January 1, 2005
Being new parents our New Year's Eve was quiet. In fact the last time I remember a year's end so quiet was probably in high school. But we were tired (and quite frankly hadn't been invited anywhere) so we stayed in and at the hour climbed up on the roof with the other Brooklynites and watched the fireworks behind the rooftops both over Manhattan and beyond (somewhere above New Jersey probably). At midnight, cheers went up from all around. I heard several corks pop and fall to the street below followed by clinking glasses. Ships in the river blew their horns. Bells rang from churches and there were silhouettes of people kissing. A neighbor fired off an illegal bottle rocket and a few kids on the next roof over ran around with sparklers. Jenn got cold and left me up there where I watched a few bands of revelers on the street below head into the night singing their way towards Atlantic Avenue. And then in a few short minutes all was quiet but for the distant sirens and the people of Brooklyn Heights descended from their roofs through their attic doors and down to bed.
January 1, 2005
There was a time after the shock of the unnatural deaths of my mother and brother when I thought I would always dread January firsts. The date and even the year- 1990- are cruelly easy to remember so that at any time without a moments calculation I could say, "it has been 2 years, 3 months and 2 days since..." or something like that. But the crucible of loss is fickle and I was not left with the albatross of hating the specific day more or less than any other. Of course I have always recognized this sad anniversary and am careful to put aside time for some private ritual of remembrance, but I do the same on other days for other people I have lost. Strange too is my appreciation for what the deaths have done to me as a person, allowing me, I hope, to be a husband and now a father who, aware of what can be taken away, tries his best to love with an open heart.
That event fourteen years ago was one of those which divide time into "before" and "after", but what I could not foresee then were the other events that similarly divide time. Those events, whether they be something as large as the birth of a child or as small as some quiet realization, lift us past the burden of memory and into the realm of undiscovered country.
So I think what I'm trying to say is, it's a new year, let's try to make the best of it.
January 3, 2005
The streets were littered with Christmas Trees today. January 2nd is a fair date to throw out a tree. Last week I was horrified to see people hauling trees out on the 26th. Geez. I gave them the benefit of the doubt though. Perhaps they were going on vacation. Our tree is still up... I always lobby to have it around until my birthday on the 6th.
Many people look at Raul Andres and think he favors his uncle Paul so I dug around and found a picture of young Paul Yun from 25 or so years ago. Baby to baby there isn't much of a resemblance. This picture is either Paul's first birthday or his 100 days party depending on whether you believe the cake or the lore: This is around 1981...
January 4, 2005
My grandfather (on the left) on the Brooklyn Bridge with friends (circa 1929), and me on the bridge with friends (circa 1989 I think, also on the left). Next time I have to do a better job of recreating the original.
January 5, 2005
Our boy is now 12 pounds 10 ounces. That's exactly 2 pounds in one month. So he's growing rapidly. He's also developing a a bit of a personality. Some changes have been gradual such as his demands to be fed expressed with ever more expressive and finely tuned emotion (and lung capacity). Some changes take place overnight. Yesterday he woke up and you could almost hear the synapses crackling as he started smiling for the first time in response to our smiles. It was as if he couldn't stop himself. The sight of him smiling made us chuckle which made him smile all the more... Of course the energy he expended in the effort left him exhausted and he was positively narcoleptic the rest of the day. I would have taken a picture but I was too busy enjoying the show.
January 5, 2005
I know Lance Armstrong has raised lots of money for cancer with his wristbands, but why is it that everyone who wears one is kind of a jackass?
January 6, 2005
Today was my birthday. While I enjoy celebrating other people's birthdays my own have never had much meaning for me. I have never quite understood all the anticipation and fuss (Nor do I understand people who get gloomy talking darkly being another step closer to the grave--Hey buddy, you are one step closer every day, why single out your birthday). Perhaps it's simply timing. Falling twelve days after Christmas and only 6 days after New Years, I tire of being jolly. The weather is often miserable. People are out of town. So my birthdays tend to pass quietly or at least they have since my big roller skating party in the 7th grade.
My 20th was spent in the library (someone had actually planned a surprise party but couldn't find me). My 25th was spent locked out of the house with a vomiting dog. The only reminder of my 30th was a card from my dentist who sent me a limerick incorporating a birthday message with notice of an upcoming appointment. "There was once a man named Raul..."
These days people have reminders in email and calendar programs so you get those automated electronic postcards. I got 6 today. One with a dancing pig.
My wife will have none of my indifference. Year by year she's been wearing me down with carefully selected gifts, nice meals and general thoughtfulness. So while I still don't completely understand why birthdays should be such a big deal, and I make mistakes (like blowing out my candles on the first 2 bars of the song and accidentally opening my gifts early), I've come to enjoy the day and even sort of look forward to it.
This is us, a bit out of focus, on my birthday last year.
January 8, 2005
Today I had 2 email requests for a picture of my home office (actually one was a geek asking for a "shot of my computer rig"). I don't know what these people are imagining, but it's a rather dreary attic space, stuffed with books and computer equipment, in a 160 year old brownstone. I'm a Mac guy and run things off of a G5, a G4 and an iBook. I've been trying to organize the place since we moved in back in September but life being what it is, I'm sure I won't be done until it is time to move.
January 10, 2005
My wife went out today to make a quick appearance at a good friend's birthday party leaving me alone with the baby for a bit. This might not seem like a big thing, but most new dads of breastfed kids will empathize because ultimately there is not much we can do if the kid wakes up hungry. A timer is set when the mom leaves... could be an hour, could be three hours, could five minutes. I found myself not wanting to move for fear of waking him so I watched him dream. He was in deep REM sleep and full of activity.
What do they dream about at this age? Sometimes the dreams are good with smiles and even the beginnings of a laugh, sometimes they seem to be very very bad with startles and pained yelps of panic. At this age they are generally in REM about 5-6 hours a day. In the womb it was 10 hours. Some people suggest the dreams are the babies way of forming connections, making sense of the day, and learning, but new studies suggest deep low wave sleep is more important for development and REM is just random firings of neurons that allow the brain circuitry time to recharge. Still,some part of me doesn't accept the scientific explanation and believes the his dreams take him far outside the confines of our small house to the places he visited while still in the womb in the manner of the blind experiencing the world in sounds and movements. Perhaps he's even inherited a few of our dreams. I know some of my own dreams do not always seem to be my own and would more likely belong to my grandfather or one of my many uncles. Sometimes it would make more sense if the logical world did not apply.
He of course did wake up hungry and inconsolable, but a few minutes later mom appeared and the sound of her voice alone calmed him.
. . . . . . .
Thinking about these things brought to mind this story.
Once when I when was in Rajasthan on a desert road between Jodhpur and Jaisalmer I came upon a group of children being prepared as fire eaters for a circus. It was twilight and the kids would stand by the road blowing fire from their mouths at the passing cars hoping for a few rupees. Over and over they would shoot out flames into the air projecting a circle of yellow light around them and onto the desert floor. While there were few cars on this deserted road , almost all who passed threw out some small token. Occasionally a truck would stop, the driver would negotiate a price, and the kids would gather round with their limca soda bottles full of gasoline for a show. An older boy collected the money and gave it to their boss, a Fagin-like character named Hrishikesh. The younger boys would compete for the longest brightest flame. One played a flute. The scene was terrible and beautiful and it comes back to me in my own dreams sometime--the darkness of the desert, the indigo sky, the boys many irreparably dulled by the constant breathing of gas and kerosene with their burned mouths and odd laughter, and of course the flames lighting the dark. I wanted to leave that place quickly, but Hrishikesh invited me to tea and some part of me was fascinated. We sat outside his hut in front of a burning oil drum and talked of many things. I asked him about his dreams meaning what did he dream of doing, but he took my question literally. "I have only one dream. All my life one dream. I dream of ice and a world without fire." After the tea I excused myself feeling I was about to be robbed, he protested but let me hitch a ride to Shaitrawa with a trucker. Before I left he looked me in the eyes and said, "You will not forget this amazing thing" he said, "You will dream this night."
January 12, 2005
I've recieved several emails from friends and family for more up to date baby pictures, so enclosed are 2 from about 4 hours ago.
I actually feel bad about not having taken more pictures, but the skies have been grey and the light dim which always leaves me photographically challenged. Also I think the digital camera makes me flabby. It's just too darned easy. Tomorrow I'm going to pull some real cameras.
January 13, 2005
A year ago today we were in Venice. Venice in the summer with it's tourist hordes and expensive food is intolerable, but in the winter, the place feels a bit more manageable and well.... it's Venice.
These are two shots from 1/13/04. Gosh it seems light years away.
. . .
For now travel is just via the armchair... but soon.
. . .
Quotes generally don't do much for me, but this sentence by Katherine Anne Porter seemed worthy of repeat:
"I am always surprised by people who cannot understand range and change, variety and contradiction, tragic feeling, a saving dash of frivolity, and the deep sense of comedy, the salt of life that makes our daily bread bearable."
January 14, 2005
I was forwarded this image today (don't know the photographer, but it's dated this morning). The photo evoked that time in my life when I worked on the 54th floor of the Citicorp building. Many mornings up there New York looked like this...a city of of a few tower peeking out above the low clouds. We were closer to the Chrysler building so the view was even more spectacular. Sadly I never thought to snap a picture.
From the angle (facing east from midtown) I think this shot must have been taken from the Empire State Building about 3/4 of the way up.
. . .
And speaking of nice photography check out Eliot Shepard's online portfolio.
January 16, 2005
A photo from the archives. I don't know why, but I was thinking about this man the other day. He patiently led me around his village, through his apple orchards, and up for some tea.
January 18, 2005
January 20, 2005
I'm sleepy. It's the baby, it's too much work. It's the cold. And I haven't been getting my naps.
I subscribe to the English school of naps:
"You must sleep sometime between lunch and dinner, and no halfway measures. Take off your clothes and get into bed. That's what I always do. Don't think you will doing less work because you sleep during the day. That's a foolish notion held by people with no imaginations. You will be able to accomplish more. You get two days in one--well, at least one and a half." - Winston Churchill
January 20, 2005
And we thought our boy was large:
January 21, 2005
Jenn keeps making me crop her... I might have to disobey her orders soon.
January 22, 2005
Today people all around the city were hysterical about "blizzard of 05" . "Stock up on food and batteries, there will be a run on the grocery stores;" they said, "the city will come to a standstill. The water mains will break. The power will go out. You never know what will happen."
About a foot of snow is expected starting tomorrow.
Nothing to sneeze at, but my friends in Buffalo will hear of this with a chuckle. The last time we visited there in winter cars were covered with snow and 7 foot snowbanks turned roads into deep white trenches. And when the snow came off of Lake Erie visibility went down to a few inches. A foot is no big deal. We prepared by grabbing a few extra logs for the fire and some milk.
Because of the speed with which this cold snap hit us, the deeper subway stations have been turned into chimneys as the hot air trapped deep underground rushes to the surface. Most of New York's subways are actually right under the streets, built 100 years ago with the then innovative, dig and cover technique, but the stations around the edges of the island dive down into the bedrock to pass under the rivers. You would think the deep subway tunnels would be cool, like caves, but the constant heat escaping from the trains keeps them perpetually warm, and hence the strong wind on cold days. Today it was so bad men were losing their hats and women had to hold their skirts and coats down. Children of course enjoyed the phenomenon.
I sat near at the front of the train next to the window peering into the tracks. I always like watching the plunge from Court Street Station down into the the elegant tunnel under the East River. The tunnel is officially called the Whitehall-Montague Street Tunnel and was completed in 1917 with great fanfare. The man who oversaw the project at a ceremony for marking the final blast to complete the tunnel noted "There have been 800,000 decompressions, with air pressures reaching as high as 37.5 pounds, yet there has been only one death due to compressed air sickness. Less than 200 cases of bends have been reported. Although on the average as many as 2100 men have been employed daily, but 22 men have been killed due to accidents during the whole period of the work. This is an indication of the precautions which you have taken for the protection and safety of your men, and it merits the highest commendation."
Coming up into Manhattan the tunnel rises and starts to branch and curve. All along the way the train is guided by a simple system of stoplights. Unlike modern subways operated by a central computer. New York subways are still driven individual conductors. When the light is green the driver goes forward. When yellow he slows down. When red he stops. There is little communication between trains and no central control of the whole system although a dispatcher can now talk to all trains. In the City the trains rise to the "just under the street level" and from there the cold outside is obvious. Thick clusters icicles hang down from grates above sometimes falling onto the passing train. Here there is little wind. It's just as cold as it is outside.
January 23, 2005
On days like today there is usually a window of time when the snow is still falling and before the snowplows and shovelers arrive where the city is transformed becoming the domain of kids on sleds, happy dogs, and intrepid urban skiers. Snowball fights erupt with random people in the middle of the street (which is indistinguishable from the sidewalk), snowmen are built and destroyed with glee, and life seems uncomplicated. As Jenn would say, happy times, happy times.
. . .
In the meantime, on the Upper West Side, Aunt Becky was having her own happy times:
January 23, 2005
January 26, 2005
I wrote a long post tonight about nothing in particular (it meandered from thoughts on our local Brooklyn Heights deli to some nonsense about an old dream), but managed to delete it with an over eager command-w (window close for you windows people).
In lieu of anything else, enclosed is another portrait of the baby this time with me. He's been smiling nonstop these days, except when the camera is pulled out. Then he puts on his serious face.
January 26, 2005
Are you someone who looks at people on the street and wonders what they were thinking? If so Simon Høgsberg's Thought Project is for you. He stopped people on the street in Denmark, took their photo, asked what they were thinking, and recorded the results.
And while you are thinking... you might as well check out Swapatorium, an excellent blog of found photographs and objects. Angelica has the most amazing eye... Her flickr pages are also worthy of exploration.
January 28, 2005
When I was in high school my little brother received a call from a man with a New York accent claiming to be our grandfather. "You're not my grandfather," my brother said and hung up.
The only grandfather we knew lived in Mexico, my dad's dad. My mother's father was dead. According to my mom he had been a bad guy and had left her family when she was a child. She never actually detailed how he had died, "I don't talk about him" she would say, but that's the impression she left. Only when asked questions directly would she parcel out small fragments of information. He was Irish. He was in the Navy. He had blue eyes. He left Queens for California. Eventually she would would change the subject.
His name was Francis Peter and to this day I've never seen a picture of him.
That afternoon in 1983 the man on the phone kept calling. It was a little bit scary so we took the phone off the hook. My mom returned home and answered a call. She shooed us out of the room and closed the door. About an hour later she emerged clearly shaken. It was indeed her father. He was dying and wanted to visit. It had taken him 3 years to track us down.
My mom called her lawyer, a big bear of a man with a gravely Texas twang to warn her father never to call again. He never did. About a year later we received word that he had died. He had been living in San Francisco...alone apparently; a park ranger. Before he died he had put together a large box of things he wanted to give my mom, it would arrive a few weeks later.
The box was a crate made of wood. Well made and heavy packed. Notable was the address, hand lettered in black paint with a sure hand. Big old fashioned looking cursive.
Within 30 minutes of it's arrival at our house , the box was on a truck headed towards the city dump. It was unopened. I didn't think throwing it out was right, but I knew that on this issue I would have no sway. My mom never mentioned the incident again.
Still, even today, half a life later, I wonder...
January 30, 2005
Snippets from life with a newborn:
Jenn: ok. I'm exhausted, you need to take him for a while.
me: Ok little bear, let's play a game.... How about 'my nose, your nose'?
Ok. don't like that one today. How about 'up down'?
Don't like that one either. Ok lets play 'Ramones original lineup'?
Dee Dee Ramone
(Raul Andres lights up and actually laughs)
[repeat for the next half hour]
. . .
. . .
The snow is getting really dirty... I'm ready for another blizzard.