Stop. Thief.

On Sunday, I arrived in Vienna from Brno with one bar of mobile phone charge, met wife and kid at other kid’s apartment and went to the Donauinselfest at the Donauinsel, a long, artificial island in the Danube that protects Vienna from flooding and serves as a recreational area and, this weekend, free music festival; we walked from one end to the other, which was surprisingly exhausting in the hot sun, especially if you were tired to begin with or, as the kid said, ‘restfett’ (Austrian teen slang for residually alcoholized), as the hot sun beat down and we laughed at the bands and each other. Then I left for home because I had work to do, on a Sunday, and the kid was meeting friends and this is where our ways parted, as my wife was leaving on a business trip the following day, although the actual parting was tougher than we had imagined, as the festival was crowded, as usual, and the kid was supposed to be meeting people, but had lost her phone so was using ours to communicate via facebook, and no one was showing up, and although we didn’t want to helicopter we also didn’t want to throw her to the wolves so we hemmed and hawwed and peeked around corners¬† and so on until my wife gave up and sat with our daughter until her friends arrived, there in the crowd, and I drifted homewards, trying not to fall asleep on the subway and miss a stop.

Eventually I arrived at Vienna’s Westbahnhof (train station), more crowded on a Sunday evening than I had expected, and riding a crowded, long escalator up to the main floor from the subway level below, heard a distant

“stop. thief.”

It was the first time I had heard such a thing, and it did not sound the way I had expected it would sound. The speaker did not sound very excited, and with the ambient noise and my own tinnitus I talked myself out of thinking that I had really heard it.

But then a guy ran past, up the escalator, into the main hall of the train station. I suffered yet another brief spell of disorientation as I wondered whether I really had heard “stop, thief” after all and if so whether that was the thief or the other party. The runner was a middle-aged man, thin, grey hair, denim jeans, sneakers and a denim jacket. He glanced over his shoulders once or twice, though, and otherwise watched the floor in front of him; he also ran bent-over and seemed to be hiding something under his jacket; all in all he ran the way one might imagine a thief would run and not the person trying to catch the thief, but I still wasn’t sure.

I was, in fact, deep in the throes of skepticism.

Imagine, there you are in a crowd, yelling “stop, thief” and all the bystanders suffer existential crises, going, “is any of this even real?”

Then the second guy, the one yelling, ran up the escalator too, finally. He was younger, and larger and looked as if he would catch the guy pronto, except for the fact that he ran like he yelled, without passion.

He was running really slowly.

But so was the first guy.

When I finally reached the top of the escalator, I got off and followed them at a normal, strolling pace, and they weren’t really vanishing quickly or anything. They were sort of jogging along the sidewalk towards the street, the one in front skulking and the one in back not catching up.

I asked myself all sorts of things. Should I have grabbed the first guy? I couldn’t have grabbed him, as I had not yet realized what was going on at the time he passed me. Even had I been sure I had heard ‘stop thief’, how was I supposed to know he was the thief? You can’t just grab anyone when you hear ‘stop. thief.’, it has to be the right person.

Should I have chased him? Even if that weren’t to give me a heart attack, and assuming I actually manage to catch him somehow, then what? Punish him? Teach him a lesson? Hold him until the police come? Hand him over to the guy chasing him? Show compassion and let him go with a warning?

Then I said the hell with it and got on my train. Now I’m wondering if it were some sort of psychological study, or a candid-camera type thing, due to the unexpected way the two were acting, how slowly they ran. And I’m also wondering if wondering those things is just a defense mechanism so I don’t feel bad about having done nothing. When you pick pockets in train stations and run away, or when you chase pickpockets, how do you run?

Father’s Day Tips

In which I ramble a bit.

Father’s Day falls a week earlier in Austria than it does in the United States. (For those of you who just tuned in, I am an American living in Austria.) One consequence of this is that I generally wished my father a happy Father’s Day a week early back when he was alive, and sometimes forgot to call him a week later. At least I called him, I guess.

Another consequence of this is that I can try things out and report the results of my experiments in time for fathers in the United States to benefit from my research.

My experiment this year was going to see a movie with my daughters.

We went to see “The Evil Dead.”

Going to a movie is not a bad Father’s Day activity. You have something to talk about afterwards, if you need anything to talk about. Generally, we have lots to talk about anyway, but it never hurts. It’s also not prohibitively expensive and so on. I will talk more about the pros and cons of movies in general, and especially this movie in particular, in a minute.

I started Father’s Day in a relaxed mood. My wife is away on business and the girls both spent the night in Vienna, leaving me alone with the pets. I fed the pets and ate and did yoga and meditated and did housework and finally called the girls around 11 and one was too busy to come out and the other one was still off the grid. I was incredibly disappointed that they did not instantly show up without prior discussion. I was shocked at the depth of my disappointment.

I finally reached the second kid too and we arranged to go to the movies in the evening. I ate some of the chili I had cooked for a Father’s Day lunch and went for a walk and wondered how, exactly, I was feeling and why. I took a camera with me (the Polaroid) and took a few pictures and Polaroids always look great and that cheered me up. So did walking in the sun.

I decided to stop being upset (hurt, angry, frustrated, insulted, whatever). It wasn’t anyone’s fault, or if it was, it was my fault. Here’s a Father’s Day tip: if you want to spend the day with your kids, tell them in advance. Otherwise they might be busy with other, totally legitimate things.

I was reading a book, which I shall not mention here by name because I don’t like to diss authors. This was sort of self-helpy/philosophical and was based on a great idea (had a great title) about things dying people regret. This is a great idea for a book, and so I bought it, at a bookstore, looking through it only minimally prior to purchase and not checking reviews first.

Another Father’s Day tip: always check the goodreads reviews!

This book had five brief chapters (practically blog entries, which is what the book started out as I gather) making up about 10% of the book; the rest was memoirs about the author’s (to the average reader) unremarkable life and made her sound (to me) flakey.

But she did mention something about there being two basic motivations, love and fear, and I thought about this out walking by the creek. I don’t know if it is a valid thing to say, but it made sense to me, fear being my main motivation most of the time. Not with my kids – usually love is my motivator there, but I think all my disappointment was more grounded in fear and I decided to reject that and stop being passive-aggressive on Father’s Day and concentrate on love etc etc.

I got home in a good mood, and had three nice polaroids (creek, railroad bridge/creek, tree/sky).

That evening we went to the movies.

Father’s Day tip: movies are okay, but probably not The Evil Dead.

I mean, the movie choice had its pros and cons. Major con: it starts out with a father killing his demon-possessed daughter with a sawed-off shotgun and fire in a shack cellar full of dead cats.

Starts off. And goes downhill from there.

Pros: plenty to talk about afterwards.

Possible discussion topics:

  • Proper choice of Father’s Day films, and who should do the choosing.
  • The creolization of evil (one of my daughters is an anthropologist); in the case of this film, the Evul Book was apparently written in a mixture of runes and Latin, with Celtic-sounding demons
  • The sources of horror (in this movie, sexual horror, xenophobia (see book), family (duh), nature, etc)
  • Chekhov’s pistol (Gamma and I have been talking about this and applying it to whatever we watch – ‘Look! Chekhov’s shovel,’ I said, when we were watching a crime show, and sure enough, the bad guy beaned an investigator with the spade 1 minute later). The Evil Dead had a Chekhov’s nail gun, electric carving knife, shotgun, machete, rotten stairs, etc.
  • Plot holes (nail guns, for example, have safety features – you can’t just shoot them like automatic weapons. Or: who would ever actually stay in a cabin that nasty in woods that creepy? Etc., etc., and etc.)
  • Whether binary systems such as love vs fear as motivators are legitimate or shallow, etc.

Despite these pros, I would choose a different movie if I could do it over, or just go for a walk with them, or out to dinner.

We had a nice time, though, once one subtracts the actual movie from the equation. I am a very fortunate father, to  have kids such as I do. I love them both, equally, and am proud of them both although I generally try not to be proud of anything. I enjoy being around them, they are great arguers, and smart, and funny and entirely different from each other but both awesome.

It being Father’s Day, another thing I thought about on my walk was my fathering strategy and whether that was good, and if I was a good father. That’s really hard to say. My kids are still both in one piece (each) and doing well. Personally, I think I should be more involved with them and their lives, although freedom and space is also a good thing. At any rate, they’re turning out well so far. Hard to say if I can take any credit for that.

Ah, retrospection.

Personal blogging seems to be dying (stick with me, this is still on topic). I used to blame facebook and all the other social media distractions and other options besides blogging, but now I think this is more of an evolution, changing it into something else and not ‘killing’ blogging.

What is going to kill personal blogging is the fact that the cute little kids who did the cute, funny little things we blogged about ten years ago are sixteen now and reading what we wrote back then.

When we got home from the movie, we went for another walk by the creek to sort of get our minds off demonic possession etc. and Gamma said to her sister, “You know what dad wrote about me on his blog?”

It involved ballet class and farting.

Oh, well.

For years now, I have resisted blogging about my family, usually, to respect their privacy.



You do what you can, I guess.

In Japan, near Tokyo there is a bay called Tokyo Bay. Land was reclaimed in Tokyo Bay and houses were built on it. At the end of one street is a small playground and in the playground is a blue slide, or was, 23 years ago. As if it were yesterday, I remember standing at the base of the slide’s ladder while Beta, a tiny toddler in Osh Kosh B’Gosh overalls, scaled the ladder, teetered dangerously at the top of the slide for a few seconds, then slid the fuck down.

While she climbed the ladder with total concentration, I stood there ready to catch her. (Maybe I have written about this before, it sounds familiar). Then I remained there while she teetered, and rushed around to the bottom of the slide to catch her before she hit the ground.

She was doing her thing, and I was terrified and trying not to show it. Love and fear again, I guess, as long as you live. Playground slides turn into harp festivals in Edinburgh, foreign exchange programs in France, skydiving in New Zealand, paragliding in Nepal, solo trips through India, study in Norway, and so on.

And look at her now: on Friday, she received her Master’s degree in law, and intends to study further (thank god for affordable European education). I try not to be proud, but I am proud, and I am bragging, and there is nothing more reprehensible than that, but that is what personal blogs are for. I used to think they were for undermining the neoliberal patriarchy, but I guess not.

Main Father’s Day tip: love your kids and do your best to be a good father.

Careers in Science: Batology

Comparatively few sciences start with the letter ‘B'; batology is one.

The batologist, he’s been sleeping half an hour longer lately than he used to, and would theoretically be feeling less addled and horrible except that he’s been staying up an hour longer at night for various reasons.

Eventually the pendulum will swing the other way.

The batologist is walking by the creek.

Everything is super green, except the water, which swirls muddy brown because it is flooding; and the ducks, which are all the colors of the duck rainbow.

Flooding, thinks the batologist. Humankind, when you gonna get your act together?

Just a little while ago, the batologist would have said, You can answer that question if you’re a pessimist.

Only a little while, but now he thinks, who knows? People, being an outcropping of the universe, have the same capacity to be surprising and wondrous as any other part of the universe.

The batologist could stand here all day, looking at all the green. But the waters are rising, so he heads home.

The optimist and the pessimist

Woman: Go empty the bucket under the drip in the cellar. It’s half full already.

Man: Okay. [Goes to cellar, gets distracted doing something else, forgets bucket.]


Woman: Did you empty the bucket?

Man: Oh. [Goes into cellar, looks at bucket, which has a centimeter of water at the bottom, goes back upstairs.]

Woman: And?

Man: It was nearly empty.

Woman: I thought it was half full.

Man: You always do.