Friday, January 24 2020
cashiers, seafood stew, and kids code

Dear Journal,

Good morning, my brave weekend warriors. I can’t believe we made it to Friday, and I can’t believe that somewhere in all of this we had a day off on Monday. Martin Luther King Jr. Day feels like it happened a century ago. This week was a real slog, but as usual, I’m happy to be here writing a crisp new journal entry at my desk - right where I’m supposed to be.

My calendar reports that it is day 1 of 3 in WATER SLIDE WEEKEND. I’m sure Rodney will be bouncing off the walls even more than he was yesterday. He’s had some trouble grasping the difference between future tense and past tense. Sometimes on our way to Hy-Vee, I’ll ask “did you and momma go to Canine Sports Zone?”, and he’ll get frustrated with me. “Dad no! Not Sports Zone. Hy-Vee,” he’ll reply, as if he’s trying to snap me out of a stupor. All that to say it will be much easier for him to grasp “Alice is coming Today”.

I too can’t wait for water slide weekend. Yesterday, after taking off for the afternoon, I went to the market to pick up dinner and some ingredients needed to make a double batch of deep dish pizza. I had a whole hour to kill, so I didn’t even bother to make a comprehensive grocery list, instead opting to just lazily walk up and down each aisle, eventually getting everything I needed. Pizza is the name of the game this evening, but last night feeling burnt out from the busy week, I wanted to make seafood stew. I picked up some cod, scallops, and frozen mussels. While checking out, the cashier commented “looks like a special night!” The small invasion of privacy flustered me. I don’t like it when cashiers comment on what I’m buying, unless I invite them to do so. “Yeah, my sister is coming to visit, and she wants to try my pizza,” I replied, and as the words left my mouth, I thought What the hell does that have to do with anything?. The cashier looked down at the groceries, then looked at me, brow furrowed with concern. Then it hit me - she assumed that I was somehow going to make a pizza from scallops, mussels, cod, and fennel. “Half of this is just for tonight. The pizza is tomorrow.” The cashier laughed, “OK I was confused for a second there!” You see? This is why we don’t comment on what I’m buying. It leads us to logistics, and logistics make for tedious small talk. If we had stuck to the basics, like commenting on the weather, or even giving me crap about the Bears logo stuck to the back of my car, we could have avoided this whole mess.

Back at home with a whole two hours before our evening session of Kids Code, I put on some music and got to cooking. I cut the seafood up into chunks and dusted it with old bay, setting it aside in the fridge. I sliced the fennel, garlic, and parsley. I poured the canned tomatoes and clam juice in a blender, and just for fun I added a generous squirt of balsamic vinegar. Everything was ready to go, but it was only 4:30, so I’d have to spend the next fifteen minutes just puttering around the kitchen keeping the stew on a simmer.

Rodney and Marissa emerged from their afternoon naps and joined me at the table. As Marissa and I slurped away, Rodney studied a mussel shell at the end of his fork. “Open it up and eat what’s inside, dude,” I encouraged him. Rodney stubbornly dropped the mussel back in his soup and instead reached for another chunk of warm bread.

“This meal is always better than I expect it to be,” said Marissa. Her eyes widened, hearing the sharp edges of that conversation opener. “I didn’t mean that,” she said back peddling. “I mean fish stew just doesn’t sound like a good thing.”

“No, I know what you mean,” I replied. “This is a meal for me. I think I like making this when I’m sad or tired, and I appreciate you guys eating it.”

I departed at 5:30 sharp for Kids Code, sloshing through wet snow and carrying my heavy IT bin on my hip. The Thursday scaries were in full swing. I didn’t feel like being social, and for the entire walk over I thought about nothing but my eventual walk back to my house that would occur two hours later.

I unpacked my stuff, set up the laptops, and introduced myself to some new volunteers. Kids started trickling in and began quietly working. I greeted everyone, welcomed them back from the long holiday break, and off we went working on games. I had so much fun checking in on everyone’s side projects, it made me feel guilty for my reluctance and dinner table griping. Freddie was working on a new game called E & P’s Excellent Adventure. “It’s a two player game where you and a friend play as my brothers, Evan and Phillip, and it’s kind of like Mario, only more violent.” A small, delicately drawn ascii character lept off a platform and fell onto spikes, exploding into a mist of yellow liquid. “I changed the color of the blood. I think I made it too violent,” Freddie smirked.

Cord and his friend he brought from school were working on a 3D platformer. Cord asked me to demo his game, and I was having so much fun I lost track of time and played for a whole ten minutes. “Oh man, I’ve been here for a while, I need to… you know… make the rounds,” I said as I collected just a few more coins.

Later, I brainstormed with Moe about a new concept game he was working on. “So you’re a kid, and your family keeps asking you to do things,” Moe explained. “And the goal of the game is to be so bad at helping that they stop asking you for things.”

“I think they call that strategic incompetence,” I laughed. “That’s like a Dilbert term for when you’re bad at something on purpose so you don’t get more responsibility.” Moe’s eyes lit up. I repeated the term for him. “That’s what I’m going to call my game. Strategic Incompetence,” he said, and I was honored to contribute.

After our session, I packed the room, thanked the volunteers, then walked back home. I had so much fun at Kids Code that I actually kind of felt ashamed for my earlier reluctance. Kids have amazing ideas and they can be so creative, and it’s a privilege just to be there.

Have a great Friday, everyone.