Friday, October 29, 2010

How I saved Halloween from lameness

I've been pretty bah-humbuggish about holidays ever since I was in seventh grade and realized that Christmas is a meaningless orgy of consumerism.  I vividly remember the moment it dawned on me.  I was lying on my bed in our apartment in Moscow, which smelled of gas leaks and pine-scented incense, and even the Kiss poster on my wall couldn't penetrate the funk that had set in as my parents valiantly struggled to recreate something like the Christmas we would have been experiencing were we back in the States.  This is probably the type of bleak revelation that occurs to most Muscovites in the dead of winter; but my dim view of the holiday persisted well beyond the spring thaw and our return to the U.S.

And while my humbuggery has been tempered over the years with a grudging appreciation for tradition and an ability to derive pleasure from proximity to the joy of others, all the hoopla for the big holidays seems hardly worth the hassle, and your Hallmark holidays like Valentine's day can cram it as far as I'm concerned.

But Halloween was always different for me.  It was the only rock 'n' roll holiday.  With its focus on free candy and pranks, it was unapologetically decadent.  And its decadence was not in the guise of piety, like Christmas or Thanksgiving, but decadence just for the hell of it.  I could get behind that.

In addition to the delightful depravity of Halloween, the other element that appealed to me was the masquerade.  For the same reason, I also loved Fasching when we lived in Germany, which is pretty much the same thing as Mardi Gras or Carnival: an opportunity to disguise yourself and behave in ways you normally would never consider behaving.  With impunity.

My love for dressing up persisted through college and beyond.  I never did anything very elaborate or expensive--my costumes were usually made of stuff that was lying around the house or at my local thrift store--but I came up with some pretty decent ones.  I even won valuable prizes at a few costume contests: a Miller Genuine Draft bar light for my "Jesus H. Christ on a Crutch," a VHS tape of Ghost for my "Lone Rollerblader of the Apocalypse," and a bottle of Andre and case of Kools for a group costume in which we portrayed the Village People, to the delight of the patrons of the only gay bar in Charlottesville (this was 1991-ish, when references to the Village people were still unexpected and funny.) 

Sometimes my costumes were topical: a dead stockbroker in '87, and, with my wife (then girlfriend) in '92, Woody Allen and Soon Yi Previn.  Sometimes they were pop-culture themed, like Mr. Hanky the Christmas Poo in '99-ish, which consisted of brown sweats, a Santa hat, white gloves, and my face covered in brown lipstick.  Unfortunately, South Park was not as well-known as it is now, as I realized by the expression on the face of the African American guy I had never met before whose party I arrived at, having been invited by a mutual friend, and who was understandably put off by what appeared to be a guy in blackface crashing his party.

One more recent costume I'm kind of proud of was a group concept that we used about five years ago when Dr. Mom, me, and a couple of our gay buddies went to San Francisco for the legendary Castro District Halloween party.  Somehow I came up with the idea of going as fireflies (or "lightning bugs," depending on where you're from) and I fashioned illuminated butt-gear for our group out of cheap plastic Ikea light fixtures.  As was the case with the Mr. Hanky debacle, my instincts were a little off the mark, since it turns out most Californians have never seen a lightning bug.  Nonetheless, people seemed to enjoy our glowing asses.  In fact, mine was violated by the dryer-vent appendage of a robot.




Lone Rollerblader of the Apocalypse (with minion), circa 1990.  Made entirely with items you would find in the home of any four college guys: rollerblades, hockey gear, chrome goalie's mask, leather shorts, fishnet stockings, dyed sheepskins, weightlifting belt, animal bones, skanky wig.  I had a broken wrist at the time, which would soon lead to my romance with Dr. Mom as I used it as an excuse to study her notes for "Faith and Doubt," the religion class we both were taking.


***

But since the kids were born, I haven't really been able to get in the spirit of Halloween.  Last year, when they were just barely past the fourth trimester, we stuffed them in some spooky onesies and carted them around to a couple parties, which was fine, if not particularly exciting.

This year I wanted to do something more creative--something along the lines of my past costumes.  But unfortunately, inspiration failed me.  With two days to go before Halloween, I had nothing.

Why was it that it used to come so easily to me, and now, try as I might, I couldn't come up with any good ideas?  What was I doing in the past that I wasn't doing now?

I racked my brain for the key to my former creativity, but no answer presented itself.

In the past, I had simply surrounded myself with the tools and materials I had at hand, and it was almost as if I were possessed with the spirit of Halloween.

So I decided to try to recreate the process this afternoon while the girls napped, hoping the spirit would once again find me.  I secluded myself in the garage (with the baby monitor receiver close-by at all times, of course) and got started.

First, I assembled the raw materials:


   
Next, I collected the tools I thought I might need:



And then I waited.

***

When I regained consciousness, I had no idea what time it was.  It was dark out, and I was lying on the garage floor among the shredded remains of my material pile.  I heard the twins babbling on the monitor.  

I must have fallen into some sort of artistic reverie.  Kind of like William Blake when he had visions of angels in his back yard.  (Or was that Robert Blake?  I can never keep them straight.)  I suppose the vodka may have had something to do with my state too, but I'm pretty sure it was mostly caused by art.

When my head cleared a bit, I trudged back to the house to find that Dr. Mom had already come home from work.  And the twins?  They were happily reading books while wearing their new Halloween costumes.



It had worked!  My plan had worked!  These were perhaps the best costumes I had ever fashioned with my own hands!

They were a bit conventional, to be sure, but appropriate for the little girls, whose favorite book of the moment is about a ladybug, and features bees as supporting characters.  And the degree of detail was quite impressive for a two-hour project.  I had even attached laundry instruction tags inside!



      


As I admired my work, I heard Dr. Mom rustling around in the living room, breaking down some boxes to put into the recycling bin or something.  She must have come home and found the costumes and decided to try them on the kids.

"Oh, there you are," she said.  "Did you see the kids' costumes?"

"Uh, yeah.  I kind of made them, so I guess I saw them."

"Yeah, right," she said.  "You and Amazon, Daddy."  By which I'm sure she meant "You're an amazing daddy."  Her English is still a little dodgy sometimes.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The obligatory identity crisis post

First off, a reminder: don't forget to look at the results of the "What to Expect" book giveaway here.  There are a few prizes still unclaimed.


 ***

I've noticed that a lot of my imaginary friends in the blogosphere have recently written on variations of the "why do we blog" question.  Believe me, I've thought about it and talked about it and clickety-clacked about it on the various online forums (I was totally going to write fora just then but decided not to be a douche) where these conversations come up.  But I'm not going to do that here.

Okay, maybe just a little bit: I blog because I love to write, and I've always loved it more than just about anything when people say they like to read what I've written.  It's not just hearing the praise, of course.  I also like the idea that something I've written has given someone pleasure or made them think or laugh or maybe even cringe.  So it's only mostly about the praise and attention.  It's also about knowing that I have made someone feel something.  Just me and my powerful words of deepness and my syntax of passion.  It's hard for me to get similarly excited about filling notepads or Word docs that no one will ever read.

The "why do I blog" question is really a kind of identity crisis, as my friend (whose blog you must read, trust me) demonstrates in his recent (not at all whiny) post.  As is often the case, his thoughtful, funny exploration about why we do what we do is born of frustration.  It's a frustration that I've felt acutely at times, but not much lately, since a ridiculous stroke of luck sent a whole battalion of new readers my way--readers whose presence and kind comments have managed to slake my voracious ego, which would otherwise devour every molecule of decency in my being and turn me into a super-villain of the worst sort.  On behalf of my wife and children and others who have to be around me IRL (that's "In Real Life" for those of you who spend too much time IRL for that concept to require an abbreviation): thank you.

But let me remind you that the three preceding long-ish paragraphs are simply an introduction to what I'm not going to talk about.  What I do want to talk about is the other kind of identity crisis: the IRL identity crisis.

And, as in the case of my blogging frustration, my IRL identity crisis is at least temporarily in remission.  So I'm writing from the vantage point of probably the most existential comfort I have enjoyed since the era before the moment in the third grade when Jerry Wagner said Your breath stinks and you act like a girl, and I said, I know you are, but what am I, but I thought, Does it? Do I? and tried to inconspicuously cup my hand in front of my mouth and draw my own exhaled breath into my nose while shifting my posture to what I hoped was a manly slouch.

The crux of my identity crises, which have been mild compared to others', is that no matter what I did, I would always feel a nagging sensation that I should be doing something else.  If I did a, part of me just knew I should be doing b, and if I were doing b, my internal nag would tell me I was neglecting a.  This second-guessing could be on a small scale: practicing guitar vs. mowing the lawn; doing Algebra homework vs. getting high and watching "Different Strokes"; blogging vs. painting the trim in the guest room.  Or it could be on a larger scale: being in a band vs. going to college; being a self-employed carpenter vs. trying to find a "real" career; teaching high school vs. maintaining sanity.

The most curious symptom of my mild identity crises, though, was when I compared myself to my peers, especially those I went to high school or college with.  I naturally had twinges of envy toward my friends who had made boatloads of money and/or achieved great status and success in their careers, whether they were square lawyers and financial workers or creative mavericks. 

But I also found myself feeling sheepish about my relatively conventional lifestyle when talking to friends who had moved farther into the margins of society.

For example one of my best friends from high school is now a freelance pipe-organ repairman, musician, and general tinkerer who rides his bicycle fifty miles in a typical day of working and playing in New York City, and lives a life of freewheeling adventure.  In school, he was the normal kid with the letter jacket and I was the rebel.  Now I drive a minivan.  Another one of my friends from high school is the singer in the band GWAR, who are fairly famous, but I'm pretty sure don't offer retirement benefits.

As we were pulling out of the garage yesterday, with our diaper bag and stroller stowed in their respective compartments, coffee mugs in the cup-holder armrests, and kids in their bomb-proof safety seats; my wife and I looked at each other and laughed at how normal we were.  We live in a funky neighborhood and don't have a TV and I don't go to an office in the morning, but those are minor anomalies.  We're parents.  I'm a parent.  I'm other things too, but as far as identities go, that's a good fallback position should I ever get confused about what I'm supposed to be focusing on.


***
Here's what I have achieved so far as a parent (you should probably turn the volume down, especially if you have excitable dogs):





***
In case you find my bourgeois self-satisfaction irksome, check back in a few years when the kids are in school and I'm 47 and looking for work.

           

Monday, October 25, 2010

Winners of the freakiest Sex Ed story/book giveaway! (Also cute pictures of babies with pumpkins)

Against my better judgment and the advice of people who had been there, we went to a huge Pumpkin Patch/ Harvest Festival Simulation on Saturday so the kids could get a taste of life on the farm.  You know: battling traffic, fighting for parking spaces, standing in line for the petting zoo and pony rides, paying $6.00 for an ear of corn...just like Grandma and Grandpa used to do every fall back on the old homestead.

It actually wasn't that bad.  We went on Saturday so we could meet up with some families from my Asian Mommies group, but we got there early since we had heard that it gets completely insane by mid-morning on weekends.  The kids had tons of fun despite missing their morning nap, and the outing provided great photo ops, which is really the only reason to go to something like this.  Also, I have to say that having the mini-van made the 40-minute drive each way quite pleasant.  We left by noon, laughing at all the folks who were backed up for miles trying to get into the full parking lot like it was a U2 concert.  Suckers.

These pictures were taken by Dr. Mom. 

"I f***ing love pumpkins!!"







I can't figure out whether Cobra is pouting or smoldering here




They were ambivalent about the petting zoo.  They kind of liked the baby goats, but they didn't want to feed them.  They loved the chickens and ducks.  They hated this one bastard sheep that kept getting in their faces and trying to steal our bag of food.



Butterbean peeks at a little chicken while Cobra (background) talks to another Future Farmer of America about corn prices.



Butterflybean





***

Winners of the book giveaway!

So now, at long last, the moment you have all been waiting for!  Dr. Mom studied your disturbing stories about how Sex Ed irreparably twisted your understanding of human sexuality, rendering you confused and ashamed about that most natural and beautiful of acts--scrumping--and has chosen, with great difficulty, her twelve favorites.  

I listed the winners in the order in which they appear in the comments section of the Sex Ed post so you can easily skim through and read them; and, where applicable, I have included links to the winners' blogs or profiles so that you can start stalking them.

If your name is on the list of winners, please email me at betadad(at)gmail(dot)com.  (Of course, write it out like a regular email address.  I just wrote it weird to foil spambots.)  Please tell me your street address and which What to Expect book you would like--the pregnancy one or the toddler one.  If you don't claim your prize within...oh, let's say a week, I'll give it to someone else or use it as a doorstop.


Kalei's Best Friend, who was convinced by her mother that breastal fondling caused cancer.

Frank, whose dad offered to give him an anatomy lesson in the shower.

Manda, whose dad offered her advice about dressing for sex.

Genie of the Shell, who had a vocabulary problem that made her think sex would be like a slasher flick.

Shannon Green, who had many stories that together suggest there is no real way to not screw up teaching a kid about sex.

Mrs. Kanatzar, whose father offered a birds-and-bees talk instead of a more traditional wedding toast.

Christy, who had trouble staying conscious during Sex Ed, and not because she was bored.

Peter, who was homeschooled, and had a teacher (his mom) who really knew her subject.  

Lauren, who actually needs the book.  Like, right this minute.

Amber, who launched a spermicidal space shuttle in front of her classmates.

Claire, who fell for the oldest trick in the book.  (I wish someone would have told me about that damn book.)

A Little Sprite, for whom we're hoping this book will be a good luck charm in her attempt to get "up the duff" (sounds dirty, but I think it's just Australian.)






Friday, October 22, 2010

From Disco Van to Beta Wagon

My automotive legacy has come full circle.

Early yesterday morning, we drove to an industrial cul de sac in a charmless part of town and picked up the mini-van that my in-laws insisted on giving us.  It had just arrived here after a week-long journey from the east coast on a big rig filled with other transplanted vehicles.

Over the past month or so, we tried to buy our own mini-van, but Dr. Mom's parents wouldn't hear of it.  Three years ago, they bought essentially the same vehicle that we have been thinking about getting.  They had been using it sporadically for their furniture refinishing business, but they swore that they didn't really need it.  We agreed to take it off their hands.  What else could we do?

So yesterday, after 27 years of driving, I found myself once again behind the wheel of my parents' (in-law this time) van, just like when I was sixteen and turned loose for the first time on the highways and byways of the D.C. suburbs.

My first car, which was never really mine but my parents' (I was the primary driver by default because no one else in the family wanted to be seen in it), was a 1979 Chevy conversion van.  My parents had bought the van in Washington state when we came back from our 2-year stint in the U.S.S.R.

Vans were at the peak of their popularity (okay, maybe just slightly beyond their peak) at the time, and it made sense for us to get one, since we planned to make a lot of road trips between Virginia--where we were to live--and Montana and points west, where most of our relatives were.

 This isn't actually our van, but it's the same model and pretty close to what ours looked like.  


The van's conservative paint scheme--white with a single blue stripe down the middle--belied the swanky disco dreamscape that awaited the lucky passenger who climbed aboard.  The bleak vistas in the wake of Mount Saint Helens' ashy eruption barely registered to us as we became acquainted with the cutting edge technology and comfort of our customized van.  AM/FM cassette deck with front and rear speakers? Check.  Light blue shag carpet on the floor and as an accent on the ceiling?  Roger that.  Plexiglass cupholders resting on orange plexiglass posts lit from beneath?  Naturally.  Stained glass (plastic) ceiling lights? 10-4, good buddy.

All of these features seemed extremely cool for about one year, and then precipitously less so every month that followed.

By the time I started driving, in 1983, I had embraced a stripped-down, boots-jeans-and-leather-jacket punk rock aesthetic; and it was a real stretch to get the Disco Van to mesh with the image I was cultivating.  The van was not old enough to be cool because it was campy, and it was definitely not cool in the way that its creators had intended it to be.  It was just an embarrassing and obvious mom & dad car, and an artifact of the culture against which punk rock had emerged as a reaction.  Had I not been such a lazy kid, I would have worked my fingers to the bone so I could have bought an old jalopy that wouldn't have been so conspicuous parked outside the 9:30 Club after Minor Threat shows.

But despite its liability in regard to my street cred, the Disco Van was practical in its way.  Because I'm not confident in my understanding of the applicability of the statute of limitations, I won't go into details about the ways in which the Disco Van was practical to a teenage boy and his knucklehead friends.  Suffice it to say many rites of passage were observed there.  In fact, some of those rites were observed by police officers and school officials who for whatever reason saw fit to issue nothing more than a few stern warnings and the odd traffic citation. ("Driving On The Median" was the oddest, I think.)

Cars were not as durable in those days, and I managed to run that rig practically into the ground by the time I (barely) graduated from high school, with a mere 85k on its odometer.  I got into at least three accidents in it, which established my pattern of having two or three wrecks a year until I finally decided to go away to college and be a pedestrian until I was mature enough to drive.

After I got my own car (a '77 Plymouth Fury former cop car), we signed the title of the Disco Van over to the father of the singer in my band, a professional automotive salvager who, to the eternal chagrin of his wife, often took his work home with him.  This arrangement worked out well, because we were then able to use the Disco Van as transportation for the band for as long as we could keep it running.

Alas, the Disco Van finally fell into the hands of one of my high school nemeses, who traded it with our singer's dad for some equally thrashed vehicle, and I lost track of it after that.  In the next couple years, I totalled my cop car and then my first pickup truck before I finally decided that I should go off to college anywhere they would accept me, if for no other reason than to keep me from having to commute.  That's how I ended up going to University of Montana for a couple years.  But that's a different story.

And now I find myself once again tooling around town in a van.  I thought I might feel sheepish about it because of the bourgeois stigma, but I find that I don't really give a rat's ass about what other people think of my new rig.  Like the Disco Van in its day, the Beta Wagon is extremely practical for my needs.  It might not be as manly as my pickup with the lumber rack (and "No on Prop. 8" sticker), but it's far safer and more convenient than any car I've ever had.  Sure, it's versatile.  But it's essentially designed to transport children; and since childcare is my job these days, it wouldn't make any sense to drive anything else.  All the other options we considered--sport wagons, crossovers, hybrid SUV's--would have been compromises in service of preserving the illusion of our youth and hipness, which is way more uncool than driving a mini-van.        

 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

"The Very Busy Spider": An Entrepreneur in the Welfare State







Eric Carle, best known for his breakout entomological bildungsroman, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, seems to present a simple parable about the value of hard work in his 1984 picture book, The Very Busy Spider.  But in contrast to The Very Hungry Caterpillar's universal themes of youthful overindulgence and transcendent maturity, The Very Busy Spider, when examined in its sociopolitical context, captures the zeitgeist of Ronald Reagan's "Morning in America," reflecting both the optimism and ambivalence of the era.

The protagonist of the story, an industrious female spider who floats onto a farmyard on a breeze from parts unknown, sets out to spin the web that will be both her home and her means of securing sustenance.  The spinning process is threatened, however, by interruptions from a parade of gadabout farm animals who try to tempt her with offers to "go for a ride," "jump on the rocks," or "roll in the mud."  Our workaholic heroine studiously ignores these wastrels, refusing to even acknowledge them with a word of greeting. 





*Spoiler Alert* Finally, after the web is finished and the distractions have abated, she traps a fly, presumably devours it (although no illustrations support this assumption), and then goes to sleep.  Her final visitor, an owl, swoops down to admire her web, but she is too exhausted to bask in his praise.

As a comment on the American public's growing animosity toward the welfare state in the eighties, The Very Busy Spider could not be any more succinct.  In a series of eight one-sided conversations in which each animal entreats the spider to join it on some sort of pointless lark and the spider does not answer because she is "very busy spinning her web," Carle suggests that independent entrepreneurs, whose success depends on their willingness to make sacrifices and work past the point of physical fatigue to gain their economic foothold, feel they can brook no interference from those who while away their lives at the expense of the state.  The spider can ill afford to pass the time with these domesticated beasts lest she be brought down to their level: feeding at the trough of the farmer, wallowing in their own filth, shirking responsibility whenever possible, and ultimately being led to slaughter.






When the only other undomesticated animal in the story, the owl, admires the spider's craftsmanship and work ethic, the spider's unawareness of the compliment bespeaks a quiet dignity inherent in those who make their own way in the world.  They don't need to talk about their achievements because they are too busy building upon them.






But The Very Busy Spider is no unequivocal celebration of the entrepreneurial spirit.  The spider is, by her own choosing, an isolated figure in the barnyard community; and nowhere is this more apparent than in the last image in the book.  Her web, the product of her expertise and industry, is the farmyard equivalent of the glass and steel monuments to obsessive acquisition that glitter in the Manhattan skyline.  And yet the spider herself is barely visible, tucked away in a remote corner of her own creation, a solitary figure converting the victim of her latest exploit into the energy she will need to destroy more like him the next day.  It may be just a matter of hours until "Morning in America," but Carle leaves us wondering if the self-sufficient spider really has much more to look forward to than the barnyard drones she so disdains.   


    







Butterbean likes to read it in a chair





Cobra prefers to recline




It also makes a good surfboard


***
Don't forget to play the "I had a freaky experience with Sex Ed" game that's masquerading as a book giveaway.  There's still time to broadcast your humiliation.  And win a book if, you care about that kind of thing.


Monday, October 18, 2010

Book giveaway for sex ed grad students! What To Expect When You Expect To Be Expecting Some Expectations

Here's my full disclosure, because apparently the FCC or the FAA or somebody wants everyone to know who the puppetmasters of the blogosphere are.  And because I don't know any other way, I will fully disclose in narrative form:

So this guy emails me about a month ago and asks if I want to do some shilling for the "What To Expectbrand.  You know, What To Expect When You're Expecting--the pregnancy Bible--and a number of other titles that deal with post-pregnancy (i.e. child-rearing), as well as a website that has tons of articles and resources for pregnancy and beyond.

I was pretty flattered that they would be interested in marketing their stuff on my blog, and wondered why any reputable operation would want to be associated with what I do here.  After a while (a really long time, actually) it dawned on me that on my Blogger profile, I included What To Expect When You're Expecting among my favorite books, along with a couple kids' books and William S. Burroughs's Naked Lunch.  I was just trying to be funny.




But honestly, when I made up my profile, What To Expect When You're Expecting (heretofore referred to as WTEWYE because I'm sick and tired of typing out that long-ass title) was the most recent grownup book I had read.  And then, as now, I recommended it to anyone expecting to expect something, especially one or more children.


Reading WTEWYE, it dawned on me that it's really a Sex Ed text for graduate students in the discipline.  It made me recall my first exposure to the Sex Ed genre, a children's book with cartoon figures approximating what happens "when a man and a woman want to get as close to each other as they can," tossed to me by my dad after a perfunctory introduction ("Uh...your mom and I think you should read this") when I was in the fourth grade.  Then I thought of the fifth grade assembly when our P.E. teacher, Mr. Moyer, showed us a film and afterward, in his deep Virginia drawl, fielded some anonymously penned questions from the crowd.  He answered two of the queries ("No, boys can not have periods," and "It is very unlikely that you would urinate during intercourse") before concluding, "I believe the rest of these questions should be answered in the home."  


Of course, WTEWYE is light years beyond the basics of how to not get your classmates pregnant.  As amazing as it is to learn about sex for the first time, the process of pregnancy blows it out of the water: it seems as unlikely as any science fiction plot dreamed up by teenage fanboys obsessed with engorged breasts.


WTEWYE explains this extremely complicated process of pregnancy in a way that is easy for the layperson to understand, and it does so without coming off as condescending.  The writing is straightforward and familiar, as if your really smart friend were laying out all the facts for you.  It's also very frank about risks without ever being even slightly alarmist, and that kept me alert, but not paranoid.  (I have talked to a couple people who didn't want to read WTEWYE when they were expecting because they thought they would be freaked out by knowing about the risks inherent with certain stages of pregnancy.  To me, it seems crazy to deny yourself information.  Whatevz.)   


What I really appreciated about WTEWYE is that, even though it's clearly directed primarily at women, as they are statistically much more likely to become pregnant, it doesn't exclude male readers at all. The edition I read even had a regular segment about what dudes could do to be helpful or at least not make things any worse.  I have thumbed through some of the very gendered books about pregnancy (Girlfriend's Guide, Caveman's Pregnancy Companion, e.g.), and found them only mildly amusing, and more than a little annoying.  In contrast, for me, the tone of WTEWYE was for the most part pitch-perfect.


So there you have my full endorsement, without reservations.  As if they need it: 93% of preggos who use any kind of pregnancy guide read WTEWYE.  I guess the What To Expect marketing geniuses figured tastemakers like me (*coughbullshitcough*) could convert the other whatever percent is left after you do the math.  Instead, I'm going to take this opportunity to mock the Pregnancy Bible, the Koran of Conception, the Gestation Dissertation.  With great affection, of course.

The edition of WTEWYE that my wife and I read was a hand-me-down from a friend, and was a bit dated.  It included a nutrition section called "The Best Odds Diet," which is not what they call it in the new version.  In fact, the new edition tells the reader that there are many ways to eat well during pregnancy, and they don't have to follow a particular diet.  So my mockery is anachronistic.  But still.

Unlike the nutrition advice in the latest edition, The Best Odds Diet laid out a very strict regimen of self-denial in the interest of fetal health and maintenance of mom's girlish figure.  My resourceful wife, however, quickly found another reliable expert who argued that in the case of multiples, an expectant mother should eat whatever the hell she craves in order to bring those babies to term.  Dr. Mom lustily followed the latter advice and carried our girls for 37 weeks, working full-time well into the third trimester.  But we sometimes read the Best Odds Diet just for laughs.

And the thing in that old edition of WTEWYE that really won me over was a suggestion for dealing with "intimacy issues" later in the pregnancy.  It recommended that, rather than intercourse, an amorous couple might consider enjoying a milkshake in bed.  It would be just as romantic, but not as uncomfortable.

Then it told us to turn to the page with the recipe for the Best Odds milkshake.  I don't think there was even any milk or yogurt in it, much less sugar and cream.  It was an ascetic blend of frozen bananas, ice, flax seed, and like some twigs and grass, I think.  The recipe was as sensual as a quarterly financial report.

So, you are hoping to knock pregnant boots till the break of dawn, but instead you end up in bed with a mug of frozen mirthlessness.

You might think that this would have eroded some of the credibility the book had in my estimation.  On the contrary, it made me love the book even more.  It was just trying so damn hard!  And its intentions were so good.  All it wanted was for us to do everything we could to keep ourselves and our babies as healthy as possible.  And the latest edition wants the same thing.  It just doesn't demand as much self-denial.

Okay.  Now.  Back to my full disclosure.  The guy from What To Expect asked me to write a review and/or include a link to the WTE website in exchange for providing some books for me to give my readers, as well as copies for me to review.  I asked if I could have some copies to donate to my wife's clinic instead.  (My wife is a doc at a community clinic where most of the patients are uninsured or covered by public programs, and don't have a lot of resources.)  So he said how about we give a bunch of books to the clinic and give some away to your readers?  And I was all, cool.

So, to make it interesting, I decided to turn this into a contest.  If you don't expect to be expecting, and you don't want any of these books, I still encourage you to play the game, just for laughs.  Also, remember that these books make great gifts for your knocked up friends or new parents that you know.

The Contest

To win one of these books, please share your embarrassing Sex Ed story in the comments section.  My wife, who, along with the Jehovah's Witness kid, was one of the only two students in her fifth grade class whose parents wouldn't let her attend the Sex Ed assembly, will choose her twelve favorite stories.

I'll announce the winners next Monday-ish, and then we'll set you up with whichever of the What To Expect titles you want.  Does that sound fair?

Remember, don't let your disinterest in these books stop you from telling about how you learned about the birds and the bees.  This shit fascinates me.  But not in a pervy way.  

Also, if you want a book but don't have a story, just let me know in the comments.  I have no idea what kind of response to expect from this.   

****

Here's something cute that has nothing to do with anything


Friday, October 15, 2010

Anger Management


At the playground yesterday afternoon, a woman about my age, with big fake boobs and sweatpants with "Pink" emblazoned across the ass, asked me if my girls were twins.  I said yep, and she told me that she had twin girls as well.  I was thinking playdate, but she said her girls were fifteen.  So maybe babysitting instead.  

Like almost every parent of multiples that I have spoken to (and believe me: if you have twins, everyone else who has twins--or is a twin, or knows twins--will tell you all about it), this woman said, "Don't worry, it gets easier."

This seems strange to me, because frankly, it's been pretty easy so far.  Our kids are champion sleepers (still on the 2-nap-a-day plan), adventurous eaters, of moderate temperament, and have barely even had the sniffles so far.  Pretty low-maintenance all the way around.  But if it gets even easier, then that's all to the good.  I like easy.

The problem is that I don't really buy it.  Taking care of the twins is changing in many ways, but on balance I think it may be getting just a little more difficult.  More fun, but more work too.

You see, lately they have started wanting.  A lot.  When it was just a matter of taking care of what they needed, I could get by with a very limited parenting repertoire.  But now, their demands for entertainment and attention and just...things...are much more specific and urgent, and they expect quick satisfaction, despite their Neanderthal communication skills.

Along with the wanting comes the occasional not getting, which leads inexorably to the complaining, usually in the form of whining and crying.  And sometimes this makes Daddy angry.

I've gotten pretty good at sublimating my gut reaction to brain-withering screams, overturned bowls of food, eye-gouges, and twin-on-twin violence; and usually it's easy to curtail the offending behavior just through distraction.  When it gets really hard though, is when I'm trying to do something else at the same time as I'm trying to not get mad at a kid.  Especially when that other thing involves trying to not get mad at something else. 

Like yesterday morning, for example.

Our house is long and narrow.  All the open areas you see in the drawing below are actually filled with furniture and appliances, so there's just a narrow corridor of space that goes through the entire house. 

(If you are considering using this plan to figure out how to break into our house and steal our VCR, you can just forget about it.  We have a fearless guard dog who will eat your spleen.)



The kids use this corridor as a drag strip for their various wheeled push-toys and the battery-operated ATV their grandparents inflicted upon us.  Stella, our 120-lb dog, who is on medication for her crippling anxiety (it kind of works?), has to share the space with them.  She doesn't have enough sense to find one secure nook and hunker down; and her previous refuge, the stair landing, is off limits to her because of this and similar offenses.  

So the kids tear from one end of the house to the other, and Stella, her ears pinned back and tail between her legs, freezes up until the little hellions are upon her, at which point she makes a wild break for the side of the house they just came from.  This sometimes makes Daddy angry at the dog.  But again, there's no profit in yelling at a dog because she's scared.  So I try to soothe her.  Or throw her outside.  Which seems like it would be a relief for her. But strangely, she usually wants to come back inside almost immediately.

The above scenario was playing out yesterday morning, plus Stella needed to eat, which means going out onto the deck because she is the messiest-eating dog I've ever seen, and so I tried to usher her calmly past the kids, who were having a very lively play session in which Cobra was using Butterbean's head as a conga  drum.

But Stella would not be persuaded to walk past the twins, who stood between her and the back door, lest she be crushed by a tiny plastic shopping cart or gutted with a wooden spoon.

     
Stella's route to the deck.  (I don't know how to use Photoshop, so I used my own program, which I call "Gluestick.")


I had Stella's food (and her crazy-pill) in one hand, and was trying to lure her to me with the treat I had in the other hand.  She froze up.  Meanwhile the kids started closing in on me.  

There were a lot of different actions I could have taken at that point, but I was determined to get Stella out of the house, so I went to her and started dragging her toward the door.  She panicked--first trying to back up, then trying to run toward the back door, and finally just generally skittering and thumping and making a horrible commotion.

The ruckus, and the proximity to naptime, caused the girls to start screaming and tugging at my shorts as I tried to wrestle the maniac dog out the door without spilling dogfood all over the playroom.  

As I had no hands left to disentangle their meaty little fingers from my leg-hair, I was faced with the task of verbally convincing the children to let go of me.

Now, I know that I should have responded to their wild behavior with an equal measure of calm parental reassurance.  I'm reading Touchpoints, for cryin' out loud.  Even though the girls don't really talk yet, they understand a lot of what we say. I should have explained that I realized they were going through a lot of changes and learning so fast right now, and that it was wonderful but sometimes frustrating and confusing and sometimes even scary, and that I knew they needed their mom and dad maybe more now than ever, even though they were transitioning into a phase of greater independence.

But what I heard hissing through my clenched teeth instead was: Back.  The fuck.  Off. 

Which had the twofold effect of a) making me instantly feel like an asshole; and, b) well, nothing.  I still had to shove the flailing dog out the door while dragging along the screaming kids who had by then pierced my hamstrings with their talons.

These moments of exasperation are really few and far between, and I think they are becoming more rare even as the kids become more demanding.  I'm pretty pleased with myself on that account.  For a while, I was getting annoyed with the kids fairly regularly.  But I realized that it only happened when I was trying to multi-task, which is something I should never do in the first place, and, unless totally unavoidable, is kind of like cheating on the kids.  Usually when the girls get cranky, all they want is my attention, which is not such a difficult thing to give.  And, unlike with grownups, being patronizing actually works on them.     





Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Worst Landlord Story Ever













As I was pulling shards of glass out of the frame of the shower door at our rental property yesterday, I couldn't help but feel a little contemptuous toward our tenants.  Yes, I was suspicious of their story that the shower door had broken in the course of normal use.  But that's not what bugged me.

On my way to the bathroom, I had sidestepped countless piles of dirty clothes, bits of garbage, food debris, and garden variety junk strewn throughout the house.  The bathroom itself was covered in mold and funk.  The toilet lid had a coat of short, dark hairs--they didn't look like pubes, exactly, but more like the detritus of someone having run electric clippers over their (or someone else's) hairy ass. Or something.  I didn't really want to know.  I just wanted to pick up the broken shower door and be on my way. 

Even though the renters hadn't done any real damage to the apartment as far as I could tell, I resented the condition they kept it in, because about five years ago I had spent several months remodeling that unit, and I had gotten it looking cherry.  And the couple who moved in right after the remodel kept it clean and tidy, with a minimalist decorating scheme that added to the apartment's open, expansive feel.  The couple who moved in after them stayed for two blissful years, along with their hip vintage furniture and tastefully scented candles.

But don't get me wrong.  The current renters, while filthy, are a beautiful dream compared to some of the other shiftless reprobates we've had in our little three-unit building.  The current tenants pay their rent every month and...well, that goes a long way.

We bought the building about a year before the peak of the housing market, back when you could secure a jumbo loan by texting someone who claimed to be a mortgage broker and promising that you were a nice person.  And for a year or so, we wallowed like Scrooge McDuck in the imaginary money we were raking in from the increasing value of our frumpy little 1970 stucco box, patting ourselves on the back for our shrewd investing.

Of course, now the best we can say about our "income property" is that it's a good tax write-off.

When we bought the building, we inherited not only a long list of deferred maintenance, but also a long-time tenant.  I remember the first time we saw him, when we met with our realtor and building inspector to walk the apartment before finalizing the purchase.

The tenant--we'll call him Bob--was a jittery wisp of a guy, with darting eyes and a nervous mumble that barely registered in my rockband-and-construction-site-ravaged eardrums.  He had a friend there, trim and neatly coiffed, who stayed two steps ahead of us, looking for a place to stash an armload of gay porn videos and magazines.

Our plan upon closing was to try to encourage Bob to find a new place to live by raising the rent up to its market value, which was about 150% of what the previous owner was charging.

It was not Bob's predilection for porn that made us want him out, but rather his chain smoking and his cats.  We had intended to forbid both pets and smoking in our building, but because of either some arcane renters' rights law or maybe our own sense of fairness, I forget which, we waived this policy for our inherited tenant, despite the smell of cat piss and the coating of cancer-colored tar on the walls.  We thought he would be gone soon.

But Bob wouldn't take a hint, and held on to that apartment tenaciously, even when it became clear that he couldn't afford it.

After the first year, he started bouncing checks or simply neglecting to pay his rent every once in a while, and I would always come up with some kind of installment plan for him to pay back what he owed.  And whenever one of the smaller, cheaper units in the building opened up, I would offer him first dibs on it.  But he wouldn't budge.

We had learned the hard way through another tenant, to whom we had rented an apartment despite his bad credit history because we didn't want to be jerky slumlords, that the eviction process is long, expensive, and unlikely to result in any recouping of lost rent.  So we avoided going down that road with Bob until he was into us for about four thousand dollars.

After that, I reluctantly contacted the lawyer we had used on the first eviction, and got the wheels in motion.  I called and emailed Bob innumerable times to try and convince him to move out and avoid legal action, but he always dodged me.

Soon, the other tenants started contacting me to complain that Bob and his friends had been partying loudly into the wee hours.  When I went to deliver the eviction notice, a friend of his answered the door and explained that he was staying in the apartment for a while.  I explained that Bob was being evicted, and suggested that maybe the friend might think about helping him out with his rent.  He made a noncommittal, mildly exasperated gesture, like, Oh that Bob--you know how he is. 


So we went ahead with the eviction process.  We filed the paperwork and waited for another two months while Bob lived rent-free in our building.

Finally, the sheriff's department called and told me to meet them at the apartment, at which point they would remove the tenant.  I had been through this before, and while it was pretty dramatic to see the cops bang on the door with their guns drawn, it had turned out to be a non-event the last time, the tenant having cleared out before our arrival, leaving nothing but a few pieces of furniture behind.


But when I met the cops for Bob's eviction, his car was still in the driveway.  I knew this was not going to go smoothly.  And, as was the case during the previous eviction, I thought, should I be taking cover?  There are cops wielding guns just a few yards from me.

I hunkered down in the seat of my truck as the sheriff's deputies rapped on the door.

Nothing happened.

One of the cops came over and asked me for permission to break the security chain, the only thing preventing them from gaining entrance.  I said sure, and loaned them a prybar from my toolbox so they could do it without damaging the door.

I watched the cops jimmy the door and go inside.

Two minutes later the same cop walked back to my truck.

"I've got some bad news," he said.

"Yeah?"

"He shot himself."

I had no idea how to respond.  "Shit," I said.  "Fuck.  When?"

"Just now.  We heard a 'pop' as soon as we broke the chain."

"Is he...dead?"

"Uh...yeah.  Pretty much."

For the rest of the afternoon, I watched myself as if from a distance as I dealt with cops, the medical examiner, neighbors, and my friend who was interested in renting the apartment and was supposed to come look at it that evening. (He did end up renting it, after the extensive remodel.)  It took me a good five minutes to convince my wife that I wasn't pulling her leg when I called to tell her.  Then I had a phone conversation with my mom in which she said that this experience was "one of the worst landlord stories" she had heard.

"It's not the worst?" I thought.

I fumbled around briefly for some perspective on what had happened.  Of course it was a tragedy.  A man had taken his own life.  But it wasn't my fault.  Right?  I had done more than most people would have in my situation to try to help this guy out.

But I didn't have to grasp for long, because between the evidence in the apartment and a conversation I had with his sister the next day, it became clear that I was the least of Bob's demons.  He had been dying of AIDS and self-medicating with all kinds of recreational chemicals.  He had been throwing himself a farewell party for the last five months, and I was picking up the tab.

So my flirtation with guilt transformed into anger and annoyance as I spent the following weeks trying to mop up the mess this ghost had made.  His sister offered to assume his debts--which she had no legal obligation to do--but then rescinded the offer after paying the four thousand dollar fee to the HazMat crew for what looked like a quick scrub of the bedroom ceiling and the removal of about two square feet of carpet.

As anxious as I was to get started on cleaning up, I had to wait until all of Bob's personal effects were removed from the building.  Even after he was dead, I couldn't seem to get him out of the place.  His sister hired an "estate broker" who in turn paid some sketchy characters from the neighborhood to man the rummage sale of Bob's third-hand furniture and cat-themed knick-knacks.  The other tenants called to tell me that these cretins had been squatting in the apartment for days, and they didn't leave until after I had sufficiently screamed at the junkman who had hired them.

Eventually, of course, I was able to gain access to the apartment and remodel it from stem to stern, replacing every inch of flooring, fabricating a new shower out of concrete and tile, scraping the "popcorn" texturing off of the ceiling, scrubbing the nicotine sludge off of the walls, etc., etc., etc.

During all the late hours I spent working alone in there, I only remember one chilling moment.  I was clearing junk out of the bedroom where Bob had sat on the bed with a revolver under his chin, and I had to remove a couple of mirrors that were mounted on the wall.  I saw my own reflection in the mirror, as well as that of the darkened bathroom doorway behind me.  And I imagined for just a moment what I would do if I saw the reflection of a gaunt figure coming out of the shadows behind me.  First, I thought, I would shit myself.  And after that?  Who knows.  I decided to leave the mirrors where they were until the next morning.

My friends who would move into the apartment picked out the very lively color scheme, and even helped paint the place.  By the time we were done, there was no trace of Bob to be found.  The new renters hung some kind of crystal in the bedroom where he had done himself in though, just in case.

Although I'm not particularly superstitious, I know a creepy house when I'm in one, and this apartment was not the least bit creepy once it was spruced up.  And it stayed cheerful through the tenure of the two couples who lived there after Bob.

But I don't know.  The shape that it's in right now, with the mold and the filth and the broken glass, just deflates me.  It's borderline creepy.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Beta Dad goes to war

I've found that when packing for twin toddlers, it doesn't make much difference whether you're going away for a weekend or a month.  You can fit three week's worth of onesies and rompers into a shopping bag, but it's the infrastructure you need for anything longer than a half-day excursion--the pack 'n' plays and booster seats--that can fill up a little econobox like our 13-year old hatchback before you even start thinking about whether to bring an extra pair of shoes for yourself.  And you can forget about taking your surfboard and wetsuit.  Also, just leave the banjo at home.  Nobody really wants to hear it anyway.
 
We went out of town over the weekend.  Not far--just about seventy miles from home, to a quaint little beach town where we and a group of friends had rented a creaky old house near the harbor.

The occasion for the trip was the yearly reunion of Dr. Mom's residency class.  Together, these twelve women had endured the three-year hazing process that's a prerequisite for practicing general medicine.  It was sheer coincidence that their class was made up entirely of women, and also that of the twelve women, four of them were Vietnamese-American.  In addition to the shared hell of residency,  these demographic flukes helped knit the ladies closely enough that they have felt compelled to reunite at least once a year in the seven years since they graduated from the program.

As the only husband or partner at this reunion, I was definitely the odd man out.  But my nanny services were required since all the ladies wanted to see our babies, and there was no way Dr. Mom could have wrangled them herself and still gotten to enjoy time with her friends.  I didn't protest though, because I like hanging out with this group or, when it gets too intensely gynocentric for comfort, ducking off to change a diaper while assiduously eavesdropping on them.

This reunion was special too, because one of their number was pregnant.  And a pregnancy in the group means a "blessingway" is in the offing.  And a blessingway means...well, I'm not exactly sure what it means because they sent me upstairs to blow up an air mattress while they were performing it.  Or more accurately, they asked if I could inflate the mattress at some point before bedtime, and I thought that the point at which they started burning sage was as good as any for me to make myself scarce.  I suspected--correctly, it turns out--that there would be some kind of sharing of feelings soon after that.  And sincerity makes me uneasy.  Also, I figured that the blessingway spell could have been broken by my manliness, especially clad as I was in camouflage, a paste of sweat and dust, and the fluids spilled on the field of battle.

You see, on Saturday morning, while the ladies were walking on the beach and discussing their hopes and fears, I had driven two hours into the desert to meet up with a bunch of guys and blast the shit out of each other with paintball guns. 

The paintball party was in honor of my brother-in-law's birthday, and I only knew about five of the twenty warriors at the beginning of the day.  By the end though, we shared a bond that can only come from fighting endless hours of pretend war shoulder to shoulder, relentlessly marching from one firefight to another, never resting except for a few breaks for pizza and Gatorade.

I would love to regale you with stories of derring-do on the battlefield, but it's just too soon.  With time though, and maybe some outpatient therapy, I may be able to talk about it with people who weren't in the shit.  Suffice it to say that we lost seven guys that day (they had to do stuff with their girlfriends in the afternoon), and no one left unscathed.  I myself have some sizable welts and two broken fingernails.  I may not play classical guitar for a week.

All gave some.  Some gave all.

After the war, some of us veterans had a reunion of our own, at a sports bar in the nearest town.  We toasted one another and talked about the strengths others had shown in battle.  Then we drifted into talking about the various relationships and projects we all had in civilian life.  Our hopes and fears, more or less.   

So as I sat upstairs in the beach house, hyperventilating into an air mattress and hoping the twins wouldn't wake up when the fire trucks came after the neighbors reported the stench of burning sage, I realized that the differences between these bonding rituals were more about scale than substance.

The ladies had been through three years of battles together, and would probably have a lifetime bond based on that experience.  We men had essentially distilled that process into the course of an adrenaline-and-welt-filled day, and opened up the opportunity for maybe two or three more beers together before we have to either do it again or just stop talking about it.

Of course, the artifacts of the two experiences do differ quite a bit.  Part of the pregnancy celebration tradition among Dr. Mom's residency sisters is that they all bring trinkets signifying something about their relationship with the guest of honor, and assemble them into a mobile, to be hung over the baby's crib.  We've got one in the closet nursery where the twins sleep, and here's a terrible picture of the ladies building the latest one:







The souvenirs that the fellas take home from the paintball, while perhaps not as permanent, are every bit as impressive.



That's not me, by the way; nor is it my handiwork, as much as I wish I could claim it.  But I saw it happen, and it was totally like a scene from "Saving Private Ryan."





Thursday, October 7, 2010

Guide to Beta Dad

I have no idea how Blogger's "Blog of Note" thing works, but I know that it's driving crazy amounts of traffic here; so I assume you might be visiting for the first time.  That's why I painstakingly researched (asked my wife), and lovingly compiled (threw together) this list of some of my posts that might give you an idea of what to expect if you choose to make this a regular haunt.

Although I'd like to think it was due to a sudden interest in rhetorical analysis of children's books, I'm pretty sure I landed on the "Blog of Note" list due to a kerfuffle concerning a wildly popular blog called "Single Dad Laughing."  If you're interested in the drama of the last few days, check this out (the comments are especially interesting).




Did you read about the drama?  Do you feel like you need to take a bath?  Wait.  Read some of the following posts first.  You should find them as refreshing as a country lane after a spring shower.

Night at the park  Ruminations on the urban ecosystem of the park near our house, where I spend a lot of time with my kids and dog.  It also has a thriving hobo population and gay cruising scene.  #trannyhookers

TV-free shorties  The perils of raising children on a media diet of NPR, Tom Waits, and gansta rap.

My cruel wife and her cute babies  Just an example of how my wife persecutes me, and some irresistible pictures of the twins when they were half their current age.

Five things for cynics to do at church   How I got through a church service in order to get our kids on the waiting list for their preschool.

Rhetorical Analysis: The Wheels on the Bus  A quasi-scholarly look at the iconic children's book/song.  Warning: includes lactation-stimulating pictures.  (I know this isn't everyone's cup of tea, but if you like it, check out the other posts with the tags "rhetorical analysis" and "literary analysis."  I love writing these and wish people would demand that I do it more often.)

Butching it up for the daddy playdate   The initial anxiety and eventual triumph on the occasion of my first encounter with the stay-at-home dad group, which, along with the Asian mommy group, constitutes my real world adult social life.

Large dog drags babies through park  Our much-maligned Swissy dog doing what she does best--pulling a wagon and looking beautiful.

Pets from the past: Moscow '79  A visit to a back-alley vet after a car vs. dog collision on a winter night during the cold war, when my dad was posted at the U.S. embassy in Moscow.

Mother's Day fail and brilliant recovery  My wife likes this one.

Happy Patriarchy Dad  I like this one because it made my dad squirm.

Failing at feminist fathering  Blah blah blah whatever.  This has some really cute pictures of the girls in their girly party clothes.

Drugs have no effect on me  During a recent surgery, I'm visited by Giant Demi Moore, who accuses me of having a crush on Seventies Cher. 

Follicles for Algernon  This was a guest post I wrote for Clark Kent's Lunchbox about going bald, and the shame spiral it creates.  People with thick, luxurious hair thought it was a real riot.  Jerks.

The Shiny: an animated short  The twins try to pull off a heist on the Beta Family Dishwasher, using an ATV and a mustard bottle.

Greta and the Grief Stalker   A crazy(ish) lady follows me around the park as I prepare to have my dog euthanized.  Good times.


 Or, if you don't want to read all those words, you could just check out this video of the twins running around like maniacs.


 

One more thing.  I entered a contest at a cool new(ish) website called "Man of the House."  It's called "The World's Greatest Dad Contest," and while I don't really consider myself to be even in the top quintile of greatest dads in my zip code, I certainly want the cash money prize they are offering.  If anything would make me a better dad, it would be a couple thousand bucks.

Because I didn't know about the contest until moments before it ended, I just submitted a short video of my dog pulling the babies in a wagon.  Anyway, my buddy John Cave Osborne is a shoe-in for the grand prize, and he plans to give the money away to a worthy charity.  But there's a second prize, and I sure could apply that money toward a new laptop, so I could blog more efficiently.  Even if my video is kind of lame, part of the idea of the promotion is simply to vote for your favorite dadblogger.  So, I don't know...why don't you go over there and vote for me, or vote for John, or any of the other guys.  Check out the site in any case.  It's pretty cool.  Here's the link.  I'm listed as Beta D.  Mine is the only video with a dog in a harness pulling babies in a Radio Flyer.    

Thanks for stopping by.  I hope you'll click some of the "follow" and "share" buttons.


Update 10:30 a.m. :  You should just go ahead and vote for John Cave Osborn, because he's donating the money to a good cause, and he's in second place right now.  Voting for me would be a wasted vote at this point.  Here's the link

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

WTF? Beta Dad is Blog of Note? I guess it pays to be a hater.

Yeah, so anyway...

I did a total hatchet job on this guy yesterday, and now my blog is blowing up like crazy.  I'm not surprised that my meanest-spirited work would be my most popular, but the layers of irony are quite deep.  I won't try to penetrate them all, as I normally would, in my navel-gazing way, but the main irony is that I went off on this guy because I was suspicious about how he got so much traffic on his mediocre (let's face it) blog.  He ended up emailing me and saying that I had hurt him real bad, man, and that a lot of his success had to do with "The Secret," (he wrote all about it on his blog today) as well as his whole positive, empowering message blahblahblah.  And he said that I could get the universe to do my bidding too, if I would only watch "The Secret" on DVD, available through Amazon.com for $9.99.  Meanwhile, I manage to get a bunch of traffic on my little blog by sneaking up and shanking the biggest guy on the cellblock (that thing I just did was a gangsta metaphor--something we mommybloggers love almost more than unicorns.)  See.  Irony.

So I feel a little dirty about the whole episode.  Which is not to say you shouldn't read yesterday's attack.  You should.  But that's not what I normally do here.  I write a lot of too-long-for-the-genre funny/reflective/irono-serious stuff, stories about kids and dogs, sanctimonious social critiques, and post lots of pictures and videos of the cutest freakin' twins in the world.  Like so:




The universe has already done my bidding, yo.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

In which I personally attack another dadblogger for no good reason. Sorry, a "So much more than" dad blogger.

In this post, I may be a) tilting at windmills; b) being a delusional hater and douchebag; c) making a big deal about something obvious; or d) a combination of the preceding. In any case, I am surely embarrassing myself and possibly initiating the demise of my blogging "career." Whatevz.

I have not been aggravated in this particular way since I was a much younger man. This is probably a bad sign, and it may have something to do with the recent adjustment in my thyroid medication. (If it gives me the percentage of body fat I had when I was eighteen, however, I will happily learn to live with this heightened sense of indignation and urge to lash out.) Please accept my apologies in advance for the attack that follows.

When I was in my early teens, I latched on to the loutish, playful anger of punk rock, and let it guide my decisions about who and what to embrace, and who and what to dismiss or attack. Of course I had plenty of friends who didn't understand my obsession, and that was fine. I could even abide people mocking punk rock. But what I couldn't tolerate was posers trying to act or dress like punks to get attention or, much worse, musical acts adopting the punk rock ethos in an attempt to sell records.

Because the most important aspect of punk rock was to be "real." I railed against these frauds, and of course no one really cared. And that's what I'm doing now, because apparently I'm fifteen years old.

The object of my ire? A probably perfectly nice guy named Dan, who, through his blog Single Dad Laughing, is probably just trying to get famous and make a buck. His offense? Becoming way too popular, way too soon, in the milieu that many of us are floundering around in for whatever reason: to make contact with other parents, to try to establish ourselves as writers, to rake in swag from sponsors--whatever (see the interesting conversation in the blogosphere in the last few weeks about whether dadbloggers "suck"). Dan has managed, in three months of blogging (according to his own analysis) to attract the kind of traffic that would make the most famous mommybloggers spontaneously give birth to glittering herds of unicorns.

Or so it seems to me. Most people don't advertise how many "hits" they're getting. But Dan cheerfully boasts about the tens of thousands of people reading his blog, and how much his magical words have changed peoples' lives, and how he plans to change the world. I am not exaggerating at all. Check out his latest self-aggrandizing post.   He has hundreds of comments on many of his posts, and on some of them, there are over a thousand--more than on any of the most wildly popular blogs I have read.  I don't think there's any way to fake that: the guy is obviously a marketing genius if nothing else.

So why can't I just wish this fellow dadblogger well and admit that people dig what he's putting out there in his heartfelt, moralistic, Air Supply-ish prose?  That he is inspiring people the way I and my fellow dadblogging proles could never do?

Because 1) he kind of sucks (sorry Dan); and 2) there's something really fishy about his operation.  I elaborate below.

1) The suckiness.  Whatever.  There is no accounting for taste.  It bugs me a bit when people fall for sentimental dreck.  But I know a lot of people like that kind of stuff.  I didn't care for Titanic.  I thought the "poignant" Shamu narrative at Sea World was preposterous.

Just as, when I was in a punk band, I thought we were better than a lot of the other bands in our scene, I think I'm a better writer than some of my peers.  Dan included.  But that shit is subjective.  And, as many experts point out, it doesn't really matter how good your writing is in the world of blogs (or novels, movies, TV, etc.)  There's way more to it than that.

So, then, on to #2) The Fishiness.

I haven't read every word of this guy's blog, but here's the gist of it from my perusing maybe 40% of his posts:

He's a single dad, twice divorced, living in Salt Lake City.  He is employed full time (but as of his last post, he quit his job so he could focus on changing the world through his blog, and he wants you--yes you!--to petition Ellen and Oprah to help him on his mission.)  He loves his kid way more than you love yours.  His own writing makes him cry.  A lot.  (Read the "about" section for a very glowing third person review of his "powerful" writing.)  He loves M&Ms more than you love your kid.  It seems like he has another kid from his first wife, but he doesn't really talk about that one.  His blog is "So much more than a daddy blog," according to his banner.

Pretty busy life, right?  But he finds time to post on his blog every single day, including photos, videos, CG comics, and tons of info about his stats that indicate a considerable amount of data analysis on his part.  He often refers to the long hours he spends writing and re-writing his "powerful"--and long (I'm one to talk)--messages.  Also, he has a full complement of ads running on his site, which would require quite a bit of time to manage, and is launching a store to sell his "Get Real" merchandise.  And his most "powerful" sermon post happens to include the exhortation that we dads turn off our computers and spend more time with our precious kids. (I think that sentiment is his intellectual property, actually.)

I, on the other hand, like most daddy bloggers (I suspect), barely manage to churn out two or three posts a week, and feel terribly guilty about the hours spent commenting on other blogs (although it's often time well spent for a variety of reasons) and dicking around on twitter and facebook to try to lure people to read our stuff.  I think about trying to get it together and seeing if I could make a few bucks off of ad revenue, but I just can't find the time to even think about how to go about it.  And I don't even have a job! 

Every one of Dan's posts includes a paragraph or so imploring his readers to share his message through whatever social media channels they use.  Most bloggers do that to some extent, but he is particularly shameless about it.  I don't begrudge him that.  I just find it amazing that it doesn't turn readers off.  But again, I thought Titanic was schlocky.

Usually, when bloggers attack one another (something I have always found, and honestly still do find, childish), they don't link to their opponent's blog for fear that they will drive traffic to his site.  I don't care.  You should really check this out.  The guy is either the most wonderful, sincere dad, who has tapped into the curative rhetoric that will heal our ailing family of humanity (in which case I'm a wretched curmudgeon); or he's a devious salesman who has figured out how to prey on bad taste and emotional vulnerability to sell some ads.  It could well be a combination of both.

So why am I obsessing over this guy and spending valuable sleep-time ranting about him even though this type of thing seems so beneath my usual standards of good taste (ell oh ell)?  And, for that matter, what's up with all of the self-directed questions?

I'm not quite sure.  Mostly I can't help myself.  It's not like if I don't expose him as a fraud (which I have now completely convinced myself he is), he is going to harm people.  The worst that could happen is that he would get on Oprah and become the face of daddybloggers, and maybe get a reality show and a book deal, which wouldn't have any repercussions beyond making me grind my teeth down to nubs.  Probably he will just get a little attention on the various 'spheres, and then fade away as the rest of us should be so lucky as to do.

On the other hand though, he might become the Billy Idol of daddybloggers, making the rest of us cringe as he performs his grotesque caricature of our medium for an adoring public.

Oh, yeah.  Don't forget to share this post on Twitter, Facebook, your own blog, Net Flicks, Yelp, LinkedIn, Craigslist, AOL instant message, and print it out and staple it to all the utility poles in your neighborhood.  I just know we can get everyone in the world to be more cynical and suspicious if we all join together. 



Note to other dad bloggers who might normally give me encouraging comments:  I will take your silence as an indication that you agree with me or don't give a shit about my paranoid ravings.

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