Friday, April 27, 2007

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

A Good Weekend for Humanity

This weekend was a good one for humanity. And by that I mean I’m happy about people today. That’s not always true, you know. So often, it’s tempting and amusing to sit down and write about petty frustrations...about the silly thing someone said or the rude behavior someone (maybe even me) inflicted on someone else. But, I’m feeling pretty good about people in general today.

I suppose it started on Friday. I had devised an ingenious method for helping my good friend Simon win at the “Hottest Daddy Blogger” contest to which he has been nominated. Sure, it involved cheating and misuse of my company network...but I was up for it. I had fired off an email to my snow-covered friend and explained the mechanisms involved. I gave him my work number so he could call just in case he had any questions, but I didn’t really expect him to call. The plan was simple and we’ve never communicated through any medium other than email and blog posts. However, around 3:30 or so on Friday afternoon, I got an email from that hot blog Daddy. Apparently, he had tried to call to let me know he was declining the use of my brilliant plan. However, he had been unable to reach me since I had given him the wrong number and he had been unable to convince the kind Asian gentleman who answered the phone that a request to speak to Moksha was anything more than a prank call. Now, I’m choosing to believe that Simon, being the upstanding citizen that he is, found that he was morally unable to cheat on such a significant election. How can we trust the collective voice of the people if the Hottest Daddy Blogger award does not honestly reflect the consensus views of the masses? He described his decision as having more to do with his lack of time than with any higher ideals. But, such humility really just makes it all the more clear that the Simian is truly a better man than the Gren.

So anyway, Simon had included his work number in his email. And although he had already told me everything he needed to tell me, I was struck by a desire to pick up the phone. I felt oddly nervous about this for some reason. I mean…I’m aware, in an abstract way, that Simon is a real guy who is fully capable of chatting on the phone. But in practice, he’s just a disembodied string of paragraphs, pictures, and an occasional video…a Turing Machine with tattoos. There was a barrier being threaten as I looked at my office phone.

Further, I don’t tend to follow celebrity gossip. This may seem like a non sequitur, but follow me here. I don’t much care for spotlighted fame, folks who live lives that I have neither the ability nor the desire to imagine myself living. I don’t much care to follow the day-to-day trivialities of Britney or TomKat or anyone else who stares at me from the grocery store checkout lane. However, I am very interested in average folks who live lives that I recognize. Folks like Simon, and Mark, and Cheeseburger Brown. They open windows into their lives and I enjoy peeking in. In an odd way, these are the celebrities of my world. And my imagination gets fixated on them because there is a host of information I can’t really know about them through the controlled medium through which we communicate. And isn’t that part of the allure of the cult of fame? The never-ending dig for details about Justin Timberlake is never-ending because you’re just sifting through tid-bits and will never really be able to reconstruct the person.

So, there was a barrier being threatened by my office phone. Keep in mind, those of you who are currently worried about my sanity, this hesitation lasted all of a couple seconds. I’m just explaining what flashed through my head as I reached for the phone.

At any rate, we talked about smashing whale heads and made fun of each others’ accents. But the substance of the conversation isn’t what I’m here to talk about. I was talking about humanity (remember Alice? This is a song about Alice). When I hung up the phone after about 15 minutes of chatting with the Turing Machine that called itself Simon, I felt good. I was reminded how amazing it is that there is a guy up in Edmonton (a gazillion miles away from me) and we’re able to have a friendship. That’s crazy in a way. To reach into the ethereal substance of the Internet and pull out a living, breathing person with whom you can prop your feet up on your desk and chat about Neil Gaiman while you finish up your left-over pizza.

So, my take on humanity was pretty positive as I swung into the weekend. Saturday found Moonshot and me running errands here and there. I told her that I’d like to get away for a few hours that night to work on my story. I’d been on hiatus for a week or two, licking my wounds after a brutal (but accurate) first draft response from my editor/wife. I’d put all my effort into that last push to complete the rough draft and I just didn’t have it in me until Saturday to return to rewrite the entire middle half. I told Moonshot that I’d like to go down to the Crooked Tree Coffeehouse to write after we put Norah to bed and she thought that was a good idea.
Bottle, bath, story, and then Little Lutine fell asleep in my arms with no fuss. I strapped on my laptop-filled backpack and strolled out into the perfectly crisp night. The sky was clear so I opted to walk the just-over-a-mile to the coffeehouse. I tend to think most clearly while walking and I had to get myself into the mind set of a character. I have no doubt (and have in fact been told this before) that I look like a crazy person while doing this. I gesture and talk to myself quietly. But, it works. By the time I reached the Crooked Tree, I was ready to write. Sadly, though. They were closed.

I noticed a small group of college-aged kids staring at a hand-written note hanging in the door and assumed the worst.

“Ah man,” muttered one of the girls.

A tall, lanky fellow mused, “I supposed we could hit the Starbucks.” He didn’t sound too enthused about it and I couldn’t blame him, personally. Nothing against Starbucks, but it certainly wasn’t the atmosphere I was look for, so I could easily imagine that it wasn’t what he was looking for either.

“There’s a Picasso’s down on Main Street,” I offered.

“Oh yeah, that just opened,” exclaimed one of them. They thanked me and headed for their car.

I started off toward Main. It was only another half-mile or so and I tried to look at it as an opportunity for more story crafting.

“Do you want a ride?” offered the lanky fellow.

I turned back to them and I’ll admit I was shocked. I looked to the other three, expecting to see looks of horror that their friend had just invited a complete stranger into the vehicle with them. But no, they all looked enthusiastic about the kind offer. So, I jumped in. Mike was the driver but I can’t recall the girl in the passenger seat’s name. Nate and Laura were in the back seat with me and they proudly announced that it was their 4-month wedding anniversary. They were students at Lindenwood and we talked about the campus and I told them I was escaping the demands of a nine-month old to work on a short story. As we got out of the car and made our way to the coffee shop, we could hear the sound of a live jazz band.

“Oh no,” said Nate. “Is that gonna disturb your writing?”

“As long as I don’t have to change the band’s diapers, I should be fine,” I replied.

I ordered my coffee and had to take a seat at a table out on the cobblestone sidewalk since the place was packed. The others got their coffees and then meandered on down the sidewalk to check out the rest of the nightlife.

I wrote for a while and then spent some time chatting with the guy at the table next to me. He had his dog with him and I was had to complement the pooch on her ability to sit calmly with all the comings and goings of a Saturday night on Main Street. I was told she was a pound rescue and that made me happy to know. Later, the dog and her owner moved along and the table was filled with three college-aged kids who discussed the films of Sam Raimi for some time. The kids who gave me a ride returned to their car but took the time to swing by and see how the writing was coming along.

“Slowly,” I answered truthfully.

About a half hour later, my battery started to run low on my laptop. I started looking around for an outdoor plug. They have sidewalk events down there all the time and I thought it was at least possible that an outlet could be nearby. One of the Raimi fans noticed me looking. “There always comes that time when you gotta start looking for juice, eh?” Then he got up and helped me look behind the various pillars on the old building.

No luck. So I went inside. It was a bit later and the crowd had thinned a bit. On a small balcony facing the jazz band, I noticed an attractive young woman with an open laptop sitting by a fireplace. The table next to her was open so I made my way through the crowd and sat down at the table and looked around for a plug. She waved quietly to get my attention without disturbing the entranced jazz fans. She reached for my power chord and without saying a word plugged it into her power strip and then returned to her work.

I worked there, listening to the jazz band until the kind staff started cleaning up just before midnight. I dropped some money on the table for the bus crew and as I walked back home, I felt wonderful. Partially, I was pleased to have gotten some good work done. But, mostly I was happy with people. It’s rare to spend that long around folks and not have somebody do something selfish or thoughtless or downright mean. But everyone I came in contact with had been wonderfully friendly. So thanks to everyone who helped that happen.

Thanks to Simon for picking up the phone. Thanks to Moonshot for helping me score some time to escape the house. Thanks to Norah for going to sleep so easily for me Saturday night so I felt less guilty slipping away. Thanks to Mike and his friends for inviting a crazy, gesturing gren into your car and for being the kind of people who could make that crazy gren feel like he belonged in your group. Thanks to the dog-owner both for pleasant conversation and for rescuing such a wonderful dog from the pound. Thanks to the Raimi fans for helping me look for power and to the laptop girl for sharing hers.

Thanks everybody for making this introvert happy to be around you and to call you my community.

Monday, April 23, 2007

The Deflector Sheild is Down!

“You know,” said my wife Sunday, “I think we can probably remove this now.” She gestured at the blanket that has, for months, protected the hand-woven rug in our living room from the once-frequent regurgitative assault of our daughter. “She hasn’t spit up in…geez…over a month.”

I was reminded of this conversation this morning as I sopped warm, rejected milk from the rug.

My daughter’s devious patience scares me.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Who Was Afraid of Men in Silly Costumes?

On Saturday morning, Moonshot and Little Lutine let me sleep in just a bit. Not more than a half hour or so, but it felt utterly glorious to stretch out in the bed for a brief moment. I tend to go to bed later than my wife and rise at least an hour before her. An unoccupied mattress is a rare thing.

At any rate when I eventually slid on my robe and stumbled my way down from our converted attic bedroom, I was greeted by a long forgotten by instantly recognizable theme song from the living room.

American Gladiators.

Moonshot shrugged sheepishly. “There was nothing else on.” But I didn’t need any explanation. I’m as big a fan of nostalgic schlock as anyone. Bring on Nitro, I thought as I prepared myself for mind-numbery. But as I stood there, a thought occurred. And that was a bit annoying on a Saturday morning. But, once it had sprung into my head, I had no choice but to chase it down like a white rabbit. And having chased it, I had no choice but to comment to my wife about it…thereby dragging both of us away from our brainless Saturday and into yet another sociological discussion.

It’s what I do.

I remember when American Gladiators first hit television. I can recall critics bashing it, saying it was another step toward the downfall of our society. Anyone who would root for such barbarism, they said, was just like the Romans who screamed for blood at the Coluseum. Now, even at my young age, I knew these folks were going off the deep end with that kind of talk. But I accepted, even as a fan of the show, that it probably appealed to the worst in humanity and represented a bad trend in American culture.

Standing there in my bath robe almost 20 years later…it looked positively adorable. It looked simplistic and silly. I tried to remember a society that would be offended by this level of “brutality.” I tried to recall a me that believed that grown men in flashy costumes shooting tennis balls at each other represented a base and degrading element of our society. I tried to recall what made this so offensive. Goofy….sure. Offensive?

No one was getting voted off the island, ala Survivor. No stripping games to titillate, ala Dog Eat Dog. No blood and barbed wire, ala WWE. No back-stabbing masking as entertainment through camera confessionals encouraging contestants to bad mouth their opponents, ala just about every reality game show out there. Just people trying to best each other in straight-forward and silly physical competition.

With the light of hindsight it seemed almost pure.

I stood there and wondered what sort of entertainment Norah would someday gaze at nostalgically. I felt old.

So, having chased the thought to its age-spotlighting conclusion, I shut off my brain and let Norah climb on me while I remembered how much I had always wanted to play some of those cool Gladiator games.

Suddenly, it felt like Saturday again.

Monday, April 09, 2007

The Least Relaxing Bath….Ever

Ok…while I can’t actually prove the hyperbole above, I can say that if anyone has a less relaxing bath story to share...I truly look forward to hearing it.

We traveled to MoMa’s house this weekend. We hadn’t been down there for some time and Easter seemed as good an excuse as any to load the child and the dog into ZaZu the Subaru and go wreak some havoc on MoMa’s house of countless grabbable/breakable trinkets.

We were somewhat uneasy about how Norah’s sleeping pattern would play out for the weekend since we’ve been engaged in a battle of wills in our household of late. Norah wakes around 1 or 2 am and screams to be picked up. We decline. We soothe her by standing close and ssshhhhing calmly. But we’ve been waiting her out, letting her scream it out. There has been progress. Lately, she hasn’t been crying so much that she pukes, for instance. But, there’s still lots of screaming involved. And, that’s great in your own home, but somewhat more annoying when you’re a houseguest.

So, as the munchkin’s bedtime approaches on Saturday night, we start getting our game plan together. Her routine calls for a bath right before bedtime and we figure it would help to follow a known pattern even in this unfamiliar place. Problem is…MoMa doesn’t have a normal-sized sub anywhere in her house. She’s got showers and one uber-jacuzzi thing. When last we were there, Norah was small enough that we bathed her in the kitchen sink. Such a trick is laughably impossible now. Ok, we say, she’ll get to use the big tub. No problem.

We start the water running and strip the child. She crawls excitedly to the edge of the bathtub and pulls her naked self up to watch the water fill the tub. It’s a very cute scene that is played out every night at the grenstead. However, this evening there was one difference.

“Whoop! She’s peeing!” calls Moonshot from behind me.

MoMa’s floor is awash in yellow as my indifferent child stares joyfully at the water in the tub. As a man with nearly 31 years of urinary experience, I can say that I would have been impressed to let loose with this deluge. Seeing it come pouring from my minuscule daughter was truly disconcerting. Further, if this is the sort of torrent she is routinely unleashing…allow me to say that I have a new found respect for the absorptive powers of Huggies.

We scurry about and wipe up the floor while MoMa goes to get the Pine-Sol.

Once we get the worst of it, I set the girl in the tub and Moonshot rolls up her jeans so she can wade through to sit on the back edge of the tub in a Norah-Defense position.

Clang!!! Some decorative piece of knick-knackery is bashed to the floor by my wife’s bum. Norah is startled and keeps trying to climb to her Mommy.

“No standing in the tub,” we tell her. It’s a mantra of sorts during her bath time these days. But she doesn’t listen. She keeps trying to stand. Moonshot opts to get the wash routine rolling before the play period…you know…in case the little one gets fussy about not being allowed to stand, we can just remove her. It is just after the soap in Norah’s hair had been worked into a good lather that she tries to stand for the final time. She slips forward, diving her face under the water. Moonshot snatches her up within half a second, but not soon enough to prevent the hysteria.

“Panic!” say Norah’s wide eyes.

“Freak-Out!!!” cries her high-pitched shriek.

And “Hrragflflflf!!!” gurgled the stream of half-digested milk shooting from her mouth to coagulate in the warm water.

“Oh, she sitting in it,” I call helpfully from the sidelines.

“I don’t really know what I can do about that right now!” shots back my wife over the howls of our daughter. “I think we just need to end this,” she says. But we can’t…the child is fully lathered, so Moonshot is frozen, holding the panicked child by the armpits. We’re looking desperately for an escape route, the least traumatizing way to rinse the child in a tub full of swirling vomit.

“Over here,” I offer. “There’s no puke in the water over here!”

We frantically scoop water from the clean half of the tub to rinse the soap from Norah’s head and the lumps of curdled formula from her legs.

I lift Norah out of the tub as Moonshot extracts herself from her perch. It is to this chaotic retreat which MoMa returns with Pine-Sol in hand, eager to watch her darling grand-daughter frolic as promised in the tub.

The up-side was that all this pandemonium and terror seems to have really done the trick with Little Lutine’s sleep. She conked out in Moonshot’s arms within minutes and didn’t make a sound until morning.

So, for any parent out there looking for a way to ensure a good night’s sleep for your child. Moonshot and I whole-heartedly recommends a soothing Jacuzzi bath before bed. Norah, on the other hand, may have other ideas.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

April Politicians

I toyed for some time with making a joke post today. Thought maybe I’d tell everyone that Norah had followed in her mother’s footsteps and uttered “Dammit!” as her first word. But, in the end, I figured it would be too obvious. Instead, I’ll share a bit of April Fool’s absurdity I experienced today.

I am weed eating along the sidewalk and a friendly and intelligent gentleman approaches me. I hut down the machine and he tells me that he is sincerely hoped that I would be voting this Tuesday in the city’s mayoral election. And further than he hope John Gieseke had my vote. Now, I don’t follow local politics as much as I should. Every year I tell myself that this is the year that I start paying attention. This is the year I begin acting like I really understand how much more significant local politics is to my life. But I never do it. Life’s been pretty good round these part, so left with no other input, I suppose I’d vote for Patti York to keep her job. But I hate the idea of just cluelessly voting for the incumbent just because I was too lazy to research the issues. So, I was actually fairly happy to be approached by this friendly and intelligent looking gentleman. I hoped that he could give me some details on which way I should vote.

Me: Oh, thanks. I’m not as up on local politics as I should be. Been meaning to research a bit before Tuesday. What’s Gieseke’s main issue?

Friendly and Intelligent-Look Gentleman: Mayor

Me: What?

F.I.L.G: He’s running for mayor.

Me: Oh, well yeah, I knew that. But what’s he want to accomplish? What are his goals?

F.I.L.G: He’s going to represent the people better than Patti York.

F.I.L.G is smiling pleasantly. Seemingly confident that he’s giving all the right answers to win my vote. I try another tactic.

Me: Ok, what’ something that Patti York did that John Gieseke would have done differently?

F.I.L.G: She didn’t represent the will of the people very well.

Me: Oh. Well, if she’s not doing that then we need to get her out of office.

F.I.L.G, moving on down the sidewalk, pleased that he has won a vote: Exactly. Remember, the election is Tuesday.

So, sure, I still don’t have a particularly good reason to vote for Patti York. But she hasn’t screwed up St Charles too bad…and I’m pretty sure she’s got a better platform than a vague promise to represent my will. Thanks, Friendly and Intelligent-Looking Gentleman, for helping me decide.