Before Juniper was born, I would occasionally get really wasted and watch Cine de las estrellas on Telefutura for hours at night. I don't know any Spanish though. One night I watched the entire Swayze/Demi/Goldberg vehicle Ghost dubbed in Spanish. Those two kids loved each other so darn much!
It dawned on me that night that it was my singular purpose in life to redub the movie Ghost, in English, leaving the Demi Moore lines intact but replacing everything Patrick Swayze says with lines from his other movies, particularly Road House, Red Dawn, To Wong Fu, and Dirty Dancing. I also wanted to replace everything Whoopi Goldberg says with Tone Loc's voice, both lyrics from his albums Loc'ed After Dark and Cool Hand Loc and his lines from the animated classic Bebe's Kids. In my version, Swayze and Demi were gay lovers renovating a Chelsea loft together before being torn apart by death and brought back together through a sex-obsessed lesbian psychic from da hood. I spent many awesome hours watching Road House and Red Dawn assembling Swayze quotes and listening to Tone Loc, and then Juniper came along and I got distracted from my artistic vision.
The centerpiece of my version of Ghost was replacing "Unchained Melody" with a song that I felt better matched the mood of the pottery love scene. I have now uploaded my version to Youtube. You should consider these four minutes of heaven as a taste of what might have been:
Love, by Swayze. Music, by Journey. Please let me know what you think.
Before Juniper was born, I would occasionally get really wasted and watch Cine de las estrellas on Telefutura for hours at night. I don't know any Spanish though. One night I watched the entire Swayze/Demi/Goldberg vehicle Ghost dubbed in Spanish. Those two kids loved each other so darn much!
We've placed a bid on a house that's perfect for us in downtown Detroit. Wood smartly put the kibosh on my dreams of the Frank Lloyd Wright fixer-upper, and for not much more than the cost of a down payment on a house in San Francisco we hope to soon own our first home in a city that most people don't even like to drive through. I can't say that I blame them. Detroiters are notorious for not heeding traffic signals; you can't assume because your light is green that some guy won't blast through the intersection at 40 mph. When people out here in San Francisco ask me what Detroit is like, I say that while I've never lived there, it feels like it's somewhere between Mad Max and The Road Warrior: chaotic and menacing, but not quite post-apocalyptic.
But I have also been telling people how excited I am to live there, and that I think Detroit is incredibly beautiful.
We have been getting "the face" for awhile now when I say such things; you know, the one where they look like they're smelling a particularly turgid dog fart. It usually accompanies the words: "You're going to raise your daughter there?" The speaker's eyes then dart from side to side, anxious, as though the men in the white lab coats are about to get out of their white vans and rush us with straitjackets to take us to the loony bin. "Have you ever actually been to Detroit?" we've been asked four times.
It's really starting to piss me off, and probably setting me up to reflexively become one hell of an asshole about it. But before I get to that, a slight digression:
Despite my recent accolade as a mommyblogger and my honorary degree from vagina university, I am still a man. That means I am pretty dense about some heavy shit, like all the fucking insecurity and the "judgmentality" among interacting parents (particularly moms). Despite all the shit that went down a few weeks ago and all the veterans of the mommy wars banging their tin cups all over the internet, it didn't really dawn on me until my wife explained it recently: "parenting is a really fucking hard job," she says, "one that certainly makes me insecure. So we all slog through this job wondering if we're doing the right thing and always feeling terrified that we're not, and then when we encounter someone who has done some other thing, made some different decision, we take that insecure energy and turn it into judgmental hate." Now that I fully understand this subtext, I have heard playground interactions and seen blog conflict where all this runs like electric current through every passive (or not-so passive) aggressive comment. It makes sense. For many of us this is the first time in our lives that our every decision affects the future of someone other than ourselves, and that's an enormous, uncomfortable responsibility. I was reading MamaC-Ta's post from a few weeks ago about all the hate she was getting for dressing her kid the way she wants to, and I really started thinking about how all this insecurity and judgment boils down to a relatively simple chiasma:
(1) Parent A makes an intentional values-based decision to do something (i.e. formula feed, co-sleep, cry-it-out, let her baby watch television, leash or spank her kids, or feed them junk food).
(2) Parent B makes an intentional values-based choice not to do the same thing, often creating a false sense of both insecurity and superiority in Parent B, who feels that it takes so much more effort and sacrifice to make the value-based choice she has made for her child.
(3) Parent B resents (and judges) Parent A for making the "easy" choice.
(4) Parent A feels the blatant judgment from Parent B, often creating a sense of guilt or insecurity for making the choice she has made. Parent A now resents (and judges) Parent B.
In any interaction, multiple values-based conflicts may exist at once, creating a tangled web of judgment and insecurity. Nearly every values-based parenting choice exists on a continuum between two dichotomous poles. Any time a parent takes a strong position or makes a particularly "polar" values-based decision (i.e. "No TV! Only wooden toys!" or "TV teaches my babies to read! They learn so much more from their leapfrog toys than they do from wooden blocks!") the judgment just becomes intrinsic to the choice. You really can't win, unless you learn to just accept that judgment and insecurity are a part of this process, and ultimately if you have a strong sense of personal values you just make decisions according to those values and try not to ignite the insecurities in the other side. Easier said than done.
We're learning that one of the most contentious of these values-based choices is the decision about where to raise your children. Despite having known quite a few awesome, successful people who grew up in the city of Detroit, we keep hearing from ordinarily politically-correct liberal people that we simply cannot raise our baby in Detroit. Some list proxy excuses like bad schools, personal safety, and corrupt city government and nonexistent city services to try to convince us that it's the wrong decision. The bottom line is that Detroit is black and for many people that's enough. Does all this judgment add to any insecurity we have about our decision to live in the city? A little, and I've written about it honestly before. Is that insecurity going to stop us? Hell no.
But what it is really threatening to do is make me really resent the people who imply we are making the wrong decision, that we are making the wrong choice and jeopardizing the safety and future of our little girl. I recognize that it's all just part of the chiasma: some judge us as crazy or simply bad parents; others resent us because they assume we think we're better than them. It's the latter that I am most concerned about, probably because our general views are less divergent. I think our decision to live in the city is viewed by those sensitive about living in the suburbs as a rejection of their decision (or sacrifice). In other words, we are choosing to live in a place they perceive as too dangerous to live not because we like danger but because we would never live in a place as lame as the suburbs. And that part is true. Wood and I would never live in the suburbs. But I'm not going to turn this into a "why Dutch doesn't want to live in the suburbs" post. That must be such a tired subject among actual metro Detroiters. I'm just not going to argue about how statistically it's more dangerous to commute for 90 minutes a day on congested highways than it is to live among black people.
When Wood and I were 19 we drove to Canada with Wood's college republican friend and a group of her high school friends who all grew up in Farmington Hills, an affluent exurb of Detroit. In Canada, the drinking age was 19. To get there, though, we had to drive through downtown Detroit. It was late, but some concert must have just ended at Joe Louis Arena and we got stuck in highway gridlock not far from the Detroit/Windsor tunnel. Everyone in all the other cars was black. The tension in our car was palpable. The Farmington girls were terrified. They started talking about the people in the other cars as "they" and "them" and one even went so far as to call them "animals." I couldn't hold it in anymore and I got into a shouting match with her. It was a certain kind of ugliness you don't get to see too much, given how privileged people are taught to be so careful with their words. For the rest of the evening I had a headache and I didn't want to go into any of lame clubs these girls were dancing in, nor did I have any desire to drink. Wood sat with me out in the empty streets of Windsor, her new boyfriend driven to contemplative silence.
It's infinitely tricky to explain why you see beauty in a place where so many others see only ugliness, without also explaining that you see ugliness in the places they find beautiful.
God knows not everyone from the suburbs is like those girls from Farmington Hills. I know plenty of people who grew up in the suburbs who are now living in the city that their parents' generation abandoned. I also know plenty of people who grew up in the suburbs, raise their kids in a streetcar suburb, and are completely awesome. I love how beauty can flourish amid all different kinds of ugliness, how it can overcome its context, whether it be urban blight or suburban sprawl. You are ultimately unique from the circumstances that shape you. You don't have to think the way everyone around you thinks. You are not condemned to be a bad parent just because you had bad parents. You can make values-based decisions and stick by them no matter how many people tell you that you are wrong.
From this bully pulpit I will share some of the beauty I find in a city that so many have told us contains only ugliness. I may share ugliness, too. Like everywhere and everyone, I'm sure it has plenty of both.
The protean Austinite Paige McGuire (formerly of Miss Domestic fame) has specifically requested that we enter her "Shitty Mixtape Challenge." What is this "Shitty Mix Tape Challenge?" you ask. Well, I'm not quite sure. Paige is way too cool for stuff like "rules." She links to this video, and assumes we can figure it out for ourselves. She's kind of like that guy Jesus talked about who taught the other guy to fish rather than just give him fish, you know, right? Basically, the mix just has to be really, really bad, and embarrassing to play from a gigantic radio raheem boombox while walking around an anonymous urban environment. We here at Sweet Juniper love rules so we have created several additional ones to those Siobhan imposed upon herself for her excellent entry:
1. All songs must currently exist on one of my hard drives.
2. All songs must either (1) have been represented in Wood's cassette collection that I perused upon my first visit to her ancestral home in April, 1996; or (2) must have been in the catalog of the deejays who did our wedding.
3. No Eddie Money.
You can listen to our shitty mixtape entry here (but I don't know why you'd want to):
1. Eddie Murphy & Michael Jackson: whazupwitu?
Something tells me that this song could potentially have been the source of the funniest of all the "Charlie Murphy's True Hollywood Stories" in a parallel universe where Dave Chapelle didn't go crazy. This song is proof of the limits of Eddie Murphy's talent that came long before Daddy Daycare.
2. The West Coast Rap All Stars: We're All in the Same Gang
If you had a Delorean with an operating flux capacitor, wouldn't it be nice to go back and tell the Traveling Wilburys that it's a nice idea when you're all stoned at Neil Young's birthday party, but please, don't make that album. Or the other one. Same thing with all those people in "We Are the World." But imagine if you could have put a stop to this monstrosity: Tone-Loc, Above The Law, Ice-T, Dr. Dre, MC Ren, J.J. Fad, Young MC, Digital Underground, Oaktown's 3.5.7, MC Hammer, Eazy-E, King Tee, Body & Soul, Def Jef, and Michel'le all rap on this "positive" 1990 single recorded purportedly to combat gang violence in LA several years before several of its featured stars made millions as "gangsta" rappers. It's so bad the earwax oozes out of my ears into my brain just to get away from it.
3. PM Dawn: I'd Die Without You
If I ever tried out for American Idol, this is the song I would sing. And I would totally sing it to Randy.
4. Paula Abdul (duet with "The Wild Pair"): Opposites Attract
I owned the cassette single to this, and used to listen to it while mowing the lawn. I didn't buy MC Skat Kat's solo album though.
5. Jermaine Stewart: We Don't Have to Take Our Clothes Off
This song reminds me of all those pamphlets that the Mormon chick I took to prom used to show me.
Yesterday was Bay to Breakers, the huge 7-mile footrace/parade of debauchery that snakes across San Francisco every May. Click here to see what a penis looks like after it's been flopping back and forth in the fresh air for seven miles.
God, I'm going to miss San Francisco.
This month's edition of children's books that you wish celebrities would write: "Come Sail Away" by Styx. I was a one-year old when this song was released in 1978, but my parents must have played it a lot because I freakin' love it, man. It's the kind of song that should conclude every drunken wedding. But have you ever thought about the lyrics? I think it would make a great kid's book: arena-prog-rock pirates, ninjas, robots, angels, aliens. That is the stuff children's books are made of.
Okay, I am taking nominations for future editions of children's books you wish celebrities would write. It doesn't have to be musicians, just celebrities who don't suck, or, like Styx, who do suck but are awesome for complicated ironic reasons (like mustaches). Also, here is the flickr set with downloadable images.
Juniper has learned to turn on the television. She stands there less than ten inches from the screen, flipping through all four channels, looking for "babies." It also seems she prefers it at full volume. Despite my proclivities regarding the tube, I did not leap from where I sat across the room screaming, "Nooooooooooooooo!" in slow motion. We figured we'd let her see what it was, and hopefully get bored with it.
Tonight while we were getting her bath ready we heard the television crescendo in the other room. The channels changed every four seconds. Brady Bunch: "babies!" Pistons Game: "ball!" Evening news: "eyes!" George W. Bush's immigration speech: "Dada!"
[pause while Dutch looks to Wood with dread]
"No Juniper," her mother said. "That's not dada. That's our dictator. Can you say dick-tay-tor?"
Why? Oh why, Juniper? Anyone but him: Jerry Springer. French Stewart. Jared the subway guy. Why couldn't she have called any of them "dada."
I guess I should just prepare for the worst:
A reader recently posed the following question via e-mail, which I will answer in the traditional "ask the judgmental hipster asshole" fashion:
Q. Dutch, why the fuck do you always take pictures of Juniper in front of graffiti?
A. I lived in Pittsburgh for a month or so when I was studying for the bar exam and when I was drunk one sweltering afternoon I saw this Cable Access documentary on the Pittsburgh graffiti scene. There's this guy named Mook who leaves his tag in ridiculously precarious spots on top of bridge towers. The documentary was interesting and made me look at graffiti in a whole new light. Also, Wood's dad is a probation officer who knows the guy in charge of the city's effort to clean up all the graffiti. His stories of taking on the graffiti artists made HBO's The Wire look like the Keystone Kops. There was this cool bike trail along a Pittsburgh highway wall that was covered in graffiti. I really started to respect the talent of the people who were doing it, in a gay 1978 Manhattan art gallery kind of way, I guess.
When I first moved to San Francisco, I noticed the city has this thriving poser hip hop DJ culture that just cracked my shit up, and, as their books on early eighties hip hop that they buy at Giant Robot tell them, graffiti is as important to hip hop culture as "bustin' rhymes over beats." Don't get me wrong, I went through it, too. But that was high school. These people were in their thirties.
Any feelings of appreciation I had for street art felt like cliche, so I buried them. One time Wood, Juniper and I were riding the N-Judah through the tunnel under Buena Vista Park and four dudes in baggy clothing walked up and down the train with big permanent markers tagging the windows and empty seats. Everyone on the half-full train just ignored them. Wood and I couldn't help but laugh at the lameness of it. San Francisco is like hip hop Disneyland: it's got the gritty urban architecture, a population of bored white youth listening to underground hip hop, and yet it's perfectly fucking safe, even for sidewalk babies. There are commissioned graffiti murals on buildings that have $2 million condos inside. Graffiti is constantly being incorporated into ad campaigns and corporate billboards to lend street authenticity to the products advertised. I thought, what could be the ultimate emasculation of San Francisco graffiti as hip hop posturing? Why, taking pictures of a weak ass little baby in front of it, of course!
Bottom line: I thought these shots were funny.
But as time went on and I kept doing it, I realized I was really starting to appreciate again this "vandalism" that brings color and ad-less flavor to the advertising permeated streets. Besides, no one wants to see the pile of toys or the half-empty laundry hamper cluttering your living room in pictures of your kids. The vibrant colors and loopy, indecipherable letters of graffiti made perfect backgrounds. So I co-opted the art for my own purposes, you could say, just like the corporations I hated. But I loved that even the street artists who could make good money doing it legitimately still crept out at night and broke the law and created art for its own sake, leaving "letters from God dropt in the street, and every one sign'd by God's name"; art free for anyone to appreciate or scorn. Like blogging, I guess, only more beautiful. Through the photographs I was able to borrow from the transient beauty of this art, to make a visual record of this part of Juniper's life living here, in a city filled with color where people come and people go just like the words and spraypaint on the walls, which get replaced as soon as they are washed away.
I've got a whole flickr set of these "Graffiti Girl" pictures, and I've started a flickr group for you to upload shots of your babies in front of graffiti in your own towns, if you are so inclined.
Oh, and if anyone else wants to ask us any big questions, we'd be happy to do further Q&As. Ask in the comments or by e-mail.
If I could dress her in a sailor suit and take her down to the docks every day, I would. We found the hat at Bibles for Belgium for 25 cents. The price was written on masking tape stuck to the brim. I refuse to take it off. Full flickr set here, including pictures of the pint-sized seaman in front of a submarine. And pulling her new favorite toy:
I recently found and listened to an old TDK D60 in a junk box marked only by the faded word "jams." Is there a word for the experience of hearing music and having it transport you to an earlier time in your life? There should be.
This tape had known the interior of the Kenwood cassette player that rested in the dashboard of my trusty old red 1990 Pontiac Grand Prix with the one gray fender. The Kenwood cassette player was wired to the generic 250-Watt amp that underpowered two 12 inch Rockford Fosgate speakers in a box that I bought off a kid who needed money real bad to pay some other kid back. I kept the box chained up in the trunk of the car with 6 inches of upholstery between the car's interior and the speakers; it didn't matter, I have never been an audiophile. I just bought them to make the entire car rattle with bass. My parents swore they could tell whether I was going to make my curfew several minutes before I pulled in the driveway.
In 1994 I was friends with a guy who had me drive him to the mall so he could buy some "gear" at this store called "The Man Alive" that sold duochromatic outfits by the likes of Karl Kani: big baggie green and yellow shorts and an oversized shirt with matching green and yellow panels. He once stole me a pair of orange denim Girbauds with the tag suggestively on the crotch. He claimed to have lost his virginity at the age of eleven, two full years before I stopped playing with action figures. I would end up spending a lot of time in high school waiting around the living rooms of doublewide trailers watching television and eating no-bake cookies with the younger sisters of the girls he was fucking. Then we would pick up this guy called Lip and play basketball. They called him Lip because his lower lip was so big when he fell asleep on the way to Cedar Point one time my friends managed to put four full potato chips side-by-side on said lip while he snored. Lip had at least fourteen brothers and sisters and he was always beating the shit out of them. Lip's in prison now, and the other guy pays three different baby mamas every month.
God that mix brought back memories of awesomeness. I downloaded all the songs and now present them to you in close to their original order. Try to imagine, if you will, driving home from Lake Michigan in a rattling car smelling like sunburn and sand after an unsuccessful afternoon picking up girls from other school districts and listening to these songs in 1994:
1. A Tribe Called Quest: excursions
2. Beastie Boys: flute loop
3. Rakim: guess who's back
4. De la Soul: ego trippin (gumbo funk remix)
5. The Coup: fat cats, bigga fish/
6. The Coup: pimps
This wasn't actually on the original mix, but they really need to be presented together. When I heard it again recently I was like, whoa, I totally know people who talk like that now.
7. Notorious B.I.G.: juicy
"Super nintendo, Sega Genesis/ When I was dead broke man I couldn't picture this." There was this kid in my art class who the principal let perform "positive" raps on the P.A. in the morning about doing your homework and not doing drugs, then in art class when the teacher wasn't paying attention he'd rap about selling drugs and that kind of shit. I never saw him without a pick in his fro. He used to sing those two lines from this song over and over and over.
8. Funkdoobiest: Bow wow wow.
9. Beastie Boys (w/Cypress Hill): So What'cha Want (remix)
10. Del tha Funkee Homosapien: Ya Lil' Crumbsnatchers
11. The Fugees: nappy heads (remix)
12. Digable Planets: 9th wonder
13. De La Soul (featuring of teenage fanclub): fallin'
If I could go back and re-choose the de la soul songs I would pick something from their second album. I remember thinking this song was hilarious though because of the Tom Petty sample. It comes from the soundtrack of the 1993 movie Judgment Night, about a group of privileged minorities (including Cuba Gooding Jr. and Emilio Estevez) whose RV breaks down in an underprivileged white neighborhood run by Denis Leary, Piven, and the bald guy from House of Pain who named himself after boxer shorts, released an album of boring acoustic music and then had a heart attack. The thematic premise of the soundtrack was to match up "alternative" rock groups with rappers to create pre-Linkin Park raprock monstrosities like the song with Pearl Jam and Cypress Hill, who to my knowledge have never managed to record a song that wasn't about marijuana. I think Pearl Jam were like totally scared for their lives when they recorded it, but I'll bet Sonic Youth was totally into it.
14. Wu-Tang Clan: Da Mystery of Chessboxing
15. Beastie Boys: Car Thief
This is the best Beastie Boys song ever. I have no arguments with 1994 Dutch on this one.
16. The Pharcyde (with the Brand New Heavies): Soulflower
[this mix is missing two songs I couldn't find online: one by the Alkoholiks and one by the Beanuts I think]
Note: most of these songs are not appropriate for kids, unless you are awesome.
I walked her down to the Geary Street bus graveyard on Saturday, and we looked at the hundreds of buses sitting there abandoned for the weekend. The facility takes up a few full blocks and we walked around the entire thing, me repeating the word to her. Bus, Juney: bus.
She looked at all of them with me, solemn and soaking it in, not saying a word. For months I have pointed out every bus we've ridden or seen on the street, but she's never gotten any closer than Bup. It's that pesky voiceless alveolar sibilant again.
I think it was Walker Percy, writing to his old friend Shelby Foote, who once claimed that Shakespeare had it easy. He pointed out that Shakespeare came along at the birth of the modern English language, when all of his brilliant lines and aphorisms sat like low-hanging fruit from the lexical sapling of the modern English tongue. The rest of us, he considered, have it hard: trying to come up with new ways to say the things that people have always felt, new phrases and words in which to wrap our truths.
One of the greatest gifts of becoming a parent, I think, is having the opportunity to observe the moments in your child's life that you cannot remember in your own, from those first bright, cold days, the pummeling of everything being new, through when their own memories hatch. I doubt this ever ends; I doubt kids' lives ever cease to bring perspective to their parents' own pasts. With Juniper these days I am still struck by the overwhelming newness of everything. I try to compare it to things that I can remember: stepping out of a plane into a foreign country, for example, searching desperately for what is familiar yet marveling at everything that is new. Maybe there's a reason you can't remember what it was like to be a baby; memory must be a particularly unsuitable medium to store such intensity of feeling, in the same way one can't remember anything about an afternoon spent with some particularly good psilocybin mushrooms.
There is a certain simplicity in Juniper's perception that I almost envy, a very primitive but beautiful sense of abstraction. Picasso once said that it was a little-known secret that Henri Matisse developed his signature style only after he had children, that it was the influence of his babies and their sensibility that allowed him to paint the way he did, with what Picasso called, "the straightforward simplicity of children's art."
Yesterday I was running with Juniper in the park and I looked down on the ground and saw a carefully folded twenty dollar bill and no one around to claim it. I found this money because I have spent most of my life staring down at my feet, thinking about "the road ahead," the next steps. When I'm riding the bus or grocery shopping nearly all of my thoughts are about what I need to get done and the best way to do it. For Juniper it's not that way at all, I know, as she constantly reminds me. I still carry this tiny child everywhere we go, I keep her head right next to mine when we walk, so we can say her words back and forth to each other. Even with her there my mind will drift towards mundanities and then she will point to an Old Navy advertisement on top of a cab and she tells me about the dog in the ad, or we'll be walking down the milk aisle in Trader Joe's and she'll point to the cow in the elaborate paintings up by the ceiling that I have never noticed even though I've been there five dozen times. Moooo, she says. Up! Up! I admire her for the way she sees the world. She sees shapes and creatures and every idea she can cram into a word everywhere we go. It might be incredibly frustrating, to see so much but to be able to say so little. But I think it must also be beautiful, to be so overwhelmed by the world.
Yesterday, we were walking down Clement Street and from her perch in the crook of my arm she pointed towards the traffic and said, "Bus" clear as anything. I looked and sure enough a bus had stopped in front of Burma Superstar across the street. I couldn't contain myself, overwhelmed with so much love for her right then. I smiled and held her close in a hug and she squirmed and I kissed her head and said, "That's right Juney, it is a bus. You're right! I didn't even see it."
I have childless friends who ask me how things have changed since she was born. I tend to turn on the self-deprecation, talk about how I don't get to go out to bars anymore or how our lives are scheduled around her naps and bedtime. I tell them that because I know it's what they want to hear; many of them are still convinced, as Ken says on Freaks & Geeks, that, "everything fun in life happens in bars." I don't see any point to getting this precious or sentimental with them. They don't care that the biggest way my life has changed since Juniper was born is that I smile a lot more. That I laugh a lot more now. And it's not laughter at someone because they said or did something stupid and it's not ironic laughter at some shitty movie or television show or laughter at the expense of someone else because I think I'm better than them. I just find myself smiling and laughing because she has somehow fulfilled me in such an unexpected way. She makes me see the world as simple and pure, and it feels so good to have her sitting in the crook of my arm. She is teaching me to look up with her, and remember things I've never known
My wonderful and well-meaning sister bought Juniper this animatronic frog toddler named "Baby Tad." It's part of that unholy bastard progeny of Teddy Ruxpin and a Speak-n-Spell, you know, computerized toys that are supposed to be both educational and cuddly. Juniper, of course, loves it. It has become clear that Juniper needs an aunt like my sister, capable of softening the effects of a draconian upbringing by parents who dress her like a Bavarian Disco Baby, refuse to let her watch normal television and only buy her wooden toys from the Jura region of eastern France.
Tad always manages to find his way into the bedroom during the evening routine, broadcasting tinny microchip versions of Robert Schumann's Traumerei and Liszt's Liebestraum, signaling the onset of sleep and building all those classical music braincells, mais naturellement. He is also programmed to talk in a voice that a creepy 40-year-old white woman would use to talk to her cat, which is odd because according to his tag, Tad is a native of Bangladesh. Tad says things like, "Peekaboo, I see you!," "I wuv you!" and "Let's Snuggle!"
After we've put Juniper down for the night (she is totally sleeping rock solid for 10.5/11 hours now, by the way), Tad gets abandoned on the floor or on our bed. When Wood and I go to bed at around midnight, inevitably one of us steps on Baby Tad, starting a cycle of flashing lights or an annoying rendition of Hickory Dickory Dock. "Get that asshole Tad out of here!" I said the first time that happened. We have since taken to calling him That Asshole Tad all the time.
Last night, in a post-coital moment of clarity, I realized that Tad had been in the bed with us for the entire act. Get that asshole Tad out of the bed! I said and tossed him across the room. Wood put her arm around me, put one leg between both of mine, and I felt her hot breath on the back of my neck.
Then, in a pitch-perfect imitation of that asshole Tad she said, "Let's snuggle!"
From the "letters" section of this month's Mothering magazine:
Tiffany, Tiffany, Tiffany. While that story is quite sweet and young William is adorable, how many "William Grosspietsches" can there be in Cross Plains, Wisconsin, population 3,084?
When William Grosspietsch turns 13, somebody in his middle school class is going to come across this little anecdote and he will be forever known as "baby nums nums" (hopefully, if the bullies have any class, spoken with a faux-Indian accident like Peter Sellers in The Party), or "Billy num nums" or "Bill the boy who wished he had boobs" or some other ghastly adolescent sobriquet. They will project 30 foot images of this photo from their 11th generation iPods on the walls of the school gym.
I just finished reading David Mitchell's new novel Black Swan Green, a Sturm und Drang tale of adolescent hardship that (despite my love for Mitchell's other books), struck me as just a more-literate Harry Potter novel without the magic, stewed in Thatcher-era pop culture rather than half-assed occult mythology. Nonetheless, it did manage to unbury all kinds of memories about how difficult it is to be a 13-year-old boy, with all the pecking order and the teasing and bullying.
I feel for William Grosspietsch, man, and I'm glad Juniper is a girl. But how is what bloggers do with their kids any different? A lot of us joke about this, but I think a more serious ethical question remains. I remember e-mailing with Mr. Nice Guy a while back about the impenetrable shroud of anonymity he maintains, and he said he does it for his wife and child, because "they never asked to be the subject of something so publicly lame." With Wood I don't have to worry, but Juniper hasn't asked to have her face splashed all over the internet. And yet I have this horrifying defensive posture, an inclination to just insist that she is "mine" and I can exploit her however I want to, like a Hollywood stage mother. But I don't think it's really exploitation. This is our story, and she is a part of it. This is our family, and this is what we do. We write.
She'll get her revenge on me, no doubt, in a thousand seething ways over the many thousands of days to come.
Wood and I don't agree about everything, but we are pretty much in agreement about clothing with flames. We both feel strongly that flames belong on Von Dutch hot rods and on Sandra Bullock's husband, not on clothing.
We hate clothing with flames so much that I am actually starting to kind of love it. I have been trying to get in touch with my 10-year-old boy sense of awesomeness lately, and I am half tempted to buy one of those Charlie Sheenesque untuckable black shirts with FLAMES creeping up from the bottom and wear it to surprise Wood when she's with some of her fancypants mom friends. A girl who used to intimidate the crap out of me in college recently wrote about a game she and her boyfriend play along the lines of "What's grosser than gross" where they ask each other:
"What if you went home from the bar one night with a girl/guy that seemed really cool at the time but when you woke up in the morning you discovered that he/she (fill in the blank)?" Such as, "he always wears an ironic cowboy hat (or a flame shirt) but didn't have it on at the bar. . ."
That cracked my shit up. What if Wood suddenly found out the father of her child liked to walk around town adorned in flames?
Why do people wear flame clothing? Probably for the same reason you see guys walking around in leather coats elaborately embroidered with scenes from Scarface: because they can. The website flamewear.com boasts several plausible explanations for why people wear flame clothing:
YOUR BIKE AND CAR WEAR FLAMES...WHY DON'T YOU? Looking for hot clothes? Are flames your style? Want to fire up your wardrobe, your house, or increase the heat in your love life? Then stand back, because you've found Flamewear!
I can't argue with that logic. Nothing says, "I'm fucking hot!" like clothing that gives the illusion of being on cartoon fire.
And thank god we found those sunglasses abandoned on the train at Fairyland. I am totally going to build a flame wardrobe around them for Juniper. Because whereas I tend to dress myself like a mennonite or itinerant Bible salesman, I can pretty much force her to wear whatever I want. And just my luck: they make flame baby legs. Awesome.
The 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster last week reminded me of the family vacation Wood will never let me take. Some people want to go to the Caribbean or Hawaii or the French Riviera. Not me, I want to go to Kiev in the Ukraine so I can take the Chernobyl dead zone tour.
I'm not so interested in the nuclear facility as I am in Pripyat, the city built in 1970 for the workers at the nuclear plant. When the reactor exploded they gave the city's 49,000 residents ten minutes to gather their belongings and then whisked them out of town. Pripyat is filled with tall Soviet-style apartment buildings, tree-lined boulevards, swimming pools, and an abandoned amusement park. Everything that was there, all the detritus of its inhabitants, remains. Today you can take this tour and they hand you a geiger counter and take you around Pripyat's eerie stillness. The reactor exploded three days before May 1, a day of Soviet parades and celebrations. In the ministry building you can see radioactive signs and banners and floats for a parade that never happened, all kinds of soviet futurist-style propaganda posters of Lenin and Gorbechev and rest of them. Pripyat is the communist beast frozen in the thrall of death.
There are lots of amazing photographs available online here, here, and here. One of my favorite photography books is Robert Polidori's Zones of Exclusion, all photos taken in Pripyat (examples here). Something about these photographs speaks so profoundly about the future, about messing with atoms, about our own transience.
A few years ago, while Wood was in some meeting in Manhattan I took the F Train out to Coney Island in February and snuck into the fenced-off amusement park area, half hoping the Warriors would pop out from behind the Cyclone and threaten me with cudgels for invading their turf. Instead I just ran into a couple bored-looking Russian grandmothers pushing old-fashioned baby carriages (also creepy). I've been breaking into abandoned houses and buildings for years but for some reason amusement parks freak me out the most, even more than the creepy abandoned insane asylum we used to explore when I was a kid. And that place had a morgue. There must be some kind of Jungian symbolism or some annoying shit like that involved, of a childhood lost and creaking in the wind. Because such parks sit empty half the year, they reflect a kind of pagan longing for the summer, etc. etc etc. Probably it has way more to do with all those episodes of Scooby Doo I watched as a kid. All I know is when you're in an empty amusement park, those silent echoes of long-gone merriment and joy haunt you. For lack of better words, it's freaky.
So you can imagine how excited I was when I heard about Fairyland in Oakland, described to me as a "freaky" poorly-maintained early amusement park at Oakland's Lake Merritt that hasn't really changed since 1950 when Walt Disney famously visited it and was inspired to create Disneyland. I have been dying to take Juniper there, but they have been closed the last, oh, 15 weekends because of rain. But that's the best time to go, I tried to convince Wood, who doesn't let me break into places anymore. Yesterday, the sunniest day of the year so far, we went.
Amusement parks aren't freaky at all when there are 10,000 brats running around having a kick ass time. But we still had fun.