Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Osiris Waits for Her

Velvet Verbosity wants to send books around the world and hear the tales of their travels. It sounds like a fun idea to me. Here's my attempt at "Doorway:"

She stood outside the doorway, the molding pressed into her shoulder, and strained to hear something other than her own heart beating. She should go in. She knew she should. But how could she? How could she take that first step, how could she make herself reach out for the doorknob and turn it? It was an action impossible to imagine, as impossible as making herself rise from the floor and float there, bobbing like a balloon in a breeze. Instead she stood frozen, listening, waiting for the sound that would, like a starting gun, allow her to move again.

Tales From the Playground: The Spiders Will Get You!

[A man in his late twenties, in sunglasses, a sweater, slacks, and dress shoes, with a coffee in one hand. A girl, about four.]

You want to swing? No, you can do it. Remember? Hold on to the chains and pull yourself up. You got it! Oh, are you OK? That's why they put the soft gravel there, so when people fall. Oh, you're OK. It's soft gravel. Get up and try again. Try again, but this time remember to hold on. There you go! No, you're too far back. Slide forward a little bit. A little bit more. Not that much.

OK, remember how we talked about pumping? Back and forward. Back and forward. OK, I'll push you to get you started, but you've got to do it yourself. Back and forward. Back and forward. You're not doing it soon enough. A little sooner. Back now. Now forward. Back. Forward. You've got to do it sooner. You're sitting too far back. Slide forward. A little more. Now lean back. And swing your legs. Back. Forward. A little sooner.

OK, I'll push you higher. OK, come on now; now you're acting. It's not that high. Stop screaming. It's not that high. You're way overreacting. Why are you so afraid? It's not that high. All right, all right. Here. Is that better? Oh, you're just going to stop? Remember, keep trying. Don't give up. Come on now. Get up. You better get up. There's spiders. Tiny spiders live in the gravel. They'll bite you; you better get up.

Oh, now where are you going? Remember? Keep trying; don't give up!

Kavalier and Clay

When I finished In the Woods by Tana French, I went looking for other Edgar Award winners. I saw that Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union had been nominated. I had seen Michael Chabon's name in audiobook lists, had somehow formed the opinion that he was a formulaic detective story author, and had dismissed him and his work out of hand. Awhile back, I had seen a regular feature on the local news in which the local book store recommends a book of the week, and the book that week had been The Yiddish Policemen's Union. I had not at the time connected the author's name to the impression that I had created of Michael Chabon, the third-rate mystery writer.

So I went to the library to give the Yiddish Union a try. But they didn't have it. But they did have The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, which rang a bell somewhere in my mind, so I checked it out. The bell turned out to be defective yeti. Back when I had a full-time job and nothing much better to do with my cubicle-dwelling time than screw around on the internet, I had read through defective yeti's archives. All of them. And in May of 2002, he talked about this book.

I won't re-hash the plot, but I will say it's not a formulaic detective story. I enjoyed it almost as much as The Time Traveler's Wife (and no, I don't select all of my reading material from defective yeti's book reviews). It could have felt very foreign to me: it begins in Nazi-occupied Prague; it ends 19 years before I was born; its characters are chain-smoking New York Jews encountering the likes of Salvador Dali and Orson Welles; and I've never read superhero comics, only the graphic novels Watchmen, V Is for Vendetta, and Sin City, which, in the novel's world, interestingly, are exactly the kinds of works purportedly influenced by the pioneering art of Joe Kavalier.

Despite how far out of my own experience it falls, it drew me in. I loved every minute of the long, slow climb toward perfect happiness that the threesome of Joe, Sam, and Rosa make. I knew that happiness couldn't last, but I still didn't see it coming when it withers at the precise moment that it was coming to fruition. I was intrigued by the threesome; at first I assumed it would be the typical scenario of a man, his love, and his friend: destruction by jealousy. But while Sam is jealous of Joe and Rosa in another way, it becomes clear that he's not capable of wanting her for his own. Then the threesome breaks, and Sam does take Joe's place, coming around at last to the fulfillment of what was inevitable but in an entirely unexpected, and deeply sad, way.

Joe himself is also a roundabout fulfillment of an old storytelling tradition: the man who loses what's most important to him, withdraws into a long, self-imposed, guilt-ridden exile, and then allows himself to be drawn back into the world by a new embodiment of that which he lost in the first place. But this tradition, too, becomes new because Joe doesn't lose his beloved wife, and he doesn't learn to love again when a quirky and charming new woman comes into his life. Sam and Rosa go into their own forms of exile, though not in the same way as Joe, and their rebirths can only come in concert with his.

All in all a beautiful book. Thanks, dy and Edgar and Tana French!

Monday, December 29, 2008

A Tale of Two Christmases

I thought that last year was the end of the old traditions and this was the beginning of new ones. We have always gone to my parents' house in Dallas to spend Christmas (or a date near enough that fit everyone's schedules) with most or all of my family. This year, though, we decided to stay home for Christmas for the first time so that Thumper could have his joyful morning discovery of what happens when Santa Claus breaks and enters one's home. Mom said she was ready and willing to let go of hosting Christmas and would be happy to travel wherever else she might be invited, so we decided to host a Christmas this year. Big Brother, Social Worker Sister-in-Law, Freckles, and Robert McGee were going to be in Dallas anyway to visit SWSIL's family, and one of Aerie's sisters has a sick baby and wasn't visiting, and Biggest Brother and his family weren't able to make the trek to Austin, though. But Gummas, Gumpa, Mungo, and two of the three New England Aunties would be able to make it.

We had Gummas and Gumpa over Christmas Eve. We had dinner and let the baby entertain us. Then Christmas Day came. Thumper arises like clockwork at 7:00 a.m. every morning, so we invited everyone in both my family and Aerie's to come any time after 8:00 a.m. We kept that first hour to ourselves so we could have our own little family moment watching him emerge from his room. It was sort of anticlimactic, though. He came out, demanded "moke!" (milk) and "bye-tuh-nin!" (vitamin. We've experimented. Given the choice between vitamins (generic chewable Flintstones) and chocolate, he takes the vitamin. And then the chocolate), and didn't even glance in a tree-ward direction. With a little prompting, he noticed the giant pile of stuff, but he was in no hurry to open it all. Gummas and Gumpa came over, and we let the baby entertain us. We munched. We munched some more. Mungo and a couple of Aunties came over, and we let the baby entertain us. Then we munched some more. By bed time Christmas evening, he still had 4 unopened presents that we "helped" him open.

We tried to keep the munchies more or less healthy; at least, we eliminated most of the sugar and the fat. I didn't make my mother's secret family recipe for fudge that has been passed from generation to generation. Or cookies or candy or cakes of any kind. We did buy a grocery store pumpkin pie and some Cool Whip, for old time's sake, though. And we did have a delicious loaf of some sort of pound cake that one of Aerie's co-workers gave her. But we also had spicy roasted artichokes and sauteed spinach and mushrooms and a giant tub of the traditional Christmas tabbouleh. But healthy or not, the munching, munching, and more munching starts to add up.

And then on Saturday, because Biggest Brother, who's had more than a little turmoil in his family over the past year, wasn't quite ready to give up on the old traditions, we drove to Dallas to spend a second Christmas at Gummas and Gumpa's house. We sat around and munched and chatted and waited until Freckles couldn't stand it anymore and made us open presents. Then we went to the Chinese restaurant that we first went to back on Christmas of 1897 because Mom wasn't cooking, and there weren't a lot of choices in open restaurants on Christmas Day. And thus, a tradition was born, and thus was it honored again on Saturday. And we ate, and we ate, and we ate some more. And still there were leftovers for Skinny Fashion Model Niece to take home. So, much eating. But I'm not feeling too guilty. I've gained a few pounds this week, but I'm still on track. I worked out this morning. It's not the End of the Diet if I eat like a pig over the holiday.

And once again I learned the lesson that never seems to stick with me: the anticipation is never congruent with the actuality. I dreaded driving 3 1/2 hours twice in two days with the boy, who has demonstrated a decided disinclination to sleep in the car recently. In actuality, he fussed for a combined total of about 10 minutes, and otherwise slept or played or sang or laughed or chatted the entire way both directions. I also dreaded a night in a motel with him, as the last time we did this (oh, about, hmm, one year ago) he kept me awake all night with his thumping and tossing and turning and various other nocturnal noises. I also dreaded trying to get him to sleep in his Pack 'n' Play, in which he has demonstrated a decided disinclination to sleep recently. In actuality, he fell asleep in the short car ride from Gummas and Gumpa's house to the motel, awoke as soon as I unbuckled him, and then spent the next hour exploring, with no sign of the exhaustion he should have been feeling, every inch of the joint. Then we pinned him down, turned out the lights, and forced him to sleep. And sleep he did, almost completely silently, until 7:15 a.m. the next morning. So again, not as bad as I was anticipating.

In fact, I couldn't have asked for a better toddler through the entire holiday season. He was a joy. And it always does me good to enjoy him through other people's eyes now and then and remember how remarkable he is. He skipped his usual afternoon nap on both Christmases and never melted down. He sat through nearly two hours in a hard wooden high chair at the Chinese restaurant and was just a little bit restless and now and then forgot to use his indoor voice. He was a joy. And even my fifteen-year-old nephew remarked, "He's really smart. I didn't know one-year-olds were that smart." In fact, he's so smart, he even knows to wear safety goggles when using power tools.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, everybody!

My favorite present was the phone. I've been calling Mungo all morning. Hello? Mungo?

Of course, the spoons were pretty cool, too.

Anybody want to play Lincoln Logs with me?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Santa's Waiting

We're sitting quietly waiting for the boy to fall asleep so that Santa can go into the spare bedroom and take all the loot that he hid in there and stack it up by the Christmas tree for the morning. And with Anne's kind comment on my last post, I thought I would do well to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. That's one of my favorite parts of this time of year: all of the hope for good things to come in the next year. That and how odd "2009" sounds. Seriously, are we almost at the end of the first decade of the'00's? Weird. Much joy to you all!


Monday, December 22, 2008

Expanding on a Tweet

I asked Twitter why the Duggars make me angry. My mother emailed me to ask, "Well, why DO the Duggars make you angry?" This is what I replied:

"Well, I’ve never seen their show; I’ve only noticed the Today Show’s infatuation with them, but I think it’s:

Because when the world is on the brink of disaster resulting in large part from overpopulation, the idea that they have not just a right but a responsibility to make 18 and maybe more children seems arrogant.

Plus I don’t see how they can possibly sufficiently nurture that many people.

Plus they’re so robotically cheerful.

Plus they’re religious."

And even though my family itself went a little nuts with the R names, I could add the 18 J names to the list. It's so cutesy it just makes me want to hurl. And the dad named Jim Bob. Seriously? Jim Bob? I make faces and disgusted noises when they show up on my TV. I change the channel, then change it back, like poking at a bruise.

Having said all that, I'm perfectly aware that my own reaction to them is also arrogant. It's snarky. And bigoted. And the environmentalist take is disingenuous.

Do I want to believe that their cheerfulness is fake because it arises out of a faith that I cannot bring myself to share? Do I want their children to refute that faith by hating them for what they've wrought?

There's no reason that I should dislike earnest people happily living the life that their deepest beliefs mandate for them, is there?

Is there?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Oh, Is It Snowing at Your House?

Thumper and I went for a jog this morning in the lovely 70 degrees, and I noticed on returning how happy the roses are. They don't like the summers around here much, but they're full of the Christmas spirit.

I don't even remember what digging my car out was like.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

And It All Falls Into Place

I never play my PS2 any more. With reading and working and exercising, video games just don't climb very high on the priority list.

It's cold outside, so I haven't wanted to expose the boy, even in his cold weather gear, for an hour-long run.

My copywriting workload has evaporated, so nap times are open for other uses.

A few years ago, I set up a small TV and DVD player in front of the treadmill.

In the late '90's, I spent many, many hours with Lara Croft in PC versions of Tomb Raider I and II.

Circuit City is closing near us and selling everything at deep discounts. I saw a PS2 version of Tomb Raider: Anniversary. I thought, "Well, I'll never play it, but it's so cheap, and I'm a sentimental geek, so..."

And then, in a flash of inspiration this morning, it occurred to me that I could hook up the PS2 to the treadmill TV. Genius! I'm not really coordinated enough to jog and play simultaneously, but apparently I can manage a good brisk walk without falling on my face. So I just put in a 72-minute steep-incline walk while exploring Croft Manor. And POW! the treadmill is new again! Usually I'm bored long before 60 minutes are up. Maybe this will be the week I manage to break that 249-lb. ceiling...

Monday, December 15, 2008

Hey, I Didn't Know Our Camera Could Do That!

I haven't much to say these days. I should be spending the morning nap today composing the email with which I will attempt to keep one of my databases off of death row. In this email, I will attempt not to use the phrase "throwing out the baby with the bath water," but I make no promises. I'm sure it's a boring story to everyone but me, but it's been a saga several months in the making. I feel like my creation would be the picture of perfection if only given the chance. It ain't the database, it's the setup of the machine that's serving it, I swear! Anyway, there's some differences of opinion on the matter, and the bosses of the bosses have decided to go with the most stability and least functionality. So I'm going to try and talk them out of it.

This morning, since it may be the only cold day here this winter, we decided to go outside and try out Thumper's cold weather gear. And since I've got nothing very interesting to say, Thumper has a few things he'd like to mention:

Wow, is that the sound of me breathing? I'll try to remember to hold my breath next time.

You know, you can never have too much sherpa hat.

Or dimples. You can never have too much dimple.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Huh. Wow. Bleak. Merry Christmas!

I really wasn't sure if it was a good idea or not. Do people take babies to nursing homes where they have no friends or relatives in residence? Will he make the old folks sick? Will they make him sick? Will the whirling Hurricane Thumper break fragile bones as he tears gleefully through the joint?

So I called, and said, "I don't know if this is a good idea or not, but here's the thought I had..."

The lady said, "Sure! Great! I don't know if he'll be scared or not, but we'd love to see him!"

I asked, "Is there a common area where people gather?"

She said, "Yeah. Yeah. Or you can go to people's rooms."

Oh, no. Individual rooms? How would that work? Knock knock. "Hi there! I thought you'd like to look at my baby!" No. Plus, I reasoned, there's probably a lot of stuff for him to get into in a person's room. I figured we'd start in the lobby and see where the boy's feet took us. I checked with the missus to see if she had any objections (she did not), so I decided this afternoon would be the time.

I almost talked myself out of it, because I have a strong aversion to awkward social situations. This is the reason I can almost never sit through an entire episode of The Office without changing the channel. I'm terrible at making small talk. I'm terrible at introducing myself to strangers. But I told myself there was a reason the idea came to me, and I couldn't find out what that reason was if I never followed through. Besides, I figured young Thumper would do all the work and break all the conversational ice. I even Googled for tips for visiting nursing homes, but when the pdf I found suggested reading Scripture, I thought, "Well, we'll just wing it and see how it goes." So we did.

We started in the lobby, and I immediately felt like maybe this would be OK. There were two residents sitting in the lobby, and one was very friendly and chatty and seemed quite taken by the boy. He played shy at first, but he warmed up pretty quickly. They talked about the Christmas tree, and how pretty it was, and how those were indeed balls hanging from it.

"Gummas?" He asked her.

"Yes, I'm a grandma," she answered.

"Gumpa," he said, and toddled off down the hall.

He found a few grandpas, but the grandmas were much more susceptible to his charms. There was a little lounge area right by the central nursing station, and a group of residents that waxed and waned from as few as five to as many as ten gathered here. Thumper again went shy, but when the friendliest and most talkative of the bunch rolled her walker towards him and told him it was a car, he grabbed it and "vroom, vroom"ed it all around. I followed him around and made sure he didn't slam it into anybody. She was very sweet to him. Every few minutes, she would ask me how old he was. I would answer. She would say he was a big boy and tell me she had four little boys just like him. Then a few minutes later, she'd ask me again.

One nurse took up a defensive position in front of a wheelchair-bound resident's feet, put a hand on my shoulder, and said, "We have to be careful of her feet."

"OK," I said.

"Bless you," she said, and disappeared. I was immediately certain that Thumper would eventually trip and fall and snap one of her feet off at the ankles.

But of course, he didn't. He was the charmer I was sure he would be. He flirted with the four friendliest ladies who flirted back. He slowly approached one stone-faced gentleman, waving and saying, "Hi! Hi!" When the man didn't respond, Thumper let him be. He ran and ran laps around the nursing station, filling the room with laughter, both his own and that of the staff and a few of the residents. He explored down two of the hallways, peering into the rooms, but always came back to the four ladies in the middle. He sang, he jumped, he danced, he stomped, and he spun in circles. And when we waved goodbye to everyone and left, even the stone-faced man smiled and waved back.

So that's a success, right? Then why do I feel so bleak about it? I'd like to say we'll go back again, but I'm not sure. Why?

So many people just sitting and staring. Those dark rooms occupied by tiny people staring silently off into space or peering into miniature televisions, intently watching a mulleted John Stamos on Full House.

The anxious woman who raised her shaking hands and said, "No, no, no, no, no, no..." to Thumper whenever he approached her. So of course he was fascinated by her. She had a beat-up, red stuffed animal hanging from the side of her walker. He wanted to touch it. She very much didn't want him to. He kept coming back again and again, and filled her with the same anxiety every time.

The woman who every few seconds moaned piteously, "I'm all alone..."

But most of all, I feel like I'm being presumptuous, or condescending, like I'm walking through the door and saying, "Hey, you sick and unhappy people! I'm here with my adorable baby! Cheer up and pay homage to him!"

Yes, he made some people smile. And yes, some people either completely ignored him or were put off by him. And yes, I was generally uncomfortable and a poor conversationalist except when asked direct questions about the boy. I don't know if this will become a thing with us. I tend to think not. And that makes me feel a little guilty.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Do People Do This Kind of Thing?

I've been trying to think of volunteer opportunities that I could take advantage of with the boy. I'm thinking about Meals on Wheels, but I'm not sure about putting a lot of car time into Thumper's schedule. I haven't contacted them yet to see what the parameters are, though. But with Thumper being so friendly and funny and a lover of people, it occurred to me that I should take him to a nursing home and see if he can't spread a few smiles around.

Any thoughts out there on whether this is a good or bad idea?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Camp Songs

I was reading In the Woods, and the main character talked about dreaming about kids voices chanting different rhymes, and one of them was:

Two, two, the lily-white boys, clothed all in green-ho. One is one, and all alone, and evermore shall be so.

And suddenly I was thinking of something I hadn't thought of in twenty years or more.

I'll sing you one ho.
Green grow the rushes, ho,
What is your one ho?
One is one, and all alone,
And evermore shall be so.

And two, two, the lily-white boys, and three, three, the rivals, and four for the Gospel makers, and five for the symbols at your door... And, uh, well, Wikipedia remembers better than I.

I never thought about the meaning much. I wonder what other bastardized religious mnemonics I sang when I was a Boy Scout? What camp songs do you remember? This goes back so far, there must be a million I'm forgetting. Ah, the group participation experience, in the dark, around or across a fire. Good times. Let's see...

Let me see your boogaloo. What's that you say?

Squirrel, squirrel, shake your bushy tail. (Squirrels were brown where I came from. I recall Aerie telling me that when she was singing camp songs, it was "Gray squirrel, gray squirrel..." Freaky ass squirrels in the northeast are gray! You believe that? The first one I saw when I went up there for college, I thought it was just really old...)

The other day, I met a bear, a great big bear, away out there.

Father Abraham had seven sons. Seven sons had Father Abraham.

In a cottage in a wood, little old man at the window stood, saw a rabbit running by, frightened as could be.

Mmm mmm went the little green frog one day, mmm mmm went the little green frog.

And the green grass grew all around, all around. The green grass grew all around.

It skiddly oaten dotin', bo doh skee deeten dahtin, wah dahtin chu.
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