At the beach today, a fairly innocuous looking guy who claimed to be a journalism teacher at a high school in Pennsylvania asked if he could take a picture of Alex and Ian-- they were wearing their sun hats and playing on a large pile of sand-- but I told him I thought that was kind of weird, and that I would rather he didn't; I would never ask anyone if I could take a picture of their kids, so that's how I made my decision, but it also may have been influenced by the fact that earlier in the day the lifeguards pulled everyone out of the water for a few minutes because of a reputed shark sighting.
While walking home from soccer I saw a great moment in youth sports: a shaggy haired kid who couldn't have been more than eight was standing on the tennis court, sandwiched by his parents, who were tag-teaming him with a vicious coaching diatribe because of his lame strokes and lamer attitude-- the mom, who was wearing a Rutgers shirt and looked athletic in a stocky way, started with "If you don't lift your arm, I'll lift you! Don't tell me it's hot, it was hotter than this at camp! Did they have air-conditioning on the courts at camp? I don't think so! If you don't bend your knees, I'll bend you!" and then the dad, who was TOSSING the kid balls to stroke, that's how young the kid was, who might have been named Maggie, told her to stop and "watch Momma, don't watch the ball, watch Momma" and he would toss her one and "Momma" would whip a crisp top-spin forehand down the line, and then Dad would go back to tossing to his kid, who could barely bop the thing over the net, and the berating would begin all over again.
It's all how you phrase it: when I suggested (to save some money) that I could do some of the painting for our kitchen addition, my wife gave me an absolute vote of no confidence, and banned me from doing ANY painting in her new kitchen, which offended me, of course-- I told her she had to give me some sort of hope that I could possibly do it, if I was very careful and uncharacteristically neat, even if she didn't believe this and wasn't planning on letting me even stir the paint can-- just to show faith that her husband has the ability to improve himself, just to see optimism and potential in the universe-- and she said to me, "What do you want me to do? Lie?" and I said, "Yes! That's what people do!" and she said I was too sensitive, but my friend Eric didn't see what the problem was, he just said, "This is great-- now you don't have to paint."
Just watched Tombstone, one of the movies everyone had seen but me (now only Top Gun and The Big Chill remain) and it's like everyone is acting in a different genre of film: Kurt Russell and Dana Delany are in a cheesy 80's romantic comedy (and they don't even attempt to alter their diction); Sam Elliott is in a bona fide Western; Bill Paxton and Jason Priestly are in a made for TV movie; Powers Boothe is in a B slasher flick; Val Kilmer steals the show as Doc Holiday-- and he's in a super-freaky Tarantino-esque trip; Charlton Heston is in The Ten Commandments; and the director had the audacity to start and end the film like a documentary, with some black and white footage and a voice-over, but he couples this with maudlin music, romanticized shots of thundering hoof-beats, Schwarzenegger-esque dialogue (Johnny Ringos says "Let's do this" and Kurt Russell says, "See you in Hell") and some of the most absurd gunfighting in cinema history-- what were they thinking?
Close call in Princeton: after eating a giant meal at Tortuga's Mexican Village ( I ordered three items instead of two, I couldn't pass up an extra tamale smothered with chicken and mole sauce) we took the kids to the art and archaeology museum, where the rule is that you must hold hands with your children so they do not destroy the artifacts, and while staring at a Buddha, my button popped off my shorts and Catherine did not have a bobby pin on her (in fact, she thought my request was ludicrous) and, most importantly, I had been at the gym earlier and didn't bring an extra pair of boxers so I was commando under there . . . there was nothing but one layer of unsupported fabric between me and the art-- and some of those statues are naked . . . but I got out without flashing any Princetonites and from now on I will stick to two items when I eat at Tortuga's (but I can't make any promises about the underwear).
When I notice someone has the hiccups, I pretend there is a bug in their hair-- this usually gets people flustered, anxious and concerned . . . they bat their hair, look for a mirror, shake their heads, etcetera . . . and the reverse peristalsis rights itself, plus everyone gets a laugh-- but I tried this on Catherine yesterday and it didn't work; she said, "Well, get it out" and when I pretended to be squeamish about grabbing the bug she called me a "pussy"-- actually she spelled it out, because the kids were sitting there, but still.
In the locker-room after successful swim with my new Otterbox (makes an Ipod submersible) I heard one old guy ask another how he was doing-- and the other guy's reply was truly inspirational, one of the sunniest things I've ever heard, in fact, a whole new way of looking at the world; he said: "Doing good, doing good . . . a lot of people didn't wake up this morning."
On the way home from the beach yesterday (and there's no better way to decompress from a long weekend at the beach than by going to the beach-- except when Ian dropped a load in his bathing suit) we were listening to the radio and there was a reference to the "More Cowbell" SNL sketch and my wife revealed that she had never seen it, which kind of astounded me, but then I realized because of the massive variety of media choices that we have now, that we have gotten into the habit of understanding people simply by what they have seen and not their thoughts on what they have seen-- because of the lack of a common denominator (You hate Silver Spoons? Me too!) we simply count someone's choice in media as enough to signify taste, critical thought and intelligence (you watch The Wire? Me too! Awesome!) and we determine that not knowing some media exists at all as a serious character indicator (you've never heard of Radiohead? Very, very weird . . . there must be something wrong here . . . where did you grow up?) and this is probably not the best way to judge people.
Some things that happened on this years fishing trip (OBFT XV) that didn't happen on the others: 1) stand-up paddle boarding 2) no swimmin' flag for three days 3) Lacy, the bartender at Tortuga's, joined in movie game II and sat down and had a beer with us AND texted Jeremy twice to see if we would meet her out, despite the fact that she was married-- to a good-looking but humorless guy-- and had a kid 4) Whitney invented the movie sound track game and scrolled from A to Z on his infinite Ipod 5) Cliff demonstrated his knowledge of Mary Poppins and Grease 6) Rodell demonstrated his musical knowledge of Singles and Fast Times at Ridgemont High 7) Squirrel demonstrated his musical knowledge of The Big Chill 8) we learned that I have never seen Top Gun (but I have seen The Big Lewbowski and can identify the Cheers theme song in one note) and that Lacy has never seen Vacation 9) Frisbeer, which is all about defense 10) Kenny Bloom and Fish were in spitting distance but decided not to show 11) this is all I can think of for now, remind me of anything else I forgot-- it's too bad no one has been keeping track of what happened for the last fifteen years.
Yesterday, when we returned from a day at the beach, there was a cryptic message on the phone from my grandmother (this isn't unusual as no one in my family ever leaves anything concrete on an answering machine, they always demand a call-back) and when I called her back she told me she wanted to give me some money for my fishing trip, but I told her not to drive over because there was a downed telephone pole on Route 1, and so she asked me if Catherine had 50$, and if she did, then she was to give it to me, and then she would give Catherine 50$; although, Catherine said this was the funniest thing she had ever heard, I held my tongue while I was on the phone, because fifty dollars is fifty dollars and I wasn't going to risk it with a sarcastic comment about the logic of a financial tranasction.
I would like to lose a few pounds before I gain a few pounds on vacation (I will not gain them back-- I will gain some entirely new pounds on vacation, mainly composed of fermented sugars, aquatic life, and pulled pork . . . unless I continue my moratorium on large mammals) and so I have developed a new diet, the gum diet: whenever I want to eat a cookie or a ham sandwich, instead I chew some gum.
Lots of firsts: first fish caught by Alex; first fish caught by Ian; in a typical reversal, second child learns to swim first-- yesterday Ian, who although only three, has been experimenting with holding his breath under water and jumping in the pool (unlike Alex, who, like me as a child, is very tentative, anxious, and completely oblivious to peer pressure-- he could care less if he looks like a complete wiener in front of other kids) started swimming for real-- stroking, kicking, keeping his mouth closed-- and jumped in and out of my friends pool for hours, letting himself go deep under-water (he's too short to touch) and then practiced swimming to the ladder, and then finally (wearing a floaty vest) swam the length of the pool with me nervously treading water beside him; also, after our fishing trip, we were playing at Bicentennial Park, and it was the first time I've ever seen an Asian grandmother try to do the zip line-- I think she pulled something.
The recent salmonella laden tomato scare reminded me of my favorite line in 1978 camp classic Attack of the Killer Tomatoes: Sam Smith, a master of disguise so cunning, that even though he is black, he has no trouble posing as Hitler, infiltrates the tomatoes' camp and is eating human flesh with them, when he makes a grave error and asks, "Can somebody please pass the ketchup?"-- he is consumed by the tomatoes he is spying on.
When I woke up this morning, I had a brief blissful moment of delusional consciousness . . . I thought that I didn't go out last night in New Brunswick and do the usual thing that happens when Whitney comes to town (shoot darts, chew tobacco, stay up far too late in a dinghy bar, get a grease-truck sandwich) but then that feeling was shattered by my son Ian's voice . . . he was yelling "Time to wake up!" at Alex's door (Whitney's daughters were sleeping in there) and then it all came back to me: I remembered that, improbably, we did go out, energized by the late appearance of Mose-- long after the kids and the ladies had gone to bed-- but there was one salubrious change in the routine . . . I did not get a greasetruck sandwich and Whitney, infamous for his usual two sandwich order (we'll have a cheese-steak and egg and a fat-bitch/ we? you!) only ordered one measly cheese-steak and egg-- which confounded the order taker: no mozzarella sticks on that? chicken fingers? french fries? gyro meat? do you want your cheese-steak and egg on top of a chicken parm?-- and then Whitney shared the seemingly slender sandwich with me, and we realized that the super-sizing of America is pretty scary, because fifteen years ago we thought a cheese-steak with egg was the height of gluttony, but now-- in comparison to the newer "fat" sandwiches-- it has become an hors d'oeuvre.
John McCain may have thought he was being cute with a bunch of his constituents, but when he said, "Now we've got the cables, talk radio, the bloggers-- I HATE the bloggers" (which was followed by loud laughter from the crowd)-- he lost my vote (yes, this was going to be the presidential election that I finally planned to participate in-- to get out and vote, to cast my ballot, to chime in politically, to pull the lever for democracy, but now I might just sit at home and blog about what a stupid comment that was, alienating the most intelligent, creative, energetic, egalitarian cutting-edge, diligent, gritty, inventive, sincere, down-to-earth and timely segment of the media-- the bloggers!-- who I now hope will go jihad on his ass and remind everyone that McCain once wanted to rid the country of the corn and ethanol subsidies but has now changed his tune, and I hope they will dig up all that great blogging scuttlebutt and hearsay and rumor and fact and spread it across the internet in a tsunami of searchable text that will wash away the slightly tech-savvy septuagenarians who recognized the word "blogger" as something liberal and elitist and having to do with computers and therefore deserving derision, along with the McCain campaign itself!)
Some of the things that happened on our first camping trip with the boys: 1) Alex christened our new tent with multiple vomits the first night at the site, keeping us up all night 2) Alex recovered the next day, and so we thought maybe it was because he was drinking non-potable water out of his hands after covering them with ash from an old fire 3) I got everyone lost on the way to a hike along Lake George-- there are TWO route nines-- but Dom and Michell's GPS saved the day 4) I had to carry Ian just about every step of an "easy" 3.5 mile hike 5) we saw a lot of amphibians: giant tadpoles, toads, tiny frogs, and a red eft 6) we started an insurrection at a beach where the life-guard was late, so that when he arrived, everyone was in the water 6.9) Alex took a shot to the eye from one of those old school self-push playground merry go rounds (most of which have been removed, because they're so dangerous-- i haven't seen one in twenty years) 7) we lost the 175 dollar flip-out key to my parents new car, which they lent us for the trip, and spent hours searching for it, and even went so far as to have my father FedEX a spare, before we found it in a place that I had only gave a perfunctory glance, but luckily I never vehemently blamed Catherine during the search, though she is usually the one to lose things 8) we left a day early because Catherine, Ian, and I all contracted the stomach bug that Alex had, and we all spent the night and morning throwing up and running to the bathroom-- which is really hard to do when you're sleeping in a tent, so we packed the car in the morning-- with much help because we were too weak to lift and shake tarps-- and Ian was wandering around the camp-site in a daze, occasionally dry heaving, but luckily, he only had to use the bucket once in the car, and he slept for the bulk of the four hour ride, which was so eternal to Catherine and I that we switched drivers four time, but we made it home in once piece and everyone was asleep before 7:30 (so this is ACTUALLY being posted at 5:30 AM, unlike the past few days, which were automatically posted while I was away, which I think is really cool-- I am always providing the best sentence content on the web-- but others think this is a little sketchy, but I didn't want to bring my lap-top on a camping trip, though I think there was WiFi, which is pretty ridiculous, but perhaps on the next trip I will bring it, because this trip I scorned everyone's air-mattresses and refused to sleep on Catherine's as a matter of principle, it makes the tent cluttered and the kids use it as a moon bounce, but then once I contracted the flu, sleeping on the cheap Thermarest pad made every part of my body sore, so I got my just desserts).
Alex frequently talks about moving to the rain forest so he can rescue animals-- like his hero, Diego-- but what he doesn't realize, is that in the summer in central New Jersey, the rain forest moves to you and the animal that needs rescuing is me, from the midges and the mosquitoes (maybe I should stop complaining and turn on the air conditioning).
I play soccer every Sunday, and it hurts when I start and it hurts when I finish, but for twenty minutes or so I feel young again, but that twenty minutes costs me a couple of days of soreness-- both physical (I limp on my left ankle) and mental (kind of like Charlie in "Flowers for Algernon," it makes me remember that I was once young and fast and limber, but now I'm headed in the other direction and, sadly, I realize it)-- unless, and I still haven't tried it yet, unless the home remedy I just learned about is truly a fountain of youth . . . the recipe is one part apple cider vinegar to four parts juice (grape and apple) and you drink a few sips of it, chilled, every morning and you're never sore again.
Alex did his first magic trick the other day-- he took a penny, showed it to me, and then placed it behind his back and asked me to guess which hand it was in, so I guessed the right, but he opened his palm and it wasn't there, and then I guessed the left-- and there was the quick sound of a falling coin on the wood floor-- and then he opened his left hand . . . which was empty as well: magic!
We watched Persepolis last night (if you haven't read the graphic novel, now you don't need to-- someone animated it for you!) and I finished Willa Cather's One of Ours this morning; both works portray war as an awful thing, so they have that in common, but also, in both works, the war doesn't so much as change the main character as just show him or her (respectively Marjane Satrapi and Claude Wheeler) in a clearer light-- so I recommend both not as grim, cautionary tales, but more as character studies: they both have a light touch.
Yesterday at the beach there was a cool enough breeze off the ocean that when you got out from swimming, it was downright chilly, and even when we got into the car (which was parked in the sun) the thermometer only registered 81F, but on the ride home on Route 18 it slowly and steadily rose, and a mere thirty five miles later-- at the Spotswood exit-- it had climbed to 95F: when we got out of the car, it felt more like disembarking from an airplane after taking a winter flight to somewhere tropical (and meeting Celine, fresh from Turkey, accentuated the feeling that we were in another country, and she dredged up many fond memories of haggling with cab-drivers in meter-less cabs).
King of Kong joins Hoosiers, Billy Elliot and Rescue Dawn as movies that have gotten me choked up and teary eyed-- but King of Kong (a documentary about a rivalry between world class Donkey King players) is almost too archetypal to be real, and I wonder how they got such great footage of Billy Mitchell-- the Darth Vader of the film-- because he came off as so enigmatic and secretive . . . I hope I'm not being manipulated by the film, because that wouldn't make me weepy, it would make me angry . . . very angry . . . and I'm trying to control my temper, though that's hard during the summer, since I spend all day with my kids-- and the only thing they respond to is anger-- but I'm trying to be a good model for my son Alex, who now talks about his anger in the third person-- e.g. this morning, after Ian destroyed his Lego spaceship Alex said, "I'm getting my anger, I think in a second I'm going to have my anger, my anger is coming" and then, as he predicted, it did.
I can't put down this new book by reporter Bill Bishop called The Big Sort; the premise is that Americans are agglomerating into micro-geographical regions of similar people-- mainly because so many Americans have moved in the past thirty years and everyone realizes how important and controllable this choice is, but this exacerbates the division between Democrats and Republicans, because there's a sort of feedback loop when you only interact with people of your own mind-set-- and that whole idea that there are more swing voters is a myth, there are almost no swing voters-- and actually, people's choices aren't changing the party-lines, the party lines are changing people's choices to be more in line with the party, because it's easier to conform to a group (which is now more homogeneous than ever) and instead of engaging in discourse and debate with media and people different than you-- as was much more the case in 1976, when statistics show that you were more likely to switch parties, live in a mixed party neighborhood, have people in your church of mixed party, etc-- instead your church is probably primarily of your political affiliation (and is the most accurate prediction of what party you are-- if you believe the Bible is the undisputed Word of God, then you are a probably Republican)-- and this just scratches the surface of the book . . . I read 250 pages last night because my parents took the kids, so it was a lot to digest, but one fact I remember is that if you belong to a mail order movie rental club (like Netflix) you are probably a Democrat . . . also made me really understand what the show Weeds is about (for a quote from the book, visit Dave's Quote of the Day).
The first half of Wall-E rivals films like Modern Times, Brazil, and 2001: A Space Odyssey (which it parodies in the second half) for pure aesthetic entertainment and memorable imagery, and though it has a message for the kids and a tacked on happy ending, the movie is really just about looking at the screen-- bring the kids (if you want to answer a thousand questions, especially if you're with my son, Alex, who has inherited my penchant for talking, questioning, commenting, editorializing, and crying in the movie theater) or, even better, leave them home (and maybe the wife too-- Catherine jammed her ankle running after Alex on his runaway big-wheel, and when she tried to get up after the movie was over, she couldn't walk and it was dark, of course, and we were meeting my parents next door at Bertucci's but as she hobbled out of the theater it started down-pouring, but we couldn't run for the car because she couldn't run so we got soaked and when we were sorting things out in front of the restaurant, Ian, vigilant about his big-boy underwear, pulled his pants down and showed the restaurant and parking lot some full frontal nudity and I had to scoop him up and run inside to the bathroom, leaving my crippled wife in the down-pour with Alex).