Friday, April 4, 2014

Ferreting Out the Truth

My kids watch too much TV.  So do yours, so just shut up.  It's pretty uninteresting to see how their choices play out.  Uninteresting because it's completely predictable, and entirely unproblematic.  We've only placed one hard restriction on their viewing up until now, and aside from the obvious issues of mature content (whatever that means anymore.  I'm not sure I've seen anything mature on television in a good decade or so, with the exception of that Salinger documentary.  good stuff), the one off-limits show is Caillou.  It's an instruction guide for whining like a turbofan until you get what you want.  Also, it's racist.

When they're given a choice of what to watch, the girl  child chooses Clifford or Curious George most of the time.  She sits with it and smiles, and as she's older now she says things to the characters that make it obvious she beyond it all, intellectually.  Still, she loves seeing things turn out nicely.  The boy chooses the Hulk.  He likes it when things get shot and blow up.

Remember now, we've done nothing to encourage either of them.  Not consciously, anyway.  I suppose you could consider it some kind of social engineering that they have a Father who is very happy being a man, and a Mother who is equally happy being a woman, neither of whom have any interest in becoming more like the other.  I haven't the slightest clue what would happen around here if we both started drifting toward that great desired androgyny of the modern State, except that, well, probably nothing would happen at all.  If there wasn't some gender identity in this house, maintenance would be too confusing to complete, and we sure as hell wouldn't be able to shop for each other, because you can't satisfy emptiness with anything but more of itself.

So you can go ahead and scream about pink Legos, because that's fun.  We have them in piles around here as they flow in from the relatives and friends around our girl's birthday.  Flower shops and Princess bits and some kind of party boat.  I'm a little peeved that it looks like they're all well on their way to getting loaded on margaritas, but otherwise it's a few friends having fun on a boat.  It's got a bit of pink on it, yes, and a heart here and there.  And the boy (oh boy) looks to be wearing capris, so there's definitely an argument to made here about the representation of manhood involved.  But I imagine, boisterous moms, that if your husband gave into your desire to have a real boat - the one you would expect him to maintain and drive and keep fueled, etc - you would have some pretty specific requests concerning its decoration, so that it wouldn't be too manly.  Maybe even a pink towel or two, I dunno.

You can argue about it all you want, because you're just arguing in favor of your own social posture, anyway, in a move to eliminate the same from your children altogether.  Lego didn't create an interest in girls for pink things and candy shops.  Braying against that is just a way to be a sort of a plaque in the artery of your child's development.  It's a way to block the child's natural path toward instinct fulfillment.

If you saw that happening to a ferret in a zoo you'd call it inhumane.

And don't forget what's really going on here.  This stuff isn't easy.  She's six years old and sitting patiently with an instruction booklet in front of a scattered mess of tiny little pieces.  Slowly, quietly, and ultimately very proudly, building something.  Is it pink?  Oh hell yes, it's pink.  But it's also very detailed and surprisingly intricate, and the fact that she's pulling it off is impressive as hell.

If you saw that happening to a ferret in a zoo you'd call it beautiful.  You could occasionally try to see your children that way, too.  Especially the little girls.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Charlie Mike

 I hit my thumb with a rubber mallet yesterday.  I wasn't thinking about the pain, I was thinking about whether the neighbor was watching me from her window.  Pain isn't a whole lot more than an up-armored convoy to a little embarrassment for most of us.  So when the man says that he stepped on an IED and all he thought about was his troops, I can be skeptical and wonder if that's true. But you know what?  I still have two feet to put in my mouth, and can trip over both of my legs as adroitly as I can my tongue.  All of which means I couldn't care one whit what this soldier was thinking when a bomb took his leg off.  I don't want him to bother me with it, and I have no interest in asking.

Because in order to find out what it was - in order to find out whether this paratrooper shit, prayed, or apologized to a passing mongrel after a quarter of his leg came apart, someone had to go track him down in a combat zone.

Me?  I'm afraid to pick up that mallet again.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Running from the Grift

My three year old son beholds me offering him a cupcake.  No reason.  Free treasure.  Except that even at three years old, he knows better.  It's a bribe.  He doesn't even want to know what I want from him.  He does know, after only a handful of months of remotely significant cognizance, that this is a misdirection for the purpose of robbing him of something.  He sniffs out the con and tells me he doesn't like cupcakes.  It's a lie and a clear one, but it protects him from my grift.  It protects him from my lie, and he loses nothing.

The video up there is kind of funny in its way, and I would be willing to bet that it is being passed around the internet by the thousands, presented by people to their internet audiences as some laughable satire.  In the shallowest possible consideration, that's true.

"Don't take everything so seriously,"  you'll be wanting to tell me.  Well, to not take something seriously is a far cry from being defensively dismissive, the latter being so often misidentified as the former at the moment of insult. It's easy to pretend it didn't happen, especially when it sucks so much to admit that it did.

We're old and we're stupid enough to watch that video and think it's funny.  Maybe it's just some kind of fatigue, leading to the inevitable resignation.  Or maybe decades of the lies have simply worked.  It hardly matters.  We're dog-paddling in the middle of the ocean with our iPhones, trying to get amazon to air drop us some ankle weights.  After all, the vaguely Asian fellow in the commercial said they were made in a carbon neutral factory where the employees drink fair trade coffee.  I think I see a shark.

My boy is only old enough to have been paying any real attention for about a year now, and he's wise enough to know that when he sees the carrot, that just means there's a stick.  But he's even better because he doesn't stop there.  He knows that if there's a stick, there's a hand at the other end.  Always attack the hand.

(I want to note that I get just about everything, including the video above, from Gerard at American Digest.  He runs a fantastic website, full of everything from the most commonplace Right Wing fanaticism to the most subtle and beautiful bits of our culture that you would be a better person for viewing or reading.  He has been very good to me over the years, and is primarily responsible for what very tiny fame I accrued at my previous blog.)

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Slow Propaganda

It's amazing to consider that the only damned thing in the world that everyone agrees on is that none of us can do each other any good.

Sometimes I wonder what I am doing here.  I could put a slogan on it:  Fighting the Good Fight.  But I don't go around looking for fights, and when I see one, I find somewhere else to be.  This is more like waking up on the other team's bench, in their uniform, and just hoping like hell that the coach doesn't put you in the game.

"I'm not even on your team, guys."
"Everyone over here is on our team."

I kind of live right in the middle of it now.  I hear the things people say when they think I'm out of earshot. They're talking about me, and saying everything about themselves.  "Conservatives." Said as though you should already know every horrible thing it means, because everyone does.  In this place it is common for people to assume that there are no conservatives within earshot, and commonly they are correct.  It's just a numbers thing.  But I live here, and my kids play with their kids, and they know what I am, and I'm not going anywhere.  Although I find it nearly impossible to understand people without becoming incredibly cynical, it is entirely too defeatist to think that there isn't something better that I can do.

The fact is that I don't think it is horrible that they don't like conservatives. All these people, by the way, who are walking around, living cavalierly under the most insouciantly stupid internet tenet on planet Earth - that you can insult someone's ideas without insulting the person - would do well to grab a handful of honesty and admit that they simply do not like each other.  But to the point:  No, I don't think it is horrible that they don't like conservatives (and of course vice versa, but for simplicity...).  I think it is very  unfortunate and completely unnecessary, and I'd like to work on that a little bit.  But in a world where half the population sees a gun shop not simply as a place that sells something they don't want to buy, but as a congregation for the culturally retarded; or that sees a Church not simply as a place that also sells something they don't want to buy, but as a congregation for child molesters and bigots, working on the relationship is a stentorian undertaking.

So many wrong things are embraced for the sake of a little acceptance.

Of course I have an internet, so I know the obvious response from anyone in my position:  Fight. Don't let them get away with it.  Speak up.  Fight, fight, fight.  Wonderful.  You keep taking the easy way out.  I don't want to beat any of these people. They aren't my enemies. Besides, one thing that I and the internet completely agree on is that you cannot talk about it.  Once your core disagreement has been put out in the open, you're marked in each other's consciences.  You can pretend that civility equals friendliness - or in the most gloriously circular condescension, that friendliness equals friendship - but you know the earth is salted there now.  Which is why I need to do something different.  And not just for me, but for my children.  They could fix everything someday, as I wrote before:

 I can’t imagine a life with my daughter if, even after these scant four years, she had a dour, bitter, angry father. Would she ever smile at anything other than someone else’s misfortune? I count myself as blessed that I do not know. We laugh and we make light of injury, but we are honest, too, about unpleasant things when they come up. They come up rarely with a four year old. Most of them are still of her own making, and it is the unfortunate mark of mankind that she will eventually become collateral damage to the world’s unsavory appetites. She is still Eve, but she’s grasping the apple now, and using it to change the channel.

So if they don't get a second option, apart from this mocking devil of planted flags, battle lines, and no quarter for anything but the wishing well, they are lost.  They are condemned to personal exiles, flights towards either geographical isolation or social homogeneity.  I'm doggie-paddling around in the muck of some second option right now, and if I can't figure it out enough to get the handbook written before I die, I don't know who they'll be left to.

It's certainly a challenging situation.  I try to have faith in the good work of a slow propaganda.  It's accidental, and works the way all the best things work - because it is naturally good.  I never intended it, and that's why it should have a better chance.  For years now I've been what I think is a good person in the midst of all these people who despise my kind. Or at least say they do when they're comfortably together.   I would expect a little affinity with the enemy to erase some faulty suppositions - it has worked for me - but it doesn't seem to.  I can see why - if a shark swims around with seals for years on end without eating any of them, I wouldn't fault the seals for remaining skeptical:

"Sure, this guy is ok, but you know the rest of them still want to have you for breakfast."

But the problem here is that it's more like a seal who finds himself swimming frightened in the middle of a shiver of sharks, lucky for the time being that for some damn reason, they think you're the dangerous one. Nobody's killed you yet, but the whole society is going to die where that denial of reality exists.  The intellectual food chain is in complete disarray, leaving the prospect of honest education somewhere in the chum bucket. Just about the only thing you can hope for is that when everyone comes around to realizing what's going on, you all feel so damn silly about it that you try to make things right.  If you just devour the seal, you haven't gotten anywhere new.

A lot of the counsel out there would say that if there are friends that you could lose over something like this, then they're friends that you don't need anyway.  That's absurd. That's the effluvium of the reality TV shows and contests. The culture that is dead to the irony of pronouncing that "I'm not here to make friends" in order to make just the right ones.  It's in our entertainment, it's in our workplaces, and it's in our political conventions.  I'd rather not find it in our dinner parties and picnics, but it's there, too.  How do you keep from being one of the friends they're not here to make, without giving up?  How do you help everyone? Because nobody should be losing any friends over this.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Hipster Hockey

Dem Canadians, right?  If it ain't hockey, it's curling.  And if it ain't curling or hockey, well, there ain't enough Timbits in the Tundra to ease that condition. Evidence here that if you care about something, you can use it to talk about something else you care about.

I care a thing or three about words, especially when they're written well.  Which for me is kind of like having no arms and being hooked on sign language, but we all have our crosses.  In the case of this song you don't have to wonder whether it's good writing, because you start with a seemingly ridiculous premise:  This guy is going to use curling to describe confusion and conflict in a relationship.  To describe what happens to love after a time, when passions share space with excuses. Curling - the Olympic joke reel.  The PBR of winter sports - hipster hockey.

You start with that premise, and you can scoff at it because it sure sounds scoffable, but then you can listen to the song.  And if you're anything like me (God help you) then you get a little jealous of the skill.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Genny Made Cupcakes

I was in the yard a couple of days ago when I realized that I had dropped the rake and was floating towards Genny's porch with my nose in the air.  Bringing me out of my stupor was the boy child, hanging from my ankle, his toes barely tickling the grasstips.

 "Papa, where you flying?"

Genny's that kind of neighbor. 87 years old, I think.  Cupcakes were in the air, just after lunchtime on a Wednesday.  I've written about her before.  And she seems to come up whenever I think about our house.  Yeah, she's that kind of neighbor.  I saw her with a bag or two at her back door yesterday and took the boy over to help her in the house.  The boy loves her and wants to see her almost as much as the dog does.  But the dog has something of a fatal attraction thing going, and I fear her reaction when Genny is finally gone.  Lucy just might do what old couples seem often to do, and simply choose to fade away once her reason for living has left.

She tries not to let us help, and I suppose that's normal.  Natural.  If you sit down after a very long march, it's too likely that you won't get back up. (Just a little rest.  Just a little rest.)  But help we do, when we can catch her.  And yesterday she was back from an appointment at Group Health downtown, having done what we insist she stop doing: take a shuttle.  I'm home every day now, and I can take her anywhere she wants to go. But she won't do it.  I'll just have to catch her, I suppose.

Group Health has a gift shop, because when you build a place for people to be born in and to die in, full of medicines and chemicals and wires and gizmos, then gifts and parking validation are the next two most natural things you can offer.  Genny goes to the gift shop, because when you can't remember when you were born, but already feel like you're looking back on your death, thinking of your neighbors' children is the next most natural thing you can do.  She brought back a nice bow for the girl child's hair - Genny knows that a Dad needs a little help when it comes to doing his daughter's hair before school.  For a man nearly forty who grew up with two brothers and no sisters, a hurried ponytail is the least most natural thing you can do.

The airplane spinner in the picture up there is what she brought back, wrapped, for the boy.  He fiddles with it, and it has the kind of coarse finishing and pointy bits that terrify the modern conscience.

"Dis wever hurts my finger."
"I'll wrap some tape around it.  You want me to spin it for you?"
"Nope.  I got it."

He works at it, and he's nicer to it than he is to most of his toys.  Don't know if it's because he knows anything about it, or Genny, or what.  I just know it's true.

"Papa, I can't get it.  Can you spin dis for me pweese?"
"Of course, bud, here we go."

It spins awfully fast, too, which makes me think it came out of the shopkeeper's special box of old-fashioned toys from the back room.  Nobody would build that buzz saw of whirling aluminum today.

"AGAIN!  All my pwanes are weaders."

I wish I still thought like him.

The girl, of course, wants her new bow just so.  Fusses with it, and makes me check it.

"It's perfect, gorgeous."
"Thanks, Papa.  Can we go show Genny now?"
"Her lights aren't on, kiddo, so we'll have to wait until later."

But Genny made cupcakes.  On a plate, on a doily, on an otherwise empty and polished dining room table in her beautiful house.

"Here, Dominic, I made these for you and your sister yesterday, but you were too fast for me and I couldn't catch you."
"Yeah, we're pwetty fast, huh?"
"Yes, you are.  You work so hard out there with your Papa that I thought you could use a treat."
"I really like dee rake and dee shubbel."
"Make sure your sister gets one, too."

He made sure.  We're trying to make sure.  Genny always makes sure.  And she also makes cupcakes.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Standard Bearers

The idea was to get something down.  One week of full-time Fatherhood in the books.  Get it down, man.

We got down, I know that much.  And up.  And we stood with our eyes out the windows, the boy and I, lamenting the missing Spring between our curses to the rain.

"I wanna go outside, Papa."
"I know you do, boss."
"To dee park."
"My God I'm sorry but we can't."

This can't keep up.  If you try to avoid the rain out here, the only thing that dries up is your heart. We eventually spurned the house and the walls and went to shoot our ways down wet slides.  We wrapped our fingers around the frigid chains of the swings until our hands became a glazier's work.

"Do an underdog, Papa!"

Our pants got wet, but we lived with it, because once they get wet back there all you've got left is to try to run away from them - You're really moving now, boy, and outstripping the fever.  His bulldozer pushes wet sand:

"It's hebby, Papa, but my wo-dozer can do it."

If he keeps insisting on giving all the credit to the tools, he'll be just fine.

And we watched each other from new perspectives.  I've never seen them disappearing into their classrooms, never seen them gulped up by a swarm of magicians like that.  They must be magicians to cause my children to forget about me so easily.  A quick giggled enchantment and I come to with my hands on the steering wheel, alone in the cockpit. The best magic is the kind that you think was done to someone else.  Hang on, my windows are a little foggy.

The funny thing about a child's independence is that you never know it's there until - no, that's it.  You just never know it's there.  You're holding her hand, then you're reaching for it, then you're waving goodbye to her ponytail.  She's in the middle of it, and on Thursday the conference verifies what we know from home:

"She's very good at reading and writing, and showing a real interest in math."
"It's all she wants to do at home."
"Good.  She's shy, though, and has a hard time joining groups that have already formed.  She doesn't advocate for herself well, and sometimes plays alone at recess, so that's something to work on."
"Well sure, but of course let's not try to re-write her code just for the sake of belonging."
"Of course."

There's often a little unintended genius in staying out of the group.  Papa knows a thing or two.

So sure, we did the things. The drop-offs and the pickups, the potty trainings and the nap times.  We did the things.  The puzzles and the games, the pictures, letters, cards, movies, apps, and meals. We got wet when we had to, because a stuck child is a tragedy.  But suddenly Friday, in the middle of a sidewalk conversation about lawn feedings with the neighbor, the boy stopped stealing rocks from the gardens of friends to add to his collection.  Something bigger was stirring.  His role as Standard Bearer for All The Glorious Things snapped him to attention, and as he stood with his back to the sun and his arms outstretched he proclaimed to a couple of men who were almost too old to notice:

"Papa!  I got my shadow back!"