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Greg Bardsley

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Minutiae Monday — “Unwanted views of my mid-section”

Let’s dive right in with this week’s serving of minutiae:

One of my son’s teammates in T-ball likes to take a load off atop of third base, where he proceeds to pour handfuls of dirt over his legs until his dad hollers for him to stand-up. … Watching my 3-year-old fly down a steep hill on his Razor scooter brings my stomach to the base of my throat. … The master-bathroom mirror in our rental house must have been made for very small people, which explains why all I see of myself are some very unwanted views of my mid-section (can’t even see my shoulders) … I have to admit: I do like fried rice. … One mommy + one daddy + two boys + one queen bed + 5 in the morning = Daddy taking his pillow and stumbling to the couch. … Sunglasses keep breaking on me. I’m like the Bermuda Triangle of sunglasses. … I’ve entered a period in which people from my college days are contacting me. … The same unopened can of “Pork with Natural Juices” has been with me at every job I’ve had since I graduated from college in ’91 (as a reporter, I used to cover “government pork”; plus, I love pork and lard humor). I plan to open it when I retire. … At dusk last night I dug up and replanted a hydrangea.

Minutiae Monday — “Me no remember”

It’s Monday, which means it’s time for minutiae …

I fired off a new short story to a crime magazine. … My son Jack spent the entire Saturday in his Giants T-ball uniform. … A demolition crew is tearing up my backyard. … For the third time in a month, I called a new acquaintance “Tom” — only problem is, his name is still Peter. … Bryon Quertermous posted a soulful entry about the pursuit of successful novel-writing. … In my two days of sitting through jury selection for a murder trial, prospective jurors came up with a variety of reasons for being excused. They included, “My psychiatric condition is already declining.” … “I’m very bad at English.” [Repeatedly effective reason]… “I’m prejudiced. … “I’m sleeping with a police detective.” [Very effective] … “All my best friends are cops.” … “The defendant reminds me of my son.” … “I’m very forgetful.” [Extremely effective] As Day 2 wore on, a new friend and I joked that if we were selected, the best thing to say was, “Me no remember well. Me make love with polices.”

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?

Plotting to “upper-deck”

Long ago, my sister told me about a truly grotesque and depraved “activity” — an activity that attracts only the most emotionally stunted and lowest-functioning individuals from the depths of civilization’s sewage system.

I never forgot about that activity. In fact, I wrote a story about it.

Today, this activity is at the heart of my short story, “Upper Deck,” which is included in the debut edition of the resurrected Plot with Guns crime magazine. And I couldn’t be more happy. Nor more honored.

Anthony Neil SmithDuring it’s previous five-year run, Plots with Guns earned its reputation for running award-wining crime fiction by anyone from Duane Swierczynski to Charlie Stella to Scott Wolven. And today, in its new form, the first edition achieves a wonderfully off-center, slightly artistic but never-pretentious persona — and I love it. Crime novelist Anthony Neil Smith wants to populate his quarterly with “contemporary transgressive/noir fiction,” and I think he might be on to something.

So I’ll admit it — I’m tickled, I’m thrilled, I’m honored. And yes, I’m a tad giddy to have “Upper Deck” included.

Now go check it out. … And let me know what you think.

Plots with Guns cover

Huffin’ & pantin’ & moo-moos

About 17 years ago, when I was fresh out of college and at my first daily newspaper, an older, morbidly obese woman would periodically saunter into the newsroom — always huffing and panting, and always wearing a floral moo-moo dress.

She was nice enough, except for her unwanted shoulder rubbing.

What would happen was, I’d be on deadline, finishing yet another story on mosquito abatement, when she’d approach from behind and start rubbing. The first time it happened, I was paralyzed — shocked beyond movement. The second time, I gritted my teeth, cringed and hunched up my shoulders, waiting for it to end.

“You like that?” she huffed in my ear.

“Um, thanks.” Still cringing. Shoulders still hunched. “Well, better get back to work.”

She panted closer, whispering in her husky voice. “Well, I’m just doing what I wish someone would do to me.”

All these years later, that line is still a favorite around my house, especially after a long day. The kids are finally asleep after another evening of unleashing boyish aggression throughout the household. Everyone’s bones are aching. Everyone is exhausted. Everyone just wants to veg on the couch. But you muster the energy to massage your spouse’s shoulders for a moment, and he or she sighs in relief, eyes closed, totally exhausted, thanking you profusely, which is when you say in a husky voice under your breath, “Well, I’m just doing what I wish someone would do to me.”

Good times.

‘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.

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.

I know what’s going on

I’m on to you, buddy.

I have to admit, you have a good game. When we see each other, you smile and you charm and you engage. In fact, it’s quite apparent you don’t have a malicious bone in your body. After all, you like people – you really like people. You care about saying the right thing at the right time, and you shudder at the thought of being rude or offensive or hurtful. You want people to like you, just as you like them.

But I am on to you. I’m so on to you. In fact, I have given you a name — the nice asshole (N.A.) — and have identified some of your telling characteristics and behaviors.

Most importantly, the nice asshole does whatever he wants, regardless of who he puts out. So what if someone, for instance, has spent the better part of a Saturday preparing a nice meal for him and others? The nice asshole has found something better to do, and he’ll cancel with little notice — but always in a charming and gracious way, in that special way that doesn’t really annoy the host until hours later.

So what if a nice asshole’s children rev their muscle cars and lay down rubber in front of your house at 2am each night, despite your polite interventions? He will just shake his head, release a concerned sigh and identify with your frustration, saying things like, “I know, those boys wake me up every night, too.” But will the nice asshole do anything about it? Will he be considerate of his neighbors and take the unpleasant step of confronting his overgrown children? Hell no.

That is because nice assholes do not like confrontation. And as a consequence, they will utilize their above-average emotional intelligence to sidestep awkward moments of extreme candor and confrontation. They have found that if you’re gonna do someone wrong, if you’re gonna be exceptionally self-centered, you might as well do it in the most non-confrontational, charming and gracious way possible.

But don’t think you’ve fooled me, Mr. N.A. You’re still doing people wrong. You’re still being an inconsiderate jerk. Your self-obsession still manifests itself in a variety of ways — from your loud cars to your slight-of-hand tricks of corporate-offloading. You’re still more than willing to put people out, to treat others poorly, albeit graciously, to do what you want, when you want.

I am lucky. I really don’t have any nice assholes in my day-to-day life. Of course, we all encounter few from time to time, but my N.A. exposure is minimal. So friends and family and colleagues, please don’t think I’m writing about you. I’m not.

Seriously.

But for anyone who’s suddenly worried they might fit the N.A. profile, reform now. There is hope for you yet.

My twisted little ‘baby’

My twisted little baby. How could have I guessed that something so sick as you could spring from the recesses of my mind? And how could have I guessed that, in some warped way, you would please and amuse others? My twisted little baby, yet another lovechild from the union of sick humor and crime fiction — at first just an inspiration, at first just an idea for exploring a fascinating, though little-known, activity. My sweet child taking a life of its own, developing into its full, grotesque, short-story form. My twisted little baby, you are the reason I write fiction. Weeks after your creation, I still laugh when I think of you, still puff my chest with pride for having sprung you.

My twisted little baby, I am glad you are mine. But now it’s time to fly, little one. Fly and spread your wings.

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