Monthly Archives: July 2006

dressed in tricolour and phrygian cap

7/17/06

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My sweet darling, wonderful little Lucybug:

Last week, without any of us knowing it, you turned fifteen months old. Admittedly, when it get past a year, the “every three months” thing starts to get a little silly (along with mothers introducing us to their “twenty-five-month olds” – sheesh) but I wrote to you every season of your first year, and I thought I’d do so again.

I won’t say much, because words barely express the kind of joy you spread around each world you stumble upon. Sure, you have an “annoyance scream” that sets off car alarms three counties away, but most of the time you run around with your hands in the air, babbling happy new-found syllables of increasing complexity.

I started a list of words you were using, but I gave up, because you repeat everything and know shit we never taught you. The other day, I decided to test you and asked where my “lips” were. You grabbed my mouth and laughed. I have no idea where you could have learned this, other than “the street.”

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above: with her Grandpa. below: with her great-great Auntie Donna

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We’re starting to get invitations from people we don’t know – playmates from your afternoons in the park, boys from the Kidnasium (which sounds, to me, like “kidney museum”). I come home from a day in the writing cellar to find your scribbles pasted to the refrigerator by your babysitter Laura, along with little objets d’art. You are having this experience completely outside of me and your mother, and it’s obvious you’re learning both Spanish and English in miles per second.

About the Spanish thing. Laura is Hispanic, and your mom is fluent, but I have no idea what the hell any of you are saying. I do know, however, that you say “fruta” wrong, because it’s a little rude to scream “PUTA!” at the nice Mexican ladies who are selling fruit at the Farmer’s Market.

When you learn new words and squeal with delight – like you did this weekend with “buildings,” “truck,” “signs” and “outside” – it’s like I’m experiencing the nascent joy of language right there with you. When you grabbed my racquet and said “tennis,” we both jumped up and down and danced.

You eat everything in sight but seem to gain no weight. Your mother says it’s like living with a teenager on the high school football team. The only thing you don’t seem to like is cheese, but it doesn’t stop you from saying it all the time. I understand, I love saying “cheese” too. It just feels right, doesn’t it?

I could do without the constant wardrobe changing – ever since you learned the concept of “off,” you want to try on everything you own in rapid succession. It really becomes an opera, especially with shoes. Sometimes I’ll be rocking you to sleep, and you’ll be silent for ten minutes, then suddenly look deep into my eyes and say “shooooes…” dejectedly. It’s truly sad, but I always laugh so hard that we have to start all over.

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People ask us about being parents, and whether or not we like it, and we’re always a bit cagey with our response. This rigmarole is not for everybody, and I admit, even with extensive training and a huge sea-shift in my circadian rhythms, the mornings are still agony. You need the patience of Job, Ruth and Lot. I know several people who should not even consider it. But what we can say is this: we’re not sure about being parents, but we absolutely LOVE being your parent.

What was it we used to say when looking for a date in college? Smart, funny, and relatively cute? Well, you seem smart enough, and I suppose you’re something of a cutie-boots, but JESUS ABOVE you make us laugh ALL DAY LONG. And for that, I’d like to thank you most of all.

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Love, Daddo.

one pill makes you larger

7/16/06

My cough progressed to the point where serious drugs were needed to combat it, and serious drugs it got. Armed with a vial of gold liquid called Tussionex Pennkinetic, I read the directions: one-half to one teaspoon, and thus I erred toward the latter. At first, nothing seemed to happen, but like many weekend nights have proven, a little patience was all you needed.

They said Tussionex Pennkinetic would knock you out, but I think they meant “make you go to sleep.” It knocked me out alright, but in the 1966 sense of FUCKING GROOVY, MAN! I ingested the medicine at 11pm; by 1am I had re-written three old songs in my head, changed the beginning of one of our scripts, mentally constructed a new house by our farm, and pretended I could fly.

By 3am, I had “gone to bed,” but it was a mere formality. My mind and core were racing so much that I had to throw open the window and let some air in. It was a state of euphoria, of everythin-a-gonna-be-all-right that I hadn’t experienced in about ten years, and maybe since the Grateful Dead came to Chapel Hill in 1995 and dispersed opium throughout the Research Triangle.

Thank god it was Tessa’s morning with Lucy, because when I came to at 11am, I had to be reminded what part of the country we were in. The hangover, always the dealbreaker with my drug experiences, was so intense that it was actually nostalgiac, reminiscent of those Sundays in North Carolina at the age of 24 when you’d let the Purple House boys talk you into having that last bottle of Mad Dog Platinum.

For my part, I had no idea how effective standard tussin abuse can be (or if that’s what I was doing) but I can assure you, as wonderful as it was, it will be several years before I try it again. I haven’t stepped outside my body in so long that stepping back in was unbelievably painful. That gold liquid is fools’ blood.

prudence never pays

7/13/06

The Black Adder said “hope springs eternal,” but I really thought I’d shuffled off the dead skin of hope right around the time this country re-elected that smirking chimp back into office. When I wrote that American Coastopia thing all those years ago, it was not a call to arms, it was dying wish, a middle finger stuck out the back car window as we sped on to other worlds. I will never have faith in the American electorate again; this country just got too big, too fat, too stupid, lazy and gullible to be trusted.

Despite wanting to move somewhere else – you know, a place where gays might get treated like real people, where folks practice a shred of environmentalism, and where the government isn’t run by a combination of twisted, cynical bloodlusters and “End of Days” Christians – we decided to stay here. We kept paying our taxes, thus funding a war that was reprehensible to our every pore, even occasionally shopping at malls. We had a baby. We also got emergency supplies, escape routes, “camping on site” plans, learned infant/adult CPR, bought into solar power and arranged a contingency pack in order to ride out whatever might be coming.

On a day like this, when the fucking world is going out of control (see Lebanon, Israel, North Korea, Darfur, Iran – and that’s just today’s headlines) it feels therapeutic to be living so near the ocean, as if you could just wade out chest-deep, close your eyes, and pray for it to pass.

We have the worst possible people in charge at the worst possible time. Today in the car, Tessa and I were telling each other how nice it might be one day, to look back upon these years as the political/theological/environmental Dark Ages and how quaint it will all seem. I can’t wait to laugh about it, because living through it is so often a fuckin’ nightmare.

So why, in the midst of all this tragedy, did I get a miniscule twitch of excitement about the 2006 elections? The smallest glimmer of hope, like a phosphorescent glow at the bottom of a black ocean?

I read the polls and it seems like the Democrats have a good chance at taking back the House of Representatives, and even an outside chance at the Senate. And for the first time in my life, a candidate from my actual place of residence can help make the shift. I’ve half-resolved to go door-to-door for the entire month of October to help Kirsten Gillibrand beat that anti-intellectual, big-city-hatin’, scandal-baitin’, not to mention predictably sexist Republican J. Sweeney for the House seat.

Again, I’m wondering why. I’m done, I keep telling myself, I’m done with it. I’m learning other languages, hell, Lucy will know at least three so we can all emigrate if needed. I’m running every other day, lifting weights with a trainer. I want to learn the drum solo from “Wildest Dreams” by Asia. Why do I glance back a politics, consider rekindling my faith, when I know it’s just going to be so ugly again?

chartreuse journalism

7/12/06

Still sick, but thought it would be a good time for some news bulletins:

– first off, oft-commenter Deb is pregnant! Mazel tov and much joyous congratulations for another baby joining the brood!

– I saw oft-commenter Kaz at drinks the other night, and she’s super cool, boys. Turns out we knew each other two other ways besides this blog.

– Tessa and I went to a ’70s Party the other night, even though we didn’t have any period clothes per se…

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– I’ve been asked for years for a blog-together of some sort, and if you can plan to be in NYC in late August and enjoy seat-of-your-pants theater, we might be able to make that happen.

– I searched for months, and finally found the perfect “sunburst” style 1950s wall clock for our living room. Ebay rocks!

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runs on a C battery!

– After 14 years of loyal service, my sister Michelle’s cat Fezzik passed away and gave us some of Michelle’s best writing. Please visit and say a few words to a little animal you never knew.

– Comments are open to any pertinent – or preferably, mundane – news you have to offer!

it was all a dream

7/11/06

Yes, I know I seem to get sick all the time, but the truth is, I just happen to always tell you about it. This time, I was nursin’ my old momma back to health over the weekend, and in doing so got sleep-deprived and caught some virus, and it’s all so unbelievably fascinating you can’t stop reading this sentence.

But sick I am, and besides, the summer always seems to take its toll on blog readers. Coincidentally, it’s also the time we need to be serious about our $$$ writing, so forgive me in advance if I don’t appear to be taking your entertainment needs seriously. There’s only so many leftist rants this pill-popping stooge can muster when the afternoons are this long.

But I do have a question for today: What was the best plot twist you ever saw on a television show? Something you didn’t see coming, but was so inevitable and thrilling?

I know how you folks roll, so the Worst Plot Twist can also be mentioned. Let your mind wander!

neither second nor removed

7/10/06

We can finally tell the biggest news to hit our family since fifteen months ago: my brother Sean and his wife Jordana are preggerz! This is especially awesome because Lucy and TBD Williams will be cousins only eighteen months apart, which is vast in the early going, but inconsequential only a few years later. The male cousin I was closest to was Mark Christensen, and he was fourteen months older:

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me, my cousin Mark, Sean, 1974

Either way, cousins are the absolute best. You have all the trust and benefits of a family member without the fights, and there is a shared experience in your familiar that makes for excellent holidays and reunions (and for us, a kick-ass basketball squad in the mid-’90s). My childhood friendlessness is boringly well-documented on these pages, but my cousins – Mark, Doug, Julie, Kathy, Michelle, Jennifer, Wendy, Melissa, Buffy, Vince, Todd, David, Jana and the rest of them – provided salvation. Even now, thirty-five years after being in bathtubs together, we still see each other a lot.

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four different families represented: Mark, Vince, Jana, me in 2005

On a more immediate note, there is a shared experience between Tessa, Jordana, Sean and me – and Kent and Melissa in retrospect – that is impossible to describe. You will no longer have to search for the words of your depth of feeling; your brother will know it inherently. And not to brag, but Tessa is the best-researched baby-advice-giver I’ve ever seen in action. She never offers anything unsolicited (first-time parents eventually get allergic to that) but if you ask her a question, she knows the answer and the store where it’s located.

In beginning our late brood, Sean and I are finally, after many years, establishing what we hope to be the truss rods of our future Extended Family, a desire germinated in Mormonism and weathered by agnosticism. This does sound a little patriarchal, as if either of us had the final say in this matter (we didn’t, and don’t), but there is definitely a desire in me to recreate some of the amazing sense of belonging that I felt around my cousins.

Sean, with his attention to the tiniest heartbreaking details and oceanic empathy, will be a natural father. Jordana, with her keen emotional radar, her ability to experience emotion and intellect simultaneously, and the unbridled love she files under “Worry,” will be a fabulous mother. This is a baby that will be adored, that will be welcomed into this world with a fully-conscious huzzah.

Now, all they need is a name better than Esteban House MD Williams and they’ll be cooking with grease.

all Alpha’s sons shall be

7/7/06

I was asked to join a fraternal-like organization this year, and while I can’t give away any details, it has got me thinking about the nature of any particular Group or Phenomenon that has managed to last hundreds of years. There are societies that have been around since the 1700s, there are sororities that have outlasted every prediction of their demise, and there are hoops games that have been going on at my court on Mulberry Street for six years… and they all have things in common.

My rules for success in any fraternal or societal endeavor are as follows:

1) The group must be mutually selective.

2) The group in question must have an alarming turnover rate.

3) The turnover rate must be high enough to enrage/disappoint/alienate older members.

Being mutually selective is easy – it just means that your group only has people that didn’t care for any alternatives. This was particularly true of my fraternity at Carolina (Chi Psi), a membership that was primarily composed of guys that wouldn’t have felt comfortable anywhere else. Nobody ever had to choose between us and the DKE house, because there was virtually no cross-social pollination between those two groups.

The same goes for the hoops game on Thursdays. It’s a particular kind of game, not too slow, not too fast, that would flummox beginners but bore varsity athletes. You learn within the first forty-five seconds if the pace is right for your skill set. The Pink House, too, was a case study in self-selection.

HOWEVER – the “alarming turnover rate” is a little more difficult for people to grasp, because it requires members of a certain beloved society to relinquish control, and nobody likes doing that. We had fights that lasted until four in the morning over the future of our fraternity, furious battles waged by people who now can barely remember they were there.

Tessa hosted an evening at The Moth in late 2000, and it was a wild success, featuring Patti Griffin and Josh Shenk. The Moth has continued to pack audiences in the hundreds, and remains a cultural force in New York City. However, if you were to take a snapshot of the audience at Tessa’s Moth, and compared it to a snapshot of last month’s Moth, I predict a crossover of less than one percent.

The only way for a group to remain viable is to completely gut the membership on a seemingly-often basis, and hope the underlying structure is strong enough to withstand the influx of people who don’t give a shit about the past. The Moth’s underlying structure? Excellent storytelling on an emotional tightrope. The Mulberry hoops games? Slightly laid-back basketball in a gorgeous setting. Chi Psi? Young people who temporarily love the idea of brotherhood, along with a little bit of drinking and easy mixers with lots of gorgeous Southern women.

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Chip, Ricky Bell and me, Chi Psi Coffehaus, 1989

The names all rotate, and the elders always complain about how much better things used to be back in their time, how they had kegs in the dorms, how everyone was so much smarter and funnier. But their disillusionment is an important fuel in getting them to move on, so that the greater organism can breathe.

I keep this in mind as I try to create my own traditions, in hoping that a flexible guest list and constant new blood always influxes our farm and our various Jartaculars. If the day comes when someone tells me they used to be so much better, I’ll know they’ll be around forever.

inoculation

7/6/06

So, a bizarre triptych of deaths have occurred: Kenneth Lay sits through a federal trial that accuses him of defrauding half the country; he summarily dies. Before him, E. Pierce Marshall fights Anna Nicole Smith for the billions she goldigged out of his father and loses; he summarily dies. And then the bizarre news of Jon Benet Ramsey’s mother dying of cancer far earlier than one ought to.

Which leads to an ancillary question for today’s CODE WORD: have you ever done something in your life, or been through an event, that you believe has taken years off your life? Being a smoker and Staying in a Job You Hate are possible examples, but has there been anything more metaphysical (or completely obvious)?

I have a possible answer, but will wait for it to percolate.

wrinkle in time

7/5/06

Dear Cell Phones,

You all suck. Seriously.

My mom and I were walking from the Rose Café to our little bungalow in Venice. We turned north on Pacific Street, and after ten seconds heard a crash. A white truck had tried to speed through a red light, hitting two cars in the process, and then came barreling toward us at about 40 mph sideways. It went airborne for the last few feet, smashing into the sidewalk where we had been only seconds before.

If I had ordered another muffin, or if Mom had tied her shoes after getting her food rather than at the counter, both she and I might not have seen this evening. This blog would stop, and my last entry would have been a nice picture of my daughter and my sister.

Or perhaps I would have been seriously injured, and though I survived, maybe the trauma would have rendered me utterly pedestrian. Anything could have happened. We dodged an unbelievably huge bullet, and would not like to get that close again for a long, long time.

But Cell Phones, may I say it again? You suck. When I tried to dial 911 from my Sprint phone, I got a recording that circuits were busy, and then it hung up. When I tried again, it wouldn’t even connect. My mom tried on her Verizon phone, and got static. She tried again, got someone, and they cut her off before she could tell them anything.

Cell Phones, I included a question at the Quiz Show for this year’s Jartacular: Which cell phone company is the worst? Christopher “Chip” Chapman got it right: ALL OF THEM. Everyone’s talking about ring tones and games and “mobile apps” and “movie content” and all that shit, but why don’t you start small and do something simple… I don’t know, like “letting someone actually complete a conversation while driving in Los Angeles.”

On the day your country needed you most – September 11, 2001 – you conked out in the most pathetic, useless way possible. There were about four working cell phones in Manhattan that morning, and that’s reprehensible. You can’t be counted on for national emergencies, nor a three-car pile-up on a random street corner.

I guess you would have been useful in 1987 when I was trying to track down Jon, Chip and Bud at some girl’s room in Cobb Dorm. And I guess I might not have frozen my ear off at the pay phone in December 1985 when my parents broke the news they were getting divorced. Also, I like playing Scrabble on my Treo.

But you are the weakest when we most need you. You can ringtone fuckin’ Rascal Flatts and Rihanna songs and help 10th graders gossip about boys in biology class, but you couldn’t help me and my momma. Maybe we’re asking too much of you. Maybe you’re just little square pieces of plastic that can’t bear the weight of our reliance. If so, just tell me, and I’ll stop giving you all those hundreds of dollars each year.

I’ll go back to the land line, and maybe even get rid of the answering machine, the microwave and my ATM card as well. I recall 1975 being a fun time on my little red Huffy, digging tunnels in the dirt behind my garage, and slurping orange Push-Ups at Tot Lot. Just say the word if the future is coming on too fast.

when in the course of human events

7/4/06

Anyone who has driven from San Francisco to Los Angeles on Interstate 5 all evening will know why a blog is impossible to write this evening, but my sister Michelle wanted a picture of her with La Luz, so here goes!

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hope everyone had a wonderful Independence Day