The Hess Report

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

We're back on the fall schedule, which means Joy has Camerata rehearsal (I'll brag about that in another post) on Monday nights and teaches piano and voice on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. Consequently, it's me and the little ladies on those nights.

I took them to a combination playground/park tonight, one we've always referred to, for no good reason, as the "secret park". We usually have good luck with park clientele, but there have been some bad apples there on occasion. The park itself is very nice: extensive playground apparatus, as is the modern way; mulched/wood-chipped ground; large covered pavilion for picnics; porta-johns ("We're #1 in a #2 business!"); full-size soccer field and full-size softball field. This evening, it was cooling off; the air was dry and a bit breezy; the sunlight was orange and our shadows stretched half-way across the field.

We hit the playground first. There was a little girl there, holding a stuffed rabbit, crying and whining that she wanted to go home. The recipient of the fit was either her much older sister, or very young mother. I couldn't quite tell. The fitee finally agreed that they could go home. Suddenly, I heard a growling voice from across the playground. A young boy, eight or nine, said:

"Arrrrgh! We just got here! I'm not goin' anywhere!" Apparently, he was under the impression that if a fit could get them to leave, then most likely another fit could get them to stay. Seeing him, I now guessed that the older girl was either the big sister or the babysitter. They had their little showdown, and my girls started happily playing. Several minutes later, I heard the boy roar "Why are you such a pain in the ass?" which was quite enough for me. He and his sister/babysitter were probably about six feet from me, standing at about my waist level on one of the play platforms.

I put on my authority voice, pointing right at him I think, and said: "Hey! There are little kids here. Watch your mouth."

His mouth fell open, and he stared at me. The older girl looked around, clearly embarrassed by him.

"I'm really sorry, sir," she said. Heh. She called me sir. I'm only 33.

"S'okay. You didn't say it." I smiled at her. Then, I jabbed my finger at him again. "Watch your language."

He looked kind of scared, and I remembered that I can come off as overly intimidating sometimes. Threatening, even. Inside, I'm just this nice guy who's trying to do the right thing, but I've been told that it doesn't quite look that way to the disinterested observer. Oops. They left, which I think they had resolved to do before I stuck my nose in anyway, and I'm sure had nothing to do with the scary guy who had yelled at them. I saw the kid catching hell as they walked off.

As far as I can tell, Maddie and Lucy didn't notice. They were too busy playing poor lost little girl who becomes an architect, and rich lady who calls the police because she needs help climbing the monkey bars.

Too soon, it was getting late, and we detoured through the soccer field on our way to the car. The field itself is on a raised terrace, fenced on two sides by forest. It must be a sort of local maxima for altitude, as your view of the sky is not clipped by hills, a rarity in western Pennsylvania. It also happens to be under the flight path of many jets departing Pittsburgh International. You can see them coming from the horizon. Sometimes two or three go by in fairly rapid succession.

As we scaled the terrace to get to the field, a jet flew over, and the lighting and weather conditions reminded me of another night, three years ago, in that same park. It was almost a full week after September 11, 2001, and I had taken the girls there, Lucy only a baby. Everyone was still feeling freaked out, confused and angry, myself included. We see air traffic all the time at our house, and its absence for the previous week had been unnerving. As I watched Maddie run around the soccer field that night, I noticed moving lights on the horizon. They multiplied, grew, spread out a bit. Airliners. I let Maddie roll and play in the wet grass, happily oblivious, as I watched plane after plane after plane streak over my head, the first ones I had seen in days. Most likely, they were only pilots and other staff, returning to their home ports for the big air travel reset, but I was grateful for the balls that it took for them to get back up in the air. Two months later, Joy and I would be on a plane ourselves, heading to Vegas for the trip I won on Jeopardy!, slightly nervous, waiting it out in Atlanta during an airport security incident. But that night, watching the string of flights shine in the darkening sky, I experienced a first small feeling of triumph as the country slowly got up off of its knees from the worst sucker punch in our history.

I was there again tonight, and felt again why so many men left homes and families to fight on foreign soil in the dark days after December, 1941. But tonight, we ran in the wet grass and tossed stuffed animals back and forth and watched the planes go by.

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