturday for a fancy tea experience with my wife for her birthday, followed by something called a “sage and lemon pedicure” and foot massage (for her, not me) and a phenomenal Greek meal in Palo Alto. … Tonight my wife and I had a What-the-F-are-we-doing? attack regarding our soon-to-commence house add-on, family-move-out, Greg-and-Nancy-assume-more-fixed costs commitment. … I might be a jurist for a murder trial. … Facebook has sent several emails detailing very flattering rankings involving “Greg Bardsley” and an elite group of others. Then I realized those flattering rankings were for another Greg Bardsley, some FB friend of mine living New Zealand. … My mom would like me to come up to San Francisco to move a bunch of roses she just bought. … When the boys and I began to play air-guitar to classic Boston songs tonight, Nancy gave us her I’ll-see-you-guys-later look and slipped out of the kitchen. … The Sun Microsystems “March Madness” basketball tournament in Menlo Park is anyone’s to win. … I still have zero interest in owning a giant flat-panel TV. I. Just. Don’t. Care. … I’m planning to write an entirely different kind of novel this next time around. … God, I love my new MacBook.

And suddenly I’m sitting down with a titan

Back in January, I took a call from a recruiter.

I was busy when she called. More importantly, I wasn’t interested in leaving Sun Microsystems. I loved my job, my boss, the Sun leadership and my colleagues. Even so, when the recruiter told me about the new job, and how much it would pay, I found myself firing off my resume.

The job was a speechwriting gig for the CEO of one of the largest companies on the planet. It would be a promotion in title, and it would pay a boatload of money. I’d been a speechwriter for a titan before, so I knew it would be a pretty challenging gig. But I also knew this was the kind of opportunity that didn’t come around very often, and the money would make a big difference in my household, where my wife stays home with our two sons.

Well, one thing led to another, and things got more and more serious. First it was a conference call with an executive recruiter in New York, then it was half a day at the company itself, then it was another visit with the chief marketing officer as well as the chief technology and strategy officer. They liked me, and I liked them.

Only one problem: I still loved Sun.

I still loved what I was doing at Sun — creating journalistic, reality-based videos for our CEO, explaining our vision and strategy to our 33,000 employees, getting tapped for humor projects and trying my best to make Sun a fun place to work. My boss had always encouraged me to use my creativity to do new and cool things, and I knew that leaders like her don’t come around too often. I can’t tell you how many times I had friends and acquaintances tell me that mine was the coolest job around.

But the other company was calling; their CEO wanted to meet with me. This obviously would be the final interview. Me and the titan, in his office.

Maybe I should have been thrilled. Maybe I should have been salivating. Maybe I should have been ready to do jumping jacks for this guy. Maybe I should have looked at the bigger title, the promise of more money — all of that — and let my eyes cross in corporate lust.

But I didn’t. I was too busy having fun at Sun.

Then came the kicker. I was in the midst of producing a video about courage and integrity at Sun. Along the way, I was able to listen in on a high-level discussion about Sun’s core values and how they are “interwoven into the fabric of who we are” as a company of integrity, transparency and mutual respect, as CEO Jonathan Schwartz put it. It was a special moment for me, because I knew he wasn’t just feeding us a line. I had been at Sun for more than eight years, and I had seen how Jonathan and his team have not only made some important moves to turn in consistent profitability, but also have emphasized the importance of treating people with respect. It’s one thing to talk about being high-integrity; it’s quite another to show it day in and day out with your actions. Jerks, bullies and self-important snobs are a lot harder to find at Sun these days, and that means a lot to me.

I kept my date with the titan. He seemed like a great guy, and he was smart. In fact, really smart. Despite my best efforts to show extreme interest in the gig, he could tell my heart wasn’t in it. At one point, he put my resume down and announced, “Well, it sounds like you’re in a great situation over there at Sun.” According to the executive recruiter, he later declared, “Greg doesn’t want this job.”

He was right.

And I got to produce an April Fools prank on Schwartz. See below for all the drooling details. Is it any wonder why Sun is such a great place to work?

‘Sorry, myself’

On Friday, my son Dylan and I were planning three days of one-on-one time.

“Jack and Mommy will be gone,” I say. “So it’ll be just you and me.”

He nods, smiling. “Yep.”

“So what should we do?”

Dylan thinks about it. After a while, he offers, “Puzzles?”

“That sounds like fun.”

Dylan grins. “And Caltrain rides?”

“We can do that. What else, do you think?”

Dylan pauses. Finally, he whispers something I can’t hear.

“Say it again, honey.”

He covers his eyes and smiles. This time he whispers just a little louder. “Donuts.”

dyl_chim3.jpgWhereas my 6-year-old Jack might prefer a trip over the hill to the lighthouse, or bike riding at Stanford, or a hike into the nearby “wild,” I am finding that Dylan is quite happy just sitting with me at Donut Delight on Laurel Street in San Carlos and munching on a chocolate sprinkle, or riding Caltrain to nearby Palo Alto, where we buy a “fireman book” and get grilled cheeses with fries. Alone, without his big brother around, Dylan chooses to have Daddy help him build a little town out of blocks and Lincoln Logs. When he accidentally knocks over some of the blocks, he turns and says, softly, “Sorry, myself.”

Yesterday, after pancakes at the Depot Cafe at the San Carlos train station, Dylan wanted to launch his new rocket. I had given the rocket to Dylan and Jack for Christmas, having believed the statement on the box that assured, “READY TO LAUNCH!!!!”

At the park, I realize it is not “ready to launch.” It is ready to be assembled.

Dylan stands and watches. “Daddy, my brain is telling me to play with the rocket.”

“Not yet, honey.” I squint at the microscopic ignition instructions.

An hour later, our fingers numb from the cold, my knees stiff from squatting, we count backwards from five. At “zero,” Dylan pushes the red button, and the rocket fires off the launch pad with a loud crack and some impressive hissing. It streaks into the sky. A family playing touch football stops to gaze skyward. Dog-walkers come to an abrupt halt. Dylan stiffens with excitement, then squeals. The rocket reaches about 1,200 feet, at which point the nosecone properly disengages from the fuselage and the parachute wad slides out. People cheer.

The applause stops when the parachute fails to deploy. Suddenly, “Daddy’s Christmas gift to the boys” has become a free-falling object of destruction that is plummeting back to earth, gaining speed at an alarming rate. Someone from the football game yells out, “Houston, we have a problem.” Dylan jumps up and down as the rocket plunges into the upper branches of a distant stand of trees, which is where is hangs tonight.

Today is my last one-on-one day with Dylan. I think we’ll do some puzzles.

Don’t Call Me ‘Daddy’

Just like that, my oldest son decided I was no longer “Daddy.”

I would now be known as “Dad,” and I would be addressed in a slightly detached, very first-grade and decidedly un-baby way. Jack, you see, has “joined up with a group at school,” as he puts it, and he has learned quickly that you just don’t refer to your old man as “my Daddy” unless you want to be called a baby. In the world of first-graders, few things are more disastrous.

I acted like it was no big deal. “I understand,” I said, my back to him. “You gotta do what you gotta do.”

“That’s right,” he huffed. “I’m not a baby.”

I turned, knelt in front of him and whispered. “But I just want you to know … You can still call me Daddy at home, when no one’s listening.”

Jack shook his head. “No, Dad. You’re not my daddy anymore. You’re my dad.”

A pang hit me in the gut. I bit my lip and looked down. “I know, honey. But you know, if you’re just feeling bad one day, and maybe we’re hugging, and you want to call me Daddy when no one’s around, that’s perfectly fine with me. You know, when you’re feeling sad inside or something. I’m just saying.”

Jack considered this. “Maybe.”

Afterward, I found myself asking, What the hell happened? How did we get here so quickly? What happened to those blurry days, those new-parent days when the skies seemed darker, the streets emptier than they really were, when our world was so small and simple and reduced, when I could barely keep my eyes open and this little bald kid would look up at me with the biggest smile and belt out all these goo-goo’s and ga-ga’s, when he’d waddle toward me with this open mouth, his arms outstretched, when I was his Daddy and he didn’t care who the hell knew?

Well, first-grade happened.

It happened quick. I can tell you that at the beginning of first-grade, he was still referring to me as “my Daddy” and throwing out the “Hey, Daddy’s” dozens of times a day. And then one day, maybe three weeks ago, bam — the “Daddy’s” stopped. And damn it if the kid is not sticking to his word, consistently calling me “Dad” and nothing else.

“Hey, Dad, check this out.” … “Dad, did you know that birds are direct descendants of dinosaurs?” … “Please, Dad. Just five more minutes?” … “Dad, Dylan won’t stop following me.”

But I still have Dylan.

“You can call me Daddy as much as you want, okay, kiddo?”

“Yep.” Our 3-year-old beams at me. “You’re my Daddy.”

“Yes, I am,” I announce to no one in particular.

Dylan might still call me Daddy, but there are signs (good healthy signs, I might add) that he, too, is ushering us out of the cute-and-innocent era.

Just this week, Dylan completed the long process of becoming completely potty-trained. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m thrilled. My wife is thrilled. We’ve been changing diapers for six years and four months, and oh, what these eyes have seen. I will not miss soggy diapers at the park, nor that tell-tale look on Dylan’s face at the restaurant when the food is getting served, that strained expression that told us we had a deuce drill in our immediate future.

So yes, I understand how much easier life will be, and I’m thrilled. And I understand that it’s a good thing when an individual no longer prefers to crap in his pants. But I also know that we’re bidding farewell to a time that will never return, and I guess I’m kind of a nostalgic guy sometimes. Because I have a son who’s already six, a son who seemed to be two not that long ago, I can see now how quickly all of this will happen, and how inflexible the passage of time will be. There ain’t no going back — the kids won’t let you.

I’m thrilled about the future. Each month just gets more exciting, and challenging. So I am looking forward. But I guess I’d still pay some big money for one last time, one last time to see my oldest son run across the playground when he sees his father — yelling, “Daddy … Daddy … Daddy.”

The 6-year-old’s license to embellish

My oldest son Jack insists he’s telling the truth. His blue eyes are serious, and his lower lip is out. He doesn’t like it when I question his information.

Jack, you see, is six. And when it comes to the workings of the world, he’s more than happy to “add some color” — or as we adults call it, “bullshit.”

I ask, “You’re serious?”

“Daddy, I’m telling you — Dylan has caveman eyes.” He nods to his little brother, who listens intently. “Dylan’s eyes are like a cat’s. Like a caveman’s. He can see things in the dark that we can’t.”

Dylan is three. He listens, then looks at me with his enormous hazel eyes. “Yeah.”

I throw up my hands. “If you say so.”

***

The other week, the boys and I hiked through Edgewood Park. When you get to the top, you realize just how special this place is. It’s easy to imagine young lovers sitting on a blanket and taking in the sweeping views, or maybe a spiritualist sitting under an old oak, contemplating the meaning of life.

But with Jack, you’re pulling apart “wild-animal scat.”

Twigs become our instruments. Jack crouches on all fours to get a good look. “You see, Daddy. There’s no grass in this scat. It’s just all black, with some hair.” He pauses, thinking about it. “Wild-animal hair.” He looks up and scans the pristine hills. “This is carnivore scat.”

Dylan is between us. He looks at Jack, then at me. “Yeah, Daddy.”

I ask Jack to remind me what a carnivore is. For our naturalist son, it’s an easy question, but I can’t help myself.

“Daddy, a carnivore eats meat, and a herbivore eats vegetation, and an omnivore eats both.” He looks up to the clouds for a second then returns to look me in the eyes. “There’s also something called a threetavore.”

I wrinkle my brow. “A threetavore?”

“Daddy,” he says, throwing a hand into the air, “a threetavore is an animal that eats three things — meat, vegetation and something else.”

Dylan looks at Jack, then at me. “Yeah.”

“Wow,” I mumble. “Had no idea.”

***

This weekend we watched as our new cat, Tucker, sat on a window ledge and gazed at the squirrels on our fence. Only a flimsy screen separates our 6-month-old kitten from the puffed-out squirrels that have been fattening up on acorns from our oak tree. Tucker acts like he’s just escaped a 14th Century prison and is seeing a woman for the first time in 30 years. His mouth is open. His ears are perked. His eyes are wide. A chirping noise escapes from the base of his throat.

“Is Tucker a threetavore?” I ask.

Jack sighs and rolls his eyes. “Daddy, everyone knows cats are omnivores. They like meat, but they also like things like grass and vanilla ice cream and tuna.”

I open my mouth, then bite my lip. I think I’ll wait a little longer before pushing the matter. In Jack’s world, threetavores can exist a little longer.

Thinking about a friend

Thinking about a friend.

Thinking about a young man, 38, a father of two with another baby coming in December. Thinking about a friend who is loved and adored by his wife, his parents and sisters and so many friends. Thinking about a special man who always seems more interested in others, this man with a gentle smile and easy laugh, this man who always has carved precious time out of his hectic life to help people he doesn’t even know.

Thinking of my friend, JP, who went to the doctor’s 10 days ago and learned he has cancer.

***

JP has stomach cancer, but there is good news.

His cancer is in the early stages. It has not spread to his organs. It has not metastized. It is not in his lymph nodes. The doctors (and they’re the best around) have a plan; they’re going to remove his stomach, get the cancer out of his body, and use chemo and radiation to knock the tar out of any other cancer cells possibly left behind. His wife Cindy is a savvy advocate, and they are surrounded by a ton of love and support.

And they will not be alone through this thing. In the months to come, it might not feel like it, but they will have the prayers and support of not only their friends and families, but strangers they might never know. I believe they will find strength in places, and in people, they never would have expected. I know that in some sick way, this will open doors to wisdom and insight the rest of us won’t have.

And I know that this, too, shall pass. This will suck. This will suck big-time in a lot of ways, no doubt, but I do believe this will pass. There will come a time when it won’t be the first thing they think of when waking, nor the last thing clawing at their minds as they finally succumb to sleep. I believe this.

***

I’m thinking about a friend. I’m thinking about his people. I’m praying for them, and I am behind them. So are hundreds of others. In this spirit, I ask you to say a prayer for him, to wish him well here, or maybe just go do something nice for a complete stranger, just like JP has done for so long.

Please … No Applause

He doesn’t like applause.

For God’s sake, when he’s dribbling across the field like a little Pele (and the kid really can dribble), do not clap for him — unless you wanna stop him in his tracks and watch him shut down, watch him stare at the grass and shove his hand into his mouth.

When it’s his turn to dance to “Oye Mamacita” for Grandma Carmen and Auntie Jenn, please do not clap or holler too much — unless you wanna see him yell, “No, I don’t like that,” and run into my arms, his lip out, brow furrowed, eyes down.

When you take him to work, and you say, “We’re gonna have fun, huh?” he’ll nod and say, “Yep.” And when you say, “We’ll go and visit some of my coworkers, too,” he’ll nod and say, “Yep.” But when you add, “And this time you’re gonna say hi to them, okay?” he just looks at you with these enormous brown eyes and informs, “No.”

And he lives up to his word.

My son Dylan, 3, takes time warming up. And he doesn’t like the spotlight. I understand these things. His mother doesn’t like the spotlight, either, and I think that’s just fine.

What amuses me is just how opposite he is from his big brother, who this past summer talked his way into dancing before thousands of people at a baseball game — for four innings. Dylan is far more happy to dance at home for the family, so long as no one makes too big a fuss.

Perfectly fine with me. I just think I might need to buy this kid a T-shirt announcing, “If You Wanna Clap, Wait for My Brother.”

Charlie Huston, you badass

I never knew Charlie Huston.

When we were growing up in adjacent East Bay suburbs, I didn’t know him. And when we were both at Chico State, where Charlie used to work with one of my best friends and hang out with one of my newspaper buddies, I still had no idea the guy existed. Even during my destructive run as a local theatre critic for the daily newspaper, I still didn’t know the aspiring actor when I crapped on one of his plays — our mutual friend, who told me 16 years later that Charlie had been in that play, reminds me of how I compared the production to those old Calvin Klein commercials where gorgeous men chanted Greek philosophy into the air. Subsequently referred to amongst artists and actors as “the infamous ‘Obsession’ ad review,” according to our mutual friend (now a successful editor and author), the review apparently popped some vessels in the Theater Department. (Sorry, Charlie. I was scared, confused and on deadline … and they never should’ve made me a critic)

Regardless, I didn’t know anything about the man. Then, in 2005, I read a blurb in the Chico alumni magazine about a guy who’d attended when I had, and who had (unlike me) published his first novel, “Caught Stealing” with Random House. I bought the book immediately; that wasn’t surprising. What was surprising was how quick I tore through the thing — staying up through the night to finish it even though I was the fatigued, sleep-deprived father of two “spirited” boys (1 and 4 at the time) and owner of a pretty consuming job. I loved “Caught Stealing,” and so did a lot of other people, including one dude you may have heard of — Stephen King, who recently called Charlie “one of the most remarkable prose stylists to emerge from the noir tradition in this century.”

Long story short, the unpublished novelist approaches the published novelist, who graciously grants the unpublished novelist invaluable manuscript feedback, publishing advice and email friendship. And the unpublished novelist is thinking, Why couldn’t have I met this guy in Chico? More than a year later, unpublished novelist learns from the mutual friend that the published novelist had been an actor in that “Calvin Klein” play, “The Trial of Socrates,” and the unpublished novelist feels his lunch surging at the base of his throat.

shotgun_final_with_king_pop.jpgAnd so now, all these years later, I have an opportunity for redemption. I have a chance to review another one of Charlie’s creative efforts — his new novel, “The Shotgun Rule,” which tells the story of four teens growing up in an East Bay suburb in ’83. And it is my extreme pleasure to report that Charlie, in my view, has penned his most compelling, heartfelt, authentic and engrossing novel yet. Of course, it doesn’t hurt when the book you’re reading captures the average teen-age boy’s life in the Tri-Valley area in ’83, and you were just such a person in ’83. Of course, it doesn’t hurt when the author refers to friends with Mohawks, music hierarchies involving the Dead Kennedy’s, AC Transit/BART trips to the city, eerily quiet neighborhoods in a commuter town and even guards from Amador Valley High (hey, I was a third-string guard on Amador’s frosh team, but I swear I didn’t deal drugs at a Livermore dive bar).

In the end, you realize “The Shotgun Rule” is far more than a page-turner (though, it could stand alone as that). This time around, with this Huston book, there’s so much more. You’re reminded that most fucked-up assholes in school were fucked-up assholes for a reason — and that reason usually had to do with their parents. That most kids with attitude problems were covering pain — and that pain usually came from their homes. That most people who encounter truly horrific violence must deal with its side effects for years. That what kids need most of all is help and support.

“The Shotgun Rule” has spent two weeks on The Los Angeles Times Bestseller List. How it can’t also soon make it to the San Francisco Chronicle’s Bestsellers list is beyond me — after all, the story is set in Livermore, and is so relevant to growing up in the East Bay. Regardless, I’d bet some serious cash that this won’t be the last Charlie Huston book you’ll see on a bestseller list.

Congrats, Charlie. You’re a good guy and one badass writer.

Blowing a set from Sinjin Smith

I don’t kid myself; I know my athletic limitations. At my worst, I am indecisive and awkward. At my best, I can surprise myself with a rare moment of grace. But when it comes to my signature sport, I can be a bit confident.

Well, until eight days ago.

What happened was, I didn’t want to hurt anyone. I swear. You see, my sons and I were just playing around at an impromptu “volleyball clinic” hosted by retired pro-beach stud-machine Sinjin Smith. It was during an intermission of the AVP’s pro-beach tournament in San Francisco. Spectators were simply playing “king of the court” in which everyone gets a chance to knock the other team off the court with one play. Sinjin was simply there to shake hands, pose for photos and offer basic coaching tips. But when Jack (6), Dylan (3) and Daddy (40) stepped onto the sand, Sinjin could see we’d need help.

He joined us.

My heart was pounding. Nearly 20 years ago, when I played club at Chico and spent the rest of my free time on nearby sand and grass courts, no one was bigger than Sinjin Smith. Now here I was with the genuine article. I might as well been asked to run a route for Raiders legend Jim Plunkett.

I looked around. Nancy was pointing the camera at us. Dylan and Jack were getting into position. Sinjin waited to help.

Holy shit, I can’t screw this up.

My serve cleared the net, one of the 12-year-old girls on the other side spiked the ball back over the net, I dug it up with a nice pass to the middle, Sinjin stepped up and laid down a perfect bump-set right where I love it — right where I could cream it. I approached from the left side, thinking …

Those girls are 12. I can’t kill this ball.

Dylan is running around like a crazy boy. I can’t plow into him.

The classy thing to do is just “dink” it over the net.

Oh, shit. My timing is off — way off.

Greg up in the air. .. People cheering. … Sinjin, Jack and Dylan watching. … Nancy clicking the camera. … Greg landing in the sand without touching the ball. … Greg finally reaching out and dinking the ball straight into the net. … Awkward silence ensues. … Sinjin looks at Greg like he’s wearing a tutu.

“You started way too far back off the net,” he says.

“I know, I just-”

“You gotta be much closer.”

“I know. I blew it.” Greg tries to look cool. “C’mon boys. We gotta get off the court.”

Waiting on the side was Nancy, who shows us the photo of Daddy and the boys in action with Sinjin Smith. I squint at the tiny screen and realize that I am completely out of the picture. So is the ball. “Hey, what can I say?” Nancy says. “I was focused on the boys.”

Just as well.

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