This book starts out innocently enough; it is the tale of young Eric and his beloved pet bird, Snow. A beautiful bird, Snow. Lovely plumage. All was right with the world: Eric fed her stale bread, Snow pooped on the porch. Until one day, when (as often was the case in the children's literature of the early seventies) cruel reality ruined all the fun. Enter cursed Thanatos:

No, he's not just resting, Eric. Snow is dead. It says so, right there under the two-page bird corpse. If you look close enough you can already see the maggots hatching in his eye! I'll bet the next page is all about the wonders of rigor mortis. My daughter calls this book "the one about the bird who didn't look both ways."

I hope this book doesn't end with Eric in his mid-forties stuffing dead prostitutes into 50-gallon drums.
Uh-oh. Even I can tell where this is going.

Yeah Eric, that coffin with your dead Grandpa in it will look great next to your Micronauts and your super Spirograph.

Rage against Mr. Clean

Posted by jdg | Thursday, September 25, 2008

He is known by many names throughout Europe. In Italy he is Mastro Lindo; in Germany, Meister Proper; in Spain, Don Limpio. In France he is Monsieur Propre. No matter where you go, this much is clear: he makes rooms spotless, and you must address him formally.

Last week, the European Parliament voted 504 to 110 to adopt a scathing nonbinding report that accuses the advertising industry of “sexual stereotyping,” singling out Mr. Clean and his muscular physique for the implication that only a mighty man is powerful enough to tackle dirt and stains.

Leave it to the Europeans to get it all wrong. To be fair, I have always felt that Mr. Clean was a somewhat-threatening figure, a self-assured, well-muscled, vaguely-middle-eastern man (or perhaps a buccaneer) that housewives everywhere are supposed to welcome into their homes to polish all their surfaces. It's all very subtle---not obvious schtick like those cleaning hunks. Mr. Clean's motives are far more nebulous. Maybe he just really likes to clean! He seems to have even been marketed to husbands at one time (I can just see Don Draper & co. hashing all this one out in a conference room---Mr. Clean was initially conceived in 1958) but for the past couple of years as my househusband duties have called for increased surface cleaning, I have noticed that Mr. Clean does only seem to be winking at the ladies. I have seen you winking at the ladies, Mr. Clean. I do not think that you will wink at me.

(But that earring gives me hope).

Yo, France: Monsieur Propre is not some statement about the feminine form's inability to exert elbow grease. Mr. Clean---much like Italy's own Fabio--- is a fantasy icon designed for women whose husbands would never rip their bodices or vigorously clean their kitchens. I am sure in real life, Fabio would hardly live up to all the hype: he probably brushes his hair a thousand strokes like Mary Ingalls before he falls asleep instead of breathlessly laying you down on a bed covered in rose petals. As much as I would like a visit from Mr. Clean myself, I'm sure the whole thing would be a little awkward. Thankfully, some people have gone to strange and extraordinary lengths to show us just what such a visit would be like in real life:

Thoughts running through my head while watching that video:

00.20 Okay, this smoke business just reinforces the false belief that Mr. Clean is some kind of magical cleaning genie who will come to your house and do your bidding. In fact the original Mr. Clean was just a sailor from Pensacola, Florida that some ad man handed a sawbuck in exchange for his likeness joining the pantheon of corporate mascot immortals alongside Aunt Jemima, Col. Sanders, Orville Redenbacher, Uncle Ben, Dr. Bronner, Mrs. Butterworth, and Paul Newman. True story.

00.25 Even though his hands are all over that housewife, I don't find this jolly version of Mr. Clean as threatening as the one in the real commercials.

00.28 Already this provides some much-needed support for my theory that there's just something not right about winking.

00.32 If a giant bald man with puffy cloud eyebrows appeared in my kitchen and started strenuously mopping the floor, I am pretty sure my daughter would have reacted differently from this little girl.

00.36 Mr. Clean ought to move to that town where John Lithgow forbids dancing. I'd like to see what would happen were he to energize the local disgruntled youths with those moves.

00.45 Stop humping the counter, Mr. Clean.

00.50 See my theory about winking, above.

00.59 I don't think this Mr. Clean is capable of shutting his jaw.

01:00 The image of a hefty, gap-toothed Mr. Clean holding a diamond engagement ring in a country kitchen is, I think, exactly what all your thirty-something single female friends partying and drinking all night in the big city think about when they get home in the wee hours of the morning and weep into the bathroom sink while counting the growing number of lines around their eyes.

01:10 Okay, Lennie, put the lady down. Don't stroke her hair, Lennie. She ain't one of them rabbits.

01:15 Maybe this is all supposed to be some weird hallucination the little girl is having from huffing that bottle of cleaning solution while some fat bald guy comes over to dip her mom.

So European Parliament with your nonbinding resolutions: Mr. Clean is not a corporate mascot designed to make women feel inferior about their cleaning skills. He's a corporate icon who will come into your home, swiftly remove all dirt and grime from every household surface, and then pick your wife up and swing her around while your children watch. Got it? As the world economy teeters on the brink of a massive depression, perhaps you should next set your sights on television repairmen and plumbers.

Or at least pass a nonbinding resolution that Mr. Clean should wink at househusbands, too.

I have a tiny B&W Emerson television in my room as a kid. It is on all the time. The antenna picks up the three networks and a couple UHF stations, so I end up watching a lot of Scarecrow and Mrs. King and reruns of The Fall Guy. Anything is better than the silence of my bedroom, though I prefer situation comedies. One day when I am about ten I must have done something really horrible because my parents take the Emerson out of my room for a week. I roll around on the ground in histrionics: What about the eighth amendment? What about due process? What about MACGYVER? I can, of course, watch television with my parents, but that means either This Old House or enduring my father's feigned indignation every time someone alludes to the fact that someone somewhere might have something to do with S-E-X. "What is this crap?" He asks whenever a reference is made to bosoms. "What is the world coming to?" Just say the word "ass" on television and my dad turns into a Victorian southern belle who has accidentally wandered into a homosexual-bathhouse orgy.

There is no way I can endure such torture, so instead I sit on the floor next to the same transistor radio I use to listen to Ernie Harwell describe late-night Tigers games. I remember there's a strange FM frequency that broadcasts the audio from the NBC nightly lineup, so I turn the dial and close my eyes as I hear Rue McLanahan tell a racy joke about picking up two middle-aged sailors at a hotel bar. I can picture the hotel bar in my head. It has a cabana theme. Estelle Getty lands a zinger. The laugh track approves. Cut to commerical. I hold my radio up to my chest. Thank you for being a friend.

Though the punishment is only supposed to last a week, my parents either show great mercy or grow tired of what a pain-in-the-ass I am when not pacified by television. A couple nights later I am falling asleep in the monochrome glow of Jake and the Fat Man, as it should be.

Eventually I get a color Sylvania. This is where the story transitions to the nineties with a technicolor montage to the Smashing Pumpkins' "Today": Damon Wayans and David Alan Grier in gayface give two snaps up; Sinead rips up the Pope; Murphy Brown has a baby; Steve Urkel wonders whether he did that. The television stays on when I do homework. It is the white noise I require to focus on anything important. It will carry me through term papers, and college.

I'm certainly not one of those insufferable types who claims not to watch TV or even own one; I'm just one of those insufferable dumb asses who punishes himself for how much he loves television. I insisted we buy a 15-inch TV that we were supposed to watch less becauseof its size but instead we just squint at it from the couch or press our noses against the screen. In San Francisco I insisted we forgo cable thinking we wouldn't even turn on the thrift store TV, but every night we just watched reruns of The King of Queens. My ambivalence towards the medium is definitely behind my hesitation to let the kids watch television. While I do not want them to grow into insufferable adults who see nothing redeeming about television, I do want them to have a healthy relationship with the damned technology. I do not want them clutching the disembodied voice of Dorothy Zbornak in the darkness.

Also, there's nothing quite as refreshing as the feeling of being a total hypocrite. The damn television is on even now as I type this: some show on A&E about a biker gang fighting a group of carnies. Does it get any better than that? I suppose it could be better on one of those high-definition living room jumbotrons. But that would be just a little too enjoyable. We have started talking about the possibility of getting a Tivo. "I've heard you actually watch less when you have one," Wood says.

My ears perk up: "Really?"

Posted by jdg | Wednesday, September 17, 2008 |

"He pitched himself right off again yesterday. This bed is the one piece of modern furniture in our house that's actually more child-friendly than its traditional counterpart. It's only like six inches off the ground."

"Did he cry?"

"A little. He was more stunned than anything."

"Look: he's trying to do it again."

"Don't worry, I've got him by the cankles. I think I heard somebody on TV quote Einstein to say, 'doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results' is the very definition of insanity. Thus, according to Einstein, all babies are insane. At least this one is."

"Clearly, then, you are also insane for thinking you're not going to pee on his feet the next time you use a urinal while wearing him in the baby bjorn."


Posted by jdg | Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Just read this right now.

And afterwards download this song. Zan's words and the voices of those teenaged Swedish sisters: both have been rattling around inside my head for days.

Thursday Morning Wood

Posted by Wood | Thursday, September 11, 2008

One of my best friends recently stepped away from her desk at a fancy New York law firm for a few days to visit us. She'd never met Gram and hadn't seen Juniper since November 2006. A gulf had formed between us, I'd feared, one filled with screaming-child-infested waters and the sharks of the New York dating scene. In her New York world she works long caffeine-driven hours, dropping into her tiny apartment only to change into something stylish and expensive before heading out for a late night at bars and clubs where they don't even sell beer so men have to buy her those drinks that come in pretty colors and funny shaped glasses. And they do buy them for her, because she's gorgeous. She's nearly six feet tall and skinny and Swedish. Basically her life could be a new cable legal drama starring Kelly Kapowski about a bunch of cutthroat legal idealists working hard and sleeping with each other to ease all that stress.

At least that's how I imagine it.

And that's just it: I can only imagine it, because her life and mine couldn't be more different. I have certainly never considered leaving work at seven p.m. "going home early," and the highlight of my social calendar is getting two small children to fall asleep at least an hour before I pass out on the couch.

I was embarrassed for her to witness our lives. I tried explaining that it feels pointless to pick up in the bathroom when your three year-old is just going to dump all the toys out again in twenty minutes, but of course she said she hadn't noticed. I was self-conscious of my hair, which hadn't been cut in four months. I tried to hide the spit-up stains on my clothes. But mostly I was embarrassed for being so worn out so much of the time from a life that was so mundane.

Of course everything was great while she was here. It was like we'd last seen each other a few days earlier. On Saturday we went shopping for jeans. I hadn't been to a store that carried clothing items priced over $20 in over a year, mostly because that sort of shopping is all located in the suburbs and my husband is on some kind of campaign I don't really understand about not spending any dollars outside the city. Whatever. We went to the most decadent indoor shopping mall in the area, a behemoth that straddles two sides of a busy thoroughfare in the suburb of Troy. The one and only time I'd been there before, Jim swore to me that if I ever made him go there again he would spend the next three days composing an epic poem about the difficulties of returning home from the farflung strip malls of Ilium.

So when the chance came to go shopping there with my friend, I nabbed it. When we arrived, she eagerly threw on my sling and plopped Gram into it, leaving me to try on jeans and handle the easy task of watching only one kid. After a few hours in the mall, I managed to find the perfect pair of jeans and a few other nice things. By the time we got home I was energized and ready to throw on my new clothes and go out for the evening with one of my favorite people in a place that wasn't my living room. After the kids were tucked away in their beds, I turned to her and asked where she wanted to go for dinner before we went out for cocktails.

"Dinner?" she sighed, collapsing back onto the couch. "Can't we just go to bed?"

Side effects

Posted by jdg | Wednesday, September 10, 2008

I'm changing some things about this website that that was long ago cobbled together with a hot glue gun, some duct tape, and absolutely no knowledge of CSS or HTML. Every time I make a major change, I get a slew of e-mails from people reading the site in apocryphal versions of Internet Explorer telling me that the text is in 48-point font and that my sidebars have mutinied and scuttled the ship. These e-mails are usually followed by the sound of trumpets and angels singing as other readers proficient in the languages understood by internet browsers advise me where I need to install a backslash to close a div, whatever that means.

This time I'm not doing anything cosmetic (although I probably should); instead I've decided to start relying less on flickr for sharing pictures. Since the whole Nerve Media fiasco last year I've been looking to take more control of my pictures and it's taken me a year to figure out how to do it. From now on, I'm going to post a new photo every day on this site, accessible from the top box in the left column (or this link). Yes, just like dooce. I also want to use the photos as a chance to write more content, so almost all the photos will be accompanied by some text that's a little more casual than what's usually here in the center column. Honestly, this is just one way for me to expand the content of this site beyond the parenting stuff, which is what I have been trying to do since last September. I'm very excited about it.

On that note, in the next few days I'm also going to add a second image link under the "new photo" that will be a little bit harder to define. Sort of like an in-house tumblelog, this will be a place for me to share what has inspired me lately or things I find interesting (and hope readers will as well). While some of it will definitely be links to what others have put out there, I also hope to share plenty of original content (things scanned from my vast collection of stuff) and talk about it. I hope to keep this one updated on a regular---if not daily---basis as well.

I still intend to update our flickr every day, and we will keep writing here as we always have: intermittently. But my wife has promised to write a post for tomorrow.

Executive Experience

Posted by jdg | Monday, September 08, 2008

"You have to stop talking to this kid about mayors. In the book about the ghost in the diner she wants to know why the mayor isn't in jail. And in the one where the little boy tries to deliver a message to the mayor she keeps asking me if that mayor is a liar, too."

"At least we don't have any books about community organizers. I mean, what does that even mean, 'community organizer?'"

[cue uproarious laughter]

"I like the idea of having a Mayor, but I think we should limit the Mayor's duties to cutting ribbons with oversized scissors, posing with oversized checks from philanthropists, handing out oversized keys to the city, and pressing the flesh around town in an oversized top hat. The mayoral budget should be limited to an account with"

"When I was in middle school, my hometown set some kind of record for electing the youngest mayor in United States history. He was like 21. And this was a city of 35,000."

"Was he a good mayor?"

"I think Nickelodeon came to interview him. He signed the Heated Sidewalks Initiative into law. That was a big deal. Oh, and he created a skate park."


"I remember he still worked at the video store after he was elected mayor. He had to wear the blue Blockbuster shirt and everything. He would be all, 'You have a 50 cent rewind fee for Uncle Buck, and that will be $2.64 for Turner & Hooch.' And when he gave you your change you would be all, 'Thanks Mr. Mayor.'"

"Whatever happened to him?"

"My high school driver's ed teacher beat him in the next primary. He would be all, 'Did you check your wiper blades?' and we'd be all, 'Yes, Mr. Mayor."

"Maybe McCain will tap him to be Secretary of Transportation."

June's a bust all over

Posted by jdg | Thursday, September 04, 2008 |

For all that I deny my daughter, I do spoil her once every afternoon. All summer long, at the end of our daily jog we stop and she rides the carousel along the river a few blocks from our house. She has ridden this carousel every single weekday this summer. She has her favorites among all the impaled creatures dipping and soaring counterclockwise in their permanent orbit. She relishes the daily debate about which one she'll ride: maybe the mermaid today; the flat-headed sturgeon? No: the River Dragon. It's almost always the River Dragon, a gentle-eyed sea serpent right out of the imagination of a sixteenth-century cartographer. The creatures on this carousel are a mix of real and fanciful fauna: fish and wild fowl that might live along the banks of the Detroit River. I don't think she knows yet which are real and which cryptozoological. Sometimes she sees mermaid tails slipping into the river while we run.

Anything I do in my own life with this much regularity inevitably loses its appeal. But the fact that she has ridden this carousel every day this summer has not yet dampened her enthusiasm for it. That's one truly great thing about being a kid, I guess: repetition heightens the pleasure of experience. When the operator starts the vast symphony of bevel gears and offset cranks, she smiles as though she's never experienced anything like it before. Even when she thinks I'm not looking, I see her beaming around the next curve.

And yet again I contradict myself: every day I look forward to this moment in a way I look forward to little else. The fact that we do this every day has never dampened my own joy in seeing her grip that dragon's mane as if it might skip off its moorings towards Windsor. I am always beside myself with love for her. Cue Joni Mitchell. I am Holden Fucking Caulfield.

Goddam it.

September 3rd was hotter than August had ever been and I pushed them through town in the jogging stroller. We rolled past the old dry dock and Juniper shouted, as she always does: "Broken building!" When we turned the corner towards the carousel, I saw the metal grate pulled down over the ticket counter. The power was off, the tinny soundtrack silenced. The hours had been cut back after Labor Day. Until next June, the River Dragon will only move on weekends.

"Summer's over, kid," I said, a pit in my gut. "Let's get ice cream."

But even the ice cream concession was closed. The next day preschool was to begin. As ill-prepared as I'd felt for it, this summer with the two of them has been the best of my life. I looked at my daughter's sweaty cheeks and disappointed eyes as she stared at the static carousel.

I knew exactly how she felt.

My wife starts a new job today, one that will mean longer hours and occasional travel. You can trust spirits around our household are high today: this means I get more time alone with the kids! Huzzah! I just don't know how to break it to them that mom's new job means more time alone with dad, and that that's okay. I suppose I can always go to the old bookshelf and find a vintage tome that covers this very subject:
"I mean, come on kid, your mom never has a problem making my morning omelette. It's alright, just go down to the deli and get me a bagel and a schmear."

But Daddy felt great. He told Ben he was late because he had been at a place called "Happy Hour." Ben said that sounded like fun. "It was fun," replied Daddy, wistfully.

Okay, to Daddy's credit, at this point he gets his shit together and does some things the kid enjoys like telling "silly riddles" and "singing nonsense songs" and eating a ton of junkfood until they get sick and then watch TV together in pajamas all day long. Dads are good at that kind of stuff, you see. Then Dad gets an idea to make it look like he's actually been responsible for his sole offspring:

Congratulations, Mom, you've now got a pint-sized Doppelgänger of the jerk you married!