“Before I started on my trip around the world, someone gave me one of the most valuable hints I have ever had. It consists merely in shutting your eyes when you are in the midst of a great moment, or close to some marvel of time or space, and convincing yourself that you are at home again with the experience over and past, and what would you wish most to have examined or done if you could turn time and space back again.”William Beebe
In my last year at Pitzer, I was walking back to my dorm after a Student Senate meeting; it was on a Sunday, probably in February. It was dark. I heard voices laughing, girls and boys, and then someone shouted at me, “Andrew Samtoy!” I went toward the middle of campus, and there was a group gathered around the fountain, all naked. “Join us!” someone said, and I saw my friends Nick, Natalie, Sabrina, and maybe ten others, all people I knew by sight.
“What are you doing?” I said.
They explained that they were starting the Pitzer Naked Society. Pitzer was a clothing-optional campus, so they were celebrating their bodies. Did I want to join?
I only remember two things from the next hour: one, someone, Nick maybe, saying, “I can’t believe Andrew Samtoy is naked with us,” and the second was me explaining that they could get money for their club. What could they use the money for? Not screen-printed shirts, of course, but I suggested trips to places like nude beaches or clothing-optional hot springs. Natalie got excited; I told her that we could get them $500 without even requiring a Student Senate vote.
A few weeks later, four of them packed into my purple Mazda Protege with cow-print seat covers and we started driving east, toward Deep Creek. The only things I remember were Natalie was in the passenger seat next to me, Jesica was in the back, and, at some point, Slide by the Goo Goo Dolls came on the radio. As soon as the first notes started playing, Natalie reached over, turned the volume up, and we sang the whole thing at full blast, screaming on I-15 out open windows into the desert sunshine. After it was done, she was beaming; she said the song just made her think of the purest expression of love.
It was toward the end of college for me; I was president of the student body, I was about to graduate with reasonable grades, and “so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees—just as things grow in fast movies—I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again.” There are a few moments I remember from that time, and often they are distilled down to a feeling. That moment will always be about love for everything and everyone, most of all youth.
And now, every spring, there is a single day when the sun is shining and the temperature is just right; pollen is in the air, trees are blooming, and nature urges me on to play Slide and sing it at the top of my lungs. This year, it happened on May 15. I was in the kitchen with Daniel, cooking breakfast, the window was open, and he said “You get to pick a song, daddy.” I picked him up in my arms and held him as the eggs were boiling, and he snuggled his arms between our bodies and pushed his cheek against my chest and I belted it out for the neighborhood to hear, and thought of Natalie Egnatchik, and Southern California, and told Daniel and the world, “What you feel is what you are and what you are is beautiful.”
Except maybe it happened differently.
John reminded me that I wrote about this in 2014, and it was different:
Once a year, in the springtime, a day comes that is crisp and sunny. There are leaves on the trees, and flowers in gardens, and it is still clearly spring on the cusp of summer. On these days, I will be driving somewhere and without any warning I will irrationally need to hear the song “Slide” by the Goo Goo Dolls.
It always takes me back to a Saturday in 2001, driving with Natalie Egnatchik from Claremont up interstate 15 into the mountains. She was in the passenger seat, and two people were in the backseat – I believe Jesica Lopez-Huskey and Salina Espinosa-setchko. We put a tape in the tape deck of my 1995 Mazda Protege and this song came on. Natalie looked out of the window and smiled and said quietly that she liked the song because it always reminded her of love, and I realized that it did the same exact thing for me. I’ve never forgotten those few moments of singing along on our way to the hot springs, because it’s the last clear time I can remember when I really felt young. I was about to graduate college, and I was in a car full of pretty girls speeding through Southern California, and in my heart I had the palpable sensation that the entire world was before me, that my future was limitless, that by sheer dint of personality or position I was bound to succeed.
Like I said, once a year, I think of those few minutes and I need to hear the song, so I will play it – now on a CD, or on my phone – and lower the window and sing along at the top of my lungs, and I’ll remember how it felt to be young, and of how many wonderful memories I’ve had since then, of all of the people I’ve met and places I’ve gone and things I’ve seen, and I’ll be so happy with how things have turned out that I start to cry.
Today was that day.
Memory. My memory. I can’t rely on it. Sometimes, I look at Daniel and think about how quickly the cells in his body are multiplying, changing, how they are being replaced, how his brain is culling synapses, how everything in him happens in me, too, how my brain cells have been replaced and replaced and replaced again and the synapses…stay in place? Change themselves? What does it mean? What do I know for sure that just ain’t so?
“Out on the road today I saw a Black Flag sticker on a Cadillac;
A little voice inside my head said ‘don’t look back, you can never look back.’
I thought I knew what love was; what did I know?
Those days are gone forever – I should just let ’em go, but”
Another story about Sonny that won’t leave me alone:
Once, I was in a bar with him and his then-fiance, Erin. I was talking to someone else, and Erin and Sonny were talking, and then Erin turned to me and called out, “Hey Samtoy! Do you have any stamps?”
Sonny smirked and looked away, as if he had the inside scoop on something, and I said, “Yeah, how many do you need?”
He turned around, triumphantly, as Erin became indignant.
“Why the fuck do you carry around stamps?” she said.
I looked at her, not sure what she was asking me. “But…what if you need to mail something?”
“How often are you walking down the street and you think, ‘Oh, I really need to mail something, I am glad I have stamps in my wallet’?” she asked, at the same time as Sonny turned to the bar and said, “I’m buying you a fucking drink.” I explained to her that I had a lifestyle that required me to mail things often, and that I often – quite frequently, really – found myself away from my fountain pen, inkwell, stationary, and writing desk, and it had long ago proved expedient to have at least two stamps on my person at all times. A burden of station, perhaps, and Sonny handed me a Scotch and we clinked glasses.
It is still something I do to this day.
I thought of that recently when I decided that I was going to start writing letters of advice to my sister’s stepson. He is a freshman in high school, worried about girls and sports and colleges and life, and I thought: what he needs is a letter from his quasi-uncle who lives in another country, and I am going to tell him things about life, like that he should always carry stamps around, or he should wait until his feet stop growing and then get a really nice pair of shoes, or he should never drink through straws. He should read books, and travel whenever possible. He should have a restaurant where he knows the chef and a bar where he knows the bartender, at least when he is old enough, for absolutely no other reason than that he will have a good place to take dates. He should develop an aesthetic, and understand beauty, and, if someone mentions “quality,” he should think of beer cans in motorcycles. He should think about luxury, and understand that a Bic pen is more luxurious than an Hermes handbag, and that pretty much anything is more luxurious than Louis Vuitton. He should know how to throw a punch and how to execute a rear naked choke. He should not be afraid to speak in public. He should pay attention to uniforms. He should know how to make bread by hand, and then make pasta, and pizzas, and he should spend time to really understand eggs. He should realize that making chili is just like making coq au vin, or pulled pork, or curry, and he should know how to turn cream and sugar into caramel. Given the choice, it would be better for him to know how to sail and fence than swing a golf club, and to be able to adjust the shutter speed and aperture of a camera instead of understand the details of American football. And, above all, he should know his own eccentricities – he should be his own kind of weird, and not apologize for it.
And he should read books.
The only book I finished in May was Empire of Pain, about the Sackler family. I kept thinking of Eric Sandy while reading it; it was the kind of book Eric would really like, beautifully told and well-edited. It was only when I was a little into it that I thought of the summer of 1999, when I was living with Nate in Washington, DC, interning for Penn, Schoen and Berland, and incredibly poor. The only place I could go on the weekends was to the Smithsonian galleries; I particularly loved the Sackler gallery, and spent hours wandering through it, falling in love with the art. I still have Shoyeido incense that I bought in the gift store there; the insert said that it was like a fine wine, and would only improve with aging, and I am now in that strange spot where it has aged so long – 23 years – that it is too valuable to me to burn, but I also want to see how it smells when it is just a bit older, because won’t it be exquisite in 2035, or 2049? What does a fifty-year-old Japanese incense smell like?
But the Sacklers sound like terrible people, and I am thankful that I never took the Oxycontin that I was prescribed for an MCL tear in 2015.
We were at a shopping mall when he stopped and said, “Look, daddy! That woman has milks!” I looked, and realised he meant breasts.
“Yes,” I said, “she does.” Because what do you say to that? “No, she doesn’t”?
“I like milks,” he said. “Do you like milks?”
“Um…yeah,” I said. Because I don’t want to lie to him. I don’t want that to be our dynamic.
“Do you really like milks?” he said.
“Um… Yeah,” I said again. I couldn’t believe I was having this conversation.
“I really like milks,” he said.
“Well, like father, like son,” I said, and patted his head, and almost started crying, because he has such a glorious future to look forward to, and he doesn’t even know it.
On the last day of May, Alice went into labor. It was hard, but we avoided the hospital, which was one of our priorities. Again, we had a home birth, and the baby was born on the exact same spot in the bedroom where Daniel was born. When some tracking app said it was the size of a poppy seed, we started calling it Poppy; then, when we learned it would be a boy, I started calling it Popeye, which is what has stuck with the adults. Daniel has decided it is named Digger Wigger. Popeye is tiny, and light, and can’t dance like Daniel, or read books, or ask funny questions, or rhyme words for hours, laughing at particularly interesting ones. He can’t shout “I WANT PAIN AU RAISIN!!!” in a bakery, or “YOU NEED ICE CREAM!!!” in the grocery store. I am sure he can make strangers smile on the street, except he has only been out once; he mostly sleeps, eats, and poops. With Daniel, every cry was an emergency, a threat, a warning; with Popeye, every cry is risible – not something to take too seriously, because his concerns are inevitably about poop, burping, or food, and even his cries just sound like him screaming, “No, No, No,” over and over. He does have almost comically large testicles – to the point where I thought something might be wrong, except none of the midwives seemed to think there was anything to be concerned about.
And he is so, so soft. On Monday, Daniel was tiny, and his skin was the softest thing I had ever encountered; now he is huge, lumbering, gigantic, and his skin is not quite sandpaper, but not quite velvet. When I have been holding Daniel, and then Alice hands me Popeye, I have to stop myself from tossing him in the air; I don’t stop myself from rubbing my cheek on his, or kissing his tiny forearms, feeling how delicate they are. And the New Baby smell – why don’t they put THAT in new cars, or spray it around houses that are for sale?
He is in a moses basket next to me, asleep, smacking his little lips. We love him. Daniel is growing into a brilliant big brother – checking in on Digger Wigger, bringing him toys, worrying when he cries, running around the flat to find absorbant cloths to wipe up the urine Popeye squirts on himself every time we change his diaper. Daniel has not shown any real signs of concern other than saying he is worried about Popeye playing with Daniel’s toys – something we have repeatedly assured him is not a current concern.
And now I have a month off to get to know the baby and support Alice and Daniel.
We were complete a week ago, and are more complete now; I am trying to notice everything I can. What a marvel this life is.
This is one of your most beautiful posts, Andrew. My heart feels full and melted simultaneously. Such a beautiful family. Thank you for sharing this with us.
I was in the bath, reading your blog, and I got to the bit about the Goo Goo Dolls, and had a bit of an “ah-ha” moment: I remembered you’d mentioned them before, so I had a quick scrum through your FB page (no mean feat with soapy fingers) and found it.
I remembered that post, because when I lived in Korea, for a short while I had a roommate, an earnest, utterly guileless Midwestern fella, who was, now that he had left home and had a paycheck, discovering heretofore forbidden music. After work, he’d come straight back to the dorm and put on the Goo Goo Dolls’ “Dizzy up the Girl”, and play back on his little Samsung stereo ad infinitum (as well as ad perpetuuem, obsessum, and non-bloody-stopum), while I busied myself with failing to learn Korean, or getting lost playing Final Fantasy 9. He would do the same to Train’s “Drops of Jupiter” and, without apparent embarrassment, Cher’s “Believe”.
The upshot of this is that I can’t hear mention of the Goo Goo Dolls without thinking of that dude sitting in his chair, gently rocking back and forth, in total contravention of whatever rhythm was playing, listening in total concentration to “Slide” on repeat.
Oh, I simply love this post so very much. The passage of time. The sweet memories they hold. And the joy and beauty of new beginnings. Thank you for sharing and congratulations on the newest addition.