Every year (almost!) since 1997, we have sent an annual update to friends and family. They are collected here. This is the first update since we parents moved apart.
Early in this year of sadness, before the worst happened, Tom called from Paris. He doesn’t call a lot, and this time he sounded out of breath, as if he’d been running. He’d been in Paris for over two years, playing his guitar and studying music. Our home in Santa Cruz was quieter after he left, which was a relief for about a month and then a long-lasting reminder.
Before leaving, he had a regrettable habit of working on the same few songs for long periods at a stretch, playing some of them in his room ten times a day, changing the timing or the phrasing a little, and I have to admit driving all of us a bit crazy.
One of the songs that he played hundreds of times is called “A Time for Heroes.” It is the work of one of those extraordinary English musical talents that seem to appear like clockwork, decade in, decade out, this one named Pete Doherty. His band the Libertines recorded the song, but if you’ve heard of him it’s more likely because he dated Kate Moss and shared some of her problems with drugs. He’s a lot more than that.
“A Time for Heroes” includes these wonderful lines: “There is no more distressing sight than that of an Englishman in a baseball cap, and we’ll all die in the class we were born. . .”. If he was going to be Tom’s English hero, I was fine with that.
Over the phone in February, Tom was telling me about his night before in an Irish pub on the Left Bank, “The Galway.” He had gone, as he does regularly, to play at an open mike. But he wasn’t feeling it this particular evening. The other players were playing like crap, he said, and the other singers were singing badly. It wasn’t working and he didn’t want to be a part of it. He got up to leave.
Much to the surprise of his friend sitting opposite, he sat right back down again with a bump. To his friend’s questioning glance, he replied, “I think Pete Doherty just walked in.” The friend looked around in disbelief, and then announced wide-eyed that the very same was at a table behind them drinking a coke. It took Tom a while, but he figured out that he had to play, even if he wasn’t feeling it, and he stood up at the open mike and sang one of his own songs. He said that he could barely breathe when he was up there, that he felt a pain in his chest. Telling me this over the phone the next day, he was again barely able to breathe.
“So what happened?” I asked. “At the end of the song,” he replied, “he caught my eye, and acknowledged me.” I could hear the pride in his voice. “So did you speak to him?” I continued. “No, people were asking for his autograph, and so he got pissed off and left.” “But before he left he acknowledged you, your song?” “Yep.” He was breathing okay now. “He raised his glass to me!”
Yep. Imagine that. Did you ever meet your John Lennon? I saw mine with three friends of his (now on iTunes) in concert, but never got any closer to him than that. Before turning 21, Tom has had his time for heroes.
It inspired him. He has worked like a dog this whole year, fitting in rehearsals and his own recording around a schedule of courses and paying work that is already demanding and then some. He’s writing and performing some beautiful songs, some his own. This was Tom’s year.
Not ours, I’m afraid. Marie-Hélène and I separated, and the divorce is pending. Most of the time each of us feels relieved, I think. We had been locked into the nastiest patterns together, and for the most part avoid them now. There’s more to say of course, about the length of a novel, but not here. She’s still in the family home for now, and I’m in a nearby condo. I don’t know about her, but I’m not dating. That wasn’t it.
I heard the music from West Side Story playing the other day, and remembered how for years before we got together, literally, whenever I heard “Somewhere” I thought only of her. “There’s a place for us, somewhere, a place for us, peace and quiet and open air wait for us somewhere.” Beautiful song. Somehow, and without attaching any blame, I’m not sure that we ever quite found that place.
But neither has the separation been the kind of hell that both of us have lived through before. Our mediator regularly makes comments on our joint humor and in our most recent session (ndlr: that was the last session before the end of 2010: Things have deteriorated since. Blame her!) told us that we were both charming.
I was picking Alex up the other day for one of his days with me, and Marie-Hélène waved good-bye with a “have fun!” Turning to me, she added with a smile, “not you: I mean Alex!” This kind of hostility we can all put up with!
Alex (12) and Charlie (15) don’t really appreciate the turn of events, but have already adjusted in many ways. Alex’s straight “A”s continue like clockwork, and he is the only child who actually seems to enjoy his schoolwork the way his maman and I remember doing.
He’s a scream when he gets going. For some reason, my taking baths troubles him: “so dad, you like to sit in your own juices for all that time?!”
“Call of Duty: Modern Warfare” takes up much of his leisure time when he’s not with buddies as well, of course, as when he’s with his buddies. That’s pretty much all they do together these colder winter months. Last night, he was very proud of obtaining six “nukes” that day, six! When I asked him what that meant, he first gave the technical details (principally in terms of number of kills). Then in response to further probing he added, in a rare moment of self praise, I’m a “master.” Yeah Alex!
Charlie has been dating. He recently celebrated his three-month anniversary with Taylor, whose mother celebrated by calling to ask if the respective parents were “aligned.” Oh yes, I’m aligned! Lock ‘em up, separately, and throw away the keys!
Because they had each been up half the night in their respective homes, about half a mile apart, texting and calling each other, they were very tired on the anniversary itself, which obliged them to “rest” on the sofa in my office half the morning. Good grief! “I’m trying to work, guys.” “We’re not doing anything wrong.” This was a true statement. “Yes, but . . . ”. I never thought that I’d be in this position!
Alban (21) doesn’t necessarily tell the parents what he’s doing in any global sense, but this year he seems to have settled down at home and be concentrating on reading and work. This represents a significant transition after a couple of years serious partying, and is I think a deliberate and considered change in his life.
He’s started making amusing comments on FaceBook: “it’s nice to have a keyboard with all the keys on it. . . ,” with the follow-on comment: “another stupid useless update from my ever so thrilling life.” Another day: ”You know your life is dull when you get overly excited about new windshield wipers.” And another: “you know it’s gonna be a long day when you open your eyes in the morning and you’re already pissed off.”
Daphné (23) spent last season in Lake Tahoe, living her life for the skiing. At the end of the season, she needed a little help to get her car started (it had been immobile for months, apparently) and move her things back to Santa Cruz, and so I was dispatched. First we had a wonderful evening dining together and on to a club in one of the casinos, where I propped up the bar feeling my age and she danced and danced with this boy and that boy on the dance floor.
Then I drove her back to her house, to find in the beam of the headlights garbage strewn all over the driveway. I braked and Daphné squealed her head off and jumped out of the passenger seat, literally. I was wondering why she was reverting to age 13 when she breathlessly pointed through the windscreen: “look up the tree, look up the tree!”
An adolescent black bear was clinging for dear life about ten foot up the trunk of the pine just to the side of the driveway! After a few minutes of being stared at he decided that we were not in fact a threat, slid carefully down and ambled off over the fence. Upon reflection, the dispersed garbage now made sense. It took me an hour the next morning to clean it up while Daphné slept. Nothing like a weekend helping out!
Nick (24) worked his butt off coding all year long, proving yet again that the eMachines PC he received for his 13th birthday was indeed a great investment. Way to go, Nico! At some point during the year, he had had his fill of the corporate politics and rigidity at Apple (wonder where he got that from!), where he had been helping Apple Stores manage inventory.
He moved easily into a start-up for musicians called GrooveZoo. Here are a few of his recent FaceBook posts: “for the next 6-7 days 99% of non sleep time will be dedicated to my laptop screen. Bring it;” “GrooveZoo.com launching right around finals week (dec 15th). Just my luck. To code? To write? To read? This is the question;” and his own personal summary of the year: “it was pizza, beer, and code in the office tonight – u gotta love the startup life!”
As I do too. EntrepreLaw plods on, enjoying the commercial transactions for public companies that pay the bills, but getting real satisfaction out of helping the entrepreneurs who inspired the firm’s name. They are not a great source of revenue, obviously, but as the country’s major economic actors leap like lemmings to the cultural slaughter of off-shoring everything that the country needs to be done, its future depends more on more on these individuals and their ideas and their dreams. I have been working among them for several years now, the most recent two in NextSpace, our agreeable co-working space in beautiful downtown Santa Cruz. Dozens of dreamers and their collaborators hang their hats here and work together to create a small and independent future. I’m happy to help.
Jeremy Neuner co-founded and runs NextSpace. He is a fun guy, and we share a tendency to banter, with an emphasis on mutual teasing. Nick too works at NextSpace some of the time. Jeremy has unfortunately discovered that Nick can be counted on to back him up. The three of us were standing around the collective kitchen one day when Jeremy asks Nick, “so what was it like being raised by this guy anyway?”
Without a pause, Nick responds, with a definite emphasis on the word completely, “well, I’m not completely emotionally screwed up!” Jeremy walked off with a satisfied smile on his face, and I thought again about the pleasures of parenthood.
“The kids are alright,” as the Who sang. They are tougher than you think, and more loyal than you can fairly hope for, to both of their parents and then some. They are doing fine.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all!