Sunday, January 05, 2003

Boy, Resurrected

The Very Bloggy Caterpillar

Buckle up, kiddies, 'cause like Shawn Colvin says, it's gonna be another long one tonight. I'm back after three overwhelming days, and as chronology seems like the most conducive way to get at things, let me begin by taking you back to the morning of December 2nd...


Woke and packed and left for Boston by about 1:00 -- later than we expected, packing being a serious and high-stakes activity when one travels with an infant. Stuck behind too many eighteen wheelers on old one-lane sections of Rt. 2, we took our usual short cut through Walden Pond (yes, that Walden Pond). Arrived in Newton by about 3:00 to find the usual chaos of cleaning women and three-people-going-in-three-directions-at-once at my parents house. Mom, Dad, and Sarah played with the baby until my brother Jesse arrived a bit after five.

In keeping with a family tradition that says that choice of restaurant is yours for your birthday (a tradition, by the way, which has been around so long that I think I made everyone take me to McDonalds once) we left in two cars for Somerville to celebrate Jesse's birthday dinner at Redbones. Redbones has been around forever, I think; it's famous for authentic downhome blues and barbecue, and serves its lemonade in mason jars with a spoon in true southern style. Jesse is a pescaterian, meaning fish-but-no-red-meat, and Redbones has the best catfish above the Mason-Dixon line. Sarah and Darcie and I had ribs of various types. Mom had salmon. Willow had mashed bananas again.

Back at the house we were joined by Darcie's brother Josh, who lives in Newton too, for tiramisu cake and birthday and late-Channukah present exchange around the otherwise-unused hardwood dining room table. Jesse liked his fingerpuppet set of great artists from the Unemployed Philosopher's Guild very much; I also recommend their set of Hamlet fingerpuppets. For Channukah, the festival of lights, Jesse made everyone these crazy abstract cut and spraypainted foamboard lamps; they're gorgeous and hard to describe, so the award for most succinct description goes to Sarah, who remarked I keep expecting the Lorax to jump out of the lamp.

Borrowed cash from Dad to take Jesse and Josh out for a beer afterwards; because it was his birthday, we let Jesse pick the bar and the beer. We drove through the cold streets to the Model Club, a dark smoky hole-in-the-wall filled with greasy-haired young urbanites in black lace and leather and dyed black hair which Jesse used to haunt when he was a professional Ska musician living in Allston in a house with his ten bandmates, and proceeded to drink too much Miller High Life, a beer I had never tried but which I enjoyed very much. Nice and light and crisp. I usually enjoy a good pale ale or microbrew, but once in a while the cheap beers make a nice change like water makes a nice change from milk. Miller High Life bills itself as the Champagne of Beers, which is why Jesse chose it, but to me, the name kind of begs ridicule: What, I wonder, is the beer of Champagnes? The Whiskey of Beers? The Jaegermeister of Schnaps?

Home late and drunk. Crash.


Reb Moshe Waldoks

Up late again, this time with a hangover, by 11:00; the house was beginning to stir as we all prepared for a visit to Grandpa Jerry in the nursing home. Jerry, my mother's father, has late-stage Parkinsons and has probably had at least one stroke as well; before his wife, my grandmother, died of a stroke this summer, she was taking care of him out of their apartment in a nearby home for the aged, but he's too far gone for home-care without her in the house. Now, some days are better than others, and although he seemed like he had gained some weight since the last time we saw him, he didn't speak during the visit. Parkinson's affects facial mobility, too, but he did manage a wistful smile of sorts when we held Willow to his face so she could reach out and stroke his scratchy cheek, soft silk under stubble, just like I used to do when I was little. I had to go out in the hall and cry for a minute to recover.

After home and a short unrestful nap for the baby, who was cutting her first tooth (yay!), we left Willow with my mother and sister and drove Darcie out to her massage appointment at Waddington's, a local upscale parlor. Massage is expensive, so it's a nice gift from my mother to make and pay for the service; I went once last year on their dollar, too, but my body is so messed up that although I felt better that evening I was in pain for the next three days while my muscles realigned themselves back to my bone structure. This time I dropped Darcie off and went to browse the newest bookstore in town, Newtonville Books, an experience worth going out of one's way for. Stopped off at the house to find Willow blotchy and puffy but calming down already as Mom showed her a pop-up book about a dog named Spot; it's hard to cry when you're trying to eat a book. I only stayed a few minutes; reportedly Willow fell asleep moments after I left to pick Darcie up again.

Back at the house we dressed and then, after seeing the way my parents were dressed, took the tie off and dressed again for casual friday night temple services at Temple Beth Zion, the new congregation my parents have joined. Beth Zion is a revitalized, new-agey congregation overseen by Reb Moshe Waldoks, an egoist who used to teach Jewish Intellectual History at Brandeis and edit collections of Jewish humor until he joined the rabbinate just about a decade ago. At first glance, it is clear that although their hearts are in the right place, theyre's still some fine-tuning happening with the orthodoxy in there. The congregation claims to be something called post-denominational, as distinct from the more usual non-denominational; this plays out primarily through elements like Reb Waldoks' Hassidic-themed chants, his humorous commentary throughout the service, and the congregation member's use of drums as a rhythmic counterpart to the prayer chants. I can see how this makes spiritual practice more owned by the celebrants, I suppose, but down-home moments like asking everyone who was new to the congregation to stand at the end and introduce themselves made the place seem more like an AA meeting than the personal, intimate group that is, surely, the goal. Having grown up practicing Conservative Judaism, we recognized none of the melodies but all of the service, which made it easy to follow but hard to participate.

Jesse left from there to go on to meet some friends in Providence; we went on to a decent dinner in Nonantum, Newton's Little Italy. When I was growing up, Nonantum might have well have been Mars; although its adolescents attended the same high school as my own neighbors, the difference between us was evident. The village of Nonantum -- Newton has 14 villages in all -- is literally on the other side of the Mass Turnpike from a more affluent, larger section of Newton, a town known for having the highest number of therapists and shrinks per capita than any other township in the world; because of the commuter train which runs alongside the 'pike, Nonantum was, literally, the other side of the tracks. The fire hydrants are painted orange, green, and white in Nonantum, after the Italian flag; across the street from the restaurant was a small park crammed with christmas lights and the biggest goddam glowing plastic Santa I've ever seen. This is not your father's Newton.

After a stop back at the house Willow and Darcie went to bed and I, ever the night owl, drove off to Medford to visit PJ, an old friend from high school who grew up down the street from me in that more affluent Newton. PJ is a lawyer and an excellent singer-songwriter , but not neccesarily in that order; our conversation tends towards friendly-but-mildly-competitive intellectualism; our visit was spent parsing blogs and blogging, among other things. I miss friends like PJ out here in the boondocks. We used to just hang out and sing; we used to just sit and watch TV; in our earliest days, in junior high together just blocks from the Italian neighborhoods, we used to get combo meals of greasy chinese food late at night to escape our ultra-suburban lives. Now every visit is scarce, our conversation touched by the impending separation.

By midnight what had been rain had turned to fat-flake heavy snow, and the change in weather was giving me a headache; by 12:30 I gave into the pain and decided to brave what was suddenly a growing storm, dangerous and slick. Driving back through the slush was precarious and slow; I saw no one but snowplows and cabs on the long drive; it took me an hour, twice as long as usual, to get around the city, and then I almost didn't make it up the last hill back to my parent's house. Dad gave me an aspirin, Sarah and I watched TV for a bit until it kicked in and I wandered off to join Darcie and Willow in the darkness, on the pull-out couch in the therapist's office that was once my old bedroom.



From the moment Darcie and Willow called me into consciousness it was a rushing-around morning. For a fast half hour, Darcie packed, Mom and Dad and Sarah entertained the baby, and I staggered around trying to be awake enough (and clothed enough) to begin the trek home. Mom usually stands in the doorway and waves us out of sight when we go; this time, she was crying at the door, Sarah pulling her away, so I went back for an extra hug. I think we're all feeling a bit overwhelmed by things these days. In the past year, she's lost her mother unexpectedly, become a grandmother, and her children have finally begun to leave the nest, a perfect emotional trifecta.

From Newton we drove under Rt. 93 and along the McGrath highway several times on our verylost way to a whirlwind visit with Bob and Tom and Lorian and Daisy at their lovely two-family home in Revere. They loved the baby, of course, and we sat and chatted for a while about our lives, just catching-up stuff, while the dog sniffed at her as we changed her on the floor. See this earlier blogentry for more about Bob; his landscape business, I Dig A Garden, seems to be going well, Tom is now a regional manager for his bistro chain, and the dog is very sweet. And Lorian is still...Lorian, the vinyl-loving mother hen of a now-dispersed clan of young gay bohemians. I miss 'em all.

The drive home to Northfield and points west wasn't bad, although there was still a bit of residual snow falling, backlash from the previous night's storm. We stopped at a McDonalds somewhere before Gardner and Harvard (the township, not the college, although there is an entertaining Entering Harvard sign as you pass the town line on the highway) and ate Mcnuggets and greasy fries as we watched the snowbanks by the side of the road rise and rise and rise as we headed away from the city. By the time we pulled into our driveway it was almost dark, but it was easy to make out the 3 foot snowbanks lining the road; while Boston had a couple of slushy inches, we had been slammed. The dog, emerging from the house into a snowfall towering above her head, was nonetheless ecstatic to see us, wiggling on the stoop, showing her belly like the slut for affection she is.

Jesse had left a message on our answering machine saying he'd not be in from Providence until 8, and Matt and Alicia, staying across town at the guesthouse on the other campus while up for a skiing holiday with friends, decided they were too tired to stop by, so we had a few hours to ourself until Jesse arrived and he and I went out to pick up sushi and chinese appetizers at China Gourmet. We chatted on the way about his work and school, mostly; Jesse is an artist, in a grad program at Rutgers art school and teaching undergrad classes, looking forward to grant writing and gallery showings and the pressure of outside demands to produce, and confident about his excellent work. He slept in the baby's room on the futon; she sleeps between us in our bed anyway, and wait a minute, how come she has her own room but she gets to clutter up ours?


You Make My Heart Sing

Darcie went to breakfast with Willow while I slumbered on; we had been up late the night before watching a video tape of short pieces, mostly educational films with titles like Keeping Clean and a Union Pacific training documentary on safety on the job called The Days Of Our Years, from the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 collection. Ah, those were the days, when, if instructional films are to be believed, apparently kids grew up hearing the voice of authority speak to them in voice-over, an entire generation of schizophrenics in black and white. And remember, kids, if you're not neat and clean, everyone will hate you, and your life won't amount to a hill of beans.

After Darcie came back, I emerged to find Jesse already awake and reading Harvey's The Condition of Postmodernity, a book I recommend as a definitive critique of the traditional view of postmodernism as a catalyst for true cultural and political-economic sea-change, on the living-room loveseat. After determining that there was no coffee, he and I hopped into his car and found our way to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, which recently opened down in Amherst on a patch of land purchased from Hampshire College. The museum was a great sunny place, with excellent exhibits of original art by Maurice Sendak and Eric Carle himself and a studio room where children can learn about shape and line and color and try some projects of their very own. Darcie went, too, with the baby and her parents in her parents car.

As we browsed the giftshop Eric Carle himself came in, very quietly, and without fanfare sat by himself in the auditorium watching the movie of the museum's construction and founding; we snuck in the back to watch him watch himself on the screen. Afterwards, he came over to us to ask how we liked the museum he had built; it felt like having the President come out of the Oval Office to say hi during the presidential tour, but, due to the almost-silent museum and the absence of others around us, much more private somehow. Neil asked very nicely while the rest of us just said hi in awe, and Carle, a short shy man in a neat green sportcoat with an unidentifiable soft-spoken accent and a white beard, consented to autograph a board-book copy of his very first book, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? As long as we can keep Willow from gnawing it to death, we'll treasure it always.

Lunch in Northampton afterwards at the Vermont Country Deli: mocha lattes and crunchy spinach and roast beef sandwiches and, for my pescetarian brother, a tuna fish sandwich and some black bean soup. Willow threw her toys on the ground and entertained herself watching us stoop over to pick them up until we bundled her up, said goodbye to my brother standing on the street, and went home, back to the three of us.

And now Darcie naps with Willow whilst I blog; in the background, over the evening, the thumps in the hallway slowly gather strength. Either there's a wumpus in the hallway, or the kids are coming back from holiday break, banging snow off their boots and slamming their doors. I'm betting on the latter.

posted by boyhowdy | 5:23 PM |

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