Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Not Yet

Once we got about 100 yards down the beach, he and I were basically alone. We scanned the sand for skipping rocks and rifled them into the surf. He chased after the seagulls and laughed in the whitewater banging on the shore. Saturday afternoon in San Clemente, our third day there. We were both hot and tired, walking away from the crowds and noise, just me and my son.


AJ's life has been pretty crowded lately. For two weeks, he's shared an apartment with 11 other people. His days with me have been a relief. Just the two of us. But we had plans for this past weekend. More crowds. Lots of kids.

On Thursday, we drove down to San Clemente State Park with Emet for a weekend of camping at the beach. The weather broke just in time. Southern California experiences what id known colloquially as "June Gloom." Overcast skies, humidity, a tenacious marine layer. It's not cold, but there's not a lot of sun. Thankfully, the gloom ended a few days early.

Beach camping is a yearly tradition for Emet's family. They've been doing it since she was a kid. It's far more involved than picking a site and pitching a tent. Elaborate meals, arts and crafts, beer. Throwing in friends, we numbered close to 80 people, more than half of them kids, all of them full of summer energy. Right down AJ's alley, of course. He's met all of Emet's nieces and nephews, idolizes the older boys, is curious about the younger girls. When he found out two of the nephews, just entering high school age, would be in the tent right next to ours, he was beside himself.

Still, on Saturday afternoon, all the stimulation got to him.


He looked a bit forlorn, sitting there by himself. He mindlessly packed sand. I suggested he join a group of other kids building a castle. He declined. A boy came and asked if he could help. AJ sent him on his way and returned to his task, whatever it was. The wave came and drenched both AJ and his pile.

He started to cry. Was inconsolable. I sat him down next to me under the shade of an umbrella, out of the heat, cool down, a 15-minute timeout. I tried to talk him out of his meltdown, but kids that age, when the injustice just feels too great, can only offer "but!" So I ignored his sniffling sobs.

Easier said than done. Parental reaction #1: Make it better. So I asked if he wanted to walk down the beach. Just he and I.

He stopped crying, but started talking about his new step-brothers. About how they tease him, say he has a "funny face." News and insecurities flowed out of him, complaints against the sound of the waves. I pulled him to my hip as we walked, my voice even as I listened.

This is the way my child communicates. Not in answer to a pointed question, but randomly, when comfortable. It's how I know what is going on with him. It's a helpless feeling sometimes. As with most parent-child relationships, those lines of communication are less apt to be open as the kid grows older, learns to keep his own counsel, a fact exacerbated by the time he spends away from me, at his mother's house where I have even less idea of what the fuck is going on.

But as soon as he started, he stopped. He was unburdened for the time being.


Behind us, the umbrellas got smaller, the shouts of the children turned to silence. AJ was himself again, finding wonder in a sand crab, delight in jumping into the steep angle of the shore. His face shone with a sunshine smile and we just walked, sometimes together, sometimes apart, but always tethered. His laughter buoyed us and, when I finally noticed how far we'd gone, I asked him, "Do you want to turn back?"

"No," he said, as he reached for my hand. "Not yet."

So we kept walking. Just my son and I, certain with each other.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what I got for my birthday this year.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


The question today is not if the US can beat the world's best footballing side in the Confederations Cup semi-final in South Africa. On paper, Spain is a massive favorite. Any reasonable, unbiased analysis says the Spaniards will stroke the ball around at will, exploit the tiniest of gaps in the US rearguard and generally have their way with the Americans.

I will accept this as a given.

But a question does remain. How will the US perform? Tentatively and awed, as they did against Brazil (and, to a lesser extent, Costa Rica in qualifying)? Or committed and confident, as against Egypt.

Without a doubt, the US is up against it. They must lay deep against Spain, a tactic that no team prefers. The speed and movement of Fernando Torres and David Villa is a bad match-up for the Nats pedestrian back four. Therefore, they can't play up the pitch. That creates a domino effect, forcing the US midfield to also play deeper, lest there be too much space between the two lines, space where the likes of Xavi, Cesc Fabregas and Xabi Alonso can operate at will. As such, the US will be forced to rely on counter-attacks and set-pieces (which are a Spanish weakness and a US strength) to generate offense. In a perfect world, the Americans would be able to have a measure of ball possession themselves--against a side that lives with the ball at their feet--to take some of the pressure off defensively. I don't see that happening, not with the available personnel, nor with the necessary set-up.

The game against Italy provides a blueprint. The final score obscures how well the US played in that game, finding chances in the first half before Ricardo Clark was sent off for a red card. The work-rate was superb, if invention in the offensive third was not. Defend as a team, don't chase the ball, keep shape and transition quickly from defense to offense. Get the ball forward to the guys with pace, Altidore, Davies, Donovan, and rush into attack. Fitness and desire will play a major part.

The first 15 minutes will tell. If the US gives up another early goal (they've been scored upon in the first 10 minutes in three of their last five games), they will be finished. Chasing the game is difficult enough. Chasing the game against a Spanish side that is on a 35-match unbeaten run and is the best in the world at moving the ball around is suicide. If the US can get in some early tackles, show some thrust going forward, the tenor of the game might change in their favor. Results aside, this is a chance for the US to make a statement.

Live blog to come. Stay tuned.


0 min: US lineup: Howard-Spector-Onyewu-DeMerit-Bocanegra-Dempsey-Clark-Bradley-Donovan-Davies-Altidore

Carlos Bocanegra returns from a hamstring injury and is placed out wide left at the expense of Jonny Bornstein. Great substitution. Long-time National Team followers have begged for Boca to be moved to the left from the center of defense. DeMerit's performance alongside Onyewu in South Africa apparently (finally!) convinced Coach Bob Bradley to pull the trigger. Tim Howard in for Brad Guzan in goal.

This is the best possible lineup Bradley could have sent out. So far so good.

0 min: Spain lineup: Casillas-Sergio Ramos-Pique-Puyol-Capdevila-Xabi Alonso-Fabregas-Xavi-Riera-Villa-Torres.

An embarrassment of riches. No surprises there. I feel compelled to mention they put their shorts on one leg at a time, just live everyone else.

0 min: Jorginho told me to "Be More Funny." I replied that my live blogs are always hilarious, because I'm drunk when I do them. Though that's not the case today, I'll give it a shot.

Here's one: I have a new catch phrase: "I give it two years." It is said with bitterness, grunted almost, and refers to anything that sucks. It comes from my mother, of all people, who said it when informed that X got married last week. Honestly, if you could heard the way she said it, you'd know how funny it is.

0 min: And we're on the air! I typically watch US games with the sound off while listening to Elliott Smith, who makes me happier than the commentators, especially Tommy Smyth. Sound is on today, though, so I can make fun of insipid statemenst from John Harkes and JP Dellacamera.

0 min: I love Spain. Five Liverpool players on the roster, three in the Starting XI, including Fernando "El Nino" Torres upon whom I have the largest man-crush in the history of Bromances. It is not possible tove love a man you will never meet in a more heterosexual way than I love El Nino.

My kingdom for a tilda.

I love the way they play. I love the way they decimated Germany last summer. I love their uniforms. I love recalling the time my Spanish friend Sergio screamed at a TV in fractured english, "The referee! He is always against a-Spain!"

0 min: JP says "no pressure on the US today." Um...really? I stridently do not concur.

1 min: And away we go.

1 min: Gooch is wearing gloves. He is either taking a motorcycle ride right after the game of has a really bad case of psoriasis.

2 min: That is what the US can't do. Give away possession in their half and concede a free kick in a dangerous spot.

4 min: US corner comes to nothing. At least they didn't play it short to Beasley.

5 min: Great ball from Gooch to Davies. Casillas alert to cut out the danger. Davies was in alone.

6 min: 50-50 balls, 2nd balls, knock-downs...the US has to win them all.

6 min: Donovan's touch heavy there, but it appears the counters are on.

7 min: Wow. Davies bicycle kick a couple yards off the mark. US attacking with intent. Me likee!

8 min: US on top right now. Let me repeat that. US on top right now. Davies rampant. Donovan turning guys. Dempsey shoots just wide. Fantastic stuff.

10 min: It's difficult to rattle the confidence of the best team in the world, but the US forays into the Spanish end could make Sergio Ramos and Capdevila think twice about heading up the flanks with the regularity they usually do.

12 min: Torres goes close soon after a Clark give-away. Can't turn it over in our half, boys.

13 min: Spain not quite as crisp as we're used to seeing them. That can change in an instant, but the US is doing a good job of disrupting their flow. Playing higher up the pitch than I thought they would.

15 min: If Jozy's gonna wear those awful blue shoes, he'd better get a brace. At minimum.

17 min: Forgot to mention Donovan's yellow. He deserved it, but it's nice to see Lanny actually go in hard on someone. Usually, he just blows lightly in their ear.

18 min: Good start. Organized in the back. Confident on the ball. Got past that magic 15 minute mark without conceding.

18 min: Howard with a huge save, but Torres is offside. Torres was also wide open in the middle.

19 min: Somebody fucking shoot the ball!

21 min: Thank you, Lanny.

21 min: Clark really having a great start to this game.

22 min: Spain looking very dangerous now. Last pass is lacking. Not for long, I bet. End-to-end action. Good stuff.

23 min: US defending in numbers and then hoofing it up the pitch. Not a recipe for success.

26 min: Are we really only 25 min, in? I'm exhausted. US defends two corners in quick succession and clears to Davies who is mauled by Puyol in a somewhat homoerotic fashion.

27 min: Goal USA! Jozy! Turns Capdevila and wrong foots Casillas who gets a hand on it, but not enough.

Oh my goodness.

29 min: I'm not sure what to do with myself right now. Who's more stunned? Me or Spain?

30 min: I was starting to doubt whether this group of US players had any sack.

30 min: Abysmal touch from El Nino. Great defending by Spector. Sergio Ramos camped out in US offensive third. Corner Spain. Corner again Spain.

32 min: Great take by Donovan, Clark gives it up too easily (possible foul), Spain gets a lucky deflection to Villa in the box, but he shoots wide and over. He does not do that very often.

35 min: US clearing headers could use some work. We'll address that on the training ground.

36 min: El Nino caught offsides for the third time. Stoppages, even this early, good for the US. Spain play at such a high tempo. Pause for wind and disrupt the flow of the game.

36 min: Donovan's free kick just inches too high for Dempsey who deads wide. Clint up for it today. Nice to see.

38 min: Spain with another lightning-quick transition, but US gets back. Just.

39 min: Torres was very nearly in there. Again, Spain is just a fraction off with the final pass.

39 min: At this point, it's time to play for halftime. Take the lead into the locker room.

40 min: Xabi Alonso whacks down Jozy. Frustration setting in? Or maybe he hates those electric blue shoes as much as I do.

42 min: US living right. Spain gives away a chance on a free kick and Gooch clears one inside the 6-yard box with Sergio Ramos lurking.

43 min: Possession is all Spain's right now. Basically what we thought the game would look like beforehand. US a little panicky with halftime looming.

25 min: As I said...Torres abuses Bocanegra, twice, but Howard gets a leg down to stop the near-post effort.

C'mon halftime whistle.

45 min: Halftime.

Seriously, I need a break. My analysis is all up there. It was all Spain the last 15 minutes. Bradley will need to find an answer or two and make the right substitutions.

I can't believe we're discussing how to hold a lead against Spain.

46 min: Spain right back on attack. Howard saves from Villa.

50 min: This is going to be a 45-minute onslaught. US needs to keep its composure. And, I think, some subs pretty soon. They look gassed.

51 min: Spaces getting huge. You might say, gaping. Another corner for Spain. That's 3 this half already.

52 min: SI's Grant Wahl reports Jozy's strike is the first goal Spain have conceded in 451 minutes. That's 5 games, for the mathematically challenged.

55 min: That central ball into Xavi is too easy now. Need to cut that off.

56 min: Speaking of SI soccer writers, I wonder if Luis Bueno feels like an idiot? He should since his last column comparing US and Mexico performances in major tourneys was not only false (by omission, as in the relative strength of the sides' groups in the last world cup for instance), but now is rendered meaningless by the US performance since publication.

58 min: US conceding the flanks, which is fine, they have to concede something, but if you're going to clog the middle, clog the fucking middle. That central ball is still there and that's what the tactics are supposed to take away.

61 min: Better now from the US. Jozy and Davies need to find space on the wings. Both standing too centrally. Make Puyol and Pique chase them around some.

64 min: Sure, it's target practice right now, but the US has played with a ton of courage tonight.

65 min: I'm thinking subs, Bob. Feilhaber for Davies, push Dempsey up top.

65 min: US blocking shots like a hockey team.

67 min: Spain does the US a great favor with those long, searching balls.

68 min: Not the best game I've seen from Fabregas.

69 min: Attaboy Bob. You know how to get on my good side. Just do what I tell ya.

72 min: Eighteen minutes, plus stoppage, from a famous victory. Keep your head, boys.

73 min: Spain showing some fatigue now. They've not been at their best, but plenty sharp everywhere but the US box.

74 min: Goal US! Dempsey! 2-0! Terrible mistake by Sergio Ramos. Dawdles in his own 6-yard-box and Clint bangs it home.

Are you kidding me?

76 min: This is beyond belief. I'm beyond believing. Remember, Spain have won 15 straight, unbeaten in 35. 35! And they're gonna lose to the USA?

79 min: Not that I'm counting chickens or anything. Bad foul by Feilhaber and Spain with a free kick in a dangerous spot.

Howard saves a rather tame effort.

80 min: Onyewu huge tonight. Man of the match.

81 min: Spain's last los: Nov. 2006. US's last loss...a week ago.

Cue up the "We Want Brazil!" chants?

82 min: It is quite refreshing to see Dempsey working his ass off. Doesn't happen often enough.

84 min: Gooch again. He's won every header n the box it has seemed.

87 min: Unbelievable. Red for Michael Bradley. Had to happen sooner or later, I suppose.

Next game without one of our more accomplished players, though I think even a yellow there would have ruled him out.

88 min: Spain keeps serving those balls into the box and Gooch keeps heading them clear. He's a man.

89 min: I have no perspective at this point. None. I have no idea how to rate or encapsulate this game. It's quite literally beyond my comprehension.

90 min: Three minutes of stoppage time. Enough time for Man U, perhaps, but few else.

90+ min: You know, Conor, you've only been on the field for like 12 minutes, perhaps you could be bothered to run a little more, considering we have 10. Just a thought. Dick.

90+ min: Just a proud effort. Lofty effort.


The US just beat the best team in the world.

That simple sentence will have to suffice for now.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

God Morgon (is Swedish for Good Morning and it's pronounced Go Moron)

When my ex-brother-in-law (which is a term I need to retire, you know, 'cause he didn't divorce me and he's AJ's uncle, so he's still family; I'll take suggestions) walked into my apartment last night, his first words were, "Of course."

He was referring to the A's-Dodgers game on the TV, because, though we've not spent ample time together over the last nine years, my A's obsession is well-known. Once, when we were in Sweden, I politely asked if we could go into town--we were at a cabin on the archipelago without internet access--to find out a score. This was in 2002, shortly after the A's record 20-game win streak came to a halt and the score in question was the opener of a four-game set against the Angels, then fighting for the AL West lead.

He drove me in, twenty minute trip, and we finagled a computer at a local gas station. They won. Tim Hudson with the honors.

You know, I briefly considered "Hudson" as a name for AJ?

Anyways...Niklas is in town for the nuptials and we decided to go out one night and catch up. He's a good guy, plenty smart, and a lot of fun to hang out with. From the outside, you may think this meeting would have some awkward aspects, but that's not the case at all. Though we did touch on some of the delicate subject matter surrounding X, it was all good and agreeable. Mostly, we talked sports and politics and sub-prime mortgages and the time I dropped my pants at his motorcycle club in Sweden.

For future reference, Wednesday night is Country Night at my local watering hole. I did not know this. But it wasn't half bad. The band was stellar and mixed in some actual songs amongst the "My Dog Died and My Old Lady Stole My Truck" standards, including a splendid version of "Sultans of Swing," one of my all-time favorite cuts. The bartendress calling everyone "Pardner" was just icing on the cake.

Like any human being with an accent, Niklas drew the attention of some of the locals, like Mike, who reminded me of my Uncle Curt and who didn't believe a Swede existed without blond hair. Big fan of the fist bump, Mike, but entertaining in his way. Some kids overheard and wanted to know about the chicks in Sweden (everything you've heard is true and you should especially know that Swedish women have flawless skin) and we ended up telling them about the time I dropped my pants at his motorcycle club in Sweden.

There was really no catalyst for me doing that, standing pantsless in the middle of the dance floor. I was just hammered, mostly because a guy who claimed Sonny Barger as a personal hero, a guy who quietly stared at me, mencingly, I thought, for three hours, a guy with narrative scars running all over his face, finally walked over, loomed over me like some Norse God, and said, "Come, we have cognac." There was no question I went, and some four cognacs later, on top of all the beer--with weird names like "Falcon"--he and I were compadres. Though he later asked me to put my pants back on.

Niklas is enjoying his stay, has taken the kids to Hollywood and Disneyland, and on days where nothing is planned, sits out on the porch and plays online poker. He was surprised to find out the Pens beat the Wings, the latter being largely populated by Swedes, making them a favorite in the home country. He humorously described how he asked everyone at X's place who won Game 7 (he was on a flight while it was going on) and nobody knew.

We talked about AJ. He said both he and his wife think he looks just like me. I don't really see it. He's a step-dad, you know, to my ex-niece and nephew, and he was adamant. Assuring me. No matter how much those kids love him, how much he does with them, he'll never be on that higher plane, he'll never be Dad.


I woke up with a raging headache this morning. People my age should not be drinking on a Wednesday. For family, you make exceptions.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


"I had a cool dream last night," AJ said this morning.

"What about?"

"I don't want to tell you. I want to keep it for myself."


I hadn't seen the boy for a few days. I gave up my weekend with him so he could spend it with X, whose family arrived from Sweden last week. AJ doesn't get to see his grandparents and cousins much, so I figured he would enjoy that more than playing Guitar Hero: Metallica with his old man (which we've been doing non-stop) or folding my hands while I take a bathroom break in the middle of another (mythical) Final Table run (three fictional times this month).

Predictably, he talked non-stop about what he'd been up to, from the good ("I got to stay up 'til midnight!") to the bad ("I went shopping with Mommy at Macy's. It was horrible.") and this weekend's wedding festivities. As excited as he is for all the action, he was also happy to be the center of attention again, one-on-one, instead of a single (albeit LOUD) voice among many. I'm sure he missed me, as I did him, but I think he was also relieved to get away from the chaos for a while.


For my part, I will be absconding to San Diego this weekend with Emet with an agenda of sun, baseball and Gaslamp District tomfoolery. It's not as if I need to get away to erect a denial bubble about X getting married, about AJ getting a step-family. I don't see how it really changes anything as far as my role. And as I've repeated many times, I have no longing for my "previous" life. Some regrets? Sure. But any desire to be back where I was four years ago knowing what I know now? None. That marriage was poisoned. I just didn't know it until after.

I'm sick of talking about it, actually (he said, as he talked about it) and therein lies part of the reason why I've been so scarce in this space. After all the drama, it has seemed to me that frivolity had lost its place here, that recitation of my mundane wanderings were beneath some sort of nebulous standard that I'd built in my head. Problem. If the writing is based on false prophets and perceived reaction, it's no good to anyone.

The second issue sounds cheeky on the surface, but it's undoubtedly true: I write less when I'm happy. Funny thing. I write to work things out. If nothing needs tending, then poof. Nada. I also cry more when ecstatic, touched, than when I'm sad, for what that's worth.

So, I'm happy. Deliriously so. And I haven't written about it because a) I don't do syrupy very well and b) like my son, I've kept this good dream to myself.


I was asked about Emet recently. I fumbled for words. Not because I couldn't find one. Because I found many. We share so much. Interests. Beliefs. Goals. I tried to encompass all of these things. What is it that set her apart from my previous failures?

Recognizing my past mistakes is part of it. Not fair to blame the women without looking inward. I've chosen badly. Not bad women. Bad for me. It all comes back to certain expectations, traits I believe I needed in women. I've had a rather large blind spot for most of my life, a misconstrued view of how relationships work. That can hardly be the fault of the other.


My mother relates a story: When I was six, I came to her crying and said, "What if nobody ever wants to marry me?"

That's pretty funny, in retrospect. But it points to a psychological issue which has dogged me, with various ferocity, most of my life. Many, including a wary Emet, have accused me of being that guy who needs to be in a relationship. There's truth there. I've denied it in the past, but no, it's probably right, though I would say it's less a need to be in a relationship than a need to have someone to relate to.

I'm a social animal. I crave being around people. I like debate. Camaraderie. Experience. I am not a sentient being (nine straight hours of play money online poker excepted). Stimulation is like bread, I need it to live. Whether it's out playing golf (which I've recently gotten back into after years of a bum wrist and life-crippling marriage) or spinning yarns from a bar stool with strangers, I need that to get myself out of my own fucking head, which is stifling in its own right.

I continually talk myself out of action. Of coloring outside the lines. Acute paranoia of offending someone else. Why I never argued with X. Why I have failed to take steps that would improve all of my relationships. That need to be liked. For want of someone willing to marry me, if you will.

At the most basic level, that's deception. Like political correctness. A person who says "African-American" when they would normally use the 'N' word is lying. The public face masks inner beliefs. If you think you've heard that one before, you have. X is the same way (though on a larger scale). Hard to believe we didn't mesh.

I've known this for some time and worked hard to be honest about how I feel, even at the risk of offending. I've succeeded, though I remain, as always, a work in progress.


I know Emet likes me for who I am. I've shown her parts others have not seen. Confessions. She is unlike any woman I've ever wanted. The word I found:


Something I am not. I don't mean time or money. I mean spirit. I mean selflessness. I never looked for that in a woman before. Never knew what an monumental difference it can make between two people until I received it. As such, I never knew how much those relationships were missing.

"We'll be friends for the next 40 years," she said to me once. Not "We'll be together for 40 years." Important difference. More meaningful in the sense that our relationship is grounded in mutual respect and admiration and trust, not subject to the whims of fate or unforeseen events. It says, "You have value," not just "You have value to me." She is calm and graceful and deep and thorough.

I've managed to meet my fair share of women who "liked" me. That was made easier by stacking bricks around those dark places I hid from them. Now I've met one who really sees me. And she's sticking around.


A couple weeks ago, Emet's Dad turned 80. There was a big party with her large family. I've met them all, of course, and they are lovely and close-knit in a way that makes me envious. This was the first time I'd brought AJ along, however, and like his recent situation, I worried about him, the Only Child, meshing with a dozen or so of Emet's nieces and nephews, my concerns the same as always, that he'll get along and not need to make himself the focus of everything (like he does at home. and school. and church).

He was mostly good. Took a football in the face and shook it off (he didn't want to cry in front of the big kids) and the big kids were careful to include him. He charmed the adults.

At one point, we all sat around watching a slide show. AJ got restless as it went on and there were no pictures of him and I had to shush him a few times. He slunk away, ending up next to Emet, where he silently slipped his arm around her waist and leaned into her hip. He stood there but a few minutes, but the message was clear. He's had so much thrown at him in his young life and yet, he remains the sweet, tender boy he's always been, appreciative of the people around who love him.

There's more of those people now. And that can only be a good thing. I assume, however, he'll keep those thoughts to himself.

Monday, June 01, 2009


It was the best of times...it was the worst of times. I was rolling along in the Blogger Big Game, feeling pretty solid about my play, faded some diamonds to triple up huge early (myself and corron10 flopped sets and sellthekids, the nut flush draw) and generally threw my big stack around. At the same time, I was rolling in the 50/50, with a stack of twice par about an hour in.

Then bdiddie's queens beat my kings, one of the wonkas got hissef pot committed and won a post-flop race against me and I ran KK into ShabazzJenkins's AA and so long Blogger Big Game. Somewhere in the middle of all this my JJ got out-flopped by TT and I was down to 1300 chips in the 50/50 with blinds at 100/200.

And I was all like, SERIOUSLY?.

That there is the 50/50 Final Table.

Where I became a mere spectator for way too many orbits. I even joked in chat, after the BB, who got a walk, showed A6, "Is that what an ace looks like?"

We lost a couple shorties, then the following hand took place. I should note, the KK guy had less than the BB. Easy push for me and I was 3/4 of the way to bed when the river fell.

That was an $800 river card, the money difference between 6th and 5th, where I soon finished after running The Drizz into QQ.

Not bad. Seriously.