Wednesday, December 30, 2009


My mother mailed me a copy of Ishmael by Daniel Quinn, with a note saying that as she read it, she imagined me as the narrator.

I had never heard of this book, and I'm only 79 pages into it right now, but it's kind of aggravating me. What bothers me, aside from the narrator's inability or refusal to see exactly where his teacher's leading questions are leading, is this notion that's been at the heart of much of what I've read, watched, and been taught since I graduated high school in 1990, and a little even before that: that western civilization, particularly European and American cultures, are inherently selfish and evil in a way that other human societies and especially other living creatures are not.

Maybe I'm just sensitive, being a white man whose childhood photos look a bit like the kid on the cover of Rage Against the Machine's album Evil Empire.

OK, to be honest, my brother looked more like that kid than I did. But you know what I mean: brown-haired, blue-eyed white kid. Evil Empire. So I'm a little sensitive.

Wait, what was I talking about again? Oh, yeah. Isn't there something in the genetic mandate that all living things share that's a bit problematic at heart: the drive to successfully reproduce? I mean really, a genetic mandate NOT to reproduce wouldn't be passed on very far, would it?

I'm not saying that the culture whispering in our ears that we are the pinnacle of creation and that the earth is ours to use to our own short-term advantage isn't part of the problem, I'm just saying that I think maybe the cultural story is our way of explaining to ourselves the base biological impulse that we've become so successful in satisfying: spread the seed and do everything you can to see it grow to spread its seed, too. The notion that "a lion or a wombat" wouldn't have "conquered" the earth if a series of accidents in their evolution hadn't given them the massive reproductive advantages that would allow and even impel them to do so seems biased in a "humans are inherently different from animals" sort of way that's precisely the inverse of the one the book rejects. If that makes sense.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Complex Human Emotions

Aerie gave me the morning off, and I went to see Where the Wild Things Are at the discount theater. $1.75 ain't bad. Too bad the soda and popcorn weren't on the same price scale.

Much thanks to Aerie; it was the perfect movie for me to see today. I couldn't see Max as anyone but J-H through all of the pre-wild things segments, but J-H sort of disappeared when Max hit the island.

I was a little distracted by the Wild Things performers, too. Tony Soprano was particularly distracting. And Catherine O'Hara. I thought Alexander must be Steve Zahn. And it took me awhile to place Chris Cooper as Douglas. I didn't peg Mark Ruffalo as the boyfriend, or Forest Whitaker as Ira. And I thought Catherine Keener must be doubling as the mother and as K.W. But she wasn't K.W. at all. So all of that kept pulling me out of the story a bit, now and again. But mostly I was amazed.

It was good for me because it was a story about a young boy coping with the complications of being a human being. He was an immature person trying to process complex human emotions like love, jealously, anger, isolation, fear, powerlessness, and so much more. Each of those wild things was an aspect of himself as well as a study in the impossibility of peace, love, and harmony in a human community.

Which of course made me think of me. And the boy. And how he acts out. And how I react to it. He is the wild thing. He is Max in the wolf suit, standing on the table and yelling and biting. And I am Catherine Keener, reacting, and knowing I'm not doing right, and not knowing how else to do it.

I don't know that it helped, but it made me want to keep working to be my better self, to remember that each of us, including me and my son and and everyone else are all weak and afraid and hurt and capable of more and trying and failing. And trying again.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

29-Month Slump

I've been in a slump lately. My weight loss has stopped, mostly because I stopped following the tenets of Weight Watchers. Again. My daily enthusiasm for spending time with Thumper has dropped off, partly because of a string of days where he was sick and the weather was too cold for playgrounds, partly because of the phase he's deep into now (throwing, hitting, screaming, resisting every idea that is not his own), and partly because my attitude sucks.

I yelled at him at dinner at the end of last week. Somehow, table manners became a big pet peeve for me. He bangs his fork. He plays with his food. He spits out his beverage. He throws peas on the floor. He paints with his spilled soup. I don't know when I became the "act right at the dinner table" Nazi, but I yelled at him. And Aerie got upset with me. And I got upset with her. And I brooded about it for two days before I came to the conclusion that she was right and apologized. I have to find a way to change my expectations for him. My expectation that he feed himself without incident is clearly out of whack with reality, so I can continue to get upset when that expectation isn't met, or I can accept that it's not a reasonable expectation now.

I've been thinking about this job, and about the arcs my other "real jobs" have taken over the years. I think I'm at the point where I'm comfortable with my ability to do my job. I've mastered many of the positive challenges of my daily tasks, the challenges I enjoy, but I haven't yet learned to live in harmony with those negative challenges, the ones that I don't enjoy. I've become complacent, and in some ways bored with a job I feel like I've learned how to do pretty well.

So what's the next part of the arc? Well, either settling comfortably into the rut and learning to appreciate the ease and the boredom, or finding new ways to expand my role so that I can keep growing and learning new things. What does that mean in practical application? I'm not sure. I don't think it means just finding new places to go, new parks and playgrounds and museums and shows. I've been thinking about Mother's Day Out programs a lot lately, as people keep impressing upon me how it's important to get him comfortable with a classroom setting before he enters full-time public school. The problem is: they're freakin' expensive. I wonder if these two problems of mine can find a solution for each other?

I don't know; I'm just talking here.

On Men in Groups

In my SAHD group, the dad who posts the playdate schedule asked for feedback. He had two questions: What would make the group better for you? What can you do to make the group better? Here was my answer:

Before I started this job, I heard mothers talk about how playgroups were essential. They shared babysitting, they kept each other sane. I thought I would feel awkward on the playground, with the mothers looking at me like I was a pedophile. I thought I'd go a little crazy with limited adult interaction. Like so many other things in life, my anticipation was way off from reality. I don't think this group offers very much, but I don't think I'm missing much either. It is what it is. If other dads show up, great. If not, oh well. Most times, the mothers are perfectly friendly. In fact, the best playdate Thumper and I ever had was at a playground with 3 moms with kids Thumper's age. No other dads showed up. We played. We talked potty training. It was great.

What would make it better? Maybe rotating group playdates where one or two dads watch a group of kids and the other dads can have some time to run errands by themselves or whatever. Make it an opt-in program, rotate whose turn it is. Maybe split it into a couple of age groups.

Vary the playdates so there are more activities than just outdoor playgrounds, especially during very cold or very hot weather.

Maybe dads parent different from moms and are just more suited to going it solo.

What could I do to make the group better? Maybe show up more, but 2 or 3 a week is about as good as it's going to get for me. I let other dads know when I'm going to be there, which would be helpful if more people did. If I knew I wasn't driving 20 miles to an empty playground, I'd be more likely to go.

I could offer in-home playdates at my house, pizza parties, cupcake decorating parties, or something similar. We've got soccer fields, baseball fields, volleyball pit, etc. at our local park. Informal soccer games where kids could run themselves into exhaustion might be good.

To be honest, the "Off topic! Enough already; take it off board!" smackdown that I got when I first joined dampened my enthusiasm for trying very hard to start my own activities. I think the group would do well to be much more careful about how it presents itself to new members.

Those are my thoughts.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

He Never Throws Tantrums for Them

We pick up the meals for our Meals on Wheels route at a local senior center. We affectionately refer to the little old ladies who congregate there as "the Dominoes Ladies" because that's their game of choice. The Dominoes Ladies love Thumper. They have a candy dish there, and they specifically stock it with the items Thumper loves best. He gets one piece when we arrive, and another when we come back to drop off the warmer bag and the cooler after our route. They often try to sneak him an extra piece, too.

Yesterday, I took the gear to the store room before stopping and helping Thumper choose his piece of candy. When I came back out, one of the Dominoes Ladies was helping him. She gave me a stern look and declared, "You're falling down on the job, Daddy." Then I headed to the back to return the binder that has the client list. Another Dominoes Lady told me as I passed, "I had a dream about him. I don't remember what it was about, but I woke up talking to him." Then a third Dominoes Lady took me aside and whispered, asking if it would be OK if she brought him a gift next time. She has some stuffed animals she'd like to give him, but she wanted to make sure I didn't mind first.

They have long conversations with him. They show deep interest in what color and flavor his candy is today. They let him play their piano. They cheer and applaud when he does, or when he sings and dances. Dominoes Ladies love Thumper.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I'm Really Starting to Like This Guy

I never heard of Tim Minchin until @natraehawking re-tweeted @thomasemson, who declared "White Wine in the Sun" the best Christmas song ever. And since, I've been abusing his YouTube videos, and yes, even buying some on iTunes.

"White Wine in the Sun"

I really like Christmas.
It's sentimental I know,
But I just really like it.

I am hardly religious;
I’d rather break bread with Dawkins than Desmond Tutu,
To be honest.

And yes, I have all of the usual objections to consumerism,
To the commercialization of an ancient religion,
To the westernization of a dead Palestinian
Press-ganged into selling PlayStations and beer.
But I still really like it.

I'm looking forward to Christmas,
Though I'm not expecting a visit from Jesus.
I'll be seeing my dad,
My brother and sisters, my gran and my mum.
They'll be drinking white wine in the sun.
I'll be seeing my dad,
My brother and sisters, my gran and my mum.
They'll be drinking white wine in the sun.

I don't go in for ancient wisdom.
I don't believe just 'cause ideas are tenacious
It means they're worthy.

I get freaked out by churches;
Some of the hymns that they sing have nice chords,
But the lyrics are dodgy.

And yes, I have all of the usual objections to the miseducation
Of children who in tax-exempt institutions are taught to externalize blame,
And to feel ashamed, and to judge things as plain right or wrong.
But I quite like the songs.

I'm not expecting big presents;
The old combination of socks, jocks, and chocolate
Is just fine by me.
'Cause I’ll be seeing my dad,
My brother and sisters, my gran and my mum.
They'll be drinking white wine in the sun.
I'll be seeing my dad,
My brother and sisters, my gran and my mum.
They'll be drinking white wine in the sun.

And you, my baby girl,
My jet-lagged infant daughter,
You'll be handed 'round the room
Like a puppy at a primary school,
And you won't understand,
But you will learn some day
That wherever you are and whatever you face
These are the people
Who'll make you feel safe in this world,
My sweet blue-eyed girl.

And if, my baby girl,
When you're twenty-one or thirty-one
And Christmas comes around,
And you find yourself 9000 miles from home,
You’ll know whatever comes,
Your brothers and sisters and me and your mum
Will be waiting for you in the sun.
Whenever you come,
Your brothers and sisters,
Your aunts and your uncles,
Your grandparents, cousins,
And me and your mum.
Will be waiting for you in the sun,
Drinking white wine in the sun.
Darling, when Christmas comes,
We'll be waiting for you in the sun,
Drinking white wine in the sun,
Waiting for you in the sun,
Drinking white wine in the sun,
Waiting for you,

I really like Christmas.
It’s sentimental I know.

"Not Perfect"
....This is my body, and I live in it.
It’s 31 and 6 months old.
It’s changed a lot since it was new.
It’s done stuff it wasn’t built to do.
I often try to fill it up with wine.

And the weirdest thing about it is,
I spend so much time hating it,
But it never says a bad word about me.

This is my body, and it’s fine.
It’s where I spend the vast majority of my time.
It’s not perfect, but it’s mine.
It’s not perfect....

Monday, December 14, 2009


My cousin found me on Facebook! Funny, it hadn't yet occurred to me to look for her there, though I've Googled her now and again in the, oh, hundred years or so since I've seen her. Yay, Facebook!

Here's what I remember about her:

1. The photo. It's a treasure in my family, this photo, iconic of our relationship at the time. I know I have a copy somewhere, but it's after midnight, and I don't know where to begin to look. I bet Aerie'd know, if she were awake. It shows Cuz and me at two years old, her with the flaming red hair, me with round belly and cheeks, sharing a can of Coke in a field of green grass. My mother used to joke that we could sell that photo to Coca Cola if only the label had been turned a little more directly toward the camera.

2. That house. The house of my cousins, not far from the home into which I was born, was the coolest place on the entire planet. As I recall, though the memory of a child before he was five is less than reliable, they had a sauna in the basement. They had an electric organ. They had cable (we watched Breaking Away again and again!) and a home computer (an Apple II! With Hunt the Wumpus and Lemonade Stand!) before people had cable and personal computers. They even had that most exotic of appliances: the trash compactor. They had the big back yard in which we celebrated the 4th of July, with sparklers. My uncle was rebuilding a Fiat from the ground up, and he drove like a lunatic. As I recall.

3. Cuz and I, getting busted by my flustered aunt, in that hazy time in my memory when I was 5-ish or before, in bed together, exploring the differences in our parts when we were supposed to be napping. I can't recall now whether she was amazed that I had what she did not, or if I was amazed that she did not have what I did. But one, or both of us, was astounded.

4. The lake vacation, some handful of years after we moved a couple of states away, when the cousins all came together for a couple of weeks, and Cuz and I played smurfs, or maybe trolls, and the cousins all made fun of our new Texas accents and repeatedly sang "Put Another Log on the Fahr" at us, and we fished, mostly unsuccessfully.

5. The splintering of that family of cousins through what seemed like a long string of bizarre and unjust tragedies, beginning with the too-young death by cancer of my well-loved aunt, whom I called "Aunt Piggy" because it was almost her name, and I was young and confused, and because she gave me some sort of fabric pig book when I was two and was hospitalized with pneumonia, that I still had years later. The pig book, that is, and not the pneumonia.

I think the loss of that extended family, first by our moving away when I was five, right at the early edge of my current memory, and then by what seemed from a distance to be the dissolution of the cousins' family, has shaped how I feel about familial connections now. I have pined, now and then through my life, for that connection with the cousin who was only a few months younger than I, who was in some ways, for a little while there, almost like a sister. I want Thumper to have and know and love his cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents. I want him to grow up with them, to still be playing with them long after he's five, to never feel like he had and then lost them.

So. Anyway. I'm glad to hear from her again.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

An Apology Would've Been Nice

One of the things Pops taught me was to be unafraid to try to do things myself. He taught me how to use tools, and in return, I lost, misplaced, and mistreated all of those tools. I recall him saying that one of the biggest changes in having his last child out of the house was that tools remained exactly where he left them.

He taught me how to do all sorts of things, from using a coping saw, to roofing a house, to changing a water pump on an '82 Escort. So I've got the do-it-yourself genes, but unfortunately, I didn't inherit his skill, patience, or attention to detail. The result is that I know enough to get myself into trouble, but not enough to get myself out. So I get by with a little help from my friends, and especially my family. When Aerie and I bought a townhouse years ago that had a rotten bathtub, among other problems, I got a lot of practice fixing stuff. I called it my practice house. I did a terrible job tearing out the old tub, installing the new one, and putting in new drywall in the bathroom. God knows how we managed to finally sell that place.

So in the new house, when I wanted to screen in the deck, I called on Pops. He had the equipment. He had the know-how. And what he didn't know, he could figure out. When I wanted to turn an office into a bedroom, I called on Big Brother. He's a structural engineer who used to frame houses. He knows his stuff.

Big Brother and I, we turned this:

Into this:

It's not perfect. Even in the picture, you can still say the shape of where the old door used to be. But it's pretty darn good. Much gratitude and love to Big Brother for all of his expertise and help.

But you see that white patch of joint compound up there? See that? We had a couple of unrelated electrical problems that I couldn't figure out, so we decided to call an electrician. And as long as he was here, I thought it best to let him move the light switch inside that room so that I wouldn't spend the next 20 years annoyed that it was six feet away from the doorway. And he more or less did a good job. He fixed the two other problems, but he left screws and cut wire and various detritus from his work laying around the house. But worse, he put a hole in my new wall. I was happy with that wall. Aerie was happy with that wall. All I had left, after floating, and taping, and texturing, and painting the hallway side, was painting the bedroom side. That's all. Nearly done. And the electrician, when drilling through the old header above the old door, missed. And put a hole in my new wall.

He said, "Oh." He said, "I guess I missed." And then he proceeded to lavish praise on my drywalling skills. He suggested that I was so good at it, that it would be no problem for me to fix his mistake. And then he gave me $25 off my bill.

Son of a bitch never even said, "I'm sorry." And now I'm patching and texturing and painting again. I'll bet I'll be looking at that spot for the next 20 years and thinking about that stupid electrician.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Kid-Friendly, Passionate, and Professional

I am swearing off those "fun" haircutting joints for kids, like this one or like the one we visited today, Cool Cuts 4 Kids. We went there before on the recommendation of a neighbor. It wasn't a great experience, but it wasn't horrible, and at least I got his hair cut. This time, though: not good.

First we went to give blood, and the phlebotomist, remembering us from previous visits, mentioned how big he's getting and how long his hair is. It's hard to tell how adorably moppish it is here, but this is the "before" picture I took (with the usual camera resistance):

So I told her that we were going to get a haircut today, but I spelled the word and told her I didn't want to give him advance warning since he's not real keen on the idea of haircuts lately. She told me that her kid hates haircuts too, but she didn't spell it, and Thumper immediately started yelling about how he WON'T get a haircut! Thanks, lady.

So we headed to the barber that we went to for his second-ever haircut. That one went pretty smoothly and was about $7 cheaper than the Fun! For Kids! places. But today, the barber was closed. How do you make a business profitable by closing shop in the middle of the day on a Monday, is what I'd like to know, but oh well. So we went to Cool Cuts again.

Immediately, I knew it was a bad idea. I think I could've made it work, but the available "stylist" wasn't going to let me. Thumper ran straight to the train table at the front of the shop. He loves trains, and he remembered it from our previous visit. I would've let him play for a bit and get comfortable, but she immediately tried to grab his hand and lead him away. So I picked him up to carry him to the chair. The phone rang, and she ran to the back to answer it, so I let him choose between the yellow car and the red fire truck. He chose the car. When I started to put him into it, he tensed up and said, "I don't want a haircut!" I held on to him while he stood in the seat, pointed out the T.V., and told him he could watch a Barney video. God help me; the kid loves Barney. He was just warming to the idea when the "stylist" suddenly returned, put her hands on both his thighs and started forcibly pushing him hard down into the chair. He began screaming, locked his arms around my neck and climbed straight up my torso.

So I picked him up and walked quickly toward the door.

"Wait, wait!" she said. "I have a lollipop!"

"If you'd given me a minute," I yelled, "I could've talked him into it, but you pushed him and now he's freaking out. I'm not going to do it now. He's a human being, not a puppet!"

"I'm sorry!" she said. "Wait, wait!" But we were gone. I may have mumbled an inappropriate word or two on our way out the door.

I sat in the car with Thumper for a few minutes and calmed him down. I reassured him we weren't going back to the barber, and that I was mad at her, not at him. I asked him if he wanted to go to his favorite place for lunch. I reassured him some more. He stopped crying, and I buckled him into his seat.

"Did you say, 'Goddammit?'" he asked.

"Yes," I said. "I'm sorry. It's not a nice thing to say."

"Say, 'Darnit.'" he advised. Then, "I'm going to dry my eyes a little bit. They're wet."

God, I love that kid.

Usher Lessons: An Ongoing Series

Today's lesson is about crowd control. The key to maintaining control is early prophylactic action. If one waits too long, the prohibited activity spreads like a virus until it's too late to stop the infection. Then all you can do is treat the symptoms. Allow me to illustrate.

Saturday and Sunday nights, I worked in the arena seating area for University commencements. One of our goals was to keep people from gathering against the rails above where the students' processional entered the arena. There's nothing parents and grandparents like better than capturing every moment of little Johnny's triumphant achievement on camera, so they gather en masse at the railings, leaning on them, putting more and more weight on them, jockeying for better and better position, until a potentially dangerous situation is created. Since we prefer to make the evening news for our wonderful events and not our tragic incidents, we do our best to prevent that situation from arising in the first place.

One usher told me the story of a patron in a previous year's commencement even dangling a baby, Michael Jackson style, over the railing towards one of the degree candidates. When the usher asked her to step back from the railing, the patron snarled, "But he wants to see the baby!" Wow.

Anyway. What was I talking about again? Oh, yeah. Saturday, I decided not to man the rail until the procession began to assemble. Instead, I helped seat patrons, settle disputes over saved seats, help get mobility impaired patrons to the right sections, and the usual load-in fun. By the time I managed to return to the rail, a mob had already formed. A usher supervisor on the floor, who had stood there watching the mob form, told me, "You need to clear that aisle. But you're in charge up there, so whatever you want to do..." Thank you for the help, sir.

By that time, the patrons' idea of their entitlement to that location as a photo opportunity was too well-established; I couldn't do much more than ask them not to lean on the rail and to please return to their seats after they'd taken their picture(s), neither of which pieces of advice they heeded since they'd already digested the idea that they belonged there. Luckily, there were no fights, no pushing, and no one fell over the rail, crushing several students moments before the culmination of their triumphant achievement.

Sunday, I manned that rail from the moment doors opened, and didn't have any problems at all keeping the entire aisle clear. For the most part, all I had to do was stand there, acting as a visual deterrent. I politely informed the first one or two patrons who stepped up to the rail that we had to keep the aisle clear. They returned to their seats. The other patrons, seeing the rejection of these first explorers, didn't even try. It was lovely. It was peaceful. There were no snide comments from my fellow supervisors.

So the lesson is, in crowd control, those first few moments are critical. If you can stop the idea of ownership of space from hardening like epoxy in the minds of the crowd, you're home-free. If you miss that moment, you're screwed.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

She Should. She Really Should.

I just want you to know that Uggy Buggy, aka Social Worker Sister-in-Law ("SWSIL"), is what some might call "the bee's knees" and some others might call "da bomb." If she had a blog, I'd point you all (or "y'all," since this is Texas after all) at it right now. But she doesn't, which must be just an oversight that the universe will correct forthwith.

That's all. Just thought you should know.


I saw this on Velvet Verbosity, and I just had to share. At over 16 minutes, it's epic by internet video standards, but it's worth it. Thanks, VV!

"Validation" starring TJ Thyne & Vicki Davis. Writer/Director/Composer - Kurt Kuenne.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Looking Back

I'm still waiting for the "and laughing" part, but maybe that takes a little longer.

"Do you want to go to the playground and play with Ethan?"

"NO! Where's Ethan?"

"Do you want a hot dog for lunch?"

"NO! Can I have a hot dog?"

"Do you want to watch Barney?"

"NO! Yeah, I do."

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: It's a good thing he's so cute.

Monday, November 30, 2009

It's a Long Time Until July

I'm struggling to be the parent I want to be. Thumper is exhibiting all sorts of stereotypical two-year-old behavior. He wants to do everything himself. He throws himself on the floor and screams at just about anything I say, even if I'm suggesting something he wants to do, even if he suggested it first. He bit Aerie hard enough to leave blood under the skin, though I think he was as shocked that it happened as she was. At first I thought tantrum behavior was kind of funny, as in, "Hey, look at that! Two-year-olds really do that! Cute!" Now I'm just tired.

I want to be the parent who acts calmly. I want to be the...

Jesus Christ, will someone shut that goddamned dog up! He's been barking for 45 freaking minutes already!

What was I saying? Oh, yeah, the parent who responds to behavior rationally, not emotionally. But apparently I can't do that. He throws his food on the floor and bangs his fork repeatedly on his plate, and I snatch it away from him. He screams and throws his milk cup across the room, and I yell at him. He hits me with a Tinker Toy stick, and I put him roughly onto the timeout stool. I have never hit him, though, and have no fear that I ever will. I've just been doing a lot of yelling, and he's doing a lot of screaming. Did you hear us in WalMart this morning?

Oh, great. The cat's throwing up in the other room.

Anyway, there you go: evidence that it's not all peaches and cream in the Rodius household.

Dealing with Toddler Tantrums


Robert McGee's 10-and-under baseball team has an opportunity to go to Cooperstown, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame, to participate in a 96-team tournament. Unfortunately, travel, hotel, food, and registration costs run around $2,000 per kid, and without a little fundraising help, they're not going to make it. If you have a few bucks to spare and want to help make a dream come true for some hardworking elite little league players, I'd be ever so grateful. Thanks!

The 2010 Hill Country Hurricanes!

By the way, the page is still under construction. The P.O. box for mailing a donation will be coming soon, and more of the boys' names will be appearing shortly. The PayPal option for donations is up and working, though. Thanks again!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Way to Man Up

During a week that contains a holiday, things get odd. Last night, out on our street, I had the conversation that I thought I'd have a lot more frequently when I started this stay-at-home dad thing. I've actually only had it a couple of times in the two years since I started. The father of the kids two doors down from us was out watching his 7- or 8-year-old daughter.

"I guess my wife's decided to let her roam around the neighborhood by herself," he says. "I don't really agree with that, but..." He trails off, sounding wistful.

"There's lots of kids in the neighborhood," I say, not knowing quite what else to say.

"So, did you get a few days off this week to spend with your son?" he asks.

"No, I spend every day with him."

"Oh. Got laid off, huh?"

"No, I stay home with him full-time." I answer. Now he's the one who doesn't know what to say. And then, because I feel like I have to justify myself, I add, "I work a couple part-time jobs nights and weekends."

"Oh," he says, and conversation comes to a halt.

During a holiday week, it's much harder to play "Spot the SAHD" at the playground, too. There were lots of dads at Central Market today. Stay-at-home and otherwise. One dad was kicking a soccer ball with his kids, and without hesitation, Thumper ran right into the middle of their game. It was one of those moments when I wonder if I should stop him, but then I don't. Will they be annoyed by him getting in the way? Will he take a shot to the face? If I have to take him to the emergency room for a broken nose and tell the story of how he got it, will the doctor wonder what kind of idiot I am that I couldn't see that coming?

So he runs into the middle, and everyone is kind and patient with him. They lightly kick him the ball now and then, and encourage him to kick it back. He runs and runs, chasing the kids who are chasing the ball and yelling as they yell. Eventually, inevitably, the ball hits him in the back of the head and lays him out, face first. The other dad and I both run over, and Thumper just lays there for a moment, stunned.

I help him up and ask, "Are you OK?"

"Yeah," he says, and claps his hands together, brushing the dirt off. He looks a little dazed, but after a few seconds, he's off again, running and yelling.

The boy who kicked the ball runs over, too, and apologizes profusely. I tell him if Thumper chooses to run into the middle of a soccer game, it's bound to happen. It wasn't the kid's fault.

"Geez," the kid says. "He's tough!"

"Wow," the dad says. "Not even one tear."

And part of me, the part that believes in gender equality and the acceptability of boys crying, the part that doesn't want to raise him up with a bunch of stupid macho bullshit hang-ups, that part of me is appalled that I flush with pride when someone calls him tough.

And speaking of manly, I'm baking, though not in an apron. I'm making Brandy Snaps, and like most projects I undertake, it's harder than I was expecting. Thank God for the internet, because my Better Homes and Gardens recipe card neglects to mention just how long and at what temperature I'm supposed to bake the batter.

Oh, and this has nothing to do with anything, but it's cute: When we're getting lunch at the salad bar, Thumper sees the gelato display. "Can I have ice cream?" he asks.

"After lunch," I say. "For dessert. But it's gelato." I don't know what the difference is, but the sign says gelato.

He contemplates the stuff in the freezer. "Is it ice cream?" he asks, eyebrows raised and nose wrinkled in puzzlement.

"It's gelato," I say.

"It's ice cream," he says, with a finality that clearly indicates the subject is closed. "I want the pink one."


Brandy Snaps!

Monday, November 23, 2009


I just finished reading Margaret Atwood's Surfacing and listening to the audiobook version of Anne Rice's Christ the Lord Out of Egypt. The one is a haunting tale of a woman's return to the land of the living after years of self-imposed exile after aborting the product of an affair with a married man. The other is a reborn Catholic's imagining of what it may have been like for the young Jesus to discover his own divinity and God's purpose in having him live a human life. Pretty cool stuff, the both of 'em.

As I was reaching the climactic moments in Surfacing while I got paid to sit quietly by myself in semi-darkness and read (I was posted at the doors of the arena to inform patrons who hadn't heard that the concert had been rescheduled to almost two weeks ago; I only had one couple show up on the wrong day), I pulled out my notepad and wrote this:

The lie is that books, that the fictions within them, are Art, are Truth. The truth is that they are small things, trifles. We tell ourselves they teach us something meaningful, that they help us understand the world around us in a deeper way. But the only things we can see in them are the things we already know to be true. When the tone sounds and vibrates through our souls, it is recognition, it is familiarity, that is the hammer striking the bell. What we seek when we read Art, Literature, is not enlightenment, but only validation that we are right to be who we are. Perhaps this is true for those who write books, as well, for if you can read it and recognize yourself and draw comfort from the recognition, then maybe they are comforted that you recognize them as well.

But no; that's only part of it. All things exist simultaneously and each of them is true.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

What Was the Score, Anyway?

It's late on a Saturday night/Sunday morning, and I'm blogging again to stay awake for a bit in the hopes that maybe I won't dream about work all night. Here are some random thoughts presented in a disjointed and aesthetically displeasing manner:

Farewell to another season of football ushering. It was a good time. It occurs to me that while it's true that supervising new employees each week who've never worked a game presents challenges, supervising returning employees who've grown comfortable with their position and their supervisor presents challenges of its own. I love working football, but I can't say I'm sad to see the last home game of the season come and go.

Maybe next season I'll write notes so I won't forget to tell them things during briefing.

The French professor who forced Aerie and me to like each other died suddenly. Three years ago. I've thought of him periodically in the years since we lost contact, and I Googled him now and again. It turns out he died more than a year before I wrote this, in which I should have featured him more prominently. He had a laugh that could send birds fluttering madly from the trees and make strangers many yards away jump in alarm. He, like the incomparable suttonhoo, lived life in a way that I admire, with art and books and food and travel as his meat and his bread. He was a joy to spend an evening with, and the world is not a better place with him gone. Bonne nuit, Monsieur le Docteur.

Well crap, now I'm feeling sort of morose again, as I was last night when I heard about the good professor. Uh, hmmm, a cute toddler anecdote... OK, here are some thoughts on the toddler:

I don't know where he learned it, but he likes to clasp his hands together next to his cheek and declare, "I'm the cutest boy."

Cooking has become one of his favorite pastimes. "We can cook," he says. "If we want to. Come on! Sit on the carpet?" He says that a lot: "Come on!" And I realize that I say it a lot to him. His has more enthusiasm, though, and mine has more exasperation. So I sit on the carpet, and he cooks for me. He makes meatballs of the many marbles, golf balls, etc. in his toy collection, or cracks plastic eggs left over from his Easter basket. We make "vegeble beef soup" and cakes and cookies of all sorts. Strings become noodles. "I'm a good cooker," he tells me, and he is. "I'm Iron Chefing."

If the language he uses reflects the language we use, I think we can be happy with our efforts. While I'm not so proud of the "dammits" he throws around, I think Aerie and I can be proud that he often uses "please" and "thank you" unprompted, that when I drum or play the piano or the harmonica or the "phylozone" with him, he tells me "That's a great song, Daddy! Good job!"

Well, anyway. That's enough of that. As I've mentioned, he's brilliant. He's beautiful. I love him. Yadda yadda yadda.

OK, I'm in a better mood now, and I think I can go to bed.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Cognitive Dissonance

So a couple days ago, my brother tells me he heard a story on NPR that mentioned in passing that the price of rice, the world's most widely consumed grain, is set to double. Then today, while on the treadmill at the gym, I see a news story on News 8 Austin that focuses on the Harbor Master of the Austin Yacht Club complaining that he has trouble keeping their docks afloat because rice farmers downstream use the Colorado River to irrigate their crops, lowering water levels in Lake Travis. Somehow, I'm having difficulty summoning up much sympathy for his predicament. He is quoted as saying, "If you just look at the population, we're talking 1.5 billion gallons a day going downstream to support a community the size of, what, maybe 10,000 people, 20,000 people? Versus the 220 million supporting a community of over half a million," Dwight said. "Those ratios are amazing when you think of the number of people and the number of gallons."

Judging by the greenness of my neighbors' grass over the summer when drought conditions were horrific, I'd say that those 10 or 20,000 people downstream growing rice may be putting it to better use than we half million who are growing lawns. And floating our yachts in Lake Travis. Just sayin'.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


Katherine Fleischer Park on Elementary School Field Trip Day can be a treacherous place. All those kids appeared to be doing some sort of math scavenger hunt, running around with tape measures and questionnaires. Thumper followed them around in absolute awe. He went into the little wooden playhouse, and I'm not saying he was pushed necessarily, but he fell off the bottom step of, hmmm, let me see, Google Google Google, ah yes, these stairs. I ran over and scooped him up while two other adults helpfully told me that he fell down. Really? You think so? I laid his head on my shoulder while he made that long, silent, preliminary cry.

You know what turns a laid back, let-him-explore-for-himself kind of dad into a nervous helicopter parent for the rest of the day? Laying a comforting hand on his child's head and having it come away bloody.

It was a small cut, and he was over it in a minute or two, but man, half an hour later when the five-year-old who's been kicked out of three daycares for "aggression issues" decided it was time to "help" Thumper bounce on the rocket, I may have yelled a little louder than was actually appropriate.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Gorillas Touching Socks

So I've kind of fallen off the Weight Watchers dietary wagon lately, but I'm still working out, so that's good. In fact, I jogged outside today for the first time in a long time. The boy's got a bit of a snotty cold that I didn't think the gym child care ladies would appreciate, so we jogged the four-mile neighborhood circuit this morning instead. Apparently all the working out on the treadmill is getting results; the last time I ran the circuit, I was walking three and jogging seven out of every ten minutes. Today I jogged the whole thing without stopping, and knocked six minutes off my best time. Maybe I should start thinking about finding a 5K or (gasp!) a 10K to start training for.

And when I was dressing the boy to go out on our jog, as I pulled his socks on, he said to me, "There's no gorillas touching my socks." Not sure that I heard him correctly, I asked, "No gorillas touching your socks?" "Nope," he said. "Not today."

Saturday, November 7, 2009

That Rodney, He's a Card

So there's this thing that's occupying most of our mental and emotional energies lately, leaving both Aerie and me somewhat useless at the end of the day. The thing is, it's not something I can really write or talk about much; it's a painful family situation that's not my story to tell, but it makes us both sad. And it sends ripples across the family pond, creating other situations that need resolutions. Since Aerie is the World's Most Capable Woman, she's the go-to gal for resolutions, making her more sad, and more tired, and it's just kind of wearing us both down a little bit.

Luckily, the sun may be coming out tomorrow, etc. etc., and everything will be fine, though different. In the meantime, I'm wasting my free time blowing up jewels on Facebook and robbing drug dealers and taking over gang territories on Playstation 2, so I'm not posting much. So here are a couple of amusing anecdotes about my day ushering at the big football game. Smiles everyone, smiles!

So as I may have mentioned, I supervise one of the gates through which students enter the stadium. Rodney's my bullhorn man; it's his job to work the crowd when the lines build up, reminding students to have their student ID's out and working to redistribute the lines evenly. For some reason, whenever people see a line, they think they have to stand in it, even if there are shorter lines fifteen feet away.

Anyway! That's Rodney's job: working the crowd with a bullhorn. I tell him, if the students ask him to use his bullhorn to get a good fight song going, or other school cheer etc. etc., that's great, that's just good customer service, by all means, indulge them. Just never ever, as in never, hand over the bullhorn.

So the rush comes, and I look up, and I see Rodney standing out there, surrounded by four hot, scantily-clad college girls. And one of them is holding his bullhorn. So I go out there and ask him, "Rodney, what happened to not relinquishing control of your bullhorn?" And he grins at me, looks down, and quietly says, "I know. They just smelled so good."

So there's that.

And then! Around halftime I notice a group of adorable little girls in blue cheerleader outfits enthusiastically belting out a cheer routine. I wouldn't guess that elementaries have cheer squads, but they certainly didn't look old enough for middle school. So they're out there doing their thing, and there's a bucket in front of them, and one of their mothers is holding a giant poster board that quite clearly solicits donations to help them travel to somesuchplace or nother for a cheer competition of some kind.

Well, crap.

I know this is not allowed, but I call on the radio for confirmation from my higher ups that I'm going to have to be the heavy here. I describe the situation and ask, "Do I have to put a stop to that?" I get the one word reply: "Yes."

Well, crap.

So I approach the mother with the sign, and I tell her, "I hate to be the guy that has to tell little girls they can't do their cheer routine," etc. etc. "It's against University's Rules and Regulations," etc. etc. "But they can't do that here." She was very nice. She understood. We watched them finish their chant, then she gathered up the girls, who were very excited to be doing their thing outside the giant stadium, and they moved on. I hope they didn't move far, just far enough to be off of University property and still well within reach of lots of potential donors. Or at least out of my sight range.

So there you go. Those are my Bad Guy stories for today. The game was too early and the opponent too unranked for the students to come out in drunken droves, so I only got to anger a mere handful. But at least I got to crush a middle-aged man's flirtations and chase off a gang of adorable little girls.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Watch Your Mailbox, Grandpa!

To write, one must hold a crayon and speak the words out loud.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Why I Should Not Speak to Strangers

I wonder about names. Do they come in waves, and how? How is it that we thought Tucker and Connor and Noah would be unusual names we might bestow on our baby boy, only now to discover that every time we go to the playground Tucker, Connor, and Noah are all taking turns on the slide or throwing sand at each other in the sandbox? Were the names already prevalent, and that's how we came to become attracted to them, though we didn't notice? Or does a whole generation of parents all simultaneously decide that Noah would be cute? And to what degree is Dr. Carter directly responsible?

Anyway, I've decided I need to shut up already and stop telling parents that "we almost named our son __________________." Why? Because somebody finally asked me, "Really? Why'd you change your mind?" And I couldn't think quickly enough of an answer that wasn't, "Because we thought he might not like the other kids at school calling him Tucker the F**ker."

Sunday, October 25, 2009

You Met Me At a Very Strange Time in My Life

That's a quote from Fight Club, Mom.

1. I'm not real keen on the new look. I have a suspicion that this is one ugly color scheme, but I was getting tired of the last one.

2. Happy Kissiversary, Aerie!

3. Things have been pretty strange around here, stressful and aggravating and also fun and amazing and tiring.

(a) There are serious disruptions taking place in Aerie's family, and we're hurting for them and worrying with them about what the future will hold and also hoping it all doesn't spill over too much into our little world.

(b) I also spent three straight weeks spending most of my free time working on a large copywriting project, and it couldn't be clearer to me that it's not a lot of fun and puts more stress on my family life. It does pay well, and it would be easier if I were better at managing my time.

(c) I'm struggling to stay motivated with Weight Watchers. As I've noted before, success gives me an inexplicable tendency to sabotage myself. I've kept up the exercise, though I think I've got a rotator cuff injury that's making weight lifting a bad idea. I'm still hitting the treadmill, though. In fact, I had a new personal best yesterday, burning 1070 calories in 60 minutes. I've got to say, The Crystal Method's Drive is my all-time favorite workout album. I think it was released as part of a promotion of Nike's integration with iPod, or something like that, which makes it about as corporate as you can get, but man, it's effective. I only wish it was long enough to get me all through a full hour instead of quitting at about 45 minutes. Keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel... Bad, right? Wait a minute, what was I talking about again? Oh, right. Stalling on the weight loss. Yeah.

(d) Thumper's been testing a lot of limits lately, and has developed a strong tendency to contradict everything that's said to him. We have whining, and screaming fits, and "I won't..." and "I can't...", and conversations that tend to follow these lines:

Me: "It's raining."
He: "No, it's not raining."
Me: "It's not?"
He: "No, it's raining."

So the stress and frustration from (a), (b), and (c) tend to make (d) less bearable, but every day I'm reminded by the people around me how wonderful he is. Wherever we go, people tell me how cute and big and smart he is. We had one of our best playdates ever this week, with 4 other kids on the playground all about the same age as he. The kids played together and shared toys with minimal friction, the 2 moms, a babysitter, another dad and I were all friendly and talked Halloween and potty training and developmental milestones and mothers-in-law. And they all expressed amazement at Thumper's age. The dad even said, "He can't do that yet!" when Thumper pedaled a borrowed tricycle on a circuit round and round the playground. So I'm daily reminded how lucky we are with him, but still, I'm doing a lot of yelling lately.

So, uh, yeah, all of that just to say I haven't updated much lately, and I don't like my new layout here, but I really don't have the time or motivation to change it. We're doing a National Downs Syndrome Society Buddy Walk today, which will be fun. And my beloved database project that was suspended indefinitely has been revived, so there's more work such that I may actually someday be able to signup for ushering shifts online, glory hallelujah. Facebook's responsible for my light posting, too. Curse you, you evil Bejeweled Blitz!

Sunday, October 18, 2009


Here's 100 Words on "Place," inspired by Velvet Verbosity:

She hasn't got a place, though she could if she tried. No matter where she is, she's happier elsewhere. The fault is in the place, in the people that occupy it.

She lights another cigarette. She doesn't smoke, not really. Not anymore. It's a temporary fix. The stress is unbearable. She deserves a little outlet, no matter what they say. They don't know when to keep their mouths shut. They can't imagine what she's been through.

The baby cries. "That's got to stop," she says. I make a face. I roll my eyes. "I can't ever say anything," she says.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


I used to be a daily Today Show viewer. Most of the time, I complained about it. I disliked Katie Couric and how she really, really, really wanted the families of the Columbine victims to squeeze out a few more tears. But it was better than the other network morning shows, I liked watching TV while eating my breakfast, and it made me feel like I was somewhat informed about national news. So I watched it, and I ridiculed it.

I didn't want to watch it with Thumper around, though, so we've been daily viewers of Sesame Street instead. Elmo is a whole other kettle of fish when it comes to the horrors of television, but I certainly haven't missed Matt and Meredith at all. In fact now, when I do catch a few minutes of it because Thumper isn't up yet, and Aerie was watching the local newscast for the weather which then bounced back to the network feed, I'm mildly horrified. It's an endless parade of tragedies and celebrity freak show voyeurism. Why did I watch that?

This morning, Thumper was still asleep, and Aerie was hanging around the house a little later than usual. She had Today on when I walked through, and I caught a few details. The sad story of Michael Brewer was particularly bleak, and it made me realize another way in which parenting has changed me. Before, I would have consumed the entire segment and felt superior to the people who could commit such an atrocity and to the parents who spawned them. I'd feel a twinge of empathy, a hint of horror, and my certainty about the black pit at the center of human nature would be confirmed. And then I'd sit there and wait for the next three-minute segment of human depravity to be paraded before me.

This morning, I had to walk away. As soon as I heard enough of the story to imagine Thumper as the victim of such an act, I couldn't watch another second. Now I know what people mean by "chilling."

Hypocritically, when I thought about writing a blog post, I searched for the segment on the show's website and watched it in its entirety. I wanted to see if I could find an answer to the question in my mind: Why would the mother agree to be on the show, to let herself and her child be this week's morsel drooled over by Meredith as she serves it up for our consumption, to be forgotten in favor of some other morsel tomorrow or next week? The mother did make a plea for peace, for the rejection of violence as a solution to human problems, but Meredith sidestepped that plea without comment and came right back, prodding for the soft spot that would get the tears flowing. The mother didn't break down completely during the interview, so at the end, Meredith tells Matt that the interview was filmed before the show went on the air, and the mother did break down after the interview was over. While still on camera! And we have it here! We asked her if it was OK if we showed it, and she said yes! So they show several moments of her sobbing, and we, the audience, we slurp it up.

I don't want to be a part of that anymore. The celebrity gossip! The murders! The rapes! The abuse! The 18-year-long kidnap victim! and Michael Jackson on endless loop! I mostly get it now only from the magazine covers when I stand in line at the grocery store. I'm going to try to avert my eyes from now on. I also watch TV Guide Channel because we don't have digital cable and never know what's on. I put the Mute on and suffer through the slow motion scrolling of the schedule beneath Michael Jackson and Flava Flav and New York and Ashton Kutcher, but still. Even muted, it seeps in through the eyes. If this is being informed, I'd rather be ignorant.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Yes, It's Barney. Shut Up.

Rodius (singing): "Looky, looky, it's a cookie, cookie! Cookies are wonderful things!"

Thumper: "Fun!"

R: "What?"

T: "Wonderful fun!"

R: "Oh, is that how it goes?" (singing) "Cookies are wonderful fun!"

T: "Daddy no sing..."

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Eh, a Little Gimmicky

Maybe I'm too late, but here's my response to Velvet Verbosity's 100 Words on "Bear."

When I reminisce, sometimes a memory swells, more than I can bear. Lingering in the past, the ghost-thought creates a sharp physical sensation, a pain that makes me grimace, and I bare my teeth and growl. Some are memories of what I did, or what I didn't do, or what I should have done; these are the anecdotes that don't bear repeating. Please, I ask, let no one bear witness to my weakness. Standing naked, bared to my own cruel judgment, I close my eyes and change the subject. Shame is a crop I cultivate, though it bears no fruit.

Friday, October 2, 2009

When She Left

I can still recall that surreal, disconnected, floaty feeling, not unlike the scene when Eddie gets cheated by Hatchet Harry and just sort of wanders out, then pukes in the street. Yeah, kind of like that.

I walked through the neighborhood, and every white car on the horizon was our car returning home, bringing her back home.

I remember my brother, who came when I called him, sitting with me, not talking about it, then sort of talking about it, and telling me, "If it was me, I'd fight." And suddenly realizing that I could fight or not fight, that I could let it be over, or I could try. It was entirely up to me. And I chose to try.

And things were bad, and things got better, and I learned that there is no happily ever after and you never hit the point in a marriage when you can stop working at it.

Now people we love are floating in that same boat, and the Mrs. has gone over while I stay here with the boy. I hope she can be what my brother was for me: a comfort and a sounding board. I wish both parties well, and I hope they can both find what they're looking for. I hope they can fight if they want to fight, and let go if they want to let go.

By the way, Big Brother: I know you don't read this, but your wife does. I hope I told you some time how much it meant to me that you came over. Thanks.

I Don't Yell at Him in Front of Her

My mother had many kind things to say. It's fun to be the object of lavish praise!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Thumper and the Firefighters

So Thumper and I, and another dad and an adorable little girl who's one month older than Thumper, visited a firehouse today. We walked into the station, were face-to-face with three firefighters, and Thumper turned to me and asked, "Where's the firefighters?" Guess it wasn't what he was expecting after his repeated close examinations of The Adventures of Curious George by H.A. Rey and the more recent Curious George and the Firefighters. One can sympathize; there wasn't a single handlebar mustache to be seen.

He ran up to the nearest firefighter, pointing, and asked, "What's in the mouth?" Turns out it was chocolate in the mouth, and the kind firefighter was quick to share. Fast friends were instantly made, and the tour proceeded.

He drove the truck:

He wore the headset:

He sat in the jump seat:

And he worked the hose:

Then we played at Children's Park, billed as "one of the largest community-built playscapes in the U.S.," which was indeed quite cool. Then we ate catfish and biscuits and corn on the cob and lemonade and ice cream at The Newton Gang's Getaway, which apparently used to be a bank that was robbed by the Newton Gang in 1924. It was robbed again in 1972 by Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw in The Getaway:

The walls are no longer white, though. I think they're going more for the 1924 look these days rather than the 1972 look. We sat right in front of the "vault."

All in all, a pretty great day.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Infinite Rant

Since my commitment to read more, I've found that I almost always have two books going: one audiobook and one of the more traditional papery type. I've also found that I really enjoy the way each tends to color my understanding of the other. This last go 'round, it was the massive, hard cover copy of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest paired with the wonderful ensemble cast reading of Recorded Book's version of Chuck Palahniuk's Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey.

I had never previously read anything by Wallace, though the Mrs. had him as a professor for one class at Emerson College lo, these many years ago. She recalls him as being most critical of "bullshit" in the papers and tests that he graded, marking through great swaths of academic puffery and writing in the margins, "If you don't know, just say 'I don't know.'" Interestingly, one of the characters in Jest has the Mrs.' maiden name. I can't help wonder if she made an impression on him during that time when she was making an impression on me. Anyway, that dislike of bullshit fits the interpretation favored by Matthew Baldwin of defective yeti on the Infinite Summer site that the book is at heart an endorsement of sincerity.

I have read other Palahniuk books, though, including Haunted (that I both hated and loved, and that was also a Recorded Books ensemble production) and (after I'd seen and was completely stunned by the movie) Fight Club.

What struck me as I consumed Jest and Rant simultaneously was how I blurred the distinctions between the two writers. As I read about Hal's visit to what he thinks is an AA meeting, I thought that DFW was sort of rehashing some of his Testicular Cancer Survivors' support group from Fight Club, and then realized that wasn't Wallace, that was Palahniuk. I think Wallace's AFR and that nut job Lenz in particular would also be right at home in Palahniuk's world.

In the end, though, I'm not sure what either really means. The difference between me as a reader now and me as a reader who was majoring in English and writing essays about what he read is, now I read only once and make no notes in the margins. I'm no longer studying literature; I'm just enjoying it. After I finished Jest, I browsed my bookshelf and picked up Seize the Day by Saul Bellow. It looked blessedly thin after the massive Jest, and the cover proclaimed Bellow as a Nobel Prize winner, so I figured I should read it. I was surprised to discover that I had already read it and filled its margins with notes that are unmistakably in my handwriting. I have no recollection of it at all.

So to really talk meaningfully about Jest, I'd have to read through it again, the thought of which only depresses me. I'd have to flip back through it and find specific passages to quote and refer to. Who has the time? I can only say that to me, it seemed mostly about isolation, the inevitability of isolation in a modern world. Everyone has their own neuroses or psychoses, addictions and insecurities, that leave them unable to really connect on a meaningful level with anyone else. Gately ends up in the hospital, maddeningly unable to communicate even his desire to communicate. Hal's unusual isolation is the opening focus of the book. Joelle wears a veil, with no one ever even seeing her face. Avril's carefully composed appearance is thoroughly calculated, and J.O.I., who is obsessed with lenses and optics and the manipulation of the image, is hopelessly unable to connect with either of his two elder sons. Everyone, except perhaps Mario, who seems to be the only genuine person (thus the sincerity themes that Baldwin discusses), is alone and addicted, with technology and addiction making him more alone and sobriety making him only marginally less so.

And Rant? Well, it was hugely entertaining, witty, funny, well-acted, and the most confusing novelization of the philosophy of time travel I've ever read. Or, uh, heard.

Anyway, my considered academic opinion is: read 'em both. They's wicked good.

Monday, September 21, 2009

It Wasn't a Black Parade

I took the boy to see the marching band(s), but I didn't ask him to be the savior of the broken, the beaten, and the damned.

(That's a reference to a song by a band called My Chemical Romance, Mom.)

He loved standing in the box office line. He pointed out to the girl behind us that her shoes don't flash very well. Then he jumped and jumped and jumped to demonstrate how well his flash.

He loved climbing up through the stadium to find seats. He tried very hard to find the announcer. He was a bit puzzled by the National Anthem. He pointed out the flags. He pointed out the tubas! He asked if he could go on the field.

When the first band started, he was entirely rapt for about 10 solid minutes.

And then it was time to go find a snow cone. A purple snow cone.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Hey, Velvet Verbosity is back! I admit I was afraid she might be pushing up daisies by now. I'm glad she's back to motivating the rest of us to write. Anyway, here's my version of Wrong:

I could never deal with that.

He/she/I will change, I know it.

I don't need a degree.

My boss is bound to retire in the next year or two.

Eventually in a marriage, you just learn to understand each other.

If that happened to me, I'd surely die.

My parents don't know what the hell they're talking about.

If I could just achieve that, I'd be happy.

He can't possibly have anything left to throw up.

Other people spend as much time thinking about me as I spend thinking about what they think.

I don't need to go to bed.

The Proof Is in the Pedal

He really can pedal a trike. And no, I'm not sure what he's talking about. The exact transcript is, "Where's Daddy...? No, I won't... But it's closed. It's closed. See the man, either. The man, either. The man and the truck. How did that happen? Where's the truck and the man?" I think he's pondering where the neighbor across the street is. When last we were out, yesterday evening, he was outside examining his truck after getting hail damage repaired. And today, he wasn't there, and his garage was closed. That's my best guess.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

At the Four-Year-Old's Birthday Party

"Did you bring me a present?"


"Where is it?"

"On the table."

"Where on the table?"

"Right there."

"I'm Spiderman!"

Friday, September 4, 2009

1,000 Words

1,000 Words

Screw You, American Fast Food

Since I've been doing Weight Watchers, I haven't been eating out as much except for Souper Salad. So when I do commit my points to something special, I want it to be phenomenal. I busted my ass at the gym this morning and decided that since we were running all over the place, it was a good day for a treat. A coffee and a breakfast taco! Was it phenomenal? No. It was lukewarm coffee, and a breakfast burrito so atomically hot that once I could finally touch it without burning myself, the tortilla had disintegrated and glued itself to the foil wrapper, making it impossible to unwrap and thus impossible to eat. Screw you, Scooter's Coffeehouse.

The boy almost never gets fast food, and since we played so intensely and for so long at the playground this morning, and since he was starting to doze on the way home for lunch, I decided to stop at Wendy's and let him have a burger. I got a burger and small fries, and we shared the fries. He really enjoyed it, especially since I let him sit in the booth without a high chair and dip his fries in his own little cup of ketchup. Woo hoo!

Well, screw you, too, Wendy's (and every other fast food burger joint I used to enjoy). "It's waaaay better than fast food" my ass. In portions resulting in reasonable caloric levels, your food is completely unsatisfying. In the portions in which you sell it, it's horrifyingly fattening. 16 points for a sandwich and a side dish? And it's not even good enough to qualify as a special occasion. I paid 16 valuable Weight Watchers points for that lunch, and the fries were cold and pasty. The burger was swimming in so much ketchup and mayonnaise, I used six napkins. The one little leaf of lettuce was wilted, and the cheese isn't even real.

I blew almost half my daily points allowance, and I didn't even enjoy the experience. I knew that fast food was crappy, but I never really thought of it as so expensive before. Expensive and crappy are a bad combination.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Hurt Locker

Not sure I get the title; was the box of bomb parts under his bed his "hurt locker?" Was the job itself a locker in which he hid away his hurts? I don't know. It was a worthy addition to the American combat movie genre, though. And I want to see more of this guy. He's dead sexy. We sort of kind of started to watch The Unusuals a bit here and there, but couldn't get into it. This dude wasn't the worst part of it, though, fo' sho'.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Cucumber Daddy and the Boy Genius

Thumper was calling me Cucumber Daddy for a while this morning.

Oh, but wait! First, I have to tell you: one of the ladies at the child care center at the gym asked me today when I picked him up, "How old is he again? I mean, I know he's two, but when does he turn three?" When I told her, her jaw dropped. "He JUST turned two? He's so smart! He knows all his colors, and not just the easy ones! He even knows black and white! And he was counting. He said, 'One, two, three, four, five... Five million dollars!'"

"Yeah," I said, "I don't know where he got that five million dollars thing. I ask him if I can have some, and he says, 'No...'"

She was still gushing. "And he told me that the red pick-up truck on his shirt was 'Kinda like a fire truck.' He's so smart!"

Yep. That's my boy!

Oh, yeah, anyway. Cucumber Daddy. We went to the playground, and we brought his scooter. Man, he loves that thing. He's actually getting pretty good at it, too, pushing with one foot and scooting along. He has a hard time scooting and steering simultaneously, though. This is the second time we brought it to the playground. Last week, one mother, after watching him work it, said, "I thought those were for three- and four-year-olds!"

I thought the scooter might be a little advanced for him, but he's proven me wrong. There was a four-or-so-year-old there with a tiny bike with training wheels. When the kid had abandoned it, Thumper went over to investigate. The kid's mom told him, "I don't mind, but you have to ask your dad if it's OK." Thumper walked up to me, nodding, and said, "It's OK." So we experimented with the bike for awhile. After a few minutes and a seat adjustment (the mom whipped out an adjustable wrench and lowered the seat for him! How cool is that?), he was climbing onto the seat by himself, placing his feet on the pedals, and doing his best to push. As with his tricycle, he couldn't quite get the rotary motion going, but my two-year-old was riding a bike today.

Oh yeah. Cucumber Daddy. I keep going off on Boy Genius tangents. After he scooted for awhile, and before he discovered the bike, he played in the sand box. The sand box has this thing in the middle that makes it look like it used to be a water feature, like a mini-splashpad, but that they filled it with sand at some point to save money. Or something. Let me see if I can find a photo of it... Ah, here! The thing in the background of this photo.

So Thumper's climbing on the tall part in the middle. I get distracted doing some people watching on a family that gave all appearances of being prolific breeders that homeschool, with the dad sort of nagging his older kids in this cheerful, sing-songy voice. "Don't push Baby Ethan so high on the swing, Princess. You'll scare Baby Ethan. Of course you have to wear your shoes, Goofy. I know they get rocks, but they're protecting your feet." Etc. Suddenly, a mom near me jumps to her feet and gasps, covering her mouth, and I hear Thumper say, "Oh. Uh. Yeah." I look over at him, and he's done a sort of flip over the top of the sand box thing. He's doing a handstand, with his feet at the top, and he's trying to figure out how to extricate himself from the situation.

I say, "What, are you doing gymnastics now?"

"Yeah," he says.

"Do you need some help?" I ask. But he gets himself free and gracefully lands on his feet before he can answer. Grinning, he starts climbing up again.

"Wow," says the mother who leaped to her feet. "That's one cool-as-a-cucumber daddy. My heart almost stopped!"

"Yeah," I say, "he takes a tumble now and then. He's already scraped his elbow this morning with that scooter over there."

"I know," she says. "I saw." Maybe with a not-so-subtle tone of disapproval. Maybe. I think about telling her that he can be a nervous kid, so I try not to teach him that the world is a dangerous place by reacting too strongly to minor incidents. Then I figure, eh, what's the point? She probably won't bother to call CPS on me, anyway. So I keep my mouth shut and look back at Thumper.

"Cucumber Daddy!" he says. He's climbed to the top again and is leaning over so that his feet start to rise. "Do it again?"

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Thumper's Work

The boy got a camera for his birthday. I deleted a whole bunch of completely black or completely white ones, though he might object that I didn't understand his thematic nuances. Here are some of what were left:

Self-Portrait: The Darkness Inside


Wherefore God?

Recliner with Window

The Hand That Feeds

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Social Media for Retailers

I often think I stumble my way through life, tripping and falling by accident into some of the best things that have happened to me. My mother would probably say that it's no accident; the things, and more importantly the people, that we need present themselves to us as we need them. Or maybe she'd say we draw them to us. Or that we are guided to them. I'm not sure. Anyway. The course of my life does not follow the straight line of someone who knows where they're going and how to get there; it follows the meandering course of someone blindly blundering along, tripping over obstacles and falling face first into opportunities.

Take copywriting, for instance. I started this blog because I was bored out of my skull at my last job. I killed a lot of time playing online games. Eventually I became bored with those and began looking for other ways to fill my day. One of those ways was reading blogs. The more I read, the more I wanted to start my own. So I did.

Over the same period of time, my on-again, off-again relationship with my sister turned on again. She works for an online retailer of children's furniture and toys. The company had its product descriptions and other copywriting needs met by another company that, as I recall, was using Pakistani contractors. As non-native English speakers, their work was... Well, anyway, my sister's bosses began to gather together their own stable of copywriters, and my sister suggested that I might be a good addition. She pointed them to my blog, and they contacted me.

I was shocked. I had no experience with copywriting. I knew nothing (and know very little) about Search Engine Optimization or keyword placement. I have no background in any kind of marketing or advertising or in otherwise trying to convince people to buy something. But they began sending me work anyway. And I guess I'm giving them what they want, because they continue to send me work. I'm still stunned when I stop and think, "Huh. I'm a copywriter. I'll be damned..."

Recently, they expressed an interest in using Twitter and Facebook to enhance their operations, and they asked me if I was interested in doing it for them. They asked me to write a proposal on how to implement it.

Huh? Me? OK, I'm interested. I use Twitter and Facebook. But a proposal? I was thinking more along the lines of you tell me what you want, and I do it. I don't know nothin' 'bout no Social Media for Retailers. I can't imagine why someone who just purchased some nursery furniture would want to follow on Twitter or become a fan on Facebook of the company that sold it to him, which makes it hard to write a proposal.

So I asked the one person that I could think of that would know something about it, the brilliant suttonhoo from detritus. I knew she was some kind of big wheel in some company that did something about online retailing. More importantly, I knew she was much smarter than me. Or I. Or whatever.

stumble trip, it turns out that when she's jetting all over the country like she does, one of the things she's doing, when she's not living well and writing thought-provoking and sometimes heart-rending poetry and prose and taking beautiful pictures, is giving presentations on just this very subject. She gets quoted in Internet Retailer in articles titled "Going Social." This is, like, what she does. And she's helping me out, just because she's nice like that, with all kinds of info of which I've only just begun to scratch the surface.

So, very many big thanks, Ms. Hoo. I just scrabble for whatever revenue streams I can find to help support this at-home dad gig that I love so much. I appreciate you trying to help me look like maybe I know what the hell I'm talking about.

I WON'T Get Haircut!

Thumper's all about asserting his will these days. Almost anything Aerie or I suggest is met with, "I WON'T _________!" Today, it was, "I WON'T get haircut!" A couple of weeks ago, when we were posing for the SAHD's Group Photo, he would only cover his face and say, "I WON'T take picture! I WON'T take picture!" He won't brush teeth; he won't change diaper; he won't sit on da potty; he won't pick a book; he won't drink milk; he won't cottage cheese. Funny, though; he never says no to popsicles or ice cream.

So, anyway, the header photo was going to be my before haircut shot, with an after to follow. But he still WON'T take picture! My status update to Facebook this morning, which apparently evaporated into thin air, never to be seen again, was:

"I WON'T get haircut!" We'll see, little man. We'll see.

Well, we did see, and it turns out he was right. He WON'T; he WOULDN'T; he DIDN'T.

We went to Sharkey's Cuts for Kids today, which offers two-year-old boys haircuts for $18.95, I think the lady said when I called, which is $8 more than his last barber shop haircut. But we had a coupon for $5 off, and I thought it'd be nice to give him a fun experience after sticking him in the car all morning for our Meals on Wheels route.

We walked in, and there was no one around. He saw the Barbie Jeep barber seat and went straight for it. It looked to him, I'm sure, just like the coin-op rides at the mall that I never put money in but let him climb all over. He was doing his best to climb up into it when one and then another of the employees appeared from the back. They both descended on him, since we were the only customers in the joint. I tried to tell them to back off a bit and let him ease into it himself, but they were determined to get right in his face and offer him a lollipop and cartoons on the TV and an XBOX controller and show him how all the buttons on the various car-shaped barber seats made their engines rev and their horns honk. They also tried to redirect him from the Barbie Jeep to the Ferrari, which I thought was pretty funny.

And of course, being the kid who's convinced that lifeguards are out to get him, the harder they tried, the more nervous and upset he was. The more nervous and upset he was, the harder they tried. It was a doomed proposition from the beginning and ended with us leaving, sans haircut. Oh well. I guess when he wakes up from his nap, I'll try the clippers. But he probably WON'T stand for that, either.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


I've been neglecting my blog. It's partly Facebook's fault. It's partly because of my part-time work obligations. It's partly because my blogroll is too big and I can't face it.

It's mostly because I'm living through a boring routine that I love, a routine about which can't think of anything new to say. Thumper and I spend our days doing the same things, day after day, week after week. How many times can I tell you that he's big, he's brilliant, we played, and I love him?

But my blog is a great way to keep some of my family involved with and informed about the boy. And after I spent some time catching up on my blogroll today, I remembered that I like reading blogs.

So, I don't know what else I can say. What I spend my days doing is raising the boy, enjoying him, and sometimes getting annoyed and yelling. I don't know that I have anything interesting to say about that. I guess after two years, I'm at that point in my job where I feel like I've got a good handle on what I'm doing. There's not much more to learn, not that much anxiety or discovery. Don't get me wrong; he is constantly changing, but the change itself is now part of the routine.

So, anyway. Sorry I haven't been writing much. Or reading or commenting much. I'm happy, and bored, and boring, and happy.

Oh, but we did go to the doctor today for his 2-year checkup. He's big. He's brilliant. I was mildly chastised for not following the doctor's 18-month suggestions about physical therapy to stretch out the boy's achilles tendons since he likes to walk around on his toes a lot. Is that a thing? Really? Should I be concerned? He can walk flat-footed; he just chooses not to. But the doctor was vaguely annoyed with me and mentioned the possibility of the necessity of laser surgery down the road to correct tight tendon problems. Seriously? Is this a thing, or do I have a pediatrician that's in the pocket of the physical therapy industry?

Is Two Too Young for a Scooter?

So the boy's two now. We had his party on Saturday. He likes birthdays.

Cupcake Love

He got some great gifts, like a bubble mower:

Bubble Mower

And a scooter:

Scooter Pose

Scooter Practice

Luckily, it came with all of the necessary safety gear, though so far, he's had the good sense to do his crashing on the grass:

Scooter Wipeout

Though he got lots of great gifts that he loved, and some adorable clothes that Aerie and I loved, the best toys of the day were, of course, Grandpa's stick:

Grandpa's Stick

And an old box:

The Box

But the best thing about a birthday party, as far as Thumper is concerned, is having friends and family come over to play. Well, that, and cake.

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