Six years ago on Christmas Day I flew to Beijing to spend a few weeks with Wood. We hadn't seen each other in four months, and during those four months we'd hardly spoken. IM programs were just becoming popular, so we'd do that for a couple hours a day, but I went weeks without hearing her voice. When I arrived in Beijing, we knew the kind of joy that only people who've suffered through long-distance relationships know, that intense joy you get from visits that keeps you sustained through all of those hard days and nights apart. As it was the turn of the millennium, we thought we should celebrate it in style, so we headed down to Shanghai to do it properly. Wood's millionaire Uncle runs a mysterious company that ships cashmere from Mongolia to sweatshops in various parts of southeast Asia, and he told us we could stay at his penthouse in Shanghai, as he and his family were in America at the time. A couple of our friends were teaching in Japan and they agreed to meet us in Shanghai to celebrate the big New Year.

I had never lived like that, in luxury, looking out from a seven-room beautifully-furnished apartment at the top of one wing of the Shanghai Center in the Pu Xi district, having a driver drive us around, thinking about where the money to pay for all this came from, realizing that people who live like this in China could never think about that and keep doing it. We spent our days wandering through hutongs and eating street food, shopping for trinkets our eyes wide at the skinned rottweiler-like dogs sold for meat in the narrow street markets. At night we'd walk through the brightly-lit streetscapes wondering what we could possibly do in such a place, past arcades where hundreds of Chinese businessman played pachinko bathed in gaudy green light. One day Wood and the girls from Japan went to a tailor on Nan Jing West road and had fancy old-school Chinese dresses made. They picked the dresses up on New Year's Eve, put them on and we clinked champagne glasses on the terrace looking out towards the Bund and the haze of Pudong. That night we didn't know where to go, so once sufficiently drunk we headed to Mao Ming Road, the bar district. What a sight we must have been: three American girls, one blond, one black-haired, and one redhead, all dressed up like Qing princesses, accompanied by a drunk guy wearing his girlfriend's Uncle's Armani suit. Rough-looking characters would try to get us to come into their bars, and eventually we went inside one that was reasonably well lit and almost empty, Wood ordering drinks in her best shanghaihua, negotiating a decent price so we wouldn't get screwed and have to make a scene when they brought the bill. The bar started crowding with rough Chinese men and rough-looking young women. We ordered more drinks, and the bartender created an impromptu dancefloor in one corner, blaring J-Pop music from the karaoke TV. One of the girls from Japan, a smokin' six-foot exhibitionist got up and started singing Japanese pop songs into the microphone, bringing a room of fascinated men to their knees with her karaoke skills honed after many months in the Tokyo bar scene. Wood and the girls danced, and they kept bringing us more drinks, telling us they were on the house. The dancing white girls in the Chinese dresses were a great source of amusement to the other patrons, who kept turning to each other and smiling. I sat there watching while some Chinese guy with a decent-sized knife in a holster fastened to his alligator-skinned belt and a cigarette between his lips danced with an extremely serious look on his face. I looked around the room, trying to figure out the dynamics of the situation. I finally realized there was some prostitution going on there. I was in a Chinese brothel with three girls who didn't know it was a brothel and we were all drunk. It wasn't Wood's first misadventure in a Chinese brothel; months earlier she and a friend had once gotten their hair cut by a pimp after the female "cosmotologists" at a Beijing "hair salon" turned out not to know anything about cutting hair.

We left not long after that, when the scene seemed to be getting out of control, and the proprietor pleaded with us to stay, offering us more free drinks, smiling and smiling and telling the girls they should dance more. When he saw we would not relent, he brought us V.I.P. cards and told Wood we could come back any time.

I don't know where exactly we ended up ringing in the new year. I do know we weren't watching the fireworks above the Oriental Pearl Tower in Pudong from the Bund. We were in some expat bar, and Kool & the Gang was playing when it happened, when the clock turned into a new millenium, and I remember wishing that Kool & the Gang hadn't been playing when that happened. Hours later, sobering up we walked back up Mao Ming Road, we passed that dubious place where we'd started our night. It was empty, with a few straggling men, a bored prostitute maybe. We grabbed a cab and I woke up the next morning back in the penthouse, sitting there with Wood in a full bed that was all ours, a luxury beyond any other I could have imagined then in those lean times. I remember thinking that the world was the same as it always was, no planes had fallen from the sky. Shanghai hadn't changed overnight. Shanghai was Shanghai underneath us, teeming with 15 million souls. I only had a few days left with Wood in China, so I held her close that morning, and we slept a little more and I can remember how it all felt so good.

I was just rifling through one of my old wallets looking for a frequent flyer card and I came across my V.I.P. card after all those years, the gold plastic card identifying membership No. 1412-168 for "Shanghai Annie's Recreation Centre, No. 170, Mao Ming Road."

This year we will be celebrating a quiet New Year in a cabin in the Sierras with a cast-iron stove and no television or internet or anything but a bottle of Dom Perignon we got as a wedding gift, just me and a sleeping baby and a wonderful woman I get to see and talk to and touch whenever I want to, to just reach out and find she is right there after all these years.

Dutch's Favorite 15 Records of 2005 (in no particular order)

Posted by jdg | Wednesday, December 28, 2005 |

Scout Niblett: Kidnapped by Neptune

You know how Cat Power is supposed to be all "weird" and shit. Fuck her. If she was really weird she wouldn't be singing duets with Eddie Vedder. Scout's songs sound as weird as Chan's should, with none of the tedious melodrama. This album, with its sly mythological allusions, an invocation to the muse, and lyrics like this: "We drove across the Bridge/ And we missed the exit/ for Treasure Island/ But I was so excited/ Just to be in your car/ Oh fuck Treasure Island/ Oh Fuck Treasure Island/ My smile's as wide as the bay/ Did you see it didn't die/ For hours and hours and hours/ I was alive that day" was easily one of my favorites this year.



Spoon: Gimme Fiction

I knew this girl once who thought having a friend who was a stripper made her cool. Her friend was sick of stripping to 50 Cent and wanted to strip to some good rock songs. She asked us if we could think of any. My friend suggested the Afghan Whigs' 1965. It was genius. Donald Rumsfeld could do a pole dance in a g-string thong to 66 and it would still be sexy. That album dripped grimey stripper vampire sex, and so does this one. I just wish I still talked to that girl so I could recommend "I turn my camera on." Hell, I'd recommend the entire fucking album.




Edith Frost: It's a Game

Poor Edith. This album has none of the buoyant playfulness of her last one, no songs with the military march-like percussion of "Cars and Parties." But somehow these songs are more haunting, more beautiful. It is a quiet, reflective album dwelling on hard times. It's not as country as her first album, but it's got some of that old-school Loretta/Dolly spirit. Both Wood and I have really enjoyed it.




The Boy Least Likely To: The Best Party Ever

How could I not include the album with the best glockenspiel/banjo songs about the fear of death I've ever heard? It's not very rock-n-roll to sing about how afraid you are of flying/spiders/the countryside/Belgians/the falling sky, but who cares? And these songs are catchy. Hours after I've played this album, I catch Wood singing "I'm glad I hitched my apple wagon to your star" in some other part of the apartment.






Bonnie 'Prince' Billy & Matt Sweeney: Superwolf

I really like this album, even if Matt Sweeney was one of those guys who played in that short-lived band with the bald guy who despite all his rage was still just a rat in a cage. What was that band? Audioslave? Zwan? Anyway, don't listen to me. My all-time favorite Will Oldham album is Joya, for what that's worth. I do like Oldham's new incarnation as a saltybearded sea captain.






Brendan Benson: Alternative to Love

I know that at this point, Brendan has sold his songs for use in commercials by every car company out there except for Citroen, and that means I should probably think he's a sell out. And I tried not to like this album for months. But in the end, I had to acknowledge its greatness. A little trivia: my friend lived platonically in a Brooklyn Heights studio apartment for one year with Brendan Benson's guitar player's girlfriend. She made a movie about a competitive oyster eater named "Crazy Legs." Or maybe I'm confused and making this up as I go along.



Pinetop Seven: The Night's Bloom

This is just a set of 13 epic songs that make me wish I had a fireplace and the ability to drink Scotch without making a squishy face.








Okkervil River: Black Sheep Boy

Not only does Will Sheff have great taste in film, music, and literature, but each album his band has released has been better than the last. I couldn't even listen to the Decemberists' new album without puking into my hat, probably because I had already heard Black Sheep Boy. It's that good. That said, my favorite Sheff song is still "Listening to Otis Redding at Home During Christmas." I'm listening to it right now. The second I heard it I forgave him for promoting his band endlessly on Audiogalaxy when he worked for them.





American Analog Set: Set Free

How has this band managed to maintain such a unique and characteristic sound with such simple elements: a lightly brushed snare, an overly-rhythmic guitar, a cranky, droning organ, all under Andrew Kenny's hushed, almost-whispered vocals? It works, and if anyone else tries it they should be sued. American Analog Set owns this sound, and each album shows the band innovating their characteristic style a little more, adding new time signatures, creating more dissonant melodies. But to say this is more of the same old thing is not at all to belittle its hushed beauty.




Reigns: We Lowered a Microphone into the Ground

This is an understated little album of layered piano/violin instrumentation and electronica, kind of like what The Books would be like if they were more like the rachels and less full of shit.









John Vanderslice: Pixel Revolt

I didn't like his last album, Cellar, so much that I walked out on Vanderslice's set at the Knitting Factory in New York last year after Sufjan Stevens and his Christian hipster harem marched over from Brooklyn to open for him. We left and went to some bar in the village called Chumley's. I felt guilty a few days later when I saw Vanderslice at SFO picking up his baggage. I felt even more guilty when I realized how good this new album was. If he could write 12 songs a year like "Dead Slate Pacific" he wouldn't have to pick up his own luggage. He'd have more money than Coldplay. Too bad about the song about the detective and the serial murderer, though. A word of advice, John: don't write songs after reading those true crime books, dude.


Mt. Eerie: No Flashlight

I had a friend in college who lived in our attic and didn't pay rent. I would hear him practicing making fires from two sticks rubbed together up there. If he got locked out of the house he would just go across the street and dig in the wet leaves and sleep on a hill there. Once he came to see Deepak Chopra in Ann Arbor and we missed his call so he slept by the traintracks. Now he lives in Washington, tagging endangered owls for a living. He catches them with his bare hands. When I first saw Phil Elvrum, the man behind Mt. Eerie, I recognized a bit of my friend there, I recognized a man who had a deep communion with nature. What I love about Phil is that there is something inside of him that drives him to share it all with us in the form of music. He's like some ancient Japanese monk who's been writing the same poem about the moon and the mountains and the darkness in a million different ways for decades. But Phil does it with a bass drum.


Stephen Malkmus: Face the Truth

I think I like Malkmus's songs even more now that he's a dad. And he carries his kid around in a sling. I could never get into that whole wearing a sling thing. They just feel so gay. So flowey. I like to think I'm comfortable with my sexuality and in touch with my feminine side and all that shit, but I've just never been able to rock the sling. Wood even bought one that was black with no African print or anything, and when I tried it on she told me I would almost look like a badass ninja, which sounded great. But I didn't feel like a badass ninja.




Various Artists: Radio Phnom Penh (Sublime Frequencies)

My wife once spent a couple months in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, riding around on little motor scooters past guys with AK-47s draped over their shoulders and shitloads of beggars who'd lost legs to mines. She was going around visiting Cambodian brothels with the idea of educating and empowering Cambodian sex workers. And yet somehow I doubt that experience was as crazy as listening to this album in its entirety. It's just that nuts. Even more nuts than Sublime Frequencies' equally fascinating Radio Pyongyang.




The Lucksmiths: Warmer Corners

I still believe this is almost a perfect album. I will probably someday put it alongside Aeroplane and Loveless and The Glow, Part Two as albums that fit perfectly into my life at the moment I first started listening to them (and couldn't stop listening to them). I've already written about it, and my feelings have hardly dimmed in the three months since As I said then, listening to this record makes me feel like I'm three gin martinis into the best wedding ever and the band is playing songs I've never heard but it doesn't matter because they're so fucking great I want to dance with every damn guest there including drunk uncles, praying the whole time that the music and the night will never end. Every song on this album is a gem.


Download all of these albums, for free, here.

The Last Thursday Morning Daycare Report

Posted by Wood | Thursday, December 22, 2005 |

[Juniper's last day of daycare is tomorrow. Thus, this is our last Thursday Morning Daycare Report. We're trying to come up with a new weekly feature to replace these snapshots of how Juniper spends her days in the words of her unintentionally poetic daycare provider. I could try noting down what she does all day and ask the Chinese guys who live in our basement to put it into their own English, but it just wouldn't be the same. If I don't come up with something quick, I think Dutch is going to start publishing juicy selections from his high school diaries on Thursday mornings. I need to nip that in the bud. He's got like ten thousand of them]

As always, verbatim:

Monday:

Juniper still has some runny nose, it's green today.

I wonder why she wouldn't take her bottle today in the morning.

I was bouncing the ball and Juniper was looking at me, I said "Look at the ball, Juniper." Then she crawl to me and said "ball," and she would repeat it again later.

A lot of times she would hand me a toy but she wouldn't release her hand or sometimes she would pull back the toy. But when I fed her and if I open my mouth and Juniper would give me a Cheerios by putting it into my mouth.

Tuesday:

Juniper has more running nose today, but it's not green.

Juniper was sitting and look at me walking out so she start to crawl and followed me, then later she crawled back in again and look at me sitting down so she crawled into the ball pit and throw out the ball one by one.

Wednesday:

We have this new small bouncing ball and Juniper was looking at bouncing and I gave it to her and she did the same. She would throw the ball to me with her right hand.

When she threw the ball over the gate to the other classroom and she would cry.

Juniper was standing in front of the shelf, she was holding a cube toy on her left hand and hold on the shelf with her right hand. And then she released her right hand on the shelf for a few second and hold on to another side of the shelf again, and then she released her hand again and picked up a cloth book and put on top shelf without holding on.

Juniper was playing with the baby doll and she heard I start humming her friend to sleep and so she turned around and she look at me put her friend to sleep and so she turn to the baby doll and start patting on the baby's tummy. Later she hold the baby's head with both of her hands and she look at it face and kiss the baby's face with her mouth wide big.

Thursday Morning Daycare Report

Posted by Wood | Thursday, December 15, 2005 |

Juniper's primary provider was out sick several days in the last week, leaving us without much material for the daycare report. Here's everything he wrote for Tuesday:

Recently when I put Juniper up on the chair to eat and as Juniper sees I put the tray up then she would raise up two hands to let me put the tray in.

After her breakfast, Juniper was sitting there drinking water and someone clap hands and say "hooray" and Juniper clap her hands and say "yay."

She was pretty fussy after her breakfast so I put her to nap and she went down pretty fast. When woke up she was pretty fussy too. I heard she said "Mommy" while she was whining.

And here's all the sheet for yesterday said:

I heard she said "Mommy" today again.

Here's hoping that we get lots of descriptive reports next week. It's her last week in daycare.

Thursday Morning Daycare Report

Posted by Wood | Thursday, December 08, 2005 |

[as always, verbatim from the sheets we get from her provider]

After Juniper's bottle, we went outside for a walk on the buggie.* At first Juniper would cried when we put her down to sit on the buggie but later when we go out and Juniper was so happy, she was talking and laughing. At one point, I heard she said "Daddy."

Juniper went into the ball pit and used two hands to grab the big ball and throw it out and she watch the ball roll (throw 2 balls).

Juniper pull the baby doll out from the shelf and she used her pointing finger to feel the baby's mouth and eyes.

Recently, when Juniper is having her meal with her friend and she would turn to her friend and wave hi to him but she wouldn't say "Hi," she would try to say something.

Juniper crawled to the corner which is a place that has lots of pillows and once she got there, she turned around and lean backward and raise her left leg real high while she look at me and gave a big smile.

*Juniper is now now old enough to go out for rides around San Francisco with her friends on this modified wagon with eight seats in it that her provider pulls down the sidewalk.

Last week I came out of the closet on Blogging Baby as the scroogish, grinchy anti-materialist prick I am by admitting I wasn't going to buy Juniper anything for Christmas. But that's mainly because she is too young to understand the significance of Christmas any more than she understands the significance of the monster shit she took this morning. The reality is I'm not against gift giving, I just want to draw a distinct line between giving gifts and buying mass-produced junk. Have you seen that Wal-Mart commercial where Destiny's Child is sitting around looking at the crap they bought each other at Wal-Mart and Beyonce is all singing about how she bought it, "Just to see my little nephew smile..."? Bitch, make a funny face or tickle him or take him to the zoo. Why not just sing for him, Beyonce? Your singing always makes me laugh.

Most of my beef with Wal-Mart is that all the crap they sell is made in China. I have always been a big supporter of American and local-made products. I consider shopping at Wal-Mart an unpatriotic act bordering on treason. In the past I have made rules for Christmas to reflect this hard-line ideology. One Christmas I only bought locally-manufactured gifts. Another year, when my hometown's downtown was faltering because of competition from outlying big box chain stores, I decided to only give gifts purchased from downtown merchants. This year, all the gifts we're buying will be made by independent San Francisco artists and designers.** Both Wood and I would like to be "craftier" and more skilled than we are, and ideally we'd like to give gifts that we made, but that just ain't gonna happen this year. As I see it, buying gifts like this has three main advantages:

(1) Buying one-of-a-kind art handmade by a local designer ensures that the gift will be truly unique;
(2) Supporting local people making things by hand in America is a good thing now that craftsmanship has largely been handed over to corporations and foreign labor;
(3) By buying these kinds of gifts, I'm not giving any money to some giant corporation paying Indonesian children to sew till their fingers bleed each day.

Should this idea be interesting to anyone else, I've created this mini-guide to artists/designers whose baby products I have come across at events like the feria urbana or just poking around the web and local boutiques. Beyond Christmas, the stuff on this list would also be great for baby shower gifts different from the run-of-the-mill Baby Gap, Carter's, Gymboree crap that gets all ooh'd and ahhh'd at those things.

Stuffed/Plush Creatures:

Why give your kids the standard Gund-ish stuffed animals that every kid on the block has, when you could get them a menagerie of weird stuffed creatures so unusual they'd make the stuffed beasts in Ted Nugent's living room seem downright passé. These plush creatures may be a little more expensive than most mass-produced stuffed animals, but they are hand-made with love and the money you spend actually goes to the person who makes them:


For even more DIY designer stuffed creatures, check out the storefront sites etsy and pixel girl.


Toys/Dolls:

Baby/Kids Clothes:

Onesies/t-shirts:


Hats: Butterfly & I (San Francisco); Lemon Head Designs (California).

Clothing:

This list is only of those artist/designers who have websites with their products for sale. It is by no means comprehensive; I have not intentionally left out folks from a certain island (and a certain borough) east of New Jersey and south of Connecticut. I don't have some kind of a complex; I just don't know enough about folks working there. I am not trying to be exclusive. If you know of any artist/designers who make great baby goods anywhere, please leave their names and websites in the comments and I'll add them to this list.

*I get the irony.

**Our love for these kinds of products is definitely inspired by our dear friend Carissa (of Brooklyn, NY) who made this hat for our Juniper:


Alas, she has no website.



There's more news out about Jack White's impending fatherhood. Turns out the hot model wife of the man behind the White Stripes, Karen Elson, will give birth to an extremely white, unstriped infant sometime this spring. This, according to Kurt Loder's crack team of reporters at MTV News. Given the fact that we're moving to Detroit next year and I'm planning to be a SAHD, I have a few months to plot a way to get in on playdates with Jack and Karen and their inevitably strangely-named son or daughter. Can you picture the nursery that kid is going to have?

I can just imagine ringing the doorbell at Jack White's Detroit mansion and having him answer the door pale and creepy like a cross between Johnny Depp's Willy Wonka and Gary Oldman's Dracula. He'd lead Juniper and I into the depths of his turreted castle, providing dry, docent-like commentary such as, "Ty Cobb once held Negro-dwarf-tossing contests in the parlour with Honus Wagner," before opening the gigantic red-and-white striped door to the nursery. It will take at least a minute before all the wonderment sets in: a herd of taxidermed zebras and ten foot peppermint lollipops and candycanes and that moppet from Jerry Maguire riding around on a cheerful orangutan wearing a nehru suit and a gigantic animatronic lego-block Jack that takes requests for any of the songs from White Blood Cells while playing behind him on a twelve-foot screen is hilarious home-video footage Jack has taken of Meg stumbling around with a bottle of Jack Daniels in her grip.

And that's just the foyer of the nursery. The next room would be completely pillowed and upholstered to look like a giant Piet Mondrian painting and contain a full-sized reproduction of Patsy Cline's tour bus filled with Mariachi musicians from Mexicantown playing old Blind Willie McTell, Leadbelly, and Stooges songs like lullabies. "No fun, my babe, no fun. . ." they'll sing while a troupe of tiny, cute mechanical owls like Bubo from Clash Of the Titans whirl above our heads. Do you think Jack will push a bugaboo? Hell no, he'll have some eighteenth century Prussian carriage modified to be pulled around Detroit by miniature ponies whipped by a surly dwarf who looks like Erich von Stroheim with an eyepatch.

Now you see why I have to come up with a plan. I know Eminem lives in Detroit and he's got a kid or two too but I'm sure his house just looks like anything you'd see on Cribs. Jack White's house, on the other hand, would probably make the set of Lidsville look like an Art Van showroom.

But seriously, I would be pretty excited to go bjorn to bjorn with Jack White at the Eastern Market some day. We've enjoyed his music. When Wood and I lived in Ann Arbor we used to go to White Stripes shows back when Jack was just a muscley frat boy with a puka-shell necklace who loved the blues. In 1999 we saw them play at the Detroit Institute of Art in the Diego Rivera mural room for $1.00. It was "family night at the DIA" and there were all kinds of buttoned-up conservative types there with their elementary-aged kids and all of Jack's many nieces and nephews were running around among the ironic-t-shirted hipsters. Is there a more kid-friendly serious rock band out there today? Who needs the Wiggles when you have songs like "Apple Blossom" and "We're Going To Be Friends" and "My doorbell"? A few years ago, Jack White even let himself be interviewed by a five-year old kid named Lucas who believed "that Jack White is 10 years old and making up those songs for him and his friends." My favorite excerpts:

Lucas: I was listening to "Little Room" and I was thinking that in a little room you can have your favorite stuff and your good friends but in a bigger room you can have more stuff but more people will be in it too and you can't know them all and some of the are probably in the big room only because it is big and they think they're suppose to be there just because the room is big.
Jack White:I think you're absolutely right about the big room. You're a pretty smart kid. It took me years to figure that out.

. . .
Lucas: Where did you get your red shoes?
Jack White: I got the red shoes from a fan of the band.
Lucas: Are you mad at the color blue?
Jack White: I don't hate the color blue...
Lucas: Do you have to wear good clothes on Easter?
Jack White: Actually, I wore a blue suit on Easter. . .


. . .
Lucas: If "there is no true love". . .how did you "fall in love with a girl"?
Jack White: You'll find out when you get older. If I told you now it would spoil it.


Now that's a celebrity whose baby I can get excited about.

Thursday Morning Daycare Report

Posted by Wood | Thursday, December 01, 2005 |

Juniper picked up an egg shaker and put it in front of her mouth and take it out and say "Mah wah" (did it a few times) and then later she did the same thing with the ball.

Juniper was eating the book and she saw me looking at her across the room and I told her not to eat the book but she still chew on the book so I crawl to her and she quickly throw down the book and crawl away, so I picked it and read it and she crawled to me and took back the book and started to flip the pages.

Juniper was dragging the xylaphone down the stairs from the ball pit and somehow the stick that hit xylaphone got stuck so Juniper can't drag it any more so she pull the xylaphone and she couldn't take it out so she yell out loud for help.

Juniper is so interest in playing with the tubes today. When she sees her friend was playing and she would crawled over and pull it from her friend but she couldn't pull it and she was saying something to her friend and crawled away. So I went to get more tubes and one for Juniper and then Juniper smile and she follows me to do the same thing by saying or vocalizing into the tube.

When I put Juniper to sleep and I haven't start to sing or hum her to sleep yet but she started vocalized already.

I was changing Juniper's Diaper and then the children and teachers from other classroom finish singing and cheered "Hooray" and clap hands and then Juniper heard and she clapped her hands happily and say "Yeah" while clapping her hands. . .