Life needs vents

September 2, 2010

I lie on the bed, hands spread across the straining, venous pod kept so neatly flat, or just a whisper round, a mere eight months ago. The boy inside squirms and kicks, erecting thick spines of skin beneath my inquisitive fingers. I always imagined myself a maker of girls, of women, but I think at him that I love him just the same. There is no crime in contradicting my fantasies. Everyone else has managed it at some point.
There are things I cannot fantasize. My boy and my girl as adults, or on the cusp, taking possession of the world as death begins to give my generation a lusty eye. I cannot imagine them big and strong and completing thoughts about philosophies and enemies while our bodies wither and strain and fall apart in a million, petty, petulant ways.
My grandmother used to tell me never to get old. That there was nothing good about it. She missed that her being old was certainly good for me. Or maybe she didn’t, she wasn’t being so serious.
Right now the weather in Rome is beautiful. The city began to tremble and purr again September first. The hot coma of August forgotten in a day. A brisk air blew the Romans back from their beaches, the old brown ones, the young loud ones, the rarer ones with pale, inscrutable grimaces–deviants within the Italian way.
But in spite of my favorite season taking its perch, it has to be said that I am down. Struggling. I have a husband. He claims to love me, but we don’t talk much. He is a facilitator, a busy bee. Maybe that we don’t talk makes the loving come easier. Maybe talk is unrelated to love. Maybe we do talk and I’m just depressed. And he’s just busy buzzing about, as he sees it. I feel guilt even questioning how much company he should provide. Ingratitude, shadowed by loneliness, followed by resentment at the ingratitude. Must I always run to my friends for company? I am being unfair. Probably I am being unfair.
It is one of those: ‘I gave up everything’ days. And even as I submit my claim by snubbing him, I know it is nonsense. Dear Edda, marriage is not easy. Especially when you become pregnant and are genetically punished with gestational diabetes even though you are exceedingly fit and reasonably thin. I pull chubby pearls of blood from my fingertips all day long and wait through the anxious countdown on the glucose to machine to see if the time for insulin has arrived. So far it has not, but the placenta is ever growing, ever sending stronger hormonal signals that interfere with my ability to produce insulin. It is a siege. My men are holding out on a diet of lean proteins, vegetables, toast, olive oil, nuts, unflavored yogurt, some fruit, soy milk without sugar, and absolutely nothing else. Being melodramatic, I call it the: “eat nothing that tastes good frequently” diet. Actually, it’s fairly close to my regular consumption pattern, but I want my occasional Twix bar, my ample bowls of cereal softened in soy milk, sugar-added. I want my wine. Was that out loud?
All of this restraint enhances the self-pitying sense that I have moved halfway across the world and am being punished with a culture I never had any particular interest in, but in which the people are too kind to broker any legitimate complaint. Why can’t they just be a little more Finnish, so I can complain about all the cold salmon AND how much fish they eat?
The truth may be that if I were not forbidden red wine and chocolate and long runs and a good night’s sleep and a body that was easy to steer, none of these grievances would make a peep. The truth is more likely that we always generate grievances. Schopenhauer believed that everything we do is meant to stave off the curse of boredom, inertia. Maybe generating grievances falls under that rubric. I for one think it’s right and good to have these days. Benjamin Franklin believed that good people should always have at least one bad vice; this is what makes you relatable, human, other than cloyingly perfect. I think the same is true of venting, from time to time, our trifling tribulations. Your mamma is a peasant no less preoccupied with the picayune than the rest.


Baby Hating: On Misopedia and Generation X

August 8, 2010

“I just don’t see myself with a screaming baby,” observed a friend of mine concerning her decision to opt out of child bearing. I had not asked her why. Hers is not a choice I question. After all, she is a thoughtful and incredibly hard-working citizen of the world whose considerable ambitions are simply leading her elsewhere. Moreover, although I have a child of my own who is incontrovertibly the joy of my existence, I am grateful to be a part the first generation whose women can choose not to be mothers without inviting much, if any, consternation.

And yet her comment left me wondering: But why does she reduce babies to screaming? Babies do a lot of non-screaming stuff: They poop in odd pastels. They drool. They urinate unselfconsciously–sometimes on you. They eat and sleep, giggle and coo, and are soft and splendid. Most of all, they don’t remain babies for long enough to avoid them just because of that…

There have always been kid haters. Historically, they are crotchety old neighbors overly concerned with children trespassing in their yards. In some way, it is no different today, save that the yard is now the realm of extended adolescence, to which children pose an existential threat.

The vanguard of our parent’s generation vowed never to trust anyone over thirty. Well over thirty now themselves, they have enriched industries which console them with the promise that they will, at least, never have to look a day over thirty. The vanguard of our generation, never a group to be outdone, has simply vowed never to turn thirty in the first place, at least in style. From the animated videos of MGMT or Gorillaz; to our Pippi Longstockings, metal lunch box aesthetic; to the ubiquity of theme and costume parties for hip, old fogeys; to the wild popularity of adult cartoon shows like South Park and The Family Guy—the will to juvenile transgression dominates our personal expression. It’s as if we, instead of interpreting adult fun anew, have forced all of our grandparent’s rules into born-again virginity so that we can deflower the land over which our parents have already tread (in their actual youth.) My generation’s rebellion, sadly, is sloppy seconds. It is also mostly unfocussed and self-indulgent. We are perhaps the first generation whose urban, thirty-something men dress up for Halloween and whose grown women celebrate themselves in unicorns and cupcakes. There is nothing inherently wrong with this save that, meanwhile, our prepubescent daughters have taken the adult helm. While we are cavorting in oversized sweaters and ripped stockings, they are learning from The Bratz and The Winx Club how to dress like Lebanese club girls…at the age of four.

As much as I love a good party, we do the long-term truth of ourselves no favors when we flinch at the fact of sexual maturity, much less at being reminded of our own overripe reality. To not appreciate all of our phases in their newness, to try to force them to conform to the pleasures of our youths past, strikes me as potentially limiting. I recall discussing a new paramour with one ex boyfriend–a progressive, liberal-minded man:

“She sounds like a great woman,” I told him, thinking to flatter.

“Don’t call her that” he replied, disgust evident.

“What?” I countered, mystified.

“A ‘woman’….she’s…my girlfriend.”

“She’s twenty-eight; she hasn’t been a girl for awhile now.” I responded. And hung up.

But this is the truth of certain, influential segments of our generation. The formerly autonomous realms of childhood and adulthood are now shipwrecked, their detritus intertwined. Whether it is good or bad, I cannot say. But that it is more interesting and strange than we acknowledge is undeniable.

The friend I mentioned at the outset of this unspooling thought is not child-averse in general. However, distaste for children is evident among many in my cohort, who characterize them as grating, dirty, irritating, and intrusive. In other words, using terms not so different than the middle and upper classes used to characterize the poor immigrants of yore with whom they must have realized they would ultimately have to compete. I suspect that the parallel might extend even beyond terminology. Consider people like my friend Peter, a thirty-four year old Brooklynite who dressed as a Rubik’s cube last year for Halloween. By his own account he is easily ruffled by actual children: ‘I was at a bar and some kid grabbed my beer off the table, like that was funny.’ he complained to me, not long ago.

Or ‘I was at the grocery store, and some mom was blocking the aisle with her stroller. Couldn’t she see that there wasn’t enough room for it in there? Couldn’t she come back some other time?’ (I explained to him the technical challenge of holding a baby while shopping for groceries and that, often, no, there is no other time when you are toting around a small human.) Pete is far from alone though. Check the New York Times comment section when it comes to issues of children in public. You will find reams of letters about how barely tolerable the readership finds your squirming offspring in their space.

One gets the feeling from him and others like him that our generation has colonized childhood whimsy and now seeks to exclude actual children. Why should that be? I can posit a number of reasons, beyond the suggestion that children are messy and loud. (After all, half the hipsters I know are certifiably the same.) For instance, children remind us that we are grownups. No, worse still: that we are suddenly OLD, by any historical standard other than our own, approaching infertility even. More terrible than that, children require us to be grownups. Unlike our indulgent, freewheeling, baby boomer parents, children do need something from us other than to be perfect snowflakes of individuality. In fact, children need us to not be individuals at all. They need us to be boring, responsible, emotionally stable, accessible and consistent in our behavior. They are not interested in reading our stream of consciousness narrative elaborating our sexual dysfunction.

Secondary to these problems is the fact that, no matter how childlike our costumes, we simply cannot affect the succulent weirdness that is so naturally theirs. That has got to sting. We are but broken down, diaphanous apparitions next to their sanguine sideshow. We can draw moustaches on our fingers or cut our hair in ironic mullets or acquire the accouterments of any counterculture we like, but we will never be as chaotically strange and impenetrable and naturally wild and free as a four year old again, no matter how many thrift shops we plunder. So maybe we resent kids, just a little, for having what, deep down, we know we have outgrown and can never get back.

Another friend, almost leaving his thirties without children of his own, posted not long ago on Facebook what a beautiful relief it had been to visit a museum during a party that was twenty-one and up. No exhausting, screaming children underfoot, he’d proclaimed, ringing victorious. Bear in mind, this is someone who unapologetically laments the bounty of human stupidity in the world. He doesn’t seem to realize that children in museums are the steep price we must pay to mitigate that very stupidity.

To be honest, given all the wailing and gnashing of teeth I hear over the travails of encountering children in public: wrecking dinners, ruining plane trips, disrupting museum outings and so forth, I myself cannot recall, in all of my copious dinners out and long haul flights (I won’t pretend I go to museums all the time, but I see some art now and again) one notable incident of my outing meeting with a tortured, child-related end. I am sure a child has kicked the back of my chair at some point; I only wish my life were so good that this were among the more memorable of its tragedies.

In reality, a noisy child disrupts my evening no more than a noisy adult or a barking dog, and certainly less than a motorcycle revving up. I find children clatter far, far less distracting than the engrossing, expletive laden sex talk you and your bff are having at the next table over. Or than the friend you brought to the movie who has seen it already and insists on telling you that, ‘ohoh, this is a good part!’ It is possible that I am strange, insofar as kids are just part of the background noise I reflexively tune out. I admit that there may be people who have a dog whistle-like response to children’s voices. And it’s not as if I am not easily annoyed in general. I go from zero to irate over slow walkers who crowd the sidewalk, crowds of tourists who block the Roman alleys, people who don’t give up their seats on buses for old ladies, or else who stand too close to me gabbing into their cell phones. I bristle at surly wait staff, and those people who rush to grab the outdoor table at the bar even though you were already standing there waiting when they walked up (as if they didn’t see you!)

In the end analysis, while children are sometimes clumsy and sometimes loud, in my experience these children tend to be disciplined and/or removed from the situation in due time. For the hostile and callous adults, I cannot say the same. So perhaps this is just a question of degrees: the degree to which one expects other humans, big or small, to conform to his or her fantasies of the ideal public space. I do not expect parents to keep children confined to backyards and parks, like pets. After all, pets do not have to grow up to feed into our social security system and prop us up economically and socially when we are old and can no longer carry our groceries and wipe our own bottoms. Also, Spot and Muffy will be long since buried in the backyard by the time it comes for our children to take their turn at bat. In the meantime, I think it unwise to start leaving children in the backyard, mostly because the neighbors will call CPS.

All of this leads me to conclude that the most disturbing thing I see in this latent hostility towards children is its act of forgetting–that these jittery, little individuals are not merely minor noise hiccups in our muzak-purring adult atmospheres, nor even dread reminders that our youth is past and our semblance of youth a half-baked one at best, but instead, these sticky, howling little agents of chaos are our posterity. They are here to replace us, true, but they mean us no harm. To the contrary, they are the reason that we must save the environment and end war and try to make the world a better place and so forth. I guarantee you that the ice sheets themselves do not care that they are melting and that, no matter how many baby doll dresses we pull over forty-year-old bodies, nor how tight we pull our jowls back with surgery, we’ll still be long dead before climbing temperatures devour the birthright we’ve been squandering. So, when we set out to save the world, either we are deluded about our mortality, or we are doing it for our smaller companions. Maybe because they will carry our story, or perhaps simply because they have the same right to revel in the beauty of this world that we have enjoyed. What we risk forgetting, in our child scorn, is that it requires something more than tolerance of us to make these inheritors of ours good people; that to make our generation’s children responsible adults indeed requires that they encounter in us, on the whole, a kind and generous example–one that wants them to learn and experience responsibly, and to be present in the institutions and for the rituals which they will inherit.

We cannot, in fairness, colonize childhood for ourselves and exclude children from it. And if we carry the will to save our species from itself, we must accept that this goal is not one that encompasses the little ones around us only as an afterthought, but rather that, in order for us to succeed, they must be at the heart of our efforts.

Dear Ed, 8/2

August 2, 2010

You’ve stashed away two years and three months now. There’s hardly any stopping you. This week your grandmother and the stylist at her neighborhood salon took scissors to your curly blond mullet. The hair on the top of your hair has been growing inexplicably slowly with respect to that on the back of your head. Suffice it to day, something had to be done. You protested, as you do with any threat to complete autonomy. You get that from your father (from me.) You really did have a mullet though, one worthy of rural Georgia. I don’t know if you’ll ever make it to Georgia. Afterall, you are growing up Italian. It’s strange to watch one’s own child filling with a language other than one’s own. Your rhythm is Italian. Even your babble bears Italian inflection. All day you ask: “Che fai, mamma? Che fai?” You greet neighbors and passers-by with a robust: “Buon Giorno!” When angry, you call me ‘cattiva.’ You ask for ‘acqua’ and answer my questions with either ‘si’ or that Italian ‘no,’ swallowing the ‘o.’
I guess you belong to this country. It is making you. When you and everyone around you comes from the same place it is hard to be struck by the ‘placeness’ of people. But there it is.
There are glimmers of hope though. You point to the sky and declare the ‘planes’ overhead. You mumble-sing ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,’ as well as Happy Birthday. You don’t drink five espressos a day. Yet.
Your personality selects you a little more every week. You are fantastically stubborn, and also outgoing, but at the same time independent and non-aggressive. You approach the other children and babies in the park and pet their hair, declaring ‘cara’ as Italians do with dogs, but then you want to go your own way: climbing the hills and tree trunks and fences and chasing the pigeons and attempting to ride strange dogs–all unmolested by companionship.
You’ve been spanked twice for two things: Biting me (hard, too!) when I wouldn’t let you out of the fenced-in playground (there were unfriendly dogs with careless owners out roaming) and trying to run into the street after repeated warnings and ‘no’s. For every other sort of outburst, you receive quiet time. But you don’t require much disciplining. I don’t begrudge you your strong will when it isn’t dangerous to you, or my leg, nor your curiosity and need to explore. I give-in to all reasonable requests and directions. I am even a little proud when the other mothers look dismayed upon your climbing antics and declare you: “spericolata!” (fearless)–although at the end of the day your shins do look like a minefield. This is the way my grandmother was with me.
You are the bearer of a few odd habits. You dearly like to rub my fingers (and fingernails in particular) between your thumb and forefinger; other times it’s the fabric of my shirt or sweater; or else the pair of purple-plaid pajama pants that you’ve confiscated and drag around the apartment. Every night at bedtime, you take my hand and pull me, insist that I come lay down with you. I go. I sing you songs. Then you rise, wish me ‘ciao, ciao’ and return to the living room alone. Because apparently it’s my bedtime, not yours. First thing in the mornings, before you consent to eat or beg me to put on The Wiggles, you come out of the bedroom and climb into my lap and lay there quietly for five to ten minutes.
These are some of the greatest moments of my existence so far.
When you are very, very angry at me (usually for denying you some sugar-bomb grandma indulgence) and when crying is getting you nowhere, you’ve gotten into the habit of growling at me. Tearfully, you look me in the eye, and then ‘grrrr,’ like a lion. Under normal circumstances, this is part of your favorite game: you growl like a lion and I pretend to be scared. Then you shout ‘lion’ at me and I growl and chase you around. Except when you are mad, I think you mean to really scare me. Sometimes, when growling doesn’t work, you try barking at me. I do my level best not laugh.


March 11, 2010

Spring tumbles in from the cold clad in the pulpen rosy blossoms clotting atop the Judas trees. It falls from the sky in clumps of rain.
It clutches lip to cracked teen-aged lip in the back of Roman busses. It backs up spinster perfume against new worlder curry escaping through pores—that they might gyrate unpleasantly together. And make the crumpled shelter of traffic sound in the street seem a reprieve.
Spring I feel only in happy times, trapped in those God conscious non-moments, but the crap shed on the sidewalk by remarkably Italian dogs, coiled serpentine and waiting for an unwitting step. Now, that, that is all year.

May 29, 1453

February 28, 2010

Constantine the last
Dropped into the fickle soil:
Carrara charnel
In Hagia Sofia
Priests blown into particles
Stir in the bellywalls


February 15, 2010

From top to bottom, this day is gray. The weather is as dense and unyielding as concrete. The air is a brick feather. I can hardly stand it. Last night a squid made of snot attached itself to my head, worked its tentacles into my nasal cavities, and began to drip and pulsate there.
It was Valentine’s Day. G told me he doesn’t believe in Valentine’s Day. I reminded him that I heard that speech last year. He’s new to being with women for more than a month or two, so we’ll forgive him that. I told him I didn’t care that he didn’t care. Perhaps I was even convincing. He continued that he didn’t believe you should only do romantic things because it’s one particular day.
I asked when he believed he should do romantic things.
He laughed. And I laughed. And then we watched Mad Men, and I tried to pass out in spite of the crackling of lead expanding between my eyes and mouth.
Valentine’s Day. Who knows. Maybe I don’t care. Maybe I do. I can’t always tell what I care about and what’s just a bad mood with good timing.
Edda, you are finally building onto your days with words. Stringing two together for makeshift sentences. Ecco shoe! Oh no Bubba! One, two! Mamma sock!
The experts say you understand more than you can communicate. Join the club. I wonder if you also believe more than you understand. Miss things you don’t want. Mourn for things that haven’t gone away.
You climb into bed with us every night from your adjacent sleeper. Then you spend the remainder of the night, variously, performing horizontal cartwheels and kicking me in the face. Sometimes you scream or talk in your sleep. Your namesake Ruth did that as well. Night terrors, maybe not. Night tantrums, definitely.
I always thought, when parents would say that their kids were the best thing that happened to them. “oh, well, they have to say that.” Alas, it is true. You can kick my face all you like and I’ll still be happy if I wake and you are there. Like some woman with a bad boyfriend habit. Except you don’t have any tattoos or tell me nasty things about myself. Sometimes you grab onto my nose, but I’m trying not to take it that way.
But really, you are the most joy I have ever felt. Even with some illness unleashed from the labs of HR Geiger chewing up the inside of my face, I still manage to delight in you.

Relentless Roissy

February 9, 2010

This may be the most ghoulish, creepy slop I have ever encountered on the internet. And, having visited serial killer websites and born witness to anime porn, I consider myself something of an aficianado.
This dating ghoul calls himself Roissy. I got curious about him after reading this article from the Weekly Standard via J. The first thing I determined is that he deletes critical comments, leaving the appearance of a rather impossible echo chamber. Either that, or only other angry/horny borderline-personality disorders read his junk. Having lived there, I realize there’s no shortage of aging fratholes in DC, but he’s got to have some among the majority of normal citizens reading (ie disagreeing) with his content.
The second thing I thought, wondered really, was: What kind of real, ‘alpha’ male spends this much time neurotically analyzing the wants and needs of girls of low to middling intelligence and then declares his superiority when he figures out to play on their insecurities? Wow. Groundbreaking.
Here’s the big secret, men: If you are operating under the imperative to randomly hump whatever decent looking girl will spread, play on the insecurities of a lot of them and eventually one who hates herself will put out. And you will be happy for the rest of your life. Or until you leave adolescence.
So that’s all well and good. The real problem is that I tend to think there was some truth to the premise of Idiocracy, and studious hedonists like this are here to help us on our way. We’re animals, now forget transcendance, higher purpose, and go boink that log. It has big boobs and red lipstick!
Also, a lot of his jizzunk is a real load. Having spent a good long while in and among the dating world, the mechanics of what brought people together, kept them there, or drove them apart were not reducible to some cynical parody of human interaction taking place at 3am in the U Street Corridor. I’m growing weary of this trend wherein urban hipsters tell cynical “truths” about “realities” in which only the same three people that listen to their favorite bands participate.
Like their cd collections, this guy’s lifestyle is a lesson is obscurity.
I suppose there is a small realness to this purported reality though; a reality occupied by lonely people whose souls have corroded away beneath the weight of insecurities, or narcissism, or materialism, but even David Buss (the real master of what ev bio means) pointed out that our higher consciousness can and does leave us with the option of subverting our baser instincts in search of, oh I don’t know, a companion who enriches our experience of life in ways other than salivating on or near our genitalia. The real ‘real’ truth is that most of us don’t feel the overwhelming need to spend our lives sidling up to every pretty thing we see and attempting to hump it.
I suspect there is a subtler truth at play in this misogynistic persona. A story of some mediocre boy, probably a midback on the soccer team, who wept masturbation at all those cheerleaders who had the power to prove what he meant to himself, and yet refused to do so. And now he’s mired and wallowing in his ‘revenge’ of giving two pumps and a squirt to every gullible gal in the vicinity.
Meanwhile, there’s a lot of junk this ‘truth teller’ willfully ignores, up to and including the fact that men benefit substantially more than do women by marriage, in terms of stress and longevity.
But perhaps more importantly, that slutting around with young, insecure women who fall for being neglected and abused does not seem to have led to his own happiness. This guy’s choice of tone and topics, indeed his life, is more negative and depressing than Ivan Denisovich’s. A forever of bitter ranting and rutting? Reading his blog as ‘eventual suicide porn,’ I get. But as advice? Wow. Where do I sign up?

child effects

January 25, 2010

Kids make us old. Mostly this is because we tend to be getting old anyway. But also where they have a unique ability to give us a close-up of how fast it’s all going by–the burst and fade of their firsts, the immovable depths of doneness as we sort through outgrown onesies. It’s as if the lightning pace of their development marks everything in its vicinity. Nowadays, I am often startled by a voice; it tells me to turn off that re-run of 90210, because, after all, today is not practice for some other life when I can do it again without the bad tv. This is it, show time. And besides, I already know who killed Dylan’s father and if I really wanted to investigate a mystery I might look into how a dour thirty year-old won a part playing a sensitive, teen hearththrob.
So things here are speeding along, as nature insists they must. Edda, for instance, before reaching even two years of age, has been taken by the dance. The crescent legume she calls a torso begins to bob, such that it is impossible to say whether she means to go up and down or side to side. Then, without warning, her arms fly out flailing, one with zero regard for what the other is doing. And yet, in spite of this motley din of motion, that she is dancing is clear.
Partly it is clear is because she is watching The Wiggles. And by she, I mean we. Yes, I have gone from indecipherable foreign films to overly simplistic kids show. You’ll be relieved to learn that the mind numbing boredom they conjure is very similar. The Wiggles is the only show we let Edda watch with any regularity. The Wiggles collective is comprised of four Australian pre-school teacher/musicians named Greg, Jeff, Murray, and…Bill…Ben? The one whose gag is that he overeats.
They sing Jewish folk songs, songs about camels, and about mashed bananas. The rumor in my head is that they are funded by a cabal of elderly Orientalists. But as they also sing about dinosaurs and pirates, it could also be paleontologists or those hipsters who are obsessed with pirates. Or is it cupcakes. Or robots. Or moustaches. Or eighties aerobics gear. You see, I am too old to keep up.
In any event, the leader of the band, who wears a yellow shirt and a lopsided smile, has come down with a degenerative, neurological illness. This also makes me feel relatively old. She watches bursts of color and happy faced songs. I watch a sad narrative completeness to their tale.
It seems though, watching the sky, the elegant compromise between screaming gulls and updrafts, that a little eternity seeps in through the cracks of discrete moments, of events. She will have always danced a first, bumbling jig. I will have always clapped along, smiling. That things which are done cannot be undone, are both over and ossified, is a discord that depends on perhaps which lobe we happen to inhabit at the moment. The narrative lobe or the continuum. If time is really more a map than a trajectory, then our footprints are cemented in the springtime of its perimeters. Next door, our memories, insect sketches of hovering, personal pasts, with our footprints holding down the perimeters. I wonder, which of these moments between us will make the grade. That our moments held in common will not translate into common recollections, particularly with the onslaught of puberty.
I heard in an interview today that neuroscientists claim our proud rationality functions mostly as de facto rationalization of behaviors and beliefs with myriad motivators. That there are many correct conclusions seems unsurprising to me; that we think we can apprehend some ultimate among them, an ironic irrationality, perhaps a bravery or a fear or most likely that indistinct thing of living that we collectively flee.

Back from Vacation

January 15, 2010

Here are some annoying things since we’ve been back:
1. The shower only gets lukewarm. No explanation, all other faucets get hot and there is plenty of gas in the tank. As a consequence, I am not shaving or using conditioner. I expect to be a wooly mammoth with crispy hair in short order.
2. Baby won’t sleep until 2am. And I am no longer 19, so that is no longer fun.
3. Pretty sure the baby has lice. And so we have lice. Turns out lice are not as bad as I used to imagine. They can only live a couple of hours off the scalp, so you don’t have to burn your pillows. They don’t spread disease, so are not particularly dangerous. You only get them from head to head contact, so anyone who headbutts me in the next week will receive my passive retaliation. On the other hand: gross…and itchy.
4. Giulio ate all of the dark chocolate Toblerone from the duty free shop. In one sitting. I like dark chocolate. He likes to eat large amounts of one thing in a sitting. Are we still compatible?

Dear E 12/25,

December 25, 2009

As you can probably see from the date, it’s Christmas day. The droll and solid mass of your grandfather is hunched over the sink, pouring the briny juice from the pot in which the turkey soaked overnight. Your Oma Liesien, as you have so quickly learnt to call her, is tending to the plump and mottled red sausages hissing in the pan. Her pure white hair hangs at blunt, clean angles around her lovely and entirely reasonable face.
You are in our room, which used to be your uncle Joe’s. You lie between the pillows on the bed, between your parents’ abandoned places, in the middle where you demand to be around 2:30am every morning. Sometimes you meow in your sleep.
Last night you puked on the bed. A sludgey puddle with wisps of cheese. We’ve run the gamut of symptoms over the past two weeks since arriving: your hoarse cough, your three days of significant fever, a disappearing/reappearing rash–hives of red with pale polka dots.
And yet, beyond these inconveniences, being here seems to make no difference to you. Only to us.
You love Bubba, the parents’ dog, like you love your own dog, Helwa. “Bubba, Bubba” you cry upon waking. You feed him cookie after cookie. You grasp his black and brown face and cackle with joy.
You try to steal his grimy chew-rope and you know to back off when he growls.
You also love the cat, Peter, whom you call ‘Meow’, along with the rest of his kind, as well as cows, squirrels and the monkeys at the zoo with their crumpled black and infantile faces.
The cat has scratched you a couple of times now. Little ones on the cheek or the wrist. You get angry. You stomp up to him and yell “meow!” Just once and loud.
We went to Spider House last Saturday morning. It’s a cobbled contrivance of a coffee bar in a city full of cobbled contrivances: Austin, Texas. The city is known by locals as ‘the velvet rut’, because people never leave or always come back. You can spend a long lifetime there accomplishing not a lot very happily. The city is ultra tolerant, most of all of that.
I would move us back there in an instant, if it were at all a lucrative place.
Anyhow, I wonder if the proprieters of these intentionally ad hoc destinations have taken this style of decor and assigned it a discretion, a name, an ethos. Probably they have, something obnoxious. “Shabby chic,” I have heard. Maybe transient trendy. Hobo hip. Junkyard je ne sais quoi.
We four sat at a picnic table in the jumble garden. My sister and her (second) wife. Me and my (first) husband. (Where spouses, if not their titles, can keep their married names and hold on the imaginations of those who reviled or replaced them.)
Did you know, in Italy it takes three or four years to finalize a divorce? There’s a waiting period in which time you can only build some single zombie half-life. You are urged to seek counseling, and obliged to avoid affairs, the stain of adultery. The divorce rate there is like three percent or something insane.
Overall, I think this Catholic artifact plugging up the bureaucracy is a good thing. Our world has gotten so casual, so easy to mold into something suitable, like a kinky leather suit. Once we get rid of death, we probably won’t have anything to do with each other at all anymore. Children will certainly go out of style.
Until then, you’ve been cursed with a mother who thinks being too easy on oneself is a form of masochism. People who want to avoid labor and love, I’m never really sure what else they could be after.
Anyway, I digress. We sat at the picnic table amidst metal chairs shedding their rusty paint like serpent skins, amidst concrete angels missing extremities, mismatched tiles, where there were tiles, and the occasional eruption of grackels. I had a cappuccino, which I only ever drink half of, given how caffeine makes my heart skip beats. It feels sort of like someone is working one of those red toilet plungers beneath your sternum. It also feels like you’re going to piss your pants if keeps up like this.
The ladies were sharing Mexican Martinis. I used to have to make them when I bartended at the Driskill. Those and Cosmos. (This was the girly, non-smoking bar downstairs. Nowadays it is all non-smoking. I wonder where the fat, old senators take their cigar husks anymore. The soccer moms may get rid of smoking, but they’ll never do away with fat old senators.)
Your father was chasing you between the pierced and tatted up goths and the bursts of grackels.
I told my sister her hands were lovely: long and lithe. My sister held them out and turned them over. She said they were swollen from all the booze. She wanted to get the drinking in before they tried to get pregnant. I kept the lecture about how alcoholism doesn’t prepare the body for pregnancy secured in my head, prepared for someone I know better than my sister. Perhaps future you.
We had a good talk, about how nurses and grade school teachers have the best immune systems in the world, and how incoming grade school teachers all get the crud like a rite of passage. I added that living in a co-op also did wonders for the immune system–not to mention increasing one’s sense of tolerance, reducing that of personal space, and providing you with health conditions to leave you prepared to eat off the ground in Juarez.
Her eyes are shot through with green and her high cheekbones are delightfully freckled, just like our mothers. She looks like your grandmother, prettier and not as beautiful.
You ate your sweet potato mush and your pea mush and then some tortilla chips, without hesitation. Her wife threw my sister long, charmed looks, unseen, as she spoke to me. Someone to look after her.
My sister told me it would be a great thing for our mother if I took you to see her, though prudently refusing to act as intermediary. (In fact, I am sworn not to tell anyone that we speak and meet.)
She claimed that JoAnn has mellowed over the years. She now attends the parish in our neighborhood rather than drive to the rich Catholics’ congregation out in the hills. She volunteers. Her grandchildren from my brother are, for the most part, as defective as he is. It would be a dream for her to see a healthy, rosy-cheeked bit of progeny.
I take this conversation back to my father. He tells me that, after about ten minutes on the phone with her, some weeks ago, she launched into a diatribe about how I was a shit, our whole family were selfish shits, and my grandmother had been a pig.
On the desk in this room, there is a bag of stuff she sent here for you. Contents: A powder blue sweater with fat little buttons; a toy phone from my very early childhood. A handkerchief my grandmother made. You picked up the phone to play and I pulled it from you, to howls of protest. I set it high up in the closet. She may have poisoned it.
Now you are up, telling me mamma from behind your green ciucio.
You hand me the lighter your father left on the dresser and pull down the very vanilla cookies embossed with letters. You are now feeding them to Bubba.
Ahpoopie. There is a poopie. I am telling you now. Time for a change.