I’d rather eat my own hand than go, my wife says. You think along those lines, though less graphically. But it must be done. Family day at school. Teachers to talk to. The principal. People to meet. You think I’m no good at this, the small talk and the crowds. But the kids are gung-ho at the idea. So you go, cheerily as you can.

You and the other families are divided into teams, given a colored piece of paper to pin to your shirt. The Blues, the Pinks, the Salmons. You’re with the Greens. Off you go. Win, win, win. Beat them at musical chairs, sack races, hoops. Have fun.

At the first game, the pillow race, you stand at the back. You look on, your two kids with you and your wife with your four-month-old daughter. Get with it, you think. Let go of your inhibitions. Participate. Clap, hoot, holler, smile. Cheer on the Greens. Go for it. Do it. For the kids.

It is your wife who is the first to steal away – to feed the baby.

You participate. You race with your five-year-old daughter, holding the pillow between your backs, not dropping it. Get to the midway marker and turn around. Don’t drop the pillow; keep it between your backs. Race. To the finish – and you’re second to last. That was good. You huff. Did you have fun?

You look at your team, hooting on the next racers. You look for your three-year-old son and he’s not there with the Greens. He’s walking off, following his mother’s exit. Now your daughter is following too. Sorry team, but parental duties call. Got to get the kids, sorry. They’re now with their mother, in the play area, 50 yards away. On the monkey bars, down the slide, in the sand pit. Other kids follow and soon there’s a crowd on the monkey bars, the slide, the swings. They’re playing Power Rangers. Pow! Pow! Pow!

And you’re sat next to your wife and baby, and talking with a guy you’ve seen around. He surfs, you surf. This is good. You talk about the surf spots down south. Oh, and did you catch it the other day, at the Rambla? It was going off. Insane, the best ever. Absolutely.

Lunch comes, lunch goes. A picnic. Then the activities resume, the games, the awards ceremony. Come on kids, come on parents, the teachers call out. Clap, hoot, holler. The Blues have won it.

Come on kids, come on parents, they call out again. The music is on for a dance. You take the kids; you try to dance. Wriggle your shoulders a bit, move the arms, the legs. Smile and move your body, a bit. But you can’t. You can only nod your head. If anybody looks at you, just smile. No, you say, you’ve got to let go. Do it. Dance for the kids. Other parents are jigging, spinning, twisting, wriggling. All the moves, following the lead of the teacher. Jigging, spinning, twisting, wriggling. They’re into it, fully. You try again. But your daughter and son are not into it so you back away, to your wife, the surfer, the monkey bars. You sit back, stretch out your legs and think this is more like it – it’s either this or self-inflicted cannibalism.


Three strikes and you’re out. If that were true for me as a computer user, well, I’d be long out. Forgotten. Gone. This is because I have something in common with computers. We’re both fragile. It breaks and I break. I break down weeping and frantic. I lose my cool, pace around and think why could this happen again. Curse, pace, curse, pace.

Just ask my wife to testify.

So it happens again. A message to upgrade a program pops up. “Oh, yeah. Okay,” I think. And click. It’s not a virus. I’m not that bad – anymore. It’s a program update, a heavy file. For those in the know about computers that means check things first, clean up, run a Disk Utility or something like that. I just go click. And continue my work. There are deadlines to meet, stories to write. The message comes telling you to restart the computer. “Oh, yeah.” Click.

And that’s it. A half hour later and you’re still waiting for the computer to start back up, getting anxious. Deadlines to meet, stories to write. Not again. Yes, again. The computer’s down and you’re weeping, frantic. You’ve lost your cool and you’re pacing, cursing. Pacing, cursing. All those work files at risk of total loss – and the family photos. The music downloads. The contacts. Everything.

And I think, crap, I’m a moron. Without this technology I wouldn’t be able to live in a pine forest at the beach. So suck it up and admit defeat. You suck at computers but you can learn. You can get better. You can change. So you say to yourself and to your wife, “I promise, I really and truly promise. I’ll never do it again. I’ll be good and get better, improve, do things right, back things up, save it all on a second hard drive.”

Yes, I will. But just let me finish this work first. There are deadlines to meet, stories to write.

And you know you’re doomed.

Tuned Out

It might be the distance from the city. It might be the age, or having three kids under five. But I have no idea what’s “in” anymore. Sure, I went to Creamfields three years ago and danced cool and hip to The Prodigy. “Smack My Bitch Up,” “Breathe,” “Firestarter.” And in my elation I said to my wife, “I can still dance to this and, no way, I’ll be 50 in 13 years.”

Now we live in the pine forest at the beach. And my wife is downloading music and she says, “What would you like?”

I draw a blank.

What’s going on? This can’t be. A blank. But it’s not an easy question. You can’t say just anything. It’s got to be cool, alternative, new. Even old. But it’s got to yield a response like, “Yeah, man, that’s good stuff.”


“Hmm, let me think.”

And I think that the last movement I lived through was grunge. I listened to the marathon session of Nirvana after Kurt Cobain’s death, understanding, feeling the music. I’d lived it – Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden. I listened to it at university and in the years after. Traveling, broke, surfing and chilling in France, Ireland, Scotland. It was real.

Since then? Nothing.



And I think that if I ever make it famous and get interviewed and they ask me what the most played songs are on my iTunes. Well I’ll turn it on and there you’ll have it: Xuxa, the queen of Latin American kiddy music. Twenty-one tracks in the Top 25 Most Played. I’m to blame, really. The kids are fighting in the back seat on a road trip and how do you bring the peace? “Hey, who wants to listen to Xuxa?” And we’re all singing, a happy family. And sure enough I can now hum them all – in the shower, in line at the bank, waiting in a lobby. Out walking.

So I turn to my wife and say, “Whatever you do, just don’t download High School Musical.”