Thursday, August 31, 2006

No rest for the wicked... I must be very wicked indeed. The semester has started off smashingly, and I'm excited by the new classes which seem to have gone well for their first meetings.

But no time to contemplate, because in just a few hours, I'll be starting my journey to the Telluride Film Festival, where suddenly I have new duties as a Ringmaster (which is a fancy way of saying that I'll be a combination emcee-moderator, and that I won't be wearing as many long sleeve t-shirts this time around). This may cut into my ability to watch many films even more than usual, but I'm also thrilled and honored at the opportunity. Although I'm not bringing my computer (nor any liquids or gels, of course), I will blog when I can about the festival.

In the meantime, we'll see whether my tea bags for coca tea -- to help with altitude adjustment, left over from my experiences in Cuzco -- will make it in my check-in luggage.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Dustin' crops where there ain't no crops

We recently bought a new car, which actually means that we bought a newer used car than the one we had before. We actually like the 92 Honda LX that we inherited from my mother-in-law: it ran well, we knew it had been kept up well, it was a standard, and it had a horrible blue paint job that ensured that no one would ever think of stealing it. It had been having more problems of late, however, so we started thinking about getting a new car; when our last visit to the mechanic required yet another $400 fix, we decided to actually purchase a new car.

Our new car is a mossy green 98 Mazda 626 that we purchased off of a former UMD grad student. I won't go into the full details, because they're depressing and because I'm likely in anger to put the per's real name for everyone to see, but suffice to say that we learned our lesson to never purchase a car unless your mechanic checks it out first -- that to not wait for him to come back from vacation first may be a mistake. Lesson learned.

In any case, over a grand later, we have a car in good condition -- with one exception: replacing the bad clunking is a cute little hum, like a mechanized bumblebee. I now have identified the sound as more akin to what a Vespa sounds like or, as a colleague here said where I described it, like a cartoon car.

I must admit, however, that my first thought was North by Northwest.

For some reason, I originally thought the hum sounded like one of those propeller crop-duster planes. Being a kid from either the subrubs or the city, I have never actually seen one of these, but I have seen Hitchcock's film, which is good enough for me.

What really amuses me is that I now think of myself as driving that crop-duster. This also means that I'm looking out for Cary Grant. Because if I see him, I'm going to have to try to machine-gun him down. In case you think I'm kidding, I actually am looking out for Cary Grant. Me and my malevolent mossy green Mazda. Hee hee.

Suffice to say that I shouldn't take this too far: if, indeed, I do encounter Roger Thornhill, the movie also tells me that this story does not end well for either the plane or the pilot. Nevertheless, I would warn all Cary Grant lookalikes living in Takoma Park, Tenleytown and the area around Walter Reade to stay at home.

Monday, August 21, 2006

You mean I can't have this in my carry-on?

Like many millions of Americans, I did not see Snakes on a Plane this last weekend. I actually would have loved to, Sam, but, you know, the whole dad/husband/work/homeowner role thing I'm trying to play prevented me from making it over to the Majestic.

Luckily, I can get a run-down right here which, from what I understand, may be even better than the actual movie.

When you really need the emergency lane

KC just reminded me that I meant to detail one more story about this summer's journey. This involves the final leg of Xan-and-me-alone, from Rochester to Cape Cod. Angela was already fretting that I had decided to leave on the 2nd of August rather than the 1st, and we had gotten a late start out of Rochester: suffice to say, we were a little behind schedule. After stopping around Albany for lunch, I called Angela once we arrived in Massachusetts.

She was not pleased. "You should have left earlier."

"I will be there as soon as I can."

"No more stopping, OK?"

I agreed that I would not stop, thinking that even if I had to stop, it would be realtively short anyway. We lept driving. That part of the Mass Pike is actually quite beautiful and we were missing the gigantic thunderstorm that broke the 100+-degree heat in the Northeast, so life was going pretty well.

Somewhere around exit 8, around Worcester I think, I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw Xan scrunch his face up in a familiar way. (At this point, I should clarify that I figured out how to turn the rear-view mirror so that I could see him, he could see me and I could still see the cars behind me. Ah, the amazing things you learn to do when you have a kid back there that you need to amuse...) it dawned on me that we had not had a "major" diaper alert (i.e. good ol' number two) for going on 36 hours, so I knew what that face signified. I couldn't smell anything, but I made a mental note that I should probably stop and clean him at the next rest area. I looked back again and saw that his face was back to normal, and that he was looking down at something.

And then his hand came up.

With poo.

Smiling, he brought his hand to his other hand and started mashing them together.

It is at this point that I screamed.

Basically almost causing an accident, I veered from the left-most lane all the way over to the breakdown lane while saying, "Nononono! Notinthemouth! Notinthemouth! Nono!" I then proceeded to change his diaper and subsequent clothing and attempt to clean the car seat (which basically consisted of me putting all of our dirty clothes on it so that he wouldn't get any messier). I admit that I was seeing the humor in all of this and laughing my head off as I was trying to do what was patently riduculous on the side of the road, with tractor trailers whizzing by at top speeds and large ants crawling up our legs.

With mission accomplished, I all of sudden realize that there was an emergency vehicle coming up to me to see what was wrong. The guy in the truck yelled at me, saying that my stop did not constitute an emergency. I mean, really: if that wasn't an emergency, I don't know what is.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

What I learned on my summer vacation

And oh, there were many things to learn....

  • It is possible to drive eight hours alone in a car with a toddler. No, I did not die, nor did I kill the boy. In fact, the most successful trip was the first day, which was also the longest. The plan -- for everyone else out there -- was to have none. We jeeped him up all morning long before his nap (having him literally run around, walk all over the place, sing and yell, etc.) until he was so tired, he could barely move. At that point, we threw him into the already-packed rental car and got going. He was asleep before we hit Silver Spring -- and didn't wake up again until we got to Pennsylvania... when it was time to stop for lunch! We stopped, ran around a bit, got back on the road.

    About and hour and a half later, he got antsy. This took more creative methods -- but luckily (the only time I have ever thought this was a good thing) I was on a toll road. I got off the Pennsylvania Turnpike and asked the tollbooth operator if there was a park nearby. It turns out that, indeed, a very nice park was closeby. Xan had a ball playing all over this place.

    Back on the road, he got antsy again in another two hours -- just in time for dinner! After another hour eating and running around a rest stop, charming absolutely everyone (and my, but those rest stops on the Ohio Turnpike are nice!), back on the road again. Here's where the "plan" went a little wrong, because I then expected him to go to sleep. He didn't, staying awake the whole rest of the way until we got to Michigan. At 11:00 PM. Yikes. Nevertheless, he did so quietly, without complaint. And it only took him a day to get back onto schedule. Success!
  • This method may not be feasible for shorter trips. By the time we got to the Cape, Angela and I decided for a family trip to Provincetown -- and quickly discovered that (a) the method described doesn't work with Xan when there will be traffic, because he wake up when the car stops, and (b) there is no need to expose him to cute tchochkes, quaint cobblestone streets, nice beaches, and so many shirtless, buff men that I felt I was both overdressed and not doing justice to my sexuality by wearing a t-shirt... at least until he's old enough to appreciate all of this. Maybe at 5.
  • Nature is fun to appreciate. The first week, Xan and I spent some time at my parents' apartment, which they recently moved into. They are on the ground floor with a great view of a duck pond. Like many of the residents of this senior community, they spend a considerable amount of effort making sure there is bread handily available for feeding the ducks. Fresh off learning the word "duck," Xan took to this really well. Although he never quite grasped the concept of feeding the ducks since, after helping Oma rip up the pieces of bread, he would feed himself instead of the ducks. This only led my mother to laugh harder.
  • Nature is really fun to appreciate. After arriving on Cape Cod, Xan and I discovered that this summer there were very few mosquitos out and about -- which meant we were out as much as possible. In Xan's case, this meant cavorting all around their rather expansive backyard. This also meant that he has acquired a whole assortment of cuts, scrapes and bruises all over his body, confirming the fact that, yes, he is a boy.
  • Nature is sometimes too fun to appreciate. While in Ann Arbor, my old friends Bonnie and Brian (and their firecracker daughter Kyleigh) invited us to go to a quiet lake about a half hour out of town. We were having a wonderful time -- Xan has taken to water quite well... to the extent that he will run into water pell mell without regard to whether it is too deep or not -- and at one point I stayed a little ways back while Xan went exploring up a narrow path leading to the parking area. Brian had gone up in that direction earlier and only now mentioned, "You know what I saw earlier? It seemed to be a rattlesnake -- a little small, but with a definite rattl..."

    And at that moment, no joke: I heard an unmistakable sound. And I looked up and saw my son bending over with his usual curiosity about two feet away from a rattlesnake. Which was reared back, shaking his little tail off.


    Putting aside for the moment the notion of "what the hell is a rattler of any size doing anywhere outside the Southwest" (a notion I later found was just incorrect), I leaped closeby, plucking Xan away. This annoyed him. Only a few minutes later did I think, "Damn. That could have ended badly for both of us."
  • Ice cream is a great way of meeting new people. As usual, we perused the several neighborhood ice cream shops around Angela's parents' place on several occasions. The tip jar at the Whistle Stop Ice Cream shop in Pocasset mentioned that it was to support college funds for some of the summer workers. We've seen this before. This year, the three schools listed said "Fairleigh Dickinson - Boston College - American." Lo and behold, I left a note for the soon-to-arrive freshman, who emailed me a lovely note.
That's it for now. There's more, surely. But this is already getting too long. And the semester is soon to begin. Have to get back into the swing of things -- including more regular posting!

Ah, summer. We hardly knew ye.