We've made it to Michigan, but not yet our final destination of Detroit. We spent last night with my parents, who hadn't seen their granddaughter since early March, and tonight we're with Wood's parents. We close on our house tomorrow, and our possessions arrive on a truck next Wednesday. Things could be worse, but they still kind of suck.

I'm feeling a lot of regret about the last part of our trip. We sort of just drove through Nebraska, Iowa, and Illinois without stopping, other than to let Juniper stretch her legs in one fast food place or another. We did spend a day in Omaha, Nebraska, which is a beautiful and amazing city. The old train station took my breath away. After Omaha, I'd had every intention to stop at small community diners and see the offbeat stuff along the road that so many readers recommended. I'd also wanted to take I-70 through Kansas and Missouri (we got so many great recommendations for St. Louis), but the extra hours it would have added to our trip made it unfeasible. We were sick of driving, sick of reading terrible books over our shoulders and dealing with the collective constipation that comes from too many fistfuls of pirate's booty and too much fast food. Somewhere in Colorado Juniper decided that this dreadful Thomas the Tank book was her new favorite, and we probably read it to her three dozen times in the last few days to appease her in the back seat. We eventually decided to start using a child molester's voice for Thomas because that sick motherfucking train seemed a little too eager to pick up all those children before the other trains got to take them home. In the end, appeasing Juniper became the theme of this trip. Not crazy roadside attractions in Kansas or determination of the best cinnamon bun on the Platte River. For every adorable moment where we'd point out deer or horses or cows to Juniper and the car would speed by and she'd demand "more mama, more!" there were a dozen stretches of empty highway she filled with unbearable whining and hollering where there was just nothing we could do to stop it.

So we quit looking for cute playgrounds in little towns and started getting excited when we'd see a billboard for a McDonald's playland on I-80. We drove right past towns where readers had recommended awesome sights simply because Juniper was sleeping and we wanted to get as many miles under our belt as possible. When a rainstorm followed us from Denver to Davenport, we stopped only when necessary. We even stopped at a Wal Mart that was right on the highway after we lost Addie #4.

My elitist-asshole attitude towards Wal Mart is no secret, but I had actually never been to one, so I felt a little like one of those dipshits who's never smoked pot yet feels completely comfortable ranting on and on about the dangers of marijuana abuse in this lovely country of ours. So setting foot for the first time in the super Wal Mart of Lexington, Nebraska was kind of like taking a nice long hit on a joint filled with the shit I'd been complaining about for years. I didn't feel anything, really. I was a little creeped out by the park benches scattered about with old men talking to each other on them like they were surrounded by leafy elms and elegant fountains rather than displays of rechargeable batteries and stacks of Scary Movie 4 DVDs. But that feeling of being creeped out was soon overwhelmed by the purple haze of finding 12-packs of soda for $2.50. We walked away with two of those and a new doll for Juniper, and $8 of my money headed to the vault in Arkansas. And I also spent about $4.00 in quarters trying to get one of those Homies on a low-rider bicycle from the toy/candy machines up front. I guess I'm just a hypocrite. This is the face of a baby who realizes for the first time that her dad is a hypocrite:

Several times on this trip I remembered reading that chapter in Charles Kuralt's book about all the dozens of names for burgers he'd encountered in his travels ("You can find your way across this country using burger joints the way a navigator uses stars.") and I felt guilty every time I bit into an In and Out burger or a Wendy's cheeseburger deluxe. We never eat that crap, and I had wanted this trip to be about what makes these small towns along the highway unique, not what made them like every place else.

We drove past dozens and dozens of abandoned restaurants and empty storefronts in small towns across the American west. We sat alongside people who lived and worked in those towns and ate in the fast food joints that dotted the highways that both led people to their towns and drew their young people out and away towards bigger places. I nearly broke down when a guy pushing a mop in a McDonald's somewhere in Iowa came up to Juniper and said she was beautiful and said he had two himself, one only nine months old. And I watched him push his mop and I felt so much sorrow and love for this man in a McDonald's uniform. And I felt so lucky that I didn't have to leave Juniper in her bed to push a mop in a McDonald's in the middle of the night. But mostly I felt love for him, and knew that look in his eye all too well when he saw my daughter shrieking with the joy of freed limbs, pushing her happy meal Hummer along the floor in front of his mop. Thinking about his own. Later I sat in the car and wondered why I had to be such an elitist asshole, why I had to want the people in these towns to want something they clearly don't want. They don't want to stop shopping at Wal Mart. They don't want to stop eating at McDonalds.

This isn't some convenient postmodern epiphany about how great strip malls and big boxes and fast food chains actually are. I still think these chains are lousy places to shop and eat. But that's just one asshole elitist's opinion, and only as valid as the next person's. I have to admit though, that biting into a McDonald's cheeseburger (something I had not done in years) brought back positively Proustian memories of similar childhood bites.

And that was actually kind of nice.

In the grisly, desperate part of today's earliest hours, when only jetlagged expatriate Britons must listen to NPR deep in the middle of Iowa to learn about the latest news in the cricket controversy, I heard a feature about cosmonauts on BBC World News. It seems that the Russians are researching the psychological effects of extreme space travel on the team of cosmonauts who will make the incredibly long and shitty journey to the red planet. Officials in Moscow are turning away volunteers who want to participate in a study being conducted there that would simulate the kinds of conditions faced by those cosmonauts. The officials hope to determine whether five people will be able to spend the necessary years of space travel in close quarters without killing each other. So five volunteers will spend five hundred days in a hermetically sealed five-hundred cubic meter unit while Russian scientists study their interactions. This is not a reality show.

At first, I thought, who are these people, so willing to voluntarily sit in a tiny pod for five hundred days with people they don't know at all? It struck me that they might be folks who just drove across the country with an eighteen-month-old child in the backseat, and are just looking for a way to relax.

As we near the end of our journey, I have this advice to good folks at Roskosmos: be sure to pack plenty of Pirate's Booty.

Utah: left behind, and it was awesome

Posted by jdg | Friday, August 25, 2006 |

Last night we were driving on a small state road on the outskirts of Grand Junction, Colorado, through a district of polebarns with corrugated steel roofs offering used office furniture and granite countertops starting at $45 per foot, when a SUV drove fast across a dirt lot, stirring up clouds of dust, and I asked Wood what day it was. The 23rd, she said, and as she said it we both realized it was our third wedding anniversary. The sun was already setting, the baby in the backseat wanted us to find a motel "now! please!" and it seemed that in the frenzy of packing and traveling we had forgotten more than just the small gifts we ordinarily exchange: we had forgotten the significance of this date altogether.

So we splurged and got a room in a great hotel. I can't stay in another Motel 6 like the one where we spent the night in Winnemucca. That Motel 6 had a beer bottle opener screwed to the bathroom counter. This was its only amenity. And when Wood wanted to drink her 22-oz bottle or Russian "Ursus" beer, she found it useful. Last night we stayed with the Matics whose hospitality, as I told Stefanie when we parted, was positively Homeric. Remember in the Odyssey, when Telemachus goes to visit Menelaus and Helen, and there is that long description of Menelaus' generous hospitality? Well Menelaus didn't give Telemachus his own king-sized bed. How could we stay in another Motel 6 after staying in a beautiful home filled with toys and boys Juniper loved?

As we reflected on our anniversary that we didn't know was our anniversary, we decided it was still a pretty good day. We saw Mormon ground zero, where we posed Juniper in all kinds of blasphemous spots. We went to Liberty Park's playground, which was the nicest we've ever seen. Juniper then drew with a green marker all over the face of the beautiful little girl who has probably occupied more bandwidth than any other baby in the world (and Leta still shared some of her M&Ms and Wheat Thins). And then we drove across southeastern Utah and its breathtaking scenery. Wood did get a migraine when we hit I-70, but Juniper didn't scream too hard in the hundred miles to Grand Junction. That was a blessing.

In a few minutes we're going to head east towards Denver. Traveling with a toddler truly does suck. But they sleep, and there are a lot of nice people to see along the way.

A Juniper among the junipers

Posted by jdg | Wednesday, August 23, 2006 |

Turns out there isn't much to do off I-80 in Nevada other than gamble, which I tried. I've never been to Vegas, so the haze of the nickel-slot room at the Red Lion casino in Elko, Nevada was the scene of my first wrestling match with a one-armed bandit. I just don't get it. Maybe it's my cheap-ass Dutchness but I just don't find any entertainment value throwing my money away. Also, my fellow gamblers were as depressing as I'd imagined they would be. I could maybe see the glamour of roulette in Monte Carlo while sipping martinis with tuxedo-clad superspies and their supermodel fucktoys wearing glimmering Versace gowns. Maybe. But sitting next to some long-ashed cigarette smoking pot-bellied octogenarian in an unironic trucker hat drinking a Rolling Rock at ten in the morning while shoving quarters into a talking video poker machine? No wonder Grandma's birthday cards have only had three one-dollar bills in them since they built that Indian casino in the next town.

A lot of the casinos in these Nevada towns have been advertising "penny slots" and I just don't get that either. So even if you win, you get pennies? Thousands of pennies? Isn't that like winning orphans?

We're in Salt Lake City tonight. Juniper is constipated, but enamored with the young gentleman of the excessively hospitable family with whom we're staying, who happens to be only two weeks older than her and poops four times a day. Here's hoping some of that will rub off. Across the street there is a late-night ninja school, and when we drove up there were about twenty people out on the front lawn in ninja outfits practicing various ninja weapons. I nearly crapped my pants with excitement at seeing so many ninjas. Now if someone tells me there is an orphanage full of plucky newsboys down the street, I am totally scrapping all plans for Detroit and staying in Salt Lake City.

Home is nowhere, for now

Posted by jdg | Monday, August 21, 2006 |

Juniper inherited my sense of direction, not her mother's lack of one. For the last month or so, when we're in the car and get within a few blocks of our apartment, from her backwards view of the neighborhood (her tiny body, until now, prevented her from sitting facing forward) and the roofs of the neighboring houses told her she was "home." She said that word clear as anything, and Wood and I always looked at each other, astonished that she knew.

Last night, at around nine, I walked through the bare-walled, emptied apartment we were leaving and I was struck with the memory of seeing it for the first time as an unmarried kid four years ago, and I thought about how much happened in those walls since. "It's just a place," said Wood, when I got in the car, sniffling, after turning the key in the lock for the last time. Juniper was silent in the back, perched facing forward for the first time and sitting between her favorite stuffed animals who were themselves sitting on a mountain of snacks and toys. She had been whining, but somehow the experience of her father crying shocked her enough to stop that. "It's just a place," Wood repeated, "what really matters is here in this car."

I always get this way. When I drove out to California by myself years ago, I had my share of fear and sadness, and crying like a whiny-ass titty baby. I first left Wood living in a dorm in Ann Arbor, and then left my parents' house in Kalamazoo. I hadn't had a real home since Wood and I moved out of the house we'd shared during law school, and for six months before I moved, I drifted from sublet to sublet, from one friend's couch to another for three months. When I crossed into Nevada on my cross-country drive I saw a hand-painted sign twisted into a barbed-wire fence just beyond Wendover that said two words: Go Home. I'm sure its author intended it to be some kind of statement against Mormon or Mexican encroachment but I took it personally. I took it as a sign from god. Go home, it said. The trouble was I didn't have any home to go to.

The next day I walked through a bare apartment that smelled vaguely of cats, the apartment where my unimagined daughter would take her first steps, where she would say her first word, and where over the course of nineteen months would run towards my stooped form to give me ten thousand hugs. I had a feeling about that apartment that first day I saw it. I rented it on the spot. I needed, more than anything, a home.

Leaving San Francisco is another matter. We took Bush Street downtown, to see the tall buildings and lights one last time, and when we reached Bush and Kearny I looked to the left and saw some guy taking a shit and wiping his ass with a rag right under a light in an alley. "God I'm going to miss this fucking town," I said to Wood. Then we got on I-80, and I cried all the way across the Bay Bridge.

We're driving down 80 today, making some reader recommended stops in Nevada City and in the Reno/Tahoe area. I will update with more details of our route and things we saw or did that readers recommended. I'd like to get to Wendover tonight, and to Salt Lake City tomorrow.

Goodbye, goodbye California

Posted by jdg | Sunday, August 20, 2006 |

Here is the tune we are whistling today: [click here to listen].

Stay tuned for updates from the road.

A Tale of Two Addies

Posted by jdg | Wednesday, August 16, 2006 |

Last April, Wood wrote a post about Juniper's beloved doll "Addie," a $2.99 bean-bag piece of crap from Target. Some wise commenter noted that we should buy more than one Addie, so we did. We should have bought dozens of them, and kept them like those Jengo Fett clones in the new Star Wars movies, marching around in Wood's closet, eating gruel at long miniature cafeteria tables, waiting for the day that each will be called into service. The Addies you see in the picture above are, from left to right, Addie #2 and Addie #4. Addie #1 was abandoned somewhere in the deep recesses of Golden Gate Park, and is now struggling to survive by collecting miniature recyclable cans in miniature garbage bags and fighting pigeons and rats for chunks of rice that old Chinese ladies toss out in giant buckets near Lloyd lake. Nobody knows what happened to Addie #3. We speculate Juniper finally succeeded in her mission to convince Addie #3 to ride a pigeon. Maybe Addie #3 simply saw her opportunity to hitch a ride on a mangy bird and get the fuck away from us one fateful day. It is still a mystery.

Addie #2 is really approaching mandatory retirement age. You can tell because she's starting to look like something you'd find in a goth teenager's high school "found object" art project. Juniper has applied "makeup" (a black marker) to one eye and even after several trips through the washing machine, Addie's onesie is no longer white, but a distinctive shade of puke gray. Also, Addie #2 smells. She is covered in food and has been dropped in the pigeon-shit water at the park one too many times. I'm going to have to come up with a good way to retire her, maybe dress her like a Wagnerian soprano and float her out into Lloyd lake in a balsa wood boat and shoot miniature flaming arrows at it. See ya, Brunnhilde.

Don't worry, though, I'll march Addie #4 out from her hiding place before we have our Viking funeral for #2. The trauma will be minimal and totally outweighed by the awesomeness.

Pediatric psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott established the idea of "transitional objects" as tools to delineate one's physical body from the outside world and learn the relationship between self and other. In Winnicott's view, through the transitional object, a child safely moves from the symbiotic relationship with its mother to being more independent, retaining the feelings of security through the lingering trace of the caregiver even when alone. The infant and her future counterpart will return to the transitional object to sleep or in times of need. I think Addie #1 may have originally played the role of a transitional object to Juniper (she never grew attached to any blankets or stuffed animals), but beyond simply acting as transitional objects, Addie #2 and her recent colleagues have become full-on surrogates for Juniper's adventurous side. It's some serious voodoo shit. Anything that Juniper is too nervous to try, Addie #2 gets to do it first, such as swimming in the pool at Blogher, eating tofu scramble, going down the tall slide, trying the intimidating spinning apparati at the playground, breakdancing, funny-car racing, bungee jumping, and even going pee pee in the potty (accompanied by the psssssssss sound I taught her over the last two days, much to Wood's embarassment).

The other fascinating aspect of the new Addie is Juniper's imitative maternal care for her. Like her colleague William Grosspietsch, she nurses Addie at her own "booboobs," and she loves feeding Addie"num nums" while in her high chair. Addie gets taken for strolls around the block, sits in adjoining swings at the playground, and gets to "ride" on the backs of real dogs tied outside the coffee shop like the baby in her favorite books. Juniper will even put her in a shoebox coffin, cover her with a tissue, and order us to "shhhhhh!" if we say anything during or after the process. Juniper is either practicing to be a funeral director, or she is putting Addie to "bed." She will even rock Addie to sleep the same way we rock her, and the other day she began singing her first song: "ockaby, baby, eee oh eee opps." It's so fucking cute I want to shoot myself.

All of that love and attention aside, Juniper is not above treating Addie with recklessness that deserves intervention from DPS (Doll Protective Services), enough to land Addie #2 in doll foster care. When looking at Juniper's face in the set of pictures that follow, I can't help thinking that's the same face Aztec priests must have made while stomping on the hearts of their victims in the ecstacy of a child sacrifice. If Juniper is learning to care for her doll from the care we are providing her, where the hell did she learn to do this:

Dave Chappelle likes my baby

Posted by jdg | Saturday, August 12, 2006 |

The other night, Juniper and I picked Dutch up from work for the last time. As we were walking to the car along Clay street under One Maritime Plaza, Dutch nudged me in the ribs and pointed ahead to what seemed to be a convention of "special friends" congregating together on their rascal scooters. Isn't that cute, I thought. Maybe they just saw a movie and are on their way back to the home for developmentally disabled adults.

"What's this?" I asked Dutch when we got closer. The scooter riders were three slim black guys in their mid-thirties.

"Holy crap, that's Dave Chappelle!" Dutch gasped.

And it was.

Why is Dave Chappelle riding around on a rascal scooter in the financial district? I wondered. Are rascal scooters replacing vespas as the hip, energy efficient way to get around town? Talk about elegant leisure. Can they go more than 3 miles an hour? Maybe his foot is broken? No, there he goes, standing up to get cash from an ATM. Should I approach him and ask for his autograph? Probably not a good idea while he's standing at the ATM. Should I stop staring?

Just as I convinced myself to peel my eyes off of his back and finally close my gaping mouth, Dave turned around, looked up, saw Juniper in my arms, and gave her a big, wide smile, saying, "Hey there, cutie," before turning back to the ATM.

Today is my last day of work, and I am feeling really guilty.

I have an easy job that pays well. I don't stand on the highway in the hot sun with a jackhammer tucked under my gut all day. I don't work with my hands plunged into the disarray of dead fish guts. I don't even sit in a cubicle forced to listen to my co-workers discussing the latest additions to their pez dispenser displays on top of their monitors. I have my own office. With a view of San Francisco Bay. And a door. That closes. I once worked with a guy whose previous job had been to walk up and down a line of cows that had entered a slaughterhouse, holding a captive bolt gun up to the head of each, and then pulling the trigger to drive a metal rod into their brains, killing them instantly, one after another, all day long. This, he said, was way better than what they used before: a sledgehammer. Sometimes, with a sledgehammer, the cows didn't die right away, but collapsed to the ground, twitching. Ah, beef. Now there's a job I wouldn't have any guilt walking away from.

As a lawyer, my job was to look for cases that have been already decided that bear some relevance to the predicament your company has gotten itself into. With the internetization of legal research, this is nothing more than fancy googling. What a privileged motherfucker I am to walk away from this job, there's no doubt about it. How many millions of people would trade places with me, to get paid what I paid, to dick around on the internet all day? I just punched myself on my right cheekbone on your behalf. Goddamnit, that hurt.

I remember how, when I was washing dishes at Russ', there was one of those big industrial clocks above the sink, and I would sit there at watch the minute hand on the clock drag itself around to all the numbers. I would figure out how much I was earning per second, before and after taxes. I would sit there and see how long it would take me to earn a penny. A nickel. Sometimes I used to go and hide in the bathroom or the walk-in refrigerator for fifteen minutes, only to emerge triumphant fifteen minutes later thinking, "Ha ha, bitches. I just earned $1.28 (before taxes) to take a shit or eat raw cold colds." Near the end of my tenure, I was so rabidly bitter I was ready and willing to perform both tasks in either hiding spot. Time had, as Poor Richard once warned, become money. Just not very much of it.

In my four years as a lawyer I have felt a brief kinship with that former self, in that lawyers are accountable for their time in "billable hours." That means that over the course of a year, a lawyer is required to "bill" a certain number of hours, in my case slightly less than two thousand. A billable hour is divided into tenths, so if you open up a letter from opposing counsel, that is a tenth of an hour even if it only takes 4 seconds. Spending all day in a warehouse in Santa Rosa looking through boxes of documents, however, is only 8.0 hours, though it feels like 12. Usually tasks fall somewhere in between. Writing an e-mail is 0.3 hours. Researching an issue 1.2. In their evenings, mornings, and afternoons, lawyers measure out their lives with coffee spoons. Time, again, means money. Just a hell of a lot more of it.

One hour of my time was charged to the client as $355.00. Remember, that's for fancy googling. I saw only a small fraction of that, but it was still way more than I deserved.

I have joked on our about page of my new career as a "Gentleman of Elegant Leisure." One of the earliest and most successful lawyers in Gold Rush San Francisco was a man named Ben Moors, who knew absolutely nothing about the law. He had memorized three speeches by the orator John Randolph and one by Daniel Webster, and delivered one of those three speeches in court with "magnificent gestures and impressive oratorical effects" no matter what the subject matter of the case was. He once slapped Senator David Broderick in public, and while on trial for that offense he described himself to the court not as a lawyer but as "a gentleman of elegant leisure." I knew the second I read those words exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up.

Unfortunately, my Calvinist Dutch ancestors bequeathed to me more than just a core-rotting frugality, but also the Protestant work ethic in its most concentrated form and a liberal dose of Protestant guilt (and that's the only liberal thing they gifted me). So here I sit, wondering why I feel so guilty because I have but a few more hours to sit well-paid in this chair, abandoning a job others would kill for because the most precious time in my life is that I spend with my kid, and that's how I want to spend all my time.

When I graduated from college, no one was willing to pay me to translate the Annales of Tacitus, nor was I willing to stick my entire head up my own ass and scream until someone gave me a PhD. So I went to law school. My Calvinist ancestors, looking down in their sensible black smocks from their preordained spot in heaven, approved. I worked hard to get to where I am. I'm not afraid to admit that. But today, those ancestors shake their heads in shame. And despite all my anger at those long-dead envious windfuckers, they have succeeded in making me feel guilty.

You might suggest that my guilt is really fear of the unknown that lies ahead. Or, if you are an academic (and being nice to me), you might suggest that it is shame, really: shame that results from the societal anger felt by all those "condemned to wage slavery," the cogs in a laboring society. They feel anger towards those who choose a different path because they themselves once "knew better" about what they wanted from life and dreamed about doing it before they accepted their place in what Max Weber called the "iron cage" of labor that no longer merely enables human activity, but traps and envelops it entirely. If you are a real Marxist, you might suggest that my guilt is showing an inclination to be an unwitting agent of ideology, the guilt an embodiment of mainstream cultural values.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. All I know for sure is that this guilt is real, and I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who feels some form of it.

I am interested in a theory of elegant leisure. I know it may initially seem ludicrous or insulting to insinuate that taking care of my kid will be "leisure," but I hope you'll hear me out. I had plenty of traditional "leisure" in my lawyer job (passive web surfing, blogging, drinking) but it still wasn't fun. I expect a lot of hard work as a stay-at-home dad, but I'm hoping it will also be fun. I want to reexamine what the word "leisure" means, more along the lines of what Cicero called otium cum dignitate ("leisure with dignity"). I am eager to start living a life that I don't have to measure out in coffee spoons, a new life that is deeply meaningful and satisfying in ways that this old life was not.

Kids are weird

Posted by jdg | Tuesday, August 08, 2006 |

Well, operation "ignore Elmo and hope he goes away" is a fucking bust, just two weeks after I first noted that somehow my child had spontaneously started talking about "Elmo" even though she's never seen him on television, played with any Elmo toys, or to the best of our knowledge been exposed to that little shitbird in any possible way.

As I suggested then, Elmo may very well embody the Jungian "child" archetype, filling a niche in the collective unconscious that does not require a toddler to be exposed to his self-referential blatherings in order to know who he is. But now, I fear, Elmo has taken on new dimensions in our daughter's mind. No longer content to think of him as a mere colleague-in-whining and comrade-in-crappy-pronunciation, I believe that Elmo now embodies the "hero" archetype to Juniper, and she expects him to one day ride up to our home on a white steed and rescue her from these evil 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. Why else would she wander over to an open window, and call out to him like Isolde to Tristan, like Thisbe to Pyramus, like Wendy Darling to Sandy Duncan in drag:

Alas, poor Juniper, your "hero" failed to show. Now get over here and eat this pureed kale and play with this sleek Scandinavian wooden thingamabob that just worked so much better with the furniture than any of those crappy licensed toys they sell at Wal-Mart. Then we'll read to you from a vintage children's book filled with mid-century illustrations and put you in your crib next to that handmade stuffed creature that you don't give a rat's ass about and I'll sing you a Belle & Sebastian song to sleep. Elmo can't hear your cries, Juniper. He can't hear your cries.