Thursday, August 29, 2013

Camp Tuolumne

One of my first posts on this blog was titled Camp Tuolumne 2011. I included the year in the title because I knew I'd be reporting on the adventures we'd have at family camp every year. I missed last year because I was in Chicago, and this year...well, this year a lot of plans got shelved. So next year for sure! Next year there was no chance I'd be letting the boys miss out on their birthright. It was the source of the greatest collection of my childhood memories and I knew it would be the same for my sons.

It's impossible to overstate what this place meant to me. It was the place I lost my first tooth and had my first kiss. Going there every year was more like a pilgrimage than a vacation. The week spent there was a religious experience. The rest of the year was spent either reveling in the last visit or anticipating the next one. It was bliss.

I use the past tense because just this week, after over ninety years of giving the crazy Berkeley families an annual week in heaven, including four generations of my family, the Rim Fire burned Camp Tuolumne to the ground.

Camp 2010
I can't really put my heartbreak into words. My uncle Stephen wrote an email to the whole family after the news came out. Not surprisingly his experience of that place mirrors my own. I think every kid that spent their summers there had the same experience. It was universal and transcended generations. Here's what he said:

Somebody’s going to say that the destruction, by fire, of Berkeley Tuolumne Camp outside Yosemite is an indescribable loss. It isn’t. It’s very describable: infinitely. Everyone who ever went there can tell you what the loss means. They just won’t use the same words because everyone who went there, and we number in the thousands, will have their own take. This is mine.
Camp Tuolumne was always going to burn down. That stretch of the Sierra Nevadas is too hot and arid and inaccessible. The fact that camp lasted for 91 years is just about miraculous. It was never going to last forever.
To which statement you might reply, well, of course, sorry, but nothing lasts forever.
Which means I wasn't clear. The tent platforms, dining lodge, timber bridges, laundry room, common bathrooms, arts and crafts area, dance hall, outdoor stage and slab-sided teepee were going to last only so long. But the Tuolumne that is a cloud castle of best self, campfire songs, first love, astonishment, fierce loyalty, second love, fishing awards, daring and discovery — that camp — that camp is as fireproof as youth and as indestructible as I don’t know what. Hope.
I said the loss of Camp Tuolumne is describable, and it is. It’s just not easily describable. In one way or another, I think about Tuolumne every day. It wasn’t a place or even an era. Berkeley Tuolumne (too-ol-a-mee) Camp on the south fork of the Tuolumne River about 30 miles from Yosemite is a dream, the scent of sun-baked pine needles, a culture of horse shoes and badminton. It’s two weeks in July during which each day has a dozen moods. It’s the dopey feeling of an afternoon nap in the heat on a cot under a war surplus canvas tent and the taser shock of cold water when you dive in and swim for Beaver Head Rock. At Tuolumne, the pancakes were irrationally delicious, the college guys on the boys staff were Olympians, the girls staff was a blend of Miss Americas and the best big sisters you never had. Our campfire songs were the merriest, our family night skits were beyond witty. The camp store next to the volley ball court had the most exotic candy bars as well as cold drinks you could get no where else. Potato chips tasted better, comic books read better. In short, Tuolumne was Life and the other 50 weeks of the year were a time of weary exile when you grew pale and petty and so did everyone else.
When I was 12, I wrote myself a letter from camp. Camper Me urged my city self not to lose the dream, to keep the flame going, to hold onto the handsomeness, the lightness of being. The light.
Every pathway of memory leads me back to Tuolumne. None leads out.
My parents, Mildred and Carl Fay, were better people at camp. My father was a Berkeley fireman, a product of the Great Depression and abandonment by his own father. By the time I came along in 1949, he had buried two infant daughters. His surviving children, six in all, were mostly obligations and responsibilities for him. He didn’t know about having fun with your children.
Except at camp. Once we arrived at camp after the long drive, the backseat shoving and whining, the  frequent bickering, the boredom and the very occasional barf, my dad shed wary intensity, traded it for two weeks of rest, hikes, swimming (he swan at Tuolumne and no where else), naps, Happy Hour, big meals in the lodge and singing. He would break into “My Fair Lady” or “Oklahoma.”
After lunch and Quiet Hour, we emerged from our tent (they were more like cabins with canvas walls and roofs) for a bracing swim. As a very little boy, my dad took me swimming on his back. I hung onto his trapezoids as he muscled through a modified breast stroke, barely keeping his chin above water, his breath coming in measured gasps. Umm-pfff, umm-pfff. The skin on his broad back was baby smooth. It was the closest I ever got to him.
My mother's transformation was more subtle, but still substantive. Most significant was her opening of a charge account at the camp store. We all could use it. It was an impossible benevolence; it made everything free: pingpong balls, badminton birdies, salmon eggs for trout fishing bait, Coke, fish hooks, Sea 'n' Ski, ice cream sandwiches, Mars bars.
When I was quite small, I spent most of the day in mini-programs with beatifically patient staff girls. I learned to swim in the Minnows Program. Each year, a new accomplishment: assembling a B-17 bomber model from a kit, catching several rainbow trout (great name!), climbing to the top of Sawmill Mountain and leaping past a rattle snake, kissing a girl on the lips. That’s as far as it went, but I wasn’t complaining.
Kids who came to camp year after year developed a loyalty, a chauvinism, that exceeded Japanese nationalism. We thought people who went to Oakland Camp or San Francisco’s Camp Mather or the San Jose Camp — all within several miles of Tuolumne — were hopeless losers. There was only one camp.
I have gone on too long. Those who have been to Tuolumne already understand and those who have not are thinking that a mind is a terrible thing to waste. So I will conclude.
But before doing so: Camp Fire.
Without a camp fire, it ain’t camp. It’s a visit — at best, a picnic with swim. Camp fire seals the deal and Tuolumne camp fires unfailingly rocked. We gathered at 7:30. The boys staff guys would ignite the kind of inferno Incas used to sacrifice virgins: driftwood, logs and the super-sized pine cones that only Tuolumne's super-sized sugar pines could birth. Bill Rhoades, the unflappable camp director throughout my childhood, stepped forward and, without preamble, started singing. “Sugar Bush, I love you so … I will never let you go … don't you let your mother know … Sugar Bush I love you so … Choc-o-late your are so sweet … you, yes you I'd like to eat … if I could t'would be a treat … Choc-o-late you are so sweet.” We had all joined in two words into the first verse.
This would be followed by the much-admired “Did You Ever See a Fishy on a Bright and Summer Day?” and a dozen more songs which, under Bill's direction, we sang in rounds, always among them the internationally acknowledged “Little Tommy Tinker Sat on a Clinker.” Then followed the evening's entertainment. Onto the rustic boards came the players. It depended on the day of the week. There was campers night, children's night, table night, staff night and Aquacade... which was the girls staff doing an Esther Williams number at the base of Beaver Head. The night’s program always concluded with  (need we say?) “Day is Done, Gone the Sun.”
Then to bed: sleeping bags under the stars. The stars. Even in the 1950s and ‘60s, starlight was a rare species in Berkeley. At Tuolumne, the entire solar system was on show.
Twice, mid-year, back in Berkeley, there were reunions. Terrible idea. My heroes and most cunning friends looked like the guys at my middle school. They, too, would have to do a better job channeling their summer selves.
And I was among the dweebiest. A little wiseguy who left his mojo in the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Well, that's about it. I went back to camp — Senior Camp — in August of 2012. Nothing had changed. The dining hall, the river, Beaver Head, the pine needles, my sisters.
And now it’s gone. Today is a very sad day. I’m sorry not for myself, since I had the great fortune to have had the full experience. I’m sorry for the kids who were just starting to love it — the 5 and 6 and 7-year-olds who won’t be at camp at ages 8, 9 and 10.
Camp 2011
I may go back one more time to pay my respects, though, in my heart, I honor Tuolumne just about every day. And I have promises to keep. My 12-year-old self wrote me a letter 51 years ago and implored me not to lose what I had found at camp.
I’m working on it.

I never had a plan B for my boys. It was always going to be Camp Tuolumne for them, every year until their brooding and apathetic teenage years when they finally declare that it's "so lame". Then they'd have kids, rediscover it for the heaven-on-Earth that it is, and start the cycle over again. The city of Berkeley is already talking about a 'recovery', but the camp itself wasn't exactly prosperous so who knows. Fingers crossed for a Camp Tuolumne 2.0. My uncle was right, it was a miracle it lasted 91 years, but I could have gone for 91 more. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

Badge of Honor

Last Saturday morning I opened up the front door and let the boys journey out on their own. The liberating thing about these kinds of outings is that they are in charge. I just set them loose and follow them wherever they want to take me. It's fun for them sure, but mainly letting them roam free is a great way to get them to burn off some extra energy, which was critical on Saturday because it was "haircut day" and I needed them sedated.

The most harrowing part of the journey is just making it down the concrete steps to the driveway. After that it's pretty smooth sailing. Saturday morning they led me down the side of the street with all the nice B&Bs, straight downtown, past all the shops, through the downtown square, across Healdsburg Ave., around the hotel, into the Farmer's Market, and finally to the bank of dumpsters behind the brewery. In just 30 minutes we blew past no fewer than six post-card-worthy slices of wine country heaven, just to settle on an alley filled with ten tons of stink and fermenting garbage juice. My boys love to mix things up.

While there we spent about 20 minutes playing "I'm gonna getcha!" before retracing our steps back home. On the way back we had just enough time before our haircut appointment for a little coffee, but as luck would have it our paths were crossed by the blaring sirens and flashing lights of an engine from Healdsburg's fire department.

"They're going Code 3" I explained to Liam, reminding him that daddy was a genuine firefighter himself.  Even though I hadn't been a Reserve Healdsburg Firefighter for over 5 years, it still counted. He was duly unimpressed.

The engine slowed to a stop just three blocks away. "Let's go check it out!" I declared, before remembering that most of the calls I ran while with the department involved either broken limbs or incontinence...sometimes both.

As luck would have it, once again, it was just a gas leak at a construction site. Perfect! Apart from the real threat of being consumed by a big fiery ball of flame, it was totally preschool age appropriate. We stood just outside the dizzying cloud of methane hoping to catch the attention of one of the firefighters. Okay, I was trying to get their attention. Liam's newest thing is repetition and after his 50th "Fie-owe Twuck!!" we got a wave and a "Hey Mike". Score! He knew my name. "Do you guys like stickers?" he asked the boys. This was an idiotic question to ask preschoolers. "Heck yeah they do!" I said.

That badge says "Junior Firefighter", signifying honor, integrity, and above all courage. COURAGE! Like allowing a complete stranger to take a pair of scissors to your head while you sit calmly and watch Cars 2. I call it 'pampering' but to Liam it's a small step down from 'waterboarding'.

Suffice it to say the journey around town was NOT enough to work the jitters out of Liam for his haircut. The owner of the shop was in that day and after only 5 minutes of Liam's most horrific screams, she pulled the plug. She insisted that if we continued he could end up never allowing anyone to cut his hair. She had a good point, but unfortunately I think he's already there. Of course Finn fucking loved it.

Once we got back to the car I confiscated Liam's badge and gave it to it's rightful owner, along with his well-earned lollipop.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Homeboy Turns Ten

So, check this out - my son turned ten today. TEN. Take a moment with me here to just let that sink in...


My life has gone through a lot of changes, but this one takes the cake. All kinds of things led up to the fact that TEN years ago I pushed another human being out of my vag with no drugs and a crazy mix of onlookers in all of my naked glory, and henceforth there was Jonah in the world. You're welcome!

But really, is this tripping anyone else out as much as it is me? Because, I don't know man...birthdays tend to get me all verklempt, but this one is kind of...big. Like, TEN TIMES as big as any of the birthdays leading up to it.

Bigger than this one - the first

...and this one, the second.
We discovered here that he hates whipped cream, wtf?!
What does it mean to have a ten-year-old son? Well, I'll have to get back to you on that one because how would I know? Dude just turned ten! But, what I can tell you is that at this moment in time - as in, all of the moments leading up to this one - is that he is rad. Perhaps the raddest son ever created (sorry everyone else with sons, this is just the way it is). He is sweet, compassionate, thoughtful, creative, funny, dry-humored and downright handsome.

This day. Ten.
Sometimes he forgets to say thank you, and sometimes he makes crazy high-pitched tortured-horse type noises, and sometimes he bugs out his eyes, opens up his mouth, and wags his tongue around like a deranged lizard boy...but he also patiently helps his sister pick out her clothes for school, laughs uproariously, builds the greatest living room forts, and gives 100% unsolicited pure-joy hugs, kisses, high-fives and smiles.

He gets me. I get him. Life would be eye-rollingly lame without him in it. And even though it took me many, many, many hours of intense pain to get him into the world, it was totally worth it. The kid is alright.

And he is mine.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Five in the Morning

Erin and I have been seeing a co-parenting counselor. On our first visit she let us know that she wanted to run things like a business meeting, but if necessary she was "equipped to help us quickly resolve any conflicts that come up during the session." For some reason I pictured a set of dueling pistols set in carved oak moulding in a nice leather case.  Something classy, which she could no doubt afford given what she charges.

We keep it pretty civil so no gloves were thrown down. Instead we got right into the big issue: The Schedule. There were questions that we needed a pro to answer, such as "What is worse, getting woken up at 5am or going 5 straight days without seeing your daddy?" The $150/hour answer was the latter is worse. This is great news for me because it means that every Wednesday and every other Thursday (depending on which week is "my week") I get an extra couple of overnights with the boys.

The bad news for the boys is I get up before dawn to go to work. So there's a new routine: At 5am on these glorious mornings I carefully wrap my sweet angels up in blankets, ease them down one at a time to my waiting car while whispering "there there" and "I love you my little man" into their precious little ears, and then cram them into their car seats for the chilly 15 minute drive to daycare where I gently place them back in beds for the remainder of the morning.  They haven't done it without crying yet.

Hey, it's "character building". These guys have it way too easy and need more of stuff like this. I don't make them do anything else horrible and as everyone knows, spoiled little brats that have it easy turn into assholes (Justin Bieber) and kids who have it rough, whose parents force them to go to catholic school and eat parboiled asparagus with mayonnaise for dinner, grow up to be well-adjusted kind-hearted contributors to society (Mike Bairdsmith).

Friday, August 9, 2013

Back to School Shopping

One of the few perks of owning my own kids clothing store is that I can occasionally supply my kids with, well, clothing. While Jonah is quickly growing out of the shop, occasionally I can still find things for Evie, but she's not far behind her brother. Recently I got a slew of items in that would fit her, so on my day off we drove to Healdsburg to do some Back to School shopping.

Perhaps you remember a tale I once told about a customer of mine who drives me up the wall? Yes, her.

Last week this customer came into the shop looking for a pair of shoes for her son. You see, they were on their way to the fair, and she'd Okay, we've all been there. Sometimes I forget a hat when I take my kids to the fair. Or even sunscreen. I know!! But shoes, I don't know, that one usually happens as we're walking out the door, but whatever.We all have different priorities. Tomato Tomahto.

We went through the usual routine: she asks me if some shoe would fit her son, I say I have no idea; she asks me if I have any other shoes in the back in approximately her son's size, saying that she doesn't even care if they're girl's shoes, she just needs shoes! I bring out two pairs - one girl's pair, but brown and maybe passable in a 'European' way, and one pair of REI hiking boots in perfect condition. She asks the prices of both. I tell her the girl's are $7, the hiking boots are $14. After the hemming and hawing, she says she doesn't have enough money (and yet she'd come into the store...seemingly to buy shoes). She then asked if I could 'float her some store credit'.

This is the part I'm not proud of: I said no. But only because this was not our first Rodeo together and I knew what can of worms that would open, and I didn't have the patience for worms.

She said she understood. Then she spotted some shoes behind me that had just come in - they were sparkly and fun and fabulous, and she asked me to put them on hold because she wanted them for her daughter.

I told her I'd hold them for 24 hours, which is standard. She didn't come back for them. Fast forward.....

When I brought the kids to the shop to look for clothes, Jonah miraculously found a pair of shorts and a T-shirt, Evie founds some skirts and shirts, and she also found...those shoes. They were a bit large, but as long as shoes don't cause my kids to fall on their faces, I prefer to say 'room to grow' as opposed to 'too big.' Evie was delightedly practicing walking in them when in walked that customer

Oh, I should also mention here that we went on this shopping spree on one day the store is closed - aka, my day off. So there we are, strutting our shoes, a sign on the door that says 'CLOSED', and in she walks with her daughter - the would-be owner of my daughter's beloved new shoes - in tow.

She had a garbage bag of balled-up clothes that she was hoping I'd go through in order to get some store credit, but I said that we were in fact closed and had only just stopped in for a few minutes. She asked about the shoes. I said that they weren't on hold anymore since it had been a long  five days since she'd last been in. Meanwhile I was trying to use sign language to get Evie to understand that she should go behind the counter to HIDE from the crazy lady that wanted her shoes. But no. The crazy lady had spotted the shoes. And so she began:

"Oh wait, look...oh! Oh, sweetie go behind that counter there where that other little girl is and look at the shoes she's wearing. Go look honey bear! Those are the shoes I wanted to get you! Ohhhhh....they're so pretty, I know, I love the sparkles! Ohhhh...gosh I just wish they were still on hold! Oh man...I just couldn't get in here on time...."

I tried to keep my eyes from rolling all the way back into the furthermost reaches of my head and commented that this was certainly awkward, since my daughter had literally just put the shoes on and was excited about getting them, but the look of perpetual disappointment and the blank-eyed pout on her daughter's face made me stop.

I took Evie aside and knelt down to quietly explain that this woman had really hoped to get these shoes for her little girl, and did she think she might be able to let them go since she was already getting some great new clothes?

And people - my girl may have first given me a very clear you've got to be fucking kidding me look, but then she checked out that other little girl, and she must have realized that right there was one compadre who needed those shoes more than her. She took them off, picked them up, and handed them over kindly, saying "here you go."

I was so proud and tolerant in that moment that it was almost easy for me to keep from going postal when that sad little girl's mom asked me to put those goddam shoes on hold.

That's right: On. Hold. Bitch has got some balls, I'll give her that.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Quit My Bitching

Time magazine came out with The 25 Best Bloggers of 2013


Oh no, really I get it. It's fine! I mean, how can we possibly compete with Dronestagram? No, don't click that link! It's not the wacky cautionary tales about parenting, love, and poop that you've come to adore here at PAIR-RANTING. It's just a bunch of aerial pictures of poor people killed by Americans. FUN! Pour another cup-o-joe and curl up to some of that!! They have lots of pictures of kids, just like us! Entire schools of kids!! Or how about Beer Labels in Motion? Ooh, that's a clever title, what does it mean? Some kind of creative metaphor describing the ubiquitous marriage of art and consumerism? I bet there are endless life lessons one can glean from them! Nope, it's beer labels....moving. Neat. 

TIME did put my BFF Jenny Lawson at #1, so there's that
Okay, I really do get it. Blogging about your kids is not very original, I'll give you that. Also, with everything that's been going on in my life lately, I've been something of a little bitch and it's distracting me from my usual observing and reporting of adventures in parentland. I'd kinda forgotten how rewarding it is sharing a good poop story. I haven't written one of those since last March. I'm slacking!! It's no wonder we didn't make the cut. Message received Time Magazine!

Well things have been getting back on track in a big way. My little guys are at it, bigger and poopier than ever, and I'm finally coming around too. Finn in particular went so far as to celebrate our kick ass new bachelor pad by shitting on me at the very tail end of a group shower (BAM! Poop story. You're welcome)  It was kind of like a baptism, I suppose. A gesture signfying 'rebirth', 'renewal', and a 'clean slate' (clean?). Remarkably it hadn't happened before. I knew it was going to happen one day and quite frankly, I'm surprised it took this long.

But the timing was apropos. It is a REBIRTH! I'm done moping and ready to get on with the fun. I have a feeling there's going to be plenty of that around the corner.