Someday I will write the Dantes Inferno of Pizza. How my quest for good pie led me deeper and deeper down the spiral of hell, until I confronted Satan himself in a frozen lake of mozzarella, chewing on the founders of Dominos, Papa Johns and Pizza Hut. Im not looking for the perfect pizza, a circular Beatrice I can love unconditionall - just a good hot bubbly pizza with lots of sauce. Thats all. A pizza that does not dole out the sauce as though it is a precious substance gathered by the dram at great expense by men in boats, far from home, following the herds of ocean-going tomatoes as they ply the world of wave and spume. Oh, I found it, once. But my wifes ceaseless desire for Novelty has led me to wander in the dark wood for weeks now, trying one new place after the other, seeking to recreate that blissful ratio of crust, cheese, meat and blessed sauce. Last week I thought I had found a reasonable compromise: the Pizza Hut (shudder) Chicago-Style Deep Dish. It bore no resemblance to the fabled Chicago pie at Genos - but the crust had a happy note of corn, and the sauce was 3/4 of an inch thick, studded with chunks of tomato, and it topped the pie like a slushy lake. Huzzah. On Friday, I went back to try it again.
Id called the Pizza Hut that delivers to my house on the way back from work. I was on hold for four minutes. The clerk came back on the line, said Uhhhh, and hung up. If the window had been open Id have tossed the phone into traffic. This outlet is doing its damnedest to keep from selling me pizza - two weeks before Id been on hold for ten minutes, spent nearly as much time placing the order, only to find out that the delivery time was an hour and 40 minutes. The previous week they hadnt answered the phone at all. Screw em. I called the other local Pizza Hut, the one that does not deliver to my house. Id tried them last week, and while theyd screwed up the order, the Deep Dish bestowed an impressive bounty of sauce. I placed an order. Twenty minutes, the clerk said.
I showed up ten minutes later, paid, and took a seat. Read the paper. Watched the hectic calamity of a Friday night - the phone never stops, the drivers come in and out, pizzas sit in warming bags for half an hour waiting for people to pick them up. Ten minutes passed; fifteen.
You are Johnson? one of the employees asked.
Okay. Itll be five minutes.
Five minutes passed. Ten. The printer broke down, which meant no orders could be taken; the phone rang, and rang, and rang while a new role of paper was found and inserted.
You are . . . Johnson? the same employee inquired.
Ill check. He checked. Its coming out now.
Five minutes passed.
The clerk hauled out two pizzas, apologizing for the delay; I said it was no problem, I could tell they were busy - hey, as long as its fresh! He opened the box.
On the Deep Dish pizza: a smear of sauce. A mere daub. A mouse with tuberculosis spits up more red stuff than this. The sauce was 1/4 thick, and covered 5/8ths of the pizza. (If I had to swear to it in court, Id have to say 5/7ths. But still.)
Thats not enough sauce, I said. Look at the picture here on the flier - the sauce covers the entire pizza.
We make the sauce and the pizza separate, and add the sauce, said the clerk, apparently responding to a query from a parallel dimension.
Thats not enough, I said. I had this last week. It had three times as much sauce.
Next time perhaps you order extra sauce, he said, and he walked away.
Of course, you realize this means war.
I took the pizzas. Crossed the street SCREEEEEECH JESUS! A Pizza Hut delivery car had made a lunge for the driveway I was crossing, and hadnt seen me until the last moment.
WHOA! said a passerby. MAN!
I kept walking.
I THOUGHT THEYD HAVE TO SCRAPE YOU OFF! said the passerby. I said something about the pizza being safe, and that was all that mattered.
All the way home I steeled myself for bad pizza. I mean, the sauce is the only thing that redeems this particular item; without the sauce you have only Pizza Hut pizza, and aside from their thin crust - which can be eaten, if youve already finished off the rest of the soccer team who crashed with you in the Andes - their pizza is anathema to me. Dull dough and chewy cheese.
Traffic was stop and go. Not just bad pizza awaited: cold bad pizza.
Got home, trailing a black cloud; got to work destroying the evidence of this Crime Against Pizza. I was chatting with wife and child, regaling them with news from the Pizza Front, and it wasnt until slice three that I realized something else was missing from my pizza.
Theyd forgotten to add pepperoni and sausage.
I was eating CheezeyBred.
Calmly, with great deliberation, I put on my coat, picked up the box, and walked down the tunnel to the car. I was going back. I was going back not just for ingredients, not just for sauce, but for justice. (Also for beer and milk, which Id forgotten to pick up on the way home.)
A few blocks down the street, though, I just sagged. I gave in. I surrendered. O mediocre corporate pizza, I ask for quarter. I can fight no more. You win. Pizza Friday is over; from now on, Pizza will just be a circular abomination we order out of desperation, when there isnt time to make anything good. No longer will it be a high-point of my week, the reward for my labors. I realize now that in America, pizza is not just supper. Pizza is punishment.
I got the milk and beer and drove home.
As i was putting the box away, I noticed something - Hello, its a customer comment line.
First I called the store, to see if theyd send by a replacement. They would not, but they offered me a $15 credit for more bad future pizza. I accepted. Then I called the 1-800 line. I expected something like the Dominos line I called two weeks before, when theyd screwed up the order - an automated system with limited options. But no: Pizza Hut had a real live operator. How may I help you? she asked.
I didnt know where to begin.
I told her that Id worked for Pizza Hut for a year myself, so I didnt expect these guys to operate with the skill and precision of a surgical team I recounted the three-week effort to order pizza from the place that delivered, and how it failed. How the previous week Id gone to another outlet, which had screwed up the order, and how this week the clerk had just walked away in the middle of my insufficient-sauce argument, and how the pizza itself had contained no ingredients whatsoever.
Sympathetic? She made Mother Theresa look like Rosie ODonnell. This would not do. This would not stand. We spoke for almost ten minutes, and at the end of it all she offered a ten-dollar gift certificate. At this point I was actually in the black for eight bucks on the night - not bad. But the more we talked, and the more I sensed this vast Customer Service Corps ready to snap their spines bending over backwards to satisfy one peeved, pampered, snit-pitching customer whose precious evening had been ruined by the absence of a cup of pureed tomatoes, I had a revelation: They are everything that is right with America, and I am everything that is wrong with America.
Even though I am correct.
My friend the Giant Swede explained the other day that I am, of course, mad. The nation has decided that sauce matters less than cheese and the quantity of salty toppings; I should accept it. But I wont. Its not as if Im asking them to arrange the pepperoni just so, and I send the pizza back if the pepperoni pieces overlap. All I want is extra sauce. Not extra wignlesput, or extra blompgretna, or any other extra noun that does not exist in the narrowly defined world of the pizza prep table. Extra sauce. See that sauce, there? In the pot? Put some on the crust. Now, concentrating hard on the word extra, add some more.
HOW HARD CAN THIS BE?
Obviously, said the Giant Swede, pretty hard.
Next week: I try the neighborhood pizza parlor, the place with 15 tables you never see anyone sitting at, the place that has candles in chianti bottles.
Such a straw-covered bottle, incidentally, is called a fiasco. Stay tuned.
(Yes, there's a Matchbook.)
The other morning I got out the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer DVD for Gnat, hoping shed love it as much as I did. To my particular demographic, this was the best Christmas special ever. Except for Peanuts. It had a plucky hero, a great Santa, a jocular snowman, a suitably fearsome monster, songs that could come from no other season but Christmas, and: it had Yukon Cornelius, the Han Solo of 60s stop-motion animation. (You could even argue that the reformed Bumble was Yukons Wookie, and Im sure theres six gigabytes of fan fiction on that very point.)
Shes too young to get it, although she grasped emotional arcs - Mommy happy, Rudolph happy, Reindeer mean, Rudolph sad. The Abominable Snowmonster was ver scary, so we avoided him. It seemed to make no impression on her at all, really. She hasnt asked for it since.
This morning we got in the car. I steeled myself for a request for the songs on her hit parade. Fee Lidl Fishes. Zibede Doodah. Teddy Bear Pignig.
Holly Jolly? she said. Holly Jolly?
Id burned a CD of Xmas tunes to play in the car, run through it once on a trip to Target, and gotten the standard toddler thumbs-down on everything. But one tune had apparently lodged its fishhook in her memory.
So I went to track 5, for the Holly Jolly Christmas song.
Rudof sad, she said. Now Rudof happy.
The kid should be writing TV Guide program descriptions, if you ask me. I did it for a year and I never approached that level of pith.
And what did I think of the show after all these years? Eh. Ask me some year when I dont watch it at 7:45 AM after five hours of sleep. Some things you loved as a child deserve adult respect - The Wizard of Oz is such a thing, and I say this as one who will run as fast as possible from those Ozophiliacs who regard the movie with the awe and adoration I reserve for true works of art. (Like Wrath of Khan, for example.) Ive met a lot of Oz nuts. I did a story on an Oz parade in Judy Garlands home town; I got propositioned by a Munchkin, a wrinkly little sprite named Fern. Oz is sci-fi for people who hate sci-fi, but so what? Its still a great movie.
Rudolph is not Oz. It doesnt feel timeless to me, because unlike Oz, I was present during the time in which its conventions were part of the everyday culture. The voices, the style of the animation, the look of the characters, the arrangement of the music - that was how things were when I was growing up, and part of the subsequent appreciation I had was just reflexive nostalgia. It brought back a time when the entire world seemed to have turned towards Christmas, when December lasted forever and was over too soon. Milk, cookies, jammies, TV viewed from the worshipful position we assumed on the floor. If I felt today the way I felt about it then, there would be something wrong with me.
But is there something wrong with the show itself?
Why, yes. Yes, there is.
1. Whats the problem with the red nose, anyway? These are reindeer who can fly, which isnt a feature in the original attribute profile. So a guy has a red nose - fine, its unusual, but please explain why this must result in ostracization. We need a little more backstory: maybe the last deer with a red nose when mad and gored everyone. They called it Bloodmas Eve - aye, the older reindeer still talk about it. The red-nosed one stood in the stable door, eyes wide as wagon wheels, gore-flecked foam gushing from his mouth, the entrails of our friends wrapped around his antlers like string in a cats cradle. His nose burned like a coal from Satan's furnace, it did; the snow made a horrible hiss as it touched the nose and sizzled into steam. He made a cry they say no reindeer has ever made before, or since - a sound of pain and fury that would chill the blood of the Abominable One himself.
"Then he started in on the elves.
" No, those red-nosed ones are always bad. Good thing Rudolph ran away, or wed have killed him - why, Santa was out in the shed honing the axe when he heard hed run off with that gay fellow from the paint department.
2. If the winged Lion can fly all over the earth rescuing Misfit Toys - which he supposedly does every night - why does he need Santa to deliver them? Hmm? Hes got the stamina, the wings, the motivation. I think he likes having a subject population, frankly; his definition of misfit seems rather elastic. Theres nothing wrong with that little girl doll, or the spotted elephant. Hes probably still at it today:
Greetings, Misfit Toy. I am your liege, the Aerodynamic Crowned Lion. Youre coming with me.
Why? Im happy here!
No youre not. Youre a misfit toy.
No Im not, Im a perfectly content game cartridge!
They might upgrade to a new platform next year. Then youd be a misfit. Come along. Its for your own good.
Screw you! My owners on the last level! Hes at 95% health and shields going in to face the boss, and he has multiple invulnerability!
You are speaking nonsense, my misfit friend. Come. You will find new misfit friends, such as the Lionel train engine -
Well, define misfit, you Aslan wannabe.
The trains manual had a typo.
Theres more, but this is going to be one of the columns I put in the paper this week. Due to holiday deadlines, I have to write six columns this week instead of three, so get ready for diminished bleatage and/or duplications. But I will say this: on December 23, there will be an interesting announcement that affects quite a few Bleat patrons. One hint:
Meaning? Stay tuned.
||Remember I mentioned how little Gnat had the stomach bug, and how my wife got it? How it jumped over to the Giant Swedes children, then laid Gnats Nana and her husband low? How I scoffed with jolly cheer at the possibility that I might get it? Hah! If I didnt get it last Saturday, Im not getting it at -
The damned thing hit at 12:30 AM, and the next four hours had the usual horrid oratorios. AT 4:47 AM I settled into the sheet-thrashing shivering stage, punctuated by feverish surges and racing thoughts that will neither let you sleep or wake. Weve all been there. I think most of the stomach ailments I had in college were due to food poisoning; Id get hideously sick once a year, and it was usually after eating some egg dish whipped up by a scabby-armed fry-chef wed later call Hepatitis Hank.
For approximately 10 hours, nearly every single fever-induced plotline, image, character and non sequitar was funneled through the metaphor of the Little Green Footballs webpage. Thats what my poor overclocked brain used to sort and process all the gibberish. New plotlines were understood as new blog entries. There was also running plot about buying large chunks of space on LGF for $500, and whether the website could be used to smuggle antiquities. This went on, as I said, for ten hours.
Periodically I would stir, pierce the surface of madness and think: water! Water! But I recalled when Gnat was in the midst of the hurls, and wed been advised not to give her water, since it would only geyser right back up. True. But. So thirsty. So very very thirsty. Id stagger to the bathroom, wincing - I felt as if I had run through some machine that played Powerhouse whenever you turned it on - and I would get a few drops of water. Repeat for three hours. I thought back to childhood flues, when Id been placated with Seven-Up. How I hated that stuff. How I hated it now.
But wait. Theres a big wobbly bladder of the stuff downstairs in the fridge. We bought some for the Al Roker shoot. I went down the stairs with great care, found the bottle, glugged some into a cup.
Right now its noon. Im waiting for Gnats Nana to come over so I can head back to sleep. Ive had jello and a banana for lunch, and both seem happy to stay where they are -
Later, nine PM. This is the Norwalk Virus, Ive learned. The doctor at the hospital last week said its hitting everyone, everywhere - and its distinct from the other stomach bug that went around six weeks ago. If this is all an al-Qaeda dry run - and I use that term advisedly - then we are hosed.
The websites say Norwalk is transmitted by handling feces, and I find that difficult to believe. Its not as if you see guys in the stalls of mens room shouting Ball some up and toss it over! I feel like jugglin!
Okay, bed. Ugh.
||Today: Brit-o-cide, St. Santa, and a holiday Screed.
As I feared, I had another night of kaleidoscopic brain-hash; this interlude was concerned entirely with school supplies. Four hours of thrashing and sweating and waking and wondering, over and over again, about school supplies. Then huzzah, the fever broke; the old confident brain shouldered aside the capering imps of Feverland, took the directors chair, and gave me a gripping tale with a coherent narrative. Back to normal! I remember little, but I do remember defending my wife from a small, unshaven oily-skinned stubble-chinned Brit who was threatening to cut her up an spoil tha pretty faice a yours. I stabbed him in the heart with a scissors with such force that it pinned him to the wall. Then I called 9-11.
Next scene: my wife and I are in the movie theater, watching Lord of the Rings. Dont you think someone should be at the house when the police get there? she said, and you know, she had a point. I was a little nervous about what might happen, since there was a dead burglar pinned to my wall, but to my great relief the intruder had shrunk to the size of a Christmas tree ornament, and no one seemed to notice.
I know its odd to remark that a dream in which you plunge the Fiskars into the chest of an Englishman constitutes normal, but thatll tell you something about the fever dreams. If thered been a credit roll at the end of the dream, I know who would have played the Brit: a small, oily-skinned stubble-chinned fellow who hung around the bar where I worked in college. Peter. How he ended up in Minnesota, no one ever seemed to know. His manner confounded all the good college students preconceptions of the English - his accent was coarse, his manners horrible, he wasnt clever in the least and he didnt care at all about music. I saw it again and again - fresh-scrubbed sorority girls would hear his accent, and assume he wanted to talk about John Lennon. I do remember that he called them all wankers, because I had to look that word up; when I didn't find it in dictionary, I knew exactly what it meant.
He wasn't even a heedless drunkard given to fits of colorful profanity - if he'd gone off now and then with a boozy tirade full of bollocks and bluddy and sod off we'd have been so happy: finally! He is British! He is! But when he drank he just got drunk, and his speech was a Trainspotting slur; I swear sometimes when he came to the bar to ask for something my eyes went down to sternum level in the hope there were subtitles.
Peter developed some sort of thyroid condition that made his eyes bug out, so now he was not only unsavory, he looked like a tiny Peter Ustinov with a Marty Feldman attempting to get out. Why my brain picked him out for the role of the burglar, Ive no idea; havent thought of him in years, but apparently his image has been slumbering on a slab in my brain for decades. We forget nothing, apparently; we only forget to remember.
Maybe my brain was looking for a small stubbled Brit to fill this role, and it was moving so fast it slid past the memory of Phil Colllins as a criminal in the Genesis video "Robbery, Assault and Battery" and landed on poor Peter. This would have irritated Peter to now end, since Collins was not only a musician, and hence a wanker, but a drummer, and hence a wankin' fookin wanker. Fook.
Forgot to mention this yesterday: while thrashing around on night #1 of the grippe, I dreamed a brand new Simpson vignette. I envisioned a great wall with a ledge. From a door came Seymour Skinner and Superintendent Chalmers. Skinner was wearing a veil. Chalmers removed the veil. I know the following dialogue is true, because I got out of bed, went to the studio and typed it up at 4 AM, thinking I had struck comedy gold. Just found it on the Mac when I sat down tonight, in fact. Here it is, spellchecked:
Yes, Superintendent Chalmers!
Seymour, WHY are you wearing a Saddam mustache?
Ah - because I wanted you to trust me!
So youre wearing a SADdam mustache.
So Ill trust you.
Thats it. You have to admit, it has the tone and character of a classic Skinner-Chalmers routine; it just makes no sense.
Has the tone and character of a classic Saddam-Sean Penn routine too, alas. Or would have until Mr. Penn returned to find that the Baghdad papers had put in his mouth the 47 preposterous lies he hadnt gotten around to putting there himself.
I try to find a time in the last 60 years when the hand-puppets and marionettes who make up the entertainment profession were so uniformly disposed to parade their mindlessness in the public square. Harold Pinter may rage about the babies born brainless in Iraq because of depleted uranium shells - well, if so,, Iraq this will have a remarkably large talent pool of actors from which to draw in 25 years.
But why do they think their opinion carries weight? Because they know theyll suffer no consequences. Yoda could give an interview and say Had the right idea, Hitler did and wed still all trot off to Episode 3. Yesterday I rented Minority Report, a movie that stars thetan-choked Tom Cruise, who famously announced that he didnt feel safe raising his children in the Wild-West hell of America; the movie is directed by Steven Spielberg, whose work I admire greatly - but the guy made a hadj to Cuba recently, and spoke of Castro in such glowing terms I expected him to hack up a half-dozen of El Presidentes pubic hairs. Guys like Mike Ferrell can sign the petitions without fear of the impact on their careers, because they have none to speak of. Ed Asner, the nations only communist Horta, can sign these things because its his only way of telling the world hes alive until someone else from the Mary Tyler Moore show dies, and they need a reaction.
And theres another reason for this activism: when youre in an industry that depends on the overseas markets, you start thinking of yourself as a Citizen of the World. Whatever you say wont hurt the domestic grosses, but if you describe yourself as a Proud American without using finger quotes, the Germans might take offense.
And speaking of Germans - well, Austrians - its notable that among the few Hollywood non-leftists, the most cheerful, popular and successful of the batch is an Austrian immigrant. Makes you wonder what he knows that we dont.
The day there is a negative reaction, swift and sure, is the day these people stop signing petitions. But that will never happen. Some fans will labor to separate the character in the movie from their nattering real-world doppelgangers, and enjoy the movie despite the knowledge that theyre giving money to people who think the UN is a collection of disinterested Ghandi-types, and who think the US is a rabid bull whose horns drip gore. (And oil!) Most people wont care at all, because theyre not paying attention, and theyre not interested in the least what Julia Roberts thinks about international relations.
Now, if she spilled the beans on Brad Pitt, then theyd be interested. Why doesnt she take out a full-page ad about that?
Took Gnat to Southdale, the Mother of all Malls, to see Santa. She was amazed to see him - the same guy who was on TV, on her puzzle, in the snowdome, on the ornaments, on the cards - here! I didnt want to make her sit in his lap; from a two-year olds perspective, its like meeting GOD. You want to get your story straight, if nothing else. So we just waved as we walked past, and went ot the computer store. But as I was checking out, buying some DVDs, she asked: go see Santa, daddy? See Santa? So off we went.
And lo, so great was his glory, so blinding his visage, that she turned away and hid her face. Really: I was carrying her as we walked up the ramp, and she buried her face in my neck and clamped her hands over her eyes. But she was smiling, too. In this sense, Santa is like GOD, but a training-wheels version.
When it was her turn she walked up slowly, demonstrating the natural reluctance children have towards unreasonably friendly strangers in costume. He couldnt get a smile out of her, as much as he tried; she looked dazed with awe. He gave her a candy cane, and said Goodbye, Natalie! Merrrry Christmas!
She held on to the candy cane like it was a fingerbone of a major saint.
Then we shopped for Mommy. Something here from this place, a few items here from her favorite store, even though its merchandise is maddeningly vague when it comes to the difference between Petites and XS. It was great fun - Gnat was happy licking her relic, I was happy to find a few things I know my wife would love, and the speakers were playing all the old songs I love to hear. No snow outside, yet; a busy week ahead, and a busier weekend to come. I was behind in my shopping; hadnt even gotten the cards made up. Hadnt made the cookies; hadnt strung that last line of lights Ive been meaning to do.
So by all rights I should be in a miserable panic, running from store to store like a Frenchman trying to find a German dictionary before the Nazis arrive. But no.
Why? Havent I learned? Dont I know that Christmas all about GREED, GLUTTONY, INSINCERITY and FEAR?
Sigh . . . . here we go. This was to be Bleat, but its length and tone requires that it be moved over to Screed Country. Enjoy, if thats the right word.
And remember, next Monday: CEBU!
|| Another sign the VCR is dead: this weeks issue of the New Yorker came with a DVD insert. Its from the Johnny Walker film festival, and Im hoping Barney Gumbel wins this one, too. It reminded me (pull up an apple crate, sonny) of the early days of the CD-ROM, how they seemed so precious and magical and damn near infinite in their storage capacity. Over 650 MB of data! My God! The entire library of Alexandria would fit on a half-dozen! Of course, half the library of Alexandria consisted of books like On the Treatment of Elbow Fever With Dandelion Poultices, and A Disquisition on the Effect of the Stars on the Divining Properties of Goat Placentas. But still, thats a lot of data. I felt the same way about DVDs at first - over 4.6 GB of data! My God! I handed them like Roswell relics. Now I rub them against my shirt if they skip. Now they come with magazines. This is all a good thing; the ubiquity of larger storage media is always a good thing. Heres to the day when every issue of Entertainment Weekly comes with ten trailers for movies you want to see, and a dozen MP3s and two audiobooks and a comic strip and a game demo, and a contest to see who can find the face of EW progenitor Jeff Jarvis, which is hidden somewhere in the data.
Whew: make a crack about Womens Studies departments, as I did in yesterdays screed, and people think youre opposed to womens studies. Im not. Any study of humanity in any manifestation is worthy; Im just suspicious of the tendency to parcel the species into chunks and hand it off to people who live in intellectual clean-rooms. Its like studying an MRI slice of the abdomen in hopes youll figure out why the patient likes Bing Crosby songs. Gender is too important an issue to be left to people who think its more important than anything else.
That almost makes sense, doesnt it?
It comes down to two points. One: segregate womens studies from the mainstream, and you manage to delegitimize any study of women outside that discipline. Who gets more respect, academically - the scholar whos studied Mannerist representations of the Virgin Mary from an Art History perspective, or ones whos studied it from the Womens Studies perspective? After all, if youre going to study women, why not study women in Womens Studies, where womenly things are met with womenish womanosity? But this also has the effect of allowing the rest of academia to ignore any actual scholarship that goes on in a Womens Studies program, becauseany academic discipline born of a grievance is bound to be regarded as an intellectual petting zoo.
Ask yourself if youd rather get a vaccine from a doctor who studied Medicine, or one who studied Caucasian Medicine.
Two: Personally, I have no interest in any academic school that propagates the idea that gender is a social construct. Im not saying that all Womens Studies faculties believe this; heavens no. But its part of the intellectual atmosphere, and anyone who vigorously repudiates the notion will not, I suspect, have a stellar career in the field. (I could be wrong, and I've been reading through some online college course descriptions to disprove my assertion - I'll report back.) I dont know why the concept of innate gender distinctions bothers people, because its obviously not immutable. Human behavior is quite elastic, as my wife and I prove all the time. We both live lives our parents could never have imagined - she goes to the office, I stay home most of the time. Modern life consists of rearranging the differences, finding balances. Doing this without an understanding of the differences is like cooking without realizing the difference between sugar and tabasco.
Ahhh, but what do I know. I but a mere researcher, toiling in the field, gathering the data for the eggheads and their punch cards. I just spend all day with a little girl. Now and then she likes to push cars around. Occasionally she is a pirate, waving around a sword and shouting I BE PIRATE. Most of the time she likes to play with her dollhouse, or play Doctor with the long-suffering dog (every day a new malady; every day she has to examine his ears and give him a shot) or play with her doll bath-and-changing station. I dont push anything on her; I dont discourage anything. If she decides she wants to be a fireman, then off we go to the living room to extinguish blazes. But in the morning when I take a shower, she goes into the sun porch to play with her computer or read books or get out her dress-up stuff, and every other day she comes sailing into the bathroom in a tutu, wearing a 1920s hat and my wifes scarf, proclaiming I A BEAUFUL BALRINA.
I can say with confidence that she doesnt get that from me.
Anyway, if you want to knock me as a grunting trog who leaves a slime trail of testosterone whenever he lurches against a wall, go ahead, but youre talking to a guy who spends every Monday afternoon in a room with 12 mothers talking about our kids, and if you dont think that thats Womens Studies too, you need to get out in the world a bit more. You want to judge me? Put on mmy houscoat and walk a mile in my bunny slippers first.
I'd say I ended up more like my Mom than my Dad, but I don't recall my Mom telling me she couldn't play grocery store right now because she was downloading a walkthrough for Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell.
Today was a typical Thursday, just the two of us. But Gnat has a cold, a bad one - fever, sniffles, a small cough, and a voicebox that occasionally channels Carol Channing. Often she plays for a while by herself while I work at the kitchen island, but this morning she just came up and said you snuggle with me on couch? And of course, I would. So we did. We read books. Watched some of her favorite TV shows. Played Customer and Clerk - or Clark, as she says it, as if shes trying to impress Sean Connery. Its the game where I buy groceries from her, and she rings them up. (Ah hah! Shes the employee, not the patron! Shes the low-wage Wal-marted Barbara Ehrenreich nickel-and-dimed-to-death cog in your consumerist paradise, right? No, she just has the more interesting role. She gets to push the beeping buttons and operate the hand scanner.) In the latest incarnation of this game, we play Customer and Clark with hand puppets. You be, you be green giraffe cusmer. I be yellow lion clark. A game within a game. Then she wanted to play with her puter, so I got out her faux laptop and she identified the numbers and letters as prompted by the blocky, 2-bit animated frog on the cheap LCD screen.
Lunch; a nap. It lasted 40 minutes. We played various games upstairs, had a big dispute about what she would wear, danced to some music, got dressed, had a wall-to-wall poop, changed, dressed again. Out in the car for errands: The mall for more Christmas shopping was stop #1. Every tried to get something done at a busy mall with a willful two-and-a-half year old? Its like trying to do a Rubiks cube in a room full of jittery jab-happy apes with hypodermic needles in their hands. At one point she shouted PUTER STORE! and ran towards the end of the hall, towards a white light she presumed was the Apple logo. It was merely the GAP sign. She was crestfallen.
"Do you want to go to the computer store?"
Uh huh. Do ABCs.
Well, put a gun to my head, lets go to the Apple Store. She saddled up in front of an eMac, and I called up the Toddler program, while I poked around looking for more things I dont need.
Daddy, I paint, she said. So I clicked to the part of the program where you paint pictures, set the mouse on BUCKET, and had a nice conversation with the clark.
Shes pretty good, he said, looking at Gnat. Look at that fine motor control.
I looked, expecting little; weve played this program once a week, and her mousing skills have been just what youd expect from a youngun. But this time she had her face about three inches from the screen; she wasnt looking at the mouse. With astonishment I watched her drag the bucket to the color green, click, drag it to the grass, and click again.
Very good, hon! Can you make the sky blue?
Drag, click, drag, click: blue sky. But only half the sky turned blue. There was a tree in the way that kept the bucket from saturating the entire sky. She dragged over, past the tree, to the empty space. Click. Blue.
(winching jaw off floor)
I make flower red, she said. And she did.
You know, they could have presented me with an award for most bitchin team member of the newspaper chain today, and I would have been thrilled to miss it just to see her to this. I know, it's not ususual for kids her age, but still. It's something to see.
But hey, shes a girl! Dont we have any BARBIE software here?
Last stop: Suncoast video, where I picked up the Back the Future trilogy. Slag me all you like, but the first installment is one of my top ten movies. I love that film. Havent seen it in years, so I am steeled for disappointment, but I think its a brilliant confection - the Moebius-strip plot, the perfectly simple characters (archetypes with individuality) and spot-on acting. The sequels are guilty under the law of diminishing returns, but I still want to watch them. Anyway - were waiting for the elevator. Gnat is looking down at Santas workshop. Theres a woman in an overcoat fumbling through an address book, a cup of Caribou Coffee in one hand. She looks at Gnat.
I spent eight thousand dollars on fertility treatments, she said, declaiming to the atrium below, and I went straight into menopause. Everything just dried up. The doctors couldnt do anything and of course they werent to blame. Then she started rifling through her book again, mumbling in that out-loud mumble that characterizes the mentally uncertain.
Bong! said the elevator. We boarded with casual haste.
Then to Target, where Daddy, patriarchal brute that he is, bought the houses ration of soaps, detergents, diapers, toilet papers, napkins, paper towels, dog food, shampoo, cold medicines and other unguents and salves- as well the tape for the home movies, the batteries for the toys and remotes, and all the other tiny cogs without which the modern household reverts to the 1950 defaults. Then to the grocery store so I could make supper, then home. Then this! And now goodbye.
One more thing - remember, Monday has a special message. Hint: CEBU!