In 2017, my friend Matt and I were both expectant fathers. We exchanged correspondence on the subject, and on other related (and unrelated) matters.
Matt’s letter to me took the form of a single page with a “Springtime 2017” advent calendar made out of balsa wood and an airplane-safety handout. The doors in the advent calendar hid a number of small gifts, mainly with alcohol, but also weird random knick-knacks. Matt also included a mixtape on a Marvin the Martian USB stick.
My response to Matt was a long letter. It had no clever advent calendar.
Letter from Matt to Me
27 April 2017
Time · Highway · Space
Please enjoy the following multimedia experience. Before listening to the playlist on Marvin, clear your schedule for the evening and have a few beers handy. The doors on this advent calendar needn’t be opened in any particular order but I’d suggest one per song.
Last summer I crashed my motorcycle. If I had died my last words would have been, “Whoa whoa whoa!” Nobody would have known that but it would have been true.
I didn’t die though. Didn’t really even get hurt. A few months later and I’m going to be a father. You are too. Nothing has killed us yet. Over the past few years, I’ve come to believe that it’s a bit ungrateful not to procreate. All the suffering and joy from your folks back to the cave and the savannah … it all ends with you unless you pass it on. The world needs more of your kind and I think my kind too.
01 May 2017
⨁ So Miranda’s dad is old and was born in Canada. I needed to find her parents’ birth certificate to get a Canadian passport for Miranda and then … my son. I never thought I’d make a Canadian but there you go. Anyways. Her grandparents were born in 1895 and 1893 respectively. That just seems so long ago.
02 May 2017
⨁ Yesterday evening I had my second-to-last appointment for a tattoo I’ve been working on. It covers my right arm and involves a couple of mammoths and some hummingbirds and vegetation. Why are there hummingbirds only in the Americas? What is the shared ancestor between a Rhodopis vesper and a T-rex? What does mammoth taste like? I’ve been following developments with CRISPR and I’m looking forward to the chaos I believe that technology will create. The future is going to be fun.
Letter from Me to Matt
25 June 2017
Oh fuck Matt — It’s good to be writing to you. Hello from Arizona!
Your wedding is impending, both our life partners are swole with babby,1 and I am drunk. Yes — it’s true — reports to the contrary are sketchy and unreliable — I am drunk.
About a month ago I met some struggling hikers on Grand Canyon’s Bright Angel Trail on a hot day. I loaned one of them a spare set of hiking poles. They delivered them back to my house that night. Later, a six-pack of assorted beers appeared on my front porch as if by magic.
Per your instructions, before opening the doors on your springtime advent calendar, I drank some of this beer. I read the letter itself last month as soon as it arrived. “Have time and beers ready” it advised … and so I waited until I did. Tonight was the first night I opened the doors on the rest of the advent calendar. I expected more pages of written word, but instead found the mini-bottles of Jameson and Jim Beam contained within.
Now I’m listening to your mix, thinking of visiting wrecked aircraft in eastern Oregon, marveling at how we both turned out to be fairly well-adjusted, in-love fathers-to-be.
This weekend, Mandy is down in Sedona with some friends for a pre-baby getaway weekend. She has planned several such weekends. We did one back in March that was intended to be our last pre-baby camping trip. Instead we wound up staying with friends who live near Lake Powell, because the campsite we selected was surrounded by drunk noisy dudes who drove jacked-up full-size trucks with expensive-looking rims, low-profile tires, and lots of bolt-on chromed accessories. Just big dumb pointless trucks.
Right after I moved to Arizona, our first Christmas here, we went to Joshua Tree. There I saw a full-size Ford van with a 4×4 conversion and a dually conversion. It’s like, “Bro, what is the point of this van? Is it an off-road adventure fun-time vessel, or is this a highway-centric tow rig … thing?”
And the van had no good answer, because in trying to be all things, it was nothing.
Oh man, this mix just got heavy again.
I have an app on my phone that tells me what’s in the sky. It tells me when the space station will fly over Grand Canyon. This is the coolest: Men and women living in a sky house flying over a canyon hundreds of miles long, thousands of square miles of one huge canyon. Well, it’s a complex of canyons, really. I’m the only one who says: “Let’s call it Grand Canyons National Park.” Five trillion cubic yards of rock obviously missing, not counting Mesozoic strata stripped from the plateaus entirely. Dudes and ladies flying in a sky house over a place so big it scares people. That’s cool.
This stuff on spine injury management reminds me: Be safe on that motorcycle, man! You know, if I had died in that pig attack, my last words would have been, well, I guess “help” is the only thing I remember saying, loudly and alone. Maybe I also said, “This is not good” … But on the flip side, maybe I only thought that while looking at my leg bones.
But let’s say that the tusk had been another 1.5 inches toward my femoral artery — well then probably I would have died in the woods. But suppose I had bled to death in the ambulance. “Am I going to keep my legs?” would have been perhaps my last words. Or maybe just an F-bomb would have been my last words; I don’t know, really. The dude in Portland who — you know, maybe I should focus on positive stuff.
We are both alive.
Yeah, man. We did it. It’s the year 2017 and neither of us screwed up so badly that we can’t write letters to one another.
Gene editing is going to be awesome. My hope is that when the Greenland ice sheet melts we go all Pleistocene Park on the island, just seed some tundra plants and drop in mastodons, cave bear, you name it. Let’s have the scientists make some monsters.
I was talking to a biologist about re-introducing wolves, and we were both like, “Yeah, deadly creatures make nature better.” I should write more when I’m sober and can better articulate my thoughts.
19 July 2017
We’re both married now and we both have babies on the way. That’s pretty cool. So now we have to be good dads. I’ve been thinking a lot about that … how do I raise a son who’s better at living in the world than I am?
Obviously the answer is to draft a list of all humankind’s major accomplishments and provide experiential education in each one.
Mastering fire is our first huge accomplishment as a species, but this skill will not be taught until my son is at least 25 years old, because I’m extremely overprotective.
And then there’s toolmaking. I guess I can make custom Play-Doh extruders with him early on, and then teach stone knife-making when I teach fire stuff.
Agriculture is a big one — easy enough, let’s plant carrots, etc — but probably that was preceded by the development of art and music. “Here are some crayons; go to town. Sing along to my collection of They Might Be Giants albums.”
Animal domestication: He gets to feed the dog, but while he’s doing that I’ll explain how Romulus and Remus were suckled by a she-wolf before Romulus killed Remus and founded Rome. Tales of fratricide are another majour — oops, I used the British spelling — another major human, you know, thing, and this is where we begin to learn the difference between stories and reality and also the fact that internecine violence is strictly forbidden in this household.
And boom, there’s our lead-in to Hammurabi and the development of codified law. “You see son, before Hammurabi they could just chop your head off for no reason. After Hammurabi, they could still chop your head off, but there was a mutual understanding that it would specifically be for one of the reasons Hammurabi had written down ahead of time. By the way, capitas is latin for ‘head’; remember that for no reason.”
I don’t know what next; I guess maybe we spend the next ten years building a printing press or something.
23 July 2017
Sunday · 8:41 am
Hey man, I just had a thought. How awesome would it be if [our estranged former friend from Vermont who I will here call Billy] totally got his shit together over the last ten years?
Like what if we were in a parking lot, and you were like, whoa, who’s that guy parking that mint condition 1980s Audi sport coupé? It looks like — could it be — “Why hello, gentlemen,” says a surprisingly well-groomed man with excellent diction. It is! It’s [Billy]! Where has he been? “While you idiots were busy getting divorces, I moved in with my parents, and, after a period of turmoil and struggle, fully devoted myself to my personal well-being and financial stability. I documented this process in my best-selling book, The Green Mountain Method of Self-Improvement. You may not have heard of it, because many of the sales were to francophone Canadians who purchased the French-language translation, Methodique L’Monte de Gruyere por la Bién du Personnelle.”
And we would both be like, “Whaaaat,” and then he’d speed away.
Confused, you would turn to me and ask, “Why did he speed away immediately after parking his car and announcing his success? Also, I don’t think that was an accurate translation.”
“Look,” I would patiently explain, “if you can think of a more realistic scenario where [Billy] reappears in our lives, I’m all ears.”
Anyway, this morning I took a lamp apart and was like, “Ah ha! Here’s the problem.” It was just one more chore to do before the baby arrives: Fix the baby lamp. I have a to-do list that’s a mile long, but it’s important to take time doing stuff like this, writing letters, hypothesizing about people you haven’t seen in over a decade.
It’s summer. It’s monsoon season. The garden is going bananas except squirrels and voles keep eating all our food. Happy woodland creatures who just want to mess our garden up. Mandy and I drive a station wagon now. Mercedes parts are expensive and German engineering is overrated. You have to remove a crossmember and disconnect the driveshaft to change the fluid in the transfer case.
31 July 2017
Monday · 11:54 am
Hey, so here it is almost August. My baby is born next month. Man, I’m not ready to be a father yet — I still gotta clean the garage!
If I made a reference to Airwolf, you would get that reference, right? I suspect a lot of people would. But how many of those reference-getters could describe anything about the plot of Airwolf? Could you? I know I couldn’t. What a shitty TV show; everyone remembers it, but no one remembers anything about it. Like, nothing. Except it had a helicopter. Presumably it is the titular helicopter, but even that’s uncertain.
Can you imagine the pitch meeting for Airwolf? “You already know Knight Rider. Well do you like helicopters?”
Even with Knight Rider we remember things about it. Talking car. Funny steering wheel. The car frequently addressed its driver, Michael, by name. And because of these memorable elements, even today nerds on the Internet waste perfectly good Pontiac Trans Ams turning them into Knight Rider cars.
These nerd-built cars are lame. They can’t really talk. Siri is closer to being an authentic Knight Industries Two Thousand (K.I.T.T.) than the knock-off Internet hoopties.
10 August 2017
Thursday · 8:10 am
What’s up man? How are you doing? You must be doing great, because you’re reading this.
“Ha ha,” you chuckle, thinking to yourself as you read this, “I am great; I am alive and well; mean old Death can’t catch me, and I know his shameful secret: He only carries that great big scythe2 because he’s so insecure about his manhood.”
You chuckle to yourself again: His genitals are probably a brittle little chicken bone, because death is a skeleton man.
From the next room, Miranda, swole large with baby, hears you laughing. “My darling, my dear, my sweet life partner — what has amused you so? You titanic honey bucket, you.”
“Death has a chicken bone dick,” you announce, and Miranda laughs so hard the baby is instantly born. Thank goodness she was standing on those extra-soft pillows designed especially for surprise births.
“Looks like our investment in the Turbo-Labor Feathersoft Delivery Pillows really paid off!” she exclaims, cradling your newborn son.
You are proud; you have bested Death extra big-time today.
“What shall we name our son?” Miranda asks.
You think for a moment. In fact, you are a little surprised that the subject of what to name him was never even discussed until now. Oh well. No regrets, ever. It is time to bestow upon your son a name laden with meaning and honor.
A beatific smile spreads across Miranda’s face: “We’ll call him Motorcycle8 for short.”
About a month ago
Dateline: Planet Earth! A great big iceberg fell into the ocean! That’s totally normal right? Good news! All the penguins are okay!
King of the Penguins Poppy Fishguts issued a statement from his Antarctic Ice Fortress: “A great species has been moved to defend a great continent. Iceberg calvings can shake our biggest ice sheets, but they cannot touch the foundation of Penguinland, a landmass better known to outsiders as Antarctica. These acts shatter ice, but they cannot melt the ice of penguin resolve.”
King Poppy Fishguts then vomited a massive amount of semi-digested herrings into the mouths of all his nation’s young.
Economic effects of the iceberg calving are unclear, as the McMurdo International Stock Exchange was shut down shortly after the giant ice block broke free. Real estate markets, however, may be in turmoil.
Jake “Big Beak” Gooser, president of the National Penguin Realtor Association, framed the issue as one of reduced supply, uncertain demand, and limited stock of new housing-ready ice coming online in the next six to sixty-thousand months.
“On the one hand, there’s less ice now, so all existing ice should be more valuable,” said Mr. Gooser. “On the other hand, will it too fall into the sea? Might such concerns suppress demand? One things is for sure: Buy ice, they’re not making any more of it.”
16 Aug ’17
Well, it’s probably time to wrap up this here letter. We’ve had a good time, shared a lot of laughs, and now it’s time to ride.
What does the future hold for us? Time will tell. Poopy diapers, the amazing miracle of life, and more poopy diapers. Are you psyched man? I don’t know, I’m like more psyched/terrified-of-failure than just straight-up pure psyched. Tell you what though, we’re gonna do this good, I know.
Babies are weird, man, they spend all this time living in a uterus, never realizing that their home is a literally a giant muscle, and then one day … bam! Their home is like, “Goodbye! I’m squeezing you out.”
And they’re like, “Wait, that thing there is a door?” And then they’re like, “Ohhhhh nooooooooo,” and their first words are just crying and crying, the baby equivalent of “whoa whoa whoa” because they don’t know how to talk.
But they do okay. They’re like, “What’s this … air? I’m breathing, man!”
And then they grow up, get friends who are assholes, drift away from their asshole friends (much to our relief), and make new friends. And if they ever get too interested in stupid stuff it’s our job to be like, “Are you serious? Put those pants on the right way. Jesus. Do you even know what ‘Totally Krossed Out’ means? You’re gonna jump-jump your way right to a grounding if you don’t straighten up young man. Again, I repeat myself, Jesus.”
And then they’re like, “I bet you wore backwards pants all the time when you were a kid,” and we’re like, “No, never, not even with a backwards shirt and backwards sunglasses and a depiction of a goateed face shaved into the back of my head.”
Oh god, I’m going to be a total ogre of a father, aren’t I? I’ve got to be cool. “Son, this is Led Zeppelin. Listen to them, but never be like them; they were sexist self-absorbed asshole idiots.”
“Got it, Pop,” he’ll say, and I’ll know my work is complete.
Anyway. It’s always good to hear from you, my man, and always good to write to you. Come visit soon. Be safe and have fun. Drive defensively.