Monthly Archives: October 2010

‘preciate the sugar vittles, ma’am


One thing I love about my daughter is the immediate specificity of her big plans. There’s no hemming and/or hawing: she makes a decision and sticks with it. Such has been the case with the last two Halloweens, when she picked the subject (butterflies ’08, fairies ’09) without hesitation, and this year was no different. We were to trick-or-treat with cowgirl/cowboy theme.

I admit to the Western genre not being in my “wheelhouse” per se, but it’s always good to stretch your boundaries, so I tried to think of a way to go cowboy without looking like a fey dandy. Lucy, of course, makes pretty much any theme seem second-nature:


at the kindergarten parade

Last year’s foray into small LED lights taught me a valuable lesson: on the crazy “candy gridlock” kid-packed sidewalks without streetlights, the chick with the glowing costume is queen. So I fashioned a set of blue star LEDs into Lucy’s cowgirl hat, which made her delightfully easy to follow:




Tessa and I went along as cowpeople elders – my wife already had an awesome shirt, so she only needed a hat. I got the same kind of leather cowboy hat my dad used to wear when he shoveled snow, and then I cut the center section out of a pair of brown Carhartt pants for instant chaps. I still had the awesome boots from the Texas Black Tie & Boots Ball at the Inauguration, which made this year relatively easy:


At the behest of some school friends, we tried out another neighborhood this year – this time, there were some very old-timers who looked to be in their eighties. Back when I was a kid, you tried to avoid these houses while trick-or-treating, because really old dudes always ask for a “trick”, and we knew, even then, that was a loser’s game.

Plus, really old people used to have terrible candy, the hard, lacquered stuff like impenetrable taffy, and my own personal scourges, Mary Janes and Bit-O-Honeys. But these days, the mass corporatization of candies means everybody has the same thing, even old folks. M&Ms, Reese’s, Starbursts, and the usual Hershey’s lineup. You know the bar has been lowered when your daughter sees you get slightly excited by a mini-bag of Lemonheads┬«.


office hours: 7:45 – 7:49 am, M-F


Lucy announced to the household that she had just completed a major scientific inquiry called “Experiment Abearamint” and asked us all to come to her room. Tessa, Steve and I obliged, of course, in the name of science. I believe all the bases are covered here, at least in terms of a magic marker’s relationship to water:

the sadder but wiser girl for me


Over at Salon, Beth Mann wrote a piece that finally articulates what Tessa and I have been thinking since the 2nd season of “Glee” started: put simply, Lea Michele (who plays the lead girl Rachel) has lost a demoralizing amount of weight. Before, she was that lonely, oddly-cute girl in high school that grew on you over the years; now, she’s just another emaciated TV star.


After watching the “Rocky Horror”-themed show last night, I’m relatively sure that Jenna Ushkowitz (the Asian girl Tina) has also lost most of her figure, and in both cases, the physical change has come at the detriment of character. Last season, Rachel’s annoying careerism and deluded self-esteem came off as the endearing defense mechanism of a true loser barely able to get through high school alive; now she just seems like a total cooz. If indeed that’s how you spell it.

It doesn’t matter who tells women in this industry to lose weight – it could have been a manager, an agent, the show’s producers, or even the stars themselves – the point is that it keeps happening, and it’d be tragic if it weren’t so boring.

We’re trying to raise a little girl in the midst of all this, which is why we keep her TV consumption down to about two hours a week, and most of that is animated or made of green felt. But there’s only so long we can do that dance.

I shan’t bore you with a treatise on the toxic requirements we have for female beauty, or why we demand such anorexia in a culture that has become disgustingly obese, but it does raise an interesting issue.

All of us have “lifelong battles with x” to contend with – some archetypical struggles that define us until we (hopefully) wrestle them to the ground. And I don’t always mean alcohol, drug addiction or some medical condition; it can be more metaphysical, like “I won’t live forever” or “I have to admit I don’t believe in God” or “my mother isn’t who I thought she was”.

This may be presumptious, and I’d love to be wrong, but I think there’s another struggle to add to the list, a lifelong battle that is largely an invention of the last hundred years. Almost every woman in America is in some state of anguish, denial, compensation, or vague unhappiness until they wrestle the beauty dragon to the ground. Only then, can they look up, regard the mirror without care, and say, “at long last, I’m truly comfortable with the way I look.”

i won’t – harm you, or touch your defenses


In Which I’m in Three Different Parts of the Country in Three Days


Friday: Chicago

I’ve never had a bad time in Chicago, and that includes when I was 12 and took the Greyhound bus from Iowa in order to see Grant Wood’s painting American Gothic. Now the home of some of my favorite Carolina people, the trip was inspired by my sister Michelle, now in her 2nd trimester – she was attending a convention downtown and asked the rest of the family to meet her there. Oddly enough, almost all of us did.


We got to coo with baby Marlena, Lucy and her cousin Barnaby got to run roughshod over the rental house, I got to have BBQ with some Lodge buddies, and it was awesome. At least for the twelve minutes I was there, because the following morning, I had to fly to…

Saturday: Norfolk, VA

I will say this once, because it’s in print: this was my 25-year high school reunion. A full quarter-century has passed since I was at Norfolk Academy in Tidewater, Virginia, and while it’s always de rigeur to say “how time passes so quickly”, I do indeed feel like it was several geological epochs ago.

My extended clique of 8-10 deeply-interwoven friends from NA did a pretty terrible job of keeping up with each other for various reasons, yet Facebook and a tragedy last year has gradually put each other back together. It’s impossible, I think, to spend every waking moment with a group of people for many years – then suddenly never really see them again – and predict that it would go smoothly, but I have to tell you, with my friends, it’s been wonderfully effortless.


It’s one thing to see your old crowd again; it’s quite another to attend the actual reunion, populated by the student council, the cheerleaders, the lacrosse players, the dudes across the classroom you never talked to, and girls you once thought beautiful from afar. Our class was small, only about 100 kids, and many of them had gone to school together since 1st grade. ‘Twasn’t an easy party to wander into.

And yet, everyone is perfectly nice, in some cases surprisingly interesting, or bizarrely revelatory. And we all look at each other, former lab partners, ex-study group sharers; we had memorized each others’ 16-year-old faces, and now, we’re intensely aware that we’re staring at the eyes and skin of the same person, now 43 years old.

I know where their birthmarks are, whose parents divorced and married other classmates’ parents, whose religion tortured them even as their sexuality took them over. I know these amazing details, and yet, absolutely nothing. Why does anyone come to these things? There is no glory to relive, no “one last” anything, why did I go? We could have just gathered our old friends together, but we actually went to the party.

On the way back to Hamp’s place, it hits me: it’s not just the ghoulish interest to see who has aged the worst (although I’m sure that’s a subconscious parlor game), it’s to convince ourselves that we had actually existed. It’s a gathering of folks who all hum in unison, smile, and reassure you that it had happened. And it’s all a long time ago, and truly, all those psychological nightmares, those unrequited crushes, the glances across the room that made you live or die, the generalized anxiety of being a teenager, it all happened. And when you’re given that sort of validation, you are now free to do with those memories what you wish.


Hamp and Sharon deal with an unfortunate mullet-headed “NA student” sculpture on campus


flyer for school party celebrating the music WE WERE FORBIDDEN TO PLAY in the ACTUAL 1980s

Sunday – Manchester, NH and upstate NY


Why New Hampshire? Well, a dealership had the best price on the best Ford Escape hybrid I’d seen in a while, and it wasn’t that far from our farm, so I made it happen. When I told Lucy I was going to get a car that finally had “all-wheel drive” so it could drive in the snow and on ice, she said “Yes. It can also drive on ocean waves, over mountains, and even on HOT LAVA. It’s called Strongtaneous.” And so, my friends, this is our new car Strongtaneous:


I’d expected the fall colors to be long past peak by the time I got to the Hudson Valley in NY, but this is one party that has gone on for a gorgeously long time. The geese are heading south, and the first ones arrived at their usual stop near our place:


And the state route nearby… it’s hard to express how much you can miss the fall season when you’re in California. Maybe I thought if I took enough pictures, the yearning would be bearable.


i write my notes in chalk on backs of shovels


I have an oddly “right under your nose” code word question for you today: what specific devices are you currently using to… well, “compute” and access the internet these days? In other words, what exact model computer, laptop, netbook and/or phone?

If anything can become an instant time capsule for 5 years hence, this is it. I’ll give you mine:

Macbook Pro 17″ (i7 processor, 8GB RAM for photo/music work)

iPad 64GB (3G version, for travel, Lucy, music, and video)

iPhone 3GS (I covet Tessa’s iPhone 4)

Yes, I’ve long been a gadgeteering zork. And you?

at the beep, please humiliate yourself


Gracious, this next topic is like shooting largemouth bass in a barrel, but I’m sure most of you have heard that Ginny Thomas – wife of Supreme Court chucklehead Clarence Thomas – left a message on Anita Hill’s answering machine asking her to apologize for 1991. For all you young’uns out there who can’t appreciate the reference, most of us spent that year suffering through Thomas’ confirmation hearings, in which Anita Hill (a former employee) said that he talked constantly of porn that he’d seen, bragged of his sexual prowess, came on to her repeatedly, and a number of other things that made him out to be, at the very least, a disturbing hypocrite.

Despite passing a polygraph test, Anita Hill was painted as a nut and a slut by the right-wing smear machine, and of course, Thomas became one of the worst Supreme Court Justices since the Reconstruction. He was already married to Virginia “Ginny” Lamp, who went on to become a massive Tea Party harpie, using millions of dollars to unseat progressives in Congress – money, not coincidentally, untrackable thanks in part to Thomas’ ruling on Citizens United.



Clarence Thomas himself is a farce, a self-hating, rage-fueled robot made even more tragic by the memory of his predecessor: Thurgood Marshall. He personally hurried his nomination ceremony through Congress despite Chief Justice Rehnquist’s wife’s funeral, and has spent the last 19 years in a wingnut dinghy with one oar, rowing in circles with one hand while giving everyone the finger with the other.

But we get to laugh at his expense, at long last. I’ve oft compared conservatives and Republicans to battered wives, if only because they cling to their delusions like beaten wives putting makeup on their bruises. What else but pure self-bedazzlement would lead Ginny Thomas to call Anita Hill at 7am, nineteen years later, to accuse her of lying?

But painful delusion isn’t the only ingredient; you must also possess the Tea Party’s sense of entitled self-righteousness, the toxically smug belief that you cannot possibly be wrong. In some sick way, Ginny Thomas must have thought she was offering Anita Hill some redemption, invoking prayer and God and whatever else. It’s so goddamn nauseating, but at least we weren’t the only ones nauseated.

Clarence Thomas’ ex-girlfriend had finally heard enough of this bullshit, and corroborated Anita Hill’s story down to the particulars. Again, us progressives – even us very young progressives who were just getting our sea legs in 1991 – try our best not to keep yelling we told you so, but why dwell on the past when there’s so much future left for you to ruin?

Clarence Thomas will continue to foment disastrous opinions and use the U.S. Constitution as toilet paper while evacuating his bowels full of self-loathing. He and Scalia will remain on the Supreme Court until they are in their 90s, kept alive by the pickled acid sluicing through their non-existent hearts, ramming religion and big business down our throats no matter what we do. But you can’t keep a lid on crazy forever, and moments like this allow us a rare gallows chuckle.

my one constant is acne


I had about four hours on the plane to re-categorize about 3,000 pictures – old and new – buzzing about my hard drive. Of course, this makes a person go off on many photographic tangents, among them this screen grab of Tessa and me in 1989 and our 2009 passport pics. Twenty years separate these pairs of pictures, which leads another person to ask… whatsit all mean?


oooh we might get in TROUBLE


Just a quick word before I hop on a plane back to California: I have to say this article in Slate by Timothy Noah is one of the most infuriating editorial pieces I have ever read. I usually like Timothy Noah, but this article positively drips with pusillanimous hand-wringing fey liberal HORSESHIT.

Basically, he calls for Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert to abandon their “Rally to Restore Sanity” because it might make conservatives upset:

…There’s still a lot we don’t fully understand about the Tea Partiers and the political independents who have lost faith in Obama. But one thing we should all be pretty clear on by now is that they hate, hate, hate anything that smacks of elitism. The spectacle of affluent 18-to-34-year-olds blanketing the Mall to snicker at jokes about wingnut ignoramuses and Bible thumpers will, I fear, have the effect of a red cape waved before a bull.

If there has ever been a perfect encapsulation of the emasculated, limp-kneed, shy-violet impotence of the chattering-class liberal mindset, this article is it. The progressives’ failure to see politics as a blood sport never ceases to amaze me. I’d have more to say, but I think Bluto pretty much nails it at 2:30 in this video:

currently 74th in line for takeoff


Ohmygod, I just did everything below and now sit at the farm upstate, too tired to think. Can one of you take the lead in asking an interesting question? Lemme think, who would be the least interested in such a duty… how about… Joanna!

i’ll be quizzed


Okay, just so I’m all straight on this, today I will be going here (family reunion):

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And then Saturday, I’ll be going here (high school reunion):

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Which means Sunday, I’ll be driving here (dinner, anyone?):

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But on Monday, I’m picking up an important item here:

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And until Thursday morning, I’ll be within a hundred-mile radius of here:

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Anyone wanting to say howdy, I would love to be said howdy at!