Just Us Guys
Juliette has been out of town for the last few days, which meant that Jason and I got to spend the weekend together by ourselves. Mainly in order to keep Jason occupied (and therefore not cranky), we went out a lot.
We went to the carwash:
And the park:
And the La Jolla Cove:
And even the zoo:
A good time was had by all.
The rest of this week's set:
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This is the conversation Jason and I had just now, coming back from lunch:
[This continues for another 4 minutes or so.]
J: "Hot dog."
The other day it came up in a conversation Juliette and I were having that when I was a kid I would sometimes hollow out dill pickles and drink soda out of them. Usually Vernor's, if memory serves. You might be wondering what sort of conversation we were having that this would be a relevant bit of information to add. Unfortunately, I don't remember. And, of course, the larger and more obvious question would be, "Why did I do that?"
Now, I could try to explain it in a way that made sense, something about the flavors or convenience or something, but we both know that that would be a load of horse puckey. Really, it just seemed like a good idea at the time. For whatever reason, I really liked pickles when I was a kid. And I liked drinking soda. And when I visited my dad's house, he always had plenty of both. I was probably eating a pickle one Saturday afternoon and noticed that I could eat some of the seeds out of the middle of the pickle without breaking the surrounding skin, making a cup-like shape, and from there it probably just didn't seem like much of a leap to see if I could hollow out the whole pickle, and then see if it would hold liquids. It's probably the same sort of impulse that led me to try biting the ends off of a Red Vine and using it as a straw. Or maybe not--I know a lot more people that did the Red Vine straw thing than the pickle soda cup thing. (I suppose it was really more like a pickle shot glass, but this is a silly enough story as it is.)
OK, yes, I did a lot of weird things when I was a kid. But what I think is so great about little stories like this are that everybody has at least one. Everybody can remember themselves or their younger siblings or their friends doing stuff just as weird as drinking ginger ale out of a hollowed-out pickle. Probably weirder. And there's something wonderful about that universality, something that makes me feel a little closer to someone when I hear about their childhood quirks. Or even their present-day quirks, really. I think we could all use a little more of that, or at least a good chuckle.
So, tell me: what's your story?
Don't Drink It!
Jason has always loved bath time. He loves to splash and swish the water around with his feet and arms. He loves to play with his bath toys. He loves blowing bubbles and putting the washcloth on his head, then letting it slide off down his back or over his face. And, unfortunately, he loves to drink his bath water.
The trouble is that Jason loves water. I mean, it's great that he loves water, but it has proven more or less impossible thus far to teach him the difference between drinking water and bath water. (Or pool water, or any other type of water, for that matter. It's a lucky thing that he knows he's not allowed to touch the toilets or we might be in real trouble.) And there are just so many things in the tub that he can use to carry the water to his lips. There's an actual cup, which we use to pour water over him when he needs rinsing, but he actually doesn't go for that one much. He drinks out of his hermit crab toy, his linker toys, and his rubber duckies. He even tries to suck the water out of the washcloth. Sometimes he just puts his face down and tries to drink straight from the tub, a feat that he's managing with greater and greater frequency to accomplish without subsequent spluttering and coughing. I'm sure that if he had a fox or a box in there, he'd drink with them, too.
Keeping him from his tasty treat requires constant vigilance on my part. I can't look away for more than a second without him going for it. I'm pretty sure it's become something of a game for him at this point, seeing if he can sneak a sip in when I'm not expecting it. So on any given night at bath time, you'd hear something like this coming from our hall bathroom:
"What is that, Jason? That's right, that's a ducky. Don't drink it. Yes, and those are keys. Can you point to the A, Jason? Good job! Don't drink it. Blech. OK, splashy splashy. Yes. Where's the B? Can you give the B to Daddy? Give the B to Daddy. Don't drink it. Can I have the B, Jason? Where's the B? Good job! Don't drink it. Are you going to blow bubbles now? Good bubbles, Jason! Don't drink it. No, we can watch Elmo tomorrow. Don't drink it. Sit down, please. Thank you. OK, time to get out. Don't drink it."
Even so, and even though I have to get down on my knees to scrub him, and even though it makes my back ache, I like bath time, too. It's one of the only times of the day when Jason is consistently in a good mood, and it's just adorable the way he smiles. Of course I'd like for him to be able to clean himself one of these days, but I know I'm going to miss this when it's over.
The Shadow of the Wind
By Carlos Ruiz Zafón
"I still remember the day my father took me to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books for the first time."
That's the first sentence of Carlos Ruiz Zafón's novel The Shadow of the Wind. It calls to mind the opening line of Gabriel García Márquez's masterpiece 100 Years of Solitude in the way it manages to be simultaneously simple and yet powerfully evocative of a huge story yet to come. The name "Cemetary of Forgotten Books," of course, immediately brings to mind Jorge Luis Borges. And the spooky undercurrent, the hint of intrigue, can't help but make you think of Umberto Eco. If that one sentence isn't enough to hook you, well, I'm not sure that reading my reviews will be particularly useful to you. It was all it took for me to become totally enraptured by this book.
Following that first sentence, the narrator--young Daniel Sempere, the son of a Barcelona bookseller--finds and is enthralled by a book that few others have heard of, the eponym of the Ruiz Zafón's novel. In fact, Daniel finds that he may have the last copy of any of the author's works, as someone has been determinedly finding and destroying every copy of everything the author--Julian Carax--ever wrote. The story of the book and its author is steadily revealed, layer by layer, and the more Daniel discovers, the more drawn into the events leading up to the disappearance of the other books and Carax, himself.
There's so much to love about this book. To begin with, the writing is just a joy. I'm not kidding when I compare Ruiz Zafón to Borges and Eco and García Márquez--some of my favorite authors. In style, in plot, in the wonderful depiction of the setting--Barcelona in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War--Ruiz Zafón belongs in the same pantheon as those men. The story becomes, at times, so grandly convoluted and so full of passions and revenge and tragedy that in the hands of a lesser writer, it would have been completely over the top. Yet Ruiz Zafón manages, through a combination of exquisite language and precise control over the layers of plot and how they're revealed, to craft a simply marvelous story.
Of course, what I loved most about The Shadow of the Wind were the parts between all the rushing around and tragically doomed love and madness. The parts about Daniel. I've mentioned before what a sucker I am for bildungsroman, and certainly I related to Daniel's journey into manhood. But it's in the quieter moments of the novel that I found something really great. The tenderness of Daniel's father and all he does for his son--and, of course, how little the teenaged narrator appreciates it at the time, and the regret Daniel later feels about that. The friendship between Daniel and the vagrant he takes in, Fermín Romero de Torres. The strain that develops between he and his childhood friend, Tomás. There's a delicacy and a deep understanding of youth and growth and relationships underpinning everything that resonated with me in a way I haven't felt from a book in some time. Between that and the excitement of the main plot, it's no wonder that I ended up staying up until 3 in the morning to finish the last half of the book in one sitting.
I'm not sure what more I can say about The Shadow of the Wind without sounding hyperbolic--in fact, I may have already crossed that line. But if I must sum it up somehow, let me put it this way: this is the best novel I've read in years.
Started: 3/8/2010 | Finished: 3/12/2010
Yesterday, as I was driving home from Las Vegas, I decided to stop in the little town of Baker, California. (For those keeping track, yes, this was the second consecutive weekend that I traveled to Las Vegas. The first was for Juliette's birthday, the second for the annual get-together of my college friends during the NCAA basketball tournament.) This wasn't the first time I've ever stopped in Baker, but it was the first time that I stopped for the express purpose of looking around and trying to see what was really there.
For those of you who have never driven Interstate 15 between Southern California and Nevada, Baker is a tiny little town about halfway between Barstow and Vegas. I say "town," but in most ways it seems like more of an overgrown truck stop--the main "drag" is just a few miles long and mainly consists of gas stations, fast food, a couple of seedy-looking motels, and a few diners.
And, of course, the "world's tallest thermometer," which isn't actually a thermometer at all but rather a 134-foot-tall electric sign:
There's not much else. Lonely desert stretches out for miles in every direction, broken up by a few volcanic hills.
I had always assumed that Baker really was just a truck stop, and that the gas stations and diners were staffed mostly by seasonal temporary workers. It caught me off-guard, then, when the first thing to greet me at the end of the off-ramp was a bunch of teenagers waving a carwash sign that read "Support the Class of 2010." Suddenly, this little spot out in the middle of nowhere seemed to be hiding a real community, and I found myself extremely curious to know what life there was like.
It turns out--as I was able to find via a little Googling when I got home--that Baker has a small, but apparently close-knit permanent community. There's an entire school district serving just that town, with about 200 K-12 students. And a community services district that manages things like garbage collection and water, as well as a public park, swimming pool, and community center. I drove around a bit and, sure enough, I found a teeny little public park where five or six kids were kicking a soccer ball around. I found a fire station, a post office, a ramshackle little church, and a whole bunch of trailers and small, run-down houses.
As I drove up and down the cracked pavement of the side streets, questions kept running through my head. Like "What do the kids in this town do for fun?" and "What do people do after work?" "What else am I not seeing?" I wish I had been able to stop and get my car washed, just so I could have asked some of the students what it was like to grow up there. Unfortunately, where they were set up was before the end of the very long off-ramp, where the road was still one lane, and I would have had to backtrack at least ten or fifteen miles up the freeway to try to come back around.
So, I guess I'm stuck wondering, for now, what life in Baker is like for the locals. Maybe some day I'll have the chance to stop in again, with the time to look around more to see if I could get anyone to talk to me. It seems like such a depressing, isolated life, but something tells me there's a story there.
The rest of my photos from this week's set:
Light Meat, Dark Meat, or No Meat
A bit over a year ago, I managed to convince Juliette that we should try out our local Jollibee. It turned out not to have been a particularly good decision on my part, but, in my defense, I was just too overcome with curiosity when faced with this sign:
I mean, seriously, if you saw a sign like that, wouldn't you just have to go in and see what was up with the Crispy Chickenjoy? OK, well, probably not if you have good sense, which I don't. In any case, the chicken was actually not bad, though the burger was more strange than yummy.
My poor judgment isn't really the point of the story, though. See, I had this idea while I was eating, and maybe it's just the fact that I've been on a diet for the last couple of months, but the more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that this is a million-dollar idea. I'll lay it on you in four words: bucket of chicken skin.
OK, so maybe if you actually called it that, it wouldn't sell so well. But everybody knows that the best part of a piece of fried chicken is the skin. About 90% (a number I freely admit I've completely made up) of the flavor is in the skin, not to mention the crispy texture.
I even have the perfect candidate for this idea: KFC. Not only is KFC practically synonomous with fried chicken, but this idea dovetails perfectly with their new Kentucky Grilled Chicken menu. You know all about that, I'm sure--in order to try to appeal to a more health-conscious audience, KFC has for a while now been offering a skinless, non-fried version of their chicken. You see where I'm going, right? For every piece of skinless chicken they sell, there's the skin they had to remove and throw away. The best part of the whole fried chicken experience--in fact, I would say the integral, the canonical part--and they are just throwing it away.
I'm telling you, KFC, you are sitting on a gold mine here.
Nana and Aba
Jason stayed with Juliette's parents this past weekend while we were in Las Vegas for her birthday. They were kind enough to drive the 400 miles from Big Sur to San Diego so that Jason could be home, for which I can't thank them enough. I've been really glad that they've been able to be present in his life so much, and that he's gotten to know and love them so well. This time, as always, Jason had a great time, which if I hadn't already known would have been evident from the conversation I had with him tonight.
Jason: (pointing toward the kitchen) Aba?
Me: Oh, Aba? No, sweetie, Nana and Aba aren't here right now.
Jason: (pointing to the front window) Aba?
Me: Nana and Aba went home, honey. They went to their home in Big Sur. Do you remember Big Sur?
Me: That's right, they went home.
Me: Yep, they went home in a car. In their car. Do you remember Nana and Aba's car?
Jason: (runs to the window and points) Ga. Mo ga. Ga!
Me: Their car isn't here anymore, Jason. They drove it away when they went home.
Jason: Dada, Nana. Aba.
Me: I know you want to see them, Jason, but they went to their home. You know, their home? Mommy and Daddy and Jason and Cooper live in this home, our home, and Nana and Aba live in their home in Big Sur. Different people live in different homes. Elliott and Margo live at their home, and Caleb lives at his home, and Allie lives at her home. They all have their own homes, just like us. Do you understand?
Me: Yeah, I didn't think so.
By Pete Hamill
Reading Forever immediately after The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Klay made for an interesting comparison, since both books are about New York, both written by men who obviously have deep and abiding love for the city. But where Kavalier & Klay is more a portrait, a snapshot of the city at a particular moment, Forever is more like a time-lapse film. And while Michael Chabon's novel exudes the vigor and excitement of the post-war era, Pete Hamill's book has that sense of solemnity that I associate with Old-World legends and, perhaps, magic realism. Actually, Forever probably fits that latter camp pretty well, given both its premise and its execution.
Forever is the story of Cormac O'Connor, born in 1723 outside of Belfast. At the age of 17, Cormac makes his way across the Atlantic to New York to avenge his father's murder, in the process of which he's mortally wounded. He's brought back from the brink of death by an African shaman, who gives him the "gift" of eternal life, though with the condition that he can never leave the island of Manhattan. Thereafter, we follow Cormac through the history of the city, straight through until the present day. Cormac sees the Revolutionary War, the Great Fire of New York in 1835, the corruption of Tammany Hall, and the destruction of 9/11, and Hamill presents it all with a sharp eye for history.
I found this book interesting for a lot of reasons, not least of which was the main character. In some ways it's tempting to see Cormac as heroic for his moral stance against slavery and injustice and his actions in helping the little guy. He appreciates art and music, accumulates a wealth of knowledge, and loves the city that he's watched grow from its infancy. Too, the tragic nature of his solitude plays on our sympathies. And yet, the genius of Hamill's characterization is that as alluring a character as Cormac is, he's more complex than that. He reveals himself to be selfish, even mean at times. And his adherence to the code of his Gaelic ancestors--requiring him to seek revenge not only on his father's murderer, but also all of the man's descendants--leaves an unpleasant taste in your mouth. Or mine, anyway.
All in all, Forever is a great read, the prose constantly evolving and changing along with the history it recounts--the opening chapters, recounting Cormac's youth, read like a fable, but before the end of the book the style catches up to the modern day. The whole thing is just beautiful.
Pete Hamill seems to get called "a New York legend" with some frequency--which you'd expect of a man who was editor-in-chief of both the New York Post and the New York Daily News. I'd say, though, that even if he'd done nothing else, the strength of this book alone might just be enough to earn him that title.
Started: 2/23/2010 | Finished: 3/5/2010
In celebration of Juliette's birthday, the two of us took a little trip to Las Vegas this past weekend. We ate some great food, won some money, and just generally enjoyed the heck out of ourselves.
I haven't been to Vegas in a couple of years, and it was interesting to see how things have changed in that time. In a lot of ways the city seemed a little darker, more seedy. I've been there seven or eight times, probably, but before tonight I can't recall seeing any homeless people on the strip--this time they were everywhere. And the crowds walking up and down the sidewalk seemed a little meaner, maybe. I've come to take it for granted that most everyone walking along the strip at night will be drunk, but the general mood before has always seemed pretty convivial. This time, though, it seemed like there were a lot of people who, if I had accidentally bumped into them, might have tried to take a swing at me like belligerent frat boys might.
You might be able to chalk all that up to the recession, but, on the other hand, there's also been kind of an astounding amount of new construction since I last saw it. At Juliette's dad's recommendation, we took some time to check out the new city center, which was really interesting architecturally:
The crowds inside the casinos, too, seemed just as lively as ever, though perhaps a bit less densely packed. What all that adds up to, I'm not really sure. I can say, though, that I don't know if I'll ever stop thinking it's funny to see people drinking 100-ounce margaritas out of plastic guitars that they have hanging from their necks.
Today being Juliette's actual birthday--and it's a big one this year--I'd like to take a moment to say a few things that maybe I don't say often enough. Juliette is the best thing that's ever happened to me. She's a loving, caring, beautiful, wonderful person, not to mention an amazing mother, and I count myself more than lucky to get to spend my life with her.
Thanks for everything, honey, and happy birthday.