The Perils of Panopticonalism, and Why I Don’t Have It

11 June, 2016 | | 1 Comment

They all start like simple, innocent days, uncomplicated, routine.   And then BAM – your 13-yr-old is discussing her sexuality in the kitchen while you’re cooking, and you have to use your brain.  Parenting:  The most interesting roller coaster you’ll never get off of.  It’s not just the unexpected plunges, drops, and loops that really get you, either – it’s the sarcasm.

As evidence of this point, I present a conversation that took place the other day among The Reigning Queen of Pink, Number One Son, and myself.  It should be noted that at 13 years old, the RQOP does not so much question her sexuality as interrogate it.  I wouldn’t put her past waterboarding.  (It should also be noted that the below is transcribed with her express permission.)

RQOP:  “In gym today I was talking to my friend E_, who really goes by L_ but I already know someone called L_ so I call her E_, and we were all talking about our sexuality and I mentioned that I was probably bisexual but hadn’t really decided yet and E_ is bisexual and she told me that she wished that someone had told her this when she was thinking about her own sexuality and so she would tell me that if I ever wanted someone to talk to about it, I could talk to her, and I thought that was very nice of her so I gave her a hug.”

(Note:  E_ is *also* 13 years old.)

BUMD:  “That’s very nice of her, and it’s great that you can talk about these things with your friends.  While I think you know that you can also always talk about anything like that to me and Mom….”

RQOP, interrupting:  “Oh yes of course, that’s the best thing about you guys is that you don’t care about anything!”

(Note:  It’s possible that this side effect of our admittedly liberal and somewhat laissez faire parenting style was not exactly the impression we were aiming for.)

BUMD:  “Well, it’s not so much that we don’t care, as that however you grow up won’t affect how we love you or treat you or anything like that.”

RQOP:  “Yes, I know that’s what I meant – you don’t care about THAT.”

BUMD:  “Right.  OK, but what I wanted to say is that it while you can always talk to me about that kind of thing, it’s possible that I might lack the some of the perspective your friend might have.  I know it’s hard to believe, but I actually haven’t ever been a Bisexual Teen-aged Woman.  So it’s nice that you might have someone like E_ with whom you can talk things out, or … ”

RQOP, to Number One Son who was standing near:  “HOLY SHIT!  Did you hear that?  Dad just admitted he’s not omniscient!”

NOS:  “Holy shit.  Need to write this down.”

Now as every parent knows, The Assumption of Parental Omniscience (TAPO)™  is as important to successfully parenting kids over the course of 20 or 30 or 80 years as The Assumption of Papal Infallibility is to successfully managing a church for 2000ish years.  I certainly wasn’t going to let go of my TAPO™ without a fight.  The church didn’t forgive Galileo Galilei for thinking outside the box for close to 400 years; I figured there was historical precedent.  Besides, it’s an election year.

BUMD, in my best Richard Nixon voice:  “I said no such thing, I made no such admission!  My omniscience is not to be questioned.  What I lack is a certain perspective.  Being omniscient, I know everything, but I may not always perceive every point of view.  I lack onmi-perspective-ed-ness-ish.  I lack omniperispactity.  I lack…  I lack a word for what I’m saying.  What the hell word means that?”

NOS:  “Omniperspectieieieie….   Yeah.”

RQOP:  “Omperspec…  Yeah.”

We eventually settled on Panopticonalism, which is certainly close enough even if it doesn’t have that omniwonderful prefix that 266 popes and I have found so useful.  Having distracted the children down my lexicographical rabbit hole, I was able to exit the conversation with my TAPO™ intact.  Dinner was served, and my roller coaster flattened back out onto one of the smoother sides of the track for a while.

Perspective, perschmective.  At least I still have my TAPO!™

 

 

 

 

A Bavarian Weekend Story

26 May, 2016 | | No Comment

“I’ve lost the bride.”

There may be no words in the English language more terrifying, more fraught with angst than those. (Well, possibly a sign stating “Sorry out of coffee” in a diner window, but that’s a story for another time, and besides, they’re closed.)

Let’s look at these four words.

I’ve – It’s personal, and it’s past tense. This is something I did, something I have done and cannot undo.
Lost – The absence of a thing, the lack, with the understanding that it’s something I had at one point, but have no longer.
The Bride – Sheer. Unadulterated. Terror.

These are the words SOBUMD and I heard a high-heeled, gown-wrapped woman utter as we walked past her into the Bavarian Inn last weekend for our Anniversary. I, luckily, have never lost the bride. It’s been 25 years since we held hands and jumped over my sword, and while I haven’t misplaced her yet, we decided to get lost for the weekend to celebrate.

The Bavarian Inn, should you find yourself in Shepherdstown, WVa, has all the amenities you could want from a getaway spot: rooms for sleeping, fireplaces, rooms for formal eating, rooms for less formal eating, swimming pools, and a view of the great Potomac River that could inspire poetry, or at least that kind of “huh, wouldja lookit that” sigh that passes for poetry among most folk these days. There was even a decent-sized hedge pig just outside our balcony, rooting among the flowers and the hedge, having a grand old time.

Bavarian View

Potomac River

Since we were only there for an overnight, we decided to maximize our time and headed straight for the pool – despite the 50-degree weather and the on-again off-again drizzling blatter of the rain. It couldn’t really even be called rain, truly – a heavy cool mist that couldn’t make up its mind to piss down or just piss off and let the sun through. It certainly wasn’t going to prevent us from getting into the mostly heated pool, the infinity edge of which appeared to drop off as a sheer cliff face to the curving bend of the Potomac River, 200 feet or more below us.

The view was wonderful, the water was warmer than the air around us – albeit not by a wide margin, but warm enough to get in and float around. After all, this was our own private pool! I realized that it wasn’t really our own private pool, but it seemed that way since we had it all to ourselves. We paddled and splashed our way to the edge, enjoying the vertiginous sight of the mighty river below, pondering the story arc of the past 25 years and contemplating the arc of the next 25, dreaming of the stories we will write together.

Paddling around the pool at the Bavarian Inn recalled for me a different story, one told by David Niven in his autobiography “The Moon’s a Balloon.” He recounts a chilling tale of Bavarian skiing one day, years ago before modern ski equipment, and mentions that he “suddenly felt coldest where he should have felt warmest,” if you get his drift. He got down the mountain as best as he could, and went straight to his friends and the doctor at the lodge, concerned about frostbite in a place most men should NEVER be concerned about frostbite. The consensus was that he should warm the afflicted appendage in an alcohol solution, and so a (presumably inexpensive) brandy was poured for him in a (presumably large) brandy snifter – which he then carried gingerly into the men’s room. He stood in front of a urinal, his chilly willy dunked in the drink, thinking about the horrors of amputation and reconsidering his recreational hobbies, when a casual acquaintance entered the room and took up arms at the urinal next to his. He glanced over.

“My God! David, what are you doing?”

Being David Niven had its advantages. His immediate reply was, “Why, I’m pissing in a brandy snifter. I always do.”

So there I was, hand in hand with SOBUMD, watching the river flow under the trees playing hide and seek with the mists and the rain, when David Niven’s story came rushing back to me as a kind of satori of embarrassment. One of the downsides of having a very new bathing suit is that one could forget that this new one might happen to have a zipper.

No brandy snifters were required, but I was quite glad to have realized my condition before our reverie was interrupted by six basic bros, all of whom had brought their beers with them, and most of whom might have been muttering things about lost brides. None of them looked particularly put out, and so I have to assume the erstwhile groom was not among them. (If he was with them, I will assume the wedding hadn’t been entirely his idea.)

SOBUMD and I headed back to our fireplace and changed for dinner, which was sumptuous, as was breakfast the following morning. The weekend was topped off with a stop at a small Shepherdstown Bookstore that was large enough to hold the secret of a long and happy marriage:  There, among all the stories on the shelves, you can get lost together or separately – but tucked in between the poetry, the biographies, the fiction, and the cookbooks, there’s always something for everyone, and your story never ends.

Just don’t lose the bride!

Bathroom Break!

Dear Friend, Fond Relation, and Gentle Reader:  Welcome back!  I’ve been away a while. I’ve missed a few marks and notes; I missed commenting on my birthday.  Yes, I missed commenting on your birthday, also – sorry about that!

But I’ve been hearing a lot lately about the state of America’s underpants. We seem to have them twisted, bunched up, slightly damp, and certainly uncomfortable. We can’t stop talking about what’s in who’s pants and what we need to do about it – particularly in the bathroom.

So, in my capacity as the final arbiter of sanity, good taste, decency, and gender equality in this country, and speaking as a Real Man, I figured it was my civic duty to take a break from this semi-retirement and assist the country as it grapples with the deep, penetrating question of who should use which bathroom.  What could go wrong?

Without further ado, and in the interest of the complete objectivity for which I am known, I give you the answer to the Great American Bathroom Debate:

The men’s room is for Real Men.

It’s that simple. If you’re a Real Man, use the men’s room.  Now, I know that not everyone knows at a glance if someone is or isn’t a Real Man.  (Someone else, that is.  If you’re not a Real Man, you probably know that.  If you’re wondering whether or not you’re a Real Man, you’re not.  If you are a Real Man, the question just doesn’t occur to you.)

Just as a handy checklist, here are a few things that differentiate a Real Man:

  • A Real Man will ask what you need, not what he can do for you. There’s a difference.
  • A Real Man does not use the words “I promise” lightly.
  • A Real Man cries watching True Grit, but not at the part you’d expect.
  • A Real Man will have a 20-second imaginary conversation with his broker when a 3-yr-old child hands him a plastic phone and says, “It’s for you.” Even if he doesn’t have a broker.
    • This is a particularly American phenomenon:
    • An Real Italian Man will have an imaginary conversation with his mother.
    • A Real British Man will talk to an imaginary member of the aristocracy.
      • If he *is* a member of the aristocracy, he’ll talk to someone above him in station – a Baron will have received an imaginary call from an Earl, the Earl a call from a Duke, the Duke a call from the Queen.
        • It is unknown if the Queen has ever been handed a plastic phone by a 3-yr old, but I think it’s safe to assume she would answer it.  The Queen may or may not be a Real Man, but the Queen is a badass.  A very, very polite badass.
    • A Real Frenchman will have received an imaginary call from his cheese monger.
    • A Real Russian Man will pretend to listen to the phone in stony silence for 20 seconds, say “Nyet!” and hang up.
  • If he walks in and says, “I gotta take a piss,” he’s a Real Man.
  • If he walks in and says, “I gotta take a wicked piss,” he’s a Real Man from Boston.
  • If he walks in and says, “I gotta take a fuckin’ wicked piss,” he’s a Real Man from South Boston.
  • If he walks in and says, “I gotta take a fuckin’ wicked fuckin’ piss, get outta the way,” he’s a Southie and he’s drunk. You really don’t want to ask him about what’s in his pants, because he’s gonna fuckin’ show ya, ya chucklehead.
  • A Real Man is known for complete objectivity.
  • A Real Man walks in like he owns the place, regardless of where he is.
  • A Real Man is only interested in what’s in your pants if he’s hoping to get into them.

You can always tell a Real Man – he’s using the men’s room.  After all, it’s a guy thing.

You might notice that none of these things are affected by physiology, size or shape of genitalia, or sexual orientation. Those things don’t matter, any more than color or religious beliefs matter – not in the bathroom, and especially not to a Real Man.

So, if you’re in the men’s bathroom and you’re wondering if the person next to you is a Real Man, you’re the one in the wrong bathroom. Real Men don’t care.

 

 

The Making of the True Reuben

5 February, 2016 | | 1 Comment

It has been explained to me several times in recent days that I have neglected you, gentle reader, and that I should be ashamed – but more than ashamed, I should be writing.

In an effort to make amends AND stay current, I will tell you about the Reuben sandwich I had last night – a Reuben, I must add, of my own making.

You see, it starts with good corned beef, yes, but it cannot end there.  If you have it in you to corn your own beef, so much the better – and more power to ya, I don’t have that kind of time.  So, spend the extra 50 cents per pound and splurge on the meat.  You won’t regret it.

But the True Reuben is not just meat.  Oh no.  There is also sauerkraut.  and on your sauerkraut, you can aim as high or as low as you want – of course, you can make your own sauerkraut at home as well, and again, I envy you your obviously superlative time management skills.  The only thing in my house that I can find time to pickle is my liver, and that’s only because I can multitask while drinking.

Back to our sauerkraut.  It doesn’t matter what kind you buy.  You’re going to put it on the stove, in a pot or saucepan, with all its juices.  You will then add about a quarter of the caraway seeds you have left on the shelf, assuming you haven’t used any of them for anything else.  If you’re below half the jar, use them all.  Boil that.  Yes, you can add some beer, but it won’t help.  and besides, weren’t you going to drink that?  Doesn’t matter.

The important bit is that you have your pans set up, your rye bread – you got rye bread, right?  We’re not doing this without rye bread – buttered on both sides, and your Thousand Island (or Russian dressing, which is another name for “that oddly tasty orange oil slick some people put on salad’) close at hand, with a basting brush handy.  And the Swiss cheese, at least halfway decent, the kind you wouldn’t be ashamed to serve to your grandmother, assuming she was from the old country and would know better in the first place, but you don’t have to break the bank for it.  Get someone to slice it pretty thin but not really thin.  If you can read the paper through it, thank a teacher, but it’s too thin.

Ok.  You’ve got the best corned beef you can afford, some generic sauerkraut that isn’t going to know what hit it anyway, good rye bread – I like the pumpernickel swirl, but then I like Jackson Pollock paintings too, so who the hell am I, you know – and you’ve got at least two, maybe three pans on your stovetop, staying warm.

You buttered the bread, right?  Both sides?  Real butter?  Yes, real butter has salt.  No, margarine doesn’t count.  If you have any margarine in the house, throw it out.  That’s not food.  If you have a heart condition that dictates your butter consumption, you shouldn’t be eating Reuben sandwiches in the first place.

OK, take the first two slices of bread, put them on a pan, buttered-side down.  That’s a joke, they’re buttered on both sides.  Take a good whack of the sauerkraut, and how much is going to depend on the size of your bread, and put it on another pan – you’re going to cook off the juice, and it’s going to love you for it.  Now put the first sandwich-worth of corned beef on a pan – could be the same pan as the sauerkraut, doesn’t matter.  This pan will be a little hotter than the one with the bread.   Cook the individual strips of corned beef until they’re shriveled a bit, then flip them.  Now’s a good time to flip the bread, too.  Once flipped, pour a good dab of the Thousand Island on one of them, baste it all over, and spread the excess on the second one.  Just enough is enough.  Then, move the corned beef on top of the first slice of bread, then the sauerkraut on top of that.  Next, put your tools down and add two slices of the Swiss cheese.  Picking your tools back up, put the second slice of bread on top, orange-side down.  (That’s not a joke.)  Stare at it for a moment, thinking about the proper ratio of meat to kraut and wondering what’s become of the life you dreamed of when you were young, and then flip the sandwich onto the hotter pan.  When you see the cheese melting like Frosty in the summer sun, you’re ready.

Here are the tricks, the things you only find out later:

  • You have to have enough corned beef to tell the sauerkraut to fuck off. If you let the sauerkraut have its way, you don’t have a Reuben, you have a pickled cabbage sandwich with orange-flavored meat on it.
  • You have to have enough Thousand Island to tell the Swiss cheese to go to hell as well. You don’t want to overdo it, but the Swiss are bastards about their cheese, and it will shine through like a stripper at the office Christmas party.
  • You have to toast, technically fry but it’s more politically correct to call it toasting, the rye bread into submission – but without burning it. You need to make it understand that it’s no longer in charge, that it lost all control when you buttered it and that its sole purpose is to support the meat.  Not the sauerkraut, the meat.  If you let the rye bread get in too tight with the kraut, you’ve already lost control of this sandwich.
  • Your first sandwich will suck. Expect to toss it to the dog.  Not only will it fall apart, but the first one sets up the seasoning for all the rest.  With the second sandwich, your pans already smell of butter, of sauerkraut and corned beef, of love.  If you don’t have a dog and you’re making Reubens for several people, decide now which one you love least.  Being allowed to eat first is not a blessing in this case.

Remember:  the True Reuben is not just about the meat.  The True Reuben is a mastery of perspective, rye and Russian in harmony, corned and cabbage fried together and united by the bonds of Swiss cheese and love.

I hope my little recipe inspires you to aim for your own True Reuben experience.  A parting gift of advice – wear an apron.   The Naked Reuben is a great name for a band – and a bad idea.

Merry Christmas: Go Home, Winter, You’re Drunk!

24 December, 2015 | | 2 Comments

Well, the year got away from me.  I know, it’s been a while, and I’m hoping to be a little more present and active in 2016.  In the mean time, I know that you haven’t forgotten me, since many of you ping me about not posting, and rest assured that I never forget you, dear friend and gentle reader.

In the spirit of the holiday season, and in honor of the many friends who are sharing, with me, the 72-degree Christmas weather here on the East Coast, I give to you a NEW holiday song, a new Christmas Carol, with which to brighten your snowy Yuletide evenings.  (And yes, I’m shamelessly cross-posting from Free Range Poetry!)

It’s called, of course, Go Home, Winter, You’re Drunk!

The holidays are jolly, hanging wreathes and hoisting holly
with the reindeer and the snowmen standing guard
The Christmas season’s calling as the mercury is falling
From Baltimore to Boston’s Harvard Yard

T’is the season to be freezin’ while we shovel ’round our hovels
And we’ll celebrate the Winter, young and old
But the temperature’s not dropping, while we’re out here Christmas shopping
‘Cause this Winter doesn’t seem to like the cold!

Go Home, Winter, You’re Drunk! I’ll toss your coat back into the trunk.
Autumn’s riding shotgun, cause Springtime has the keys
Winter’s in the backseat with its head between its knees
Summer’s gonna hold your hair / while you toss snowballs everywhere
Go Home, Winter, You’re Drunk!

Frosty’s sipping boat drinks, singing songs about the ice rinks
and I guess the weather’s really lost its head
The elves are all in short sleeves and the snowman’s having dry heaves
Won’t someone put this Wintertime to bed?

This Christmas is so green it’s blue, cause Winter’s got the Irish flu
and the snowplows and the road crew’s out of work
The Solstice and it’s 82 / degrees, and I am telling you
Twelve beers has made this Wintertime a jerk!

Go Home, Winter, You’re Drunk! I’ll toss your coat back into the trunk.
Autumn’s riding shotgun, cause Springtime has the keys
Winter’s in the backseat with its head between its knees
Summer’s gonna hold your hair / while you toss snowballs everywhere
Go Home, Winter, You’re Drunk!

Winter’s just might sober up
the snowfall forecast’s climbing
and we might just get some inches after all
It looks like things will whiten up
Shame about the timing
‘Cause it ain’t gonna snow here till next fall!

Go Home, Winter, You’re Drunk! I’ll toss your coat back into the trunk.
Autumn’s riding shotgun, cause Springtime has the keys
Winter’s in the backseat with its head between its knees
Summer’s gonna hold your hair / while you toss snowballs everywhere
Go Home, Winter, You’re Drunk!
Go Home, Winter, You’re Drunk!

 

So, that’s the good news.  The bad news is that I’m writing a dozen more and I’ll have a Big Ugly Christmas Album out for next year!  Happy Holidays to you all, and to all, a Good Night!