1987 Debunked by Its Own Panflute Playing Monkey

Team Awkward

Team Awkward


Recently, Bella, along with every other boobie-budding tweenager, has been obsessed with Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight book series. It’s kind of like the Duran Duran of my generation in that this Twilight thing is a big gateway into much cooler stuff.

“Mom, can I download the Moose CD?”

Moose? Really? Where did you hear about them?”

“The Twilight soundtrack. You know.”


“Yeah, is that how you say it?”

I instantly okayed Muse, a vast improvement over Miley Cyrus and the rest of Bella’s musical library riddled with phase vocoder this-and-that.

A week later, The Bell was reading in her room. Brief trappings of classical composer Claude Debussy emanated through the walls.

“Russell? Do you hear that?”

“Yeah, is that from Bella’s room?”

“Yes! She’s listening to Debussy in there, and I think it’s on repeat.”

We pressed our ears to her door. Holy cow, it was really happening.

Knock, knock. “Bella?”


“Hey, are you listening to Debussy?”

“Yes, I am.”

“When did you get into that?”

“Twilight soundtrack. Moooom, I’m reading right now, ok?”


Booty dance. Take THAT, Miley.

After Muse and Debussy, Bella asked for a copy of Wuthering Heights. I know the Twilight phenom isn’t real hip amongst the holier than thou Philip K. Dick set, but, hey, STEPHANIE MEYER BRAINWASHED MY KID INTO BEGGING FOR A COPY OF WUTHERING HEIGHTS. Praise her.

Yesterday, Bella made the most important discovery of her lifetime: “MOM! Uncle Dain’s old band Marjorie Fair is a huge inspiration for Stephanie Meyer. Look, she has listed them as required listening for New Moon readers.”  

Reads Philip K. Dick

Reads Philip K. Dick


There were about eight different layers of Excellent to this news — the best being Uncle Dain’s incredible hatred for those books. We texted him immediately. I pointed out how all of Bella’s friends were dying for an autograph and downloading music videos of his fake-playing keyboards in some faraway field. As members of the massive Stephanie Meyer Army, I’m sure eleven-year-olds everywhere are dreamily batting their eyelashes and cooing, “Oooooh, Dain.”  (Dain is super Tiger Beat at 3:09)

Going back to my earlier analogy, though, of Duran Duran and Twilight being gateway drugs into Cool, this means Dain equals Nick Rhodes. Score, that’s great. 

Nick Rhodes, move over. Dain is here.

Nick Rhodes, move over. Dain is here.

But anyway, all of this vampire stuff and the frequent trips to Hot Topic for Twilight trinket shopping has opened the door to: “Mom, I’ve been thinking a lot about my goth phase.”

“Your goth phase? You’re eleven.”

“Not now, but when I’m a teenager, Mom. I’m kind of liking that.”

“The music or the image thing?”

“The music.”

Russell and I began singing Peter Murphy’s “Strange Kind of Love” to Bella as she looked back at us in disgust. In California, we used to joke about how his voice was haunted.

“You guys are weird.”

“You’re not ready for goth if you think that’s weird.”

We YouTubed Peter Murphy, and Bella was not impressed. “It’s very vampire-y, though.” Realizing I should have eased Peter Murphy into the mix by starting with Love and Rockets and working backward, I pulled up “No New Tale to Tell.” I was sure she’d dig that.

Bella was quick to identify this music as “not goth.” Clearly, I was no competition for the musical prowess of Stephanie Meyer. About two minutes and ten seconds into the video, Bella rolled her eyes, “Mom? How can you say your music is cooler than the stuff I’m listening to?”

“I’m not saying that.”

“Look at that. I’m not trying to hurt your feelings, but that’s a monkey playing a panflute with men dancing behind him dressed like bees.”

She was right. There was nothing cool going on with the L&R video. Why did it take an eleven-year-old twenty-two years later to point this out for me? I’m going to cut her some slack for being ahead of the curve from here on out.

This whole experience has really debunked my myth that 1987 was a badass year. It’s like when I made fun of my mom for her weird, white-woman fro and bell bottoms. What happened? I thought I was gonna break that cycle. Eh, it’s like the old adage: “You cannot go against nature because when you do go against nature, that’s part of nature, too.”

Wait, nevermind.

Stephanie Meyer, you’re ok. Apparently, you’re much cooler than Duran Duran. Sorry for being snotty about that.

And…thanks for real.


Rock Star of the Month: Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson


It was about eleven-thirty last night when Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson recognized the guy in front of us in line at the post-lecture signing.

“Your name is Kirby, right?”


Beyond amazement, the guy responded: “That’s good. Wow, it’s been thirty years. I didn’t think you’d remember meeting me.”

“Of course, I remember! We all swam in your pool, and you fed me that incredible sausage. MAN, that was some good sausage! You still make that?”

Sensing the pressure of the incredibly long line and all of the folks waiting in it, Kirby politely inched forward. Tyson yelled, “Hey! Look me up on Facebook, man. There are some impostors, but you’ll figure it out. Let’s catch up.”

Russell and I swapped awe. The real Neil deGrasse Tyson is on Facebook?! He has fond memories of backyard barbecue delicacies?! Snap. He isn’t just the world’s coolest astrophysicist; he’s also mortal. Insanity. Raise the roof.

Let me back up, though. About a week ago, I was wigging out about what to do for Russell’s Valentine’s Day gift, or, rather, the lack thereof. I didn’t have a lot to spend, but even worse, my efforts to wrangle creative solutions fell short. An attempted beading project looked like something from church camp, 1981.  A Valentine’s recipe search yielded nothing suitable for my pre, pre, pre-beginner cooking level. Randomly, a friend sent a link to Dr. Tyson’s local appearance the following Tuesday, and, as luck might have it, the tickets were FREE. I purchased his latest book The Pluto Files and designed a card, which read:


Dear Russell: 

Hello. It is out of dire urgency I write to you this day. 

Allow me to introduce myself properly. I am one of the largest masses within the cosmic Kuiper belt, but you may remember me as: the Planet Formerly Known as Pluto. 

In 2006, I was stripped of my noble title and scientifically reclassified as a “dwarf-planet.” Dwarf planet, my ass. Pfft. 

On Tuesday, February 17, 2009, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, one of the chief culprits responsible for my planetary demotion, will presumably be talking smack about how I’m not good enough to rank number nine anymore. Your mission is to attend Tyson’s 8 o’clock lecture, during which he’ll blather on about me and other items of astrophysical interest. 

Refer to Ms. Austin for necessary data. 

Sincerely yours (and happiest of Valentine greetings),


Dwarf Planet, Kuiper belt

Milky Way Galaxy 

P.S. “PLANET” Earth is a tiny, nearly indiscernible speck stuck in the armpit of the cosmos, and, no, I most certainly do not suffer from planet envy.

So, er, voila! Valentine’s crisis averted in the nerdiest way possible. Nothing says “I love you” like astrophysics, right?

On the evening of the event, we arrived at Texas Hall an hour early, but the front half of the lower level was already packed. That’s right, for a scientist. In Texas, even. Russell and I selected a decent enough spot and got our laptops ready to take notes while the guy behind us was loudly telling everybody within listening proximity why the speaker wasn’t a real scientist. I wondered what you had to do to be a “real scientist.” I mean, is being on NASA’s private advisory council not science-y enough? What about physics degrees from Harvard AND Columbia? Teaching astrophysics at Princeton? Hosting NOVA? Directing the Hayden Planetarium? I could go on, but you get the idea. Eager to draw my own plebeian conclusions, I was relieved when the lights finally dimmed at 8 o’clock, and the President of UT Arlington, James Spaniolo, addressed both levels of the crammed auditorium.

“Is it coincidence,” he began, “that Dr. Tyson was born in the same week of 1958 as NASA was founded?” I decided it was, in fact, mere coincidence after a quick jaunt to Wikipedia revealed no mystical occurrences during the week of my own birth. Heh. Nevertheless, Spaniolo’s question was inadvertently fantastic. Do the laws of physics allow for coincidence?

He continued, “…and if that is not enough, Tyson also won a national gold medal in ballroom dancing.” Really?  Had he also discovered the secret of the pyramids or the whereabouts of Jimmy Hoffa’s dead body? Was there something this nerd hadn’t done? The guy hadn’t even taken the stage, and I already was fantasizing about Being Neil deGrasse Tyson, the sequel in which I manage to redirect the portal from John Malkovich to Dr. Tyson.

Then he appeared: Isaac from “The Love Boat” in jeans, a sports jacket, and cowboy boots. The crowd went bonkers — rock star bonkers. I loved it.


“Hold on. I forgot to empty my pockets. I have so much crap in here,” he announced. Placing his “crap” on the podium, he paused, looked at us, and then proceeded to yank his boots clumsily from his feet. “Now I feel like an astrophysicist. Everybody comfortable?”

For the next hour and a half, we listened to Tyson’s diplomatic, sensitive-to-religious-zealots views about our country’s lack of scientific interest and funding apart from times of war or economic competition. “Guess what? If China announced it was going to Mars, we’d be there in ten months. Ten months! Faster if we discovered oil, of course.” Standing on the stage in his socks and with his arms stretched w  i  d  e, he loudly warned us twenty minutes into the discussion:

“There’s no funding for science in this country unless we can make a weapon or the face of God appear at the end of a particle accelerator.”

Tyson told us, “I respect the religious freedom of our nation. It is what we were founded upon. However, that doesn’t mean science is wrong. Science knows what it is and what it isn’t.” When someone asked about the effects of Intelligent Design being introduced into classrooms along with the Big Bang Theory, NDT answered, “It is non-science, the beginning of the end. That’s what the Philosophy of Ignorance is for students. There’s no history of scientists protesting outside of churches. Do you ever see that sort of thing? No. They’re [Creationists] free to believe what they want, and we don’t interfere, but the minute you quit teaching science — it’s just the beginning of the end.” Dr. Tyson elaborated with examples of avoidable, recent occurrences, which he felt were directly related to our societal reluctancies toward progress. “Katrina was a class three hurricane when it hit land. The levees broke after the storm passed. After, OK? AFTER! Faulty engineering is responsible for what happened there. That’s bad math.” He flashed images of the extreme devastation.

Total quiet all around. He truly felt this dumbing down of society. Furiously.

“Bridges collapse. Faulty engineering, again. A steam pipe exploded a couple of years ago. Remember this one? This is New York City, folks. What country are we living in that we can’t move steam in a pipe from one place to the next without this kind of thing happening?! OK, here, look, this is a good one: Two trains collided, and, by the way, this isn’t some podunk town. It’s Los Angeles. Los Angeles! This is technology that we perfected in this country in, like, 1903. What is going on!?” Then he let us in on the obvious answer: “Smart people went elsewhere.” We’re not generating interest amongst youngsters, and they know they can make money doing other things.

Naturally, I thought about my own kiddo. Bella was wildly irritated with me recently because I forced her into joining the science club. The school even tried to bribe the reluctant kids with the Golden Calf — a non-uniform day. Behold! Still, it was a hard sell until The Bell actually reported back from her first meeting: “Oh, my gosh. Mom! Science club was sooooo much fun. We did an experiment where we…and then we…and…and…and…thanks for making me do it.” That’s all it took. I am all too familiar with the validity of Tyson’s previous point regarding funding and urgency of promoting math and science. Our teachers generally do their best with the resources they can afford from their allotted and, frequently, personal budgets. Unfortunately, it’s the initial spark that seems to be most absent, and that’s what is truly crucial, I think. He’s right; we need to step up our game or continue to decline.

Earlier in the discussion, NDT presented several versions of the Periodic Table of Elements color-coded according to melting point, compatibility, as well as years and nationality of discovery. Then he pointed out the most common elements found within our planet as well as those found most frequently within the universe. As it turns out, Earth and its universe share four of the top five from both lists. With sextillion stars, Tyson noted, it would be, perhaps, the most conceited thought to believe we’re alone, that there aren’t beings looking at us exactly the way we’re looking at them through reversed images of the vast galaxies and universes between us.

We sat, all five bajillion gawzillion batillion of us, in the dark now, silent and thoughtful as the last image of the cosmos lingered on the screen. Russell held my hand, and I put my head on his shoulder.

“The universe is you, and you are the universe. There can be no greater reward than that.”

Doubting Thomas behind us broke the silence, “This guy is fucking genius.” I guess Tyson’s not just a rock star after all. He might even be a real scientist.

Or, perhaps, NDT is more aptly also a minister of science, a reverend of astrophysics, preacher man of the stars. Why? Because as the daughter of one Reverend Dr. Jack P. Busby, I spent my entire childhood held captive in a church pew listening to the quirkiest, smartest, most articulate theologian in this area — my dad — peddle Christianity every Sunday. He meant it. He BELIEVED in it, and I really wanted to feel the connection his congregation members obviously felt when they raised their hands and voiced their Amens and praise-to-be’d their Jesuses. It just never happened. Something wasn’t there, and I was pretty sure I was gonna end up somewhere on the dark side of Satan’s lair eternally confused. However, as I sat there with my head on Russell’s shoulder and my hand inside his, listening to Dr. Tyson’s evidence, feeling new and undeniable fellowship with Doubting Thomas and the other five bajillion gawzillion batillion people around us, it occurred to me that I was at church. Finally. It only took me thirty-five years to get there. Scientifically speaking, that’s not such a bad rate of evolution, I guess.

As the lights came up and Neil deGrasse Tyson began taking questions from the peanut gallery, Russell quickly ran to grab a place in line for the book signing. He texted my phone: “You’re so hot when you’re in student mode.”  We smiled at each other from across Texas Hall. Success. My Valentine scheme was triumphant.

The questions continued for an hour and a half: “What do you think about string theory?” “Does it bother you that you’re light years away from everything you’ve studied in the cosmos?” “Should we break up the NASA monopoly and initiate private launches?” “What do you think about PETA — People for the Ethical Treatment of Aliens?” When Dr. Tyson announced he’d taken the last question of the evening, a little boy stood in the far aisle somewhat dejected as the rest of the audience members settled back into their seats. Dr. Tyson interrupted the low muffle of the crowd:

“Wait, there’s a little kid right there. I would like to take his question if you don’t mind.”

The kid stepped up to the microphone and adjusted it as Dr. Tyson asked, “OK, how old are you?”

“I’m ten.”

“Ten? I was your age when I became interested in the stars. I used to look through my telescope at night and wonder what all was out there. You ever do that?”

“Yes, I do.”

“You’re up kind of late, aren’t you? You must have a good question.”

It was almost half past eleven on a school night. The kid stood there for a minute before his voice filled the auditorium, “Dr. Tyson, I was wondering…what would you do with a black hole if you could control it?”

(Sigh) You know, sometimes there are moments in my life I know, as they’re occurring, I’ll never forget. This was one of them.

“A black hole, a black hole, a black hole of my own. Hmmmm. You ever do laundry at home?”


“Well, you know how sometimes you wind up with one sock and always wonder what happened to the other one?”

The kid laughed, “Yeah.”

“Well, if I had my own black hole, I’d use it for throwing all those ‘other’ socks into. And garbage. I’d let everybody throw their garbage in it. That’s probably the best thing you could do with a black hole.”

“Thank you.”

“Wait, you know, if you ever just happen to find a black hole, you shouldn’t get too close because this thing called spaghettification will occur, and you’ll stretch ooooouuuuttt, which wouldn’t be very good. That’s why you should just stick to the lost sock and garbage idea.”

Gosh, I know it sounds crazy, but the whole thing made my eyes kinda mist up. I closed my laptop and joined Russell, who was still texting me sweet messages from his place in line on the other side of the room.

Even though he was absurdly late and totally off-schedule, NDT happily settled into a seat at the table on stage and signed books, etc., for the crowd. The line stretched around the entire auditorium. I couldn’t get past his enthusiasm. It was contagious. As he signed Russell’s book, I asked about the Rubik’s Cube next to him: “Do you always carry one or what’s going on here?”

He laughed, “No, they [pointing to a couple by the side of the stage] brought this and asked if I’d sign it for them. See, it’s only solved on one side, so if I sign it, it’ll just be scrambled if they ever try to solve it entirely. I’m going to solve it for them when the line’s died down, and then I’ll sign it.”

Astrophysicists are incredibly kind, patient rock stars, apparently. At least, this one is. What a super cool guy.

A little after midnight, we dragged our weary brains and feet to the confines of our vehicle. Dr. Tyson was still wiling away the night signing autographs, of course. Russell thanked me all the way home: “I really enjoyed that. I want you to know tonight was the coolest thing ever, and I love you so much.” He might have ruined Pluto’s rep, but NDT saved Valentine’s Day for me.

The next evening, Bella asked, “Mom? Didn’t you say you got a NASA sticker for me?”

After giving it to her, she immediately put it on her school binder,”This is so cool! Thanks.”

(This Neil deGrasse Tyson guy was scoring me all kinds of street cred, yo.)

“You’re welcome, Bella. Look, I have a brochure, also, on the scientist Russell and I saw last night.”

“Neil deGrassy…”

“deGrasse. He is an astrophysicist. You know what that means?”

“Yes, he studies the stars and planets.”

Good for her. “Yeah, but look at all the other stuff he does.” I totally sold Dr. T to her like there was no tomorrow, or, rather, like she was the only one who could save tomorrow. As she read through his bio, Bella said he seemed really cool. Then, she stuffed the brochure into her school binder behind the NASA sticker.

“You’re taking it to school?”

“Yeah, Mom. This guy is awesome. My news crew teacher is always asking for us to bring in stuff about good role models.” Wow. I went from being the worst mother in the world for making my kid join the nerd squad to being a beloved Science Mom. Yep. I’d ask for my gold star right about now, but I think this is the sort of thing parents are *supposed* to do by default of, well, being parents.

The world, with us in it, is kind of a horrifyingly beautiful, yet predictably random place. When everything comes together and the seas seem calm and endless, there are twice as many stars in the sky. Last night, Dr. Tyson donned his astrophysical superhero cape and reminded us of the importance of exploration — mentally and physically. He stormed the stage with anecdotes about Sir Isaac Newton. He implored us to become patrons within our scientific communities, to go out and foster our future generations. I’m giving my kid her starter cape to wear for her closed circuit, televised school report about Dr. Tyson’s role in universal scientific exploration. But first, I had to know: “Bella, who was Sir Isaac Newton?”

“He was the guy who first talked about inertia.”

Inertia, she said — NOT “The Seatbelt Law.”

Dr. Tyson, there’s hope after all.

(Thank you.)


I’m not sure I can accurately describe what it felt like as I watched the veterinarian’s assistant weigh my fourteen year-old dog to determine the cost and amount of necessary whatever-it-is-they-use for euthanasia. My friend and ex-husband kneeled next to the scale and told our old border collie it was “okay,” but I couldn’t decide if we were traitors or Jack Kevorkians or saints or terrible dog parents or what for having let him suffer as long as he did.

64lbs = sixty-something bucks, or $102 if you wanna hang around.

We hung around. Seemed like the right thing to do after all the years he put up with us.

Hydrox, by Michelle McLaughlin

Hydrox, by Michelle McLaughlin

Hydrox was born on January 8, 1995 — the last-born, runt pup from a litter of five. It took his mom 45 minutes longer to have him. He was so tiny and with sharp claws, like a little black and white rat. I used to carry him around on my shoulder because he yelped for attention constantly. God, he really was the most adorable puppy ever.

My ex was in the Marine Corps, so throughout those years we spent away from home, Hydrox was often my only friend. In the mornings when we lived on the west coast, Drox and I walked to the top of the mountain behind our home and watched the fog settle, sometimes revealing the distant ocean on a clear day. Hydrox loved watching the sunrise and the sunset. During twilight walks, he sometimes ran off to play with a coyote pal he’d made, which always flipped me out. He never needed a leash unless we were going to be taking the cat with us (but that was just because Hydrox’s pet cat, Edie, would only walk on one if she was leading the caravan). He didn’t mind sucking it up for the cat — or any cat — and seemed to think it was his duty to make sure all felines throughout the course of his life were cleaned daily and kept in good spirits.

While I was pregnant with The Bell, Hydrox gained sympathy weight and lots of it. We went to Subway every day back then. I always ordered Drox a meatball sub as he watched patiently through the window. One afternoon, the owner invited him inside, gave my dog his own Subway Club card, and insisted we eat in the restaurant at a booth. When a customer complained once, she told the guy: “That dog is one of my best customers, and he’s welcome to sit in that booth as long as he wants.” It’s the sort of thing that would probably make Subway’s corporate office cringe, I guess, but, hey, Hydrox was a lot more hygienic than some of the other regulars.

Hydrox used to stare at my tummy when The Bell would go crazy in there. He’d listen to her, step back in shock, lay his head on my gargantuan belly, and jump back again. I’ll never forget the day we brought Bella home and watched carefully, neurotically as Hydrox and his Edie cat peered into the carrier. He licked Bella’s forehead, but I could tell he was incredibly sad about being knocked down a notch on the totem pole. My mother’s favorite photo of him was taken by her the next morning as he and Edie waited anxiously outside our bedroom door.

Shortly thereafter, the USMC active duty was at an end, and I packed up The Bell and pets and moved back to Texas while my spouse finished school in Florida. Once again, Hydrox was my closest friend. He was up with the baby. He was down with the baby. He and Edie cat kept the “vampires and the elephants and the werewolves and all those sorts away from The Bell.” I thought he was the best baby accessory ever — always there to clean up the floor after mealtime, always there to alert me when there was a tasty, er, dirty diaper.

A year or so later, Edie was stung by a wasp in the throat. My former husband was mowing the lawn. I heard the engine cut off. Rustling. Then the door opened to the house: “Kristan, Edie is dead.” Hydrox followed us to the edge of the half-mown yard later that day, nudged her small, black body, waited as we heart-brokenly buried her. Then he sobbed on her grave for two hours until my ex dragged him back into the house. People who say animals have no feelings are full of crap. Hydrox mourned the death of Edie for such a long time. I still feel like crying when I think of his whimpering on that fresh mound of soil a decade ago.

Loved: polka, wooly bears, Hot Chocolate’s song “You Sexy Thing,” snacking on pepperoni pizza bones while watching the movie “Babe”, strawberry Nutrigrain bars, Dr. Doolittle, kitties, “T-rex” bones, sneaking into bed, truck rides IN the cab, cat food, Shark Week, Abe, trips to Subway, Little Jenny, California, butt rubs, posing for photographs.

Hated: The TV show “Flipper” (after we left the TV on an Animal Planet “Flipper” marathon and went to work one day; He was never the same with Flipper after that), blueberry Nutrigrain bars, dog sweaters, leashes, Hawaiian shirts, my close friend Chuck, bubblegum, car rides, Elvis, our old roommate Drew, The Anti-Chewing Cone, being called “fat.”

Memorable moments:

Hydrox attacked an Elvis cardboard cutout thinking it was an intruder once.

The day we put a hood over the litter pan, Hydrox was found in the living room dragging the cat box around because he’d gotten it stuck on his head.

We told Bella that he was “Jeff,” our first-born child, who turned into Hydrox on his sixth birthday. She didn’t fall for it. My ex pointed out this morning that the Jeff story never translated well for others, but he still cracked up thinking about it anyway.

Hydrox suffered for a long time. Just his luck, he was allergic to grass and fleas and, gosh, who knows what else. We called him the Six Million Dollar Dog because his vet bills felt like that much. We even discussed pet health insurance a few times. I know that sounds insane. Hydrox’s “dad” used to tell our friends that he thought Hydrox had really died a long time ago, but my love was keeping him alive in some weird zombified, Pet Cemetery way.

When I divorced, Hydrox was devastated. I left Drox because I had to. It kills me to think he probably thought I abandoned him these last two years, that I only came to say hello for a couple minutes once or twice a week. I thought about him all the time, about how he seemed slower each time I was there, about how grey his black fur had gotten. He couldn’t see well. He couldn’t hear because of all the ear infections. When the ex told me Hydrox had begun falling down the stairs, I knew it was time.

This morning I met my old friend/ex-husband, at that place I used to live. We drank coffee; I petted his cats. The portrait I’d had taken of a six month-old Bella with Hydrox and his favorite bone hung above the desk. We dug up the leash from the last time we took Hydrox to the vet and gossiped about a bunch of idle chit-chat that had nothing to do with what was about to happen. Then we helped Hydrox into the backseat of my truck.

At the vet, I tried to behave like it was just going to be another annoying allergy treatment or something so “Jeff,” our first-born, wouldn’t get too nervous.

“He’s 64lbs.”

My ex-husband didn’t have to say anything. I knew we both remembered when Drox was twice that, the lug. As I turned from the scales to the reception desk, I got overwhelmed by it all. The lady handed me a Kleenex and told me she was so sorry, and I believed her. I’d hate to have to see that sort of thing everyday.

While we waited in the little room before the vet arrived, we told Hydrox how much we loved him, how he’d always been such a good friend. We were “sorry.” There was “gonna be a place,” we told him, “where he wouldn’t have to take baths all the time.” Drox nuzzled his snout in the crook of my elbow. I hate to say, but he was really scared, and I feel awful about that.

Then it was really time. I stared into his brown eyes until he wasn’t behind them anymore. My ex bent to the ground, and the vet told us, “Hydrox seemed like a nice dog.” That’s what everybody said.

On the way back, I noticed two spots on my sleeve — from his snout, still damp from when he’d buried his doggy nose there.

I can’t believe he’s gone. I can’t believe it was fourteen years. Already.

In a few minutes, we’ll pick The Bell up from school. It will be the first day she’s been alive without Hydrox, and I hope she isn’t mad at us for not keeping her home. There were zero easy decisions with zero right answers today, but I know one thing for sure: I loved him.

And for what it’s worth where ever you are now:

Dear Hydrox,

Thanks. I know you were a mind reader, so it’s not like I have to really say anything else, but I was pretty upset earlier and forgot to say some stuff.

I always told you the truth. You always listened. I’m still sorry I made you wear the green sweater that one winter. And the cone, I’m sorry I paraded you around with that thing on in public.

You were the runt, but you survived your mom, your three brothers, and your sister. So, you won. Nyah. Stick it to ’em.

I’ll be alright. I promise.

Go get Edie now.

I love you again, Hydroxygen.

XO, Mom

And if that hambone could speak from beyond the grave, he’d have one last thing to add, I know:

So long and thanks for all the …meatball subs.

Hydroxygen, January 8, 1995 – January 26, 2009: First-born, loyal friend, faithful compadre, wonderdog.

Un-Baked Alaska Forever

Twenty years ago, my mother set sail forever on her great Alaskan cruise. This was not a fantasy getaway or anything; instead, it was just her typical weekend sojourn in the kitchen, attempting to conquer whatever-it-was she’d seen that week on the cooking channel. Most of the time, this really worked out to my advantage. However, not many weeks have escaped us since The Great Baked Alaska Tragedy in which Mom hasn’t smuggled the incident into casual conversation.

“…and so I convinced The Bell to order her sandwich on wheat bread after that. Why do kids like white so much anyway?”

“Kristan, that reminds me. There’s fresh Amish Friendship Bread on the counter. Grab a piece, but stick it back into the oven when you’re done so it’ll keep at the right temperature. We wouldn’t want another Baked Alaska incident.”

No, we wouldn’t — not that it would matter, though. I mean, Mom couldn’t possibly get more mileage out of What Happened even if it’d happened twice. (I think.)

On that fateful afternoon, two decades ago, Mom completed her Baked Alaskan project. For those of you who haven’t been fully briefed on fad dessert trends from a million years ago, BA is really just a giant blob of ice cream covered in whipped something-or-another and then briefly thrown into an oven. It’s supposed to resemble an ice berg, but looks more like a gallon of delicious Blue Bell trapped in a hardened, sugary prison. Something along those lines. Anyway, when Mom was finished, she arranged her masterpiece on a set table and painstakingly took a candlelit portrait. I’m serious. Then, after stuffing the dessert into the freezer for safe keeping, Mom waited for her dinner guests.

That’s when I arrived with my best friend, who not only sampled the dessert, but also left it out…

…to melt.

At the time, I felt awful about it, and, man, Mom was rightfully pissed off. I slinked away for the rest of that weekend in order to avoid The Wrath of Mom. 

Today I retrieved the cranberry salad from Mom’s fridge as we all crowded around the holiday table. When I closed the door, I cracked up because stuck behind a magnetized framed, there was the portrait Mom took of her beloved Baked Alaska — from the late eighties, during the last breath of the Reagan admin, just months before the Berlin Wall was torn down, when George Michael and Elton John had yet to officially leap out of the closet. There were a few recipes tacked to the door with various magnets, a drawing Isobel did a while back, and that photo of the baked sore spot. Point: Mom was NEVER gonna let the Alaskan thing go. 

“Did you find the salad?”


“Well, close the door all the way and MAKE SURE IT’S SHUT. We don’t need another Baked Alaska moment on Christmas.”

Or New Year’s…

Or Valentine’s…

Or next Wednesday.

And yet, the teeth-grinding, fist-clenching, eye-squinting Mom-isms would be missed if they were suddenly gone.

Child Support for Dummies

The other day I overheard a conversation in which a man was complaining about having to pay child support. He told his friend, “…and every time I see my ex, she’s wearing new shoes. Can you believe that?”

No! How dare that woman purchase new shoes! Everybody knows your former, evil seductress — the one who’s now single-handedly rearing your contribution to the Great DNA Swim — should be forced to walk on tacks and broken glass before she’s permitted multiple footwear options. For crying in a bucket, what a wench!

Look, Moron, one of the popular, oft-intrinsic benefits of being born with a uterus is the ability to hone in on hella-reduced shoes. For what you spent on lunch that day, bitching and moaning about the financial woe of being a weekend parent, I could have purchased two pairs of shoes, maybe three — and in less time than what it took you to order, eat, and calculate a ten percent tip for your “busy waitress chick with the saggy tits.” (At least you’re across-the-board in your effort to be crowned Mr. Silas Marner 2008.)

Yet, you’re not really complaining about the cost of footwear, though, right? Nah, you’re mad because she’s taking your kid-money and doesn’t appear to be suffering. In fact, she’s going about business as usual. I would have enjoyed eavesdropping your honest sentiments, which might have been more along the lines of: “And every time I see my ex, I’m freakin’ irritated she’s not begging on the corner of Market and Stemmons.” Or how about: “And every time I see my ex, I still notice every detail,” because, let’s face it, you’re still wrapped up in the drama of your split. It’s not about your child, and that pisses me off. Why? Because it takes a village to compensate for the mistakes of its idiots. I don’t enjoy picking up your slack — emotionally OR monetarily.

Allow me to clear things up somewhat. Custodial parents do not “qualify” for child support from non-custodial parents; they’re entitled to it. This is not about charity, and you aren’t some kind of hero if you submit regular payments to your baby mama/daddy. In fact, bragging about that sort of thing is about as silly as telling people how rad you are for stopping at red lights. Furthermore, the money is about your kiddo’s welfare. If new shoes are something Baby Mama needs to wear in order to bring home her share of the bacon for Little Precious, so be it. It’s not like she’s laying around eating bon-bons in those shoes you bought her. If so, you should have fought for full custody (and been more selective with whom you impregnated). Deal with it or shut up, Silas.

Things I do with my shoes (that your ex might also do): Clean Little Precious’ room, take Little Precious to school, slay scary bugs for Little Precious, prepare Little Precious’ meals, purchase Little Precious’ groceries, take LP to the movies and the library and the pool and Six Flags and and AND…well, hopefully, you get the idea. Man, it would suck to do all of that barefooted or with only one pair. I’d hate to wear my work boots to the public pool. Likewise, I shiver to think of how hideously imbalanced your child might be if his/her mother is expected to live like some kind of little matchbox girl in order to save for that Lamborghini Gallardo you probably think she should purchase for his sixteenth birthday gift (after ALL those years of receiving your child support).

Chirrens ain’t cheap or easy. If you think a few hundred bucks here and there will float the boat, you should be sterilized right this second. Seriously, you really should — because your semen shouldn’t be allowed to contaminate the gene pool any further. You should WANT to make sure your child has everything he/she needs to avoid making your mistakes, to be successful in her endeavors, yeah? Well, sometimes that isn’t free. Sometimes it takes a lot of friggin’ “shoes” to make that happen. There’s a difference between being a good, attentive parent and just being an ATM. You often have to be both AND in a way that’s also good for your own well-being. Otherwise, you create a spoiled brat who’s been allowed to suck your lifeblood dry. Your baby mama does you no justice if she deprives herself. Therefore, when you see her sporting those new shoes, know she deserves them; after all, she’s wearing them when she’s singing Hannah Montana with your kid.

As for me, I can’t complain. My ex knows cool kicks are a small price to pay for the woman who loves his child as much as he does.

Grandmother’s Guinness Book of Something

As I kissed my Grandmother Ruth goodbye, I noticed two things: The Dunny I brought last Mother’s Day was on display next to her chair, and Grandma’s toenails were excessively overgrown. Oh, gross. I was shocked agents from Guinness hadn’t been by to authenticate some sort of world record. Unable to leave Grandma like that, I escorted her to the bedroom and sent Dad on a search for de-hoofing tools. 

“I know they’re long, KK, but I can’t get to them anymore.”

Dad returned with a complete pedicure kit. The three of us looked at each other, and I felt certain Grandma was the only one amongst us with prior foot fancification experience [Don King-ism, thank you]. I sent Dad out of the room and apologized to Grandma, “I have never done this before. I don’t want to hurt you, but some of these nails are turned under and look ingrown, ok?”

With that, I surveyed the torture devices within the nail kit. I was only cutting the nails. That was it. Nothing else, none of the frou-frou stuff.

Laying back on her pillow, Grandma winced.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Are you ok?”

“Yes, honey. It’s not hurting me.”

Liar. I’d have to be more careful.

I slowly worked my way across each toe on each foot. Some of the trimmings flung themselves into my face as I snipped them. I can’t believe I am doing this. Gross. A dense layer of white clippings decorated the front of my black vest like fungal, calcified snowflakes. Oooooh, my god. I brushed myself off and caught eyes with Grandma. Humiliated and embarrassed, she apologized. I pulled the giant emory board from its plastic pouch. I’m going to file this mess down so she won’t cut herself with these sharp former-talons, and that’s it.

“Does that hurt? I am bad at this kind of stuff.”

She shook her head.

“Does it tickle or anything?” 

“No, doesn’t tickle, honey.”

Twenty minutes later, Grandma had human toenails again. I could almost hear the Guinness guys getting back inside their cars. Ashy with nail dust, Ruth wiggled her toes.

“Thank you so much. I know how unpleasant that was.”

Sigh, I am going to wash her feet with a washcloth, and that is it.

“I hope this isn’t too cold. I have to clean your feet.”

“Alright. Thank you again.”

“You don’t have to thank me, Grandma.”

I blotted the pads of her toes.

“Oh, I really do appreciate this. It feels so nice.”

Good, I wasn’t killing her. I grabbed the mammoth bottle of lotion next to her pillow.

“I’m going to massage your feet a minute, ok?”

She leaned back and closed her eyes. I worked the lotion over her incredibly dehydrated feet and calves.

“That just feels wonderful.”

“I’m so glad to do it. All you have to do is ask for help.”

“You get used to it — the long toenails and, you know, the other things that happen when you get older.”

“You don’t have to. Dad is always here.”

“I hate to bother him,” she said as she struggled up. “I can’t find the controller for my bed. It is usually right here.”

I put the lotion on the shelf and raised her into a sitting position. Ruth grabbed my hand. “I know your father did not have a perfect life, and I want you to forgive him like I forgave his father. Your grandfather wanted to do things, to buy things for you all, but he couldn’t bring himself to…to communicate. He was so awful at that.”

I sat down next to her. There wasn’t anything left in the pedicure case for me to tackle her with next. 

“I know, Grandma.”

“You were a handful, KK. You were not an easy child. I am still so proud of you, my sweet grand daughter. Look at you now. Just look at you.”

Look at what? What did she mean? 

Grandma continued, “You don’t even know it yet.”

“Know what, Grandma?”

“You’re a good person. I love you so very much. I wanted you to know.”

We were totally having the conversation I wanted to have with her at the hospital. I couldn’t believe it. Suddenly, my face was coated in thick layers of tears — the variety that drop directly from your eyes, like rain, and without your even having realized them. I buried my head in her lap and bawled and told her I loved her, too. And…

“…I know Grandpa meant well. I know he wasn’t treated nicely, but everybody is fine.”

She patted my hair.

“I love you so much, KK. You know I love you, don’t you?”

“I do.” Lifting my head, I looked up at her sideways like I did when I was little. She smiled down at me and wiped my cheeks. I put my head back down on her lap while she continued stroking my hair, and we sat like that for a very long time. I couldn’t gauge it, but the light changed outside, I know.

She knows she’s old and that it’s time to quit looking at the world through bullshit-colored glasses, I guess. I’m so glad she flagged me down.

Next week, I’m driving back to Dad’s. Maybe this time, I’ll bring polish. I’m on a roll with this pedicure thing.

Perhaps, I should practice polishing my own toes while I’m at it, even.

Ten Seconds Tops

I spent the last half of Monday pulling the covers over my head, intermittently throwing them off long enough to stare at my shiny new ring, and then burying myself back inside my cozy, comforter-y cocoon. Earlier in the day, Russell and I exchanged tungsten rings inside Richard Serra‘s sculpture, The Vortex, located on the southern lawn of Fort Worth’s Modern. It was an ideal moment right in the middle of my extraordinary, ordinary chaos.


The Vortex, Richard Serra

The Vortex, Richard Serra


I’ve been overwhelmed, and the sudden surge of extreme happiness seemed to highlight exactly HOW overwhelmed I’ve been.

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