Archive | November, 2011

Simone and the art of negotiating

28 Nov

Buffeted by graduate school and a vicious cold over Thanksgiving, I’m not back to normal but at least back to the blog. I have half a dozen mostly finished entries, waiting for me to break through the inertia and complete them. Expect more in the coming days.

Simone is now two years old. She talks. A lot. She’s taken to saying, “She’s so cute,” about her baby dolls. She can count to eleven and recognize some letters. But she’s using her newfound language abilities to manipulate and deceive. She tries to play Beth and me against each other. She’ll tell me, “Mama says I can watch,” and then she’ll run down the hallway and say to Beth, “Daddy says I can watch.” She’ll then settle on the couch in front of the TV, waiting. I’d be worried if it weren’t so adorable. She’s already a cagey character. She gets that from her great uncles.

She also tries to negotiate. Whenever we tell her to stop something, she says, “Two more minutes, daddy. Okay, five more minutes daddy.” What’s amazing about her approach is that I actually negotiate back, but to little avail. Her technique is foolproof: she promises anything and then backs out with a tantrum when its time to stop.

Just like her mother.

Simone’s favorite movies at the moment are Meet the Fockers (it’s a long story) and The Muppet Movie (although when the frog bounty hunter shows up near the end, she gets scared and asks me to switch it off). Her favorite book is King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub. We’ve both been digging the Danger Mouse faux spaghetti western soundtrack Rome. It’s killer: the best soundtrack to a nonexistent movie, ever. It’s one of the only albums she doesn’t switch off after a few minutes.

We’re working our way through the fall. The trees are leafless, the sky has turned shale gray, and the cold, damp ground has the consistency of muck. I’m still reading short fiction and essays. The best has been Pulphead, by John Sullivan, and Civilwarland in Bad Decline, by George Saunders. Pulphead, and a lot of people have been saying this, is superb. Sullivan gives the second-best essay on The Real World I’ve ever read. (Chuck Klosterman’s essay edges Sullivan’s out by just a hair.) His first essay follows his visit to a large, outdoor Christian rock festival. It’s a fantastic personal essay, wandering through his past religious beliefs while appraising the people he meets at the festival. I can’t think of a writer who has better captured the melancholy that can accompany the loss of faith. (Except for Philip Pullman, near the end of His Dark Materials. A character asks a former nun, “Do you miss God?” She responds, “All the time.”) I highly recommend it.

A great book by one of Kentucky's wayward sons.

As for viewing, before the Christmas movie kickoff—we watch the same batch of movies every year—we’ve been riveted by Breaking Bad. It’s a spectacular show. It makes few mistakes; quality has never looked so easy. The show has an elegant visual texture: the edits are so precise and interwoven into the storytelling that it feels like you’re living through parallel lives. The show is grim, even distasteful, but it offers a demystifying view of criminal life. The underworld is portrayed as nothing more than a sandpit, with deadly vermin trawling through the sifting grains. The two leads, negotiating a dusty moral terrain, continue to make bad choices, and are consequently sullied, humiliated, and morally destroyed. They become toxic, poison not just to themselves but also to the people around them. They murder, they blackmail, they cause mayhem. And they hate themselves for it. Describing the show makes it sound more stilted than it is; the watching of it is fun as hell. Seeing Walter White, the main character, transform from a sniveling middle class teacher into a vicious, nail-hard criminal is rapturous.

The best thing out there. Not a television show, but rather a filmed novel.

Finally, for those interested in the truth behind the regulation versus deregulation dialogue in American politics, check out Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room. It’s a damning indictment of the deregulation paradigm, revealing with careful, objective detail the results of California’s deregulation of the electricity sector in the 1990s: profiteering; rolling blackouts; tons of collateral damage; and enormous amounts of money for those fleecing the taxpayers. Disagree with me? Check it out and then we’ll discuss it.