Climbing update

For the first time in the past 6 months I was neither injured nor sick so I went bouldering with Gamma for the first time in more than 2 months or more – life kind of segued from various joint injuries and deaths and funerals to viruses to the famous eye lens replacement – and we were careful, especially of me, and I stuck to easy routes, and did not fall, and climbed back down instead of jumping, and stopped when the going got weird, and did not hurt myself, and got some good exercise, and Gamma rewarded me with the house pizza and a bottle of Radler (mix of lemonade and beer) and it was real nice hanging out with her.
My body is feeling wiggly right now, but it is nice to feel my body, and to be active again. I really missed it.
She listened politely while I cursed capitalism and the fairy tale of the free market, and while I babbled about Buddhism or rather the quasi-Buddhist quasi-concept of “let all that shit go” which has been on my mind lately, and although I have given up optimism I have also given up pessimism and worrying (theoretically) and this is an interesting vaccuum, for me, although maybe not for other people who are trying to eat their pizza while I talk about it not sure.
Sunday is Father’s Day here in Austria and I plan to go see an action movie with the kids and get something to eat. When Beta was a child we started a tradition of watching B-movies and criticizing them afterwards, listing all the historical, logical etc. errors and omissions (IIRC The Scorpion King with The Rock may have been the first, and I was real mad bc someone spray-painted my brand-new Doblo while we were in the theater), although I have difficulty finding anything to criticize on Abba-Teapot Peabody or whatever her name is although the prosthetic nose on Whatshisname Thorguy will be easy pickings I figure.
That is all.
For now.

Careers in Science: Hymnology

What was I talking about just now? asks the hymnologist.

Ffff, dunno, says his daughter.

Neither one of us is listening to me, he says.

I’m really tired, says his daughter.

Oh, right, slugs, he says.

Right, she says.

I feel better about killing them with beer traps than catching them and salting them on the sidewalk. Because one is murder, and the other one is their choice — hey look, beer! you know?

Right, she says. OTOH they end up dead either way. Although drowning in beer is maybe nicer?

But we’ll never know. Maybe they are paralysed and drown slowly and in great terror, he says.

It is a beautiful morning, with a variegated sky. They discuss meteorology. From there (spurred in part by their previous discussion of the ethics of killing slugs) they discuss human values, the nature of existence, the existence (or non-existence) of god, the relation between atheism and faith and agnosticism, astrophysics and the Big Bang, and economics.

At one point, the hymnologist avers that it makes no difference whether god exists or not because he does not intervene (since what would be the sense in that? If there is a god who creates the universe, it would only make sense if he did not intervene), and his daughter tells him he is an Epicurean.

We should like go to Colorado or Washington State and get high and talk about this stuff, says the hymnologist to his daughter. Once you’re over 21, of course.

They discuss the value of philosophy, and how impoverished a life without art and philosophy and other goofing around is.

Some days they sit in the car and don’t say a word to each other, but some days are like this.


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

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.

In your head, in your head, zombie, zombie, zombie

Mr. Cordyceps was reminded by his wife that a parents’ evening was scheduled at their daughter’s school that same day; she had forwarded to him an e-mail from said daughter’s home-room teacher with the pertinent information, which included room number, time, and an invitation to dine afterwards at a nearby Italian restaurant, which invitation Mr. Cordyceps and his wife had gladly accepted. Immediately after reading the pertinent information contained in the forwarded e-mail, Mr. Cordyceps forgot it again, like an opening scene from some alternate universe anti-matter Mission Impossible episode.

Normally, this social event would have been a source of distress for Mr. Cordyceps, suffering as he does from social anxiety and tinitus, as well as debilitating exhaustion after 6pm. However, the previous day at the airport, he had happened across a self-help book at an airport news agent entitled “Fuck It!” (the book was so titled, not the bookshop), which purported to distill millennia of Eastern wisdom down into that sentence. Mr. Cordyceps decided to experiment and apply that phrase to his daily life, beginning with the decision of whether or not to purchase the book.

His wife turned out not to be thrilled by his surprise reception for her at the airport, so he applied the phrase again. It worked, he was refreshed by the resulting lack of frustration over her dismay.

So when the evening of the school visit approached, he leaned on the phrase hard. There were genuine grounds for worry, many things could go wrong. Their daughter was new at the school, and it was a posh place. The oldest school in town, proud of the quality of the families who sent their children there. Most of the other parents had already known each other for at least four years, they would be newcomers, possibly viewed askance, or at least with skepticism. And there was the matter of his table manners. Mr. Cordyceps had recently observed himself dining and realized that he had the table manners of a starving homo erectus.

The Plain People of Ireland: You just said homo erectus.

Mr. Cordyceps and his wife arranged to both park at a park and ride facility and proceed together to the school, but neglected to arrange a meeting time. As a result there was a slightly tense moment at five pm when his wife called from the park and ride to say that she had arrived and where was he, and he was on the verge of sliding into a dither before putting his new phrase to work. Somewhat calmed, he informed her of her options: she could wait 15 minutes for him to drive there and pick her up, or meet him at the school. Had he parked there, he would have needed 30 minutes to get there anyhow, he told her. Later they discussed the matter briefly and agreed that their decision to meet at the school was the best possible choice, since she had arrived so early; if they meet at the park and ride in the future, they will have to do so half an hour after he gets off work so he can walk down.

Despite all that messing around, they were still the first ones at the school. Then the others arrived and the meeting began. Coincidentally they sat at their daughter’s desk, so they were able to rifle through her things prior to the meeting. The desk was covered with graffitti, but so were all the other desks. Mr. Cordyceps considered adding, “I love my dad” but then applied his phrase, because getting in trouble for writing on a desk would not be a good start to his new relationship with the school.

The home room teacher explained various things. Mr. Cordyceps understood about 75% of what she said, and about 50% of what the other parents said. This was due primarily to his tinitus and general deafness, he decided, but he had to wonder how much was due to the scores of 32 and 33 that he had gotten that day on two test-yourself-for-Aspergers tests he had taken that afternoon on the Internet. 30, according to the tests, corresponds to borderline Aspergers, or suspicion of possibly having Aspergers, or thereabouts, but Mr. Cordyceps was well aware of his ability to suss such tests while taking them, which may have resulted in him achieving a score higher than would in truth correspond to his actual position on the spectrum; moreover, he recalled a conversation with a wonderful German friend years ago who had been in a frustrating relationship with someone who really did have Aspergers and who had assured him that he did not have it; therefore, he concluded that at most a small percentage of his not understanding was attributable to his test scores.

Other teachers came in and explained to parents the importance of participation and homework and organization and neatness. In general, it seemed like a good school; both Mr. Cordyceps and his wife were satisfied and reassured, although Mr. Cordyceps had found the Latin teacher a bit scary, a youngish, slender, sexy blonde woman with a prominent jaw and unnerving tendency to stress the fact that the pupils came from good families, which made Mr. Cordyceps dread dining with the other parents later that evening.

Nevertheless, dine they did. First they walked to Mr. Cordyceps’ car to put in a fresh parking pass because you are only allowed to park for up to two hours on the street in that district of town, and only with a parking pass filled out in the window, after which you have to leave or put in a fresh pass (that is what Mr. Cordyceps believed, and in fact when he met a husky, uniformed woman later that night checking parking passes and writing tickets and asked her how long one was allowed to park, she confirmed this, saying “one is allowed to park for two hours, but we tolerate three,” which he found charmingly Viennese). They had to walk clear around the block to do so, about which his wife complained. She knew a shortcut, so the walk back to the restaurant was shorter.

In the restaurant it was very crowded and noisy. The acoustics were terrible, and all noise (kitchen and conversation) was focused at the corner in which they sat. Mr. Cordyceps was on his best behavior. He observed the others and did what they did. He found it difficult to arrive at a comfortable sitting posture, and tried out several. Luckily his wife’s hearing is fine and she is a good talker; he smiled and nodded. When the waiter came, he ordered Merlot, so did his wife and another woman sitting across from him. From this he concluded that the Merlot had been a socially-acceptable choice, while entertaining the possibility that the others had themselves been unsure what to order and opted on the I’ll-have-what-he’s-having choice, which he found slightly humorous given his profound lack of wine knowedge.

The Merlot was okay. Mr. Cordyceps was sitting next to the only other man in the group, but he did not talk to him because he would not have been able to understand what the other man said, and besides the other man was apparently engrossed in a woman with maroon hair and deep in conversation with her. Mr. Cordyceps studied the menu, looking for an entree that matched the color of his tie (off-white, stupidly, given that they were eating in an Italian restaurant) and would be easy for a hungry homo erectus to eat politely.

Plain People of Ireland: Fuck it.

Mr. Cordyceps decided on pizza. No, not pizza, because that involves a lot of fork and knife action, which allows far too many opportunities for mishaps, such as when one has a knife that is insufficiently sharp and pushes the pizza from the plate, or when one does not slice 100% all the way through the crust of the pizza and instead of raising just one bite to one’s mouth lifts the entire pizza. Risotto would be a good decision, and his wife did recommend the shrimp risotto, which she had eaten on a previous occasion, but Mr. Cordyceps was not hungry for risotto. Pasta, which he loved, was out, due primarily to the tomato sauce, which did not match his tie, but also to the twirling it onto your fork process involved, which also bore excessive slapstick potential.

Mr. Cordyceps applied his new phrase and decided on spaghetti aglio, olio e pepperoncino. Pepperoncini? The woman across from him ordered that as well, so he felt more comfortable. In a worst-case scenario, he would copy her methods of eating it. And, in fact, he did just that. When the food was served, the spaghetti came with a spoon, which Mr. Cordyceps knew was to be used as a base for twirling the noodles onto your fork. He had also heard that this was not an authentically Italian way to eat one’s spaghetti, and endeavored at first to eat his spaghetti fork-only.

All this time, it was impossibly noisy. It was a wall of sound. It was an Einstürzende Neubauten wall of posh restaurant conversation and tinitus. Mr. Cordyceps focused on his spaghetti with a laser-sharp concentration. At home, he basically got the whole plateload of spaghetti twirled around his fork all at once and sort of gnawed it off in as few bites as possible, but he knew that would not be well-received here. Everyone else was using their spoons, so he did as well. He noticed that they did not try to minimize the number of forkloads they ate. On the contrary, they were eating relatively small bites, so he also did. Despite this, he was the first to finish, as he was eating only and not eating and talking. There was a lot of oil at the bottom of his plate, and there were a lot of garlic slices. He avoided the oil, which guaranteed nothing but grief, tie-wise, and concentrated on the garlic.

The woman across the table mentioned a town. Mr. Cordyceps understood his wife to say, I don’t think I’ve ever been there. He decided he had misunderstood her, since she went there a lot to go shopping with the girls. Then she looked at him. Apparently she had thrown him a conversational bone and he was expected to pick it up and manipulate it somehow. Oh, I’ve been there, he said. I even played a concert there. He explained that he had composed a piece for voice and theremin and performed it in a concert location there. The other parents they were talking to were all musicians of one stripe or another. Mr. Cordyceps’ wife mentioned that he played the cello. He added, badly. His wife accused him of tiefstapeln. Everyone smiled. Mr. Cordyceps considered adding, And the singing saw, but ultimately did not.

Trapped there in his snow globe of noise, the look on the other woman’s face told him that he had just scored a status point somehow. He wasn’t sure what for, thanks to his scores of 32 and 33, but he thanked his wife internally. He resolved to thank her externally as soon as he got a chance, but he forgot.

Then they paid their bill and went home. There was a small problem getting his wife back to her car, as it was impossible to get there from where they were, by car. The closest he could get her was the station, from which she had to walk a few meters. Nothing remarkable; afterwards it occurred to him that he should have walked to her car and let her drive his, but that would have entailed the problem of him finding where she had parked her car, and she did ultimately make it home safely so in the end all was well. He applied his phrase again.

Then he went to sleep, and slept until the rain woke him in the morning, after which he lay in bed a few minutes listening to it. It was the most beautiful sound.


PS The Irish Times is celebrating the 100th birthday of Brian O’Nolan by reprinting some of his columns, bless their hearts.


Beta is down from Oslo so I can fix her favorite sunglasses that I fixed once before when the frame broke over the right lens and I glued it with superglue. Also she is filling up on sunlight and doing something vague with friends in Vienna.

So last night after dinner, and after her sister Gamma had gone to a friend’s house for the night to do something vague with other 13 and 14 year old girls, and after I had driven Beta to the train station to go to Vienna, and Alpha and I had finished the bottle of Moet, I sat down at the kitchen table with the sunglasses (this time, the frame had broken over the left lens) and the superglue, which was runnier than I remembered. After a couple tries, I had successfully glued the fingers of my left hand to the glasses, and the fingers of my right hand to my left hand.

I  got everything apart again. The glasses are more fixed now than when I started, but now they look less like something a movie star would wear and more like what the movie star’s crazy stalker would wear.

Careers in science: soteriology

The soteriologist goes into the playroom to gaze upon the back yard, which looks so different now that a guy came and pruned a bunch of stuff and removed some bushes, everything had been so crowded. He notices his 13 year-old daughter. She is wearing her black tutu skirt, black net stockings, a black hoodie, and shoes of some sort. She is truckin’ up the cellar stairs with her bicycle, a pack in the basket.

Running away, in other words.

The sight fills him with a surprising joy.

God bless you, child, he thinks. Run as fast as you can.

It will be raining soon, so he cuts her off at the pass and says wait, let me get you a warmer coat. They get a coat sorted out, and he puts on shoes and a windbreaker and goes with her.

I’m running away, you can’t come along, she says.

Just part of the way, he says. She rides off and he jogs alongside, making conversation. The conversation quickly advances to talk of heart attacks and he asks her to stop and walk for a while, and to his surprise she does.

The soteriologist and the girl walk along the creek. Now and then a rain drop hits them, but it’s not really raining yet, just toying with the idea.

It’s such a beautiful Sunday afternoon.

The soteriologist expresses his shame at his mishandling of a situation involving preparation for school, confiscation of a mobile phone, verbal and physical bullying and general nastiness and disrespect.

The soteriologist mentions how beautiful it is. He says it reminds him of where he grew up. He would have liked to run away then, but there was nowhere to go. Everything was far away.

It gets better, he says.

He speaks of various things. He explains his cosmology and how she and her sister and mother are at the very center of it.

He explains why he is ashamed. It involves expectations of wisdom he failed to meet.

He says he would like to run away sometimes. It would be nice to have a cabin on a lake you could run away to at times like this. He says, what about your house in the back yard?

She says, it’s wet inside.

He says he’ll look into that.

He says, on the one hand it gets better, thirteen is hard. On the other hand, it never gets easy. You’re never done. As soon as you get used to one level, you’re on a different level figuring that out. Level, stage, whatever.

Learn to talk, and they potty train you. Then you have to get used to school. Then adulthood. Then your hearing goes, or your vision. Then your joints. Then your mind, or something.

But it’s not all bad.

Look how the light reflects on the creek.

I’m running away, she says, you’re not supposed to be so nice.

She says she’s just running away to a friend’s house, he can come pick her up in an hour.

He suggests stopping for a cocoa at McDonalds. It is cold out, after all. Then they can go home again.

He doesn’t want her to have the feeling she lost this round, whatever else happens, he decides.

She thinks about the cocoa. They stop under a bridge to talk because it’s getting windy and the rain is picking up. Not so much that she can feel it yet, because she is wearing a warm hat, but his hair is thin, or short, or both, and he can feel the drops hitting his scalp.

There under the bridge, they talk about falling into the water from rowboats. He did it right about where they are standing. She did it in the Czech Republic.

He turns and walks home about then. For two hundred meters, he doesn’t look back. If she follows him, it’ll be her decision. If she runs away to her friend’s house, it’ll be her decision too.

He prays to Life for everything to work out okay. Sometimes you have to park your helicopter and pray to Life instead.

After two hundred meters he looks back and she is gone.

A minute after he gets back home, he is still taking off his shoes, her friend’s mom arrives with her and her bike in the back of the truck.

He builds a fire and they have cocoa. He gives her back her mobile phone. She says, if he had waited two more seconds under the bridge, she would have come home with him.

On the value of money

It is important to make children earn their money, so that they appreciate its inherent value. My parents did this by not giving me any, which required me to earn it myself via various menial activities, which prepared me for adulthood.

My first grownup bicycle was a Puch Bergmeister 10-speed that I paid for with the money (all the money) I earned one raspberry season when I was 14.

Here in Austria, a civilized country, there are laws prohibiting that sort of child labour, which necessitates other methods of making children earn the money they receive prior to, say, a trip back to the U.S. to visit their relatives.

Scene: Back yard at dinner-time. Family is sitting down to dinner.

Man: WTF?[Gets up, catches cat.] WTF??? What’s stuck to Louie’s ass now? [Holds cat under his arm, waves around something green.] Look, a hundred dollar bill.

Family: Ew!

Man: Who wants it? Gamma, you want it? Here.

Girl: [Takes hundred dollar bill]

Man: For crying out loud, look, another one! Beta, you want it?

Girl 2: [Takes it]

Man: Geeze, Louie, what did you eat, man? Look, another one! [Gives it to first girl] For Pete’s sake, look, another one! Here! [Gives it to second girl]

Family: … [Look at each other with a new appreciation of the value of money]