Friday, June 25, 2010

Thoughts On Toys, Curious George

Slept in a little this morning, it's about 6:30 a.m. Stella is surely going to be awake soon, so I probably won't have long to do this. So here we go.


Man, it's been hot, am I right? As they say in "Biloxi Blues" it's been like "Africa Hot." The metal stairs leading up to our apartment are black, and every morning the sun shines down on them, making them even more hot. Ick and icky poo.

Slept with the fan on, right near the bed. It worked, even better than our AC unit upstairs, it was more immediate, you know?

In Stella's room we have installed a portable AC unit that rolls around on wheels, and is about the size of a small refrigerator. It is probably the best AC unit in the apartment. It has this snaking tube that reaches from the back of the unit to the window, where the hot air is piped out. When you first turn it on in a hot room the tube becomes actually hot to the touch, which is kind of crazy and in a way fascinating.


Anyway, enough about the weather. I mean, how boring can I be, right?

What else is happening? What else is happening with Stella?

We saw "Toy Story 3" yesterday afternoon, partly to help escape the heat. We went to a movie theater on Court Street in Brooklyn. First we waited on a line that was not moving at all. Despite it being about 2:15 p.m. on a Thursday the place was just about packed. What's wrong with these people, don't they have jobs? :-)

Then we moved to a ticket dispensing kiosk. There were five but only one of them worked. We were starting to get frantic, because it was getting closer to movie time, and we weren't sure whether it would sell out. I was holding Stella the whole time, because this is her new thing, she wants to be held all the time. A kindly Latina woman let me buy tickets ahead of her because she was going to a later show. So, once we had our tickets we started to go to our theater, theater 12. This was on, no joke, on either the sixth or seventh floor of the movie house. We went up, up, up escalators, some of which didn't work, of course, me holding Stella the whole time.

I later joked to Randi that we went up so much that it actually took water longer to boil.

Soon enough, though, we made it the theater playing the movie, although we missed the coming attractions and some of a short animated feature that played before the movie. But the actual movie itself was wonderful, and I recommend it very highly. I think Stella liked it a lot too. In fact it is the first movie that she has ever made it all the way through. True she did have to get up and walk around, or at least between us, and she made some noise toward the end, and was kind of anxious, but by and large I think she really loved the movie.

Which was good, because it would be nice to go to the movies, pay for a tickets to a kid friendly movie, and then actually see the movie in question.

I've caught about half of "Marley & Me," "Alvin And The Chipmunks: The Squeequel," and "The Princess And The Frog." They were all entertaining, or at least parts of them were. Then inevitably Stella would get way too antsy and I would have to grab her and walk around the theater, and then it would be Randi's turn.

Maybe she just didn't like these movies? I don't find that impossible to believe.

I don't think it's revealing too much to say that at the end of the new "Toy Story" the boy, Andy, has to decide whether or not he is going to keep his toys. In fact that's kind of what the entire movie is about. And, gosh darn it, who hasn't had to deal with that dilemma? When I was a kid I slept with about 10 stuffed animals every night, but over time outgrew them (thank god) and eventually had to realize that maybe someone else would benefit from them more than I would. The decision to give them away was easy, but I still miss my Curious George doll.

It was a gift from my brother Stu, and I think he bought it at a stationary store downtown. I had forgotten that he bought it for me, but he reminded me years and years later, and I think it was so cool of him to get this present for me. It immediately became my favorite. It had a red shirt that said "Curious George" on it, and a red baseball hat, the brim of which was turned up.

It was my absolute favorite, and I loved it. When I was in my early 20s I decided that since I was no longer playing with it that I should give it to my younger cousins. I didn't realize though how hard it would actually be to part with it. As I was handing it to them a voice inside my head said "no!" don't do this, keep George, but give away anything else. But I didn't listen to it, and parted with my toy, but with a heavy heart.

This was the right thing to do, I thought at the time, though it made me sad. I felt really adult, you know? And I thought that part of being an adult is being sad when you give up your childhood toys.

Maybe, however, that meant that I wasn't quite ready to actually part with it.

About six months ago I asked my cousins for it back because I have Stella now and she is just crazy about George too. But the doll was long gone by then, removed in a cleaning binge some years ago. I am not mad about it, because I gave it away, it was theirs to do what they will. I have to admit, though, that I was dismayed to hear the news, I never imagined I could actually lose George forever.

My cousins are wonderful and sweet people, and bought a new, modern version of the George I lost, again with a red sweater but this time with much more realistic monkey hands and feet. Stella is crazy about it, and sleeps with it sometimes. In fact she loves it, probably the way I loved mine way back when. Maybe she even loves it more because it is hers. It's entirely possible that she wouldn't have taken to mine this way, and I would have been kind of surprised, maybe even, this is silly, a little hurt? Who knows?

All I know is that somehow, in the back of my mind, I know that if I ever am walking by a yard sale and I see my old school Curious George doll I will almost certainly snap it up and bring it home. Although I'll probably wash it first and throw it in the dryer for a good long time before bringing it into the house to stay. Because let's not be too sentimental here.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Thoughts On A Thursday: Sarah Palin, Lady Gaga Edition

What do these two women have in common? They're both nuts!

Going to just be a bit random here, as it's a Thursday morning and I'm barely awake. So let's see. As usual, these are my opinions and thoughts, probably with little justification or facts backing them up!


Boy, that Sarah Palin! It sure seems that everything she does instantly becomes news, right? In the past two weeks I've seen headlines about people she's endorsed, questions about whether she had a boob job (for an increase not decrease), a story on her daughter Bristol Palin being in a soap opera, and so on.

You'd almost think she didn't scare half the country to death.

But she does. And this is what I find so strange about the talk about her being the nominal leader of the Republican Party right now, half the country is downright terrified of her. Terrified of her smirk, of her proud ignorance, of her obvious backpeddling on positions that she once endorsed ("Drill, baby, drill!"). I mean, she is a big, big reason why Old Man McCain lost the last election. Anyone who was Democrat refused to jump lines (there were no McCain Democrats, ala Reagan), and most independents were also scared away by her obvious joy in being on the wrong side of just about every issue.

If she is the best the Republicans can do expect them to definitely lose the 2012 Presidential election. Closer to home I predict that the candidates she endorses will continue to lose, and that she herself will continue to be an overall drag on the Republican Party.

What has happened to The Elephants anyway? Whereas they once portrayed themselves as the party of the grownups, the party of responsibility in all its various guises, now the best figurehead they can rustle up is a former, not even one term, governor from one of our smallest states? A person who polorizes everywhere she goes? And this is considered good? What am I missing?


And Democrats have had to learn, alas, that Obama is not an idealized figment of their most fervent imagination, but an actual living, breathing, flawed man. He is, hold steady, not perfect. He has and will continue to make mistakes. In this he will be like every other person that ever walked the planet. I can accept this, but can other Democrats? Do they have another choice?

It seems like Obama is getting it from all sides these days, and I can understand why. The economy, despite somehow being "better" still is terrible, unemployment is high and not getting better, and other key indicators, like housing, are not promising.

Mostly, though, Obama has been shown to be somewhat of an unengaged technocrat when it comes to the oil spill. He tries to project that he cares, but people don't really believe him. His response to the entire crisis has been as agonizing, in some ways, as the spill itself. What else could he have done? I don't know. He's gotten BP to agree to a $20 billion cleanup, which is a hell of a lot more than George Bush 1 wrested from Exxon in the wake of the Valdez tragedy. In fact Exxon fought the notion that they were responsible for the Valdez incident tooth and nail for about 20 years. In the end they went back and back and back to court to reduce whatever monies they had to pay, even though the disaster was clearly their fault.

But we want to believe Obama can make this spill stop, go away, magically get capped. But it can't.

It might be interesting to know that during Reagan's first term he was not all that popular, not with Democrats mind you, but Republicans. Two years into his first term he was stuck in a recession, and there was a lot of talk in the Republican party of dumping Reagan, of having him step gracefully out of the spotlight so they could find someone else for the 1984 election.

Of course none of this happened, and in 1984 he won in the biggest landslide in modern American politics. What changed? The recession ended, and the economy turned around, that's all. If Obama can also cruise into 2012 with an economy that is getting noticeably stronger he will be in great shape, especially if the Republicans continue to heed the siren song of their ignorant muse, Sarah Palin. As a Democrat this would make me happy, but as an American this makes me very sad indeed.


This truly has nothing to do with anything, but I am concerned about Lady Gaga's recent antics at the Mets and Yankees games she attended. Apparently she stripped down at both of them, acted totally weird, but not in a good way, and just generally projected an air of crazy. What I'm thinking is, here we go again. She is starting to crack.

Look, I have no idea what it's like to actually live in the spotlight, but all the evidence around me seems to prove that it's extremely unhealthy for young adults to find themselves there for long periods of time. Look at Michael Jackson, look at Corey Haim, look at anyone who ever went near the set of Diff'rent Strokes. Lindsey Lohan, the list goes on. If you are a young person and become world famous the odds are good you will go totally nuts. Again, look at Britney Spears.

Britney, what a odd trajectory she had. She went from computerized jail bait/sex kitten, to crazy woman, back to emotionless dancing fembot. And we are supposed to be happy that she's back "entertaining" and being anorexic. But instead, to me, she just looks joyless and dead inside. Indeed when she went nuts, shaved her head, attacked a car with an umbrella, all that, she was showing actual, real emotion. It just wasn't emotion that seemed all that healthy or good for her.

The crackups always start with something small. With Michael Jackson it was the story that he had bought the Elephant Man's bones. Worldwide we all just kind of went, huh? But otherwise he seemed more or less normal, so we ignored this weird sign. Soon he was bleaching his skin and having sleep overs with little kids. Did he molest them? Who knows? Was it creepy? Hell yes!

With Britney Spears the first sign of weirdness was that she was, brace yourselves, smoking! (Oh for the day this seemed strange.) Yes, you remember now, right? She was caught smoking on a balcony, which totally contradicted her wholesome (as wholesome as jail bait can be, I guess) image. Remember, she endorsed George W. Bush, and had been a Mousekateer. She was supposed to be the perfect American Girl. But there she was smoking, an actual real live American Girl now, and people were upset. Soon she was having affairs, getting married for two days, and driving barefoot with her babies in tow. The downfall came fast, and it all started with some smokes.

With Lindsey Lohan the first sign of trouble came from reports that she was being rude and cranky on the sets of her various films. Showing up late, not knowing her lines, all that. Again, not a huge deal, but a portent of things to come.

With Lady Gaga this odd, self-defeating behavior at the baseball games may be what we, years down the road, mark as the start of her crackup. After all, what did she accomplish with these displays? Nothing other than to alienate scores of fans in her own hometown. For what? Some cheap publicity? She's already one of the biggest stars on the planet, and about to headline a bunch of shows at MSG. To paraphrase Jerry Seinfeld not all exposure is good exposure, in fact you could die from exposure.

This is a shame, because at 23 years old, she looks to be full of potential and actual musical talent. But the media is so all devouring, so constant that I fear she will never get to live up to this potential if she doesn't learn to take a step back.

All these stories form a pattern. So many of these child/young adult stars are so contained, so precocious, so controlled in everything they do, until one day ... they aren't. At all, and then they fall to pieces in a violent, agonizing way. We forget now, but just five years ago Lindsey Lohan was a fresh faced, sweet as pie, wholesome All American girl, who had just starred in a series of Disney films. "Mean Girls" was not to be her swan song, but her coming out party. And in that movie there are entire scenes where you can see the young, sweet person she seemed to be. Now she's an absolute train wreck, and when she puts a blond wig on she looks not like Marilyn Monroe, but her own middle aged mother. My god, she's what, 25?

Anyway, I don't need to recap the whole sad list, but I think of all the talents a young star can have the talent that is most important is the talent for preserving themselves, learning how to say no to the spotlight and risking the public's short memory so they don't burn out and get consumed by their own notoriety. First they are famous then they are infamous. This is a shame when actual talent is at stake, yes, but it's also a shame when actual lives are consumed.

Me? I'm glad I'm peeking late. :-)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Good Morning!

Ugh, yesterday was one of THOSE days. I woke up, made a list of things to do, and maybe got to do about half of them. But many of the more important things didn't happen. And these have to do with helping keep this place a little bit more neat than it is right now.

I swear, entropy has become a constant factor in my life. If we don't clean up the toy area it becomes a crazy mess within a day. If we don't do the dishes for one day the sink mysteriously becomes filled. If we don't change the litter box every four days it smells like an ammonia bomb has gone off in our bathroom. On top of that the recycling needs to be taken, and the normal garbage too. These are the perhaps quotidian chores any household needs done, but when I don't do them I definitely feel a certain weight pressing down on me as I walk around the apartment. So this is my plan this morning after I write here for a little bit: tackle the mess, in all its various stages.

I went to bed early last night, around 10:00 p.m., which maybe isn't that early for some, but still early for me. I have been trying to live a more disciplined life over the past couple of months, and trying to get to bed more early, so I can rise more early, so I can get more done before Stella wakes up. Once she wakes up we dedicate all our various energies to her and her needs, which is as it should be, but that means the only time of the day that is really virgin turf is the very early part, which is why I have made it a point of waking up no later than 5:45 a.m., which is a complete life change for me.

I have never been an early riser. All my life I have struggled to make it out of bed. In high school I would barely make it on time, often not having time to shower in the morning, still groggy in first period. In college I sometimes had a hard time making it to my, gulp, 10:00 a.m. classes, which is kind of shameful, now that I think about it.

That has started to change over the past few years. About a decade ago I got a job as a reporter at a place called "Institutional Investor." At II they required me to be at my desk at 7:30 a.m., preferably having already read that morning's edition of the "Wall Street Journal." I also had to wear a tie, and dress pants, which was kind of a crazy throwback, especially considering that many of my peers were moving in the other direction as the dot come explosion reached full flower.

It was anachronistic but in a way I found it very cool. In a way I felt very square too, but that was what it was. After a while I found myself really getting a lot done by noon, which was a new experience for me, even if I didn't always love waking up when it was dark, and then heading home at night when it was dark too.

In short I learned a little bit about what it meant to be an adult. Or at least to act like one long enough to know what it should feel like.

After that I never had much trouble getting to work on time, in fact most places I worked I was typically one of the people who would arrive on the earlier side. At my last job I would show up at 8:00 a.m., typically the first one there. One morning an old timer there looked at me at my desk, and kind of gestured to me with his coffee mug.

"Yeah, I see you're like me, a morning person," he said.

"Not really, I answered, but I am for this job," I answered.

He looked kind of shocked, but I guess that's part of being an adult: you do what it takes to make it.

Good morning!

Monday, June 14, 2010

On Leo DiCaprio And The Real Housewives

I'm sorry, this dude is just not tough.

Happy Monday, ya'll. It's rainy and gray over here. I just woke up, it's about 5:45 a.m., and am not entirely sure what I'm going to write about, but here we go.


Saw "Shutter Island" last night. Randi had rented it the night before and since it was a 48 hour rental I was able to see it too. A very, very cool movie. Lots of twists and turns, and it is impeccably directed by Martin Scorsese. Plus, as an added feature it is the second movie in a row from Marty that featured Leonardo DiCaprio struggling through a Boston accent.

I have to say, I am having a hard time buying into the era of DiCaprio as a tough guy. In "Shutter Island" he plays a detective (don't worry, no spoilers) who goes around the island snooping into various things that desperately need snooping into, kicking ass and taking names. You see, his character is a former combat vet from WW2, so he's got his old school Army moves to fall back on should the heat get too hot. He's dangerous, you know?

But, I don't know, I just don't believe this guy could really kick anyone's ass, anywhere, at any time. He just does not, to me, project a vibe that says "Bad Motherfucker." Maybe it's the voice, so high pitched. Maybe it's the fact that he always seems to be playing a guy who is a hard case, and it seems like he's playing one. Maybe it's because he's kind of thin in real life, except for when he becomes doughy and soft, and his childish features eternally make him look about 12.

It was the same deal with "The Departed," which I loved by the way. I even loved Leo in it, but he is supposed to play this cop who opens a thorough can of whup-ass on Matt Damon at the end. This I could almost kind of believe, because I also don't buy that Matt Damon is all that tough in real life either. (About eight years ago I saw him coming out of the Silver Spurs restaurant downtown. He is my height, 5' 6".) So it was like a face off of two Hollywood fancy boys with thicker than plausible Baaaahstin accents, on a rooftop. Despite this I still loved Leo's portrayal, partly because he's playing a guy who is trying to overcome being miscast.

The fact is, Leo is a fabulous actor. In "What's Eating Gilbert Grape" he gave what seems, to me, what is still his definitive screen performance, as a young boy with bad mental disabilities. I think I heard a story that his portrayal was so convincing that one Hollywood suit felt it was odd of the director to cast an actual person with mental retardation for a major Hollywood movie. Regardless, it remains, to me, one of the great performances of the past 20 years.

That's a great movie, by the way, if you haven't seen it. Johnny Depp is in it, and is also excellent, playing the older brother -- the titular Gilbert -- who is trying to keep his way screwed-up family together. The mother is morbidly obese and can't get around much, so the burden has mostly fallen on Johnny's slim shoulders.

Now, there are some movie tough guys whom I totally buy. Clint Eastwood? No doubt. John Wayne? Of course. Ahnold? Sure. Charles Bronson? Why not. Leo? Not so much.

I am sure he will be very upset when he hears I feel this way, as he naps on a mattress full of $100 bills, with his harem of models somewhere on the French Riviera. Leo, I've got your number!


Ah, it's a rainy day, and I've talked about a lot of heavy shit on this blog, time and again. Let's have some fun today and stick with the important stuff, pop culture.

Like most of you I have watched more than my fair share of the "Real Housewives" series on Bravo.

In most of these series the women start out normal enough, I guess. They're kind of rich, kind of spoiled, buy $2000 Gucci bags without thinking about it too much, you know that kind of thing.

But, and this has become a pattern across the various iterations of the "Housewives" series, by season two they become fire-breathing, anorexic-looking, back-stabbing mega-bitches! And the "New York" series is the worst offender of all.

Look, I admit it, I watched the show. I thought they were interesting/deluded enough to keep me more or less hooked on what was going on in their ridiculous lives, but by season three they had become so mean to one another, constantly ripping each other new assholes both in person and behind the scenes, that even I, after a while, could no longer stomach it. They were always, always rude to one another, always conniving against one another, forming these silly alliances that seemed about as well-grounded as a house of wet napkins, and so on and so on.

Friends, I have to say, it was hard to watch. My real life is stressful enough. I would watch the show and feel like I needed to watch TV to wash the memory of the TV I had just seen from my brain. And there are some outright psychos on this show, who seem like they need to be locked up, like now.

Kelly in NYC is thoroughly crazy. She started off the show as a still pretty-enough I guess but obviously faded one-time model, about as dense as anti-matter, who never-the-less still loved to pick fights with people who were much smarter and cleverer than she could ever be. Her season two bar fight with Bethany ranks as one of the all-time classic instances of what it looks like to watch an argument between a smart person and a stupid person. Hint: the stupid person lost. But in classic stupid person fashion she didn't even realize she lost, possibly ever.

Jill Zarin, the "fabric expert," started off the show as a honk-voiced Jewish American Princess, who, despite this, still seemed like a decent enough woman, and a good friend. In fact I liked her, she reminded me of various girls and women I knew growing up, especially those I would meet during my summers upstate, who were either from Queens, Brooklyn or Lawn Guyland. I didn't always get along with these people, but, still, Jill was like a blast from the past every time I watched the show. If nothing else it was a relief to know that despite the smoothing trends of mass media almost offensively potent New Yawk accents still had a home in the vocal chords of various spoiled women through The City. It reassured me.

But screw that, Jill has become a scheming, mean-spirited, clumsily back-stabbing harridan in season three. She can't ever seem to keep her almost cave-like mouth shut, for any reason, at any time. Everything that happens anywhere seems to personally hurt and offend her. All she does is bear grudges, and undercut people who she used to claim as friends.

God, there are so many more women on these various shows who seem ripe not for syndication, but a padded cell. The various insanities of Danielle from the New Jersey series have been well-documented. (Apparently now she has a sex tape on the market that she almost certainly leaked herself. Ugh, and double ugh. Who, other than the morbidly curious/really drunk, could ever want to watch this?)

But, again, by the second season of the "NJ" series even Danielle found a way to get one circle closer to true crazy, pushing herself into her daughter's already creepy modeling career, all the while finding ways to make it entirely about her. As I have said before, she is so obsessed, and lives so much through her daughter's career and future she almost seems like one of those crazy women from "The Mists of Avalon."

Still, the shows are not without some redeeming merit. For one thing the recession has finally caught up with the various players on screen, making them a bit more "real" than perhaps the stars ever hoped they might be. Theresa from the New Jersey series is, apparently, $11 million in debt. Folks, according to various documents I've seen, her family's entire annual income is in the neighborhood of $200 grand a year. Only $80,000 of that, or so, comes from actual work, the rest comes from contributions from her "family" whatever that means.

Now she's trying to sell her lavish, in fact cartoonish, mansion for something like $3 million. One question: how in god's green earth does anyone get a mortgage for a $3 million house (it was surely higher than this during the housing bubble) when they make less than a quarter of a million bucks a year?

In fact, their monthly costs include something like $1250 per month for a Cadillac Escale, which, by itself, would total around 15% of their annual salaried income.

This is insane.

So it is with some satisfaction that now we see that she has to pay the piper, in a big way. To me Theresa has larger symbolic value. I see in her a micro vision of our larger economy; built on mountains of bullshit, all for the illusion of prosperity. And now that the debt collectors have come calling she/we have to go scrounging around our couch for some change to throw in the pot. Because we sure as hell can't actually pay off what we owe.

It's the same thing with the flagship series for the entire "Real Housewives" empire: the Orange County version. On this series you have a housewife, Lynne, who was so dumb that on one episode it was shown that she didn't actually know whether or not her tacky, tasteless McMansion had an air conditioner. She also didn't know, yes, whether vegetarians could eat horseradish.

And now her family has been kicked out of their home by creditors, since they are flat-ass broke. But not so broke that she didn't have tens of thousands of dollars to spend on a boob job for her, and a nose job for her daughter. Her husband seemed like an okay enough guy, but obviously he was also living in Da Nile.

And now all the women on the California show are going broke, except that entrepreneurial crypt keeper Vicky, because their hubbies all made their quick millions in "construction" and now they are all "unemployed."

Will the construction boom ever come back? I am betting no way Jose. Bubbles don't reinflate. But these shows will never die, because bubble heads are immortal.

Randi sees a deeper issue with all the show. Typically between seasons one and two all the women lose craploads of weight. She believes their edgy, twitchy, anxious behavior is in keeping with people who are constantly on diet pills. This makes all too much sense. As they say you can never be too thin or too rich. Hmm, wait a second, something seems wrong with that.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Thoughts On "Avatar" And The Environment

Finally saw "Avatar" last night. And while the film is kind of a mash up of so many other films ("The Matrix," "Pocahontas," "Aliens," and maybe even a few others) I have to say I really, really enjoyed it. We saw it on our TV, which is nice, functional model, but hardly one of those home-theater jobs you hear about. Having said that, the visuals, even on our relatively lo-fi unit, were extremely impressive, but I can only imagine how this movie must have looked in 3D, preferably on a really, really big screen, like an IMAX. The conclusion that must be drawn here is that this must have been the greatest movie to see stoned of all time.

It's funny, you see the movie, and end up really rooting against the earthlings, i.e., us. I have to say it's not the first time I've had to reach this same conclusion as I watched a movie, although the other few times it may not have been what the film makers intended. ("Avatar" is about how we go to a pristine planet and try to destroy its eco-system in order to mine out a rare, energy-producing rock.)

Remember that scene in "The Matrix" where Agent Smith has Neo captive and starts to rip on humanity, talking about how its a virus, and uses up all the natural resources of a planet? Even though Smith was the obvious bad guy in the movie I kind of found myself nodding along as he said that, all too aware of how much we've depleted the planet. I almost said raped the planet, but that term has been so overused it almost has no meaning anymore.

Anyway, if you haven't seen "Avatar" yet--i.e. you are one of the three other people on the planet like us--I can recommend. It totally holds your interest for almost three hours, and is visually like no other movie that's ever been made. Even on the small screen.


I do realize I've been writing about the oil spill on this blog quite a bit. But it's been so hard for me to simply move onto other subjects and forget about it.

I've been, in my own way, an environmentalist for about two decades. I remember reading a "Time" magazine when I was in high school that talked about global warming and how the planet is in peril. It made an impact on me. This was probably in the late 80s, or so. At the time there were already more than a few people who were interested in these topics, but it hadn't quite gone mainstream yet.

When I was 19 years old I spent a summer canvassing door to door for the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group, aka PIRG. I was raising awareness and donations to ensure that the New Jersey government does its part to buy more recycled goods, helping to create a larger and more sustainable market for recycled products. The idea was to create legislature that would force this into being, as there was lots of recycled supply but, at that point, very little demand. Recycled goods cost more, so by and large people didn't buy them. Instead the recycled cans, paper, you name it would end up, brace yourself, in landfills just the same. So people would spend all this time separating out trash, and feeling that they were doing something worthy and important, but the results were simply not there.

It was a great education. Many people saw my side of things, but of course there were then and remain now many people who simply wanted to continue to stick their heads in the sand and forget that we actually have an impact on our planet and that what we do matters, for good or, mostly, ill.

I solicited donations, anywhere from $25 to however much the people could or would give. I wasn't the best canvasser, but I held my own. On a good day the magic mark you wanted to cross was $100 in donations. If you failed to do that on a regular basis PIRG would let you go. The idea was that if you were a bad canvasser they had to remove you because you could actively ruin a potential source of donations for years to come.

I mean it's not necessarily all that easy to ask people for money. We had a script, which we were required to memorize. We were allowed to go off the script a little, but mostly we were asked to simply stick with the materials given to us, and to not BS or improvise. We were told, of course, to never lie or mis-represent PIRG, and if we didn't know the answer to a question we were told to not make something up.

The response from people was as varied as you could imagine. I remember that there was a bit of a cold, rainy snap in the middle of July and one home-owner, a guy, said something to me that implied this showed how silly it was for us to believe in global warming. At this point I did in fact go off the script and start to debate/argue with the guy, about how weather and climate are really not one and the same thing, and how most of the world's leading scientists who actually study the subject believe global warming is real, how many of the hottest years in recent memory were lumped into the past decade (it was true then, more true now) and the rest. But you can't get blood from a stone.

Mostly people kind of looked at me like, "can I go now?" Although there were more than a few people who were actually interested in the subject and wanted to talk, and in some cases, talk and talk. These people typically would donate. Basically if you could get someone to chat for five minutes or so it was virtually a lock that they would donate, because after a while they would feel guilty for taking up your time, and started to think of you as a shining example of a young person doing something good for the world (as compared to playing video games all day, etc.) and they wanted to encourage this.

Here was the thing: you had to get them to write a check on the spot. Many people would say that instead of donating now they would be happy to read some literature, think about it, and then send in money, but the fact is they almost never did. If you left someone with some papers and a postcard it was 99% guaranteed that they would forget about it. So you had to become adept at closing the deal.

It was an interesting summer in many ways. Working outside was always surprising. I got caught in heavy downpours more than a few times, and never actually seemed to have an umbrella when it mattered the most. I really enjoyed seeing what my fellow citizens thought about the environmental issues of the day, even if the majority didn't seem to think much of it. I saw, even then, some random misdirected rage toward the government -- one guy talked about going to Washington and hanging everyone, which seemed to make no sense to me then or now. When I hear this I can't help but always think the same thing: yeah, but WE voted these people in.

Since my co-workers were all people around my age there were also a ton of really good parties and lots of post-work socializing and hanging out. There was also a wild weekend retreat for all the PIRG chapters on the East Coast at a place called Paradox Lake that featured the raciest game of "I Never" (surely the easiest drinking game of all time)ever played, and lots of other assorted party activities that I won't get into here. It was a good time.

The people that canvassed with me came from a lot of different backgrounds, one guy I remember was formerly in the Army, another was an early queer rights activist. The group was mostly liberal, as you can imagine, but not entirely of the far left variety. Some were not politically affiliated with any party, some were actually in other ways conservative. I remember the person I looked up to the most, my direct boss, was actually pro-life. It was cool, there was room for everyone.

Mostly we were really psyched that Bill Clinton looked likely to win the presidential election, because the Reagan/Bush years were really black ones for the environment. Reagan, of course, made his first Secretary of the Interior a man named James Watt, who never saw a national park he didn't want to mine and then turn into a strip mall, and George Bush the elder had something called the "Council On Competitiveness" which was mostly dedicated to repealing environmental regs deemed burdensome to big business; that would be all of them, by the way.

Clinton didn't live up to everyone's expectations, but for the environment he was a step in the right direction versus his two predecessors. He made huge tracts of land into public monuments, meaning the land can't be developed, it must be left as it is. Much of this was in the West, over the vehement objections of the locals, who didn't want any of this. Mostly they seemed to care more then, and now, about the right to use their various off-roaders and SUVs wherever the hell they pleased, consequences be dammed. I didn't feel too bad about them losing some of their off-roading privileges, then or now.

Even today we, I mean my family, live a relatively low-impact lifestyle here at BBD Estates. We do have a car, it's true, but it's an older model that gets good gas mileage. For most day to day trips we still use public transportation. We eat relatively little red meat, though we are not vegetarians. We mostly avoid the consumerist trap of having to own the latest gadgets, most of which are environmentally poisonous. Our computer is five years old. When it started to run slow we replaced the central processor and had it rebooted, rather than get a new one. My cell phone is five years old. Most of my clothes are years old, my sneakers are years old, as are my shoes. Stella wears a lot of hand-me-downs, we are shameless, we will take them from anyone. Randi sets a weekly menu that is healthy, delicious and, again, relatively low impact in terms of animal proteins. Our TV is a hand-me-down from my brother, our DVD player is a decade old, you get the picture.

I was also very proud of our efforts, spearheaded by Randi, to use low-impact diapers for much of Stella's life, though we've kind of moved away from that in the past couple of months. (This was because we had to pack everything away during our bed bug scare, and couldn't find our various G-Diaper covers.)

Our big extravagance is air conditioning. The fact is, I don't love that we have to use this, but it's very hard to get around it in NYC in the summer. Stella's room has terrible air circulation and gets extremely hot. We bought her a portable AC unit that is about the size of R2-D2, and it works extremely well. Otherwise we have a pair of units that we can't use all at once, or our fuses blow.

I make no claims that we are the ultimate green family. But I do think our lifestyle is relatively low impact versus the average American family's. It just seems like so many people bought SUVs when gas was cheap because they could and it was the thing to do. Then, later, they talked themselves into believing they "needed" it. It's funny how quickly they once again didn't need it when gas became really expensive.

Many of us live in houses that are way too big for our needs, which are both expensive to heat in the winter and expensive to cool in the summer. So many homes today have high, high ceilings that make the room ever-harder to climate control. You get the picture.

One of the reasons I like living in a city is because I like taking public transportation for most major inter-city trips, and living in a higher-density area because it aligns with what I believe in environmentally. Higher-density living is kinder to the planet, because the living spaces are smaller, requiring fewer resources, and in NYC most heat is steam-driven, which is relatively kind to the environment.

I don't believe that we have to be in a place like this forever, however, and do realize that as children grow, and families grow, we might need more space. I just hope we take our ethics with us when that happens. I am not too worried about it, though.

Friday, June 11, 2010

I Have A Headache

A novel experiment here, I am trying to write during Stella’s nap. Another novel experiment, I am writing this on my computer’s hard drive, to be later put on the internet, as our connection has been so unreliable.

A nice day out here, breezy, not too hot, sunny. This is what I want out of a springtime and I seem to be getting it, which makes me happy.


The job hunt continues, it’s hard out here for a pimp. Okay, I joke, I am in no way a pimp of any stripe. But it is hard out here. I wonder if the economy is really getting poised to take a long, slow slid down the rabbit hole sometimes, as I see few reasons to think there will much growth to come. Unemployment is rampant, consumers are in debt and have little access to even get credit. And if they did get credit that would only lead to more debt. The housing situation remains bad, and is getting worse, as the government’s $8,000 bribe, I mean tax credit, for first time home buyers has expired.

The fact is homes are still too expensive even now. Yes, prices have come down a lot in many places, but they need to come down still more everywhere. There is no way to justify any vestiges of bubble-era home prices when salaries have been at best flat over the past decade. When you adjust for inflation salaries have almost certainly taken a dip over the past decade.


But honestly what I'm feeling is headachy. I've got some kind of sinus infection that starts to throb at about 3:00 p.m. and stays throbby for another two hours or so. It's been like this for three days. It totally lays me out. Randi was sweet and bought me some nasal spray but what I need is nasal decongestant. I've never had anything quite like this before, my entire eye socket is throbbing and painful, and it hurts to do just about anything. Mostly when this kicks in I try to lie down, and take it easy, I also take two Advil, but they don't seem to do all that much.


Here's some crazy stuff about our health care system. We had to take Stella to the ER in April because we were afraid she had swallowed a hair beret (sp?). It turns out she didn't. We got some x-rays, and saw a couple of doctors. It was thorough and took about an hour. Now I learn the total hospital bill is $1600, and the portion we have to pay, after insurance, is about $480.

I do realize that we got good treatment, and am grateful that everything turned out well. I am happy we got x-rays, and so thrilled that the various doctors we saw were helpful and professional. I was still a bit shocked that after insurance kicked in we still owed almost $500.

We would still have gone, of course, because we were scared, and our doctor told us that in situations like these you have to go.

I will call the hospital and see if there is any way to break the payments down into segments, or if there are any options to reduce the sticker shock of this bill.

Another crazy thing: I got a pair of medications last month that totaled $180. This month I got the generic versions and the total was ... $20! The name brands were nine times more expensive!

Again, I do realize the pharmaceutical firms pay a lot of money to develop these drugs, but I was stunned that the generics were so, so much cheaper.


I guess that's all. I've got a throbbing head, so I will talk to you some other time.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Pt. 1: My Old Home, Pt. 2: Cape May

It's a surprisingly brisk Tuesday morning here, feels a bit like fall. Which is totally fine with me. NYC always seems to have long, terrible winters, interminable summers, short, cool springs and, it must be said, nice falls. But my favorite season, by far, is spring. (Should seasons get capitalized? Help me out Internet!) And, unfortunately, I think we get the shaft when it comes to spring over here.

But it's my absolute favorite season. I remember being a little boy, growing up near here, in Closter, N.J. We lived in a split level home, on some land that we more or less allowed to grow as it would. But there was a nice strip of land next to our driveway, and in that strip my mom planted some annual flowers. I loved these flowers. Every spring, right around the end of March I would see the little crocuses spring up, and it always warmed my heart. They were so defiant, because it was still cold. These would die off pretty quick, and eventually tulips would take their place, which I also loved, but not quite as much as the crocuses. What can I say, it gave me such a warm feeling to know that as terrible as winter may have seemed even it could not last forever, and warmer, sunnier days were to come.

We had a nice old oak tree in our front yard, with flowers ringing it as well.

My mom sold the house in 2006, it was time for her to move out of a fairly large home into something smaller and more manageable. The roof needed to be fixed, the downstairs had started to leak every time it really rained, and there was just so much work to be done, too much for a woman who was by then in her mid-70s.

So, she sold it, probably for not quite as much, maybe, as she could have, but for far more than the same house would have fetched in 2000, the last time she considered selling it. We could say Mom was smart, and she is smart, but I don't think she timed the markets, or knew that we were in a housing bubble. She just needed to move on. So she did okay on the sale, and the property was bought by a young couple who immediately leveled the old house and built yet another McMansion.

I haven't gone by to see it yet, all these years later, because I think it would make me sad. What would make me saddest is that we had a lot of old pine trees on our land that I believe have all been cut down and uprooted. It's their land they can do with it what they wish, but I loved those trees.

I loved the at least semi-wild feeling the trees gave our land. I would see squirrels run up and down their trunks. It all made our suburban home look like something a bit more rustic.

A little bit before the home was sold we slept over and it seemed like nature was putting on a bit of a show for us, a sort of last hurrah. I saw a hawk had nested in a telephone pole across the street, and had chicks. A large, and I do mean large, woodpecker was in our front yard pecking at a tree stump. A family of three deer walked into our back yard and just hung out there. I got some photos of them, but I don't think they really came out all that well.

Why am I reminiscing about my old home like this? I don't know, I really don't. It's funny sometimes to just follow where your train of thought takes you.


Stella is starting to really talk up a storm, it's kind of scary. She's really starting to remember everything we say and then repeat it. And now she's starting to form sentences. She's also starting to remember songs and repeat them to herself. Entire songs, not just the choruses. I think this kid could be wicked smart, as they say in "Good Will Hunting" but I don't want to really think about that too much.

As per my last post I have begun my extremely limited attempts to teach her Spanish. I have put what toys she has that have bilingual settings on the Spanish mode and then tried to see what happens. What mainly happens is that she looks at me and wonders what the hell happened to the English setting. We shall see how this takes, if it starts to take at all.

But this period is amazingly cool. I talk a lot, which some of you may know. The fact is, I don't talk to Stella like she's two. I never did any real baby talk with her at all. I just couldn't be bothered. I just talked to her like normal, though I did simplify the concepts so she could understand them. My theory, we shall see if it means anything, is that she would start to understand language more if I just treated her like a normal, intelligent person when we speak. I think more and more parents are getting hip to this, because baby talk just seems to silly and pointless after a while.

I mean, yes, I will also speak to her deliberately in ways that are pointless and silly. But that's just for kicks.

Still, I am excited for her speaking skills to advance. Every day our relationship grows a little closer, a little tighter, more unique. Sometimes I imagine what it will be like when she's 10, or 20 or 30 and we're walking and talking. I don't want to rush this time, but I am jazzed to know that we will soon be in full communication.

But the truth is every day just gets better and better with her. And I really feel blessed to have this kid in my life.


This past weekend we were in Cape May, NJ with many of Randi's best friends from college. I loved Caped May. It has the largest collection of Victorian homes in the U.S. and was America's first resort. Randi was so happy to be with her good friends, and we got to stay in a lovely old beach home. And Stella was such a good girl. Yes, she did get cranky at times, but she's starting to become so aware.

For example, the home had a big central stairwell in it. When Randi and I saw it we both kind of rolled our eyes, because we knew that given her druthers Stella would do little more all weekend then climb up the stairs, and then we would have to carry her down. (She is much better going up than down.)

This didn't happen though. Instead when she started to climb without our supervision we both told her firmly "no," and made sure she understood that we meant business. She took this well, and instead would sit down on the bottom step and play with her toys. After a while I stopped feeling like I had to watch her every five seconds to see if she was going to violate our orders. She didn't. I was very proud of her and her ability to listen and understand.

I was also proud of her because there was a six month old baby there, Jack, and she was so sweet to him. After a couple of days she started to walk around going "baby Jack, baby Jack" and she would be gentle with him. She was never jealous of all the attention he received, and would even play with him. She is a gentle, sweet, unique child.


Man, the beach at Cape May is fantastic. It was mostly empty with clean, beautiful sand. The ocean was cold, of course, but on the second day I allowed myself to get really used to it, and even boogie-boarded a bit, which was an absolute blast. I also saw Randi do some boogie-boarding, and was psyched to see her having so much fun. I couldn't have been more happy for her, that she got to spend such quality time with her friends.

We saw dolphins swimming out in the ocean several times, slapping their tales, rounding up fish. It was an amazing thing to witness firsthand. I still haven't seen a whale in the wild, that's next.

Stella at first didn't know quite what to make of the beach, but soon came to absolutely love it. In fact she threw a fit when we had to leave to get dinner on the first day.

By the second day on the beach she had a bucket and shovel and was all about playing. We even got to sit in wet sand near the waterline and make sand castles, while she scooped the wet sand into her bucket. A bucket filled with water. Then she would spill the water and I would have to fill the bucket with new water from the ocean. She'd give me look like, "do it, buddy."

The breeze was warm, the sun was not too hot, I could have stayed there all day, and we did.

It was hard to leave Cape May, that's for certain. I could have stayed there another week, easily. I didn't check my email once, didn't watch any TV. But we sang songs with the kids, me on guitar, and had nice dinners and I even got to take a nap on a big old front porch. Like I said, it was hard to go, but I am happy for the memories we have.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Oil, Owls, Spanish And Stella

Looks like a muggy afternoon here, with a big likelihood of a storm. Ah, summer in the city. Upstairs Stella is having her nap, at least for now, and Randi just got back from the gym. I have been writing an op-ed that I am unsure about, and will take a day to sleep on. It's better to take a moment or two, and let something sit for a day, than to rush it. Especially when the potential article can be explosive.


Since this is a blog about being a parent, and all, I think it's appropriate to wonder out loud about my latest case of parental guilt: bilingualism. I don't speak another language, period. I barely scratched out Cs and Ds in high school Spanish and did worse than that with middle school French. Hebrew school taught me, uh, Hebrew, but I can read it about as well as I read Braille, or music. Randi is actually quite good with French, but since I know nothing about it we don't speak it at home. Instead Stella is getting a heavy load of plain old English. And while I admire English and believe it is a fantastic, amazingly expressive language, boy do I feel like we're shortchanging our kid.

You see I had very few plans for how I wanted Stella's baby-hood and toddler-hood to go. In fact, there were really only two things I really wanted. One, I wanted my child born in water, that didn't happen. I am not saying this was a logical thing to want, or made any sense, I just thought it was cool.

The other major thing I wanted was for my kid to be bilingual, English and Spanish. And it looks like this isn't happening either, at least so far. So I have a dry birth, English speaking kid. The Universe mocks me.

I want the bilingualism because Spanish is, whether you like it or not, becoming a larger and larger part of American life. As I have learned from our recent debate about Arizona large parts of that state have signs only in Spanish. I also know that in Miami it's the same deal. What if she ever wants to visit these places, or live there? I want her to be prepared.

Or maybe she will need to speak Spanish as part of her job. So many jobs in the U.S. now require you to speak Spanish, and that number is sure to grow. Or maybe it's just cool to know another language, and not be such a gringo like I am. I always feel that people who know two languages are just a bit smarter than one language folks, because their brain had to develop an entire new system of symbols.

Also, I have this creeping fear that the "window" where Stella absorbs languages without any difficulty is only going to be open for a little while. She's two, and it will be open, I guess until she's what, four, five?

So, this is my dilemma, and what I have to figure out. I would really, really like for Stella to have insights into the Spanish-speaking world that I lack. I would really, really love for her to travel to lands where English is not the native language and feel comfortable, like she's wearing a second skin. Me? Whenever I have to use Spanish I do that thing where I start to speak really loud and exaggerate my hand motions to convey to the other person that I am both deaf and using my own simple form of sign language. And it's almost always to find the bathroom.

"PardONE," I say/shout, "Donde esta el BANYO?" You see, really emphasizing the last word is key. Because otherwise they might get my request completely confused. Because I know that when someone asks me where the bathroom is in English I never can help them unless they shout the word "bathroom" at me in an unnatural, and freakish way.

I know there are immersion day cares and pre-schools. Maybe those are the route to go. I don't know otherwise how it will happen. We have a few battery powered toys that have an English and Spanish option, but I feel that this is really not the best way to try and get Stella to learn an entire other language. One is this talking drum that recites the alphabet as you hit it, and another is a maraca that basically does the same thing except with colors. Both also have a setting where this ridiculously cheesy mambo music pores out of them for hours on end until you turn them off. Then when you DO turn the talking drum off it has to get in a parting shot that's incredibly loud and grating: "BYE BYE!"


I have an honest, from the heart question that I would like to pose for you guys. As the oil spill continues to get worse, and the news around the various government agencies continues to sound more and more like a clinic on corruption how do you cope with it? How do you not just walk around depressed, enraged and cynical all the time?

To me, I have had cataclysmic thoughts about the oil spill, about the species it will wipe out, the Gulf coast it will coat in oil, the shrimp season it just decimated, the people in Louisiana who have gotten it in the shorts, again.

I try to find, somehow, a bright side to all this, which is that finally we will say never again, shake the yoke of corporate America off our backs and we citizens will once again demand our country become safe, sane and competent. Never again will we allow exploration based companies to rape our natural resources without any thoughts of safety, never again will we put ourselves in the position to have a horrible, avoidable disaster take place on our watch. This is how I deal with the horror of the oil spill, this is the one positive I can take from this all. What about you guys? How do you deal?


The fact is, though, I really, really don't want to walk around feeling down and end-of-days-ish about the oil spill, or anything. I do believe life is to be lived and enjoyed. That it is a gift and we are here to work to make the world better, yes, but also to spread joy and give joy. It is not just a nice idea, it is actually really important. We should laugh, play, dance, love, and be a light for our friends and family. And while I realize we can't all be happy happy all the time, I do believe it's important to try and be happy much of the time, upbeat and positive when we meet people on the street, nice and kind to the people closest to us.

I also realize I haven't always done this. I have spent large swaths of time being a whole lot more downcast than I should, and while I don't feel guilty about this -- none of us are perfect -- I do want to change and become stronger, physically, spiritually and emotionally. And stronger in the work I give to the world, and do for myself.


You know what helps a lot? Taking a few moments to really appreciate the Brooklyn Baby, Stella. I don't know if I convey enough just what a wonderful, singular, hilarious child she is. Yesterday morning she awoke in a good mood -- not always a given -- and absolutely cracked me up. We walked into her room and she started to meow like a cat, for no real reason, just to make us laugh. Except she doesn't do a "cute" cat meow. She doesn't do a little meow, when she sounds like a cat, it's really loud and long, like the cat is in heat, or injured or something: "Meoooooooooowwww!" It kills me.

And she's starting to imitate everything, and I do mean everything, we say. One of my cats walked up to me a few days ago and demanded I pet it, a completely usual occurrence in our house, that happens pretty much all day every day. I looked at the cat and said what I usually do, "hi dude." From behind me I then heard a tiny voice say, "hi dude!"

Oh man, this cracked me up. Now I ask her to say it about ten times a day. Spanish, apparently, can wait, but I need my daughter to say "hi dude," right now.

Yesterday we were on the swings at our local playground and Stella was having such a good time she started to howl like a wolf. Again, this is daddy's malign influence. You see we were reading a book called "Lucky's Big Week," about a dog that runs away from home. At one point Lucky sits and howls as the moon. Being a bit of a ham I drew this out. "On Saturday Lucky hoooooooowled at the moon. Hooooooooooooowl!" Then I asked Stella if she could say it with me, and this little girl then went, "hoooooowl!" It killed me. Now every time I see a picture of the moon in book -- and it shows up all the time -- I ask her, "Stella, what do you do when you see the moon?" And then she goes, "hooooooooooowl!" I die every time.

Now, I guess, she's started to use this howl for her own purposes. So there we were were at the swings, her howling, and then I started to howl too. It might have seemed a bit odd to some of the other parents and nannies pushing their toddlers and infants, but we were having a great, great time.

You know what else shows up in kid's books all the time? Owls! Like you see them a lot. In fact in my life, I've maybe seen a handful of owls in wild, like two. But they're all over kids books, maybe because they're fun for artists to draw?

Anyway, she also goes "whooooo, whoooo!" when she sees owls, although the first thing she does, usually, is scream, and I do mean scream, "OWWWWWls!" I don't know why this gets her so excited, but, by god, she loves to scream out the word owl when she sees one.

Stella's newest thing, though, is that when we get to the playground she just takes off running. It is the cutest thing of all time, this little tushie boogying across the playground as she tries to get me to chase her. And I do. At this point I can keep up with a brisk walk, but I still make it seem like I am really chasing her down, she loves it. I love it too, we both laugh. It is so much fun to see her having fun. I don't know if it makes me feel like a kid again, but it does make me happy.