Midnight Laundry


“But surely, there is a comfort to be taken from that,” continued the Count. “For even as the weeks begin racing by in a blur for us they are making the greatest of impressions upon our children.


To see a murmuration of starlings is to be breathless, awestruck.

At first, a surprise. A sense that what you are witness to cannot somehow be real.

What am I seeing

But once eye connects with brain, only then can you step back to appreciate the mass of wing and flutter coalescing and expanding. A celestial bellows, breathing in and out.

Biologists believe these birds gather to protect from predators, safety in numbers.

This, for some reason, comforts me.


Non sequiturs are his specialty. To chat with this crusty sailor, now 75 years in, is to become a pupil in the art. We follow a thread that only he can see – woven through mish mosh of random word etymology, how time in a submarine offers essential wisdom about relationships, the importance of hip hop and boat building in overcoming trauma

We have a deficit of proper fatherhood, a result of the epochal shift from agriculture to industry

And we’re electing 13-year olds as a result.

Huh

Tonight, though, my mind is on one thing.

I’m turning 50

Uh huh

It makes me feel old

That’s good.

You’re old!


I wake with a start

Ah shit

Forgot the laundry

I stagger up the darkened stairs and quietly open the washer door. It still smells fresh.

In hopes of allowing the rest of the household their well-earned slumber, I ever so carefully and silently slide the t-shirt over the first 5-metre bamboo pole, securing it well above the stairwell below. Extend the sleeves and shape it, readying it to dry.

This work is by nature mindful, slow, paced.

Maybe it’s the bamboo

Right now, this moment, a single starling, darts about and draws my full attention. Fresh. Rhino’s shorts, Elephant’s T, J’s blouse.

These three.

They mean so much to me

I see the curtain on my mortality steadily, sneakily dropping, just as the world’s stage leans open to the boys


“Perhaps it is a matter of celestial balance,” he reflected. “A sort of cosmic equilibrium. Perhaps the aggregate experience of time is a constant and thus for our children to establish such vivid impressions of this particular June, we must relinquish our claims upon it.”

“So that they might remember, we must forget.”


From the murmur, an individual starling will separate itself from the flock. Venturing forth, it catches our eye, saying

I am here

Look at me

And as we get old, officially old, old enough so that a slightly older man confirms the truth, the years and moments pull away

And then gather back in.

Like birds

We look back, and ahead, and back again. Moments dart away from the flock and demand our attention.

I am here

Look at me

And, we remember like they were yesterday. Hurts and regrets poke us, beaks sharp.


The memories that out stand, ones that stay, instructive and haunting, are here for a reason.

And with time, they poke and peck less.

Regrets, to be sure, are a sign that we’ve grown, that we are different

Wiser.

And all the memories, good and bad, blend, gather, and murmur together. Shielding one another for protection, from fear, and hurt.

My fifties were the best years of my life

For real?

Oh yes. I did my best work as an educator at 58.

You’ve been around the block. You’ve earned your authority

You should lean into it.


I still have moments of overwhelm

Worries about the future of sons and the future of the species converge

But today, now, I focus on how much of my heart is full

And make a choice to be optimistic.

And, so.

We express gratitude for those who love us

And those we love

You should lean into it

And, as I dart back to the comfort of this staggering, impossible murmuration of moments, days, months, and years that is 50

I think I will.


*Quotes from Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow. Go read it if you’re growing older. Or even if you’re not.

ba muoi mot

I breeze past the woman straining to hoist the baby onto her back, weighing whether it makes sense to stop and help.

nah

She’ll be fine

And as I catch a glimpse of her in my rear view, doing just that.

I remember Rhino and Elephant, gently snuggling them in, at different times, to the baby carrier, preparing to hike

It feels so undeniably fresh

I am Right. There. Now. In my mind.

And I have a moment of realization

we’ll never do that again

And it is sad

And so, I know that I must write about it


And so, here I am.

For the 31st time this past 31 days. Today with a sense of finality. And affirmation, that what we have done here is packaged up and presented tiny gifts to our future selves.

I know I’ll be back

Perhaps as a curious observer to my history, perhaps as host.

Most likely as both.

A spectator to my past self, an inspiration to future.

J pointed out, early in this journey, to keep a key question in mind.

who are you writing for

And while at its heart, I know it’s been me

It’s been nice to have company along the way

marked words

I’m starting to understand displacement!

I think I’m getting these ideas

Rhino sits, ensconced on the couch in the fuzzy blue blanket, laptop atop lap, trailing the single earbud anchored in his left ear. Staring, as ever, at the screen. Typing away.

This is the brave new world for today’s high school frosh.

I’m kind of old school, and so accordingly commence my dadsplaining.

You should write them down

if you use a pencil and paper, you’ll be more likely to retain them, they’ll stick better for the test. Why don’t you sit over at the desk so you can set up with a pencil and paper, so you can write them down.

He hesitates, and gives me a confident, if dismissive, wave.

I’ve got this, papa. I’m understanding it.

I walk out of the room with a roll of my eyes. It’s a conversation we’ve had many times and deep down, we both know I’m right

Ha.

So, naturally, being right, it is my duty to get the last words in.

I’m marking these words, we’ll see how the test goes. Definitely marking these words.

And, as I head down the stairs, almost out of earshot, I hear his reply

You should write them down

Batman, Ting, and Sport

Three

the holy trinity, the rule of thirds

a magic number


The boys squat, face forward, together

but they look in different directions

One left, one right, and the third, straight down.

Two older gentlemen, only their feet visible behind the boys, share a smoke and lean on their motorbikes

being the fourth and fifth in this scene, they’re irrelevant.

This one is about the young.

The three.


Batman, the vigilante, ready to take arms, defend his brothers, fight for justice. Towel over shoulder, wide brim shadowing, bare knees hovering over sandals, eyebrows raised, at attention

heads up, boys

Ting, he’s all glue, calm reserve. Prepared for what’s to come and confident in his plan. He rests, elbows atop knees. Checkered mask secured to his ear and readied under his chin. The centre of attention, he radiates out. There’s a plan, and intent, and purpose, with Ting.

we’re good

He knows he’s cool.

And Sport?

Well, now, Sport.

He’s the wild card. Offering the best protection and the greatest warmth. Head bowed, but he’s not broken. He picks at his nail idly, hood enveloping his thoughts, just heating up for the next act. He’s the source of comfort. And comic relief.

make me laugh, Sport


The boys squat, facing forward, together

But they look in different directions

And.

As I take in this three,

so awake,

so here,

so now

I realize that there was a time

when I knew what they know

when I saw what they see


So,

again

I slow down

take a breath,

and try to decide whose gaze I should follow

nut man

It’s been a misty, socked-in week. Air is moist, closets are musty. The sun and moon lie hidden, dormant.

I miss the sun and moon

It’s less a storefront and more a room, inside a house

down a quiet lane, just off a quiet lane, down another quiet lane

it’s a bit hidden,

but there’s treasure within.

I pedal slowly, down our tree-lined street. It skirts a lagoon, riddled with trash but somehow also layered with green, and life, and beauty

gotta see the good

Our shopping bike with two glass containers lining the basket makes its way down to Mr. Hoang’s.

I pass a neighbour, greens overflowing his arms, the leash to his pup straining

He barks an order to the dog

She doesn’t bark back.

I arrive just outside the metal gate, bend down and peer through the keyhole. Give a quick rap, and hear his footsteps.

He welcomes me in and we traverse the steps into his shop.

His kiosk / living room / acupuncture studio / gym is no bigger than a luxury bathroom. Posters outlining meridians affixed neatly on the wall, a couple massage tables snug up to the walls at right angles. A cold stone floor under his sandals.

Today, I’m about the nuts, but I’m curious about the acupuncture.

I could use a boost in chi

I ask after an appointment.

He takes the two glass cylinders from my bag, gently unrolls the paper sacks, and pours them in. One filled with almonds, the other cashews.

His hands are careful, measured.

I cannot treat you for acupuncture today

Are you available this week?

I explain that I’m working, daytime is difficult.

It would be best for you to come in the middle of the day

The best treatment lines up with the sun and moon.

He smiles, and I do too.

I know I’ve come to the right place.

unstuck

I love anything from Oliver Jeffers, he manages to fit so much between the pages of a picture book. Joy, without cliche.

Today I feel stuck, my kite up a tree

Inert, rigid, slothlike, fixed.


I should all over myself, tell myself that what’s happening isn’t good enough, that I need to be a productive member of society, a better parent

but that voice isn’t helpful, and it’s no help in getting me unstuck


But, if we’re thinking like Oliver,

maybe there’s a way out.

I take a step, tossing my shoe, hat, a friend’s bicycle

Small boats and big boats

Orangutans and lighthouses.

Nothing seems to work.

My kite is still stuck.

Just then

Elephant walks up, snuggles in, book in hand, no agenda other than being

Here, now

So.

Instead of pushing, and tossing, and flailing away

I think it’s best I take a step back, draw in, take a breath,

and let the wind do its work

sad but strong

It’s difficult to be both, at once.

We greet one another and, like always, check in about the mundane. She asks after me, I mention that I’m recovering, been catching up on sleep.

How are you?

She pauses, and her face drops. Glances away and wipes away a single tear

There’s a moment of quiet discomfort, between.

Last week at this time he was here

and I can’t understand why he’s gone

Now, the tears flow.

She had shared the news of his loss and been away from work, but we’d chatted since then.

Sad, but strong.

Today is hitting her differently.

He was going up to the mountain and jumping off with the big…umbrella?

She searches for the word

He jumped but the wind was…

she swirls the air with her arms

His umbrella got twisted around and didn’t open

and now he’s gone

I’m so sorry

It’s okay to be sad

I’m not sure what to offer, apart from a gentle hug and encouragement for her to head home, to rest, to grieve.

He was always a good boy

His sons were looking in the box and saw him lying there, and asking “why is papa there?” “why is papa there?”.

She wipes another tear away.

I need to go

Ok.

Let me know if there’s anything I can do.

And, like that

She puts on her mask and helmet, gently wheels her bike outside the gate

and slides it closed.

dread pirate

The first thing that draws my attention is his multi-layered pith helmet, straight from the jungle. Then, it’s his smooth black leather jacket and cargo pants.

Finally, the flip flops, toes peeking out, nestled atop the pedals and carving his rhythmic cadence.

He’s flying. A swashbuckler, land pirate. All flair and dash, on full display, ready to plunder.

His mamachari is pristine: fenders, back rack, front basket, and bell, each shinier than the rest.

We’ve been out for a good 20k at this point, cruising just north of Hanoi near the Red River. We’ve left the riverside and are making our way through suddenly-delineated lanes and shops that tell us we’re on the edge of a town.

When he sees us, he jumps into action. Swoops alongside, daring and darting, matching our pace.

At first we’re confused, not sure why or how he’s decided to keep up with us. We straddle the line between amusement and discomfort.

Why is he joining us?

It’s mostly good natured fun, so we play along, confident that with our road bikes we can clearly outpace him.

So we think.

Turns out he’s riding the little bike that could, and his engine keeps up with ours, despite having a single gear.

Funny trick, this – if he wants to go faster, he pedals faster. And it’s immediately clear that he knows these streets much better than we do.

We round the corner and head deeper into town. He continues apace, alongside, turning with a wry grin, and even nudging ahead.

He looks back and waves at us.

Come on, let’s go!

The four of us ease to halt at a stoplight, and he finally sees a chance to say hello.

So he does.

Xin chao!

Xin chao!

We shoot him a hearty wave and big smile. He seems happy to join our fun.

G consults his phone

We’ll need to u-turn and head down that road

Surely, this is our time to finally part ways. We bid him adieu.

Bye bye!

But, despite our best efforts to evade, he has other plans. He makes the same u-turn and shouts something above the noise of the traffic, pointing towards the corner. He extends his arm over his head.

It looks like a roof

I think he’s inviting us over for a frothy beverage or tea. But not for us, today. We need to get home.

I apologize and say thank you.

But either he won’t take no for an answer, or he doesn’t understand.

Persistence is valued, here in Vietnam.

We wave goodbye and pull away, or so we think. He’s unbowed, pedalling twice as fast, flip flops flopping and flipping in time with the spiralling pedals and spinning wheels.

He’s keeping up.

inconceivable!

But, we truly know it can’t last. As we open into a long straight, into the wind, and pick up our pace, he finally yields.

I turn back and give him a nod and a wave. He slows and waves back.

And I wonder what might have been, with more time and space.

roden tia

I sit alone downstairs, bathing in warm light. The rest of the family dozes, floors up.

Typing away, aiming to finish this late night work.

The street is a dark chocolate, when suddenly it gets darker. The orange street light cuts out.

Must be time for bed

I peer out the glass, barely making the outline of our gate. There’s not much to see, an occasional motorbike putzing by to bathe the narrow lane with a flash

The light is temporal, as all things, and the dark returns.

And that’s when I see

that I’m not alone

There’s movement, a flurry of tail and fluff

must be that cat again

When I see the long, wet noodle, trailing behind.

that’s not a moon, it’s a space station

Rat.

It’s not unusual to see them in these parts, especially in our neighbourhood. Traversing the wires, suspended overhead, silent, but always, always, full of purpose. A quick, silent show, and gone.

But this one has business with me. He looks my way, nonchalant.

I see you

He pauses a whisker too long

I’ve seen you before

and now I know where you live

As big as Ripred. Smart as a whip, red.

Trying to decide if he’s going to mess with me now, or mess with me later. Credit to this guy, he’s got some big old rat balls.

He lingers for what seems like minutes and I decide whether to go and bang on the glass to shoo him away.

do I get up, or stand my ground

But it’s he who calls the shots, here and now.

Our one-sided standoff finally ends as he shoots me a final, derisive sneer and makes his way into the gloom.

Later, mate

I’ll be seeing you around

swab

The throat started to hurt on Sunday but it wasn’t quite enough to keep me home. More an annoyance.

You should go get it checked.

Nah, it’s fine.

I don’t always listen to J’s wise voice of reason.

So, fast forward 48 hours and the throat is still raw.

We’re blessed with an amazing school nurse (hats off to school nurses everywhere). Her door is thankfully always open, so I decide to stop in.

Still bugging you, eh? Let me take a look.

She throws on some gloves and places her hands on my throat.

Oh, the glands seem pretty swollen. I think you need to get a swab. Stop at Raffles, it’s on the way so you won’t have to leave again once you get home.

I don’t do well with being sick. I generally power through, stick it out, because it’s hard to think others might see me as weak. Or, heaven forbid, less than essential.

My teammate is pretty good at providing a sense of perspective.

She holds her arm out, points her finger to the sky, and rotates it repeatedly

What’s that?

The world. It’s spinning.

Ok…

I look at her, quizzically.

And it’s gonna keep right on spinning, even if you decide to go take care of yourself.

So I do.

It’s nice to be surrounded by people who are wise.

Now I just need to listen to them more often.