b Papa Dog's Blog: March 2005

Papa Dog's Blog

A Thing Wherein I Infrequently Write Some Stuff

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Four True Life Stories and One Total Lie

This post is what the title says it is. I got this idea about a week ago and I didn’t even realise until I looked at the calendar just now that it’s a perfect April Fool’s post…most of you won’t see it until April 1 anyway.

So – read the following four anecdotes. Four of them are as close to the truth as memory and prejudice will allow. The fifth is just something I totally made up. Cast your vote for the one you think is bogus in the mini-poll at the left. Mama Dog’s not necessarily disqualified from entering, but since she’s heard all four of the genuine anecdotes before, she probably won’t have much trouble figuring it out.

1. I was very excited a few years back when I saw that Robert Altman’s version of The Long Goodbye was going to be playing at the Saint Babs Film Fest. I had failed to see it earlier that year when it played at the Roxie - I won’t point fingers or lay blame in any way other than to mention casually in passing that it was all that fucking Bernardo’s fault. Anyway, Mama Dog and I made a special out-of-season trip to SB for the film fest, specifically to see The Long Goodbye. We got a block of festival tickets and saw a couple of other things, but that one movie was our main reason for being there. Imagine our shock and surprise, then, when we arrived for the screening and learned that a) it was a special screening at which Elliott Gould would be in attendance; b) the tickets were something like $20 or $30 a pop, and our block of festival tickets weren’t worth crap; and c) even if we wanted to buy the expensive tickets we couldn’t because it was sold out. I argued with the volunteer who was denying us entry. The information on the web site had said nothing about a special screening or a different ticket price. We had traveled all the way from Oakland for this movie, and I felt we’d been lured under false pretences. It was all to no avail. We went home, steamed. When we returned to Oakland, I was still pissed. I fired off an email to the director of the SBIFF and cced the Santa Barbara News-Press. I told my story and used one phrase that still rings proudly in my memory: “This is the sort of bait-and-switch,” quoth I, “that usually results in class action suits when perpetrated by car salesmen.” I think it was the combination of the cc to the newspaper and the invocation of the magic phrase “class action” that did it. Within an hour, I received a drippingly apologetic reply from the festival director, saying that we were not the only people who had been misled by the faulty information in the web site. She said she had let other similarly misled people in, but that by the time she arrived we had already left. She sent me a full refund for the cost of the tickets we’d bought. I’ll never go to their stinking festival again, of course, but it’s nice to have a reminder every now and then of the value in being a squeaky wheel.

2. I stayed once or twice in younger years at the Jasper Park Lodge, which I’m now surprised to learn is owned, along with the Banff Springs Hotel, by the Fairmont chain. The Jasper Park Lodge is not a single building but a kind of compound. There’s a main lodge building and then a series of cabins scattered through the woods, connected by pathways. I don’t know if they still do it this way now, but back then room service used to be delivered by bellboys on bicycles. They’d ride through the paths steering with one hand and balancing the tray on another. It was quite a sight. The ground were traversed by all manner of wildlife, and it was not at all unusual to see a deer wander up to your cabin or to the lodge building itself. One afternoon I witnessed an altercation between one of the deer and one of the bicycle bellboys as the bellboy was dismounting by the kitchen entrance after bringing back some dirty dishes from a cabin. I have no idea what the deer had done to piss the bellboy off, but the bellboy yelled at the deer and threw a pat of butter at it. The deer took off into the woods. I’m sure this behaviour on the part of the bellboy was in contravention of several lodge rules, and I doubt he would have done it if he’d known a guest was watching – even a weird kid guest – but I was far enough up the path that he didn’t see me. I was walking around the perimeter of the lodge, and had done it a couple of times already. When I again passed by the kitchen entrance on my next orbit, neither bellboy nor deer was in evidence, but the bicycle was still parked there. I don’t draw any conclusions here. It may have been a complete coincidence. It may have been the work of different deer or maybe even a different mammal entirely. But there on the seat of the butter-flinging bellboy’s bicycle were a couple of nuggets of what I was pretty sure had to be deer shit.

3. One night, back when Bernardo and I shared a sublet on Parker Street in Berkeley , I was coming home from work and noticed an unusually high degree of police activity in the vicinity. There was a cruiser parked by the 7-Eleven and two more on the north side of Parker. Several uniformed policemen were milling about the corner. Our apartment was on the north side of the street, but I figured it was best to avoid getting in the way, so I walked up the south side of the street. As I went, I noticed that a policeman was keeping pace with me on the other side of the street. It was about a block and a half to our building, and I kept thinking he’d stop or go back or something, but he seemed almost to be tracking me. Finally, I was across the street from my building and had no choice but to cross. Out of the corner of his mouth and without turning to look at me, the cop said, “You want to cross back to the other side, sir? It’s for your own safety.” Bumfuzzled, I pointed at my building. “I live here,” I said. “I’m just going home.” “Okay,” said the cop. “Go quickly to your apartment and stay inside.” “Uh…” though I, but I went, and quickly. As I did, I heard the cop say into his walkie-talkie, “There’s a resident coming up the side steps.” My apartment was on the third floor, and I had to go up an outdoor stairwell to get there. As I rounded the first corner of the stairwell, I suddenly found myself looking at the barrel of a shotgun. Behind it was a policewoman and behind her were a few more cops, all decked out SWAT-like. “Uh…” I said, “just going home here.” The policewoman said something into her shoulder mike, apparently confirming my bona fides, and lowered the shotgun. Then she said the words I have pondered forever after: “Hey, did you happen to see a bunch of guys with guns like us who weren’t cops?”

4. When I lived in New Orleans, my attitude toward insect life became, I confess, somewhat laissez-faire. My thinking was that since they were invariably already in residence at any place I moved into, it was I who was intruding on them, not the other way around. I found myself able to withstand a level of peaceful coexistence with insect life that would have been unthinkable to me only a short time before. For a while I had a house uptown mostly to myself. It was cleaner than most of the apartments I’d been living in, but one must face the fact that New Orleans is built on a swamp. The best hotel in town has roaches. That’s just the way it goes. Now, if you’ve never encountered a Palmetto bug before, you’ve missed a rare treat. They’re cockroaches, see – only they can fly! What fun! One day on returning home I found that a Palmetto bug had expired on the front steps. I was busy or had my hands full or something, so I didn’t clean it up right away and forgot about it. The next morning when I went out, the roach corpse was still there, only now there was an ant trail leading up to it, and a lot of the parts had already been stripped. If I had seen a sight like that in Oakland, I would have done something to clean it up, something maybe involving a whole lot of insecticide or at least a well-aimed garden hose. I was at peace with the kingdom of Insecta. I decided it might be interesting just to observe nature taking its course. For the rest of the day, every time I came to the door I would check in on the progress of the indefatigable ant column. Like a time-lapse photography film I saw the Palmetto bug’s remains disappear bit by bit. By nightfall all that was left was a bit of the hard shell. It was a profound reminder of the impermanence of all things. People think of those roaches as unkillable. The next morning, even the hard shell was gone.

5. One night in late ’04, we were dining with the Pirates at Cha’am, and they told us they had some news. They hesitated for a second, but then let spill that they had a baby on the way. They’d been a bit nervous about telling us because they’re sensitive folk and they knew we’d been trying for a long time. They were right to be nervous; by that point, Mama Dog didn’t tend to have warm and fuzzy feelings about other people’s procreative triumphs. Hearing it from the Pirates, though was different. They’re among our nearest and dearest, and Mama Dog could not help but be sincerely happy for them. On the way home, we talked about what good news it was and how the Pirates would be cool parents. Here’s the thing: Mama Dog has known Papa Pirate since high school. I’ve known the Pirates since 1987, when I worked at a store co-owned by Papa Pirate and a globular would-be know-it-all whose name escapes me for the moment (and any other moments that may arise in the future). Between us, we have forty-some years of combined Pirate acquaintance. In all that time, up until last year, never a threat of parenthood arose for Dog or Pirate. How outside the range of likelihood is it, then, that the very next morning after we learned that Baby Pirate was in the offing, we got the phone call that told us Baby Dog too was on the way?

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

"Fredo, you're my older brother and I love you, but don't ever take sides with anyone against the family again. Ever."

I don’t exactly follow these things, but I remember seeing a bit in the paper a week or two back about a small outburst at Scott Peterson’s sentencing hearing. The family of the victim was addressing the convicted murderer – this is a custom I don’t recall ever hearing about until the 1990s or so, and now it seems de rigueur when a high-profile murder case ends in conviction. The grieving relatives harangue the killer and tell him for the record what a vile person he is and how much more worthwhile than his was the life he ended. I’ve got nothing against the practice, it just seems a strange epilogue to the otherwise very formal trial process. It’s an odd mixture of kind of new-agey primal screaming and something archaically tribal, like shunning. Have they been doing this all along in murder trials and I just never heard about it? I wonder. Anyway, in this particular instance, one of Lacey’s relatives was saying something or other and Scott’s father shouted out “What a liar!” He was admonished by the judge and there was a bit of an uproar, and in the end Peterson Sr. stormed out of the courtroom. High drama.

Now that’s something I’ve seen before. The family rallies around their wayward member, and no matter how strong the evidence or how sure the verdict, they can never bring themselves to believe – at least not to publicly admit that they believe – that their loved one could possibly have committed the heinous deed. There are plenty of exceptions, of course – Kaczynski’s own brother turned him in, for example. But it’s a recurrent pattern. I’ve never quite understood how the family bond can so unfailingly trump the preponderance of evidence that convinces a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. Like that kid with the weird hair in Minnesota who shot up his school. His aunt said something along the lines of “That’s not the boy I knew.” Well, sorry, actually, it was.

My family has a murder story, the sesquicentennial of which is not far in the future. My great-great grandfather – the father of the father of Grandma Feunoir – was murdered by his neighbours in rural Ontario, his head whacked with a scythe wielded by the crazy lady next door. His son, my great grandfather, was shot in the back during the incident but survived. It was a case of bad neighbouring gone awry, with the added element of sectarian friction brought over from the old countries; my ancestors were Protestants and the neighbours were Catholics, and back then that was still a big deal.

Last month, my mom came across an article in a Canadian history magazine about a murder in rural Ontario in the 1860s, and was surprised to find midway through that she was reading about our family. She sent me a copy, and I was surprised to find myself becoming annoyed as I read it. The author was making the case that the crime’s punishment was excessive and unfounded, an execution spurred on by the interests of politics rather than justice. The neighbours – a husband and wife – were both hanged for murder. I didn’t disagree with that – it was a staple of our family story that the pair were hopelessly insane and really shouldn’t have been held to account – but the author went a little further. He suggested, more or less, that my great-great- and great-grandfathers had in effect provoked the attack through wicked and abusive behaviour before and on the day in question. As you may surmise, this is not part of our family story. It’s part of the other family’s story, derived from the writings of the executed murderess. Reading this skewed account, I was reduced to a mental stammer. “But – but – why are you taking her word? She was loony, and obvious paranoid schizophrenic!” The fact is, my great-great-grandmother, the widow of the murdered man, herself pled that the pair should not be hanged because they were clearly deranged. Is that in the article anywhere? No. The more I read, the more steamed I got, and the more glad that Grandma Feunoir hadn’t lived to see this slander on her father’s character.

And so – there you go. I guess I can understand why a man might stand up in court and take umbrage when the good name of his uxoricidal filicidal son is blackened in the penalty phase. My great-great-grandfather died a century before I was born, so my personal acquaintance with him has been somewhat limited…but damn it, when there’s a fight, I’m on his side.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005


Today is Mama Dog’s half-birthday, a concept she introduced me to but which is pretty self-explanatory even if you don’t know it. Her birthday is 29 September and six months later you have 29 March, and there you have it, half-birthday. The half-birthday was a big deal for her in younger years but she doesn’t really observe it any more. You must be careful what you offhandedly mention to me, though, because a lot of it gets filed away for later use. Moreover, I’ve been trying to make judicious if intermittent use of my Filofax this year, and this time it really paid off. I put a tickler reminder in last Tuesday, and even though I didn’t open the thing up until Thursday, I still had plenty of notice to prepare a wee surprise, which went over swimmingly and has earned me another solid cache of Husband Points, the only currency worth investing in.

I don’t know if I mentioned this before, but Baby Dog’s half-birthday is a curious one; Christmas. She was born 25 June which (if you’ll count along with me on your fingers) is exactly six months from 25 December. When this was first pointed out to me – by Mama Dog, naturally – my first thought was that Baby Dog is one lucky wee bairn. Children born close to Christmas are known to get gypped in the present department. It stands to reason that a child born as far as possible from Christmas will make out like a kissing bandit on both days. There is, admittedly, little danger of Baby Dog going through life unspoilt, but with that particular birthday her doting forebears will have no excuse not to pile on the largesse every six months like clockwork.

It took a while for the other thought to pop into my head, but eventually it did, to wit: if she’s born as far away as possible from Christmas, isn’t that an indication she could be, uh, you know, the antichrist? So far she seems way too adorable for that to be the case, and she hasn’t levitated in her crib or anything, but heck, the whole point of an antichrist is you never know, right? So I’m keeping an eye out for telltale signs – creepy music starting up when she turns around to look at me, animals apparently obeying her telepathic commands, voodoo men turning up in the basement, that sort of thing – but so far nothing. I’ll keep you posted in case she seems inclined to envelop mankind in a lake of fire or anything like that. Or, wait, does God do that bit? Note to self – see if there’s a Cliffs Notes for the Book of Revelation.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Gettin' Me Some Trim

I don’t know if it quite qualifies as a fetish, but I’ve always taken perhaps excessive enjoyment in having my hair worked on by a woman. I’m not talking actual arousal here – there’s no tenting of the drop cloth when I visit the salon – but I always find myself in a state of peace and contentment when I’m in the chair with the clippers whizzing about my ears, and I get more relaxed than I do anywhere else outside of hearth and home. I close my eyes and the whole world goes away except for the pleasant sensation of my scalp’s burden being reduced. And if I go full out and get a shampoo first? Whoa, Nellie. The merry crackle of the suds, the soothing jet of warm water, the delicate fingers massaging my scalp…it could be described as a Zen state if you didn’t know much about Zen and thought it had something to do with a relaxed state of physical pleasure. When I still had the hippy hair, it was a reliable though usually ineffectual come-on; women would want to play with my hair, and I’d let them. Okay, sometimes I’d insist. It was fair trade. They liked to brush and comb and stroke and braid and I liked to be brushed and combed and stroked and braided. It was an easy avenue to establish a false sense of intimacy, and if that didn’t work, it still felt good.

I remember the first time a woman (other than my mother) cut my hair. I guess I was about twelve. She was wearing a green tracksuit, which seemed kind of casual back then. I commented later, to the amusement of my siblings, that I’d never before had my hair cut by someone who didn’t have hairy knuckles. In fact, she had rather a hairy face. She had a weird little mole on her cheek with a little shock of hair coming out of it. I don’t know why she didn’t trim that; she had all the necessary equipment. She was quite attractive otherwise, but almost thirty years later I can still picture that mole.

There have been rather a few coiffeuses in my life since then. There was a Vietnamese girl in downtown Oakland whom I saw regularly when I worked nearby. She spoke little English but my needs were uncomplicated. I would say “just half an inch,” which back then referred to how much to remove rather than how much to leave. In New Orleans there was the genuine southern belle who said to me, “Y’all look like you’re gonna go to sleep in my chair,” to which I replied dozily, “No, I’m just having a really good time.” There was the mother-and-daughter team in Berkeley, mom a severe-looking henna-haired lady with a disarmingly unexpected smile and daughter an impossible nymphet. I think they were Filipinas and like the Vietnamese girl didn’t speak much English, which proved a little more problematic the time I tried to get my hair dyed old man grey and just couldn’t make them understand what I wanted. I ended up looking like Andy Warhol. It occurs to me now that there have been two Donnas, the one in Vancouver who gave me every haircut I had in that town, and the one in Oakland who became my stylist because she was Mama Dog’s stylist. Mama Dog too has shorn me a few times, though alas she doesn’t think highly enough of her own skills to do it on a regular basis.

I’ve been overdue for a trim for the last couple of weeks. It was one of the few things I was supposed to do this weekend, but somehow or other I never got off my ass to do it. After the car crapped out and we were housebound, it occurred to me that I could just go to the salon a block from my office. I started to say as much to Mama Dog, but then decided to save it as a surprise. It’s funny; I’ve worked in this same building for something like twelve out of the last fifteen years, and the salon has been there the whole time, but I’ve never set foot in it until today. Turns out it’s run by a husband and wife team in their fifties, and by perfectly random chance it was Mama Barber who did my hair. Really, I’d have been okay with it if it was the Papa man. A haircut still feels good if a man does it; I guess it just feels more special to me when I’m being fussed over by a woman. I had her take off all but half an inch and shave the beard down to practically nothing.

When I got home, Mama Dog saw the change right away. She inspected and cooed and expressed approval. She ran (as the song goes) her fangers* through my hair. So I see another woman now and then for acts of tonsorial pleasure and maintenance, but all roads lead to home. This scalp’s married to Mama Dog and it’s time now for it to repose on the pillow to her left.
*paul – that’s not a typo.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Brain on Vacation on a Rainy Carless Bunny Sunday

We’ve been housebound today because the auto is kaput. It failed to start yesterday when Mama Dog went out to go to the Berkeley Bowl. She called AAA – you may be as surprised as I was to learn that “AAA” refers not to a small battery but to some sort of Association for Automobiles they have here in America – and a fellow from that service came and gave her a jump. No, don’t be alarmed; that just means he attached wires from his truck to her car to recharge the battery, not that they had sex. I made the same mistake and went after the guy with an axe,* so Mama Dog had to use a fake name when the car failed to start at the Berkeley Bowl and she had to call them again.

Anyway, the car failed to start again this morning, so it’s going to spend tomorrow at the vet’s. We didn’t really have any big plans for today and most places are closed on account of the holiday where the bunny got nailed to a chocolate cross or something like that, so it didn’t put a crimp into anything in particular, but still. The trip to El Cerrito to get a new stopper for the back toilet got put off, and you can imagine into what kind of a tizzy that could throw a fellow.

To add insult to injury, it turned rainy in the late afternoon. I had been planning to take Doggy Dog out for his afternoon perambulation, but it was coming down more than somewhat, so I decided to wait it out. We went out during a lull, but it started to come down again halfway through our route. Fortunately, it didn’t come in full force until we were home safe and dry. Rainy day, no car. At least I finally got to watch last Monday’s episode of The Shield. I screwed up the VCR setting and only got the first 15 minutes of it. Fortunately, I know a bunch of people who tape it regularly, so a backup didn’t prove difficult to come by.

I had time to read today and finished The End of the Affair. Odd that I should come to the end of one of Graham Greene’s more overtly Catholic books on an Easter Sunday. If I was one of the characters in the book, I would surely think that God was trying to tell me something. I’m not, though, so conclusions will remain undrawn.

Didn’t I promise five substantive posts in a row? I guess I did. I can’t even plead that I’ve been too busy today, because other than taking care of Baby Dog I’ve mostly been bumming around and watching TV. The grey cells appear inactive, and I think I’ll bow to their wishes and give them the rest of the night off.
*No, really, don’t be alarmed. I’m making up this part for comic effect…or am I?

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Bodies, Rest, and Motion

Raising a young child, I think, is largely about time management. That is, getting anything done while raising a small child is all about managing who sleeps when.

Yesterday, because it was a day that evidently has some cultural significance to Christendom, I was allowed to leave work about ten minutes early slightly buzzed on a cheery Chardonnay served in a plastic cup. That extra ten minute head start somehow got me home about a half hour earlier than usual, and since there was still daylight we decided to take a family dog walk. We didn’t take a long walk – just to the mailbox and back – but the forward motion of the stroller worked its usual magic and by the time we got home, Baby Dog was fast asleep. It wasn’t yet 6:30, and she had already had her afternoon nap, so this was something of a quandary. Do we wake her so that she’ll got to bed in her usual range between 7:30 and 8:30, or do we just call it an early bedtime? We let chance decide. Since taking her out of the stroller and putting her into the crib didn’t wake her up, we called it bedtime. We had a quiet dinner à deux and a leisurely evening of Mummy and Daddy time. Around ten, Baby Dog woke and had a little mother’s milk. She settled back down to sleep afterwards, as did Mama Dog, and I plopped down on the couch to watch my stories with the headphones on until I felt tired. (I’m checking out that new version of Longstreet, which is actually pretty good even though it’s being relentlessly promoted.) Around eleven, I was feeling kind of tired and thinking of shutting the box off, so of course that’s the moment Baby Dog chose to wake up.

I went in to shush her back to sleep. I keep wondering when the shushing thing is going to stop working. The premise is that it mimics the sound of the womb, and one would think that’s no longer a recent enough experience to be much comfort for her. Still and all, it usually does the trick. At first, this seemed no different. Even though she was crying out, she was mostly asleep, and a little shushing and a gentle rocking at her crib put her back out. I sat down to watch a little more of my show, and she started crying again.

This went back and forth a few times; cry, shush, sleep, cry, shush sleep. Then I made the crucial error. I picked her up, meaning to hold her as I shushed her. I should have known better. In fact, I did know better, but I was groggy and thought it would be worth trying something new. As long as she was prone and cozy in the crib, all it took was a little susurration to put her back to sleep. The minute she was up on my shoulder, though, she was moving about and waking up. in seconds, she was wide awake, thrashing about, and babbling. Since she was saying “Mamamamama,” I thought maybe she was hungry – she hadn’t had a proper dinner – so I stumbled into the bedroom and presented her to Mama Dog. “She’s wide awake now,” I said. Mama Dog, bleary with sleep, asked “Whaddaya want me to do?” The milk bar, apparently, was dry.

Not knowing what else to do, I spread a blanket out on the living room floor and let Baby Dog play. At first, thinking she’d got to sleep soon, I left her in her sleep sack, and watched her rolling about on the blanket, playing with toys, babbling, slapping the floor with her hands, and generally behaving as though it was sunny midmorning. Bemused, I lay next to her in the dark and wondered when I’d be allowed to sleep. She showed no signs of tiredness whatsoever. I took her out of the sleep sack and gave her some toys. She was having a jolly old time.

Mama Dog got up and looked in on us around midnight, astounded that the girl was still up. At long last, Baby Dog started slowing down, doing a little eye-rubbing, and generally looking like she might again be susceptible to sleep. I put her to bed, and she cried. I tried shushing a bit, but she was clearly too awake. I was a bit stymied. When she had at least quieted down, I got in bed and lay awake, listening to her intermittent chattering and crying. It seemed she was winding down. At 12:45, the house was quiet. I got up and looked in on her. She was asleep.

By 7 a.m. she was awake again, and Mama Dog got up to deal. I tried to sleep in, but Doggy Dog, having decided that the time had come to start the day, stood by the bed whining at me to get up and let him out. I kicked him out of the bedroom and buried my ears in the pillows. I just wanted to doze until 7:30 or so, but it was futile. Baby Dog was starting her morning chatter, my stomach was rumbling, and I had to face the day.

We’d had some vague breakfast plans with the Pirates, but by the time they called we were already feeding Baby Dog and thinking about feeding ourselves. The thought of waiting in line at a breakfast place on a Saturday morning didn’t appeal. Mama Dog made tentative plans to go with them to the Farmer’s Market in late morning instead.

Poor abused Doggy Dog waited patiently for his morning walk. I had a videotape to pass on to El Dingo, so I suggested that we take a family walk to his place in Temescal to deliver it. That we did, a pleasant forty minute round trip through a tree-shaded path. Predictably, Baby Dog fell asleep in the stroller on the way back. I tried dully to figure out what to do with myself and a half hour had passed before I realised I should take a nap.

While I was snoozing, the Pirates called Mama Dog. She told them Baby Dog should probably be done her nap by around 11:30 and they could go out then. Shortly before 11:30, they emailed to say that Baby Pirate was now down for a nap and that they’d call when she was up.

Sometime around noon, I was again playing on the living room floor with Baby Dog. The phone rang. It was Mama Pirate. “Baby Pirate’s still asleep,” she said. “That’s okay,” I told her. “Mama Dog’s just gone for a nap now. I’ll have her call you when she wake’s up, but Papa Pirate will probably be asleep by then.”

In the end, our breakfast with the Pirates which was delayed to a morning outing with the Pirates turned into dinner with the Pirates. We were supposed to go over to their place, but even that didn’t work out – the battery on Mama Dog’s car crapped out, so the Pirates had to come here instead. That at least can’t be blamed on sleep schedule.

Now the day’s gone by and Baby Dog is asleep at her normal time. If we play our cards right, tomorrow we’ll have one more crack at staying awake for an entire weekend day.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Those Are People Who Died, Died

I hope you’ll forgive the fact that I keep cycling back to New Orleans. A lot of stuff happened to me while I lived there and I’ve had sufficient time to ponder that stuff and turn it into bloggable anecdotes. I just hope I don’t sound like Cliff Clavin talking about Florida.

Not everything that happened there was good, nor has all of the bad stuff that happened receded into the category of things to have a rueful laugh over now. Something that’s hard to overlook is how many of the friends I made there are no longer living. Bobby died of AIDS shortly after I moved away. He’d been living with his impending demise for a long time, long enough to make some plans for it. He told me once he wanted me to do his eulogy because he thought I could probably make the mourners laugh. I can’t tell you what a weird mixture of emotions that gave me. I was honoured, of course, that he felt so highly of my rhetorical skills – but also chilled at the thought of a world without Bobby (the one I live in now), to say nothing of a bit of premature flop sweat at the thought of having to speak in public. It didn’t happen. Nobody knew how to reach me and the funeral was over before I even got the word that he had died. They had a jazz funeral for him in the Quarter. I wish I could have been there.

Kenneth went a couple of years later to the same killer. He was to Bobby as Bobby was to me and so many others. A guide, a mentor, someone who worked always to raise the limits of one’s aspirations. He was Bobby’s Bobby. I was never as close to Kenneth as I was to Bobby, but I got to know him pretty well in the last year or so I was in New Orleans. He was the one who gently prodded me into telling my stories in front of an audience at Dramarama (yes, flop sweat ensued, but I got through it). He was deceptively soft spoken. He would make an aside so quietly and gently that it would take a moment to realise it was a barb. He was a compulsive organiser, only of people rather than things. He was always finding ways to get people to work together for some worthy goal. When Kenneth died, Mama Dog and I were in a somewhat stormy early stage of our relationship. In fact, we were in the middle of a loud argument about some stupid thing when the phone rang and I found out that Kenneth had died. You know the scene in a movie where somebody gets a call like that, and they just collapse down into a chair with a look of shock on their face? I did that. All the stress and anger was superseded by shock and grief. I guess it’s kind of awful, but I welcomed it. It was an emotion that came automatically with its own release mechanism. I guess that was the first time Mama Dog ever saw me cry. Maybe the last, I don’t know. The argument evaporated. There was no way to fight now. That’s Kenneth; mediating from beyond the grave.

Not everybody I lost there had both the time and the impetus to contemplate their mortality. At the time I lived in New Orleans, it was the murder capital of the United States. People round here think Oakland is some badass violent town. A couple of years ago, Oakland’s murder rate hit a scary peak of 28 murders per 100,000 people. In 1994, the year I really made New Orleans my home, there were 425 murders; that’s 87 per 100,000 people. It got so bad that murder was never more than a degree of separation away. If you didn’t personally know somebody who’d been killed, you knew someone who had lost a friend or a relative to idiotic senseless violence.

I mentioned Tom before, in my posts about Thomas the homeless guy. Tom was my roommate for a month. He wasn’t as close a friend as Bobby or Kenneth. I can’t say we ever had a really meaningful conversation, though we did hang out a few times and got along relatively well for people as fundamentally dissimilar as we were. He was a gentle hippy boy, and I never heard him say an unkind word about anyone. He was only 23 years old, and he still seemed in some ways unformed and childlike. He didn’t really know how to take care of himself, but he tried to take care of others. He had cats that kept having kittens and the kittens kept dying because he couldn’t afford to take them to the vet and get them properly checked out. I honestly think he died because he just didn’t understand – viscerally understand – that he lived in a place that was truly dangerous. Sure, it could happen to anyone, anywhere…there was a woman who got shot coming out of a restaurant on a busy street, and another guy who got killed waiting for a streetcar in daytime. But Tom…I don’t know, he was naïve. He didn’t think twice about wandering around the streets in the wee hours, and that’s what he was doing when some motherless fuck jumped out of a car and shot him in the face.

I don’t know why exactly, but Tom has been haunting me lately. I’ve been wondering if he had time to understand what was happening, and imagining how he must have reacted if he did. I see him taking a step back, putting up his hands in front of his face in a futile defensive gesture. I can vividly see his squint, his face screwed up in anticipation and probably disbelief. I think he probably would have been a bit puzzled. Like, “Why are you doing this?” “Why to me?” I can’t understand why either. Tom never hurt a fly.

I guess the thing that’s haunting me is that look of wounded innocence, and the reason it’s haunting me is because I’m a father now. I said to Mama Dog a couple weeks back that it made me sad to think that someday someone was bound to use sarcasm on our daughter. Really. The thought of an unkind word directed at Baby Dog makes my heart sink. The idea of anyone ever directing real violence at her…well, that’s unthinkable. As it happens, I met Tom’s father once, by chance. I was standing on a corner in the Marigny, smoking dope with Lucius and a couple of other miscreants when Tom came around the corner with an older man who turned out to be his father. I waved smoke away and made a lame joke about how some bad people had just walked by smoking marijuana. I got the impression later that Tom’s dad wouldn’t have turned down a toke, but it was too late to switch tacks by then. He seemed a nice guy, and he’d raised a nice son, and I just can’t imagine what he felt when he got that terrible phone call.

So…we have this daughter, and it’s beyond the power of any poor mortal to keep any other poor mortal safe from all injury for an entire lifetime. All we can do is teach her the best we can to take care of herself and to see the world as clearly as she’s able. And I guess we’d better get off our asses and childproof the house.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

'Tis I'll Be Here in Sunshine or in Shadow

For the I-don’t-know-how-manyeth day in a row I’m starting late and have a head too full of mush to come up with much of substance for the faversham. I’ll tell a quick one from today, though, that will amuse the two of you who know Dan the Chemist. Today, having finally run my course with Tom Waits, I was back to listening to that last Johnny Cash album. Dan came by for something or other and asked me what I was listening to. I said “Johnny Cash.” He asked which album, so I slid the jewel box over and he scanned the contents. “It’s pretty much all covers,” I explained. Dan’s eyes popped out a little. “Does he really sing ‘Danny Boy?’” he asked. I said yeah and handed him the headphones, skipping ahead to get to the right track. Dan grinned and started to sing along in his cracked Brooklyn voice. Standing right there at my desk, this grizzled old red diaper hippie grinning hugely and singing “Danny Boy” apparently a capella. Passers-by stopped and stared, but really it’s just another day at the office.

Oh, PS – I realised almost as soon as I posted last night that I was misrepresenting the Tom Waits album in several different ways, but I was too apathetic to go back and fix it. I’ll quickly post errata here. First of all, I was quite wrong when I said Waits did vocal percussion in lieu of drums; there might actually be a track where that’s true, but for the most part he does is in addition to the more traditional drum sounds. And more importantly, describing what he does on the album as a “human beatbox” thing is terribly inadequate and makes it sound completely dorky. It’s not. Just go listen yourself. What do I know from music?

And now my pledge: after today I will do at least five posts in a row that are at least moderately thought out and developed to a point where they kind of maybe amount to something worth reading. Get myself back on that pony. Yee-haw.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005


It’s been a longass busy day – I actually made it to work on time only to have to work through lunch and stay late. No justice. What got me through it was the photograph of Mama Dog and Baby Dog (when Baby was still so small that we had to hold her head up for her in photographs) and the compact disc player. Except for a brief flirtation with the Tiger Lilies first thing in the a.m., I spent pretty much the entire day listening repeatedly to Tom Waits’ most recent album, Real Gone. More than any Waits album I can recollect, this one is all about percussion. On Mule Variations, there’s one song – I think it’s Low Side of the Road? – where the slamming of a dresser drawer is the most prominent element in the rhythm section. Real Gone takes that unconventional percussive impulse and runs with it. There are several tracks where Waits does a human beatbox thing in lieu of drums. The whole thing becomes pleasingly hypnotic when you’re typing about dirt, and I kept finding myself restarting the disc every time it ended. When I stumbled into the BART station at 6:30, my head was still reverberating with the weird syncopations. The station agent made an announcement as I came down the stairs. It sounded like “Hold on to your dirigibles at all times,” but I was pretty sure that couldn’t be right. Then I started turning “dirigible” into a little rhythmic chant in my head – “dir-IG-I-ble, dir-IG-I-ble, dir-IG-I-ble!” I was thinking how that word could form a perfect spine for one of those Waits songs, and I knew then that I’d probably played the damn thing one time too many.

I needed to decompress and some miscreant at MacArthur station helped me out by triggering police activity and shutting down traffic through the station just as my train was approaching. We sat patiently on the track for an extra five or ten minutes, and I had time to read one more short chapter of my book. I trundled home woefully late. We had tried a new routine today, with me walking the dog in the morning and Mama Dog ready to walk him when I got home (traditionally it’s been the other way around), and first day out I gummed the thing up by working late. Still, I got to spend an extra twenty minutes playing with Baby Dog before bedtime. It was nice also not having to turn around and go out as soon as I got home.

Now we've eaten and Baby's asleep. We'll have a couple of hours of peace and quiet before we turn in. I’ll probably listen to the same thing all day tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Shrieking For Daddy

Baby Dog’s new thing – one thing about babies is, there’s always a new thing – is giving me a thorough shrieking at when I get home from work. You could be excused for not recognising it as a sound of delight. It sounds kind of like the “there’s an unsnatched human” scream from the middle (1978) version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Of course, she’s been making off-putting shrieks of delight for ages, so that’s not really the new thing. The new thing is the volume and duration of the shriek. She holds the note like that singer in the cartoon under the misapprehension that Bugs Bunny is Luh-Luh-Leopold! You keep thinking, “Okay she has to stop now” – only it turns out, she doesn’t. She keeps on going. I’ve said it before – I said it the day she was born: my girl’s got lungs.

The homecoming greeting has been a big event in our house since I went back to work. Maybe before then, but to a lesser extent. Once I was working again, I made a point every day of alerting Baby Dog quite emphatically to my return home. She could hardly have missed the point, since Doggy Dog barks up a storm when I come back, but if she somehow failed to notice that, she would have had to take notice of the big beardy man thrusting his face into hers and crying out “Daddy’s home! Yaaaay!” My theory, in fact, is that the current Body Snatchers shriek is her approximation of my “Yaaaay!” If that’s what she thinks I sound like, I’ll have to one day apologise for subjecting her to such an alarming display.

Mama Dog has always commented on how happy Baby Dog is to see me when I come home. The other night – failed Miller’s Crossing night – Baby Dog was sitting on the lap of one of our guests when I arrived. At the sight of me, my daughter beamed and wriggled and spread out her arms. “She can hardly wait for you to pick her up!” our guest exclaimed.

It all makes me wonder how much of this ritual is unfettered emotion and how much is just learned behaviour. That is, does Baby Dog adore her dear old dad so much that she becomes a wriggling bean sidhe when she sees him walk in the door, or has she just been trained by example to behave so over the course of the past six months? Is filial love innate, or is it a form of behaviour we quickly learn is expected of us, and which we adopt as we adapt? My hope, of course, is that it’s all just simple dripping love that I shall continue to enjoy for the rest of my life. But, you know, who really knows. You know?

And in thrilling hit tracker tales: three different people have come to the faversham in the last couple of days by Googling “Lulu Rae.” Lulu Rae is the name of a chocolate shop on College Avenue. I mentioned it in passing in a post about a week ago, and linked (as I have here) to their unfinished web site. The weird thing is, that one measly little mention was enough to rate me the #2 spot on Google’s relevance meter for the phrase “Lulu Rae” (right after the unfinished Lulu Rae web site). I don’t know what people are gaining by clicking on my lame little reference to the store, but I’m going to see to it that I keep my place of prominence on that particular search. So, you heard it here first: Lulu Rae, Lulu Rae, Lulu Rae, Lulu Rae, Lulu Rae, Lulu Rae, Lulu Rae, Lulu Rae, Lulu Rae, Lulu Rae, Lulu Rae.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Me If You've Heard This One

It looks like another wet week here in Oaktown. Evening walkies with Doggy Dog were a tad on the damp side and involved the unpleasant crunch of the occasional shellicky bookey unfortunate enough to have placed itself in the path of my thick-heeled cowboy boots.

A sight glimpsed through the curtain of rain gave me pause. It was a Stop sign, modified by graffiti to provide a philosophical point dear to the author. This is not a new phenomenon. I first noticed such guerrilla commentaries when I moved to Berkeley in the mid-80s. I suppose it was old hat then, but I’d never seen anybody do it in Grande Prairie. At the time – 1985 – the standard message was simply to add “Reagan” under the “Stop,” so that it became “Stop Reagan.” Later, it was became “Stop Bush.” Still later it became “Stop Bush” again. I was in New Orleans for a good chunk of the Clinton years, so I’m not sure who was being stopped then.* Nowadays, though – the stop sign I read tonight had “Don’t” written at the top and “smokin’ weed” at the bottom which, if I’m going too fast for you, adds up to “Don’t stop smokin’ weed.” Does this signal a shift of generational apathy? Or is it just that I don’t live in Berkeley anymore?
*Maybe “Don’t” on top and “thinkin’ about tomorrow” on bottom?

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Steaming Mad at Dirt

Today I steam cleaned the living room rug and the rug in the basement suite with a steam cleaner rented from the neighbourhood franchise of a national grocery chain. It surprised me (but shouldn’t have) that the activity really took me back to bygone days. When I was just shy of 21, I spent a summer cleaning carpets in rural Alberta to earn a bankroll to stake me when I moved to California. I wasn’t even a carpet cleaner – I was an assistant carpet cleaner. The top man on our double-bill was my brother-in-law Larry, who had been in the dirt sucking game for about a year and considered himself an expert. Compared to me he was, and I wasn’t quite sharp enough to make such fine distinctions on the job. The apparatus we used was bulkier and more primitive than the little box Mama Dog and I rented today. It was a shampoo system rather than a steam system. I’d do the pre-vac – that’s a little bit of jargon meaning I’d vacuum – and then Larry would go over the carpet with the shampooer. When he was done he’d go off to smoke and drink coffee and schmooze with the customer while I did the hard grunt work 0f extraction. I’d vacuum up all the wet suds and dirt. You really had to put muscle to bear on the extractor; it was tough work. My first week as a carpet cleaning assistant, I lost ten pounds. The second week I lost another ten. After that, I started doubling my food intake to keep from wasting away. The whole thing is a blur of waffles and ice cream.

As I was cleaning the rugs today, I remembered two of Larry’s sleazier tricks of the trade. One was the answer he always gave when a customer asked how long it took the rugs to dry. “Within 12 hours,” he’d always say. Laughingly, he told me this was “the big lie.” The drying time depended on the kind of carpet, and really you never could tell. Sometimes it would take a couple of days to dry, but by then we’d be long gone. The other was a thing he never failed to do after we had finished a job. He would draw the customer’s attention to the brown sludgy water in the barrel of my extractor before I went out to dump it. “Look at that,” he’d say. “Look at all the dirt we got out.” He’d shake his head and marvel anew at the efficacy of our carpet cleaning equipment. He did that rap on my first day on the job. Later, in the car, he explained to me that if you take a brand new carpet straight from the factory, shampoo it, and suck the water out, the water will look brown and probably a little sludgy from the dyes and fibres. Not to say that we weren’t cleaning the carpets; but pointing to the dirty water as evidence was pretty much specious.

I remembered that. Today, when I was done with the two rugs, I brought the tank of water up to flush in the back bathroom. Before I did, I called Mama Dog over to have a look. “Check it out,” I said. “Look how much dirt I got out of the rugs.” Just wanting to make sure I got credit for a job well done.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Ziggity Zug

Another thing about becoming a parent is that suddenly all sorts of clichés that you’ve taken for granted from their rote appearances in movies and television suddenly make sense in real life. Like, how many times have you watched a scene where the parent looks in on the sleeping child, smiles indulgently, gently removes the toy from the tyke’s grasp, and pulls the covers up? It honestly never occurred to me that people do that in real life until I found myself checking in on Baby Dog last thing before I go to bed every night. It started off as new parent paranoia – I had to listen and be certain she was breathing and didn’t have the blanky wrapped around her head before I could rest easily. Now it’s just a fixed part of my routine. I turn out the living room light. I open her door. I lean on the dresser and peer over the edge of the crib. I still check to make sure she’s breathing and that the blanky’s in a non-threatening position. But now I’m fairly certain I’ve added an indulgent smile to the repertoire. How could I not smile indulgently at my sleeping daughter? I don’t think it can be done, at least not by me.

One of Baby Dog’s favourite toys is the Gama-Go Uglydoll given to her shortly after birth by friend Charles. It’s only recently that Baby Dog has been large enough to play with this one, but she’s really taken to it. Mama Dog has named it, for reasons I’ve never thought to enquire after, “Ziggity Zug.” Ziggity Zug has been Baby Dog’s official bedtime doll for the last week or two. She clutches him in the crib as she cries and complains about the fact that she’s being cruelly remanded to sleep.

The other night after a midnight feeding, Mama Dog told me when she put Baby Dog back down to sleep she had given her Ziggity Zug as a comforter, and that it had seemed to work well. At first all I thought was “that’s nice,” but the more I thought about it the less able I was to fall asleep. Ziggity Zug is nearly as big as Baby Dog. While it’s difficult to conceive of a scenario where he could envelop her to the point that her airways would be obstructed, I didn’t like the thought of her asleep all night with the doll on top of her. After about ten minutes I could stand it no more. If I was going to get any sleep myself, I had to check on her. I got up and crept through the living room to her door. I leaned on the dresser and peered over the edge of the crib. There was Baby Dog, snoring softly, with Ziggity Zug lying on her face.

Tiptoeing back to bed, it occurred to me what I had just done; I had smiled indulgently, gently removed the toy from my daughter’s face, and pulled the covers up. I mean, god damn. Am I ready to appear in a State Farm commercial or what?

Friday, March 18, 2005

Can't a Man Sit in a Corner Ignoring the Party He's Supposed to Be Hosting and Watch a Movie in Peace?

I was going to talk about Miller’s Crossing today, but as it happens, I didn’t really watch it last night. Having a party where I ignore everybody and watch a movie is really enticing in theory, but difficult to pull off in practice. Apparently, most of the people in attendance were under the impression I was joking about it. I know, I’m baffled too. When have I ever joked about watching a movie? Assisted suicide and colon cancer, yes. Movies, no. When I discreetly gave the signal to shift the party locus from the living room to the kitchen (I believe my exact words were, “Okay, I’m putting the movie on now, everybody get out.”), there was actually laughter to be heard. Not to point any fingers or lay any blame, but I must sadly note that Mama Dog didn’t help my case any by ignoring me and continuing her conversation. Seeing no alternative, I put the movie on and tried to concentrate over the din of party conversation. On later consideration, it seemed to me this must be what it’s like to go to Foreign Cinema in hopes of seeing a movie.* I sighed and turned the sound up really loud, but of course that just raised the volume level of the conversations so that people could make themselves heard over the volume meant to drown them out. Then Baby Dog went to bed and I had to pause the movie to shush her to sleep. With that mission accomplished, I didn’t want to blast the movie again, so I put the headphones on and turned on the subtitles for the benefit of the one other guy who was halfway paying attention.

Sadly, this was not a choice moviegoing experience. My reasoning had been that, since I’ve seen the movie enough times to have it memorised, I’d be able to follow it regardless of babble and distraction. Alas, there was so much noise and so many interruptions that it just became hopeless. The party broke up when I was about 45 minutes in, and dishes needed to be done and freelance work needed to be finished, so I just packed it in and left the disc paused to the point where I’ll pick it up next St. Patrick’s Day.

Despite all that, I had a bunch of notes on stuff I wanted to mention about the movie, but I left them at work and now I’m too tired to try to reconstruct them from memory. So let’s call it a night for now and later I’ll either return to the subject or not.
*A restaurant where a movie is played against a wall while you dine. They’re successful, apparently, but this strikes me personally as a simultaneous offence against both dining and cinema. The place must be run by people who believe movies are meant to be background noise; which is to say, by the enemy.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Green Day

I may be missing some of the finer theological points here, but my understanding of the whole St. Patrick’s Day deal is that back in Olden Times, this fellow Patrick drove all the snakes from Ireland, and because some of those snakes had been barring the way to certain important beer buckets and poitín stills, his day has been celebrated ever since by happy throngs getting shithammered on serpent-free potables and libations. There’s something in the legend too about converting pagans or something, but that tends to slip the mind after the first few drops of the juice of the barley. At any rate, this is the day when we Caledonians raise glasses of good cheer in honour of our Hibernian cousins, and are generally moved somewhere around closing time to cry out that maybe there’s something in this Papist business after all. Of course, we wake chagrined in the morning and spend the day pinching pennies extra hard (to say nothing of closing mills and foreclosing on orphans), but for the one night a bonhomie and good fellowship cuts across all cultural and religious divides* and a merry time is had by all.

Accordingly, I plan to stay home and watch a movie tonight.

Well, not precisely. I’m actually going to be at a party, but one of the key elements is me watching a movie. We ended up with a bunch of leftover Irish beer after the last poker game. Mama Dog said to me, “Do we have any plans for St. Patrick’s Day?” I said, “Well, I thought maybe I’d watch Miller’s Crossing,” that being what I’ve done on St. Pat’s, more often than not, since 1991. It’s been working well for me for almost fifteen years. Why change now? “I thought maybe we could invite some people over to finish this beer,” said Mama Dog. “Huh,” I said. “Maybe we could do both?” So Mama Dog sent out an Evite inviting people over to drink beer and whiskey and watch me watch Miller’s Crossing. Personally, I’d suggest cutting out the middleman and watching the movie itself, but whatever lends properties of flotation to your seagoing vessel. The tale grew in the telling; we had maybe eight or ten leftover beers, and now we have a headcount of thirteen adults and three infants confirmed for the party. Mama Dog went out and bought beer for a party initially conceived as a means to get rid of beer. I shall refrain from a critique of the logic of this endeavour.

When Mama Dog went out to stock up today, we looked at the headcount, and ruled out the ones (like myself) who loathe beer, multiplied by the square of the hypotenuse, and came up with the correct number to purchase. “Maybe some people will want to watch the movie instead of drink,” said Mama Dog. “Well, I plan to do both at the same time,” I said. The two activities are not, after all, mutually exclusive.

And tomorrow I’ll talk about the movie.
*Excepting perhaps those that explicitly forbid the consumption of alcohol.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

I Use the Word "Uxoricidal" in a Sentence (and that's about it, more's the pity)

It’s been a long day and stuff has happened, but most of it is stuff I’m disinclined for one reason or another to discuss here, so this post is a bit of a struggle. What to talk about? It was a big day in tawdry California murder trials. Death for Scott Peterson and freedom for Robert Blake. I’d assumed guilt in both cases for all the usual inadequate reasons; in Peterson’s case because he dyed his hair, grew a goatee, and was a half-bright self-satisfied dick; in Blake’s case because he was really creepy when he came up to Bill Pullman at that party and said that he’d been to Pullman’s house before and in fact was there right now and then Pullman called his own house and Blake answered. Shit, that’s a wife-killer right there. Also, it’s generally known – or at least I’ve read it in books – that it’s usually the spouse in cases like that, so there you go. Guilty, guilty, guilty. But what do I know? I’m just a newspaper-skimming ignoramus. The jury said the prosecution didn’t make the case, and I’m sure that’s true. That gang has a history of fumbling the prosecution of uxoricidal celebrities.

Well, this is by far the lamest post I’ve done in a raccoon’s age, but this is going to have to suffice for today. Miles to go before I sleep.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The Follicles of Man

Having successfully evaded the clutches of an office meeting last week, today I went gentle into that good noon. Two factors kept me from raging against the dying of the &c: 1) this meeting was only one hour long, not three; and 2) I was getting tired of frozen lunches and quite fancied a spot of free pizza. I made a point of loading up my soggy paper plate as fully as my diet would allow because there is not (as the aphorism goes) any such thing as a free lunch. Every bit of pesto and roasted chicken was paid for with an extra minute of droning corporate tedium. I selected a seat in the back of the conference room where I could rest my head back against the wall, but after the first half hour I made a point of sitting upright lest I be gradually lulled into an embarrassing snooze.

In the middle of the part about the plans for the Project Management Training Committee (something which will not in a million years have any bearing on my job nor ever serve as the basis for a big-budget thriller starring Keanu Reeves or his heirs or assigns), as my eyes were threatening to glaze over for good, I was snapped suddenly back to sharp attention because of a sudden intriguing discovery. Looking around the room I discovered that I might well be the only man in the office with a full head of hair. I’m sure there must be some guys here who don’t have bald spots, but if so they weren’t in my line of sight. I was stunned to find several fellows much younger than myself – at least one still in his twenties – with ‘dos artfully arranged to cover the little haloes of scalp at their crowns. I was particular pleased in the case of the guy in his twenties. I think of him as the Shoulder-Hoverer, for his habit of creeping up behind me and commenting obnoxiously upon whatever happens to be on my screen or typing stand. He quite annoyed me that way last week, in an incident the particulars of which are too involved to go into here. It’s absurd, I know, but I felt the profound satisfaction of an obscure revenge in spotting the way he’d thatched over the empty spot with gelled strands. I was moved to think of the many ways I’ve been vexed by or neglectful of my parents over the years, and it struck me that I have much to thank them for, not least of all the fact that my scalp remains fully clad as I embark upon my forties. Hair stuff's from the mother’s side, right? Thanks, Mom!

These observations quite buoyed me through the rest of the hour. Every time I started to feel the grasping arms of Morpheus, I’d wake myself by looking around the room for a bald spot I hadn’t already noted. There was always another one. The last twenty minutes only seemed to take about an hour. In staff meeting time that's lightning fast, the rule of thumb being 20 minutes = 2.5 hours. I’ll have to remember this the next time I let myself get dragooned into one of these things. It’s either that or try to pick out the people who dress even worse than I do, and I’m not sure how much time that would pass.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Dog Sleeps in Mysterious Ways

When Doggy Dog first joined our family, most things revolved around him. Schedules, trips, configuration of furniture; nothing could be decided without first considering how it might affect the dog. As he would not entertain the thought of sleeping anywhere but with us in our bedroom, and since the bedroom floors are bare hardwood, we got him a nice doggie bed on which to enjoy his twilight repose, twitching his hind leg and sleep-barking at dream squirrels. He usually slept on my side of the bed, presumably because dogs are rather like British sergeants-major when it comes to devotion to hierarchy. Not possessing the ability to suss out the bottom line on a pay stub, he had identified me as the alpha and the leader of the pack. Duty required that he sleep as close as possible to my side should any night time emergency – a squirrel wandering in the window, for example – require him to spring to my defence.

Things changed when Baby Dog arrived. For one thing, her Co-Sleeper ended up on my side of the bed, which meant the dog bed had to find a new home. It’s a small bedroom, with the bed taking up most of the space. There was no room on Mama Dog’s side, and night time feeding required too much foot traffic around the foot of the bed for it to go there, so poor Doggy’ Dog’s little pallet got stashed ignobly under the bed. Throughout the time Baby Dog slept in our room, Doggy Dog slept where he could, getting displaced throughout the night as one parent or the other had to pass across the room. Doggy Dog bore this all with quiet and long-suffering dignity, all according to the dog-in-house-with-babies manual: get up, clack to other side of room, let out old dog groan, lie down, go back to sleep. Groan again if necessary.

When Baby Dog outgrew the Co-Sleeper, she started sleeping in the crib in her own room. Doggy Dog might have perked up when we pulled his bed out, but he probably noticed quickly our pondering glance at the Co-Sleeper. As it turns out, it’s a very handy thing to have at the side of the bed. All sorts of crap can be tossed into it that has no place elsewhere. Baby toys, for example. Baby blankets. Baby clothing. Baby pillows. Big people pillows. Big people blankets. That issue of The Nation I’ve been looking for the last week or two. All the other apparatus outgrown by Baby Dog – the swing, the bouncy chair, the old car-seat – has been relegated to the basement, but the Co-Sleeper is just too handy to banish. Upshot: still no room for Doggy Dog’s bed on my side. All is not lost, though. Because we no longer have to crisscross the room in the wee hours, it made sense to lay out Doggy Dog’s place at the foot of our bed which, come to think of it, is really the traditional dog sleeping spot according to many items of 19th century English literature to make my acquaintance over the years. During the day, his bed would still have to be folded up and put away (or, more likely, wedged hastily under the bed by foot), but at night he would have a place of honour.

That was the theory. Dogs have other ideas, though. During the no-bed period, he had taken to sleeping on Mama Dog’s side, the better to make her curse when she got up in the middle of the night. The space is very narrow, but he apparently decided it was his own. One hypothesis on this is that since she’s been out of work and staying home, Mama Dog has become Doggy Dog’s Main Person, supplanting me in my status of leader of the pack. The irony of this is that Doggy Dog's shift in his allegiance has coincided with my becoming the sole breadwinner and technical Head of Household (according to the IRS). Clearly, dogs do not understand the basic precepts of a capitalist society. The Curmunist Manifesto: from each according to who’s not looking, to each according to who’s home all day.

Dogs also have very different ideas about levels of comfort. Doggy Dog not only does not mind sleeping crammed into the narrow strip between Mama Dog’s side of the bed and the wall, he is markedly ill at ease if anything bars him from doing so. If I stay up late working on this dumb faversham, he’ll lie glumly by the bedroom door, pining for the moment when he can squeeze himself into his tiny little spot of personal space. If that’s not pathetic enough, somewhere along the line he developed the habit of lying with his head under the bed itself. There’s something very sad about the sight of his hindquarters curled up on the little rug, with his big thick doggy neck disappearing under our finely Amish-crafted kip. The other morning I was bending down to get my slippers on my side. I looked under the bed and there, across the dusty boxes of stuff whose nature has been long forgotten and the tumbleweed clumps of his own bygone fur, was Doggy Dog’s face, regarding me with watchful chocolaty eyes.

The heart wants what it wants, they say.* A dog will sleep where it chooses. Our dog chooses a tad strangely, and those more given to personification than I might detect a reproach in Doggy Dog’s self-banishment to our bedroom’s equivalent of the root cellar. I just think he’s found a spot he likes, that smells like him, and from where he can best get on with his duties of guarding The Woman through the night in his sleep.
*At least that was a philandering husband’s excuse on Desperate Housewives a while back.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Not Exactly a Powerhouse of Productivity on Sunday, Either

I don’t know why exactly, but sometime in the last year Oakland City Magazine started showing up in our mailbox every month whether we wanted it or not. I would have to say “not” is the correct answer, but show up it does, and there it lingers on the kitchen table, modestly presenting itself for consideration from anyone casting about for slick and pointless toilet reading. An article in the current issue reminded me of a new place in Rockridge we’d been meaning to check our, the Bittersweet Café. Mama Dog spotted it first, on a College Avenue stroll. It’s a café that specialises in all things chocolate. “Papa Dog would like this,” she thought, and how well she knows her fellow. It’s probably a sign of how busy we’ve been that it’s taken us this long to get around to it, but today we finally made it the centerpiece of an afternoon family outing (sans Doggy Dog, who is alas unwelcome in many North American cafés).

Our initial impression was grave disappointment, mostly on account of the “closed” sign hanging on the door. This farkuckt Oakland Magazine had claimed the place was open until 6 p.m. on Sundays, and although we should have assumed that what was too good to be true was just good enough to be false, we let our enthusiasm subdue our caution. Fortunately, though, Mama Dog persisted. She went inside and spoke with a chap who was probably one of the owners. She told him of the error in the magazine. “That’s not the only thing they got wrong,” he said caustically. All right, it’s us against the magazine. Nothing like a common enemy to bond a small businessman and his prospective patron. He let us come in and order even though they were closed. Way to win business, dude.

I confess I went a little overboard in my first Bittersweet purchase. I ordered a piece of cinnamon chocolate cake to go, but when I found out that we were to be permitted to sit and eat, I got one of their fancy hot chocolates as well. Mama Dog got some sort of iced chocolate coffee thing. The cake was marvellous, and my first sip of the hot chocolate – a concoction of three different kinds of dark chocolate called “The European” – was close to revelatory. Moments later, though, I realised my error. If you’re going to have a rich slab of chocolate cake, the last beverage you want to wash it down with is more chocolate. I should have gotten some milk or something. I had to get some water just to dilute the excess of chocolaty goodness. The last few bits of cake were actually a bit of a chore. Next time I’ll know better.

Baby Dog proved quite a conversation piece during our visit. She likes to go out and meet people, our girl, and she flirted shamelessly with anyone who made eye contact. We got asked twice about her maple leaf booties. “Is she Canadian?” was the inquiry both times. “Yes she is,” was twice the answer, “but she was born at Alta Bates.” Mama Dog is for some reason urging me to go back to this place with Baby Dog but not Mama, just to see what a positive chick magnet a cute baby is for an apparently single man. I suggested I might dress in black and talk wistfully about how hard it’s been caring for the baby by myself since the accident.

When we were done chocolating, we went to Diesel – just a door or two away – to browse. I looked again for anything by Robertson Davies, this time soliciting the help of staff. The young lady asked if I had looked in the Mystery section and I struggled mightily not to roll my eyes. Mama Dog sat down and read while I entertained Baby Dog by strolling her around the store. As I went around, I kept spotting things I thought Mama Dog would like. She knows her fellow and I know my gal; I was right three times out of three. The East Bay photo history, the scathing dissection of business-speak, and the cute-mean cartoon book all met with rousing approval. She purchased the latter, as it made the best substitute for Oakland Magazine as bathroom reading.

After an interval at home long enough for Baby Dog to have her afternoon nap, we made spontaneous dinner plans with the Pirates, meeting them at Picante for supper. Baby Pirate is nearing a year old, and it’s astounding to see how far along she is in the sitting up and almost-walking department. She and Baby Dog have greater and more meaningful interactions every time we see them. It was very cute this time. As Papa Pirate settled his girl into the baby seat, she reached out to Baby Dog, who was seated next to her in the stroller. Grinning shyly, Baby Pirate took Baby Dog’s hand. Baby Dog gave a great big smile. Papa Pirate assured me that her intentions are honourable. Picante’s a great place to take the churrens. It’s always crowded and noisy as hell, so nobody notices the sound of one fussy baby. Fortunately, both the girls were in equable moods throughout the dinner, and in fact displayed many a burst of spontaneous delight. I accidentally enthralled the pair of them by spinning the little sign with our order number on it betwixt thumb and forefinger. I heard Papa Pirate laugh and looked up to see both little girls transfixed with slack-jawed wonder. If only every audience were so easy to unintentionally entertain.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Maybe I Am Like You and Me After All

I’m far behind in any number of endeavours, so naturally I’ve been using the week-end thus far to do none of them. Last night after dog walk, supper, baby bathing, dish washing, and what have you, I stayed up late* to watch part 1 of Unforgivable Blackness, which you may recall I recommended some time back without yet having seen it myself. So now I’ve seen a little over half of it and still say you should all check it out. One thing it has going for it that most previous Burns docs haven’t is archival film as opposed to archival photographs. I had no idea there was so much surviving film footage of Jack Johnson. It’s worth seeing alone for the awesomely (and lopsidedly) brutal title fights. Somewhere in the last quarter of part 1 there was a moment that struck me with a bit of – not exactly déjà vu, but something related. There was an establishing shot of San Francisco, where the Johnson-Jeffords fight was originally supposed to take place. It showed the view up Market Street to the the Ferry Building, ca. 1910. Just as in a movie made today, you see a cable car coming towards the camera, just to make sure you know it’s San Francisco. What hit me, though, was that I was seeing exactly the same spot where I emerge from BART every weekday to go to work – Spear and Market. The Ferry Building looks exactly the same as it does today, but absolutely everything else, even the width and nature of Market Street itself, is different. It’s like seeing a little part of my regular environs transported whole into a different world. Very strange.

Baby Dog was kind enough to let us sleep (mostly) through the night, not getting up for a feed until about 5 a.m. Thursday night she had woken at one in the morning and fussed for about an hour after, so this was a nice change of pace. She even went back to sleep quickly after the 5 a.m. feeding and didn’t stir again until 7:30. Mama Dog brought Baby Dog back to bed with us, thinking maybe she’d doze a little more, but Baby Dog instead chose to express her new and growing curiosity about my tattoos. You try sleeping in when a baby’s trying to pull off the pool ball painted on your shoulder.

Resigned to consciousness, I crawled out of bed, let Doggy Dog out, and cleaned up the last of the previous night’s kitchen mess, so as not to be subject to ire and/or wrath when Mama Dog found the path to the coffee pot blocked by empty ice cream cartons. (Friday morning was weigh day – down to 194, thanks – meaning Friday night was splurge night.) I checked email, made the regular Saturday a.m. call to the parents, and realised with a start that this is a poker night. I’m supposed to send out a reminder to the regular players a few days before the game, but I don’t have anybody to send a reminder to me. I knocked out a quick note which most players probably won’t see until after the game is history, and even went so far as to call a couple of people known not to check their email regularly. I reckoned then I’d done my bit. Mama Dog took Doggy Dog for a walk and I played on the living room floor with Baby Dog. Baby is quite the floor player these days. She still hasn’t worked out how to crawl, but it’s coming soon. She’s quite an accomplished roller and can hold her head and torso up off the floor for ever longer stretches of time. Any day now.

Baby Dog went down for her morning nap and Mama Dog went out again to take Doggy Dog to the vet. It was time for his annual check-up, and because he’s getting on in years (he’s 8 now), it was time for his “senior dog” workup, which was quite extensive. I was left for my own devices for a while and decided that instead of doing anything productive, I’d watch the second part of the Jack Johnson thing. I couldn’t even manage to do that. It had been so long since I’d taped it that I forgot where I’d put part 2. I spent about forty minutes looking through every tape on the shelf next to the TV until it finally occurred to me to try the obvious. I looked on the same tape that had part 1. Sure enough, there was part 2 right after an episode of Lost. I got about 15 minutes into it when Mama Dog came home.

Doggy Dog’s overweight. Like all of us he needs to exercise more and eat less. Poor boy’s been getting short-changed in the walkies department since the arrival of Baby Dog. We are yet again resolved to change that.

While Mama Dog fed Baby her lunch, I spent a pleasant chunk of time shredding all the documents that have piled up in our “to shred” bag in the last several months…cheques from my old bank account, junk mail with details about our mortgage on it, anything with an SSN, that sort of thing. This is a chore Mama Dog usually does but hates to do, so it piles up. I don’t know why I haven’t been doing it all along. I enjoy watching shit get torn up. She’s all – “This is boring and takes forever.” I’m all – “Cool! It shreds staples! Can I try putting an old sponge in here and see what happens?”

After we all had lunched, we went for a family walk around Rockridge. Destination #1 was Rockridge Kids, where Mama Dog wanted to return a bib. “What’s wrong with it?” I asked. “It’s too small and she hates it” was the reply. It must be noted that Baby Dog has never met a bib she didn’t hate, but the “too small” part is probably the crucial element. While Mama and Baby looked at kinder fashions, Doggy Dog and I went first to Pendragon and then to Diesel in hope of finding a copy of World of Wonders, the third and last of Davies’ Deptford books. No soap, radio. We met up with the ladies back at Rockridge Kids and headed up the street to dba Brown’s, where Mama Dog took this photograph of the Danny and the Juniors posterthat I described recently.

Danny y los Juniors
Originally uploaded by papadogduvalier.

You may find it interesting to compare the photograph to the description in my post, which was done from memory. I was wrong about which arms were raised higher than which other arms, and I’m not really seeing the Mordor thing now (I think there were other shadows not in the poster at play making that association), but for the most part I think I got it pretty close. At Mama Dog’s urging, I went into the store to enquire about the poster. “Offer him ten bucks if it’s for sale!” she called after me. I knew that would be too low, but I never got the chance to offer. The man at the counter – presumably the one who is doing business as Brown – looked up and I said, “That poster in the back window, Danny and the Juniors—” He smiled ruefully. “It’s not for sale.” I shrugged and left. Now, I know this isn’t the case, but wouldn’t it be a hoot if he’d had a bunch of people asking after the poster on account of my post? Well, why not? If you’re in the neighbourhood, stop in and ask Mr. “Brown” if the Danny and the Juniors poster is for sale. Just don’t tell him Papa Dog sent you.

We stopped at what used to be known hereabouts as the Bank of Apartheid so I could get some poker cash, then made a half-hearted foray up to the pastry district (La Farine and Lulu Rae). Finding nothing that suited our fancies (well, not true – Lulu Rae has something called a Pot du Crème that I always fancy, but you can’t get it to go), we headed on home, Mama Dog stopping periodically to take pictures of family members, houses, and vegetation. Baby Dog, who had been chatting and raspberrying through most of the walk, dropped off to sleep a few blocks from home, and she’s still snoozing as I type now. I sat down to write this, and Mama Dog nipped out to get some felt to put on our kitchen table tonight so that we don’t have to haul the poker table upstairs. Now she’s downstairs looking at a an old magic eye book and waiting for laundry to dry. It’s been a thoroughly satisfying weekend day, and if I make it until eight o’clock (poker time) without getting anything of consequence done I’ll be a happy man indeed.
*Almost midnight on a Friday. Woo!

Friday, March 11, 2005

Cellular Telephony

For reasons I’m sure I was carefully briefed on but which escape me now, we recently got new cell phones. I suppose what it came down to was either that Nokia sucked or T-Mobile rocked, or perhaps some subtle combination of the two, but the upshot is that I now have a whole new cell phone manual to keep in my briefcase and intend to look at someday. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but when I was a youngster, telephones were a lot less involved. Did you know that “dialling” a number was once meant literally? Also, they used to inhabit a fixed and defined space, the result of design that harboured a presumption of permanence. The living room phone would have a very short cord anchored to a little box in the moulding; the kitchen phone would have a cradle built right into the wall. If you wanted to wander idly from room to room while you talked, you had to get really long extension cords and expose the entire house to tripping, choking, and whiplash hazards as the cord tangled around in your wake. I remember when I first moved to Berkeley in 1985, the three-story house where I lived had a phone on the middle floor with an absurdly long spiral cord. If a person on the second floor answered and the call was for someone on the ground floor, they’d just dangle the handset down the stairwell. The cord was always clumped and tangled and made me deeply unhappy, but I just stayed quiet and seethed about it because I had problems with confrontation in those days.

But – what? – oh, yeah, the cell phones. Almost forgot what I was talking about. Our old phones were purchased a couplefew years ago now and were modest and unassuming models at the time because, frankly, I didn’t want to have one in the first place. I resisted all upselling because I planned to use it only when absolutely necessary. I said as much to the Nokia salesman and he smirked and said, “That’s what they all say. You’re gonna use it all the time.” I know now what I should have said; I should have said, “Yeah? Well a couplefew years from now, I’m doing to ditch this for a T-Mobile thing! So there!” Instead, I stayed silent and seethed, not because I have a problem with confrontation, but because I just wanted to buy a cheap phone and get out of there. I’m happy to report that I have in the interim only used the phone when I absolutely had to. The only person who’s ever had the number is Mama Dog.* My outgoing voicemail message said, “Hi, (Mama Dog), please leave a message. If you’re not (Mama Dog), then you’ve got the wrong number, so please don’t leave a message.” People calling the wrong number still left messages. Drove me nuts. One guy kept leaving long detailed messages for his son, always prefacing and/or epiloguing with “I’m not sure if this is you’re number, Sean, but…” I finally changed the outgoing message to say: “If you’re the guy who keeps calling for Sean, for god’s sake, get a clue – this is not his number! Please stop leaving messages here!” That did the trick.

Anyway, the T-Mobile phones, which arrived in the post a few days ago and which we’ve spent the last day or two slowly figuring out how to use, are a good deal more complicated than the Nokiae. For one thing, Mama Dog got me a phone that has a digital camera. Why did she do that? No idea. I never asked for one, and have to admit that I’m a little baffled by the whole phone-with-a-camera concept. Whose idea was that? Why do we want to take pictures with telephones? What’s wrong with taking pictures with cameras and making phone calls on telephones? Why isn’t anybody developing a camera with a phone in it? Do you suppose that when he was first conceiving of the telephone in bucolic Brantford Ontario, noted Scots-Canadian Alexander Graham Bell paused in his imaginings to observe, “Och, transmittin soond tae hyne awa areas by means o electrical seegnals is ah pretty guid idea, but ye ken whit wad mak it really guid? Picturs! Aye, an mebbe Solitaire!”** No, I don’t think so either, but I have to admit these stupid modern day doodads have helped me keep in touch with my family through the longass work day in a way I could scarcely have imagined back when I was dangling phone cords down stairwells. Mama Dog has had a digital camera at home for a while now, so she doesn’t need a telephone to send me pictures of Baby Dog, but today I was able to send home a shot of myself at my desk and remind them that I exist. At lunch time, I took a very silly but carefully arranged picture of my lunchtime tableau—Stauffer’s Grilled chicken with pasta, a coke, and my book held open to its current page with a Cody’s bookmark. It’s idiotic, I know, and I’m inching perilously close to that smug Nokia salesman’s prediction, but for a few minutes it made it seem I was just a little closer to home.
*And Gran, when she was up at the time of Baby Dog’s birth. Emergency necessity.

**Translate here if you can’t follow that.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Gosh Darn it, I Missed the Staff Meeting! Fudge!

I know the answer, but I’ll ask anyway: whose dumbass idea was it to have an afternoon-long staff meeting, followed by rah rah morale boosting drinks at some miserable nearby financial district watering hole…on a Thursday afternoon? The aim of this is…what?…hungover sickout Friday? This is how much I wasn’t anxious to endure three hours worth of Powerpoint Presentations on Our Plans for 2005: I chose instead to sit at my desk and do my work. Not just any work, mind you – reformatting about 25 project descriptions. Unless you’re Charles or another of my former compatriots, you’ll just have to take my word for it – this is one of the dullest tasks in a none-too-spine tingling profession. Entering a year’s worth of pumping volume figures in a spreadsheet might be worse, but not by much. I would have picked even that over a three-hour staff meeting.

Even with legitimate work to do, I figured it couldn’t hurt to take extra measures against the caprices of management. You never know when they’re going to decide one of these stupid things is mandatory. So, on went the headset and up went the volume. Plausible deniability: I could truthfully say I never heard the announcement that the meeting was starting. And if nobody looked at my desk calendar (clearly written: March 10 – Staff meeting, 2:30-5:30), I could claim I’d forgotten all about it. For once, nobody made the office-wide sweep for stragglers, so I was home free. Thank you, Charles, for the Johnny Cash covers. Thank you, volume button, for locating yourself so conveniently on the headset cord.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Thick Air on the Rush Hour Train

I see the error of my ways with the Mini Polls. I’m always providing a too-obvious “correct” answer. Of course you don’t want Adolf Hitler minding your child. Of course Gilbert Gottfried’s voice is one you wouldn’t want to listen to for all eternity. Of course you favoured John Kerry for President (did you vote, by any chance?). I’m a little saddened that nobody thinks Ashley Simpson is less stupid than boxes of rocks or hammers, but that too was kind of the obvious choice. So I’ll herewith make the current poll a little tougher by removing bowtie wearing pretty boy Tucker Carlson from the choices. Now you’ll have to exercise your imaginations to see the homelier right-wing yelling heads as women. Personally, I see George Fwill as a New England maiden aunt type. Rush Limbaugh as a woman? For some reason, I think that looks kind of like this, but make up your own minds.

But anyway.... Yesterday I began a new regimen. I’ve been setting my alarm for 6 a.m. rather than the luxurious hour of 6:24 I’ve favoured the last several years. It’s been a smashing success. For the first time in ages I got out the door at 7:45, early enough to make a train that got me to work at 8:30, the time I’m actually supposed to be here. That means I’m able to leave at 5:30, rather than 6 or 6:30 as has been my practice of late, and have that much more extra time at home with the family.

The downside is that the trains are more crowded at 5:30 than they are at 6 or 6:30. Yesterday I was so wrapped up reading my book (Part 2 of The Deptford Trilogy – Part 1 being the very first book I entered in the sidebar at left) that I didn’t even notice how crowded and warm the car was. Mama Dog was dropping Gran off at BART for her return to Saint Babs at roughly the same time I was due to arrive, so I called as we approached MacArthur and was pleased to learn we’d be able to rendezvous at Rockridge. As I hung up I heard a commotion behind me. I turned and saw a circle of people crowded around a tangled pair of legs on the car floor. That’s when it struck me how hot it was; a woman standing in the middle of the aisle had fainted. We were in the front car, so communication with the train operator was swift. Somebody came up with a bottle of water for the woman, and several people were fanning her. The guy by the TO’s door relayed information about her condition. Selfishly, I started to worry that this was going to keep me from connecting with Mama Dog – she had the baby with her, and I wouldn’t want her to wait for me if the train was going to be stuck waiting for paramedics. When the doors opened at MacArthur though, it let in cooling breezes and let out the woman, who disappeared in the crowd on the platform, apparently no worse for having keeled over. I could hear the TO relaying this information to Central, then the doors closed and we were off again. Baby Dog was cranky and crying, but I had almost an extra hour with my family last night, and I’ll step over any number of unfortunate fainters for that.