Sunday, April 26, 2009

Gregory House, MD on Judaism

Watching the backlog of DVR'd HOUSE episodes while working on some other stuff. In one, Cuddy invites House to her child's baby-naming ceremony, which House calls "a time-honored tradition dating all the way back to the 1960s."

"...Nothing like welcoming a baby into the world with a completely naked display of hypocrisy."


Cuddy: And there's nothing hypocritical about recognizing your heritage.

House: So you keeping kosher now, wearing four-cornered garments, slaughtering heifers to the god Ra?


Wait, is that one your people?


Do it all, do nothing, or option "c"-- you're a liar and a hypocrite.

Huh. This is pretty much how I feel.

Friday, April 10, 2009

My Gramma Connie

Connie had, as she herself put it, a shitty childhood spent mostly in the homes of foster parents who took foster children as a supplementary source of income.

I remember her as someone who spent her entire adult life trying to learn to stop holding grudges. She mostly succeeded, I think.

Her husband died in a botched procedure at the VA hospital when her oldest son (my father) was 17. She also had a 15-year-old and a 9-year-old.

In her later years, she would only speak of her deceased husband in glowing terms, as though he was some sort of Jewish saint. My father, however, recalls that his folks yelled at each other a lot.

I saw 'The Color Purple' with Connie in the theatre. "You know what I like about Whoopi Goldberg? I like when she says the word 'shit.' From most people, it would be vulgar. From her, it sounds like poetry."

Connie stopped speaking to me for years after my Bar Mitzvah. My maternal great uncle Phil's racist use of the word "schvartze" (in this context, the word is Yiddish for "nigger") had upset me and I had shouted at him that it was bad enough for any American to be a racist- but that for a Jewish man who lived through World War II to be a racist was despicable and he should be ashamed of himself. Connie wasn't related to Phil and didn't especially like him, but she thought I showed an unacceptable lack of respect for my elders...and pretty much didn't speak to me for years.

We started talking again on the phone years later when I was in my 20s. I'd changed, she said. "You used to be a little shit, but you know what? I think you grew out of it."

Our long phone conversations mostly consisted of my asking her broad questions and listening to her long answers. She was happy to share her memories and was an entertaining storyteller. I learned a lot about my grandfather who'd died before my parents ever met and his WWII service in the Marines. I learned what her foster care experiences in New York City were like and heard about what it was like to be pregnant at 17 years of age in her generation. I asked her about her in-laws and her siblings and the neighborhoods she grew up in and she told me stories about my father that I'd never have heard otherwise.

Sometimes these stories would overlap or repeat, but that was fine with me. There were always new details and I knew that memory is a long, slow casualty of aging. Eventually, the stories repeated more often.

Connie was diagnosed as having some sort of dementia. It could be Alzheimer's or a vascular problem, but the diagnosis didn't matter a lot because the treatment and prognosis were the same.

My father and mother stepped up and moved Connie to an excellent group home that was a five-minute drive from their home. They flew to her house in Scottsdale, cleaned up her finances (which had become a mess in recent months- Connie had hidden her cognitive problems from her family very well), sold her house, and packed up her belongings- taking care to try to send to my father's brothers any items that might be meaningful to them. My father's brothers didn't even say "thank you" or offer to help with this enormous task. I'm not overly fond of them.

For the last 5 years, Connie has lived near my parents, been cared for by excellent physicians, and my folks have taken very good care of her as her dementia progressed. The last time I saw her, she definitely recognized me and greeted me warmly with hugs and kisses, but she never attempted to use my name.

Now I'm told that she has hours or days left.

Last night, I had a dream.

My wife and son and I had driven to Detroit for the B'nai Mitzvah of my youngest cousins (this is actually going to happen in May. Connie's youngest grandchildren, twins, are turning 13).

Connie was there, but it wasn't the thin, frail Connie she's been for the last 5 years or so. This was the larger, louder, fleshier Connie who wore too much eye shadow and, even though she promised my mother that she wouldn't smoke in front of her grandkids, always smelled a little like cigarettes. In the dream, I got to hug her and smell her and tell her I loved her with the confidence that she knew who I was, knew what I was saying, and felt the sincerity of my words.

I rarely remember my dreams, so I'm grateful for this one.

I've never understood Connie. I've never understood how my father could be her son when they have so little in common, but I have missed her since her mind stopped working. I mourned her then and I find myself mourning her again now that her body is finally following her mind.

Friday, April 3, 2009

I love my brother, but frequently dislike him

Chat transcript from today:

Brother: "Obama holds town hall meeting in France" -- What, is he president of the world, now?

1. The US president is frequently called "the leader of the free world" since'. Yeah. We lead NATO (the most powerful military alliance in history) and our economy impacts everybody like no other economy does.

2. Bush couldn't speak except with prepared remarks and/or a pre-screened crowd (and even then, Bush couldn't talk intelligently). At least give Obama credit for taking whatever questions anybody has and attempting to answering them.

3. Bush fucked up our relationships with everybody else. Obama is trying to help fix that. Showing that he's listening and NOT being like Bush is important to repair the relationships that Bush broke.

Brother: Obama comes across as a stumbling wreck without a teleprompter

Me: You're so full of shit. On his worst day, we comes across better than Bush WITH a teleprompter.

I am not full of shit. O has more "uh"s per minute than any politician I've ever heard speak

He is a lousy extemporaneous speaker

Me: Again: you're full of shit. Want a highlight reel of Bush speaking?

Brother: You mean a reel taking the worst of the worst? Those exist for anyone

Me: Except you know as well as I do that the man is an idiot and always came off like an idiot.

Bush came off even dumber than he was

Me: You don't apply the same standards to Obama that you applied to Bush or McCain.

I don't like Bush.

Me: You're being intellectually dishonest. If Bush or McCain took extemporaneous questions, you wouldn't criticize them for it. Because Obama did it, you'll snark.

But that doesn't change the fact that Obama is an empty suit

Me: You don't like him. I get that. He's not my ideal president either, but stop calling him stupid or empty when you can't back it up. When you can specifically name actions or words of his that you can demonstrate are false or stupid, I'll listen. Until then, you're just blustering the unsupported distaste for him that you cultivate in the insular world of your gunny friends.

I'm done talking with you today.

You have blocked Brother. You can no longer see each other online or chat together until you unblock them.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Heteronormative comment from an unexpected source

My mother-in-law used to say to my son: "You're going to make some lucky girl very happy someday!" I used to quickly add "...or some lucky guy!"

Consequently, my mother-in-law has ceased saying this...which is fine by me.


Recently, I got email from our friend J that contained this comment about our son:

"Looking at some of his pics on your site, wow, he is really growing! And boy, is he going to have to juggle the too many women that are going to fall at his feet!"

I get that this is a compliment. She's saying that our son is beautiful. I happen to agree.

The problem is that I find myself endlessly bothered that J assumes he'll be straight. To make this assumption is to reinforce the idea that being straight is normal and that to NOT be straight is abnormal, aberrant or...well...crooked. Slightly off. Slightly wrong.

Here's the kicker: J is a lesbian.

J is older than I am by about 15-20 maybe it is a generational thing? Am I expecting too much?


Follow-up: Thanks. Yep. Over-reacting. Letting it go. :)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Getting Pissy with a Vendor

On the phone with a vendor from whom I'd requested an advertised, free, 30-day trial of an information resource on behalf of a department at MPOW.

After 30 minutes of my patiently letting her pitch me with sales B.S. (We're already interested in the product! Why would I ask for a trial and quote otherwise?!), I asked for the third time if we could get a quote.

Vendor: Well, I'd really like for you to have the trial for a week before I tell you that.

[Uncomfortable pause]

Me: I can understand why, from a sales perspective, you'd feel that way. However, if my internal client evaluates the trial for a week and THEN finds out it is impossibly beyond her budget, she will have wasted a week evaluating it. So we sort of need that information up front.

Vendor: Well, how much do you have budgeted for [this type of resource]?

[Uncomfortable pause]

Me: (Slowly and calmly) Lets assume for a moment that I have that information. The quote you give me should be based on what you feel the product's market demand merits. So if I have that kind of information, let us assume that there is no way on earth I'd share it with you. The quote you give us will not be based on how much money is available.

Vendor: Well, we don't want to devalue our data either.

Me: Of course not- that's why you set prices based on market demand, not on how much money the prospective client has, especially in this economy. Right now, you're devaluing a prospective client- and I suspect that's even worse for your bottom line than devaluing your data.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

If You're Lucky...

True story:

We were sitting in the lobby of a busy restaurant this evening, waiting to be seated. I saw two elderly women approaching the exterior doors, so I got up to hold the door open.

The first woman passed through slowly with her walker, smiling at me as she came through. The second woman moved more quickly than her friend with a cane in her right hand and clear, alert eyes.

"Thank you," she said. Then she slowed slightly and spoke quietly as she looked me squarely in the eyes.

"If you're lucky, you'll die before you get old."

I was startled by this and just looked at her for a moment. All I could think to say was: "There are worse kinds of luck, aren't there?"

She smiled noncommittally and continued on.


Someone help me understand why I can't stop thinking about this?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Time Turning Anger to Pity

When Liz's father killed himself, just days after Simon was born, I was overcome with anger.

Liz has depression and was already at high risk for post-partum depression. I was furious that he'd be such a selfish ass to put her through the grief of his death, especially at such a delicate time.

I was furious at what I saw as his enormous selfishness. He didn't seem to care how his death would impact either of his kids.

I'm a bit ashamed to admit that when he successfully killed himself (just a week or so after a failed attempt), I had thoughts like "good riddance."

After all, his death made my mother-in-law's life much easier. They were in the process of a divorce, and he'd been doing everything possible to intimate her, screw her out of a fair settlement, and bully her. Estate, after all, is much easier to deal with than divorce, and my mother-in-law's collection of life insurance ensured that she would retire with some financial security.

As more time passes, the anger fades and is replaced, mostly, by pity and shame that I was so angry.

Rick was an unhappy man most of his life. He had an awful childhood. He had chronic health problems (degenerative disc disease and menier's disease) that caused him pain most of his waking moments, deprived him of 70% of his hearing, and kept him from sleeping properly. He was bipolar and unable(/unwilling?) to aggressively treat this mental illness.

He had been diagnosed with an "organic brain disease" some time earlier and kept this information from his family. If he had been willing to pursue it, he might have been able to slow the progression and hang on to more of his rational mind (he was an engineer and a history buff with a very active intellect).

More and I more, I find myself thinking about how miserable and hopeless he must have felt in order to be able to do what he did. He had to have filled all his prescriptions, bought a bunch of over-the-counter pills, acquired a large amount of water with which to wash the pills down, and swallowed fistful after fistful in a methodical manner.

More and I more, I find myself thinking that the right to decide when to die may be the ultimate civil liberty, and I should respect his tragic choice.

More and more, I think about my anger towards Rick as a part of wanting to develop more mindfully charitable thinking towards others.

I still feel anger over the grief he put my family through at the worst of possible times, but that anger seems more appropriately proportionate now- once facet of more complex feelings about a man, for all his faults, co-created my Liz. I do believe that he loved Liz as well as he could, given his under-treated mental illnesses. When Liz has moments or days of sadness when thinking about her father, a scowl doesn't appear on my face or in my heart. Sympathy does. Pity does.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Awesome Commentary on our Book


Seriously, read this aloud:

"Product Description:
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Machine-translated to English from German, maybe?

Crapper support! Newborn advances in penalization!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Liz Teases the Gunnies on Facebook

I can't stop laughing at this.

Here's the cast of characters:

Andrew - My brother, a hard-core gunny
Liz - My hilarious spouse who likes easy targets
Jamie - Our beloved friend who believes in gun rights (he's from Texas, a democrat, and an awesome guy), but agrees with us that Andrew takes it a bit far.

First, this exchange on Andrew's wall:

Here's a simultaneous private exchange between Liz and Jamie:

My wife is awesome.

Monday, February 9, 2009

How to Cope with Unpleasant People at Work

When I'm getting angry/frustrated/exasperated by idiotic or mean things people at MPOW do, I have a trick for calming myself down.

I remind myself to adopt an Anthropological Perspective.

Imagine you're hanging with Jane Goodall and watching a bunch of chimps flinging poop at each other... and at you and Jane. (I should point out that in this exercise, you and Jane are tight and she's told you not to call her "Doctor Goodall.")

Rather than getting upset about getting poop on her safari outfit, Jane turns to you and says, "Isn't that fascinating? They flung poop at us! I wonder what made them do certainly is curious behavior, this flinging of feces. That big one has quite an arm and looks pleased with himself for having hit us from this far away."

There's no need to get upset. There's no need to fling poop back- that'd just be childish. There's no need to have an emotional response to this poop-flinging. Just study the behavior and focus on what you can learn from it. You are among the chimps- but you're not one of them.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

"Girl Stuff"

When we visited Minnesota for Thanksgiving, my 5-year-old nephew, Ben, saw me bake cookies, change diapers, and feed Simon. Looking very contemplative as I shaped cookies onto the baking sheet, he asked me:

"Do you do a wot of giwl stuff, Unca' Dabid?"

"Ben, sweetheart, there's no such thing as 'girl stuff,' or 'boy stuff.' Men and women can be teachers, firefighters, doctors, rocket scientists, or hair stylists. Men and women can cook, clean, care for children, and bake delicious cookies. Except for a couple of biological things, there's almost nothing your Mom can do that your Dad can't...and there's almost nothing your daddy can do that your mommy can't."

[Long pause while Ben thinks this over]

"Wot awe th'biowogical things girls can do that boys can't?"

"Women can make babies in their tummies. Men can't do that."

[Long pause while Ben considers this]

"wot awe th'biowogical things boys can do that girls can't?"

"Boys can comfortably pee while standing up."

[Short pause]

"Why can boys do that and giwls can't?"

"Boys have penises that make it very easy to point what direction their urine goes in- just by pointing the penis."

"But...giwls have *vaginas*!"

"Yep. You're right. Girls have vaginas."

"But a vagina is just wike a penis!"

"No, Ben. A vagina is not just like a penis."

"Wot does a vagina wook wike?"

[Pause while David considers an answer which is both true and simple enough for a 5-year-old to grasp]

"Well, you know how your penis and testicles stick out of your body?"


"Well, for girls, the important parts are tucked away inside their bodies, so there isn't a lot to see from the outside. I think you know that, though- you've taken a bath with your sister."

"Oh yeah. Dat's wight!"

I later repeated this conversation to my brother, Andrew, Ben's Dad. First, Andrew was perfectly satisfied that I gave Ben truthful, simple, and appropriate answers. Second, he was impressed that I actually satisfied Ben enough that Ben elected to stop asking further questions. This, Andrew tells me, is the real accomplishment.

Me, I was just pleased to reinforce the idea that there's no such thing as "boy stuff" or "girl stuff."

Friday, January 2, 2009

More New Year's Adventures with Angela and Maggie

So the oven thing wasn't the only problem Angela had on New Year's Eve.

As a holiday present, Liz had given 5-year-old Maggie several bottles of nail polish (pre-approved by Angela). Maggie loves when Liz gives her "grownup" things like costume jewelry or miniature purses or souvenirs from when we travel.

(We like to give her stuff, too. She calls us "Uncle" and "Aunt." When Liz got pregnant, Maggie bragged at school that she was getting a little brother. The point: we're close.)

A little after the oven thing, Liz noticed Maggie putting nail polish on a grown-up (which was fine) at our kitchen table (which was fine) on top of the tablecloth.

"Hey guys?" Liz said to Angela and Maggie, "I bought that tablecloth in Paris on our honeymoon and it is sort of important to me- could we maybe do the nail polish somewhere else?"

"Oh, she's very careful," said Angela. "Don't worry."

5 minutes later, someone bumped the table and a wine glass looked like it might fall. Angela, attempting to stop it, over-corrected and knocked a beer bottle and a wine glass to the floor. In this commotion, some nail polish got on the tablecloth.

I came in from the living room (having no idea what happened or that Liz had asked them not to do it on her tablecloth) and cheerfully declared that no party is complete until drinks are spilled and glass must be wept up. I carefully cleaned up the glass and the spilled drinks. When I looked up, Angela and Maggie had gone into the living room and Liz was looking at the table cloth and pointed out the nail polish. Then she went to get her laptop to look up what might get it out. She looked annoyed (though not scowling or anything) as she quietly explained to me what had happened. Neither of us were flipping out. Nobody raised a voice.

I went back into the living room and saw Angela sitting on one side of the room looking irritated. Maggie was on the other side of the room, applying nail polish to the same person as in the kitchen, this time on the wide arm of a mission-style chair. Right over the brand-new area rug Angela had commented on as new and cool when she first arrived. I went over to Angela.

"Are you okay?" I asked her.

"I'm staying out of the kitchen," she answered. "Liz looks pissed."

"It's just a party foul, Angela." I was smiling. "Liz will be fine- she knows that accidents happen- she just wants to clean it up. But since there's a crowded room full of people drinking, perhaps we could put the nail polish away for the night? We'd love to hang out tomorrow- Liz and Maggie could do each other's nails."

I thought *nothing* of this at the time. It seemed to me a reasonable and polite request. It didn't occur to me that I had said something that could upset anyone. I didn't put it together until the next morning that I had offended Angela.

It was shortly after this that Angela was grabbing her coat (and Maggie's) and pulling Maggie out of the house by her arm. Maggie was now crying because she wanted to stay. I followed her out to their car. I waited until after the crying Maggie was belted into her car seat.

"Angela, what's up? What's wrong?"

"This is just the last straw," she said. "Maggie was *invited.*"

"Of course she was," I said. We love Maggie and always like having her over. You know that. What's going on?"

"Will you go tell Patrick that we're leaving? I don't want to go back inside."

"I will," I said. "Please know that I love you, I don't know what's going on exactly, and I'm sorry you're upset?"

"David, *everyone* in there is embarrassed by what happened."

"What happened? What did I miss?"

Angela made a non-committal noise and I went in to get her husband, who was just figuring out that his wife had stormed out. Patrick and I exchanged confused looks and said goodbye (I like Patrick a lot. He has a phobia of hospitals but still came to visit me *twice* when I was hospitalized last year), but he didn't seem overly concerned.

I went back inside to find that a couple who we had met through Angela and Patrick had retrieved their coats. They looked a little guilty as they explained that Angela, as she was leaving, had asked them to come over to Angela's and Patrick's.

This couple (we'll call them John and Jane) are really nice people and they were clearly very uncomfortable with the awkward postition they'd found themselves in.

Earlier in the evening, Jane had been telling me that they were going to start trying to have a baby in February and I invited her to please come over and borrow some books and play with Simon. I really hope they still will. They seemed as confused as I was about what had happened, but felt they had to go. Everyone else shrugged and the party went on. People started departing around 2:00 AM and the last couple of guests left at about 3:30.

So, I got about 2 hours of sleep last night because I couldn't stop thinking about all of this.

Patrick was raised by unpleasant, rigid people and finds discipline distasteful. Angela works two full time jobs (yes, really) and I think she tries to make up for the lack of time with Maggie by not saying "no" very often. Angela also has a pretty hefty anxiety disorder (about which Liz and I, both medicated, do not lack compassion).

I really think neither Liz nor I did anything wrong, mean, or rude. So why am I still so bothered? I'm not even mad at Angela- I'm just upset that she was so upset and at the prospect of losing friends over this incident.

Liz, on the other hand, is ready to write Angela off.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

On the Safety of Other People's Kids

So we had some friends over for New Year's Eve. Among them, Angela and Patrick with their 5-year-old daughter, Maggie (not their real names).

We love Angela, Patrick, and Maggie. We were thrilled that they came.

Midway through the evening, Angela decided to storm out because several things (which I didn't and still don't understand) had upset her. It wasn't until today that I found out that *I* had done one of the things that had upset her.

Shortly after they arrived, I was pulling miniature pizzas from a 500-degree oven when Maggie came into the kitchen and came very close to the open oven to see what I was doing.

"Maggie, sweetheart- could you please step back? The oven is very hot and I don't want you to get hurt."

Maggie leaned in closer and I'd much rather risk hurting her feelings than risk her getting burned, so I made my voice more stern and louder.

"Maggie, step back please."

Maggie continued to lean in and I got a little more frightened of the prospect of a burned 5-year-old. I stopped what I was doing, leaned closer to Maggie and looked directly in her eyes to make sure I had her attention as I spoke to her in a calm, clear, loud voice.

"Maggie, take three steps backwards *right now*. It isn't safe to stand where you are."

Finally, another adult noticed what was happening and gently pulled her back away from the oven.

Satisfied that Maggie was safe, I finished what I was doing and didn't think about it again.

Liz tells me much later that this upset Angela because she doesn't like it when someone says "no" to Maggie or does something contrary to what Maggie wants.

Here's the thing: If someone needed to hurt my son's feelings in order to keep him physically safe, I'd be furious if they *failed* to hurt his feelings.

I'm confused and concerned about this...and not entirely sure why. Any thoughts?