Wednesday, June 21, 2006


When it is so light out so late, all I want to do is play with my kids and not go to bed. It is true that my kids are 19 and 17 and 13 years old, but the statement still stands.

My oldest son Artie got me a small leather, triangular-shaped football for Father’s day. “Footballs” like these are ordinarily made of notebook paper. The athlete folds the piece of notebook paper over and over in the manner of an American flag prepared for storage. The football is not stored, however, but rather flicked across a table by the facing competitors. The object of the tabletop game is to get any part of the football to hang over the table edge without falling off. This is a touchdown and is worth six points. For the point after touchdown, the athlete “kicks” the football with a flick of the middle finger through a set of “goalposts.” Just as in real football, a successful kick is worth one point. The goalposts traditionally consist of the competitor’s thumbs touching horizontally and index fingers extending vertically. But tradition gives way to these modern days.

Welcome to the 21st century. The “football” Artie got me for Father’s Day is genuine leather, and the goalposts are genuine plastic. And when I played my son Jefferson yesterday morning, I got genuinely drubbed: 50-28.

When Aaron got up, he, Jefferson and I played Triple Solitaire. This is just like single Solitaire, only three times as fun. Instead of one person playing his or her own cards on top, everyone can play on everyone else’s cards. If all three players uncover the two of hearts at the same time, for instance, it’s a race to see who can get the two on top of the ace first. The game does not ordinarily draw blood, but bruised knuckles are common. I usually win because I’m so mean and fast. I’ve never let my kids win at anything. Because of this, they are all competitive and very good at everything they do. They know that when they beat Dad at Ping-Pong or Monopoly or basketball or Triple Solitaire, it’s the real deal. Aaron finally beat me in Ping-Pong one day last winter for the first time in 200 or 300 games, and you would have thought he had won an Olympic gold medal. It was great! (I hated it!) I played the national anthem for him and he wept.

We all had to go to work. Aaron had to weed-whip for an elderly woman in town, Jefferson had to mow our lawn, and I had to get some ZenderTalks in the can. But there we sat, playing Triple Solitaire. It worked out this way: Aaron won one, Jefferson won one, and I won one. None of us were too badly injured, so we all went to work. “See ya later,” we said.

After returning from work at about seven in the evening, I found Aaron and Jefferson and Aaron’s friend Heath golfing in the yard. They were inventing “holes” that included a tree trunk, the burn barrel, the metal barn roof, the well pipe, and the natural gas tank. I didn’t want to play, I just wanted to watch. I wanted to be the gallery. So I stood behind ropes and followed the golfers around. I applauded politely whenever someone “plunked” the burn barrel under par. I only got hit in the head with the golf ball once, but even then I applauded politely. I consulted the leader board frequently. I carried my own lawn chair. I drank bottled water.

Soon after, the sky turned purple and black; a storm brewed. I love severe weather; it’s so much more interesting than normal weather; it’s more exciting, more severe. Artie came home just then from work and we all knew what he was going to do: set up his video camera. We were right.

The two older boys and their associates are filming a movie this summer. I’m not allowed to tell you what it’s about. I am allowed to say, however, that it will include purple and black cumulonimbus clouds.

I love watching Artie compose. The clouds performed weird gyrations above his lens. The clouds roiled and boiled over our heads. They looked near enough to touch. The mien of the clouds was deliciously frightening. Aaron thought he saw a funnel forming in one of the black clouds. I wish he had. I have always wanted to see a tornado. Readers who have actually lived through a tornado will hate me for saying this. So be it. I still want to see a swirling vortex.

Not a single vortex came, however, not even a swirling one. Just rain. And did it come! The storm made the house so cozy. At the start of the rain, everyone crammed into the house. Outside was dark blue and wet and cold, but everything indoors was orange and warm and familiar with all of our breath. When the storm died down, the outdoors became sullenly inviting again and Heath and Aaron invented a new game beneath the electric wire draped from the telephone pole to our house called “Throw a Rock Up Above the Wire, and Make the Rock Hit the Wire On the Way Down, but Not on the Way Up, and The First One to Do It Three Times is the World Champion of This New and Stupid Sport.” (I have since learned that the new sport is now called “Plim.”)

I watched Aaron and Heath struggling to make the rock hit the wire on the way down. Heath finally got a hit, and then Aaron got one. It took a long time for them to get one apiece. I doubted it could be so hard. Let a real man toss and see what happens, I thought. And so I announced into the rainy twilight: “I can do that on the first try.”

It was raining steadily, and increasing. Heath and Aaron kept handing me the rock—and handing me the rock and handing me the rock and handing me the rock. In the meantime (when I needed a rest), Aaron got his second hit. Then Heath got his second. Aaron kept getting large drops of rain in his eye. My shirt was starting to stick to my skin and it was getting darker and darker. I kept throwing and throwing, missing each time. Neither Aaron nor Heath could fathom that a person could miss so many times in a row while trying so diligently. And yet I continued to accomplish the unfathomable. Aaron and Heath kept giving me tips and hints: “Stand directly under the wire.” “Keep your hand in the center of your body.” “Try to hit the wire on the way up.” “Don’t throw so high.” “Throw higher.”

Nothing worked. In the meantime, Heath became World Champion. In order to comprehend his victory, I continued to miss and miss and miss. My many attempts and many misses bordered on the miraculous—the absurdly miraculous. It was astonishing how many times in a row I failed. Aaron said, “I won’t be able to sleep tonight until you do this.” Aaron had become the adult, I the child. “Concentrate, Dad,” he said. “You can do this. Go slower. Think about it. Concentrate.” The wire was only six or seven feet above my head, but my story remained the same: miss, miss, miss, miss, miss, miss, miss, and miss. I cursed the rock under my breath; it was shaped like a peanut. Darn the peanut, I thought to myself. It was raining too hard. It was getting too dark. I was too tired. I was dehydrated. Satan hated me.

Finally, it happened. Quite by accident (I assure you), the rock “ticked” the wire on the way down. I ran across the lawn with my fists in the air, yelling like Tarzan. I felt like I’d just won an Olympic gold medal.

Aaron played the national anthem for me, and I wept.

I do love summer, at times.

© 2006 by Martin Zender