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Nick You, MN.

In my memory it was aways night.

We are off to Minneapolis tomorrow. Why? Because Katherine's publisher has arranged for her to attend the Midwest Bookseller's . . . um, I'm going to say Convention? Association? Association Convention? And schmooze and sign books and then spend a day lecturing sullen 6th graders.

How do I know they'll be sullen? Please. Sixth grade. You were there. I'll bet you can still do the blank, slack-jawed stare.

So, four nights in Minneapolis. We used to live in Minneapolis. Minneapolis is where we made the transition from adolescence to adulthood. I was 42. Yes, a little late.

My son was born while we were in Minneapolis. One day we were happy-go-lucky skyway-system denizens, with a downtown apartment, doing pretty much whatever the hell we liked. And the next day -- I don't remember any interlude -- we were at the NICU.

Jake came early. Two months early. Our child-birthing classes were scheduled for a couple weeks after he was born. (We canceled.) He was born and my main concern was that he had a conehead. No one had warned me about coneheads. Katherine recovered from delivery and I followed Jake as he was wheeled through an interminable, dark tunnel to the NICU.

Ten years later I still tear up when I think of the NICU nurses. They had the competence of a nuclear submarine crew. They knew their jobs, they knew their equipment, they knew what to do with big, dumb, 42-year-old teenagers who've just had the ground shift beneath them and are looking a tad dazed. I loved those women. I love competence. I'll do anything for someone who is simply good at their job so I don't have to worry about their shit and can just worry about my own.

Plus, they took care of my little boy. My yellow-tinted, coneheaded, five pound little boy.

Anyway, long story short, Jake grew into a great, hulking beast of a ten-year-old. But not in Minneapolis. We moved to Chicago. For the weather. Uh hah. Uh hah. Okay, we moved for the lower state tax rate and Charlie Trotter.

Now, here's the thing. Our corner of the NICU was a room with four stations or berths or whatever you want to call it. (Four beds, although "bed" seems an exaggeration for an incubator or a billi-table where they put tiny eyeshades on your kid and shine a spotlight on him so he'll stop looking like a pumpkin.) Over each berth/bed/cabin there hung a big monitor with life sign readouts. Four of these in a room, so one of them was erupting in car alarm sounds pretty much all the time. It was alarms and flashing lights and tubes and read-outs and at times it looked like the kid was being swallowed by machines.

Anyway, Jake grew up with two signal characteristics: an inability to sleep, and an affinity for technology that borders on savantism. I blame/credit the NICU. Set off a screaming alarm every eight seconds, see how well you sleep. But the flip side is that somehow that tiny, yellow, coneheaded baby, surrounded by insistent technology, absorbed the non-human DNA of all those machines, and became capable of linking to computers in a way I wouldn't even try to duplicate. At age ten he speaks Scheme and html and flash better than I speak French.

I'm thinking of taking Jake back to see the NICU when we go there. To thank the nurses for the kid. (Who just today -- like most days -- I was threatening to kill.) Funny how I don't remember the doctors, but the nurses? For the rest of my life I'm going to feel like I owe the race of nurses.

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“Nick You, MN.”

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