Be mindful what "fairytales" you sing as lullabies

Posted by jdg | Monday, December 24, 2007

The other day I was at Pewabic Pottery and while checking out, Juniper started singing this song out of the blue. I'll admit it is one of the songs I have sung while trying to put her to sleep, but I had no idea she knew all the words. Now if only I can get some of her teeth to rot, she might sing it almost as well as Shane MacGowan.

Happy Christmas everyone.

The Rugratic Method

Posted by jdg | Wednesday, December 19, 2007 | ,

We're all sitting at the dining room table while Juniper eats her dinner, and my wife is reading to me from a story in the paper about a 72-year-old man who learned that he was adopted after being abandoned at 2-days old in a snowy vacant lot during the Hoover administration:

"'Back then, it was either Jane or John Doe,' one nurse said. 'But they chose to name him Jimmy Snowbank.'"

"What are you talking about Jimmy Snowbank?" Juniper asks. These days she's like a cub reporter for the Poughkeepsie Journal with all the who what when where whys.

"Jimmy Snowbank was a baby they found in a snowbank. . .because his mama put him there. . . because she didn't want him I guess. . .maybe she was scared. . .maybe she was too young to take care of a baby. . .it's hard work. . .because they ask a lot of questions."

The next day there's like a thousand feet of snow outside so I dress her up in so many layers if you took a cross section it would look like they signed the magna carta back when we put her underwear on. With an impenetrable polyester exoskeleton in place, the final touch is a pair of pink Dora the Explorer sunglasses that cover half her face. Every time I put them on her she points at Dora and asks "who's that girl?" and I pretend not to hear her. Outside, she has no interest in making snow angels, but delights in making what she calls "butt prints." She orders me to sit down next to her, but I'm only wearing jeans and soon they're so clammy and cold my balls are snuggling up against my appendix for warmth. "Let's play Jimmy Snowbank," she says, and then she goes through some melodramatic pantomime about leaving me in a snowdrift and she's covering me up with snow and telling me to cry. She forgets nothing you tell her, I think, and then I can no longer feel anything below my belly button. Just when I'm sure they're going to find me frozen like Jack Nicholson at the end of The Shining with a two-year old wearing sixteen pairs of pants banging a stick against my head and barking at me to cry like Jimmy Snowbank, she tells me she wants to go back inside.

Once there, the feeling returns to my legs, and I sit down at the computer and show her this flickr set. She is so freaked out by seeing Elmo in all those real world situations. "What is Elmo drinking?" she asks. "Beer, probably," I say. "What is Elmo doing there?" "That's what happens when you drink too much. One time I had to sit with your mom in someone's front yard for a couple hours after a party. She looked just like that." I know that one's going to come back at some inappropriate time and get me in trouble. When we get to the shot of Elmo on the toilet Juniper starts hyperventilating. I have to answer at least a hundred questions like why is Elmo pooping and whose bathroom is that and finally what color is Elmo's poop?

To spend all day with a not-quite-three-year old is to regularly find yourself interrogated and trapped in all kinds of existential dead ends. Why does a mother leave a 2-day-old baby in a snowbank? Who is that girl on her sunglasses, really? What color is Elmo's poop? I used to lie like my mom did, but keeping track of all the lies is so exhausting. So now I just hum, and nod my head from side to side. And that worked until yesterday, when she learned to grab my cheeks and say, "Dada you have to talk to me!"

[photo by Mark Sebastian]

So the kid is really into fairies, and I am largely at fault. Every night I tell her a bedtime story that involves owls and fairies flying around her room and sometimes I get all Pink Floyd with a laser pointer and a blue LED flashlight, and I'd best stop writing about this before I reveal something about "the land of fairy dreams" that could earn me an unfortunate nickname. Let's just say she's really into fairies and leave it at that. I was at the store the other day and I thought I'd pick her up a Christmas present that involved some sort of plastic, figurative fairy, and walking up and down the toy aisles the closest thing I could find is all this "fairy princess" crap. Now I've pretty much had her sequestered away from the whole Princess Industrial Complex. As far as she's concerned, "princess" is just what the creepy old ladies who get in her face at the grocery store call her. I just don't understand why the only fairies they sell also have to be princesses. Is not enough just to be a fucking fairy? You've already got effervescent butterfly wings and a magic wand and pointy shoes and a toadstool couch and two little tiny ponies to pull you around the forest in a wee cart. On top of all that, you need to be a member of some faerie aristocracy? With a fairy castle with little pixie maidservants and a whole fiefdom of lesser fairies to tax in order to sustain your royal extravagances? Why is it perfectly acceptable to celebrate this lifestyle of excess permitted only to those lucky enough to be yanked out of most royal of fairy vaginas? I want the kid to understand that just because someone's parents are wealthy, that doesn't make them smarter, nicer, prettier, more interesting, or in any way better than anyone else. If I teach her that now, she won't have to waste four years at Yale to learn the same thing. Think of the tuition we'll save in 2023!

Well, I suppose I'll have to go looking in one of those hippie toy catalogs that sell faceless dolls made out of organic wheatberry chaff. I'm sure they sell fairy toys that won't offend my Jacobin sensibilities, you know: hardworking proletarian fairy serfs who harvest thistledown and collect dew drops for the royal baths. I wonder if they'll be able to ship in time for the holiday. As my wife always says, you can't rush a hippie.

Hidden camera footage from the kid's weekend with Nana

Posted by jdg | Wednesday, December 12, 2007 |

Okay, that's not really my mother in law, not even after she raids the minibar. That's Carol Channing's big scene from the 1985 made-for-television musical version of Alice in Wonderland. I love the deer-in-the-headlights look the little girl keeps giving Channing. If you can't be bothered to watch the full five minutes, just watch this 1 minute song and dance. It's pretty clear that Lewis Carroll and Carol Channing are kindred spirits.

I am currently using the serialized YouTube clips of the whole movie to scare Juniper away from televised entertainment forever. The credits read like the autograph wall at the Brown Derby in 1980: Red Buttons! Sherman Helmsley! Ernest Borgnine! Scott Baio! Martha Raye! Roddy McDowell! The film features Sammy Davis Jr. as a rapping caterpillar. Ringo Starr in tights and a turtle shell. Telly Fucking Savales as the Chesire Cat. As you're watching it, you might find yourself thinking things like, "Hey, that's Junior's Grandpa from Problem Child and Problem Child 2! Then, "Why is Mr. Miyagi wearing a plush horse costume?" Or, "The post-All in the Family years were not kind to Sally Struthers." The whole movie is kind of like the Love Boat crashed on Fantasy Island and now everyone's on acid.

Alice in Wonderland (Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10)

Just one of the locals

Posted by jdg | Tuesday, December 11, 2007

There is a certain type of person who goes on vacation and says he wants to experience wherever he is going "like a local," despite the fact that locals almost everywhere mostly sit around at work daydreaming about their next chance to go on a vacation. There's one particular self-hating version of this type of person who might, say, go to Chicago for the weekend and (even with a Nikon around his neck) look down his nose at his fellow provincials wandering starry-eyed between the Art Institute, Navy Pier, and the Rainforest Cafe without acknowledging that he, too, is a tourist. He says the word "tourist" the way someone else might say "rodent" or "Carrottop." He has never been to a Rainforest Cafe. It could be a place that serves pan-seared marmoset and sloth tartare. He wouldn't know.

It's with food that he's most annoying. He feels very strongly that meals in a place as big and fantastic as Chicago should not be wasted on something familiar or uninteresting. "You only get a few chances to eat when you're traveling," he says. "I'm not going to waste one of them in the Bennigan's on Michigan Avenue." He might drag his 8-month-pregnant wife, his 2-year-old daughter, and his farsighted mother-in-law around the Loop for an hour looking for some place halfway-interesting that's close to their hotel for lunch. He might end up sulking through a meal in some deep-dish pizza place surrounded by suburbanites and their bags from Macy's, Forever 21, and H&M. Later that evening, on a date alone with his 8-month-pregnant wife in the city of big shoulders, he might hold her arm and drag her down icy sidewalks through three northern neighborhoods looking for a place to eat that wasn't lit by blue neon or filled with the type of guys who wear those newfangled tech-earmuffs. "Are you really surprised by any of this?" He asks her. "Don't you remember Venice?"

"That was eleven years ago. But yes, we smelled every damn canal before you found a restaurant that fit within your annoying matrix of authenticity and affordability."

The next day, he forces her to walk past twenty greasy hot dog stands looking for a place to get an Italian Beef. Some look too nice, others too popular. He refuses to visit any place with a reputation as "the best," resenting such subjectivities because they don't allow him to discover anything for himself. They decide to get tostadas and menudo in Pilsen. He walks back to the hotel; her woman parts hurt so she takes the CTA. He thinks Little Italy looks like it's populated mostly by Indian medical students. As he walks through all these neighborhoods, he thinks a lot about gentrification, how hipsters like him seek and fetishize and ultimately destroy the authentic, because they are so ashamed of what they are. It takes him three hours to get back to the hotel with all his detours, though it would have taken far less if he'd had ice skates.

Finally, as they are about to leave town, they pass a hot dog place on the outskirts of Ukrainian Village that looks just dirty and empty enough to try. He waits for the middle-aged woman to grill a cheeseburger for a black man in coveralls. When it's his turn at the counter, he orders an Italian beef. Dipped in gravy? Yes. With peppers? Yes. It is everything he has dreamed it would be. He even takes pictures.

A few minutes later, on I-94: "I'm sorry you married such an annoying tourist."

"It's okay," she says. "I had notice."

Posted by jdg | Friday, December 07, 2007 | ,

So I've been working like crazy to get these photo books ready for the kid's grandparents before the printing deadline passes. I'm thinking of using Blurb (has anyone had a good or bad experience with Blurb)? The book with my favorite pictures of the kid was easy, but I've also been putting together a book of all my favorite non-kid shots of Detroit, hoping that I can get them to see it with my eyes and hopefully understand a little better why we love it here so much. So of course that means I feel the need to write captions for all the pictures, and I've been formatting pages in photoshop until two in the morning all week.

I received a bunch of e-mails over the past couple of weeks asking if I would sell prints of some of the pictures I've been taking of Detroit. I was really taken aback by this. I have no photography training. And while it's an incredible honor, it also makes me feel like apologizing to the professional photographers who actually know what they're doing. But I am looking for a way to sell photos from this site. I promise that if I do this, the prices will reflect my status as a total amateur. So if anyone is still interested, stay tuned.

This past week, I brought a friend who was interested into the Michigan Central Station. Again, it was empty except for us, and we climbed up through the tower to where his mother once worked as a secretary for the Grand Trunk Railroad. I took a bunch of new pictures in HDR. It was bitterly cold and so windy that chunks of the metal roof were banging around loudly and pieces of glass were falling from the windows. The floors of the station are covered in the debris that has fallen off the ceiling and walls, and when we got back down to the main floor, along with the sound of the roof threatening to come down in one giant chamber, we heard the distinct sound of sweeping, like, with a broom. We turned the corner and there was this crazy white guy in a red sweatshirt sweeping up all the debris into little piles. He saw us, but didn't say anything. He just kept working. We thought about asking him what he was doing, but I didn't want to know the real answer. I wanted to think he just loves the place so much he feels compelled to break in and keep it neat, a one-man army standing up to a ceaseless tide of taggers, vandals, and even nature itself. Crazy, of course, but the world (and this city) can always use a bit more of that kind of insanity I think.

Not the hospital for us

Posted by jdg | Wednesday, December 05, 2007

This morning we took a tour of the hospital where Wood had been planning to give birth to #2. You know it's not going well when your wife is already in tears waiting in the lobby for the nurse to show up to lead the tour. After fifteen minutes of waiting, a woman stumbles into the lobby bundled in heavy coats, not visibly pregnant but clearly experiencing advanced labor, her face in a constant clench. A tech in blue scrubs nonchalantly slides a wheelchair under her and the woman behind the registration desk asks her questions with the bored curiosity of a fast food worker inquiring whether one desires fries with a hamburger. "Will there be anyone attending the birth with you?" she asks, and the woman shakes her head No. There is no softness then, no hand on her shoulder to say, "we'll be here for you," nothing but the further cold queries of intake, and my wife is crying.

The first thing we are shown on the tour is the lobby triage unit. "There are births right here on the floor all the time," the nurse says, laughing, "And we're ready for them." She's so off-kilter and awkward---volunteering strange information about her personal life within the first few seconds of meeting her---that we can't even make eye contact, so instead we stare at the snow-wet red bricks of the lobby floor, the long wet winter mats laid out between the registration desk and the door. The nurse shakes my wife's hand but ignores me until I follow them into the hallway. "Oh, and you are her support?" She asks. "My husband, Jim," Wood says. She shows us to a small examination room, where an initial ultrasound takes place, and where dilation is checked. "Dad is not allowed in here," she says.

"Why not?" I ask.

She puffs out her chest indignantly and says, "Because this is where we ask the mother if the male with her is an abuser and whether she wants security to escort him off the premises."

"Oh," I said.

It became clear over the course of the tour that this hospital has different protocol when it comes to fathers than the one where Juniper was born in San Francisco. I think she mistook my yuppie enthusiasm and desire to be involved in the birth as some sort of effort to dominate or control my wife. I felt so much hostility as I asked questions about hospital policies, as though none of it were any of my business simply because I possessed a penis. The next room we were taken to was the "After Delivery" room where two babies quietly sat under heat lamps. "This is where babies are taken after C-section deliveries," she said. "It's hospital policy that post C-section mothers recover in the general surgery recovery area, where infants aren't allowed. Babies spend on average four to six hours here, before they are returned to their mothers."

"What about the fathers?"

"Fathers are allowed visit the baby in here for five minutes. If there is only one child in the room, we may allow longer visits."

"That seems horrible to me," I said.

"That's hospital policy, sir. We bring our babies back to their mothers."

"But that would break my heart."

"We bring our babies back to their mothers."

"Yeah, but what I'm telling you is that if I were only allowed to see him for five minutes, I think it would break my heart."

"We bring our babies back to their mothers."

"I heard you the first time."

This is a hospital that regularly experiences drama, I suppose, where not every couple arrives armed with their Bradley breathing exercises and copies of The Birth Partner. I considered that some might come armed with Smith & Wessons and Colt 45, and that these policies had been set and precautions taken to ensure the safety of all babies and their mothers, at the expense, perhaps, of a few yuppie egos. I couldn't think of any other reason for all the hostility. Now I'm not a guy who speaks about my wife's pregnancy in the first person plural personal pronoun. It's all hers; I'm just the flesh she gets to dig her nails in. I know this isn't about me, but I took my "partnership" duties pretty seriously during her first one, and I still want to ensure that this time when she is most vulnerable, she doesn't get swept away into the experience the hospital wants her to have rather than the one we know from experience she can have. And it seemed pretty clear that at this hospital, they would prefer me to pace the waiting room during the entire delivery with a box of cigars under my arm.

When we got done with the tour Wood was crying again. The whole place had upset her. She hadn't been in a hospital since her stepdad died, and the experience brought up memories of all those visits. I apologized for cross examining the tour guide about c-section rates and postnatal testing. She said she couldn't think about anything but those two perfectly-healthy incubator babies, how their mothers had to wait hours to see them after getting their insides torn open.

Before we'd crossed back over the red-brick threshold, we both knew we had to find someplace else.