Thursday, April 23, 2009

Help! There's a pirate on my blog!

Friends,

One of the very best things that has come out of my having a momblog these past few years is the reg'lar readers with whom I have forged new and surprising friendships. In the spirit of this happy event, I have asked one of my dearest and most unlikely readers to guest-post this week. Tony Park, whom some of you may know as "tonypark," also as "childless man from Australia" also as "tp" (thought that does not in this case refer to "toilet paper") is one such online treasure that I have had the pleasure of gabbing with online. Tony is indeed a childless man from Australia who somehow enjoys the Crabmommy musings. Tony is also a writer, of many books, thrillers set in Africa where he and his wife, Nicola, spend half the year, driving around in a land rover, drinking too much, bathing too little, and finding material for Tony's novels, such as Zambezi, Silent Predator and soon-to-be-publighed Ivory.

Ivory is a racy yarn about pirates off the coast of Africa, and I think it's very clever of Tony to have lately orchestrated an actual piratic (or is that piractic?) event for American readers, off the coast of Somalia, to coincide with the publication of his novel.

Following on from the recent comments of my last post, involving piracy, I asked TP, my resident expert, to post on the matter. And so I entreat you to read on, comment, and to visit Tony's website where you can buy his books and see a picture of him. He is very tall. He is also a major in the Australian Reserve. I am 5'2" in thickly soled Skecher sneakers. I am not at present involved in any military undertakings. As you can see we have a lot in common. Okay, take it away, Tony...

Avast, mommies and daddies… there be no talk of cute kids, Bristol Palin, baby showers or Gwyneth Paltrow on the good ship Crabmommy today. For this blog has been boarded (temporarily), by pirates!

Aye, the Crab has scuttled away across the floors of silent seas and I, Tony Park, have come here seeking answers (from what I’m assuming is a mostly female demographic).

My question for ye is, what is it about pirates?

In the comments on the Crabmommy’s last post, Ravi raised the whole idea of what kids–and adults–think about pirates. Simply put, it seems that fictional pirates are OK, but real pirates are bad. I’m good with all that, totally, but I want to know why.

My latest pot-boiler, “Ivory” (due for release in August), is about modern day pirates off the coast of Africa. No fewer than five of my female friends insisted, at corkscrew point, that I use their names as characters in the book and all were adamant that they wanted to keep company with the lead pirate (two added the further rider that their fictional alter egos must have exceptionally good legs).

Three more women paid significant amounts of money at charity auctions I spoke at last year to buy their way into the book. I later approached one of the successful bidders and offered her the choice of the last two unnamed female characters in the book.

“Would you like to be the PA to the managing director of a shipping company, or the pirate hero’s old girlfriend?” I asked, adding: “The ex-girlfriend is married, with two kids, but the pirate king has a one night stand with her anyway.”

“Duh,” replied the woman by email. “What do you think?”

I put the question of what it is that women find attractive about pirates to a twenty-year-old I know. Her take was that pirates reminded her of rock stars. “They drink, they sing, they wear leather and they, like, completely trash whatever place they land in.”

Interesting. Like some gender blender rock stars I could name, pirates don’t tend to conform to the more mainstream stereotypical definitions of manliness. Pirates wear pantaloons, puffy shirts and knee-high roll-top boots. Johnny Depp’s much-beloved (by chicks, at least) Captain Jack Sparrow further sports guy-liner and Whoopie Goldberg hair.

Taking on board the notion that someone like, say, Bruce Willis, will probably never be cast as pirate king, I wanted to give my leading seaman a sensitive side. He’s actually been forced into piracy by the current economic climate and is hijacking ships to help fulfil his life’s dream of renovating an abandoned hotel on an island off the coast of Mozambique. He steals paint and building materials and flat screen televisions, and has an eye for soft furnishings. He plots hotel room renovations in between raids on unarmed merchantmen.

Of course, as Ravi and Crabmommy mentioned in their recent comments, the fascination with pirates begins for most people at a very early age. As you parents may be aware, the Australian children’s music group, The Wiggles, has a pirate character called Captain Feathersword.

If using a feather as a sword isn’t a precursor to wearing eye makeup, then I don’t know what is, yet I have a mate whose son wouldn’t leave the house for two years unless he was dressed as the aforementioned Cap’n. (To the lad’s credit, he also carried a small plastic version of an earthenware jug, which he told me contained ‘grog’. “All pirates drink grog,” he assured me.)

Predictably, my fictional nest of pirates also includes one or two bad eggs, to remind readers that piracy is actually bad, and that not all pirates are like Johnny Depp and Errol Flynn.

In fact, let’s be honest about this. The good pirate is up there with the hooker-with-the heart-of-gold and John Grisham’s principled lawyers. Pirates always have and always will rob and kill and rape and pillage, so why do people dress their children as buccaneers and why do I have a book full of pirate wenches with names like Jane, Lesley, Sue, Lisa, and Kim?

Can someone please tell me what it is about pirates? Do you encourage piracy in the home?

Monday, April 20, 2009

A Heartbreaking Anecdote Revealing Staggering Genius

Since this is a mom blog, I like to indulge myself every so often with little snippets of the darnedest thing my tot does and says, as they are all wont to do.

Scenario:

Crabkid (age 4.5) climbs out of the bath. As always, I dry between her little toes and tell her that if we don't, "mushrooms will grow between them." Then I pretend to spot one and eat it. It is pink and delicious! But Crabkid appears to be outgrowing this sort of nonsense:

"That's not real," she says, full of scorn. "You always tell me things that aren't real."

"So what do you believe in?" I'm genuinely curious to hear the answer. Crabkid has always seemed skeptical about the usual fantastical things of childhood, politely listening to tales of Easter bunnies and Santa Claus but never really seeming to be swept away by the magic. "You believe in Santa Claus, right?" I test her. "And fairies?"

She shrugs, noncommittal.

"Tell me, what do you believe in?" I ask again.

"Chicken nuggets." And then she adds, "and people."

Isn't she a nugget of delight?

Why, thank you. I agree.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

GOOP OFF! Gwynnie's ticked off with me!

It is a sad thing when the world commands so much of one's attention that one can't make good on one's promises: I had promised you I'd dissect every single GOOP newsletter that Gwynnie-pops Paltrow ever sent me, but I'm several newsletters behind.

But at least I used the pronoun "one" in the above paragraph, which gives one a certain a propos British tone, when one is speaking of a certain transplanted member of the Commonwealth. A certain member who sends out monthly GOOPy newsletters in order to share with the world her "incredible" and "very lucky, very unique life."

Anyhoo, in the latest installment of GOOP. I really feel Gwynz hit the nail on the head. Finally, she is actually talking to me, not above me or down to me, but to me.

Me, personally. Because this week's newsletter focuses on people who enjoy taking others down. It involves a very big, very German word, that Gwyneth wants one to rid oneself of: schadenfreude. This week, Gwyneth asks a bunch of her sages how we can stop being such bitchrocks, crabmommies and generally mean-o people who delight in the dressing down of others:

I’m curious about the spiritual concept of “evil tongue” (speaking evil of others) and its pervasiveness in our culture. Why do people become energized when they say or read something negative about someone else? What does it say about where that person is? What are the consequences of perpetuating negativity or feeling schadenfreude?
And I totally know she is talking about Crabmommy. Because Gwyn recently spoke the evil tongue in the media, jabbing back at those of those of us who have been speaking the evil tongue about GOOP:
F--k the haters! I saw this blog of people writing horrible things about me and for a second your ego is so wounded. How could people hate me, my intentions or what I’m trying to do? I’m a good person and I’m trying to put good things into the world.
Gawd, do you think it could really be me she's talking to? I am so totally hoping so! But there are a few of us who have GOOPed off on the lass, so I can't be sure she was talking to the Crabmom. No matter, either way this hit of pure schadenfreude I just received—in knowing that Gwyn has been made to feel like a toss (albeit only for a wounded second) about this pretentious, condescending new empire of hers—
is wonderfully energizing. Almost like a trip to the gym! Thanks, Gwyn!

But hey, in all seriousness, when the laughter has died down we haters need to look deep within ourselves and see the negative energy we shoot at others for the pernicious awfulness that it is.
Yes, I know there are people out there who think it's time I stopped dissing on the Gwyn. Including Gwyn herself. And lawd knows her Zen and Kabbalist sages wouldn't approve of my childish scoffing!!

The problem is I happen to think raining on smug people's parades is something of a social service. And it feels so good!

That was the devil speaking in evil tongues on my shoulder just there! Sorry! I really am trying to take the sages' advice to heart. Let me try again. Hmmm...let me see...can I hear the good voice deep within my inner aspect... the nourishing voice? The inner, nicer Crabmommy? Yes, I can....here she is:

"Hi, guys! I'm Crabmom's inner nourishing angel. I don't get out much, so excuse me if I sound a little shy and unsure of myself. Um, Crabmommy? Leave Gwyneth alone! Ignore her newsletter if you don't want it, and stop trashing something simply designed to be helpful, something designed to put good things into the world, something that comes from
Gwyn's innermost aspect! OK?"

Me: "You mean the aspect that motivates her to share her 'very unique life' [sic.]
?"

Angel: "What does 'sic' mean?"

Me: "It means there's no such thing as 'very unique.' We are all unique, each person on the planet as important and unique as the next. That's Zen 101, Gwynnie!"

Angel: "Hey! If you can't say anything nice, why don't you just say nothing at all! F--k you, hater!"

SPLAT!

Yes, that was the sound of me killing my inner angel. Once and for all.

I think it's fair to say I'm going a bit loopy and goopy over here. Enough nonsense! Here's the thing: I can't and won't stop reading my GOOP! For I don't keep reading that GOOP I will not be able to reap, albeit secondhand, the rewards that come from reading the words of someone privileged enough to tap the very greatest sages on earth in order to go very deeply and organically into her very nourishing inner aspect even if outwardly she sounds like a patronizing prig. Quite simply, if I don't got GOOP, I can't pick out my next sailor-striped tee, much less my next kitchen sink:
I have this incredible, blessed, sometimes difficult, very lucky, very unique life, and I've gotten to travel all over the place and to work and live in different cities. … I go on tour with my husband and go to cities I would never necessarily go to. So I started accruing all of this information. I am the person my friends call when they want to know: "I am redoing this bathroom, and I want a sink that looks midcentury, but a contemporary version of a midcentury. Where should I go?"
Gwyneth Paltrow

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Mother's Day In: Rejected Essay #1

This is the first of a new mini-series, Rejected Essays. I wrote it many years ago back when I was a new arrival in Crabtown. I tried to sell it in various forms to the usual venues—Babble (they said they were too urban to pub an essay by a ruralmom! I told them urban is a state of mind and my essay was all about that very thing, but they nixed it anyway, the smug urban twits); also sent it to Brain, Child (I guess it wasn't brainy enough); Cookie (no room for first-person essays of this sort) and blah-di-blah. Having just read an interview with Cheryl Hines (the actress playing one of the moms in the new TV comedy In the Motherhood) at Cookiemag.com, my erstwhile home, I decided it was high time I published this essay. The actress mentions a similar anecdote to the one I describe here. I guess they are filming it for In the Motherhood.

Incidentally, I am boycotting In the Motherhood b/c they had the cheek to send their PRs to my and other momblog websites asking us to share our stories with their show producer in some sort of exciting phone call. I told them the Crabmommy's idea of an exciting phone call with their producer begins and ends with a discussion of money and credit. Wankers. Seriously, PR, read my bloody blog. I'm not here to help you with your TV show.

Anyhoo, Hines reminded me of a funny story I myself tried to tell many years ago, but couldn't get anyone to run. The beauty of a blog? You can just run your own dang rejects yourself. Hopefully you will enjoy, my dears! And Crabtown readers, there's a little poetic license taken here and there; I hope you will humor it. Okay, enough chit-chat. Rejected Essay Part Uno...

Mother's Day In

After our baby was born, we did the unthinkable. We did exactly what we had always scoffed at, what we swore we would never do, what no real New Yorkers–no truly urbane parents–ever resort to, no matter how challenging the life of cramped apartment and schlepping stroller into subway. We left.

We nixed suburbs (we’d both read Revolutionary Road), but when my husband got offered a job in a remote and famously charming mountain Rocky Mountain resort, leaving seemed better than staying. Because when you get knocked up and have to move so deep into Brooklyn it feels like the end of the world, switching city for town doesn’t sound, well, like the end of the world anymore. And so there comes a day when you look at each other and agree that having a baby in the city with no bucks absolutely blows, and let’s just finally, after all this talking about and conjecturing about life in other places–let’s just stun ourselves and our friends and get out of here.

But the decision was made in the full thrust of summer. To stroll gently upon alpine meadows containing bashful deer, or to stay in steamy Kensington, Brooklyn, mashed against the narrow corner-store grocery aisles by forceful Ukrainian matriarchs?

Problem is, summer’s gone now. And, I think I might have made a mistake. Certainly all this time, space, and distance is making me obsess over what I’ve abandoned, all those things I’d always taken for granted in New York, things you don’t even think about until you’ve left. For instance, one of the best things about living in New York City is that no one ever invites you on a hike. In winter. With your baby in a backpack and tennis rackets on your feet. In a big city, such activities can be avoided. In our new town, this sort of thing unfortunately happens all the time.

Here, winter lasts forever–longer if you’re lazy and have an infant. And Patagonia-clad moms’ groups deal with winter by getting into it, in snowshoes, scampering up ice-shellacked buttes, offspring stashed dorsally in high-performance carriers. But not me, not mine. No thanks. Having had no choice but to Bjorn my hefty daughter for the first nine months of her life, on foot from subway to bus and Brooklyn to Manhattan, why would I choose to pick her up and put her on my back when I finally have a car?

Except there aren’t many places to drive to with a tot when the playgrounds are frozen for most of the year. And without playgrounds we can’t make any friends, hence no playdates. No matter, we shall hunker down at home, the baby and I, and I shall entertain her with a hip-mom technology-shunning program involving books, wooden toys, and fetching felt finger-puppets.
That was the plan. But it does not go well. The all-day one-on-one mom-baby time is a clear and unremitting hell. I ditch the wooden toy mandate fast–show me a tot who actually likes a Haba spinning top!–and it’s on to television, preferably all day, though to my great disappointment Teletubbies don’t mesmerize a baby half as much as people caution.

The months move glacially. I revisit the options: what’s worse, staying home where baby and I are both crazed with boredom and isolation, or backpacking with a moms’ group into some nasty dark canyon, me huffing in the altitude while my poor chilly mite snots up the back of my puffy jacket, ice wind chapping her delicate cheeks…? To be sure, neither of us is digging it at home but still I can’t bring myself to climb a mountain instead, nor can I bear to exchange my MacLaren XT for a winterized jogging-type stroller adapted with snow tires for walks across the elk-inhabited tundra downtown.

But judging by the other mothers I see leaping, jogging, shushing through ice and snow, I am entirely alone in my distaste for activity, and I miss the sensible girls I once knew, for whom competitive knitting is about as aerobic as it gets.

We do break out for Storytime at the library on Thursday mornings; nonetheless I feel trapped and glum. Other mothers seem happier, but in a town where people seem hell-bent on teaching their infants–and yours–how to high-five, maybe happiness, like stay-at-home motherhood and living in a snowy hamlet, isn’t really for me after all.

“I go to the rec center,” one mom, my neighbor says. She’s the only mom I’ve met here who complains about motherhood. (Another thing to miss about city life–all the abundant complaining!) “The rec center is great,” she says. “You dump your kid off in the daycare and then go swim. It’s the only way I stay sane. I practically live there.” Makes sense–she’s Amazonian, superfit, like everyone else here. “Besides,” she adds, “the daycare is only two dollars an hour.”
Two dollars? It sounds impossible, but having never set foot in anything resembling a rec center, how would I know? I heard something about these sports center thingies in NYC that came complete with daycare, but they always required a hefty membership fee. Besides, baby-toting was more than enough workout for me: I never had the slightest desire to re-firm my abs or deal with my wibbly thighs post-enfant. All I ever wanted was to rest, something entirely too costly for my budget.

But two dollars. That I could manage.

“So long as you’re a member and you remain on the premises, you can do the Kiddie Klub from nine to noon” a rec center employee, Bryce, verifies when I drive over to check things out. Bryce is both girly and butch, with a skimpy voice and huge lats. He takes me over to a gigantic tot-and-toy-infested gym room. “Kids love it here.” I feign concerned parental interest as he details the abilities of the Klub staff and how no child ever cries with so-and-so but my mind is on the money and the numbers make me giddy. “It’s a very fun and safe environment,” Bryce concludes. Fun? Who cares? It’s two dollars an hour! Safe? What’s the worst that can happen in a room lined with gym mats and life-size plush pandas? I mean, is an adult really even necessary? Hell, if they shaved a buck off the fee, I might forgo the warm body and take my chances, do two hours for the price of one…

Bryce keeps chit-chatting but all I hear is two bucks this and two bucks that. I can palm my child off for less than a cup of coffee! Less than a Nuk pacifier! It’s music to my desperate ears because, town for city notwithstanding, we’re still poor and any sort of paid childcare has been out of the question. Until now.

I pay the absurdly cheap Rec Center annual membership fee on the spot. There’s only one small problem: Now I have to swim. Or otherwise exert myself. I take a look at the bulletin board. Morning schedule lists lap pool and cardio-something in the only other gym room. I walk around. Two pools. A damp small lounge area opposite the front desk. Is swimming worse than playing with tot or better? Swimming worse than hiking or hiking worse than swimming? Why does it always come back to exercise? The rec center now feels like a rebuke, part of this town’s ploy to get a mother off her ample postnatal nether-cheeks and make her work out. Apparently if I want even a shred of time to myself, I’ll have to swim for it.

Or will I?

Would anyone check to see if I was actually swimming? The front desk, the daycare gym room, the pool, none are in view of the others. What if I just pretend to go swimming, pass through the swinging doors with a sports bag as though on my way to the pool and then just sort of…lurk. Under the radar and in a stairwell. Doing nothing. For a whole hour, maybe even two, if nobody caught on. I could read. Make phone calls. Or I could just stretch out on the floor of the capacious handicapped toilet. Bliss!

Day one. 10 am. Bryce signs me in, I hand tot over to daycare staffer, a teen whose golden looks, easy cradling of an infant, and blank expression made her seem a likely Mormon and therefore far more qualified to serenely look after an entire fleet of bleating toddlers than I am to mind my own single child. Bryce scans my ID. “Well,” I say, making a big show of throwing a towel over my shoulder and heading for the locker room, “If you need me, you know where to find me.”

Not exactly, Bryce. For I slip away, down the hall, dodge the locker room, pass the pool. I come to rest at cul-de-sac near the rear exit, spend some quiet time wedged discreetly in a nook between the snack machine and a water fountain. I see no one. No one sees me.

“Good workout?” the Mormon asks when I return after a phenomenal hour spent playing playing Minehunt on my Palm Pilot. “Great,” I reply and hug my daughter. “We’ll be back tomorrow!” And I shall bring my computer this time in my sports bag, hit the ladies’ locker room, and power up behind a punching bag. Read the Times online. Return emails. Maybe even paint my nails.

I’d like to say all of the above really happened. But the truth of it is, I lost my nerve right after signing the baby into the Kiddie Klub and signing myself in for swimming. This is what really happened:

Bryce scans my ID. “Well,” I say, making a big show of throwing a towel over my shoulder and heading for the locker room, “If you need me, you know where to find me.” But as I head for the ladies locker room I notice it’s busy today: brawny moms are filing in and I’m getting nervous. What if someone spots me and asks me what I’m doing? What am I doing? Whatever it is, it no longer feels so fun, so recreational. In fact being in this rec center is winding me up even more than trying to wrestle an Ajax-laced sponge from my child’s bleached gums. Such strenuous avoidance of exercise–it’s completely exhausting!

I turn around, return to the front desk. Bryce is picking his thumb. “Look,” I say. “What if I come here, put the baby in the daycare but I just lie on that couch over there.” “Lie on the couch,” he repeats. “What if I pay not to swim,” I plead. “Like, three dollars an hour?” “Why?” Bryce is not the brightest bulb. Or maybe it’s just that in this place where the word “accessory” denotes the yellow Lance Armstrong bracelet, no other mother has ever suggested such a thing. “I just want to relax,” I confess. “I’m tired.”

“Oh, honey.” Bryce smiles. “That’s no problem. So long as you pay your two dollars and stay on the premises we don’t care what you do.”

No judgment, just compassion. Were it not for the men in Speedos, one might think one were in a Buddhist temple and I am duly humbled. Having had no experience with rec centers before, I had no way of knowing, but I had been pretty sure the staff of a sports center, in a town obsessed with physical fitness, would get peppery with some cheapo parent’s taking advantage of the daycare pricing so she could do absolutely bloody nothing at all. I was wrong.

“Go ahead, Mom,” Bryce says. “Put your feet up.”

I lie on the couch. It is brown and orange. Ancient, granular bits of protein bar fleck the creases. From here through glass doors I can see–but, joy of joys, not hear–my little moppet playing in the Kiddie Klub, happy with her new friends while capable two-dollar-per-hour Mormons look on. I breathe in the rich, mossy athlete’s-foot-and-chlorine aroma of the rec center. Ambrosia. Outside snow falls, but inside it’s heaven. I could live here.

Monday, April 6, 2009

So That Dental College Job...

As I mentioned in my last post, I attempted to beat out the masses for a job teaching English at a dental college. I tried every other institution of higher learning in my town in the last year, looking for supplemental income, and so I thought I'd go to the institutions of lower learning this year, after the death of my Cookie magazine blog, also known as "the bloglet."

Some of you may recall that Crabmommy has done a fair bit of teaching when not occupied by blogs and such. And I must say, for some reason I thought the dental college gig would be mine without question and that finally my Ivy league grad school would step up to the plate and bat for me! I even fantasized that I could march right into that dental school with "Dude Where's My Comma?"--the class I created to teach grammar to Crabtown high schoolers (remember that one, old faithfuls?)--and just regurgitate my own prior coursework onto this new crop of dentally inclined people. Alas, someone screwed me over!! Someone snatched my dream away from me! Someone else was chosen over me! I don't know who, but the gig was "very competitive," so HR told me when I huffily inquired as to the status of my app. I am seriously ticked off. Who beat me?

I think it was Jonathan Franzen.

Seriously, it probably was. This is a city of unemployed writers. We are all begging to teach writing in the context of dental hygiene. I am pretty sure I saw Chuck Palahniuk interviewing for a job at Trader Joe's!

Depressing stuff. We had a sweetly pre-summer day here in the Pacific Northwest, but I feel old today. And melancholic. It is the end of an era. Last year seems so long ago. We all had it so good, people! The world seemed so full of promise back when I complained for a living! What a happy time that was! But now Levi Johnston and Bristol Palin have broken up and soon Jonathan Franzen will be teaching hygienists-in-training how to differentiate between "its" and "it's" for tooth chart purposes. Talk about a Corrections.

And y'all? And y'all's kids?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Soy Sauce in My Coffee

That's what Crabkid did to me as an April Fool's joke. And while Dad was in the shower, we put toothpaste in the bottom of his sock! She was hysterical with joy as he described the feeling of minty squishiness between his toes. She loved that he had to go and wash his foot again! Dad really got into the spirit of the day and offered me a sherry last night that was in fact apple cider vinegar. As Crabkid would say, de-scrumptious.

And you all? Any tricks to report?

For those new readers who have come here from Cookie, welcome! No, that wasn't an April Fool's joke: I have really been laid off. And yes, it's okay. They were very good to me and I had lots of fun with that blog and made money out of it and ticked quite a few people all off. All good. But on the positive side of being laid off, I can't make fun of Mormons as freely over there as I can here. And when I said whackjob Octomom's kids should be taken away from her, they did ask me to "soften the message." Thankfully here I can be completely unfiltered...and I plan to get back to that so stay tuned, non-vaccinators, religious people, and people who have too many children: Crabmommy is coming for you!