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On the Eighth Day of Christmas, The Muse gave me a day with my nephew. Before he arrived, we’d planned to have many long rambling conversations after he arrived, but with the rug rats roiling around the ankles, we’d barely managed well-intended mumbles between wrestling one or the other of them into rough acquiescence. I’d mentioned visiting Arlington National Cemetery with the boyz, but The Muse insisted we leave them ruffians behind. She’d keep them engaged with a game of Monotony (you might recognize it by its registered trademark ‘Monopoly’) and by making a big batch of anise candy. (Yes, the boyz quickly perverted the candy name into ‘anus’; snicker, snicker. ... Boyz.)

The purpose of this excursion was not to visit the cemetery, but to provide a premise for some unencumbered conversation. The barriers to unencumbered conversation seem legion, and only some decent distractions ever provide the context necessary for it to emerge. Sitting in a carefully isolated conversation pit seems the surest way to squelch anything meaningful from ever emerging. Real conversations squirt out between distracted gaskets.

The Metro Gods were with us. Trains came and connections seemed to make themselves, and we arrived with ten minutes to make the slog up the hill to peek over heads to catch the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown. We made the long march between the final resting places of the senior military leaders of the last century, chatting about my nephew’s time in the Navy. He confessing that he was glad his missile cruiser hadn’t arrived in the Persian Gulf in time to deploy any weapons. The Navy taught him the fine art of painting over rust, swabbing deck, and manning a technology no civilian could ever find a job twiddling.

He’d also caught himself leveraging the lessons he’d learned before he knew he was learning anything. He’d survived a SOB of a step father, a man he eventually fled from, a true sociopath. Those lessons had taught him how to comply without believing. Others in his company got their backs up when encountering the insanity that passes for drill instruction, a process intended to transform sweet young men into the kind of sociopath capable of executing inhuman orders without thinking too much about the consequences. He’d shown up for basic training with a Master’s Degree in deflecting sociopathy, and advanced more quickly than the ones who needed to be patted on the back before swallowing the big lies.

This super power cuts more than one way, and the last year’s surprise single parenthood seemed to have awakened a slumbering drill instructor in my once innocent nephew. I remember him when he was two, for cripes sake, and I watched, dismayed, as his mother made one sorry selection for a second husband. I’d considered adopting him at the time, but could not figure out how to co-opt that survivalist bastard of a retread she’d selected.

My nephew has become a food engineer. His job involves designing the stuff we consume, figuring out recipes, determining how it might be manufactured, then coaching clients into production. He’s the fermentation specialist, so we retired to one of the few DC brew pubs to continue the conversation. I have no idea how to describe the guts of the conversation, punctuated with some fine brews and his equally fine analyses of the content. He has one remarkable palate, that’s for sure. Beer has always been one of the better conversation lubrications, and we slipped pretty deep between shared pints.

The Muse texted to remind us that she had a commitment at 4:30, and I proposed grabbing some treats for the abandoned boyz on the way back to the Villa. We scored a bacon-peanutbutter pop tart, along with two other outrageous flavors, on the way back, and arrived to find the Monotony game still continuing and the house smelling of anise. (Chuckle, chuckle).

I don’t remember what we ate for supper than night. I remember my nephew decanting some of his homemade hard cider, which was about as flowery and spicy as it could possibly be, concocted from the apples in his backyard. Later, he offered a taste of his Black Heart IPA, brewed in homage to his recently busted marriage, a rich velvet mouth feel. We by then held some space between us, which is to say the space between us had shriveled into insignificance.

He would be leaving with the boyz in the morning, but we both knew he’d never be far very far from here, from me, again.

©2014 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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