Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Nesting Bowls are my Nemesis

Like my father before me, I like to develop more efficient ways of doing things. Since my world is pretty limited these days, my gifts for innovative, forward-thinking programs must be spent on the most mundane of tasks, like doing laundry, walking the dog and emptying the dishwasher.

Sometimes I face obstacles. They are much like the obstacles Sandra Bullock faces each day at work, only instead of them involving multi-million dollar drug development issues, they involve common household goods.

To this growing list I add my most recent nemesis, nesting bowls.

While I am sure that nesting bowls are a boon to anyone needing several sizes of bowl but having only limited storage space, nesting bowls are a large, obnoxious thorn in my side as I work toward a better way of emptying the dishwasher.

I empty the dishwasher several times a week. Each time I open the door warily, hoping that this time I will face no nesting bowls. Without nesting bowls, emptying the dishwasher is a joy -- well, maybe not a joy, exactly, but much more pleasant -- and, despite vicious opposition from my wife and Jawa, I have slowly, mostly without their knowledge, been improving on the methodology we use to load and empty the dishwasher.

Surprisingly, as she is normally a model of efficiency, S. Bullock is completely not on board with this. In fact, she gets a special kick out of completely discrediting the improvements I have made on the way we do laundry around here. Personally, I can't tell you how much I prefer to be folding ONLY shirts in one load and ONLY pants, underwear and socks in another. Especially given that we have limited space, so I fold on our bed.

Her ridicule, however, is nothing compared to the barrage she aimed at me regularly during the pre-jawa laundromat days, when I timed each load to finish exactly 4 minutes apart, giving me just enough time to fold a load before the next one was done.

The dishwasher has been more of a challenge, because the whole of our "dishes," that is, everything we eat off of or drink out of, is an unmatched melange of colors, sizes, shapes and uses. We have the eight-piece set, which illogically resides in two different cabinets. Then we have the plastic plates, the Jawa's assortment of plastic cups (which maddeningly live in a lower cabinet), various Tupperware containers, silverware, and a bunch of little bowls, plates and ramikins which, to me, have no practical use and yet seem to show up in each and every load we wash.

And then there are the nesting bowls.

These are not the original nesting bowls. Those ones were black. We got them as a wedding present. Actually, we got two sets of them. Over the past almost 15 years, I have methodically destroyed them, one by one,until now only two remain. I do not know where they are kept. When they insult me by appearing in the dishwasher, I simply place them on the counter. They are Sandra Bullock's problem.

A few years ago, S. Bullock's mom, Mean Jean, bought us a new set of glass nesting bowls. Where the black ones went only 4 deep, these ones come in about a dozen sizes. If you were to paint little kewpie doll faces on them, they would easily pass as Russian dolls.

I take it that these nesting bowls, perhaps because they come in 12 different sizes, are indispensible cooking tools. Each and every time S. Bullock makes anything beyond pasta, out come the nesting bowls. The tiniest one will be full of chopped up parsley, all the way up to the biggest one, which is perfect for tossing salads. Then the meal is complete and I have first 12 separate bowls to rinse, then 12 separate bowls to somehow fit into the dishwasher, and then, a few hours later, 12 separate bowls to pull out of the dishwasher, re-nest, and then reach as far up as I can to place on the top shelf.

They live up there because they hate me. I know this because they've corrupted my favorite plastic bowls. I use these bowls for everything. In my world, all you really need is a plastic bowl, a fork, a spoon, and a slightly sharp knife. In fact, when I first met Sandra Bullock, in 1990, all I owned, kitchen-wise, was an orange bowl, a fork and a spoon.

I now have access to all manner of plate and bowl. I could use a little red bowl, a tasteful light blue pottery ramikin, a large yellow bowl. I'd rather use one of my two beige platic bowls, though, and everything was fine until the nesting bowls somehow convinced one of my plastic bowls to take a turn in the microwave, where it self-destructed loudly. Each pop represented a chip exploding off of the plastic bowl. By the time I retrieved the injured bowl from the microwave, I was chalking up my worst kitchen disaster since the time I tried to microwave ramen noodles without water.

How else do I know that the nesting bowls hate me? I know it because they refuse to lie close to each other in the dishwasher. A few of the smaller ones will congregate up with the glasses, while the larger ones are more comfortable down on the bottom, with the plates. But only one or two of the nesting bowls will fit in the bottom. They are selfish, you see, and take up far more dishwasher space than they deserve. Curse you, nesting bowls.

Recently, Sandra Bullock, whose commitment to efficiency ends abruptly at the dishwasher, informed me that I was no longer to put the larger nesting bowls in the dishwasher. "They take up too much room," she explained. Now I would have to wrestle the nesting bowls clean in the sink, taking care, of course, to not chip or break them.

The nightmare not only doesn't end, it gets more vivid each day.

For her upcoming birthday, Sandra Bullock has asked for, among other things, a nice, big wooden salad bowl. If I can find one, I will gladly get it, for it is my fondest dream to see those nesting bowls sitting, alone and forlorn, forgotten, in the top of the cabinet.

Then I will be free to move forward with my plans to radically change the entire dishwashing paradigm.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Musings on a Broken Laptop

Be careful and don't bump my laptop as you read this. There is something very wrong with my laptop. The power cord wasn't connecting, not even if you wiggled it, which meant that I had only battery power. My battery is lame, so I had only about 45 min. until it died. Or, rather, the Jawa and Sandra Bullock had only 45 min. to do research for his California history project while I watched two high school baseball games simultaneously. In the freezing cold at Golden Gate Park, completely oblivious, well, only slightly oblivious of the reality that I would have no computer on which to write my reports of the games, to send to my semi-employer, The San Francisco Examiner.

You can imagine what a happy sort-of surprise it was to find, as I crossed Lincoln Avenue in the wind, that I had no way to get the stories from my brain to The San Francisco Examiner.

Enter the Hammer.

As Hillary Clinton says, it takes a village. For me, and for the good of Bay Area high school baseball enthusiasts, my village was located in the shadows of the University of San Francisco, in the neatly-appointed home of the Hammer, the Wine Guy and their well-behaved son, the Shaman. They set me up at the dining room table, then went about their business while I bashed out a few hundred words on how Lick-Wilmerding held off Stuart Hall 4-2, while Crystal Springs Upland just slipped by University High, 5-4. L-M now faces CSU for the league championship Saturday.

Be there.

Sandra Bullock has been home all week, absolutely disrupting my daily schedule, in anticipation of beginning her new job Monday. Some would spend their first non-job week in 7 years at a spa, on a cruise, or driving up the coast with their husband. Not my bride of 14.7 years. Instead, we've spent this week installing crown moulding in our kitchen and dining room. By "we" I mean that she did most of it. I mostly held up large pieces of wood and measured stuff. In the end, I pounded in a few nails, but I am barred from anything involving paint or primer.

The project should be completed in time for my masculity to be completely compromised.

To pass some of the time I spent standing there, holding a nine-foot long piece of moulding over my head, I made up a song:

Well I was born a contractor's daughter.
In the suburbs, just north of Seattle.
We ate deer every year.
If the pipes clogged, we had no fear.
Just the memories of a contractor's daughter.

My apologies to Loretta Lynn.

Speaking of music, I have now used all $15 of the iTunes card Shack gave me. I used it to download the following songs:

So Sad About Us -- The Who
Telephone Line -- ELO
Fisherman's Blues -- The Waterboys
Put the Message in a Box -- World Party
Dirty Old Town -- The Pogues
Fairytale of New York -- Pogues
two versions of the Byrds' "Tulsa County" -- Son Volt and the Backsliders
Touch Me I'm Sick -- Mudhoney
Speeding Motorcycle -- Yo La Tengo
and then three by Yaz -- "In My Room," "Midnight," and "Only You."

I put 'em all in a playlist and called it "Oldies." They're not all exactly "old," though. The two versions of "Tulsa County" are pretty new.

The rest are old, however. In a world where people still pay three digits to watch 65-year-old men prance around and call it "rock and roll," I feel a responsibility to remind people that, yes, the music of a 42-year-old's youth is "old." I've long since given up trying to ram this stuff down the Jawa's throat, as he has moved onto more contemporary sounds, befitting a contemporary youth. We get in the car and he says, "Are we going to have to listen to country music?"

The Jawa is a music guy. He started out singing along to my Pixies CDs in the car, to my great pride until I realized that the pride I was feeling was coming from the same place that baby boomers go when they brainwash their kids to believe that all worthwhile culture ended in 1970.

Being a music guy myself, though, I started throwing stuff at him, to see what would stick.

The Jawa is also a dancing guy, something he inherited from his mother, so by age 5 I had lost all control of his musical direction. Where I loved rootsy rock and roll made by earnest young men wearing plaid shirts, he went back into the 70s for funk played by 15 guys wearing workout towels and sombreros and singing about the mothership. His long-distance mentor Butter Goats sent him info about djs and electronica, and I just tried to keep up.

The Jawa's last 5 CD purchases:

Cut Chemist

I feel no less proud than I did when he was singing along to my Old 97s CD from the backseat, but this is why my iPod downloads are correctly labeled "oldies."

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go play cheerleader while my wife primes the new moulding.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Big Hairy Ape Redux

It has been quite some time since I barged into the room as a big hairy ape. Since my third shot at grad school, in 1995, when I had considerably more hair (on my head), in fact. That time, I got into it with one of my teachers, a nebbishy little guy with a beard, a combover, wrinkled khakis, Birkenstocks and blue socks. I realize that I have just described every single liberal arts school humanities professor in the U.S.

This guy, David Marshak, who resisted the nickname "The Shack," insisted to me that there was an overflowing reservoir of famous Jewish athletes, proof that the stereotype of the nebbishy Jewish man did not exist. He lived, apparently, in a home lacking mirrors.

Later, discussing this debate with my equally swarthy classmate Joe Mele, we realized that I'd put Marshak in a situation he'd probably faced countless times as an adolescent but few times since. His voice said, "I am a reasonable, educated man having a discussion," but his eyes said, "GET AWAY FROM ME, YOU BIG HAIRY APE!"

We got a kick out of that, Joe and I.

I was a big hairy ape last night, though in a much less threatening way, when I arrived late for my "Breaking into the Glossies!" class.

As I would later learn, my 15-year attempt to fashion myself as some kind of "writer," has been entirely without practical training. Yes, I have workshopped to the point of exhaustion and can tell you why your symbolism doesn't work, but I still have no idea what it takes to call up a stranger and convince him/her to let me write something for them.

In an attempt to finally take charge of this, I signed up for "Breaking into the Glossies!" which, I hoped, would get me past this 15-year-old obstacle.

The room, fashionably empty of furniture on the third floor of a downtown art gallery, was already full of young, attractive, ambitious women when I arrived, five minutes late, sweating buckets from walking up Powell street, the cords from my messenger bag and brand new iPod dangling twisted from my shoulders, sweater and only-slightly-fashionable-and-then-only-in-a-tough-guy-sort-of-way fleece-lined corduroy jacket all askew. There was no more room at the table, so I had to pull up a chair, being careful to keep some distance from the various young, attractive, ambitious women, lest they be splashed with some of the sweat pouring off my middle-aged body.

A big, hairy ape.

I think one of my problems as a writer is that I like to talk too much, amazingly, simultaneous with also being horrified at my appearance and thinking, "Oh, God. Please tell me that I don't smell." No sooner had I settled into this seminar, still sweating, than the instructor waved her hand jauntily at me and asked me to "give a little background," this without any guidance, no seeing anyone else give their background. I launched into it.

Perhaps if I were 15 years younger, less hairy and my skin was dry, they would have found my asides funny. As it were, they dropped to the floor like bricks. Silence filled the room. I swear, I could hear my glands pumping out sweat.

But this was not enough. I had to compound it by launching into an outline of a story about dog walkers that I just "pitched" to "San Francisco" magazine. As I proudly, PROFESSIONALLY gave the lowdown, I noticed that the instructor's pained expression was shared by each and every one of the young, attractive, ambitious women in the room.

Did I mention that I was the only male in there? Okay.

"Uh, yes, I'm going to hang onto that," said the instructor soothingly, as she would were she speaking to a rabid dog in a corner or a cheerful, boistrous "special needs" student stuck in an honors class. "What I meant, though, was what are some elements of a story? What would make it compelling?"

For three hours I stared at the words "DOG WALKERS" in the corner of the white board. And still, I couldn't bring myself to shut up.

Everytime a young, attractive, ambitious woman spoke, I had to add some helpful comment, some personal experience that might add some depth to what she had just said. Weirdly enough, I grew comfortable with this. My body dried and I even, recklessly, put my sweater back on, as if to say, "I am completely at ease in this room full of women much younger and more professional than me. I will dominate the conversation, for I have knowledge from which you can all benefit."

The class was very informative. I learned that I do not know even the basic foundations of pitching stories to editors. My years of cranking out stories to the alternative weeklies did nothing to prepare me for the next step -- the one that would eventually lead to that special place where you're making a living doing this sort of thing.

It was fine. Everyone forgave me for sweating, speaking out of turn and being a middle-aged male. They did what most young, attractive and ambitious young women do in my presence: they ignored me. And the second time I prefaced a comment with, "You'll have to excuse me. I can't seem to shut up," the instructor said, "Oh, no. That's okay."


I would like to think that this one three-hour class will signal a turning point for me. I'd like to think that I will now tap into a small slice of the ambition that was floating around in that art gallery room last night, that I, too, will soon be jetting around the world in pursuit of a lucrative story.

If, of course, that were the kind of thing I wanted to do.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

42 is the new 32

Yesterday, I woke up and was 42. During the course of the day, this seemed sometimes okay, sometimes great and sometimes awful. Which describes an average day, if I'm not mistaken.

I put myself in a strange position: I both want my birthday to be ignored and celebrated. Celebrated by accident. Kind of like I want my constant and occasionally interesting otherworldliness to be ignored, but then noticed as an afterthought. Like it's something I can't control.

My 42nd birthday began at 6:00 when, unannounced, the Jawa burst into the bedroom, attached himself to my shoulder, and said, "Happy birthday, Dad!"

Now. If nothing else were to happen during the day, that would be enough.

Especially since he was a Jawa preparing for his first school overnight trip. Two nights and three days in gold country. S. Bullock would drive him to school at 6:15, he'd get on a bus, and then we'd see him three days later. Strange, and perhaps not the best way to celebrate an insignificant birthday, but there you go.

The next thing I heard was barking. Lots of barking. Shack, though very thoughtful to buy me a $15 iTunes music card to go with the hot rod iPod I got from the non-canine members of my family, decided that protecting me from the guys working on the house behind us was of paramount importance. At 8:05 he began barking. By the time I left the house, at 8:40, he was still barking. The workers seemed unaffected, but I did notice that our house stayed free of attacks by crazed contractors, so I guess the barking worked. Haven't been bitten by a vampire in 42 years. Is that because I am careful to always take a drink of water before turning off the light at night? There is no way to prove it isn't so.

All I really wanted for my birthday was a milkshake. Maybe it wasn't he milkshake I wanted, it was the idea that, it being my birthday, I was free to blow off whatever limits I have on my regular, present-day life.

Of course, many of you will look at a 42-year-old guy who sleeps until 8:05, then goes to the gym, comes home and writes some stuff, reads, plays with his dog, then meets his family for dinner as a person with few limits on his everyday life. Not so!

Most of my limits are based on health issues, though some are also based on keeping myself from spinning into an endless cycle of non-productive days. The first time I dropped out of the working world, I promised myself I would wear shoes every day. This way I would stay a couple of steps clear of the Michael Keaton "Mr. Mom" plaid shirt of shame, I thought. I now wear slippers most of the time.

On my birthday, however, I figured I'd blow everything off. I'd get up late, go to a coffee shop, read the paper, and at some point get that milkshake.

No. I got up at 8:05, which in my world isn't late. This left me with enough time to go workout, which would take care of the milkshake calories. Even on my birthday, I can't let it go completely. It's like the difference between coming home drunk when you're 23 and doing it when you're 40. At 40, your vices are limited to eating a bunch of low-fat pretzels and watching TV.

At 42, a good workout actually feels pretty good. I finished up at 10:45, feeling slim, focused and extremely pleased with the huge new red Adidas shorts I'd bought for $4.97 last weekend.

Now it was time for the milkshake.

But it was only 10:45. Who has a milkshake at 10:45? It was a beautiful day, so I thought I'd walk down to Fisherman's Wharf, look at the tourists for awhile, and then get my milkshake.

Should I really get a milkshake? I thought. Maybe if I had a Jamba Juice, that would take the place of a milkshake. Or maybe some frozen yogurt. This way, I could approximate the hedonism of my milkshake and still not kill myself in the process. But no! It's my birthday. If I want a milkshake, I'll have a milkshake. And I WILL NOT send my usual four little things I write for this one outfit every Tuesday. THAT will happen WEDNESDAY and they will just have to accept it.

This all took place as I walked the three blocks from the gym to Fisherman's Wharf. Then I arrived at the corner of Mason and Jefferson, looked both ways and turned back around. Who wants to spend their 42nd birthday at Fisherman's Wharf? Maybe if you're turning 10 the allure of the Rainforest Cafe, a really good deal on some sweatshirts and a guy who dresses up as a tree, then jumps out and scares endless mobs of European tourists is inescapable. Not at 42.

Besides, though it is my birthday, and though I am eager to shed what little adult responsibility I have, I also know that Shack, he of the $15 iTunes gift certificate and endless though well-intended barking, is at home, bored out of his skull on an 80 degree day.

So I drive home, formulating a plan: I will take Shack to Crissy Field, where he will run wild with other dogs while I bask in the sun, displaying the semi-in shape body of a man at least 5 years younger than 42, though with the diminishing scalp coverage of a man at least 5 years older. That's why God made baseball caps look so cool.

How carefree I must appear! 42 years old, in oversized brown shorts and a cool t-shirt that says "NASHVILLE GUITARS." How I must appear to be successful at something that doesn't require I go to an office every day. To be like me, walking an irresistable dog down Chestnut Street, and yes, finally, with a MILKSHAKE in my hand.

Months I had waited. My desire for a milkshake had waxed and waned. Ever earlier on this day I'd thought, "Do I really want a lousy milkshake from Johnny Rockets? Maybe a simple cone from Mitchells instead."


Plus an iPod.

Props to the slightly scary-looking woman I saw at the beach later. As I chased Shack back and forth, she noted that I seemed uncomfortable with the small dog/no leash/bay access situation. "I've never taken him here before," I said, as Shack darted the length of the beach.

"Oh, is he your girlfriend's dog?"

Thank you, mohawked and tattooed woman. Thank you for looking at this 42-year-old guy in shorts and a baseball cap and assuming that he was at the stage in life where you have a girlfriend. Thank you, perhaps, for assuming that I am at the beach at 2 pm on a Tuesday because I am a grad student, ready to start a fine career in something, the law, maybe, because great artists generally don't wear gigantic shorts, t-shirts and baseball caps. I completely forgive your assumption that I am with a borrowed dog, which would explain my incompetence at handling him, as well.

"Worse," I said. "It's my son's dog."

In the end, the milkshake was a mistake. It was an overrated dream, and it made me feel huge and gross the minute it was gone. After drinking (eating?) it, I returned to the realm of middle-aged guys who have to consciously hold in their stomachs. Bummer.

Shack and I came home and fell asleep. Both of us. We woke up in time for Sandra Bullock, enjoying the one month a year that she gets to pretend she is an entire year younger than me, blew into the house, ready to sample some top-shelf margaritas at Tres Agaves downtown.

This is how childless people celebrate a Tuesday birthday, we thought, as we sat in the bar, waiting for our table, peppering the young (yet receding. Hooray!) bartender with questions about Tequila brands.

And I'll bet you that childless people are home by 8:30, so they can catch the second half of "American Idol," because how would it look if your Jawa returned home from his school overnight and you couldn't tell him who got kicked off this week?

Happy birthday to me.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Escalade Invasion

There is a sea change afoot at Brandeis Hillel Day School; the enemy has arrived. Last week I saw a Cadillac Escalade in the parking lot.

In a normal environment, this would mean little. It has been several years since the Escalade was the exclusive domain of the professional athlete and hip-hop star. Thanks to some savvy marketing by General Motors' elite brand, the massive, over-styled vehicle is now desired by many societal subcultures, from the good-timing boys of HBO's "Entourage" to the Sacramento family of 6 who find a Chevy Suburban just too darn common. The mighty Escalade is everywhere ... except our parking lot.

Understand that our parking lot, like our school and our city, is a special place. We pay handsomely for our nice, new school, our fearsome Russian security guys, our top-flight educators, our plans for a state-of-the-art theater and gymnasium. Yesterday we had our "family and sports day" (formerly walk-a-thon) at a local public high school, stepping over graffiti and weeds as we made our way to the unmowed grass next to the football field. "It looks like Vietnam," someone said. There are many reasons why we pay for school, and they often seem incoherent to non-San Franciscans, whose local public schools are an actual option to consider, not a threat to drag out when their children become exceptionally unmanageable.

Considering the limitations of the school's mission (it is, after all, a religious school, something we often forget and are sometimes irritated to be reminded of right in the middle of a solid rant about George Bush and his preferred treatment of faith-based organizations), we do a good, and improving job of stocking the coffers with families from a variety of economic stations. Thanks to my inability to make even a modest living, we rank toward the bottom of the social strata, but are never made to feel (on purpose, at least) like the "poor relations" we feared we'd be, had we chosen some of the other local private schools.

Meanwhile, back in the world of reality, I hand you this question: so if we're all over the map, economically, but we also realize that 2/3 of us are paying an enormous yearly fee to send our kids to grade school, why is it that its five years in and I'm seeing my first Escalade in the parking lot?

Should I be proud that the number of champagne green Toyota Camrys in the lot each day easily outflanks the number of wins our young basketball team has posted in the past four years? Is it somehow proof of our moral balance that every day it seems that someone new is rolling past the fearsome Russian security guys in a shiny, silent Prius?

Along those lines, am I not supposed to find it suspicious that on a normal day you can count at least 6 Priuses (Priii?) in the parking lot at all times, and yet only one Honda Civic Hybrid? If a Hybrid idled quietly in a school parking lot but no one knew it was a Hybrid, would the driver still rack up righteous points in the eyes of Al Gore?

It is very good for our children that we keep it quasi-real, automotively, at school. The less they know about their privilege, the better, according to an author who spoke at the JCC recently about "The Price of Privilege." Children are carving themselves up with butter knives, thanks to the pressures laid on them by their wealthy parents. We are very careful, we hope, to not lay anything like that on our little Jewish kids.

"Privilege," itself, though, is a little slippery. According to national averages, we, even us with me acting as financial albatross, easily exceed national medians for standard of living. Here in the special city, we are decidedly middle class, which is fine until you start trying to explain that to someone from somewhere else, who will not buy it under any circumstances. In my Jawa's world, he is not privileged. To the other 99.9% of the world, he is wildly privileged.

Things are changing, witness the white Escalade. A recent trend toward grabbing the attention of the crowd now known as "The Jews Who Used to Send Their Kids to The Town School and Hamlin" has us sharing space with large-scale BMWs, the aforementioned Escalade, a very scary guy who sometimes shows up in a Mercedes SUV and tailgates everyone while yelling and waving his arms around, and the guy in the Porsche who always helps himself to the illegal parking spot right in front of the school and wears clogs, rain or shine.

Some are up in arms about this change in our school population. Not me. I have friends who taught me, by their actions and way too recently for a guy who should know better, not to judge people by their wallet size. I mean, I've seen guys in Priuses throw out road rage that would make my enormous pickup truck-driving brother-in-law proud. So what are we supposed to say? "Some of my best friends are rich people who drive nice cars?"

And besides, I like to pretend sometimes that we have money. I bought that freaking Volvo that we can't afford, didn't I?

But an Escalade? That's different, right? This is no cute little Lexus SUV (which can be purchased as a Hybrid). It's huge, it's gaudy, it probably sucks down a couple of Priuses each day for lunch. I haven't yet polled my fellow BHDS parents, but I've got to think that seeing an Escalade in the parking lot is not their favorite thing. Since they have jobs, not nearly as much time to ruminate over this and are not insane, they probably haven't even noticed it yet. But they will.

What's next, a Hummer? Do they even make it in a Hybrid?

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Jawas, Report Cards, Jenny from the Block, Sportswriters

And then how about you have a day that begins with your Jawa forgetting several important school-related items and ends with you standing outside a bar, telling a guy you barely know about the first time you realized you'd step in front of a bullet for that very same Jawa?

And then all the stuff in-between.

I swear to you, my Jawa -- much like myself -- would forget his head if it were not attached to his body. As much as I nag him every morning, I have to believe that without my input he would arrive at school each Monday thru Friday shoeless, minus his lunch and backpack, and then blaming me for their absence. This morning, despite a series of subtle and not-so-subtle reminders from Sandra Bullock, we managed to get to school without his book report "creative project." Worse yet, we would not have come within several hundred miles of remembering that had he not also forgotten his lunch.

The lunch worked my last nerve, because I'd set it on the counter at 7:15, only to have him realize, with much drama and finger-pointing, at 8:11, that he'd forgotten to attach it to his backpack via the very convenient little hook thing. The lunch stayed home, and I got blamed. "I hope you're happy that I'll be going hungry ... DAD," he said. I was not buying it. "Well," I said, "I'll do my best to get it here by lunch," pause, wait, wait, then lay the hammer down: "BUT I HAVE A VERY BUSY DAY TODAY."

Pulling away with much sadistic satisfaction, until I hear a distant DAD! DAD!

We forgot the freaking creative project. There goes my workout. I get back to school, drop the thing off to much oohing and aahing among the 4th grade regulars, including, I noticed, some sincere interest from the Jawa's arch-enemy. Good to see that. Nice that the Jawa gets a little pub for his creative project, though I have to wonder if he, like former Oakland Raider Randy Moss, really deserves it.

From there I go on to complete my day, which really was more busy than normal, and cross your fingers that all the copying I did at Kinko's eventually pays off in the form of some nice, lucrative assignments from the editor of "San Francisco" magazine.

And then the report card came.

I don't want to appear a 1980s yuppie parent, hyper-focused on my child's grades. This is San Francisco, of course, and such concerns are considered not only hopelessly bourgeouis (sp?), but also somehow barberic. And yet. The child, like his father years before, receives a report card best summed up as "fine." Are we raising a "fine" child? Is the child capable of more than "fine?"

Less charitably, are we paying $19,000 we cannot afford for "fine?" And what about that 3 (kind of like a C, only in non-judgemental 21st-century San Francisco private school-speak) in handwriting? Are the much-loved (by child and father; I love the hour to do my crossword puzzles while he is in class) Occupational Therapy (OT) classes not paying off?

Once again, I am faced with a parental puzzle I am not able to solve. Nine years in and I still have no idea how to motivate my obviously gifted (to me, at least, plus the teacher from the Nueva School who gave him the IQ test) Jawa. I try to harangue him, only to find that the first pause in my monologue draws from him not guilt, not contrition, but instead a very complex observation about Yu-Gi-Oh, which is not what I'd hoped to get in return. Obviously, the harangue is bouncing off his tough outer shell, then ricocheting back at me. It is having no effect.

I try threats. At one point, after getting no response, I look back at him (we are driving to OT as this happens). His eyes are closed. He is asleep.

But I can tell that, on some level, he is engaged. He's not happy to be on the receiving end of all this, but he is at least present. When he is awake, at least.

Several hours later I recited my ritual parental code, as I see it: "If you care at all about parenting," I told my rapt audience of one, outside the bar, "you constantly feel like you are failing."

And so it was that I pulled into a parking spot outside the coffee place we go each Tuesday. The Jawa and I ease into OT with an hour of chess. He eats a cookie. Usually. Today, I ate the cookie, because he didn't like it and I can't stick to a diet and thus will weigh at least 200 lbs. from this point forward.

I'll readily admit that I was at a loss at how to let my Jawa know that a "fine" report card was not really "fine", and I apologize to everyone who took the time to write books insisting that what I said next was wrong, but you can't fault my honesty.

"Every dad wants his son to be better than he was," I said to my Jawa. "You'd have to have a huge ego to not want that." He agreed. "And the thing is, I'm worried that you'll end up like me -- a smart guy who's pretty disgusted with the way he let things turn out."

I know. I'm supposed to be a good example, not a cautionary tale. But I was at wit's end, and frankly, I'm a pretty darn good cautionary tale. So I let fly. Whether or not this had or will have any kind of positive impact I do not know. I do know, however, that once I told him this any kind of anger I had at him evaporated, immediately replaced with an overwhelming urge to hold him in my arms and protect him from whatever ill will -- be it classroom bullies, errant gangster bullets, evil, manipulative women and every unreasonably demanding boss his future might hold -- might come his way. Instead, we played chess.

I beat him, as usual. I can't let him win, because I want it to mean something every time he beats me.

Flash forward several hours, because I'm boring myself by recounting every spare minute of my day. My Jawa, who has returned to driving me crazy, insists that it would most definitely be MY FAULT if Shack destroys his Star Wars miniatures set up on the living room floor, and then states that there is NO WAY he will EVER use the Ivory soap I've bought by mistake. He will simply be dirty, he says. I tell him, accurately, that he is being unreasonable, which has about as much impact as if I had spit directly into gale force winds.

Now we switch the setting to the local bar. Jenny from the Block and I have chosen this venue for our meeting with a successful local lawyer, the man we hope will take over our roles as Chairs for the Bookfair. Eventually, I run into this guy I sort of know. He writes for the San Francisco Chronicle, covering high school sports. Since my meeting with Jenny from the Block and the successful local lawyer has ended, I hang out with the sportswriter. He has a 14 month-old son.

At 11:30, our evening ends. We stand outside the bar, as sometimes happens, especially, it seems, when you've had a surprisingly good time hanging out with someone you hardly know. There is so much to talk about. And he's a young guy, and I've been feeling lately like a tired old parent, so he asks questions and I answer. I share with him the travails of later-childhood parenting. "Your kid stops being an accessory," I say. "And you can't be cool. You just try to keep up."

You could say that my child has put me through the wringer today, or you could say that it is just another day of being some kid's parent, and that I got off pretty easily because Sandra Bullock did the dishes and let me watch a basketball game, then dealt with the sometimes nightmare of convincing our Jawa to go to be at 8:30 while I sat in a bar and had a good time. You could say that the non-quantitative benefits of being the Jawa's dad were obvious as we walked up 6th Avenue, when I put my hand around his neck, like my dad used to do to me. "That's kind of weird," said the Jawa, so I took my hand from around his neck and put it between his shoulders. He's a skinny kid, so he has a clearly defined ridge between his shoulders.

"I like that better," he said, leaning into me. "That's our way."

Here's what I told that sportswriter, after I asked him if he could remember the exact moment he realized he'd take a bullet for his Jawa: when my Jawa was about a year old, we went to watch Sandra Bullock play in a soccer game. The game (unsurprisngly) wasn't holding my interest, so I tossed the infant Jawa into his stroller and went for a walk.

The neighborhood wasn't the best. We turned a corner to find a drunk guy lurching up the sidewalk toward us. This guy seemed harmless, but what if he wasn't? What would I do? I wasn't sure, but I knew this much: whatever that guy did, I'd spend my last breath making sure he couldn't get to my Jawa, because what's the point of being taking a last breath if you can't use it to protect your Jawa?

Pretty freaky.