Thursday, September 30, 2004
Philosophy of the Artist
The champagne was a head rush; the twelve days that had passed since I left for Tanzania had been primarily spent mired in illness. Malaria, maybe; dysentery, at the very least. Coming back having lost more than 10 percent of my body weight made me especially vulnerable to alcohol. Janell was getting equally light-headed, I could see.
At last, the man of the hour came out to speak to the gathering. He was dressed in an elegant suit, though his face was red with the sort of flush that comes from feeling awkward and out of place. He was obviously not accustomed to public speaking--he began slowly, in a distinctive Irish accent, and soon was tripping over his own words in a rush to express them. He glowed of artistry in that way.
"Soomtimes people ask me," he culminated, leaning on the large stack of original paintings he'd brought with him for tonight's showing, "why I paint the children with the big heads. And I tell them, 'When we're first born, our heads are HUGE. Gigantic heads, so full. But then we learn about sadness and our heads get a lil' smaller."
He had thrust his arms out wide to suggest his vision of a big-headed child. Now he brought his hands closer together to emphasize the shrinking.
"And then someone teaches us not to trust dat black man over der, and our heads get a lil' smaller. And then we get a prejudice against de Jews or we're taught not to trust them foreigners, and our heads get a lil' smaller and a lil' smaller."
His hands were nearly closed.
"And then our heads are so small because der's no room left to trust or to love anyone a' tall. But children, they still love the rain and they love ev'ry stranger, and the world is big and open and full of hope and possibility for them."
He threw his arms wide again and grinned a goofy, working-class grin at the room of art admirers. He looked utterly alien, a polar bear in the jungle, but he controlled the world in that moment.
"And dat's why I love my big-headed kids. Dat's why."
The first painting I had ever seen by Mackenzie Thorpe was called "Up in the Air," hanging in a shop down in Southcenter Mall, near the Seattle airport. Janell and I were both utterly enamored of the piece, but it was seven thousand dollars. I hemmed and hawed. We discussed. And when we finally decided to go back for it, it was gone.
Now, with the artist standing in front of me in the Bellevue Square gallery and his words bouncing around in my head, I knew I wanted to own one of these big-headed kids. I wanted to look at it every day and remember his words, his intention.
It was then time for him to display his originals that he intended to sell at the gallery. One by one they came out--dark, moody pieces. Thorpe can run to both extremes with the emotions that hit his canvas, and the enormous works he'd brought with him for this showing were not at the extreme I was now enamored of. Yet the crowd scooped them up. Ten thousand dollars at a time, they disappeared.
And then, out came "Be My Love."
It's what Janell and I call each other, "my love."
They wanted about two thousand more than Janell and I were prepared to pay. But the discussion about "Up in the Air" that had taken weeks and ultimately cost us the piece took about ninety seconds standing in the gallery. They were going so fast; the purchasing power of Bellevue natives is not to be trifled with by those of us from the outlands. So, we beat them to the punch, and we put the money down on a big-headed kid painting, enough money to buy my old Ford Escort wagon five times over.
Afterward, in the heady rush of the champagne and the dwindling bank account, we posed for a picture with Mackenzie Thorpe and the painting we'd just laid a house payment down on. He shook both of our hands.
"Sorry I'm so underdressed," I said to him as one of the gallery employees adjusted the camera.
"Don't be, not a' tall," he said, grinning that lowbrow grin at me again, one I could connect to so much faster than to the raised eyebrows and forced smiles of most of the crowd. "Do ya think I dress this way to paint, after all?"
When we finally paid it off, we hung "Be My Love" in our living room, where we could look at it every day. On the mantle below we put the picture of us posing with Thorpe.
Tomorrow night, Thorpe returns to Bellevue with more originals. I have seen a sneak-preview; none of them fit the bill of the "big-headed kids," so I sincerely doubt we're buying anything. But I'll go to the event to see him, say hello, shake his hand, and be reminded how much I like the philosophy behind his simple but complicated work.
Wednesday, September 29, 2004
Ain't it the truth, even 300 years later.
Janell turned to me Monday and said, "We're getting the hang of this thing, going to work, the nanny, all of it. Today was a pretty relaxed day for both of us, don't you think?"
Welcome to Tuesday.
I never made it to my desk. I never even made it to my car. Harrison's fever sent the day skidding off a cliff edge like something out of a 1930s serial, except in this cliffhanger, the hero didn't get out of the car in time. I went right over the edge with my Model-T. The day was a long, unyielding series of soundbites.
The nanny cometh, the nanny goeth. I sent her home after she said, "Uh, maybe I should just, um, you know...." and let the thought trail off, unfinished but unmissed. The last thing I needed was whining from her, her own two-year-old, and Harrison all at once. This place was so loud at one point that the sound of a 747 landing in the street wouldn't have reached me.
El Wu--that's "The Wu" to those of you unfamiliar with the fame that should have preceded this designator--noted in a comment on yesterday's blog entry that smothering your feverish child with your good intentions and adult-sized body might not be so smart. Unfortunately, I didn't read this comment until about ten minutes ago. Crap. Guess what I did to Harrison most of the day? Smothered him with good intentions and my adult-sized body.
You know what "nap" is an acronym for? Not A Prayer. This kid was wide-awake all day, and if I tried to lay him down, he became hysterical, screaming for me, begging to be held and cuddled, reaching pitifully between the bars of his cell, uh, crib. "Daddy daddy daddydaddydaddy!" as loud as he could, until his voice was a shriek. For a brief 45-minute interval, he fell asleep on my shoulder, and I dozed in the rocking chair in his room. That sound machine with the white noise can really put your lights out if you've been up since 4 A.M., it turns out.
Janell came home from work around 5:15, and into the bath Harrison went (just as El Wu suggested too, by the way). Harrison's fever came down, his spirits up. At that point, I felt like a vampire on a three-day pass. The day had zipped by with nary a moment of pleasure, as John Ray would have noted had he been here--just stress, worry, fear, and weariness beyond words.
Isn't that where George W. Bush is from? Taxes?
Oh, wait. I bet this is a reference to money, right? Dollars and cents?
Yes, that's it! That's where Bush comes from: Dollars, Taxes.
See how tired I am?
Tuesday, September 28, 2004
Harrison was stuffy when he went to bed at 7:45 last night. By midnight, he was not only stuffy, he was restless... and feverish. At one point, Janell had him at 103, as measured in the ear. We put him in the bed with us, where he sometimes shouted out alm0st-English words in a fever sleep.
By three A.M., he was awake, hot, and clingy. We took turns with him. Janell took him another hour, rocking him, laying with him, and I took him at four. From four until five, we laid down in the guest bedroom with the window open, Harrison sometimes sitting up to lift his face to the cool air, other times descending into the blankets and towels (he loves terry cloth, so I had multiple towels on the bed) to seek out the warmth down there.
He never slept, though he had long minutes of lying so still that I thought he'd nodded off. Finally, around 5, he said, "Maisy? Tellulah? Charlie? Eddie? Cyril?"
We took the blankets and the the towels into the family room, tossed them on the floor, and put the Maisy Mouse cartoon on the VCR. For an hour, Harrison was distracted from feeling lousy. He bounced on the couch. He rolled on the towels. He shaved off about five ounces of milk, which I took as encouraging.
At six, we trekked back up to his room, Harrison vehemently protesting the end of Maisy. (Truth is, a grown man can only take so much animated lethargy.) In the dim predawn of his nursery, we rocked and I sang to him a tune that Janell made up when he was just weeks old. He put his head on the towel tossed over my shoulder, drew his knees up, locked his arms underneath him, and went to sleep.
By six-thirty, he was back in his bed and I was desperately missing mine. But most mornings, Janell and I are up by six-thirty. The day has officially begun... or it began hours ago, in the dark, with a child's fever.
Janell is catching the last twenty minutes of sleep she can afford before she needs to get into the office. The nanny will be here in an hour and a half, and I'll bring her up to speed to ensure that Harrison gets enough sleep and meds today. I'm writing today's blog entry, which was going to be about artist Mackenzie Thorpe, who's coming to Seattle this week, an entry that will have to wait for tomorrow or Thursday.
And in two hours, I'll be at my own desk at work, very tired, trying to concentrate on the editing at hand, lost in my own fever haze as I wonder how my baby boy is doing back at home.
Monday, September 27, 2004
Epi-blogue: Thirteenth Week, Thirteenth List--Captain Quirk
I won't bother with my arrogant presumption that I'm smarter than the average bear or with my firm, almost zelous, commitment to the karmic wheel theory that what goes around comes around, both of which I'm sure are annoying. Instead, how about the tiny little personal quirks that you'd probably have to live with me to care about but that I'm sure are eyebrow-raising?
--Socks. I gotta have socks on when I go to bed. Not just in the winter, folks—year round. If it's 110 degrees in the shade beneath a blazing African sun, and I'm lying down to nap? Gotta have socks on. I might strip down to my boxers because of the heat, but the socks stay on. My goddaughter once cocked an eyebrow at me and said, "You wear socks to bed? That's weird." No greater truth did Sock-rates ever speak. Uh, Socrates.
--Pizza. I have a problem with ordering pizzas over the phone. I like delivery pizza; I don't mind paying for delivery pizza. But I am almost phobic when it comes to actually looking up the number, picking up the phone, and talking to some bubble-brain to get said pizza on its way. This is a quirk I suspect none of the ancient philosophers possessed.
--T-shirts. I love the idea of them, especially with your pop-culture preferences blastered on them, but as a rule, I can't stand them. I don't wear them in public, ever. Maybe I've encountered one-too-many dispshits in free Marlboro T-shirts, or maybe I was warped by my seventh-grade science teacher, Mrs. Morgan (who went by "Mrs." despite having never been married). This 4' 11" black woman was older than Yoda but fleeter of foot than Carl Lewis. She kept slip-on sneakers under her desk so she could quickly change shoes and run to ground any kids who ran down the hall past her science room. And she was particularly aggressive about the "tucked-in shirt" policy that was not the school's rule but her own. "Tuck that shirt in, mister!" she would bark, and boys hopped like she'd hit them with a cattle prod. God forbid you were wearing a T-shirt; the woman hated them. "They make you look uneducated," she would say. "And that's reflecting on me now." Shorts flipped her out even more, but I never had that problem--with chicken legs like mine, you don't wear shorts anywhere in public either.
--Peeing. Okay, this is one nobody really knows or maybe even ought to know, but my God, I know most guys think it. There comes a point when you're peeing that you think, Holy cow, I might be going for a record here. How long have I been peeing? What's it been, like, a minute? Wow! I wish I’d been timing it! I didn’t know I could pee so long! Wonder what the record is? Could you get in Guiness for this? And by the time you've thought all that, you're done. But it was fun to think about while you were peeing. Do women do this? I know my sister does, but anyone else? (This will tell if she's reading my blog, won't it?)
--Hair. I have always hated my hair. My whole life. And as the years have gone by, I've just sort of given up on it unless it's unusually wild. But when I wash it, I am neurotic about blow-drying it. It's vital, in my opinion. If I let it air-dry, it curls, and not just a little--it curls so badly, I look like I have a 1975 disco-era perm. Blow-drying it keeps it relatively straight, which is what I want. When I was in junior high (back in the days of Mrs. Frankie Morgan--you can well imagine the jokes that flew around once we found out her first name was "Frankie"), I remember wanting straight hair so badly that I would wash my hair at night, then sleep with a ski cap on in hopes that it would be straight in the morning. In that era of social conformity, I didn't want wild disco hair, even when it was in style. Thus, the ski cap.
But it went well with the socks.
Thankfully, listing a few of my quirks doesn't make me feel particularly bad about myself because I can read some very, very nice things about myself at Debra's blog, where she featured me on Friday. If you've gotten this far and decided I'm nothing but a basket of neuroses, please check out www.bringbackbrenda.blogspot.com to get a different perspective.
If the entry's gone, you know that Debra read this and decided to choose someone less quirky for her Friday Friend.
Sunday, September 26, 2004
Mickey vs. Lotty: Battle of the Icons
Lotty and Lorry are raccoons. I think. They're aggressively marketed in Lotte World (go figure on the spelling difference of "Lotty/Lotte"), a multi-story building that is essentially devoted to the idea that you can combine Disneyland with an actual mall. In addition to "stores for foreigners" (as they say on their website), they have an indoor theme park, complete with rollercoaster and Ferris wheel. Since it was about $32 a head to spend even an hour in Lotte World, Janell and I passed on seeing the theme park, but we met Mickey's Eastern cousins wandering the mall that afternoon.
They're pretty shameless about selling these characters as well. Consider this from the website...
Did you become friends with Lotty and Lorry you met at the parade? Then take some pictures wearing T-shirts with Lotty and Lorry on them. There are cute character products of Lotty and Lorry ranging from cute T-shirts with Lotty and Lorry's cute faces, dolls, toys, pencils to notebooks at Lotty's Emporium.
They're cute. I get it. Cute, cute, cute. I'm assuming the folks who work for Lotte World own a thesaurus, don't they?
Lotty and Lorry have their own Goofys and Plutos and Donald Ducks as well--something like two dozen characters or more. And like Hello Kitty, they have ten thousand products with those cute faces on them. Janell and I even bought a couple--Harrison is a very tactile kid, and he LOVES the feel of terry cloth, so we brought him back an all-white terry cloth Lotty to sleep with. He still sleeps with it every night, and though he may never see the character in person, he certainly knows Lotty's name. The kid can't remember where he put down his orange fork two minutes ago, but he can remember the name of a raccoon he's never going to see beyond his crib.
So, wanna see the Lotty and Lorry website?
Let me know if you think they're cute. What's another word for "cute"? Oh, wait--cute. That's it. I've heard they are.
Saturday, September 25, 2004
You encounter a homeless man on the street. You offer him five bucks because you were just going to blow it on drive-thru food.
"No," he says, dimissing you with a wave. "I collected enough today. Bring it back to me tomorrow, around 7:30 A.M."
Do you tell him to go take a flying fuck at the moon while putting your five dollars away, or do you assume he already knows you're thinking that?
Well, the people at the Goodwill drop-off sites may not know I was thinking it today when they turned Janell and me away with our boxes of clothing, our near-perfect clothing, our clothing that in some cases had never even been worn.
TRUCK FULL, the signs read in two different location. On both parking lots, grubby men with pencil-thin mustaches and unrecognizable accents waved us away with sneers, as if we had come to leave them with wet towels and used diapers.
"Come back in the morning," the rail-thin black man barked at us at the first drop-off site; he was patrolling the lot in front of his Goodwill semi-trailer like a militant who's misplaced his rifle... but who is still pretty sure he can kick your ass without it. "7:30."
His truck was about two elephants shy of being full. It was standing wide open, and we could look right into it.
"No more boxes," the greasy little guy at the second site said while waving us away. His companion, a middle-aged man who looked more nomad than Samaritan, drifted back and forth behind the rope fence separating us from their truck. "Full. Come back tomorrow. Full."
They had to have been assuming their truck was full at this point--after all, pretty much every donation they had received during the course of the day appeared to be stacked on the parking lot, not in the truck. At a glance, it looked like they were trying to build a fort.
So, we came back home with five boxes of clothes still in the back of my station wagon, but more important, we came back home with a certain level of cynicism about charity.
I understand that sometimes there's just no room in the inn, folks. But do you have to be an asshole while kicking the teeth out of the gift horse's mouth? Would an executive from Goodwill have condoned the way we were turned away from making a frickin' donation to the charity? And will I take anything else to give to a seemingly unappreciative charity that hires borderline illiterates to put their best face forward with the giving public?
I suppose I'm still waiting for the good will in Goodwill. Something tells me I'm going to be waiting a long time beyond this weekend.
Quick, Goodwill--what am I thinking about the moon right now?
Friday, September 24, 2004
*Turns out that my friend Debra knows quite a bit about Days of Our Lives... to the point that she can chart his doomed romance that brought about the recent rash of serial "killings" in Salem. Her comment on yesterday's entry clears up some mysteries and adds another. Tony died? I didn't even know he was sick.
*Janell's plane was delayed more than two hours coming back from her trip last night. She stumbled in around 11:00 last night, glad to be home, exhausted from being gone for three days. My single-parenthood stint has ended. As El said in her comment on Tuesday's entry, "When your child is happy, you are happy." Here's hoping it works both ways--I'm happy to be part of a tag-team again, so maybe Harrison will be even happier, too! (And I have to give her props for quoting Pokemon, by the way; after only two weeks immersed in it again, I am mastering Pokespeak again...)
*I haven't watched Star Wars yet. I haven't started Stephen King's Dark Tower book yet. I haven't watched last night's Joey yet. But I *did* get to watch the premiere episode of Lost from Wednesday night. Holy moly. Great start. Bear in mind it's got a horror/fantasy backstory so you don't get pissed off about the premise fiction. Once you are prepared for that, it has great characters and it's off and running with an exciting story arc. If you can catch the repeat (next week, I believe) before they show the second episode, do!
*Ming-Na is alive! Despite the work I had to bring home last night, I made a point of watching ER, fully prepared to be furious that my favorite actress was killed off. But she survived, better than the other two characters who went into the Chicago River after a road-rage shooting. I'm still holding my breath for next episode (and a moment of bitching, here: what sort of network runs the season premiere of an episode, then skips a week???? No ER next week? NBC is showing its ABC side). In the meantime, Ming-Na will appear on next Tuesday's episode of Law & Order, so if you're a fan, don't miss it.
*End of a second week at work. As the Beatles said, "Christ, you know it ain't easy." I'm finally seeing Beverly tonight to take her her birthday gift. I'm boxing up the remnants of the failed garage sale. And I'm planning a trip down to Disneyland for a couple of days recalibrating myself.
That should give me plenty of material for future updates.
Thursday, September 23, 2004
...So Are the Days of Our Lives
And hey, it's only two months and 40+ episodes later. Would you really have expected the story to move along by now? I mean, it's only been the entire summer, and that's, what?--six hours in soap worlds?
Well, the wait is over, at least for those of us who don't really care but somehow still manage to do so. The new issue of Soap Opera Digest reveals all! It's like scripture for your daytime "stories!"
Three dollars and fifty cents well spent!
Except I don't actually know who Tony is. Or why he felt the need to split up all the couples of Salem because he lost his great love, Kristen. Oh, and I don't know who Kristen is, either. And I find it hard to swallow that this one diabolical madman could use fake blood and drugs and a paid-off funeral director and body doubles to successfully kidnap people he'd deliberately made to look murderered. And the whole hypnosis thing with Marlena, the woman who thinks she committed all these crimes. Please.
But wait--the article concludes by noting that "there's a huge twist to come at the end of this story. It's 'Oh, my God, gasp, you can't be serious.' Right out of Hitchcock."
Oooh. I know it will all make sense now. My faith is restored! More sands through my hourglass, Praise Tony!
So, rest assured: I'm shelling out another three bucks in another three months to find out what the big twist is. No need to watch the show; why go to church when the Bible is published weekly by Primedia Consumer Magazines?
Wednesday, September 22, 2004
What Are the Odds?
I was at the emergency room half-an-hour after it happened. Turns out, I’m allergic, at least on the local level.
Harrison's lip? The kid forgot about it in fifteen minutes. No repercussions.
Janell's arm? Shot o' steroids down in California. She's not very happy.
But that's not the point of this tale, believe it or not.
Janell left at 8:30 this morning; I went into work an hour-and-a-half early, at 7:00, to ensure I could be home to see the nanny off at 4:30. Janell barely made her flight. As Janell's plane takes to the air, the nanny called me at work to say that Harrison wouldn't eat breakfast and that his eyes and nose were runny. I tell her to give him some meds just before nap.
I call back later. How was lunch? Not good. He still isn't eating.
I'm leaving work earlier than pretty much everybody else as it is. So, work comes home with me. A lot of work. I have my Star Wars DVDs and Stephen King’s final book in the Dark Tower series and Oprah’s new book club read (Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth) and the final episodes of Big Brother 5 and The Amazing Race are both on tonight.
But work comes home with me.
Harrison is still napping at 4:30. The nanny tells me he went down at 1:30. He's definitely not feeling well.
Hanging on the front door of the house is a notice from Puget Sound Energy. It would seem that the dim bulbs at PSE plan to screw around with the underground cables in our neighborhood for "approximately 8 hours" TOMORROW, "sometime between 8 AM and 4 PM."
Uh, so what time will the power be off? Can you tell from the above? Sure, it's eight hours from 8 until 4, but why would they say "sometime between" those hours if that was when it was actually going to be off? Could it be going off at 3:59 and be out for "approximately 8 hours," and therefore out until midnight... or later?
Of course, by the time I get home, their offices are closed. There's no hapless clerk I can get on the line and fuck up his or her day the way they intend to fuck up mine tomorrow.
So, I have to make arrangements with the nanny to have Harrison away from the house... for the whole day... while he doesn't feel well... because we may OR may not have power... and I will still need to leave work early to meet the nanny to get Harrison back... and I'll need to get up early to pack his stuff for the day, since he won't be home pretty much all day... and all on my own. No Janell.
And this is what single parents go through, isn't it? Harrison didn't want dinner; he wanted to be rocked to sleep. He wanted Mommy. He cried, and I cried because he was so unhappy. Eventually, he nodded off, but I knew he'd be up many times overnight, and that I'd sleep with one ear tuned hyper-attentively to that baby monitor, listening for the slightest sound that would suggest he was in despair. I'm going to work exhausted today as a result. I was up until 1:00 A.M. doing the work I brought home. Harrison is going to the zoo today and then to the nanny's; she'll bring him back to me around 4:30, a few blocks from my workplace.
Janell's parents had a great saying when Janell and her brother were growing up: "We can't get divorced because neither of us wants the kids."
I think Janell and I can't divorce because neither of us can handle it alone. We might both want the boy, but really, can this be done alone for more than 72 hours?
Check back with me tomorrow. If there's no blog entry, you'll know why.
Tuesday, September 21, 2004
Open Letter to George Lucas
You have never met me, but we both know: I'm a sucker. And we both know why.
Well, yeah, that's why. I mean, come on--have you seen my house? It's like a frickin' shrine to the man.
Anyway, I had a point here. Oh, yes. I bought Star Wars when it first came out on videotape. A long time ago in a city far, far away. You knew I would; all three films. Boxed set. Stupid me, I bought them in beta for something like forty dollars--because you and all the other techno-geeks in the world swore it was a superior format. Like 8-tracks, right? For a genius, you didn't seem to see this Death Star coming. But that was my own gamble, so I don’t hold you accountable for the fact that I needed to buy them again in VHS when beta went the way of the wampa.
Then came the THX-sound versions. Well, duh, of course I bought them. Forty-five bucks. How could I not? These are movies meant to be heard, and with your sound system. Good thing I bought them, too, because we may never see Han shoot first again in his confrontation with Greedo.
Which brings us quickly and easily to the fourth time I bought the films: the "Special Edition" versions. After I paid to see them in the theaters. Like the forty-seven times I went in the summer of '77 weren't enough?? Well, welcome back, Jabba, just the same. Goodbye, Ewok "yub-yub" song. Goodbye another fifty bucks to add yet another trilogy of the same trilogy of films to my video library. I've now bought Star Wars more times than I've bought cars.
Fast-forward to today, September 21, 2004. Star Wars comes to DVD at last. And of course, I'm buying it a fifth time. Hello, revised Jabba. Goodbye, chubby Anakin Skywalker's ghost. Goodbye another sixty bucks (my, how times have changed) in order to finish filling a bookshelf with Star Wars tapes and DVDs. You're like a bounty hunter for my spare change, Mr. Lucas.
The alarming part? I've been happy to give you my money every single time. Well, maybe not that first VHS time, but every other time for sure.
And is this the end? I doubt it. The new films still don't have Biggs in the beginning. The ferocious sandstorm on Tattooine after the death of Jabba, when Luke parts company from the others, is still missing. We haven't had the repackaged Episodes I, II, and III yet. And then there's the whole "lost cut" of Star Wars that includes amazing footage we've never seen, like Han Solo and his "girlfriend Jenny" in the cantina.
Not to worry, however. I've set aside seventy bucks for 2010. Let me know, Darth Lucas, if I need to buy any additional versions between now and then. Happy to obey, my master.
Monday, September 20, 2004
Epi-blogue: Twelfth Week, Twelfth List--Pet Peeves
--Donald Rumsfeld. I hate this guy. The rest of the administration I view with disdain, but Rumsfeld is aggressively arrogant, contemptuous of the public as if he's a birthright monarch instead of an appointed official. he grouses and growls and sweeps aside important questions with a dismissive sneer. When confronted with his own deceitfulness, he blames his accusers, calling them unpatriotic. He strikes me as the kind of man who gives alcohol as Christmas gifts to children… and complains when they don't share it.
--Car ads on TV. I'd rather sit through tampon ads or commercials for foot fungus than be told one more time that it's a Hummer world. What over-inflated ego came to the conclusion that driving an overpriced status symbol actually improved lives? Car advertisers are sickeningly self-important and self-righteous about their product, and to be honest, I don't know anyone who will tell me that one of their greatest pleasures in life is driving on winding roads at sixty m.p.h. with four-wheel-drive and Vivaldi playing in the background. I feel patronized by nearly every car ad I see. If Donald Rumsfeld became the BMW spokesperson, the circle would be complete.
--Car drivers on cell phones. Yeah, I've been guilty of this, too, so I'm on my own list of annoying people. But I don't do it while merging, changing lanes, reading a roadmap, eating, or searching my glove compartment. I've seen all of this just in the last week of driving back and forth the twelve miles to work. There's a cell phone commercial (which don't bug me the way car ads do) in which a man drops his cell phone into a silverback gorilla's cage. The gorilla picks up the phone and proceeds to make a roaming call, leading the man to jump into the pit to reclaim his phone. The gorilla, phone to its ear, waves one finger at the man, the gesture of "hold on, I'll be just a minute, I'm busy here." That's the gesture these lane-weaving dipshits give you as they drift across double-yellow lines because God forbid they wait until they get home to call people they don't really want to talk to but whom they're just using to fill up time while they drive. I applaud the states that are making it illegal to have inane, distracting conversations while driving two-tons of potential death.
--AT&T Wireless. Clearly, my pet peeves in the world (except for Rummie) work well in a six degrees of separation scenario. For a company that has commanded and demanded its share of the telephone business, AT&T Wireless might just as well be a rudimentary network of tin cans and kite string criss-crossing the country. Its satellites fail to find a signal at least 30 percent of the time I'm out. Calls cut out. I can't recall any one occasion when the signal-strength reading was actually on "full." And the corker? Their monthy bill comes to me as "Payment Due Upon Receipt." For some reason, it pisses me off that they expect me to perform better at my duties than they do. Cingular bought them not too long ago (for $41 billion, instead of the garage sale "OBO" tag that they should have come with), so we'll see if things improve come the switch in December. If not, I'm pretty sure Sprint is going to be getting a Christmas present from me: my ported cell phone number.
So, what drives you up the wall? Remember, it's gotta be all the time, under all circumstances, with a passion that's the precise polar opposite of the things that bring you joy. Hopefully, it'll be tougher than you think to come up with your own list… unless your bitterness quotient is a helluva lot higher than mine. Just don't call me on my cell phone to tell me about it. I can't promise you'll get through.
Sunday, September 19, 2004
Tears in Heaven
And yet I still feel young. I still really dig pop culture, even the stuff not aimed at me--I know Live's "Lightning Crashes" and Puddle of Mudd's "She Fuckin' Hates Me," and I like them both. I still feel a certain amount of deference for people older than me, some of whom can still make my ignorance rocket me back to feeling eighteen again. Hell, I have a two-year-old son when most of my peers are dealing with teen angst from their adolescent kids.
But I've still changed. Somewhere along the way, I acquired a shaky sense of mortality and conscience. It slammed me hard yesterday when Clapton's "Change the World" was followed by "Tears in Heaven."
Once upon a time, something like the Russian school massacre would have bothered me only for its inhumanity. I would not have felt the desperate need to look away from the bodies of children being brought out, bloody and ruined. I would not have felt my heart race with the need to cradle a little Russian boy when the news played his terrified cries. But now, things are different.
Back in 1991, Eric Clapton's four-and-a-half-year-old son Conor fell from a 53rd floor window in a New York City hotel. For months afterward, Clapton could not cope with his grief, and he did not perform publicly. When he finally re-emerged, his music was different--more introspective, more personal, softer. The song "Tears in Heaven" was dedicated to the memory of his beautiful baby boy, just barely older than my Harrison.
Would you know my name
if I saw you in heaven?
Would it be the same
if I saw you in heaven?
I must be strong
and carry on
'cause I know I don't belong
Here in heaven.
Would you hold my hand
if I saw you in heaven?
Would you help me stand
if I saw you in heaven?
I'll find my way
through night and day
'cause I know I just can't stay
Here in heaven
Time can bring you down
Time can bend your knees
Time can break your heart
Have you beggin please
Beyond the door
There's peace I'm sure
And I know there'll be no more
Tears in heaven
A song that never moved me before brings me to tears now. I caught myself sobbing in the car. What horror it must be to lose a precious little life, a little hand so trusting in yours that you'll never feel again. When Harrison calls "Daddy," my soul soars. He knows so very little about the world beyond our front door, and Janell and I will show it to him, step by step. How do parents who lose their small hopes survive the loss?
And Clapton asks such a painful, heartfelt question: would my baby boy remember me, from our short time together in this world, if it was many more years before I joined him in the next one?
I look in on Harrison every single night while he's sleeping. When we play, I sometimes hold him to me and listen with my ear to his chest, listen to that tiny little heart pounding with the ferocity and certainty of a brand-new life. I watch his face as surprise and pleasure and anticipation come to him without a moment's consideration for how he'll be judged. Will it feel the same when I'm sixty and he's twenty-two? Will I still see my baby boy and all the promise in him that I see now? I hope so. And when I feel old someday--not yet, but someday--I will reclaim the memories of my youth not through remembering him.. but through looking at him.
Saturday, September 18, 2004
Like Columbus, I have stumbled upon already claimed country and called it my own: the weekend. Or, more appropriately capitalized, The Weekend.
I've been on these shores before, of course, but the lay of the land looks different now. There's a new ruler of this territory now--a two-year-old dictator who rules with both the iron fist and the crocodile tears--and I'm obliged to hunt-and-gather before really taking in the vaguely familiar horizons.
In other words, I busted my hump today doing housework, grocery shopping, and all the mundane yet absolutely vital and unavoidable tasks that supposedly make life worth living. It never ceases to amaze me how "important" something can be right-now-this-minute-today, especially those things that I won't remember six weeks from now. Any idea what you were doing three weekends ago? Me neither. I'm sure, though, that it was crucial at the time.
As an aside, the sonuvabitching post office in Bothell, Washington, closes at 1:00 on Saturdays. It's better to know this before you arrive in the rain with your boxes in hand after promising people those packages would go out today. Again, CRUCIAL VITAL LIFE-CHANGING IMPORTANT TASKS that I won't remember by Halloween.
How do single parents do it? Janell and I outnumber our boy two-to-one--which are fantastic odds in a tennis match or a basketball game--yet he continues to run us ragged. Do single parents go to movies? Do they get a half-hour to sit and listen to a CD? Do they get to sit down while they eat dinner, or do they eat over the sink at midnight during the one quiet minute in their otherwise chaotic day?
I remember a time when weekends were about movies--I saw 120 films at the theaters in the calendar year 1998, I believe. I remember a time when weekends were about baseball games (before the Mariners sucked) and spur-of-the-moment road trips (if you've never shot down to Portland to see the unbelievable Powell's bookstore, www.powells.com, you don't know what you've been missing on your weekends) and Scarecrow Video (again, unbelievable, www.scarecrow.com). I remember when weekends were about "who's invited us over?" and "who should we have over?" and staying in bed until noon so we could fool around.
One child that bucks the odds of the birth-control pill working correctly later, and fooling around at noon, or at any other time for that matter, doesn't seem like so much fun anymore.
So, now our weekends are all about getting the necessities done so we can spend just one day doing NOTHING. Movies and games and road trips and Powell's and Scarecrow and invites and fooling around can't compare to just STOPPING for a few hours. Just stopping. Breathing. Appreciating it.
John Lennon once said, "You don't know what you got until you lose it." Well, I can now confirm a simliar sentiment: "you don't know what you got until you need it again."
Wow, do I need it. So, here's to tomorrow, Sunday... The Weekend. And the seven days I used to spend relaxing? Well, like I said before, what used to take seven days now takes one.
Man, this is a weird country I've discovered again. I bet I should just leave it to the natives.
Friday, September 17, 2004
"You people don't know how good you've got it," Michael G. Ryan told a press conference group of genocide survivors, desperate migrant workers, and homeless nomads displaced by civil wars.
"Did any of you eat lunch at your desks yesterday? Well, I did," Ryan said, jabbing a meaningful finger at the crowd, most of whom spoke no English but attended for the promised free medical treatment and generous portions of various finger foods.
Ryan emphasized the insurmountable struggles of his situation with an example that left the crowd humbled and ashamed of their status. "When do I really have time to blog?" Ryan wailed. "All of you, from your underdeveloped, technically backward countries, are so lucky. No one ever put this sort of pressure on you."
From the admittedly stressful 20th floor offices of his new company, where the panoramic view of downtown Bellevue and Seattle on the western horizon, Ryan bemoaned the freedom of the nomads to come and go as they please while he and his middle-class co-workers are forced by economic greed to remain within the confines of their cubicle prisons at least 8 hours a day, unless they go out to lunch.
"How great it must be not to have to get in that elevator every morning," he complained. "How great it must be to sleep under the stars and forage for your own food instead of going to the Tap House."
The nomads silently agreed while scooping up large quantities of the day-old sandwiches for their starving tribe mates.
Ryan tried to end on an upbeat note. "Well, TGIF," he said. The crowd seemed unmoved by the sentiment.
Thursday, September 16, 2004
Slightly South of South Park
Even before the photo-finish game of Star Wars Trivial Pursuit yesterday over lunch (we need not talk about winners and losers, only who played the game with honor, and that would NOT be Rick... not that he beat Eric and me or anything), there was this other decidedly great moment.
Heather--who is such a free spirit that you'd swear she missed being born during the hippy generation (I think there's something very self-confident about pink high heels combined with faded blue jeans)--had a few spare minutes to fool around with a creative program that Eric had sent to her: make your own South Park character. You can choose hair, eyes, expression, even clothes. She made them for everyone in the office, and I'm oddly proud to share mine here:
The grimace, according to my team (who, alarmingly, probably know better than I), is due to the stress that comes from being the editor in a company that hasn’t had one for a year and a half. This would explain the sighs of relief I hear from neighboring desks and the sympathetic, almost pitying, looks I get every couple of hours.
I haven't seen South Park in a couple of years, but I think I can still accurately paraphrase some of its dialogue by saying,
GO*#!&!MIT! WHAT THE #%!?* HAVE I GOTTEN MY F*#KING SELF INTO?
(You gotta scream this in Cartman’s voice to really make it work. And then pray that someone kills Kenny so you can get promoted.)
For those of you with the desire to see yourself as a South Park character--and Jeez, really, who wouldn't?--Eric kindly supplied me with the link:
I make no promises as to how it will impact your work environment.
Wednesday, September 15, 2004
88th Avenue: Post-Script
Did it work?
I had six emails asking me if it was real, two phone conversations about it, and a couple of face-to-faces with friends who wanted to offer me advice about how to deal with my non-existent trigger-happy neighbor, Jim Bomball.
So, yeah, I think it worked.
Some of it was real--we have speeders, that's for damned sure. We have a neighbor whose nickname "Party Marty" is, indeed, based on the obnoxious shindigs for the local high schoolers that he throws every weekend. (He's not a Neo-Nazi, as far as I know, but I can't stand him just the same. A revving motorcycle at midnight could turn you against Gandhi.) Lots of bits and pieces are real to give the whole thing authenticity, but the Bomballs and their gun have existed only in my imagination.
I'm not sure what I learned, however, beyond the obvious... and hell, I'm not even sure what that is. I know it was fun; I know a handful of people were at least entertained, it not somewhat alarmed, by the tale. I know I learned that writing a story on the fly while trying to maintain structure and pacing is REALLY HARD. And because I don't really know a whole lot, I won't be doing it again anytime in the near future. It's quite the challenge to tell a story that sounds real and operates in real time.
Did I tell you yet about the giant shark that swims under the grass in our back yard? I saw it again--well, it's dorsal fin, anyway, poking out of the weeds--just before I sat down to write this.
Damn. That doesn't work, does it?
Tuesday, September 14, 2004
Character Study #2: Beverly the Birthday Queen
Surrounded by a sea of editors who went from the soft-spoken (Britt) to the firmly outspoken (Darla) to the over-spoken (me), Beverly was a calm island. She was like the U.N. and Greenpeace and Amnesty International for a beleaguered team of wordsmiths who had to do battle daily with frantic market reps, pushy sales people, and uncompromising designers. She was the queen of tact while being the Rock of Gibraltar. I have never had--and probably never will have again--a boss as dedicated to my career and general well-being as Beverly was.
But for all her amazing qualities as an editor-in-chief, Beverly still has them in spades as a friend-in-chief.
Her selflessness is unparalleled. When she retired from Wizards as a wealthy woman back in 2000 (thanks to her early-days commitment to the company... oh, and a buttload of stock), she immediately set about taking care of her friends and family. She didn't run out and buy herself lots of expensive goodies, like some of us who shall be nameless would have (yeah, I'm talking about myself). Instead, she looked around at those closest to her and asked, What do they need? And then she went about giving them what they needed. Her parents, her best friends, her brother, her husband Rick, Rick's family, all the people she'd waited a long time to take care of.
When my first wife left me and I could not breathe for days at a time, she put me on a plane and sent me to Illinois to see my mom. When I didn't think I could get out of bed after coming back, she let me stay in their house to be near someone who cared.
She listens better than anyone I know. She shows genuine interest in what other people think and feel. She is enthusiastic even when I know she doesn’t have the energy to be. She is encouraging and supportive, as is evidenced by the wonderful cookie arrangement that magically appeared at my front door after my wife Janell and I started our new jobs.
And today, she is a year older.
So, happy birthday, Beverly. The gift I have for you at dinner tonight is nothing compared to the gift the world got when you came into it. Thank you for being my friend, through all sorts of insanity, and thank you for being the friend, daughter, sister, wife, and benefactor to all the lives you touch. You were the best reason I had to move to Seattle a decade ago, and I didn't even know it.
Monday, September 13, 2004
Epi-blogue: Eleventh Week, Eleventh List--Rooms of the House
At the end of October, I went to Africa on safari. On my last day in the bush, I reached Janell via satellite phone… and found out we would soon be sharing the house with our unexpected child.
So, this week's list--three years after moving in--is a short list of the rooms that no longer belong to us...
*That spare room? It's a playroom now. Harrison doesn't actually play in it so much as he blows through it. He has his own TV and computer in there--and let's remember that he's two years old. I would blame his parents for this overindulgence, but I don't like to point the finger at innocent people like myself.
*The family room? We lost half of it to Harrison's Fisher-Price people and his myriad noise-making toys. We tried to move the bulk of those noisy ones into the playroom so we could sometimes actually hear the TV in the family room, but Harrison doesn't seem to care much for the quiet toys that can't drown out the news. He has strong opinions about the war in Iraq: it isn't loud enough.
*The kitchen? Aside from the 22 magnetic letters on the refrigerator--yes, I know how many letters are in the alphabet, thank you for pointing it out--it would seem to be fairly child-free... until you discover the drawer full of snacks and the cabinet full of bottles, baby bowls, tiny little plates, and jars of baby food. Add to this the fact that Harrison prefers hardwood floors for his bouncing balls and rolling cars, and the room is not spared his wrath.
*The dining room? Bouncing balls and rolling cars aside, he has his own special high chair... parked at the head of the table. How exactly did he acquire sufficient power to snag the head of the table?? I was a negligent leader, apparently. Voted out in the polls.
*The nursery? Well, that one goes without sayiny, except it spills over into the hall, where an entire shelf is devoted to his toys, and then it spills over into the master bedroom, where he has a half-dozen DVDs and thirty VHS tapes and various unclaimed toys inevitably roll out from under the bed. Who's the master now? Who's my daddy?
*The deck? What deck? The deck and back yard are Ryan-Toppen Land, an explosion of Little Tykes plastic and Fisher-Price rubber that Walt Disney himself would have envied. You cannot cross from one end of the deck to the other without stumbling over a metal truck, a plastic ball, or Big Wheel. I don't even try anymore. I have surrendered to the creeping doom that his parenthood.
So, now, Janell and I each have our offices, our little sanctuaries in the house that now belongs to Harrison, regardless of who pays the mortgage. We banish even the smallest of Hot Wheels or rubber balls from our offices. We can take no chances; if the seed gets planted, our last little gardens of privacy will be overrun with Harrison's flowers.
I have always considered myself rather materialistic, a collector of many different lines, with more goods than common sense. Yet proportionately speaking, I should have about 20 times more stuff than Harrison does; after all, I'm 20 times older than him, and I have a job, right?
Of course I do. I work for Harrison M. Toppen-Ryan Acquisitions, Inc.
Feel free to stop by the warehouse anytime.
Sunday, September 12, 2004
88th Avenue: 7
With school now back in session, I'm always surprised when I see teenagers roll up in muscle cars and leave flowers or balloons or cards or signs on Marty's front lawn. They came Wednesday and Thursday; Friday, when I went into the office for the first time, I know they came, too, by the appearance of the "WE'LL MISS YOU, JACK AND MAX" on the curb in front of Marty's lawn. The severe Seattle rains we had for a couple of days this week didn't wash away the tire tracks on the grass; in fact, they turned a dark brown when wet, like gigantic scratch marks in the dirt.
I went next door to talk to Jim Bomball on Thursday evening, when I watched the local news at 6:30 and heard what I knew would come out sooner or later. My stomach hurt to walk across the wet lawn; I didn't want to ask Jim if he'd heard the news, too. I really just wanted to stay inside and wait for Joey to come on.
When Jim came to the door, I just jumped in. "You heard that the driver, that kid Jack, was shot?"
Jim didn't meet my eye. He stood there in his threadbare house slippers with a Diet Coke in one hand, scratching his beard and looking down the street at Marty's "scene of the crime." He cleared his throat. "I heard that on the 5:00 news."
"Killed him instantly," I said, as if he hadn't conceded he'd heard. "He was sixteen. I guess he'd had his license less than a month."
"I know. It's pretty awful."
I almost said, You don't sound like you believe that, Jim, but I held it in. Instead, I said, "I guess they'll be coming around to talk to all of us about it sooner or later. The police."
Jim knew where I was going with this, or he thought I knew. "Well, I was in bed by ten. So was Maggie. I guess we don't know too much about it, then, since we were both asleep."
"Well, I was awake," I said. Jim finally looked at me. "I was out on the deck when I heard the shot. And then I was standing there still when the shooter came around to bury the gun in the back yard."
"Not your back yard."
"No. Not mine."
Jim said, "You saw the shooter. In the dark?"
"The moon was out for a while."
The more logical question for him to ask would have been, Whose back yard, then? but he didn't bother. He already knew. Jim knew everything there was to know about this mess. Much more important, Jim knew that I knew everything, too.
"You think that's something you can not tell the police?" Jim asked, so casually he might've been asking if I thought Joey was going to be as good as Friends.
"I think I need to tell them," I said.
"Well, 'need' is a strong word, don't you think?"
"Some secrets are like cancer, I think. I don't know how I could live with that. And I don't know what kind of trouble I'd be in if I didn't. Plus, there are dead boys here, Jim."
"They'd have killed themselves eventually." Jim glared back at Party Marty's house again. "Or they'd have run over your little boy in the street. Or mine."
"I think your boy can take care of himself," I said as gently as I could. Jim's eyes were starting to water. I wondered if his wife, Maggie, knew what we both knew.
"No, he can't." He wiped the back of his wrist across his eyes. "He's just a boy himself. He's still learning right from wrong."
I waited, dizzy, my stomach pitted and hanging somewhere below my beltline, twitching nervously to go home again, let this all be, forget I'd seen Bryan burying the gun in the Bomballs' back yard. I opened my mouth to say something, but ended up being silent, no doubt looking like a fish suffocating on a dock.
"He doesn't know what he does," Jim half-whispered. He met my eyes one more time. "If you tell the police what you saw, then you don't know what you're doing either."
He closed the door on me.
When I came home from my first day in the office Friday, filled with various vignettes to tell Janell about my new co-workers and the view of Seattle from our 20th floor offices, she had the real story.
"The police were here this afternoon," she said.
"Holy shit. Did you talk to them?" I asked her, thoughts of the day vanishing.
"I didn't need to. They didn't make it to our house." Her eyes gleamed with gossip. "They got as far as the Bomball house."
"Why?" I said, but I knew. Or I thought I knew, until she told me.
"Because Jim Bomball confessed that he did it," Janell said. "He shot that boy who was driving. He told them where he hid the gun and everything. They arrested him right there on the front porch. Bryan was in school and Maggie was at work. I don't know how he reached them since he used his phone call to call here."
I couldn't understand what she'd said for a moment. "He called here?"
"From the King County Jail. He didn't know you had started a new job today. So, he asked me to give you a message. He said to tell you that he's sorry about the cancer and that he hopes you can live with it now... because he can."
She paused, waiting for an explanation of what such a cryptic thought might mean, and I knew I'd tell her--eventually. Thankfully, Harrison cried out "Mommy, where aw you?" from the other room, and she was distracted long enough for me to retreat down to my office.
So, I'll be silent now. I told him the day of my failed garage sale that I wouldn't testify, and that applies still, even if the wrong person takes the fall for what happened. I'll tell myself that I've vented by changing a few names and writing it all down in a blog that very few people read. I'll tell myself that I'm doing the right thing for the Bomball family by not saying what I know is true about their fourteen-year-old son and letting their hippy dad do what he thinks is right.
I'll tell myself that, in some way, I'm taking care of my own son by letting Jim Bomball take care of his.
Even as I write this, on a wet Sunday afternoon with Harrison's baby monitor on my desk and my wife out there in the world, meeting some people at her workplace, I can hear an engine roaring out there on the corner. By the time I finished typing that last sentence, it had faded, but it'll be back, I have no doubt. The checkered flag might be invisible to me, but the teenage drivers on 88th Avenue always know it's there, no matter who ultimately wins--or who finally loses--the race that goes on, up and down our street.
Saturday, September 11, 2004
9/11: Vanessa Wen
Her name was Ssu-Hui "Vanessa" Wen. She was 23 years old, a programmer at Cantor Fitzgerald. If you know the name of the company, you know that they lost most of their employees that day. Three years later, I still know very little about her, though I am glad to say her memory has a strong voice in her sister, Sarah, who has done an admirable job of speaking on her behalf to newspapers and at memorials.
Her full profile is here (http://www.legacy.com/LegacyTribute/Sept11.asp?Page=TributeStory&PersonId=122592), and you can find out more about her--and the thousands of others who died but who deserve to live on in your memories--at CNN.com and in an article published today, the third anniversary of her death (http://www.theshorthorn.com/archive/2002/fall/02-sep-11/n091102-02.html).
If you have a face and a story you can think on today, don't remember the deaths; remember the lives.
Friday, September 10, 2004
I'm editing again, and I'd forgotten exactly how exacting it is. It's so finite, unlike the brand management work I was doing last year, that you have a strong sense of completion when you're done editing something. You also have an unbridled moment of elation when you actually find a mistake, provided that the entire document isn't a mistake to begin with.
So, observations from a new job...
*I have pretty cool co-workers. During the course of the day, I discovered that a healthy number of them are like-minded Star Wars fans, that they're happy to talk babies or pets with me, and that all of them are glad to have an editor around again. I'm sure I should be worried by that last one.
*I was welcomed. That's the scariest part, waiting to see if you'll be accepted. I was invited to lunch (I went), to join in on future German board games they play during lunch (I said I'd join), to accompany them for drinks after work (I declined on the ground I had not made arrangements at home, but I promised I'd come next Friday for a short while), and to view pictures of Heather's dog, Levi, who is her pride and joy. They all made me feel like I belonged, and that was SO comforting.
*I was treated with respect as to my skills. The R&D guys were glad I'm there to help template the cards for the game, the production folks were grateful to have a pair of "professional eyes" to look at their proofs, and the Vice President remembered me from working with me year ago and said, "It will be like old times. It's good to have someone reliable with us." All very cool.
*Minor drawback: I sit with my back to the room, which I don't like because I feel my Spidey-sense tingle when people pass behind me, even if they're not interested in me. I hope this'll pass or that I can move to less wide-open space in time. We'll see.
*I made a few bucks. And that's the whole point of a job, isn't it?
I guess the biggest drawback to the gig is the lateness of my blogging. But it's all new still, so I'll come up with a plan for this--look for early-morning blogs in the near future, I suspect. Or short ones (which I know will please some readers). Or skipped days.
Or Star Wars rumors, like the one about Lucas doctoring SW again, this time adding in the actor playing Anakin Skywalker (i.e., Darth Vader) in the first three films to the finale scene in Jedi. Nah, I didn't get this from someone at work--my friend Scott sent it to me. But I swear that I read it at work. Tough first day, huh?
Thursday, September 09, 2004
*Dogs will lead police to your body.
*You appeal to a small, select group of confused people.
*Ignore previous cookie.
*You make God sick.
*Nothing good will happen to you between now and your next fortune.
*When you stop thinking about it, that's your answer.
*Expect the worst; it expects you.
*Today is the first day of the rest of your life, so you have wasted many days before this.
*Your best investment in the coming year will be this fortune cookie. Spend it wisely.
*Your fortune does not meet regulatory standards.
*You put your faith is superstition and messages hidden in your food. You are doomed.
*Someone is reading over your shoulder right now. Figuratively. Did you look anyway?
*You have not yet impressed your waiter. Your fortune is void.
*You haev dyslexia.
*Answer the next question you are asked "no," okay? Too late.
*Drive on the wrong side of the road at a high speed. It helps fulfill other fortunes out there now.
*The quick red fox jumps over the lazy brown dog. Rearrange these letters to find your fortune!
Wednesday, September 08, 2004
88th Avenue: 6.5
In short: a speeding car jumped the curb, jumped the lawn, and jumped about twenty-five feet into Party Marty's living room.
In truth: I never heard any brakes squealing. According to what I've been told by the more gossip-oriented neighbors, the Thunderbird was "moving like lightning." ("That's a thunder-and-lightning reference," Jennie from three doors down told me solemnly while I was doing my own gawking at the local reporters who are a lot less attractive in person than on TV.) KOMO-4 said this evening that the police estimate the car was "substantially exceeding the speed limit." Party Marty's new living room/garage combo is testament to that, all right.
There's tire tracks in the yard; glass is everywhere. Random bits of wood are scattered from the curb to Marty's front porch. The Thunderbird ground to sudden halt about ten feet from where Marty was sleeping on his couch, sparing him the ultimate irony of being run over by the same little punks he gives beer to every weekend.
But the news also says that the cops have determined that drugs or alcohol "did not play a part in this accident." They didn't comment further on what might have been the cause, and I doubt most of the neighbors have any idea. You'd have had to been up, feeding the wildlife, to have heard it: the single gunshot about four seconds before the crash.
And you'd have had to see the figure that scampered into the Bomballs' back yard next door to know how it happened. Our deck is pretty high; it was hard to miss the nervous heavy breathing as Bryan Bomball came from around the far side of their house, slinking like a cat beneath a far-too-open sky, and ran to the very edge of their property, right at the corner of the picket fence that adjoins their yard with the one behind them. He was plain as day to me in the moonlight that would disappear behind clouds no more than ten minutes later.
He got down and dropped something in a hole that he proceeded to cover with dirt using both hands as shovels. Then he stood up, kicked leaves and twigs over it and all around it, and then disappeared back into the darkness. A few minutes later, I saw a light go on in the Bomballs' basement, and by the time I got to the curb to view the wreckage of Party Marty's house and watch the rescue workers roar up to help the injured, Bryan was back on the street with me, hands clean, in his pajamas, gawking with the rest of us.
And he has no idea what I know.
Tuesday, September 07, 2004
Don't Mask, Don't Tell
We also all know that no one uses the term "munchies" unless you're stoned. Stupid squirrels.
Yet now we have a different problem. A couple of nights ago, Janell and I hear banging on the back deck. The meticulous thump thump thump you associate with someone trying to open a jar's lid by beating it against the counter edge.
We crept to the sliding glass door, convinced that we'd find squirrels with a crowbar working on the lock. Or our new cat, "Calley," tearing one of Harrison's deck toys to pieces in that cute but frustratingly destructive kitten way.
Neither was the case. It was a real thief--black mask and all. The blinding flash of the digital camera that I'd brought along to catch the criminal in the act did not deter said thief; if anything, he defiantly stood his ground, half-snarling for the mugshot photo.
He had the lid off of the Tupperware container housing Calley's food and was digging around inside with his grubby little paws, having a fine midnight snack. And this ain't cheap catfood, folks--this is the good stuff that keeps that has kept my other cat, Methuselah--er, Selena--going well past the age of 105.
I shook the security stick from the sliding glass door at him. "Get going, freeloader," I said.
"---- --------," he chittered, which in raccoon means "---- -------." (It's so dirty, I can't post it in either language.)
I waved the stick threateningly. He stood up on his hind quarters--holy shit, he was like 6' 8"!--and let loose a flurry of raccoon obscenities that made my ears burn, and I don't really speak raccoon.
So, we let him eat. Eventually, he retreated enough from the Tupperware for me to snag it and limit the buffet, which just pissed him off more. He knocked over a couple of Harrison's toys with little feet of flying fury--very Crouching Raccoon, Hidden Squirrel--as he lumbered off into the night.
From the darkness, I could hear the indignant squirrels. I'm sure we'll get a bold ransom note for Calley from them soon.
Stupid squirrels. I'll have the raccoon deliver the ransom.
Monday, September 06, 2004
Epi-blogue: Tenth Week, Tenth List--Great TV Shows You're Not Watching
So, as the new TV season descends upon us (Entertainment Weekly and TV Guide are both providing solid coverage of the new and the returning shows), let me turn you on to a few older shows you might not be watching...
*Arrested Development (Fox, Sundays, second season starts November 7). Ron Howard of Happy Days fame (yeah, I know he's done more, but that's the big one, right?) does the voice-over narration for this absolutely brilliant sitcom about an incredibly dysfunctional family, the Bluths, who are held together by the only sane member of the clan, son Michael (Jason Bateman). Rumor has it that Justine Bateman (Jason's real sister and Michael J. Fox's pretend one from Family Ties) might appear in the second season as Michael's love interest! The jokes are subtle, the sarcasm biting, and with no laugh track, the average American viewers will likely flip over to Who Wants to Hump My Garbage Can? for their laughs. Do yourself a favor: WATCH THIS SHOW. Get caught up when first season comes out on DVD October 19.
*Scrubs (NBC, Tuesdays, fourth season started August 31). I came in midway through second season, and I didn't have any trouble catching up. This comedy set in a hospital is more M*A*S*H than ER, and the central character J.D. (actor Zach Braff, undoubtedly still high on the great buzz about his independent film Garden State) does a voice-over for his own character, combining his imaginative fantasies and potentially heartbreaking realities into one satisfying mix. This season is helped out by Heather Graham in eight episodes.
As a sidenote, since I'm thinking about ER, rumor has it that my own personal goddess for worshipping, Ming-Na, might not be back this season and that her character might have been killed off at the end of last season. If this rumor is true... Screw you, ER! You weren't giving her good storylines anyway! She can do better than you sad-sacks, and while your writers wring their hands trying to "top" dropping a helicopter on someone (which I think is just the other side of jumping the shark), she can flex her acting muscles and get some star time that she has deserved for years on your show. Now, if this rumor is false... uh, say, ER, can you give Ming-Na some meatier stories? That'd be sweet of you, thanks.
*The Bernie Mac Show (Fox, Wednesdays, fourth season starts September 8). I just discovered a theme for the three shows I'm recommending--they all have a voice-over. Well, Bernie actually speaks to "America" in a breaking-the-fourth-wall technique (same as the voice-over narration of Scrubs). Bernie is raising his two neices and one nephew in a fairly posh Encino environment, but his atttitude about them is pure Chicago. It's across from The West Wing (sinking) and The King of Queens (sunk) and The Bachelor (please; was this ever even afloat?), so there is no reason you can't catch this one. First season's already out there on DVD. Oh, and you can't hold Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle against Bernie... though I did, for a while.
Finally, since I'm still thinking about ER, here's a thought about what to do if Ming-Na's character is, in fact, killed off in the season opener on September 23...
Scroll down to the "Select Show" button, and it'll open up your email for you. Your letter might begin something like...
"Dear NBC execs and related boneheads at the Law & Order/Dateline Network,
With the loss of Ming-Na from ER, you can change your peacock back to the 1950s, pre-Asian black-and-white that it used to be. The channel of such noble dramas as the universally panned Hawaii (no Asian leads, interestingly enough) and cutting-edge flat comedies like Father of the Pride (yes, we need more bathroom humor) has really done us all a service. We don't need talented actors and actresses on TV; leave the acting to Donald Trump. He reads the cue cards so well, after all. Here's hoping that whatever she does next has better than the literally two minutes average of screentime per week you so generously gave her. I will watch the WB's 'local programming' at 10:00 Thursday nights before I'll tune in to ER again. Or I'll watch UPN. The WB or UPN, for crying out loud! Do you get the impression I'm unhappy with your network? I even feel a little guilty for recommending Scrubs on my blog! If you're smart, you'll ask her to join that show's cast next. I mean, she already has the whole doctor's wardrobe, right? Do your entire two-tone network a favor and get her back on the air with more than 120 seconds each week. We're timing you."
Feel free to cut and paste, folks.
Sunday, September 05, 2004
88th Avenue: 6
I already knew before I peeked between the curtains. I'd heard the shots.
Friday night three Bothell police cruisers--all of Bothell's police cruisers, I suspect--were parked at haphazard angles on 88th Avenue, just a few houses down from us. I could see the silhouettes of cops on the sidewalk, seemingly unengaged, like the myriad road-construction workers you creep by in a traffic jam, wondering why the hell they aren't working so things can get back to normal. I counted four cops standing around; a fifth was interviewing a gaggle of teenagers from the Chevy Malibu parked not too far from the mailboxes. The Malibu's blinkers were on, adding to the Warholian carnival appearance of our little neighborhood.
"Who did they bust?" Janell asked from the dark living room behind me. I'd deliberately not turned on the lights so as not to put my own silhouette up in our windows while I snooped.
"A bunch of kids," I said.
Janell said, "And Jim Bomball. With his six-shooter."
"No. I don't see him."
Janell made a dismissive noise in the back of her throat--now that she's going back into the office, even this sort of drama is a severe annoyance at two A.M.--and said, "I'm not raising Harrison in the middle of some gang war. This had better be the end of it."
She went back to bed; I went back to the silent soap opera out on the pavement.
The kids were all gesturing at once, pointing different directions. Another cop was inspecting their rear window with a flashlight; he moved around to check out their backseat at the same time. A third and fourth cop, both women, were getting back in their squad car. Their bubbletop lights went out as they turned around and drove back to the corner.
I went back to bed. It looked like the drama was over.
At 7:30 Saturday morning, our doorbell rang. Unlike the middle-of-the-night phone call that sets you wondering who might've died, the doorbell that early just pisses me off. Most of our friends wouldn't just drop in unannounced. UPS and Fed-Ex just drop packages on the porch, God forbid they'd be delivering that early. I was up, thankfully, though Harrison wasn't--he started shouting "Dada? Where ah you?" from his crib while I was talking to the police officer on our porch.
Now, I'm not too proud to admit that, had I been single, I'd have given up Jim Bomball in a second... if it would have netted me a date. Do you know how rarely I meet a good-looking Asian woman in uniform? If I could get my Korean wife into a cop uniform, I'd be much more receptive to body-cavity searches.
Officer Tanaka (no idea what her first name was; it's not on the name badge) was very pleasant, if not immediately specific about what she was after. We exchanged some pleasantries, I apologized for still being in my pajamas, she apologized for coming to the door so early, I asked her if she wanted to come in, Harrison called out "Where ah you?," she didn't answer the invitation and instead wanted to know if I'd heard anything last night.
"I saw the squad cars out there," I said. "I assumed you were here about the teenagers that speed up and down our street."
"Actually, there was gunfire in your neighborhood last night," Officer Tanaka said. "We were investigating a couple of calls."
"Some high school students who thought they'd been shot at. One of your neighbors."
I gestured toward the Bomball house. "Did you talk to Jim Bomball next door? He's usually up pretty late. He might've heard."
"We spoke to his wife. She said he's out of town this weekend."
I had forgotten that Jim mentioned he was going camping over the Labor Day weekend. I remembered thinking that a tree-hugging hippy like Jim would have no trouble sleeping under the stars until he told me he was going in a motorhome with some old college buddies. So much for the all-natural, roughing-it, one-with-the-earth approach.
"Did anyone get hurt?" I asked.
"No," Officer Tanaka said. "We're not even sure there was any actual gunfire. We haven't found any evidence. Maybe a car backfired."
I didn't think so. But I didn't say so. I just agreed with her, said I was sorry I hadn't heard anything, and then suggested that she might want to talk to Party Marty across the street.
"I don't know if he owns any guns, though," I admitted. "He seems more like a cross-burner than a drive-byer."
Officer Tanaka actually reacted--she blinked. I might have to reconsider my position on good-looking Asian women in uniform. She was sort of scaring me. But in a good sort of way, I guess.
She thanked me and went off to talk to Marty, and I went to tell Janell that maybe Jim Bomball is an amazing shot, firing all the way from whatever state park he's camping in this weekend. Or, as Officer Tanaka said, maybe a car backfired. Or, the most likely answer, somebody else instead of Jim Bomball was shooting last night.
I'm going to guess it's Bryan, Jim's son. When Jim gets back, we gotta talk.
Saturday, September 04, 2004
The Importance of Being Materialistic
That ought to be the unemployment office's mantra. Unfortunately, those snotty state workers seem to think the job itself is the prize. Foolish, unenlightened mortals.
I firmly believe in self-congratulatory gestures, as I also believe that the probability of other people congratulating you with material goods for random acts of survival is pretty slim. Altruism has its limits, for crying in the night.
So, when I signed the paperwork yesterday to start working as an editor for a trading card game--one I've worked on before, I might add--I rewarded myself with a trip to the Disney Store. It's been a while; a year's worth of unemployment will give you pause when you eyeball any expense beyond life-saving surgery. It's been so long since I've actually bought anything at the Disney Store that they no longer remember my first name. That's an odd form of rejection, I think. So, I reminded them of it yesterday. I think sales clerks can see you coming with the "Veni, Vidi, Visa" mindset.
Now, one might argue that this is a bit premature. I haven't actually started work yet. Despite the offer letter, I'm still at least three weeks away from my first paycheck. And quite frankly, am I lacking material possessions? Really, am I?
Eh. Argue all you want. I went to the mall. And whoever said that money can't buy happiness didn't know where to shop. My snowglobe collection (now hovering around 50 in all) welcomed its newest member with open arms and a hearty "how you doin'?"
You know, the first time I went to Disneyland, in the fall of 1995, I thought the Haunted Mansion (the ride Mickey and friends are on) was a lame-ass ride. Like a Jaycee's Haunted House run by the Jaycee's Little League and Elementary School Pom-Pom Squad. In fact, that entire first encounter with Disneyland left me thinking it was overly protective, childish, and pathetically pedestrian for a theme park.
And then I grew up. I've been back something like twelve times since then. I rank the Haunted Mansion above the Indiana Jones ride, and if you know me, you know the signficance of that statement.
So, I know my little "good job on the good job" token is only a snowglobe, but hearing "Grim Grinning Ghosts" by winding it up makes me oddly happy--the kind of happiness that comes from an unspecific memory. Madame Leota's eyes light up when you flip a switch (she's the floating head in front of Mickey, Donald, and Goofy). And really, who can find fault with the three Hitchhiking Ghosts who appear in your Doom Buggy with you at the end of the ride? And didn't you know it was called a Doom Buggy? Come on people. Get with the haunting.
Man, I gotta keep this job long enough to go back to Disneyland, don't I?
Friday, September 03, 2004
Dr. Seuss Wannabe
All the spiders and flies in the flow and the ebb
of the super collosal highway internet
The loudest of all was the one they called Stet.
He was blind in one eye (not the one with the patch)
So he caught twenty viruses that no one could catch
And his blog, oh my word, all those typos! And yet
He let it all stand, close at hand, so did Stet.
He could type twice as fast with his hands and his feet
Hitting all of the keys... except the one called "delete"
So his sentences sometimes were garbled or odd
Like when he said that our nation was one under Dog.
When he finally announced that he'd made a decision
Of enormous "export" (in his Stet-like languition)
The rest of us read through his blog with this thought,
I wonder which words are dyslexic... or knot?
He typed it out "Santa" when he really meant "Satan"
Whom he'd given his soul to without hesitatin'
But no could guess that the S was the cause
For "I’ll kill my elf" made them still think of Claus.
So as winter approaches with seasonal depression
Let your words be precise in your Yuletide confessions
For now you can say that Stetistics have shown
that the life you might save, well, it might be your won.
Thursday, September 02, 2004
In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said, "Is it good, friend?"
"It is bitter--bitter," he answered;
"But I like it
"Because it is bitter,
"And because it is my heart."
Well, Debra had a bitter moment last night: Lauren Jackson, her all-time favorite women's basketball player (in fact, her all-time favorite athlete in general, I think), wasn't able to play against the Sacramento Monarchs. (For what it's worth, those Monarchs are some aggressive players--you wouldn't believe how many players got knocked down last night. It looked like a wrestling match or a mean-spirited version of Tiddleywinks.) Jackson needed to fly back to Australia to take care of her grandmother, so she's out for more games to come, even.
Now, if you read Debra's blog-- again, that's www.bringbackbrenda.blogspot.com-- you'll witness an important distinction in what we collectively think of as "disappointment."
It's all in your perspective and your expectations. I suppose those who expect nothing good to happen to them aren't disappointed when bad shit ends up being the order of their days. Janell and I talked about this over lunch yesterday: in the words and pronunciation of Elmer Fudd, we are "mouwcontents." We always want the next great thing. Today is okay, but why the hell can't tomorrow be better? If we make $X, we want $X+Y now. If we make $X+Y, we want $X+Y+Z. If we have four bedrooms, we'd prefer five. Hamburger? Why can't it be steak?
When I was a boy, I watched The Partridge Family religiously. And they preempted it all winter long for football games. We didn't subscribe to TV Guide, so you know how I found out that my beloved Partridges weren't going to be on tonight? That's right--I was parked in front of our old Zenith, waiting, watching big fat guys with a collective IQ of 7 bash each other into pulp and slowly but surely creep into my show's scheduled time zone.
So, I wrote a letter. Granted, I was ten. But I wrote a letter full of froth and indignation. How DARE you mess with my show! I don't care about football! Nobody cares about football! Football players would rather be watching The Partridge Family than watching themselves play! It was my soapbox, what Debra calls a "daily high horse." And I rode that stallion right into Dodge. I was as aggressive as a child can be without the added benefit of great baiting words like "dipshits" or "dictatorial, knuckle-dragging, pandering troglodytes," which I still haven't had a chance to use effectively, thirty years later, truth be told.
I mailed it immediately. Unfortunately, I didn't understand the concept of networks and affiliates, so I sent it to the local station instead of to the high-powered brass in New York. It was probably just as well. From the local affiliate, I got back a nice, understanding letter that essentially blamed New York for make the preemption call. (And, to someone at WAND-TV's credit, conspiratorially noted that the "football season is thankfully short.") From New York, I'd have gotten a "you're not in our test consumer group, kid. Sincerely, DK-DPT" (That's "Dictatorial, Knuckle-Dragging..." well, you get it.)
I remember all this because Debra's friends and I teased her after the game about how she would be standing on street corners at midnight, pulled a Marlon Brando from Streetcar, wailing Lauren Jackson's name with her hands around her face to contain the agony within.
I'd advocate writing Lauren a letter laden with disappointment.
I stood upon a high place,
And saw, below, many devils
And carousing in sin.
One looked up, grinning,
And said, "Comrade! Brother!"
--Stephen Crane, High-Powered Brass of Disappointment and Sharer of Souls
Wednesday, September 01, 2004
88th Avenue: 5
"The bounce house needs to be covered," she mumbled.
"Or what happens?" I mumbled back. I mean, it is made of rubber, after all.
"Or you don't sleep much more tonight," she answered, and the thunder boomed again in support of the threat.
"You can make me go," I said as I got out of bed, "but you can't make me care."
It wasn't raining yet, but the leaves had turned down and the wind had that ripe, ready-to-go coolness that immediately precedes a storm. I couldn't find the damned tarp in the back yard (I found it this morning under the deck, but in the wee, wee hours, it being bright-blue made NO difference), so I trekked around to the garage to find another one. Next door, the lights were on in the Bomball's kitchen.
I knew the shadow at the foot of the driveway was Jim Bomball. It had to be. Who the hell else would be standing outside, watching the street, in defiance of a thunderstorm coming in, at midnight?
"Jim?" I said. "Hey, man, what are you doing out here?" Like I couldn't guess.
Right about then, someone in the Bomball kitchen next door coughed. I heard it plain as day through the open windows up there, and I knew the sound--it was the sound of a middle-aged, slightly overweight man coughing without covering his mouth. It was most certainly Jim standing in his kitchen, not in my driveway.
And like a magic act, the figure was suddenly gone. I didn't hear feet beating a retreat, the figure didn't say boo to me, nothing. Just gone, whoosh, like it never was.
I suddenly felt very vulnerable, standing in the darkness wearing just my pajamas, a long ways from the unlocked door on my back deck. Jim coughed again next door, and I stared hard and panicked at the shadows around the trees between our two houses. I could easily imagine someone there watching me, staring, waiting for me to move. I'd been assuming it was Jim because of the recent flurry of activity about the teenaged racers on our street, but just like that, it came to me that not everything in the world hangs together nicely and neatly. Random events happen, unrelated to other random events. A shadow in the shadows didn't have to have anything to do with the racers--more logically, it could be someone casing my house, someone who'd been about to steal the Bomball's car, even someone actually innocent of any wrongdoing (which I doubted; if you're wandering the streets at midnight, and you don't speak when spoken to, you're up to no good).
Reality set in fast. I skipped the tarp entirely and let my own feet beat that reteat back to bed. All the way back across our dark yard and up the steps onto the deck, I kept envisioning someone sneaking along behind me, just waiting to confirm that the back door was unlocked. CLOK, right to the back of my head, and some would-be burglar was in my house. I kept looking back over my shoulder, as if just seeing someone approaching me would be enough to protect me. No one came, of course. And I was sweaty and jittery when I got back under the sheet.
"You find the tarp?" Janell muttered in the darkness.
"Sure," I said. Outside, the rain started hitting the window, and the thunder boomed again, calling me out as a liar.
So, I got up early and dumped all the water out of the bounce house before she was awake this morning. It seemed a better solution than getting mugged in my own driveway.