b Papa Dog's Blog: June 2005

Papa Dog's Blog

A Thing Wherein I Infrequently Write Some Stuff

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Oh Yeah, and Asbestos Insulation. That Was Another Good Idea.

A not-infrequent topic among our little new parent crowd is “ways our parents endangered our lives that are frowned upon and sometimes even illegal now.” We were born in the mid-60s when, for example, it was not considered unusual for women to drink and smoke throughout a pregnancy. Din’t hurg me non. Back then, they didn’t obsess over the dietary rulebooks the way we do today. Nobody gave much thought to introducing new foods gradually to test for allergies. Back then, you gave the baby whatever you had in the cupboard, and if the result was anaphylactic shock, you just shrugged and said it was God’s will. Whenever Mama Dog and I come across one of today’s cushy plastic playgrounds with the padding and the soft surfaces, we inevitably get to talking about the deathtraps we played on as kids; hard metal jungle gyms, rusty jagged things set on thick concrete strewn with broken glass and exposed electrical wires. Or so it seems in retrospect. Nowadays car seats are not just a good idea, they’re the law. I remember when I was four years old I would sometimes get a ride with our across-the-street neighbours. There were usually more kids in the car than there was seat space for so, because I was the smallest, I’d ride on the shelf behind the back seat, pressed up against the rear window. Back then, that was just a way to pack and extra kid into the car. You know what it’s called these days? Child endangerment.

Mulling this over today, I was moved to wonder: what are we doing – what elements of our parenting technique are we employing even as I type – that Baby Dog will look back on in thirty years, unable to believe she survived to adulthood?

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The Goat, or - Hey, Free Money!

Once again, we’re taking advantage of the presence of Gran – henceforth to be known as Halmonie – to go out and do things normally infeasible for us. Last night we had a regular night on the town, dining with another couple at Max’s, where “If You’re Fat You Just Get Fatter!”* and then going out to the theatre. We haven’t been to a play since we were counting down the days to Baby Dog’s arrival. Our last theatrical experience was seeing Josh Kornbluth do a revival of Red Diaper Baby at The Magic Theatre. This time around, the venue was ACT, where we saw Edward Albee’s The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?. It was both funny and horrible, but probably less shocking than intended, as we ended the evening talking about making an outing to the Little Farm to see the goats.

The other day I got what I thought was a bit of junk mail from one of my credit card companies. I almost tossed it in the “to shred” pile because it looked like one of those fake “cash advance” cheques they send out to gull their customers into living even further beyond their means. It was fortunate I took a second look, because the cheque turned out to be real. Not large, but real. It was for about $14. Some sort of rebate thing that I don’t remember signing up for. Even better, it’s for a card I never use. Free money, no matter how you slice it.

Yesterday, when I was getting ready to leave work I remembered that I’d been carrying the cheque around for the last few days and decided I might as well bank it on the way to meet Mama Dog at Max’s. I was rummaging around in my desk for a pen to endorse the cheque when I came across an unlikely surprise: four crisp fifty dollar bills. They were wrapped in a flight itinerary from when I brought my first nephew down for a visit in 1999. Back then, Mama Dog and I were filthy two-income rich. Because I didn’t have a bank account, I routinely cashed my paycheque and wandered around with a wad of fifties and hundreds on my person.** It’s entirely plausible that after my nephew’s visit I stuck a bit of leftover walking-around money in my desk drawer and then never missed it. Boy, those were the days.

The perfume of found money sweetened the evening. With an extra $200 in my pocket, not only was the overpriced meal paid for, so were the theatre tickets, BART fare, and Mama Dog’s gas money to and from Rockridge BART – and still with money left over to maybe go out to the movies at some point. Even better, I’m left with the hopeful notion that these things come in threes, so I’m still owed one more!
*Not actually their slogan, but it should be.
**Note to enterprising muggers who have found this page by Googling “where to find dopes with lots of cash”: I don’t do that anymore.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Making Myths, Telling Stories (Baby Dog's Fourteenth Birthday Present)

I suppose I’m blowing the surprise if she happens to read this between now and then, but I figured out last night what I’m going to give Baby Dog for her fourteenth birthday. Well, we can always give her something else in addition, whatever’s popular for teenaged girls in the year 2018. Brain chip implants of boy band videos*. Rub-on piercings. One of those new hover-Segways. Whatever. What I’m going to give her is the poker chip that she selected at her Doljabee. I have thirteen years to make it more interesting than a gold-coloured clay chip. Maybe we can turn it into a piece of jewellery or something. More than enough time to figure that out.

I settled on the age of fourteen as the right time to give this particular gift partly because it’s two sevens, which is auspicious, but mostly because it’s right around the age where kids are expected to start thinking seriously about what they’re going to do with their lives, or at least become acquainted with the notion of doing so. It will be meant as a reminder that she has already confronted this question, though she wasn’t conscious of it at the time. A few weeks back, I told Mama Dog that I fully expected Baby Dog to abide for the rest of her life by whatever decision she made in the Doljabee, and that I would sternly insist on her following through. I was kidding. I don’t want Baby Dog to grow up to be a card sharp or an art swindler or whatever interpretation we might like to put on her curious selection of objects. I want her to grow up to be whatever she wants to be. But I really believe, in my half-assedly superstitious way, that the poker chip will play some part in helping her know what that is.

At the risk of lapsing into an utterly uncharacteristic strain of new-ageyness, what I think is, we are engaged all our lives in the business of constructing our own personal mythologies. Some people are more conscious of this than others, but we all do it, either as a way to understand ourselves or as a way to remain blind to our failings. My preference, for myself and for Baby Dog, is the former. I think anybody who engages in a creative discipline is particularly conscious of this process, and of those, writers are more conscious of it than anyone. For a writer, a symbol is only as useful as the narrative that gives it context. We need a story to hang our icons on. Because – at least in my mythology of self – I’ve always been a very inwardly directed person, it didn’t occur to me until very recently that these building blocks of myth don’t spring wholly from our innate selves. We have help arriving at them, and the first people who help us are our parents, our families. How often have I come back in this faversham to the importance The Clancy Brothers have had in my life? Would I know a damn thing about them if my parents hadn’t watched the Ed Sullivan Show? No. So Baby Dog likes ducks, and maybe ducks will be an important symbol for the rest of her life – or maybe not. But why does she like them so? Maybe she has some innate affinity for them, or maybe she was drawn to them because every time we came across a picture of a duck in a book, I’d say, “There’s the duck. The duck says ‘quack quack quack.’”

So that’s the point of the poker chip. In addition to keeping her off the pole, I’m considering it my job to help her construct her myth. She’ll take what she needs and reject what she doesn’t – her myth, not mine – but I’m going to make sure she knows the parts of her story she’s unable to remember herself. The chip may mean nothing to her or it may strike some deep chord, but either way it will inform the story she wants to tell.
*I’ll be dating myself by insisting on referring to them as “videos,” but that’s what parents in their mid-fifties do. I’ll still be calling the audio-only versions “albums” without ever having passed through the intermediary stage of calling them “CDs,” so fuck off.

Monday, June 27, 2005

My Tardy Account of the Dol

Saturday, we had a Dol (or Tol) for Baby Dog, which is the traditional first-birthday extravaganza for Korean babies. Perhaps because Baby Dog is only ¼ Korean, we managed to be only about ¼ traditional, but that was still enough to make it a very memorable day. Historically, the Dol was a big deal in Korea because there was a very high infant mortality rate. Up until the first year, cause to celebrate seemed a little iffy. If a child survived to its first birthday, it stood a greatly increase chance of living to adulthood, so really the first birthday became a deferred celebration of the birth. We don’t have the same statistical reasons for having a Dol, and in truth have been openly chuffed about our daughter this whole past year. But western tradition also calls for a celebration on the day of birth – in English, called the “birthday” – so we tried to create a birthday celebration that reflected Baby Dog’s full heritage as a Korean-Scottish- English- and-a-little-bit-French-and-maybe-Dutch-and-Irish-but-we’re-not- really-sure-about-that girl – in short, a Canadian girl born in the United States.

To celebrate the Dol, the child is dressed in a hanbok, a traditional garment for special events. Baby Dog first tried her hanbok on a month or two back and hated it, but she didn’t really seem to mind it too much this weekend. Maybe she’s grown into it since then. More likely, she was just distracted by the photo scrum that confronted her when she was brought out in the hanbok. Then, once the main ceremony began, it was too much like playtime for her to pay much attention to what she was wearing.

The main ceremony is called the Doljabee. We learned that very day from Gran what that means. The “dol” part we already knew – that just means “birthday.” But evidently “jabee’ means “grab.” So literally, it’s a “birthday grab.” Coincidentally, this also describes every western birthday tradition with which I’m familiar. In the Doljabee, the father –that would be me in this instance – sets the baby down on a table laden with several objects of symbolic significance. Traditionally, these include a book, representing scholarship; a coin representing wealth; a needle and thread,* representing long life; and a ruler, symbolizing skill with the hands. We messed with tradition here by adding in a paint brush to symbolize artistic ability; a wooden spoon, for culinary skill; and a poker chip symbolizing, as I explained to the gathered celebrants, “an ability to fleece chumps.” I had been predicting since the subject first came up that Baby Dog would go first for the book. It seemed a foregone conclusion, since books are hand down her favourite toys. It would have been a cheat to use Ten Little Ladybugs, so instead I put down my beat-up paperback copy of The Call of the Wild, which was the first book I ever read to her, when she was just a week or two old. We didn’t get very far, but the first sentence of English literature to ever pass her ears was: “Buck did not read the newspapers, or he would have known that trouble was brewing, not alone for himself, but for every tidewater dog, strong of muscle and with warm, long hair, from Puget Sound to San Diego.”

As you may have guessed, she didn’t go for the book. Children will do that, confounding their parents’ expectations. But what a little leap of pride I felt in my heart when I saw what she did reach for: the poker chip. My little shark! She dove for that thing with such an enthusiastic little chortle. The second object she went for was the paint brush. Tradition says it’s the first two objects that are most important, so our theory is that she’s in some way going to conduct swindles in the art world. Perhaps she’ll sell fake Diebenkorns on Ebay. The third thing she picked was the ruler, indicating that she’ll be good with her hands – those three attributes suggest she might follow the old counterfeiter’s adage: “The best way to make money is to make money.” Or maybe she’ll just overcharge outrageously.

Nothing could be more unprecedented than me posting a picture of my child on the Internet but a) this was a big moment; b) the hanbok is too flamboyant not to share; and c) with her head down in the photo and with her wearing what amounts to a little superhero outfit, you really can’t see what she looks like anyway. So here’s the fateful moment, captured digitally for all time:

Baby Dog Grabs the Chip!
Originally uploaded by papadogduvalier.

After the Doljabee, we put a bunch of food on the table and took pictures of Baby Dog seated among it. This was admittedly a bit of a slipshod stab at another Korean birthday tradition. Normally, the stacks of rice cake are arranged very carefully, and there’s a formal aspect to the portrait. We didn’t take as great pains with this part, because our guests were hungry and Gran had been cooking up a storm of mandu and japchae all day. It was time to stop posing with food and start eating it.

Later, we enacted a western tradition, where a baked confection made from flour, eggs, butter, and sugar, called a “cake” was set on the kitchen table. The cake is garnished with one candle for every year of the birthday child’s life – in this case, one candle. The candle is lit and the child is exhorted to blow out the flame. Since Baby Dog is a bit too small to follow all that, I helped her a bit. After the flame was extinguished, there was applause, which Baby Dog happily joined in. Then the gathered well-wishers sang a traditional song called “Happy Birthday to You” (music by Mildred and Patty Hill, lyrics by Unknown), and we all had cake. Baby Dog finally got to relax, strapped into her high chair, while Gran gave her a little bit of birthday cake, the first truly sugary food Baby Dog has ever experienced. She made a little face, unused to the sweetness, but ate heartily.

It occurred to me that I forgot to instruct my daughter in the key element of the “birthday cake” tradition, wherein she’s supposed to make a wish before she blows out the candle. I don’t suppose she would have known what I was talking about this time around. Probably next year she will. In the meantime, it will have to suffice that she is our wish, and she is true.
*A needle and thread? For a one-year-old to grab? Far be it from me to denigrate my daughter’s quarter-heritage, but is that nuts or what? A high mortality rate isn’t enough? You want a high put-your-eye-out-with-that-thing rate too? We used a big knitting needle, still in its plastic container.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Plus, My Legs Feel Like Somebody's Been Kicking Them All Weekend

Just knackered a second day in a row. I thought I’d have time to get the story of the Dol party written down today, but guess it wasn’t as shiggity as I thought. Go look at Mama Dog’s thang if you can’t wait. She put a picture up. I’ll try to get back in the swing tomorrow.

We saw Crash today. Good night.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Baby Dog Is One. Happy Birthday, Baby Dog!

Baby Dog turned one today. Can you believe that? Me neither. They say the time zips by, but they never tell you it fuckin’ zips. It’s hard to believe we’ve maintained and even nurtured the life of another human being for an entire year, but the proof is now a-slumber in her crib, and her Mummy and Daddy are utterly pooped from the evening's festivities and the day-long preparations for same. I’ll tell you the whole shebang tomorrow, fo’ shiggity. Right now, my dogs are barking and I want to prostrate myself on the bed while I wait for the first of two loads of dishes to finish. Later, all.

Friday, June 24, 2005

These Are Your Ducks. These Are Your Ducks on Drugs. Any Questions?

While I was doing my day’s quota of thinking in the shower this morning, I found myself mulling over yesterday’s post, specifically the reference to the cop-out Hollywood ending of Five Little Ducks. It occurred to me that one or another of you might be unfamiliar with the tome in question, and may be curious about the copout ending. Having nothing else planned for today, I figured I’d bang out a quick first draft of my doctoral dissertation on Five Little Ducks. The text quoted is in the public domain. I was unable to get a scan of the images, but had I been able to, the ones I describe are © 2005 by Dan Yaccarino. I’ll be trying again next week, so check back and see if I got the images in. (Have you checked back? Good, because the images are in now [7/7/5].)

Five Little Ducks – An Examination of the Text: Single Motherhood and the “Empty Nest” Syndrome Among Impoverished Rural American Water Fowl
by P.D. Duvalier, D.B.W.*

Page One:

“Five little ducks went out one day, over the hill and far away.”

As we first encounter the duck family, all seems well. In a pleasant rural setting, the five little ducks troop in a neat line up a hill as their mother follows with watchful indulgence. The only sinister note is struck by the presence in the right foreground of a small green frog with a grotesquely cloven head. Has this frog been the victim of some anti-Ranidaean prejudice? This possibility is never addressed.

Page Two:

“The mother duck said, “Quack! Quack! Quack!” But only four little ducks came back.”

Here we see the mother duck landing from flight, apparently having spent the day elsewhere while her children roamed the countryside unsupervised. The four returning ducks appear indifferent to their mother’s anxiety, and in fact wear the same dreamy and untroubled expression throughout their adventures. Are they perhaps under the influence of some mood-flattening drug? As of the second page this is merely a possibility, but their absolute unflappability through the remainder of the book makes it seem a certainty. The mother appears confused, but not overtly concerned. On some level she may in fact be relieved that she now has one less mouth to feed. We will see on the next page how she deals with the inevitable guilt feelings raised by this response.

Page Three:

“Four little ducks went out one day, across the lake and far away.”

With loose limbs and a sensuously parted beak, the mother duck lolls on the surface of a pond, her head submerged. She appears entirely untroubled by the recent disappearance of her child. Clearly, she has self-medicated, likely from the supply intended for her children. She was greatly exceeded the numbing effect she intended and has lapsed into a Ritalin stupor.

Curious, the frog with the misshapen head reappears on this page, watched over by a second larger frog with a similar cranial cleft. The second frog is in shadow. Neither frog seems to be paying any attention to the mother duck or to her children. Again, the significance of this is uncertain.

Page Four:

“The mother duck said, “Quack! Quack! Quack!” But only three little ducks came back.”

As the three remaining ducks make their customarily impassive return via a hollow worm-ridden log, the mother duck turns around in surprise. In the background, we see an adult duck departing in flight. Given the lack of a male role model in the duck family up to this point, the obvious surmise is that the mother duck has been surprised by her children in the middle of a possibly illicit sexual encounter. A bumblebee hovers about the mother duck’s posterior. While certainly suggestive, the significance is again uncertain.

Page Five:

“Three little ducks went out one day, under the water and far away.”

As the remaining duck family dives synchronously under the surface of the pond, the mother duck for the first time wears an expression identical to that of her three children. Presumably she has adjusted her dosage.

Page Six:

“The mother duck said, “Quack! Quack! Quack!” But only two little ducks came back.”

At this point, the repetitive nature of the mother duck’s admonitions becomes apparent. Clearly, the little ducks are stifling in a home environment that does not engage and challenge their burgeoning intelligence and growing curiosity about the world. The mystery now is not where the little ducks are disappearing to, but why they are vanishing singly rather than en masse.

It is also worth noting that the two little ducks who return on this page do so standing blithely on the snout of what appears to be an alligator. How do the two ducks survive this perilous journey? A possible explanation is that the alligator is already full. This might also explain the whereabouts of the third duck, presumably charting an exploratory course through the unknown terrain of the alligator’s digestive tract.

Page Seven:

“Two little ducks went out one day, into town and far away.”

Here we have a glimpse of a previously unremarked urban environment, evidently within waddling distance from the farmland seen until now. The attraction the city holds for the duck children is evident, as they troop somnambulistically towards it. In the background is a stretch of coastline, another geographical feature which has been hidden heretofore. Above a lighthouse we see two more adult fowl circling, perhaps waiting impatiently for the mother duck to become available.

Page Eight:

“The mother duck said, “Quack! Quack! Quack!” But only one little duck came back.”

This last duck returns on the back of a turtle, an unlikely mode of locomotion for an animal capable of flight. Perhaps this is a reference to the notion from Indian mythology of the earth resting on the back of a turtle? Likely not, but I’m at a loss for what else to drag in on this page.

Page Nine:

“One little duck went out one day, into the woods and far away.”

As the last little duck departs, the mother watched nervously. It has taken some time, but the pattern of recent events has finally penetrated her drug-addled consciousness.

Page Ten:

“The mother duck said, “Quack! Quack! Quack!” But no little ducks came back.”

At last we see an honest expression of grief from the mother duck. She has overcome her fog of drugs and promiscuity and connected with the raw emotions brought forth by the loss of her family. Too late, of course, but what’re ya gonna do?

Page Eleven:

“Sad mother duck went out one day, over the hill and far away.”

The mother duck trudges up the hill in silhouette. When we first saw this hill on page one, it was light green and populated by frolicsome butterflies. In her solitude, the hill has become dark and foreboding for the mother duck. This is where her troubles began. It is now dark green and absent of any other signs of life. The imagery is all kind of obvious really, but again, what’re ya gonna do?

Page Twelve:

“The mother duck said, “Quack! Quack! Quack!” And all the little ducks came back.”

The ultimate feel-good cop-out ending. One is tempted to assume that the story originally ended on the previous page, but failed to test well that way. No effort is made to explain how little duck number three made it safely out of the alligator’s alimentary canal, but that’s the way it goes with these tacked-on focus group things.
*Fabulous prize to the first person to correctly guess what that stands for.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Whose Toy Is It Anyway?

A while back, Mama Dog took a shine to a stuffed mallard toy that the Whippets bought for their whippets. It makes a honky quacking noise when squeezed in the jaws of a dog or other like-sized mammal. Mama Dog thought it terribly cute.

The other day, while taking Baby Dog for a sojourn on Fourth Street, Mama Dog came across the very same stuffed mallard at a yuppie pet store. It occurred to Mama Dog that the mallard could be just as good a baby toy as a dog toy, and given Baby Dog’s continuing duck mania, it seemed just the thing. She showed the mallard to Baby Dog, and the sale was sealed.

When I got home from work today, Mama Dog was just about to have story time with Baby Dog. I joined them on the bed, and we took turns reading to Baby Dog. It was all very Norman Rockwell. Doggy Dog whined at the foot of the bed. He used to be allowed up, but has been banished since the arrival of the baby. Still, he sometimes thinks an exception will be made. If the other three family members are cuddled on the bed, surely the fourth will be allowed to join the party. I suggested he be quiet and lie down.

After we had finished with Bus Stops (too advanced), I Love My Mommy Because… (narrative too weak), and Five Little Ducks (just right, despite the cop-out Hollywood ending), I leaned over the side of the bed to get something, and my eye was caught be an unexpected sight. There in the doorway to the kitchen was the stuffed mallard. There curled up by the stuffed mallard was Doggy Dog. “Uh…” I said, “…did Baby Dog leave the mallard in kitchen?” “No,” Mama Dog replied with some curiosity, “it’s in the living room.” “Mm. Not no more.” I examined the duck. Sure enough, it was coated with dog drool. Doggy Dog looked not the least bit sheepish.

“I guess it can be his now,” Mama Dog said. It is a dog toy.” I suppose it could be a consolation prize for losing his spot on the bed. I suppose we should keep the safety gate closed when there are toys all over the living room floor. I suppose we’re rewarding him for acting out. I suppose that’s what you get when you buy a dog toy for a baby.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Clap Feet!

I’ve written lyrics before, but until recently I’d never written a song. As with many of my life’s greatest accomplishment, I did it by accident. I think I’ve mentioned previously that Baby Dog started getting hard to handle on the changing pad in the past couple of months. Making it through a diaper change without having the lamp get knocked to the floor entails a certain amount of imaginative improv to keep baby distracted from what she really wants to do, which is wreak havoc. Kind of like how if you had a mass of people you wanted to keep docile and pliant while you looted the fruits of their labour you might, for example, invent religion. We would give her toys, make funny noises, make faces at her, anything to keep her still while the bum gets wiped and the diaper goes on.

One of the remarkable things about babies is that they are much more – to use the technical term – bendy than grown adults. Freed from the bulky constraint of diaper, diaper shield, onesie, and union suit, Baby Dog is ready, willing, and able to chew on her feet. Not just nibble her toenails, mind – she can reach the heel if she has a mind to. When the diaper comes off, the feet immediately bend up mouthward. This could actually be a marketable job skill later in life, but I probably won’t ever tell her so, it being my main job as a father to keep her off the pole. If she wasn’t actually pulling her feet up to her mouth for a chew, she’d still kick them up, knees bent, letting her feet almost touch. One of the things I would do to keep her distracted was grab hold of her feet and clap them together, saying “Clap your feet!” This would amuse her almost as much as it did me. Because she was learning to clap her hands at the time, it was in essence topical humour.

Here a natural association sprang forth. There’s a great Tom Waits song called Clap Hands. I didn’t really remember how the song went at the time, and the lyrics aren’t particularly apt for the changing table anyway. Somehow I got it muddled up with the rhythm-heavy tracks from his last album, and the end result was a little ditty I call Clap Feet. It goes like this:

“Clap FEET/Badoom-BOOM-badoom/Clap FEET/ Badoom-BOOM-badoom/Clap FEET/Badoom-BOOM-badoom.” (Repeat until diaper is changed and then finish with…) “Clap feet! Yay!”

That probably doesn’t sound like much, but you have to consider the theatre aspect as well. Specifically, there’s actual foot clapping involved. On the beats, I grab Baby Dog’s feet and clap them for her…a double clap for “Clap FEET” and one big clap for the big “BOOM” beat. I’m telling you, that’s entertainment.

The funny thing is, I thought this was just a private little joke betwixt Baby Dog and self until I heard Mama Dog giving her own interpretation of “Clap Feet” during a diaper change the other night. I came into the room and we made it a duet. Baby Dog really seems to dig all this. Often, she’ll start kicking her legs, trying to clap her feet, in anticipation during a diaper change. Moreover, she’s started singing along. She says “buh buh buh.” I think if that’s layered in right when we cut the demo, it’ll really kill.*
*Full disclosure: I have no idea if that sentence means anything.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

This is a Job for the Fab Five. Oh Boy, is it Ever.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that even were I in possession of a good fortune, I should not be allowed to use it to purchase glasses I picked out myself. Nobody knows this better than I. I had the same pair of glasses from 1986, when Tower Records bought them for me because I got punched in the face while taking out their garbage, until 1994 (or thereabouts) when it suddenly occurred to me that maybe they were getting a little old. The fact that they were bent in the middle and didn’t sit on my nose properly was what I like to call a clew. I guess the glasses were okay, or at least bordering on okay, when I bought them in 1986. The LMS was less vocal about matters of style than Mama Dog, but I’m sure she would have said something if she thought they were grotesque. By the time they were considered too hideous for public use, I had nobody to let me know.

Fortunately, when the style memo made it belatedly to my in-box, I had a willing and able posse to accompany me to the optician’s in Metairie and tell me what glasses I would be buying. Thank you very much, CAJ and SR. I remember having a long conversation with CAJ about this one night, where I tried to explain how it was impossible for me to have an aesthetic opinion about glasses and how it baffled me that other people seemed to have such opinions instinctively. “They’re all glasses-shaped,” quoth I. “What difference does it make which pair of glasses-shaped things you get? It’s like…shit…it’s like making a big deal about what toaster you buy.” From her reaction, I understood that the mystery was deeper than I had known. Apparently there are people who care what toaster they buy, and she was one of them. I tried for about an hour to come up with a household item that she could see in purely utilitarian terms, which she could select without regard to its appearance, and I came up empty. Each and every thing, apparently, was evaluated according to its appearance. I felt like a twelfth century Saxon peasant trying to divine the purpose of a parking meter. Toilet seat? You care what your toilet seat looks like? The thing you sit on to evacuate your bowels is the subject of an aesthetic choice? Madness!

In the years since then, of course, I’ve had Mama Dog to advise me on eyewear.* Last year at this time, great with child, she was unable to accompany me to the optician’s near my office to tell me which frames I’d be getting for my new glasses. Luckily, CAJ had also moved to the Bay Area in the years between, and was working not far from my office. She was summoned to make the decision for me, and it’s the pair she picked out that fell apart in Saint Babs a few weeks back. When I went to the eye doctor last week, the optician had scarpered before I could order my new pair. Just as well, thought I, since I’d have no idea how to make the selection anyway. I said I’d come back the next day. The next day, work was heinous busy and I forgot to take a lunch hour. The day after was the same thing. Yesterday I remembered to take a lunch hour but forgot to go order glasses during it. Finally today, I bit the bullet and for the first time in…well, maybe ever, I’m not sure…went out to buy glasses without having someone along to tell me what to get. I had considered drafting CAJ again, but had hit upon a strategy that seemed foolproof. I’d just tell the optician to give me the same frames I was wearing.

He looked at them and frowned. “We’ve never had these,” he said.

“Oh.” I was stymied. “I thought I got these here.” He shook his head. I wasn’t even sure which pair of glasses I was wearing, but they must have been ones with frames I got in Berkeley. “Well, how about something similar,” I said. “Comparable.” He nodded and showed me a couple of different pairs then got busy on the telephone. The guy’s always busy on the telephone. I looked at the two pairs. They were both glasses-shaped. How am I supposed to give a shit which one I get? Finally I decided that the one in my left hand was darker and therefore more similar to the ones I was wearing. I went with that.

Later, I called Mama Dog and told her, “I ordered some glasses, but it’s possible that they suck.”

“Do they look good?” she asked.

“Well, that’s the problem. I have no way of knowing.” She does know me, yes. But sometimes I think she still can’t quite believe what she knows.
*As well as footwear, menswear, underwear, and everywear. I will not hide from the fact that she dresses me.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Brief (and Late) Notes from My Day

I meant to do a big post about My Day yesterday, filled with thoughts on what a year of fatherhood has taught me, but I guess one of the main things it’s taught me is that I usually end up with insufficient time to do the things I set out to do. So, even with an extra day to work with, all I’m going to come up with here are a few highlights from yesterday’s festivities.

1. Got to sleep in. All the way until 8:15! It’s hard to believe there was a time when I’d sleep til the afternoon on Sunday.

2. Went to our second picnic in a row, this one a birthday party for little M, who was born two days after Baby Dog. This one was at Dimond Park in Dimond Park Oakland, and unlike the YBW picnic, it was lousy with babies, many of them around one year old, members of the birthing group to which S & J, M’s parents, belonged. After we had eaten and played and mingled and frolicked and gambolled for a while, I was delighted to hear that S’ dad was going to put on a magic show. I took Baby Dog over to watch, though of course it was by no means certain that she’d have an appreciation for prop tricks. What didn’t occur to me until it was obvious to everyone is that two things Baby Dog has really learned to do are clap and say “Yaaaay!” She had no idea what the old guy with the wand was up to, but she was thrilled when all the people surrounded him clapped and said “Yaaaay!” Delighted, she joined in. Only thing is, she wasn’t clapping and yaaaaying for the magic show – she was clapping and yaaaaying for everybody else’s clapping and yaaaaying. So S’ dad would do a trick and everybody would clap and yaaaay. Then, just as he’d start the patter for the next trick, Baby Dog would suddenly clap and yell “Yaaaay!” She really kind of stole the show. It was the most adorable damn thing ever.

3. We left the park with Baby Dog in the stroller, me pushing. As we got to the exit, we passed another couple with another dad pushing another baby in the stroller. As we whisked past each other, we exchanged the Daddy nod and he, a complete stranger, said, “Happy Father’s Day!” I said “You too!” Maybe I’m getting soft in my dotage, but for once I actually enjoyed a casual pleasantry.

4. On the way home, we stopped at the Chocolate Café and Mama Dog got me some chocolate because she knows her man (having met him on several occasions previously).

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Addendum #2 to Yesterday's Post

Bernardo correctly identified the mystery phrase as being not quite a quote or even exactly a paraphrase but sort of a sampling of dialogue elements from Cool Hand Luke. In classic Bernardo style, it took three emails for him to stop speaking in hints and peripherals and actually answer the question, but he did do it before anyone else. So fab prize for Bernardo, as soon as I figure out what it is.

Addendum #1 to Yesterday's Post

The Old Country Geese
Originally uploaded by papadogduvalier.
It occurred to me (der) that although I didn't want to post a picture of Baby Dog and myownself, I could post a picture of the geese, just to give you an idea of the sheer number involved. This here's a small sample. There were dozens of the critters, hence Baby Dog's operatic reaction. Though of course she probably would have reacted the same way to a single pigeon.

Note that this photo presumably includes Mama Goose, Papa Goose, and Baby Geese. Click on the photo to make it bigger.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

The Company Picnic/Duck Duck Duck Duck Goose

Today was the day of the YBW company picnic, and it was Baby Dog’s debut in a work party setting. The festivities were held at Crown Beach Park in Alameda, and featured a catered barbecue. I didn’t quite know what that meant either. But no, really, there were people there with a grill who barbecued for us. Wonderful what they can do nowadays.

As it turned out, Baby Dog wasn’t the smallest one there. One of my orkers brought his four-month-old son along. Four months old and nineteen pounds. Near as big as Baby Dog, but still clearly an infant rather than a Baby. We’ve long since lost the “littlest baby in the room” title, but at gatherings like this we still have the “newly interactive” market cornered.

Baby Dog’s big moment came when she played her first (sort of) game of catch, with Dan the Chemist’s wife. More “pass” than “catch,” really. Mrs. Dan was sitting at one of the picnic tables and had a baseball. I was standing nearby holding Baby Dog. Feeling guilty that we hadn’t thought to bring any of her toys, I asked Mrs. Dan if Baby Dog could play with the baseball. Mrs. Dan passed the ball to Baby Dog, paused a moment, then asked “Can I have that back?” Reluctantly, Baby Dog parted with the ball, but immediately Mrs. Dan said, “Here, would you like it back again?” This went back and forth a couple of times and then the idea bulb went off over Baby Dog’s head. You could literally see the comprehension dawning on her, understanding how the game worked. She started offering the ball to Mrs. Dan without being asked for it. They passed it back and forth about twenty or thirty times. Baby Dog would have kept at it all day, but Daddy needed a cold drink. (“Gettin’ a cold drink here, boss.” “Get your cold drink, Dragline.”*)

Baby Dog proved unexpectedly helpful at one point when the orker organising the entertainment came around trying to dragoon people for the three-legged race. I held the little girl up and said, “It wouldn’t be fair. I have four.”

After the picnic, we were on our way to Merritt Bakery to order Baby Dog’s birthday cake** when a series of unanticipated events led to a very pleasant side trip. First, it occurred to us partway there that neither of us really knew how to get to the bakery from downtown Oakland. I knew that if you drove up Broadway (or Webster, I think, we were on) you had to turn right at some particular point to go under some overpass thingy and be deposited on the correct side of the lake. Unfortunately, I couldn’t remember which street that right comes on. Eventually, we went north until the lake came in sight and hove that way. Unfortunately, the streets aren’t laid out to make it that easy. After encountering several wrong-way one-ways, we decided to just go around the lake the long way, and even then we suddenly hit a point where the lake was no longer in sight. Taking a page from Mama Dog’s book, I did what she calls “using the Force,” and said “Turn right here.” Turn right she did, and presently the lake was once again in view. Also in view were a bunch of Canada geese*** from Lake Merritt Wildlife Sanctuary. Knowing that Baby Dog would go bananas for this, Mama Dog said, “Should we stop and show her?” “Yes,” I replied with unwonted emphasis, and just then we saw a parking space, right there on the edge of the lake.**** How deuced unlikely. Clearly, it was fate. We parked, I got Baby Dog out of the car seat, and we tromped over the grass to the dozens-strong gaggle honking by the edge of the shore. We were stepping gingerly around the bird poop before Baby Dog grasped what she was seeing, but once she did, the effect was instantaneous. She shrieked, starting waving her arms and legs in uncontrollable excitement, and yelling “Duck! Duck! Duck! Duck!” Mama Dog got a good shot of us in front of the geese, Baby Dog on my knees, hands thrust wildly out, suddenly motivated to stand up straight, a thing we’re having a hell of a time teaching her to do. I’d reproduce the photo here, but our faces are visible so forget it. It was definitely a MasterCard moment.
*Fabulous prize to the first person to correctly identify the reference. Bonus points if you don’t Google. (It’s not an exact quote anyway.)
**Don’t tell her, but it’s going to feature a duck.
***Or, as I like to call them, “The Old Country geese.”
****We were on the far shore of the lake from this picture, right in front of the looming old edifice that Kenilu calls “stately Wayne Manor” or, more informally, “Batman’s house.”

Friday, June 17, 2005

Papa Dog's Purloined Index

It’s been a long-ass muh’fuh’n day, with all sorts of ugly surprises at work and other drains on my joie de vivre. I’ve had scarcely a moment all day to think about what I might post on the faversham when things finally settled down enough to do so, but thanks to my lovely and talented wife, I don’t have to. On her thing of majig, she presented a Harper’s Index-type summary of her 16 years in the Bay Area. By coincidence, I’ve lived here almost exactly the same length of time. I arrived almost three and a half years earlier than Mama Dog (I in November of 1985, she in March of 1989), but spent roughly that number of years wandering the earth (specifically, Edmonton, Banff (I was only there about a week, but I thought at the time I was moving there), Las Vegas, Vancouver, and New Orleans). That in itself was enough to decide me to swipe her idea. Well, that plus right now I’m too tired and lazy to think of something of my own. So here goes. My index of stuff from my time in the Bay Area.
  • Number of girlfriends: 2. Well, kind of 4, I guess. But really 2.
  • Number of marriages: 2
  • Number of divorces: 1
  • Number of cars owned: 0
  • Number of cell phones owned: 2, but I’ve rarely used them to talk to anyone but Mama Dog.
  • Number of residences (not counting places lived while wandering the earth): 10
  • Number of houses/apartments rented: 6
  • Number of houses purchased: 1
  • Number of houses/apartments where I was a rent-paying houseguest: 3
  • Number of cities lived in: 3 (Berkeley, Oakland, Pleasant Hill)
  • Number of companies worked for (again, not counting places I worked while wandering the earth): 10 (I think)
  • Number of pets owned: 1 (Doggy Dog)
  • Number of pets that were resident in houses I lived in, but weren’t owned by me: 1 rat, 11 cats, 1 snake, 1 dog
  • Number of children spawned: 1
  • Famous people I’ve met: Pretty much none, because I don’t count comics people as famous. But the best known people I’ve had actual hanging-out-with kinds of conversations would be Harlan Ellison (posted about that a while back) and Neil Gaiman (who told me I wrote a “lovely book”). Plus I spent about ten minutes talking with a group of people that included Miguel Ferrer shortly before he was in Robocop. If I’ve had any other brushes with fame, I’ve forgotten them.
  • When was I poorest? The fall of 1992, when I returned from my doomed first expedition to New Orleans without a cent to my name.
  • When was I richest? 1999, when Mama Dog and I barely even noticed that we had a grotesque combined income.
  • When was I most fucked up? 1992 – 1993. The Year of the Chair.
  • When was I most fulfilled? Now.
  • Number of therapists: 0
  • Year I quit smoking: Never started.
  • What were my 3 most enjoyable experiences? (In chronological order)

    o The day we had a mimosa breakfast with Chuck and Carolyn (not a couple – they were just both there), and then ended up spending the entire day all four of us together, breakfast, lunch, dinner, and ending the night by watching Miller’s Crossing.

    o Mama Dog’s surprise party – the one she asked me to throw, but I still managed to surprise her. Tied with the not-surprise party, when I hired the accordion guy (whom I wish I could find some trace of on the Internet but can’t, so no link, sorry).

    o The birth of Baby Dog.

  • What 2 experiences would I most like to forget? I’m not big on forgetting, not even the unpleasant stuff. I suppose I wouldn’t mind forgetting ever having seen that idiotic Disneyland movie . Or the time I saw that fat guy naked.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

It Stinks!

One valuable lesson I’ve learned in the last week is that buying books for myself and buying books for Baby Dog must of necessity involve two entirely different methodologies. The process whereby I buy books for myself goes something like this: I hear something about a book from around and about – sometimes from the Chronicle Book Review, sometimes from the New York Review of Books, sometimes from something somebody told me about in passing, sometimes from a dim memory of a book that I had really intended to finish when it was assigned to me in college. Sometimes, I even impulse-buy, letting myself get caught by an appealing jacket design or a familiar authorial name. Whichever avenue leads me to the book, what I do at the store is take a quick glance at the jacket to confirm that it is what I think it is, maybe a cursory flip past a page or two to see how dense the type is, and then I buy the thing. What I don’t do is stand there in the bookstore reading the book. I don’t test drive. When I finally get around to reading the book (often many months later), I like to be able dive straight into it with as few preconceptions as possible. I don’t want to feel as though I’ve already read it.

That’s been my modus operandi since Croesus started his first piggy bank (τράπεζαy χοίρων?*), and it works fine for me. Alas, I’ve learned the hard way that if I’m going to buy a book for my wee one, I’d do best to actually read the thing before paying money for it. That I Stink! book I mentioned a few posts back, well it – oh, what’s the kindest term? – blows. I bought it on the strength of an engaging cover and one funny page where the truck burps. I imagined the delight and hilarity with which Baby Dog would erupt when I got to that page. What I didn’t bargain on were all the pages that come before it. It’s written in a vernacular style that I just can’t bring off out loud. I’m one of the best story-readers you’re ever going to come across, mind. I have, modestly speaking, a deep, resonant voice, and I know how to use it well. I’m the best interpreter of my own work, and I do a killer O. Henry. More in Baby Dog’s ballpark, I’d challenge all comers to try and do Ten Little Ladybugs any better than me. But I know the limitations of my range, and this I Stink! thing veers far wide of them. Right from the first page, I’m lost. It’s supposed to be the truck talking, sometimes addressing the reader, sometimes in monologue, sometimes apparently conversing with the garbage men. Worse, he starts off talking about his own parts, and if there’s anything of less interest to me than automotive components, it slips my mind for the moment. “No A.C., not me. I’ve got doubles: steering wheels, gas pedals, brakes. I am totally DUAL OP.” I don’t even know what that shit means. It’s utter gibberish to me. How am I supposed to read it convincingly enough for a one-year-old? Last thing I expected was to open up a children’s book and not understand what it was talking about.

Well, as it happens, the first time I tried to read it to Baby Dog, stumbling manfully through the opaque verbiage, she didn’t have any more patience for it than I did. She grabbed the book, flipped through the pages, then tossed it aside in favour of her toy owl. It seems likely at this point that we’ll re-gift the book to some friend or other who has a small boy. Not to get all gender assumptive, but it really does seem more like a little boy’s book. It’s all about making gross noises and digging through filth. Mama Dog seems happy enough to see the book go. She was afraid it would teach Baby Dog to rummage through the kitchen garbage.
*According to Alta Vista, that’s Greek for “pig bank.” I added the “y” because it wouldn’t translate “piggy.”

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Eyes (not the recently cancelled Tim Daly show)

I saw the eye doctor today. No particular reason, it was just time for my annual appointment. Plus, I busted that pair of glasses in Saint Babs; my insurance is ready to buy me a new pair around about now, so I might as well get a new Rx. I have an even more uneasy relationship with optometrists than I do with dentists, but my eyes have been pisspoor beyond reason since I was at six or seven years old, so I go. When I was still in single digits, I had eye drops prescribed for something or other. It was up to my mother to get them into my eyes. I flinched, I squirmed, I turned away. She cursed. Eventually, she gave up and put the drops into my closed eyes. That’s pretty much what happened today. Well, I didn’t squirm quite as much. I just flinched a lot. The optometrist didn’t curse. I did at one point. Eventually she got the drops into the corners of my closed eyes. She couldn’t manage to get the eye pressure test done right, though I would have been game to try a bit longer. The eye drops made it hard for me to get me eyes open as wide as necessary, and I couldn’t hold still when she tried to prop them open with her fingers. I wanted to, but it felt just a bit Ludovico technique. I can understand her willingness to throw in the towel. I was the last appointment of the day, and I’m sure she wanted to go home. Problem patient, me. The retinal scan, on the other hand, was easy peasy, and even though I’ve done it a few times now, it’s still novel seeing a picture of the inside of my eye instantaneously appear on the computer screen (this one’s not mine).

When I got home, Mama Dog was keen to be taken out for supper, so I took her to Picante. As Mama Dog pointed out tonight, I used to be reluctant to go there when she suggested it – Mexican’s not high on my list of favourite cuisines – but since we had the wee bairn, I’m always up for it. It’s probably the best restaurant in town to take a child to. It’s fast, well stocked with high chairs (mostly broken in one way or another, but still), and noisy not least because it’s filled with small children whose parents have been following our very same line of reasoning. Add the fact that it’s not a gross mall restaurant, and we’ve got a winner.

We brought Piggy along for Baby Dog to entertain herself with, but I also added a spoon and a plastic water cup to the mix. When I showed her that the spoon could be placed inside the cup, she was kept busy for the duration of our entrées trying to duplicate this miraculous feat. It’s fascinating to see just how complicated it really is to do such a simple task for the first time. There are so many elements to coordinate. The cup must be held steady with one hand. The spoon must be poised at an auspicious angle in the other hand. Trickiest of all is the hand-eye coordination necessary to navigate the spoon successfully into the cup’s opening. She kept getting tantalisingly close and missing, but never gave up. When she finally did get the spoon into the cup, she looked up at us, beaming. We applauded. It really did seem like a tremendous achievement.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Cranky Night

It was a cranky night tonight. I was playing with Baby Dog in the living room, letting her unpack Mama Dog’s new (from a garage sale) Timbuk2 bike messenger bag and inspect the contents therein (an activity not only endorsed but suggested by Mama Dog, I hasten to point out) when she burst into apparently sourceless tears. Very puzzling. Bag rummaging is the sort of activity that normally entertains her indefinitely. Moments later, on a pass through the kitchen, she spotted the Magna Doodle and, against my sounder judgement, I let her play with it. Mama Dog and I have kept this particular toy carefully out of sight and reach for some time because the pen-on-a-rope aspect gives us the willies. She (Baby Dog) could put her eye out with that thing. On top of that, it (the Magna Doodle) hasn’t really worked right since Mama Dog cleaned it by running it under water. This is something she (Mama Dog) has an unfortunate tendency to do. The Magna Doodle, the car keys, the vibrating teether, some Christmas gift toy that had a service life of fifteen minutes from opening the package to being briskly washed of baby spittle—all have met the Wrath of the Tap. In the case of the Magna Doodle, the doodling part works okay, but the press-a-button sounds have become downright creepy. They used to say things like “Press a button! That’s the letter B! Yaaaaaay!” now it just makes an hysterical gabble that sounds like it was sent back in time from some post-apocalyptic future to warn is not to let Arnold be President. It also sounds strangely like it might play “Helter Skelter” if we could figure out a way to run it backwards. Anyway, Baby Dog played happily with the Magna Doodle for a while under my close parental supervision. The problem was, I was so intent on troubleshooting the stylus that I didn’t see the Doodle itself as a threat until she bonked herself in the face with it. She barely touched her nose, but it was enough to set her off on a crying fit. As luck would have it, Mama Dog called us to dinner just then. I tried to get Baby Dog calmed down by plying her with the usual series of distractions – “Look! The door! You can touch it!” – but she was still teary eyes when I set her in the high chair and was discontented throughout our meal. Part of the problem might have been that it was our meal, not hers – she had already supped – but still, she had a snack in front of her. It’s very unusual for our little girl to remain unhappy when food is in easy reach.

After supper, Mama Dog took Doggy Dog for a walk and I gave Baby Dog a bath. This is another of her favourite activities, and is usually characterised by gleeful aquatic frolicsomeness. There was a certain measure of intermittently aquatic frolicsomeness, but again it was diluted by bouts of fussiness and outright crankery. She didn’t even seem to care about playing with the rubber ducky.

Mama Dog came home and had at her disposal (to the relief of all) just what the baby ordered. Baby Dog fell asleep right away after nursing, something she hasn’t done in days. The poor girl must have been dog tired all evening, and was displaying her fatigue through crankiness. Mama Dog pointed out that Baby had been getting up later and later through the weekend, but today we snapped back to a 6:30 rising time. It was a long day. There have been many schedule changes over the last couple of weeks, and they seem to have taken a toll. It looks like she’s sleeping well tonight, though. After a night’s sleep, she’s sure to be her usual cheerful morning person self. Here’s hoping this will bring about a return to norbalcy.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Niece Has Left the Building. (Then Kind of a Hodgepodge.)

We got CL and D to the airport at 8, ending another whirlwind niece-al visit jam-packed with stuff and things. CL said it was by far the best and most memorable trip that either of them had ever been on. The encomium is somewhat muted, of course, when one considers that this was the first time that D had ever boarded an airplane or left the province of Alberta—but still, it we’re more memorable than Sexsmith, and that’s saying something.

We spent the rest of the day being punished with merciless heat. It was 97 degrees Fahrenheit when we were out looking for a cupcake place that turned out to be closed on Mondays. We went instead to the pastry shop next to Saul’s and satisfied the sweet tooth there. Baby Dog was content to play with spoons and we were all happy to be out of the heat.

Mama Dog was overjoyed when that weird skeleton-buying, one glove-wearing, little boy befriending guy beat his molestation rap. In fact, when the second “not guilty” was read, she uttered a “wooooo!” sound that was probably audible at either end of our block. I hadn’t really paid much attention to the whole thing or followed any of the testimony, but I’m guessing that if twelve white people in the conservative part of Santa Barbara County were convinced to vote not guilty, the case couldn’t have been that strong.

In other news today, the leader of the maggot-fucking corporate crook war profiteer wing of the Republican party (as opposed to the leader of their dumb as a sack of grout ignorant-ass anti-intellectual religious nut cracker wing) gave the most ringing endorsement possible to DNC Chairman Howard Dean, by saying he doesn’t like him. Howard Dean is over the top? Possibly so. Dick Cheney is beneath contempt? Self-evidently so.

Last and least: if you’re at all keen on Calvin and Hobbes and/or Fight Club, you might get a small kick out of this (if you haven’t seen it a dozen times already).

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Niece in the House, Day 4

No prisons today, just a nice sleep in (Baby Dog cranked at 6:30 but went back to sleep and let us slumber on until 8) and then a comparatively leisurely day of shopping and eating. CL and her boyfriend and I again walked into Berkeley, where D the boyfriend sought Beatles albums (on real vinyl!) for his dad and I was under instruction to get birthday presents for Baby Dog. Because our little girl had been observed getting her funk on for a particular song, I was to get music by the band in question. (Don’t tell her, but she’s getting this and this.

Later in the afternoon we headed out again, this time to College Avenue and with Baby Dog along for the ride. We went to Rockridge Kids, where CL and D wanted to get some keepsakes for the young’uns back home. Baby Dog was still awake when we got to the store, and shrieked with delight when she saw the rack of stuffed animals. I let her hold a dog doll, bearing a slight resemblance to Doggy Dog, made by the same company that gave us Fernando llama, and I knew immediately that was a mistake. I was going to have to be very careful to get it away from her without being forced to buy it. Fortunately, CL was an able accomplice, and she spirited the doll away while I distracted Baby Dog with a ball. I was unable to resist, however, buying a book called I Stink!, a touching tome told in the first person from the point of view of a garbage truck. Mostly, I got it for the one page where the garbage truck burps, which is sure to be a source of much hilarity for Baby Dog in the coming months. I didn’t have a chance today, but I hope to read it to her tomorrow.

After that, we had a BBQ in the back yard. Papa Pirate, alone and lonely with Mama and Baby Pirate out of town, came stag. The Mircat and NGR also joined us. Baby Dog dined al fresco in her highchair and tried hamburger for the first time. Doggy Dog was eager but frustrated. I stuck to the shade because I got the hail* burnt out of my neck yesterday waiting for the cable car. When heading out for the first walk of the morning, I advanced the theory that getting a sunburn was like getting a parking ticket – you get a free pass for the rest of the day. Mama Dog refuted that logic, noting that second degree burns turn into third degree ones, and insisted that I slather gross crap over myself. I gave in uncomplainingly. In this case I have to admit that the cure is slightly less unpleasant than the disease. The burn still smarts, but at least it didn’t get any worse today.

After the guests left, we spent the evening looking at photo albums and rehashing family gossip. It was really kind of fascinating getting a later generation's perspective on some of the perrenial issues. Kind of like a game of "telephone." All in all, a nice quiet last day to the visit.
*paul – not a typo.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Niece in the House, Day 3

Having spent yesterday at the animal prison, we took a trip today to the erstwhile people’s prison. We BARTed to Embarcadero station and then, as has become the custom, walked all the way along the the Embarcadero to Pier 41. When my nephews and nieces come to visit, damn it, I make them walk.

As I think I mentioned before this was my umpteenth time to Alcatraz in the last seven years, so I decided to save myself a few bucks by not paying for the audio tour for myself. I figures that whilst CL and her boyfriend took the proper tour, I could just sit down in the dining hall—tip! It’s the one place in the prison where you can set a spell!—and read a book. Unfortunately, the one thing I forgot to bring with me was a book. I sat down and stared out the bars across the bay for a while, then switched to staring at the tourists looking out through the bars across the bay. Then I remembered that I had my cell phone with me, so I decided to see if it got a signal. It did! I’m sure she found that completely cryptic when she heard it. It seemed like Baby Dog was probably napping by then, so I called Mama Dog, and we chatted a while. She had to go, so I called Avenuu in New Orleans and got her answering machine. I left a message: “Hi, it’s Papa Dog. I’m at Alcatraz, but I forgot to bring a book, so I figured I’d call you. ‘Bye.” Then I remembered that it was Saturday, the day when I normally call my parents, so I did that. I told them I was at Alcatraz, calling from a cell on my cell. They didn’t get it.

After we escaped from Alcatraz, we made the obligatory stop to gawk at the sea lions, and I ducked out to The Fudge House to get Mama Dog a caramel apple, which is a familial tradition I don’t see any point in explaining any further. Not finished with dessert, we headed on to Ghirardelli square, thence to enjoy the World-Famous Hot Fudge Sundaes.

I was bearing up well under all the walking, but it was the wait for the cable car that did me in. We stood in line for epochs, and that miserable yellow ball of puke in sky was burning down all the while. I think all the sunburn I suffered during the day happened in the period when we were waiting for four cable car loads to board before we could get on. On the plus side, we got to listen to some lame street musician playing Stairway to Heaven on an electric guitar (and Walk Don’t Run not once but twice). At no point did anybody in the crowd applaud, but he incorporated that into his act. He’d finish a song to dead silence, then say “Thank you for not overreacting.” It was kind of funny.

Home again home again. We got back to the house just as Baby and Mama returned from a stroll. We entertained Baby while Mama Dog went off for a well-deserved pedicure. We ordered pizza from a place that has yet to earn my wrath, then Mama Dog gave Baby Dog a bath and put her to bed while the rest of us took one more walk, this time around the neighbourhood with Doggy Dog. We spent the rest of the evening sprawled in the living room, talking, exhausted, but too tired to get up and go to bed.

Now everybody else has turned in, but I had to stay up and blog. So goodnight again.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Niece in the House, Day 2

As advertised, we spent this afternoon at the animal prison (where all the convicts are lifers!), and it was a roaring success from the Baby Dog perspective, although our little girl’s powers of discernment regarding the animal kingdom can clearly stand a bit of refining. As near as I can determine, it’s her contention that anything with a beak is a duck and anything covered with fur is a dog. At first I laboured dutifully to set her straight. “Well, honey, it’s kind of like a duck, but it’s really called a peacock.” “No, sweetie, that’s not a dog, that’s a gorilla.” After a while, the pointlessness of correcting a (less than) one year old on such matters caught up with me, and I just started agreeing. “Uh-huh, sure, that’s a great huge, one-horned armour-plated dog.” Where the bears were concerned, I had to concede the point; there is a certain resemblance to Doggy Dog there.

For me, the high point of the trip was trying out Dippin’ Dots, the ice cream of the future. Some day, all ice cream will be like this.

Later, we supped at Saul’s where I had turkey on challah and Baby Dog charmed everyone who passed nearby with big grins and flirtatious eye contact. When the busboy leaned over to refill our water, she playfully tapped at the water pitcher and made even his Buster Keaton face crack into a smile.

I’m wiped out from walking and exposure to sunlight. Time to go to sleep and gather strength for tomorrow.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Niece in the House, Day 1

Baby Dog has a lot of cousins, though they’ve never met. There’s a sixteen year gap between her and her next youngest cousin. There was a long pause in that particular generation.

A tradition I’ve maintained for a while is that when one of my nephews or nieces turns twenty-one, I fly them down to wherever I happen to be living and show them the sights for a few days. As it’s turned out, I’ve been living in the Bay Area since I instituted the program, so this is where they’ve all come. At first, I ran kind of late – I averaged two years late for CAL and BDG, got it to within a year for JRC and TM, and this time, for CL, I managed to get the job done just a week after her twenty-first birthday.

A funny thing about having relatives visit is that it causes you to do all the touristy shit you’d never do in the course of your daily life. I’ve gone to Fisherman’s Wharf exactly six times in the twenty-odd years (off and on) I’ve lived here, and each time has been in the company of a visiting friend or relative.* This Saturday, I’ll be taking a nephew or niece to Alcatraz for the fourth time (BDG opted for the Winchester Mystery House instead. This time I didn’t even bother to book a headset for myself for the audio tour. I’ll just have a seat in the cafeteria while CL and her boyfriend do the tour. Maybe I’ll read a book. Maybe I’ll occasionally yell “Ya dirty screws!” at passing tourists. Haven’t quite decided yet.

Today, all we did was pick up CL and her boyfriend, D, at the airport, get them some lunch**, then take a walk up into Berkeley with Baby Dog in the stroller. Showed them Amoeba to little effect – apparently they don’t buy CDs but have some sort of magic computer file things. Kids these days. I showed them People’s Park, and told them its story as best I could remember it. Tootled around the Berkeley campus a bit. Met Mama Dog at the tapioca drink place. Rode on home. They were pooped from rising before the sun and traveling all day, so we're all retiring early. The first day is always slow.

Tomorrow, we’re going to the animal prison. Time now for me to rest up.
*I lie. There was a sixth and a seventh time, once when Gals Plus had the Christmas party at the Maritime Museum and another time when Bucky dragged me to some godawful place out there where he liked to have breakfast. I don’t really count these, though, because neither time involved looking at the sea lions.
**D was keen to try out Jack in the Box, so we did. Odd, that. CAL made the same request when he was down here. I guess Jack in the Box has never penetrated the Canadian market, but the ads on American television make the kids curious. Not a curiosity I’ve ever shared, but I have to admit the chocolate malted crunch shake was pretty good.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005


Well, this is embarrassing. It's never happened before, but I suppose there's a first time for everything. I'm buried under a mountain of freelance work tonight. I have been every night this week, but have been careful to set aside a few minutes to make a quick post. Tonight, I guess the prose about dirt was extra compelling, because I completely lost track of time. Worse, I never did settle on a subject for tonight's post, so I don't even have a half-assed quip handy. I actually have to get back to work, so I'm just going to leave it at this and keep the streak alive.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

In Which I Once More Get Cranky About Pizza

It’s been a while since I did a post where I got cranky about a customer service issue…I guess I’ve been treated pretty well the last many months. Tonight, though, a pizza company (why is it always a pizza company?) got on my tits and I had to fire off a sarcastic email alerting them to the fact that we are now in a permanent blood feud. Here’s the text of my email:

“Hi, Extreme Pizza:

My wife and I were enticed tonight to try you out because of a bit of direct mail advertising promising a "FREE! medium pizza with the purchase of ANY drink." I called your College Ave. (Berkeley) location, and spent a minute or two on hold. Then, when the customer service person picked up again, I had to go through the usual rigamarole of name, address, phone number, and so on before finally placing my order. I asked for my free medium "Kickin' Chicken" with the purchase of a Dr. Pepper. That's when the customer service person told me I had to order $10 worth of stuff to get the pizza delivered.

I know, I know, I should have read the fine print. I cop to that. It was right there in white and black. But you know as well as I do that nobody ever reads the fine print, especially tired and hungry people who just want somebody to bring them an even halfway warm pizza so they can gather strength to make it through the rest of the evening before collapsing into a stupour and starting the whole thing over again the next day. You also know as well as I do that most people, having already invested five precious minutes of their life getting through with the dialing, the time on hold, and the preliminary ordering information, will at that point say "oh well" and order $10 worth of stuff anyway, just to get it over with. You also know as well as I do - better, apparently - that a great big "FREE!" plastered over a little tiny "well, not really," is a great way to rope chumps in. What you might not know is that there's a word in the English language tailor made for this kind of advertising, and that word is "sleazy."

What burns me up about this is I would have been perfectly happy to pay the $10 minimum - or, for that matter, the price of a pizza - if I hadn't come out of the thing feeling so totally misled. I'm fairly sure I would have ended up ordering regularly from you - instead, I'm resolved now to never give you a single dollar as long as we both shall live. I'm assuming here - because I have a charitable nature - that the mission statement of your marketing department, at least in regard to this particular promotion, is "Let's try to alienate potential customers for all eternity." If that's the case, it's bang-up job! Way to go!

Best regards,


Monday, June 06, 2005

Has-Beens on Parade

It’s just as well I’m hard up for something to write about tonight, because there’s something left over from this weekend that I can’t believe I forgot to write about. Namely, we watched a truly awful reality show I had taped out of sheer morbid curiosity. It’s called Hit Me Baby One More Time and, like most of these things, is a knockoff of a show that aired in England under the same title. This time they even imported the original host, a gangly goiter named Vernon Kay, who looks like he just stepped off of the cover of a 1974 issue of Tiger Beat – the only factor belying that being the name “Vernon.”

The premise of the show is simple – it’s kind of like American Idol, only instead of a bunch of unknown wannabes in a singing competition, it’s a bunch of mostly forgotten almost weres. The episode we saw featured Loverboy, A Flock of Seagulls, CeCe Peniston, Arrested Development, and Tiffany. Upcoming acts include Tommy Tutone, The Knack, and the man I call, for reasons too silly to go into now, Vanilla Bill.

You’d think that watching this collection of one-hit geezers grasping desperately for one last shot at national exposure would be a sure-fire rush of tasteless fun. You’d be wrong there. The problem is easy to spot just from the lame title: “Hit Me Baby, One More Time.” What the hell is that? There’s no way this show should be titled anything other than American* Has-Been.** This evident lack of guts envelopes and sinks the show. It tosses out the cruel winnowing aspect that is a hallmark of most of these shows. Instead of one act getting kicked out at the end of the episode, they all get exactly the same amount of airtime and then a single winner is selected by audience vote (prize money going to charity). As a consequence, there’s not much in the way of cutthroat suspense. It could have been a truly savage and funny show if they’d had the guts to make one. Of course, they probably couldn’t get anybody to be on it under those conditions. But judging from the desperation-smelling way most of these bands plug their appearances on their web sites, maybe they could have.

In the first half hour of the show, the “rock stars” perform one of their old hits (or, in most cases, their old hit). In the second half, they select a number to perform by one of today’s future has-beens (e.g., Enrique Iglesias, Kelly Clarkson). Being old ourselves and unfamiliar with today’s nobodies in waiting, we fast forwarded over that part. In fact, some of the over the hill acts were apparently after our time. CeCe Who? Her hit was in 1992 or so. I guess I stopped paying really close attention to popular music sometime before then.

The most fun to be had out of the thing was the schadenfreude to be found in the sight of a bunch of portly balding guys in their fifties unexpectedly called upon to try to be rock gods again. It was kind of like Mr. Incredible coming out of retirement with that big belly. Loverboy, for example, looked a bit more like Blubberboy. And Flock of Seagulls – oh my god, all that band ever had going for it was weird hair. Now that main weird hair guy is more of a where’s the hair? guy. He has a sad stringy ponytail and wears a hairline-hiding Chuck hat.*** With Tiffany, the question was – hey, is she pregnant or just really unfortunately attired? Arrested Development, which ended up being the winning act, at least had energy. But then, they were the most recently charted one of the bunch. They probably don't even get the senior discount when taking the bus to the unemployment office.
*Though, of course, Loverboy is Canadian.
**And yes, I do understand it would probably hard to get acts to appear under that part of the title, but still. That’s what it should be called.
***Another reference there’d be no point in explaining now.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

A Few Episodes from Today, Randomly Selected

I got just a shade less than enough sleep last night, and that’s dogged me all day. I woke up with a headache and it’s been recurring at regular intervals whenever I stop and notice it. Mama Dog visited our old stylist (now, since we went down to one income and recollected the fact that I don’t give a shit what my hair looks like, just Mama Dog’s stylist) this morning. The timing worked out just right, with Baby Dog going down for a nap just after Mama Dog left, and I took the opportunity to snooze for an hour or so myself. It was soothing, but when Mama Dog got home and I woke up, there was that headache, handing around the back of my head finishing up the last of the pizza and making a few long distance calls, like The Thing That Wouldn’t Leave.

In the afternoon, I went to the movies with Papa Pirate. Since our wives got to see a movie about senseless fashion choices, yesterday, we took the opportunity today to see a movie with some senseless violence. I didn’t notice my headache through the entire movie, though since I’m getting on in years I have to say the music was kind of loud sometimes. Also, not everything in it made sense. But at least that transporter chief guy from Star Trek got to kick some ass for once.

Baby Dog grows ever more difficult to contain. She wants to explore everywhere around the house and is inevitably drawn to the least safe areas when let loose. She is ever closer to genuine crawling, getting up on her hands and knees in a stationary position but then falling back down on her chest to commando crawl. Today she got up into a kneeling position in her crib for the first time, holding herself up by grabbing the top of the bars. Changing her diaper is more challenging every day, as she grabs every which way for whatever stray object on the table catches her eye. Bath time is tougher, too. She used to be content to lie back in her moulded plastic tub and be watered and soaped. Now she tries to bat my hand away when I go to rinse her head – can’t say I blame her on that one, since I hate getting water in my eyes too – and roams freely about the tub in ever direction. She loves splashing and gets the floor soaked every time. We had supper out tonight, at Shen Hua, and at least one thing was easier than it used to be – she’s finally getting to be the right size for the restaurant high chairs. She seemed to really like being out on the town, grinning widely and bopping happily up and down to music only she could hear as she ate the broccoli and beans that Mama Dog had brought along for her. After eating, we looked in shop windows across the street, including the toy store that always has elaborate window displays. I almost didn’t notice, but as we were about to leave, I spotted one shelf in the window full of rubber ducks. It took a little while to get Baby Dog to notice, but when she did she obliged us by shrieking “Duck! Duck! Duck! Duck!” Good thing the place was closed. She has enough ducks as it is. Later still we stopped off at Andronico’s to stock up on Daddy’s favourite ice cream. She sat in the shopping cart, nestled in the blanket made for us by Grillmeister T’s mother. She watched every element of the expedition with keen attention, correctly identifying the fruit Mama Dog selected (Whispered: “’nana.”) and flirting shamelessly with the woman behind us in the checkout line (twelve items or fewer).

I think the headache’s gone now. So of course it’s time for bed.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Strolling with Baby Dog

Today, Mama Dog had a burning desire to see a fictionalised movie about some monumentally self-impressed cretins, spun off from a documentary about these selfsame cretins I was caused to endure a few years back. Ordinarily when there’s a movie to be seen I try to figure out a way that we could both go see it, but in this case I was happy to make an exception. Give up another 107 minutes of my life watching some actors pretending to be a bunch of hopeless dimwit teenagers from the 70s who are still 30 years later under the impression that they were the coolest thing ever because they slid around on boards in empty swimming pools? Bro, no thanks, dude. Mama Dog went with Mama Pirate, who for some reason also buys into this particular cult of anti-intellectualism (and she doesn’t even have the excuse of having grown up in SoCal in the period under examination), and I stayed home with Baby Dog.

Baby Dog and I took an afternoon stroll while Mama Dog was out. We went to Diesel, where I was seeking the Nick Hornby. Mama Dog used to joke that her demographic niche is summarised by the fact that she learns about all new pop culture items either on NPR or in The New Yorker. I shudder to think what this says about my own demographic shift*, but the only reason I knew Hornby had a new book out was because I saw a review in the Wall Street Journal.

I think I’ve mentioned before that a book store is probably the only place where it’s dangerous to turn me loose with a credit card. I impulse-grabbed two hardcovers while trying to find the Hornby book – the new Elmore Leonard and the new Chuck Palahniuk. Leonard’s an old friend – one of my favourite of what I call “shit-through-a-goose” writers. That probably sounds dismissive, but I think it’s a genuinely impressive talent. I’ve never read anything by Palahniuk, though I liked the movie of Fight Club well enough. This is kind of a shameful admission for me, but I really only picked the book up because of good jacket design. The allusion to The Scream was obvious to the point of heavy handedness, but it’s a creepy and arresting image. I didn’t even realise the book was by Palahniuk until I’d flipped through it a bit. Coincidentally, a similar dumb visual impulse is what turned me on to Nick Hornby in the first place. The cover of the TPB edition of High Fidelity caught my eye in Barnes Ignoble solely because its colour scheme reminded me of a box of Tide, the familiar and reassuring detergent of my childhood.

As it turned out, the Hornby book won’t even hit the stores until Tuesday, so I ended up dropping a wad of dough on impulse purchases incidental to a wild goose chase. In the plus column, this purchase added enough to my “Frequent Reader” points that I got a $20 gift certificate, which I can use to buy the Hornby book next weekend.

Baby Dog and I headed back by way of the BART station, stopping at the mailbox there to post Daddy’s important mail. As we strolled by a chain grocery store, a passing bicyclist called my name and spun around to join us. It was C of C&N, whom I’d heard – when N called to give their regrets for the will signing party – would be working in Berkeley today. He was on his way home from that. Now and then I pass C or N or C&N together in the commute – they live in SF and work in the East Bay, while I live in the East Bay and work in SF. We generally have about three minutes for conversation until their train comes – for some reason it’s always me getting off a train and them waiting for one. Last time I saw C, a week or so back, he mentioned that he was heading off to Africa soon, but had to get on the train before he could give me details. With no trains about to board on College Avenue, I had time to get the scoop. Apparently, he’s headed to Eritrea, where his old boss is running a non-profit involved with environmental issues. C is going to help set up a verification system for carbon credits. It sounded like an interesting and important venture and a very exciting opportunity for young C. I told him he should do a travel blog, but he laughed that off, saying he wasn't a writer. "Just post photos," I said. We'll see if that takes. For my part of the conversation, I explained Baby Dog’s latest achievements and tried unsuccessfully to coax her into saying “burp” for C.

When the conversation had run its course, I wished him a safe trip and we parted ways. Baby Dog and I wheeled over to Zachary’s. As we hung a left on Oak Grove, I heard a little noise coming from the stroller. I bent closer and for half a block could hear Baby Dog whispering “buhp, buhp, buhp,” as we headed for home.
*Truthfully, not much. There’s always a copy in the lunch room at work and I’ve drifted into the habit of scanning the Personal Journal section while I nuke my lunch.