Excited Local Girl. No one has ever worn this before?

Grandmother. It's brand new. You can wear it right now.

Excited Local Girl. We don't need to wash it first? Are you sure it doesn't have bugs or germs on it?

Grandmother. I'm sure.

Excited Local Girl. I'm going to put it on right now!

Santa. Hello, Princess. Let me guess. Do you like Dora?

Terrified Local Girl. [silence]

Santa. Should I bring you a Hannah Montana toy?

Terrified Local Girl. [silence]

Santa. Barbie? Ariel? Tinkerbell?

Local Dad. Yeah, she doesn't really watch television.

Santa. [bites his lip, shaking his head] Not even Spongebob?

Local Dad. Not really.

Santa. [staring ruefully at Local Dad] Well, Princess, maybe this will be the year Santa finally brings you a television set.

Don't even think about stealing this idea, Hollywood

Posted by jdg | Monday, December 22, 2008 |

W. Do you remember that show from the eighties about an alien girl who could freeze time by touching her fingertips together?

J. You mean Out of this World? Evie was only half-alien. Burt Reynolds was the voice of her father who spoke to her from another planet through a cube in her bedroom [starts singing the theme song].*

W. I always wished I had that power, to freeze the world by touching my fingertips together.

J. Didn't they make a movie about that a couple of years ago, where Jim Carrey or maybe that lovable fat guy from King of Queens had a remote control that could pause the universe?

W. It was Adam Sandler.

J. What would you do, if you could freeze the universe with your fingertips?

W. I think I would just take a nap. For three whole days. . .What about you?

J. I would probably try to get some work done on my screenplay about the two widowed fundamentalists with more than a dozen children each who fall in love and marry to form one of those blended Super Families.

W. Wasn't there a new blended Super Family movie only a couple years ago?

J. Yeah, but the one with Steve Martin only had twelve kids. And the one with Randy Quaid and Rene Russo was eighteen kids. Mine will have---get this---36 kids and hopefully star Kurt Russell and Queen Latifah.

W. Way better.

J. Yeah. We'll call it Home Schooled.


*To pass time on long car trips, my sister and I used to try to stump each other by singing the theme songs to the various situation comedies we watched obsessively. I can vividly remember being an 11-year-old white boy singing the soulful 227 theme while crossing the Illinois/Wisconsin border.

"The Christmas Spirit reaches some Transient Flats children after Christmas via the city dump."

From the California State Archives collection of Great Depression photographs at LearnCalifornia.org, via Cara Phillips at Ground Glass.

The Point of Roughness

Posted by jdg | Thursday, December 18, 2008 |

I wish there were some ancient word for this shortening daylight, these days approaching the winter solstice---some Norwegian loanword that spread down from the Shetland Islands. If not English, I hope there is such a word in some Scandinavian tongue. Or Estonian. Inuit, surely, if it's true they have all those words for snow. The nicest I could find was the ancient Welsh description of the solstice, "the point of roughness." In our house these days, when it starts to get dark everyone starts to get restless. My daughter watches the sun set and says, as if to dare it: "Before you are down, Mama will be home." We sit anxiously at the west-facing window, my son staring at the front door in preparation for the long shrieking crawl he'll make across the floor to his mother when she walks through it.

But no one anticipates this moment more than the dog. All day he waits for the kids' mother to get home, to pick them up in her arms so his master can finally flip the switch on his off-duty light and take the dog out for a real walk, not one of those piss-or-shit utilitarian vectors out into the cold, but a chance to run as fast as he can. In the summer he might spend all day with them outside, but not when it's less than 20 degrees. When the mother finally does get home, the dog is the first to greet her, practically trampling the baby on his way, picking up the leash in his mouth and parading across the parquet. Sometimes his master fumbles for a poop bag or wants to check his e-mail. This---in the dog's eyes---is positively criminal. He will stare and grumble in canine code as clear as a telegram: "Quit fucking around-stop. Let's go now-stop. Please stop-stop."

But his master rarely delays: they have both been waiting for this moment. After ten hours of childherding, these are the first moments of silence either of them get. Outside, there's just the sound of jangling tags, falling snow striking fallen snow. The dog pulls with the strength of a workhorse until they reach the empty park. His master reaches down to his collar, thumbs at the leash clip and just like that: freedom. He darts out into the darkness and sprints three times around the park in search of pheasant, or (at the very least) squirrel.

By the end of the third circuit, his master is in the middle of the park, holding up whatever it is he'll throw, and the dog snaps to the posture of his breeding: one front paw firmly planted, the other limp at the elbow, his ears slightly lifted and his nose tense and pointed at the projectile.

In these days of lost daylight, the dog never sees where it lands. Instead he sprints in a widening circle, nose to the ground, tracking the scent, another ancient instinct of his breed. He draws dozens of pawprint circles in the fresh snow, a canine spirograph. It's not the discovery, but the search he loves. Even if it's a stick his master just picked up and touched for only a few seconds, the dog will always find his smell, whatever residue that is we leave on everything we touch, and trot back with the prize in his jaws.

Is there a word in English for the kind of love you have for a good dog, one who lets your daughter ride him around the house, one who lets your infant son pull on his lips with no more than a sorrowful gaze your way? There ought to be. When he's out there circling, I feel as free as he does. I am overcome with this kind of love. I have never known a creature with loyalty so raw and true.

Then a distant light reflects off his eyes. For a second he's an elegant, sprinting demon. What is this creature, really? What can he see in that spectral range? What is it like to live in his head, crowded with subjugation and smells? I run him until he tires, flopping down next to me happily in the snow, his wagging tail knocking up clouds of powder. I do know this: he loves to be with his family. But he also needs time to be free.

So this morning a certain little boy decided to drop the "springy thing that holds a toilet paper roll in the dispenser" into a flushing toilet. At least, that's how I heard my wife explaining it to the plumber she called to come fish it out. I am always uncomfortable around plumbers. When I get to the door they always look disappointed that I'm not the Horny Housewife they were hoping for and they always question me about what I do for a living. I'd like to say, "Look buddy, we both spend all day elbow deep in human feces. And yo, I've been sagging my pants since 1992. Where's the solidarity?" This afternoon, when I e-mailed the wife to tell her the damage, she moaned, "Man, it's like Gram flushed thirteen crisp ten-dollar bills down the toilet."

So I want to thank everyone who bought photos over the last few days. It could be said that because of you, we can now shit without fear of it coming back to haunt us. The plumber did look at me a little funny when I asked him if he accepts paypal.

I need to deliver good news to a few people who entered the contest. Winners were decided completely at random. Thanks to everyone who entered.

Prize #1: 11x14 "Everything is Going to be Alright" photo, 2/30 (matted to 16x20)

Kristin who entered "Everything is Going to be Alright" (3)

Liana (of "Pie and Beer") who entered 12.12.08 at 2:36 pm.

Jen (of "Americana") who entered 12.14.08 at 9:57 am.

Sadie who entered 12.13.08 at 5:21 pm.

Prize #5: Wood's Toddler Hat

Bethany (of "Your Little Squirrel") who entered .

Prize #6-7: Any print from the etsy store (2)

Dawn who entered .

Adrienne who entered .

So I have to admit I wasn't expecting 600+ entries in the contest. It's hard to believe that many people would want one of my photos---it's not like I was giving away $100 gift cards. It's really an honor and I want to thank everyone for saying such nice things and sharing their own sites.

I did add some extra prizes at some point but I'm still afraid a lot of people are going to be disappointed. The coolest new prize is this hat my wife made over the weekend. It's an exact replica of the hat that our wonderful friend Carissa Carman made for Juniper years ago (Gram is wearing it now). Juniper started wearing it when she was 9 months and stopped wearing it just a few months ago. It's one of our all-time favorite baby things and we hope someone else will enjoy this one as much as we've enjoyed ours.

The inside of the hat is lined in cashmere and the outside is made from an intense green Maharam textile fabric. Wood tried to make the colors gender-neutral. When you pull the drawstrings, the poofy-balled corners scrunch down. The scrunching effect means it can be worn by any kid from a 12-month-old with a big head to a 4-year-old with an incredibly small head.

I will announce the winners later today, after I figure out the best way to choose winners completely randomly. So good luck and stay tuned.

Recession holiday contest!

Posted by jdg | Friday, December 12, 2008 |

A few months ago they changed the "Everything" on this building to "Nothing." Ouch. I prefer the previous sentiment, especially during these difficult days. But in honor of the recession I'm going to give away one of the above photos, an 11x14 signed and numbered in a (white) 16x20 mat that's ready for framing. I have been selling prints from this edition of 30 in my etsy shop for $70. I will also be giving away three signed proofs from the smaller 8x10 edition that sold out long ago. *update* Because of the response so far I'm also going to let two (2) more readers chose any photo that's left in the etsy store on Monday. And I'm going to try to convince my wife to make something to give away too. All you need to do to enter is leave a comment with a first name and/or nickname and an e-mail address in the haloscan comments on this post (U.S. and Canada addresses only). A link to any website you write or maintain would also be cool---I'd like to catch up with whoever is reading this site.

Also, I am bringing a huge new batch of photos to the lab in January [from this series] so I want to give everyone one last chance at some of the editions I was selling earlier this year. As I add photos over the course of today, there will be offerings in all sizes and price ranges.

Contest ends Sunday (December 15) at midnight. I'll be shutting down the Etsy store on Monday when I randomly choose and announce the winners so I can ensure that everyone will get their photos before Christmas.

Parenting the Enemy

Posted by jdg | Wednesday, December 10, 2008 | ,

Scene: 9 Grafton Terrace, Kentish Town, London. 1860.

A man with the beard of a biblical prophet sits writing at a desk under a cloud of pipe smoke. This is Karl Marx. Two four-year-old girls walk in. The first has dark hair and the same nose as the man. This is his daughter, Eleanor (affectionately known as "Tussy"). The second girl is lovely with blond curls. This is Tussy's new friend, Dollie Catnatch.

Tussy. Shall we take the phaeton to Schönbrunn this afternoon, your royal highness? I should think a picnic near the Ruin of Carthage might cure what remains of the diphtheria you have been contending with these many weeks.

Dollie. You're such a silly goose, Princess Maria. Surely the captain of the royal guard would never allow just the two of us to escape in the phaeton unnoticed. Alas, it will take a good hour for the royal coach to be ready. Those coachmen can be so lazy. They deserve a good thrashing.

The man looks up from his writing and stares curiously over at the two girls.

Tussy. I suppose that means we are stuck here at the Hofburg. I'm bored. Are they hanging any anarchists today?

Dollie. Not that I am aware of, but my room in the Neue Berg has an excellent view of the gallows.

Marx. Excuse me, young misses, what exactly are you playing today?

Tussy. Why father, we are playing princesses, of course!

Marx. Princesses?

Tussy. Dollie here is Gisela Louise Marie, Princess Imperial and Archduchess of Austria, the Princess of Hungary and Bohemia, and the Princess of Bavaria. I, of course, am her cousin Maria Theresa Anna of Austria-Teschen, daughter of Princess Hildegard of Bavaria.

Marx [aside] What is this madness?

Dollie. We have decided we are bored with our many palaces and are eager for adventure. Perhaps we will whip those Turks my dragoons captured at the siege of Sevastopol or visit an enchantress in Klosterneuburg to help us find that troupe of laboring dwarfs who love to whistle whilst they work.

Marx. Tussy, who is this tiny person speaking to me?

Tussy. Father, this my friend, Dollie Catnatch.

Marx. Is she related to James Catnatch, publisher of that penny dreadful Molls of the Monarchs?

Dollie. Why, he's my father! Here's his latest publication, sir. It's called Catnatch's Lives of the Princesses, A Ha'Penny Book for Girls.

Marx. What is this pap? [snatching it, reading aloud] "The mud on Prince Albert's brogues: what does his cobbler know?"; "Win over your own Prince Charming in five easy steps"; "Victoria says Spitalfields satin and Honiton lace are so 1840." And what in blazes is this ink color?

Dollie. It's called fuchsia. My father invented it.

Marx. I'm not sure I approve of the amount of stocking this princess on the cover is showing.

Tussy. Come on, Dollie. Let's play "The Czarina's Wardrobe."

Marx. Can't you two girls play something respectable, like "Fenians Revolt!" or "The Conditions in Manchester's Textile Mills"?

Tussy. Sorry, Papa, but princesses are beautiful and have lovely clothing. Textile mill workers and the Irish are dirty and ugly.

Marx. Oy, this is why Engels never had children.

Scene 2. The Marx bedroom, that same evening

Karl and his wife, Jenny, sit in their bedclothes. Karl has his arms folded across his chest.

Marx. You should have seen the frock she was wearing today. It was
pink merino trimmed with white swan's down. Next she'll be asking for an ermine coat.

Jenny. Yesterday she begged me to let her two take of my finest silver spoons down to the smithy to forge a crude tiara.

Marx. Doesn't she understand that even a constitutional monarchy is an anachronism, a tool used to perpetuate the slavery of women and workers, a reserve weapon of reaction and a distraction of pomp and glitter? Bah!

Jenny. Maybe you could write a pamphlet about a beautiful young girl who inspires The Revolution after working long hours in an oyster-shucking factory. You could call it "Proletarian Princess."

Marx. I would have to illustrate her in a fuchsia petticoat just to get her attention. Do you know the price of color ink! I'm afraid this Catnatch girl is a bad influence. Don't any of our revolutionary friends from the June Days Uprising have a daughter her age?

Jenny. Now Karl, they're only girls. Once you were a boy, even if it was a very long time ago. Surely even Karl Marx once enjoyed playing Prince Theseus and the Minotaur or Prince Siegfried bathed on the blood of the dragon?

Marx. When I was her age I was too busy fighting rats in the Prussian streets for crumbs to feed my six brothers and sisters.

Jenny. Wasn't your father a lawyer?

Marx. Not a very good one.

Jenny. Well, someday I'm sure she'll come to understand your feelings Karl. For now, let's just be glad she doesn't need to fight the rats for crumbs. We've given her a safe home here in London and enough bread on the table that she can feel like a princess.

Marx. Oh, how bourgeois.

Two Trees

Posted by jdg | Monday, December 08, 2008 | , , ,

In memory, it seems like I was born into an epoch of ice. As my mother waited for her body to signal I was ready to be born, she anxiously watched the snow fill the road outside her house, several feet of it. Six or seven feet, maybe. My father arranged for an ambulance to meet them at the main road a mile away, which was being kept clear by the township plows. He would get her to that ambulance on his snowmobile.

We were always snowed in. Even the old-timers around those parts acknowledged the severity of those winters. "Remember the Blizzard of '77?" they still ask. "How 'bout the Blizzard of '78? '79? '80?" In my memory there were ice storms; neighbors gathering to curse or admire fallen trees with bark encrusted by inches of ice; weeks without power; a room at the Knight's Inn just for the warm shower.

In early December 1982, there was already a lot of snow. Dad started up the engine of his old Polaris in the garage, and the blue fumes sputtered out and clung to my polyester jacket. The snowmobile clattered out to the snowcovered driveway and he idled the engine a while before shutting it off. Then he let me climb all over it, touch the handlebars even. I was Batman. I was Luke Skywalker.

He went to the shed and brought back our best sled, the big orange one that my sister and I could both fit in easily. He took a rope and tied the sled to back of the snowmobile. My mom had made sure we were both dressed up really warm with hats and mittens---scarves even. She sat us down together in the sled, me in the back with my little sister propped up inside my arms. Mom climbed behind my dad on the snowmobile, grabbing him around his waist as that little 440 engine started up again: that puff of carbon monoxide, some traction in the continuous track, and we were off, as slow, probably, as we could go, off into our own Christmas carol. The big black Labrador trotted alongside us.

In a minute or two, we were beyond the sight of our home or the lights of any neighbor. We went up and down hills, through the forests I would spend my childhood exploring and which would one day be torn down to build a subdivision. Around this time the man who owned this land offered to trade it all to my dad for a forty-year-old Ford; he kept the Ford, thinking the land would never be developed anyway. As we slowly cut our way across those hills with jags of snow falling from the shivering hardwoods, I didn't know anyone owned those woods. I had no reason to think they weren't ours.

We reached a hilltop filled with pines and cedars half a mile from our house. My dad, with his chainsaw, balanced himself on the lower branches of a mighty Scotch Pine and began to climb, disappearing into the tree. Before we heard the first rip of the starter cord he yelled out in fearful shock as snow poured down and he lost his balance, nearly falling. The beautiful Snowy Owl he'd disturbed stretched out her wings and flew off to a quieter perch. Undeterred, dad lopped off seven feet of the top of the tree and it tumbled down with a muted crash as the chainsaw and the snowmobile idled.

* * * * *

The three-year old in the Radio Flyer crunching along on an inch of freshfallen snow is almost four, she reminds him. She promises to hold on to her baby brother and not let him fall out. The German Shorthaired Pointer trots alongside them. "Don't eat that!" the dad shouts at the dog, who's got someone's discarded Turkey drumstick in his mouth. They pass a playground where swingless chains hang from a metal crossbar; a tennis court he's never seen anyone use, a 140-year-old church that's changed congregations a few times since the German immigrants who built it laid their Teutonic-scripted cornerstone. A homeless man watches the scene from a picnic table. "We can't do this," the dad says before they get to their neighborhood candle/witchcraft store, struggling to pull the wagon and its precious cargo along Detroit's broken sidewalks. He knows the little girl won't walk all the way home, not in this cold, not with the tree in the wagon, the baby in one arm, the wagon's handle in his other hand and the dog eagerly devouring fowl-bones left and right. What was he thinking? Could the dog pull the wagon, maybe if they dangle a chicken wing from a stick in front of him? No. So they turn around.

For three years now they've purchased their Christmas tree from the farmers who spend the month of December living in tiny heated trailers in Eastern Market half a mile from their home, within sight of the urban prairie. As he loads the kids into the car, he thinks about all the time he's spent wandering that prairie. He remembers the patch of cherry tomatoes he found growing wild in the middle of an empty field. He thought of the dogwoods and cherry trees left behind by the people who'd moved away from their neighborhoods, how they still bloom so beautifully in spring. He entertains thoughts of theft: thoughts of looking for an old Scotch Pine, pulling the kids in a sled through the prairie, and lopping off its top with a hacksaw. Silly, he thinks, as he wanders with his son on one arm and his daughter running through a maze of cut trees, looking for one she likes. He hands a Yooper in head-to-toe camouflage a couple of twenties for a tree that smells like Christmas always did. The Yooper loads the smell of Christmas into the trunk.

When they get home, the girl helps her father carry the tree from the car to the house and the dog runs out to greet them. He sniffs the prostrate pine, lifts his hind leg, and marks it to let everyone know just whose tree this is.

This week's terrifying Nixon-era children's book was published in 1973, at the dawn of the American divorce epidemic and thus the precursor to a thousand crappy books written to soothe the emotional havoc of divorce on our nation's children. We like this one because it pulls no punches: Joey is a young man from the Upper East Side whose father leaves his mother to go live in a "crummy," fleabag motel "downtown." Joey confides all this in his Puerto Rican friend "Pepe Gonzales" who responds by saying, "Lots of kids got no dad living in the house. There's a boy on my block who don't even know who his dad is!" Still, the prevailing mores up in Spanish Harlem do little to resolve Joey's anxiety at his parents' separation and pending divorce. The book is actually one of those "early reader" novels, so I'm just going to add some commentary on the crazy pictures. Some of the text is original, but a lot of it I made up.

"Dad came back to take the color television the other day. 'I paid for this lousy thing!' he shouted at mom while he triumphantly carried it out the door. Now we have to watch Mannix on the crummy old B&W. Mom stormed after dad and Gus the doorman suggested she call the police, but the sergeant who showed up threatened to arrest her for filing a false report."
"Yesterday mom started smoking grass again.

"She started making herself throw up after every meal, too. 'I've got to lose fifteen pounds if I'm ever going to catch another man again,' she said. 'I'm not as young as I used to be.' I didn't like to think about my mom with another man, so I started to cry."

"'Everything's gonna be alright, honey,' mom said. 'Hopefully I'll meet another nice man who can buy us an even bigger color TV. And look on the bright side, there's always the alimony!'"

"The next day I skipped school to go look for my dad to ask him what 'alimony' was. 'Hey old Russian lady, do you know where my dad is? He works in an office building. With lots of windows.'"

"I got lost and stopped in a pizzeria to call my dad's secretary. She's really nice and has red hair. Dad and Mom were always arguing about her. The man behind the counter said, 'What? You don't-a even want a slice of the pizza-pie-a or a nice-a dish a rigatoni?'

"I found my dad's office and waited for him in the lobby. When he came out of his meeting, dad was real sore at me. 'What the fuck are you doing here, Joey?' he yelled." I said something about how Barnaby Jones just wasn't the same in black and white and I just couldn't help myself: I started to cry. Dad hugged me. He wasn't mad anymore."
"Dad took me to the corner diner for lunch. 'When are you coming home?' I asked him. 'I'm not,' he said. Dad got real serious. He put his hand over my hand. 'Joey,' he said. 'Listen. I---you know---I love you very much. Your mom does too. Joey, nothing will ever change about that. You hear me, son?'

'Dad, what's alimony?' I asked."

"That night, Dad took me to stay with him in his hotel room downtown. It was sort of dark. We passed one door where some woman was laughing. She sounded drunk or something. Behind another door someone was playing rock music really loud. The whole place smelled like vomit and smoke, kind of like the den after mom's smoked some grass. 'Well,' Dad said. 'Home sweet home away from home!' The room was pretty crummy. The view out the window was just a brick wall and a flashing neon sign that made the whole room creepy and red. Dad explained to me that alimony was mom's plan to bleed him dry, but he'd show her by buying a cool Porsche before the ink dried on the divorce papers."
"That night I could hardly sleep. I kept hearing people fighting and making the kinds of sounds mom and dad used to make before he moved out, that scary grunting and yelling sound they used to make at night. I swore to myself that if I ever had kids, I was going to live somewhere with thick walls and never get divorced."

The next day Dad took me downstairs and hailed a cab. He said to the cabbie, 'Take him to to 93rd and Lex.' He handed him three bucks. 'Keep the change,' he said. I couldn't believe he'd spend so much on me when the bus was only 25 cents.

'Go home to your mother, son,' he said. 'She needs you. And remember: the next time you visit, I'll drive you to Howard Johnson's in my new Porsche.'"