Monday, October 31, 2011

on kids and definitions.

A couple weeks ago, I realized that I didn't know how many weeks old my daughter was. Moreover, I started to think of her age in months rather than weeks. Eventually, I'll start thinking of her age in fractions of years...then years. I will probably think of her grade as her age for a little while. Then it will go back to years.

Right now, my daughter is still X inches long. At some point, that will become "tall" instead of "long." Then feet will be added to the equation.

Right now, I think of my daughter as weighing X pounds Y ounces. Pretty soon, ounces will no longer be a consideration.

I never guessed how much fatherhood would make me aware of definitional terms.

fallen metal

Tomorrow, the most anticipated (by comedians, anyway) album of the year comes out: Lou Reed and Metallica. Yeah. We know. But it does put me in the mind to reflect upon the Metallica I used to know.

The first time I heard Metallica, Ride the Lightning was still an indy record. I was used to heavy...after all, I listened to Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden. Nothing, though, could've prepared me for my first listen of the bay area thrash band. A friend of my brother's made a cassette, and I remember him telling me I "had to hear this." "Fight Fire with Fire" came on, and I stopped in my tracks. Could you even DO that? Could music actually sound like that? They seemed to be breaking rule after rule...and it worked! Over the course of the next year, I utterly devoured that album.

Later, I went to a record store (remember those?) to try and find Metallica's first album. When I went up to the counter to pay, the clerk complemented me on my taste and told me their new album was coming out the next day...did I want it? Hell, yes, I wanted it. When album four came out, I would throw the cassette in my car radio, drive around endlessly, and turn up the volume until my windows shook.

Then Metallica's fifth album (The Black Album) came out. I bought it on my way to work. Heard the commercial polish and sheen. Got through the first six songs. With each song, my heart dropped. Quoting nursery rhymes? Ballads? Why on earth was the most innovative band on earth (or at least in my (admittedly limited) listening experience) moving closer to the mainstream? Why did they sell out...after hitting it big? I sold the cassette to someone at work that very day.

Ever since, Metallica has dropped further and further away from my attention. The only real time I think of them is when I find a student wearing a Metallica shirt. What does Metallica sound like to them? I have tried to explain to a few what hearing "Fight Fire With Fire" (or any song off their debut) was like, but I know I'm never going to come close. What was once the most exciting band in the world to me has become classic rock....and rather lame classic rock at that. When they announced the Lou Reed collaboration, my only thought was "of course they'd try something so obviously stupid."

I used to love Metallica...and the saddest thing is I know I will never think of them in quite the same way. But at least I still have their old...their REAL music.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

the baby headache silencer

Have the most beautiful girl in the world, but she loves spending days being (how shall we say) grumpy? Why, you need a mixed drink! I call this one "the baby headache silencer":

  • make one glass of cocoa

    • note: while you can use any cocoa you like, home-made is best. here's a recipe:

      • combine 2 cups powdered sugar, 1 cup Dutch-process cocoa, 2 1/2 cup powdered milk, 1 tsp salt, 2 tsp cornstarch, 1/4 tsp ground chipotle
      • mix well, store in a sealed container
      • use 1/4 cup of this mix for each cocoa mug

  • add one splash of peppermint schnapps
  • add one splash of wild strawberry liqueur
  • stir
  • take painkiller of your choice
  • enjoy while trying to remember what it was like to be pain-free
  • apply heating pad to shoulders

final frozen food fantasy

For those of you keeping track of such things, I decided to give my frozen food thing one more try. I was planning to do steakums, but one box now costs over $11...which, if you follow the math, means a full cow would retail for the price of a small house in a quiet suburb. Instead, I got a box of frozen chicken cordon bleus.

I've been trying to figure out a good metaphor. White board eraser? A cross between cardboard and packing foam? All I know all the moisture was cooked out around it...along with all the cheese.

I have come to two ultimate conclusions. First, frozen food might've actually gotten worse in the last few decades. Second, there's utterly no way I'm going to eat any more of it than absolutely necessary.

a post about competing songs

One of the reasons I love my wife is that she understands my need for release. She understands that I love her and my kid entirely...but I still gotta have something else. And since that day I bought my first guitar (a Chicago-brand Les Paul copy) with saved-up lunch money, that thing I need most is music. It is my sanity, my release...and possibly the the only thing keeping me sane at this point.

Last Friday, my band played a show in Bowling Green. Things went rather well. Several friends showed up (more than for my first Black Swamp Rats gig). The other acts (Mark Hutchins and The Half Hearts) were both awesome. I only moderately aggravated my bad shoulders loading my gear in and out of the bar (via the fire escape, mind you). And if my friends are to be believed, I even played well. Well, hell, don't take my word for it:

I would be lying, though, if I said I didn't feel guilty about leaving the wife and kids to play...but experience has taught me that it's much worse, though, for everyone involved if I don't have music as my outlet. In spite of shoulder pain and slightly ringing ears, I was a much better person after this night than before. Still, though, as I made my way into my house and crawled into bed, a song popped into my head:

Yeah. It's just like that...except Kenny was a rich man singing about someone who's poor but still thinks he might possibly be able to make it. I, on the other hand, am poor and hold no illusions of ever being otherwise. The need for what we do, though, is the same.

Oh yeah, our song is better.

in perfect harmony

should've been smarter
should've been stronger

When I sing, my girl is my audience...and she's the best audience in the world.

She doesn't judge me. She doesn't, upon hearing my voice, break into wild laughter as did one former band member. She doesn't leave the room as has my wife (to be fair, though, as she's only four months old, she doesn't walk yet and thus couldn't walk out...but I like to think she'd listen to me even if she had the option of leaving). She finds my voice calming, much, that is, as her mood, health, and general disposition allow her to find anything soothing.

Nevertheless, I find myself undergoing a crisis of songs, of singing.

I have a pretty good vocabulary of songs I can sing. I generally, while singing my girl to sleep, last about an hour ten before having to repeat myself...and this is, mind you, just the excludes instrumental breaks and the like. But I need more...because so many songs are, the more I think about it, just not suitable for the occasion.

Some are just too peppy or weird for sleep time. Can you imagine, for instance, falling asleep to Hendrix's "Manic Depression?" Others seem inappropriate. The first time I performed the Rolling Stones song "Dead Flowers" for her, I caught myself before I got to the line about being "in my basement room with a needle and a spoon"...because their first year of life is just a itty bit too early for heroin references. There are a few Wilco songs which got pushed out right away for having poetic lyrics which get a bit too close to spousal abuse for my taste...and while I understand irony and metaphor (and thus understand what Tweedy was getting at), it will be at least a year before my girl reaches that level of lyrical sophistication.

I mentioned earlier that my girl likes the Eagles. Therein lies another problem, though, because most of their songs are of the "trials of men and women in relationships." This is what most of all songs are about, though...which adds an additional level of difficulty.

I am worried about my daughter getting (on some level) the idea that people are only defined by their status in relationships. I have seen this happen to many people, and it is sad--someone walking around the earth, desperate for someone to "complete them." I am also worried about the normalization of drug use, the damage to self-worth, the use of violence (ironic or not) as a metaphor for...well, anything. There are a lot of ideas in music which, if one is not prepared to take them in context...or see them with irony...or understand them as metaphors...well, they have the potential to wreak havoc.

None of these reasons, however, are why I'm having a crisis of songs.

I have, as of late, found myself singing Two Cow Garage (my favorite band in the world) to my girl. I love Two Cow wholeheartedly, unreservedly. I love them for many reasons, but one of the chief ones is that they are fully aware of what it means to be a non-major band. They sing quite often about what you do when all hope of ultimate success is gone. What if you knew you would never achieve your dreams? What would you do? How would you act? Would you fight?

This is all well and good for me. Hell, many of the bands I listen to have similar lyrical concerns. I have known for ages that I'd never be a star, never be a success, never be a mover and shaker. First I gave up hope of being a professional musician. Then I gave up hope of being a scholar. I am, in the end, used to giving up hope....and I need art which speaks to my personal needs, my personal disappiontments.

I don't, however, need or want that for my child. Instead, I want her to see a world of possibilities. I want her to discount limits. I want her to ignore barriers. I want her to dream big.

How, though, do I do this when I myself have essentially quit dreaming? How can I help her hope when I can't make myself hope? When I don't believe in hope? How can I inspire her towards something I don't believe anymore exists?

What songs can I sing?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

a dialog about whining

background: My darling kiddo hasn't been sleeping well, and that makes her cranky...and while I know a baby's only real method of communication is to yell, our girl seems to take this to the extreme. She gets a little hungry? Yell as if one is being stabbed by a porcupine and drug over salt flats. I realized, in some ways this reminded me of myself.

So last night, I went up to my darling wife.

Me: I'd just like you to know that if our girl ends up being overly dramatic or becomes a whiner, it's probably my fault...and I'm sorry.

Wife [after face drops]: Mike, have people on Facebook been mean to you again?

Friday, October 14, 2011

frozen food week two: pot pie

Hey, remember when I promised to write about my frozen food of the week experience? Well, yesterday's lunch was a frozen pot pie. The damn thing required a 35 minute bake time. I could've used the microwave directions, but I, dunno, like browning. I then let the thing rest for ten rather than the instructed five minutes...not by choice, but by screaming kid. When I finally got to it, I noticed:

  • As frozen food is now designed for microwave rather than conventional oven use (the real oven directions are even in smaller print), they contain weird elements...such as a paper pie plate? Really?
  • The crust, as it's also designed for a microwave, burns quite handily along the outer edges. Yum....blackened pastry!
  • Ten minutes of resting is not nearly enough. One day later, I can still feel the scars in my mouth from the lava flow within.
  • While the product doesn't taste bad by any means, it also didn't really taste good...or like anything you'd ever go out of your way to eat ever again...even if one was a vulture.
  • For a pie which is supposedly beef, there's very little actual beef in it. What is there is rather stringy. Okay, everyone...please quit baking with fact, if you use round beef for anything other than cube steak, you will be shot.
  • A quick perusal of the ingredients shows hydrolyzed soy protein and garlic juice to be key ingredients. They also list "beef flavor," which includes autolyzed yeast extract....mmmm, just like mommy used to make!
  • This "single serving" is about half the size of an actual single serving of anyone's measure.
  • It also contains 50% of a day's saturated fat, along with 800mg of sodium. Healthy!

I'm now reconsidering actually continuing with the frozen food of the week...because I want to live and be unscarred.

life twists

Get ready...the 21st century
is when everything changes
--Capt. Jack Harkness

When I found out I was gonna be a dad, I make one simple vow: to not change too drastically into a slobbering moron. Some people become parents and can then only talk about everything their kids do in glowing terms. "Oh, he let out the cutest toot today!"--that kind of stuff. An infant walks into someone's life, and their IQ drops thirty points. That, I swore, would never be me.

While I would like to think I am, at my core, the same person, it is in fact true that fatherhood has changed me in quantifiable ways. How so?

  • I have a permanent glassy look to my eyes...because I'm never quite sure what the hell is going on.
  • Although I am not on night duty (my wife, as the Milk Producer, has the late shift, while I work primarily days), I am usually called upon to spring into action immediately after awakening...usually in the middle of a cool dream. As a result of never being allowed to awake organically, I'm usually walking around in a zombie state.
  • As the result of the point above, my per capita coffee consumption has skyrocketed.
  • I find myself doing strange things with my taking my kid to the...chiropractor? It actually helped, by the way...and she giggles while being adjusted.
  • What free time I used to have (which I would've used for, say, showering) is now taken up by endlessly buying and replacing batteries...which now require a screwdriver to get to. Seriously, are there no kiddie toys that don't require batteries? And every one is a different size. I now have a reserve of A, AA, C, D, AND 9volt. Now that I think of it, I kind of miss the B size.
  • What income I used to consider disposable is now taken up by either hospital bills, doctor bills, or battery bills.
  • I notice myself violating my oath "I will never do baby babble." Hell, half the time I speak, it seems I start lisping and using a sing-song voice. I sound like a Disney reject, actually.
  • I also find myself talking in the third person an awful lot...doing things like saying "that's why Daddy really needs to drink tonight." Maybe this is how The Rock got started.
  • I've become slightly immune to medicine stains, droll stains, milk stains on my clothing. I actually have to stop and ask myself "do I look presentable?" before leaving the house...and I also find myself caring about the answer a lot less.
  • I still carry ear plugs with me everywhere, but now they're for my daughter, not my drummer.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

doom and burritos

I've been having writing issues as of late...and it's all due to my current crisis of faith. So naturally, the solution is frozen food.

First, to be completely accurate, I'm really having crises (plural) of faith, not just a single crisis. Although I know I haven't had a future as an academic for years, it is, for reasons I would really rather not discuss, hitting particularly hard as of late. This adds to my crisis in my scholarship (namely: why do any?), crisis in identity (if I'm not a scholar or an academic, what exactly am I?), crisis in hope, friends, life, television viewing, you name it. However, if you've been paying any attention to this blog whatsoever, then none of this should be a surprise.

I've started to write several blog posts about said crises, but I generally get three long paragraphs and four re-writes into them before realizing I don't really have anything new to add to what I've already written. It's a shame, really, because writing always helps me work out my issues, but if I can't say anything original about the issues, what, really, can I work out? How can I improve?

Compounded with all this is the fact that I really don't wanna be that guy who always complains about the same stuff. Complaining is, I admit, an essential part of my identity. I still remember when one of my old bosses, while smoking cigarettes with me before work, had a dawning look of comprehension and said "Mike, you sure do like to complain." I just looked at him with one of those "thanks for stating the obvious" glares. None of this means I like being the complaining guy, least not as a primary identity, that is. Moreover, I don't want to lose the friends I have who still actually wanna hang out with me. I also don't want any normal readers of this blog to feel like they're eavesdropping on a therapy session.

I know I have to expand my level of thinking. I gotta hit new subjects. I need to broaden my scope. What, you ask, might be the solution?

Strangely enough, it hit me when I was grocery shopping. There was a logjam of idiots in the aisle I wanted to travel, so I instead cut through the frozen food aisle. As someone who is proud of turning himself into a pretty good home cook, I was a little surprised at the variety of food-objects for sale. Many were of the "oh, holy hell, people actually pay for something that looks this bad on the actual box?" Others, though, were updates of things I ate occasionally growing up. Glitzier packaging, more "extreme" flavors maybe, but in the end, pizza rolls are still definitely recognizable.

My mission suddenly became clear: I would relive the frozen food of my youth, one meal a week (as to not die from chemical intake). It would make blog fodder!

Week one was frozen burritos. As a teen, I would occasionally grab one for lunch...pile on some cheddar, nuke until the burrito was hot and the cheese had plasticized on the plate, douse with salsa, and you're done! My brand was Patio. My flavor was beef and bean. Authentic? Of course not, but it was pretty tasty.

They don't sell Patio up here. In fact, I couldn't even find a beef and bean burrito in the freezer case. Everything had gotten all gourmet-looking, particularly in terms of flavors. Frozen burrito makers in the eighties had no clue what chorizo was, for instance...but now it shared a wrap with eggs. Funky.

I settled on a steak and cheese burrito. The next day, I nuked it. I tried to eat it. It was awful. I know memory plays tricks on us, and I definitely know my tastes have changed...but this had the consistency and taste (I presume) of dog food. The ends were spackle-like, the middle was gross and paste-like. There is no way my teen burritos were this bad.

Score one against nostalgia, one against current food trends, one for my frozen food memories over the reality. One would hope this week's attempt (the frozen pot pie, currently in the oven) fares better. If not, it might be a sign that the bitterness in my life is poisoning even the mass market frozen food conglomerates.