Beezwax, None Of Yours

About a month ago, Erin and I learned the gender of our upcoming little bundle of joy. I wrote what you’re about to read just before we found out what we were having. Turns out it’s a baby. Erin was hoping for a kitten.


Erin and I were in a long-distance relationship for quite some time before we got married. She’s from outside of Pittsburgh, I’m from outside of New Orleans, and we met online. Not through a dating website, I never would have signed up for one of those, but on a message board for Stephen King fans. I’ve always said it was, for me, the online equivalent of picking up a girl in a bookstore. That’s where I always had the most game anyway.

(Erin: You never had any game! Me: Relatively.)

But as with any couple, as time went on we started to get plagued by rather invasive questions from friends and family who didn’t quite comprehend that just because we were linked on Facebook didn’t give them the right to pry in our relationship “When is one of you moving? How long are you going to do this? When are you getting married?” That last question, I don’t mind telling you, was the most annoying, especially when it came from someone who’d been living with her partner for 20 years without so much as the slightest tinkle of a wedding bell. I’m not judging you if you choose to live that way, I’m just saying you have sacrificed your “When are you getting married?” privileges for life.

We did get married, of course, but we were also smart enough to know that this wouldn’t stop the questions, just change their target. “Are you going to have kids?” Or, even worse, “When are you going to have kids?” The first question is rude because it’s none of your business. The second is rude because it presumes we’ve already made a decision about this important issue that corresponds with your own and, furthermore, because it’s none of your business. I know lots of couples who don’t have children, many of my best friends, people I would trust with my life, people who I would trust to help me move a Lego Millenium Falcon without dropping it, but I have never asked any of them any of those questions.

That’s not to say I’ve never discussed the issue with them. I have. But the discussion came because we’re close friends and one of us made the decision to share the information with the other unsolicited, not because the other shined a light in their eyes and started an interrogation. There are a million reasons someone may not have children. Maybe they don’t want any. Maybe they’re afraid to. Maybe there are marital problems beneath the surface or maybe one or the other of them is physically incapable of having kids. None of these issues are the sort of thing you want to discuss with someone casually, and therefore the only way you can ask this question without running the risk of being MTV reality show-level intrusive is if you already know the answer.

Since Erin is pregnant, these questions are no longer being asked, but I was ready for the next stupid line of invasiveness to start. I thought, however, that the next insensitive thing we’d be subjected to would be when (or if) we would have baby #2.

I was wrong.

FullSizeRAs I write this, my sister has an envelope in her possession from Erin’s doctor. In that envelope is a piece of paper, upon which is written our baby’s gender. At least, I’m assuming the baby’s gender is written on the paper, I haven’t actually looked at it. Heather, my sister, is making us a “reveal cake,” which I think is a fun and practical way to learn this information: you still get that big “surprise” moment, but you get it early enough to start buying clothes, planning how you’re going to decorate, and allow people on Tumblr to call you worse than Hitler because you’re recognizing the fact that boys and girls are different from each other.

For those people who don’t feel that way, however, we’ve seen a small debate break out over whether the baby will be a boy or a girl. I can honestly say I don’t care — it’s not just bullshit when someone says they only want a healthy child, no matter what your Great Aunt Myrtle says. But evidently, a lot of other people have uncomfortably strong opinions about what they’re hoping for. Honestly, if you can figure out the proper way to finish this conversation, let me know:

“We’re going to find out the gender on Saturday.”

“Ooooh, I hope it’s a girl!”

How the hell am I supposed to respond to that? Wait to see if the cake is blue and then give this person my apologies?

I honestly don’t mind people guessing if it’s a boy or girl, even if some of their methods are pretty ridiculous. (“Let’s see, Erin was born in June, the ambient humidity is approximately 47 percent, Rogue One is number one at the box office, and in Crabapple, Georgia, Ella Mae Stapleton’s French Poodle urinated on a pine tree. It’s clearly a girl.”) But when people actually start rooting for one gender or another, that’s when things get messed up. Of all of the “none of your business” things that people have thrown at us since Erin and I first started dating, this is the one that has most tempted me to whip out a “beezwax” on them.

We’ll be fine either way. The only reason we even want to know is to get ready. And by that, I mean whether I should get a Superman or a Wonder Woman onesie.

I know the questions won’t stop even after the reveal, so let me close with this: I know, no matter what we have, what the next question will be. “So, now that you’ve got a boy, when are you gonna try for a girl?” (Or vice versa.)

Let me just say, for whoever asks that question first, I will not be legally or medically responsible for having Erin’s foot surgically removed from your ass.

FB_IMG_1491094612626POSTSCRIPT: The gender reveal cake, which was awesome, informed us that we’re having a little boy. We’re thrilled — not because we were hoping for one or the other, but just because now we can really get started buying clothes and decorations and whatnot.

Yes, we have specifically purchased things that say things like “Boy, oh boy” or — horrors — are blue. No, we don’t consider this child abuse. Yes, we know some of you do. No, we don’t care.

Free Comic Book Day 2017

fcbdIt’s almost one of my favorite days of the year, guys! On the first Saturday in May, comic shops across America will be celebrating Free Comic Book Day! Once a year, the comic shops, distributors, and publishers provide cost-free comics to anyone who pops in! For a list of this year’s comics, as well as to find a participating store near you, just head over to the Free Comic Book Day website.

But if you happen to be in the New Orleans area, may I make a suggestion as to where to celebrate? As I’ve been doing for several years now, I’m going to be at BSI Comics in on Severn Avenue in Metairie. The best shops, you see, have taken Free Comic Book Day from a single table of freebies like it was for the first few years, and blown it up into a full-blown mini-convention! Local writers and artists, costume contests, prizes, major sales on comics, graphic novels, toys, and other paraphernalia! Hell, this year BSI is even going to host Jason Carter, aka Marcus Cole from one of my favorite TV shows of all time, Babylon 5!

I’ll be there all day with copies of my books for sale ($10 each or all five for $40). Erin will be with me, we’ll try to record a podcast from the store as we’ve done many times, and we’re going to have a blast. We’d love to see you.

And wherever you go, remember, the comics are free for you, but not for the store. They’re made available for a reduced price, but every one of your freebies costs the shop a little money. So show your gratitude — while you’re there, do a little shopping. Find a new graphic novel to try. Get a t-shirt. Do you watch The Walking Dead? Psyched for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 or Wonder Woman? Are you currently wearing a Yoda t-shirt and posting “May the Fourth Be With You” memes all over Facebook? Then there’s going to be something for you at any shop that’s participating. Find the store nearest you, go out, and have a great time.

Traveling while pregnant

Erin, unlike me, is from Pittsburgh — a lovely place, but I tend to agree with Tennessee Williams when he said “America has only three cities: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland.” (I’ve never been to Cleveland, for the record, so if you have a problem with that, take it up with Tennessee Williams.) Anyway, a couple of times a year, we try to go back to the glorious Allegheny Mountains to spend time with her family and friends. This time, of course, would be slightly different. This would be the first time Erin traveled while pregnant.

If you’re not sure why this is a big deal, I’m going to assume you’ve never traveled with (or as) a pregnant woman. It’s not that she had to go through any major or unusual preparations, it’s just that the physical state of being pregnant — I have been informed, frequently — is tremendously uncomfortable. Something else that is tremendously uncomfortable? Air travel. Combining the two of them… well, let’s just say it ain’t like getting peanut butter in my chocolate or chocolate in my peanut butter.

It’s also worth noting that Erin — the love of my life, the mother of my child, the Tito in my Jackson Five — has been getting a teeny bit paranoid as her pregnancy progresses.

“Can I go through the X-Ray machine?” She asked me the day before our flight.

“Baby, you told your doctor we were taking the trip. He knows we’re flying. If there was a problem, he would have said something. Also, there would be signs all over the X-Rays that said, ‘Hey pregnant ladies! Don’t do this!’”

Admittedly, I’m probably giving the TSA a little too much credit for having concern for its passengers, but I was trying to make Erin feel better.

But to my shock, the actual flight out was surprisingly uneventful. No delayed flights, no lost luggage, and we only encountered two rhyming demons during our layover in Atlanta. In fact, as we boarded the plane for the last leg of our journey, we sat down next to a young mother traveling with a little girl of maybe eight months old. When the girl reached out and yanked on Erin’s sweater her mother started to apologize, but Erin just said, “No problem, we have one coming in September.” All of a sudden, they were best friends, and the flight between Atlanta and Pittsburgh was split pretty much fifty-fifty between Mommy Talk and naps, which is something new mothers, impending mothers, and eight-month-old girls all have in common. Occasionally the little one reached out and smacked Erin’s belly while they slept, but we just chalked it up to her greeting our son in baby language, as demonstrated in the documentary motion picture Look Who’s Talking.

One thing we didn’t count on, however, was that air travel would somehow activate Erin’s “Pregnancy Brain.” This is a very real phenomenon, as proven by that esteemed scientist Professor Every Woman I Know Who Has Ever Had a Baby, in which pregnancy can cause sporadic and unpredictable lapses in memory, especially when it’s her turn to wash the dishes. We went on this trip when Erin was 18 weeks pregnant, and until then it hadn’t really been a big issue. Once the wheels left the ground, though, her memory went with them. She began forgetting everything: schedules, dates, which order Batman’s Robins went in, and other vitally important things. At one point we were going to visit her brother and she zipped right past the turn to go to his house. Another time she was reading a sign that completely consumed her attention until the third time I shouted “IT’S RED! THE LIGHT IS RED!” at which point it turned green and she cruised through the intersection and declared herself the victor.

I’ll probably be doing most of the driving until September.

One thing we did expect, however, were hand-me-downs. This is a time-honored tradition, something that has been happening since the dawn of mankind. In fact, Biblical Scholars now believe that Cain’s real motivation in that whole unpleasant business was that Adam gave Abel his favorite fig leaf. Sure enough, friends and family loaded us down with clothes, bottles, and other infant paraphernalia, with the promise of more to come. That promise is much appreciated, especially since we could barely fit all of the stuff they gave us into our suitcases. Her friend Karen, for example, handed over a sizeable bag of baby clothes, many of which were intended to indelibly brand my son as a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers. I was okay with this, of course, because I know that all of my New Orleans people will be loading our little Guacamole down with Saints gear soon enough and because it wasn’t the Falcons or the Patriots, as I would rather just drop a gold chain around his neck and hose him down with Axe body spray and call it a day.

Her brother and his wife also gave us a sort of infant sleeping pad, something they said helped keep their two littlest in place in their early months. This was a nice, comfy-looking little device that I’m sure will make our child wonderfully comfortable despite the fact that there’s simply no way to fit it into a standard-size suitcase. We had to dismantle it and then place one of the support bars in each of our suitcases.

As it turned out, this would not be the only thing to get us on a government watchlist at the airport. The other thing we came away from this trip with? Books. Lots of books. Erin and I are both bookworms, and while I suppose it’s theoretically possible that our child will not enjoy the love of reading, it’s going to be because he spends his life surrounded by so many examples of the written word that he’s going to want to live in a biosphere at the bottom of the ocean just to be in an environment moist enough that paper is impractical.

We stopped by a few stores, got a few gifts, and came away with a fairly sizable addition to our already-growing baby book library. And, if we’re going to be honest here, Daddy also spent a little time in the dollar-or-less bins at a well-known Pittsburgh comic book store, because there are still a few issues of Quasar he was missing. Like most people, I believe in packing the most important items in my carry-on when traveling, using the theory that if anybody is gonna lose my most prized possessions, it’s gonna be me. In this case, that meant my carry-on was loaded down with enough books to outweigh my actual checked bag and to get flagged by airport security at the X-Ray because of the dense matter showing up on their scanners. I was eventually allowed to pass, but not until after the friendly TSA agent opened up every board book we had purchased and examined them carefully, apparently because there was a chance that we had secreted an explosive device somewhere in The Monster at the End of This Book.

The way home was less pleasant than the way to Pittsburgh, not only because of the much heavier traveling bag, but because on the return flight we were seated in front of two total strangers who somehow spent the three hours they were united by Southwest Airlines learning one another’s life story, the history of Ireland, and the length and severity of the cancer treatments inflicted upon one of their family members or both of their kittens — I was trying my damndest not to pay attention, mostly failing.

“This is the last time I’m flying pregnant,” Erin said to me, unable to get comfortable in an airline-allotted space that clearly was not designed for two human beings occupying one body, right after St. Patrick drove the snakes away.

“I hope so,” I said.

Two Pregnancy Tests, One Cup…

The second in my ongoing series about Erin and I slowly marching towards parenthood. This one, I promise, will be way less serious than the first one. I wrote this as soon as we got home from dinner on the night it happened, wanting to record this gem of a conversation while it was still fresh in my mind.


When Erin was nine weeks pregnant, we stopped for dinner at Atomic Burger. Yeah, I know, but you need to understand — this place makes milkshakes. Delicious, epic milkshakes frozen with liquid nitrogen. It’s food and science. And most germane to this story, in the run-up to Mardi Gras, they were offering a King Cake Milkshake in what turned out to be a collectible, color-changing cup.

“Are we going to have to get rid of some of our cups after Mardi Gras?” Erin asked. I should explain here for those of you who weren’t fortunate enough to be born in Louisiana — even though we got a set of glassware as a wedding gift, most of our everyday beverages are consumed from what my mother used to call our “fine China”: free cups tossed from Mardi Gras floats, collector’s cups from restaurants and gas stations, and a cup handed out by then-Lieutenant Governor candidate Billy Nungesser at a jambalaya cook-off. You know. Fancy stuff. And after Mardi Gras is over, we usually get a new influx of drinking glasses.

“I don’t know,” I said. “There’s nothing wrong with any of our cups.”

“I guess I could get rid of the one I peed in,” she said.

“Sure,” I said, followed about five seconds later by, “Wait, what?”

“The cup I peed in when I took the first pregnancy test,” she said.

“Wait, you peed in one of our cups?”

“Yes.”

“One of the ones I drink out of?”

“Yeah, I told you about that.”

“No you didn’t!”

“I did!”

“Was it the same night you told me you were pregnant?”

“Yes!”

“Well do you think I was paying attention to that part?

As this began to sink in, I started to mentally inventory our drinkware. Which one was it? Was it one I used often? Was it one I used today?

“The directions said you could just pee right on the test itself, but I was afraid I’d mess it up,” she said.

“How do you mess up peeing on something?” I asked.

“You’re wondering which cup it is, aren’t you?”

“YES!”

“Do you want me to tell you?”

“I don’t know! I can’t tell if it’s worse knowing or not knowing at this point!’

“Well it’s clean. It’s been cleaned. I put it right in the dishwasher and I left it in there for another cycle, so it’s been washed at least three times.”

“Three?” I may be an English teacher, but I’m capable of at least this much math. “That’s only two.”

“Well… I washed it again.”

“When?”

“After I saw it in the sink.”

I felt my individual skin cells begin arguing over which direction they should crawl in. “In the sink?” I said “How do you think it got there?”

She sighed. “We got it for free.”

All of our cups are free!” I said, trying to not alert the rest of the Atomic Burger patrons to my sudden distress. “We got them all from Mardi Gras parades and Billy Nungesser!”

As I said the name of our elected official, Erin suddenly turned red.

“Wait, was that it? Is it Billy?”

She said nothing.

“Is it Billy Nungesser?”

Her face turned purple.”

“Is it Billy Nungesser?”

Her silence was finally broken as she doubled over in peals of laughter. As she sat there, giggling, potentially choking on her hamburger, I thought of the cup and tried to remember the last time I’d used it: water? Juice? Tea? What else had been in that beverage receptacle?

“Is it the Billy Nungesser cup?” I asked one last time.

She finally managed to collect herself and stop laughing, then wiped tears away from her cheeks with a napkin.

“He knew before you did,” she said.

Tornado

Not long after Erin told me she was pregnant, I started writing little pieces about our adventures in impending parenthood. Obviously, I haven’t posted any of them online before, but now that we’ve announced to the world, I’m ready to start sharing. Most of them are silly stories or funny observations. The first one I wrote, however, is somewhat more serious, for reasons that I think will be clear. Most of the time I write something, I tweak and edit it right up until it’s posted, but I wrote this two months ago, and I haven’t changed a word.


When you lose something or somebody important to you, even once the initial stages of grief have passed, there’s a period of flux in your emotions. If you catch yourself laughing or having fun or generally being happy, you feel strange. It’s illogical, of course, there’s no reason to feel bad about it, but part of you does anyway. That strangeness is amplified by how great the loss is and how wonderful the good moment is.

Erin found out she was pregnant ten days after my mother died. Five days after her burial. Two days after I went back to work. I was already a confused mix of emotions, and as incredible as this was, it just threw things into even more of a tizzy. You’re already sad because of what you’ve lost, but now you’re happy for what you’re going to gain. And then you feel guilty for being happy, because you’re supposed to be sad, and you still ARE sad, but now you’re happy and guilty too. And then you feel ridiculous because you know there’s no reason to feel guilty and because you know Mom would have been thrilled about this. Then you feel sad all over again when it hits you that this child is never going to know their grandmother — my mother is going to be stories and pictures to him or her. It’s like you’ve lost Mom all over again and it breaks you, then you remember that you’re going to be a father and you don’t have the luxury of being broken right now, and then you remember that you’re going to be a father and you’re happy all over again, even if you’re nervous that you won’t live up to the wonderful father you have.

This is, of course, in addition to the traditional nervousness and anxiety that a person feels when they discover they’re going to become a parent, compounded with the above-average nervousness and anxiety I feel on a standard basis, which is something I inherited from my mother, which just makes me miss her all over again.

I’ve been in a tornado of emotion, is what I’m getting at.

-Jan. 27

A new chapter…

The first few months of 2017 have been extraordinarily chaotic. My mother passed away on January 13. It was the worst day of my life. But now I’ve got some good news to share. I’m usually the writer in our house, but today I’m just going to quote my wife on this one…

I think it’s time for Blake and I to expand our selection of children’s books… Our new chapter starts in September.

new chapter

Flash Fiction: Ted and the Form

I did a quick writing exercise today that turned into a little Siegel City story. It’s raw and unedited, but still, I thought I’d share it here.

Ted didn’t know where the money was, only that it wasn’t back in the cab where he left it. He’d gotten out of the car and closed the door, walking only three steps before realizing the hefty envelope had fallen out of his pocket. He spun on his heels and jumped almost directly in front of the car, stopping the driver before he could pull away from the curb.

“Hey, you crazy man?” The driver barked from his window. “I could have killed you!”

“I’m sorry, I just… I forgot something in the back seat,” Ted said. The driver glowered at him, but popped the door lock and let him in. He crawled across the seat, looking where he’d been sitting, looking down at the floor, shoving his hands between the cushions. Nothing.

“Hurry up, pal, I’ve got a business to run,” the driver said.

“It’s not here,” Ted hissed to himself. “It’s not here.” It didn’t make any sense. He knew he’d had the envelope with him when he got into the cab. Jason had handed it to him outside of the office and he was still holding it when he climbed in. He had been in the back seat of the cab when he stuffed it into his coat pocket. It was no longer in his coat pocket, therefore it had to be somewhere inside the cab.

And yet it wasn’t.

Not on the floor, not on the seat. He couldn’t even accuse the driver of having taken it because Ted had been in the back seat the entire time and he’d had no opportunity to get out and hide it.

“Are you sure you didn’t leave it somewhere else, buddy?” the driver asked. “I can’t wait around all day.”

Ted didn’t say anything. Instead, his mind was rushing through all of the things that were going to happen if he didn’t get that money back. He thought about the his boss noticing that it had gone missing in the first place. He thought about being fired and tossed out on the street. Worse, he thought about his boss’s enforcers coming after him. Working for Cary Buchvalt wasn’t on the level of being the henchman of a full-blown supervillain like Dr. Mayhem or Herr Sinister, but in a place like Siegel City even the low-level bosses could afford to place a couple of masks on the payroll. He imagined himself being hunted down by the Tracker or strangled in his sleep when the Form – who could honestly be anywhere around him even now and he wouldn’t know it – suddenly slithered under his bedroom door and carried out the boss’s orders.

“Enough is enough, pal,” the driver snapped. “Get out of the cab or I’m gonna call the cops.”

Cops? Ted didn’t have any fear of the cops, not with the alternative being visit by one of Buchvalt’s goons. How did this happen? How did he get here? He’d come out to Siegel back in ’56, fresh out of college, hoping to get a job at one of the larger firms. Instead he found himself doing the books for a mobster whose claim to fame was that he’d managed to escape Nightshadow on two separate occasions before being locked up for a nickel.

The driver was turned around now, staring him down. “Am I going to have to get physical?”

What about his ma? Would Buchvalt get physical with her? She’d met him once when she came to town for a visit, talked about what a nice gentleman his boss was. Would she say the same when her postman melted away, revealing the Form himself, ready to stuff his pliable fist down her throat and suffocate her with his own flesh?

“That’s enough, buddy.” He hadn’t seen the driver get out of the car, but he felt a pair of meaty hands grab him by the back of the coat, yanking him free and hurling him to the sidewalk. “I don’t know what you’re missing, pal, but I ain’t got all day!”

“The envelope!” Ted shrieked. “I need the envelope!”

“You need your head examined!”

The cabby turned and slid behind the wheel again. It was a smooth, fluid motion, during which he never lost contact with the car, and it was fast enough that the door was already slammed shut before Teddy could pull himself to his feet. He fell on the door, pounding the glass and shrieking. The driver just stared at him.

“Please, I need that envelope.”

“Last chance, pal.”

“Let me back in!”

The driver shrugged. “Your funeral, bucko.”

The door handle suddenly popped out of the frame, swinging back like a switchblade. Ted didn’t feel the pain until he looked down and realized it had sharpened like a blade too, opening his shirt and then his flesh as easily as slicing off a piece of Ma’s shrimp mould. The blade settled in his stomach, then he felt it dart into him, coming out of his back and sending blood spattering against the lining of his coat.

The blade retracted and turned back into the door handle and Ted, horrified, fell back onto the sidewalk as the cab drove away. It was past midnight, there was no one on the street, no one to see the dark pool spreading around his body, no one to jump in the phone booth and call for help.

Right now, Ted couldn’t help but think, he’d even be okay if Nightshadow showed up.

As the cab rounded a corner and rolled out of his sight, the frame of the car began to contract. It shifted, driver and all, turning into a rolling, slate-colored ball before gliding to a stop near a pay phone. The ball straightened up, taking on a humanoid shape. The bulky, blobby man picked up the phone, then produced a coin from somewhere within the folded putty and dropped it in the slot.

“It’s me, boss,” he said. “Yeah, I got the envelope. What do you mean ‘where,’ somewhere around my pancreas, I don’t know. Nah, he didn’t feel me take it, but he noticed it after he got out, so I had to take care of things. Yeah, that way. No, I guess I don’t need to visit his ma now. He learned his lesson pretty good.”

He hung the phone up and his form shifted again. It became smaller now, and his flesh took on a normal tone while a blue uniform sprung up around his body. He was pretty sure Ted was no one’s problem anymore, but the boss was right. Better safe than sorry. “Officer Henreid” would just take a little stroll down the block and make sure things were taken care of for good.