A while back I wrote about how I wanted to do a regular feature here at Sweet Juniper where I would "review" (i.e. make fun of) children's books written by celebrities. Our friendly neighborhood BARGAIN BOOK WAREHOUSE (slogan: "Where Bad Books Go to Die") has a gigantic section devoted solely to shitty children's books written by shitty celebrities. I thought it would be funny to write about Jada Pinckett Smith's Girls Hold up the World, but every time I sat down to "review" it I felt like I was making fun of the retarded kids at the school assembly.
Then I found a celebrity totally undeserving of pity: Billy Joel. By virtue of his continued existence, and a literal reading of his 1977 hit "Only the Good Die Young," hasn't Mr. Joel essentially admitted what we all know to be true: that he is not good; that he is bad. Billy Joel's third wife is 24 years old. He's 57. His own daughter via Christie Brinkley is 21. That's why I was sure when I sat down with a copy of his crap children's book Goodnight My Angel, I would be able to totally make fun of this soft-rock pansy asshole with impunity. The illustrations are so saccharine that Thomas Kinkade "The Painter of Light" himself wouldn't even have the plums to draw anything this cheesy, and the text of the "book" is nothing but the lyrics to the song that Billy Joel sang to his daughter when his current wife was still in diapers.
Who do these celebrities think they are, believing themselves authors of children's literature simply because they managed to felate the right music/TV/film executive at the right time in their lives? A celebrity becomes a parent and suddenly realizes, Goddamn, these kids' books have only got a few words in them. I may not have graduated high school but I too can be an author! In Madonna's infamous words, "I'm starting to read to my son. But I couldn't believe how vapid and vacant and empty all the stories were. There's, like, no lessons. . .There's, like, no books about anything." Imagine if Margaret Wise Brown had said that about the pointy-bra-wearing industry.
But I am glad somebody finally bought Madonna a thesaurus.
I am also disturbed by this trend of hiring an artist to slap illustrations on the lyrics of a venerated musician's song and calling it a children's book. Beyond Billy Joel they've done it to songs by Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell, Jerry Garcia and even Bob Dylan.
Perhaps I'm too harsh. The problem may not be the fact that publishers are doing this, but that they are just doing it with really lame, boring songs by decrepit celebrities. So I thought that instead of making fun of shitty celebrity books, it would better to imagine the possibility of children's books made from non-lame songs by less decrepit celebrities. So, in that spirit, I present to you, "A Horse Named Paul Revere," a children's book by The Beastie Boys:
I have also set up a flickr site with the full rap/text. This blog is clearly a cry for help.
At this point I know what you're thinking: "Cripes, Dutch, you're writing about Little House on the Prairie? How gay are you?"
The truth is, pretty darn gay I guess. But I know I've been talking a lot of shit about "how much I hate television" lately, so to prove that I'm not a total prick I thought I'd write about one of my all-time favorite TV shows.
When I was a kid, every night at six o'clock I would watch a syndicated LHOTP episode with my cut-up-smoky-link-filled macaroni and cheese. I loved that show. Don't get me drunk and talking about the time Laura found fool's gold in the creek or the episode where Mary burned down the barn. Or that time Nellie pretended to be in the wheelchair and she rolled down the hill into the creek? I will talk about LHOTP all night. Remember the time Laura stole Nellie's music box and had all those trippy punishment nightmares? Or how Pa made that stuttering Swedish chick with the short leg special shoes so she could play stickball with the other girls? Remember when Laura and Andy Garvey try to catch the creeper of Walnut Grove by putting a bucket of green paint above the door and it ended up turning Pa's hair green? I loved that shit, son.
I read an article recently about how little boys generally stick their noses up at books with girls on the cover, the major exception being the Little House series. There's something about that whole wood choppin' homesteadin' huntin' & fishin' thing that I know I really enjoyed, and part of that came through in the character of Charles Ingalls, brought unforgettably to life by Michael Landon. Although I enjoyed the books, I was never as mesmerized by them as I was by the television show, primarily because it was easier to watch the TV show than read. But I had also seen the show before I read the books, and I just never could accept the gruff, bearded fellow that Laura Ingalls Wilder described in the books as Pa. To me, Pa was Michael Landon, fresh-faced and 70s shagged and fucking awesome.
I don't understand why Michael Landon is not a gay icon. If I were gay, I would totally be gay for 1974-era Michael Landon. How do the gay choose their icons? Judy Garland? Cher? Why not Michael Landon? He had the whole western thing going. When he was on Bonanza, he had his shirt off half the time. And Landon's muscles weren't those "4 sets of 12 reps to work my rhomboids" muscles, but muscles earned pitching bales of hay and kicking ass. Plus he seemed to be really close to one of my favorite-all-time actors, Victor French. Victor's got to be a hairy bear icon if ever there was one. And don't forget those four and a half seasons of Highway to Heaven, which itself was one of the awesomest shows ever, it makes that show about angels starring Maya Angelou that my grandma loved so much look like a steaming pile of horseshit. Highway to Heaven's resurgence on TV Land almost feels like an excuse for me to get cable. I love it because it looks so old now, the way episodes of I Love Lucy looked when I was a kid. Except I remember when Highway to Heaven was new.
I'm dead serious about Little House on the Prairie, though. Michael Landon might not have made it as a gay icon, but I do see him as an icon of fatherhood. Despite whatever problems he had in real life, on screen Michael Landon knew how to be a father, particularly a father to little girls, which seems like more of a challenge than siring little boys. I loved the way he always kept in touch with his tender side, even though you knew if some rowdy drunkards came to town and disrupted Rev. Alden's sermon or if one of Laura's schoolmates was consistently getting too harsh a whuppin' from his own Pa, Charles would be there with a stern look and the guns to back up what's right. And he was always right. Pa was equally capable of playing a fiddle tune before bedtime, comforting half pint over the loss of a pet, or giving practical homespun advice about how to deal with that snooty Mrs. Oleson and her venomous progeny. Crap, all this talk makes me want to go eat bacon strips at Cracker Barrel with Victor French and reminisce about old times, I miss being 9 and watching that show so much.
The thing that strikes me now about the show was its fucking decency. Walnut Grove was portrayed as such an idealized community, where neighbors supported each other in hard times and Doc Baker was happily paid in small livestock. Walnut Grove felt very safe. There were no lawyers in Walnut Grove. I wanted to live there. Though uniformly Christian, these characters weren't your typical homo-hating southern-fried anti-intellectual evangelicals. Their Christianity provided them with a moral compass to do good in their community: to make the right decision even when it was hard or unpopular. And man, did they love to sing "Onward Christian soldiers" and "Bringing in the Sheaves." Poor Reverend Alden. I think his hymnals only had those two songs.
In Pa Ingalls, Landon (who produced, wrote, and directed the series as well) created a character who exemplified a certain Christian moral ideal that I can approve of: honest, loyal, faithful, non-conforming (hello: a 70s shag in Victorian Minnesota?), loving, hardworking. He could make or do anything. This was true in the books, but really came to life on the screen. Pa would work a whole day at Hansen's lumber mill, come home and plow the fields, and then crack jokes at the dinner table and ask his girls about their day and tuck them into bed before making sweet prairie love to Caroline on a mattress full of hay after the last oil lamp burned out. Now that's one hot hunk of Christian fatherhood, right there.
When I was a kid, I got dragged to church every Sunday. My church wasn't like Walnut Grove's church/school. Everyone there was so old. And the minister was so boring. And they never sang "Onward Christian Soldiers" or "Bringing in the Sheaves."It was torture. We didn't have homemade fried-chicken in a picnic basket waiting in the wagon for a kickass picnic down on the banks of Plum Creek after church. If we were lucky, we had a bucket of KFC and three sides to eat while my dad watched This Old House. I know a lot of people, even nonbelievers, who bring their kids to church just to instill some kind of vague morality in them. To that I ask: why torture when you can entertain? I got all the morality I needed from Little House on the Prairie, bitches. And now they have it commercial free on DVD.
And to think Wood made a funny face when I first found this at the Salvation Army:
Moderator: Well, here we are on what Dutch and Wood consider their real anniversary, more important even than their wedding anniversary. Ten years ago today they . . . Well, I guess we'd like to get some details of why you two consider this an anniversary. Wood, how did you and Dutch meet?
Wood: Let's see. The first time I remember seeing Dutch was early in the fall of our freshman year of college. I was in our dorm's cafeteria, and one of my friends was talking to a couple of people I didn't know, one of whom was a guy wearing a very ill-fitting tuxedo. She called me over and introduced me to the guy in the gigantic tuxedo. It was Dutch, who stood there jerking his head around and twitching. He had on a nametag that identified him as one of the very few kids at our university who had a full scholarship. The jerking and twitching made me think that he was mentally impaired and some sort of a "special friend" among the scholarship winners, but I now realize that it was all an elaborate dance to avoid making eye contact with anyone. He still struggles to look people in the eye. So yes, when I first met Dutch, I wondered if he was mentally retarded. I also thought he might just be brilliant.
Dutch: I'd seen Wood about two dozen times before that. Any honest guy will tell you that when he moves into a new scene he figures out who all the hot girls are within five minutes of being there. Wood was the hottest thing I had ever seen. First time I saw her she was wearing a green shirt that made her red hair look amazing. She had an eyebrow ring and tattoos. Yum. We ended up getting married just a few yards from the spot where I first saw her.
But, when we started to really get to know each other in February, I had a girlfriend.
Wood: That's right, he did. I remember that. A few months after meeting Dutch, I noticed him again. I was walking up the hill from our dorm to the main campus, and he was in front of me, holding hands with a girl. And I remember thinking, "Awww, how sweet. That guy has a girlfriend." I could also see about 4 inches of his underwear, because he sagged his jeans so low that at least half his butt was hanging out.
Dutch: I was totally one of those white guys.
Wood: It was complicated for him to walk up the hill. He had a heavy backpack, he was holding this girl's hand, and he had to keep pulling his pants up every couple of steps. He didn't want to let go of her hand or slow down, but his pants were just barely staying on his body.
Moderator: What happened to this girl?
Dutch: Oh, she was a sweet girl. But she had an ex-boyfriend with a prosthetic hand who threatened to kill me. Things didn't work out.
Wood: It was more of a claw, wasn't it?
Dutch: I guess it was kind of a gnarled fist.
Wood: Eventually Dutch and I started hanging in an awkward trio with one of my best friends who lived down the hall. Her hair was redder than mine. We both had crushes on Dutch, but we didn't admit it to each other.
Dutch: It was awesome.
Wood: One weekend in March I went home for my cousin's baptism. From my parent's house, I called this redheaded friend, and to my absolute horror, found that Dutch was in her dorm room. I was sick to my stomach and sure that she was putting the moves on him. I knew right then how badly I wanted him.
Dutch: I found out that night that the other girl was a hardcore Republican.
Wood: Yes, her politics saved me. I'd already farted several times in front of Dutch, which I'm sure repulsed him, but at least I didn't lecture him about the free market.
Dutch: I think the other girl's version of putting the moves on me was reading from a paper she'd recently written about how the decline of American morals mirrored that of ancient Rome.
Wood: We haven't mentioned a big part of the story yet: his entire first year of college, Dutch was a teetotaler. During the year that I was doing kegstands in a frat house called the Legion of Doom, Dutch didn't drink a drop of alcohol. He was like a Mormon without the Utah voodoo.
Dutch: I made it through high school without drinking, not because I was strong-willed or anything, but because I wasn't cool enough to hang out with anyone who could get alcohol. I never had the opportunity to just say No. One time when I was 17 I did have a sip of boxed wine that was leftover from a party my parents threw. And I did go to Lollapalooza 1994 with a whole bottle of codeine from having my wisdom teeth yanked out the day before. That was pretty great.
Wood: It was obvious that we both had crushes on each other, and in the last two weeks before the end of the school year, Dutch had multiple opportunities to try to kiss me. We rode bikes at night across town to a rock show, we stood outside of a party talking awkwardly while people smoked cigarettes around us, and we stayed up all night studying for finals in my dorm room, and each time, I put on my best squinty-eyed, kiss-me-now face, but nothing happened. Here was a boy I had seen argue passionately with a room full of drunk hippies at a house party, but he was too scared to give me a kiss.
Dutch: I did do other things to try to impress her. Remember when I threw my bike off the roof of the dorm?
Wood: Yeah. And I remember the time you got all tough and swore at the guy who prank called my room.
Dutch: And the night before the last night of school, it was pouring rain and Wood and I went out and ran in the downpour and got all muddy and we had a moment in the stairwell on the way back in that should have been a kiss. I went back to my dorm room with all that intensity of our inevitability sparking in my mind. I couldn't sleep, and I plotted how I knew it would have to go down. For years we have struggled with this part of the story, the illicitness of it. Ten years later it seems so innocent.
Wood: Dutch told me that he wanted to drink alcohol for his first time on the night before we had to move out of the dorms, and I happily accepted his plea to get him some beer. Finally! I thought. We sent our "source", a fratboy from the Legion of Doom house who was dating one of my friends, to the liquor store with requests: some vodka and a sixer of Jack Daniels coolers for me, and two 22 oz bottles of Molson Ice for Dutch.
Dutch: I believe I asked for a deuce-deuce. Or a 40oz of St. Ides. I was totally one of those white guys. Whatever it was, I know I drank it out of a paper bag.
Wood: That's right. You did.
Dutch: I will add that Wood drank her Lynchberg Lemonades through a fucking beer bong.
Wood: That's right. I did.
Dutch: It was the last night of the schoolyear, so all the guys on my floor were throwing a huge party.
It's funny how ten years later, I can still remember the giddiness of those moments. How even though I've been kissing the same girl for ten years, I've kept inside me somewhere exactly how it felt to rush towards the first one, to get past the tipping point of doubt and walk through one of those en suite bathrooms that connected the dormrooms and to have us both reach out for each other's hands and then suddenly find ourselves pressed up against each other, pressed up against the wall and then sitting on one of those dorm chairs making up for weeks of not kissing, making out like there wasn't enough time to make up for what what we'd missed.
Wood: There wasn't. The next day we were moving out of the dorm and returning to our hometowns. And the next year you weren't coming back to school, but going to Ireland.
Dutch: That part sucked, but made it pretty intense.
Wood: And the whole time there was a party going on around us, but we didn't even care. Occasionally someone would come in and say, "Holy shit, Dutch and Wood are making out in Keith's room," and we'd smile at each other. People took pictures of us in each other's arms, and gave them to us later. I woke up the next morning with Dutch in my bed. Eventually he had to leave to get started with moving out, and I wondered for a second if anything would come of it. If he'd have the balls to make it work.
Dutch: I came back up. I actually met her in the stairwell where we'd had our failed moment before. I didn't fail her this time.
Wood: Then we moved out. Dutch's mom came to pick him up. I packed my car and drove with friends back home.
Dutch: I cried like a fucking baby the whole ride home. I felt so cheated by my own hesitation. It felt like I'd had one of those dreams where all kinds of amazing, wonderful things happen and then you wake up and none of it's true.
Wood: But before leaving town, I stopped with friends at Pizza Hut. And then I called you from the pay phone.
Dutch: You did.
Wood: And then you came and met us.
Dutch: I did. And we sat next to each other and held hands under the table.
Wood: And that's how all this began, ten years ago.
Moderator: What are you going to do to celebrate?
Dutch: What we do every April 19. We're going to get drunk and totally make out all night.
Today is the one-hundredth anniversary of the great San Francisco quake and fire, which means that the newspapers and television crews trot out their stories about the NEXT BIG QUAKE and the city rolls out the dwindling number of centenarians who were here when the earth shook for 45-60 seconds in 1906, babies then and now fossils with persevering hearts. I have heard bagpipes and fire sirens all morning down by Lotta's fountain, the "ground zero" spot in the 1906 devastation where families looked for and, if lucky, found one another.
Sometimes I wonder if this city isn't a testament to humanity's ability to engage in collective denial. I shudder when they forecast the devastation that will take place when another big quake hits the city, but every day I manage to ride the elevator 27 stories above a peninsula straddling two tense, active faults. The newspapers describe what they call a "doomsday scenario." And yet I find myself thinking very little about earthquakes. You just can't live that way. But there are always little reminders. On every block of San Francisco there's an antique fire department callbox, the kind of precaution you only see in cities that have burned.
I just finished a book about the Oracle at Delphi in Greece. Scientists recently discovered faults that cross at Delphi, a chiasma under the Temple of Apollo that in ancient times allowed intoxicating vapors to rise from the earth to inspire the Pythia to foretell the future. It was thought to be the breath of Apollo, and her proclamations directly inspired the Greek constitutional democracy and saved the Athenians from the Persians at Salamis. Greece, it turns out, is the most seismically active place in Europe. It alone accounts for more than half of the continent's seismic release. I can only imagine what it feels like to experience a major earthquake outdoors, to see the ground tear itself apart. It must surely feel as though there are gods after all, and that they are angry. Poseidon, the earth shaker, presided at Delphi before Apollo. Some of the first references to him were found on the walls of Knossos, the great Cretan city of the Minoans, whose civilization was brought down by an earthquake.
I wonder if there isn't a strange attraction to living where the gods are angry. San Francisco is a city where there is incentive not to think too much about the future. Some of the most beautiful places on earth are the product of colossal violence. Like Delphi. I travelled there alone nine years ago during the Orthodox Easter. My bus got stuck in traffic in a little village called Arahova, six miles from Delphi, where there was a festival going on. In Greece, Easter is more important than Christmas. The day begins with the ceremony of the resurrection: at midnight, churches packed with devout worshippers descend into darkness for several minutes to symbolize Christ's journey into death, followed by a lighting of candles. The lit candles are the eyes of a dead god reawakening to the world, and they are carried out into the midnight streets in a procession of light. On Easter morning I watched as several men dragged a goat with its front hooves tied toward the precipice of the road that twisted along the rocky spur of Mount Parnassus. It was a temporary slaughterhouse, and animals in various stages of skinning and slaughter were hung about, their meat roasting over a fire. The goat resisted, terrified by the smell of blood and the sight of its buddies in various contortions of dissection. They dragged it shrieking towards a man with a a dagger. The man first slit the goat's throat, and its blood fell quickly into the dust. It kept shrieking as the man hacked at the windpipe until the neck collapsed into the body like a hinge. The front legs buckled. The men held it while it bled, lifting its thrashing hind legs high into the air, its heart pumping out more and more blood into the dust. When the kicking stopped the butcher slammed the knife into the spinal cord at the base of the skull which stimulated more kicking and thrashing.
While the men cut away joints of meat I felt like I had witnessed a sacrifice.
I know there is a scientific certainty that the earth will tear San Francisco apart in the future, and I can't help but marvel at the faith its citizens have that everything will be okay; it is a faith that allows so many to persevere and build lives here, even as earthquakes in Iran and Pakistan leave thousands dead. It may be denial, but I am proud of the beauty of this city and the people who live here, whose faith strikes me as almost absurdly religious in nature.
Despite the Cassandras with PhDs on the evening news telling us that they can see the future, there are still enough people who want to live here that I could never afford a goddamn house. I hope the scientists are wrong, and that the faithful remain safe. But I'm also hoping that when the big one hits my family will be on solid ground.
Things have been pretty serious and downright gloomy around here lately, so I thought I'd lighten things up a bit with another free mix of music. This is a mix that I made for my friends a couple years ago where all the songs feature handclaps.
Because you can't feel all that serious and gloomy when someone is clapping their hands.
Click here for more than an hour's worth of songs with handclaps
1. ACDC: Rock & Roll Damnation
2. The Stooges: No Fun
3. The Cars: Let's Go
4. Supergrass: Pumping on your Stereo
5. The Essex Green - The Late Great Cassiopeia
6. Sloan: The Lines You Amend
7. Georgia Sea Island Singers- Moses Don't Get Lost
8. Mirah- Of Pressure
9. Chris Montez- The More I See You
10. Belle and Sebastian: The Boy With the Arab Strap
11. Blondie: Sunday Girl
12. The Cure: Close to Me
13. Pas/Cal: I'd bet my life that you bet your life
14. Pinback: Penelope
15. Manitoba: Hendrix With Ko
16. The Kinks: Everybody's Gonna Be Happy
17. Big Star: When My Baby's Beside Me
Plus two recent songs I noticed with handclaps:
18. Brendan Benson: Alternative to Love
19. Spoon: They Never Got You
And the greatest use of handclaps ever:
20. Hall and Oates: Private Eyes
Wood grew up in a small western Michigan town called Holland. To this day, you when you approach Holland from any direction if you squint you can see jokers in prairie garb wearing wooden shoes pulling celery out of the muck. Someday I'll write a proper post about this place, but it's so Dutch, her high school marching band wore wooden shoes. Their mascot was a Dutchboy [to see pictures of Wood as captain of the high school cheerleading squad when she wore the word Dutch on her underwear across her butt so people in the stands could read it while she tumbled, click here].
When she was a little girl, Hall and Oates performed a concert at the local college football stadium. Wood didn't realize it was Daryl Hall and John Oates, however. She thought it was a band called the "Holland Oats." I've always thought that was one of the cutest things ever.
This morning I awoke to 1,414 e-mails in my blogging baby e-mail folder. A story I wrote yesterday about a woman who left her 1-month old baby in Sears for 90 minutes got picked up for AOL's front page and received something like 18 gagillion hits.
At blogging baby we get paid by the post, which means there is little incentive to spend too much time on any given story. Because I view blogging baby primarily as an opportunity to reach more readers, I generally spend enough time on a story that I'm not even making minimum wage. I usually try to incite controversy, and generally that means taking an "asshole stance" and then watching the furor erupt. Yesterday I wrote several stories that I didn't spend too much time on, one of which was the story that received more hits yesterday than Sweet Juniper has received in its 10-month history.
It's a strange phenomenon, watching what catches fire on the internet. Yesterday I suggested that a father who stripped his daughter naked and beat her with a leather belt and then tried to use the "Bible defense" may "have gotten a little too excited watching that subtitled S&M porn movie that Mel Gibson made a few years ago" and only one person called me out on it. Yet when I dared suggest that, though TV may be fine in moderation, "the very existence of [portable DVD players] seems to betray the idea of moderation, that televised entertainment isn't limited to the living room but knows no boundaries beyond battery life" people were chasing me up towards the windmill with pitchforks and torches.
My favorite comment was this one from "Steve davis":
YO..NUTZ...welcome to the year 2006 ! WE use DVD's ...OMG wouldnt u have LOVED to have had a DVD as a kid instead of staring out the window like a dog dealing with your parents music or worse yet NEWS station on the radio.... I LOVE TV, ELECTRONICS, MOVIES and everything else NEW & EXCITING we have i 2006 !I am one for technology, our girla 8 & 11 are both str8 A students , smart as any "tv deprived " child..DO NOT TORTURE your kids and think that for one minute they would rather be without a tv..,.stop being so CHEAP and BACKWARDS and let the kid into HIS WORKLD!! This is THEIR age, the age of Electronics, Information and yes TV....EMBRACE IT donr be so CHEAP or AFRAID of today ! YES your kids want a damn DVD in the CAR and on trips and in a Restaurant but with the volume down or headphones !!! If u dont like it u are to backwards !
Either that is brilliant satire, or Exhibit A for my argument. Either way, hilarious.
I don't deny that I'm asking for backlash. When you take a strong stance against anything that the vast majority of parents have turned into a parenting crutch, people are sensitive and quick to anger. It makes sense that my "rejection" of television as a parenting tool would be interpreted as a "rejection" of anyone who uses television as a parenting tool.
Even Stefania wrote:
It's like the whole "my kid is only going to play with wooden, faceless toys" spiel. Does the kid care? No. It's the parents that love to say that shit cuz it makes them sound so, I don't know, full of it? Are my kids less imaginative, less creative, less, intelligent because we've allowed Groovy Girls and a Barbie nightgown into our household?
This is criticism that I have had to face over and over when exposing the vulnerabilities of my (not so revolutionary) ideas to the blogosphere, and I have thought deeply on it but I still won't back down. Here's the thing:
I know by letting Juniper play with plastic crap made in China, by letting her watch Baby Einstein till her eyes bleed, or by shopping for her at Wal-Mart and generally "giving up" I would not be harming Juniper in any tangible way. I am not disputing that.
By writing about why I don't want Juniper to watch television or why we don't like plastic crap made in China, I am not trying to put myself above anyone. If I wanted to feel above everyone I would just shut the hell up and not say anything at all and walk around simpering through San Francisco in my superiority, looking down upon the errant fools wandering through the heartland, buying unnecessary crap at Wal-Mart and voting for crooks and liars. I would stay in this fantasytown where everything is organic and fair trade and locally owned and I would spend the rest of my life looking down on everyone else in this country. But that's not what I want.
I am exposing myself here, people. I feel very vulnerable sometimes. I know there are some readers out there who hate my overly-sentimental posts or my efforts to get all "literary," but I can't tell you how much the kind comments have meant. In particular, I love the comments where you tell me that I have put things into words that you have felt. There is no greater compliment to someone who writes. Even though we are all very different people, as we go through this common experience, finding those little connections makes this worthwhile to me. I do hope that part of my purpose with this blog when you wipe away the snark and mundanity is finding the words to share with others about what is truly important to our roles as parents (and people): love, and time together.
I want to find a connection. And maybe I sometimes write to challenge, or perhaps to try to change a few minds. It's not a crime. Perhaps I do sometimes try to make people think about things in a way that they may never have had a chance to think about them. I am just one of many people out there trying to scrutinize what is "normal" or "popular," perhaps doing my best to try to change what those things mean.
I do not believe that normalization is necessarily the best outcome for my child. Not when being normal or popular means things like fucked-up body image issues perpetrated by the advertising and entertainment industries; cruelty to those less beautiful or less wealthy; materialism and obsession with symbols of status, and all of the coveting of MORE and MORE and all of the entitlement despite overwhelming lethargy and the resulting toll on those who help create our standard of living and the environment that we are destroying to achieve it. Ultimately what is normal or popular is really a highly abnormal and deeply fucked up system of unsustainable values that I simply do not agree with. So yes, I could give up and stop raging and raging against the dying of the light and just accept things as they are easiest, and my daughter will still be normal. She could be popular. She could join all the assholes making fun of me right now for trying to say something honest and real. And I'm sure she will one day struggle on her own through all this. But like I've said before, I want to give her the space and opportunity to be weird if she wants it.
I have kept note of this advice from thatgirl that I encountered somewhere while tilting toward internet windmills: "Like I told my son on his first day of school 'You dont realize this yet but our whole family is very weird. You'll never be normal or be like other kids. I can't teach you how to be like other kids. But I can teach you how not to mind being unique.'"
I can't think of anything more I would want to say to Juniper, other than to add that, "I have done my best to change what normal is, but I have failed and it's now your job to go out and make things better than I could make them. "
The cheap, undoubtedly made-in-China doll pictured in her hands above is Juniper's favorite toy. She loves this doll with such an intensity that I dare not leave the house without it, for if I do, two seconds after we lock the door and start strolling down the street, Juniper will look at me and softly say, "Addie?" while turning her palms up and raising her eyebrows. I'll respond that Addie is at home, and then the whisper will turn into a shout, and the question into a demand that she repeats until we turn around to retrieve the doll.
We bought this doll for Juniper while we were in Target a few months ago looking for Schleich animal figurines. While Dutch was examining a detailed baby chimpanzee to determine whether it was worth $2.25, Juniper spotted the dolls on the other side of the aisle and tried to pitch her tiny body out of Dutch's arms in a vain attempt to make contact with the dolls. Dutch noticed her interest, and handed her a doll, which she immediately began to cover with kisses. It was really adorable (and at $2.99, really affordable), so we bought it. She quickly became fixated with the doll, scorning all of her more creative, more expensive, and natural-fiber toys.
Juniper started calling this baby doll "Addie" when we were in Michigan last month and she met her 6 week old cousin Adeline. Yes, that's sweet. And it's very sweet when she puts Addie in her toy stroller or feeds her milk from her sippy cup while smacking her lips. But Addie's pajamas are starting to deteriorate, and while Juniper can hardly bring herself to say "Mama" more than once a day, we talk about Addie all the goddamn time. Frankly, I'm getting a little sick of this "Addie" myself. If she's not careful, she just might find herself in the hands of a hipster artist in the Mission to be used in his next "freaky dolls" art project. But I could never do that. It would break this child's heart. So we're just going to have to learn to live together in peace.
UPDATE: Even though Dutch's post last week didn't end up jinxing us (Juniper is still blissfully sleeping through the night), my post this morning did jinx poor little Addie. While we were walking through Golden Gate Park this afternoon with the cutest pregnant lady in San Francisco, Juniper must have tossed Addie from her stroller. I was too absorbed in conversation with posthipchick to notice until it was too late. Once we realized that Addie was missing, we retraced our steps carefully, but we couldn't find her anywhere. After we got home I sneakily retrieved New, Clean Addie from her hiding place under the changing table. I'd like to say that Juniper looked at me out of the corners of her eyes and rejected New Addie, but she didn't. She picked her up and played with her just like Old Addie. Turns out that 14 month olds aren't that hard to trick.
Juniper isn't mourning the loss of Old Addie, but I can't get stop picturing a pathetic, abandoned doll lying in the dark mud in Golden Gate Park. Poor Addie.
Not your fucking rug again, Dude.
Yes the rug again, Walter.
I know, I know, it really tied the room together.
DUDE [changing from a pair of jelly sandals into bowling shoes, sockless]
Well it did, Walter.
Why did you have the kid this week anyway? I thought you only saw him once a month on non-league game weekends.
Oh, Maude had to go to Vienna this week and she couldn't bring him with her.
WALTER [stretching a leather bowling glove over his wrist]
What happened to the nanny?
Who Knox? He and Maude had some sort of falling out. Something to do with a video he made of Egon.
He sounds like some kind of pederast.
He's not a pederast, Walter. He's a video artist. Maude just didn't want him using little Egon in his work. She couldn't get a new nanny before she had to fly out. So, the Dude was dad for a whole week.
The Dude as dad. [Walter tips a bottle of Bud towards the dude, who takes a sip from his caucasian.]
That's right, man [smiling widely, with milk dripping from his mustache.]
What happened with the rug, Dude?
I was trying to figure out how to change the kid's diaper the first night. I had just taken a dirty one off him. There was shit everywhere and I was trying to wipe it off his little balls and then I heard the tea kettle on the stove. By the time I got back he was lying there peeing all over the rug, man.
Your son's a rug pisser.
Fuckin-A, man. [The Dude gestures with his arm, making a perfect arc].
Your rug has certainly seen its share of micturition, Dude.
The other thing is, this was the first time I saw his little johnson. Maude didn't have him circumcised.
That's too bad.
Don't get me wrong. I'm glad she didn't have it done, man. It was just a little weird to see it. I'm not used to how it looks.
She should have had him circumcised.
What the fuck Walter, don't you know circumcision is an act of violence?
WALTER [visibly upset]
Remember last year when I was still having those nightmares? The nihilists, chasing me with giant scissors, you know, how they wanted to. . .
. . .Cut off your johnson?
That's right, man, well anyway, I got to talking to Allan my landlord about a year ago, and he tells me it's not the nihilists after all, but all the emotional baggage I have from being circumcised.
Allan told you this?
He's got an associates degree in psychology from Santa Monica College, man. Plus he's an intactivist so he's like an expert on this stuff.
What the fuck is an intactivist?
Somebody who spreads the word about the evil of circumcision, I guess. And he's trying to grow back his foreskin.
Grow back his foreskin? What? How the fuck is he going to do that?
I don't know. Something about skin grafts, and weights and pulleys; I didn't get the full details, Walter.
Circumcision isn't evil, Dude.
What are you talking about, man? It's an act of violence against an innocent child, Walter.
Damn it Dude, the brit mila is a sacred covenant between man and God. It's not some kind of torture. It's not like castration. And it sure as shit isn't fucking evil. [Walter slams fist on the table; scorecards and empty beer bottles scatter. The Dude's cocktail nearly falls from the table.]
Watch it man, there's a beverage here!
I'm not talking about the Jewish thing, man.
I am circumcised, Dude.
Well so am I, Walter, but that's the whole fucking problem, man; We didn't have any say in the matter and truth be told I think I might have liked to have a foreskin.
No you wouldn't, Dude.
What the fuck do you know, Walter?
Oh, I know.
How do you know?
Because if you hadn't been circumcised you might have found yourself standing in the showers at Long Binh camp and some smartmouth first lieutenant from Brooklyn points at your foreskin and for the rest of that tour your whole platoon is calling you the anteater. [shouting] And goddamn it I didn't watch my buddies die facedown in the muck so that your dancing landlord could besmirch three thousand years of beautiful tradition.
I thought you said you were circumcised, Walter.
I was, dude, in 1984. When I converted to Judaism.
You got circumcised for Cynthia?
I made a sacred covenant with the lord, Dude. Abraham was circumcised when he was 99 years old. Besides, I wasn't going to have Cynthia looking at my. . .
But Walter, that must have been major surgery, man.
Just a little local anesthetic. Outpatient procedure. I was on bedrest for three days, but that was it.
You want a foreskin, Dude? I can get you a foreskin, believe me. There are ways, Dude. You don't wanna know about it, believe me.
But Walter. . .
The issue here is your rug, Dude. And with Maude overseas, might I suggest another Lebowski, Egon's grandfather perhaps, who has the wealth, uh, the resources obviously to compensate you for the fucking rug.
The fucking rug that his darling grandson soiled.
That's right Dude. Who's watching the kid right now though?
Oh, his grandma Bunny is taking care of him. Let's fucking roll.
[The preceding fragment of the script for "The Little Lebowski" was recovered by an associate at the Sepulveda Boulevard Kinkos in Van Nuys, CA, after a frazzled Ethan Coen rushed in to copy a small stack of typewritten pages, accidentally leaving behind several off-center copied pages in the recycling bin. Several other fragments were also recovered.]
Wow, I sure am glad Gwyneth Paltrow decided to name her second child "Moses."
Seriously, God's chosen peeps have been wandering around for centuries with white-unleavened-bread old testament names like Elijah and Noah and Daniel and Jacob and Solomon and David, and according to the social security administration's list of popular names, plenty of goyim are going after that old testament flavor too.
Ever the trendsetter, leave it to Gwyneth to go after the big one: Moses.
See, while there are certain biblical names that are totally normalized, there are a few that would still raise an eyebrow these days. And one of those is the name I wanted to give Juniper had she been a boy. At the top of my list:
You think I'm kidding, but I'm so not. I'm dead serious.
I wanted a strong, powerful name. I knew that any son of mine might be destined to be diminutive, bookish, and quite possible gay. And I'm totally cool with that, but how much better would a diminutive bookish gay guy be if he was named Goliath? Sure, high school would be hard, but it's so passe to consider schoolyard taunting when naming a child. Taunting builds character; what you have to consider are the collegiate dividends. Goliath is so the name of a big man on campus. Imagine Goliath at a college party, doing a keg stand while everyone shouts his name. All the girls will want to know who Goliath is. If he were to turn out gay, imagine the reception he'd get at the gay bars. "Goliath's here!" the bouncer would shout. That's when the party really starts.
Wood was never as keen on the name Goliath as I was, but now that Gwyneth has bestowed her newborn son with the kickass name of Moses, here's to the hope that Wood will be more receptive to the name Goliath when the next baby rolls into town.
Because imagine a little tiny newborn infant named Goliath. Imagine a toddler named Goliath. I know you're nodding your head at the awesomeness of that right now. Don't even try to deny it.
A few years ago I had to move a friend's minivan out of my driveway, and when I turned the ignition the most awful caterwauling burst from the speakers; I was sure I had stumbled upon a secret U.S. Army test of a powerful acoustic weapons system designed to paralyze and induce vomiting by all exposed to it. Really, it was just some children singing "twinkle, twinkle little star" along with a woman playing acoustic guitar, but it was truly horrifying to my childless ass. I got out of the van as quickly as I could before I started thrashing the stuffing out of the bucket seats. Is this what happens when you have kids? I wondered. You drive around town listening to that crap at maximum volume?
I actually feel pretty lucky to be a parent in these modern times. I feel like it is possible to get through the first years without having to listen to some straw-haired, vest-wearing folksinger sing Stephen Foster songs over and over in order to keep the kids engaged in music. There's a decent enough selection of kids music out there that if you want you can still be a snob about Jack Johnson and They Might Be Giants. The recent CD See You on the Moon that I "reviewed" at blogging baby is one example. Bloodshot Records has put out not just one, but three records for kids with songs performed by its stable of roots rock stars. There's pancake mountain; there are things like the rock-n-romp concerts organized by the likes of music guru mama Paige Maguire; Neal Pollack has turned his blog into a freakin' daddy blog now; there's even a blog devoted solely to cool music for kids, (sm)all ages, run by Clea (and I highly recommend checking it out). Hip parents have never had it so easy.
One thing that I like about Clea's approach is that she doesn't fall into the trap of thinking you need to dumb down music for kids; instead, she scours her music archives for thematically-grouped songs that are accessible to children, the obvious advantage being that you don't just have to tolerate the music your young kids are listening to, but you can actually enjoy it with them.
So in that spirit I've created a mix of songs that you can listen to right now by clicking here (a window will popup and start playing when you click that). I enjoyed so much making a mix for Alan at BIYF a few months back that I totally stole the format from him and created my own flash music playlist, and I hope to bring a new mix of music every week (not just kid's stuff). I was just going to send a CD of these songs to Lucinda (who's working on a similar mix), but then I thought it would be fun to share them with everyone.
So here it is: one hour's worth of real music that your kids should enjoy. Let me know what you (and they) think.
3. Vera Ward Hall: Mama's Gonna Buy This is one of Alan Lomax's field recordings, a lullaby sung in real time to a real child.
4. Scout Niblett: New Beat, Part 1
5. Little Wings: Next Time Kyle has played shows at homes for the developmentally disabled and at random surfing beaches north of Santa Cruz. Do you think he'd play a toddler birthday party? That would be so rad. My favorite part of this song is the gavel. It kills me every time.
6. The Boy Least Likely To: Be Gentle With Me The band spent a week looking for a children's glockenspiel for this song, then spent the next three months recording the three minutes and 50 seconds of music.
7. Paul Simon: Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard Fuck you hipsters, I like Paul Simon. I have very fond memories of riding through the the Michigan hinterlands in my dad's 1986 Suburban listening to this song, picturing guys with straws in McDonald's cups making that funny noise, wondering exactly what he and Julio were doing down by the schoolyard that got them national media attention.
8. Beat Happening: Indian Summer
9. Neil Young: Transformer Man My friend was sitting in an empty bar in Athens, Georgia and the bartender put Neil Young's Trans on the stereo. He had never heard anything like it. The record is much maligned, but I have never heard anything quite like it either. I've been told it's Neil Young's vision in 1983 of what all music would be like now. In Neil futuristic vision of our present, apparently music would be very heavy on synths and vocoders, and perhaps sung by robots. Some have speculated that this album was actually an experiment to find technology that would allow Young to communicate with his son Ben, who has severe cerebral palsy and cannot speak. Which is so much more awesome than what that Mr. Holland's opus asshole did for his deaf kid.
10. Kraftwerk: We are the Robots Every time I hear this song, the six-year-old Dutch inside me craps his pants with excitement.
11. The White Stripes: We're Going to be Friends I know this has been Napoleon Dynamited to death, but it's a good song that your kids may not have heard yet.
12. Woody Guthrie: The Car Song
13. Stephen Malkmus: The Hook This is a somewhat realistic song about becoming a pirate.
14. Elf Power: Jane Another story song; this one's about an imaginative girl who dreams about a man named Dan who floats around in a bubble.
15. Of Montreal: The Fun Loving Nun The story of an unconventional nun who turns a lonely room into a happy place, transforms a grumpy look into a smiling face. I always picture that nun on PBS who talks about the renaissance paintings doing the pogo and the watusi.
16. Apples in Stereo: The Rainbow
17. Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers: Roadrunner Just tell them it's about the cartoon character.
18. ESG: Dance
19. Johnny Cash: I've Been Everywhere This is another one that has been whored out to movies and television commericials, but it's still awesome to a kid, particularly at the end of a long road trip. And if you're lucky, he says the name of your town.
20. BR5-49: Cherokee Boogie
Guess who has slept through the night with nary a peep, from 7:30 p.m. to 6:15 a.m. the last two nights?
Not the snoring mother-in-law; not Wood or I (who wake every hour wondering if a burglar with a striped shirt and a black lone ranger mask has crept up a ladder and stolen our baby).
Wood is convinced that if I write this, it will "jinx" us. I tell her not to use that word, that it's politically incorrect, like saying "I got gyped" or "he jewed me down." I have no idea what I am talking about though. I'm just too overjoyed and well-rested to keep quiet.
On Saturday Wood and I stopped in Design Within Reach to imagine what kind of bedroom we'd have if we weren't slobs.
We stood in front of a certain bedroom set and said to each other, "Do you think we could ever live like that?" The truth is, we both know that even if we were the kind of people to spend $3,000 on a bed, the bedding would end up covered in milk stains, there would be stuffed animals or board books everywhere. It would be a miracle just to get it made every day. The DWR catalog is like porn. In real life, no one's house looks like that, but you still find yourself lustfully fantasizing about minimalist interiors without overturned sippy cups and piles and piles of shit everywhere. One can only hope that when the DWR photographer leaves, some dude absentmindedly sets an empty glass of water on the side table or the dog chews up a corner of the Italian-leather sofa. I have the same relationship with the DWR catalog that Wood has with US Weekly. We both secretly covet and loathe the pretty things inside and wish them all kinds of ill.
One of the greatest of my many hypocrisies is that I tend to portray myself as one who adores simplicity, when in reality I am an incredibly proficient pack rat. When Wood told me she was pregnant, one of the first things I did was move my computer desk from our living room to the walk-in closet, an important gesture in the oncoming battle against the clutter in our 650-square foot apartment. It has since become a lair of crap penetrable only by me. As I write this I have cleared just enough space for my hands to reach the keyboard and a 2" radius for the mouse, but every other inch of desk is covered, usually with piles. I've got a pile of my VHS collection of classic 70s trucker movies (e.g. White Line Fever, Truck Stop Women, Convoy, Deadhead Miles), and I don't even own a VCR. There are piles of CDs, DVDs, my collection of books about underwater archaeology, worthless broken electronics, photos of shoeshine boys, Victorian engravings, spools of wire, a stereo receiver, a troupe of tiny plastic ninjas, and a pile of our tax documents. I'm still trying to put together the prize packages for the winners of the First Annual Sweet Juniper Weird Search Hit Contest that ended a month ago. The whole point of that contest for me was to get rid of some of this useless, I mean awesome, stuff.
And then there's sweet little Juniper. Before she came along, Wood and I were occasionally capable of glossing over our slobbery with a veneer of order. But our chances of doing that now with Juniper's stuff everywhere are shot to shit. Greg recently wrote a post showing how even "the greatest minimalist of all," Donald Judd, couldn't keep his place neat with a kid around. What hope do we have?
Juniper and I are not solely responsible for the clutter in our lives. My wife is generally a pretty chill parent, but what neuroses she does have come out in her purchases at the baby store. Take for example, Juniper's socks. Please, take some. We love trumpette socks. They are cute and they stay on, true, but did we need five boxes of them? That's a hundred fucking dollars worth of socks. Unhappy with the first baby wash and moisturizer we used, she simply went out and bought every other kind. Four or five kinds of diaper rash cream. When Juniper gets sick, we don't just get the infant Tylenol. We get EVERYTHING. Our bathroom is like an infant apothecary. The worst came when Juniper was struggling to drink from a bottle last summer at day care. Assuming the problem was technological and not innate to our infant, Wood bought every bottle made by every manufacturer and every nipple too. And don't even get me started about the recent invasion of every imaginable species of sippy cup.
Suspicious as I am about the whole baby industry in general, I don't see a real need for any of this, but I usually keep my mouth shut. I am always one for putting things into perspective. When Wood claims we need something much pricier than a sippy cup, I usually say something like, "Sacagawea gave birth to her baby a few weeks before Lewis and Clark embarked and she carried his ass on a cradleboard the entire way to the Pacific Ocean. Do we really need another _________." Usually the answer is "Yes," but my point has been made. All babies really need are boobs.
Driving down America's highways, more and more you see new self-storage facilities dotting the landscape; the "Container Store" is now ubiquitous in our strip malls alongside Best Buy and Target and all their ilk. An entire industry has sprung up to help Americans deal with all their stuff. Why do we have so much goddamn stuff?
Although the thought of moving gives me hives, I also see moving as an opportunity to shuffle off some of this material excess. I still foster this inner hope that with an actual home and not a 650-square-foot apartment we will be able to keep it minimalist and classy, but my fear is that more space just means more opportunity for the junk to propagate and spread.
A couple years ago when the California Academy of Sciences' Natural History Museum had its yard sale, I had to call pregnant Wood to come help me carry all the junk I bought back. I'm so relieved, now, that the ratty, ancient stuffed ostrich was already sold when I got there, because otherwise I'd be wondering how I was going to get that 7-foot motherfucker to Michigan. But that day I sure was pissed someone beat me to it. I have long been self-banished from eBay, but I fear that a return to the land of garage sales and awesome thrift stores spells trouble. Sometimes I fantasize about just tossing everything: all the fruits of my college dumpster diving days, all the weird crap I lugged back from Europe or China or all the stupid architectural concept paintings and silly chairs. But then I get intensely jealous of the hypothetical person who'd come along and discover the treasure trove after I dump at all. I can't let them have it. It's all my junk. Mine, I tell you! Mine!