Saturday, January 27, 2007

Soulsville U.S.A.

Let me say this to you: Every school age child in Memphis should be taken on a field trip to the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. I went for the first time this morning, with C, to see the Milt Hinton photography exhibit that I wrote about last November. This was the last weekend it will be showing, so, of course, it was now or never. I was really just there to see the photographs, but the whole tour begins with a 20-minute video on the history of Stax that takes you through the birth of the “Memphis sound” and, briefly, race relations and really puts our city’s modern history into perspective. It is a wonderfully produced piece that makes the whole trip worthwhile.

We somewhat hurried through much of the museum to get to the Hinton photos, which were at the end of the tour, but C did enjoy Albert King’s purple guitar, Ike Turner’s Fender, seeing what must have seemed like a prehistoric reel-to-reel recorder, and Isaac Hayes’s stack boots and custom Cadillac. The photos were just as promised, candid shots of some of the best jazz artists of the time, of any time. Hinton was not only a chronicler of the iconic jazz figures he worked with and befriended but also, during tours of the South, the Jim Crow signs seen everywhere. He and his colleagues found them fascinating and funny, in an absurd way, I suppose, since they were mostly northerners and hadn’t come into contact with this silly way of life. C asked me about a part in the film where Steve Cropper spoke emotionally about Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination and how it changed, not just the city and country, but Stax itself. He asked if Dr. King was in one of the bands. So, the Stax Museum, at College and McLemore became the place for me to explain to C how things used to be, how if we were living back in the 1950s and 60s, that his two best friends, J and T, wouldn’t be his two best friends. They wouldn’t go to school together and they probably wouldn’t have come over to spend the night as they did last weekend. He said he understood, though it must be a difficult concept for someone only nine-years-old in 2007 to grasp, as it should be. By looking at black-and-white photos of Dizzy Gillespie, Gene Krupa, Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway and that heart-breaking image of Billie Holliday, hopefully, C learned more than just who it is playing those tunes in Daddy’s stereo, but also what an insane world we live in, though there are people out there who work to make it better. Music, today, became the catalyst for understanding human nature, and that was a totally unexpected turn of events for the morning.

C’s comprehension of facts and situations is becoming finely tuned. He is eager to learn and asks a lot of questions. This was made apparent on the drive home when he said to me, “How long ago did Louis Armstrong walk on the Moon?” And, instead of snickering at him, I explained that Louis Armstrong didn’t walk on the Moon, but in 1969 he won the Tour de France seven times.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Driving To Distraction

I’ve been prepared for the fact that The Quartet’s roads would diverge at some point in their lives and they would each take their separate paths to glory. I expected it to come in their teenage and young adult years, however, with their choices of friends, music, jobs and other interests. I didn’t expect it to be so apparent so soon. Like tonight. C and JP have been on the same road – same parents, same house, same routine, same basic life – but C has decided to get in the HOV lane and break some speeding laws while JP moved to the shoulder so he could get out and tinkle on a daffodil.

I know this is wrong to talk about. I know some of you parents are cringing right now, wondering how I could possibly compare my children to each other (in public, that is, I know you all do it). This is what I’m thinking about, though, and this is what Urf! is all about. Understand first that my love for these kids is as unconditional as it comes, and that before I would allow anything bad to happen to them, I’d give up my left foot, and it’s the only one I can still feel! But tonight, I came home from work to find a package from one of C’s teachers containing his CLUE evaluation. CLUE is the advanced program he’s in at school and his evaluation was glowing. There was also a self-evaluation where C answered questions honestly concerning his interests, what he hoped to achieve and even his shortcomings. Then there was a book he brought home with information on the Memphis City School’s Optional Program and on the cover is a photo of C himself. Later in the evening he completed a Sudoku puzzle in the paper and helped me solve their chess quiz. JP, bless his heart as my mom would say, ate some pizza, bathed and dressed himself for bed. All good things. All necessary activities. We still haven’t sat him down to discuss the ‘U’ in conduct he received the other day at school, or why the homework he completed the night before didn’t find its way to school, but there is time for that. He’ll be with us for quite a while, I’m afraid.

Again, this is the wrong way to look at the situation, I understand, but this is what I faced tonight and I just wanted to put it out there. I know all parents of multiples go through this. I know it must have been difficult for my own parents watching my siblings straining to keep up with me as I swerved into that left-hand lane and they lost me in the horizon, but it doesn’t mean they loved them any less. JP will catch up to C, I’m certain of that. He’ll have to, JP will be the only mechanic C will be able to trust with his Bentley by then.

[Incidentally, on that road they were traveling down tonight, S would have been taking out pedestrians with her front bumper and GK pooped in my car.]

Monday, January 22, 2007

Just Me and JP

I'm always thinking about what I need to teach The Quartet, what experiences I should share with them and what I'm responsible for exposing them to. Naturally, this leads to my concern for ventures we haven't yet undertaken. And then there are nights like last night, when I'm reminded ever so sweetly of an activity. I settled in to read books at bedtime last night, the three older kids each get to pick a book, and JP picked Just Me and My Dad. This is one of the "Critter" books and involves the spiky little protagonist going camping with just his dad. JP said he picked it because "you said once that we could go camping sometime." Which we haven't done. We haven't done that among so many other things, though he wasn't complaining in the least. JP just wanted me to know that he is still looking forward to it and waiting, patiently, for that camping trip.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Deal Me In

When does it all get easier with these kids? When I ask this rhetorical question, I’m not talking about the basics of raising them, educating them, feeding and bathing them, and the like. I’m talking about poker. I found myself at Stacey’s Friday night with Warren and Andria, their kids, and JP and S in tow. After a lovely spaghetti dinner whipped up by Warren, an impromptu poker game broke out. None of the other adults had cash, which was one problem, so we were playing for “fun,” but there was still the whole problem of the kids wanting, or demanding, our attention, which is distracting enough in its own right, but much more so when you’re working on a full house (I don’t think I worked on a full house the entire evening, but you get the idea).

So last night we were invited to Andria’s for chili and we actually planned on playing poker. Everyone even brought cash, which was a good start, but we also brought our kids and that's where the problem lies, because the children were unruly, all seven of them. They ran around, spilled water and popcorn, demanded apples and more popcorn, hit each other, threw things, and all the other activities that we really should expect by now. But there was poker going on, or trying to go on. Some things should be sacred. I recall all of my aunts and uncles, parents, grandparents and great-grandparents playing poker into the wee hours of the night when we were children. Were my cousins and I better behaved? More easily distracted by the three television channels we had in 1979? Or were our parents just better at ignoring us?

My dream, of course, is to teach The Quartet to play so they can take their friends' money and then I, in turn, can win it from them. To do this, though, they’re all going to have to calm down and watch and learn. Either that or the adults all need to work on their poker faces, which includes ignoring whatever mayhem is going on in the other room.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Drive To Drink

Childhood tends to be remembered as a menagerie of cars and houses, and mine was no different. When I was a kid, we went through several different cars. We had a Ford Grenada, a Ford Pinto, an MG Spitfire, a Porsche 914, Buick Regal, a Renault, a Camaro and a Cadillac. We drove everywhere in these cars, from Memphis to the Gulf Coast and Chicago, to Pickwick and Sardis, countless trips to my grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ houses, to Montesi’s, Central Hardware, downtown to take my father to work and to the liquor store. My dad went to the liquor store a lot, though we kids had to stay in the car while he ran in. I never knew what went on behind the doors of the liquor store. In my mind there were naked women dancing around. Seriously. That’s what was taboo in my prepubescent head – nudity. It couldn’t simply be that there was booze in there, because there was booze everywhere. It was also the 70s and must have been safer to leave your two or three kids in the car with the windows down while you ran in for a bottle of scotch or rum or gin.

Tonight, on the way home from work, I had one of The Quartet with me and needed to stop by the liquor store for a bottle of wine. I debated with myself the whole way there as to whether or not he should come in with me. I didn’t see any reason why not, but something told me he shouldn’t, not because I think a liquor store is some sort of den of iniquity, but simply because I wasn’t allowed to at his age so neither should he. I silently talked to myself the whole way there about the situation, shaking my head and shrugging just the way my mother does, and finally decided, as I pulled into the parking lot, that he should stay in the car. I have no good reason for that. More reason, in fact, for him to come in with me, what with all the crazies out there eyeing my 1991 Volvo 740 wagon. The car could easily be taken with one of The Quartet in it. I really questioned my decision when I got out of the car and was immediately panhandled by one of our quaint, Midtown denizens. But I’d parked right in front of the store, had locked the doors and could see the car the whole time from the Pinot Noir display and the front counter.

So the trip ended safely and neither the car nor the kid were stolen. The kid barely escaped a visit to Gomorrah and I was left with a nice bottle of wine and the nagging disappointment, as an adult, that there are no naked girls dancing behind the door of a liquor store.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

C & Me

We can’t time travel, obviously. Yet. But how fascinating would it be to watch yourself grow up? How cool to be able to manipulate your Younger Self at crucial times? To be able to change things just in the nick of time to make your life or personality go this way or that? Witnessing myself grow up is what I’m doing now as I watch C age and become a young person with hopes and dreams and, unfortunately, fears. He looks like me, he acts like me, he thinks like me. What worries me, naturally, is that he worries like me. From time to time he becomes anxious at night, around bedtime, for no real reason. At least not one he can give voice to. He tried last night, saying it was a story from a book of short stories I read to him and JP which was, admittedly, too scary for bedtime. I didn’t realize where the story was going until it was too late. He said it scared him, which it probably did, though he somewhat overreacted. I knew it wasn’t the story. I knew it was just what happens to him sometimes in the night. Kristy can’t understand it because being anxious is foreign to her, but I remember just what it was like to be C’s age and have that feeling in my gut. That feeling that you can’t explain, can’t rationalize, because it just is. What I can’t remember is what would have made it better at that age. I’m trying. I’m going through my childhood like a biographer, recalling nights when I’d lie awake thinking about school or worrying about nuclear war (it was the ‘70s) or killer bees in Mexico headed for the U.S., or some other thing I couldn’t control. The more I think about it, though, the more I think that there is nothing anyone could have said or done to chase the anxiety away. I know my mother tried. And I know Kristy has tried. And I believe I should be able to do more than try because he is me.

We’ve talked about it before and I told him that I understand exactly what he’s going through even if no one else seems to. I told him that I went through it all myself and I tried to make him understand that everything turns out just fine and that with all the sleepless nights I had worrying that there was a test at school I’d forgotten about or that someone was going to come into our house to do us harm (I know it’s morbid, I’m not saying it was pretty, but does anyone remember Leslie Gattas? She was taken from, and hidden in, my childhood neighborhood.), that despite all of that, I’m still here. Not only am I here but I have a wonderful, happy family as well, and none of the good that has happened is because I was up worrying all night.

I began writing this earlier in the evening then stopped for dinner and family duties. At bedtime, when I was reading to the kids, S became upset for no reason and wanted her mother, so I took her in and put her in our bed with Kristy and GK. Then C came out of his room, upset again with no explanation. I took him back to his room, he got in bed and I sat with him. After a bit, I told him we were going to try it again and that he should just close his eyes, take deep breaths and try to relax until he fell asleep. Maybe none of this can be rationalized and all he needs is to be sat with for a few extra minutes, to be reassured that family is close. Perhaps that’s all I ever needed. I know for sure I got that.

Monday, January 15, 2007


The first sentence of my next novel:

"I'm in bacon heaven," JP said to The Admiral that rainy Sunday morning.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Always Teaching

Conversation with JP last night regarding the 'S' in conduct he brought home from school.

Me: Why did you get an S?
JP: Acting bad in Spanish.
Me: What did you do?
JP: We were acting crazy.
Me: Loco.
JP: What?
Me: Loco. It's how you say 'crazy' in Spanish.
JP: Oh.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007


Allow me to give you a glimpse into an evening at Castilo Urf!. This evening I played the game Mousetrap with three of The Quartet. I haven't played Mousetrap probably since I was C's age, about 27 years ago, but he just got it for his birthday so it is currently the game of the hour. I don't think it's changed much since I was a boy, though my version may have been made of metal and asbestos instead of the safer, rounded plastics of today.

One does not need to be an architect or engineer to build the structure in Mousetrap, which is good because not one of my kids is even close to it. They're closer, in fact, to the vermin that are the game's namesake. I'm mean, you say? Uncaring? Cruel, even? Perhaps. But you didn't just spend an hour watching the blind lead the blind through an activity geared towards "Ages two and up."

Other highlights of the evening included a very inappropriate episode of How I Met Your Mother that we let the kids watch, and me recalling the album Dead Letter Office, which I do not currently own, by R.E.M., which led to a rendition of "King of the Road" by Kristy and me. GK threw up what Kristy called "real puke" all over her pajamas and JP spontaneously combusted every time he added a piece to the trap with "I'm a genius!" I don't recall Mousetrap being such a noisy game when Elizabeth, Katherine and I played as kids. But then, I also don't recall sitting around with my parents watching sitcoms about teenagers losing their virginity, or having them sing really bad versions of Roger Miller tunes either, thankfully.

So this was an evening in my home, and it's only Monday. Come by tomorrow night when we may play Battleship, and possibly with real explosives, if we can figure out where JP, the genius, hid them.

[Thanks to S.A.M. for the use of her old computer while my Apple is in for service. This isn't an Apple. I think it may be Texas Instruments. In fact, I may be attempting to post this on the interweb right now using an oversized calculator. Nevertheless, I appreciate the loaner. Grazie!]

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Rotten Apple

I write what you read here on an Apple iBook G4, and she's acting very sketchy the past two days so I'm taking her out to the Apple Store to see what they might know. However, if they elect to keep her, to go in for some sort of invasive process, then you may not hear from me for anywhere from a couple of days to several weeks, such is the nature of the "Genius" Bar.

I'll be back as soon as possible. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

A Trivial Pursuit

I have a good friend who attends Trivia Night at the P&H Cafe every Tuesday. She's been trying to get me to go for some time, but with all these kids I'm not allowed to have fun very busy with other priorities. But this morning, as she told me about last night's bout and how her team fared, I realized that I travel everywhere with my own team of six. So I'm considering entering Team Urf! on an upcoming Tuesday. Here are the categories we'll truly dominate in, should these categories even exist:

  • Literature
  • The Simpsons
  • Dictators of the World
  • Bacon
  • Armchair sailing
  • Poop

The entry fee may still be a sticking point, though. This blog currently makes no money whatsoever for this family and we're a little strapped after Christmas, but I have no worries that we will dominate in our fields and, thus, the entire tournament. The winnings should cover the entry fee, most of Kristy's draft beer consumption and The Quartet's affinity for quarter pool and shots.

So let this be a warning to all of you trivia buffs out there. Team Urf! is on the way - we're knowledgeable, hungry and Kristy, at least, is very, very thirsty.