Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Jayalalithaa 1948 - 2016

Many will say 2016 was a brutal year, a year in which many beloved figures were lost. Prince, David Bowie, Fidel Castro (maybe not so beloved by many), Leonard Cohen, the King of Thailand, Jose Fernandez in a boating accident, the guy who crawled into a metal cylinder and rocked back and forth as he 'played' R2-D2, Justice Scalia, Janet Reno, Nancy Reagan, Emerson of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Snape in the movies, and, last but certainly not least, Mohammed Ali.

All great lives. Some more influential than others. Arguably, Castro had a greater impact on people's lives than Emerson of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer did. Everyone feels the loss differently. Elise was upset when Prince passed away. My mom, when Jose Fernandez.

I tend not to get too upset when celebrities pass. I didn't really know them and few have had a large impact on my life. I'm sad for the loss of others. I worry about what can happen to communities when loved ones are lost. Especially communities I care about.

We commemorated Oscar Niemeyer's passing in 2012 on the blog, because his architecture was such a defining, if unconscious, feature of our time in Brazil. Similarly, not a day...a minute, really, went by in Chennai when we did not see Jayalalithaa's face. She was, very literally, omnipresent. Her cult of personality was all-encompassing, her picture was everywhere, on every billboard, road barricade, backpack and water bottle. She was Tamil Nadu's most beloved leader, and I know many are upset, distraught, genuinely worried, confused, and fearful since her passing.

Regardless of your political leaning, this is a huge loss for Tamil Nadu.

When we heard of her heart attack, we worried, and feared for those we knew and cared about, co-workers, colleagues, and friends, those who loved her. When she passed, I knew it would be hard for Chennai. But I know India to be a resilient place, and Indians to be a resilient people. There will be mourning, people setting themselves on fire and flinging themselves onto the hoods of automobiles in spasmodic orgies of grief.

I remember going outside the wall surrounding our office building when she was acquited of corruption charges and released from house arrest. She toured the city in her Amma-mobile, in a victory parade, past throngs of followers in all-white garb, waving palm fronds and beating on drums. I stood with my Indian co-workers hoping to get a glimpse. It was a moment of South Indian history.

Goodbye, Amma.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

"Are You My Uber?"

Last night, it started raining as Clementine was getting out of the shower. Elise offered to whisk everyone into the clothes in their pajamas and come pick me up at the Metro station.

"How will we know which one is Daddy?" Someone asked.

"He's the one wearing a black suit," responded Peter helpfully.

"Everyone is wearing a black suit," Elise gently reminded him.

"He's the one with grey hair," Peter added, nonplussed.

"Everyone has grey hair."

"He's the nice one."

Thanks, Petey. :)

"How can you tell just by looking someone if they're nice?" Elise asked.

Peter thought about that for a moment, then said, "He's the one who walks like one of those giant hamster things."

"Giant hamster? You mean a capybara? Like in Brazil?"

"Yeah...he walks like a capybara."

Gee, thanks, Petey. 

Whenever I approach the car when they pick me up from the Metro, I ask, "Are you my Uber?" Because people all over the city walk up to random cars wondering if it's their Uber ride. Unlike taxi cabs, Uber cars are mostly unmarked. Some may have tiny window stickers with Uber's 'U' logo on it, but mostly just about any kind of car could or could not be an Uber.

When we got home, it was straight to the shower for Sam who had yet to take one, and straight to bed for Peter and Clementine who then proceeded to have simultaneous meltdowns, exhaustion setting in.

Clementine was complaining of an imaginary ache in her ankle. Sometimes, I use 'magic' lotion on her imaginary aches and pains. Elise offered an especially healing-smelling, lemon verbena-scented roll-on antiperspirant. I rubbed it on Clementine's ankle, whereupon she added mild complaints on the thigh and behind the knee of her other leg.

Peter told me he was "having bad thoughts."

I put my thumb between his eyebrows, then pressed lightly on his forehead. "This is your pre-frontal cortex," I told him. "It's where the good thoughts are stored: going to the beach, playing in the ocean, building sand forts, eating ice cream, watching cartoons, trading Pokemon cards, playing soccer. When you apply pressure to the pre-frontal cortex, it releases the good thoughts into the rest of the brain."

I rubbed my thumb from his forehead to his hairline, spreading the good thoughts around. "There. Now all the good thoughts are in your head. Better?"

He nodded and closed his eyes and went to sleep. 

The Old Lady Who Ate a Bat

Here, she is eating a wizard. According to Peter, she also ate a goblin and an owl, "So what do you think about that!"

Yeah, ""WOW!" is right!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Great Falls

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Fall, Part Six

It's been a fall like none I have ever experienced. I don't remember feeling as happy and full of optimism and as sad and disappointed as I have this fall.

It's the day before Thanksgiving. The office is quiet, but someone needs to keep the light on. That someone is me. The kids are at home, and Nanny has arrived for the holiday. A Southwest flight from a palm-lined runway in Ft. Lauderdale disgorged her out onto Terminal A and 15 waiting wheelchairs lined up to take silver-haired relatives to baggage carousels and taxi cabs. Elise texts me often to tell me that she has a headache. I am hopeful, however, that I will get to leave soon. Leaving the office early will still mean going home in the dark, unfortunately, the wind and the cold.

It's been a long, stressful couple of weeks. Through the golden light glowing in halos around the auburn crowns of tress with falling leaves, the kids play seemingly oblivious to everything that's going on around them. I am happy for that. Maybe they see all, and I am just focusing on the wrong things. Again, a matter of perspective.

In as short a span of time as a few days, I sat on the sidelines of Sam's game in the Arlington fall tournament. It was the first game Sunday morning. The temperatures had plummeted the day before in a powerful, awe-inspiring display of the raw power of nature. The skies -- clear that morning -- had become mottled over the course of the afternoon until bloated by blotchy black clouds, releasing a bitingly cold wind that -- in the span of two minutes -- vanquished every leaf left in the trees of Virginia. The kids on the field couldn't concentrate on soccer, and every player on each of the four fields turned their heads and palms heavenward and whirled in the swirl of leaves.

Pete, Clem, Elise, and I were wrapped in a blanket on the sidelines, attempting in vain to ward off the wind. After staying a tie game for most of the morning, one of Sam's teammates scored on a breakaway and I pumped my fist into the air and whooped in excitement...his team gave high-fives.

This morning, Pete opened the door to our room and crawled into our bed. Clementine followed soon thereafter. After what happened in Chattanooga, all I have wanted to do is hold them close, but they are like unstable molecules created in a physics lab; The amount of time they exist in a state for hugging is fragile and measured in nanoseconds by sophisticated atomic timepieces. My co-worker insists on working with CNN on in the background, and I have to leave the room frequently. I can't bear to watch without fearing I'll burst into tears. I can't help seeing the footage and not imagining Peter or Sam on that bus.

I read the following this morning, a quote by Damian Kulash, the lead singer of OK Go.

"Humans are not equipped to understand our own temporariness; it will never stop being deeply beautiful, deeply confusing, and deeply sad that our lives and our world are so fleeting. We have only these few moments. Luckily, among them there are a few that really matter, and it's our job to find them."

There have been many such moments this fall. I only hope I found all of them.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Fall Soccer Tournament

We pretty much spend the entire weekend as a soccer mom and soccer dad, supporting Sam from the sidelines as he played in the Arlington league fall tournament.

The back story on the Rescuers, Sam's team, is that they had to make their way through a very strong Arlington travel team and a combined recreational team that also gave them a run for their money just to make it to a championship game against yet another travel side. Coach Tate watched their opponent in the final beat their Sunday morning team 7-0 while the Rescuers were struggling against the Rec team and he was already preparing for how to deal with a lopsided game. But the Rescuers played with passion and teamwork and grit against a group of boys that were collectively much more talented, but not nearly as committed as Sam's team.

After going 3-0 in tournament play, in the championship game, the Rescuers managed to find themselves up 2-0 in the middle of the second half with their Defense First strategy. A first goal by the other team was almost just a matter of time, but the Rescuers didn't even blink.

Coach Tate wrote in an email to the parents, "To be honest I felt like the momentum immediately swung our way after that goal instead of the way it often goes when you lose the clean sheet."

And the Rescuers actually had two horrible offsides calls against them on two separate breakaways that surely would have resulted in a 3-1 final score. Unfortunately, the referee just didn't understand that if two of our players are completely behind their defense, there is no offsides. But the referee is absolutely part of the game just like a lumpy field and the game went on. As fate would have it, an amazing corner kick combination with 90 seconds to go equalized and the game went into overtime.

In overtime, both Joshua, the Rescuers goalkeeper, and the other keeper had amazing save after amazing save to keep the score 2-2, and Coach Tate took the blame for not shifting strategy to an all or nothing press to offense in the second five minute overtime.

In the end, the Rescuers lost on penalty kicks, but won the hearts of the parent and the respect of the tournament officials and the Arlington travel sides they faced.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Week After

A week ago Tuesday, we sat outside Clementine's ballet school in the dark. I try to drive Clem to ballet when I can, though I work most nights. When I am on opening shift, I get off early enough to take her, so Elise doesn't have to drag Peter and Sam along and worry about what they are all going to do for dinner. But last week, no one felt like cooking and we decided we'd grab a quick bite out on the way home from ballet.

The boys sat at a picnic table in the dark, playing Pokemon by the light of Elise's iPhone. I hadn't brought a book, so while Elise read headlines on her phone, I paced nervously, my hands plunged deep into the pockets of my jacket. I was uncommonly tired or uncommonly distressed. Probably both. I was uncommonly cold and uncommonly hungry. Cold in a way I am not when I get up and go running in 30 degree weather. Hungry because I hadn't eaten anything all day, a practice that is becoming disturbingly too common. But I remember feeling an uneasiness I do not often feel. I felt like there was so much I could be doing. I needed to be washing dishes, cleaning the house, or folding laundry. I found myself wishing I had stayed home, rather than standing in the cold in the dark.

During her hour-long practice, Clementine would occasionally peek down at us from the second story studio window and wave. The windows were high. From our vantage point, all we could see were the banks of track lighting on the ceiling and the held-high arms of little girls pirouetting across padded wrestling mats.

We stopped at Ledo's Pizza on the way home, a favorite from previous stays in Northern Virginia, but a place we had yet to visit this time around. The parlor had the hallmarks of older, less modern places: laminated, plastic menus, wooden wainscoting, a drab olive wallpaper with flowers on it, neon beer signs in the front windows, framed vintage photos of famous sports icons: Mohammed Ali, Vince Lombardi, Joe Namath. Drinks came in dimpled maroon plastic cups. The big screen TVs were tuned to ESPN. Though it was mostly commercials for razor blades and AXE body spray, it was a welcome reprieve from the constant spew of Breaking News on bright red banners.

Just after we ordered a group of four older white men came into the relatively deserted restaurant and sat down in the booth behind us. They asked the waitress to turn one of the TVs to Fox News.

This is not a post about politics.

It is a post about dealing with disappointment and loss. It doesn't matter what the source of the disappointment is. I could have been passed over for promotion, backed over a mailbox and scratched the bumper of the car, lost a dog, or a bet. The point is there is pervasive anxiety and woe in our house and I don't know how to vanquish it.

I am beginning to fear there may be no other blog posts about school or kids or soccer or fall.

It doesn't help that the days are getting shorter and the weather is turning colder. Fall is ending, and winter is coming.

We ate in silence and went home, The kids immediately crawled beneath their covers exhausted. In our own bed, Elise and I tried to follow the election results on our iPhones. We don't have cable, and while Netflix is good for watching House Hunters and cartoons, it doesn't fare as well in catching up on current events. We thought for certain some social media platform must be live-streaming results, but just when we thought we had found a live feed, we realized it was an hours-old video playing the same Wolf Blitzer sound bite over and over. We watched Florida swing back and forth and back and forth too many times to be believable, only to find out in the morning this was close to what was going on in the real world.

I had to get up at 4:15 in the morning to catch the 5:00 train to be at my office by 6:00 to open. Both Elise and I turned the lights off a little after nine and went to sleep, not having any idea which way the election was swinging. We had watched two of the debates in similar fashion, waiting until the morning to read the fall-out.

Most mornings, I don't need an alarm clock to wake up. The following Wednesday morning was no exception. I propped myself up on an elbow and extricated myself from the mattress has quietly as I could. Invariably, the springs squeak beneath me. If that doesn't give me away, every floorboard between our room and the kitchen conspires against me, and I creak and moan my way to the kitchen. I unplug my phone from the bedside outlet and sneak downstairs to take a shower.

In the bathroom, I turn on the light and close the door. Before turning the shower on, I quickly check Facebook on my phone. I see the result. It feels like someone sucker punched me in the stomach.

I worry about Elise. I know she is awake. No matter how quiet I think I'm being when I get up that early in the morning, I know I wake her up. Most mornings, she says goodbye and tells me she loves me. But now I think she is either lying awake in the dark trying to go back to sleep or has also reached over to her bedside table and seen the news for herself.

I open the door to the bathroom and quietly walk up the stairs. I stand in the dining room, listening in the dark. I don't hear anything. I don't know what I expected to hear. Movement? Stirring? Crying? If she was awake, I would have gone in there. But I didn't want to wake her up to tell her. The only thing worse would be having to deal with a whole house that had roused at 4:00 in the morning. I wanted to hug her an tell her everything was going to be okay. I don't know who might have needed it more at that moment, me or her. I didn't hear anything, so I went back downstairs and got in the shower.

On the train ride in, I looked about me, but everyone looked the same as they always do. No one looked any different than they did on any other morning, tired men and women going to work insanely early in the morning. It was hard not to wonder who had voted.

I get a text message from Elise on the train, "I'm scared. I'm so sad. I don't know how to tell our children that this happened."

I could only imagine her morning through a series of text messages. She told the kids. "Peter is so upset."

"Is sam?" I ask.

"He teared up a little. He just really wanted cheerios."

At the bus stop. Running into the Moldovan-American on our block who looked as though she had been up all night crying. Going running. Offering to bring me a sandwich and my running shoes so I can run home for work. "say yes if it would help heal your heart," she would text. Me: "I'd rather be with you". We would decide to meet after work at the Lincoln Memorial. Work was eerily quiet.

It's hard not to feel hopeless, but the only thing left is to hope and keep telling ourselves everything will be okay.

I never really thought of myself as a patriot or ever felt especially patriotic. I've always kind of put patriotism and nationalism in the same basket as religion, based on beliefs. Beliefs are a state of mind in which a person thinks something to exist, with or without empirical evidence. It's how kids can believe in the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus. It's how Cubs fans believed their team could win the World Series, and people can believe in life on other planets. But beliefs are malleable. I don't believe blindly -- and rarely without empirical evidence -- but I do have beliefs. I believe in the Golden Rule and that we should be kind to one another and do what's right -- not because I'm told I'll burn in hell if I don't, but because it is intrinsically the right thing to do.

I believe strongly on the principles on which this country was founded, freedom, acceptance, opportunity. Life liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Truth, justice, and the American way. And no one man can take that away from us.

I try to think about what has changed from before last Tuesday to today. Why do I feel different now than I did a week ago. The country is essentially the same. It stands for the same thing and represents the same ideals. I think what has changed -- if anything -- is my perception of the country I live in. I live in a different place than maybe I thought I did and that has been disappointing.

But nothing else has changed. The country is populated by the same kind and generous people that were there before last Tuesday. I am perhaps more disappointed in myself more than anything else in believing we had overcome in a short amount of time challenges we have long been facing. In a way, I am embarrassed by my naivete. But, though disappointed, there is no other answer than to become kinder and gentler.

I always knew who my dad was voting for, but was never able to reconcile the person I knew or hoped he was with this decision. On some level, I know that he would vote for whoever cost him the least amount of money. That he'd vote for Bart Simpson if it meant his tax bill would go down.

I hadn't spoken to my dad in the week leading up to or following the election for fear he would bring up politics. Yesterday, he texted me to tell me he had just gotten out of hernia surgery and was facing two weeks of recovery. I felt like an asshole for either not having known he was going into surgery or knowing then forgetting. I called him that afternoon to see how he was doing. On the phone, he asked me, "So have you been offered a job in the administration yet?"

The wind whipped across the reflecting pool. It seemed colder than it was even the day before. Possibly, that was just in my mind, too. The sky was weird. Sunny in spots, obscured by dark clouds in other. Purple clouds amassed on the horizon, but I couldn't tell if it looked like rain or just the coming night, dusk.

We watched Clementine kneel beside the reflecting pool and talk to the ducks. She named them, though I forget their names now. We watched her run up and down the steps of the memorial. I ate a salad Elise had brought me with a plastic fork, bundled against the wind in my black trench coat, indistinguishable from any other DC bureaucrat.

We walked up to the memorial. Elise turned to her left, toward, the Gettysburg Address. I walked up behind her, Clementine entwined between my legs. We both looked at it. Perhaps, reading. Perhaps, not. Through the surprisingly thin amount of foreign tourists, cameras and selfie-sticks at ready. It was a Wednesday after all.

"...That this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.