Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Why We Bother

I feel like I need to expand on my earlier post, Why Bother?, written a week ago and only hours after my business had been broken into, and perhaps answer my own question. Why bother, I wondered, to live in a city with an increasing crime rate and leaders who are impotent to fight it? Why bother to work six days a week for eight years to build a business only to have some piece of crap break into it and take what he likes? Why bother to live within the law when so many seem to have no respect whatsoever for it? These are the questions I had that early morning on only a few hours of sleep. And most of this is still a dilemma for me, let me make that clear. However, since that day, some of those questions have been answered for me. They’ve been answered by friends and family who live in this city, or have lived here. Some of them have been victims of crime recently and are entrepreneurs themselves.

Both S.A.M. and StephChockley, in response to my question, waxed more eloquently than I can on why it is we live where we live. They touched on friends more than anything, friends who have become family. Their posts meant more than many of you realize because they have both been victims of crime recently as well, one in her family’s home and one a victim of armed robbery at her place of business. Yet they are able to see past this all to recount the good in this city and her people. I should take a page from their book, or blog, if these are pages, and look for the positives in my fellow Memphians. But it’s difficult for me. It’s difficult because this was my fifth break-in, because of the garbage I witness harassing the good people downtown every day and because the newspapers are full of the irresponsibility, incompetence and egos of the leaders of our city. But this is where we are. This is where I grew up, bought a business and am raising four children. If I were to suggest to Big Mama tonight that we pack up the kids and our favorite books into the Volvo 740 turbo wagon and move away from here, she would do it, such is her disdain for the city, but we both know that’s not possible. We’re entrenched here … for now. And as long as we’re entrenched, we’re lucky to be so with some really good people, true friends and family.

My other question had to do with owning a small business. Why bother? I heard from an old friend living in Oklahoma who reminded me that she reads about the four reasons why I do the work I do on this very blog all the time. And there’s truth in that. One of the reasons I wanted to own my own business, to be my own boss, was to show my kids that it was possible. That they could make their own way, just as my father-in-law and step-father had shown me. I’m not sure how good a job I’m doing of teaching them, but as long as they don’t have access to the books yet then I’m still the king. When something happens like a break-in, however, I keep it from them because they don’t need to know that things they see on the news or in television shows is happening to their father. And just the fact that some stranger has affected me in such a way that is out of my control, and that I have to keep it from my kids, makes me angry.

Other friends have stepped up, too. One has a blog devoted to the entrepreneurial spirit. He’s a zealot and it is worth a read. S.A.M. owns a couple of businesses, too, and tells me to repeat the word “cubicle” over and over when times become distressing. Even my mother, who called just to talk about the original post – no, wait, she called to talk about The Godfather III – laughed at my considering corporate work, saying I should go to work for Enron.

What stands out to me more than what these people said is that they said it at all, or wrote, or called at all. Friends understood, they sympathized and they empathized. I bother because of all of them. I bother because I owe it to my family to bother. Memphis is our home, we’ve made friends here and we have family here. And this city is ours as much as, if not more, than those who wish to sully it. So we’ll stay here for now with our fellow Memphians and we’ll visit Peabody Park and travel to each others’ houses, we’ll eat pork and go to work and school, and we won’t let the bastards get us down.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Shush! Big Mama's Watching Her Stories

My wife watches two television programs religiously: Heroes and Lost. She’s a big fan of the mystery, the character development and the one-word titles. Tonight Heroes is on and I heard this addressed to The Quartet at 7:59 p.m., “This is my show and anybody who gets on my nerves will be banished from the living room!” I’m not sure how long the banishment lasts, and it’s a somewhat ambiguous threat anyway, so I opted to just stay safely out of there. I would suggest the kids do the same, but I’m not going back in there until nine o’clock.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Un Sacchetto Grande di Crap

There are very few givens in this life. Some of them, however, are the love of a mother, bad things happen in threes, you should always double down on an eleven and The Godfather is the greatest movie ever made. Last weekend, GK and I settled in to watch the marathon that is The Godfather II, which is as exquisite as its predecessor is magnificent, and it gave me the opportunity to teach her that, above all else, you never - ever - go fishing with Al Neri. I have The Trilogy on DVD and some weeks ago we sat up and watched The Godfather. Tonight, we watched The Godfather III and I have to say something that I haven’t admitted to myself up until this night. I’ve seen this movie dozens of times and, as it turns out, it is a big bag of crap. I’ve been in denial over this since it came out because, I believe, I wanted it to be good. It’s Coppola, it’s Puzo, it’s Pacino. How could it be bad? And I’m not saying it’s bad for the one reason most people say it’s bad: Sofia Coppola. She’s bad, but the first choice for Mary Corleone was Madonna. Now that would be bad. And the mere presence on screen of Diane Keaton makes me want to wretch more than the smell of the microwave popcorn GK insisted on eating. So it’s not just one actor that makes this film a big bag of crap, it’s the fact that they tried to remake the original in many ways. And failed miserably. The one saving grace is the way Andy Garcia portrays Vincent Mancini and his rise to power, his transformation into a leader, which was handled adeptly, though a hazy reflection of One. It’s the same thing we saw with a young Michael Corleone in the original, and yet, not. And the whole cast spends time in Sicily, just as Robert DeNiro’s young Vito did in Two, and yet, not. My brother-in-law and I have argued this movie for years, nearly coming to blows (and yet, not) over whether it holds water against the first two, and I’m here tonight to admit that he is right, Three’s water is putrid toilet bowl water. He’s rarely wrong, and this is why he’s my consigliere. My Tom Hagan, though, and not my … whoever the hell George Hamilton played.

I feel somewhat bad for letting GK watch the film tonight. Not for the violence or language or any of that, but because she’s older than she was a few weeks ago when we watched The Godfather, and older than last week when we watched The Godfather II. So I’m afraid this is the only one she’ll remember, and she’ll remember the Corleone family story as being a big bag of crap. It should be okay, though, because another given is that I will be watching the first two films again, probably very soon.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Why Bother?

I believe nature abhors a vacuum but loves irony. I think I have that right. I get a kick out of irony, I know that, whether in fiction or real life. But I don’t care so much for it when it kicks me in the solar plexus. Such is the case tonight, or this morning, whichever it is now. Fresh on the heels of the previous post, Robbin’ & Stealin’, wherein I poke fun at S and a friend’s daughter for stealing things, my business was broken into. Again. This makes five times in roughly seven years. I haven’t written much about what I do, but I own a small retail business in downtown Memphis. I’m sitting here, having spent two hours boarding up a window, picking up merchandise and sweeping up glass. And all I can do now is sit and type and wonder Why Bother? Why try to keep a small business going when there are animals out there? And that’s what they are – animals – a class of citizens in this city that wanders around and simply takes what they like with no regard at all for anyone else. They are no better than a pack of wild, roving animals and should be treated as such. Why bother trying to raise a family in a city that is increasingly becoming a cesspool of crime? Why bother being an entrepreneur at all? Why not work for a corporation and let all of this be someone else’s problem? Let them try to find money in the budget for a new 8-foot window.

Perhaps I’m just tired. I’ve got a full day now, once I go back home to get The Quartet dressed, fed and out the door for school, of cleaning, securing and buying glass. Or perhaps I’m just tired of everything.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Robbin' & Stealin'

After school and work today, Kristy took The Quartet over to some friends’ house (people without blogs, how weird are they?) to play with their kids. It seems that while there, S took a liking to a Sacagawea dollar coin she came across and pocketed it. When Kristy discovered this upon returning home, she took the opportunity to make the distinction between right and wrong to S. This is how she did it: “When we’re at a friends’ house and you see something you like, that doesn’t mean you can just take it. How would you like it if when Miss M came over to your house she just took something of yours that she liked?”

It is a lesson that needs to be taught, and the earlier the better. Stealing is wrong and an egregious invasion of someone else’s personal space. It is disrespectful and impolitic. The coin will be returned to her friend and the point has been made. But now I need my point made. I’m glad this came up tonight, not just to curtail my child’s possible life of crime, but because it finally put out in the open the fact that Miss M has been stealing from me for years. Now, I know S.A.M. just hit the ceiling, or at least sat up straighter in a fit of Nordic anger, but this has to be said. I keep a jar next to the door that I throw loose change into. Occasionally I will take this change to the Kroger to color it up into bills and buy necessities like milk, Ovaltine, Pop-Tarts and new toothbrushes. But Miss M helps herself to this change, her tiny three-year-old hands digging deep for the higher denominations. And it isn’t just change, but cookies (lots of cookies), toys, a TV remote, some tools, a John Coltrane CD, one potted plant, a brand new toothbrush and a handful of Cuban Bolivar coronas. Now, I don’t know if Andria or The Admiral are the ringleaders of this little Gypsy operation, but hopefully this will put an end to it all.

The Sacagawea coin is going back to its rightful owner and S learned her lesson about stealing. Or at least about getting caught, which is another lesson that needs to be learned because if she and Miss M have designs on teaming up then they’ll need some instruction from a master. Someone like Jiro who, I believe, has absconded with my Reservoir Dogs DVD, though I can’t prove that. Yet.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Talking Points

Allow me to pummel the dead horse that is JP’s behavioral issues. I’ve written extensively on the conduct grading system at school: the Es, Ss, Ns and Us, from best to worst. We’ve seen them all with JP and, frankly, we’ve gotten used to the Ss (Satisfactory). Take today, for instance. He came home with yet another S and when I asked him what it was for he said, “Talking in the hall.” Now, The Quartet’s propensity for talk is woven into their DNA, and asking them not to talk would be like asking them not to be short or tall, or telling them not to have brown hair or blond, or not to watch TV. So we’ve become used to the fact that he’s going to talk, and his teachers may need to get used to that fact, too.

When he was younger (he’s five now), he was quiet. For a short period of time between when he started talking and when he started talking a lot, he was a quiet boy. Just like me, he was an observer. But then he reached a certain age, or height or temperature or whatever, and he began talking and babbling and whoop!ing, and he hasn’t let up. Apparently he doesn’t let up in school either and that is what has attributed to this torrent of daily letters. I wish I could tell you what it is he talks about but I’ve become adept at blocking out the voices until I hear, “Ow! My head … !” or “The baby … and … duct tape from the ceiling fan … to the fuse box!” Other than that I’m pretty sure it’s all talk of Scooby-Doo, Pop-Tarts, fart jokes and something or other they need from their mother. And it’s all. the. time.

I shouldn’t joke, I know that. Just as there are children in China without Brussels sprouts, there are kids in China who can’t speak English. So my kids need to make sure to eat enough for all the hungry kids of the world, and to speak enough English for all those who can’t, or won’t, or just care enough about their fathers to give them a little bit of quiet every now and then.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Around The House

A few images from around the house this past week.

S and me dancing in the kitchen.

C working on his Dizzy Gillespie report at my desk. He worked on this for a week, though he missed the deadline due to a fake illness and a real illness. This project caused so much stress in this house that I never thought I'd be so sick of hearing about Dizzy.

JP wearing a cape and eating some pizza.

GK's favorite thing is to be held and for the person doing the holding to be standing up, so that's what she and I are doing here.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Sans Monkeys

Three months ago Kristy and I went out with our friends and without any children. We just got around to doing it again last night because it takes that long to plan one of these outings. We all have to coordinate sitters during weekend nights when no one else has plans, or is out of town, or has to work, and it all becomes a really big headache. You start to wonder if it’s even worth it. But it was. It was because there were no children. And that’s really why we have children, to get away from the children. The children Kristy and I left last night happened to be sick, too. At least two of them were. Yet we went anyway because that’s the kind of commitment we have to getting away from our kids.

As of late afternoon Friday the plan was to eat sushi out east, but with a flurry of last-minute E-mails this was changed to Midtown Northern Italian at our favorite restaurant, Bari. Phone calls yesterday confirmed that Bari was booked, so other plans were hastily arranged by people other than me, and we ended up at Marena’s for some Exquisite Dining (it says so on their menu). We all met up early for a drink at Fresh Slices, which has no bar to speak of and I’d like to apologize now to the couple trying to eat their dinner seated at the two-top so close to where we were all huddled up with our beers. We walked down to Marena’s and found two delightful little Mediterranean decorated rooms, dim lighting, and service that was so bad it became laughable. Laughable for seven of the eight of us anyway. We talked a bit about the kids we left behind and laughed at their expense because that’s another reason we have kids (incidentally, the third reason to have kids is so you have someone to take over the crime syndicate some day, because you should never trust anyone outside the family). Other conversation revolved around how electric cars, Ed Begley Jr. and Al Gore could save this very planet, college fundraising, religion or the lack of, the tastiness of baby animals, booze, weddings and other nuggets that will never make it into this blog.

Despite the last-minute scrambling for a location and the truly bad service, it was a wonderful evening full of good food, wine, talk and friends. I’m looking forward to sometime in May when we can possibly do this again. We really should start thinking about it now, though, so we can get that ball rolling five hours before we’re to meet.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

I'm Too Busy To Write This Post

What is the most boring topic to read about on someone’s blog? Why the author believes everyone should vote for Barack Obama in November … of next year.

What is the second most boring topic to read about on someone’s blog? Anything at all to do with Anna Nicole Smith.

Okay, but what would be the third thing? Why the author of that blog hasn’t been posting lately. And that’s what I’m doing tonight. I’m writing the third most boring blog entry.

I’ve been working on another writing project lately and it’s sapping my energy. When I sit down at my desk to write, I know I can either work on Urf! or I can work on the other thing. And lately the other thing has been consuming me. How much energy could it take to write a blog post you ask? Well, not much, really. Hardly any. It took more energy, in fact, to come up with the excuse. And I wasn’t even going to tell you the excuse but then I got a very nice E-mail from Cousin P in D.C. who writes to say he reads this very blog and enjoys it. Hey, Cousin P!

So I’m writing this for him. And for the other two of you who read this to let you know I’m still here, just busy with other stuff. Urf! is still around and The Quartet is doing well. We’re plodding along through February and thinking of warm weather so we can get out and stretch our legs and separate from each other for a bit. Or for two bits; we’re really on each others’ nerves.

Please keep reading and keep in contact and maybe, just maybe, I’ll tell you one day what that other project is. (Hint: It’s not the Tesla coil. Not yet, anyway.)

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life

This post is about movies, television and one night of peace. Tonight marks a milestone in Team Urf!’s social evolution. Tonight was the inaugural flight of Midtown Movie Night, where two families with five kids would attempt the unthinkable. We gathered at Casa de S.A.M. for a feast from Fresh Slices, homemade ice cream and a showing of Minnesota native Andria’s own Garrison Keillor in A Prarie Home Companion. And it went off without a hitch. Really. We made it through the entire movie and heard almost all of the dialogue, finishing with a good grasp of the plot if not of why so many people would star in a public radio variety program. Keep in mind, too, that this is a Robert Altman film, a man who, before his death, had carte blanche to make a nine hour film if he felt like it. I questioned the choice of movie, not because I didn’t want to see it, but because I knew it would be dialogue-heavy, and who would have thought that we’d be able to hear anything being said with all these … well, with Miss M and S in the house? I thought, perhaps, a Jason Statham film would make more sense, something where the only thing that had to be understood was whose ass was getting kicked at any given moment. But I was proven wrong, and because of that I want to thank The Quartet and Miss M for being quiet. That’s all, just being quiet for a couple of hours so adults could sit, stare at the television and laugh with each other. When you have kids, it’s the little things you have to be grateful for.

In other television news, I’d like to announce C’s sudden appreciation, thanks to PBS, of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Have you ever watched a nine-year-old laughing at 38-year-old British comedy? It is truly something to behold.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Watch Your Step

There are only two girls I dance with now. My girls. I have a boozy memory of dancing with my wife at my sister’s wedding five years ago. And then I’m pretty sure we slow danced more recently, but I think that’s where The GK Surprise came from. She has tried, begged, in recent years to get me to take swing dance lessons with her, something I assure all of you will never happen. I used to dance in high school until I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror and that was the end of that. This was around 1986 or ‘87, so you can just imagine. So now my dancing is limited to my daughters, in our kitchen, which I did tonight while Kristy was at the gym. These girls don’t care that I have no rhythm or three left feet or one leg that is partially numb below the knee. All they know is that the music is loud and their daddy is bouncing around like an idiot. Or, on the slower tunes, moving imperceptibly from side to side like an idiot.

I have no doubt that when my daughters pass the age of 42 and elope to get married, saving me loads of money, that I will dance with them when they get back to celebrate their nuptials and the money they have saved me. But should any of you happen by our house before then and peek in the kitchen window to find me in the middle of an epileptic seizure (fast dancing), or doing some sort of mentally impaired box step (slow dancing), then please don’t laugh, I’m only trying to impress my daughters while I still have the chance.

And because everyone loves music and a good list, here is what we danced to this evening. Make your own mix tape if you like and join us from wherever you are:

Watch Your Step Elvis Costello
The ‘In’ Crowd Ramsey Lewis
Pale Blue Eyes The Velvet Underground
Less Than Zero Elvis Costello
Sabotage Beastie Boys
Star Dust Hoagy Carmichael
Rock And Roll The Velvet Underground
Alison Elvis Costello
Sing It Way Down Low Hoagy Carmichael

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Be Bop

Charlie Parker played Be Bop.
Charlie Parker played saxaphone.
The music sounded like Be Bop.
Never leave your cat alone.

A couple of nights ago I was reading to the kids at bedtime and one of them had chosen one of our old favorites, Charlie Parker Played Be Bop by Chris Raschka. It’s a delightful little book about Bird (though they don’t even refer to him as “Bird” which you would think would be perfect for a children’s book. No mention of heroin use, either) and the sound he helped create. The kids were refreshingly excited about Parker and Be Bop. So much so that I told them that I would play them a Parker CD the next night. This drove them into a frenzy, which is just what I was looking for at bedtime. The next night they actually reminded me about the CD. I pulled out Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie - Diz ‘N Bird at Carnegie Hall. C knows of Dizzy from The Cosby Show, of all places, from his guest appearance on that show some 15 years before C was even born. I cued it up to “Confirmation,” which then went into “Koko,” both Parker compositions and two great performances. The kids made it through the first few bars before leaving the room for the safety and familiarity of the television and all it has to offer. My work here is not even close to done.

Be Bop.
Fisk, fisk.
Boomba, boomba.
Bus stop.
Boppitty, bippitty, bop.