Monday, May 31, 2010

After the Weekend I Need a Holiday

A wedding. An art opening and book launch party. Auditioning a new babysitter. Three trips across Vienna and back home again by U-Bahn in one day. A pretty intense visit with a healer from Jeruselem. Drinks with my New Yorker friends Larry and Klaudia. A Skype call plus blowjob revelations from my old high school friend Ralph (last contact: maybe, oh, thirty years ago.) Scouting the river town of Kritzendorf for a summer Danube shack we can call our own.

Playing cards and laffing hysterically with Adinah. Asking V. for the fourth time to put on her pants, and then laughing despite ourselves as she defied us by trotting around doing a butt-naked turkey dance. Holding and kissing my wife when she came back from five days in Belgium.

Fighting with Adinah, fighting with V., and fighting with Anette too.

So I straggle into the office Monday at 8 a.m., happy to be in place with Standard Operating Procedures, a chain of command and immutable rules. My real life has none of these things.

There's no employee handbook for adult life.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

at the playground again

A sunny holiday afternoon, the playground fresh and green from yesterday’s rain. Adinah and V. and I are playing on the line swing, along with a few other kids, plus a trio of older ones. The oldest of these last are a boy and girl, about thirteen.

The teenagers are taking extra turns, cutting in line, telling the little kids to wait. Adinah notices and tells me. I mumble something like, “Yeah, I see, I got it.’

Then two of the older kids walk away, leaving just the teenage girl. V. is up next. The teenage girl grabs for the swing to go again.

“It’s her turn,” I say in my halting German, and I take the swing.

“Bitte? (Excuse me?)” the teenager says with a sharp grimace.

The rest of our exchange is rapidfire, with lots of overlapping dialogue, and very little listening.

"It's her turn," I say, pointing at my three-year-old daughter.

"This ride isn't for little ones," the teenager snaps.

"This park is for everyone," I say.

"Why are you shouting at me?" she says.

"I'm not shouting at you," I answer. "Can you be a little more polite?"

The teenage girl doesn't hear me because she's saying something I don't hear because I'm already saying, again, "Can you be a little more polite?"

"You're not my father," she spits.

That's when I stop. I turn away and try to help V. with the swing. But I'm useless because I'm shaking.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Eight Reasons Why Mahler and his Sixth Symphony are the Bomb

1) The first thirty-six seconds of the symphony sounds like a storm warning of the biggest trouble you have ever seen, bearing down on you Right Now.

2) The Sixth was immediatley labeled "satanic." Just like Cradle of Filth.

3) After the premier performance, Mahler was found pacing the floor in the dressing room, weeping from the intensity of hearing what he himself had created.

4) Mahler was Anette's mother's favorite. Knowing Mahler is like knowing a little more about Resi.

5) The strange little cow bells which shimmer, almost beyond (my) hearing range, in both the first movement and the Finale. But maybe I'm just imagining them.

6) The fact that with the Sixth, which was first performed in 1906, Mahler expressed something of the mindset of the Austrians and Germans who would, eight years later, declare Total War on the World. (Credit for this insight, as well as info in 2 and 3, goes to Alex Ross, and his awesome book The Rest is Noise.)

7)Here was a man who understood the phrase "terrible beauty."

8) Cool glasses.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

rainy day

Did I mention that the Austrians observe eight hundred Christian holidays a year? Not quite as many as the Ethiopians (who actually do celebrate more than a hundred per year) but close. Last Thursday was Himmelfahrt, which means "unpleasant odor in Heaven," (though I don't know why they celebrate that.) So Friday was a "window day"--stuck between a holiday and a weekend--and many of the not-so-hard-working Austrians took that off as well.

The streets were rainy and empty when I walked the kids to school. The halls of the place were half-dark. It made me remember something: when I was a kid, if I knew a place as busy and bustling, then it was really uncanny to see it quiet and deserted. Quiet hallways, different echoes, everyone missing.

Now I'm older, more sentimental, more egotistical. So my first impulse was to wonder if V. and Adinah think of these quiet days as somehow magical. Or maybe they think big empty buildings are scary.

But I like these days. It seems like I could take a nap on a street corner and no one would mind. Or notice. Schedules forgotten, everyday frenzies AWOL, all peevishness and stress evaporated. The city becomes dreamy. I drift off....

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Men in Tights

I'm a little obsessed with Kick-Ass, the new (to Vienna) film about teen super-heroes and ultra-violence. It's funny and sweet and then someone gets shot in the face. That's a little confusing, and the parent in me squirmed a bit when the teens were suddenly having the kind of hot porno sex that only happens in Hollywood movies. But otherwise, it's a pretty great film.

And the soundtrack's great, too. Liam Prodigy put it together, and contributes a really fantastic Stax soul-meats-Bristol-Big Beat instrumental theme. It also includes the cartoon punk classic recording of the "Banana Splits Theme" by the Dickies, which plays under the scene when the film suddenly turns super-gory.

anyway. My theory is that underneath the music and mayhem that I'm crushing on, I like this idea of heroes. Maybe everyone loves a hero. But one man's hero is another man's working father. I may not be wearing purple tights (at least, not at the moment), or leaping over tall gothic churches. But sometimes just getting our girls fed and out the door to school feels like a heroic act.

Of course, sometimes I get grumpy and impatient with them. Then I'm more like a super villain. I become Black Cloud. Or Red Face.

This morning I was both. V. woke up at 5:15, a full ninety minutes before any of us needed to be conscious. She insisted on coming into our bed, where she squirmed and whined and yelled at us until I got up and went somewhere else to not sleep. But not before I yelled back at her.

Even as I lay on the couch not sleeping, I thought, 'Adinah used to wake up in the middle of the night, and I just got up and played with her. Somehow I'm not so patient with V....'

A little later, as I was helping Adinah get ready for her day, I saw that she hadn't eaten the snack I put in her school bag yesterday. "Deanie, why didn't you eat your snack from yesterday?" She heard me, but gave no answer. I looked at her. "You don't have an answer for me?" Uh huh, she nodded. It was clear to me that she simply thought it was better for her to give no reply.

And what do you do with that?

Well, you go and stare out the window for a second. Count to 10,000. Try to be the adult in the room.

All this angst, and I hadn't even made 'em breakfast.

Somehow, I made like Black Flag, and rose above. Got them out the door and over to Deanie's school, where I helped her take fotos of twenty-two of her twenty-three classmates (special secret class project--don't ask.) Then we reversed and went to our neighborhood cafe, the Blue/Orange, where we got bagels with cream cheese. V. had a lot of fun getting cream cheese all over her face, then wiping it off again.

The morning slowed for a long moment. A moment I really enjoyed having with my precious daughters.

That's when I felt like a super hero. Or maybe I just felt super good.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Reasons to Stay Alive

1) Ben and Jerry's Heath Bar Crunch.

2) Children.

3) You need to stay alive because someone out there loves you.

4) The Aran Islands, off the west coast of Ireland.

5) If you stay up all night, sunrise is even more beautiful.

6) Because even waking up with a hangover or getting you heart broken is better than eternal sleep.

7) You need to help a friend.

8) If you are a man, you need to try wearing lipstick. Just once.

9) If you are a woman, you must know the joy of assembling a Glow-in-the-Dark Wolfman model kit.

10) Watching the leaves on an aspen tree shimmer in the Rocky Mountain breeze, and finding out that this is why they are sometimes called "quakies."

11 ) One day, you won't be scared anymore.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

the score

Last night, as soon as I walked into my first parent-teacher conference, I sat down at my kid's school desk. I thought that was where I was supposed to sit. The teacher just looked down and laughed.

I had prepared a list of questions and lines of attack, thinking back to my journalist days. Only instead of asking a rock singer, 'Did you really show that former TV star your penis?', I was getting ready to ask, 'Is it okay if I read Dr. Suess to her at night while she's learning proper German by day?'

And unlike some of the interviews I used to do when I was a cub reporter, there was no deep mystery to unravel, no puzzle to solve. Deanie's teacher told me she's a very good student, very articulate and verbal, good social skills etc. Teacher said Adinah tells lots of stories, and sometimes on Mondays, she reports very specific bits, the smallest details of her weekend. (Cool.) She said Adinah is kind.

I was especially proud of that last thing.

The teacher gave me another report card for Deanie, her second, and as in the first, she had graded my girl with a scale of Happy Faces and Stars. Stars are Super, Happy Faces are Good/Normal. Adinah got mostly Stars, and about 5 Happy Faces. The teacher said I should look the report over and talk about it with Anette, then show it to Adinah.

This morning Adinah was beside herself. "Can I see it now, can I see it now, can I see it now?"