Two days of single parenthood under my belt. My beloved Matriarch Adjunct Maternal Assistor, aka MAMA, is away, and so far I have neither drowned nor broken the baby. I have not fed her pizza - well, exclusively -nor have I taped her to the sofa so I can watch TV unmolested. I will tell you this: anyone who has one small child without a partner and willingly endeavors to have another is insane. I mean, I have a support system. I have friends; I have a vehicle; I have means; I have duct tape. And Im wiped. Anyone who has TWO under these circumstances has their brains in their lap.
But its been fun. Last night she went down without a fuss, after the usual rituals of bath, mush, and story. I figured shed be up at the usual time of 6:30, and, sigh, went to bed early. She was up at 3:05. I went in to check her diaper, changed it, put her back, went back to bed, and thought: did I do that correctly, or did I take all her clothes off and put her in a drawer? I checked; she was fine. Asleep. Then, at 5:08: waaa. I let this one go, and she soon fell silent. TOO SILENT. What if shes . . .oh, I dont know, screwed off a crib part and swallowed it?
She was fine. Today: longer. Much longer. We took a long walk back to the old street today, down the old creek paths I havent had the time to visit for a while. Gnat held a big maple leaf like a battle standard. Saw some neighborhoods, waved to the planes, oohed at the colors. Looked at the old house: utterly foreign. Not mine at all. Not sure it ever was. Damndest thing - the shrubs are gone, the ivy stripped, the door replaced . . . the curtain in the upstairs closet is the same, and I have a dim grey memory of putting that up, but it seems a million years ago.
Jasper turned up the steps when we passed the house, though. Still home to him.
Watched a lot of cartoons this weekend; Cartoon Network plays classic WB & MGM cartoons in the morning, and I saw a few rare ones. Deservedly so. I know this is heresy, but Chuck Jones has been responsible for some really lousy cartoons. I can forgive his stuff in the 30s - he was a young man, and the rules were different, and even though he gave us that wretched little mouse Sniffles and the attendant overdose of saccharine cuteness, that was the style of the time. The 40s stuff is masterful, of course - it has a brilliant sense of elasticity that makes Tex Avery & Clampett look like overkill. The 50s material has its charms, too, but somethings different. The eyes. The eyes in a Chuck Jones cartoon change in the 50s. All references to the old 30s style eyes are gone - instead of stylized orbs with black shiny pupils, they look like caved-in eggs. The Grinch eyes are all over the 50s stuff. And its here that Jones starts to go downhill - and its here that his estimation of himself seems to rise. There are the abstract cartoons from the 60s, which are boring; there are the unforgiveable Tom & Jerrys for MGM (heresy! Thats like Stan Lee working for DC) (Yes, I know, that did happen this year) which are utter krep, and full of the latter-period eyes; then there are the return-to-WB cartoons which I didnt know existed until Sunday. Just as Lester Bangs warned us to beware of any band that had a logo, so I am warning you to beware of any cartoonist whose credit features his signature. Post Disney and Post Lanz, its a bad sign. I saw two 1980s Jones WB cartoons, one of which had Duck Dodgers vs. Marvin Martian. Horrible. Slack. The timing was off, the corn didnt play. You felt bad for everyone involved. Even Gossamer.
The other concerned Road Runner vs. Wile E. Coyote, Genius, with music by the horrid Dean Elliot. (Who is only slightly better than Bill Lava.) The cartoon relied entirely on the humorous nature of the Coyote falling a great distance off a cliff, with a single puff of dust to reference his eventual collision with the desert ground. This scene is the cilantro of Road Runner cartoons; it has to be used correctly, and sparingly. But Jones seemed to think wed automatically think it was funny: if it was funny 15 years ago, then itd be funny today, six times in a row.
Maybe Im being unfair. Everyone in that business had a bad patch. Tex Avery turned out some real clunkers; some, like McKimson, were journeymen all the time (except for some of his Foghorn Leghorn stuff, which is damn brilliant; the ongoing battle of the Dog vs. Foghorn - long overshadowed by the war between Bugs & Elmer - is one of the unsung gems of the genre.) (Yes, Im kidding . . . but not really.) Its just that signature that gets to me. It suggests he not only doesnt know hes lost his touch, but that his sense of his own talent has been proportionately inflated. A deadly combination.
Tomorrow: Killer Dog, Samurai Jack, Enterprise, and other results from sitting pasted to the floor in the family room while Gnat happily plays. Tonight she realized MAMA wasnt here. She was watching one of her videos, and I heard her say: Mama. And then she gave a little sob: eh-heh. Shed laugh at a picture, then sob: eh-heh. She got up, waddled over to Jasper, put her head on his haunch and sighed.
Its going to be a long week. And a good one.
Day three of single parenthood. Once again I made it through a day without drowning the baby during the bath. For some reason, I always worry about that, and it's probably for the better. Got to keep issuing the those memos to self: baby needs air. Also food. To my pride and delight, I was able to get something green in the Gnat yesterday, and I don't mean old cheese. Actual beans.
Did some shopping. Bought some chili fixings, a can of Manwhich (Contains no less than 10% Man in a brine solution), ground beef and some more ground beef. (Ended up nuking some ancient glacierized Indian food entrees from the freezer.) Went to the park to swing,
Finished watching the premier of Enterprise. Initial verdict: Home run. Verdict after sober reflection on its faults and deficiencies: Home run. It's a good show when you're worried for everyone's safety in the premier. I mean, I'm on the edge of the sofa, thinking I hope they make it! even though the rational side of my brain reminds me that everyone's been signed to a seven year contract, probably. Side note: the villain was played by John Fleck, a performance artist who was Daniel Benzali's sec'y on "Murder One," but also - I think - was the simpering shoe-store clerk in the ZZ Top video "She's Got Legs." The guy has an interesting resume. He's nailed down a persona: a humorless, cruel John Waters.
I am tired beyond description. Gnat finally returned to form and woke at 6:30 AM, an hour at which I am not on my best. It was still dark out, which was annoying; the news shows were extra stupid, too. At least the coffee was hot and the newspaper fresh and I had the presence of mind to serve neither to the baby.
Must sleep now.
Heres how tired I was last night: while trying to figure out a networking problem with the laptop, I kept going between the upstairs Mac and the laptop downstairs on the kitchen table. After three trips I remembered that one of the computers was, in fact, mobile. Its moments like this that make me check on Gnat to make sure I didnt put her in a hamper.
I am still wiped. Hence another shortish Bleat.
Favorite headline of the day, if only because it must have struck some embittered divorced failed writer as the embodiment of concentrated evil: EDITORS WIFE WAS TERRORISTS LANDLORD
Favorite local TV news story of the day: a suspicious package was found at the U of M, and the reporter described it this way: It was overly wrapped, heavy, addressed to a doctor who does not work there, and postmarked CUBA. I had an instant vision of stamps with Fidel pictures, complete with jutting cigar and silly guerilla hat.
Day four of single parenthood. It went well. Gnat ate some soap, and fell on her head, but other than that we survived. Its a good day when theres no bad news. The news that a baby had anthrax was yesterdays horror, but I still hugged her extra tight today. Im still curious to see whos behind the anthrax mailings - if the reports Im hearing tonight are correct, its refined stuff, not something you scrape out of a goats hoof. That means either Iraq or the Russians, in all probability. You want my prediction? In a few years Iraq will be a much smaller country - the southern half will belong to Iran, the top part will be Kurds, and the middle part a UN protectorate.
The house is clean. This is no small feat, given that theres one of me and one very energetic baby. My trick is to clean as you go along, which means youre constantly cleaning. Or clean when baby is unconscious. Today when she slumbered I took the bandaids off the lawn - swatchs of white fabric protecting the seeds Id dumped three weeks ago. Huzzah! New grass! It worked. I remember when I seeded on a grim cold Sunday a few weeks after the attack; it had seemed like an act of small defiance just to prepare the lawn for the next year.
Final note (I know this is all lame this week; Im just dead beat and the last thing I want to do is write - wrote a column last night and another this afternoon, and I just want to relax now) - every time I see the name Kandahar on TV, I am reminded that the city was named after a conqueror who passed through the area: Alexander the Great.
Imagine waking up in 2000 years and seeing the map of Afghanistan has a town named Jojboosh. Lets just hope Western Civ hangs around, and archeologists wont wonder where his tomb may be.
The Teletubbies are Muppets injected with sugar, benzedrine and Benny Hills marrow. Its hideous stuff. Regrettably, it seems to have mesmerized my daughter, who responds with a mixture of fascination and horror.
There are pipes that come out of the ground and speak in an echoey distant maternal voice; theyre low-tech, looking like props from the 1984 movie, and I wonder if they symbolize in some odd way absent mothers: in a day-care society, mom has to phone in her performance during the working hours. The TTs themselves are blubber-arsed schmoos with the voices of child-molesting clowns. At some point in the show, The Pinwheel of Authority starts spinning, and they all are forced to channel TV programs through their midsections against their will; it probably aches for hours afterwards. In the sky, for example, is a sun with a glowing golden beatific baby, who appears to be God. I can see why this show appealed to stoners; theres an entirely seperate parallel reality going on here.
Its 6:55 AM. Lets just say this is not my finest hour, and being forced to share it with these felt-swaddled hellspawn is not how I like to start the day. In fact, wasnt I just here? At the kitchen table, typing in the dark? Yes. That was last night. After I finished writing, I watched Crime Story, which has reappeared on A&E, and then bed. Gnat woke at 6:15; I thought she might go back to sleep, and she did. I was fading off as well - I remember, distinctly, the concept of a monobrow chicken, which is the sort of thing your brain comes up with as you sink into sleep - then WAA. So the day begins.
My God: Teletubbie land just flooded over with liquid metal, and now three gigantic plastic robot boats are approaching to the sound of Penguin Cafe Orchestra-type music.
Dipsy wanted to sing a special song into Tinkie Winkies bag. Well, dont we all, now and then.
Later: watched the entire show with Gnat. Every single episode - and there seemed to be 40 - concerned the exact same plot: one of the Teletubbies signature items was missing. Tinky Winkys purse. Dipsys hat. (Dipsy bugs the crap out of me.) LaLas ball. Pos scooter. Gnat was hypnotized. She spent 20 minutes crouched on the floor, chewing on the edge of the table, barely blinking. At the end when all the Telebtubbies waved goodbye - and that took about 20 minutes - she waved to each and every one of them. Ive never seen her respond to something with such immediate interest; the Baby Einstein tapes are fun, but this was something else; this was video crack.
What a nervewracking day. One of those rollercoasters: in short succession, we had: anthrax is weapons grade, its in the House, its in the House ventilation system, its in the Governors office, the Israeli Minister of Tourism was assassinated in a hotel, the first cabinet member ever killed by terrorists. To quote Homer bouncing down the cliffside: Crap, crap, crap, crap, crap. Then we had the calming news and refutations, but even that made for annoying radio. Listening to both AM and FM, I heard the usual idiots; in the case of the NPR, though, the idiots were all adademics or experts; the AM idiots were all free-lancers. My favorite was an NPR announcer who described the anthrax as professional grade. Ive only seen that phrase used to describe tools at a hardware store.
Took a brief nap today while Gnat was sacked out. I slipped in and out, looking for that monobrow-chicken moment, and finally found myself hearing a voice. The message is on the tape alone, it said. The message is on the tape alone. The message is on the tape alone. I looked at my hands and watched in horror as the smallpox blisters formed. WOKE UP. Id slept for 7 minutes. I didnt want to sleep anymore.
On the good side of the day: Jasper now insists on going down the slide at the park every time, to the amusement of other children and the hysterical delight of Gnat. She has a new phrase for amazement, too: OHH WOW. Said in that little 14-month old voice, its adorable. She also started calling for Mama today, which would be sad. But Mamas coming back soon.
And Ill have a years worth of husband points for this week. How to spend them?
Its another Teletubbines morning, alas. But weve already read two books, so it hasnt been an utter waste of a day. Of course, its 7:17 AM. The day is young. Its damn near premature. This is the last day I go it alone; MAMA comes home tomorrow night.
Today when I came back from work, Gnats Nana showed how Gnat now knew the lyrics to Old McDonald Had a Farm. Well, the EIEIO part. So I started singing it myself for the rest of the afternoon. And as a testament to the thrumming nerves in my psychosis, I ended up singing something else:
Old Bin Laden had a base
Q A E D A
And on this base he had some Stingers
Q A E D A
With a whoosh whoosh here and a whoosh whoose there
Here a whoose
There a whoosh
Everywhere a whoosh whoosh
And so on. (Here a ban, there a ban, everywhere a Taliban!)
Screed en route. You might want to stop here. Im in a mood tonight.
I was heartened to read of several anti-Usama games on the web - I knew about Bin Laden Liquors, but not the Usama skins for Unreal, Quake, and the Sims. The more humiliation involved, the better. This is healthy. A few days ago I saw one of those WB cartoons they rarely air - a WW2 propaganda short. Hitler was heading to Moscow to bomb the city, but was brought low by Gremlins from the Kremlin. The indignities visited on der Fuhrer were minimal - a tack in the arse, some flamboyant electrocution, premature burial from which he emerged with horses teeth and brayed NAZIS ARE DE CWAZIEST PEOPLE, a la forgotten comic Lew Lehr. But the portrayal of Hitler was dead on - frothing, meaty, beady-eyed meglomaniac, more human than any human Ive ever seen in a WB cartoon. When it was done I thought of the WW2 urinal decals that allowed one to micturate, forcefully, into the visage of an Axis leader. There is a modern variant: the shield for urinal cookies with OBLs face. I read some online message board posts deploring this sort of thing for all the usual reasons. It came down to this: while one can certainly understand why one would want to . . . issue a statement against OBLs face, the sort of people likely to do that are the same people who are too patriotic, who fly flags without a second thought, and are otherwise characteristic of the vast number of lobotomized sheep who make up our racist, greedy, brainwashed population.
Im finding these people all over the Internet, and one thing bothers me - well, many, but one above all: they stand for nothing except the virtue of cynicism. (One amusing post speculated that Cheney is behind all this to enrich his oil cronies, wholl have access to a pipeline in the region. Yes, thats certainly more credible than OBL et al being the bad actors.) They seem to be reacting to events that are not happening - they cannot believe that the President isnt demonizing Islam and Arabs, so they pretend thats whats happening. They cannot believe that America isnt rounding up Arabs and putting them in camps, so they pretend that the country is awash in racism. The fact is, the victims of 9/11 were quintessentially American - i.e., black, white, gay, straight, Jew, Arab, Christian, Atheist, Moslem, male, female, hispanic, Polish, Italian, Chinese, all working in the same tall tower without laboring under divisions of caste or tribe, and this sort of diversity is unique to Western Civilization. Thats one of the attributes that makes us a target, and thats one of the characterstics that makes this civilization worth defending. It seems as if some critics believe America stands alone as a gross violation of the norms of the planet, instead of a member of a civilization that defies the norms of the planet.
Finally: they seem to believe that patriotism equals a pollyanna worldview, that it is impossible for a thinking person to be a patriot. I heard a talk show host this weekend lament that Americans think this is a CNN miniseries, Gulf War 2 - which of course they dont; this is waaaay different, and pretty much everyone understands that. She went on to say that this situation is soo complex. There are so many shades of gray. Well, duh. The shallow mind always congratulates itself for identifying complexity, as though that alone constitutes an insight. But in nearly every instance, her notion of complexity made her unable to formulate any response to a racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, nihilistic death cult which itself is bereft of the very idea of complexity, let alone displays any manifestation of it. Nothing complex about two planes into two towers.
The comic strip Boondocks is a perfect example of this sort of blinkered derision. Its being held up as a brave example of dissent. Yes, its brave to make political points on a page usually reserved for Cathys musings on the size of her thighs. But every point made for the last three weeks has been banal and predictable, right down the fallacious $43 million aid -to-the-Taliban canard. Today the strip addresses those whove complained about or pulled the strip, and suggests that the artists freedom of speech is being suppressed. In a word: bullshit. When the government comes to your house and takes away your brushes and pens, and forbids you to publish, then youve lost your freedom of speech. If no one wants to buy your work - or, having bought it, chooses not to use it - thats different, and if you dont understand the difference then theres little point in reading the thin little screeds anymore.
I want to ask the artist: Well, what do you want to do here? Take a look at this film of Taliban whipping women in the street: this your idea of the good guys? Id get an argument about US support of the Afghan rebels, how we caused this. But if we hadnt supported the rebels, we would have been criticized for leaving Afghans to the fate of the Soviets, because they werent white like the Slavs. Make no mistake: the Soviets were brutal SOBs who targeted children as a means of spreading terror; why wouldnt we aid the resistance? If we had stayed in Afghanistan afterwards,the cynics would have called us colonizers. If we had invaded the Taliban for no particular reason before 9/11, the cynics would have called us imperialists. Nothing satisfies these people, because now they cannot abide clarity in anyone but themselves. They think they see things clearer than anyone else, but theyre blind men in a dark room full of mud, congradulating themselves for identifying the substance in their hands as dirt.
Im not talking about people who have long-standing, detailed complaints about US foreign policy, who believe a compromise with the PA is possible, who want more equitable trade policies, or any of the other things reasonable people can disagree about in a civil fashion. Im talking about comfy members of the intellegentsia who can say, like Columbia historian Eric Foner in the London Review of Books, that hes not sure which is more frightening: the horror that engulfed New York City or the apocalyptic rhetoric emanating daily from the White House. I dont know what planet such people live on. I do know what planet my father lived on: one in which his twin brother was denied medical treatment for a nosebleed at two hospitals, once because he was the wrong religion, and once because he was poor. The third hospital gave him a perfunctory exam and sent him home, where he died. And still my father fought for that country, and did what he could afterwards to make it better. What happened to my uncle - wholl I never meet, of course, and whose name I bear - could never happen today as a matter of policy; no one turns away people from the ER because they're the wrong creed, or can't pay. Were better today than we were then; we will be better tomorrow, because that is what this civilization struggles and staggers to achieve: progress. Its messy and imperfect because we are both of those things. But some people seem to believe that this planet would be Eden without America. Fine: imagine a world with no America to counter Hitler. To counter Stalin. To counter the Chinese. To counter militant, intolerant, monocultural theocratic gynophobic etc. Islam. These people like to dream of what the world would have been like without a strong United States. It never seems to occur to them the hell this planet would be without one.
There. Ahhhh, Done. That felt good.