Friday, October 31, 2014

On Mouse Cookies and Racism

There's a series of children's books called "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie,"; "If You Give a Pig a Pancake,"; "If You Give a Moose a Muffin," etc. The books start out with a boy or a girl giving one of these animals a treat, and then a cascading series of ridiculous events occurs that ultimately circles back to the treat.

Reading these books (and others) forced me to confront the difficult, sad, and vaguely comical issue of racist anachronisms in classic children's literature and how to deal with them. As a white person, I recognize I enjoy an ethnic privilege. (At least until someone rattles off a bunch of anti-Semitic stereotypes in front of me not realizing I'm Jewish, which happens with surprising frequency). And at a certain point, my kids will come to understand white privilege as well.

All of this made me want to write a version of the "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie" series of books, exploring the phenomenon of suddenly trying to explain the vile horrors of humanity to your innocent children as you put them to bed at night.

The text would probably look something like this, although someone else would need to do the illustrations, since I suck at drawing:

If you read your daughter "Little House on the Prairie," you're going to get to the part where ma is a racist asshole and hates on "Indians."

When you get to the part where ma is a racist asshole, you'll need to explain America's history of racial and cultural genocide.

As you explain America's history of racial and cultural genocide, you'll watch your child's innocence disappear before your very eyes.

Once her innocence disappears, you'll have no way of getting it back other than to put down "Little House" and grab "If I Ran the Zoo" by Dr. Seuss instead.

If you grab "If I Ran the Zoo," you'll inevitably get to the part where a little Chinese man from "Zomba-ma-Tant" is wearing a pointy hat and "his eyes at a slant."

Once you get to the "eyes at a slant" line, you'll need to decide whether to skip over that page or explain racist stereotypes once again and why they are bad and why your daughter should never say or think these things.

If you explain racist stereotypes and why they are bad, you'll watch your daughter become increasingly confused about the world, and you will just close the book, give up on reading altogether, and turn on the TV instead.

If you turn on the TV instead, all you'll find is "Dumbo" because of Disney's greedy licensing racket that doesn't let you access any Disney movies made before 1990.

If all you find is "Dumbo," you'll get to the part with the racist crows. If you get to the part with the racist crows, you'll be so disgusted you'll turn off the TV and ask your daughter to go pick out a book.

And if you ask her to go pick out a book, she's going to hand you "Little House on the Prairie."


Don't Fuck With This Ginger!

Some celebrities just capture the imagination for whatever reason, and Ed Sheeran is one of them. This little ginger snap hails from the UK and has a big hit song called "Don't" (Fuck With My Love), which has been playing (in a censored version) on Top 40 radio with astonishing frequency lately. He's been "linked" to Taylor Swift and Ellie Goulding and some other 18-24 year old entertainers for the 9-14 year old tween demographic.

Now, I'm the last person to pick on gingers, since I married one and my kids are half-ginger. But as everyone knows, the ginger look works a little better on sexy red-headed women. The idea that this sweet baby orangutan got his heart squished and then wrote a song that includes the lyrics: "I never even saw him as a threat/until you disappeared with him to have sex, of course" just makes me crack up every time.

I don't really know what it is that I find so funny about this. The idea that this kid is cursing out a warning on acoustic guitar against "fucking with his love" in a very erudite British accent? Maybe. Maybe it's also the fairly obvious point that his love got fucked with most profoundly when his girlfriend "disappeared to have sex" with some other dude, presumably not another adorbs ginger? I'm not really sure.

All I know is that Ed Sheeran's song "Don't" is stuck in my head and I secretly want to take him home so Paige and I can play beauty salon and put a bunch of different hair products in his crazy fire coif. In the meantime, if you know what's good for you, you'll avoid Top 40 radio at all costs for awhile. Because make no mistake: this ginger and his earworm of a song will fuck with your head.


Thursday, October 30, 2014

McFlush

It's notoriously difficult to find a public restroom in New York City, at least it was when I was a young lass. Accordingly, the biggest favor you could do for your bladder and your bowels was to strategically map out all the McDonalds locations in the City. Keep in mind that this was before the era of Starbucks, and when I was too young not to raise eyebrows trying to poach a leak at The Waldorf Astoria in my Beastie Boys ringer tee, Puma sneakers, and wallet-on-a-chain. McDonalds was the best--and only--reliable place to relieve yourself (if you didn't mind stepping over a few junkies and some stray used needles, that is). 

Consequently, I'm totally disgusted by McDonalds, but not for any of the sanctimonious hippie reasons you'd expect. Like I don't care THAT much that McDonalds is probably the worst corporate citizen on the face of the globe this side of Monsanto and Philip Morris. And I don't REALLY care that their food is basically poison that calcifies in people's arteries and veins like the "edible" plastic that it is. 

What I can't deal with about McDonalds is the permanent association I have with it as a public restroom that happens to sell milkshakes and fries. After a bad Chicken McNugget experience in 1985 (story for another time), the only food that didn't scare me at McDonalds was a vanilla milkshake and fries. And the only time I would ever buy a vanilla milkshake and fries is if I happened to need to take a piss or a shit on 86th and Broadway. 

So it's not really as difficult as you might think for me to avoid McDonalds. Except when I get a hankering for a six piece McNuggets and an 8-ball of intravenous heroin. Then you can find me at the drive through.



Emergency!

The word "emergency" is used far, FAR too often and much too lightly in our culture nowadays. Everyone from my 4 and 7-year old children to accomplished professionals regularly invoke the word "emergency" to describe situations which, by all reasonable accounts, are blatantly not emergencies. Please allow me to offer a quick and handy reference guide on what generally constitutes an "emergency" and what doesn't:

A. EMERGENCY!

1. 747 with two engines down at 30,000 feet.


2. Burning building with a family of seven trapped on the third floor.

3. Surfer covered in stings inflicted by Australian Box Jellies.

4. Broken caribiner on top of El Capitan.

5. Lost at sea in the middle of the South Pacific with no food, water, or beacon.

6. Hemorrhaging from ears, eyeballs, or other facial orifices.

7. Out of coffee and/or alcohol.


B. NOT AN EMERGENCY.

1. Missing toy alligator (versus missing actual, live alligator).

2. Anything involving politics or a political consulting firm.

3. Bad hair day.

4. Broken nails.

5. Can't find a pen.

6. Toys 'R Us and Wal-Mart sold out of the new X-Box a week before Christmas.

7. Anything ending with the acronym "FML."




Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Party Pooper

The happiest I've ever seen my daughter was when her little brother took a shit on the playroom floor during a dinner party at our house a couple of years ago. Well, I suppose to call it a shit (singular) is not exactly accurate. Technically, it was multiple little pieces of shit sprinkled like deer scat across the carpet. Paige came bounding up the stairs two at a time, cheeks flushed, eyes aglow, beaming, and all-around barely able to contain herself. "MOM!" she squealed with glee, as if poised to report her nomination for the Nobel Prize in theoretical quantum physics: "Isaac. Just. Pooped. On. The. FLOOOOOOOR!" She clapped her hands and jumped up and down a few times. 

I hadn't seen her this excited since I suggested that I might--MIGHT--let her bring her American Girl Doll to that total Ponzi-scheme racket of an American Girl Doll "salon" and/or buy her a matching dress and/or possibly a retainer for her doll's "teeth." (Side rant: only in America do plastic dolls have access to expensive orthodontia). She was even happier than the time she got to eat shave ice in Alaska (see photo, inset). 

Anyhoo, I hurried downstairs and sure enough, there stood Isaac, wide-eyed at the end of a long trail of turds. A whiff of shit found its way to my nostrils, and like Marcel Proust in the famous "episode of the Madeleine" (See, Proust, Marcel, Remembrances of Things Past, 1913-1927, a novel in seven volumes), I was instantly transported down memory lane to all the parties I've resented in my life. I hadn't wanted a birthday party since age seven, but was sometimes forced to have them anyway. I didn't want a wedding, so I didn't have one. And my worst nightmare of all: the office party where you're required to dress up and/or bring things and/or sign cards and/or make things instead of just being left alone to work in peace. 

I snapped to attention just in time to grab a wet rag and a plastic shovel before Isaac began collecting feces with his bare hands in an attempt to rectify his obvious party foul. Yeah I'll admit it, I'm kind of a party pooper. But Isaac took party pooping to a whole other level that night.




Eddie and Me

I think all of us like to play the "what if" game with ourselves from time to time: What if I'd taken a job in another city? Maybe I should have studied abroad my junior year in college. Should we have bought our house when the stock market was a little less shitty? 

Well, I'm no different. I like to play the "what if" game too. Especially when procrastinating and clicking back and forth between People.Com and The Onion. However, I'd hazard a guess that my "what-ifs" tend to be a little less realistic than most. I like to dream big and ask myself the same "what if" question every few months: what if I'd realized my true destiny and married Eddie Vedder like I was supposed to? 

Oh, I've never met Eddie Vedder or so much as seen him from the nosebleed seats of a 56,000 person football stadium. But I'm convinced that if I had, everything in my life would be completely different (read: perfect). Come to think of it, I actually feel worse for Eddie than I do for myself. Granted, he's a multi-zillionaire rock star and social activist who's got two young daughters with a gorgeous super model (I checked and she's only one month younger than me. See?!), but I think we really missed our calling as a power couple. I should know: I've studied his Wikipedia page closely, which quotes his conflicted relationship with fame: "Vedder's issue with fame came from what he stated as 'what happens when a lot of these people start thinking you can change their lives or save their lives or whatever and create these impossible fuckin' expectations that in the end just start tearing you apart.'" 

Oh Eddie. I would never do that to you. I would never create any impossible fuckin' expectations of you! (Well, at least not beyond the expectation that your hair stayed totally hot and awesome forever, especially right when you got out of the water after a long day of surfing. That's not too much to ask . . . is it?) And I'd never tear you apart. At least not psychologically. I'd be your special muse and you would write a Grammy (tm) award-winning album all about how I helped you feel better about being rich and famous. It would be like a latter-day "Layla" or "Blonde on Blonde." I'd go to all your pro-choice and animal rights rallies and boycotts of Ticket Master. You'd do a long interview with Rolling Stone taking on the haters who claimed you were punching beneath your weight by devoting your life to a less-than-supermodel with a muffin top and crow's feet at 37. All your rock star friends and Pearl Jam wives would insist on my company to entertain them backstage with my rapier wit and joie de vivre. You'd croon our bazillion adorable perfect babies to sleep every night with that tiny ukelele . . . 

Wait .... what? Oh SHIT! I have a conference call now.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Dumbest Fight Yet

This afternoon I had what was quite possibly THE dumbest fight I've had yet in my brief history of parenting, and that's saying a lot. 

I picked Isaac up from school early to take him to his 4-year check-up. When we got to the doctor's office, he brought some books over for me to read while we were waiting. One of them was a cartoon picture book about trolls that for some inexplicable reason, turned out to be written 100% in Norwegian. I tried to explain to Isaac that I could neither speak nor read a single word of Norwegian, and that he wouldn't understand it if I tried. Undeterred, he demanded that I read the book anyway. I resisted, but he was most insistent and became rather irate. 

So I proceeded to read this troll book out loud in "Norwegian" to Isaac and a room full of skeptical looking parents and children. What came out of my mouth sounded like a drunk Miss Piggy practicing for an upcoming trip to Scandanavia with The Swedish Chef. For that reason, Isaac quickly became disenchanted with the Norwegian troll book, and chose another book instead. He handed it to me and in an exasperated voice, sighed: "Is THIS one in English?" 

Fighting with your kid about refusing/being unable to speak or read Norwegian. It's text book...right?



Spoil Sport

I played sports in high school and college and they were a big part of my life, but I have zero interest in playing team sports as an adult. Plenty of people I know and love play organized intramural sports like soccer, hockey, and softball. But that shit is is not for me, and here are the top three reasons why:

1. I'm "over-committed": most of the games and practices for adult league sports are on evenings and weekends when I have a standing appointment with my pajamas, the Apple TV remote, and a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios.

2. I'm old: I've already had two different orthopedic injuries this year alone, and I'm running out of insurance coverage and patience. Although I must say, having a physical therapist focus exclusively on your injury for an hour is the best thing ever. It almost makes me want to give myself whiplash just so I can get more PT.

3. Adults behaving badly: I should actually have put this as the number one reason I refuse to play adult organized sports, because it is. No matter how many times I hear: "it's not competitive!" or "it's just for fun!" or "this team isn't like that!" I'll never believe that shit for one second. That's because for many people (granted not all, but most) it's not just for fun, and it's totally competitive. All it takes is one person to create a vibe that's all about proving you're NOT old and lazy (see numbers 1 and 2 above) or at least not AS old and lazy as everyone else. Nope. I encounter enough hostile adults behaving like children in my day-to-day life that I'm disinclined to pursue that dynamic in my free time. I'm perfectly content to park my old, lazy ass on the bleachers and just watch everyone else scowl and push each other around instead. Also, Isaac's aunt and uncle sent him this awesome toy for his birthday that I plan to use for the exact same purpose in the comfort of my own home.


It's No Cake Walk

I've often heard the expression "it's a cake walk" to describe especially easy tasks. Having never experienced an actual cake walk until last week at my daughter's school (see prior post titled: "That Bitch Elsa from 'Frozen' Can Kiss My Ass"), I had no idea how inapt this expression really was. Its accuracy is on the order of "sleeping like a baby," an idiom used to describe sound sleep that was obviously coined by a person who never had to shove their titties into a baby's mouth at three in the morning. I mean, I understand the origins of the "cake walk" idiom: everyone walks around in a circle until the music stops. Everyone gets a cupcake and there are no losers, only winners. Except there are losers. The losers are the extremely cranky adults who try to maintain order among 100 elementary school kids clamoring and clawing for cupcakes as if it's the first time any of them have been fed in over a month. As usual, a seemingly minor silent observation led to a major mental detour, and I was reminded of the many other expressions that fail to withstand close scrutiny. Not idioms so much, but more just "words of warning" that someone is poised to do the exact opposite of what they claim to be doing. For example:

1. Anytime someone says, "here's a piece of friendly advice . . . " you know you're about to receive some decidedly unfriendly advice.


2. If a person claims, "you know I never complain, but . . . " you can be sure this is a person who complains all the fucking time to literally anyone who will listen.


3. If news is being delivered "with all due respect," rest assured that absolutely zero respect is due to be forthcoming.


4. When a know-it-all's lengthy monologue ends with the rhetorical question, "but what do I know?" the real answer is, "apparently everything!"


5. When you're offered someone's "humble" opinion, you can count on the fact that their opinion is anything but.


6. And the ultimate: when someone says, "no offense, but . . ." you are guaranteed to be deeply offended, even before the rest of the sentence is uttered.

And that's my humble opinion about idioms and expressions. But then again . . . what do I know?

Monday, October 27, 2014

Art History

I have a secret confession, which by virtue of being confessed on a blog is no longer a secret: I secretly (now openly) hate and resent 99.9% of the "art" my kids make and bring home from school. The first time Paige put paint to paper, I framed her painting in a triptych and admired it like it was a long-lost Renoir I'd just won in an auction at Sotheby's. Little did I know that both my kids would bring home enough "art" to start a bonfire with, and that I would want to do exactly that. I began to wonder if their school was actually just a front for a paper mill staffed by child labor, and I felt like a bad parent for not treasuring all their non-masterpieces. Occasionally one of them will make something really cool, legitimately special, and worthy of preservation. 

But most of the time, that shit is not good, and they know it. They know it and you know it, and the emperor's clothes need to come off. Everyone knows that most of this "art"--which multiplies like the brooms in Walt Disney's "Fantasia"--can and should be destroyed as quickly as it was created. Yet my kids and I do this ridiculous dance where I fawn over all the shitty art they made in two seconds and are now trying to pass off as "special," and they have to pretend they'll be scarred for life and grow up to be serial killers if I don't express the requisite degree of awe. 

Hey look, I'm not trying to squelch their creative spirit. But I'm also a realist and there's only so much room in my life for gigantic sheets of paper with six smears of green and brown paint on them. My house is enough of a shit hole as it is. (See prior post titled: "My House is a Shit Hole"). I still love the good stuff and want to save it and hang it up. But as for the rest of it, well...it's time to make art history.

No Exposed Anus

That's the dress code at our family meals. I long ago abandoned the Leave-it-to-Beaver dream where everyone sits nicely around the table passing the gravy, reliving the highlights of their day, and sharing what they're thankful for in life. No, dinner at our house is a more casual affair. 

It starts with me doing nothing, because I haven't cooked in years. That's Geoff's department, and he does a great job. But I can't say the two youngest members of our family are sufficiently respectful or appreciative. They're usually only partly-clothed, though as noted above I've implemented a strict "no exposed anus" policy. I figure all other clothing is just a bunch of pomp and circumstance, so I choose instead to rely on CDC best-practices/the number one rule for dating people at work: don't shit where you eat. 

The center piece of our table is a beautiful, eco-friendly floral arrangement from the local Whole Foods. Just kidding, we don't have Whole Foods in Juneau. But we do have markers, paper, cardboard, and glue sticks, all of which are unceremoniously pushed into the middle of the table to make enough room to eat there. Oh, we don't "set" the table, per se. We more just haphazardly grab plates, cups, and silverware from wherever we can find them with no guarantee of their cleanliness, and begin to serve ourselves dinner off its perch atop the kitchen island. 

At this point, we all take our plates and "sit down to dinner." "Sitting down to dinner" means that everyone jumps up and down in a ten-minute game of whack-a-mole until the exact perfect arrangement of food is present on each child's plate. My kids watch closely for my ass to hit a chair so as to perfectly time their next demand: Oops we forgot the ketchup. Now we need water. Now time to re-heat noodles. I need salt. Where's the Parmesan cheese? Get it yourself. You're not a baby anymore. That's disgusting. Sit down. And so on. 

Each child then takes approximately 45 seconds to inhale one-third of their carefully-orchestrated a-la-carte meal. The rest goes into the garbage disposal or the compost bucket (just kidding, we gave up on that too), and/or the outside of their bodies. I then permit Geoff ten minutes of peace to stare vacantly into space while he finishes eating, and I take my plate to the sink where I pick at whatever's left while simultaneously washing dishes. I doubt this sort of multi-tasking is CDC best-practices, but it hasn't failed me yet. 

Then it's a race against time to get the kids in the bath before they mash their disgusting hands and bodies all over the house. Because as the CDC will tell you: any good meal starts and ends with a clean anus.

Scary

"Take your daughter to work day" was a bit unorthodox for me. My mom is a psychiatrist and when I was young she ran an outpatient clinic for low-income, severely mentally ill residents of northern Manhattan. She was one of very few working moms at my school, and on school holidays I'd sometimes go to work with her. I'd cower behind her legs with my head half-way up her skirt while she chatted with people suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, mania, bipolar disorder, and other serious mental illnesses. She told me not to be afraid of these people, but I was. They looked and acted weird, and they were scary. My mom had a lot of childhood trauma and suffered from depression and anxiety herself, which scared me too. She was sick for a long time, but she always soldiered through every day and did what she could to feel better. Years later, she wrote a memoir that described her depression and the new perspective it gave her as a physician. 

Corporate medicine; prescription drug abuse; vilification of the mentally ill (and mental health workers); and the overall stigma of mental illness obscures its gravity. Like high blood pressure or cancer, mental illness has both strong hereditary and environmental components. People all over the world suffer from it. As with most physical ailments, there are various therapies--including prescription drugs--that make people feel better and function the way they need to. Indeed, there are lots of very high-functioning people who wouldn't be that way without treatment. 

These diseases are the real deal. You are physically debilitated. You can't get out of bed. You can't work. You can't eat. You can't sleep, or you can't wake up. You can't quiet your mind. You can't stop crying. You can't stop thinking. You can't talk to anyone. No one understands. You're told to snap out of it. To be reasonable. People fear you and make fun of you, even your close friends and family. They pity or discount you. No one gives you a ribbon or raises money for you or joins a walk for you. You are alone. You want to die, and some people do. Now that's scary.

Growing Pains

I spent the summer of 2003 working in Bethel, Alaska. Bethel is a rural city and close-knit community in the south-western part of the state. I house-sat for a family I'd found through the local newspaper and made a few friends. One afternoon, someone invited me to a barbeque and told me to grab some lettuce from the family's garden on my way over. The garden was in a hollowed-out skiff, and many unrecognizable-to-me green things were blooming in there. I suddenly discovered I had no idea what lettuce looked like growing in a garden, so I just made my best guess and grabbed a handful of random leaves. While walking to my friend's place, I saw a guy coming the other way wearing heavy ear protection, ostensibly for construction or boat work. My first thought was, "what the hell is a hip-hop DJ doing in Bethel?" Between failing to recognize lettuce in the wild and thinking I'd just scoped Swizz Beatz tromping across the Alaskan tundra, it began to dawn on me that I was seriously out of my element. 

By the end of the summer, I knew I wanted to return to Alaska and wrote my mom a long letter on the flight home explaining why. I don't recall every detail of the letter, but a running theme was learning new things and doing new things, both of which I've had to do plenty of since moving here. I'm still really bad at gardening though. Nowadays, everyone has a garden. Because if you don't have a garden, you're totally lame, even (or perhaps especially), in Brooklyn. Also, you're eating your salad with pesticide dressing and will perish in the Zombie Apocalypse for lack of self-sufficiency. And if you don't have egg-laying chickens, well, as Cee-Lo Green would say, FORGET you. Just climb into a time-machine and return to 2004 where you belong--and take your filthy, non-cage-free, store-bought eggs with you. Understand that my family had plants growing up, but they were all cacti because everything else was too much work and died. 

Today we have two plants in our house, one of which is a cactus, and both of which are well on their way to The Great Garden in the Sky. When people visit us, they cluck their tongues disapprovingly and insist on watering our two dying plants. Last summer was our first attempt at a garden. My family--which included two children under age 7--tended to the garden with diligence, enthusiasm, and apparent competence. I, on the other hand, surveyed the scene from the porch, fearful and intimidated and sheepishly eating a bowl of Cinnamon Rice Chex. I think kale and potatoes came out of our garden eventually, and maybe some chard, whatever that is. I'm not sure, and I don't really want to find out.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Class Tool

Starting from at least fourth grade, there's a person in every class who's universally reviled and justifiably given the side-eye. I'm not talking about someone who's teased and bullied for no good reason. I'm talking about The Class Tool. You know, the person who's chatting up the teacher before, during, and after class: contradicting, second-guessing, and/or obsequiously agreeing with everything he or she says. The person who is so annoying, that even the teacher obviously cannot deal. A friend of mine recently took an EMT re-certification class for his job. He described to me how even in a three-day, professional, adult education class, there was STILL that person who was being a total know-it-all, ass-kissing, teacher's pet--complete with bullshitting that cut into everyone's 30-minute lunch break. 

It goes to show that The Class Tool never stops tooling around. The guy who was always asking the teacher to re-count the points on his test. The girl who was constantly angling for extra credit. These people exist outside an official academic environment, long after school lets out. Even when they're not being graded, The Class Tool still somehow needs to show everyone that they're all straight-A's. I guess that's what's interesting about The Class Tool: that it's not really about the goal. Like it's not about the good grade, re-certification, whatever. It's about making sure everyone around you knows you exist, even if you're oblivious to how annoying your existence is to everyone around you. This is what I call "The Paradox of The Class Tool." 

There's another memorable class character as well, but this one is usually short-lived, emerging only between kindergarten and sixth grade. It's "The Kid Who Threw Up." Think about it. You totally remember the kid who threw up on the floor in class that one time. 

Good Luck!

I once sat through a court proceeding in which a mother's parental rights were being terminated. She was abused and neglected herself as a child, and now she'd done the same to her own kids. When she stood up to address the court, I could see she was many months pregnant. My heart broke a little, because I knew this baby had almost no chance at a happy and stable childhood. 

This triggered a series of thoughts I've had for a long time about the nature of luck: How luck is one of the most significant forces in life and how no one likes to talk about it. I wish I could believe that everything was part of a divine plan. I can see how that would be comforting, and how it would mitigate the sense of the arbitrary and the unfair. Unfortunately, I don't really believe in plans, although I wish I did. The very first thing that happens to you--your birth--is a matter of luck (even if it's part of a divine plan) that sets your life on a largely pre-determined trajectory. We all have some degree of autonomy and we all make choices. 

But some of us have more choices than others. Some people are European boys born to wealthy families and some are Afghani girls born in a war zone. And even after birth--the event that arguably sets your life's course--there are countless opportunities for good and bad luck that can alter it. Will you be in the "wrong place at the wrong time?" Do you have an unknown congenital illness? Will you cheat death by deciding to skip work on 9/11? Less catastrophically, will you fail to achieve a benefit you might genuinely deserve? One of the scariest thoughts is the idea that life isn't a meritocracy. That it might not be a divinely orchestrated event, or subject to alteration through sound decision-making, piety, just deserts, or magical thinking. That you are simply vulnerable to luck: good or bad. 

Because I'm unable to discount the impact of luck, I harbor many fears. But I also feel liberated by not trying too hard to control the many things I know I never can. 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Deep Cuts

The local public radio station had a record sale today, and through what can only be chalked up to an act of divine intervention, these deep cuts found their way into our house. 

This was the find of a lifetime. Babs and Kris Kristofferson; and Babs and Barry Gibbs of the Bee Gees looking 100% amazeballs. I would have given ANYTHING to be a production assistant on the photo shoots for the "Guilty" and "A Star is Born" album covers. Kris Kristofferson and his lustrous locks look like a waxed, bodice-ripper version of Pa from Little House on the Prairie, and Babs has that fresh-from-the-salon-1978-perm look dialed in solid. That's some chemisty. These two and their hair sizzle right off the front of this record. And on the second one, Babs' mullet-fro; Barry's blowout and gold watch; and their matching white jump suits make them look like the founding members of a South Florida sex cult. 

I cannot WAIT to drop the needle on these tracks, kick back, and just let Babs totally bring it. In addition to usually having some good Beatles albums, the radio station's annual record sale is the best place in the world to pick up a giant wedge of musical cheese. Totally psyched to slice into this one!


Bush League

Recently the actress and all-around annoying trend-setter Gwenyth Paltrow announced that the "natural look" was back in style for ladies' nether parts. Needless to say, this was good news for yours truly. (See prior post titled: "Hair Apparent"). Per Gwenyth, gone are the days of the $80 Brazillian, the landing strip, and worst of all--the "vajazzle," which somehow involves putting rhinestones on your vajayjay. 

Now, before I go any further, let me address the skeptics who would question the propriety of this as a blog topic. To them I would say this: Men talk about their junk non-stop and no one bats an eye, right? It's time to subvert the dominant paradigm, bring the bush out from the underground, and stop pretending it doesn't exist. So consider this post a small, sacrificial step toward social progress. 

Anyway, a parent-friend recently brought to my attention the awkward issue of parental nudity in front of kids. Everyone has a different philosophy on this. When I was little, a psychoanalyst my mom knew told her I'd be traumatized for life if I ever saw my father naked, so thankfully I never did. However, I'd be lying if I said I took the same psychological precautions with Isaac and Paige. 

The fascination these kids have with the female anatomy is pretty fascinating in and of itself, and all I can say is they're lucky they got me for a mom. About this time last year, a different costume arrived in the mail for Paige: Princess Leia from "Star Wars." It came with a brown hairnet that I immediately dropped in the bathroom wastebasket, only for then three-year old Isaac to point at it and announce loudly: "THAT'S A LOT OF HAIR FROM MOM'S VAGINA!" This prompted Paige to ask with vaguely horrified curiosity: "Mom, when I grow up am I gonna have a beard on my vagina?" Fortunately, Paige doesn't seem to have inherited her mother's coloring or hirsute genes. So I assured her that while she would most certainly get hair down there at some point, if she was lucky it wouldn't blend from head to toe with the hair on her legs and armpits to make what could easily be mistaken for a gorilla costume. 

And if by some chance it did, at least that would keep her off the stripper pole. Because at a certain point, the money a hairy stripper has to spend on personal grooming brings diminishing financial returns. More good news, and something else to be thankful for!

Friday, October 24, 2014

That Bitch Elsa From "Frozen" Can Kiss My Ass

Prior to the fall of 2013, I had good associations with the name Elsa. I had a kindly British gardener great-aunt named Elsa. One of my very best childhood friends who lived on Cape Cod was named Elsa. But then that bitch Elsa from Disney's "Frozen" came along, and the name Elsa was suddenly defiled. Especially because almost a year later, Paige is still insisting on dressing up as Elsa from "Frozen" for Halloween. 

What did this entail? Well, let me tell you. It entailed spending money that would've been better spent on virtually anything ordering an Elsa dress from Amazon. Once that was a fait accompli, Amazon kindly suggested the purchase of an Elsa wig closely resembling an albino beaver who's just been shot in the ass by a hair comb. If you think that was the end though, you'd be sorely mistaken. Of course, the dress is a total piece of unadulterated shit which promptly dropped three inches of light blue glitter all over our dark brown couch. When Paige put the albino beaver on her head, she discovered it was way too small and that the hair comb was falling off the beaver's ass. She pitched an enormous fit, the end result of which was me frantically tearing apart a trunk of dress-up clothes to unearth a spare tiara. Her spaz-out was somewhat ironic, too, because just a few months ago she'd claimed that "Frozen" was "starting to lose its grip." 

But ... Yay. We were finally ready to go to the Halloween dress-up carnival fundraiser at her school. The moment we arrived, I lost her amid a sea of Elsas. The place was rolling like sixty Elsas deep, and the first thing Paige wanted to do was get her face painted like Elsa and compare Elsa costumes with all the other Elsas. At that point, I knew I'd suffered a serious lapse in judgment by not drinking heavily ahead of time. And I immediately knew what I had to do: start an adult version of Halloween, where all parents of 5-7 year old girls corral them in a school gymnasium to jump in a bouncy house, compare Elsa costumes, and screech "Let it Go" while the adults go trick-or-treating at each other's homes for whiskey and beer...






Lips, Hooves, and Assholes

This is the working title of my book on the history of the hot dog. It's going to be part memoir, part historical fiction, and part popular science. Think of it as kind of a mix between "Guns, Germs, and Steel," "Salt," and "The Omnivore's Dilemma." 

It will contain running themes of denial and self-delusion (see prior post titled: "If You Care"), both of which are necessary prerequisites to enjoying a hot dog, at least for me. It will include a chapter on why, in addition to ketchup and cheese, hot dogs are one of the only three dinner foods my son will eat. 

It will analyze how and why the hot dog became ubiquitously dispensed for free (or almost free) at every community event from marine festivals to anti-domestic violence and sexual assault rallies. (Yes, really. Somehow the irony/impropriety of featuring scary, phallic meat sticks at this latter event escaped its organizers). 

The book will survey hot dogs across the country, from the "dirty water dog" of New York City's Central Park to the famous foot-long of our nation's baseball stadiums. Because no one should have to sing our national anthem with anything less than twelve inches of processed, salty, composite meat in their left hand. It's simply un-American! It will explore how and why a hot dog is less disgusting when grilled or roasted over a fire as opposed to boiled, but only just barely. 

It will discuss the fact that America's love affair with the hot dog is so torrid that we had to invent a spongy vegetarian version made from tofu, nitrates, and a dash of "je ne sais quoi," as the French would say. You know--just so anyone who might be a tad put off by the lips, hooves, and assholes aspect of hot dogs wouldn't feel deprived. 

And it will survey the socioeconomics of the hot dog, noting that upscale weddings always have hot dogs too, just bite-sized and delivered to you on a silver platter by a woman dressed in an androgynous catering uniform (lest she outshine the bride or her hot-dog eating guests). 

Yes, my study of the hot dog will be thorough and fascinating. I plan to do a book tour complete with readings and signings. Light snacks and beverages will be served, and I don't need to tell you what's on the menu.

If You Care

Denial and self-delusion are powerful tools, and they work like nobody's business when you're pretending to save the planet. My carbon footprint is probably bigger than Sasquatch's, but convincing myself otherwise has never been easier, and boy am I grateful for that. I just know that when I chuck my eight zillionth half-rinsed can of Diet Pepsi into the recycling, a new tree sprouts in the Amazon. And I'm sure that when I buy the supermarket brand of organic milk (instead of the kind with hormones), a cow gets three more square inches of room in its pen and Paige will start puberty at 9 instead of 8. Yes, all this makes me feel much better about the fact that my grandchildren will be trading oxygen futures on a dystopian commodities market and downtown Miami will be a hot new scuba destination for wreck divers. 

But there's one line of green products that's calling bullshit on all of it: the brand "If You Care" (pictured below), which makes kitchen and household goods. You gotta give props to a company with the balls to tell its consumers to fuck off by its name alone. They might as well call themselves "If You Don't Buy This You're an Epic Asshole." Turns out playing hard to get is a great marketing strategy, both in love AND in retail. 

Nothing, though, lays down the guilt trip quite like the Heifer International catalog (also pictured below). Heifer International is the self-proclaimed "most important gift catalog in the world," and its contents play to First World denial and self-delusion at near perfect pitch. Just in time for the holidays, Heifer International encourages you to order seeds, trees, and livestock for impoverished families throughout the developing world. You can also make a grandiose gesture by paying $5,000 for something called the "ark" package: among other things, the "ark" includes two schools of fish, three goats, four cows, six pigs, and a few saplings that are allegedly distributed to communities in a variety of countries. 

I say allegedly, because of course you have no idea if what you're buying actually exists, much less goes where it's supposed to. Enter denial and self-delusion. Just look at that glossy photograph of a smiling young boy in Burkina Faso hugging a goat in front of his family's grass hut. That could be you! YOU could be the one to give this kid another goat and then you will feel SO much better about having just bought yourself the iPhone 6 and a new Patagonia puffy vest. Just pretend like you're sending a deconstructed Omaha Steaks or Harry and David gift basket. It's very farm-to-table, when you think about it. 

So while you're online crossing off items on your master list of consumerist holiday crap, just click on over to Heifer International and drop a pig or a goat in your online shopping cart. Won't it make you feel SO much better about yourself? You know it will. IF you care, that is. Come on. It's the least you can do. Literally.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Yo-Yo and a Flashlight

Both Paige and Isaac were born in Alaska, which means I don't know what it's like to raise kids anywhere else. I know my childhood in New York City was very different; and I know my parent-friends "outside" have different challenges than we do. But I don't get a genuine glimpse of what those differences are unless and until my kids spontaneously reveal them to me. 

Once while visiting New York, Isaac pointed to a pigeon and said, "Look mom, a ptarmigan!" Last August we were in Philadelphia for a wedding, and Paige was floored by the summer-time darkness, fireflies, and ants (which she mistook for a kind of spider). I've noticed that my kids and their friends eat seafood and love it. These kids have seen a pod of orcas navigate the channel in front of their school. They play in snow so deep they can't escape without help, and many of them learn to skate and ski as soon as they can walk. They go barefoot in 50 degrees and insist on swimming at 57. They're used to hiking and biking long distances. They're accustomed to airports and long flights. They learn about Alaska Native culture and history in the classroom, or from their ancestors who have lived it. This is the only life they know. 

I went to a private school, which was a big expense for my parents. But they stretched because they wanted me to have the sort of education that was harder to come by in New York City public schools at the time. Many of my peers in private school came from families with enormous amounts of money and possessions. I coveted these things. I asked my parents why we didn't have "a country house," as if that was normal. I wanted to leave for spring break and come back with a tan. I was grateful for my education, but I hated the way it made me feel: inadequate, inferior, and ashamed ... for nothing. No, actually, for worse than nothing. Back then, I was immature and felt sorry for myself. Years later and upon reflection, it was hard to forgive myself for those feelings. So I just felt ashamed in a new way. It made me want to run away from a culture of stuff forever, and I might have succeeded at that. The overall lack of materialism in Alaska is to me the most noticeable difference about living here. 

This year, Isaac asked for a yo-yo and a flashlight for his birthday. Sure, my kids have too many toys thanks to their generous and overzealous grandparents; they love presents; and they'll beg for something when it's right in front of their face. But they don't actively covet things, and neither do I. Not anymore, and not for a long time. Maybe they're too young to care and it won't last. Or maybe this isn't something unique to Alaska kids. After all, I also don't know any other life as a parent. All I know is that when Isaac asked for a yo-yo and a flashlight for his birthday, I felt pretty happy. Not happy for myself in a smug and superior "Oh, I'm so proud of myself and my non-materialistic children" way. Just happy for them. That they might never feel trapped and burdened by the empty pursuit of material things.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Bored

Of all the common childhood refrains, "I'm bored" might be the most annoying. Paige requires constant entertainment and engagement. Otherwise, her idle little hands will do the devil's work, and God help us all if she gets industrious. As a kindly heads-up before embarking on her diabolical doings, however, Paige likes to whine "I'm BOWED!" (Which at almost 7 is still how she pronounces "bored"). Her alleged boredom bothers me for one main reason. It's not so much her lack of ingenuity in figuring out how to amuse herself, because that's probably legitimately hard for someone her age to do. And it's not the hypocrisy in knowing that I also told my own parents I was bored pretty much 24/7. Nor is it my frustration in being unable to alleviate her boredom beyond throwing money at the problem (see prior posted titled "I Suck Ass at Crafts"). Rather, it's the fact that she has no idea what it really means to be bored. 

I want to kneel down, take her chin in my hand, look her straight in her twinkly blue eyes, and tell her what boredom really is: Boredom is an hour getting coughed on in a doctor's waiting room. Boredom is being on hold with Aetna while you try to appeal an explanation of benefits. Boredom is rifling through a year's worth of tax receipts every April. Boredom is listening to an all-text power point presentation from the back of a 500-person auditorium after lunch with no coffee. Boredom is balancing a checkbook. Boredom is folding and putting away three baskets of laundry every five days. Boredom is filling out permission slips, passport renewals, and the miscellaneous forms of adulthood that seem to rain down daily with the force of a Vietnamese monsoon. Boredom is standing in line at the DMV. Boredom is a mandatory training of almost any kind. Boredom is going through two weeks of mail. Boredom is sitting on the telephone while someone talks at you incessantly about things you don't care about. 

So just be glad that two adults exist to serve and meet your every need, and be happy that the only paper you touch is festooned with crayons and glue. Now go play outside!

Salted Caramel

Right around the time "spaghetti" became "pasta," I began to notice that food in this country goes in and out of style the way clothing and eyeglasses do. Salsa was all the rage in the 80's, along with margarine and microwaved vegetables. The 90's brought us Snapple, wraps, hummus, and bread bowls. In the early 2000's, it was acai berries and pomegranate juice. And I don't really remember what happened between 2010 and now, since I spent those years eating frozen yogurt for dinner practically every night. Now that the Great Kale and Quinoa Craze of 2010-2014 has died down a bit, leaving only coconut water in its wake, the time is nigh for a new food trend: salted caramel. 

Suddenly, everywhere I look there's salted caramel. Salted caramel cake. Salted caramel cookies. Salted caramel ice cream. Pan-seared snapper in a salted caramel beurre-blanc reduction. Micro-greens tossed in a salted caramel vinaigrette. Straight up salted caramels. It makes me feel like fucking Forrest Gump reciting all the different ways there's salted caramel in everything now. 

And sometimes it's not even good enough to have regular salt. It has to be sea salt, from the sea (as opposed to a mine, presumably)? Or even CELTIC sea salt (retailing for $7.99). In pink! I mean, I totally get that you can grind salt into bigger and smaller pieces and that it comes in a few different colors. But at the risk of revealing my profound ignorance, at end of the day, isn't it basically just salt? Don't get me wrong: salted caramel has a great "flavor profile" (which until Padma Lakshmi came along, was also known as "taste"). 

However, I'd like to know what happened to good old fashioned braised pork belly sous-vide in a JalapeƱo Crunch Cheetos-mole sauce with celery foam and Meyer lemon coulis paired with a nice Malbec? You know, like mom used to make. Can't a woman get a decent home-cooked meal around here anymore? Sheesh.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Oh Boy

I started this blog not knowing what it would be and I still don't really know what it is. I know I want it to be a place people can go to laugh, think, and read things that resonate with them. To that end, I asked people to start suggesting topics for posts. Two responses I received were: (1) Raising boys with an awareness of sexism; and (2) A spin on a Huffington Post blog post titled, "ten things your daughter should know before she's ten." This is an amalgam of those two ideas. When I was pregnant with Isaac, the sonogram tech told me he was a girl. For ten weeks, I thought Paige was going to have a sister only to discover toward the end of my pregnancy (in a second sonogram) that my sweet little girl had mysteriously sprouted a twig and berries. "What the hell am I going to do with a BOY?!" I thought to myself, slightly panicked. My mom gave me a book about raising boys, and I confess I haven't even cracked it, although Isaac turns four on Saturday. So I've read nothing about raising boys. No articles, no books, nothing. I'm totally winging it. But having a boy has turned out to be a wonderful gift, because the mother-son relationship is truly special. I know what I want Isaac to know, do, and be. Not necessarily before he's ten, but certainly by adulthood. I'm lucky to know many wonderful men, and I've known some not very wonderful ones as well. More commonly, I've known men who are wonderful, but who didn't always act that way. A quick skim of the interwebs reveals these sorts of lists are common, so I'm certainly not claiming originality in format or even in content, necessarily. With that disclaimer, here's my list for Isaac:

1. Know your power and use it wisely: A friend who works with victims of domestic violence said this to me once: like it or not, men have power in our society. Good men realize and accept that, and they use their power wisely and with discretion. 

2. Be kind to animals. A man who's kind to animals is usually kind to people. Always be kind to animals.

3. "No" means "no" and "yes" should be sober: Along the lines of #1, men should know their sexual power and always get safe, sober consent from a partner (male or female). For everything, every time.

4. Wear a dress/play with dolls: There's no such thing as "boy" and "girl" toys or clothes. These are imaginary social constructs. Feel free to experiment with clothes and toys and don't allow gender constructs to confine your play and style.

5. Strive for diversity in friendship: As a white male, it's easy to lose sight of the privilege you've been afforded by sheer dint of birth. Cultivate friendships with people of different races, religions, and sexual orientations. It will enrich your life deeply.

6. Always be polite to strangers in any interaction: Never talk down to another human being. Ever. You should extend the same level of respect to a homeless person that you would to the President of the United States.

7. Don't let your salary define your masculinity: Don't let a number on your paycheck define your value one way or the other. If you marry a woman, don't worry if she makes more (or less) money than you.

8. Hone some life skills: learn to be competent in key life skills: e.g., swimming, driving, cooking, sewing, laundry, changing a tire, cleaning, fixing things, growing things, managing a budget, etc. Not because you're male, but because you're human, and you should know how to do things for yourself.

9. Befriend strong women: Make female friends with opinions, interests, careers, goals, and talents. Learn from them, respect them, emulate them.

10. Travel: See the world. Find out how people live from Europe to Africa to Asia and beyond. Understand your privilege. Broaden your horizons. Always.

Monday, October 20, 2014

I Suck Ass at Crafts

On rainy days in Juneau (of which there are many) Paige likes to go to JoAnn Fabrics and shake me down for all I'm worth. She heads straight for the back of the store where the $20-$75 craft kits reside: cupcake-shaped soap-making; mix your own lotions and lipstick; design your own shitty plastic jewelry; etc. Desperate for something to occupy her while it's 39 degrees, blowing 50, and raining sideways, I usually acquiesce to one of these craptastic items if she promises to: (a) play with it for more than an hour and (b) not make me help her. Now, this last caveat is essential, because as the title of this post explicitly states, I suck ass at crafts. The box might say "for ages 8 and up" but I assure you: "and up" doesn't apply to me. The box should really say: "for ages 8 and up (except incompetent adults who'd be eaten alive in the zombie apocalypse for failure to offer a single skill relevant to humanity)." 

I'm not suggesting that being able to make cupcake shaped-soap is an Armageddon prerequisite, but sewing probably is. Unlike my daughter, I lacked the benefit of a Montessori preschool education, where the pedagogy tilts steeply toward the end-times with "work cycles" of washing, sewing, polishing, hammering, and pleas to "keep my body safe." In other words, skills you need to rebuild civilization when the shit goes down. Sadly my kids are on their own when the shit goes down, because everything I sew looks like it was mended by Dr. Frankenstein's pet sloth on quaaludes. 

It's against this backdrop that I bought Paige the "Barbie Fashion Show Sewing and Design Kit." For a moment, I considered adopting a can-do attitude, if only to send Paige the message that it's important to face frustration and take on difficult tasks, even (or perhaps especially) when they feel uncomfortable and challenging. Then I reconsidered and opted for honesty: "Mommy can't sew. It's too hard and I'm too lazy and old to learn how. Also I don't feel like trying. So we aren't buying this unless you promise to play with it all by yourself and let me drink my vodka gimlet in peace, OK?" 

I'm paraphrasing here, but basically I warned her that caveat (b) above was  particularly applicable to this purchase. No doubt, Paige is much craftier than me. But the "Barbie Fashion Show Sewing and Design Kit" ended with some fairly intense (and useless) adult supervision, culminating with Ken clad in a leopard-skin G-string and a long tutorial at the home of the sister wife who'd given us the drum kit. (See prior posts titled "Sister Wives" and "Drums, Puppies, and Mayor Koch."). Forcing my sister wife to make Barbie clothes with Paige was sweet revenge for the drum kit.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Douche or Treat

Some direct-mail marketing genius got a list of everyone in the United States with a vagina and mailed them the "Chasing Fireflies" catalog. For anyone who hasn't seen it, this catalog is chock full of overpriced, poorly-made-in-a-sweatshop costumes for children and adults who love dressing like children. 

I should know, because I once capitulated to incessant begging and ordered Paige a mermaid costume from "Chasing Fireflies," which should really be called "Losing Money." My reward/punishment is that I now open my mailbox at least once a week to one of their catalogs. 

The Chasing Fireflies catalog is TV-esque in its ability to entrance you and your kids, but for different reasons. For them, it contains everything they've ever wanted (except puppies and ponies), especially for Halloween and their birthdays. And if they can't have it, they'll be traumatized and in therapy forever. 

For you, it contains pictures of every adult you've ever feared becoming, coupled with the incongruous urge to piss away half a paycheck becoming exactly that. Specifically, I had to hide my own credit card and put the last issue of Chasing Fireflies in the recycling just to keep myself from ordering the costumes pictured below. What decent Stepford wife wouldn't buy $300 worth of matching skeleton costumes for her douchebag husband and two creepy-looking show-biz kids who might or might not be twins? 

I mean, come on. Isn't this what every family does on Halloween?


Transience and Transitions

I've written several times on this blog about friendship. Perhaps it's because I don't have siblings that I've put so much energy into cultivating and maintaining friendships from all the various places, stages, and phases of my life. And I've accepted that my own choice to live in Alaska means having long distance friendships that I wish weren't.

That's why one of the hardest things for me about living in Juneau is transience and transition. I already have many friends that live very far away, so it's that much harder when good friends move from here. More than most places, I think, people come and go from Juneau. It's sometimes difficult to muster the energy to develop close ties and bonds with people when you know or suspect their indefinite departure is on the horizon. Also, it's hard to shake the feeling that these friends' departures are a silent indictment of your own decision to remain somewhere that, for a wide variety of reasons, can be a challenging place to live. It's hard not to take these decisions personally on some level: as both an abandonment and a rejection of your own choices.

But whenever I feel that unwelcome thought bubbling to the surface of my psyche, I try to dismiss it pretty quickly. First of all, people make decisions based on what they need to do in their own lives. It's narcissistic to think otherwise. Second, these friends are valuable and important, even if their choices take your lives on different paths for awhile, or even forever. I find it more rewarding to be vulnerable in friendship and risk transience and transition, than I do to put up walls in the hopes of avoiding the sorrow that inevitably accompanies vulnerability at some point. For it's in those moments of sorrow--when you cry for days because you miss someone--that their true value in your life is revealed.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Tacos to Go

Surely it's clear by now that shame is a running theme in this blog. Well, shame and frank admission that I'm a deeply flawed, neurotic person with abominable habits of every kind. I like to think that distracted driving isn't among these habits. Certainly I don't text and drive. And belting out "All About That Bass" as it blasts from the radio is not distracting, so much as it is validating to what I'm about to describe.

When I identified my main food groups in an earlier post, I inadvertently omitted chicken tacos from the Lemon Creek Breeze-In. I'll often drive 15 minutes out of my way to get an order of these incredibly greasy, obscenely delicious indy fast-food tacos and then devour them on the 15 minute drive back. I have a special technique for balancing the box on my lap while I inhale a taco with my right hand and steer with my left. The whole time, little bits of chicken, cheese, scallions, and spicy, greasy sauce are dropping everywhere (see prior post titled: My Car is a Shit Hole). When I get where I'm going, I do a quick sweep of the car and my jeans and eat any taco-related shrapnel that hasn't drawn dust or hair. As for the rest of the meal's detritus, I sort of pretend I didn't see it and/or make a half-hearted attempt to address it with a crumpled up napkin.

This is what I call a classy lunch, and I have it at least once a week. I've photo-shopped the below picture to make it appear that there are only two tacos per order when there are actually three; but I'm not sure hiding the third taco honors the message of "All About That Bass." I consider the line in that song about "bringing booty back" a subliminal directive from Meghan Trainor to shove that third taco in my face as quickly as possible before booty goes out of style again.

N is for "Nope"

Denizens of Juneau have more than a passing familiarity with Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA/TAC). For the benefit of non-Alaskan readers, that's because you can't leave Alaska from Juneau without spending several days yakking off the side of a ferry onto an iceberg or at least three hours in SEA/TAC courtesy of Alaska Airlines (and Delta in summer). 

Of all the things that happen in SEA/TAC, landing at the N Gates is the worst. The far-flung N gates have the shittiest food (First World Problem #523) and are accessible to the rest of the airport only via an underground train that takes longer to walk to than it does to ride to the main terminal. And for whatever reason, all the stops on this train are announced in Japanese, in which "C Gates" is translated as "C-Gate-ah-duh." Really? I don't speak Japanese, but if that's an accurate translation, I'm not sure the translation is necessary. 

Of course Juneau kids love the train because it's a novelty. Also, what do they care if your arriving flight was late due to a "mecahnical" in Sitka and your connecting flight, which leaves in 15 minutes, is the equivalent of a mile and a half away? All they care about is riding to the "A-Gate-ah-duhs" where the indoor playspace is. God help you when you tell them there's actually not enough time for them to lick seven styrofoam play structures and get explosive diarrhea 24 hours later. 

When you've got more time, however, the N gates aren't so bad. You can enjoy your relaxing half mile walk to a two minute train ride. And when you reach your destination, you can choose from a wide variety of slightly less shitty food and scour the atrium for an empty seat, which doesn't exist, because every four-person table is occupied by a single adult pretending not to see you with two kids and three trays of food balanced on your arms. 

But I don't expect the rest of the traveling public to accommodate my life's choices. After all, no one told me to move to Juneau, have two kids, and spend every red cent I have hauling them all over creation. And no one told me to sleep through Japanese 101 in college either.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Sleepy Times

I once read that the most successful people in western society are early risers who sleep about 5 or 6 hours a night. Surgeons, diplomats, and CEOs of Fortune 500 companies typically start their day at 5:00 a.m. with a brisk workout followed by a sensible, healthy breakfast and a productive schedule culminating in 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep. That's what these overachievers consider a good day. "You can sleep when you're dead!," they exclaim self-righteously. 

Well, I'd rather be dead than awake for even one second longer than I have to be. Night or day, rain or shine: there's literally nothing I'd rather do than lie in the dark on a Tempurpedic mattress in my -30 Arctic sleeping bag and plunge into the black void of unconsciousness. A good day for Warren Buffet is probably trading a zillion dollars in stock options while simultaneously walking on the elliptical at 6:15 a.m. A good day for me is when my tits don't see the inside of a bra. And a great day is when I don't leave my bedroom at all except to get a pint of ice cream from the freezer and eat it in bed while surfing the interwebs between naps. 

Sometimes I feel a nagging worry that this makes me lazy, that life is passing me by, or that someone from Hollywood might try to cast me in a remake of "Valley of the Dolls." But honestly, the crucible of my daily existence feels so demanding that being unconscious seems like the best possible use of whatever limited time remains. I know, I know. If my five major food groups weren't coffee, Nutella, Cheetos, popcorn, and Diet Dr. Pepper I'd probably have more energy. The problem is that most days, I'd rather be in a Nutella-induced coma than eating dehydrated kale on top of a mountain. 

Though I must admit: when I DO manage to make myself eat dehydrated kale on top of a mountain, I feel pretty smug and self-satisfied. And as we we all know, that's a damn good feeling too.

David Bowie's Junk

While listening to David Bowie on my iPod this morning, it occurred to me that the earliest stirrings of sexual awakening happen at the strangest and most unpredictable times. 

That's why I'll never let my kids watch Jim Henson's Labyrinth. IMDB describes the plot of this 1986 film as follows: "Fifteen-year-old Sarah [Jennifer Connelly] accidentally wishes her baby half-brother, Toby, away to the Goblin King Jareth [David Bowie] who will keep Toby if Sarah does not complete his Labyrinth in thirteen hours." 

The film is rated PG and sounds innocent enough. I mean, it's got Muppets in it for Christ's sake. But what the promoters of this film failed to mention is that the biggest and scariest Muppet appears in David Bowie's pants. The size of David Bowie's junk in this movie falls on the spectrum somewhere between a Burmese python and a Graffix bong smuggled into a Kiss concert in the crotch of a purple unitard. 

My parents took me to see Labyrinth in the theater when I was nine years old, and literally the main thing I remember about it is David Bowie's bratwurst. The quizzical horror and confusion I experienced staring at this man's crotch (in the 90% of the scenes in which it was featured) could quite frankly have been enough to put me in psychoanalysis for years. I remember feeling confused and terrified. Why is this man's penis so conspicuous? Why does it scare me more than anything else in this movie? And why is there a little goblin slave whose head is always within striking distance of it? 

And so it is that another "I will never do this to my own children" moment presents itself for consideration...


Empty Threats

Every book and article about modern parenting provides the same advice on discipline. Mostly, they tell you to impose "natural consequences" (e.g. writing on walls = no markers for the rest of the day). But like all free advice, it's worth exactly what you pay for it. I prefer to use a different tactic: that of the "empty threat." 

This classic chestnut from the good ole days of spanking, force-feeding, and children-should-be-seen-and-not-heard works something like this: your kids are behaving like rambunctious chimpanzees on Redbull when it's time to leave for school. To secure compliance with departure, you desperately blurt out the first hyperbolic threat that pops into your head: No Christmas presents! No TV for a week! No desert for a month! No sleepover at so-and-so's house! No visit from grandma and grandpa! No birthday party! 

These are threats you have zero intention of fulfilling, because of course doing so would make your entire life much harder and not remotely easier. In other words, you're doing exactly what Iceman cautioned against in "Top Gun" by letting your mouth write checks your butt can't cash. Ideally, this tactic puts the fear of God in your kids and sends them careening out the door. But usually, your words are simply ignored due to a learned history of "unnatural consequences," in which your kids have come to understand that these threats are complete and utter toothless bullshit. 

And now you've all been given a preview of the parenting book I've been writing in secret for the past five years. I'm still working on the title, but the top two contenders are "How to Raise Pigs and Influence No One" and "Who Moved My Booze."

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Breaking Points v. Permanency

I used to love English muffins with cream cheese and raspberry jam. For many years, I ate one almost every day. At around the same time, I also listened to double-live albums by the Indigo Girls (1200 Curfews) and Ani DiFranco (Living in Clip) constantly. At a certain point, though, I overdosed on these things. I'm not sure exactly when or why it happened. All I know is that I pretty much stopped eating that food and listening to that music. Today, the thought of an English muffin with cream cheese and jam is anathema to me. It's like I had my life's fill of them and never want to eat one again. By contrast, sometimes I'll put on 1200 Curfews or Living in Clip and feel a pang of nostalgia. I still like those albums and I still enjoy them, but I tire of them quickly because I can't recapture whatever feeling they used to invoke. 

This got me thinking about the evolution of "overdoses" and "breaking points"--how they happen with everything from food to music to cities to relationships. Some happen suddenly and memorably. Others happen unknowingly, until one day you just notice something's gone. You might feel good, bad, or indifferent about the absence, but you notice it. I remember vividly my breaking point with New York City, the town where I was born and raised, where my family has lived for four generations, where they still live today. 

One morning I boarded the subway just like so many other mornings in my life. It was the 6 train at rush hour and it was sardine-level crowded as usual. My feet barely touched the ground as I muscled my way into one of the last cars on the train. And I thought to myself at that perfectly ordinary moment, "I'm not doing this anymore." And that was that. There was nothing especially bad about that particular morning and I didn't feel angry, judgmental, or superior. It wasn't really anything except a neutral epiphany of, "I'm done." And I was. 

I've seen this happen on an interpersonal level too, both in my own life and with others recounting the shifting dynamics of their relationships to me. Some people are toxic for whatever reason, and you reach a breaking point with them. The point when you've overdosed on their bullshit and you know you're done. You've eaten your last English muffin with cream cheese and jam. Other people just drift inexplicably until one day you notice they're gone. You still feel affection, but your life circumstances--both tangible and intangible, internal and external--have changed. These are the double-live albums you still love to hear, but that you may never experience in the same way again. These overdoses and breaking points are interesting, for they reveal the places and people you never tire of, the ones with staying power and sustained yield. Most people experience this in their lives. Like water, these relationships are a necessary element, something you can't imagine doing without and couldn't if you tried. Even though, also like water, they are never static. And there are certain places like that too. For me it's the mountains; for my mom, it's The Bronx. 

What makes some people and places subject to overdose and breaking points is very individualized. But everyone has them. Nothing can ever be permanent, but there are some things you wish could be. To me, part of life's challenge and adventure is discovering who and what they are, and why.