Dear Evan: On the Chicago Cubs Winning the World Series

November 3rd, 2016 by Freshmaker No comments »

Dear Evan:

I was never a baseball fan. My father tried. He took me and your Uncle Benjie to Texas Rangers games, back in the 1970s when shorts were short and metal bleachers sat wavering in the Texas heat. Watching baseball was literally painful.

Fast forward to 2001, when I landed in Chicago and, specifically, near Wrigley field. Near enough to hear the games from the courtyard behind a little 3-flat apartment building. Near enough that we neighbors would put out a portable radio and listen to the games just to make sense of the cheering and, more often, disappointed silences.

The Cubs worked for me. They fit me. They were the Charlie Brown of sports teams, someone you loved but you knew would never get to kick the metaphorical football. The Cubs would never dance with the Little Red-Haired Girl. I could sympathize. The years I spent in Chicago, I would watch the Cubbies from Wrigley Field, or from my friend’s bar, The Dark Horse, or at home with the windows open so I could still hear the crowd live. The Cubs were easy to love.

The Cubs winOne year early on, I was standing at a hat stand just outside Wrigley looking at a smart design from the 1918 Cubs when a home run ball fell to the street maybe 20 or 30 feet away. I didn’t get the ball, but I did buy the hat right then. You still see me wear it almost every weekend, worn and faded now.

Last night, probably 13 years from buying that cap and 2,000 miles from Chicago, you toddled out of your room at almost midnight. I gathered you into my lap. “Look!” I pointed to where men in bright blue were celebrating on our television. “Who just won?”

“The Cubs,” you murmured.

“They just won the World Series!” I was tearing up a little. More than a little. You snuggled against me and half-slept while I watched the celebration.

The Cubs win, I whispered to you. The Cubs win. Holy cow. The Cubs win.

I love you,

Daddy

Dear Evan: Some Memories

August 16th, 2016 by Freshmaker No comments »

Dear Evan:

This weekend, you and I laid on the floor of our upstairs living room and played Lincoln logs. We built a house for your Rey and Finn Star Wars action figures, plus a garage for Rey’s speeder, a tiny stable for a tiny Lego horse and “campfires” (which of course became deflector shield generators) out of the leftover logs.

Evan at playI wondered: How much of this will you remember?

You’re almost six years old. You won’t remember the specifics. I hope you have a hazy good-feeling memory of playing with your daddy, but beyond that? Lost moments, I think.

I remember a few things from my early youth:
* Walking across a field under dark, about-to-rain skies on the way home from preschool, so probably in Houston.
* Eating Apple Jacks cereal very early morning at a school (maybe the same?). Notable because we rarely ate sugar cereal at home.
* Finding a toy monkey with what I think was real fur (maybe rabbit?) during a yard sale in the courtyard of our townhouse. (Again, I think in Houston.)
* For my birthday or Christmas, I got a little handheld music box — you held it by a handle, and turned a lever on the side to make music, and could watch the gears through a little window — and I remember your uncle Ben and I dancing around a dark living room in the pre-dawn hours like swans (so it must have been “Swan Lake”).
* Later, in Arlington, giggling in the bedroom, supposed to be asleep, with Ben and other kids (including one with a terribly burned arm — I remember marveling at the twisted smooth skin) while our parents watched “Alien” in the living room.

My memory gets better from there on (at least, for now), but it’s a fun game to think back on those fragments and hold them for as long as I can. I hope that someday, you have good fragments, fragments that warm your heart, about us playing on the floor or going to the library every Saturday or sneaking away for donuts. (You always eat a sprinkle donut, half a dozen donut holes, a jalapeno sausage roll and half my jalapeno sausage roll.)

I love you so much,

Daddy

Dear Evan: How Not to Rape

June 7th, 2016 by Freshmaker No comments »

Dear Evan –

I’m sad to say there’s another college boy in the news for raping one of his classmates, a young woman whose life is now shattered before it ever really got started.

In this case, the boy’s father wrote an insulting letter to the judge moaning about how his boy won’t be able to eat steak for a while (really). Again, the young woman’s life is shattered. She will deal with emotional issues, trust issues, sex issues, depression… but the boy, who got a light sentence, won’t be able to enjoy steak for a while.

Here’s what I’d like: I’d like to not ever have to consider writing such a letter. I love you with all of my heart, but if you so carelessly destroy another person’s life, I can’t support you.

So here are some words of wisdom to keep us away from that place.

1. Don’t rape anyone.
2. Seriously, don’t rape anyone.
3. Don’t get blackout drunk. You can’t control your actions when you’re blackout drunk. You can’t dispute what anyone says you might have done while you were blackout drunk. Have a couple of drinks. Get mellow. Get buzzed. But stop short of being unable to control or account for your actions.
4. Make a plan. Even short of blackout drunk, it’s possible to be unable to give consent. Figure it out with your partner: Discuss, honestly, both in general and before taking your first drink of the night, whether it’s okay to have sex after a few. And then stick to it.
5. If it’s someone new? Then just don’t. Stay in control. Flirt. Be cute. And then end the night alone, and call that person the next day to see whether you can meet at a time when alcohol isn’t involved.

Be smart, kiddo. That may mean having a few drinks less than your friends. It may mean that gorgeous girl makes a pass at you while drunk, and you have to wait until a better time. But better you suck it up and be responsible for a night than ruin someone else’s entire future.

I love you. I love you with all of my heart. I want other people to love you, to think the best of you, to feel safe and cared for around you.

I love you,

Daddy

Enter: The Pizzathology!

May 20th, 2016 by Freshmaker No comments »

You guys! It can finally be announced: I’m part of a YA anthology of stories centered around pretty much my favorite food ever, pizza. (Make mine pepperoni and pineapple, please.) “A Pizza My Heart: An Anthology” was conceived by the awesome Jolene Haley, who went ahead and did all the work of bringing together writers and putting the thing together because she loves pizza that damn much.

The tagline is also one of my favorite things ever: “Sometimes spicy, sometimes cheesy, but always delicious, A Pizza My Heart invites you to explore life, happiness, and the pursuit of pizza.” No spoilers on whether my story is spicy or cheesy, but let’s just say I managed to work in both zombies and boys in love.

The book is out Nov. 12, and you’ll want to grab a slice right away. Check out this lineup:

A Slice of Adventure by Maria Carvalho

Between Slices by Andy Grieser

Fresh, Hot, and Deadly by Rena Olsen

KissingDancingPizzaMURDER by Darci Cole

Kneadful Things by Jenna Lehne

Love Pizza No. 9 by Vanessa Rodriguez

Madame Miraval’s Pizza Place by Kelly deVos

Password Is… by Jolene Haley

Pizza by Emily Simon

Pizza Buddy by Brian LeTendre

Pizzamergency by Brett Jonas

Survival Pizza by Rebecca Waddell

The Last Stop at the End of the World by Jamie Adams

The Pizza Guy by Jessi Shakarian

Where There’s Pizza by Jasmine Brown

No cover reveal yet, but this may tide you over:

Again, that release date is Nov. 12 of this Year of Our Baker 2016. Set your social media brainburrower of choice to #Pizzathology for updates.

My Tuesday Moment

May 18th, 2016 by Freshmaker No comments »

I dashed off a quick joke, a pun in reply to one of author Chuck Wendig’s many very funny tweets: Wendig mentioned the Broadway musical Hamilton not actually being about ham, and I opined that it was actually about Mark Hamill. Who then liked the tweet.

For me, it was huge. For him, it was a Tuesday. (Literally. This happened on a Tuesday.)

His like took maybe a second, and probably was forgotten a second later. But me? Well, I grew up a little towheaded blonde boy in a hot, desolate environment without many prospects on the metaphorical horizon. Not a whole lot of friends, either. When a movie came along about a towheaded blonde teen in a hot, desolate environment yadda yadda yadda, well… it made a connection. My first action figure may have been Leia, but boy did I relate to Luke.

Do I say the movie had a huge effect on my life? It did, as much as most children of the Original Trilogy generation. And yet I still watch it, and tear up when Luke turns off his targeting computer. From that desert planet, he has found *home* with the Force and the Rebellion and in himself. I found a home in movies and as a father to a towheaded little blonde boy totally in love with Star Wars.

For a split-second, the man who so ably played Luke was aware of my existence.

What a Tuesday.

Dear Evan: Tell Me More

May 17th, 2016 by Freshmaker No comments »

Dear Evan:

When you’re trying not to cry, your lips curl into a smile. Your face reddens. Your eyes, eyelids already heavy like mine, droop at the outer corners.

You and I were eating dinner last night, and you were asking me about why we hold our thumbs up to make guns out of fingers. I was trying to balance answering (especially confusing because Star Wars guns, the only ones you know, do not have hammers) and stressing why we don’t play guns in our house.

After a few minutes, I watched your face crumple. You were fighting tears, fighting them with everything you had.

I’m not always a good father. Sometimes I tell you to go play Legos so I can play some silly phone game and disconnect my brain. Sometimes I tell you I don’t care if you don’t like what I’m saying.

But sometimes I get it.

“Is everything okay?”

That’s all it took. The floodgates opened and you crawled into my lap and you bawled into my shirt and clutched the neckline in your little fist and I let you get it all out.

A little boy in your class, you told me, said “Stop talking” every time you spoke in preschool class. Every time. Even when it was your turn to talk. He told you that you talk too much.

When you’d gotten it all out, I told you he was wrong. That we love how much you talk, we love that you can express yourself so well. I told you that your teacher is the only one who can ask you to be quiet.

Cold comfort, I know. It helps that tomorrow is the last day of your preschool year, and that you’re headed to a new place for kindergarten. Not that you’ll always be safe there, because bullies live everywhere, but we’ll deal with that when it happens.

I love how much you talk. I love that we hold long conversations in the car or at the dinner table. I love that you still talk to yourself when you play, and that you narrate our backyard Star Wars adventures.

Never stop talking.

I love you,

Daddy

Dear Evan: Just some thoughts

February 9th, 2016 by Freshmaker No comments »

Dear Evan –

Evan asleep

A boy and his dog

I’ve probably mentioned before — I’m just too lazy to look — how you’ve ruined me for horror. And kids in peril? I wouldn’t even bat an eyelash.

And now. Now I get home from work, and you squeal my name and grin a huge toothy grin and jump into my arms. We play Candy Land and, your favorite, Star Wars Sorry! and always Legos.

You creep into bed with me, no matter how many times I take you back to your own, and scootch so that your feet are touching my back, a reassurance. And I grumble, but it’s a reassurance to me too.

So I can’t be down with scary stories any more where a kid is in danger, or disappears, or is taken over by some demon, and right now that feels like it’s all the horror movies.

I look into your bright blue eyes and listen to your breathless stories about where your Lego creations fit in the Star Wars universe and almost cry because I brought you into a world where entire species are dying off and temperatures are rising and I can’t even let you ride your bike alone around the neighborhood like I once did.

I’m doing better at the fatherhood thing. I’m raising you right, or at least raising you to love everyone and clearly draw the line between right and wrong. I may have instilled a love in you for pepperoni and pineapple pizzas, but I feed you pretty well most of the time.

I don’t have a point here. I don’t have a lesson I’ve learned. We talk so much every day that I just wanted to talk with future you. I need to reach out more often. And I think I can tell you why soon. Future you, that is.

Anyway,

I love you,

Daddy

Dear Evan: May the Force be with you

December 22nd, 2015 by Freshmaker 1 comment »

Dear Evan:

Not long ago in a house not so far away, you discovered a stash of my old Star Wars toys, and fell in love with R2D2. Seriously in love. You will sometimes walk around the house, arms straight down (to look like droid legs), whistling instead of talking.

It’s really serious. You own R2 hats, shirts, toys, balloons. R2 accompanies you almost everywhere. I’ve actually stopped playing the “Which Droid Do You Want to Be?” game. (Not true. I pretend to be R5D4, whose motivator breaks as soon as he’s introduced. Then I can sit still while you play.)

I am thrilled. I love that we share this enthusiasm for the story that so captivated me at your age. I love that I can share that with you on this of all years, when we got the first Star Wars movie in a decade, and the first *good* one since I was a child.

We went on Friday, the day it opened, but during the day when crowds were relatively smaller. Your mom and I went the night before to make sure it would be okay, and it was.

It’s difficult to tell what you got out of it. Certainly you asked lots of questions, your breath rich with mac and cheese and chocolate milk, kneeling in your seat and whispering to me. You pulled your R2 knit hat over your eyes only once, during a scene with admittedly scary monsters. You stared in quiet wonder as Poe Dameron swooped his X-wing up and around and through the skies.

You unquestioningly accepted – and I count this as good parenting – a female hero in Rey and a black male hero in Finn. God, I hope your generation continues to accept that we are all strong and valuable and worth being the stars of our own space operas.

I don’t think you totally understood the quieter moments. I know you didn’t. But I know you’ll revisit them, and find a new depth to the movie, as you get older and maybe share it, someday, with your own beautiful loved ones.

I love you,

May the Force be with you,

Daddy

Kitaree: What’s that noise?

October 23rd, 2015 by Freshmaker No comments »

Hey, y’all –

It’s a dark, strange morning in Kitaree.

I haven’t been able to sleep. After Tony disappeared, the rest of my guys and I got assigned to help clear out the courthouse. I can’t wait to tell you all about it. You’re not going to believe a word, even though I swear it’s true.

But here’s the thing:

I just heard something from the other room of my trailer. Something outside my bedroom door.

Something — someone — just said, loud and clear, “Help me out here.”

It wasn’t Tony’s voice.

There’s a baseball bat in the corner. Good solid wood.

It just spoke again: “Help me out here.”

Something’s breathing hard just outside the door.

I’m going to check it out.

It’s been a quiet week in Kitaree

October 16th, 2015 by Freshmaker No comments »

So –

It’s been a quiet week in Kitaree. Real quiet.

Tony’s disappearance had us all rattled. Seriously: Nate, Howie, ‘Nacio and I waited for hours at that stupid house. Howie and ‘Nacio went to work on the portion of the tree out on the lawn, all of the roots and a good length of trunk, but it was half-hearted. After the first half-hour, Howie made a call, I guess to the guys who handed out hard hats and assignments every morning.

Another half-hour after that, another team showed, this time with flashlights. The Asian guy was with them, the one from the antiques shop. The big boss. He stayed outside while the rest went in.

We… we just stood there, hands down our metaphorical pants. Howie and ‘Nacio chopped. Nate smoked. I tried to crack a joke to the boss, something about how losing a guy out of the gate meant we were all fired.

“No, I’ve got more work in mind for you.” I don’t know. He said it normally, but I could practically hear a musical sting.

They never found Tony. The guys spent a couple of hours in that house, I guess going room to room. Said he must’ve hit a back door and just done a runner. Why not? We were all transients, really, glorified day laborers on the state’s dime. Tony probably figured the work was bullshit and saw a way to get down the road.

I almost lit out after that. Who cares about homecomings, right? I lived without Kitaree for years, and I could do it again.

I didn’t. Nate did. He didn’t show up for our assignment the next morning.

So, like I said, quiet week. The remaining three of us got the rest of our time off, and next week we get to go straight to HQ (in this case, Christianson’s Antiques) instead of talking to some clipboard guy in a pickup.

I don’t know why, but it feels like y’all should wish me luck. Something’s coming.