Saturday, July 30, 2005

Expanding palette

In truth, Graham is beginning to broaden out his palette not just for the cupcake with sprinkles, but in many ways.

  • After coming in from Maggie's playground today, he wanted watermelon before he wanted any of his traditional, limited range of foodstuffs (soy yogurt, turkey bologna, soy cheese, graham cracker [no pun intended] with soy cream cheese)
  • He requested Disney Sing-a-long Songs rather than his earlier fixation Ralph's World for a video
  • When reading stories before nap time, he accepted a number of stories I hadn't read him before without freaking out and begging for the story of the moment

In short, he's opening up.

And Natalie, after I stopped her from cheating while playing the game Memory and tried to get her to understand the strategy, came over and kissed me unsolicited on the arm. A rarity. Because of my somewhat tough love?

Friday, July 29, 2005

On the concept of dog, and other mysteries

It's hard sometimes to understand that abstraction and concreteness exist along a continuum. Is "dog" and abstract or concrete term? "Cocker Spaniel"? "Spot"?

How do toddlers so uncannily differentiate between dog and cat? How do they group Great Danes and toy breeds so effortlessly? I would think some dogs might look like cats to the young eye. Pugs, for example.

Milosz was having similar confusion when I busted him in Chapel Hill back in '89.

Graham, similarly, has an uncanny ability to differentiate junk food from other food. He eats a very restricted diet, and if you put something reasonably healthful in front of him he'll throw it on the floor. But potato chips, cupcakes, by God, he picks up the first one he sees in his life and mashes it into his mouth. How does he distinguish junk from healthful? Just by watching other kids? Was it the sprinkles?

One of the great mysteries.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Crunch time

I know it's boring to blog about work, but sometimes all you do is work, and now we've come to the point in a project where we go from "it's so cool that you're building a system to do that" to "Where can I do blah?" and "You've got blah base covered, right? Oh, I forgot to tell you about that didn't I?" And your mind races from

"How could we have missed that?" to
"How could those idiots have not told us that?" to
"It's normal for this stuff to come up" to
"We're gonna fall on our faces" to
"In this labor market, it doesn't really matter. There's plenty of jobs" to
"But what if the housing bubble pops?" to
"Shut up, brain."

Nothing stopped me from attending an exciting cruise yesterday on the Delaware River by Philadelphia at an industry event. The hedge fund nerds shared the boat with a group of court stenographers, who were very excited when the DJ set up and started in with a fine assortment of 70s classics. One 60-year old guy in T-shirt and shorts in particular was a dancing fool, and much the richer for it, cutting the rug with about 20 women at once, some of them passably attractive. They knocked back a mesmerizing funky chicken as we watched a nasty thunderstorm roll in from the north under the Betsy Ross bridge, only to mysteriously dissipate before it reached our boat.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Message in a bottle

Walking along the beach in Amagansett the other day, just West of the defunct fish factory. Saw a 16 oz. Poland Spring bottle with a piece of paper in it. Hmmmm, says I. Natalie will like. Pick it up. Take it home.

At home, with Natalie, I cut the bottle open. Inside we find a note which says:

My name is Nicholas. I'm 8 years old.
I wish all my family to be healthy and happy.
I wish to become a big toy maker when I grow up.
I wish to catch many fish today!
If you find this make a wish too!
It's a magic wish bottle!!!


I dunno. Seems a little pathetic to me. I wish my own family well. I hope I get things and you get things too. What about "my address is 29 Ronkonkoma Blvd," please be in contact? Wasn't that the whole deal with the message in a bottle genre? Establishing contact with the distant? Is this kid all Megan's lawed out?

I was deeply disappointed in Nicholas. Natalie listened to it once and walked away, forgot all about it.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Hamptons Beach photos

It's as Narcissistic a place as you'll ever see. Stayed in a nice house, with lovely white furniture and designer mayonnaise and all Williams Sonoma cutlery and so on. And coffee table books like "Hamptons Living" and "Hamptons Style", showing even more ornate houses, the kinds of houses our house aspired to be.

Beach pictures in the Hamptons are a genre of their own. It's always good-looking people standing on beach alone or in a pair at dusk with a drink. Self-adulatory, as in “Look, even Manhattanites can find the beach.” The relative emptiness of the beach says it all too, "We own the beach."

We went out to dinner. Our waiter was quite the piece of work, skilled with adjectives, nouns and verbs alike: "Would you care to sample a sparkling water this evening?" Or "the scallops present an especially pleasant alternative." I kid you not. The snapper was good.


Apologies to all for the lack of content the last few days. I was out at the Hamptons, nosing around for the eternally elusive Alec Baldwin, who is reported to have been seen in the arms of Sharon Stone's cousin over a bed of arugula and heirloom tomatoes in a light plum vinaigrette. I'll try to catch up this week.

Monday, July 25, 2005

7/21/05 10:19 PM, Long Island Rail Road, Mastic-Shirley station

Heading to Amagansett to meet the family. Reading Dead Souls. Cackling uproariously as Nozdryov leads his brother-in-law and Chichikov around his estate to stall for time while his cooks get a half-assed dinner ready.

"They inspected the dogs whose haunches were so amazing, and they were very excellent dogs. Then they went to have a look at a Crimean bitch which was blind and, according to Nozdryov, would soon be dead, but which two years ago had been a very good bitch. They inspected the bitch and, to be sure, the bitch was blind."

My guffaw caused the guy across from me paying his bills (I took care of that in the morning) to look across at me one eye cocked up like Joe Flaherty. But, I mean, it's Nozdryov we're dealing with here. Here's what he says when he marches his guests across his puddle-ridden fields to show them the boundaries of his estate:

"This is the boundary. Everything you see on this side is mine and even on the other side too; all that forest which you see looking blue in the distance and everything beyond it is all mine."

So that's what boundary means. But seriously, you gotta love Nozdryov.

Am reading the Constance Garnett translation, the dog-eared Penguin I bought back in 1983, but just ordered up the new Robert Maguire version from Amazon. Lets see what the macho old queer can do with the great poet of Dikanka. I'll report back.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Six Sigma for the bench

Quick perusal of Times coverage indicates that maybe the guy could be worse: he's definitely corporate, and very revolving door. Rarely does one see so transparent an instance of putting one of "our guys" up on the bench. But from the bible thumping (henceforth let us return to our fall term"thumping") perspective he could be a lot worse. Or maybe he's just stealth.

He does continue to look a little too much like Dan Quayle, or just a purely generic midwesterner. It could be that nominating him or another like him is just meant to bring the perception of the court closer to the heartland. Instead of a big-dicked porn-loving black man, a fire-breathing Brooklyn-bred Italian intellectual, a New England momma's boy nerd, a spinster-looking Jewess... A man with a firm handshake and a steady putt, a Six Sigma justice.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Political text

I really should be blogging on politics. I used to, back in the Fall, then I got out of the habit. So here we go.

  • Karl Rove. What a surprise. He looks evil. He gets evil things done. Now we find out he's actually been performing crimes. And I'm sure it'll roll right off his plump white butt. He'll get chased out of office and end up in some deep back room of the Republican establishment where there will be fewer controls on his Machiavellian machinations.
  • Abramoff. Had never heard of the guy, but he's unmitigated evil.
  • John Roberts. What a joke. I thought for a second it was Dan Quayle. He looks like the Southwestern SVP for sales. The least Supreme Court looking person I ever saw.
Generally speaking, I must say that I'm pretty defeatist at this point in time, even if the Times magazine detailed how a wacky Berkeley linguist has been able to on-board the Democratic Party to his theory of "framing" political discourse and the theory was used successfully in the filibuster and Social Security reform debates, I can't shake off the general feeling that we're surrounded by a bunch of smug suits and bible thumpers who are determined and empowered to do to America what they will, come what may.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

All for Standards

I finished up loading the car up to go on vacation the week before last by putting my brand new $29.88 bike rack from our buddies in Bentonville, and found myself marvelling at the little metal things that you cinch down the straps with to hold the damned thing on the car. Such simple technology, so much buck bang.

And then I felt myself feeling warm, fuzzy feelings for the people that make standards for our products, culminating in the American National Standard Institute (ANSI). People get exercised all the time about the hot sweaty policemen, soldiers and firemen, heros. They are a fine lot for politicians to hold up as examples from the hustings.

But the nerds and bureacrats who make our standards get no recognition. Who sings hymns in praise of these uber-Dilberts? Think about what they do. They go to boring, oxygenless meeting after meeting after meeting building consensus around microscopic little features (thread size to the nanometer or some such), but once it's done, everything runs so smooth and cheap. It took Wall Street three years (1964 to 1967) to nail down the 12-digit code that we now call the CUSIP, but it's been doing just fine since then. Our whole economy is undergirded by a firm infrastructure of agreement. PPP, TCP/IP, HTML, 802.11.g anyone?

So we here at the Grouse raise a lukewarm diet Dr. Pepper to the not-so-evidently heroic people who slog away at our standards, whoever the hell they are.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Fat babies and seriousness

Plump children are regarded as a sign of affluence in China, and in other agrarian societies fat was also praised. After a week of Graham puking and not eating, now I get it. He's slimmer than before, not dangerously so, but enough.

I can look back at pictures of Graham on playground at South Bristol 12 days ago, there he is, plump and happy. Happy nothing, he's in ecstasy, rocking back and forth in that little fire chief convertible on springs.

And now, as I lay next to him on the couch after a 6AM puke, he stares at the ceiling, doesn't laugh at a rasberry to the belly, or peek-a-boo, or any of my best material. In some ways he's reminiscent of the all too serious, all too adult Christ on Mary's lap. You know: "I'd better have some of this breast. I've gotta expiate all the sins of the world." That kind of thing. Good work there Christ.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Blogito ergo sum

I must say

--what with it being the veritable mid-point of summer
and I'm sitting here in suit
and tie
and really need a haircut
and god knows if I'm going to be successful in fighting off this GI malady
which has so mysteriously beset Graham for a whole week
and may even account for Mary answering
neither the land line
nor her cell phone because she is, at long last, at the doctor's office--

I'm hot.

Apparently I'm not alone here, as people have been migrating from office to office in search of better AC. Lunch conversation focused on the thermostats in the individual offices? Are they real or are just palliative placebos? Let Dilbert be the judge.

Sometimes when I go through periods with nothing really to write about, I think of all the criticism of blogs, how self-indulgent and useless and onanistic they are. But that's what's interesting about them, after all, access to another's consciousness, as they say, surely not disintermediated in any given instance, but in aggregate, if you keep reading, you get there. Descartes was never quite sure about that, right: how do I know that moving body over there isn't really isn't really an automaton. Garden variety solipsists have the same thought by the dozens. Blogito ergo sum, says I.

Up at Canandaigua, I took down an odd volume of Thurber and read a couple of stories, and it occurred to me that so much of the New Yorker aesthetic (Thurber, Cheever, Updike, keep going) is really a predecessor to the Seinfeld premise of being "a show about nothing." In some sense, the craft of writing has often been seen as antithetical to narrative. The trick is to do something interesting on the page without describing much in the real world. My immense blog traffic, could be, bears me out. If not, fuck it.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Yelling and screaming, I'm all for it

After several days of post-nauseal languor, just laying around, sleeping, Graham has begun to take in calories again. He ate some toast, had some formula. And, as he's regained strength, he's once more found his vocal range, yelling and screaming for all he's worth. Pissy and ornery, as I'm sure anyone would be who hadn't eaten for three days and had been writhing around in pain, to the extent that one can even writhe. Mary, who spends more time with him, was less enthused about the screaming. But I ascribe to Leslie's words of wisdom "If they're screamin they're breathin." How true, how true.

Wail though he might, it was pretty hard to make him smile. "Wuzzah wuzzah" fell flat. Even Peek-a-boo fell on deaf eyes. So when, as I was leaving, Mary was reading him an airplane book and he was actually smiling, I must say it was pretty moving.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

What a name

Out for a bike ride along Canandaigua Lake last week, I spotted a mailbox with the name "Ling S Ong" on it. I would have loved to have been that guy/gal in high school. I can just hear it now, people calling out "Ling, Ling S Ong, make it simple, to last your whole life long." Poor kid.

Bucknell 1962 yearbook

Amongst the many dusty books at the house on the hill where we stayed at Canandaigua was the Bucknell yearbook for 1962. It had some impossibly pretentious name that I'm ashamed to have forgotten. Granny glasses were totally in style for the girls, freakishly.

The posed fraternity group portraits said a lot about the era. There were maybe 12 frats, each with about 30-40 guys in them, arrayed in rows of six to eight. Clearly the instructions were: dark suits, white shirts, dark ties, face camera, feet apart, hands clasped together, left over right. As you paged from from to back through the year book, the degree of variance from this norm ramped up from about 2%: a few guys wore slightly lighter ties or hand folded right hand over left. From there it degenerates to houses where some joker has on, get this, white pants, sneakers, and an impish grin, or some frats where multiple guys appear to have on velour jackets or somesuch (these would appear to be scientists, homosexuals or other deviants).

Those were happy times.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Back'n badder

While it may not have been apparent to you, fair readers, I was out last week, off in the Finger Lakes region of what has been aptly termed the Empire State, as it branches out like a would-be Texas of the Northeast. Since our musty 1890s vacation home boasted only a rotary dial phone without even a cord to plug into my laptop, posts appeared courtesy of our San Francisco affiliate: the Pie.

And quite a vacation it was! Vomit, my friends, eight times. Twice from Natalie, including a 3am incident in which she came into our bedroom, informed us she was going to puke, had me hold her hair back as she bent over the toilet, and was very proud that she didn't get any on her nightgown. I too was proud. Graham, who clocked six upchuckings in the week, was not as refined. Poor little guy. With a stomach bug on top of food allergies and possibly reflux, he has more reason than most to just let loose.

But there was much more than nausea to this vacation. We had some good weather. There was cool mountain lake swimming, including by Natalie, who took to the water with increasing and encouraging relish as the week moved on. Mary hung with Kate. For me, Dead Souls during nap time. As good and wierd a book as it was when I met it in high school. And Graham showed that he could sing along to Sandra Boynton's new classic "Snuggle Puppy of mine," even when his stomach was getting ready to let loose half an hour later.

And now back at work. Like drinking from a Birmingham fire hose.

Friday, July 08, 2005

New Technologies (fuddy duddy rant)

Why didn't anybody tell me I needed to reprogram my cell phone or it would gradually drift away from the network?
Why didn't the directions on new phone batteries say to charge 'em for 10 hours? It's ridiculous, a crime even.

Everything comes with a manual the size of a novel these days, which is absurd. When I buy something, I'm looking to buy a thing, not a book. Given how tight my time is, if I'm gonna read a book, I want it to be edifying in some way, either entertaining or skill building. They need to do a better job with summary level instructions for people who don't want to use all the features.

Generally speaking, I could give a hoot about physical objects per se. If they have a lot of memories / narratives associated with them, that's one thing. The old horse head bottle opener we used to open Pepsis at my paternal grandmother's house (d. ca. 1981) before decanting them into frozen glasses she pulled from the freezer, now there's an object for you. I've got that one. My mountain bike, inherited from my dad's then girlfriend now second wife, the bike which got me around when the State of North Carolina repo'd my driver's license, now there's something. A phone battery or shiny new mountain bike can kiss my ass.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Sanitarpolizei, pt 2

So my train pulls into the the Zurich airport train station at 7 in the morning or some similarly ungodlily early time for someone of that age, and I stagger out, rather sweaty for having slept on Naugahyde all the long summer night with no sheets. So I look for a place to change.

A bathroom. I find one in the glimmering underground mall at the airport, so bedazzling to my young Europhile eyes. And it's a clean bathroom, you can bet, cuz its Switzerland and you know very well that they're got a middle-aged woman in a severe white nurse-like uniform collecting 50 centimes (ca. 33 c) and directing you to a stall of her choice.

So I squeeze into this exemplary toilet space, plunk down my bag and -- figuring that having paid so much money I needn't rush -- open my bag and start changing my clothes to get ready for a long transcontinental flight. I get my pants changed alright, am pulling on my shirt, when there's a knock on the stall. I ignore it. Another, accompanied by a muffled voice like the adult voice from Peanuts. Ignore. Finally, I see that the lock on the stall is being opened from outside. I'm getting mad, begin to curse. The door opens and this guy leans in with the left lapel of his clinical white smock, where there's a patch which reads: "Sanitarpolizei." He pushes the door open and I put my shirt on and push my bag out of the cell, by now cursing and livid. The Swiss stare.

What the hell was this cleanliness cop doing? At 7 am, was he so driven by a need to attest to the efficacy of the woman's stewardship that the had to check out literally every stall? Did he think I was a junky, shooting up in there? Who knows. In any case, there's only one word for it: Switzerland.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Sanitarpolizei, pt 1

It was August, 1988. For post-graduating fun, a summer of backpacking culminated in a week at a villa above Cortona rented by the mother of the now sadly no longer amongst us Sarah Pettit, with Sarah, her girlfriend Alexis, the scarcely imitable Roxana Tynan, and Sarah's mom and beer-loving brother Benj. With a swimming pool (the locals called the house la piscine) and much upper Appenines scenery, much fun was had.

But it only lasted for a week, and then I had to go back down the little old mountains and connect with the main train line headed north, through Milan, over the Alps to Zurich, whence I was fly back to RDU (via Washington National, since rebranded as Reagan Freedom International or somesuch hooey). At Milan, I had a couple of hours to gamble about, see the Duomo, and watch stylish youth with superfluous white sweaters tied about their necks eat panini, at that time an exotic term. At the station, I had my first ever risotto (also exotic), and you know it was good, if expensive.

Then I borded the trans-alpine overnight. It was one of the fine old long haul Eurotrains with compartments for four, with seats covered in Naugahyde or some morally superior European Naugahyde analog that folded together in the middle to resemble a bed. After a couple of beers and surely furrowing my brow over some smart guy book meant to impress intellectual chicks, I tried to go to sleep. As many of you may know, Naugahyde doesn't breath all that well, and so begins our adventure....

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The Blog and the Novel

I've earlier declared my intent to use the blog as a place to gather content for a novel. But do I need to, or does that amount to thinking in terms of passe genre hierarchies?

The novel promises, to a certain extent, wholeness, roundness, totality. Some sorts of post-Aristotelian unities. The authorial or narratorial voice is supposed to wrap a world up, tie it with a bow and plunk it in front of the reader. However much the modernist and post-modernist novels may have struggled to twist and warp this paradigm, it remains in place.

And, in truth, the theory of the novel from Ian Watt to Lukacs to many a feminist has always relied upon the identification of reader, author, narrator, and character: one person sitting in a chair being communicated to by one person. Classically, ingesting the tale of another person following a similar path in life to that of the author. The 18th-century novel, some like to say, gave rise to bourgeois consciousness, which isn't far from the truth.

The blog, by contrast, is fragmentary and ongoing, rather than total. Viewed as a whole, a blog might undoubtedly look like a novel in diary form, a well known variant. There will be narrative structure and thematic consistency, and it's all held together by a single narratorial voice.

So why should I, and so many other middle aged people, care about writing a novel when I've already got a blog? Maybe because I've internalized the belief in totality and wholeness, because putting together an integrated piece of art has historically been, to some degree, validated as a worthy pursuit, a reasonable excuse for not having a job, while having a blog is social terra incognita. Uncharted coctail party waters.

Monday, July 04, 2005

New books from library

There's nothing quite like bringing a fresh stack of kids books home from the library. Natalie takes to it like a pig to shit. Only cuter.

All I've got to do is drop the books off up in "Granny's Room" on the second floor, and we've instantly got a measure of peace and quiet. Natalie runs up there, rifles through the bag, and leafs through them one by one. Full of glee. But then the tide turns. At some point in time, she decides that we actually need to read them to her. Graham's starting to appreciate the fresh ones too, after a long period of new book aversion (akin to new food aversion). For my part, given that I read the books every night, a new stack is like refreshing my life. I start to get excited about the uncharted stories towards the end of day at work.

Imagine how well this is gonna work when they start to read. We're not there just yet, although I half feel like we're neglecting Natalie by not pushing her to read more. Like a smart 5 year old really should be reading. But there's open warfare in pedagogical and child-rearing theory on the question of pushing kids, and Mary's both on the other side of the debate and more on top of it. Natalie will learn to read (or admit how much she knows already) soon enough, and our lives will be much easier. And then she won't be forced to memorize all her books.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Princeton Athletic fields, 6/30/05, 9:12pm

First Theo's bday party, then fireworks.

Early in the evening, yet another sign of aging. At Janet and Steve's, a lovely song on: "Oooh lady, won't you stay with me, just a little longer," and Gina and I are in the kitchen going, who is this? Violent Femmes or Velvet Underground? The former, it turns out, but it's odd how, at sufficient remove, 1986 sounds like 1970.

As we approach the fireworks on foot, other people are trying to park. Morons. Pushing through crowds of pedestrian children in Taurus wagons and SUVs, like you couldn't figure out that you need to park a few blocks away.

Oooo aaaah, and many variations thereupon. Sitting other dads and couples with 5 year old girls and two year old boys, which has worked out so curiously.

I had promised Natalie that she'd go to the fireworks when she was 5, and I was as good as my word, if not better. But now she's 5 and trending towards independence, and so didn't sit on my lap and gaze as beatifically and reverently at the many-colored explosions as the Hallmark cinematographer would have had her, but what are you gonna do.

Will fell asleep during the fireworks themselves. Natalie just got whiny and tired, and made me carry her almost all the way home: "but my legs have no energy, dad." And then, at home, a meltdown. Beads lost from necklace she had made at Nora's the other day. Not good. Not good at all. Tears and wailing, straight through to the pillow. Clearly, 10 really is too late.