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


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

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!