Friday, December 26, 2008

Company

We had company over, neighbours. Cooked a big turkey with all the fixings.

Kids, running around, screaming, going up and down stairs, somehow not seriously mutilating themselves or otherwise providing the local emergency ward with cases that'll wake interns up, in a cold sweat, wondering why they didn't go into cabinetry like their brother-in-law.

And the adults, sitting around the table, drinking, having at times awkward, at times HI-larious conversations that invariably revolve around kids or movies or any host of safe topics. If there's one thing you want to avoid, is having icy relations with your neighbours. So as much as you want to discuss fundamentalist Christianity and how it's slowing eroding the scientific rigour in teaching our youth, you realize it's better to keep your mouth shut so you can ask Hank for a powerdrill when you need to hang yet enough shelfing system with an unpronounceable name sold by a European multinational.

I had to go upstairs, to check the internets about whether Bull, from "Night Court", is dead (he's not, his latest project DaZe: Vol. Too (sic) - NonSeNse has a tagline I envy with every fibre of my being: "A post modern avant guard dramedy musical non-musical told nonlinearly"; I kid you not). Going up the very short flight of stairs, I can hear the random outbreaks of laughter from the adults, a group which I shockingly belong. Not without denial. But that sound is filled with nostalgia. Going over to some 'family friends', while being forced to interact with kids that are just too weird and then you become best friends 1 hour in and then can't believe you have to leave in another 3 hours; the adults laughing over some opaque reference about things that are quite obviously not funny. That sense of contentment and plenty that would amaze anyone in the developing world, or anyone from the 18th Century, I suppose.

So, I get upstairs, and the neighbours kids are kind of in a half crouch, giving me that wary look that only adults get, and only from kids who feel that the adult might have some jurisdiction. It's a Sylvester looking at Tweety Bird's dear old owner as he has Tweety grasped in a death grip. The kids are jumping off the futon onto some pillows. Hey, whatever doesn't severe crucial vertebrae only makes you stronger, is my motto. But it's that look. That undeniable expectant stare that reminds me with the force of a tsunami in a Bruckheimer film, that , dear god, I'm an adult.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Snowy Terror

It's snowed about a foot here in the Pacific Northwest. Which would be no big deal if this were the East Coast, or Nunavut, or any place where they have more than 57 dollars budgeted for snow removal. Here, though, it shuts everything down. The city comes to a stand-still not seen outside of post-apocalyptic zombie flicks and grassroot Bush rallies. Everything is improvised. That's because, rightly, there's little point in investing in equipment/gear/tools that you're going to use 1 week out of the year. But that also means... CHAOS!!

But not for the kids, thankfully. Snow is nature's Lego™ and Slip N' Slide ™ and hell's gateway to a glimpse into the Lord of the Flies mentality that lurks underneath a patois of Dora the Explorer and High School Musical 3 paraphernalia. With snow, you can go fast via the steerless miracles of sleds, you can build stuff and realize your genius in architecture until the inevitable next week's rain washes it away, or you can be taught the Natural Hierarchy of Life that all children who grow up in close proximity, must learn.

Adults, above and below a certain age, are to be feared. That is, old enough that they have all the strength in their pitching arm they're ever likely to get, and young enough that they find cruelty to youngsters hilarious. 18 or 19 is the ultimate age. You do not, under any circumstances, upset man-boys of that age. They will mess, you, up. The term 'facewash' should fill you with a terror so sharp and so ruthless that bowel control becomes a distant third to the thoughts of 'get the hell out of here' and 'oh dear god in heaven why is the universe so cruel?'. Snowballs from this age bracket come at sonic speeds, breaking sound barriers, melting the leading edge of the ball until it makes contact with your sheep-like, trusting mug.

As the adults get too old, say, 40ish, 50ish, well, they'll just give you a light chuckle with their weather worn face and keep walking. Below that, say, thirties, late twenties, you should be, at the very least, cautious. There should be a little reverence.

A little fear.

So it was with suprise that I dodged a few snowballs my way from a two 8-year olds.

Oh, ha ha, I thought. Young scamps. Just having a bit of fun. But they persisted. They had no fear. They had no concept of the Hierarchy.

Now, I have about as much talent in ballistic snow projectiles as a Timorese headhunter, but I do have a smidge of pride. So when I went near the two boys to help Owlet up (faceplanting into the snow being her ABSOLUTE FAVOURITE activity), I was near my limit. One of the boys finally tags me in the leg. Here I'm thinking. I'm trying to help a two year old, give it a break. And another voice speaks up, reminds me of the sacred bond of the Hierarchy.

HE MUST BE TAUGHT!

But, you know, the mom is standing about 5 feet away, so not taught too well, as it were. I grab a very small fluff of powder and toss it in his face. Toss. Underhanded.

The poor kid gets up with a mug of utter hopelessness, as if I'd just taken a baseball bat to his puppy's kneecaps, and kinda sniffles at his mom, doing the hangdog thing. The mom looks at him, and, I suspect someone has told her of the Hierarchy, because she says, "You kinda deserved that."

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Overthinking Ariel

I went by Staples to pick up one of those fancy digital frame doohickies, because I shoot quite a bit with ye old Nikon 70ds. While there, I was instructed to pick up some colouring books for Owlet, since it's easier than trying to clean crayon marks off our carpet.

I wasn't hopeful to find anything at Staples; I think of cut-rate printing paper and poorly designed office furniture, not Dora or Thomas. Staples is the place where you buy overpriced pens to write out carefully considered grocery lists you can leave on the counter. A temple to paper and the pushing thereof.

But low and behold, off in the corner, they do have colouring books! Little cheap booklets of paper emblazoned with market-tested intellectual property protected edutainment franchises! That they are; but they're also a source of entertainment that I, young liberal hip dad, doesn't feel too guilty about plunking Owlet in front of (minus the cutting down of our natural oxygen producers and accelerating global warming, minus the eradication of a cultural craftsmen social strata that would usually produce quality toys for my brood, minus the overarching power grip that multi-million dollar conglomerates have on my toddler).

I mean, it's creative right? Kinda active?

Of course, I immediately think of the influence it might have on Owlet. She's impressionable. I don't want her to be a vacuous teenager, one of those living embodiments of the most heinous doll-selling contrivances developed, 'Bratz'. I don't want her middle aged, knocking back a forty of Wild Turkey, waiting for her shift to start and wondering where her prince charming is. I don't want her in the retirement home, wearing a mid-riff and trying to seduce the cabana boy while smelling of industrial strength Oil of Olay and Bengay.

I, like any parent, don't want her worldview warped for the worse.

So there I sit, staring at my choice of colouring books: 'Disney's Princesses' or 'Beautiful Fairies'. Both a comment on the beauty and youth obsessed culture that pushes many to despair or to plastic surgery or both. A paradigm that prizes beauty and ordained, given greatness. A stultifying way to view reality where only the beauty pageant winners are any good, and anything you work for or that you build up from yourself isn't even put on the score card. The tyranny of the Media! The trampling of unique souls, budding for a better way to live in this world! The squashing of the delicate flower that is Owlet's personality, reaching, growing towards a better light!

I pace, considering which is the lesser of two evils.

So I phone Mrs. Owl, who, overall, has a more conventional view of the world. She listened to me carefully, like I was the strange aunt who likes to drop hints about the Illuminati and smells like burnt pot pourri. After I'm done with my tirade about the possible mind control that Big Media is pressing upon our child, she says, "It's just a colouring book."

I got "Disney's Princessess", in case you're wondering.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Christmas Letter 2008

Another winter has caught us all unawares. That means a few harrowing near misses on the highway, the even more harrowing trip to the mall, and a Christmas letter from the Smiths; hopefully not harrowing.

The biggest news is that we are expecting another baby this January. Apparently the mist of time has romanticized changing thirty diapers a day on no sleep. But, we're pretty excited. There is a marked decrease in our nervousness, under the rather false assumption that because we've gone through this before 2 years ago, we totally know what we're doing this time around. I suspect there will be many moments of us cleaning up the floor, table, and bedsheets muttering, “Oh yeaaah, I forgot about that.”.

We're pretty certain it's a boy, which is good for balance. Visions of losing every video vote to another romantic comedy no longer haunt me. On the other hand, having to decipher the whole sports thing, should our son be into that, fills me with a new kind of cold, cold fear.

Owlet is now two. She runs faster and everywhere. She can get into trouble quicker than you can say “HOLY CRAP I CAN'T BELIEVE SHE DIDN'T BREAK ANYTHING”. Luckily she gives us a small warning by looking at us seriously and announcing, “Me run”, then booting it.

Her babbling has become bubblier and often swerves into coherency. Sometimes it's even coherent to us. This has made things great for communication, bad for frustration. It's as if she realizes that if only we understood what “BUDARDAM TRACKER” (“Peanut Butter and Jam Crackers”) means, all would be well .

Songs play a big part in her life too. She's at the stage where she can never hear quite enough renditions of “Baby Beluga”. Honestly. Never, enough. It's our ardent hope that exposure to music helps her brain develop better because Raffi ad nauseum can't be good for an adult's brain. I'm sure we're not the first nor the last parents to harbour fantasies of breaking into his studio, trashing all his sheet music then doing a howling pagan dance around a burning guitar pyre.

She's big into Dr. Seuss. That is, we're big into Dr. Seuss. We had no idea that so many many children's books are 'hit me over the hammer and sideswipe me with a camper' boring. I mean, please, make it rhyme, at least. Luckily, she can't get enough of “One Fish Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish”, and neither can we; so far.

Owing entirely to Mary's social graces, Owlet has become quite the people person. She strikes up conversation with anyone who gives her the briefest of glances, and is quick to say “Bye 'body!”when leaving, say, a doctors office full of waiting patients. I suppose whispering in her ear and telling her to say 'Hi' to old women smitten by her has something to do with her gregariousness. What can we say, she gives high entertainment value. She's learned, and says with alarming regularity, 'Tankew' for nearly everything given to her. It's fantastic. Makes us realize what impolite boors we are, but still, fantastic.

Work, like so many things in life after school, remains a static routine that neither quickens the pulse nor leaves us in the throes of existential angst. And with the way the entire world economy is taking a dive, we're just happy to be still working. Personally I can't wait for the comeback of speakeasies and vaudeville.I guess I'm a silver lining sort of guy.

We hope this letter finds you well and wish you all the best for the season, and the three other seasons, while we're at it.

All the Best,
Owl Family

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Fictional Stories For Facebook 'Friends' Who Are Obviously Gloating

So you know the 'facebook friend', the distant acquaintance that was not quite a friend but not an outright stranger that you might have shared a class with 17 years ago? Or the brother of a friend of friend whose wedding you were only invited to because you were in town and they needed you to pick up the bridesmaids' flowers?

Whatever.

Not really friends but not distant enough that you can easily remove them from your ever growing and ever estranged collection of ... people that you've crossed in your life; and not in the way a gunslinger might anger the head of the baddest group of bandits this side of the Sierra Madre.

And, it looks like this stranger has had a bit of luck: a stunning spouse, a vocation doing photoshoots for nympomaniacal fashion models. And they find that one picture they 'share' with all their 'friends', capturing all their good luck in one nice shot.

Yeah, I hate them too.

These are the venom filled back stories I make up for them. Because dang them to heck for having such great lives. And telling us about it.
  • he's a post op intergendered amputee and she, unfortunately, succumbed to Nightingale Syndrome while helping him relearn how to operate a can opener; she works a devastatingly unfilling job as a Campbell's company shill, masquerading as a Occupational Therapist.

  • she's barren and he leaves leaflets of adoption agencies; the application forms for which she's 'forgotten' to fill out for the past 7 years.

  • that's a wig, as all their intimate time is spent with her wearing a lumberman's outfit and a mannishly cropped haircut, and him, 'swooning'.

  • that picture is taken just moments after she discovers he's ruined her credit rating and they are both going to federal prison for a few scams that he promised 'no one will care about'.

  • she never understands his pithy film references and he has Russian Brides 4 U bookmarked on his laptop.

  • he has to shave her backhair every night. They've paid a small fortune to plumbers to deal with clogged drains. He's never allowed to watch his favourite thing, orangutan documentaries.

  • he steers every conversation towards the unsung genius of Pinochet. She does gory dioramas picturing the most famous cases of flesh eating disease in the South Eastern United States.

  • she falls asleep with alarming frequency when they have 'personal time' together. He's a necrophiliac, so he kinda prefers it like that.

  • he's a certified sociopath with a disturbing, yet sealed childhood record. She can't really tell.

  • the only thing she's ever cared for, a ferret she had when she was 7, is stuffed and sits in their bathroom. He's used it on numerous occasions to 'floss'.

  • she's never understood what was so racist about "Breakfast at Tiffany's". He doesn't 'get' irony.

  • the only activity they can do together that doesn't result in tears and an embarrassed silence is watching "Wheel of Fortune.

  • she never leaves him alone in the petting zoo. Not any more.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Bocce News Update #5 : Pacino Reporting

Another excerpt from a post I made to our work wiki, detailing our latest match in the company bocce tournament. We won again, miraculously.


Al Pacino reporting

There they were, on the field. The pitch. The battlefield on which future players will look to and say, "There strode heroes. TITANS!" It was cold, yeah, it was cold and you can stamp your feet and pull that scarf tighter but no weather bites quite so hard as the fangs of competition. The cold icepick that sinks in your chest when facing destiny, how everyone will remember you from this day to next, for all history as long as the annals of VP Students Portfolio Bocce tournaments are written.

Team A faced Team B that cold day. Both teams undefeated. Both staring posterity with the unblinking eyes of champions.

With the heart that has defined Team A's career, they surged ahead to a 6-1 lead.

Team B, looked into their souls, they saw what needed to get done, they knew Team A would not go down without a fight, would not go quietly into the night. But neither would they. Clawing every inch, breaking against an insurmountable tide, they pulled themselves up. Team A would not be had, oh no, in their breasts beat the hearts of lions, and they too exchanged feats of athleticism with Team B. The score after the dust settled and the brows wiped, stood at 12-6.

It was all but over. But to Team B, bruised and bloodied was nothing, victory everything. You could see it in the way they tossed the bocce, the way they bit down and grunted when they missed.

Then Team A took their eye off the ball.

Bocce, like life, is a game of focus. You get confident, you get cocky, you start to think that competition doesn't have the bite you once feared. Doesn't threaten you with mortal danger that it does everystep of the way. And Team A broke focus. Team B, warriors of field, bastions of excellence, knew when to drive, and drive they did. They fought, they attacked, they did not surrender. Bruised and bloodied, maybe, but not beaten, they led an onslaught of offense to close the margin to 12-11.

And then, awoken, startled to their imminent demise to a team they had, until now, lead with no falter, Team A rallied. They set their shoulders low and they threw themselves behind their game. They clawed and bit and punched to the top.

Team A closed out the game at 15-11. Both teams left, wearied, both teams, feeling the bite of a well fought battle. But only one victor.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Chomsky Comments on Left 4 Dead

I think what's clear here, in this shot, is that it's the humans that have the guns, the mandate to power in this situation. The undead, these new immigrants to a world that's still very strange to them, they are, quite categorically, unarmed.

There is a struggle for hegemony you can see here. Dominion over land, a fight for sovereignity. What would you do if armed strangers came through your land? You'd attack, naturally. You'd defend yourself, is what you'd do. And if we are even attempting to consider the justice in this situation, the undead are merely fending off the humans with their hands, their feet. How much damage could they do? But, time and time again, we see a disproportionate response to this from the humans. A call to arms, a god given right to take the lives of countless undead and for what? The opportunity to trespass, because, quite clearly, that's what's happening here, trespassing on the land of the undead.

What is interesting to note, in this third shot, the old man taking a gas can and shooting it. What's going on here? what's the narrative in this action? He quite obviously pillaged that gas tank from the land of the undead, and then he shoots it. He uses their fuel to kill them.I think, I think there is a unmistakeable message being sent here. Not only are humans your betters, but they will use your resources to do away with you. It's, I mean, there is no other way to respond but to try and repel such invaders, I think. That's the rational response.

And we see that the humans cross all types of age racial and gender barriers, so all humans, everywhere, are complicit in these war crimes. For anyone paying attention, any one willing to do but the most cursory of research, it's pretty easy to unearth instances of these invaders shooting undead who were not doing anything. Just standing. Maybe looking menacing to the humans, maybe not, who knows? The humans are quite unwilling to open up channels of diplomacy with them, and this is something that's been reported and documented by me and others, that I don't need to go into here. But it's been documented by very serious journals, very important papers.

And here is the Tank. A name, that I have no doubt, was given to him by the humans. I'm sure he doesn't see himself in such militaristic terms. He's quite obviously only protecting his own here. I mean, he's forced, or created by the undead to match the sabre-rattling from the humans, they use what is obviously their meagre means to try and match the militaristic juggernaut that is the human invaders. And if we are serious about finding who's the criminal here, if we have even the faintest inclination towards social justice, the onus quite clearly rests on the humans; as is obvious in all the cases from the footage that's been made available.

Friday, December 05, 2008

CLAMPS!

I had to go to Home Depot to get a few things. Mainly to bumble about with and make a total mess under the guise of 'home improvement'. The only thing it improves, frankly, is my already impressive ability to swear while holding what I think is a philips head screwdriver. Could be a hammer, actually.

I'm no handyman, is my point. I'm pretty good at putting on a grin and 'bearing through something until it's sort of done but nothing you'd ever show to polite company', though. Which is how I get into these situations, wandering through cavernous home improvement SUPER STORES looking for a flange or a shivel or god knows what other word they've devise for, say, a rubber washer.

So I was there at Home Depot, with Owlet and The Dog. I went with them because having them around greatly reduces the chance that anyone will mistake me for a handyman and ask me for an opinion vis-a-vis the best method to route out a double iron casting tackle block; also because apparently two year-olds can't take care of themselves if left to their own devices ('very fast, very strong, and very stupid' was an apt description I heard of them once, not a lie).

So, with kids in tow I go asking various people in orange aprons where I can find a clamp. This is a terrible word for a nerd to have to say in public, because only one thing comes to mind, and that one thing repeats AD NAUSEUM.

"Hi, do you know where the clamps are?"
CLAMPS! CLAMPS! MY NAME is CLAMPS! You want me to CLAMP him boss!? Why I oughta clamp YOU!
"Clamps?'
CAN I CLAMP HIM boss?! CAN I? Clamps! CLAMPS!
"just down aisle 18, about a third of the way down on your left."
"Uh, thanks."

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Parking Lots + Cemeteries = Odd

Found via Metafilter.

What's not awesome about cemeteries in parking lots? The very symbol of capitalistic fervour, the parking lot, set against the Great Equalizer. Because behind every sprawling tarmac is a Type-A personality with an implanted Bluetooth headset, a half-decaf no-fat machiatto, and a heart about to go coronary any moment. His suit shimmering with fine fibre of no-doubt Italian origin, his hair coiffed in what can be best described as 'slick', shades that cost more than my car, surveying the scene as he quibbles with contractors and city hall on how he's going to get the zoning permits in time for the next great paen to shopping box stores.

But there it is. A damn cemetery right between the Odyssey and Passat. Filled with worm-food that once upon a time strove for the best and brightest, the mostest and richest that life had to offer.

A parking lot is also a symbol for sprawling suburbanization: the big box stores and the shopping malls with two food-courts, all over the last nesting place for a migratory bird species that no one in any position of power cared about. A parking lot says concentration! Pulling everything together in one spot so that people in cars can find you off the Inster-state to waste twice as much gas to find a parking spot 3 feet closer.

Economies of scale, is the thing. Which is really, we're making this much, but we could be making (makes a hand gesture that just looks like you're waiting for someone to measure your wingspan) this much! More more more more!

And then the humble plot of untarmaced land. A reminder that all that bustle and hustle isn't buying you anything that matters.