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!'

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!"

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.

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


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.