b Papa Dog's Blog: May 2005

Papa Dog's Blog

A Thing Wherein I Infrequently Write Some Stuff

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Fourth Day in SB: Hello, We Must Be Going

Today’s the day we return to Oakland, but it’s been a slow and sleepy morning so far. I got up late, while Mama Dog and Gran were taking Baby Dog and Doggy Dog for a stroll around the neighbourhood. I lazed around, catching up on TV that I’d taped in the weeks before we left for this trip. The others returned as I was finishing breakfast and we decided to go out for a but before hitting the road. We took Baby Dog for a look at the Andrée Clark Bird Refuge. She had already been there the other day with Mama Dog and Gran, but I wanted to see her reaction to the ducks myself. The ducks are very tame and inured to people, so we were able to get very close to them. I squatted down with Baby Dog on my knee and pointed her to the ducks. When they quacked, Baby Dog waved her arms in excitement and squealed “Duck! Duck!” As C observed, it’s quite amazing that she’s able to make the connection between the stuffed or cartoon ducks in her toy collection and the real thing in the feather – the resemblance is really not that close. I guess it’s the “quack quack” sound that does it.

After, we went to Our Daily Bread, where Mama Dog had an early lunch and I tried a piece of some kind of strawberry cake. I was, alas, instantly repugged, and declined to finish it. Mama Dog and Gran who, despite representing two different generations were apparently raised during the same Depression, can’t abide wasted food. They ate the cake for me and from all indications quite enjoyed it. No accounting.

After that, I stopped off at the bookstore a few doors down while the ladies visited a bead store. I got a rather random selection of paperbacks from dead white males…Hemingway, Dickens, Hardy, Greene, and one or two others that don’t spring immediately to mind. As she was recording the purchase, the bookstore lady chatted with me about each and every selection, having apparently read something by each author recently. She started talking about how much she’d enjoyed Hard Times. I said I’d always meant to read it but never had and that I hadn’t read any Dickens since I read Great Expectations in college. “Oh,” she said, “that’s the one I read. It wasn’t Hard Times, it was Great Expectations.” When she was done totting up the sale, she told me she’d given me a discount that offset the tax. I suppose it was because I didn’t ridicule her for not knowing Hard Times from Great Expectations.

Oh…yesterday, Mama Dog did pick out a new case for me. I know you’re all on tenterhooks waiting to find out about it, but I don’t have it in front of me right now and will have to wait ‘til we get home before I do the grand unveiling.

Time for us to pack now. Then we leave.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Third Day in SB: Urkeling My Glasses

We went out this morning for breakfast with Mama Dog’s Dad. Before we left I had a bit of a mad scramble for my Rx sunglasses. I went for almost forty years without sunglasses I could actually see through and now that I have them I shudder at the thought of doing without them. “What are you looking for?” Mama Dog asked. “My sunglasses,” I said. “I can’t leave if I don’t find them.” We found them. Turns out I left them on C’s desk when I was writing last night’s lame post. Panic averted. I was able to leave, secure in my ability to screen out the dreaded rays of the Dark Lord of the Sol. On the way, we idly discussed what to do with the rest of the day. I was in favour of at some point seeing Crash. The timing would be tricky – Gran wants to take Mama Dog out for some more shopping, and considers any designated end time to be an impingement on the shopping experience. We talked about maybe going to an evening show, but that’s tough too because of Baby Dog’s bedtime. We came to no conclusions.

We met Mama Dog’s Dad at his place, and spent a few minute in there. As we went back out to the car, I was putting the sunglasses on when the stem fell off my regular glasses. Just plop, down to the sidewalk. I picked them up, thinking that it was a matter of screwing the hinge back on, but saw to my dismay that the stem had actually snapped off about a quarter inch from the hinge. They were completely screwn. “You can put it back on with duct tape,” Mama Dog said. “Yeah,” I said sarcastically, “that’s something I’m going to do.” This is the woman who seven years ago wouldn’t be seen in my company if I carried an insufficiently stylish backpack. I guess having wardrobes coated with dog hair and baby spit kind of lowers the bar for acceptable fashion choices.

So, it was a good thing that I’d made such a fuss about finding my sunglasses. I wore them indoors through breakfast. I probably looked like I was trying to look like Johnny Chan or a French hit man or something, but I could clearly see the way to my bacon.

After breakfast, Mama Dog said, “Hey, if you can’t use your regular glasses, you can’t go to a movie after all.” “Oh, okay, I’ll fix ‘em,” I said. That’s what’s known as inadvertent persuasion. We repaired to Mama Dog’s Dad’s place once more and I Urkeled* the glasses up with some packing tape. Just one thin strip. You can barely see it. It’s not going to last very long, but I just have to hold them together until we get home tomorrow and I can use a spare pair. The things I do for cinema.
*Confession: I never watched that Urkel show and don’t even remember what it was called. Family Something? Something Family? I don’t really know whether or not Urkel ever had his glasses held together with duct tape. But from the photos, it seems the sort of thing the character might do.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Second Day in SB: Hanging Out With a Totally New Crowd

Yesterday, we wanted to do something we can’t do all the time in the Bay Area, so we had the Pirates over for a barbecue. Actually, it turned out to be an extended Pirate crew – Mama, Papa and Baby as usual, but with the addition of Pirate grandparents and sisters and significant others. With the addition of Mama Dog’s Dad and Grillmeister T, that made a party of fifteen (if I’m counting right), which may be the largest party Gran’s house has ever seen. Or at least ever since Mama Dog lived here.

Today, we wanted to do something we can’t do all the time in the Bay Area, so we went out with the Pirates. Actually, it was just with Papa Pirate, plus a Pirate sister. We went to a matinée of Star Bores Ecch!isode III: What a Buncha Sith.

I’d go on at greater length, but I’m using C’s computer and should probably let him get back on it. I’ll try to post earlier tomorrow.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

First Day in SB: Accidentally Selling a Printer

Last night after the long night on the road I still had work obligations to discharge – specifically, some freelance stuff that showed up just before we left Oakland. I sat down at my stepfather-in-law’s computer (let’s just say C’s computer), and opened up the relevant files from email. They were PDFs, scans of handwritten draft in a handwriting that can be deciphered only by three people in the world: its owner, his wife, and me. My mission, should I choose to accept it (and which, in fact I already had), was to print out this scrawl, convert it to readable type, and send it back for revisions. I was just about to click “print” when I looked around and realised there didn’t seem to be a printer anywhere in the room. Hating to bother him again, I went and asked C if the computer was hooked up to a printer. He said “Oh, yes it is, but I haven’t been able to get it to work in a while.” He showed me where the printed was hidden – under a plastic cover, and fiddled around with cables under the desk, trying to get it hooked up. I looked at the printer setups and saw that there were about a half dozen copies of the printer listed. One, which wasn’t active, had a whole bunch of print jobs waiting in its queue. Apparently, that’s why he didn’t think it was working. I deleted the extraneous copies and set the one with the active connection to be the default printer. Then I printed and a bunch of blank pages came out. We opened up the printer to look at the toner cartridge, and that’s where I decided to give up. It’s an old Epson printer from the 80s, a dot matrix thing with one of those cartridges that zip back and forth across the page. Even if I could figure out what was wrong with it, I’d have no idea how to even begin fixing it.

C and I got to talking about the printer and I told him about the travails Mama Dog and I had had, first with the top-loader and then with the older LaserJet 4 that Mama Dog’s papa had scored for us. I told him how after all these inadequate stopgap measures, Mama Dog finally said (in stern tones), “Oh no, this won’t do at all,” and ordered us a new printer. I told him how completely satisfied we were with the HP 1320, how it was as fast and accurate as my printer at work but small enough to fit on one corner of our desk. “How much does it cost?” C asked thoughtfully. Next thing I knew, he was online making what was apparently his first-ever large Internet shopping purchase, namely and HP 1320 laser printer. I was bemused to think I had sat down to print out a PDF and ended up accidentally selling a printer. They should give me a commission.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Road to Santa Barbara

Yes, it was a long long drive. Whining dog to my left, crying baby to my right. We stopped in Salinas and got burgers at In-n-Out. Used the drive-through. We never do that. There’s a dead-end down a piece from the burger place, and when we stop at In-n-Out we usually walk the dog there in the adjacent field. This time, because we did drove-through, we had to figure out what to do with the dog to keep him out of our hamburgers while we ate. We tied him to a fencepost and told him to stay. Then, as chance would have it we both got back in the car for different reasons – Mama Dog to get the food from the front seat, me to get my dark glasses from the back. Doggy Dog barked desperately. It hadn’t occurred to us how this would look to him; he must have thought we were going to leave him tied up there and drive away. Poor doggy. I walked him around the field a bit, but it’s now completely overgrown and pretty much unnavigable. He came away with red streaks on his muzzle. I’m not sure if he cut himself on something or if it was pollen of some sort or other.

I tied him back up to the fence and we squatted down on the curb next to the car. The rear passenger door was open so Baby Dog could talk to us while we ate. Doggy Dog barked incessantly. The little toy dog from the apartment we’d parked next to came out to investigate, but its people didn’t complain. Doggy Dog yelped some more. Mama Dog, having had a head start, finished first. She took Doggy around the field a bit more. When I was done we switched off again. She fed Baby Dog while I walked Doggy Dog up and down the lonely cul-de-sac approach.

Later, back on the road, we passed a mobile home. “We could use one of those,” I observed. And once again we were reminded. Oh yeah. This is why people buy those godawful SUVs.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Daddy's Jingly Thigh

Baby Dog and I have fallen into a cosy night-time routine wherein after she has been fed and bathed and diapered and put in her sleepwear and breastfed and diapered again and laid down to sleep and then cried for a long enough time that it’s clear to everyone she won’t be going to sleep anytime soon, I sit her on my lap in the rocker next to her crib and rock her and sing to her until she’s calmed down, and then shush her to sleep. The selections are generally from (of course) John Prine, the Clancy Brothers, and The Pogues. Once I tried something from Pantera, but that didn’t really work out well for anybody.

When we first started this routine, the default position for her was on my left shoulder, facing me. She would slap my shoulders and play with my beard and try to find out where the holes in my ear went, and then eventually nestle her head on my shoulder and fall asleep. Since then, we’ve evolved a bit. Usually, she starts off perched on my lap facing away from me, with my hand on her belly and her hand reaching up backwards for the beard. At first she had to be shifted back to the shoulder position before she’d fall asleep, but now she’ll doze off either way, as circumstance and tiredness dictate.

Somewhere in the course of all this, she discovered that if she slapped my right thigh, she’d be rewarded with a jingly sound. That’s because I keep my keys and a few of my lucky coins in my front right jean pocket. I didn’t even notice this had become a ritual, or that she knew to expect the jingly sound until a night or two back. It was hot out and by bedtime I was in my bathrobe, wishing the heat away. When Baby Dog got bored of sitting and being sung to, she leaned forward and slapped my right thigh. She was clearly puzzled when my bathrobe emitted no jingly sound. Why is Daddy’s thigh not jingling? Is it broken? Did the batteries wear out? Another day, another mystery, at eleven months of age.

So, tomorrow we head off for a road trip to Saint Babs. I’ll try to post tomorrow, but it’s going to be either in the midst of furious packing before we leave or in the dregs of road exhaustion after we get there. Either way, don’t expect too much.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

All My Little Words

Baby Dog turned eleven months old today and we stopped to marvel at how quickly (as the very true cliché goes) it all passes. Eleven months ago the possibility of our little girl holding her head up on her own, let alone sitting or crawling, seemed impossibly far off. Now it’s very difficult to remember that she really was an infant rather than a baby.

I’ve been saying since – well, since before she was born – that I really look forward to the day when I can have a conversation with her. That day gets closer all the time. We’ve noticed the strides her comprehension has taken, and it’s probable that she understands far more than we realise. We know she know who “Mummy” and “Daddy” are, and that she knows Doggy Dog by name. She also knows the names of all her favourite toys*, especially Hermione and Fernando. She knows that “nummy” describes pretty much any food on offer and that “Sippy” is the cup from which she drinks water. She can correctly identify the location of Daddy’s nose or Mummy’s nose (but not yet her own, which requires an extra conceptual leap). She knows that “Boom” is the sound that accompanies her wanton destruction of a carefully stacked tower of blocks, that “yay” is what you say when you clap, and “splash splash” is what goes on in the tub. I think she probably knows “ladybugs” and “Cheerios,” and likely knows all the words to the diaper-changing song: “Here we go wiping Baby Dog’s bum, Baby Dog’s bum, Baby Dog’s bum/Here we go wiping Baby Dog’s bum, early in the morning.”

We were joking a while back that her first word (other than “mamama” and “dadada”) was “burp,” because she said something like that after hearing someone (no names named) suffering a dyspeptic moment.** Well, we made such a big deal about it that it really does seem to have become a word she says. Whenever someone burps in her earshot, Baby Dog will announce, “Burp,” just to make sure it didn’t pass unnoticed. Actually, the way she says it comes out something like “Buhp,” which we’re choosing to interpret as an English accent. Maybe a fake English accent, like Linda Hunt, who sure doesn’t sound like she hails from Morristown, NJ, when she announces City Arts and Lectures. We’ve also been making such a big deal about ducks that that word seems to have stuck too. She has a rubber ducky for bath time, and tonight she referred to it very clearly (well, very almost clearly) as “duck.” Encouraged by the success of the ducky campaign, I spent a chunk of our rocking time before bed tonight going over with her the whereabouts of hair, mouth, and ears.

So… “mama,” “dada,” “burp,” “duck” and “num-num” don’t quite constitute the full complement of ingredients necessary for a conversation, but we are getting there, one word at a time.
*By the way, if you’re the person who commented anonymously on that post and you’re someone I know, please identify yourself.
**A technical case could be made that her first word was “Jews,” but I’m reasonably certain she didn’t know that sound was a word when she made it several months ago, and she hasn’t made any further ethnic comments since.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Old Main Bag

From 1982, when I wasn’t going to college, to 1998, when Mama Dog decided that any deficiencies in my appearance reflected poorly on her, I carried my shit around in a backpack. Two packs lasted me those sixteen years. Pack #2 was long past its expiration date by the time we hooked up. When Mama Dog suggested I might try something new and different – as opposed to my customary preference for that which is old and the same – I didn’t balk as much as one might expect. For one thing, I was in that state of equable psychosis that marks the early days of a new relationship, when compromises can still be happily made that will be out of the question once the relationship is stable enough to allow for an occasional guest appearance from one’s surly true self. For another, I really was kind of tired of the whole backpack thing. Both backpacks had developed in their dotage some form of polyvinyl psoriasis, with little flakes of whatever miracle polymer constituted the inner lining insinuating themselves into the essence of anything I happened to be carrying around. I still have books speckled throughout with those little black flakes. It’s not pretty. Mama Dog introduced me to an emporium of a kind which had been thitherto – well, not unknown but somewhat unnoticed by me: the luggage and leather goods store. There, for more money than it would have ever in a million years occurred to me to spend for something to carry my lunch in, I got a brand new Kenneth Cole Reaction briefcase (sorry, no image available for seven-year-old styles). My approval was grudging but genuine. It was roomier than any of my backpacks. It had specially fitted doodad pockets for everything. Best of all, it was designed in such a way that you could conceivably carry a doughnut around all day without squishing it. Not that I planned to do that, but it was comforting to know that if I wanted to, I could. The first time I took the bag to work, I received unexpected compliments. Monty the aging yuppie set his jaw in ill-disguised covetousness and nodded his approval. “Nice bag,” he said.

Well, that was seven years ago and the bag has received as much punishment or perhaps more punishment than any backpack I ever owned. Not long after I got it, the extra weight I tend to lug around in paper (most of the target demographic, I’m assuming, doesn’t read) took its toll. The apparatus holding the strap to the bag failed. I spent a number of weeks putting it back together and having it break again. For a while I replaced the strap with one cadged off Mama Dog’s old army bag. That turned out to be a bad solution. The army bag clip and the bag weren’t designed with one another in mind. The clip tore the sides of the bag. Eventually I got a proper replacement, but damage had already been done, and over the years it’s just gotten worse. Sometime in the last few months, I realised that some of the metal framework inside the bag had started poking out. I could never see anything sticking out, but I’d feel it jabbing my side as I walked.

The last couple of days have featured the type of unbearable horrendous weather commonly referred to as “nice” by an ignorant populace – glaring merciless carcinogenic radiation beating down from above without a single noble cloud for protection or the slightest cool breeze for relief. Accordingly, I’ve been going out without a jacket for the first time in a while. This afternoon, after two days of that, it finally sunk in why I was finding mysterious scrapes and abrasions on my forearms every day. Without a jacket to take the brunt, the bag was scratching the hell out of me.

So, the time has come. This weekend we’ll be going down to Santa Barbara and one of our missions while there will be to get me a new carry-my-shit-around case. Mama Dog, sensing the opportunity to once more foist something new and different on me, has already suggested alternatives. Clearly, whatever I get has to be built to last at least seven years.

Monday, May 23, 2005

To Review: Red = Stop; Green = Go

San Francisco is home to a truly colour-blind society – by which I mean they seem to have trouble distinguishing between red and green at intersections. At the intersection of Mission and Spear there’s an odd switching pattern on the lights, presumably to accommodate a turn lane or something. When crossing the street, you might see a red light on the right side of the intersection but a green light on the left side. The red light on the right inevitably leads to a few hardy souls deciding that “Don’t Walk” sign clearly illuminated in front of them is some sort of clerical error which needs to be immediately rectified by means of placing their own bodies into the path of oncoming traffic. “Press on hardy souls!” I urge them silently. They are the ones who give pedestrians a bad name and the sooner they’re out of the gene pool – or at least the ant trail – the better. Walking home tonight I saw this routine imbecility compounded by novel driving error. Apparently convinced by the jaywalking pedestrians that the light before him was not in fact green, a taxicab driver stopped dead with traffic backed all the way down the block behind him. A second cabbie behind him honked, and the first cab woke up and moved along. No twenty-car pileup ensued, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. Then home went I, thinking that even if I had no time to write anything before the season finale of 24 started and no time to think up anything else after it was over and I had to go to bed, I’d at least have this dumb little snippet to use as an emergency streak-saving blog post. And goodnight to you too.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Ribbit Quack Moo

This morning, giving Baby Dog yet one more dramatic reading of Ten Little Ladybugs, I got to the part where, when there are only two little ladybugs left, along comes a frog. As is customary at this point, I embellished the frog’s entrance with a dramatic “rrrrribbit.” This usually gets a smile from Baby Dog. It’s not as sure-fire as the “quack quack” I use when there are three little ladybugs and along comes a duck, but it usually gets the job done. It struck me then that Baby Dog has never actually seen a frog and has no reason to connect the “rrrrribbit” sound therewith. A second thought soon followed: when is she ever going to see a frog around here? I can’t remember seeing a single one in the twenty years (off and on) I’ve lived in Berkland. I mentioned this to Mama Dog and she said, “I was thinking that very thing yesterday.” We do that a lot. There’s a wavelength or something.

I hardly had a bucolic upbringing – I hail from the suburbs – but I have vivid and somewhat guilty memories from childhood summers at the cottage when my sisters and I would hunt down and catch frogs. We’d put them in a bucket with some water and they’d be our frogs for the day. Then we’d let them go. I say “guilty” memories not just because we were messing with poor little frogs who’d never hurt anybody but because on at least one occasion I think I forgot to let them out of the bucket and 30+ years later I’m nagged by the suspicion it might have been their doom. Did my sister let them out? I don’t know. Did I look in the bucket again that summer? Beats me. It’s a frustratingly incomplete childhood memory, just a vague but unsubstantiated sense of maybe having done something terrible. I suppose, now that I write this, what I’m really doing when I bemoan the lack of urban frog-catching opportunities is wishing on Baby Dog the opportunity to have such a sense of possibly unjustified guilt somewhere down the road. But, hell – it was fun.*

Today, seeking to add a little pastoral balance to Baby Dog’s early days, we went with the Pirates to The Little Farm in Berkeley’s Tilden Park. We lay blankets down under a shady tree and let our little ones crawl/roll (in Baby Dog’s case) or toddle (in Baby Pirate’s case) around the grounds until they felt at home. Then we took them round to see the moocows and the piggies and the billygoats, and best of all the duckies. They don’t look much like the duckies in the books or on the cloth blocks or in the various other toys – they’re not yellow and they lack much in the way of anthropomorphisation. Nor does the noise they make really sound like “quack quack” – it’s more like “gok gok.” Still, when I held Baby Dog up over the fence and pointed at the web-footed critters and said, “Look, duckies! Quack quack!” she chortled and pounded the fence in delight. Later, she seemed even more taken with the calves, who bestirred themselves to dine in the central area of their pen where Baby Dog could get a full view of them. The mother cow seemed almost unfathomable to her. I don’t think Baby Dog had any idea there were animals so much bigger than Doggy Dog.

Mama Dog asked me on the way home if I had hated too much being out in the sun with the dirt and the bugs and the vegetation and the smell of cowshit shifting with the wind. I said no, partly because the tree really did provide hella shade but mostly because, however horrific the blazing sun, seeing your child see a ducky or a moocow** for the first time is really a wonderful thing. We didn’t see any froggies. Probably just as well for them.
*I know – not for the frog.
**I will remain unapologetic for my use of words such as “ducky” and “moocow.” But just for shits ‘n’ giggles, I’m going to out Papa Pirate, who at one point during the afternoon referred to an abrasion suffered by his daughter as a “boo-boo.” Yes, we have gone there.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Bullshit Poker

I don’t remember the details because it was a long time ago and I was pretty drunk, but I think DM told me her father was a con man, or at least that he was some sort of card sharp.* You’d think I’d have borne that in mind before gambling with her, but like I said I was pretty drunk and back then when I had a little money in my pocket I tended to seek the fastest means of divestiture available. Well, I suppose I could have just thrown the money in the street, but that seemed too easy. What I did was play bullshit poker with DM. That’s where you look at the serial number on a dollar bill and you say, for example, “This one’s got three threes,” or “This one has five twos.” You take turns doing that until somebody says “bullshit.” If the serial number doesn’t really have the specified number of the specified digit, the bill’s forfeit. If it does have the digits, the person who called “bullshit” loses a dollar. DM and I played that game while David Rex looked on and laughed, and I steadily eroded my little roll of dollar bills. I couldn’t believe DM’s luck. She had an amazing array of bills stocked with duplicate digits in the serial numbers. Every time I called “Bullshit,” she had the goods.

Later, sober, not really caring one way or the other, I said, “You were cheating, weren’t you?” She said yeah. Figuring I’d been taken in by some complicated scheme she’d learned from her father I asked how she did it. She said, “Whenever you said ‘Bullshit,’ I’d say, ‘No, I’ve got it,’ and you’d believe me.” I thought back and realised it was true. Never once had I bothered to ask to see the magic serial number. It wasn’t complicated, but it could well be the best lesson a con man could pass on to his children: “When you find a chump who wants to give you his money, let him.” I don’t get that drunk much anymore.
*Doesn't really make that big a difference to the story, but I hope she'll correct me if I'm wrong.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Hello, Larry

One thing they don’t warn you about in new parent classes is that having a small child can lead to the compulsive naming of inanimate objects – and, worse, to a hopeless inability to resist alliteration when doing so. I’ve previously mentioned Ziggety Zug (Mama Dog named that one – and apologies to her if I’m still not spelling it right) and Hermione Hippo (I named that one). There’s also Fiorella Flower (Mama Dog) and Piggy the rattle* (named, not very inventively I admit, by me). Lately, Baby Dog has become particularly enamoured of a stuffed toy that since the baby shower had languished until this week in the “not-big-enough-for-it-yet” box. So keen was Baby Dog’s interest in this particular critter – it has inspired her to do her first real crawling – that Mama Dog had to give it a name of its own. So now we have Fernando Llama.

But not all things that become baby toys were designed with that purpose in mind. In recent weeks, Baby Dog has become very active when on the changing pad, twisting this way and that to grab at any nearby object that attracts her attention. She’s become bolder in roaming about the table and we’ve had to exercise ever greater vigilance to make sure she doesn’t roll (and now crawl) off into space. The easiest way to avoid this danger through the course of a diaper change is to give her some fascinating object to play with. Initially that meant Hermione or Fiorella, but in baby terms, pretty much any object has the potential to be fascinating, so it’s come to mean anything in arm’s reach that’s not sharp, poisonous, or valuable. A tightly-sealed baby shampoo bottle. The box holding her bumwipes. The little plastic container her shoes live in. One or the other of her shoes. She will happily lie still, studying any of these treasures for long enough to get her diaper changed. In recent days she’s been particularly taken with a bottle of baby lotion, so much so that this morning I finally crossed a line I hadn’t known was there. Say hello to Larry Lotionbottle.
*He’s the one in the middle of the rattle cluster. Which you probably figured 'cause that's the only pig. Bernardo gave us Piggy at the baby shower and he was Baby Dog's first favourite toy.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

If this Post Were an Action Movie, it Would at Some Point Feature Two Guys Carrying a Big Pane of Glass Across the Street

A harmonic convergence of stupidity and inefficiency kept me (or Dapa Pog, or somebody) at work past close of business last night, and as I plodded on at a task bordering on the Sisyphean, I realised that my chances of making it home before Baby Dog’s bedtime were approaching zero. It was getting close to eight – theoretically bedtime – by the time I got out of here, and naturally I just missed a train. Improbably, a second one came along soon after and I decided to count on the little girl’s well-established reluctance to go quietly to sleep. I started to conceive a notion of speeding my return by taking a cab from the BART station, and the sight of rain streaming off the train windows helped decide me.

Grabbing a cab at a popular commuter station is not widely recognised as an art form, but I can tell you it’s at least a craft. The key thing is to think ahead and give yourself every possible advantage to get ahead of the pack. It does no good to be sixth out of the station when there are five cars at the cab stand. At MacArthur I got up and crossed four train cars to position myself at the head of the stairs when the train stopped. It was a moderately full train, but there was only one person standing at this key door, which boded well. Here, coming home late was playing in my favour; not only were there fewer competitors, but fewer still of them were savvy enough to know which door opened at the top of the stairs. When the door opened, I did sprang ahead of the woman to my left and was down the stairs before most of the people from the rear of the train had opened their umbrellas. As I hit the station floor, I saw that one other keen commuter had almost made it down the opposite steps – the ones, unfortunately, that are closer to the fare gates. I hotfooted across the station, but he made it to the fare gates a second or two before me. Our eyes locked and we recognised one another as the enemy. We both raced down the escalator. He held onto his one- or two-step lead all the way down to the pavement, but as we hurried towards the cabs, I made an inspired flanking manoeuvre around a concrete pillar and was at least six steps ahead coming in to the cab area. As it turned out, there were two cabs. I claimed the lead one and my nemesis settled for second place. Well met! I resisted the impulse to swivel around and salute as I got into the cab. ‘cause, let’s face it, that would just have been weird.

When I got home I couldn’t tell right away whether or not I was too late. The place was dark, but Baby Dog’s door was wide open, which usually means she’s not in the crib. Doggy Dog came creaking out of the master bedroom, shaking his head, jingling his collar, and wagging slowly. He pointed his muzzle at me and started to bark hello. I shushed him, but quickly saw it didn’t matter – Baby Dog was lying on the bed with Mama, happily but wakefully receiving a massage. I wanted to do a merry jig like Scrooge on Christmas morning – “It’s not too late!”

I took charge of Baby Dog while Mama Dog got supper ready. When it was time to eat, I kissed Baby Dog goodnight and set her in her crib. She was fine for a little while, but was crying energetically before long. When we couldn’t stand it anymore, I went in and rocked her and sang to her and shushed her. It took a few minutes – I didn’t beat the record I set the other night when I lulled her to sleep in the space of a commercial break on Survivor*, but supper was still warm when I was done. What’s more important is that I’d snatched bedtime from the jaw of work. Regardless of anything that had come before, that made it a good day.
*Granted, it was the series finale and they’d sold a shitload of commercial time, but still.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

A Thaddeus More About John Prine

Originally uploaded by papadogduvalier.
At the risk of this turning into another one of those subjects were I continually try to tie up loose ends from the post before, where I was tying up loose ends from the post before that…

As we were leaving the concert, I said something to Mama Pirate along the lines of, “It’s not often you see a guy singing his songs and you’ve known all the words for more than thirty years.” It struck me that John Prine is in a kind of unique position that way. There’s a kind of Dorian Gray rock ‘n’ roll hell inhabited by people like Mick Jagger who find themselves in their sixties hauling themselves around a stage singing songs about fucking that they wrote when they were teenagers. How sick must Mick be of having to pretend in his fourth decade of iconhood that satisfaction continues in some way to elude him. Prine, by contrast, somehow managed to build up a catalogue of rich and timeless observations on the human condition before he was in his late 20s. In his liner notes for Prine’s first album, Kris Kristofferson said of Prine, “Twenty-four years old and he writes like he’s about two-hundred and twenty.” It really is hard to believe that songs like Hello in There, Sam Stone, and Donald and Lydia came from so young a man. He sang all three of those songs the other night, and the effect is about as far as possible from that of an elderly rocker continuing to trade on the attitude of his youth. The songs and the thoughts they contain were fully mature in 1971. When that gray-haired, artificial-hipped man performed them under a solo spotlight, they were somehow leant an even extra measure of gravitas. Today nobody would accuse John Prine of seeming wise beyond his years. He’s probably wiser than he was at 24. Maybe not much, but some. In his case, it’s the years that have finally caught up with the wisdom.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

John Prine at the Fillmore, 16/05/05

I’ve talked a couple-few times – okay, a bunch of times – herein about The Clancy Brothers and the central place they occupied in my early awareness of music. I’ve said less about John Prine, who came along a little later but was no less a fixture in my childhood. My brother, almost eight years my senior, acquired Prine’s first three albums in the early 1970s, and they became staples of his pizza nights and poker parties. At eight or nine or ten years old, there could be no greater aspiration for me than to be permitted to hang around with my big brother and his friends while they drank beer and bullshat and listened to John Prine, Cheech and Chong, Harry Chapin, or whatever else happened to be on the turntable. It was Prine who made the largest and most lasting impression. Mama Pirate too has followed John Prine’s music since childhood. Last night we left our children in the care of our spouses and met up at The Fillmore to play hooky from home on a school night and see what a John Prine show looks like in 2005.

In some ways, it’s not substantially different from the last time I saw him live, which would have been about five years ago. He still has the same two sidemen – guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Jason Wilber, who looked like a seventeen-year-old prodigy the first time I saw him working with Prine at the Fleadh Festival in 1999 and who doesn’t seem to have aged more than a week or two since, and bassist Dave Jacques who, no getting around it, is a bald man with a ponytail. With his Colonel Sanders tie and startled-hedgehog hair, some extra pounds and a set of teeth that want to do a beaver thing when he grins (as he frequently does), he bore little resemblance to the denim-clad malcontent posing on the cover of Sweet Revenge. Mama Pirate said he looked like a muppet. It seemed apt. It’s unsurprising that he should be showing a little mileage, though; he's been through some changes in the last decade, becoming a father even later in life than I did and then suffering a series of health tribulations including installation of a new titanium hip and a fight with cancer that ended in the removal of part of his neck. I had heard about the cancer, but the bit about the hip replacement caught me off guard. It seems like such a – well, old person thing. Looking around the ballroom, though, he seemed the right guitar hero for this AARP-ready crowd. Mama Pirate and I were among the youngest people there.*

The main change, though, was a shift in the tone of his live material. Prine has a deep catalogue to pull from, but I’ve seen enough of his concerts over the years to have a pretty goods idea of what the standards are. This time around he surprised me by not just singing songs I’d never before heard him do live, but by representing albums that had previously gone (in my experience) untouched. Most tellingly, the second song of the night came from his very first album: Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore. If you’ve never heard it, you pretty much have the idea from the title. Afterwards, Prine said, “I thought I’d retired that song back in 1978. I had it stuffed and mounted and hanging on the mantel. I never thought I’d have to sing it again in my lifetime, but I started singing it again about a year ago because of a special request. The request was from the President of the United States. It wasn’t a formal request…but he was asking for it.” You can imagine how gleefully that was received by a Bay Area crowd. I’d be interested to learn how it goes over when he plays Texas, though.

Playing “Flag Decal” early was a typically canny move, giving notice that what goes around has come around, and restoring a relevant context to his early songs of uniquely gentle social protest, written in the thick of the Vietnam War. He also performed several songs from his new album, one of which in particular expresses Prine’s views on The Great Pretender pretty plainly: “…when you’re feeling your freedom/And the world’s off your back/Some cowboy from Texas/Starts his own war in Iraq.” Again, I’m guessing that particular couplet got a much bigger cheer in San Francisco than it does in Houston. At another point, he recast a key line from Illegal Smile, a love song to benign dope smoking that’s really pretty innocent politically. As originally written, the line in question was “I went to court and the judge’s name was Hoffman” – a then-topical reference to Chicago Seven judge Julius Hoffman. Prine sang it last night as “I went to court and the judge’s name was Ashcroft.” It really nailed the strange sense that we’ve somehow come full circle in 35 years.

The show as a whole was a great lesson in how a small number of overt gestures – “Flag Decal,” “Some Humans Ain’t Human,” the Ashcroft reference – can bring out meanings in songs that might not otherwise have seemed to be there. Take Sweet Revenge, for example, which I’d never before heard him perform live. When that song first came out I suppose it must have sounded like he was singing about Nixon and his “silent majority” – I can’t say that for certain because I was too young to think about it in those terms at the time. But last night there was no doubt that he was singing the here and now.

That’s not to say it was all politics and rhetoric, of course. A Prine show’s not like that…he moves around, from sad to sweet to funny, and however outraged he may be by the state of the world today, he never seems angry. Disappointed would be more the word. Incredulous, perhaps. And that as may be, he never forgets the primary goal, which is to have a good time. The high point in that regard was the surprise appearance of Bonnie Raitt, who showed up to sing the Prine song she famously covered, Angel from Montgomery. I can’t say I’ve really ever been a big fan, but god damn, she does that song justice. When she got to the bit about “How the hell can a person/Go to work in the morning/And come home in the evening/And have nothing to say” I honestly got goosebumps.

Then there was Prine’s intro to All the Best: “This is a handy song to have in your back pocket in case of emergency. Like if you’re invited to your ex’s wedding and you’re asked to sing.” In an uncharacteristically spot-on review, Joel Selvin of the Chronicle said of Prine’s new album: “As easygoing and natural as these songs are, they barely seem to have been written at all. They sound like songs he’s always sung, songs that have always been there, songs that he remembered rather than wrote. They sound as if they came out of him fully formed, rhyming only coincidentally. They are songs like a table is a table, square and stable in a way that draws no attention to the details of their construction.” “All the Best,” which predates the album in question by a decade, is a perfect example of this observation. It opens with a series of lines and rhymes so simple and so inevitable that it seems they couldn’t possibly be written any other way: “I wish you love and happiness/I guess I wish you all the best/I wish you don’t do like I do/And ever fall in love with someone like you/’Cause if I felt just like you did/You’d prob’ly walk around the block like a little kid/But kids don’t know/They can only guess/How hard it is to wish you happiness.” It’s perfect, and seemingly effortless.

Late in the show, during one rave-up or another – it might have been the cover of the Carter Family’s “Bear Creek Blues” or maybe the climax of “Lake Louise,” Prine got down and dirty with the guitar, eyes bulging, left foot stomping high. I said to Mama Pirate, “He sure can get down for a man with a titanium hip.”

Well, I’ve gone on at length and I could go on much longer. It was a terrific show and well worth going short on sleep last night. There’s a bunch more I’d like to say about it, but it’s almost 6 p.m., I’m still at work, and oh, baby, we gotta go now.
*One of the few younger people in the vicinity was dancing drunkenly in front of the stage, weaving around and bumping into people. He got bounced. I was glad to see him go, but was kind of ethically torn. Since when is it against the rules to dance at a concert?

Monday, May 16, 2005

Our Weekend: Playing with the Big Kids

I’ve been noticing lately that the weekends are now officially busier and less restful than the weekdays. There’s just too much stuff that needs doing to cram it into two days a week. I need to figure out an argument to support the idea that it’s in some way related to my job to stay home and figure out where in the baby’s crib that loose nut is supposed to go. If I could prove that it’s in some way job-chargeable, I’m sure they’d go for it. It’s all about the sold time, after all.

I did my same old dumb thing of staying up late Saturday night to catch up on my stories and get some shit done, then Baby Dog decided that the cut-off point for being content in her crib was 6 a.m. and not a minute later. I was short on sleep but Mama Dog was cumulatively shorter, what with having to get up in the middle of the night every night and not having a nice restful job to go to during the week. I hauled myself out of bed, let the dog out, changed and fed the baby, made myself a nice cup of tea. As we say around our house: “Critters have needs.”

Our one planned social engagement for the day was a brunch at the house of some neighbour we’d never met. We belong to a neighbourhood parents’ group. Not the sort of social scene I’d select for myself, but Mama Dog has carefully explained to me how Baby Dog is going to one day get big enough to interact with other children in the neighbourhood and then we’ll have to know their damn parents so we might as well start now. I’m sure they’re lovely people, but hey – I’ve managed my entire adult life to avoid striking up an acquaintance with anybody solely on the basis of an accident of geography. Even home ownership couldn’t make me talk to my damn neighbours. I still have sharply honed reflexes for avoidance of eye contact developed through years of surly apartment dwelling. Children, though. They make you do the things you thought you’d never do.

Well, of course, it wasn’t so bad. The brunch was an outdoor back yard affair. There were oodles of children, and Baby Dog was probably the littlest. All these upright, walking, talking kids, chasing each other about, running up stairs, arguing over possession of the good toys. Near us on the lawn there was some sort of game contraption featuring a bunch of little plastic ducks. Ducks are one of Baby Dog’s main things right now…at least, I draw the inference that they are from her enthusiasm for the duck page in Ten Little Ladybugs and the smile she gives me every time I inform her that the ducky says “Quack, quack.” We sat in the shade under a tree. Baby Dog made raspberry noises and banged the ducks together. I watched the “big kids” run around and wondered (not for the first time) how one gets from A to B.

We met one serious-looking little girl who was very mobile but very quiet, playing with a plastic lawn mower and stealing shy glances our way. When we later met her mother, Mama Dog enquired after the girl’s age, which turned out to be eighteen months. “Oh,” Mama Dog and I said more or less in unison. “That’s how old Baby Dog will be when we go to Edmonton for Christmas.” The other mom laughed. “I do that all the time,” she said. “I meet a bigger kid, and think, ‘Oh, okay, she’ll be that big in X months.’”

As our time at the brunch was winding down we found ourselves sitting at a picnic table kind of adjacent to a conversation but not really part of it until the question came up of whether we all preferred living in Oakland or Berkeley. The consensus was very pro Oakland. “I like Oakland because it’s more real” said one mom. We all agreed on that, but after a moment’s thought I had to add, “Of course we’re only two blocks into Oakland here. But they’re two real blocks.”

In the evening we accepted an impromptu invitation from the Pirates to dine at Kensington Circus. If you’re unfamiliar with the place you might think it odd – as I did – to suggest a pub as a dining spot when you have two small children in tow, but the place is actually very kid friendly. In fact, there’s a toy-laded play area that was just crawling with kids. The funniest thing about the toy area is that it’s situated right under the dart boards. There’s a good combination: pub, beer, dartboards, children underneath dartboards. Papa Pirate assures me that the dartboards and the play area are never in use simultaneously, but I can imagine a certain class of lout who’d think that a fine drinking game.

Anyway. The children in the play area were again the bigger, walking and talking kind. Baby Dog and Baby Pirate both did shifts among them. Baby Pirate is getting closer to the talking and walking stage, but she was still the second smallest one around. Baby Dog was definitely the junior member of the bunch. Still, she held her own. At one point she was rolling over – still her favoured mode of locomotion – to get at a toy, and she managed to clop a looming boy in the face with her feet. He was surprised but unhurt. I apologised for her, but didn’t make too big a deal out of it, figuring he wouldn’t want it getting around that he’d been beaten up by a baby girl. Later, explaining it to Mama Dog and the Pirates, I observed, “Well, he was kind of asking for it. He was pickin’ his nose and chewin’ it.” “Oh yeah,” said Mama Pirate, “he deserved to get kicked in the head.” Well, baby-kicked anyway.

A milestone before we left the place: I changed my first diaper in a public bathroom. Can you believe she’s getting close to a year old and I’ve never done that before? I’ve changed Baby Dog on grassy slopes and in back alleys but never in a public bathroom. Somehow Mama Dog has always been the one to do that. As luck would have it, I hit the jackpot first time out: not just dirty but poopy (as we say in the parent trade). The changing station lacked safety straps, so the operation was a delicate balancing act – keeping our curious and increasingly wriggle-prone girl from falling off the shelf while making the reach to get the poop into the toilet rather than – well, anyplace other than in the toilet. I’m pleased to report that I was entirely successful. All those years of juggling have finally paid off.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Another Crappy Little Streak Saver

Well, what do you know? I am in the same boat I was in last night. Well, different boat but same fleet. I have important television watching obligations all night and didn’t have time to post beforehand. I’ll have to limit myself to whatever I can jot down during this commercial break.

I know. It’s been a while since I wrote about Blogshares, but I’ve still been intermittently wasting time with it. This week I decided to finally learn the arcane advanced complicated aspects of the game. Turns out they’re pretty simple too. This weekend I pulled off my first advanced transactions. One of them may come as a surprise to certain readers who also happen to play Blogshares and who have been sitting on the stock for this here faversham for some time now. I did a hostile takeover. Arnold Sphinkter, Daily Cud, you’ve been bought out. Don’t complain – you got three times the market value for your shares – but Papa Dog Inc. has gone private for a little while.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

A Crappy Little Streak Saver

I had a whole thing worked out for tonight but it’s turn out to be one LAMFD* for a Saturday and I can barely keep my eyes open as I type this. As usual, Baby Dog decided 6 a.m. is as good a time to get up on the weekend as it is during the week, but I had foolishly stayed up late Friday night. We went around and did things, which I’ll write about tomorrow assuming I don’t end up in the same boat before Sunday’s done with me. Oh, also we got a new printer. We had a little HP top loader for several years, and I’ve always hated it. Top loaders suck. Paper always jams. It got so we had to hand feed a page at a time. Not very practical for my freelance work. As you’ll recall, Mama Dog’s Dad got us a replacement, an old LaserJet 4 he’d found a deal on. That went smashingly for the first week or so, then it started to develop paper feeding issues too. It was just a bit too used, I guess. In her usual practical and proactive way, Mama Dog went out (on the Internet) and found a new printer at a good price, a LaserJet 1320. It’s compact, fast, and reliable. Even does duplex printing. I printed a freelance job out tonight, and the speed made me swoon. It was just like using the printer at work, only without some doddering old troll explaining to me that where he’s marked the word “the,” that means he wants me to type “the” in the spot, where he’s written the word “the.” Or, I mean, explaining that to Dapa Pog, who told me about it. Oh, screw it, I’m tired. Good night.
*Long-Ass Muh-Fuh’n Day.

Friday, May 13, 2005

More Prose About Buildings and Food

Things I thought about on the way home from work.

On the way out the building:

Janitors and cab drivers, they all have hands-free cell phones these days. I can see the appeal for cabbies – they’re using cells instead of radios for dispatching now. It bugs me, though, that they never seem to be not on the phone. You get in the cab, you wait for a break in the conversation being carried rapidly on in some mysterious language. The cabbie glances back expectantly, but never stops talking. You say where you’re going and he nods but you can never be really sure he heard you. I don’t take cabs much now but I used to now and then when we lived in Temescal. It was a longer haul home from MacArthur, sometimes I’d be running late, just really hungry, too pooped to walk, whatever. Weird thing: I used to notice how many different accents want to turn “Webster” into “Vibsta.” At least eight ethnically unique cabbies said to me, “You want me take Vibsta?”

With janitors – custodial staff – I guess the appeal lies in the loneliness and boredom of the job, moving through the building like a ghost, barely acknowledged. I’m probably as bad or worse about that than anyone. It’s not even middle class guilt about menial service positions; rote social acknowledgements embarrass me and I try to avoid them. When I hear the garbage cart squeaking over from the adjacent cubes, I straighten up and focus intently on my screen as though I’m really busy doing something really important. Maybe I’ll even get up and go around the long way to the bathroom just to be out of the way when my garbage can is emptied. If I’m stuck, I’ll say “Hi” or “Thanks,” but always absently, looking back to the screen as quickly as possible. The hands-free cell helps smooth that over. That or the radio, he’s always got one or the other going.

Walking down Spear Street:

I wonder whatever happened to the old janitor? I guess he retired. He was there when I first came to the building in 1988 or whenever it was. I think his name was José; a squat, big-eared man, with a blunt ogre-ish face and a quiet, raspy voice. Grandfatherly. No cell phone for him. He didn’t seem to speak much English. Whenever he was gone for a long period of time I’d think maybe he’d retired or died. He’d always turn up later and I’d hear he’d been in Chihuahua, visiting the family. I wonder if he was a big deal in the old town with his American money. I bet he put kids through college emptying out take-out cartons from wastebaskets and hitting the computer screens with his feather duster. Weird that I remember so much about him. Or about what I imagined about him. It’s weird I even knew his name and where he came from. How did I know that? I don’t remember ever having a conversation with him any more than I have with the current guy. No idea what the current guy’s name is. I probably wouldn’t recognise him if I saw him out of context, say in the lobby. Somehow I learned about José through osmosis. He looked interesting, I guess that’s it; stolid, old-school. I guess he retired. I hope he’s living large on some sort of pension.

There’s a lot of stuff about an office building that you don’t notice when you work there every day. Stuff you never see or think about. People tend to think of their building as just the floor or maybe even the room where they work, but in truth the whole thing is one big complicated system. It’s like an aircraft carrier – a stationary one set vertically instead of horizontally. I did a million different things when I was temping – well, okay, maybe several dozen, but it felt like a million – and saw little glimpses of all sorts of work environments I’d have had no reason to see otherwise. One job was doing data entry for the maintenance department of a little cluster of office buildings. The assignment called for me to go down to the maintenance areas themselves, in the subbasement bowels of the different buildings. I’d been working in office buildings for years but it had never occurred to me what lay under them: big noisy machines, heaters and chillers, and stuff I have no names for although I probably typed them many times during the course of my assignment. It looked to me kind of like the engine room in the original Star Trek. Flashing lights, ducts, endless humming noises, guys with clipboards. All this stuff apparently is necessary to make my work space suddenly too cold every day at 11 a.m.

On the BART train:

Reading my book, not really thinking much about anything.

Walking across the BART parking lot:

Hey, all that stuff about the janitors and the cab drivers and the building maintenance crap might make a decent blog post. I could call it “More Prose About Buildings and Food.” What, didn’t I already do a riff on that? Yeah, I guess I did. This usage would be more appropriate, thought, because it really is all about buildings. Well, but not food. Have to work food in there somehow. What could I do about food? Mm, food. Guess I am kind of hungry at that. Wonder what’s for dinner? Mama Dog always asks me what I want to eat, and I always say, “Whatever you’re making.” She was specifically asking me what I want for dinner tonight – when was that? This morning? Last night? – and I didn’t have a clue. “Whatever you’re going to make.” I guess she wants me to pick something specific. I really don’t know how to favour one meal over another. Except – hey, I haven’t had mashed potatoes since – when? – last Thanksgiving? That sounds good. Sure could use me some a them mashed-up potaters, mm-hmm. Kind of late to suggest that now. Do we even have potatoes? Maybe we’ll go out. Or we’ll have whatever she’s making.*
* Falafels, as it turned out.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Eat to the Beat

My putting-away-the-dishes music yesterday was Eat to the Beat, von Blondie. This is pretty typical. When I put on music meant as background accompaniment as opposed to something to be listened to for its own sake, I always pick stuff that I’ve heard so many times that I almost don’t hear it anymore when it’s playing. Baby Dog is going to grow up with a very firm grasp of non-threatening popular music from the late 1970s and early 1980s. Quickly doing the age-equivalent calculation that’s become routine since we became parents, I said to Mama Dog, “This will be like early Sinatra to her. Maybe Benny Goodman.”

Looking at the cover in its Lilliputian version on the CD box reminded me of the sneering pudgy face of a young school chum – let’s call him Norm* – ca. 1980. “Her face looks fat on the new one,” he said. I felt a chivalrous impulse to defend the honour of Debbie Harry. “She just has high cheekbones,” I said, and “It’s a weird angle.” I ought to have added, “Besides, who are you to talk, you blubber-faced git?” but didn’t, not wanting to let a discussion of merchandise packaging turn into a fistfight with a kid who had fifty pounds on me.

Remembering that got me to thinking about how much has changed in the business of commodifying and marketing pop stars since 1980. Back then, the picture on the album cover – and the ones on the gatefolds and/or innersleeves – were the primary visual identification of a band. The single image on the front of the album served to fix the brand identity for the duration of the album’s shelf life. Sure, you’d see the pop stars elsewhere – on American Bandstand perhaps, or Saturday Night Live. On the cover of the Rolling Stone or, if it was that kind of pop star, Tiger Beat. Occasionally they’d take a doomed stab at acting, turning in a bad performance perhaps as a nameless cowboy in a Sam Peckinpah movie or as anybody in Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. At any rate, the perception of the pop star was almost entirely through still images. There was no MTV, not 800 channels of subcategorised infotainment. We didn’t even have Entertainment Tonight yet. That picture on the album, that’s what you got – reproduced everywhere fine music is sold. In 1980, Debbie Harry was probably the most photographed woman on the planet, but they were always stills. I remember always being disappointed whenever I saw her in motion. She looked unaccustomed to movement, unprepared to present this added dimension. She tended to stay still behind the microphone and looked awkward when she stepped out to do a dance move. Like such a clubfooted git as I should talk.

Nowadays? Pop stars are also dancer. It’s required. It’s also required that they be available to the public in some form on some channel at any given time of the night or day. I’ve been listening to music a lot more lately, but for the most part I’ve been pretty much out of it for a decade. I’m kind of the equivalent of my dad in 1980. Well, okay, maybe not that out of it, but pretty out of it. But still, I know what Jessica Simpson looks like. I have not tried to know what Jessica Simpson looks like. I don’t even know how I knew her name in the first place. She was just suddenly there as a commodity, like a new wonder drug for irritable bowel syndrome. I’ve never heard one of her records, nor seen one of her videos, nor seen her flouting her dimness on her reality sitcom, yet such is the state of cultural osmosis that I’m incapable of not knowing about these things. Cross-promotion is insidiously thorough. She comes and finds you. “Ah-ha!” she says. “You’re watching the Apprentice! Don’t move, I’ll go there!”

Considered that way, the gap between then and now, 1980 to 2005, already seems to wide too have been bridged by my lifetime. I think I would have a difficult time conveying to Baby Dog just how different things were 25 years before her birth. I have difficulty imagining how different they will be 25 years after.
* Because that was his name.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Paediatrician, Haemoglobin, Plaeground

I stayed home today on account of medical appointments, none of them mine. In the morning Mama Dog had to go to the dentist so I had to stay home with Baby Dog. That worked out nicely because little girl went down for a nap shortly after Mama Dog left and while she slumbered I was able to get through a stack of freelance work that I had expected to plague me through the weekend. In the afternoon Baby Dog had her ten-month appointment with the paediatrician. She’s reached a bunch of developmental milestones since her eight-month appointment, so we were eager to show off her new maturity. She sat up unassisted on the examination table and babbled a blue streak. She even got to play with the stethoscope. What she didn’t do is stand up, which is a tad behind schedule but not real cause for alarm. In fact, Dr. Chuckmorris managed to get Baby Dog to plant her feet properly by setting her on the floor and dangling the stethoscope just out of reach. It won’t be long. Baby Dog also had a couple of immunisation shots and a blood test, which showed that her haemoglobin is so plentiful that she can probably burst through steel doors and leap tall buildings in single bounds. Assuming she manages to stand up first to do it.

As she was leaving the examination room, Dr. Chuckmorris waved goodbye to Baby Dog. “She’s knows how to wave now,” I volunteered, proud papically. Dr. Chuckmorris waited, all expectation. Baby Dog stared blankly at her. “Well, I guess she’s not going to do it now,” I admitted. Then Baby Dog waved, and seeing the positive reaction from all the big people, grinned hugely and waved some more. My little contrarian. So she misses her cues. I said she knew how to wave and she proved I knew what I was talking about. It’s amazing what being a parent does to your sense of proportion of achievements. I felt like she was graduating summa cum laude in something or other. Do they offer advanced degrees in hand waving? Possibly at UC Santa Cruz. Barefoot in overalls, Baby Dog picked at the Band-Aid on her toe from the blood sample as we wheeled her away in the stroller. The nurse had pointed out to her that it was a Garfield Band-Aid, but Baby Dog was unimpressed. I had similarly drawn her attention to the picture of Big Bird on the disposable diaper we were forced to use because we had forgotten to bring any of the cloth ones with us. “So far she’s had a branded-character-free life,” Mama Dog said.

An outing that consists of getting prodded, probed, and stuck with needles probably isn’t much of a treat for anyone, let along a ten-month-old. To make it up to her, we walked over to a nearby park where all the Southeast Asian nannies in Elmwood were gathered, taking in the sun and letting their charges burn off energy. The baby swings were occupied, but there was a very tempting slide – tempting at least to Daddy. I scooped Baby Dog out of her stroller, set her on the slide, and held her as she scooted down the ramp. She seemed kind of baffled at first, but we repeated the exercise a bunch of times and she quickly got into it. It was her first time on a slide. “That’s the sort of thing that daddies like to do,” Mama Dog observed. It was hardly a reckless game, but I guess a little scarier one than this particular mummy was prepared to play. Baby Dog seemed to like it. When one of the baby swings opened up, we switched that. Baby Dog had already tried swings several times, so it was less scary for everybody. Mama Dog pushed from the front, I pushed from the back. After that seemed a bit routine, we started stopping the swing suddenly, grabbing it when it had reached the apex. Baby Dog squealed and laughed at each little surprise. She had only cried a little bit after the vaccinations, and by now she seemed to have forgotten all about it.

Other obligations beckoned. We surrendered the swing to the next baby and headed back to the car. “I wish,” I said to Mama Dog on the way home, “I got to spend every day this way.”

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Adventures in Work Food

In the book I’m reading (thanks again for the recommendation, Rachelle), there’s a description of the male lead’s working day. He’s a 1950s man in a gray flannel suit, commuting by train to Manhattan every day to move like a zombie through his pointless job. He’s divided his day up into manageable stretches from arrival to coffee to lunch to coffee to the end of the day. It seemed awfully dang familiar, though I’m thankful that I’m not required to shuffle off to lunch in a pack of orkers the way the fellow in the novel is.

Today, I brought too much food for lunch. Mama Dog made a veal lasagne a while back and the leftovers have been taking up space in the freezer for want of a microwave. Today, she suggested I take the leftovers and I said yes before I realised just how much there was of it. Fortunately I’ve made the same mistake before and already had a solution established. When I got to work I sent out an email to the office saying that I’d brought too much good home-cooked veal lasagne, and did anyone want to split it with me? It seems whenever I do this there’s always one person who must have been sitting at their computer staring at the email screen and waiting for someone to offer free food. Last time, when I had an excess of pesto pasta, it was Ken the LAG. This time. practically before I’d hit the “send” button, I received a reply from E the AG, saying “I’m your huckleberry.” Or rather, “I’M YOUR HUCKLEBERRY,” because E has yet to divine the purpose of the shift key. I shouldn’t be catty, though. In the first place he’s solving my problem for me, and in the second he’s hep enough to quote without attribution from Tombstone which was really much zippier than the turgid Kevin Costner version released the same year. I told him to let me know whenever he was ready for the lasagne and he replied, “I’M READY FOR IT WHEN MOST CONVENIENT TO YOU.” I thought that was a little odd because it was only nine in the morning, which seems way too early for lasagne to me, but who am I to judge? Turned out her meant he was ready whenever I was ready for lunch. Which should be any time now.

For elevenses I had to leave the office. Lately I’ve been snacking on these Quaker Chewy Bars that Mama Dog’s been getting lately, but I forgot to grab any when I left the house this morning. For that too I have a failsafe plan. While my tea was steeping, I scarpered out to the store/deli down the street, which always has some Rice Krispie squares (made in-store) available at the register. They’re huge bricks of snapping, crackling, and popping marshmallow goo, and as snacks go they amount to next to no calories. If I slice the brick in half I can have one half for morning elevenses and the other for high tea and be no worse off than with the granola bars. “Hmm,” I said to the cashier, gauging the size and heft of several Krispie bricks, “which one’s biggest?” It was hard to tell because they’d been cut kind of unevenly. Some were narrow but tall, some short but wide. She grinned and said, “I’ll see.” She weighed them on the produce scale and triumphantly held up the heaviest one. “Sold!” said I. Then, feeling lamely like perhaps justification was called for, I added, “It’s got to last me the whole day.”

I don’t think these experiences would be too much removed from the experience of the guy in the book. Well, except for the microwave and the email, which would have blown his poor 1955 mind. He and his wife are would-be bohemian intellectuals who have gradually drifted into a comfortable suburban mainstream that they still spend most of their time mocking. They have deferred their hopes and dreams under the assumption that the lives they expect to have will just naturally develop around them. Instead, the life that develops around them is the one they despise. I do chart my day from meal break to meal break. And I do mean eventually to do some writing when I get around to it. But I think I’ve got to remind myself daily not to be that guy.

PS – Oh yeah. I forgot I wasn’t going to write about work anymore. So just assume all of the above was as told to me by Dapa Pog.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Blue Sky at Night (and Faversham!)

Never let it be said I don’t do requests. This isn’t exactly the way the sky was the other night – the rain seems to have passed and taken all the fat white clouds with it – but it’s pretty close. Apologies for the blurriness. Night time exposures are a beeyatch.

Blue sky at night
Originally uploaded by papadogduvalier.

So anyway. The other day, Arak SOT sent me an email asking why I refer to this thing as a faversham. Hard to believe I’ve been doing this for eight months and he’s the first person (other than Mama Dog) to ask. I’ve only got ten minutes til 24 starts, so in lieu of thinking up something to write about, I’ll recycle my response to him.

The usage of faversham goes back to my first post. I can’t say exactly why that particular word popped into my head to use in place of “blog,” other than it’s just silly. It comes from a Beverly Hillbillies episode wherein the Clampetts visited England. Somehow or
other – I can’t remember how (but have since looked it up) – they got the mistaken impression that “Faversham” was the English way of saying goodbye. Whenever they were leaving somewhere, they’d politely say “Faversham!” to all the English folk. I guess it seemed to me it that if I was going to employ a euphemism for “blog,” I might as well select one that already had experience as a substitute word on its résumé. And there you go.

Maybe this post should serve as the beginning of a FAQ service for understanding the patois used herein. But on second thought, I guess something I was asked once in nine months doesn't really constitute a frequently asked question.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Interrupted Sleep and Deferred Perambulations

I was woken several times during the night, but for once Baby Dog was not the culprit. I believe the first interruption of my sleep came at 3:35 when the house, along with the rest of the city, shook. There had been a small quake about three miles away on the Hayward fault. It was only a 3.4, but its proximity made it a substantial, sleep-interrupting jolt. It was Baby Dog’s first noticeable earthquake, but she didn’t notice it. Unlike Mummy and Daddy, she slept through. Apparently there was a larger one a couple of hours earlier, but it was farther away (in Napa), and we didn’t notice it.

The next time I was woken it was because Mama Dog had gotten up and pulled all the covers off the bed, leaving me huddled bare-ass on the bed. “What’re you doing?” I enquired reasonably. She laughed. Evidently it was, from certain perspectives, an amusing situation. “Remaking the bed,” she said. “Uh-huh,” I riposted, then turned over on my side to wait it out. Although this was the first time she’d ever risen in the middle of the night to strip and remake the bed with me still in it, it was not precisely without precedent. Mama Dog is in charge of the bedclothes for the simple reason that she cares how many or which ones are in use and I don’t. For me, a comfortable temperature in bed is a simple thing; if it’s too hot, I kick the covers off. In the unlikely event that it ever got cold enough in California for my own trapped body heat to be insufficient to warm me, I’d just snuggle a little closer to the wife. Simple. For Mama Dog, though, there is a very narrow range of temperatures that is comfortable in bed. Often, adjustments back and forth are made several times through the night. A blanket is added, a blanket is removed. A heavier quilt is substituted for a lighter one. She doesn’t normally change the whole frigging thing, but, hey, it had to happen sometime. I believe I actually helped her make the bed from my position at the northwest corner, pulling and straightening the sheets as she threw them over me. In the morning she looked at the bedclothes and laughed again. “They’re sideways!” she exclaimed. Again, not the sort of thing I’d have been likely to notice in broad daylight, but vive la difference.

Today’s Mummy Day plan: I told Mama Dog she could sleep in as long as she wanted. “‘Til ‘five in the afternoon?” she asked. Well, yeah, sure. But part two was, after she got up and breakfasted we’d take a family stroll, all four of us, over to Bloomie’s to purchase a Mummy’s Day bouquet from Baby Dog and me. Unfortunately, nature continued to attack. It was drizzly bordering on raining all morning and we were still vacillating about undertaking the walk when Baby Dog’s naptime rolled around. After lunch there was a break in the rain and we decided to spring into action. I got Baby Dog suited up while Mama Dog put the leash on Doggy Dog. I was out by the car impressing Mama Dog with my ability to set up the stroller with one arm while holding Baby Dog with the other when the rain started to come down again. Mama Dog tsked. “Let’s just drive,” she said. “What about Doggy Dog?” We’ve never had him in the car with Baby Dog since putting in the new big-girl car-seat in the centre position. He was looking eagerly and expectantly at us, then nervously. Somehow he knew the situation had changed. “Sorry, buddy.” Mama Dog took him back in the house and we drove off to get the bouquet à trois. Major psych for poor Doggy Dog.

It’s dark and cloudy still. Time to put on a mackintosh and make it up to the poor boy. Happy Mummy’s Day, Mama Dog and any other mummies reading here.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

At Least We Didn't Have to Sit Outside in the Rain

For reasons I don’t quite recollect, the afternoon nap came late today and then went long. Baby Dog wasn’t up until 6:30, an awkward time all around. Mama Dog wanted to eat out, but baby had to be fed first, so we didn’t make it to McTalian until deep in the thick of the Saturday night dinner rush. Baby Dog was in a fine mood when we arrived, but after sitting under the heat lamps bundled up in sweater and blanky for half an hour she was a cranky, squawky fussbudget. By the time they told us our table was ready I had walked her around the patio four times, letting her pat the Plexiglas barrier with enthusiasm not quite great enough to attract the attention of the couple deep in conversation a the bus stop. Whenever I tried to sit back down, she would demonstrate her conviction that the most comfortable thing for all concerned would be if she were to go completely rigid and arch her back so as to make a seated position impossible.

We sat down and went through what seems an inevitable restaurant ritual; tried to strap her into the highchair, found the strap was broken, requested another high chair. Since she’s been big enough to fit in these contraptions, I’ve noticed that the majority of them have broken straps. Surely we’re not the only parents who reject a broken high chair. The wait staff must be continuously apprised of the defects, yet somehow the chairs are never repaired or replaced, and somehow the broken one is always the first one offered. Worse still, Baby Dog is too big for a carry seat anymore but not really big enough to be comfortable in the high chair. She always ends up sliding into a low slump. We wedged the blanky in behind her back, and that sort of did the trick. For a while. But not really.

The baby-seat setup included some crayons and a place mat to colour. That seemed charming at first, but of course Baby Dog is still too young to have quite mastered the concept of colouring. She was more interested in grabbing the place mat and ripping it apart. We demonstrated that the crayons could leave marks of colour on the paper, and that intrigued her initially, but she doesn’t quite have the manual dexterity to manage it. She got a few faint marks on the paper, then decided to chew the crayon instead. Mama Dog took the crayons away after that and from that point on Bay Dog was a continuous whirligig of discontent. We requested a spoon, and she happily banged that on the table for a while. When she tired of that she leaned forward alarmingly to gnaw the table top like that little girl in that Zippety Fixit thing. We pushed the chair far enough away from the table to prevent that, and I gave her the little wooden stand that had held the dessert menu. That was of interest for a minute or two. I tried cycling back to her favoured rattle, the one she shoplifted*, but she must have bookmarked her loss of interest in that, because she shoved it away without even looking. She wouldn’t sit still. She was reaching for everything that passed by and/or landed on our table. Mama Dog decided to hold Baby on her lap, then passed her on to me when she went to the bathroom. Baby Dog resumed the convenient arch-backed thing. Mama Dog came back, then decided to try changing a diaper in the ladies’ room. I sat quietly at the table, pinching the spot where my nose hits home between the eyes and wishing I hadn’t stayed up to finish watching Lost last night. The girls returned and I took Baby Dog on my lap again. The waiter thoughtfully set my ravioli di zucca down just in her reach, but I managed to intercept before she had a raviolum in her hand. I gave her a little bit of the bread. It turned out when I asked for the small ravioli, that meant an appetizer I didn’t care. I ate it down quickly. Baby Dog was squawking pretty loudly by the time I was done. I stood up and walked her around the restaurant, hoping Mama Dog could eat her chicken in peace. Of course, she was too stressed. Baby and I toured the back hall by the bathrooms, but that led to the kitchen, so we were constantly in the way of the staff. Finally, I found the most entertaining spot in the restaurant. Right at the front door there’s a chain of little metal beads that controls (I guess) the blinds. Baby Dog was instantly mesmerised – gorgonised, even – and played happily with the chain until Mama Dog was ready to leave.

I started this post at ten p.m. and she still wasn’t asleep. I hope some of us get some rest tonight. I think we’ve established pretty firmly that we’ve reached the age where it’s going to be necessary to employ a babysitter when we want to go out to dinner.

PS to Judy – I don’t know if that Magritte sky is a regular thing or not. I never noticed it before. I’ll try to remember to look out around the right time tomorrow night.
*Not really a long story, but I’m too pooped to tell it tonight.

Friday, May 06, 2005

I Confound the Wife By Unexpectedly Taking Passing Notice of Nature. Plus Loose Ends From Yesterday.

There was a Magritte sky out there tonight, still deep blue and full of fat white cumulus long after the sun was down. I was standing on the back porch, giving Doggy Dog moral support while he searched the yard for the money spot. I kept staring up at the sky, wondering how it was I could still see blue and white up there at nine p.m. in this southern latitude. “Come look,” I said to Mama Dog, typing away in the computer nook. She came to the door, blinking, not knowing where to look. I pointed out the sky’s persistent hue. She agreed it was very striking. We speculated that perhaps it was the reflected light of the city holding the blackness at bay. “That’s all,” I said. “Just noticing nature.” She smiled. “When I came out here,” she said, “I couldn’t think what you could be looking at in the dark. I thought you were going to show me Doggy Dog scratching his ass or something.” My wife, who knows me so well.

So, that Cinco de Mayo thing was fun. I thought it turned out really well, didn’t you? It’s funny, but even though we selected five participants and were each supposed to use five questions (though several people ended up using their alternates as well), at no point in planning or execution did anybody point out that this Cinco de Mayo was in fact 5/5/05. Didn’t even occur to me until this morning.

I also forgot to mention something in my answer to the question about movies. I talked about a bunch of disparate movies I saw during the year of the streak, but I neglected to mention one particular double feature I saw that perfectly captures the range of high and low culture encompassed in that year: Fritz Lang’s M (in a lovingly restored print) and Mike Judge’s Beavis and Butt-Head Do America. Huh huh huh huh huh huh huh. Huh huh huh huh huh huh huh.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Cinco de Mayo Blog-a-Rama

Something a little different today… Mama Dog came up with a little project in honour of Cinco de Mayo. For the fifth of May, a group of five bloggers has done a series of round-robin interviews wherein we ask one another five questions. A splendid change of pace, if you ask me; this is the first day in nine (or so) months that I haven’t had to give any thought to what I’d write about. My questions were provided by Christine, and golly did she do her homework! She apparently spent last night scouring my archives and told me my blog “is a veritable mine.” I’m not sure if she meant it’s full of treasures or that it’s a dark and scary place to be lost, but thanks! I in turn sent some questions to Rachelle. Take a look at their interviews, and you can gradually work your way around the circle. Here are my kews and ehs:

1. This OCD variation – the newspapers, the quarters, movie every day for a year – does it bring you pleasure? What are its origins? What was your first streak? Have any of them culminated in a “perfect moment,” i.e., a convergence of effort, accomplishment and a sense of resolution?

Do my various compulsions bring me pleasure? I guess the correct answer is yes then no. I wouldn’t do them in the first place if I didn’t enjoy them – well, except maybe collecting the quarters, which really did come up accidentally. Even that, though, affords a bit of pleasure in the way of a minor treasure hunt. It makes examining my change from the Coke machine a small adventure. After a while, though, all these things just become a lot of work to maintain. I’ve blogged many a night when I really didn’t feel like blogging, but had to get something out in the aether before midnight. It can be like having an extra job, and since I’m pretty grudging about the job I get paid for, having another can seem like a hardship. Eventually there comes a point where it just doesn’t seem fun anymore and I drop the obsession totally. It helps, I think, to have an endpoint in mind from the beginning: “I will see a movie every day for a year, then I will stop.” That started to seem like a lot of work about five months in, but I saw it through to see it through and now, for whatever it’s worth, I can say I did it.

I don’t really know what the origins of this behaviour are, except that I’ve had what I now recognise as a collector’s mentality since early childhood. I would enjoy having a series of objects that were similar as a group but unique individually. A series of books, for example, with the same logos on the spine. I guess the Dr. Seuss Beginner Books would have been the first instance of that. My mother got them through the subscription service where a new book would show up every month in a little cardboard box. I was thrilled just to receive mail, let alone a series of collectible items. I got thorough use out of those books – I read them, I built houses with them, I raced Hot Wheel on them – but I’d always put them back on the shelf so I could see the row of Cats in Hats lined up next to each other on the same spot on each book’s spine. The Hardy Boys* were a later example of the same phenomenon. All those blue spines, with the cameo of Frank and Joe always at the same spot. Even better, they were numbered; I could look at the shelf and see that I skipped from #18, The Twisted Claw to #20, The Mystery of the Flying Express! Oh no! What disappeared in between? After that, there was Agatha Christie. I saw Murder on the Orient Express when I was ten and begged my dad for a copy of the book shortly after. He caved, and off I went on a hunt for every word written about the little Belgian with the grey cells and the egg-shaped head. There were so many editions and shapes and sizes of books that it was hard to see them as collectible in quite the same way as Dr. Seuss or the Hardys, but each book contained a list of all the others at the start, and I knew instinctively that anything that came with a checklist was by definition collectible. It was the same with Clancy Brothers records…the back of the jacket usually showed the names or even pictures of other albums. Every time I saw one I didn’t have, I’d ask for it for Christmas or my birthday or whatever. I think pretty much every relative I had gave me a Clancys record at one time or another. Then comics. Hoo boy, comics. I don’t think we have room or time to go into that today.

The perfect moment culminating from benign OCD? That would have to be Mama Dog’s 40th birthday. Three and a half years earlier it occurred to me that her 40th and our fifth wedding anniversary would fall only two months apart. I got it into my head that if I set aside a little money every month I’d be able to pay cash for the diamond ring she never got when we married. I bought a stack of journal notebooks and started writing her a letter, explaining what I was setting out to do, and updating the progress of my savings as I went along. I wouldn’t write every day, but a good five days out of any given week. I wrote down what happened each day in a fashion kind of similar to this blog but more personal. All the milestones of the period went in there. Our first walk with Doggy Dog. Every party, meal out, movie, poker game, and roadtrip. All the IVF attempts. The day we found out it had finally worked. The day Baby Dog was born. I managed to go the whole three years without missing a deposit to savings, without letting the journals lapse for more than a couple of days, and without ever being caught at any of it. When Mama Dog’s 40th rolled around I had about a dozen filled notebooks and the most money I had ever saved in the bank. I can say with certitude that it was the most unexpected birthday present she’d ever received. So yeah, if there’s a more perfect moment my compulsive nature could give me than that, I can’t think what it might be.

2. Having lived in many different places, coming from another country, and passing on multiple cultures to Baby Dog, how do you prioritize location, heritage, culture and ancestry, if at all? What of your Canadian-ness do you want Baby Dog to know, if you aren’t living in Canada among Canadians? What character traits are intrinsically Canadian and will you feel cheated if Baby Dog doesn’t get them?

I think I annoy Mama Dog when I say – as I often do – that Baby Dog is a Canadian who happened to be born in the United States. I will secure Canadian citizenship for her in due time. It’s important, because by the time she turns 18, President Jenna Bush will probably be drafting women as well as men for her family’s legacy war in the Middle East. In the meantime, there are things I’m going to try to teach her, though it’s going to be tricky to do so without making it a detriment to her schoolwork. I’ll want her to know the proper way to spell centre and colour, for example; but she’ll have to understand that her pig-ignorant school teacher will want her to misspell them. Not the words I’ll use, but I’ve got time to refine my pitch. I’ll want her to know that the last letter of the alphabet is properly pronounced zed. I’ll want her to know that the cushy part she sits on is her bum. I’ll want her to know who Pierre Trudeau was because he was among the greatest and most original politicians of the twentieth century. I’ll want her to be able to pick out the city of my birth on a map and I plan to take her there when she’s old enough to take an interest in travel. I’m sure there will be no there there, but I’ll want to show her nonetheless. She’ll grow up celebrating Thanksgiving the way we already do; with a big party in October, and an afterthought dinner in November. I won’t necessarily want her to be as shy and retiring and reserved as the old man, but although these are stereotypically Canadian traits I don’t really attribute them to my nationality. She’s already more outgoing than I am anyway.

3. In The Year in the Chair, if you could have predicted a future for yourself far into old age, what would that future have been? Now that you have what you have (Mama Dog, Baby Dog, Doggy Dog) what is the future you see for yourself?

I wasn’t thinking much about the future during the Year in the Chair. I was just shuffling one miserable foot in front of the other and choking on bitterness. If I thought about it at all I suppose the future I was envisioning is that Bernardo and I would be rooming together in the sublet – or some other crappy apartment – until we were feeble old men bickering over who bought the wrong damn Raisin Bran,** staring numbly at a terrible movie on the USA Network because we were both to proud to admit we couldn’t remember where the remote was, collapsing at night into the welcome oblivion of sleep, Bernardo still camping on the couch, me still folding my crumbling arthritic frame into the recliner. It was difficult to foresee anything less dismal at the time.

Now I see the future first thing every morning and last thing every night, and her name is Baby Dog. Stasis is impossible in the company of a small child because every day is new and change and growth are constant. Last night I let her play with the stereo remote with the batteries removed – one of her new favourite toys. When I handed it to her, she grinned hugely the way she usually does – but for the first time, she looked at the TV and angled the remote at it. She’s learned somewhere along the line that daddy points the remotes at the TV. Not exactly a breakthrough to put in the baby book, but look what it says about her burgeoning little intellect. She’s making connections. She’s drawing inferences. Every day she’s understanding more and more of what’s going on around her. The future is more exciting now than I could have possibly imagined when I was wallowing in that chair. I will always revere Mama Dog for rescuing me from my self-inflicted misery. And I will always think it an incalculably high honour to be my little girl’s father.

4. Has Mama Dog’s Okrah experience changed anything in her, in you, or in how you relate to each other? Did Okrah have any long-term impact that you can foresee?

You know, not so much. It was exciting, but more so for Mama Dog than for me. The big excitement for me was staying home with Baby Dog for a day and a half. Mostly, it was just a fun and unusual thing and a break in the routine. It has been a bit of a whirlwind for Mama Dog, though. She’s met people she never would have met otherwise, and it’s definitely increased the following for her blog. So far it’s just been a one-time novelty; if other television appearances were to follow, maybe things would get topsier and more turvic, but I think it would only be in a good way.

5. I like how you talk about movies, and I like how they serve as part of the narrative of your own experience. And the swath astounds me – Vin Diesel to Fellini, Sliding Doors to Berlin Alexanderplatz… So who is the character, what is the story that feels – to quote Tom Waits – like they’ve been reading your mail? What is the movie that startled you for how closely it captured your worldview?

One of these days I should publish the full list of the movies I saw during my streak year. PFA was having a Fassbinder festival during that period, and I saw almost his entire filmography. I also saw the Leslie Nielsen version of Mr. Magoo. The sad thing is, until I checked my spreadsheet just now I had forgotten there even was a Leslie Nielsen version of Mr. Magoo. When you see a movie every day for a year, it all blurs together into an impenetrable fog. There are many titles on the list that I would have to look up on the imdb if I wanted to know what in the hell they were. Sometimes, even that doesn’t help. But still, it’s representative of my feelings towards cinema. The kind of movie I won’t watch has yet to be invented. I despise sports, but I’ll watch a movie about sports. I don’t even mind watching bad or even mediocre (which I think is worse than bad) movies; I won’t like them, but I’ll like the experience of watching them. I just like to see those big images up on the screen. I don’t know why. Three times in my year at the movies, I remember having second thoughts during a movie. The first was during Warriors of Virtue, which was kind of like Teenage Mutant Ninja Kangaroos, only not even as good as that sounds. Midway through, it occurred to me that I would never have gone to that movie except that I had to see a movie. I thought “What the hell am I doing here?” and then I watched the rest of the movie. The second was at an excruciatingly awful Matthau-Lemmon vehicle called Out to Sea, which made me weep for the days when the pairing of their two names was a guarantee of a classic comedy. I remember staring at my soft drink cup and thinking, “No, really, what the hell am I doing here?” before reluctantly watching the rest of the movie. The absolute nadir was the Spice Girls movie. I was sorely tempted to walk out. But I just couldn’t do it.

But that’s tangential, isn’t it? The answer to the main thrust of your question is: Diner. I’ve often said that while I acknowledge it’s not the best movie of all time, it is my favourite movie of all time. I remember the first time I saw it, watching the scenes of the guys in the Diner, eating French fires, drinking coffee, shooting the shit, mocking each other, making stupid bets, talking for hours about minutia that nobody could possibly care about – I was thunderstruck. “That’s what we do,” I thought. I had never seen the quotidian reality of hundreds of nights out with my high school friends – for us it was a pizza place rather than a diner – so perfectly captured. In fact, I’d never seen any other movie even attempt to capture it. It had never occurred to anybody to try. I read somewhere that when MGM previewed the first cut of the film, an executive said to Barry Levinson, “You need to cut the scenes in the diner, they slow down the story.” “That is the story,” Levinson replied.

There are a surprising number of guys – they’re always guys – for whom Diner holds this same special place. They call us Diner guys.
*I just learned from following that link that Leslie McFarlane, the first “Franklin W. Dixon,” was born in Carleton Place, the town where my childhood cottage lay. I had no idea. I wrote a fan letter to Franklin W. Dixon from the town of Carleton Place. He was some other ghost writer by then, but still.
**Almost certainly Bernardo. Post? Why would anyone buy Post Raisin Bran?