Friday, June 29, 2007

Hall Tree v. Little Boy

Am I a racist because the groovy Afro-Cuban music at Ambassador Toys made me want to slit my wrists? Everyone else seemed to be enjoying it. It made me long for the furniture store in Everett, Washington, where they played old honky-tonk tunes while we shopped for bunk beds.

Am I a bad father because I didn't check the Jawa's butt for a bruise when he fell off of the hall tree thing in the entry way? I am, but that bonafide was established long before the youngster took his spill, when I made him take two swipes at cleaning the basement, then berated him for breaking the pull-out shelf on the armoire (sp?).

I just wanted a little time to write. But that's not happening. Especially not since he fell off the hall tree.

What is a hall tree? It is an antique thing that looks like a gigantic chair. It sits in our entry way after spending several years trying to fit into the modernist motif of my parents' house and condo. Before that, I think but don't know for sure, it sat somewhere in Aunt Lillian's house in Bangor, Maine. Sandra Bullock cleverly talked my mother into giving it to us, reasoning that it would feel more comfortable amongst our more traditional decor.

What the hall tree does not know is that had it stayed with my parents, it would now be living amidst radically modern things like Joan Miro-inspired rugs and insanely bright primary-colored walls. After all these years, my parents finally got the chance to decorate entirely according to their own tastes, and they made the most of it. The results wound up in the "Style" section of the local Sun City (+ whatever suffix) newspaper.

So you would think that the hall tree would be happy in our house. We tried to make it even more comfortable by hanging old photos of its former owners, my great-grandparents on my mom's side, next to it. But no! It still harbors grudges aimed directly at little boys.

The Jawa fell a split-second after I shouted, "Okay! Now I need to write!" He had a handful of wrapping paper (he was up there trying to reach the wrapping paper in the hall closet) when he fell.

Lately, the Jawa has decided that each and every pain, no matter how small, must be paid tribute with a howl of gut-wrenching sadness. A stubbed toe, a pinch, a trip, all must be followed with an "OOOOOHHHHH! AAAAAHHHH! OOOOWWWW!" as if he were a World Cup participant who'd just been slide tackled.

This time it was different. The screech was real, as were the tears, and the impressive sound of body hitting wood and then floor.

I ran to him and picked all 65 pounds of him up. It seemed serious, until I realized that he was holding his butt. "Okay, okay," I said, "You're fine. Lets lie down for a second." I thought maybe I was being Tony Soprano rescuing his child from the swimming pool.

The Jawa is at an age where extreme pain -- not the theatrical kind -- creates a problem of reaction. What to do? Do you cry or start swearing? Do you go fetal or start throwing things? Just as our earlier birthday present trip raised the question: Legos or a hip-hop CD? Since my Jawa is on the young side, he chose to combine faux-swearing ("CRAP!") with tears, stretching out on the couch in pain and then making the inevitable call to Sandra Bullock, because what are dads good for in times of crisis? You can't beat up a hall tree, though if you throw the house keys at it enough you may chip the varnish.

His day is about to get worse. Now that lifting even the smallest object like, say, a box of markers, "pulls" on his back, how will this afternoon's trip to the dentist play out?

A chance to redeem myself as a father. Which is pretty easy at the dentist. Something about seeing your child prone in a dentist's chair, his eyes and mouth open wide while he nervously taps his feet together erases any rancor you may have built while trying to write a novel, only to be interrupted every 30 seconds by a shirtless 9-year-old full of long, involved schemes of fantasy roller coasters.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

This Guy, Jeff

How strange is it when someone you don't know except by sight completely dominates your day? I found this out yesterday, when Dug's friend Jeff appeared three times in conversation before finally showing up in the flesh at Taqueria Can-Cun for a late dinner. I don't even know this guy, to the point where I sat three feet from him at Taqueria Can-Cun and didn't even feel comfortable waving "hello," and yet, there he was, showing up repeatedly in my Monday.

Jeff was the guy matching Dug's casual hipness the day I demonstrated my complete and utter lack of street cred by yanking my Volvo over to the curb, bursting out in my Banana Republic garb and then babbling like an idiot at a guy I hadn't seen in 10 years. While this all went on, Jeff stood a safe distance away, probably silently lamenting the fact that his neighborhood, which he moved into 15 years ago when it was one of the most remote outposts of the city, was now crawling with perky, bald yuppies in Volvos.

That day I gave Jeff a little wave, as I did remember him as one of Dug's core friends 15 years ago. One night at 2 a.m., Dug, Jeff and I sat in a place that I now realize was probably Walter Haas park, in my own neighborhood, and looked own at the city. Yesterday, I gave him plenty of my time, but no wave.

It began in the morning, as I drove the Jawa to day camp. This week he has camp, which explains why I am sitting here in workout clothes, trying to erase the damage I did to my aging body last week, when he did not have camp. We were listening to KUSF, which we seldom do because it normally plays very challenging music from Afghanistan that we'd probably enjoy a whole lot more were we not narrow-minded bourgeois Americans.

This time they were playing a local old-time band called the Crooked Jades (I would have linked to their home page at, where you can see a photo of Jeff in his bluegrass guy gear, except blogger is not linking right now, which I blame on my laptop, of course), who, I'd read recently, were back in town to do prerecording on their new album before going to Germany for some shows. Jeff is the leader of the Crooked Jades, which explains why he is also the guy who sometimes sits in front of the coffee place playing bluegrass music.

"Hey," I said to the Jawa, "remember that time we pulled over and I talked to that guy I knew from college?"


"Remember the guy who was standing with him?"


"I just read about him yesterfday, and now he's on the radio. Isn't that weird. We saw him, and here he is, on the radio. He lives in our neighborhood."

I'm not sure the Jawa got into the weirdness of the vibe. He did not know that our Jeff-centric day was to continue.

To be fair, it was more of a Jeff-centric 24 hours, since I'd read of him Sunday, then heard him on the radio Monday. This made two Jeff intrusions into my life in less than a day, and honestly came after about a month of wondering where the guy was, once I figured out that a) he lived above the hardware store a block away from us and b) he was the guy playing old-time music in front of the coffee place.

Now I had my answer. He'd been on the road.

A few hours later, I was talking to Markie, long-distance. Before moving to Boston to volunteer for 1992 presidential candidate Paul Tsongas, Markie was a San Franciscan and an intimate member of Dug's social circle, which included Jeff, plus Rick the Barbarian, who later became the soulful, wildly successful folk singer Richard Buckner.

As you can infer, Dug's friends ended up with so much street cred that extra quarts of it sit in the back of their closets, like where we keep those tennis rackets we bought last year, thinking tennis would make a good family activity.

Markie will be leaving for Iraq in October, so I'm trying to organize a get-together for him out here on his beloved West Coast. I told him I saw Dug recently, and then about the recent Jeff-ness of my life. "...and when I saw him with Dug," I related, "he was wearing jeans, work boots, an old dress shirt, and a vintage sport coat. So bluegrass."

Markie laughed. "That is so bluegrass. Was the sportcoat brown?"

Indeed, it was.

As it was several hours later, when Ken Dunque and I filed into Taqueria Can-Cun for a late evening dose of Mission Mexican food. I thought we were there because Dunque's first choice, La Mexicana on 25th street, was closed. Now I realize that we'd been drawn into Jeff's immense gravitational pull. We were powerless, just as I was powerless in my attempts to not order any food, especially once Dunque offered to buy.

So I sat there, mesmerized. What a climax to my Jeff-ish day, to be here, a picnic table away from his actual, brown-sportcoated presence. I wondered if I should say "hi," but knowing that unless I reminded him that I was the idiot in the Volvo, he would only stare at me blankly, wondering if maybe I was a particularly rabid Crooked Jades fan, even a stalker, I kept my mouth shut.

And I'm not, by the way. A stalker. I like the Crooked Jades fine, though my tastes run more to honky-tonk than old-time. I did not consciously try to fill my Monday with Jeff readings, live radio shows, discussions and taqueria sightings. Normally, if I'm going to obsess over someone I don't know, it'll be someone more like the woman in the pink baseball cap who honked at me twice from her Range Rover this morning while I was waiting to make a left turn onto Tennessee Valley Road. That sort of obsession makes sense to me.

I'll bet Jeff doesn't even have a car. He's that cool. If he does have one, it's either an old pickup truck or a Ford Fairlane.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Sonoma Bar Scene

The easiest way to get to know a place is to hang out, alone, in one of the local bars. And so it was that I found myself center stage at Steiner's, on the less-chic West Side of the Sonoma plaza. Apologies to the Hammer, who may have expected a guest more involved with the operations of his child's 24-hour playdate, but I'd just spent the first week-and-a-half of summer camp-free, and needed some time alone.

Sonoma is an up-and-comer, not as established as Napa but getting more attractive to wine types all the time. And, it seems, the town is divided down the middle of its plaza: new-style money to the East, old-school blue collars to the West. I took a lap around the plaza and decided on old-school.

At 4:30 every Thursday, the Mr. Deli comes into Steiners. He goes to Murphy's first, which is a higher-class bar on the East side of the plaza. Then he drives over to Steiners and starts passing our samples of a bunch of salamis and cheeses. Which is a little unusual, except that nobody in the bar seems fazed. In fact, a few people go, "Oh, man, I didn't know he'd be here today," incluing Meghan, the bartender, who might also want to pay a visit to Mr. Tailor and let those capris out a little bit.

Mr. Deli is sensitive. It takes only one pass on the salami for him to skip me altogether. On the sixth salami, though, he offers again, giving me a chance to ask when the cheese will be rolling around. If I were a good guest, I thought, sitting in a bar at 4:30 while, a mile away, the Hammer acted as de facto babysitter for my child, I would order up some of that exotic cheese dip Mr. Deli has.

I think about this for awhile but am distracted when one of the many 50-ish guys in t-shirts with moustaches announces, "I'm going to be Jewish here. I'm not buying anything!"

Now this puts me in an odd, though sadly familiar position. It reminds me of the argument I had with a fellow Joe something-or-other during the R.A. retreat, junior year. "How is it a stereotype when I say Jews are cheap?" he wanted to know.

Or the time my "progressive" neighbor had enough tequila to casually refer to the time this guy tried to "Jew him down." By the way, that guy maintained that he was the progressive until the day he and his loud-mouthed wife moved away.

So here I am, alone in a bar, getting along with everyone, talking to a guy named Rick about how this other woman's son is in Iraq, and this guy with blindingly white tennis shoes pulls out the Jew slur card.

"WHAT?" I said. This bought me a little more time, but also prolonged the moment. Rick turned to me and said, "He's just going off."

"Did he say what I think he said?" I asked. Rick waved his wand. Then the guy walked up behind me, looked over my shoulder at the Mr. Deli menu and said, "Get some of that cheese. I'm a cheese guy." Which meant that had I pursued this, I would look like a complete jerk. I let it drop.

At 9 p.m., said Meghan, there would be live music. I looked around. The live music, I decided, would be covers of 1960s classics and extended blues jams. The band would be wearing Hawaiian shirts. I came back anyway.

I've been to Sonoma at least a dozen times now, stayed the night at least six. But until I went into Steiners -- and by the way, the scene was even better at night, when every single one of Sonoma's over-35 unattached people was in the house -- the only people I'd seen in town were a slightly more relaxed version of the people I saw in San Francisco, which isn't nearly as interesting to me as a room full of firefighters, bigots, divorced guys in yellow linen shirts and women who take a full loop of the plaza, then return, sit down next to you and say, "There's nothing going on here tonight. This is it."

Roger A. Hunt would have enjoyed it. Sandra Bullock would have enjoyed it. In about 20 years, I imagine, my very own Jawa will enjoy it.

And to you, Hammer, I apologize. I will be a better guest next time. Or maybe I'll just invite you to come along to Steiners.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Right v. Wrong, Home Depot-style

We are five days into summer and so far I've had very little success in my role of sage-like father figure.

Take, for example, our experience at the Home Depot.

As a family, we have run out of money. Despite being a longtime in the making, this situation still crept up on us, leaving us dazed, frustrated and looking for a way out. One which might involve me getting an actual job, though I am not convinced that at this point in my life I am at all employable. Today I answered two ads on Craigslist. I am qualified for both jobs. And yet, so are legions of 27-year-old go-getters, none of whom have weird gaps in their resumes.

Stay tuned.

Our financial woes have forced us to radically scale back what was to be a summer of high-impact home improvements. Gone are grand plans for a new bathroom, windows and a backyard deck. In their place is the humble aroma of sweat equity. Fifty dollars at Home Depot will buy you 40 feet of crown moulding, which can then be installed at no cost, by the homeowner himself. By "himself," of course, I mean "herself." Because she was born a contractor's daughter.

Flush with the inexpensive success of the kitchen and dining room, Sandra Bullock and I decided that it would be a simple add to continue into the hallway with our crown moulding, and perhaps add some new baseboards as well. We would slap the moulding in place, then paint. Simple.

But did you know that you can purchase the materials needed to change a boring doorway into an attractive archway for well under $100? You can do this online. The work itself should be simple!

This particular fantasy, which seemed cute and harmless when measured against last month's fantasy of six-figure stock option riches, sadly turned out to be no more real than the unrealized stock proceeds. One week later, our simple hallway project is less than halfway done. I spent all of last week peeling 100-year-old wallpaper from our disintegrating plaster walls in thin strips resembling pencil shavings.

Which led us, my Jawa and I, to Home Depot.

Roger A. Hunt mentioned recently that he thought I was a "man of principle." Living where I do, it is inadvisable to ever claim moral high ground, and in fact I struggle to keep a straight face just typing the phrase "man of principle." But it is true that I don't like it when I see things that seem obviously hypocritical (like perhaps, the hijacking of the word "progressive" to mean "clinging to a 40 year-old political and social agenda"), mean or downright wrong. And as the father of an impressionable Jawa, I try to take seriously the responsibility of teaching him how not to be a jerk.

Unlike the man at Home Depot, who told me a blatant lie in order to get in front of us in the line that materialized when Jewell, the cashier, opened up another register. The incredibly helpful Jawa and I were toting 15 feet of baseboard, 16 feet of razor-sharp cornerbead, one gallon of Flush Puppy-endorsed Zinsser primer (which, sadly, has nothing at all to do with William Zinsser's excellent book On Writing Well), two tubes of silicone filler and 12 pounds of spackle when this guy reached the line at the very moment we arrived.

It seemed to me that he was part of the group in front of him, a dad and three kids, so I asked, "Oh, are you with them?

"Yes," he said, as he pushed his cart in front of ours, "Thank you."

Then the dad and his three kids, who, it quickly became obvious, had nothing at all to due with this line-cutting guy, went on their way, leaving my man to take his turn, having worked hard manufacturing lies to get there before the bald, unshaven chump and the adorable kid behind him.

"Hey!" I said, "You're not with them."

"No, I'm not." He said this blankly, with no inflection or expression. A statement of fact. Implied was that yes, he had lied, yes, I had fallen for it, and the success of his lie meant that he had earned his spot in line in front of the hapless me.

"You lied," I said.

He said nothing. Turned his back, denying me the opportunity to enjoy, for just a few more seconds, the sight of his thick moustache and graying blow-dried hair.

What could I do? Like the grinning old guy who threw his wrapper nowhere near the garbage can in front of the Excelsior branch library the other day, he felt no fear of my reprisal. That guy at least smiled and waved at me when I pointed out that he had missed the garbage can. This guy just gave me his back, methodically unloaded all 17 of the small nozzles he was buying, paid and went on his way.

"That guy lied to me so he could cut in line," I told Jewell, when the Jawa and I finally reached her. She smiled. "Oh," she said.

I am a father, and my young, impressionable son, sometimes a demonstrator of questionable ethics himself, witnessed this entire incident. So now what am I supposed to tell him about the rewards of doing the right thing, even if you don't immediately or obviously benefit from it, just because it's the right thing?

Apparently, you can lie, cut in line, whistle a little tune, go on with your day, then go home and enjoy the reflection of your oversized moustache in the mirror with a clear conscience.

And don't tell me that karma will get this guy in the end. When Rex Moore, terrifying and obnoxious all-CIF linebacker at El Modena High School from 1980 to 1982, married a USC cheerleader while I shivered, broke and alone in my bedroom in Boston, 3,000 miles away from my girlfriend, who was cheating with one of my friends anyway, I realized that karma is a meaningless construct, designed to keep people from complaining when good things happen to people who don't deserve it and in a passable mood when bad things happen to them even though they consider themselves good people.

But who cares if a guy lies and doesn't care when you call him on it? The real problem here is that my son saw this happen, and with it, the difference between right and wrong got a little bit blurrier for him.

So I had to explain to him that what he'd just seen sucked, and that just because you can do something isn't always a good reason for doing it. This is important, because he's at an age where he can't really see beyond his own needs.

Like our friend at Home Depot, he often feels that the ends justify the means, whatever they may be. If that means telling Mommy that she really needs to come home early because he misses her, when his real motive is to get her to agree to buy him the Bionicle that Dad just denied him, so be it. It's dirty work, but someone has to do it. And I'm the bad guy, pointing out that his true motives are absolutely transparent, but perhaps forgetting to cut him more slack than I give to Home Depot liars and library trash-flingers.

As if living isn't hard enough, you throw some parenting on top of it and you have plenty of reasons for your hair to fall out. That's what I need. More reasons to lose more hair.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Maple Syrup and Blueberry Shampoo

My Compaq Presario 1100 is dead. I thought I could outsmart Kevin and his Geek Squad friends by just plugging the thing in and pretending that everything was okay. I was wrong. Now I must depend on limited accesss to Sandra Bullock's spanking new Genentech HP laptop, or risk the wrath of the Jawa when I tell him that I will be moving his 7 year-old Dell desktop downstairs to the "office" (actually a corner of what used to be an illegal studio apartment and now functions as a low-ceilinged, unheated family room.)

Yesterday was Friday. For the first time in several months, the Jawa finished his breakfast then charged into the bedroom, where I was lying in bed, trying in vain to introduce myself to the day. "Stay here, Dad," he commanded. Then he ran into his room and returned with a hard-covered book about Bionicles. He jumped back into bed and slammed himself against me.

This is something we used to do every morning, until I realized that not only did it make waking up more difficult for me but also led to yelling at him when he refused to get out of bed at 7:20. Since it is a rare occurance in these pre-adolescent days, I let him stay.

He smelled like maple syrup and blueberry shampoo, and I'm sure it would embarass him to find out that I noticed that. He would have preferred to smell like motor oil and the remnants of a gigantic belch. He is almost 10 years old, and caught firmly in the hidden space between childhood and adolescence, constantly tilting the scales between equal parts little boy and teenager.

Not on Friday morning, however. It would be gross, I thought, to share a bed with a teenage boy, but it is still precious to share one with a 9-year-old. I lay there and watched him as he read. In profile, his cheeks still have the rounded edges of a toddler, though they have hollowed out plenty since his chipmunk-like infancy. His arms, I noticed, have little black hairs on them, miniature versions of the ones that cover my own arms, and noticable dark hairs lie above his upper lip, waiting to be shaved off on his bar mitzvah day. I hope they can last that long. There's nothing worse than an adolescent boy who waits too long to begin shaving. Me, I made it past my bar mitzvah, but just barely.

Today we snuck out at noon to buy birthday presents for Sandra Bullock, who was getting her hair cut. We combined as an efficient shopping force, unable to think creatively but good at marching down her birthday list and fulfilling her wishes. "We're going to go in, get our work done, and get out," I told him as I parked the car at the mall.

"No browsing," he said.

Then, to cement our relationship, I cued him with some lyrics from a Cut Chemist song we'd been listening to: "The robots are coming. When?" I said.

"When I get my big break," he answered, solemnly.

Ten minutes later, gift and cards in hand, we settled down in the food court for some Panda Express. He sat across from me in his stylized Godzilla t-shirt. dwarfed by the teenagers roaming all around him but now at least a peripheral part of their world.

Yesterday, I sat at a Starbucks with a few moms from school. After we established that we are all firmly in support of the Jewish state in Israel, we began talking about the challenges of our children as they enter pre-adolescence. "My daughter," said one mom, whose dutiful religious observance is contrasted by her colorfully profane vocabulary, "now walks to shul alone. It's two blocks."

"Wow," I said. "I'm way too paranoid for that."

"And I think soon we will take her and some friends to the mall, then tell them to meet us back here in a hour."

Flash forward to the food court, me watching my growing Jawa plow through some fried rice and pot stickers. "So, Jawa, do you think you'd be able to hang out here with some friends, and we'd be here too, only in another part of the mall?"

He thought about it, his already oversized eyes widening. "Really?" he said. Then, a few seconds later, "When I'm eleven. You can't do that until you're eleven."

I'm pretty sure that, when that time comes, I will be wearing a disguise and shadowing his every move, except for the 45 minutes when he and his friends disappear into EB Games.

It's a shame that we don't feel comfortable letting him roam the we we did as children. When I was 10, though, I lived in a town of 1200 people. We left home in the morning and returned when my mom rang the cowbell to tell us it was time for dinner. Different times. I hear they lived that way here as well. Not now.

Now I get scolded for letting our Jawa take Shack for a one-block solo stroll through the alleyway that runs behind our house. "You don't know who's hanging out back there," an alarmed S. Bullock reminded me. "Homeless guys, gang guys, who knows?"

She's right. The five minutes he was back there were very long. I leaned against a lamppost on the corner of our street, waiting, watching my neighbor prepare her 5 and 3 year olds for a (chaperoned) walk. As I stood there, outward calm hiding inner turmoil, I watched her sit her young son on her lap and put his shoes on. I'd completely forgotten about that, the little Jawa in my lap years ago, me trying to tie his little tiny Adidas as his legs flopped around.

It was right as I panicked and started sprinting up Diamond Street that the Jawa and Shack appeared around the corner. "Shack is a bad dog," said the Jawa, unperturbed. "He heard a dog bark and started running the other way. I had to put him back on the leash."

He's lucky to have that option. I'm finding that my leash on him is becoming more and more obsolete with each passing day. As we discussed at Starbucks, once you get past the "child as fashion accessory" stage, parenting involves letting go of that leash a little bit more each day.

On the plus side, this means that eventually someone else will have to listen to endlessly detailed explanations of ideas for the greatest roller coaster ever.

And now I must close, quickly, because that very same Jawa is making faces at me and demanding that I get off the computer by 4:30, because I've been on it for an hour and fifteen minutes.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

A Mirage

This is sort of a mirage. It may seem like I have inexplicably reappeared, two weeks after inexplicably disappearing, but I have only reappeared briefly.

I have a very legitimate reason for my disappearance, however. The computer woes, hinted at a few weeks ago, have grown to the point where they have actually consumed my laptop. Two years of spirited use resulted in a total breakdown of the "motherboard," leading to a phone call where a guy named Kevin told me that it would cost $726.53 to bring my computer back to me, cured of its motherboard issues. "I could send it to the therapist to cure its motherboard issues," I said. "It could get at least seven sessions for that."

"Or you could just buy a new laptop," said Kevin, dryly.

"Yes, I could."

On Monday, I called Kevin and told him just to send the hovering-near-death laptop back to me, screwed-up motherboard and all. Its "t" and "d" keys are still gone, by the way. It is, in short, disposable.

Not as disposable are all of the files now stuck on a computer that no longer works. I had Kevin send it back in the hopes that it will come to life just one more time, long enough for me to back up all of my stuff. I never did that, the logic being that all of my files are just word files, and not really worth backing up. Fortunately, I did back up my two journals -- the one I keep for myself and the one I have been keeping for the Jawa since he was enwombed -- before dropping the ailing computer off with the Geek Squad.

And a word about these much-publicized "geeks." They're not all that geeky. Yes, the guy who helped me was slightly overweight, and his short-sleeved, 65/35 blend dress shirt made him look like a stressed-out engineer, but his geekiness was only skin-deep. The Geek Squad is merely a clearing house for ill computers. They don't do any of the work. Instead, they farm it out to Kevin, who lives somewhere in the 909 area code and waits one week to call you and tell you that it will cost $726.53 to fix your computer.

I remember when I realized that pocket calculators were disposable. Since I was a youthful geek, sans white shirt and extra pounds, I asked for a pocket calculator for my eighth birthday. I could have the birthday wrong, but I know it was an early one, one where I should have been asking for a football instead of a primative mathematical device. Likewise I should have been watching "Brian's Song" instead of "West Side Story," and probably should not have had a drafting table in my bedroom.

But I loved that calculator, and my later conversion to sports-mad kid did nothing to curb that love. In fact, it expanded my calculator needs, seeing as I could now use it to figure out batting averages and add up long columns of strikeout totals. Sometimes I would just sit there, happily banging out imaginary batting averages. "Now, if I was up 243 times and got 72 hits, what would my average be?"

Those early calculators had few functions and yet cost triple digits. By the time I got to college, the same calculator could be purchased in a drugstore for $7.99. Or you could get one that did everything, including make you lunch and do your laundry, for $39.99.

Shortly afterward, televisions became disposable. My first aborted job, one that lasted (big shock here) all of 4 days, was as an apprentice to a television repairman. In a pattern that would repeat itself at least once later in life, when I almost became an apprentice roofer, Dad thought it would be good for me to get some solid, blue-collar work experience, and I agreed, until the job actually started and I realized that I was way too good to be doing something like that. I lasted 4 days, then got a job at the Baskin-Robbins across the street, like my sister had a few years prior.

Televisions were not disposable in 1981. You went to someone's house and fixed them. By the time I was a television consumer/purchaser, eleven years later, when my new bride Sandra Bullock and I conspired to buy a TV for our first apartment, our 19 inch Sony cost $329, which meant that the cost of fixing said TV was almost as much as it cost to get a new one. When that one broke, I went to Circuit City and bought one for $209 from Matt Hoskinson, a kid I taught at Blanchet High School who was the best pure baseball hitter I've ever seen, and yet never played, because the coaches hated him.

And now my laptop is disposable. I checked the Best Buy circular last Sunday; why would I give Kevin $726.53 when I can get a new laptop for around $600?

In the meantime, I apologize to all 11 of my loyal readers. Sandra Bullock is loathe to lug her new, Genentech-assigned laptop on the shuttle bus, so I have access only when she drives to work. And since we'll be paying a tidy $1530 a month for 5th grade, we're down to one car, so she won't be driving to work very often, at least until some publisher swoops down on me and rescues me from this life of obscurity.

I'm not holding my breath.