Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Just some random stuff that happened that will blow your mind (*update--some "expert" tells me that "first steps" are a "big deal," so I guess I should mention that here in the title*)

I'm kind of burnt from all the sentimental crap I wrote here last week.  This Random Tuesday thing could not have come on a better day.  Click on that purple thing at the bottom when you are done reading this simple montage of staggering genius.

***

We went to the zoo last Friday with my Asian Mommies group.  As usual, it was awesome.  I was pretty proud of my wrangling skills, too.  At 8:30 a.m., I was like, better get a move on--gotta meet the Mommies at 8:45 at the zoo.  Then, like a flash, I got the diaper bag together, loaded the double stroller into the roof-mounted cargo carrier, and got the babies in the car.

And then I smelled the poop.  So I unloaded the kids, ran back to the house and upstairs to the diaper station, changed Butterbean, ran back to the car, loaded them up, and got to the zoo by 8:50, five minutes before the organizer of the trip showed up.

We always get rock star treatment on these excursions--a tour guide, story time, music and dancing.



Twins and submerged hippo butts



You know how I always act like whatever, it's no big deal--I'm in a mommy group?  That's mostly how I feel.  But there was a moment or two during the last zoo trip where I felt a little strange being the only dude in a pack of stroller-pushing mamas.  

I think it's precisely because they no longer make any fuss over me that I sometimes have a flash of unease.  I used to bask in my novelty status.  Now I'm one of them.  The emasculation is complete.    





 I made this for breakfast yesterday




Oh yeah.  The babies both took their first steps.  Cobra did it at the birthday party on Saturday.  She walked about ten steps across the deck to try to get to me so no one would try to pick her up.  Butterbean   soon followed suit, and also agreed to be captured on video taking a few steps on the day after the party.  Cobra was not interested in performing for the camera.




Cobra has figured out what telephones are for, and she did agree to be filmed while having a chat with a business associate.





Oh, man.  Birthday party.  The best shots of this gala were taken by my sis-in-law, and we don't have those pictures yet.  But here's a little taste:


Waiting for the cupcakes




Not too sure about the cupcake



Wanna bite?  Psyche/Sike.

The birthday party was great fun, or so I hear.  The night before the party, after we put the kids to bed, we started making ready for our sixteen adult and twelve toddler guests.  I made three lasagnas.  Dr. Mom baked special baby cupcakes (for babies, not of babies) with very little processed sugar and all kinds of healthful stuff, and very unhealthful brownies for grownups.  It was 2:00 a.m. by the time we cleaned up the kitchen.

The next morning, after we put the babies down for nap #1, we cleaned the entire house from stem to stern, made side dishes, set up a canopy on the deck, decorated (a little bit), and tried to hide all of our dangerous or embarrassing items.

Once the guests arrived, I drank two IPA's and then realized I hadn't slept very much or eaten anything recently.  I talked to a lot of people but don't really remember much about it.  It's nice to talk to grownups sometimes.

Holy crap, the loot these kids got!  So many nice things that we would never have bought for them, including tasteful toys that we can keep on display when people come over, much like our bookshelf full of classics in the living room, where none of the fluff we actually read resides.  And clothes!  They now have outfits that cost more than my best (only) custom-made suit (which cost $75.00 in Vietnam--but still).  

So last week was a pretty busy one, and this week is starting out pretty eventfully too.  We took the kids out in the bike trailer the last two days, since they crossed the magical one-year threshold that makes so many formerly dangerous activities suddenly safe.  And in one hour, I will be taking them to their doctor's appointment to get shots, have blood drawn, and get poked and prodded.  I'm doing this solo for the first time.  I need a cameraperson for this.

randomtuesday 

Friday, June 25, 2010

Happy Birthday, Babies! (Also bah humbug)

Could these "special days" pile up on me any more?!  First it's Father's Day, then our wedding anniversary, and now it's the twins' birthday.  Triple bah humbug!  Or bah humbug x4 even, on account of the double birthday.

Birthday celebrations?  Give me a break.  Everybody was born on one day or another.  Happy birthday, everybody.  I'm glad you were born.  Do we really have to do this every stinkin' year?  Sheesh.

From now on, I declare the Sunday closest to June 25th "Birthfatherversary Day" in our house.  Adults shall feast on hamburgers, beer, and cake.  Children may smash a pinata, but it will be inside an industrial strength trash bag and they will be allowed exactly three minutes to pick their steamed vegetables out of the bag before Dad throws it in the dumpster.

Friends and family have been saying, "I can't believe it's been a year since they were born!  It seems like just the other day."  Although I usually nod and say, "I know, right?  It's crazy," I really believe that this is a load of crap.  It seems exactly like a year to me.  In fact, this might be the single most accurately calibrated year on record.  Remember the character in Catch 22 who always tried to make everything as tedious as possible to increase his perceived tenure on earth?  That's kind of like me this year.  But I'm not trying to manipulate time.  It's just that there's been a lot of stuff to do.  Real stuff, like grownups do.  Building a house.  Raising kids.  It's like in the olden days, when time didn't whiz by in a blur of cocktail parties and exotic vacations.  It's not tedious, really.  Just old-fashioned.  The year we went to Croatia, Argentina, and Lake Tahoe?  That took like a month and a half.

***

So here's the part where I poignantly reminisce about my babies' first year on Spaceship Earth.  Get your hankies out.

Labor: So boring. 48 hours.  My most vivid recollection is seeing a lot of  the 1959 movie "Anatomy of a Murder" for the first time, in which Jimmy Stewart speaks frankly about panties.  Dr. Mom was bored too.  And more uncomfortable than me.  Of course she was a trouper/trooper and didn't complain at all.  What did you expect?  

Delivery: Wow!  So exciting I could hardly process it.  It was like the time when we saw KA in Vegas after drinking a couple martinis, except it all happened in ten minutes.  They had to do a C-section, and it was over almost as soon as it started.  A close friend of ours who is an OB doc happened to be on call at the hospital, and our regular OB was like, "Do you want to do the C-section?"  Our friend didn't really want to cut Dr. Mom open, but she agreed to assist.  So that's my memory of the operation.  Dr. Mom was there too, of course; but she was all enshrouded and a little out of it.  I was focused on the action.  Our friend, with whom we had enjoyed many delicious dinners, pleasant excursions to the beach, and mellow evenings watching movies, was all of the sudden, "RETRACT, RETRACT...GIVE ME THAT CLAMP...MOP MY BROW...METZENBAUM SCISSORS...GET THAT CAT OUT OF HERE!"  They sliced my wife right open!  And then Cobra came out!  And then Butterbean came out!

There was something about their first cries that was...ah...so pure, I guess...primal, obviously.  I can still feel it in my chest like I was breathing air for the first time too.  And hear it.  In fact, I still hear it quite a bit.

 "A" is for Asian.  We thought Cobra looked more Asian than her sister at birth.  But really, most babies look kind of Asian



"B" is for Butterbean



Home: We settled into a routine of chaos.  I was about halfway through building the addition that would double the size of our house.  We were down to 800 square feet of livable space, with a back door that opened onto a full-blown construction site, where I worked about twelve hours a day.  My mother-in-law stayed with us for the first month, cooking nonstop on the industrial gas burners we had set up in the wood frame of what would become the family room, and shooing me away when I tried to calm a screaming baby or two in the middle of the night.  Thank Little Baby Jesus for her.  Dr. Mom became a baby-feeding automaton who could only eat, sleep, hold babies, and produce milk.

I was fond of the twins right off the bat, but it was all still more than a little surreal and often frustrating.  I have problems dealing with people and things that don't have the ability to reason.  They were two little squawk boxes writhing around in a crib, mostly unaware of their surroundings and their fellow human beings.  It's a good thing I read a book that explained the concept of the "fourth trimester"--the 3 month period when a baby is more like a fetus than a person--because there were times when I thought, this can't be right...why are they screaming like this?...this is not a sensible evolutionary adaptation...I don't feel like protecting this baby right now, I feel like getting it as far away from me as possible.

Growing on each other: Genetics isn't everything.  But it's powerful stuff.  When your kid looks kind of like you, or your spouse, or your grandfather, or your sister-in-law, that's when it starts getting real.  At least it did for me.  Most people say that Cobra looks like me, and Butterbean looks like her mom.  I can see that.  But I didn't realize it by staring at the girls and analyzing their features.  I noticed it when I was looking in the mirror and yawning, or squinting, or brushing my teeth.  I look just like that kid!  And Butterbean looks just like her cousin when she sneezes!  And Cobra looks like my sister's baby pictures!  Have we got a family here, or what?

Dr. Mom stayed home during the first four months, while I more or less finished the addition.  So although I was technically in the same house as the babies, I might as well have been on a jobsite in another town.  Except I got to pop in and play with them every couple of hours.  During this time, especially after they started getting cute and developing personalities, I had some ambivalence about their progress.  Each tooth that came in felt like a month that went by too fast and would never come back.


Home




Dad at the office

But since I have become the boss of childcare, I no longer jealously guard their babyhood.  Each new development seems to happen just as I am becoming prepared for it.  Their mobility and ability to express themselves is commensurate with my growing ability to identify potential hazards and...um...not always express myself as candidly as I would among grownups.  We seem suited to one another.


Cobra (L) and Butterbean.  About 4 months old?


I feel a little guilty, I guess, that I've got it so good.  Dr. Mom had to do the heavy lifting (with help from grandmas, grandpas, and aunties) for the first four months, which was brutal.  And most families are lucky if one parent even gets to stay with the kid(s) during that trying "fourth trimester."  I'm allowed to do all the fun stuff that is often reserved for outside daycare providers.

But I'm sure the comeuppance is nigh.  Keeping that in mind tempers my annoying optimism.  For instance, instead of rhapsodizing about my wonderful, nap-loving, happy babies right now, I'm supposed to be preparing the house for their birthday party tomorrow.

Birthday party?  For one-year-olds?  Are you kidding me?  The best we can hope for is that they won't have long-lasting psychological damage from the overwhelming stranger anxiety they're sure to experience.  Or the profane muttering of their old man as he cleans the house and arranges the frilly pink party favors. 



Hanging out on the deck.  I just got the handrail on in time for the party.  Redwood and stainless steel cables, if you're interested in that kind of stuff.


Cobra



Butterbean with her latest fetish--the play salt shaker.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Pots, willows, and nine years of wedded bliss

I looked up the traditional gift theme for ninth anniversaries, and it's "pottery and willow".  I suppose I should be throwing a pot right about now like Patrick Swayze's ghost (is it too soon?), but we're not really into gifts so much around here, especially symbolic ones that take up precious shelf space.

It's funny though--when I went to my wife's parents' house a little over ten years ago to ask for her hand in marriage, I brought along some pussy willows as a gift.  When I was a kid living in Europe, pussy willows were a big Easter tradition, and it was early spring when we went to talk to Dr. Mom's parents, and they are hard-to-the-core Catholics, so I thought it might be just the gesture to put me over the top.

But it wasn't going to be as simple as all that.  My future mother-in-law took my offering and put it in the corner, saying something to Dr. Mom in Vietnamese that I'm pretty sure meant, "He brought us a bundle of sticks?  For what?" 

After lunch, when I announced my intention to marry their daughter within the year, before we moved from Virginia to California where Dr. Mom would do her medical residency, my future father-in-law (we call him Bo--Vietnamese for "Dad") was much more amenable to the idea than we had expected him to be.  His response was, more or less, Slow down there, cowboy--you kids can get married, that's fine, but it's going to be on my terms. 

Because there was a real chance that her parents would forbid our marriage, seeing as how my profile (white heathen manual laborer) wasn't exactly what they had dreamed of as husband material for their eldest, we had been prepared to call their bluff and say we were going to have a small wedding with or without their approval and we would love for them to join us, and if they couldn't accept it now, we hoped that they would learn to in the future.  

I had done my part with the boldness and the man-to-man and my confident opening gambit, so now it was time to hear Bo's demands:

1) The wedding would be a full-on Vietnamese Catholic shindig with all the bells and whistles.
2) There would be an engagement ceremony
3) There was no way the wedding would happen that year because...
4) I had to convert to Catholicism, which entails about a year of training and corresponds to the church calendar so that it ends with baptism and confirmation on Easter Sunday

Seemed reasonable.    

And for the next couple hours, I sat there feeling like a ten-year-old, trying to look like I had some idea what was going on as Dr. Mom and her parents hammered out the details in Vietnamese.  There were plenty of tears and raised voices, but Vietnamese is a tonal language in which each word has a certain pitch and each phrase has a melody, so it's difficult for a non-speaker to glean whether a conversation is desperate or hopeful or angry.   I'm pretty sure there was a thread of dissuasion coming from the camp of  her parents, but Dr. Mom was kind enough to not give me a play-by-play translation.

By the time we dropped the bomb on her parents that day, Dr. Mom and I had been...um...friends for nine years already.  I had met her parents quite a few times, and was great buddies with all her many siblings, the youngest of whom was six when I started being friends with his big sister.

But Dr. Mom was not allowed to date, so, you know, we could only be friends.  I was known as "The Guy Who Fixes Her Car" by my future in-laws.  We would have liked to be more than friends, sure, but her parents didn't want her dating while she was in college because she was too young and it would distract her from her studies.  So what could we do?  They tried to set her up with a couple Vietnamese guys when she got close to graduating from college, but that never went anywhere.  Then she graduated, worked at a research lab for a couple of years while taking some classes and studying for the MCATs, and finally went to medical school for four years.  Her parents didn't think she should allow herself to be distracted by dating during med school either.

During that nine-year friendship, I had also graduated from college (2 years earlier than Dr. Mom), worked some carpentry jobs (just a temporary thing until I figured out what I wanted to do with my life, of course), started my own two-bit construction company, turned thirty and seen a lot of my peers get married, have kids, get divorced, get remarried, etc.

But that stuff wasn't for me and my good pal, Dr. Mom--my platonic buddy who lived in the same town but in a totally different house than me because it would be wrong to live in sin and besides, how would we pull something like that off when her parents lived only two hours away?  Would we invent a fictional roommate for Dr. Mom and shove all my stuff into "her room" and lock it when her parents came to visit and pack up all my tools and my dog and my two trucks and have me crash on a friend's couch for a couple of days?  Would we have a separate phone line that only her parents knew the number to so that I wouldn't answer the phone if they called?  Would we continue the increasingly transparent charade even after we moved to California? Of course not.  Because that would be not only wrong but completely insane.  That kind of stuff only happens in wacky sit-coms.  No--for nine years we just waited patiently for the time we could begin our formal courtship and determine whether we were romantically compatible.  Pretty much what anyone in that position would do, I suppose.

So, having secured Bo's conditional blessing, we headed back home (to our *ahem* separate houses), and started working on the logistics.  I would have to sign up for adult catechism as soon as we moved to California, which was a bitter pill given my religious background of Skeptical Humanism.  We would have to organize a reception at Dr. Mom's parents' house.  My parents, of course, would have to fly in from across the country, and we would need to assemble a group of my buddies to carry a roast pig to the front door. We would have to procure some symbolic items like betelnut for a gift to the family, and rustle up some traditional Vietnamese attire.  And after that was all over, we'd have to start thinking about planning the wedding.

Oh--the pig and the betelnut and traditional costumes?  That was just for the engagement party, a simple little affair where the prospective groom and his parents and homies present the family with certain offerings, and the father of the prospective groom asks the father of the prospective bride permission for his son to start courting her, the father of the bride asks the grandfather (ong) of the bride, and when Ong gives his blessing, an aunt presents the daughter for introduction to the young man.  After that, there is much burning of incense, praying (naturally there is a priest present), feasting, and karaoke.  Nothing fancy.  We saved that for the wedding,  about which I wrote a little at the end of this post, and which maybe I'll write more about next year, if the PTSD has eased its grip on me.

Many of my friends and co-workers were surprised that I could tolerate the conditions of the years leading to our official courtship and marriage.  Some counseled me to confront my future in-laws: to "man-up" and tell them that I didn't need their permission to date their daughter.  I usually responded by pointing out that I went for nine years without having to deal with in-laws, so they should feel nothing but envy for me.  What I didn't say, because you can get punched in the head for saying this on a construction site, is that, like the willow, our love grew stronger by being flexible and supple as it was buffeted by ill winds.  And like some pottery, our passion grew shiny and, um, watertight in the fiery kiln of cross-cultural conflict.

Bam!  Nailed it.





Happy ninth anniversary, Honey!







 My dad asks if it's okay for Dr. Mom and me to go a-courtin'




 Bo says, "I don't know.  Let me check with my dad first."  (I'm the guy lurking in the background, wearing a dress and pillbox hat, feeling like a kid playing an ox in the Christmas pageant.)




Ong says, "Yeah, sure, why not?  Whatever."


I know I have a picture of the roasted piglet somewhere, but I'm not going to try to dig it up right now.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Happy Patriarchy Day

I'm glad I waited until the last hour of Father's Day to write this, because otherwise I would have gotten it all wrong.

I was going to start out by saying Bah Humbug, which is the way I start out every holiday.  Then I was going to talk about how dads already get more credit than we're due when it comes to child-rearing, so there's no reason to set aside a whole day to celebrate us when we really deserve no more than a certificate of participation.  That observation is not my intellectual property, by the way.  The first stay-at-home dad I ever knew told me that people regularly commended him about how "brave" he was for doing a job that every woman is expected to excel at and for which she can expect no accolades unless she's a celebrity.  And just the other night I was reading an essay by Michael Chabon that made the same point, but of course with exquisite lyrical tumidity.   Indeed, it has been my experience that most folks, when they find out that I've been taking care of these little girls for the better part of the year and none of us has required hospitalization, are ready to nominate me for a Nobel Prize.

But I decided not to hate on Father's Day this year because the embarrassing ticker-tape parade as I walked through the farmer's market and the crashing servers due to all my emails and Facebook messages did not quite materialize.

In fact, I received more Facebook well-wishing on Mother's Day than I did today.  But I'm not going to try to unpack that right now either, because I'm too full of ice cream, wine, and self-satisfaction.  My wife made dinner tonight and I didn't even have to do the dishes, and that's exactly the amount of recognition I am comfortable with.  It's a gesture that says, "Yes, you are the World's Best Dad, but don't expect a coffee mug."

And I'm pretty sure my own dad feels the same way.  But I'm going to mention a couple things about him anyway, without making a big deal about it and embarrassing him.

Things I may or may not have learned from my dad but probably should have

1) Don't be an idiot: Dad is really smart and, as far as I know, never did the stupid stuff I used to do like wrecking cars, wasting money, and generally being a liability to himself and others.

2) Don't be an asshole: I never witnessed or heard an account of my dad being unfair to anyone.  I've seen him get angry about five times, and all of them were with good reason.  At least two of those incidents were caused by me. 

3) Don't be a pussy: Dad was in the Army for about 25 years and retired as a full colonel.  He did two tours in Vietnam, had a chest full of medals, a Ranger tab on his shoulder, and Airborne insignia even though he doesn't really care for heights.  I've never seen him show fear.  (Except that one time when he was a little nervous at my wedding--see #10)

4) Don't be vulgar: I've heard my dad cuss about five times.  Usually it's while quoting someone in the context of a story.  If the cussing is in anger though (see item #2), you know things have gotten very serious.  It's really effective to only cuss in the most extreme situations.  Unfortunately I have not learned this lesson well, and I have no high-impact words in reserve, should the need for them arise.  

5) Have some style: According to legend, Dad used to get his fatigues tailored, and Mom would press and starch them.  When he became a civilian and worked for the Defense Department, he favored Armani shirts with French cuffs.  I don't think he's ever had a car that wasn't customized in some way.  He still skis like it's the seventies: you can pick him out from two hundred yards away because no light is visible between his legs--it's not the way they teach people to ski these days, but it looks pretty badass.

6) Have some culture: Although he's from Montana via Arkansas, and everyone else in his family makes (or made) their livings farming, ranching, driving trucks, working on the railroad, etc., Dad loves opera, espresso, crusty ciabatta,  and highbrow literature.  We lived in Europe for many years when I was a kid, and Mom and Dad dragged us around art museums and historical landmarks all the time.

7) Do cool stuff: My dad is way cooler than me, and I wouldn't be able to forgive him for that if I didn't hope that by the time I'm his age I will have caught up.  If that's the case, I have some busy decades ahead of me.  During his career, Dad learned Vietnamese and Russian fluently (even now, Russians think he's a native speaker with a slight regional accent), led troops into battle, trained ROTC cadets to fight on skis (among other things--but that was the coolest), was a diplomat at the U.S. embassy in Moscow during the Cold War, and negotiated arms reduction treaties in Europe after the fall of the Soviet Union.  Now he spends the winters skiing and the summers mountain biking.

8) Books are good for more than just book-larnin': Dad always had those Sunset home improvement books around, as well as Chilton manuals for the cars.  Armed with those, a basement full of tools, and a cultural background in which men were expected to be able to build and fix things (women too, to some extent--my mom certainly has driven her share of nails), we built a log cabin on the side of a mountain (literally--the downhill side of it is on sixteen-foot posts) in Montana, upgraded every house we lived in that wasn't government property, and kept all the cars more or less roadworthy.

9) Beverages are important:  I've never seen my dad act buzzed.  But he sees no reason not to have beer, wine, coffee, and cognac with a meal.

10) Do cool stuff for your kids: Here's one example.  When my wife and I got married there were 350 people at the reception, 275 of whom were, like my wife, Vietnamese.  Probably 150 of the Vietnamese guests were my dad's age or older, and most of them had been in or around Saigon at the same time my dad was there, and had fled the country when the communists took over.  

Over the course of the reception, the old Vietnamese guys had been flocking around Dad and comparing notes about the old days.  I'm sure Dad hadn't been around so many Vietnamese people for 35 years, and it must have been surreal and maybe disorienting (I know even I had a couple flashbacks, having watched Full Metal Jacket twice).  But when the MC asked my dad to give a toast, he finished his beer (and his wine, and the beer of the guy next to him as I recall), and took the stage.  

He gave a toast, in Vietnamese, which he hadn't spoken for over three decades, honoring all the Vietnamese heroes he had served with, many of whom, he said, were in the reception hall at that moment.  I had seen some of my father-in-law's buddies get choked up while singing patriotic Vietnamese karaoke songs, but never before had I seen a hundred ong's weeping in their Heinekens like that.

For the nine years preceding that moment, I had been painstakingly clawing my way into my future in-laws' good graces, which was necessary since I was the first non-Vietnamese person to attempt to marry into their family, and I wasn't even a lawyer or engineer.  I was on pretty solid ground with the nuclear family by that point, but the community of which my father-in-law was a pillar was certainly skeptical.  But after that toast, I was golden.  As far as the crowd was concerned, I was from the best of stock.  And regardless of which lessons I did and did not learn from my dad, I couldn't agree with them more.         


  

Thursday, June 17, 2010

From Discipline Blockade to Panopticon: Foucault and Good Night Gorilla




Peggy Rathmann's Good Night Gorilla is a parable in which zoo animals, led by a plucky gorilla named Gorilla, stage a bloodless revolt against their guard, Joe the zookeeper.  As Gorilla, having stolen the zookeeper's keys, liberates each animal from its cell, it becomes clear that this story has little to do with zoo animals, but rather examines ways in which power and discipline are woven into even the earliest stages of human life.





As Joe, the hapless zookeeper, makes his rounds and says goodnight to all the animals, Gorilla stays close on his heels, releasing all his comrades.  But it's not massacre they have on their minds (despite what Lion's chop-licking gaze at Joe's tender flesh might suggest) or even a chance to live in the wild.  These animals simply want to upgrade their accommodations and sleep in the zookeeper's bedroom with him and his wife.  In this way, the animals are very like human children who challenge the norms established by their parents and society, but whose rebellion is only in pursuit of innocuous ends.







And yet these animals live their lives behind bars.  As far as we know they have committed no criminal act.  The bars are only meant to prevent them from acting on their instincts to run away or to commit violence: their "criminal psychology," if you will.  

Aspects of Michele Foucault's theory of power-knowledge help shed light on the seeming paradoxes of Good Night Gorilla, simply by asking us to theorize power not as a negative, obstructionist force, but rather as one productive of knowledge.  Power is not necessarily hierarchical; it operates differently depending on the situation and the individuals who interact within that situation.  Thus, the animals do not necessarily want to rise up against their keepers as we have become used to assuming, but only tentatively challenge some elements of the power structure.  In addition, Foucault's theory of the role discipline and punishment plays in power relations provides a framework for understanding the remarkably positive outcome of the zoo animals' incarceration.  

Foucault posits that one of the underpinnings of modern Western culture is the "carceral society," in which the technologies of punishment (and of incarceration, more specifically) extend to society at large.  He refers to incarceration itself as the discipline blockade, and posits that of the technologies that originate within this blockade and radiate into public life,  constant surveillance is the most powerful deterrent to violating societal norms.  He uses the image of the Panopticon--Jeremy Bentham's design for the ultimate prison, in which cells are arranged around a central guard station that has visual access to every inmate at all times--as a metaphor for how institutionalized power controls society through surveillance, or even just the threat of it. 

The zoo in Good Night Gorilla is both a discipline blockade and a literal iteration of the Panopticon, as all of the animals are simultaneously caged and exposed to the gaze of the authorities and the visitors.  And thanks to the subversive Gorilla, the inmates are able to escape the discipline blockade.  So why don't the animals maul the zookeeper and flee for the forest?  It is both because of the figurative Panopticon, whose presence they have come to accept as ubiquitous and inescapable, and due to their comfort within the power structure.  They have no ill will toward Joe--in fact, they long only to be closer to him by sleeping in and around his bed.





And what of the incorrigible Gorilla, who, with his tiny accomplice the mouse (who travels freely between the zoo and society, and yet is an outsider in both places) repeats his crime even after the zookeeper has returned all the animals to their cages following the first escape attempt?  Foucault posits that recidivism does not indicate a failure of the penal system, but rather allows for the construction of a "criminal psychology" which supports the need for constant surveillance.  Had Gorilla stayed in his cage after the first incident, there would appear to be no need for the technologies of his incarceration extending beyond the walls of the zoo.

Similarly, a child who is becoming more independent may experience a gradual dissolution of the discipline blockade (switching from a crib to a bed, for example), but will always feel the effects of panopticism, whether in the form of parental scrutiny, electronic monitors, school, work, marriage, or virtually any other institution he or she interacts with.  And the child's recidivism, even if the crime is nothing more than trying to climb in bed with his or her parents, only proves that surveillance is necessary, since a child's instincts for mayhem, like an animal's, constitute a criminal psychology that must be tempered with discipline.    



   
Discipline Blockade

















  

































Tuesday, June 15, 2010

RTT: Earthquakes, spousal cruelty, bathroom concerto

randomtuesday
 Click above after reading below.


 Earthquake Weather

We had a pretty good sized earthquake here last night.  After living in California for ten years, this is only the third one I've actually been aware of as it happened, although many have occurred as I obliviously went about my business.  If the quake happens at night I invariably sleep through it, and if it's during the day and I don't see any buildings toppling, I just mistake it for my usual disequilibrium.  Nonetheless, although I'm no connoisseur, I think I'm qualified to offer a couple observations.

First off, for anyone back East who thinks California is scary because of our tectonic tendencies, earthquakes ain't shit compared to hurricanes or blizzards or ice storms.  While temblors are dramatic for a couple of seconds, you don't usually lose power for days on end or skid off the road or have roofs blow off and trees fall on your car.

But I can't deny that quakes are pretty exciting for that fleeting moment.  The first one I felt was when we were up in the Bay Area.  We lived in a three hundred square foot cottage on a yuppie commune we had founded (more on that another day), and my wife and I were lying in bed reading, under the awning formed by the system of shelves I had built right above our heads to hold a couple hundred pounds of clothing.  But the stability of the shelves was not my first concern.  "Earthquake" had not occurred to me as an explanation for why our little house had just heaved upward and come crashing back down accompanied by a sound like thunder.

No, I was pretty sure a winged monster had pounced on our roof and shaken the house to its foundation.  We had just seen the movie "X-Men," and I had mutants on my mind.  My first impulse (after emitting a grunt-y caveman scream) was to use my body to shelter my wife from falling debris and gargoyle claws.  Neither of which materialized.  Later, I would be very impressed with myself for being so chivalrous.   

By the time we figured out it was an earthquake, it was over.  It had been a four-point-something, and the epicenter was about a mile from our house, in the old county graveyard where I used to walk the dog and read inscriptions on the headstones, several of which included the affix "C.S.A."  When I learned the details about the quake, I pictured partially decomposed Confederate soldiers-turned-prospectors-turned-vintners shambling around the neighborhood, angry at having been awakened from their slumber by the earthquake.

The quake last night had a different feel than the big one we had up north.  Last night's was a much smoother affair that made the house roll from side to side like a canoe in the wake of a distant ship.  Again, it took a while to figure out what was happening, and by the time my wife and I said the word "earthquake," it was all but over.  There was no time to discuss whether it was better to get under a door frame, like they used to tell you (and which, being a carpenter, I always thought made no sense whatsoever); or arrange some furniture to make a sloped overhead shelter or some such impractical nonsense they recommend now; or to run out into the street like every fiber in your being tells you to do.

In any case, it was good to see that our house held together.  Half of the house was built in 1910, using single-wall construction and a post-and-pier foundation.  In layman's terms, it's a shack.  Both my wife and I have had ominous dreams about the shack--in her dream it broke in half, and in mine it tipped over on its side.  The other half of the house was built by me over the past year, per local building codes, with all kinds of California-specific seismic design considerations.  My wife and I were in the old part, and it swayed and flexed with the undulating earth.  I wish I could have been both places at once, to gauge the differences in the way the two part of the house reacted.  I imagine that the new section just shifted and grunted a bit as the old shack section nimbly absorbed the waves like a Shinto temple.  But I'm glad the kids are sleeping in the part that's built to code.

***

More Cruelty from Dr. Mom

So I decided to teach only one class starting in July, rather than the two classes the dean of the little art college offered me.  I went in to talk to her yesterday, and we had a good chat.

One of the things I learned is that the little art college has a dress code for its professors, which boils down to one rule: no jeans.  This was a little disconcerting, considering it had been a stretch for me just to put on jeans for my meeting with the dean since I wear shorts and t-shirts every day without fail.  Also, I not infrequently, when preparing to go somewhere in public, ask my wife, "Do you remember if I slept in this shirt last night?"  The answer is usually "yes."
So I come home and tell my wife about the talk and the dress code, and worry aloud that my non-jeans pants, the ones I used to wear when I taught high school, would no longer fit.

"Do you want to use one of my Bella Bands?" she asks.  



***

A Command Performance

A while ago, I posted some random videos that included me playing guitar while trying to keep my kids from having tantrums or falling off of the bed.  A number of readers asked me to post more guitar videos.  That number was one.

So I put together what I humbly consider one of the best renditions of Villa Lobos's "Prelude #1" ever recorded on a 100 dollar out-of-tune guitar in a shower with babies beating on plastic tubs.

This is for you, Steamy (whose classy blog I link here only out of deference since anyone with any taste follows it already.  [Mom--don't click on that link]):*








 One More Thing

I'm the featured blogger over at Studio 30+, a site for bloggers over the age of thirty.  If you are over 30, a bloggist, or just interested in getting a behind-the-scenes look at some of the most powerful elderly players on the blogging scene today (weird), head on over there.  It's like a snarky faculty meeting. 

*That's not an emoticon--just a lot of punctuation.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Don't tell my wife I said this

Not long after the twins were born, we put their names in the "waiting pool" for the wonderful and exclusive daycare center at the university where I used to teach.  You know--just in case I was offered a great job, or I couldn't handle the stay-at-home dad gig, or we found that we couldn't get by on one income.

About a month ago, I got an email letting me know that the daycare center had room for the girls starting immediately.  I felt a little panicky.  Do we have to send them away now just because we got in?  And if they go away, does that mean I have to get a--what d'ya call it?--job?  We decided that there was no reason to rush into anything, and got the girls' names moved back to the bottom of the pool.  (Or wherever you go when you just got into the pool and have to wait your turn to get out.  The metaphor doesn't hold up well when extended.)

And now I have an offer for a job teaching two English classes at a local art college--an Intro Lit class, and an upper-division class about whatever I want ("Rhetoric of Sex and Gender in Multiple Media," anyone?).  It's at night so we wouldn't even have to worry about childcare.

I could definitely handle one class, but two would be pushing it.  That starts to turn into a lot of paper-grading.  And if I taught them both, I would miss the kids' bedtime two nights a week.  I'm having a similar reaction to the one I had over the news about getting into daycare.  Do I have to take this job just because it's bad form to turn down work in such a crappy job market?   

The problem is that I love staying at home with the kids.  After eight months, I'm not feeling stir-crazy at all.  In fact, I think one reason I should take this teaching gig is to prevent myself from turning into a total hermit.  Not that I would mind being a hermit, but it would be embarrassing for my wife and kids.

So my wife and I have been discussing the job offer, and she's trying to talk me out of teaching both classes (I don't think it's an all-or-nothing proposition, so I can probably opt to teach just one).  Or at least she's leaning in that direction.  She doesn't have to twist my arm much to convince me that tucking in the babies is more important than lulling art students to sleep.

But here's the funny and sweet--and maybe a little pathetic--element of her argument against my taking on too much work: she worries that my blog would suffer.  I usually resent it a little bit when people call me "lucky" (or "bright," or a "handyman,"--but those are kvetches to be explored later, maybe), but I have a hard time explaining how else I ended up with such a cool wife.  



There are some things that only a dad can teach a child properly.  In an empty bathtub.



The high-five







Finger-wagging



Noogies (we're still working on that)


 

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

RTT: Gym Characters, Dwindling Rage

 randomtuesday


My mind is buzzing with random crap.  I could go on for days.  But I'll try not to.  Read this, then click on the thingy and go visit Keely.

Here's an introduction to some of the people who frequent our gym.  Our gym is in the heart of the gayborhood, and it's open 24 hours, so it's always colorful.  And I've been going there at about 11:00 p.m. lately because that's about the only time I can, so I see get to see some of the best characters.

Dancy-Pants: A handsome Latino gent, about my age (40-ish), but much more fit and with better posture than me.  He can usually be found in the group exercise area by himself, practicing his dirty dancing.  If he's not a professional, he should be.  This guy is good.  Twirls, leaps, shimmies, hip-swivels, and pelvic thrusts...oh, the pelvic thrusts.  When he's not dancing, he's in the weight room in his dance shoes and pants, rhythmically doing curls and presses while bouncing on his toes.  I guess he's never not dancing, really.

Booby Lady: Probably every gym in Southern California has several of these.  But ours is special.  She is very petite, Asian, and has comically huge gazongas.  Each one is about thirty percent bigger than her head.  She can be seen taking kickboxing and other aerobics-type classes, but not really moving all that much.  Her boobies don't move at all.  We think she must be in the adult entertainment industry.

Tat-toupee:  There are a lot of people with a lot of tattoos at our gym; many of them on their necks and faces.  But Tat-toupee has only one tattoo (at least only one that's visible while he's clothed)--a dark blue and green, densely detailed "Aloha" style floral print that covers his entire scalp.  From a distance, it just looks like he has really close-cropped dark hair.  But get up close and it's clear that his "hair" is all ink.  Could this have been less painful than a hair transplant?  Other than his head, this guy is completely unremarkable looking.

Air Tran: The first time I saw Air, I thought, Holy Crap...that chick is ripped!  At about 6'5" and 210 lbs, she looks like a sinewy NBA player with a weave, acrylic nails, and a sports bra supporting her modest, athletic rack.  But a cursory and surreptitious scan reveals that she is also in need of a jock strap.  If, as I presume, Ms. Tran is on hormone treatment to suppress her male characteristics, I can only imagine how jacked she was when her testosterone levels were topped off.

***
My rage lacks stamina

Yesterday, I went to the City Development Office to get an extension on my building permit.  I'm actually done (mostly) with the addition that I started last summer, but I still haven't gotten the final inspection for a number of reasons, mostly inertia and lack of enthusiasm about the prospect of having to pay more property taxes once the house is declared "done."  So yesterday I went in to pay the fee for having taken more than a year to complete the project.

Of course, I couldn't just go in and pay the fee.  First, I had to call the office and figure out the process.  This was a couple months ago.  Every time you call the office, it entails leaving your number and getting a call back later that day, or maybe the next day.  It's slow, and a little annoying, but no big deal.  So they tell me to email Agent S explaining why I need an extension, and then she'll send me a letter in a couple of weeks saying whether or not it's been granted.  A little clunky, but again, no big deal.  (Why can't Agent S just email me back? Why can't I pay online once she decides I can have the extension? Or mail them a check?  Who knows?)  

I get a letter a few weeks later.  I'm approved.  Great.  There are no instructions as to how I can pay the $99.00 fee.  So I call the office and leave a message.  I get a call back and the agent says I have to come in and pay the cashier.  I hang up and then realize I have another question.  I call back and leave a message but because it's Friday, I can't talk to anyone until Monday.  All this calling back and forth is worth it though, because the last thing you want to do is go into the permit office lacking some paperwork, or not having enough copies, or having something printed on the wrong size paper.  You will be sent away and made to start the process all over again.  It would give Kafka night terrors.

So after having talked to two separate agents at the office, both of whom assured me that all I needed was a credit card, and that I could march right up to the cashier and pay, I go in.  I brign my original permit and some other documentation, because I don't believe it will be as simple as promised.  

The cashier asks me if I have an invoice.  Nope.  Nobody gave me an invoice, and the guys on the phone didn't say anything about an invoice.  You'll have to go to the "check-in" line then.  My heart sinks.  I protest, but to no avail.  The check-in line is where they route you to the appropriate waiting area, where you will join a group of other people who writhe with boredom and anger, pulling their hair out and gnawing on their stacks of forms and blueprints until the next bureaucrat is available to analyze their needs and figure out the next place to send them.

I get to the front of the check-in line in ten minutes.  Not too terrible.  The lady asks about the invoice.  No have.  Why?  Don't know.  She decides to do me a solid by creating one on her computer.  It takes 30 seconds.  Sweet.  But she can't print it out from her computer.  I'll have to wait in Area 1 for that.  But she'll put me at the top of the waiting list since I require so little.  Area 1?  My pulse quickens.  I've been to Area 1.  That's where you go to have your plans reviewed.  Sinking feeling worsens.

I sit for forty minutes, trying to read my book, but unable to concentrate because of the helpless rage that simmers in the pit of my spleen.  Others are called to talk to their assigned desk-jockeys.  They go over reams of paper, and some receive stamps and are sent on their way.  I pretend to read.  One woman, there with her parents who have come from out of town to help her with her small remodeling project, becomes hysterical and is escorted to a quiet corner where some sort of specialist comes to console her.  I consider going berserk if it will expedite the process.

The check-in line has dissipated.  I go back to talk to the check-in lady.  This is risky.  If you appear to be trying to cut in line or otherwise circumvent procedures, things can get worse.  Much worse.  I ask her if I misunderstood--I thought I was at the top of the list, but many others have come and gone since I came to Area 1.  She is peeved.  Tells me that only Agent M can handle my case, and he has been with one client this whole time.  I just need an invoice! I say, too loudly.  Why is this so difficult?  Check-in lady glares.  I sit back down.

Forty more minutes pass.  The client Agent M was with goes away, and Agent M starts chatting with another client.  I run up to the desk to tell him that all I need is for him to click "print" on his computer.  (I really thought there must be more to it than that, because surely check-in lady would not have let me wait so long just to print a document.  Agent M must have to record something or file something, right?  But I want to impress upon Agent M that my request is ridiculously simple.)  Agent M says that, even though the previous client is gone, he still must work on said client's file before he can get to me.  He lectures me about how it would be unfair if everyone didn't wait their turn.  

With veins bulging on my neck, I calmly tell Agent M that I agree about turn-taking, and have generally been satisfied with the service in my many many visits to this office, but this is really so simple...I appeal to check-in lady.  I have to speak loudly to converse with them both.  I am now making a scene.  The calmer Agent M is, the louder I speak.  Finally, check-in lady has a solution.  She emails the invoice to a colleague on another floor who is able to access the printer.  I try to stay calm.  Check-in lady coaches her friend upstairs, and after a few tries, the printer starts to whir, and my five-line invoice comes out.  Once she hands it to me, I find that I am still unable to control the volume of my voice.

ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?   I JUST WAITED FOR AN HOUR AND A HALF BECAUSE YOU CAN'T ACCESS THE PRINTER THAT'S THREE FEET FROM YOUR SEAT?  AND THAT GUY [pointing at Agent M] IS THE ONLY ONE WHO HAS PRINTER PRIVILEGES?  DO YOU WONDER WHY PEOPLE BUILD WITHOUT PERMITS AROUND HERE?

On my way back to the car, where I was sure I would find a parking ticket, the meter having expired an hour before (I didn't, somehow), I called my wife, shaking with rage.  I was going to write to Agent S, her supervisor, the newspaper, and of course compose an excoriating blog entry that would shame them all.  I would have justice!  Not just for me, but for all those other poor saps languishing in Area 1.

But after getting home and playing with the babies and drinking a milkshake, it no longer seemed that important.  I'm getting soft in so many ways.




   
 

Friday, June 4, 2010

A Father's Day gift from The Bono and me to the world




So The Bono emails me the other day and asks me to help him save the world by doing a product review.

Actually, I contacted him first.

Let me back up a bit.  This might be more succinctly conveyed through the use of dialogue:

Me: [clacking away on computer] Cool!

Dr. Mom: What?

Me: I just got this email saying that Red Envelope is looking for bloggers to do product reviews for Father's Day gifts.  You know about them, right?

Dr. Mom: Yeah.  That's where your sister got that baby handprint kit that she gave us.

Me:  Yeah--I know, I know:  I ruined Mother's Day...

Dr. Mom: I didn't say that...

Me: But at least we helped fight AIDS in Africa...


Dr. Mom: How's that?

Me:  You know, because of The Bono.

Dr. Mom: ???

Me: The Bono.  The singer from U2?  And philanthropist?

Dr. Mom: Just "Bono."

Me: Wha...?

Dr. Mom: It's U2's guitar player whose first name is a definite article.

Me:  Whatever.  Red Envelope is that thing that The Bono does where some of the proceeds from sales of any product with the word "Red" in it go to fight AIDS in Africa. *

Dr. Mom: Just "RED."  No "Envelope."

Me:  I'm pretty sure The Bono copyrighted the word "red," and now every time you buy something with that word in it, the country of Africa gets a cut.

Dr. Mom: Like Big Red gum?

Me: Exactly.

Dr. Mom: Red Lobster?

Me: Now you're gettin' it!

Dr. Mom: [shakes head, returns attention to book]


I knew that The Bono would be getting in touch with me soon (we've never met, but I figured that he's read my blog, because clearly he's a reader), but I was afraid he might have some hesitation because of my reputation.

You see, if blogging is like punk rock (which it totally is; check it out--DIY spirit, no rules, message/energy trumps talent--just think about it), I'm the Fugazi of mommybloggers: stubbornly refusing to charge more than five bucks a show, snubbing major record label deals, rejecting anything that smacks of selling out.  And I was afraid that might make The Bono assume I would not be into doing product reviews. So I decided to go ahead and email him first.  There's no time for dilly-dallying when it comes to saving the children.

I emailed Red Envelope and asked to be put in touch with The Bono; and I got a response almost immediately.  The Bono was very gracious and we quickly agreed that he would have a set of Bose in-ear headphones sent to me, post-haste.  As a warm personal gesture, he signed the email not with his stage name, but rather with his given name, Jake from Promotions.  I believe that's an Americanization of the Irish Jake O'Promotions.

So without further delay, here's my review of the Bose in-ear headphones:

As I examined the earphones, I didn't have great expectations.  I knew that Bose had a good reputation, but I figured these would have the same limitations other tiny audio equipment has.  I've gone through a number of earphones, and they have all sucked in one way or another.  The ones that go inside the ear are invariably uncomfortable and/or fall out of my ears.  The ones that go on the outside have either uncomfortable ear-hooks or cumbersome...uh...overhead connecting arch-thingys.  But the Bose earphones come with a selection of squishy little covers that you can choose from so they fit nice and comfy-like all up in your earholes.  You can hardly tell they're in there.

I read the product literature.  "Lifelike sound," it promised.  What the hell is "lifelike sound?" I wondered skeptically.  Would I feel like I was in the forest with little birds twittering around me?  I set my iPod to shuffle and...

Holy shit!  The first song was a track from Beck's Guero, and I could hear everything.  The bass kicked, the guitar jangled, the synth shimmered, and the beat banged like an 808.  I could almost smell Beck's breath (wheatgrass and Cristal). 

Next up was Dead Kennedys.  The guitar sound was raw and massive.  It felt like Rock Against Reagan in 1983 all over again.  It was all I could do to refrain from moshing in the kitchen. 

Then Dee-Lite took over...  Remember when you went to your first rave and you were all,  I don't know what I'm doing here, I don't even like techno and I feel really old...and then pretty soon the music crept up on you and you could hear every note in the song, and the bass rattled your ribs and all the buzzy noises tickled your spine and sent little bolts of electricity through your body and you couldn't stop dancing?  And everyone in the warehouse was your new bestest friend?

About that time my wife walked in the kitchen and was all, what the hell are you doing dancing in the kitchen--the kids are trying to sleep, and where is your shirt anyway, and you better stop grinding your teeth. 

By then, the music had changed and it was Lady Gaga.  Remember when you went to your first Pride circuit party?  So, yeah.  Lifelike indeed.

I put the earphones in Dr. Mom's adorable ears, which made her dance like this.

"The bass is incredible!" she yelled, pawing at the air like a demented Hello Kitty.

After I took the earphones back and reminded Dr. Mom that they were mine mine mine and anyway I had to take this reviewing business very seriously--you know, for the children of the world--I went about the business of cooking dinner.  Although the box the headphones came in says they are not the noise-canceling variety, I couldn't hear the clanging pots and pans, the kitchen fan, the smoke alarm, the baby monitor--nothing.

After dinner I went to the gym and continued my shuffling research.  Same thing.  I was in my own little world.  Even the classical guitar music that I normally click past at the noisy gym came through like I was in a concert hall, and I couldn't hear the annoying Top 40 they play there, or the inane chatter of the muscle queens, or the guy who kept staring me down and moving his mouth while tapping the back of his wrist as I did my 200th rep on the thighmaster thing.

So I guess that covers it.  These earphones are comfortable to wear for extended periods, have incredible bass response and overall great sound quality, and if your dad (or babydaddy) doesn't hate music, and is not an idiot, he will love them.  And you can feel good knowing that you are helping The Bono save the world.**

Here's a link to the Red Envelope Father's Day stuff.  And here's the secret code you can use if you want to get ten percent off.  Ready?  10offred

 Now go buy some stuff for Dad.

*"Jake" wants me to tell you that Red Envelope has nothing to do with the whole "RED" thing or The Bono.  But they do work with Komen for the Cure, American Lung Association, and American Cancer Association

**See above 

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Antidepressants may lead to gang violence in Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs

As you know, the Swiss are a peace-loving folk, and so are their dogs.  Bernese Mountain Dogs, St. Bernards, Apenzellers, Entelbuchers, and Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs are perfectly content to herd livestock and pull carts, leaving the aggression to their German cousins, the Rottweilers and Dobermans.  Swiss dogs, like the Papal Swiss Guard, will valiantly defend their employers; but they are not known for unprovoked violence.   And like Swiss people, they come pre-neutered  (politically), thanks to centuries of breeding. 

That's why I was stunned when Stella, our Greater Swiss Mountain Dog (Swissy, for short), was involved in the mauling death of a squirrel yesterday at the dog park.   

I was kickin' it with my homies Shaley's Mom, Elway's Mom, and Toby's Mom, when a ruckus broke out under the big oak tree over by the poop-bag dispenser.  Stella, our Swissy, was in the fray; but I didn't worry about it because she always stays on the periphery of any tussle, maybe getting in a few nips at whichever dog is getting the beat-down (a function of her neutrality), but generally staying on the sidelines.

Elway's Mom's eyes narrowed as she crushed out her cigarette.

"Shit," she said.

"What?" I said.

"Elway's got a squirrel."

Elway's Mom sprang to her feet and hollered at her dog as she sprinted toward the violent scene.  I sauntered a few steps in the general direction of the brouhaha, more to get a look at the action than to subdue my dog, who I could not imagine was taking any part in this act of brutality.  Also, I had the twins in their stroller, and I didn't want to leave them unattended or have them witness a rodent dismemberment.

But when I was able to sort out what was going on under the oak tree, I could see that it was Stella who had the squirrel in her mouth, and she was shaking it vigorously.

"LEAVE IT!" I bellowed.  Repeatedly.  Loudly.  Stentorianly.

Balls, frisbees, sticks, and Kongs fell out of the mouths of the forty or so other dogs at the park as their respective humans turned to see what terrible transgression was taking place, and what terrible dog owner had so poorly trained his dog that he had to scream at it in public.  (Oh--it's the guy with the babies.  God help them.)

Stella froze after the fourth or fifth "LEAVE IT," actually dropped the victim onto the mulch after the eleventh or twelfth repetition, and reluctantly came to me after the sixth "STELLA, COME." 

After the dust had settled and I had cowed Stella into a down-stay back by our usual klatsch, I grabbed the stroller and went to check on the unfortunate rodent.  It was motionless and milky-eyed, but still breathing and showing few outward signs of injury.

"It's just...resting!"  I called to my homies as I headed back toward them.

And indeed it was resting.  In eternal peace.  But only after a violent, protracted seizure during which I'm pretty sure I saw a little translucent cartoon squirrel with wings and a halo leave the varmint's body and ascend into the limbs of the old oak tree.

As we rehashed the events leading to the squirrel's shuffling off of its mortal coil, it became clear that Stella was not just tagging along, but may have been the first one to get her fangs on the critter.  I was torn.  On one hand I resisted the recriminations against my timid 120-lb. galoot, preferring to blame her friends, the high-strung terrier mutts with their well-documented habits of chasing bikes and harrasing submissive dogs.  On the other hand, I was perversely proud that Stella had actually accessed some dim ember of primal wolf instinct that had previously been enshrouded in layers of neuroses.  But mostly, I was incredulous.  At a gallop or a trot, Stella is graceful and efficient, more equine than canine.  But she is not what you would call quick or agile.  Picture a newborn foal chasing a ball.  On ice.

We decided that the squirrel must have been very old, and had probably suffered a massive stroke and fallen into Stella's jaws.  Be that as it may, Stella, who will spit out and suspiciously examine a dog treat if it's a flavor she has never tasted before, had dispatched the squirrel (which was on its last legs, of course, and which probably welcomed dying with its little rodent boots on rather than languishing in a squirrel convalescent hole, abandoned by its friends and family), with great gusto.  This was not the Stella I knew, who was afraid of her own shadow.  

As I scooped the rigid rodent remains into a Stella-sized poop bag, it occurred to me.  Ever since we started Stella on the antidepressant Clomipramine a couple weeks ago, she has become a different dog, for which we are immensely grateful (thanks Big Pharma!).  Her skittishness has decreased precipitously, she is more relaxed, and her self-confidence has blossomed.  Even her poop, once a watery sludge, has become more robust!  So this newly discovered doggishness, this prey drive that she never before exhibited, must be a side effect of her medicine.  And although I would prefer that she not make a habit of murdering woodland creatures, I don't see this as an entirely negative development.  If she can participate in such typical dog behavior as chasing squirrels--and succeed at it--what else could be on the horizon?  Unflinchingly going nose-to-nose with a paper bag?  Calmly stepping out of the way when someone walks by with a cardboard box, instead of crashing into furniture while fleeing in terror?  Allowing a stranger to pet her?  Dare I dream?

     
Stella Getting Her Drink On




Thug Life

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

RTT: Birthdays, Pool Parties, Memorial Day Somberness




Read below.  Click above.  Read more.  Click more.


So I had a birthday this past weekend, which I tend to do every year around Memorial Day.  As far as holidays to have your birthday on, this is a pretty good one, if you can arrange it that way--unlike Christmas Day, which is when my wife likes to have her birthday, which really makes no sense at all if you ask me.  The good thing about Memorial Day is that everyone already wants to party and go to the beach or hang out at the pool or burn big heaps of tires; and having a reason aside from just a three day weekend that is more or less the de facto beginning of summer (and of course to somberly honor the memory of the men and women who died defending our freedom) makes it all the better.

This birthday was not particularly significant except in that it was the first birthday I've had as a father.  Of course, yesterday was the first time I drank a margarita in a pool as a father and today was the first time I had peaches on my cereal as a father and tonight might be the first time I make meatloaf as a father.  I could go on.  But age-wise, there's nothing notable except insofar as it is quite amazing that a human being can live to be as old as me, which is amazing every year lately.

I was trying not to make a big fuss about my birthday this year, except for making all kinds of demands of my wife and refusing to do things I didn't feel like doing and dropping little hints to remind her that my birthday happened to coincide with a party we were already going to, and wouldn't it be nice if there was some kind of cake there that could be kind of a secret symbolic nod to my birthday--just something my wife and I could smile about without the other guests necessarily knowing because I didn't want to make a fuss or anything.  I also happened to blurt out to the host, a couple weeks ago, that his party happened to fall on my birthday.  Anyway, my wife and the host of the party completely misinterpreted my comments, and my wife snuck out and bought a cake and had it decorated and everything.  So when we were about to leave the party (or so I thought), out comes the cake and the candles and the singing, and Cobra starts bawling her little eyes out because she's afraid of fire and noise and people and cake.  But she settled down after a minute.  It was a good birthday.


As long as I'm on the subject of birthdays, let me tell you about two significant ones for me.

Birthday #20:
I was working as a carpenter and living at my parents' house in Virginia, having vowed to never go to stupid college because I had hated stupid high school so much and anyway I was going to be a rock star.  We were on a job where we tore the entire roof--rafters, joists, shingles and all--off of a convenience store and replaced it.  The store was about to get shut down because of building code violations, and the owner was going to pay us a lot if we could do the whole job over the long weekend.  So we chainsawed the roof into sections, pulled or cut all the nails and fasteners that held the roof to the wall, and yanked the roof off using a crane.  The owner was very generous with his merchandise, so I mostly subsisted on Slim Jims, chocolate milk, and 7oz bottles of Miller beer, which he had in great abundance for some reason.  Because the job was pretty far from where everyone lived, we all camped out on the floor of the roofless convenience store on the first night.

After the second fourteen hour day of work, we had the roof framed and ready for plywood.  I had gotten my friend from high school, who was by that time in his second year of college (sucker!), a job for the summer, and this was his second day working with us.  We sat on the roof and my friend pointed out that it was fitting I should spend my 20th birthday busting my ass, since that was what I had to look forward to for the rest of my life.  He said it kind of wistfully, like he wished he didn't have to go to stupid college and get some stupid desk job.  At least that's how I interpreted it.  But he also urged me to go home instead of spending the night at the store.  I resisted, but he kept on bugging me and then finally let me know that my girlfriend had planned a surprise party for me.


So my buddy and I headed back to my parents' place where my girlfriend, the guys from my band, my parents, and a couple other friends were all milling around in the back yard, sick and tired of waiting for me, and ready to eat some cake and go home.  I guess my mom didn't let them eat before I got there, because the sausages had been on the grill for a few hours.  Everyone was annoyed and I just wanted to crawl up next to a freezer on some linoleum tiles and go to sleep.


Birthday #40:
I was working as a carpenter and going to grad school because I hated teaching stupid high school so much and I wanted to teach college instead.  We had planned to go away for a few days to Sonoma County (where we had lived previously) and do Wine Country stuff to celebrate my decrepitude.  But first, we decided to have a party at our friends' house.  We had a keg, a full service barbecue courtesy of my wife and her sister, a cooler full of potent punch, a professional karaoke system that we set up on the stage that is a feature of my friends' weird old house, and about fifty guests.  Oh yeah, and my friend and I played some duets on classical guitar.  So I was a rock star after all.

Then we went to Sonoma to get my mid-life crisis over with.  We rented a red Mustang convertible and drove all over Sonoma and Napa stuffing our faces, guzzling wine, and never putting the top up, no matter how much our backseat passengers (my sis-in-law and her husband) begged us to.  The highlight of the trip was our meal at The French Laundry in Yountville.  Yeah--that The French Laundry.  And it lived up to the hype.  It was even better than Slim Jims and Miller beer.  

My point is that the more things change, the more they remain the same.  But totally different.


***

The other fun thing we did, that required an unbelievable amount of preparation, was to take the kids to a pool party at our friends' house.  There were three sets of twins and their parents in that pool, and the last time we had all been in that pool together, all the twins were still about a month away from being born.  That's another long story.  But here are the pics:


         
Demure Butterbean




Pensive Cobra



Regular Cobra


***

I also learned something about being a webloggist this weekend: do not spend a lot of time writing a clever post on a Friday before a long weekend.  Apparently some people do not sit around reading blogs on big holidays, and your efforts will not be rewarded with the kind of overwhelming response you had hoped.  In case you were busy laying wreaths and doing kegstands all weekend and missed my important post from Friday, you can read it here.  You might as well.  You've already blown like ten minutes of your lunch break (wink wink).  In for a penny, in for a pound, my mom always says.






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