The woman at our local DVD rental place confirms the videos when you check them out, to make sure you’re getting the right ones.
“Jet Li The One, The Demon Hunter, Pegasus Barbie,” she said.
She may as well have shouted, “Alpha’s away on business this week.”
Jet Li was okay. Kind of crappy, but not his fault. Demon Hunter really sucked, now I know what it means when the box quotes Quentin Tarantino (“Great!”). Barbie, there was a bit of a problem dealing with the 3-D glasses, but otherwise it fulfilled all our expectations.
In one scene, Barbie enchants the evil sorcerer with the magic wand of light. Many magic sparkles. Then she rises up into the air, Glenda-like, in a big sphere of more sparkles, which expands and enchants everything.
“Wow, this is really maximum glitter,” I said.
Gamma agreed.

Alpha comes home today, Gamma was away at her grandparents, so Beta and I watched more DVDs last night. We watched a French detective film, both Vincent Cassel and Jean Reno were great in it, we agreed. Then I went to bed and I guess Beta watched Alexander all by herself. I assumed she wanted to see it because of what’s-his-face’s wiener, but she claimed she wanted to see Angelina Jolie.

What I meant to say

About the law of nature thing I mean. I was trying to describe the exact feeling I had, being me, standing there with a passport in each hand.

It wasn’t nostalgia. It was the uncomfortably clear sensation of time passing, irrevocably. Something I normally try to distract myself from perceiving. You know how that goes? You always feel like the same person, unchanged, inside. It’s like one big day, over and over.

The irrevocable passage of time – and I’m not talking about the transience of all things, not precisely – has always crushed me. I can clearly remember the moment I figured it out. I was somewhere, with someone, doing something, back when I was a boy I think.

It was late December 1964, I think. That would make me five. I was in my parent’s room bugging my mother as she made the bed. She said next year would be 1965 and I asked when it would be 1964 again and she said never, that’s it for 1964.

She might have even been relieved. I, on the other hand, threw myself onto the bed she was making and wept for 1964, which I would never see again. She said something soothing, like, Get off the bed, would you, I’m working here.

Linear time has horrified me ever since then. Why can’t it be circular? Even cooler would be spiral time, where if you are good, on the next spiral you automatically have a driver’s license, for example, and don’t have to take the test again. Or you don’t talk to that person at that bar who ended up getting you evicted. Whatever.


Shower’s dripping again, she said.
Feng shui came to his mind. Leaky pipes = chi, or money going down the drain. Literally, when you think about plumber bills. He went to the bathroom to see if there was anything he could do to fix it, without making things worse. He gave the knob a twist. It turned a few degrees and the dripping stopped.
Fixed it, honey, he reported.
How’d you do that? she said.

On an unwritten law of nature

Went down to the consulate to renew my passport. The lines were short and everyone was very polite and friendly. Got a call a few days later that it was ready so I swang by and picked it up before work. Got there early, as always, and stood around in the lobby for a few minutes watching two Austrian employees smoke cigarettes with an Austrian policewoman under the no-smoking sign.

Didn’t look at the passport until I got home that night. First off, there was a typo in my name, which meant I had to go back, get there early, hang around waiting, bump into the nice lady who had processed me earlier, mention it to her, receive her sincere apologies and confession that she had been the one who typed the typo (how rare is that, for someone to be so honest?), say No problem whatsoever ma’am, listen to her offer to take my passport right there, outside the consulate, not even making me wait until it opened, and call me when it was ready, which I did, or she could even mail it to me should she mail it to my work address or my home address, home address I said, and with words of thanks (from me) and reiterated apologies (from her) zoom off to work, getting there on time not even a little late as I had expected.

Second off, I violated the law of nature I had not been aware of until then, which is, if you are over 40 and you get your passport renewed after 10 years? You don’t compare the two pictures? Unless you want to get introspective and retrospective (they have, like, retrospective art exhibits or retrospective film festivals, don’t they? I wonder if they have introspective ones) in a bad way; philosophical and everything in just the time it takes you to stand there, only an instant, 1995 passport in left hand, 2005 passport in your right, comparing hair color, hairstyle, face shape in the two photos, causing (in all cases, or at least mine) a mad rush of melancholy, mortality, megalohepatia, monohybrid monogyny, myrtillocactus geometrizans and monic polynomials, which is bad enough but following hot on their heels you get the memories, or rather the maudlin memorialization of the past ten years, not memories, because you discover that you, on the one hand, have almost no memories about the past ten years on the first go, which makes you feel even older and more senile and on the other hand, with that monumental round number, ten years, which is 3650 days give or take, (3650 X 24) hours, (3650 X 24)60 minutes and so on, a decade in other words, an actual decade with all its symbolism, you know, a decade, you are tempted to take stock, compare, and the symbolic significance of this is where the memorialism part comes from, not remembering but memorializing the time past, the things that have happened, the differences between that guy in the first picture, no sag visible anywhere in his face, presentable from all angles, beginning to go grey but not as grey as you always remembered already being at that age, you, a guy who got his first grey hairs at the age of 7, or 9 or whatever, you always say 7 it makes a bigger impression in conversation but it might be 9, actually very probably is 9 but you’ll keep on saying 7 for stylistic reasons, and the guy in the second picture.

Your wife might see you looking, look herself and say, “your hair is not really that white,” and think that takes care of the matter, but you will catch yourself at those moments that used to be empty, free of thought, like shaving or showering or driving or standing gazing off into the distance or waiting in line or listening to someone talk to you, you will catch yourself comparing what that first guy had or didn’t have with what the second guy has or no longer has. And it will just get too sweet and emotional. Not always in a good way, not all the differences are positive, but actually listing them all would so sink a blog post.

Like, okay, the first guy did not only not have a cello, he didn’t even have the idea of getting one, he was 5 years away from starting cello lessons. He had one daughter, 6 years old and no musical instruments in the house at all. He had two cats. He drove a beater. He hadn’t heard of blogging. The second guy still has the same job as the first guy, still wants to be a writer (which is a sad thing, better to just say the hell with it and write rather than wanting to be a writer, which, to be honest, he is doing, actually so, you know, big improvement there), still has two cats albeit replacement cats for the first two, has two daughters now, several musical instruments none of which he can play with competence but making progress, has had a new car, drove it to death, got another new car with an even better stereo. Things are great, you know? It would get icky if I went into any more detail. Of course, there are a few things the first guy had that the second guy no longer has, like a couple more friends and relatives (actually, the second guy has more friends, I’m just saying that some of the first guy’s died, see), younger, healthy parents, a belief that the U.S. government was above torture, various things like that.

Things aren’t all that bad, as long as you don’t think about the third guy, the guy who’ll be renewing this passport, if he’s lucky.

Just take it day by day. Live in the eternal present.

Continue reading

A guy walks into a bookstore

I am on this diet that makes you stupid. Last time I was on it I swore I’d never do it again because afterwards, you just gain all the weight back, but you stay stupid.
But, eh.
Down 9 pounds so far.
During voluntary starvation, also known as fasting, or dieting, the brain is receptive for, you know, spiritual ideas. I was getting my passport renewed and afterwards stopped by an English bookstore in Vienna to see which books jumped out at me, because sometimes they do. Sometimes you find the best books that way.
This time, it was like walking into the dog pound. They were all over me, yipping and licking my face.
I had to put several back onto the shelf, in the end, because I had so many. Too many. Plus, I couldn’t find any of the ones I wanted to buy for Alpha. The number of books I can get away buying for myself is a function of the number I buy for Alpha and the kids. If the latter number = 0, I can buy a maximum of 2 for myself. And the kids’ books all sucked – nothing against magic, but all the fantasy/magic/pseudopotterish books raised my hackles. We already have the Potter books, and some Narnia books, which the kids don’t really seem to like, and have all the Dahl books we need, so I decided to wait until I’m there with Gamma. No idea what Beta is reading nowadays, or even if she has time to read, she’s so busy with school. So same there, will have to go back there with her someday. And same with my wife, none of the books I wanted to buy for her were in stock, and wasn’t sure about the other ones there. Surely some good ones, but which?
So looks like a family trip to the bookstore someday.
So, 2 books. This spiritual book jumped out at me and although it said it had been recommended by Oprah, I bought it anyway. And Neil Gaiman’s latest, and this other spiritual thriller thing about secretive godlike types saving the world from other evil godlike secretive types. Which made three books, so I put the latter back on the New Releases table because I wasn’t crazy about the flat dialogue I saw leafing through it.
I figured, Beta can read Neil too if she wants.
I finished that first when I got home, but turns out she wasn’t interested. It’s really good, what’s it about, it’s about Ananci’s sons, Ananci the trickster from West African mythology, and they have this problem and um and these adventures and stuff.
Who reads their dad’s books, I guess.
Gamma was more interested in trickster stories. She asked me to tell her some. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much of the Anaci book I could share with her, and turned out I don’t know any trickster stories by heart. And none of the Coyote stories in this book we have were interesting either so I told her I’d have to take a rain check.
The other book, all about living in the now. Not the future, not the past.
In my frame of mind, the perfect book for me. First of all, being has been on my mind lately (which I suppose is ironic), just being, as opposed to worrying or regretting or fearing or feeling guilty and so on.
Which is why the book jumped out at me in the first place.
I tried to share some of its wisdom with Gamma. I figured little kids are pretty much in beginner’s mind all the time, aren’t they? Kids and Zen, perfect match, I thought.
What’s the book about, she said.
Okay when you think, I said, when you think, you’re thinking. And you think that’s you thinking, your mind, you think you’re your mind. But try stepping back and listening to yourself thinking, listening to your mind, observing your mind. So there’s what you thought was you thinking, your mind thinking, then who’s that listening to your mind think? If you’re thinking, who’s listening to you think.
Me, of course.
Then who’s thinking?
Me, too. They’re all me. It’s just one me.
No, but…
But what?
Let me read some more of the book and get back to you.
We played pick-up-sticks after that. And I started reading her “Big Friendly Giant” by Roald Dahl. We’re both enjoying that a lot.
My goal is ten more pounds before Thanksgiving.

The World

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Originally posted January 2004