Eight Is Enough

We interrupt our scheduled post on the genuinely moving experience we had at the Pabst Theatre viewing party last night to bring you this brief editorial:


That's your counter-programing? A woman with just over a year in state(*) government and a severely northwestern decorating style?

I mean, how northwoods does your particular Bed, Bath, and Beyond need to be before it starts carrying the King Frickin' Crab paperweight?

(*) I know a lot of people forget that Alaska is a state, but it is. We bought it from Russia in 1867 for 2 cents an acre. In the late 1950's, when anything remotely Russian was hung (or at least prevented from writing screenplays), we made Alaska a state. Now they build useless bridges, fill the ocean with oil, and deplete the world of salmon and trees. While Alaska is the largest state in the union, it has only 12% of the population of Wisconsin, with the state's enitre population roughly equal to Milwaukee's.


Covered Wagon, Medicine Show

Some brief notes on Day 3:

I love how Hardcore Harry Reid can be simultaneously quiet, calm, and viciously radical. I hope some novelty company's hard at work right now creating bottles of "Doc McCain's Magic Offshore Oil Elixir."
John Kerry joins that group of former nominees, last chaired by Al Gore, of which one must ask: "Why couldn't you act this way four years ago?"
(One must also ask of Kerry, as we can almost never resist it, "Why the long face?")
Clinton did exactly what I'd wanted him, too, except that I wish he'd been a touch more personal in his accounts of Obama's abilities and intentions. As my creative writing teachers used to say, "You're telling where you should be showing."  I would have loved for Clinton to draw us in a little more personally.  "Y'know, Barack and I had a long talk about the occurance rate of AIDS in China -- and by the way, have ya'll seen that Michael Phelp? -- and Barrack said, and now this was in the middle of some very sloppy loose-meat sandwiches in a great cafe in Davenport, Iowa, but Barack said, and he's wiping his mouth a little bit where the sauce has got to him, he says..."
I'm worried about Jim Lehrer.  He's off his game.  He was getting facts wrong on Wednesday, and then saying one thing was going to happen ("We'll now see Bill Richardson come to the stage...") that never actually happened, or he'd say something ominous or portentous and then just stop talking, like "Now...."
If there's any candidate I'd want to have a beer with, it's Joe Biden.  My wife suspects he cusses like sailor when the cameras are off.   I bet he'd tell you some stories, man, that would make a  French weave of your hair plugs.
On MSNBC, Keith Olbermann adroitly pointed out that almost every major speaker has shown McCain a measure of respect as a soldier and a statesman, and argued that there would be far fewer Republican  speeches that granted similar warrants upon our Democratic candidate.


Reunited and It Feels So... Mediated

It's too bad that Mark Warner's keynote address was totally overshadowed by Hillary's moment, because Warner has a good speech, and one that I think would reach out to moderate Republicans and swing voters. Warner's a business guy -- he started Nextel -- and created an argument for change not on political grounds but on economic grounds, linking the Democratic Party and Obama not so much to an argument against Bush or McCain but to a point of view that offers better solutions to the problems they've exacerbated or ignored. Warner said:

We believe in success. We believe that everyone should have an opportunity to get ahead. And with that success comes a responsibility to make sure that others can follow.

I think we're blessed to be Americans. But with that blessing -- with that blessing comes an obligation to our neighbors and to our common good.

So you give every child the tools they need to succeed. That means quality schools, access to health care, safe neighborhoods, not just because it's the right thing to do -- of course it is -- but because, if those kids do better, we all do better.

And it doesn't really matter. You can be soft-hearted or hard- headed. Both are going to lead you to the same place: We're all in this together.

That's what this party believes. That's what this nation believes. That's what Barack Obama and Joe Biden believe.

We interrupt this post for this commercial message from Sam.

Want a Cricket?


I love how the media, long before the convention started, decided that Hillary's speech would need to unite the party under Obama and then, seconds after her speech ended, proclaimed that the party was now united. Nothing wrong with creating a narrative arc when you need one.

TV pundits last night called the speech a strong endorsement of Obama, but I didn't really feel that. It was a good speech, with lots of zingers and catchphrases (the one about the Twin Cities was a particular brand of Clintonian awsomeness), but it still seemed to me an endorsement of the current Democratic ticket generally than Obama in particular.

Still, she really ran the night, overshadowing the keynote (which was where Obama shone through four years ago) and the frequant reaction shots of Bill led to a certain amount of relishing the party as it was ten years ago. I think we need to move past that, and it's my hope that Bill keeps his speech short and subdued, allowing Biden his moment.

Bill Clinton is uniquely qualified, as Toni Morrison's "first black president," to put an Obama nomination in historical perspective, and there's some degree of torch-passing that needs to happen, too, but I think a larger theme to this convention needs to be -- for the sake of the media's narrative -- the old guard offereing benediction to the new. I would like to get a sense of the Clintons stepping aside tonight, even if -- as I hope -- they continue to be pit fighters for the campaign.


Sont Les Mots Qui Vont Très Bien Ensemble

Michelle said:

I know firsthand from their lives — and mine — that the American dream endures.

I stand here today at the crosscurrents of that history — knowing that my piece of the American dream is a blessing hard won by those who came before me.

That is the thread that connects our hearts. That is the thread that runs through my journey and Barack’s journey and so many other improbable journeys that have brought us here tonight, where the current of history meets this new tide of hope. That is why I love this country.

In honor of my father's memory and my daughters' future, out of gratitude for those whose triumphs we honor this week, and those whose everyday sacrifices have brought us to this moment, let us devote ourselves to finishing their work, let us work to fulfill their hopes...

Karl Rove said:

I don’t think she did too well on saying I love America. That wasn’t adequate enough...

As Bug Bunny used to say of an equally pudgy, baby-faced, self-deluded closet case: "What a maroon! What an ignoramus!" After that speech, and after watching the short film narrated by Michelle's mother, any rational nation would, like me, be totally head-over-heels, stars-in-the-eyes, bluebird-twittering, hearts-and-arrows,puppy dog/bubblegum/Dynamite magazine in love with Michelle Obama. So, yeah, I think Michelle Obama sufficiently loves America, but the real question is: Do you think she'd like me? I was thinking of sending her a note in homeroom.


The Ted Kennedy video -- prepared by Ken Burns, or so Jim Lehrer told me -- made me tear up, particularly the soldier's father who met Kennedy at his son's funeral. And then Uncle Teddy came out to speak and seemed totally healthy and hale and larger than life. It was sort of like watching Gandalf fall into that moat with the kraken, presumably to his death, only to return with more power and stature than he'd previously had. The PBS analysts got positively gushy about Ted, with Mark Shields calling him the greatest senator of the century. (He did not specify which century, but let's hope its the 21st.)


I was a bit upset that Carter didn't speak, instead just waving to the conventioneers along with Roslyn. He did pop up on the PBS set, where it seemed that something was amiss with his left eye, or possibly the whole left side of his face. Jimmy Carter made an impassioned argument that an Obama presidency "will be the transforming [moment] for the end of racism, and prejudice, and hatred between races in this country." It sure is pretty to think so. It was cute, also, when -- as Jim Lehrer cut away -- the viewer heard Carter exitedly asking David Brooks if he liked the Joe Biden decision, making an 83-year-old statesman sound like a giddy fanboy.



I'm really pleased with the Biden decision.  I was pretty sure that -- for reasons of political strategy -- Obama was going to pick Evan Bayh, but Biden was a secret hope.  Like Bo Diddly, Joe Biden is a gunslinger.  He'll be fun to watch, and I'm pleased to support a party that has two great thinkers and great writers on the ticket.  I like to listen to them speak, and I was thinking how great it will be to have leaders whose formal addresses I'll look forward to, rather than flipping to see what's on the UPN or Pax channels.



2008 Democratic Convention: The Drinking Game

What you'll need:

  • Several bottles of your favorite beer, wine, or spirit.

  • A stack of dollar bills (you can get these from Elliot Spitzer or any U.S. Bank).

  • Four days off work.
How to play:

Generally, any sort of pandering or reliance on catchphrases or soundbites is worth one drink each. Meanwhile, genuine human moments or excellent campaign strategy (read: pandering, but really GOOD pandering) should merit a one dollar donation to the party's general campaign fund. Gaffes (or reminders of gaffes) merit the removal of one dollar from the donation fund, or its reallocation towards booze.

Important note: Each day of the convention will have a particular theme, as noted below. Any overt reference to that day's theme, regardless of speaker, should result in one drink.


Monday (“One Nation:”):

Jimmy Carter:
• Mentions God, farming, or Rosyln: 1 drink
• Filled with righteous fury: donate 1 dollar
• Mentions Reagan, rabbits, or malaise: remove 1 dollar

Michelle Obama:
• Calls candidate “Barry”: 1 drink
• Performs a fist bump: donate 1 dollar
• Says that this is the first time she’s felt pride in her country: remove 1 dollar

Tribute to Ted Kennedy:
• Footage of John, Bobby, or John Jr: 1 drink
• Genuine testimonials from the Massachusetts working class: donate 1 dollar
• Mentions Chappaquiddick: remove 1 dollar

Tuesday (“Renewing America’s Promise”):

Hillary Clinton:
• Says the words journey, road, fight, unity, or women: 1 drink
• Whole-hearted and warm endorsement of candidate: donate 1 dollar
• Fails to endorse Obama: remove 1 dollar

Mark Warner, Keynote:
• Mentions unity, red/blue, the economy, or jobs: 1 drink
• Makes absolutely no reference to terrorism: donate 1 dollar
• Mentions John Edwards: remove 1 dollar

Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle:
• Mentions choice, public schools, or Milwaukee: 1 drink
• Mentions the failure of No Child Left Behind: donate 1 dollar
• Mentions state pension fund in relation to state debt: remove 1 dollar

Wednesday (“Securing America’s Future”):

Bill Clinton
• Mentions Hillary, the economy under his administration, taxes, or fair trade: 1 drink
• Slyly suggests that we need to restore dignity to the office of the President: donate 1 dollar
• Suggests current economic situation may have something to do with his policies on NAFTA or free trade with China: remove 1 dollar

John Kerry
• Mentions swift boating: 1 drink
• Makes audience laugh: donate 1 dollar
• Mentions duck hunting, wind surfing, or latte drinking: remove 1 dollar

Bill Richardson
• Speaks in Spanish: 1 drink
• Has shaved his beard: donate 1 dollar
• Discusses amnesty for illegal immigrants: remove 1 dollar

Vice Presidential Candidate TBD
• Mentions honor, work, economy, or specific policy: 1 drink
• Is from a swing state: donate 1 dollar
• Reveals history of shock treatments, an embezzling husband, or an inability to spell “potato”: remove 1 dollar

Thursday (“Change You Can Believe In”):

Al Gore:
• Mentions environment, emissions, Earth, or the year 2025: 1 drink
• Find yourself wishing he was like this in 2000: donate 1 dollar
• Uses PowerPoint: remove 1 dollar

Barrack Obama:
• Mentions Hope, Change, America, Kansas, the economy, war: 1 drink
• Mentions an inhabitant of Florida, Indiana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia: donate 1 dollar
• Mentions Hawaii, Indonesia, Muslim/Islam: Remove 1 dollar


These Days Are Ours

Let it never again be said that there is no culture in Milwaukee, because now we have this totally sweet statue of Christopher Walken.

As a bonus, that is Potsie, and he's singing our national anthem. Good thing you can't hear pictures, am I right?

Word Problem:

Happy Days, though set in Milwaukee in the 1950's, was produced in Los Angeles, CA, and appeared on television between 1974 and 1984. A statue of the show's breakout character, the Fonz, was erected in downtown Milwaukee in 2008. Given the above, estimate both the date of placement (within six months) and the physical location (within one square mile) of the following statues:

A -- Lenny & Squiggy, of Laverne & Shirley, 1976-1983

B -- Bear, of BJ& The Bear, 1979-1981

C -- Whatever character was played by Ashton Kutcher, of That 70's Show, 1998-2006


I will refund the cost of the spray paint to whomever is the first person to put the words "SIT ON IT" on that particular statue. (Any legal fees or municipal fines incurred are your own.)


The Boys Are Back In Town

Thank God, someone has a camera. Here are some pictures sent by Cate, taken in the Otjen compound on Wednesday afternoon.

Amelia Otjen in the swing.

Taking after Grandma Glenda, flautist for the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.

Seems like it's always Caleb steering, Sam pushing. I don't know what to make of that.

Dirty Water (Part Three)

Some last notes on our trip east. I've decided to not call it a vacation, which to my mind involves sleeping in, a little shopping, some leisurely dinners at nice restaurants... Travelling with twin 2.5 year olds did not allow for much vacationing.

If you are considering taking a cab from Revere to the far edge of Cambridge, it may be cheaper to rent a car. While I remember cab rides from my Sommerville/Cambridge/Charlestown apartments being both fast and relatively cheap, the Airport-to-Alewife route apparently falls into the realm of "Cahnt get theare from heare."

Despite liking pudding, rice, and raisins, the boys did not care for the kheer -- rice pudding with raisins -- at the Bombay Club.

We received so many books and toys -- from Elissa, from Suzanne, from Courtney and Deb, from an unguarded stroll through the cart vendors in Fanueil Hall -- that we worried about incurring a fee for overweight luggage on the way home. Our largest bag weighed in at 50.5 lbs, avoiding the fee only by the sour grace of the airline staff. (Subject for another post: this trend of offloading fees and "penalties" such as this one, as if it actually requires extra fuel to transport a bag that exceeds 50 lbs. Should we then get rebates if a trips passengers come in underweight? Or will air travellers soon have to pay by the pound?)

At Cheryl and Tom's Shindig, Caleb picked up a hotdog as if it were a cob of corn, took one bite out of its middle, and returned it to the platter. As Cheryl said, "I've never seen anyone eat a hot dog like that before!"

That cookout was a perfect bookend. Other than Jason, who'd left earlier in the week, and a couple of other notable exceptions, it involved almost everyone I was friends with in graduate school who are still in the Boston area. Ted and Geeta and their kids, who were quite small when last I'd seen them and are now capable babysitters, were fun to see, as were Andrew, Clare, Chris and Lisa, Tim and Suzanne, Cheryl and Tom. We went to a nearby park, with a sprinkler pad for the kids, built -- according to either Ted or Tim, atop a former Cambridge town dump. You miss these things about Cambridge. We all sat on the rocks there and watched the kids, all of us ten years older than when we last would have reasonably all sat together, and the sky was a certain amount blue and a certain amount cloudy, and all of our kids mingled together and with other kids there, African-American and Latin American and Chinese-American and Indian-American all combining together within and without these kids, all creating the kind of moment that you want to bottle somehow, to capture, and yet the camera has disappeared somewhere and so you make a concerted effort to live in the moment, and then someone's dressing the children again, and Chris and Lisa are leaving to play a show in Western Mass, and already the moment is breaking up, separating into little particles that drift outward and away from each other like the water jetting from a sprinkler...

Sam, once fully dried and dressed, made broke away -- maybe just as eager as I to reclaim the lost time above -- and drenched himself. Cheryl loaned him a nice powder-blue pattern-printed blouce with the most darling pinched-up sleeves, and Sam wore that in the cab on the way back to the hotel.

And now we are home again, where the boys have pointed to the sky and said, plaintively, "choo-choo?"


Dirty Water (Part Two)

Navigating the Boston subway system with a double stroller was not always easy. Most of the downtown stations are not wheelchair accessible -- which essentially means they had no elevators -- and the ones that were (like Park Street) had such narrow elevators that we couldn't fit the stroller through the doors. Several times we had to hoist the stroller, with the boys strapped in, and take them up or down a set of steps in order to get to where we needed to go. (Getting from the blue line to the red line was always precarious.) Once, a samaritan waited at the top of the stairs to help me carry the stroller down, which would instill some small faith in ones fellow man were it not for the countless dozens who willfully ingnored us or impeded us.

Tim and Suzanne gave the boys some model cars (and tickets for the Children's Museum), but in true Sam and Caleb fashion, they were more interested in the beer bottles, bottlecaps, and the church key.

In my previous life in Boston, I never had any call to visit the New England Aquarium or the Children's Museum, and it was great fun to discover what lay inside both buildings. The Aquarium's giant central tank -- complete with tiger sharks and giant sea turtles -- was really impressive, as was the open community of penguins that surrounds that tank. A couple years ago, penguins seemed poised to be the posterbirds for conservative family values, until it turned out that penguin love is no more bound by supposed natural order than are we humans. Certainly, the very public penguin sex we observed at the Aquarium suggests that some arctic birds march to a different beat. (Thanks to Elissa for the heads up on the gay penguin kid's book, linked above.)

A side trip to Northampton took us into Look Park (on half-price Wednesday!), where the kids rode a steam train and visited a very small zoo. We watched the gang of goats butt heads, and Caleb chased chipmonks while squealing in pure delight. (Sam, here and with the pigeons and swallows outside the Children's Museum, roars his fearsome T-Rex roar.) For some reason, we all shopped for candy in the city itself, and then Chris and Lisa successfully prosletyzed for Harrell's ice cream. (Northampton was quite a cozy little place to live, and who knows what role it may play in our far distant future, particularly given that it has a Henshaw Street and a Lathrop Retirement Community.)

Sam picked up the notion that any particular point could be pointed to and perhaps accessed, leading to the signifier "right there," which in turn led to this sort of request: "Mama, can I go stand over there right there?" Which is so syntactically Milwaukean I could plotz.

We got caught in a downpour while trying to get to Courtney's apartment in the North End. We waited for a cab for a long time under a hotel canopy; the hotel staff were nice enough to give lollipops to our impatient kids. The lollipops were soon thrown to the pavement -- their paper sticks were still there the next morning, with all the candy washed away.

Courtney and Deb, former coworkers from Harvard, shared wine and pizza and gossip and kid's books. The boys were equally enticed and repulsed by Courtney's stuffed friend Monk, and the boys made thorough rambunctious exploration of all of the aparment's 440 square feet. Sadly, the rain kept us from a North End street fair -- always culturally worth it -- and, more's the pity, cannoli.
...To Be Concluded


Love That Dirty Water (Part One)

Some highlights from our trip east:

As a general rule, getting to places was wonderfully easy. Getting back was more challenging. (On the plane ride home, with Caleb next to me crying in his uniquely shrill way, I had the opportunity to say to a fellow passenger, "Glaring doesn't help, lady." Which was surprisingly fun for me.)

I could have stayed in Vermont for another week. The kids had a blast out in nature, playing with other kids, wonderdog Dude from Tennessee, rolling bocci balls down the wheelchair ramp, and eating their weight in pancakes. Dad read The Audacity of Hope by flashlight while they slept, or while sitting in an Adriondrack chair (want one!) while they played barefoot in the dewey grass. We were high enough up Gove Hill that we could see thunderstorms pass over the Connecticut River in the valley below.

Cathy's excellent observation that while some people might see a vision of Jesus in a banana peel, Caleb sees a vision of bananas in a stained-glass picture of Jesus.

The first hotel in Boston would not work for us, partially because the suite we were promised was not exactly a suite, and partially because it was a swirling vortex of chaos and purgatory. At 9:45pm, I went to the front desk to ask again for the two cribs we'd asked for in our reservation, at the time of our check-in, and twice by phone from the room. The woman at the desk said she was trying to raise the housekeeping staff by radio. "Do you know how to say 'crib' in Spanish?" she asked me. All of this made the second (and hastily arranged) hotel seem all the better by comparison. (The late night margarita, however, was unexpectedly terrific.)

Jason Cabassi arrived on Monday to volunteer as our Manny throughout the week, and did a great job of toddler-hoisting, pram-pushing, and patience-displaying. His ability to calmly eat a spicy chicken dish at The Bombay Club while the boys threw rice, juice cups, and tantrums shows a natural ability to child-rear. Jason was quickly and permanantly adopted by Sam as a BFF, and has earned the honorific of "Uncle" in our family.

After a long walk from Harvard with Jason and Ken, we arrived at Redbones in Davis Square -- the best barbecue restaurant in the mapped universe. Texas beef ribs were probably not the dish to get with two toddler's on one's hands, as there was a bit too much going on to really savor the Redbones experience. Two awesome moments: I changed Caleb in the Women's restroom, a feat probably rarely done in the history of humankind. The pull-out baby changer platform was directly below the automatic paper towel dispensor's sensor, so as I attempted to change Caleb's diaper, a scroll of paper towels was continually unfurling over us. Then, when we left the restaurant, we walked right out into an impromptu street parade and a bedraggled brass marching band playing "Kansas City, Here I Come." To introduce one's children to the twin miracles of smoked barbecue and syncopated Dixieland jazz in one go-round? This is the kind of thing that can happen only in Davis Square, Somerville, MA. (Or, you know, New Orleans.)

Caleb, on the platform of the Airport T station: "Choo-choo, where are you?"

(To Be Continued...)