Conversations With My Father: Part One

Ella: Do you know what’s fun?

Dad (in a deadpan voice): Parties and $hit.

Ella: Um…

Dad: Well, parties, mostly.

[Laughter]

Ella: I was actually going to tell you about going through my internet history this morning and discovering the disturbing amount of time I spent yesterday researching forest fires in the southwest and Prince Phillip (Britain’s longest serving consort and famous for saying really horrible though amusing things*), but that works too.

*Click here for some of his best lines.

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Tunes for a Very Special Road Trip

Greetings Blogizens —

It’s Mr. Ella’s Dad, substitute blogging again. Ella is out spending the night with her friends before tomorrow’s very special day. Since I’m bracing for a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth in the months ahead, I thought I’d pull together a playlist to ease the journey. Enjoy listening to this rapturous collection; feel free to add your own suggestions.

Blondie – Rapture

Norman Greenbaum – Spirit in the Sky

REM – It’s the End of the World as We Know It

U2 — Until The End Of The World

Guns ‘n’ Roses -Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door

The Pixies — Monkey Gone to Heaven

The Cure – (Feels like) Heaven

Cracker – Can I take my Gun to Heaven?

Mazzy Star – Be My Angel

Sly and the Family Stone – I Want to Take You Higher

Jimi Hendrix – Angel

Led Zeppelin – Stairway to Heaven

In Which Ella Consumes Red Meat, Hangs Out with Cecelia, and Watches Comedy

Today has been one of those dreary tired days. I woke up at half past noon and felt ready to take a nap some ten minutes later. While the humidity and drizzle is godsend for everyone suffering from allergies, I can’t help my complaining. It’s spring, and it should be gorgeous out.

After I shuffled my way downstairs, I made bacon and stayed in my pajamas until three. However, once my mom discovered that I hadn’t eaten lunch, I went to go get dressed so my dad and I could go get burgers. Somehow showing up at a restaurant in a pink bathrobe with hearts on it that I only properly fit when I was nine did not seem like a good idea. As we drove through town, I remarked on the newly painted lane dividers and strained my eyes to see the city, but all there was was a mass of mist, almost like the city and valley were shrouded with a cloud.

Sitting in a corner of the restaurant, I ate a thick chocolate milkshake with a spoon and listened to my dad talk about success in the modern world. He’s always right about (nearly) everything, and I find a great deal of comfort in knowing that following a conventional path is not a necessity anymore, because goodness knows I’m rarely conventional. Then, we went back home and framed pictures that had been taken of me all the way back in September. My legs look very big, and my sweater makes it seem as though there is fat above the waist of my jeans. But other than that, I like the pictures.

At around five, my dad drove me to Cecelia’s. Now, one of the best things about hanging out with a close friend is that you don’t have to do anything. You can just lounge about and talk for hours not worrying about boring the other person to death. I told her how I had lost nine pounds, and we planned for our trip to the beach. Biking is in and cooking anything with meat is out. It was all too short: she had to go babysit, and I had dinner to eat.

Lately, I’ve been having a lot of trouble gagging while eating. I’m a champion gagger already, having once thrown up on a chair in the doctor’s office after a strep test. I’ll spoon food into my mouth, start to chew, and then fight the urge to throw up. It’s monstrously unpleasant and not helping the gaining weight cause. In fact, eating normally is going so poorly that I’m seriously considering creating a soda and cookies diet where I drink one can of soda and eat two cookies everyday. It seems doable and could be effective.

I finished off my day by watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail with my father. Ever since I’ve seen Spamalot, I can’t stop mentally inserting the musical’s songs into the movie. It’s a major distraction. But the movie is still hilarious, and I will never fall out of love with the French knights.

So there you have it: my day.

My Father is Actually Ten

Today, while riding in the car to the Swiss Pork Store, we passed a restaurant called “Tasty Crêpes.” My father turned to me and says, “Tasty creeps? Now there’s a store I’d want to avoid!”

In a annoyed voice, Pippa protested, “Dad! It’s crêpes, not creeps!”

And so began a banter of “Creeps!” “No, crêpes!”

Then, just like a ten-year-old boy, my father gleefully said, “Infinite creeps. I win!”

I just rolled my eyes and said, “Turn left on River.”

But on days like today when I feel so sad my stomach hurts, these little moments are just what I need for a pick-me-up.

One More from the Old Man

Ella’s still off at model congress so here’s another post from Mr. Ella’s father.  This’ll be short, as I’m leaving tomorrow morning for 10 days in California.  As always, I’ll depart with mixed emotions.  I genuinely enjoy many aspects of business travel — seeing new places, meeting new people.  My work requires me to spend a lot of time talking to college professors about teaching and learning. It beats flipping burgers.  American higher education is in rough shape, but it’s still something that’s done better here than most anywhere else in the world.  You can’t say that about too many fields.  And there’s always a certain positive energy on college campuses — thousands of people working toward a better future for themselves and others.  Sure, there are the slackers, the greek brats, the spoiled kids.  But despite all of that, the dominant mojo on your average campus comes from people working on getting better at something, and helping others improve.  How many other environments feel like that?

So why the mixed feelings?  I’m leaving my family behind.   Regular readers of this blog know that Ella needs a lot of support.  That’s harder to give from 3000 miles away. When Ms. Ella’s mom is parenting solo, she gets worn down, and everyone has a rougher time of it.  I hate being the cause of more hardship and friction, even when I have to be off doing what I do.  Ella will be coming home tomorrow from a major expedition and I won’t be here to hear about it.  And I’ll be even farther out of touch with Pippa than I am already.

So I think I’ll take my cue from our cats, who have commandeered Ella’s bed during her absence.  I can relax and take this in stride, trusting I can handle whatever tomorrow brings.  Or I can peer nervously forward, dreading whatever may be headed my way. I’m thinking Max and Zelda have the right idea.

one bed; three cats

For April Fools Everywhere

Ella is off doing political battle — well, mock-battle — leaving her dad to write tonight’s post.  And what springs to mind?  Spring.  Today begins the month that T.S. Eliot called the cruelest.  He saw a near-obscenity in April “breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire.”  In the wake of ‘The Great War,’ a profusion of spring flowers probably did seem like nature mocking humanity’s pointless bloodlust.  Scanning today’s news – war, disaster, cruelty, terror, deceit and tyranny – can make one feel that in the return of birdsong nature is mocking us still.  The challenge of climate change, after all, is not that we need to save the planet – it will endure.  It’s that we need to keep from so thoroughly fouling our nest that we can no longer thrive.

But spring comes nonetheless, whether sunny and bright, or as this morning, with snow flurries, drizzle and persistently gray skies.  Earth has swung once more round its orbit to tilt its northern end toward the sun, just as in billions of orbits before, and billions more to come.   Like it or not, we’re in for some beautiful days ahead, at least until the next equinox.

Which leads me to another thing that springs to mind this April first: Rebecca Black. Even amid earthquakes, civil wars, tsunamis, air strikes and nuclear meltdowns, reviewers of her song “Friday” suggest she has raised disaster to new heights.

I have to confess I’m thankful for “Friday” in a way that old Tom Eliot might never understand. Despite a domestic and global political climate that seems like it can hardly get bleaker, one gormless teen can rise up and geek-bop her way into our national consciousness.  The middle east may be teetering on the brink of genocide or civil war, but we have bigger crises here at home.  Today the Arab world must choose, under force of arms, between tyranny and democracy.  Our Ms. Black faces a choice every bit as stark: “kickin’ in the front seat, kickin; in the back seat, gotta make my mind up: which seat can I take?”

As art, “Friday” is undoubtedly an excrescence. But as a cultural lightning rod, it is merely one of Eliot’s lilacs, a vain burst of happiness that mocks us in our mourning for a world gone deeply wrong.  This, after all, is what April fools day is all about.  Spring comes as surely as winter, whether we greet it with a dirge or drecky pop.

Tomorrow I’ll return to worrying about the all-out war on working families currently being waged by Republicans in the House, and in state Houses across the country.  But tonight it’s Friday, and I’m looking forward to the weekend.

On Running, Failure, and the Wimpy Bikes

My weight has finally stabilized, so when my dad asked me if I wanted to go work out this afternoon, I was able to say, “YES!” Of course, half the reason that I’ve been dying to go is because I got some really nice workout clothes this summer, and I haven’t been able to wear one of the pairs of pants yet. But, don’t get me wrong, I still do love running.

For those of us who have almost no hand-eye or foot-eye coordination, running is great.  I don’t have to try to hit a large ball with my fist so that it will fly over a net and not into the head of the person in front of me. (Mysterious sophomore-now-junior, I am so sorry for hitting you two years ago.) I don’t have to try to catch a flying disc and then get yelled at when I miss it. And I don’t have to get whacked in the head by a stick with a net on the end of it by overzealous boys. Because when it comes to running, you just keep moving and try not to fall down. Totally simple and doable.

Now, when I say that I love running, I mean that I love running on flat surfaces in the very early morning. Running around the soccer field or around the track during gym class at school is okay. But running on the streets or on a cross-country course in the middle of the hot as blazes afternoon is my idea of torture. (To be perfectly fair, my list of things that are torture is very long and includes other innocuous things like eating meat that has been reheated in the microwave.)

But running at the gym fits into this spectrum somewhat close to flat surfaces in the early morning. The treadmill is completely flat and the controls are so much fun to play with (when you don’t accidentally press the buttons that turn the speed up to ten or set the incline at maximum) while you’re plodding along. It’s normally pretty cool (temperature-wise) in the exercise room, too. If it weren’t for all the noise from the other machines, all of the sweaty, panting people, and the lack of interesting things to look at, I’d probably say that I like running at the gym a lot.

Anyways, I got all suited up in my grey stretch pants and matching tank-top, tied my shoes, searched madly for my old lime-green jacket that I only ever wear when I work out, and hopped in the car. While we were driving there, I made a new playlist that’s got some of my favorite upbeat and/or happy songs. (These playlist always turn out to be a bit bizarre. They always go something like this: Lily Allen’s $%^& You, followed by 5 Years Time by Noah and the Whale, followed by Mr. Brightsides, followed by the Russian Dance from the Nutcracker. See what I mean? Completely wacky.) We found a parking space, I complained about how cold it was when we walked from the garage to the gym, my dad paid for my guest pass, and we headed on into the exercise room.

I hopped onto the treadmill, felt like an idiot because I’d totally forgotten how to make the thing turn on, got my dad to start it, turned on my iPod, and started walking. And it felt pretty great. I was looking at myself in the mirror thinking, This is going to be so awesome. Doing three miles in thirty minutes will be a piece of cake. I turned the speed up after three minutes and started running.

And oh, my goodness gracious was I wrong. I had shin splints that were worse than the ones I would get when I ran cross-country in middle school. But I kept moving, trying to focus on not focussing too hard on any part of my body. I don’t know if this is true for everyone, but I find that the moment that I start to pay attention to how even my gait is, I start making these strange bounces every few steps. Or whenever I start congratulating myself on not getting a stitch in my side, it appears and hurts like heck. So I started counting by threes, all the way up to ninety-nine and back down to negative ninety-nine. It’s a more intelligent version of “Ninety-Nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall.”

So I just kept running. The back of my throat felt a little like I was tasting blood, you know, that way that it feels when you’ve been gulping down air and you’re getting tired, and it feels raw. My shins were screaming and about to burst into hysterics. After complaining to my dad, I turned the speed way down and resigned myself to just walking, but it still hurt. So I finally got off of the machine, wiped it down with disinfectant, and went to look for the locker room so that I could go to the bathroom.

I must have followed the wrong signs because I ended up in the locker rooms by the pool instead of the main ones. The gym is in a beautiful, old, brick building, so the hallways and stairs are reminiscent of a rabbit warren. Then, I had to find my way back upstairs. Of course, there were no signs for the exercise rooms whatsoever, but I’ve got a good sense of direction and was able to find my way back pretty quickly. Then, I got on one of the stationary bikes, the type that you can put on the easiest setting and peddle in a way that doesn’t put too much stress on your shins, and watched CNN Live until my dad was ready to leave.

I feel like a total wimp for not being able to actually run today, but I can’t help my shins splints. I have a theory that the shin splints were caused by all the walking I did this week and last with my heavy backpack (It weights over twenty pounds.) in shoes with no arch support to speak of. But I’m going back again tomorrow, even if I have to cop out and use the wimpy bikes, because that happy-I-can-do-anything-just-try-me feeling you get when you’ve had that really wonderful run, is so totally worth it.

Wii-Playing Conversations: Part One

Tonight as I was writing my “Act to Defend Marriage Freedom” for a Model Congress competition I’m going to this spring and watching my father play what must have been his eighth game of Wii Tennis, I said the following, “So you know how I love the Vlogbrothers? Well, they have this running joke where they add “in your pants” to the end of book titles. (This is where it all starts.) Like the easy reader, “Pooh Gets Stuck…in your pants.”

He laughed and countered it with Crime and Punishment…in your pants!

And we were off.

Gone with the Wind…in your pants

My Friend Flicka…in your pants

A Farewell to Arms…in your pants

The Stranger…in your pants

War and Peace…in your pants

The Very Hungry Caterpillar…in your pants

And so on, until I was crying and he was doubled over. It was wonderful and totally helped dissipate my anger directed at DOMA.

Do you have any good ones? Post ’em in the comments!