Tomatoes

Beta: Did Gamma bring you guys any of the dried tomatoes I made?
Dad: Spicy little guys!
Beta: That would be the dried jalapenos.

Deprivation, isolation, floating

What say the slain?
One day, months ago, during a brief respite from political ranting during a drive into town with Gamma, we listened to a radio program about a sensory deprivation / isolation / floating tank business in Vienna.
“I’ve always wanted to try that,” I said.
Gamma filed that information away neatly and guess what my daughters gave me for Father’s Day?
This is how I found myself sitting on a shady bench in a Vienna cemetery yesterday evening. I was early for my appointment at the Sargfabrik, an apartment complex in Vienna with a theater instead of a parking garage, and down in the cellar a room with a floatation tank.
Floatation (or floating? not sure) tank is what used to be called an isolation tank, and before that sensory deprivation tank.
I prefer sensory deprivation tank, but understand one must market the things.
Like I was saying, I was early as always and took a walk around the neighborhood and disliked the park (too sunny, for one thing, and generally unlikeable, at least yesterday evening, for me, at that spot) so I continued onward and found the cemetery next door and went in and found a shady bench and watched the gravediggers work, and read the dates on the headstones, as one does.
Then I thought, Ah! Cemetery – Sargfabrik, I get it!
I guess the Sargfabrik used to be an actual coffin factory until it was converted into housing.
Then I texted the floating tank guy that I was already in the neighborhood, in case I could get in early, and I did and there I sat, no longer in the cemetery, in the cellar, in a dimly lit, cool room, being orientated.
Epilepsy? he said. Claustrophobia?
Nah, I said.
Goals? Hopes? he said.
Curiosity, I said. Father’s Day.
He looked a little disappointed, (but I might have been making that up, there in the dim light) so I added, maybe get an insight into this deep sadness I lug around all the time that is kinda the mortar holding my world together? Or into this yapping I have been doing with my wife?
Okay, he said. I dunno, he didn’t look real relieved so maybe it really was the dim light after all.
He said he’d knock on the outside of the tank when my time was up, and left.
I took a shower and got into the tank and shut the lid.
I spent a long time getting comfortable which is weird because what could be more comfortable than floating naked in a shallow tub of super dense saltwater in the dark?
But such is life.
I floated there in the dark listening to something hum. Something was fucking humming! What kind of sensory deprivation is this? Maybe it was the ventilation.
More of a buzz than a hum. And not loud, but still.
It wasn’t me.
Then either I got used to it or it stopped.
I listened to my breathing for a while, and to my heartbeat.
After a long, tiring day, I was surprised I did not fall asleep, or even get sleepy. After lunch I had been nodding off at my desk.
I sort of meditated for a while. I hummed a little. My mind was pretty blank a lot of the time.
At some point I woke up, or regained consciousness, or something. So I was out for a while, in one way or another.
Toward the end, trying out different ways of holding my head and comparing relative comfort, I got salt water in both eyes and was really glad the orientator had showed me where the kleenexes were in case that happened. I opened the hatch and wiped out my eyes and closed the lid again and eventually the stinging stopped.
One’s ears are submerged in the tank, so sounds are muffled.
I lay there listening to my heartbeat.
Thump-thump-thump! Then after three thumps it stopped again. Weird, I thought. I tried various positions to hear my heartbeat clearly again like that. Then I did, I heard it again. Thump-thump-thump.
After doing this a few more times I realized it was the guy knocking on the outside of the tank that my time was up.
He went away again and I lay there for a minute, thinking, Well that was an anticlimax.
No jumping out of the tank and running around like a caveman like William Hurt in Altered States. No hallucinations, no epiphanies.
It didn’t even seem all that different from my normal, daily life, I thought.
Then I thought, my normal, daily life is like an isolation tank.
Then I thought, there’s an epiphany for you after all.

Small world

Beta works at a government ministry in Vienna. Yesterday she told me her boss told her another staff member at the ministry took a picture of our tortoise, which had escaped, and was, I guess, on a sidewalk here in our village, and posted the picture to Facebook prior to secretly returning the tortoise to its flowerbed.

I guess that’s why he is a boss at a ministry, guy knows EVERYTHING.

Also, the staff member is KEVIN BACON.

Or something.

Edgar Allan Poe and The Season of the Tortoise Dish

Edgar Allan Poe wakes from fitful sleep his eyes burning and swollen. He looks at the alarm clock but can’t focus his eyes and can’t find his glasses. He dresses and goes downstairs and looks at the clock in the kitchen which says two in the morning. Upstairs his wife is coughing. He looks for laudanum but they’re all out of laudanum.

A red cat rubs up against his pantleg, covering it with hair. Edgar Allan Poe opens the door and lets out the cat.  In accordance with the Law of Preservation of Red Cats, the other red cat comes in and demands food. Edgar Allan Poe goes back into the kitchen to get cat food because even though it’s too early if he gives the cat food it might let him sleep. If he doesn’t, it won’t.

In the kitchen, he steps into the tortoise dish.

These are the facts of the tortoise dish: it is too warm for the tortoise to hibernate, but too cold for the tortoise to spend all day outside. So the tortoise lives in the kitchen. That’s why there is a tortoise dish in the kitchen. The tortoise dish is full of water. The tortoise drinks from the dish, and walks through it before having a bowel movement.

Of the three nasty things you can do with the tortoise dish, stepping into it turns out to be the least nasty, as it spills the least water. The second-worst is to kick it by accident, which spills more water. The worst is to step on the side, which flips it over and empties it out, throwing algae-and-worse-filled-water a long distance.

Edgar Allan Poe goes back to bed, but the cat he let out is meowing so he lets it back in.

In this manner, he fails to fall back to sleep.

His alarm goes off at 4.30. He gets up, feeds the cats, eats breakfast, makes a cup of coffee and his wife asks him to take out the garbage.

He goes around the house gathering  the residual waste from all the half-filled garbage cans into a single garbage can. When he empties out the bathroom garbage can, something remains stuck to the rim of the bin. He looks closer. It is a sanitary napkin.

He sighs, and reaches to take it, but his wife is walking past and plucks it off and drops it into the other garbage can.

Edgar Allan Poe gathers residual waste from the rest of the bins in the house. He goes outside and empties it all into the large garbage can. The sanitary napkin is stuck to the rim of the small garbage can again. Edgar Allan Poe says, It’s the Tell-Tale Sanitary Napkin, or something. He plucks it off, and throws it away and returns to the house.

He opens the cabinet to get cat treats to lure a cat out of the living room, and kicks the tortoise dish.

Edgar Allan Poe drives his daughter to town on his way to work.

It’s beautiful isn’t it, he says. The weather. Like a new season. Too warm to be winter, too crisp in the mornings to be summer. They should invent a new season.

Dad, dad, dad, says his daughter.

My biggest parenting regret

So, those of you with kids: how’s the parenting working out?

A Huffington Post article a friend (Zeynep) linked on facebook a while ago got me thinking about parenting.

Also someone was asking for tips on metafilter.com.

Parenting tips.

As if there were such a thing.

I have no parenting advice to give. I am a terrible parent. My kids are wonderful people despite my best efforts.

You try real hard, to do what is good and avoid doing what is not good, and it turns out by trying so hard to do what is good you end up doing something different that is bad that you didn’t see coming.

The HP article linked above got me thinking about hurrying my kids, though, which I really wish  I had done less of. I wish I had not done it at all.

I was this guy, with two jobs, and when Beta was little I had to get her to day care, get my father-in-law to work, then get to my own job, all on time. So I was always in a hurry and got in the habit of telling Beta to hurry up. We later moved and got different jobs and she could walk to school, but the habit stuck. The habit of being overwhelmed by external circumstances, I guess.

I wish I had just said, fuck you, external circumstances. I wish a lot of things. But I wish I had not hurried my kids, or my wife, or myself.

On the other hand, I have no  evidence that I ever did any damage by hurrying people. Still, though.

Ah, who knows?

We have all the time in the world.

There is a word for it

Definition: the emotion a parent feels when their 16-year old daughter returns home from a weekend at a boy-laden rock festival in a city three hours away, happy, thorn-scratched, sunburnt, exhausted, hungry, filthy, robbed of sleeping bag and backpack (including contents) but not purse(+more important contents such as phone, ID, money, etc), long hair wild and glamorous and full of twigs, a goofy smile on her face and glad to be home.

Relief might be the word.

Or gratitude. Thanks for watching out for my kid, universe! And for the dozens of stories you gave her!

As others have said, this is the deal. If you do a good job, they leave. If you do a really good job, they come back. Now and then, at least.

Her sister’s still in the States. She’ll come back too, eventually. I hope.

We have her cat.

Her early-rising cat.

It’s fence-painting season. It’s Gamma’s summer job this year. I keep forgetting to tell her the Tom Sawyer story, but it’s just as well, I can’t imagine any other kids doing as good a job as she does.

Meanwhile, I found myself in a cloud of mosquitos yesterday evening trying to get the pool set up, because my wife wants her pool set up, and also it would be nice if Gamma could jump in when she gets hot out painting the fence.

Definition: the period of time in which a person forgets how the hoses connecting the pool to the filter and pump are connected; equivalent to the time from the end of pool season one year to the beginning of the next pool season the following year.

Imagine me standing there in a tie-dyed T-shirt and old running shorts, slapping mosquitos, staring at the pump, then the pool, then the hose in my hand, trying to grok the nature of this set-up. Eventually I do, of course, I am actually not bad at this sort of stuff, but this is where the fun part begins.

The pool is almost full, just a few more inches to the inlet/outlet holes. I turn on the hose, do stuff around the house, write myself a postit note to turn off the hose before I leave, and go to work. At lunchtime I call Gamma and tell her to turn off the hose and ask her if anything is flooding or leaking.

Flooding no, leaking yes, she says.

When I get home in the evening, I change back into my pool assembly clothes and reality morphs into a version of the cake factory episode of I Love Lucy only instead of cakes moving ever faster down a conveyor belt, I find ever more new leaks. I replace a leaking hose with a new one. I tape up another hose, but I can’t find duct tape and the packing tape I use does not stop the leak and looks decidedly white trashy so I cut more fresh hose but before I can take off the old hose I have to drain the pool below the outlet, so I get a pump  into the pool and water the garden.

All of this is done, by the way, with Beta’s cat walking in a figure eight around and between my feet.

I also tighten every screw on the pump and filter that can be tightened, and that stops a lot of the leaks too. Ditto the screws on the leaking skimmer thing on the pool.

Yes, then the water is down and the new hose goes on and the pool gets filled back up and I’m done.

Kind of wet, and covered in mosquito bites, but done. As happy and relieved as a girl arriving home from a pop music festival.

Goodnight, wheels of commerce

This is the girl. Her name is Beta.

Actually she is a woman.

She is studying law and anthropology.

Can you say anthropology?

She specializes in state terror, torture, genocide and human rights.

Beta needs trail mix. She calls her dad.

This is Beta’s dad. His name is Mig.

“Sure, I will get you trail mix,” says Mig.

“Please get the special kind,” says Beta.

“Of course,” says Mig.

This is the special trail mix.

But when Mig goes to the store, they are all out of special trail mix.

What does Mig do?

Mig buys regular trail mix. He buys “Caribbean dried fruit.” He buys fair trade organic raisins covered in fair trade organic dark chocolate.

“These will be ingredients for a superior gourmet trail mix,” Mig says.

This is fair trade organic dark chocolate.

Mig can’t call Beta because someone stole her phone.

Mig sends Beta an email and messages her on facebook.

Mig tells Beta to meet him at the subway station after work.

Mig takes the ingredients for special gourmet trail mix to the subway station.

Beta is waiting for him.

A man is talking to Beta when Mig arrives. The man is a wino.

“Hurgahurga bzzt grar,” says the wino.

This is the wino.

Beta smiles nicely at him.

Beta looks relieved when she sees her dad, Mig.

“Hi,” says Mig.

“Hi,” says Beta.

“Here are ingredients for super delicious special gourmet trail mix,” says Mig.

Beta says, “thank you.”

The African man selling the homeless newspaper says, “hi!”

This is the African man selling the homeless newspaper.

He also says, “do you know how long she has been waiting? I have been watching over her for 15 minutes!”

He is smiling when he says it. This makes Mig somewhat relieved.

“Actually, more like five minutes,” says Beta. She is also smiling.

Everyone is smiling except for the wino. He is leaning back against the ticket machine watching a swarm of magic moths only he can see.

These are the magic moths.

“Well, thank you for looking out for her,” says Mig to the African man selling homeless newspapers.

Mig buys a newspaper from the man. He gives the man a big tip because their conversation must end soon.

Mig must continue on his way. He is on his way home. Beta must go make super delicious gourmet trail mix. She must study for a law exam. The man must sell more homeless newspapers.

The wheels of commerce turn relentlessly.

These are the wheels of commerce.

Good night, Mig.

Good night, Beta.

Good night African man selling homeless newspapers.

Good night wino watching moths.

Good night, wheels of commerce.