Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Adinah's Birthday Index

(apologies to Harper's)

Number of (large) bowls of popcorn popped for Adinah's birthday party: 4

Number of cakes: 3

Varieties of bubbly drinks available for adult consumption: Cider (4.5% alcohol), Champagne, Proseco, mineral water

Number of face-painted clown cats in attendance: 1

Number of adopted children: 4

Number of adopted Ethiopian children: 3

Ratio of Ethiopian children to blond children: 1:1

Ratio of kids to adults: 11:13

Screaming fits: 4

Songs requested by the birthday girl: "El Paso" by Marty Robbins, "Monkey Man" by Toots and the Maytals, "You are My Sunshine" by Elizabeth Mitchell

Broken dishes: 2

Spilled juice cartons: 2

Blood shed: none

Party duration: 5 hours

Clean up time: 1 hour

Monday, February 26, 2007


As a father, I do my best to take care of my little girl. I try to teach her the good stuff, try to be there if she falls down on the sidewalk, and I talk to her. But her mother and I can't take care of her all the time, and there's a short list of people we trust to watch over Adinah when we're not around. Our babysitter Rosa. Our friend Micha. The women and men at our Kindergarten.

As she gets older, our daughter will have to learn to take care of herself. I may find this a difficult process, but Adinah is gonna be just fine, I know. At the same time, she will entrust herself, first to her friends, and then to various institutions--we all do this as we become little league baseball players, university students, parents and responsible citizens of the place we call home.

We all want to be able to trust our institutions--our society--to take care of our children. But what if they don't?

This is a photograph of LaVena Johnson. She grew up in the suburbs of St. Louis, Missouri. She was an honor roll student at Hazelwood Central High School who played the violin in her spare time and volunteered for the American Heart Association. When LaVena finished school, she joined the Army. They sent her to Iraq. She died there on July 19, 2005. She was nineteen years old.

Army representatives initially told LaVena's parents that she died from "self-inflicted, non-combat injuries" but that she had not committed suicide. After an investigation, they changed their story and insisted LaVena had killed herself. But the Army also sent investigation photos and documents home to the Johnsons, and these documents suggest that LaVena was murdered. The evidence of foul play includes the disappearance of LaVena's debit card, lab results that indicate she may not have even touched the rifle she was said to have shot herself with, and indications that someone tried to set her body on fire. Despite these findings, the Army has declared the case closed and refused to make any further comment.

Last week, the St. Louis CBS-TV affiliate KMOV broadcast a report about LaVena's death. I learned about her from posts by Waveflux, Shakespeare's Sister and an Angry Black Bitch. As far as I can tell, there has been little media attention otherwise. That leaves LaVena's father, Dr. John Johnson, all alone in a fight to find out what really happened to his little girl.

As a father and a man who is living a long ways from home, I want to believe that people over there in the US are trying to do the right thing. And as Americans, we have to be able to trust our Army to take care of us and our children. But what if they don't?

In this case, it's possible that Army investigators really did try to discover the truth about LaVena's death in her tent in Iraq. If that is so, our message to them is simple: Try harder.

(PS: Waveflux suggests, as do we here at Euro Like Me, that anyone who cares about this case contact their US Senator, particularly if that Senator is on the Armed Services Committee. That Committee's membership is listed here:

Carl Levin, Chairman (Michigan)
Claire McCaskill (Missouri)
Edward M. Kennedy (Massachusetts)
Robert C. Byrd (West Virginia)
Joseph I. Lieberman (Connecticut)
Jack Reed (Rhode Island)
Daniel K. Akaka (Hawaii)
Bill Nelson (Florida)
E. Benjamin Nelson (Nebraska)
Evan Bayh (Indiana)
Hillary Rodham Clinton (New York)
Mark L. Pryor (Arkansas)
Jim Webb (Virginia)

John McCain, Ranking Member (Arizona)
John W. Warner (Virginia)
James M. Inhofe (Oklahoma)
Jeff Sessions (Alabama)
Susan M. Collins (Maine)
John Ensign (Nevada)
Saxby Chambliss (Georgia)
Lindsey O. Graham (South Carolina)
Elizabeth Dole (North Carolina)
John Cornyn (Texas)
John Thune (South Dakota)
Mel Martinez (Florida))

Friday, February 23, 2007

Yesterday's City of Tomorrow

Your industrious Euro Like Me reporter has been working on a film script (!) The movie is about a housing complex called Interbau, which was built in Berlin in 1957. The architects were pretty much the hot-shit superstars of concrete-and-glass at the time: Gropius, Aalvar Aalto, Oscar Niemeyer, and several others who perhaps should have been famous. In doing the work, I've come across a remarkable document: it's a booklet that was published at the time the buildings were opened for occupation, and it lays out the manifesto of what these builders were trying to achieve for the residents. It's by turns eerie, ridiculous and poignant, and it says a good deal about the European (leftie) intellectual head in the fifties. Some of it sounds totally five minutes ago, other parts sound like they were beamed in from Planet WonderWorld.
Anyway, the booklet is organized into a series of numbered Precepts (like, er, biblical verses). Here's a few of them, interspersed with some pictures I took of Interbau while I was there in January.....

"24 The family used to be a unit of several generations, living, working and spending their leisure time together. Today the large family has been reduced to a small one by the splitting of the old from the younger working generation.
25 Even this small family flies apart today towards its various places of work and interests. The members of the family drift apart."

"6 But none of us would voluntarily go on living in tenements, and each desires healthier dwellings in natural surroundings for his children.
7 All long to relax in the forests, wander among fields, bathe in clear lakes and rivers, and enjoy activity in little gardens."

" 17 Superficial and senseless distractions are on the increase as recreational activities.
18 The celebrity and the star are becoming universally accepted, delusive models.
19 Amidst this transformation the circle of politically and economically responsible persons has not yet achieved the character of a new elite, a genuine governing class.
20 There has arisen the type of professional official whose specialized capacity for thought does not move beyond the scope of devoluted duties.
21 Creative spirits, almost unknown to the masses, have their being in seclusion. But the value of their achievements has not yet been restored to general effectiveness."

" 4 In the city of tomorrow the people will live in urban residential areas with a free view and linked with their neighbors. At the same time each has the opportunity to lead his personal life."

(all quotes from The City of Tomorrow, Interbau GMBH/International Building Exhibition, Berlin 1957 booklet #1)

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Bury My Heart

I guess it was a learning experience. That's what big people, otherwise known as adults, say when they make a mistake but still...don't...quite...get it.

It's been a busy week for Adinah. Last Wednesday, she went on a field trip to a bakery. Then Friday was Berufstag (Professions Day) at her Kindergarten. The kids learned about what people do for work, and they come dressed up for a job they'd like to do. Most of the other girls dressed up as ballerinas and actresses and cooks. Adinah dressed up as a doctor. I was so proud of her. Not that I'd want her to actually grow up be a doctor. I just think it's cool that she's testing meritocracy and confronting gender roles.

And yesterday, the kids had a Faschingfest, which is basically a Fat Tuesday party without Jello shots.

We'd been planning for it for a couple of weeks, because Adinah had decided to dress up as an Indianer (Native American). When she told us, I had turned to Anette and said, 'I got this one.' My father worked on a Sioux reservation when we were kids, and I'd grown up hearing lots of real stories about Native Americans. So I wanted Adinah to know a little bit more than Western movie stereotypes and myths about them. We went to the library and looked at some old photographs, and I started telling her a little bit of what I know about the Hopi and the Commanche. I wasn't gonna read her Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee or anything, but I had a program worked out. Sort of. I wanted her to know that the Indianer were beautiful, brave, sophisticated people of color--so much for good intentions. I didn't really think it through enough to realize that any real discussion of Native American history would make it clear to my Ethiopian daughter that brown people and white people have a history of violent conflict.

One morning, she pointed to a picture in one of the books we had borrowed for her, and asked me, "Papa, why did the white shoot the Indianer? Why did they say 'That is our land!' to the Indianer?" She was completely upset about it, and all I could do was tell her, "Well, sometimes people fight with each other, sweetie. Sometimes people are bad to each other."

The next day, Adinah decided she would be a cat instead of an Indianer for the party. I mentioned it to a friend, and she said, "Well, if you were her, would you want to dress up as someone who was cheated, robbed and murdered?"

I thought it was a pretty fucked up thing to say. But she had a point.

As it happened, Adinah the Cat had a good time at Kindergarten that day. She was still in her costume, rolling around on the ground in the garden when I picked her up in the afternoon. I haven't had the heart or courage to re-approach the subject of Native Americans. But...maybe somewhere down the road. Maybe there's a way I can explain it to her. Maybe not. She's just reacting plainly to an episode in American history that many of us have abstracted and intellectualized. And even for big people, there's something more than sad about these pictures....

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Sopranos Pinball in Italy

On Saturday morning, I sit through a presentation by Jonas Ridderstraale, the bald and black-leather-wristbanded author of a "bestseller" called "Funky Business." He's here to talk about revitalizing the corporation, but he waxes sociological too, especially when he proclaims that the citizens of the Republic of Britney Spears now matter more as a market to most companies than do the citizens of, say, Belgium. Because you see, nation states no longer have a sense of themselves, and instead, people tend to group themselves into tribes. It's meant to be deep, but it's just a twenty dollar makeover of Ned Beatty's climactic speech at the end of Network, a film made in 1976.

A short while after this, I find that I must leave this place, this Fair of Ideas. So I walk across the street to the shopping mall with the pyramid on top of it. Shop & Play.

What I discover inside is lane after lane of stores so tacky and fake-fur-encrusted they would make the merchants of Manhattan's 14th Street blush. I look for a little something for Adinah, but the toy shop is filled with chinzy plastic action figures and cartoon characters I don't even recognize, so I flee. I have lust for an ice cream, but all I can find is an American Frozen Yogurt kiosk. I get a small cup of strawberry.

And I play pinball. The arcade has four games, so I try each, pick my favorite and have been amusing it for a few minutes before I realize what I am doing. I am playing a Sopranos pinball game in Italy.

It's pretty fun, although I'm not sure how any regulator could have ever thought it was an appropriate machine for children or adolescents. There's a plastic stripper figure who slides up and down a pole, there's a dot-matrix graphic of a guy getting beaten to death, and one object of the game is to advance from the rank of Soldier to Good Earner to Boss. I get to Acting Capo. And I smack the stripper target hard enough to get the backglass to flash the words "Totale Bing!" But the best part of it is the old man voice who keeps yelling something which sounds like, "Bambi la Gada!"

How odd it must be for some of the Italian teens milling around me to play this game and see a cliche of Italy filtered through an array of Hollywood bells and whistles. Do they recognize anything of their culture or their country or themselves in this contraption? Maybe it's just entertainment for them. But I think that if they do play Sopranos pinball in Italy (because not too many kids under thirty do play the game anywhere anymore), they will at least recognize that this mechanical cartoon of the Mafia and pasta is supposed to be somehow Italian. Some of them might even be self-possessed enough to say, 'Yo, that is not how you get to be an Acting Capo.'

So please, don't tell me people don't know who they are anymore. To that I say, 'Bambi La Gada!!'

Friday, February 16, 2007

Who Will Buy?

The short, balding curmudgeonly man is acerbically attacking the Information Technology Revolution, and particularly hugely successful social networking sites like My Space. Says they're a fad, no different from the hula hoop. The sixty-something female scientist next to him questions the nature of innovation itself. And the other guy up there, who says he teaches at the London School of Economics, but sounds suspiciously German, claims that the line between science and public relations is growing ever so thin. To shore up his argument, he cites the book Bullshit, by Harry Frankfurter.

Where the fuck am I? An academic conference for nattering nabobs? No. I am at InnovAction, a massive trade show and science fair in the smallish city of Udine, Italy. This auditorium, now thinly populated, was only this morning packed to the hilt to hear a roster of politicians and university rectors drone on about economic competition and the necessity for corporate tax breaks. The hallways and exhibition arcades are awash with go-to capitalists in suits, publicists with expensive watches and (eek!) lots and lots of policemen. Yet here they are, these doubting Thomases, these sceptics, these defilers of hype and buzz and everything else that makes late capitalism so, so special!

The speakers are Brian Winston, Helga Nowotny and Martin Bauer, and each one of them is completely compelling in their own way. After their panel, I ask each of them for an interview, if only because their attitude is so endearingly bemused and critical in the middle of this sea of sales pitches. Then I walk over to the Plaza of Culture, a section of the trade show that has seemingly been leased entirely by MTV Italy. It's all futuristic cubicles and melty chairs and last years' Morcheeba album and it's so cluelessly NOT critical that all the sudden InnovAction 2007 looks like the most brightly colored lonely place on the planet.

But then again, maybe I'm just missing my wife and daughter.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Night Train

It's ironic that I had to come to Austria to understand why Americans once got so worked up, misty-eyed, horny and/or poetical when they talked about trains and riding them. It's such a part of Our Story, or at least we're told it is: the Union Pacific, the taming of the West, the Golden Spike, a million blues songs, etc. etc. My friend Bill Daniel has made a film about hobo graffiti on American trains, and I'm sure it's great. But the romance and mytho-nostalgia that most of us feel for train travel is received, lifted from old movies and songs, because, at least in my experience, Amtrak sucks. It's too expensive and not at all comfortable.

On the other hand, railroad trips in Europe are way luxus, and pretty cheap. You sit in these ginchy little compartments with nice seats and a big window, there's a dining car with tables, tablecloths and excellent potato soup (as opposed to the glorified snack bars on board US trains), there's even a special "quiet" compartment for breastfeeding mothers! A couple of months ago, Anette, Adinah and I took a train from Vorarlberg (where her parents live) back home to Vienna (an eight hour trip) and we were set up in a Family Cabin with banquette seats, board games built into the compartment walls and even a little rocking horse in the corner for the kid! Tonight, I'm hurtling towards Italy in another excellent continental conveyance: the sleeper car.

My cabin is for four, but I've got it to myself for another half an hour. It's cozy but nor claustrophobic. The bed has a fitted sheet--actually more like a starched pocket I'm supposed to stick myself into, a blue fuzzy blanket and a little pillow. Out the window, I watch castles and shopping malls and vast dark farm fields rush past us. Smokestacks. Sad quiet suburban homes with lights still burning but no movement inside at all. It's lonely-amazing.

Man do I love to travel.

Monday, February 12, 2007

At the AMS

Somewhere in the middle of the dime novels of the great Jim Thompson, the protagonist--always a basically good, although ethically flexible fellow--usually gets a funny feeling. Everything's going swell--some silky babe is draping herself all over him, important men are doing him favors, and he's being ridiculously well-paid for doing nothing. So why does he feel like his neck is on the chopping block? This is the funny feeling I have as I sit, once again, in the waiting room of the ninth district offices of the Arbeits Markt Service, otherwise known as my local unemployment agency.

This fall, the AMS paid for two € 300 German classes for me, plus sent me € 800 for my living expenses. When they agreed to pay for my Deutsch lernen, I thought, 'Wow...that's...nice.' When they started sending me the slouch payments (which I hadn't asked for) I thought, 'Whoa, hang on, I don't want a hand-out. And what are they expecting from me in return?'

Did I take the money? Of course.

Because of my half-baked German skills, Anette had gone with me to the AMS once or twice, and so helped me get my deal. When the state-sponsored largesse started rolling in, she explained, once again, that things are different here. Their immigration and assimilation policies are the reverse of those in the US. That is, in America, it's easy to get into the country, but once you're there, nobody wants to know you. But in Austria, it's difficult to become a citizen, get a work permit or otherwise be welcomed into Austrian society. But once you're in, as I am since I'm married to an Austrian, the social system walks right up to you, gives you a bear hug, and says, 'Can I make you a cappucino and pay you some money for having a kid and going to school and just getting by while you're looking for work?'


As I said, I took the money. Then what did I do? Did I look for a job? Sorta. Did I miss my next appointment with the AMS? Yes. And the appointment after that? Naturally.

I figured, 'Hey, I got their money--what're they gonna do now? Take back the cappucino?'

Then a couple of friends told me, 'Hey, don't miss your termines with the AMS. They get really pissed off about that.'

So here I am, sitting in a waiting room packed with Turkish families, fifty-something day laborers, thirty-ish Serbian carpenters and other folks who probably need the AMS' help way more than I do.

I just know I'm gonna get spanked.

How old does a man have to be before he forgets what it was like to sit in the principal's office, waiting for a smack?

Saturday, February 10, 2007


How's my German? Ill.

Now that I'm not in a German class, I can feel the language slipping further away from me everyday. I've taken five classes since we moved here--two evening courses, three intensive, all immersive. It's a lot of work but when you make an effort, learning how to spreche the Deutsch, or any other language, is a miraculous thing. To be able to make those strange sounds with your own mouth, to be able to shoot the breeze on the street with a stranger, to occasionally even get a joke--it's incredible. In school, when I'm beavering away, studying hard, doing vigorous battle with sentence structure and gendered nouns, I feel like I'm slowly surfacing from a swamp of American Pop talk, and bit by bit, beginning to actually understand what's happening around me.

But when I take a break from classes, that momentum reverses. I degenerate. The store clerk who last week seemed so urbane and helpful is now droning on, "Blah blah, bah, bah blah....." The old lady at the streetcar stop is smiling and chirping "Stoppen blinken stinken." All of Vienna is mystifying, nothing is illuminated.

One thing that has changed is that my wife will finally speak German with me. When I took my first classes, I would sometimes try out a few words or phrases on her, and she would just shudder and turn away. She couldn't handle talking to me as if I was a four-year-old. But now I'm speaking like a slightly odd ten-year-old, and that she can deal with. Sometimes she suggests that we should just speak German all the time.

But I'm not ready for that, either. I'm not ready to leave the American Pop talk swamp. I like this swamp. I love using "crummy," and referring to Mister Toad's wild ride as a "real ring tail tooter."

It's not like I want read Goethe in the original German. I'll be happy if I can sit politely at a dinner party, understand 70% of what's being said, wait my turn to speak, then bust out a good line about a fartknocker.

That would be assimilation.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Good Hair Day

This week, our daughter Adinah is experimenting with two things: afro-puffs and temper tantrums. This has set off all sorts of red alerts here, because according to many of our most highly paid experts, taking care of your kid's hair is job number one for adoptive parents. And any idiot knows that tantrums, and how you deal with `em, are what separate the superdads from the amateurs.

I don't know much about afro-puffs except that the Lady of Rage rocked them and this Angry Black Bitch once posted something very funny and sweet about `em. But once we decided to try it, my wife set to work on Adinah's hair, and suddenly she wasn't just a beautiful four-year-old Ethiopian kid, she was a beautiful little girl. It was amazing how much more feminine she became with a hair-do. (The lesson I learned: humans who make an effort with their hair=females; humans who don't bother=males.)

Naturally, the tantrums are a lot less fun. Anette and I are at a complete loss as to what they mean and where they come from, but we're certain we're not to blame. (I almost always check to make sure Adinah is in another room whenever I can't figure out something mechanical [like a paper clip] and need to yell "F*ck!" and then throw it.) It must be something she's learning from other kids at Kindergarten. All I know is, sometimes, our little princess just...loses it. The other day, she asked me to draw a picture of a pink cat for her, so I drew a pink cat with whiskers and a cartoon balloon that said "Hi, Adinah!" and I left it on her desk. She got home from school, took one look at it and started bawling. I had drawn the cat All Wrong, Papa!!

Her hair and her hissy-fits got together to try to kick my ass on Tuesday. When I got to Kindergarten to pick her up, one of the Tante (aunties) at kindergarten had tied a long braid of colored beads around one of Adinah's afro-puffs. It was a pretty cool addition, and gave 'Deanie an Adam Ant sort of look. But two hours later, when I suggested that we might need to take the braid out when Adinah took a bath, mama mia, she let me have it. Much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Screaming, crying, whining, quieting down, then more screaming. I tried everything: taking a deep breath, walking away, reasoning with her. More screaming, more crying. Then she fell asleep.

When she woke up, she screamed and cried some more. Finally, I said to her, for the third or fourth time, "Deanie, you have to try to tell me what's wrong, and then we can try to do something about it."

"I wanna show it Mommy!"

"Show what to Mommy?"

"My hair!!"


And that was it. An hour later, when Anette got home, Adinah was back in operational mode again--eating, chatting and telling me about her day. We showed her braid to Mommy, then Mommy very gently untied it, and I got the kid into the bathtub.

I told Deanie it was really great that she had been able to tell me what was wrong because then we were able to take care of the problem instead of just fighting. But I was actually proud of both of us.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Domestic Violence

One of the more disquieting aspects of living in Europe has been trying to reconcile my love for America with my loathing for the people currently running it. George W. Bush is a liar and a cheat, and saying that he is not impeachable for his crimes is nearly as fatheaded as saying the situation in Iraq "verges on civil war." We didn't move here because I #!*#@!! hate the man, but his administration's utter disregard for the hearts and minds of the American people certainly made it easier to leave home. After the 2004 election, I felt jilted, as if my country had left me for an asshole who was just gonna break her heart.

Today, as he pushes ahead to needlessly send more Americans and Iraqis to their deaths, despite the wishes of most Americans, it looks like the President's relationship to the USA has become even more abusive. Some of the Republicans in the Senate have blocked debate on Iraq-- they have taken the role of the neighbors who don't report a man who is beating his wife or child.

It's a rainy day here in Vienna, and as I stand at our window, watching fifty-year-old streetcars rumbling past signs I can't read, nothing makes me feel farther from home than my inability to understand why we continue to allow this President and his accomplices to batter and bruise us.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

More Personal Questions

A friend back in New York forwarded me a questionaire, and it seemed relevant to those of us here at Euro Like Me headquarters, so I got up at six-thirty a.m. and started answering the section marked "MORE PERSONAL QUESTIONS." This is as far as I got....

- Can you make a list of the different places where you have lived until now?

As a kid I lived in North Dakota, though I was too young to remember much of that. The Dakotas were bound up with all the Norwegian food jokes my father made about lefsa and lutefisk, and all the stories he told about his family. I think I remember falling down on an icy bridge and biting through my lip in Wahpeton, but that could be a "recovered" memory.

I grew up in Austin, Texas. Suburban tract house, cool college town, suffocatingly snug at the end. I was a bookworm, then a stoner, then a drama fag and a stoner, then a new waver, then a journalist.

I moved to San Antonio, Texas (also a very cool town) to live with an experimental, multi-ethnic post-punk band of vegan anarchists. That lasted for a couple of months. After they caught me eating ham sandwiches and listening to Elton John, I slunk back to Austin.

Age 25 I moved to New York City. Stayed there for eighteen years. Nice place.

In May of 2005, my wife and kid and me moved to Vienna, Austria.

- How would you trace your personal background up until the moment you were born? What are the most significant points of your parents and grandparents pathways? Where are they from? And if they moved from place to place, why?
My great grandparents, Ole and Tomine, moved to South Dakota from Norway. It was an arranged marriage, and it was said that she watered her rose garden with her own tears. My father never knew his father. Dad grew up very poor and handicapped--he contracted polio as a kid, and nearly lost an arm to it. He studied social work, met my Mom, worked for a time on an Indian reservation, and then they moved to Texas and had me.

My mom's grandfather, Bennett Kerbow, ran the general store in the tiny west Texas town of Mertzon. He was a very high-ranking Mason, he sometimes carried a gun, and I remember him as a kind old man. My mom's father ran a Coca Cola plant. He was a bit of a grump and more than casually racist, but he was a good father to her: he taught her how to dance to country and western music, and he cried when she got old enough to thank him for that. Ma studied speech therapy in North Dakota, met my father, and then they moved back down to Texas. She had my older brother, then she had a daughter, Katherine, who died. Then she had me.

My parents raised my two brothers and I in Austin. They got divorced, and eventually my father moved to El Paso, Texas. My older brother left to live on the open prairie. I moved out to live with my new wave girlfriend in a beat-up commune called Halcyon. My mom left to marry a man in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. That left my younger brother living all alone in the house we grew up in, and I think that got to be pretty depressing for him.

Friday, February 2, 2007


I'm sitting in front of the Ferris wheel when L. rolls up on a scooter, takes half a glance around, then swings right past me. He's got his iPod on, and every cell in him seems to be saying, 'I'm so too cool for this place.'

Why do I even hang out with the guy? He doesn't like the music I like, he fights with my friends, and sometimes when we're out, he makes a scene, just for the hell of it. And he's twelve years old.

L. is the son of my friend K. (she's actually the only one of my friends he fights with, and then only in a 12-year-old versus Mom way). We don't get together too often but we go back a long ways. I took him to one of the first movies he saw in a theatre. It was Pokémon, and we had to leave halfway through, because it got too violent for him.

He lives with K. most of the year, but goes back to New York to visit his dad several times a year. Sometimes he tells his mom that he misses the Lower East Side really bad, and he misses people with a New York sense of humor, and the only guy in Vienna who makes those sorts of nasty jokes is me. So sometimes we see a movie or grab a bite to eat. Tonight we'll play pinball.

On the way over here, I promised myself I would ask L. some actual questions, but our evening quickly devolves into a familiar pattern. That is, the little bastard quizzes me the whole time. "What do you download?" "Do you like living here?" "How do I get the extra ball?" After awhile, I've got a question for me, too: Who's the adult here?

Then we start talking about rock and roll. L.'s moms will only listen to hip hop, African music, funk and soul, so naturally, he's into...the Beatles. I start to tell him what I like and all the sudden I'm explaining what a producer does. "He makes the record sound the way it sounds," I exposit.

"I thought the band did that," he says, screwing up his face.

He's a smart, sweet kid. I guess I sympathize with him, and not just because my parents were divorced, too. We're both in-betweenies, living out something somewhere between an American and an Austrian identity. He's Americanesque, I'm an Austrianist. Naturally, his German's better than mine, and after ingesting forty-plus years of American garbage culture, I understand the finer points of the Simpsons a little better than he does. But we have some things in common. I wish I could say my take on living in Vienna is more sophisticated than his, but I'm not so sure it is.

After the pinball, foosball, and Jurassic Park video dino-kills, we go back to the restaurant underneath the Ferris wheel and have a toast (Euro for 'grill cheese sandwich.')

"I think I'm gonna live in New York again some day," he says.

"Do you like living here?" I ask.

"I dunno," L. mutters. "There's so many moldy old people here. I don't know why they have to be so grumpy. And sometimes, they're grumpy even though they're not old. Why is that?"