Sunday, December 4, 2011

Group Behavior

Fall Commencements this year were simple, and slow, and the greatest challenge was staying awake, mostly because I got two long days, four straight shifts, of easy, sit-down, out-of-the-way positions.

But what struck me this year, this round, as it often does while ushering football games and other events, is that people in groups are odd, by which I mean, "mildly amusing and completely understandable." If there is a line, they will stand in it, even if there is an open door with no line in clear sight and only a couple of feet away. They will also, like other herd animals, stay if everyone else is staying and leave if everyone else is leaving.

Oh yeah, and I also was reminded that, much like in "My Finest Hour," much can be accomplished with the decisive action that other more experienced supervisors are unwilling to take.

So, you know, the bottom line is, it was chilly, windy, rainy, and other -y words, and at the end of the last of five University Commencements over two days, the crowd was reluctant to leave the building, though the building staff were more than willing to put a cork on this series of events and head home to their families. I was not working in a supervisory capacity, and I felt that I should defer to those who were, but I realized that those who were really had no intention to do very much. So I moved through the masses crowding the concourse, and shouted (in the voice that I've discovered can be so much louder than so many others'), "Folks, I don't mean to push you out into the cold, but we're trying to clear the building, so if y'all can start winding up conversations, and taking last pictures, we'd very much appreciate it. Thank you!"

I wandered through about 2/3 of the concourse, repeating this message, stopping to play photographer for various family groups so that no one would be left out of the shot, and thanking people for coming. After just a few minutes, the concourse was virtually clear.

No, there's not much point to this story, but I do want it acknowledged that I saved the University, possibly, $200 or $300 in payroll expenses by my bold and valiant actions this evening. That is all.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


333 words for the Trifecta Writing Challenge, with apologies because I've been reading The War Against Boys and The Decline of Males and thinking about my maleness.

The sun rises; the cool, humid air surrounds us. 24,000 of us shuffle restlessly together at the starting line. We are a gathering marked with a distinctive, festival atmosphere, a nervous, anticipatory energy. The emcee bawls cheerfully into the microphone; his rich, basso voice is familiar from a half-dozen other similar events, his cheerfulness and affability carefully cultivated and laid out upon the script that rests before him. He acknowledges sponsors. He calls shout-outs to regulars on the running circuit. People stretch; people chat. Music thumps.

The balance between hydration and urination is a carefully orchestrated affair. Bottles of water, bottles of sports drinks, carefully mixed concoctions of powders, liquids, and gels, are quaffed. Lines form at the port-o-pots; the slamming of plastic doors punctuates the hum of conversation. The nervous move directly from the port-o-pots to the end of the lines again until at last the emcee calls us all to the starting line.

And now, not too close to the front or to the back, I anxiously adjust my hat, my headphones, and I think, “I should stretch.” I lift one leg, then the other. I shuffle from foot to foot. I bounce a few times, showing off, perhaps, or maybe relieving a little tension.

“I’m not a runner,” I tell myself at these moments. “Why am I doing this?”

“Yes, I am,” I answer back. “What is a runner but someone who runs?”

“No,” I say. “I’m a fat man, an asthmatic. This is silly.”

“And yet,” I reply, “here I am. Again.”

The emcee begins the countdown to the starting gun, and I think back to the million years of evolution that has produced me, this man, this body, this collection of tissues and chemicals. I try to imagine myself, the Neanderthal, the warrior of a thousand ancient tribes, the hunter chasing down his prey, spear in hand. I summon the strength and speed and desire of the caveman from whom I am barely an eye-blink removed.

I run.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Hallowed Evening

I'm supposed to be working, but my VPN access is in limbo while I wait for a new part-time job (mostly a title change) to come through. So here I am, sticking my toes back in Velvet Verbosity's "100 Words" pond:

The neighborhood is dark now, and quiet, conspicuously lacking in Halloween ghosts, ghouls, and other assorted monsters. There is nothing out there to mark this as a special night, as anything more than just another Friday. The house is quiet, too. In the silence, though, I still hear the doorbell ringing, the cries of “Trick or Treat!” the noise, the electric atmosphere that used to put the cats on edge. The boy is grown now, and the neighborhood has grown, too, aging quietly, waiting for a new round of kids to come and bring this magical night back to life.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

On Being a Hardass in a Management Position

As I may have mentioned, I supervise a gate at the big football stadium. Some days, I struggle to remember that the cantankerous few are greatly outnumbered by the cheerful, polite, and sometimes even grateful many. I was called "my guardian angel" by a woman who had traveled 600 miles with her two kids to attend the game. They arrived during halftime, and the "visiting team will call" window had already closed, leaving them unable to pick up their tickets. I let the three of them in anyway, and later, when they were leaving, I told them where they could find their team's bus. Earlier in the day, helping someone find their wheelchair-accessible seating, I was told, "thank you so much; last game no one could tell us how to get to our seats and it took us almost 2 hours to find them."

But, then again, I was also called an "asshole."

One man, who was told by the bag checkers that he could not bring in an item that's clearly listed on the "prohibited items" sign, called me over, harangued me for over 5 minutes, and berated me for "coming up with ridiculous and arbitrary rules," for "failing miserably to inform the public about those rules," and for being "in a management position and not willing to make an exception" for him.

Then he asked me for a favor.

I chuckled about the "in a management position" comment. I make a whopping $2/hour more for being the guy who gets yelled at, so for yesterday, I earned about $15 more than the usher who simply calls me over whenever the going gets tough. I was polite; I was apologetic; I stood firm on the prohibited item. And then I did him the favor, finding him a clean, empty plastic bag that he could use. He snatched it out of my hand. He definitely did not say, "thank you."

Not 10 minutes later, an usher waved me over because he didn't know what the "Invalid Date" message on his ticket scanner meant. I pointed out that the ticket he had scanned was for next week's game. The following conversation took place, not with the student who had brought the wrong ticket, but with her drunk, belligerent friend:

"This is ridiculous! She has all the tickets! Why can't you just let her in?"

"Because she didn't bring the ticket for this game."

"But she bought the whole season! You're being a hardass!"

"If you went to the Taylor Swift concert and tried to get in with a ticket for the WWE show, you wouldn't be able to get in, either."

"What the hell is a WWE?"

"I'm just saying for any event, you need the right ticket to get in. She can go to that student box office right over there and have them reprint her ticket for a $10 fee, or she can go to the library and print it herself for free. Or she can stand here with you while you continue to argue with me about it, but that's still not going to get her into the game."

"You're an asshole!"

"Thank you very much. My supervisors are right over there in that office; you're welcome to go tell them all about me."

"I will!"

It's amazing to me how many people think that insulting me and calling me names is going to convince me to bend the rules for them. Being nice is almost always a more effective strategy.

I love this job.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Being a Boy and Being a Man

I grabbed a book to read while Thumper bounced his ass off at Extreme Fun this morning, and because it's been on my shelf for 10 or more years, and I've never read it, I picked Christina Hoff Sommers' The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young Men.

Now, before you get worked up over the term "Misguided Feminism," I think the essence of the book, that perhaps the author didn't choose to represent in the title because provocative turns of phrase are just plain good marketing, is that improving the academic standing of girls does not necessarily have to come at the expense of boys, and vice versa.

I bought this book years ago, when I was still thinking about the novel that I started to write but never finished as part of my Honors Program Creative Writing directed study in 1996 or thereabouts, a project I was still thinking about finishing in 2000 or so when I bought the book. The idea occurred to me, through the fervor of political correctness that permeated the University atmosphere throughout the '90's, that men in general, and white men in particular, were the villains of the historic and cultural tale that we were told, and how that indoctrination into our own villainy would affect us in the long term. It was supposed to be a novel about the marginalization of men, the irrelevance of men in family and cultural life.

So, anyway, here I am, 11 or 12 years later, a man in a non-traditional gender role, happily married to a woman who is happy with the value of the contributions that I make to our family, trying to teach my son how to be a good man, (despite the accusations of chauvinism that may now and again be raised against me), and I picked up this book. Having finished only 50 or 60 pages, I'm not in a position to say anything meaningful about the book itself, but it's certainly timely as I try to navigate the rough waters of playground etiquette and aggression.

A couple of weeks ago, Thumper ended a thoroughly pleasant play date by punching his best friend in the face. Most play dates or other excursions to playgrounds, bounce houses, and other places where children gather, involve some discussion, sooner or later, about not hitting, about being nice, about not taking toys from other kids. This, according to the book, is exactly the kind of aggressive behavior inherent in boys that the "shortchanged girls in public school" movement believes must be actively "re-socialized" if women are to make significant progress in this society. Sommers seems to assert that that progress has already been made, and then some, but that's not really the point.

Ultimately, though, I don't think raising a boy is so different from raising a girl, as far as trying to teach them to fit into the social order. Do we not all try to teach our kids to be nice to each other? Maybe for boys it's teaching your son not to punch his friend in the face while for girls it's teaching your daughter not to ostracize, or ridicule, or manipulate, or I don't know, whatever the little girl version of not being nice is. I don't believe in the pathology of masculinity, the idea that without intervention, the average man will likely become a predator of women. I believe in the value of teaching my son to be proud of strength and speed and skill, to work to improve these things in himself, to want to play games where scores are kept and winners declared. And I believe that these things can be taught while also teaching him not to punch his best friend in the face, to remind him that he does not want to be hit, or have toys taken away from him, and so he should not hit, or take toys away from, others.

I do not accept that masculinity is defined as a thirst for power and dominion, and that if it is not quelled early, it will develop into a destructive force.

I also hope that he can get through school without feeling marginalized, undervalued, despised, feared, or ignored.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Pride, Hopefully Without the Fall

Thumper has grown so much this year, that the bike that was a perfect fit for him a little over a year ago:

is now too tiny for him. The other bike that he spent so much time on last summer:

is also too tiny for him. We worked a deal with the neighbors across the street, who have 3 boys, 2 of whom are younger than Thumper, trading our 12" bike that's too small for Thumper for their 16" bike that's too big for their 2 youngest. Perfect! Except that the front inner tube keeps exploding. At first, I thought it was the unbelievable heat that builds up in the garage when it's 108 degrees outside, but why would it apply only to that one tire on that one bike? Then I thought maybe it was a rough edge inside the rim, but I ran my fingers all the way around inside the rim and inside the tire and felt nothing. About a week and a half ago, we shortened the lives of a handful of moms at the sand pit when the front tire of the bike he rode from the parking lot suddenly, dramatically, exploded. Two of them hit the deck like battle-weary veterans, scanning the horizon for the sniper in the grass. After carrying a huge, exhausted 4-year-old, a flat-tired bike, and a bag full of sand toys back to the car, I was absolutely done with that bike, returning it to the owners the same day and heading to the local Goodwill to find Thumper a 16" bike of his own.

So after replacing dramatically blown tubes on that bike 4 times, plus one of his tricycle's tubes, plus one of his balance bike's tubes so that we can pass it down to a friend, plus both the front tire and inner tube on his new bike, I'm done with bicycle tire repair. I've spent more on tires and inner tubes in the last 6 weeks than I have on all of his bikes combined.

But it was all worth it today.

Yesterday, I replaced 2 inner tubes and one tire on his various wheeled conveyances, leaving just 15 or 20 minutes to ride bikes before dinner. He loved his new bike so much that he declared he wanted to ride bikes every day, a desire he hasn't expressed since last summer. This afternoon, we left a little more time for bike riding in the afternoon, enjoying the fact that it's only 95 at the day's peak instead of 108. After riding around for a bit in the dead-end, I asked him if he wanted to ride to the local park, about a mile-and-a-half away. He thought it was a fabulous idea. I warned him it was kind of a long way; he had no doubts. So off we pedaled.

And instead of the inner tube, it was me that burst. With pride. Repeatedly. He pedaled and pedaled. He talked and talked. He reminded me so much of that kid in the triathlon right before Thumper was born that I almost teared up. He looked for cars at each of the street crossings and checked with me to make sure it was OK to cross. He kept right on going all the way, without getting bored or tired. He lit up with pride each time I told him how impressed I was that he was riding so far.

"You didn't know I could ride so far, did you Dad?"

No, my son, I didn't.

By the time we got there, he'd ridden 2.16 miles. Under his own power, without stopping or complaining. After we played for almost an hour, he was even willing to pedal home again, but (of course!) my front tire was flat, so Aerie picked us up on our walk home.

I am stunned by the power of my love and pride for this boy, and how it contrasts daily with my annoyance and guilt.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

An Odd Way to Treat Your Beloved Mascot

Did you know that The University of Texas at Austin cooked and ate its first mascot, Bevo, in 1920, serving part of it to its chief rival, A&M College of Texas, who had stolen and branded its hide with the score of the 1915 rivalry game?

You can't make this stuff up. It will be sad to see the Aggies move out of the Big 12. With them gone, who will we make fun of? Baylor?

"How do you get a one-armed Baylor Bear out of a tree?"


Sigh. No, it's just not going to be the same.

Friday, August 26, 2011

At Least a Year and a Half, Maybe Five

My ongoing breathing problems may have found a solution this week. Not a quick solution, but maybe a real one for a change. The Laryngopharyngeal Reflux turned out to be a bust. The acid blockers and the elevating the head of the bed did just as much nothing for me as asthma inhalers. Aerie is glad that we're back to a level bed with no more toe-bashing going on.

So the next step was allergy testing, which I did on Wednesday. Thumper came with me. Once he was thoroughly reassured that he would not, in fact, be getting a shot himself, he was cool. He watched Monster House on the portable DVD player while I sat still and itched. I got 38 allergens scratch-tested on my forearms, 2 "control" injections on my left shoulder, and 38 allergen injections on my right upper arm. When the tech lined up all the bottles and needles on the counter in preparation for my injections, Thumper said, "Wow! I think that's 52,000 shots!" I thought he'd be more impressed with my machismo in getting 40 injections without crying, but he was more interested in watching Bones get lured into the house by his long lost childhood kite, then eaten.

The end result of all those sharp pointy things with goopy allergens dripping menacingly off their tips was that I am allergic to 14 different grasses, trees, and molds that span the entire seasonal cycle, which is why my symptoms are more or less constant. Cedar and one of the molds were the big winners. I'm glad that "cat" didn't swell up at all. If it had been a cat allergy, I'm not sure what the solution would be. Hold off on breathing freely until our two current kitties passed on, I guess, which might be awhile since the most recent addition is only two years old. Anyway, bygones, as Fish used to say, and it's entirely Aerie's fault that I know that.

The course of treatment, since I've worked through every over-the-counter allergy medication available to no avail, is allergy shots. Weekly allergy shots. For possibly three to five years. They tell me, though, that if I haven't seen any improvement after a year and a half, I can pretty much stop because it isn't going to work. Apparently they mix up a cocktail of all 14 of my allergens in small doses, and inject it into me in gradually increasing doses over a long period of time in order to desensitize me and reduce the severity of my body's reaction to those allergens. They usually max out a shot at 12 allergens, but since I'm barely above that, they're going to give 14 a shot, so to speak. I had to get an EpiPen, in case I react badly to the injection. When I picked it up from the pharmacy, I asked the pharmacist how to use it, and she said, "Uh, there's a trainer in there. You pretty much just stab it into your leg." I hope the instructions included are a little more specific.

Since this is all based on the Central Texas panel of common allergens, I guess I'll never be able to move again. That's OK with me, though, because Austin is the coolest. Excepting, of course, the 108 degree weather in which I'll be working outdoors tomorrow. That's not the coolest. But, you know, cost-benefit.

Friday, August 19, 2011

What We Do

Thumper and I went to the Circus today. It's a whole different perspective experiencing it as an audience member instead of chatting with the workers behind the scenes. It was the 140th showing of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, and what struck me most was how little the show has changed over the years. What has changed, at least since last year, is how much it engaged Thumper.

From the beginning of the "All-Access Pre-Show" where audience members can go down onto the arena floor and get close some of the acts, his head was on a swivel, yelling, "Woah!" and "Wow!" and "Did you see that?" He loved a clown act where we on one side of the ring were to cheer for one clown and those on the other side were to cheer for the other as they engaged in a silly race and other shenanigans. He especially loved that we were supposed to boo the other guy, too. And the old gag where the bucket of water turns out to somehow, magically, be full of confetti rather than water? Stunning! He even picked up a piece of the confetti and examined it for awhile, I suppose to see if he could figure out how it changed to paper from water.

His favorite parts were, of course, the snow cone (in the souvenir cup: $12) and the toy (plastic cannon that shoots a rubber man about 3 feet: $14) and the popcorn (no souvenirs: only $3), but he also was truly amazed by each of the acts, including acrobats and high-wire acts and a strong man ("Dad, can you lift weights like THAT??") and a guy who walked on fire and jumped up and down on broken glass ("OUCH!!"). He yelled, "Look, real tigers!" when the tiger tamer came out, but he quickly lost interest in it, and who can blame him? It was slow, and interminable, with the tamer mumbling in some foreign language while tigers did tricks that didn't look very impressive to a 4-year-old, who perhaps didn't quite understand the premise of a tiger taming act. And when you do understand the premise, it's just kind of sad and shabby and mean: "Look how I can make these once terrifying and ferocious killers do small, petty, and degrading tricks!"

Anyway, he made it almost through the entire 1-hour first act before deciding he was done, which is about 50 minutes longer than last year. And when you consider the 90 minutes of pre-show activities, that's really more like two and a half hours, which is pretty good for a 4-year-old.

I was smart enough to bring his toothbrush, toothpaste, and pajamas, anticipating that he would zonk out in the car on the way home, which he did. When I told him we were going to brush his teeth, he said, "No, that's silly! You're just kidding!" When I put the paste on the brush and told him to open, he anxiously said, "But there's no where to spit!" When I told him to lean way out of the car and spit on the street, he did it, but he said, "This is just crazy!"

My favorite part, though, was walking back to our car, when we chased each other's shadows, trying to step on them. Earlier, when we were in line for popcorn, he wandered away to chat with a couple other kids about their toy selections, so I grabbed his shoulder and pulled him back, explaining that he had to stick by me because there were so many people, he could easily get lost. When we were walking to the car he said, "You know, if I got lost, I'd be really, really upset if I couldn't see you." I replied, "I'd be really upset, too, but I won't let that happen. You don't have to worry." "Yeah," he said, "but if you and Mama both got lost, we'd never find our way home." I answered, "But we know where we live, right? No problem!" "Yeah," he said, "No problem. When we get into trouble, we get out again, right? That's just what we do."

Yeah, little man, that's what we do. God, I love that kid. I really needed tonight to help me remember that.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Abstinence Makes the Calorie Count Grow Smaller

I tried the Paleo Diet awhile back, hoping it would reveal that my respiratory difficulties are the result of a wheat or dairy allergy. After a couple of months of strict adherence (except for the alcohol and caffeine) it hadn't helped my breathing, so I let it go. I moved on to various asthma medications, a systematic trial of every allergy medication available over-the-counter, and a couple of months of daily neti pot use, all with no effect on my breathing problems.

I went to an Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist, who upon hearing my tale of woe, immediately zeroed in on Laryngopharyngeal Reflux (LPR), declaring it the most common of all digestive disorders, and put me on a regimen of 2 acid blockers. He also told me to elevate the head of my bed, which didn't make Aerie happy since she keeps bashing her toes on the cinder blocks I used to achieve that effect.

I go back to see the ENT guy next week, and I want to be able to tell him that I actually did what every doctor says first for every ailment: cut out the alcohol and caffeine. I will also be telling him that the acid blockers did exactly what every other remedy I've tried so far has done: absolutely nothing.

So I suspect I'll be back where I was with my personal care physician many months ago: allergies, despite the fact that no allergy medication helps. When I go back to the ENT guy, I'll also be getting those allergy tests where they scratch your skin with a jillion different allergens to see what causes you to swell up. Hopefully a solution will present itself.

But all of that was to tell you that I'm not drinking alcohol or caffeine, and I'm back on the Paleo Diet. Paleo may not have cured my lungs, but since it eliminates grains and dairy, it's an easy way to remember to skip empty calories, like crackers, pretzels, cheese, ice cream, etc. I've thought of food before as taste and belly filler, figuring nutrition would take care of itself, but now I'm trying to remember to make every calorie worth something, with a high nutrition-per-calorie ratio, with lean protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, etc. and not just empty calories that do nothing for me beyond the few minutes it takes me to consume them. Also, the ENT guy said that alcohol and caffeine can both exacerbate the LPR, so I'm trying to make sure the booze and cola and coffee and Rockstars aren't cancelling out the acid blockers.

The added bonus is, of course, that I'm consuming far fewer calories. Last time I was on Paleo, I wasn't counting calories, so I hadn't realized what I realize now that I'm tracking my meals on without the booze, I'm struggling to meet my daily recommended allowance of calories. Three meals a day, I eat giant plates of food, with spinach and peppers and cucumbers and strawberries and peaches and broccoli and cauliflower and mushrooms and chicken breast and fish fillets and turkey breast, etc., plus a couple of snacks each day, and I can't come close to the 2300 calories myfitnesspal wants me to eat. On the weight loss front, this is a good thing, as I've dropped 2 pounds in 2 days, but long-term, I don't want my body to go into starvation mode. Though there is a school of thought that a reduced calorie diet is the surest path to longevity.

When I was on a Weight Watchers plan, I loved that it was so easy to stay under my points goal for the day, because it left me plenty of drankin' calories left over, but now that I'm not drinking them up, I feel like I should be using them in a healthy manner. But I'm not hungry, and I don't think I could possibly pack in another giant plateful, and to hit my 2300, I'd have to jam in two more giant platefuls anyway.

So I guess I'll keep on for awhile, see how I feel, see if the elimination of two of my few remaining vices helps my breathing, and see if 1200 or 1400 calories per day drives me into an early grave or helps me live forever.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

I Get Smells Stuck In My Nose

The internet tells me that I have cysts, or brain tumors, or who knows what else. Never consult the internet for medical advice.

Seriously: I get smells stuck in my nose. It's been happening for a couple of years now. Some time during the course of each day, there will be a smell that catches my attention, then it will come back again and again and again throughout the day. It's not, I think, in my hair, or on my skin, or in my clothes. I can shower and change clothes, and it will still be there. Often it's the meal that they're serving for Meals on Wheels. I'll smell fried chicken all day long.

A couple of months ago, I accidentally left a bag of frozen chicken breasts in the trunk of my car. In the Texas heat, in a little less than 36 hours, it went from frozen to rotten. The smell has lingered despite every effort I've made to clean the trunk. Some days, even far from the car, even after Aerie has said that the car doesn't smell bad, that horrible, rotten chicken stench will stay with me, all day long.

Sometimes it's the dead skunk we drove past. Sometimes it's the compost pile or the trash can. I think it's not always an actual smell, because I can sniff, drawing air across my olfactory nerves, and it doesn't provoke a response. It's often not so much a smell as a feeling. Or a memory. Well, not a memory; it's a real, physical sensation. But not always so much a scent like holding an onion to my nose and breathing deeply. It's just sort of there, even if I'm not breathing in. It's there, in my nose.

There's no telling what scent will stick. I've tried countering an offensive smell with a strong, pleasant smell, to no avail. And it doesn't go away with any predictability. Only sleeping and waking up seems to reset my brain or nose or whatever it is that holds on to the smells.

So do I have a brain tumor, or cysts in my sinuses, or what? This is kind of starting to freak me out. I guess I should mention this to the ENT doctor I'm seeing for my respiratory/allergy problems.

I acknowledge that I may just be crazy.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Nail in the Coffin

My brother and his wife had a bad experience with an airline recently. They flew to Montana for a friend's wedding and had a wonderful time. Then, the Facebook Status Updates began:

First: "I am a slow learner, I guess, and have to be presented with the same lesson again and again at times, before it sticks. Well, this time I've got it, and here it is:

Delta is a terrible airline. NEVER fly Delta.

Burned into my mind, now. Thanks."

Then: "When I fly Southwest, nothing goes wrong.

When I fly American and something goes wrong, they make things right in some way.

When I fly Delta and something goes wrong, they make me pissed."

And then (THE NEXT DAY): "is back at the gate in Salt Lake. We were already behind, because our flight attendant was delayed. Then, we taxied out about 25 yards, before returning to the gate for maintenance.

Now, we sit."

So of course they eventually made it home. What does any of this have to do with me? Nothing really until we get to yesterday, when I dropped Thumper off at their house for a sleepover. Aerie was out of town, and they kindly agreed to take care of the boy so that I could keep my shift at the big Dance Pop/Pop Rock show. There are precious few opportunities for ushering work over the summer, so I was grateful for the chance to earn a paycheck.

Still no tie-in to Delta, I know. Stick with me.

As I was driving to their house to drop Thumper off, I touched my face and realized: I hadn't shaved. The grooming standards for ushers aren't very strict, but I generally try to show up with a clean, or semi-clean, shave. So I asked if I could borrow a disposable razor from my brother. What I got was an unused, individually wrapped disposable razor, complete with a tiny pouch of shave gel. It came, SWSIL ("Social Worker Sister-in-Law") told me, from a complimentary travel toiletries pack that Delta gave them to compensate for the fact that their flight was canceled for mechanical problems. I was grateful to have it and hurried off to the arena in time to get semi-close free parking, which is so much better than distant free parking.

Still early enough that I had time for a shave before clocking in, I busted out my cello-wrapped pack. I tore it open, applied the gel, which wouldn't lather up, and dragged the razor across my cheek. I was stunned. I talked, grumbled, and cursed to myself in the empty bathroom. The razor simply would not cut. After nearly 10 minutes of toe-curling pain, I had reduced the stubble on my face almost not at all. I may have done better if I'd tried to shave with a plastic knife from one of the concession stands.

When I exited the bathroom, I was facing a promotional stand from one of the tour's sponsors, a major brand of women's razor. Would that they had samples, but alas, they did not. I ain't too proud to shave with a girly razor.

So there you go. When Delta cancels your flight due to mechanical problems, stranding you overnight, and then delays your next day's flight, first because a flight attendant is late and then because of a "maintenance issue," they make it up to you by offering you the least effective and most painful shaving experience of your life. You're welcome!

I'd Rather Be with You Poor Bastards

I was surprised to discover that I'd been assigned "Stage Left" as my position for the big Pop Rock? Dance Pop? I don't know... show tonight. I suppose it was a dream position for most ushers, because I was on the arena floor, near the stage, in a spot that allowed me to see and hear the entire show. Or see the entire show if I weren't inclined to put my head on a swivel. Which I am. Because I'm working.

I was in a spot where my chief job was to check the credentials of anyone trying to go backstage and pull the rope from the stanchion for anyone moving from backstage to the floor. I hate working anywhere near backstage, or the corridors where the dressing rooms and locker rooms are. It stresses me out because of this dilemma: many authorized people do not display their credentials. If I ask to see credentials, or to take a closer look at the credentials flashed at me, I'll inevitably piss off some high-level VIP who thinks I should know who he is. If I don't check credentials closely enough, some poser (at best) or stalker (at worst) will inevitably slip by.

So I kept my head on a swivel, watching behind me for show staff heading out to the floor or the EMS crew stationed behind me leaping into action, and watching in front of me for people with the right credentials trying to get backstage. Tonight I got suckered. I won't tell you how, lest I teach you the techniques that will let you sucker me next time, but someone with fake credentials got past me. Repeatedly. And even escorted others without credentials. I am Jack's gaping hole in security, as Edward Norton might say. It was an odd night, because I also committed what is one of the cardinal sins for an usher: I pulled out my phone and took pictures of the show. I did it at the instruction of my supervisor, but still. It just felt so wrong. He wanted pictures of the hundred of cameras and phones that the crowd was holding up, taking photos and videos of the show. To what purpose, I don't know. To chastise the ushers at the doors for not catching all the cameras? To illustrate to the show how unenforceable a strict camera policy is?

It is sort of ironic that people spend so much money to attend the live show just to spend most of their time watching their camera's view screen as they film the giant, projected image of the star on the video screen behind the stage, an image of an image of the live event. And it strikes me as beyond futile that some of these shows have strict camera policies, with no still photos and no video. Every phone can take pictures today, and every camera and most phones can shoot video. We can stop the 30-inch-long professional lenses from coming in, but still, what can you do when the show starts and you're looking at a sea of glowing phones held up in the air, recording everything, when your supervisor told you that the show is particularly touchy about camera phones?

Anyway, it's funny that the cheap seats in Shakespeare's day were in front of the stage. Now, that's where the "friends of the show" and the "meet and greet" customers are. I'd rather spend the evening working among the modern equivalent of the Groundlings, because frankly, the nobility give me anxiety.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Thinking About Four

Thumper will very soon become a four-year-old, a landmark that has me thinking again about all the time we've spent getting here, how fast it's gone, and what's changed since all those trips to the obstetrician, mostly, I guess, because we're just about one year away from kindergarten.

Since the early days, and the days in between, much has changed, and much has stayed the same. I think I was better suited to the first couple of years. Three has been tough, with attitude, attitude, and more attitude (from both of us), as his will has developed into something, surprisingly, independent of my own. Many of our days this year have been filled with moments when he expresses an idea ("I want candy!") that I shut down ("You've already had 2 Tootsie Rolls, a piece of taffy, and a cookie; no more sugar.") causing an angry reaction ("I NEVER get candy! I guess you want me to be mad!") to which I react angrily in turn ("Never? Don't even start with that! You've already had 3 pieces of candy and a cookie just this morning! Seriously? Do we have to do this every time?") Things generally go downhill from there.

As we approach four, though, he seems to be softening, sweetening, changing his attitude, which of course is causing me to change mine. He's running and kicking and trying at soccer instead of throwing himself on the ground and making an unending series of angry faces. I've heard that four is pretty sweet. I'm desperately hoping that it's true. I've waffled back and forth since Thumper was around 1 1/2 years old, thinking I want another child and thinking maybe I just couldn't possibly handle another one. If I'd had another one to deal with while working our way through three, I think someone would've suffered, possibly permanent damage.

Now, as he moves out of three and I move closer to forty, I've been thinking more about taking drastic, mostly permanent measures. I think our family is complete now. I have a stay-at-home dad friend who tells me pretty regularly about his adventures with a 6- and 3-year-old, and man, I am not ready for those kind of adventures. His elder child has reached the landmark that I fear most of all: she has figured out that mom and dad will not kill her or seriously hurt her, and she has decided that everything else is a battle that she can win. Where do you go when you say, "I will take this away from you," and the child responds, "I don't want that anyway?" When you say, "I can outlast you," and she says, "No you can't." I am shuddering at the thought.

Anyway, I hope Thumper actually is moving towards helping me be a better dad, because it's been a long time feeling like I'm really pretty terrible at this.

And things haven't changed that much. He's still pretty danged adorable, even though he's almost four now and not almost two, like he was the last time we went to see the Biscuit Brothers at Symphony Square in June of 2009, which we did again a couple of days ago. The Biscuit Brothers haven't entirely lost their charm, and neither has this job that I mostly love, though maybe not as much as I did when he would stay where I put him and never talk back.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

No One Expects the Feminist Inquisition!

Thumper and I are feeding the ducks at the pond near the playground. He notices a mom sitting on a park bench giving a baby wipe bath to a boy about his own age. He wanders over to chat while I keep throwing bread.

I glance over, and the mom is speaking animatedly. Thumper comes back over to me, wearing his angry face.

RODIUS: What's the matter, buddy?

THUMPER: She said I was "appropriate."

R: What did you say that was inappropriate?

T: I said maybe that boy didn't want to sit down.

R: Maybe you should let her worry about that boy and mind your own business.

T: OK. I think she's mean.

R: If she's mean, just stay away from her.

T: OK. I think she's mean. Maybe she's evil.

R: She's not evil, buddy.

We walk further along to the bridge and throw the rest of bread to the ducks. He's still mopey. When the bread's gone, he lays down and says he wants to go home. I pick him up, put him on my shoulders, and head towards the parking lot. The path takes us past the bench, where the woman is still wiping down her kid. Maybe he fell in the pond or something, I don't know. I decide to ask her what happened.

RODIUS: Excuse me. Did something happen? With my son?

NUTJOB: He just started smart-mouthing me. When I told him that was inappropriate, he said his dad was over there, so I told him maybe he should go back over there before I tell his dad what he said.

R: What did he say?

N: He was smart-mouthing me and exhibiting male chauvinist behavior.

R: Well, what did he say, so I can correct him?

N: He was being a chauvinist.

R: He's three.

T: He's showing off the behavior you've shown him.

R: Lady, I'm a stay-at-home dad. I'm showing him non-traditional gender roles. I don't think I'm a chauvinist.

THUMPER: Hey, Dad! Is she mean? Dad? Dad? Is she evil and mean? Dad? Is she?

N: Well he's calling me names right now, and you're not correcting him.

R: Thinking to myself, "I'm not entirely sure he's wrong..." I say nothing.

N: Asshole!

I decide this is a fruitless endeavor and walk on. We go to the bathroom. When we're walking out, she's walking past.

NUTJOB: Asshole! Have a nice day, asshole!

RODIUS: You're the only one using words like that. You realize that don't you?

N: flips me the bird and walks away.

THUMPER: What did she say, Daddy?

R: She called me a name that's not very nice.

T: I think she's mean. I think if she's going to call you a "werdernerder," she should call herself a "werdernerder."

R: You're right.

T: She's mean.

R: Yes, she is.

I swear that I did not exaggerate, embellish, or omit in order to make myself look blameless. I really have no idea what I could have done differently.

Some days it's not worth leaving the house.

Sunday, July 3, 2011


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

In My Head

The deep breathing while running is definitely helping my performance. I ran a 10K on the treadmill today, the first time since the Cap 10K on 3/27 that I've run a full 6.2 miles. I finished it just 27 seconds short of my all-time best treadmill 10K time, completely turning my attitude around. I'm considering signing up for a half marathon around the time of my 40th birthday to help give me motivation for working out and to give myself a birthday present of accomplishing something I've never done before. Yesterday, I thought that I wouldn't do it because it seems so far beyond my reach since I haven't run further than 5K in over 3 months. Today, I think I will do it because I'm pretty sure I can if I work hard in the intervening months.

So in 24 hours, I went from thinking that I probably couldn't even finish a 10K right now to turning in one of my best times, with a time on the second half that beats my best 5K time by 10 seconds. I can do this. Of course I can do this!

My biggest hurdle in running isn't my knee. It isn't my lungs. It's my head.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Just Breathe

By the way, Mom, that's a reference to "Breathe (2 a.m.)" by Anna Nalick, a song which Aerie quite likes.

I've had a lifelong struggle with my lungs. It was, of course, complicated by my smoking for more years than I care to remember, but it began, so my mother says, from scar tissue left in my lungs when I had pneumonia at the age of two and was hospitalized, oxygen tent and all. In the intervening years, I've repeatedly tried to get various doctors to help me find a solution to improve my lung function, but each one, each time, either has or has not administered a breathing test and has, in either case, diagnosed me with asthma and prescribed an inhaler. I've tried Primatene, Ventolin, Albuterol, Advair... Maybe more. Never has an inhaler helped. Never has an allergy med or Bronkaid or guaifenesin helped.

After another bout with bronchitis last week and a 2- or 3-week struggle with running because of breathing problems, I thought I'd try again. My primary doc referred me to a pulmonologist. He talked to me about my history, mentioned "bronchi..." something-or-other, which can result from lung infections at a young age, administered a breathing test, and diagnosed me with asthma. I'm not sure how I can have asthma when I never have anything like an asthma "attack;" he explained that the ONLY (and he emphasized "only") lung disease consistent with my breathing test, which was essentially normal, is asthma. Therefore I have asthma. QED. And he prescribed Symbicort, one I haven't tried, but which so far seems to have zero effect, just like all the others.

So in the midst of all this, I got an email from One of the 5K or 10K races that I signed up for used for their online registration, and I've been on their email list ever since.

It was an article entitled "Breathing Tips for New Runners." I certainly never considered myself an "elite" runner, but I didn't think of myself as a "new" runner either. I didn't think it would have much to offer me, but I clicked it anyway because the timing seemed like kismet.

The article suggested that it was possible to breathe slowly, deeply, and regularly, even while running. I scoffed. I disbelieved. I thought, even if it was possible for other runners, it certainly wasn't possible for me and my damaged, weakened, and, despite what the breathing test said, definitely sub-normal lungs. When I run, I huff, and puff, and wheeze, and gasp, and suck, and blow.

Turns out, it is possible. I tried it today. I was amazed. I couldn't believe it. I still ran out of wind and had to walk for 3 or 4 brief stretches through the 5K, but it may have been because I tried a faster pace than I'd done on Monday. But by filling my lungs deeply and pushing the air all the way out on each breath, I breathed slowly. I didn't fall back into rapid, shallow breathing.

I'm choosing to accept that maybe this is a turning point for me, both in my running, which has been declining lately, and my breathing, which has been a constant irritant to me for my entire life. Maybe it's time to accept that my "normal" breathing test may be correct and that my lungs are not as awful as I have believed them, for my entire life, to be. I want this approach to breathing during exertion to be my gateway to actually achieving the improvement that I've expected since I first began running a couple of years ago. Maybe I should finally read that Pranayama book that I bought years ago, too.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Youth Sports

Thumper started 3-year-old soccer at the YMCA, with one practice last week, one practice this week, and his team's first game this morning. It was mostly a hot, sweaty, comical chunk of chaos, starting with some basic instructions, like, "Your team stands on this side:"

This Side

Then they were all told to put their right hands over their hearts. Then they were all told which one was their right hand. Then they were all told where their hearts are. Then they were all told to put their right hands over the "Y" on their shirts. Then they took some sort of oath:

The Oath

I couldn't quite hear, but it didn't sound like the Pledge of Allegiance. Perhaps they were swearing eternal devotion to the referee? I'm not sure.

There was much waiting for the kids to get back into position, and many adults running around like Australian sheep dogs getting the kids back into position.

#9 in orange was the real superstar. He was one of maybe 2 kids who was able to dribble and knew exactly where the ball was supposed to go. He didn't always care which goal he was dribbling toward, but he scored probably 90% of the goals made today.

That's my boy kneeling down as the action begins, watching #9 dribble right past him, and then sitting down in the grass. He also liked to throw himself on the ground far from the action and make angry faces because "somebody pushed me down!" All in all, it was a lot of laughs, with only one hardcore pushy dad yelling at his kid. And his kid reeeeaalllyy didn't want play.

Shortly thereafter, Thumper began to get into it a little more, yelling, "Go Cardinals!" throwing a high five or two, and actually making some attempt to slow down that scoring juggernaut, #9.

And thus Thumper begins his youth sports career, following precisely in the footsteps of his old man by getting completely blown out by the competition. Yay!

Thursday, June 16, 2011


I say that I live in Austin, but I'm actually in the suburbs outside of Austin. Austin is a unique, liberal oasis in the center of the conservative desert of Texas, if you're inclined to think of conservatism as a barren wasteland. I'm not; I was once conservative, though I have more liberal leanings now. But one way in which I never meshed with conservatism was in my religious beliefs.

A few days before Thumper was born, I wrote about how I was pondering his religious education. I have, in the intervening years, come to the conclusion that our conversations about religion will develop independently of my constant over-thinking. But I've noticed lately that here, in my suburban landscape, there are a lot of upper middle-class white folk who are surprisingly (to me) religious. They also make lots of babies. I suppose it's not surprising, ultimately, that there are good Christian breeders here in suburban Texas, but I've been feeling more and more in disguise lately.

"Vacation Bible School" (familiarly referred to as VBS) has repeatedly been suggested to me as a summer alternative for the boy, and church daycare and/or preschool is also a highly recommended solution, even from my south and central Austin friends who are not particularly religious. Apparently it's not uncommon for the agnostic or atheist parents to send their kids to church child care, and hey, they don't indoctrinate THAT much, anyway. The more time we spend at our suburban YMCA (which, Lord God, is a lot of time, because of the gymnastics, the swim lessons, the soccer, the child care while I work out, the cool pool with the splash pad, the free babysitting one Friday a month, the cheap babysitting two Saturdays a month... Well, it adds up to a lot of time, is what I'm saying...) the more I seem to find myself listening to conversations between mothers of four and five kids talking about the dilemma of either home schooling or sending their kids to private school, of church, and bible school, and bible studies, and backyard bible clubs. Forgive me if any or all of that should have been capitalized.

I was even invited to attend a backyard bible club, or Backyard Bible Club, or backyard Bible club, today. I didn't exactly or directly respond to the invitation and immediately felt the degree to which I am undercover out here in the suburbs. Religion is a dominant part of the lives of most of the moms that I've met through the couple of moms' playgroups to which I belong, and I do my best to fly under the God radar. I try not to talk about religion, because as far as I can tell, nothing good can come of such a discussion. At best, I will be stuck trying to explain myself, and at worst, Thumper will no longer be able to play with some of the friends he has made over the past year or two. Making friends has turned out to be one of Thumper's best skills, but still, I don't need to be burning any of his bridges.

So it turns out that, despite all my agonizing over the religious education of my child, I'm an anti-religion snob whose first reaction to the word "bible" is distaste, and there's no chance of me inculcating my child in Christ, though I recognize that growing up without faith is a disadvantage and that without early indoctrination, faith is virtually impossible.

Still, there's going to be bounce houses and ice cream at the Backyard Bible Club.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Yo' Mama!

Well, my Mama, actually. Or Mom, to be more precise. Or Grandma, if your name is Thumper. She's blogging again. Check her out. She's fun, and funny, and she's learning and still going through changes and discoveries and adventures in her most joyful retirement. She and Pops are exceptional people. Go see what she's thinking about today:

Think About This.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Media Contact

Maybe I'm not the best choice for this role, but as the current administrator of my dads's group, I not only schedule the weekly play dates and approve new members, I'm also the contact for media inquiries. In January, I was contacted by a freelance writer who was working on an article for a major, national women's magazine. He's made it pretty clear from the beginning that he had already written the article and was mostly looking for quotes from members of the group that he could plug into the article to support the conclusion he'd already come to before talking to any of us. As of today, his article has now been returned to him for final edits, and he wants a couple of more dads to talk to for about 10 minutes tomorrow to cull a few more quotes, I suppose.

In May, the photo editor for said magazine contacted me to schedule a photo shoot with our group. She's waffled on dates, saying maybe this week, maybe next week, maybe the week after that to send a hired photographer to shoot us. I suggested she take advantage of the talents of one of our members, who has shot some excellent photos, some of which he took at past play dates. She was non-committal, until today, finally saying she wanted him to take more photos of us at upcoming play dates. She stressed that it's important to her magazine to represent diversity in their photo shoots, especially those involving real people, which struck me as manipulating reality to make it fit some idealized version, true reality be damned.

After 5 months of emails with these two journalistic professionals who won't make a decision and stick with it, I got a little fed up. So I sent the following email to my group today to promote the Wednesday play date, which will be taking place at the business of one of our members:

First, let me say that the rest of this message is tongue-in-cheek, and I don't give a rat's ass about satisfying [national women's magazine], since I'm sure the article will not in the least represent us (or at least me) and what it means (to me) to be a stay-at-home dad. I'm sure that the author wrote the article before speaking to any of us, and the gist of it will be that "silly, incompetent dads think they can be moms! Isn't that cute?"

That said, I would really appreciate it if we could turn out in large numbers for Wednesday's play date this week. First, it will be great to see what our own [Dad #1] and his family have come up with as a business idea and to throw our support behind it. It sounds unique, and a lot of fun, and priced more than reasonably, compared to other indoor play spaces. Second, I'd like to see [Dad #2] get national exposure as a photographer, too, if that's also what he wants. So let's come together and support these two dads and see what good can come of this mess for them. Maybe [Dad #2] can get some shots of us in front of a sign or a logo, or a web address on Wednesday.

I suggested to [national women's magazine]'s photo editor from the beginning that she take advantage of [Dad #2]'s talents, but she hemmed, hawed, delayed, and was generally a giant pain in the ass about picking a date to send a hired photographer to. Now she's come full circle and wants [Dad #2] to shoot us Wednesday at All Things Kids, and presumably any other play dates we turn up to over the next few days. Or weeks. Or whatever. I have no idea when they plan to actually pull the trigger on this project and publish the damn article already. It can't be soon enough, as far as I'm concerned.

What she seems most concerned about is "diversity," though she never specifically defined what she meant by that. They like their photo shoots to be diverse, "especially of real people," even if reality is semi-homogeneous. I presume she means it in the "racial diversity" sense, but she didn't specify, so if you're coming on Wednesday, please come at your most diverse. If [Dad #3] shows up, we'll have "white man with blond kids" covered, though that beard isn't quite "Middle America" enough. [Kid #1] and [Kid #2] should definitely come, but maybe it would best if their mom brought them and [Dad #4] stayed home. [Dad #5] and [Dad #6] certainly should be there, and if anybody has any black friends with kids that they can convince to take the morning off from work, I'd appreciate it. As the only woman in the group, [Mom #1], you better show up, or I'm kicking you out, and whichever dad it was that had something about a "partner" in his bio, I'm counting on you, too. [Dad #7] should come, but only as a real person and not as an actor. As the definitive "blue-eyed devil," I'm not sure I should be in any of the pictures, but [Thumper] and I will be there to check out [Dad #1]'s ultra-cool imported European toys. [Dad #2], please make sure to get some self-portraits with the mohawk and the baby strapped to your chest. I can only hope this will be one of the weeks that your hair is blue or some other unnatural color.

Anyway, please come. It's $5 per kid, unless we show up in a group of 10 or more kids, which will prompt [Dad #1] to give us a 20% discount, or $4 per kid. If we can't be racially diverse, maybe we can be, I don't know, politically diverse? If [Dad #8] and [Dad #1] are in the same room with the rest of us, we'll pretty much have the spectrum covered. Religiously diverse? Fashionably diverse? Or diverse heights and weights? Shoe sizes?

And thus you see why maybe I'm not the best choice for media contact.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

My Biggest Problem

I cannot stop yelling at my kid. Is this normal for parents of almost-four-year-olds? It's my biggest daily struggle. I often think that I was well-suited to the daily care-taking of an infant, but a three-year-old is outside of my expertise. Somewhere I picked up the idea that I shouldn't have to repeat myself so much, that he should just listen to me and behave the first, or second, or third time that I say something. I'm not sure why I think this is true. Parents for a millennium have bemoaned the inability of children to listen or pay attention or follow instructions. Somehow I thought I'd be better at this.

So he sneezes full in the face of a pregnant chick, and I snap at him because, really? The whole "Vampire Sneeze" thing that we've discussed ad nauseum and that I remind him of daily, multiple times? And he says, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" Like, "Let it go already!" He's gonna sneeze in a pregnant chick's face and then give me attitude about it, like I'm being a dick for reminding him to cover and telling him to go apologize? Really?

And of course I immediately feel guilty every time I lose my cool. My mother told me when I was a kid that being a parent was all about guilt, but, I don't know, I thought I'd be better at this. I remember watching Bill Cosby's stand-up routine about "Come here. Come here. Come HERE. Here! Here! Here!" and thinking, "That's funny." It's not so funny anymore. The phrases I repeat more than three times in a row, several times a day, day after day, include, "don't touch," "get down," "eat your veggies," "get your finger out of your nose," and maybe a hundred others. I try not to think of each of those as a knife in my back or a middle finger in my face, but yeah, I kind of do, really.

So I know, intellectually, that he's a kid, he's three, I can't really change his behavior except in a strictly long-term sort of way. I know that in his purely id-driven three-year-old state, he does not think, remember, or judge before acting or reacting to immediate stimuli. I get it. But man, I just told him, 30 seconds ago, not to do what he is currently doing. While he looks right at me. With that look on his face.

How is it that anybody ever has more than one kid?

Saturday, May 28, 2011


One of my long-term goals for ushering is never to become bitter and cynical as so many long-time ushers seem to become. They expect the worst of people and are given no end of opportunities to see their expectations met. I do my best to remember that for every angry, demanding, selfish, or entitled patron that I encounter, I meet at least a couple who are friendly, kind, funny, and generous, and there are of course hundreds that come and go without ever drawing my attention at all.

While eating my breakfast before heading to work this morning, I read some old blog entries about ushering, including this one, a meditation on the sentiment, the pride and the poignancy, on display at high school graduations.

Today, though, was not one of those days.

I know that for so many of the families in attendance, graduation is the culmination of years of work, both for them and for their graduates. I know that parents of graduates often feel quite literally like participants in these events. In fact, some of our signage outside the building directs "participants" one way and "public" another; when I'm outside helping get people to the proper spots, I always call them instead "graduates and faculty" while pointing one way and "family and friends" while pointing the other, because mothers especially, in my experience, truly believe themselves to be participants in this triumphant moment.

Still, it's amazing to me to see how many family members will behave as if their child's graduation entitles them to specific benefits that other families, celebrating the exact same achievement by their own children, are not entitled to. People set up tripods for their video cameras on stairways and landings, blocking other people's views and access to whole rows of seating. One thoughtful young man once even set up his tripod across three mobility-impaired seats, which are in high demand for grandparents at these events. Some people will "save" three and four rows of seating, upwards of 40 individual seats, for their friends and family who are "parking the car" when other families who are here, now, with only minutes before the start of the ceremony, have nowhere to sit. Entire families fill the mobility-impaired seating sections, bristling indignantly at the suggestion that one of their party sit with grandma while the rest sit in regular seats a dozen feet or so away from grandma so that another family's grandma, who is also in a wheelchair, may take advantage of the mobility-impaired seating sections as well.

Trying my best to resolve such a conflict today, I told the Hatfields and the McCoys, who appeared on the verge of coming to blows over a half-dozen seats they both wanted to sit in, that "we're all here for the same reason. We're all part of the [insert school's name] family; let's all behave in a kind, courteous, and loving way toward each other." Two people involved in the conflict actually snorted in derision at my suggestion.

I called the police to one of our vendor's concession stands today, too, because a woman, dressed to the nines and there presumably to show her pride and to celebrate the achievement of a close friend or family member suddenly decided that this place and this time were the appropriate moment to engage in a dispute with that vendor over payroll money she felt she was owed; presumably she had worked for or with that vendor at some previous event. She was screaming with such force and gesticulating so vehemently at the vendor that I was afraid she was about to start throwing punches. When I approached, she turned her venom on me without missing a beat. The spittle was flying. The police were called. The vendor was visibly shaken. I thought, how delightful it is that this patron has stolen this day from the graduate she was there to honor, turned the attention from the graduate to herself and even involved the police.

So, as much as I love ushering, and as much fun as I have, and as much gratification as I get from helping people enjoy our events and helping them in other ways whenever I can, sometimes I can't help walking away feeling that people, in the broadest, most general terms, suck.

Friday, May 20, 2011


Maybe it's the mold, which is high, though it's always high. Maybe it's because I'm poorly rested, poorly hydrated, and poorly nourished. But I just can't get it together the past two times I've tried to run. I can't get my breathing and heart rate under control. I can't move enough air. I've only run just over two miles each time, and I was struggling to do that. And my iPod kept pausing itself throughout my workout today, which is extremely annoying, and ridiculously symbolic. I have to do something. I'm not losing weight, and I fear that I am on the verge of quitting and gaining it all back again, as I've done so many times before. Though on the plus side, my knee isn't bothering me much.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Through the miracle of Netflix streaming, I'm watching Shaka Zulu for the first time since it was first broadcast on television in the '80's. Aside from the inherent racism in the fact that bare African breasts were acceptable on network television when bare European breasts most certainly were not, I'm thinking about how many of my most admired heroes are military men willing to do anything and everything to achieve their goals.

I love war movies; I've recently obsessed on Toshiro Mifune as the unstoppable samurai. Years ago, I went through a Civil War period, reading memoirs and biographies of men like John Mosby, Stonewall Jackson, Nathan Bedford Forrest, and William Tecumseh Sherman, men who were willing to break the rules in order to win.

I'm currently watching the episode where Shaka defies the general who tells him that warfare is fought at 50 paces, with long spears and small shields, with little chance and no intention of killing or dying. Shaka remakes the tools of war, and the strategies, and in doing so creates an empire to rival Napoleon's, or Alexander's.

Odd that these are my heroes, since I am as far from a military man as one could possibly get, and I can't commit to losing 50 pounds, let alone commit to sacrificing everything for the sake of a principle, such as honor, or pride, or God, or country.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


I haven't done Velvet Verbosity's 100 Words in awhile. I write so many product description blurbs, using the Word Count feature on MS Word so many times to make sure that I'm writing enough but not too much, that it feels a little odd fitting a paragraph to a purpose that isn't selling a product I've never seen or touched. So here's my 100 words.

I'm trying so hard these days, but it's tough, to use only one space after a period. A graphic designer friend of mine Facebooked this article, pointing out that it's a sin in the modern world to use two spaces after a period, regardless of what my 8th grade typing teacher told me. So I'm trying. Anyway, "Chasm:"

Each trip down this path has worn something away, crushed underfoot some small living thing, until the way is hard as rock and void of life. From the very beginning, we have known that it leads nowhere, yet we cannot resist following it one more time. Regularly as seasons, we pass over it again and again, year after year. Our persistence has worked magic on the landscape between us, laying waste, scuffing out a line, a ditch, a ravine, finally a vast chasm, until there is nothing left to say, no way to reach across. Next time, let us leap.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Talking About Giving

"Good night, buddy. I love you."

"What are we going to do tomorrow?"

"We're going to give blood. Then we're going to Central Market."

"Am I going to do it?"

"No, I'm going to give blood. You're too young."


"Because you have to be bigger to give blood. That's the rule."

"Well, when I'm bigger, I don't want to give blood."

"OK. You don't have to. It's your choice. I like to give blood."

"Well, I don't. I like to give poop!"

"Good night."

"I said 'poop.'"

"Yes, I know. I heard you."

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

It Begins at Home, But It's Where It Ends That Worries Me

I've spent much of my life as a misanthropic intellectual, but since the arrival of Thumper, I've tried to reinforce the idea, for him and for me, that service to our fellow human beings has value for ourselves and our world. I don't do a lot, but I regularly give blood, and our family donates money where we can. I'm not above clicking on a "sign this petition" or a "send your Senator or Representative a letter" link, even if it does mean I'll start getting smug reply letters from John Cornyn, but one of the things we do that makes me feel best about myself is driving a Meals on Wheels route. It's easy, taking up about an hour-and-a-half of my life each week, but it makes me happy. And since we pick up the meals at a Senior Center, it means that Thumper gets the loving attention of several more grandmas in his life.

Some people have no interest in us, just opening the door to accept delivery and then closing it again, and that's fine with me. Some people on our route are very open and friendly, especially with Thumper, and invite us in to sit and chat and pet their dogs, which is also just fine with me. I've met a couple of very interesting and likeable people, and dogs, this way. We've been doing it since Thumper was 18 months old, and our Senior Center friends and our Meals on Wheels clients have known him for more than half his life.

I'm not particularly proud of how one of our clients makes me feel about myself, though. She's in her 80's, is disabled, and lives alone. She wants most of all to have someone to talk to, and there are days that we spend 20 minutes or more standing on her porch. There are some days when I just want to finish, to move on, so that we can have lunch. Sometimes I dread stopping at her house, and that dread makes me feel guilty.

Recently, though, she's begun to ask more of me. Perhaps because I've been willing to let her talk and tell the same stories over and over, and perhaps because Thumper is an adorable charmer, she's said how much she feels like she can trust me and what a wonderful job she thinks I'm doing with my son. So she's asked if I can help her out here and there. I've changed light bulbs for her. I've shopped for a portable DVD player for her so that she can watch Armageddon prophecy videos. She has talked about maids and landscapers and pest control techs who've treated her badly and stolen from her. She's asked me if I know anyone who can mow her yard and pick up the beer bottles her inconsiderate neighbors have thrown over her fence, help her around the house, and help her sort through and sell or donate her 80 years of accumulated belongings. I connected her with a couple that I thought would make a perfect match for her, but it ended badly, with them declaring her "impossible to please" and angrily extricating themselves from her life.

My former work history has demonstrated that I have a remarkable capacity for monotony and repetition, and I have a remarkable patience for dealing with difficult people with whom others have been incapable of dealing. I could be her lawn mower, and her sink de-clogger, and her Craigslist and eBay expert, and her confidante and companion. She's made it clear that she has money and wants very much to pay someone to be her man Friday. But at this point in my life, I really don't want to. The more I do for her, the more I am sure that she will ask, and I just don't want to be drawn in any more than I already have been.

Does that make me uncharitable?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The End of Preschool

Today I ran my best 5K treadmill time, with an incline on the first mile, which made me feel good since I took last week off from exercising to help my knee heal. Of course, it didn't, so I guess I'll try working it to see if it heals, since not working it didn't help. Anyway, I again worried I'd gained weight and lost fitness, and then I performed just fine. I really should stop doubting myself.

But what I really wanted to write about was that tomorrow is Thumper's last day of preschool. It's been a fulfilling experience for both of us, and he's done better than I could have hoped. I haven't told him that he won't be going back next week, and I'm not sure how that will work out. I'd love to keep him in, and keep getting glowing reports back about his sociability and outstanding language skills, but man, preschool is expensive, and I think we've picked one even more expensive than average. I'm nervous about how I'm going to pick up the academic slack, because I'm lacking in patience, and he's lacking in desire to please me in the same way that he's happy to please his teachers. I understand that this is perfectly normal.

We, all three of us, watched his old videos last night (Thumper mostly talked about that kid in the videos in third person; he knew it was he, but I guess it was hard to really conceptualize as himself), and I'm stunned at how quickly we got here, and how much he's changed in so little time. Many of the dads in my playgroup that have kids the same age or younger than Thumper are now announcing their second pregnancies or second births, and part of me still hurts whenever I hear about other families' joy. But another part of me knows that it's already a stretch financially for us with just one child, and it's already a stretch for my patience and my abilities to be a good dad. One child is best for us, but the time is going so fast. Many people have told me how wonderful it is that I get to spend this time with him and that we'll both treasure these years for the rest of our lives, but it's just flying along so quickly. My baby boy will (probably, if we decide he's ready, and his preschool experience makes me think, yes, he'll be ready) be in kindergarten in 2012. And I swear, he was just a minute ago talking about his boo oddypop.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Me and the Knee

Warrior Dash was a blast, again. I'm not sure I can articulate why; it's partly the crowd, which has huge variations in age and physical ability, and partly the course, which has obstacles of different degrees of difficulty. It's just fun to run, and fun to hang out after, watching the crowd and its costumes while listening to the music, watching the people dance, and drinking a few celebratory beers

I got down on myself in the days before the race and decided I was going to fail miserably. Then I performed better than I expected, as usually happens when I get down on myself. I didn't meet the 32-minute goal I set after the last time I ran it, but I came pretty close. I ran the entire way without walking and finished at just over 34 minutes. I ran it with Biggest Brother again, and this time I didn't feel like he was holding himself back to stay with me. In fact, I think I might have impressed him with my performance a little bit. Making your big brother say, "Wow, that was great!" is something every little brother wants to do. I'm proud of him, too, since he managed to make the guy with the top time for men 40-44 scoff when he told him what age group he was part of and declare, "I'm on the 10-year plan to be like you!" It was just a great time all around. I love that my brother is a youthful, active, athletic man who wants to do these things with me.

I still don't know what to do about the knee, though. Maybe the knee pain is just a physical manifestation of my lack of motivation and boredom with running. The knee felt better after Warrior Dash than I feared it would, but the next day, it was sore again. I skipped workouts all week to give it a chance to heal, then Saturday I stepped off a curb that was higher than I expected, landing awkwardly, wrenching it again, and putting myself right back where I was at the start of the week. Today, I returned to the gym since I have The Bun Run coming up this weekend. I tried an elliptical instead of the treadmill, hoping a "no impact" workout would help, but I couldn't make it work. Maybe I'm doing it wrong, or maybe I'm too tall with too long a stride, but it just didn't feel right. It felt like I was trying to run while staying a good foot or more shorter than I actually am, putting a huge strain on my thighs. So I returned to the treadmill. I walked, instead of running, at the steepest incline and fastest pace I could manage. Then I did weights. Maybe the squats were a bad idea.

So, I don't know. I hear about Brandon Roy and his cartilage-less knees and I think, "Maybe I'm grinding bone on bone after years of my weight putting extreme stress on my knees." Or maybe I'm arthritic. And what am I going to do, and how am I going to find my motivation, if it's not as a runner finding 10Ks and 5Ks and obstacle courses for which I must train?

But more or less, I think I'll find something. My weight loss has stalled at 240 pounds, but I think I can ride it out until I can make it start falling again. Aerie walked in on me naked, getting dressed after a shower, and asked me if I am lighter than I've ever been. No, but I'm 7 pounds short of the lightest I've been in two years, which was lighter than I'd been for 10 or 15 years before that. Considering the fact that I met her when I was around 200 pounds, I'll gratefully take "are you lighter than you've ever been?" Maybe I'll keep running, or maybe I'll start riding my bike more, or maybe swimming laps at the neighborhood pool. But my diet has greatly improved, and athletic performance (such as it is for an overweight 39-year-old) has become important to me. I think I'll keep on keeping on. Or keep on hobbling on.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


My weight loss has stalled, my running performance has plateaued, my knee refuses to heal, my lungs are full of glue, and my motivation is waning. I'm 2 days away from Warrior Dash, and there's no way in hell I'm going to meet my overly-ambitious 32-minute goal. My past three workouts have been a disaster, with my energy level in the toilet (maybe I should try going to bed before midnight) and my heart rate inexplicably at a surprisingly high 169 today, which is way outside of what the chart on the gym wall says it should be at the ripe old age of nearly 40. I don't know if the Paleo Diet is letting me down, or if I'm not doing it right, eating too many fruits and not enough vegetables, or if Paleo's a crock and I should chow down on some pasta tomorrow night. It has not, as I thought it might, made a difference with my lungs or with my skin. My knee still hurts and never heals because I keep running on it. When I try to remember my Chi Running fundamentals, my knee bothers me less, but still, it hurts during and after a run.

Maybe I need to start riding my bike more instead.

Oh yeah, I did remember that this summer (July specifically) will mark my 5-year anniversary of quitting smoking, which is a year longer than I made it the previous time I quit smoking. Hooray, me!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Running on Empty, and with a Sore Knee

I ran the Austin American-Statesman Capitol 10K last Sunday, along with 23,000 other people. I thought, since I ran 1:01:44 at the Longhorn Run last year, and since I ran a 56:04 10K on the treadmill, that I would blow my best time for an official 10K out of the water, so when I posted a time just a little less than one minute faster than my Longhorn Run time, I was disappointed in myself. The official photographers of the event quickly posted their photos, searchable by bib number or name, and looking at the pictures of me, I felt old. And fat. And though I've been running and training with nary a sign of knee pain or other injuries, the week before the race, I twisted my knee playing soccer with Thumper and his best pal, and by the end of the race I was downright hobbling.

So I took the week after the race off from exercising to give my knee a chance to recover, and I thought about whether I'm really a runner. I became morose and maybe a little pissy, thinking that I'm not going to meet my fitness and weight loss goals and I'm a terrible father who yells at his kid too much and I haven't kept up with the 100 push ups and I haven't even started the 200 sit ups and there are no solutions to ongoing family problems and I'm constitutionally incapable of keeping a clean house and there's no possible way I'll meet my copywriting deadline and nobody loves me everybody hates me I think I'll go eat worms.

And then I picked up Thumper from preschool and the teacher gave me a daily report that was glowing about his social and verbal skills. And then I went to the gym, ran on a steeper incline with only a slightly slower time than my last 5K workout, and I'd only gained a pound over my last weigh in. Suddenly I don't feel quite like I've totally blown it, though I'm not sure what to do about the knee. And I still have to finish 40 more of those stupid product descriptions in the next 24 hours.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Don't Call It School

Thumper started pre-school last week. We talked about it, and he was extremely excited. His Mama bought him a special first-day-of-school outfit, and he marched into the building with a jaunty strut:

When we got to his classroom, though, he suddenly got nervous, turned around, and said, "I want to go to a different classroom!" and started crying. I didn't think it would last long, and when I came to pick him up, his daily activity report said he had a wonderful day and was great at making friends. Each of the subsequent days, he's never looked back and has glared at me with angry eyes when I come to pick him up. He doesn't want to leave.

Don't call it school, though. It's pre-school, as he forcefully reminds anyone who asks him if he likes school. We told him a long time ago that he would go to school when he's five, so since he's 3 1/2, another fact that he, along with his full name, tells everyone he meets, he clearly can't be going to school. Q.E.D., as they say.

The school (pre-school) we chose is the one that I called "impressive" and "state-of-the-art" and "out of our price range," but we got a big break on the tuition for a couple of months. When the money runs out, he won't be going back, but we might move him to a cheaper program, maybe when the next school year starts in the fall. Or maybe we won last night's lottery, and we won't have to worry about that annoying income-expense balance anymore. I should go check our numbers.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Doctors, Therapists, Runners, and Cavemen

3 1/2 months after breaking my finger, I was told today by my orthopedic specialist that she was "cutting me loose." So no more doctors, no more occupational therapists, just more bending and straightening and special splints to get it straighter and more bending to get it flexible, though it's almost entirely there. I'm typing! Look at me, I'm typing!

1 1/2 weeks after starting the Paleo Diet, I'm feeling pretty good and noticing what may be improvements in both my lungs and my skin. There are so many variables involved, including allergens and pollutants and who knows what else, that it's hard to say for sure. But I think so. I'm amazed at the volume of fruits, vegetables, and meat that I'm eating. Every few days, I have to make yet another trip to the grocery store because the giant pile of produce and meat that I thought would last me a week or more is gone. The Paleo Diet combined with Thumper's addiction to bananas is sending me shopping far more than I'd like. It's more expensive, too. But I'm still losing weight.

I've been struggling on the exercise front. By all appearances, I'm still progressing (with the exception of 100 Push Ups; I've tried week 3 twice now, and both times I've been unable to meet the requirements of day 3), with improvements on my inclines on 5K's and on my speed on 10K's, but it's been much harder to keep running. A couple of times over the past couple of weeks, I've quit before reaching the distance goals I set for myself. One of the "So-and-so's Story" anecdotes in the book was about a former Olympic athlete who agreed to try Paleo for a month, certain that his athletic improvement couldn't possibly improve without the pasta carb loading. At 2 weeks, he thought he was well on the way to proving he was right, because his energy levels were lower, but another 2 weeks changed his mind. Maybe the next couple of weeks will see my energy bumping up, too.

Of course, maybe it's a crisis of motivation and not of energy. I haven't, in the times that I've quit before achieving what I wanted, reached the point of puking that Le Trevolution acquainted me with when he kindly gave me an introduction to Crossfit last October ("that's the puke bucket; that's the chalk bucket. Don't puke in the chalk bucket."), so maybe I'm not pushing myself as hard as I could. But finishing has been tough. Maybe I need to change my focus from running for awhile, but with Cap 10K next weekend, I think I'll stick with the running for now.

So anyway. That's what's up with me. What's up with you?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

King of the Wild Things

It seems like, at just past 3.5 years, every other day is a trial. Today was one of those. He challenged every decision, refused every activity, threw things, hit, kicked, slammed doors, and just generally made everything more difficult and unpleasant than it had to be. Some little part of me is happy when I see him working that same behavior on his mama. We read Where the Wild Things Are as part of the bedtime routine tonight, and I swear he is often the spitting image of Max yelling, "I'LL EAT YOU UP!" Though as of yet, we haven't sent him to bed without eating a thing.

Much of his attitude is his attempt, I'm sure, to assert his independence, to exert his will over mine, or his mother's. This weekend I worked the boys' high school basketball championships, which is sometimes exciting and sometimes, like this year, completely mind numbing. Not the event, really, just my position during the event. This year, I worked two consecutive shifts courtside, sitting in a chair behind the photographers keeping them from moving too far forward and tripping the players or officials and keeping the patrons from coming down onto the floor. In reality, though, I was just sitting and watching basketball. There were some good games, sure enough, but it made for a long, slow day without the moving around and interacting with people and solving problems that I like best. The other two shifts I worked were in the "usher room," a closet where ushers can check in their belongings and check out things like radios, ticket scanners, and the like. Even more boring.

So where I was going with this is, while I was in the usher room, I read two issues of The Atlantic cover to cover, including the most recent, which had a trio of articles related to the entire Tiger Mother brouhaha. One article was "Sympathy for the Tiger Moms" by Sandra Tsing Loh. I took this one in a sort of Chris Rock "I'm not saying she was right, but I understand" sort of way. (NSFW link, BTW). There was also "The Ivy Delusion" by Caitlin Flanagan, which I took as, "The reason you middle class white moms are upset is because clearly the Tiger Moms are taking college admissions spots away from your kids by choosing what you're not willing or able to choose."

To me, though, the most interesting was "Leave Those Kids Alone" by Christina Schwarz. The images of childhood reverberated for me ("finding a stone that 'they could believe was an axe-head, or a fossil'"; "Girls could carry their books in both arms across their bellies, but boys had to carry them in one hand against their sides"; "A kid needs time to lie on his back, opportunity 'to find out whether he breathes differently when he’s thinking about it than when he’s just breathing' and to wonder who she’d be if her parents hadn’t gotten together. A kid needs enough downtime to be bored, yes—bored enough to stare at the sky and study the imperfections in his own eyeball.") I thought, not for the first time, about the difference between what I remember from my upbringing and what I've seen of children's experiences today.

When I was a kid, I had to come home after school, and then I was free and clear until dinner time. My mother had no idea where I was or what I was doing for hours every day. And this was perfectly normal. From what I've seen, it's not normal now. The exception that proves the rule, as they say, is the little girl next door who spends hours each day and seemingly entire weekends roaming the neighborhood freely without so much as a head stuck out the door from her parents, a fact which amazes the local parents, myself included.

On the one hand, thinking of an unsupervised childhood in terms of Thumper terrifies me, because some of what I was doing when I was a child (like crawling through storm drains and setting fire to golf courses) was inadvisable at best and dangerous and destructive at worst. On the other hand, I recognize how much freedom to learn, explore, and develop my own personality, interests, and relationships that time away from grown-ups gave me. My friends and I, and my brother and his friends, explored creeks, caught crawdads, built things, destroyed things, talked, wondered, and did nothing at all, completely free of adult involvement, adult supervision, adult rules, and adult safety gear. And ultimately, I think I'm better for it and only occasionally approached anything like serious danger. And I have no doubt even the danger taught me a few things, too.

So this afternoon, I asked Thumper if he wanted to weed with me. For some reason, he was thoroughly excited by this proposition and ran to tell his mama. Confused as to his excitement about weeding, she said, "What? You and Daddy are going to go weed? Or Wii?" Weed! he happily assured her. Once outside, though, his enthusiasm quickly faded and he said, "Can I ride my bike?" I agreed, got his bike out, and strapped his helmet on his head before returning to my weeding. He stayed close, circling in the driveway. Then he said, "Can I go ride by myself? Because you're still weeding." I thought about it, thought about that article, and said, "OK." I told him what his boundaries were and reiterated more times than he was comfortable with that he couldn't cross the street. He took off happily in the direction of the sound of other kids having fun.

The boundaries I set for him were essentially my sight lines. I dug up a few weeds then checked on him. He was still there where he'd dropped his bike, playing with a gang of other kids, on the correct side of the street. I dug up a few more weeds and looked again. He was fine. I gave him over an hour of freedom, looking in his direction every so often, and when I couldn't see him, riding my scooter (yes, the scooter that broke my finger) down the street until I could see him and then turning around again. I got a fair amount of weeding done, and he got a fair amount of playing. No one was hurt or abducted.

Incidentally, a neighbor walked by with his dog as I was weeding. He is a fitness, and apparently tanning, fanatic who owns a small dog. I try not to jump to conclusions based on this information, but well, I do jump to conclusions. My first experience with him was during the neighborhood triathlon before Thumper was born. He was out jogging before the event began, and I casually mentioned to him as he passed that he might want to run on the sidewalk instead of the bike lane because a huge crowd of kids was soon to be filling the bike lane. He mumbled something about asphalt being better for the knees than concrete and kept right on running in the bike lane.

My next experience with him was when Thumper was riding his bike through the neighborhood, and he was in his yard, digging up weeds and grumbling about how much easier it would be to keep a neat yard if his neighbors ever did anything about THEIR weeds.

Other than that, I've only ever seen him walking his dog, or running, or biking, and he's never looked twice at me or had a pleasant word to say. To be fair, neither have I.

Well, today, he walked by, looked at my big pile of extricated weeds, smiled, and said, "Hi."

What was I talking about again? Oh, yeah, childhood's freedom from adults and their rules and their structure and their "hanging around and bothering them and... making it so bloody important." And maybe 3.5 is too young to be playing unsupervised with slightly older and much older children hundreds of feet away from me, but despite all my fears as I dug up weeds, he didn't get snatched, he didn't get run over, he didn't get shot in the eye with a pellet gun or beat up.

Later, when I asked him what he did when he played with those other kids, he said, "I climbed into Mikey's truck, and I got inside it, and you didn't see me."

"If Mikey said it was OK," I said, "then that's all right. The only reason I told you not to climb on that truck before is that no one was around, and I didn't want you to get in trouble with Mikey's dad."

"Yeah," he said. "It was OK. I climbed in the truck. You didn't see me because you were weeding. Maybe we can weed again tomorrow."

Maybe we can.
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