Saturday, December 29, 2007

Fire Works or it Doesn't


I love Christmas, and I'm unmoved by New Year's Eve. Inevitably, something nice happens on the 24th (or the 25th), but the expectation in the air on the 31st usually kills it for me. The best stuff always happens offstage.
Last Sunday, our party of four adults, three kids and one dog piled into a six-person train compartment and crossed the powdered expanse of Austria, to Vorarlberg, to our Oma and Opa, who have the coziest hearth in the world, to which we retreat every Christmas.
The holiday did not go as expected: Anette was just beginning to recover from a vicious stomach flu as we arrived at her folks' house; said bug hovered around our edges for a moment, then pounced on me on the morning of the 25th, as if on cue, and knocked me out for about thirty hours; then V. was struck listless and weepy by some other unnamed virus, and she's only just now on the mend. Adinah was the only one who didn't go down, and Anette was left holding the bag, caring for everyone. (Like that's unusual.)
Despite all, the party rolled on, with lots of singing, feasting, and several hundred Christmas cookies consumed. Out here in the tinsel-bedecked wilds of western Austria, we have a way with everyday gifts. We give each other the equivalent of comfort foods, the sort of unspectacular presents which can sometimes be deeply satisfying. Anette gave me a pair of warm, super-comfortable slippers. I gave Anette sauna sandals and a selection of Kiehls shower gel and bubble bath. Oma and Opa gave Adinah a big box of crayons and finger paints, and she was thrilled.
The best and most momentous gifts were of another sort. The night before the big day, while no one else was looking, I watched V. take her first three steps. Then our social worker called to say that V.'s biological mother wants to meet us finally. (Of course she might just stand us up again, and even if she shows, it will be, at best, a difficult afternoon, but without a doubt, it's the best thing for everyone involved.) Anette's parents stayed home with our girls so my wife and I could grab a little Mommy-Papa time at the local Chinese restaurant for not one but two nights in a row! Then Oma stayed home with V. while Opa, who's eighty years old now, took us all to the public baths for two days in a row. Once there, Adinah showed him how she can leap into the indoor pool, over and over again, for an hour straight, while Anette and I grabbed even more Mommy-Papa time in the sauna and steam bath. Ganz luxus!
And the first night we were here, as I tucked V. into the little Ikea crib Oma and Opa bought just for her, I told our new daughter, 'I love you,' for the first time.
She was very Philip Marlowe about it--just took another slug from her bottle, waved me off and rolled over, as if to say, 'Don't get sentimental on me, dollface.' But me, well...even though she's been with us for just over two months, I didn't realize I hadn't said those three words to her, until I said them to her. Then I wondered why it took me so long.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Hold the Phone, part 2



And by the way, yes, I am aware that my last post was...insufficient.

It isn't enough to just repeat a snippet of dialog between me and my b'loved (the four and a half-year-old one) about the huge and difficult subject of what little girls of color think about themselves, about other little girls, about the world, identity etc. etc. I know that.

Working on this, talking through this and trying to give Adinah all the ammunition she will need to deal with these icky, awesomely complicated issues of self-worth, race, racism, gender roles, beauty ideals etc etc. is and will be a continuing project. Shit, getting the ammunition I need to deal with this stuff (or even begin to understand it) will be enough hard work for the rest of my life.

But tonight, I'm going to the CD shelves to make a mixtape. If only right here on this screen, I'm gonna make a tape for my future daughter. A mix for a girl who will one day realize blond isn't better. (I guarantee that all of the following songs actually exist and do slam, rock and/or tear the roof off the sucker.) So hear it in your mind, peoples, and enjoy!

"Stand Up"--Al Green
"Young, Gifted and Black"--Bob and Marcia
"Doesn't Make it Alright"--The Specials
"No More Auction Block (for Me)"--Paul Robeson
"Maintain"--DJ Krust
"Oh, Bondage, Up Yours!"--X-Ray Spex
"Let My People Go"--Diamanda Galas
"American Woman"--The Guess Who
"I Love my Baby 'Cuz She Does Good Sculptures"--The Rezillos
"Respect"--Aretha
"What is Soul"--Funkadelic

Monday, December 17, 2007

Hold the Phone

The other day, my beautiful daughter asked me, 'Papa, what do you like better: white girls or black girls?'
Somewhat caught off guard, I said, "Well, I don't think I like one better than the other. I like both. I like your mommy and she's white and I like you and you're black."
Pause.
"Why do you ask me that, Adinah?"
"Mommy said she likes black girls better than white girls."
Really? She said that?"

It was only later that I thought to ask her her own question.
"Do you like white girls or black girls better?"
"White girls," Adinah answered, definitively.
"Really? Why?"
"Because they have long hair. And they have blonde hair."

Made me want to throw out every Barbi, white doll, and Princess Lilly Fee magazine in our house. (And we don't have that many.)
Shit.
I'm gonna stop complaining about all those books about interracial adoption--this is exactly what they warn you about.
It'd be bad enough if she was a little white girl, but she's our beautiful black daughter Adinah.

Friday, December 14, 2007

A Very Shallow Learning Curve

After a pretty unpleasant month, and at least one or two obscure posts about my non-familial problems, a crisis has been averted, and I just might look forward to getting up in the morning again soon. Here's what I (may have) learned.

1) Taking something seriously is not the same as taking it personally, though I have been known to use these phrases interchangeably.

2) When you get caught up in something, and it looks like there's only two ways for the thing to go, try to step back. If you're look at the problem carefully, you will find a third way.

3) In the world of NGOs and non-profits, social workers are the Fixers. They're like the Harvey Keitel character in Pulp Fiction.

4) Let it go, leave it at work, throw the problem in front of a subway train, and go home.

5) No matter what it is, your wife and your kids are more important.

6) And, yo, Christmas is just around the corner, you blockhead!

Now I can go back to blogging about the deep meaningful things, like the determined scowl V. gets on her face when she tries to grind two piece of rice cake into a pile of crumbs, or pull the toes off of her own feet. ("Ladies and gentlemen, introducing the world's tiniest pro-wrestler, the terrifying toddler, the skull-crusher of the stroller set, the monster-mashing MISS V.!!")

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Sanctuary


An afternoon at the aquarium with my girls feels like a refuge from all the work and the problems and the worries in my life. Adinah's favorite is the sea horse. I like the salamander with a head shaped like a shovel. On our way home, Anette turns to me and says, "I love Sundays.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Doing the Reading

Neither Anette nor I have done a lot of the required child-rearing reading. I did read a few books about international adoption, including the Lost Daughters of China, which was okay, and Love in the Driest Season, which was also just okay. The former was a bit precious, the latter sort of outraged (but also self-righteous) about the state of the world and the (dire) state of Africa. I started one book on interracial adoption which was well-intentioned, poorly written and ultimately kind of misguided, I thought. It recommended bringing up your black child as if you were a black family living in a black community. And that just seems a bit reductive. And wrong. Anette and me and Adinah and V. are an interracial family, with four very different origins, and we live in a very white-ass northern European land, where we have dear friends who are both black and white. I love the complexity of our...thing.
But I have finally been reading a parenthood book that I like a lot: Your Competent Child, by Jesper Juul. The premise of the book is that we must learn to deal with our kids as if they were actual people, who have dignity and deserve our respect. Sounds simple, right? Fine, then you try it.
Anyway, as a writer, this guy is the king, the Ernest Hemingway of parenthood prose. He writes very cleanly and simply, but the ideas he packs into those words are so provocative and smart and challenging.
Accordingly, one of my favorite parts of the book is where Juul explains the way he thinks parents should talk to their kids. He recommends using "personal language," which he says centers around three very straightforward binary phrases:
"I want to. I don't want to.
I like. I don't like.
I will. I will not."

Read it again, and let it soak in. He's saying we gotta drop "should" and "must" and "that's enough!" We gotta say what we want, and even take responsibility for it.
!!
Brilliant, insightful, and very difficult (for some of us) to do.
But I've been trying. Actually, I want to try to talk to adults more like this.
It's work-in-progress.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Hey Hollywood!



What's with all the movies about the War on Terror and Iraq and Afghanistan FBI CIA torture and patriotism? Lions for Lambs Redacted Rendition In the Land Of Elah the Kingdom etc.etc.? Can't you studio execs stop having the same idea over and over again and then hearing that someone else has the same idea and then rushing your project into production because of it?
Hey American media, what's with Hollywood touching stories you never have? Why is it that the new Brian DePalma film sounds like it deals with the subject of atrocities committed by American soldiers in the Middle East in much more depth that the combined embedded reportage from five years of mainstream "coverage" of the shit in Afghanistan-Iraq-Gitmo etc?
Hey Senator Clinton, how come you don't speak out against these nightmares any more than the American slick paper media?
Hey#*!@##!*!

Friday, November 30, 2007

Breakthrough

Her timing is impeccable. Every night at 10:30 or 11, V. wakes up crying. And every Friday night for the last month (our first month with her), she's woken up off and on again all night, and no one in the house has gotten much sleep.
Tonight was different. Tonight she couldn't fall asleep to begin with. After listening to her wail for awhile in her crib, I went in, picked her up and laid down in our bed, with V. on my chest.
I finally knew what I needed to say to her,and I knew what I needed to hear myself saying. I whispered,
"V., you got to stop fighting it. You're home now. You're safe. You've got a sister now, and a mommy and a papa. We're your family now and we're gonna be your family for a long time. You're home. You're safe, sweetheart."

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Getting to know You

Over here in Vienna, many kids' first word is "ball," or "auto." Not our V.
Our second daughter, and first foster kid, was with her bio-mom for about nine months. The two of them tried living with V.'s grandmother, but that only lasted a week or so. Then the State arranged for V. to live with a 'crisis' foster mother, Mrs. B. Mrs. B really loved V., and wanted to keep her, but could not. After all of this, she came to live with us, just after her first birthday.
In the last few weeks, she has started babbling up a storm. But her first real word was "Bye-bye."

We're still getting to know her, and she us. Here's what I can say about her: like Adinah and I, she likes to sit in our bay window and watch the streetcars rumble by, close enough for us to see the bleary, early morning faces inside them. She likes apples, bread and butter, figs, mashed potatoes, sausages, grapes, soy beans--hell, she likes food. She also drinks like a fish--sometimes four bottles of tea a day.
If we let her, she would drink the water in the bathtub, which she really likes a lot. She likes clapping her hands and screaming REALLY loud.
V. does not like sleeping in her crib. I suspect she doesn't like sleeping at all. Which could be a problem, eventually. Usually she doesn't mind being changed, but sometimes she really DOESN'T like that either.
You get the idea. We've got a good idea of her loves and hates, but both Anette and I are still wondering who V. really is. Is she an astronaut or an entomologist? Will she be stoic or gabby? With me as her papa, she will no doubt be at least a little goofy, though just how goofy is key.
Is she the thoughtful, sensitive one, or a latent Austrailian? Is she John, Paul, George or Ringo? Handyman or Earth Mother?
We only have the slightest of clues. The one thing I can be reasonably sure of is that V. will not be a delicate creature, a limpid beauty or a pushover. She's already living larger than that.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Dedicated

So Friday was a terrible day at work. Then I saw the ghost. And then Friday night, Adinah had another asthma relapse, and kept waking up, hacking and crying miserably, while V. got another tooth and stayed up much of the night, babbling or howling.
At first, I fell asleep on the brown sofa with V. in my arms, and Anette took Adinah into our bed. Somewhere around one a.m., I deposited V. in her crib and crawled into our bed, as Anette and Adinah went back to her room. Then V. started crying again, so I brought her into our bed, just as Anette and Adinah returned. Now with the whole gang of four in our bed, I lay awake, troubled my day. Eventually I fled to the green sofa, where I sorta slept until six a.m., when Anette brought V. out to me. The kid fell asleep again on my chest, and I stared up at the ceiling until sunrise.
In short, a night like JFK International Airport.
When we were all finally awake, I looked across the kitchen table and discovered (again) that I am married to the sweetest woman in the world.
She offered to take the girls for the morning, even though it was my day. She put V. back down again for a nap and told me to take one too. She smiled that big lovely smile.
And she insisted we go to H & M so she could buy me a new pair of pants. It was only at the cash register that I realized she's trying to turn me into a woman. She knew I'd had a bad day the day before and she actually thought she could cheer me up by getting me a new outfit. And it worked.
I don't know where she gets all this sunshine. I think she must have a gene I'm missing. I'm nice because I want people to like me. She's nice because I don't know why. Sometimes it seems like she's sweet because she likes our life together. Then I think, no, it's got to be something else.
She must have a hidden agenda underneath all that sugar. Right?

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Ghost



This afternoon, near the end of a bad day which was about to get worse, I saw a ghost waiting for the bus.
He was standing with a crowd of my patients, and he comes from the same part of the world, so at first I couldn't figure out why he looked familiar but somehow torn out of some past chapter of my life.
Then I remembered him. He was in a German class with me last year. Turkish guy, quiet, a keen student. He had been an Islamic teacher in Istanbul, and he'd moved here to Vienna with his family hoping to somehow make a better life for himself. He made Baklava for the class.
I shook his hand and for a few moments he looked like he was also trying to remember who the hell I was. Then he remembered me, too. Sort of.
Within about forty-five seconds, he told me that he was unemployed, seeing a doctor for depression, and had recently split up with his wife. Then, since we seemed to be going the same way, the ghost and I stood together for a tortured fifteen minutes, on the bus and then on the U-bahn, speaking mangled German and trying to make conversation, any conversation.
What do you say when someone you don't know very well tells you his life is falling apart?
I felt so bad for him. Vienna blows for lots of natural born Austrians, but it's got to be a very strange sort of hell for a immigrant who teaches the Koran. I'm sorry, I said. But I couldn't think of anything else to say that didn't sound false or patronizing or stupid or trivial.
So when we got to my subway stop, I just shook his hand and said,"Good Luck."
I should have taken it for an omen. A few minutes later, my day went all to hell.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Proper English


Parents the world over tend to get all warm and fuzzy when they think about raising their children bilingually. Especially in America, where knowing a second language is both rare and romanticized. I was like that too: I thought, 'Yeah, if we live in Austria, the kid will speak German and English, and she'll be soooo sophisticated!'
This fantasy died hard. First came the disappointment when, due to Kindergarten, the child-sponge-brain phenomenon, and various other factors, Adinah began to sling German much faster than I did. Disappointment turned to confusion when she began explaining the cultural stuff, like Austria's evil Santa, Krampus.
Adinah's English has lagged behind, partly because I'm the only one that speaks it with her on a regular basis. But lately, I've been disappointed once again, as I've begun to realize that Adinah doesn't speak proper English at all. She speaks like.....me. Just now, she called me over and pointed out a wall hanging which is no longer hanging straight. She said, "This is bugging me."
She's also started turning my own words against me. When we play Uno, I tend to get competitive. I talk trash. With my four year old daughter, yes. But the other day, she held up her hand and announced, "These two cards will beat you."
Yesterday, we were discussing the significant others of various Walt Disney characters, and she challenged me to name Donald Duck's girlfriend. I told her that's Daisy Duck, of course.
She was still thinking about this when I put her to bed a few hours later. "Papa, who told you the name of that duck who is with Donald?"
"A little bird," I said.
A little pause.
"In really?"
I started laughing, then repeated the lie, and Adinah still didn't believe me. So I told her the truth, which is that I've seen all of Donald Duck's videos, and that's how I know who he's going out with.
Adinah got quiet again, then she said, "Daisy Duck Caca."


See, no matter how much of a language gap there is between us, I know that Adinah and I will always be able share a good poopy joke. Or even a bad one.
When she gets a little older--like say, sometime next week--I'll share all of the ones about Uranus, too.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Give me that Old time Religion


A week or so ago, I wrote that I "need to see neon occasionally." That was understatement. (As opposed to my statement that I am "vice-less," which was just a lie).

Last night, Andreas and I tore ourselves away from our respective domestic Hells, and went to the Szene club to see the Romanian brass band Fanfare Ciocarlia. Andy is one of the other double-papas I know; he's also a former employee of a multi-national music conglomerate. He practically had to propose to me to get me out of the house.
The band was great. Ten or eleven non-slim, non-young men playing horns 80 MPH. No stringed instruments in sight, and only two small drums. No room to breathe between the notes, barely any swing, all one crazy Roma hurtle. (Until you listened a little closer.) I've never shaken a tail feather to anything like it.
Andy and I couldn't/didn't speak much as they played, we just exchanged occasional grins, and I got lost trying to puzzle out why I liked these sounds. I thought about how dense and strange they seemed, and I remembered how dense and strange Roxy Music sounded to me the first time I heard them, back in the Cenozoic Age. I thought about Klezmer music, and wondered how this Romanian stuff is related to that Jewish stuff. And I remembered again, for the first time, that listening to music and going to see it played in a club is like church for me.
I wasn't raised with a religion. And though I know some fine Christian people, I am as suspicious of organized religion as I am of most governments. I think churches lie like snakes.
But music doesn't lie. Okay, wait, some music lies: Celine Dion has never sung a honest note in her life. What I really mean is that music is capable of telling truths words cannot express. It gives voice to the unspeakable, the un-sayable, the fearsome, awful, unapologetic and mega-wonderful stuff that is life.
Music, and what it does to us, is ultimately mysterious. Who knows why it works or why it doesn't? Why some songs are soulful, some bland, and some kill you every time you hear them. And why do we come back to the songs that slay us?
These qualities--honesty and inexplicability--are the same things people attribute to the Divine. Last night I realized, again, that listening and feeling good music is the closest I have ever come to God.

I just wanted to let you know.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

First Snow

Mostly, we're brainless at the end of the day, these days. My back feels wrenched, my eyes cried out and my thoughts, what there are of them, tend to be something like ".....must....watch....tv....must....snack.....then....sleep...."
But I briefly came alive again after nine p.m. the other night, when we were sitting on the couch and Anette said she doesn't want to call V. our foster daughter. She said people, both strangers and friends, had a totally different reaction when they met Adinah for the first time. When they met our adopted daughter, they said, "How great, how beautiful!" But when people meet our foster daughter, they say, "Oh poor thing."
I've never had any intention of introducing V. as "our foster daughter." She's our daughter, no matter how the state defines our relationship. But I was struck by my wife's observation, and I think I understand it.
Adinah's biological father made the choice--as soul-erasing as it must have been--to leave her at the orphanage. V.'s biological mother didn't make a choice--at least not a conscious one--but V. was taken away from her by city authorities. The pain of that--of losing your child, against your will--will always in that young woman. And I think it's probably inscribed in V. as well. I think it's something we're all going to have to deal with, over and over.
That said, there's no way I'm going to write a script for V. before I've even gotten to know her. She's gonna be who she is.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Agony and the Agony



Mmmn. She's teething. Little face contorted and wailing, cheeks flushed bright pink, a little snot and some swelling. Unconsolable.
It's gonna be another long night. If she won't sleep at all, I've got the first shift. If she sleeps until 2, or 4, then Anette takes her first, and hands her off at the break of dawn.
I've been spending a lot of time sleeping on the couch. See you in the morning, my wife. But somehow it's kind of glorious. It's just so hard-ass, stay up senseless, do what it takes. After a day of managing adults who sometimes act like babies, this feels real.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Freight and Handling

Uggh. Sunday is our family day, and I'm exhausted.
Anette handed the Package over to me at 6:30 a.m, and I took her into the kitchen for our regular breakfast of grapes, apple slices and baby talk about the black birds who fly over our courtyard. Then it was breakfast, some housecleaning, some furniture moving and card games, then a nap for the Package.
Then: we dropped off the 15 kilo Item at a birthday party for Rita Jane, took a long walk through the park with the Package, who was sleeping again, returned to the birthday party, picked up the Item as well as a companion Parcel (tow-headed, approximately five), then proceeded to the meet at Lichenstein Palais Park. All Packages and Parcels pleased. Until hysteria and defiance set in, climaxing in the need for a hand truck (me) to cart said Item out of the park.
Back home again, I made mashed potatoes, and ran a bath for both the Package and Item, then we all played one more round of Uno. Anette plugged a bottle into the Package at about 7:30 p.m., then she delivered the Item to bed.
Now, ummm....a romantic comedy with Will Smith, dubbed into German television?
Yup.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

More very bad things

At a quarter to nine, I walk out on my newly super-sized family and our cozy wooden-floored apartment and head for one of the sleaziest quarters of Vienna. What do other forty-six-year-old men do in the Prater after dark? Feed slot machines, haunt sex clubs, and god knows what else in the shadows of this ancient fairground. What do I do? I play pinball. I kill Trolls and smack the Magic Trunk. I go for multi-ball.
I've been playing since I was about ten, and I'm not much goddamn better now than I was then. I still kick my feet involuntarily as I play, like some sort of upside-down, left-handed Elvis. It's my poor excuse for a sport and my inscrutable sin. But I enjoy the hell out of it.
As vices go, pinball is not exactly, er, cool. But I had real vices once. Really. I stayed up late and did questionable things with people I didn't know. Yes, way.
But these days, except for pinball and my continuing obsession with German synth music of the seventies, I'm pretty much viceless. Hence my dilemma: if one gets older, has children and finds oneself viceless, should one cultivate some sort of badness, just to feel alive?


This is a half-serious question. Some women I know, for example, wish they'd slept with thousands of people when they were younger (like some men I know) because now they feel like they missed something. And since when did being terrible mean being young and vital? (Okay, don't answer that--it probably started with right-handed right side-up Elvis. Probably before.)
I guess someone like me starts asking questions like these because he no longer lives in a late-night, shadowy viceland, but he suspects that, after he puts kid A and kid B to bed and himself falls asleep in front of the TV, that shady world and it's inhabitants still exists out there somewhere, raging, unrepentant.
Someone like me has to see neon occasionally. Though I don't actually go into Cafe 69 or the VIP room of the Love Story club, I need to ride by them on the Strassenbahn and know that those places exist, as some sort of accursed alternative reality to my current world of diapers and playdates.
I finished writing this post after I finished playing pinball and repaired to the Fluc, my favorite cool kid bar in Vienna. Everyone there is always about eighty years younger than me. Tonight there was live onstage facepainting. I declined to participate. But oh! the bass sounded sweet and the DJ played only killer tracks and I bobbed my head like a true disciple of the late-night, all-out world.
After that, I was good.
And I knew it was time to go home.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

!!!

2:30 p.m
After two days of belly laffs, eye-injury near-misses and some really agonized wailing, I set the new kid into the swing that hangs from our ceiling, put on "Jessica" by the Allman Brothers and just start dancing so happy. It's very Mary Poppins but I actually think I feel my heart start to soar.
I like what fatherhood does to me.

11:30 pm, late-breaking update:
Mary Poppins has left the building. Now it's more like the Blair Witch Project around here. V. screams and wails, in abject terror, confusion and sorrow. For instance: "AAAAAIIEEEEEE!!"
She fell asleep no problem, snoozed peacefully for several hours, then woke up in this unfamiliar bed, surrounded by weird strange smells and people she doesn't know. It's dark in here. Where the fuck is her mama?
Anette and I cower in bed for the first few minutes, then my wife hauls V. into our bed. More terror, more howling. Oh, the look on her little face.
Anette tells me to get the hell out of there and I flee out here to the ballroom. I'm laying on the couch, my heart going 90 MPH. I try to imagine what V. is going through, what her life has been like: losing her bio-mother, now losing her first foster mom, so much uncertainty, so much fear. And as I think of how much trouble she has and what V. must deal with, I start to feel calmer. Like a light goes on, and I think, 'Okay, that's the deal. That's our work.' Okay.

12:30 a.m.
Vaguely, I hear Anette get up and ping around in the kitchen for a minute.
'Of course, she's making the kid a bottle!'
Then...silence.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Kid B, Day 1, Top 10



Number of Times V. Said "Ja." and made it sound like a Tirolean "Yo.": 9

Most Telling Sign of Things to Come: The three of us sitting around the kitchen table playing cards with the new kid as she chewed contentedly on a piece of velco.

Biggest Surprise: The speed of those little brown hands.

Spills: Pee, tea, bananas, frittatensuppe.

Second Most Telling Sign of Things to Come:
"Look, V., here's my new Lego house!"
"Yo."
SMASH! THUNK! CRACK!!
"Mommy!!"

Casualties: My knees, banged up from crawling all over the apartment with V.

Most Alarming Speech Act of our new daughter: Piercing screams out of nowhere.

Most Startling Expression of Pure Pleasure: V. vibrating from head to toe when Mrs. B, her previous foster mother, arrived to pick her up from us one last time. It was like she was being electrocuted by giggles. I thought she was gonna shake out of her clothes.

Anette's Favorite Post V. Moment: Snuggling and watching cartoons with Adinah on the big brown couch.

Deanie's Favorite Moment of the Day: "All."

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Fasten Your Seatbelts...

...she's coming in.
V. is coming home this weekend. Anette's loaded up the refrigerator, I managed to put together the new crib last night, and our friends have buried us with clothes and toys and various other infant goods. We're ready to nest.
We're gonna hit her with everything we got: the crazy dancing, the homemade bread from Opa, Babarpapa on DvD (we hear she likes TV), bubblebath, the Eeyore and Pooh pillow, snuggling, juggling, you name it. She's gonna have a great time. Or she'll think Anette, Adinah and I are completely bananas.
Hopefully we'll be able to distract her from the trauma of being separated from her temporary foster mother. She's been living with Mrs. B for almost three months. B. gets paid by the city to act as a transition between the bio-mother and the permanent foster family, and she's a professional--V. is the thirty-third kid that she has taken in to her care. They seem to like each other a lot. In fact, Mrs. B. says she'd like to keep V., but she already has two foster kids and three biological children and their house just isn't big enough for another one. At bedtime, she says she sits the kid in her lap while she watches TV, and V. just looks up and strokes Mrs. B.'s face.
So...yeah.

We're expecting a bumpy ride, at least at first. There's a lot of sadness (and some beauty) in V.'s story so far. But we've decided to try and leave that stuff outside our door. Not deny it or cover it up, but just...check it.
I think it's okay if a kid knows the world can be a sad place.
I just don't think anyone should go around thinking it's always a sad place.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Art School

What with all this V. activity lately, Adinah--who may now also be referred to, regrettably or not, as "our first daughter"--has taken another morphtastic conceptual leap. She's started talking about, and drawing pictures of, her biological parents. Or as we refer to them, Deanie's first parents.
We were reading one of her favorite books the other night (Over the Moon by Karen Katz) and she pointed to the couple on the cover and said that that was a picture of her bio-parents. Then she brought home a picture she had drawn on a heart-shaped piece of paper at kindergarten. On one side it shows Anette and me and Adinah (as a tiny angel); on the other side is a picture of Adinah with her bio-folks. She confessed to Anette that she thought she didn't draw her first parents so good: "Schau (Look)! Their arms are coming out of their ears!"
Here's a front and back view of the picture.




I know I'm laying myself open for accusations of parental prejudice here, but holy shit, this seems like a phenomenal piece of poetry. Her Ethiopian family and us, together on paper, each the flip side of the same heart, all colors of the rainbow everywhere. The complexity and beauty of her story, and something almost untranslatable about international adoption in general, all said better than any book I've read or any sentence I've written.
This morning as I was on my way to work, Anette called to say that she's drawn another one since: a picture of a house with four doors, and standing in each one is Anette, myself, Adinah and...V.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

There she was.

On Wednesday, we met our second daughter for the first time.
V. rolled into the room in a stroller, but she might as well have been on a litter, or a throne. She's pretty queenly.
I saw her and broke into a smile, almost despite myself. Anette was afraid to look at the girl, and looked at me instead, to see my reaction. Then we went over and started playing with her. Adinah gave her a Babarpapa toy, which V. immediately threw on the floor, because she knew that we would pick it up and give it back to her. Then Adinah gave her several bear hugs.
We stayed with her for about forty-five minutes.

Adinah has been entirely unambivalent about her desire for a little brother or a little sister or a cat.I'm pretty sure Anette made up her mind to ask V. to come home with us within the first ten minutes of meeting her. But I insisted that we wait until the next day to decide. I just wanted some time to think it over for myself.
But even I knew. Later on, when Anette and I looked at a picture of Adinah beaming as she embraced V., I started crying. Our first daughter looked so happy and proud of her new little sister.

Monday, October 15, 2007

the pitter patter of tiny feet



So now, there's this other little girl.
She's just a baby, actually. She's had a lot of bad breaks, and she's in foster care in Vienna now. Her name is V.
We've talked to a social worker about her, and I think we both want to meet V. and see if she'd like to come live with us.

Anette has wanted to have another kid since we met our first, maybe even before that. But that's not true for me: I think it's positively strange to walk around humming 'I want to have two kids.' I don't suppose I've ever had such defined dreams.
I'm not the sort of guy who throws open the door and gives a hearty welcome to Change. Then again, once Change is sitting in our kitchen nook, I'm a master adaptor. 'Would you like coffee, tea, or a pacifier?'
I started to warm to the idea of another kid when I began to try to imagine who that kid might already be. I started to think about our friends with second children, about Emily, and Claire, and Maya, and Sammy, and Mona, and about some of the science the scientists have done about birth order and family dynamics. Seems like the second kid is always somehow indestructible. And I decided that wherever he or she is now, any kid who comes to live with Anette, Adinah and I will be rightly known as the Admiral.
But it wasn't until I was writing these words that I realized that, for a short time at least, I was a second kid myself.
I may have to have a talk with my mom about all of this......

Friday, October 12, 2007

Sturm and Twang

Vienna being about three to six months behind the US in movie premieres(and fifty to 100 years behind in manners), I've only just recently seen two movies that my friends in America probably saw ages ago. Two documentaries about two musical phenomenons so unrelated as to seem to belong to two different planets: Joe Strummer, of the Clash, and the Dixie Chicks.

Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten is a one-dimensional love letter, featuring, um, campfire testimonials, and cameos by people like Johnny Depp, who appears in full Pirates of the Carribean drag, using the sort of wack hyperbole that gets rock critcs burned at the stake. It manages to turn Strummer, the driving force behind a super influential, maybe even important band, into a barely compelling poseur. Thirty years later, it made me wonder why everyone made such a fuss about the Clash. I remember a guy in my hometown named Polar Bear--he always said the Clash were phoneys.

On the other hand, as far as I can tell, The Dixie Chicks don't matter at all. But Shut Up and Sing: The Dixie Chicks, by the master documentary director Barbara Kopple, turns the band into heroines. Flawed, occasionally bitchy, and smart, chicks who spoke out against the invasion of Iraq, and paid a price for it. It juxtaposes scenes of Donald Rumsfeld lying through his teeth with scenes of three women who, clever as they are, still can't quite believe how unpopular some opinions can be. Four years later, it made me wonder again how that big-eared monkey from Crawford, TX, managed to con the nation into the disaster we call the Iraq war. And it made me wonder, again,
What's really going on in the US of A?

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

!@*!#*!!

Me and the girls, we finally took a vacation. We went to Sicily.
We took a plane to a ferry to a small island called Salina, where we set up our tent on the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean. Salina is basically a mountain in the middle of the ocean with thin strips of beach around the edges. We hadn't camped out in years, and when we saw how dusty and dirty we were going to get in the next two weeks, Anette freaked out. Anette being who she is, "freaking out" meant that she didn't say anything strong or upbeat for an hour or so, and then she got over it.
We went to a little cafe down the road, had a pizza and cold Peroni beer, and played Uno.
I woke up the next day feeling awful--hung over, nauseous and tilted to the left. I'm sure it was delayed sea sickness, making me wobbly twelve hours after the ferry ride we'd taken the day before. And Adinah bounced out of the tent at six-thirty, ready to play! I made it for half an hour or so, until Anette woke up and took over, then I passed out.
A few hours later, I woke up once more. Anette and Adinah dragged me to a (better) cafe they had discovered, and fed me a croissant and an espresso or two. The world started to look a little better.
Within a few hours, life seemed pretty goddamn great. I was in a very beautiful place with my best girls, but the things we had left behind seemed fine too, and I didn't at all dread the idea of returning to old Vienna and my job and our place.
I realized I am a man with a lot of good things in my life, and I thought to myself it might be possible for us to have it all: a wonderful family, work and enough money to get by, and an occasional week in the sun.
That's when I thought...Okay. Yes. Let's have another kid.

Friday, October 5, 2007

trouble

My situation has changed.
Or maybe I should say my perspective has changed.
I have put myself into a position in which I can say that if humans are animals, the immigrant is a particular kind of human animal. And leaving one world behind for another is even more dangerous than the most astute and self-aware animal may know. One day you are in your homeland, and everything is fine. Maybe you are a villain, maybe you are well-respected. But the next day and a thousand miles away, you are doing the same things, living as you think right, or doing the best you can, but everything around you has changed. The world has turned beneath your feet. And now you are a criminal. Or a victim.
You don't speak the language and you don't know what you did wrong. What can you do? Who will help you?
Let's say this strange new country you are in sends police to you--eight men with black boots and guns--and they say, 'Tell us what happened and we will help you.' Or these same men come to you and say, 'You have broken our laws, come with us.' Let's say you're a nine-year-old boy and you watch these things happen to your parents. How can you know what is right?
If a violent act is standard in one country but illegal in another, how does the immigrant know that in this new place, here and now, it's okay to ask for help?

There are days when one can see too much and all jokes fail. Today was one of those days.

Monday, October 1, 2007

out of time



I unexpectedly found myself with a Saturday afternoon off, recently, and I ended up taking pictures at my favorite fairground: the Prater. I wandered around, exploring and otherwise acting like an adolescent photographer. Then I came across this old ride, the Toboggan. It's only just this month been condemned, though it's apparently been closed and rotting for a long time. I guess people used to go up to the top of that corkscrew-shaped chute and somehow tumble down. As I stood there staring, though, I was more struck by the little shack at the foot of the ride. Maybe that's where the owner of this crazy old amusement spent most of his days. It's a room that's about ten feet square. There's still some sad little curtains and an empty beer stein on the window sill.
Living in Vienna is like this: turn one corner and you slip back a century.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

The Morning Commuter

In prehistoric times, when I was doing my best to be an angry young man, I liked the Jam a lot. British power punk, very muscular chords, catchy tunes, fancied themselves the voice of the working class, etc. They wrote more than a few songs about conformity and bourgeois drones, with titles like "Smithers Jones" and "The Butterfly Collector." In fact, I still like those songs a lot, but I'm more of a Smithers than I'd like to admit.

A few days ago, I was in the U-bahn again, on my way to work. You have to know that Viennese subway manners are toilet. When your train arrives, motherfuckers do not only NOT step aside to let you off, they barrel into you as they shove their way on. Especially little old ladies with those green felt Tyrolean hats with the feathers in them--they're the worst. I don't know what it was, but I started to get a little aggravated. Guys in suits, certain they will lose their pensions if they don't get to that escalator FIRST! Teenage moms that step in your way and then just stand there, gawping, getting their bearings, completely unaware, and unconcerned, that others may be trying to get around them. I could feel myself becoming Hyde.

So I step off the escalator, walk a few steps, and a suit cuts in front of me--not sharply enough to make me trip, but that's only because I, unlike Everyone in Vienna, watch where I'm going. I think, 'He could have tripped me, with his "in-a-hurry-I'm so important" deal.' So I stretch my foot out too far on my next step and kick the back of his leg. And trip and stumble. Convincingly. I look up at the guy and mumble, "Entshuldigung." (That's 'Excuse me,' but many Viennese are unfamiliar with this particular usage of the phrase.) He's a good looking young man, and he just stares at me as he's walking away. I look down again and keep walking myself, although now in a slightly different direction. But I can feel his eyes still on me. And on me. And I'm still mad at the world, so I look up at him again, and say, "Entshuldigung. Du auch. Jedenfalls." Which was my surely unintelligible attempt at saying, 'Yeah, so, you wanna apologize as well?' He just kept staring at me, calmly, with an almost smile, as though commiting my face to memory, as he walked away. Then he was gone.

Completely pathetic.

I was still shaking and embarrassed when I got to work, but of course I couldn't tell anyone about it. It wasn't until a little later that I started to wonder what I must have looked like to him. A pissed-off, slightly stooped, gray-haired, probably American dude. An angry middle-aged man.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

notes from an amateur hypochondriac

I don't get sick much. Consequently, when I have a little thing (like a headache) I get concerned about myself within five minutes. Used to be that when my temples began to throb just the slightest bit, I would start to think, 'What does an aneurism feel like?'

This morning I'm wondering about the definition of nervous exhaustion. Does that mean being so nervous you can't sleep? If so, then, okay, check--I got that. But don't you also have to be exhausted, like super super tired? Because I'm feeling pretty bleary now, but just thirty hours ago, friends were telling me, 'Hey, you look good, you look...happy.' So that doesn't seem to fit the diagnosis.

Don't you actually have to stay up all night for three or four nights before you're truly exhausted, worn out, beat, shagged and schnockered? Because I might just be minorly-bushed, or faux-exhausted....all I know is, I better try to stay awake now, or I'm gonna go down for hours.

And I can't do that.

Friday, June 29, 2007

re: brain, exploding of



Look, it's not you, it's me. I've been such a fool. But now I'm back. And tonight, I'm yours.


I've...I've been busy. A lot has happened. One of my favorite students left me because his girlfriend left him. He asked me to call him and I haven't. After a month and a half at my other job, I've been promoted, so I've been responsible as hell lately. On our third day in a new office space, nine of our clients, from young to very old, got stuck in an elevator on their way up to see us. I dialed the fire department and then handed the phone over to someone who speaks better German.


My new hectic life has stressed me out, and I've had fights with my wife because of it and I feel bad and I don't know what to do because the stress will probably continue.


Arnold Schwarzenegger has come to Vienna for a visit and left again. I'm sure the Orange Party nationalists were very excited about this.


One day, I saw a twenty-something Turkish kid wearing a t-shirt that read Miami Cocaine Connection. I wanted to smack him. Then I decided to smack whatever idiot(s) manufactured that shirt.

On another day, I met a Jewish man on a bus, who is on his way to the USA. He told me he'd left his homeland in the middle East because the government there accused him of being a spy for Israel.

"Was there a trial?" I asked him.

"Yes! There was a trial!" he said with big eyes and a smile. "There was a trial with whipping. I was whipped and then I went to prison."


Tonight I'm going to the movies by myself for the second night in a row.

Have I become a more solitary person? I don't know. It seems to be a great effort for me to make a date with another human to go out and, you know, talk. I get busy on MOnday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and then Thursday night comes and I'm at the movies alone again.


Last night, I bought a plate full of curry at a Thai food stand in the park (it was delicious.) The young Thai woman behind the counter let me taste the sauce first, then she said, in German, "Is it too spicy for you?"

I put the spoon in my mouth, waited, and then said, "Nichts." Nothing.

Oh, well, for some people here, it's too much, she said.

"Ich bin aus Texas," I said.

The woman immediately switched to English. But I wouldn't speak English back to her, only German. I'm not sure why.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Herr Mann

Even before I realized today was the Austrian Father's Day, I'd been thinking about my pops again. Yesterday I decided that I'm more like him than I'd care to admit, and less like him than I'd like to be. I mean, I inherited more of his faults than his strengths. At least, that's how it seemed yesterday.

I remind me of him when I lose my temper with Adinah, or when I pick her up and haul her back to her room for a time-out without losing my temper. He had no patience for whining, even though, if the light was right, he could feel pretty sorry for himself. And I'm the same way, only moreso.

I come from fine teacher stock--mom a speech therapist in the public schools, dad a social work professor at the University of Texas--and now that I'm teaching myself, and also doing a bit of social work, I'm experiencing another one of those creepy moments where I realize that no matter how close I feel to my mom, I'm really my father's son. I don't know why that strikes me as creepy, but it does, and it has for years. Guess I'm still a little pissed off at the guy.

I mean, I'm not driven by it (and yes, I double checked this with my wife for a second opinion.) I'm not like those rock singers, and there's a lot of them, who make a career out of being angry at their daddies (or mommies.) But my issues with him and what he did....come up.

Is it only your father that you can be proud of and disappointed in at the same time?

He was a good dad and a good man, I think, but he was just a man, and he made mistakes. That and everything else in this post might be a cliche, but it took me a long time to be able to think it, let alone write it down.

He died just after I met my daughter, and the timing was striking. You'd think that now that I'm a dad, I would understand my own better, but I'm not so sure.

Somehow, though, it is easy for me to imagine that Adinah will think of me as a regular man, with flaws. I just don't know if that's a good or a bad thing...

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

the 2o Dollar Question



"You're always advertising Texas," said the olive-skinned woman. "You say you love America. So why are you in Vienna?"

It's a good question, asked with a smile.

Suddenly it's the opening scene of Detour (1946), and I'm Tom Neal, the innocent man, wrongly accused. A low-angle spotlight splashes on my face, the background dims and....ladies and gentlemen, we are floating in space.

Why am I in Vienna? Who's asking? Sometimes I'm talking to people who have never been over there and don't want to go. Sometimes I'm talking to Americans who wish they could leave the US. Sometimes I'm talking to Americans here who wish, desperately, that they could go back. Sometimes I'm talking to people that are moving there with all the dreams and aspirations that adults can conjure.

My answer--my story--varies. The truth comes out in greater and lesser degrees. The truth is I got sick of only seeing some of my friends twice a year, because we were all so busy. Actually, I was so angry and disgusted with what the Bush Administration has done to the country I do in fact love. The Gods Honest truth is that it was time for a change. Frankly, the "quality of life" (a funny phrase, if you think about it for a second) is higher in Europe. No, wait...we did it for our daughter: everyone knows education and healthcare is better over here. And so forth.

I guess I always try to be honest about the place itself. The US of A, that is. But it's like talking to a kid--you tell them some well-chosen fragment of the truth. For people who are going to America to live happily ever after, or those who go with no illusions, or for those somewhere in the middle, that is, for people who dream, despite themselves, of a better life in the USA, I try to convey the brutality and hilarity and awful poetry of the land. Sometimes I even think they understand me.

Usually the lights come up, I get that grin, and I tell them the real truth. "Why am I in Vienna? Well...I fell in love with an Austrian."

Friday, June 1, 2007

Monster Music



I once interviewed Brian Johnson, the singer for AC/DC, and he told me, "I'm fifty years old, and I still really, really love music. I think there's something wrong with me."

I can relate. I still get teenage-boy obsessed with new music whenever I discover it. Lately it's Godzilla movie soundtrack music. It's so goofy. And there's so much of it. Shag-a-delic sixties dance themes that sound like a Japanese makeover of the Batman tv show theme. Completely looney orchestral passages announcing the big lizard's appearance at frame left. Lanquid fifties-style exotica and whimsical marching melodies. Frantic Ventures impersonations with saccharine vocals.

I think there's something wrong with me.

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Vienna Summer Index 2007



Most delightful special effect:
Early evening sunlight on Early Modern architecture

Most satisfying runner-up to an Orange Dreamsicle:
Igloo Cola Ice

Least people-friendly public pool:
The Augarten kiddie pool. Mobbed, deceptively small, and home to a Dumbo-shaped fountain which dispenses quasi-lethal blasts of ice water from its trunk.

Most fantastical public pool:
The Stadion Bad. Three kids' pools, one wave pool, and two gi-normous adult lap pools straight outta Leni Riefenstahl's Olympia. Vast sun-blindness. I could live there till mid-September.

Most exciting spectator sport at the Stadion Bad:
Anette's annual fustications with the craggy (and often drunk) Serbian sun bunnies working the entrance, who resolutely stop letting anyone in thirty minutes before the pool's posted closing time. I think one year she will finally strangle that hag with the orange skin and the fried maroon hair.

Most distressing middle aged men's fashion move:
Denim short shorts, sock, and sandals.

Most (potentially) mind-blowing dish:
White asparagus (Spargel) in Hollandaise sauce

Ratio of sunny summer days to rainy summer days (estimated):
3 to 1

Most heavenly outdoor cinema experience:
Tie: Kino Unter den Sternen in the Augarten, and the Film Archiv series at the Prater. At the first, you can watch classics and cult films on a big screen beneath a crumbling and colorfully-lit WWII anti-aircraft tower. At the second, movies about carnivals or monsters, on a big screen beneath the Riesenrad, the ferris wheel that co-starred with Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten in The Third man. Cold, cold beer available at both.

Most memorable Kino Unter den Sternen moment:
Hearing loud human sex sounds emanating from somewhere behind the screen during a showing of Planet of the Apes.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

a salary blur

Even after I started my second job this week, it took me a few days to realize that I take the same streetcar to the same subway to the same transfer station to the same second subway train to get to each job. The only difference is that at the bottom of one escalator, I turn left to take the westbound U1 to the new job, or I turn right to take the southbound U1 to my other job, which is itself only slightly less new for me. I'm sure that sometime soon, I'll make the wrong turn and be well into my first hour at the wrong job before I notice my mistake.

And to paraphrase what I told my students this morning (after being delayed by a once-in-a-blue-moon instance of late Vienna public transport), I'm very sorry that I'm late in posting to you, my perhaps still-existent readers. If it happens again, I will give myself a reduced grade for this course.

I know that having too much work is what we call a quality problem, but frankly, I'm a little woozy. My duties and tasks and firm, knowledgeable answers to various questions from co-workers, clients, students, newspapermen, daughters and wives are stacking up, blurring and bleeding through my circumstances. Last night, after both hassling with and helping people all day, and mostly loving the tussle, I came home and airlifted Adinah into the bathtub, but because she had broken a promise to Anette, I found myself telling her the story of the boy who cried wolf. I wanted too impress upon her the importance of being straight up. But. She's. Four. So I don't even know if that bit of sermonology was appropriate, too little or too late.

After she was asleep, and Anette had gone to her yoga class and I was all alone in the apartment, I had a minor breakdown. A 'Question Authority' moment. I was alla sudden so tired of being The Man. It was 8:45 pm, and I knew I still had another couple of hours of work to do in preparation for today's slog, and I just couldn't do it.

So I sat down and watched an episode of the Simpsons. The one where Ned Flanders opens the Leftorium.

Mmmh, left-a-licious.

Then I did two more hours of work, went to bed, woke up this morning, and did the whole thing all over again.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Are Friends Electric?



Adinah can't read yet, but she can use my laptop. She can spell her name in Word, use the mouse to point and click, and play her first computer game: a version of Memory featuring 15 pairs of pictures of Homer Simpson.

When she was just two and a half, and I was scrambling for some way to entertain her, we would go online and look at pictures of cats, clowns or Marvin the Martian. Now, when she draws and colors, she makes pictures of trees, spiders and computers.

My wife the sociologist tells me that in Western Europe in the Middle Ages, children were not thought of as special in any way--they were just little people. They were farm laborers who could do special tasks because their hands were small. In the Victorian era, adults invented the idea of the child. People began to think of kids as delicate toys, tiny humans meant to be protected. In the twentieth century, advertising spawned the cult of youth, and the adoration of the Teenager.

A friend of ours just got back from New York City, and she says that her friends there are all having their elementary school kids take private Chinese lessons, presumably in preparation for careers as futures traders or pharmaceutical executives. Maybe these days, Western humans think of their kids as saviours of our global edge, if not the universe.

I wonder where our digital princess is gonna fit in?

Monday, May 14, 2007

Strangers on a Train

About a month ago, we were on a train back from a weekend in the country. At a one horse town in the mountains, a party of about sixteen kids, parents and grandparents climbed aboard, laughing and toasting each other as if they were still at the wedding. As it turned out, they had just been to an alpine family reunion.

One of the couples and two of the kids settled into the seats next to us, and immediately honed in on Adinah. The parents probably figured their ride would go faster if they could distract their kid with ours. Anette was happy to see them for the same reason, and Adinah, as she does these days, just stared at the other kids--fascinated--then eventually started to draw and color with them. I was a little more suspicious, especially when a couple of the adults pulled out their cameras and cel phones to snap pictures of their kids playing with Adinah (Was she the first black kid they'd ever played with?) But Anette began chatting about Austrian public kindergarten with them, so I figured they were alright.

One of the moms, a skinny blonde with sunglasses whom we'll call Hollywood, sat next to me, speaking German with Anette initially, then striking up a conversation with me in pretty good English. Hollywood wanted to talk about America. Eventually she called out to someone, and then told me she wanted to introduce the American husband of one of their friends. I thought, 'Okay, here we go.' Introductions like this are usually based on the notion that Americans have something in common with each other, some sorta secret handshake that we do, a wink or a Budweiser beer hug that we will exchange as the Europeans stand back and observe.

Up ambles this twenty-something kid--Mike, maybe--taller than me and half my age. We go through the opening lines of the script--Where you from? What are you doing over here? How long till you go back to the US? Well, Mike's in the Army, stationed in Italy, and he's got another week in Europe before he goes back to Afghanistan. Oh.

"What's it like over there?" I ask.

"It's pretty crazy, and it's getting worse," Mike says. "The Taliban are learning from the insurgents in Iraq."

We chatted for a second more, and not just about the war, then he went back to his seat. Mike seemed perfectly poised between dazed and skeptical. I would have asked more about Afghanistan, but I didn't want to lock him into that sort of a heavy conversation, and he didn't exactly offer to go there.

Half an hour later, we said goodbye to them, and as they walked away, Anette told me that Hollywood and the rest of their party had been taking bets that Mike and I wouldn't be able to talk about the war. Apparently he had enlisted because he's a solid Bush man, and his friends, no doubt baffled by Mike, had taken one look at me and decided I was his opposite number--some sorta rumpled brainiac anti-war dude.

"Well, I didn't ask him more about the war," I started, as evenly as can be, "because I wanted to respect his right to not get into the whole thing."

"So they were right--you couldn't talk about it," Anette said, with a smirk.

It bugged me for a few days. It's bad enough when people think they know who you are just because of the way you walk. But it's worse when people here get something about Americans right for the wrong reasons. Even if I had known he was a Bush Republican, I would have still liked to have talked to Mike a lot more about what's going on over there, because the guy has seen it, and he is, after all, for whatever reason, putting his life on the line for something he believes in. But I didn't want to pry.

Part of me thinks that it's only Americans and Afghans that can really talk about what sort of hell is happening there right now. The US may or may not have fucked it up worse than it already was on September 10th, and the Afghans really need to be heard, but European opinion isn't even part of the equation. It's only part of a safe, distant conversation.

I guess the thing that gets me is that, despite all of our good friends and family here, I still get reminded, and not infrequently, that lots of them don't know what it's like to be me, American me.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Pacification

Ladies and Gentlemen, the schnulies have left the building!

After months of anticipation and false starts, it now appears certain that Adinah has taken her first decisive step towards self-sufficiency and adult sophistication. She gave up her pacifier this week.

Auf Deutsch, "pacifier" is schnuler, and Deanie actually had an army of them, stashed all over the house in much the same way that an old alcoholic distributes his bottles of Famous Grouse and Old Smuggler. She had two favorites, and she only plugged 'em in when she was ready for bed, or she had a meltdown, or she needed a timeout. Still, she's nearly four and three/eighths months old now, so I figured she was getting a little too old for such Maggie Simpson stuff.

I can feel my American parent readers gasping in horror. My sense is that most American kids have quit their schnulies, if not moved onto using a Blackberry, by the age of two. But Euro parents, at least those that we call friends and family, don't sweat it so much. And Anette in particular felt that, since Adinah may have been breastfed by her biological mom for a few weeks at the most before she was given up for adoption, it was okay for her to have a teeny weeny little oral fixation, even if it was made out of latex and sherbert orange plastic.

The truth is, even if we'd had Homeland Security on our side, we wouldn't have been able to pry those suckers out of her hands until Adinah was absolutely ready to give them up.

Last week, our friend Gabi pulled a fast one on her son Moritz. It was just a variation on the old Tooth Fairy con, but it worked. Here's how it goes: ya tell the little one that the Schnulie Fee (Pacifier Fairy) wants to drop by, pick up all of the kids schnulers, and then take them to some more deserving BABY somewhere. In return, the Schnulie Fee will leave the kid a present. The trick is to carefully identify whatever your little pride and joy is most into at the moment--be it chocolate or cough medicine--and offer that up as the present from the Schnulie Fee.

Despite all of our efforts to turn her on to butch feminist art and culture, Adinah has recently become obsessed with all things gurly, from Barbie Dolls to princesses, but she's especially taken with a cartoon character named Lilli Fee, or Pink Fairy. So it wasn't hard for Anette to decide what the Pacifier Fairy should offer in exchange for Adinah's schnulers. On Thursday night, Adinah and her mother made a nice card, then set it and the schnulers out on her window sill. In the morning, the Schnulie Fee had taken the schnulers, but left a nice new Lilli Fee magazine.



That was three days ago, and Adinah is still schnulie-free.

I'm just not sure how we're going to get rid of the fucking pink fairy.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Two or Three Lifetimes Ago



Between this new job, extra freelance work, and 20 Euro do-it-for-a-favor gigs, I'm bizz-zee. I've only had two other full-time jobs in my life, so the organizing of various tasks around the job--that is, the time formerly known as my free-time--also takes some getting used to.

I dimly remember moving to New York City twenty years ago. I lived in a closet for a year, and I worked 9 to 5 at a stock photo agency, selling pictures of sunsets, and couples on the beach, and couples on the beach at sunset. Before and after work, I took pictures like this one (of my nightstand/suitcase, in my closet/bedroom.)

I suppose if you account for inflation, I may actually be making less money at my new job then I was selling photo schlock back then. And I even liked living in that closet. But now I feel useful again. Too busy, sure, but...yeah. Somehow, I've got a spot in the scheme of things. That's a sort of progress.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly




Birthday Party Location: ButterBrot Kindergruppe (Bread-and-Butter Pre-K)

Amenities: Climbing Wall, Trapeze, Trampoline

Celebrants: Maya, 4, and Paula, 6

Barbie Dolls in Attendance: 3

Ratio of Caucasian Barbie Dolls to Barbie Dolls of Color: 2 to 1

Ratio of Blonde Kids to Brown Ones: 5 to 2

Most Delicate Negotiation: Tie: the Barbie Doll Exchange and the Gummi Bear Exchange

Bowls of Popcorn Popped: 3

Cakes: 7

Highlight for Adinah: the 7 Cakes

Most Surprising Appetizer: (Good) Guacamole

Meltdowns: (unknown boy)-1
Maya-1
Adinah-3
Teresa-7

Kid-on-Kid Biting Incidents: 1 (unconfirmed)

Most Popular Party Favor: Whistling Balloons Capable of Chasing Grown-Ass Men Around the Room

Ratio of Goat Cheese-Cubes Touched, Poked or Smushed by Emily to Goat Cheese-Cubes actually Eaten by Emily: 5 to 1

Best Idea Proposed by an Adult: a 24 hour Television Network Devoted to Emily

Thursday, May 3, 2007

For All the Brothers

After a full work day running up and down stairs, taking notes and wolfing sandwiches in-between meetings, I catch a train back to my other (civilian) office, where I set the computer up long enough to print a permission form, then I'm back out the door again and off to the library to return three CDs I borrowed, then to the post office to first fax the permission form, then mail it, along with three invoices for various freelance jobs, to Los Angeles and the eighth district of Vienna.

But before I get to the Post, I see a father crossing the street fifty yards away. He's got one kid in a stroller and another, big five-year-old girl on his shoulders, plus a bag slung over one arm, and it is most certainly my Swedish stay-at-home papa friend, Big Fred. Motherfucker does not play. He's as big as a Kodiak bear, and as gentle and patient as can be with his daughters, especially the seemingly indestructible little Ingrid, whom they call the Butcher. (She's the one in the stroller.)

As I get closer, and Frederic hits the sidewalk opposite me, I'm pretty sure he won't see me, possibly because he's shouldering and/or pushing something like eighty pounds of family. But somehow out of the corner of his eye, Big Fred sees me grinning at him from afar, and he waves, while continuing to balance Merta up top and push Ingrid and a bag of groceries down below. All I can do is grin even bigger and give him a thumbs up. Signifying what I don't know, except maybe, "You go, brother papa!"

That's a man, I swear!

Monday, April 30, 2007

Playground Issues, Part Two

All the books warned us that, as an interracial adoptive family, we'd get lots of inappropriate questions from strangers. I just didn't realize that the most questions would come from other kids on the playground. Yesterday, as I was helping Adinah conquer a new set of monkey bars at the park, we got swarmed by a very inquisitive little fella. He was older and with some friends, and I think they intimidated Adinah's best friend Oskar, but Adinah was just agog because a bigger boy was paying attention to her, and she's in awe of anyone older than five. I tried to be polite to the kid, but I was also trying to protect Adinah, especially when he started literally getting in her face as they were climbing on the bars. I guess ten-year-olds don't always understand the concept of minding ones own business, but I may still have to learn the German for "Back off, junior."

Here's how the conversation went....

Serbian Ten-Year-Old (in German)"Is she your child?"

Me: "Yes, she's my daughter."

STYO:"Is she adopted?"

Me: "Yes, she's adopted."

STYO: "Why don't you speak German with her?"

Me: "I'm American. My German is not so good."

STYO: "You're American? Do you know Heidi Klum?"

Me: (laughing) No, I don't know Heidi Klum."

Me: "Where are you from?"

STYO: "I'm from Serbia."


STYO: "Why doesn't she speak German?"

ME: "She speaks German. Deanie, do you speak German?"

Adinah: "Yes."

STYO: "Where did she learn German? (moving closer to Adinah) Where did you learn German?"

Adinah: "From my mother."

STYO: "What's your mother tongue?"

Adinah: "German."

STYO: "What's your name?"

Adinah: "Adinah."


STYO: "Where is her real mother?"

ME: "Her real mother is my wife. Her first mother-"

STYO: "Yes, I mean her first Mother."

Me: "Her first mother is dead. You can ask her about these things...."

STYO: (moving closer to her again)"Adinah, are you sad your first mother is dead?"

Adinah: "No, because I (inaudible.)"

STYO: "What about your real father? What about [etc. etc etc.]"

Me: (climbing up on the bars next to Adinah)(in English)"Adinah, can I tell you something? Sweetie? Just because someone asks you a question, it doesn't mean you have to answer. If you don't want to answer something, you can say 'No.' "

Me: "Deanie, do you want to come down from there?"

Adinah:

STYO: "Adinah, do you want to play with me?"

Adinah:

Me: (in German, to STYO) "I think we're going to play with our other friend."

STYO: "What?"

Me: (in German) "I think we're going to play with our other friend."

STYO: (with a slightly curled lip) "I don't understand you."


STYO: "Adinah, I will give you a compliment. You are very sweet."


Adinah was pretty un-phased by the whole exchange--as Holmes was interrogating her, she was climbing higher on the monkey bars than she'd ever been.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

the old gigs



Naturally, I'm not supposed to blog about my new job, so with apologies to Bukowski's Factotum, I'd like to offer my past and future Employee Index.

Most Ridiculous Job Ever Held:
Arcade Attendant and Manager, Austin, Texas, 1983? My duties included giving change, even though there was a change machine, and scolding Scientologists for smacking around the pinball machines.

Number of Movie Theatres I worked at in Austin and San Antonio:

Five

Number of Ice Cream Parlors I worked at:

Two

Worst On-the-Job Injury Ever:
While working in a shopping mall taco stand, I chopped up a mess of jalapeno peppers, got the juice on my fingers, and didn't wash my hands. Ten minutes later, I put in my contact lenses.

Most Justifiably Unpaid Job Held:

Manager of a rock band. I criticized the drummer for "ting-tinging" too much.

Profession in Which I Least Excelled:

Roadie.

Best Exchange Witnessed Within the New York City Magazine Business:
"We should do a music feature on Stone Temple Pilots."
"Why?"
"Because they sound just like Pearl Jam, but they do press."

Most Shameful Resignation:
Quitting my gig as a photographer's assistant by leaving a note on his apartment door.

Most Uncharacteristic Gig for Someone who has Trouble Operating a Can Opener:

Writing about technology for Wired magazine.

Second Most Uncharacteristic Gig:
Writing about water monitoring technology for a Viennese water monitoring company.

Coolest One Day Job:
Production Assistant for a Bill Moyers TV special on the history of the song "Amazing Grace." We shot one scene in a sweltering Baptist church in a rough neighborhood in Philadelphia, and the choir who sang the song were amazing.

Dream Job, age 70:
the guy in the Godzilla suit for Godzilla Versus Glendale (in production, 2032)

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Flashback #76

(This is a journal entry from almost two years ago. She still likes this song.....)

It seems natural that a child who came from your belly, or who looks like you physically would feel some sort of deep connection with you and would inspire deep feelings in you. That's "just natural" and it's "God's way" and it's "instinctive." But I don't know because I've never had that sort of a kid.

All I know is that Adinah and I have got a good thing going on, especially now that she's into the same music that I'm into. Well, she's into one song that I'm into: the classic ska tune "Monkey Man." Toots and the Maytals did the oldest version that I have, but some of my most teen new wave moments, and there were many, were played out to the Specials neo-ska version of "Monkey Man." Adinah seems to favor the song, and either version of it, mostly because of the chorus: "Aye-yai-yai, Aye-yai-yai (digga digga!)!" She sings along and shakes her bottom, and in doing so, also shakes her entire upper half. It's such a cool dance, but I certainly couldn't imitate it.

The question is, 'Why do I love the fact that she loves this song?' Because this is me reflected back from her. My passion, my history, a part of me, lighting up her eyes when she sings along and makes the gorilla noises at the same time that I do.

Maybe that means I'm narcissistic, like every parent. It's not sensational to say that some of the deeper connections that happen between people--between friends, family, lovers and even strangers--involve some degree of vanity, some element of seeing yourself reflected back at you from someone else: it's touching to think another sentient being is listening and paying enough attention to you to give you instant playback. But it's also pretty goddamn touching to think that something about you might have actually touched someone else, might have moved them or poked them right there in their soul.

Okay, one could say, 'It's just a catchy song,' or, 'Jeez, you made her listen to that terrible old song?' or even, ' 'Monkey Man' is clearly not Toots and the Maytals' finest work,' although I might really get pissed at anyone who said this last thing. But it's also possible that she loves the song because she can see that I love it. Or that she acts like she loves the song because she knows that might shake a few more cookies outta papa.

Say what you want. Fine. But whatever is going on over here at our place, I like it.

Friday, April 20, 2007

The Stories she Tells me

Adinah woke up at a goddawful hour again this morning, and after Anette went to her once, I got up and padded into her room myself, knowing full well I wouldn't be able to get her to go back to sleep. The kid is like drivers in Mexico City: she knows two speeds--Go and Stop.

I got into the bottom bunk and told her she could crawl in with me, and I'd sing her a song. After much wailing and righteous indignation from the top bunk, Adinah consented to this arrangement. I sang "Man Smart, Woman Smarter" to her and held her hand, but she just couldn't lay still. I always tell her she has to close her eyes, and lay really still, and then she'll be able to fall asleep. This morning I told her that it was my father that taught me that, because he'd been alone in a hospital for a long time when he was a small boy and he'd had to learn how to take care of himself. What's polio, Papa, Adinah asked. And why did the mama of your papa take him alone to the hospital where they didn't have the medicines for polio, Papa?

We try to be a full disclosure family. I try to be honest with Adinah without telling her things that are going to trouble her unduly. So she knows my father is dead, and she knows some people in the world don't have enough water, and she knows about her first father and her first mother. What she does with this information is another matter.

After I told her about my father's time in the hospital, Adinah told me a story. "One time," she said, "my first mommy went to he hospital when she was this small (and here she pinched two fingers together). And when she came home they gave her a schultasche (a pencil case). And one time, my mommy and papa in Ethiopia had no water so they went to a man with a swimming pool and they said, 'Can we drink this water?' and he said yes and they took the water and the man gave me a traubenzucker (a candy). He was a very nice man."

Adinah, I said, are these stories for real, for really, or are you just telling stories for play?

"These stories are for really."

Okay, I told her. But if you want to make up stories about your first mommy and your first daddy, that's okay.

"Okay, Papa, and one time...."

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

I was shocked and saddened to hear about the shootings at Virginia Tech yesterday. I want to express my sympathy and condolences to the victims, students and families of victims of this horrible tragedy.

****************************************************************

My mom was a public elementary school teacher in Texas before she retired, and after the Columbine shootings, she told me that the teachers in her school had began locking their classrooms from the inside everyday. After class began, they would only open their doors for someone who had used a special knock. She also told me that the school administration would ring a bell every morning at about 11 a.m. to remind children to take their Ritalin and various other medications. I don't know if those policies stayed in place through the last few years, but maybe they're back in effect today.

Some of our friends here cannot understand these things or how they can happen in America. I feel like I understand America a lot better than they do, but I still don't understand this stuff. I get angry at Europeans who tut-tut about tragedies like this. Because even those of them that have spent a lot of time in the States don't really get it. Not that I get it. But at least I feel like I have the right to talk about it, or feel bad about it or even judge it. It's still my country.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

the New Black rock?

I've spent two days hunkered down reading through two different online dust-ups about race, identity and music. The first one played out on YouTube, and revolved around a very good short film posted there called "a girl like me," which is largely about African American self-perception. The second fracas was inspired by a late January New York Times article about African-American indy rock musicians and black hipsters, or, um, "blipsters," and took the form of 140 posts on the comments page of a blog called Brooklyn Vegan. I came away thinking that white people really don't know how to talk about race and racism. Actually, we'd prefer not to talk about it at all, but when someone brings it up, we trip all over ourselves trying to explain and theorize and sympathize and speak truth to power. In other words, we're irritatingly compelled to speak on something we can't really truly understand. It's similar to the phenomenon wherein men can never say, "I don't know," so perhaps what I'm talking about should be referred to as Caucasian Answer Syndrome.

Of course, I'm as guilty of it as the next indy rock paleface, and that's possibly why I pitched a similar story to a new website just a few weeks before the NY Times article was published. From my safe European perch, I was probably the last one to notice that several of the most au currant indy bands in New York these days are either all black or multi-racial, and I just wondered why. These bands include TV on the Radio, Earl Greyhound, Apollo Heights and the Dragons of Zynth, and they don't have much in common musically. But I missed the forest for the trees. Perhaps the only thing significant about these bands, aside from their music, some of which is quite good, is that they point up just how overwhelmingly white (and conservative) indy rock is. It's one whiny/angry/"artistic"/"crazy" cracker after another, slobbering into the mic about medieval tapestries or depression or whatever, to an audience that looks just like him. And Bright Eyes fans just...don't know how to talk about that. Or deal with it.

In fact, racial homogeneity is one of the only common threads which runs through indy rock, a genre which could be said to include everything from the psycho folk of the Animal Collective to the new country of the New Pornographers to ultra-fey jangle-shit like Belle & Sebastian. Another common denominator is that, by and large, indy rock fans and bands tend to think of themselves as liberal, progressive and somehow outside of American master narratives like capitalism and racism. But they aren't outside of these things, nor are they outside of history. And the recent entry of a smattering of black bands and performers into this largely white context isn't completely unprecedented either.


After sorting through all this talk about blackness and music (best one liner at Brooklyn Vegan: "Frederick Douglass was a blipster."), I got locked inside the wayback machine, and remembered an interview I did a good while ago with Darryl Jennifer. Jennifer played bass for the legendary Bad Brains, one of the best bands, and one of the only black ones, in the whole spitty landscape of 1980's American hardcore and post-punk music. Like today's indy rok, American post-punk ran the gamut from the psycho blurt of the Butthole Surfers to the new country of Rank and File to the ultra-complicated math funk of the Minutemen, but it was all very white. Before they self-destructed--temporarily at least--in a shitstorm of madness, homophobia and bad reggae, the Bad Brains were kings and innovators, and they dealt with racism every night. But when I spoke to him, Darryl Jennifer was unruffled by all that drama.

"We had to deal with racism, but it wasn't a big deal," he told me. "A German kid threw a beer on me once, so I dropped him [ed. note: knocked him unconscious.] At the Cat's Cradle in Chapel Hill, the owner threatened us--once. He said he wasn't gonna pay us, and that if we didn't like it, he'd get all his machine guns and biker friends and dogs after us. [But] a lot of these skinheads weren't real Nazis, they were just frontin.' These days, Nebraska skinheads don't hate blacks anymore--they just hate the next town over. Racism doesn't exist if you don't let it."

Of course that last little bit is a tad optimistisch, but Darryl Jennifer was my hero that day for talking so cool about these humungus problems amungus. If only he'd post something like that over at Brooklyn Vegan....

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Give my Regards to Man Ray

In an earlier post, I mentioned that I wrote my first film script this winter. Well, this morning I stopped by the set to watch my friend Dorit shoot the picture. It's a conceptual film--no car chases, blowjobs or exploding lead actresses--and to be honest, I hadn't quite understood it until now. Dorit is shooting the tables and chairs and knives and forks of some of the famous designers and architects who built the housing complex in Berlin called Interbau. I wrote a script--part fiction, part documentary--that reads like a fifty year oral history of the neighborhood.

But even though we've had lots of conversations about the idea behind the film, none of it really gelled in my head until I saw Dorit directing the cameraman and the props people, and I saw the playback of a lovely dolly shot passing across an arrangement of Josef Albers nesting tables. Somehow, seeing this process, this visualization and construction, made it clear to me. We are making a film about how people have lived in these buildings.

It's strange to think that people can put words and pictures together in a concept without really knowing if it's going to work. But I guess lots of movies (and music and books) come together just like that.

In any case, the penny dropped, the light bulb lit up, and finally I got it. When I left, I told Dorit, "I'm really happy." "Me too," she said.

I walked out into a gorgeous and sunny spring day, got on a streetcar and suddenly realized I am where I've always wanted to be. I'm in Europe making art with friends and fascinating people. Playing with ideas and trying to capture something real about our lives and the lives of others. Trying and maybe even succeeding in an attempt to document something of our time.

Back when I was an dreamy young knucklehead, I fantasized about being part of a salon, about being fabulous and famous and having lunch with Man Ray all the time to talk about, oh, shadows, I guess. Now I know it's not going be like that. But it's still sort of...cool. (It'll be even cooler if I can actually pay my share of the bills while doing all this fascinating interesting stuff.) (But I guess that's another post.)

I had a girlfriend once who spent a lot of time puzzling over how she'd ended up with me, a Texan, and a fairly goofy one at that. She would always just say, "Ehh, you fall in love with who you fall in love with." I've always thought she was right, even when she fell in love with someone else. And I've told myself that I've ended up in Austria because I love Anette, and she loves Vienna. But actually it's more complicated. Or simpler: One makes choices.

I'm sure I'll feel differently tomorrow. But today I think I'm in Vienna because this is where I'm supposed to be.