b Papa Dog's Blog: December 2004

Papa Dog's Blog

A Thing Wherein I Infrequently Write Some Stuff

Friday, December 31, 2004

Plus, About the Contest

The Mircat identified, mostly correctly, the source of the mystery quote from a few posts back. She identified the song as “Louisiana,” rather than its proper title, “Louisiana 1927.” My guess is she Googled the lyric and found this page, which makes that particular error. I never said “no Googling,” so the fabulous prize be hers.

One other variation on that page – the wording of the line I quoted is slightly different. The wording I used in my post, “Rained real hard and rained for a real long time” is how it appears on the lyric sheet of the album. The wording on the page with the mistaken title is “Rained real hard and it rained for a real long time” (italics mine). That’s how Newman sings it on the album; whoever prepared that page evidently transcribed from the recording rather than from the lyric sheet, as there are other little variations as well. My thinking was that the lyrics on the sheet were Newman’s intended “official” text while the ones he sang were improvisational, so I went with the former.

Either way – fabulous prizes on the way.

Pie and Fussiness at the Madonna Inn

It was probably a strategic error stopping at the Madonna Inn, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. If, like me, you’re not from SoCal (or even Cal, or even UniStaAme*), you may not be familiar with the Madonna Inn. I had never heard of it in the days before Mama Dog. My drives up and down the California coast were generally down arrow-straight I-5 to San Diego for the annual gala festival of geeks, greedheads, sweaty fat bearded men, and rented tits**. I had no reason to go by way of 101, no reason to pass through San Luis Obispo, and no reason ever to see the fabulous Madonna Inn. For Mama Dog, though, the Madonna Inn was a childhood fixture, where bathroom breaks and slices of pie were had on the way north from Santa Barbara.

The place is an odd concoction of storybook Swiss kitsch and pulp-era fantasies, full of turrets, chimneys and spires, winding staircases, the damnedest stone urinals you’re ever likely to see.*** It seems frozen in some weird 1950s notion of outrageous eccentric opulence, like the sort of place Dean Martin might take a broad for a ring-a-ding-ding good time. Each of the inn’s 109 rooms is unique, decorated to illustrate a specific theme. As Mama Dog points out, kitsch it is, but everything is made to demanding specifications with the best possible materials. Much copper, polished rock, marble, stained glass, and carved wood. No plastic and Formica here.

For a while, we were making a habit of staying the night at the Madonna Inn on the way to Santa Barbara. We had a notion of working our way through all 109 of the rooms, but then we got Doggy Dog and ran afoul of their unfortunate no pets policy. We only made it through two rooms – the Cloud Nine and the Austrian Suite. I’m still kind of bummed that we never got around to the Caveman Room or the glorious awfulness of the Irish Hills, but at least we bought ourselves a passel of their distinctive water goblets, so we always have a touch of the Madonna at home.

This trip, it was past 1:30 by the time we came to Pismo, and we were considering a stop at that Scottish place**** or, maybe worse, MDD’s favourite place, when we decided to press on to SLO and lunch at the wacky Madonna Inn. I was thinking we were well past the lunch rush and could probably be seated quickly – which turned out to emphatically not be the case. We cracked a window for Doggy Dog, threw my raincoat over Baby Dog in the carseat, and hustled through the rainy parking lot to the Copper Café. We were handed a beeper and told the wait would be twenty minutes. We headed to the lobby where it’s Christmassy on any given day, and even more so at Ho Ho time…fake snow, tinsel, animatronic elves, you name it. There’s apparently a scene in Aria where Buck Henry, high on ecstasy, confronts this garden of loopiness. Never seen it, despite having lived for years with a housemate who owned a copy on laserdisc.*****

Baby Dog snoozed in her carseat while we took turns peeing in caves, falling further behind on our schedule and losing daylight. Eventually the beeper went off and we were seated. Mama Dog ordered tri-tip in hopes of making up for her recent bad experience with same. I was dreaming of a waffle, ever keen to have breakfast anytime. Alas, it was not to be. I was very disappointed to learn that the “anytime” breakfasts included any egg (ick!) dish, but not waffles, French toast, or pancakes. Oh well. Thinking ahead to saving room for dessert, I settled for just a grilled cheese sarmy and a side of bacon.

The main course went well. Baby Dog woke up but seemed interested and engaged in her new and novel surroundings. There was a seven-year-old boy at the table next to us who seemed fascinated by her and made faces and chatter at her throughout the meal, telling Mama Dog about how he’s now losing the same two teeth that are starting to come in on Baby Dog and the names of other children he knows of similar size. I don’t remember little boys – when I was one – being quite so keen on babies, but it seems they are these days. I guess we live in more sensitive times.

Baby Dog was cranky by the time we finished, but diets begin Sunday, so we were both itching for a slice of pie. Mama Dog gathered up baby and took her down to the bathroom for a diaper change, hurriedly selecting strawberry pie as she went. When the waiter came, he said strawberry was out of season. D’oh! I racked my brain. Cherry seemed the obvious substituted, but it seemed like a bit of a risk. I substituted tried-and-true apple instead. Then he hit me with: dutch apple or regular? Heated? A la mode? How the fuck should I know? Stop asking questions! We both agreed it would probably be better to wait until the lady returned. She did and ordered cherry. Figures.

By the time the pies arrived, Baby Dog was fussy again, and wouldn’t be quieted. Mama Dog tends to get stressed in this situation, so I gathered Baby up and told her we should take turns with the pie. Hers had ice cream, so she should go first. Baby Dog and I went off to explore the lobby some more, looking at Christmas lights and animatronic goobers and so forth. Nothing seemed to quite calm her down. I implored Mama Dog to take her time and savour the pie, but knew she’d be too nervous to do anything but hurriedly gobble. And of course I made things worse by circuiting back through the café, never quite sure when she’d be done. Poor Mama Dog never gets to take her time with dessert anymore.

When she had finished, she took Baby and headed back again to the gaudy bathroom for another change and a bit of nursing while I sat down and tucked in at my chocolate cream pie. I tend to gobble dessert anyway, but I tried to take my time with my tea. I knew they’d be a while.

After we were all done, Mama Dog sat with baby in the car while I walked Doggy Dog around the parking lot in the rain, a miserable little trek in my leaking Seibels, but at least I was rewarded when he took a little steaming poop on the late Alex Madonna’s well-kept grass. Then we were off in the driving rain with an hour of daylight left to cover the 231.9 miles home.

Here’s the thing that was funniest to me: of all the blinking lights and shiny toys and swivelling gnomes, the thing that most captivated Baby Dog’s attention in the lobby was the row of gold hangers on the coat rack.
*Here’s a fun thing you can do at home, too! When I told Mama Dog about the Navy’s penchant for constructing acronyms by taking the first three letters of words – for example, NAVFACENGCOMPAC is Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Pacific – we started making such constructions to describe breakfast foods. The classic was ENGMUFAVOCOF – for English Muffin with avocado and coffee.
**Much overlap amongst the first three categories. Not so much with the fourth.
***If you followed that link, stop for a moment and share with me a moment of wonder at the discovery of such a site as “urinal.net.” Hmmmm.
*****Presumably for the Bridget Fonda (and other) nudity, but I never asked.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Paws in the Bidet

So yesterday morning it finally stopped raining and we let the dog out in the yard for a pee. He was gone for a long time but we had other things on our minds and didn't think much of it. When he finally came trotting up the deck he had a happy smile on his face and what appeared to be brown socks on his paws. Ah yes. Hunting the elusive gopher in the mud.

What with his reduction in grandparental status since the birth of an actual human baby, we knew his muddy paws weren't going to be welcome in the house, so Mama Dog hosed him off. Unfortunately, once we got inside it was clear that the job wasn’t quite completely done. He was still tracking mud onto the bathroom tile. We vacillated for a while on what to do. Doggy Dog is uncommon touchy about his paws, so washing them is always a tricky undertaking. Finally Mama Dog got the brilliant idea of filling up the bidet and having him step into that. Certainly not what Gran had in mind when she had it installed in her new bathroom add-on, but it got the job done splendidly and Doggy Dog roamed through the house with paws clean as, well, a freshly-laved backside I suppose.

Time to go home now (not because of the bidet incident, just because it’s time to go). We’re about to start packing and should be on the road in a couple of hours. I do so long for the old homestead.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Rained Real Hard and Rained For a Real Long Time*

When we were packing to leave Oaktown I asked Mama Dog, “Should I bring a raincoat?” “No,” she said, “it’s not going to rain.” “Think I’ll bring one just in case,” I said. So it’s been raining since Christmas with hardly a let-up. I didn’t bring any shoes by the damn leaky Seibels, but at least I have that raincoat. Mama Dog has to borrow it when she goes out to walk the dog. I’m far too gentlemanly and kind to say “I told you so,” but I think I can manage a not-too-smugly murmured “I averred thus to you.”

I’ve been through hurricanes and flash floods, so this rain isn’t really that much to me – and at a time when tens of thousands are dead from a tsunami in the Indian Ocean it seems kind of petty to complain about the rain – but it sure has been persistent. Highlights: Christmas night at Longboard’s Grill, the wind kept blowing the outer doors in, and every time it did a puddle of rainwater would collect on the threshold. We were seated at a table by the big windows over the ocean, which was roiling dramatically below us. It was just wind, not seismic activity, but under the circumstances, one couldn’t help thinking of great walls of water rushing ashore. (We went to Longboard’s, by the way, because it was the only place we could find that was open on Ho Ho night, but we were so charmed by the cheerful service, the low-key atmosphere [tempests notwithstanding] and the carpet of peanut shells that we went back there again Monday night.)

Monday: While we were again at Longboard’s Gran babysat through the storm. We had purchased a baby monitor for this trip, so that we could keep tabs on Baby Dog as she slept in the garage. Gran was a nervous wreck when we got home because the storm made so much noise and the monitor is so sensitive that she couldn’t tell what any of the sounds coming from the garage were. Baby Dog was fine and sleeping soundly, but the next night we let her stay in the house while we were out.

Monday night after we got home: Power flickered and went out, came on again, flickered and went out, came on again, flickered and went out and stayed out for hours. In the morning, Mama Dog put on my raincoat and took Doggie Dog out for a stroll to see the cause. A tree had blown over a few blocks away and hit some power lines. It landed athwart the street, completely blocking traffic. There was a city crew there all day, first sawing it into bits and then grinding the bits up. We saw the exposed stump later on another walk, as wide as our poker table. That must have been some wind.

Tuesday: Mama Dog and Gran went shopping on State Street (that great street, I just wanna say) and found themselves having to go through knee-deep water to cross the street and not a hip-wader in sight.

Then there was last night, holding the umbrella over Mama Dog’s head like a Secret Service agent as we got in and out of the car. Later, we stood in the doorway of the Palace Grill as we waited for our table, watching the rain turn to steam on the outdoor heater.

Supposedly it’s going to rain through to New Year’s Day – and we plan on leaving tomorrow, so it might be a gnarly drive home. Right now it’s let up for a while. Mama Dog’s out with Gran and Baby visiting some Pigeons. I really ought to take the dog out for another one while there’s a window, but he’s already had his morning walk and I’m feeling a little other the weather. Think I’ll have a snack, read my book, and wait for the rain to start up again.
*Fabulous prize to the first person who can correctly name that quote.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

A Bad Lunch in a Restaurant Meant for Old People

There is, to put it mildly, a bit of a culinary generation gap between Mama Dog and her dad. Mama Dog’s primary concern in selecting a restaurant is the quality of the food. Mama Dog’s dad – let’s say MDD – is concerned primarily with a quiet atmosphere in which to eat. So – summing up – where Mama Dog would prefer to dine in a place crowded with noisy people enjoying their meal, MDD would prefer to eat in the tomblike silence afforded by a notoriously unreliable menu. For reasons she’s not entirely clear on, she let her dad pick the venue for yesterday’s lunch.

To avoid potential libel complications, I’ll cleverly disguise the name of the restaurant and for once not provide a link. Let’s call the place “Schmacapella,” and say that it’s the restaurant at a “Schmest Schwestern” hotel. That ought to do it.

MDD was already at a table when we arrived, and the place was as quiet as he likes it. It’s across the street from a hospital and the clientele seems to be made up primarily of recovering stroke victims, people in walkers visiting their younger siblings who are stroke victims, and people in walkers keen to consume enough poorly cooked beef to become stroke victims themselves. The median age appeared to be 84 and the dominant fabric was polyester. I was reminded of the Seinfeld episode about the early bird dinners in Del Boca Vista. It was noon. Is that late for lunch or early for the early bird dinner? Or possibly late for the early bird dinner?

First cause of trepidation: the name of the place had changed since MDD was last there. He told use we’d be eating at “Shmictoria,” and the sign and menus all said “Schmacapella.” Apparently there’d been a recent change of ownership. Mama Dog told me later that the place has gone through about eight changes of ownership and has never been any good.

“This time for sure!” – B.J. Moose.

Mama Dog ordered a salad and tri-tip. MDD ordered some sort of turkey sandwich special. I asked for a hamburger, medium-well, with bacon and nothing else; just meat and bun. This last part is very important as condiments are the spawn of Satan. The waiter inspired confidence by repeating the key phrase back to me: “Just meat and bun.” Then he walked off without having written anything down. “He didn’t write our order down,” Mama Dog said nervously. I was optimistic. “I think he’s got it.” He seemed self-assured, anyway, nodding briskly as each of us gave our orders. I told a dumb story about taking drink orders at the San Diego Comics Convention, and infected the others with my optimism. Sorry.

We took a tentative step toward being problem customers when Mama Dog’s salad arrived. She picked away at it, pushing aside some dubious-looking mushrooms, then asked her dad, “Didn’t you order something with a salad?” “Gosh, yeah,” he said, “I hope he hasn’t forgotten.” Normally I’m the one who’s content to wait until things have gotten out of hand at the restaurant, but a growing sense of foreboding caused me to take things in hand. I flagged down the waiter, who came over and assured us that MDD’s salad came on the plate with the sandwich.

It was kind of like the moment in the horror movie when the thing jumping out from off-screen turns out to be just the cat.

The salad plate got cleared away, MDD taking the opportunity to snag the wearied fungi – a daring move, but what the hell, we were across the street from a hospital. Then we came to the moment in the horror movie where the maniac killer is right – outside – the house! Mama Dog’s tri-tip was swimming in some noxious green sludge that looked like it had come from a novelty shop. My hamburger came with cheese and no bacon. Because I’m Canadian, I immediately apologised to the waiter for his mistake. “Oh, I’m sorry,” I said, “I asked for bacon, not cheese.” To his credit, he copped immediately to the error and took the dish back. “It’ll be about five minutes,” he said, as though hoping to convince me that it would be easier just to eat the cheese. “That’s okay,” I assured him. Off he went. Mama Dog made an exploratory poke at the meat under the iridescent green goo. Her Douglas Sirk steak had come bloody as hell; I don’t think Buddy Holly’s a very good waiter. “This is way too rare for me,” she said unhappily. MDD poked at a piece on his end of the plate. “This one over here isn’t so bad,” he said. I’m not sure if he was suggesting she should only eat the more well-done pieces, or if he thought her dining experience would be improved by starting on the more-well-done side then working toward the raw side. “Just send it back,” I said, starting to warm to the idea of being a problem customer. We flagged the waiter down again.

When I had my hamburger back – with bacon, not cheese – and Mama Dog had her steak back – somewhat less raw – it looked like we might finally end up with a passable lunch. Mama Dog did the best she could with the steak. She wondered what had been done to cook it further. “Probably popped it in the microwave for a few seconds,” I suggested helpfully. She made a face. I took a couple of bites of my hamburger and made a face myself. I pulled the top bun off; it was plain. I pulled the bottom, and it wouldn’t come. I wedged it out with a fork. Sure enough. It was glued to the burger with a layer of that most disgusting yet most inevitable of condiments, the demon mayonnaise.

“Should I barf?” I wondered. No, probably that wouldn’t help.

Mama Dog commiserated. She’s on edge every time I order a hamburger, having seen how often such a simple order gets fucked up. When she orders for me she employs a system of redundancy: “One hamburger absolutely plain without anything and no nothing on it at all nohow.” Obstinately, I keep it simple. “Just meat and bun,” I’ll say. I don’t see any ambiguity in that order. Take some meat. Put it on a bun. No – stop! – don’t put other things on it! I suppose there’s perversity in my perseverance. I just can’t believe people think I mean “Just meat and bun except of course for the mayonnaise.” “Just meat and bun except for the other disgusting crap that you want to throw on it.” “Just meat and bun and of course unless I say ‘don’t load it up with bull semen and donkey turds,’ you can’t possibly know I didn’t want them.” How can an order as simple as “Just meat and bun” be so universally baffling? I don’t get it, but apparently it is.

Mama Dog was sorrowful. The sanctity of the meal is a big thing for her, and my dining misfortunes tend to hit her harder than they do me. I said not to worry, that I’d send it back, but that I was done eating. “Maybe they’ll give you a refund,” MDD said, not quite getting the subtext. “Oh, they’ll give me a refund,” I said. No way was this hamburger getting paid for.

When the waiter came back, I handed him my burger, pointing out that it had mayonnaise on it. He looked surprised, shocked, confused. “You didn’t say no mayonnaise,” he said. Uh-huh. “I said ‘just meat and bun,’” I told him, hoping that perhaps he might in future grasp the meaning of those words when spoken by a fellow condiment-loather. “Don’t bother replacing it.” I really had lost my appetite. “I’ll take it off the bill.” he said crisply, the soundest bit of customer service he’d managed through the lunch.

I told Mama Dog I was a little disappointed that he’d done the right thing. I’d been looking forward to having him give me an argument so I could try out the Dingo Manoeuvre: “No, I’m not paying for it. You can call the cops if you want. I’ll be calling the AARP Newsletter.”


Post-tsunami postscript: How long, do you think, before the Bush “Administration” declares a War on Weather?

Monday, December 27, 2004

Three Paragraphs That Mention Mama Dog and Gran But Are Otherwise Unrelated

Mama Dog’s stepfather asked last night if Doggy Dog seemed at all resentful of the baby, if he missed getting the full attention he used to enjoy. It’s a subject we’ve thought about a lot, so we answered in maybe a little more detail than he’d been looking for, talking about how dogs observe very clear social hierarchies, and how they don’t worry much about their relative position on the pecking order so long as they and every other member of the pack knows what it is. It’s important for Baby Dog’s safety that Doggy Dog knows he’s ranked lower than she, and we think he’s gotten that idea. We feel guilty sometime about the other perks he’s missing out on because of the new addition – fewer walks generally and almost no off-leash romps since the baby arrived; diminished centre-of-attention status; even his doggie bed folded up and stashed away because there was no place to put it when we had the Cosleeper in our room. He’s since claimed a spot of real estate for it at the foot of the bed, but still. We feel some pangs about his demotion and hope it isn’t making him too miserable. Gran evinced somewhat less soul-searching on the matter: “He’s gone way down for me,” she said. “When I thought maybe I wouldn’t have a grandchild and he was the closest I’d have, grand-dog and all that, I cared more, but now…” It went unvoiced, but clearly that sentence ended “…I don’t care about him at all.” Poor old Doggy Dog.

Funny sight around the dining room table last night after Baby Dog had gone to sleep: Stepfather took an interest in poker after seeing us play a few years back. He’s only played for money with us once, but he plays online now and then and whenever we’re in Babs, we’ll play for chips. Last trip we didn’t get any cards at all in because Baby Dog was only two months old and a hand of poker seemed an unattainable luxury. It’s still tough now because Mama Dog’s usually too pooped to play, but Stepfather and I decided to have a go at some two-handed play which, while less interesting, passes the time. Mama Dog didn’t go to bed right away, and Gran took the opportunity to let the bee in her bonnet buzz a little. She wants to pass on the skill of knitting to her daughter. She hauled out a big ball or red yarn and a few needles, and started hectoring Mama to knit and purl. Mama, as blurry, cranky, and ready for sleep as Baby Dog had been, gamely followed along and soon had a viable row of stitches going. I looked up and said, “Look at this; the women are knitting and the men are playing poker.” Our family is rapidly becoming a model of traditionally-defined gender roles. Who’d have thought?

Judging from the hit tracker, not many people have been looking in over the Ho Ho weekend. Just as well – my posts have been (and will continue to be all week probably) kind of hurried and undeveloped, written on a borrowed computer with me always looking over my shoulder lest somebody walk up unexpectedly and ask what I’m writing. (Gran doesn’t know our favershams exist; Mama worries that if she did, Gran would camp out on hers, refreshing every thirty seconds, and Mama’d never have the chance to complain about her mother again.)

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Here and Gone

Practical Grandparents’ Maxim: “Always be sitting.” We’ve taken full and shameless advantage of that one over the last few days, leaving Baby Dog with Gran for two matinées, drinks with friends, and miscellaneous meals and shopping outings. Second matinée was today, for that Lemon-Fresh Knickers thing, which was, oh, what’s the word, okay.

Before we went out for the movie, Mama Dog retreated to the garage suite to nurse the baby. I lay down next to them and tucked into the last chapters of my book. When she was done, Mama Dog got up to shower and left the baby next to me playing with her Whoozit. The random clacking and clinking was a pleasant background to the final pages of Cornell Woolrich’s remorseless tale of senseless death and even more senseless revenge. By the time I was done, I was drowsy, so I closed my eyes and let the rattling of the Whoozit lull me further into hebetude. I believe I may have slept for a few minutes.

I awoke, refreshed, to Baby’s coos. I rolled over and looked her in her inquiring little eyes. She favoured me with one of her 200,000 candlepower smiles, rolled a half-turn in my direction, and grabbed hold of my beard. I nibbled her fingers and tickled her feet, and Mama Dog came in to find us laughing at each other. We left her with a full tummy, a dry diaper, and a happy disposition and went off to see the silly movie with the Pirates. When we got out, it was raining. When we got home, Baby Dog was on her Gymini, playing with Gran who, as always, was sitting.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Christmas in Saint Babs/Ho Ho Movies I Have Known

I could scarcely have imagined, growing up as I did in a place where some winters bring snow banks so high you can’t see the house across the street from your living room window*, that I would go out on the morning of my forty-first Christmas clad only in jeans and a t-shirt and walk the dog in a quiet empty park with nary a snowflake in sight. “It’s weird,” I said to Mama Dog the other night, “that you have inflatable snowmen here.” The man in the red fur-lined suit is enough of a stretch, but what relevance is a snowman supposed to have for winter in southern California? Conversely, in 1998 we went to Edmonton for Christmas. It was to be Mama Dog’s first encounter with actual winter, and we were both disappointed when it turned out to be a particularly mild Christmas. She didn’t get the full effect until the night we saw Life is Beautiful at the Princess Theatre. When we got out of the movie it was dark and the temperature had finally dropped to a seasonally appropriate level. We had to wait a little while for the car to come around, and by the time it did Mama Dog had received a large jolt of temperature perspective. “I thought,” she later said with great sincerity, “we were going to die.”

Today I walked from the bathroom out to the garage in my bathrobe and slippers. There you go.

As some of you know, my one Ho Ho tradition is to see a movie. It has to be one that’s opening on Christmas Day – there are always a few. I usually select the one that seems most epic. Past Ho Ho movies have been (reconstructing as best I can from memory, skipping the years where I forget or maybe didn’t go to a movie): The Godfather Part III (Berkeley, 1990), Malcolm X (Berkeley, 1992), Nell (Edmonton, 1994), Four Rooms (New Orleans, 1995), Michael and Ridicule (Berkeley, 1996), Jackie Brown (Berkeley, 1997), The Thin Red Line (San Francisco, 1998), The Talented Mr. Ripley (Santa Barbara, 1999), All the Pretty Horses (Santa Barbara, 2000), Ali (Santa Barbara, 2001), Catch Me If You Can (Santa Barbara, 2002), Cold Mountain (Santa Barbara, 2003). As you can see, the pickings are sometime more slim than I’d like. In 1996, for example, Michael was such an awful piece of crap that I had to go see a French movie that had been out for a month just to take the bad taste out of my mouth. In 1999, I really wanted to see Man on the Moon for Christmas, but they shifted the release date up by several days, making it ineligible, and we ended up seeing the first of what became an inexplicable two-year run of Matt Damon movies for Christmas. In 2002, I really wanted to see Gangs of New York, but again they moved the date up on me.

This year we finally got to see a Scorsese/DiCaprio collaboration for Ho Ho, The Aviator – kind of a cheat, since it opened last week in a few markets, including San Francisco, but it didn’t open wide until today. It meets all the Ho Ho movie criteria I’ve been gradually developing over the years – close to three-hour length, epic sweep, Oscar pandering, the works. Plus it turned out to be a damn sight better than Gangs of New York was, so there you go again.
* For those of you from warmer climes: this is neither an exaggeration nor something I just made up.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Holding Hands

Lunch today at the Cajun Kitchen. Baby Dog stayed home being sat by Gran, who couldn't be happier to do so. We parked a few blocks away from the restaurant. As we walked down the street, I took Mama Dog's hand and realised with a jolt that it was not a familiar feeling. It's hard to believe this is true but I don't think we've held hands - at least not on that side, my right her left - since she got a new ring a few months ago. It used to be we were in constant contact when walking anywhere. Nowadays, though, it's never just us...we always have a handful of dog or baby or both. Don't misunderstand - we haven't lost our marital intimacy - but since we've grown to a full-on family unit, the days of simply walking down the street hand in hand seem to be gone for a while. More often now we hold hands by proxy. I hold Baby, Baby holds Mama. This is good. It's not the same thing, but it's good.

We had lunch - I had the Breakfast Anytime - looked for dessert and found only cornbread. We caught up with the step-in-laws who are still a few months away from being parents themselves and told them various things they should expect now that they're expecting. On the way back to the car we held hands - my left, her right. I gave her hand a squeeze and she returned it. I made a mental note, and I hope you other tyro parents will give this a thought - don't neglect the small but meaningful contacts. They are the bedrock of a life together.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Surprise Bonus Post: Waiting for the Pisser with the Nuns

We stopped at Pismo Beach and watched the sun set while Mama Dog fed Baby on a grassy slope and Doggy Dog ran about in the field. After, we stopped at the Chevron to grab snacks and use the facilities. The bathroom was unisex, requiring a key to enter. Through an unfortunate series of events, I got stuck behind a vanload of nuns who went in one at a time, each passing the key back to one of her sisters as she went it. When the last nun came out, she politely held the door open for me but for some reason handed the key to one of the sisters who had preceded her instead of to me. I turned back and asked the sister for the key. I chuckled and said, "I don't want anyone walking in on me, after all." They all tittered, covering their hands with their mouths like Japanese schoolgirls. How bemusing, to have made a vanload of nuns laugh with what, mild though it was, would technically have to be called bathroom humour.

Technically, this is a Post

So, we're hurriedly packing and hoping to be on the road half an hour from now, which doesn't seem likely to happen but like whatever. I know I'm going to be too wasted to write anything tonight, so this is it for the day. See yez all tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

More Songs About Buildings and Bums

As I’ve mentioned before, I spent my post-parents’ house pre-Mama Dog years without regular medical care. Since 2000 or so I was seeing a physician annually, when suddenly – poof! – her practice evaporated and the doctors scattered to the wind. That was last year sometime. We’ve now finally got ourselves a new regular MD, and today I went for my first appointment.

I’ve arrived at that magic age, 40, when a young man’s fancy turns to his prostate. Or rather, a young man’s doctor’s fancy turns thereto. Accordingly, I was very concerned when heading out for my appointment that I was going to round out the morning with a finger up my ass. It was a short but tension-filled bus ride, and sure enough the subject did come up in the course of my appointment. Imagine my surprise and relief when I learned that they’re screening for prostate cancer with blood tests now. Wonderful what they can do nowadays! The doctor talked briefly about the test, the pros and cons of using a blood exam as the screening tool, how there’s some debate over the merit of this method, but their practice thinks it’s a swell diagnostic tool and so on and so forth. Then he paused expectantly. Like he thought I needed a moment to mull it over. Dude, I’m an uptight straight guy! Jab me with all the needles you want. Let me be your pincushion. Just keep your digits out of my bum.

So, not much really happened. I got the lab slip for the blood test, which I’ll take after the holidays. I found out my blood pressure and temperature are both in the optimal range, which is nice considering there’s a little cold going around our household right now. I was weighed, and apparently the shoes I had on were about ten pounds each. I stressed that I’ve already resolved to re-exert dietary will and discipline in the new year, though I don’t specifically plan to go back on the Weight Watchers. And eventually I had them get my name right in their computer.

I had a return transfer, but the day was mild and I didn’t feel like waiting for the bus, so I walked home. It’s just a fifteen minute walk after all, and my intent to reduce the larditry of my ass was still fresh in my mind. Plus – and this can’t be overemphasised – the spring in my step was at least partly inspired by the absence of foreign objects in and around my sphincter. And joyeux noel to you!

Tomorrow we hit the road for the Ho Ho visit to Saint Babs. Last time we did this I was able to post every day, but I make no guarantee this time. I'll certainly give it my best shot, but road rules will be in play.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

A Foggy Morning in Old Oakland Town

Normally, Mama Dog does the morning dog walk, but she’s been under the weather and not getting enough sleep, so I set my alarm for 6 instead of my usual 6:24 and took the first shift myself. I got the paper, made a pot of tea, and took Doggy Dog out for his stroll.

It was dark out – sunrise wasn’t due until 7:21 – and there was a pleasant blanket of fog reducing the world to a manageable half-block length. It was what passes for wintry cold round these parts and our street was as empty as Dick Cheney’s chest cavity. I’m not out and about much at such an early hour, and it was kind of a pleasant novelty. For reasons that don’t bear a whole lot of going into – let’s just say they involve a greeting card and a bag of poo, both originating from roughly the same environs, but bound for separate receptacles – I decided to eschew the quiet inner streets I normally favour on a doggy walk and instead head up Telegraph towards Alcatraz.

Even at barely past six on a Tuesday morning, traffic along Telegraph is brisk, but I saw scarcely another pedestrian the whole walk. I was a couple blocks up before I passed a heavily bundled jogger. I saw a guy across the street at the gas station trying repeatedly to close his car door. That was about it.

We passed the the guitar store with the obnoxious dogs who pace challengingly out the always-open door during business hours and bark ferociously through the glass when we come by after hours. Even they weren’t up yet. Doggy Dog peed on the tree outside the store that they think they own, and nary an alarum was raised.

As we walked the last block up to the mailbox at Telegraph and Alcatraz, I focused somewhat randomly on a poster in the bus shelter. It showed some sort of landscape scene, with the silhouette of a person cast across it. I was trying to figure out what it was advertising. Travel? I couldn’t make much sense of it. Then the silhouetted figure moved, and I realised it was someone sitting at the bus shelter in front of the poster. The third person I saw on my walk. He or she (I never did come close enough to know) had been so still I was sure they were a design element.

When we got home, I was awake and invigorated from the brisk air. It’s odd, but I find this is often the case – if I get up early on short sleep, I find myself actually more alert and refreshed than I am when I can get a full eight hours. It doesn’t last through the day, but the morning hours become strangely buoyant.

I read my book while I breakfasted, then showered and thought about maybe shaving sometime but not today. Had a glass of orange juice and brushed my teeth. Baby Dog woke up and Mama gave her breakfast. I fed the dog and packed up my work stuff and brought the diapers up for the morning pickup. At ten to eight it was fully light out but the glare of the yellow bastard was muted by the friendly fog, still hanging about and looking for things to do. I threw my bag over my shoulder and headed off for my last work day of the year.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Explain Yourselves!

For those who don’t take the time to click on the comments, here’s what Charles wrote on my last post: “You know, the results of your current poll are so unsettling that you should have an entry allowing voters to give justification of their horrifying choices. Like, me, I voted for Michael Jackson. He’s a confirmed loon and an alleged pederast, but he’s more likely to be gentle with a kid and do no harm to one under his present circumstances than say Mommie Dearest or Der Führer. Especially since I’m, ethnically speaking, a Jew.”

A very timely query, as I’m finally closing that poll down and declaring Adolf Hitler the official least desirable celebrity babysitter. For those who didn’t see or don’t remember, the original roster of potential babysitters consisted of Michael Jackson, Lewis Carroll, Adolf Hitler, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Courtney Love, Bing Crosby, and Joan Crawford. I selected this list kind of randomly, but figured a case could be made for why one might be uneasy leaving one’s child with any one of them – and that, if push came to shove, perhaps a rationale might be made for why any one wasn’t quite as bad as one of the others.

In the first round of balloting, Sir Anthony was the clear winner, receiving 7 votes. He was followed by Lewis Carroll (3), and Michael Jackson and Courtney Love (1 each). Sir Anthony – the only one on the list who had never been the subject of innuendo regarding childcare of genocide, was the obvious choice. I consciously bucked that myself, voting for Lewis Carroll. My rationale – other than wanting to avoid backing a winner – was that Sir Anthony, while no doubt a charming fellow in real life, might give nightmares to any child he cared for who happened to have seen that movie, you know, oh what’s it called, oh yeah, The Remains of the Day. I mean, I don’t know about you, but I remember having terrible dreams about repressed butlers when I was a tyke. Lewis Carroll, on the other hand, though know to fancy the wee lasses, was far too Victorian to ever act on it, and would come up with the most enthralling bedtime stories.

In round two, Tony and Lew were eliminated. That left Courtney Love as the clear favourite, with five votes, followed by Bing Crosby with two. I can’t remember for certain, but I think I voted for Courtney this time, although she again was the obvious front runner, being the only one who’d never been accused of doing injury to a child or ethnic group. I almost voted for Bing because so far as I know he only beat his own kids, but I decided not to take the chance.

With those two eliminated, we were left with the final three: Jacko, Hitler, and Mommy Dearest. I think it’s at this point that the poll becomes most interesting. This time, Joan Crawford seemed the obvious choice – while she was by all indications a terrible mother and a real piece of work, she wasn’t a molester and she never actually killed anybody. I voted for her. Two people voted for Jacko and one for Hitler.

I think it would have been toughest if I’d left the poll up with Hitler and Jacko going mano a mano, but this thing has stretched out more than long enough. I wouldn’t want to leave my child with either of these fellows, but here are my thoughts on why someone might choose one over the other.

Charles makes a good pro-Jacko case, although I’m not sure I buy the “under his present circumstances” argument. Michael has clearly been at cross purposes with reality for a long long time, and I’m honestly not sure he understands the ramifications of the things he does, even now. Mama Dog points out that she’d be more worried he might dangle the baby out the window than that he’d molest her (particularly since his preference seems to be for little boys). She still tends to view him as an essentially asexual man-child who’s been widely misunderstood and misrepresented in the popular press. Maybe so, who knows? I definitely wouldn’t agree to any overnight stays at Neverland.

Now in defence of Herr Hitler – not how I expected to start a sentence when I woke up this morning, but this is devil’s (almost literally) advocate – while it’s true that he’s responsible for the extermination of millions of people, many of them children, there’s no evidence that he ever personally did any harm to a child under his care. If I had to work and Mama Dog had a job interview, and Hitler offered to keep an eye on Baby Dog at the Berchtesgarten for the afternoon, it might be tempting.

At any rate – Charles is right. Those of you who’ve voted on this – and particularly whoever it was who gave Hitler the thumbs up – should post your reasoning here. I think it would be a very illuminating look at our essential priorities.

(And Charles – isn’t Jewishness traditionally passed down matrilineally? Since it’s on your dad’s side, dude, you’re a goy! Like, technically.)

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Baby Num Nums and Such Things

Not too much to report on today – just a quiet Sunday at home. Did some laundry. Watched the commentary track on the This Is Spinal Tap DVD – it’s the boys in character, commenting on their younger selves. Boy howdy did I squeeze every drop of available entertainment from that disc. Unless there were buried Easter Eggs I couldn’t find, I watched every extra on the thing, even commercials I remember seeing on TV when it first came out.

Last night we went out for poker en famille. Mama Dog went back and forth about a half dozen times on whether or not she was going to go, but did in the end. She’s rather nervous about taking Baby Dog to poker, a legitimate worry as half the host homes are not baby-ready. You don’t realise how much infrastructure is required for a satisfactory baby outing until you have spawn of your own. Things worked out pretty well, though. Mama Dog skipped the first part of the game to nurse. Then, in the absence of a crib, we laid the wee one down in her stroller and I rocked her back and forth at the table while we played cards. When the cranky hour arrived, I wheeled her off to a back hall and lulled her to sleep with my patented Papa Dog Susurration System. Once she conked out, I wheeled her into the office, dimmed the light, pulled the door to as a pet barrier (three cats and two dogs in the house in question), and went back to the game. In all, I think I only missed three or four hands.

Have I mentioned that Baby Dog is eating solids now? She is. She started with rice cereal, which is pretty boring. Mama Dog later tried her out on bananas, which she didn’t seem to care for, but Osterised pumpkin was a surprise hit. Yams also went over well. And bananas seemed to work on second try the other day.

The funny thing about spoon-feeding a baby is that it evidently can’t be done without activating a “talk like an idiot” reflex. “Want some more? Want some more? Ohhhh, goodgoodgoodgoodgoodgoodgood! Numnumnumnumnumnumnum! Here we go! Good food! Yes! Goodgood food! Mmmmmm! Gooooood!” You don’t even know you’re doing it until the neighbours start to complain.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

In the Neighbourhoods

We used to live in Temescal, and that was a very neighbourhood-y neighbourhood, or at least it tried to be. Though we never had any involvement in it ourselves, it was difficult to be unaware of the activities of various neighbourhood boosters, striving mightily to impart a sense of community history and pride. In fact, I’d lived in Temescal twice before I ever knew it was called that. This was before the Temescal boosters became active and organised and vocal. Maybe before they moved to the neighbourhood, I don’t know. Anyway, I just thought of it as “south north Oakland,” and when I first saw the banners for the “Temescal Farmer’s Market,” I assumed it was just some name a neighbourhood association had invented that summer. As it happened, that was the summer I read Martin Eden, and I was surprised to find that Temescal was mentioned prominently therein. “Goin’ to the Lotus Club dance to-night?” asks Martin Eden’s boarding-house friend, “They’re goin’ to have beer, an’ if that Temescal bunch comes, there’ll be a rough-house.” …which proves that 1) Temescal was an established neighbourhood in the late 19th century and b) “rough-house” was once a viable synonym for “fracas,” “donnybrook,” or “brouhaha,” splendid words all and now sadly out of fashion. But I digress.

Temescal’s north boundary is 51st Street, and when we bought the house we crossed over that line into a new neighbourhood. Again, it was a part of town I had never thought of as having a name. It was just north Oakland, and when we moved in that was how the real estate listings referred to it. If asked where it was, I’d say “North Oakland, kinda near Rockridge” – because Rockridge was a recognisable brand name around these parts, like Niman Ranch or Chez Panisse. Well, a funny thing happened. Shortly after we moved in, we started to notice that houses for sale in our neighbourhood showed up in the real estate listings as being in “lower Rockridge” – like there was some sudden unannounced agreement between realtors that they’d hitch their wagon to that particular star. It turned out to be just a cunning transitional move – with their foot now in the door, after a while they started dropping the “lower,” and suddenly we found ourselves living in Rockridge – a surprise, no doubt (and probably not a welcome one) to the Rockridge Community Planning Council, whose boundaries, while expansive, do not include the little triangle between Telegraph and Colby where we live.

Since adding Doggy Dog to our family nigh on three years ago, we’ve had occasion to walk pretty much every inch of both our little ersatz Rockridge and traditional Rockridge proper. They are clearly different neighbourhoods. Some of the differences are both subtle and gradual, but you can see them unfold in the course of a four-block walk if you pay enough attention. The further east you go from Telegraph, the more thickly tree-lined the streets become; the bigger the houses, and the more involved the landscaping. You become less likely to encounter discarded chicken bones from the KFC at 60th and more likely to spot Tibetan prayer flags hanging over the eaves. Once you’re past Colby, there are no bumper stickers expressing anything other than liberal humanist or Buddhist sentiments, whereas at Macauley and Howell there is one pickup with stickers reading “Jesus is the answer” and “Prayer is not a crime.”

Up the street from us right now there’s a house with a ghastly and ostentatious Christmas display – a giant Santa, a giant Frosty, and enough lights for a slots pit at the Luxor. You won’t see such a thing five blocks east, but then neither will you see what I was privileged to witness last night on Doggy Dog’s evening constitutional; the entire family, three generations’ worth, basking in the luminous glory of their porch, listening to Teddy Pendergrass. It was such a cosy and familial sight that I was almost moved to offer a Ho Ho greeting or at least say hi, but then Doggy Dog started peeing on the neighbour’s roses, so I figured I’d better move along.

In a few weeks will come the big equaliser. All these houses, big Rockridge manses in the higher elevations and little “Rockridge” bungalows like ours will have withering pine trees discarded on the sidewalk in front. Despite evidence to the contrary gathered in years past, these hardy Rockridgeans will be under the impression that the City will gather these trees the week after Ho Ho. This impression will again prove false. For weeks, the trees will decompose on the sidewalks, gradually becoming saturated with dog urine (some of it Doggy’ Dog’s) and generally creating a public nuisance. Then sometime in late January all the trees will mysteriously vanish and life will go on as ever here in the two Rockridges.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Bad Movie! No Biscuit! Bad!

I had a whole thing I was going to do tonight, but unexpectedly we watched an entire movie, and now I don’t have enough time to write the thing I had in mind.

The movie was Twentynine Palms, which Mama Dog was keen to see on account of the location (one of her favourite spots), but which turned out to be a godawful pretentious piece of crap about two repellent and stupid people, and the petty and interminable relationship they have before the auteur suddenly and unexpectedly finds a way to make the whole thing even worse – and then again manages to make it even worse than that. Philosophy professor turned filmmaker Bruno Dumont has outdone generations of pornographers by inventing an entirely new way to make a narrative simultaneously degrading and boring. Joe Bob says for the love of god don’t check it out.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

The Office Party

The Christmas party this year was a hastily thrown together affair, put on as an afterthought after people started to complain that there hadn’t been a Christmas – excuse me, holiday – party announced. Still and all, they managed to snag a prime location: top floor of the Transamerica Pyramid (which, properly speaking, is an obelisk, not a pyramid, but let’s not start another quibble in this, the end of the fourth year of the twenty-first century). It’s a surprisingly tiny space up there, but a hell of a view. “Suddenly the street map makes sense to me,” I said, looking down at the clearly delineated boulevards. We had a tiny crowd to go with the tiny space, as our office has shrunk dramatically in the last year. Also today was a staff meeting to unveil the advent of the “Great Place to Work Initiative,” which is swell news except that the meeting kept me for two hours from doing my actual work in that allegedly great place. I was of course swamped, but was also expected to leave promptly at five-thirty to make the office party at six, so what’s a fella to do. Hmm, let’s weigh this – open bar or finish my work, open bar or finish my work? Oh, that’s right, open bar. The whole thing was kind of exciting, really. There’s comparatively heavy security to get into the building – a single point of entry, ID check, great hulking guards at the elevators. San Francisco likes to cling to the notion that people in other parts of the world are aware enough of the existence of their pointy building to want to bomb it, which has always seemed a bit of a stretch to me. They’d more like be bombed by Operation Rescue than Al Qaeda, and that crowd doesn’t even have to bother now that their man has mastered the art of taking office without actually winning the elections.

I’d been trying for weeks to convince Mama Dog that it was okay to bring Baby Dog to the party, but she wouldn’t hear of it. She was of the opinion that it’s not cool to bring an infant to the office party. So I go to the damn thing and everybody asks me why I didn’t bring the baby. You see how this goes? The bar was indeed open, though, and though the available scotch was pedestrian, I did get myself pickled on Sevens and Sevens. I showed off pictures of the baby and swapped war stories with the other new father in the office (also there stag and glum). As is becoming an annual tradition, I ended up reminiscing with the environmental Viking chap about how things used to be in 1988 when we both first started in that predecessor company. I ate candied walnuts until they disappeared, and then I asked one of the waitpersons if there were anymore. She said they were almost out but I could have the last batch, then came back with them in a cup. Later I looked around for a tip jar but there wasn’t one, so I hope they got well paid. Damn fine waiting.

I conversation hopped, listening to the various degrees of ridicule accorded the “Great Place to work initiative.” “More like a place to work,” someone said. Then I saw that Dan the Chemist was taking off, so I cadged a ride from him, and here I am at home. And good night to you too.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Lee Marvin's Face

Sam Fuller’s valedictory WWII epic, The Big Red One, is in art house re-release, a director’s cut from beyond the grave, lovingly reconstructed to its intended 3-hour length (vs. the 113 minute version released in 1980) by film critic Richard Schickel. It was playing for a week at the Castro. I had special dispensation to see it last Friday night, but I balked at the last minute because Baby Dog had been having cranky nights, and I didn’t want to leave Mama Dog alone to cope all day and all night. I was going to see it instead today with Bernardo at a noon matinee but again parental responsibility intervened. We’d had a slight mix-up over dates, and Mama Dog had to be at a medical appointment to which she could not bring the bairn at 12:45. This was the last day of the Castro run, so Bernardo saw it by himself at 12 and then I saw it by myself at 4. But damn it, we both saw it.

We managed to intersect briefly between the showings, and when I asked Bernardo how he’d liked it, he commented on how long it had been since he’d seen a Lee Marvin movie. I’d been thinking of it more as a Sam Fuller movie – which of course is what it was – but that comment put me in mind as I watched of the importance that the late Mr. Marvin’s face has in selling Fuller’s vision of a love poem to the dogface. The rifle squad in the movie is of course filled out with pretty boys of the day, but it’s Marvin’s craggy bloodshot mug that stands as the representative monument to the army lifer. For the movie to work, the Marvin character has to bear the weight of two world wars…of the sum totality of man’s brutality to man. You have to see that in his face at any given moment. It’s hard to think of any other movie star of the day who could have fit that bill so completely as Lee Marvin.

Marvin was the real deal. In the playgrounds I inhabited in the 1970s, Steve McQueen was the epitome of cool for all the little boys, but for those in the know, Lee Marvin was the badass of movie badasses. McQueen could ride his little motorcycles and study his martial arts and what have you…but Marvin was the guy who looked like he’d bust a bottle over your head with no warning. They were both marines, but it was Marvin who saw the real action, wounded in Saipan. He would eventually become nothing more than a punch line on the Carson show when he helped invent palimony, but when I was a kid he was right up there with Bronson. It’s no wonder that in Reservoir Dogs, Tarantino has one unconscionable bad guy say to another “I bet you’re a big Lee Marvin fan.” As a compliment. Right after they were about to kill each other.

He didn’t really look much like a movie star. He was tall, had very pale blue eyes, and prominent cheekbones – but (particularly by 1980) he was weathered like a coastal cliff face. He had bags you could use to pack for summer vacation hanging under his eyes. He seems always to have had white hair. It was a long face, hound dog long, with great big teeth. His lips were thick and he had the fleshy reddened nose of a long-term alcoholic. The creases and folds and pockmarks and busted capillaries were the relief map of decades of hard living. He had three basic expressions: grim, pissed off, and unexpected grin. It was the “unexpected grin” part that made it possible for him to make the leap from chief heavy to leading man.

For Fuller’s movie to work, you had to believe that this guy had been around the world, killed some people, and seen pretty much everything. With Marvin, no great leap was required to come to that conclusion. You looked at his face, you saw. Who’ve we got like that today? Tom Hanks? Hah. That right. Nobody. Well, Clint, I suppose. But other than that, nobody. All those old movie soldiers have faded away.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004


Probably this is old news to a lot of you, but there’s this terrific time-waste called Blogshares, the kind of time-waste that could only have come into existence with the advent of the Internet. It was started, I’m guessing, by some economists or statisticians/web geeks with a lot of time on their hands. What it is is a little pretend stock market, wherein the companies are blogs, and the value of each blog is determined by the number of links leading to it. If you register as a member, you can buy and sell shares (using theoretical “blog dollars”) of different blogs, speculating on their future potential to attract readers, traffics, and links. This faversham is in there, and it’s even had some shares purchased by one Anton Musial, whose confidence is inspiring if probably misguided. At any rate, his transaction bumped my stock price up by $.02/share, so good on him.

Now, I don’t really understand how the whole thing works – not surprising since I don’t really understand how real-world stock markets work either – but as you may have guessed, checking my stocks could easily become an obsession with me. So, if you want to help feed an obsession – entertain me! Register at Blogshares and buy my fake stocks! Link to me from your page! Make me a titan in the world of no finance!

In other news – Baby Dog is definitely mastering the art of the “grab.” She gets a good grip on my beard whenever it’s in reach, and just now she made Mama Dog give a loud and earnest “ow!” by grabbing at her eye. I guess it’s time to start making rules to keep her down. ‘Cause we’re the man.

Monday, December 13, 2004


On of these days, I’d like to make it through a whole week without posting about how things just won’t be the same without so and so or how they don’t make ‘em like they used to or how rock ’n’ roll’s been going downhill since Buddy Holly died, but damn it, the world just won’t cut me any slack. I saw by the paper this morning that Marquard’s is closing. Now, I’m hardly a devotee of things Franciscan – ich bin ein Oaklander! – but I’ve got to admit I’ve always been fond of Union Square and environs. Part of it’s movie geeekery – Mama Dog and I once (at my insistence) walked around the square saying “He’d kill us if he had the chance” in homage to The Conversation - but I think there’s a little more to it than that. Like the French Quarter in New Orleans, Union Square was a district that retained a genuine sense of its own history despite the degrading commercialism that makes its preservation possible. Dashiell Hammett probably wouldn’t recognise the place anymore, but there are businesses he mentioned in his books still in operation to this day. The building where he had his PI offices is still there, though last I heard (some years ago) his old suite was occupied by a nondescript tech industry cube farm.

Every year, though, a little more disappears or gets changed around or upgrades itself so much its mother wouldn’t know it. Union Square itself got refurbed, Emporium Claptrap got gutted, and my poor dead darling Compass Rose, where Mama Dog and I took our parents for high tea on our wedding day, has been tarted up as a trendy name-chef concern. At least somebody saved Sears.

But Marquard’s – well that too has kind of a special place in my heart, though I really never spent much time there. It was one of the first businesses I knew well in the Bay Area. On my first visit here (1983? Can that much time have passed?), I stayed with a chap who happened to work at Marquard’s, and I was quite thrilled to see a real-life newsstand with racks on the sidewalk, just like in the old movies. It was patrolled by panhandlers and vagabonds and crazy persons, and I was kind of nervous being there at closing time, but they had newspapers from all over, atmospherically creaky floorboards, some really niche-market pornography, cheap booze, and man, dig that old-timey sign. Or dig it again here. Once I lived here, it’s not like I’d ever make a special trip to go to the place – I can’t even keep up with the paper I subscribe to, I have creaky floorboards in my own house, couldn’t be bothered with the niche-market pornography, and could get better booze closer to home were I so inclined. It was one of those places I didn’t go to much, but liked knowing it was there. The worst part is, it's being replaced by something called "HatWorld," which specialises in "logo caps." I take that to mean baseball hats (what we used to call Chuck hats on account of Charlie Brown always wore one) meant to declare the wearer's sporting or corporate affiliation. I dunno. Somehow, the place that sold "Left Handed Dick Swallowers" still seems classier to me.

We don’t spend much time in the land of the cable car turnaround these days, but next time I pass Powell and O’Farrell I’m going to be really bummed not to see that sign.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

A Quickie. But Vote in the Poll!

I did my Ho Ho shopping today. It took me about 15 minutes on Harry and David. Man, I’m glad President-elect Gore invented the Internet.

Baby Dog had her second Hanukkah party tonight – her second Hanukkah party in Alameda, even – and again had a lovely time until the arrival of the cranky hour. I don’t really have anything further to say on the subject, but I’d like to pause for a moment in contemplation of the many legitimate spellings of this festive season: Hanukah, Hanukkah, Hannukah, Chanukah, Chanukkah, Channukah, Channukkah. I prefer “Hanukkah.” I like beginning it with an “h” rather than a “ch” because I feel that’s better for my throat over the long run. And of the “h” spellings, I pick this one simply because I find the doubled kays graphically pleasing. They look festive, I think. Plus, as Willy Clark points out in The Sunshine Boys, kays are funny.

Don’t really have much time for a post as we have a long evening of television ahead of us. I’ll just leave it at this…plus I’m going to trim the celebrity babysitter poll down by two more choices – seems you’re willing to leave your child in the hands of an unstable substance abuser and a domestically violent crooner. I think the next round is going to be a lot tougher. Get your votes in now!

Saturday, December 11, 2004

In Which I Contemplate Telling My Child an Unconventional Lie to Get Out of Telling a Conventional One

If this is any less lucid than usual – like anybody’d notice the difference – blame it on the scotch. I used to be able to hold my liquor – was even a bit of a souse – but now after all the years of abstemiousness, it takes barely a drop o’ the craythur to get me all spinny. Here’s the culprit: Trader Joe’s has brought forth upon this continent their own brand of scotch – yes, Trader Joe’s Brand Scotch. If you look closely at the label, though, you find that what’s actually in the bottle is the Macallan 10-year-old. I don’t know precisely what the deal is – maybe Macallan has fobbed off to Trader Joe’s the leftover stock from their shuttered distillery downstream from the Craigellachie nuclear power plant – but they’re selling it for $19 a bottle and I’ve got to get me a crate.

I had this wee dram at a Hanukkah party at Dan the Chemist’s place. I was musing on the fact that Baby Dog’s first religion-specific party was a Jewish one, and it struck me that this suggests a solution to my misgivings about the big Ho Ho lie: we could just tell her we’re Jewish. Our surname pretty plainly indicates otherwise, but handled carefully she might not discover that until she’s a teenager.

There are flaws in the plan, I admit. Like not really knowing that much about Judaism. When we were at the Pirates' house last night and I mentioned we’d be going to two Hanukkah parties over the weekend, it suddenly occurred to me that I couldn’t even remember what Hanukkah was all about. I mentioned this, and Papa Pirate started explaining about the Macabees. “Oh yeah,” I said. “When I first heard of them when I was a kid, I assumed they were Scottish.” So maybe I’m not the best equipped to pull this particular bit of subterfuge off.

Then at the party we chatted with someone even more Judaically challenged than I. I found myself explaining to this woman what Hanukkah gelt was. Then she needed an explanation for the purpose and significance of the yarmulke (which admittedly was a little suspect in this instance because it was being worn by a dog). Then I had to tell her, no, it’s called a dreidel, not a yeidel, and astounded her by revealing there was a song that went with it. It’s all relative, I guess. I got to feel like a sophisticated man of the world, comparatively speaking. And I am forced to grudgingly admit that maybe the years spent with the Less Satisfactory Wife – whom I think I’ll now re-christen the Less Marvellous Spouse, for reasons that will be apparent to those who know her well – weren’t wasted entirely after all. At least I came out knowing what happens at a seder.

Friday, December 10, 2004

The Dead, the Cooleys, and the Dogs

My morning commute was a profoundly moving experience which, if you’re wondering, is not usually the case. The one to thank is poor long-dead James Joyce, and the vehicle was his justly revered story, “The Dead,” which kept me so absorbed that I failed to notice the entire passage of the Transbay tube. By the time the train arrived at Embarcadero I had only two pages to go. I continued reading as I walked along the platform, up the escalator, through the fare gate, and up the other escalator, finishing just as I rounded the corner of the Federal Reserve building and came onto Spear Street. And got-dang it, no, this isn’t what happens every day, but my eyes were actually moist as I put the book back in my bag. Is it a sad story? I don’t think so, no, not exactly – it’s even pretty funny in parts – but the underlying philosophical point is one of the saddest and bleakest truths of human existence: we are born, and live, and die alone. No matter how well we come to know one another, we remain stranger isolated in our own skulls.

And here I’ll briefly digress to say that I tends to despise reading or writing about stories of any kind (books, movies, plays, comics, whatever). I’ve been guilty of it from time to time in this faversham, and I’ll be guilty of it in this post, so I’m a bit of a hypocrite, but I have absolutely no use for book/movie/play/comics review/criticism, which I find at best pointless and at worst hostile. I don’t want some other viewer’s perceptions infesting my head when I watch a movie. On a superficial level it annoys me because I know too much about what’s coming, and on a deeper level it irritates me because the movie I see and the movie someone else sees are always going to be two different things.

That said, I’m going to talk about the story a bit, so if you’re a right-thinking person who agrees with me, and you’ve never read “The Dead” but think you might someday, or have read it and don’t want to be burdened with my stupid thoughts on it, you probably want to skip the next paragraph or two. I’ll be writing as though I assume you’ve already read the story. Come back when you see me talking about Spade Cooley.

Where was I? Oh, yes – strangers isolated in our own skulls. The great pathos in Gabriel Conroy’s discovery of his wife’s past is that it comes so soon after he’s been thinking so glowingly of their “secret life together.” Every married couple has one of those and, yes, it creates a feeling of unique intimacy, but how shared is it really when each individual invests each moment of their own unknowable self? I like to think that I know Mama Dog better than Gabriel knows Gretta – I find it difficult to imagine being together so long in a marriage without learning of such a pivotal moment in my wife’s past – but again, I’m in my head and she’s in hers. We intersect as much as humanly possible, but that must always be a finite amount. We have combined our essences and made us a composite, but that’s just a third separate self under our roof. I’ll never know what it is to be Baby Dog’s mother. Mama Dog will never know what it is to be her father. And Baby Dog will never quite understand quite what it is that her parents see when we watch her sleep.

Another couple I’ve been reading about of late is the Cooleys. The other night the Pirates left behind a copy of the new issue of Murder Can Be Fun, which spotlights the sordid true crime tale of Spade and Ella Mae Cooley. Spade Cooley was a pioneer of western swing (apparently he coined the term) in the 1940s. I first heard of him in James Ellroy novels and didn’t realise at first that he was a real person. I can’t remember now where I first read the goods on the Cooleys, but if you don’t know the story, MCBF gives as thorough an accounting as you’d want. Briefly, this was another instance of a couple not really knowing one another; Spade didn’t know that Ella Mae wasn’t really the orgy-hopping sybarite he fabricated in his mind and Ella Mae managed to live with the man 16 years without cluing into the fact that he was a delusional psychopath. Spade’s musical career petered out in the 50s and he retired to be a gentleman farmer near Bakersfield, where he whiled away the time by drinking heavily and beating his wife. In the end, he beat her to death in front of their 14 year-old daughter. Here I suppose is the silver lining to the plight of human isolation; there are some minds you wouldn’t want to get inside.

When it comes to understanding and empathising with my wife I think I can say with confidence that I do better on a daily basis than either self-absorbed insecure snob Gabriel Conroy or embittered wife-stomper Spade Cooley.

This morning, while Mama Dog walked Doggy Dog, I put Baby Dog in the highchair while I put away the dishes, and put on some music to liven things up a bit. It was the Clancys again – it’s not always them, it just seems that way. To entertain the baby, I sang along as I shelved the dishes. When Mama Dog came home, Tim Finnegan’s Wake was playing. This is the song – to close the circle of this post – that inspired Joyce to write his novel of mostly the same name. I sang the chorus to Baby Dog and she stretched out her arms. I took her little hands in mine and swung them in time to the music, tapping my foot, singing. I wasn’t conscious of the fact that I was in essence dancing with my daughter until I heard Mama Dog breaking out in a big (and sincere) “awwwwwww!” She beamed at us from the sink. Baby Dog’s face was lit up in unguarded delight. I suddenly noticed that this was about as happy as it’s possible for me to be.

So no, we can’t ever know one another, not really. But we do get to share the occasional perfect moment, and it’s up to each of us on our own to see that we bring to it what that moment deserves.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

And Miles to Go Before I Sleep (or at least to the curb and back)

Whew, it’s been a long-ass day. Just finished a bunch of freelance work that’s kept me occupied all evening after a busy work day. Mama and Baby are asleep, and I still have to take the garbage out. I’m still stupidly compelled to post this before midnight.

At least I had some time for some nice play with Baby Dog before she went to bed (easily tonight, for which we are truly thankful). I made her laugh by nuzzling her tummy with my chin. She’s very grabby now. When I gobble at her belly, she grabs hold of my hair and particularly of my beard, which has somehow willed itself back into existence in recent weeks. Tonight she even grabbed hold of my glasses and pulled them off my face as I leaned over the high chair to give her a kiss hello. It probably all doesn’t sound like much, but these are the memories that keep me going through the long tedious day at the mill.

A typically terse but informative comment from ol’ paul S re my Pierre Berton post: “Berton died the day the Bush came to Canada. He actually bumped Bush as the top news story of the day in the papers and TV news.”

Had a walk with Doggie Dog tonight, along our customary evening route, to the mailbox and back. There’s a traditional little joke I do if someone’s walking with us. After Doggie Dog has done his business, I’ll scoop it up and as we walk along, I’ll repeat to myself as though striving hard to remember: “Right hand, poo; left hand, mail.” Even better effect can be derived if I have, say, Chinese leftovers in my left hand rather than mail.

That’s me done for the night. Ta.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Dinner Out on a Rainy Night &c

We had dinner out tonight McTalian with the Pirates. They treated. Not very piratical of them, really, but I’m assuming that they used gains gotten ill from some misfortunate frigate. I’m fairly certain they paid in doubloons, which I know aren’t come by honestly these days. Thank you, Pirates!

We had two tables stuck together with a baby on either end. In an unforeseen Betty and Veronica moment, Babies Dog and Pirate were both wearing the the same outfit, or near enough to cause double takes. We never noticed this as a childless couple, but the place is very kid-friendly. The tables are spaced far enough apart to allow a stroller to sit at the end without inconveniencing everybody and it’s noisy as hell, so a cranky child just blends in. In fact, the place was lousy with kinder. Funny what you suddenly start noticing once you become a parent.

There was a table for twelve or so adjacent on our side, and Baby Dog got much cooing attention from that side. Among that large party was a girl just shy of two years old, who absolutely had to see the baby. Big babies love to look at littler babies, perhaps to gain a sense of maturity and superiority over somebody else. She reached down at Baby Dog and Baby Dog reached up at her. The two year old’s little hands looked gargantuan next to those of our five-month-old. All is relative. Baby Pirate was doted on by onlookers on the other side. People with children enjoy looking at other people's children. How about that.

We had a languorous meal and stayed for dessert. It had started raining between courses, so we stretched things out a bit hoping it would let up. It never did. We’d parked several blocks away and hadn’t brought raincoats or umbrellas because we though the rain was done with. Mama Dog draped a blanket over the stroller and we hotfooted it – wetfooted it, I suppose – all the way. Damn Seibels aren’t watertight.

I recommend the ravioli di zucca.

Baby Dog has been an easy sleeper for a long time now, so it’s been a bit of a shock the last couple of days that she’s had prolonged screaming fits before sobbing herself to sleep. I had to work late last night and wasn’t home at bed time. Had suspected that maybe that change in routine set her off yesterday, but I was around tonight, so I don’t know what the deal is. Just hope it’s not the new paradigm. The easy sleeping was not difficult to grow accustomed to.

In other things – you may not have noticed that there’s a new poll up. It looks like the old poll, but honest and for true it’s new.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Bon Voyage, Pierre

I hadn’t planned on doing a second “Canadian” column right away, but major world events and the tardy and sparse reporting of same in the American press have placed the matter out of my hands.

To this child of Canada in the 70s, there were two Pierres who loomed large in the national life. One, of course, was the Prime Minister, our foxiest politician and our greatest statesman – a whole Kennedy family rolled up into one suave turtleneck-wearing cat. The other was journalist, television personality, and writer of historical tomes Pierre Berton.

It’s difficult to explain the cultural significance of Pierre Berton to anyone who’s not familiar with it firsthand, in much the same way that it’s difficult to explain Canadian television of the 1970s to anyone who didn’t see it. He was a dry wit, a dignified white-haired man in a bowtie who could talk at length about the construction of the Canadian Pacific railway, the history of the Social Credit Party, the Yukon gold rush, or any other element of Canadian history you might care to spring on him. He was, in short, the type of person who would never be seen on American television outside of some federally-mandated community affairs show, and he was our biggest TV star!

How to describe the Canadian TV I grew up with? I think it was probably very similar to state-controlled East German television of the same period, only not as flashy. Imagine if you would that American TV consisted of NBC and CBS (that upstart ABC had not yet developed), and at any given time both channels had either William B. Fuckley or Gore Vidal or both talking about advances in grain milling in the 1930s. Or – or – imagine there were ten channels of static and then CSPAN2 and then, for the lowest common denominator crowd, PBS.

For thirty-eight years – 38! – Berton starred on Front Page Challenge, Canada’s premiere quiz show. The object was for the panel of experts – in my heyday that would be Berton, fellow balls of fire Gordon Sinclair and Betty Kennedy, and a guest panellist – to try to guess the identity of the mystery guest and the news story with which he or she was associated. Then, whether they’d managed to guess the identity or not, they’d interview the newsmaker. The tension! The suspense! You have no idea, it was unbelievable.

Not to mislead – we did receive American television, but who would bother with that? It was all tits and car chases and Alan Alda wisecracking up to his elbows in blood and Archie Bunker saying “Listen here, yez big dumb Polack meathead.” We had a collection of formally dressed old men soberly discussing the issues of the day! No contest!

I jest, of course. Affectionately. It really is hard for me to imagine a Canada without Pierre Berton. These kids today, they won’t know. But for those of my day and age, there is no face more iconically Canadian than that square weathered puss with the big expanse of dome under the always flawless mat of silver hair. Pierre Berton: 12 July 1920 – 30 November 2004. Cheerio, adieu, arrivederci, farewell! It will never ever be the same without you!

Monday, December 06, 2004

Talk Like a Canadian

Last – Ho Ho, was it? Yes, Ho Ho – Mama Dog and I spent an evening in the company of an old school chum or hers who has for years resided in Ireland. Though this chum was born and raised in Santa Barbara, her time in Ireland has given her voice a lilt. She no longer sounds quite like a Californian, nor in fact exactly like an American. Living abroad will do that for you.

I likewise have ended up, after 20ish years in the U.S., with a voice that’s neither quite fish nor fowl. Last time I talked to my cousin Mike, he accused me of having an American accent, but Americans are forever thinking my voice sounds like – something, they’re never quite sure what. Not American, anyway.

Part of the muddling of my accent was conscious and intentional. Word choices, for instance. You only have to receive so many blank stares from counterpersons upon your request for directions to the washroom before you start asking instead for the restroom.* I must also admit that I’ve consciously altered pronunciations as well. I started to say “record” as “reh-KERD” when I worked at a place where the word came up pretty much every day. I got tired of the looks of amazement on people’s faces when I was forced to reveal to them that they’d been saying it wrong all their lives.

I never did take to saying “sorry” as though it were a homonym for the Indian garment – thankfully that remains a regional variation even in this country, and there are still Americans who say it properly (as a rhyme for “gory”). That is, I didn’t take to the Indian garment pronunciation until it became a joke betwixt Mama Dog (who also says it properly). I made mocking use of as Midwestern a “sarry” as I could manage until eventually I didn’t notice I was doing it. Mama Dog worries now that I’ll teach the mispronunciation to Baby Dog, which is certainly a compelling reason for me to stop screwing around.

For her part, Mama Dog seems to delight in adopting Canadianisms. She learned as a teen-ager from a Canadian friend that a bum was an ass, and she knows that the last letter of the alphabet rhymes with Fred and really doesn’t work very well in the big finish of the ABC song. I try to give her more obscure regionalisms, dredging up the most inane slang terms I can remember from high school in northern Alberta. If you were a ditz back there and back then, for example, you were said to be “spinny.” A socially awkward (or perhaps retarded) person was for some reason a “dibbly.”

High school in Alberta being exactly like high school anywhere else, it was common practice between teenage boys to use the word “fag” as a catch-all imprecation. In theory, it meant “homosexual,” but in practice it could mean “idiot,” “jerkoff,” “person I don’t like,” or “hi there.” And of course there were a million synonyms in use, most of which you already know. The one that the youth of Alberta could claim for their own was “bumstabber,” shortened for handy use to “bumstab.” We were a classy lot.

Mama Dog’s favourite of my high school expressions, though, is “Just a-givin’ ‘er.” This is used to connote great energy or vigour being brought to bear in the performance of a task. So, if one of my little high school chums were to catch sight of a known homosexual of a flighty and darkish nature shovelling snow like a steam engine, he might be moved to say, “Look at that spinny bumstab dibbly. He’s just a-givin’ ‘er.” Thought probably not.

Today I second-guess my accent so much that I feel like I really can’t sound properly like a Canadian if I try. I don’t remember exactly how to say “house” naturally. The one thing I can always do when called upon, though – and the one thing that’s sure to reduce Mama Dog to helpless giggles, is my one-sentence impersonation of “dumb Canadian guy.” That’s when I put on my best Bob and Doug voice and say “Oh, geeze, eh?” It gets her every time. And no, I won’t do it for you, unless you’re Mama Dog. Or Canadian.
*Although I detest that particular euphemism. Does one really rest there? If one’s hiding in a stall instead of working, I suppose, but I’ve settled on “men’s room” as my compromise of choice.

Sunday, December 05, 2004


I’m a pretty terrible poker player, but it’s my good fortune to have a regular poker game where that doesn’t seem to be much of a handicap. I never think to calculate odds, but if I did I wouldn’t know how to do it. I have a vague notion what pot odds are, but the concept never seems to enter my head during an actual game. I bluff when it makes absolutely no sense to do so. I don’t bluff when it would. I stay in hands far past the point of hopelessness, just because I like to keep playing. Here’s where I come off lucky, though: everybody else in the game is in the same boat, and maybe more so. No matter how ineptly I play through a given night, there’s always going to be somebody at the table paying even less attention to sound gambling precepts.

The game’s been going on a regular basis – some years more regular than others – since about 1996. Since 1999 I’ve been keeping a spreadsheet tracking everybody’s performance in the game. I’ve had my ups and downs, but for most of that time I’ve been steadily winning and am now closing in on $1,000 up. It’s not quit your day job money, but my lead is large. My nearest competition – Mama Dog, coincidentally – is around $250 up. Only four of us have cracked $100 in five years.

I’ve come up with a few different theories over the years about why I appear to have performed better than other players over the long run. One is that I’m the most regular of regular players. I’ve missed maybe two or three games in five years. So maybe I’ve just had more practice and more cracks at the money than other players – but that doesn’t explain why there are so many regular regulars who regularly finish in the red.

Another theory is that while I don’t pay any more attention to odds than anybody else does, I probably do pay more attention to the other cards on the table. The flaw in that argument is that while I think I probably read the table better than most of the other players, I tend not to follow through and act on the information I glean. “He’s obviously got the fourth queen,” I’ll think, looking dubiously at my own low straight. And then I’ll raise anyway. I disregard any intel that keeps me from following the course of action I’ve already decided upon. I’m kind of Republican that way.

The explanation that seems to me the most correct is that, although I’m the obsessive keeper of the statistics and was for years among the most enthusiastic proponents of the game, I’m probably also the one who’s generally least arsed about winning or losing. It probably doesn't appear that way to most of the other players. In fact, they would probably think the opposite is true. But my philosophy of gambling has always been: “Come to the game with money you’ve already said goodbye to.” It’s not like we play for any real stakes – it’s a $20 buy – but I see players agonising over whether or not to toss in that extra quarter. I don’t think I’ve genuinely agonised over a bet in five years. (There’s one of my tells, for any players who are reading: if I appear to be stressing over whether or not to bet, it probably means I’m faking it.) I put my money in the pot and if I win – hey great! – and if not, so what? The money’s already gone as far as I’m concerned, and if I had any ego invested in the outcome, I don’t think I’d be able to play.

What I’m describing is a pattern of play that would get me eviscerated in real tournament play. I’d be the rube at the shark convention, swimming around with a bucket of chum in each hand. In a friendly home game where people show up to get drunk and gossip, it’s apparently, counter-intuitively, a winning strategy.

We had a game last night. I finished $5 up. No big, but it’s another little chug towards that $1,000. Maybe if I make it there one day I’ll just trash the spreadsheet. It would, after all, better fit my strategy not to know how I’m doing.