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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Friday, October 19, 2012

My Running Partner, Offshore Tax Havens, and Locomotion 101

THE UGLY FACE OF TAX ARBITRAGE
Part I.
So I run a little bit.  Nothing crazy.  What?  No, I certainly will not call it jogging.  Jogging is when you enjoy it.

There's no time for long runs sans chillrun except in the very early morning, so that's when I go.  But recently, I got the hankering to do some afternoon runs, too.  And that means... taking Jack.


It's a mess.  But it checks a few boxes at once:  it gets Jack out of Majestad's hair for a few minutes, heat-conditions his old dad, is typically hilarious, and it's a mother of a workout.


And Jack loves to run.  Or at least likes the idea.

He flits about the house after I ask him the question.  He throws on his running clothes.  (It took me all summer to convince him to wear a shirt.  Ahem.)   He makes me fill a sippycup full of ice water.  He tells me to take a bottle, too.  Raisins, a Lärabar, he has to be all stocked up before he leaves.  It has to sustain him for a torturous afternoon run... spanning about 25 minutes.

25 minutes is also the amount of time we spend getting ready.

Jack explodes down the driveway "STOP, THERE'S A CAR, JACK!  STOP!  I SAID STOP, DUDE!" and upon starting again runs like he's entirely engulfed in ignited jet fuel for about 35 yards.  He then yells ahead, "WAIT DADDY, WAIT!  I'M TIRED!"  He's gassed.

The Dude piles into the jogging stroller.  The one he outgrew in 2010.  So there we are, front wheel properly locked, Jack's legs protruding from the stroller on either side, almost dragging the ground.  The ridiculous amount of water we have on board sloshes, and I settle in to my work.

The Motor gets to hoof it behind him, pushing that little sucker - and his darn water - and his raisins - and his Lärabar - over creation as fast as I can without having a stroke.  Now I know what those dudes that carried the litters for ancient royalty felt like.  It's not a great gig.  I've actually taught him to goad me, yelling "FASTER, DADDY!" and as if to a slow horse, "HYAH, DADDY, HYAH!"  I tell him to push harder. 

Dude, the shape parenting gets you in.  It's unreal.

Our turnaround is this tiny little stop sign on the trail.  Usually, I'll pull close alongside it and Jack will slap it for good luck and good measure.  This last week, he somehow dumps himself flat out of the stroller, in front of the 19,186 people waiting at the light.  I figured there was no way to spin this positively.  I'm certain to be The Bad Parent for either (1) not strapping him in - he won't fit and refuses anyway, (2) seemingly dumping him out in the first place, or (3) laughing at him.  We got lost, and fast.

Yakubu's also my in-run public relations coordinator.  He relentlessly waves and says loud hellos to people, and to the cars lined up at the stoplight.  The ones that just saw him manage to fall out of a stroller.  He belts out a continuous, 2 minute long "HIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII!" to everyone that will dare look at us.  I get even by drinking his ice water.  From the sippycup.  Yes, I'm a grown man.  IT TASTES LIKE IT COMES FROM A MOUNTAIN STREAM.

A few weeks back, I sort of stumbled into signing up for this local race.  On the tough miles I thought, "This could be a lot worse.  I could be pushing someone up this hill."

Part II.
Caroline decided to learn to crawl while I was visiting a certain Caribbean tax haven.  She did this for jewelry.  Jewelry!


While I was doing this (not for jewelry):

It wasn't quite fair.

Part III.
Jack is drawing.  Suddenly.  I'm serious, one day he just started drawing.  On his easel.  On his small whiteboard.  On his, er... oh boy.


Friday, October 12, 2012

Columbus Day

This is going to sound dumb, but I would skip this one if I were in your shoes.  It gets heavy.  I write it down not to give it to you, but to remove it from myself.  So tune in next week when I'll talk about our latest idiotic adventures, and also my new running partner.  Fair warning.

Okay, I didn't plan on writing about this today.  Or really ever.  But it's on my mind, and the more I think about it, the more it needs writing.  I realize this is my kids' blog, but the memory is insistent.  Two things stirred it up:  today's date, and a question from Jack last week.
Daddy, who is your best friend?
I can remember precisely where I was.  I was in the north end of a long, white hallway, the floor covered in a white ticked linoleum that would do a hospital wing proud.  The echoes of kids trotting to Sunday school reverberated through the entirety of the little Church of Christ in Fruitvale, Texas.

I made the goofy girl that was blurting out the news to everyone repeat it several times.  I had her say the name back to me over and over again.  Just to make sure.


He was two years my senior, and would have turned 38 this very day, October 12th.  His wife and four kids would have relentlessly hassled him with balloons and maybe a big stupid cake with awful blue piped icing that tastes like sugary ink.  The kind that makes you look like you ate a Smurf for breakfast.


But that was never to happen.  Mark (not his real name) had somehow gotten crosswise with some idiot from a nearby town, and they had retreated to an out-of-the-way stretch of highway a little to the south to settle up.  Because that's what you do in a little town when you're a tough, fast, 15 year old cowboy-in-training.


And Mark was tough.  I could remember when he broke his collarbone after, I believe, being thrown from a a horse.  I can't remember him even wincing, as he wore the comical little X-shaped brace for weeks afterward.  Later on, he played a little football and rodeoed.  Wore those crazy brushpopper shirts that were half Gene Autry, half M.C. Hammer.  He was sort of blondish and really, really good looking.  From what I heard, he could reel in any girl he wanted to with his raspy, twangy kind of voice.


I had known him since I could remember. 
Mark's mom had babysat me for years, and as an only child, I became effectively her fifth kiddo (and the second oldest).  We kids would play war and ride our bikes around the country road outlining their land.  It was a huge squarish track of molten blacktop not too far from my house.  We would dip into the woods (called artfully "The Trails") and play in the dirt and make all sorts of mischief.   My family had lived in the house beside Mark's.  The house I was brought home to when I was born, if my facts are straight.  The first (tiny) pair of cowboy boots I wore were hand-me-downs from Mark.

I had all sorts of new and different experiences as an adopted member of their family.  We got to put on these huge, dark-glassed welding helmets and watch his dad arc weld.  I went with them to vaccinate cattle.  (I cried.)  Mark tried to explain that they were
helping the cows, not hurting them.  Neither I nor the wild-eyed animals were convinced.  We were endlessly bucked by an annoyed horse around their house and front yard, leaving their brand new driveway full of deep horseshoe marks.  I think we got a few marks of our own after that.  I learned (and then forgot) how to rope a bale of hay adorned with a large black plastic replica of a steer's head.  Mark was very good at it.  I wasn't, but it was immensely fun anyway.  We irritated a gigantic and mean bull like it was a legitimate career path and scattered as the huge animal charged us.  Mark went over the barbed wire, I went under.  We got ourselves whipped for shooting the very same bull with our BB guns.  I'll let you theorize as to where one might aim when doing that sort of thing.

We had more camouflage clothing and accoutrements than non-camo ones.  Our kit was covered with pins and patches we had gotten at the Army/Navy store in Tyler.  By our markings, we were evidently US Army Rangers, had served (with distinction!) in South Vietnam, were expert Marine marksmen, and were all 1st Sergeants.  It was also rumored that I had done a tour in China with the Flying Tigers during WWII.  We ran around all day, every day bristling with BB gun rifles, broken six-shooter cap pistols, big Rambo knives and my wicked looking machete.  A real machete.  I lost the machete while monkey-climbing a fallen tree over a foul-looking creek.

Gravity ensued.

Mark was our leader, and was I his faithful lieutenant and best friend.  We were legit blood brothers, just like The Lone Ranger and Tonto.  One or two of his actual brothers trouped along with us.  Mark was fond of the admonition
"We're burnin' daylight!" which was of course true.  Our patrols would typically end with us in soaking wet Underoos being roughly hosed off in either of our respective back yards.  Then came the obligatory check for ticks.  And the application of the sticky, pink calamine lotion.  With that smell.  You remember the smell, right?

We grew apart in middle school, as kids separated by two whole years can easily do.  Besides, for anyone that knew me growing up, I was just a weird, weird kid.  I know, you're shocked.


By the time I set foot in Sunday school that bright-white morning, I had not spoken to him in many, many months.  Maybe even a year.

Apparently, the fight had gone badly for the out-of-towner.  As I said, Mark was a tough hombre.  The guy got in his truck. 
The details for me get sketchy here.  I never got the whole story from an eyewitness, and never really cared to.  Mark either decided it was a great idea to fling himself on the hood of the truck, or was perhaps hit and that's where he landed.  It doesn't matter much now.  My good friend ended up under the speeding truck, and was dragged a very, very long way to his death.

At the wake, I visited the house I had spent so much time in.  Mark's mom darn near squeezed the life right out of me.   There was an argument about his dad wanting to go out and feed the cows, with everyone finally relenting when he said plainly, "They still gotta eat."

All the grownups said what a good job the undertaker did with him.  He had lost a hand, I remember.  I could only stare dumbly at its replacement.  I see now their politeness, because a 13 year old me could barely recognize his friend.


I was a pallbearer for the first time in my life.  It was an honor I didn't fully understand.  His mother had asked.  I believe the other 5 were all Mark's older friends, boys acting tough, as I suppose they thought they were expected to.  I didn't know any of them very well, and I distinctly recall sitting silently in the back of a very full car lined completely in unsettling red leather.  I had never seen
real leather car seats before.

Inside Main Street Baptist Church - you can't make this stuff up - another of Mark's friends sat on a wooden stool and played guitar and sang a new song called
The Dance by some dude named Garth.  As it happens, you might have heard of the church singer:  a very young (and now Grammy-winning) Chris Tomlin.  I only found out a few years ago that he had gotten himself good and famous in Christian music circles.

After Mark's service, I cannot describe his mother's wailing at the back of the hearse, standing not 3 feet from me.  Nor will I repeat her words, words that I had forgotten during the 22 years before writing this.

It was said that for years afterward, the out-of-town
er religiously avoided our city limits.  There were those that had threatened his life, people that lived out on the edge.  People that one should take seriously.

Happy birthday, Mark.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Jack, Meet Rudyard.

I've mentioned this in passing before, but something I'm immensely proud of this year is getting to read The Chronicles of Narnia to Jack.  All seven books.  I sometimes paraphrased a word here and there, because it's darn near impossible to explain the innocent and colorful use of the word ass in 1950s Britain to a threeyearold-type-person.  But he generally got and enjoyed the full brunt.  Especially the parts about SOWHDFIGHTS! and TOONICKS! and dwarf pipe-smoking habits.  There were unintended consequences, sure.

I keep meaning to write about this, but the Christian allegory in these little "children's books" is just staggering.  It can deepen your faith.  I mean it.

Anyway.

I shifted over to (I now know) an abridged copy of The Wind in the Willows, which was pretty darn delightful.  It's likely the most charming and beautiful thing a former president of the Bank of England has ever written.  But honestly, it didn't capture Jack's attention like Narnia.  I then tried Bill Bennett's seminal The Book of Virtues.  Jack liked Androcles and the Lion, but not much else.

I needed to find a new bedtime story book.  And fast.  But I'm a huge, gigantic, very large book snob.


Most of you will know that The Dude was/is/likely will always be obsessed with Disney's 1967 adaptation of
The Jungle Book.  It's great, and if you haven't gotten that far back in the catalog, go check it out.  He was so very consumed by it that I went and got a copy of Rudyard Kipling's original for myself a few years ago.  I talked about it a bit here.  Actually, I should say originals.  There are actually two Jungle Books.  Betcha didn't know that.

I loved them.  I hadn't read any Kipling apart from the odd piece of poetry, and he's darn good.  Jack likes him too.  We're now deep into the Subcontinent, where Mowgli does less singing and dancing, but more dealing with the uberdangerous folk in the Indian jungle.

 
My biggest challenge so far is simply scrubbing out the word "kill."  Now, we're not the handwringers at The Atlantic or the NYT fretting over perceived (and largely imagined) "violence" and all that business.  But almost every single sentence is about killing, being killed, threatening to kill, talking about the kill, needing to hunt and kill, kill kill kill kill.  I get it.  It is the jungle, after all.

Jack is already familiar with the concept, though obliquely.  But I just don't want to absolutely steep him in the word (and general idea), and it then ooze out of him 24/7, which he's wont to do.  Like with everything else in his little Kryptonian brain.  So I've had to be creative with my synonyms about killin'.

And creative in the description of the ongoing blood feud (!) between Mowgli and Shere Khan.  Uh, that little story arc didn't quite make the Disney cut.

Second biggest challenge?  Convincing Jack that Kaa is a good guy (or at least neutral).  Disney's Kaa is goofy and frequently winds up with a knot in his tail.  Kipling's Kaa?  A very, very bad dude.  How bad?  A could-start-his-own-outlaw-motorcycle-gang-for-pythons kind of bad dude.  Observe (emphasis mine):
The fighting strength of a python is in the driving blow of his head backed by all the strength and weight of his body. If you can imagine a lance, or a battering ram, or a hammer weighing nearly half a ton driven by a cool, quiet mind living in the handle of it, you can roughly imagine what Kaa was like when he fought. A python four or five feet long can knock a man down if he hits him fairly in the chest, and Kaa was thirty feet long, as you know. His first stroke was delivered into the heart of the crowd round Baloo. It was sent home with shut mouth in silence, and there was no need of a second.
My favorite passage, this time about Bagheera (emphasis again mine):
Bagheera stretched himself at full length and half shut his eyes. "Little Brother," said he, "feel under my jaw."

Mowgli put up his strong brown hand, and just under Bagheera's silky chin, where the giant rolling muscles were all hid by the glossy hair, he came upon a little bald spot.

"There is no one in the jungle that knows that I, Bagheera, carry that mark--the mark of the collar; and yet, Little Brother, I was born among men, and it was among men that my mother died--in the cages of the king's palace at Oodeypore. It was because of this that I paid the price for thee at the Council when thou wast a little naked cub. Yes, I too was born among men. I had never seen the jungle. They fed me behind bars from an iron pan till one night I felt that I was Bagheera--the Panther-- and no man's plaything, and I broke the silly lock with one blow of my paw and came away. And because I had learned the ways of men, I became more terrible in the jungle than Shere Khan. Is it not so?"
A problem I thought I would face, but didn't?  Translating the arcane English for Yakubu.  He just soaks it up.  On the other hand, I guess nobody interpreted the KJV to a very small kid in 1980s East Texas and he understood just fine.

But thank goodness we're off that Curious George meathead and on to some far more interesting (and less infuriating) animals.  Rudyard's guys would treat him like salami on a Ritz cracker.

Exit question:  Anybody got any good suggestions for reading material?  I was thinking about doing The Sword and the Stone portion of T. H. White's incredible The Once and Future King, but will have to re-review it for suitability.  Ideas?