How to punk yr dad

(Note: this works best if you live near Vienna)

Timing is essential, so wait until your mom is out of town on business, your dad is real busy with a conference and hungover from drinking with the distinguished delegate from the U.K. and being a general worry wart from trying to keep things organized in wife’s absence.

(Note: PS this is based on the method of team predation illustrated in the scene in Jurassic Park where the two raptors punk the dinosaur hunter guy.)

Dad: (text message) Be sure and let me know when you are on your way 2 yr sister in Vienna and when u will arrive

Dad: (couple hours later, phone call) Any idea when your sister is arriving?

Beta: No. I’ll let you know, though.

Dad: (later, calling Gamma) When are you going to visit your sister?

Gamma: I’m on my way.

Dad: You’re on the train?

Gamma: Yeah.

Dad: Your grandfather drive you to the station or did you take a taxi like you were talking about?

Gamma: He drove me.

Dad: Okay. Let me know when you get there.

Gamma: Okay.

(2 hours later)

Beta: (text message) Wasn’t Gamma supposed to come in to see me today?

Dad: (WTF!!!) (Calls Gamma, no answer) (Calls Beta) WTFWTF?

Beta: She’s not answering my calls.

Dad: !!!

Gamma: (text message) Where is Ceska Velice?

Dad: (Text message) Czech Republic

Dad: (Picking up distinguished delegate from U.K. at the UN.) You’ll never guess where Gamma is.

Dad: (Calls Gamma) So.

Gamma: Hi.

Dad: Fucking Schengen. In the good old days they would’ve stopped you at the border w/o a passport.

Gamma: There’s another train out in half an hour. My school pass should get me back into town. There’s an advent market here, want anything? Should I get you a gingerbread heart.

Dad: (Thinks: She’s such a sweety)

Dad: (to distinguished delegate from the UK) She’s such a sweety. She’s stuck in the Czech Republic and all she asks is do I want a gingerbread heart.

Distinguished delegate from the UK: Bless.

Dad: (To Gamma) Be sure and let me know when you’re back on a train in to town and when you arrive and are you okay. Also I don’t think you can buy a heart w/o Czech crowns. you only have euro on you right?

Gamma: Oh, right.

Dad: (To DDFUTK) We might be taking a drive up to the Czech Republic tonight. I’ll go home and charge my satnav thing just in case. There’s the exit we take when we go there.

DDFTUK: Don’t you have a power cord for the lighter?

Dad: Sure I do, but the jack got bent I think.

Dad: (To Beta) Heard from your sister?

Beta: No.

Dad: (To Gamma) So, you on the train?

Gamma: Nah, I missed it.

Dad: (To DDFTUK) She missed it. My sweet little 14 yr old daughter is stuck in the Czech Republic in the middle of the night with a broken leg. What could possibly go wrong?

Dad: Also the battery in my mobile phone is going dead.

DDFTUK: You seem relatively calm about it.

Gamma: There’s another one in like an hour.

Beta: So what’s up with Gamma?

Dad: !!!blah blah You heard from her?

Beta: Er, yeah, she’s here with me.

Dad: ????!?? OMG. Excellent one, you guys. You each get 5 Euro for putting one over on me like that.

Dad: (Describes situation to DDFTUK)

DDFTUK: You’ve been punked.

Beta: Wow, I’m so proud of you for taking it so well!

Dad: You guys are brilliant. You were like those two dinosaurs in Jurassic Park who hunted that hunter guy.

Gamma: (later, text message) Srry, Beta was bored.

Gamma: (Later) (Gives dad gingerbread heart with “Papa ist ein Goldschatz” written on it in frosting.

Dad: Aw.

So anyway, let me know if this works for you.

I will report you

On the day I was born

I woke up one morning

at a crossroads

in the middle of a crossfire hurricane

and for once my mind wasn’t occupied

with a song I couldn’t just quite place –

the Beatles? Vending machine jingle?

or a veil of a nightmare about not getting through to someone

or of committing a crime

or of someone being dissected, probably me

or a headache

or someone else’s broken skeleton

or the feeling that I had forgotten something essential

but rather

an earworm

a line from my daughter’s travel blog of her trip through

India and Nepal

read in her own voice

(the earworm)

“I will report you”

Behold the dolphin

The dolphin’s favorite actor is Dolph Lundgren.

But that’s not what we’re here to talk about today.

The dolphin sits there at his desk and listens to the birds tweet outside and thinks about pride and shame.

Pride and shame, pride and shame, pride and shame. If you say anything often enough it loses its meaning and can be used as a political slogan.

Pride and shame.

A high school motto.

Translate it into Latin and put it on your coat of arms.

Pride and shame.

The dolphin used to tell himself, pride goeth before a fall.

Now he tells himself, fuck that.


Fuck that. You only live once, that you know of.


Pride and shame.

Forgive yourself for whatever you’re ashamed of. Just, you know, if it was something bad, don’t do it again.

And usually, when you get right down to it, it wasn’t that bad to begin with. Or not even something you had any power over.

And pride – sometimes it’s a matter of honesty. Sometimes, you should be proud of yourself. Sometimes you do something to be proud of. So be proud. Rarely are we so fantastic that we can afford to be self-deprecating.

It even sounds wrong. Self-deprecation. Self-deprecation. Self-deprecation.

Self-deprecation: a form of self-harm.

Self-deprecation: I’ll only do it until I need glasses.

There is this girl the dolphin knows. He has known her a long time. Since he was 30. Since she weighed 1,272 grams. The dolphin cannot remember his PIN code or someone’s name or numbers with more than four digits, but he remembers that she was born at 11.27 am during a typhoon at Urayasu hospital outside Tokyo.

He can remember how the sky looked as he pedaled his bicycle to the hospital, a clear plastic umbrella in one hand: the clouds were a city in the sky. Black and white in bright sunshine, high winds, pelting rain, bigger than anything he’d ever seen but none of it mattered.

He remembers the first time he saw her, being wheeled out in a pink transport incubator to be moved to another hospital – Matsudo Shiritsu Byoin – because there was no room at the first hospital. She looked like a pastry in a pastry case, small and pink with dark black hair.

And he was afraid his wife would die, she was so blue.

He went to the other hospital. He had to take public transportation so it took hours. He remembers how kind the doctor was as he explained the statistics. Ninety percent chance of no brain damage. He remembers the little girl who wheeled past in a walker as they spoke, she had no fingers or toes.

He never remembers anything, no vacations, little of his wedding. But he remembers disinfecting his hands with blue disinfectant, up to his elbows, and putting on a gown and cap, and going in to look at her up close, now wired to monitors and with a feeding tube down her nose. She had the hiccups and her whole body convulsed there in the incubator, naked but for a diaper.

Her eyes were closed. Her eyelids were purple, as if she were wearing eye shadow.

When can I touch her, he asked the doctor, whose name he remembers.

Did you wash your hands? You can touch her now.

The dolphin held his finger up to her hand. Her translucent little fingers reminded him of a gecko. They fit around the tip of his index finger like an adult palming a basketball, and held on.

This is where he first cried. But fearing that he would trigger a chain reaction, and soon all the babies in all the rows of incubators would all start crying, he held it back.

Then he went back and showed his wife Polaroid photos of a little yellow baby with wires and tubes hooked up and told her the kid was fine and in good hands. He meant to reassure her, but the photo looked so scary his wife – whom the nurses had told nothing, not even if the child was alive or dead – was now even more worried than before.

He had thought the information would be preferable to no information, but not everyone ticks the way the dolphin does.

Then he went home and called his dad and bawled and bawled. He could hear the helplessness in his father’s voice, how he wished he could be there but was instead stuck at the other end of a phone line and, bawling, grasped the fundamental helplessness of fathers.

He visited the girl daily, to bring the child breast milk his wife pumped.

He remembered the sky, the air, the shops he walked past on his way, the noise of the subway.

He bounced the child off the ceiling once or twice, tossing her in the air, which she liked. He and his wife nearly drowned the child giving her her first bath when she came home from the hospital, although when his wife tells the story it’s “he” and not “we”.

He remembers how, when he would walk home from the grocery store with his daughter, she would stop at each cigarette butt in the gutter, and pick it up.

He remembers how fearlessly she climbed to the top of the slide in the playground, in her tiny Osh Kosh B’Gosh overalls, and how he never said, “be careful,” just stood behind her as she climbed, to catch her if she fell (she never did), and then, at the proper moment, ran around to the other end of the slide to catch her when she slid down.

He remembers trying to raise her to be strong and fearless, after starting out so tiny.

He remembers worrying about brain damage and how she turned out not just average, but the best in her class at school.

He remembers worrying about her being sickly, and how she was a provincial rowing champion one year.

Outside the dolpin’s office now, the wind is blowing in the trees. It is a sound he is ambivalent about. Basically, he dislikes wind. But this sound is nice.

The dolphin decides he is proud of  his daughter. He doesn’t know if he has the right to be proud of himself, father-wise. He managed the basics: he, finally, did not drown her while bathing her. He fed her. Whatever mistakes he made, she turned out okay.

But of her he is proud. She has done an incredible amount of things very well. He doesn’t know if she is aware of all the support she has received, from her mother, her teachers, other people (him?). Probably she is aware, she is a smart person. But even if she isn’t, she has to be proud of herself. Not only was she not brain-damaged, she went to a school for highly-gifted students. Not only did she learn to play a musical instrument, she played harp in an orchestra and in an Irish band.

Not only did she learn to drive, she crashed her car on a snowy road, emerged largely unscathed, and then broke her own nose by punching herself in the face when she slipped on the ice outside the hospital, where she was going to be checked for a concussion. (In other words, she is not immune from slapstick.)

She went to a harp festival in Edinburgh when she was 13, by herself. She lived in France for a semester when she was, what, 15? And he had to bring her her harp so she could play a concert. She studied international law in Oslo for a semester. Now she might be going to Canberra next.

Last week she got her first university degree, in Anthropology. But, being her, not only did she do that, she’s getting an article published.

The dolphin decides it’s appropriate to be proud of her.

But the dolphin also realizes that pride is not an end in itself.

The dolphin hopes she’s happy.

The dolphin, that’s all he wants.

The dolphin would give up all that pride in a second for her to be happy.

He wonders if his own father would have given up all his pride for the dolphin to be happy. He figures he would have, too.


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.


Beta moved to Norway for a while to study international law.

Yesterday she was at a bonfire on a frozen lake. I guess lakes really freeze in Norway, or they are more careful with their bonfires.

I was talking to Gamma about her sister. Man, I said. She has cojones, I said. No way would I have had the guts to move to another country when I was 21. Except, hang on, that’s when I moved to Austria the first time.

Well, no way would I have had the guts to move to France when I was 15. Or go to Scotland for a week by myself for a harp festival when I was 13.

No way.

On my daughter, and the WikiLeaks guy

Yesterday it snowed generously here in Austria, and I got a call from my wife at lunch telling me that Beta had wrecked her car between Vienna and Town X and I should go to her. There are several ways to get there and I asked where she was precisely and my wife was unable to tell me. So I called Beta and she was unable to tell me, too. So I went one way and drove back the other and didn’t see Beta anywhere because she’d gotten the car, which is said to look like an accordion now, started and driven back to her place.

So I went back to work, richer by one hairy snow driving experience, but worried about the kid, who was said to be fine although car totaled. Later that evening she went to the hospital to have pains looked into. They turned out to be various contusions. The one on her nose was not from the accident, it was from slipping on snow in front of the hospital and falling on her nose. That reminds me I still have to apologize to her for giving her the slapstick gene. Just this weekend she dropped her cell phone in the crapper, chip off the old block.

She told me she spun on the snow and hit a guardrail and wrecked the car. Turns out she came to a stop pointing the wrong way on a freeway. Yikes. She’s always been exceptional. She even has awesome snow mishaps.

I’m trying to get her to come home with me tonight but I think she has other plans.

Fucking snow, man.

Also, Julian Assange, what does one think about him? Crusading hero or Bond villain? Depends who you ask, I guess. I’d be growing a beard if I were him, getting some plastic surgery, putting on weight.

All that stuff. Actually, I’m putting on weight anyway, even though I’m not him, it’s winter.


So, yeah, Beta is in New York (actually, as I write this, she is cooling her heels on a 7-hour layover in Heathrow).

She is visiting her friend Lukas. She will be in NY for two weeks.

Here is a picture of Lukas:

Lukas C., with some other guy.

Lukas C., with some other guy.