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.'