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Archive for May, 2009

DO PIGS BLEED?

The pre-schooler had gone to bed perhaps 30 minutes prior to yelling, “Dada? DADA?”

She has a habit of making bedtime as long an experience as possible (like most her age) and it is no surprise to step in, hear some insignificant, time-wasting little tale of a missplaced stuffed toy which happens to be below her chin and deliver a slightly volumous edict that if she does not go to sleep, there will be consequences.

But this was different. Because when I went into her room and sighed, “What do you want?” she was sitting upright, a book in her lap, and she asked, “Dada, do pigs bleed?”

It’s fair to say I was stunned. I mean, the question is one thing. Kids will ask these things at variously odd times, but she had never, ever shown the slightest sign that blood and life had anything to do with each other. She knew a bit about blood, such as from when you scrape your knee, or cut your finger. But in terms of it being a lifeforce which runs through all mammals? Got to say, not exactly the sort of thing we discuss at dinner, especially when we’re trying to get her to move beyond wheat pasta, yoghurt, a bit of chicken, peas and corn.

“Do pigs bleed?”

“Yeah…do they?”

“Yes. Yes they do. So do cows.”

“And sheep?”

“Yes, sheep do too.”

“They bleed too? They all bleed?”

“Yes because they’re all living things.”

“Do kitties bleed?”

This was a tough one to answer. Of course they bleed, but our beloved Fluffy, a 17 year old lion and family member, had stopped eating two days earlier, stopped drinking water, stopped using the bathroom and was wandering off to corners of the garden and house to be left alone. He was dying and my wife and I had just made the decision to bring a vet to the house so as he could be put to sleep. We were, to understate the situation, very sad. And now these questions.

She’s always been a perceptive little girl, emotionally tuned, perhaps too much so at times. I worry occasionally about her acute ability to pick up on an atmosphere or mood (it’s one of the reasons I’m very quick to make sure that if I’m in a bad mood of my own accord, I let her know it has nothing to do with her at all) and as I stood there beside her bed hearing these questions, I realized that she must’ve picked up on the dip in mood within the house. To think that such ‘vibes’ could unlock her mind into considering such matters as she tried to go to sleep!  

I looked at the book in her lap. It had a cow on the front and was obviously one of the many books she has about farm animals. Cows. Pigs. Chickens. Sheep…and lambs…and…

“Did you say ‘bleed’ or ‘bleaT’ as in ‘when sheep make noise they BLEAT!?’

“Yeah. Bleat. Do pigs bleat?”

“No but sheep do. And lambs. They bleat, that’s the noise they make, pigs go ‘oink’ and cows go ‘moo.’ Now go to sleep.”

“OK Dada…”

…Having found great relief that I was not, in fact, the father of a Midwich Cuckoo, I had to laugh. It’s how wars are started. But still the shadow of Fluffy hung heavily, and the next day, as we prepared for him to be put to sleep, the pre-schooler saw us both in various states of misery and gloom. The day after the night before, she and I found ourselves alone at the table. The teenager was at work, my wife was at work. It was late afternoon.

“Dada, I love you and Mama and Zsa Zsa and Fluffy…I want to always be with everyone.”

IMG_2026

Fluffy – RIP 5/26/09…the tweetest liddle puddy in the whole wide world


“You know that Fluffy has gone, like we talked about, that he was old and got ill so he went to sleep forever and isn’t coming back, because he died?”

“He isn’t here?”

“No, he went to sleep forever. Because he was very old and very ill, so he’s gone forever but there’s still some of him around, in the sky, in the air…”

She looked up at the ceiling.

“Where? I don’t see any of him?”

I laughed.

“It’s not ACTUAL bits of him, it’s his spirit, his personality, his ‘air’ which is always going to be here.”

“Oh…he was broken!!! Hee hee hee, Fluffy was broken and is up there, hee hee hee!”

“Yes, in a way you’re right. He was broken. His lungs stopped working properly and he wasn’t breathing properly.”

“What are lungs?”

“They’re the two organs behind your chest which allow you to breathe, and if you don’t breathe, then you’ll die, go go to sleep forever…”

“Oh. OK. I love Fluffy.”

“So do we all, and we can always love him…want to look at some photos?”

“YEAH!”

Soo we looked at photos of Fluffy, talked about him, sang the songs we’d made up about him, giggled about him and enjoyed him.

Last night I’d seen a cat who I wanted to get in a few weeks when we’re back from travels. Earlier my wife had said that she felt the right cat would come to us, make itself apparent. And having replied to a craigslist posting, I found out that that person who had fostered ‘Led’, an 11 month old medium-haired tabby/maine-coon who’s personality sounded perfect, was someone I knew. He had, indeed, found a way to come to us. And when we showed the pre-schooler, she squealed and declared she liked him. 

“What would you call him?” my wife asked.

“I would call him BUBBLES!” she yelled, laughing long and loud as she did so.

 Bubbles will be with us in late June…and Fluffy, I know, would approve…

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To some, when James Brown was arrested in 1988 for asking who was using his personal bathroom (whilst brandishing a shotgun) it was the act of a crazy man. I remember laughing along with everyone else.

Yet here I am, 21 years later, an older man, a father of two children, one just about to turn 17, the other about to turn 4, and I can tell you unequivocally that I, Steffan Chirazi, do solomnly swear that I understand EXACTLY why James Brown asked the question, why he insisted on waving a shotgun to punctuate his curiosity, and why every father should have their OWN goddam bathroom where NO-ONE ELSE CAN ENTER. That’s right, no-one. Not the kids, not the missus, not your visiting parents or in-laws, siblings, your dirty, slobbery, beer-stenched buddies, indeed, absolutely NO fucker should be allowed to use YOUR PERSONAL BATHROOM.

Because (and take a deeeeeeep breath) our bathroom time is a sanctuary; an escape from the pressures of everyday life, a welcome respite from the relentless dynamics of family life.  Ever heard someone yell in exasperation, “CAN’T I EVEN SHIT IN PEACE?” Well it was probably me. Yesterday. And the day before. And the day before that. And forever. Because I swear to God, whenever my bowels rumble or I get a tinkle-tickle, as soon as I make my way towards the bathroom, someone is guaranteed to either get there a fraction before me and take their time, or get there moments after I have closed the door and breathed a sigh of relief, hammering on the outside, perhaps just asking ‘how long I’ll be’ (answer: 20 minutes. Now can you kindly depart to the DOWNSTAIRS BATHROOM!!!!) or, I don’t know, asking,”Steffy, have you just gone in?” (No, I actually went in two hours ago, didn’t you notice?) Honestly, our family has the most extraordinary habit of  managing to disrupt my every movement; if I even get up quietly and head off to the can, someone’s onto it, someone will need something and the sanctity of my moment alone is destroyed. Example? 40 minutes ago, I tried to take a peaceful poo, only for two hands to bang on the door within 30 seconds of my arse touching the seat with a little voice yelling ‘DADA, I NEED TO GO PEE PEE!’ and my wife to shout, ‘Steffy, she needs to use the bathroom!’ Oh REALLY? WHAT a shock!!! I mean, Jesus, don’t  ANY of them understand? Half the time its NOT ABOUT DEFACTING OR URINATING, it’s about ESCAPING!!! Think of it as a mini-vacation, a small trip to a comfy place where your time is your own, you can do what you want and you answer to no-one. No passport, visa or cash needed. I mean, if I actually DID expunge waste every time I went through the hallowed portal, I’d be in need of a hospital!

The point is that  Mr.Brown knew the score when it comes to men and bathrooms, and unlike many of us, who spend our lives in constant compromise, Mr.Brown took it not only to the bridge but beyond the point of no return. That is to say, he didn’t give a flying fuck, he said it loud, ‘stay out of the man’s can or suffer the consequences.’ Yet society, in all it’s politically-correct ‘I’ve-never-thought-like-that’ hypocrisy saw fit to mock the Godfather of Soul, to castigate him for being ‘crazy’ and to ultimately arrest and incarcerate him.

Mr.Brown and I...

She never knew what we discussed in the dressing room until now!

I had the opportunity to discuss this with him a year before he passed away.* Mr.Brown was performing in Oakland and so recognizing a true ‘brother in arms’ I reached out. He responded. Yes yes yes, we discussed other stuff too, but we touched upon the importance of bathrooms to men in that short, simply way in which only two men bonded by deep understanding could do. As I remember, the conversation went something like this.

ME: Mr.Brown, I just wanted to say that whilst I once ridiculed you for your stance on bathrooms, I now not only understand it, I applaud it! Good Lord man, how the HELL did you survive all those years beforehand?

MR.BROWN: It was tough young Steffan, it was tough…when I was younger, with time, patience and no kids, I just stuck it out, other times I bolted the damn door so tight you’d have needed dynamite to get in, but for  much of the time in thee later years I wore headphones or earplugs so as I could not hear anyone.

ME: So you suffered the personal interruptions every Goddamn day too? Not just the filthy, disgusting criminals who compromised your sanctity with their useage?

MR.BROWN: Absolutely, abso-lutely! Of course my way of dealing with that was to run a very small electric wire around the door-frame,like what farmers have to keep sheep and cows in, with a light ‘charge’ and that soon dissuaded the would-be interlopers from ruining my can-time! Some would say that’s cruel, but to me, it was a way of signaling boundaries, which are important things to learn about in life. And as I have always said, you shit in another man’s toilet and you’re shittin’ on HIM! Which is not cool!

ME: What a fantastic idea!!! No-one ever got hurt?

MR.BROWN: Naaaaaa, of course not, that wouldn’t be right either. The point wasn’t to hurt people, it was to educate them! Nah, you just gotta juice it up enough to where they know that if they keep on fuckin’ with your toilet time, that it ain’t gonna feel good for anyone!!!

ME: Inspirational Sir!!! I thank you.

MR.BROWN: Not at all young Steffan…and let me guess…you’re a father right? 

ME: YES!

MR.BROWN: Coupla kids runnin’ around?

ME: YES YES!

MR.BROWN: Son…a few words of advice. Firstly, when in your sanctuary, develop the hearin’ of Helen Keller, the self-belief of prime-time Ali and the air of a President; remember, that’s YOUR time they’re messin’ with! And second? Get your own can…because without that, there can be no true peace between husband and wife, father or kids. Trust me on that one…

Of course the Godfather of Soul was right. And  when my means become as such that I can install a third bathroom around here, then it shall be done. It will be soundproofed, it will have a reading-rack which will hold all the finest publications from around the world, it will have a laptop computer on a swivel arm, it will have a small, flat-screen monitor into which soccer will be instantly available and it will have various types of lighting depending on what’s necessary. It will be mine!!! And no-one else will be ALLOWED TO USE IT OR INTERRUPT ME WHILST I USE IT!

 

 

 

*It is wholly possible I have got vast portions of our conversation completely wrong.

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It’s tough to know which was worse, the teenager getting a ticket to appear in court for not having his Muni pass with him on the train, or the pre-schooler discovering Barney the purple fucking dino-fucking-saur. 

I avoided that malevolent mauve moron for the teenager’s entire childhood; I didn’t even hum ‘I hate you, you hate me’ around the house for fear he’d want to know where it came from. And to be honest, I thought it had gone the way of the dodo, thus indemnifying me from dealing with it during her childhood. But alas no. The bastard is very much alive and kicking, a blubby paragon of ‘midwestern values’ and virtue. Confucious once said from atop a smokey mountain  that (and I quote) ‘if THAT is the definition of virtue, then consider me to be the most unvirtuous, dirty, filthy piece of shit ever to crawl the Earth’  and not only do I know exactly what he means, in this instance I resemble that remark. I mean, think about it…even an ancient Chinese philosopher saw ‘it’ coming!  I will thus be ‘hiding/losing/returning to the library by accident’ said DVD as soon as humanly possible.

Anyway, the ticket for the teenager. He received said-citation from an apparently fat, miserable and humorless ticket women with firestarter specs and a thick, near-inaudible accent (to be fair, all the preceding are jolly good reasons to be miserable in my book) and I feel sure that the deft combination of his mumbled monosyllabic tone and her heft-induced grumpiness created the sort of feelgood atmosphere that manifested itself as a $108 fine plus a demand to appear in juvenile court. Wonderful. All over a 50 cent fare versus a forgotten bus pass. I know I know, let one get away with it and they all want to get away with it, but Jesus, how about a little perspective?And if you DO need to punish him, how about a $40 fine and be done with it? Why does it have to become this big palaver? So yes,  I thought it was absurd, though I did lambast the youth for forgetting his pass (“You only have to remember to brush your teeth, get dressed, engage your brain and bring your wallet and keys with you for Christ’s sake, is that really so fucking hard?!”) but nontheless I saw it as an opportunity; an opportunity to show him that the world, the wonderful benevolent, warm and fuzzy world, every so often demands that you tap dance in a monkey suit in front of the elected guardians of our society.

This meant that I ordered him to wear black pants and get his black jacket, to find a shirt and to make sure he was clean-shaven (because we are currently at the age where facial hair means you-are-the-maaaan and I explained in no uncertain terms that in THIS instance he would NOT be viewed as ‘the man’ more than  a reprobate). 

We made our way to the Juvenile Justice building (sounds like a sponsored concert venue) and having gone through a metal detector (I wasn’t carrying my my semi-automatic or knuckle-duster, not because I’d planned it but just because I forget them) we wound our way downstairs. The teenager looked at me as though he wanted guidance. “Read the bloody ticket!” I said, my way of spreading some responsibility. 

“Ugggh!” the criminal fare-dodger groaned, ” we have to go upstairs to the third floor!”

“An early lesson in cheap beurocracy all of this!” I fired off, “different floors every five minutes, a distinct lack of smiling, you want to hope the delinquents ahead of you haven’t worn the Beak down, because if they have, it’s going to be tough!”

He looked miserable.

“So, do you know what you’re going to say?”

“Yeah, I’m going to say I’m very sorry but I forgot my bus pass and that I plead guilty to the charge.”

“Good. And call the judge ‘your honor’ because that’s what you have to do.”

He checked his clothing.

“If I don’t get off after putting this on, I’m going to be pissed off!”

“I don’t think you have any latitude to be getting pissed off right now about anything!” I rumbled in a rumbly ‘big-voiced-parent type way.

“Ughhhhhhh!” he said by way of a reply.

The elevator doors opened (being a public lift used mostly by potential young offenders, it was poorly maintained and traveled at snail speed) and there, before us, was the third floor. A pot-pourri of baggy-panted youth with nary a belt between them, nervous looking public defenders twittering* into thin air and giant, sweaty, angry looking cops and sheriffs prowling around, prodding clumps of teen into over-filled rooms with no air-conditioning. It’s fair to say that we had before us  the proverbial human zoo.

We made our way along the thin corridor lined with miscreants smacking gum or spouting curses (“IT AIN’T MAH FAULT THE FUCKIN’ BEYATCH IS A FUCKIN’ HO’ WHO DON’T BELIEVE ME!” was one I caught) and found the traffic citation waiting room. Inside were three youths, beltless between them as seemed to be the norm for this establishment, having a conversation where every sentence contained the phrase ‘ma nigga’ at least twice. Meanwhile, old suited-and-booted beside me was quiet. I don’t think he was ruffled at all, he’s worked with many youths like this, but I do think the situation’s relative lack of comfort was starting to bear down on him. Either that or he was hungry, it was tough to tell.

His name was called and in we went to a small room where there sat a judge in front of a table. No jury of our peers, not even a stenographer, just some bored, yawning policewoman. She ran through the charge and asked him how he pled. He said guilty, but before he could throw out his excuse, she was motoring ahead. I quietly suggested he ask if he could speak. He did and she let him. His delivery wasn’t Al Pacino, but to be fair he made his point politely enough. Indeed, in the great arena of monkey-suited tap-dancing, he had passed the test, although given the standard of competition on the 3rd floor, had he failed I’d have checked to see if his arms were longer than his body or his knuckles dragged on the floor.

“I am going to offer you the chance to take a 3 hour life management skills course,” said the judge, “the class will cost you $40 but the fine will be waived so long as you complete the class.”

It was, as one says, a no-brainer. And with a few smiles and a ‘thank you’ we were out. 

As we got to the car, he expressed relief.

“I’m just happy I don’t have to pay the fine!” he sighed.

“It’s essentially a $40 ticket and the social equivalent of traffic school,” I said.

“Yeah…” he paused. “Err, Dad…remember you said you’d help me with the fine if it was the full-fine?”

“I remember saying I’d consider it!” I snapped back.

“Well, would you split this one with me?”

“What, $40?!!!” I laughed, “you are taking the piss now…enjoy the out of jail card and get some money from the bank.”

“…OK OK…”

Later that night, at work in the ballpark, he had his best night ever for tips, pulling in $90. His average tip-take was around 20-25. Already he was back in the saddle, class money in hand and a tired but enthusiastic smile on his face. And whilst he will never forget his trip to Juvenile Court, 10 hours and $90 later the memory had significantly dimmed…

 

* How sad I should have to do this; when I say ‘twittering’ I mean twittering in the ‘nervous talking’ sense and not the useless texting or typing sense in which most people now interpret the word and it’s various cousins.

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It was, to understate the moment, not one of my better uses of the English language in public.

Having done a rather good job of driving with a zen attitude in the last couple of years (that is to say, not screaming and chuntering at everyone who does me perceived wrong on the road) I undid 18-odd months of work in one expletive-filled minute. I was crossing Haight St on Ashbury, eyeing a parking space across the intersection. A bus was pulling through at the same time, and as I was half-way through, the light changed to amber. I delicately turned a slight left, and there, in the crosswalk, was a large, cumbersome oaf of a youth. Tattoos, bald, baggy white t-shirt, baggy jeans slipping of his overtly generous arse, you know the type, one of those teenagers who thinks they’re a tough ghetto kid because they heard an Eminem album once. In short, a tragic cocktail of blubbering teenage unconfidence, and seering stupidity; which in this case combined to fashion a beast who stopped it’s slow progress, stared at me, made some gestures and said something. I did, I admit, react like fire to gasoline. For a start, I returned the lumbering oaf’s gestures. And as I managed to get through the crosswalk and to the parking spot, he stopped as if to challenge me. Sadly, I accepted, lowering my window

“What the fuck’s your problem dickhead?” I said, taking great care to use words with no more than two syllables so as it would comprehend clearly what I was saying.

“Well…I WAS SAYIN’ ARE YOU DRIVIN’ A FUCKIN’ SLALOM COURSE?!!!!” at which point the lumpen creature jumped back away from the car, turned and walked off at speed. I couldn’t resist.

“That’s right, fuck off you fat wanker!” I shouted at him as he retreated, which taking into account my own rather ample stomach was perhaps not the wisest thing to have shouted. In fact let’s be honest, none of what I yelled was what you’d expect from a 42 year old father…father…father…ah yes, I suddenly remembered I was a Dad.

“Say that again Dada, go on, say it again, again…”

I clicked bolt upright.

Oh no!

In my haste to engage the gormless dickhead youth, I had momentarily forgotten that the pre-schooler was in the car. She was why I’d even gone to the Haight, aiming as we were to get to Mendell’s Art Supply Shop before it closed for some left-handed scissors and more construction paper. And her reaction was, well, you can see what it was.

“You know what, Dada should NOT have done that, it was very wrong and not very smart, I’m sorry you heard it.”

“That’s OK Dada, now do it again, I want you to, do it again!”

 

And that properly informs you as to who she is…a complex and extremely smart young girl who’s father knows is going to ride said-parent (and spouse) like a wet-dog for many years. In the best possible way of course. Here’s the rub; she hears language like that, but thanks to not just a quick self-criticism on my part but also an inate feel for language and it’s appropriateness, she has not repeated one word of it. But I know she remembers every single one. This is the girl who can now make out what the word is when you spell out c-a-n-d-y amongst others. So I can safely say she remembers the word ‘wanker’ yet strangely, I am not scared that she is going to bust it out at an inopportune moment because of that aforementioned feel for language. No, her brain is moving too fast to dwell on a rude word. What an inconvenience! There are far too many other things to be doing, such as reading stories to her entire throng of stuffed friends, holding tea-parties every half an hour, playing ‘teacher’ with any living thing (including Fluffy the cat) and attempting to go to sleep. Take last night’s attempt as an example, her Mum having put her to bed.

MY WIFE: Nighty-night.

PRE-SCHOOLER: Night-niiiight.

P-S: Mom?

MW: Yes?

P-S: I need to go to the bathroom (this after having gone 10 minutes prior).

MW: OK, hurry up and then back to bed.

P-S: OK Mom.

(bathroom is used)

P-S: Nighty-night Mama.

MW: Mighty-night…

(a minute later)

P-S: Mom?

MW: WHAT?!

P-S: Can I get up and open my door a teeny-tiny bit?

MW: NO, GO TO SLEEP!

P-S: Ooooooo Kaaaaayyy.

(another minute)

P-S: Mom?

MW: WHAAT?!!

P-S: I NEED TO GO THE BATHROOM AGAIN!

MW: (sighs, huffs a bit, complemented by husband yelling ‘this is the last time, you’re taking the Mickey!’) THIS IS THE LAST TIME.

P-S: OK…and Mom?

MW: YES?

P-S: Don’t forget to put the dishes in the washer, and don’t forget your sunglasses tomorrow…

HUSBAND: HURRY UP, YOU’RE TAKING THE MICKEY NOW! GEDDONWITHIT!

P-S: Am I also taking the Minnie?

Incidentely, this is the edited version, and it went on for another three exchanges and another 30 minutes of singing to herself before she finally shut down. Such behavior  has led me to refer to her, in conversation with my wife, as the kindred spirit of the border collie. Both are extremely smart, both need to constantly be worked before they’ll drop to sleep and I happen to love both too, although my border collie could become a bit more a nap-dog and I wouldn’t entirely complain. Indeed, her need to be put to work is so intense that in our house, threats for not finishing your dinner are like this.

“Listen, if you do NOT finish you dinner properly, you will NOT be able to wipe the table and floors with the lemon wipes.”

It is a threat which always see her jaw drop in anticipation of the possibility she might be stripped of one of her favorite things to do; cleaning any available surface with lemon scented surface wipes. Of course, I can calm your fears by telling you that we would never be so cruel as to deny a young lady what she loves, thus she never loses the privilege of cleaning our dining room table post-meal, and if she’s really good, we’ll let her work on a floor or two. It’s simply the sort of benevolent parenting I promote, and in all reality, as long as we’re all happy then who are YOU to comment?!!!!

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