Monday, August 31, 2009

end of a holiday

We’re just off an alpine forest trail near the Kristberg peak, high above the Silver Valley. V. is asleep on Anette’s jacket, and I’m lying on pine needles in the sun. Anette and Adinah are up at a panoramic lookout and goddamnit, they took our lunch of liverwurst and bread with them! We’ve been in the mountain region of Montafon, in the far west of Austria, for almost a week now. I’m taking pictures of tiny little mountain flowers. It is clearly time to go home.

Please don’t misunderstand: it’s been wonderful, it’s been great. These Heidi valleys and lunar mastiffs are gorgeous. Our daughters have been super troopers about hiking with us. And we’ve been staying at a “wellness hotel,” with sauna and indoor heated pool, where they do everything but pour the breakfast buffet down your throat for you.

But every vacation comes to an end, and I’m always ready for the end credits before anyone else. I’m usually set to get back to work—looking forward to it, even. I am American, after all. Plus, when you stay in one place for more than a few days, your hosts’ initial hospitality usually starts to thin. I regard this as a natural reaction to feeding and housing strangers, and despite all the smiles, hotel workers are, in the end, sort of human. This summer, when we camped next to the ocean in Sardinia, the campsite staff had had their fill of us after the first week or so, even before we melted one of their kitchen cutting boards on our grill. This week, our romance with our hotel ended when the owner told us Adinah and V. are not allowed in the sauna after all. This may or may not be because V. had just pooped on the floor outside of the steam room, but we’ll never know.

I’d like to come back here next year. I adore mountains, of any shape or divination, on any continent, all the time. It's just that enough is enough.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Thursday, August 27, 2009

a few choice quotes

I am the Decider.
George W. Bush

There is no such thing as society. There are only individual men and women and families.
Margaret Thatcher

If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they'll kill you.
Oscar Wilde

Be kind, be kind, be kind.
Henry James

I have seen war. I have seen war on land and sea. I have seen blood running from the wounded. I have seen men coughing out their gassed lungs. I have seen the dead in the mud. I have seen cities destroyed. I have seen 200 limping, exhausted men come out of line—the survivors of a regiment of 1,000 that went forward 48 hours before. I have seen children starving. I have seen the agony of mothers and wives. I hate war.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt

The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.
William Shakespeare

I know I ain’t doing much/But doing nothing means a lot to me.
Bon Scott

If your pictures are no good, get closer.
Robert Capa

One way to take a good picture is to get yourself into a good place, then wait.
Ellen Wallenstein

When you live with someone, you learn a lot about yourself.
Don Blashill

I know you love me, and I love you, but I love you in a different way.
A former girlfriend

That relationship was like Vietnam: I got my ass kicked, and I shouldn’t have been there in the first place.
Henry Rollins

If there is a subtext, you can bet I haven’t read it.
Ricou Browning

Do not be tempted by a twenty-dollar word when there is a ten-center handy, ready and able….
Strunk and White

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Lifebook for Adinah

Now I’ve done it.

After months of preparation (some would say years), a few false starts, and several delicate international treaties and conferences, I’ve finally started making Adinah’s lifebook.

Maybe you’ve heard about these things. It’s Standard Operating Procedure for adoptive families: a book for a child that tells her story. It can have text, photographs, ticket stubs, holograms—whatever media is needed to trace her life. It’s not about the adoptive parent—the book should begin with her birth to other parents—all other characters enter the story later. It should be honest, fair and sensitive. It should be a beautiful, engaging book she will want to look at over and over again for the rest of her life.

It’s a little intimidating.

I tried to start Adinah’s book many months ago. I bought a big pink photo album, and I decided my daughter and I should make her lifebook together. She should tell her own story, master her own plot, write her own plot, all that jazz, right? Wrong. It was a nice idea, but flawed in practice: armed with a pile of photos from every phase of her life, and blessed with 50 pink pages to fill, Adinah immediately took control of the project, destroyed the chronological arc of the story, and subverted all the major themes of the narrative. That is, she pasted the wrong fotos on the wrong pages, and she pasted them in crooked. Now it’s a big, pink, chaotic…photo album. Fine for her, but not a lifebook.

So when Anette took the kids to visit her parents this week, I decided that by God I would start and finish Adinah’s lifebook before they returned.

I had already bought a new, less pink album (actually it’s earth-brown), and over the last few months, during lulls in the action, I’ve periodically asked Adinah very open questions about various periods of her life. So my first step was to take these “interview” fragments and stitch them together into a frame of a narrative. Then I had to write more myself to flesh out the story.

It’s not so easy to tell a fair and sensitive story about international adoption, poverty, malnourishment, greed and loss, let alone to tell it from the perspective of a small child. It’s not easy to tell a fair and sensitive story about your own kid.

So that took awhile.

Then I had to choose papers and font sizes, gather all the materials, and plan the layout of the damn thing.

Finally, last night at eight p.m., I started pasting it up. I was immediately flashing back to my one college graphic design course, to days when I would wake up with bits of ChartPak stuck to my eyebrows. I was laying out and mounting pictures of Adinah in the orphanage, Adinah meeting Anette’s parents for the first time, Adianh with pneumonia, but I was thinking ‘Let’s see, can I separate two photos with a text block?’

I got about fifteen pages done. The album has fifty pages altogether. So I’ve finished up through the equivalent of Star Wars, Part Three. I’m going to get to the Return of the Jedi tonight.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

More Useless Lists, part 17

Places I have Bowled

1) Golem Bowl, Zlin, Czech Republic

2) Dart Bowl, and

3) Bowl-O-Rama, both Austin, Texas

4) the basement of an ancient music hall in the East Village ( I was wearing a lime-green polyester jumpsuit and a pair of fuzzy dice)

5) Brunswick Lanes, Wien

6) unknown shopping mall, Warsaw, Poland

7) Pioneertown (once owned by Roy Rogers!) Joshua Tree National Park

8) Chelsea Lanes, and

9) Bowl-Mor, both New York City

10) unknown old alley, Hollywood, California, USA.

Toys and Junk I once Owned

1) Spirograph

2) Major Matt Mason doll(s)

3) GI Joes

4) Legos

5) Baseball Cards, Football Cards and Wacky Packages

6) 45 RPM flexidiscs of songs by the Archies and Bobby Sherman, cut from the back panels of Honeycone and AlfaBits cereal

7) Many, many issues of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine

8) More than a few 7-11 baseball player souvenir Slurpee cups (including Roberto Clemente)

9) Aurora Model kits of Frankenstein's Monster and the Wolfman

10) Etch-a-Sketch.

Friday, August 14, 2009

I'm a Man?

The 9 to 5 people in Vienna--at the tram stop, on the subway--are serious. Expensive shoes, expensive eyeglasses. Briefcases. Combinations of clothes which could be described as "ensembles."

And then there is me. Sneakers. T-shirt. A duct-taped watch band. Holding a mug full of coffee from our kitchen. The mug reads "I (Heart) NY."

I'd like to be well put-together. I have the same style gods the other dudes have--Gregory Peck, Hank Fonda, Clooney--and they're all men who can rock a suit. Heroically. But the truth is, me myself and I more closely resemble a different Hollywood hunk: Woody Allen. And I drive like him too.

But I was flipping through a film encyclopedia last night, and came across a still from Annie Hall: Diane Keaton and the Woodman, in khaki pants and shirts with actual collars, standing and chatting, cocktails in hand, on a Manhattan rooftop. Suddenly I went winsome. 'Even Woody Allen looks more like an adult than I do.'

Was I ever a true grown-up In New York City? I was married, highly-paid, and a responsible cat-owner--in other words, I fit the description of a real man. But did anyone really take me seriously?

Thought the haze, I remember being at Manhattan rooftop parties, Mojito in hand, chatting with important and powerful people, but I know I didn't look as much like a player as Woody Allen does in those trousers. And I've heard plenty of people in my generation say the same thing: "I don't really feel like an adult."

Sometimes I think that since we moved here, and we met our second child, and I've become a manager, I've changed. God knows, by ten p.m. most nights, I'm as tired as an adult.

The conventional wisdom is that some people achieve adulthood, while others have it thrust upon them. I think I've backed into it. Wearing hip hop styles or raver pants is not an option. Long hair, or anything else which covers my eyes, is out. Maybe I've become an adult because I no longer wish to dress like a kid. That would hurt other people more than it would me.

I didn't become responsible so much as discover that it was required of me.

It's also practical: having breakfast with two small but quick-witted kids is just easier if you're sober.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


When she suggested it, I snarked and sneered to Anette that it might be a total sham. I made all the jokes that a seasoned (or cynical) culture industry operative should make. But of course, to prove that I'm a stand-up guy, I then agreed to it. So on Saturday, we took the kids to the Africa Days festival on the banks of the Blue Danube.

Several stages and about fifty small, turreted tents had been set up on a hot, dusty stretch of the Alte Donau, and once we got through the gate (admission: €5 before 5 pm), the first thing I saw was a table full of Obama t-shirts. These items were splashed with a picture of the Man and words he's probably never said, like "Love and Peace will triumph over Fear and Hatred." And the sweetness of that--both the shirts themselves and the possible motives of the people who were creating and selling them--this disarmed my suspicion and skepticism about Africa Days. For about thirty seconds.

It was actually a very nice event. I've always scorned white people with dreadlocks and college boys who proclaim their love of reggae music, even though all they've ever heard is Bob Marley's Greatest Hits. It's pretentious and fake and sometimes worse: some people do this sort of stuff as a way of performing "blackness," and I (still) think that's fucked up. [See: the Rolling Stones.] So as Adinah and V. and Anette and I watched the African styles fashion show, then drank mint tea at the Moroccan tent, and then watched a (great) performance by a dancing-singing-drumming troupe in tribal leopard-skin, I sneered and snarked a bit more.

So Anette let me have it.

'What's wrong with people expressing their love for a culture. Or a continent?' 'If people can't do this, then how can different people ever understand each other?' 'Why are you so suspicious?' 'If you feel this way about these white people, how will you ever be able to explain yourself to our daughter, Adinah?'

All good questions. And we were still discussing them the next night.

But when we left the Africa Days festival, a young all-white band, perhaps Austrian, was onstage, playing what sounded a lot like...ska music.

Okay, there is a real, historical connection between Jamaica and the Motherland, but Still. What the fuck was that band doing playing an African culture festival?

This is my beef: ignorance. If that band, or the event promoters, thought they should play that stage simply because they could do a passable imitation of a music style created by people with dark skin, they're idiots. That's like saying, 'I like black music.' Or 'I like Asian people.' Stoopid. Insidious.

After the festival, I thought my question for that band, and for some of the other (caucasian) people at the event, was 'What connects you to Africa?' Now I know that what I'm really asking is, 'What is my connection to Africa?' Because after all, there we were, at a festival called Africa Days. And as Anette later pointed out, this is our scene: an ersatz community of white Europeans who love African music, or to be more precise, a community of white people who love black people.

So. Is my connection to Africa more real because we've adopted one Ethiopian girl, and another who is half-Nigerian? Am I less pretentious, less guilty of fronting because I continue to listen to Deep Purple (quite frequently), instead of proclaiming my love for all things Ali Farka Toure? I don't know.

But there is a dignity in trying to be yourself, and no one else. Our last stop at the festival was a hair extensions booth. For another €5, a nice woman attached a single braid, interwoven with orange thread, to Adinah's hair. And Adinah was thrilled.

On the way out, she asked me, "Don't you want to get one too, Papa?"

"Naah," I said. "That's not my style."

Does it really need to be any more complicated than that?

Friday, August 7, 2009

50 Concerts

(Normally I don't do this sort of thing. Possibly because I like making lists too much. Like serial killer too much. But an old friend on Facebook started it and I needed to do this one. It's interestingly non-chronological. Facebook? Why would I need another time-sucking vortex in my life--I've got kids!)

1) Lynyrd Skynyrd opening for the Doobie Brothers, Austin Municipal Auditorium, Austin, Texas 1973 (my first)

2) Kreisky opening for TV on the Radio, Arena, Vienna, 2009 (my last)

3) The Replacements, The Continental Club, Austin, 1984?

4) The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Steamboat Springs, Austin, 1984

5) Standing Waves, in the parking lot of Inner Sanctum Records, Austin, 1980

6) The Punk Prom (Dicks, Big Boys, Sharon Tate's Baby), Armadillo World Headquarters, Austin, 1980

7) The B-52's, Armadillo World Headquarters, 1979

8) Journey, Austin Municipal Auditorium, 1978?

9) Peter Frampton, and Gary Wright, the "Dream Weaver," at a rock festival right next to Interstate 35, Austin

10) Rank and File, Dukes Royal Coach Inn, Austin, 1981?

11) Gang of Four, Club Foot, Austin, November 4, 1980 (the night Ronald Reagan was elected)

12) Fela, Austin City Coliseum, 1986

13) Devo, Armadillo World Headquarters, 1979

14) Butthole Surfers, Club Foot, Austin, 1982

15) Butthole Surfers, The Ritz, New York City, 1988

16) Terminal Mind, Rauls, Austin, 1980

17) Meat Joy, Voltaire's Basement, Austin, 1984?

18) Doctor's Mob, at a volunteer fire department garage, South Austin, 1984?

19) True Believers, UT Student Union, Austin, 1986

20) Flaming Lips, the Beach, Austin, 1985?

21) Pussy Galore, Siberia, New York City, 1988?

22) My Bloody Valentine, Maxwells, Hoboken, New Jersey, 1989

23) My Bloody Valentine, the Ritz, New York City, 1992

24) Laibach, the Palladium, New York City, 1989

25) Orbital, Lollapalooza, Randalls Island, NY, 1996?

26) Jane's Addiction, Madison Square Garden, NYC, 1990

27) Kiss (in 3-D, with 3-D glasses and 3-D rear-screen projections), Paramus?, New Jersey, 1998

28) Sun Ra, at dawn on the summer Solstice, Battery Square Park, New York City, 1989

29) The Residents, Warsaw, Brooklyn 2004?

30) Sonic Youth, Continental Club, Austin, 1985

31) Sonic Youth, the Ritz, NYC, 1988

32) Sonic Youth, Arena, Vienna, Austria

33) George Clinton, with members of ParliamentFunkadelic, playing "Tear the Roof off the Sucka" several times for a scene in a justifiably forgotten frat boy movie, 1992?

34) Teenage FanClub, unknown auditorium, Glasgow, 1991

35) Jimmy Dale Gilmore, Madison, Wisconsin, 1993

36) Fatboy Slim, Bowery Ballroom, New York City, 1999

37) Lenny D, a sports bar dive that reaked of PCP, some somewhere in Queens, 2000

38) Kraftwerk, Hammerstein Ballroom, NYC,2004?

39) Chemical Brothers, Hammerstein, NYC, 1998

40) Nirvana, Roseland, NYC, 1993

41) Fanfare Ciocarlia, sZene Wien, 2006?

42) Kaizers Orchestra, Arena, Vienna, 2007

43) Mudhoney, Pyramid, New York City, 1990

44) DopplerEffekt, the new club on Bleecker Street, New York City, 2009

45) Paul Oakenfold, Bowery Ballroom, NYC, 1998

46) Wire, Fluc, Vienna 2009

47) Rush, Armadillo World Headquarters, Austin, Texas, in either 1976 or 2112

48) Radiohead, unknown mega-auditorium, Brighton, England, 1998?

49) T Model Ford, under a tree, in a parking lot, somewhere in Mississippi, 2003

50) unknown homeless man, blowing twenty seconds of horrible saxophone noise, downtown No. 1 subway train, Harlem, USA, 1996.

Monday, August 3, 2009


Sometimes my life is too full.

Like days when I meet an 18-year-old hate crime victim who's experienced such senseless violence but can somehow still smile. And then I see a friend's snapshot of her kid on his first roller coaster ride, taken at the instant his car went into free fall--so much terror in that young face it hurts to see it. And then the man in front of me at the subway ticket automat walks away and leaves an ATM card in the machine and I'm standing there with a co-worker I barely know and we have to figure out what to do because the guy is already gone.

So then I come home and almost the first thing I do is scold V. for running out of the front door when my back is turned but she's just exhausted from a busy day and anyway she just wanted to say goodbye again to Rosa, her favorite (and only) babysitter in the whole world. Then Adinah draws me beautiful pictures of princesses and African dancers. And V. sits next to me to help make the mashed potatoes and she tells me, "I love you, Papa," for the first time ever. Then she lays her head on my shoulder.

And Anette comes home and asks me how my day was and suddenly I'm trying to explain to her and Adinah (a simple version of) what happened to the hate crime victim and I get a lump in my throat and then I tell them what V. told me and I do cry and V. comes over and says, "Are you sad?" and I say, "No," but the truth is I don't even know exactly what I'm feeling, but I'm feeling a lot.

Sometimes it's too much. Too much.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Top Five All Time Worst Excuses for Domestic and/or International Conflicts

1) He/She/Iraq Started it! ("No, they didn't." "Yes, they did!" "No-they-didn't!")

2) She/He/France Never Listens! ("I'm sorry, what was that?")

3) He/She Won't Stop Making Faces at Me/Nasty Remarks about Israel! ("Just ignore her, honey.")

4) She/He Poked me with the Purple Pencil/Imprisoned one of our Journalists! ("That really hurt!")

5) He/She took the Last Cookie/Is an Infidel! ("I said, just ignore her!")