Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Supernatural Occurrences

774. It wasn't anything I thought consciously about; it had appeared in my mind's eye without so much as a breath of effort. I waited patiently for the page to load and for the chime indicating that I had new mail to go off. It sounded. 774. I smirked, unsurprised, and clicked on the first new piece; this had happened before.

For as long as I can remember I've had an uncanny, nearly-unconscious precognitive ability. It is not something that I have ever been able to hone, nor have I ever tried to obtain mastery over it. It would be nice to know what number would come up next at a roulette table or what the blackjack dealer was holding...but somehow that doesn't seem right; it's not how things are supposed to go.

I call it a parlor trick of the mind, or, at times, a psychic twinkle. More often than not, it manifests itself in innocuous, meaningless ways. I've lost count of how many times I've woken up in the middle of the night, wondering what time it was, then seeing a number in my mind's eye, and either rolling over to see that exact time or the clock or waiting a few minutes and then experiencing the same thing. Sometimes it's the temperature on the thermostat (I'll know that it's 72 degrees upstairs before I get up there, for example), or, as it was today, some other random number like the amount of mail I keep saved in my AOL inbox.

All of that, though, pertains to the parlor trick aspect of it; the psychic twinkle episodes have been a bit more arcane. I've had moments of precognition where I reach for my cell phone a second before it rings; on a few of those occasions I was even thinking of the person who called or texted me right before the phone went off. The most common way that the psychic twinkle seems to make itself known is also the least explainable. On dozens of occasions I have thought of someone, either a friend or a family member, and knew that something had just happened to them. Sometimes it's something positive, like finding out about passing test scores, or getting good news, but more often it's not. Usually I get a funny feeling that something unsettling or upsetting has just happened to that person and, when I speak to them later on, I'll ask them if everything is okay. Depending upon the strength and clarity of the feeling, I'll offer details as well. The result is often a moment of surprise or shock followed by confusion and then an explanation for what happened and a question as to how I knew; I'm almost never wrong.

The single most bizarre experience that I have had like this involved a dream. I hadn't seen nor spoken to my brother for a few months as he was out to sea with his naval unit. One night I had a dream that I was standing with him atop a docked submarine. It was night and nearly pitch black; we were both wearing dark-colored pea coats. The frigid air flew in wisps away from his mouth as he spoke to me, unconsciously lifting his gloved hands to his mouth and blowing on them for additional warmth. I had a foreboding feeling throughout the dream and, at the end, he said goodbye to me and walked up a strange, spectral staircase that led skyward from the submarine. I woke up in tears fearing that he had died. When I calmed down I realized that I was reading too much into the dream; still, though, the feeling gnawed at me, persisting and growing in intensity--something had happened.

Finally, when I could stand it no longer, I called my sister and asked if she had been in contact with our brother. Detecting the heightened emotion in my voice, she said yes and asked me why I was asking. I told her that I had a feeling that something bad had happened to him, that he was injured or somehow endangered. She remained silent on the other end of the line for a few tense moments before informing me that the previous night (when I had had my dream), my brother had slipped while performing a watch atop the docked submarine and injured his back. She was as amazed as I was by the prescience of my dream.

Though I have had other far more fantastic experiences than the aforementioned dream, I must turn away from my reminiscences and focus instead on the purpose I wished to elucidate through this entry. It goes without saying that there is much that we do not understand about ourselves and the world we live in. It also goes without saying that children have far more active and lively imaginations than we do. What I found myself wondering early this morning, though, is whether or not children are more attuned to such supernatural phenomena and, if so, what types of experiences do they have? Their version of "normal" differs greatly from that which we, as adults, are conditioned to accept. Is it truly that children's imaginations are more powerful than adults'...or is it simply that we must turn our faculties away from that which is viewed as fanciful or whimsical and instead use our brain power to focus on the banalities of balancing budgets and drafting weekly shopping lists?

I ponder these things because, as I look at my son, sleeping serenely, I can't help but wonder...what secrets of the universe is he privy to that go unseen or unnoticed by the rest of us? I have watched him sleep hundreds of times in his three months of living and, as early as his first few days of life, his eyes darted to and fro behind his lowered lids; he was dreaming, or so it seemed. Researchers can offer only their best of postulations as to what babies dream of, positing that it is their daily experiences that are being relived in their sleep. I've spent entire days with Timmy where nothing out of the ordinary has happened and yet as he sleeps he will let out a whimper, clenching his face as if in great fear. Was he recalling a series of faded shapes swirling before his face from earlier in the day...or was it something else?

Perhaps there is something to be said for reincarnation. I've long since wondered if babies are born with recycled souls, so to speak. They cannot move nor can they speak for a relatively predictable range of time, one that is undeniably tied into their physiological and neurological development...but what if it's something more? I've played around with the theory that during the period that infants cannot speak they are going through a process of forgetting the memories of their past lives. It could explain why infants have bad dreams or why they dream at all. It could also explain why many of us have those metaphysical moments of remembering something that has never happened to us before. Of course, it could also simply be neural impulses that have nothing to do with such fringe-science worthy topics; it is all subjective anyway.

Still, I cannot help but wonder whether or not Timmy sees, hears, feels, or otherwise experiences things that both Heather and I are oblivious to. I have had scores of eerie experiences throughout my life where I have felt an unseen presence in the room with me. During the first week that Heather and I lived in our apartment after moving in, we heard someone coming up the steps from the first floor up to the main level of the apartment, and then up to the loft where we were sitting. The footfalls were deliberate and unmistakable; this was not an old house settling. Both of us feared that someone had broken into the apartment as we heard the footsteps reach the landing directly in front of us...and yet no one was there. The sound stopped as the last step was trod upon--the one that was level with where we sat. We sat in pensive silence, holding our breaths, waiting to see what, if anything, would materialize...and then we felt nothing. It was as if whoever or whatever it was wanted simply to scope out the new tenants living in the house.

I bring up the previous point because Timmy has exhibited signs of detecting an unseen visitor in the house on a few occasions. Once, while Heather and I were sitting and playing with him on the floor, he looked up with mild surprise and proceeded to turn his eyes across the room behind us, as if following a moving figure. He fixed his gaze at a point on the other side of the room where, naturally, there was no one, and he remained staring for a few seconds with his head cocked before turning his attention back to us. We have had guests over who have held Timmy when, suddenly, he will look up and past them, as if watching someone who is standing, unseen, directly behind them. One of our friends picked up on this and even asked if there was someone behind him (incidentally, this is a person who has shared in many fantastic and unexplained phenomena with me in the past, so this type of thing is nothing new to him).

I suppose I will have to wait until Timmy can speak to get a better sense of what he sees and hears. If my experiences with uncontrolled paranormal activity (such as the mental parlor trick and psychic twinkle), as well as those that were controlled (a perfect record of twenty-five for twenty-five with Tarot predictions, for example; it's been years since I've dabbled with the cards--I put them down because it didn't feel right...it was as if I was divining the future using some sort of dark power. The feeling was both unnerving and addicting), it might suggest that I am either predisposed or inclined to such things. I do not think that there is anything unique or special about me and would offer that I am probably only mildly more open to these sorts of happenings than other people. Then again, it could all just be in my mind anyway.

Somehow, though, I don't think that that is the case. I'm looking forward to seeing if my son shares in any of these experiences but, if he doesn't, at least I'll be able to tell whether or not he's late coming home when he's a teenager...all without looking up at the clock!

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Power of Numbers

I had intended originally to write this post a few days ago but in the process of setting it up I found myself lost in thought about the relationship between mathematics and the universe. I meant for this post then to follow that one but, as so often happens, other experiences and ideas got in the way and thus this post has been postponed (couldn't resist) until now.

Touching back upon a point I raised in my previous post about numbers, I have always wondered whether or not there exist certain occult relationships between specific numbers and particular individuals. Some cultures believe in the theory of "Threes," meaning that all things, both good and bad, occur three at a time. The number thirteen has been feared for thousand of years, with Triskaidekaphobia being one of the most popular phobias in American culture. Many office buildings omit the thirteenth floor, going from twelve to fourteen (though, as the late comic Mitch Hedberg points out, "If you jump out of the fourteenth floor window hoping to kill yourself, you will die earlier.”)

Fear and reverence of particular numbers has existed both in religion and cultural beliefs for thousands of years. The number "666" has been associated with evil and is either feared or revered depending upon which side of the fence you find yourself. Culturally, numbers often dictate how and when different things occur. These numbers are viewed as good and evil, lucky and unlucky, especially in Chinese culture:


My interest, though, is not necessarily in lucky numbers or digits with widespread beliefs and associations. Instead, I am curious about specific numbers that follow particular people, much like some songs seem to do (my brother appears to be haunted by the song "Sympathy for the Devil," as it seems to be played at nearly every bar at which he finds himself). My brother-in-law is obsessed with and fascinated by the apparent importance of the number 29 in his life. His birthday is January 29th (1/29). His neighbor's birthday is May 29th (5/29) and his mother's birthday is November 29th (11/29). My birthday is March 29th and fit perfectly into his belief. Between the four of us we had nearly all of the odd-numbered months covered in terms of birthdays: 1/29, 3/29, 5/29, and 11/29. Though there is no quantifiable importance that he can ascribe to the number, he feels an intangible connection to it nonetheless.

Until recently, I had never had such a number. My two favorite numbers (if indeed I would even call them that) growing up were 1 and 10. Ten was the number my favorite basketball player wore during his career and one always represented what I strived for. In academics and sports I sought always to achieve the number one spot. I graduated first in my class in elementary school at the age of eleven but I suppose that if the number one truly has an importance for me it would be that I have always been considered a leader by my peers, my parents, and my friends--the first to do certain things or the leader at the head of the pack. I was the first of my friends to publish a novel, to get married, to earn a graduate degree, to have a child, and to visit nearly every state in our union. I suppose I associate it with my drive to succeed and my inborn desire to lead.

My competitive fire is always stoked by my drive to finish first. I remember picking up "The Bible Game" for the Playstation 2 after seeing it in Best Buy for five dollars. I was curious as to what a Bible video game would entail and set about playing it one night at Heather's house with the neighbor mentioned earlier. Things began to get heated as he and I attempted to cross the parted Red Sea before it collapsed back upon itself. Our characters jostled one another, jockeying for position, shoving one another both into the water and into as many obstacles as we could...for the express purpose of finishing first...in the Bible Game. I remember laughing at the irony and recognizing that the lesson likely intended to be inscribed on us was lost amid our thirst for dominance (I won the race, for what it's worth. We also took undue pleasure in unleashing various plagues and "The Wrath of God" upon one another in a different mini-game).

Cover of The Bible Game                      Racing through the parted Red Sea

I have always found it ironic that, for all of the importance that the numbers 1 and 10 have had for me, the numbers 2 and 20 have borne an equal significance for one of my best friends growing up, with surprising accuracy. His favorite basketball player wore the number 20, demonstrating the relationship and comparison to mine, and his personality has always been that of the follower. I mean that with no disrespect to him whatsoever--he is his own man and is a respectable one at that. Being shy during his adolescent years, though, and perhaps given my arguably strong personality, he was more inclined to let Bobby and I blaze the path upon which he would tread without hesitation; his following was as much about his trust and respect for us as it was his own disinclination to lead. I must note that now, in the latter half of his twenties, he has grown into a fine leader in his own right. I attribute this both to his inborn qualities and to the time that we spent apart from our friendship during his first year in college. I believe that he needed to breathe and to be free of what can be the overpowering grip of my friendship and, in so doing, he forged his own friendships and served as the leader or catalyst for his own group.

Ultimately, though, I find myself with an eerie connection to the number 27. This connection began a generation earlier and, as it would seem, has trickled down from my father to me. For him, the bond began with a John Denver song penned in 1972. The song, "Rocky Mountain High," begins with the verse:

He was born in the summer of his 27th year,
coming home to a place he'd never been before.
He left yesterday behind him;
you might say he was born again--
might say he found a key for every door.
When he first came to the mountains
his life was far away
on the road and hanging by a song.
But the strings already broken
and he doesn't really care,
it keeps changin' fast, and it don't last for long.
It's a Colorado Rocky Mountain High,

In my Dad's twenty-seventh year he took a life-altering journey westward, moving his family for the first time away from New York and out, indeed, to Colorado. The Rocky Mountain State offered him fresh opportunity--a sense of starting over, beginning his life anew in a place he had never been before but which now represented his home. The life he had lived to that point did seem far away and the happiness and peace that he would ultimately find upon returning to the East Coast seemed even further away, remaining unseen by the young family man and traveler.

I had always had a fascination with both the state of Colorado and the Rocky Mountains. It goes without saying that both attained a mystical quality in my mind as a direct result of my father's experiences; this was a place that he had traveled to during a time of great change in his life. To me, it represented an epic journey, one that I would look forward to undertaking for the next fifteen or sixteen years: the cross-country road trip. I will explore the esoteric importance of such a trek for a young man in a future post but suffice to say I knew in my early childhood that I would one day undertake this journey and, in my heart of hearts, I knew that I would do so at the age of twenty-seven, much like my Dad.

I wound up being fifty-percent correct. I did indeed take that trip to Colorado but at the tender age of twenty-two, not twenty-seven. The experience of journeying to Colorado, as well as my time spent there, was every bit as exhilarating, magical, and life-altering as I had anticipated it to be. In fact, the totality of the experience far exceeded my already high expectations. The only thing that fell short was that connection that I thought I would have with being twenty-seven. That, I would not find out until January 2010 and would not begin to understand until much more recently.

Sometime during February or perhaps even early March, I reflected on my upcoming change in age. I realized that I would be turning twenty-seven and, as if a light bulb turned on above me, I understood that I shared a connection to the protagonist of "Rocky Mountain High" as my father did. Though I had already taken my westward journey years earlier, I did feel like I had been reborn during my twenty-seventh year (though, admittedly, I was still twenty-six at the time). Going through both the experience of Timmy's birth and the adjustment to my life upon bringing him home from the hospital, I found that I truly did feel like a new man...perhaps even like a man for the very first time.

I suddenly found myself accountable not only to myself but to another tiny person--a little life that had turned my world upside down and helped me to feel what it was like truly to be living. Though I had obviously been accountable to my wife as well, this was a different feeling of responsibility; she is an incredibly competent woman and an adult, who did not then and does not now need me to take care of her. Everything that I did had a new level of consideration added to it, from the most mundane of activities such as food shopping (i.e. how would I transport Timmy through the store with me? Would he stay asleep and comfortable for the duration of the time I spent shopping?) to my most enjoyed recreational activities (i.e. basketball and hiking--what if I got hurt? How would that impact my ability to take care of him?) I truly felt as if I had, "...left yesterday behind [me]" as Timmy's birth helped me to feel as if I were born again.

My parents had noticed some things about the numbers surrounding Timmy's birth that could have some degree of mystical meaning. His birth date was January 26th (1/26), which would be identical to his due date (2/16) if one transposed the first and middle numbers. One of the readings in church that Tuesday was from Timothy in the Bible. It was certainly a coincidence, at least on some level.

The connection, though, between Timmy's birthday, due date, and the number twenty-seven made itself apparent to me the other day. I was thinking of the number and Timmy's birth date came to mind. I realized that if you add the month and the date (1 + 26) that you would get 27. Coincidentally, if you do the same with his due date, with a slight modification (adding 21 + 6 instead of 2 + 16) you also get 27. Even the time that Timmy was born (2:34 p.m.) can be made to equal 27 (23 + 4). I also recalled that my due date was March 27th.

The danger in ascribing importance to numbers is the same as believing in statistics (which, one could argue, is exactly that--meaningless numbers imbued with subjective relevance and importance): both can be manipulated, to some degree, in whatever way we choose. Though the purpose of the latter is to provide information, the actual application is often marred by our innate and unconscious ability and effort to slant things in ways that are favorable to and for us. As far as manipulating numbers, I think the danger is when you get really complicated with it. I'm performing one mathematical operation for my purposes--addition. When you begin doing the whole, "...well if you add this number to it, and then multiply by that one, and subtract this number and that...you get the EXACT date that J.F.K. was assassinated!" type of thing, it necessarily diminishes the power of those numbers. The fact that I am simply combining the existing numbers in a straightforward way preserves some of their mystical meaning for me. More simply, I want them to mean something. Just why that is I cannot explain.

I suppose that, at its core, our fascination with numbers is simply a mystery and nothing more. Perhaps its part of our communion with the universe (see previous post for more on that). It is both inexplicable and intriguing. It motivates people to do or not to do things (see "The Ides of March" for Caesar's take or lack thereof on the issue. I'll never forget Esther Deutsch lobbying Mr. Lowenstein for our AP European History examination to be moved one day back because it was on the Ides of March and she was afraid that she (or perhaps all of us) would perform poorly on the test. He didn't move it; we all did fine).

Stephen King provides some excellent examples of understanding and utilizing the importance of numbers. One of his more recent popular stories (and film adaptations) was called "1408." It was about a haunted room in a creepy hotel where previously unexplainable murders and suicides had occurred. The relationship between the title and my discussion? 1408 adds up to the number thirteen (1+4+0+8). More importantly though is King's connection to the number nineteen. It appears in nearly every book of the Dark Tower saga, as well as numerous other works (both related and unrelated to his magnum opus). He speaks of the importance of the number in the essay "On Being Nineeteen," found in the foreword of the re-releases of the first four novels of the Dark Tower heptalogy. To say that it is an important number to him is an understatement--he rewrote three novels, including one he had first published twenty-five years earlier, to incorporate the number nineteen as a mystical symbol (as well as to make other changes that would help to provide stronger coherence between the novels, thus tying them more directly to their future brother and sister novels).

King has nineteen, my brother-in-law has twenty-nine, John Denver, my Dad, and I all have twenty-seven...so where does that leave Timmy? My guess is that his special number will be twenty-six. He was born on the twenty-sixth and his due date was simply a rearrangement of his birthday digits. When I came home the second and final night that we would be staying at the hospital to prepare the house for Timmy and Heather's homecoming, my landlord had asked me to come downstairs to their apartment. She presented me with a bag filled with gifts for Timmy. She was particularly fond of and especially excited by a hat that she had gotten for him; it had the number twenty-six emblazoned on its front.

"What are the odds?" she said.

If the magical connection between people and numbers holds any actual weight, I would say that they are pretty damn good.

To Know When The Storm Is Coming

A few years ago my best friend and I decided to go for a hike through Harriman State Park. It was a place that we had hiked at a number of times and, as we arrived at the gravel parking area that day, we faced an impressive streak of wild moments to uphold. On the previous trek my buddy almost backed his van into a lake when he mistook a thick layer of flowers resting on the water for gravel. I spoke up at the last second and prevented us from having a soggy schlep back home. We joked about this as we exited the van, stretched, and double-checked our packs. We headed into the woods along the path and I stubbed my toe on a rock. Bobby, putting his own cat-like agility on exhibition, proceeded to jump atop a small log as he said, "Be careful bro! If you bust your ass, I don't want to have to carry you back out!" No sooner did he speak than the log rolled out from beneath him, sending him skyward before gravity resumed its mastery and pulled him back--hard--to the ground. Even with the wind knocked out of him he attempted to laugh at the irony. I helped him up and said nothing, more because I was stunned by the fact that he had fallen than I was impressed by the twist of fate. Seeing him fall, for me, was akin to seeing a cat fail to land on its feet, or walking a dog and seeing it trip for no apparent reason.

We continued along on our journey in high spirits, enjoying the serenity of the forest, the beautiful weather around us, and the pervasive calmness of the day. As we headed deeper into the woods we began to lose sight of the blue expanse above us. When we first left the parking area we were traveling beneath a deep azure sky dotted with a few white fluffy clouds; we had no reason to think that we would have anything but perfect weather.

A half hour or so into our hike we decided to stop for a quick lunch break. We had been immersed in conversation, reminiscing about old times and carrying some of our favorite tunes from the late nineties. We found a large, obtuse boulder, roughly eight to ten feet in height and decided that we would undertake the challenge of scaling it. After a few minutes of plotting out our climb, we found ourselves sitting atop the gargantuan stone, enjoying an excellent view of the surrounding woodlands.

As I munched on my peanut butter and jelly sandwich I unintentionally tuned out Bobby as he spoke to me. I noticed a sound that had gone unnoticed the entire time we had been sitting on the rock: complete and utter silence. As I perked my ears towards the hollow echoes bouncing through the forest, I realized that I did not hear a single bird chirping; it was quiet enough to hear a squirrel fart (Disclaimer: though I have never heard the sound I would imagine it would be both faint and dainty...fainty, then, perhaps?) I noticed that the silence felt heavy--a point my mind elected to focus in on.

All at once my brain deconstructed the significance of both the silence and the heaviness. The weight was not merely from the lack of sound but truly pervaded the air itself; there was an electric current running through the forest breeze. I realized the terrible predicament that we were in only a few seconds before it revealed itself to us. I said to Bobby, "Don't animals take shelter before a storm rolls through?" As Bobby attempted to respond his words were overpowered by a deafening thunderclap that shook the forest. Three words came to mind immediately--a couplet and a lone imperative:

Oh shit.



As fast as our hands would allow us, Bobby and I scooped up our lunch items and tossed them back into our packs. Acting purely on instinct, we both dove from atop the enormous rock, hunching down as we landed to disperse the shock on our knees, and, quite literally, hit the ground running. As if on some Hollywood cue, no sooner did we begin our frantic rush along the path than the skies opened up with some of the most violent thunder and lightning I had ever experienced outdoors. After running for a few hundred yards (and, truthfully, with my lungs feeling like they were being dissolved in battery acid), I stopped and realized that we weren't getting wet. It was apparent that a tempest was raging above us but the rain wasn't penetrating the forest's relatively dense canopy. Using this as an excuse to slow down (though truthfully needing to catch my breath before I passed out) I began to walk...until another epic thunderclap shook the forest and I realized that, though I was not getting wet, I was still surrounded by hundreds of trees...during a thunderstorm; the fire was re-lit beneath my feet and I took off in pursuit of Bobby.

By the time we made it to the edge of the forest (where Bobby had taken his fall), the storm had passed. We exited the path and reentered the parking area beneath a crisp cerulean sky shimmering with brilliant afternoon effulgence; the day always seems to take on a renewed beauty after a rainstorm. We surveyed as much of the sky as we could espy and saw not a single dark cloud; there were, in fact, no clouds in the sky at all. We walked back to the van and saw one single raindrop streaking down the windshield like some vagabond tear; we could not believe it--it was as if we had made the entire thing up.

The purpose of my reminiscence here is to provide an example as to why it is important to learn from one's experiences. On Wednesday I decided to take Timmy out for a stroll, having walked twelve miles with him on Monday and rested on Tuesday. Heather had mentioned that the weather might turn later in the day but she wasn't sure. Her words came back to mind as I prepared Timmy for our walk around four o'clock. Looking out through our upstairs window I saw nothing but a vicious obsidian sky roiling outside. Looking through a window on the other side of the house, though, I found myself staring out at a mottled, fading blue swath. This was the direction of the walk and, as I watched the dark clouds, I noted that they were moving away from where I intended to go. "No worries!" I said to myself.

It had been somewhat chilly when I had gone out earlier in the day so I was sure to don a hoodie before heading out. By the time I had been walking for ten minutes or so I was sweating profusely. I was also quite confused. The air was chilly but the mugginess seemed to have its own warmth. The late-afternoon pastel I had seen in the sky was now turning slate gray. As noted earlier, I was aware of the fact that we would potentially be getting bad weather but it didn't seem like anything to be concerned about. I told Timmy that we might have to cut our walk slightly short (as I had intended to do at least two or three laps up the mammoth hill in Clove Lakes Park--now I figured we would do only one or two); still, the skies darkened.

Lost both in thought and in muted conversation with Timmy, I stopped for no apparent reason after turning onto Maine Avenue. All at once my heart started pounding and I recognized immediately both the familiar stillness and silence that had taken over the afternoon. I recognized the single alarmed tweet of a bird in a tree and how heavy the sound fell amid the surrounding silence. I wasted no time, praying quickly for only ten minutes to make it home and promising to run up the large hill upon which our block sat (as if this would somehow demonstrate my appreciation and serve as an adequate sacrifice of physical energy). I knew not to press my luck and knew also that I had my own obliviousness and obtuseness to blame for my predicament (I neglected to mention that I decided NOT to bring the weather shield for the stroller and, worse, that I had actually removed it from the bag prior to leaving the house); I should have realized sooner what had likely been in the air the entire time--the static signature of the coming storm.

Power-walking like a champion, I rushed to the corner and made a right turn, ultimately heading back towards the boulevard I had traversed. The sky rumbled like a hungry giant and I felt a few errant drops of moisture pluck me in the forehead. Echoing Jill Taylor from Home Improvement willing a bowling strike, I closed my eyes and crossed my fingers, muttering "Pleasepleasepleasepleasepleaseplease don't start raining! Just eight more minutes! That's all I need!" I reached the street I had been strolling along only minutes before and I broke into a mad dash, slowing down for the blocks where the concrete was a jagged mess. I kept mentally calculating and re-calculating the number of blocks I had yet to go and the perceived amount of time I had remaining, as if God's acceptance and recognition of my plea was a foregone conclusion; still, the rain held off.

As the number of blocks remaining decreased, I maintained a verbal countdown that meant as much to reassure me as it did to keep Timmy informed; he was, after all, still asleep and utterly unaware of the coming weather calamity. Running the final block to make the traffic light, I made it back to our block safely and, keeping my word (again, as if this was a part of my unwritten agreement with the unseen Lord of the universe) I ran the length of the hill up to our walkway; the precipitation was still holding off. Deciding not to bother with dismantling the stroller and bringing in both it and the car seat separately, I decided to lift the entire unit (the adrenaline was pumping quite well at this point) up the stairs, unlocked the door, and pushed the whole stroller into our narrow entryway. Breathing heavily--almost panting, if truth be told--I set about removing the car seat from the stroller. Having freed Timmy and his seat from the travel unit, I carried him upstairs and took my first deep sigh of relief. Unsure of what to do now, I decided to carry him upstairs in his seat as I saw no need to wake the sleeping child. I came back downstairs to grab myself a glass of water, completely oblivious to what was occurring outside. It was only when I returned to the top floor of our apartment and lay down on the chaise that I realized that the wicked, King Lear-esque storm had truly begun. The fluid fury that was unleashed upon the windows sounded like heavy artillery fire; the wind could have easily been mistaken for a hundred Banshees tearing out their own throats.

As the house shook with repeated bomb-blasts of thunder, I sipped at my water and watched Timmy, laying peacefully in his car seat. My instinct was to pick him up, to hold him tightly to my chest so as to quell his fear and prevent him from getting upset in the face of the weather phenomenon occurring outside. I realized, though, that he was oblivious to the storm; as they say, ignorance is bliss. Instead, I found myself reflecting on what I hope will be scores of future outdoor adventures with my son. It is one of my secret hopes that he will have as much an interest in the wilderness and thirst both for travel and adventure as I do. My wanderlust has caused me to drive (with Heather) to all forty-eight contiguous states, across nearly every stretch of highway on two Hawaiian islands, most of the main island of Puerto Rico, and across eight Canadian provinces; I would re-travel every inch of roadway with my son if only he would say the word.

As I sat and took in the storm, though, it was not Timmy's future interest in traveling that I focused on but rather his instinct in the outdoors. Would he even have any? My gut says that he will simply because I do. I developed a strong communion with Nature from spending so much time outdoors, first riding my bike and going on "excursions" with my Mom (as we called them--hikes around the neighborhood, usually off the beaten path) as well as jaunts into the "Spooky Forest" with my Dad, and then taking longer cycling journeys and going hiking in my teens and early twenties.  The early experiences fostered my intense interest and curiosity in all things outdoors. I always wondered and wanted to know what was around that bend up ahead, or what we would find if only we went just a little bit further along the path. It was only when I had the freedom to go exploring on my own in my teens that I began truly to develop my sense for the outdoors. Bobby shared in both my interest in Nature and my instinctual abilities; it was what made us the traveling tandem that we were and still are today. We both have solid internal compasses that help us along our journeys, as well as an eye and ear for detail (as the storm event had proven).

I reflected on all of this as I watched my son sleep through the storm, showing it neither fear nor respect, interest nor indifference. I think that he will be interested in spending time hiking in the woods, traveling up mountains and through valleys with his Dad. It made me sad to think though that so many other children of his generation and even of my own who have grown up in New York City and have absolutely no relationship whatsoever with Nature (beyond occasional treks to the beach). I always find solace in the woods; it clears my head, much like long solo bike rides would, especially along the water by the Belt Parkway. Instead of tuning the world out with my Ipod or immersing myself in the latest video game craze, I find that tuning myself in, both to Nature and to myself, is how I solve most of my problems and gain the deepest level of serenity, self-knowledge, and countless other intangible things. It is almost as if when I hike I enter a zone of automatic meditation, where something deep within the recesses of my mind and soul comes alive and takes over, helping me to declutter my consciousness and to see whatever it is I need to see...to travel within myself wherever it is that I need to go.

With many of today's children thinking that Buzz Lightyear was the first man to step foot on the moon (albeit these were British school-children--though I do not deign to think that their American counterparts would be immune to such a misidentification), I wonder just what they would think about spending time hiking and finding a new stream or spotting a bird theretofore unseen. My guess is that they would inquire, "Well what can you do there?" if asked whether or not they would like to take a stroll through the forest. The only answer I could offer them would be, "Nothing" but, truly, that nothing, at least for me, often solves everything. I hope that Timmy finds that is one of his truths as well.


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Time & The Universe

People have looked to the stars for guidance for thousands of years. In some cultures, the constellations swirling above you on the date of your birth often dictated the type of person you would become, the ease or difficulty of your path through life, and countless other factoids of the self. One could be born under a bad star, portending omens of untold horror and strife for the life of the unfortunate soul or one could be blessed from birth simply because of the light shining down through the twilight tapestry of the midnight sky.

It is quite incredible when you stop to think about the precision that is involved with constellations (which are arbitrary anyway--they are merely collections of stars that have been interpreted by our ancestor's ancestors when the earliest civilizations began to sprout). One of the most common constellations that people in the Northern Hemisphere are aware of, aside from the Dippers, is Orion, specifically his belt. The three stars that comprise the belt, Alnitak, Alnilam, and Mintaka are 800, 1,000, and 900 light years away from our blue orb, respectively. Alnilam, the furthest star, is 5.8784998141351 x 10^+15 miles away; the other two stars are only slightly closer. Amazingly, though, from our vantage point, they appear to make up a belt positioned on The Hunter. Ever imagine what Orion (or any other constellation, for that matter) must look like from another planet in our solar system? Or another place in space-time entirely? It gives you a sense of the incredible precision that is involved with how we perceive things in the universe. It is because we are in exactly the location that we are in at exactly this point in time that we see things the way that we do.

The leading theory is that the universe began as an impossibly dense singular point and has become something with a diameter of 28 billion light years. That's only what is visible. And yet in spite of this incomprehensible size and the violence and unpredictability that makes the universe what it is, we are (arguably) able to accurately predict things based upon the location of pinpricks of light in the sky.

Essentially, everything can be broken down into mathematical values, thus meaning that mathematics can reasonably be called the language of the universe. Perhaps even Fate and Destiny are nothing more than mathematical calculations, predetermined by the universe itself before we even stepped foot onto planet earth. Think about it--there is a probability value associated with everything in life, from what you'll order at Starbucks tomorrow morning to who you will spend the rest of your life with. We've all had moments, though, where we felt something, like a strong breeze brushing against the fabric of our lives. Aren't most of these moments crossroads that we face or decisions that must be made? We feel like there is a single correct choice or we just know that taking this job offer over that one is the right course of action. It's both terrifying and fascinating to think that each and every choice that we make has an ascribed and unknowable mathematical probability and that, unbeknownst to us, certain choices or events have an infinitesimally higher chance of happening than others. Maybe, on occasion, we tap unknowingly and unintentionally into the pulse of the universe and get a sense of just what we have coming up in our lives.

Tarot readers and numerologists purport to do just what is outlined above. The cards or the numbers seem to spell out what lies ahead for each of us. If you believe that time exists as a single entity (a timescape, if you will) and that the past, present, and future are merely illusions of our limited consciousnesses, then wouldn't it stand to reason that the rest of our lives have simultaneously happened and are awaiting that happening? Isn't that belief at the core of soothsaying in general? It could explain why people have lucky numbers or why your birthday can be analyzed to describe accurately some of your quirks and foibles; we all have idiosyncracies but perhaps they are not as random as we think.

Even déjà vu might be explainable by mathematics and the timescape scenario. Perhaps through some quirk of our hard wiring we break the conscious hold that our minds have on our perceptions of time, and we are able to experience a moment in our lives both in the present and in the future; in those moments of déjà vu it could be that we are existing simultaneously in the present and slightly ahead of it, on some strange borderland at the fringe of present and future that allows us to peek around the bend before we fully turn the corner.

Our neurological hard wiring is critical in our perception of time. As it is, the time that most of us refer to is a man-made construct that isn't even stable; our concept of time requires mechanical contraptions to "keep" it for us. The fact that it is dark in New York between midnight and four a.m. has no actual meaning; we could simply shift the hours around and have a completely different structure to our days. Aside from the fact that time moves differently at different heights (yes, a watch at the top of the Empire State Building will move slightly faster than one at the base of the building, given a long enough timeframe). Here's an example of a playful way to look at the way we speak about time:

Let's say that if I'm on Hawaiian Time and go to bed at twelve forty-five a.m., Eastern Standard Time, I'll technically be going to sleep yesterday even though it's today. When I wake up it'll be tomorrow even though it will actually still be today, and I went to bed today, even though today would be both yesterday and tomorrow.

The bottom line is that our perception of time follows a predictable and undeniable pattern; we view time as an arrow moving perpetually forward. You've never seen an egg falling up from the floor onto the counter, uncracking in the process, right? As we view it, that would be time moving backwards and would thus be impossible. I posit that we are hardwired to view things this way but that does not necessarily make them so. Think about it: we've all had those moments of staring at the clock, perhaps in class, at work, or at the DMV, where the seconds seem to last for hours. During moments of great pleasure, time seems to speed up and weeks can seem to pass as days.

When it comes to longer periods of time, though, we have a hard time truly processing them; hence the reference to geological time and myriad other varieties. To us, four thousand years seems like a barely comprehensible period of time but it is not even a drop in the bucket of earth's history, let alone that of the universe. To think in terms of five hundred thousand years, three hundred and sixty-five million years, or four point five billion years is beyond our abilities to reconcile. Again, I propose that we cannot fathom what the true value of that time is because we are programmed not to be able to.

The best example that I can offer is the concept of eternity, or all-time. Most of us view eternity as, "a really long time," and leave it at that...but let's pick it apart a bit for a moment. Eternity consequently has no beginning or end and thus cannot be so easily packaged into past and future. Anything that happened before we came into consciousness is considered to be past and anything yet to happen is in the future...and yet we can view things with terminable ends and definable beginnings; eternity doesn't work that way. If you try to follow the concept of eternity in a logical sequence, it will hurt your head. If the beginning of the universe came about with the Big Bang...then what happened before the Big Bang? And what if the beginning of our universe happened as a result of the death or implosion of another? When did that universe begin? In terms of eternity (and religion, in some cases), the answer to the former question is: nothing. There was nothing and then there was everything. If such is the case, then perhaps what makes God God is the ability to comprehend and to accept and process eternity--to understand that there was no before, there will be no after, and that what currently is had no beginning and will have no end. Maybe when we pass on, that limit on our consciousness is lifted and we become one with whatever version of God we believe in.

Strong proponents of Free Will believe that everything that happens in our lives is random, and that we ultimately choose what will occur. Maybe Free Will is really just an unavoidable ignorance to the equation of our lives? Even random samples must succumb to certain laws of probability; chaos itself will ultimately reach a point of predictability, given a long enough timeframe. I suppose that that would make us all coefficients in the algorithm that is life. It's quite a humbling prospect if you think about it...it certainly eradicates many of the ways we choose to differentiate ourselves! You simultaneously have no impact on the universe and serve as an indispensible piece of the puzzle...

Always remember though--you are your own unique snowflake...just like everybody else!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Judas and the Deafening Sound of Silence

This person, we'll call him Judas, since I do not know anyone by that name and, at its heart, the issue with him is a feeling of betrayal. Judas was one of the first friends I made in college and was truly the first friend that I made after a particularly traumatic time in my life. Though fodder for another post, I will say that I suffered an anxiety attack towards the end of high school and had no idea what was happening to me. I thought that I was going crazy and, as a result, I spent most of May - August 2001 at home, trying to figure out why I was feeling like everything around me was unraveling. Leaving the house was quite difficult but I knew that there were certain things that I would absolutely have to force myself to do. One of them was attending an orientation for the Macaulay Honors College. It was there that I met Judas.

Judas was everything that I needed in a friend at that moment. He was witty and charismatic. He was into the same things that I was, from music to movies and television shows. We struck up an instant bond. Every moment I spent in his presence was one in which I didn't have to face the terrible reality of the anxiety I was dealing with. In an ironic way, I suppose that I granted him saviour status; after all, he was delivering me from the hell I was experiencing--so why not?

Fast-forward nine months to April 2002. Heather and I had been flirting (a fact that had been obvious to everyone around us save ourselves) for a few months and it had become clear that there was something more going on than simple playful banter. On April 9th at 1:51 p.m. I asked Heather out and she said yes. Among the first things we spoke about that first week was how our dating would affect my friendship with Judas. Heather is an incredibly intuitive and compassionate woman, demonstrated by her desire not to interrupt or interfere with the activities that Judas and I did together. She would purposely refrain from accompanying us out for lunch on most days so as not to make Judas feel like he was a third wheel.

Ultimately, it was inevitable that the three of us would be spending time together. We did everything that we could to ensure that Judas did not feel uncomfortable and out of place and, for his part, he claimed not to feel strange. He still maintained his friendship with me but he felt as if he now had an additional friendship with the two of us. We were, in his words, "his favorite couple."

Over the next few years, the three of us spent a great deal of time doing things together. On more than one occasion, Judas told us that we were among his best if not his very best friends; things did not seem like they could be any better between us. Then, in 2004, a series of events unfolded that forever altered the way that I looked at Judas. All of the terrible things that people said about him, about his being selfish and self-serving, about his inability to care about the interests and desires of others, suddenly gained credence with me. Where I had spent three years defending him vigorously and vociferously, I found that I was a fool. Where I had felt like I was held in higher esteem than the other people he mistreated, I found myself rudely awakened to the reality that I was no different; consequently, the saviour fell from the pedestal I had erected for him and I saw him for what he was.

In 2005 we graduated from college. I harbored a great deal of hurt towards Judas and he was either unaware of this or uncaring about it. I spent some time apart from our friendship, not actively pursuing it, as much for the sake of confirmation than for the repairing of my bruised heart and ego. A number of people had said that they felt like I was more of a friend to Judas than he was to me. "If such was the case," I reasoned, "then if I stop contacting him and pull back from propping up our friendship, then he won't make the effort on his end." I was right.

Over the next five years (2005 - 2010) I saw Judas a total of maybe twenty times. If he lived in Wyoming and I in Nova Scotia or Newfoundland then this would be both understandable and acceptable. The truth of the matter is that we have lived no more than forty-five minutes apart, separated by one borough for the bulk of that time and then two. He was involved with the wedding in 2007 because of the fact that he had been there from the beginning and appeared to know Heather and I better than most. During the twelve months following that blessed event in our lives, Heather and I saw Judas two or three times. I confronted him on the issue, asking him if there was a problem and, if there was, what could be done to fix it. I suppressed the hurt that I felt in the interest of saving the friendship but was met with either silence or "Nothing's wrong," which, more often than not, was his passive way of saying that he didn't want to talk about what was actually wrong.

I spent the bulk of 2009 attempting to reignite and rebuild my friendship with Judas. Having held the hurt of previous years in my heart for so long, I tried to be like Heather and to forgive and forget without hesitation. I made more than a dozen attempts to set up activities ranging from brief outings for dinner or drinks, to trips out to his place or invitations out to mine. Most of these inquiries went unacknowledged and the few that were responded to were batted away with vague sentiments of "thanks but no thanks."

I suppose that it appears like I should have gotten the hint but I tell you that this was not the case. As much as it might seem like he was attempting to distance himself from Heather and I, he took a number of actions that spoke to the contrary. On one rare occasion that he did go out for drinks with me, he spoke about some serious things coming up in his life--things that he wouldn't tell a random acquaintance. Just when it would seem like he would fade off into the sunset, he would send some sort of communication indicating that he was still interested in our friendship. Still, I knew that something was bothering him and I began to sense that I knew what (or rather who) it was.

January 2010 rolls around and it is a few days before Timmy's baby shower. Out of everyone that we have invited to celebrate with us only one person hasn't responded. It is Judas. When I hadn't heard from him in the first week or so after the invitations went out, I had a feeling that he wasn't going to come and I felt that I knew why. It was a childish reason and I wondered if he would have the courage to broach the issue with Heather and I directly; he did not. When it got down to the final week before the party and I still hadn't gotten an answer out of Judas, I made a resolution to myself. If he did not respond one way or another to the invitation (he had already given two weak excuses, saying that he was "waiting to find out about another party the same day," one that Heather and I suspected did not even exist) then that would be evidence enough that he was not interested in being friends with us any longer.

Despite the history that we shared, as well as his involvement with the theretofore biggest event of my life (my wedding), if he chose to disrespect Heather and I by not extending us the courtesy of saying he was not coming, then I would have no choice but to terminate our friendship--something that I had been advised to do extensively by other friends that I had gone to for guidance on the issue. It was Heather's voice that stopped me from burning the bridge and cutting the cord. She felt it was better to leave things as they were, regardless of whether Judas came to the party.

A few days before the baby shower I got the message. He wasn't coming. It was the doubtful party that was getting in the way. That he had found out about after receiving our invitation. For someone he really wasn't all that close with. I was happy because I finally felt like I knew that he truly didn't feel the way about us that he purported to; he was a liar. Still, Heather's voice resonated in my mind. Could I really allow one party to destroy the meaning that the previous nine years had had? So I bit down on the hurt that tried to crawl out from deep within and said nothing.

Then Timmy was born. Over the first two or three weeks that we had him home, all of our closest friends and family nearby came to meet him. Everyone except for Judas. Sometime in February, a month after Timmy was born, we received a text saying that he was working hard at studying for an exam but that as soon as he was done he wanted to come by. I didn't want him to. Heather disagreed. I relented. And so we waited. A few weeks after the completion of his exam, we received another correspondence saying that he wanted to come by and bring dinner for us later that week. We gave him our times of availability and told him to let us know when he'd like to come by. He didn't. That was strike two.

Finally, last week I received a text from him (is anyone noticing a trend yet?) saying that he was going to be at a wake nearby and he wanted to come by. Again I told him when we would be home--Friday night, Saturday night, and all day Sunday. He said he would let me know for sure when he would be coming. This, our last weekend before Heather's return to work, came and went without a single correspondence. Strike three; you're out.

As I came around the bend for a second lap through Clove Lakes I had my epiphany. I finally saw the writing that had been on the wall for years: Heather and I did not mean nearly as much to Judas as we had thought. The conclusion I reached is logical and I believe quite accurate. If we were as highly esteemed in Judas' eyes as he claimed, would he have bailed three different times on coming to see us and to meet our son? Would he have twice said nothing at all, not offering so much as a, "Hey guys, sorry I actually won't be able to make it" note? For that matter, would it even be the middle of April that this introduction would be taking place? Nearly three full months after Timmy was born? No. If we were as close as the artifice of our friendship portrayed, he would have been among the first and surely would have come during that first precious week or two of Timmy's life.

I exited the park having conquered the hill a second time. I resolved to call Judas and to tell him everything that I just now wrote. I would give him an earful that he'd never forget. And then I spoke to Heather about it. Knowing the eternal pacifist that she is, I prepared myself for a debate about my course of action. She asked me why I had to make such a phone call in the first place. Why not leave things as they were? I could not answer the first question with any justifiable response ("Because it will make me feel better" and "Because he deserves it" sounded terrible in my mind and even worse coming out of my mouth). I argued with her, accusing her of always preferring to avoid confrontation rather than settle disagreements with cold precision. "I need closure. I can't just let things be!" I tell her, not without a tinge of indignant pride. She just nods her head, as much in agreement with me as in pity. I pick up on this. The conversation ends. In saying nothing she has said everything. Did I really need to blow Judas out of the water? No. Would it really make me feel that much better if I did? Undoubtedly. But would it be the right thing to do? As the Magic 8-Ball says: Ask again later.

I slept on it. I prayed for guidance. I thought about what Heather had said. I thought more about what she didn't say. I concluded that she was right. In the end, Judas isn't worth the taint that I would be placing on my soul and the karma that would be born from my aggressive action. Instead, I turn to the serenity that I finally encountered yesterday in Clove Lakes Park. The verdict has been reached within the court of my soul. Without sounding haughty and self-indulgent, Judas doesn't deserve to be a part of Timmy's life; he hasn't earned that right. Nor does he have any place in mine. Do I need to light him up to make that clear? No, I don't.

I can scream and accuse Judas until I'm blue in the face but all that I will accomplish is making myself look like a fool (as has happened more times in my life than I'd like to admit). Nothing can change what has happened and nothing can erase the hurt Judas' behavior has caused me. I have only one option: to move forward. It is my choice whether or not I drag the chains of his hurtful acts behind me; frankly, that is baggage that I do not need. If I make that phone call and burn that bridge, I will forever have that memory etched into my mind, my heart, and my soul. If I say nothing then I can let this fade away and focus instead on my wonderful son and wife, and those who choose to be a part of our family.

All the words that I have at my disposal will amount to nothing in Judas' ears. In the words of Billy Joel: my silence is my self-defense. And that silence will be deafening.

Finding Closure in the Park

Yesterday was the first full day that I've had alone with Timmy since Heather returned to work. The first day we had Christopher Figueroa, the documentarian, recording our morning, so that wasn't a full day alone together. Then the next two days Heather was home with a wicked fever. Friday, then, served as the first reliable indicator of how the next few months might be. I was quite satisfied with how everything went.

Timmy and I began the day sleeping in like two teenagers recovering from a late-night AIM marathon. I suppose I am dating myself here because, at least as far as I can tell, no one really uses AIM anymore. Regardless, we didn't get up until ten o'clock. I was unsure of what to expect from the day but I felt much calmer and more confident than I did on Tuesday. I felt like I was in control and that I had the day's length at my fingertips, to dispense with as I would.

I'd like to think that I was fairly productive. In between feeding Timmy and setting him down for naps, I made dinner, finding out how difficult even the simplest of meals might be to make. I was making a pot roast in the slow cooker for the first time. Timmy was resting peacefully in his bassinet. Right up until I removed the packaging from the roast and began to apply the spice rub. That was when he woke up. It wasn't his "I'm hungry" cry nor was it "I need a diaper change" cry. Nope--this was his, "I want to be held cry." My hands were dripping with remnantal blood and Montreal Steak seasoning. I had potatoes that needed to be scrubbed and peeled, as well as an onion and some garlic cloves that needed tending to. Fortunately, Timmy held out long enough for me to get the roast browning and my hands cleaned. Sufficiently soothed, he fell back to sleep and I managed to combine the rest of my ingredients in the slow cooker.

Feeling like I was on a roll, I decided to tackle the laundry and straightening up the bedroom. I like to clean (and do pretty much everything) to music, so I grabbed Heather's laptop and brought it into the bedroom with me. I propped Timmy up in his Boppy pillow on the bed and began broadcasting some Godsmack and old school Metallica; he fell into an even deeper sleep. Unfortunately, with the laptop comes Hearts (my recent addiction) as well as Internet access. It took me a few hours but when the dust settled I had accomplished what I wanted to do.

At this point I realized that it was getting late in the day. The morning had been quite overcast and the cloud cover did not appear to be interested in relenting any time soon. After checking weather.com's hour-by-hour forecast for the day, I saw that there was only a ten percent chance of precipitation between three o'clock and six...and a ninety percent chance thereafter. Since it was a little after three o'clock I decided that we could squeeze in a brisk walk and be home before five o'clock (or, at the worst, six). Either way, we'd beat the rain home.

As I went through my mental preparations for the walk, I realized that this would be the first time that I would be taking this journey solo. I knew that I wasn't going to take our normal three mile route and would instead be heading to the park; I'd need to take the bookbag that we use to haul all of the necessary items for Timmy's care. The lazy part of me jumped to the forefront of my mind and said that Heather probably had everything we needed already packed; I opted to double-check. After all, I'd need to be thorough in packing the bag each time we'd be going out; I wouldn't want to have to deal with the scenario of not having any wipes or back up outfits if the worst happened (like it did along the pedestrian and bike path along the West Side Highway).

I took the opportunity to pack a weather shield that we bought for the stroller. Instead of setting it up though I opted simply to toss it into the bag. I got Timmy all set in his car seat and prepped myself. I was wearing basketball shorts (as I prefer to do whenever I'm heading out for exercise) and a t-shirt but knew that it was probably really chilly out. I tossed a hat on Timmy and snuggled him into a blanket. I donned a grey hoodie, my sunglasses (as much to keep the pollen out of my eyes as to protect from the non-existent sun glare), and tossed my phone and bluetooth headset into the front pouch.

We set out beneath the leaden afternoon sky and turned left down our block. Ordinarily, I would head the other way and then follow the highway service road down to Victory Boulevard before coming back the other way. That route usually runs anywhere from three-and-a-half miles to more than four depending upon where I decide to cross back over on the return. This time, though, I knew I wanted more of a physical challenge. My goal for the spring and summer is to walk six miles a day during the morning and/or early afternoon with Timmy, and to then walk an additional three miles every evening with Heather. I'm hoping to drop fifteen or twenty pounds by the end of the year; this seems to be the best way to do it.

Heading down our block in the other direction, I decided that we would head to Clove Lakes Park. There is a truly wicked hill there that provides me with a sufficient challenge; a few trips up would be enough to tire anyone who isn't in prime physical condition. Using my headset (tucked safely beneath my hood, which I had raised), I called Heather and spoke to her. I must have looked quite bizarre wearing bright blue basketball shorts (on a fairly cold day), a grey hoodie, sunglasses, pushing a stroller...and seemingly talking to myself. After finishing up my conversation I found that I had been hit with a Blarney moment. Before I knew it, I had called a friend to wish him a happy birthday and another friend to discuss getting together for coffee, having previously called and left messages for my sister and best friend.

Finally, as I neared the park, I tuned into the peacefulness of the afternoon. I began to lose myself in thought (as I am wont to do on such walks) and mulled over some recent story ideas. I had expected to develop them further and, with any luck, to come up with new blog entries or other story nuggets. To my surprise, though, my mind kept focusing on one person. Time after time, I felt the hurt, disappointment, and frustration caused by this person rising and falling, like a tide of emotion deep within me. I passed by a man on an isolated part of the path, making a mental note to keep an eye on him. There was something that I didn't like about him though he was harmless; I did not encounter him again. I did, however, return immediately to brooding on the person who held my internal attention.

Numerous times during my walk I passed by other park-goers. On a few occasions, we smiled briefly at one another, offering a friendly if rushed wave of greeting. I reflected on the fact that there was some unconscious sense of community among the people who were exercising. People who were out for a stroll rarely paid me a glance but those who were walking with determination, perhaps making their second or third lap through the park, offered a smile that might have been interpreted as affirming and encouraging.

I opted to take the long way around the baseball field over by the basketball courts instead of simply crossing the bridge back towards the large hill. I found myself lost in thought about the person plaguing me. I realize that I had tried to fight this inevitable conclusion and have ultimately lost; I indulge my mind, the part that wants to put an end to this long and drawn out drama between this man and me. As I walk, I play through everything that has happened and I realize that, for the first time, I have the scent of closure wafting towards me. I comb through the most recent set of circumstances that have led me to where I now stand, physically at the foot of the large hill in Clove Lakes Park, emotionally at the longstanding resolution to my problems. The time had come to exorcise the demons festering within, birthed in the rotting marrow of this fading friendship.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

My Interview On The Hot Spott Radio Program From 04.15.10

Radio personality Keera Kee was kind enough to have me as her featured guest on her awesome blog radio program The Hot Spott earlier this evening.  We spoke about both The Lion In The Desert and The Walking Ghosts, as well as about my blog The Stay At Home Scholar.  Click on the widget below to stream the broadcast directly:

Or follow this link to the archive where you can download it directly:


Scroll down and look for this blurb:

Original Air Date: April 15, 2010

Author, Matthew Benecke visits The HottSpot
Tune in as we chat with author Matthew Benecke about his two books "The Lion in the Desert: Kosmogonia Book 1" and "The Walking Ghosts: Kosmogonia Book 2".

Once again, a HUGE thanks to Keera Kee for having me on the show and to everyone who called in, especially Bobby & Kat!

Trial By Fire

102.2!!! It sounds like some popular FM radio station that features some upbeat dance mix or modern rock hits, no? Not in this case. In this case it's four digits and a dot that made my stomach drop last night and today.

::Cue the background information::

I intentionally left out a few details in my posts yesterday so as not to come across as whiny or negative. These details (as well as 102.2) will now help to elucidate the way things have gone for forty-three of the past forty-eight hours. While I was dealing with all of the whirling emotions that were stirred up yesterday, as well as the bowel-infused battlefield I found myself on, I was also handling some physical issues. Between three o'clock Monday afternoon and eight o'clock last night, I had eaten exactly two granola bars, one Jack Daniel's chicken sandwich at TGIFriday's, and half of a tuna sandwich. I had also managed ninety minutes of sleep Monday night into Tuesday morning (3:45 am to 5:30 am for the detail-hungry). What completed the trifecta was a stomach bug that had me running to the bathroom with frightening frequency yesterday morning.

I spent the morning and early afternoon feeling drained from a lack of sleep, an empty stomach, a sick stomach, and the torrid guilt I was feeling coupled with how much I was missing Heather; then I tried to eat the tuna sandwich. All of the tension that I had been feeling made my entire upper body very tight. Unfortunately, this also made the food's journey down my gullet all the more difficult. Halfway through the tuna sandwich I got hit with a wicked hiatal hernia. I felt like I had swallowed a watermelon...sideways. I tried sipping water to loosen the knot but to no avail. Finally, feeling the impending urge to purge, I ran downstairs and knelt before the porcelain throne...only to come up empty. This was when Timmy woke up. Starving. And frantic about his voracious hunger. The hiatal hernia didn't care.

I wound up spending the time from four o'clock until four-thirty running between soothing Timmy upstairs, tending to his bottle in the kitchen, and trying to throw up in the bathroom to alleviate the terrible tension I felt around my diaphragm. Not a pretty picture. I finally got Timmy fed but the internal (and figurative, I suppose) pressure worsened. I was physically, mentally, and emotionally drained and I couldn't get this feeling in my stomach/chest to go away. I started to freak out because I couldn't even swallow water without making it worse.

Somehow I managed to fall asleep with Timmy around five and woke up when Heather came home at five-thirty. She seemed fine emotionally but looked a little off. We wound up napping until seven with Timmy. At eight o'clock I realized that the hernia had disappeared and I was starving (having still not had a full meal since three o'clock the previous afternoon) so Heather offered to go pick us up some Burger King. She comes back and looks like she's going to pass out. I'm simultaneously grateful that I can even eat and growing really concerned about Heather's physical condition. I ask her if she's okay. She says she feels like she's going to throw up and pass out. Finally, I decide to have her take her temperature. She puts the thermometer in her mouth and it beeps in seemingly record time. She removes it and I see the digital display.


This is the worst fever she's ever had in the eight years that we've been together. My stomach sinks. Suddenly she looks worse than ever. I make her lie down and give her some water and acetaminophen. She offers to sleep upstairs so that I can get some rest. She wakes me up at five-thirty this morning. I've now had officially six and a half hours of sleep since Sunday night (it's Wednesday at this point). She looks like death. Her fever is still hovering around 102. I fall asleep standing up in front of the bottle warmer as I get Timmy his first formula of the day. Things are not off to a great start.

Thankfully, Heather opted not to go into work. I feed Timmy and we fall asleep together; Heather does the same upstairs. I wake up feeling like a new man; Heather does not. They say that the worst feeling a parent can experience (aside from the obvious) is the helplessness that is felt when a child is sick. Though I haven't had that yet, I know how helpless I felt trying to take care of Heather so I can only imagine what it will be like when Timmy inevitably falls ill for the first time.

So, having woken up filled with fresh verve, I come upstairs and burst into tears. All of the pressure and pent up emotions came springing forth. Fortunately, Heather is incredibly tough and intuitive; she knew I needed to talk. In the span of an hour I wound up figuring out some things that had been bothering me for months and, in one case, years. Suddenly, things are looking up. So is Timmy. He's on my lap looking right into my eyes. Heather says my blue eyes are like the sky and his are like the ocean. I like that and I agree. I'm losing myself in the tide of his baby-blue gaze. He smiles at me and suddenly the black clouds disappear into vapor. I feel renewed and refreshed from my nap, my cry, and my breakfast. Things are looking up.

I decide to take Timmy for a stroll around five o'clock. It is absolutely gorgeous out. I talk to him as we head up the block. He's looking at me and I know that even if he cannot understand the words that are coming out of my mouth, he's listening. I tell him about the conversation that I had with Heather, not translating it into baby-talk; I give it to him straight. Grown-up topics can be conveyed to children in grown-up language. He knows this and I appreciate that. Eventually, he passes out in the stroller. He has the luxury of turning off the world and I admire that. It doesn't make me mournful for my youth or fill me with bittersweet reminiscence for simpler times. Instead I am filled with the warmth of his tender innocence. The deep-blue oceans of his eyes are hidden behind his dreaming lids. His face has become a porcelain lake of placidity and peacefulness. I look down at him as we walk and I realize that he is my serenity. He calms me and reassures me that all is well with the world simply by resting snugly beneath his blanket. He trusts me implicitly. He knows that I will look out for him and that everything will be alright.

My tension melts away completely as we cross Bradley Avenue. I switch from talking to him (he's sleeping after all) to praying quietly for my wife and child's health, for my own well-being, for my family and friends. My head is cleared. I start to think about what I'm going to write for this blog entry; it comes immediately to my mind. I pass by the Ingram Woods and get an idea for a short story. By the time I reach Woolley Avenue it's already fleshed out. I find that I don't have a pen or anything to write on. I don't even have my phone. I make a mental note to bring something to write on and with next time. Slowly, I repeat the major points of the story in my mind, mulling them over, seeing how they taste to my mental pallet. I am pleased. I reach the halfway point of my walk at the intersection of Victory Boulevard and North Gannon and head under the Staten Island Expressway. By the time I reach Bradley Avenue and start to head back to the house I have a short story, three interlaced blog entries, and the one I'm currently writing all lined up in my mind. My stomach feels terrible but I don't. I look down at Timmy. He's still out cold with that same peaceful smile. I find myself mirroring him as I turn down our block.

Things are looking up.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

First Day On The Job

So before I begin this post about my first day on the job I must warn you that it is going to be quite vulgar and graphic at times--crude but not sophomoric. It might turn your stomach like the sight of a woman with thick, bushy mutton chops on her face and a square jaw line with a prominent "it is a boil or is it a mole?" growing out of her chin, making it look like she absorbed only 98% of her unborn twin in utero. Don't get me wrong, the post will at best be humorous but there is the risk that it will turn your stomach. Again, like the woman who looks like this gentleman:


So, if you're down for the ride that spans the past thirteen hours, by all means--hop in! I'm definitely thinking that we've had some leakage from a parallel but bizarro universe. Heather went to bed at 12:30 this morning...and slept like an angel. I fell asleep after 3:30 this morning and woke up a dozen times before finally giving up at 5:30; I was a wreck. Aside from an english muffin I just made myself, I haven't eaten a meal since yesterday around four in the afternoon. When I finally realize this around ten o'clock this morning, I also conclude that I am extremely tired. Timmy is screaming his little lungs out upstairs because he has realized that he is hungry and his hunger is more powerful than his urge to sleep. I had just fed him three ounces of milk and was in the process of preparing a second bottle for my screaming boy when my attention wavered and the bag slid out of my hand. They say you shouldn't cry over spilled milk...but breastmilk is a different ballgame; it's not exactly something you can run down to CVS and pick up. Mind you, it didn't exactly fall and spill onto the floor. No no--its downward descent was stopped by the counter. Unfortunately, instead of falling forwards towards the floor the little plastic imp decided to flop backwards, dumping its contents underneath the microwave. Which has a bunch of things on top of it and immediately adjacent to it, making it somewhat difficult to move. Did I mention that Timmy has reached a Category 4 hurricane-level at this point? Right...sorry, that's the sleep depristarvation kicking in. My apologies.

Eventually, the milk is cleaned up and the bottle is warmed and I'm facing my first doubts of whether or not I can actually do this. I go upstairs and prop my little guy up on my lap and feed him. The bottle is drained and he's passed out leaning on my chest. I am feeling better. My allergies are killing me and I sneeze a few times. I must blow my nose. I deftly remove a tissue from the box on the floor without stirring the now serenely sleeping angel and blow my nose. I decide to lay the boy down in his crib to let him get some rest. I lean in to place him on the mattress and as I pull back I see something on his face. It looks like a gigantic bloody scab just above his eyebrow. My heart stops. I touch it with my finger. It is not a scab. It is indeed gigantic and bloody. It is a renegade booger that managed to overpower the tissue guards and make a mad dash for freedom. By attaching itself symbiotically to my precious son's face. I then attempt to remove it. It is stuck. I pick at it and remove only a piece. I have a metaphysical, out-of-body experience where I see myself doing what I am doing and realize just what is happening. I am picking my booger off of my baby's face. I gag. I am back to feeling like I can't do this. I finally remove the crusted thing from his eyebrow and realize that I could've given him perhaps the first documented case of infantile projectile conjunctivitis. I decide that if it is indeed the first case of its kind and I get to provide a layman's name for it, I will call it Slingshot Pink Eye. I try to laugh. I cannot. I feel worse.

After a brief bout of quietude Timmy reawakens. I decide to start to work on the blog. I place him in his Boppy pillow on his playmat. I notice a miasma bearing a faint resemblance to the Sweet & Sour chicken offered by most Chinese Food take-out restaurants wafting up towards my nostrils. He seems content. "He has been backed up all morning...it couldn't be...that...could it?" I muse. I pick him up and smell his diaper. Again, the Sweet & Sour chicken comes to mind. I place him back down and notice the malodorous stink cloud now hovering over him. I reason that it is more pungent than poo-oriented. I conclude that it would be best, "just to take a look." I get one snap open when I see what appear to be sunspots on the boy's diaper. Time to head downstairs.


I make pleasant conversation with Timmy as I unsnap his outfit. He stares up at me with apparent indifference. In retrospect I suspect that it was actually stoic pity brought about by an acute knowledge of what awaited me. I begin to peel back the diaper and notice that his genitals are green. My heart drops again as I wonder what gangrenous malady could have befallen my sweet innocent child. Then I open the diaper all the way. And see that everything from his belly button down is covered in what appears to be pea soup.


I gag. Again. He smiles. He seems genuinely amused by this despite having never been on the receiving end. I make a mental note to provide him with such an opportunity when he's older. Maybe when he brings his first girlfriend by the house for the first time. Anyway, I've managed to remove the diaper without the use of a HAZMAT suit but now I'm faced with the task of cleaning fifty percent of my baby. I opt to quadruple-up on the wipes. This seems like a good idea until they begin to pile up and almost fall on him. I try to calculate how many uses I have left out of 276 wipes and realize that I've lost my mind (the answer would have been 69 had the container been full). My attention is now split evenly between tending to Timmy and keeping down what little contents remain in my ravaged stomach. This is good. I cannot feel bad at this point. I make an executive decision. I declare this a DSE--a Diaper State of Emergency. I remove the outfit entirely (it was attached by the sleeves but placed tenderly out of harm's way), ball up the paper towels (which had been protecting the diaper changing pad) with the soiled wipes, and proceed to take Timmy into the bathroom.

Dramatic pause.

Holding him securely in one hand I remove the washcloths, his towel, and the froggy thing we use to keep him warm from the rack on the back of the door. I toss these things onto the floor. It is then that the horrible realization of my predicament sinks in. I need to take Timmy's bath tub and place it into the actual tub. Only it's leaning against the wall. And it isn't light. If you're saying to yourself, "Why not put the baby down and pick up the bath then?" I won't fault you. But I couldn't.

Dramatic pause number two.

Because his tush and hindquarters were still covered in green, viscous baby fecal matter. Trust me when I tell you that Heather would have killed me if I put him down. I didn't. I managed to finagle the bath tub...into the...bath tub. Only I put it in the wrong way. "Enough is enough!" I say. I place a washcloth into the tub in the tub and then lay down Timmy upon it. Things are looking up. Then I remember that the tub is backwards. I realize that I cannot simply spin the tub around because it will not fit. I need to pick up the tub in the tub, turn it in the air, and then place it back down. Except now there's a baby inside of the tub in the tub. It is then that I realize that the baby bath doesn't really have any good handgrips. This is the point that the sweat begins to bead upon my brow. I feel like Macgyver attempting to disarm an atomic suitcase bomb with Castrol-soaked hands. Slowly, I lift the tub out of the tub. I realize that my boy has gotten heavy. I realize that this is bad for my grip. The sweat beads begin to trickle. I turn the tub a little and place it down. Lift, turn, replace. Lift, turn, replace. Finally, we have touchdown: the eagle has landed.

I wash the necessary regions and dry Timmy off. We return upstairs and rest. I'm not sure who is more exhausted by the trauma. I place him in his crib and I lay down on the chaise. Shortly thereafter he begins to freak out again. "No...it can't be..." I say to myself. I check the diaper. We're good. I decide to put the empty bottle to his mouth to gauge his eating interest; he transforms into a piranha. I make him another four ounces of milk. I spill none this time. I am proud. I realize on my way back upstairs that Timmy had been constipated and that the fecal apocalypse I just survived came right after the first breastmilk he consumed today. I shrug and head up to my hungry child. I feed him another four full ounces. He is falling asleep and I want to get back to writing the blog. I do not want to lay him down in his crib because he might spit up. "Why not put him in the swing?" I think to myself...because I couldn't think it to anyone else?

I put him in the swing. He is now both upright and asleep. I decide not to turn the swing on. One of the first times we put him in it we left him in it a little too long...and perhaps he had a little too much fun. (It took us a full day to clean off the fabric; we might've opted simply to burn the outfit...it was beyond saving. I'm kidding--Heather is a cleaning Macgyver and I'm sure she cleaned the shit out of that onesie. Hold your applause for that one folks--I'm getting punchy!)

So shortly after I put him in the swing (which is still stationary) I hear what I perceive to be an innocuous sound. It could've been Timmy passing gas but it might've just been him adjusting himself in the seat. I turn back to the blog and type up until the words "disarming an atomic suitcase with..." I pause for a moment to think of what predicament Macgyver would be facing with the bomb and that's when I smell it. This time the odor creeping up my nostrils is unmistakable. I turn around and take a full whiff of it in the face. Mind you this stench has traveled across the room. I'm in the loft area of the house. We're talking twenty feet across the room. Against the general direction of the air currents. The bouquet makes my eyes water. I know that I have not a moment to spare.

I take a deep breath and unclip the safety harness on the swing. I expect the worst. We're in the clear. I usher Timmy downstairs and place him on the changing pad. This time I grab extra paper towels in advance. I undo the fabric fasteners on the diaper and pop open the hood. It's bad. It's really bad. In fact it's the same situation again. Except it's not exactly the same. This time it's mustard yellow instead of pea soup green. And there are what appear to be seeds protruding from the goop. Nobody ever stops to tell you about the seeds. The boy has consumed nothing but formula and breastmilk for his entire post-womb existence and yet there are seeds in his mustard poop.

I will end here by offering a moment of foreshadowing that I experienced this morning. As Heather and I were going over last minute details before she left she pointed to a box of diapers in the corner of the room. She said, "If you need them, there are more Level 2 diapers there." Then she looked down at the open package of diapers on the table, which held something like ten at the time, and she said, "But if you need more than that then I feel bad for you!" She chuckles. I cringe and feel a cold breeze rush up my back. Needless to say I had a bad feeling...and as it stands since 1:13 p.m. I am down to four of those diapers. Still a few more hours to go...and Timmy will surely rise to feed again...it's a race against time--MACGYVER STYLE BABY!

The Big Day

This morning was easily one of the hardest moments of my life. Timmy and I drove Heather to the Kiss and Ride to see her off at the ferry. Watching her hold him and knowing that at some point I was going to have to say, "Okay...we need to go now" was indescribably terrible; I wouldn't wish what Heather or I were feeling at that moment on anyone. Ultimately, she handled it far better than I did.

The one thing that I didn't anticipate in all of this was just how terrible I was going to feel watching Heather leave. I held myself together right up until the moment I got back into the car. She looked back over her shoulder with such a forlorn look that it made me burst into tears. All at once it overwhelmed me. We had spent nearly every waking moment together for the past twelve weeks and, for the first time, we were being separated. I felt a roiling torrent of emotions. I felt guilty that she was the one leaving to go to work and not me. I felt an aching sadness both for her and for me that she had to go through the emotions that she was dealing with and that we were parting. I felt suddenly intimidated by the task at hand on my part.

Did I mention that all of this was being recorded by a camera and microphone? For inclusion in a documentary that will be presented to hundreds of our peers, former professors, and current members of the Macaulay Honors College family at the five year reunion of the first ever graduating class of Macaulay Honors Scholars?

Before I continue on to how the day has progressed so far, I'd like first to thank Christopher Figueroa for the phenomenal job he did documenting everything today. His presence was unobtrusive, his interview of Heather in the car on the way to the ferry was professional and did not feed on the swirling emotions she was dealing with, and his time spent with Timmy and I was both productive and rewarding. We had an excellent experience being recorded and interviewed (Timmy slept through most of it) and, for me at least, the presentation of the finished product is something that I am very much looking forward to.

I don't want to sit here and act like my mindset was a depressing one all morning. Mixed in with all of the negative feelings I was experiencing was a thrilling joy that came with the realization that I will now be spending the bulk of my time taking care of my son and helping to raise him. I'm already looking forward to our daily walks and the adventures that we will have together. I'm looking forward to playing with him and watching him learn and grow as he continues his phenomenal development. He's turning over a full two months ahead of schedule; I can only imagine how soon he will be crawling, and then taking his first tentative steps before running carefree out into the world.

Though there will be plenty of time for fun and games I know that I have been blessed with a great responsibility. I'm not simply taking care of him and me but I'm managing the household overall. I'm taking care of managing the payment of bills, collecting and sorting the mail, handling cleaning duties, as well as cooking for two (and eventually three) people. There's alot to be done and I know that I'm going to have to work hard but I am prepared for the challenge. I can hope only that my time with him, though fleeting, will be as meaningful and fulfilling to him as it will be to me.