Ultimately, This Is a Post About Poop

I went into this with the best of intentions.

I remember watching an episode of Six Feet Under with Juliette once, in which one of the characters responds to his brother's morning greeting with a detailed description of his baby daughter's feces. Not in complaint, mind you, or for gross-out value. No, no, this guy was proud of his daughter's poop. This poop was an accomplishment. The best, most interesting poop ever. This is what new (-ish) parents do to their siblings over morning coffee, I guess. Talk about poop.

"Oh God," I said to Juliette with a roll of my eyes. "Is that going to be me some day?"

"If you don't want to be that way, then just don't be that way," she replied.

"I'm not going to be that guy. Please don't let me be that guy."

People, I am that guy.

This morning after breakfast, I was in the middle of composing an email when Jason walked back into the kitchen, his mother having just finished dressing him.

"Owie!" he yelled. I looked over, and he was bent over and holding his crotch.

"Does your penis hurt?" I asked.

"Yeah," he replied. This is not unexpected. He complains about his penis a lot. He also laughs about it a lot. Let's just admit it: the kid likes to talk about his penis. I would normally dismiss this with a kind word and a hug, but it dawns on me that the little step he's doing looks a lot like a pee-pee dance.

"Do you have to go pee pee?" I asked. "Do you want to sit on the potty?"

"Yeah!" he whined back, and ran for the bathroom.

We've been doing this for several weeks now. Jason claims to have to pee, we take him to the bathroom and let him sit on the potty, shortly after which--nothing having happened down below--he declares "All done!" and then wants to go play in the living room. I might have expected this time to play out the same way, but there was a certain, shall we say, urgency to his body language that made me think this might be the time.

It took some coaxing. He was ready to give up early again. I convinced him to sit a little longer, to let the pee out. That's what I actually said to him. "Let the pee pee out, Jason. Push." I honestly never thought I would say those words to anybody. I mean, I guess if you'd asked me, I might have shrugged and said "Yeah, I guess," but it just never crossed my mind. Some day I will be telling someone, in all earnestness, to let the pee pee out.

A little grunting and a look of concentration came and passed. "I did it!" Jason declared.

"Really?" I asked, not quite sure if I believed him. (Jason's idea of truth is a little flexible, you see.)

"Yeah!" he said.

"OK then," I said. "Now stand up, and we'll look and see what you... Whoa, that's not pee pee!" Staring me back at me from the little basin my son just stood up from is a little pile of poop.

And here's the thing: it didn't even occur to me to be grossed out. Quite the contrary; I cheered. "Yay Jason!" I shouted. "You pooped in the potty! What a big boy! I'm so proud of you! Yay!"

If you had asked me five years ago if I would ever be elated to witness someone defecating, I would have wrinkled my nose. Sure, I understood that you have to make a big deal out of successes when you're potty training a child, you have to act like you're excited about it. But surely that's all it would be: a show of positive emotion, masking the underlying truth that I had just had to watch another human take a dump.

Nope. I really was as excited as I sounded. So excited, in fact, that I had to tell you all about it.

Yep, I'm definitely that guy now.

Sunday Concert in the Park

"You didn't bring your camera? I'm shocked! Why not?"

"Well, I didn't want to be obnoxious."

"Then why are you taking so many pictures?"

"Because you gave me a camera."


The band kicks off an uptempo, swinging number. Juliette and I admire a couple of Lindy Hoppers from our picnic blanket.

"Up, up!" demands Jason. I scoop him up, both of us laughing, and we bop along to the rhythm. I get a twinkle in my eye, and toss him in the air; he shrieks with joy. Here's someone I can do all of those cool swing lifts and tosses with, where my wimpy arms fail me with someone my own age. Jason loves it.

The song ends. Jason claps. "Yay!"


"What do you think about me singing in a swing band for my next hobby?"

"I think you should do it! Ha!"

"I don't know, I think maybe you should stick with this photography thing a little longer."


Stopped at a light on the way home, waiting to turn onto the on-ramp:

"The thing I don't get about these photographers I follow is that they all seem to be married, and yet they never seem to be home, and certainly never around dinnerti... Whoa. Now that would make a good picture."

"It's definitely a picture. Wow."

Ahead of us is a steel blue Cadillac convertible with fuzzy dice hanging from the mirror. The driver and passenger have leaned toward each other for a passionate kiss, their sun-kissed blond hair fluttering as a slight breeze picks up. The sun is just about to duck behind the hill behind us, the last golden light of the day making the two of them glow.


Pulling onto the freeway, the sunlight smacks Jason in the face. He yelps and claps his hands over his eyes. A few seconds pass before he lifts his hand slightly, peeking out from underneath. The sun is still there, still bright; back goes the hand. But he keeps peeking, his features taking on an expression that almost dares the sun to still be there. The sun gives up and hides behind a hill.

Morning Person

I wake up to the sound of Jason crying. It's still dark. I look over and the clock says it's a quarter past three in the morning--a bit more than an hour since I came to bed. Jason wakes up in the middle of the night somewhat frequently but usually goes back to sleep after a few seconds of rolling around. I'm just about to roll over and close my eyes again when his cries become more insistent, and he starts shouting "Poo poo! Poo poo!"

I stumble out of bed, down the hall to his room, finding him standing with his eyes closed. "Do you have a poo poo?" I ask.

"Yeah!" he moans, holding his arms out to me. "Up! Up!"

I change his diaper, noting that while it is wet, it is otherwise empty. "There was no poo poo," I inform him. "Are you ready to go back to bed?"

"No! Sit the chair!"

"You want to sit in the chair with me?"


I'm exhausted, but he doesn't ask for me often, so I humor him. I rock the chair gently and my legs complain of the effort. Jason's head rests on my shoulder and I can feel him breathing and snuggling into me as I pat his back. After a few minutes I stand up and put him back in his crib,

"Pat the back," he whines.

"OK, but just until I count to ten, and then we're all done and you have to go back to sleep." I count out the seconds as I pat his back, gently easing up so that I'm barely grazing him with my fingertips by the time I reach ten. "All done," I say. "I love you, good night." Jason whimpers a bit, but doesn't cry. I go back to bed, mumbling a thank you when Juliette tells me I'm a good dad.

It's just starting to get light when I wake up again, again to the sound of Jason crying. I glance at the clock and it's now five after six. My skin is cold from having left the window open all night; it was too hot even at 2 in the morning to close it. I gently, slowly slide the window shut, hoping that if I'm quiet enough, Jason might go back to sleep for a little while. It works. I go back to sleep.

I wake up again. It's quarter to seven now, and from down the hall I hear Jason's plaintive voice. "Jason get out the bed," he says, over and over. Juliette, groggy, wonders aloud (in a whisper) at how his language is progressing. Sentences are a new thing, maybe only a couple of weeks old now.

I heave myself out of bed and stumble to his room. He's standing again, and as soon as he sees me he cries "No, Daddy! See Mommy!"

I pick him up. "You can't see Mommy right now, sweetie, she's in the bathroom. Do you want to go in the living room?"

"No! See Mommy!"

"You can see her when she's done in the bathroom. Do you want some milk? Eat breakfast?"

"No! See Mommy again!"

I shush and bounce him a bit. After a few moments, we hear the toilet flush. Jason abruptly stops crying and leans back to look at me. "Mommy all done bathroom?" he asks.

"Yeah, all done." I carry him to our bedroom and set him down outside the bathroom door to wait for her to finish washing her hands.

A few minutes later, Juliette is getting some milk for Jason and it's my turn in the bathroom. I blearily study the wall in front of me. My eyelids feel like sandpaper and my tongue feels like a carpet. I feel like Danny Glover. I'm too old for this shit. I silently curse my mom for sending me the book that kept me up all night. Grow up, I chide myself, you were the one who decided you needed to unwind after spending two hours processing photos. I contemplate telling Juliette that I will go to spin class but actually take a nap in the parking lot, instead. No, no; be a man. I flush, wash my hands.

Rounding the corner, I'm about to tell Juliette that I will go to the gym but I'm going to skip spin class; I'll just do a short stint on the elliptical trainer or something. I mean it, too. Before I can open my mouth, she says "Look what your son did." I can hear the smile in her voice.

I look over, and Jason has taken a bunch of pieces of cantaloupe out of his bowl and arranged them in a line on the table. I pause, trying to figure it out, and Jason declares, "Choo choo!" Realization dawns.

"Did you make a train?" I ask.

"Yeah! Melon choo choo!"

My mind boggles a moment at this example of abstract thinking, then a smile spreads across my face. Jason giggles. It's a pretty good way to start the day.

Where Did Jay Jay Go?

We drove up to the Monterey Peninsula for the holiday weekend in order to visit family. As with any long car trip (this one took about 9 hours, including stops), we tried to schedule things to maximize Jason's sleeping time. We also mentally prepared ourselves for his inevitable crankiness. But, as it turned out, the ride went pretty smoothly in both directions.

In fact, Jason was surprisingly playful on the drive up. He'd do something cute, then laugh and declare "Jay Jay funny!" My favorite was when he started playing "peek-a-boo" with us. It went pretty normally at first--he'd lift his blanket over his head and Juliette or I would gasp in mock confusion. "Where'd Jason go?" we'd ask incredulously. Then down the blanket would come, and we'd start in surprise. "There he is!" we'd shout, and Jason would laugh uproariously.

This time, though, the hilarity of it all became too much for Jason to keep it together, and he'd start giggling while he was still under the blanket. He started prompting us when it was time to play, too. "Wheh dih Jay Jay go?" we'd hear, followed by a conspiratorial titter, and, sure enough, when we looked back he was covered.

"Oh no!" we'd exclaim. "Is Jason gone?"

A muffled "Yeah!" would sound from under the blanket.

"Is he in the car?" we'd ask.

"No!" he'd laugh.

Finally, he couldn't keep it in anymore, and he'd burst out from under the blanket with a happy cry.

He kept that up for a good half hour, all the while giggling at how he'd pulled one over on his old mom and dad.

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.

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!

The Joys of Home Ownership

There's a little dent in my forehead just about the size of the corner of a 5/8" wrench. And, as it happens, I have a 5/8" wrench in my toolkit.  This would probably be a more interesting story if the two were unrelated, but unfortunately you get to read a relatively mundane story of frustration.

Let me back up a bit. This morning I was going about my usual morning business--feeding Jason, emptying the dishwasher, and so on. I had just given his high chair tray a quick rinse and when I went to shut off the faucet, the handle came off in my hand. "No problem," I thought, "I'll just pop over to Home Depot on my lunch break and pick up a new fixture." After all, how hard could it be? A couple of turns of a wrench, take the old one off, throw the new one on, and voila.

You can see where this is going already, can't you?

First off, I ended up having to go to three different stores to find a faucet I liked, which took almost two hours. And even then, I couldn't find anything exactly right so I ended up buying three with the intention of returning two of them. At that point I was annoyed, but relieved that it was mostly over. Which it wasn't, but I didn't know that at the time.

See, the boxes that the fixtures came each had a list of the required tools--a short list, all of which I owned. (It would have to be a short list for that to be true, but that's another story.) For some reason, though, I wasn't bargaining on it being quite so cramped under the sink. Nor was I expecting the retaining nut to be rusted tight. I struggled with different wrenches and drivers and levers for almost an hour, pulling with my fingertips, scraping my knuckles, and, of course, cursing. I cursed at great length and with a great number of obscenities. I was like the dad from A Christmas Story--and when that occurred to me I very nearly called that nut a "mundane noodle," just to complete the effect.

I kept at it for a good ten minutes after I dropped the wrench on my face before I gave up. When I came out, Juliette gasped "You're bleeding!" Sure enough, when I went into the bathroom to look in the mirror, there was a line of blood running across my forehead. It was a pretty small wound, though, once I got it cleaned up. Just a little dent now.  I still can't believe I dropped a wrench on my face, though. It was like I was in a cartoon or something.

Tomorrow I'm headed back to the Home Depot to see if I can find a metal driver to get that nut loose. (The driver included in the box was plastic and no match for that rust.) Maybe I'll manage to drop a hammer on my face in the afternoon.

Tom McLeod Slept Here

On the drive back from Sonoma county this past weekend--Juliette and I went to a friend's wedding--I noticed a bunch of roadside signs on I-5. The whole stretch of road between the East Bay and the Grapevine is pretty much a wasteland when it comes to anything that will attract your attention, so the odd signs really stand out. A bunch of them are little micro-political tracts, which gets extra interesting when you see a series of them on two sides of an issue. It's kind of like watching an old married couple engaging in a very passive-aggressive argument. The sign that really sparked my curiosity, though, was just south of the Highway 46 junction, and it proclaimed "Tom McLeod slept here."

I had no idea who this Tom McLeod was, but I figured there must be some story there so I had Juliette jot down a quick note so I could remember to look it up when I got home. As it turns out, this is one area where the Internet is unfortunately inadequate to the task--Googling the phrase just turns up a handful of blogs pondering the same question as me: "Who is Tom McLeod and why should I care that he slept there?"

It seems like anyone going to the trouble of putting up a sign for such an event must be showing a certain sense of pride. I mean, as far as I know, nobody goes around at the motels I've stopped at and put up a sign about my visit. And we're not even talking about the man's birthplace, or the site of his most famous accomplishment. No, this is just a place he slept once. So my first guess was that Mr. McLeod must have been some old celebrity, possibly an early Western film star like Gene Autry or Tom Mix. Of course, it would have had to have been someone a little less famous--a second-string star, if you will--as I've clearly heard of those men but am quite clueless about Mr. McLeod. Which sort of makes the sign pathetic, even a little tragic. Here's a place whose only claim to fame, what they've decided to proudly display to the world, is that some B-lister that we've all long since forgotten once decided that he couldn't make it all the way to San Francisco or Los Angeles that day and tucked in there instead.

Of course, if there were some famous Tom McLeod like that, that's surely a person that some site somewhere would have taken note of. As far as I can tell, that's not the case here. Oh, I turned up a few names, but a Texas museum curator and a New Zealand composer don't seem quite the types to inspire such a monument.

My best guess right now is this guy, the CEO of McLeod Software, which makes and distributes trucking logistics software. I-5 is, as most Californians know, one of the major trucking arteries in the state, so it's possible that the man behind these truckers' dispatching software is a big name in those circles. Maybe he's the Bill Gates of truckers, I don't know. Except, I don't know that Bill would rate a sign if he stayed in some motel out in the middle of nowhere, so either I just don't understand celebrity in the San Joaquin Valley, or this isn't the guy.

I'm left with a mystery. So, if anyone out there knows which Tom McLeod slept there, please do get in touch and let me know.

At the Car Wash

This past Sunday I finally made it in to get my car washed, which was long overdue. I have this tendency to put off going to the car wash since it seems so lazy to pay someone to wash my car, but this is what we're advised to do in this drought. And, really, who am I kidding? I am that lazy.

Anyway, as often happens when I get my car washed, Juliette and I were sorely tempted by the donut shop that's in the same building, and we both caved and bought some completely unnecessary sweets. We then had to take turns distracting Jason so we could eat our donuts in peace. When it was my turn to distract him, I walked him around and sang Rose Royce's "Car Wash" to him.

The first thing that occurred to me, singing that song, was that I don't really know many of the words. The second was that it's kind of weird that someone felt he had to write a song about a car wash, of all things. I later found out that it was written as the theme song for a blaxploitation movie of the same name, but that strikes me as even weirder. I mean, were car washes some kind of cultural touchstone back in the seventies? Was working at a car wash some kind of common rite of passage for young black people? And why did that song get so popular, anyway? Certainly, it's much more well known than the movie. What gives?

These are the things that keep me up at night, folks.

Post-Birthday Shopping Hangover

On Saturday, Juliette and I went up to LA to see a performance by a friend of ours. On the way, we stopped at the Grove to have dinner at the Farmer's Market. For those of you who are unfamiliar with LA landmarks, the Grove is a swanky shopping mall that was built about 5 or 6 years ago around the site of the historic LA Farmer's Market. The market portion of the Farmer's Market is still there, and is home to some excellent food stands as well as some neat little specialty shops and grocers.

Anyway, we had hardly gotten out of the parking lot before I was wrinkling my nose at the overwhelming consumerism and image consciousness displayed by the mall patrons. It's been over a year now since we left Orange County and I guess I've gotten re-sensitized. It seemed like everyone I saw was wearing designer clothes or huge sunglasses or had perfectly styled hair and nails, and I couldn't stop thinking "Ew!" every few seconds. Plus, the place was packed; you could hardly walk ten feet without bumping into someone. I kept thinking of that line from Rent: "When you're living in America, you're what you own."

The irony is, of course, that the very next day I went on a shopping rampage because I was flush with birthday cash that was burning a hole in my pocket. We spent more or less the entire afternoon looking for stuff for me to buy. And now I'm not sure if the funk I'm feeling myself entering is self-disgust or just regret that I can't keep spending. I'm trying to keep my self esteem intact by reminding myself that I only shop for myself twice a year.

But, on to the purchases.

One of my birthday purchases was a pair of Philips SBC HN050 Noise-Cancelling Headphones. I was a little hesitant about buying a set of headphones that requires a battery, but I've been intrigued by active noise cancelling for a while now. Unfortunately, I've discovered that activating the noise cancelling function messes with my ears in a very odd way. Even without music turned on, I feel a strange "pressure" in my left ear that quickly spreads to my left temple. After thirty seconds or so, that's followed by a disoriented, dizzy feeling and mild nausea that's reminiscent of being ever so slightly carsick. It's quite disappointing, because this sensation makes it more or less impossible for me to use that feature. Still, the earpieces are reasonably comfortable when positioned properly and the sound quality is more than adequate to my non-audiophilic ears, so it's not a total loss.

(Note to self: size 36 belts are not meant for people who wear size 36 pants. And, for crying out loud, try stuff on before you buy it!)

I also bought a ridiculously expensive remote control. So far, I like it, but I have to say, for $250 it should really be easier to set up. It took me the better part of an hour to program two activities, mostly due to the cumbersome web interface. What would be most intuitive to me is to have an activity represented as an editable list of actions. Perhaps you could throw in some AJAX for some drag-and-drop functionality, and add some smarts to fill in a default sequence. Instead, you get an only partially configurable list that comes after a rather convoluted wizard. I was less than impressed, even factoring in Best Buy's $50 instant rebate. On the bright side, once I did manage to beat it into submission, it seems to work pretty well.

By the way, I mentioned that we were up in LA to see a friend's performance--well, if you're in the LA area and you're intrigued by avant-garde theater, the friend's name is Elke Luyten and she's doing a corporeal mime performance called "Here Is Someone" For those of you unfamiliar with corporeal mime--I imagine that's pretty much everyone--it's quite a bit different from the "guy trapped in an invisible box" shtick you're probably imagining. Corporeal mime is a variety of movement-based performance art developed by Étienne Decroux in the early part of the 20th century as a modern (in the sense of "modernism") redefinition of the mime artform. The actor uses a codified series of movements involving the entire body as his or her medium of expression. Often times text or music is added, but this is done subsequent to the choreography and in many ways the choice of words and sounds is almost incidental. Meaning, in the traditional sense, is not made explicit, instead arising out of the synthesis of movement, text, and the audience's subjective experience.

If that sounds esoteric and "artsy fartsy" to you, well, it is. But it's also quite beautiful, just in terms of pure visual aesthetics. It can also be unsettling, confusing, intense, serene, or even playful. Elke's performance in this piece definitely falls into the "intense" category, but, lacking a more developed critical understanding of this sort of art, I'm not sure how much better I can describe it.

If you're interested, the performance is at the Son of Semele theater (3301 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles) at 10 PM on Friday and Saturday nights from now until July 15. The performance runs about 15 minutes and admission is $5. Elke's show follows a 90-minute play by the hosting company, called King Cat Calico Finally Flies Free. If you want to see both shows, admission to the mime show is free if you buy a ticket to the play. Incidentally, the play is interesting if you like your theater on the experimental (and low budget) side--Juliette and I liked the style and performances, although not really the text. So you know, King Cat Calico is not family-friendly.

One more note: the theater is in what looked to me like a really sketchy neighborhood and street parking is all that's available. Juliette and I were a little concerned about leaving our car and even though everything turned out all right for us, I feel like I'd be remiss if I didn't mention it.