Matt McHugh
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Home Alone, Epilogue
April 30, 2007

As previously mentioned, I was home entirely alone—sans spouse and kids—for 48 glorious hours this week. First time in 17 years I spent a night in my own residence without any kind of co-habitant. I lived alone in an apartment for a few glorious months in my 20's—sans TV, sans phone, and (most unimaginable to me nowadays) even sans computer, though, being as it was 1989, the computer was far from integral to daily life... didn't even have one on my desk at work at the time. I shared a Mac and a WANG with about six other people. Oh, the stories I could tell you about group WANG sharing.

So, what did I do in my time alone? Worked. Worked my ass off. Did work-work on my laptop in the mornings. Spent the rest of the days cleaning the garage, powerwashing the house and fence (not an effortless task, by the way, for those of you who lust after a powerwasher as the quick and easy solution to scrubbing chores), moving and cleaning behind heavy furniture, etc., etc. From about noon until 10:00 pm both days, non-stop. They were just things I knew I could never do with the kids around, so I wanted to tackle them. In the end, the enormous list of things I didn't get to made me kind of depressed (owning a home sometimes feels like bailing out the Titanic with a colander). Still, even with that frustration, I was glad to undertake the jobs. To be honest, after two solid days of it, I was ready to go back to desk-jockeydom... though, if had more time, I think I might have hit a groove and actually started to accomplish things in a cascade. Unfortunately, I will never get to find out.

Prompted anew by this little adventure, I find myself facing a lingering question: would I be happier living alone? Because I do sometimes think just that. I am by nature a fairly solitary person and I tend to shy away from anything that increases the burden of responsibility on me, that increases the expectations others have of me. As a father and sole provider, my life is first and foremost about responsibility. I often think it odd that such a role has fallen to me, so ill-suited for it in disposition as I am. I rise to it, have no doubt. I will make no claims to unerring excellence, but I weIl know I am comfortably above the median as a parent and provider. Yet, in the end, I have to admit, I don't particularly enjoy it. Who does? I don't know. Some seem to—at least more than I. If left to my own devices, I would follow the meandering of my own mind happily to the end of my days. That doesn't mean I would be shiftless. Quite the contrary. I think of the list of things I have accomplished entirely on my own and I am sincerely impressed. This work and family gig does nothing but hold me back.

Or does it? Perhaps instead it lends a sense of urgency to the slivers of time I have to devote exclusively to my own interests I had two days home alone, and I worked non-stop. No naps or bad TV or jaunts to the local pub (well, after the first night, that is). Those hours without responsibility were precious not as vacant downtime but as an opportunity to accomplish something (scarcely matters what). Had I world enough and time, it's possible I would lose all focus and drift aimlessly between half-finished projects. Experience has taught me this truth about myself. Deadlines do help. Immensely. Knowing the house will soon enough again teem with little ones who will not give me a moment's peace to complete a thought, let a lone a task, is pure impetus to remain in motion in their absence. Is it tiring and frustrating? You bet. Are there rewards the like of which could never be known otherwise? Indeedy-do.

So... would I be happier living alone? Yes. Would I be more fulfilled? Probably not. It is a pardox, yes—but not a puzzlement.

-- mm

Home Alone
April 25, 2007

I am home alone for the first time. Ever. No wife. No kids. Not even a cat (had to whack the last one a few weeks back... another tale for another time). There's some fish, but they don't count. For the first time in my adult life, I am in my own home entirely by myself for the next 48 hours... maybe even 72. I took a few days off work to experience its full import. As this is a truly monumental occasion, I am pausing to document it.

Last night, with no reason to come home early, I lingered at a bar near work and read a magazine (which just hit the newsstands with a story of mine in it... another tale for another time). At home, I puttered around, watched dumb TV, ate junky food, sang out loud (I like to sing; I'm not good at it; this is a fine indulgence). This morning, I slept till 8:30 or so. Took an extra long shower--and my usuals are pretty long by most standards--and wandered around naked happily in the cool, spring breeze blowing through the windows. I trimmed my toenails--had a really bad ingrown one on the left little--and took a... Too much detail? Right. Moving on.

I just spent two hours answering work e-mails and it's now 11:22 am. I have kind of plans to clean and fix and organize things all around the house, so off to embark on that. We'll see how far I get, but the simple joy of the quiet and solitude is intoxicating at the moment. Right now, though, I think I'm going to go and take me another...

OK. Too much detail. Got it. Moving on.

It's 5:00 p.m. I just spent the day cleaning out the garage and it hardly looks like I made a dent it in. It's not trash day, so I can't haul what I'm throwing out (some broken furniture, several bags of toys) to the curb, and I have no car so I can't take what I plan to donate (some decent furniture, several bags of toys ... ask any parent: toys propagate like kudzu) to the Salvation Army. I did move and sweep behind most things--we have quite a rodent problem so the droppings were an issue of significance--and reorganized the tool shelves. So that's something. This weekend, the big stuff goes bye-bye.

It always astounds me how much clutter I accumulate. I am, admittedly, a bit of a "pack rat" but I defend it as an attempt to be eco-friendly and consumer-savvy, i.e., I hang on to stuff in the hope I might be able to reuse it someday, saving refuse and money. I suppose that's a textbook definition of said "pack rat"--and to that I say "So? Is that such a bad?" Anyway, sometimes you just have to cave and send a few hundred pounds of plastic and treated wood to the landfill. I know. I hate doing it, too. But nobody in this hemisphere wants any of this stuff and I'm not paying the shipping to the other. Sorry.

The frustration inherent in the task notwithstanding, I had a lovely time cleaning the garage. Seriously. That stretch of uninterrupted time to do something that needed doing in the manner I wanted to do it... pure bliss. Dirt, bugs, and squirrel poop included. I suppose if I had to do it for a living every single, stinkin' day, I'd bitch about it soon enough. But, boy, it was a pleasure.

Right. Back to work. I think I'm going to take down and scrub the dusty blinds upstairs before it gets dark. They really need it.

-- mm

Forgetting the Virgina Tech Shooter
April 19, 2007

Several things over the last few weeks kicking around in that reprehensible institution generally known as "The Media" have gotten my philosophical knickers in a twist. I shan't dignify them by naming them but simply say that I am continually shocked at how the most panderingly base entertainments can be unflinchingly foisted off as information worth scrutiny. American brains are rapidly catching up to American bodies: corpulent and ailing from a surfeit of nutrition-poor sustenance. The Media is a Mickey D's of the mind.

Anyway, the big story of this week is, of course, the Virgina Tech shootings. This is news. It must be noted, its impact should be marked nationwide with full grief and soul-searching. This is right and proper pain. That said, I have found the coverage of it largely disgraceful. The insistence on showing certain footage, on interviewing people in assorted states of distress, has become so typical it almost goes unnoticed. But it's still morbid and unnecessary. However, what's really getting me is the almost gleeful unraveling of the details of the life of the profoundly ill young man who committed the act.

I will not name him. He should not be named. His rantings should not be quoted. He should not be water-cooler gossip. This wrenching event should be memorialized. Those that died should be remembered. The perpetrator should not. The progression that allows humanity to leak from a person to a degree that renders them capable of such violence should be studied and understood in as much as it is possible. But the perpetrator should be forgotten. Ten years from now, no one—save a handful of scholars—should remember his name or his face or a single word of his ramblings. The Media should not be ushering him into infamous immortality. It is, after all, in as much as his decaying consciousness could formulate such a thought, exactly what he wanted.

Forget him. Consign him to oblivion. Don't bestow on him any shred of the twisted glorification that might someday serve as the tiniest bit of inspiration for some other diseased mind.

Remember these names and faces instead:

Virgina Tech victims as presented on

Virgina Tech victims as presented on

-- mm

So He Goes
April 12, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut died yesterday. He was 84.

I've always enjoyed his work immensely. Galapagos is one of my favorite books. In Slaughterhouse Five, he frequently ends paragraphs that describe the most absurd and/or horrific scenes with either "And so on" or "So it goes." Just classic. I really hope one of those phrases makes it onto his tombstone.

One of my favorite bits is a description of a novel by Kilgore Trout (the fictional sci-fi author that pops up in assorted Vonnegut books) where aliens re-write the New Testament: It doesn't make any sense to them that Jesus is the Son of God to start with. Basically, that makes him royalty and therefore totally out of touch with most of humanity. The aliens think the story needs a main character you can identify with. In their version, Jesus is an ordinary person who suffers an unjust punishment, and God, recognizing the injustice, raises him from the dead and adopts him as his son. Works much better.

Vonnegut is often compared to Mark Twain (in both literary style and personal appearance). I think they bookend a century-and-a-half of American literature perfectly. One of my favorite quotes from Twain is: "Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand." Certainly Vonnegut understood this. His mockery of the vast spectrum of human folly was so entertaining that you almost didn't notice how scathing it was. Almost. Many better qualified people than me will no doubt write much better obituaries, but I'm sure at least one will use this phrase—and since I haven't seen it anywhere else yet, I'm going to take credit as the first to say:

God bless you, Mr. Vonnegut

-- mm

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