Wednesday, February 25, 2009

And this person did...what?

Hi, All. Sorry for the hiatus. Take a sick kid (ear infection), add an equally sick mother (unofficial diagnosis of S.A.D.), and you have a blogger with not much to say. But I'm back. Thanks for noticing me. (And thanks to Eeyore for such a great line.)

There are some famous people in this world whose appeal escapes me. A whole slew of them, in fact. So as not to drone on, I’ll try to limit my examples to just a couple:

Sarah Jessica Parker. What is the appeal here? It can’t possibly be her appearance. She’s quite common. I’m no beauty queen myself, but then again I’m not world-renowned, nor am I featured on hair-coloring advertisements. What do people see in this woman? Honestly? She’s thin, yes, but it seems she is famous mostly for her fictional glamorization of sleeping around—at least that’s my understanding of that show that made her famous—and I hardly think that performance merits the hoopla this chica gets from the “in” crowd. I wish someone could explain it to me.

Justin Timberlake. This is a heartthrob? Are you kidding me? Come on, he reminds me of a gal pal’s kid brother who plays little league ball and leaves dirty footprints on the carpet. Sexy? Hardly. Does he even shave? And the musical talent eludes me as well. Take away the driving beat and boy-band harmonies and what have you got? Lame. His participation in the Janet Jackson Super Bowl fiasco only made the whole scam more pathetic.

Obama. Yes, I’m sorry to say, his charm is lost on me, as are his golden-tongued persuasive speeches about rebuilding our country. As the conceited one has already boldly reminded us all, he “won.” So when will he start doing what he said he’d do? I tried to watch that speech to congress last night, I really did. And it read like so many pre-election speeches, meant to inspire and bolster confidence and all that #@&*. I’m all about the action, people—and as much as I love words, I know not to trust them. The more glib the speaker, the more you should beware. This guy scares me.

So, there you have it. Most superstars don’t live up to the hype, and today’s versions are no different—be they actors, musicians, or politicians.

Here’s a great quote I stumbled across, though:

Prosperity is when people buy things they can’t afford; recession is when they stop doing it.
-H. E. Martz, WSJ, 1963

Find more wise chuckles here.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Monkey's parallel universe

One of Marcus’ favorite stuffed toys is a monkey whom he’s named—appropriately enough—Monkey. (So logical, my boy is. I love it.) Monkey doesn’t possess quite the same long-standing favor as, say, the twin teddies, but he’s pretty close. Monkey is a frequent player in Rescue Bunny, Doctor Bunny, and any other pretend game that goes on here. He is also known to ride in, and even drive!, various trucks around the house. He’s been seen bull-riding on Eddy Bunny’s dad at least once. He sometimes sits with us at meals, and he is always present when Marcus goes to sleep at night.

The funny thing is that Monkey has taken on a strong personality of his own, and apparently it’s such a sparkling personality that it’s given birth to a whole alternate world. Monkey’s world is not a Bizarro World, where things are opposite what they are in real life; Monkey’s world is more of a companion world, where situations and events are similar to what goes on here at our house, on our street, with our friends, etc.

For example, a song will come on the radio, and Marcus will proclaim, “I love this song. Monkey plays this song at his house all the time.” Or, Marcus will be enjoying a particular food, and he’ll tell me, “We eat this at Monkey’s every day.”
Many days include informal play dates at Monkey’s: “I’m going to Monkey’s this afternoon to play. Hedgehog can’t come because he is sick.”

Sometimes, the exact same thing happens in Monkey’s World as is happening in ours; Marcus and Daddy saw an accident scene on the road as they drove home the other night, and sure enough, Marcus and Monkey had seen flashing lights along the road earlier that day. A water main broke on our street late one night, and wouldn’t you know it, a main broke on Monkey’s street the very next day. Monkey has friends at preschool just as Marcus does; Monkey also tends to suffer the same injuries as Marcus does… You get the idea.

I'm amused that this is the first obvious imaginary friend—a soft, bean-bag primate, a faithful friend, a fuzzy pal with whom Marcus can share everything that he can’t or won’t share with his live counterparts. Sometimes, in rare quiet moments when Marcus plays in his room, I can just barely hear him in there conversing with Monkey (whose voice is very high, I’ve discerned). I wonder what they’re talking about. I wonder what Monkey has to say about it all. I imagine him listening carefully to my boy, then lifting an eyebrow and commenting in sage fashion. I picture him hanging by his long tail, swinging idly from a bedpost while the two of them plan their next Duplo engineering feat. I picture him smirking in a silly fashion as they hide successfully from Eddy Bunny in a good-natured game of hide-and-seek.

The whole exercise takes me back to my youth, when I honestly suspected that stuffed animals came to life when I wasn’t looking. I suppose I knew the truth even then, and yet—can’t you picture Monkey going about his business in that alternate world? His existence isn’t really any more absurd than our own, when you think about it.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Reality TV at its worst

I was thinking about this whole fiasco in congress (a.k.a. the spendulus bill), and all the big changes in the White House—you know, closing prisons, releasing terror suspects, frightening the tax-paying populace into compliance, and best of all, "Obama Time" (otherwise known as tardiness)—and I wondered what all the world must be thinking. I mean, I know they have other things on their minds, like wildfires, and fuel shortages, and gun violence rising in the wake of no-guns laws... which is probably why they're all the more delighted to watch the silly goings on here in the good ol' USA.

Think about it: U.S. features on the evening news must be one of the best reality shows ever, if you don't live in the States. Look at those senators bickering amongst themselves, fighting for power by sneaking things onto bills. Watch the newest rock star and his well-dressed family strut their stuff. See how the huge companies that flourished are folding now? Serves them right. And those CEOs, still making millions in bonuses alone, stuttering when their leer jet is discovered behind some curtain? Yeah, well, that's how it is on TV. Oh wait, this is really real.

Does that reality show thought make you cringe? It does me. It's starting to feel like the U.S. is the popular, attractive, athletic kid in high school that everyone liked, and admired, and secretly envied... and then when that kid screwed up—gained too much weight, or failed a class, or was caught misbehaving somewhere—he or she fell from grace. And a lot of those people who shook their heads and said "what a shame" were really, underneath, chuckling evilly. Because people are cruel, aren't they? They may pretend to think it tragic, but often they're hiding a smirk behind a carefully placed hand. Don Henley said it best: "People love it when you lose; they love dirty laundry."

These days, it feels like we're that kid. We're flabby. We've failed at some things. And our respectability? Sadly lacking. Just look at our leaders. I'm still not ashamed to be an American, because I know we're not all represented by the boobs on the news, but I'm not sleeping so well when I imagine what we look like to the rest of the world.

P.S. Just discovered a site, and boy I'm learning a lot. Take a peek, if you'd like—right here.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Boy, I really stink at this mom thing

Sometimes, I just hope that God isn’t watching me too carefully. (Yeah, I know He is, but just humor me for a minute or two. It makes me feel a bit less guilty.)

It’s Day 5 of my current illness, a strange conglomerate of sore throat, cold, cough, and sinus issues. I am tired, still sick, and generally very irritable. I want to sleep, and sleep some more, but I can’t breathe when I sleep, so it’s often an exercise in frustration and futility. Mostly, I want quiet. And I have an almost-4-year-old who won’t stop talking. So, quiet has not been had.

And today was my talkative darling's Valentine’s Day party at preschool. I had made invitations, he had helped, we’d taped SweetTart hearts to them, we’d gotten fruit and veggies to take into his class, etc. Mostly, I couldn’t wait to drop him off so I could come home and sleep a bit. In silence. Sitting up in the comfy chair so I could take in breath while sleeping. Ahhhhhhhhhh. Doesn’t that sound nice?

Until it all fell into jeopardy; my son told me his stomach hurt this morning. He visited the bathroom upon my recommendation, had success, said he felt better, and voila, we were on our way with bags to preschool. Except. Then his stomach hurt again. Then, as we drove, he wanted to not go in, and to just return home and play.

This is where it gets ugly, folks. This is where I’m hoping some lovely angel was singing to God really loudly and drowning out the honking, sniffling, crabby voice that emerged from my mouth as I had a little “talking to” with my kid:

“Okay, now you understand, if you’re sick, there’s no rowdy playing. If your tummy hurts, you will act like a kid whose tummy hurts, and stay still, and lie on the couch, and NOT jump off the stool 50 times. Because Mommy really needs this time to get things done.”

“Okay, I know. I won’t jump off the stool.”

“That’s right, because sick kids don’t jump off stools. If you’re well enough to play hard, then you’re well enough to go to preschool.”

“Okay, I know.”

We drove to school, every void in the car filled with his happy little voice; then we dropped the things off at school, and I gave him another chance. Still he complained about the tummy. I reminded him again of the stark truth of illness: “Remember, this is not going to be special play time with Mommy. Mommy is still sick too. And Mommy needs to get things done. Okay?”


We left the school parking lot, on to the library, and I parked and slid our books into the book drop. We started to drive away. And then he blindsided me: “I think I feel well enough to go.”

“Now you’re just playing head games with me. Are you trying to make me angry?” Yes, I really said that to a 3 1/2-year-old. I did. And it gets worse. He said,

“No, Mommy. I can jump off stools now.”

“So what do you want to do?” I asked this, as we were driving in the opposite direction, still not far from the school, but moving away from it. (I didn’t ask it in a very nice voice, I’ll admit.)

“I want to go.”

“Are you SURE?”

“Yes, I want to go.”

“Fine.” I turned onto a side road, into someone’s driveway, redirected the car, and started back in the direction of the school. And then he said,

“Hurry up.”

Well, people, I freaked. I said, “Don’t you ever tell me to hurry up, you ungrateful little child! I don’t ever want to hear those words come out of your mouth, especially after you’ve been playing mind games with me!” Without a moment’s hesitation, my sweet little boy burst into tears, of course, and they rivuleted their way down his soft cheeks, and at first I was righteously indignant and enraged, and then I felt bad. And then, worse. He probably did have a stomachache. It probably did stop aching. Even if it didn’t, I shouldn’t have yelled at him like that. And mostly, I'm ashamed to say, I thought Oh CRAP, what are those teachers going to think when they see his little reddish wet eyes? I almost turned around and made him come home anyway, but the thought of him wailing about missing the party and me being sick and irritable and a wretch in general was too much to bear. We drove back to school, and I was calm by then: I gave him one last option out in case he was still feeling ill. But the poor kid was probably terrified at the thought of being home alone with me—he opted to go in. So I walked him in.

And I drove home, once again wondering what in the world God was thinking when he gave me this innocent little soul to ruin and rankle. Good grief, I’m not cut out for this.

There, I’ve confessed my ugly moment for today. If there are more to come, I’ll confess them in private and spare you the pain of bearing witness.

The worst part is that now, I feel too awful to nap.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Why I love second-hand

My most recent craigslist purchase was a small, skinny little stereo. (I have already confessed my addition to craigslist, as explained in agonizing detail here.) The stereo was quite cute, much smaller and simpler than my decade-old Aiwa system (although that Aiwa had much better speakers—3-ways, totally superior to the newbies). Anyway. The little stereo popped up one morning on my monitor, and I wrote the seller and expressed my admiration for the item. I was the first to respond, and so the next evening I found myself happily driving to the Strip District with my not-so-crisp $20 bill in my coat pocket.

(On a side note, my craigslist habit has actually served me quite well, in that it’s forced me to explore parts of the city I would otherwise avoid. That Strip District foray was certainly not my first trip to our fair city’s own market district, but it was my first venture onto Railroad Street in quite some time—and my first look at some swank little lofts in an old factory that’s been converted… There are some really interesting and inviting city-living options these days.)

Back to the stereo: the seller showed me that it worked great, played CDs with ease, and took up a fraction of the space consumed by Old Stereo. I bought it and carried it to my car, flush with success. And then when I got it home, and we’d plugged in all the parts and hooked up all the wires, we were perplexed to learn that it buzzed. There was a strange electrical background noise that sang out insistently behind the music and voices. How odd. Todd gave me that look—the “you know you got scammed” look that he reserves for my unapproved craigslist purchases. I bit my tongue and pretended not to notice the annoying sound. In truth, it seemed to become less noticeable the longer the stereo was on. And honestly? For $20? I didn’t mind too much. I had a forgiving heart about that little slim little stereo.

Fast forward a day or two, and the kid and I were turning on the radio, noting (not for the first time) that odd buzzing noise. Even Marcus could hear it clearly. I sat on the floor, looking for the perfect CD to play, and while I perused I punched some random buttons on the front of the stereo. Lo and behold, toggling off the backlight button—in addition to turning off the backlight behind the display—caused the buzzing to cease. Hmmph.

And then I recalled a note in the seller’s ad about the backlight not working. I’d forgotten.

And the mystery was solved. When you turned the stereo on, you could either switch off the backlight, or simply wait for a minute or two, and that buzzing sound would stop. Why did this not annoy me? Why was I not frustrated with such a noticeable and intrusive idiosyncrasy? Because the stereo was used; my expectations were lower. Because I knew even before purchase that the item in question, although appealing, was also not new, not perfect, and therefore prone to system weaknesses and perhaps even failures.

And then it hit me: That is why I love craigslist, why I love used things. My last big craigs purchase? Our current couch. It’s a nice, comfy piece, Ethan Allen, it’s good quality and reliable… but the pattern on the seat cushions is slightly faded from contact with too many backsides, I suppose. The piping on those edges is a bit worn and thinning. Why was I not angry when I noticed this, after we’d purchased the piece and cleaned it? Because I knew there was a chance of that sort of imperfection. I knew, going in, that because the piece had been out there in the world, it couldn’t be perfect. I was getting a deal, but the deal had a catch: used goods have flaws. And I don’t mind, because I know that going in.

I must try harder to remember that my craigslist philosophy applies to us humans, too. We are none of us flawless. We’re out there, used, abused, we’ve been sat on too many times, our backlights are a little bit tired and we groan when someone asks us to brighten up for too long. I must remember to expect less from people. In the same way that craigslist is filled with good deals that are imperfect, my world of human contact is filled with good souls who have scratches, and dents, and are faded.

But oh, have you seen the difference in them if someone loves them again and gives them a second chance? What a deal you will find sometimes, when you acknowledge potential shortcomings up front. I am hoping that others do that for me.

Frosty ennui

The view out the east-facing windows early was spectacular this morning: White snow, dimly illuminated homes with remnants of heat escaping from chimneys, and behind it all a glowing rosy line of sky at the horizon.

It almost made up for last night's ridiculously frigid temperature. Almost.

Boy, do we have a raging case of cabin fever at our house. I daydream of toasty sunshine, balmy breezes, and bare toes several times daily. I am sustained only by the passing of weeks on the calendar, by the knowledge that each day increases by a minute or so in duration, by the promise of change (in the weather--NOT in the White House. Puh-LEEEZ). It's hard to find inspiration to write much of value these days. I have no trouble kvetching about the weather, but Lord knows that's not going to change anything outside, now is it?

Please excuse me—I need to step into my mind for a moment now.

Monday, February 2, 2009

It's good to be king.

Just ask these guys. Or any of the rest of those Stiller boys. What a game.

(Of course, I don't mean "king" in a literal sense; as you well know, socialism permits no aristocracy.)

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Frozen moments

Every now and then, you come upon a moment in time that merits preservation, just as it is, so that it can be revisited time and again for years and years. I had a couple of those recently.

The first? It came earlier on the day that I snapped this photo. It was mid-morning on a recent weekday, and all potential errands had been shelved after the kid and I gazed out the window and then studied the forecast on television. Big, fat flakes were flying, the heavy kind of flakes that accumulate in a matter of minutes. I had decided to dedicate the day to home chores and possibly baking, since a cold, home-bound day is good for little else.

I was folding some laundry in my bedroom; the boy was playing in the living room, just around the corner (our home is a ranch-style house on one floor), and the heater had just kicked on again. We’d forgone the radio to take a noise hiatus, and were simply enjoying a quiet morning in our cozy sanctuary. As I folded, I heard the air rushing from the vent, listened to the soft rustling of the bedclothes I was folding, and breathed in the scent of clean sheets as it wafted over me. And then, in the next room, I heard my little son singing softly to himself; I’m a little teapot, short and stout. But he didn’t sing the words aloud, he simply hummed the tune over and over, in the quiet high voice he uses when he’s unaware that anyone is listening. I could hear the sound of his Duplo blocks too, the small rattle of plastic pieces jumbling together as he searched through a pile for just the right one. He hummed, the blocks clicked, the sheets emitted that gentle scent, and outside the window the picturesque snow descended gracefully, blanketing the world.

There was nowhere else I’d choose to be, in that moment, than in that moment.

The other moment? I met a friend for breakfast last Saturday morning in the Strip District. I stood outside our designated meeting spot, in frigid temperatures, and watched hordes of people stream past the restaurant, nearly all of them clad in black and gold. A large, incredibly dirty delivery truck lumbered by—and written in the dust on the back doors of the vehicle were the words “Here We Go, Steelers.” I stood in line at a different store a bit later, and the middle-aged fellow in front of me sported both expensive loafers and a most ridiculous gold beret with a mishmash of Steeler paraphernalia clipped to its outer edges. My friend and I walked Penn Avenue, the well-known phrases of “Here We Go” ringing in our ears, making our way among throngs of people who sported black and gold fashions and were purchasing even more. Every kiosk featured some of the desired colors, and the Strip’s favorite paper and party goods store boasted a line out the door, perhaps 20 people deep, all waiting to spend hard-earned bucks on Steeler-themed gear for the big game. At one point, as we threaded our way along the cold, crowded sidewalk, gold confetti filled the air for no apparent reason other than the confetti operator simply couldn’t wait another minute to celebrate our glorious team.

I know it’s just a sport. I know the fellows who play the sport are mere humans, with faults and foibles like the rest of us. But oh, what a wonderful feeling, the electricity in the air, the smiles on every face. We’ve lost our collective mind over a team, and it’s such a delightful experience.

After all, God created football, too.

P.S. The best part? Kurt Warner seems to be a great guy who appreciates his many blessings. See this site if you’d like to know more.

And rest assured that whatever the outcome of the game, a deserving team will accept that Lombardi trophy tonight.

P.P.S. I only hope we don't embarrass those poor Cardinals too badly. ; )