Monthly Archives: October 2005

incense and peppermints


As many of you know, we take Halloween very seriously in our household. First, was the viewing of “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” in which Lucy got to watch Lucy:


I guess our tyke in a panda costume was pretty much a no-brainer:


And what were we, might you ask? Tessa was a “bunny librarian.” I was a member of the 1960s art-pop band The Left Banke, who had a hit with “Walk Away Renee.” I was also a member of The Zombies, and perhaps even The Strawberry Alarm Clock.


Traffic in LA almost derailed us – we spent most of Halloween on Interstate 10:


We ate in Silver Lake, with Lucy now able to sit in a high chair. Despite her love of solids, she was not impressed with the pumpkin ravioli filling. She was, however, obsessed with the duck we brought:


After getting home and putting the panda to bed, Tessa and I listened to the Beatles and carved pumpkins. Happy Halloween, everybody!


we’re just following ancient history, if you strip for me


My high school 20-year reunion was last weekend; I did not attend. It was not for lack of intense, some would say morbid, curiosity on what my classmates were doing, what they looked like, who had gone bald, who looked they had filled with water, who was more successful than you had imagined they would be, etc… in fact, I was ready to fly across the county with baby in tow. But then we got this TV deal, and suddenly the distance from Santa Monica, CA to Norfolk, VA looked totally impossible.

Some of the attendees posted pictures on the Kodak website, so it’s nice to see how everyone turned out at least, and though my feelings have always been terribly mixed about my high school experience, it kinda looks like I missed a really good time. If approached correctly, those events can be way more fun than the cliché would portend.


playing King Pellinore in “Camelot” in 1985 – no, my hair was desperately uncool even then, and my friends begged me to cut it

Another problem was this: out of the twelve people I called good friends, maybe two showed up. My particular clique, it seems, couldn’t get it together for this reunion, perhaps preferring instead to randomly get together in other places. True, none of us live anywhere near Norfolk these days, but I was struck at how few of us were witness to the Seminal American Event of the 20th High School Reunion.

I always considered my particular clique to be slightly dorky, studious, absurdly humorous, and prone towards cultural obsession (I mean that in all the good ways). I didn’t think we were “popular” per se, but we kept each other afloat. It wasn’t until senior year, when I was paired up with one of the bitchiest cheerleaders in our class, largely suspected of doing all kinds of fun drugz with the lacrosse team (hey, it was the ’80s, MAN!) that she said to me – “I’d ask you guys to a party, but there’s absolutely no way to penetrate your little clique.”

I was stunned. I had no idea we’d forged something envious. In the weeks that ensued, during the long, hot Aprils and Mays of the coastal South, all kinds of social barriers broke down. It’s always this way the final days before graduation, when the Senior Class is imbued with a social bravery that comes from no tomorrow. I even went on a quasi-date and openly discussed love with a crush I’d had since the Dark Ages of 1981.

Perhaps reunions offer a time when you can go back into the past and tell your schoolmates that everything turned out okay with you. It was touch and go for a while there, but so far, you nailed the dismount of your young adulthood. Tessa likes to tell the story of why she wrote to me in 2000, after we’d fallen out of touch since about 1995 or so. She imagined me sitting in a dark room getting high, and was worried. Hopefully, I’ve transcended that prognostication for her.

Looking at those pictures, it also put into stark relief: we are not kids anymore. This is what 38 and 39 looks like. At the 10-year-reunion, people seemed in fine form, reaching the apogee of their attractiveness, but now we are retreating over the other side. I mean, my skin problems and stupid hair allow me to look young, but I can’t deny I’m 38. If I’m not careful, I, too, may fill with water.

One more thing about the pictures. Everyone looks like they’re having a great time, some even clinging to each other. I forget that many of my classmates went to NA from kindergarten through 12 grade; they were together every single day for twelve years and suddenly it was over. Re-meeting again, now, when they have seen so much and been slightly beaten-down by the world, must mean a lot.

Hell, I look at these faces and think, “I know your mothers! I remember when Amanda was caught chewing animal fat in Mr. Sims’ class! I remember when they airbrushed Boo’s childhood nipple out of the yearbook! Mike has my birthday and damaged his pinkie on an escalator!”

These faces provide continuity in a deeply non-contiguous world. I think I must attend the 25-year reunion and drag my little, impenetrable clique with me.


Steve Shapiro and I usher at my dad’s outdoor concert, 1982

you are here and warm


I’m know I’m going to be a complete hypocrite here, but I’m a little tweaked by the constant suggestion that every man who marries someone pretty or smart is somehow “marrying up.” I make the joke all the time, and in fact, it has been something of a mantra among the Williams brothers that we all “married someone who could stand us” etc., but I think if you take that thinking too far, it ends up being problematic and dishonest.

Tessa has taught me to be a better person, and there are at least 743 ways I’ve learned to better deal with life due to her gentle suggestions and leading by example. And yes, I was a pimpled dork in junior high, didn’t kiss a girl at my prep school, remain furious at my childhood assailants, and know Morse Code to 35 wpm – but would it be too pompous to think that she got a catch too?

Everything else, as I’m sure you suspect, is about physical attractiveness. I may have not been classically handsome, but I’m bloody well cute enough, and it never got in my way. I remember a housemate once told me a girl was “out of my league,” and I did two things right away: 1) I told him that no friend of mine, including HIM, was out of ANYBODY’S league, and 2) I dated the girl all summer.

Anybody who reads this blog, not to make this a reflection on me, but you are all in everybody’s league. None of you has “married up,” all of you are brilliant in your idiopathic way, and judging by some of the comments, you possess an introspection and spirit that would qualify you as a coup for anybody.

The idea that there should be some kind of agreed-upon equality in the physical attractiveness of a married couple is the kind of bottom-feeding horseshit reserved for reality television. Transitively, the idea that a bad man needs a good woman to turn him around is a remarkably lazy notion, one that plays upon tired gender roles, allows men to take no responsibility for their own spiritual education, and worse, is boring.

It also sells your wife or girlfriend short, as they obviously saw something in you that was pure and wonderful and didn’t sign up to be a halfway house for your recovering soul.

I think a lot of men, when they look deep into themselves, don’t see much. We see shame, we see secret stashes of porn, we see that time when we did something awful to that girl, we sense brutality and the desire to beat the shit out of some random guy in a parking lot. Sometimes we see these things and it makes us feel like a fraud, because it’s not something we ever share with our girlfriends and wives.

The secret is this: they already know, and decided to love us anyway. And this layer of crap inside men, I’ve come to believe, is largely window dressing. None of us are as really bad as we think we are, and while it’s relaxing to think we were saved by the love of a sentimental lady, it might be a little more empowering to believe that we, too, rock the fucking free world.

love on a farmboy’s wages


My friend Carrie McLaren, another Chapel Hill person bursting with immeasurable talent, runs Stay Free! Magazine, probably the smartest collection of hilarious and pissed-off writers this side of the Algonquin Round Table. She’s been at this zine for years, and all of you should be daily readers of the Stay Free blog, which features writers like the puzzle-master/cartoonist Francis Heaney and your very own Jason Torchinsky.

I bring this up not only because Carrie’s periodical is probably the only zine to survive the heydey of 1993 (complete with Archers of Loaf single), but because she is about to get married to Charles Star (who happens to work for Axiom Legal, which is run by… my housemate Alec from UNC. See? LIGHT BLUE MAFIA!). In doing so, Carrie and Charles started a blog called, wonderfully,

And here’s where it gets a little mean-spirited. Several commenters on both the Stay Free blog and the anotherfuckingwedding page have taken the engaged couple to task (read this page so you can see the vitriol) because they don’t approve of the way they’re going about it. Stay Free, you see, made a name for itself by trying to take down Walmart, distributing “The Grey Album,” going after SUV drivers, and basically being anti-voracious-consumerist. Which means several vocal critics are horrified that Carrie is spending $15,000 on her wedding.

To quote Nina on that page, “Weddings are one of those American Sacred Cows, along with Television, Christmas, Cars, Meat, and Makin’ Babies.” She meant that in a bad way, of course, but she is right about one thing: if you dare express an opinion on any of those topics, you will get shellacked by your audience.

Dooce almost shut down her blog because of all the vicious commentary she got when people didn’t like how she was raising Leta. People never tire of ridiculing vegetarians and lambasting their militant cousins, the folks from PETA. And when it comes to weddings, people just can’t seem to shut the fuck up.

Before there was a comments section on this blog, I happened to get married. I posted this entry showing pictures and coming clean about certain emotions, and what did I get? An entire message board, complete with other links, savaged the whole thing. Apparently, Tessa is too pretty to marry someone like me, and I’m goofy-looking and my tux was ugly. “Two fucking preppies in love = BARF” said one poster. And I discovered this whole thing on my honeymoon.

Here’s the facts: there is no event with more potential for schadenfreude than a wedding. Everyone thinks everyone else’s wedding sucks, or at least, ripe for high-handed commentary. We’ve all done it, even if it was just in the back of our minds; the difference is that some people like to say so on the internet.

Were we two preppies in love, and am I too goofy-looking to marry someone like Tessa? Well, DUH. By my tux was gorgeous, I’ll stand by that.

As for Carrie and Charles, is their $15,000 wedding hypocritical? If you know anything about American weddings, you’d know that’s a paltry sum, even by lefty let’s-not-make-this-a-big-deal standards. But sure, they could be more “anti-consumerist” by having a druidical gathering of eight friends in the middle of the forest and a picnic lunch.

But why should they have to? Certain things in life demand pomp, demand ritual, demand circumstance, demand gravitas. You don’t have to buy into the American Wedding™ ideal, but ensuring a special day takes money. We spent a fuckload of cash shoring up our barn so that 175 people could eat on the second floor without the threat of falling into the pig troughs below.

We all are hypocrites when it comes to the ones we love; we gladly throw away long-held notions when the alternative is such bliss. If a tradition doesn’t actively affect you, even your heroes can be granted a day when they are not held to your standards. It’s none of our business what Carrie does for her wedding, even if she is the progenitor of one of the East Coast’s greatest anti-establishment screeds; hell, I’d hire the Blue Angels to fly over.

I love the Passover question “what makes this day different than all the others?” because, for me, the answer is, “it’s the day you shut your piehole about my tux!”


dei sub numine viget


So I’m watching “Commander in Chief” tonight, and one of the characters excoriates the other by saying HE went to HARVARD and SHE was a “Pi Beta Phi from U.C. Santa Barbara.” She then totally slays him by saying that she actually went to Princeton and was a Phi Beta Kappa. First off, there’s nothing wrong with being a Pi Phi from anywhere, as many of my best friends wore the wine and silverblue and continue to be fabulous people.

Secondly: why all the harshing on a perfectly good state school and what’s with the obsession this country has with the Ivy League? Now, this rant is coming from a person who went to a prep school that taught us that if we didn’t get accepted to Harvard, we were going to be driving the shuttle bus from LAX to Parking Lot B. However, I never bought it. I never fell victim to the bright shiny lustre of the Ivies and I never believed it was going to cure me of either my intellectual longing or my virginity.

Worse yet, was this mid-80s invention of the “public ivies,” as if a school like Cal-Berkeley or us needed our lily gilded. The Wikipedia entry for Public Ivies mentions, among others, UVA, Michigan, Austin, William & Mary and some later additions like Indiana and UC-Boulder. Having visited and “lectured” at most of these schools, I can tell you that the education at these institutions is every bit as good as you make it as the Ivy League.

Let me just go on the record and say that UNC is a better school than Dartmouth. I’ll also say that Berkeley is a better school than Cornell. Discuss at your leisure.

I guess I’m offended at the label “public Ivy” because it speaks of an inferiority complex that I’m not willing to shoulder. I also hate terms like “Harvard of the Midwest” or “Harvard of the South” because it denies these places its true character in the reductivist rush to crown a Number One School of All Time, which, apparently, is Harvard.

I say it’s time to strike back at this way of thinking. The problem with Harvard grads, and there are many, is that they hire nobody else but each other. This has been bemoaned so often in the entertainment industry that it has become a cliché. So I’d like to propose something to you Carolina grads.

Create more of what my brother Kent calls the Light Blue Mafia; hire UNC grads first, then look around to other state schools. Special consideration should be given to UVA and the rest of the ACC (with one obvious glaring exception). Then go for the public schools of NY (SUNY) and California (UCLA, Cal). Take time out to look at people from Auburn, Tulane and Sewanee, who shouldn’t be penalized just because they’re from the red states. The rest should come from Chicago, Iowa City and Minnesota. Then let’s take over the media from the Cambridge Cabal!

Fuck being a “public Ivy.” I went to a school where my suitemate collected his tobacco spittle for two years, and I still got a script deal in Hollywood. Don’t call yourself the Harvard of the Midwest! In my book, Harvard is the Carolina of New England!

she’s like the village bicycle


Back in 1993, I remember a professor at UNC saying that “email” was the “killer app” of the internet, meaning that the internet basically existed due to the early, incontrovertible adoption of email as they way people talk to each other. In essence, the net spawned email, but email made the net.

Between the heydey of email and the widescale adoption of the World Wide Web, the closest “killer app” was Usenet. If you never used Usenet’s “newsgroups,” you missed out. It was crazy back then. More on that in another blog.

Anyway, the World Wide Web and the Browser of Your Choice became the next reason for the internet to exist, and by 1996 every college graduate with a pulse was trying to work the angles. Along with my friends, I consider that era our mini-Wild West – and I was lucky enough to help bring to fruition a website that still exists today (, albeit it’s a different beast now).

What was to become the “killer app” for your Web browser? My prediction, early on, was porn, dating and eBay. It lent itself perfectly to those three things. A distant second was Amazon, the late, and Napster back when it was illegal and free.

The true killer app of the internet right now? It has to be Google. People try to say blogs (which are just public diaries, really) and iTunes (which Napster had done just fine) but can you imagine going to college in the age of Google? I remember trying to track down a Latin quote from Virgil [thanks, shannon!] at Carolina in 1987, because I’d seen it scrawled on a painting – after years of searching, I gave up. On Google, 18 years later, I found it in .0863 seconds: tempus erat quo prima quies mortalibus aegris incipit, et dono diuum gratissima serpit.

Why am I telling you all this? Because Wikipedia is becoming the next indispensable killer app of the Web. I don’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me sooner, but it is the proletariat’s dictionary. What if the encyclopedia of the entire world were posted in the town square of the village, and each person got to add their knowledge to it? Everyone agreed not to burn it down or use it for an agenda, but as an altruistic desire to illuminate your fellow villagers?

To be honest, this entry about UNC’s “Pit Preacher” Gary Birdsong is what sold me entirely, as it is a perfect overview – with a picture – of a random guy who used to yell at me circa 1988. Everyone else from my generation of UNC grads will remember him, but everyone remembers a different piece of him, and it’s all collected there should you ever need it. Which you won’t, but still.

Again, why am I telling you all this? Because that Birdsong page linked to UNC’s page, which in turn, linked to the page about Public Ivies.

Oh shit, the baby’s crying. Anyone got something to add before discussing the Public Ivies?

please more gruel, sir


I’ve always been fascinated with the first of something, and having a baby around offers very quiet, earth-shattering events every few days.

Take the human heart. In an average human life, it beats 2,500,000,000 – two and a half BILLION – times, and it all started with the first beat. Unfortunately, the human embryonic heartbeat is a bit of a gooey, vague process, and as a parent you don’t get to experience it.

So let’s take breathing. There are two major revelations to a baby being born, at least for men: the afterbirth, which you only find out about in 10th grade, and breathing. Until I saw Lucy being born, I never fully grasped that the baby would not actually be breathing for a fair amount of time outside the mother.

When she came out, all slick and red and blue, she wasn’t moving. Among thirty-five other emotions, I stood in stunned horror, wondering what was wrong. It wasn’t until they took her to the “heat lamp” table and put an aspirating bulb in her mouth that she suddenly gasped. It is the closest thing to a miracle I have ever witnessed, and I have never recovered. I experienced her first breath, and if she lives to be ninety, she’ll do it an average of 798,912,000 more times.

Now think about a bite of food. Think of how many times you’ve taken a bite of solid food today, and guess around how many you took yesterday. Think of sufferers of anorexia, think of foodies writing for the New York Times, think of every great date you’ve had over dinner, think of those picnics as a kid, and every hamburger or bowl of pasta you’ll ever eat. Every single social experience, alone or at a long dinner table, every meal you ever had or will ever have began with a single bite of solid food, hopefully when you were around six months old.

Guess who just had hers?


id, meet your ego


Dear American Psychological Operations (or PsyOps):

Just a quick note! I’d like to personally thank you for burning two Taliban soldiers, facing them toward Mecca, and then basically calling the Muslim troops “faggots” for not coming out to fight. That was really cool. Especially after Abu Ghraib, and the Koran/toilet scandal, this was another masterwork of international diplomacy.

I’m so glad you are doing your part to keep us safe here in America – I cross the Manhattan Bridge with my baby daughter a lot, and it warms the heart knowing you’re keeping those people in their place. Now they’ll never try and do something awful over here, right?

Some say that burning bodies – which is forbidden by the Koran – and pointing them toward Mecca would make any average teen in Saudi Arabia… well, seethe with uncontrollable rage. And maybe turn his life over to fundamentalist causes. And then either blow himself up while taking eight of our Marines with him, or maybe travel in America’s direction with a car full of fertilizer. But I’m sure you thought all that through. Pooh-pooh on those who say you’re a bunch of insensitive dickwits! Clearly they don’t know you put the “pysch!” in “psychological ops!”

Keep up the good work and give ’em hell!

picture yourself in a boat on a river



On Wednesday, Lucy met her namesake for the first time, Tessa’s grandmother Lucille Tessman. Actually, my great-great-grandmother Lucy Rigby was also a factor, but Lucille – known as Nonnie to everyone in the family – was the steadfast rock upon which Tessa affixed her entire childhood. Those of you who have Netlfixed (or bought) “Five Wives” will remember Nonnie as the grandmother on the back porch saying that Tessa’s dad could buy anything except “those four letters L-O-V-E.” Needless to say, Nonnie rocks.


four generations of incredible women

I got there a little late to the Nonnie show, and so did Lucy. When I saw her in 2001, she was still driving herself around, but a bad car accident, a broken jaw and some tiny strokes landed her in the old folks’ home in Huntsville, Texas by 2003. She drifts in and out of attention, yet when Tessa shows up, she lights up like a Christmas tree.

Across the hallway from Non’s room was a door with a wreath on it, and some sort of medical tape sealing it shut; my guess is that someone had just died. Next door to that was a huge sign saying “Everyone Please Welcome Mrs. Woo!” It struck me as positively existential, the idea of moving to a place you know will be your last. There’s no getting out of there, it’s the final stop. Judging from some of the looks of the patrons, they’re quite content with the notion.


footwear: Nonnie wears the ankle monitor keeping tabs on her whereabouts, with Sandy and Tessa’s feet as well

It was Nonnie’s 89th birthday, complete with ballons and cake, and though it was great to celebrate it with her, it’s just the nature of history that Lucille and Lucy’s paths will cross but for a few years, and neither will get to know the other. Think of the time span – say Nonnie met an 89-year-old when she was 6 months old. That person would have been born in 1827 during the presidency of John Quincy Adams. Say Lucy lives to be 95. That means she will live to see the 22nd century. And both will have touched Nonnie.

It’s so hard to see someone you love deteriorate, but modern medicine has still not taken the chill off extreme old age. For Nonnie, I believe she is forgetting what feeling good feels like, and is thus not doing the things she ought to be, like taking oxygen while she sleeps. And the worse this gets, the more you slip into a dream state where you can no longer quite be sure if the life you are seeing really exists.


Furthermore, you don’t care. It’s not a flippant lack of care, like the ones we engage in as young people, but an actual inability to muster concern. This must be the defense mechanism inserted by the Higher Power of Your Choice to keep you from going crazy. In all, a nursing home is a strange environment in which to bring a baby. So incongruous, yet so alike.

Nonnie finally got sick of all the commotion and wheeled herself away. In the recesses of her memory, she knows her family loves her, she knows goodbyes are painful, and now she knows that she made such a huge mark on the world that another lithe spirit will carry her name into the distant future.


vapid eye movements


By all means skip this one if you aren’t of the parental persuasion – I used to read three words of “baby advice” columns before turning my thoughts to basketball – but a few interesting things have come up lately.

First off, an article in today’s New York Times talks about the growing number of parents who have sheepishly admitted to letting their babies sleep on their stomachs, despite the fact that SIDS rates have plummeted since the “Back to Sleep” campaign started. Anyone with a baby can tell you that a baby sleeping on its back is a baby about to wake up and scream (unless you’re one of the lucky ones) so none of this is surprising.

As I mentioned before, we didn’t exactly follow the “Back to Sleep” rules either. Our compromise was to put Lucy on her side with those foam sleep positioners and cram them in so she couldn’t flop onto her belly. One reason this side-sleeping was so comforting, I think, is because the positoners simulate being on your belly and all the tummy-related comfort that gives.

This worked really well for us until she got very strong, very early, and just did whatever the hell she wanted to do. She started rolling over – from either tummy or back – by about three months, so now we just keep the sleep positioners in her crib because she likes to kick them.

One thing about that NYTimes article (besides its awesome mention of Park Slope Parents and our newborn-care teacher Erica Lyon): they mentioned the “epidemic” of plagiocephaly, where babies’ heads end up misshapen because of constantly sleeping on their backs. We have a close friend whose baby has to wear a helmet for this very reason, and it is fascinating to hear that this once-rare condition is now a daily problem for pediatricians.

From what I’ve read, certain Native American tribes’ babies have totally flat heads in the back because of the wooden papoose, but these kids – like their honky counterparts – usually grow up to have perfectly head-shaped heads. Still, as a parent, having an oblong-headed baby has to be nerve-wracking.

Oh yes, and the lovely and talented Joanna wanted to know how we got Lucy to adhere to her now-very-nice sleeping schedule. The answer is: totally by accident. We told one of our babysitters never to disturb Lucy after she went to bed, but one night we got back from a movie, and the sitter was feeding Lucy the bottle at 11pm. We were chagrined, but then Lucy slept until almost 8am the next morning. Cue light bulb flashing over our heads.

Here’s what we’ve done, culling the advice from several books and our own experience:

1. Never let the baby fall asleep in your arms. Rock them a little, and wait until that liminal moment when their bodies seem to go a little limp from fatigue, and then stick them into the crib while barely awake. If they learn to fall asleep in there, they will also learn to put themselves back to sleep when they inevitably wake up at 2am for no reason.

2. There is a bit of tough love involved here. If your baby doesn’t go straight down during your transfer-to-the-crib moment but you KNOW they’re tired, they are going to have to cry a little. Lucy never cried for more than 15 minutes, even though it felt like three hours. THEY MUST LEARN THAT SCREAMING IS NOT WORTH IT. If you cave in, they will learn that you will cave in. There are ways to make this less dramatic (read “The No-Cry Sleep Solution”) but we never needed more than 20 minutes of patience.

3. The so-called “dream feed” must be done by the husband. He is just boring enough to pull it off. No more than 4-5 ounces from the bottle, and then make sure there’s a little burp before going back down. The baby should learn the drill after about two nights. DO NOT breastfeed, as this is a whole other emotional ball of wax for the baby. Put the dream feed near the half-way point of your baby’s night.

4. I realize some of this sounds a lot like “crying it out,” but if you really read Ferber (from which we took a few pointers), he does not advocate cruelty, just boundaries. Plus, when it works out, your baby will be so much happier in the long run, and you will feel a sense of freedom that will allow for your sanity to creep back in.

5. In terms of sleeping arrangements, here’s what we did, with a fair amount of success:

– from the first day to about eight weeks, Lucy slept in the bed with us, with very hard “sleep dividers” so there was no chance of us rolling over near her.

– from 8 weeks to three months, she slept in a crib about six feet from our bed.

– from 3 months to now, she sleeps in her own crib in her own room, and by all accounts, loves it.

I always thought there might be something a little draconian about making a baby sleep in his own room, but really, if you want to have a life, a job, and a great relationship with your little tyke, I have to say that good fences make good neighbors. Don’t feel guilty about your fatigue. God helps those who help themselves to sleep.

Thoughts? Or did everyone stop reading right about when I said “By all means skip this one”?