Saturday, July 31, 2010

Drugs have no effect on me

I know I promised a pharmaceutical-induced rant from the post-op haze of my belly button surgery, but as usual, the drugs have been a bit of a disappointment.  They just make me too lazy to do anything.  The only verse I managed to scratch onto the backside of my release forms as I emerged from sedative submersion was something about how none of the hospital staff could pronounce dental or labiodental fricatives, and how one nurse thanked me for not having much body hair.  There was no madness--only a smeary sense of well-being.

For me, pain killers have always worked just like they were supposed to.  They dull the pain and make me a little drowsy.  Boring.  Right now for instance, as the vicodin kicks in, I feel less and less inclined to type, and more interested in watching the Mexican sage bobble in the breeze.  I can't believe people get addicted to this stuff.  Either my baseline affect is just a notch below euphoria, or the people who pay seven bucks a pop for these pills on the street are in chronic existential anguish.  Could be both.

Anyway, the pain I'm experiencing now is probably no worse than getting shanked in the navel, or having a C-section, so I'll probably quit the pain meds after the dose I'm on right now.  In the meantime, I'll write what I recall from yesterday.

***

The following is a transcript, reconstructed from my memory--which is quite sharp despite the sedatives I was given and the narcotics I'm on right now--of the conversation I had before and during my surgery.


I'm lying on my back, looking up at the off white surgical light fixture swinging toward me against the background of the pristine white ceiling of the OR.  Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb" plays in the background.  LOL, Doc, LOL.  The lights turn on.

Nurse 1: Don't look at da light!

Nurse 2: Well, you can look at da light, but don't go into it.  Hahahahaha...

Nurse 1: [Puts mask over my face].  Do you remember dat movie?  Poltergeist?

Me: Of course!  That was a great movie.

Nurse 1: Dat clown scared me so much.  Dere was a replica of it at da mall and I wouldn't go near it.

Nurse 2: Now dey have all da movies like "Saw" and stuff.  Do you like dat kind of movie?  I don't.  Dey're like, too realistic or someting.

Me: Same here.  Too graphic for me.

Nurse 1: Yeah.  Who wants to see people getting cut open?  Hahahahahaha...

Nurse 2:  Hahahaha...

Me: LOL

Nurse 1:  Just keep bree-ding normally.  Dat's it.  Do you let your kids watch dat kind of stupp?

Me: My kids are only one year old.  They don't watch anything. 

Nurse 1: Dat's good.  Dat's good.  Do you remember when you tried to hide me in da closet?

Me: Wha...??

Nurse 1: When your girlfriend came home, and we were swimming in your room in Charlottesville?  Don't you remember?  Breathe normally. You tried to stuff me in the closet, but then you realized I was as big as a dump truck.  So cute...

Me: Demi?

Giant Demi Moore: Of course it's me, my little cleaner wrasse!  Have you missed me?

Me: Well...of course.  Of course, my sweet Beluga.  But...but I'm married now.  I have kids.  I thought we were through...I mean, what about your children?  And your teenage husband?

GDM: NEVER!  YOU WILL NEVER LEAVE ME! DO YOU UNDERSTAND?!

Me: Of course!  Of course! You don't need to yell...

GDM: We will always be together, swimming in our private Sea World...

Me: Please...stop leaning on me...you're crushing me...can't...breathe...

GDM: Remember when you tried to leave me for Seventies Era Cher?

Me: She was nothing to me...it was just one date...not even a date really...we were just at the same dance party at the Safeway in the World of Shadow People...please stop...you're hurting me...

GDM: Of course she meant nothing, my little wrasse...nothing means anything except for you and me, right?

Me: ...hurting...my stomach...

GDM: JUST YOU AND ME, RIGHT?

Me: Of course...yes...

GDM: WHAT?  I DIDN'T HEAR YOU...

Me: YES!  YES!  IT'S JUST YOU AND ME FOREVER, GIANT DEMI MOORE...NOW PLEASE GET YOUR DORSAL FIN OUT OF MY BELLY BUTTON...

GDM: There, there...[strokes my head]...everything is all right.  Giant Demi will take care of you...don't worry your pretty little gills...

Me: [sobbing] But my wife...and my kids...what if they find out?

GDM: No one ever needs to know about us, sweetie...

Me: [sobbing]

GDM: Not unless you run your big fat mouth...

Me: I don't want to talk...but I...sometimes...

GDM: You're talking right now...what are you talking about?

Me: I'm trying not to talk, but I can't stop...

GDM: Dat's okay if you want to talk.  Just let me take dis mask opp ob you.

Me: What was I talking about?

Nurse 1: Oh, we were just talking about movies and your babies and Sea World and some oder stupp...I don't know.  Anyway, you're all done now.  Your podder-in-law is here to take you home.

Me: Did I...you know...go into the light?

Nurse 2: I don't know...I tink maybe you did a little bit.  But we pulled you back out.  Hahahahah...right, Demi?

Me: Demi?

Nurse 2: Yeah--Demi.  Dat's your oder nurse's name.  T-H-E-M-I...Demi.















 








 

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

RTT: Juggling monkey wrenches and curve balls

Read.  Click Button.  Repeat as necessary.

randomtuesday

Life was getting too simple, so I arranged for a bunch of weirdness to keep me on my toes.

I started teaching my Intro to Literature class last night.  I have five students.  In academic terms, that is known as a either a "seminar," or a "freakin' joke."  Not much to report on that front, except that they immediately started asking if we had homework, and telling me that they usually don't.  These are "college" students.  I think I successfully telegraphed my expectations for them by popping on a DVD of "Dead Poets Society."  My message:  "Although I plan on phoning this class in, I want you to be inspired by Robin Williams to have great passion about literature, and I want you to love and idolize me the way his students love and idolize him."

My mother-in-law is staying with us for a couple of weeks.  There's always a bit of an adjustment period when she comes here.  At first, I resist her taking over some of my usual workload, just because I have become set in my ways and don't like it when other people stack the dishes differently, or stash unidentifiable bits of food, containers of liquid, and slightly used paper towels in unlikely nooks around the house.  Then there is the language barrier.  I don't mind it when it's just MIL, the babies, and me at home, because we all speak different languages and don't really try to have in-depth conversations.  But when my wife and/or other in-laws are around, there is constant Vietnamese chatter in the air.  This can be jarring.  But after a while, it just turns into a melodic background noise.

While my MIL is here, I am going to try to paint the outside of the house.  And teach a class.  And get surgery.  I have to have belly-button surgery on Friday.  I contemplated posting footage of my umbilical hernia, but decided it would be way too weird.  Then I was going to link to someone else's youtubeage of their umbilical hernia, but that was equally disturbing.  Look it up if you must.  Anyway, I should be all jacked up on sedatives and opiates on Friday afternoon, so I'll try to post some William S. Burroughs-esque rants when I get home.



I also still have elbow problems.  After the boat tried to rip my arm out of its socket, I slowly recovered for the next week, and my arm was not completely useless.  Then I was holding one baby in my right arm and going in for the swoop-n-snatch with the other baby, when there was a click in a different part of my elbow,  graceless release of both babies onto the floor, and much howling and cursing by everyone.  As soon as I began recovering from that incident, I had a replay as I steadied myself by hanging from an overhead bar with my bad arm as I prepared to go down the slide with Cobra on my lap.  Advanced paternal age is not something to be taken lightly.  

Friday, July 23, 2010

I'm nominated for "Smuggest DIY-bag Hippie Foodsnob Daddyblogger"!!

(Put an "x" in the comments to vote for me)


After putzing around in my urban plantation for a while (what I do instead of watching TV), I heard the babies waking from their nap.


I climbed the stairs to the deck, admiring the sustainable composite material I had used in building it, and went inside, setting my small harvest of heirloom tomatoes on the window sill.

Once I had changed the girls' cloth diapers and given them their bottles of organic milk, I went to gather up the San Marzanos, German Orange Strawberries, and Black Crims from the sill.  When I saw them, scattered just so in the afternoon sunlight, I thought, "Oh--what a lovely picture that would make."



(Had I not loaned it to a friend, my copy of Ominvore's Dilemma would totally have been in the frame.)


There is really nothing like seeing the fruit of your loins enjoying the fruits of your labor, nourishing themselves with what you have produced through the sweat of your brow, the green of your thumb, and the goodness of the earth.  It's the kind of atavistic satisfaction that makes the struggle of the New Dad worth every callous.  If you think about it, breast feeding really pales in comparison.      






That's why I have decided that from now on, this family will only eat what we can produce here on our 3500 square feet of land.*  Join us as I document this journey into the sustainable future by way of our agrarian past.

In the next few months, expect to see a lot of recipes here for dishes made entirely of tomatoes, basil, tarragon, sage, lemons, and dandelions.





*pending spousal approval

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Why Working Parents Hate Life

What sucks more, parenting or work?

I posted this reaction to the reactions to the big controversial New York article everybody's been talking about on Daddy Dialectic.  Check it out, yo.   

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

RTT: Returning to Cali after a week in Montana

 randomtuesday

Click here after reading to play the random game with Keely and friends.



When we got off the plane at LAX, I was ready for more travel.  Our week-long trip to my family's cabin on Flathead Lake in Montana had been a good test to see how trekking with the twins worked out.  (More words and pics about the trip here and here.)

It was about 3:00 p.m. and we had been on the move since 7:00 a.m. California time.  The kids were still in great spirits despite having missed their first nap.  We still had a two hour drive home from LAX--we flew from there because of cheap tickets and a direct flight--and I was confident they would sleep all the way home.

I guess a week in Montana made me forget all about the phenomenon known as "traffic."  Sure, we had gotten behind some rickety RV's and horse trailers driving between Missoula and the Res, but what we encountered here was full-on SoCal style Friday afternoon mayhem.  We tuned into the traffic report and heard about a wooden crib in the HOV lane (there's always something in the lanes--furniture, ladders, parts of cars, human carnage), baseball game traffic, LGBT Pride traffic, and garden variety rush hour traffic.

Alas, there would be no napping for the little ladies.  Like me, they don't find stop-and-go relaxing.  At the two hour mark, when we should have been gingerly waking the little angels from their slumber so we could carry them into the house, we were instead battling our way across a vast military base, hoping we didn't run out of gas before we hit the next rest stop, twenty miles away.  At that point, Cobra started making her distinctive poop-grunts, on the heels of which followed cries of unextinguishable anguish.

After an excruciating hour, we had crawled the twenty miles to civilization, such as it was--a seaside town where, according to the dusty postcards in the gas station, the women wear thongs, crimp their hair, and hump large motorcycles, and the men enjoy steroids, acid-washed jeans, and mullets.  In the shad of the lone tree in a Denny's parking lot, we changed Cobra's diaper (which revealed that all her sound and fury signified very little) and her sweat-soaked onesie.

When we finally got home (total elapsed time 4 hrs 15 minutes), I dropped to my knees and kissed the laminate flooring.  "I will never leave this place again!" I sobbed.

That reminds me.  I have to make arrangements for dog-care while we go to L.A. next weekend.

***
As I mentioned, it was Pride Weekend here, so we came home to a gayborhood festooned even more thoroughly than usual with rainbow flags and big yellow "equal" signs.  There was also some very colorful vomit on our front step, which I suspect came from someone celebrating the great strides made by their community since the Stonewall riots four decades ago.  Either that or a drunken teenage girl.

In an unrelated atrocity, someone didn't pick up their dog's poop from the little strip of grass ("mow strip," "boulevard," or "devil strip," depending on where you're from) in front of our house.

***

I had been a bit disappointed that, while we saw some bear scat outside our cabin, we didn't see any actual bears while in Montana.  But when we got home, there were bears all over the place!  

"Pecs," the bar up the street from us, was overflowing with big, hairy guys wearing flannel and leather.  In fact, that "dog poop" in front of our house may have actually be bear scat too.  I'll check it out more carefully when I get around to removing it.

***

Some wonderful friends of ours gave the twins a very generous gift certificate for a used baby gear shop, so we went there to pick up some toys.  We only spent about twenty bucks, and scored two items that have become the center of their daily activity.  At this rate, we'll keep them entertained until they are teenagers on what's left of the gift certificate.  Check it out:

Monday, July 19, 2010

Big Sky Adventure, Part II

By the middle of last week, it started to get hot at the lake.   The wind died down and the choppy water smoothed out.  The girls had settled into a routine much like the one they follow at home--sleep, eat, play, repeat--except that there were grandparents, aunts and uncles, great aunts and great uncles, and cousins vying for their attention.



Since the conditions were nearly ideal, we took the kids out on the motorboat.  My parents bought the boat about eighteen years ago.  For the first twenty years we had the place, we kids would sit on the shore, or the neighbor's dock, or our own dock after we finally built one, and watch the motorboats go by, fantasizing that one would pull up and its owner would offer us a ride.  I know--it was a hardscrabble existence we endured.  That's why I could always identify with Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Despite a bit of claustrophobic panic caused by the elaborate life-jackets they had to wear, the girls enjoyed their first boat ride.







The most fun they had, though, was playing in the baby pool we picked up from Ace Hardware as an afterthought when we stopped to get some supplies on our way to the cabin.

Since the water only reached about sixty-five degrees while we were there, we abandoned any hopes we had of playing with the girls in the lake.  Instead, we filled up the pool and let it sit out on the dock to warm up.






After their splashfest, they relaxed in their new poolside loungewear.








Undaunted by the frigid water, my sister and I both did a little waterskiing.  Or, in my case, attempted to do a little waterskiing.  I was once pretty good at it, and thought I would just pick up where I left off the last time I skied, about nine years ago.

Both my sister and had I mastered the skill of getting up on one ski, rather than starting on two and dropping one, about twenty years ago, and I saw no reason to revert to the easier, less elegant method.  So I tried twice to get up, only to be dragged, mostly underwater, until I could no longer hold the rope.  And on the second attempt, when the rope snapped out of my grasp, I felt a corresponding snap in the inside of my left elbow.

I blamed the aging and overloaded boat for being too slow to yank me out of the water like it used to, dragging me instead like a disabled tanker behind a tugboat.  But everyone knew who was really aging and overloaded.  My elbow injury felt just like the one I sustained last summer when I tried to heft two 4'x8' pieces of half-inch sheetrock (they come bundled together) onto my shoulder and from there slide them into the bed of my truck, a maneuver I used to do easily a mere...uh...fifteen years ago.  In both cases, the injured arm was rendered a useless slab for several days, and in the case of the sheetrock hubris, it took several months for my arm to heal completely.

My sister, on the other hand, who is ever so slightly older than I am, but has chosen not to let herself go to pot, quickly popped out of the water and described graceful arcs across the bay as I whimpered in pain and humiliation.

In the evenings, we ate, drank, and told endless stories with my parents, aunts, uncles, and nephews.  On two consecutive nights, we played the board game "Taboo" with great passion and volume on the deck, just under the open master bedroom window of the mansion that has sprung up next door to the cabin since the last time I was there.  During the games, the object of which is to get your teammates to say a particular word or phrase without using any prohibited words as clues, lifelong personality traits and relationships between family members came into high relief.  I was reminded that even a gulf of miles and years doesn't blur the patterns we establish early among generations of family--the ways we negotiate, instruct, joke, and bicker--and in this setting those patterns were comfortable and natural.

And that's why, whenever anyone suggested we quiet down in consideration of our neighbor, I scoffed.  If that nouveau riche robber baron wanted peace and quiet, he shouldn't have built his fortress next to our little lincoln log house.  We may not have noisy jet skis, or stage massive firework displays like he does, but my people--the kind who drink a lot of pretty decent wine and get fired up about word games--are not a tribe to be trifled with.  

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Big Sky Adventure

As I write this, the blue reflection of the Mission range on the laptop screen is taunting me, water from the glacier-fed alpine lake on which our family's cabin lies is lapping against the rocks thirty feet from where I am huddled under the stairs, hunched over the computer, and my family is discussing a hundred different things that I want to get my two cents in on.  So I'll try to be uncharacteristically concise.

Getting to Montana was fairly painless, despite a two hour delay in our flight from LAX.  We got off to an inauspicious start when I ran into the men's room at the long-term parking garage, Cobra strapped onto me in the Ergo, and upon leaving the filthy facilities, found myself in a maze with identical doors in every hallway.     

Naturally, I chose the wrong door and found myself in a small chamber with two more doors.  I turned to go back out the first door just as it locked behind me.  Door #2 was also locked, and Door #3 was an alarmed emergency exit.  I had to call my wife, who had already loaded our gear onto the shuttle, and have her follow the sound of my kicking and hollering to set us free.  

Then, while checking in at the airport, we realized that the girls' birth certificates (originals, not copies, per the airline's instructions) were back at the park garage, on top of the car.  I will gallantly refrain from pointing the finger of blame regarding this mishap.  The two-hour delay in our flight gave us plenty of time to retrieve the documents.





We kept the girls entertained in the airport by watching planes take off and land.






The twins did really well on the short (thankfully) flight.  Cobra fell asleep in her mom's arms right after take-off, and Butterbean played happily with the emergency instruction pamphlet and air sickness bag the whole way.







We spent the first two nights of our Montana trip at my sister's place in Missoula, where we were feted  with a great barbecue (authentic southern style, prepared by my transplanted Mississippian brother-in-law), taken on nostalgic tours of landmarks from my very early childhood, and generally pampered and catered to.  My sister managed to procure, from her friend who also has toddling twins, all the cribs, highchairs, car seats, and toys we needed for the kids.  I don't know what we would have done had we needed to carry that stuff with us.  Stayed home probably.


My brother-in-law moved to Montana mostly for the hunting





On Monday, we piled into Big Sis's truck, filled with baby gear, and headed to the lake, stopping for a diaper change and a huckleberry shake at one of the little towns on the Reservation.  If you've ever seen the movie, "A River Runs Through It," you're familiar with the scenery we enjoyed.

Since we got here, we've been going for walks, paddling around in the kayak, eating, drinking, visiting with relatives who drove here from Washington and Oregon, and playing with babies.





The girls' accommodations at the cabin





My mom demonstrating how to properly use bear spray





Big Sky Country



View from the living room.  On the other side of those mountains is grizz country




Our cabin from the kayak. Oh yeah--also the 5,000 sq. ft Alpine lodge that some real estate baron from Phoenix just erected where our old neighbor had a little metal fishing hut.  Ours is the modest spread to the right with the green roof.  The one that is nestled into, rather than looming over, the forest.  


We started building it in '73.  It's almost done.  My parents swear that I nailed the plywood down on the second floor when I was six.  Our cabin used to be typical of the houses on the lake, and even a little nicer than a lot of them (especially after I rebuilt the deck in '97), but now there are ever more of these multi-million dollar monsters dominating the shoreline, most of them owned by damn Californians.  But there are still plenty of relics from the old days.




 The "haunted boathouse" that hasn't changed much since we were little kids.





Cobra in her new Montana Grizzlies fleece







Thursday, July 8, 2010

Who changes the diapers in your house?

Today I'm posting on Daddy Dialectic.  I don't need to introduce that blog to you, because it was one of Parents magazine's five favorite daddy blogs, and it is the brainchild of Jeremy Adam Smith, the author of The Daddy Shift, which of course you have read.  And if you listen to NPR constantly as I do, and read the New York Times, you know that Smith is the media's go-to guy on the changing notions of fatherhood.  You've probably even seen him on the tee vee, if you have one of those.

So head on over and check it out.  There are hundreds of excellent posts on a variety of issues, by Smith and other smart guys.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

RTT: Party twins, crowdsourcing my responsibilities, failing at feminist fathering

Many naps were missed and bedtimes violated this weekend as we took the girls to another twin one-year-old birthday party (their own was last weekend), a fabulous 4th of July party, and a pool party on Monday.  We all had fun, but I'm now enjoying being back in front of my laptop with the shades drawn as the girls catch up on their sleep.

Here are some things I need your input on:

Goin' to Montana

This Saturday, we are flying with the girls to my ancestral home (or the closest thing I've got to one), a log cabin that our family built on Flathead Lake, on the Salish Kootenai Reservation south of Glacier National Park (as far as I know, we don't have any Native American heritage--we just bought the land from the tribe).  We started building the cabin when I was about five, and we're almost done.  I think that this year, I will be excused from most projects because of my status as New Dad.  Anyway, I'm not too worried about what happens when we get to the lake (although the cabin is pretty rustic and the landscape is rugged): what I am nervous about is taking two one-year-olds on a plane.  Any advice?

Teachin' Enlish

I need to get a syllabus together for this class I'll be teaching at the art school starting on July 22nd.  It meets three times a week, and each meeting lasts for two hours.  The entire class lasts for six weeks.  It's an "Introduction to Literature" class, and there are no real standards, objectives or course outlines I need to follow.  Also--get this--the dean tells me that most of the reading should be done in class, since these scholars will not crack a book on their own time.  I know--it ain't Cambridge.  So, what were your favorite poems, short stories, and plays that you read (or wished you had) in college (or high school even).  What were the most useful things you learned about literature in school or elsewhere?  What's a good way to "sell" literature to illiterate students who may not be inclined to read?


Irresistible girliness

I believe it was Big Daddy Kane who said, "Feminist parenting ain't easy."  Word up, Daddy.  

As much as I try to protect my kids from the frills, flounces, and pastels of girlthings, these accursed accoutrements seem nonetheless to make their way into our house.  And once they are in, I am helpless against their charms.  I know we should be dressing the girls in gunnysacks and raising them in a gender-neutral environment, but check out these pictures.

What am I...made of stone?





The girls model their Tea Collection dresses; Dad sports his only shirt with sleeves and no holes





Butterbean ready for the club





Cobra in velvet catsuit






Butterbean helps the birthday twins (the other ones, not ours) open gifts





Cobra helps crush one of the newly unveiled presents


randomtuesday

Now, go random up with Keely et. al

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Victuals of Liberty: Why I Love America

 I was so touched by The Didactic Pirate's patriotic testicles that I had to write this.




***

I had a bad case of writer's block in the fourth grade.  It was our country's bicentennial anniversary, and there had been a spate of patriotic assemblies and events at school in honor of the auspicious occasion.  I remember singing "America the Beautiful" on the school stage, and then later, on the swingset, the older boys repeating the performance with some of the lyrics revised to "God shed his shit on thee."  I may have joined in a little bit.

I also remember a peppy number we sang as Mrs. Daniels, the music teacher, kept time and mesmerized us with the undulating flesh of her upper arms:

I like the U-nited STATES of A-ME-rica
I like the THINGS that we SAY and we DO there
I like to VOTE for my CHOICE, speak my MIND, raise my VOICE
?
I can't remember the last line of the quatrain, which is odd because I remember pretty much every word of every song I paid any attention to between second and tenth grade. 

I looked up the lyrics to that song (composer unknown) just now, and there are a few variations.  The missing line, which is also the title of the song, appears to be "I like it here."  Maybe that's why I couldn't remember it.  I vaguely recall Mrs. Daniels modifying it a bit.  In fact, knowing what an obnoxious little pedant I was, I suspect she did so on my behalf.  Because while all of us in the fourth grade were expected to sing about our pride and love for our country, "I like it there" would have been more accurate, since we were not actually here.

Thus the writer's block.  In addition to the patriotic singing, we had been assigned an essay in which we were to discuss the things we loved about the good ol' U.S. of A.  The problem was that we lived in the good old B.R.D (Bundesrepublik Deutschland, a.k.a. West Germany), and some of us, like me, had lived there almost half of our short lives.  


Me in first or second grade

I was barely six years old when we moved to the tiny army base in the idyllic alpine hamlet of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, so what did I know about America?  

During my first five years of life, we had lived in four different states in the U.S.  I liked digging holes in our backyard in Kansas, and fishing for crawdads in Oklahoma.  I kind of remembered the smell of the ocean in California, and the amber glow from a Tiffany light fixture in my Grandma's house in Montana.  I guess I could have spun that into an essay, but I couldn't figure out how to use my hazy recollections to address the grand themes of American nationhood.
 
On my love of Germany, however, I could have written volumes: Wienerschnitzel, skiing, running wild in the forest with my friends,  Gummi-anything, oom-pah bands, Wienerschnitzel, castles, WWII artifacts just off the manicured hiking trails, wurst, lederhosen.  Did I mention Wienerschnitzel?  There was very little I lacked.  Or that I was conscious of lacking.  

So, like the lyrics of "I Like It Here," the prompt for the assignment was modified for the benefit of those of us who had gone native.  The new assignment was to write about what we would ask for if we could have had anything we wanted shipped to us from the States. 

Well, I really liked Fruit Stripe gum at the time, and we couldn't get it in Garmisch.  My grandparents would send us care packages every once in a while, and I would sit in my room, staring out the window in a sugar trance, chewing all of the Fruit Stripe gum, three pieces at a time, until the whole ten-pack was gone.  So I mentioned that.

My other request makes my cringe even now, thirty-some years later.  In addition to being pedantic when it allowed me to aggravate both my peers and elders, I was a precocious smart alec.  And a misogynistic wannabe playboy.  I guess perceptions of seventies masculinity knew no political or geographical boundaries.  The men I looked up to were the G.I.s who worked as ski patrols at the American resort, hip young officers who wore aviator glasses and drove Porsches, World Cup skiers, and Formula One drivers.  Pair that with easy access to the Chopper magazines my friend's dad had lying around the house, and the Playboys we sometimes scored while dumpster-diving, and you have the makings of a 10-year-old Lothario in lederhosen. 

So in my patriotic essay, in addition to gum, I included a request for "a bunch of good-looking girls from Kansas" and made a crude drawing of young ladies in a packing crate.  Apparently, the current crop of fourth-graders at Garmisch Elementary was not up to my standards.   

Fourth grade field trip.  My wardrobe, like my taste in ladies, had become much more sophisticated.

***

I don't know what ever became of  my fourth grade teacher, Ms. Keller (she was a liberated woman, thus the Ms.), but I'm sure she would offer me an opportunity to redo my essay.  Given my decades of intervening experience, I am even willing to revert to the original prompt.

Why I Love America

What is a country anyway?  Is it simply a rhetorical construction, encoded in a constitution and a system of laws, that tenuously bonds a group of heterogeneous individuals who live within arbitrary geographical boundaries?  Yes, that's precisely what it is.
Is it the words that define a country that make it great?  Or is it the inconsistent, often capricious actions that it takes ostensibly in defense of its rhetorical identity that distinguishes a great nation from a mediocre or a bad one?  It is neither.  What makes a nation great is its people.  And what, fundamentally, are people?   They are what they eat.

America has the best food in the world.  Any Frenchies or Mexicans have anything to say about that?  I WILL FIGHT YOU!  I've had better bouillabaisse in Yountville than Paris and better mole in San Diego than Oaxaca.  Germany?  Please.  I've got nothing but love for schnitzel and wurst, but--c'mon--a fresh vegetable here and there wouldn't kill you.  Argentina?  I have to give it to you--your steaks are the best I have ever tasted.  But what else have you got? (Oh, yeah--empanadas.  But besides that?)  Vietnam?  That's tough.  I spent three weeks there and the only bad meals I had were "French" or "Italian."  But that's what makes our country great.  I can get cheap, delicious Vietnamese food down the street.  Or Ethiopian, Lebanese, Filipino, etc., etc.  And our national cuisine (hamburgers) happens to be the most delightful iteration of the meat/bread union on the planet.  Where else can you get all that and free-market democracy too?

So, Ms. Keller, when I made the comment (and drawing) about shipping girls across the Atlantic like so much chattel or delicious chewing gum with variegated zebra stripes, what I really meant to say was that I love this country (this one I'm in right now, in the narrative present--you know--the U.S.A., not B.R.D) because it is a nation of many identities.  The "bunch of good-looking girls from Kansas" was simply a trope that I had not taken the time to fully flesh out (I should have spent less time on the drawing, which probably did not help emphasize its figurative intention).  What I meant by "crate full of girls" was a random sample of unique Americans whose collective identity represents our national ethos.  Why from Kansas?  Because I wanted to make the point that diversity was not restricted to the urban centers and coasts of this great nation, but could be found also in its very heart.

I love my country, Ms. Keller, not only for its reasonably priced and delicious culinary options, but also for the people that brought those traditions here with them or kept them alive through the generations since their ancestors landed on our shores.  And for the people who consume these dishes without prejudice, ingesting the essence of our variegated culture.  Becoming an American is a process that takes a lifetime, and it involves above all embracing our differences.  And when we present our face to other nations, whether in the form of a diplomatic mission, a military force, or a "bunch of good-looking girls," we must be sure that face is well-stuffed with the victuals of liberty.          


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