Thursday, October 30, 2008

a weird and beautiful book

I just finished "Gone-Away World" by Nick Harkaway, a gripping and thoroughly strange and beautiful book I commend to you. It's a long book, 498 pages, and it seems meandering, but the meandering is okay, more than okay, because the writing is so good and entertaining. It wasn't until the last chapter or so that I realized there was no meandering at all; it was all fitting together like clockwork. Bits of beautiful writing seeming like entertaining throwaways were foreshadowing, foreshadowing done more skillfully than one would imagine.

The afterword reveals that Harkaway is a huge Wodehouse fan, and that makes sense. He writes with humor and whimsy, but he wrote a book which is not humorous and not whimsical, really. It's action-filled and serious, but written with a deft, light hand. I just love this book, filled with delights like this description of a crowded strip bar, "From somewhere across the room comes the sound of a mime getting beaten up" and the following throw-away line, "Baptiste Vasille shrugs. It's very much a French shrug. It says Well, what did you expect?' and it says it in a way which suggests the world is essentially English, and hence a bit awkward and silly."

I love this book so much that I want to buy it, having borrowed the copy I used from the wonderful Mechanics' Institute. Bonus: the jacket is hot pink and fuzzy. In bookstores Lucy loves to seek out "The Gone-Away World" and reverently stroke it.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

a dissatisfying email exchange with the head of school at KDBS

Previously I wrote to our children's elementary school complaining about the prominent sale of fur-covered toy kittens at the fall festival, as well as the rampant handing-out of live goldfish to small children who hadn't gotten their parents' permission (my children didn't get any fish; they've been brought up to take animals very seriously and would not accept one without conferring with a parent). Today I got a vague and unsatisfactory response from our new head of school:
Dear Carole:

Thank you for getting in touch with your concern regarding the toys sold
and pets distributed at Festival. As I'm sure you can imagine, one of the
challenges of putting on an event of this nature is managing the vendors
who are selling items in the boutique. As a school, we try to monitor
carefully anything that could carry with it an implied endorsement. The
festival boutique presents real challenges to this endeavor.

I appreciate the concerns that you have raised, and we will certainly take
them into consideration in preparing for next year's festival. We are
always working to improve the environment for our girls at Burke's. Thank
you for bringing your concerns straight to us. I am a believer in direct
communication and assure you that we do take your concerns seriously. As
we begin working with next year's festival chairs, we will be certain that
this issues are fully explored.


Kim Wargo
I wrote back:

Thank you for your response. I would like to point something out, however: the fur toys were not sold by an outside vendor. The fairyland area, like the KDBS spa, the home cooking booth, etc..., is done by parents organized through the festival committee. It's more of an organic part of the event, as opposed to the vendors who come in for that day to sell. I would note that also the school posted fliers for the fairyland zone ahead of time at the school (which got my children fired up to go see it; indeed my daughter had intended to spend her $50 birthday money there). Accordingly I do think it is appropriate to hold this (and the fish, which were given by the school as prizes for playing games) against the school. It's not something done by an outside entity without oversight by the official organizers; it's part of the festival which is planned and created through the official committee.

Due to this issue, our family has decided to break with our tradition of donating to the KDBS annual fund and instead donate that money to PETA. I hope that Burke's will evaluate its lack of policies about fur and laissez faire attitude about the goldfish prizes before the next festival.
I had previously decided that if I didn't get a satisfactory answer, I did not wish to donate to the school's annual fund this year. The Sober Husband agreed to that, and instead we'll be donating to PETA. Oh, how I love donating to PETA when someone pisses me off on an animal issue. I would never make a donation in someone else's name -- that would be rude -- but I am happy to inform people that I'm donating inspired by them (even when I'm angry, I try to split those etiquette hairs properly).

Sunday, October 26, 2008

I'll leave the conclusions to be drawn to you

Public health experts from the University of Glasgow were able to obtain the childhood mental ability scores of over 8,000 men and women in their 30s, and found -- much to their surprise -- the higher IQ, the higher the likelihood of developing a drinking problem. The correlation existed even after factoring out socioeconomic status, and was stronger in women than it was in men.

The researchers declared the results were "unexpected" and feel the need for "further examination."
(Incidentally I don't have "a drinking problem." I have drinking without problems, happily for me).

an angry, angry god in a signless car

Six year-old Lucy styles herself a god, and she's not above throwing her weight around. The other day in the car, I was flipping through radio stations and passed by the one Lucy wanted. "Go back!"

"No, I like this one," I said, pausing on one playing Nirvana.

"I condemn you to hell! Now will you go back?"

"No, I'm listening to this one. You're condemning your mother to hell because she didn't pick the right radio station?"

The Great God Lucy muttered various imprecations, which ended up with the threat that I was being condemned to hell, where I'd die in a pool of hot lava only to come back to life right there in hell, where I'd live a life of suffering and die in the hot lava, only to be condemned to hell once again.

Iris and I were impressed by the scope of Lucy's wrath. Lucy reiterated, to make sure the gravity of the situation was fully grasped: "You will be condemned to hell and THEN condemned to hell AGAIN!"

It is always a joy, ferrying these children about. Beyond the threats of hellfire, they fight bitterly over the armrest. The Sober Husband put a piece of masking tape as a divider, but that hasn't helped much. They fight over who is taking up too much of the tape. Yesterday Iris's long hair strayed over the line, which was the cause of much offense on the part of the Great God Lucy, who ended up administering a punitive slap on the head to Iris.

"I'm going to get a sign," I said wearily. It is my fantasy to install a sign in the car, like bus drivers have, reading, "Do Not Speak To Driver." Then I will threaten the children: "Don't make me tap my sign."

"Well, you DON"T have a sign," pointed out Iris. "So give up pretending like you do."

Thursday, October 23, 2008

a letter to our elementary school

Today I'm waiting for a call back about whether I can return my dear foster kittens, Helen Keller and Ray Charles, today. Poor Helen and Ray, unaware of their impending eviction from their happy childhood home, are curled up in my lap. I couldn't bear to disturb them and took advantage of their snuggling time to write the following letter to the head of Iris and Lucy's elementary school:
I hate to complain about anything done at the Fall Festival, as I know the parents who organize it work very hard, but there was something which appalled me and upset my daughter Iris this year. It was the fur covered toys for sale at the fairyland area.

We was shocked to see real fur used in toy kittens, and these fur toys were displayed very prominently. They were the dominant item at the fairyland area. Iris and I had gone to the fairy area on our arrival at the fair, and we had actually intended to make at least one purchase there to add to our fairyland at home (we had bought a fairy house the year before). Iris, a sensitive animal loving child, was so disturbed by the fur that she asked to leave. This cast a pall over our afternoon at the fair, as Iris couldn't get her mind off the dead rabbits used to make these toys and asked me such questions as "Why do people hate rabbits?" and "Why can't the bunnies be smart enough to escape? Why do they have to die?"

I was rather disturbed by the hypocrisy that the children were being encouraged to pay to pet and feed live rabbits at the petting zoo, just yards away from where they were being urged to buy the skins of other rabbits, who had met an unkind demise in order to make cheap toys.

There was another level of hypocrisy, which I suspect but can't prove: the fur-covered toys were from China. Not all of the fur appeared to be rabbit fur. It is an established fact that in China, cats --- the same sort of cats we keep as pets -- are commonly raised for the fur trade. [See, e.g.,]. Some of the kitten toys I saw at Burke's appeared to me to have been covered with cat fur (as a long-time cat fosterer and rescue volunteer, I know cat fur). It's frankly hideous to sell a toy cat to a girl which required the death of a real cat to make.

Fur has become controversial in our society, with an increasing awareness growing that the animals raised for fur are killed in spectacularly inhumane ways (the most common way is anal electrocution so as to preserve the fur). I am glad Iris doesn't yet know about that aspect of the fur trade, but I suspect some of the upper school girls do. Is that something Burke's wants to be affiliated with? Is that something to teach our girls, that although we enjoy petting rabbits, we think it's good to kill them in an agonizing way to make a toy that will be probably discarded when the girl tires of it?

I expect to see fur if I go to Neiman Marcus, and I make my shopping decisions accordingly. I don't expect to see it showcased at a Burke's family festival, though, and I am disappointed in the school. Please consider making a policy that fur won't be sold at future festivals.

While I'm on this uncomfortable subject, I should also state that I've been troubled -- but have hitherto held my tongue -- about the practice of giving out the goldfish at KDBS. It's a common sight to go to a Burke's family home and see a large number of goldfish being kept in a tiny, undersized globe. These fish should have a lifespan of 30 years if cared for properly and require a large, aerated tank for comfort. The way they are given out, as though they were disposable, seems callous and definitely doesn't teach the girls to respect animal pets and care for them accordingly. At the very least, there should be a sheet of instructions for the proper care of goldfish given out with the fish. (I would be happy to draft such a thing). I also witnessed parents being displeased when their child showed up at their side with a fish. It seems inappropriate to give out a living creature to a child without the parents' consent and implicit commitment to keeping the fish.

I hope Burke's can do better than this.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

more big city blues (why is it always about the cars?)

Someone broke into my car last night, but weirdly did no damage. The mysterious intruder ransacked the car but seems to have left everything (including a dozen CD's kept in the front armrest) strewn around.

This morning at my ceramics class, an officious man interrupted our labors in the studio to inquire, "Did anyone park a burgundy car, with a handicapped placard, in the handicapped spot near the studio?" It turns out that a man had been seen slashing this car's tires in, as everyone in the class remarked, "broad daylight." "I'm glad it wasn't one of you," said the officious man (which made me wonder: why were we better than the car's owner? Because we were aspiring potters?) Oh, how everyone in the class denounced the state of affairs in the current day and age (I'm the youngest one in the class, which is composed otherwise of retirees).

Our intrepid instructor went out later to investigate and reported back: "He knew the guy. The driver of the car knew the guy who slashed the tires. It had something to do with something." We all sighed a sigh of relief that it wasn't Random Tire Slashage.

But still, the ransacking and the denting of my own dear Volvo: what will happen to it next?

why can't my car do that?

Every day I look at my poor dented Volvo (dented by an anonymous jerk who didn't leave a note), and I seethe with anger. I have not investigated how much it would cost to fix the dent, because I realize that it is asinine to spend money on a dent when I have no plans to sell the car (I do entertain a fantasy from time to time that I will just on the spur of the moment drive down to a dealership and trade my Volvo in for a cheery Mini Cooper convertible, but that's just daydreaming). The damage doesn't affect the drivability or safety of the car. It just makes it a little ugly.

My old car had a similar, but longer dent, but I didn't mind that one because I put it there myself. One day towards the end of my second trimester with the incubating Lucy, I drove myself to a routine prenatal checkup (the Sober Husband went to each and every prenatal appointment the first time around, but the second time, the wonders of life had palled for him, and I had to nag him to get him to go to one or two). I'd been feeling uncomfortable and crabby, but I was a shocked to be told that I was three centimeters dilated, the baby's head was engaged at a point which was supposed to occur only well into labor, and I needed to go to the hospital immediately due to this dangerous premature labor. This news caused my blood pressure to rise and my nerves to fray. I probably shouldn't have driven, but leaving my car as parked was not an option (it would have been towed away at rush hour). So I drove myself across the city slowly, having contractions as I drove. I'd had contractions on the way over to the clinic, but I'd ignored those, whereas these new contractions were causing me a lot of stress. When I got to the tiny, cramped parking garage of my chosen hospital, I was having a painful contraction and feeling very anxious, and I thoroughly gouged the side of the car against a concrete pillar. A nearby fat man laughed at me. "Let's see YOU drive when you're in labor, asshole," I thought to myself.

So that dent always reminded me of the vagaries of life and pregnancy (at the hospital, I was kept for several hours and then sent home with orders of strict bedrest. The Sober Husband didn't show up at the hospital until long after I'd gone home. When I was released from bedrest after nearly a month -- a month in which I had to care for a three year-old while on strict bedrest --- my labor stopped, and I stayed pregnant for two more months. Lucy was born three weeks late to the day, weighing over nine pounds. So much for having a preemie!). I didn't mind that dent. But this dent, it drives me crazy.

Not everyone is paying attention to the dent. Others have more exotic issues with the Volvo. Six year-old Lucy got excited in traffic the other day and pointed out a passing car. "That car transforms!" I couldn't quite figure out from what Lucy said whether the car transforms into a robot or a ladybug or a robot ladybug, but in any event, it was a glamorous car.

Iris got agitated that her parents were discussing this magical car with Lucy. "It does NOT transform, Lucy!" she shouted.

"I saw it on Youtube," Lucy said, settling the argument for once and for all.

"It does not! It does NOT transform!"

"What part of 'Lucy saw it on Youtube' do you not understand, Iris?" asked the Sober Husband mischievously.

Iris seethed all the way home, as Lucy expounded upon the beauties and joys of a car which has transforming capabilities, unlike my poor dented Volvo.

Friday, October 17, 2008

what the heart desires

At marriage counseling the other day, the therapist asked the Sober Husband what it is he wants. He thought about it. "What I want is for Carole to always be a loving and supportive wife while I get to do whatever I want."

We had a good laugh about that, the therapist and I.

big city blues, continued

Today I noticed a sizable dent in the side of my still youthful Volvo. Needless to say, the car did not incur that dent while I was driving it or anywhere near it. For shame, anonymous car denter who did not even leave a note. For shame.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

big city blues

I love cities passionately, despite the fact that I'd never really had much of anything to do with them before going to college in Boston. I don't really ever want to live outside a large city again. But despite of that personal passion, there is no disputing the fact that the urban charms can pall sometimes.

Today I grabbed a quick, cheap lunch between my ceramics class and picking up Lucy (Leper Lucy has been admitted back to kindergarten, so long as she keeps a bandage over her staph lesion). While I was eating, a panhandler sat down at the few outside tables and would NOT shut up, constantly harassing the sole other woman eating outdoors, all passersby, and eventually me, whom he called "a fucking bitch" for not giving him money. I do actually give beggars money more often than the average person, but I'm not going to reward someone for ruining my only quiet, relaxing moment of the day.

Driving the children home, a well-dressed man in a wheelchair who was on the sidewalk and not anywhere near entering the road screamed at me psychotically, "YOU CAN'T GO THROUGH THE CROSSWALK!" He was in such a rage that he seemed at risk of a stroke. Although I do yield for pedestrians, the point remains that cars need to go through crosswalks, or it would not be possible to drive further than the length of one block. An empty crosswalk is fair game, crazy, screaming guy (incidentally nice tie, crazy guy).

In general the roads have been abhorrent lately. I said in frustration to Lucy the other day, "Did someone declare National Idiots Go Driving Week and forget to tell me?" I tried to figure out if the influx of stupidity in the streets had some relationship to Columbus Day or Fleet Week, but I didn't arrive at any persuasive theorem.

More dramatically, some addicts burnt a beautiful pink Victorian down just a block from my house. We saw the fire, so huge and amazing, when we woke up from our windows (watching the firemen gradually put it out was spellbinding), and later in the morning my neighbor and I walked over to rubberneck close up. We saw the firemen carrying charred remains of furniture out of the building, and a tense woman in a green bathrobe erupted as a desk was put down. "Take a picture of that!" It was a partially destroyed desk containing many boxes of syringes.

"Is that person we took to the hospital earlier on insulin?" a fireman asked quickly, grabbing his phone.

"On METH more like," snapped back the green bathrobed one. "This is a drug house! We see people getting high outside all the time!"

I slipped the woman in the bathrobe a note with my address and phone number. "I only live a block away, if you need to borrow anything, like clothes or a phone." She hugged me and reassured me that she'd only needed to temporarily evacuate her apartment, which was next door to the burnt-down building.

The neighbors are all abuzz about news that the Mikes, a delightful gay couple both possessed of the same first name, were burgled. Evidently this occurred some time ago and the news has been slow to disseminate (and evidently also the Mikes are tired of being asked about it). Our next-door-neighbor also had a package stolen from her front stoop as well, and there is vague muttering about how we should start a neighborhood watch program. I wasn't so surprised about the package going missing, as that neighbor's front door is right on the street. An unchaperoned package would, as I remarked to my next-door neighbor from the other side, be a considerable temptation even to someone like me, who loves her neighbors, if it were from an exciting shipper. "What, like Good Vibrations?" quipped my gay male neighbor. I wondered if he felt free to make that sort of crack to all the straight women in his life or just us drunken ones.

I've always felt that my block was one of the safest, most serene blocks of all of San Francisco, but my complacency is feeling a bit shaken.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

my children, the leper and the mutant

Six year-old Lucy had a spot on her leg last week which we all believed to be a bug bite. Lucy herself was quite indignant, accosting me to shout about fleas, which are always considered my responsibility given that I am the one who brought feline Americans into our home (earlier this year we had a stubborn flea issue which was not responding to Advantage -- I was dosing poor old Al weekly, when it's supposed to be once a month. Then I happened to read a column by the always magnificent Bug Guy, who recommended rubbing fleazy pets with food-grade diatomaceous earth. This worked like a charm, and coincidentally saved me considerable amounts of money, as I was dropping cash on Advantage at a scary rate. One afternoon of pure cat hell, as they were all rolled about in diatomaceous earth like biscuits in flour, and no more fleas were seen). Lucy showed me her leg on Wednesday afternoon, and I realized it wasn't a bug bite. Already I'd known it wasn't a flea bite, as the fleas were long gone, but I'd suspected a mosquito. But it was a staph infection.

We're all too familiar with staph infections here. The Sober Husband had a recurring staph infection for much of the year, which was thankfully vanquished with antibiotics. Poor Iris Uber Alles sported a staph lesion herself over the summer, which broke her perfect record of never having needed prescription medication (oh, how I used to posit Iris as the definitive proof of the health of a vegetarian diet. "I never ate meat when I was pregnant with her, and she's never had any except a mouthful by accident. And look at her! She's in the 99th percentile for height, and she's never been on antibiotics in her life!") Iris is quite bitter at the loss of her streak of perfect health and has taken to rather competitively asking sundry adults when they had their first antibiotics.

The Sober Husband, as he likes to do with every bad thing, attributed his staph issues to my fostering kittens. "It stands to reason that since I live in an environment where you're always administering antibiotics, I'd come down with something." I felt it was more likely that he'd picked up the staph at Johns Hopkins, where he spent quite a bit of time earlier at his dying friend's bedside. Hospitals are hotbeds of staph. The Sober Husband scored against me when he got our physician to decree that I should cease fostering kittens for six months. However, I felt I won that round when I discovered that the veterinary opthalmologist treating my poor blind kittens, Helen Keller and Ray Charles, had had actual MRSA. This vet was astonished to hear that any physician would blame this on cats. This entertaining and erudite doctor explained his own treatment in most satisfyingly gory detail (raising his arm, he indicated where some flesh had been actually excised from his armpit), vehemently and articulately denied any link between his MRSA and any cats or cat medicines, and gave me the name of a researcher who has studied the issues of staph in animals.

Thereafter when the Sober Husband bitched about cats, I contended that he should have the more strenuous treatment my dear veterinary opthalmologist had endured, excision of the staph-ridden flesh. After all, my vet had not only recovered from MRSA but restored Helen Keller and Ray Charles's vision, which our regular vet had given up on, so obviously he was a genius. (I did, however, in the interests of marital harmony not take in any more kittens and agreed to take a break after Helen and Ray, whom I felt should be grandfathered in. Helen and Ray are scheduled to be turned in to the shelter for adoption this Tuesday).

In any event, we were fast becoming experts on staph infections. We'd read a lengthy article in the New Yorker about drug-resistant infections; we'd discussed staph with various doctors; the Sober Husband and Iris Uber Alles had lived through staph infections. So recognizing Lucy's spot as a staph infection seemed rather unnewsworthy to me. I arranged for the Sober Husband to take Lucy to the pediatrician the next day, as he would be better able to explain which medications he'd taken.

After the appointment, I was shocked to hear that he'd authorized having a culture taken from poor Lucy's leg, and he described the pediatrician as being very aggressive in draining the wound, (Lucy was unable to bring herself to describe this other than to say that it was the worst pain she'd ever experienced).

"But I was just channeling you," he said defensively. "I was thinking about how you wanted me to have mine excised."

"But that was YOU, not Lucy. Poor Lucy."

The next morning I kept Lucy home from school on the basis that she'd had a slight fever the day before and that I didn't know the school's position on staph. The Sober Husband disagreed with me strongly. "Look at her, she's fine." He wanted to take her to school and go in to inquire about the policy and then bring her home only if she were not allowed. Lucy, who is not yet adjusted to kindergarten, panicked at hearing that. "No, MOMMY'S IDEA!! MOMMY'S IDEA!"

I called the school and told the receptionist that Lucy was home with a staph infection and that I felt the school should be informed. Later that morning I got a rather dramatic call from one of the school's administrators, who told me that she'd spoken to the parent who, as a doctor, advised the school on health issues. "That parent says this could be MRSA and we need to start treating all the kindergarten children immediately." The woman was obviously frazzled. "What is it? Can you prove it isn't MRSA?"

I pointed out that as Lucy's culture had been taken at 4:00 PM the prior day, I couldn't prove a thing. I was left with the distinct feeling that my child had become a leper. Indeed, the school appeared to go through considerable agita before issuing a cautious statement to the parents later in the day. I went through a volte-face, becoming retrospectively grateful that the Sober Husband had consented to the culture.

I called the Sober Husband to vent, but he blamed me. "You shouldn't have called the school. You should have kept your mouth shut. How do we even know it's staph anyway, before we have the culture? No one said it was staph."

"We KNOW it's staph," I said. "And we have a DUTY to the other parents to inform them."

Once again he was a thoroughly unsatisfying conversational partner. A friend who is actually a teacher did better, remarking incredulously, "What a bunch of drama queens!" and reassuringly, "Of course you had to call and tell them."

Then it was time for another volte-face, as the pediatrician took time to phone us on Sunday afternoon to inform us that Lucy has MRSA. Lucy's school had, in retrospect, not been unduly alarmist. But! In the pediatrician's expert opinion, Lucy was ready to go back to school. "So long as she has a bandaid on, it's fine. MRSA responds to the antibiotic she is taking." Lucy's fever had gone away, her lesion had shrunk immensely, and she was extremely energetic. It was hard to think of her as a MRSA victim.

Lucy wanted to see what a staph bug looked like. An internet search on staph yielded hit after hit with scary headlines about "killer infections" and "deadly skin disease." I couldn't stand to read more than a few.

The pediatrician's cheery opinion notwithstanding, I don't have the nerve to take Little Leprous Lucy back to kindergarten before the school gives its consent. Given that there was such alarm before at the mere possibility of MRSA, now that there is an actual MRSA diagnosis, I quail to think of the response.

Of course with any trouble, there is someone with schadenfreude, and that person is nine year-old Iris Uber Alles. Iris is positively giddy over Lucy's troubles (although quite angry that Lucy was allowed to stay home from school and spend a quiet day with Mommy). I had a quiet conversation with the Sober Husband about Lucy's infection while Iris basked in a tub behind closed doors. "And I just KNOW Iris is going to run around saying, 'Lucy has MRSA! Lucy has MRSA!' so happily." I paused. "And I know she's listening. Hass, are you listening?"

"Yes," came a muted voice from behind doors.

It's become clear over the past few days that Iris has bizarrely acute hearing. Once I was whispering to Lucy, herself a child with especially good hearing, in the kitchen, and Iris shouted from across the house, "I CAN HEAR YOU!" I was frankly astonished and incredulous until she repeated the text of my whisper (which had been about the fact that Iris was unusually crabby and Lucy should avoid being in the same room with her for some time). "Iris, you can hear THAT? That's just wrong. It's superhuman."

It had already been established that Iris had freakishly good eyesight. Earlier in her life Iris lusted for glasses, given that a friend of hers and her mother wear them. She complained and complained about needingn glasses until I took her to have her eyes tested, where we learned that her vision was far better than 20-20. "If anyone asks," said the cheery opthalmologist, "You can tell them you have the closest thing to x-ray vision there is!"

Additionally, Iris's birth proved a special point, that the Sober Husband -- and Iris herself-- are mutants. The Sober Husband has one strange ankle, where the little bone bump present on most ankles is doubled, with one above the other. This was always considered to be a mere bone spur, of no particular interest, until Iris was born with the same double ankle on the same side. As Iris's pediatrician admitted, this shows that it's a genetic mutation she inherited from her father. Iris is quite rightfully proud of her mutant nature, to which I've taken to ascribing her freakishly good hearing and vision. "Use your powers for good, not evil!" I exhort her regularly, which only seems to set her to pondering how best one could use super hearing for evil.

My poor little leper and my mischievous mutant, what will become of them? And who will prevail in their mighty battles? And will the valiant Lucy be allowed back to kindergarten?

Monday, October 06, 2008

for shame, Harry's Bar of San Francisco

This weekend I took nine year-old Iris Uber Alles to hear Neil Gaiman read from his latest children's book (she was the only child we saw in the audience, which was composed primarily of obese people with lovely manners, dressed in black, on dates). Afterwards we strolled through Japantown, admiring Japanese kitsch, envying majestic stone Buddhas, and fingering fabrics. Iris was tired and hungry, and rather than setting out for home, wanted to eat first. We were also eager to start reading our signed copies of "The Graveyard Book.

It was the end of a long day for Iris; we'd held a joint birthday party for her and just-turned-six Lucy that day and she'd sat still for two and a half hours of the Gaiman extravaganza (Neil G. read out loud for a solid hour in a mellifluous baritone; we saw scenes from the upcoming "Coraline" film; he took questions -- questions causing him to wonder for the sanity of his San Francisco readers). I thought it wasn't the moment to brave the authentic Japanese restaurants of Japantown, so we turned up Fillmore Street in search of child-friendly comfort food. We stopped at "Harry's Bar of San Francisco", which, although it claims to be affiliated with the Harry's Bar of Venice, is in fact a restaurant which serves low-brow food. I checked the menu, which included macaroni and cheese, veggie burgers, and grilled cheese sandwiches. We went in, following a couple with a toddler, and sat down away from the bar.

We were relaxing, and Iris was reaching for her book, eager to start it, when someone pulled the menus brusquely out of my hand, confiscating them. In a foreign accent which was from a continent far from Italy, the manager said abruptly, "This is a bar. There are no children here" and then bustled off to evict the family with toddlers. I was rather shocked at his rude delivery. I would have left quietly if he'd spoken kindly to us, perhaps said he was sorry. I stood by our table and showed him the menu, saying that as an attorney, I was familiar with the California laws and that it was legal for children to be in here because it was a restaurant, not a bar. The manager said dismissively, "This is a bar, not a restaurant."

I held out the extensive menu, which ran to more than one page, saying "You serve food, you have a long menu, this is a restaurant and he cut me off. "We have a bar menu" he began, ranting on at me and raising his voice. At this point, my hackles were well up, and I demanded an apology. His went up as well. Iris slipped her hand nervously in mine as the man shouted at me. I demanded he apologize to me before we leave, and he threatened to call the police. I pointed out that all he had to do was apologize for us to leave, and he shouted for a while about calling the police. At some point he realized that apologizing would get rid of me, and he managed to say he was sorry while making it abundantly clear, in tone, gesture, and rolled eye that he didn't mean it in the least. We left.

I explained to Iris how angry I was that she was being discriminated against for her age. Iris is a quiet, well-behaved child who had intended only to eat a sandwich and read her new book. The place in question was not an upscale or quiet place where children would have been inappropriate. We walked up the hill to a crepes restaurant, ate, our moods darkened by the Harry's incident, and went home.

Later, after the children had gone to bed and I was doing a special favor for the Sober Husband, the sort of favor wives sometimes do for husbands, my mind clicked through the Harry's event and then seized upon the telling point. When I was free to speak, I said, "I was right! They have outdoor seating at Harry's bar, and that makes me right! Only restaurants have outdoor tables in San Francisco." The Sober Husband, in that sort of daze which precludes one from following reasoning, mumbled, "You were right, honey."

I bounced up and ran a search online. I soon determined that I was RIGHTRIGHTRIGHT and that only restaurants and cafes are allowed permits for sidewalk seating in San Francisco. Bars are not eligible (no one wants a lot of drunks out in the open, sprawling on the sidewalks). "Harry's Bar is legally a restaurant," I said. "The hypocrites, saying they're a restaurant to get outside tables and saying they're a bar to throw Iris out."

"You should write a letter, " said the Sober Husband amiably and drowsily as he settled off to sleep.

The irony is that Iris has been to the real Harry's Bar, in Venice, which is nothing like the restaurant here appropriating its name. The true Harry's Bar is a small, upscale place with starched white tableclothes and highly professional waiters, who doted upon little Iris, bringing her treats and kneeling down to address her on her own level. "Che bella", they murmured as they gave her free snacks from polished trays.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Lucy vs. Monty Python

The Sober Husband is the only one of us who is enamored of Monty Python. Today in the car he said, smiling, "On Monty Python there was this skit where there was this guy named 'Mr. Smokestoomuch', and he went to a clinic, and there was all kinds of confusion. He introduced himself, 'Hello, my name is Mr. Smokestoomuch," and the guy there thought that was funny, so he said, 'I guess you should cut back', and Mr. Smokestoomuch didn't get it. He'd never heard that joke before."

Silence followed this.

"You don't think that's funny? Carole, that's not funny?"

More silence.

"That is funny. I am informing you that that is funny!"

Six year-old Lucy snapped back, "That is not funny, and it never will be funny," with an air of great authority. I laughed.

"Lucy is funnier than Monty Python," I observed. The Sober Husband didn't even try to argue.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

a rough transition

Lucy started kindergarten this year. I was expecting this to go smoothly. Lucy was a scarily independent toddler, and she had no separation anxieties going to part-time preschool (although it was a parent-participation school, so I worked a regular shift, and there were always scores of parents about). Also, she was very familiar with her new school, having been there hundreds of times over the three years Iris has been there. Her big sister, Iris, on the contrary had an epic separation anxiety about preschool but skipped all the way to kindergarten her first day, taking to the school like a wild animal finally released into its natural habitat.

The reality is that here we are in October, and Lucy's still miserable. She's crying at school nearly every day, and she's fearful and unhappy.

Mind you, the school is as close to ideal as imaginable. Lucy and Iris are lucky to attend a delightful all-girls private school on a beautiful campus. Lucy's class has fourteen girls and two gentle, kind full-time teachers each day. There is a playground for the kindergarten and first grade girls' use only, a fabulous art program, funny phys ed teachers who get the girls to run around screeching in a most satisfying manner, etc... Everyone makes an effort to put the kindergarteners at ease, from our new head of school, who already knows Lucy's name, to our receptionist, who shook Lucy's hand and asked her to come to her with any questions. But still, Lucy is unhappy in a way which seems deep and unable to be comforted.

I thought things would be fine once Lucy made friends, and despite her unhappiness, she has already made some. However, she pines for me, and she cries often. Once she saw a woman wearing a denim jacket like mine in the library, and that set her off. Another time Iris told me that another girl had seen Lucy crying in the lunchroom (Lucy herself doesn't report her crying; I learn about it from her teacher), and in discussing that with Lucy, I learned that Lucy finds lunch to be noisy and scary (we had noticed that she ate very lightly). Lucy has bonded with her teacher, and that comforts her, but still she is so unhappy.

Lucy's teacher and I have figured out that part of the problem is that Lucy is very sensitive to noise. Lucy has always been upset by loud noises, preferring not to go to the movies. The one time I took her to a parent-child nightclub event, she was miserable and had to leave. It's common for Lucy to tell me to turn down music, complain of getting a headache from noise, or cover her ears in protest. The school, with its hundreds of girls, can be a very noisy place, much noisier than the tiny preschool programs Lucy attended or her home, and there's not a lot that can be done about that.

We had originally intended for Lucy to play after school in the aftercare program until Iris's class was dismissed an hour later, but that hasn't gone well. I now pick up Lucy when her day lets out, and we mill about near the school for an hour until we can retrieve Iris. (We've become regulars at a nearby cafe, which is not good for my healthy eating regimen, as the coffee is abysmal there but the pastries are excellent). We're also leaving early so we can park and walk Lucy to her classroom, as she finds it intimidating to walk through the craziness before classes (the girls are supervised as they play outdoors in the central part of the school before the bell rings at 8:30, and it is a supervised madhouse, with manic girls in green jumpers darting about screeching).

If Lucy were in a crappy school, I'd start thinking about a timeline for pulling her out if she were still unhappy, and I'd be considering alternatives. But it's not; it's an excellent school. Even with her unhappiness, Lucy is already learning. One day she came home and told me that the pupil is a hole in the eye which lets light and air go in and that the iris is a muscle. Another day she informed me that Kandinsky was a Dutch painter who used to paint realistically but "he decided that was boring, so he broke the rules" and started painting first mazes and then just lines. "Horizontal AND vertical lines. Two kinds," she stressed over and over. Later I saw her draw an elaborate frame, which she filled in slowly with a variety of horizontal and vertical lines.

I think Lucy has to work through this problem by herself. I can't fix this for her; I can't soften it or take it away. But she's only just-turned-six, she's still a funny little child, and it's heartbreaking to see her so persistently unhappy. As a parent I try to help my children solve problems, but there's not much I can do to help Lucy with this. She has to do it herself. It's agonizing for me not to be able to make this situation comfortable for her.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

a furry friend

The Sober Husband came in from driving the children to school to have a cup of coffee before work.

"While you were gone, I carried Frowst around and showed him things," I shared. (Frowsty, our most glamorous cat, enjoys being cradled in a person's arms like a baby, and he has plenty of curiosity about the world above his range of sight. Iris and I sometimes lift him up very high to show him the top shelves).

The Sober Husband considered this report. "You need another baby."