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December 31, 2005

A Fine New Year's Greeting

No one has written me a piece of hate mail in many months, but today, a reader decided to send my 2005 off right. It was a mean, but relevant letter, as good hate mail should be. I'll reprint it in full here, leaving off the person's name, because I'm polite like that:

"What happened to you? I used to read you a couple of years ago and you were very funny. Now you've turned into some suburban jew dad who drones on about your unnotable son and your neighborhood issues. What the fuck? Do all jews turn into their Uncle Ira's the second they start with the whole family sthick or what?

Nobody cares about Elijah, Neal. You do. That's great. Nobody else does. Get back to entertaining us like a good monkey - get the psuedo hipster cynacism hat back on and cut it out with the whole Mel Weinberg nice family guy act. It sucks. Like you."

OK, girlie. First of all, my neighborhood is about as un-suburban as they come, but that little mistake aside, there are some more important things to discuss . Maybe my voice has been a little long-winded and whiny in the past week, but, you know, a blog is a place to work out stylistic tics. Sometimes it takes a while to hit the right tone, and sometimes the tone changes based on the subject matter. Plus, I have a three-year-old, which can bring even the cockiest sonsofbitch to his knees.

That said, it's been at least a year, if not more, since I put the "Greatest Living American Writer" to rest. It served a purpose, the books capturing that voice exist, and people can enjoy or revile them as they see fit. Right now, my imagination, and my entire life, are taken up with parenting. Hipster, or "psuedo hipster" concerns fly out the window when you have a kid. Maybe not immediately, but it's a slow leak, and then, yes, sometimes you do end up sounding like your Uncle Ira. Maybe you're busy attending cool Chanukah parties in Brooklyn and adopting Judaism as a lifestyle accessory. Maybe you have no interest in the mundane details of family life. But I can guarantee that there are more people out there who can relate to a life like mine, "unnotable" kids and all, than those who share your program of bitter posturing. Now, on with the show.

Sincerely Yours,

Mel Weinberg

Yesterday, I was waiting on line at AAA for my California auto registration papers, a humiliating experience in its own right. Then Elijah kicked me in the nuts.

"Goddamn it!" I said, while trying not to say more.

About 25 people witnessed this scene, yet another in a long series of ones where my control over my son is slipping away.

This afternoon, we had some friends over to hang out. They hadn't seen Elijah in a couple of years, and we were excited to show him off. He was in bed, shrieking en lieu of napping, when they arrived. When we pulled him out of bed, he immediately demanded that we all go into his room to play with him. When we refused, he started throwing his toys. Regina turned on a video so we could talk, but conversation comes hard when Carole King is singing "Chicken Soup With Rice" in the background. Carole King has never been the soundtrack to my life, and I'm not about to start now.

Still, it kept Elijah quiet. When the video ended, he put my sneakers on his feet and walked toward the back of the house. We considered this a fine kid activity until we heard a crash and a scream. Regina ran back and found Elijah saying "I broke my face!" He had not, in fact, broken his face, but she gave him an ice pack anyway, which he promptly pitched across the room. When I put the ice pack in the freezer, he threw himself on the floor and began screaming. We put him in his room. He came out again, screaming. This pattern continued for the next ten minutes, until our friends got up to leave. Then, looking triumphant, Elijah took the plate of macaroni and cheese that I'd just cooked for him and dropped it on the floor. At this point, daddy lost his temper, and shouting ensued, as it does a lot these days.

We understand that the boy is sad, and that he's confused and angry about the move besides. He tells us every day that he misses his friends in Austin. According to him, one little boy named Dimitri is "looking for me everywhere." He even told us that he missed our old coffee table, which we sold in a yard sale.

We've been trying really hard to make this move easier for him. He's been to museums and indoor playgrounds and bookstores and parks, ridden ponies, trains, and a carousel, and has been plied with lots of ice cream, cake, and jellybeans. Plus, since we celebrate Jew and "Christian" holidays, he now has a lot of new toys. We made it a point to give him the larger bedroom in the house and got him a cool new bed. Even after large misbehaviors like, say, when he pulls the dog's ears three times in a row after we tell him not to, we still sit him down and say,

"We know you're really mad at us for moving."

"I'm a little mad," he says.

"But you're going to like it here. There are lots of fun things to do, and you're going to have new friends."

"What new friends will I have?"

"You haven't met them yet."

"I don't want new friends. I want my old friends."

Christ, it's like a bad Family Circus Sunday comic in here. And then we take Old Yeller out back and shoot him on account of his rabies. That's how sickly-sweet the conversations feel sometimes. Then other times Elijah asks me for a bowl of broccoli, takes it from me, and dumps it in the trashcan. Suddenly, my sympathies wilt.

As far as his friends go, we've enrolled Elijah in a preschool. He starts on Tuesday, but we took him there three times last week so he could adjust. We got optimistic when he walked in with us and said, "this is where I'm going to have fun." That lasted about 15 minutes, until a boy threw sand in his eyes.

Does he have to flush a bar of soap down the toilet on purpose? Does he have to throw a shoe at his mother's head while she's driving him to a children's museum, of all places? Is it really necessary that he shriek like a dying animal every time we put him to bed? When he's good, he's very very good. But when he's bad, he's horrid. Did I just write that? Fuck it. I did.

And no, I'm not going out tonight. Babysitters are damn expensive on New Year's Eve. Like a good middle-aged Jew, I'm watching the Curb Your Enthusiasm marathon on HBO.

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December 27, 2005

Urine Trouble Now

Elijah got a Slinky for Chanukah tonight. When we bought the Slinky about a month ago, we failed to remember that we only had a few stairs in the house, and that they are carpeted. The Slinky has nowhere to slink. So instead, he's catching it on the edge of an unpacked box, and shaking it until it makes an unbearable clanging racket, and then springing it back, cackling as it hurtles down the hall. But his joy is so great that I can't even think about stopping him. The end will occur when it springs back and hits him in the eye.

That delightful prologue discarded, I must admit that I misreported something yesterday. My wife's strange visit from the Earache Lady freaked me out so much that I went online, did some research, and found the phone number of our neighborhood's patrol officer. He called me back around 1 PM today. I described the situation to him.

"It's a scam," he said. "They probably saw your moving truck and decided to hit you."

I should have known. Regina is as susceptible to scams as an 85-year-old lady living alone. Many times, I've come to the front door to find her talking to a scruffy-looking guy holding an empty gas can. More recently, I've been spending most of my free time fending off low-rent "medical savings plan" companies because she posted my number on a website that offered "free health insurance quotes." On the phone, the officer told me never to let anyone in the house who claimed they were from the Water And Power Company. I relayed that message to Regina as soon as we hung up.

"Don't ever answer the door if I'm not home," I said to her. "Never again. I don't care if it's your mother. Do not let her in."

The officer went on to tell us that the major crime in our area is vehicle break-in, and he advised me not to leave my wallet in the car. Then he started giving me instructions on where to go grocery shopping, an activity of daily living that I'd somehow been able to figure out on my own. So my panic yesterday was, to say the least, overblown. The three of you who are paying attention have heard my last yuppie-in-the-quasi-barrio complaint. That said, I can't be the only one who's trying to raise a family in an interesting but affordable neighborhood that's still safe. Can I?

Now on to more important matters. Today I woke up, pulled back the sheets, and splattered my right hand in a puddle of cat vomit. Then the dog hopped on the bed and slurped up the puddle. The previous day, I came out of my office to find Regina holding a garbage bag full of old duffels that had been laying in the hall while we were unpacking. Apparently, the cat had peed on them and I had to throw them away. Meanwhile, Elijah uncorked a waterfall of piss all over his new "treasure chest" toy cabinet, and the dog pulled a big cat turd out of the litter box onto the sofa.

My life is nothing but excretory function management. Regina spends most of her time sniffing clothes and furniture for signs of bespoilment. As always, filth and anxiety rule the day. Plus, Elijah's interest in potty training is on the wane. A brief period of M&M bribery got him to piss in his throne a couple of times. But since then, it's been nothing but Mr. Poopy Pants. Now he refuses to sit on the potty at all, because, you know, it's so fun to wallow all day in a diaper full of creamy shit that stinks like week-old cheese.

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December 26, 2005

Guero Where You Going?

This afternoon I took Elijah to the Kidspace Museum in Pasadena, which Regina had introduced him to a couple of days before Christmas. He'd been so enthralled with the place that we bought a low-level membership that gets us in 2 to 5 on weekdays, 9:30 to 11:30 Sunday mornings, and 15 other random times of our choosing. Of particular interest to my son was the enormous "ant hole," a labyrinth of tunnels big enough for a man (I went down them myself), dotted with windows that light up intermittently, revealing nightmarish giant creatures straight out of a 50's atomic terror movie. He also likes a large tower made of at least two dozen cantilevered levels of blue fiberglass, because he can jump from level to level without fear of injury. He minors in an outdoor grass maze, and a tricycle track. And today was the beginning of a "Winter Wonderland" celebration. We threw ice balls at each other and sat through a lecture about condensation so we could get to the non-irritant fan-blown soap snowflakes at the end.

The museum sits at the east end of a spacious public park adjacent to the Rose Bowl, nestled in a verdant valley surrounded by the foothills of the Angeles National Forest. From my front door, it's less than a ten-minute drive, even during rush hour, even on city streets.

Meanwhile, in another universe, Regina was in our house, unpacking bathroom boxes. There was a knock on the door. Regina opened it. There stood a woman who looked to be in her late forties. The woman held a Q-Tip in one hand and a manila envelope in the other. She looked to be in terrible pain; she told Regina it was due to a chronic ear infection.

"I'm really sorry to bother you," she said.

"Not at all," said Regina.

"We were going to have a carwash, but we didn't know it was going to rain today."

"OK," Regina said, having no idea what the woman was talking about. The woman quickly explained. She was raising money for the family of a good friend of hers. The family was still overcome by grief, she said. She held up a picture of a little girl, who couldn't have been any older than five. The girl had been murdered by two teenagers earlier this year, in the neighborhood into which we'd moved with our three-year-old son.

Elijah was going down the ant hole with a little girl he'd befriended when I got the call. My heart went numb. Earlier this year, in Austin, a 22-year old man was stabbed in the heart with a coathanger in the middle of the street, in broad daylight, two blocks from my house. In Philly, an off-duty copy had been mugged and beaten bloody, left to die in the snow, two blocks from my house. And now this. Once again, in our hurry to get our asses across the country for no good reason, Regina and I had plunged into the danger zone, or at least the discomfort zone.

For the last two weeks, we've tried to be optimistic, even though the old woman who lives next door from us turned her back on me, went into her house, and slammed the door when I extended my hand in greeting. Even though, when we're walking our dog, at least a half-dozen evil-looking other dogs, of various breeds, strain at their collars or attempt to leap very short fences to get at him. Even though two guys were drag racing down our street on Christmas Day.

I've lived in cities, and this is the biggest city yet. I knew coming in that L.A. wasn't for the fainthearted. Still, there are plenty of neighborhoods where it doesn't matter whether or your kid's bedroom window faces the street.

That said, I recognize that the neighborhood in which we landed, Highland Park, is complicated, and a vast improvement in many ways over where we came from. In Austin, we lived in an accidental residential sliver by the highway that existed mainly to serve a day-labor center and several large apartment buildings that exploited recently-arrived immigrants. Here, we live in an urban setting at the heart of the Arroyo Seco, an area of natural beauty unparalleled in an American city. This neighborhood contains more original craftsman bungalows than any other in Southern California. It's equadistant to Pasadena, Glendale, South Pasadena, Eagle Rock, and Dodger Stadium, and a short little jaunt from downtown L.A. Signs of gentrification abound on the major retail districts. Art galleries, coffeehouses, even a cheese shop are, if not within walking distance, than within a negligible drive. There are several incredible looking taquerias in my immediate purview. At night, I can smell the al pastor drifing up from York Blvd. And Mr. T's Bowl, arguably the town's hippest rock-n-roll dive, is only a short if dangerous stroll away. I want to like it here.

Unfortunately, the two major news stories to come out of Highland Park in the last year are as follows: 1. Several homes were red-tagged during the February mudslides. 2. More relevant to my theme here, four Latino gang members were indicted last month in a plot to kill as many black people as possible in my neighborhood. It's a charming story that gives me much hope for the future. I don't feel particularly good that the Avenues, a gang that Jackson Browne wrote a song about, are based in Highland Park, even if they are down to about 800 members from their original 2,000. That's still a pretty big gang.

I know the odds of anything bad happening to us are small. The major crime here, as anywhere, is vehicle break-in. There've been 21 reported homicides in our police district this year, and that encompasses all of Silverlake, Los Feliz, Eagle Rock, Mount Washington, Griffith Park, Echo Park, and parts of Hollywood, not a bad percentage for an overpopulated hipster outpost. But I do know this: Our son will not be playing alone in our front yard. He probably won't even be allowed to stand by the front door. Tomorrow, I'm calling the neighborhood beat officer to let him know that another family of marginally employed yuppies looking for an "urban lifestyle" has arrived. It's good to have a relationship with your neighborhood cops, if they're amenable to such a thing. I just wish that, for us, it wasn't always necessary.

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December 24, 2005

The Apprenticeship Of Elijah Kravitz

We got our Christmas tree a few days ago. The pickup occurred on York Avenue, the business district directly south of our block, which contains a lot of really delicious-looking Mexican restaurants of various types, a seedy but serviceable post office, and also a bunch of other businesses that, let's face it, aren't really looking for my patronage. York's main Christmas tree lot, in non-holiday times, serves as the outdoor showroom for a somewhat surly electronic music hobbyist who also sells homemade fountains. It's guarded by a remote-controlled iron gate and three bichon frissee, who all appear to have that weird tear-duct problem endemic to the breed.

We pulled up to the lot at around noon on Tuesday to find it closed. "Grandma," the woman who runs Grandma's Closet, a junk store next to the Christmas tree/fountain boutique (it's nice to be back in a big city), toddled out of her domain to inform us that she was going out of business after 35 years, because she was 70 and also because she was tired of all the road construction in the area. She yelled over the gate. The proprietor yelled back that he was in the shower and that he'd be right down. Fifteen minutes later, he arrived, looking really dusty, and I wondered how he could possibly have been in the shower. He then backed his pickup truck out of the lot so we could have a better look at the merch.

Elijah picked out a nice tree and the guy drove it three blocks to our house in his pickup. Then Regina decorated it with various ornaments, both ironic and unironic, and placed it atop the tree skirt that she bought from West Elm for I don't want to know how much money. This provided the decorative backdrop for Elijah's first Christmas in his own house, which, of course, means nothing to me. I still want him to enjoy himself, but now that I've moved Elijah to Los Angeles, which is Spanish for "Land Of The Eternal Schnorrer," I feel like it's time to start educating him about the Jewish part of his destiny.

This began last Sunday, when I drove him down the 134 to the 101 and then a couple of exits down I-405 to a Chanukah Festival at the Skirball Cultural Center, which describes itself as "a Jewish institution in an American context" that focuses on the horizontal orientation of "the human encounter." Architect Moshe Safdie's design features a "series of longitudinal wings," which encompass open, light-filled galleries and rooms. These make you feel like, I don't know, a Jewish bird or something, flying free in your dual cultural identity as a Jew and an American. Elijah had specific questions about the Chanukah Party.

"Will there be monsters there?"

"Probably not."

"What about sharks that eat monsters?"

"Unlikely."

"What about chocolate?"

"There will probably be chocolate."

This assuaged his disappointment a bit. We arrived to find, indeed, a room utterly devoted to making driedels out of candy. You frost the bottom of a Hershey's kiss with icing, attach it to a marshmallow, and then stick a little string of licorice in the bottom. We also had the option of drawing Hebrew letters onto the driedel with edible marker, but Elijah chose to eat the driedel first.

This was followed by a visit to the toddler playroom, where Elijah proceeded to sit in a canvas schoolbus for 15 minutes until I finally persuaded him that I hadn't paid eight bucks so he could sit in a canvas schoolbus. After that, we entered the room where you could make oil lamps out of clay, though Elijah decided he preferred to roll his clay into a ball and penetrate it with two toothpicks and a popsicle stick.

"Look, Daddy," he said. "I made a squid."

"A squid?"

"Yes. A Chanukah squid. It's for mommy. She will like it, because it's nice."

"OK."

"It's a nice squid, daddy."

I had no cause to argue. Next, we went into a room where we made decorative lanterns out of wax paper, stickers, string, glue, staples, and possibly a few other crafts items that I can't recall. Elijah chose most of the material, but I did most of the work. The fact that Regina, when we brought the lantern home to her as a present, thought that Elijah had made the entire lantern himself was only moderately insulting.

We had lunch in the Skirball's inexpensive restaurant, because I was out of cash and therefore couldn't treat my son to the festival buffet, which was kind of a shame, because the food looked better there. He hardly cared, though, since I got him a grilled cheese, causing the usual meditative zone that a grilled cheese instills in him. As he pulled the cheese off the toast in great globby Cheddar chunks, I had a chance to overhear a woman talking to her daughters at the next table.

"Mommy wishes she could buy you swimming lessons, but mommy doesn't have a lot of money right now," she said. It was somewhat sad to hear this, but at least I knew that I was at a Jewish event.

We closed out the Chanukah Festival by attending a show put on by Phranc, who, as she's wont to humbly and amusingly remind you between most songs, is L.A.'s most famous Jewish lesbian folk singer. I hadn't seen Phranc perform since I was a 20-year-old sophomore in college, during my experimental lesbian phase. She hadn't aged at all, though perhaps her sense of style, which includes a crew cut, blue jeans, and work pants, masks the aging process better than more femme sartorial choices.

Elijah found Phranc's opening number, an ironic paean to Condoleeza Rice, a little dull, but she followed that up with "I've Been Everywhere," which got his attention, and then with a song where she encouraged all the children in the auditorium, about 100 total, to get up and shake various parts of their bodies at various times. At this point, Elijah leapt from his seat, obviously feeling the rhythm, and went into full rock-out mode, shaking his head madly and sticking out his tongue. As soon as the song ended, he looked at me and said,

"Only one more song, daddy, and then we will go home."

One more song passed, and then another, and then another. Elijah developed into a Phranc fan, though the next day when I asked him who Phranc was, he said, "a big octopus with giant teeth that eats dinosaurs." Regardless, I think I taught him to enjoy the holiday. We came home, he gave Regina her presents, and informed her that he'd seen a "funny man sing songs about Chanukah."

"It wasn't a man," I said. "It was a woman who looks like a man."

But I didn't press the lesson. I'm trying to teach my son about Judaism. We live in L.A. now. There'll be time enough for gender ambiguity.

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December 18, 2005

Elijah Doodle Went To Town

Since we arrived in Los Angeles one week ago, my wife has taken it upon herself to unpack the new house, as she has a seventh sense for knowing where she wants everything to go. It's not worth it for me to even try to help. When the empty boxes pile up, I haul them out to the storage space. Occasionally I put something on a top shelf if she asks, or try to remember where I packed my sweater-storage container. Other than these concerns, which make me long for the heroin needle, my job has been to keep the boy amused. Fortunately, L.A. is nothing if not amusing.

My initial L.A. outing with Elijah occurred last Saturday. While my wife and mother attacked our dining room, I roared the boy down the 2, I-5, and the 134, into the warm embrace of Griffith Park. If you're not familiar with this place, imagine Central Park, but containing three separate train rides, miles upon miles of chapparral-strewn hill hikes, and holiday light shows that celebrate, among other things, the work of William Mullholland, the father of the Los Angeles aqueduct.

Our first stop was the train depot at the south end of the park.
Elijah enjoyed the train ride quite a bit, but he's familiar with the usual tricks of the genre: The fake western town, the two-bit tunnels, the little ceramic gnomes passing as amusement-park ride entertainment. But I'd only been an Angeleno for fewer than 48 hours. Because of that, I had no idea that the train depot lay next to an even greater delight.

"PONIES!" my son cried.

The Griffith Park ponies have been in operation for a long time, evidenced by a 30-year-old photograph given to me by a native friend that shows him on the same ride. I don't think the prices have gone up much since 1975, either. It's two bucks a ride, which consists of twice around a quarter-mile track, belted atop a well-groomed, well-fed beast, while a middle-aged Hispanic man in a royal blue polo-style shirt walks beside you.

Since this was Elijah's first time, I bought him a "Slow Ride," which resembled the Foghat song in name only. As he came around the second curve, all the initial glee had drained from his face. It read, "is that all there is?" This kid, after all, allows me to spin him around in a circle until either he or I retch from dizziness. He's not a slow ride kind of guy.

So I went back to the ticket window, where I spoke to a woman who looked like the model for Snow White's Wicked Queen, post-potion. "Would you like to try an apple, dearie?" she said to me. Actually, she didn't say anything. She just sold me a ticket for a "Medium" ride, which also cost $2.

The medium ride went about the same as the slow one, except that for about half of each lap, the pony went along at a pretty steady gallop, while the guide ran beside. After the first half-lap, I positioned myself to see Elijah's expression. This time, it was a mixture of pure joy and "you'd better figure out a way to pay for my horseback-riding lessons down the road."

After that finished, I deflected Elijah's begging for concession-stand popcorn. We got back in the car and drove to the other end of the park, where a second train ride awaited us. "Are there going to be pony rides there, too?" Elijah said. The answer was no, and I realized that Elijah would from here on not be totally satisified with a train ride unless I followed it up with a two-buck pony ride.

One of Griffith Park's other two trains only operates on Sunday, which was just as well, because it's called "The Los Angeles Steamers," which sounds like either a grotesque sexual habit that exists only in specialty porn and low-rent stand-up routines, or a failed XFL francise. The second train served as the centerpiece of the Travel Town museum, a popular local birthday-party spot. After all, wouldn't want to celebrate their birthday by whacking a pinata in front of a rusted 80-year-old Union Pacific caboose?

The train ride itself was nothing special, but Elijah found himself enthralled by an adjacent building's model train exhibit, nearly 2,000 feet of miniature track surrounded by insanely detailed hills, tunnels, depots, and old-fashioned diners. This is operated by a club of men who, if they weren't desigining miniature train exhibits, would most likely be engaged in defeating all comers at public outdoor chess tables.

Elijah latched on to a boy, maybe a couple of years older than him, and immediately proclaimed to me, "I have a friend, daddy!"

"What's your friend's name?" I asked.

"Steven," said the boy, and then he walked away, never to be seen by my son again.

Not to be deterred, Elijah headed over to a play area, which was comprised of some blue exercise mats in the middle of a square of low-lying risers. Another boy was jumping off the risers into the mats, watched by his parents.

"Joey," said the dad. "When you jump, you should say what Buzz Lightyear says. What does he say?"

"TO INFINITY AND BEYOND!" said the boy, reciting it by rote, like it was the Lord's Prayer, or the Sh'ma.

I have nothing against children uttering catchphrases from Disney cartoons. It's inevitable. But I truly despise it when parents encourage their children in that direction. Is it really so impossible for parents to relate to childhood? Can't a kid enjoy jumping onto a mat without having to pretend that he's a character from Toy Story? When parents point out fish to their kids, do they really have to say, as I've heard a thousand times, "Look, it's a fish...like Nemo!" No, I want to say. Nemo is an overmarketed cartoon character. That's just a fish. Why not educate yourself a little so you can give your kid some real information instead of regurgitated crap?

"TO INFINITYBEYOND!" Elijah shouted, as he jumped.

Goddamn it!

"No, Elijah," I said. "You should say, 'To Infinity And Beyonce."

I looked around to see if any of the other parents present had caught my funny funny joke. But they all stared ahead blankly, trying desperately to remember when they, too, were young. Then I took Elijah home and he watched Monsters, Inc., in its entirety, for the 10th consecutive day. But when I chased him around the house later, in my daily role of monster, I didn't mention the movie once.

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December 6, 2005

The Golden Nugget

At the end of my last entry in the Thorn Birds-length epic that has become the Internet’s definitive chronicle of potty-training, my three-year-old son Elijah had successfully pissed into his plastic mini-toilet, which is shaped like a throne and makes a trumpet sound every time liquid or solid material passes its high-tech sensors. We crossed a Rubicon of piss that morning, never to turn back. The next day, Sunday, began way too early.

It was my turn to get up with the kid. The previous three mornings, Elijah had woken anywhere between 7:15 and 8:00. That time-range is still well in advance of my preferred 10:30 AM rising, but it’s certainly sane. I try to make it a policy to never get out of bed until Katie Couric has been at work for at least three hours.

At 4:30 AM, Elijah began to complain that he was “cold” and “scared” and also that he wanted “orange juice.” My sensitive response, as I lay in the next room beside my wife was as follows:

“Goddamn it! It’s 4:30 in the fucking morning! What the fuck is his problem?”

His problem was that his favorite TV shows all air before sunrise. As soon as he opens his eyes, he wants to watch them. After much reluctance and grousing, plus my weekly conversation with Regina where she exhaustedly tells me how much she resents me for not wanting to get up with Elijah in the morning, I rose.

I fetched Elijah an orange juice and a tasty morning snack assortment, turned on the TV, lay down on the sofa, and covered myself with a blanket. For the next 80 minutes, I dozed intermittently through the various high-pitched squealy sounds that comprise my son’s crappy programs. Dora The Explorer became Higglytown Heroes became Little Einsteins. All the shows involved blinking wide-eyed cartoon kids on moronic missions: They had to bring a hot-dog vendor his lucky ketchup bottle. They had to bring a magic flute to a goody-goody Peruvian boy so his music could make the crops grow. They had to rescue a tomboy’s birthday balloons, which had inexplicably floated into the rainforest. Thank god they had a magic rocketship! Or a sassy monkey sidekick! Or a loveable fussbudget squirrel friend! Man, I hate these shows. Sometimes, I want to say, damn it, I don’t care if Swiper The Fox stole your chocolate boat. Shut the fuck up, Dora.

I opened my raw-red eyes, saw that Elijah had eaten an entire tangerine and several pieces of wheat-bran cereal, and sensed an opportunity.

“Do you want to go to the potty?” I said.

“Yeah,” he said.

I took the little prince into the bathroom, sat him on his throne, and handed him Tick-Tock Sharks.

“Read this,” I said.

He did, and then he told me he wanted another book, “one about animals.” I went into the living room and found a How And Why Wonder Book, previously from Regina’s brother’s childhood in the early 70s. It’s somehow survived to the present day and is one of Elijah’s favorites. I handed it to him.

“Could you go now, daddy? And close the door. I want to be alone.”

Oh ho. This was a good sign. I immediately shut him into the WC and went outside with a bag of trash. When I returned, I heard this:

“I pooped, daddy! I pooped! I did it in the potty! A big poop!”

Was that the throne I heard, or Gabriel’s trumpet? Wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles! I ran to the bathroom.

In the bottom of the throne lay a turd to make daddy proud. It was bright orange long, and thick, a Nerf poo. Elijah had eaten a lot of carrots the day before. But other than the color, it looked like a crap that I could have taken. How in the world, I wondered, does Elijah tolerate having something like that in his pants three times a day?

Since I got married in the spring of 2000, the world has pretty much gone to hell, though not, I might add, because I got married. I’ve conducted my family-man business in a climate of war, fear, terrorism, economic uncertainty, and a complete evaporation of civic discourse, not to mention massive flooding exacerbated by governmental incompetence. It’s hard to be a responsible citizen when your society is a parody of itself. But when I bore witness to my son’s bright-orange play-toilet turd on that Sunday morning, I had to consider my life a success, and the world a happy place. No amount of exclamation points could express my glee.

“I am so proud of you!” I said. “I’ve never been more proud of you! That’s amazing! You are an amazing, incredible boy!”

“I’m an amazing pooper!” he said.

“Yes you are!”

“Can I have ice cream now?”

“Of course you can! Oh, son! This is the greatest thing you’ve ever done!”

“Yes!” he said. “It is!”

I looked at him, eyes a-glint. Time to make Regina resent me a little more. I said,

“Let’s go wake up mommy and tell her.”

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December 3, 2005

A Pee-Ric Victory

After last night's 3 AM lament, I found myself still in bed at 10:15. When I woke, Elijah was in the bathtub. Fifteen minutes later, I pulled him out of the tub and sat him on his throne. We chatted idly about the usual topics: Whales, dinosaurs, scary monsters, and popsicles.

Suddenly, a geyser!

He'd taken the protective cup out of his throne and tossed it across the room, so his pee was spraying across the bathroom floor. I took hold of his peenie and thrust it back into the pot.

"Keep it in there, Elijah!" I said.

The throne started to make its trumpet sound, insistent, loud, and continual. It bleated throughout the entire urination.

"Regina! It's happening!"

"I'm doing it, mommy!" Elijah said.

"REALLY?" said Regina. "Hooray! Hooray!"

"I'm peeing!"

"He's peeing!"

"He's peeing!"

His penis popped out again. Again, I shoved it back into the pot.

DUH-DUH-DUH-DUH-DUH-DUH! went Elijah's throne.

When it ended, we praised him. He ran around, shouting "I did it! I did it!" So then we let him have his prize. Regina had found a Scholastic collection video of Maurice Sendak stories on sale at the H.E.B. Elijah watched that video this summer at his cousin's house, and he'd loved it, especially In The Night Kitchen. He considered this a prize worthy of his efforts.

However, I'm not sure how much of this small success was due to the fact that Elijah has suddenly developed an idea of what it means to go to the bathroom. It's probably more that the water was warm, and it stimulated matters urethral. I quizzed him after the video was over, and his ignorance showed.

"Elijah," I said, "what does poo come out of?"

"Your butt!" he said.

"Right. And what does pee come out of?"

"The potty."

"No. Pee comes out of your peenie. That's what you call it an, um, peenie."

"No! Pee doesn't come out of your peenie! That's silly."

A pause.

"Can I have some ice cream now?"

As the day slogged on, Elijah peed on the living room carpet, and then he pooped in his underwear. When Regina took the underwear into the bathroom to toss the poop in the potty, it fell out and she stepped in it. Then, later, Elijah sat on the throne for 20 minutes, during which time he threw a hairbrush, a pair of his underwear, and a full bag of wet wipes into the grownup potty. We then read several books, and when that session ended, he immediately ran into our bedroom and peed in front of Regina's closet.

The road goes on forever.

Afterward, Elijah and I played a game called "Ellsworth Kelly and Jeff Koons Go To The Zoo." Regina got him a book of shapes that uses actual artwork as examples. Elijah thinks that those two artist names are absolutely hilarious. I was Jeff Koons and Elijah was Ellsworth Kelly. Apparently, this zoo only contained lions (our cats), but we couldn't go to the zoo because it was underwater and if we got out of our underwater train, the sharks would eat us. Then, midway through our trip to the zoo, Elijah inexplicably stopped the train, which was actually his bed, so he could go to the "battery store." He then jumped off the bed, snatched a plastic banana, got back up, and said, "there. Now we have batteries so the sharks won't eat us."

In a three-year-old's world, everything symbolizes something else, and I don't mean man's inhumanity to man or something equally grand. It's a mindset of correlating nouns. An orange can be an apple and a monkey can be a zebra. It's all the same to kids. So there's got to be some combination of words out there that will persuade Elijah to abandon his soiling ways once and for all. I just know it. Soon, I will crack the code.

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Fecal Matters

I'm going to pay a serious price for staying up to write this tonight. It's 3 AM Central Standard Time. Regina gets up with the kid in the morning, but there's no way, even if she's at her most generous, that I'm getting out of bed after 9:30. She'll either directly shake me awake, or send the cat in to lick me, or send the kid in to lick me, or, worst of all, she will put on hard-soled shoes and walk about the room like she's doing something quite urgent, thereby making me feel guilty that I'm not helping her. I have responsibilities and probably shouldn't be up this late. But I took a couple of puffs off a joint tonight at a party, and the synapses have not quite yet stopped firing. So I will continue to discuss the topic that has all America buzzing: How I'm trying to get my son to stop crapping his pants.

The weekend after Thanksgiving, Regina and I went to Los Angeles to tend to moving matters, many of them Elijah-related, including buying him a cheap bed that we put together ourselves and subsequently decorated with a duvet that depicts colorful forest animals, topping off the ensemble with a one-eyed alien pillow. Yes, Elijah's bedroom is Scandanavian whismy, courtesy of the IKEA in Burbank. We also found him a preschool to attend when we arrive. It's on the site of a Jewish Community Center that officially closed a couple of years ago, but the neighborhood raised money to keep the preschool open anyway. It's chaotic there, and kind of dark, but I've never seen happier-looking kids at school in my life, except for at Elijah's current school. Apparently, if you let kids run around and play all day, they're happy. Who'd have thunk it?

Meanwhile, Elijah was at my parents' house in Phoenix, where he engaged in such useful pursuits as hiding sticks behind bushes, going for a walk to "look for purple tigers," and throwing grapefruit over the backyard wall. My parents generously took up the potty-training baton, but quickly realized that they were up against a champion diaper wearer. They had no luck at all. What did Elijah care? They were letting him eat a huge bowl of ice cream every day. My mother suggested, when we returned, that we should "bribe" Elijah to use the toilet. Awesome. If I'd received a prize for every time I'd taken a shit, I'd have had to rent a bank vault somewhere long ago.

So now we're attempting to use an incentive system that goes like this: "Elijah, if you poop in the toilet, you can go out for ice cream," or, "Elijah, if you pee, you can watch the new video that mommy and daddy bought for you." We'll tell him that these are one-time-only offers, that not every potty visit will be met with riches. I somehow doubt that it will work.

We have Elijah wearing underwear in the house now. The fact that the underwear has the words "Finding Nemo" on it doesn't keep Elijah from peeing on his bedroom floor, or from squeezing out a toddler-turd while watching television. He just doesn't seem to care. This morning Regina had him on the can for 20 minutes. He left without doing business, and then immediately proceeded to unleash a torrent of pee in the space between the living-room sofa and a side wall. We already have to clean up cat piss every day in the laundry room, because our semi-retarded ancient tabby cat marks his territory against the stray who sprays on the other side of the wall. Now we're cleaning up human pee, too. We get so distracted that occasionally we forget to take the dog out. My life is a river of multi-specied piss.

We've come to the conclusion that Elijah, while quite brilliant and imaginative in many ways, is just slow physically. He walked late, he climbed late, and he just started really jumping about two weeks ago. He still can't figure out how to blow his nose, for god's sake. When faced with a tissue, he sucks in. So it's entirely possible that he just doesn't understand that the rumbly in his tumbly means that he's about to take a shit. He doesn't know a bladder from a soccer ball, so how would he understand that his bladder is full? Meanwhile, I stand back and think, dammit, kid. How hard can it be?

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December 2, 2005

Game Of The Weak

It's been a while since I've commented on basketball in this space, which has, I'm sure, left three or four of you bereft. My mood regarding the Suns, to use terror alert terminology, is currently Elevated. I visited my ancestral homeland of Phoenix last weekend for one of my dad's better Thanksgiving dinners. I prefer the years when he doesn't buy the mashed potatoes frozen from Costco. On Friday night, my brother-in-law and I shelled out money for horrible cheap seats to watch the Suns play the Nets. We spent the first half miserable, though the Suns chop-sueyed the Nets into a mere 30-point output. But thanks to a new eyeglass prescription, I was able to spot an empty seat in the seventh row of section 103, directly across the stadium from us. Lloyd and I walked down like we meant it, and I charmed the woman behind us by showing her my son's school picture, which I know can cause even the driest reproductive system to ovulate.

We chose the better half to listen to Steve Nash's grunts up-close. The Nets mounted a comeback, though as Lloyd pointed out, you know the game is lost when Jason Kidd starts jacking up threes. J-Kidd (oh, when will that nickname formulation go away?) appears to finally be slowing down. He's only three years younger than me, and sometimes, when I stand up, both my knees hurt. I can only imagine what his feel like. The Nets also have Cliff Robinson coming off the bench. Was Truck Robinson unavailable? They don't have much depth. Vince Carter play-acted the fool and Richard Jefferson missed a breakaway dunk. On our side, Kurt Thomas yanked down 19 rebounds, and made my favorite play of the game when he went to the floor with three Nets and somehow managed to bat the ball out to Nash, who then made some sort of absurd bat-radar pass to one of the Suns' many anonymously lithe role-players.

Then the Suns had five days off, which gave them plenty of time to wax the Pacers' collective ass on Wednesday night. The Pacers were just coming off a triple-overtime game more than 700 miles away, or something like that, so the game might not have been a fully accurate estimation of how the Suns stack up, but I'm still encouraged. Tread water at .540 until February, boys. The highly-reliable Arizona Republic says that the Christ-Amare's knees are feeling better.

The Suns-Nets contretemps wasn't the best NBA game I've ever seen, but it was a damn sight better than the abomination TNT uncorked on me tonight as I unsuspectedly went to the gym for a listless 35 minutes on the elliptical trainer. The Jazz versus the Lakers may have been a good matchup in 1999, but on this night, it was shite. I don't care that the Lakers won by three in overtime. It shouldn't take overtime to beat a team that is still starting Greg Ostertag at center. The TNT halftime bump featured Mehmet Okur and Smush Parker, for god's sake. Meanwhile, I saw about a dozen commercials advertising the drama of the NBA, 32 teams, only one champion, blah de blah blah. But that doesn't mean anything when the star of one also-ran (Kobe) is trying to fake the star of another also-ran (Kirilenko), out of his shoes, and the result is a missed jumper 22 seconds into the shot clock. Chris Mihm doubling down on Matt Harpring hardly feels legendary to me.

Is that enough NBA for you? I thought so. Now you should read Jonathan Goldstein's Lenny Bruce Is Dead, an odd, impressionistic portrait of a sexually confused Jewish guy growing up in Canada. I would definitely not call it a genre book. I would call it book number 47 for the year. Let's sum it up as Jesus' Son with fewer drugs, and a lot more poopy jokes.

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