Really, We Mean It This Time

Heard on the PA as I was waiting for my plane last night:

"Paging Las Vegas passenger James... Walker. James Walker, please come to the podium."

"Paging Las Vegas passenger James Walker. Your flight is now boarding."

"Passenger James Walker, please come to gate 2, your flight will be departing soon."

"Passenger James Walker, this is your final boarding call for flight [whatever] to Las Vegas. This is your final boarding call."

"Final boarding call for Las Vegas passenger James Walker at gate 2."

"This will be the final boarding call for Las Vegas passenger James Walker. Please come to gate 2 to board your flight. James Walker."

At this point I started waiting for an Ultimate Final Boarding Call or maybe a Last Final Omega Boarding Call.

Well That's Awkward

I mentioned before that I've been going to a spin class at my gym. I'm enjoying it pretty well, or, rather, I enjoy having done it but think it's akin to torture while actually doing it. I've come to terms with wearing bike shorts and having special shoes, and I think I'm even relatively comfortable with the fact that I'm sure I make ridiculous faces when I'm working hard. There's still one thing that's weird, though, and that's that I don't know where to point my eyes.

This class, like most group exercise classes, is mostly women. Most of whom don't wear a lot, and most of what they do wear is either tight-fitting or revealing, or both. Which, when you're working and sweating as hard as you do in that class only makes sense--sometimes I wish I could wear that little. But the upshot of all this is that there are very few places I can look where I won't be staring at someone's butt or cleavage. I'm not actually ogling anyone, and, actually, I couldn't even if I wanted to because I can't conveniently wear my glasses during that class. And without my glasses I can really only make out vaguely human-shaped forms around me, with little in the way of detail.

I try to get to class a few minutes early, wearing my glasses as I walk in. And I keep my glasses on while I warm up, only taking them off when we really get going. The idea is to let everyone see that I'm nearsighted so hopefully they won't think I'm a pervert if I accidentally stare at them. I know this is a ridiculous thing to think about, but it seriously does go through my head every time. I even make a show of squinting when I look up at the instructor.

I often wonder if I'm the only person at my gym who has these kinds of anxieties. It seems like there must be someone else thinking about it, but to all outward appearances everyone is just completely nonchalant about everything. I mean, take the locker room for example. I'm used to there being nudity in a locker room. I mean, this is the place specially sectioned off for people to change and shower in. Of course people are going to be naked in there. But for whatever reason, guys aren't just incidentally naked in this locker room. It's like a little miniature nudist colony in there. There are guys just relaxing, sitting around naked. Guys watch TV in there, totally naked--at any given time there will be two to five guys standing and sitting around the TV in the buff. No more than one of them will even be holding a towel, much less have it wrapped around himself. And guys will be standing around having long naked conversations, standing closer than I'm comfortable standing near people even when all parties are clothed. There's one guy that seems to be on a similar schedule to me, who every day has something like a ten-minute conversation with his friends, one foot up on a table while he rubs lotion on his legs and groin area.

Now, again, I know that there's going to be some amount of nudity in a locker room. I just don't know how it happens that people are so completely casual about it. Like, do you just get to a certain age or something and completely stop caring? I mean, if I'm naked there is no person on this Earth, male or female, old or young, familiar or a total stranger, who I could talk to while standing within arm's reach without being painfully aware of my nudity the entire time. And it has nothing to do with sexuality, either--when I don't have any clothes on, I feel... well, I feel naked. Isn't that where that expression comes from, "feeling naked"?

The thing I want to know is if people really are that nonchalant or if it's just that no one wants to be the only one to admit that he's not. I certainly try to act like it's all completely normal for me, just so I'm not the one to make it weird. Maybe everybody else is secretly thinking "I'mnakedi'mnakedi'mnakedi'mnaked" while they're talking about stocks or worrying about not accidentally ogling some woman during spin class. I have this sneaking suspicion, though, that it's really just me.

What do you think?

One... Two!

For the past month or two Juliette and I have been trying to teach Jason about numbers. Previously he ignored us most of the time when we showed him how to count--the best we'd get was a laugh. But it's funny how things tend to happen all at once with kids because over the past week or so he's been a counting machine.

Well, sort of. Right now he can only count to two. And I'm not sure whether he gets the concept of numbers or if he's just repeating the sequence of words. Whatever it is, though, he's got a fever, and the only prescription is more counting. He counts all the time. When we read, he counts things in the pictures. (When there are more than two of something in a picture he just starts over from one. "One. Two. One. Two." Sometimes he loses track of where he is, so I guess it's more like "One. Two. One. Two. Two. One. DADDY." But I digress.) He counts noses. He loves counting our eyes. So much so that carrying him around can be a somewhat dangerous proposition--you're liable to wind up with a tiny little fingernail poking you in the cornea. (This is one of the few things I like about wearing glasses: they provide some measure of protection for my eyes against unwanted baby fingers and drool and what have you.) Sometimes he just walks around, holding up both index fingers and shouting "TWOOOOOO!"

I've been trying to introduce three to him, but so far he remains uninterested. I'm thinking, though, that when he makes that discovery it may very well blow his mind.

Oscar Night

Sunday night, as is our annual tradition, Juliette and I watched the Academy Awards. There were a number of moments that caught my attention for being nice or interesting, heartwarming or funny or cringe-worthy. Sandra Bullock’s acceptance speech, for example, which was simultaneously heartfelt and funny. Or Gabourey Sidibe’s tears after being introduced by Oprah. Or Jeff Bridges finally winning. The one that I’ve been thinking about the most over the past couple of days, though, was Kathryn Bigelow’s win of Best Director. It turns out that Bigelow was the first woman to win that award, something that was pointed out a lot leading up to the ceremony, and even several times during it. What I can't stop wondering, though, is just how important her win is.

Before I go any further I should say that I'm sure that it was well-deserved. Although I haven't seen The Hurt Locker, I have only heard excellent things about it. Literally every person I've heard speak about it, whether a friend or a reviewer, has said it was a great movie. And I also thought that Bigelow's acceptance speech was nice. True, she may have made some small political statement, but she presented herself with respect and humility, and what seemed to be genuine gratitude.

It was actually the speech itself that really got me to thinking, because I couldn't help comparing it to Halle Berry's acceptance speech when she won for Monster's Ball. That speech really rubbed me the wrong way, and it's stayed in my mind over the years. The part I always come back to is this:

This moment is so much bigger than me. This moment is for Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Diahann Carroll. It's for the women that stand beside me, Jada Pinkett, Angela Bassett, Vivica Fox. And it's for every nameless, faceless woman of color who now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened.

Now, to be sure, it is important that a woman of color finally won Best Actress, just as it's important that a woman won Best Director. But I just can't help but feel that neither is quite the same as, for example, Hattie McDaniel's Best Supporting Actress win in 1939. I don't even really think it's the same as Dorothy Dandridge's nomination for Best Actress in 1954.

Don't mistake me as saying that Berry's and Bigelow's wins don't matter, and especially don't mistake me as saying that we're past racism and sexism these days. Race and gender inequalities are real and serious problems. They are problems that, while we certainly have made gains on them over the past 50 years, we are not through with. I doubt we'll be through with them in my lifetime. Sometimes I doubt we ever will be. So, yes, it is important that a black woman can be Best Actress and that a woman can be Best Director. It's something that we should be proud of, that we live and participate in a society where things like that can happen.

Why, then, am I so set on Berry being different from McDaniel or Dandridge? The main thing is that I'm not sure that Berry's win really did open any doors. How much more of a chance does an unknown young woman of color have at becoming a Hollywood star now than she did before 2002? And now that Bigelow has won Best Director, does that really mean that women will have an easier time becoming movie directors?

Even before Halle Berry won her Oscar, I don't think it can really be said that minorities are underrepresented in acting. Just off the top of my head I can think of a number of well-respected black actors and actresses: Angela Bassett, Morgan Freeman, James Earl Jones, Whoopi Goldberg, Sidney Poitier, to name a few. And while it does seem that more directors are men than women, I don't know that I think that's due to some sort of institutional bias against women as directors. In fact, one of the earliest directors of a narrative film was a woman (Alice Guy-Blaché), and women have been making hugely successful films since at least the 80's (Big, directed by Penny Marshall, made over $100 million in 1988).

I can't help feeling that what I'm saying is going to bother people, but I really don't mean to denigrate Halle Berry or Kathryn Bigelow or their accomplishments. (And, to be fair, Bigelow doesn't seem to be trying to make her award into something more than that.) And I know that there's a natural tendency to make a big deal out of firsts. I just can't help feeling that Kathryn Bigelow's and Halle Berry's awards don't mean much more than that they did a good job in their work.

What do you think?

Race for Literacy

Yesterday, Juliette and I walked five miles in the rain with some friends (and 2,108 strangers) in order to help find a cure for literacy. I placed fourth to last in the "Male 30-34" bracket (just barely beating out a blind woman, a woman nine months into her pregnancy, and an 89-year-old man), picked up two new blisters, and had the skin worn off the back of my left ankle by a shoe that is sorely in need of replacement. And a fun time was had by all.

All kidding aside, we had a great time. It was, indeed, raining, but it felt good to participate in something for a good cause. We opted to walk instead of run, which meant that we got wetter and colder than we might have otherwise, but it also meant that it wasn't particularly strenuous, and we spent the time talking and laughing, which is a pretty good way to spend a Sunday morning, if you ask me.

Between the event and the weather, Jason had to stay in the stroller the entire time, and all things considered he stayed in a pretty good mood the whole time. Maybe he found the prospect of walking on the freeway as exciting as the rest of us did, I don't know. But for the most part he seemed pretty content, though he did keep trying to find ways to stick his feet out from under the big umbrella that we propped up in between him and his friend Amalea (our race partners' daughter). For her part, Amalea wisely chose to spend most of the race asleep.

Two years ago if you'd asked me if I would ever participate in an event like this I'd have looked at you like you were out of your mind. At breakfast after the race yesterday, though, I was talking about training for a marathon or a century bike race. Most likely I won't be doing either any time soon, since the training requires a bit too much of a regular time commitment for me at the moment. Still, old me would likely be smacking new me upside the head.

Anyway, I'd just like to say thanks to our friends James and Melanie for getting us to come along and walk with them (and to congratulate Mel for doing this just five months after having had a fibrosarcoma removed from her thigh). Also thanks to Emily and Ari for the loan of their stroller. Right on!

Ernie Is a Jerk

For several months now, Jason has been pretty into Sesame Street. At first he only had eyes for Elmo, constantly talking about him and asking to see the same clips over and over again. But about two weeks ago his focus suddenly changed. More and more, he's been asking for Ernie. And Bert, actually, although it's only been a few days since he figured out that both characters aren't named "Ernie."

When I was a kid, I loved Ernie. He was one of my favorite characters. (The other was Grover, in part because my dad was really good at imitating his voice.) I still remember how hard I laughed at Ernie yelling "HEEEEERE FISHYFISHYFISHYFISHY!" Ernie was great--he was fun-loving and funny, and certainly more entertaining than his stick-in-the-mud pal Bert. Now, though, Ernie is, well... I kind of think he's a jerk.

I mean, seriously, here's a guy who makes a habit out of waking his best friend up in the middle of the night and then immediately going to sleep, so that not only does his friend not get a restful night, but he has to be alone through it, too. How upset would you be if your best friend woke you up at 2 AM in order to practice how he was going to wake you up in the morning? I'd be livid. And yet, every time Ernie decides to have a midnight jam session with his bugle, Bert just turns to the camera and sighs.

True, Bert can be kind of a grump sometimes. But wouldn't you be kind of grumpy if every time you sat down to read a good book, somebody came and not only interrupted you but invited a bunch of wild animals into your living room and then left them there for you to deal with? All things considered, Bert seems like a model of restraint.

So, I've reached a point in my life where Ernie is annoying and Bert is something of a tragic figure. And this is how I know I've gotten old.

A Friendly Visit

A couple of friends from out of town came and visited this weekend, prompting a trip to an Indian restaurant for dinner, followed by a dim sum lunch the next day. Quite a successful weekend, in my opinion.