Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Adios 2008

It's 10:30 p.m., Dec. 31, 2008. Randi is asleep on our couch, Stella is asleep in her crib. I am awake at my keyboard, but would just as happily be asleep too. Not that New Year's Eve wasn't eventful. It was, just in all the wrong ways.

Today was the day the removal of the lead paint finally took place in our apartment. To make a long story short we had noticed chips when we first moved in to our new place. I had them sent to a lab, and they had lead content. We argued back and forth with our building and building manager about how they were going to do the job, and finally they assured me the people doing the work were all EPA certified.

So I was happy, at least for a little while. Today they showed up. The main contractor, Nick, explained that it is a very small job, so they won't be using the chemical paint solvent to remove the area in question. The main area we were concerned about was a small area of peeling and chipping paint on our bedroom door. I said okay. So the workers scraped it off, and sealed it.

Now, Randi had laid out a checklist of things I was supposed to do. I was supposed to take photos of them doing the work, so we can document whether it was being done right or not. I forgot to. I was not supposed to let them dry scrape, because it makes lead dust. I didn't do that either. She called me out on it, and rightfully so. All that arguing with the building was for nothing. Because dry scraping is the one thing you should never do. Yes, the job looks all nice and tidy, but I can't help worrying about lead dust in the air from the work.

The work was done, and we mopped. The workers mopped. And when Randi got home she mopped the entire apartment again. I wiped down the wall of our bedroom, and the area around where the work was done. We turned on our air filter in that area to cleanse the air of particles. We had removed all of Stella's toys and changed all her bed sheets and removed her play mat to the car before the work was done. So I know we did a lot, but we didn't do everything, and it was all my fault. I know the floors are clean, I know her toys are clean, I know her bed and our bed, where she nurses, are clean. I know this, but still I worry tonight, about the air, about what she breathes in. I go out of 2008 feeling like I let Stella, Randi and myself down. Because I did.

It's hard, being a dad. I know it's hard being a mom, maybe harder. But this is a stressful life, always concerned about things that can happen. Knowing that I could have and should have done more. It's been the most intense year of my life. No other year even comes close.

In 2000 I ran out of money and couldn't go outside for several months. That was intense, but this is worse.

In 1995 I was in between jobs and my only source of income for several months came from the insurance money from when I wrecked my car. This is much, much worse.

Sometimes the pressure puts me and Randi at odds, putting it mildly. We got into a terrible argument today about the paint issue, or rather we would have argued about it except I agreed with her. I blew it, and now we can't relax.

I wish this could be more upbeat, but it hasn't been a real upbeat several days around here. Stella's lead level currently is quite low, and we hope and pray it stays that way. Those are my wishes for the coming year. That and world peace.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Stella Rae Workout

Right now I am in Upton, Ky. the home of my wife's family. We were here for the holidays. So lots of passing the Brooklyn Baby Baby around from family member to family member. And, eventually, she'd get upset, so either the BBM or I would take her back. And one thing I noticed is that this little girl LOVES being picked up and lifted in the air, over and over again. So much so that it's became a go-to thing to do in order to cheer her up. As a result I now have some guns now where my arms used to be.

Okay, so that sounds like bragging. And maybe if you saw them you wouldn't be all that impressed. In fact, that's likely. I considered posting a pic here of my "guns" but thought that would be a little bit too much information, for not all that much payoff. It's entirely possible that in the wide, wide world of men with guns for arms these don't even qualify. I can accept that. Maybe they're squirt guns. But they're big by my standards.

You see I hate the gym. And when I do go I typically do the exercises I already like. I like the elliptical machine, so I do that, I like to stretch, so I do that. I like chest exercises, so I do those. But I hate anything to do with my biceps. They've never been big, even when I have gone to the gym a lot. And neither have my calves. They've always been kind of small. So I typically skip those workouts.

But living with our 24 lb. baby has, without me even realizing it, created a daily workout for me. Whether I want to or not. She gets upset, I pick her up and lift her over my head. I do it about 10 times in a row, maybe 12 or 13 sometimes. She LOVES it. She smiles, she kicks out her legs. No matter how upset she had been before hand all of a sudden a massive grin spreads across her face, and she laughs and laughs. So I have to do it. And as she becomes heavier, which, believe me, she is, I become just a little bit stronger.

Again, maybe no one would notice, that's cool. But this is the ONE physical side effect of having a kid that's been positive. Randi's gotten stronger too, by the way. I feel her arm and it is far more solid than it has been at any time since I've known her. She too lifts the Brooklyn Baby Baby all day.

I've come to have a theory that maybe this all is a part of evolution. As parents lift their children more they become more powerful, and better able to defend them. Whoa unto the cave bear that would try to seperate the BBM from her BBB. Even I wouldn't want to get in the middle of that.

I look at my face in the mirror sometimes. My beard is way more gray than it was eight months ago. My eyes are baggier, my back hurts a bit, I look and feel older. It's a small price to pay for what we have received. But now, thanks to the Stella Rae Workout, I can open jars just a little bit more easily. So I can eat more. A fair trade all around.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Parking Tickets Up The Ass: Pt. 5

I walked into the graceless gray square and realized my feeling had been right: I was in the right place. I could tell by the line of bored looking people, the absence of enough chairs, the bullet-proof glass and the lack of restrooms.

I walked up to the first window to the left that I saw. In Manhattan this was where I had needed to stand to start the process.

"NO!" shouted a woman from behind the bullet-proof glass. "Not THIS one!" She then gestured to another line. A sign said that I needed to line up at the "T" shape in the floor. I looked down. As advertised the floor had a white "T" made of tiles in the floor marking where I had to line up. There were about seven people in front of me. I looked at my watch. It was 6:30 p.m. I got in line.

As you probably already have guessed the line moved slowly. There were two clerks behind the glass, one of whom wasn't even tending to the public, and the other that was, but only on her own, very slow, terms. Her butt was enormous, like two butts, and she would in due time shuffle from one window to another, getting some papers, making some copies of documents. It happened, but it didn't happen in any sort of quick way. And why should it? She worked for the State. It's almost enough to make a committed union man think that maybe Wal-Mart got it right with its union busting ways. I imagined what it might have been like in the former Soviet Union, where every line was like this one.

Over the better part of an hour I finally inched my way to the front. Despite the tedious nature of the wait it still was more pleasant than Manhattan's depot. People in Brooklyn are just nicer, which is a big reason to live here. Even one lady who's car had gotten towed because of something her idiot son did didn't seem all that upset.

"I guess I'll just have to sell the car to pay off all these tickets! Ha!" she said, sharing a good laugh with the clerk. God, in Manhattan that Type-A dickhead had gone on a screaming rampage because he had to wait an ENTIRE HOUR. Sometimes it's good to be an outer borough kind of guy.

Eventually it was my turn at the window. When my car had been towed initially I'd had a few moments of outraged indignation. There must be a mistake! I'm innocent. They'll pay! Or at least I won't pay! But then I realized that this lady really didn't care. Just like how there are no guilty men in jail--just ask them!--nobody can understand why their car was towed. I didn't either. I had paid up all my tickets, etc. But from the look on her face I could tell she not only didn't care, but was powerless to affect any change.

I handed her my license, and told her the license plate number. She looked it up, and told me what I owed.


GULP! That's for the tow and the two nights of storage. Then she instructed me, once I handed her my well-worn credit card, that I was to go outside and get in the shuttle van and it would drive me to my car.

So I paid up, and walked back outside into the storm. I saw the shuttle van, it was hard to miss, being the only blue police van in the parking lot. I walked up to it, and tried to get in.

"No! STEP AWAY FROM THE VAN!" Out of nowhere these two aggressive female cops yelled at me for having the temerity to try to get inside the vehicle and get out of the rain. "It is not ready for you to enter!"

Whatever, they sat in a nice dry police car. Both middle aged, one looked Irish and one looked Latino, but they united in their strong desire to get me to conform and beat a hasty retreat away from the van. Such brashness on my part.

Another cop walked up, and told me that I could stand under an overhang while the van gets ready. I took him up on it, and shivered pointlessly in the rain for another four minutes until the van did a three point turn, and was now ready, apparently, for the citizenry. Still cautious, I walked up shyly to the passenger door.

"Get in!" the driver, another woman, yelled. Get in I did. Soon three more people entered and we drove down a relatively long strip of tarmac until we were in the lot of towed cars.

My car was the last to be found, after ten minutes of looking. But find it we eventually did. The van waited for me, as I put the key in the ignition. Because, heaven forbid I should just hang out there, and thumb the eye of law enforcement by loitering in their lovely parking lot.

On the windshield where two tickets. I picked those up, although they were soaking wet. There was also the card for the place that had towed the car wedged in the driver's side window. No thanks! I took that and flung it on the ground, afraid I would get arrested for littering. I looked through the passenger side window, which was covered in white grease-pen writing from the police. What it said I couldn't tell but I would have to wipe that off later. For now it just screwed up my visibility.

But the ticket, crap, those I would have to read. Ugh. $60 a piece! So now my bill was $345. It was too painful to think about just then.

I warmed up the car for a minute and then started to slowly drive out, because the visibility was horrible. Once outside the lot I had to get out of my car and hand my green notice from the state--saying I had paid--to the cop guarding the entrance. While this happened I stood outside my car in the rain, with a strong light shining down from somewhere, and felt like I was escaping some kind of extra pointless and retarded jail. Finally he okayed my note and I was allowed my grateful egress. I felt like I was getting away with something, though I hadn't done anything wrong.

I made a vow to fight all my tickets, no matter what. Then I drove to Ikea.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Parking Tickets Up The Ass: Pt. 4

After about ten minutes of walking in the pouring rain, I just had a feeling I had to be going in the wrong direction. I didn't know what the Navy Yards would look like but my feeling was, it probably wasn't going to be a Starbucks. And that's all that seemed to be in this part of Dumbo. Chain stores, boutiques, the usual retail hell.

So I dropped into the Starbucks, to both get out of the rain and try and get my bearings. I asked the young woman behind the counter if she knew where the Navy Yards were and she looked at me as if I were speaking a foreign language or English. She had no idea what I was talking about, and had absolutely zero interest in helping me.

I looked around. Somehow you can always tell a local, longtime resident in even the most gentrified of areas. They look less rich, typically. That's pretty much the only real clue. I spied a middle aged Latino man entering the coffee shop. He seemed approachable, friendly, and like he knew where things were.

"Hi, sorry to bother you," I said. "But I am looking for the Navy Yard, am I in the right area?"

He smiled. "Oh, noooo," he said. "No, it's far away from here. No. You want to go that way," he gestured exactly in the opposite direction of how I had been going. "You want to go down York Street until you can't go any more and then you want to make a right. And keep walking and walking from there. It's far. Really."

I repeated the directions back to him, three times, because I have no short term memory.

"So how far am I?"

"About a mile and a half," he said. "Good luck."

A mile and a half, at night, in the pouring rain. One of the great ironies of getting your car towed is that you need your car to get it back because the tow lots, I've learned, tend to be so damned far from everything and everyone. But I had no choice. Walk it I would.

Unless I got lucky.

I started to look for cabs. Now, back in my day, six years ago, you never saw a yellow cab in Dumbo. You'd see the occassional livery Town Car, those guys go everywhere, but not actual New York City taxi cabs. There just wasn't enough traffic. But now in all its hipness, maybe I could get a ride.

And soon enough I saw one going down York Street. I waved it down, but it didn't pick me up. Instead a middle aged couple just sat in it, until they were joined by another middle aged couple. I was bummed, and kept walking. Then down the street I saw another. I did one of those classic New York screams--"Taxay!"--and he pulled up. No one stole my ride, and I was in business.

The cab had one of those annoying video screens that are almost impossible to turn off, but otherwise was quite comfortable and I was grateful for the ride. Another irony of New York: what would've been a hellish walk turned into about a five minute cab ride. Soon enough I saw them, the Navy Yards. You just know them when you see them. They are ugly and look like Navy Yards. I got out, tipped the guy two bucks by mistake instead of one, and then walked to the Navy Yards.

My only experience with the Navy Yards before this had been that they were mentioned a few times in the book "Last Exit To Brooklyn," usually as the setting for some latent 50s era covert-homosexuality, or as a place where violent white ethnic toughs cruise around looking for some cover latent 50s era homosexuality. In other words, a nice dangerous little place.

Well, that was all over. If it had once been a place filled with enraged gangs that era had passed as far as I could tell.

The Navy Yards had a guard in a little room, an overhang to barely shelter a few people shivering beneath and not much else, at first blush. Then I looked closer to see where I should go. I started walking but apparently was going the wrong way because a female cop immediately popped out of nowhere and started to berate me. "No, not THAT way," she yelled. I re-oriented myself and walked towards the graceless gray square that had to be where I needed to check in. These places are always graceless gray squares, I reasoned, so I had to be in the right location.

To be continued ...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Parking Tickets Up The Ass: Part Three

There is an old saw that if you've gone halfway to someplace you might as well go all the way, because going back to where you started would take just as long as reaching your destination. I have very little experience with taking actual trips and deciding whether to turn back halfway, but I have a lot of experience with this theory as it relates to public transportation in New York City.

Mainly with buses. The issue is that for it to be worth taking a bus you have to be at least a half mile, or so, from where you want to go. Otherwise you might as well walk it and save the wait.

The other issue is time. You can walk a half mile or so in about 15-20 minutes, if you're moving briskly. Now stick with me as I explain this, it is just about to make sense.

I had JUST missed the bus. I was about half a mile away from the F train, which I needed to get to the Brooklyn Navy Yards before they closed. I could walk it and get passed by a bus, having wasted all my effort, or I could wait it out, and hope that one comes soon. At night the buses are supposed to come every 15 minutes or so, but there is no guarantee. This is New York after all. I decided to wait it out.

And I waited, and I waited. It was getting later and later. Soon it was a little after 7:00 p.m. Bus after bus drove by our stop, all with signs saying they were out of service. It was drizzling. At the stop with me was a mother in a wheel chair and her little son. What they were doing I don't know. But even THEY got tired of waiting, and soon rolled away. I felt extremely sad for them, they looked like they needed help, but off they went. Meanwhile I kept waiting. Because now, surely, the bus will finally drop by because it's been so late. It's a strange paradox. And then I waited some more, proven wrong, once again.

Not to drag this out too much, but eventually a bus FINALLY stopped for us. I got on, and in due time it took me to the F train, where I walked down some more stairs, and awaited a train. In due time that finally showed up too, and off we went, at last.

It was getting later, and I still wasn't sure about my instructions. The train was crowded and wet, although I fought for, and finally found, a seat. The F runs above ground for part of its trip, once its on the Brooklyn side, and I looked into all those apartments, with all those people. Do you ever wonder what happens to them, what their story is? Or the people on the other subways that pass alongside you as you rail out to wherever your life is taking you right then? I do. It always looks like the set of a movie to me, although that movie, unfortunately, is "Shortbus."

As we finally approached York Street, the stop where I was supposed to disembark, I decided to stay in the subway and just ride on through to home. It was now 7:50 p.m. and they closed at 8:00 p.m. I didn't know for sure how to get to the Navy Yards, and I only had a few minutes to spare now. I decided to merely suck it up and pay the extra money they would require to storage the car. I would get the Honda tomorrow night, instead of killing myself to get it tomorrow morning. Because if New York has taught me anything, and that's debatable, it's that Murphy's Law is really the only law, and if something can take longer, and I can get lost, I will. So I said screw it.

Once back home I saw Randi and told her what happened. She understood. Stella was fussing, so I went into our bedroom and laid down and sang to her. We made up a lullaby for the little girl, and sometimes at night when she can't sleep I will sing it to her and then hum it to her, after a couple of choruses. She's almost 23 pounds now, and, really, the strongest reason we even have a car. It makes it easier to get around with her, and drive out to see family. And buy things from Target and Ikea. Which we do, quite a bit.

The next day I went to work, like usual. It was Thursday. The plan was to ask to leave work a little early to get the car. My boss, Mike, had been kind enough to understand what a monumental PITA this whole ordeal had been. I was lucky.

Work itself was another normal day, if any day in a collapsing economy can be said to be normal. Hear enough about record job losses and it starts to make you think. But I try not to worry too much about such things, and hope that by working hard and putting out a quality product I will show my value. So that's the plan.

I left slightly early. Now it was really raining, like buckets, like cats and dogs. I got off the York Street station once again, after checking the directions three times. I was in Dumbo, my old stomping ground.

An enthusiastic, if still amateur guitarist, I was privileged to have been the lead player in a rock band for three years. We were called Connecticut, and over the course of a few years we got to play in a variety of settings and clubs, including the old Meow Mix (the lesbian club made famous in "Chasing Amy") and the Knitting Fact0ry, which helped me realize a boyhood dream. I loved being in the band, but bands are made to be broken, and break up we did. Still I harbor fond memories of Dumbo, which is where our practice studio had been, and might still even be.

We practiced in a loft "owned" by a guy named Mike, who had been a producer on MTV's "Beavis and Butthead." I think Mike originally squatted the loft back in the late 90s, before Dumbo became tragically hip. When I first started going down there for band practice in 2000 there was a bar between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges--called Between The Bridges, natch--some bodegas and not much else. Now the area was aswarm with yuppies and their little stores.

And rain. It was raining for real, like sideways sheets in your face no matter how you walked. I had an umbrella in a rare act of foresight, but wasn't sure of my directions. So I got walking, hoping they would lead me right. They didn't.

To be continued ...

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Parking Tickets Up The Ass: Part Two

So, I trudge back up 34th Street away from the Javitz center. It was drizzling and warm. Before I had left Pier 38, the Manhattan towed car depot, I called the number for the Brooklyn Navy Yards to make sure I had the directions right. Of course the directions made no sense, and were hard to understand. I also had to go through about three key pad entries until I finally got to the subway directions "in English," which is not considered the default language at this particular moment in NYC.

I was about as far West as one could go in Manhattan, right near the Hudson River. If you've never been here, Manhattan is a strange, strange island in that it has virtually no density along the waterfront, completely opposite from virtually every other place in the world, where people clamor to live near the water. As such in the middle of the island when you get to the Hudson there are a few cruise ships, the Intrepid aircraft carrier museum, some empty, decrepit piers, the car depot, the Jacob Javits convention center and that's about it. There is no local subway stop, and few buses. So I had to schlep back to the subway, in the rain, to get to the "F" train line, to get to Brooklyn's Navy Yards before it closed at 8:00 p.m., or pay to have them store my car another night. Though it wasn't my fault, since they told me the wrong address to begin with, got it?

So I started walking, and quickly realized I had to take a pee, like majorly. I considered whipping it out on the deserted sidewalk, channeling shades of old New York where you could do that sort of thing--and a whole lot more, by the way-- in that part of the city, and no one would care. The old Wild Westside, back in the mid-90s and earlier, used to be notorious for trannie prostitutes, and non-trannie prostitutes, gay clubs and drug use. You know, the good old days. But that era's passed, and I quickly shelved the idea of peeing publicly. Another reason: I wasn't drunk.

So, I had to go. Walking up 34th Street I passed a McDonalds, and walked in. About five years ago I was driving back from upstate New York with my brother and we both had to go so we drove into a Burger King, I think, and used the bathroom without paying. I wasn't sure if we should do this, as the bathrooms are for customers only. But my brother scoffed.

"Have you eaten at a Burger King before?" he asked, rhetorically. Well, yeah, of course. Our hometown, Closter, N.J., had one, and I had gone there countless times by the end of high school. You see, he explained, you've already given them hundreds of dollars in business. They owe you some bathroom time. It's part of the deal.

"So, it's like a social contract?" I asked.

Exactly, he said. I had never thought of it that way. So pee we did, with no guilt. Now I used that mindset in the Mickey D's.

The workers inside seemed like they had been waiting for me to arrive.

"It's upstairs," they said before I could even get the words out.

I had expected them to ask me to buy something before using the facilities, but they really didn't care. And if they had asked me that I had a defense prepared in my mind, at least: do you REALLY feel so much loyalty to the McDonald's Corporation that you feel you need to act as security guards for their bathrooms? For, what, $6.50 an hour?

But they didn't need my William Kunstler-esque arguments about the men's restroom and my moral claim to use it. I guess that I didn't resemble a shabby drug-addled homeless guy was a major plus in my column.

So, use it I did, and then left the restaurant, only to see my bus pull away across the street. Now another one wouldn't come for, how long? I had no idea. I decided to wait it out. It was not my best decision ...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Parking Tickets Up The Ass Pt. 1

You know what is really great after a long, hard, often frustrating day of hard labor, mixed in liberally with the wonderful but draining job of parenthood? Parking tickets up the ass.

I have been literally inundated with parking tickets over the last few weeks. Some were my fault, some were not, maybe, but I have a new strategy. I will fight them all. I don't care. They're fucking expensive. My car just got towed, too. I need to get some of mine back. I am tired of being a personal revenue source for the fat cop pension plan. I am tired of the abuse, I need to fight back by any means necessary.

Here is a short summary of my tickets.

1. It was late at night, I had work the next day. I parked on a dark street, that had alternate side of the street parking on Wednesday. I showed up two days later, and had a ticket in my windshield. How? I was too close to a hydrant. That will be $115.

2. I had driven to the vet's early before work about two weeks ago as a friend to pick up their cats. I couldn't find a spot anywhere except on the service road we live on. My choice: either be very late for work, or get a ticket. Work is our only source of income. I took the ticket. And the cats didn't even say thank you when I dropped them off at my friend's. Also, it was raining. I'm a good friend. That will also be $115.

By the way, there is no courtesy for alternate side of the street parking on Ocean Parkway. In our old neighborhood, Park Slope, they would clean one side of the street and you would double park until the coast was clear and then move your car back. Then the people on the other side double parked when it was time for their side of the street to get cleaned. Nobody got hurt, everybody's side of the street got clean. Or at least "cleanish." Here they can't do that because the service road is too narrow, so I'm moving the car like three times a week to find spots. It's a royal, royal pain in the ass.

3. I drove into Manhattan last weekend so Randi and I could attend a trunk show from the lovely and talented Alex Pflaster for her jewelry. (I am too lazy to link right now, but go to her website if you like nice, handmade, affordable jewelry. Her blog is listed as one of my favorites, so you really have no excuse not to.) First I drove around for a half hour after dropping off Randi and Stella before finding a spot. Then once I found the spot I made sure to pay the ticketing machine and place the ticket on the dashboard.

I got back 50 minutes later--because New York city only allows parking for one hour in some places, at the cost of $2 an hour!--in order to feed the meter and guess what I found? ANOTHER gosh-damned parking ticket! This one for $65. My sin? I had put my ticket in upside down on my dashboard.

This one really sent me over the edge. "GodDAMMIT!" I screamed, kicking a light post, again and again. Right then I really hated cops, just really goddamned hated them. I started talking like a Black Panther. "Fucking pigs, fucking pigs, goddamned cops are nothing but fucking pigs, I hate goddamned cops, I just fucking hate them fucking cops ..." and so on. I am sure you can imagine. If I were a cartoon character there would have been an angry work balloon filled with exclamation points, percentage signs and asterisks hovering over my inflamed head like a rain cloud.

Of course when an actual cop walked by I toned the act down a whole lot. Let's not get too crazy here, after all. Even though the cop, a parking ticket cop!, looked like it would take him the rest of fiscal year 2009 to run the forty yard dash. So, yeah, I'm a real ramparts charging guy, aren't I? But inside I didn't care. Right then I hated cops. And, oh yeah, I'm fighting this ticket. You can bet your ass. Or even his ass.

4. Two months ago when we signed our lease we drove all over god-forsaken Brooklyn to find the office of our landlord. Once there I carefully, once again!, fed the meter and placed the ticket on the dashboard. The lease took a while, as these things do, and it was a cold rainy day, again. Once outside I noticed they had given me a ticket within five MINUTES of my ticket expiring. Another $65! When does it end?

5. Last Sunday I parked my car on the service road in front of my apartment. The sign said I had to move the car Wednesday before work. So, okay, I will. I go to get it Wednesday and my car's gone! First I think I'm having a senior moment, though I'm only 36, but then I realize my car had to have been towed. For the love of all that is holy! Can this really keep going?

I called the city, and they told me my car is in Manhattan, for some reason. I leave work early, and walk to one of the few abandoned parts of the whole city, in the rain, to get to the car-towing depot. Once there I wait on a long line, for about an hour, only to be told that my car is in Brooklyn! Ugh, it never ends! To my right some fat-assed would-be exec is yelling at the woman behind the glass about how he's waited an hour for something or another. Soon a security guard walks up to him.

"Sir, why are you yelling?"

"I'm yelling because SHE's being rude!"

"You were being rude first, now stop yelling."

The Alpha-Fat Ass then quiets up, and resorts merely to grumbling under his breath about how he just GOT THIS CAR, and his information in California, and yada, yada, yada.

Now I have a problem. I have to get to the Brooklyn Navy yards before they close, in an hour and a half. You wouldn't think this would be hard, but everything in NYC takes longer than you think it will. Except for when they ticket your car. That shit's like instantaneous.

To be continued.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Hello! It's Been A While!

Some new photos: The BBB and her Uncle Stu ...

Eating paper ...

The Brooklyn Baby Mama, The Brooklyn Baby Baby and a very hairy man.

Man, almighty, ever have weeks in a row where you just don't get a break? It's been like that in New Brooklyn Baby Manor. The move was a little over a month ago, the job is crazy busy, people are getting laid off all over the place (in general not specifically at my job) we have lead paint related issues that I'm not all that comfortable talking about here, and I live in Poland.

Okay, so the last point is not specifically true, but sometimes it feels that way. Ocean Parkway is the "real Brooklyn" in the sense that almost no one speaks English as their first language. It's kind of funny that that is what marks someplace as authentic to us newcomers to the neighborhood.

So let's talk about the Brooklyn Baby Baby then, okay?

Things are coming along well in this neck of the woods. Stella is now like 23 pounds. She's a big girl for her age, and she's starting the rudiments of crawling. She kind of pushes herself backwards, so it's the opposite of forward movement, but she's starting to get there. She also rolls herself onto her belly or side to sleep. First we were scared about this, but now she's been doing it long enough where we are more comfortable with it.

She's also starting to talk. Her first word, I am proud to say, was "dada," although she's since branched out into "mama" and "nee-nee." Nee-nee is her all purpose term for boob feeding. She'll get upset, start crying and then you'll hear a plaintive refrain: "nee-nee." It's adorable. Or, as Randi, the Brooklyn Baby Mama says, it would be adorable if she didn't say it "all the freakin' time!"

Seriously, this girl is a total boob adict. She still nurses all day, and for long stretches of time. She's supposed to suck for like five minutes, but does it for half an hour at a time. She's just always hungry, or she's simply addicted to the closeness. She's even started sucking on my arm, god knows why.

Another new thing happens when I get home at night. Nine times out of ten she's crying, and Randi can't do a whole lot to get her to sleep. So I go into the darkened bedroom, and lie down with her, and she rolls herself into my side, buries her face in my shirt and THEN goes to sleep. It's adorable, but I'd be lying if I told you I understood it. I guess she just like some dad time. Often I will go do to sleep, too, when this happens. Being a parent just keeps getting more and more singular all the time.

Other baby related highlights? Well, she sleeps a whole lot better than she did two or or three months ago. Those endless, sleepless nights that turned into weeks that turned into months that turned into my entire life are now mostly over. She still wakes up a few times during the night, most nights, but often after she's done eating her midnight snack I can put her back in her pack and play (a portable crib, for those of you who aren't toting rugrats just yet), and she'll actually roll over and go back to sleep.

Yes, this means she still sleeps in our bedroom. I know this is probably bad. We have a big, beautiful bedroom set up for her, but we still sleep in the same bedroom. The logical reason is because she still wakes up so much, so it's a shorter walk. But also I think it's that we're not totally ready for the seperation just yet. She might be, but I guess we aren't. Her crib, which is lovely, and a total bitch to assemble (and I did it TWICE) sits in her bedroom, holding stuffed animals, but no Brooklyn babies.

I guess that's my life right now. It's exhausting, and very focused on the child. I haven't written all that much (as most of you can see), I haven't played all that much music, I haven't done a lot of things that I used to take for granted. But I feel it hasn't been wasted effort, because the energy has gone into Stella. She deserves it.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Counting My Blessings

Hi Everyone,
So, it's definitely time to give thanks and count some blessings. Here I go.

1. My job. Sometimes it's stressful, and sometimes I feel a little overwhelmed, but it's been exciting and engaging too. I am writing more than I have in years, and it reminds me of how much of a job just writing can be. For the past two years I complained that I wasn't writing enough. Boy has that changed. I write at least one story a day, sometimes more. And I'm getting to talk about the key issues of the day financially.

Also, I should note that it's a very GOOD time to not be at a magazine, as I had been through mid-2007. I ran into an esteemed colleague from my old, very well respected financial magazine and they told me about how the climate there is one of fear and unease. They (no gender clues here) also complained about the drudgery they have to do at the Internet division of our firm just to ensure that they keep their job. I felt bad for this person, whom I've always like very much, and saddened by the death of that great American institution, the magazine.

Because, no mistake, magazines are dying. And it's a great loss. When I was a boy my dreams started to take shape around 13 years of age when I started to read magazines. I wanted to have a column, I wanted my little picture on the page, I wanted to have the respectability and platform that only a magazine, like Time, could give. As I got alitle older I read the investigative pieces with awe. How could a person, a reporter, know so much that no one else does? How could they open up the world to so many things it didn't know before?

So, while I never felt as strongly attached to the investigative, hard news side as the sassy columnist side I felt I wanted to know more. I dreamed of some day working at a magazine, Time preferably.

Well, Time these days resembles a news pamphlet, and worse still it's just one place that's going under. The worst part is that there is virtually nothing that can do the job that a fully staffed magazine, or large newspaper, can do. Long, time intensive investigative pieces that take months and months to report are not the meat and bread of most Internet journalism, although, of course, it can be. The 'net is more about spot news, in a hurry.

I fear that even though we can still report out those long pieces that change the world that it's not a perfect fit for a medium that demands constant updates. In a way working at web-site is a lot like working at a daily where the day never ends, or begins. It's an awesome place to be, but it's a category killer, too. And the category it kills is daily newspapers and news magazines.

So I am grateful, no matter what, to be here, rather than there.

2. Without being obvious I am gratefuly for my daughter. Every day she grows and thrives, and even though we have been scandalized by the presence of lead paint chips on our floors (for more on the read the Brooklyn Baby Mama's blog) I am thankful that we caught it early. I can't bear the thought of this child, my love, losing ONE IQ POINT. So we are all taking all appropriate measures necessary to clear this up. More on this front as we know more.

But I am thankful for Stella, in all her wonderful ways, and the joy that she brings to us, and that we hope to bring to her.

3. I am thankful for my wife, so supportive and loving. Randi understands me better than I understand myself sometimes, and whenever there is a problem that threatens to overwhelm me she is right there beside me, and we work it out together. When I worry about the future, she finds a way to let me know that we will work it out together, and that as long as we can be honest with one another we can have a strong marriage. And she makes me laugh. So, thank you!

4. I am thankful for the rest of my family. My mother has been the rock of my life, and can be counted on always. My brother is fiercely loyal and the one person I would want to take into a streetfight, provided it's not me against him! My sister and her family have lead the way on parenting, and I've learned so much from them. My nieces are delights, and I love them. I am thankful for my dad, because he gave me my sense of humor.

5. I am thankful for Brooklyn. It's fun, funky and at times almost affordable. This is a great borough.

6. I am thankful for my friends. I don't see them enough, but to the person they understand that I still care about them, and am still the same guy. Their patience with me is always a surprise.

Well, that's all for now, got to do some cleanup before Turkey Day. Take care.


Sunday, November 9, 2008

Reflections On Being In Between

The move is over, new life in the apartment begins. The first thing to note about our apartment is that it is not quite anywhere specific. When we lived in Park Slope that was it, we were in Park Slope. You might love the area, you might not, very much not for some people, but it was someplace. This area is a little bit harder to pin down. It's near Ditmas Park, but is not in it. It's near Kensington, but Kensington itself is kind of not that sharply defined a place. We are near the Flatbush area, but, again are not in it.

Here is what I know. We are on Ocean Parkway, which is one of the nicest strip of roads in Brooklyn. We are within walking distance of all those places above. And our area does have a flavor all it's own, it's just not one that already has "marketing" so to speak.

My building, I get the sense, is very Jewish. All our neighbors have mezuzahs (sp?) on their doorposts out front. We are conspicuous for not having one. For those not in the Jewish religion, or still learning about it, a mezuzah (sp?) is a box, usually metal, that you attach to the doors of your home. It has a prayer in it, and is used to bless those who walk through the door.

The prior resident of our apartment obviously used to have one, and quite a large one at that, because the front door post has a massive space where a mezuzah used to be. It's almost like a chalk outline on our door. So we would like to get one. And not too long from now.

We had one, and I do mean had. It was made of stone, and was very pretty, I thought. The problem was that we tried to attach it to the door of our past building via double sided foam tape, because the door frame was metal. Before not too long the tape came loose and our beautiful stone mezuzah fell to the ground and cracked. Surely this was some kind of bad omen, or at least it felt like it could be. I tried not to think about it, to be honest.

While I am proud of such Jewish traditions I also put a Native American dream catcher above Stella's crib, and would like to burn sage inside to keep away evil spirits. If I could find any sage to burn, outside of what they sell in super markets.

Our new apartment is probably about twice the size of our last place. The living room alone, by New York standards is enormous. The kitchen, though, is actually kind of tight, and the bathroom is, believe it or not, smaller than our last one. But each bedroom is a nice size. We are moving in with all deliberate speed. We are trying to figure out the best way to make use of the space before we decorate so that we use our new space as efficiently as possible. I, for example, am typing this in our foyer, which doubles as our "office area." It's as far from the bedrooms as possible. I guess this is why it's the office. No one wanted to listen to me type.

But even though we have more space still, there are a few bugs to be worked out. To wit, when we tried to use the toaster and the microwave at the same time it blew all the fuses in the apartment. Some of our paint is already peeling, which worries us, as we have a little baby just waiting to crawl, and this apartment is quite old. So lead paint is a concern. I am sending out samples this week.

Our bathroom, oddly enough, doesn't have even one outlet in it. Now, I'm an analogue kind of guy. I like vacuum tubed guitar amps instead of transistors, my razor is a manual one, and I even make popcorn on the stove over nuking it. But c'mon, that's just kind of silly. No outlets in the bathroom? Not even one? To trim my beard the other day I had to make a three pronged extension chord from Stella's room, and bend down quite a bit as I faced the mirror. As you can imagine I got an immaculate shave.

Other problems. Our closet door just doesn't shut. Our front door saw the doorknob almost come loose today, and we could barely get out. I had to fasten the doorknob so we could leave. Which is not what I expected in a new place.

Oh, but the big one I left out. They polyurethaned the floors multiple times before we moved in, so it was extra smooth and shiny. Unfortunately it also not only reeked, but the fumes were making us all sick. I, in all my days, had never gotten sick from refinished floors before, so they must've done quite a job to accomplish that. To cure this, eventually, Randi, no lie, got on her hands and knees and rubbed down the surface with a lemon. Now that's dedication. I couldn't believe her discipline. But it got done, and now the room smells a whole lot better. Kudos to her.

Otherwise, living here is an adjustment but I'm enjoying the change of scenery. The area is also heavily Polish, as well as Jewish. When we go into the local shops that's most of what I heard spoken, Polish. And I am just getting into experimenting with Polish delicacies. I already bought a jar of imported pickles from Poland, and they were excellent. Now I want to try one of the seemingly infinite different kinds of canned fish these folks consume. We also have come to drink Baltica brand beer, made is Russia. (Which is close to Poland.) It's $2.00 for an enormous bottle, and strong too.

Culturally there was also some shock. It really does feel like a different world than Park Slope. For starters, there are all these middle aged Polish guys who hang out in front of a pharmacy, all wearing black, most with mustaches. There's like 10 of them. I would call it a minyan, but they probably wouldn't appreciate the joke. What they do there all day I have no idea, but they love hanging out, talking/smoking.

There are also some Mexican delis down the street, and even a place where I can get my fortune told Santeria style. I have no idea what that would mean, but it intrigued me, although the fortune teller is never actually open. Maybe she just pops up when there's a customer.

Overall, our little stretch of Ditmas road isn't exactly pretty, but it's real. I am not a critic or foe of gentrification, in many cases, but it is interesting to live in a place that so far has not been completely exploited by white, middle-class yuppies like, well, us. Maybe we are the harbingers of doom, or at least Thai restaurants. (Thai restaurants are my personal indicator that an area has been yuppified. It's high-end kids stores for Randi.)

We also had to switch our cable service, and now are on the Optimum Triple Cast, I think it's called. We get phone, Internet and cable TV, all for one low, low price that escapes me right now. One thing that's been really great is that they have some free channels on demand, and Randi and I have gotten totally hooked on Mad Men. Such a cool, stylish show. And, really, who had ever heard of any of these actors before they got onto the show? Jon Hamm, who plays lead guy Don Draper, was virtually a bit part actor, for years. And then he got his break in a role that looked like it was created for him, he owned it, and now everyone can't get enough of him. For someone, like me, still looking to sew his creative wild oats on the world's biggest stages, this is an inspiring story. Believe in yourself, no one can do it for you. Easier said than done, as always, but I would like to start living what I say in this department. And taking responsibility for my impact.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Moving Day

Stella enjoying the good life in her new bedroom. It's the nicest room in the apartment, of course!

Our new living room is vast

It's late Friday night now, after a long week at work. After a long move on Saturday. After a long week spent packing for that long move on Saturday.

Well, miraculously we ended up getting everything packed in time for the movers to show up Saturday morning. And when they showed up, oh, what a sight they were. The first guy I saw stumbled out of the truck and looked both high and drunk, and it was only slightly after 9:00 a.m.

"Wonderful," I thought. "We get the guys who look like they could star in the moving version of 'Disorderlies.'"

Eventually though the stoned guy's boss emerged, and he seized control. He introduced himself, I did the same, and the moving began.

Moving creates a weird power dynamic. You pay guys to pick things up so you don't have to. I pay for this because, well, dammit, at some point I became too old, or at least felt too old, to keep bribing friends via pizza and beer. If I could get any friends at all, for any price.

It used to be so much easier. When I lived in Colorado if I had to move I could pack everything in my car, tie my mattress to the roof and off I went. The whole project might take 15 minutes.

Things change. Now we have so much stuff that is so specific. We have a white noise machine for Stella so that she sleeps. We have a baby monitor it's base and an adapter--you need all three--so we can listen to white noise machine as she sleeps. Seriously, you cannot imagine quite how terrible a white noise machine sounds pumped through the world's smallest, and worst, speaker.

Stella also has a puppy dog lovie that she curls up with in the pack 'n play. For the males out there a "lovie" is the term of art for a toy that the baby snuggles up with in order to feel comforted as she drifts off to Sleepytown. Randi made the puppy dog especially homey for the Brooklyn Baby Baby by wearing it around in her cleavage for a while. So now Stella smells mommy with every restful breath.

We also had all Stella's clothes, and all her books. Then there is her antacid medicine, because apparently our seven month old daughter has the digestive system of a seventy year old man. There is also the dropper for her medicine. In other words, we have so many little things that we can't lose. Have we? Ask me when we've fully unpacked.

And that's just stuff for Stella. I don't want to make it seem like all the things are hers. For starters I have six guitars. Six! I am not ambidextrous, and I've barely picked up any of them in a month but there you go, six guitars. Now we use them for when Stella sleeps on our bed. To keep her from rolling off we'll put guitar cases on either side of her, and a laundry bag at her feet. So I might not play my Les Paul, or my beloved Fender Telecaster, but they still serve a purpose, albeit one to make Aerosmith cringe.

So there were all those things to consider. But I must want to get back the moving power dynamic. It's an intimate time, this time spent with movers. They arrive in your life for just a few hours and you are completely locked in with them for that amount of time. You can't ignore them, and you can't really leave them alone. There are too many things that can go wrong, and too many specific sets of instructions for what needs extra care, and extra packing.

Maybe I am the strange one, I don't know. I've found that I simply cannot walk away and let them move my things. I need to be there, hanging out, encouraging them, getting in the way probably, even as I try to help. And sometimes you have to admonish them. At one point, for example, one of the movers was throwing our garbage bags filled with clothes down the stairwell. I had to tell him to not do that.

"You know, there are some things in there that are fragile," I said, thinking of our inflatable air mattress. The mover was abashed, and promised to not do it again. And he didn't, I think.

Two of the movers were from East New York, one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city. My mother was from there too, way, way back when. But when I mentioned this to one of the movers--trying to build rapport--he gave me a knowing smile.

"That was a long time ago," he said. "Back before the white people moved out and the black people moved in."

He was right. He and the other movers were black, I am white. Obviously we're from different places, and their job is much harder than mine. I tried to help make their day a little easier, though. I bought them juice, and cups with which to drink water, but there's only so much I could do to help. They have to haul ass to get paid. And chitchat, while appreciated, is not necessary.

I have to hand it to them. Despite my initial impression these guys were quite good at what they did. One guy, for example, hauled my entire bureau down the stairs on his back on his own. I was amazed. My friend and I, together, barely got it up the stairs eight months ago. He didn't get a scratch on it, and didn't scratch the stairwell, either.

In so many ways the move itself, the emptying of the apartment where we had lived for four years was a revelation. As we packed I found two T-shirts I had simply thought were lost. It turns out I had created a special, new T-shirt area in my bureau about three months ago, and had immediately forgotten that I'd ever done it.

When the couch was moved I was truly disgusted and fascinated by what I found. Disgusted, because there was quite literally a warren of dust bunnies that had reproduced under our sofa. Fascinated because the area under the sofa could easily be called the Land Of The Lost Cat Toy. Under there were toys we had lost, in some cases, years before. I found one crinkly Mylar ball, another knobby ball, two dented plastic balls that make noise when they roll, and other various cat curiosities. I took all these toys and threw them away, because if they can get marooned under the couch once, they surely will again.

I also found an blue bulb syringe. The syringe had originally been bought years before to help me flush out my ears. But it had instead become a cat toy without my knowledge. Now filled with filth and dirt I thought the better of keeping it, aware that I probably shouldn't clean my ear with something so disgusting.

Under our bed I found a picture of me from when Randi and I started dating. In it I wear a Centre College T-shirt, and stand at the kitchen area of her old apartment. It's not a good picture of me, and I didn't miss it, but Randi seems glad to have found it.

We also found an orange plastic fish teething toy for Stella that was also under the bed. This one we kept, washed and plan to use in the future. She's not only teething now, but also starting to get into the rudiments of crawling, so exciting times here.

Loose coins, I also discovered, had gone everywhere. I am sorry, but nothing looks more shitty than an apartment with loose change all about. One penny had wedged itself into the corner of our bedroom, a perfect fit. I didn't even bother trying to remove it.

Once we moved out, I was also amazed by how much dust we had collected. We swept, and vacuumed when we lived there, sometimes multiple times a week, really we did, but you wouldn't know it to see the floors as we moved out. Dust was everywhere, and the movers started to get teary eyed, allergic to the dust itself and our dander, I guess. Which is a kind of disgusting thought, really.

I guess that's part of why we pay them so well, they have to wade through our filth, as well as carry our crap.

In total the move took five hours, and we were well satisfied with the job the movers had done. I paid the guys their money per hour and gave them a fairly nice tip, or at least I thought it was nice. I came to think of these guys as kind of my friends by the end of our time together, and why shouldn't I? They made our life in our new apartment possible. It was a bargain.

More about the new place next time. Stella is crying, and someone is speaking a foreign language outside my door. Goodnight.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Packing, Moving And Procrastinating

Some Park Slope photos, and a gratuitous shot of Stella and the BBD.

The Brooklyn Baby Family sleeps right now, but for me. I'm supposed to be packing our stereo, but I'm putting it off. A few things cure insomnia right away, having a kid for sure, but also monotonous, laborious work does the trick too. Moving puts me right to sleep, yet we have a lot more to do.

We got back from Kentucky and slammed right into our move. We'd found the apartment almost kind of by accident. Because that's how things go in New York when you're not rich, at least when it comes to housing: by accident. We'd seen god knows how many places before Stella was born, and it all came to naught. We'd seen a few more in the past few months, and it also yielded zilch. Then I saw an ad on, and called it. The broker, Barbara, showed us a spacious two bedroom apartment that we really liked, but we hesistated, no lie, two days and it was long gone. Ugh, this city. Sometimes it can make you want to live anywhere else, doing anything else, just to avoid the petty complications that plague life here.

Then a few days after that the broker called us with another place. It was on Ocean Parkway, a scenic stretch of Brooklyn that until now we'd avoided. Why, you ask? After all, it's scenic, and peaceful and all that. But it's also an extremely Orthodox Jewish area. And while we're Jewish we're not Jewish like that, and moving out there just seemed so removed from the action. Park Slope has lots of shops, lots of pedestrian traffic, and, yes, lots of construction, but it's still a happening place. And while Ocean Parkway also has pedestrian traffic it's all on Saturday's when the Orthodox strut on by, like they owned the place. Which they do.

But we were desperate. We really have reached our wit's end with our apartment. We've been here four years, and grown with it, but there are mitigating factors that make life here a little tough. One is that there are, as noted before, FIVE construction sites on our block, with one right next to us, and two right across the street. One lovely feature of this hardhat work is that apparently Teamster rules require them to hire a guy who does nothing but hit a metal pole with a hammer all day. I swear to you this must be true, because very little actual construction actual seems to happen next door, but it's noisy as hell. In fact it's all noisy as hell, and dirty, and it takes up all our parking, too.

Also, it's just going to get worse. At one corner of our block they are building some massive McCondo that's going to both blight the neighborhood and block out the sun. It's like eight stories on a block where everything else is three, and it's huge and I have my doubts that they built any additional parking for it. Because developers are shifty that way. There is a condo across the street that "officially" split itself into two different addresses in order to avoid building the parking spaces required by law. How they got away with that is anyone's guess, although I assume money was involved.

Additionally, our place has a small but irritating flaw. The door leading to our one and only bedroom isn't solid, but rather it made up of slats. Why? I don't know. Maybe they were on sale. But this is irritating, as Stella is a light sleeper so she is now more vulnerable to light and noise. To combat this we've put a bedsheet in the slats, but, boy it's not exactly a look approved by Martha Stewart.

Finally, one bedroom apartments just aren't all that big. Which might be an obvious point. Simply put, there comes a time when you just want more space. Which is funny, coming from a New Yorker. After all even our new, "big" apartment would be tiny by the standards of most of the rest of America. But, as I've said many times, I don't live in America, I live in New York. And if we say our new apartment's big, well, it is to us.

Ugh, Stella is crying, and I'm not sure whether to go in yet. I feel bad for Randi, as she has to deal with our child all day. But sometimes nothing I do can calm her down. Still, I think I have to try. Here goes nothing. And the stereo, for now, remains unpacked.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Back In Brooklyn

The Brooklyn Baby Family: October, 2008. Upton, Kentucky.

Crazy past week, certainly from my perspective, and, I'm sure, from the perspective of Stella, the Brooklyn Baby Baby.

She's six months old now, and handled our trip to Kentucky with flying colors. She loved being the center of attention for all of Randi's family and extended family, taking to them quite naturally. It was really something to see. This is almost something that I feel bad that we can't provide over here, the constant commotion and love that she thrives on. I mean, yes, we provide the constant love, but there were so many people there who were constantly in her business, coddling her, cooing to her, jostling her, and she was very happy with all of it.

The trip started on kind of a bum note for me. I was sick. Rundown physically and mentally, with very little time to recuperate before we had to get on the plane. The nights leading up to the trip I worked late to get in my last work assignments, knowing I was coming down with a cold the whole time, but there was nothing I could do about it. The work had to get done. And get done it did, which I was proud of, even if I wish I could've spent some more time on it.

As a result of the cold I avoided Stella well, like the plague, for the first several days of the trip. I also avoided Randi, but she understood why. Stella, not so much. After a few days she started to reach out for me, but I couldn't reach back. On the airplane ride itself at one point I woke from a nap to see her looking at me, waving at me. Things happen so fast at this point, sometimes I just wish I could capture time in a bottle to release these fast-moving memories slowly over time, savor them, save some for a rainy day, but of course I can't. I guess that's one reason why I blog, take pictures, and even take some home movies, although I surely should do more of the latter. I am trying to if not stop time than at least preserve some in amber, or digital amber, if such a thing exists.

Oddly enough this cold strengthened our bond. Because by the end of the cold Stella really, really wanted to be with her Dadda, and I truly felt the same. Of course by now Randi had also become sick, which was a massive bummer.

The good news, though, was that Randi rallied quickly. This was due, she said, to the fact that she's virtually eliminated dairy from her diet, so there was less mucous all around. Pleasant, I know, but it's the truth. I also recovered more quickly than I had in the past. Although I was sick for about a week it never became a full-blown chest infection as happens to me almost every year. Eventually I know it's over when I cough up something that resembles The Smog Monster (former enemy of Godzilla's by the way). But this time nothing so dramatic happened, it just kind of cleared up.

Stella, of course, also caught some of what was going around. But this too, knock on keyboard, wasn't so bad as it had been in the past. She's getting older, stronger and let's hope healthier. About three months ago we put her on Baby Zantac (sounds so cute!) the antacid, and while it cleared up her stomach problems it caused something like a sea of snot to run out of her nose. Seriously, I had never seen the like. She was draining ounces of the stuff at a time. Randi had to be on snot sucking patrol all day and night for about three days in a row. So, nothing was that easy with our little girl. But now she's looking great, sleeping, at last, decent amounts each night, and advancing at a pace that is kind of blowing me away.

The newest thing, of course, is that she is just starting the rudiments of speech. I had always planned for her to be a bilingual baby, speaking Spanish and English at the same time. Well, you can throw that one out the window. She's starting to speak English already, and her Spanish, well, let's just say that there's time for it manana. One reason, of course, that her Spanish is so bad is because neither of her parents speak it, so as a result we can't speak it to her, but I had thought--years ago, I guess--that there would be an easy way around this problem. There is not. I had imagined dropping her off in some class for infants, where she would be indoctrinated into the Romance languages, or at least one Romance language, while I do something else, I don't know quite what.

But life got in the way. But, at least she's starting to speak, as mentioned, English. True, for the most part she is simply making more and more fluid babbling sounds, but sometimes a stray word emerges here and there. And what is that stray word you ask? Dadda.

I am totally honored and blown away that this is her first word. And a bit shocked. It'll come out at random times, and I can't prompt her to say it. It just happens when it happens, as does everything with a baby this young. Yesterday, for example, she was happily bouncing up and down in her jumparoo (boy, did she miss that in Kentucky) and making a bunch of odd, but delightful noises. I wish I had it on tape, but I don't. But it was so sweet, so musical even. It was kind of high, her musings, and happy.

"Baba, do ba, babba, babba, Dadda, booby do be, bobba ..." you get the idea. But she kept on saying Dadda in the middle of this string of R2-D2ish beebs and bloops. (The happy R2 sounds, if that gives any context to my nerd-core friends out there.) And she bounced along the whole time, up and down. It was a great thing to see, and hear, as you can imagine.

Sometimes, these days, she just wants me, too. She'll be cranky, or fussy or crying or something, and I'll pick her up and walk around with her, talking to her, and she'll quiet right down. She does the same thing with Randi too, of course. And sometimes only Mom can get her to really relax, but on occasion, it's me and me alone. I love this.

I always imagine the ways I can fail as a dad, dark though such thoughts might be. And seeing Stella with Randi's family was kind of a shocker, especially when I realized that she looks pretty much a whole lot like that side, and like me very, very little. Other than the eyes, those are from me.

But this is my kid, she is already totally used to having me around. She needs me, loves me, and sometimes I am it, I am the whole megillah. Sometimes not, but sometimes yes. This is amazing, and I feel like a changed man as a result. An easy thing to say, sure, but it's how it feels.

The trip to Kentucky, anyway, ended on a high note. Randi's ten year college reunion was a blast, and I enjoyed spending time with her friends and old classmates this past Saturday night. There were two parties for us to attend. One was the traditional re-union party, which was lots of fun, but I had very little to talk about or to with anyone. Which wasn't my job, I was arm candy. But still I kind of did a lot of drink getting and the like, both for myself and for the Brooklyn Baby Mama. She looked elegant and classy in a new red dress we had picked up just for the party. I, less so, in my blue thrift store blazer, and sneakers. Kind of like Letterman, but without the set, the tie or, I guess, the talent?

Anyway, from there we moved on to a second party at a former professor's house that was just the drama crew from Centre. Now this was a party. Lots of drama people so happy to see one another, and Randi's amazing professors, Patrick and Tony were there too. These guys are inspiring. Both have to be in their late 50s, or early 60s, and they are so full of life, and passion for what they do and for their students too. We had gone to Centre two years ago, and visited both of them, and while Randi went to the restroom either time I spoke with each man one on one. They were as engaged and interested in me, as a person, as they had been when Randi was there. They just were curious about the world, curious about my life, my job. As I was with them. I then understood why Randi talked about Centre so highly, and so often.

In fact Centre recently received a top 15 ranking among all colleges from a major business financial web-site that will go unnamed. This shocked and outraged many grads from schools that were better known, but ranked much lower. (Cough, U-Penn, cough.) The feeling was that the list couldn't be any good, simply because Centre was ranked so high on it. But the rankings were composed by how students felt about their education, and their professors. And seeing the way Randi and her friends looked at their old teachers as, truly, old friends made it all come crystal clear. This is what a small, liberal arts school implies for so many. But I, for example, never had that warm feeling at my school, Wesleyan University.

I transferred into Wes, so I missed out on that all important freshman year, but, truthfully, I never felt that it, despite it's small size, was as warm as it could've been. Maybe it was me, I don't know, but I found it hard to make friends. I made friends, and great ones, like Eric Molinsky--a gentleman and a scholar--but it was hard to feel like I was part of a larger scene, part of something welcoming.

Maybe it was Wes, maybe it was me, maybe it was both. It was the early 90s, and the politically correct era was winding down, but not without a fight. As a white, straight male I guess I always felt like I had some 'splaining to do. So I did it. And for the first time in my life I felt like people looked at me as this really right-wing guy. It was kind of crazy.

Anyway, the Brooklyn Baby Baby just woke up, and now she's cooing to her mama. We have a lot of work ahead of us this morning as we're moving to a new apartment Saturday. More about that later. It's a big, big shakeup, of course. So much to do.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Getting Lucky In Kentucky Pt. 2

Yup, that's a horse in Randi's front yard. No, on the left side.

Well, that's what happens when you go on vacation. You get no time to blog, which maybe is the point of going on vacation anyway.

So I promised an actual discussion of what happened on our week and a half excursion to the Bluegrass State. The last entry, of course, ended as soon as we'd landed.

Well, it was a trip that had a lot of diverse happenings in it. We stayed with Randi's mother, who is a kind and lovely woman. She hadn't seen Stella since the little one was two weeks old, so this was a great opportunity for her to reconnect with her newest grandchild. They quickly hit it off like peanut butter and jelly, which was gratifying to see.

Kentucky itself was and is a gorgeous state, out there in the real America, as we New Yorkers tend to think of places that are not like where we are.

But it's different, life out there. For example, one morning we were hanging out in Randi's living room, which is across the street from a farm. The farm has a horse, which only makes sense in a place that is so known for it's equine life. Soon, though, Randi saw another horse, a stray, cozying up to the horse behind the fence. This horse was quite literally on the loose. It had a blue halter on its face, but otherwise there were no markings on it to say whom it belonged to. Unlike cats and dogs horses don't have tags, mainly because they usually don't get loose.

Randi quickly went out to greet the horse with some carrots, which the animal devoured. Then she poured it some water, which it drank down with great vigor. I was scared for her, as horses of course are large animals, and potentially dangerous, but this animal seemed gentle, and used to people.

Eventually we switched positions, while Randi held Stella. At this point we'd called the local police about a half hour before, and we awaited their arrival. We had no idea what to do with the animal. We'd considered trying to get it into Randi's fenced off back yard, but I lacked the confidence to grab the bridle. Instead I gently tried to lead the horse back to Randi's yard, and waved down passing cars, so that they would slow down, and not run over the large, brown, almost impossible to miss animal in front of them. Often the drivers would stop and ask me, "hey, is that your horse?" which seemed then, and still seems now, like a kind of dumb question.

Eventually I worked up enough courage to walk up to the horse and stroke it's long neck. It would then nuzzle me, or simply stand still and allow me to take care of it. Once, while I was stroking it thus, it took a massive dump in Randi's yard, followed by a mighty stream of dark yellow horse pee. A souvenir, I guess.

The horse would also walk up to the penned horse across the street from Randi's yard, and would nuzzle it, or at least get close to it. Randi told me that this horse was named Shotgun, although this wasn't it's real name. I didn't realize horses could have aliases. In reality, I later learned, this horse was actually named Bulls Eye. But since I learned its false name first I came to think of it as Shotgun/Bulls Eye.

Anyway, S/B is an older animal, with a massive tumor on the side of it's old, massive head. The tumor is raw, and actively bleeding. I combined that pain with the fact that it lived on a nice, large pasture all by itself, and I imagine the older horse must've been quite lonely.

After an hour and a half or so the police did finally show up. What could've taken so long I can't imagine, but when the law did arrive I was not impressed. Instead of animal control, what showed up was one young cop, probably in his early 20s, and that's it. No pen to load the horse into, and no real plan about what to do with it.

"I bet this doesn't happen to you every day," I said to the officer. Although I thought better of this statement a moment later. Maybe in Kentucky this kind of thing does happen every day.

"No, sir, it does not," he said, trying to assess the situation. Despite the officers young years it was nice to have him there. He could at least do something about the situation. I could only talk to the horse in low, pleasant tones and hope he would not run away.

Soon Randi's family member Jimmy Skaggs came out, and he and the officer grabbed either end of the horse's bridle and walked him to a field, closed off by a gate. The horse, now spooked, busted through the gate, and ran into the street. Soon, though, they regained control of it, and figured out a plan B.

The plan, such as it was, was to take the horse and drop him the pasture that held the other horse. It didn't matter that it wasn't the neighbor's animal. All that mattered was that this presented an end to the problem, at least for now.

After finding a gate the new horse was let inside. The plan was to find the owner, somehow. But this wasn't necessarily a happy ending. The horse's tail was all matted and it had been so thirsty when Randi found it that it drank down multiple large bowls of water. Obviously it had been treated fairly harshly. Maybe, we thought, it ran away from home.

But there was nothing else to do. So, problem solved I parted ways with Jimmy and the cop and went back to Randi's mother's house. The next morning we saw the two horses running and playing together, gambolling you could say. For all the world they both looked happy to be with one another, even old Shotgun/Bulls Eye could be seen running around, tumor and all.

By the next morning, though, the new horse was already gone, claimed by someone, I don't know who. I hope it went to a good home, or if it went back to its same old home that it will get treated better.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Getting Lucky In Kentucky

So here we are, in the Bluegrass State. Kentucky, that is, to those of you unfamiliar with state nicknames, bluegrass or America. We are visiting Randi's family, and in a few days we are going to attend her ten year college reunion, at Centre College. Centre, heretofore little known outside of the Midwest has recently been named a top-15 school by none other than I attended Wesleyan University. We did not place in the top 15. Randi has had some fun with this fact, as you can imagine. But, then again, I didn't bother to attend my ten year reunion, either, and Randi literally CANNOT WAIT to go to hers. So maybe there's something to all this Centre stuff.

Last week leading up to the trip was kind of the stuff of nightmares. I had lots of extra work to do, as I fought off a bad cold. Late nights, and tons of busy work equals more sickness every time. Our flight left at 7:30 a.m. from LaGuardia to go to Louisville, so we, of course had to split at the break of dawn, and wake up the baby at 4:30 or so. The car was to come at 5:15 a.m., and everything with a child takes more time, much more.

Good thing I was awake from the night before. More or less. I don't stay up partying all night like I used to, about 100 years ago, I was awake working on a story. The night before I was also awake until 1:00 a.m. or so, on another story. Loose ends before the trip. But doing all this stuff just made me feel more run down.

So I awoke the troops at 4:30 a.m., turning the tables on Stella for once. She looked amazed, as she groggily rubbed her eyes. Her appearance seemed to say, "No, I wake YOU up, you don't wake me up!" But wake her up I did.

From there we double checked all the extra baby gear. We tried to pack as light as possible, but it is kind of relative, packing light, when you're packing, uh, a child. I can bring three pairs of pants, three shirts, some shoes, and a toothbrush and I can spend two weeks anywhere. Not so with a kid, you have to bring everything in the world you might ever need, including all their various medicines, and creams, and aspirators, and diaper bags, and so on. It stacks up. And we had to fit it into the same amount of bags as before, because the airlines now charge an extra $15 for each checked bag. Yeah, like that'll help them.

At 5:10 a.m. we went downstairs, Randi carrying a backpack and a baby, me carrying all else. There was no car, I thought, until Randi pointed out the turned off Town Car across the street. I walked over, knocked on the window, and the dozing car service guy awoke, about as reluctantly as Stella did.

Of course the extra system for clipping in Stella's safety seat wasn't there, despite us being promised that over the phone. So we fastened her in using the middle lap belt and her car seat, which freaked us out. Randi yelled at the guy, but since it wasn't in his language I don't think he understood what she said, although I am quite sure the tone was unmistakable.

Making matters worse we in fact almost got into a fender bender on the way to the airport. It was one of those moments, where you see the slowing traffic fast, and then the brake is slammed and you pray you have enough time. I will say this, my nose, formerly full, drained in about a millisecond, as we got closer and closer to the other fender. That is what fear feels like. And quite suddenly we were all wide awake, including, thank God, our driver. But we narrowly avoided a collision, and the rest of the ride was without event.

At the airport we started to self check our bags, although our efforts were quickly cut short but a stylishly dressed Dominican woman who worked for the airline, who told us that whatever it was we were doing, we were going about it the wrong way. Then I was directed to the baggage check in area, and was instructed on how I should repack my bags so we can carry them all in, and avoid the check in fees. I did it, but it was a tight squeeze.

Once back we were told to speak to a woman behind a counter, which is I think what Randi was trying to do before the Dominican corrected us. The nice woman behind the counter then made boarding passes for all of us, including Stella. That's a first, I thought. She gets her own boarding pass! She's arrived.

After we received the customary gynecological spread check walking through the X-ray machines we were free to go to our gate, at last. We were carrying two rolling suitcases, a stroller with a child safety seat inside it, a backpack, a large canvass bag and a six month old baby. Sometimes it felt like it was our luggage that was going on vacation, and we were just the way it got there.

Once sitting Randi got some breakfast, a McDonald's Southern Style chicken biscuit. In other words, a complete Chick Fil-A knockoff. I'd had one months ago, and swore to never repeat that mistake.

So five minutes later I'm eating my Southern Style chicken biscuit. It tasted about as good as I remembered.

The terminal was mostly empty, although the TVs were blaring, as always. More news about the presidential campaign, more news about the financial meltdown. Just another weekday, in other words. Then they called out that it was time to board.

"Passengers with children are invited to board first," the woman at the microphone announced. Wow, another first. It's almost like we are now part of some kind of elite. An elite that is comprised of the majority of adults in the world. But I'll take it.

To be continued ...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Happy Six Month Birthday, Stella Rae!

In just six months she's gone from this ...

To this!

I honestly don't remember exactly when she started to smile so much. But I am so delighted that she has. Now she even smiles for the camera, which is weird, wonderful and, somehow, a little heartbreaking. Or it would be heartbreaking if it weren't so genuine. If that sounds odd, I guess I am just worried about my little baby girl performing for us, but there is nothing less than genuine about this little girl.
She loves her mom, she loves me, she loves her cats, and they love her. She still doesn't love to sleep at night, and doesn't love her crib, but she's better about this stuff than she used to be.
The past six months have been the fastest in my life. I remember her birth so vividly, which is a blessing, because unfortunately we didn't get the best photos of her, just her, when she was born. That bothers me, maybe more than it should, but we've more than made up for it since. No one can say this little girl hasn't been well photographed, which is good, because she photographs so well.
Today was her six month doctor's appointment. She got more shots, which she did not enjoy, Randi tells me, screaming and wailing, much more so than last time. The nurse didn't even want to give her the shots, because she was already smitten by little Stella Rae, and didn't want to make her cry. But cry she did. Now she is sleeping, somewhat fitfully.
It's so hard to not be trite, and it's so hard to explain how my life has changed. In some obvious ways it hasn't changed all that much. I still go to work, I still go home after work.
But in other, more significant ways it has, as it must. I realize now that for all the attention a child demands, and how that takes your energy from yourself, you get so much more in return. I still want to write, I still want to create, I still want my name in lights, my talent burning like a meteorite across the sky. But if I do all those things, but fail as a father, than I am simply a failure. Conversely, if I don't do all those things, but succeed as a father, than I have contributed something of worth, love and value to this life. I will not have lived in vain.
I am concerned about imparting the proper values to Stella Rae. A love for justice, among those values. The Jewish concept of sedakah, which most people think of as charity actually translates into justice. As in you are not giving to the poor and unfortunate what it is kind of you to give, but that you are obligated to contribute to eradicate justice. There is a burden on you to amend injustices in this world, and you are not just a person feeding the poor with the leftovers from your table. I agree with this value system, and I want to impart it to Stella, too. As does Randi. I want her to care about those who need justice in this life. Because justice requires wisdom, and compassion for those who can't defend themselves.
Another Jewish concept is Tikkan Olam, which I probably badly misspelled. This is perhaps my favorite Jewish idea. It means to heal the world. Every person has this obligation, too. To make the world whole, or at least as whole, or healed, as you can. We are obligated to make the world a better place than when we found it. How will her talents fit into this? Heaven only knows, but my job is to help her realize her own gifts, and help her see how she can use them for good.
Of course, other traditions share these traditions as well, though they give them different names. No one tradition or religion has a corner on all the good in the world. There is enough good to go around. It is my job to also help her know this.
But these are things to impart later. Because today she is six months old, and our job is to love her, and make her feel it. We try to, every day. We sometimes get frustrated, we still get exhausted and we get flabbergasted at times, too, but we never forget to hold her, hug her, care for her, and make her feel as loved as we know how. We can't parent any other way.
It's the smile that makes it all so much easier, that makes the tiredness, or even occasional frustration melt away. When she smiles as me a warmth spreads all over me, and I realize that I can be surprised by love, again and again. I thought I knew myself well, but I am a different person than I was a little over six months ago. I care more about my family, less about myself.
I know I have more to go in this direction, but I am trying. I am also trying, at the same time, to enhance the parts of me that are key to my happiness and who I am. I do not think these things are incompatible.
Stella, ironically, is quite similar in many ways to how she was in the womb, feisty. But she is more warm that she is feisty.
I wish I had something more wise to say about this auspicious day, but I don't. She gives direction and an urgent sense of purpose to our lives, and made everything richer in ways we couldn't imagine. Just by being herself. I couldn't ask for more, but I am looking forward to what comes.