Monthly Archives: February 2004

Report from The Weekend Without The Mom

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My kitchen is in such a state, I don’t even know where to begin. My focaccia bread pizza did not turn out the way it usually does on Friday night, and last night we ate the tortellini salad warm, which was not a good idea, and I really think I need to either halve the amount of onions or double the tortellini. But it was great fun using the vegetable chopper for just about everything in a recipe, sending onions, celery, and peppers to their death in serial fashion. Beat chopping by hand. Anyway…. Swimming was great fun, though the girls took the Longest Time Ever to change and shower afterward: 40 minutes. I was getting ready to break my cardinal rule that I will never send anyone into the locker room to get them. Laundry is in good shape, been doing a little bit all weekend. Hey, what was up with the movie “Grease” that we all thought it was so great? I knew it was dumb, but it seemed a lot more fun twenty-five years ago. This time I just couldn’t suspend disbelief when Olivia Newton-John showed up in spandex pants at the end, since there were no spandex pants in the ’50s. I was going to make some flip comment about how everyone has forgotten that Cha Cha DiGregorio was the real party in the picture, but that would be unfair to Stockard Channing, who got a lot of attention at the time for doing the only actual acting in the entire movie, which got a lot of attention and an ill-advised TV deal at the time, and then she sank to mid-level obscurity (and, to be fair, a lot of Broadway) until she re-emerged on “The West Wing”. (IMDB lists her first credit as “The Victim of the Number Painter” on Sesame Street.)

Okay, reeling the topic back in now. The whole “Grease” thing started because I suddenly got “Who put the bomp” etc. in my head at lunchtime, so we got the movie at the library. Watched it after supper and I made popcorn for the first time in years. By “made” popcorn, I mean heated up oil in a pan and popped it. I never do this because it makes the whole house stink of burning vegetable oil, but last night I got it just right (and opened all the windows first) and it came out okay. And I was such an accommodating dad that when Bekah said, “There’s not much butter” and I said that was because there wasn’t any at all, and she just said, “Oh,” I got up and melted butter for it. Know what? Much better with the melted butter. Duh. So, they trundled off to bed with surprising efficiency, I watched some aimless TV while reading “Low Life,” and when I got restless did a little mayhem with Grand Theft Auto 3. I always want, when I’m on my own, to be able to put on the headphones and crank the stereo, but I’m too nervous that one of them will need me and I won’t be able to hear them, so that never happens.

Today we’re on our own most of the day. Promised Hannah we’d watch Branagh’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” because she has decided she is going to read Shakespeare, and I thought it would go a little easier if she had some frame of reference for what is going on in the story while she struggles with the words. Besides, it was my introduction to Shakespeare and has ever since been my favorite of his plays (9th grade, “Lulubelle” Dunsworth. We got out of doing “Romeo and Juliet” because we had seen the Zeffirelli movie the year before — it was quite a scandal, since there was an 8th of a second flash of breast as Juliet jumped out of bed. We were 13, and that 8th of a second went a long way.) Also today, I need to set up the grill. Got Lee the cutest gas grill for Valentine’s Day, perfect size for our desires which, like the popcorn, involve being able to cook pork and chicken without stinking up the house for days.

But first, I’ve gotta find the coffee pot in that kitchen . . . .

You have to write if you want to be read

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And other lessons from viewing my blog stats. Gee, I don’t put anything up for a week and my traffic drops! Combine extreme busyness with a mess of issues over at my other addiction, Fotolog, and a general lack of free time to think, and my choice is to put up something not-witty or put up nothing at all. Voting for the latter, and I think you’ll thank me.

I have been pulling out of the doom/dread cycle that had started a few weeks back and intensified as I contemplated the extremely temporary nature of absolutely everything, as outlined in Bryson’s “A Short History of Nearly Everything,” but I was kinda pulling out of that and am generally feeling less panic-stricken about the general prospect of mortality. But it’s not just a book that puts me in these frames of mind, and the set of circumstances hasn’t really changed. In a very short time a number of people I know were afflicted with cancer. Two are, I have to believe, going to be just fine. Another will be memorialized tomorrow, after a very brief and devastating illness. This was someone from work, and the mood there today was just dreadful quiet.

To try to make up for that, I’m reading a somewhat more gleeful recounting of life and death in the seamy underbelly of old New York, a book by Luc Sante called “Low Life.” Very entertaining, but really hard to imagine how unspeakably awful the city was in the days of horses, epidemics, and trash piled up on the streets. A fun little wallow.

Movie of the week? Well, we didn’t quite finish it (out of sheer exhaustion), but “M. Hulot’s Holiday,” a Jacques Tati film (he who inspired what I can only imagine is the unbelievable “Triplets of Belleville,” which I haven’t gotten to see yet) was a gentle, sweet, very funny little comedy. Virtually no dialogue, just pantomime and slapstick. Big brownie points to the public library for having it!

8 things

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8 things I would like my pre-teen daughter to understand are wrong with Avril Lavigne’s Sk8r Boi:
1. Skater boys don’t usually play guitar. At least not the ones around here.
2. Just because he’s a boy and you’re a girl doesn’t make anything obvious. There’s a psychological phenomenon called “projection,” where you project your desires onto the blank slate of someone you don’t know well, who somewhat fits your notion of an ideal person. As the real person emerges over time, you’ll wonder how he has changed. In fact, he hasn’t changed at all, he just never was the person you projected him to be.
3. I’m not kidding about that. It can be a killer. Watch out for it.
4. It should really be “stuck up their noses,” not “stuck up their nose.” Unless her friends have only one nose, or it was some big papier-mache nose left over from a ballet version of “Cyrano de Bergerac.” Which seems unlikely, and a little involved for this song. So I think the lyric’s wrong.
5. I have a problem with baggy clothes, myself. Listen, we wore some pretty stupid looking clothes when I was a kid, but at least we had both hands free. Hey, Sk8er Boi: Wearing a belt is not a crime.
6. I guess she did need to come back down to earth. She’s way too young to be having a baby. You cannot imagine the impact that’s going to have on her life. You really need to understand about contraception.
7. If they were really her friends, they’d have been considerate enough to have called and asked whether she wanted them to get tickets for her. This is just rude.
8. No one has rocked up MTV since at least 1992. They rock out on Fuse, or on VH1 (if they’re Warren Zevon).
McSweeney’s was going to run this as one of their lists. Then they never did. So here it is.

Is this thing on?

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Not dead, just busy. Have to get that room done by Saturday, when the furniture arrives. Finally, a hard deadline! Also, if your day yesterday didn’t involve the Mexican Air Force, then your day was nothing like my day.

Two Nikes

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Took Rebekah to the hardware store the other day, looking for the right shelving brackets for her closet (HD had the standards, not the right size brackets. Arrrgh!) Walking down the aisle, she sees some of those basic nail-up angle brackets hanging from a peg, and asks, “What are those Nike things?” Had to admit, they did look kinda like the swoosh.

Last night, Hannah was describing something her grandfather had said “the night he babysat me” a few nights ago. But I misheard her and thought she had said, “The Nike babysat me,” which set me to wondering how the Winged Victory of Samothrace had gotten through the back door. Then I thought, there have been worse sitcoms. “An ancient statue comes to life — but she can only find work as a nanny for three precocious youngsters! Next on ‘The Nike Babysat Me!'” Then I realized it’s good that I’ve sworn to use my powers only for good, or I’d be phoning my agent and taking meetings right now.

It’s President’s Day, which means that we could sit around and contemplate Washington (who’s been all but forgotten in this) and Lincoln (who still somehow has his birthday as a separate semi-holiday in New York, but instead we honor them with cartoon caricatures hawking used automobiles, cheap mattresses and furniture sales. If the founding fathers had foreseen this, copyright would last forever. (Plus, they would have made a fortune on the stock market, throwing money into the carriage companies that would eventually crank out automobiles.) And on any normal day, the last place on earth I want to be is a furniture store. I have a very narrow range of taste when it comes to furniture, and I usually can’t find it. It’s pretty much Mission, Shaker, and very simple. And on a big sale weekend, the very last place I would want to be is The Big Store, as it is advertised locally, a massive furniture store that could sleep thousands comfortably in the event of an emergency (a light bulb just went off in my head — make a note for the next big disaster). But my girls have a very generous grandmother, who decided they needed bedroom sets. So we went, along with pretty much everyone else for 20 miles, wandering around aimlessly, looking at ugly furniture. And as we walked down an aisle, a book laid on a table for decorate effect caught my eye — it was a hardcover edition of Muriel Spark’s “The Only Problem,” my favorite Muriel Spark book ever. I couldn’t believe it was lying there in a furniture store, providing atmosphere. It was in great condition, too. After my mother had plunked down several million dollars for these bedroom sets (which will be lovely, I should add), she asked if we could take the book, too, but incredibly the salesman had to decline. Apparently sometimes the salespeople bring these things in themselves, and take them back later, and it could have belonged to someone else. Who knew?

Saw fragments of the terribly named “Ballistics: Ecks vs. Sever” the other night, and got what I expected — an action movie that makes blowing things up dull. Hell, it made Lucy Liu dull. Then last night we watched Robert Rodriguez’s “Once Upon a Time in Mexico,” an insanely over the top shoot-’em-up which gets every single detail exactly right, and which first thought of the idea of combining a bandolero of knives with Salma Hayek’s right thigh, which to my mind is a brilliant idea.

Also good? “Freaky Friday.” The new one. I laughed insanely. I really didn’t expect to. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that it’s Jamie Lee. The girl playing her daughter is Lindsay Lohan, whom I was unaware is also a singer. Hannah knew one of her songs from Radio Disney, a perfectly pleasant little piece of pop. But Hannah also made the connection between it being a Disney movie and the song getting played on Radio Disney. I said something about being glad she was aware her tastes were manipulated by corporate giants, and then said something about them not being giant enough to not be a takeover target, and Hannah said, “Yeah, by Comcast,” a piece of information I really didn’t expect her to have. Then she explained when she had heard it — she was watching the news on TV with her grandfather, “the nike babysat me.”

La grippe

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Le ou La? Google says “la”. Good enough for me. J’ai la grippe. Not one of those terrible stomach flus that knocks your bacteria out of whack for a month and puts you off cheese, but one of those achey feverish flus which makes your hair hurt. Plus everything else. Accompanied by alternating periods of burning up and freezing to death. I was shivering in the bed so hard last night that my teeth were knocking. And this is all after I really thought the worst was over — spent two days home, and yesterday I really felt substantially better. (Maybe that was just because I finally found a good set of instructions for beating “Grand Theft Auto III.”) We were all supposed to go off and ski today, and that’s not going to happen. Damn! I even got my guns tuned yesterday. (“Guns” is how the cool skiers refer to their boards.) But, not to happen. So, Plan C, which probably involves lying around the house, making a little bit of progress on Bek’s room, and sleeping.

Of all the great children’s literature that is available to my children and wasn’t available to me, I most wish I’d had the Lemony Snicket “A Series of Unfortunate Events.” Dark, extremely witty, extremely engrossing, and terrifically well-written. I’m going through Book 10, The Slippery Slope, right now, though I confess I haven’t read all of them. (That’ll have to wait until I get a Veritably Free Day.) This one is fantastic, but my favorite so far was actually “Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Biography,” which is stunning.

My eldest starts middle school next year. Lee got to attend the information session on it the other night, which turned out to be more of a question and answer session; the informational session will follow. That makes sense, right? (Government by amateurs . . . don’t get me started.) I know that middle school is when you start to pick up an “identity” so you can fit in with a particular crowd — jock, goth, prep, etc. I’m encouraging Hannah to start her own: Visigoth. You have to run from the Huns (I don’t think we have too many of those left), but you get to overrun the Balkans.

“Achey Feverish Flu” was going to be the big comeback duet for Johnny Rivers and Billy Ray Cyrus, but it never took off.

I’m very sorry for that last one. Blame the fever.

Delayed reaction

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From the older one, anyway. One of the class bullies (a girl — Margaret Atwood’s “Cat’s Eye” convinced me that girls are endlessly more vicious than boys in this regard. Boys just threaten to beat you up. Girls hurt your feelings. Anyway . . . ) . . . . As I was saying, one of the class bullies told Hannah she was going to be shot today. Even if you know it’s not true, when you’re ten, there’s a part of you that isn’t sure. But she didn’t tell the teacher (which she should have), and held it together until after supper, when she fell apart over it. (Actually, what she fell apart over was that she had to have a bath and make up some violin practice, but one thing leads to another.) So we told her she should always report any threat like that, even if she knows it’s not true, and we’re going to have to send a note to the teacher tomorrow to let him know. This little bully needs an intervention. I told the girls to understand that if she needs to bully people, there must be something going on in her life that’s a lot less pleasant than what’s going on in our lives, and that people who are insecure often try to take it out on others this way, etc. etc. And maybe that’s all true. But the plain fact that we know with a certainty when we’re 10 and somehow “civilize” out of ourselves as we get older is that some kids are just plain bad. Evil, even. There may be a reason they got that way, or there may not, but there are some people you just need to give a wide swath to.

On a lighter note, let me re-state my First Law of Home Repair: “The job expands to accommodate the number of tools at your disposal.” A simple task of setting up the baseboards for Bek’s room (couldn’t bear to try to recondition the old ones, in the end) and sanding a chamfer off the upper edge required me to drag the table saw up from the basement and into the garage (more room to maneuver 12 foot planks), and then I dug out: the board roller, the folding sawhorse, two quick clamps, wrenches for the table saw, the new belt sander, and the router. This is a job that, I assure you, could have been done handily with a sanding block had it been necessary. And I had tried it with the belt sander, but didn’t like the results. So: out comes the router! All part of my evil plan . . . .