Just down the street from "Merkins & Also."
There is a new presence in my life, one that has eluded me for many years. It was a constant long ago, an obsession, an activity that preyed on my innate predilections for board games and word geekery.
Scrabble has come back to me.
I look back now and wonder how I managed without it for so long. I played all the time when I was younger, with a bunch of trash-talkin', bingo-lovin', SOWPODS-totin' yahoos who lived for the tiles, man. We'd get together and play, and drink, and reminisce (remember that time I played HAZEL for a trip-word, and then nailed HAZELNUT for the other trip-word?), and drink some more. A few of us liked to pick a letter and do a shot every time someone played it.
And we challenged. Oh, sweet cracker sandwich how we challenged. Because people played phonies all the time, and some of them got really entertaining after you'd knocked back a jigger of Maker's Mark for every T on the board. The only thing worse than getting caught in a phony was challenging and losing, because that meant you were an ignorant little trollmonkey who needed a little time to himself, with the good book, before he was fit to re-enter society.
I'm not good enough to compete or anything. I can't sit back and reel off 8-letter arcania like COTQUEAN or VERJUICE (I looked those up), but the wordsmith jones has always been with me. And lying dormant, mostly, since I got married. About the best I've done is read Word Freak and marvel at the peculiar intellect and motivation that gets you to that coveted 1600 rating.
But now, I've struck the mother lode of word freaks around the interweb, and I'm playing Scrabble online. With Geeks Across America. It's wonderful. But is also robs me of lots of precious writing time (and sleep, since a few of you are over on the west coast). You can't play phonies, and it's a bit lame to talk trash by IM, but it's scratching an itch I thought I'd long since drowned in calamine. (Which is an excellent 8-letter bingo, btw.)
So that's a lot of the reason why I haven't posted lately. But I have a lot to say about this summer, and how it's ending, and how I will cherish it, both in my near- and long-term memory. But now, it's time to prepare for that next step in a boy's life. The thing that has you buying up "required" supplies like foam board, and Elmer's glue. The thing that sends you for a special haircut from the neighborhood Uzbek who is at once affably chatty and at the same time looks like he'd crush you like a bug if you crossed him.
The thing that anagrams to the title of this post.
One of the great things about formerly working for an enormous huge behemoth company that 1) contributes profusely to just about every local museum and 2) forgot to take away my ID card when it laid me off is that, when it's time to for an indoor activity, I can still bypass huge lines and huge prices at the American Museum of Natural History.
If you live in New York, or plan to be here in the next few weeks, you've got to stop in to see the Frog Exhibition. A truly amazing spectrum of color, and an even greater education on the myriad uses of frog secretions.
Did anyone notice that I spent about three months reading A Widow for One Year? I had multiple problems getting through it, mostly because I lost interest in just about everybody within the first 30 pages. But it's Irving, who's knocked my socks off with Garp and Owen Meany, so I stuck it out. And severely retarded my ambitious summer reading schedule.
After I finally finished it, a friend gave me her For-Your-Consideration copy of "The Door in the Floor," which was superbly cast but was paced just as glacially as the book. I left them both as a rubber-banded set in my lobby yesterday morning, and they were gone by the time we got back for naptime. My money's on the philosophy professor on the second floor; he has a habit of swiping anything that isn't nailed down and selling it for pot money.
My reading schedule has since ramped up a bit, and the last book I finished was "Stumbling on Happiness," which is not, as its title implies, a self-help book for the chronically depressed. (I had to explain this to a couple friends who raised eyebrows at the title.) Author Dan Gilbert instead talks about the care and feeding of our future selves, or how we make decisions that we think will make us happy. He opens the book by showing us how our memories are crap. We tend to misremember the past in a loose outline, and our minds tend to winnow out the worst bits. Which is why when I look back on the 1984 Peach Bowl, I'm able to look back fondly of how I got arrested for drunken and disorderly conduct and spent New Year's Eve in the hoosegow.
Toward the end the book, Gilbert mentions how we humans should be getting better at anticipating what will make us happy because of all of our shared wisdom and the increasingly powerful and prevalent ways we can share it. Yet we still seem to make the same mistakes, generation after generation, mainly because we misremember the lessons we've learned. There are also what he calls "super-replicators," inaccurate beliefs that tend to propagate themselves because they "facilitate the means for their own transmission." One of these super-replicators, he says, is having children.
According to several studies, parents find child-rearing, and the quotidian selfless drudgery therein, far more unpleasant than they thought. Yet when people are asked about what makes them happiest, most say "having children."
"While we believe we are raising children and earning paychecks to increase our happiness, we are actually doing these things for reasons that are beyond our ken. We are nodes in a social network that arises and falls by a logic all its own, which is why we continue to toil, continue to mate, and continue to be surprised when we do not experience all the joy we so gullibly anticipated."
So parents (and I know there are a lot of you out there), here's a topic to chew on during this penultimate summer weekend: What's your take on this? Has parenthood been all you hoped? Are you as happy about it as you thought you'd be? Or are you counting the minutes until school starts?
And why did you have kids in the first place? Do you think you truly wanted to be a parent? Or are we all just suckers who propagate the race simply because mystical forces tell us to?
I really enjoyed this book, and I'm keeping my copy. Much to Professor Pothead's likely chagrin.
I noticed that Simpsonizing oneself had become a bit of a meme a few weeks ago, so I uploaded a picture of me, pushed the button, turned the crank -- and it looked nothing like me.
The glasses and facial features were easy fixes, but the problem was with the hair. In Simpsonland, you're either bald or you're not; there's no setting for "pleasingly fuzzy." Nor is there any way to capture my alluring salt-and-pepper temples. So I pulled out the PhotoShop to glue some extra strands on the roof (about a dozen or so duplicated layers) and grayed up the 'burns. The result is thus.
Upon reflection, I think I look a bit like Milhouse's dad with a fresh set of plugs.
Let me tell you: the West Side Water Park is where the heat gets beat. Beaten to a right sodden pulp by all the water the flows and splays and spritzes so freely. On the most torpid days, when the air is as thick as a brick and you could poach a three-minute egg in the gutter water streaming from the broken hydrant, the boys and I are regular customers of this little slice of hydrotopia on Pier 51.
Sure, it was once known as Shame On You Park, because Arnold Diaz once showed up to expose the grim fact that there was no barrier between the little kiddie geysers and the metal outer fence, and that a poorly attended child could have easily waddled over, slipped through the bars, and plummeted to a petrochemical grave in the Hudson River. But they fixed all that, and all is forgiven, and now Daddy routinely brings his boys over for a good round of Splopping.
Splopping occurs when a superbly aimed bucketful of water hits an oncoming chest and radiates majestically outward. For this little exercise, I had the bucket in my right hand and my decidedly non-waterproof camera in the other. And Robert, excellent sport that he is, kept coming at me until we had several really entertaining shots, like these.
After the photo session ended, Robert let me carefully return my camera to the baby bag before he grabbed a pail the size of a beach ball and soaked the bejeebus out of me. I might have water in my ears until Labor Day.
I had a feeling I was in for it the moment I hung up the phone with my dad, who had just invited Robert and me out to Saturday's Yankee game. Because ever since Robert first told me that he was a Yankee fan who idolized Alex Rodriguez, I had been working rigorously to cure him. Mostly by steering just about every baseball conversation toward the Mets, who are a New York team, too, goddammit. Mets games are always the first ones on the TV at night, until Robert asks me to switch over and I pretend that I've lost the remote.
When I first wrote that I was raising a Yankee fan against my will, the outpouring of support was a great comfort. Some offered condolences, others advice. Then there was MetroDad, who saw the magnitude of the brewing crisis and sprang into action by offering me tickets to two Met games, at which Robert and I wore our matching Mets caps. Basically, I did everything short of hooking him up to an eyelid stretcher and making him watch the '69 World Series. And it was working ...
But then Granddad, the Yankee fan, called to say he had scored box seats four rows off the field. I admit I dithered for a bit, hamstrung by the dilemma. One one hand, we'd be livin' large, kicking back at field level with the cold beverages brought to us by the seat-side wait service. On the other, the experience would nullify all of my anti-Yankee brainwashing.
Then there was the little matter of A-Rod and his elusive 5ooth home run. Ever since he'd hit #499 some ten days before, he'd been pretty much useless, one hit in 30 at-bats. As each day passed with the milestone unreached, and our game loomed, I had a feeling Saturday would be the day. Robert would see history, his Yankophilia would become irrevocably entrenched, and he was destined to while away his golden years crankily professing to my great-grandsons that they don't make stars like A-Rod anymore.
Sure enough, just as we had settled into our seats and Robert had ascertained that his hero was up, A-Rod sent a fly ball deep to left field. It hung up there seemingly forever, taunting us, until it plopped into the left-field stands. Robert leapt out of his seat, the crowd went crazy, and Dame Fortune hocked a loogie on my hot dog. And thanks to those wondrous seats, we got to spend the rest of the afternoon staring at the golden boy's relaxed, lordly beefiness.
When we got home, my wife asked Robert how the game was. He could have gushed about the Yankee victory, or the historic dinger, or sitting so close to the field, or the Matsui baseball card that a Japanese photographer gave us. Instead, the first words out of his mouth were: "Daddy took a picture of A-Rod's butt!"
If I have any aspirations to get him back on the Mets' bandwagon, I now know what must be done. So, Internet, if I am ever busted for lingering alongside the Mets' dugout snapping gratuitous butt shots, please know that my cause was just.
Whenever I watch TV, I turn on the close-captioning. It's partly because my aging earparts can't hear as much as they used to, but mostly because the ambulances and garbage trucks and overall hubbub outside my window preclude me from hearing much of anything without cranking the volume high enough to blast the children out of their beds.
Subtitles have always annoyed me, because they distract from the overall visual experience of a film. You can't appreciate performances and cinematography and such when you're busy reading all the time. In recent years, however, I've become a parent, which means my body will fall fast asleep at the slightest hint of horizontality. I've therefore learned that subtitles perform a vital service for those who have so little unfettered consciousness.
For years, I've heard how wondrous The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is. A masterpiece of bittersweet, romantic, pop-art confection. So I taped it off of IFC and sat down to watch it, knowing only that 1) it starred Catherine Deneuve (which is dandy), and 2) every line of dialogue is sung (which is ameliorated by #1).
It languished there in my "Don't Erase" queue for weeks until I finally got the chance to sit down and watch it. So a I sat there. The singing started. The vibe was groovy/kitschy, as Deneuve and her Serge Gainsbourg-y suitors crooned at each other. But time went on. And they were still singing. Every stitch of conversation. It wouldn't stop, even though it most definitely needed to before I plunged my face through the TV screen.
This was not a masterpiece of bittersweet, romantic, pop-art confection. This was more like televisual waterboarding.
But then my hampered brain remembered that you can run your DVR at triple speed, and it doesn't matter that you can't hear the dialogue because of ... subtitles! So I hit the fast-forward button, summoned whatever speed-reading skills I could muster, and saw the whole film in 23 minutes. And now I have another pop-culture reference I can drop into conversation if I want to sound clever at my next cocktail party. Assuming I can stay awake long enough to attend one.
The dog days have arrived. They offer comfort and friendship, and they are simultaneously gnawing my behind into tiny bits. The days are long and hot and replete, so much so that when it's time to pry open the brain box and try to capture some of the escaping vapor, there are but a few fumes among the contentropy. This is the life I envisioned when I dreamed about being someone's daddy, and I want it to stay. Like this. I want August to develop a monstrous thyroid problem and grow by a few dozen weeks.
Because I can see September up ahead, with its alarm clocks and huge weekly cash outlays to the new sitter we haven't hired yet. And it will be stupid and farty.
These are Robert's two favorite adjectives du jour. So many things are stupid now. Mustard is stupid. The Orioles are stupid. Girls are stupid freaks. And kindergarten promises to be the absolute stupidest, fartiest thing of all, hovering in a feculent miasma of putrescent stupidity and farts.
The situation does have its advantages, though. For example, my wife and I exist mostly through our cell phones; we have a land line, but only in case of emergency (like, say, when the city suffers a blackout and you want to tell your family you haven't been robbed and beaten by a pack of ravening CHUDs). When the land line rings, we know it's no one important. In fact, it's usually a telemarketer, so we let Robert answer the phone, listen for a bit, and then say something like "No, you stupid freak."
We are aware that this might sound somewhat darling coming from a five-year-old, but that eventually we'll have to talk to him about manners and tolerance and the overall upping his Gentleman Quotient. In the meantime, the best I can come up with is: "Remember, son. It's 'No thank you, you stupid freak.'"