b Papa Dog's Blog: September 2004

Papa Dog's Blog

A Thing Wherein I Infrequently Write Some Stuff

Thursday, September 30, 2004

What Do You Know? A Second Post in the Same Day. I Forgot to Tell How We Went on a Date.

I almost forgot to mention. Last night I took Mama Dog out for a birthday dinner – actually, her mom took us both out, insisting we make use of her credit card while she stayed home and watched the bairn. I was alarmed when I saw Mama Dog dolling herself up…the arrangements had been very casual and it hadn’t entered my head that it was a dress up occasion because, well, sometimes I’m kind of stupid about that sort of thing. So what to do? I still own suits, don’t I? Haven’t seen them in a while…and, oh, wait, have I shaved yet this week? Did I ever clean that horse shit off the Seibels? Mama Dog assured me that (because we live in California) I could just put a suit jacket over my t-shirt and Bob would be (as he was) my uncle.

We went to Oliveto, near the Rockridge BART station. Do I talk too much about local businesses and geography? There are probably lots of you who’ve never been to Oakland and don’t know what the Rockridge BART station is because you live in far-off lands like Australia or San Francisco. I guess it doesn’t matter much. It was only our third time going anywhere without Baby Dog, and the first time that we were ditching our child for something as frivolous as a night out. It was our first time with just the two of us at a restaurant since…let me see now, June 13, was it? I think it was. Mama Dog was sleek and radiant in black Bally of Switzerland jersey dress and pearls. I was a hobo in a really nice teal jacket, presumably stolen from a dead man on a train. We gazed across the table at each other like teenagers who can’t get over the fact that they’re out alone at a grown-up restaurant. We felt like the carefree unencumbered DINKs we used to be three months ago. The meal was grand, though for some reason I had difficulty finding a dish that contained no former sea dwellers. In the end, I had autumn fruits and spit-roasted hen. Mama dog had a romaine salad and eggplant ravioli. We split a pot of Earl Grey with dessert. A tiny little chocolate cake for me. Mint ice cream with chocolate sauce for her. All the portions are California cuisine tiny, but we ended up feeling like we’d eaten exactly the right amount after dessert.

After dinner, we wandered over to Pendragon Books to browse unhurriedly, just because we could – like we always useta could. They had a great display of Black Lizard paperbacks, late-1980s reprints of early-1950s hardboiled novels, with what appeared to be the original 50s cover art. I looked through that while Mama Dog looked through the children’s books. I joined her eventually, and found a full-sized copy of The Rainbow Fish, which confirmed what I had suspected, that our tiny little thick-paged version is abridged all to hell. What, are they afraid my three-month-old can’t follow the whole story? I didn’t bother buying it, ‘cause it’s not one of her favourites anyway. Mama Dog got a couple of books for Baby Dog, though, and I selfishly picked up a couple of things for myself. I got something by
Graham Greene and something else by G.K. Chesterton, but I don’t now remember what the titles were. How odd.

We ran into someone we know in the BART station on the way in and someone else at the register at Pendragon as we were leaving. I kept expecting a third, but there wasn’t one. We ambled back to the car and were home again in ten minutes. Baby Dog had eaten a bit and napped a bit and was swinging in her swing with Gran looming devotedly over her. I read a great article by Jim Shepard in the new The Believer then took the dog for a walk. All was well in our little world.

Party Planning and Hit Tracking

So the party for Mama Dog’s birthday and Baby Dog’s baek-il promises to be a culturally confused affair. We found a suitable Korean market where we’ll be able to get all the rice cakes we’ll need. We could also get some miscellaneous Korean finger foods, but we’ll see how the spirit moves us on Sunday. The meal will come from La Med, as alluded to earlier. I hate to repeat myself with party food, but time is short. I know they’re reliable and can put together what I need on short notice. So there we go. Maybe next June Baby Dog’s Dol will be a proper Korean banquet.

In other matters…. One of the weird sort-of pleasures of having the stupid hit tracker is trying to figure out what I can about the people I don’t know who are looking at this faversham. When I started out, only people I knew had the address. Then Mama Dog linked from her blog and some out-of-town friends of hers started looking at it. Then blogger started putting up this “Next blog” button and people started to randomly hit on mine if I happened to have updated it recently. Then Mama Dog put up a link to my page on this bulletin board she posts to, and not only did I start getting hits from that, but I also got links on blogs maintained by people from that board. It got so I had repeat business from people whose identities I couldn’t even guess. The hit tracker will give me an IP address for each hit. In a lot of cases that number's different every time you turn your computer off and on, but there’s usually a consistent pattern to it. Also, I can resolve the IP address to a Host Name, and that gives some more clues. Like, this morning I had two hits from a number I didn’t recognise, and I found that the Host Name had the extension detrick.army.mil. A little research reveals that’s Fort Detrick, an Army Medical Installation in Frederick, Maryland. Needless to say, I know nobody there. More puzzling, this was a direct hit, not a Next Blog hit or a referral from somebody else’s blog. Then there was the flurry of hits a few days back from someone who’d Next Blogged me. They first struck my page on the 25th and kept coming back until late Tuesday afternoon. Fewer clues there. They’re running Netscape on Windows 2000, and their Host Name includes “net logic.net,” which apparently serves mostly Kansas. I suppose the repeated hits could be from a frustrated liberal living in Republican country, eager to read an unashamedly liberal voice – or maybe it’s just a plain old conservative Kansan who enjoys getting mad every time I call the former Governor of Texas a chimp. Hard to say.

So hidey-ho, mysterious people out there. I hope you’re enjoying my logorrhoeic discharge, and maybe you could say hi or something if you feel like it. Unless, of course, you don’t want anybody to know that you were looking at blogs at work instead of helping care for the health problems of military personnel.

Oh yeah. I didn't tell you about Mama Dog's birthday present. Well, she'll talk about it in her blog if she wants to (when we have a working computer at home).

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Happy Birthday to Mama Dog (a Love Note)

If you’re the sort who doesn’t care to see overtly romantic sentiments expressed in a public forum, you may want to skip over this one. I’m with ya there. Re-read the one where I call the Post Office lady a fucktard instead.

Six years ago I was rather a wretched specimen of humanity, a quite literally hopeless one. I had arrived at the point where I felt that life had nothing further to offer me and that all I had to look forward to was a very long period of stasis followed eventually by decline, decay, and death. It was very difficult to discover what Mr. Springsteen called "a reason to believe."* And then there was Mama Dog. Why is that always the way with loneliness? You decide that it’s all over for you, and then along comes someone who sees the worth in you that everyone, including you, has been overlooking for years. Back then if I thought about the future at all I generally imagined it involved forty or fifty years worth of mouldy rooms with dingy futon mattresses dented on one side, a lot of TV, cold pizza for supper, and alcohol as needed. Hey – and here I am, with the loving wife, the happy home, the faithful dog, and the gorgeous daughter just starting to squawk like a jungle bird. I have no idea how I got lucky enough to be here instead of there, but I know that all good things in life descend from the day Mama Dog took a look at me and decided I was a fixer-upper worth a second glance.

Happy birthday to you, my darling. Today and every day I’ll be thinking of you and doing what can be done to justify the faith you’ve shown in me. Thank you for being my love, my wife, and my daughter's mother. Thank you just for being.
* Say what you like about Mr. Springsteen, but I still think that song has a wicked trenchant first stanza: "Seen a man standin' over a dead dog lyin' by the highway in a ditch/He's lookin' down kinda puzzled pokin' that dog with a stick/Got his car door flung open he's standin' out on Highway 31/Like if he stood there long enough that dog'd get up and run."

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Random Thoughts Hastily Scrawled Because Once Again I’m In a Hurry

It was a slow enough day at work today that you’d think I’d have spent it carefully composing my favershamerie, but instead I spent my downtime arranging a new Shutterfly album of Baby Dog photos on the company’s time. A bunch of you were probably keen and eager recipients thereof. I only sent to people I was pretty sure would want to see it. If you didn’t get the album and would like to, send me an email. There are some damn cute ones in it.

Then it got busy in the afternoon, and I haven’t thought much about what I might have to say today.

Here’s the world we live in and the part I play: I pass the same panhandling homeless people on the way to work every day. I know them by sight, but not by name. “Famished Guy,” “Shucking and Jiving Guy,” “Twisty Neck Guy,” “Old Asian Lady.” They have regular spots and schedules. If they’re not at their spot when it’s time for their shift, I worry about them. But I rarely if ever give them any money, or even acknowledge their existence if I can help it…not because they’re homeless, but because I’m monumentally antisocial when walking to and from the BART station. I play exactly the same “no eye contact” games if I see a co-worker in the ant trail with me. I’ve pretended to stop at the ATM to avoid having to make chitchat with a civil engineer or two. Can’t say I’ve gone to those lengths with the homeless.

Baby Dog’s Gran is in town for Mama Dog’s birthday. I’m hoping she’ll help me settle my party food quandary. The caterer I thought I was going to have can’t do it after all…wish I’d thought of him a week earlier. Oh well. He gave some pretty good alternate suggestions, and we’ll look into them tomorrow.

We finished Black Narcissus last night – it only took two instalments. In the process, we received a pretty strong warning that our days of watching movies while Baby Dog’s awake have come to an end. She has discovered her babbling voice and was giving it free reign. We had to keep pausing the movie because no matter how high up we had the volume, Deborah Kerr just could not compete with the random squawks and shrieks of pleasure. The bouncy chair trick worked eventually…we took turns sitting in front of the bairn while the movie played behind her. She started to doze off during a scene where rhythmic native drums dominated the soundtrack. That sent Mama Dog scrambling to dig up her S. Kwaku Daddy CD for use next time sleep proves difficult to induce.

The movie, by the way, was gorgeous, a lovingly mounted Himalayan melodrama filmed entirely at Pinewood Studios in the middle of London. The artifice is flawless, except perhaps for the number of Tibetan characters who seem suspiciously like Britons with a little shoe polish rubbed on their faces. May Hallatt in particular seemed a little like Eliza Doolittle’s grandmother unaccountably dropped down at the edge of Everest. Here’s the only picture I can find of her, perched under the armpit of leading man Alan Farrar, who plays one of those chaps who go native.

Must get home now. Can’t wait for the new computer. Dude, we’re getting a Dell!

Monday, September 27, 2004

Crikey, Won't He EVER Stop Talking About the Farshtinkener Quarters? (and Other Matters)

You’ll be gobsmacked to hear that I have the brand-new Iowa quarter in my possession – at least, the Denver minting thereof. I think I forgot to mention that Gigi, the effervescently lisping cashier at my building’s ground floor store, saves the quarters for me as new ones show up. Today, as always, she called after me, “Thave it! It’th a hot quarter!” I shouldn’t mock, as she’s terribly sweet. I think she has a whole roster of quarter freaks that she helps out. She identified me as in need of numismatic assistance a couple of years ago when she noticed that every time I made a purchase I’d walk away slowly, squinting at the change. How shameful to be so obvious. It’s worse now that I know I have to distinguish between a little tiny “D” and a little tiny “P.”

In more pressing news, help is on the way, and I don’t mean just Kerry/Edwards. Mama Dog placed an order today for a new computer, which should arrive within a week. With any luck at all, we’ll be back in working order then. On the advice of counsel we’ll be downloading Mozilla and consigning Microflaccid IE to the dustbin of history.

I spent some time today entering into top secret negotiations for the catering for Sunday’s party. I’m not sure why I waited so long before starting – usually I do this sort of thing way in advance. But it looks like it might possibly work out. If not, I could always fall back on La Mediterranee again, even though we were there and did that two years ago.

This weekend, Mama Dog and I saw We Don’t Live Here Anymore. No, not together, we were already using up our babysitting favour for the week by leaving Baby Dog with the Pirates again whilst we learned how to treat her cuts and burns. Mama Dog had been keen to see it ever since reading a rave in The New Yorker, and we finally structured our time to allow that this Saturday – then she got bummed because she couldn’t talk to me about it. I’m kind of fanatical when it comes to not hearing about movies I haven’t seen. It’s a practical impossibility of course, but I try to experience them as close to tabula rasa as modern marketing will allow. I had no immediate plans to see this particular movie, but – who knows? – I might someday. So no, sorry, thanks much, don’t want to know. This put me in the remarkable position of having to ditch my household responsibilities and see a movie to keep the marital operation running smoothly. Am I the only one who feels a faint echo of the Bizarro world in that? It’s not quite “And don’t come back until you’ve fucked a bunch of teenage girls, buster!” but it’s in the same genus, I think. Anyway, I saw the movie on Sunday afternoon, and we had a good old chinwag about it on the way to First Aid class. And that’s the way that the world goes round.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Peek-a-Boo & First Aid

Baby Dog appreciated peek-a-boo for the first time last night. That might not seem like a lot to you, but it’s a huge milestone to us. It took a few tries, but once she got that Daddy’s face could be expected to pop out from the blankie at regular intervals wearing an unfamiliar comic expression, she started to smile, and came very close to laughing. If you haven’t spawned, I can’t tell you what a thrill that is, so just take my word for it, it’s bodacious.

Today we took part two of the Infant CPR class, which didn’t actually have anything to do with CPR, because that was covered last week. That, plus rescue breathing and choking. This week was a general first aid tutorial, covering cuts and abrasions, burns, electrical shock, spinal injury, poisons, bites, and a host of other things I’m too lazy to look up right now with the class materials lying in excess of several steps away. There was a lot of information. I didn’t feel like I got as thorough a grounding in any of it as we did in CPR last week, but a lot of ground was covered, a lot of information was imparted, and we have the written materials to take home and peruse at leisure, assuming Baby Dog doesn’t shove a bead up her nose before we get to that part. It’s dizzying, the sheer number of ways a child can do injury to itself, and it seems statistically certain that we’ll have to deal with at least some of this stuff at some point in the child rearing process. I’m really hoping that any first aid we ever have to administer will be the superficial easy stuff. If not, I at least hope it would fall in an area where I’ve retained the pertinent advice.

I think that’s all I’m going to have time for tonight. The computer, as mentioned, is well and truly fucked, and we’re thinking about ordering a new one in the next day or two. Entries may be brief and even more superficial than usual for the next while.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Just Kind of a Streak Saver, to Be Perfectly Honest

I had something more grandiose than usual planned for today’s entry but alas that and other plans have been viciously curtailed by the crumbling of the infrastructure around my ears. The computer infrastructure, that is. The virus problems mentioned a while back have continued and maybe escalated in the past weeks, and I’ve spent more evenings than I’d care to admit to scouring dismayingly fecund adware from the hard drive. Today, things have taken a great leap for the worse. I was in the middle of perusing my hit tracker data when things went totally monkeyfeces, with blue screens of death popping up every three seconds or so. I restarted, and Scandisk informed me that I’d developed bad sectors and that some crucial startup file was damaged. I’ve gone through every fix my limited expertise allows, and I still can’t get the thing started up in anything other than Safe Mode, with the display shifted to great huge Senior Citizen Type and the desktop photo of Baby Dog on the Half Shell all disturbingly pixelled up like a student film shot in the nineties on one of those Fischer-Price cameras.

In truth, I probably wouldn’t have gotten around to my big plan for the day anyway. It requires thought and effort and even research, and to do it right I’d probably have to go through a couple of careful revisions rather than just spewing spontaneously the way I normally do, so fuck it. I mean, you guys are swell and all but it’s the weekend and it’s not like anybody’s paying me to do this.

So instead, more about Baby Dog, who’s snoozing in the swing behind me as I type. She’s been making, in baby terms, leaps and bounds the last week or two. Yesterday, for the first time I saw her lifting up her head during tummy play. She’s kind of late for that milestone because we avoided having her on her stomach much, but I don’t think it’s going to take her long to catch up. She’s awake a lot more of the day now, and is a great deal more interactive. It used to be we could count on having her nurse and/or sleep through the length of an entire video. Not no more. It took us three nights to finish How Green Was My Valley, which is just slightly under two hours long. On the last night, we finally figured out how to keep Baby Dog happy while still being able to watch the movie. We set her up in the bouncy chair with her back to the TV, then took turns sitting on the floor wedged in between the bouncy chair and the couch. We could reasonably watch the screen while still entertaining baby. I kept her riveted for a good twenty minutes just by waggling my fingers up and down. Apparently, that’s an awesome game. Story time is still a staple, though of course I can no longer do it every day. Today she was in a bit of a cranky state by the time I got the first book open, but that book was Ten Little Ladybugs, which has great huge bright pictures and caught her eye immediately. She stopped crying, became transfixed by the pictures, and absently grabbed hold of my stubbly cheek with her right hand as she sucked her thumb on the left. Oh, that’s another thing. She’s discovered her fingers in a big way, to hilarious effect. Sometimes she laces them together in Monty Burns-style contemplation. Often she’ll hold them up and stare at them like The Littlest Stoner.

That’s all for now. Black Narcissus is up on the Netflix queue tonight. 101 minutes. Let’s see if we can’t finish it before the party next Sunday.

Friday, September 24, 2004

A Bit More About the Quarters and Some Stuff About My Dad's Politics or Possible Lack Thereof

Well, gosh, there’s nothing to warm the heart cockles of a dubious practitioner of the art of favershamming like the spontaneous font of kindness offered up by my little audience in response to last post’s plea for help with my lame state quarter obsession. You may have seen the comment posted by Anonymous of Beantown, who pledged to send all but four of the quarters I need. You didn’t see the email from Charles, thoughtfully (though perhaps misleadingly) entitled, “You Sad Bastard,” wherein he too offered up some of his change on hand. I should have known that readers from the east would be able to come up with all the “P” quarters I’d need. Darling wife pointed me to the Mint store, which indeed I’d known about from my explorations of the U.S. Mint web site. I’ve always resisted ordering the quarters directly from the source, preferring to come across them by happenstance in my change. I suppose begging them off the Internet at large isn’t really any better, but somehow it feels like less of a cheat. So anyway, thank you, you lot. Y’all are clearly eligible for membership in SNUH. Except probably for the part about being Springfieldians.

My dad – different subject now, in case you didn’t notice the transition I failed to make – has always struck me as a bit of a chameleon, politically. Growing up in Ottawa, I knew my parents to be Liberals – capital L, because it’s a party there as well as a philosophy (as opposed to here, where the Forces of Evil have somehow succeeded in turning it into a pejorative – rather odd for a word that describes pretty much all that is worthy in the human race). I didn’t know what to make of it, then, when we moved to small-town Alberta in the late 70s and he started adopting the identity of a reactionary prairie redneck. I knew he was from small-town Alberta himself, yes, but whither the sudden enthusiasm for cowboy hats, chuckwagon races, and blether about “Big Sky Country?” Those are the trappings of a western Conservative (capital letter again). Last I remembered, our whole family was volunteering to canvass for Lloyd Francis in West End Carleton. I honestly don’t know what political convictions he has, if any, or how he votes. I just know that he has always tried to blend in with the surroundings.

When my parents were in town a couple of weeks back, my dad spent a lot of time at our house reading magazines. While my mom and Mama Dog were cooing over the baby, he’d pick up whatever was on top of the overgrown mound on the coffee table and give it a good read. I swear, he made more headway in the stack of magazines in four days than I have in six months. The thing that’s bemusing about this is that all these magazines, the whole magilla, were exactly the kind of liberal rubbish you’d expect to find in my house. Harper’s, The New Yorker, and The Nation. I couldn’t believe I was watching my dad read what The Nation had to say about the likelihood of pro-Bush fraud from electronic voting machines. This was nothing you’d find in The Economist or Alberta Report (which I think maybe doesn't exist anymore, happily - can't find any trace of it on the web). But it certainly seemed to be entertaining the hell out of him.

I saw I had an opportunity to help re-introduce Liberal dad to Conservative dad. After my parents went home, I ordered gift subscriptions to all three of those fine left-of-centre magazines. His first issues should be wending their ways toward their little Alberta town as I type. And here’s hoping that a little bit of good old-fashioned liberal compassion and humanism will reassert itself in the heart of the relapsed Christian conservative on the cold and unforgiving foothills of the Rockies.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

The Half-Assed Numismatist

I talk a lot in this faversham about a certain tendency I have toward the obsessive and the compulsive. I don’t really suffer from OCD. Like, not really really. Not like Monk. Or Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets. No uncontrollable hand-washing or anything like that – just an inexplicable need to continue streaks or to amass collections once I have a few of something. Streaks – like the time I went to the movies every day for a year, or like this very faversham, which I apparently feel compelled to post to every day, even when there’s just no damn time. Collections – like hotel soaps and matchbooks when I was a kid, or comics, or, as I’m going to go on about for a while, the State Quarters.

I didn’t even really notice when the State Quarter program started in 1999. One day I just happened to see various bits of change with things other than that vaguely Aryan eagle on the ass end. I set aside one of each, not really intending to collect them, but not wanting to spend them either…and gradually I had a collection. This is pretty typical of the not-very-organized way such things begin for me. I somehow manage to get three of something and if I get one more, it becomes a collection, and a compulsion.

I should make clear that I made no effort to educate myself about the wider pursuit of numismatism. I just wanted to have one of each of the stupid quarters as they came out, and put them in a little dish at the side of the bed.

After I had about eight of them, it occurred to me that the little dish on the side of the bed was no place to keep them. I had noticed by the cash register in Walgreen’s an “official” (read: opportunistic tie-in) State Quarters album. One day while getting some razor blades or something, I picked an album up on impulse, and took it home to make a home for my unplanned collection of quarters. I pulled the shrink wrap off, opened the thing up, and made two discoveries: one, there were two slots for each state; and two, there were only 25 states represented in the album. This cheap-ass piece of shit was volume one, with volume two promised sometime in 2004. Well, okay, fine, I’ll make do. But what about the two slots per quarter? After some consideration, I decided this meant I was supposed to mount the tails side, with the unique State logo, in one slot, and the more generic heads slot, with George’s face and the year, on the other. That meant I had to have two of each quarter. Yes, I know. I could have just put any quarter in the heads-up slot, and who would know? I would know, and that was the problem. I set out to double the size of the collection that I’d never intended to have.

Months and then years passed, the album filled up, and suddenly I found that with the release of the Arkansas quarter last winter, I was fresh out of slots. Michigan was just around the corner, and I’d have no place to put it. What to do, what to do? I went back to Walgreen’s and asked after volume two of the “official” album. Of course, nobody knew what I was talking about because Walgreen’s hires the stupidest help in retail. Really, I think they have maximum IQ requirements in their screening process (and apparently I'm not the only one who thinks so). I gave the album I had a more thorough examination and tried to find the publisher on the Internet. Evidently they never existed. Not surprising. The collecting impulse required that I at least try to find the match for the album I had, but I was clearly at a dead end. I gave up and looked on Amazon for viable alternatives. I ordered one album, which turned out to be a huge rip-off – it was dead cheap, and it had slots for all fifty quarters, but then when you get it you find you have to order extra stuff to mount the quarters with, and that’s expensive. Had good textual materials, though. Figuring one good rip-off deserves another, I photocopied those, returned the crappy album itself, and then ordered a slightly more expensive one that I had passed up the first time. This one had slots for all the quarters too, and it seemed to be generally okay…but then I got a rude surprise. Like the earlier two, this album had two slots per quarter, but it was set up so that both sides of each quarter could be seen through plastic sheets. So, why two if you can see both sides of any one? Unlike the original album, the one from Amazon provided a clue. For each quarter there was a pair of slots, one marked “D” and the other marked “P.” Oh, duh. I told you I didn’t look into numismatism much. There are two mints in the U.S., Denver and Philadelphia. The albums were providing slots for each of the two separate mintings. Is that what they’re called, mintings? I hadn’t ever thought to determine the mintings (if indeed that’s the correct term), and had no clue how to tell one quarter from another.

After a bit of puzzling, I figured it out. On the heads side of the coin, at the bottom, to the right of George’s neck and under the implicit government endorsement of monotheism, you’ll find either a “D” for Denver or a “P” for Philadelphia. I pulled all the quarters out of my original album and found that the vast majority of them were from the Denver mint…I guess because I live on the West Coast. Now I was, in the immortal words of Kelly Bundy, on the horns of an enema. Having been rudely enlightened about the reason for the two slots in the new album, I felt it would be just plain wrong to put Denver mintings in the slots meant for Philadelphia. So what to do with all the extra quarters I had? That’s right. I raided one “D” minting of each quarter and as many “P” mintings as I had (only three, as I recall), and left the rest in the original album. I tried, I really, honestly tried, but I just couldn’t make myself throw the damn Walgreen’s album out and put its quarters back into circulation. So…if you’re following along, this means that I was now compelled not only to refill the empty slots in the original Walgreen’s album, but also to fill up the new Amazon album with quarters careful scrutinized according to mint. What had started out as a meaningless accumulation of fifty quarters was now destined to become a meaningless accumulation of one hundred and fifty quarters – two each of the first twenty-five states of whatever minting (but likely to be all “D”) in the Walgreen’s album, and a complete set of fifty from each minting in the Amazon album.

Half a year has gone by since then, and I’ve still got empty patches in both albums. For the Walgreen’s album, I’m missing Denver mintings of Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Ohio, and Arkansas. For the Amazon album, I need Philadelphia mintings of Delaware, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Virginia, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana, Mississippi, Illinois, Alabama, Maine, Missouri, Arkansas, Michigan, Florida, and Texas. So if you’d like to help a poor addled compulsive who really can’t help himself, dig through your change and see if you’ve got any of these. I would gladly pay you as much as twenty-five cents for each missing quarter you could make available to me.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Some Brief Stuff Before I Walk the Dog and Go to Bed

Another short one, 'cause there's just no damn time.

It struck me a while back that, assuming the worst in the coming election, the bad guys will have an opportunity in 2008 to run their creature for a third term if they were just to embrace the fact that President-elect Gore won in 2000. The 22nd amendment says that nobody who's been elected President twice can run for a third term. Doesn't say anything about slimy dipshits who were appointed by the Supreme Court. Of course, the amendment does go on to say "no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of the President more than once," which I guess would cover this instance, but I'm sure they could work a way around that rule too.

Ol' paul S, since you asked, is up to August 30 now.

And more tomorrow, one would hope.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

The Return of the Shhhhhhhhhh

Last night was the first night in a week that Baby Dog didn't manage to go to sleep under her own steam. Swaddling was getting ridiculous...she was just too big for the blankets, and I was having to go to ludicrous extremes to hold the swaddle together. Then one night in the middle of my parents' visit, we laid her down in her crib, she cranked a bit, and then just went to sleep, no muss now fuss. They say that three months is the magic number for infants, when all sorts of changes for the better occur. It certainly felt to us that a corner had been turned.

Last night, for whatever reason, proved different. Maybe she was overstimulated from her trip to A City*? Whatever the reason, tired as she was, Baby Dog would not go to sleep. She just lay in the crib, crying and crying. Finally, tired and wanting to go to sleep myself, I sat next to her on the bed, rocked the crib gently with one hand, and shhhhed. I didn't bother trying to swaddle, as that would have been futile...just jiggled her crib and shhhhed. She stopped crying, listening to me. Then her eyelids began to droop. Then she was asleep.

It took about three tries to get it to take, but then she slept the night through and in fact didn't really wake up until ten in the morning. I can't take credit for the length of the sleep...I think it was the cosiness of her new Sleep Sack that did that. But I can and will take credit for getting her to sleep in the first place...and moreover, I'll admit that I was thrilled to suddenly be useful. If I did nothing else during my leave months, I provided the invaluable contribution of getting her to sleep every night. Not to get too biscuit-ersed about it, but with Baby Dog's achievement of independent sleepfulness and my return to work I had, without noticing it (much as I didn't notice my anxiety about What To Do If She Chokes), started to feel like The Redundant Parent.

Worse, I've been noticing that she struggles in my arms a lot more than she does in Mama Dog's, and tends to cry now whenever I hold her for any length of time. "Yes, I know," I'll coo to her, "Daddy is crap." I meant it as a joke, but I couldn't help but worry that she might well feel some sentiment very close to that. Now I'm reassured. Daddy's not crap. His voice brings security, peace, contentment, and untroubled sleep. Amazing what a sense of relief a baby can bring just by dozing off in a little puddle of her own spittle.

Well, for now anyway. She's crying as I type. Maybe we'll have to see if my mojo will work again.

In other utterly unrelated matters - I don't have any particular interest in the CSI franchise, and I don't have any plans to watch the new one starring Lootenant Dan and Melina Kakanakasedakakikidee (I think that's how you spell it), but I just wanted to observe that the title should be pronounced "Cheeny." Like, the "Cs" is kind of like a Slavic "Cz" sound. So popularize that for me, would you?
*San Jose has overtaken San Francisco in population, so I've decreed that henceforth the peninsular wasteland will be known as The City, while Baghdad by the Bay is demoted to A City.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Potpourri for $800, Alex

Wow, 50 consecutive posts. It won't actually be fifty days until Wednesday, because there were two days when I did two posts, but still. Who'da thought?

Being anywhere without baby: As mentioned, we went to the Infant CPR class, and I think we both learned a lot. I had no idea how much anxiety I was harbouring on the subject of What To Do About Choking until I learned the answer. I guess I don’t really notice anxiety until it’s been relieved. I don’t know if that makes me a lucky chap or a potential disaster area. Very big thanks to Mama and Papa Pirate, who looked after our wee one while we were out. It was the first time since her birth that Baby Dog has been more than a room away from either one of us, so it was cause for much and noticeable anxiety. We limited ourselves to calling twice during the three-hour period we were away, and I think that was doing pretty well. She was just fine while we were gone, of course. Had a nap and a bottle and only spent part of the time screaming.

Mysteries of babywear: Some of Baby Dog’s clothes, we’ve noticed, have pockets. Back pockets on one garment, a breast pocket on another. Let’s review here. She’s three months old. What does she need a breast pocket for? Her pens? Her reading glasses? Is she supposed to keep her ID in her back pocket? I know. These are for show only, to make parents think the outfits look all the more adorable, but still I can’t help thinking there’s some baby clothing designer out there perilously unclear on the concept.

Better still, Mama Dog found this here item today. Yes indeed, that’s what we need. $188 worth of cashmere for somebody who doesn’t know how to keep her food in her mouth.

Dick Cheney's 3-D House of Spin: This morning, thinking about nothing in particular on the BART platform, I was struck with a perfect press conference question for President Cheney. It goes like this: “Mr. President, in the light of day, after the cock has crowed thrice, when you’re lying in your coffin on the bed of your native soil, do you seethe with hatred for all the living, or just the ones who are not rich white straight males?” Unfortunately, I’ll never be in the White House Press Corps, so I don’t imagine I’ll ever have the chance to ask. Maybe Helen Thomas could give it a whirl.

Office Visit: Baby Dog came to visit the office this afternoon. The two people who had actually asked if I was going to bring my wee bairn to the office could not, of course, be found. Still, it was strangely enjoyable making a circuit through the maze, causing work to come to a screeching halt wherever we went. Also, this was Baby Dog’s first visit to an office other than a doctor’s office, so I felt I should point out to her that this is probably what her future’s going to look like. Maybe by the time she’s old enough to be penned up in a work farm they’ll have thought up something even worse than an open cubicle arrangement, but I wanted to give her the general idea. Mama Dog had to hurry to beat the Bay Bridge traffic, so the tour had to be quick. They were there just long enough for my arms to be aching from schlepping the carseat around. Then I had to go type some more about dirt.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Keeping the World Safe for Baby

Just a short one…

Yesterday, my mom told me about a little boy in her town, born around the same time as Baby Dog, who had just died of meningitis. I used to hear a piece of news like that and think “Oh, how sad.” Now it freezes my guts and switches the panic centre of my brain over to Elmo Alert. Once you have kids, you can’t hear of any kind of childhood tragedy without thinking “What if it happened to mine?” What a way to spend the rest of your life, huh? When we first got the dog, we would now and then note with amazement that we had, all by ourselves, managed to keep him alive and healthy for a month, two months, a year. Two and a half years now, and he no longer has quite the life of Riley that once was his, but he’s happy, loved, well-fed, and in good shape, even if he doesn’t get quite as many walks (let alone long off-leash romps) as he used to. Now here we are with a baby, stopping suddenly to realise that we’ve gone almost a full three months without causing any irreparable disaster to her person, and that to the contrary she continues to thrive, growing and developing and discovering the world around her day by day.

A baby in deep sleep is a profoundly quiet creature, and I don’t imagine there’s any parent around who hasn’t felt the need to confirm that their sleeping child is in fact still breathing. You lean over the bassinette, you hold your own breath, you listen very very carefully. You hear a sigh, you see a hand twitch, and all is well. You feel silly for worry just because the room is so quiet and the night is so still. Then the next night you do it again, because you can never be too sure.

What if I leaned over Baby Dog and saw she wasn't breathing? I don’t think I’d have any idea what I’m supposed to do. I took a life saving class in high school a million years ago, and I guess I passed it, but now I barely even remember how to do mouth-to-mouth properly. Mama Dog’s pretty much in the same boat. Every time Baby Dog makes a noise even remotely like choking, we tense up and think, worriedly, “What would we do?’ Well, after today we will, with any luck, know a thing or two. We’re going to take an infant CPR class today and next Sunday. Ironically, infants aren’t allowed to attend the class, so for the first time since her birth we’ll be leaving Baby Dog wholly in the care of others. Thanks to the Pirates. And tomorrow, maybe we’ll be life-savers.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Warren Zevon

I was fumbling around for something to listen to whilst putting away dishes this morning, and stumbled across my copy of Warren Zevon’s last album, The Wind. We were listening to this all the time when it first came out, and through the mourning period after Zevon’s demise, but I guess we kind of played it to death (mordant smile) and I haven’t put it on in a raccoon’s age. I looked it up and was not terribly surprised to find that it’s more than a year since Zevon’s passing – a year and eleven days. Funny the album didn’t come to mind a week ago Tuesday. But I guess that was the day my parents arrived, and I didn’t do much but go to the airport and back.

What a weird career Warren Zevon had. He spent almost 30 years as not-quite-a-star, not-quite-a-cult-figure, and then in the week before he died, he had his biggest commercial and critical success. There was something creepy, I suppose, about the Warren Zevon Death Watch…and a lot of cynical marketing bullshit underlying the whole thing. The impending death of Warren Zevon made great promotional copy and moved a lot of product. Lots of people made lots of money off his terminal illness, and most of them weren’t named Zevon.

Still, there’s nothing the least bit cynical about that last album itself, and a year after the hype and the tributes and the VH1 specials, the album rings wrenchingly true as the last public statement of a man unflinchingly confronting his own mortality and finding the right way to say goodbye to his loved ones. Nobody has ever appropriated a song from Bob Dylan so thoroughly and authoritatively as Zevon did here with his version of Knockin' on Heaven's Door. Bob had Peckinpah’s elegy for the west to inspire him. Zevon could sing it as an elegy for himself. At the end, during the final “knock-knock-knockin’” chorus, when you hear him, rather distantly and mutedly say, “open up!” it should by all rights come off corny, but it doesn’t. It comes off spooky. Listening to it now, it’s like he’s singing a ghost story about himself, and he’ll continue to haunt as long as people like me continue to play his songs.

The album’s closer, Keep Me in Your Heart, is astonishing in its humility. In saying goodbye to his loved ones, but particularly to his children and his much younger girlfriend, he doesn’t ask for eternal love and devotion, or even to be thought of on a regular basis. All he asks is, “keep me in your heart for a while.” Not forever, just for a while. Every time I think of it, the sheer bravery of that stops me short. He had the clarity and the honesty to recognise that his time was ending early and that the people most important to him would have years and decades to go on without him…and he's telling them that it's okay to do that. He's saying that’s what they should do and what they have to do, and he doesn't want to be the baggage that weighs them down forever. That song always sticks in my head for days after I listen to it. It’s sad and elegant and filled with the promise of life in the face of death. I think it was probably his single best piece of writing, and I’ve always considered Warren Zevon a damn fine writer.

I guess I was about 14 when I first heard Zevon. My brother or somebody had a copy of Excitable Boy, which was one of the most perfect albums for wiseass teenage boys in the late 70s. It made me, for one, feel like a gawky kid with glasses and a bad haircut could end up being cool after all. I listened to later albums here and there, and even owned copies of a few of them, but I never obsessively collected his every last recording the way I did with, say, Tom Waits or The Pogues/Shane MacGowan. I saw him once in concert, at the Omni in Oakland (which hasn’t existed in years). Twenty-five years he's been at least vaguely on my radar, and it still seems strange to me that there won’t be a new album from him this year, filled with funny and morbid ditties about stuff nobody else would think to put to song.

Friday, September 17, 2004

My War with the Recycling Bums

To elaborate a little further on the hurried disclaimer paragraph that ended the last post – yesterday I had to actually work at work, mais quel dommage. Not only did I have to work, but the work I had to do could not be reasonably completed within the confines of an 8-hour day; no real lunch hour in which to faversham, and I was there an hour past closing time. Somehow I thought I wouldn’t be doing this anymore in my new incarnation as a parent, but the job doesn’t seem to care about that. When I got home, there was just enough time to scarf the supper Mama Dog so kindly prepared before we sat down to watch Survivor. Yes, I know it’s crap. I used to denounce it all the time before I’d ever watched it, just like you. It’s insidious crap, though. It sucks you in. Every season we go through an “Oh, let’s not watch it this time” period, then we watch the first episode and get sucked back in. Maybe it won’t happen this time. Last night seemed particularly lame, though it could be because the baby was crying and it was kind of hard to pay attention, even with all the boobs and pig blood. But hey, there’s a one-legged guy from Oakland for whom to root. So who knows. Anyway, after that, I sat down to bang out the faversham and promptly got overwhelmed by another sleazy virus attack. Gambling and pornography programs started rapidly installing themselves, literally filling up the desktop with icons. I had to spend the rest of the night scouring out the infestations, lest my darling wife think I’m so dim-witted I don’t know to hide my gambling and pornography links in a place where she won’t find them (a folder marked “Star Trek Episode Guides,” perhaps?). So with all that I think it’s kind of miraculous that I got a post done at all last night.

Today hasn’t actually been much easier, but at least I had a lunch hour.

So…my heart bleeds as much as the next East Bay liberal. I give money to homeless people based on some rapid and not entirely sensible calculation involving my present employment status, the actual amount of money in my pocket, and the level of obnoxiousness of the panhandling.* I’m given to random whim spikes, too, like the time I handed a $20 bill to a cardboard sign guy on the divider because I was mad at a bank. Don’t puzzle it out too much, but it made sense to me at the time. (Made the guy’s day; he headed straight to Boston Market.) But I have to admit – I’m this close to setting my recycling bins on bear traps to keep the recycling bums out of them.

For those unfamiliar with the phenomenon, the recycling bums are the guys who come around the night before garbage day and pick through people’s recycling bins for those items that can most easily be exchanged for cash at the redemption centre. Most of these guys ply their trade with shopping cards loaded up with great huge garbage bags full of cans and bottles. You can hear their clatter echoing through the neighbourhood from dusk ‘til dawn before a garbage pickup. Some of the more enterprising fellows have pickups, enabling them to widen their area of operations and take bigger loads to the redemption centre. What they all have in common is that they’re willing to go to the trouble of learning all the garbage pick-up routes neighbourhood by neighbourhood and spend the whole night picking through other people’s garbage, but somehow or other they can’t get around to getting a job. Hey, that’s okay. It’s a lifestyle choice. As I think I’ve documented herein, I don’t really want a job either, but we all have our own rows to hoe and vaya con dios and all that. What set me at war with the recycling bums was a simpler matter of common courtesy. Hell, I didn’t even used to call them recycling bums. I used to say “recycling guys” or “shopping cart guys.” I used to actually go to the trouble of sorting my recycling so that the easily returnable stuff was on the top and the less easily returnable stuff – the milk jugs and razor blade holders and what have you – were on the bottom. That’s kind of how the war started, really. What happened is, some ignorant bottle-carting street clatterer came to my garbage and disrespected the very careful sorting job I had done for his inconsiderate garbage-picking ass. He skimmed all the coke cans and booze bottles off the top where I left them for him. But then this pygmy-brained crap vulture had to go second-guessing my bottle-sorting acumen and dig and rummage to the bottom of the pile of miscellaneous recyclable plastic, looking for the Sprite bottle he was sure I’d overlooked. And then – as though to make sure I’d know about this affront to my OCD credentials, he scattered all the shit back and forth between the paper and plastic bins. Here in Oakland, that’s the yellow plastic/glass bin and the blue paper/cardboard bin. Maybe I’m not being clear here. He tossed leaky juice bottles into the nice dry stack of Chronicles. He shoved perfectly recyclable New Yorkers into the sludge at the bottom of the yellow bin. He got chocolate in my peanut butter. He fucked my shit up.

If this had been an isolated incident, things could have gone on as they were before. But no. This miscreant repeated the show three weeks running. Well, I’m sure you know the old Scottish saying: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me three times, an’ ah’ll camp oot by the garage so’s tae catch ye in the act an’ beat yir brains tae fuck wi’ a great big knobbly stick, ye doss raecylin’ cunt.” Well, okay, it didn’t go that far, but I did stop taking the recycling out the night before. I started leaving it until the last possible moment before leaving for work, so as to absolutely minimise the number of salvage scoundrels who’d have a crack at my refuse. It was great when I was on leave. Sometimes the recycling truck wouldn’t come until eleven in the morning, or even after noon. On a work day, that leaves three or four hours during which my poor cans and bottles would remain undefended on the kerb. With me at home, I could leave things until the last possible moment, running out with the yellow bin as I heard the truck approaching. So there you go. All it takes is one bad apple to spoil things for an entire alternative socioeconomic paradigm.

Of course, this has been a bit of a bone of contention with Mama Dog since one day a long while back when the truck showed up much earlier than expected and I missed it. It happened again last week because the Labour Day holiday discombobulated things. Pickup came on Saturday instead of Friday, and in an almost unprecedented turn of events, the recycling truck came before the garbage truck did. We went through a lot more recycling with my parents in town, so the two weeks’ worth of accumulated cans and bottles filled the yellow bin almost to overflowing. When Mama Dog saw this morning that I still hadn’t taken the bin out by 7:30, she started to get observably tense. I assured her that I wouldn’t forget and extracted a promise to trust that I know what I’m doing, but I don’t’ think she breathed easily until I left the house with the bin in hand. Of course, pickup didn’t happen until the very late morning, and Mama Dog had other things to do than keep an eye on my garbage. I’m sure some recycling bum reaped a great bounty from our consumer detritus. But god damn it, he did it without my help.

In other things… I’m making great progress with Nana, which is a corker. I’d tell you all about it, but I don’t have time. Oh, okay, a little bit. There’s a really funny bit in the chapter before the one I’m on now about a guy whose wife is a stage actress who, like (apparently) all the other actresses in the Variétés, is essentially a high-priced prostitute. The husband jovially pimps her out to rich old guys and doesn’t much care what goes on as long as the money keeps rolling in. Difficulties arise when the actress takes a fancy to a journalist who gives her nothing but flattering notices in Le Figaro. The husband can’t quite make himself say no to his meal ticket as she embarks on this unprofitable enterprise, but it starts to gnaw away at him – not the infidelity, but the lost revenue. Finally, he figures out the thing to do is to kill the journalist with kindness. The husband is a big guy and the journalist is not, so he takes to thumping the little man heartily on the back every time they meet, grabbing him in spine-crunching bear hugs, punching him “playfully” but bruisingly on the shoulder, and so forth. Things escalate until they’re rolling around backstage trying to choke one another to death as a visiting from England takes a tour of the premises. The whole thing’s extravagantly theatrical and I wonder why there’s never been a great movie version. There should be someday.

Haven’t had much time for the newspapers since last I mentioned them. Finished August 8, but that’s about it. Ol’ paul S says he’s now read the faversham through August 26. I don’t think I’m going to be catching up with him anytime soon.

We watched The Little Foxes tonight. Or rather, we started it Tuesday night and finished it tonight. Rockin' Bette D bitchfest! No swear words for Baby Dog to absorb! But villainy aplenty! See it some time or other if you haven't!
*Someday I’ll tell you the story of my fateful acquaintance with Thomas the Homeless Guy in New Orleans, but not today. I’ve been dipping back into the days of yore a little too much lately, I think.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Swearing, Spike, and Woody

It’s an old observation, but a true one, that we all have a variety of modes of speech and ranges of vocabulary ready for different social contexts. We speak differently depending on whose ear we’re bending. I might choose to describe the same fat guy I saw on BART to three different people, but if those people are Mama Dog, my mom, and the fat guy’s ugly girlfriend, they’ll get three different versions and widely varying degrees of scorn. The most obvious example of this phenomenon in my growed-up life has been the difference between how I talk at work and how I talk at home. As much as possible, I try not to talk at all at work, but when I must, I try to keep it brief, innocuous, and formal. I have a bit of stevedore mouth on my own time, but I keep it G-rated at the office. This isn’t something I’ve ever made a conscious practice of…it just works out that way. I didn’t even notice it was the case until the first time a co-worker uttered a profanity and then apologised to me. I was baffled at first. Why was I getting an apology? And then it hit me – oh, yeah, she’s never heard me swear. She probably thinks I’m an Osmond or something. That scenario has played out a bunch of times over the years, and it’s always a woman who blurts the vulgarity and then begs my pardon. What am I, a clergyman? Well, technically, yeah, but they don’t know that. That’s why I was so surprised today when not once but twice in the same conversation I heard myself uttering unmentionables at the office. Phrase #1 was “shitload of overtime” and phrase #2 was “it drives me bugfuck.” I’ve worked at this place for – what is it? – ten of the last sixteen years, and I don’t think I’ve ever before said two swear words in a row to any co-worker I didn’t already know before they started working there. I’m not sure how to account for this sudden shift in propriety, except to suppose that I’ve grown lax in my three months off the clock. Much as a child might be scolded for using his “outdoor” voice in a restaurant, I appear to be using my “at home” mouth at the office.

We’ve been wondering lately when the time will come to stop using out at home mouths at home. Baby Dog is obviously still too young to even understand what we’re saying most of the time (she clearly recognises “ah-goo,” but that’s about it), but she is, as they say, a sponge. She hears everything and is absorbing, accumulating knowledge and experience, trying to make sense of the myriad new stimuli and impulses she encounters every day. The other night, we were watching Do the Right Thing, which neither Mama Dog nor I had seen since it first came out. Baby Dog has generally slept through movies up til now, but in the last week she’s been spending more time awake. As she sat on her bouncy chair, looking at the bright palette of Spike’s colours for a hot summer day, we started to wonder just how many of the muthafuckas were getting through to her. For that matter, we started to wonder how much of our everyday profanity was being processed and stored away. Our all-purpose adjectival phrase round these parts is “-ass muh’fuh'n,” as in, “It’s a hot-ass muh’fuh’n day,” or “That’s a big-ass muh’fuh’n baby,” or “This is some tasty-ass muh’fuh’n ice cream.” Who knows at what level “ratfuckbastid” is going to lodge in her little expanding brain, and at what three-year-old birthday party it will suddenly come bubbling back out. “Here’s your present, ya ratfuckbastid! Happy birthday!”

I don’t know, and I guess I’m not going to know for years. But – rapidly shifting gears here – what the hell has happened to Spike Lee, anyway? He hasn’t really had any cultural impact of note since Malcolm X, though he’s trotted out a movie every year as gamely as that other New York auteur, Woody Allen. Actually, Spike and Woody have a lot in common now that I think about it, in terms of the little niches they’ve carved for themselves in the film industry. They’re both really hit and miss but never have any trouble finding someone to pony up for their next project. I think Woody’s average is probably better than Spike’s. Every fourth movie or so is really good. As for Spike, I liked 25th Hour a lot, but other than that I can’t think of anything in his post-Malcolm output that’s really done it for me.

I think that’s going to have to be it for now. Not much of a clear arc on this one, but hey, I had a busy day at hell, not much time at home, and they can’t all be pearls.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Life Below Sea Level

New Orleans, I hear, is evacuating in the face of Ivan. I was there for a hurricane once, in the summer of 1992. Thinking about it this morning, I wasn’t even sure of the name of the hurricane, but a little research tells me I was right in guessing that it must have been Andrew. Ambrose and I were staying at Marquette House, the youth hostel on Carondelet St., but we were running low on funds and just days away from once again living in the car. At first, we didn’t pay any attention to the news of the hurricane – what, that’s like a big rainstorm, right? Who gives a shit? But then we were having lunch at the St. Ann Kitchen (sadly, I think no longer there), and an emergency bulletin came over the radio. It was like a scene from a movie from the 40s – an announcer came on with a special bulletin and everybody in the room stopped talking and stared at the radio, listening intently. I think that was the first time we noticed the apprehensive vibe permeating the town, poking up under the eternal laissez les bon temps rouler veneer. It was about that time it occurred to us that a single tree branch through the windshield of the Cutlass would leave our future house fucked for habitation, and we decided to head north right away to wait out the storm. I don’t remember how this came about, but we brought a nice girl from Utah along with us. She was getting married soon and was for some reason traveling by herself in New Orleans. I’d guess it was her rumspringa, but that’s the Amish, not the Mormons. I can’t think what else would possess her to take off with a couple of lowlifes like us. If she was looking for a wild time in the eye of the storm, though, I guess she ended up disappointed. She was too afraid of Ambrose and I was too much of a gentleman (or maybe too afraid of Mormons), and you couldn’t ask for a more proper arrangement of two horny guys living in a car with a nice girl from Utah.

I-55 looked like a single caravan headed north. I imagine it’s like that now. We were late adopters, so by the time we got to Jackson, MS, everything was full except for some scary fuck motel on the highway where you parked your car in a garage next to the room. It was too expensive anyway, so we kept driving and ended up sleeping at a rest stop, Utah girl in the back seat of the car and Ambrose and I on top of picnic tables. When he woke up, Ambrose found a mash note from some nocturnal visitor tucked under his head. Ambrose always slept with a knife handy when we were at rest stops. The guy was lucky Ambrose slept heavily and didn’t wake up with the wrong idea. Over breakfast at the picnic table, we had a chat with a groundskeeper, a nice old codger who asked us where we were from and how we liked running from a hurricane. He talked about how Jackson was a real nice town, except now – mouth twisted in distaste – the blacks were taking over, and we figured maybe we should keep heading north and try to find a place where the nice old men aren’t such openly racist assholes.

We ended up in Nashville, which for all I know is chock full of nice old racist assholes, but at least they had a room at the Elvis Presley Boulevard Inn (not a very useful link, but the best I could find), and that’s where we waited out the hurricane. It never even hit New Orleans, but how were we supposed to know?

Another time, round about 1995 or so, I was staying at (that’s what we say in New Orleans – “staying at,” not “living in”) a house on Joseph St. and working at a place over towards the Riverbend. One night walking home, I got caught in a flash flood. I’d known rain was coming, so I had my umbrella, but when it really started coming down, I might as well have been holding a single square of toilet paper over my head for all the good it was doing. Worse, the winds were starting to gust and it seemed likely that I was going to get swept up in an updraft like Mary Poppins. I just folded the umbrella up, hunched myself into the wind, and by the time I got home I looked like I’d swum the whole way.

Lisa and Debbie were staying with me that week, because my housemate was out of town and they’d rented their apartment out for Jazzfest or something. Lisa and I were in the living room, watching Miller’s Crossing, when there was a knock on the door. “Who could that be?” we goggled comically. Oh, of course. It was Debbie, stark naked and drenched. She’d crept out the back way and wanted Lisa to come join her dancing naked in the rain. They frolicked about on the lawn, dancing and laughing like little kids. I stood on the porch, not wanting a second soaking, and hoped that the spectacle wasn’t going to prove to embarrassing for my housemate when he got home and heard about it from the neighbours. Then I happened to glance to my right and saw the brief orange glow of a cigarette on the porch next door. Mean Redneck Dad next door was watching from the shadows, and he was keeping such a low profile that I could be pretty sure he wouldn’t want to talk about it with the neighbours later. Then the rain got even heavier and Debbie suddenly noticed that the flood waters were creeping up to her car, so the dance ended as, still naked, she moved the car to higher ground. Two teenagers across the street spotlighted her with flashlights the whole way. All good clean fun.

That was all long ago and far away, and now I hardly have anyone left in New Orleans, the one town in the world that has always been most special to me. Those of you who are still there – Lisa and family, Charlene, David and Tami, Michelle, Sylvie, Patrick, anybody else I’m forgetting – I love you all and miss you and hope that this day finds you warm and safe and dry in your perfectly intact homes.

Oh, and damn, I hope Molly's is well shuttered!

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Ratbastids at Work

There’s a story – which can comfortably assumed to be apocryphal – that when the British left Sicily after WWII, the commander addressed the troops assembled at dockside, saying: “It is time now, once again, for us to leave our loved ones behind and go back to our wives and children.” I thought about that yesterday as I was headed back to work for the first time after three months, and mainly what I thought was: “No wonder I’m not in the military.” I mean, I appreciate as always the inversion of expectation in the phrasing, but the sentiment expressed – that ain’t me. Man oh Manfred Mann, that ain’t me.* If I could, I’d be home with wife and daughter today, tomorrow, for the rest of my natural born days. Of course, then I wouldn’t be getting paid to write this faversham, as I am now, but what cold comfort that is. What a bitter trade-off. Whatever corners I'm able to cut here, in order to do my part in sustaining the lives of my family I have to miss sharing in those lives for eleven hours a day, four days a week (not five - they’ll have to pry my Wednesday off out of my cold dead hands).

I thought I hated going to work before. I’ve always resented like a dose of clap the necessity of getting up every morning at a time not of my own choosing to go to a place not of my own choosing and do things not of my own choosing in the company of people I’d never otherwise have any reason or inclination to meet. (Uh…those of you at work who have this url, or course I don’t mean you…just them others. Ratbastids. I mean, would any of you actually CHOOSE to spend time talking to that Kenny Rogers-looking guy?) I always thought people who claimed to derive fulfilment from their work - or even any kind of diversion or pleasure or social life or anything other than a paycheque - were a bit on the loony side. But now…jeezus louiseus, I’ve got every reason in the world to stay home, every last instinct I’ve got telling me that home, like Green Acres, is the place for me, and instead of staying there and watching my little girl learn to lift her head up all by herself – she’s about to get good at it, too! – I’m getting up before light, squeezing into a miserable overheated BART sardine car, and whiling away eight hours typing, as Charles so trenchantly put it, about dirt.

Well, that’s the way it is, and this is the new paradigm until further notice. I’d go back to the methods I used in bygone days to compensate for having to waste my life in wage slavery (page in that link is laid out stupidly, but all the alternatives come with an onslaught of obnoxious popups - scroll past the links after the title), but there aren’t enough swipable office supplies in the world to make up for the fact that story time is probably going to be only a thrice weekly event for the foreseeable future, for the fact that Mama Dog has to run herself ragged trying to get done everything we’d done together ‘til now, for the fact that at 4:31 every Friday afternoon I can’t at least mean to wish Baby Dog another week’s worth of happy birthday (I always seemed to remember up until 4:15 and then not see a clock again until 4:45). All there is for it is to do what’s always been done. To work. To earn. To go home and hope to hell I have sense to appreciate every leftover moment I still get to call my own.

In less weighty matters: ol’ paul S, inspired by my newspaper updates, has been updating me via email regarding his progress through my own archives. As of last night, he was up to August 20, which means in his world we’re still in Santa Barbara. Go paul. I’ve let the newspaper updates lapse myself, mostly because I fell so mercilessly behind when we took that trip down south. I’ve had a bit of a chance to catch up some, though, and am happy to report that I’m about to start in on the paper from Sunday, August 8. More than a month behind. Can I catch up with paul at least? Stay tuned and find out.

Also, since the BART commute means I have reading time, I think I’ll be making a little more progress with Nana than I have been. I’m almost finished Chapter 4 and enjoying it, though I find some of the translation’s slangy word choices kind of suspect.

Also also – it seems that the Blogger toolbar w/ the links tool and various formatting options is for some reason unavailable to me on my work computer. I’m either going to start posting incomplete versions from work or wait ‘til I get home to finalise them. Haven’t quite decided how best to work this yet.
* I'm implying here that the commander was assuming an esprit de corps that borders on the creepy. In fact, if he said this at all (and if he existed at all), the "loved ones" he was referring to weren't the assembled comrades at arms but the other families and lovers they'd acquired while occupying Sicily. Not wanting the facts to get in the way of a good rhetorical device, I fudged the meaning. Feeling guilty that I was misrepresenting the meaning of an apocryphal quote, I compromised with this footnote. I hope we're all satisfied now.

Monday, September 13, 2004

We Help Lead a Parade

There was a street fair this weekend, an annual event that neither Mama Dog nor I nor any of the Pirates had ever before attended, despite a combined Bay Area residence in excess of seventy years. We would likely have chalked up another four years of non-attendance between us had it not been for the coincidence of this year’s theme, which happened to be the same as Baby Dog’s given name. Just days before the event, we heard (thanks to the Kitty) about the theme and learned that anyone with that name was eligible to be a Grand Marshal. All you had to do was show up with photo ID. Baby Dog of course has no photo ID yet, but we figured her birth certificate would suffice, and that proved to be the case.

Of course, we were late. I got absorbed writing that long post about the recliner and Mama Dog and Baby Dog got absorbed in nursing. Before any of us knew it, the morning was half gone, none of us were ready, and Doggy Dog still needed his morning walk. We raced through walkies and ablutions and diaper bag packing and baby dressing and so forth, and even though the area near the street fair was choked with cars, we managed to find a spot about six blocks away and hit the ground running with ten minutes to spare before the cut-off time for signing up. I zoomed the stroller uphill and down, occasionally breaking into a jog, and we made it to the sign-up table with minutes still on the clock, just as another baby with the same name was being signed in.

Marching bands were warming up, spectators were assembling to gawk, and parade volunteers were lingering about without apparent purpose. One of them, an almost-helpful lady on a golf cart, pointed us in the direction we were supposed to go, but neglected to mention the magic phrase “and turn left,” so we wandered a couple of blocks past the meeting point where all of Baby Dog’s namesakes were assembling. By the time we discovered our error and retraced our steps, the horse-drawn carriage that would lead the parade was already full of like-named individuals, with nary a space for us. That was okay. Mama Dog didn’t want to take Baby Dog, who was snoozing comfortably through all the hullabaloo, out of her car seat, and one of us would still have to walk behind with the stroller anyway.

The cart full of Baby Dog’s name-mates looked like a fairly random sampling of humanity, from a 95-year-old woman to the baby who had just beaten us to the sign-up table. There were a couple of men on the cart, too. At first I thought they were fathers or spouses or perhaps stowaways, but then I spotted a name tag on them and realised that they in face legitimately shared Baby Dog’s appellation, only as a surname. One little girl had it as a middle name. Of all this raft of strangers united by nomenclature, Baby Dog was hands-down the youngest, at 11 weeks.

A whistle blew, the parade started, and off we marched behind the cart. Next to us was another stroller, this one containing two children, neither of whom happened to share our daughter’s name. They were the siblings of the middle-named girl, and their father seemed a particularly enthusiastic participant, waving as he pushed them along, working the crowd like an ambitious ward heeler on election day. I strode in the middle with my hands behind my back, trying to look casual, like I hadn’t noticed yet that I was on a parade route. Mama Dog pushed the stroller and gamely waved now and then when she heard some stranger call out our baby’s name. Baby Dog slumbered through her big moment. I hope that when next a parade is held in her honour, she’ll pay a little more attention or at least stay awake for it.

The big hazard, of course, was the propulsion system of the carriage ahead of us, and most specifically its fuel by-products. I heard the spectators yelling at us, but didn’t get what they were trying to communicate until my foot connected with the road apples and I looked down to see that I’d gotten horse crap on my brand new Josef Seibels. Oh well. They were already a mess from the walk at Point Isabel on Thursday. A bigger problem came about three quarters of the way up the parade route when we were suddenly (and rather tardily now that I think about it) joined by the designated clean-up crew for the horse cart. That would have been okay, except that they chose to locate themselves between us and the cart, which meant we were now parading behind a very fragrant bucket of manure. At this point, we chose to break off from our duties as Grand Marshals and be spectators for a while.

We belled the Pirates on their mobby and arranged to meet them at the corner we’d ended up on. Baby Dog was awake by then, and after a time commenced to fussing. I took her around the corner to a quiet little spot behind the Super Cuts, and found that, perhaps inspired by the aromatic equine offerings we had been trailing, she had made a little contribution of her own to the Cycle of Waste, not-so-neatly deposited in the pocket of her Pampers. This was my first time doing a diaper change out in open spaces – I’d done it in the car on the way down to Santa Barbara, but this was my first time out in the open with the occasional passer-by stopping to look at us as though we were the Baby Changing Float. I set her down on a soft bed of browned pine needles, a perfectly pastoral spot for a diaper change were it not for the cigarette butts and other bits of detritus that marked this as a loitering spot for shady characters. I found the cleanest spot I could, but the ground wasn’t exactly level and she kept sliding off toward the edge of the changing pad. Worse, at one point she grabbed a fistful of tree droppings. Have I mentioned that she’s been grasping things lately? Good girl, but leave the dirty nature stuff alone! I cleaned her up as best I could under the circumstances, then went back to join Mama Dog in awaiting the Pirates.

They showed up soon after and, as we found we were in the vicinity of Walker’s Pie Shop, we ducked in to do further kinder maintenance (feeding on our part, changing on theirs) and stuff our own faces with good old-fashioned pie shop fare. At one point, I looked across the table and saw Papa Pirate experimentally offering a potato chip to his baby daughter. She sucked eagerly at it, looking very happy indeed. “Huh,” thought I, “that looks like something I’d get yelled at for.” A few seconds later, Mama Pirate happened to look that way and exclaimed, “What are you doing? Don’t give her chips! You might as well give her a saltlick!” “I knew you were going to get in trouble,” I observed unhelpfully.

Later, we strolled as civilians up to the end of the parade route and pumped a little money into the local economy. We saw one of those sights you only see at this sort of thing: a sandwich board fellow advertising his desire that all and sundry should repent and, less than a block later, the booth for the East Bay Atheists. Mama Dog and Mama Pirate did a little shopping at Sweet Potatoes and I stood with Baby Dog watching a pony ride just long enough that the smell of the cotton candy in the adjacent tent required me to buy some. We walked back the way we came, and when we reached the point where we had to turn off to get to our car, we parted ways with the Pirates. And that there was our day at the parade.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

The Recliner Story

This one is kind of an old chestnut. Anybody who’s hung around with me much in the last few years has probably heard it, and probably more than one, but because I have nothing else on my mind to write about and in the interest of posterity I’m setting it down here for once and all.

Years ago, before I ever met the future Mama Dog, I had a Less Satisfactory Wife. One day, looking to furnish our new apartment, the Less Satisfactory Wife – let’s just say LSW – and I answered a want ad and found ourselves in possession of several odd and mismatched pieces of furniture, the most relevant to this story being a recliner. It was in good shape and cushy, upholstered in an orangey brown somewhere maybe in the neighbourhood of burnt umber. I had grown up in a house of recliners but had never had one to call my own. In my year away from the nest I had sorely missed the opportunity to recline, if only on the sly. Now I envisioned – and soon set about arranging – a recliner of my very own positioned facing the TV the way God intended, with an end table next to it on which to set my tea and whatever I was reading. As it turned out, we didn’t get an end table, so I had to fashion one out of three boxes of comics, but hey, we were young, 21, 22. We made shelves out of bricks and boards and a desk from an unfinished door set on two filing cabinets.

Time passed, infidelities were committed, and a change of scenery was indicated. A few days before my 25th birthday, I packed up all my belongings and stuffed them into a storage space in Berkeley. At the centre was the recliner, maybe a little less cushy for the extra years of use, but still a fine specimen of reclinus americanus chairii, and a sad sight to behold locked away in the dark with nothing to support but a box of “Misc. Living Room Stuff,” as the label so tellingly had it. I went back to Edmonton, thinking I’d stay with my parents until I figured out what I wanted to do or until I couldn’t stand it anymore, whichever came first. Of course, it was “couldn’t stand it anymore” that came first, roughly 24 hours into my stay, but it took me several weeks to pry myself free. Then I bounced around. A month in Vegas. A couple of months in Pleasant Hill. Then mi amigo Bernardo and I got the place on 41st Street in Oakland, and the chair was free once more to spread its wings and sit in front of the television. This time, it had a companion. On the other side of the table (no boxes now) sat Bernardo’s easy chair (not, alas, a recliner). Both chairs were resolutely directed televisionward, just like Joey and Chandler’s chairs on Friends (though that was many years later). I would guess that if my chair had salad days, these were they – except possibly that Bernardo had cats and it was during this period that the stuffing started popping out of its shins after recurrent use as a scratching post.

It was only a year before the chair was back in storage. I bummed around from place to place, spending time in Vancouver and New Orleans before winding up back in the Bay Area and finally coming to a definitive end of the road with the LSW. I ended up in a dodgy sublet on Parker Street in Berkeley, again with Bernardo. We were two single guys at a very low ebb, and nothing could reflect it more clearly than our inability to get our shit together enough to at least buy futons. It was a two-bedroom apartment. The guy we sublet from had all his stuff locked up in one bedroom. I called the other, which was totally empty. That left Bernardo with the living room. Although that meant I got the privacy, Bernardo got the couch. He actually had something to sleep on. What did I get? That’s right. The recliner out of storage. This was what I called the Year in the Chair, and it may well have something to do with the chronic lower back pain I suffer from now.

I guess that’s when the chair really started to take a beating. A recliner’s not meant to be slept in every night, and I was doing that every night. Did I mention this was a time of low ebb? My life consisted of going to work, coming home, and watching television. Didn’t even have a recliner to watch from either – it was in the bedroom and the TV was in the living room. Oh yeah, I guess I got drunk now and then. It was a time of very determined inertia, and while I can’t say the recliner was my only friend, it sure seemed like my best one.

It was only one year, though. In the summer of 1993 everything returned to the storage space and I went back on the road. I ended up in New Orleans again, this time staying there nigh on three years. They were lean years, financially speaking, and maintaining the storage space was a bit of a burden. Housing was cheap in New Orleans, whereas the storage space in Berkeley raised the rent every year. I was bemused to realise in the first couple of months that I was paying more for storage than I was for housing. Still, somehow, I managed to scrape the money together every month, if not by the due date than at least before the final warning and impoundment of my belongings for auction. I paid a lot of late fees. It seemed worth it. Somewhere in the back of my mind was the thought that one day my recliner and I would be reunited.

In 1996 I was back in Oakland and had what seemed like a relatively permanent address. I was nervous to do so, but moving everything out of storage after seven years seemed like a step towards stabilizing my life. I didn’t go too nuts with it, mind you. Most of the stuff just went into the garage, where it could continue to mildew. The recliner, though…that came into the living room, where it could watch TV anytime it wanted. The years had taken their toll. It had a funky storage smell that no amount of airing out could truly cure. But then, the whole house had kind of a funky smell by then, and the chair didn’t particularly stand out. Nobody complained. The chair had a home for its twilight years.

In 1998, Mama Dog and I moved in together in an apartment down the street. For a while I was sort of between residences. I still paid rent at the house, and that’s where I left all my stuff, including the recliner, which Mama Dog had tactfully suggested might look better over there than in her home. I suppose that was foreshadowing, but I didn’t notice. Bernardo, the perpetual roommate, could keep an eye on my chair. I had other things on my mind.

In 2001, Mama Dog and I bought our house, and the time had finally come to consolidate my belongings from all my former residences. Still, she had a curious resistance to placing the chair in its natural habitat in the living room in front of the television. She seemed to think that the least accessible basement room – what long-time readers of this faversham will know as the Crap Room - was a better place for it. Well, I had to admit, the living room was kind of small, and with the couch and big table and all, there really wasn’t much room for a chair. I figured someday when I had things sorted out in the basement, the chair could be the centrepiece of the – oh, I don’t know, let’s call it the rumpus room. Sure. I could figure out how to put together a rumpus room. I’m always up for a rumpus. And perhaps we’ll take a trip to the big rock candy mountain, too.

Now, they don’t do it in quite the same way anymore, but around these parts we used to have what was called the “Bulky Waste Pickup Day” or, less formally, “Big Trash Day.” Once a year, on a different day in each neighbourhood, the City of Oakland would collect oversize trash – appliances, tires, hardware items, computers, scrap metal, and, oh, yes, furniture. The night before Big Trash Day – Big Trash Night, we called it – was kind of like a carnival. People would wander through the neighbourhood, looking at their neighbours’ leavings, scavenging garbage they thought they had a better use for. We’ve picked up several small items that way, shelves and cabinets, many of which are now waiting in our back yard to be put out on the sidewalk in some future Big Trash Night. It’s no longer a neighbourhood affair these days. You call to schedule your own individual pickup any one day of the year. It’s really not the same thing, but oh, as ever, well.

It was still traditional Big Trash Day in 2002, though, when Mama Dog suggested gently that maybe the time had come for me and the chair to go our separate ways. It was never going to make it up into the house and all it was doing now was holding up a still-unopened box marked “Misc. Living Room Stuff” and making the Crap Room smell funny. It required a certain painful amount of soul searching, but I was forced to conclude that Mama Dog was right. The chair was the solace of my dead years. It had been a staunch ally and a rare comfort in trying times, but it was a relic of the days when I was afraid to live, and I didn’t really have any business holding onto it while going about the business of making a home and a life. It was hard, but it really did have to go.

When Big Trash Night came, I hauled it and several other items of outlived usefulness onto the sidewalk in front of our house. Then we went out in search of useful things that other people were casting off for unfathomable reasons of their own. Big Trash Night goes well into the wee hours, and every now and then I would look out the window to see a group of people taking the measure of my chair, maybe trying to figure how they could haul it home without a truck or how they could convince their wife that it was worth grabbing despite the smell. Many looked. Nobody took. Not even the professional scavengers cruising the neighbourhood in their groaning pickups took it away, which I still can’t help finding a little insulting.

In the morning, most of the other crap we left out had been picked clean, but the chair was still there, parked at the edge of the curb. I heard the City trucks when they came, and I looked out the window just in time to see two burly men swinging the chair between them – one, two, three, and over the lip of the truck. It banged and clattered and diesel roared down the street. I gave a little salute. I thought perhaps I could hear “Taps” playing somewhere in the distance, though that was possibly my imagination. I was glad I’d looked in time to see it go, but it was bittersweet, like making it to the hospital before the end of your loved one’s prolonged mortal illness. I felt, I guess, a little at peace with my past.

That poignant sense of well-earned calm lasted until I was on my way to work. As I rounded the corner at Ayala Street, I happened to see the Bulky Waste truck stopped at the opposite corner. There were two burly men, and they were swinging some other poor mope’s mildewed easy chair off to its final reward. One, two, three, and over it went into the back of the truck. The difference is, this time the truck was parked at such an angle that I could see what happened next. This horrible maw of grinding metal closed in on the chair and snapped its spine. It open and closed, mashing the chair into splinters before my horrified eyes. I stared, too horrified to look away.

Until that moment, I swear to God, on some level I thought my chair had gone off to live on a farm in the country where it could chase rabbits all day long.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Bye-Bye Parents

And already the whirlwind visit is over. We had a meal at Rick and Ann's, a barbecue with the Pirate family, a walk in Point Isabel, many walks in the neighbourhood, Thai takeout the other night, a spontaneous look at O Brother Where Art Thou, pizza from Zachary's last night, and all the baby ogling that anybody could want.

I just got back from seeing my parents off to the airport, again filling the sensitive post of navigator, delicately balanced between my mother’s seething paranoia in the backseat and my father’s muted passive aggressiveness behind the wheel. It was actually fairly uneventful, freeway signage being an advanced art these days. The funniest part was somewhere after we got on to 101 South and I had my dad in what became the leftmost lane because I wasn’t sure which way thing shook down after the interchange. I was staring at signs not really paying attention as my mom said every few seconds, “It’s 50 here, Don.” “Donald, it’s 50!” I was jolted to wakefulness by the honking. I didn’t realise it was directed at us until an SUV sped past on the right, the driver apparently yelling something at us. I looked around and thought, “Oh, yeah, this is supposed to be the fast lane.” Apparently, traffic had been passing us on the right for a while and I hadn’t been noticing. Oy. I was in a car full of old people driving slow in the fast lane. I told my dad to shift over to the centre lane as soon as possible, and all was right in the world again. Except he was still going too fast for my mom’s taste. She’s not too keen on this “keeping up with the flow of traffic” concept.

Shortly after, cryptically, she said, “They drive just like in the car commercials here.” Kewpie doll to the best explanation of what she might have meant by that.

The rental car drop off was as mysteriously casual as the pickup had been. Drive in, park, quick chat with the attendant, then off you go. I wrangled us a luggage cart and led the way to the AirTrain. This was probably the happiest part of the journey back for my mom. We boarded the rear of the train, but because it was the end of the line, this became the front of the train as we set out. The AirTrains are like great big toy trains – they’re guided remotely by computer, so there’s no operator’s car to block the view at the front of the train. We were seated by the big front window and could watch the tracks rolling on ahead of us as we went round the long curve of the airport complex. At one point there was a curve with nothing on the right side but a shear drop, so my mother blanched and looked away then. But other than that it was happy.

I saw them off at the start of the security maze, then went up stairs to track their progress to the metal detectors. By the time I got to the upper level, though, I had lost them. It’s amazing how fast those lines move, and it’s not always obvious where they’re going. I assume they got in somehow, but the last I saw of them was heading into the cordons pulling a luggage cart behind. If found, please return to Edson, AB.