SO I GOT UP ON SUNDAY AND FELT PRETTY GOOD. Very good, in fact. Great, actually. It was the first Sunday in a few weeks--or a few years--where I hadn't had too much to drink the night before. Well, weeks, years, why quibble, right? The point is, I'd had a good night's sleep, made everyone breakfast, let my wife sleep in, and the whole morning was so relaxed, I even read a little of the paper. Hey, I think I'm really getting the hang of this marriage/parenting thing.
Then Mr. Grossman, the piano teacher, arrived, and the kids spent only 20 or 30 seconds writhing in agony at having to take lessons in the first place, and then did very well. Very, very well, matter of fact. They even thanked me later for making breakfast without being thumb-screwed into it. Hey, I think they're really getting the hang of this family/childhood/don't-tap-into-daddy's-dark-side thing.
My wife got up and walked into the kitchen, and we actually kissed and smiled at each other. Don't get me wrong, we love each other, but we're just not big morning smilers and kissers. The little one had his first practice for fall ball scheduled that day, and Mom got him ready by first wiping off 95 percent of the sun-screen I had just put on.
I'm not a good sun-screener. I can't do it. I guess I never got over the horror of the Achilles story, and what can happen from one, tiny, unprotected spot. Whatever the reason, it takes me most of the morning to cover a child to my satisfaction, which means all over and to the depth of roughly a quarter inch. I don't know if there's any need for this, or if it really protects them from anything, but by the time I finish, I'm pretty sure they're ready to swim the English Channel.
Lotions and unguents are in Mom's bailiwick, and whenever the kids see me approaching with a tube of something, they react the way kids probably did a hundred years ago when they saw a parent coming with a bottle of castor oil and a spoon. This avails them naught, of course, since I may be slow and plodding, but, like the Royal Canadian Mounted Police--that same hundred years ago, anyway--I always get my man.
My wife took the little one, still lathered like Secretariat after the Preakness, to his baseball practice, and the other stayed with me. "Hey, Dad, want to see the golf hole I put in?" Sure, I said with a warm, Ward Cleaver smile, starting to put the paper down, take off my glasses, and stand up, until something deep inside my head tapped me on the shoulder and tugged at my shirt.
"Hold on," I said. "Did you say golf hole?" He nodded happily. "You put a golf hole in the back?" Uh-huh. "On the lawn?" Yup. "You dug a hole in the lawn in the back, and put in a golf hole? With what?" A coffee cup. "A coffee cup. You dug a hole in the back and buried a coffee cup in it? But there's gopher mesh under that lawn. How'd you get through that?" With a pair of metal shears. "So, you dug up a hunk of grass, clipped through the metal gopher mesh, which, unless I miss my species, means gophers will now pour through it like, oh, you-know-who through the fence on a certain border of a certain country--but never mind that now--jammed in one of the coffee mugs from the countless gift baskets of sitcoms and talk shows found in every house around here in a 12 mile radius, pounded a croquet stake into the ground and one of my hankies with a number magic-markered onto it, and that's your hole?"
"Well, actually," he said, "There're three. Three holes. I'm going to make 18, but so far there're only three. Want to see?"
I tried to find the right way to get angry, or even say no, but instead followed the Sunday Afternoon Parent's Rule, the one I believe dates back to the Code of Hammurabi: Take a look at whatever it is, tell him it's great, suggest/insist that he immediately cease further damage and just use what he's made, then return to reading the paper and pretend it never came up. Oh, and make a drink.
Then I got a call from an editor in a favorite Midwestern city who's publishing an op-ed of mine I'm very happy about. I hung up and drummed my fingers, thinking how I might get another one I just wrote into the big, local paper around here. The second article is about the Ambassador Hotel, a local hulk that was big in the forties and is being torn down and handed over to the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Soon, too. When, though? Wait, was it turned over all ready? Last week? Okay, let's see, the eighth was, what, Thursday, Friday? Thursday. I thought it was going to be the tenth, but it didn't make sense, that would've been Saturday. This week? Okay, Monday's the twelfth, could be on the thirteenth, maybe even the following week. Someone at the office will know. Wait, hold on, okay, Monday's the twelfth, right, that means Sunday's the--
And that's when it hit me. That moment, that afternoon, that Sunday, sipping that beer and staring out the window over the sink. I stopped drumming my fingers, put the can down, and breathed out slowly. That's when I realized and remembered.
It was the eleventh. September 11. Late afternoon, September 11. The day four years before that all those devious calculations were successful and changed our world. (Or, worse, didn't.) The day so many died, including Jeff Goldflam, my friend from high school, and including those who held hands and jumped, strangers or office mates, screaming or praying, or silent, or all of these. They learned a great lesson about friendship and brotherhood, those who jumped, but they would tell it to no one.
I said my prayers that Sunday morning as usual--Yes, I'm one of the stupid people; I pray--but didn't include any about the victims from the World Trade Center, or the Pentagon, or the heroes of that flight in Pennsylvania, or everyone who's died since, or before, or will in the future. Because I hadn't remembered.
No, I was too busy getting up and making breakfast, and petting the dog as he ate out of my hand, and putting sunscreen on a squirming kid, and reading the paper, and trying to decide whether to make mac-and-cheese that night or take everyone out, and thinking about what I might write or sell this week to further myself. But I hadn't remembered.
We're at war or we're not; and we're going to try to win or tip-toe away; and it was good that we did this or it was bad; and our tactics were terrific or they stink; and we have plenty of folks over there or we don't have nearly enough and never did; and those who've died were spent in a great cause or thrown away for nothing; and the leadership is marvelous and on top of it or clearing brush; and--Oh, you know the rest of the litany.
Either way, it all started on a watershed of slaughter four years ago, September 11, 2001. We armed, fought, and won World War II on three continents in less time. And there I was, hands on a granite counter, staring out a window with self-absorbed thoughts, the distant pock of golf balls being hit somewhere out back into a coffee cup in a gopher hole. Because I hadn't remembered.
I wonder where we'll be next year. And who will remember.
Larry Miller is a contributing humorist to The Daily Standard and a writer, actor, and comedian living in Los Angeles.