November 28, 2005

U.S. Out of the Arts! Or something.

Of late, I have stopped reading the NY Times in the morning. That may have something to do with my reduced output here, no doubt. But, as a result, I have begun to wonder if I am somewhat less informed than I used to be. I read the Times with catholic interest, reading just about everything, or at least the beginnings of everything, and, thus, was probably broadly well informed. I stopped reading it when I stopped my weekday subscription. They just couldn't get it to my house early enough for me to read on my usual 5:27 a.m. train into the city.

I read it this morning, though. Happily, I see I have not changed and they have not changed. My little epiphany came during the reading of an article concerning a $100 million gift to the Yale School of Music which will result in free tuition for all graduate students. Evidently, the scale of the gift bothered those with more delicate social conscious who felt, inter alia, that $20 million would have done the trick just fine and the rest could have gone to a greater social good somewhere else, to alleviate pain or suffering, or just to provide someone in the less developed world with soft serve ice cream. Ok, I made that last bit up. Sue me.

In any event, as I settled back to read the music critic's chipper and spirited (sort of) defense of this gift, both as a music critic and as a self-identified proud Yalie, I read the following little passage:

Those raising ethical questions about the gift to the Yale School of Music should first put the dollar amount in perspective. Private and corporate donors in America have to compensate for the government's negligible support of the fine arts.

And I thought, gee, no, not really. You see, Yale-boy, the government is under no real obligation so far as I can tell to provide any support for the fine arts. It, uh, ain't in the Constitution, as best as I can recall. The government isn't supposed to be in the business of supporting art, of picking some art that it likes better than other art, of allowing some art to thrive while other art withers on the vine for lack of a governmental purse. I know that the government does provide subsidies to the arts, but my view is totally opposed to our friend from Yale, the critic.

I don't think that the government should provide any support to the arts, other than allowing taxable deductions to be written off against income tax. I don't accept the premise that the arts require support.

I certainly don't think that any private corporation has the obligation to support the arts. The corporation has, primarily, an obligation to its shareholders, not to the starving artist, unless the business of the corporation is art.

I think that to permit strong funding of the arts leads to bad art, if not corrupt art or lazy art. I think that artists, if they wish to be artists, either need to be possessed of independent means or be good enough to be self-supporting. If the artist receives support no matter how jejune the art, well, you see where I'm going with this.

Once again, I disagree with the NY Times. Quelle surprise.

I await your dissent with great interest. Assuming you have some.

Posted by Random Penseur at 04:16 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

November 23, 2005

Once bitten, etc.

The Boy Child, at school yesterday, was bitten by one of his classmates while playing at being animals. The teacher described it as coming to her attention thanks to a blood-curdling scream. She explained that no skin was broken and no bleeding took place and the Boy Child was given ice for his arm. I really wasn't fussed, I must confess and I told the teacher, "no blood, no foul".

So, we all stood there, his teachers, me, and the Boy Child and I looked down at his beautiful face and I asked him, gently, what happened.

He told me: "people bite me up i my crass".

Someone bit you in your class?


And what happened next?

"Teacher hente meg ice" (my teacher got me ice).

Well, next time someone bites you, you bite them back, ok?


His teachers laughed. They thought I was kidding.

The Girl Child didn't think I was kidding. The first thing she asked her brother when she heard about it was, "did you bite them back?" And then she told him, next time someone hurts you, you hit them back. Or pull their hair.

She understands. I've explained the hitting rules to her before. She is allowed to hit only if someone hits her or if someone hits her brother.

You have to stand up for yourself and for yours in this world. No one else will do it for you.

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Thanksgiving: To abstain


That’s the word of the day for Thanksgiving this year. Why, you may wonder, would I associate the word abstemious for a holiday that has become practically a byword for gluttony?

Because our littlest bio-terrorist gave the Viking Bride and me the gift that keeps on giving. And giving. And giving.

Matching stomach bugs. Hit us both at about 2:30 on Monday morning. The Viking Bride is of an iron constitution and got up and spent the day training the new nanny.

I spent it in bed, more or less, and I think you know what I mean by that qualifier.

Thus, I anticipate a quiet Thanksgiving, a Thanksgiving spent more for the company than the food. The company has always been good, in the past. In the past, though, we’ve all always eaten too much. Way too much. And that has always been fun. The Viking Bride once described hunger on Thanksgiving as the absence of feeling sick.

I hope that you all have a safe and terrific Thanksgiving.

Posted by Random Penseur at 01:56 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

November 17, 2005

Happy homemaker am I

We dads who are fortunate enough to take care of our kids all by ourselves don't like to be called "Mr. Mom". I speak for myself only in that. I prefer to be called Primary Caregiver. Too much? How about Happy Homemaker?

You see, the in-laws have escaped back to Norway and we have a gap in coverage of several days. I took yesterday off from work and will take tomorrow, too. It was glorious. Simply, totally, glorious.

We were on time to school, hair brushed, ready to go. So what that the Girl Child's knees were almost torn out on her jeans? Kindly, no one said anything.

We waited, after depositing the Girl Child, for the appearance of the fire truck. "Harrow, Fireman", sang out the Boy Child! It was a glorious pumper truck capable of holding some 750 gallons. And the Boy Child and I had the exclusive attention of the firemen for about 10 minutes while the school got organized. We got to see inside the truck and I got to take a picture of the Boy Child on the truck. Then the firemen had to leave to respond to a call so we got to watch them change into their gear. The Boy Child was very impressed.

I decided that this was a good learning opportunity, so I suggested, to great acclaim from the Boy Child, that we remove ourselves to the library and take out books on firetrucks. I made him go up to the librarians and ask where those books might be found. We each pulled up a windsor chair and poked around through them until we had selected a couple of interesting ones. We then killed a little time reading other books and selecting other ones to add to our pile. He was very well behaved, although he did object to being called "tomato", as in my instructions to him when he lags behind: "Catch up, my little tomato". (Get it? Catch up/Catsup?)

Off we then went to the supermarket, where, happily ensconced in one of the shopping carts with a pretend car stuck to the front, we "made groceries", as we used to say in New Orleans. Oh, and where he kind of embarrassed me. On the way in, he asked me a question and I replied, either, "yes, sir" or "no, sir". Well, I guess he liked that because throughout the store, he kept calling me "sir". He'd stick his golden little head out of his car and call back to me, loudly, "sir!". I got a couple of looks from little old ladies who wondered, one of them audibly, about the kind of discipline I kept my son under. Embarrassed or not, I did nothing to discourage him. He was having fun and that was all that mattered to me. And besides, I kept changing aisles as quick as I could!

After that, we picked the Girl Child up from school (after stopping to acquire more lightbulbs). She was happy to see us and off we went home where I simply dropped all the bags from the supermarket on the floor of the kitchen in order to speed the preparation of the requested mac and cheese. It was consumed with great happiness and we repaired to the bed chambers to read pre-nap stories. I had just gotten the Girl Child into bed and the Boy Child changed into his diaper when the doorbell rang.

It was the plumber who had come to charge me $120 to do nothing with my outside taps. He told me that I have frost-free pipes, showed me how to turn them off, and explained that nothing needed to be done to them to prepare them for winter. He declined to charge me less than his service fee which I thought a bit much since he showed up, poked his head into my basement, and left. Still, happy enough a report.

The Boy Child went off to bed with no protest and so did the Girl Child. At least, the Girl Child went off to bed and stayed up there long enough for me to install the new portable 250G hard-drive for the laptop so that I could back up all 4.5 years of kid pictures. We'd be devestated if they were lost and it seemed like a good idea to back 'em up.

The Girl Child quit her boudoir just as I was about to start preparing dinner. Cauliflower soup (omit the truffles when making for kids) and chili (omit all spicy bits for kids). Both from scratch.

I sat the Girl Child up on the counter and she kept me company while I cooked. After a bit, while I had been slipping her pieces of yellow and orange pepper, she said the nicest thing to me:

Pappa, I'm having such a nice time. We're chatting about nice things, you're giving me yummy things to snack on, and I'm just enjoying being with you. Its so nice!

Note to self: check on getting her pony.

Seriously, I almost melted into a puddle in the middle of the floor. And before you ask, that's exactly how she put it. I am constantly shocked by how bright and mature she is. Waaay beyond 4.5 years old.

Eventually, she went off to color while I finished cooking and cleaned the kitchen.

Promptly at five, the Boy Child awoke and joined us. The chili was a big hit. He ate his entire bowl (unusual for him) and she had two bowls and a bowl of soup, too.

One small conflict during dinner resulted in my raising my voice to the Boy Child (who was making a huge mess). His reply? Finger pointing at me, shaking up and down, he bellowed: "Stop! Yell! ME!" He's got a bit of a temper on him, that's for sure. I loved it.

After dinner, we made a mess in the playroom, danced to bad music from the 80's, and read stories, all until Mamma got home from work around 7 or 7:30.

Off went the kids to bed and I changed lightbulbs and took out garbage and otherwise made myself useful.

It was just a perfect day.

If I had the financial ability to pay my mortgage without the need to work, I suspect I'd be very quick to be the stay at home dad full time.

I anticipate another lovely day tomorrow. We also, tomorrow, will go to spend shabbat with my grandfather again as we did last Friday.

So, if I don't have time to post tomorrow, have a great weekend y'all!

Posted by Random Penseur at 02:23 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

November 15, 2005

Too much Wodehouse

You know that you have spent too much time watching your dvd collection of the entire Wooster and Jeeves set (all four seasons, baby) when you sign off on an email to your wife with: "Tootle pip, my little inebriated newt fancier".

My in-laws enjoyed watching these things.

At the conclusion of the Sunday night episode viewing, my father in law noticed he left a ring on the shelf of one of our bookshelves. He called my mother in law in for the rescue. While she was scrubbing away at the ring, we had the following conversation:

F-i-L (to me): You know, she doesn't even charge me for this!

M-i-L (to him, having not heard what he said): You have to be more careful. You know that. [tone, restrained fury, words bitten off]

Me (to F-i-L): You know, just because she doesn't charge you, doesn't mean you don't pay.

I thought the good man was going to fall out of his chair, he was laughing so hard.

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:07 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

The Pod People

Where did they go, the alien race incubating on the backs of women in New York City and other large cities? You've seen them, haven't you? Women striding confidently through the streets of the city sporting small pod like things hanging from their backs. They used to be all the rage. Everyone had them. It got to the point where I was convinced that there was a plot, that aliens had taken over the women and convinced them to carry the seeds of the destruction of the human race on their backs until the aliens were strong enough to take us all. Or, maybe they were just carrying a lot of credit cards. Not sure which is worse actually. Alien slave or credit card debtor.

You decide.

Whatever did happen to those little back pack things anyway and when did they leave us?

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:02 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

November 14, 2005

What's in a number?

Maybe just some small gratification.

Over the weekend at some point, I clicked over the 50k counter for unique visits since I was invited to move over to MuNu. Fifty thousand visitors later and I still haven't done much to tart the place up (thanks again Margi, for the cool banners you made out of my photographs!).

Anyway, thanks for coming, y'all. Not too many entries these past few days. I've been a bit preoccupied with my grandfather. I'm itching to write something, though, so be patient and I will update soon.

Pax tibi and thanks for all the visits and the comments!

Posted by Random Penseur at 05:21 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

November 07, 2005

Another day gone

A day at the hospital was . . . what. I’m kind of at a loss to describe it. I suppose it was fulfilling.

I spent the whole day, from about 9 in the morning to 7 at night. My grandfather alternated between sleep and alert and awake and communicative. One cousin drove up from D.C. and another flew in from San Diego. Both came to say goodbye. I’m glad they were able to attend and spend a little time with him.

The medical treatment has been halted. No more antibiotics and no feeding tube. The anti-seizure medication is still going in and he is receiving enough fluids through his iv line to keep the line open. But nothing more. No nourishment. This is at his express direction. He told his sons yesterday that he is ready to die, that he wants to die, that he doesn’t want and will not live like this anymore.

And yet, somehow, now that he has made this decision, he seems very calm about it. Except for the pain, of course. That he is not calm about but he is refusing medication. He seems determined to wring every little bit out of the remaining time he has left. He is, when he is with us, totally with us. Total attention. Questions, memories, love, flirting with the nurses, and a sharp and fierce light burning behind his eyes, still. His speech is impaired but that’s not slowing him down.

I told him lots of things, yesterday. One thing I said to him was: “You’ve taught me so many things in my life and now you’re teaching me how to die; with strength and with dignity”. It is a useful lesson to learn.

I managed to tell him that I love him without breaking down. He knew that already but I was determined to repeat it to him. How many more times do I get to tell him that? He told me that he loves me, too.

Now I need a moment, here, to get myself together.

I also told him that he was the most important influence in my life. He nodded and then fell asleep holding my hand.

And I broke down a bit and sobbed quietly as he slept.

Before that, though, I reminded him that the Girl Child and the Boy Child had been there all day the day before. And it was the only time I saw him smile. He absolutely grinned with pure pleasure. And I told him that the Boy Child insisted on kissing him while he slept and then insisted on being picked up to do it again because he wasn’t satisfied with the first kiss he gave my grandfather. My grandfather grinned again.

We reminisced yesterday about the trips we took – houseboating on Lake George and down the Sacramento River, touring Israel in 1983 and hiking together up Mount Masada. Trips to Washington D.C. and trips to watch the Harvard-Yale game.

I reminded him about how he cheated me on every single hand when I told him that I learned how to play poker and he suggested that I play with him. After we played, he told me that he cheated on every hand, that I didn’t notice, and that I should never play again. And I never have.

After we talked about that, he grimaced in pain and I asked him if I could get him anything. He said, “a new deck” and I told him that if I did, he’d probably just cheat me again and he said, “probably”.

I’ll end this note with an exchange he had with my father, his son in law. My father came in and apologized for forgetting to bring the wine and my grandfather said to him: “a fatal error”.

I cried, off and on, the whole drive home. I don’t recommend driving on I-95, in heavy traffic, while crying.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:25 AM

November 06, 2005

It was very hard

I spent much of the day at the hospital yesterday. Well, maybe that wasn't true. We spent about four hours there. We brought the children with us. They played in my grandfather's room while he slept and while he had small seizures in his sleep. They are used to his being in a hospital setting, having visited him most weekends while he was in the rehab facility, so this was not disturbing for them. Although we did tell the Girl Child that he was dying. Having the kids at the hospital, along with my uncles and my mother, made it seem much better somehow. Much less scary, much more like death is a normal part of life. I am not explaining this well and I don't know that I can. It is just that they were not shielded from this experience and the way they regularly went over to him in the course of their play to talk to him and tell him that they loved him and to tell him the news about our new baby just made it seem so every day. They were not scared by his appearance. In fact, the Boy Child insisted that I hold him up so that he could kiss his great grandfather on his cheek. Twice. The Girl Child insisted on the same.

We don't know how much my grandfather heard of all this. He was drifting in and out of his stupor and having multiple small seizures.

He's had a major stroke, as it turns out. There is no hope of improvment and he wants nothing heroic, nothing invasive done to him to prolong his life. I cannot blame him in this. The man can no longer swallow as a result of the stroke.

I stayed with him when everyone went to get lunch. I just couldn't bring myself to leave.

He woke at around 3:30. I was sitting next to him and I held his hand. He held my hand very tightly.

I tried so very hard not to cry. Just like I'm trying now. Mostly its working.

The Girl Child wanted to know why I was so sad and I explained it to her later.

It seemed to me that he was trying to say goodbye to me. I think he was. At least, sitting here now I am sure of it. I talked to him about some of my cherished memories, I held his hand tightly while he experienced pain, he tried to speak to me, I held on when I was afraid I was going to break down entirely and couldn't trust myself to speak, I somewhere found inside myself a place where I could speak to him calmly and soothingly. He knew I was there and he knew who I was and he nodded in the right places.

I relinquished my spot after about 20 minutes to my aunt, his sister. She's the eldest so she must be about 95. She was driven down by my cousin, her daughter, from New Jersey. It took two hours and I think that they both knew that they were saying goodbye. They were very close all their lives.

I abhor melodrama and I don't think I am being melodramatic here. But, while he was talking to his sister, I locked eyes with my grandfather from the foot of his bed. His eyes, for just a moment, looked so fierce to me, so filled with resolve and with the spark. So trapped in his frail body. I felt as if he were saying goodbye to me.

I'm going back this morning.

Just because I think he may have already said goodbye to me doesn't mean for a moment that I have said goodbye to him. Or that I'm going to let him die without my being there for him.

We've always been very close. I have no doubts that while he loves all of his grandchildren very much, I was the first born and I was without question his favorite.

I hate this.

He was right, some months ago, when he told my father that it is very hard to come into this world and it is just as hard going out.

Posted by Random Penseur at 06:00 AM

November 04, 2005

This isn't for you, this one

It is for me. Purely for me. I need a moment, a space, a place, where I can be very sad.

You see, I'm not ready. I'm not willing or . . . . I don't know. I'm not prepared to, although I'm going to, take my children with me down to Greenwich Hospital this weekend and say goodbye to my grandfather.

He's had a stroke and has an infection in his heart.

My mother and her brothers had a long discussion with him today. He wants off the medication, on the morphine, and, well, off the planet. On his terms. On his decision.

I realize some may read that to mean he has a suicide urge. I don't know why I'm going to address that since, as I pointed out, this one isn't for you anyway. He doesn't. He just knows, as we all do, that he is very ill and will not get better, will not shake this, will not improve, will no longer have a quality of life to speak of, will no longer what, exactly?

I need a moment. I will not cry at my desk, ok?

Will no longer be able to put the top down in the car like he did when I was a kid in the autumn to look at the leaves; will no longer speak to me in that outrageous half English, half Cambridge, all 1930's Harvard accent;

I'm not ready to finish this right now. I am not ready to reduce to a list, in some electronic form, my precious memories of him. Not yet. I'll have to do it soon. Some of these memories, frankly, go to the absolute core of who I am as a person. They are my touchstones, rubbed a little shiny and smooth at the edges, but they are experiences that have formed me. His influence on my life cannot be overstated.

But I cannot reflect on it all now. No.

Now, I have to go home and celebrate my wedding anniversary today. Well, maybe not celebrate.

I am devastated. I knew that he was going to go one day. And I always worried that if he did, I would collapse, that I would get all hollowed out and slowly deflate. That may still happen, I suppose. Beats me.

I am closing comments for the first time.

Posted by Random Penseur at 04:38 PM

November 01, 2005

A little re-cap

Last night was devoted to walking the streets with the children as we engaged in a mild form of extortion, demanding protection candy as a form of insurance for the next year. Everyone paid; nobody got hurt.

Well, the Girl Child got hurt. She got run down by someone in the pack of children she was trying to keep up with. Her bag got a little scrunched, she claims, and this made her very sad. We were off trick or treating with some friends and their children and the Girl Child was the youngest of the group, not including the Boy Child who, while with the group, was not not of the group. She started by holding my hand and walking with me. By the middle of the excursion, she told me that she did not want to hold my hand anymore and made it clear that she wanted to go with the bigger kids. I allowed her, with some reservations. Then she skinned her knee and her hand when she fell or was pushed. After that, she stuck closer by and held my hand. Also, she was getting tired.

The kids were adorable, though. She was a witch and he was a "blue toot-toot guy", a train engineer in a blue hat. They thanked everyone who gave them candy and said trick or treat after they deposited the candy in their bags and they resisted correction on the timing of the salutation. I didn't try very hard to correct them and really why should I?

They have had a good week. On Sunday, we took them to the Circus when Ringling Bros, etc., came to the arena in Bridgeport. Such excitement, so much cotton candy. Their pleasure in the cotton candy was balanced by my shock at having to pay $9 for the bag of it. I thought that was astonishing. What impressed the Boy Child the most, you may wonder? Was it the elephants, the lions, the acrobats? No, it was a very short skit with two clowns and a giant toothbrush. He is still talking about the "teethbrush" and going to visit it again.

On Saturday, we all trooped off to a military museum in Danbury. They were having an "open turret" day and that meant we could climb on the tanks and look inside and climb into the other vehicles. The kids and I had a marvelous time. My father in law is a military history buff and, while we were clambering on the tanks, he was deep in conversation with a volunteer guide.

All in all, a successful day. Indeed, if not for the nanny situation, it would have been quite a wonderful weekend.

Posted by Random Penseur at 04:10 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Today in history: Me!

Yup, that's right, another year has rolled on by and I am another year older. I refer you, respectfully, to my Today in History edition of last year of this same date, to see what cool things happened and who was born or died on First November.

I have been up since three o'clock this morning. Couldn't sleep for some reason, not really sure why. So I thought I might come down and reflect a little on the year past. I had some big changes and there are more on the horizon. I'd like to review: bought and sold a house; moved to Connecticut; seriously pondered career changes and began the inevitably slow process of effectuating same; watched my much beloved grandfather go from hale and hearty to a bare shell of the once robust and wonderful man he was for all my life; began interacting with my son as he began to talk; had the joy (mixed with terror) of hearing my wife tell me that she was pregnant; was put on the board of an old and august institution; made a couple of new friends; began to exercise every business day; perfected a recipe for black beans that is so good that if you tasted it you'd go home and punch your mama in da mouth (and it is vegetarian, Helen!); went to London all by my lonesome and met Helen; had dinner with Simon; and, through many acts of grace, small and large, had my faith in the essential goodness of man re-affirmed. Oh yeah, I should also add that this was another year in which I learned that the love I had for my wife and children the year before was shallow and insignificant compared with the love I feel for them now.

I don't have any idea, really, what the next year of life may bring for me and for those lives I necessarily touch, and I can't really forecast anything, but just the same, I hope it is a year of growth. I hope it is a year of plenty, in the sense that our little family will grow by one more and that one more, I hope, will be healthy. I hope it is a year of continued good health. I hope it is a year of, if not reasonably good fortune, at least not bad fortune.

There is something deliciously self-indulgent about making yourself a pot of coffee at three o'clock in the morning. I'm going to go back and enjoy it now. As we are now without nanny, as you may have noticed from the post from yesterday, I am going to spend the evening at home. Yes, there will be a good bottle of wine involved but no, it will not be a quiet evening out. Still, sounds like it might be just fine.

Posted by Random Penseur at 03:56 AM | Comments (19) | TrackBack