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Greg Bardsley

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My boys

They won’t let him be ‘him’

My poor son, Jack.

He says to me,  “No one is letting me be me.”

His eyes beg for sympathy, his lower lip eases out. He asks for a hug, and I open my arms with a heavy heart — my 8-year-old is hurting, and he needs me.

“What’s going on?”

“No one’s letting me be me.”

“Okay, but tell me more?”

“Like mom. … Tonight. … Not letting me …” Jack burries his face into my chest and mumbles, “pick my nose.”

“Jack. That was at the dinner table. You can’t pick your nose at the dinner table.”

“Why not?”

“I’m not having this conversation with you. If you need to pick your nose, go to the bathroom. Nose-picking at the dinner table will always get you in the dog house. Always. And it would be a disaster on a date.”

We hug a little more, and then I ask, “Who else is not letting you be you?”

He tells me about school. Apparently, some of the rules and procedures and curricula don’t jive with my expressive, language-oriented, naturalist son.

Math? Don’t even go there.

Penmanship? The banal work of simpletons who obviously don’t care about more important things, like how volcanos happen or how the White Oaks Elementary “bug club” might someday undermine the world’s insecticide companies.

He says, “I wish school had just two subjects: talking and reading.”

I nod in concession. That would be nice. I must admit.

Some kind of inspiration

3amNot too long ago, I saw a guy walk past my desk eating something on a stick.

It looked like it had little legs, that thing on a stick.

It jarred me.

I soon realized it was just a corn dog, but it gave me a great idea for a short story. Well, that and the troubling reality of acronym-inflation.

Add an interesting item from my son’s recently acquired book on Northern California insects, and I had some of the primary elements of my new short story, “Some Kind of Rugged Genius,” which now appears in 3:AM Magazine.

Of course, if roasted rat on a stick, California stink beetles and acronym insanity ain’t your thing, you may wanna pass on this one.

Our purple blanket

We have a purple blanket at our house. I’m not really sure when we got it, or how. All I do know is, it’s been with us for a long while.

There were the years when our large tabby cat, Indiana, would drag it around — his teeth clenching down on it, his legs straddling it, his hips pumping on it. I can’t tell you how many late nights I’d peek into my sons’ room only to find Indy doing his thing to our purple blanket.

I’d ease the door shut, make a note to come back.

Indy has passed, but our purple blanket is still subjected to extreme treatment. With our two sons around, it has been dragged over hardwood floors, stretched over chairs, used for tug-of-war contests, and twisted into knots in our Golden Retriever’s indoor pillow, collecting fur balls, wet kid food and various sticky items along the way. Our purple blanket is marked by rips, stains, fabric balls and Retriever hair, even after we pull it from the washer.

This past summer, our 4-year-old, Dylan, took to stuffing the blanket into his underpants and then parading through the house — stomping past us with his giant load, pumping his fists, mocking an earnest expression, failing to suppress a sly grin. We’d give him a time-out and hide the blanket. But eventually, Dylan would find our blanket and do it all over again.

Now, who’d like to come over and cozy up in our purple blanket?

Sunday …

Sunday morning. Heavy lidded. Half asleep. The sound of little feet padding into the bedroom. Open an eye. Dylan’s light-brown hair, a few strands sticking out in various directions. He throws his three stuffed animals — Goggy, Trotty and Dragon — onto the bed and climbs up. I pull him toward me. The boys had been gone for the better part of a week. I open an eye again. His giant almond eyes are looking at me, happy. He snuggles closer. We hug, Goggy, Trotty and Dragon smushed between us. I doze in and out, open an eye now and then. Big almond eyes looking at me. Quiet contentment. I pull him closer, and he sighs, happy.

Open an eye. Blond hair sticking up everywhere. Jack. Crawling up the bed, to the other side. In a moment, I have both of my boys in my arms. Totally silent and calm. No fighting or feces-centric insults. Is this real? A cruel trick of the mind? We lay there for a good half an hour, completely silent.

Could it get any better? Yes, it could. “Mommy” could be here. …

Sunday evening at SJC. Southwest flight 3843 from Burbank. Dylan and Jack sitting eagerly. Jack has picked out purple tulips, Dylan deep-orange sun flowers. Dylan grasps his bouquet with both hands, holding it out, looking down the aisle, past the security point. Finally, they see Mommy and bolt toward her, people parting for them. I guide our little group hug to a nearby bench seat.

Sure, we had our first family fight within 20 minutes, but that’s beside the point. Bliss is like a sunset — a brief, sweet and beautiful moment, gone in a minute. Until the next time.

Minutiae Monday — “it’s gonna be a zoo”

Let us begin the minutiae …

My 6-year-old son likes to take his guitar and “serenade the neighborhood” with his original songs. It’s proven to be a great way to attract lots of adults and children, which of course is his primary objective. … Plots with Guns just released another really strong set of stories, including those from Chimichanga friends Bryon Quertermous, Patti Abbot and Todd Robison. Added bonus: the stories are accentuated by some great art and another really cool design. Cool shit. Real deal. … I have to admit it felt good to see my short story, “Funny Face,” included on a short list recently created by DOGZPLOT. … This weekend: three birthday parties, three park adventures, one wet bed, four sleep relocations, one tee-ball game and one lingering cold. … I’m happy to report that my employer Sun Microsystems was named one of the world’s most ethical companies. … My wife and kids are participating in a school field trip to the San Francisco Zoo tomorrow. It’s gonna be a zoo there.

The grandaddy of all loose teeth

My 6-year-old Jack has a loose tooth. It is the granddaddy of all loose teeth.

What happened was, the first of his two front teeth fell out. That was last weekend. Apparently, the new vacancy gave his other front loose tooth space to wander. And wander it has. In the past few days, the tooth has dropped down more, slid right at a 45-degree angle and eased out against his upper lip.

The result: When he smiles, Jack looks like a 97-year-old backwoods moonshiner.

His friends love it. His mother can barely look at it. His desk neighbor in first-grade squealed in shock, then announced that his mouth looks like it belongs to a jackolantern (perfect analogy!). He’s having quite a lot of fun with it and makes a variety of truly funny faces, including a goofy Mona Lisa smile in which the loose tooth is the only one you see.

Every time Jack loses a baby tooth, the Tooth Fairy reaches under his pillow in the middle of the night, leaves a coin and puts the tooth with the others — in a secure, far-out-of-reach container. Sometimes I pick up that container and jiggle the teeth, marveling at how tiny they are, and at how big my first baby boy has become. Looking at them, I can almost smell the baby powder, hear the “gaga’s” and feel the baby fat that is long gone.

Call me crazy, but I’ll be just a little sad to see this latest tooth go.

Love for thy raspberry

My 3-year-old Dylan loves to blow raspberries. He’s pretty good at it.

Usually it’s a slow and gentle raspberry — the tongue is fat and wet, the lower lip is stuck out, the chin is jutted out, the eyes are calm. When he blows one of these beauties, I feel like laughing because it’s hilarious to be with someone who uses the raspberry quite seriously.

If his brother Jack antagonizes him, Dylan blows him a raspberry.

If he can’t get a toy to work properly, he blows a raspberry at it.

If he earns a time-out during dinner, we send him to the nearby garage. He knows it’s useless to resist because that will only bring on worse consequences. So he saunters to the door, opens it, steps into the garage, looks at us one last time, and gives us a raspberry. Then he shuts the door, nice and gentle.

Now he’s realizing that his raspberries are making people laugh, so he’s blowing them like there’s no tomorrow. And he can fly into a raspberry frenzy at any time, any place.

Case in point ….

The other day I tell Nancy that I’ll take the boys to the grocery store. She looks at me like I’ve lost my mind.

“When was the last time you’ve spent thirty minutes in a grocery store with both boys?” she asks.

“Why?”

She’s still looking at me like I’m crazy, and she’s fighting off a smile. “You sure you wanna do that?

Thirty minutes later, at Lunardi’s, the boys are whizzing up and down the aisles, each with his own little “Customer In Training” shopping cart. It sounds like a dozen Roman chariots are approaching my backside, and my skin goes cold. I turn and whisper-yell for them to slow down. A yuppie holding an enormous latte gives us a long, blank stare. An elderly couple passes us, their eyes twinkling at the boys.

In the produce section I’m fingering through avocados when Dylan backs into his “training” cart, which in turn eases into a tower of vinegar bottles. The sound of clanking glass gets my attention, and Jack laughs and hollers, “Whoa.”

“Dylan,” I yell. “Freeze.”

I can feel people watching us. My skin goes cold again.

“Okay,” I whisper-yell. “That’s it. No more cart.”

“Fine,” Dylan says, and marches off toward the bananas, blowing a raspberry with every happy stomp, pumping his arms like he’s pulling on train whistles, encouraged by the howls of his older brother. A woman in a giant denim skirt looks down at him as he raspberry-stomps past her, his brows furrowed in mock earnest, and continues toward the apples and peaches.

I have a full cart of groceries. This cart of groceries has been hard-earned. I am not going to abandon this cart of groceries, I won’t leave this store in defeat. I grab the items out of Dylan’s cart, throw them into mine, corral the boys and high-tail it to the checkout area, whispering to myself, “We’re out of here.”

At home, Nancy fakes innocence. “How did it go?” she asks, heavy on the calm motherly tone.

We look over at Dylan as he raspberry-stomps through the kitchen. Only now he’s inserting fart noises between each raspberry. Jack is still laughing.

“Yeah … Well … It looks like it was a relaxing experience for you,” Nancy deadpans, and she squeezes my forearm. “I’m happy for you.”

I swear it: I’ll never so much as crack a grin at another one of Dylan’s raspberries.

Some things never get old

Some things in life never get old. For males, it’s bathroom humor.

I will admit it. I’m not immune to the stuff. It can still make me laugh. It can make me laugh hard. And if all the bathroom-humor-oriented movies, books, stories and web sites out there are any indication, I am not the only adult with this weakness.

But now I have two sons. And there are times when, as their father, I really shouldn’t be laughing and pointing and nodding and even tearing up at their potty humor (namely, when at the dinner table or in public). But sometimes it’s damn tough, and I find myself forcing a straight face as I tell them to cut that out, you don’t talk about poo-poo sandwiches at the dinner table. And there are times when even my wife fails to keep from laughing at what our 3-year-old son Dylan has come up with.

Which, of course, causes Dylan to beam with pride — fortified by the laughter of his audience — as he resolves to dive deeper into his potty-humor repertoire.

For Dylan these days, songs, monologues, jokes and games centered around “poo and privates,” as he calls his subject matter, never lose their luster. He just can’t get enough. Case in point: This weekend, the boys were wondering how many days have passed since they’ve been born. I worked out the math, and they were fascinated. Then Jack wondered how many days have passed since “prehistoric bugs” roamed the earth and even offered his best guess: “Three million, two hundred, fourteen-thousand, twenty-five trillion and seventy-two katrillion days.”

I turned to Dylan. “And what’s your guess?”

Dylan takes a deep breath. “I think its been two-four-ten pee-pee-pillion, one diarrhea-rillion and one poo-poo-pillion days.”

I stared at him and bit my lip, fighting the urge to grin, thinking, Ah, to be three again.

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.”

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