Sunday, March 24, 2013

One Bullet

My sons engage in a Friday night ritual known as Magic: The Gathering. I don't pretend to understand it—it's a game, it's a game involving cards and there are points and some events are held solely to build decks and some cards can be worth a lot of money, but I'm not sure how since this isn't a betting game and I swear the next time they drop cards on the floor and leave them there I'm going to hurt somebody and sometimes their friends come to play but Friday night they go to the comic shop for Friday Night Magic.

They get there by 6, they're home by midnight. I miss them because they used to hang out with us on Friday night, but they're past that point in their lives. Even the owner of the Chinese restaurant comments on it: "Only two? No boys?" he asks and I say, "No boys. They don't like us anymore," even though I know it's not true. This Friday, though, Sam stayed home because he's on restriction—the kid has one job—school—and he has been pretty half-assed at his job and gaaaah! just do your homework why don't you—and so Bobby went on his own.

He came home much earlier than normal and came straight to our room, also not normal. He knocked so as to avoid seeing us doing something embarrassing and then came in and sat on the bed. "I'm going to tell you something because you're going to find out anyway and then you're going to be pissed off at me for not telling you." (As an aside, it must be a pain in the ass to have a parent, specifically a mother, who's a journalist because there is just no way to keep a secret from a mother who's a journalist.) And then he told me the place he plays Magic, Current Comics, had been robbed at gunpoint. Two boys, two hoodies, two ski masks and two guns. They came in and demanded the register take, and the wallets of the dozen or so kids hanging out. And one of them pointed a gun directly at my son's chest while they were robbing the store. He was standing less than four feet away.

They got away with the register take, about $300, cash from some of the players' wallets and a laptop.

"Were you scared?" I asked my son, because how could you not be. "Not really," he said. "Nobody tried to fight them, nobody resisted, there was no reason for them to shoot anyone." But I know, and he knows, that if you're the kind of guy who takes a gun to commit a robbery you might not need a reason, a provocative action on the part of the victim, to shoot.

Which is why I'm awake at 3am and writing this. My son and his girlfriend went to a movie tonight and when he came home he came straight to our room, knocked so as to avoid seeing anything embarrassing and asked if it was normal to feel on edge after having a gun pointed at you. "Totally normal," I told him, but more importantly, so did his father, also known as the calmest man in the world. Chuck told him that he, too, was upset about it. We all know I was upset about it because, hello, that's my function in the family. Bobby said he thought he had a panic attack after the movie when they were going to 7-11 to get ice cream. The new guy who moved in across the street was staring at him and it put him on edge. My stomach has been in knots all day and I can't sleep either. I'm doing this instead.

Have you ever had a gun pointed at you? I have. Similar circumstances. I was 17 and working at a fast food place on the South Side and a guy came in late one Sunday night and robbed us. I was working the register; I took his order, I turned around to make the order and next thing I know he's yelling at me, "Hurry up, get it in the bag!" I turn around saying, "Sir, I am going as fast as I can," and that's when I see the gun. I freeze. I forget how to open the register. We don't bother locking the drop boxes below the registers, so I pull the money from there and hurry up and get it in the bag.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Music Man

I'm reposting the one below one as a minor remembrance to the "Really Famous Musician" referenced in it. Bill Bennett, all-around nice guy, a man of great and wry humor and principal oboist for the San Francisco Symphony, was stricken by a massive brain hemorrhage during a performance on Feb. 23. He never regained consciousness and died on Feb. 28. He leaves behind one of my favorite people—his wife, Peggy, one of the funniest women I've ever met—and two teenage sons.

This YouTube clip will give you a little idea of what Bill was all about.

And here's the post from 2010:

This morning my husband and I drove our eldest son Bobby to San Francisco International Airport for a flight that will eventually land him in El Salvador. To the question, "Why is your son going to El Salvador," my standard answer is officially, "Because I am an idiot."

I guess the real answer is somewhat more difficult to figure out. My son has parents who are overeducated overachievers who way the hell oversheltered him for the first 14 years of his life. And then we moved to Berkeley two years ago and it all went to hell. Sort of. I think the best thing about Berkeley is that it's a great place to raise free-range children. Our youngest, Sam, started taking BART by himself when he was 11 because his best friend moved to the other side of the Caldecott Tunnel. We would drop him at our end, they would pick him up on their end. We armed both of them with bus passes and let them head off to Eudamonia in downtown Berkeley. Or to the ledges outside of Berkeley High where the skate punks gather. And every time they walked out the door, my heart would seize until they came home.

And then I moved them back to Salinas and pissed them both off.

I think I'm hoping Bobby will figure out his life during a few weeks in Central America. He's a low-ambition kid, a smart as hell, exceedingly eloquent 16-year-old kid who has no interest in performing for his parents or for his teachers. He always has a few books going, he loves theater and music and baseball. He thinks he wants to join the Peace Corps, but that could change by tomorrow.

Our friend Max has been planning this trip to El Salvador, Guatemala and Belize for months. His wife, Feliciana, needs to be in Guatemala for the next nine days to ... celebrate? mourn? the first year anniversary of her father's death. Max is going to take his boys, Bobby and a fourth teenager--the son of another set of friends--surfing and hiking and for Spanish lessions in El Salvador before they head to Guatemala on Thursday, where they will work at a clinic sponsored by Max's congregation and hopefully help out with any work that needs to be done at Feliciana's house. She was raised in the mountains, three hours away from electricity, and with both of her parents gone, the small farm and the house now are hers.

We met all of them at the airport this morning, where Dr. P, the mom of the fourth teen, asked me how I was doing with the trip. Because her husband (we'll call him RFM, for Really Famous Musician) was freaking the hell out. Dr. P will be joining them on Thursday, when I will start freaking out a little less.

"I'm freaking out too," I said. "Do you have your prescription pad? Can I have some valium?"

She didn't and I couldn't. But we sat in a lounge area while the boys got their boarding passes and talked about our worries.

Chuck: Dengue Fever. You're on your back for eight days and you can't take care of your own basic needs.
RFM: Nodding. Yeah, that's a bad one.
Me: I'm worried about kidnapping, illegal organ harvesting and Central American jails.
Dr. P: You can't be worried about organ harvesting. That's not a legitimate fear.
Me: It's my fear and I'll worry if I want to.
RFM: Condoms. I forgot to tell him about condoms.
Me: Yeah, we went over that one last night.
Dr. P, eyes widening: Condoms? You don't think ... really? Condoms?
Me: They're teenage boys.
RFM, sighing: I'll go tell him.

We lingered on as the boys and Max wended their way through the security line. I wrapped myself around my baby's neck and hung on until it was embarrassing for both of us.

And then I let him go.