King Poseidon here had a beard, and the beard has a story. I was too cheap and annoyed to buy an actual Halloween beard for a baby who probably wouldn't even wear it, so when we were at Value World the other day digging through the piles of sticky, grimy toys, I found an old stuffed goat with mangy hair. It was 80 cents. I bought it thinking I could remove the goat fur and turn it into a beard.

When we got home, I put Gram down for a nap and got a scalpel to remove the fur, placing the goat ceremoniously on the living room floor. Juniper---curious---sat next to me. First I cut a slit across the goat's neck, then cut one long incision down his abdomen. It was exactly how I'd seen a group of Greek peasants butcher a goat in the streets of Arachova at Orthodox Easter. Out poured a gooey concoction of wet yellow foam stuffing and Styrofoam pellets (I had sent the goat through the wash before the surgery). The guts spilled out onto the floor. It was totally Old Testament. Juniper started to cry: "But the goat is still going to be alive, right?" Then she asked me where his head was, and I held up the flopping appendage with some enthusiasm. She cried harder. After much comforting while it took another trip through the washer and dryer, the goatskin was ready to become a coiffure of the gods, the filaments of heaven:

It had a mustache originally, but there was no way he would go for it. Next year he can be Jehovah, because once styled he became an extremely angry god. This was the kind of god Jonathan Edwards used to preach about. Today he was the god that sent Ulysses and his crew tumbling out of the wreckage of their ships and into turbulent, winedark seas.

And a god who liked to poke his sister with his trident.

All I did was make her shell crown. My wife fixed the pathetic shell necklace I originally put together. She also worked several nights on those mermaid tails, trying to figure out a way to keep the fish-look while still allowing her to walk. They are really cool and I'll probably post some shots of the tails alone to flickr later to show how much work she put into them. She made the shirt as well (the color was chosen by you know who).

We went to Belle Isle this morning for these photographs. After three years of doing this, I've learned that trying to take good pictures on Halloween night is nearly impossible.

The beach was covered in goose shit, but all those swans made it kind of magical.

This photo comes from my favorite vintage children's book find of all time: Tobe, published in 1939 with photographs by Charles Anderson Farrell and text by Stella Gentry Sharpe. Through vignettes and photographs it tells the story of a black farming family in Goshen (just south of Greensboro) North Carolina during the depression. It's sort of an unknown children's book version of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (one of my favorite books). I am sure one of these days I will share more of Tobe in a separate post. But for now, (and in honor of the amazing Halloween in the Time of Cholera set that has spread so rapidly around the web): this creepy urchin Halloween photo.

[We just got back from a morning photo shoot on Belle Isle, so I'll have pictures of the kids in their costumes posted shortly]

Ten names my daughter has given her "Imagination Friends"

Posted by jdg | Thursday, October 30, 2008

1. Chragela
2. Grochalus
3. Heddy
4. Mopelus
5. Chron
6. Owen
7. Goda
8. Chrabra
9. Keepy-Ko
10. Wamqua

She talks to them sometimes while drawing. If this keeps up I might have to call in Drs. Venkman, Stantz, and Spengler to ensure that she's not communing with certain minions of Gozer.

I'm telling you: little kids are kind of creepy.

Posted by jdg | Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Driving home after spending a few days in Cincinnati (I have been struggling to write a worthy post about walking around that beautiful city) we speculate about whether the old refrigerator will be cold again when we get home. We have been too lazy to buy a new one since it stopped serving its primary purpose nearly a month ago.

W. "There wasn't any cheese in it when we left, was there?"

J. "No, but that quart of milk will probably have turned into cheese over the weekend."

W. "Do you think they sell refrigerators on the internet?"

J. "I really don't want to drive out to the suburbs to buy another appliance from a guy with a combover and a clip-on tie. Maybe if we join Amazon Prime we can get next-day free shipping."

* * * * *

W. "The sign on that bank over there says it's 41 degrees outside. That's exactly how cold the refrigerator is supposed to be."

J. "Before we left, the meat thermometer I stuck in there said 54 degrees."

W. "If it's not cold again when we get back, let's just keep all our food in a box on the back porch."

J. "What about the squirrels?"

W. "We could get a lock for the box. Or hang it up in a tree like when you go camping in bear country."

J. "What will we do once it gets below freezing?"

W. "Maybe the fridge will fix itself by then."

Posted by jdg | Thursday, October 23, 2008 |

The days leading up to Halloween haven't been this much fun since I worked at that haunted house next to the handjob parlor. Mostly it's all this talk of ghosts---which isn't necessarily related to the holiday---but is enhanced by all the ghoulish decorations and tsotchkes she sees everywhere she goes. I'm sure the age will come where all this stuff is annoyingly terrifying, but right now in her mind ghosts are just slightly-scarier cousins to the fairies and mermaids she loves so much (sweet little Georgie has helped). I do see a bit of the same sort of thrill in her that I've always enjoyed in a good ghost story. And Detroit is a pretty great place to make up ghost stories. So lately I've been telling them all day long.

Almost every story I tell her involves some adventure in what she calls "the broken buildings": a ghost I've encountered in the main concourse of the train station or the little kid ghosts in an old orphanage or abandoned school. The other day I made the mistake of sitting down with her in front of youtube looking for "ghosts" and we accidentally watched one of those "concentrate on something for 20 seconds before we rush a screaming corpse face at the camera in the last moment" videos. Note to parents: do not do this.

After that, she now prefaces every story with the question: Are these NICE ghosts, not mean like the one on the youtube? Fortunately you can still tell a good, creepy story about nice ghosts. Her favorite lives in the train station, waiting for a train that will never come, and the other day we drove past the old ruin and she pointed up to where someone had hung a ragged sheet from one of the highest windows. "I see her," Juniper said coldly. "She's waving to me." I had goosebumps. Little kids are kind of creepy sometimes.

Last year, I was in charge of the Halloween costumes, but this year my wife is trying to outdo both Medusa and the Robot. We let Juniper choose the costume idea for herself and her brother, and Wood has been sewing away in the basement for several nights. I swear I heard the ghost of Tim Gunn down there fastidiously inspecting the costume and telling her to Make It Work. Last night she emerged from the basement, sobbing,"It's like the time Denise tried to make Theo that designer shirt," she said, holding up her garment.

"Nah, it's more like the Seinfeld puffy shirt."

Dejected, she returned to the basement.

But this morning, with a squeal of delight Juniper crawled into bed to wake me up, wearing her costume. She loves it.

Next week: pictures.

When I see it, the sun has nearly set. The memory card inside my camera is almost full. I don't have a tripod with me. But on the ground-floor the windows are wide open, the doors ripped from their hinges.

Jane Cooper Elementary sits gutted in one of the worst parts of one of the most impoverished and dangerous cities in the richest nation in the world. In the late 1990s, Mayor Dennis Archer's office identified this neighborhood as having "more children, more people living in poverty, a greater proportion of high school dropouts, and a larger percentage of violent juvenile offenses than the city as a whole." Which, in Detroit, is saying quite a bit.

For several blocks in each direction there are no traces of the neighborhood that once existed here. Most of the houses surrounding the school were torn down for an industrial park that was never built. The school sits alone, a stone monolith on the prairie, still covered in sculptural details and Pewabic tiles.

Nearly all of the surrounding streets are blocked off from traffic by Jersey walls; other nearby streets are full of trash that has been illegally dumped there or dragged from the school by scrappers. There are piles of old audio-visual equipment stripped of its metal and wires. There are small scars of soot and ash on the concrete where scrappers have built fires to burn away the plastic coating of electrical wiring. An abandoned boat straddles the edge of the street and the school's parking lot.

I walk over to a playground built a decade ago with hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant money from private and public sources.

Everything is yellow-orange from the setting sun. I listen for the telltale sound of scrappers working inside of the building: sledgehammers, metal-cutting-saws, yelling. The last few times I drove past they were inside, but now there is no one in the building. The scrappers must have headed off for their miles-long shopping-cart journeys to the nearest after-hours scrapyard (where they will get a fraction of the market value for the metal they've stolen). I can't help myself. I have to go in.

Later, when I'm safe at home, I try to research the school using the limited resources of the internet, and I find little of substance. It was a civil defense fallout shelter before the school itself and the neighborhood around it looked like they were hit by an actual nuclear blast. Newspaper articles mentioning the school provide only stories of trauma experienced by a few students: three young girls lost their lives in a fire at their home in the neighborhood, a 13-year-old wielding a knife had to be escorted out of the school by police, and an 11-year-old girl was raped in her home by two men she met through a "party line" telephone number passed around at the school. There is an article about the dentist who set up shop in the school, providing free dental care to students who had never been to a dentist, and the optometrist who provided eye exams and free glasses to students who could not see the blackboard. And there are countless mentions of the school in the obituaries of old white people, alumni whose lives ended in the suburbs.

A cursory bit of research at the archives of the public library and I learn that at one time, "
pride of home ownership was evident along tree-lined streets of the neighborhood with two-family flats, large brick bungalows, colonials and '50s-style brick ranches." It was a Slovakian enclave then, but this I already knew from the boarded-up "Slovak Hall" along Strong street. The community was served by St. Cyril's church that stood on this prairie as an epic ruin itself for years before it was demolished in 2003. Jane Cooper Elementary was once considered a good school. But so many questions remain. When was it built? Who was Jane Cooper? How many kids passed through its halls from the 1920s until the building was abandoned? The only other mentions of the school in the recent press are the accounts of its closing in 2007.

You read that correctly: the last year of classes at Jane Cooper Elementary was 2006-7. After that, the cash-strapped Detroit Public Schools shut the school down. All the damage in the photographs I took occurred in just a little over one year.

I had expected to be overwhelmed by the sense of loss and tragedy for the kids who last walked these halls, the kids whose names remained written on the blackboards, whose graded quizzes and homework and textbooks sat abandoned on the floor. The kids who made this poster:

But that is an old story, one for the guys bolder and badder than me, the ones who first broke into this place and found the books still stacked neatly in their fine wooden cabinets, the lockers still in the halls, still occupied, perhaps, by forgotten tokens of individual students. By the time I got here, everything is mixed together. Everything is on the floor. Sure, walking around I give some thought thought to the history of the place, to the segregated classes of solidly-middle-class white kids who over time gave way to segregated classes of poor black kids, all within these same halls, in these same classrooms. I thought about the teachers who taught here, the lifers with careers that spanned decades, the idealists who burned out after only a few years.

I could go on and on with this false nostalgia. The story I discovered here no longer belongs to the kids, but to those men with minds bent only towards metal. They came in and took everything of worth. They left textbooks, workbooks, chalkboards, maps. Long gone are the lockers, the pipes, the chairs and desks, the electrical wiring, the pencil sharpeners, the metal bookshelves, the aluminum window panes. Perhaps the most shocking of all was finding the once-lovely central auditorium stripped of its antique seating, the chair bases and backs littering the floor like dragon scales, the metal that held the seats together long ago melted down to feed the world's ravenous appetite for steel. It was impossible for me to cross this room without the clatter echoing through the halls like footsteps of an invading army, even though I was quite alone.

There will never be classes here again. This building, like so many of the students who passed through it, has no hope. All will be rubble soon. When I showed these photos to my wife she asked, "Don't you wonder if any of the scrappers live by some sort of code---that some of them wouldn't scrap a school, or take playground equipment out of the ground?"

She has never been inside any of these buildings. Anyone who has seen the inside of such a building knows that these are men without honor. The only code they live by is if I don't take this, someone else will. Where I live, men like these are a force of nature, like piranhas in the Amazon; like locusts on the plains; like vultures circling above you as you try to make your way across the sands.

[Related: my follow up visit to the neighborhood, and my photos of the abandoned Detroit Public Schools Book Depository/Roosevelt Warehouse, with posts here and here.]


Posted by jdg | Friday, October 17, 2008

This website presents such a tiny sliver of our days. I'm one of those bloggers who can hardly believe that people actually care about any of the mundane details of our lives, so I choose to share only a small percentage of those mundane details, as represented by the following pie chart:

Unfortunately, I get e-mails all the time from people who've idealized our lives based on the completely unfair representation I make on this site (most often from mothers who wish their kids were capable of visiting a museum without destroying millions of dollars worth of art). It should be noted that we are a normal family with normal problems, even if I don't choose to air them publicly. My wife and I fight. Our preschooler throws tantrums. We eat crappy food. Our house is usually a disaster. And sometimes I even get bored being a gentleman of elegant leisure.

There is one story, for example, where I've thrown Juniper over my shoulder---after her refusal to walk---during a recent trip to the art museum and she is screaming in terror at the very top of her lungs while I carry her through the galleries towards the exit and I am thinking, for the sake of all those mothers who've e-mailed me, that I have to write about this, even if I can't think of a pithy simile involving some member of the animal kingdom for this incessant yowling.

What I did to deserve this? I took her to the bathroom.

We'd arrived at the museum and taken our usual route to the cafe for lunch. This day she'd been more whiny than usual; during the meal she hardly touched her food. I could tell she was keeping something from me. All queries about her misbehavior were met with worse behavior. But the intermittent crotch-pinching gave it away: she had to pee. The reason she was refusing to tell me this was that on the previous visit to the museum she'd decided she was terrified of the automatic flushes installed on every public toilet in the museum (this, I later learned, is a fairly common problem).

She knew that if I made her go to the bathroom she was going to have to sit on one of the "robot toilets." Normally I hold my hand over the infrared sensors whenever we use such a facility, but this museum is where she first learned to use the public bathroom by herself, and the state-of-the-art automatic flushes on the toilets installed during a recent renovation sound, for 2 or 3 seconds, like a tsunami crashing into a tornado in the middle of a category 5 hurricane. I sort of empathized when I thought about what it would feel like to be barely three feet tall sitting on top of that (and with the way she wiggles, the sensor goes off three or four times per session). I told her stories about a different girl named Juniper who lives in Boston who went to the art museum with her dad and he did a magic thing that made the robot toilets not flush when she's sitting on them, and we talked and talked and talked about how the toilets in this art museum wouldn't go off if pops did the same magic thing. Eventually I convinced her to follow me to the men's room. The dam, it seemed, was about to burst. . .

Of course there was some slob on a toilet flipping through a newspaper next to the only unoccupied stall. He heard all the histrionics. I'm sure people have been talked down off of ledges with less negotiations than it took to get her up on that toilet, and of course the moment of success was when Grunty McGrunterpants next door decided he was done reading the sports section and stood up, igniting a perfect storm of wind, water, and feces a few feet from my fragile spawn.

Hell hath no fury like a preschooler who believes she's about to be sucked into the Detroit sewer system.

Grunty laughed.

I would have held his head in the maelstrom if my son hanging in the bjorn hadn't chosen this opportunity to ramp up his own strain of unknowable discontent.

That pretty much brings us to the present tense, with me shuttling the entire Screamers and Whiners Union, Local 413 towards the exit, even though we just arrived and I've paid $5 for parking. Despite the scene we're making I approach the middle aged woman giving me a sympathetic look from behind the membership desk and ask her if there is any toilet in the entire museum without one of the newfangled automatic flushes. She thinks for a moment and apologizes, shaking her head No, but then remembers that a staff toilet in the bowels of the Detroit Institute of Arts still has an old-fashioned handle. I am thanking her profusely when she makes the mistake of saying, "It still has a really loud flush, though."

I look at her and want to say, "You do realize she has ears, don't you?"

A new round of histrionics. A new round of negotiations. Eventually, though, a bladder is emptied. A pair of slightly damp Hello Kitty underpants find their way into my pocket, and a suddenly sweet child goes Conan for a few hours in the art museum she loves.

Another thrift store find: a huge coloring book from 1983 filled with disordered images of Mr. T and a bunch of kids doing gymnastics and traveling across the United States (I guess it was related to a short-lived Saturday-morning cartoon). I took some of the best pages and compiled them into a more manageable coloring book.

The captions were incredibly boring, so I rewrote some of them.

If you like this one, wait till you see the next one I'm planning to put together. Oh, and happy birthday, Wood!


Posted by jdg | Monday, October 13, 2008

Last March we took the kids hiking up and down the highest hills in the mostly-flat state of Indiana. As our daughter trudged along wearily behind us, we'd shout, "You're climbing a mountain Juney! Isn't it BEAUTIFUL?" No matter how crabby she'd been, when we asked this question she would put her hands on her hips and survey the vista behind her like a tiny figure in a romantic landscape painting. "What a view," she'd say, and we'd crack up. This was, after all, Southern Indiana.

Over the past few weeks, I've tried to take the kids hiking as much as possible to enjoy the changing seasons, even if it's just an afternoon at our usual hiking spot on Belle Isle. We are exactly how I pictured us. We hide behind reeds and watch a blue heron on the river. We see a hawk dive towards a meal. We sit in the tall grasses with crickets and dragonflies all around us and we talk about the seeds I've picked up along the way; I explain as much as I can about how seeds work. We clip clusters of sumac and sassafras for tea we'll make later in the afternoon. I gesture broadly out towards the yellowing foliage. "This is nature," I tell my city kid. "Isn't it beautiful?"

Her response: tepid. She is hungry now. The dog is in and out of the river. The baby shrieks with joy each time he emerges. I need to find a mountain.

This past weekend, the wife needed to shop at one of those giant-parking-lot stores. We were driving along the highway and saw all the telltale signs of one, so we pulled off and drove up into a brand new retail center built on land that started as a Ford Motor Co. clay mine back in the 1920s, but for the last sixty years was used exclusively as an industrial landfill. To access the shopping center we had to drive up a series of switchbacks. At the top, a city on a hill: Target, Best Buy, Bed Bath & Beyond, Home Depot, Lane Bryant, Longhorn Steakhouse, Barnes & Noble, Old Navy, and dozens of other beloved modern mercantiles. My daughter looked out over this barren former landfill, past the retention ponds and ditches of parking lot runoff with their scum of oil and antifreeze shimmering in the afternoon sun.

"Isn't this beautiful?" she said without a hint of sarcasm. "Wow, what a view!"

Posted by jdg | Wednesday, October 08, 2008

I remember how in those months after he was born, it was so easy to complain about how hard it was to have two of them. In the weeks after my wife went back to work, I struggled with the weight of my new responsibilities before everything settled into normal.

Even now, though, I find it much more difficult for me to get any writing done, especially for this site. But that's a small price to pay for what I've received in return.

As you can see, I'm no longer the only one telling stories.

Picture Day

Posted by jdg | Monday, October 06, 2008 |

I finally took a look at some of the thirty-or-so urgent parent bulletins handed to me last week as I tried to leave the kid's preschool. Turns out this year they are forgoing the traditional school photographer and hiring some talented artistic photographer to come and take natural, less-staged shots of the children in the classroom. Cack! I may not be a talented artistic photographer, but I sure as shit can take photos of my kids that are natural and less-staged myself. See, I don't have a wide-selection of exciting backgrounds or a little wooden crate or a cache of corny jokes to produce smiles. Bring on the unnatural staging! Bring on the portable studio lights, the checklist-style order forms, and the option to buy personalized photo mugs, magnets, and "brag tags" for Granny's key chain! Most importantly, bring on the LASER BEAM BACKGROUND!

When I was a kid, my parents never shelled out that extra couple of bucks it cost to get your photo taken in front of the LASER BEAM BACKGROUND. When I flip through all my former childhood selves awkwardly smiling in bad sweaters before muslin backgrounds of muted blue I still think, "How much cooler would that poor kid have been if he'd looked as though he was interrupted in the middle of a frenzied Photon match or an intergalactic space pirate mutiny?" So last year, when the kid's preschool had a traditional school photographer come in, my first inclination was to look for the closest thing he had to a LASER BEAM BACKGROUND and shove an extra couple bucks in the envelope.

Just another of my petty, irony-soaked rebellions.

I was pretty sure (given how AWESOME those first days of school were going) the photographer would be lucky just to snap a profile of her tear-streaked cheeks and howling maw. But somehow he managed to get her to smile better than I ever could and it looked like they even managed to comb her hair:

Of course, when I saw the composite class photo, I learned quickly enough why my parents always resisted my begging and pleading for the LASER BEAM BACKGROUND. All the other kids in her class were smiling demurely before clouds of blue muslin. And there was my daughter looking like a mischievous leprechaun taunting the local teens tripping their balls off at a Pink Floyd light show. "We keep it classy," my wife said when she saw it.

So I don't know what I'm going to do this year. The other day I was driving with the kids out in the suburbs on our ongoing tour of the region's Ghost Malls (from the backseat: "I don't want to go to another GHOST MALL. . ." then, after ten seconds of thought: "Is this the one where they go to buy colorful sheets?") when I found a ghost mall up in the dregs of Livonia with a still operating early-1980s-era Sears Department Store. My inquiries as to whether they had a portrait studio were met with satisfaction, however the studio itself was lacking in LASER BEAM BACKGROUND inventory.

It's probably for the best, anyway. I mean, she's three. This is what she would do if Olan Mills himself asked her to smile:

[for more LASER BEAM BACKGROUND memories, check out We've Got Lasers]

"Street scene in Poplar," (East End, London) by the great Cyril Arapoff.

A short reading

Posted by jdg | Thursday, October 02, 2008

I first read the following acrostic piece while waiting for a connection at O'Hare back in January, 2004, a year before my first child was born. I have thought about it quite often since, and recently dug out the old issue of Harper's where I first read it. It doesn't appear anywhere online, so I transcribed it here because it is such a weirdly detached but intensely personal take on fatherhood and our parents' failings (as well as our own) and our ability to rise above both. Like I said, it is a beautiful piece that has resonated with me for years and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

This originally appeared in the literary magazine Crazyhorse. The author is Dinty W. Moore.



Best known as the father on ABC's Home Improvement, the popular comedian was born Timothy Allen Dick on June 13, 1953. When Allen was eleven years old, his father, Gerald Dick, was killed by a drunk driver while driving home from a University of Colorado football game.


"A man, after impregnating the woman, could drop dead," Camille Paglia suggested to Tim Allen in a 1995 Esquire interview. "That is how peripheral he is to the whole thing."
"I'm a drone," Allen responded. "Like those bees."
"You are a drone," Paglia agreed. "That's exactly right."


After the female Japanese carp gives birth to hundreds of tiny babies, the father carp remains nearby. When he senses approaching danger, he sucks the helpless babies into his mouth and holds them there until the coast is clear.


University of Arizona psychologist Sanford Braver tells the story of a woman who felt threatened by her husband's close bond with their young son. The husband had a flexible work schedule, but the wife did not, so the boy spent the bulk of his time with the father. The mother became so jealous of the tight father-son relationship that she filed for divorce and successfully fought for sale custody. The result was that instead of being in the care of his father while the mother worked, the boy was now left in day care.


Once a male emperor penguin has completed mating, he remains by the female's side for the next month to determine if the act has been successful. When he sees a single greenish-white egg emerge from his mate's egg pouch, he begins to sing. Scientists have characterized his song as "ecstatic."


In 1949, Robert Young began Father Knows Best as a radio show. Young played Jim Anderson, an average father in an average family. The show later moved to television, where it was a major hit, but Young's successful life was troubled by alcohol and depression.

At age eighty-three, Young attempted suicide by running a hose from his car's exhaust pipe to the interior of the vehicle.The attempt failed because the battery was dead and the car wouldn't start.


The actor who portrayed the benevolent father on the popular TV show Leave It to Beaver was a Methodist minister. Tony Dow, who played older brother Wally, reports that Beaumont actually hated kids. "Hugh wanted out of the show after the second season," Dow told the Toronto Sun. "He thought he should be doing films and things."


My father was a skinny, asthmatic, and eager-to-please little boy, not the tough guy his hard-living Irish father had wanted. My dad lost his mother at age three and later developed a severe stuttering problem, perhaps as a result of his father's disapproval. My father's adult vocabulary was outstanding, due to his need for alternate words when faltering over difficult consonants like B or D. The stuttering grew worse over the years, with one exception: after downing a few whiskeys, my father could sing like an angel. His Irish tenor became legendary in local taverns, and by the time I entered the scene my father was spending every evening visiting the bars. Most nights he would stumble back drunk around midnight; some nights he was so drunk he would stumble through a neighbor's back door, thinking he was home. As a boy, I coped with the family's embarrassment by staying glued to the television. I desperately wanted someone like Hugh Beaumont to be my father, or maybe Robert Young. Hugh Brannum, though, would have been my first choice. Brannum played Mr. Green Jeans on Captain Kangaroo, and I remember him as being kind, funny, and extremely reliable.


Kitten, the youngest daughter on Father Knows Best, was played by Lauren Chapin. Chapin's father molested her, and her mother was a severe alcoholic. After the show ended in 1960, Chapin's life came apart. At age sixteen, she married an auto mechanic. At age eighteen, she became addicted to heroin and began working as a prostitute.


Wolf fathers spend the daylight hours away from the home hunting but return every evening. The wolf cubs, five or six to a litter, rush out of the den when they hear their father approaching and fling themselves at him, leaping up to his face. The father backs up a few feet and disgorges food for them, in small, separate piles.


The female emperor penguin "catches the egg with her wings before it touches the ice," Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson writes in his book The Emperor's Embrace. She then places it on her feet, to keep it from contact with the frozen ground. At this point, both penguins will sing in unison, staring at the egg. Eventually, the male penguin will use his beak to lift the egg onto the surface of his own feet, where it remains until hatching. Not only does the male penguin endure the inconvenience of walking around with an egg balanced on his feet for months but he also will not eat for the duration.


In 1979, Lauren Chapin, the troubled actress who played Kitten, had a religious conversion. She credits her belief in Jesus with saving her life. After his television career ended, Methodist minister Hugh Beaumont became a Christmas-tree farmer.


In an episode titled "Beaver's Freckles," the Beaver says that Ward had "a hittin' father," but little else is ever revealed about Ward's fictional family. Despite Wally's constant warning-"Boy, Beav, when Dad finds out, he's gonna clobber ya!"-Ward does not follow his own father's example and never hits his sons on the show. This is an excellent example of xenogenesis.


(zen'u-jen'v-sis), n. Biol. 1. heterogenesis 2. the supposed generation of offspring completely and permanently different from the parent. Believing in xenogenesis, I changed my mind about having children about four years after rejecting my wife's first suggestion of the idea.


The Y chromosome of the father determines a child's gender, and is unique, because its genetic code remains relatively unchanged as it passes from father to son. The DNA in other chromosomes, however, is more likely to get mixed between generations, in a process called recombination. What this means, apparently, is that boys have a higher likelihood of inheriting their ancestral traits.


Internet chatrooms and discussion lists repeatedly recycle the news that the actor who played Mr. Green Jeans was the father of musician Frank Zappa. But, in fact, Hugh Brannum had only one son, and he was neither Frank Zappa nor this author. Sometimes, though, I still wonder what it might have been like.

[© Dinty W. Moore, reprinted with permission]

Losing our religion

Posted by jdg | Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Across the living room, in the kitchen, I hear the refrigerator again. It's making this noise like a Japanese motorcycle accelerating against the horizon, over and over. This does not bode well.

A month or so ago, this 6-year-old refrigerator stopped working. The meat went bad first, with an acrid slime spreading over the gray tentacles of ground beef. The cheese went next, with an unpleasant green mold. We emptied the fridge and drank warm beer, trying to figure out when we could find the time to buy a new one. I knew it would involve research and negotiations with someone in a bad tie who smells like Arby's. I took some measurements and for a few days we ate sparingly, buying milk by the quart.

Then, suddenly, the fridge started working again.

To give the fridge a sign of my confidence, I bought more cheese.

This is how things operate at our house. When something breaks, we wait to see if it will somehow fix itself, as though baseboard moldings or large appliances have the regenerative powers of a comic book superhero or a video game protagonist. It is as though through our desire not to pay a handyman we can simply will damaged goods into refurbishment, like synapses reconnecting in the mind of a stroke victim. We are the Christian Scientists of home repair.

A year or so ago our car was making this frightening churning sound under the gear shift when we accelerated in a low gear, and we lived with it for a couple months until one day when it stopped and the car started to run fine. We figured that the offending part fell off on the highway one day and proved itself non-integral, the automotive equivalent of an appendix or maybe just a pestilent chunk of spleen or pancreas.

But at some point during the past few weeks, the car started making a new sound while accelerating from a low gear. Actually, the car wasn't really accelerating very well at all. This proved problematic, because we only have one vehicle. And now, the fridge has started reasserting its discontent.

"This is no way to live," my wife said to me.

"Just say a prayer before you turn the ignition," I told her. "And before you open the cheese drawer."

But she took the car in for repairs. $300 later it runs as good as new, the first repair we've had on this 8-year-old Volkswagen. Now she's looking at the appliance ads in the Sunday circulars. "How can you lose your faith?" I ask her. "You've experienced MIRACLES."

"True," she says. "But I've never experienced 24.9-cubic feet of refrigeration behind panoramic French doors with an external filtered water and ice dispenser."