Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Darkening the doorway

Top: The 150-foot tall Zilker Park Christmas tree, Austin, Texas; below: Yours Truly and his two daughters (G. is on the left; C. in the middle) demonstrate what any self-respecting, physically-able Austinite must do, round and round, at high speed, underneath said tree. Both pictures taken by my brother, whom I'd not seen since his return from Iraq this past spring.

Ten days and over 2,000 miles later, I'm back home--briefly (New Year's Day/The Mrs.'s birthday celebration up in Topeka (where those who know, go), dontcha know). Scruffy is relieved to be home as well: he likes other dogs well enough, but he prefers them smaller and in smaller doses than the ways in which he was around them. As soon as we got home yesterday and he had a quick look around the apartment, he collapsed on the living room floor and slept the sleep of the relieved.

Anyway, this is one of those end-of-year grab-bag kinds of posts, partly self-indulgent, of things that popped up while I was out and about. To spare both the casual visitor and those who'd just rather move on to something more substantive, the rest of the post is below the fold . . . though those who choose to persevere will find a practical driving tip at the very end.

Just before I left, Nick (who also goes by "Doc") of Will Not Be Televised very kindly e-mailed me to ask me if I would send him a link to a post of mine that, in my estimation, was the best of what I had posted last year. He was making the same request of all the bloggers he links to: an idea he freely admits he had stolen from online-satirist extraordinaire Jon Swift. Of all the ideas out there that one could steal, by the way, this one is especially worthy of being stolen. Anyway, I sent him a link to a post and, while I was away, he sent me the link to his "The Best of You" post. Thanks again for asking to include me, Nick. In case anyne is curious/cares, I sent him "Cycling in the Rain; or, Defying the cultural logic of late capitalism", in which a Saturday-morning rainstorm leads to some musing about how serious bike-riding reshapes how we think about those things we call "neighborhoods." For those not inclined to read every last one of the posts Nick links to, here's my selection of the best of The Best: "Caught Between the Devil and a Hard Rain" (a Bass-o-Matic of the Kansas City blogosphere, Robocop, drug-running, Lutheranism, and f-word-speaking Beatrix Potter characters (really!)); "Lucky Wok" (in which KC-area restaurant-reviewer DLC advises readers not to run to the buffet at your local Chinese-buffet place but to "try the Chinese (menu)"); and this vignette from An Oddment of Sandwiches recounting the strange confluence of the paranormal and Final Jeopardy! that reads a little like one of those stories from Zen Buddhism.

Those less than satisfied with my own best-of-new (to me) music post might find greater satisfaction with this list of lists over at NPR. Like NPR itself, the lists in the aggregate are like NPR itself: an eclectic mix of the mainstream and the less-known, the domestic and the international, selections by noted critics and regular listeners' own choices. I literally only have time right now just to link to it, but next week I look forward to delving into them. Also via NPR's All Things Considered from yesterday: this utterly charming Robert Siegel interview with Caitlin Sanchez, the new voice for Dora the Explorer. Siegel treats her like a child, in the very best sense of that phrase; Sanchez, meanwhile, is a precocious 12-year-old (she likes Thelonious Monk) who clearly has spent a lot of time talking to adults but doesn't come across--except in one funny instance--as one of those kids who's forgotten that she's just a kid. If you have 7 minutes to spare, you'll want to listen--their exchange about Thelonious Monk is a great little entree into thinking about his music.

And speaking of music: Santa was exceedingly generous to me in that department this Christmas. I received The Neville Brothers' Gold, a 5-decade survey of their music and the perfect introduction for those whose knowledge of the Nevilles begins and ends with Aaron--Aaron is here, but so also are generous selections from the Brothers' other permutations as the Hawkettes, the Meters, and the Wild Tchoupitoulas--all told, a great survey of New Orleans-style R&B and funk; Steely Dan's Can't Buy a Thrill, still my favorite album by them; and Vols. 1 and 2 of Home Grown! The Beginner's Guide to Understanding the Roots (rap, from an actual band, no less, that doesn't lapse into the caricature of thuggin' and druggin' and celebrations of excesses but, instead, continues in the tradition of Public Enemy and NWA: hard-edged and angry but not despairing. Good stuff.)

It was good to spend some time with my daughters, now 14 and almost 11, at my Mom's house. In addition to the Austin-y thing pictured above, we visited the LBJ Library and Museum, did a little book-shopping (both remain avid readers), bought some bicycle accessories for younger daughter C.'s newish grape-purple bicycle, and went shopping at Central Market, which is something like your local foodie hangout on steroids--all healthy and good-for-you steroids, though, of course. G. was looking for--and found--some sodas from France that her French teacher had shared with the class; C. was in search of chocolate-covered sunflower seeds, and each met with success. I didn't find the Twinings chamomile tea flavored with honey and vanilla that the Mrs. and I had one day while in Mexico City, but C. reminded me that there's this thing called the Internet and I might try looking there. Ah so. They are beginning to recover from their Jonas Brothers fixation--G. was proud to share with me her wonder at the music she had been introduced to via Pandora: "music no one has heard of," she said. C. and I spent about an hour one day just batting a tennis ball back and forth on the floor--not talking much, just passing the time together. At one point, she got the giggles and then the hiccups, which caused me to laugh. "It's (hic!) not funny!" she admonished. "Yeah, it kinda is," I told her.

It is now about eight and a half years since I moved away from them, and so I know well not to take a great deal of the credit for how they have so far become the girls--young women, really--they have become. (Whatever differences their mother and I had as a couple, there's no denying that she has been a wonderful mother to them.) I could not be prouder of them, but it is the sort of pride resulting from, mostly, whatever I have may have contributed to the Nature side of the Nature/Nurture ledger. It is natural, though, for parents to look for traces of themselves in their children, and so my particular version of that search is an odd one: physical resemblances aside, what of me is in them, after not having been a daily part of their lives for so long? It is a hard thing to say. All I know is, I do clearly see both those ways that they are like their mother and those ways they are not. They are like that merging of people that their mother and I never figured out how to do, but they are also more and other than that merging, too. They are already different from this past June, when I spent almost a month with them; no doubt, they'll be different people again this summer, when I hope to have them here in Wichita for a week or so. Anyway: it was an all-too-short three days with them, but it was time well spent.

Enough of that. I do want to make sure, though, that those of you who have read this far leave with some practical advice (via my father-in-law): If you happen to run over a mattress with your car on the highway, Don't. Keep. Driving. (Click to enlarge the images.)

An early Happy New Year to all.


Cordelia said...

Hello, John. Long time, no write, I know. Somehow, I had not figured out that your daughters are not living with you, so that made this entry very poignant for me. It is wonderful that you were able to be with them for Christmas. On another topic, I can't see the mattress photos: when I click the blank space, it opens up to a page asking if I have a yahoo account. Happy New Year !

Lee said...


So glad you enjoyed the Jeopardy story on Oddment of Sandwiches. Just finished your best-of post on cycling in the rain and feel like buying a bike...