Tuesday, December 30, 2008

I like fish and mango pickle

Stocking loot, originally uploaded by your neighborhood librarian.

Man, I know Christmas Is For The Kids and all that, but I have had one kick-ass fucking holiday season so far.

Gonna get him

My husband bought me the lens I had decided I would buy in a year or so - a so-called macro lens, it will focus very very close, and, as it turns out, it just loves light. I do not deserve that lens. Let's be frank - I do not deserve that husband.

Also. I received an email on Christmas Eve from the review editor at School Library Journal. I am one of their volunteer reviewers, I get paid in books. But SLJ is doing a supplement, and they'd like me to do a compare-and-contrast of several nonfiction series, and they are going to PAY ME. MONEY. A paid writing job!

It might seem odd for me to be jumping up and down about it, because, well sure, I write all the time, and most jobs I've ever had have been jobs full of writing... but I got this assignment purely on the basis of me fucking around on the Internet, so it's kind of like making money off a hobby.

Plus it finishes paying for my laptop.

El Charro gala suit, via eBay

AND, after eight years of searching, I found a mariachi suit on eBay. A traje de charro, black, with metal botonaduras down each leg and at each wrist. Yes, basically what Antonio Banderas wears in Desperado. Make of that what you will, and then keep it to yourself.

I fully expected this thing to come in huge and short and beat-up and stinking of, let's face it, a mariachi, and I figured I'd only end up being able to wear the jacket, but after eight years of searching, oh I just wanted to put this whim to bed.

Imagine my delight when the pants fit like they'd been MADE FOR ME, and the whole thing is spotless and new. El Charro, the company that makes these things, only does custom, and somebody just my size must have ordered this suit, worn it once if at all, and decided - what? the mariachi lifestyle was not for them? That's a three-hundred-dollar custom-made suit that some tall, narrow man discarded without a backward glance.

I am grateful though - it means my botonaduras are untarnished.

I can only wish the same for you, amigo.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Walking Spanish down the 649's

The other day at work, I escorted a nice but worried-looking woman in her '30's to the nonfiction stacks to find a parenting book. It was not How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk. Neither was it The Happiest Toddler on the Block: The New Way to Stop the Daily Battle of Wills and Raise a Secure and Well-Behaved One- to Four-Year-Old. Nor Sneaky Veggies: How to Get Vegetables Under the Radar & Into Your Family and not Setting Limits with Your Strong-Willed Child : Eliminating Conflict by Establishing Clear, Firm, and Respectful Boundaries, the first 3 chapters of which I actually found kind of helpful one time several years ago.

Thank god, she wasn't looking for Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems: New, Revised, and Expanded Edition, which fucking traumatized us when Mao was about one. It was some different book full of disheartening and shaming messages to parents. Possibly The Petit Appetit Cookbook: Easy, Organic Recipes to Nurture Your Baby and Toddler. Or Itsy Bitsy Yoga: Poses to Help Your Baby Sleep Longer, Digest Better, and Grow Stronger. Maybe The Toxic Sandbox: The Truth About Environmental Toxins and Our Children's Health. I hope it wasn't How to Raise a Healthy Child in Spite of Your Doctor.

I like to think of that aisle as the Bet You Didn't Know How Many Ways You Suck As A Parent Aisle.

Individually, many of these books have merit. If you're a yoga person, by all means you should get a book about doing yoga with your baby. But the way they're marketed, the alarming titles - an insecure person (and what parent isn't insecure sometimes?) could take away a whole pile of disgrace and self-loathing along with her copy of The Five Love Languages of Children.

According to those books, she should be putting her child to bed at 7pm, after a dinner of sprouted quinoa and brewer's yeast. When her child misbehaves, which is her fault, by the way, she should gently but firmly take away a privilege. Or give him one more chance, and then (gently but firmly) put him in time out him right away. Or gently but firmly snap him into her homemade bamboo pillory on the front lawn. She should have been doing yoga, massage, and reflexology since birth so that the child has a chance at avoiding obesity and can integrate his right and left brain. If she didn't teach that kid sign language as a baby, she has doomed him to suffering traumatic storms of frustration before learning to talk, which, by the way, will occur later.

There should not be too many toys. But we should honor the pleasures of childhood. Our job is to provide the safest, most nurturing environment possible, although we do them a disservice if we insulate our children from...

Well fuck it. Taking clothes out of the dryer last night, it occurred to me that if what people are looking for is a book to make them feel bad about how they run their house and raise their children, I could write that! (see, it's totally a trend with me).

  • How often do you scrub out your laundry baskets? What do you use for that? Oh. God. You still have that stuff in your house? Yikes.
  • At what age did you first assign your infant simple household chores?
  • How many languages does he/she know?
  • Do you sit and play with your child at least one hour a day? How do you know that? Were you watching the clock? Shame on you.
  • When was the last time you washed your potholders? Do you know what micro-organisms those things can harbor?
  • Do you still help your child manage his/her little bank account? It's never too early for a child to learn about fiscal responsibility. If you don't fuck up, you can Raise a Future Millionaire, you know.
  • Let me just go through your kitchen:
    • Plastic? Jesus.
    • Glass? What happens when this falls off the counter and shatters? I know kids look cute with eyepatches, but is that a risk you're willing to take? Let me give you a source for bamboo food containers.
    • This cereal has sugar in it.
    • Ketchup has sugar in it.
    • Juice? Well, they're "only" baby teeth I guess.
    • And you know they make saltines without salt, you don't have to buy these. See if you can find whole-wheat, at least.
    • Grapes? See this? Exactly the size of your child's trachea!
    • Placemats. Hm. And how do you clean those? Wow. That's not exactly... sterile, is it?
    • Do you really use these paper towels or are they just for show? Because dishtowels - you know, you can use those more than once, and that way you're not, like, tossing garbage straight at your son's future.

I am enjoying this. After 8 years of getting fucked with by every parent, physician, educator or therapist with an opinion and an editor, I am getting some back. You do it! It's fun!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Into the mystic

Bob and I had the rare chance to go out together last night. Little year-end party, people we knew, people we didn't know that well. Socializing! Colleen's cheese puffs! Beer! Now that's holiday.

Nowadays, living where we do, sooner or later most conversations come around to kids. Or school. Or kids and school. That's ok by me. We love our school. The teachers are motivated and smart and kind, the other parents are G-R-E-A-T, and the lighting is not too soul-crushing. We have lot of nice anecdotes about how well our kids are responding to it.

For example! Last week it snowed a little, and Mao, looking out the car window, started reciting a poem that had been in his Poetry Book last year in first grade.

Snow makes whiteness where it falls.
The bushes look like popcorn-balls.
The places where I always play
Look like somewhere else today.

And! Yesterday Zhou got into a scrap with a kid in his class. It's not like they were rolling around on the floor gouging each other's eyes out, but still, that stuff is taken really seriously: the teacher took them to the principal's office, and since it was the end of the day, the other mom and I were invited as well. The interrogation went like this:

Teacher: First of all, Zhou, are you all right?
Zhou: Sure!
Teacher: Ok, can you tell me why your pal here was hitting you?
Zhou: I was saying something he didn't like.
Teacher: What were you saying?
Zhou: Nuh-uh.
Teacher, turning to the other kid: Ok, what did you say that he disagreed with?
Other kid: I said 'Uh huh'.
Oh, it took forever to tease out what exactly they were arguing about, and by then the teacher was late for a doctor's appointment, so she said she'd put this discussion in her pocket until tomorrow, and then they'd play it out in class. This perked Zhou right up. "You mean a reenactment?" he asked, his eyes bright. "I LOVE reenactments!"

So we're telling all these tales to the other parents last night, and I realize we are BRAGGING. I realize that we brag about our kids ALL THE TIME. We brag discreetly, we brag openly, we do the back-door brag. After we got home, I brought it up to Bob.

"You know, we brag about the kids ALL THE TIME," I said.
"Well, they're pretty great kids," he says.
"Yeah," I said. "I think we should keep doing it. I think if we spend a lot of time talking about how great they are, they're going to think they're great, even if we don't do it right in front of them."
"I think you're right," Bob says. "If our default posture is that they are great, we will be more convincingly disappointed when they act like assholes."

Consensus. The essence of successful parenting.

Monday, December 08, 2008

You don't know me

and why not?, originally uploaded by your neighborhood librarian.

Comments perfect strangers have made about my personal appearance in the last 48 hours:
  • "What you need are a few more rings."
  • "Your hair doesn't scare me."
  • "I have to ask." (and then he didn't, just looked at me expectantly)
You know what, folks? I don't look like that young man who worked the entrance desk at the Whitney 13 years ago - the one with 8 piercings in each eyebrow and several in the lip? you know, the one with the large black tribal tattoos crawling up his neck and threatening to pull his ears down into his artfully ripped shirt? All I have is pink hair. But somehow... I just don't bet random visitors to the Whitney Museum of American Art made comments about that guy's appearance. Maybe that's what I need - I just need to look more scary.

I think I'll have horns implanted. You can do that now, I think. That would actually totally rock.

Also. Cleaning up after a few hours on the desk, here are some things I found scribbled on scrap paper:
  • American Red Cross
  • Doris Lessing
  • jaundice
  • origins of yoga
  • taste buds gender difference
  • Movies Christian
  • Ragnarok
  • Essential tremor vs. action tremor
  • painter School of Athens
  • Naked Ape
It's not poetry. But the mere mention of Ragnarok puts it maybe in the category of 'things that might be found lining the pockets of a man currently residing under a bridge.'

Also. Token Boy Librarian has observed that most pictures of my older son are perfectly reasonable until you take a closer look. He is right, in many cases: there are mismatched gloves, books being read upside down, Care Bears being decapitated, Danny Torrance hair. That's why I like this picture: the crazy is right there before your eyes. This weekend he was so stir-crazy, milling around like BBs in a blender, chattering nonsense syllables... I finally told him if he couldn't cool it or go outside I was going to have him tested.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Don't bank on it baby

Painting by Tamara Vandevender

A few people I know and used to know - once and future friends - began to reminisce about an enterprise that I used to be part of, a coffee house, and now I can't get it off my mind. I have barely thought about that place for fifteen years.

It was just a place, we had an espresso machine and cold drinks and muffins that got moldy if you didn't sell them quick enough. Tables and thrift-shop chairs and lots and lots of ashtrays. It was in an arty part of town where nobody would go unless they lived there or drank there or possibly were busting a crackhouse. The day the DEA came for the house two doors down was a good day for us. Cops drink coffee.

My ex-boyfriend Joe started it with some money he had inherited from his grandmother. I helped with the paperwork at first, and painting - lots of us helped. Our friend Chris did all the carpentry.

Our first customers were the resident artists down there. We had a guy who did decorative ironwork, we had glassblowers, a puppeteer, an arborist, mosaicists, a milliner, and the florists from two blocks away - the only people who bought the four-dollar mocha lattes. Loved those florists.

Before too long, the poets and art students and musicians found the spot. Young people. Young young young people, some of them just out of high school. I was all of 26, 27, but still - those people were young. The place turned into a clubhouse. I lived upstairs for a while, and I would come down still in pajamas to drink coffee and see who was there.

SoWeBoHemian festival, 1993

I worked behind the counter to help out. When it was busy, I poured coffee like a river, pivoting from carafe to register, my hands hitting every mark. That kind of physical proficiency is intoxicating: it feels like dancing. And I knew everyone who came in. I gossiped, I flirted: that felt like dancing too. When it was not busy, I hopped up on the counter and read, or daydreamed, or sat at a table and talked. The CD player was on top of the drinks cooler. To change the CDs we'd have to climb up on the counter. We'd put in The Pixies, Mozart, My Bloody Valentine, Meat Puppets.

Did people hook up, fall in love, break up? They did. Meaning compounds when you've had seven cups of coffee and have run out of things to say. Things ran at a pretty high pitch.

(For example, I am writing this at a coffee house, and three people, two men and a woman, are having a conversation about estimating weight. Woman: "Guess my weight. [First guy] was way off." Second guy: "Stand up. Huh. I'd say 106, soaking wet." She: "You guys are crazy! I weigh 138 pounds!" And these people are full-on adults.)

It bothers me that after I took over, the business did even worse. I was working full-time at a publishing company, 4 ten-hour days a week, with one weekday to get all the coffee house business done. Bank, icehouse, wholesale club, payroll, schedule. That was actually great. I loved having the day to myself, barrelling around town, carrying heavy stuff. I just didn't understand that we were losing money - I never saw the bank statements. I'm still embarrassed that I let Joe down.

We closed the thing down right around when I left town for New York. Late 1994 or maybe 1995. My chronologies for the early 90's are a mess: I try to date my few photographs by cross-referencing boyfriends, haircuts, tattoos, apartments. All of which there were too many of.

Polaroid Land camera photo by Katie O'Meara

Maybe that's why I get so blue when I think about those days. All that flux, all that running around, all those crushes and jealousies... it seems pretty pointless fifteen years later. Especially since the relationships I had have all but turned to ash. None of the people in the above picture speak to me, although it's mutual in the case of the tall guy. And towards the end, heroin hit our neighborhood pretty hard, and people died. Died or left town.

On the other hand, the ones who are still talking to me and are still living are some of the highest-quality people I know. Maybe the others are too, but I am not likely to learn of it.

Here are the things I learned:
  1. I am a crappy manager
  2. The correct amount of ground coffee to make a pot is .28 pounds
  3. French presses are not worth the trouble
  4. Poetry is not to be trusted
  5. The eleven-ounce C-handle ceramic mug is one of the most durable items ever manufactured

photo by Joshua McKerrow