Archive for August 2010
It’s so considerate of the municipality to hold an open-air concert in the park around the corner. Anyone outside the neighborhood who wishes to attend must fork over a good chunk of change to have their hearing damaged. We get to experience that free of charge. Also, our kids get to be kept awake on the night before school starts.
I don’t mind so much, in reality; the kids were asleep before the first chords, registering about 4 on the Richter scale, came through the walls, and the little angels can sleep through most anything. The oldest, as an infant, once fell asleep in a bowling alley with blaring music (it wasn’t Chopin, I can tell you that).
At least this concert features a musician of some renown; a few nights ago the city decided to hold a concert at the same venue featuring a string of C-list artists performing forgettable “tunes”. It’s great living smack dab in the center of this metropolis, but local government should not be in the business of pagan “end-of-summer” rituals, even if it makes money for the relative of a council member who happens to own and manage a sound equipment supply company.
Far be it from me to accuse municipal officials of corruption. I’m sure they’re all squeaky-clean public servants with no personal agendas, vendettas or other words that sound right but will never make it as car names. That’s why the small square next to the house of the former deputy mayor down the street gets annual refurbishment while others lying within a quarter-mile radius suffer perennial neglect. That’s why the neighborhood civic organization, run by the brother of the former deputy mayor, has refused, year after year, to hold elections for its board despite its charter requiring it, lest the changing demographics of the neighborhood be reflected in the election outcome; heaven forfend that the growing number of residents of European ancestry get a say in local affairs when that might mean that the relatives and protégés of once-mighty local families lose their cushy jobs.
Want a guaranteed job? There’s always plenty of work available the morning after these concerts, picking up the beer bottles, cigarette butts and other garbage that the concert guests think the neighborhood needs more than they do.
You’ve been living in this house for a number of years, lady and gentlemen. Your mother is quite intelligent, so I thought perhaps you had inherited that trait from her, along with your existential love for chocolate. Alas, I see now that unlike most physical dispositions, comprehension of certain social and household norms is not encoded in nucleic acid sequences.
I regret that it has become necessary to compile this list, a list of rules I thought so self-evident. Oh well. Let’s hope you can extrapolate from this list to other situations. Notice I am not holding my breath.
1. When your diaper is being changed, keep your hands away from the poop. Really now; how hard is this concept to grasp? I’m here to clean you up, not to spread the yuck elsewhere. You’ll notice from the infinite number of previous diaper-changing occasions that not once did I use a bare hand, so I have no idea where you got that idea from.
2. Gravity is a constant. There is no need to test it repeatedly with the same or different objects. It is the same today as it was yesterday, the day before, and the first time you discovered that things fall when released. I, too, appreciate watching something fall a great distance and smashing with flair many stories below, but in this house there shall be no dropping of toys or books, let alone watermelons, one, two or even three floors down the central stairwell. Though we admit watermelons would be über cool from that height.
3. Shirts ≠ napkins.
4. The tush is soft for a good reason: you’re supposed to sit in your chair until you finish eating.
5. A finger to the lips means to stop talking at once, not to slightly lower the volume of your talking. It is now officially your turn to get the baby back to sleep, thank you very much.
6. Water stays in the bathtub or shower. Do not act so surprised that water ends up on the bathroom floor when you use the shower nozzle as a toy.
7. If you need help wiping, or pulling your clothes back up after using the toilet, calling your mother or me to help will suffice. Hobbling through the house with your pants around your ankles actually makes it harder.
8. Boogers go in tissues, not on walls. Not on furniture. Not on clothes. Not, heaven help us, on hand towels.
9. Missing the toilet happens sometimes, even to females, especially those still training. Cleaning up, however, does not consist of placing some toilet paper over the urine and forgetting about it.
10. “Helping” does not mean “doing what I want and hoping it will be useful.” “Helping” means “doing what I ask you to do.”
11. When you have friends over, propriety calls for you to play with them, not complain that they smell. As if you’re one to talk.
12. When your sibling has a friend over, you do not have an inalienable right to join the fun. The same goes for when grandma comes over and takes your sibling to the park: that is not a good time to take your bicycle to the park, considering that you’ve barely touched your bicycle all summer, and all of a sudden you want to ride it to where they happen to be going.
13. Spilling something means immediately trying to clean it up, not watching the liquid make its way toward and over the edge of the table.
14. The hamper’s position at the opposite end of the room from your bed is not an invitation to shoot hoops with your dirty laundry. Make a pile on your bed of the clothes you’ve removed, then carry them to the hamper once you’ve donned your pajamas. The rule is quite broad: inside the house there is no throwing of anything. Ever. No, not even that.
15. Just because you can’t see us, never assume we cannot see you. And even if we can’t we still know what you’re doing. We’ve been your age. Any shenanigans you’ve attempted, so have we. You have to get up pretty early in the morning to put one over on your folks, and although you do get up ridiculously and obscenely early except on school days, that won’t do it. Just behave, dammit.
I do hope this forestalls any more unpleasantness. And yes, I know you’re mocking me over there. That’s fine; I’m the one who controls who gets dessert.
If my critics had their way, the warning in the title would be appended to every single blog entry here. So it’s a good thing I keep my critics locked away in the basement. It’s actually quite nice down there, if a bit dark. And that’s where we keep the extra boxes of corn flakes, so all’s well.
In truth, the title was originally intended for the previous post, about the tumor, but once I put that title in, it would simply be wrong to take it at face value, and there goes the post’s proper tone. That part in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? about toons being unable to restrain themselves from responding, “Two bits!” to “Shave and a haircut” actually comes from me. I am physically unable to suppress certain kinds of wisecracks. In sixth grade, we had a substitute teacher who voiced her amazement at the level of our misbehavior:
“Do you do this to all the substitutes you get?” she asked.
I yelled, “No, we do this to all the prostitutes we get!”
The uproar lasted for several minutes, as you can imagine. The teacher was so stunned she didn’t even react. At the time, I didn’t even know what the word meant. But the joke needed to be made, and there I was. I’m actually still proud of that episode, in a sheepish way.
I shall continue to wring every drop of mockery from my surroundings (get a load of those window treatments! Who did your interior design – naked mole rats?). My critics can stay down there in the dark, like naked mole rats.
Some words scare people more than others. “Radish” isn’t such a scary word. “Deficit” apparently is, but apparently not nearly as scary as “socialist”.
What about “tumor”? Definitely a scary word. But more than scary: complicated. Another scary word. But as it turns out, not likely to be serious. Still with me?
I’ve had this bump at the front of my head for some time. I couldn’t tell you how long, with any pretensions to accuracy, but my wife and several friends started pointing it out to me a few months ago. Possibly earlier than that, of course, but I only started noticing it then, so be quiet.
The bump doesn’t hurt, and I have no symptoms to indicate anything unpleasant. My father-in-law, a retired radiologist, said it wasn’t extremely urgent, but of course I should get it checked out at some point.
Well, at some point (last week) I thought it looked bigger, and I noticed that it extended beyond my hairline – that in fact the visible portion of this thing was only its front edge. And when I pushed on the middle of the whole bump, it did hurt. So I asked a doctor friend what he thought. He’s a gynecologist, which of course doesn’t seem particularly relevant, but some phenomena do not restrict themselves to specific medical fields.
He looked for about a second and asked if I’d gotten hit. No, I said. Without skipping a beat, he said, “Lipoma”.
Of course anything ending in “oma” is scary (including MoMA, and to the French government, the Roma). But apparently a lipoma is a fatty, non-metastasizing kind of tumor that poses no danger of anything but increasing ugliness over time. Ugliness I can deal with. If I ever want to have it removed, though, that requires surgery.
I’ve never had surgery. I’ve never been hospitalized. I’ve never even broken a limb. I did get my finger caught in the car door at about age six, but that ended up needing no more than a band aid. And I did end up with three stitches in my forehead from walking into a chair while wearing a blanket over my head, back when I was much younger and slightly stupider. So the prospect of surgery scares me a little.
I have an appointment on Thursday with my physician, at which we shall determine whether that off-the-cuff diagnosis has any merit. You may express your concern via PayPal.
We’re raising a freak. And I mean that in the most positive way possible.
The whole family sat in the car on the way back from our nearly-six-year-old’s first-grade orientation. Bobby McFerrin’s Paper Music CD played on the car stereo. For those of you unfamiliar with the album, it features Mr. McFerrin conducting the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra in various classical pieces, in some of which he uses his voice in place of one of the instruments.
The second track sees him conducting the orchestra in Igor Stravinsky’s Pulcinella, the piece that was playing as we parked alongside a playground the children pass with some frequency and always beg to use. Pulcinella, like other Stravinsky pieces, has a strong brass section that carries much of the melody, in this case a rousing, rhythmic presto (I made that up; it could be an espresso for all I know)(actually, that would be quite an appropriate name for a tempo faster than presto). I switched off the car, and thus the music, at the same time as announcing that we were, in fact, getting out to go to the playground.
Our soon-to-be-first-grader, in his excitement, sputtered the Stravinsky brass melody. I’m not aware of any children who know any Stravinsky, let alone belt it out when excited. I don’t know any adults who do that, either.
Granted, Pulcinella is one of Stravinsky’s more accessible, tonal works. But it’s hardly Mozart’s variations on Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star (yes, I know it’s really a French folk song having nothing to do with astronomy). It’s not even the Stones. I’m simultaneously proud and worried – what if he progresses to Schoenberg? And how would we know?
Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the first annual Curmudgeon Awards.
For the last year you have all worked tirelessly to get us to where we are today. Thank you for your efforts. This event is meant to recognize, in some small way, the individual and shared contributions of many, even if you don’t really deserve it.
But let’s get down to business. I shan’t burden you with a lengthy introductory address. I hate those. The one thing I can’t stand about the Oscars, for example, is the droning on and on before, during and after the actual award presentations. It’s gotten better, mind you, ever since they implemented the time limits on thank-you speeches, but there’s still too much clutter. To hell with the whole category of foreign films, I say; let those Frenchies go to Cannes, and stay there. The same for “sound” and “cinematography,” not to mention the fields no one ever heard of. Aside from a few industry nerds, who really notices or gives a damn? Pander! Have you lost sight of your mission?!
That’s why this awards ceremony will accept no acceptance speeches. We haven’t even invited most of the recipients. You may thank us for that later.
But I must lay the ground rules before we can proceed:
1. Unlike a certain awards ceremony whose name we shall try to avoid mentioning again, at least within a few paragraphs, this venue is not for displaying the latest in women’s exposu – I mean fashion. Keep it simple, people, and avoid even more ridicule.
2. Applause shall be withheld until all awards have been distributed. That way we shall avoid the insincerity that plagues this sort of event, along with the passive-aggressive faint praise or over-the-top, obviously false admiration we’ve come to expect from rival celebrities. Just applaud when we’re done because you’re happy to go home. Unless you’re not happy to go home, because you’ve spent so much of your life in the public eye that you no longer know how to maintain a functional space or private life with even a modicum of self-respect. In that case, just clap because you’re glad there’s no more of this nonsense to endure for the evening. Of course, if you’re on your way to another such event right afterwards, go right ahead and don’t applaud. No one will notice; we’re too busy chucking tomatoes at the stage.
3. Please chuck only fresh produce. The poor maintenance staff – hard workers who never get the recognition we all crave – will suffer the majority of the consequences, not the starlet who’s already cultivated an inability to accept criticism. Eggs are out of the question, and rotten ones – well, let’s just say that will reveal quite a bit about your character.
4. There will be no commercial breaks. No advertisers would want to be associated with this debacle, anyway.
5. No smoking, even outside the building. Do you really think it much of an improvement to force people entering and exiting to wade through a cloud of your self-induced smog?
That’s it for the rules. Let’s get right down to the awards; we still have a few minutes for those – oh, just one more thing: under your seats you will find a survey of opinions and attitudes toward a certain retail beauty product. The sponsor asked us to distribute them, but said nothing about what to do with them afterwards, so I hereby recommend that you roll them up and use them to poke the person in front of you in case of boredom-induced sleep. It probably works better if you roll up several into a single unit. When you’re done, please place the surveys in the round receptacles near the restroom sinks.
So without further ado, I’d like to introduce the presenter of the first award, former Jet Blue flight attendant Mr. Steven Slater…
I’m in the middle of writing a novel. It’s about…well, it’s about, uh…it’s about two pages right now, but once I get going, look out!
I started it about twelve years ago. It features a fabulous opening line and immediately launches into compelling character development, but then kind of loses steam. The problem, I think, lies in the fact that the compelling characters are all animals – four hamsters and a shark, to be exact – while the humans, ostensibly the focus of the work, lack depth. I understand this perspective obtains among many pet lovers.
I used to assure myself that one of these days I’d get back to that novel, but it has remained but a writing sample for prospective clients or employers ever since. I do not, as a rule, disclose to them that I worked to produce this partial masterpiece (or master partial-piece) on company time, lo those many years ago. It might prejudice the outcome of the interview, as you might imagine, and as the novel in its current state demonstrates, outcomes must remain open to all possibilities (“…when suddenly, an asteroid crashed into Earth and wiped out all sentient life. The End. Or maybe not. Can you hold on for a few billion years to see what the cosmos comes up with? “).
I did once get hold of a guide for aspiring writers, a how-to manual for anyone who wants to write a reasonably long novel in the space of a month. It made for good reading, but there was no way I was going to subject my life to the contortions its instructions required. I read it mostly in the bathroom, then mostly forgot about it until now. That was three years ago. So you can see how well the aging novel is doing.
Truth is, in the several times I’ve looked at it over the last decade, it occurred to me I should probably lop of the second half of what I’ve already written. The part about the hamsters (and the missing chicken, but it was dead and frozen, not remotely in the “pet” category, so it doesn’t count as a character) and the shark (a small one; don’t get too scared) really made for a good start, but once the first-person narrative had to go somewhere (to work, as it happens), the comedy quotient fell. I guess animals with quirky personalities provide better fodder than cubicles. Imagine that.
I could try to spice it up with intrigue – international espionage; demonic possession; celebrity shoplifting – but really, how much do I know about any of that stuff? Let’s take the random sample of ideas in the previous sentence:
- International espionage. While I have worked for the government of one country while residing in another, there wasn’t a lot of potential for espionage. I mean, the whole point of the job was to help the military of country A buy spare parts from the military of country B. What could I reveal – that country A wanted to buy a copying machine? That the air force uses generators? These would be the Deep Secrets I could pass on to interested third parties. I’m pretty sure I never handled a single classified document in the two years I worked there.
- Demonic possession. I will grant that writing about it does not require firsthand experience with it; William Peter Blatty did quite a fine job without, as far as anyone can tell, going through possession himself. However, that whole supernatural thing doesn’t do it for me. The empirical physical universe poses enough challenges of its own; I have enough trouble describing the feeling of a piece of oregano stuck between my front teeth, for example (it’s like…it’s like having a piece of basil stuck between your teeth, only slightly less so)(see what I mean?).
- Celebrity shoplifting. I did once steal a pack of banana Bubblicious from the supermarket when I was about seven. Bad move. I mean, strawberry, mint or some normal flavor I could understand, but banana? Boy, I regret that one. Spat out the first piece and chucked the rest. No more shoplifting for me. At least not personally, though at about age eleven I was once an accomplice whose job consisted of purchasing something to help distract the cashier from goings-on elsewhere in the store. So the shoplifting part I got covered, but I must concede I fall pretty short in the celebrity department. I’ve accidentally encountered one or two, including a former prime minister, but the limelight and I are not well acquainted. Collecting baseball cards was about the closest I ever got to consistent association with the famous. Other than that time Mr. Goodbody came to speak at our elementary school.
So the novel continues to languish. I should just start a blog.
I should be loading the dishwasher, but this post is far more compelling. You are free to disagree – it’s a free country, after all, unless you happen to be reading this in, say, Venezuela (“Venezuela”) or Iran (“Iran”) – but this is my blog, not yours, last I checked. Loading the dishwasher ceases to be compelling past the second time one does it, and besides, my youngest son is otherwise occupied.
He has a talent for detecting, even from the farthest reaches of the house, when the machine has been opened, and making a beeline for it. Loading the thing becomes a tug of war over the items he tries to remove, and a race to get as many things in before it’s time to give up and get him the heck out of the way. So it’s just boring without him.
Lest you think that posting here serves as my only entertainment, rest assured that the remaining three children provide plenty. Right now the older two are taking turns annoying and hurting each other, followed by taking refuge in this room in the hopes that the other will refrain from striking in my presence. Any suggestions that the wronged party find somewhere else to play, removed from the perpetrator, fall on deaf ears, of course; an annoyance-free zone just isn’t as compelling. Villains are always more interesting.
Take Captain Hook. Better yet, take Osama bin Laden. Take him to Neptune, preferably, with nothing but the January and March 1992 issues of Consumer Reports.
Then there’s the three-year old princess, who can’t seem to grasp that when I said, “Coloring is only on the paper,” I meant that she should not cover every exposed surface of her body with green crayon. I didn’t think I had to spell it out, but that goes to show you how stupid I am compared to a preschooler.
Now, the five-year-old, I can understand; he constantly explores new ways of getting around what we tell him to do. The other day my wife and I recited for him the lines we’ve gotten used to hearing from him, among them: “my belly hurts” and “I’m too tired.” He seems to have reached the initial stages of comprehending that using tiredness as an excuse not to clean up the toys only results in begin directed to bed. But his most frequent stratagem is to pretend he doesn’t hear us until we raise our voices and/or threaten some unpleasant consequence such as dessert loss. You know, because problems disappear if you ignore them. While it’s true in the very long term – I did eventually move out of my parents’ house – as a tactic for avoiding immediate responsibility it generally fails (not that I cared when it came to homework).
Then there are the songs and chants that the kids brought home from camp. Some of them are cute; some of them were cute the first time I heard them all those decades ago when they already had gray hair; some of them would be cute if the kids remembered them properly; and some don’t ever stand a chance of being cute, as they alternate among the offensive, the insipid and the poorly conceived, sometimes simultaneously (“Andrew farted, an earthquake started, and all the people died”). Truly the work of a mature, lyrical mind (actually, that one I might have found amusing when I was their age; the others, not so much).
*Sigh* OK, fine. I’ll go load the dishwasher. You’re no fun. Your farts probably cause earthquakes, too.
We have not formally been introduced, but I do know your name – your surname from the black scrawl on your rusting front gate, and your given name from the yelling of visitors who apparently have never encountered a doorbell before. I therefore understand if you do not know my name, since those particular avenues of information are unavailable to you in my case.
But let us not allow that lack of familiarity adversely affect our neighborly relations. We haven’t needed a first-name basis to smile awkwardly at each other as we pass. In fact I think we can both agree that awkward smiles constitute a marked improvement over the pretending we didn’t see each other for the first few years of this arrangement.
And we must learn to give this relationship time to flower. I appreciate your investment in sharing, with us and the other neighbors, your vast collection of a single CD of music. A certain amount of comfort can be had from knowing exactly which ethnic pop selections I will hear emanating from your property at any given hour of day or night. This sharing has already cemented in my mind what to expect if and when we get to know each other better, and the anticipation defies description.
We can also rest assured that our children will interact even when we do not. Many a sunny afternoon has seen my five-year-old standing on our front porch as yours plays in your front yard, less than a stone’s throw away – an apt description, I might add, considering the way your son chooses to occupy himself while there. To hear my son yelling your son’s name as he admonishes him is to hear the most innocent kind of concern and care. I share that concern, especially when my car is parked in front of your yard. I do hope it becomes something mutual.
I wish to apologize for a mischaracterization, a conclusion to which I unjustly jumped in describing to friends some of your audible household characteristics. Apparently, insufficient exposure had led me to the conclusion that the loud video game sounds emanating from your house came exclusively from the Nintendo Super Mario Brothers game. Had I but waited, the unmistakable sounds of Duck Hunt would reach my ears in due time. I regret the rushed depiction, and any misimpressions it may have generated. Greater detail always helps us develop a fuller picture, and I thank you for providing that.
Finally, I would like to express my admiration for the wide latitude you give your son to experience the full range of situations in his world. Most parents would shy away from giving their child the experience of staying home alone at such a tender age, but you boldly exposed him to that. The sheer variety of random objects left lying around in your yard also contributes to his education in ways most parents would never consider, as he discovers firsthand the principles of aerodynamics, momentum, and the various distances associated with specific angles of release. What’s more, you benefit from the supplementary efforts of a preteen boy, perhaps a nephew, who has taken the young fellow under his wing and showed him how to really smash things with a stick. I know I don’t have time to show my children how to smash things; they have to learn on their own, and while they do not seem to need outside help, it is amazing to see how much effort your extended family puts into the development of your little one’s essential skills.
So I must say that living across from you has broadened my horizons and fostered in me a sense of limitless anticipation and curiosity: what will they do next? I know you join me in the hope that someday we will enjoy the relationship that only longtime neighbors do; the Serbs and Albanians come to mind, and you can look that up one day if you ever set foot in a library so you can fully grasp what I mean. After all, we want to avoid misunderstandings.
I have never been pregnant, as far as I know. Certain facts about pregnancy have nevertheless become clear to me, merely by observing what pregnant women (they’re all women, right?) experience. So for the benefit of you cloistered people – or those of you reading this blog back in prudish 1951 via some space-time-defying RSS feed – I offer an unequivocally inexhaustive treatment of that magical time (pregnancy, I mean, not 1951, as magical as it was, what with Bobby Thomson’s pennant-winning home run and all).
One thing we get used to as non-pregnant people is a modicum of respect for personal space. It varies from context to context, but generally, people we do not know tend to keep their hands to themselves. Apparently, the protrusion of a pregnant belly gives some people reason to believe that said belly is somehow excepted from the personal space rule. They thus feel no compunction about extending a hand to feel that belly, regardless of the nerve endings in and around that belly very much belonging to the belly’s owner. Recommended reaction: pat the perpetrator’s belly and admire how much it’s grown.
So if some people never cultivated an ability to refrain from inappropriate physical contact with strangers (inappropriate physical contact with loved ones is even creepier, but not the subject here), it should not surprise us that many otherwise harmless individuals think nothing of posing intrusive, offensive questions or offering unsolicited, ignorant input, most notably the friend-of-a-friend-of-friend horror story: “I know this woman who slipped getting out of the shower and her belly hit the edge of the tub; they had to amputate the front of the body and the baby was born with two heads, and now she can’t function because when one head wants to sleep, the other one’s always awake.” Recommended response: amputate the front of the perpetrator’s body.
Chivalry has not died yet; enough caring souls still inhabit our society, and will offer their seats to obviously pregnant women in waiting rooms, on buses and trains. Some even go so far as to send an expectant mother to the front of the restroom line, but reasonable women do have their limits. But the days when a pregnant woman’s presence will automatically prompt someone to offer his or her seat have sadly faded. Recommended reaction to this lack of consideration: sit on someone’s lap. Please note that this might not achieve the desired result going forward with a certain half of the species, unless I don’t know you as well as I thought (I’d probably be quite comfortable in 1951).
Seldom has there been a more frustrating misnomer than “morning sickness.” Perhaps the term is a sadistic bit of synecdoche. Perhaps the coiners of the term were only at home with their wives in the morning. Either way, pregnant women have been known to experience nausea at the most inconvenient times, such as always.
Many women experience aversions to, or cravings for, specific foods. A man of our acquaintance was dispatched to the local diner with his pregnant wife’s clear instructions: get me a grilled chicken sandwich, and I NEED TO SEE the GRILL MARKS. Said husband relayed the order to the person behind the counter, who replied, “Wife pregnant?”
Other physical and social phenomena characterize pregnancy, of course. Many of them defy adequate treatment in this context, since I refuse to refer to anything suggesting certain aspects of female physiology in anything more direct than oblique metaphor.
OK, maybe 1835, not 1951. But there were no famous home runs in 1835. And I don’t mean that as an oblique metaphor.