Monthly Archives: October 2007

I’m not sure where I’m willing to go next

This is a response to Julie’s Hump Day Hmm, but it is also a very serious request to all those reading.  I need help.  And I am hoping one of you can provide it.

You see, I’m an idiot.  I have certain well-honed skills, but I am a moron about so many really important things.  Like how to figure out the air and water quality in particular neighborhoods.  I keep going to websites run by state and national agencies, but they are confusing.  I don’t need air quality reports for all of L.A. County.  I need to know how safe it would be to live in a particular area.  And, I don’t yet live in L.A. county, so I don’t really understand which California Environmental Protection Agency monitoring site is near which neighborhood.  It goes without saying that I have no idea what PM2.5 is.

Yep — you guessed it.  They want to move us to L.A.  And the air in London has been awful for my asthma and Zachary’s health.  Benjamin has been OK thus far, but he wheezes a lot, too.  So, before I consent to move to L.A., of all places, I want to figure out which neighborhoods have good air and water quality.  Or, if any neighborhoods had good air and water quality.  Raging forest fires make me nervous.

Does anyone know of a user-friendly site that has this kind of information for the scientifically challenged?  Most of the sites break it down by county, but from what I gather, air quality in L.A. county can vary hugely.  And, this site just has me stymied.  Perhaps someone could translate it into English.  You know — Air Quality for Dummies.

Please, please help me.  We need to decide soon, and this is the biggest factor as far as I am concerned.  Oh, and Julie’s post on Monday really has me reaching for my inhaler.

Guest post – Getting to know Chris


I will be posting some more on my teen years later this week.  In preparation, however, here’s something from someone who knew me in those days.


One person who asked to be interviewed actually does not have a blog.  He is a high school friend of mine with whom I recently got back in touch.  I decided to guest-host his interview responses because he is a truly fascinating guy and I thought you all might like to get to know him.  However, his answers were SO long I’ve had to simply eliminate the answer to #2, which asked how many blogs he reads.  He reads 160 regularly.  This is possible because he has a superhuman reading rate.  He is incredibly intelligent — probably a genius — which is why I thought his answers might provide insight into the kind of mind most of us just don’t have, bright though we may be.  So, I present you with “Getting to Know Chris.”

 1) In high school, you sat in a math class with 25 other completely baffled students.  Yet, you seemed to get calculus with little effort.  OK, I’m being kind — as far as I could tell, you got it with no effort at all.  Most of us have no idea how that feels.  Did you realize at the time that you had an extraordinary talent?  How did it make you view yourself?  What did you think of the rest of us who could not figure out the work no matter how hard we tried?  

While I knew that I had a higher degree of ability in math, to be honest I was humbled in that class.  When NS (the 8th grader) came into the class and regularly scored in the same range as I did I was quite surprised.  My parents didn’t allow me to skip from 2nd to 6th grade when it was suggested, for which I am eternally grateful so I’ll never know if I would have been able to handle moderately advanced math at such a young age.  I already knew that I have a very high IQ so that particular class didn’t really have a huge impact on the way I view myself.  I try to surround myself with people who are interesting, which didn’t always correspond with intelligence. I often come off as arrogant, but I really make a concerted effort not to assume that the people around me have less worth than I, just because I have a high IQ.  As for the way I viewed other people who were struggling,  I was generally understanding.  Some things come easily to some and other things easily to others.  I was and still am not the most creative person on the planet.  I actually try pretty hard to surround myself with creative people when I can.  That’s one of the things I really admire about my wife.  She’s super intelligent and creative.  I found calculus to be pretty easy, but I never really found it surprising that other people might not.  I still can’t draw a decent stick figure, I’ve got zero musical ability and I’m not exactly William Shakespeare.   As such I just assumed and still do that people who have difficulty with math are probably a lot better than I am at other things.

3) If you were to have a child, what is one thing from your life that you would hope he would do differently than you did?

Oh, now here is a very, very tough question.  Right now I can honestly say that I’m a pretty happy guy.  My choices have led me here.  There is a theory that states that every single possibility of every single moment is played out in a parallel universe.  This means that in some alternate reality, I fell in love with the bitchiest woman in our high school* and am trapped in a miserable marriage with a person I can’t stand.  In another, I’m running for the Senate in 2008 as a Republican!  Would either of those fates have come to pass had I made the decision I’ll discuss here?  Well, I doubt that I’m a Republican anywhere but you never really know!


*Editor’s note: Was that me?

Stop ducking the question Chris.  OK.  So, what would I hope my child would do differently?I would hope that my child would place more value on the education that they are receiving.  It sounds trite and arrogant, but the fact is that I failed badly in high school.  There are reasons behind that failure but it ultimately falls on me.  I was bored and I responded poorly to that.  I expected to be bored in college (and the truth is that the required course bored the hell out of me) and when I wasn’t bored and in the cases when the course work was challenging I found that I had failed myself.  I never learned to properly apply myself in an academic manner.  By the time I realized just how poor a student I really was, I had blown it.  I should have been a scientist or a psychologist.  My particular personality and mindset would have been great in those arenas.  I didn’t learn to discipline myself appropriately until well after college and when all is said and done, I don’t really have the job satisfaction that I could easily have had. I’m not saying I wish that I had studied 8 hours a day from 3pm to 11pm or that I had been first in my class, I think balance is necessary, but I would hope that my child would learn some of those vital skills in order to have more choices and doors opened when the time came.  I really don’t know how I’ll instill that knowledge because even in High School, I knew that I was making bad decisions, but I was too arrogant to believe that I couldn’t overcome those choices later.

4) What is one thing from your life that you would hope he would do the same?

Easiest question of them all.  Care about other people.  I have always cared about the feelings and situation of other people.  When some jackass would torture a kid in grade school I befriended that kid.  When someone came out as gay in a time when that was just obscenely hard to do, I stood by that person.  When a friend ran out of a classroom in tears and other kids laughed about it, I went after her to comfort her.**  When someone told me about a hidden abuse I encouraged that person to seek professional help.  This is the one thing about myself that I’m really proud of.

** Editor’s note: That MUST be me.

5) Tell us about your grandparents.

We’ll start with my maternal grandparents. My grampy, Matthew, was quiet, reserved, intelligent.  He and I played cribbage.  For hours on end.  We worked in his garden, we fixed things in his workshop in the basement.  He was a World War II veteran, a corporal in the U.S. Army and had a bullet in his leg. You could actually see it under the skin and he’d move it around on occasion. You may ask why he never had it removed?  He accidentally tripped over his own rifle and shot himself.  He went to the doctor, got himself patched up and never told the guy it was actually a bullet wound.  He was the son of Polish immigrants.  He had 3 daughters and a dog named Happy.  He used to jokingly confuse the names of his grand-children, always confusing the boys with the girls.  He also wasn’t the greatest of people. He loathed my father, he institutionalized his wife on a few occasions, basically because she was a bit depressed as a housewife.  This was at a time when mental institutions in the country were not pleasant places.  I  loved him quite a bit and he clearly loved me back.  I spent at least 2 weekends a month at my grandparents’ house growing up and have fond memories of him.  He died when I was about 12 of a heart attack.

My Nana.  My Nana is alive and in her early 90’s now.  She and I played scrabble.  All the time.  I credit a lot of my good vocabulary to playing scrabble from the age of 5 onwards with my Nana.  She read to me, and sang to me and played the piano for me when I spent time with them.  She always had Popsicles and ice-cream in her freezer for me.  We watched Alfred Hitchcock movies together and played gin rummy. She’s a sweet little old lady with a major flaw.  She’s become a self-described “Conservative Christian” in her old age.  Her favorite Presidents are John F. Kennedy and George W. Bush.  She listens to Rush Limbaugh, her favorite Senator was Rick Santorum.  She loves Bill O’Reilly.  We try to avoid discussing politics because I refuse to hold any punches just because she’s old.  She should know better than to support those assholes just because they call themselves “Christians.”  She’s a complete obsessive compulsive when it comes to her home.  It is the cleanest home you will ever set foot in.  Her basement is cleaner than your average hospital.  She loves my Angela as much as she loves me.  When I told her I had asked Angela to marry me she said “It’s about time!”  We love her and know that she won’t be with us for much longer.  One of my fondest memories is how she would tuck me in at night when I stayed with her.  She’d come into the room and tuck me in TIGHT.  she’d make sure the sheets and blanket were tucked under the top mattress and I grew to really like being cozy and warm in a tucked in bed.  My wife likes the bed messy.  I love my wife.  I have a messy bed.

On to my paternal grandparents.My Grammie.  Oh man.  Let’s get this out right up front.  The woman is a mean-spirited, self-centered, self-righteous, nasty bitch.  Yep.  I just said that about my grandmother.  Do I love her? Yes.  But I don’t have a lot of nice things to say about her.  She drove my grandfather to drink (and no he didn’t respond well when drunk, see below).  Her kids can’t stand her and try desperately to avoid her.  She actually pits her grandchildren against each other.  Quite literally she will rub one grandchild’s success into the nose of another and try to foster competition and dislike between them.  It’s ugly.  She claims to be a devout catholic and spends a massive amount of time in church.  However, she only does this so she can tell you what a good Christian she is and how awful everyone else is because they don’t go to church as often.  She has never, to my knowledge or that of any of her children ever even opened a Bible, much less understood any of the messages in it.  She squandered away every penny my grandfather ever earned on useless junk for herself.  She has ruined the life of her youngest child to a degree that absolutely breaks my heart because he had so much potential.  She regularly accuses my mother of being an awful parent.  Most of my memory of her from when I was a child is of her berating one or another of her children for being completely worthless.  She’s bigoted against blacks, Asians, Hispanics, homosexuals, non-Catholics and pretty much everybody else.  She thinks AIDS is God’s punishment.  Her entire family is ashamed of her and frankly so am I.  That’s an awful lot of negativity right there.  What can I say that is nice and positive about her?  She tells us that she loves us quite a lot.  I appreciate that.  She appears to take joy in the successes her children and grandchildren have even if she makes sure to turn it into a dig on you when she talks about it. That’s pretty much it.  We all avoid her when we can.

My Grandpa.  This man was a character.  He’s actually quite hard to describe because if you didn’t know him you wouldn’t really believe the stories about him.  Let’s start with the negatives.  He was a drunk.  Not an alcoholic, a drunk.  He’d drink a 5th of jack daniels like it was water and he’d get mean.  He never hit any of his kids or his wife but he’d pull out a rifle and threaten her with that.  He didn’t keep bullets in the house, but I can’t imagine how terrifying that would be all the same.  He was poor, he was incredibly intelligent and he was strong as an ox.  And I mean that literally. When the man was 70, he had the strongest handshake of anyone I’d ever met.  Not that he crushed your hand or anything but the grip was just solid and you knew that if he wanted to, he could break bones in your hand.  He was fiercely protective of his kids and his grandchildren. He was also a World War II veteran, a torpedo operator on a destroyer.  He personally sank a japanese submarine.  He had terrible PTSD.  He was one of the most complex people I have ever known and I was his favorite grandchild.  I know for a fact he would have done anything for me.  And I mean that quite literally, there isn’t an iota of doubt in my mind about it.  If he thought someone was a real threat or danger to me I *know* that he wouldn’t have hesitated to remove that threat in whatever way he deemed necessary.  I could tell a hundred stories about the man and it still wouldn’t really tell you who he was.  I almost think of him in mythological terms.  The man smoked 4 packs of unfiltered camels a day and was never, ever sick until he was diagnosed with cancer at 75 and was dead within months.  The day before he died he asked my uncle to sneak him out of the hospital because he “felt fine.”  He used to practice archery in his apartment.  My father went to visit one day, knocked on the door, my grandfather told him to come in and the next thing my father knew there was an arrow in the wall less than a foot from his head.  My grandfather was sober at the time and just kept practicing because he knew he wasn’t going to hit my father.  My father nearly passed out from fear but hey, that was grandpa.  And this wasn’t really a particularly surprising story about him.  He was friends with all of the local Hell’s Angels.  They LOVED him.  They came to him for advice because he was always honest about what he said.  I know Emily will have to edit and trim this rambling section, but the fact is that my Grandpa had a huge impact on the person I am today because he was such a truly big personality.  When he was in the room, everyone knew it and they expected him to determine the course of the day/evening/whatever.  He raised his four sons to be caring, respectful men who are all fiercely loyal like he is.  His wife screwed that up pretty badly though for the youngest one after he was gone. The last time I saw him before he got sick was about 6 months before he died.  He’d been fighting with the Navy for years about his pension and my father and I took turns going to the courthouse with him.  We were walking along a road in Boston and there was an attractive woman ahead of us wearing silk pants that were a little loose but still showed off her rear end.  As she walked you could see the cheeks of her buttocks swing out to the side, swing back inwards, impact and repeat.  I noticed it right away because I was and am a dirty little man.  My grandfather ducked his head down to me (he was about 6’2″, I’m 5’10”) and said in my ear, not so quietly that I could be sure she didn’t hear it, “Will you look at her? She’s got an ass like a cement mixer.”



Usually, the interviewer askes for anyone who wants questions to write it in the comments.  Chris, are you taking interview requests, even though you don’t have a blog?  And, does anyone want to ask Chris anything?

Not so funny

Today, I am filled with deep hope and deep despair about this book.  It makes me feel like I’ve taken some heavy-duty decongestant.  I feel like it is both on the cusp of completion and so distant I’ll never do it.  Do you all know the feeling I describe?

I have been reading G*t Out of My Lif*, But First T@ke Me and Al*x Into Town, which is the UK version of an American book of a similar title.  It is about adolescence.  I have realized that I did not just miss out on childhood, but also on adolescence.  There was no one who loved me — unconditionally or otherwise — so there was no one I could reject fearlessly.  There was no breaking away from childhood because there were no parents and no childhood.  Was all my anger at my aunt simply because I wanted her to love me and she didn’t?

And can she really be blamed?  You cannot force yourself to love someone.  Yes, she was hypocritical in claiming she treated me as her daughter, but that may have been her worst crime.   Maybe she was so deeply unhappy herself she couldn’t even see the ways she was unfair to me, but I think my real anger is that I knew she did not love me.  And, I wanted her to, even though I don’t know that I ever loved her.  I just wanted so badly for someone to care about me.

Did everyone feel that way as teenagers?  What does it feel like to be a normal teenager?  Is there such a thing as a normal teenager? 

Oh — I seem to be not so funny today.  I’d say it’s because it is a gloomy day here, but Oscar Wilde pulled it off in precisely the same climate.

Ways Lead Onto Ways


My girl, Julie, over at Using My Words, has asked me to host this week’s Hump Day Hmm.  Good thing, too, ’cause otherwise I’d have a big ol’ nuttin’ to post about.  This week, please write about a challenge you have faced and what you have learned (or are learning) from it.  Good topic.  So get writing.  And then email your link to me  or just give me your link in my comments.


(See the cool way I made an image of my email address?  Snoskred told me about it.  You can do it at



With Zachary approaching his first birthday, I started to think it might be time to go back to work.  Since I had spent the last six years in graduate school, going back to work was a bit of a misnomer.  It would be more accurate to say it was high time I got myself paid employment.  I had taught high school for a few years, but I did not want the pressures of teaching with a traveling husband and a young child.  I wanted a job I could leave at the office, not one that would suck the life out of me by requiring me to squire the sailing team all over the Mid-Atlantic every weekend.  (Yes, I had that job once.)

So, I started applying for positions.  But, the funny thing about a Ph.D. is that it tends to make you overqualified for everything and actually qualified for nothing.  I was getting teaching interviews, but I was ambivalent and pulled out of the running.  As for other jobs?  No one was biting.

Then, one day, my husband saw an ad for an assistant speech writing job in academia.  This, I could do.  I could write and I knew academia.  I was really interested in pursuing speech writing for politicians, and this seemed like a great way in.  The trouble was that there were only slightly fewer people applying for this position than trying out for the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleading Squad.  I was pretty sure my resume was going to end up buried under a pile of files somewhere.

Except that I knew someone who knew someone.  Natch.

I got the interview.  I got the next interview.  And the next.  I was one of two finalists.  And the other one got the job.

What I got was an excellent contact; the head speech writer had really liked me.  The next week, someone he knew was looking for a contract speech writer, and he passed my resume along.  Three days later, I was scrambling to find childcare, because I had a temporary, 80% job in speech writing.  And they were pretty confident the job would turn full-time.

When my two-month contract was up, there was no permanent job in sight.  However, I loved my supervisor, I loved the writing, and I was more than willing to sign another two-month contract.  And another. 

Because I was temporary, I was sitting in a temporary cubicle.  In an office where only admins sit in cubicles.  So, people started treating me accordingly.  Not my supervisor.  She was fantastic, respectful, and all-around lovely.  When she asked me to do grunt work, I knew it was not that she did not herself want to do it but rather that she was asking me to pitch in.  I gladly pitched in.

There were, however, some other office politics that I did not appreciate so much.  Serious politics.  I’ll not get into the specifics here to protect the (few) innocents out there, but suffice it to say the official policy appeared to be promoting people who stabbed people in the back and discarding all the people who actually knew what they were doing.  I could see that my supervisor was going to have quite an uphill battle getting me that permanent job she had promised me.

I looked to my right.  I looked to my left.  I saw cars coming from both directions and I got out of the road.  I told my supervisor that I preferred not to be considered for the permanent position because I was moving to London in the summer and trying to have another baby.  She thanked me for telling her as soon as possible, but I got the sneaking suspicion she also appreciated that she was off the hook.

I stayed on, writing from home as they dithered about the full-time job.  I kept doing the work because I had never dreamed such a fantastic manager as my supervisor existed and I wanted to help her out.  She was working in a pretty poisonous office environment, and it seemed the least I could do.  But, eventually, I had to haul my seven-months-pregnant booty across the ocean to London, and I had to stop the work.

Leaving was hard.  I picked up enough free-lance work to fill the budgetary gaps, but I felt like an A #1 loser.  My first big job, and I could not make it work. However, since I left that office, there has been some serious turnover.  The kind of turnover that leaves big bare spots on the carpets.  Clearly, I was not the only one running for cover as the hail pummeled down.

I had agonized about making the right choice.  I had worried about the long-term implications.  But, sometimes there is no clear right choice.  Everything has long-term implications.  Sometimes, you leave a job and get unemployed.  Other times, you leave a job, have a Benjamin, and decide to write your life story.

Ways lead onto ways.  But you have to keep walking.


Who else went through something challenging?

Snoskred wrote Custody Battles are a Special Version of Hell

Sephy wrote Paging Mr. Negative: Please don’t make yourself known

Lesley (a.k.a. Flavia) wrote Facing a Challenge: We were supposed to be on a vacation, huh?

Reality Testing wrote Schooled

Amy wrote Something You’d Never Have Known Unless

Hump Day Tomorrow

Remember, tomorrow is Hump Day Hmm, and I am hosting.  That means I’ll actually have a new post, but it also means you need to be writing about a challenge you have faced and how you learned (or are learning) from it.  Email me your links at or post them in my comments.

Hope Julie is having a nice vacation…