ASK A STRAY DAD: DOCTORED LYRICS

Q: So, how was your weekend?

A: On Thursday a doctor in Ruidoso induced my sister-in-law, to try and evict the twins that had been living rent-free in her uterus for the past 9 months. As the Cytotec opened the front door and gave notice that Baby A and Baby B were to vacate the premises ASAP, we drove from Albuquerque to their home in Roswell to fulfill our familial duties—that of moral support, meal-prep, and pet-sitting. Heidi was the one extra visitor allowed in the delivery room, her sister having explicitly and repeatedly asked for her to be there; I think Jamie would’ve chosen my wife over her own husband, given Heidi’s experience in these matters. But P and I, we were going to be shut out, like some snot-nosed, sunburned hoodrats on the wrong side of the gates at a Sandals resort. 

On the way down P put her headphones on and binge-watched Amphibia, and once Heidi and I ran out of ways to complain about our jobs we began to do what we often do on road trips; take a stroll backwards in time through Apple music’s library for the carefully curated greatest hits according to both Heidi’s childhood and her mother—may Judy rest in peace.

This means a lot of Fleetwood Mac and Fleetwood-Mac-Adjacent; first and foremost Stevie Nicks’ “Edge of Seventeen.” The rhythmic chucka-chucka-chucka-chucka, chucka-chucka-chucka-chucka of the guitar rolled in like a freight train, and as soon as it was clear that this is what I think it is and not “Eye of the Tiger,” which totally ripped off this guitar bit, I waited for my wife to follow with the vocals. She came in strong and sweet, like she’d just finished an Old-Fashioned. She was on-tempo, on-key—a blessing, but never a guarantee—and sounding exactly like Stevie. Except for one thing. 

“Just like the one-winged dove / Sings a song sounds like she’s singing. Ooh, baby, ooh. Ooh.”

“Wait, did you say ‘ONE-winged dove?”

We are having this conversation over the top of the rest of the song as I narrowly avoid hitting a woman walking in flip flops and a torn blue dress while carrying a plastic Wal-Mart bag along the shoulder of the fast lane on I-40. And someday I would love to know the story of whether that one-winged woman made it home alive. But in that moment we had more important things to attend to. Like getting to the birth of these twins, and hearing how it came to be that Heidi’s been singing the fourth word of one of her favorite songs wrong, hundreds of times, for the last 41 years. Like all good missteps in childhood, this one can be blamed on her mother, who sang one instead of white, and so the kid followed suit. “And you know, there was no internet back then to check the lyrics, so that was the way we sang it.” 

No internet, no. But, you know, an inside album cover or cassette sleeve with all the lyrics printed directly on them, if had anyone bothered…

“You’ve ruined it for me,” she said, though the smile whispered she didn’t mean it. 

“Have I really, now? Or has this made it better? It’s like you and your mom have you own version.” 

“All I know is mine makes more sense. Aren’t all doves’ wings white? I just thought it meant that she couldn’t fly, so she sang instead. Or maybe it was a cry for help.”

We stopped talking for a bit. Surreptitiously I pushed the button on the steering wheel to turn the volume one notch higher. One-winged dove it is. 

Technically, Heidi and Jamie are half-sisters. Pragmatically, Heidi has been raising Jamie since both were kids. Their mom—a bit of a trainwreck in the same way that the Hindenburg was a bit of a blimp accident—departed this earth when Heidi was very early into her 30s and Jamie was just barely learning how to be an adult. But long before then, really from the time Jamie was born, Heidi was looking after her in ways that their mother wasn’t. It didn’t really come as a shock, particularly once we moved within driving distance, that Jamie wanted Heidi to be not just at the hospital when she delivered, but in the delivery room. 

Heidi got the call early Friday morning that Jamie was moving along towards deliverance, at least to a degree that Heidi risked missing the whole thing if she didn’t get in gear and make the 80-minute drive into the mountains. She left P and I with three dogs, a long grocery list, and a borrowed truck, on a 105-degree day in Roswell—a day so hot even the aliens knew better than to be there. Once the fridge was stocked and the dogs were kenneled we headed past an abandoned missile silo and the site of the murder of John H. Tunstall and toward the modestly cooler temperatures of Ruidoso, thinking we might get to see the babies through the hospital window. Thirty miles outside of town Heidi called to let us know that things had taken a turn and they were going to take Jamie in for an emergency C-section. And that Heidi was going to stay. Which is exactly what she did. We killed time at a lake then drove back to Roswell for leftover pizza; Heidi stayed in a hospital to make sure her sister lived through this. 

By the time she got home the chili and teriyaki I’d made were cooling on the counter and the dogs were conked out on the couch. It took Heidi deep into the night to unwind from seeing Jamie go through such an ordeal. But early on Saturday we were off and running to the hospital again, P and I hanging out in the parking lot under a tree while Heidi checked in on her sister, who’d had to have a second surgery to stem some significant internal bleeding. Jamie was so weak and medicated that she couldn’t hold her brand-new babies, let alone give them names, so Heidi held each child in turns until her arms gave out and everyone in the room, including the new mom and dad, were asleep. We swung by a lake afterward to take a dip and cool off before heading back to Roswell, where I made two more dinners, including a double-batch. We ate, we drank, we passed out well past midnight. 

You’d think by the end of two days of doing this Heidi would’ve been eager to stay in bed for the last day before heading to the hospital one last time and then home. Surprise surprise, she got us up dark-and-early instead, bought us Starbucks, then took us on a field trip to Carlsbad Caverns, 100 miles in the opposite direction. Spending that near-silent time together in one of the most spectacularly otherworldly natural settings I’ve ever seen felt like ice cream for my brain; a cooling treat, a reward for, well—what, exactly? All I’d done is cook a couple of meals. Heidi had badgered hospital staff into taking exquisite care of her sister and nieces, keeping all three of them alive and healthy in the process. And of course Jamie’d done even more, pushing until she had nothing left to give and then toughing it out through two surgeries and enough blood loss to make Paul Verhoeven wince. For a guy locked in existential anguish regarding his purpose in life, it sure doesn’t help to be reminded, so easily, of how inessential I truly am. 

On the way home, via the now familiar route to the hospital, we went straight back to the classics of our childhood. This time she even gave me a turn as DJ. We pulled onto I-40 on the outskirts of town as Jon Bon Jovi tried to belt out the chorus only to have Heidi steal the mic. 

“I’m a cowboy / On a stale horse I ride.”

“Aw, come on, seriously? It’s ‘steel.’ He’s talking about a motorcycle.”

“But he says he’s a cowboy. A motorcycle isn’t a horse.”

You’re right. It’s a metaphor.

 “Okay,” I said, “but before we do this again, please explain to me what a stale horse is.” 

“Well old, obviously,” she said. “Or really dry. I always pictured the two of them riding across a desert.”

“The two of them. Bon Jovi. And his stale horse.”

She persisted, undaunted. “I only get song lyrics wrong when it applies to animals.” A long pause while, fingers interlaced near the gear shift, we both consider that. 

Then: “I think maybe I give them an ailment so that they need taking care of.”

“And you’re just the lyricist to do it.”

She smiles, shyly. The seatbelt tightens against her shrugging shoulders. 

If I think too hard about it, my guess would be that her mom was singing as the one-winged dove. And Heidi, even at the age of 6, knew that she was singing it as the person who was going to nurse that wounded bird back to health. Or at least take care of it for the rest of its life. 

That must make me the stale horse.

If only I could be so lucky.

ASK A STRAY DAD: HOT AIR

Q: What’s the climate like up/down there?

A: Well…

Portland: 
Altitude: 50 feet
Total Precipitation, 2021: 35.58 inches
Today’s High Temperature: 68

Albuquerque:
Altitude: 5900 feet
Total Precipitation, 2021: 5.50 inches
Today’s High Temperature: 92

The first thing to hit me was the altitude. One week into living at 6,000 feet I brushed my molars too vigorously and blacked out on the bathroom rug; fortunately the ultrasonic toothbrush has extensive training on how to respond to these kinds of potential disasters and vibrated like a jackhammer against the saltillo tile to alarm the rest of the family, sparing me the embarrassment of a frothy-mouthed death by asphyxiation. (Rest in peace, Michael Hutchence. I hope your breath was equally minty fresh.) I would eventually recover. But adding insult to near-fatal injury, running—my lone self-generated antidote to insanity for the last three decades—slowed to a power walk any time I turned up hill, a physical rejiggering that did more harm than good. There’s a reason elite runners come to New Mexico to train during the winter. There’s also a reason you don’t see anyone running here who doesn’t look like a whippet that’s been taught to walk on its hind legs. 

Next came the heat. We moved down here in June, when Portland’s dress code remains firmly saturated in sweaters and rain jackets. But like a moist pile of hay when the sun hits it, all those damp clothes burst into flames in a pile on the driveway upon our arrival, leaving us with nothing to wear but tank tops, board shorts and high-top basketball shoes. On the bright side, it allowed us to immediately assimilate into the Burque fashion scene. Still: it was hot, too hot for my blood—I would be feeling pretty good about myself, take a step outside, and before reaching the car everything in my body would thicken to concrete—and from there until what seemed like Thanksgiving it just kept getting hotter.

Against all our tree-hugging hippie-fied tendencies we’d applied for membership to the local country club in hopes of making good use of their pool; whenever the thermometer went over 105 I imagined myself slowly drowning my worries in the deep-end/concession stand bar adult beverage menu. A year later we remain in the same lowly position on the waiting list, and have resorted to occasionally sneaking in through the back gate and past the flirting teenaged lifeguards with the Stranger Things mullets and the fanny packs to soak our wrinkled skins like rehydrating raisins, one eye on the concession stand attendant in case they get wise to our heist. 

Through it all the tank-sized air conditioning unit on the top of our roof hummed nonstop, and the power meter spun likewise, and H paid the electric company and I donated less than that amount to some conservation society, too little to save even three square feet of the rainforest in hopes that maybe we, as a society—particularly this high-desert society—could move one degree away from Mad Max: Fury Road. 

In spring the dust devils came, plumes of dirt kicked up and twisted silly by the winds. What didn’t show up was any rain, which of course my cynical insides knew was going to happen. It hasn’t rained here since September 30 of 2021, and if you think I’m being hyperbolic I’ll wait here while you Google it. Right now the humidity is 14%, and the dew point—a thing you never hear about in the Pacific Northwest—was 29 degrees. It’s so dry here that my feet are turning to hooves like the badly behaved boys in Pinocchio. Paper cuts are the #3 cause of death in Albuquerque, behind heart attacks and asphyxiation during tooth brushing. When she moved to Portland in my wife, who’s from here, couldn’t understand why her bath towel was still wet three hours after hanging it on a hook. I used to think she was being ridiculous, but now I know that I have to lean right into the soil of a plant if I don’t want the water to evaporate before it ever reaches the leaves. You can tell someone who wasn’t born here, but who’s lived here awhile: they have skin that has gone way past leathery, to looking like an abandoned Trex deck. And I’m just a few house planks shy of joining them. 

As hard as all this climate change has been on my body, it seems to have taken a greater toll on my brain. Before we moved down here I was as prolific at writing as rabbits are at…eating carrots. But while my lungs have adjusted to the altitude and my watch tan is trophy-worthy and sometimes I go out to the car just to warm up from the air conditioning, my mind simply cannot cross over. This post is the most I’ve written in months, and look: it’s nothing but me, complaining about the weather. I’ve become this thick-craniumed, foggy-brained, noodle-fingered non-writer, with no cause to defend in prose and no end in sight. And believe me I wish I had something else to blame it on—first and foremost my own lack of motivation or imagination, or my inability to stick to a schedule or insistence upon having some nebulous notion of “perfect conditions”—but that’s not it. I WISH it was some kind of existential road block that my subconscious has erected in order to prove to myself and everyone who knows me that nothing productive can come from this predicament, and that all I need is a change of perspective. But no. It’s not that. Can’t be. It’s all this arid, hot, oxygen-free air that’s made me this dried-up puddle of procrastination and incompetence. And the only way I can see to break this writer’s block is to stand up, walk out that door, and aw who the hell am I kidding it sucks hot-ass wind out there. 

Maybe we’ll try it again tomorrow. Assuming we remember what it was.   

ASK A STRAY DAD: SELF-DEFENSE

Q: So, uh, what the hell, man?

A: Wow, thanks for asking! This stupid blog started as a way for me to figure out how to write about being away from my family while living and working in (and making fun of) New York. And then the world went to hell and, well, we all went back home (in my case, back to Oregon) and stayed at home and locked our doors for a while, didn’t we? So suddenly I wasn’t stray anymore, and writing about silly shit didn’t really feel like something worth doing anymore. It felt like a time to be serious and somber; a time to turn inward towards the family I’d been away from so often, and in the process keep my ridiculousness to myself. So I paused. 

Meanwhile, life went on a bender. Much of it hurtful, and none of it all that great, you know? Looking around for things to make fun of while everyone within earshot was in pain didn’t make a whole lot of sense. And the last thing I wanted this to turn into was some kind of affliction-measuring contest, because everybody—you, me, all of us—had enough to worry about. So I went from pausing to full-stopping, an equal but opposite reaction to all the events unfolding for our family. Our older daughter had gone off to college and we were all still working and going to school remotely in March 2021 when we came down to Albuquerque to check on my wife’s dad, who was diagnosed with ALS in 2014 and had not seen a doctor of any kind in over a year. By then we’d already sold our house, and were just living there, rent-free, until the end of the school year. Seeing his deterioration first-hand prompted us to reconsider the easy way out of just moving to a different home within Portland. We drove around streets with names like General Kearny or—egads—Confederate Drive, rubbing our arms after our first dose of Pfizer vaccine and looking at homes to buy that were within emergency distance of Mike that didn’t look like the inside of a watered-down burrito joint.

Miraculously, we found one, and moved down shortly after school ended for our youngest. In a hair over a year, I’d gone from New York to Oregon to New Mexico. And not written a word about any of it. 

(Note: Something feels wrong about having Oregon sitting there awkwardly between two “New” states. So for the sake of symmetry and in honor of the Lewis and Clark expedition’s St. Louis origins, from now on we’ll be referring to Oregon as “New Missouri.”)

There was, in all honesty, plenty to write about. Plenty to make fun of—including myself, a duck so far out of water in the Land of Enchantment that my webbed toes cracked open and bled. (Seriously, have you ever spent more than a week in a place where the humidity tops out at 10 percent?) But by the time I regained the itch to verbally vomit every Albuquerque observation, this blog had become the equivalent of the friend I’d taken too long to call. So I did what I always do in these sorts of situations and chickened out while pretending that I wasn’t feeling like an utter failure. 

It’s time to admit, though, that this thing I deemed stupid five paragraphs ago actually served a purpose. For me, above all else. It was, when it came down to it, really a way for me to figure out why I couldn’t seem to be happy no matter where I was. And if I could figure that out, maybe I could convince my brain how to be ha—

Q: I meant what the hell did you do to my Silverado?

A: But I didn’t—

Q: Like hell you didn’t. I parked it outside of the Applebee’s, and when I came back with the leftovers from my 2 for $24 meal, there was a scratch down the driver’s door right at the same height as the side mirror of your Honda Fit. Same color, too. 

A: Wait. Which Applebee’s?

Q: Lomas and Hotel Circle.

A: Couldn’t be me. I only go to the one on Academy and San Mateo. 

Q: The one by the Boot Barn and the Arby’s?

A: That’s the one.

Q: Oh, sorry Man. There are, like, 10 of them in town. 

A: Don’t I know it.

ASK A STRAY DAD: BRANCHES OF SELF-GOVERNMENT

Because I’m so damned pissed at the world right now. That’s why.

Q: So what the hell’s been—

A: Shhh. We’ll get back to that sometime soon. Meanwhile, here’s a thing that happened after my general revulsion at all the horribleness (and horrible people) in the world started doomscrolling through an entire feed of inspirational self-aggrandizing IG poetry:

the right to bare limbs
on my days off
i head to the woods to think.
also: to train the trees to fire semi-automatic rifles.
if the day ever comes,
i want them to be ready to defend themselves.

ASK A STRAY DAD: WEAR AND TEAR / FRIDAY

We made it to the end. And what have we learned? Probably nothing.

5 Days, 5 Ways to Style the GrandPro Rally, Day 5: 

Does this feel like an overcorrection? Absolutely.

And what, exactly, were you thinking? That you saw a couple of friends wandering around their neighborhoods in their wedding dresses, just as a way to break up the monotony and bring a little levity. And you thought, “hey, yeah: that seems like something fun and positive.” Only you got married in a plain ol’ black suit. So now guess what you look like? You look like just some schmo in a suit.

No, wait:

• You look like one of Ross Geller’s pallbearers on a very special episode of “Friends.” 

• You look like a trainee teller at Bank of America. 

• You look like you’re launching a doomed bid to become the mayor of Pensacola. 

• You look like the assistant coach of the second-worst basketball team in the Middle Valley Conference. 

• You look like you’re about to lose custody of your red-ribbon-winning Shih Tzus in a surprisingly brief court hearing. 

• You look like the type of person who sends soup back because it’s too hot. 

• You look like the guy in a romantic comedy that the heroine leaves for the man of her dreams. 

• You look like you think that I might be interested in purchasing a car from you today. 

• You look like one of the randos Neo kicks into oblivion on his way to Agent Smith. 

• You look like it’s Friday, and you’ve finally reached the end of this week, and you wanted to give it your last best shot but secretly you can’t wait for this to be over so you can go back to wearing jeans and tie-dyed T-shirts like the Shaggy Rogers that you are. 

Which, thankfully, it is.

ASK A STRAY DAD: WEAR AND TEAR / THURSDAY

5 Days, 5 Ways to Style the GrandPro Rally—Working From Home Without Most of Your Clothes Edition  

One hour. That’s all you need, really. One motherfudging hour to get your motherfudging work done. But the kids keep coming, don’t they? Every couple minutes or so, absentmindedly rubbing a stick of butter against the stairwell or dripping watercolor paint on the dog or screaming over a “broken” iPad that’s simply run out of battery power. Pint-sized Captain Americas, these lot—relentless, always wanting you to either feed, entertain or clean up for them.

So: how are you gonna get that time?

By donning that swimsuit you bought in Mexico, the one to replace the one your better half finally admitted was WAY too thread-bare for you to be exiting a pool in any more. You are gonna put on that flamingo swimsuit and you are going to tell your kids that if they’re nice and quiet and don’t interrupt Daddy until he gets his work done maybe we can all go to the pool and go swimming. Yes, the one with the slides and the tall diving board. And when they ask you if you’re serious you can say, “I’ve got my swim trunks on, don’t I? THAT’S pretty serious.”

“But it’s April, and aren’t all the pools closed anyway?” Hell yeah they are. But there’s no way these adorable little heathens AREN’T going to interrupt you, so you’re absolutely safe. No one’s going swimming. No one’s going anywhere. And maybe you’ll only get 45 minutes, tops. But it’s better than nothing.

Pairs well with a down coat because it’s still freaking freezing out here in the only quiet spot on the property, and a T-shirt that says “THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE FUN,” because it is.

Tomorrow: We wrap up the week. Hopefully!

ASK A STRAY DAD: WEAR AND TEAR / WEDNESDAY

This is going to make a lot more sense if you read this first: https://askastraydad.home.blog/2020/04/07/ask-a-stray-dad-wear-and-tear/

5 Days, 5 Ways to Style the GrandPro Rally: Working From Home Without Most of Your Clothes Edition 

WEDNESDAY: You know what can bring a little bit of coziness to a cold, gray, unfeeling world? A flannel shirt. You know what today needs? Three flannel shirts. And it would’ve been five if the other two didn’t have macaroni and cheese spilled all over them. Screw it. Let’s dig through the laundry hamper, pull those bad boys out, scrape the stains away with the lid off a can of tuna and get cozy AF in here while we contemplate how the hell life brought us to this point, and whether we’ll ever get to go outside and lick random things like we used to.

Goes well with a hat from the college your son is now locked out of, the only pair of jeans currently in your possession that doesn’t have a rip in the butt, and a palpable sense that every time you walk outside you’re the only one taking this whole 10-feet-apart-please thing seriously.

NOT PICTURED: The homemade mask you fashioned out of a coffee filter, a unicorn T-shirt your daughter grew out of two years ago that you still have lying around in the back of her closet, and the rubber bands off of a wilted stalk of broccoli.

Coming tomorrow: Thursday!

ASK A STRAY DAD: WEAR AND TEAR

How not to dress for success.

Q: What is that you’re wearing? Is that a Speedo and a cardigan?

A: Four weeks ago, I boarded a flight from New York to San Francisco for a two-day photo shoot with two laptops, a paperback copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and any clothes that fit in the remaining space in my backpack. Of course, being thisclose to Portland from the Bay Area, I’d added a weekend stopover to my trip. And so, on Friday March the 13th, I left San Francisco for Portland for what I thought was going to be just a Saturday-Sunday joyride before catching the redeye to JFK Sunday night. 

Obviously, we know how the rest of this plays out. I’ve not been back to New York since. 

This is, of course, about as lucky as a guy could get in the face of a global pandemic. I found myself already in Portland, with my family, when the numbers really began to escalate. I did not have to fly back into the epicenter of the Coronavirus universe only to try to find my way out again. And I had everything on me in order to continue to work remotely. 

Well, almost everything. 

Four days of clothing. Given that’s all I thought I’d need, that’s about all I had in my bag. A few rolled-up pairs of underwear, some socks, a few T-shirts, a zip-up fleece and some running stuff. After all, sweaters are bulky and you can just keep wearing the same pair of jeans and no one will notice, right? 

Only now, people notice. The few people who actually see me on a daily basis notice everything I’m wearing because I’m wearing it so damn often, and they’re seeing me even more than that. I had some clothes at home in Portland—but they’re mostly out-of-season things and old sweats that harken back to a time in my life when I dressed like I was a four-person tent. 

So I’ve had to get creative. And because I’ve had to get creative, and because I like to make an ass out of myself and document it for others, I have taken my wardrobe, my current situation and a pair of shoes and created my own personal working-from-home style guide, complete with stories behind each “outfit.” It probably won’t spark any ideas for you. But that’s not really the point.  

Because everything seems so difficult these days, I’m showing up late, with both Monday and Tuesday in hand. That’ll change as of Wednesday. Thanks for your patience. It shows you care! (Or that you don’t, so much, because this is really a pointless and ridiculously frivolous exercise!)

5 Days, 5 Ways to Style the GrandPro Rally: Working From Home Without Most of Your Clothes Edition: 

MONDAY: The one remaining pair of clean socks goes perfectly with a sweatshirt you stole out of your son’s closet, and that pair of basketball shorts you painted the trim in.

TUESDAY: The last time you spent this much time indoors surrounded by your family? The holidays. Happier times. Okay, okay: less terrifying times. Why not try to bring back some of that magic, by dusting off those expensive novelty reindeer pajamas that  the whole family wore for that one picture before shoving into the very back of their closet? Pair it with a white button-down and a wool crewneck—because you read in Refinery29 that getting dressed up would be a sure-fire way to keep you from feeling so f#cking sad about all of this.

Coming tomorrow: Wednesday!

ASK A STRAY DAD: ACCEPTANCE

I didn’t want either of them. So I wrote an acceptance speech for both of them.

Q: Why the sad face?

A: I’m an Elizabeth Warren stan. Which has made this week particularly hard—though frankly the last few were all pretty big stinkers. Having grown up in Cincinnati and attended to the University of Missouri, however, I’m pretty familiar with the concept of losing, and long ago developed several coping strategies for such events. The very best thing to do in these situations—when your horse is either out of the race or its rider has fallen off and been trampled to death—is to look to the front and talk yourself into one of those remaining hard-charging horses. 

Now, it should be said: I’m going to vote enthusiastically for whoever winds up being the Democratic nominee. I’m not really a fan of dictatorships; particularly not ones both so willfully ignorant and profoundly dangerous. But I also recognize that I’m not everyone. And having just witnessed the person I felt most embodied the ideals of a president forced to bow out for reasons I cannot understand let alone stomach, I wanted to convince myself that either of the remaining distinguished gentlemen could be someone worth rallying behind. So I poked around on their websites—Joe, can you at least let me in the door before you start asking for money?—checked out their policies, and watched a couple of speeches. Then, I wrote a speech of my own, for each, for the end of the Democratic National Convention. A fruitless writing exercise of a heartbroken voter, trying to talk themselves into going to the prom with someone else. And while I won’t pretend the pain is gone, it did make me feel a little better.

Q: Is that them? They’re only a page apiece.

A: Yep. I tried to get them even shorter. Like, Gettysburg Address brief. You win, Mr. Lincoln. Lincoln was a man ahead of his time; he would’ve been a force on Twitter. ANYWAYS…yeah. My greatest hope is that, when the real one comes along, it blows mine out of the water. Time will tell…  

Bernie Sanders:

My fellow Americans, this moment is for all of you. We are all one step closer to a return to democracy as it was intended. By the people, for the people. My job as your next president is to hand this country back over to the people of the United States. 

Some have branded me a socialist. They say it like it’s a bad word. But what I really am is a relentless optimist. I believe in you. And I believe that we can do better. And by “we” I don’t mean the people of this great nation. You’re already doing enough. You’re working longer hours than you ever have, for comparably lower wages, and paying more in health care than you ever have, and paying more for education than you ever have. You, friends, can take a load off. 

No: I mean your elected officials who comprise your government. We have been chosen, by you, to represent you. We have been empowered, BY YOU, to look after you and your best interests. And it’s about time we did that. For ALL Americans. 

Everyone living in this country deserves the right to dream. I’m talking basic dreams, for all people. A dream of feeling safe in your communities. A dream of financial security, of quality education and job training, of affordable health care. A dream of a healthy environment in which to live, for generations to come. You’re not asking for much. Just not to have the deck stacked against you making something of yourself. America has long been known as the land of opportunity. For a while now, only the privileged few could honestly say that was the case for them. Tonight marks a turning point toward making it true for all Americans. To give everyone a foundation to build a better life for themselves, and the power to make their own way in this world. STARTING with those who face the most risk, the greatest disadvantages and the worst discrimination. “With liberty and justice for all” only works if we truly mean all.

So I’m an optimist. But I am also a realist. I know that initiatives such as these are not possible without the buy-in of my coworkers in Congress. I certainly should know; I’ve been there long enough. So let me assure you that as president I will be working every day and with all of your representatives to turn this talk about reform into pragmatic action and lasting change.

But what I will not do—and what we cannot do—is defer the dreams of all Americans while we wait for politics to catch up. Democracy has always led you to believe that your vote mattered. But that is only the case if those you’re voting for act in your best interests. That is what I will be doing from Day One. Giving each and every American a vote that matters, then rewarding you for making that vote. 

Thank you, and good night. 

Joe Biden: 

My fellow Americans, it brings me great honor to stand on this stage tonight as your nominee for the next President of these United States of America. Your faith in me is something I will never take for granted. It’s been a hard-fought road to this point, and a necessary one. I stand here knowing more about the hopes, the dreams and the resiliency of the American people than I ever have. 

I want to thank my fellow candidates for the spirited discourse along the way. Their passion, their experience, their grit, and their know-how has pushed me to become a better person and a stronger nominee. I will take the lessons I’ve learned forward into the next fight, that most crucial fight. And many of the ideas you brought to the table will light that way forward, for all of us. 

Officially, we are the United States of America, but for the past few years it certainly hasn’t felt united. The current administration has taken great pleasure in dividing us. They want to split us up into wealthy and poor, urban and rural, and along racial and ideological lines. They want to sow doubt and mistrust among us, so they can strip this nation of its values, its resources,  and—with them—its hope. They would like nothing more than to stir fear among each and every one of you, so that they can take advantage of all of you. 

That, I’m sure, is not the vision any of us have for America. It certainly isn’t mine. 

This goes beyond uniting us under a common set of ideals, however. Our prosperity as a nation is dependent upon the health and well-being of its citizens. All of you out there contribute to the fabric of our society. You make it a richer and deeper and more diverse and wondrous place when you are able to engage and contribute. But the divide between the haves and have-nots threatens not just the concept of American democracy but the very real day-to-day lives of its people. I have heard of your struggles. You are all constantly forced to make the hard decisions, the deep sacrifices, to put yourselves and your futures at risk just to make it from one day to the next. This is not the America you were born into. It is not the America you signed up for. If you’re struggling just to survive, where is your opportunity, in this famous Land of Opportunity? 

Right now, it’s in your power as a voter. You can choose fear, you can choose apathy, or you can choose a future. You can go to the polls, or the mailbox, and pick the side of unity, and humanity, and basic human rights. You can raise the floor—for yourself, for your children, for each other. Affordable health care. Quality education. A clean environment. Only one option of the three offers these to you. But when you vote for your future, those basic rights are yours to keep. Your American dream will be a few steps closer. 

And we will only be getting started. 

Thank you, and good night. 

ASK A STRAY DAD: LAUNDRY DAY

If New York wants to seriously call itself the best city in the world, it needs to fix the washing machine. 

This machine swallows quarters.

Q: Where are you going with all that stuff? Are you moving out?

A: Hah! I wish! This is seven weeks’ worth of dirty clothes, towels and sheets, tied up in two precariously thin garbage bags and teetering down the sidewalk on a child’s skateboard I salvaged off a particularly possessive alley opossum.

Q: And what’s that rattling sound I hear?

A: Why, that’s the $20 in quarters tucked inside the back pocket of my jeans! Don’t worry: in a couple of hours, the rattle will have completely disappeared. 

The fact that I have to pay for the luxury of doing my own laundry feels like the biggest step backward I’ve ever taken in terms of personal development. The fact that I have to do it with actual currency, in the form of quarters, is downright travesty.

I don’t know if you’ve tried to find a quarter when you need one these days—chances are you haven’t, because who needs quarters anymore?—but it’s essentially impossible. Thanks to credit cards, Apple Pay and Venmo, the very idea of hard currency is disappearing. As are the change jar, the swear jar, the cookie jar, the piggy bank, and any other easily breakable vessel I might hammer in order to scrounge up enough money to provide me with clean T-shirts for the week. These days, if we had a couch, digging through the cushions might yield a lot of things—but a quarter would not be one of them. 

And it certainly wouldn’t cough up the 15 required to do a single load. Quarters have now become more precious to me than—well, let me give you an example: 

I came home this past weekend, and though I only brought a backpack I stuffed it so full with dirty clothes that the zipper made that low, gargling sound when I went to close it. First thing I did on Friday morning, even before putting on water for coffee, was split the clothes in two piles and start a load of darks.

On the other end of the weekend, on Sunday, at a pizza place that has a number of coin-operated ‘80s-era video games, I gave my 7-and-½-year-old daughter a $5 bill to make change so she could play Miss Pacman. When she returned with the quarters I handed her only 4 back. 

“Why are you keeping the rest?” she asked.

“Because I have laundry to do,” was my answer. 

This is what I mean by valuable: I’ll deny my daughter the joys of my own childhood in order to make sure I have plenty of coins come laundry day. And why? Because a place that considers itself America’s greatest city and the fashion capital of the New World has YET to bring its laundry situation out of the dark ages. 

The closest washers and dryers to me lie six floors directly below our apartment, in our building’s laundry dungeon. The elevator ride down—it feels like you’re trapped inside the world’s first commercial microwave oven—deposits you in the basement, directly opposite the trash room for the entire 66 units in the building. You then walk right, past the trash chute, before hanging a left through a doorway into a sloppily painted brick cellar with a red clay tile floor whose drain in the middle is clotted with lint and dog hair and random clotted-blood bandages. The door to the outside is perpetually open, meaning that not only is the laundry dungeon cold enough to store dairy products but smells at all times of dog shit and cigarettes as you pull your clothes out of the washers or dryers.  

Speaking of washers, our building’s 5-dozen-plus units are served by a total of three washers and four dryers. One of those washers is a front-loading unit that, though at least 20 years younger than the rest of its kin, is always unplugged, always out of order, and always resting in a puddle of its own making, like it’s pissed itself from the stress. That leaves two top-load washers for well over a hundred people. And though those washers do indeed turn on, add water, and shake one’s clothes back and forth a bit, I do not know if I would call what they’re doing technically washing. Agitating feels more like it. Often I pull my white load out and am convinced that they’ve become dirtier by virtue of having run through these two machines. 

As I might have alluded to earlier, the washers and dryers in the building only take quarters, via the old stand-on-end, punch-and-retract coin boxes we’ve seen in movies from the ¾-mark of the 20th century. Only we’re shin-deep in the 21st century now, nearly 50 years past that point. I can buy $400 in groceries instantly using a scan of my face by my phone—the same phone I used just minutes before to search, book and pay for a plane ticket home. But I have to lug around seven quarters for each and every load of laundry I want to wash, and another eight per if I want the luxury of having those clothes dried—via, I might add, a dryer that smells of sun-cooked squirrel. The world has converted to digital currency, but if I want to get the coffee stain off my jeans I have to take two giant leaps back in time and wrangle up a shitload of change like I’m the tax collector in some Bible story.

No doubt you’ll have assumed by now that even this has become a difficult task. The only people dealing in quarters anymore are the laundromats, only they don’t want you using their change machine if you’re not going to plug that change directly back into their services—which on the whole are 150-200% more expensive than my building. Of course my building doesn’t have a change machine—that would be too easy—so I have to resort to sketchy methods in order to feed my habit of wearing clean-ish clothes. 

First I have to procure a bill of rather significant denomination. 

Then I need to find a place that has change. 

Then I have to trick them into giving me the change.  

Sometimes I can cause a distraction by casually mentioning that the Knicks just scored, and slip a crisp Abe Lincoln into the auto-dispenser before the Adam-Sandler-in-Uncut-Gems lookalike guarding the change machine looks back from the tiny TV, disappointed, and catches on. I can’t risk the time it takes to make $10 or $20 in change—no Knick scoring streak is going to go on that long—so I always end up on the shy side, quarter-wise. My next scheme was to fake interest in opening a bank account at the local credit unions, just so they’ll take an Andrew Jackson and turn it into 80 metallic George Washingtons. By the end they always have figured me out, and that’s how I became persona non grata in every back within walking distance of the apartment. 

So now I seek out my actual bank, a bank that has things like brass door handles and clean windows and warm cookies and a dress code and actual standards of conduct, and ask them if I can take $40 out of my checking account and ohbythewaycanIpleasegettheentireproceedsinquarters. The man smiles, straightens the knot of his tie, and nods, and always asks, “Laundry, right?” And I can’t think of anything else to say than, “Yep,” because not even the smartass in me is capable of coming up with a sarcastic or absurd response that warrants why I’d be carrying around enough quarters to turn a knee sock into a deadly weapon.

There’s got to be a better way. 

And before anyone says, “There is: just send your laundry out to be cleaned,” let’s remember that I am horribly cheap and incredibly picky when it comes to who touches my stuff. Besides, this has officially become a crusade of sorts for me. 

In tiny, patchouli-oiled, fashion-is-a-social-construct Portland, we’ve had to use a laundromat three times while we waited for our washing machine to get repaired. We used a credit card to pay for the washers and dryers, and sat in the in-laundromat cafe and had two glasses of cabernet under the glowing halo of free high-speed wi-fi while our clothes got sparkly-clean.

New York, you are a shining cosmopolitan titan of progress and industry. You consider yourself top of the heap when it comes to just about everything—from bagels to rock ‘n’ roll. Your residents’ favorite saying is, “The thing I like about New York is you can get whatever you want, whenever you want it. It’s so convenient.”

Well, New York: I want my clothes to be cleaned. Actually cleaned. At a normal hour of the day. In a fairly comfortable, wine-optional setting. Without having to rob a toll booth in order to make it happen. 

You claim you’re the greatest city in the world. Here’s a great chance to prove it. 

Like what you’re reading here? Don’t forget to actually “like” it. Something about an algorithm—I don’t know, we’re figuring this stuff out as we go along. There’s a button here somewhere… Anywhoo, thanks for reading!

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