Day tripper

November 19, 2016 § 14 Comments

We left home at 10:10 AM for a day trip to Tokyo. I’m not nostalgic but I noticed some things that had changed and others that hadn’t.

Utsunomiya Station has the same escalator that it had in 1987 when I first went down the moving sidewalk to the cold and overcast skies of the city I would come to know better than any other. But the man in the little wicket holding the ticket punch, boredly punching each ticket, had long ago been replaced by machines.

I’m not nostalgic about machines replacing people especially when standing there punching tickets endlessly for hours at a time must have been hell, but with the machines there’s not much excitement like when you give the guy the wrong ticket or an expired one and your heart is in your mouth for a second as you wait to see whether he nails you for the fare or lets you slide.

The machine never lets you slide.

I stood correctly on the spot on the platform where I was upposed to stand. The bullet train swooped by, picked us up, and swooped us some more to Ueno Station. 

I’m not nostalgic about the trains but the old bullet trains were more clunky and always looked like they were in need of a facelift, the nose cones covered with bug splat and such. They looked and felt like working people. The new trains were gorgeous, immaculate, perfect.

At Ueno Station we went up to the main exit, bought some souvenirs and got turned around for a few minutes so we could argue about directions.

Aside from a few dabs of lipstick, some rouge, and a bit of henna to take out the gray, Ueno is the same old girl she used to be, replete with the sign warning you not to bang your head on the low overhang.

I’m not nostalgic about train stations, but the old station used to have a faint smell of sewage when you exited and went left down to the subway lines. I’m not saying I like sewage but I guess I don’t like antiseptic, either. I looked up at the steel girders that were the same frame from the post-war and felt better.

We had lunch at Afternoon Tea in Ueno Station, where we were joined by two of Yasuko’s friends who she had met several years ago through Facebook, and also by a friend whose kids went to pre-school with our kids.

If you are still fantasizing that you haven’t really gotten older, just repeat the phrase “their kids went to pre-school with our kids” and do the math.  I’m not nostalgic about food but we used to get excited by lunch at the cafe Chat Noir which featured tuna fish sandwiches with the crust trimmed off and parfaits with corn flakes as the luxury topping.

Never in a million years could I have imagined something called “Green Cream Pasta.” I still can’t …

After that we had a big subway adventure and ended up at Tokyu Hands in Shinjuku. I’m not nostalgic about shopping but in those days no one spoke English and it was always an adventure to practice my Texo-Japanese on the terrified clerks.

Now, what with Chinese tourists pouring bilions into the economy, clerks had little badges showing which languages they were proficient in. It was awesome to watch a clerk with a Chinese badge confuse the shit out of a Chinese shopper with her bad Chinese, just as a few decades earlier the English speaking clerks had confused me.

I stopped into the toilet and appreciated the sign telling me not to climb onto the rim and do my business as if I were hanging my butt off a ledge.

As we finished our three-hour sojourn to purchase fifty cents’ worth of bubble bath, we passed the bakery in the basement of Takashimaya Shinjuku.

I’m not nostalgic about the perfectly aligned and beautifully displayed food, but, well, I guesss that actually I am.


Big day

November 18, 2016 § 15 Comments

My elbows hurt. I reinjured my faschium buttassicus. My neck no longer turns properly. Shoulders ache, hips sore, knees burn when I walk, and a whole new suite of stabbing pains now live up and down my spine.

Yeah, best bike ride ever.

The day before I had gotten lost and failed in my assault on Mt. Kogashi, the epic climb on the Japan Cup race course. So this time I started early and checked out the mama-chari to make sure all of the steel parts were in working order.

Basket, check.

Kickstand, check.

Big yellow bell, check.


The only real issue I had was making sure I got back in time for the excursion with the Honorable-in-Laws to Nikko. That was going to be no problem because I had two whole hours to make the entire twenty-mile jaunt.

I set off on a glorious fall morning, cold air erecting my nipples through the thick wool sweater. After a while I was tired from the 140 rpm and uphill grade, but no matter. Those aches would go away after I was dead.

It took longer than I had expected but time was still a-ok. I spied the sign for the turn-off to Shinrin Park, made the right hand turn I’ve made a million times before and immediately hit a massive hill I didn’t remember at all. It’s funny how hills you never noticed on a ten-speed become Cowan-esque Everest climbs on a mama-chari.

I got up off the seat and realized that there is no good climbing position for a mama-chari except perhaps the “don’t climb” one. My weight lurched forward and mama-chari wobbled, if a battleship can be said to wobble.

Without drop bars or hoods to pull up on it was hard to stay aloft, but sitting back down would have meant full stoppage. Just before the crest of the giant 200-yard mountain, a pair of old women selling apples looked at me, gasping and blowing snot on the swaying mama-chari. Me, not them.

I passed so slowly they had time to ask, “Daijobu?” and I had time to feeebly nod. Atop the climb I rested and took a quick snapshot.

After a couple of miles that were indescribably hard, harder than politics, I reached the start-finish area. There were many cyclists and athletic-looking people milling about and they looked at me funny, as if there was something weird about an American miles from town in a cycling park on a country road looking somewhere between dead and autopsy while riding a mama-chari.

So of course I did the only intelligent thing, which was to turn on Strava. in those few moments, however, a group of about thirty school kids on bikes shot past and I’d missed the peloton.

Hurrying back onto MC, I swung my leg too low over the steel rack and almost shattered my kneecap. Everything went white as the universe concentrated in my knee, a Big Bang of pain that flung forth a billion little white stars of agony.

As soon as I stopped sobbing I began pedaling, determined to catch and drop the healthy young students who were now out of sight up the road. However I made a wrong turn and was soon off on a logging road up above the park. I saw my quarry below, cursed, and descended to the road. Soon I began picking off stragglers.


By the first switchback the students had all dismounted and were pushing their bikes which had gears. Gears! Pffffft! Mama-chari ain’t got time for gears!

Around the second switchback I was pedaling down and yanking up so hard I thought my knees would merge into my shoulders. I tried to paperboy but the ship merely listed rather than turned.

For only the second or third time in my life, I got off my bike and pushed. Each time the pitch lessened I remounted and pedaled a little more. I crested the top pedaling, having only pushed about half of the one-mile climb. A pair of walkers at the top gaped.

Strava of course is here:

If the climb-walk was hard, the descent was terrifying because the road was covered in a thick carpet of leaves and mama-chari had been engineered not so hot for taking switchbacks at 40. I regained the main road with 45 minutes to make the one hour pedal back.

Mama-chari could do 18-ish if you could maintain 160+ rpm, which I could except that it caused my knees to melt. Hot pain from the rack whack, legs 3/4 bent, hips groaning, back screaming, and all the while flying through six-inch gutter gaps, bars-to-doorhandles with passing trucks, and mama-chari devouring divots, potholes, giant cracks, and cement curb lips with her massive fat tires, 90-spoke wheels, and the downhill, tailwind momentum of a falling leaden sky.

Somewhere between “I’m ready to die right fucking now” and death itself in the form of oncoming traffic through an orange light, mama-chari’s brakes gave up the ghost, her kickstand dragged in the turn, and I put 75 pounds of Japanese steel into a hot slide whose outcomes were binary: awesomeness or splat.

Physics voted for high-side and the oncoming windshield but you gotta let the steel beast run because mama-chari wanted to live too and she flipped the skitter into a controlled skid about the time the 150 mm cranks went from pedaling through the turn into hallelujah and I scooted through so close to the windshield that I counted the truck driver’s nose hairs and inspected a gold tooth crown.

“How was your ride?” they asked as I wheeled up at 11:59, pointy fuggin’ sharp.

I shrugged. “It was okay.”

But the rest of the day I floated like a genie on a cloud. The best day of your life will do that.



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November 17, 2016 § 27 Comments

Everybody knows about sushi but my favorite Japanese food is J-toast. It’s hard to describe perfection but I will try. J-toast is made from big thick slices of white bread that are too thick for sandwiches and too soft to eat plain with butter.

When toasted they form a perfectly sized piece of crack that absorbs butter slabs without getting soggy and allows you to mount thick layers of jam without getting more than a couple of heart palpitations.

Every morning Honorable Mother-in-Law gets up at four and has hot coffee waiting for me when I awake, which is immediately followed by two pieces of J-toast.

In addition to its amazing taste and medicinal properties, J-toast is the perfect fuel for mama-chari bike adventures, filled as it is with empty calories and butter, and pre-amped in coffee.

I rolled out the mama-chari, which is an abbreviation of “mama” and “charinko.” Charinko means “crappy old bike” and is the preferred means of transport for anyone over 80, which is most of Japan nowadays.

The mama-chari has a number of performance characteristics common across all makes, models, and prices. First, it is real fucking heavy. You may want to know how heavy but let’s just say Strava Jr. doesn’t even have any kids who weigh this much. The weight protects the mama-chari in a collision by allowing it to absorb the impact of, say, a cement mixer, and continue unharmed.

Mama-chari don’t do carbon.

Mama-chari’s key function is carrying Obachan and shit, fully laden, so it has tiny 150mm cranks that allow it to get started from a dead stop by applying granny leg power, which, although considerable, needs all the help it can get. Mama-chari backs up the mini-cranks with a mini-drivetrain consisting of a single gear that measures 12 gear-inches. At first this seems a tad under-geared but when you hit a big climb, say anything greater than 1%, you immediately appreciate the physics, any physics at all, that will help you move 300 pounds of steel against the chains of gravity.

And speaking of chains, the mama-chari’s chain is ensconced in a complete covering, and the wheels are protected with massive fenders so ensure zero spatter anywhere. This is because obachan is certainly running multiple errands from the cleaners to the green grocer to the butcher to the relatives’ across town to drop off some tea and pick up some gossip to the funeral hall to pay respects to a young hale fellow of 97 who dropped dead in his prime to the hospital to say hello to Uncle Hideki who is getting a stent to the doctor’s office to get a mole checked out so, in other words, Obachan can’t get any mud or dirt or rain on her which is a real risk as she’s often doing this in a typhoon, snow storm, or riding through four feet of spring-melt mud slush.

Mama-chari comes fully equipped with a massive rear rack sturdy enough for mounting a kiddy seat for triplets or for carrying a granite headstone. On the handlebars, which are upright to improve Obachan’s posture and stability, there is a giant yellow bell, activated with the slightest flick of the wrist which will alert all pedestrians for the next couple of miles and scare all the pigeons and crows off the utility poles.

Since the mama-chari is so heavy, if it ever tipped over it would create a two-foot divot in the asphalt, so rather than a side kickstand it has a rear-wheel kickstand with a lock so that it can’t roll backwards and slide down the hill, killing thousands and losing the bread that Obachan pedaled twelve miles across town to save fifteen cents on.

But the crowning performance detail is the mama-chari basket. Forget the cute wicker thingy that fashion-conscious boys and girls attach in Santa Monica for $99. This beast is a solid steel cage that, when properly loaded with seasonal ham gift boxes, wool panties  bought on sale at Tobu Department Store, three pairs of toilet slippers, a bag of mandarin oranges, and 30 kg of ready-crete to build out the rear deck, perfectly balances the uncut logs and 50-gallon planters that are strapped to the rear rack.

My morning goals were simpler than all that. I was going to ride out to the Utsunomiya race course that the UCI world road race championships were held on in 1990, and that my buddy Rick Kent and I rode when he came out to visit in 1999. Then I was going to do the epic climb and maybe shell a couple of unlucky locals.

I had forgotten the way to San Jose and after an hour of pedaling the mama-chari through narrow roads and rice fields I was lost, and more importantly I was exhausted from spinning the tiny cranks, the tiny gear, and the heavy bike uphill. Did I mention that the average obachan in Japan isn’t six feet tall? Because even with the saddle raised to its max my knees hit my chin. Bike Effect would probably not have approved of the fit.

My goal had been to find the race course, do the epic climb on my mama-chari, and still get home in time to leave for the family outing to Mashiko, the nearby pottery village, at eleven. I gave up, but not before running into an old friend out in the rice fields who I hadn’t seen in twenty years and who took a few seconds to realize he wasn’t seeing a ghost.

We chatted and caught up and I rode home just in time to un-thaw, bundle into the car, and head off for a day of food and reminiscences with Honorable Father-in-Law, Honorable Mother-in-Law, and Mrs. WM.



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Looking for Nakahara Heights

November 16, 2016 § 6 Comments

Time for a bike ride to shake off the jet lag and get the day started right. I wheeled out the mama-chari, jacked up the seat as high as it would go and started off.

I was going to look for Nakahara Heights, if it even existed.

When I got my first job after coming to Japan in 1987, I ended up with the job that no one else wanted. Although it was booming in the English teaching biz, after two weeks of relentless job hunting, no one in Tokyo would hire me.

Maybe it was because I looked like I was twelve. Maybe it was because in the interviews I came across as clearly having no idea what I was talking about. Maybe it was, as my wife later insisted, because I showed up to all my interviews in a suit and cowboy boots.

Whatever the reason, the job in Utsunomiya was the job no one wanted. Whereas all the jobs in Tokyo had a surfeit of applicants, the opening at the Utssunomiya American Club boiled down to a choice between the guy in cowboy boots and a strange woman with terrible breath who dressed like an Indian mystic even though she was from Wisconsin.

I got the job, which included an apartment at Nakahara Heights. The first night there I slept in my boots, heavy coat, and knit hat. It was fifteen degrees, snowing, and the only furnishings were a thin futon and an equally thin blanket. I had never been so cold in my life and have never been as cold since.

“How was your first night?” they asked me at work.

“It was fine.”

“It got down into the teens.”


“Did your heater work okay?”

“What heater?”

Everyone freaked out. “No heater? You could have frozen to death!”

“Thank you,” I said.

After work my boss, who everyone called Chief, brought over a kerosene stove, showed me how to light it, and left. I cranked it up high and went to sleep.

“How did you sleep?” they asked the next day.

“Great,” I said.

“I’m so sorry we forgot the heater,” Chief said. “Are you sure you’re okay? You look funny.”

“I have a headache, to tell the truth.”

“Is it bad?”

“It’s the worst headache I’ve ever had. It’s unbearable. I think it’s from the heater.”

“The heater?”

“I could hardly breathe from the fumes.”


“Yeah. That thing gives off a lot of fumes.”

“Didn’t you crack the windows?”


She blanched. “People usually suffocate to death if they fall asleep in a small room with the kerosene heater on. I thought you knew!”

“I do now,” I said.

Since moving out of Nakahara Heights in April of 1987 I had never been back. It took thirty years for anything approaching nostalgia to develop and I figured that not only would I be unable to find it, it was proabably torn down as it was already ancient when I had lived there.

I pedaled first to the elementary school my kids had gone to, then to the cherry trees that lined Shin-kawa, then to my kids’ preschool at Matsugamine Church. From there I went down Orion Mall, which was deserted.

I saw hardly anyone on bikes, unlike the bustling scene I remembered from the past. Nor were there any young people. The city had been made very car-friendly at the expense of bikes. My mother-in-law’s bike hadn’t been ridden in years when I pumped up the tires. “I’m afraid of the cars,” she said.


From the mall I pedaled north to Imaizumi-cho and began hunting for Nakahara Heights but couldn’t find it. All the houses were new or new-ish, and there were hardly any buildings left that were ratty and cheap and falling down.

I explored a few back streets until I found what Nakahara Heights might have looked like with a paint job and some new doors, but it didn’t look right. I turned a couple more corners and came arosss a new black building that said “Nakahara Heights” on it. But it wasn’t my crappy old apartment. It was shiny and new. I peered around it.

Just across the lot was the old building, still inhabited. Ugly, rusty staircases, thirty years the worse for wear, but there it was in all its glory. I shivered thinking about that first freezing night. The sun gleamed. I snapped a couple of pictures and pedaled back home.



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Back to my future

November 15, 2016 § 14 Comments

On January 15, 1987, a day engraved in my memory, I first came to Japan. In those days that was the day of the Adult Day ceremony, when women who were 21 donned elaborate furi-sode kimonos and filled the stations and streets with stunning beauty.

I thought it was everyday wear …

That night the snow fell and I awoke, jet-lagged, and walked the streets of Kichijoji amidst the early morning smells of grilled fish and miso soup wafting through the windows. Those things and the blanket of snow that covered Inokashira Park changed my life forever.

Three decades later things the Showa emperor was dead and his son was now on the verge of abdication. The airplane’s toilets, though, were still tiny and cramped. Perhaps the food was better but perhaps it wasn’t because I still haven’t gotten over the luxury of flying, in any class, to notice or care about in-flight amenities.

But the thrill was gone. The mystery was gone. My youth and innocence and excitement were gone, I expected no surprises or adventures, no mysterious language, no fear, no wonder. I was just another old dude on an airplane going to visit his wife’s family in Japan.

Despite the iPhone plug-in and the seatback videos, I busied myself with a couple of books, paper ones, and made notes, also on paper, with a pen. The grown man next to me immersed himself in cartoons and cheap red wine. And no one was smoking …

I’m thirty years older, twenty pounds fatter, countlesss eyeglass prescriptions blinder, my brother is dead, my immortal brother, my father is in his eighty-first year, and the people I’m going to visit, strangers then, are old family now, not least of whom is my wife’s grandmother, who is also a great-grandmother, and now at 100 years is a great-great-grandmother.

I gnaw at the old bone hoping for a taste of marrow, knowing it isn’t there, but hoping for at least a scent, however faint, of what was, even though the Narita we’re landing at is no longer set in an ocean of rice fields, and is no longer surrounded by armed guards fearing a terrorist attack by farmers whose land was confiscated to make the runway. Confiscation is now the order of things, especially the democracies in name only, like theirs, like ours.

But people still farted on planes and babies howled on and off for eleven hours straight and flight attendants looked bored and vaguely angry at those of us in steerage and though Japan was no longer a haven for draft dodgers it was still a refuge for those who had come in the 80’s to the new Paris and instead of coming home with Picasso and Stein and Hemingway they returned with sushi and ceramics and wives and Hello Kitty. We created no literature or art and brought to Japaan instead poorly taught English to marginally willing learners.

I sat in my seat, 36F, reading a stunned post-election New Yorker and an enraged Economist; in 1987 I read neither and spent the time instead immersed in Eleanor Harz Jorden’s  “Beginning Japanese,” which for me might as well have been ending Japanese, too.

Time hadn’t changed its propensity to crawl inside an airplane cabin. Five hours to go was five thousand or five billion. United no longer even pretended that people read; the seaatback pockets had an emergency manual and a Duty Free catalogue. All you needed to do was survive and shop, and even the catalogue was an anachronism–the man next to me had brought his own customized shopping catalogue of nothing but shoes, and happily killed hours gazing at them.

Then I had graduated from college with three years of Chinese; our textbook was the old green Pratical Chinese Reader published by the Communists. Now I was still on Book 3, though the PCR had been updated, glosssified, CD-ified, and pricified as you’d expect from the New China. I wondered if Trump would be renotiating that deal, too, replacing it with good old-fashioned Rust Belt know-how about Chinese grammar. If nothing else it proved I really was moving in place.

I killed an hour by the toilets talking with an “Asia hand” in his 60s who spent half the year in various Asian countries. He had fifteen whole years under his belt and bragged about being able to speak bits of Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, German, Russian, Japanese, and Spanish. “I love foreign cultures and have devoted my life to it. It’s really important to know other languages when you visit a country for the hookers.”

America …

In the immigration line the same people tried to cut the queue and the entry permit cards hadn’t changed. The same immigration officers looked dreadfully bored in the same tiny cubicles but they were efficiently bored, at least.

We reached my in-laws’ home at 9:00 PM. A wonderful home-cooked meal awaited. We hadn’t seen each other in five years and it was good to be back. The same kotatsu, the same soft futon, the same tatami floors, and the same deep, hot bath to wash the miles away.

Just like it had always been.



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Bike leaning up against wall

November 13, 2016 § 19 Comments

Do you have bike leaning up against wall?

I do.

Different reasons for bike leaning up against wallage:

  1. Broken parts of bicycle.
  2. Bicycle fashionableness extinct.
  3. Tires of immense flatitude.
  4. Angry husbandwifeness at excessive bicycle times.
  5. Give-uppishness from falling off bike incident and resulting big fearishness.
  6. Drinky pants time interfering with happy pants bicycling time.
  7. Brokedickishness from repeated stompitude.
  8. New hobby times like hot yoga or cold fusion or sushi fusion. Or new juicer machine.
  9. Baby times with big poops, daily squawking and no sleepy times.
  10. Fuck this-ishness.
  11. Tummy growth exceeding parameters of old kit, crammed into looking sausage-like.
  12. Fact realizing of own suckiness.
  13. Cager fearishness from punishment passing and buzziness.
  14. Intensive care unit-wise.
  15. Dick City depressionism.
  16. Lazy pants sleep-in-ishness.
  17. Fun pants stay-out-too-late-ishness.
  18. Old deflationary IDGAF thinkyness.
  19. Muscular strain such as fascium buttassicus.
  20. Deadishness.



November 12, 2016 § 14 Comments

Here are a couple of thoughts, one written by my son Woodrow, the other written by a friend, a white guy with an adopted son.

A Political Revolution

It was a cool Thursday evening in Carson as Mom and I got out of the car outside the LA Galaxy Stadium. We were surrounded by a sea of cars, and had to do a little bit of maneuvering to get to the gargantuan line that stretched from one end of the stadium around to the other end. But soon enough, we managed to pass security and take a seat in a small stadium within the Galaxy Stadium. There, my mother and I had the opportunity to listen to man named Bernard Sanders rant away at the establishment, demand a higher minimum wage, and call people to action for a more progressive agenda. This is what he dubbed the political revolution, and the invigorated crowd cheered him on, hoping to see him catapulted to the office of the presidency.

But when July came and the final results of the primaries were tallied up, it was clear that ol’ Bernie wasn’t going to make it to the White House. For many people who had supported him, it was over; the political revolution was in its death throes.

They couldn’t have been more wrong.

Not just over whether the political revolution was still alive, but also over what the political revolution actually is.

For a lot of people, the political revolution was voting for Bernie and then putting him in the White House. After that, everyone and the country would live happily ever after.


The political revolution that Bernie was calling for was more than about free healthcare, free tuition, and a habitable environment. It was more than just electing Bernie to the presidency. At its core, it was, and still is, about getting those who are young to go out and be engaged in the political process. Not just reading the news and voting, but actually getting up off their butts and going outside to register others to vote or to canvass neighborhoods. Not just holding opinions, but also sharing those views with others and participating in meaningful discussions with people that you don’t know. Not just being political, but being politically active.

So when I came to UCSB just a couple of months ago, I found myself in an environment devoid of anyone telling me what to do (except for the R.A.s telling people not to drink or smoke) and with a bunch of time on my hands.

During Welcome Week, I visited a lot of the booths and looked at nearby events and happened to receive a flyer about a group called Campus Democrats and also information about an event at their headquarters; I was further emboldened to go after talking to a person named Ethan at one of the tables. So I did.

And next thing I knew, I was walking throughout Isla Vista with a clipboard and a bunch of literature in my hand, asking people if they’ve registered to vote and if they know anything about the local measures and local races.

So that’s what I did for more than a month: I went from house to house and talked with people. Some days I only worked for two hours; on election day I worked from 5AM to 8PM. It was by this time that I figure out for myself the meaning of Bernie’s political revolution: I was taking in part of it, along with the other dedicated volunteers that I worked alongside with. It was empowering, not just to me, but to others as well because so many people just don’t know how to fill out a voter registration form or where their polling location is. I took solace in knowing that I helped someone’s life out and ensured that their voice was heard.

In hindsight, it was the most rewarding thing that I have ever done in and with my life. Sure, I had a couple of foul people slam the door in my face or argue to me about their proud views of Trump, but for the most part, people were kind, attentive, and most importantly, open. It helped reaffirm my Rousseauist belief that people are born good, and that there was plenty of hope for the future of this country.

Now that belief may have been shaken from the election, in the same way that the political structure of this nation have been shaken, but just like my faith in the republic, I still continue to believe that people are inherently good.

To put it bluntly, a lot of bad shit happened: The GOP has maintained their majority in Congress, the amount of Republican governorships increased, and most frighteningly, we have elected a reality TV star to the office of arguably the most powerful office in the world.

Will this country survive? Yes, but not before having to fight some battles. Despite the unpredictability of Donald Trump and his capability of causing damage to America, I still think and believe that this republic and its institutions are more than sufficient enough to survive the onslaught of problems that will be associated with a Trump presidency.

So now what? Well, I simply invite and encourage anyone to become more politically active than they were this year. If you didn’t vote this year, vote in 2018. If you did vote this year, then volunteer with an organization that does voter registration; even giving up a couple hours of your life will help others cast their ballots and aid in the fight against right-wing extremism. Go out there and talk with people. If there is an issue or issues that you really care about, fight for it. Get up and stand up for your rights. Because this revolution is sure as hell not over.

And for those who think that none of this really matters …

My son and I spent this past weekend camping. We had a nice campfire. We slept in a tent. We explored the woods. We chatted about all kinds of things. Conversations with a 9 year old little boy are wandering paths of questions, non sequiturs, farting, and laughter.



His sisters used to join us. My oldest daughter is gone to college. His other sister is in 8th Grade and is way too cool for us now.

Weekdays during the school year are essentially sequences of uninterrupted routine.  Get up.  Get them up. Make sure they stay up. Make sure they’re dressed and fed. Brush teeth. Comb hair. Find back pack. Go to school. Pick up from school. Run around to activities. Eat. Brush teeth. Go to bed. Repeat x 5.

With kids, though, this routine is noisy. They fight each other. They fight me. They grouse and complain and sigh. Sprinkled in are question, non sequiturs, farting (mostly me), and laughter.

The morning after this election was different. There wasn’t much laughter. My family is very much Democrats. We were all down. I was particularly glum, lost in thoughts for my friends who just lost elections and would be out of a job.

“Dad” I heard my son say. His voice was soft and wavering. I thought he was going to try to console me. He’s a very good, sweet human. He worries about people.

“Dad, do I get to stay in the family?” he asked. I looked at him. I didn’t really understand the question. “Dad” he continued and beginning to cry asked, “Do I have to go back to Guatemala?”

I’ve never experienced a moment like this. The convergence of love, concern, despair, fear, confusion and more love made expression beyond a tight hug impossible.

“Juan, you are my son, tou are Mommy’s son, you are Susan’s brother, you are Ellen’s brother, nobody can pull us apart, we are a family and we will always be a family.”    We repeated these statements together in various ways repeatedly.

“Nobody can send you away.”


Somehow my son has managed to pick up the messages I’d hoped he wouldn’t. This election, the news media, this horrible orange human, has broadcast messages that I hoped he’d be oblivious to. No such luck. The message is that Americans are white. They’re angry. They want brown people to “go back.”

Americans want to build a wall to keep brown people out. Brown people are rapists and drug dealers. They’re bad.  My son has been bombarded with this. I love him so much and I’m so sorry. I’m so, so sorry.

My son knows he is loved by his family. He’s scared for the rest of the world.  It seems for good reason, too.

Adopting a child is possibly the most soul expanding endeavor. You learn that you have capacity for love that seemed impossible. You realize that any human, literally anyone, can be your child. The only boundaries that separate us are boundaries we build in our heads. They aren’t real.

But here I am. I’m worried about my little boy. As I worry about my little boy, I worry about all the little boys and girls. I worry about the people whose families can be torn apart by unfeeling immigration policies, by poverty, by violence. Families destroyed, humans rubbed out by the misfortune of being born a shade too dark. These little boys and girls are our kids.

All of them.

All at once.

My boy lives in a mean world. I can’t protect him all by myself. He doesn’t look like me. He was born a beautiful brown hue. He is going to become an adult. He is going to carry as much love into adulthood as I can give him. I’m not sure it will be enough to overcome the hate and suspicion of others, though.

Maybe if you pitch in, too?  Can you help me?  Please?

The guy you see pushing a broom, raking a garden, picking your fruit didn’t steal your job. He’s feeding his family. The woman who cleans your motel room? She’s not stealing anything. She’s trying to live. They’re my children. They’re your children..

I hope you never feel the fear that you will be pulled away from your mom and dad. I hope you never have to console your child who thinks he or she has to leave the only world he’s ever known simply because of where he was born and the color of his skin.

The little boy sleeping under the table at a restaurant while his parents work? Can you please see him as a little guy who loves Legos and Pokemon?  The little “Mexican” you see might be my son. In fact, he is.

And I’m your son, too.


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