Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Pray for Snow

Our first Christmas without Anette’s mother was cozy for me and the girls, but not so easy for Anette. On Xmas Eve, we stood at Oma’s grave, lit candles and sparklers, and sang “Kling Glockchen Kling” (Ring Bell Ring.) That was always one of her favorite songs.

Opa is doing well—shopping and cooking for himself, and swimming almost every day. He’s the Burgermeister of the Bregenz Sport Zentrum, and he has said he’s very proud to introduce us, his American-Austrian-Ethiopian-Nigerian kids and grandkids, to all of his seventy and eighty-year old friends at the pool. But after four days of hosting and baking for us, he was ready for some peace and quiet. And he said so. Which is good because I know Adinah and V. would have happily stayed out here until February, just to eat those Christmas cookies he made. Mmmmmh, Rum Kokos and Vanilla Kipfel….

As luck would have it, one of Anette’s friends owns a company which owns an ski apartment in the beautiful mountain town of Brand. When Anette mentioned we were hoping to find a hotel for a few days, the friend told us the ski apartment was free, and free. We scrambled, the friend wrangled us everything we needed—from comforters, plates and pasta to cook--and that’s why I’m posting today from a very cozy bunkbed in Brand. V. is napping next to me, Adinah is in a kiddy ski class (loving it), and way high above us, Anette is cheerily whistling R. Kelly’s “I Believe I can Fly” as she hurtles down the slopes.

So I'm wondering: what have I done to deserve this?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Real Wiener

I went to the doctor twice last week. The first time, she told me, "You're not sick, but you're not well." The second time, I told her, "I didn't get worse." She said, "But you didn't get better."

That's like my feelings about Vienna. I don't love it but I don't hate it. I love our apartment and our comforts--I don't love the pinched, pissed-off faces on the subway. I love the gothic beauty and the industrial ugliness of the city--I don't love the weather. I love the deep sadness of this place, but I hate the deep sadness of this place.

Like New Yorkers, the Viennese don't seem to know (or care) too much about the world beyond the city limits. Like Los Angelenos, the Wiener and Wienerin mistakenly believe they are living in a real city (as opposed to, respectively, a vast outdoor mall and a swollen, self-important village.) Like Austinites, the Viennese like to shoot the breeze, and that may occasionally involve talk about the meaning of life. That's not likely to happen in all of the villages of this world.

I guess I get like this whenever someone asks me why I'm living over here with a bunch of old Nazis, or when the possibility that we may leave Vienna arises. Both of these things happened to me this week. Meh. Whatever.

My colleague Maggie might say we are in homeostasis. A state of balance. Which probably means I should brace myself. Somebody's about to pull the rug out from underneath me.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

An Edition of One

In August, I wrote about beginning to put together a lifebook for Adinah. (In this post.) I used a large photo album, pictures, text, a few maps, some Ethiopian currency, an ID slip from a children's hospital and some Winnie the Pooh stickers, all to tell the story of who our daughter is and how she came to be with us. I tried to write it from her perspective, not mine (that is, I made no references to Black Sabbath or knarly skater babes.)

I finally finished it in October, and gave it to her. She really likes it.

Here's some photos. Now I've got to start making one for V.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Pictures of Home

Back at work today, though I probably shouldn't be. My chest still makes that ooey-gooey sound when I cough or laugh. Actually, I'm leaving early so I can go to the doctor. Maybe she can give me something to make my boo-boo all better.

I got a nice piece of news this morning though: I may be going back to the US again in the spring! On someone else's dime! I'm excited!!

In these times of financial calamity and associated disasters, maybe this is the best way for me to go back home: as a tourist. A business-traveler, frequent flyer zombie. The truth is, the longer I live in Vienna, the more a trip to the US will begin to feel like a trip to Pluto. But nobody has mentioned this to my heart.

So I'm happy. Working in DC for a week would mean eating amazing Ethiopian food, picking up some good books, and swimming in English, the sweet, profane jarbled-up and slanged out language of my life. And that would be okay.

I do think of Vienna as home, in a way. But in another, less laugh-out-loud sort of way, I think of the US as home. And always will.

But where bexactly in the US is "home" for me? Austin, where I grew up, ate jalapenos as a rite of passage, and got my heart good and broke for the first time? NYC, where I got slick, ate rock CD's as a rite of professionalism, and got my heart broke in a less laugh-out-loud sort of way? Seattle, where I discovered the most ironic pinball arcade in the country? Los Angeles, where I "hung out" with punk and hip hop stars, and otherwise lived like an expense account king? South Dakota, where we buried my father? Or was home for me truly the back of an Econo-line van, wedged in between the drum kit and the guitars, where I lay, furiously scribbling too many adjectives into a notebook just like the one I'm writing in today?

Home is all of those places and none of those places. In other words, home is just an idea. Home is old times, good times, a lost world. I can't go back there.

I am sure I'd like to go shopping, stuff my face and even maybe see some old friends in the USA. That would be so

Friday, December 4, 2009


Ever get that feeling that your eyeballs had headaches? Your cough has this extra catchy melody, and your chest sounds like some industrial-strength, extra-glitchy techno? Then you notice that other, smaller people in the room are coughing the same way? That's how it is here today.

Adinah is sick, I'm sick, Anette has gone to Innsbruck to teach a class. V. is the only one who feels close to 100 %. Unfortunately, she's three, and not entirely capable of taking care of her sister and her father.


Don't know if we have Swine flu, the Piglet virus, or just Stinkfoot. I took Adinah to the doctor the other day, and she said it's a virus, but she couldn't tell which one. She was reassuring, but I wonder if maybe we should go back for a second visit. Neither one of us has a fever, no puking nor excessive pooping, just low intensity 'blah's. Yuck.

It's a good thing Adinah likes to watch tv and sleep. That's about all I want to do.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Asylum Story

Some friends of ours are "sponsors" for a young man from Afghanistan who fled his homeland and landed in Austria. I'll call him A. Yesterday over brunch, I got an update on A. and his struggle for Austrian personhood.

A doesn't know his age: though his papers say he is 23, he's probably more like 28-29. Back in Afghanistan, someone known to him killed A's brother. As is the custom there, A could have taken what the Austrians call "blut rache" (blood revenge) and rightfully killed his brother's killer. Naturally the killer knew this, and in what may be a logical progression in Afghanistan, the killer therefore swore that he would also murder A before A could kill him.

A left Afghanistan.

Austria may be less violent than Afghanistan, but of course it isn't just peachy for people like A. After eight years here and many meetings with the immigration authorities, A has the legal right to stay in Vienna and even work (!) here. But he'll have to wait another seven years before he can become an Austrian citizen.

And even though he's got a work permit, A still has that refugee head. He doesn't really know that he has some of the same protections that other Austrian workers have. So at his last few jobs, A's bosses have paid him under-the-table, sub-standard wages.

The other day, our friends took A to his local trade union. The man they met with there listened to A's story, looked at his papers, then turned to A and said, "Comrade, why do you let these bosses treat you this way?"

Socialism 1, Assholes 0.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Nowe Be Thankeful

I am thankful to Otis Redding, for writing "(Sittin' on the) Dock of the Bay," and for singing it.

I am thankful that I have a job and that we have enough to eat. I would appreciate more time to take hot baths by myself, but hey, two out of three is not bad.

I am thankful for my family: my mother, my father, my brothers, my wife and my daughters. They drive me nuts sometimes, so I'm sure they feel the same way about me. But I am so happy we are together. A family really is forever.

I am thankful to Vorarlberg, because it gave me a great Opa (Grandpa), and wonderful stinky cheese and our dear friend Katharina and especially my darling Anette.

I give thanks to Ethiopia, for Mulatu Asteque, injira bread, and our lovely rosa Fee, Adinah.

I thank Nigeria for Fela Kuti and Afro-Beat music, and Vienna, for a young mother named M, and both of these places, because they made our sweetest little disco dancer, V.

I am grateful for bad movies and good art.

I am so happy that our friends and family are safe, and (relatively) untouched by war, sickness and poverty.

I am thankful for my third Oma, Resi Baldauf.

I am thankful for foster parents and children, adoptive parents and adopted children everywhere. They have a lot to tell us. Angelina, please stop.

I am thankful for high and lo humor, belly laffs, pratfalls, and ironic, knowing winks.

I am indebted to all of my teachers--sacred, profane, wise and drunk.

I am thankful for all of this wonderful food. Let's eat.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Her First Report Card

**** = Super
*** = Good
** = Fair
* = Unsatisfactory

When I got home from work the other night, Adinah was breathlessly pressing it into my hands before I could sit down. 'Look what I got today in school--it shows all these things about me.' My German being what it is, it took me a few extra moments to realize that these were her first grades.

The biggest surprise was that her teacher did not rate Adinah ****Super in every category. The second biggest surprise was the way that this hurt my feelings, and troubled me.

After dinner, Adinah and I looked at it more carefully. Her teacher, Daniela, had given her a number of **Fair marks, but the one I was most certain I understood was next to the sentence, "I listen to teacher and her instructions." After a few minutes of review, Adinah shrugged and said, "I'm just not so good at school."

* * *

I guess (almost) every parent thinks their kid is the most amazing person who ever lived. Besides their other kids. But it's different in our case: our kids really are the most amazing people ever. And I've never thought of Adinah as anything less than super-smart, socially adept and kind.

So it's a little weird that someone who's known her for less than three months is now telling us who she is and what she cannot do. It's even weirder that I have, over the last few days, caught myself taking Teacher's word for it, thinking, 'Maybe Deanie has some sort of problem?'

What the fuck is that?

But most troubling of all is that Deanie herself seems to so casually accept what Teacher says, seems to think that this must mean that's she's sub-par.

Or not. Maybe he kid's breezy attitude means that as a person, she's learning to accept the idea that she can't do Everything.

But is that a lesson she needs to be taught with a few sad stars at the age of six?!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

8:55 p.m.

Dead again.

It's not the back-aches and physical demands of parenthood which exhaust me. It's the hour-after-hour of answering EVERY question, starting to fulfill one request only to be interrupted by a second, occasionally conflicting one, and then of course, while doing this stuff, also making sure to pull the kids out of the path of oncoming streetcars. That's what slays me.

I never learn. At 2 p.m., I'm always excited, thinking, 'Tonight's gonna be great--I'll knock out a blog post, surf the weirdest MP3 sites, finish that cool photo project, then build my punk rok website!' And at 8 p.m., as the kids finally lay smoldering under their comforters, I sit back on the brown couch and do not want to do Anything--including mindless surfing or calling one of the dear friends I miss the most back in the US of A. Even watching an episode of Deadwood seems too tall an order.

But last night, I staggered onto a number 5 train, then somehow perambulated my lifeless corpse into the Prater fairground. Otherwise known as the Wurstel Prater (Sausage Park), it was shrouded in fog, and about sixty percent shut down for the winter season. My favorite arcade is open for a few more weeks, though, and once I got there, I gawped to see there were already people playing Theatre of Magic, Invaders from Mars, and Monster Bash. So I made an unorthodox choice. The late classic Williams machine left unoccupied was Medieval Madness--that would have been the professional player's choice. Instead, I bellied up to Scared Stiff (also known as the second Elvira machine.) And I Liked it.

Pinball, of all things, remains one of the simple electro-magnetic pleasures that will almost always make me feel better. Even put a grin on my face. Tonight, as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, made "jokes" about Deadheads and oral sex, I--well--I laffed.

What is it about the recorded voice of a buxotic goth girl former horror movie host, making vaguely lewd wisecracks from within the guts of an obsolete console of blinking lights and metal switches that just tickles the adolescent in me? Even our most highly paid scientists may never know.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Not Sick Again

Oww. That hurt a little bit. Two days out of commission, including about eight hours where my head felt like a cinder block, and four where I didn't even want to think about food for fear of making like Linda Blair. "Yerrr mother sucks c----Wuuugh, urrghhh--chunk-chunk-chunk!"

Wasn't swine flu, methinks. But then again, I got my degree in veterinary medicine, so your human science is strange and frightening to me.......

I'm lucky to have a family that just stands back--several yards--from papa when he's sick. They just let me roll around on the ground grunting and moaning for a few days, let me get some sleep, don't call me too many unkind names, then welcome me back gladly when I'm less viral. I don't have any fancy get well plan: when a bug comes calling, I just sleep on it. And sleep. And sleep. But it's strange to be down for thirty hours, then emerge back onto the street, blinking, in the sunlight. I take my good health for granted so much that being sick feels like being high.

That said, things are getting weird around here. At work, they don't want us washing our dishes ourselves, just want us to put them straight into the dishwasher in the staff kitchen. Public schools are closing down because so many kids are knocked out with pig fever. Everybody thinking, 'Is this the big one?'

Not me though. I think it's all a hoax. Now Ima gonna go see 2012. I love those movies where the Earth dies screaming.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Reasons to be Bad

1) "People respect the Bad."

2) "Nobody ever listens to me."

3) "I'm bored."

4) "I'm mad at Mama because she's never there for me."

5) "I'm mad at Papa because when I try to do something grown-up, he treats me like a kid, and then when I want to be a kid, he expects me to act grown-up."

6) "I'm mad."

7) "I'm an exceptionally well-paid underworld mastermind and douche-lord."

8) "People look at me when I'm bad."

9) "It's better to be feared than to be loved."

10) "I tried being 'me' and nobody understood that."

11) "All I wanted was a Pepsi, and she wouldn't give it to me!"

12) "I don't like Mondays."

13) "I don't like you."

14) "I'm Bad because my brother is Good."

15) "I feel bad."

16) "Someone hurt me--maybe it's my fault."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

out of the frying pan...

Anette and I went to see the film Wüstenblume (Desert Flower) the other night. Wüstenblume tells some of the story of the Somali supermodel and human rights spokesperson Waris Dirie. Dirie, like many Somali women yesterday and today, was a child victim of genital mutilation. She fled her desert home, on foot, the night before she was to be forcibly wed to an old man. She was 13. She was lucky to survive the trek through the desert, and according to the film, when Dirie finally arrived at a road and flagged down a truck, the driver tried to rape her.

That sort of an ordeal would kill most humans, but for Dirie, things really got weird when she left Somalia. She made it to London, where she worked for a time in the Somali embassy, then she ended up homeless. Somehow she got a job in a burger joint, where she--presto!--was discovered by a famous photographer and became--chango!--a supermodel. One of Wüstenblume problems is its failure to make anything of the irony of Dirie's escape from an oppressed life in Somalia to an equally oppressive (and sick) world politely known as the "fashion industry." But I'm saving that rant for another post.

The African scenes of the film--well-acted and beautifully shot--were almost too difficult for me to watch, because I couldn't look at the screen without thinking of V. and especially Adinah. From what I know, genital mutilation is not widely practiced in Ethiopia, though it does border Somalia. But many girls in the Ethiopian countryside are married off, by the age of 6 or 7, to a boy they may think is just a playmate. As I watched the film, and especially as Anette and I walked home afterward--feeling like we'd been kicked in the teeth--I thought once again that when our girls get old enough to understand a film like Wüstenblume, we're going to have some explaining to do. Life in Africa is so different from our everyday, and the "Africa" one sees in films, TV and other media is so distorted and filtered. How will we be able to express our view of Africa to Adinah? Will she understand that despite its problems, Ethiopia is an amazing place?

Or will she think, 'Thank god Mama and Papa got me out of there?'

Or is it okay for her to think that (a little) once she understands the larger truth that we never meant to save a child? We're not hoping to win one for Western Civilization. We wanted a child. And we thought going to Ethiopia was a good way to find her.

Worse than these thoughts was the feeling I got watching the scenes of the teenage Dirie fleeing her home alone, or the scene where the three-year-old Dirie is genitally "cut." Since we became parents, movies which depict the harm or neglect of a child have become even more difficult viewing for me. I can't process this. How could a parent knowingly harm a child?

Maybe that's why I can't believe that Adinah and V.'s first parents felt any differently. Both of our daughters knew tragedy before we met them. But I feel sure that their birth parents did everything they could for their girls. I'm certain they tried to save their own children. But they couldn't.

Maybe I have to feel this way about the parents before us. I look at our kids and I think, 'They're so beautiful--how could anyone not cherish them?'

Thursday, November 5, 2009

the cure for all what ails you

Texas Guacamole:
1) Find six Haas avocados (yo, those are the dark, dark green bumpy ones, NOT the lighter green, smooth-skinned ones, which suck.)

2) Cut them all in half, and use a large spoon to scoop the avocado out of it’s skin. Put the seeds aside--actually they’re more like stones.

3) Put all the avocados in a bowl and smash them.

4) Add diced garlic (one or two medium sized cloves); salt; white pepper if you have it, regular black if you don’t; and either lemon or lime juice.

5) Smash and stir until smooth, or leave it chunky—I don’t care.

6) Adjust seasonings to your taste.

7) Break out the tortilla chips.

8) Serves 2-3.

9) If you do not finish the guacamole in one sitting—you will, but just in case--put the seeds back into the bowl of guac, then put the whole thing into the fridge. The seeds will keep the guac fresh a little longer. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

All Saints Day

We took the overnight train out to see Opa this weekend. He's doing well. He cooks for himself and does the laundry now. He does everything of course. He has to. Anette even went farther and said she thinks that now that Oma is gone, Opa wanted to demonstrate to all of the family this weekend that he can take care of himself. Maybe then people will leave him alone.

It's easy to believe that an old man who was married to his wife for more than fifty years must be lost without her. It must be tempting to try to take care of him. But aside from a little assistance with things here and there, I wouldn't want to be managed like that. And as I watched Josef this weekend--baking bread and fixing small things things around the house--he looked like a grown-ass man who can manage just fine, thank you.

Of course it must be disorienting, and lonely, to be without your woman, after half a century together.

But another part of me thinks Anette's father has begun a new life. He might be 82, but that doesn't mean he can't learn a few new tricks. Maybe he even enjoys making his own rules, having a place of his own and the time to think about himself and his life.

Mind you, if I think about my own future, I'd prefer to just stay with Anette forever.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Life on Earth: 16, 405 Days and Counting

A silent killer is stalking the overgrown man-children of the world. It infects one out of four males above the age of 35. It clouds the mind and destroys the family. It fosters half-baked notions. Eventually, these unlucky souls believe they really need every episode of My Favorite Martian and all of the spoken word albums of Leonard Nimoy. Medical professionals refer to this scourge as Collectivitus Simplex, but most of it's victims simply refer to it as the Fever. And ladies and germs, god help me Jeebus, I've got the Fever.

I've discovered (for the fourth or fifth time) Space Age Bachelor Pad music. You know, all that uber-zany music recorded in the 19-hundred and fifties and sixties, often by patenty insame big band leaders who wanted to kick up their heels with concept albums about a trip to Uranus. Stuff like this was a cottage industry back in the day, and now it all lives again at MP3 blogs like Xtabays World and Bongos/Flutes/Guitars.

Aside from cover art which often featured scantily clad lad astronauts, what could have been the appeal of this music? It often sounds like a second-rate, slightly drunk orchestra performing with a theremin specialist and a raunchy organist. Songs with titles like "War Dance of the Wooden Indians." Oops, I guess that is the appeal. At least for me. Take a record like Dick Hyman's Moon Gas. (Would I make these names up?) I'm drawn to Moon Gas like a Martian to a green martini. These are musical stylings which feature everything I love: primitive electronic 'whoosh!' machines, see-thru conceptual conceits, atmosphere, sleaze and beauty.

So lately, my life has been swallowed by the new Project: listening to and gathering up all the Exotic Space Man Lounge music I now or one day may own. I'm even making CD covers for the discs I've lost cover art for )just like the homemade cassette covers I made when I was--eek!--in college.) (Am I scaring you yet?) I call the series the History of Cheese. (Naturally it includes a spin-off collection called Space Cheese.) It's fun! I'm deep in my disease!!

Anette oscillates between concern and suspicion. When I'm sitting at the table listening to Persuasive Percussion 1967 and cutting up old pin-up girl illustrations, she walks by, furrows her brow, and says, "But you're being ironic, right?"

Friday, October 23, 2009

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Meanwhile V.....

....has joined a new group of bigger kids at Kindergarten("Grosse Gruppe!" she chirps), and she's using more English words--she's even starting to settle down enough to look through books and play by herself for long seconds at a time.

Anette have paid so much attention to Adinah and all her new responsibilities for school that we haven't quite noticed how much V. is growing and adapting. She's starting to be a little more independent of both us and her big sister. She's still loud and rambunctious, but she's also more self-possessed.

I like to think it's because of Operation Huggy Bear. If she screams or whines, I try to pick her up and hug her instead of chiding her. I try to remember that Adinah will talk without commas or periods if we don't ask her to pause and let V. tell us something about her day. I'm trying to see her, and make room for her in this family. Or maybe we're trying to help her find her place with us.

But maybe she's calmer because she feels safer with us. I dunno.

Either way, V. more mellow mood, combined with the cool Autumn weather that's been rustling through Wienertown, has made our place very, very cozy indeed. As opposed to the screaming, whooping, crying and pooping caterwaul it has been in previous seasons.

The other morning, a Sunday, Anette was in the kitchen making black bean soup, Adinah was at her school desk drawing, V. was playing with a puzzle, and I, improbably enough, was assembling Adinah's new bed in another room. It was quiet. For about five minutes. Then Anette walked into my room and said, "This is heaven."

Monday, October 19, 2009

Well, I'm doing yoga again. For me, writing this is roughly comparable to other people saying 'I'm quitting smoking again.'

We get up at 6:15 a.m., I groan, then we make all the funny poses while it's still dark outside. This morning, if a master yogi had been watching my misshapen, listing Downward Facing Dog, she would have murmured,'I see a little wind moving through the trees.' If a rocker had been watching me, he would have started humming "Shaking all Over."

Indeed. My Warrior 3 pose looks more like Warrior 2.12. My Sun Salutation looks like ,'Oh, hey, howzit...uh, what's going on?' My Corpse pose is good.

I feel better. But it's a struggle.

I've never been a sportsy guy. Unlike my younger brother, the Cyclist, and my older brother, the Whitewater Rafter, Wilderness Guide and Runner, I've always thought of sports as rather unhealthy. I do like hiking in the mountains, but I prefer ascending by chairlift, then descending on foot. Unless the descent takes more than two hours. In which case I prefer taking a taxi down to Base Camp.

But yoga feels good. I like feeling a little less creaky, a little more loose in the joints. I like lighting the candles and putting on the German synth musik from the nineteen-seventies. I like going slow, and concentrating on my breathing.

It'd be great if I could hire someone to do yoga for me, though....

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

V.'s 3rd B-Day Party Top Ten

1) Most Ominous Portent of Doom:
The birthday girl's total nuclear meltdown before the party had even started, as we walked her and her little friends home from kindergarten.

2) Best Party Game:
The Balloon Race (Rules of Play: each kid picks a balloon, then we throw them all out of the window [the balloons, that is] and see which one bounces the farthest before popping, being stolen by a passerby, or drifting into Pizza Mann to order a Diavolo.)

3) Most Giggles per Second:
Blowing up the balloons with Katharina and Mohammed

4)Most Startling Demographic Trend:
Out of six boys and girls, Katharina was the only white kid. The rest of the attendees were either African or Austrian-African.

5) Most Wildly Popular Party Foodstuff:
Tie: Gummi Fruits and popcorn.

6) Entity which Consumed the Largest Portion of either Wildly Popular Party Foodstuff:

Emily's father, who lugged around the giant bowl of popcorn until he had devoured all but the most burnt kernels, as he does every year.

7) Music: Lady Gaga Video: Maisy

8) This year's Lo-Budget Party Favor Pack for all the Guests (Bestowed at Departure):
Cartoon stickers (3 sheets each), Sugar-free chewing gum, and several peanuts, all in a Zip-Loc bag.

9) Most Disheartening Moment:
Emily, who is practically the coolest kid on the planet, sitting by herself and crying, because it wasn't her birthday.

10) V.'s Favoritest Present of All Time:
The musical Shrek birthday card (it plays a ten-second snatch of SmashMouth's "All Star") sent by my mom, all the way from Texas.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Iron

"Like a wet kiss." "Like Vietnam." "Like a poke in the eye with a sharp stick." "Like heaven on earth."

I'm a guy what likes metaphors. They help me understand my life. I mix them up sometimes. "You've buttered your bread, now lay in it." My job? It's M*A*S*H. Vienna? Vienna is the mall in Dawn of the Dead. Those slightly blue people shuffling towards me might seem like regular shoppers--but wait! They're the Austrian Undead.

Back in the Cretinaceous Era, when I was, oh, thirty, I read an essay about weightlifting by Henry Rollins. And whatever you may think about his hair, tattoos or music, our Henry is a great stylist. In this essay, he referred to weightlifting--both the practice of it and the weights themselves--as The Iron. "The Iron never lies to you," he wrote. "Friends may come and go. But two hundred pounds is always two hundred pounds."

I'm sure Henry won't mind if I borrow the Iron. For me, parenting is like weightlifting. Or I should say that, since I started re-reading Jesper Juul's Your Competent Child, the Iron seems like a good way to describe the sort of uber-reflective, patient, and self-critical parenting that Juul thinks will save the world. Really.

For those of you who've never heard of him, Juul is a Swedish fella who, unlike lots of people who write books about parenting, actually is a working family counselor. Put simply, his idea of good parenting means taking your kid seriously as a real person by listening carefully to what they say and how they say it, and by seeing them for who they are, not who you want them to be. Hence, for me at least, raising kids--both the practice of it and the kids themselves--is The Iron.

This Iron never lies to you either. If your kid never listens to you, maybe it's because you're not saying anything worth listening to. The Iron can teach you and make you stronger, but only if you respect The Iron. Your kid is misbehaving? That's because she doesn't have words for the pain she's feeling--as a parent you have to teach them constructive ways to express that shit. Plus, mama and papa have to be honest about their role in causing their child pain. That is the way of The Iron.

It is a difficult way.

Juul, like Rollins, verges on the masochistic as he lays out his program for being a better parent/hero. Or maybe he's sadistic, because he's writing for an audience of people, like me, who want to be better parents, and are thus susceptible to the notion that kids are worth every jewel of your strength.

But if you're a selfish person--and I am--parenthood, excuse me, The Iron, seems to kick your ass and take everything you got. Daily. Then when exhausted you asks The Iron to get into bed for the tenth time, The Iron just stares at you, and says, "Du bist cacki." ("You are a turd.")

This is the Tao of The Iron. In my mind, I respond, "Nein, du bist futzy." (No, it is you who reeks of poopy, little miss.") But I respect The Iron. I trust The Iron and all that it has to teach me. So with my words I respond, "You are wise, small Master. How may I come to See you as an unbroken prism of Beauty and excellent table manners?"

And lo, there is peace in the land.

Monday, October 5, 2009

who, me? homophobic?

I met a couple of Americans for drinks the other night, and our conversation took me back to one of my initial impressions of Austria. I used to think that this country was socially conservative, and politically progressive. Now I'm not sure about the progressive part. For example, the government provides very generous childcare subsidies and maternity leave programs, which makes it easier to be a moms. But this could also be seen as an inducement to women to become housewives instead of artists, bankers or brain surgeons.

Another example: Not only do many Austrians have no grasp of political correctness--lots of them think it's okay to refer to black people as "negers"--they're also a little shaky on the subject of hate crimes. If there are any actual laws here against discrimination because of race or sexual preference, those laws are toothless.

Check it out: a lesbian couple we know have adopted a daughter, and they want to buy an apartment. About a month ago, they found a nice place, and one of them got in touch with the owners about buying the place. The owners asked for an application and some financial statements from our friends. Then the owners called them back and said, 'Let's make a deal.'

Our friends then went to their first face-to-face meeting with the owners, who are both men. Shortly after they walked in together, they were told the property was no longer for sale.

Then the bashing started.

"So you're from Hamburg?" one of the owners said to one of our friends. "Why aren't you blonde then?"

At first our friends were confused, then struck dumb by disbelief.

"How would you live in a place like ours?"

"As a family," our other friend answered.

"Is that legal?" one of the apartment owners asked. "I have to make a phone call to check on that."

"You have a daughter?" they asked. "Why didn't you adopt a son? Is it because you have a problem with men?"

At some point, our friends declared this "meeting" over and they walked out. One of them was so shocked (and hurt?) she only started to gather her wits on the way out of their office. But then all she could do was complain to the owners' receptionist.

Here's the punchline: our friends went to a local gay rights organization to get help. The people there told them, 'Sorry, there's not much you can do. But thanks for coming to us--will you sign our register? Then we can continue to get government funding for our anti-discrimination programs.'

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Happy Birthday to Me

1) Yesterday, as an early present to myself, I took myself over to my beloved public library--the big one at Burgasse--and just dawdled and explored. I found a book of photographs of the New York Downtown art and music scene of the early eighties: some nice photojournalism, but I came away with the impression that that whole Philip Glass/the Kitchen/art gallery scene was ultimately so insular, elitist and white. While looking at the pictures, I listened to a bunch of CDs I'd never heard before: a late period Edgar Winter (which was this upbeat weird disco drivel), an early one by Edgar Broughton (strange, damaged and intriguing), the Pet Shop Boys (sorry, they're still too mannered and inessential to me), and Bryan Ferry (hey, maybe all of his early solo albums are good!?)

2) This morning, the girls woke me up by singing "Happy Birthday" and serving me cake. Very sweet. Then they gave me a pile of new shirts and a new hoodie. I am now officially Mr. H & M.

3) I'm not getting older, I'm getting sleepier.

4) My friend LouAnne once said she thinks that almost everyone in the USA really really thinks that they will one day wake up rich and/or famous. I think that's a true thing, and I try to keep it in mind as a cautionary principle.

5) Still, I really really thought that by the time I was 48, I would have knocked out at least one bestseller, Oscar or multi-platinum double live album.

6) Some of my best friends and some people I barely even know wished me a Happy Birthday on Facebook. That was pretty cool too.

7) If I could have an all-star birthday party to celebrate, the guest list would include Anette, Adinah, V., Steve, Simon, Keepsie, Leo, Dorit, my brother Tracy, Betsy, Molly, Marty, Alan, Rich, Sims and Yow, Ron, Luke, Kathy, Ed, Ed, and Ed. Plus the Little Guy, Max, Sam and Caesar. And my brother Sean, and my mom.

8) I guess I'm gonna die some day. Probably. That's usually the way it goes.

9) Especially if I keep celebrating by eating nachos and french fries and drinking Coca Cola.

10) But then again, I've always been a lucky guy.

Friday, September 25, 2009

you drive me ape, you big gorilla

As I may have disclosed before, I work in a pretty straight-laced, corporate office, and yesterday, my department made a presentation. It involved a full body, giant-headed Monkey costume. Needless to say, I decided to bring the Monkey home with me. Thought the kids would get a chuckle out of it.

As I was getting off the subway near our apartment, I thought, 'It'd be really funny if I put on the Monkey suit now, and just walk into our house, a giant Monkey with a satchel, and sit down to dinner with my family, without a word of explanation.'

Then I had another thought.'No, that would be really stupid, because you'll scare the hell out of them, especially V. "My father--psycho Monkey." '

So as I got closer to our street, I called Anette and just asked her, “Do you think me walking in as a Monkey would scare V.?” I heard her put down the phone and ask V., heard V.’s responding squeak, then Anette back on the line, telling me, ’No, she says she wants to see the Monkey.”

I also decided to test how Viennese bystanders would react to a man-sized Monkey in their midst. The Monkey is super hot to wear, and it’s real stinky inside from the sweat of all the people who have been there before me. So I stopped at a bench just around the corner from our place, and stripped down to my underwear and socks before I put the damned thing on. Then I threw my satchel on and walked around the corner.

Nothing. Not a blink (nor a smile) from anyone. I think I got a vague nod from someone sitting in a parked car, but it’s pretty hard to see (and breathe) out of the Monkey head eyeholes, so I can’t be sure. None of the passing cars even bothered honking. There’s Vienna for you.

But as I padded down the sidewalk, I knew I would be in full view of the girls if they were up at the bay window of our apartment. I waved at a few cars, then looked up. There they were, looking down at me. I thought I could see Deanie waving and Anette holding V. up to the window. I couldn’t discern the look on V.’s face. Actually, she was terrified. But I didn’t know that, so I waved and blew kisses.

Once I fumbled my way into our building, though, Anette called down from the top of the stairs and said, ‘Pat, she’s scared—you have to take it off.”


For the first hour I was home, V. could only ask me, ‘Will the Oooh-Ah (Monkey) come back later?’ then answer herself with ‘No, the Ooh-Ah is gone,’ or ‘You don’t have to be afraid of the Ooh-Ah.’ Even then, I asked her, ‘V., do you want to see the Ooh-Ah again?’

‘Yes,’ she said.

Then she said, ‘No.’

I should have known better. Big Monkeys and Santa Claus outfits scare kids. But V. has this same profoundly intense reaction to all sorts of things, particularly animals, like cows, horses, and monkeys: she is always torn between terror and fascination. Maybe that should be telling us something about the way she sees the world. She doesn’t act the same way with people, at least not overtly. But she does alternate between playing with strangers on the U-Bahn, and being extremely shy when first meeting someone new. And in her dealings with us, she can swing very quickly from spitting, hitting or scratching, to coming over to ask for a hug.

When she was smaller, we would have called it the Ay-Yay/Oww-wa! Dialectic. When she met another person, she oftentimes didn't know whether to pet them or to clobber them. She didn't know how to touch other people.

These days, she seems to have a clearer grasp of the difference between pleasure and pain. But maybe V. still can't decide whether she should love other humans, or fear them.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Theresia Baldauf, 1929-2009

On Thursday, we took the night train to Vorarlberg for the funeral for Anette's mom. Last night we took the same train back, and we arrived in Vienna at about 8 am this morning. We're exhausted and cried out. But I want to tell you a little about the woman.

Teresia was one of seven or eight children. Two of her sisters would go on to become nuns. Resi was about 7 when the Nazis took over Austria. In 1946 or so, she was walking home to her village when she saw a young man she recognized from the next town over. He was walking home too. He asked her if she was hungry, and Resi said yes. Then Josef gave her some bread he had in his rucksack. He began to court her, and they married. They were married for fifty-three years, until she died last Saturday.

Ten years ago, when Anette called her mom from the US and said she'd fallen for an American guy, Resi cried. Because she was afraid this meant that Anette would never move back to Austria. I met Resi and Josef on my second trip to Austria, and I may have not made a very good impression on them at first: I was jet-lagged, they offered me red wine, and I was drunk within seconds....

One year, when Resi was sick, I took Anette to the airport in New York, so she could fly home to be with her mom. As she got on the plane, I gave her a Beanie Baby--a little weasel named Runner--and said he would protect her. Maybe Anette misunderstood me, I don't know, but she thought the weasel was a present for Oma, and when she got to the hospital in Vorarlberg, she gave Runner to Resi. For years after that, Resi thanked me again for that weasel.

When we returned from Ethiopia with our Adinah, we made a stop in Vienna before flying back to live in New York. Resi and Josef visited us in the city to meet their new grandchild. As you may have gathered, Austria is not the most progressive place as regards people with dark skin, let alone people with white skin who love people with dark skin. But Resi, devoutly Catholic and seventy-something years old, couldn't stop smiling and hugging Adinah. Even after we laid Deanie down for a nap, Resi kept stealing into the bedroom to peak at our baby.

Christmases at Resi and Josef's house were so nice. We all sang songs together in the stube (living room), and Resi usually made about eight different kinds of cookies.

Two weeks ago, I got the chance to say goodbye to her, as she lay in a hospital bed in that same room. She thanked me--my German is still too shaky to know why--and I thanked her for being such a good Oma. Then I said, 'Tschuss.' (Bye.)

It felt hopelessly inadequate.