This morning we went to the playground where young Thumper met the "Scabby Guttersnipes" (as anniemcq called them), and I thought about my former reticence at telling those kids not to touch him. I thought, too, of our trip to the mall playground earlier this week, when a young lady put her hand flat on his face and began to forcibly eject him from the rocket ship. I said, "Don't push him, please!" firmly enough to make her jump, and I held eye contact long enough to make her nervously look away and lamely say, perhaps by way of explanation, "I'm a big girl." I even smiled into the wordless glare of her mother. And it occurred to me that Thumper's not the only one who's grown and changed over the last year.
In 1974, I had a Fisher Price Joey Lapsitter. I loved him beyond his ability to endure it, and so eventually I got another one. I named him Georgie. I don't believe I recall the original Joey, but I definitely remember Georgie. I carried him around by his hair until it stood straight up on his head.
And now, thanks to the miracle of eBay, 34 years after Joey broke onto the scene, I give you:
"Let the circle be unbroken by and by, Lord, by and by."
I've taken to painting a double coat of stinging Nu Skin Liquid Bandage onto my right nipple before a workout to keep it from being sanded off by the fabric of my shirt as I jog. Only the right, not the left, is abraded, and I cannot fathom the physics of this exclusivity. Painting one's nipple strikes me as an undignified sort of activity.
I met a giant at the circus last night. If his back had been straight, he might have been close to 8 feet tall, but he was a little hunched over. His hands and feet were huge. He said he always wanted to join the circus when he was a kid, so when he turned 18, he did. He's worked 4 different shows, some of them tent shows. It took him seven years to get into Ringling, but it's by far the best he's ever been on. That's why it took him seven years.
He told me about the one time in Georgia, when the circus was stuck between 2 tornadoes, each about a half-mile away. They evacuated, and everybody left including all of the cast and crew, but he was left behind to "take care of the tent." It had 362 stakes. He ran around and around the tent tightening the ratchets on the lines, around and around until the tornadoes passed. It was loud. But the tent stayed standing.
He's only been with Ringling for 4 months, "ever since New Orleans." His job is taking care of the horses, ponies, and goats. He works one of the shifts, feeding, watering, and scooping the poop. "That's a full-time job right there, just cleaning up shit." When his shift is over, he chain smokes Newports and chats with the guys on the local crew while he waits for the bus back to the train where they all live. Sometimes it's a mile away, sometimes ten. If he knew where it was, he'd ride his bike.
When they travel, he doesn't get much sleep, because the horses only sleep about an hour at a time, and really, "that's not even worth the trouble of lying down." Because of the rocking motion of the train, the water slops out of the troughs, so he constantly has to work at refilling them. It's a bad design. They should make them so that the sides curve back in toward the middle so that when the water sloshes, it just falls back in the trough. Bad design.
The size of your room on the train is based on your seniority, which grows over time, like the size of your room, "if you're a hard worker." His room is about the size of "the back seat of a car." Well, you know, bigger than that. But it seems like it. It has a bed and a small refrigerator. The refrigerator's right next to the bed so he can't open the door all the way. That's a bad design, too. The other rooms have the refrigerators up, but no, his is on the ground so he can't even open it all the way. And he can't put his feet down next to his bed. He has to turn them sideways.
But Ringling's the best he's been on. The pay's good, the benefits are good, and the rent for your room is only $7 a week. You believe that? But then, take a look at the room. He doesn't know what those animal groups are protesting about. The animals get better treatment than the people. Ringling doesn't mess around. If they ever find you beating an animal, they fire you. And the animals' A/C on the train is better. They have fresh food and water constantly. The food they give the horses costs $120 a bag. You believe that? $120. Oats or whatever.
And the elephants are happy. They're like kids, just playing all the time. You see that sand? They like to throw it on their backs, that's why it's there. They throw everything on their backs, water, hay, sand. Then some guys with leaf blowers blow it all off. Then they do it again. That's what it's for. For them to play in it. When the show sits down somewhere, they just dump the sand in a big pile, and the elephants roll in it. They spread it around themselves.
And they get these things they call brunches. Piles of food, apples, watermelons, bananas, whole loaves of bread. They love the bread. It's like a treat for them, whole loaves of whole wheat bread. He's seen their handlers give them a whole tree, like a 600-pound tree. They ate that thing in like ten minutes. Then the Boss Man, he think his name's Asia, he's just swinging that giant log around in his trunk, hitting the ground with it. They like bamboo, too. They like to smack it on the ground. They like the sound. And those stars on their butts? Those are freeze brands. How come only a couple have them? Don't ask him. He doesn't work with the elephants.
He loves Naked Juice. Have you tried that stuff? Pureed fruit. Rinds, banana peels and all. Everything's in there. You can taste it. This one's got 22 strawberries in it. And rose hips. Only $1.69, or some shit like that.
Traveling's the best part of working the circus. He's been everywhere. He's even been to the Alamo. You believe that? The Alamo. It's just a building. Most people wouldn't go see the Alamo, but he's been there. He's been to the top of the Statue of Liberty, too. And he's been to Vegas probably three dozen times. He's been everywhere. How many people can say that? Travel. And it's free travel. Next they're taking three days on the train to get to Illinoise. The stuff for the animals goes straight there, but them? They stop for everything. Every train crossing the track. Sometimes they stop three hours, waiting for a train. Illinoise isn't going to be any cooler, either. People think it's cooler, but it gets to 104 in Illinoise. If you're here next year, you should come see them move in. It's amazing.
I didn't think I'd like Hank Wesselman's Spiritwalker: Messages from the Future. Mom loaned it to me with very little comment, just as she did with Celestine Prophecy awhile back. I read C.P. thinking that it was an Important Book to her, a book that she Wanted Me to Read. After I read it and was agonizing over how to tell her that as a novel it seemed like it was written by a tenth grader, I found out that she wasn't that keen on it either. She was just curious what I'd think of it. So I didn't have the pressure of thinking that she was married to Spiritwalker or that she thought it was a book that would Change My Life.
Because she didn't say much about it, I opened it thinking it was going to be a kind of how-to manual. When I discovered it was written with chapters that alternate between fantasy novel, anthropology lessons, and musings on spiritual discovery, I was a little put-off. As I read on, though, I began to enjoy the fantasy novel; the anthropology lessons were engaging; and the spiritual musings didn't get in the way too much. In the end, though, the fantasy novel's plotline just sort of trails off, which is a little disappointing, and I was ready for the book to be finished long before I turned the last page.
I like to listen to audiobooks in the car, so now that I'm reading actual paper books in addition, it makes for interesting point-counterpoint. I had the Avery Brooks-read version of Alex Haley's Roots coloring my perception of Ken Kesey's Sometimes a Great Notion, for example. And for Spiritwalker, and now for Don DeLillo's Cosmopolis, I have Barack Obama reading his own Audacity of Hope. It was kind of a cool juxtaposition, with Wesselman's assurances of the collapse of at least the United States, Canada, and Mexico and the end of metal-based technology against Obama's assurances that if we all just act like reasonable people, everything will be fine.
I could say more about my impressions of Wesselman himself, but I'm trying to be less snarky these days. Oh, all right, since you twisted my arm. I was amused by his glossing over of the ethical issue of entering the body of another man without, at least at first, his knowledge or permission, even during his most personal and private moments, like lovemaking. Wesselman says on the one hand that he felt a little guilty about it, but hey, what can you do, he can't control these episodes, and besides, the Hawaiian 5,000 years in the future that he's possessing is probably his own descendant and perhaps even a reincarnation of himself, so really, there's no dilemma. On the other hand, he says repeatedly that traveling in the spirit world is a matter of intention and clearly wants to and tries to re-establish his contact with Nainoa even before he comes to the conclusion that he is or may be both himself and his own descendant.
So there's that. And there's his unapologetic and to me, inappropriate, attraction to Nainoa's woman, whom he essentially shags while in Nainoa's body. And to the chick at the Buddhist retreat whose sleeve he stares up to get a look at her boob. Nice!
I guess the real question of the book, though, is: do I believe his story? I don't know. I have no experience in my own life that would lead me to believe that what he did is possible, but I have no experience in my own life that would lead me to believe that what Olympic athletes accomplish is possible either. It does seem more than a little convenient, though. With no experience, training, or intention, he stumbles into an ability that he himself says requires a lot of work, a lot of practice, and very focused and specific intention. He explains it by saying that, hey, sometimes the spirits just give this stuff to those that deserve it. Maybe so, but I guess the spirits don't hold humility in very high esteem.
So, not great, not bad. I guess after I take a little break with a couple of novels, I'll try another of his books that may be more of the how-to manual I thought this one was going to be. But Wesselman also warns us not to go messing around in the spirit world out of curiosity, though he did just that. The spirits, he says, do not take kindly to that kind of thing, so one should have a reason and a destination, though he at first had neither. So help me out, internets, where should I go? On a cross-millenial booty call?
When Thumper was two months old, we decided we'd take a stroll around the mall to give his Mama some peace and maybe some sleep. That's when we discovered the Simon Kidgits Clubhouse, the mall playground that we frequent now that the boy is mobile. We sat, I fed him a bottle, and we watched the kids play. Several toddlers ran up to him, fascinated. "Baby!" they exclaimed, and they wanted to touch his hair, his face, his hands, but their mothers said, "No, don't touch! Nice baby," and asked me how old, and told me how cute.
Now, Thumper is a year old, and he's one of the toddlers running around the playground. Grandma gave him a couple of baby dolls for his birthday, so we've talked a lot about babies. When a tiny infant appears, he can think of nothing else. He runs up to them and points and looks at me and says, "Beeeeeebee!" And he tries to keep his hands to himself, he does. But then he reaches out, wanting so badly to touch their hair, their faces, their hands. And I say, "No, don't touch! Nice baby," and ask how old, and say how cute.
I liked it, but I discovered that I also liked messing around in Photoshop. I don't really know what I'm doing, but it's fun. So I played around and made this one with the ED01 brush set by KaliJean on PSBrushes.net:
It made me chuckle. But where I photoshopped "I, Rodius" into it is pretty obvious, so that was kind of bugging me. And I got the feeling Aerie didn't really care for it. She didn't say she didn't like it, she just said she didn't "get it."
The font is called "Astigma" by Mike Doughty at Mike's Sketchpad. Mike Doughty also happens to be the singer from Soul Coughing who I nearly got to meet backstage once, but didn't. I don't get the feeling it's the same guy, though. I think I may have overdone it with the physiology brushes, but oh well. I still like it.
So, sorry if I'm annoying you with the headers. I'm a kid with a new toy.
At his one-year checkup, we mentioned to Thumper's doctor that we thought he might be lactose intolerant. He was on a milk-based formula, but we had a few diaper incidents, so we switched him to soy. But he didn't like soy and wouldn't drink it, so we compromised and mixed them half and half. And there was peace and prosperity throughout the kingdom. So since we're getting the boy off the bottle, we asked the doctor what he thought about soy milk.
He's not a fan of soy milk because it's not fortified with as much stuff as whole milk. He said when the boy gets a little older, we can test him to see if he has a true milk allergy or a lactose intolerance like his Mama. The doctor suggested that, in the meantime, we "challenge" the boy by giving him whole milk and seeing what happens. I guess kids sometimes grow out of these things. So we've kept the morning and bedtime formula bottles and replaced the two post-nap bottles with a sippy cup of whole milk. But he doesn't like it. He sips it, then scoffs and throws it on the floor. He throws a fit if I insist. I'm sure all of our carpets are spotted with splashes of milk and will probably start smelling funny any day now. So he's been getting some whole milk, but not a whole lot.
Well today, Thumper decided to rise to the challenge. Only he misunderstood what the challenge was. He thought that, perhaps in honor of the Olympics starting today, he would go for new world records in the volume and distance categories. I spent twenty minutes on the floor of the Souper Salad bathroom, the one that doesn't believe in changing tables in men's rooms, cleaning horrible, noxious, chunky pudding off of him, his clothes, and the high chair. During lunch, I noticed a momentary reddening of his face and thought, "Well, I can probably wait to change him until we get over to the mall." The mall has beautiful bathrooms with a faux marble changing table built right into the wall. In the men's room!
So we finished our lunch, left our tip, and as I was reaching down to unbuckle him, I noticed a pool of goo sitting on the seat next to his thigh. It was smeared down the back of his leg and the front of the seat. I thought I'd caught a whiff of something when I took out my wallet for the tip, but I hadn't divined this. Did anyone else notice? Horrified, I hoped it hadn't already made it to the floor and rolled him straight into the bathroom and into the handicapped stall to get started on the cleanup. I'm sure the guy in the next stall thought I was a rude son of a bitch, because he kept grunting and farting, and I kept saying, "Oh. Oh God. Oh, that's horrible. Oh, Jesus." I tried to amuse myself as I worked by imagining the news story I'd see later on when we got home: "Thirty-six people were caught in this horrible, tragic mudslide. Thirteen remain missing, but rescue workers are still optimistic that more survivors will emerge as they continue to dig through the night."
Twenty minutes later, with Thumper cleaned and into a fresh onesie, I rolled the high chair back out again. I said "Um, excuse me?" to a passing waiter and explained that I'd done my best to clean the chair up, but it should probably be disinfected or something. He stood like a statue while I spoke. I don't think he was even breathing. When I finished, he said, "Oh. OK." I said, "I'm sorry about that," and he said, as he probably felt he had to, "That's OK." Even though I'd washed it down with about a whole pack of baby wipes, plus more than a couple anti-bacterial wipes, I didn't want to just roll it back out to be used by the next unsuspecting parent to come along, although by that waiter's reaction, I wouldn't be surprised if that's what happened anyway. Oh, parenting certainly has its moments, doesn't it?
So anyway, I guess if the doctor ever tells us to "challenge" the boy again, I might just kick him in the balls.
For his birthday, Uncle Big Brother and Auntie Social Worker Sister-in-Law got Thumper a membership to the Austin Children's Museum, so today we broke it in. There was a garage that we could supposedly park in for $3, but it was full, so I parked in one another couple of blocks away since I hadn't planned ahead well enough to have meter change in the car.
First, we picnicked in Republic Square. We sat in the shade next to the fountain and shared some lunch while we talked about the fountain and the buildings and the cars and the nasty, mangy pigeons that hung around looking like they were up to no good. The way Thumper eats, I'm sure they thoroughly enjoyed the rest of his food after we left. Then we returned our lunch stuff to the car, where I made him suffer the indignity of changing his diaper on the trunk, and I gave him a shoulder ride to the museum. I wasn't sure what the parking situation would be for strollers at the museum, but I needn't have worried: there were strollers abandoned around every corner in the joint.
Still, the shoulder ride was fun, and we gave more than a couple bus-waitin' folk and panhandlin' folk a smile or two on our way. And Thumper busted out in a big grin whenever we got a good look at our reflection in a window. But of course, I was sweating in embarrassing profusion by the time we got there, so after converting our gift certificate into a member card, we decided to start slowly in the gated toddler area. He was thrilled. He could've stayed there all day, but it also seemed to be the dumping area for diaper bags, so when I got tired of stopping him from swiping everybody else's sippy cups, we decided to see what else we could see.
We never got past the "Play It By Ear" exhibit. It was full! Of stuff! Stuff he could touch! And nobody stopped him! And it was loud! And there were kids! Running everywhere! Kids! He was quite wound up and didn't know what to do with himself. We stopped for a moment at the "Which Way Is Which?" display, which consisted of headphones with plastic hoses coming out of them, and funnels on the ends of the hoses. The idea was to mess with your perception of where sound is coming from by redirecting the soundwaves. I put a set on his head, and he got very still as his eyes got bigger and bigger until he just had to throw them down. Then I'd put them on my head, and he'd laugh until he just had to pull them off and throw them down.
Quickly he became overwhelmed and went back to the relative calm of the toddler area, but not before becoming fascinated with a child in a stroller who was somehow sleeping through the cacophony. When I explained, "He's sleeping," and made it clear I didn't want Thumper touching him, it was back to the safety of fenced-in youngster land.
So, thanks Big Brother and SWSIL. I think over the next year he'll get used to it and want to explore further and further afield. And I think I can bring up to 4 kids with my membership, so maybe we'll spend some of our last summer days with the cousins there. They can show him the finer points of enjoying the Children's Museum. But I'll have to stock the car up with quarters. We parked for 2 1/2 hours, and it cost us $13.50. $13.50! That's the most expensive free museum trip we've ever had. RadiJazz was practically a bargain!
Hey! 100 words sounds fun! Of course, I've sort of been doing this anyway with my copywriting assignments. Tell someone who gets paid by the word to write something 75-100 words long, and guess how many words you'll get? Anyway, I saw Mr. Lady do it first, but it comes from Velvet Verbosity. I think I'll do it.
He's a stand-up guy, a pillar of his community. He's a professional. He always replaces the divots at business meetings. He shakes hands with his pastor Sunday mornings. He wears pressed polos and khakis to the grocery store Sunday afternoons. He wears brightly colored lycra jerseys when he rides his bike. He prefers ones with Italian words silk-screened. He tells people how they wick away moisture. But sometimes, just sometimes, in the dead of the night, in the quiet glow of a flat-screen monitor, he burns with desire and shame, watching strange, hungry, male tongues lick strange, nyloned, female toes.
After completing 4 weeks of my Self-Improvement Project, I met my workout goals in 3 of the 4 weeks, and exceeded them in 2 of those weeks. I didn't meet my drinking goals any of the 4 weeks, but I did drink less. I reduced my TV watching and increased my reading, but I didn't finish the book in two weeks as I intended. I was still snarky now and again, but I did feel really guilty about it. So, all in all, not a great success, but showing signs of improvement.
Meeting my exercise goals and not losing weight leads me to believe that, in addition to working harder on the drinking goal, I need to put diet into the equation after all. I like to eat. I mean, I really like to eat. I've been resistant for years to counting diets, whether counting calories or measuring food or counting points. With the success that Aerie's had with Weight Watchers, though, I'm considering it. I think portion size is a big problem for me, and maybe a few months of paying very close attention to portion size and calorie content will help train me to behave better. Anyway, no promises, because it's probably more money than I want to spend, but I'm thinking about it. I never did unsubscribe from those "Your Baby This Week" emails from the hospital, and this week's contained this sentence: "The parents' weight was the biggest predictor of a child becoming overweight." I don't want that for Thumper, so I want to work harder, for him and for me.
Oh yeah. And the book. I read Ken Kesey's Sometimes a Great Notion many years ago, and re-read it as the first book on my SIP '08-'09 reading list. It was, predictably, a very different experience this time around. In my post-adolescence, when I (most likely) read this book the first time, I was much more sensitive to the fraternal relationship issues. I grew up feeling weaker, more cowardly, and far less cool than Big Brother. I blamed a lot on him. And while Big Brother never slept with my mother in the room next to mine knowing I was watching through a hole in the wall as Hank did Leland's (they are actually half brothers), I demonized him as a bully who emasculated me and treated me cruelly when what he actually did was behave very much as a normal big brother.
So I entered the book remembering Leland as the avenging hero. I remembered him as the main character. I remembered what his act of vengeance was, but I didn't remember the ultimate outcome. I remembered, too, the sad fate of the most likeable character in the book and dreaded its approach, but found that it didn't, probably because of all my anticipation, carry nearly the emotional punch that I remembered and expected. I didn't remember, either, the way that Kesey spins the narrative point of view like a top, shifting again and again, and sometimes in mid-sentence, from the first-person perspective of one character then another, then back to the third-person omniscient narrator. He does much the same with chronology. I stumbled through the first fifty pages or so before I became accustomed to it again and my eyes were able to focus on the richness of the world he was creating.
But this time around, Leland wasn't the main character, and Hank was much more human and much more admirable than I remembered him. What struck me now was not the drama of Hank's fierce independence and determination to win win win, the whole town and the whole world be damned. It was Hank's weariness at always having to stand up to the town's challenges and his knowledge that the town needed him to keep on standing up. And it was Leland's liberation when he finally stands up, too.
In the last thirty pages or so, when Hank and Leland are finally face to face days after Leland exacts his revenge, they fight. Leland, despite the loud voices in his head telling him to RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!, finally stands and fights. And that's the only thing that can stop Hank from beating him to death, and not because Hank can't outfight him.
Reading it, I thought of all the times my brother pinned me down and spit on me, or made me smell his armpits. I thought of getting pantsed in front of girls, and a dozen other humiliations. And I thought about how afraid of a fight I was. I was terrified of getting punched, of getting beaten. I remember David Duran in junior high, and how my smart mouth had pissed him off such that I spent an entire school year avoiding him rather than letting him follow through on his insistence that we were going to fight. I remember my pure gratitude that he moved the next summer. And I remembered all the self-loathing that went with that fear and that gratitude.
I remember, too, my brother recently talking about the one time that I said or did something, probably said with my smart mouth, and pissed him off so bad that he was determined to beat the tar out of me. And somehow, I got the upper hand enough that I stood over him, pushing him down again and again as he tried to get up. He spoke about it with what sounded like pride. Pride that I'd finally stood up to him? At the time, I was terrified and only hoped to keep him off his feet until Mom could intervene and save me from that beating. I don't recall it as standing up to him.
That's what I thought of as I finished the book. I wasn't weak and cowardly because my evil big brother made me so with his insurmountable superiority. I never tried because I was afraid. He would have been proud of me if I had. And so would I. The fear is inside me, to be overcome; it's not poured onto me by other people out there in the world. Which also made me think of this, which is really, really long, and came via this. Honestly, I didn't even read the whole thing, but several of the "Actual reasons that people do not like you" touched a nerve.
So, anyway. In conclusion. Sorry, Big Brother, for holding it against you all these years. I wished I'd kicked you in the nuts a few times more, at least. And also, I enjoy books that have likeable characters, even if they get the shit end of the stick. And I like it when books mean something on a personal level. The End.
Running: Best 5K: 26:56 on 1/21/12 (New Year's Resolution Run) Best 5K Obstacle: 34:11 on 4/16/11 (Warrior Dash) Best 10K: 57:57 on 10/2/11 (IBM Uptown Classic) Best Half Marathon: 2:09:30 on 1/29/12 (3M) Best Sprint Triathlon: 2:19:31 on 9/3/12 (TriRock, 700 m/12mi/3mi)