Friday, April 09, 2004

The Sorcery of the Apprentice 

I've been thinking about having commemorative tee-shirts printed up. "The Bean 2004 U.S. Tour," they would say. On the back would be a list of towns and dates:

4/2 Chelmsford, MA
4/3 Beverly, MA
4/4 Deep River, CT
4/5 New York, NY
4/6 Niantic, CT
4/7 Middletown, CT

...and so on. We could even put one of the scans on the front of the shirt.

* * *

We enter Week 22 today. The Literature doesn't have much to say for the next few weeks: your child is getting bigger, it says. So is mother's belly. Very helpful information—it's so reassuring to know this isn't one of those weeks where the baby shrinks and the DMG's belly retracts.

(If you need a cure for insomnia, you can read more about Week 22 here and here.)

* * *

On our way back up from New York the other night, I observed that it was comforting to see that neither the city nor our friends seemed to have changed during the year of our absence.

"No," the DMG agreed. "It sounds like the only thing we really missed was The Apprentice."

Yes: The Apprentice. It had become a kind of joke for us. Our Beverly friends had asked if we'd seen The Apprentice in Denmark. No, we told them, we've seen mentions of some new reality show with Donald Trump, but we didn't know anything about it. We were immediately brought up to speed on the show.

When we first arrived at my parents' place on Sunday, conversation eventually got around to television and we were once again inundated with a capsule summary of the program.

The show was also discussed with our friends in New York, none of whom had anything bad to say about it. It was astonishing. I haven't seen this kind of universal interest in a television show since Kenneth Burns's "The Civil War"—and my tongue isn't even in my cheek.

Out of curiosity on Wednesday night the DMG and I watched a repeat of last week's episode. That piqued our interest. On Thursday night we watched the penultimate episode. Now we're hooked. Two little episodes and we already have people we're rooting for and against. It's making us crazy that we'll miss next week's finale.

It occurs me to now, as I write this, that the phenomenon of The Apprentice is a perfect example of American culture. What's more, it shows just how far Europe has to go before it will have anything like an integrated culture. If they tried to produce an EU version of the show right now, viewers would always be voting for their fellow nationals, or at least their neighbor nationals. Danes would root for Danes or, in the absence of a Danish contender, maybe Norwegians or Swedes. The French would root for the French, or maybe Belgians or Swiss. Slavs would root for Slavs, Catholics for Catholics, and so on. (It's also easy to imagine who would be rooting against whom.)

Europeans like to mock American pop culture—which is surely why they import so much of it. But it seems to me that until they can come up with popular entertainment more "European" than the EuroVision song contest or the European Cup, in which European nationals are pitted against one another as such, there's not much hope of creating a "European" culture.

I'm going to go out on a limb and assume most Americans are rooting for Kwame at this point, and that most Americans want to see Omarosa held accountable for her incompetence. It has nothing to do with where they're from, and everything to do with who they are—or at least, with who they seem to be through the doubtless distorting lens of this television program. Quick: which states were the four finalists from?

In Europe we wouldn't just have Kwame, Bill, Eric, and Amy in the final four: we'd have the national pride of four countries on the line. Every time Trump fired someone an entire national press would be moved to remorse, outrage, or anger. As different as a Bostonian and Texan may be, and as inclined as they are to root for their own, geographic origin is just one of many considerations in deciding whom to root for, along with looks, personality, vocabulary, and—human nature being what it is—gender, color, religion, and sexual orientation. (Don't blame America: how many black Jewish bisexuals have held chancellorships in Europe?)

In Europe it's paramount. Danes will always be antipathetic to Germans, the Irish to the English, the Greeks to the Turks, and so on.

So if you're one of those snooty Americans who thinks "The Apprentice" is a symptom of a culture in decline, please reconsider. And if you're one of those snooty Europeans who thinks "The Apprentice" is yet one more sign of America's decadence and stupidity, please try to imagine a Europe in which people are judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their flag. Who's shallow?

* * *

I really intended to talk about our trip to New York and yesterday's misadventures setting up a new computer for my grandmother, but once again I've digressed myself into oblivion.

Sorry—but my nieces will be here in a couple of hours and that's all the time I have left to get to the Gap before we head back to Denmark Monday night, so I've got to call it quits for the time being.

(Apologies also for not responding to comments or emails, or browsing the usual blogs, but given the scarcity of time I've got here it's crazy enough just trying to find time to post these long digressions.)

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Brief Update 

It's Thursday morning. I realize I'm about two days behind, but I'm too busy to document everything right now. Maybe later today, or some time tomorrow. (Tomorrow we enter Week 22, I think. I've sort of lost track.)

The weather's been improving and the DMG has had more opportunities to rest. We're both gaining weight at a steady rate. I've now had drinks with three sets of friends on three separate occassions and still haven't smoked an entire cigarette (although in moments of weakness I did bum a couple of drags).

We bought sixty used paperbacks yesterday at the Book Barn in Niantic. More than half were Agatha Christie novels. The rest were either literary fiction or history. I bought one 1983 translation of an Iranian non-fiction book just for the blurb on its back. "Debunks the exaggerated claims of a threat from radical Islam," or something, it said (I'm too lazy to go up and find the book). I suppose the publisher ought to be hauled before the 9/11 commission.

I don't know how we're going to get 60 paperbacks back to Denmark with us. Not on top of all the other stuff. Maybe we'll ship some of it, I don't know.

But I digress. (The DMG observed the other day that we're both chronic digressors and that we ought to join a 12-step program for digressors. "Digressors Anonymous." Can you imagine? "Hi. My name is Greg. I've been digressing for twenty-four years. Maybe longer. Actually, I was only 15 twenty-four years ago. That was eighth or ninth grade. I started Latin back then... I used to have lighter fights in the back of the room with a friend. We were always getting in trouble. One time...")

But even my riff on digression is merely another digression, and, like I said, I'm out of time...

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Tuesday in New York 

It's about 7am Tuesday morning. Later this morning we're driving down to New York and we hope to be in our erstwhile hometown of Astoria (Queens) by noon. We then have about eight hours to run a couple of errands and meet our friends before getting back to the car, driving down to Brooklyn, picking up our bikes (which a friend has been holding since we moved last year), and driving back to Connecticut this evening. I've been trying to coordinate all this via email, since we don't have cell phones (see below).

I anticipate complete disaster—missed meetings, last-minute cancellations, delayed subways, all that. The downside is these our friends and I'm absolutely convinced we're not going to be able to see all of them. The upside is that a day in New York is never without its anecdotal rewards.

I'm big on anecdotes.

* * *

Yesterday my mother took the DMG and I shopping for baby stuff. This was, I think, one of the seminal moments of the visit. It was one of the reasons we made the trip to begin with: to share the pregnancy with my parents.

We went to a baby store at an outlet mall in Westbrook. The DMG and I were bewildered. We had no idea what we needed. My mother enjoyed educating us, I think. Our vocabulary grew by the minute as we learned about onesies and wraps and the peculiar sizing methodologies used in infant attire. We also learned that it's hell to shop for a baby whose sex has not yet been confirmed.

I don't understand this at all. When I go into the Gap, say, or Eddie Bauer, I often accidentally find myself walking in the midst of women's wear without having realized it. I haven't realized it because, for the most part, the women's wear isn't instantly discernable from the men's wear (outside of the underwear sections, anyway). Grown-up women can wear any color they please, as can grown-up men. Not so, newborns.

By some idiotic law it seems that baby boys must be swaddled, clothed, and wrapped in blue, and baby girls in pink. Fully 90% of all newborn attire and accessories are available in only those two colors. The logic is that girls must wear pink and boys must wear blue, but I don't find the logic compelling. The DMG herself, for example, with her Scandinavian coloring, looks much better in blue than pink. I'm blond and blue-eyed myself, and therefore also look better in blue than pink. But I've known guys, even rabidly hetero guys, who actually wear pink pretty well. I mean, they'll call it "salmon" or something, but it's still pink.

Besides, what adult clothing store have you ever seen in which 9/10ths of the clothing came only in blue or pink? Look in your own closet: you'll probably notice a lot of black, a lot of brown, red, green, orange, yellow, and so on. We lived in New York: why can't we just buy a couple of dozen onesies in basic black and leave it at that?

"It's nice when you're showing the baby off for people to be able to tell whether it's a boy or a girl," my mother offered.

"Why?" I asked.

"So they don't say, 'Oh, what a lovely little girl!' when it's actually a boy."

"But then I could say, 'It's a boy.' I wouldn't be insulted. The kid wouldn't know."

I don't know if the silliness of this pink-and-blue coding would have struck me as powerfully if the Bean hadn't been so goddam modest in the ultrasounds. If we knew she were a her, or he were a him, we probably wouldn't have given it much thought. We would have gravitated naturally toward the masculine or the feminine. We're not total iconoclasts. We're not opposed to gender identity. But isn't all this carrying it a bit too far?

Outside of pink and blue, the options were limited: some yellowy-oranges, some bluish-greens, and a whole lot of whites. I was mystified by the whites. This is a baby we're shopping for. My mother assured us the clothes we were buying would have to be changed 3-5 times a day at minimum. She told us the baby would outgrow them by the time it was 3 months old.

So why do we want to wrap a ten-pound shit and vomit machine in white, of all goddam colors?

There's so much about babies I still need to learn. During our visit with one of my oldest friends on Saturday, his 21-month-old pooped her diapers. The event was disconcerting in several ways. First of all, my friend is a rock musician. We were hellions together in our teens and early twenties. We were hard-drinkin', hard-smokin', controlled-substance-ingestin' scofflaws. And now I've got to hear him use the word "poop?" Not only that, but I have to watch him lift his child overhead and take a good long sniff of his child's ass?

He saw me recoil and laughed. "Oh, yeah," he chortled, "you're gonna have to get used to smellin' a lot of ass. And you're gonna get real interested in shit. What different colors and textures mean. Laugh now, but believe me: you're gonna get used to it real quick."

* * *

The states seem to be agreeing with the Bean. At the end of the day, Trine periodically breaks into a giggle.

"What?" I ask.

"The baby's bouncing around!" she explains.

Sometimes I put my hand on her belly and try to feel the Bean, but movement always seems to stop just as I do it. Then a moment or two after I remove my hand, it starts right up again.

"That's normal," my mother said last night. My father nodded.

"You wouldn't budge for me," he agreed.

The DMG was beaming. I felt a pang of competitive jealousy. It's my baby too! Why don't I get any of the fun?

(Yes, my tongue is waaaay the hell in my cheek.)

* * *

I have to go now, and once again I'm glancing over what I've written looking for some kind of thematic unity, some through-line I can suddenly touch upon here in the concluding paragraph to give the post a sense of closure.

But I can't.

Monday, April 05, 2004

Monday in Connecticut 

After a couple of days with my sister's family in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, we drove down to my parents' place in Connecticut yesterday. We left Chelmsford just a little before one o'clock. My sister said she'd call our parents and let them know we were on our way—"since you guys can't, because you don't have your cell phones."

"Ah, yes," I sighed contentedly, "no cell phones! It's a great relief not to have them! We can just drive along in uninterrupted bliss."

Twenty minutes into our drive of uninterruptable bliss, I suddenly realized we'd left the most important of our bags back at my sister's place—the bag with our cameras, phone numbers, toiletries, my contact lenses, and so on. We turned around and drove back up. My brother-in-law met me at the door.

"Here's your bag," he said. "We noticed it as soon as you left, but we couldn't call you because, you know... no cell phone."

* * *

What's ordinarily a two-hour drive stretched out considerably longer than that because as large as my parents' SUV may be, they chose not to have the optional rest-room installed (they opted for the sauna and solarium instead).

* * *

We had dinner with my parents and grandmother here in Connecticut last night. Not long afterwards we were all too exhausted to do much of anything, so we retired into the television room. We got to watch two episodes of the Simpsons and two of King of the Hill. At least, we could have: in the event, none of us could stay awake through all four shows.

I have to cut myself off right now to get out the door...

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