Doug Stanton

All right, time to bitch. Lighten up. Here’s what happened last night: After work, I drove to Susan’s to pick up Johnny at day care because we were going to drive five hours south to Battle Creek (where all those breakfast cereals are made) and pick up a go-cart. Johnny’s uncle was driving north from Indiana with the go-cart, which had been his son’s (who, now at 17, was driving the family car). We were to meet in the parking lot of a McDonald’s off the interstate and do the switch. It all sounded mysterious, a perfect summer night’s outing. Johnny hadn’t been able to sleep the night before; he was geeking out with excitement.

When I got to Susan’s, though, my mom had already been there, and she’d picked up both Johnny and Katie and taken them to her house for dinner. I called on the car phone and told her I was coming to get Johnny for “the go-cart run” (this escapade had taken three weeks to plan and now possessed epic qualities) and three minutes later I was there, just as Johnny was about to eat his hot dog. He wrapped it up and we left Katie asleep on the couch (Anne was picking her up later, after leaving her office), and then we drove across town to trade pickup trucks with Bob, a good friend who edits and runs the journals Pointing Dog and Retrieving Dog. My old Ford with 160,000 miles never would’ve lasted the five-hour drive on the interstate (it’s got a bad oil-pan leak, and the main seal is also seeping).

Bob was sitting in the parking lot outside his office, as preplanned, and I threw him my keys, he tossed me his, and Johnny and I loaded into his truck, a new Toyota 4x4 with air conditioning and a good stereo. Johnny asked to crank up the radio when the Cranberries came on, and we sped out of town. We were late. This was a road trip. I was surprised to find that–after all this anticipation–I was in a lousy mood.

Lousy because, goddammit, I wasn’t really enjoying all this running around. Who does? Ever feel like you’re about to discover the secret to making everything run smoothly and in sync, but then don’t? Most days, what’s really needed is the supreme focus of the samurai, even when you feel more like Don Knotts.

It’s now 8 a.m., and the kids have just left with Anne for their day at Llama Camp (with real llamas; interesting creatures, llamas), and I’ve just driven into the general store and picked up the morning’s paper, so I can read L.M. Boyd during lunch at noon sharp. I’ve fed the two dogs and the one cat; refilled the bird feeders; watched a deer, a spike-horned buck, come into the yard and feed next to the hammock on green apples; shaved; picked up the house; done some dishes; and now I’m at my desk by nine sharp.

Today I have to focus on my next magazine story; call a former U.S. diplomat; call Yvon Chouinard about a fishing trip here; buy Johnny soccer shoes for soccer camp tomorrow; call Betsy in Los Angeles about a movie project; and make a research phone call about my novel. I won’t get it all done, of course (don’t kid yourself, you won’t get some of this done for another two weeks). I’m happier when I remember that these very specific tasks are part of one strand, one wave, which is the day’s mood and momentum. Also, one of the dogs threw up upstairs last night, and now I remember I have to clean that up.

So, the point is … this all adds up to something, right? Something called doing your job, buying groceries, painting the house, and making a life less ordinary (remind me to call Ace Hardware about their paint on sale; I also need to find some two-inch toggle bolts). My dad was an electric lineman for the city power company, and I never once heard him bitch about getting up at 3 a.m. in a thunderstorm to restore downed power lines. We bitch too much, are soft, are complainers. A generation of whiners. Let’s whine.

Let’s not.

Last night, Johnny and I were driving down I-94 into Battle Creek, listening to the Screaming Cheetah Wheelies on the radio, and he had his feet on the dash, and he was smiling as if he’d been tunked between the eyes with a velvet hammer.

We had the go-cart in the back of the pickup truck, and we were heading home. He couldn’t sit still; he was possessed by the demons of glee. He was, in effect, spazzing out.

“Are you tired, Dad?”

“No, just distracted.”

“About what?”

“Stupid stuff.”

“I’m sure not tired. I love you.”

And then he was asleep instantly, all his inner wiring burnt up and shorted out, and he began snoring lightly, as he did when he was a small child, on those nights when I crept into his room and stared at him in the moonlight, at the pale violin of his back, and couldn’t believe my luck.