b Papa Dog's Blog: October 2005

Papa Dog's Blog

A Thing Wherein I Infrequently Write Some Stuff

Monday, October 31, 2005

We Break Free From Itinerary Hell

We’re going to Edmonton for Ho Ho so that Baby Dog can meet my family and learn what snow is and so Mama Dog can get a refresher on what actually constitutes cold weather (and how, search as you might, it’s not to be found in California). We had a complicated set of arrangements to make so that we could also visit Halmonie in Santa Barbara. What we came up with was that we’d drive down to Santa Barbara, spend a day or two there, fly to Edmonton from LAX, spend several days there, then do the whole thing again in reverse. Mama Dog made the reservations ages ago, managing to score us direct flights between LAX and YEG. We’d spend only three hours in the air both ways, give or take.

As Bernardo is known to have said once or twice, “There were some complications.”

First complication: Halmonie decided she was going to sell the house and move up to the Bay Area to be close to her daughter and granddaughter. Since there was no way to predict when the sale of the house might go through, this made the Santa Barbara leg of the visit a dicey proposition. We decided to scrap the Santa Barbara visit, and had to book an extra flight from OAK to LAX to catch our flight to YEG.

Second complication: The airline cancelled our flight and gave us an incredibly lame substitution. I’ve noticed this happening more and more in recent years. At least two of the flights I’ve booked for nephew and niece visits have been cancelled and changed around. Has anybody else noticed this trend? It used to be, you booked a flight for a particular day and time, you got an itinerary, and when it came time to travel you actually followed the itinerary you were given. When did this change? Our new itinerary was no longer direct LAX-YEG. Now we flew from OAK to LAX to catch a flight to PHX to go to YEG. “It looks like they’re trying to avoid diagonals,” Mama Dog observed. All told, we’d be spending twelve hours in transit each way. Worse, the return flight departed YEG at seven in the morning, meaning we’d have to be at the airport by about four to go through customs and all. We started to view the trip with dread.

Last night at the Pirates’ house, Mama Dog told our tale of woe to the Pirates and a couple of the fierce crew of Pirate Grandparents, who were aboard. “You should call Expedia” – the online agent through whom we’d initially booked the trip – “and have them rebook your flight,” Stepgrandmother Pirate-in-Law said. Mama Dog and I were all like, “Der, yeah, we should.” We were both so conditioned to the idea that airline tickets are non-refundable, non-transferrable, and without a court of appeal that we hadn’t even thought to try.

When we got home, Mama Dog spent about an hour on the phone, explaining our situation and working through options. Because of the many factors involved – the removal of our reason for going through LA, the fact that our flight was had been changed on us by the airline, and the fact that we were traveling with a small child who couldn’t be reasonably expected to happily endure twelve airplane hours – Expedia was surprisingly sympathetic. Not only did we get our itinerary change, but Mama Dog managed to find us a flight from SFO that, while including a connection through SEA, was almost as short as our original direct flight from LAX. Better still, we wouldn’t have to depart YEG until the afternoon.

So, yay Mama Dog! Way to TCOB. Yay Stepgrandmother Pirate-in-Law! And if you find yourself stuck in itinerary hell, don’t give up! Complain!

Sunday, October 30, 2005

(Truthfully, She's Already More Socially Adept than I Ever Have Been)

We talk often about who Baby Dog looks like. I always say she looks like Mama Dog, because she does. The day she emerged from the womb I thought her the spit and image* of her mother. Mama Dog sees me in the baby. She says she has my eyes, my eyebrows, my hands and feet. We agree that the nose is a combination; my bridge, her nostrils. On the way home tonight from dinner at the Pirates’, Baby Dog was in a happy mood. She was making clicking noises, imitating our imitation of clopping horse feet. I looked back and she had a big, open-mouthed baby grin on her face, and smiling eyes. She looked just like a photo I have of myself as a baby, grinning that way. “She looks like me,” I said, possibly the first time I’ve ever said that out loud. “I always think she looks like me when I was a baby when she grins like that. “That’s funny,” Mama Dog said, “I always think she looks like me when I was a baby when she grins like that.

I see myself in Baby Dog more strongly through attitude than appearance. Tonight there was a moment when I was alone with Babies Dog and Pirate. I got talking to Baby Pirate, going through a picture book and asking her to identify different things in it. Socks, airplane, clown, clock, puppy. It’s the sort of thing I do with Baby Dog every day, but she’s my daughter and that’s my purpose in life. With Baby Pirate, it was just conversation. While we had our conversation, Baby Pirate and I, Baby Dog went on happily playing, absorbed in the plastic castle she’d come across. She chattered to herself and didn’t look up at us once.

It struck me later that I might have been looking at myself as a baby through a time-travel telescope. I remember that so well; playing by myself, focused on the stories I told in my head, entertaining myself in the midst of whatever other activity might be going on. When I went to kindergarten, it didn’t occur to me even to try to play with the other kids. They were a redundancy. Baby Dog has that inward tendency, that focus on her own little fancies. I know it to be a mixed bag, as personality traits go. I don’t think I’d be any kind of narrative writer now if I hadn’t learned to play that way when I was a kid. But I also don’t think I would have spent so many years being a truly lonely adult if I hadn’t always been so inwardly directed. So there’s another thing to watch, and to ponder, as she grows older.
*Yes, that’s actually the original idiom.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

I Win the Lottery

Okay, I was just kidding about buying myself some luck, but two draws after that post about the lottery, I bought a ticket that turned out to be worth $180. Three numbers right plus the Mega. Best I’ve ever done. Baby Dog and I strolled proudly over to Wally’s today to collect my winnings. “A hundred and eighty, my friend,” said Wally, jovially, counting out nine twenties. “I’ll give it back to you gradually,” I promised. I gave some thought to taking my winnings in thirty-six annual instalments of $5 each, but my accountant advised me that while that would reduce my tax penalty I would more than offset that in earned interest if I took the lump sum. So hell yeah, a hundred and eighty beans all at once. Baby doesn’t actually need a new pair of shoes yet, but we bought her some pyjamas.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Joseph K and Family Go to Dinner

One of the areas where Mama Dog and I hold opinions that are sometimes in less than perfect harmony is the selection of restaurants. For me, the important thing in a restaurant is that it should be not too far away and, more importantly, should be a place where one can reasonably expect to be seated within about fifteen minutes of arriving, even on a Friday night. For Mama Dog, the important thing is that it be the place she wants to eat at right now, an elusive and mutable qualification, as “right now” tends quickly to become “in the recent past.” This is all moot, of course, since I long ago ceded all dining-related decision power in exchange for dictatorial control over the way dishes are washed and put away, but it’s become a more practical matter since we’ve become parents. Increasingly, the utilitarian demand of ensuring we make it through the meal without a baby meltdown has become the primary consideration.

Tonight I had the foolish impulse, as I often do of a Friday night, to offer to take the family out to dinner. Mama Dog, tired after a hard work week and eager not to cook, jumped at the offer. When I make this offer, I always picture myself coming home on the earliest train possible and finding Mama Dog and Baby Dog ready to leave right then for the restaurant before the dinner rush is really in full swing. That never happens, but for whatever reason I always picture it. Tonight, I ran late leaving work and when I got home, Mama Dog was still getting Baby Dog’s food ready. We weren’t out the door until almost 7:30, pretty much a hopeless time at any decent restaurant.

Another curious divergence betwixt Mama Dog and I is what we choose to retain in memory of restaurant experiences. I tend to recall what has historically been easy or difficult about past experiences at a particular restaurant. Mama Dog tends to decide where she wants to eat at right now, then revises and amends her memory of past experiences to support that decision. For example, her first – only – choice tonight was Rick and Ann’s. “There are only two really baby-friendly places,” she said. “What’re you talking about?” I riposted. “There’s a bunch of baby-friendly places, and Rick and Ann’s isn’t one of them.” There’s always a long wait and the tables are crammed too close together for the highchair to ever be anything but in the way. The translation, of course, was “I want to eat the food served at Rick and Ann’s,” and since I have no decision-making power in this arena, there was no point in quibbling. Besides, it’s splurge day for me and the more I thought about it, the more one of their chocolate shakes began to appeal.

Mama Dog suggested I call ahead to see if they took reservations. I figured I could at least check to see how long the wait was. When I called, though, all I got was a recording announcing that they would be closed on July 26th. July 26th? Okay, I knew they hadn’t gone out of business and that they wouldn’t be closed on a Friday night, so the only explanation was that they were too busy to answer the phone and nobody had thought to change the outgoing message in either three or fifteen or possibly twenty-seven months. We decided to risk it anyway.

There wasn’t a huge crowd of people in the waiting area, so service looked possible. When Mama Dog said “Two adults and a baby,” though, the hostess said “What?” as though that were a ridiculous and possibly offensive suggestion. She said the wait would be half an hour. The guy who might be Rick stepped up and said they could squeeze us into the middle of a shared table in ten minutes. We conferred. Neither option seemed palatable and the hostess’ reaction was just so plain rude that we decided to leave.

Mama Dog was distraught, but halfway to the car I got the bright idea of going on to Chow! Since our trip to Rick and Ann’s became a done deal, I’d settled comfortably into the idea that I’d have a burger and shake for supper. Chow! seemed the best substitute to keep that dream alive. Mama Dog was delighted with the idea. We were well on the way to the Caldecott tunnel anyway, so the extra drive to Lafayette didn’t seem that unreasonable.

Again, we thought to call ahead. Again, I was thwarted by the telephone. I ended up in an option maze and midway through, after my second try at pressing “0,” the call went dead. When did restaurants start using voicemail mazes? Don’t they need customers anymore?

When we got to Chow!, I bailed out to get our name on the list while Mama Dog parked. The hostess delivered the bad news: the wait would be 45 minutes. I scarcely knew how to break it to Mama Dog. “Well, maybe Rick and Ann’s will be cleared out now…” she mused, but we both knew we were beaten. Baby Dog had come along gamely for the ride so far, chattering away and pointing out busses to us, but it was long past her regular meal time and she was growing cranky. She had cried out “Water! Sursy!” in the car, so we gave her the milk we’d brought with and headed home.

In the end, Baby Dog got the meal she would have had anyway, only about an hour later than intended. Mama Dog made herself some pasta with tomato sauce. I fed Baby Dog then had myself a bowl of Honeycomb. Good eatin’.

Yeah, the whole thing was a frustrating pain in the ass and certainly not the way my poor darling wife would have chosen to spend the evening. But honestly – I had a good time all the same. I was with my girls. Baby Dog was happy cheerful company, Mama Dog and I talked about a bunch of things during the ride, and there was an oddly enjoyable suspense to seeing how our quest for the perfect restaurant would get fucked up next.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down

Here’s the song that for whatever reason has been rattling round my head the last while….

I don’t remember the first time I ever heard the title song, but I remember the first time I was what I’d call truly aware of it. It would have been I guess third or maybe at the latest fourth grade, and my class had embarked on a horrifically ill-conceived unit of study on the slave-owning American south. This was the first time I ever heard of slavery as having taken place in anything other than biblical times. It’s testament to how poorly the thing was taught that I didn’t understand even the most basic things about the subject until I saw Roots several years later. Anyway, one of the elements of this particular field of study was having a good listen to “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” I think I assumed it was some old southern song that had been around for ever. It surely never would have occurred to me that it had been written only a few years earlier but a crew of unwashed hippies from right there in Ontario. Of course, my more sophisticated adult ear hears the clues right away. The song could only have been written by a Canadian. Consider the opening couplet: “Virgil Caine is the name, and I served on the Danville train,/ 'Til Stoneman's cavalry came and tore up the tracks again.” As Levon Helm, the token American, sings it, that doesn’t rhyme. As Robbie Robertson, Canadian songwriter wrote it, it surely did. I think that’s part of what gives the song a very strange beauty. There’s an odd tension in the fact that it’s written from an outsider perspective but sung by Arkansas native Helm very much from an insider perspective. It’s hard to believe, for example, that white Tennesseean Virgil Caine would really remember the fall of Richmond as a day when bells were ringing and people were singing, but when Helm sings it, you believe it. He brings such passion and intensity to the song that it’s easy to overlook every bit of muddled history and chronology in the song.

A few years back, Mama Dog and I had and took the opportunity to see a beautifully restored re-release of The Last Waltz at the Castro. Not only was the movie restored, so was the theatre. It had just undergone renovations and a most salubrious overhaul to its sound system, which had always been its Achilles heel. If I recall correctly, this was the first movie they showed with the new sound system. Quite shrewd; celebrate the new fidelity in sound by showing the greatest concert film of all time. I’d long heard that label applied to The Last Waltz, but had never seen it to judge myself. Perhaps it’s not the same experience if you don’t watch it in the city where it was filmed and with a brand new state-of-the-art sound system, but hell…if it’s not the greatest concert film ever, I can’t imagine what is. I’d never had much interest in The Band, and I still wouldn’t say I’m a great aficionado, but I have a hard time imagining a more thrilling cinematic portrayal of a rock show. The audience actually applauded between songs. Normally I think it’s just stupid when an audience applauds for artists who can’t hear them, but in this case it seemed apt. It really seemed like we were at a live show. Among the moments that made the movie live for me was Mr. Helm’s performance on The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. The level of his commitment to the material is astonishing. When he sings the chorus, the veins bulge on his forehead, the cords stand out on his neck, and he lunges his whole body up at the microphone like he’s trying to send himself into orbit from behind his drum kit. He looks like he could spontaneously combust at any moment.

I don’t know what this all says to me. Something about the delicate alchemy that creates a work of art out of unlikely components; about the importance of truly believing in the piece to make it live in performance. That, and the song’s stuck in my head. I thought maybe if I talked a bit about my own history with it I could get it out of my head and into yours. So take it away.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Rain, I Don't Mind

It’s raining today, which I suppose is to some people cause for dismay. Me, I’m right chuffed. It’s been so long since it rained that I’d have to look through the faversham archives to figure out when it was. As long as it’s been since it rained, though, it’s been longer since I shined my shoes, and I’m happy they’re finally getting cleaned, if only by precipitation. Kind of like getting a free car wash. In fact, it’s been a long time since Mama Dog went to the car wash too, so double bully for us, what?

I was also pleased to see the rain this morning because it gave me a chance to acquaint Baby Dog with the phenomenon. She’s seen rain before, but she was awfully tiny at the time, and pre-verbal. I took her out on the back steps during a light shower. The drops fell on her face and she didn’t like it, so we went back inside. Since then, she’s gained a little theoretical knowledge, a little book-learnin’, about rain. The subject is raised most memorably in Dr. Seuss’ Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You?. One of the wonderful sounds Mr. Brown can do is the sound of rain, which he evokes by saying “Dibble dibble dopp dopp dopp.” Baby Dog made clear signs of enjoying that little bit of onomatopoeia but little comprehension of what it was meant to evoke. Rain also shows up in What a Pig and various other books. I started making a point of embellishing the text of these other books with a little “dibble dibble dopp” at the appropriate place. Gradually, she came to understand that I was indicating the sound of rain and, I hoped, that the little blue spots drawn on these pages represented said rain. Whether she had any clue what the rain was remained uncertain. I also demonstrated a little in the bath. I’d pour little bits of water from a cup and say, “See? Dibble dibble dopp!” I think she got it. This morning, before I put her in her daycare clothes, I told her several times that it was raining and that we would go and look at the rain. I took her out to the front steps and said “See? Rain! Dibble dibble dopp!” I showed her how to hold her hand out, palm up, to feel the rain. She followed my example and looked up to see where the water was coming from. “Rain!” she said. By George, I do believe she’s got it.

Tangentially…I was thinking about Mr. Brown today on the way to work in the rain. Do you know the story? It’ll all about how Mr. Brown can make sounds. He can sound like a cow; he can go “Moo moo!” A curious thing happens midway through the book, though; after observing that Mr. Brown can sound like a cow, a bee, a cork, horse feet, a clock, a hand on the door, and the rain, there’s a sudden shift of gears. See if you can spot it. It goes like this: “Boom! Boom! Boom! Mr. Brown is a wonder! Boom! Boom! Boom! Mr. Brown makes thunder! He makes lightning, Splatt! Splatt! Splatt!” Do you see? He doesn’t sound like thunder and lighting; he makes it. Up until then, Mr. Brown seemed like just a charming eccentric. Now suddenly he’s a weather god, kind of like Elmer Fudd in What’s Opera, Doc.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Stinky Bubbles!

Extra-long day today. I had to swap days off this week, Tuesday for Wednesday. Normally not a big deal, but this happened to coincide with an evening gala that Mama Dog had to attend for her glamorous new showbiz job. Consequently, I was on solo baby duty pretty much from breakfast through bedtime. Much fun and pleasure*, but much tough gruelling work too. I’m all set for a night’s sleep, so don’t wait up for me.
*Particularly bath time, when Baby Dog, lately growing into an appreciation of more sophisticated bathroom humour, was so delighted by my coinage of the phrase “stinky bubbles!” that she learned to repeat it almost immediately.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Why I Was Sleepy at Work this Time

Yesterday was kind of weird, schedule-wise, and we learned a valuable lesson about the dangers of messing with a small child’s routines. Mama Dog had been feeling unwell all weekend and was kind of guilty that she hadn’t taken Baby Dog out for any outings. We decided we’d make a family trip to the Little Farm. We have an unfortunate habit of thinking of this late in the day, and sure enough the pigs and most of the livestock were locked up behind closed doors by the time we got there. Baby Dog did get to see the little cows, though, and I was surprised to find they aren’t very little anymore. She also saw a rooster and for the first time understood that this is the bird that says “doo” (she hasn’t mastered the “cock a doodle” part yet). We took a look in the Information Centre, which features some very nice dioramas and such, and was full of depictions of critters she’s recently learned about – fox, racoon, and other stuff I’ve since forgotten. We entertained onlookers outside the infohut when I helped Baby Dog practice walking around the grounds. “Walking!” she said. “Yes, you’re walking,” I replied. “Walking!” she said. “Yes, you’re walking,” I replied. “Walking!” she said. “Yes, you’re walking,” I replied. “Walking!” she said. “Yes, you’re walking,” I replied.

As we were driving home, Mama Dog suggested we stop for dinner at Saul’s. It was barely even five in the afternoon and I wasn’t hungry, but Mama Dog was famished and I conceived the ulterior motive of stopping at Black Oak Books to get a copy of a book I’d seen several review of recently. Baby Dog is getting to be much easier to take to restaurants. She was very happy in a high chair at Asmara Friday night and at Saul’s she was readily kept occupied colouring on a placemat (and, uh, the table top) until her half grilled cheese arrived. She really seems to enjoy going to restaurants and seeing the different people and places.*

It was still light out when we got home, so we followed up dinner with a family dog stroll. The night had that very subtle hint of early autumn weather that Californians call “really really cold!” so Mama Dog bundled Baby Dog up in her thick hooded jacket and laid her thickest furriest blanket over her legs. She looked set for a tour of Lapland. We were a little worried that she might fall asleep before we got home – being cocooned in the stroller that way usually does it – but she stayed wide awake, chattering about the trees and cars we passed and rattling off the names of animals as she remembered them from her books.

I played with Baby Dog in the living room for a while, then gave her a bath. When it came time to put her to bed, she put up an unusual amount of resistance. As I’ve mentioned, she’s lately gone down quietly after a single song, but tonight she started squirming midway through the first verse, trying to get down on to the floor to resume play. Getting her to sleep required four songs, a trip to the kitchen for some water (during which she suddenly learned to say “firsty”), and her copy of The Very Busy Spider in her hands before she’d agree to settle down for the night. In retrospect, that should have been a clue.

At one in the morning, I was woken by the sound of Baby Dog screaming in the next room. She was coughing between screams, so I went first to the kitchen to get her a glass of water. I picked her up and made soothing sounds and held the cup up to her mouth. At first she was too hysterical to cooperate, pushing the cup away, but eventually she realised what it was and drank greedily. I sat down and rocked her on my lap and she was back asleep in a matter of minutes.

At three in the morning she woke us up again. This time Mama Dog went, and also tried to solve things with water. When this proved ineffective, she tried milk, and Baby Dog did the same thing – batted it away, realised what it was, and drank the whole thing down. That’s when Mama Dog realised – oh! – she’s hungry! It hadn’t occurred to us that, thought she’d had the same number of meals as usual, the last one had come an hour or more earlier than normal. She had probably been hungry when I was trying to get her to go to sleep in the first place! Poor baby! So Mama Dog gave the girl a midnight snack at three in the morning. There was an unspoken agreement that, since Mama Dog was planning to go in late in the morning anyway, I should try to sleep through this interval. Easier unsaid than done. But at last Baby Dog went contentedly to bed, and slept through to the decadent hour of 7:15, after I woke her fumbling about for my razor in the medicine cabinet.

Moral: don’t mess with the schedule. Ever.
*Myself, what I enjoy most about Saul’s is the collection of covers of albums by Jewish comedians and singers that adorn the wall. I was mesmerized by this one and almost want to find myself a copy just to put the cover on the wall.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Constant Reader

Okay, it’s long established that the first thing Baby Dog wants in the morning is one of her books, and the next-to-last thing at night is a bedtime story. Tonight for the first time I had to put her to bed with a book in her hands. I want her to be a reader, of course I do, but is this a bit much?


Even though she was feeling under the weather, Mama Dog was nice enough to let me go out this afternoon to see Good Night and Good Luck. It’ll be her turn to go see it next weekend. As you may have noticed, I don’t really do movie reviews,* so I’ll just say – Charles, you already know the subject matter would be of interest to you, so you should probably go see it if you haven’t already.

And if you’re the sort who likes to got straight to the source, I saw a really positive review today of The Edward R. Murrow Collection, which was released earlier this year but is getting an extra marketing push with the release of the movie. (Odd they didn’t wait and roll it out concurrent with the movie, but there you go.)
*Because if my opinion makes a difference to your cinematic choices, there’s something terribly wrong with you.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Really, She's Too Young to Even Have Old Photos

Today we were looking though the photo album of Baby Dog’s first week or two. It’s hard to believe that toothless little infant is the same walking talking baby who today insisted that I read her Over in the Meadow a record tolerance-stretching five times in a row. It’s her face in those pictures, you can see that, but the 2005 version of that face is so much more defined and aware. I’m sure a year from now it’ll be just as odd to see how the little girl she’ll be then could ever have been the baby she is today.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Why Write When You Can Quote (Why Didn't I think of that a Year Ago?)

My eldest sister’s comment that recent posts suggest that fatherhood is developing a social conscience in me put me in mind of a bit from Denis Leary’s No Cure for Cancer. To wit:

“After you have a kid, there’s a wave that washes over you – it might be two days later, it might be two weeks later, it might be two years later, but there comes a day when you look down into that crib and you go, ‘Oh my God, look at this! Look at this cold, sober, empty little vessel waiting to be filled up with ingredients, and it’s up to me and my wife, we can fill him up with anything – love, or hate, or indifference.” And that’s when I realised, oh my God, now I know why I’m supposed to have a responsibility to the planet…because I want him to have a better life. So that maybe, 25 years from now, there’ll be a better world for him. I never get involved in stuff. You know, I vote, but I don’t get hands-on, and now I realise I have to get hands-on. To try to change the world. So that maybe 25 years from now, he can live in a world without war, in a country without colour, with clean air to breathe and clean water to drink. So that maybe 25 years from now, he can turn to me and say, ‘You know something, Dad, I really like this place.’ And I can say, ‘Well son, I did my best.’”

(Pause. Audience applauds earnestly. Suckers.)

“And other times I think, hey fuck him. I didn’t break the planet, it was this way when I found it.”

The Parting Glass: Addendum

So last night I was in the kitchen putting away the dishes or something of that nature and Mama Dog was putting Baby Dog to bed. I heard Mama Dog say “Now Daddy will come say good night,” so dutifully I stopped what I was doing and went over to Baby Dog’s room to say good night. Baby Dog was standing up in her crib. When she saw me, she held up her arms and started saying “Songs! Songs! Songs!” So, yeah, I guess that’s the new entrenched bedtime SOP. It’s a new and thrilling thing, though, that Baby Dog is capable of communicating the importance she places in our little routines. We sat down in the rocker together and sang The Parting Glass, and then she went contentedly to sleep.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

On the Off-Chance the Ending of this Post Leaves You Hanging: No, I Didn't Get Blown Up on My Morning Commute

I ran late again this morning. I don’t even know if I can call it “running late” anymore, since it seems to be the norm. At any rate, it was already going on 8:30 by the time I boarded a BART train at Rockridge. 8 cars, SRO. The San Francisco train arrives at Rockridge on the right side of the platform (if you’re facing SF-bound). At every stop from there until Embarcadero, my destination, it arrives on the left side. Knowing this, I always try to stand by the door I entered through, which won’t be opening again until I’m ready to leave. I snicker at the people who position themselves at the door on the opposite side of the car, who will jump in startlement when the door opens behind them at MacArthur and only slowly realise that they must move out of the way of boarding passengers. Unfortunately, even as late as 8:30 there are other commuters savvy enough to know on which side the doors open, or ones dim enough to neither know nor care, so my regular spot was blocked. I went instead to the fallback position – the wheelchair space next to the right-side door. As long as nobody with a wheelchair needs the space (not always a safe bet), it’s a good out-of-the-way spot with easy access to either door upon opening.

I’d been reading my book on the platform, and I pulled it out now to resume. Something nagged at my attention, though, and as I looked down I realised what it was. There were three big backpacks piled against the wall at my feet and nobody sitting nearby seemed to belong to them. I looked around, trying to spot someone who looked like a traveller. Nobody seemed likely. A guy standing on the other side of the door stared back at me. Maybe him. Not sure. He had a backpack over his arm, and travelling with four backpacks seemed a little excessive.

At 12th Street, the dim commuter who had taken my rightful spot exited, so I crossed the car and stood where she had been. Right there on the wall above the sideways seat was this reassuring BART PSA poster:

Now, I know that apparently unattended packages aren’t generally a big risk. For one thing, they usually belong to someone nearby or someone who walked off and forgot them. The vogue in terrorist attacks, after all, is the suicide bombing. What you want to worry about is not the abandoned backpack but the backpack being carried by the fidgety guy who keeps reaching inside to check the timer (as described by witnesses in the recent London bombings). Still, given my latent paranoia, looking at that poster was enough to turn my vague misgivings into a full-on internal security alarm. My inner Chicken Little was screaming “For God’s sake, get out!” (Chicken Little having misplaced himself in a voiceover from an ad for the original Amityville Horror).

Rationally, I knew I could settle things pretty quickly just by saying loudly, “Hey, do those bags belong to anybody?” Unfortunately, my reluctance to get blow up and my reluctance to look like an ass who was afraid he was going to get blown up were pretty evenly balanced. At 19th Street, I just got off. So long and good luck, other passengers.

On the platform at 19th, I started to wonder…not blown up was good, but would I really want to be the guy saying “…and I was standing right next to those backpacks!” on Larry King? Obviously, getting blown up would be worse, but maybe not by as much as you might think.

The sign announced that a 10-car train for SF would be arriving in five minutes. Okay, I was off of the bomb train, but taking the next train was a calculated risk. If I was a terrorist, I’d want to detonate that bomb in the tunnel for maximum damage. It takes eight minutes to cross the tube, and if I was five minutes behind the train ahead, I’d be…hmmm, well, that’s not really very good is it? Although…okay, they’d probably detonate halfway through the tube, which puts the explosion one minute before my train enters it…huh, maybe they’d stop the train in time for me not to get drowned or incinerated by the fireball or whatever would happen.

In the end, it was not the timing that made the decision for me, but the fact that it was a 10 car train instead of an 8 car train, and I was pretty much guaranteed a seat. The train arrived. I made myself comfy and cracked my book again. For the first minute or two I reminded myself to keep an ear open for distant explosions as we left West Oakland, but then I got caught up in my book and forgot about it. All of which is a pretty good encapsulation of the effect of terrorism on life in America.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The Parting Glass

Every month or two, some little thing changes in Baby Dog’s maturation and cognitive development and we find ourselves with a whole new bedtime routine. We went through swaddling and shhhhhing and rocking and modified shushing and desperate acts of whistling and singing and probably a bunch of other phases that I’ve forgotten. Sometime in the last few months, she ceased to be content to be sung to sleep in the rocker, squirming about in my arms rather than lying happily still and attentive as she had been in the past. That’s when I started using the stroller to put her to sleep, strapping her into what she soon learned to call her “night-night chair” and singing her selections from the John Prine songbook until she fell asleep. Usually it would take four songs. In the last few weeks that phase has passed and now she’s almost going to sleep like a big girl. We set her down in the crib and kiss her good night and she goes to sleep. Astoundingly easy.

Nonetheless, a little ritual (admittedly regressive) embellishment has sprung up in that time. Most nights, she’s content to lie down and go to sleep after her bath. If for some reason, though, she’s not willing to settle easily, if she cries or keeps on chattering for an excessive length of time, I’ll go in, set her on my knee, and sing her one single song. It’s always The Parting Glass, the best “good night” song* I know – and always just the first two verses, because they were the only ones I knew when I was a kid. I don’t know why, but Baby Dog is suddenly content again to sit on my knee and listen and be lulled. By the time I’m finished those two short verses, it’s like she’s in a trance. I lift her up in my arms, and kiss her good night and set her down in her crib. No matter how rambunctious and active she was before I picked her up, she then stretches out quietly and closes her eyes as I lay the blanket over her legs. I don’t know if it’s just a fluke that this has happened the same way several times or if it’s the new paradigm, but it’s the kindest, gentlest, sweetest good night routine we’ve developed together yet, and I’ll cherish it until the next step comes along.
*Actually, it's more of a goodbye song, but “good night” is explicit in the text. Also it's a splendid drinking song. Not mutually exclusive with either “goodbye” or “good night.”

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Schrödinger’s Quick Pick

Yes, I play the Lottery, and yes, I know it’s a stupid thing to do and a complete waste of money. I remember talking about it once with Papa Pirate, who’s resolutely rational about it and scornful of me for buying tickets when the odds of winning are so close to zero as not to make a difference. “Well,” I said, “my odds are slightly better having a ticket than not having a ticket.” He disagreed. “My chances of winning by finding a ticket are the same as yours.” It was a snappy comeback, though of course a little suspect mathematically. The supply of discarded tickets is much smaller than the readily available supply for purchase – factor in the competition of other passers-by who might spot a discarded ticket before Papa Pirate does, the likelihood that he’d even pick up a ticket if he saw it, the percentage of time in the day he spends in locations likely to yield a ticket, and so on and so forth. Definitely, my chances with a ticket in my pocket are almost zero, but his chances without one are almost almost almost almost almost zero. And, hell, the man’s a vegetarian who affects a vampire motif. Who should be talking sense into whom here?

Perversely, I actually have a scientifically sound justification for playing the lottery, and that is Schrödinger’s Cat. As soon as I buy a lottery ticket, my lotto-based wealth becomes a potentiality. I may hold the winning ticket. I may not hold the winning ticket. Until the draw is held, there’s no way of knowing with 100% certainty. So, for two or three days I’m not a multi-millionaire, but I’m not not a multi-millionaire. It’s a peaceful easy feeling, and it allows me to trudge to work in the morning with a spring in my step knowing that while I’m not rich enough to afford to quit, I’m also not not rich enough to afford to quit.

Yesterday I bought some Quick Picks at Wally’s World on the way home from BART. Wally was carrying on a telephone conversation about some sporting event while he rang up the purchase and wasn’t paying much attention. As I left the store, it occurred to me that there was something not quite right about the ticket. It took me a few minutes to realise what it was: there were two more picks on it than I had paid for. I stopped and looked back at the store. Wally was serving other people, still chatting away at the phone. I looked ahead at the circuitous road to home. I was already running late from work and Mama Dog would be getting impatient. Then I thought: “Well, score!” and went on home.

For the next 24 hours, I would periodically think about the two unpaid-for Quick Picks in my briefcase. What if one of them made me not not rich? My ethics were apparently slippery enough that letting Wally rip himself off on my behalf for two bucks was okay, but what if he was ripping himself off for twenty million bucks? Okay, that’s not what the situation would be…they weren’t his tickets, just random numbers spit out by the machine, and if one of them happened to be a winner he’d get a percentage of the winning amount for having sold the ticket. He wouldn’t give a shit about the missing two bucks then. But…around and around I went.

On my way home tonight, I couldn’t stand it anymore. I stopped in at Wally’s, and marched right up to the counter. “I owe you two bucks,” I said, handing over a twenty. He looked at me quizzically. “There were two extra picks on my Lotto ticket yesterday,” I explained. He nodded and shrugged. “So what, two bucks?” he asked, making the change. “Yeah,” I said. “I just wouldn’t have felt right winning all those millions if the tickets weren’t paid for?” He gave me a big grin and handed me the change, thanking me. I went home feeling like a good guy after all. It would be a good story if my belated honesty bought me the luck I need to become not not rich for real. In the meantime, my fortune remains an indefinable probability for the next day or so, and that’s just fine with me.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Woo-Hoo-Hoo. Fun. (Skip if you’ve had your fill of cute baby stories)

I mentioned Baby Dog’s discovery of Daddy’s ticklish belly button. This has proved to be a matter of more than passing interest. Whenever my belly button is exposed, whenever the subject of bellies comes up naturally in conversation, or whenever the notion strikes her, Baby Dog will try to tickle my belly button. She doesn’t always hit the mark, but she’s always gratified when I flinch away and particularly when I laugh. The laugh often comes out sounding to my ears much like the sound of my father reading P.G. Wodehouse. It’s a hooting laugh, high of pitch and with uncontrolled reverberation. “Woohoohoohoohoohoohoo!” it goes. Baby Dog has taken to imitating this laugh whenever she indicates her own belly button, only she flattens out the intonation and makes it more of a declamatory statement. “Woo! Hoo! Hoo!”

I should mention also that “funny” is a word Baby Dog has been acquainted with for many months. She knows that it is descriptive of a situation accompanied by laughter. She still laughs when she hears that line from The Torch Singer that goes “makes me feel like the Sunday funnies after everything’s gone off the air.” She also knows the word “fun,” but makes no distinction between the two. If I say “Is that fun?” she often replies with “Ha!” I suppose she thinks “fun” and “funny” are like “dog” and “doggie” or “horse” and “horsey” – essentially the same word.

Tonight after we took her outside to look at the nearly-full moon (the moon being one of her latest favourite things) and put her to bed, Baby Dog continued to make noise for a time. I was busy doing something or other, but it gradually sunk in that she was making a sound that might have been distress of some sort. I thought it was something along the lines of “Boo hoo hoo.” I went into her room to check on her, and there she was sitting in the middle of her crib with the shirt of her ladybug pyjamas pulled up and her finger on her belly button. She looked up at me and smiled. “Woo! Hoo! Hoo!” she said again. “Fun!”

* * *

P.S. – And whoever that was who spent this past evening reading my blog from front to back, hi!

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Papa Dog’s Fourth (Semi-) Annual Canadian Trivia Door Prize

I’m pooped. Spent the whole day cleaning up and preparing for the party, had the party, and have spent the last hour and a half cleaning up after the party. My back went out twice, once during dinner and once after the guests had left. I’m a shambles and ready to go to bed, except I have to stay up until the dishes finish so I can put on another load. Way too tired to post. So instead, I’m going to recycle the trivia quiz that was mandatory for attendance at the party. Post your answers as comments. Highest scorer after a week or so will get some sort of fabulous prize. As is the case during the party, there are no rules. Cheat however you want to. People who were at the party and heard me read out the answers during the prize award are eligible to enter. Have ever so much fun.

Papa Dog’s Fourth (Semi-) Annual Canadian Trivia Door Prize

1. Name That Word (5 points each)

a. A counterpane is:

A. a bedspread
B. a cash register
C. a windowsill
D. one opposed to panes

b. A chesterfield is:

A. an aeroplane
B. a cigarette
C. a couch
D. where the wild Chesters grow

c. A dressing gown is:

A. a bathrobe
B. a salad spinner
C. a surgeon’s smock
D. one garment donning another

d. A serviette is:

A. a breath mint
B. a waitress
C. a napkin
D. a female servy

e. The Pogey is:

B. Unemployment insurance
C. A city jail
D. A word I made up for this quiz

f. Another word for “bathroom” is:

A. cleanroom
B. sinkroom
C. washroom
D. alleyway behind the Mac’s Milk

2. Name That Pronunciation (5 points each)

a. “Shone” (past tense of “shine”) rhymes with:

A. stone
B. gone
C. done
D. hepatosplenomegaly

b. “Z” (the last letter of the alphabet) rhymes with:

A. fly
B. flee
C. fled
D. hepatospleno¬megaly

3. Name That Place (5 points each)

a. You’re in the observation deck of the Peace Tower, looking out at the view of…what city?

b. You’re in Thunder Bay, standing at the shore, looking out at…what body of water?

c. You’re driving southbound on the Lions Gate Bridge, about to enter…what city?

d. You’re somewhere in Ontario, walking along the longest street in the world. What street is that?

e. You’re the proprietor of a small business in Hull. An Anglo from across the river walks in and says to you, “Donnez-moi un Cinquante,” (pronouncing it laboriously, like he hails from Alberta: “DUNN-nay-mwa-uhn-sank-ONT”). What kind of business do you most likely run?

f. At 8:40 p.m. on May 12th, you’re kicking back with the spouse and children in your home at 24 Sussex Drive, Ottawa. Your eldest is firing up the extras on the Kids in the Hall Second Season DVD collection and you’re casually sneaking a look at your notes for your morning meetings. You notice that the battery on your laptop needs charging. You are left-handed. You’ll be turning 48 on Thursday. You are tired of the carpet on the stairs. You are the only one in your house¬hold who has a job. The humidity is unusually high for October. It has been at least a year since you last played golf. You have a doctoral degree from McGill University. You have recently had a complete physical. Your father was a corporate attorney. You have never visited Uzbekistan. You did not binge drink in college.

Only two of the details in the preceding paragraph are actually relevant to this question, which is: what is your job title?

Bonus question (10 points): which two details told you what your job title must be?

4. Name That Fake (5 points each)

a. Which one doesn’t belong?

A. Blue
B. Golden
C. Red Green
D. Old Vienna

b. Which one doesn’t belong?

A. Du Maurier
B. Export A
C. Players
D. Red Apples

c. Which one doesn’t belong?

A. Mr. Dressup
B. Cracker Time
C. Chez Hélène
D. The Friendly Giant

d. Which one doesn’t belong?

A. Lady Jane
B. Sweet Marie
C. Oh Henry
D. Jersey Milk

e. Which one doesn’t belong?

A. Trooper
B. Streetheart
C. Lagerhead
D. April Wine

f. Which one doesn’t belong?

A. King of Kensington
B. Front Page Challenge
C. The Rich Little Comedy Hour
D. The Beachcombers

Bonus Points:

To belabour the obvious – each of the foregoing “Name that Fake” questions includes three examples of a particular category plus a fourth one that I just made up. For extra points, identify the categories represented by each question.

6 right = 50 points
5 right = 40 points
4 right = 32 points
3 right = 24 points
2 right = 16 points
1 right = 8 points

5. Name That Time (10 points)

You’re 225 km (south)east of Sudbury on the Trans-Canada Highway. You’re driving at the speed limit. It’s noon on the dot. If you maintain your speed and make no stops, at approximately what time will you see the giant nickel?

6. Name That Weird-Looking Money (10 points)
What’s this?

7. Name That Original Name (5 points each)

Which present-day city used to be called:

a. Hochelaga
b. Stadacona
c. Strathcona
d. York

8. Name That Fake Name (10 points maximum) – The Sir Gordon Fraser-McDouglas Memorial bonus award of ten points will be given to the person who, in the judge’s sole estimation, comes up with the most authentically Canadian-sounding incorrect name for a nineteenth century Prime Minister. Runners-up will receive from 1 to 9 points, again based on the judge’s sole estimation of the veracity of the fake name.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

We Go to a Grown-Up Restaurant

Mama Dog has been jonesing for aeons to try out this new trendy restaurant in Temescal, around the corner from our old apartment. Like most trendy restaurants in the East Bay, it’s run by a former chef from Chez Panisse and has a line out the door whenever you happen by. They don’t take reservations, so it’s been a big logistical conundrum to figure out when to go. This wouldn’t have been a problem in the pre-baby days, but with Baby Dog along we didn’t want to spend an hour waiting for a table and have her melt down before the bread showed up. The obvious answer seemed to be to go right as soon as they opened for business, which is 5:30, but that’s been hard to arrange. We kept thinking we could do it on one of my Wednesdays off, but one thing or another always came up to prevent it. In fact, we were supposed to go there for Mama Dog’s birthday dinner, but that proved impossible too. So tonight’s meal was a long time in coming.

The restaurant is in a site that was occupied since the dawn of time by a family-owned hardware store. One always had the sense of traveling through a time warp when entering G&G Hardware. There were window displays that seemed not to have changed since the 1950s. It was cramped and crowded and crammed full of stuff, and since their inventory didn’t seem to be in any particular hurry to go anywhere, you could usually count on them having whatever you needed. Mama Dog and I used to call it the grumpy hardware store because the family staff members were always getting on one another’s nerves, cussing each other out, and being sour though helpful to the customers. I know this doesn’t seem like a formula for success, but the fact they’d lasted as long as they had really made it seem like they could go on forever. I don’t know much about the story, but I think they got priced out of their building when the landlord caught wind of the former Chez Panisse chef’s interest in the site.

We arrived tonight at 6:30, as soon as we could after Mama Dog’s yoga class, for the long-deferred birthday dinner. One of the attractions of the place was that it was reputed to be baby-friendly, which proved to be true. I saw several babies there before us and several more after. The acoustics create a nice noisy babble effect, so the cries of no one particular baby are going to get noticed. Unfortunately, there already was a line out the door by 6:30. We were lucky, being a party of two (plus baby); our wait was only until 7. Parties of four were told to expect to wait until 8.

We had waited so long to go to this place, and half an hour didn’t seem like too horrendous a wait, so I said, okay, let’s do it. In our hurry to leave the house we’d forgotten to pack any books for Baby Dog to pass the time with, so to remedy that and to kill a few minutes, I wheeled the girl across the street to Walgreen’s to do a little shopping. You may assume, and you would be correct, that Walgreen’s is not the most literary-minded retail operation around. It took a while to find any books at all, and the pickings among the baby books were pretty slim. Mostly they were colouring books of mass-market characters like Arthur the Rodent or whatever else was hot a few years ago. I had said to Mama Dog, “I can just get some Disney shit or something and we can throw it out later.” Fortunately, I didn’t have to resort to that. There were two little cut-rate books, one about hippos and one about velociraptors, and I snapped those up. The hippo book was actually kind of a find. It had a squeaky hippo in it which Baby Dog took to immediately. The velociraptor book was shockingly irresponsible. It shows a little boy hanging out with a velociraptor, dining with him, and cuddling up to him. It details the various differences between their two species: I have hair and he has scaly skin; he only eats meat but I’ll eat anything. Yeah, plus one other little difference, kid: you’re meat and when you give it a great big hug that thing will fucking eat you. I can only imagine the lawyers breathing a sigh of relief when it was explained to them that velociraptors have been extinct for millions of years.

The most horrific thing I saw in Walgreen’s, though, was a stack of books called Great Illustrated Classics for Children or some such. They’re versions of classic adventure and other traditionally child-friendly stories, packaged in a format similar to Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew books. They were on sale for two for $5, and the top one was Call of the Wild. I thought maybe I’d buy a couple and stash them away until Baby Dog was old enough to have a more involved bedtime story. I picked up Call of the Wild – which is actually the first book she ever heard read – and flipped to the first page, ready to read that famous opening line – “Buck did not read the newspapers, or he would have known that trouble was brewing, not only for himself, but for every tide-water dog, strong of muscle and with warm, long hair, from Puget Sound to San Diego.” Instead, I saw some shit like this (paraphrasing from memory): “The day that changed Buck’s life started like any other” and blah blah blah. I dropped the thing like it had burned me. Which, in a way, it had. I felt like I’d just seen a sort of literary grave desecration. Made me want to rub my hands down well with the hand sanitizer Mama Dog carries around.

Well, we killed time with the hippo book and the idiotic velociraptor book, and when those wore out their efficacy, I walked Baby Dog up and down Telegraph Avenue until our names were called. We were seated in the very back of the restaurant, which was great, since Baby Dog could make even more noise and not disturb anyone. In fact, she was very well behaved until the very end of the meal. It was by that long past her bedtime and she was cranky and ready to sleep. She had greatly enjoyed the bread, which was very good and seemed to have been baked on the premises. She flirted with the two different sets of older people seated behind me and was in general a good and happy baby. Mama Dog and I enjoyed our meals, had some really good wine, and talked like adults while our baby stuffed her own maw and player with her books and daddy’s cell phone. I don’t know what the chances are that we’ll be able to get back there any time soon, but it was definitely worth a half hour’s wait to get in. Too bad about the hardware store, though.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Yes, Really, MORE Obnoxious

Dreadful ride home tonight. I was surrounded by a gaggle of drunken office harpies bound for their enclaves on the other side of the Caldecott after a round of TGIF margaritas in the bar by the office. They were talking very loud shit about absent co-workers, shrieking and laughing and cussing up a storm. The one on the seat next to me had the most ridiculous babydoll voice. She sounded like Fran Drescher sucking helium—only more obnoxious, if you can imagine that. Ordinarily, the ride through the Transbay tube is a very lulling interval of white noise. Tonight, all I could hear the whole way was the screaming beeyatches surrounding me. It’s Friday, I’ve worked late, I’m trying to make it home before Baby Dog’s bedtime. All I want to do is relax and read my book, you know? Too much to ask? Evidently.

It was a busy afternoon but a slow morning, and I took the time to fix up my quiz for the Thanksgiving dinner. I kind of think Mama Dog will do well on certain sections, but it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that the one unequivocal Canadian in attendance (other than me) will win. It’s going to be a busy weekend, making preparations tomorrow then the party itself on Sunday. Don’t expect much more than this sort of thing from me this weekend.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

I'm, Like, Sore

I’m a bit of a wreck the last few days. My feet have been vexing me more some time and Wednesday morning I woke up to a surprise return of my old nemesis, lower back pain. That’s been mostly under control since I’ve dropped weight (I’m down to 188 these days, if you were still wanting to vote on the “what weight should I be?” poll from many moons ago), but yesterday morning I had a little knot of unpleasantness on my left side just above the glute. Since it was Daddy at Home day, it was bound to get worse as I scrambled around on the floor after small darling child. By the time Mama Dog got home in the evening, I was barely able to stand up straight, and gratefully went to bed before ten.

Today I had a full day to exacerbate things by sitting in an office chair all day, plus a bunch of excess tension over a stupid meeting I had to run. Thankfully, the meeting went well and not nearly as stupidly as I’d feared. The last time this committee met, things bogged down into a chaos of irreconcilable differences, and I’d feared I’d never be able to get the thing going properly. Apparently, a couple months’ time out did the trick. That, and I learned a lesson from last time and came to this meeting with a clear agenda and a ruthless timekeeping hand.

As I type, the creaky achiness from my back has extended through all my limbs, my shoulders, and my poor old brain. At least the brain pain can be readily suppressed with a couple of Tylenol, else I’d not likely be able to bang out more than a sentence or two for you here.

So now I think I’ll have a little taste of ice cream, watch last night’s episode of Lost, and hope one more good night’s sleep will leave my spine in the shape it was meant to assume. At least it looks like a slack day at work tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

This Weekend: Thanksgiving Dinner Almost a Week Late

Thanksgiving was this past Monday, but it’s not a holiday in the U.S.* Since Mama Dog was in Santa Barbara the weekend before, we decided to have our Thanksgiving dinner the weekend after. With the exception of last year, when we decided we couldn’t manage both a Mama Dog’s birthday party and a Thanksgiving dinner in the space of a few weeks while caring for a newborn bairn, this has been an annual event for me since 1997 or thereabouts. The concept at first was to invite every expatriate Canadian I know in the area, but it turned out I didn’t know enough to round out the guest list. I widened it to people who’ve lived in Canada at one time or another because, really, that’s what we tend to do in Canada. Alexander Graham Bell? Spent a couple years in Ontario. Great Canadian hero. John Lennon. Did a bed-in in Montreal once. Definitely Canadian. Also, those first few years I was counting on Bernardo to cook the turkey, so I had to find a qualification he met to attend. His year in Vancouver does it. Still, parties being what they are, the guest list I started out with isn’t always the one that shows up in attendance. I widened things further. You had a Canadian grandparent? Okay, you’re in. I had completely given up inventing qualifications when I invited the Pirates to the 2000 dinner. Turns out Mama Pirate’s dad lived in Victoria for a while. They’ve come to every Thanksgiving dinner since. Vaughn Sentrie has come to several, and his only qualification is having spent a week or so in Vancouver when Bernardo moved up. Dan the Chemist comes because American Thanksgiving is his favourite holiday and he enjoys having the two Thanksgiving dinners. My only rationalisation with him is that he talked fondly of having taken train rides in the Gatineaus. So that’s what it’s come down to. If you know what the Gatineaus are, you can come to my Thanksgiving dinner.

One of the things I’ve been doing the last few years is a mandatory Canadian Trivia Quiz, designed to have a little fun and make my complacent American friends aware of how little they know about their next door neighbours. The first year consisted mostly of obvious geographic stuff – name all ten provinces and their capitals, that sort of thing. It’s gotten a little more involved as time’s gone on. To take the sting out of having their ignorance exposed, pretty much everybody gets a prize in the quiz. I usually have enough prizes for the top eight or ten scorers. What I generally do is place an order at Canadian Favourites for a whimsical variety of foodstuffs that people maybe wouldn’t choose for themselves. A can of Habitant Pea Soup, for example, is somewhere around sixth prize. Several years running the top prize was my last mint Aero bar, the straggler I would save for this occasion from the last case my family sent me. This year I don’t have any Aero bars except for the case that’s coming in my Canadian Favourites shipment, and I’m not giving the whole thing up, so I’ll have to think of something else.

I placed the order about three weeks ago. This Monday it occurred to me that I hadn’t received a shipment notification. I checked the website and saw that orders are supposed to ship in 7-10 business days. It had at that point been about 13 business days. I sent an email to their customer service address saying that I needed the order for a party this Sunday and that if it wasn’t going to make it in time, I might as well cancel. In fewer than 24 hours I received a reply so polite and deferential it must have been written by an actual Canadian. It acknowledged that they were running a little late and said they’d upgrade me to express shipping so as to ensure the package’s arrival before the weekend. Today I finally received the shipment notification and have been keenly tracking on the UPS web site. The box should arrive at Mama Dog’s office tomorrow, and we should have fabulous prizes for the party. So woo hoo to Canadian Favourites’ customer service. Good on them. And now all I have to do is finish writing the quiz.
*Well, actually, they call it Columbus Day down here (except in Berkeley, where it’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day). But it’s one of those holidays where you have to work for a bank or the post office to stay home.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

One Froggy Evening

Mama Dog had reported over the weekend that Baby Dog’s fever was down, but she still had a rough weekend with much crankiness and multiple wakings through the night. When I met them at the BART station last night, Baby Dog was asleep, having finally crashed after a long tantrum on the train ride home. It was all a bit much for a little girl – missing Daddy; going on a weird conveyance that makes your ears hurt and upsets your tummy; being sick; spending two days with Halmonie then missing her when they left; being hungry, tired, and in need of a change all the way back from SFO. She woke up when I took her out of the stroller, and though she seemed confused she was happy to see me. I said “Can you give Daddy a big hug?” and she bobbed forward to kiss me on the lips. I don’t think she knows the difference between “hug” and “kiss,” but that’s perfectly okay. She said “Daddy,” and her poor little froggy croak of a voice made me wince for her.

Having a sick baby at home is remarkably similar to having a newborn again. It wasn’t until 12:30 that I really got what Mama Dog had been through Sunday night. Baby Dog woke up, screaming hoarsely for water. We got her water and I sat with her while she sipped it in her crib. After a few minutes she fell asleep and the sippy cup rolled to the mattress. I waited until I was sure she was completely out, then removed the cup and went back to bed.

At 1:30, she was screaming hoarsely for juice, so we got that, and I sat with her again while she took one sip and fell asleep.

At 2:30, I was too groggy to understand what she was screaming for, but I got the juice out of the fridge and sat down to watch her once more drink herself to sleep, just like her dear old dad used to.

I finally fell back asleep shortly before 3. I don’t think I’d had more than ten minutes’ sleep since 12:30.

With the exception of a couple small cranks and cries, peace reigned until the alarm went off at 6 a.m. A second later, Baby Dog began crying again, this time screaming out “Owl Babies! Owl Babies!” If you don’t have a child, that might seem an odd phrase for her to be screaming at six in the morning. It alludes to one of her favourite books. It’s also one of her first multi-word phrases (along with “Bye-bye, Mummy,” “Bye-bye, Bud (or whomever),” “All done,” and “Move over!” – that last was her first two-word phrase, mimicking Halmonie’s repeated admonition to Doggy Dog). I looked around the room for Owl Babies, but it was dark and I didn’t have my glasses on, so I was effectively blind. I handed her the sippy cup full of juice, but she batted it aside and screamed louder. I picked her up and tried to shush her, but none of it was working. Finally I decided there was no getting her back to sleep, so I might as well just change her diaper and get her ready for breakfast. I laid her down on the changing pad and she turned her head to one side and went to sleep. Go figure. I waited until I was sure I could move her without waking her. She cried out as I put her back in the crib, but didn’t wake. She stayed conked out until I was just about ready to leave at 7:45. At least somebody got a good night’s sleep. Come to think of it, the dog seemed pretty well rested too.

In other odd bits of favershammal business –

The hit tracker has been going a little apeshit the last couple weeks with all sorts of hits from image searches, mostly from Europe, and mostly searches for this image of the Hiroshima bomb. I was completely drawing a blank on when I might have linked that image. I had to scour through the archives to remember that in mid-July I did this post about a long-ago trip through New Mexico. The reference to Little Boy is so scant and peripheral I can’t believe its relevance rates so high up in Google Denmark and Yahoo Belgium, but there you go. You never know what kind of irrelevant nonsense you’re going to come across when you let the search engine do your research for you.

Apparently, many Europeans are also relying on me for a glance at young Mark Lester, whose image I linked to when I mentioned that we watched Oliver!.

Also – that King of the Hill mini-poll I have up. I’ve noticed an odd trend in the votes. People who know me are voting for Dale. I reluctantly agree that of the three, he’s the one I come closest to resembling. People who come to the faversham randomly – like through Google Denmark image searches – invariably vote for Bill. I’m assuming they do this solely for the sake of being anonymously insulting. Deadbeat Eurotrash ratfucks.

Anyway, the funny thing is, when Baby Dog used to point at the fridge magnet and say “Daddy” (she hasn’t actually done this in some weeks now), I initially assumed that she meant either Dale (glasses, hair colour) or Boomhauer (wardrobe). One day when she said “Daddy” at the magnet, I took it down, held it up to her, and said, “Which one’s Daddy?” You guessed it. She pointed at Bill. How sharper than a serpent’s tooth is an infant daughter’s perception of her old dada.

I guess this means I might as well take the poll down soon.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Home Alone, Day 3: Papa Pirate Saves the Day

I was unable to get anybody to cover for me at work today, but Mama Dog reminded me that the Pirates have our spare key, and I recollected that Papa Pirate’s work schedule often leaves him at home in daylight hours. Sure enough, he was able to come and walk Doggy Dog around the block this afternoon, and reported that not only did the dog take a dump, he was good enough not to kill anything while being perambulated by a vegetarian.

Mama Dog and Baby Dog are, as I type, waiting to catch a BART train back from the airport. I eagerly await their arrival, and am hurriedly checking the living room carpet for any spots that might have been befouled by drunken poker louts.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Home Alone, Day 2

It sounds like Baby Dog’s doing better. I’ve just been a bum all weekend, watching TV, gambling, and eating shitty food. I did indulge myself this morning, sleeping in until almost 9:30. This has been unheard of for some time, but it felt great.

In a bit of a crisis for tomorrow. It occurred to me kind of late in the game that Mama Dog’s flight doesn’t get in until the evening, which means there won’t be anybody home to let Doggy Dog out until I get home from work. Normally, Mama Dog’s home by 5:30 or so, and that’s kind of at the outside edge of his limit for suppressing the call of nature. I usually can’t get home until 6:30 at the earliest. I’ve been scrambling about trying to find somebody either to visit Doggy Dog during the day so he has an extra bathroom break or to cover the last hour or two of my shift at work so I can duck out early. I really wish I’d thought of this a week ago and made arrangements. Oh well. I’ll work it out how I work it out. Worst case is I blow off work for an hour. If I have to, I have to.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Home Alone, Day 1

Mama Dog was feeling well enough to travel this morning, and Baby Dog seemed to be doing okay as well. She was still warm, but her temperature wasn’t as high. I accompanied them to the airport, seeing them through to the security gate. I haven’t been in an airport in a while. Land sakes, it’s different from when I was a kid. Air used to be a classy way to travel – helpful ticketing staff, deferential flight crews, clean, orderly, efficient terminals designed to get you where you’re going in ease and comfort. Now they’re bus stations where you have to take off your shoes to get in. If you’re traveling economy, you’re herded into something that resembles the line for toilet paper at the GUM store in 1975 and the agents bark orders at you from behind the counter. Now I kind of understand what my parents meant when they talked about how people used to dress up to go to the movies.

Baby Dog was asleep by the time Mama Dog had checked in, so I couldn’t tell her exactly how much her Daddy was going to miss her for the next two days, but Mama Dog promised to relay the message. I had a long lonely BART ride back but at least I had a brand new book to read. Amusingly, the BART ride from SFO back to Rockridge is longer than the airplane flight from SFO to Santa Barbara. If we hadn’t left so early for check it, they’d have landed before I got home. As it was, I’d lunched and lazed for a while before Mama Dog called to tell me they’d made it okay. Baby Dog suffered a bout of motion sickness on landing, and continued to be barfy later on. Apparently the combination of the cold and the first experience with air travel was not a good one. She seems to be doing okay now, though.

Mama Dog, are you reading this? I miss my girls.

Friday, October 07, 2005

The Night Before the Day I May or May Not Be Alone and Lonely

Well, now we know the probable cause of Baby Dog’s crankiness on Wednesday. The daycare had warned that there was a cold being bounced around from kid to kid, and Baby Dog’s nose had been quite runny. This morning she woke up at five, stuffed up, angry, and crying inconsolably. Mama Dog was able to get her settled enough that we could lightly doze until six, but then the little girl had another crying fit. It was very similar to what had happened at naptime on Wednesday; she was uncomfortable and crying, but she really wasn’t ready to wake up. She settled back down while her parents were breakfasting, and slept in ‘til almost 7:30. The extra sleep seemed to do the trick. She was her normal happy self when she got up, and though she had seemed warm earlier, she wasn’t running a temperature.

That is, until the daycare called me at 3 in the morning to say she was almost up to 103 and we should come pick her up. I called Mama Dog and she did just that, leaving work early for a sick kid for the very first time.

All this is on the eve of what’s supposed to be Mama and Baby’s first trip out of town without me, flying down to Saint Babs for one last look at the ancestral home before Halmonie sells it. I’ve been building up a great deal of trepidation as the day approaches. I haven’t spent a night apart from Baby Dog since she was born, and I haven’t spent a night apart from Mama Dog since she went to Chicago to be on Okra. On the one hand, I didn’t know what I’d do with my girls out of town. On the other hand, I knew exactly what I’d do with my girls out of town: watch a bunch of shitty TV, get some writing done, stay up late playing poker, sleep in as late as I want in the morning, and for two solid days do absolutely nothing that I didn’t feel like doing at that moment. I might even pee in the kitchen sink, who knows! The dread of being apart from my nearest and dearest ones and the thrilling thought of having no real responsibilities for the first time in…jesus, what is it, forever?...was pretty equally balanced.

Now Mama Dog thinks she’s caught Baby Dog’s cold, so the trip may be scuttled and I won’t have to deal with either an excess of loneliness or an excess of freedom. We’ll find out which way the wind’s blowing in the morning.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

World War Lunch

I knew about the terrible twos, but I had no idea there were terrible one-and-a-quarters. Baby Dog is definitely manifesting her wilful side.

Wednesday morning was great. After Mama Dog went off to work, we played in the living room for a while. Baby Dog discovered that not only did Daddy have a belly button too, but it was ticklish, just like hers. We took turns tickling each other. She laughed much harder at tickling me than she did at being tickled. We strolled over to the pharmacy to pick up Daddy’s Rx – totally free with my insurance, score! – and on the way back stopped off at the pet store to get some snacky treats for Doggy Dog so as to assuage our continuing guilt for the shortness of his shrift. We had snack time around 10:30, smooth as silk. The yogurt was pronounced “nummy!” more than once, and the cheese received a very welcoming eponymous bellow (i.e., “CHEESE!!!”). We read stories and looked at Survivor purely for educational purposes (there was a howler monkey in it). At 12:30 we went for the naptime stroll and she conked out before we were three blocks from the house. I turned around, strolled home, and tucked my sleeping girl in her crib, feeling like Superdad.

I put on a load of laundry, caught up on a few emails, did my freelance invoice, then sat down to watch a little crap TV while I still could. Watching the first episode of the lame remake of The Night Stalker, my mind wandered enough for me to think, “Well this kind of sucks.” Little did I know that suckery would be the high point of the afternoon for several hours to come. With twelve minutes left in the episode, Baby Dog started making noise. I gladly turned off Kolchak lite and went to get the girl up.

The Wednesday meal schedule has been tricky, but we’ve found a kind of routine. Because Baby Dog sleeps at what would be lunch time at daycare, she’s generally very hungry when she gets up and eats a big lunch, obviating the need for a snack between then and dinner. Mama Dog had suggested a large and varied menu including quinoa, spinach, yogurt, tofu, and apples. All of these are things Baby Dog likes. I cobbled it all together and sat down to feed her, fully expecting that the first half of the bowl at least would go quickly. She ate one spoonful, eyeing me suspiciously, then started with the deflecting left hand and the curt, “No.”

I should have realised I was in for trouble when I got her up. I had gone in too quickly. She was crying but not talking. With Baby Dog, crying usually means “still asleep,” while talking means “ready to get up.” She looked awake when I went into her room, and of course once I was interacting with her, there was no turning back. But from her reaction to the food, it was clear she could have used another 20 minutes of sleep. Tired baby is cranky baby is uncooperative baby. I could see a tantrum brewing, and it didn’t take long for that prophecy to fulfill itself.

A big part of the food refusal is her desire to feed herself. Unfortunately, the yogurty quinoa requires spoon feeding, and although she tries, she lacks the motor skills for that. She wants to feed herself and gets frustrated that I won’t let her. If I let her, she gets frustrated that she can’t do it right. Unchecked, it builds momentum. Usually I can find ways to distract her and get the food into her mouth while her defences are down, but this day nothing was working. I tried every feeding trick I’ve developed to date, all for naught. Before I knew it, the food was emptied out of the bowl on to the tray, the spoons were on the floor, covered in dog fur, and not another ort had been consumed. All she wanted to do was swat the spoon away and cry.

Mostly what she was crying about was “Bud.” Bud is the porcine hero of What a Pig, Baby Dog’s favourite bath book and for a while her chief obsession in life. In the last week she’s learned to say “pig” and even “oink,” but for months all pigs were named “Bud” as far as she was concerned. While I was trying to feed her and she was swatting the spoon away, she kept pointing a the kitchen sink and screaming “Buuuuuuud! Buuuuuuuud!” I tried hopelessly to reason; there was no pig there, nothing even remotely resembling a pig. “There’s no Bud there,” I told her. “Buuuuuuuud!” she replied. I took her out of the high chair and walked her over to the sink, hoping to get to the bottom of it. “Where’s Bud?” I asked, genuinely wanting to learn what object she thought resembled a pig. She just stared at the sink and said nothing.

Finally, I figured that she was after the real thing. I put her back in the high chair and reluctantly pulled What a Pig from its spot in the little pink tub where it will never quite get completely dry. “BUD!” she bellowed when she saw the book. I handed it to her, trying to steer it to the edge of the tray away from the food, lest it drip aromatic bath oils on the quinoa. That Bud has become one sweet-smelling pig.

Ordinarily, with a favourite book in her hand Baby Dog can be fed with impunity as she flips intently through the pages. “My name is Bud,” I read to her, spooning up the spinach, “I’m a pig in the mud.” She swatted the spoon away. “I love to muddle in my favourite puddle.” Swat. “I’ll take a rain shower and I’m clean for an hour.” Swat. “Til that puddle of mine says, ‘Come in, the mud’s fine!’” Swat swat swat swat swat.

Of course, it’s futile to reason with a fifteen-month-old, but she understands so much, I felt compelled to try. I had held up my end of the bargain by bringing her Bud; she wasn’t doing her bit. “If you want Bud, you have to eat,” I said. She swatted the spoon away. I sighed. I knew that I was about to turn into The Man with all his damn rules. “Okay, no Bud,” I said, and took the book away. If there had been a tantrum already, there was now a Spinal Tap tantrum turned up to eleven. I withstood it as equably as could anyone this side of the Dalai Llama. I’m known for my patience, really I am. I waited for her to calm down. After a small interval elapsed, I held the book up. “Do you want Bud?” she grabbed for the book. “Here’s some nummy spinach,” I said. Swat. “Okay, no Bud.” Screaming resumed. “You can have Bud when you eat.” Loudest screaming yet.

Here’s where I knew I’d crossed a line. I could have just let her play with the book and wait until she decided she was hungry. For some reason, though, I’d made it conditional. “You must eat if you want the book.” It was utterly arbitrary, but having drawn the line in the sand I was bound to enforce it. I had somehow found my inner Republican.

At this point, the dog had started whining from behind the gate in the back hall. I had hushed him a few times, and each time he came back whining more loudly, like he thought maybe the problem was I just hadn’t heard him yet. This is a recurring pattern. He’s sympathetic to the baby’s distress. She cries, he whines. Unfortunately, this is what undid my famous patience. The dog whining was just one layer of aggravation more than I could take. I jumped up and yelled at him to get out and go away. I slammed the playpen in his direction. He scattered away, tail between legs. Jesus, and I was already feeling guilty about how shittily we’ve been treating him…. Well, better an outburst at him than at the baby. She didn’t even notice me yelling, her own screaming was so loud. I stashed Bud out of sight and let her scream, periodically offering the spoon and being refused.

Finally, it ran its course. Some mysterious threshold was passed. Baby Dog opened her mouth and took a spoonful of food, then another, and another. She paused to drink milk. Being a man of my word, I gave her Bud. “See,” I said, hoping there might actually be a lesson in this, “all you have to do is eat your lunch and you can read Bud.” “Bud,” she agreed, sniffling.

After she had eaten and I had cleaned her up, I made amends with Doggy Dog by giving him one of the Bark Sticks we’d picked up that morning. Dogs don’t care if it’s guilt food. Food is good. Baby Dog and I played and read in the living room, then we went on a big stroll. We went first to the bank so Daddy could deposit the fruits of his freelance labours, then on to Rockridge Kids to get padding for the edge of the coffee table. Mama Dog and I also had in mind for some time to get Baby Dog a monkey toy. She has lately learned the word “monkey” (pronounced “MUN-tee”) and that monkeys say “ee ee ee.” In all the items in her toy box, though, even in all her books, there are only two tiny little representations of monkeys; one on a little wooden block and the other in a tiny little accessory to a circus toy. She needed a monkey big enough to look at eye to eye.

The plush shelf at Rockridge Kids isn’t very comprehensive, and it’s mostly given to teddy bears. I parked the stroller there and Baby Dog watched curiously as I rummaged through the shelf. Normally, she would be reaching at things she wanted, but my purposeful behaviour was apparently a greater curiosity. Suddenly I stopped and looked back at her. Then I pulled this fellow from the shelf and held it out to her. “MUN-tee!” she cried, delighted. I had the cashier give me a pair of scissors so I could snip off the tag right after buying it. Baby Dog held her new toy, chattering “MUN-tee!” and “Ee ee ee!” and “Nana!” all the way home.

I suppose it looks like I’ve fallen into an age-old pattern here; lay down the law for her own good, then pay off the debt of guilt with a new toy. All I can say is – I started the day wondering whether or not I’d be able to find a monkey at Rockridge Kids. I’d been thinking about it for weeks, in fact. Wheeling home, Baby Dog had a belly full of good nutritious food and a new favourite stuffed animal. I had a brittle feeling of fallibility and the certain knowledge that as time goes on, it’s just going to get harder and harder to know whether or not I’m doing the right thing.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

It's Kind of Tough to Write on Wednesdays, Too

Baby Dog and I had our first quarrel today, but I’m too knackered to write about it. I’ll tell you tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

And Found Again

...and now I've heard from Charlene. She and her son are stuck in different cities, but they're both fine. Frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

Lost and Found

More than a month post-Katrina, and I’m finally apprised of the whereabouts of almost all of my favourite Orleanian peeps. It’s been frustrating in the extreme, trying to track down people who didn’t much cotton to the World Wide Web even when their city had reliable electricity. I was able to pretty quickly track down via email/Internet most of the people I knew lived in New Orleans but weren’t from there. Of the friends who are from there, though, only one had a reliable email address. Here’s what a web-based retard I am: it never even occurred to me to try old-fashioned brick-and-mortar methods. It’s slightly excusable, I suppose; to the best of my knowledge, there’s been little to no phone access in New Orleans the last month. But it wasn’t until today that I tried digging out the old address book and giving Mike J a dingle. Sure enough, his old number was still good, and moreover he had it forwarded to his cell phone. He was able to tell me that he and David Rex and Tami and their whole family made it out just fine before the storm and were safe and sound in a town outside Baton Rouge. Miraculously, none of their houses got damaged even when neighbouring houses took eleven inches of water. They all seemed to be on just an extra little bump of high ground. This is good news/bad news, actually, because though their property survives they can’t live on it, and insurance doesn’t pay out for that. They’ve all taken jobs with substantial pay cuts in their exile towns, and have to pay rent while they wait to be allowed to go home. It could be a lot worse, but it sucks all the same.

Mike was also able to tell me that Patrick is up in Nova Scotia, of all places, living on his brother’s dairy farm, cranking out cheese. Patrick can’t stand his family, so this is a real hardship move for him. But again, it could be worse, lots worse. And it’s historically ironic, if you think about it, the expulsion of a Louisianan to Nova Scotia, instead of the other way around. Perhaps if there are others, they could found a pocket of “Zianan” culture in Canada.*

This leaves only Charlene unaccounted for, and I hope as the city begins to fill up again I’ll be able to get in touch with her.
*Just in case I’m being too obscure with my little beau geste here: the people we know now as “Cajuns” were, several centuries back, the “Acadians,” who got booted out of Nova Scotia when the British took over. They traveled south to Louisiana and immediately started running seafood restaurants and swamp tour companies.

Monday, October 03, 2005

No Excuses, but No Real Post Either

I'd have just skipped tonight if I weren‘t so damn superstitious.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Second Verse, Same as the First

It was a pretty good day today. The critters let us sleep in almost to the scandalous hour of eight o’clock - a better night’s sleep than either of us has had in ages. I’m not as exhausted as I was this time last night, but I am mindful of how I’m going to feel at six in the morning, so once again I’m going to cut it short. Weekends.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Have You Noticed I'm Usually Too Tired to Post Properly on the Weekends?

I was up a bit too late last night – partly because of the longish post I felt compelled to write before the events described got another day older. Around midnight, as I was getting ready to shut the computer down, Mama Dog popped out of the bedroom, unexpectedly awake, and asked was I going to put the girl in her sleep sack. I was, only it was kind of hot out so I wanted to put her in the thinnest sack we had. Neither of us was sure where that sack was. We went into Baby Dog’s room and rummaged through drawers and asked one another where the damn thing was. It finally turned up in a laundry basket in the living room, and I went to put it on the baby – but by that time we’d managed to wake her up. I spent the next hour trying to get her back to sleep.

Granted, she let us sleep in til almost eight, but the dog woke me up long before then to be let out and I never really did get back to sleep. I’ve been feeling a touch jet lagged all day and really, I’d just like to get caught up on my zeds. So goodnight to you all once more.