Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Stand-uppity

I went back to the open mic. I told you I would.
Since I want to do it in order to get better at writing, I had all new stuff. As far as I can tell, this isn’t the usual approach. People usually go up with something and then come back with the same routine, tweaked a little.
But, like I said, I don’t want to learn to perform as much as I want to learn to write – not that they’re necessarily that different – so I had new stuff.
What seemed to work well the first time was being off-the-cuff (or appearing to be), so I tried to aim for that.
But
I had the previous audience in mind and let some of my things depend on a sort of familiarity and continuity. The previous audience didn’t have me in mind, though, and decided not to be there.
Fair enough. So I went back to my usual apologetic stammer. At least that’s how it felt to me. I’ll listen to the recording and I think it won’t come through as such, but more as a rushed feeling. I’ll see.
In general, it was much more like what I expected the first time: people who are there only to perform or to hear the friend who dragged them there. Therefore, the attention level, openness, or sympathy isn’t very high.
Lest you misunderstand me: this is a good thing. This is how I expect to learn.

And I also tried to push myself by weaning myself from any notes. Even as a musician (back in the day) I always had this weird need to hang on to (and hide behind) a music stand with a paper guide on it. So it felt natural to do so last week, too, with a note card of things to say. But since the bigger laughs came from the items not on the card - largely, I think, because the audience thought they weren't prepared comments - I think I need to work on getting more natural on stage in general.
This, combined with writing new material all the time, might be more than I can chew, but that's the plan.
Finally, the reason I didn’t write about it last night is that, as far as drinking is concerned, I’m a lightweight (eating is another matter entirely). Since it’s a bar, I figure it’s only right to order something (how else do they make money).
I know I’m a lightweight, so I only have a few sips before I go on. Then I finish the rest after I’m done. Sounds like a good system. But last night the audience exposed a little loophole. I was the last one on because there weren’t many performers there. This meant that I downed most of a beer right before going home.
And, by the time I had the computer fired up, I didn’t feel too focused or logical, so I just wrote down some pre-existing thoughts.
I hope they made sense.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Cantar

(I’m still sorting through my impressions of last night’s open mic, so I’ll write about something else entirely.)
At Coco’s school they sing songs. Nothing new there.
But Coco is in a Spanish program, and of course the songs are in Spanish. And that’s really the problem. The songs are merely IN Spanish. But they’re not Spanish songs.
I arrive to a song sung to the tune of Frere Jacques, but the words are “Adios Amigos.”
Okay, so it’s not that terrible to make A-dios into a two-syllable word, but more syllables get smushed together later in the song and that can’t really be helping anyone, can it?
I think, frankly, it sends a terrible message. (Okay, terrible is too strong, but hear me out.) It’s saying, subliminally, that Spanish songs to Spanish or Latin American melodies aren’t good enough for school use. And it also says that the Spanish language is not musical, when nothing could be further from the truth.
Why not use Spanish kids’ songs? I’m sure they have them. Wouldn’t that give a better insight into the culture?
This whole problem is even worse on a “German” language CD we have (from Berlitz) where they stick German words onto English songs. But they pry them in with a crowbar and then hammer them into place with overemPHAsis on incorrect sylLAbles.
It’s painful.
No wonder kids think that foreign languages aren’t as good.
Let the kids sing some Javier Solis or Carlos Gardel, I say.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

More O Fables

The orange orange

“I used to be disappointed that there were no words to describe my color. A lemon is yellow. It can be green at an early stage in development. I’ve seen some bleach to white. This variability used to make me jealous. But now I know that I define my color. The purity of my hue renders the human mind speechless. All they can do is refer to me as me.”


The optimist and the organ donor

The scared organ donor asked the optimist, "We're going to be all right, aren't we?"
Said the optimist, "Well, I am."

Saturday, October 28, 2006

OPQR Fable

The Realist Queries the Pessimist and the Optimist:
Don't you guys feel silly? By saying you are one thing, you are acknowledging that in reality the world works in opposition to your attitude. Therefore, shouldn't your titles be reversed?

Friday, October 27, 2006

Goedi and the Chocolate Factory

Green Clementine’s comment about working for a chocolate manufacturer reminded me…
When I was fresh out of high school, I signed up for work at a temp agency in Berlin. Menial manual stuff.
My first job through them was in a chocolate factory. Yep, I was an Oompa-Loompa. My jump suit was blue, though.
The factory closed (and probably still closes if it’s still open) every summer for a cleaning. The bad jobs were the ones where you had to scrub out the tubs that swoosh the melted chocolate – this company did not have the chocolate waterfall. Apparently, the melted cocoa and emulsifier mess has an overpowering smell and is very sticky and hard to get off when you’re done.
I had an easy job.
I got to vacuum the cocoa bean roasters. It was a fetal (yes, with an “e” – I’m still around, aren’t I?) experience. The roasters were huge. Big enough for me to climb into, hunched over. The wet-dry vac was industrial and made a uterine white-noise humming sound.
(I tend to get goose bumps anyway when I hear a vacuum cleaner. And if I get to curl up under warm covers while it happens, I’m transported. I reminds me of when my Oma visited. And who knows, my mom may have had a vacuuming nesting experience while I was in utero. As a matter of fact, I’m getting those happy goose bumps right now, writing about it.)
Anyway, so it was a warm, hunched, white-noise experience. And, best of all, unsupervised. Oh, and I just remembered. That cocoa dust was everywhere. So I also got to climb on ladders to get at nooks and crannies in the ceiling and by the vents and at the windows. Really great stuff. Dickensian without the cruelty (and without the incredible coincidences and silly names).
And, yes, the cocoa powder went everywhere, too. So whenever I’d take a break, which, as you might guess, was rather frequently, I would dig in my nose and come up with truffles. Wiping my brow yielded the same result. If I sneezed, which also happened frequently because my nose-hairs were working overtime, my hanky looked as if someone had spilled Nestle Quik in it. The after-work shower drainage was slightly brown, too.
Good times.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Pelican Treat


This story is not for the faint of heart.
It looks like something out of "Finding Nemo" meet "Valiant." Cute animation stuff.
But no, the pelican is not offering the pigeon a ride. The pelican, it appears, has become a bit tired of a steady diet of fish and, ignoring the commentary of the bystanders, has decided to give a bit of pseudo-cannibalism a chance.
The real question is, why did the pigeon not try to escape? Had the pigeon seen too many movies? Was it suicidal?
In Germany, there is a law about "unterlassene Hilfestellung." If you stand by a crime and don't offer assistance, you're guilty, too. I don't know, but there may be something in Germany's history that made people decide to make it a law.
What were the other pigeons doing?
There aren't any pigeon droppings on the pelican's head. It's the least his friends could have done.


No, I'm changing my verdict. The pelican was giving the pigeon a lift. But the pigeon kept criticizing his flying.

word of the day

The dictionary service came up with:
Perfidy.
This, to me, sounds like a perfume.
As in,

Perfidy...
The new scent by Angelina Jolie.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

word of the day

Gmail gave me a word of the day, which I have altered to create a pediatric psychiatric field of which I have some need:
obstreptician.

cow pies



This is off the usual thread, but I wanted to write about it before I forgot entirely.
My parents have an apartment in Bavaria. They’ve (we’ve) had it since I was two or three and we went there once or twice a year for as long as I can remember.
I love Bavaria. My selective memory has made almost everything about it lovely. The mountains, the food, even the interminable waiting in the car while my parents went “antiquing.”
This picture by my friend Markus – taken on his family’s vacation in Switzerland – reminded me of Bavaria in several ways.
1) We had a cocker spaniel who thought he was part cow. Once we got close to the town where the apartment is located, he’d start going nuts (in the back seat with me and my two sisters – comfy and cozy), sniffing at the window like mad. Always a good sign, especially with the inevitable upcoming traffic jams. But once we were there it was hilarious to see him run around and play with the cows. They, in turn, thought he was part cow, too – he had the proper pattern, after all. Occasionally retrieving him from the other side of an electric fence (under which he could fit without getting zapped) was another matter entirely.
2) I, as you may guess, was an ass even as a young kid. My oldest sister had tried some mud packs and I thought it would be HI-la-ri-ous to put some authentic cow mud on her face. Turns out it’s not as funny in real life as it was in my mind.

Sorry, Tina.
3) Finally, it reminds me of milk. Here’s how. Across the street from the apartment building is a farm that used to have milk cows. (I think they - the cows as well as the farmers - have since gone into the tourism business. The farmers rent out rooms. The cows dance for tips.) In the afternoons, after five, we would go over there and get milk. Fresh milk.
Omigod is that stuff good! Warm. Body-warm. Full-fat. Un-homogenized, un-pasteurized, just ladled out and consumed. (I know this kind of stuff grosses Julie out.) But here’s the best part. You know how oenophiles (fancy word for wine-lovers) can tell things by smelling wine and claim to taste hints of fruits other than grapes in the wine?
Well, lactophiles (I'm a charter member) can taste and smell the meadows on which the cows have grazed in the milk. Really. And it’s the same smell as the main dry-down note (a term I learned as an Estee-Lauder-husband) in the cow patties.
What I’m saying is that I saw Markus’s picture and thought, “Yum.” And I meant it.


And, for extra credit, a translated Fredl Fesl joke: Why do Bavarian weddings always include cow pies?
So the flies stay away from the bride. (bzzzzTING! or Oom-Pah-Pah, Oom-Pah)

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Stand-up-ish

You’ll never guess what I did last night – unless I already told you about it, of course.
I finally screwed up what little courage I have and went to an open mic (my friend Mike resents the fact that people tend to shorten the word microphone to his name, so I’ll try to avoid that) to try my hand – or mouth, rather – at some stand-up.
My schedule being what it is, i.e., I can’t really get out until the kids are asleep, I had to pick something local. It turned out to be a lesbian bar. (Not that a building can have gender and concomitant sexual preference – no, not choice, Goedi, say sexual “drive” or “direction” or “inclination” or “reality.”)
If you ever have to try something new and slightly embarrassing, here’s my advice: DO IT IN A LESBIAN BAR.
Talk about your circle of healing and acceptance.
The host,
Athena Reich, is super-sweet. Any and all acts get a warm welcome and an encouraging send-off. Sure, the critique factor is low, but when you’re exposing yourself for the first time, you don’t necessarily want your heart carved out right away.
So when Julie asked me how my first open mic went, I had to say, “I’m not sure it was really an open mic. They were too nice.”
Of course I made tons of rookie mistakes. Bumbling, looking at notes, and nervously appealing for mercy because it’s my first time being the least of them. The material I wrote was – I thought – tailored to a lesbian crowd.
But no, it turns out it was tailored to a crowd of my imagined high-school and college friends (male of course) and how we might imagine stand-up would sound in a lesbian bar. During the week the bar looks like it’s frequented by all sorts of lesbians, butch, femme, earth-mother, and folksy-artsy. There are probably more, since they’re really all unique individuals, but comedy (as far as I can tell) deals in broad strokes, so there you go. The open mic night is frequented by the folksy-artsy type, mostly, so my little jokes about the mechanic-type lesbian looking like a pubescent redneck boy and the irony thereof got scratched of my little set list right away.
Really, my whole set was saved by Julie. In absentia, even, she is my saving angel. See, I recorded it so I could learn from it – hopefully. And because I figure that nothing I do on stage should be a secret, I told them that I’m recording it for my wife so she could partake as well, etc. I thought of it merely as an ice-breaker, but all of a sudden they all went, “Hi, Julie!” And the ice – as well as my proverbial stage-hymen – was broken.
So now I need to rework my set to emphasize any natural cuteness I might possess. Because, let’s face it, I’m not a d**k-joke comic. (“Finger- and tongue-joke, maybe,” as I said last night and faced a bunch of blank stares.)
The timely thing is Halloween. I’ll try to think of some Halloween jokes. ‘Cause, yeah, I’m going back, baby!

Daumier, again


I can't seem to get the Alt gr thing to work, mostly because I can only find Alt without the gr. Where's the gr? Anyway, I was going to show off my new accent aygu prowess, but to no avail.
I found this great Daumier picture (engraving, I think) and am posting it in honor of my friend P who is in Russia right now and, I believe, will be in St. Petersburg, where this picture is located (at the Hermitage). I'm jealous.

Look at the picture. Don't you just want to know what's going on on stage? (And how much the person who is not in his or her - probably his, though - seat is kicking himself for going to the bathroom at this point?)

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Honore (accent) Coco



This guy's art is pretty cool, too. Watching him make it is especially fun. Look at that gentle concentration. I wonder what he's thinking.

These photos are courtesy of one of his wonderful teachers. (Thanks, A)

Daumier


This guy's art is always worth checking out. Okay, let me rephrase that. His charicatures and cartoons - his prints - are always worth checking out. When they're not funny or satirical, at least they have great touches. The characters he portrays are always warmly droopy, if that makes any sense. This one here is the education of Achilles. I like it.

And you can't really go wrong with a name like Honore (oh, man, I need to learn how to put an accent in these blogs - Clementine, any help?)

Friday, October 20, 2006

Socks, individually and in pairs

Ten years’ marriage doesn’t iron out all kinks, obviously.
Here’s a recent bone of contention. Julie and I have different sock-matching techniques. Not that I match random socks while she takes care to match only like items. I’m that advanced, too.
No, it’s that stragglers that get treated differently by us.
Any socks without mates that are left over, I just put in the drawer and hope, nay, expect, that the mate will eventually show up – if the mate isn’t already there awaiting a happy reunion.
Julie sets the loners aside in plain view, as a constant reminder of the socks’ misfortune and of loose threads in her life (I guess).
The other night, Julie got rather frustrated with my technique because she ran into several loners in drawers as she was putting socks away.
In her defense, she was tired and really didn’t need to be doing the laundry, except that I had sneakily piled the clean stuff on her side of the bed so she couldn’t really go to bed without confronting them in some way or another.
So yesterday I went into her sock drawer, separated some of her pairs, and hid the stragglers around the apartment. It’ll be like Easter for her when she comes home.
Is that wrong of me?

Feel free to weigh in with your reunification techniques. I'm willing to change my ways.
Maybe.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Rules of the Road

When the kids are in the stroller, I can make pretty good time on the sidewalk and often have to get around people. Invariably, as soon as I get around them, one of the kids asks for something, which means that I have to stop, ask them to repeat what they said because their mouths point in the wrong direction and there is a cover in the way, and then retrieve the desired item or explain why it is currently unavailable. (In former East German, the term is “hamwanich.”)
In the meantime, the slower pedestrians have passed us again and I have to seize my opportunity once more, like a Formula 1 racer, braking out the others at the appropriate turn. Exciting stuff.
But when we walk, we are the ones blocking traffic. I tend to walk toward our destination. Madge skips or balances along imaginary lines. Coco touches or picks up valuable treasures along the way. (He currently has a fascination with Gingko tree berries – is it just me, or do those things smell like vomit? We call them stink-berries.)
Yesterday, on our way to school, we had a classic sidewalk moment. I’m in the middle, trying to “stay the course” like some incumbent politician, while my fringe groups are pulling in either direction. Meanwhile, there’s a third party trying to pass us.
She, dressed nicely for work (for once – it’s not like I’ve never seen her before, looking like she’s on a five-minute break from chain-smoking so as not to make a bad impression at the school), has a friend or colleague along. Just as they pass us, she mutters something about “some people” and “blocking the sidewalk.”
They pass us. No problem. I think to myself, “Oh, what a surprise. Slow-moving children on a sidewalk by a school. Who would expect such outrageous, anti-social behavior?”
Guess what happens next?
They get to the gate where she drops off her kids. They stop in the middle of the sidewalk. She bends over to kiss her kids goodbye, sticking out her fat tote-bag (and the thing you expected me to say). Her kids are older and boys, so of course they’re uncooperative, and her display of affection is quite a long affair.
In the meantime, guess who came by?
I wish I could tell you I was big enough not to mutter, “some people” and “blocking the sidewalk.”
But what can I say? I’m weak.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Chip Butty

Julie called me today and alerted me to this NYTimes article. In it she read about a “Chip Butty.” English schools are apparently trying to improve the health-quotient of their lunch menus and some kids don’t approve:
“It’s rubbish,” said Andreas Petrou, an 11th grader. Instead, en route to school recently, he was enjoying a north of England specialty known as a chip butty: a French-fries-and-butter sandwich doused in vinegar.
“We didn’t get a choice,” he said of the school food. “They just told us we were having it."

The reason she called me was this. We have a restaurant here in Park Slope called the
ChipShop, which features “delicacies” from the British Isles – anything, really that will soak up the pints you are required to consume. Curious gourmet that I am, I have tried some of the odder-sounding items and have recently enjoyed my first Chip Butty. I’m scheduled for bypass surgery in March.
It’s quite an experience. The vinegar really makes it, otherwise the thing would be impossible to get down. The thing is, Julie thought that Chip Butty was a ChipShop creation. “These idiot Americans think we eat anything fried. Let’s tell them we eat French Fry sandwiches. Just wait, someone will try it.” But no. They’re real.
As Cyril Connolly writes,
Oh, the superb wretchedness of English food, how many foreigners has it daunted, and what a subtle glow of nationality one feels in ordering a dish that one knows will be bad and being able to eat it! The French do not understand cooking, only good cooking – this is where we score.
I think I’ll try the Welsh Rarebit next, since I’ve already had the Fried Macaroni.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Warm and Toasty


Coco and I had a brief excursion to the toy store today. We're thinking of getting a partner Tamagotchi so we can have them play together.
No, I'm not getting into it at all.
At the toy store, I saw a mug. It's the Global Warming Mug. It's a blue mug with a map of the world on it, with some Mercator fudging, of course. Apparently, when you put a warm liquid in the mug, you can "watch the coastlines disappear."
Now, let me ask you, isn't it hard enough to face the day without humanity's guilt staring in your puffy, squinty face? Isn't the whole point of waking up in the morning that you at least delude yourself for a while that you have a tiny fresh start?
Guess what I don't want for Christmas.

Why, again

Coco's been dressing himself for about a week now. He says, "Go 'way, Daddy," and then he emerges fully clothed, more or less. In his own style, of course.
Sometimes he gets caught up in his underpants because he uses what would be the hypotenuse on a right triangle as a leg hole.
This morning he got stuck while getting on his pants and I noticed that he tried to avoid the underwear problem by simply not wearing any.
I told him, "You need to wear underpants."
He said (all together now), "Why?"
And I said, "Uh, um, eh, ah, to support the Fruit of the Loom stockholders?"
He looked at me blankly and I decided to join his team.
Why not?
What have I got to lose?
Well, it turns out that, in autumn, stone benches get really cold. And now I have a reason.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Tamagotchi

Feel free to light up a cigar.
I've managed to coax Tamagotchi along far enough to make a baby with it.
Well, really, I was just the matchmaker. I heard it bleep and figured it was time to change some poop again. But no, T was hanging out with a fellow T-being. I pushed a button and was asked, "Love? Yes, No." I chose yes. The two got together and a heart appeared between them. Then the lights went out, there were fireworks, and now there's a baby.
Funny, that's the story of me and Julie in a nutshell.
But that Tamagotchi man-bastard jerk is gone now and left T and me to take care of the baby ourselves. What kind of a message are today's toys teaching our kids? Where is the federal government when you need it? Let's get a constitutional amendment started. I've already got 22 signatures, but they're not very legible and in crayon.

Markus

One of my best friends visited us this weekend. It was great, even though it turned out he'd concealed some good news from us. But we'll forgive him.
We went out to a bar and watched the Mets suck. For those of you keeping track, I got to go out with adults other than Julie twice in one weekend. Therefore, to bring my averages back to their usual levels, it'll probably be another eight months before it happens again.
But it was fun.
The kids loved him, too, which was great.
This morning, Coco said, "Markus is a good guy."
I concur.

I'm one of the girls

I got to go out with adults last weekend. Adults other than Julie, that is. First time in, well, best not think about it.
It was Mommies’ Night Out, and, through the good graces of the host and some luck on my part (maybe my new haircut had something to do with it), I got invited, too. Yay, me.
There was one other non-threatening male there, but he’s even more gay than I am. See, I figure I’m “part gay” like some people say they’re “part Irish.” A while ago it was called “metrosexual” but I think it’s back to being called “closeted.” But that doesn’t really cover it. I think I could get with the whole gay agenda, such as it is, except for that one minor detail.
I can’t make it to the gym seven times a week.
Oh, yeah, and the whole sex thing. But the flamboyance, the fun, the bitchiness, the lack of lunar cycles, and the constant horniness is something I could get behind. But of course I’m being unfairly jocular about the matter. I’ve never been beaten up or discriminated against or whatever because of my biological makeup. Or my Tammy Faye makeup. Therefore I know that I haven’t really earned the right to be bitchy or flamboyant or those other things.
Anyway, the event was karaoke night in a diner in Red Hook. It was a blast, I thought. But watch, now I’ll never get invited again.
It started out seeming like a prank, anyway. I took a bus there. Everyone else drove. Traffic and organization being what it is, I was there about twenty minutes before everyone else, even though I was there about half an hour after it was supposed to begin.
Luckily all my tears had dried by the time everyone showed up, and my makeup hadn’t run.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Quote of the day

Here's something you always like to hear from your three-year-old.
We're at the playground. I walk over to him because he's approaching the broken water fountain. (It still dispenses water, but aberrantly because you've got to jab your finger into the hole that once had a button, and unless you cover the whole thing it squirts in your face.)
I ask him, "Are you really thirsty or do you just want to play with the water?"
He has a sheepish look on his face and I think, "Got you now, hunh, Mister?"
Then he answers, "I dinna go poo-poo on myself."


(I'd leave it at that but I know some of you have a need to know. He really didn't.)

CDs that stink. Literally.



I go through waves of musical styles, as I assume most people do. Lately I’ve been letting the NYTimes Music Podcast guide me.
Incidentally, it really is a good podcast. They obviously have a fairly big budget, fairly good producers, and unfairly specialized reviewers. It’s very listener-friendly in that it plays snippets of the three or four albums being reviewed up top so you can decide whether or not you’ll keep listening. And the reviews are knowledgeable, if a bit overwritten (under-spontaneous).
This week the podcast featured albums by George Strait and Alan Jackson. Up until now, the only country music I’ve listened to has been somehow recommended in Roy Blount’s writings, so I listen to Roger Miller, Billy Joe Shaver, Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett, who all have a great way with words.
Alan Jackson, by contrast, has a very pleasant voice and a calm, easygoing style. Sometimes that’s enough. The NYTimes Podcast said something about maturity in the lyrics, but that’s superficial, written (I suppose) mostly because songs like “Firefly” contrast a young man and an old man: “I don’t love you like I used to/This old man loves you more.” But the title track, “Like Red on a Rose” has brilliancies like, “And I love you like all little children love pennies (?)/and I love you cause I know that I know that I can’t do any/thing wrong/you’re where I belong/like red on a rose.” Best not to try to figure it out.
Anyway, this is all leading into my trip to the library. See, I get quite defensive when talking about my ventures into Country Music. George Jones is a name I came across in David Sedaris’s writings (if I remember correctly, he and Hugh listen to GJ). So, when I saw a CD at the library this time around, I figures, “Can’t hurt.”
I got it, along with some others and took it home.
But
There’s a smell. It’s a smell familiar to many city-dwellers. The smell of the urine of an unwashed street-person. Alcohol-tinged urine. (As a parent, a former diaper-changer, my nose has become quite attuned to the relation of excreta to nutritional intake. Not that my kids drink, but certain foods and drinks taint the aroma more than others. I’m sure everyone’s experienced asparagus-pee. Everything else is on a continuum.)
Back to the CDs. Sure enough. Smells can’t really be resisted, especially bad ones, so here I am, sniffing library CDs trying to find the culprit. Any one can check them out, right? And if you have it in your bag or if you happen to be the kind of person who sleeps in one set of clothes for weeks or …
See, immediately, I’m off into stereotype-land. I’ve got no clue about the past history of the library CDs. I only know that I wash my hands after handling them. George Jones is, after all, pretty good.
And, really, I’m not sure if it’s George Jones or Navah Perlman (a pianist whose CD covers Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Mendelssohn, and Prokofiev) who stinks.
If I were more of a poet and less of a doggerelist (Trillin’s term for himself), I’d write something about images of pee-stained listeners of George Jones as opposed to those of Navah Perlman. But I’m not, so you’ll just have to imagine it yourselves. We know how they smell. What kind of accents do they have? – It’s a fine line between stereotype and imagery, isn’t it?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Anniversary

Whoa. Guess what.
Ten years ago - TEN, can you believe it? - Julie and I stood before a Justice of the Peace (misnamed, given all the bickering he inaugurated) and said, “Huh? What?”
We had got to the point in our lives where we realized that the benefits of joint health insurance outweigh any kind of political or moral or wait-till-something-better-comes-along-ical stance and in a matter of days – 24 hours, actually, following Illinois law – we were married.
Regrets? Really, only that we didn’t have the winos outside the Chicago courthouse take an overpriced, out-of-focus Polaroid of out dazed faces.
If I may be a little sappy now: The ten-year point seems to be (at least for me, but I think I speak for both of us, and that is my point) a GREAT F-ing period in the marriage. We’ve gotten used to one another. We seem to know each other’s thoughts and feelings but still know enough to inquire about them anyway – no taking for granted. We feel comfortable, fairly confident, forgiving, generally happy, and we haven’t reached the “in sickness” hurdle yet. And the kids, as much as they seem to steal time from us, only help things.
I love you, Julie!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Tamagucci

I just realized that my last post wasn’t as lighthearted as it might be. Oops.
But then I got brought back up to la-la land by Madge’s Tamagotchi. I’ve changed diapers for about six years straight and am now happy to merely clean up various accidents of a stubborn three-year-old, and now I’m cleaning up after an handheld electronic toy. Argh.
Of course you’re thinking this is because Madge isn’t allowed to take it to school and wants me to take care of it. Oh, no. Madge doesn’t care one whit if the darned thing dies. She can always hatch another.
Julie is the culprit. Julie got hooked on the thing and lectures me every night about letting Tamagotchi die – but she’s careful to call it Madge’s Tamagotchi. Madge tells her to take it to work, but for some reason she won’t – maybe because she knows that she’d have to share with her colleagues, especially P.
Anyway, here it goes again. Now that I’ve cleaned up the poop I need to play with it. If only I could buy it a handheld electronic toy so I could have some time to myself…

kids' books

As you guys may or may not know, I’ve been trying to break into children’s books in my usual haphazard way. I’ve had my stack of rejections and haven’t submitted anything in a while – though I’ll be reworking Canute fairly soon, if not when I’m done writing this.
Because I’ve done some research into the matter and because of the inevitable rejections, I tend to read kids’ books a little critically.
Here’s one I haven’t read that has just shown up as an ad in my inbox: Tranquilla Trampeltreu - die beharrliche Schildkr√∂te (Tranquilla Stamptrue – the persistent turtle). It’s by Michael Ende, the guy who wrote The Neverending Story (as well as Jim Knopf and Momo and many other books for kids and adults). As far as I’m concerned, he can publish whatever he wants and I’ll read it.
This one sounds great, too. A turtle is invited to the wedding of Sultan Leo XXVIII and sets off to attend. Being a turtle it takes her a while and I guess the bulk of the book is about the journey. She arrives on time for a wedding and is not phased in the least that it is the wedding of Sultan Leo XXIX. Cute, no?
Inevitably, I say to myself, Why didn’t I think of that? But then I also think, Well, if I had thought of that, here’s why a publisher would have rejected it: it’s just another story of a journey and the punch line at the end is too sophisticated for the age group because young readers (it’s a picture book) don’t really have a grasp of the concept of time and of generations.
But really, all it means is that I need to get something much stronger out there so that, when I get more known – or known at all, really, they’ll forgive little things like that.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Canute again

Have I ever told you I obsess about random things?


Canute’s Legend, With a Revised Ending

Said King Canute,
“False flattery I must refute.
My courtiers must learn,
The tides I cannot turn.”

So King Canute
Put on his buckskin bathing suit
And marched down to the beach.
A lesson he would teach.

But King Canute
Believed his naval institute.
Those fellows, bless their hearts,
Read last year’s tidal charts.

When King Canute
Said, “Go back, waters. Turn ‘round. Scoot,”
The waters did comply.
Canute was praised on high.

Said King Canute,
“Oh, shoot.”

And a Further Revised Ending

Said King Canute,
“Fear not, I will taint my repute.
Although perhaps I’ll die,
I’ll show them I can’t fly.”

So King Canute
Put on his pigskin parachute
And climbed a nearby cliff.
He’d jump and then would drift.

But King Canute
Believed his weather institute.
Those fellows, bless their souls,
A clear, calm day foretold.

Poor King Canute.
The wind picked up his parachute.
Upward he did fly,
And he was praised on high.

Said King Canute,
“Oh, shoot.”

And, Finally

Said King Canute,
“Perhaps I’ll try another route.
I’ll face my greatest dread.
I think it’s time to wed.”

So King Canute
- in double-breasted metal suit -
He saddled up to ride
And find himself a bride.

Yay, King Canute.
The girl he found was quite a beaut.
“I do” was her reply,
And he was praised on high.

Soon King Canute
Became engaged in a dispute.
“Look. Nature I’ve controlled,
You’ll do as you are told.”

Said Queen Canute,
“How cute.”

Why, indeed

Yesterday we had the day off – which really is more work for me, since I don’t have the benefit of school to go shopping unaccompanied.
As I mentioned yesterday, Coco is now becoming expert at asking, “Why?”
It frustrates Madge, which can be quite amusing. And because we were all together, thanks to the day off, she got to be my press secretary for a while.
Coco: What this called?
Madge: It’s called a magnet.
Coco: Why it called magnet?
Madge: You can’t ask why about that. It’s the name. You don’t understand why. It’s called a magnet.
At the time I chuckled to myself and thought, “Ha, ha. It’s payback time.”
But later that night – much, much later – I realized that her response is better than mine are. I tend to explain or make stuff up, as you might guess. “Good question. Obviously someone decided to call it ‘magnet.’ Let’s look it up. […] Oh, look, it says here it’s named after the lodestone which was supposedly found on the island of Magnesia. Weird, hunh? You want to call it something else? Let’s call it glue-metal.” At which point he’s hopefully confused enough to give up the cross-examination.
But of course Madge’s answer is much better because Coco is not only trying to figure out relationships between things, but also how questions work. And “Why it called that?” right after “What it called?” doesn’t make sense.
Darn that Madge.
It would only be worse if she had said, “Because I said so.” Because I have the feeling that to her he’d say, “Okay.”

Monday, October 09, 2006

Why?

A quickie to offset the lengthy one from before. I’m always surprised when Coco goes through a new phase, because it seems like only yesterday that we went through it with Madge. I figure I’ve outgrown it, so must my children.
But no.
Coco, now that he talks more and feels more secure using words, has started asking, “Why?”
About everything.
Luckily, I have a tried and true way of beating this system. I just start explaining. And I keep explaining. Okay, it’s more tried than true.
Usually I keep explaining until someone who happens to overhear our conversations begins to laugh because they can’t believe the amount of cynicism I’m imparting on my kids. See, my answers to “Why?” tend to be “Because someone made it this way.” “Why?” “Probably because they want money or attention or are making a feeble stab at immortality.” “Why?” “Because they didn’t have supportive parents like me.” “Why?” “Because there’s too many women for the time allotted to me and because I’m faithful to your mommy.” “Why?” “Because she rocks.” And so on and so on. It can really be quite fun. It’s more fun, though, when I hear adults snicker in the background. At home it often ends up like this.
“Why?”
“Will you believe, ‘because I said so’?”
“Why?”
“Will you believe, ‘because this five dollar bill says so’?”
“Okay.”

corner restaurant guide

My mom sent an email today, surprised that we have a pizza place downstairs. I forget that she hasn't been here yet.
The pizza place downstairs is not in our building, but two buildings up the street. Not far, obviously. There's also a Chinese place around the corner. Neither of these places is great, but convenient. And the pizza place has those gumball machines that have toys as well, and in the summer they have ices and now they've started having popcorn, so it's popular with the kids. (A lot of places right around here need to be popular with the kids in order to stay in business because there's a jr. high school across the street from the playground which is a big lunchtime business for them.) There's a much better restaurant at the corner, but it's quite pricey, so we've only been there three times - Madge was there three times: I've been once with her and Julie twice. In other words, it's too much for us to try to deal with Coco while we attempt to make it worth our while.
Between the three of them, I’m not sure which I’m smelling at any given time during the day, but since the pizza place serves fries at lunch and the Chinese place fries a lot of food as well, I think they’re both vying for olfactory dominance.
Back to the expensive place. There are several things about it that make me not want to go back, even though the pork chop I had there was the fattest slice of meat I’ve ever had, and oh-so-juicy. Still.
Strike one: I think the owner’s a prick. I’m not sure, but their kitchen is open to the street, so we can see what goes on, and their pantry is downstairs, so we see a lot of the traffic, too. Also, we witness the breaks the cooks take. During the year we’ve lived here, we’ve witnessed two “F-you” altercations between the owner and soon-to-be-former chefs. Both times the chefs left in a huff. One time we could hear the fight (verbal only) in our apartment. Not a mean feat. Both times the restaurant was vandalized shortly thereafter. Not that I’m drawing any kind of conclusions, I’m just reporting. The first time, I wasn’t sure who was to blame, since the chef seemed young and a hothead – this all happened after I’d seen him start slacking and making out with his girlfriend on the street. The second time it happened with a chef who was always super-friendly to us and seemed a nice guy – even though it seemed like he took an extraordinary amount of cigarette breaks.
Another (sorry) aside: This chef kept greeting me with, “Hi, Paul,” after we’d introduced ourselves. My name is Philipp. People sometimes call me Paul accidentally, but only after they’ve confused me with my several friends named Paul. But I never know how to correct them, especially if it’s from across the street. What am I going to do? “Hi, D. By the way, my name is Philipp.” “What’s that, Paul?” “MY NAME IS PHILIPP.” “Oh. Why didn’t you tell me before?” “I did.” “Oh. (Jerk.)” So I’m still known as Paul to him. He now works at a different restaurant in the neighborhood.
Still, the owner now parks his new motorcycle ostentatiously on the sidewalk (I’ve never seen him actually drive it). He never greets or smiles, even though I’m sure he recognizes us. And then there’s the other two strikes.
Strike two: The restaurant set up a booth at the park/playground when there were events like concerts, plays, and movies during the summer. Of course they were overpriced as always. I ordered a lemonade. And the thing was clearly not fresh, but made from a powder. Call me a snob, but for a restaurant of that price range, that is unacceptable.
Strike three: Their menu, in the year we’ve been here, hasn’t changed. The pizza place adds and changes items more frequently than they do. No wonder the chefs get fed up. Sure, the stuff is yummy, but come on, how about a little seasonal rotation.
Luckily there are more places to choose from, many of which have more friendly proprietors.
Caveat: Okay, so I’ve only eaten there once and
their website says they change the menu often. From what I’ve seen on people’s plates, though, I’m not so sure I believe it. But, until I actually check out the menu itself, I’ll stick with my overhasty assessment. This one may have been a ball.

Eek. I sure seem like an old lady snoop. Maybe that’s because I have nothing better to do than sit by my open window and watch neighborhood events unfold.
Actually, it’s because, without a car and with two kids that get out of school at different times, I walk by the corner quite frequently. And, once you keep your ears open and let your imagination run free, you can make up a whole lot of stuff about your neighborhood.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Art, such as it might be




I taught the SAT prep stuff again today. We ran across a sentence about Rene Magritte and it turned out the kids hadn't heard of him.

Makes sense. Most people, I think, don't meet him until the beginning of college. Not because of any art classes, but because of the ubiquitous dorm-room art poster sale. "Let's see, Bob Marley, Klimt's "Kiss," or Magritte?" Back then, I chose something from Picasso's blue phase and Klee's un-Klee-like "Heroic Rose" (if that really was the name).

But some kids at least pretended to know the "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" picture, whose name is actually something entirely different, "La Trahison des Images" (the treachery or deceit of images - or some such thing).

This reminded me of my tattoo plans from a while back. First I thought I'd just get the cursive writing from the picture and have it say "Ceci n'est pas une tatouage" (this is not a tattoo). But it would be a tattoo, not an image of one, so that didn't work. Then I thought, maybe a tattoo of a brushstroke, like the Lichtenstein, but that wouldn't really be identifiable on skin.

Also, I realized I'd just be imitating other people's stuff and not come up with my own.

Another college aside: At some point I wanted to have my email signature include a cool quote. I looked around and ran across Emerson and realized I liked his "quotables." But then I thought about them and realized that all the good ones were essentially saying, "go your own way and don't copy other people." So really, anyone who quotes Emerson is misunderstanding him. (I wonder if he dismayed at being cited. "Yet another fool who doesn't grasp my message...")

And since I'm not a tattoo artist, and since I don't necessarily respect tattoo artists' work enough to want it permanently implanted on my dermis, I think I'll pass.

Or maybe I'll just get the classic anchor.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

College or Orthodontics?



Speaking of occlusion.

(Hey! Eyes on the face, Mr. Foley!)

Friday, October 06, 2006

More Canutian tidbits

And back to Canute. Love the name in its English transliteration. Knut is too boring. You can just sense the English frustration with the guy with that extra “uh” in the middle. It’s like they said it through clenched teeth. British occlusion being what it is, speaking through clenched teeth is remarkably understandable.
Since I’m already dipping into the stereotype joke bag: My sister-in-law pointed out that Wikipedia accuses Canute of hostage mutilation. My response was that he probably fixed their teeth and they just didn’t know what it was.
But then I read more about him. Not a bad role model. He got around, at least. Turns out he overthrew Ethelred’s claim to the Danish throne. I skimmed, so forgive me if I got the details wrong. I tend to read for other goodies. For example, Ethelred has gone down in history with his nickname intact: Ethelred the Unready. As if the name Ethelred weren’t bad enough. I’m guessing the “Unready” part came from his inability to hang on to the throne. But that’s just what they want you to think. Really it was given to him by his wife on their wedding night. It’s a bad translation of Ethelred the Premature.

receptionism

More fun. I went to the neurologist today, to get a copy of Coco’s records so we can struggle with another doctor’s office. (But they’ve already been much nicer on the phone, so it shouldn’t be so bad.)
While I was being ignored in the waiting room, I heard this conversation:
SUPPLICANT: How do you spell the doctor’s name?
MESSENGER OF THE GODS: S-H, uh, no. It doesn’t matter. S-H-C. It really doesn’t matter.
In this particular case, of course, it didn’t matter. The supplicant was merely filling in her name to be received by the divine dispensers of pharmaceutical knowledge.
But I find it telling that the office itself doesn’t know how to spell the doctor’s name. (Remember yesterday’s post? The part about us getting a bill because the doctor – as spelled – was not in the network? – GAH!)
Unfortunately, I think the next doctor has a similarly tough name. Actually, that’s not so bad, come to think of it. It’s the easy names that people always misspell because they think they can sound it out. With hard names they tend to ask (and then get it wrong anyway).

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Insurance fun

Wanna feel frustrated along with us?
With Julie, really, because she is the saint dealing with people on the phone.
This one will be especially fun for our European friends. A vision of what is to happen with your healthcare system.
We are lucky enough to have health insurance. We “only” need to make sure that the treatment we seek is within the system. Or comes from someone who works with our particular insurance carrier.
So far, no problem. Right? The insurance has an outdated list on their website, but we know enough to call to double-check.
When we get a bill, we get a little concerned, but figure there’s some mistake we can clear up.
So, for example, when we got a bill for something done at the hospital, which the hospital billed from an address that wasn’t in our insurance carrier’s database. The hospital covers a city block and I guess the insurance only has an address for one of the four streets that border it. When the hospital bills from another street, it appears as “out of network.”
Okay. Next joy: we get a bill for Coco’s neurologist. We, of course, figure (because we’re not too happy with the way the office is run) that they changed their insurance alliance and didn’t bother to tell us. This happens more often than you might think, according to the insurance agent Julie spoke to today. But it hadn’t happened in our case. They misspelled the doctor’s name in their files, so the correct spelling showed up as “out of network.”
But the best one is to come, and we seem to be at the mercy of some bureaucratic imp. Coco’s neurologist (in the network) has Coco take blood tests. We go to the hospital next door (in the network). There, we sign in and go to a blood-taking lab (in the network). Cool so far. They send the blood out to a lab. But here’s the kicker. They arbitrarily send it out to one of SEVERAL labs, some of which are in the network, and some of which are not. So, for the exact same blood-test at the exact same place using the exact same procedure, we might get billed or we might not.
So, of course, we’ve gotten some bills. AAAAARGH!
What’s next? The hospital orders food from a place that accepts our insurance but drinks from a place that doesn’t, so the drinks show up extra on a bill for a hospital stay.
But no, that would be straightforward. The lab-technician costs seem to be tied in with whoever analyses the blood and we get billed for that or not, depending on who touched the blood.
In the scenario we’re experiencing, the whole hospital stay would be billed to us because the drink distributor didn’t accept our insurance carrier.

The Queen's laundry

When I remembered the Canute legend, I looked him up online to see if I might find a visual image, and found the official website of the British Royal Court. Loads of fun.
Turns out they have
job openings for Trainee Butlers and for Linen Keepers. Maybe I should apply. I’ve got experience, just ask my royal offspring.
I just don’t think I could handle the commute.

Canute


Ever since I read the legend, I’ve been a fan of Canute.
According to the story, he was tired of being flattered all the time. Imagine. So he went to the beach, waded into the water, and told the tide to turn back. See, he was trying to prove that he wasn’t all-powerful – an odd move for a sovereign claiming a divine right, if you ask me. But then again, I may have my history wrong, and 11th-century kings didn’t claim a divine right, only the old-school right of the victor in battle. Or rather, they figured the divine will manifested itself on the battlefield.
Anyway, if I were to write his story, it would go something like this:

Fed up was King Canute.
“These obsequies I must refute.
My courtiers must learn,
The tides I cannot turn.”

So good old King Canute
Put on his buckskin bathing suit
And went down to the beach.
A lesson he would teach.

But poor old King Canute
Believed his naval institute.
Those fellows, bless their hearts,
Read last year’s tidal charts.

So when brave King Canute
Said, “Go back, waters. Turn ‘round. Scoot.”
The waters did comply.
And he was praised on high.

Said King Canute,
“Oh, shoot.”

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Madge's dress




Since I missed yesterday, here's the counterpiece to Coco's Lederhosen, Madge's new dress from Granny.

She got it yesterday and has worn it both days, but not for going outside. She finds the dress too fancy for that.

Subway poster

We went to the New York Aquarium yesterday. All in all, it was a fun trip.
There was an awkward moment on the subway. Julie and I both saw something we didn’t want the kids to see and also wanted to express our outrage at the idiocy of the whole thing. Luckily, we think alike sometimes, so it went well. We had our superior chuckle and outrage and the kids didn’t notice.
Although I had my camera, there’s no picture because I didn’t want to draw attention to it. And I couldn’t find it online, so you’ll have to take my word for it.
It was an ad to caution kids against subway surfing. It had a picture of a kid standing in the doorway of a moving subway, on the outside of the train. There was a caption that said something like, “This may be the last ride you ever take.”
Now I ask you. If you were in the meeting of the MTA, would you give this project a green light?
And if so, how many kids who have done it before, do you think, would see the ad and say, “Good point. I got lucky so far, but now I think I’ll stop”?
On the other hand, how many kids who have not done it, do you think, would see the ad and say, “You know, that doesn’t look so hard”?
And finally, how many kids who have never conceived of such an idea, do you think, would see the ad and say, “Can I do this, too, daddy? Please!?!”?

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Coco Skywalker

We decided it would be okay to let the kids watch Star Wars. And it was. Though the reactions weren't quite what we had anticipated.
We saw the movies in this order: V, IV, VI, I. Today we will watch III. I is so bad that even a 7-yr-old and a 3-yr-old have no patience for it. Madge thought it was boring and Coco was too distraught over the death of "the orange guy" (the Sith) to talk about it.
The reason we started with the prequel at all - Julie and I had watched I and II before (I drew the line at III) and tried to get the kids to believe us about the prequel's lack of interest - was that Madge had noticed something at the end of VI. She had noticed that the ghosts of Yoda and Obi-Wan are ghosts of old people, but the ghost of Darth Vader is the ghost of a young person. So we told her about Anikin and she got curious, as she ought. The idea is pretty cool. And the only explanation (other than that they didn't want to show a ghost with nothing but a disfigured head) was that Anikin had really "died" at a young age and that his existence as Vader was a sort of limbo.
So we'll watch III tonight to see how it turns out.
Coco doesn't ask questions about movies (yet). He just reenacts scenes as best he can. I downloaded the Star Wars theme from iTunes and put it on a CD for him. Here's what he came up with. There was no prompting from us, I swear.