Friday, February 29, 2008

Being an Index and Statistical Compendium of Salient Factors and Mitigating Data for the Celebration Event know as "Adinah's Fifth Birthday Party"

Event Duration:
3.5 hours

2 (Chocolate Frosting with Smarties and Gummi Bears on top)

Bowls Popcorn:

"Rebel Rebel" by David Bowie

Most Startling Pre-Party Revelation:

Several of Adinah's closest Kindergarten pals had never gone on playdates without their mothers, let alone gone to the fairground to ride ponies with rogue parents like Anette and I.

Most Satisfying non-Adinah moment:

Watching some of these same girls smile triumphantly as they rode ponies solo, without even holding on!

Most Satisfying Post-Party Report:

Hearing that Magdalena, one of the shyest girls, hasn't stopped talking about the party for three days.

Barbie Paraphernalia gifted or exchanged:

2 Dolls, 1 "Fashion Fever" kit, several pairs of half-inch high heels, one pink rubber purse, assorted crowns.

Number of Invited Attendees:


Number of Tag-along Attendees (i.e. little brothers/sisters):


Number of Adult Escorts/Pony Minders:


Best Gift:

A purple and silver striped Hula Hoop, from our babysitter Rosa.

My Favorite Four Seconds:

Holding Adinah's hand as we left the Prater.

Number of Attendees Who Cried when the Party was Over:


Number of Adults who would Not Leave:


Real Life Quote:

Adinah: "I'm five years old. I'm not a baby anymore."

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

a reprise

"Happy birthday, Adinah."

These were my first words this morning when we woke up. At the breakfast table, we opened her presents from us. Then we lit a candle for Adinah's first mother. Kidan.

Anette asked me if there was anything I wanted to say to the woman who brought Adinah into the world. I said yes, then I started to choke up, and I said, "Thank you."

Today is Adinah's day, and Euro Like Me will no doubt be dispatching its cub reporter to cover the festivities (which are rumored to include pony rides, Blind Man's Bluff and more than a few heart-shaped balloons.) But before the Birthday Blitz resumes, I want to take a moment to consider the other little girl in our lives: Miss V. Thinking of Adinah's biological mother set off something in me and what I wrote in my last post. So I want to continue a thought...and somehow address this force that rages red through me sometimes.

I've got anger. I know fury. It may have something to do with my father, but I can't blame him anymore. It's me. This anger is part of who I am. I can (usually) control it, but I don't think I can kill it.

And lately, I've been mad at V., and mad at her mom, mad at Hillary Clinton, and mad at the world. I'm mad because it's so hard to get a good night's sleep, and because I miss my wife, and because it sometimes seems impossible to find a quiet moment that's mine and only mine.

But I can't be mad like that anymore. At least not at V. or her biological mother. I can't because it's not right. If V. keeps us awake because she's in pain, it's not her fault--that's just the way it is. And as difficult as it is too accept, even if V. is in pain because of something that happened before we met her, I cannot be mad at her first mother. I don't even know her first mother.

So it really doesn't matter whether I get tired of being understanding and forgiving. Because I'm just going to have to keep trying to forgive and understand everyone in our house, and a few people outside of it.

I owe that to them, and to all the first mothers.

Friday, February 22, 2008

In the Night

At 4:15 a.m., V. wakes up: in sixty seconds, she goes from whimpering to inconsolable. This happens sometimes.

And I finally realize that--as I scramble to get her out of our bedroom so her screaming won't wake up Adinah (who wakes up anyway), and I hurry to get her changed and make her a bottle of tea and try to comfort her with little pats on the leg--I finally realize that she's gonna wake up like this sometimes. Maybe for a long time. I realize that her screams and miserableness don't mean I'm doing something wrong, or not changing her gently enough. She's not even howling because she'd rather Anette was doing this (although of course she'd prefer that.) In short, she's not howling because of us.

Whether she wakes up screaming because of what she experienced as an infant, or because of anything anyone did to her, is hard to say. I'm not a shrink. All I can do is trust my own senses. This morning V. sounds angry and scared. Three nights ago, when she woke up and I tried and failed to comfort her, she sounded sad. She cried like a grown-up crying about something she can't change.

She had a resignation in her.

She laid in my lap and she cried like that and I let her.

* * *

And after Anette came and took her and calmed her and put her back in bed, I wasn't angry at V. for waking us or for anything else. I was angry at her bio-mom.

I was sick and fucking tired of being sympathetic. I'm not gonna be understanding all the time. Fuck that.


So I thought some bad things, and I said a few of them out loud.

And maybe that's okay, as long as I don't curse V.'s bio-family in front of V. I don't know.

Today I told a co-worker some of this, and she said, "Maybe it's good that you're pissed off now. When V. gets older, she's gonna be pissed off too. Maybe you'll be able to talk about it with her, because you will have already gone through some of it."

Yeah, well, as Irma Thomas sang, "May-hay-be. Maaa-ayyy-bee. May-be. Maybe."

Thursday, February 21, 2008

open mouth, insert foot

Today, I listened to a woman who should know better go off about how evil Islam is, how it's based on the teachings of a murderer, etc etc etc. blah blah blah. So I told this story:

In 2001, a little while after 9/11, I was walking down the street and saw a Muslim woman getting out of a car. She was in a full black hijab, but her face wasn't veiled. An older, hippie-esque couple was walking towards her just ahead of me, and the man called out to her, "Free yourself, sister!"

"Why?", she said. "So I can be like you?"


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

On the U1, In the Ruts

The morning slog. Breakfast-shower-V. screaming and Adinah upset about something,anything. Out the door, run to catch the Strassenbahn, then switch to the U-bahn. The faces in the subway car: doughy white, artificially brown, a beautiful black man (Ethiopian?), a tired old fur coat on a businesswoman with fried blond hair. Everyone planning, anticipating, on their cel. phone, or staring out the window at the tunnel.

I'm in that phase of immigration where I've started to settle and regain my equilibrium (previous phases: excitement, disorientation, depression, intense yearnings for nachos.) Starting over has stopped: I'm a part of life here. Earning. Commuting. Integrated.


Sunday, February 17, 2008

Weekend Top Ten, February 17

Most Undignified Freakout:
Throwing down a platter of olive and caper sauce when I realized I had ruined the tuna steaks again.

Most Graceful Save:
Anette's rescue of the Tuna steaks (by putting a lid on the pan and cooking them three minutes longer)

Adinah's Favorite Moment:
Seeing the moonrise out of our courtyard window tonight

Anette's Favorite Moment:
Sitting in her office, blissfully alone, reading

My Favorite Moment:
Making out on the brown couch last night
Seeing sixteen-month-old V. appear around the corner, suddenly dressed in a full-body Winnie the Pooh costume

Most Overdetermined International Laff:

Our Ethiopian friend Sintayehu cracking up me, an American, and Anette, an Austrian, with his imitation of a tourist with a thick Viennese accent, startling his hotelier by requesting "a sheet on my bed"

Most Benevolent Greenhouse Side Effect:

The blinding sunshine accompanying two of the coldest days of the winter

Friday, February 15, 2008

Barack (pt. 1)

As per always, various observers and professional wise-acres have casted the 2008 US Presidential election as a question of "electability." This is one of the most wretched aspects of American politics, but it pervades the culture at large: operational evaluation has taken the place of critical analysis. People talk about books that are readable, and "popcorn movies" which are most excellently...watchable. So, like cheeseburgers that are sublimely edible, politicians need to be electable, and elections are about who can win, not what is at stake.

John McCain has been mouthing off, in his sly, old bastard way, that Barack Obama is nothing but platitudes about Change. But as it happens, Change is an actual issue in this election, motherfucker. Neither McCain nor Hillary Clinton represent the sort of potential for change that Obama does. I think that's a pretty strong argument for the guy right there.

Nonetheless, if the same old media cynics will not actually grapple with Obama's ideas and positions, I think we should. And I will. After this post.

But the thing that impresses me about Obama so far is the idealism surrounding him, particularly that on display in this music video with the Black Eyed Peas, John Legend and Scarlett Johansson singing the words of one of his speeches. I wasn't aware there were any Americans still unparalyzed by eight years of Bush administration horseshit, let alone Americans guided by the simple belief that our president should be a decent fellow. People who think the US can not only do better, but that it can do good. That is more moving than any campaign speech I've seen so far.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

When Blogs Collide

Remember when Wilma visited Homer and Marge in Springfield? When Fonzie got accidentally transported into Deep Space Nine? Remember when Allie McBeal appeared suddenly in a Sopranos sub-plot, only to get wacked with a celery stick by Big Pussy? Neither do I, but that was what it was like this weekend when B., CEO and lead sculptor of the fabulous EuroTrippin blog, swept through Vienna with her two daughters and nimble accomplice, J. I felt like I was in the middle of a cross-merchandized, prime-time superstar movie of the week event. When I met B.'s youngest kid, all I could do was blurt, "I've seen pictures of you on The Internet!"

Live and in-person, B. was, as her advance press has suggested, supremely awesome. She impressed me as smart, sweet, and apparently able to blitz through several major tourist attractions per hour. I especially liked the way she and J. talked with their daughter. It was hard to get their attention at first, because they were both beaming so furiously at my own baby girl, V.

Since I've read her blog, which is all pretty personal stuff, I felt like I already knew B. But it was clear--as we asked each other deep questions like, 'Um, what do you do?'--that we only know each other through our nouns and adverbs, in bits and bytes. For me, it was the first time a virtual acquaintance materialized in front of me as a verifiable human bean. Then again, maybe it was just like meeting anyone whom you know through their art or work.

It felt surreal and untethered and cozy all at once, like a rendezvous with a figment of my imagination. I guess that i write all this stuff, then lob it out there into the blah-blah-sphere, but still I think of it mostly as some sort of befuddled narcissistic pastime. Then you meet someone real. You've never seen them before, but they seem to be a friend of yours....

It's amazing how people find each other these days.

Monday, February 11, 2008

the program

My week is all fucked up. Some school nights, like last Thursday, I go to the groovy kids bar and meet my friend Freddy, so we can ignore cute girls and the latest sounds while we talk about our miraculous daughters. Some Saturday nights, I'm so wiped out I can only make it a hundred yards down the block, where I drink herbal tea and blog at our neighborhood bagel hut. This weekend was relatively wild--I went to see Cloverfield (even though I suspected I would just feel cheap and used afterwards.) At the Westbahnhof U3 station, I had to thread my way through a gaggle of pint-sized punk rockers in spotless black bondage trousers and shiny new studded belts. Was Green Day playing at one of the arenas? Who knows?

Monday is my favorite night of the week. At least it has been since me and Anette made it our date night. Without fail, we go to the Briggitenau Bad, to swim, and sauna, then finish off the night at Uli's Kabob Corner, where we wolf down chicken durums and share one tall Blech beer. It's almost an ecstatic experience. And yes, we really do drink beer called Blech.

I will no doubt be blogging from the sauna live one day soon so I can really capture the scene, but the Briggitenau baths are probably like a lot of public baths in Vienna. Many of them were built fifty to seventy years ago, as part of a socialist health ideal. A lot of Viennese apartments back then were too small to have proper bathtubs or even showers. But the tradition endures, and on a cold and/or rainy night, it's just about the most delicious and cozy thing one can do with the one they love.

Anette and I go to the bio-sauna room, which is co-ed, but not as blisteringly hot as the same-sex sweat boxes. The bio-sauna has colored lights on the ceiling and slow, wonderfully generic new age music. Lying up in there, as every square micro-meter of my skin starts to bead up, I always Ahhh-out, and I think, 'Everything is going to be just fine--We have a very good life--My problems are all small peanuts.' A couple of weeks ago, as I was staring up at the lights glowing yellow, then turquoise, I told Anette, "I like the stars. And I like you."

That's how I get on Monday nights.

Friday, February 8, 2008

All Sound Goes on Forever

As with all things digital, electronic or otherwise technodelic, I'm probably the last guy on the block to discover music blogs. (If you are laster than me--and that's okay--I'm referring to blogs where people post MP3's of single songs or entire albums.) But now I've really fallen down the rabbit hole, and I'm spending evenings poring over site after site featuring bizarre 50's cocktail lounge music, or obscure 80's electronic punk, or off-brand 90's alt-rok. It's been said before, but it's really un-Holy Mary and Mother on a stick--believeable what sorta great (and not so great) music is just sitting out there, begging to be taken home and loved. Most of these sites post out-of-print music that's no longer available in stores, so it's actually legal to post and download (I think.)

My favorite sites read like true fanzines, full of rabid, unequivocal and enthusiastic prose, and often feature beautiful album artwork and/or other assorted graphics. A few nights ago I discovered Eastern Eye, which is loaded with all the wacky vintage Bollywood music I've never been able to find in a hipster record store. Then there's Lost-in-Tyme, which is actually four blogs in one, with amazing and rare funk, world, rock and soul music from all eras and sensibilities. The Manchester Morgue is gore-tacular: it's dozens and dozens of horror and sci-fi movie soundtracks, just bloody, bleepy stuff I didn't even know existed. Here's some links for these and other wonderlands of cool music:

Eastern Eye

The Manchester Morgue

Psychotic Leisure Music

Xtabay's World

A Closet of Curiosities

Chris Goes Rocks

What this all means to me boils down to three things:

1) Record collectors, once the stingiest and most notorious of all anal retentives, have stopped hordeing and started giving it up. A bit like sports fishermen: instead of catching, killing and mounting their prizes, they now photograph them, digitize them, then set them free to share with the rest of the world.

2) The infinite universe of sounds recorded by humans on this Earth just got more infinite. I've spent my life discovering various methods of rocking out, getting funky and making a drum machine sound like a wet fart. Now I know I need never stop.

3)I've always loved wacky. But now "offbeat," "marginal" and "obscure" are all much more theoretical concepts than they are real ones. Nothing musical is hard-to-find, so everything is accessible, even if it's hard-to-like.
And I've never liked weirdness for weirdness' sake. I dig unusual music because it's surprising or mysterious or novel or alien.
In the past, the marketplace has determined what music is available and what goes unheard. Now there's nothing between me and these crazy sounds. Even the most ephemeral gem, recorded-one-night-in-a-Peoria-basement,may be floating out there in the etherspace forever, blowing minds on an infinite basis. Eternal music.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Queen Size Wonderland, Night 3

As I may have mentioned, our nights have not been so peaceful. V. does the Frug in her sleep, and I bolt upright because I'm re-running episodes from the office. Then I wake up Adinah, who wakes Anette, etc. etc. Sometimes home is like the WestBahnhof--with all the coming, the going, delayed trains and the resulting angry commuters in their pink princess pajamas.

Anette, being who she is, has come up with a solution. A new ideal for living, if you will. It's called Mattress Wonderland: we put all our mattresses together on the floor of our bedroom, then we all sleep together there, on this ocean of PermaRest. Adinah doesn't have to sleep by herself in her room anymore, V. feels more integrated and surrounded by her new family, and each night, one lucky adult can escape out to a more remote snooze location if necessitated by snoring, howling or somnambulent kicks in the groin.

I was a bit hesitant about the idea at first, and not just because it means the wife and I will have to find another place to make whoopy. But I gave in, and tonight will be our third night in Mattress Wonderland.

V. still wakes up at 3, 4 and 5:30 am (or 1, 3 and 4 am) but she's getting better at falling asleep again, especially after you rub her back or stroke her hair. Adinah sleeps through everything and hasn't had another nightmare. It's even been relatively peaceful for Anette and I, though one of us is usually sleeping somewhere else by dawn. Oh well.

She Who Must be Obeyed says the ultimate goal is that we'll eventually cede our bedroom to the girls,and make what has been Adinah's room into our own cozy little Sex Nook. The former New Yorker in me thinks, "Whoa, we've got a huge beautiful bedroom--no way am I giving that up to two little rugrats with too many stuffed animals." So I'm gonna put my foot down.

So far, putting my foot down has always gotten me what I wanted from Anette. Like that time I put my foot down and insisted we wouldn't have another kid. Or that day I insisted we move to Japan so I can pursue my dream of becoming the guy in the Godzilla suit who gets to destroy Tokyo over and over again everyday.

Yeah, that's right. I am Man. Hear me roar.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

That Horrible Synchronicity thing

Yeeaaaah, you know what I mean. The moment when Kid A begins to pitch a fit, then Kid B gets somehow caught up in it and smacks Kid A, and Parent A has to pull Kid A off of Kid B, whereupon Kid B commences to wailing like a banshee and Parent A loses it and yells "Stop crying!" at, uh, everyone. OMG. WTF? HFS!!

I don't know whether to blame a very social week (three playdates, two sleepovers, one kids' yoga class and one Kindergarten party), the ambient levels of exhaustion in our house, or some new demented bird flu, but jumping Mary and Joseph, I'm giving myself a time out. There was this our house this week: one kniption accelerating into the next, temper tantrums that bounced around and infect everyone in the room, lots of gritted teeth and faces red from bawling.

Today was some sorta new supernova. After picking Adinah up at her friend Oskar's house, the girls and I set out on a shopping expedition to get a gift and some avocados for a party we're going to tomorrow. To save us a trip back home again, I made the questionable decision to press on, even though V.'s pants were wet from a diaper disaster, and we would also have to tote along Adinah's scooter and papier-mâché horse mask (it's a long story). V. was game initially, but eventually began to oscillate between fusticatious and plaintive unhappiness. Deanie was a bit sullen but mostly good natured. I thought the nadir was our stop in a fish and chips fast food joint: as I tried to get them to eat the fish or vegetables, V. tried to kick her way out of my lap while Deanie spilled our bottle of mineral water and generally pestered me about whether she could have a dessert without eating any actual food. I started to feel sort of brittle, like an old rubber band.

But after we had accomplished all our missions, and we were finally back on our block and almost home, I told Adinah I didn't think we'd have time to go visit her friend Marie today, and she went off like a siren. She wailed at me, I snapped at her, V. took a few swings at both of us, and I yelled at, yeah, everybody. V. shrieked and kept screaming until long after I'd changed her again, given her a bottle of tea and laid her down for a nap. Whoa.


Deanie and I went to our corners, and eventually, V. fell asleep. After a cup of coffee and this hard-won moment of quiet, Deanie and I made up. V cried when she woke up, but then seemed to feel better. I started dinner, put a feedback-soaked bit of rock-a-rolla on the jambox, and danced around the ballroom with my daughters. The song, by the Dream Syndicate, was called, "Tell Me When it's Over." Indeed.

It's so hard sometimes, this family shit. You think maybe you're gonna go absolutely mental, and, maybe, somehow you hold it together with a piece of Scotch tape. You snatch a poetic, air guitar moment out of the end of a long lunatic day, and sometimes you wonder what the hell you're doing it for. Often, when you hurl that very question out the window, you get no answer.

So there's nothing to do. I took a walk, wrote this down. Now I'll go to bed.

Then get up and do it again.