Monthly Archives: July 2012

not-so-fresh no more

7/31/12

I really do want to get to GFWD’s question, but seriously: which one of you sent me a tube of Fresh Balls lotion and commemorative T-shirt?

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Let’s break it down to those most likely to have done so. This may seem like inside baseball, but you really do have to know how my friends work.

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Scotty hovers oe’r Salem at the farm, 2004

1. Scotty Bullock – An obvious fan favorite, and inventor (or at least theoretical fancier) of The Nuttin™ (mentioned briefly here). The Nuttin™, of course, is the comfy, moisture-wicking cap made exclusively for your nuts. I believe we invented two versions: a lightweight sweat-deterrent Nuttin for those sweltering New York summers on the train, and a nice wool Nuttin for freezing winter nights.

Chances Scotty sent the Fresh Balls? It’s possible, but for an accountant, it’s always tax season, and besides – he has a newborn! I put it at 30%.

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Jamie and me, New Orleans 2003

2. Jamie Block – He was there for the Nuttin’s birth at my bachelor party and knows his way around the poetry of erogenous zones. However, like me, he likes to get credit for his harebrained schemes, and this package contained no note. I’d say 15% chance it was him.

3. Salem Suber – He has the means, the energy, the love of good clean testicles, and excellent follow-through. Like me, he’s quite attached to his products (he introduced me to Paul Mitchell’s The Conditioner, as well as Clinique’s 3½ Scruffing Lotion) and his brand of A.D.D. would certainly have propelled him through the online ordering process.

He does take care of hundreds of people at the most grand retirement community in North Carolina, and has an awesome 10-year-old with the requisite 10-year-old needs. Does he have time to engage in such silliness? My gut says yes: 75%.

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4. Sean Williams – My brother would really like this product. In fact, I think I’m going to get it for him as a stocking stuffer, except I’ll do it in August (when it’s most needed). But with Barnaby and Marlena crawling in his hair? No way he sent it… 10% chance.

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5. Jon, Chip or the Budster – No, the only thing the Four Guys Not Named Biff give each other long-distance is a Learnin’-Gram. Ask them what it is.

6. A Random Blog Reader – Due to the very public nature of this blog (and its longevity), I have received some wonderfully anonymous gifts over the years, little tchotchkes related to an entry with naught but an enticing postmark. I have some of the most electrifyingly random T-shirts, little drams of Scotch, even some books that have turned out to be cracking good.

But the gonadular specificity of this gift would be far too coincidental. Chances it was a random lob to the noots? Low… 15%.

Here’s one thing all of you should know, however. As a product, this stuff is COMPLETELY AWESOME.

the tea leaves augur greatness

7/29/12

Okay, motherscratchers! Less than 100 days. We’ve done the Election Prediction thing in past years to great success, but this year we’ll keep it simple.

In the comments section below, put the man you think will win the presidential election, and by how many percentage points (in the popular vote) to the nearest tenth.

To give you some perspective-

2008:

Obama 52.9%

McCain 45.7%

2004:

Bush 50.7%

Kerry 48.3% (I forgot it was that close)

2000:

Bush 47.9%

Gore 48.4% (typing that made me fucking nauseous)

Anyway, the person closest to the actual outcome will get FUJI APPLES FROM MY GARDEN overnighted to them (if the Fujis are ripe before we leave the farm) OR a NICE GIFT BASKET OF THE FIRST FRUIT TO RIPEN IN OUR ORCHARD NEXT YEAR!!!

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Tell me that isn’t awesome! Prognosticate away…

[TUES. UPDATE… leaving this up for another day for a few more people who couldn’t comment on Monday – one of whom is so sure he’s going to win that he said he’d already bought the pie crusts for the fruit I supposedly shall be sending him. Which now has me wondering if Pluot Pie has ever been attempted. – ed.]

do not insert tongue in socket

7/26/12

Yesterday I posted a picture of a Jart, the lawn dart game banned in 1988. Jarts are emblematic of my youth, and because they act as a metaphor for things we were no longer allowed to do, I named the Jartacular party after them – a weekend devoted to vaguely unsafe schemes and parlor games that we never had as kids.

In reality, only one child ever died from a Jart (there was one other, but that particular lawn dart had been altered) yet just mentioning the game conjures up scores of kids in tube socks with their brains splattered all over the lawn, while their parents are asleep in the chaise longue holding a vodka tonic and a spilled bottle of valium.

The CPSC even has an official International Symbol of No Lawn Darts, something I’m proud to reprint here:

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I like the CPSC as much as the next weak-kneed liberal with a kid, but now they are going after another one of my (and Lucy’s) favorite toys: Buckyballs. Her bedroom map wall is covered with the little magnets, and she also uses them for games and art projects. I use them to hold up plans in my garage workshop, and to throw randomly at the refrigerator.

But because they are used by “tweens and teenagers to mimic piercings of the tongue” and thus “unintentionally inhaled and swallowed”, the CPSC is suing the company (which, I guess, is the first step towards making little round magnets illegal).

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Buckyballs are sold to adults as a “14 and over” product, and those of us who have kids who stopped randomly swallowing shiny objects when they were 2 are taking a calculated risk we feel pretty good about. I know exactly what happens when magnets get into your intestines, and we never have them out when toddlers are over (and yes, we keep our floors clean).

And so I did what I usually do in these situations: I bought a shitload of Buckyballs. Just like I have many sets of mint-quality Jarts, just like this very site was a Jarts™ trading post for several years. Because while pretty much any crazy fuck can buy thousands of bullets on the internet and semi-automatic weapons at the strip mall, apparently my magnets and nostalgia are the real problems with America.

i saw the greatest minds of my generation avoiding tree nuts

7/25/12

I think I speak for most readers when I say that I could read 150 of yesterday’s comments and still be going – it’s one of those situations when doing it wrong is bad, doing it too much is gross, and doing nothing is worse. When discussing any kind of sex with your kids, you have to walk a tightrope, the fine line between the Scylla of clinical over-informing, and the Charybdis of fucked-up magical bullshit.

It is, to be sure, two entirely different topics: the “where do babies come from” talk, and the “how can we imbue our kid with a healthy idea of romance” problem. They share similar characteristics (respect, self-love, blah frickin’ blah) but most of all, both have to be discovered by your children on their own, where they will learn their own lessons… and truth is, perhaps 51% of sex and relationships simply has to remain ineffable.

Just Andrew made an interesting comment that we might be a generation of parents delighting in how much better we are at parenting than the last generation, and thus probably screwing up our brood in various untold ways. I agree with Deb that I don’t see us as self-congratulatory, but none of us are above discussing how out-to-fuckin’-lunch our own parents were.

Pretty much everyone I know has a “my parents gave me corn whiskey in the crib to make me stop crying” story, or a near-miss from a wayward Jart. I distinctly remember driving from California to Iowa at the age of three, sitting on the parking brake between the front two seats without any kind of restraint. ‘Twas a different era.

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But there is no doubt the pendulum has swung very far back the other way – sorry to use the broad generational brush, but the latchkey Gen Xers seem hellbent on giving their kids the attention they themselves never got, in glorious hyperfocused color. For being basically vagabond fuckups who rented “Faces of Death” in 10th grade, many of us have become a nation of tittering ninnies.

Some of the worst offenders are in the liberal enclaves where I (or my family) happen to live: New York, the Bay Area, and especially Santa Monica. It’s a subtly draconian movement concerning organic foods, peanut allergies, RIE aficionados and the occasional Vaccine Crazymom. The rigid strictness around children in such traditionally progressive towns led me to call it “leftensity” around Tessa and my mom (who immediately told me to put the word in a blog).

Despite this, however, this generation of young’uns is going to benefit on the whole. Sure, they might get a reputation for being self-involved, entitled prissypantses, but I’ll take that every day and Sunday over my own peer group’s penchant for self-mutilation, depression and suicide.

Maybe we can even spare our kids the entitled prissypanting. I’ll offer this piece of advice for you to take or leave, but I’ve seen it work in several different lives, and it has been proven by psychological testing: don’t tell your kids they’re smart; praise them for working hard.

Six studies showed that praising kids for being smart utterly demotivated them, and made them less likely to strive for greatness (lest they disappoint the praiser). Kids given kudos for hard work pushed themselves further, and their scores got higher.

I’ll put it another way: “being smart” is a burden you’re always one failure away from fucking up; “working hard” is something you can control. Like Dean Smith says, even if your shots aren’t falling, you can always play smothering defense.

Yes, it’s true that it’s a lot more satisfying to give your kid a hug and say “you’re so smart!” rather than the awkward “I am so psyched about how hard you worked on that!” but it’s all in the interest of making things better for those after us. Besides, no matter what you do, you’re better parents than this family of gormless, fuckshirted yokels:

caligula would have blushed

7/23/12

In yesterday’s comments, Chip put it out there, and I agree this is a great question: “To all commenters with kids….. how do you prepare or plan to prepare your daughters (and sons) for the world of sex and relationships?”

I think this is such an enormous topic/problem/pursuit that I’ll attempt to answer it simply, with bullet points.

• There is no strategy or golden bullet. Any success you have will come from an entire lifetime of reinforcement.

• We want Lucy to see what everyday love looks like, so we try to show each other respect in front of her, as well as a non-gross bit of PDA.

• I sing Tessa’s praises to her when Tessa isn’t around. Perhaps that will imbue in Lucy the importance of finding somebody who truly thinks she’s amazing.

• You can’t shelter your brood from disappointment or heartache; you can only give them tools to deal with it when it happens (that’s a whole other blog).

• I think both of us have subtly reinforced the notion that finding her passion – or ONE OF her passions – is of tremendous importance. Maybe, much later, she’ll take away the idea that her romantic life can blossom once she has found a greater purpose, as opposed to basing her self-worth on the vicissitudes of dudes.

• The Lulubeans is only 7, and she is decidedly in no hurry to grow up. She is an ethereal cloud of random boisterousness, prone to nostalgia, and as Tessa says, she’s “a bit Edwardian”. Her favorite TV shows are Man vs. Wild with Bear Grylls and Downton Abbey. She talks about her friends in 1st grade having crushes on boys (and can diagram them for you), but she’s much more interested in learning about surgeries and musicals. All this to say, we delight in her age of innocence and have no plans to scoot her into experience.

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Lucy wonders if Uncle Seth is gonna eat that

I’m fascinated, however, to ask the same question of all of you. Even if you don’t have kids, how would you go about it? Those of you with older children, how the hell did you do it?

[WED. UPDATE… excellent comments so far, but this stuff is important, and more input has been requested! C’mon, people, I know it’s the middle of summer, but be more communal, community! – ed.]

the eighteenth man

7/22/12

Today I was sitting near a cabana in perhaps the most exclusive beach club in America, surfing the aorta of high society in Newport, Rhode Island. If you know anything about Newport, you know where I was, and no, I’m never quite sure how I end up in these situations.

While Tessa and Lucy ran into the crashing waves, I zoned out for a while, observing all the white folk carrying their lunches around. A woman appeared, probably in her 30s, wearing a large brimmed sunhat, walking about 15 feet to my right. I vaguely remembered her entering the pool area an hour before with two kids, although I wasn’t sure. Either way, she was very pretty, with brown hair, blue eyes – and as she walked, she was looking right in my direction.

She was so focused that I instinctively turned around, assuming she was looking at someone behind me, but there was nobody. She smiled at my misunderstanding, and intensified her stare. In another millisecond, I understood; it was one of the rarest non-verbal communiqués with a specific and intense purpose. No, she didn’t recognize me; no, she wasn’t mistaking me for someone else; no, it wasn’t ambiguous. I knew in that moment she was, well, how to put this? She was available for eventual sexual congress.

“You sound awful cocksure,” you might be thinking, and yes, I know how stupid it seems for me to be saying it, but if you were there, in context, I think you’d be hard-pressed to disagree. And yes, this sort of look is exceedingly rare for a woman, especially a very pretty woman at this particular beach club, who clearly is not wanting for company or much of anything else.

Women deal with this shit from guys on a 17-times-a-day basis, as pretty much any look from a male stranger implies that the man in question would be more than happy to have sex. I have walked behind Tessa through crowds, just far enough away to dissuade anyone we were together, and watched the faces of dudes as they look upon her with the barely-concealed lasciviousness of the male gaze.

But the other way around? Perhaps for the utterly famous, or the obviously-gorgeous men in the world, but for oddballs like me, it would have to be because I struck her a certain way. I unwittingly reckoned her angle. Perhaps she overheard something I said, or perhaps I didn’t look like everybody else there, making me the metaphor for all she wasn’t going to find in her present life at this present beach club.

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The surreal quality put it into stark relief: despite the obvious exceptions, we live in a world where almost every man would like to have sex with almost every woman. And almost every woman would balk at the idea of having sex with ANY of them. It’s truly a wonder anything gets done.

As for my nanosecond tryst, it was a non-starter from the get-go for all the patently obvious reasons, and besides – for me, every chick who ain’t Tessa is pruriently unappealing no matter how beautiful they are. Anyway, at that precise moment, Tessa’s childhood friend – a guy – came up and gave me a bear hug soaked in sweat. I tell you, give me homoerotic certainty over heterosexual dubiousness any day of the week.

these things i hold to be self-evident

7/19/12

Since midsummer allows a body to achieve a certain kind of perspective, let’s dispense with the niceties and put it on the table. Here are Some of the Things I’ve Come to Grips With.

1. Omelets still suck. On the night I turned 30, at a bar on the Outer Banks with Dana, Lindsay and Chip, I made three declarations: I don’t like wine and I’m not going to try it anymore; I am going to leave social gatherings when it gets late instead of “waiting for that magical next thing to happen”; and I will no longer subject myself to omelets, even though I love eggs. These three revelations have borne out – they have withstood the test of a decade, and remain the wisest words I’ve ever said while drunk.

2. Pop music is for teenagers who haven’t heard the chord changes or beats before. Being older, we have heard them all. Occasionally, one or two songs slip through for us (the synth orchestral bits in the chorus of Call Me Maybe, etc.) but those should be regarded as gravy. Complaining about pop music in your 30s or 40s is like complaining about portions at a buffet.

3. Summer is too hot in North America no matter where you are. It’s shitty and humid and miserable everywhere. New Orleans, Chicago, Tucson, upstate New York. Maybe the immediate Pacific coast is okay, but they have earthquakes.

4. Tessa, Lucy and I are going to be a 3-part unit. For some reason, I always imagined myself as a patriarch Daddo of several, but now that the immediate horror of our years of fertility bullshit has abated, I find myself not really contemplating that scenario anymore and reveling in the more-than-enough wonder-galaxy of my daughter and wife. It’s like giving up the search for gold, and coming home to the diamond you already had.

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5. My time-management skills are never going to get above a C-minus. Here’s what I’ve come to understand: either I will take two weeks (too long) to get something done and live under the constant penumbra of dread and self-hatred… or I will take two weeks (too long) to get it done and stay relatively sane.

Those with ADD (or whatever you want to call it) live their lives with this constant feeling of being behind the 8-ball, a hideous weight of “stuff I gotta get done” hanging over our heads, even if most of it is subconscious. Eventually we can’t relax or have fun, because of the churning guilt or basic sensation of being unsettled – we know we’ve forgotten something, we know we’ve disappointed somebody.

In essence, it’s all about time management. Good time managers (like my wife) can get things done in nice compartments, leaving them free to do whatever they want. I’ve made significant strides in that direction over the last 10 years (drugs, therapy, analingus, etc.) but I am not fundamentally built for it. I am a C-minus time manager.

This is not a way of letting myself off the hook, or an admission of defeat. I will still try harder, and I’ll use all the tricks there are. But I’m going to try to accept my C-minus and not live this constant life of clawing deficit. I will look at the C-minus, or D, scribbled in red on my paper and accept it with a certain detachment, knowing I’ve got other qualities.

when the working day is done, oh girls

7/18/12

This one goes out to Boo Trundle (actually, now Elizabeth, but I think I might be one of about four people who can still use her nickname under a grandfather clause), who came to the Jartacular a few weekends ago with family in tow.

I first saw Elizabeth in August 1981, when we were both stuck in Mr. Sims’ homeroom class in middle school at Norfolk Academy – along with Hamp Tucker, Amanda Vaeth, Steve Zahn, and all the rest of us who haunted the end of the alphabet. I immediately pegged her as the “loud, funny, and popular” girl, and she did not disappoint until our graduation in 1985.

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detail from the hallway composite of the class of ’85 – yes, I was a virgin, why do you ask

Since I was hermetically sealed as a human being until I got to Carolina, I don’t think I exchanged one word with her in high school, which was saying something, given we had a graduating class of 95 people and her locker was next to mine. I had long mastered the art of being invisible, thanks to my days in public school in Iowa, where bullies and beatings had convinced me to behave like one of those stingrays that cover themselves with sand.

Elizabeth stunned most of her peer group (and the women’s luncheon at the Norfolk Yacht Club, I’d bet) by moving to the East Village after college and becoming a recording artist and fascinating fixture in the then-burgeoning Anti-Folk scene along with the likes of our own Block.

Somewhere along the way, she befriended Monica, who then entered our lives soon after we transitioned to Los Angeles, and in that bizarre happenstance way, I found myself talking to Boo on the phone 25 years after never talking to her when I saw her every day in high school.

She began a wonderful blog, and when she showed up at the farm, she looked exactly the same (minus the eyeliner – what was it with you chicks and eyeliner in the ’80s?) and suddenly her kids are off and running with Lucy.

Together with Monica, she played one of her original songs for the talent show, which was awesome for all kinds of reasons. First, I’d never gotten to see her play back in the East Village, so that was total gravy. But the song itself was so reminiscent – in all the right ways – of how bizarre and fucked-up all of our lives were in the early ’90s. A micro moment for a micro generation, which makes the commiseration all the greater.

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Elizabeth (on right) talks to the stunning Erin McKeown in the barn

Nobody needs to be reduced to a metaphor, and lord knows I hope she comes back to imprint new experiences (which is why the Jartacular was invented), but seeing Elizabeth was a wonderful reminder of two eras – high school and those miserable breakdown years of Saturn returning – that I feel proud to have survived. And what a relief that they seem so long ago.

the warm bliss of companionable silence

7/16/12

Today’s question is simple (but I’ll try my best to make you reveal more than you would): do you have a best friend?

You can respond with an anonymous name if you think you might hurt somebody’s feelings. And I mean a good old-fashioned best friend, the kind that probably thinks you’re their best friend too. If so…

1) Has it been thus for a long, long time?

2) Do they live near you?

3) How often do you actually communicate?

And if you don’t have a “best friend”, is it because…

1) You think the concept itself is stupid

2) You have a bunch of people that might qualify

3) You gave up thinking about that sort of thing in middle school?

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its pipes are calling

7/15/12

This is the kind of opening sentence that should come with a narcolepsy warning, but I have spent the last four days positively wracked by two vent openings going into my house. I don’t mention this because I think you care about vent openings, but because it’s a metaphor for a larger concept.

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Let’s look at them, shall we? Above is a poorly-visualized shot of a new dryer vent I made, something you don’t (AND IF LIFE WAS HOLY, SHOULDN’T) ever think about, but I believe a family of roomy hedgehogs took up residence in the original duct. That, and I lost a lint brush in there somewhere, meaning there was a horrible fire-hazardy pipe leading through the duodenum of this ancient farmhouse.

So I invented a new way for dryer lint and humidity to escape the house: pipe it up and over the dryer, and out the side door. Sounds easy enough, right? IT WAS A GODDAMN NIGHTMARE. I won’t even go into why, but I consider myself lucky not to have run into an unexploded ordinance from the first World War.

How about another one? Take this unsightly piece of shit, for example:

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That, my friends, is a “split” air conditioner for our kitchen, the kind you hoist onto a wall so it can whisper sweet nothings into your air while the boxy compressor outside does all the dirty work.

Does it work? No.

All this to say: if you look at a house as an organism, it behaves the same way any organism behaves when you try to construct a conduit from its inside to its outside. Think of catheters and I.V. shunts, the awkward transition from “inside you” to “plastic and metal implements outside you” and you’ve got the idea.

We get infections in the squamous-like entry/exit points in our body – the nose, the mouth, the ears, the arse. It’s as though our physical being looks upon those holes as weak points to be defended. And like a house, if you try to puncture a gap, force a reckoning, it responds defensively.

I think the same can be said for computer printers, which have long been the wolfsbane for anyone living in digital. Everything is awesome as long as you stay in the comfort of software and binary code, but god forbid you try to commit something to paper. Even now, printers wheeze, suck paper (unsuccessfully) through gears and splurt expensive ink where it doesn’t belong.

The key? Yes, you guessed it: lubrication and caulk. For some reason, all organisms like their within/without portals to be well-oiled and flexible. Greasing the hole just seems to work no matter what, and if you’ve got a layer of bendable silicon keeping all foreign material out, then you’re in business.

Why am I drawn to such comparisons? Maybe I’ve always loved the idea of a house as a living, breathing organism that responds to insult and injury the same way we would. It imbues a little magic in the mundane, and always makes for an imaginative backstory, the way a room can be a different place every time you enter, and how a wardrobe can open into a thousand adventures.

And so, allow me to return to work; I’ve got a can of aviation lubricant and a copper flange, and need to fuck my house in the ass.