b Papa Dog's Blog: October 2004

Papa Dog's Blog

A Thing Wherein I Infrequently Write Some Stuff

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Have I Mentioned Before that I Hate My Job?

Longass muhfuh’n day for a weekend.

We babysat for the Pirates for a few hours this morning whilst they enjoyed a morning at the Movie Club. Baby Pirate is starting to work on a tooth and was noticeably crankier than when last we sat her. It’s always a strange little thrill to babysit the wee Pirate. Because she was born almost three months earlier, she seems to us a window on the future. As Baby Pirate goes so, three months later, goes Baby Dog. We’ve had the being born preview, the going out in public preview, the appearing aware of her surroundings preview, the making squawky noises preview, the holding up her head preview, and the rolling about in the crib preview. Today we previewed sitting up (assisted for getting into position, but self-maintained thereafter), focused playing with toys, and feeding with spoon rather than nipple. It’s very exciting to think that Baby Dog will be achieving these milestones, which now seem the stuff of bad 50s science fiction, in only a few short months.

After the Pirates reclaimed their offspring, I had to go in on a Sunday to my stupid job. The guy who would ordinarily take this bullet for me was in Yosemite this weekend, so I had to cobble together coverage with two other operators, each able to work short shifts, and my poor old self. The main cause of the weekend work is a big proposal going out Monday afternoon, which mostly entailed printing hundreds of ostensibly impressive résumés from people clearly proud of their accomplishments in the fields of dirt, sludge, and contaminants. My main focus for the first couple of hours, though, was a project going out tomorrow at noon, which I’d had to keep back-burnered through Thursday and Friday because of the proposal stuff. This was a data entry job, but not a simple data entry job. Simple data entry is the most miserable occupation imaginable until you remember that complex data entry is worse. Simple data entry is spending eternity with your toes in a meat grinder. Complex data entry is spending eternity with your toes in a meat grinder while listening to Air Supply.

What I mean by complex data entry in this case is a failure of congruency between the data source and the data destination, couples with a fatally vague set of directions (not unlike the one issued by the one issued by Lord Raglan at Balaclava). My data source is a passel of completed questionnaires (set up by me over several eye-blearing days a week or two ago) that were sent out to landfill operators throughout California and a few choice sites in other states. The problem is, the people who designed the questionnaire and the spreadsheet I was entering the responses in were apparently not on speaking terms. The categories correspond, but in rather a tenuous way, like they were perhaps the result of a game of telephone focusing on the topic of mass waste disposal. The result is that, instead of doing my job – which is, simply, you write some silly shit down and I’ll type it for you; you type the silly shit yourself but in a butt ugly way and I’ll pretty it up for you – I’m actually having to read the silly shit and make judgement calls about the meaning intended. My job doesn’t entail trying to figure out whether some douchebag landfill operator means to say his facility is X feet over sea level or over the surrounding grade. But that’s exactly what I had to expend energy thinking about today, and I’m a more angry and embittered man for it.

In fairness, I did get a little entertainment value for my time. I’ve learned there’s always a little entertainment in any large survey response. In this case, the two funniest responses were from rather opposite spectral ends. One guy, explaining what measures had been taken to respond to complaints neighbouring residents had about the noise from traffic in and out of the landfill, summoned all the empathy at his command and said: “None. The traffic’s not really from the landfill. I think the residents just like to complain.” At the other end of the evolutionary ladder (but for my purposes a bigger pain in the ass because his verbosity took forever to transcribe) was the guy who found a reason to quote Thoreau in the middle of his response to a questionnaire about a garbage dump. Okay, so there was entertainment, and I’m making a few extra bucks by going in today. But I’m still bummed at loss of good weekend time and am looking forward only to further stress in the morning – even with the three of us plus help from the graphics department, there’s still a crapload of stuff to get done before noon.

Dragged my tired ass over to the Pirates after for dinner and political talk. Mama Dog, the Pirates, and Mama Dog’s ex were poring over their ballot materials to figure out the dictates of their conscience on initiatives large and small. As ever (except for the two times I managed to vote in Canada), I’m an observer in democracy. I hope that all of you with the power to do so, though, will remember to go out on Tuesday and vote against Cheney and his minions in all their forms and guises

Oh – PS: Last night, we managed to watch an entire movie (Gigi) in one night! Not one sitting, of course, but you can’t have everything. We knew things were getting ridiculous when it took us three nights to finish LA Story, which is only 95 minutes long. I’m still not sure how we managed to get through Gigi (118 minutes) in one night. Partly, I guess, we started early. The main thing was, we put Baby Dog to bed earlier than usual, and it managed to take.

And PPS – Many thanks to Anonymous from Beantown for the roll of quarters! She and Charles have between them almost completed my collection(s). All I need now are Denver mintings of the Pennsylvania and Arkansas quarters and a Philadelphia minting of Iowa, and I’ll be done until Wisconsin comes out (if it hasn’t already). paul Anonymous suggests I collect the Canadian province quarters. I had no idea there was such a thing, and have yet to see one. I figure I can probably complete a collection over the weekend next time I’m in Canada, though. It doesn’t take as long to collect ten of something.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Another Boring Streak Saver

As you may have noticed, I closed the polls on the Presidential allure of Ms. Temperance Alesha Lance-Council. The final tally was: Sweater Girl – 3 votes; farm girl – 2 votes; and Arista recording artist – 2 votes. Like that other election thing going on, it was a statistical tie. In the interest of equal time for the ladies or whomever, I’ve put up another poll about the appeal and magnetism of some hot male politicians. Do chime in.

I finished Love and Hydrogen, which went a whole lost faster than Nana, probably at least partly because I now have time to read on BART and during lunch breaks. One of the last stories in the book, “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” was a history of The Who as told by a lovelorn John Entwistle. The collection is full of stories narrated in the first person by historical figures, or by fictional people about historical events; but I though it was a fairly audacious move to use a narrator who was probably still alive at the time the story was written (I’d have to track down when the story was first published, but it seems likely). It never occurred to me until reading this story that I didn’t really know much about The Who other than their music and the fact that Keith Moon used to destroy hotel rooms. It was surprising, for example, to learn that Roger Daltrey, who always struck me as a vapid pretty boy, was the pugnacious one of the band. He bullied Townsend and Entwistle in school and got his way in the early days of the band by physical aggression. Not at all what I would have guessed. (I should say here I’m not just taking some novelist’s word for all this; I found corroboration elsewhere for pretty much every thing that surprised me in the story).

Right now I’m starting Skeletons on the Zahara: A True Story of Survival by Dean King, the true story of an American merchant ship that wrecked on the coast of Africa in the 19th century. The crew had the bad luck to be discovered by Bedouins and spent several years in slavery. Looks to be a harsh read.

Turns out I didn’t have to work today, which is nice. I’ll be in there for a while tomorrow, though. With any luck I’ll get home too late to be plagued by the hordes of candy panhandlers. Er, uh, that is, I sure hope I’m home in time to see all the adorable little hobgoblins.

Friday, October 29, 2004

The Horror, The Horror

It’s after 8. What am I still doing at work? I’ve forgotten, you tell me. Oh yeah, earning money or something. Well, I’m about done with that shit. Just waiting for the print job to end and I can get out of here for tonight. I’ll probably be back for at least some of the weekend, though.

I almost forgot that it was Hallowe’en. I had this great idea to dress Baby Dog up as Marlon Brando as Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now. All she’d need is an olive drab t-shirt, some khaki pants, and a set of Doggy Dog’s old tags around her neck, and she’d be a dead ringer – she has the cheeks and the bald head and the chubby limbs already. Mama Dog did a desultory bit of fieldwork on the project the other day. She was at a hippydippy baby clothes store in North Berkeley, and asked the proprietor about baby-sized camo clothes. The lady was horrified. “We don’t encourage that sort of thing here. Try Target. “No,” (I wish I had been there to say) “we don’t want it in an earnest trailer trash way, we want it in an ironic postmodern way!” Ah well. Mama Dog has decided that Baby Dog’s not really ready for trousers anyway, what with the very bulky diaperage she wears, and also that the dog tags would be a choking hazard. Also, being actual dog tags, they’re probably in dire need of sterilisation, but the point is moo. (As some comedian or other said in a bit about cows not having points. I can’t remember what that was in. Anybody out there know? It’s not a Kelly Bundyism, is it?)

Tonight, when I told Dan the Chemist that we’d had plans to dress Baby Dog up as Colonel Kurtz, he said “Aw, her first Hallowe’en? That’s not fair, she should have a choice.” Well, that cuts to the moral heart of the issue, I guess. But it would’ve been damn cute.

Which reminds me – new parents out there, have you decided where you stand on the issue of The Big Christmas Lie? I haven’t really celebrated Christmas since 1986 or so, and now I’ve got to tell my child that some fat man with a herd of exotic livestock delivers presents all around the world in a night? Why do so many customs in our culture revolve around telling our children absolute bullshit?

Thursday, October 28, 2004

A Short Bit (After a Long Day's Work) About How I'd Rather Stay Home and Play with the Baby

Here’s a thing that Baby Dog and I are working on in our informal playtime R&D group (which we’re thinking of incorporating as Fun with Fingers and Noises, LLC, just as soon as we can arrange sufficient venture capital and Baby Dog learns how to make her mark on the articles of incorporation): I pretend to eat her fingers. While doing so, I pop my eyes and try to resemble Cookie Monster and make witty sallies such as “Uggabuggabuggabuggabugga.” Baby Dog then responds by laughing and kicking her legs. After a few repetitions, she might have a go at grabbing onto my lower lip and seeing how far she can stretch it out from its mooring on my face. At that point I’ll offer an observation along the lines of “Oogaboogaboogaboogabooga” and pretend to gobble her forehead. I suppose you have to be there, but she seems to think it’s jolly good fun.

Unfortunately, the time for developing such sure-fire commercially viable amusements is going to be scarce for the next little while. Work is busying up. I had to stay past close of business Tuesday and again tonight. Tomorrow I’ll probably be there until the cock crows, and as all my regular backup people are making themselves scarce, it’s looking more and more likely that I’ll be there a large chunk of the weekend. Needless to say, this blows. If only there was a regular living to be made off pretending to gobble fingers. Perhaps I should trademark “Uggabuggabuggabuggabugga” and see if anyone will buy it on a t-shirt.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

My Desert Island Movies

Mama Dog and I were talking t'other day about our desert island movies...if you were trapped on a desert island (with, apparently, a TV, a DVD player, and a power source that can be used for watching movies but for some reason not for summoning rescue), and could have only five movies with you, which ones would they be?

I always figure the main consideration is that the movie should be something I know I can watch endlessly without tiring of, so all the ones I picked are ones I've seen at least ten times:

1. Diner. I couldn't call this the best movie ever made, but I have to call it my favourite movie. I am a Diner Guy. It's hard to explain the appeal of this movie to someone it doesn't speak to. I was actually afraid to show this movie to Mama Dog, and balked in doing so for many years because I thought, irrationally, that our relationship might suffer if she watched it and didn't like it. I should have known better. She has now seen all of Levinson's Baltimore picture and really liked them all. Our marriage is secure.

2. Miller’s Crossing. Again, not everybody quite gets this one. I really didn't the first time I saw it. For some reason it became an entirely different movie to me the second time I saw it. I remember watching it with a couple of friends at L. Wong's place in Vancouver. When it was over, she said, "That was great, let's watch it again." So we rewound it and watched it again. It's the only movie I've ever done that with.

3. Casablanca. It's such a cliché to list this as a favourite movie. For decades, it was everybody's favourite movie. But there's a reason for that: it's a great fucking movie. It's the crowning miracle of the studio system. How could something this perfect come out of that assembly line? What I love most about it is the supporting ensemble. The tiniest speaking parts are played exactly the right way by exactly the right person. Like Leonid Kinskey as Sascha...that moment when Rick tells him to take poor drunken Yvonne home, and then cautions him to bring her right back. Sascha says, mournfully, "Oh, Rick." Like he wants to sound indignant about it, but is really just bummed that the boss is always a step ahead of him. It's a great little moment, and the movie's filled with them.

4. North by Northwest. It is necessary there should be a Hitchcock movie on the list, and this is the one I've always thought of as his greatest entertainment. Actually, now that I think of it I'd kind of like to watch it again now.

(A barely relevant aside: around our house, this movie is known as Northmeal West. That's because, in Elizabethan times (and earlier, I suppose), "meal" was a common suffix. Piecemeal, for example. What that means is "piece by piece." Inchmeal was a word, too, meaning "inch by inch." The "meal" suffix indicated that you take the noun preceding it, give it a double, and stick "by" between them. Poundmeal = pound by pound. Daymeal = day by day. So Northmeal West = North by Northwest.)

5. The Wild Bunch. "If they move...kill 'em." What other director would chose the moment his credit appears on screen to have his movie's protagonist make such an unheroic command? Sam Peckinpah, of course. The thing a lot of people don't get about Peckinpah's movies is that almost all of them are love stories, and this is maybe his greatest. All the love, of course, is between terrible men who kill people, but that somehow makes their unwavering devotion to each other and to abstract principles of loyalty all the more affecting. The tragically separated Pike Thornton and Deke Slayton have a frustrated romance on the same grand level as Inman and Ada in Cold Mountain. The difference is, Jude Law wasn't tortured by the thought that Nicole Kidman was a better man than he was.

Okay, so what're yours?

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

The Papa Dog Index (a Life at the Movies)

Year I First Became Movie-Mad: 1973

First Movies I Saw that Were Significant to Me: The Sting, American Graffiti

First Favourite Genre: Disaster Movies, 1974

An Evolution of Sorts:
Favourite Movie Star, 1974: Charlton Heston
Favourite Movie Star, 1975: Charles Bronson
Favourite Movie Star, 1976: Gene Wilder
Favourite Movie Star, 1977: Bruce Dern

Worst Movie I Ever Paid Money to See: Highlander II – The Quickening (Triple feature at the Paradise Theatre, Vancouver; three movies for $3.25, and having to sit through that one still made me feel ripped off. I don’t remember for sure what the other two were, but I think they might have been Out for Justice with Steven Seagal and Stone Cold with some hockeyball player and Lance Hendriksen. I saw them around the same time, at any rate. To put things in perspective, Highlander II – The Sickening made these two look good.)

Only movie I’ve ever walked out on: Something with Ione Skye. Can’t even remember which one for certain, but I think it might have been Dream for an Insomniac. We lasted almost fifteen minutes before deciding life was too short.

Only movie I’ve fallen asleep at since 1973: Rocky, double feature at the drive-in, Grande Prairie, AB, 1977. Opening feature was The Missouri Breaks, which was what I really wanted to see. My sister made us stay for Rocky even though I was sure it would blow. She thought Sylvester Stallone was hot.

Last time I saw a movie at the drive-in: Devil in a Blue Dress, in Tucson, AZ, 1995.
The time before that: Unforgiven with Diggstown, Nashville, TN (when fleeing hurricane Andrew), 1992.

Before that: probably Yellowbeard and The Man With Two Brains, in Sherwood Park, AB, 1983.

Before that: probably a triple feature of Creepshow/It’s Alive/Wolfen, Edmonton, AB, 1982. This was the dumbest drive-in experience I’ve ever had. It was summer in Edmonton, which means dusk didn’t arrive until on towards 11 p.m. They started Creepshow before the sun was all the way down. For the first fifteen or twenty minutes the movie was barely visible. By the time Wolfen was done, it was about five in the morning and it was only sheer force of will that kept this from being the second movie I fell asleep at.

Most movies I’ve seen in one day with each one being at a different theatre: four. 1996. Bernardo and I did a movie crawl through the East Bay. Started the morning with She’s the One at the Jack London Cinemas. Headed north to see something that neither of us can now remember at the Elmwood. Finished up in Berkeley with Lone Star at the Act and The Trigger Effect at the California. The only one worth a damn was Lone Star.

Number of times I’ve seen Lone Star: four.

Greatest number of days in a row I’ve gone to the movies: 365. My year at the movies.

First movie of the streak: Les Voleurs (Thieves), March 9, 1997, at the Elmwood. I remember almost nothing about this film.

Last movie of the streak: The Big Lebowski, March 8, 1998, at Jack London.

Total number of movies seen during the streak: 404.

Number of those that were repeats: 12.

(Therefore,) Total number of different movies: 392.

Minimum number of non-repeat movies each day: 1.

Most movies seen in one day during the streak: 3, three times. June 16, 1997 (Waiting for Guffman at the Elmwood, Buddy – what the hell was that? Oh yeah, that thing with Rene Russo and the gorilla – at the Grande Lake, and Grosse Pointe Blank at the Shattuck); on July 20, 1997, a Fassbinder threefer at the PFA (Nora Helmer, The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant, and The Merchant of Four Seasons); and again on Boxing Day, 1997 (Deconstructing Harry at the Act, Until the End of the World and Wings of Desire at the late lamented UC).

Movies seen the most times during the streak: Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, Boogie Nights, and L.A. Confidential (three times each).

Word that started more titles than any other (discounting “the” or “a/an”) during the streak year: “Love.” (Love and Other Catastrophes, Love is Colder than Death, Love Jones, Love Serenade, Love Walked In, and Love! Valour! Compassion!)

Biggest “what the hell am I doing here?” moment: Halfway into Warriors of Virtue, which is sort of like Teenage Mutant Ninja Kangaroos, only not as good as that sounds.

Okay, that's enough of that. My Presidential poll is now closed, and my scientific sample predicts that John Kerry will win the election by a five-to-one margin over his closest challenger, Green Party candidate David Cobb.

But now on to more crucial electoral matters. How about that Ms. Temperance Alesha Lance-Council?

Monday, October 25, 2004

More on the Candidates, and an Unanticipated Flashback to the 80s

Okay, I have to admit that since learning of her existence last Friday, I’ve developed an unseemly fascination with Ms. Temperance Alesha Lance-Council. Her NPAT responses are a little on the inscrutable side (she wants to greatly increase funding for pretty much everything but maintain the current tax structure?) and the organizations she lists membership in seem a little on the unconventional side (Kappa Alpha Psi Sweetheart Organization and the Screen Actors Guild), but damn is she foxy! She’s got them bedroom eyes! And – what’s the dignified, respectful, politically correct term? – oh yeah, that rack! I’m a happily married man who’d never stray, but hey, lemme tell ya, if I was a single fella right now, I’d be looking for a way to contact her to discuss farm subsidies, international free trade agreements, and the quality of life index, if you know what I mean and I think you do. I have to say, though, I’m terribly disappointed that she seems to have switched her official photo on Project Vote Smart in the last day or two. I thought the “sweater girl” look was quite fetching. In the new one she looks like somebody who maybe recorded for Arista in the 80s. Aw man, and she’s married too. I guess it just wasn’t meant to be.

Also, I’ve looked a little closer at the guy from the United Fascist Union, and I’m kind of sorry I left him off the poll. Check out the Marvin the Martian headgear! The guy’s not talking Hitler and Mussolini, he’s talking Imperial Rome, as he so uh…eloquently explains on his official site. Oh, well, that’s entirely different. I suppose the party's name should have been a tip-off that he was either kidding or truly loopy. “United Union?” As opposed to a Divided Union? Do we really need to be reassured that the fascists aren’t divorcing themselves? His NPAT responses are a compelling but sublimely off-kilter read…kind of like some demented Ken Follett novel translated into Japanese and then back again by Google. Hey, and like the alluring Ms. Lance-Council, he lists his membership in the Screen Actors Guild!

And on the home front…Baby Dog continues to draw from me inner resources I didn’t know I possessed. Like yesterday, I was singing to her and discovered to my puzzlement that I knew all the words to Solsbury Hill. I remember spending an afternoon decoding them all at Mikef’s place in Fontana, but that was sometime in the late 80s. Why, of all the brain cells to retain since then, do I still have that one? And boy, do those words sound silly without a professional singer and proper studio arrangements to make them unintelligible. Like this little rhyme: “When illusion spin her net/I'm never where I want to be/And liberty she pirouette/When I think that I am free.” Uh…okay, that’s all ethereal and mysterious, Pete, but what the fuck’s it supposed to mean? All right, “liberty she pirouette,” I suppose that means that freedom eludes your grasp, but freedom from what? And could you possibly have found a more ungainly and impenetrable way to express it? And let’s not even talk about your verb tenses. You’re an Englishman, damn it, you should know better.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Non, je ne regrette rien

Robert said something interesting about something he thought was interesting in my post from a couple days ago about the lady whose grandchild was not grounded but drownded. I’d disagree that my wish for a redo on that moment was in any way altruistic. Certainly, I’d find it to my benefit to have the lingering residue of guilt and embarrassment erased from my memory. Be that as it may, this gives me an excuse to expound a little further on a related subject that I didn’t manage to crowbar into the earlier post. There’s a…maybe not a philosophy, let’s call it a guiding principle…that I’ve long tried, sometimes successfully, to live by. It’s articulated pretty thoroughly (though in a different language) in an Edith Piaf song. No regrets. I’m sure the underpinnings of my adherence to this principle are different from Edith’s, and they’re essentially cowardly. My assumption has always been that my life, even at its lowest ebb, could have always been worse. Even at my unhappiest, I’ve never been in real physical discomfort, poor health, imminent peril, dire straits. I’ve always, one way or another, managed a roof over my head, three meals a day, and loose enough change for the occasional movie. When I think of it that way, I think of that Ray Bradbury story where the death of a prehistoric butterfly at the hands (foot, actually) of a time traveler changes the history of the world. Who knows what single altered moment in my past could have skewed all that followed enough to leave me now scratching these words into a prison wall instead of typing them into a Faversham? Not me. So I’ll take the good, I’ll take the bad (I'll take them both and there you have The Facts of Life). All of them, every incident and accident, is a factor in an equation that adds up to here and now and who I’ve turned out to be. I’m not so bad, I think, and I’ve got it pretty good. Better not to mess with the equation.

Tonight, on the way back from dinner (our second time eating out by ourselves since Baby Dog’s birth, both times courtesy of Gran’s Sitting Service), Mama Dog was musing about the year 1991, when she was unattached but I was in Vancouver. What if, huh? We knew each other slightly back then. What if I hadn’t gone on my extended wanderjahr? We could have met back then and saved a lot of time and messiness. Yeah, or we could have been each other’s sorry rebound tale from the early 90s. I’m not a big believer in fate or predestination or any other such hocus jumbo, but I believe that we got together when we had to get together…if we were to arrive at the here and now. I regret nothing, and I’d change nothing, when every little bit of happenstance or mortification or pain or ugliness might be the glue holding together the Rube Goldberg device that brought me here tonight, typing away at y’all with only one little kitchen wall separating me from she who now lies in hard-won slumber, the most beautiful little girl in the world.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Another Post that Rather Lacks Focus But Maybe Has a Couple of Yuks If You Like this Sort of Thing

Gran’s here again and Mama Dog is for some reason reacting by going into a cooking frenzy. She concocted alphabet soup (letters bought bulk at the Berkeley Bowl) for lunch and has spent the late afternoon baking a pumpkin pie. Just now she was musing about making pesto for supper, though I don’t think that’s going to happen. Round here it’s all about the food normally – when Gran’s here, it somehow becomes really all about the food. I’m just trying to stay out of the way over by the computer lest I get clotheslined on the salad spinner string.

I’ve been recalled to active duty as designated sleep bringer the last while. Baby Dog no longer requires swaddling (nor could it possibly work unless we wrapped her up in a beach towel or something), but when she reaches a critical stage of crankiness at bed time, the most reliable way to seal the deal seems to be a little rocking of the Co-Sleeper accompanied with the patented Daddy “shusssshhh.” For some reason I’ve had to do a little shushing most nights this past week. This morning after the morning nurse, Baby Dog was snuggled happily on Mama’s chest. Having to get up, Mama Dog passed Baby over to me. I was sceptical of my ability to provide a suitable resting place, lacking as I do the cushy appointments, but with a little bottom patting and back stroking, Baby Dog was quickly drowsing and then snoozing on my chest. I think I might have dozed off myself while Mama Dog was taking Doggy Dog out for his walk. Later, after a little soap in the eye at bath time sparked a crying jag, I was called in as a pinch shusher. This time I tried combining the shushing with the bottom patting and back stroking, and that worked not unlike gangbusters. We sat on the rocker and rocked and shushed and patted and stroked until I was surprised to find that she was asleep again. A three-hour nap ensued, which is pretty unprecedented these days. Later – and I suppose I can’t really take credit for this – she snoozed off again in the crib while I was folding her laundry on the changing table. I never would have predicted that I have a talent for this, but I suppose those of you who don’t have children are already feeling my powers of enforced somnolence just by reading this post. I’m just happy to have proof that Baby dog, like her mother before her, finds me a calming presence in her life.

Hey, so far John Kerry’s polling at 100% in my scientific sample! If you’re interested, here’s the site where I found all the candidate photos. There are about 75 candidates, so I couldn’t include them all in my poll, but I tried to represent the entire political spectrum, from conservative (Kerry) to moderate (Cobb) to left-of-centre (Brown) to You Go, Girl! (Lance-Council) to “What’s this, a frat pledge?” (Strauss). I winnowed out the beyond-the-pale extreme far right candidates (Bush and the guy from the United Fascist Union), because I figured most of the people reading this Faversham are neither corporate criminals nor religious loons (nor, probably, brownshirts); the other Republican candidate, because he's unsafe at any speed; most of the Independents, because I didn’t want to spend my lunch hour reading their position papers trying to tell them apart; and the Libertarian because while I have to admit they usually come out on the right side on most social issues not involving automatic weapons, they tend to be smug dicks. But, hey, the poll will be up until Tuesday. Make your vote count here now even if it won’t there in two weeks.

Friday, October 22, 2004

I'm Tired and Crabby, So Let's Just Do a Poll Thing

You know what I hate? I hate polls on CNN.com or MSN.com or whatever corporate site that present multiple choice questions along the lines of: “What’s the greatest movie in the history of cinema: A) The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King; B) Finding Nemo; C) Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl; D) The Matrix Reloaded; or E) Bruce Almighty?

Long stupid day at work today enlivened only when an unexpected five-minute emergency turned out to be my Get Out of Jail Free card from the pointless office-wide staff meeting that was threatening to be an eternal torment, or at least one lasting from 3:30 to 5:30 and preventing me from getting done the actual work that piled up while I was archiving stuff that the marketing manager should have taken off the marketing drive a year ago.

Yes, that was a run on. Blow me.

It’s pretty sad to think that I felt like I was winning some sort of victory by “getting” to do my work, but at least I didn’t have to stay late tonight or be buried Monday morning. And I guarantee nobody in the meeting was awake enough to notice that I never came back.

So with that we’ll close the polls, get the new one up, and call it a day. According to my statistically valid sample of nine of you, my aversion to condiments is the most baffling, or at least it is to four of you. Two each were puzzled by my hatred of mushrooms and eggs, while only one thought ruling out every kind of seafood imaginable because of one bad experience with halibut in a lemon sauce was just a tad strange. Nobody stood up for beans, which I can’t say I find surprising.

I’m knackered. More tomorrow.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

The Moment I Would Most Like to Do Over if I Could (A Confession)

I’ve had a lot of jobs. I’ve been (in chronological order, as best I can remember, and eliminating repeat performances) a clerk typist, a bartender, a groundskeeper, a blackjack dealer, a carpet cleaner, a record store clerk, a warehouseman, a comic shop clerk, a secretary, a word processor, a door-to-door salesman, a technical editor, a motel clerk, a data entry clerk, and an accounting drone. I guess you could count writer and publisher too, because I’ve been paid to do both things, but I’ve always tended to think of them more as hobbies. I worked primarily for temp agencies through the 90s, and did so many different things that I’m probably leaving something out of the list. Like once I got paid to pretend to take a job interview. Seriously.

Anyway, in the main list of jobs, far afield as it does stray, I find the common thread running through them all is that none of them mattered in the slightest. None had any effect on anybody else’s life. If I ever failed to show up for the job (which I never have), the person who had to cover me would have been annoyed that day, but other than that the impact on the continued rotation of planet Earth would be approximately nil.

There was one exception, but I didn’t really appreciate that fact until too late.

When I was temping in New Orleans, I somehow got typecast in the medical field. This happens to temps. If you do an assignment at a used car lot, your agency notices this on your profile and the next time a job at a car lot comes up, you get sent. In the Bay Area, I was an engineering guy. In New Orleans I was a hospital guy. My longest-term assignment was at the hematology/oncology doctor’s office at a hospital for children. If “hematology/oncology” aren’t words that immediately register for you, they mean blood diseases and cancer. If a child was a patient of any of the doctors I worked for, then that was one gravely ill child.

I was brought in as a secretary. I despise secretarial work, but there just wasn’t straight word processing work to be had in New Orleans. It was either that or retail. Fortunately, when the staff got wind of my typing skills, they took advantage. I did mostly transcription work. This helped me be even more isolated from the actual work of the department than I would have been. I worked in the doctor’s office, mind, not the clinic. I rarely if ever had contact with the patients or their families, other than to make appointments for them by phone. I knew them only as names on charts that the doctors would have me pull before the clinic opened for the day.

Still, I had to answer the phone now and then. One day the grandmother of one of the patients called. The patient was a little boy, around six years old I think, though I couldn’t swear to it. Grandparents often made the appointments. Often they were the primary caregivers. I don’t remember if that was the case in this instance. The lady asked for her grandson’s doctor, who was the head of the department. He was at that moment on rounds or in clinic or somewhere, so I asked to take a message. She said something that I couldn’t at first make sense of. I thought she said to tell the doctor that her grandson was grounded. I couldn’t fathom why she’d be calling an oncologist about her grandchild’s disciplinary problems. I said “Excuse me?” She again said something that I thought was “He’s grounded.” Excruciatingly densely, excruciatingly slow on the uptake, I said, “He’s grounded?” She repeated a third time, now enunciating so slowly and so loudly that I couldn’t fail to understand. She was saying “drownded.”

My throat closed. There was a horrible silence. I could hear the clock tick.

This boy – he’d gone through so much. He was in his second remission. The doctors were sure they’d beaten the cancer this time—and then he drowned in a swimming pool.

And I’d made his grandmother tell me so three times.

I have a hard time imagining even now how awful that must have been for her. In truth, she sounded strangely calm the whole time, almost nonchalant. When I want to feel better about it—that is, whenever I think about it—the way I look at it is that she was probably so in shock that she wasn’t capable of being upset by the insensitivity of some idiot on the phone. She was coming from such a deep dark pit of grief that lower-level emotions like irritation were completely off her radar. I was probably more appalled by my behaviour than she was. She may have said “he’s drownded” so many times that those few more repetitions came out like so much air from a leaky tire. Anyway, she didn’t cuss me out. I would have, I think.

However she was feeling then, I was faced with the problem of getting off the phone without making matters worse. Normally this is the sort of thing I’d get through with a self-deprecating chuckle, but how could I do that? Clearly not an option. All I could do was cringe and put on my most solemn voice and apologise and promise to find the doctor and have him call her back as soon as possible. So I did that, and hung up, and stared for a moment at my desk calendar. Then, because I’m a shitty secretary, it failed to occur to me that I should just page the doctor. I waited instead for him to come back from clinic to give him his messages, and that ended up taking longer than expected. He was pissed at me for not letting him know right away. I was pissed at me too. I’m pissed at me more now. Now I have a child. I’ve only had to call the paediatrician’s office a couple of times, but each time I’ve hoped that it’s a better secretary than me answering the phone.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

The Dog Shelter and the Light Brigade

Literary spoilers below, if you care. Don’t read if you don’t want to know how a couple of short stories end.

I’ve been making my way through the book of Jim Shepard stories, and in fact yesterday’s post was in a way inspired by one of them. The story, “Reach for the Sky,” is about an employee at an animal shelter, fed up with the people dropping off unwanted dogs that will most likely end up euthanized. All day long, he sees dogs getting dropped off by people who don’t generally display much sense of responsibility. He tries not too successfully to hide his contempt for them while still trying to talk them into keeping the dogs. It’s a very short story, but it manages a really delicate shift in sympathy in a very short space. For the first while, I was quite naturally nodding along and identifying with the shelter guy – for one thing, I too hated the customers when I worked retail. For another, the people dropping off the dogs – or rather, their children, who get delegated to do the drop-off – do seem to be shallow selfish people. How dare they take responsibility for a dog and then send it off to be killed because it chewed a slipper? That is – if you’ll refer back to my last post – breaking the compact. Bad human, no biscuit. Then a man in a wheelchair shows up, wanting to drop off his eleven-year-old Irish setter. The shelter guy immediately gets his hackles up. He starts asking probing questions, trying to find a way to get the wheelchair guy to keep the dog. He fails to see the obvious: the dog is immaculately groomed; the man in the wheelchair has taught it tricks. Clearly, the man has cared for the dog, is close to the dog; and clearly, if he’s giving her up it’s because he has to, for reasons that simply aren’t any business of the man behind the counter at the animal shelter. The shelter guy’s relentless, though. He keeps asking questions and trying to talk the wheelchair man out of leaving the dog until they come to this final, impassable exchange:

“If I were you I’d keep that dog.”
“If you were me you would’ve wheeled this thing off a bridge eleven years ago. If you were me you wouldn’t be such a dick. If you were me you would’ve taken this dog, no questions asked.”

The story’s barely six pages long, and it’s a really lovely bit of craft, the way the narrator goes from seeming like a put-upon speed bump in a superhighway of inhumanity to a petty little bureaucratic thug. Of course, he’s both things, which is why he still manages to retain the reader’s sympathy in the end.

The next story I found even more effective. It’s called “Alicia and Emmett with the 17th Lancers at Balaclava.” For those of you who aren’t up on your 19th century European history – and I suppose there might be one or two of you – “the 17th Lancers at Balaclava” would be the Charge of the Light Brigade, which was both one of the greatest acts of bravery and one of the greatest acts of stupidity ever undertaken by British soldiers. What happened was: at the end of the most remarkable day in the Crimean War, the commander of the British forces, seeing a detachment of Russians carrying away the British guns on the heights, sent orders to the Light Brigade to follow the enemy and prevent them from carrying away the guns. The problem was, the order was so vaguely worded as to be nonsensical when received by the Light Brigade. The pillaging Russians weren’t visible from where they were situated. The only Russians with artillery they could see were the ones in the main mass of the Russian army arrayed before them. The order seemed to be directing the Light Brigade – fewer than 700 horsemen – to charge across an open plain a mile long into the face of an army arrayed around three sides of the plain. The very thought was lunacy, so of course they did it. Shepard makes a nice analogy: “It’s as if a dachshund, turned loose to sic a kitten that it didn’t know was nearby, decided instead to go after what it could see: a bear flanked by wolves.” They charged the Russian guns and were destroyed. Fewer than 200 of the Light Brigade survived the disaster.

Shepard’s story begins: “Alicia and Emmett find themselves with the 17th Lancers at Balaclava.” Emmett, it appears, is a Captain in the Light Brigade and Alicia, his wife, is apparently a subordinate officer. Right away this seems odd as, to the best of anybody’s knowledge, there weren’t any women in the Light Brigade or anywhere else in the British cavalry in the 19th century. Eventually it becomes clear that they are not, in fact, with the 17th Lancers at Balaclava, but at their home in New Jersey, where they’re waiting to learn whether or not the lumps below their three-year-old son’s lymph nodes are cancer. The story continues to flit back and forth between Alicia and Emmett with the 17th Lancers at Balaclava and Alicia and Emmett at home in New Jersey, arguing. Emmett, it turns out, is a costume designer, which makes sense of the microscopic detail used to describe the Hussar’s caps and the piping on the officers’ trousers. Emmett has always been obsessed with the Light Brigade, and now he’s got the chance to be the technical consultant on a multi-million dollar version of the story. It’s his dream job, but he has to got to Hollywood now to meet with the producers if he wants the job. Alicia is aghast. How can he ever consider leaving his family at such a time of crisis? As the story continues to cut back and forth between Balaclava and New Jersey, we see that Emmett is filtering his life through the metaphor most dominant in his mind at the time. The pursuit of his own ambition, it seems, is the Valley of Death. What he really needs to do is stay home and take care of his family, but he seems doomed to charge.

Conceptually, it’s kind of similar to the Mars Attacks! story I mentioned a post or three back, but for my money it works a whole lot better. The Mars Attacks! story struck me as a little too mechanistic and overly impressed with its own cleverness. This one works a lot more organically and builds to a climax that truly justifies the metaphor.

But hey, maybe this all just means I’m liking stories about dogs and babies more lately.

In other things: You may have noticed that I closed the “Which of Papa Dog's preoccupations do you find the most interesting?” poll. With a whopping statistical sample of ten votes, the final tally was a tie between the stuff about the baby and the cranky rants about bad customer service. I was saddened to see that nobody was willing to stand up for the stuff about how he really needs to read all those old newspapers. Still stuck in mid-August, if you were wondering. I’ve decided that I’m going to put new polls up every Tuesday and Friday, so you’ve got a couple of days to make your views known on the subject of my food aversions.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Doggy Dog and the Meat

Whenever we have meat for supper (and that’s most nights – sorry, Lisa), I save a morsel for the dog. Sometimes I’ll drop it at the bottom of the bowl as incentive for him to eat his kibble (which doesn’t seem to be as much of a problem as it was when we first got him). Sometimes I’ll let him clean my plate. From time to time, Mama Dog will grumble about my spoiling him, but I explain it very seriously as my way of honouring the dog/human compact. The way I see it, we have a very close alliance, closer than the U.S. and Canada, closer even than the robber barons and the Christian right. No other animal can seriously be considered so thoroughly entwined with the fate of Man, not even by the most deranged cat fancier. When was the last time a cat saved Timmy from the well? Never, that’s when. A cat could give a shit about Timmy, and God help the little prat if he clambers out of the well without some tuna. Since long before recorded history, dogs and people have depended on one another; we for service, hunting, security, protection, and companionship; they for a warm place to sleep and the odd scrap from round the fire. It’s such a pitiably lopsided arrangement I sometimes feel guilty giving the dog only the fatty bits of steak that I don’t like. Here, Doggy Dog, have the steak. Have potatoes, too, they’re good for you. You deserve it. You’re a good dog, and what a wonderful thing that is for my people. You watch over my wife and daughter. If you bark in the night, we take it seriously. I’m not sure you can accurately distinguish the relative threat levels posed by a knife-wielding maniac and a squirrel on the back steps, but still – you’re doing your best and you’d do it whether I ever gave you any of the good food or not.

There have been abuses, of course. When we got Doggy Dog he was so well behaved that we wouldn’t think twice about leaving meat unattended on the kitchen table. He’d never go near it without permission. A few things have changed since then. One, as referenced above, I’ve been spoiling him shamelessly. Two, what was the kitchen table is now Baby Dog’s changing station, and what’s now the kitchen table is exactly chin high for our great big dog.

We first realised the gravity of the situation during one of Mama Dog’s mother’s recent visits. Mère de Mama Dog was a-whippin’ up a mess of mandu, under close observation by the dog. We were in the living room. Something happened – perhaps Baby Dog did something cute – that caused Mère de Mama Dog to come into the living room for a moment or two. When she turned back to the kitchen, Doggy Dog had already conducted a rampage through the mounds of raw pork conveniently located chin-high at the edge of the kitchen table.

Later, when my parents were in town, I was waxing disciplinarian with the dog. His obtrusiveness at the table was getting out of hand. With the addition of the swing and assorted other baby accoutrements, space is ever more at a premium in our kitchen, and Doggy Dog at mealtimes was constantly underfoot. Long ago we read somewhere that akitas have “an almost mystical ability to avoid being underfoot.” We laugh when we recall that. Hah, how amusing! The day the mystical abilities were being handed out, Doggy Dog evidently had a prior engagement. With dinner guests at the table, the situation got close to untenable. If his chin wasn’t on the table it was in somebody’s lap. I had to get stern. I would make him lie down throughout dinner, but of course the second he detected moving food, he’d be up again. I started to get cross with the dog, which I don’t enjoy. I found myself forced to manhandle and dominate. My dad, who is the softy to end all softies where dogs are concerned, surreptitiously dropped scraps under the table, apparently unaware that you need a tablecloth to properly camouflage that sort of thing.

A week or two back, I was having hot dogs for lunch. Mama Dog was doing something on the computer, the bad old computer, which was then at its most cantankerous. She asked me how to do some computer thing. I stood and turned – the desk with the computer is right behind my seat at the table – and spent no more than two seconds answering. When I turned back, there was an empty hot dog bun on my plate with a little chunk torn out of it. Below, there was a happy dog licking a little juice off the floor.

It’s funny now, yeah – well, Mama Dog thought it was funny then, but it wasn’t her lunch. Me, I was too busy seeing red to laugh. I don’t know that I’ve ever been so mad at the dog. I yelled. I told him he was bad, which I don’t think I’ve ever said before. I grabbed him by the collar, hustled him out the back, and slammed the door on him. He’s done bad things before. Four times he’s injured other animals (two dog, two cats; both dogs and one of the cats belonging to friends of ours) and I’ve been able to excuse it as hunting instinct, or Business Between Dogs, but this…this was thievery. This was breaking the pact.

On the other side of the door, he was whining and yelping and scratching. It’s his worst nightmare to be separated from his people. I cracked the door and told him to lie down and stay. He did, and I slammed it shut again. I was still too mad to let him in. I made him stay out until I had finished my lunch. When he came back in, he defined “hangdog.” Since that day we’ve had a zero tolerance policy regarding his face coming anywhere near the tabletop. It seems to be working.

I still feed him scraps. Because he’s my dog, damn it.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Estate Planning

So, we’re going to make wills. We’ve talked before about doing this, but never too seriously and never with any urgency. I didn’t take it too seriously I guess because even though I’ve long been what one would technically have to call a bourgeois homeowner, I still sometimes think of myself as an assetless bohemian. I know all the best ways to sneak off the property undetected in case I ever have to get around the landlord, even though I don’t have a landlord. Funny how having a child focuses you on the here and now, though. I no longer have the luxury of assuming that my existence has little or no consequence to anyone. I mean, sure, Mama Dog would have grieved if I’d popped off a year or two ago, but she’d still know how to feed herself. Baby Dog, though…different matter entirely. It would be utterly irresponsible of us not to plan for her welfare in the worst of eventualities. It doesn’t much matter who gets my back issues of Premiere magazine (hint: Bernardo, free up some closet space, just in case), but who will be Bay Dog’s guardian? What will we do with the house? Who will be appointed by the court to see to it that she understands that colour is properly spelled with a “u?”

Best case scenario, of course, is that both we live until she’s at least 18, and there are no problems. But I suppose “we live and there are no problems” is kind of the default best-case scenario in any given situation.

And paul, I'll be leaving the company's leftover inventory to you. Hope you have a big garage. If you come down for a reunion in February, I'll let you off the hook.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Still More Random Crap

Not too much to say today – I’m all wore out from figuring out how to put the silly poll in the sidebar. I had a bit of a panic when I first set it up. Stupid Bravenet doesn’t give any warning that the default format includes one’s name in the title at the top of the poll box. I was aghast when I saw my actual name, which I’ve gone to such absurd lengths to avoid, showing up on my faversham. I scrambled to delete it, but right at that moment Baby Pirate arrived to be babysat for a few hours. Isn’t that always the way? I managed to juggle code-deleting and door-answering adroitly enough that I had the poll deleted before anybody but two random nextbloggers had a chance to see it. Took forever after that to work out how to have it say, as it should, “Papa Dog’s Mini Poll.” Happily, Baby Pirate is the sort of tyke who enjoys sitting on a lap whilst computing takes place (as opposed to Baby Dog, who’d rather be in the swing), so multi-tasking was not too difficult.

Hats off to everyone out there with twins, trips, or more, by the way. Having the two girls for just a few hours was really pretty easy. They took turns with everything; eating, napping, being cranky, so nothing got too stressful. But I can imagine how much harder it would be having two infants than one, particularly in those relentless early weeks.

And I’ll be letting the poll sit where it is for a while, if it’s all the same to you. The topic will change at irregular intervals, so look at it from time to time.

Forgot to mention the other day – Chris Rock’s going to host the academic awards! I can’t believe the Academy codgers have managed to come this close to being au courant. Chris Rock’s peak of relevance is barely three years old, as opposed to Whoopsi’s, which was sometime around 1986 or so. I’m now officially looking forward to the Oscars this year. I hope he manages to find a way to do something close to his own thing in that hidebound pabulumised context.

And even older news that I forgot to comment on at the time - Conan O’Brien’s the designated replacement for Leno? How pissed would you be if you were David Letterman? You get passed over for the promotion you’ve been waiting eleven years for, you go to another company – and eleven years later the boss gives that dream job to the guy who replaced you.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Odds, Ends (Mostly Tardy Ones)

I did watch the last debate t’other night and have to say, in my usual objective and non-partisan way, that Governor Bush got clobbered like a Rock-‘em Sock-‘em Robot with a broken joystick. The insta-pundits after the show were saying that it was Bush’s best performance of the three debates, but I think it was probably his worst, or at least his second-worst – I didn’t see all of his scowling in Debate I. I thought Bob Schieffer's questions were the toughest and most unpredictable we’ve seen in a mostly softball debate season. Governor Bush looked particularly flummoxed by the question about influenza vaccine. I don’t have an exact transcript at hand, but I recall his answer being something along the lines of “Uh – bwuh – fuh – uh – vaccine – uh – hum – er – it was England’s fault!” He was so flustered, he couldn’t even think of a way to make it about the terrorists. Then there was his staggeringly blatant lie about never having said he was unconcerned about Osama bin Laden. Granted, it’s been a couple of years since he made that statement, but it got so much media play at the time that even in this short-attention spanned amnesia-prone electorate, a great number of viewers surely recognised that they were seeing a flat-out lie being told by this allegedly square-talking straight shooter. Kerry, by contrast, was never thrown off stride, was direct, aggressive, and confident, and kept his answers short and simple enough for even the most blighted log in the pile. And as has been the case in each of the four debates, the Democratic candidate made fewer, smaller, and less crucial distortions than the bad guy. Yes, it’s sad that it comes down to who tells the smallest whoppers, but now more than ever that’s politics in America.

I may be a wishfully thinking new parent here, but I’m convinced that Baby Dog has in the last few days learned to understand a new phrase. The last weeks or so, she’s started to react to having her tummy tickled. She grins, squirms, and even laughs. Encouraged, I’ve made a game of it. I’ll bug out my eyes and waggled my fingers and say “Tummy tickles!” as a prelude to the actual tickle. She seemed to find that even funnier, so I made a bigger production out of it. Today, I noticed that even without the eyebrow bobbling and finger waggling, when I say “Tummy tickles!” she starts to laugh in anticipation. She knows what’s coming.

Got a little bit of reading done the last while. I’m still in mid-August with the newspapers, but at least I retired a few sections. You may have noticed in the sidebar that I finally finished Nana, which was splendid. I’ve started reading Love and Hydrogen, a collection of short stories by Jim Shepard. I’ve finding it less compelling than a novel of his I read last year, but anthologies are always a mixed bag. This one is assembled from the sort of pop cultural detritus I usually like. In the first six stories – as far as I’ve gotten thus far – we have doomed lovers on the Hindenburg; a tale of dysfunctional siblings filtered through recollections of Mast Attacks cards; a child who identifies with Lon Chaney in Phantom of the Opera; and the one I’ve found most intriguing thus far, where Shepard does to Creature from the Black Lagoon what John Gardner did to Beowulf in Grendel - he retells the story, only from Gill Man’s point of view.

Actually, having written that, it’s striking me more and more as just a rehash of the sort of thing Gardner did thirty years ago, and so maybe “intriguing” is overstating things. But he does get cheekiness points for putting a crappy 50s monster movie on an equal footing with the most ancient surviving narrative of western civilisation.

Which reminds me. I remember reading a story in the news some years back about the discovery of a set of tablets on which was carved at least some of the tale of Gilgamesh. A big deal was made, because it was the oldest version of the story ever unearthed. What enchanted me about the story was the fact that on the back of the tablets there was carved some more prosaic material – inventories of grains or livestock or something like that. When I read that, I felt a sudden awareness of the kinship I bear to distant ancestors, because it seemed obvious to me that whoever wrote that version of Gilgamesh wrote it the same way I’ve written most every story I’ve managed to finish in the last ten years – at work, getting paid to do something else. Clearly, the table was like an anti-boss screen saver. The anonymous scribe would compose epic poetry until the sound of the overseer’s footfalls. Maybe somebody called out “look busy.” Over flips the tablet and by the time the boss has arrived, all there is to see if the number of chickens requisitioned for sacrifice to Baal. I guess there’s something to be said for feeling like part of a tradition.

Friday, October 15, 2004

The Flowers in the Valley

The other morning, with a song in my head, I asked Mama Dog: “If you lived in medieval times, in a valley with your mother, and one day knights started showing up, competing for your attention, which of the following propositions do you think you’d find more enticing? Proposition number one: ‘Wilt thou be my bride, wilt thou be my queen?’ Proposition number two: ‘Wilt thou be my love and my fair one?’” Mama Dog, under the misapprehension that this some personality test riddle I got off the Internet, thought it through and decided that, given the parameters of the question, specifically the stipulation that she would be living in medieval times, she would find proposition number one more enticing. She reckoned it sounded like an invitation to marriage and respectability, while proposition number two sounded more like an invitation to concubinage and hoochie coochery.

It wasn’t an Internet quiz, though. It was the song in my head, which was The Flowers in the Valley, an old song of indeterminately British (though I’d guess English, from the sound of it) origin that the Clancy Brothers sang and even used as the name of an album. In the song, the maiden in the valley rejects proposition number one and accepts proposition number two. I’ve wondered from time to time what informed her decision. The song tells almost nothing about the knights, who are distinguishable only by the colours they wear (which is actually probably important, more on which in a moment), so we’re left to conclude that the maiden’s choice is made by the specific words they use to woo her. My theory: the first proposition, while cloaked in respectability, is really an appeal to her superficial material desires. This knight – the green knight – seems to be in the market for a bride, and pretty much any will do. The second knight – the yellow knight – seems to have his sights set more specifically on her. He’s not looking for an interchangeable unit to fill some societally determined role (i.e., bride, queen), but for love. He also tells her she’s hot, which never hurts.

Here are the full lyrics to the song, as I transcribed them this morning. I’d link you to one of those newfangled MP3s about which all the kids are so crazy, but I can barely find a trace of this version of the song on the Internet. If you want, come over to my house and I’ll play it for you. I have it on a phonograph record.

There was a woman
Ah, but she was a widow
Fair as the flowers in the valley
With a daughter as fair
As a fresh sunny meadow
The red and the green and the yellow
No harp, no lute, no pipe, no flute, nor cymbal
As sweet goes the treble violin

This maiden so fair and the flowers so rare
Together they grew in the valley

Then came a knight all dressed in green
Fair as the flowers in the valley
“Wilt thou be my bride, wilt thou be my queen?”
The red and the green and the yellow
No harp, no lute, no pipe, no flute, nor cymbal
As sweet goes the treble violin

“Ah no,” said she, “you’ll never win me.”
Fair as the flowers in the valley

Then came a knight dressed in yellow
Fair as the flowers in the valley
“Wilt thou be my love, and my fair one?” said he
The red and the green and the yellow
No harp, no lute, no pipe, no flute, nor cymbal
As sweet goes the treble violin

“Ah yes,” said she, “I’ll come with thee.”
Farewell to the flowers in the valley
“Ah yes,” said she, “I’ll come with thee.”
Farewell to the flowers in the valley

As I said, the colours are probably important in understanding the decision that the maiden makes here, and one thing you’ll notice is that there seems to be a knight missing. We have a recurrent refrain about “the red and the green and the yellow” – this refers to the colours of the flowers, but logic dictates it also refers to the colours of the knights, of whom we meet only green and yellow. My guess is that the song did contain a “red knight” verse, but the Clancys deleted it to make the text a little less repetitious. Another version I found on the Internet supports this hypothesis, but alters the terms of the argument. In this version, the maiden seems to be looking for the knight who expresses himself in the most forceful terms, rejecting “I would” and “might be” in favour of “thou must.” (Also, no “love” or “fair one”; the first night says “bride,” the second says “queen,” and the third steals their thunder by saying both.)

Anyway, I’m assuming that the colours here are important the same way they are in Gawain and the Green Knight and other such brightly-hued knightly tales. I had a quick rummage through sites dealing with traditional symbolic meanings of colours, and here’s what I found. Red is as “associated with the sun and all gods of war, anger, blood-lust, vengeance, fire, and the masculine” – that sounds like a guy who’d be picking out a bride like an impulse item at the checkout line, doesn’t it? "Hmm. Guess I'll get a bride. And maybe a copy of The Star." Moving on... “Green is a dualistic colour. It can represent envy, evil, and trickery, and/or growth, renewal, and life, as lush vegetation. In Arthurian legend the green knight slew all who attempted to cross his bridge, until he was killed by Arthur. In this respect green can be seen as death's unbiased nature and the slaying of the naive.” That last bit sounds most relevant, doesn’t it? And lastly – “Yellow often stands for light, the sun’s rays, intellect, faith, and/or goodness.” So with this as a rough guide, it seems that our maiden wisely rejects both war and death in favour of faith and goodness.

But you know, what the hell do I know? In the words of Paul Hackett, “What do you want from me?! I’m just a word processor!” Any folklorists out there? I sure would like to get this sorted out.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Stuff that Baby Dog Will Think is Really, Really, Really, Really Old

I was born rather late in 1964, which technically makes me a Baby Boomer – if you accept (as I do) the definition of the Baby Boom as a period of 20 years (one generation) starting with the return of Our Boys from overseas in 1945. Technically, I’m one of the last of the Baby Boomers. In practice, though, I’m not. People our age – Mama Dog was born that same fateful dragon year, as were Papa Pirate, Ambrose, Mama’s Dog’s ex, and so many of our circle – are really the kid siblings to the Baby Boom. We’re too young to be proper Boomers, too old to be proper Gen Xers. We’ve been called tweeners, which is not a term I particularly like, but I suppose it’s as good as any other. Being a tweener is kind of like being Canadian – which I should know, being both. Canadians are bombarded more than any other country by the cultural product of the US,* much as we tweeners were bombarded with the cultural obsessions of our older brothers and sisters. I was five years old when the Beatles broke up, but it was still considered more or less cool to listen to hem when I was in high school. TV shows I grew up with: Star Trek, Gilligan’s Island, Bewitched, Hogan’s Heroes, The Man From UNCLE – not a one of them still in production by the time I was eight. M*A*S*H the movie, released when I was six, seemed somehow still relevant when I saw it uncut for the first time at the age of 14. Jack Kerouac, a bloated miserable has-been dead of drink by the time I was five, remained a viable literary role model well into the time I wasn’t going to college. Lenny Bruce, Elvis Presley, the Ed Sullivan Show–which I don’t remember ever seeing, but somehow I knew about plate spinners and that fucking Topo Gigio. Somehow, we were the generation – the demi-generation – who never had our own stuff. Well, okay, we had our own stuff, but it was all lame. The Six Million Dollar Man. The Love Boat. Donny and Marie. Frampton Comes Alive.

All this is the result of musing on how old the stuff we grew up on is going to seem to Baby Dog. So many of our little cultural obsessions spring from the year of our birth or before. I try to draw parallels. The Beatles will be to Baby Dog roughly what Al Jolson is to me. Star Trek is Fibber McGee. On the Road is Finnegans Wake. Raquel Welch is Mary Pickford.

To obfuscate matters further, as we’ve gotten older so to have our film and music preferences. We listen to Bing Crosby and the Andrews sisters. We love the Mills Brothers and the Ink Spots, even though every last one of their songs starts with that same dopy cowboy rhythm. We like Jimmy Stewart movies. I’ve been known to hum “We Did it Before and We Can Do It Again.” Yes, having exhausted the cultural output of our older siblings and having failed to supply anything particularly compelling of our own, we’ve stepped back even further, to the songs and films that delighted our parents. My secret fear is that Baby Dog will grow up thinking this is what people were into when I was a kid. So maybe, I suppose, when she’s forty, she’ll discover the guilty pleasure of Herman’s Hermits.
* …while simultaneously suffering a cultural braindrain because apparently with all its resources America still can’t produce enough rock stars and comedians on its own.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

My Place in the Family Unit

I’ve had cause to stop and think the last couple of days about the shifts in the division of labour in our household since the birth of Baby Dog. In the first few days of her life, we were pretty much equally useless. Neither of us had ever cared for an infant before. We’d never burped a baby. We’d never changed a diaper. And definitely neither of us had ever done any breastfeeding. We were quite happy for those first few days to leave the nitty gritty up to the nurses who knew what they were doing.

In our first days at home, we fell into a routine which divided the work of caring for the child about as evenly as it could possibly be in a situation where only one of us actually gave birth and is an actual food source. Baby Dog’s cosleeper went on my side of the bed – which was really the only place it fit anyway. The idea was floated to switch sleeping sides, but I’m sure you understand that was just crazy talk. I was the first responder for nocturnal infant issues. I would assess the situation, do triage. If only a diaper change was indicated, I’d do that. If it was feeding time, I’d set baby up with Mama Dog and sleep while nursing took place. When nursing was done, I’d burp the baby and put her back to bed.

As Baby Dog was going through her most colicky stage, I was the designated Putter to Sleep. As detailed in earlier posts, I was the shusher. I was the swaddler. By that time, Baby Dog was generally down to only one feeding per night, so we split things up that way. I would put in the time getting her to sleep, and Mama Dog would be the one to get up in the middle of the night.

A month ago, I went back to work. Right around then Baby Dog was starting to fall asleep at night without the swaddle straightjacket, and since I no longer had the option of sleeping in, I was excused from interrupted sleep. Ever since – ever so gradually – I’ve noticed that we’ve been turning into a Traditional Family. Yr. humble paterfamilias goes to work, earns the daily bread. My darling hausfrau stays home and cares for our child. More and more when we’re together at home, I find myself deferring in the area of childcare, because that’s her thing. Don’t get me wrong – I still help. I’m home on Wednesdays and on the weekend. I change diapers. I read stories, do burping, mind the baby while Mama Dog goes shopping or whatever, do the occasional bottle feeding, play peek-a-boo and this little piggy, kiss the fat little cheeks and tickle the plump little tummy. As recently as a week ago I’ve done shushing duty. But for the most part, especially compared with how things used to be, I’ve become the dad who goes to work and Mama Dog’s become the mom who takes care of the baby.

If these seems like much ado about nothing, please bear in mind that for years I figured that when we finally had a child, I’d be the stay-at-home dad. Well, this is the way it is. Things happen as they do. The important thing is our wonderful baby girl. But here I am, putting myself on notice, and I hope you’ll all help me remember to stick to it. I mean never to shirk at home just because I spend the day at work. I mean never to be less than fully engaged with my wife and child. I mean always to be the only father she would ever want to have.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Scar Tissue

I believe I’ve mentioned, once or twice, that I was a bit of a wreck in the Days Before Mama Dog. Here’s how poorly I took care of myself. Round about ten years ago, I noticed a bulge in my crotchal region. I thought, “Huh. A bulge. Wonder how long that’s been there?” Then I went out drinking. A few weeks later, I noticed the bulge again and thought maybe it was a little bigger. I thought, “Huh. Still there. Seems to be bigger. Maybe it’s not going to go away.” Then I went out drinking. After a few months had gone by and the bulge had failed to evaporate, I thought. “Huh. Guess it’s a tumour. Oh well.” See, I was then at probably the poorest and least insured point of my life, and I figured my options pretty much boiled down to “ignore it until it kills you.”

A side note – right around this time, the Clintons were trying to arrange for universal health care in America. The Bad Guys Cabal was flooding the airwaves with commercials portraying this as a bad thing. I heard some right wing fathead on the radio saying, “If they pass this, we’ll have a system just like Canada!” like that’s in some way a bad thing? Let me emphasise: if I still lived in Canada and noticed a bulge on my crotch, I’d have gone to a doctor and got it looked at, because we have universal health care. Because I lived in an unfettered free market, though, my best bet was to drink heavily to dull the pain when it came. Newt Gingrich, are you out there? Could you explain again why universal health care is bad?

The pain never did come. Years passed, and because I’m so hopeless, I never did see a doctor, even after I was working a proper job with proper benefits. I kept forgetting to fill out the forms before the end of the enrolment period. I was sort of used to the tumour on my crotch and it seemed like too much trouble to figure out what the difference was between an HMO and a PPO. “Oh no,” said Mama Dog, very early in the game, “that won’t do at all.” She helped me fill out the forms. She set me up with her own doctor.

You can imagine my trepidation, I hope. The bulge hadn’t changed in any way in the five years I’d spent with it, but I’d long since become convinced it was at least some sort of cyst. I almost didn’t want to find out for sure, but Mama Dog wasn’t about to let me let things slide forever, my natural inclination to do so notwithstanding. I went for my first doctor’s appointment since my immigration physical in 1986. Dr. Connie took a look at my crotch bulge. “That’s a hernia,” she said flatly. “Really?” I asked, beaming. I doubt she’d ever seen somebody so relieved to hear they had a hernia. “Unless I’m very much mistaken,” she replied. She wasn’t. She sent me to a specialist, who confirmed the diagnosis of an inguinal hernia. I had always assumed a hernia was something you felt suddenly and painfully, when lifting a heavy box or something. That’s the way it always is in sitcoms, at any rate. But it’s not so, not usually. Most hernias occur gradually, as tissue is stressed and weakened by every day wear and tear. When the break comes, it can happen completely outside the awareness of the victim, as was the case with me. I may well have been walking around with a hernia for a year or more before I noticed the bulge. Go figure. It turned out I was bilaterally herniated, or soon would be. That is, the bulge was on the right side of my groin, but the left was ready to go pretty much any time. The specialist suggested correcting both sides and I said, yeah, sure, what the hell. No sense having to go back in there a year later. Besides, I had insurance.

I scheduled the surgery for many months in advance because I enjoy having time to brood over unpleasant things before getting them done. I think I just like to have time to get really used to an idea. By the time of my surgery date, I was so used to the idea that it felt almost routine. Mama Dog was actually more nervous. I had to tell her she needed to be calm so that I could be calm, and she did just that, clamping down on the visible displays of anxiety, helping me maintain my primitive Zen until the needle with the good drugs was safely in my arm and I wasn’t even bothered anymore by the idea that the stuff that would soon be holding my intestines in was the same stuff they use to make comics bags .

Four years or so later, we were in the very same waiting room in the very same hospital, only this time I was the one required to provide an example of calm, because Mama Dog was the one about to entrust her health and well being to a crew of strangers with knives. We weren’t necessarily expecting surgery, but that’s how it panned out. Baby Dog was born by C-section. Now, many who peruse this page are all too familiar with the particulars of childbirth, but those who haven’t been down this path might not realise that a Caesarean is major surgery. A big incision is made, much bigger than the dinky one used to shove a laparoscope into my innards for the hernia repair. Organs are removed, because they lie between the baby and the doctor. And worst of all – if you ask me – they don’t generally knock you out for it. Man, I wanted some anaesthetic, and nobody was even cutting me. Before I went into the OR, the nurse said, “There’s a screen, but you can stand up and look around if you want to.” No thank you please. I planted myself in the Husband Chair, looked Mama Dog in the eye, stroked her hair, and tried to remember the calming things they tell you to say in birthing class. “This feels really weird,” she said, sounding more than a tad on the dopy side. I saw a spray and felt something warm and wet hit my arm. I looked at the blood, almost said “Hey, that’s your blood,” but realised in time that I shouldn’t. There were weird machine sounds. “Is that a cry?” Mama Dog asked. “No,” I said, “I think it’s—” and then I heard—yes, that’s what that was, that was a cry. Fancy that.

I have three small scars down under my belly. Only one of them is really visible anymore, and you can barely see it. I can’t even remember for sure where the other two are. Mama Dog has a great long line traversing the bottom of her tummy, but it’s getting less prominent and will continue to fade with the years. It’s not so bad having scars. In a way, they’re like tattoos. When people ask about my tattoos, I say they’re my personal iconography. It’s the same with the scars. They’re always there to tell us the story of the life we make together.

PS to Anonymous in Beantown: I dissembled unintentionally when I said your fabulous prize would be on the way in Monday’s post – there was of course no Monday post, in honour of Thanksgiving. Or, no, down here it’s some sort of celebration of genocide. No mail, at any rate. Then on Tuesday I plumb forgot. But today it went out. Keep an eye out – the silly envelope I made up looks kind of like junk mail, so don’t toss it without looking.

PPS – Finally finished reading Nana. Started Love and Hydrogen, by Jim Shepard. Still stuck in August with the newspapers. Even I’m starting to think that maybe I should just throw them out. But no.