The Obama Cabinet -- Part Two

More cabinet level positions announced from the Obama transition team...

Secretary of Idealism: A scuffed and dog-earred paperback copy of Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States. Since it's publication in 1980, Zinn's book has been standard knapsack fare for bearded undergraduates and surprisingly handsome MIT janitors from South Boston. This particular copy of the book was found underneath a threadbare sofa in Somerville, MA's late and lamented Someday Cafe in the early part of 2000 (and thereby represents a pre-9/11, late-Clinton-era outrage over U.S. foreign policy). A bus ticket from Thailand has been used as a bookmark, so one presumes that the book itself has traveled overseas. Critics will likely respond negatively towards the naming of an inanimate object for a cabinet-level position, but these critics can be quickly reminded that former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson set the precedent during his short stint as Health and Human Services Director during Bush II's first term.

Secretary of Hope: Luke Skywalker. Raised on the hot desert planet of Tatooine with no knowledge of his own fateful ancestry, Skywalker initially joined the Rebel Alliance due to a sexual attraction to a hologram of his own sister. However, much like the president he will serve, Skywalker's passion and drive propelled him past these ignoble beginnings (as well as some really bad dialogue) to eventually becoming the savior of the entire Rebel-slash-Jedi movement. Having twice destroyed the dreaded Death Star and converting the evil Empire's second-in-command to the side of light (which would be kind of like cultivating humanity in Dick Cheney), few religious figures are better examples of grace delivered through rebirth and resurrection than Luke H. Skywalker.

Apathy Czar: Jack Lalane. The 94-year-old fitness guru has been charged with the daunting task of keeping the Obama fateful as energized in the presidency as they were during the campaign. Former urban and rural campaign headquarters will be retro-fitted into workout rooms, and Lalane is expected to begin a national morning workout in which citizens will be called to do deep knee bends, chin ups, and thrust squats each morning before going off to revitalize the economy. Areas without the resources to afford juicers, weight benches, or enormous leather medicine balls will be granted a weekly sparring session with diminutive former Labor secretary and NPR "Marketplace" staple Robert Reich. Lalane will work closely with the president, who expects us all to have the same sort of prominent ab- and pec- muscles as he does by the end of his first term in office, when all of America will be mandatorily photographed with their shirts off in the waters off Kauai.

Sources tell Townblog that the Secretaries of Optimism, Earnestness, Idealism and Hope, as well as the Apathy Czar and other posts not yet named will be combined under the auspices of a newly proposed Office of Homeland Self-Esteem.

Townblog will continue to bring you this sort of nonsense as it develops.

There's Eyes Behind The Mirrors In Empty Places

DVD Rental Recommendation:
Billy The Kid

Billy The Kid documents a teenage kid in small town Maine, and it's a film that more exactingly demonstrates the awesomeness and anguish of adolescence than anything I've seen. Freaks and Geeks included.

There's clearly something off about Billy, something he recognizes in himself at one point when he describes himself as "different in the brain." There's some minor but vital lack of social skills that makes Billy lack self-consciousness before the camera, so we teenage angst and teenage yearning that is entirelly un-mediated. This is a fairly normal late boyhood, it seems to me, and yet there are parts that are as cringe-inducing as any BBC Office episode, parts that are genuinely touching, and several parts that reach beyond the film's own frame.

I don't want to say too much about what actually occurs in the movie, but here's one particular moment: after somewhat clumsily approaching a girl he likes in a local restaurant, Billy ducks into the bathroom to deride himself, his whispering caught by the open microphone he wears. He repeats what he'd said to the girl, and then whispers: "Death..."


The Obama Cabinet -- Part One

After reviewing leaked documents from Barack Obama's transition team, Townblog is prepared to reveal several new cabinet level positions that will help steer the nation under Obama's presidency.

Secretary of Optimism: Grover the Sesame Street Muppet. Grover is a strong choice for a position charged with continuing the "Yes We Can" attitude of the Obama campaign into a prevailing sentiment for a changed nation. In addition to being cute, blue, and furry, Grover almost never uses contractions when he speaks, which will gibe well with the President's noted oratory skills. Grover has travelled the world, studying its cultures and its children, and retains his child-like optimism even when the kitchen is out of alphabet soup.

Secretary of Earnestness: Aged folk musician Pete Seeger. There are few beings on planet earth who contain less cynicism or irony than Mr. Seeger, and the Obama camp hopes that his righteousness and morality will serve as an example to today's disaffected youth. Seeger rode the rails with Woody Guthrie, served up buttoned-down version of ethnic worksongs as part of the Weavers, and faced down a red-baiting congress by pleading the first ammendment. Despite his certitude and penchant for banjo, Mr. Seeger does show signs of having a sense of humor. (Some caution against Mr. Seeger's advanced age, which the transition team has sought to address by granting an assistantship to former Modern Lover Jonathan Richman.)

Look for additional Cabinet posts to be revealed in the days ahead.


Ceci N'est Pas Une Coincidence

I was set to write a post about how the Christmas elves had dropped off a boxed train set for the boys, and how the box was too heavy too move beyond our entryway, and how I worried that the boys would figure out what it was despite its plain brown box-iness, and so I'd cleverly written "This is NOT a Train Set"on the box in black Sharpie. You know, just in case the boys learned to read before Christmas.

In planning this post, I went out to Google to try to steal an image of a train set or a box, only to find that the word "Google" was decorated with the raining business men, bowler hats, and green apples common to the art of Rene Magritte, who turns 110 today.

Magritte also painted trains. And, famously, a picture of a tobacco pipe under which was painted the words "This is not a pipe" (only, since Magritte was Belgian, he wrote this in French).


I really love these odd sorts of coincidences, as when one turns to a semi-random page of the dictionary in order to have a starting poing to find the word one wants, only to find the very page, the very word itself.

Today, while reading an article on Salon.com and listening to the radio, I both read and heard the word "surrender" in the same instant.

These are moments of grace, my friends.


How Can I Shake If I Ain't Got The Chills

I was listing the things I planned to get at the store while the boys were eating dinner. "Toilet paper, cat food, white wine, ice cream..."

At the words "ice cream," which like a rookie parent I said rather than s-p-e-l-l-e-d o-u-t , dinner was over.

"Ice cream?" the kids asked.

So moments later, both were eating popsicles and one of them, he with the orange-colored and -flavored popsicle, used it a dipping stick for the ketchup that remained on his dinner plate.

So now I've seen America elect an African American president, and I've seen a child eat an orange popsicle with ketchup. On the whole, it's still a good November.


Come, Mr. Tally-man

Dear Sam and Caleb:

Remember me?

I'm a banana. I'm yellow and grow in bunches in the tropics. I've got mass appeal. (Puns, by the way, are the highest form of banana humor.)

You used to request me all the time, for snacks and for breakfast, until the day you learned -- both of you at once, apparantly -- the word "yogurt." Now I overripen on the kitchen counter until I'm tossed into the garbage or baked into bread.

While I advocate a balanced diet, I would like to remind you that I have a more manageable wrapper for smallish hands, that I (unlike a container of, say, Yoplait) make a fine imitation telephone, and I feature into
music and culture much more frequently. Also, as demonstrated on Sesame Street that one time, I'm a great metaphor for the need for community in child-rearing. Finally, Harry Belafonte is unlikely to ever record something called "The Yogurt Boat Song," to say nothing of Stan Freberg.

Won't you consider me next time you ask for a snack?

I'd be happy to consider any counter arguments you may have, although I should warn you ahead of time that I may not be able to hear you due to the banana in my ears.


Eat the Document

If you're anything like me, you're currently suffering from a post-election attention surfeit, and you're looking for things to occupy your time that are not news, polling, or election analysis. However quickly Mr. Obama may assemble his administration, it can't actually start until Jan 20th, which leaves us with just over two months of free time.

Today, I offer you recommendations for online reading, a DVD documentary, and at-home reading (and local bookstore spending), all of which will help you reconnect with family and perhaps kick-start the economy. All three pieces of media have to do with Kenny Shopsin, proprietor of Shopsin's General Store in NYC. While I've never been to Shopsin's restaurant and will likely never have the opportunity, I've become a fan. (I knew a girl from New Hampshire who was a devoted Francophile but who had no aspirations to actually visit Paris. This is kind of like that.)

The first I heard of Shopsin was through a 2002 Calvin Trillin article in the New Yorker. Trillin pretty well pioneered, for me anyway, the genre of armchair gastronomy. (His Tummy Trilogy begins "The best restaurants in the world are, of course, in Kansas City. Not all of them; only the top four or five.") This article introduces the cantankerous, particular, and still lovable character of Kenny Shopsin and his seemingly boundless gifts a short order cook. Trillin had been a regular of Shopsin's restaurant for years, but was not allowed to write about the place (due to Shopsin's aversion to publicity) until it was on the verge of closing.

I Like Killing Flies, a documentary which covers the same closing of Shopsin's first location that comes into play in Trillin's article, is one of those documentaries like The Devil and Daniel Johnston or Vernon, Florida that delve beyond individual eccentricities (or idiosynocracies, as my grandmother would have said) to reach towards some sort of philosophy of humanity. Shopsin, in this film, is at his crankiest and possibly most thoughtful, and its particular interesting in light of the version of him that appears in the Trillin article and his own book below, where he seems more earthbound.

I'd like to see the documentary again, now that I've read Eat Me, which is ostensively a cookbook but includes quite a bit of Shopsin's view of his business, customers, and family (and often enough these things are all one thing). I appreciate cookbooks that pay as much or more attention to matters of process and technique as they do to lists of ingredients and directions on what to do with them. (Alton Brown's books and TV show do much the same thing.) This approach to process -- explaining, for example, the purpose behind preparing egg salad in a certain way, or a perspective on dicing a green pepper -- syncs with the way I think (or the way I think I think), and is as interesting to me as any actual recipe in the book. As Shopsin is essentially a highly creative short-order cook, the recipes here tend towards the speedy and the simplified (not to say "simple," which is different), which appeals to this particular parent of young kids. Shopsin's character -- someone who is clearly devoted to his family but also neurotic and somewhat vulgar -- comes through here in a somewhat softer light than in I Like Killing Flies, but those harsher (and interesting) shadows are still apparent. I doubt there's any other cookbook out there that so approvingly compares bacon to a particular part of female genitalia.

Also, the book design (by Shopsin's daughter Tamara, who also does some design work for the New York Times) includes a pop-up-book-like pull tab that is highly appealing to two-year-old boys. Despite some dirty words, it's a family book.


And The Last Known Survivor Stalks His Prey In The Night

While the site administrator recovers from his Hope hangover and the cold that came with all that election night change, here are some pictures of the latter days of October.

Caleb aswing.

(I like the paparazzi / caught-in-the-act aspect of this one.)

Sam lives in the moment.

Trick or Treating. Cousin Aidan as the Red Power Ranger, Sam as a tiger, and Caleb as a boy who refused to wear a bear costurme.

"You, with the camera.  Give me some candy."

Comparing booty with Amelia.

Some last bits of autumn, with Uncle Eric.

And, yeah, Caleb really did not want to wear that bear costume:

Everything is going to be all right.


Yes We Did

Thank you, America.

In These Times of Trouble, I Will Love Mankind

I love election day.

It warms my cold, misanthropic heart.

This morning I stood in line and chatted with total strangers, everyone perfectly happy to wait upwards of 45 minutes to cast their sole and tiny ballot in the service of a peaceful transfer of power.

Plus, the kind people of Red Bull were handing out free cans of the stuff.

So I'm twitching happily, and filled with optimism, which is rare for me. The optimism, that is. Not the twitching.


From the Redwood Forests to the Gulfstream Waters

While my wife and I were in the adoption process, there was a period of slightly less than a month wherein we were waiting for certain permissions to bring Sam and Caleb into our home. Having the boys come home to us was something we wanted very, very much, but had very little actual control over the decisions of others. This was an incredibly tense and anxious time for us -- sleep never seemed restful and dreams were either disturbing or hard to let go of, which in some ways was the worse of the two. All that tension and anxiety manifested itself in our bodies -- tightened jaws, pinched shoulders, furrowed brows and slouched lower lumbars...

I probably have already made the point, in other posts, that I've been similarly -- if less drastically -- affected by the election. But, here's another important thing: for some time, I didn't want to buy anything that presumed we would get the boys. (I'm realizing now that I do carry a superstition, of the "Don't count your omelets before you buy the eggs" urban Midwestern pragmatist variety.) My wife, on the other hand, is a pre-planner, and so she wanted cribs and linens and clothing and diapers all ready to go.

I didn't want to face the prospect of having a room all set to go for twin boys, and then not have the twin boys. That seemed too difficult to imagine, and so I held out. But as my wife pointed out to me, this was just a defense mechanism, an artificial heart-hardening, that I used to try to pretend that I wasn't already fully emotionally invested in the situation. I would have felt just as horrible staring into an empty guestroom, had Sam and Caleb come to us, as I would have felt staring into an empty nursery.

All of which is to say, at great risk of jinxing things: Thanks in advance, America, for what it seems you are about to do.