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JeffsLife


Bad Words; Glistening Once Again; Sick, and Tired; Intelligent Life; Shake Shake Shake; Getting Out; 'Statue Batchue'

Bad Words

We were coming in late on a Saturday afternoon, all of us tired, and Jill picked then to ask if I'd paid some company $75 for a late fee they said we owed but that she thought they didn't deserve. "Yeah," I said, "I just paid it." Then, as I was closing the door, she said something about how once you pay people money you never get it back, and that we should call and yell at them on Monday. By the time I was snapping down a hanger for my coat, I was yelling that it made me sick that at age 41, $75 was still a matter of such importance. Soon after, I was hot in the cheeks about other people with all their (bad word) nickels making all the rules, and Jill said I was an angry man.

"Can't imagine why after the last five years!" I yelled at the bedroom light switch.

By the time the boys were getting ready for bed, Jill and I were sitting wordlessly in their room and looking at anything except each other. "Can't they go to bed a little early?" Jill asked. "Then you could go out, because this is really too much to bear."

Besides our having agreed to hold off paying this $75, the problem, as Jill sees it, is that she's has told me many times about my temper, about how foully I speak to her and the boys without even being aware of it, and how she doesn't know if she can be around it for the rest of her life.

"When I tell somebody I have a problem with something, and they don't do anything to correct it," she said, "I figure, '(Bad word) this!'"

So I went out, spending much of the two hours walking the sidewalks of laughing revelers and thinking how, if I closed my eyes hard enough, this would all go away. When I got home, the boys were asleep and I waited for Jill to ask me where I'd gone, not knowing if she would. She did ask. I told her I'd gone to the bookstore to browse books on anger management.

"I'm really touched you would do that," Jill replied. I love this woman because I never know what she's going to say next.

I had thumbed through a book by a Doctor Norton (not his real name). "You're probably reading this book because you or someone close to you has just had an episode of extreme anger," the book read, going on to provide the scenario of a man losing his marriage to "explosions of anger and controlling behavior."

"Not Dr. Jonathan Norton?" Jill said. "Oh, he's a nut! I worked for him and he's a nut!"

I never know what this woman is going to say next.

"I was in college," Jill added. " I typed up this letter and handed it to his office manager. We were alone in the office. She reads the letter, then gets up, closes the door, and walks over to stand right in front of me with the letter and says, 'Why did you make this mistake?!'"

I mention that it doesn't sound like that office manager did a very good job of managing her anger. Jill and I had a laugh. I tell her I think she's smart.

"Yeah, see," said Jill, "you don't have 'controlling behavior.' I think I have controlling behavior."

I really never know what this woman is going to say next.

I lost my first serious girlfriend because she couldn't take my anger over money and stalled career. Also, she met a guy she liked better. My second serious girlfriend tried to make light of my anger; once we were passing a restaurant called The Crab House, and she said, "I'm going to put you in there."

"So there is a history here?" Jill asks. Yes, I say, and we pull back onto the road of togetherness.

I'm not much on New Year's resolutions, but "managing anger," whatever that means, sounds like as useful a goal as any for 2003. I check another anger-management book out of the library.

"If you have come to this book still angry from a serious, abusive, or violent episode of anger with your girlfriend, parent, or wife, go for a fast walk or run until you have exhausted yourself physically," this new book advises. "Then come back and read the 'Men's Safety Check' on the next page." The Safety Check is three questions to help me determine if I'm a threat to Jill, Alex, and Ned.

After I answer "maybe" to all three, the author advises me to move out immediately. Could do a lot to manage my anger. "Jill?"

"Where are you?"

"In a nice hotel. How are the boys?"

"They're animals! Get back here!"

"My room has HBO2..."

I wonder what Jill would say next. (December 2002)

Glistening Once Again

"You unwrap presents you found in the trash?! What kind of family are you!?" - Overheard phone call of a co-worker.

In the interests of teaching the boys where both of their parents come from, we celebrate a little Christmas. I indoctrinated the boys to "A Charlie Brown Christmas" shortly after Halloween. I have a few presents for Jill, including a wooden spatula and a water bottle for her to take to the gym, and Ned still has scads of gifts left over from his birthday, and Alex can have a few of those. Again this year, I also picked up a little tree, on December 23rd.

"Jeff, where did you get this damned tree?" Jill asks on the phone on December 24th. I hear Ned in the background crying, "Tree! Tree!" It (the tree) is one foot high, and lives in a green plastic flower pot. It was $8.

Why?

"Because Ned and Alex are carrying it all over the house! Alex is pulling it out of the pot. Now he's trying to water it! You'll have to buy another one. Always Buy Two!"

Always Buy Two has become my motto after Jill has kept coming home with one red toy truck at a time from the Pathmark store. Remember how, when you fell for the love of your life, every single thing in the background faded and all you could see was your love? That's how Alex and Ned act, simultaneously, over one red toy Pathmark truck. Always Buy Two. Damned kids.

I return to the tree store for another shapely one-footer. I get to the register and am informed that the price went up $10 between December 23rd and December 24th. Merry Christmas. Damned kids. But Jill's warning rings like a sleigh bell: "Make sure you bring home another (bad word) tree."

I ask her if she, a good Jewish girl, ever thought she'd say that sentence. "That particular group of words?" she replies. "No."

We'll probably start decorating the tree(s) tonight. Jill has mentioned popcorn and cranberries. I've asked her to corral the boys into drawing little things on paper that we can cut out and attach with ribbon. We'll wrap the plastic flower pots in tinfoil, and string the lights Jill bought. Hard to believe she has comparison-shopped for Christmas lights. "Hey!" she said over a $1.49 set in a Rite Aid. "The ones I bought were 99 cents. Oh, I see: This is a hundred lights."

Tomorrow is Christmas. It's supposed to sleet. I stop at the grocer's for cranberries. They're out of cranberries, apparently, and instead I pick up colored gummy bears and a red hybrid dried fruit called "craisins."

On Christmas Eve, we get the kids to sleep relatively quickly. "Go to sleep, Ned," I call, "so Santa can come and leave you the presents we never got around to giving you on your birthday." I tap in the nails to string Jill's less-than-a-hundred lights while she pops popcorn and digs up a needle and thread. The oldies station plays the top 101 Christmas songs of all time; my favorite, "Snoopy's Christmas," comes in at number seven. We string together popcorn and the berries -- I skewer a few gummy bears for good measure -- until we have about 10 inches of decorations a tree. Then I let Jill read the draft of this essay.

"Nice," she says. "But there goes my Christmas surprise. 'A wooden spatula and a water bottle?'"

"I didn't get that for you! If I'd gotten that for you, would I have let you read the essay?"

"I think you got that for me," she says. I drop the spatula, unwrapped, into the kitchen utensil drawer. The bottle I wrap -- after camouflaging it in Tupperware -- and put by the tree(s), along with a rolled-up and wrapped Gourmet (I intend to buy Jill a subscription and let them Bill Me In January).

Next morning, Jill is doing the present thing even before the coffee is done dripping. "How nice," Jill says, hefting the package with the water bottle, "you got me Tupperware!" She gets me a nice tie for parenting conferences. Ned gets a truck, and Alex gets a wooden magnetic farm set. Or Ned gets the farm set and Alex gets the truck. Jill seems to like the magazine. Ned stares at the nailed-up lights. We get coffee. Ned gets cocoa. Alex gets Cheerios. The living room floor is littered with wrapping paper, toy boxes, fragments of magnetic farm, and enough wreckage for me to tell myself that the boys have a better sense of where they come from. My tie is coiled on the couch. Alex finishes his Cheerios and Ned his cocoa, and they start to fight over the truck. (December 2002)

Sick, and Tired

I'm waiting for a phone call to see if Alex has pneumonia. He had the chest X-ray today. He had the doctor's appointment yesterday. For three days before that, and still now, he has fever.

Nine days ago, both he and Ned lolled with high fevers, and were vomiting. This has been the kind of week and a half where you take steps to solve the current problem, unaware that the virus has already decided to move on to the next problem. The kind of week and a half that renders Alex's school bus a dusty memory, along with the memories of two lively and splashing pink boys in the tub. The kind of week and a half that eventually teaches you not to think, "Well, at least it isn't ..."

"You think you have a handle on this, and in 10 minutes everything's changed," says Jill, who's borne the brunt of the appointments. "I feel as if my head is about to explode right off my shoulders."

What I remember:

-For a few precious, stupid hours, we didn't think it was a stomach thing. The stuff didn't stink, for one. Both boys were congested, and they can't blow their noses yet. Well, at least it didn't seem to be a stomach thing.

-Holding miniscule plastic cups of Motrin to their lips in the shadows of the wee hours. The bathroom light cutting around the corner of their open bedroom doorway, bathing their red faces in yellow. Their begging for water they couldn't hold down. Their heads hot as the fur of a dog that had slept near a stove. Alex uttering one of his first full sentences: "I'm thirsty."

-The laundry hamper filling with supernatural speed. The Tide running low.

-Pressing the little light on the electronic ear thermometer night after night and seeing "100.8," "102.4," "101.5." Trying it on myself and getting "95.9."

-"He's not going to school tomorrow, either," Jill saying, night after night. Me adding, "We haven't seen anything like this, not even when he was in the hospital," night after night.

-Alex's elbows and legs turning skinny as he declined to eat. His shoulders melting until they were almost Save the Children thin. I could suddenly put my hand and fingers completely around his neck.

-Friday, I have oatmeal for lunch and toast for dinner. Jill and I are terrified of getting sick together.

-The boys make saltines a dinner. Bags of pretzels full all week, the box of granola bars unopened. When I come home from work, no bath to give. No toys to pick up. No lunch to pack for Alex's next day. Both boy asleep for hours every afternoon. Should be peaceful, but I miss my boys.

Still the phone hasn't rung.

Both little stomachs had settled down by Thursday of last week. Maybe because he eats better, Ned popped back first; his fever came down over the weekend. Alex's hung around and around, until Jill carted him to the doctor yesterday. At least it wasn't an emergency. The doctor said he looked fine. He pricked Alex's finger for a little blood.

We were in the waiting room, thinking all we had left was pay, then go home and keep at the Motrin and the cherry-smelling Tylenol, when the doctor caught our eye, wagged his finger once like a traffic cop, and said, "Come on back." They never summon you like that for good news. Even worse is when doctors have to "get themselves a chair." I remember that from some of the darkest days in the PICU-

My phone is ringing! It's Jill. She's at still another doctor, with Alex. How is Alex? "Well enough to be picking at my sleeve in an annoying way- Alex no!" she says. "You have to stay here, sweetie!" I ask her how it went at the X-ray place. Good, considering, she says. Considering.

"Can you find me a movie time for tonight?" she says, then our cell phone cuts out on her.

We're going to be lucky if we get out of this without a hospital stay. I check at his old hospital to see who the pulmonary attending is, should we need to go there. Uh oh, it's a doc we didn't get along with. Before we left there, this attending assured us that Alex would "trash his lungs" before age six. Alex will be five in June.

I spend the next several minutes scribbling times and theaters for two of the movies I know Jill wants to see. But I bet that by the time she calls back, she will have decided that she's too tired to go, or she'll have swiped the doctor's New York and found the movie times herself. At least she isn't going to miss a movie. (March 2003)

Intelligent Life

The other night, I came home and watched my sons do these things:

-Alex pulled his toy keyboard out of the closet, muttering "come-pew-ter, come-pew-ter ..." He searched the living room before propping the keyboard at the base of the TV (just another kind of monitor), then he typed madly while an Elmo video ran.

-Ned asked me for pennies to put in his piggy bank. I fed him pennies until he'd dropped them all in the bank. When he saw that I had no more pennies, he: 1) went to his mother's purse and got a pen; 2) pulled the cap off the pen; 3) returned to his piggy bank and flipped it over; and 4) used the sharp end of the pen to try to pry open the trap door in the belly of his piggy bank.

-Ned threw his arms around me when I came home from work and said, "Ohhh, daddy!" Before bed, Alex said, "I love you, daddy," and kissed me good-night twice. Both boys, however, we also getting sick.

I reported these incidents to Jill, who sat at the real come-pew-ter. "Wow," is all she said, absently. She was having trouble loading a Web page.

Alex and Ned have a combined age of 6. They're already smarter than many people I've worked for. They know the phrase "Wha' happened?" and the word "Hot!" (as in light bulb). From "A Charlie Brown Christmas," they've learned Linus's sarcastic "Ho ho ho," which Alex delivers just like John Belushi in that Saturday Night Live skit about the wino Santa with cooties on his leg. Both boys know they can get away with pulling open the baking utensil drawer in the kitchen, but not the knife drawer. Both know to pull a dining table chair over to get to the VCR -- amazing that they know anything, given the amount of TV we let them watch -- and Alex knows to request the Charlie Brown Halloween tape by saying, "PUMP-kin!" Ned often tries to put the videotape in backwards, but so do most adults.

Perhaps because I dread the day when Ned surpasses him, I give Alex's accomplishments a little more weight. One reader pointed out that Alex's bedtime maneuvers, such as coyly asking me 50 times to check his "diapee," will intensify after he learns to use the toilet and no longer wears a diaper. (I'll certainly pay more attention...). His other accomplishments include surprising dexterity: Once Alex pulled a glass cake platter out of its box and carried it the length of the living room without so much as a ding. Another time, he tripped over a floor lamp and set it wobbling; without even a glance he shot out a hand and steadied the lamp. Alex knows the last words on many pages of the "Tom and Pippo" books.

Not to sell Ned short. He talks without letup during our bedtime reading sessions -- though he often sounds like Cousin It, sooner or later he's going to hit on more words. He deliberately picks out each evening's books, and always different ones. He helps pick up socks from the floor of the laundry room. Jill reports that this morning, when she broke her mixing bowl with a great crash, Ned dashed into the kitchen, took one look at the fragments and made a loud, "Uh-ohhhhhhh!" Ned can press the letters back in their slots of the big foam alphabet puzzle. Alex has learned that to have a full bowl of pretzels, he has to sit at the table and he can't walk around get crumbs everywhere. Ned likes ballet videos. I like them a little better than Elmo, but I still prefer Charlie Brown to either.

As the boys get most of their intelligence from Jill, I want to put in a word about her here. Some of her more astute recent comments include:

-"When you come in from the cold, the cocoa and the warmth feel like comfort. When you come in from the heat, the air conditioning feels like medicine."

-When I asked her during some tense moment why she had to be "so completely disagreeable," she replied, "Well, I just have to play to a strength!"

-She's also observed that the talking teddy bear in Articial Intelligence walks like he just came out of the bathroom, and that soft-boiled eggs may be "the most depressing food ever invented."

Though I sort of dread the day when Alex and Ned surpass me, at least Jill already has. (March 2003)

Shake Shake Shake

This morning's destruction of our VCR involved four persons taking four distinct courses of action, three of them dumb:

1. I woke up with a "pink-eye" infection, and was crabby.

2. Alex got the little magnetic plastic letters down from in the closet, and scattered them around the living room cushions.

3. Jill left the room to get more coffee.

4. Ned began shoving the plastic letters into the tape slot.

The whole thing was Jill's fault.

"Ned, no!" I said, lunging for the VCR. I lifted the little door with my finger. Peeking out was the yellow S, lodged right about where a tape should be.

"Ned, why did you do that?"

He's only two. Still, I think he knows better. He sure knew enough to start crying and throwing his arms around my neck. I grabbed the damned thing (the VCR) and shook it to get the letters out. I didn't think I was too violent, but I am the guy who once hit the jammed door of a washing machine with a hammer. Out tinkled the yellow S and one of the candles from Ned's toy birthday cakes, a little wider than a toothpick and about as long.

Something else went tinkle. Deep inside the machine.

"Oh uh, that doesn't sound good," Jill suddenly proclaimed behind me. I inserted an "Arthur" tape, simultaneously thinking, It'll be okay, and we don't really like this tape that much anyway, and They love this tape. What if it never comes out? It didn't come out. Probably afraid. The machine refused to play. Some people respond that way to a shaking.

"I really think you broke it by shaking it," Jill said. "Besides, he's two years old. You have to expect him to do things like that." Well yeah, except if he's two years old and expected to do things like that, why did Jill leave the VCR within easy reach as she's remodeling the living room?

Did I mention she's remodeling the living room? One of our couches has disappeared to the upholsterers', our entertainment unit to some buyer from a local yard-sale site. Tucked into every cranny are Ikea cartons containing the new, easy-to-assemble entertainment unit with the high, high shelf for the VCR. We've hired a clerk from a financial planner's office to put it together. Don't ask.

"Why don't we try not blaming anybody?" I said to her, and left for work. Some people respond that way to a shaking.

Jill's voice follows me to my office. I pick up the ringing phone. "How far are you from the VCR store?" she asks. Not far? "Well I think you should go there and buy one of those VCR/DVD players today. I got the 'Arthur' tape out, but the machine plays tapes very fuzzy."

I spend my lunch hour on the subway to a downtown electronic store, where they have stacks of one model of combo player. They wrap string around the box and swipe my Amex card, and I get back to my office and stare out the window wondering how I'm going to get this box home on a rush-hour subway. Then I watch it begin to sleet.

Okay. Thanks to me, I think all afternoon, Alex will come home this afternoon from a rigorous day at school and plead, "Watcha 'Elmo!' Watcha 'Elmo's World!'" and nothing will happen. I drape a big shopping bag over the box and manhandle it home, where our babysitter confirms that the VCR destroyed the "Arthur" tape. And where, I should note, the financial planner clerk spends four hours that evening wrestling our Ikea living unit together, taking only a short break for pizza for which he thanks us politely. He seems like a nice guy. I ask him if he knows anything about hooking up VCRs. "Just the basics," he replies.

Using a flashlight, I take another peek into the old VCR. Ah ha: more of Ned's candles, green and yellow ones, hiding among the electronic innards. I tip the machine up and turn it about gently, holding the slot open. Out tumble one, two, six of Ned's play candles. I slide a tape we don't like into the machine, and press Play.

The old VCR works fine. Alex and Ned will have their Elmo tomorrow, then. My eye still hurts. (April 2003)

Getting Out

Jill has the boys most days while I'm at work. In my office, there is no one to read a zoo story to, no one to feed, nobody screaming for Elmo, and nobody to wipe.

Weekends, I give her a break. I buckle the boys into the double-stroller and wrench it through the doorways of pizzerias, McDonalds, and diaper stores (these stores also claim to sell cold pills, condoms, beer, and other stuff grown-ups use, though it's in the rear of the store and I can't get the stroller back there) before wheeling Alex and Ned to the local playground. I do this each weekend morning and afternoon, even in the rain, not so much for the joy of seeing my boys climb and run as for the joy of having them pass out for the night around 7 p.m.

Sometimes on the playgrounds I chat with parents - sorry my son tipped over your bike; where's the nearest bathroom? - but the last thing I need is to be nurturing a new friendship with small talk while Ned takes a header off the big-boy ladder.

Jill often takes over the kid duties on weekend nights, leaving me free to stroll without a stroller, breathe air free of responsibility until I remember to stop in the diaper store for wipies. Oh, and Alex's granola. Are those diapers on sale? My having no friends might have something to do with me always pausing on Saturday nights in the busy doorway of some store and asking myself out loud, "Do I need baby soap?"

Since the boys came, friends have come hard. Alex was born premature and lived in a hospital his first summer. I'd pass guys loading their SUVs for the beach, or make way on the sidewalk for guys heading to the park with bat, ball, and cooler, and I couldn't imagine what I'd say to them. Or they to me. Later, after Ned was born, I could imagine conversations with these guys, but couldn't stop as I was usually twice as late picking up the diapers. I was on paternity leave -- unpaid -- at the time. I filled my extra time with doing the laundry. Ned's first talent was the making of laundry.

I do have old friends, such as Jon. I met him in high school. He was the kind of guy who would clink your beer mug and say with thick, mock sincerity, "To old friends." to which I would reply, "Maybe when we're done here, we can both go out and find some." Jon, me, Jon's wife Cindy, and Jill, for some stupid reason, took all our kids on vacation a summer ago. "It's a whole different experience coming on vacation with kids," Jon noted. "You have to take what's a difficult job already, one that you normally do around your home, and bring it on the road." Like me, Jon is a dad of two, and like me on vacation he brought books to read, and dreams to dream of shoreline walks and swings in a shady hammock.

Our vacation house had no hammock, however, and the kids made sure we knew they wanted to see the shoreline, too. My boys had to be changed, watched, fed, changed, bedded down, kept clear of rocks and bad footing in the woods, changed, and slathered with equal parts love, attention, insect repellent and sunscreen. No mistake, the whole week came alive when Alex splashed in the ocean and Ned scooped at the sand. But you don't really vacation while caring for the equivalent of little invalids. After a day or so, Jon and I realized that the best we could do was grab a few hours of wine and talk after the kids were asleep.

"I've read maybe three pages of the book I brought," Jon said on our last day. "We're not the fathers of 40 years ago. We don't go to the lodge after work."

Old friend Tom and his wife Naomi came to town a few weeks ago. I also knew Tom PK (Pre-Kids) when he lived on French bread pizza, wore his belt too low, and wrote term papers I couldn't understand because he was an engineering major. Now he makes a grown-up salary putting the fine touches on light bulbs with trigonometry.

Tom and Naomi left their two toddlers with her parents, we left Alex and Ned somewhere, and we all went out for drinks, dinner, and a walk. Dinner came to about 150 times the cost of a French bread pizza. We talked about jobs; yet again Tom told me about trigonometry in a way that didn't make me feel stupid. Still, I had to pay attention, and I realized that high-chairs, booster seats, and Ned carpet-bombing our feet with utensils probably wouldn't have allowed me to do that.

But why did the night seem hollow without the boys? "Next time, let's bring the kids and ruin the evening," I e-mailed Tom afterward.

Jill thinks that dads who go out to clear their heads yet come back with wipies don't, by their nature, have much independence. "Suppose you could take off for two weeks on a fishing trip? Or a safari?" she asks. "Would you go?"

I'd see a zebra like the one in Ned's book, but what would be the point, after a while, without him there to see the wonder for the first time? I'd cast into the lake only to wish Alex was there to splash around and scare away the fish. I'd go for a few days, but who could spend two weeks in bait stores looking for diapers? (May 2003)

'Statue Batchue'

The United States National Parks Service informs me that, in the wake of 9/11, the Statue of Liberty is closed. Due to increased security, all bags are discouraged. Admission is $10. I have a big diaper bag and am out of twenties. "What about the Cloisters?" Jill says.

The Cloisters is a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art devoted to medieval Europe, a castle in upper Manhattan in Fort Tryon Park. Admission, for MMA members such as Jill, is free.

We take Ned, Alex, and no stroller. Half an hour later, the bus deposits us in front of a stone archway. We bail out, Jill with Ned and me with Alex in front of a forested overlook where you can bask in nature's splendor while trying not to hear the car alarms going off down in Washington Heights. The yells of the boys bounce off the castle's rock walls. "I don't know what it is about white, middle-class Jewish women in New York," Jill notes, "but at a certain point you just get bitten by the museum bug!" She's also cultivated rules of museum-going, such as half an hour to 45 minutes is good for two little boys, and always visit the gift shop.

Ned and Jill vanish up to the main hall, Alex bolts from my hand, and the guard gives me a hard time about the width of my diaper bag. I drag Alex to the admissions table and, with my free hand, grab a brochure. Hey, look: Exhibits here include four stone portals from mid-12th-century French churches, artifacts from a late-12th-century monastery, world-famous unicorn tapestries, and lots of really breakable stained glass.

I catch up to Jill. "I don't think this at all a place for kids," I tell her.

"This stuff has survived wars, fires, natural disasters," she says. "What makes you think two little T shirted American boys are going-"

Then she's gone for the garden, chasing Ned to where, the brochure tells me, "a fountain is set in the center of the crossed paths. The raised beds hold one of the most specialized plant collections of the world." Alex kicks in my arms and tries to splash in the fountain. I see Ned is nowhere near Jill, and tell her so in tones that ricochet off the stone walls. "I've taken Ned to many museums, and you have to get used to him running a few paces ahead," she says.

"Ned!" I call to him, hoping he'll stop. "Look, a statue!"

"Statue batchue," he replies, and keeps running. Alex gets free again but he trips; his plastic water bottle skids across the cement and comes to rest inches in front of some 600-year-old door. He regains his feet and joins Ned running around the fountain before peeling off into a doorway ("Panel and Wall Paintings, mid-13th Century Italy..."). I bark for Jill to go after Alex while I corral Ned, whose new sneakers are speeding toward one of the most specialized plant collections of the world.

I scoop up Ned and see Jill returning with Alex. "Listen, I'm going outside and wait for you," I tell her, taking Alex.

"I want to show Ned the unicorn tapestries. Then we're going to the gift shop," she replies.

Half an hour to 45 minutes later, I'm on a bench in the parking lot with Alex, listening to the far-off car alarms and watching Jill and Ned emerge from the castle. Ned is waving something long and red. As they get nearer, I see him put it to his mouth, and I hear a sweet note. Alex disappears down a wood path. I let him go, since there's nothing to break down there but more park benches.

Says Jill, "What else can you kids like this in a place like this, except a $3.95 red plastic flute? Oh yeah, and the guard said Alex could splash in the fountain." (June 2003)

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