Excerpt from road trip

[June 15, 2015 Part of Our road­trip to coastal North Carolina]

June 8th, 2015: On NC-99 between Ply­mouth and Pan­tego, NC Some­how we’ve end­ed up in Indiana.

We’ve come upon com­mer­cial­ized farm­land which I haven’t seen since Indiana—flat, seam­less­ly plant­ed fields that run to the hori­zon. The roads drop away plumb-line straight and like infin­i­ty, tend to hyp­no­tize. Any sense of speed is sus­pend­ed. We aren’t dri­ving so much as float­ing while the land­scape sluices by. There is no point of ref­er­ence to com­pare our motion to oth­er bod­ies. It’s like being, I would imag­ine, on a vast calm ocean or an inter­stel­lar voyage–everything is far away, your rel­a­tive motion all but imper­cep­ti­ble. The road and the fields are unbro­ken, unde­mar­cat­ed lines that make it hard to judge speed in the same way judg­ing a mile-long train’s speed: they seem sta­tion­ary until they go blar­ing by like tor­na­does. With­out land­marks, I can see how some­one can eas­i­ly break 80, 90 miles an hour and not be aware of it

I yell at the kids in the back to look out their win­dows at the view and they do look up from their ipads and won­der what I am try­ing to show them. They are used to hills and trees and hous­es and here they only see geo­met­ric planes of browns and greens; I might as well be show­ing them a gray-laden, blank sky. To me it speaks of where I grew up and reminds me of my long trips between Chica­go and south­ern Indi­ana dur­ing col­lege breaks, hours of rid­ing a road through unbro­ken corn­fields that numbed friends mad from lack of scenery. But you dri­ve it long enough and you learn to appreciate—what I lat­er learned is called—the “neg­a­tive space” of the scenery, which is the space around and between things, sort of like Indi­ana; it’s a space between oth­er states in the Midwest—which I learned some peo­ple think includes all the states until the Rock­ies, which real­ly are called the Great Plains—and like­wise the way the Mid­west is, to some peo­ple, all that space between New York and say, San Diego [hmm, Leslie.] Need­less to say, they don’t bring the need­ed bag­gage to under­stand or appre­ci­ate indus­tri­al-grade farm­ing for its aus­tere and glacial­ly-paced beauty.

T‑ball and Mac

August 72014.
W/​S, NC


It is Oct 262013.
It is a crisp, clear Sat­ur­day morn­ing. I am at the Clem­mons YMCA, lean­ing against the chain-link fence, look­ing at the t‑ball field and watch­ing the kids take their posi­tions to play. The pitch, and the ball is hit hard. It’s a fast grounder, a real daisy-cut­ter, and nor­mal­ly it will shoot pass two or three kids, but instead there is an audi­ble gasp from the crowd. What’s hap­pened is that the ball has smacked straight into the glove of the pitch­er and everyone—parents, team­mates and the pitcher—is momen­tar­i­ly stunned. The pitch­er has got­ten down hard to trap the ball, shut­ting it down and after tak­ing a sec­ond to real­ize he’s caught the ball, smooth­ly turns to throw the ball to the 1st base­man, who is still look­ing to the out­field to see where the ball went but turns around in time to catch the ball. An out at first. It’s such a clean­ly field­ed ball that anoth­er dad grins and says to me, “Was that your kid?” and I smile back, sur­prised, “Yeah. It is.”

I’m proud which sur­pris­es me because I’ve nev­er had much inter­est in sports and nev­er under­stood the fanati­cism. It’s nev­er made sense to me because there are more impor­tant things, and yet I can feel the sur­prise on my face and my wide smile spread­ing fur­ther and I think, “My kid did this?”

It is April 212012.
I am watch­ing Mac who is lit­er­al­ly lost on the soc­cer field. The scrum of kids chase the ball, mov­ing up and down the soc­cer field, except for Mac who is root­ed to the ground, faced screwed up in a gri­mace, eyes squeezed shut at the chaos sur­round­ing him. Jenn and I exhort him to just chase the ball like the oth­er kids at which point he wan­ders off the field, inter­mit­tent­ly try­ing to snag pass­ing but­ter­flies or kneel­ing down to pick up clumps of grass and dirt. When this hap­pens, I feel he’s in a glass-bowl, com­plete­ly cut off, inca­pable of com­mu­ni­cat­ing to oth­ers kids or to us. There is only so much yelling you can do before the oth­er par­ents start star­ing and none of the yelling ever helps. Ever.

Because I am co-coach­ing, I focus on the rest of the kids play­ing, try­ing to keep Mac in my periph­ery, mak­ing sure he does not wan­der com­plete­ly out of sight. After the game, I look for Mac and see him stand­ing under a tree hold­ing some­thing out to me. It is a four-leaf clover and he tells me he picked it just for me. That day, April 21,2012, I remem­ber clear­ly think­ing how the hell did he find a four-leaf clover on the field with the game going on all around him?

It is Sept 142013.
It’s Sat­ur­day, mid-morning.
I am with Jack and Scar­lett who have just fin­ished tak­ing their team pho­tos and we are now walk­ing back to the t‑ball field. As we approach the field, I notice that Jenn is hold­ing her­self too still. I get clos­er and I hear anoth­er mom say,“Just look away,” to Jenn. “Just look away and stay calm,” she repeats.


Mac is hav­ing a titan­i­cal­ly bad day. Mac has been told he can’t play with his toy, because it is his turn to bat. At home plate, he is not look­ing at the pitch­er but instead is look­ing back at the dugout, straight at Jenn. He has a tremen­dous scowl on his face that would be com­ic but here it’s trag­ic because his whole team is cheer­ing him to hit the ball. He “swings” at the ball and miss­es. How to describe his swings: They con­vey mul­ti­ple atti­tudes most of which I can’t put in print. They don’t belong on a sev­en-year old, let alone a sev­en­teen-year old. If there is a way to swing a bat in the most I’m‑not-going-to-even-attempt-to-hit-the-ball-despite-the-entire-team-rooting-me-on way, he does it, four times in a row before they bring up the tee.

He con­tin­ues to look at Jenn and then bash­es the tee, knock­ing it down. He does this at least five to sev­en times and just keeps star­ing at Jenn. There is noth­ing that we can do to change his mood or make him play like the oth­er kids. Jenn is so mor­ti­fied that Mac has ground the game to a halt she is ready to com­mit fil­i­cide. She is seething. As soon as she sees me she tells me, “You need to take over. I need to walk away.”

I go up to try to calm him, but Mac acci­den­tal­ly hits the ball and pro­ceeds to run, so slow it feels like he is going back­wards. You can lit­er­al­ly read this para­graph faster than Macon­nell can run to first base. And so with every­one, his team­mates, coach­es, and par­ents encour­ag­ing him on to first base, he quits mid­way and schlumps to the dugout. He has not heard any­thing any­one has said to him, nor appears to care, and noth­ing can be done. Mer­ci­ful­ly, he is the last bat­ter and so the team takes to the field.

It gets no bet­ter. He is placed between 1st and 2nd base and of course all the balls seem to be hit right at him. He is cov­er­ing his face with his glove, stand­ing back­wards most of the time. If he is fac­ing the bat­ter, he will just stare ahead as balls roll right by his foot; a few times adults have to retrieve the balls that pass him. Clin­i­cal­ly he looks retard­ed and spas­tic on the field, refus­ing to do any­thing on the field, appear­ing to have seri­ous, psy­cho­log­i­cal prob­lems. The behav­ior is dis­tress­ing­ly odd, unex­plained and inex­plic­a­ble to me. He looks men­tal­ly ill. It’s the worst thing to see. Jenn want­ed to pull him out of the game and take him home and right now so do I. But again the mom says, “keep calm.”

I go through sev­er­al philoso­phies of child-rear­ing in those few min­utes watch­ing Mac. Mac’s behav­ior is the rea­son cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment was invent­ed and it is the rea­son it is banned. To his cred­it, when Mac real­izes Jenn has walked away furi­ous, he slow­ly gets his head on straight and fin­ish­es the rest of the game, some field­ing, some bat­ting with­out theater.

I think back to soc­cer episodes, the cata­to­nia on the fields, his per­plex­i­ty on the play­ground with oth­er kids and I have to remind myself we did decide soc­cer just was­n’t his thing and that we had picked t‑ball because he seemed to enjoy it. At least with t‑ball, the dif­fer­ence was notice­able. Although com­plete­ly befud­dled and con­fused by the rules and still wan­der­ing around the field, pick­ing up and/​or kick­ing dirt, he did not stand out to be any worse or ini­tial­ly more dis­con­nect­ed than any of the oth­er kids. Oh sure there were a cou­ple kids who had watched their old­er sib­lings play and knew how to throw a ball and where to stand, but he was, sad to say, not the worst kid out there. I noticed one or two oth­er kids who—inconceivably—were actu­al­ly worse than Mac on the field. I can not stress to you how bad I feel to say that this fact gave me hope.

It is Sept 28,2013.
Out of the blue, an hon­est-to-good­ness play occurs when Mac fields the ball. And then with every­one cheer­ing, he throws the ball which is caught by the base­man and the bat­ter is thrown out at first. I’m sure it’s hap­pened before but this is the first time I’ve real­ly seen it.

Think­ing back, it must have hap­pened slow­ly over the t‑ball sea­sons. At first, lit­tle kids walk­ing onto the field, like chicks new­ly-born to the world, uncer­tain and unsteady, not under­stand­ing what they were sup­posed to Be/​Do. Some­times not even leav­ing the dugout, not leav­ing mom. I remem­ber watch­ing the kids step­ping out on the field for the first time, plac­ing them­selves in no rela­tion to the lines or bases of the dia­mond, and the coach­es pick­ing them up and set­ting them down in posi­tion like bowl­ing pins.

With more prac­tice, more time, the kids grav­i­tate to posi­tions that give an open view of the bat­ter and the oncom­ing ball. Dur­ing that time, if there was any con­scious action, it is group think, every­one swarm­ing every hit ball, a massed heap of cleats, gloves and hats. Most of the time, the balls scoot past them as they look for mom or dad in the bleachers.

They grow a lit­tle. They get out on the field faster, but still with no direc­tion, like dan­de­lion flo­rets blown across the field. They learn more. Begin to under­stand that the ball is going to be hit to them and they are to fetch it. They now occa­sion­al­ly stay at their assigned posi­tions. As the ball gets hit again and again, you start see­ing pat­terns of famil­iar­i­ty of what base­ball is sup­posed to look like: kids no longer col­lid­ing and smash­ing in a free-for-all to get the ball, instead you see kids back­ing each oth­er up, balls being thrown in the direc­tion of the basemen.

As the weeks and months (years?!?) go by, I see more glimpses and sug­ges­tions of cohe­sion, of orga­ni­za­tion as the team resem­bles a team. Kids man­i­fest them­selves in small and dis­tinct ways: this one always tak­ing an extra two steps to throw a ball, anoth­er always wig­gling their wrist before the windup, lit­tle tics already dis­tin­guish­ing them­selves, nigh clones in their hats and uni­forms, only the names and num­bers dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing them at this age, height and build not near­ly so dis­parate as it will lat­er become.

And like the team, Mac is trans­form­ing in front of me. His ran­dom­ness of Thought&Action now less so and more direct­ed to the ball’s motion, the posi­tions of the oth­er play­ers and the run­ner. For a few sec­onds, you see all of them mov­ing in con­cert, syn­chronic­i­ty of thought then action. All these mar­velous­ly com­plex sys­tems, align­ing just so, requir­ing tol­er­ances of a few mil­lime­ters at best to allow actions in the right order with the right tim­ing. Until one day (Sept 28,2013) the ball is hit and Mac crouch­es and the ball runs true into his glove and he throws it to first while the base­man is not look­ing away. Because the ball is thrown in the more-than-gen­er­al vicin­i­ty of the 1st base­man’s glove, and because among oth­er things, the wind has died down and the Cori­o­lis effect is mild, the ball is caught and then not dropped and the bag is tagged, and because all this occurs before the bat­ter can run to first, the bat­ter is thrown out at first. QED

To see ran­dom­ness become ordered, chaos trans­formed into a play at first, to see Mac play in and with a team—and to remem­ber what was the case before—is as close to see­ing a mir­a­cle as I will get. It is rev­e­la­to­ry only to me. These tiny mir­a­cles of t‑ball occur hun­dreds, maybe thou­sands of times on beatif­ic Sat­ur­day morn­ings. They go unre­marked on except in the minds of par­ents who’ve nev­er seen their kids per­form in ways unex­pect­ed and unan­swered until then. Even the first time I saw Mac run—really run the bases—was a sim­ple joy. Yeah, it’s mun­dane, even maudlin, but these lit­tle mir­a­cles aris­ing out of strewn and scat­tered kids on a base­ball field can be seen only once, before it gets nor­mal­ized and lost. No longer to be looked on in won­der or in awe, they become com­mon­place, neglect­ed mir­a­cles, because you for­get this was­n’t always so.

I am not kid­ding when I tell you it is a rev­e­la­tion to watch Mac play. For a long time I’ve have strug­gled to under­stand Macon­nell. Not just in base­ball, but in most all things. I could not under­stand the what or the why. He was a mess of dots that would not con­nect for me. I’d read my notes and make no sense of them; it’s why I’ve writ­ten very lit­tle about Mac. At some point I made the hard real­iza­tion that he could not be put into a neat­ly labeled box and I would need to stop try­ing to ana­lyze and cat­e­go­rize him, before I drove both of us nuts.

But of course, I could­n’t because of the four-leaf clovers. Mac’s lack of atten­tion to almost every­thing just didn’t jibe with his fan­tas­tic abil­i­ty to find qua­tre­foils, until I read about how some peo­ple have such a facility:
From an August 5th, 2010 NPR segment:

Ms. PRAETORIUS: I think most peo­ple don’t look, thats the inter­est­ing thing. Because if you see some­body who’s lucky or — in some way it seems like luck is just this ran­dom thing thats stream­ing through that some peo­ple inter­cept and, you know, oth­er peo­ple just don’t. But I guess I think its a lit­tle bit more like the peo­ple them­selves are actu­al­ly engag­ing or inter­cept­ing that luck.

SHAPIRO: For Prae­to­rius, the four-leaf clovers of the world are like lit­tle mir­rors, reflect­ing back to her a sense that shes on the right path, that she’s mak­ing her own luck and cre­at­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties. Just before we part­ed ways, she gave me a four-leaf clover as big as my nose.

So then I got to won­der how exact­ly he is find­ing these four-leaf clovers: of course he is look­ing for them, but I’m look­ing for them too. The dif­fer­ence is he is see­ing them. But, what is it that he sees that I’m not see­ing? The sim­ple answer is he sees the clovers, but the com­pli­cat­ed answer is also that he sees the clovers. He lit­er­al­ly sees the world in a rad­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent way; the world must present to him vast­ly dif­fer­ent than it does to me. And so, some things start to make sense. I’d be star­ing at the grassy fields too, if they were cov­ered in four-leaf clovers, instead of just look­ing like smudged browns and greens. But for him, I sup­pose it’s like see­ing a field full of east­er eggs just for you. If this was case, I’d be dys­func­tion­al­ly dis­tract­ed, unaware of other’s or their cares. Some­thing in me starts to calm and exhale. You see, there’s been a long grow­ing unease and I’ve only recent­ly put my fin­ger on it and that is the worry—that all par­ents have—for and wish that our kids find a place in the world. I know for some of us, it’s been a very tight, ill-fit­ting squeeze and for oth­ers, an accep­tance from the world has yet to arrive.

See­ing him find those clovers and learn­ing that he can not only func­tion but grow in t‑ball makes me relax a lit­tle. I need not try to so hard; let Mac show me who he is. Just like an autos­tero­gram that is just a mess of dots until you learn to quit look­ing and let it snap into focus show­ing you dol­phins leap­ing. Mac is pre­sent­ing him­self to me and the World as best he can. Some­times I’ll be able to see what he is show­ing and then won­der what more is to come and what I’ve already missed. But maybe and prob­a­bly, he’s so com­plex that I’ll nev­er tru­ly under­stand him but now I real­ize that’s ok because Mac’s going to be OK; he is mak­ing his way in the world what­ev­er that may be. My real work is to accept it and him.

It is Oct 26,2013.
It is the last day of the t‑ball season.
Mac is up to bat again, his third time at the plate. He’s two for two with base hits and this is his last at-bat for the sea­son. I am watch­ing him with a ridicu­lous grin on my face as he makes anoth­er base hit. Three-peat! Only your kid can give you this felic­i­ty of spir­it. I hope not to for­get it. What’s even bet­ter is see­ing Mac beam­ing as he runs the bases home.


Tanglewood wildlife

June 15, 2014 8pm
W/​S, NC

My Father’s-Day day start­ed a bit ear­ly. Fri­day, I was able to pick up the kids from school on their last day of school and so we head­ed out to Tan­gle­wood Park, an estate owned by the Reynolds tobac­co fam­i­ly now donat­ed to the coun­ty, and went on to Mal­lard Lake. I want­ed to take them out on the pad­dle boats. After some cajol­ing and then threat­en­ing to maroon them with the con­ces­sion-stand staff if they did not board the pad­dle boat, I got us underway.

The lake sur­face is glass-smooth. It’s bro­ken only momen­tar­i­ly by the wakes of water-skeeters careen­ing, whizzing and spi­ral­ing out of the boat’s way; it’s like watch­ing time-lapse pho­tog­ra­phy of win­dow-frost form­ing and sub­li­mat­ing away. I only men­tion all this because Scar­lett is point­ing this out to me.

Jack and Mac are seat­ed in back watch­ing their own show, now and then ask­ing to go back­wards to look at some­thing clos­er, some­thing just under the water—nominally a gator but usu­al­ly just some branch or rock sub­merged and appear­ing to gen­tly bob, break­ing the sur­face predatorily.

We are all alone on the Lake except for a Great Blue Heron1 watch­ing us ped­al clos­er and clos­er, casu­al­ly dip­ping its head into the water and then look­ing side­ways at us. Even­tu­al­ly we get too close and with a flap or two of its wings it sails a few hun­dred feet away in ten sec­onds that took us 10 min­utes to ped­al across.

Scar­lett, of course, is up front and along­side me; she is furi­ous­ly ped­al­ing and try­ing to steer the boat along the shore and under­neath the over­hang­ing tree branch­es where the shade is cool­ing and wel­com­ing to us after being baked in our life-vests cross­ing the mid­dle of the lake, devoid of all breeze, the sun­light hit­ting us full-force.

We trawl along the shore­line qui­et­ly, eyes-peeled for any sur­face-sign of what lies beneath. The kids imag­i­na­tion are primed to be played with and so every ‘plop’, ‘ker­plunk’ or loud rip­ple becomes a shark swim­ming under­neath the boat— “You’re Gonna Need a Big­ger Boat,” I tell the kids— or a mys­te­ri­ous wave is real­ly a Burmese Python come north from Flori­da.

Even­tu­al­ly, even I start to believe what I’m telling the kids is in this lake, because at one point I see a pair of frog-legs the size of my arms zip by. Of course, none of the kids see it but they believe me. Soon, Mac sug­gests it’s time to head back to shore. Our hunt for Nessie over.

Get­ting off the boats, the kids then start walk­ing along the shore­line. We spot a tur­tle that is repeat­ed­ly div­ing under and then a minute lat­er pop­ping its head out, look­ing at us and then div­ing again, some­times pop­ping up clos­er, some­times far­ther from us and does appear to be sur­rep­ti­tious­ly tail­ing us. I don’t under­stand what I am see­ing until Mac asks if we can get some bread we brought along from the Jeep and soon the kids are chuck­ing grape-sized globs of bread at the tur­tle who is pluck­ing them from under­neath. Of course. Lots of kids come to this lake and this tur­tle knows it’s feed­ing time.

So for a few min­utes this goes on until I notice a cou­ple of ducks wad­dling towards us from over the hill near the playground—An Amer­i­can Perkin duck and a Wood duck. They are head­ed straight for us. Soon the kids are being aggres­sive­ly pan­han­dled by the pair, like sea­soned grifters work­ing Times Square. Again, lots of kids have been here and the ducks know a mark when they see one. They must have cleaned up the play­ground, work­ing the crowd and then saw us and decid­ed to check out the action. The ducks are not exact­ly vio­lent in their pes­ter­ing for bread from the kids, but if a duck can—and these two can—they con­vey a rough­ness, a coarse­ness, like two hobos on the lam.

To wrap up, we ran out of the bread and the ducks adiós us and we head to the play­ground and the kids find oth­er kids to play with and even Mac who tends to go solo plays well with oth­ers. The play­ground equip­ment is alter­na­tive­ly turned into a space­ship that has run out of fuel or a pirate’s ship run aground need­ing urgent repairs.

Envoyé de mon miniPad

  1. which I only thought lived in Ore­gon that I took as a good omen back then and take as such here now []