Monday, March 27, 2006

The Name Game and Travel Drain

Moonshot is in her final days of roadworthiness. As Pumkin continues to grow, her bladder is shrinking, along with her desire to sit for long periods of time. This is a concern for two people who spend as much time on America’s interstates as we do. So, we’re getting a lot of travel out of the way now.

This weekend we headed north to visit friends and family who are currently speaking of Spring as a distant event…friends who were using their snow blowers last week while we used our lawn mower…friends in the still-white state of Minnesota. These friends do not have nicknames at this point in the narrative, so I am unable to refer to them as anything other than “my Twin Cities friends.” Rather than risk awkward linguistic somersaults, I’ll just stop talking about them and move the story along so we can hurry to the part where they get names. This will be much easier for me to write once they have names.

Moonshot, Arlo, and I left Thursday evening and drove the four and a half hours to our layover point with Moonshot’s parents, Husker and Panache. Usually we brave the full 10 hour drive to the Twin Cities in one go, but Moonshot was afraid the bladder-bashing Pumkin would make that difficult. And besides, we hadn’t seen Husker and Panache since they visited us before Christmas…it was time to see them anyway. They live in a quiet old Iowa farmhouse about a half-hour outside of Iowa City. Their two-acre square of property is surrounded on all sides by working corn and soybean farms. This gives them beautiful views of rolling fields without the work on managing said rolling fields. It also means that Panache’s sweet corn is germinated by all those well-tended cornfields. And THAT means our deep freeze stays well stocked with amazingly good sweet corn (Thanks, Panache!) At any rate, we rolled in around 10:30 or 11 and stumbled like zombies into their living room.

Ever since Moonshot started growing our child, she’s been crawling into bed earlier and earlier. And since I lack the force of will to go be productive while she rests, I usually find myself in bed beside her. Currently, we snuggle in for the night around 9:30. She falls to sleep pretty quickly, and I lay in bed watching The Daily Show and the Colbert Report with an Adult Swim commercial back up. Occasionally I convince myself to read something…but even that is too taxing of late. So, our 10:30 arrival at Moonshot’s parents was well past our bedtime…our conversation skills suffered as a result.

We were more prepared to be social in the morning. We played with their dog, Hobbes and gave them last minute advice on taking care of Arlo, in our absence. In the past, Arlo has traveled to Minneapolis with us, but we thought it would be nice to take a break for a while. Husker and Panache were overjoyed to spend some time with their grandpuppy. Besides, it seemed like good practice for everyone for the day we let them take care of Pumkin for a weekend.

Around noon on Friday we continued our northward expedition. We crossed into Minnesota around 5 PM to find that the state line was literally marked by the beginning of snow-covered fields. In Iowa, you could find tiny patches of white hiding from the lukewarm sun in the occasional shadow. But the “Welcome to Minnesota” sign on I-35 was set against a backdrop of solid white. We filed that away as ammo with which to razz our “Twin Cities friends”.

We arrived at our “Twin Cities Friends’” house, dropped off our luggage and immediately set out for a local Mexican restaurant. It was over chips and salsa that we began discussing my new attempt to fold my life into an easily digestible web format. I asked them what nicknames they’d like.

You see, some of the friends you’ll meet here had obvious nicknames. I’d either played enough Halo with them to know what nicknames they self-applied or I knew some relevant detail about them that made their nickname perfectly clear. Husker literally raises a Nebraska Cornhusker flag on every game day…I think he’ll be thrilled to be called “Husker.” Our “Twin Cities Friends” were more difficult. Moonshot and I had brainstormed many ideas. Moonshot tended toward cute couple names that would make them sound appropriately connected. But that always ended up forcing one or the other of them into a nickname more related to his or her partner than to themselves. Yes, Mr. Twin Cities had a resemblance to J.K. Rawling’s Hagrid before he cut his hair and shaved his beard, but Ms. Twin Cities didn’t’ really fit into the Harry Potter world. And besides, the Hagrid resemblance had never seemed to over joy Mr. Twin Cities when we mentioned in the past. The one time we played Halo he had referred to himself as JNerd and I was fine with using that…but as a self-deprecating nickname, it needed to be double-checked to make sure it was ok for me to use.

Mr. Twin Cities suggested that he often called Ms. Twin Cities “Nutty Brown.” I stalled for a moment and finally told him that while Nutty Brown was catchy…it made me think of poop.

“That’s what I always tell him!” cried Ms. Twin Cities.

“No,” replied Mr. Twin Cities, “it’s just cuz she’s nutty…and she has brown hair.”

Maybe…but I secretly believe he just likes innocently referring to his partner as feces. Ms. Twin Cities suggested giving her beau an accurately descriptive nickname in the Native American style. She thought for a moment and rattled off, “Takes a Long Time to Take a Picture.” Having vacationed with him in Greece, I can say that Mr. Twin Cities, an amateur photographer, does in deed take a long time to take a picture. The results are usually worth the wait, but the moniker still applies.

“I like it,” I told her, “but remember, I have to use this in a sentence.”

She responded instantly, “Just make it an acronym. Let’s see, what does that spell. T…A...L…T...T…T...A.…P”

I was stunned. “You just rattled off that many words and you accidentally ended up with a pronounceable acronym? I mean…you spread out your vowels and everything.”

She shrugged innocently.

In the end, I’ve decided to drop two of the “t”s just to make it look better on the page, but I’m still pretty impressed that she fired that off so quickly. So now I can stop writing “Mr. Twin Cities” and start using “Taltap”. It’s much easier on my fingers.

We didn’t quite arrive at a suitable name for Ms. Twin Cities over dinner, but she said she was fine with anything. And since she’s been content to be called Nutty Brown for God knows how long…I’m no longer worried about offending her with a nickname. So, she will henceforth be called Elsa in this blog. It’s a reworking of the initials for “English As a Second Language” which is her career. I don’t think she’ll complain, but if she does, I’ll sleep well knowing she had her chance

Maybe in the future I’ll ask partners and spouses for nickname suggestions instead of going straight to the subject themselves…it’s much more interesting.

Dinner finished, we returned to the home of the newly christened Taltap and Elsa to play some Guitar Hero. And if you haven’t played this game…by all means, do so with all possible haste. Of all the silly game peripherals to come out, this is arguably the silliest. And yet, it’s also one of the best. It’s basically Dance, Dance Revolution with an undersized plastic guitar instead of a dance pad. If asked last week I would have told you it had failure written all over it. Today, I say that every PS2 owner should have this silly, undersized, plastic guitar in their home…it’s just that fun.

Saturday found us at the Como Zoo and Conservatory. Taltap let us know that the warm spring air (??) had him in the mood to see the flowers at the conservatory. My narrative will breeze past the flowers and move on to the zoo. This is not because the flowers were unpleasant. Quite the contrary. They were beautiful and fragrant and the conversation continued to be delightful. However, my feeble descriptive abilities are not up to the task of making a pleasant stroll through a botanical garden anything other than unreadable. So, just trust me when I say that I learned much about ferns and bromeliads, enjoyed the spring tulip display and came to the conclusion with Taltap that Jack White and Jack Black need to form a band called The Monochrome Jacks. Other than that…fill in your own images of pleasant garden strolls.

However, the zoo deserves just a small bit of detail if only because I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I say this because while the conservatory was tropically warm under its Taj Mahal glass, the zoo was predominantly an outdoor event and I was unsure how exciting a zoo would be in the cold. I was willing to go since the company would be enjoyable one way or the other, but shivering watching animals shiver didn’t sound all that appealing. What I learned, however, is that all the really cool animals are better when it’s cold. For instance, I love the big cats. I always rush to the big cats at the St. Louis Zoo. But, basically the big cats just hide in the shade and pant during our summer visits. With a light snow cover on the ground though…the big cats get downright lively. The tiger had a lengthy conversation with passersby, and the cougar was interested enough in we spectators to stick her face right up to the metal mesh to inspect us more fully. Had I been willing to ignore the signs encouraging me not to reach through the mesh…I could have petted me a cougar. Moonshot thought the sign was a wise suggestion, so I refrained from making a new friend. I had to content myself with the new trinket it information that brisk air seems to agree with many of the zoos inhabitants.

That evening we went out to dinner with four more friends at a wonderful vegetarian Indian restaurant called Udopi. These other friends are all college friends of Moonshot who ended up in Minneapolis together. I’m not sure how often they’ll come up in my stories, so I’m going to cop out on their nicknames and just call one couple Cheryl and Matt and the other couple Josh and Gail. I shall call them this because these really are their names. Matt is a hard working professional type whose career forever eludes my memory no matter how often I ask and Cheryl is an eerily driven grad student. They are pleasant people and warm hearted, but the type of people you are loath to make a good fart joke around. Josh and Gail are members of a Christian rock band and had to leave early since Josh had to fly to Mexico in the morning for a house building mission trip. He is soft-spoken and kind and sang at our wedding. Gail is the wonderfully exuberant type of person who during dinner, made a good fart joke around Matt and Cheryl and was the first to loudly guess “you got a ski enema” when Moonshot was reluctant to disclose the exact reason she didn’t like water skiing. Hats off to Gail!

After dinner the groups (sans Josh and Gail) went to the Wild Roast coffee shop at Cheryl’s suggestion. We ate desert and drank strong coffee while discussing nostalgic films of our youth that sadly did not stand the test of time. Cheryl and Matt disagreed on whether or not The Last Unicorn fell in this category. Cheryl was sure it was still a classic. Upon hearing that no one else had seen it, she launched into a fifteen minute point by point retelling of the plot with Matt shaking his head sadly beside her in an attempt to distance himself from the story. At the time, I was bewildered and uncomfortable by her conviction to tell the full story in all its detail. However, in retrospect I have to admire her tenacity. And any film that inspires such devotion deserves a spot on my Netflix queue.

Sunday brought us back to Husker and Panache. Our puppy was happy to see us, but sad to leave since he had learned that Panache hands out treats like a vending machine. I have to assume this is a pattern that will be repeated once Pumkin is old enough to be spoiled by the grandparents. We were slightly more sociable this time since we arrived earlier in the evening but were still not quite up to our jovial best due to travel drain.

And today found us back home by 6 or so…just in time for Moonshot to teach her piano lessons and for me to retreat to my office to write this long-winded retelling.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Love Thy Neighbor…Expect For That Ass Next Door

My Wife, Moonshot and I like most of our neighbors. I would go so far as to say we really lucked out by moving into their midst here in the Lindenwood University area of Saint Charles. When I first moved in, five years ago, I was concerned about Tom across the street. He admitted to being an avid neighborhood watcher and said that since he often works out of his home during the day, we was able to keep an eye on the kids going to and from the local high school about a block down the road. I inwardly groaned when I heard this…a busy body. However, time has brought me around to Tom’s side. He and his wife, Sabrina give us friendly hellos and chat with us only when we show interest in conversation. Sabrina even came over and fed our canine friend, Arlo, once. And Tom’s neighborhood watching has made him the go-to-guy to keep en eye on our house when we leave for a weekend. Case in point. Two years ago, a storm brought our old front-yard oak tree crashing into the street. We were down at the Lake of the Ozarks with my family for the Fourth of July and so would have had no way of knowing that this tree had snapped the power lines that ran directly over our cars parked along the street. No major damage to the cars, but the power line whipped out the rear windows of my work vehicle and my old Avenger. It was Tom who rushed into the storm with tarps and bungie-cords to save my vehicles. So, while I have no doubt that Tom knows more about my comings and goings than I’m totally comfortable with…I wouldn’t trade his eagle eye for anything.

However, on the other side of our house lives a different set of neighbors. I don’t even know their last name and I can’t recall the wife’s names. But his name is Don. And Don strikes me as an ass. I’ll admit that this would be a better story if I had stunningly horrible actions in his part to report…but I don’t. He just rubs me the wrong way and continually annoys me…just a little. Just enough to snowball my annoyance into a mean-spirited blog. It may be the fact that he’s the only neighbor close enough to see into our windows. We live on a corner lot with a service alley in the back, which means his is the only property that actually adjoins ours. So, it’s his fault I have to put on a robe to traipse across my bedroom. It’s his family who sees us in our morning finest while we eat our breakfast. It’s his daughter and her friends who cut across our back yard so they can smoke on his back patio just outside our breakfast nook. And it’s his 6-foot by 12-foot Budweiser channel sign that rusts against his back shed, so close to our property that everyone thinks it’s mine. So, maybe I would dislike him no matter what he did…but I don’t think so. I think he’s just an ass.

For a while, Moonshot was sure he had killed his wife. I’m not sure how this thought entered her head, other than the fact that it’s just a lot of fun to play Michael Keaton and convince yourself that your annoying neighbor is a psycho. Basically, Mrs. Don Ass suddenly disappeared. The window ledge over their kitchen sink, which stares directly into our kitchen, had always been filled with vibrant plants, basking in the sunshine. In the woman’s absence they died a slow and waterless death, yet were left there for weeks, as if their new brown coloration was just a pleasant to the now solo Don as the previous green had been. But, as depressing as the plant carcasses were, what replaced them was worse…horridly tacky ceramic frogs surrounding a small television set. Personally, I think tacky ceramic frogs are a sin against decorate taste…but anyone who would fill the only window in their kitchen with a television…I…well…there’s just something wrong with that person! But, it wasn’t Don who had brought the TV…it was a mysterious new woman who chain-smoked on the back patio where the Ass daughter used to smoke. My brother figured she was just a rebound woman to help Don get over his wife’s leaving. Oh sure…it’s logical. But it’s no fun. And besides…rebound women are supposed to be better looking than your wife. It’s the rule. And this lady was nasty. There was only one story that we wanted to believe, and that was that Don and this cruel looking woman had clearly killed Mrs. Ass for the life insurance. See, this way, Chain-Smoker doesn’t need to be hot…she’s just the evil genius who talked him into killing his wife. Made sense to Moonshot and me.

Sadly, our fun story came to an end when the Mrs came back about six months later. She had gained so much weight that I didn’t even recognize her at first, thinking instead that Don had killed Chain-Smoker and moved on to a new victim. But alas…it was merely the long absent Mrs. Don Ass.

It was shortly after their reconciliation that the Asses decided to start work on a major remodel of their house. I was thrilled. Any neighbor who wants to put money into their house is a friend of mine. Moonshot and I live in one of the nicer houses on our street; so our property value increases as those around us bring their spaces up to snuff. However, Don owns his own construction company…so he planned on doing the work with his staff during slow times. This has lead to excruciatingly slow progress. Last March, the construction dumpster moved onto the street, taking up all the parking in front of the Ass home. This meant they had to park in front of our place. It wasn’t normally a big deal since we have a corner lot and lots of parking. But by October it was getting really annoying as the leaves piled around the huge dumpster and created an even bigger eyesore of the thirty-foot monstrosity. And when Halloween came and fewer parents seemed willing to walk their kids down the sidewalk past the shadowy leviathan, Moonshot was deprived of the joy of children in costumes. Now that Mr. Asses construction had cut into her favorite holiday, we started to become less forgiving.

It was around January that they brought in the heavy equipment. Knocked down the shed in the back yard and tore away the back half of their house. The back yard is a muddy disaster filled with loose trash and tools. The high winds we’ve been experiencing lately have turned the unattended items in his yard into projectiles bashing against our house to be found strewn about our yard in the morning. And the tarp covering the house keeps coming loose in the wind. The first night it happened, I went out in the rain and reattached it to his house. I figured I owed the neighborhood some karmic balance since Tom had covered my cars. I set aside my dislike for Mr. Ass and sludged through the mud to protect his stuff. But when it just kept happening night after night and the trash just kept blowing into our yard…I have to admit that I stopped caring. So the sound of wind at my house is now augmented by his flapping tarp and the sound of trash rolling into our yard. This morning there was a twenty-foot by two-foot piece of twisted sheet metal that had clearly been hurling toward our house. Luckily, it merely wrapped itself around his patio furniture (conveniently laying on its side along our property line) and continued to rattle obnoxiously in the wind through our breakfast. And sadly, I can’t even hold out hope that Don will get annoyed with this situation because he isn’t living there. He packed up and moved out for the duration of the construction so the only one who has to suffer through the mess and noise, and flying debris is my wife and I. And even all this I could deal with if they were making progress…if the end was in sight. But they’re not…it’s not. I haven’t seen anyone over there for over a week.

Sorry, I’m usually a very patient neighbor. I don’t typically speak ill of the people I share space with. And Don has never done anything actively antagonistic toward me. He just seems to be one of those people who is oblivious to the impact his activities have on those around him. And maybe, if I could read HIS blog, I would find that he is just as annoyed with me for some transgression. But this is my blog…so in my story, I’m the fine upstanding citizen doing my best to deal with the retched behavior of a horrible neighbor. And to add credence to my side of the story…I reiterate that I really do love our neighborhood. But every neighborhood has a high point and a low point. Tom and Sabrina are our shining examples of excellence and Don is…well…Don is an Ass.

Friday, March 17, 2006

There's A Real Baby In There

Our pre-birth child had its first photo session yesterday. I had been aware of the child’s presence only as an abstract parasite behind my wife’s growing belly. Sure, we’ve named the parasite Pumkin and have begun talking to it, but it remains the task of our imaginations to ad any sort of humanity to the round stomach. My wife, Moonshot, has recently become acquainted with Pumkin as not only a growing bulge, but also as a kick-boxer and part time acrobat. Moonshot will occasionally announce Pumkin’s performance and I will quickly try to feel for any sign of the gymnastics going on inside my wife…but the second I place my hand there, Pumkin stops. I doubt I could feel the motion anyway this early, and perhaps I should convince myself that Pumkin finds my presence comforting. But, I have a sneaking suspicion that my child has inherited my passion for annoying those we love. He or she is in there just giggling away, I’m sure of it.

But Pumkin could not hide from the camera. Oh, s/he tried; snuggled down behind Moonshot’s pelvic bone in an attempt to distort the ultrasound. If s/he could have made a funny face, I’m sure s/he would have. But thanks to the skill of our ultrasound technician, Pumkin was unable to escape the indignity of being photographed. Sorry kid, parents need to show off their children…and until you’re willing to show up in person for our bragging…you’ll have to accept an occasional sonic intrusion.

I was stunned to see how much the ultrasound made sense when you’re right there. I’ve been subjected to countless ultrasound pictures from excited parents. Blurry, abstract shapes they swear display the form of a child. Rather than upset them, I usually just smile and tell them how amazing the picture is. However, when you’re watching the process, it’s crystal clear. Watching the images change in real time as the technician moved the wand and the baby moves, you get a sense of the shape of the baby in three dimensions. You stand there in the small, darkened room, face to face with the reality of a baby. Then the technician freezes the image and it suddenly becomes slightly more difficult to see what you’re looking at. Then she prints the image and it becomes even harder to see. For the parents, we can remember the original experience and can find the pictures in the blur with no problem. But most of the images are incomprehensible without guidance. So, of the seven pictures Moonshot and I left with, only two are clear enough to be worth scanning and passing around to friends and family. And even with these two, I have a sense that half my friends are just smiling and telling me how amazing the picture is rather than upset me.

The first is a profile image. Pretty clearly a child, if you ask me. My Mom tells me Pumkin looks like me. I hope she’s kidding.

The second is a bit more of a challenge to see, but it’s my favorite. Head is the lower right corner, facing up and away. Knee is tucked up almost touching the elbow. And the thumb is firmly planted in Pumkin’s mouth. That’s crazy to me for some reason. There’s a real baby in there...moving and dancing, and sucking its thumb! I can’t wait to see that person.

Monday, March 13, 2006

My First, Unwieldy Post

This is the opening sentence of my first blog. It’s a horribly boring opening sentence and far less inspired than I would have imagined. You see, I like to think my thoughts are interesting and insightful…but so far, this blog is proving otherwise. I suppose it would help if I even knew why I was blogging, who I was blogging for, where I would like this blog to go. But right now, I know none of these things. I’m just sitting in the office off my bedroom, typing my first blog…aimlessly

So many questions with a blog. Should I use my real name? Should I include personal details about my life…and if so, should I use the real names of the others involved? Should I tell my friends about the blog or bask in the anonymity the Internet affords? But who would be interested in my feeble blog-like flailing other than my friends and family? Such thinking always arrives at the central conundrum that has kept me from adding to the blogosphere for so long. If I’m brutally honest, then I’d hate for the people I am talking about to know what I was saying. But, if the people I’m talking about aren’t reading what I’m writing…then who is? It’s not a problem unique to me…I can only assume that most people who have set their fingers to this sort of undertaking have had to question this balance.

My favorite blogs are those that are brutally honest (or at least appear that way). I read Cheeseburger Brown’s I Am A Cheeseburger religiously and perhaps that could serve as a basic outline. But his balance makes no real sense to me. He masks everyone in his blog with nicknames…but makes no real attempt to preserve the secret identities. I suppose it allows him to keep secret the few people who show up in his blog but who choose to remain anonymous. A fair balance, but you’ve still got to be ok with the idea that when you rant about that horrible thing your brother did to you, there’s a fair chance that your brother will read it. And while I’m sure I’ll work my way up to that level of honesty…I’ll start small and steer away from such confrontations. So, I’ll assume a secret identity for now…and probably later remove that mask.

My name is Moksha Gren and I used to be a writer. Not a professional writer or anything, but I was able to call myself a writer with a straight face. I wrote my first short story when I was three. I dictated to my Mom a riveting tale of my Dad getting attacked my dinosaurs at work. I then drew pictures and Mom bound it and stored it away. I wrote bad sword and sorcery fantasy stories all through junior high and moved on to science fiction in high school and college. I graduated from Truman State University in Missouri with an English degree with an emphasis on creative writing. I had planned on taking some time off school then heading on to grad school.

Instead, I stopped writing.

I traveled quite a bit and had many a story-worthy adventure. But I wrote none of it down. I found a job that paid better than my original plan of becoming a college professor, and slowly, bit by bit, I stopped thinking of myself as a writer. Oh, every once in a great while I would try my hand at forcing some thought that entered my brain onto paper, but the process and result was always infuriating. Thoughts that once would have flowed joyously from my brain, through my fingers, and to the paper before me were now sluggish and cumbersome. Such aggravation seldom lured me back to try again.

But tonight I think maybe I’ll do better. Conditions are right to help me feel inspired to write. You see, my wife is downstairs teaching piano lessons for about an hour tonight. That by itself has clearly never been enough to make me write before. She teaches lessons every Monday night and I’ve always been more than content to hide upstairs and read a book, watch TV, or very occasionally practice my guitar (another hobby I should devote more time to). But what makes this Monday different from other Mondays is that Saturday was the halfway point on the gestation period for our first child. The baby is due in August and we are now closer to having a baby than we are to the days when we didn’t know we were having a baby. It’s a small threshold on the way to a major milestone, but it snaps into sharp relief the fact that this baby is coming, that I will be a father soon. And this has me thinking about my life. I find myself looking back on me through my imagined child’s eyes and thinking that a written record of my thoughts during this time would be interesting to my daughter or son someday. Maybe they’ll be interested as they enter adulthood, or maybe they won’t care until they are nearing parenthood themselves, or maybe they’ll never care. But, if by imagining that my kids will some day want to read my ramblings I am able to sit down regularly to commit a thought or two into words, then it was worth it. And if by sitting down regularly to commit a thought or two to words I am inspired once again to create grand tales of fancy and crawl my way through the sludge that is my current writing skill to find a more polished level of writing on the other side…then I’ll have to start thinking of more ways to use my impending fatherhood to force me to be more productive…because the trick will clearly have proven itself unstoppable against my life’s inertia.

But that doesn’t really answer the question of why I’m blogging. I could easily just keep a journal, a private journal that isn’t posted to family and total strangers. But the idea of instant feedback intrigues me. So, I’ll throw it out into the world and see what happens. I still don’t know if I’ll send my friend and family to the sight, so I have no idea yet who will be reading this. I’ll just keep writing to my presently abstract child until some other audience presents itself. So, to whoever is reading this, feel free to share your thoughts. But for now, I’m going to go play guitar…because I’m sure Baby will want a Dad who can play and sing songs.