Thursday, November 30, 2006

a letter for me, a noble american

[please bear with me as I try something new]

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has sent us all a letter, but I don't think I got mine.
Looks like he's getting his holiday cards out of the way early.
According to the NYTimes, “The call came in the form of a six-page letter in English, […] addressed to ‘noble Americans’…”
Apparently, it was addressed to:
Noble Americans
c/o Occupant
I may have just thrown it away.

I imagine it may have read something like:
Dear Noble American,
You may already have won real estate in Palestine...

There may have been coupons involved, too. I don't know.

No. It was actually published online. That’ll get at the heartland. So it may have been an appeal along the lines of the Nigerian scammers. “My dead husband left me this uranium and I need some help getting it across the borders..."

Actually it's not an email but published in one place, so it's more like he started his own MySpace page.

The NYTimes article also notes, “The letter also employed an inferential, Iranian style of communication that experts say is likely to leave Americans cold.”
But I wouldn’t know about that, I only skimmed the letter provided in the link. There weren’t any pictures or graphs or captions, so I decided to skip it. Now if he were to get himself a cute little spokesmodel…


I’d say this little guy looks pretty comfy. We just got him today.
He’s seven months old. Name’s, well, so far it’s Baci Kitty-Cat Boom-Bang.
His name at the shelter was El Nino (I hope it’s not for how much he pees).
Madge still calls him a her – because our previous cat was a she and because that’s what I was ordered to get – and she favors the name Tiger because of his color and because he’s so fierce with strings and shoelaces.
Coco and I got him today, as I said. We were on a 5-hr trek. First to Williamsburg where we found out we couldn’t adopt a kitten under four months without adopting two at a time. And the older ones didn’t meet with “our” approval. So we went to – I think – Harlem, 110th Street at First Avenue and found him. He was the only orange one and I think Coco has a thing for orange cats because he wanted to “buy” the orange one that was in the shop by the adoption place in Williamsburg.
The Baci Kitty-Cat Boom-Bang, incidentally, is mostly a Coco invention. We were bandying cat names about (all four of us) because Madge asked how you choose a name. Julie and I said you just suggest names until you find one you can agree on. Julie and my suggestion was (and still is) Mr. Grant. (And, honestly, it would suit our new arrival just fine.) Madge suggested Lisa and similar names. Then we walked by the Hibachi place and Coco said “bachi” and we realized that, spelled in a different way, this means kiss in Italian and might make a good name. Then, later, out of the blue, he said “Kitty-Cat Boom-Bang” and we thought it might be a good last name. I.e., a Ms. Kitty-Cat got together with a Mr. Boom-Bang and the lights dim and fireworks go off and we have a new kitten.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The sidewalk of fame

We live across the street from a playground and park. On the other side of this is a middle school.
The sidewalk on our side of the playground is in the process of being redone. Yesterday they broke it up (and did some creative non-towing car-moving).
Today - today! - they are pouring new cement. Why they didn't wait for the weekend I don't know.
I expect the national guard to move in just in time for the middle school's lunch break. Otherewise it'll look like the sidewalk in front of Grauman's.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Coco time

Since Coco got to be in the hospital without being sick, we were very reluctant this weekend to drag him to the doctor. But after two nights of unrelenting fever and bad dreams we decided he had to. Good thing, too, because now he has penicillin for his sinus infection.
I don’t know what’s worse, the fact that he resists going to the doctor so violently – no scars on me this time, but my forehead still has one from a previous struggle – or the fact that when he does give in it makes our hearts break. (He slumps down in that Charlie-Brown’s-depressed posture and says, in a small voice, “okay.” – this has occurred several times for blood tests.)
Well, yesterday he fought non-stop. And, honestly, part of me is really proud of him for doing so – as tough as it is to sit through a doctor’s visit that way.
The doctor, incidentally, was great about it. When she came in, she said, “Is this going to get any better with time?”
I said, “No.” She said, “Okay,” and the wrestling match was on.
Coco won after six rounds, on points, but we got the Amoxicillin.
Now all we have to do is figure out how to get him to take it.

Which isn’t as bad as it sounds. Sometimes he only needs time. Last night we set the medicine on the table and told him he needed to take it because it would help his nose be clear. After about half an hour, he said, “My cough, too?” We said “yes” and he took it. Even asked for more.
This morning, however, Madge was involved. And she has an urge to be right. All the time. And doesn’t have much patience. Let me rephrase that: She has a lot of patience for a 7-yr-old, but not when provoked by the shouts of a little brother.
Anyway, this morning Coco said he was going to throw the medicine away (he was about to push it off the table) and Madge took it as a personal challenge, and the day got off to a painful start.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Madge Monday, illin'

Thanksgiving was fun, but, as you may remember, there was coughing going on. Especially Friday and after. Fevers. General discontent. Coco had the privilege of going to the doctor today (joy! – I only have two new scars on my ears and cheek from the visit). Yesterday, Madge had written this poem:


My brother is sick.
But I don’t kno
W what to
Do. I am sick
But I don’t
Know what to
Do. Could you
Give me some advice? That would
Be very nice of you. But please
Don’t come to my house or
You will get sick too. I am
Going to tell you my adress
[XXXX] apment [XX]
Thank you!

Call it what you want, blues form or Stollen und Abgesang, this piece has some definite form. Not to mention internal rhymes. But it is also the essence of Madge (or perhaps every 7-yr-old, or – gasp – of a female), asking for help and at the same time refusing it.
(Don’t come here. Where shouldn’t you come? Why, I’ll tell you exactly…)

Sunday, November 26, 2006

See no error

I don’t know why, but it’s always fun to find editing mistakes in the New Yorker.
Here we have (New Yorker, Nov. 27, 2006) such an instance. Talk of the Town, “In the Museums: Do Not Touch” by Nick Paumgarten.
He begins with Nuria Chang’s blindness. (“Before Nuria Chang went blind, at the age of eight, she had wanted to be an artist.”)
Then he talks about museum tours for the blind, this one led by Amir Parsa (“… their lecturer, Amir Parsa, a poet and writer…”).
Parsa describes Seurat’s pointillist technique, and Chang asks a clarifying question about mixing colors.
In response to this, according to the article, “Parsa nodded.”

Fun, huh? (Either Parsa is sadistic or a writing convention took over when it didn’t make much sense.)

It’s still a fun article, by the way, and ends cutely with Chang saying of a fellow blind museumgoer who tends to contradict her comments, “We only see each other in the museum.” (She might have said “meet,” no?)

Friday, November 24, 2006

Sacrificing for an evenness of tone

Speaking of making writing worthwhile, I just read a great chapter in Sterne's "The Life and Adventures of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman." Book IV, Chapter XXV (I think, or it may have had another I) in case you want to jump to your bookshelf and verify what I'm about to say. In it, he says that he tore out ten pages from his book because they were too good and would set the rest of his writing in a bad light.

Q Fable

(It's fabulous Friday again. And you thought I'd forgotten.)

The Quill and the Quotation

The quill scratched out its discontent. “Look. You tore me out of my host, whom you may have murdered beforehand. Then you carved me up and dunked me into this vile liquid. I’d understand if you’d have some original thoughts to put down. But I consider the entire process in vain if all you’re going to do is repeat what others have written before.” And, just as the scrivener was about to open the quotation marks, the quill snapped and splattered ink all over the document.

Gobble, gobble, cough, cough

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.
We had a good one. Yummy yummy brined turkedy from a recipe we got from Ted Allen's cookbook. (Coco was with me at the book-signing last year and got to pose with the author. The dedication is "To Coco, the coolest firefighter I know." Or something like that. Sweet. The brine is great.)
Now everyone is sick, more or less. Cold, fever, cough, sniffles. All the more reason to stay inside and watch videos and eat leftovers.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Coco bonus for the week

(A quickie to counterbalance the other lengthy ones.)

Coco loves to reenact movies and movie scenes.

Here he had the necklace, put it up under his nose (after making sure his hood was up) and said, "I Elliott."
(As in, I'm doing a scene from E.T.)

Phiggy goes advertising

Occasionally, I try to keep up with various aspects of pop culture. Even advertising.
Here’s one way (it’s an Ad Age editor's - Hoag Levins' - collection of eight ads).

Man. Okay, sometimes there are jokes in there that are all right (or “creative” moments), but even when there are, how do they sell a product?

Here’s my descending order of what I find wrong with them, on the superficial single go-around that I had with them (not the incessant TV-saturation they are hoping for):

Product: HondaJet
Gimmick: They’re painting a whole city to look like a blue sky
My issue: In an era when one of the single most memorable moments is having two airplanes crash into tall buildings, should we be camouflaging our buildings to look like the sky? What's next, an ad for motorboats featuring a flooded city?
What I might have done: Honda. Our cars don’t suck. Now we make airplanes. (Maybe have Garrison Keillor sing a song about flying like he does for their diesel motors.)

Product: Independence Blue Cross
Gimmick: A pregnant woman is on a bus and when she starts feeling contractions the whole city is devoid of people
My issue: I don’t get it. Why would you follow a visual image that says “There’s nobody there for you” with the logo for Blue Cross? And I thought the set-up was promising. Too bad.
What I might have done:
Lady gets on a crowded bus. Nobody gives her a seat. Blue Cross guy (bouncer/bodyguard type) comes on and forcibly ejects an inconsiderate rider. Blue Cross. We’re there for you.
Lady is on crowded bus. Labor begins. People are frantic. Bus driver asks about her insurance. She shows her Blue Cross card and the bus driver whips out one of those handy Kojak sirens and whizzes through traffic.
Similar idea: Pregnant woman in cab. Labor begins. Cabby delivers baby. Meter reads $15,277. Blue Cross representative comes and pays fare. Plus tip.

Product: Bud Light
Gimmick: There’s a pole in a guy’s apartment. As he’s getting beers for himself and his date, she gives it a whirl. He says that’s not what it’s for. She opens the proffered beer and gets clocked by the guy’s roommate sliding down the pole like a Pavlovian fireman.
My issue: Okay, it made me laugh. I’m a sucker for slapstick, even though it was expected (what other switcheroo would a pole in an apartment offer?). But don’t expect any women to buy Bud Light after seeing this. And it ought to come with a guide for what to do when watching this ad with a woman.
What I might have done: Jeez. Tossed in the towel. Maybe have the honest tag line: Bud Light. We don’t expect women to get it and we don’t care.
Oh, I’ve got it. Have your funny cake and eat it, too. Have a guy and a girl watch this ad (for an unnamed beer) and then have them “discuss” what happens on-screen over a beer (it can even be Bud Light if they pay enough).
The “discussion” begins when the girl looks around sheepishly and starts twirling on the pole. She: Oh, give me a break. He: Yeah, really. Of all the sexist crap. [tink, bottoms up!]
Later, when the girl gets clocked. She: squeaks. He: laughs. She: That wasn’t funny. He: Well, maybe if the guy gets knocked down, too.
And, when he does. She: laughs. He: Cheers!

Product: Minnesota State Lottery
Gimmick: Skinny guy trying to take down a Sumo wrestler. (I.e., The odds of winning are so good that the wimpy guy in the ad figures he might give Sumo wrestling a whirl.)
My issue: Why include the warning “don’t do anything stupid” when you want people to gamble? And, where is Minnesota in all this?
What I might have done: If you want to highlight the good odds, compare it to daily gambles. Chance that you’ll make this light, 1:7. Chance that your appointment will be on time, 1:12. Chance that your wife will be ready in ten minutes, snowball:hell. Chance to win at MN State Lotto, 1:4.

Product: ESPN Visa
Gimmick: A guy’s at the vet with his dog. And, instead of hearing the prices for the procedures, the guy hears the vet say all the things he can get with his bonus points.
My issue: No real issue. This one actually made sense, but it went by too fast to let me get that what the vet was saying was really what the guy was hearing. Also, we all know that having some fleas removed doesn’t even add up to a hot dog at the ballgame, let alone the tickets they claim (or whatever the case is).
What I might have done: Slow it down. Maybe tone it down, too. And, as a punch to the whole thing, have each procedure be a ticket for a different family member. Then, when an in-law or unpopular member might benefit, have the guy say, “Is that procedure really necessary?”

That really does it for me. The other three, I think, are past saving. But I’ll include them anyway, since I don’t have limericks tonight and I’m still exercising my little brain.

Product: Cellular One
Gimmick: Guy gets elf ears to improve his cell phone reception. Other guy says switching to Cellular One would have been cheaper and easier. First guy says, “But I have Cellular One.” (Just kidding.)
My issue: Whoa, talk about a stretch to get an early Christmas link. The acting is terrible, too.
What I might have done: Really, said no thank you to the account. But, if the elf ears are necessary, maybe have a more gradual buildup as to what crazy things people do to accommodate their carrier’s bad reception. In order to make the elf ears not seem so outrageously stupid, you see? Okay, you’re right. You can’t save the elf ears.

Product: Corelle dishes
Gimmick: Runway models show the stylishness of the plates and, to show the durability, they runway is greased and they fall.
My issue: A) It was bad slapstick. B) If you’re the kind of person who buys dishes for the fun of it or the stylishness, don’t you secretly hope they’ll break soon so you can get new ones again? C) Who enjoys buying dishes?
What I might have done: Maybe, maybe, after a big runway model pile-up have them go to the director backstage and have a little tantrum and show their anger by trying to break the dishes, unsuccessfully, of course.

Product: L.A. Times
Gimmick: The camera is inside the newspaper vending box and shows the reaction of the people looking in.
My issue: It’s as stupid as it sounds.
What I might have done: Told them not to spend any money on an ad campaign and instead pay their reporters more.


On the way to the hospital on Sunday, I saw an ad for an exhibit at the MoMA. The featured painting – the focus of the exhibit – was Manet’s Execution of Maximilian.
All I could think of was the posture of the executioners (why not “executors”?).

Scene, the MoMA galleries, in front of Manet’s painting “The Execution of Maximilian.”

Museum Guide: Napoleon III blahblah Mexico blahblah “Mission Accomplished” blahblah Habsburg blah Austrian blah Maximilian crowned in France blahblah sent to Mexico blahblah insurgents blah Benito Juarez blahblah Maximilian blah abandoned by France blahblah execution blahblah firing squad. And the onlookers on the wall resemble the cherubim in the painting of –
Rube: Excuse me. Ma’am? Ma’am?
MG: Yes?
R: Why didn’t those six guys wait for their buddy to finish loading his gun?
MG: I’m glad you asked that. You see, in a sense he is the man of the future, beyond the smoke of time which you see between the shooters and the victims, and he is contemplating the violent act as the result of colonial –
R: Is that why his right hand is so big?
MG: Pardon?
R: Look. His right hand is too big. Is he supposed to be greedy or something?
MG: His hand isn’t too –
R: And why didn’t Mr. Mannay finish the sombrero guy’s face?
MG: Oh, another good question. You’re very observant sir.
R: Thank you kindly, ma’am.
MG: The face is obscured in reference to religious paintings. And you may notice that the sombrero resembles a halo.
R: You’re kidding.
MG: No, sir, I’m not.
R: That ain’t no halo.
MG: I beg your pardon?
R: Have you ever seen a halo?
MG: Well, no, not per se, but I’ve seen paintings of halos.
R: So have I and they don’t look nothin’ like my great-aunt Daphne when she visited upon us two summers ago in Tulsa at out annual church picnic. This genlmn’s without any facial features to speak of is wearin’ a sombrero.
MG: Let’s say that’s a matter of interpretation.
R: No, ma’am. I’d rather not. And why, if that’s supposed to be a halo, isn’t he even shot at? Seems to me all six shooters is all aimin’ at the feller on the left.
MG: Uh-
R: And while we’re at it, I don’t think Mr. Mannay ever shot no rifle.
MG: Why do you say that?
R: Well, I don’t know about religious pictures, ma’am, aside from what’s in my kid’s Sunday school book. And this don’t look like none of those pictures.
MG: Heh, heh. No. Heh. I should assume it doesn’t.
R: But I know about rifles, ma’am, and them rifles used to smoke out of two ends, the one with the flint as well as the business end. And them sumbitches shore do kick, if you know what I mean, and them six fellers is just standin’ there, laadeedaa, like they’s in a choir just humin’ a tune and boppin’ their heads. And…
MG: Yes?
R: And you said they was in Mexico, right?
MG: Yes.
R: Well, it looks like the shooters is wearin’ French uniforms, not no Mexican ones. The only one with the Mexican hat is the Austrian feller.
MG: Yes.
R: It looks to me like Mr. Mannay is sayin’ that the French done executed their own man in Mexico and that nobody felt nothin’ about it and that he wasn’t even a real person to them, just some sort of a holy symbol and that Mexican or French guns smoke funny and that not everyone was even doing the same thing together. … I don’t think Mr. Mannay was that much of a painter anyhow.
MG: Let’s say that’s up to interpretation, too.
R: Yeah? Let me ax you this: who bought the painting?
MG: Uh –
R: I like the lonely barmaid better.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

[WWDTM used the story in last week's show, so I feel I can use it now]

The Queen, her Royal Highness, is to visit Jamestown (will they rename it Elisabethville in her honor?) in May.
Canadians must be jealous, eh?
I wonder what she expects to find.
Will she be offering a brief “Carry on” (while turning to Philip and whispering “and good riddance to those religious fanatics”)?
Or might she collect 400 years’ back taxes?
Maybe she heard about Tom Cruise getting married and wants to impose some form of Jus Primae Noctis.

Unwitting wisdom

This morning, Madge dressed Coco. So I was taking it easy. Then, when school-time loomed, I realized I hadn’t made her lunch yet, and I said, “Oh [expletive], I haven’t been making your lunch, I was just being [I rolled my eyes and went lala with my tongue].”
To which Madge replied,

“Stop being and start making. Those are the important things.”

At age seven, Madge is smoking Sartre and Heidegger in a pipe.

Parenting advice

When a child receives silly putty, make sure that said putty doesn’t go to bed with him. It’s worse than gum because it spreads like peanut butter once it warms up. Then, when it cools again, ick.
And, if you’ve unveiled above wisdom, don’t assume that a lost bit of silly putty is actually led by gravity all the way under the bed.

(Guess who got to extract silly putty from clothing two nights in a row.)

Coco Tuesday

What can I say about our brave little guy?
In general he seems to be getting so big, but sitting on a hospital bed in his Spongebob “button-pjs” with twenty-odd wires sticking out of his head, he looked tiny. And when we told him he was being brave, he said, “Benny brave, too.” (Benny was another kid doing the video EEG.)
The first room freaked him out more than we realized, I think. It was a four-bed room and two TVs (at least) were always on, not to mention a lot of foot traffic. We didn’t notice how uptight that room made him until we got to move to a double, from which the other tenant got released halfway through the day. Coco calmed down quite a bit there.
So now we get to taper off the medicine. It’s like taking off the training wheels, except that falling down isn’t really a learning experience.
When we told him that soon he might not be taking medicine anymore, he said, “Maybe Dr. LJ want to see Flushed Away.” In other words, he likes her and wants to reward her.
So now we’re flying without a net. And let me tell you, being a parent who is afraid of heights isn’t easy when your child isn’t. Especially a child who might have a seizure. Yesterday he was standing on the back of the sofa to reach a toy, for example. Eeek.
My dad told me about Pujol, the Spanish soccer star, and how he broke a lot of bones because he put on a cape and thought he could fly off a garage. I wouldn’t put it past Coco to do the same. One must watch one’s suggestions around him, his safety filter is set at a different level than most people’s.
On the other hand, it sure makes him a lot of fun. And if we’re not careful, Madge can easily convince him to try to do somersaults in the bathtub.

Monday, November 20, 2006


The hospital has an office of Bed Management.

This got me thinking.
I supect that my domestic bed manager got her MBA from an institution that's not fully accredited. It appears that my tasks are to insure a proper sleeping temperature on all parts of the sleeping surface while at the same time keeping my infernally sharp toe-claws at bay.
I think I should look at her degree again. It might be a forgery.

Madge Monday bonus

The kids' sense of humor is generally split as follows: Madge - word, pun, tricks; Coco - slapstick.
An example of Madge's trickery.
I ask her for a cookie. She goes to the cookie jar (with a brief stop at the table on the way), opens it and closes it, tells me to open my mouth, and inserts a piece of rubber cat-poo (which she got at a novelty store in SF).
At least it was fake.

This weekend and Madge

It’s Madge Monday again.
The thing that sticks out from this weekend is how accommodating she was. She got to make the commute to the hospital three times, after all. Sure, she talked us into taking a cab home every time, but still. We took public transportation there. Julie reports that Madge had a short bath on Friday because “it’s not much fun without Coco.” They still take baths together. For two reasons, really. First, in case he has a seizure in the tub, there’s someone there right away. Second, they seem to enjoy it – though it does get kind of messy, what with the splashing and bubble throwing. But it seems that solo baths are only fun when the other one has been made to leave, not when the other one can’t be there.
She was also very brave during the application of the leads. Coco cried a lot because the glue is stinky and the whole process is uncomfortable. Like all of us, Madge doesn’t like it when Coco cries. So she went to another place in the room and read or colored, I’m not sure because we were busy.
What else? She got shorted on playroom time because the hospital’s weekend schedule has abbreviated hours for the playroom and the library. And on Sunday, she and I arrived to a disconnected Coco who was ready to check out and go home, so any sort of hospital fun time was really out of the question. She acted up a bit after that.
But much of this acting up stemmed from the fact that we all deal with stress and its relief in different ways. Madge gets calm and focused during stressful times and then, when the stress is done, she gets fidgety. And her fidgetyness coincides with other people’s desire to finally rest. Ergo: conflict.
Really, all child-parent clashes seem to be scheduling conflicts. One party thinks it’s time to go to sleep while the other party thinks it’s time to catch up on dinner which was forsaken because it occurred during reading time, etc.
Anyway, she was quite amazing this weekend.
And there was another moment of denial for me. When we got on the bus, the driver said, “Sir, just so you know, she’s too tall to be riding for free.”
Eek. Time to make her hunch over or do a duck-walk when we get on the bus.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Home again

We’re back. Coco had his video EEG and didn’t have any seizures while he was there, off the medicine. This is a good thing.
Last night was my first night of not sleeping in the same place as Coco since he was about 4 months old and he had to spend a night in the hospital. It was weird, but Madge and I had a good time, considering, and it had been Coco’s request to have Julie with him the second night. This is a good thing, too. Back in SF I doubt whether he would have made the same request.
Hospital wards like that aren’t the most uplifting places to be at, no matter how hard the staff tries to cheer things up. It is hard, for example, to know what to ask parents of pediatric oncology patients. Or other epilepsy patients. The hospital staff, after all, didn’t really know how to treat Coco because they are trained to hope for seizures. Because seizures that are registered on a video EEG are a step forward from seizures that have not been witnessed, registered, and catalogued. It was odd for the staff that we were hoping he wouldn’t have any seizures.
But we’re home now and he’s hopping on everything, quoting movies, and playing with every toy he can discover. It’s delightful.
His current movie quote is “does somebody need a hug?” followed by an attack-hug and general mayhem.
Feel free to guess what movie we saw (several times) in the hospital room.

Friday, November 17, 2006

P Fable

As part of my new schedule, I figured another alliterative day wouldn't hurt, so I bring you "fabulous Fridays." (I also want to include a "parenting advice" day, but don't know when to do that - they're all parenting advice if you're smart enough to learn from my mistakes.)

Two porcupines were cuddling. Said she, “Do you really love me?”
He answered, “Ouch. What do you think?”
At which she said, “Probably not or you wouldn’t always be so grumpy,” and pouted.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


I usually cut up magazines for future inspiration. Either to practice adding captions or for collages.
Last night, for some reason or another, I was "fun daddy" again. We just finished banging on pots and then using them as basketball hoops when I decided to slow things down and cut up a magazine. While doing so I had the idea of using pictures from the magazines for posing. (Partially, I was inspired by something I saw Demetri Martin do on Comedy Central's Motherload.)
I think I'm on to something here, so I made a set on Flickr, which I'll keep public and add to as inspiration strikes us.
I can't wait to do more, but the kids lost interest because they have a hard time planning their poses (as you'll be able to see in the set). Still, I enjoy it, so we'll be doing more.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Trash without borders

Coco’s school is part of a very worthwhile program. “A Clean Walk to School” invites us to pick up trash on our way to school in order to become more conscious of our environment and to let us learn that we are part of a community and lots of other good things I can’t think of right now.


I think three- and four-year-olds are a little young for this. I think it was just last week that I asked him to drop the cigarette butt he was exploring or to not put Halloween candy trash in his mouth.
In other words, I’m still having a difficult time making him understand that you don’t just pick up anything you see on the ground. I’d rather not be sending a mixed message at this time.
Not that you think I’m a totally asocial [expletive], I did teach the kids the unwritten urban law that once you touch trash you find on the street it becomes your trash and if you drop it you are the one littering, so you better put it in the trash. Not in your mouth! Here, give it to me, I’ll hold on to it until we get to a trash can.

Now, those middle-school brats at the playground in front of our building are another story entirely. I still think they should make all those who come to class late from recess pick up all the lunchtime trash. With their teeth.

Slow News day at the NYTimes

Yesterday's NYTimes had some delightful items in the Business section. First, there's a lengthy article about airplane boarding techniques. No, not a how-to for space pirates, but mathematical models on getting people in and out more efficiently. It appears that the Basque sheep-herding techniques are still the best. (Yes, the Basque sheep have boarding passes.)
Then there's an(other) article I didn't read, but I looked at the headlines and pictures. It's about an investor who would prefer to remain anonymous and behind the scenes. So of course they publish a picture they got of him from a synagogue bulletin or something and I'm guessing the rest of the article details every last bit of his life that he's been trying to keep a secret. Yay, journalism!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Coco Tuesday

For a brief time, we had an art installation in our central gallery. I believe it was a statement about the digestive act and the cycle of life and the futility of dental hygiene, but I may be mistaken.
In any case, I realized that it would be hard to get it into a museum because it is one of those thoughtful pieces which refuse to let you define where “art” ends and “regular life” picks up.
Also, the label itself would be a nightmare for a curator:
“Did You Floss?”
Coco – Nov. 2006
Mixed media (Sodium Fluoride, Sorbitol, Water, Hydrated Silica, Glycerin, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Flavor, Xanthian Gum, Sodium Saccharin, Carbomer, Sodium Hydroxide, FD&C Blue No. 1, FD&C Red No. 3 [phew])
on Polyurethane.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Book blurb

As you may know, I listen to the New York Times Book Review podcast every week. It’s really worth while. Now, if I could only figure out how to work for them…
Anyway, toward the end of the podcast, they had a bit about Richard Ford and novelists who review (and pan) his work.

Apparently (according to the story, legend, myth, take your pick) a publicist sent him a copy of a novel for the purpose of a book-jacket blurb. But the novelist had written a negative review of Ford’s book, so Ford had his wife take the book out back and shoot it with a pistol. And then, here’s the kicker, he requested another copy so he could shoot it himself.

Now, if the publicist had been worth his or her salt, the blurb would have come from the phone call requesting the second copy. And the book jacket would have said something like,
“…gratifying…a blast…” R. Ford.

New blog schedule and Madge-day the first

I’m trying a new thing with this blog now. We’ll see how well it works. I’ve made myself a schedule so that every weekday has its own theme (more or less). And Mondays are for Madge – it’s the only day I could make alliterative, so I figured why not.

Madge doesn’t like her picture taken anymore. You may have wondered why all the pictures on the blog are of Coco. Now you know. It’s too bad because we all know she’ll be wondering, when she’s older, why there aren’t any pictures of her at age 7.
I’ve made her sign an affidavit, so I’m covered.
She got her report card on Friday. We can’t figure out how she feels about it. For ease of parenting, I’ll just tell myself that she doesn’t place much weight on being judged by her teachers. After all, she’s a much harsher judge of what she does than anyone else is. (How much of it is attention-grabbing, I don’t know.)
Hair-brushing and tooth-brushing is still an issue. Maybe we should just cut off her teeth and put caps on her hair.
She likes to play board games, which is great. But one of my many parenting challenges is how hard to play against her. It’s the classic dilemma. I don’t want her to get discouraged, but I also don’t want to get bored. Ideally, I want to play so she learns.
Oh, yes, and I’m a bad loser. That’s because I don’t have much practice at it.
I have the feeling, though, that she’ll make me get better at it soon.
Now that I think of it, you know what’s the worst? When I make sure I don’t win a game and then she gloats about the stupid mistakes I’ve made.
Half a school day today and parent-teacher conferences. Fun stuff. We’ll see how the kids behave outside the door while I’m inside, talking to the teacher.
That was the first Madge Monday. Comments?
Don’t forget, I take requests. And tip the wait staff – T-Bone, that means it wouldn’t hurt to bring Jen some flowers today. (You’re welcome, Jen.)

Saturday, November 11, 2006


I saw an ad for this today and couldn't believe what I read.

The copy was this:


SeanJohn [in that swirly signature of his]



How does copy like this help to sell the product? What the text is saying is, "We don't give a sh*t about what we do. Buy it anyway."

Friday, November 10, 2006

Coco update

Thanks, T-Bone, for your comment and request.
I probably should have regular days of the week for kid updates, since they tend to be the more popular entries anyway.
I feel weird about that, mostly because the blog is about me, dammit. But also because I feel I’m just transcribing what is happening around me without actually “being a writer” – but I know that’s crap. After all, it’s what I observe and make of it.
Since the “Coco update” seems to be my “Free Bird,” here’s something:
Coco’s teachers are impressed with his ability to squiggle out some letters. “Impressed” meaning: “We’ve got to tell this guy something positive about his kid, let’s agree on the ability to draw. He’ll buy that.” And yesterday he upped the ante by drawing Darth Vader (and himself and Madge). But he shouldn’t be taking all the credit for his Vader drawing – I taught him the trick. He asked me how to and I said, “The helmet is just an upside-down letter U. Then you put in some circle eyes and a rectangle mouth with lines in it.” And he bought it.
Again, I have ulterior motives. I can’t draw well at all – at least I don’t think so. But I can read art books (both history and how-to), and it appears that something artists (by this I mean skilled drafts-people, not people with enough guts to call anything they produce and aesthetic creation) do which others don’t is see the underlying shapes and relationships in objects (and then, of course, they have the ability to translate this vision into lines or colors on a page). So I figure if I point out breaking things into their shapes, maybe he’ll save himself a few steps in his development as an illustrator.
I figure another step is to not be stingy with sketches (neither in the “wasted” paper nor in the amount of sketches needed to work on an ease of making lines go together).
Anyway, enjoy his “art.”

And if you meant a health-update: Coco is fine, though he has a cold, like we all do. He is scheduled for a 48-hr EEG next week (one of the reasons I got his hair cut – that stuff is sticky). We’ll see how that goes. On the one hand, I won’t be blogging that weekend because I’ll probably be in the hospital with him (unless he switches to Julie – but right now he has requested me. Well, not me so much as my eyebrows which he still rubs for comfort.). On the other hand, I’m sure there will be plenty of material coming from that stint. You can already start wishing us luck for that weekend. It’ll be his first time off the meds since his seizures last March.

old-school blog followup

Writing what I did yesterday, I didn’t realize what I was setting myself up for.

“Post-limerick lethargy” – When bedtime rolled around, I fell asleep in my clothes next to Coco. At least I saved myself the time getting dressed this morning.

“Madge on a play date” – Nary had I walked a block towards picking her up that I received a phone call from the other mom. Madge was wondering when we would come to get her. We are psychically connected or something. The reason I was a little late follows.

“Reading A.J. Liebling.” – As soon as I hit “Publish Post” Coco woke up. And I believe he has growing pains because occasionally he’ll whine for long stretches of time about his knees hurting him. Oddly, a band-aid (properly themed, of course) will fix the matter, but it still returns sporadically. Then, when he finally calmed down and we went to pick her up (it took quite a while because, well, I was concerned and he was still sleepy and whiny and [BLEEP]ing frustrating) and we all came home and I thought, “Well, maybe now you can read a little,” I couldn’t find the book.
It has since been found, thanks for your concern.

Finally, I do find it odd that, when a quiet moment comes along, I’m usually too stunned to appreciate it or do something with it. So much energy goes into creating five minutes of calm that my brain is too fried and frazzled to remember what on earth I wanted to do when I “finally had some time to myself.” Then, when I do remember, I forget which of the seventeen-thousand, three-hundred and fifty-two items I wanted to do first.

It’s like opening a cupboard and forgetting what you were looking for, then remembering that your shoe has been untied for the last ten minutes and then whacking your head on the open door when you unbend from tying it.

Not that that has ever happened to me.

details from yesterday's messy blog

I believe I was a bit negligent in my blogging duties yesterday.

Here are links for Mr. Klein and for the Liebling book.

And, to give you a taste for the Liebling (really, you ought to read it, it is awesome):

From “Westbound Tanker,” at the end of a paragraph about the silence at his meals with Captain Petersen,

Once, in an effort to make talk, I asked him, “How would you say, ‘Please pass me the butter, Mr. Petersen,’ in Norwegian?” He said, “We don’t use ‘please’ or ‘mister.’ It sounds too polite. And you never have to say ‘pass me’ something in a Norwegian house, because the people force food on you, so if you say ‘pass’ they would think they forgot something and their feelings would be hurt. The word for butter is smor.”

“A Good Appetite” (Opening paragraph)

The Proust madeleine phenomenon is now as firmly established in folklore as Newton’s apple or Watt’s steam kettle. The man ate a tea biscuit, the taste evoked memories, he wrote a book. This is capable of expression by the formula TMB, for Taste > Memory > Book. Some time ago, when I began to read a book called The Food of France, by Waverly Root, I had an inverse experience: BMT, for Book > Memory > Taste. Happily, the tastes the The Food of France re-created for me – small birds, stewed rabbit, stuffed tripe, Cote Rotie, and Tavel – were more robust than that of the madeleine, which Larousse defines as “a light cak made with sugar, flour, lemon juice, brandy, and eggs.” (The quantity of brandy in a madeleine would not furnish a gnat with an alcohol rub.) In the light of what Proust wrote with so mild a stimulus, it is the world’s loss that he did not have a heartier appetite. On a dozen Gardiners Island oysters, a bowl of clam chowder, a peck of steamers, some bay scallops, three sautéed soft-shelled crabs, a few ears of fresh-picked corn, a thin swordfish steak of generous area, a pair of lobsters, and a Long Island duck, he might a written a masterpiece.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

old-school blog

Here is the kind of entry I'd rather not be writing, but it slipped out. It's Thursday, so I have my post-limerick lethargy. Forgive me.

Madge is at a play date and Coco fell asleep on the way home, so now I’m not sure what to do with myself. Ordinarily I’d try to nap, too, but I need to be awake to pick up Madge.
Isn’t my life hard?
I could read, since that’s a quiet activity that wouldn’t wake up the little guy – who got a haircut today and looks extra cute. I’d take a picture, but that might wake him up.
So it’s off to book-land. As always, I’m in the middle of a ton of books and magazines, but I think I’ll go back to the A.J. Liebling I started the other day.
It really is getting impossible to keep up with all the projects I begin.
I figure when what I’m doing feels like homework, it’s time to do something else. Because we don’t have actual TV, watching DVDs can feel like homework, too. “Well, netflix sent it, so now I have to watch it.”
But you know what’s liberating? Just turning the thing off and sending it back.
That said, let me tell you about Mr. Klein, a movie with Alain Delon that I watched while Julie was out of town. It’s a good thing she didn’t watch it. Unresolved movies drive her crazy. I’d say the movie is Kafkaesque, but it always shies away from being as metaphorical as that.
Here’s the deal. It’s France, WWII (1942). Alain Delon (Robert Klein – pronounced “clah”) buys art from Jews who are scrounging together money to pay for an escape. He buys low, obviously. After one such transaction, there is a Jewish newspaper at his front door. And the rest of the movie is a non-thriller thriller, trying to prove he’s not Jewish.
There are some great moments in it. But it gets frustrating.
Anyone who’s seen it, send me an email about your impressions.
Do I recommend it? If you like spending two hours saying “what the f--- is going on here?” then, sure.
But there are plenty other movies out there.
Off to read Liebling – an activity which I highly recommend.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

An observation

We tell white lies to keep others in the dark.

(Can you tell I'm procrastinating on my limerick production?)

Protecting the innocent

I’ve always wondered about the phrase, “The names have been altered to protect the innocent.”
You may have noticed that I tend to abbreviate names unless I think the person in question doesn’t mind being named. As in yesterday’s post, when I responded to a comment by “Jen.” I figured using the name “Jen” was fair game. (So far, no complaints from “her” – let’s preserve the internet’s glorious anonymity, right?)
But the phrase I mentioned above is really just a euphemism for, “The names have been altered to avoid unnecessary lawsuits.”
Because, really, if the names are altered, it is precisely the innocent who get incriminated. No matter how inventive you get with names, there’s bound to be someone who actually has that name – or who might change his or her name legally in order to sue, you never know. “Yeah, hi. My name is Fecklehead Pecklingsbottom III and I resent having been made a diabetic in your novel. Here’s my bill.”
If you want to protect the “innocent,” use the correct names. After all, these people did something that made you want to write about them. In other words, they’re guilty of something.
If they were truly innocent, getting their names mentioned in a bit of writing shouldn’t tarnish their image. Or they might not have been as innocent as they thought.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

TV, again

Jen, Jen, Jen.
There are plenty of chinks in our armor. TV is a problem that will never be adequately solved. One thing I am trying to do – and was reminded of it when we had the sleepover – is to get them be able to evaluate movies and shows as good or bad.
See, our sleepover guest seemed quite used to having a TV on as background noise. While the movie was on, she got up and started playing with dolls and Play-Doh. I let it go because she was a guest. But usually I jump on the kids to either watch or turn it off.

Maybe, just maybe, they'll realize that shows and movies are things that are made by people and can be criticized by people. And maybe they'll realize that they could make them too, when they get older and can get their hands on some equipment.
Only once or twice, though, have they admitted that the thing they were watching was actually “bad,” even though you could tell that using “TV” or “movie” and “bad” in the same sentence almost made them blow a mental fuse.
Anyway, today is Election Day, which means the schools are closed (since the schools are the balloting places). How that makes it easier for anyone to get out and vote is a mystery to me. Maybe they don’t want domestic people at the polls.
Julie had her first ever exit poll interview today. Those things aren’t myths, after all.
But my point is, with Election Day, Madge sick with a cold, and Julie out of town for the night, we made a little Tuesday trip to the Video Store.
We’ve already watched Tom and Jerry. Now we’re watching as the Empire Strikes Back at those pesky rebels.

Fork me

I really just got the Sauerkraut pictured here so I could blog about it. (I didn't have my camera with me at the store.) It tasted quite good, so it was worth it.

I got it because of the writing under the picture. You can't really make it out on this size picture, but the little brown words say "serving suggestion" in French and German.

The makers of this Weinkraut (or Choucroute) appear to have the following serving suggestion: with a fork.

And I had my straw ready to go.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Tickets, please

Finally, I can let something else go that I’ve always meant to look up.
Blogs are great that way.
I was once at a hairdresser in San Francisco and a lady came in to make an appointment.
He told her she was going to get a ticket because she parked in the crosswalk. She said, at least it was better than parking at a hydrant.
(Or some such thing. My memory is rather hazy on the matter. )
The point is that I was amazed that some people are so experienced in getting tickets that they know what kind of ticket is a bargain compared to another.
A couple weekends ago a friend was over and something she said reminded me of this incident. She had said that she parked where she did because her boyfriend (the cop) could get her out of a $50 ticket, but not a $100 one. (Again, the details are fuzzy but the gist is accurate.)
I finally looked up the prices of tickets
in SF and in NYC on their respective governmental websites. Crosswalks and stop signs and fire hydrants all cost about the same ($75 in SF, $115 in NYC, if you want to know, which you probably don’t).
But really, what I learned is, if you find yourself in Manhattan, you’re best off never stopping your car. The cops can basically charge you what they want at their own discretion.

And a little anecdote to top things off (remember this one, Julie?):
I parked illegally one time (only once, yeah) when we were borrowing my parents’ car in Berlin. Of course, when we came out of the post office or bank or wherever we were, there was a cop by the car, doing the well-known “circling of the vehicle” followed by the “pulling out of the pad and pen” accompanied by the “disapproving headshake.” I, of course addressed him in my best broken German, saying that I’m visiting from the U.S. and don’t understand German no-parking signs.
He informed me that, well, he’ll be nice this time, but it would be a (at the time) 40DM ticket (about $20), and wouldn’t that be a lot of money for a ticket.
My instinct was to snort and quote him the going rates over here. But then I realized that I’d be better off transforming my snort into a sign and nod of agreement, saving me the trouble of paying a ticket.
Ah, good times.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

NYC Marathon

I went to see the New York Marathon today (and, boy, are my eyes tired).
It’s not really a big deal. I just had to walk to the end of our block and the runners actually came to me. We live right by Mile 7.
When I told Julie I wanted to go check it out, she said, “Why?”
And I had no answer. I guess I wanted some second-hand fitness.
(By the way: second-hand smoke comes from second-hand cigarettes.)
Or I want to watch guys live out their mid-life crisis the inexpensive way. In other words, they’re too cheap for new car payments. Or alimony.
Really, it’s more fun to watch the audience than the race itself. It’s as if the audience is intentionally taunting the runners. We all stand around, hugging our coffee cups for warmth, maybe snacking on a bagel or some fruit (the farmer’s market is nearby) and complain about the hardship of not being able to see clearly, or being too cold or being inconvenienced because we’re there before noon. It's a miracle the runners don't stop occasionally to slap complaining bystanders. But I guess they have someplace to be. Urgently.
Meanwhile, the first runners zoom by. At the 7 mile mark, the time read 35 minutes (more or less). Yikes! I’ve only ever run so fast for about three minutes, or however long it takes for “The Theme from The Magnificent Seven” to finish playing on my iPod.
At this point, I feel I ought to commit to being a couch potato and just enjoying my cookies, hot chocolate, and extra winter padding, or I really ought to get to the gym more often. I’ve found a great new bakery, too. Guess which way my belly is going?
My favorite part of watching is watching the families of runners. “Look. There’s daddy.” “Daddy doesn’t look so good.”
And that, I guess, is Julie’s second point. (The first is that runners never look happy.) This sport developed from a guy delivering a message from Marathon to Athens (if I remember correctly – well, Marathon to someplace else in Greece – I’m pretty sure I have the Marathon part right). So far, so good. But I think he did it naked because his armor weighed too much. And when he got to Athens (or wherever he was going) he died.
Where, along the way of hearing this story, does the human mind go, “Oh, that sounds like something I’d like to do every year”?
What’s next? The Montblanc free-fall? The Tucson stirrup-drag? The Caribbean keel-haul?

I think I'll reenact the essence of Marathon. Instead of running 26.2 miles, I'll keep circling the block until my cellphone finds strong enough signal to place a call. With any luck I'll be able to do it in less than three hours.

Now. Here’s why I’m no good as a stand-up (yet). I wrote all these “jokes” today. I remembered the one about the iPod and the one about second-hand fitness. (Not the one about second-hand cigarettes, which I still find funny.) I also said something about watching the Marathon in SF and seeing runners on their cell-phones. I’m also still waiting for a joke to come to me about the audience taunting the runners.

I really ought to rehearse more.

TV, but only sort of

Okay, Jen, here's the deal.
We do have a TV, but only since two weeks ago, when our movie-playing laptop finally died.
It stood us in good stead. But, more than a year ago, the battery failed. Then the power cord went out. And finally the kids were stronger than the disc loading tray. R.I.P.
So we got a TV and a DVD player instead.
I'm still being stubborn and have not set any channels on the thing. Nor have I upgraded our internet cable to include TV cable as well.
We're still holding out, in other words.
We watch Seinfeld episodes from the lovely DVD set I got for my birthday.
(A selfless gift from my loving wife.)

Saturday, November 04, 2006

playdate update

I just fed them some peanut butter sandwiches and cookies.
Now I'm exhausted.
See, the carbs gave them a quick boost. They played dress-up, put on some ballet music, and for some reason I wound up being the prince who twirls and lifts and dips and pulls a back muscle and wimpers on the ground.
Okay, the last part was exaggerated. But their majesties are getting more comfortable with my presence and I'm not sure I'll survive the weekend.

Eavesdropping, part 2

Really, there should be a transcript of the whole event, with smellovision, because they're in the middle of putting on make-up, lotion, and perfume.
And man, Liberace was a force of understatement compared to 7-yr-old girls.

But, really, I just checked in again because I'm still musing about Madge's form of innocence.
What I'm trying to say is that I attempt to give her some form of knowledge without making her think that it is in any way unusual.

So, for example, when we were watching a Seinfeld episode on DVD, and Madge asked, apropos of the dialogue,
"What's a leaky condom?"
I answered, "Well, funny YOU should ask."

I'm just kidding. She was planned. And I wasn't even there. For the Seinfeld episode, I mean. Julie watched that episode with Madge without me. I hear she handled it brilliantly.


I didn't mean to.
Madge has a playdate over - sleep-over, acually. Very exciting.
I just heard the following conversation.
B: Do you know inappropriate songs?
M: No, what are they?
B: They're songs, like, for seventh graders.
M: No.
B: I know one.

Now the ordinary parent might panic about something like this.
I know better.
Because I know that Madge knows plenty of so-called inappropriate songs, but my parenting technique is such that she does not have a concept of what might be appropriate or not.

Maybe if B had said, "Songs that you shouldn't really sing in front of others but are fine at home," maybe Madge would have unloaded some expletives on her. But as it is, she appears blissfully ignorant.

Hee, hee.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Public displays of tunefulness

Since my mom brought up the Barbershop Quartet days...
Today we've reached a milestone in our kids' growing-up process. Madge now feels embarrassed when I sing in public (and who wouldn't, really).
It used to be that we could be in a restaurant and something like this Javier Solis clip would come on the sound system

and I'd belt out whatever lyrics I remember. (Just to prove I know some: "Quisiero abrir lentamente mis venas, mi sangre toda verterla tus pies" or something like that. Happy stuff.)
And I'd be so proud that the kids wouldn't even flinch (I don't sing quietly).
But today I was humming on the way to school and Madge said, "Shut up."
Ordinarily I'd be shocked at such harsh language. But today I was too busy laughing to reprimand her.
Poor thing. She's in for a lot more embarrassment than that.
At least I sing in tune. Other things I can't guarantee.

Thursday, November 02, 2006


Or, Hallowe'en.
Turns out our neighborhood is great for this unholy day.
Brownstones are nice and eerie anyway. People deck them out with some extra spider webs and everyone’s ready to go. Dry ice machines, however, seem to be the items that scare our kids the most.
There was a parade that we missed on purpose (because we were exhausted by then), but we did see the free puppet show in front of someone’s house (neon-colored puppets wielded by people in black suits and made extra eerie by black-light).
The loot was plentiful, but the quality… Let’s just say, we let the kids keep more than usual. The parental candy tax was on the light side.
My favorite part was that we ran into quite a few people that we knew. It really helps to have the kids in school in the neighborhood – and, unlike our SF neighborhood, to have so many English-speaking neighbors (as opposed to Mandarin-, Cantonese-, and Russian-speaking ones).
Of course, the balmy evening didn’t hurt either.
I hope it’s an annual thing.


I’ll catch up on Halloween tomorrow, but today I’d like to point out how brave our little “risk-taker” (a title he earned in his school last year) can be.
We’re trying out a new neurologist for Coco and his first appointment was today.
Part of the appointment was an EEG. The first (and only) time he’d had one done before today, he was asleep.
An EEG doesn’t hurt, but 25 or so wires get stuck onto your head with a pasty glue and then you have to sit still for about half an hour. Let me remind you that Coco is three years old.
He started freaking out as the technician put the wires onto his head and was crying quite severely by the time she was done – but not thrashing or hitting, thankfully. Then he needed to quiet down for her to do the actual test.
And here’s the amazing part.
We told him he needed to be calm and close his eyes, and he did.
Calmed himself right down.
His body still did that jerky thing bodies do when they are busy stifling tears and sniffs, but the sniffing subsided eventually, until he had everyone fooled into thinking he was asleep.
Once we relaxed our guard, his eyes opened up and he said, “I ‘nna be be done.”
We told him it wasn’t much longer – the classic parental lie which Madge understands how to use as well (she was along and behaved grandly, as only an experience big sister can).
And soon he was genuinely asleep. Snoring, even.
Love that guy.

Later, he said he didn’t like “the doctor,” but he liked “the girl.”
In adult terms, “the doctor” was the EEG technician, “the girl” was the neurologist. So I think she’s who we will continue seeing.