Saturday, October 31, 2015

Lucky Number 13

I am now officially the parent of two teenaged girls.

So far, it hasn’t been all that complicated.

Lauren’s birthday is always a big event for her.  She loves her birthday, looks forward to it all year, and beginning tomorrow she will start looking forward to the next one.  I find this a bit mystifying, myself, since I tend to forget my own birthday more often than not, but it makes her happy and really that’s all you can ask out of life.

Naturally, given our family Movable Feast tradition, we spread out her birthday across many days. 

There is only so much you can do on the actual day for Lauren, since most kids her age are still trick-or-treating.  Perhaps when she gets older that will be different, but then there will be other Halloween parties and it is probably best not to try to compete with them.  There will be other celebrations in the near future, for example, celebrations possibly involving a very large mall if rumors reaching my ears prove correct.  But we have our family birthday celebration on the day, if we can.  It's usually a quieter affair than the friends' celebration.

Lauren decided that she would wait until the actual time of her birth – 1:32pm Central Time – to open her presents from us.  It nearly drove her mad, but she held out until then.

And wasn’t that a time?

Tonight will be her Specially Chosen Birthday Dinner, which this year means we will get hoagies from Jimmy John’s.  I’m not sure why this made the grade, particularly, but they make a decent sandwich so that’s all to the good.

And then there will be trick-or-treating.

It’s a grey, rainy, windy day here in Our Little Town, though the rain is supposed to let off by the time trick-or-treating officially starts (and when, precisely, did trick-or-treating acquire set hours?) so there will be no need to carry umbrellas too.  Lauren’s friend will come over and they will venture forth into the blustery fall evening to acquire vast amounts of sugar, and it will be a good time.

Happy birthday, Lauren.  I’m proud of you.

Monday, October 26, 2015

You Gotta Fight For Your Right To Poultry

It was a long night down at City Hall.

For years now, a dedicated group of people have tried to get Our Little Town to pass an ordinance allowing us to keep hens in town.  Not roosters – nobody likes roosters, not even hens.  But a handful of backyard hens that would lay eggs, consume all of your leftovers, and generally raise the ridiculousness quotient of the town to new and giddying heights seemed like a fairly reasonable request.

It’s been an uphill climb.

We joined this effort recently, Lauren having first started raising chickens for her 4H project last year.  We’ve been through two cycles of poultry now – two groups of chickens and, this year, turkeys.

Turkeys weren’t on the agenda.  Keeping domestic turkeys in town is not something anyone with half a brain would try to do.  They’re just too big.

I went to one of the meetings over the summer.  Kim’s been to a few others.  Lauren has gone to all of the ones we’ve been to.  There are a lot of people who have put in a lot of time on this, going to Planning Commission meetings and City Council meetings and discussion meetings of many kinds.

Tonight was the night that the City Council would vote.

Kim and Lauren went down for the start of the meeting.  I had to drop off Tabitha at a 4H meeting, so I got there late.  The place was just packed, although most of the people were there for a long discussion of something rather more abstract and unrelated – something that, frankly, I’m not really sure how the City Council could have much of a say about one way or the other, but that’s what happens when the public gets to have its say.  They say a lot.

In fact, they said so much that by the time the meeting was about to take up the chicken ordinance I had to leave to get Tabitha again, so I missed the big conclusion, although I did speak with the Council President privately to let him know where I stood.

Many people spoke, apparently – all but one of them in favor of the hens.  Lauren was one of the people who spoke in favor of the ordinance – she leapt up to speak first, in fact, and from what I heard she did a marvelous job of presenting her case.

And this time there was nobody in a giant fuzzy chicken suit to distract people.

I didn’t think the discussion would last very long – it’s not like this hasn’t been debated for quite some time by now – but after Tabitha and I got home and I sat on the couch grading essays for a while it occurred to me that it had in fact been a while.

Two.  Whole.  Hours.

But in the end, the chicken ordinance passed.  We can now have chickens here in Our Little Town.

Win all around, I say.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Things That Haunt Us, For a Reasonable Fee

I spent my Saturday night sitting in a tent listening to people scream.

There are very few occasions where this is considered fun.  For example it is kind of a drag when camping, as I can attest from having had the pleasure first hand.  Likewise, it’s not really the optimal driving experience, even if you subtract the tent.

But when the Halloween season rolls around and the various Haunted Houses spring up across the countryside begging for your entertainment dollars, well, that’s different.

Lauren loves Halloween.  She loves everything to do with Halloween, up to and including the fact that it is her birthday.  And really, what’s not to love?  There aren’t many times in these modern United States where you can knock on your neighbor’s door with impunity and receive sweets instead of incoming fire.  You might as well take advantage of them when they come up.

She especially loves Haunted Houses.

There was a time when she was satisfied with the local ones – the ones that we could just wander down to and visit after dinner for an evening’s quick entertainment.  We went through a couple of those over the years.  But last year she decided that she wanted to branch out into something bigger and better, so she convinced me to take her and a friend over to one a few towns north of us.  It was a big hit, actually.  They had a grand time going through most of the attractions there, and I hung out in the Dad Tent reading my book and talking to my brother on the phone, which I don’t get to do as often as I’d like.

Unfortunately that place burned down over the winter.  They say it will be back next year. 

Wouldn’t it be ironic if it were actually haunted then?  How could you tell?  It would be awful to be that ghost, I think.  There you are, restlessly plaguing your patch of ground and doing your best to frighten the pre-dead, and everyone thinks you’re just another cast member in makeup.  It would be enough to make you hang up your chains and take the rest of the year off.

Do ghosts get vacations?  How would that even work?  Someone should look into that.

So going back there wasn’t much of an option.  Fortunately, there are about fifteen thousand other Haunted Houses in Wisconsin.  Unfortunately, Wisconsin is not exactly Rhode Island, a state George Washington probably practiced throwing silver dollars across in order to warm up to his big moment on the Potomac.  It took a while to find one that was both suitably interesting and also not three hours away.  But Lauren is nothing if not diligent when this sort of thing is on the line, and eventually she settled on one that was within a reasonable drive.

Then, of course, came the costuming.  Because you know you can’t just go to one of these things in your street clothes.  What would be the fun of that?  Nothing.  Nothing would be the fun of that.  Nothing at all. 

Now, ordinarily, these costumes would pick up on the Halloween Is Scary theme that the Haunted House itself represents, but then Lauren and her friends are not ordinary people.  So, as with last year, they went to the Haunted House in their fuzzy animal onezies.

You cannot imagine how popular this made them.  Everyone knew who they were.

We drove on up and eventually found the place, and – after confirming that it was actually open, which was not actually very obvious from the road and required driving along a pumpkin-lined path for a good quarter of a mile before signs of life appeared – got in line for tickets.  A flat fee got you admission into all of the various attractions, while simultaneously attracting the attention of the requisite deranged clown.

He turned out to be a pretty decent guy, once you got to know him.

Lauren and her friends then disappeared into the cavernous tent holding the line to get in, a tent filled with people (many in costume, though none as fetching as our heroines), loud music (mostly death metal, but occasionally Neil Diamond [seriously]), and, most important of all, no dads.

Yes, they’re old enough to handle all this by themselves.

So I wandered on over to this year’s version of the Dad Tent and made myself as comfortable as I could in an unheated tent on a 30F night at a venue where nobody thought to sell hot beverages.  There were a few other Dads there too, and we chatted amiably.  They all remarked on the fuzzy animal onezies.  Sometimes we drifted off into our own concerns – I brought a book, for example, because that’s how I roll.  For a while we were joined by a young woman whose friends had not succeeded in getting her to go into the actual attraction even though she had paid for her ticket, largely because of her terrible fear of clowns.  We dads kept her company and protected her from the demented clown whenever he wandered by, though eventually the clown got the hint and tactfully left her alone.  We never did get a good answer as to why she was there in the first place.

They always put the Dad Tent at the end, where everyone funnels through to the exit.  This way you don’t miss your charges.  It took an hour for Lauren and her friends to get into the place, and another forty-five minutes or so to go through it, but eventually they appeared.

The consensus was that this Haunted House was not as scary as last years, but it was more fun.  So, win.

The other consensus was that Haunted Houses make you thirsty, so on the way home we stopped at a local convenience center for some tasty caffeine-free beverages.

The fuzzy animal onezies just made everyone’s night there too.

Friday, October 16, 2015

News and Updates

1. When you have five classes at a campus that’s a good hour and a half away without traffic, two of which are essentially new preps, plus a part time job on the campus right here in Our Little Town that has most of its responsibilities concentrated in October, it tends to leave little time for blogging.  Or much of anything else. 

2. On the other hand, I have no idea what if anything I will be teaching next semester, so I should enjoy this busy time while it lasts.  Such is the life of an adjunct.

3. Why is it that most of the ammosexuals I end up arguing with online could not pass the Turing Test?  You try to engage and you get the same nonsense talking points regardless of what has been said before or will be said next.  It is possible that they’re not NRA-sponsored chatbots, but you couldn’t prove it by me.

4. There is a certain insufferable irony to being a straight white middle-class man trying to teach a class on Multiculturalism And Diversity to a room full of students where half of them are non-white and another non-overlapping half are immigrants. 

5. My impression of the presidential debates so far is that the Democrats spent their evening arguing over whose ideas for addressing substantive issues were better while the Republicans spent their evenings calling each other names, bringing up distractions, and behaving in a way that would cause embarrassment to self-aware kindergartners.  It is disturbing how much this does not bother most GOP base voters I have listened to. 

6. You should read The Martian.  I have no idea if the movie is any good or not and right now I’d put the odds of my ever seeing it at around 50/50 because that’s just how I am with movies, but the book was well written and enjoyable.  The biggest surprise for me was how funny it was.

7. We spent last weekend up in Michigan at my brother-in-law’s annual Halloween bash, which occurs on Columbus Day weekend every year for reasons that probably made sense at the time.  It’s different now, ten years into it – the kids are all bigger and not as easily scared by the Haunted Trail through the wetland, and the adults are all busier – but it’s still fun.  And when you can top off the evening with a bonfire built from a thousand pounds of wood and two gallons of actual jet fuel, well, what can you say?  Life is good.

8. I will never make a living as a travel agent.

9. The chickens seem to have adjusted quite well to the disappearance of all those roosters.  You’d think they didn’t miss them at all.  Chickens are not sentimental creatures.

10. Students still get the joke when you pronounce Socrates as “SO-crates” the way Bill and Ted did.  I find that strangely reassuring.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Learning the Streets

Tabitha has started taking Drivers Ed classes.

I know.

This is one of those Parental Moments where you think to yourself, “Wait, how did she get that old?”  And then immediately afterward you think to yourself, “Wait, how did *I* get that old?”  Because they’re related questions.  I don’t feel all that different from how I felt when I was thirty-five – I’m slightly rounder and rather balder but otherwise not much has changed.  But she has changed a great deal, and therefore I must have too.

Time.  It’s a harsh mistress.

So far, it has to be said, the classes don’t seem to be impressing her much.  She missed last night’s class due to the continuing Fall Crud that seems to have laid her low this month, and Tuesday was the only other class so far. 

Kim picked her up after that first class was over and asked, “How was it?”

“It exudes smoke and despair,” Tabitha replied.

“And spiders.”

So there’s an uphill climb, shall we say.

I think Drivers Ed is just like that.  Certainly my own experience in with that subject did not leave me particularly inspired or educated.  It did save my parents a great deal on auto insurance, as I recall, so it was certainly worth a few Saturday mornings in a basement classroom that way.

There were a lot of us in that room.  Some people were there for the first time.  Others, including at least one friend of mine, were there because they had already managed to screw up their legal status to drive and had to recertify themselves.  The class started at some horrifically early hour, when 16-year-olds were pretty much comatose, and went all morning.  We sat at these long tables in horizontal lines and tried to stay awake for the presentations.

My instructor was probably not drunk at that hour, though he had the shambling presence of someone who probably wished he were.  And confronted with a couple dozen bored teenagers for exactly as long as we were confronted with him, I suppose I can’t really blame the man.  To keep himself entertained he would pretend he was Bill Cosby, back when that was still a respectable thing to be.  He would stand up in front of the room and introduce the various videos that they mandate you show in Drivers Ed classes and which have not changed since the 1950s (“DEATH ON THE HIGHWAY!  How One Moment of Carelessness Slaughtered an Entire Town!”  In Technicolor!) and then go on long tangents about them, usually involving sound effects and flailing motions with his arms.

Eventually there would be a break.

We’d go outside and troop, en masse, across the busy four-lane road to the little shopping plaza and buy snacks and drinks to keep us afloat until lunchtime, when we could all go home.

To this day, film footage of traffic accidents makes me think of Welch’s Strawberry soda.

The class also came with on-street practice sessions, where a portly man in a tan Dodge Omni would take us out individually on the streets of suburban Philadelphia.  He had a hard life, that man.  Those streets were narrow and twisty, until we got to the Schuylkill Expressway, whereupon they became wide and filled with maniacs.  I guess the thinking was that if we could survive that, we could drive anywhere.  It seems to have been true – I have successfully driven in more places than I ever thought I would, so who am I to judge?

Eventually they declared me Wise in the ways of automobiles and their safe care and handling, and let me loose. 

Now the wheel comes full circle.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Following the Thread of the Evidence

In one of my earliest memories, I am staring at two spools of thread.

I don’t know how old I was – maybe three, maybe younger.  We were living in the twin house we’d moved into when I was a year and a half old, so no younger than that. 

I was downstairs, in the living room.  I recall that room having olive green carpets as befit a room in the late 1960s, and that they didn’t go from wall to wall.  There was space between them and the walls where I could run my Matchbox cars without having to push them so hard.  Or maybe that’s a later recollection.  It’s hard to say.  Things get so jumbled up with the passage of time.

It was probably a weekend, since I was up and my parents were still asleep.  Although I don’t remember my dad being part of this, now that I think of it.  I always assumed he was there, but perhaps not.  I do remember my mother being there in the house with me.  This was before she went back into the workforce, when my brother and I were a bit older, so perhaps it was a weekday after all.

It was early in the morning, at any rate.  The sun was up, but at that point I was well into my brief morning-person phase.  We had a small black-and-white television that I had learned to turn on by myself, and I’d often wander down before anyone else was up and watch cartoons.  The Pink Panther was my favorite, even though I had to take the idea that he was pink on faith.  I saw no reason to doubt it. 

I think my mom was glad that I’d learned the tv on my own, as that would keep me busy while she slept for a bit longer.  When I became a parent I understood the wisdom of that much more clearly.  At the time I thought I was getting away with something.

So there I was, in the living room, with two spools of thread.

One of those spools had red thread – a deep, vibrant cherry red.  That was my favorite color at the time.

The other had thread of a turquoise blue, rich and saturated, not one of those pale turquoises that had been popular earlier in the decade.

I remember deciding that I liked that blue better than the red.

This seemed a momentous thing at the time, something that required careful deliberation and thought, changing your favorite color like that.  Favorite colors had seemed permanent, immutable, inherent parts of life up until that time. 

But there it was – the red was not as appealing as the turquoise.  There was no doubt about it.  The evidence was there, and the received truth would just have to change to accommodate it.

I went up to my parents’ room, where my mother was sleeping, and woke her up to deliver this grave news.  To her credit, she simply said that this was fine by her and went back to sleep.

It’s still my favorite color.

And the lesson that received wisdom must fall before new evidence has stayed with me ever since.

That’s a lot of weight to hang by such a pretty blue thread.

Friday, October 2, 2015

News and Updates

1. So we’ve had yet another mass slaughter of the innocent in the United States this week, which differentiates this week from any other week in the United States not one iota.  And, as predicted, an army of the stupid, the ammosexuals and the reality-challenged has come out swinging with their insistence that the solution to the problem of too many high-powered weapons in the hands of too many people like them is to put even more high-powered weapons into the hands of people just like them.  I wouldn’t mind it if they were the only ones who died – there would be a certain justice in that, really – but the fact is that they represent a clear and present danger to the rest of us and really ought to be treated accordingly.

2. But who am I kidding?  My side lost.  Gun control died in the United States the day we decided that the slaughter of the innocent was an acceptable price to pay for the free availability of firearms, and I see no mark on the wall that says, “When the pile of bodies reaches this high things will change.”  Watch your back, my fellow Americans.

3. The hole in Kim’s office ceiling has now been fixed.  It no longer rains plaster down onto her desk, which is a good thing.  This did mean getting a new toilet in the upstairs bathroom and marveling over the installation job done on the old one by the previous owners of the house. 

4. I feel kind of bad for my Ancient World History class, since it’s the fifth class I teach in the day and ends nearly ten hours after my first class begins, and by that point I’m pretty fried.  At least they’re nice students.

5. It’s finally fall, which means that it is cool enough for tea and cider donuts.  Life is good.

6. Commuting an hour and a half each way to campus has its interesting moments.  Yesterday some idiot stopped dead in the fast lane for no apparent reason.  I can now scratch “laying rubber on the interstate” off my bucket list.  Nobody so much as dinged a fender, but it made the day far more interesting than it needed to be.

7. People who think that putting scare quotes around the word “historian” is a clever way to insult me and deal with arguments they can’t refute are just the most adorable little things.

8. Once again we’re on the Identify Theft carousel because other people cannot be trusted with our information.  This makes four times in the last decade, none of which can be attributed to carelessness on our part.  It does make you question the merit of a totally linked-up world.

9. This is the last week for the roosters, since we need to merge our hen flocks and roosters are like the Highlander in that there can only be one.  Although we’re going to try two, since Rosie is basically an overgrown pigeon and might not get too huffy with the new one coming in.  It will be a shame to see the rest of the roosters go, though – they’re beautiful birds. 

10. It only took a week for Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) to resume his fanatic assault on the State of Wisconsin.  That was the one nice thing about him being on the presidential campaign trail – it kept him out of our hair.  His latest scheme is to gut the civil service laws that have kept Wisconsin government relatively honest and open for the last century and reinstate Gilded Age patronage.  Can’t say I’m surprised by it, but the sheer arrogant stupidity of it does give one pause.

11. The Republican Party is doomed.  At least that is the impression I got from listening to the unmedicated ramblings of a nationally-syndicated right-wing radio host the other night, anyway.  I spent half an hour while driving home listening to this guy “blasting conservative fire!’ – which, boiled down to its essentials, was a breathless and nearly uninterrupted rant on the unmitigated evil of Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Rand Paul, the GOP Establishment, and pretty much anyone on the right who has ever said a negative word about Ted Cruz in particular or the Tea Party in general.  He did give a shout-out to “the Marxist Left” running the White House (yes, that’s a direct quote, and I almost drove off the road laughing at that point), but mostly he was angry at the GOP.  When people that unhinged are a) your base, b) angry at you, c) given air time to spread their opinions, and d) popular enough to be nationally syndicated, you’ve got problems that are more serious than anything the Democrats can give you.

12. Naturally I am reading a 3-volume collection of linked post-apocalyptic short stories during this parlous time.  It makes the days interesting.