Archive for the ‘my upbringing’ Category

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Motherfucking Kindergarten

October 16, 2006

I swear a lot.  All the time; conversationally, in writing, hell, I probably swear in my sleep.  It’s like tourette’s.  I’m not sure if I could stop if I tried, which is going to make teaching my daughter to speak… interesting.  I’m pretty much resigned to her just learning a ton of bad words and telling them immediately to every three year old (and their parents) she meets.  Should make for some awesome conversations at the park, or day care, or while waiting in line at the supermarket, not to mention a series of weird “double standards” conversations between me & her later at home.  “Now Emerson, I know Timmy pulled on your pigtails, but that’s no reason to tell the whole class that you hope Timmy chokes on a bucket of cocks.”

Thinking about raising my daughter usually leads to me thinking about my own upbringing, but I can’t for the life of me remember learning swear words.  I remember learning about the birds & bees, and I remember hearing a couple dirty jokes that I didn’t get, but I don’t really remember learning a bad word.  When I was in first grade, I had dinner over at the next door neighbor’s house, and their daughter (a year older than me, and really sophisticated) warned me that they’d be serving Eggplant, which she claimed “tasted like shit”.  I knew at the time what the word meant, & I’ve hated eggplant ever since, but I’m not sure when I learned the word in the first place.   I knew it was a bad word, but I can’t remember ever having a “we don’t use that word in public” conversation with my folks.  Hey – maybe they never had that conversation with me, and that’s why I swear so often.

I’ll blame my parents when Emerson’s teacher calls me to pick her up from pre-school detention.

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Touching the Dead

October 12, 2006

To get you in the mood for Halloween, here is the spookiest story I know; while I believe the story to be absolutely true, I must confess that this is my father’s story, and as such may have certain details completely made up, a hallmark of his tales if ever there was one. 

As a lifelong swimmer and member of the varsity swim team, it was only natural that my dad helped pay his way through college as a lifeguard.  This was in the mid 1950’s, in Iowa.  Now, they say it’s very common for competent people to fear failure of their competency more than the average person – like the pilot who fears engine trouble, or the race car driver who fears a collision.  In my father’s case, he’s had a lifelong fear of drowning, and despite swimming nearly every day of his life, very rarely went in the ocean, preferring pools, with no rip tides, and shallow lanes where he could stand securely on the floor.

One day, back in Iowa he got a call to come down to the lake, which served as the local swimming hole.  It was from the volunteer fire & rescue, looking to help search the lake for a missing swimmer.  I’ve only swum in a lake once, in Missouri, and the entire time I stared at the rocks that slightly overhung the shore, and I imagined the sharp toothed creatures that lived just under them, waiting to bite my soft belly when I tried to exit the lake.  Lakes may be good for boating, but in my opinion they are fucking creepy for swimming in.  The primary issue with the lake is that it’s murky, like the ocean, only you can’t touch the bottom, which you usually can when you’re playing among the waves.  Murky, and deep.  

So after quite a while of swimming in the lake, my father abruptly found the missing swimmer.  The paramedics later figured that he had accidentally wedged his foot between two rocks near the bottom of the water while diving too deep, and yet the water was just shallow enough that he could almost reach the feet of the people swimming above.  But down at his depth, it was pitch dark, only a little light from above as he drowned, watching the other kids playing above him, oblivious to his fate.  I don’t know quite what creeps me out more about this story, the thought of the poor kid drowning within (his) view of laughing, playing children, or the thought of my dad, the best swimmer I ever met, terrified of drowning, brushing up against a corpse in the pitch dark of the bottom of a lake, and only the touch of the lifeless body to tell him what he’d found.

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The Wild, Wild West

September 2, 2006

Many TV shows have had great theme songs, and a few have featured great opening credit visuals, but no show in TV history had a better “theme song/opening credits” combo than the 1960’s Wild Wild West.  The credits unfolded like a cartoon, with each panel revealing a facet of the hero’s badass personality.  Hidden gun up his sleeve, quick on the draw, good with the ladies, etc. 

One thing I was interested to see: in one version of the credits, a woman makes out with the hero only as a ruse, so she can stab him to death while he’s distracted by her charms.  West figures this out and throws a right cross that knocks her cold.  In another version, every other detail of the credits is the same, down to the part with the female assassin, but this time she stops, during the makeout, and decides NOT to kill West.  Apparently his makeout skillz are so elite that she can’t bring herself to kill him. 

I knew of both versions as a kid, when I watched reruns of the show in syndication, but I always just figured the “non-violent” version came after the initial version, probably because advocates against violence towards women had complained.  Turns out I was wrong.  In the first season, the assassin decides of her own free will not to attack, but in all later seasons, West clocks her

By the way, if you’re a TV Show credits dork, this playlist is for you.

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The square egg machine

August 21, 2006

Growing up in the 1970’s, I knew that my parents didn’t take lightly to the idea of foolishly spending money.  Unlike my peers, my parents never had: separate cars, cable TV, answering machines, a VCR, multiple phone lines, a maid or a gardener.  Of course, by the mid eighties, when my brothers had moved out of the house, they started adding in some of these things, and by today, the only one that still eludes them is the answering machine (“if it’s important, I’m sure they’ll call back”). 

But it’s that Carter-era frugality that makes me doubt my own childhood memories when I think back upon my parents buying a Square Egg Machine. Of all the needless crap invented in the Seventies (pet rocks, have a nice day bumper stickers, the Pinto) few things seem more non-essential than a device for squeezing your hardboiled egg from traditional oval (or “egg”) shape into a cube.  But for some reason, purchase it they did, and I can still remember the one time it got used. 

We all stared breathlessly as my father ratcheted down the clear pyrex lid, crushing the egg into conformity with its new dimensions… would it retain this cubist form once it was free’d from captivity?  The wait was palpable, and if I remember correctly, really, really long.  Possibly months.  But at the end of it all, we took out the hard-boiled egg, which was indeed square, and marvelled at its absolute lack of ovality.  And then, I believe, someone ate it.  I’m not sure who, except that I’m damn sure it wasn’t me, because I don’t really enjoy hard boiled eggs.  We were, to a man, underwhelmed, and never again did we use the machine.  No idea what happened to it, although if I had to guess, I’d say we threw it out, costing ourselves a cool $7.99 decades later in potential eBay profits.

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You owe it to yourself

June 23, 2006

to be watching a show called The Thick of It, Fridays on BBC America.  Winner of two British Emmy's (called BAFTAs) for best comedy (beating out Ricky Gervais' HBO show Extras) and best actor, and drowning in universal acclaim, it's easily the funniest thing on television now that Arrested Development's been killed.  I watched the first six episodes, and it's on a brief hiatus now, but when it starts up again you should check it out.  Like Curb Your Enthusiasm, only plot points are scripted, much is improvised, and the result is the most natural dialogue I've ever seen on a show.  Likewise, the actors all have incredible comic timing.  The highlight of the show is Peter Capaldi (from Local Hero) as the Prime Minister's pitbull of an enforcer, Malcom Tucker.  Streams of profanity have never been so eloquent nor hilarious.  A word of warning: if you had a hard time following the language in the British version of The Office, this is not for you; with the rapid fire conversations, profane slang and thick accents, this is more like the nightclubbing scene in Trainspotting, but for the whole episode.

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The Shark of Headington

April 5, 2006

When I was a kid, we had to spend every third year in Oxford, England.  It was quite a change from Los Angeles, where the other two years were spent, but in retrospect, I'm really glad I got to do it, and wish I could do the same thing now.  The last full year I spent there was in 1983-84, but I still recognize scenes from Harry Potter & other movies that are shot among the centuries old buildings.  While I grew up in L.A., I became accustomed to seeing films that had been shot in areas I routinely drove by, so when I was in Oxford, seeing them film a very special Family Ties episode where Alex Keaton spends a summer studying in Oxford, or Spielberg's Young Sherlock Holmes being shot across from my dad's office didn't seem that out of place.

In retrospect, I left Oxford right before it became interesting, as the year after I last stayed there, Radiohead formed (with the current lineup) and started playing gigs around town.  But even cooler than that, in 1986 some guy in Headington (the little neighborhood of Oxford that I lived in in 1974) built a giant statue of a great white shark that had plummetted out of the skies and crash landed head first into his roof.  And to this day, I've never seen it in person.  It ranks up there with the Seattle Fremont Troll in terms of cool amateur art things I really want to see the next time I'm in a particular city.

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Facts I know that are true

February 15, 2006

Before the dawn of the web, I would occasionally be given a piece of information so bizarre that my mind would just file it away and not think of it again.  By the time the fact would come up again months or even years later, I would have completely lost the ability to remember if it was something that had been told to me as truth, or something I saw in a fictional location like a tv show, movie or novel.  In almost every case, it was something true, but very unlikely.  I can only think of three examples now, but they are all exact cases of things I was told and then later doubted my own memories.

Fact #1: Jimmy Carter was attacked by a wild rabbit.  It doesn't seem right.  I mean, I can't think of anyone else who has been attacked by a swamp rabbit, but if I were to imagine such a person, they would be a toothless yokel, most likely one who was out to catch a tasty rabbit dinner but instead caught a vicious bunny comeuppance.  Not, you know, the most powerful man in the free world.  I think this one was helped by the fact that it happened when I was like seven or so.

Fact #2: There is a town in Western Pennsylvania that has been on fire for 45 years.  That town is Centralia, PA, and it is a town made of coal, with an aerated network of underground (and thus hard to reach/extinguish) tunnels throughout, one of which caught fire in 1961.  Only 11 people still live there, but still, 11 people still live there.  WTF people of Centralia?  Your town has been on fire since I was negative 10 years old, property values aren't going to turn a corner.

Fact #3: The city of Seattle burned to the ground in the 1890s and rebuilt itself two stories above the old city, leaving an the remains of an entire city underground.  This one's a bit of an exaggeration, there's nothing underground but ruins, but how and why it happened seem unique to Seattle among all US cities, and fascinating to me.

Now that I have readily available web-access I can check any of these things quite easily; just another way in which my daughter will grow up in a world completely different than the one I grew up in – no more factual uncertainty.  Ironically, one of my father's favorite things to do with me as a child was to make up complete lies when he didn't know the answer to a question.  He told me a large old stone by the roadside in Oxford was a Roman mile marker, and that it dated back 1800 years to when the town was a Roman outpost, and the Romans put them every mile on the major roads, starting in London and spiraling out.  I believed him as he is a famous medieval historian, and also very somber and not prone to hysterics.  Later, my mom told me it was just a random boulder and that my father had improvised the lie for no particular reason. 

One of the things I had been looking forward to in having a child was sharing some of the more unusual, wonderful things in this world with her, like taking her to the waterfall at McWay Falls in Big Sur, or to Mont St Michel on the coast of France, but also, just as much I had looked forward to telling her the elaborate lies my father told me, and making up new ones, turning common boulders into Roman milestone markers.  Lousy internet, de-gullibleifying my 2 month old daughter!