Monthly Archives: June 2008

need rings to stay erect

6/15/08

You come to this blog for up-to-the-minute breaking news and incisive commentary, and by god, I’m going to give it to you. Dateline June 16, 2008: I have it on good authority that the peonies have made it to California.

Y’see, I noticed last year that our peonies weren’t blooming like they used to back in the salad days. I adore peonies like any red-blooded American, and I really wanted lots for my wife and daughter this year. But our farm is in upstate New York, and the crazy mood swings of spring weather can wreak havoc on many perennial flowers… well, hell, I don’t need to tell you that. Of course you know what I’m saying.

So, in April, I go to the usual spot for the peonies and notice the shrubberies have grown completely over them. I cut back a massive hole, and there they are, shriveled and cowering in the darkness:

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I give them some food, let the sun bathe them in its glory, and hope they’ve got enough giddy-up to flower before Memorial Day. Indeed, they shoot skyward and bulbs pop out by the dozen, but no flowers blooming. I talk to them, trying to get them to come out before Tessa and Lucy have to leave on June 8, but no dice. I drive my girls to the train station peonyless.

And what happens when I get back from the train station? The near-100 degree heat has acted like Jiffy Pop, and the first flower has burst forth, mere minutes after the gals had left:

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I decide this was not good enough by half, no sir. So I’m due to fly back to California three days later, and here’s what I did: clipped three flower stems, put them in a bottle of Poland Spring, and drove to Queens. From there, they went into the refrigerator until the next morning, when I brought them with me in the taxi to JFK.

At the airport security line, I hid them in the sleeves of my coat and ran them through the X-ray machine – peonies probably aren’t illegal to bring on the plane, but I didn’t want to take any chances. The minute I was free, I bought a bottle of wide-mouth Gatorade, chugged the Gatorade for the flight, then put in the flowers. Despite my skullduggery, they were beginning to bloom.

On the plane, the girl sitting next to me – a tall, tan, late-20s lass who had spent the night in the airport waiting for the plane – was so tired that she fell asleep against me. Her legs crept over to my spot until I bore almost the entire weight of her body. This was by no means intimate or sexual, mind you, as she was out cold, and I was on Xanax, but I HAD TO KEEP HER FROM SQUASHING MY PEONIES.

We landed at LAX, and I spirited my luggage and burgeoning flowers off to another taxi, arriving in Venice, CA at 11am. I plopped the peonies in a vase, and this was waiting for Tessa and Lucy when they got back in the afternoon:

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I frickin’ adore peonies. They’re messy, careless, yet forever hardy. They grow so big and beautiful that they can’t even stand up by themselves. It’s the best smelling flower in the Western Hemisphere, and as god’s my witness, nothing’s better than the smell of a place you love when you’re so far away.

the five seasons

6/12/08

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Those of us from Cedar Rapids, IA are not used to seeing the town on the front page of the New York Times and Google News, but there it is: all under water.

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the hospital where Michelle was born

Founded by a horse thief in 1838, they used to say Cedar Rapids was a town that couldn’t be flooded, which means practically nobody has flood insurance. To say this town has been devastated may be putting it lightly. Cedar Rapids has had 120,000 people living there for fifty years; every time an old person died, a baby was born. That number may tumble after this.

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Currently underwater is the Paramount Theater, a huge, old vaudeville venue that was painstakingly renovated for the Cedar Rapids Symphony (a project spearheaded by my dad); also the library where I basically learned to read.

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Iowa City yesterday

Equally struck is Iowa City, just downstream, known to more of you as the home of the University of Iowa, but also home to my brother Kent. He says he bought his house specifically because it was on higher ground, but this is the kind of thing that permanently alters your perspective. There will be homes, lives, restaurants, paintings, friends, forever lost. Four Boy Scouts were killed by a tornado on Wednesday night, attending the same camp I did when I was a boy.

Transmit a few kind thoughts, say a little prayer, or donate a little money to help rescue, OK?

out, damn’d spot

6/11/08

Whilst listening to all the radio punditry garble on about vice-presidential choices, I was reminded that Dick Cheney was put on the committee to find a running mate for George W. Bush, and came up with… himself. And thus, that flaccid, dead-eyed man has been one moron’s heartbeat away from the presidency for eight years, which further led me to this question…

Do you think Bush and Cheney truly understand the suffering they have personally caused in the world? Bear with me (or don’t), but they hold several slabs of meat with blood running down their arms: they engineered the Iraq War, which has killed more than four thousand American soldiers, but has also killed 92,004 innocent Iraqi civilians (as of today). Lets also add the half-million maimed, paralyzed, etc… and the families that have been shattered because of it.

Back at home, it’s no so much death we have to worry about, but a painful lowering of the quality of life – the price of gasoline, made possible by Bush/Cheney’s criminally insane energy policy, is driving the lower middle class to ruin. Throw in the rampant joblessness and the rise in very shitty jobs as their replacement.

They are also the gift that will keep giving. Imagine if you had eight years to do the following:

– ramp up a Manhattan Project on stem cells and cure paralysis, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, macular degeneration, and quite possibly cancer

– throw the entire weight of our government’s resources behind a new power source (or sources)

– reverse the carbon output of the USA

Those are all doable. Or they would have been, but Bush/Cheney have put us a decade behind, meaning you’d better hope you don’t get Lou Gehrig’s disease very soon, and you better hope that huge chunk of the Arctic doesn’t wander south and mess with the Gulf Stream during your kids’ lifetime.

But you guys know all of this already. What I’m interested in is this: do George Bush and Dick Cheney really understand the amount of worldwide misery they have caused? When they look at the number of people they’ve actually killed, what goes through their head? I’ve broken it down into a few possible categories.

1. They truly believe they haven’t caused any suffering. Most likely, and most disturbing. The only way this can be achieved is to be so insulated from any educated viewpoint and so corrupted by your own power that you’ve lost the ability for cognitive thought.

2. They understand they’ve caused a little suffering, but believe they will be vindicated by history. This is the domain of the megalomaniacal, the dictator with blood lust, the Sadist-in-Chief. While Bush and Cheney wait for their historical redemption, the rest of us try out various forms of anguish.

3. They sincerely understand how much they’ve fucked up, but anesthetize their guilt through antidepressants, religion, sleep or some other defense mechanism. I’d like to believe this is true, and some evidence points to GWB being emotionally nonfunctional, but Cheney? Hard to fathom. In fact, I’d say…

4. They have a passing understanding of how much suffering they’ve caused, but they don’t give a shit. They got theirs, they’re set for life, things went as planned, and if a few motherfuckers got in the way, too bad. Life is cruel, and you gotta eat or be eaten.

5. Other people’s suffering? What about MY suffering? Running a country is hard, and this is the thanks I get? All that other stuff is just liberal propaganda. I’M the one who should get sympathy! I started writing this one as a joke, but then it seemed all too possible.

Thoughts? Some other dynamic not mentioned?

god said “hot!”

6/10/08

I’m going back to Cali tomorrow, and just in time: the weather here in New York has been UNBELIEVABLY BRUTAL. Maybe my blood has thickened since I lived in North Carolina, but I just can’t take the kind of heat/humidity we’ve had over the last five days. It’s bone-sapping, life-draining, crotch-rotting misery.

I haven’t made it easy on myself. I had three days to finish up all the duties at the farm before the renters came, and it was so hot that I kept postponing everything until the last day… and thus I was forced to blow a gasket. I finished the new deck on the side of the barn, made an awning for our chopped wood to season for winter burning, and even tilled/mulched/planted pumpkins for the fall, all in 98-degree heat:

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Back in the city today, I stopped by the Home Despot in Queens, where the hordes had descended on the air conditioners. Everyone looked like zombies, clawing at the first AC units they could find, their eyes sunken in boiling anguish.

Of course, there’s always one bright spot to insane heat – that’s right, gawking at other people! It was so hot that men who have not worn shorts in twenty years were actually forced to put them on, which made for some awesome short/socks/shoes combinations:

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I’m not being an asshole, I’m showing respect. Actually, I can’t wait to hike my pants up to my ribcage, don sock suspenders and tell the world to eat me. I will have considered this life a success.

sweating to the oldies

6/9/08

Some pics from the last few days:

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yes, you can breath relief – I found my pineapple pants

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rhododendrons at the farm

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a moth(?) on our door late last night

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our ingénue in the car – a Lakers toboggan when it’s 97 degrees?

he’s not Worthy

6/8/08

Is it okay to say I hate Kobe Bryant?

Yeah, yeah, I guess that makes me a “playa hata” and all that shit, and I realize he’s talented, blah blah blah fucking blah, but I just can’t stand the sight of him. It started for me back when he was drafted in 1996 when he flat-out refused to play for anyone but the Lakers. He was an 18-year-old who didn’t even make the starting five, and he still told the Charlotte Hornets to go fuck themselves, even though he was only the 13th pick. And I’ve always loathed the Lakers, probably for the same reason it was the only place he’d go.

The basketball Zen master Phil Jackson called him “uncoachable” in his book, which makes sense, because the essence of Buddhism is a loss of ego, clearly something that would be impossible for someone with Bryant’s weltanschauung. It seemed to me the rape case was inevitable, as was Kobe’s attacking the accuser’s mental state and painting her as a giant whore.

But the worst is obvious – he has a big thing for Dook. Sometimes he looks skyward, reflectively, and wonders what he’d “look like in a Duke uniform”. Seriously, besides a few silky jumpers, can someone please explain the allure?

(UPDATE: more from King Kaufman on Salon)

runnin’ the film projector, scorin’ the ladies

6/5/08

Okay, this “not having my computer” thing has really screwed up my blogging week, but I did find something vaguely interesting. While consolidating our Brooklyn apartment, I found some old drafts of projects, among which was the first stab we took at creating the “What Kind of Dork ARE You?” poster. Greg Humphreys and I did this in 1996, and it’s still cute today.

Plotting every dork on an X-Y axis, X being “social” vs. “asocial” and Y being “creative” vs. “mechanical”? BRILLIANT, I SAY! We should make this poster for real someday.

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click for the big version

the iron ladies

6/2/08

Dear Hillary Clinton supporters, in particular the women:

Let me be the among the voices who say “I know exactly how you feel.” Or, to be more properly respectful, let me say that I probably don’t know exactly how you feel. I may have delusions of suffered indignities, but being a white upper-middle-class guy, there’s only so many you can take seriously. It’s apparent, no matter the punditry, that there are a lot of very angry women in this country, and if there’s a way I can say “AND RIGHTLY SO” without sounding patronizing, then this is it.

The slog towards equality has been tortuous, and it’s still not even close. The Clinton supporters I know are mostly women, and mostly those born before 1970. They’re either old enough to have suffered the unendurable chauvinism of the post-WWII lockdown, or they’re just old enough to have been born into the sexual revolution and wonder why they still get half the respect of their male colleagues.

In this country, men are allowed to grow fat; to grow thick, ingrown hairs on their back; to go bald; to drink to excess and be called “jolly”; to tell stupid jokes at high volume; to constantly toy with the idea of infidelity; to run entire companies despite having no discernable skills and then get millions in severance.

Women in high-pressure, man-centric jobs, especially those who managed to play the game long enough to get in positions of semi-power, must look at these half-wits speeding past their pay grade and seethe. Any ambition on their part is looked upon as the unattractive, sexless behavior of a harpie.

And always, ALWAYS, there’s the constant element of physical attractiveness. While male CEOs can be corpulent, nebbishy or necrotic, women have to put up with daily judgment about their looks, knowing full well their success is inexorably wrapped up with the spin of a genetic fortune wheel that either gave them allure or did not. And even if they lucked out in that arena, they have to deal with unwanted advances, sly smiles from dead-eyed men, and people staring at their tits. I swear, if I were a smart, sensitive woman, I wouldn’t be angry – I’d carry a fuckin’ crowbar, looking for the first chance to swing it.

So along comes Hillary Clinton, who sat through her husband’s shenanigans like many of them had done, and was poised to become the first woman President of the United States. Then came the reports of soaring negatives, and a lot of these women came to see it as a judgment of them. A select few cable talk show hosts said outrageously sexist things, made worse by the fact they didn’t even know they were sexist. And then the talisman that said it all: the goddamn “Hillary Nutcracker”, available at most of our nation’s fine airports.

While the rest of the country chuckled at the nutcracker like the advertising execs in “Mad Men”, a lot of these women tapped veins of resentment that had been building for 10, 20, 50 years. That nutcracker may have been the worst, most mindless totem of fucked-up gender relations since Billie Jean King kicked Bobby Riggs’ ass in tennis. You have to think, though, if it wasn’t the nutcracker, it would have been something else.

What is truth is this: some of the very qualities that make people despise Hillary may well be the only qualities that allowed her to get as far as she has. Saying you hate her “unbridled ambition” or that she’s “shrill” or that she’ll “say or do anything to get elected” is inherently sexist, because we’re generally fine with any man exhibiting those same traits. In fact, we call him a “fighter”. If you happen to be ex-New York Congressman John Sweeney, the asshole who led the groups of rioting Republicans trying to shut down the Florida recount in 2000, you get George W. Bush calling you “Congressman Kickass.”

Now… do I believe the media has been fundamentally unfair to Hillary Clinton? No. In fact, it has been in their best interests to keep this contest going long after the rest of us knew it was over in March. And if Obama had lost 10 straight primaries, he would have been shown the door.

Do I believe Hillary lost the nomination because she’s a woman? No. She lost because she’s Hillary. She has behaved reprehensibly, her surrogates have spewed lies, and let’s face it, she voted for the Iraq war and the Iran resolution. Her land grab of Florida and Michigan was sickening, her claims of the popular vote are complete crap, and she has nuzzled with the right wing.

Young women are voting for Obama, and why? Because I don’t think they see her as a woman, they simply see her as a lesser candidate that has done things they don’t like. That doesn’t sound like a victory to older Hillary supporters, but truly, it is. These young women might become truly post-gender, which was the dream from long, long ago.

In the meantime, it seems like a crushing blow to the older generation. I’ve been in several conversations with Hillary supporters, and while the debate always begins with specifics, it always ends in emotion. My friend K told me she just wants people to understand how hard it was for Hillary to get where she is, what she had to endure – because it’s not that different for a lot of other women right now. Even Pat Schroeder speaking on NPR last week expressed intense sadness, not for Hillary, but because there wasn’t going to be a woman President.

I totally get it. I have a daughter, and I spend every day trying to make her physically and emotionally strong. What could be better for the little girls of America than to see a woman leading the free world? We are LONG PAST DUE for a female President, and it’s SHAMEFUL. Give us the right woman, and I will march with Tessa and Lucy to the ends of the world to make it happen.

he-man women haterz klub

6/1/08

When anybody disses a member of my family, I feel like Otter and Boon in “Animal House”:

“They can’t do that to our pledges!”

“Yeah! Only WE can do that to our pledges!”

Thus, when I heard that my brother Sean was being purposely excluded from a stay-at-home mom’s organization in Astoria because he was a guy, it really pissed me off. But I’d like to leave the details to today’s guest blogger, the effervescent, oft-commenting Deb who is never afraid to join the fray. She and Sean were thinking about infiltrating the group, but… I’ll let her explain:

***

I’m a stay-at-home mom. My husband’s best friend married my best friend, and they had their first baby two months before we had ours. Our boys have been “arranged” to be best friends since birth. It’s all nauseatingly adorable. Being a stay-at-home parent is (cliché ahead) rewarding as well as (duck) challenging, but having someone down the block going through it with you… it’s invaluable. Whether it’s swapping recipes, commiserating over our lost, pre-parent selves, or gossiping about the horrible shoe trends at the park, we both share a love-hate relationship with staying at home. While I love my best friend profoundly, she’s not who I’m talking about. It’s her husband, a stay-at-home-dad.

We live in the 21st century — we live in New York City –there’s nothing forward-thinking or off-beat, or even “non-traditional” about stay-at-home dads. We’ve come a long way, buster, from Michael Keaton in an apron, burning breakfast and oversoaping the washing machine. So I was knocked for a loop when my good friend and dedicated stay-at-home dad was denied membership to the Astoria Stay At Home Moms Meetup Group, because he’s not a mom.

One would think this wouldn’t be a shock, given the name of the group, and the disclaimer on their website’s home page: “Sorry Dads but this group is just for the moms. Most events are scheduled during the weekdays.” [ed. note: because we all know that men hunt bison during the weekdays]

There was also this: “In order to stay true to our group’s purpose, we are no longer accepting nannies.” But surely, then, they’d embrace a stay-at-home dad, since they state the group’s purpose: “[to] support each other as we learn about parenthood and have fun with our kids!” Unfortunately, the ASAHMMG embraces and supports as long as you conform to their antiquated social norms, and Sean was turned down.

The day after I learned about his rejection, I randomly met one of the “Assistant Organizers” in the park who told me three things: (1)The occasional dad attends a meet-up here and there, but the actual members are required to be the moms, and it’s ok, because: (2) The dads sometimes form their own meet-ups….at the Beer Garden or a baseball game, “y’know, guy stuff”, and besides: (3) keeping it moms-only is great “because they don’t have to worry about getting ‘cruised’.” [ed. note: I haven’t heard the verb “cruised” since Cinemax movies of the early ’80s]

Really? Because the stay-at-home dads in Astoria are all so wealthy they don’t have spouses or partners working during the day and think it’d be swell to hit on a bunch of moms with small children?

Look, they’re not doing anything illegal; if women want to get together with other women, they have every right to hang a shingle outside the clubhouse letting every boy know just how allowed they’re not. They can then feel free to discuss their cycles or their spouses’ bad habits, the awful trend of large handbags, or whatever they don’t feel comfortable talking about in front of a man.

But anyone who has gone through the first year of being a first time parent should know and respect the magnitude of transformation, tribulation, and triumph that is experienced. And the ASAHMMG does know; it’s why, I imagine, they created the group. What they don’t realize is that these experiences are universal, and allowing a male into the group would only enhance the understanding and support, not limit it. Additionally, why should my near-nephew miss out on all the other kids, just because his stay-at-home parent happens to wear pants? Oh wait, it’s 2008, women can wear pants, too. For a minute, I forgot.

After all, we’re talking about trips to the zoo, outings at the park, and chasing after toddlers, not a dark booth at a nightclub sipping mojitos. There are other groups in the area (Park Slope, Long Island, New Jersey) that are true “parent” groups, and don’t discriminate by gender. It’s shocking that a group of mommies (not ten or twelve, but 231) are so short-sighted, sexist and exclusive that they’d discount the stay-at-home experience of someone just because he was a man, and punish a 17-month-old because his dad takes care of him.

I’m confounded by the sexism that rears its hypocritical head at a time when so many women have pledged their support to a presidential candidate in solidarity for all the bitter years of discrimination. Apparently we’re ready for a woman in the white house, but not a dad in day care.

Love, Deb

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Barno and Lucy tended by parents of various gender last Xmas