Famous Tweets in History

Traci once (earlier today) famously (well?) tweeted, "What was once our living room is now called the ping pong table."

And that is what our life has been like for the past two days: my turn, your turn, my turn, your turn, my turn . . . if only the rules to all of life's sports were so easy.

Or, in an even more perfect world, perhaps love and ownership and intersections could be this way.

But that's all neither here nor there -- what truly matters at this moment is this: looks like playing ping pong for six hours a day two summers in a row when I was fourteen and fifteen with a young Dr. Stick is finally paying off. Daddy is undefeated at the ping pong table.

Ha! In your face, everybody my age who had dates and other kinds of social lives!

I also should note that we have successfully completed two jigsaw puzzles -- one of a gorilla, one of somebody's porch at the beach, and we're well on our way to finishing the one with the horsey, which is Blaisey's favorite animal. "Well," she tells me, "all the animals are my favorite, but I like horsey's the best."

I got nothing else to add to that . . .


Hunting Tips

Traci said, "Let me have a look at your leg?"

Naomi said, "What's wrong with daddy's leg?"

I said, "I just checked it. It looks fine."

Naomi said, "What's wrong with your leg?"

Traci said, "It looks about the same as it did yesterday."

Naomi said, "Looks the same as what?"

I said, "It doesn't hurt or anything."

Naomi turned to Blaisey and said, "What did daddy do to his leg?"

Blaisey said, "I think he got a bug stuck in it."

This was the day after I came back to Athens -- I'd stayed in PA after Thanksgiving while the rest of the family returned to Ohio. I spent an extra four days out in the woods, during which time I often recalled a quote I'd read from, I think, a professional athlete of some sort, "I have been hunting on several occasions, but no deer were ever aware of it." That registers with me on every level.

Well, I think there's only actually one level.

I spent four days in the woods with my dad, and I only saw one deer, and that is largely the story of my hunting life. It was raining so hard the night before the first day of the season that we had a brief conference about when to wake up. Like many hunters, of course, we would like to have been in the woods unreasonably early but Dad suggested that we might want to sleep in for a bit, because if it's going to rain this hard, it's going to be hard to see even after sunrise. Mom said, "Yeah, with all this rain, it's not going to get light until long after it stops being dark," which is exactly what I had been thinking.

It rained all the first day and all the second day. I've never seen so many mosquitoes during the last week of November. I marked sunrise at about 4:14 both afternoons. Still, it was lovely in the woods and I got in some very long walks.

In the evening, after each hunt, we'd stop back in the clubhouse and make plans for the coming day and the rest of our lives. Though I'd only seen one tick in Pennsylvania in my entire life, some of the hunters claimed that this year they were particularly bad. So each evening, like it or not, we all shared some tick repellent. The stuff came in the little steel cannister that my great uncle used to carry his snakebite medicine in. It tasted remarkably like some of the darker whiskey one might find on the middle shelf of a local spirits shop. If the family legend is true, Great Uncle always had his snakebite medicine on him, and, if times got real tough, he'd even carry a snake.

Wednesday, the temperature dropped, and I found myself sitting in a tree stand, sitting in an enormous snowglobe about thirty feet up in the air, the wind bringing confetti-style flakes at me from all angles. I had brought Leaves of Grass with me, but couldn't take my eyes off the world. It was my first time in the woods in earnest since fall 2002, and I'd forgotten the woods, forgotten how cold an ass can get, forgotten how quiet a place can be, how calm.

Okay, I should mention this: there's these two guys out in the woods, father and son, hunting deer. They walk for a while and cross paths. The father says, "See anything?" Son says, "Found some scat, but it tasted pretty old." They split up again and meet up in a few hours. Father says, "See anything?" Son says, "More scat. It tasted pretty fresh, but I think it was from a doe." Few hours later, the father says, "See anything?" Son says, "Some scat. It tasted real close." The father says, "You know you could just smell the scat." Son says, "Are you kidding me? That stuff smells awful."
It's the first deer-hunting joke I ever made up. Loosely based on a true story. How'd I do?

Here's the true story: Dad said, "You see anything?" I said, "I don't know, does a bear shit where it eats?" He said, "I believe so." I said, "Well, then I saw a bear den."

Late into the third day, the weather broke. The sun came out. I got out of my stand. Dad and I went across the valley to climb a different hillside. Late in the day, the sunlight came horizontal over the hillside we were just on. The hillside lit up like a candlabrum. I started thinking there are no deer in these woods, which is what I believed through most of the hunting seasons of my childhood. Nor did I need to see any deer just then. The gray clatter of tree tops in a bright light breeze would have kept me in the woods for a millenium.

Still, the week before Thanksgiving, we had taken Jaswinder for his first trip through Pennsylvania. He spent two nights at the ancestral Connor household, staying up way too late, chatting with me and Dad. Dad asked him, at one point, "So what do you think of Pennsylvania?" He said, "It's exactly like Chicago, except hilly." (Years before when Dad had asked me what I thought of my first trip to Chicago, I'd said, "It's exactly like February, only it's September.") I'm still not sure what I meant.

We'd been passing through PA on our way to New Jersey to take part in a Barrow Street reading hosted by Derek Pollard in a pub next door to Derek's house -- now that's planning. The reading featured Derek Henderson, Lesley Wheeler, Jaswinder, and this guy. What a beautiful event, space, gathering. I was fantastic. Every body read from one or more of their books, except for one guy whose press had folded months before and had nothing to read but the list of 101 things about himself from his blog.

Jaswinder, or, as the kids call him, Uncle Winder, had never been across PA, and was fascinated by our landscape. Driving along I-80 heading east, he said, "What's on the other side of that hill?"

I said, "I dunno. Another hill."

"Well, I wanna see it."

I told him we'd take a different route home and see what's on the other side of the hill.

On the way back, travelling along I-76 West, he said, "Well, now I wanna see what's on the other side of that hill?"

I said, "We already saw the other side of that hill."

He said, "Yeah, but not today."

I thought about Winder as I stood there in the woods, about how it's never enough, never warm enough, never snowy enough, never rainy or dry enough, because I often do wonder what's on the other side of any given hill, wonder what's on a different radio station, what I would have eaten at a different restaurant or what I would be doing if I had finished that engineering degree. But that day in the woods, I didn't feel the need to know those things. I was happy to be tired from walking up and down steep hills, pushing aside brush and climbing over logs, pursuing little other than exactly what I was doing.

Suddenly, a bear jumped out of a brush pile right in front of me! Awesome. It clambered around up the hillside, making an awful racket. I've been away from the woods for too long . . . should I have said something to it? asked it to keep quiet? maybe cleared my throat, ahem, and showed the bear how to be reverent, silent in the woods? But I just stayed quiet and watched it climb the hillside, some times running, some times swatting tree branches just, I think, for the hell of it.

The fourth day was mostly a half day. Bright again, all day, and we walked the hillsides and didn't see much wildlife. In the evening I drove back to Athens. When I got home, we discovered, to my dismay, I had not taken enough of the tick repellent. A lesson to us all, I suppose. Be sure to drink your tick repellent, or you might end up with a bug stuck in your leg.


Unambitious Us

Some of you might have got the impression from that last post that we're a competitive family -- but that is simply not the case. We're a very generous, humble, consensus-seeking lot, who wish success for everybody.

Take, for instance, our kayaking trip this summer. Blaisey, at that point, was still having a hard time pronouncing "S" at the beginning of words when that "S" is followed by a consonant. Naomi spent a lot of time encouraging her to say her "S" words.

Naomi would say, "Where do you go every day to learn?"
Blaisey would say, "I go to cool."

"What do you put inside a turkey?"

"I put tuffing."

"What is the second major layer of the earth's atmosphere?"

"I sink it's the tratosphere."

What didn't work, however, was to tell Blaisey what word to say. One could not tell her to "Say 'spicy'." She simply wouldn't do it.

So Blaisey and Naomi were paddling down the mighty Allegheny this summer, working on their "S"s. At a certain point, Naomi tried, "Say 'strawberry'."

Blaisey would not be outwitted. "Why do you want me to say that?"

"So you can work on your words."

"I don't want to work on my words right now."

"Will you just say strawberry for me?"


"Because I think it's cute." The truth comes out.

"I don't care what you think." Painful, painful truth.

"Will you just please say it?"

"Say what?"



Naomi thought through her options for a few paddles. "Because I forgot how to say it."

Blaisey said, "Well, how did you just say it if you forgot how." If you're at all like me, and, again, I imagine most of you are, you can only imagine a young Socrates and Plato strumming down the mighty Elpeus, butting heads with such tautologies.

Meanwhile, Traci got bored. "Oh, for heaven sakes, you two."

Naomi said, "Mom, I can't get her to say 'Strawberry'."

Traci said, "First one to say 'Strawberry' wins."

"Trawberry trawberry trawberry!"

Wait a minute. That's an awful story to illustrate how we're not competitive. Still, it's better than all the other ones I read this morning.


Family Conflict

Here is a little stretch of seredipity that occured over the weekend -- in fact, the conversation began on our way to lunch where we wrote our Christmas lists and ended on the way home. Driving home, we saw a sign for the library's monthly book sale. So we stopped in and found a discarded winning lottery ticket for a thousand dollars. Here's what happened:

On the cardrive to lunch, Traci and I were arguing about a book we'd both read recently: Sarah Gruen's Water for Elephants.

She said, "I like it."

I said, "Me, too, but not as much."

It was intense, you could have cut the air with a turkey knife. Well, the electric kind, anyway -- the old fashioned ones would have just gummed the mess up. But we didn't have a turkey knife, so we had to just continue the argument with words.

I said, "Why do you like it?"

She said, "Because the writing is good and it is fun to read."

She had me. Dead to rights. The writing is solid, a pleasure to read. The story is engaging, and the narrator has a good eye for detail.

So I said, "So?" Hah, I thought, beat that!

She said, "Also, I thought it was fun to read about the circus."

"But the book isn't about the circus," I said.

She said, "It's entirely about the circus. Look at the cover," so I did (we had our copy in the car), and, in fact, there is a man wearing sequins, carrying a silver-tipped cane, and walking into a striped tent. "Plus," she said, "all the elephant stuff."

True, I told her, there is the elephant act and the horse act and the guy with the silver-tipped cane, but the book is a love story. It's about Jacob and Marlena. It's about the tribulations of marrying someone you don't know and then falling in love with someone you're not married to. But it is not about the circus. "Richard Schmitt's The Aerialist," I said, "now that book's about the circus." In the midst of a description of a show, he writes:

"The act defies the laws of human ability. It is puzzling how they can do these things. A skipping rope segment seemss frivolous and playful, mocks the ten meters between playground and ground, then he trips, falls flat onto the wire. it is a moment that stops band and breath. he catches the wire with both hands. Swings under. The rope falls and the shocking thing, even if you suspect the trip was contrived, the thing that makes you jump in your seat, is the thud the rope makes hitting the ground. You're pretty sure he did not mean to drop that rope, and you feel it hit from across the ring, and feel the hairs rise on the back of your neck. If a rope hits with such force . . ." (The Aerialist 212)

We did not have a copy of that book with us, she just had to take my word for it. "Water for Elephants doesn't even mention the tightrope until the final thirty pages of the book."

"Still," she said, "it's a very good love story with lots of suspense."

"Yes, very suspenseful, but the suspense is all based on a lie." This isn't any kind of spoiler, because it's the opening scene:

"My eyes swept the tent, desperate to find Marlena. . . . I opened my eyes again and scanned the menagerie, frantic to find her. How hard can it be to find a girl and an elephant, for Christ's sake? // When I caught sight of her pink sequins, I nearly cried out in relief--maybe I did. I don't remember. . . . // She reached for something. A giraffe passed between us--its long neck bobbing gracefully even in panic--and when it was gone I saw that she'd picked up an iron stake. She held it loosely, resting its end on the hard dirt. She looked at me again, bemused. Then her gaze shifted to the back of his bare head. . . . // She lifted the stake high in the air and brought it down, splitting his head like a watermelon." (Water for Elephants 3-4)

(My version is abridged, but you can read the prologue at Amazon: here.

If you haven't read it, this might be a spoiler: despite the fact that the prologue has Marlena killing somebody, despite the fact that I spent the next three hundred pages trying to figure how Marlena was going to turn into a killer, Marlena doesn't kill anybody. The book begins en media res -- it begins with the climactic scene of the book and takes us back and ahead in time very skillfully and pleasurably. It really is a great read, but, when we get back to the climactic scene, it is not Marlena who kills the guy. "The narrator begins the book with a lie," I tell Traci, "and I cannot forgive him for that. I cannot accept the fact that this narrator changes his story just to build suspense. I will never be okay with this."

Traci said, "I'm alright with it." Yes, she had a good point.

I said, "I guess I am, too. It's a good book. I like it. I just wish we had a copy of The Aerialist."

We left it at that and we ate our very delicious lunch, while writing our Christmas lists, and -- and I have to stress this -- we did not get kicked out of the restaurant, so, ha!, Sam's wish comes true early. On the way home, we saw the sign for the monthly library book sale and decided to stop in. Blaisey alone bought 18 books: as she piled them in front of me, I said, "You want all those books?"

She said, "They will help me learn to read. You do want me to learn to read, don't you?"

Naomi found a dozen and said, "Guess we'll have to build a bookshelf. I've never read twelve new books all at once."

I said, "Why don't you just donate them back to the library when you're done?"

She said, "What am I gonna do until next weekend?"
We're getting the lumber today.

Traci and I got another handful, mostly novels, including the metaphorical lottery ticket for a thousand bucks: we found a beautiful copy of Richard Schmitt's The Aerialist! Serendipity smiled on us again.

And we're all living happily ever after.


Clothes Make the Man Or Whatever

While sorting laundry, Sam and Zac couldn't figure whose jeans they held. Sam said, "Well, they must be Naomi's. They're not long enough to be a full-grown person."

Zac responded, "Are you kidding? Look at the waist, you could fit five Naomi's in there."

"Ah," they concluded simultaneously, "must be Dad's."

What are you boys trying to say, anyway?


Who Art Thou?

Did I mention I went to Detroit for the first time earlier this year? I went there to hang out with four of my best friends, and I got to give a reading in the meantime (I read "Beachtrip 2008 (a Rerun)" from earlier in this blog.

While we were there, we took a trip to see The Heidelberg Project. Check it out online if you haven't yet. Part of it looks like a fantasyland of things you lost in childhood. Part of it looks like a green horse's nightmare. All of it is fascinating.

We got a chance to meet the creator of the installation. Tyree's his name. We said, "Nice to meet you, Tyree."

Tyree said, "What is art?"

We said, "Well, it could be any number of things."

Tyree said, "Oh? What is art?"

As the only non-Ph.D. in the group, I stood around looking especially stupid, even stupider than my normal stupid. You could almost say it was a moment of highly advanced stupidity. I said nothing, and never once for an instant backtracked, qualified, or wavered. And nobody argued with me. Nor were they qualified to.

My friends said all kinds of passionate, brilliant, compelling, mind-blowing things. They quoted Aristotle and Marcel Duschamp and Woody Allen. They wrote treatises and manifestos on napkins and the backs of their hands. I didn't understand a word of it. Not a single word.

On the other hand, it did remind me of the time we overheard Sam and his buddy (both ten at the time) in a heated debate. In reference to a Shakespeare quote, Sam said, "Well of course we know that 'thou' means 'you,' but we still don't know what 'art' is."

And, of course, that recalls the words of the great 21st century philosopher William Clinton who famously posed: "Well, that depends what your definition of 'is' is." A question so astute he didn't even bother putting it in the form of a question. Nor did he add a question mark.

So, anyway, that's what has been on my mind throughout most of lunch this morning: what is art, who art you, and what is is? The three great questions of this life.

At this point, obviously, my kids would have great answers to this, but they still haven't figured out the question to my Jeopardy answer: "He sang 'Mrs. Robinson' with Paul."

Answers to these and / or other questions coming soon.


Our Family Christmas Lists

At family lunch today, we decided to make Christmas lists. Mine was “Jigsaw puzzles, books, and Traci kisses.” Elegant, precise.

Blaisey, who knows most of her alphabet, but is just now learning to spell, asked, “How do you spell, ‘I want kisses from mommy and hugs from mommy?’”

I asked Sam what’s on his list.

He said, “You wouldn’t understand. It’s computer stuff.”

I said, “Try me.”

He started explaining what he needs in order to build a super-gaming computer. He described the necessary parts with his hands and with very big words, trying to convince me that he was talking about real things. I’m not so sure.

I said, “Can you put that in the form of a list.”

He said, “I just did.”

I said, “Well, I didn’t understand any of it. I’ll probably just get you puzzles and books.”

He said, “That would be nice, too.”

Blaisey said, “How do you spell, ‘I want books and puzzles for Christmas?’”

Zac wants a crash pad and shoes for rock climbing.

Traci said, “You might not love the shoes I pick out for you.”

Zac said, “I’ll email you the website with the information so you can just click and pay.”

Traci said, “Takes some of the surprise out of Christmas, doesn’t it?”

Zac said, “Does this mean I’m probably getting books and puzzles?”

Well, if we told him the answer, it would take all of the surprise out of Christmas.

Blaisey said, “How do you spell, ‘I want a dog that walks and talks and eats and is a toy?’”

Naomi said, “I have everything I need. I don’t need anything for Christmas.”

Traci said, “You don’t have to need anything to get Christmas presents.”
Naomi said, “Okay, how about watching a family movie together?”

Zac said, “You’re the reason the economy’s failing, you know.”

Naomi said, “I want the economy for Christmas.”

Naomi was not playing by the rules of list making, so I suggested she’ll probably get poo for Christmas.

Blaisey said, “How do you spell, ‘Poo. Lots and lots of poo.”

Sam said, “I changed my mind. This Christmas, I’d like a family that won’t get me kicked out of Applebees.”

Blaisey said, “How do you spell, ‘Sam doesn’t get a present this year?’” Blaisey had to lean past Sam to tell me, “Don’t tell him I said that.”

Traci’s list was short as well. It said, “Kindle Fire.”

I said, “What are you going to do with that?”

She said, “Read books and build puzzles.”

Phew! It’s good to have the Christmas lists taken care of finally. Now that you all know what our family wants, it should really simplify your shopping season. Now get your butts out there and save the economy. Please no Thomas Kincaide.


Couched Update

Blaisey's Hierarchy of Needs

After submitting her final grades for a very trying quarter, Traci spent a day on the couch reading a best seller. Feeling a great deal of guilt for taking a vacation day, she turned to Blaisey for permission to continue. A four-year old is always a great source of vindication, by the way. "Do you think it's a problem," Traci asked Blaisey, "that all I've done today is sit on this couch?"

Blaisey, tilted her head to the side contemplatively and sagely responded, "Uhm. Do you have to eat or poop?"

Traci considered the question and said, "No."

Blaisey said, "Then you're okay."

So, alright, I admit it: this is a pretty good life.