Monday, November 26, 2007

My little pony

It's fourth quarter, which means, according to everyone at my new job, that I will be working my ass off nonstop for four weeks. I will be chained to my desk and sick of my co-workers. I will eat only vending machine food and burritos from Burrito Kitchen, and I will end up with scurvy or rickets or one of those old fashioned diseases for the overworked and malnourished.

In preparation for my indentured servitude, I'm eating lots of limes and getting my Christmas shopping done early and online. God forbid this be The Year Mom Ruined Christmas. (Again.) I've been poring over the digital shelves at Amazon in search of the perfect gift. I even did a little reconnaissance work at Target yesterday while buying Tea's new big girl car seat. I didn't find any winning gifts, but I did see this:

Words fail.

Butterscotch Pony is here! I've heard that "this incredibly lifelike pony is a very special, once-in-a-lifetime friend." (Or if you're Gianni and Tea, "a special never-in-Mom's-lifetime, over-her-dead-body friend.")

It's life-sized! It eats plush carrots! It's the perfect gift for your kid if you have bought them absolutely fucking everything else in the world to fill the gaping hole in your morally bankrupt lives! It beckons to your children from the endcap at Target!

Oh my god.

Hey, you know what else is life-sized, eats carrots, and responds to your touch? A REAL PONY. If you're actually insane enough to buy your child a three-foot-tall overindulgence, go big or go home. Get the real thing.

I speak from experience because I actually HAD a pony when I was Tea's age. No lie. I did not know this until years later. Apparently, my dad had a friend who had a farm in Bloomfield (Bloomfield=Bloomington without the big-city sophistication.) He had a pony he was trying to unload on someone. My dad thought, hey! I have a three-year-old, you have a pony! It's perfect. That is how I became a proud miniature equestrienne with my own goddamn pony.

I only met the pony once. My dad took me out to see it and it tried to eat me. I'm no plush carrot but I guess I looked pretty tasty. And as suddenly as the pony had come into my life, it went away again.

I actually remember going out to a farm and seeing a pony and almost losing my foot to it. But I had no idea it was MY pony. Years later, in therapy, I couldn't even blame my parents for not getting me a pony. Because they DID. I feel gypped. But I do get to feel all superior because I had my own pony, motherfuckers, so it's not a total loss.

In 20 years, Tea can complain to her therapist that I didn't get her a Butterscotch Pony. Maybe she'll find one on eBay and buy it for herself to compensate. And she'll think, as she gently grooms it and it swishes its synthetic tail in response, that her life is now complete.


All I'm sayin' is that if I see any pony-shaped boxes on my doorstep, they're going straight to the Butterscotch Glue Factory. Fur real.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Strangers in a strange land

Gianni, having a heart at the Museum of Science and Industry

It's just not a family vacation unless you end up in the wrong neighborhood. We decided to take the kids to the Museum of Science and Industry on Monday. Gianni wanted to take the train. We could have opted for the spiffy Metra, the train of choice for North Shore commuters heading to their law firms in the Loop. But for the sake of proximity and old fashioned train fun, we opted for the El. Of course, when we opted for the El, I was thinking that the MSI was just a short jaunt from downtown, right next to Soldier Field (which, incidentally, now looks like a flying saucer landed on it--what is up with that?)

Well, guess what? That's the Field Museum, silly. I mixed them up. The MSI is down in the hinterlands of Hyde Park, aka that quasi-fortress of a neighborhood surrounded by the South Side of Chicago. I asked Rick where we needed to get off the train--he pointed to a green dot far south of our starting point.


"Is that a bad neighborhood?"


And it's not, really. It's not one of those Chicago neighborhoods where you arrive and you have about two minutes to take cover before someone divests you of your wallet, your jewelry, and anything more valuable than your dry-cleaning receipt. Still, it's pretty obvious when we get off the train that we are not regulars. We do not blend. We are about 300 percent whiter than anyone for at least 10 blocks in any direction. Actually, make that 450 percent whiter.

And you know what's great? My kids did not care one bit. They chased each other and said hi to the dudes drinking forties around the burning barrel and waited patiently for our bus, which came about 15 minutes later and dropped us in lovely Hyde Park, where the barrels were not on fire. I love that my kids have grown up around so much bizarre shit in their first few years that they don't bat an eye when things are different. It's just another stop on the train for them. I hope they keep that perspective. I don't want them in harm's way, but I would like for them to really see the world and appreciate the diversity, not fear it.

I just remember too many trips when I was young where my mom acted like we'd been dropped into the holding pen of the LA County Jail if we were more then two blocks away from the shopping district of a strange city. And I'm so glad that we are a family of explorers. We see so much more because of it.

Between the train ride and the U-Boat and the giant heart, it was quite a journey. So much so that we took the Metra back to save time. I'm sure Nana appreciates that.

Look Nana! I'm riding the Metra!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

News flash: Chicago has changed in 15 years

I'm in Chicago after a decade away. Given the smashing success of our non-Thanksgiving boogie-board extravaganza in San Diego last year, we decided to once again blow off tradition by having Thanksgiving dinner in Chicago with my best friend from college and her husband and their families. (I guess that sounds: traditional, but not our tradition.) It's also a great opportunity for Rick and I to do the Bataan Museum March with the kids. We're doing museums three and four tomorrow. I can feel my kids getting smarter by the hour.

We're staying in a two-bedroom apartment in Bucktown. We opted to skip the Chicago tourist strip for something further afield. I love neighborhoods--especially funky ones. And when I was in school in Evanston, Bucktown and Wicker Park had just the right funk factor. I remember this area as being block after block of beautiful, if decrepit, homes and flats, bodegas, check-cashing stations, and old-man bars. Fantastic used clothing and furniture. Good cheap Polish food. Some blocks were downright dangerous. Life was good.

Imagine my shock when I arrived here to discover that Bucktown and Wicker Park have changed. Just a little. This is now the kind of neighborhood where there are at least a half dozen places to buy a $500 black dress, but no place to buy toothpaste. There are sports bars. And day spas. That is some fucked-up shit.

This is adorable, but I can't brush my teeth with it.

A few years ago, MTV filmed The Real World Chicago in Wicker Park. While they were finishing the house, disgruntled hipsters picketed it. (I really, really love neighborhoods where people picket and firebomb things they disagree with.) I get the sense that about 90 percent of the people I see walking down Damen Avenue today would not only not protest The Real World house, they probably moved here because they filmed The Real World here. Not that there's anything wrong with that...oh wait, yes there is.

I don't know why I'm surprised that fusion small-plate restaurants have supplanted hot-dog joints in this nabe. After all, 16 years in San Francisco saw the Upper Haight change from crack dealers and gunshots at night into a neighborhood dominated by Google millionaires and i-bankers who can afford $2mil for an family home that a family can actually fit into. It happens. And it's not like I haven't changed too. I was a little bit poorer, more toned and less wrinkly the last time I hit the town in Wicker Park, too. I guess we're even. Still--where do people in Chicago go for a good $50 couch these days? Somewhere, I hope.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Pick up the pace, shorty

Gianni got his report card yesterday. Overall, the news is good. He is doing well in math and is off the charts in reading. He likes art. He knows what a musical instrument is. He could do with a little more listening and a little less clowning around, but they can cancel that cell they reserved for him at juvie last year.

Here's what's bizarre. G had to take a version of the Presidential Fitness Test that I remember taking as a kid. You know, the one where they judge your fitness and your pecking order on the grade school jock scale by how long you can hang on a bar. As it turns out, G is the first grade grand master of hanging on a bar. He far surpassed the national average. He has a fine future ahead of him as a macaque.

But in the dreaded mile run? Gianni is literally in danger of being left behind. He clocked in at 16 minutes, which according to the charts places him in the bottom half of first graders around the country.

Excuse me, but what country? Kenya? First of all, how many first graders do you know who run a mile? I run about twenty a week and I can't say I've ever seen Gianni's classmates burning up the trail. And I'm okay with that. Kids spaz out in so many other wonderful ways every day that they scarcely need to take up long-distance running. It's safe to say G gets his share of exercise during the day, between scootering, climbing, swimming, and bugging me.

Second of all--16 minutes is not exactly Roger Bannister material, but it's hardly shameful for a seven-year-old. There are plenty of adults who run that pace or slower. In fact, I remember seeing a news clip of Bill Clinton jogging in the 90s, and they mentioned that his pace was about 16 minutes a mile. Granted, that was fat Bill Clinton and I think he was eating a Big Mac at the same time, but still. Jeez. If that pace is good enough for the President, it should be okay for the small takers of the Presidential Fitness Test. Why should we hold my little boy to higher standards than the scores of full-grown fatasses in America?

You must run faster than this man to get to second grade.

Something tells me that with his energy level and raw genetic material, Gianni will get through life at an adequate pace. Maybe better than adequate. So let's allow him to stay off the treadmill for at least a few more years, mkay? That way, he'll have time to work toward his Olympic gold medal in hanging on a bar. I'm looking into hiring a coach.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

It's called Halloween--look into it

I always love to post about Halloween, because it's so damned fun and also because it's always a source for exquisite absurdity in our lives. Who can forget Spider Man on Belvedere Street? Or a bag full of popsicle sticks? Or sitting on our stoop drinking red wine and handing out candy to the trick-or-treaters of the Haight, which included chain smokers, teenage mothers, various homeless crazy people, and about a zillion kids? Not me.

Which is why I'm a bit melancholy this year. Three things make me sad.

1. We got three groups of trick or treaters at our new home. One group included members of our own family. I think the other two were lost. Last year, we had four Costco bags of candy and we ran out at 7:30, forced to turn out the lights and hide from the still approaching throngs of little sugar junkies. I talked to friends about my disappointment and apparently, none of them got trick or treaters either. Who did? Folks on Mapleton Hill, where apparently the rich folks give out full-sized candy bars, Amex Centurion cards and gallon Ziploc bags of coke. They scoff at our bag of chocolate. "Fun size" indeed.

2. They cancelled Halloween in the Castro. Even though I'm 1000 miles away and even though it's been Night of the Drunken Violent Homophobes from Milpitas for the past decade or so, it's still a bummer. I remember going to the Castro when we first moved to the city, back when people were still fun. For the cost of a muni ride and the amount of effort it took to put on black clothing and a pair of cat ears, you could drink oil cans of Fosters and watch streets full of happy revelers loving the shit out of life. One year I went as the missing girl on the side of the milk carton (complete with amazing giant milk carton) and for one night I felt what it must be like to be famous. I was the center of attention and must have had my picture taken about ten million times with a parade of gay men dressed as cows, babies, milk maids, or Judy Garland. We still had the milk carton until we moved in June. If only I'd kept it, I could have relived the experience in Boulder (except without the party, or the gay men, or the open containers).

Little lost girl and big gay cow, circa 1994

3. My own daughter boycotted Halloween. We need to run a DNA test. I was so looking forward to going out with Tea this year. At two and a half she is actually old enough to get fired up about dressing for Halloween and going door-to-door for candy. And for Tea, going door to door and putting on a performance for attention and accolades is hardly a stretch. It's her destiny. But in a bizarre turn of events, by the time I got home from work on Wednesday, she flat out refused to wear any costume and she would not go trick or treating, no matter how much I begged. (And I did beg.) We ended up sitting on the couch watching Blues Clues and waiting for our three visits from trick-or-treaters. L-A-M-E. Rick took the kids to the Munchkin Masquerade on Pearl Street earlier in the evening and we have a lovely commemorative picture of the kids sitting on a bale of hay--Gianni in full Darth Vader regalia, and Tea dressed as....Tea. Oh well.

Pearl Street's own Axis of Evil

Good thing I have a whole year to figure out how to make Halloween 2008 less beat. All I need are a few bags of coke, 100,000 drag queens and a giant milk carton. Piece of cake. Be there or be square.