Thursday, June 26, 2008

Suggestions, Please

I finished The Devil in White City not too long ago, and I really loved it. The new project I’m working on is kind of a historical mystery (we’ll see—history seems to take a while to move in the mail). In the meanwhile, I’m reading. If you know of any historical non-fiction mysteries you found enjoyable, I’d love the suggestion.

Today I bought some notecards to file the many facts I plan to amass. “If you’re not 100% happy with this Staples brand product, just return it anytime. It’s that easy,” the label reads. I’m trying to think of how someone could be disappointed in their notecards.

Dear Staples: My notecards smell “funny.”

Dear Staples: My notecards are too white.

Dear Staples: My notecards emit a high-pitched whining noise.

Dear Staples: My notecards are tempting me with their suggestive sexual behavior.

I’d best get back to work.

Monday, June 23, 2008

West Virginia, You Concern Me

Today, we got back from our trip. We set out to see my grandparents, who live in southwestern Pennsylvania. I live in central Virginia. On the map, it doesn’t look very far, but there is a problem, and that problem is West Virginia.

I sent us on the route that took us for hours up the mountain and down the mountain, up the mountain and down the mountain. The scenery was trees. And mountains. And trees. Every once in a while, we’d see a house.

In one yard, there was a man on a riding mower, riding slowly. “Yes, I’m going to mow the lawn,” I said to Brandon. “But, you see, I’m going to do it reeeeeeal slow-like.”

Fifteen minutes later, Brandon asked, “How do these people get groceries?”

Later, we noticed a landscaping trend: partly buried wagon wheels flanking either side of the driveway. “Can you imagine giving directions?” I said. “Drive to the middle of nowhere. Turn left and drive another twelve miles.”

“It’s the one with the wagon wheels,” Brandon said. “No. The other one.”

Hey, I grew up in a little patch in the middle of nowhere that I loved too, but what I’m saying is, unless it’s your own patch, it’s not good driving.

Finally, we hit PA. If you’re around up there, do yourself a favor and get this fish sandwich from the Italian Club. They only have them on Fridays. Caleb recommends the shrimp.

I’ll back back, once I dig myself out of the mountain of vacation laundry.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Ethicist Goes to the Pool

Despite the fact my skin only varies in shades of pink, from pale pink to hot pink (Blush and Bashful?), Caleb and I have been spending serious time at the pool.

The other day, there were a group of younger teenagers there. Thirteen, fourteen, maybe. It’s hard for me to tell now. But some of them looked prematurely grown and others still had that goofiness of middle school to them.

Anyway, they were screwing around, throwing each other in the air and dunking each other, and the lifeguard blew his whistle at them a few times. The last time he did it, one of the kids asked, in a smart-ass kind of way, why they had to listen to him. The lifeguard sort of lost his shit and yelled back, “Because I’m the LIFEGUARD!”

I was done with my water-treading by then, and I picked up my book and sat under the shade area, next to the teenagers. I noticed that it sure looked like the boys—especially one boy, who looked more mature and wasn’t even wearing a swimsuit—were sexually harrassing one of the girls. Disrespectful touch and all that. But it also sort of looked like she liked it.

I like to think I’m the sort of person who would step in if I saw something bad going down. And I thought this was kind of bad, not in a criminal way, but in a sad gender-relations kind of way. I wanted to pull her aside and tell her that, yeah, maybe you have a crush on him, this alpha male, but when this is the kind of attention he’s giving you, nothing good will come of it. Initially, you want an arm around your waist, not a hand rubbing your booty. You want someone who calls and tells you he can’t wait to see you, not some asshole who dunks you and you come up sputtering.

But even if I weren’t some increasingly salmon-colored stranger, would she listen?

In the end, the ringleader boy stalked around and said, “Motherfucker,” re: the pool staff. Caleb was next to me, and I have a strict policy of his parents being the only one to introduce him to swear words, so I took my big action: I glared mightily. That’s the sort of involved citizen I am.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


When I’m doing my treading water thing at the pool, this is what I’m thinking of:

Peaceful, no?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Big Boy

Caleb had some money and needed to spend it today. So we went up to the toy store, and I carried his wallet in my purse. (Contents of wallet: Money, library card, and several pictures of himself.) When we got the checkout line, I handed him the wallet.

He immediately handed the clerk the money, and she joked with him. “You don’t want to give me the money now! Unless you’re trying to give me a tip! Do you want to tip me?”

He didn’t say anything because, I realized, we never taught him to make inane chatter. Is it hot enough for him? Is he working hard or hardly working? Is it the heat or the humidity? He very likely never even considered it.

The clerk offered him a bag of his own instructed him to hold onto his receipt. As soon as we left, he turned to me and said, “That woman talked weird to me. She treated me like I was five.”

We got in the car and headed to another store to get a Father’s Day gift. I parked. He wasn’t over it. “If I was five,” he said, “do you think I could have put together two of these toys so fast?” The tone was very Ha-HA, bitches!

God, I love that kid.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Things to Check Out

Who’s a hot tamale? It’s me! And everyone else in central Virginia. Seriously, it’s almost a hundred degrees and so humid if you made a wringing motion in the air, you could squeeze out some drops. This is how I came to discover my dogs are, sadly, kind of stupid. They want to be outside, even though they could easily incur brain damage in this sort of heat. It’s okay, though. Smart dogs might know to come in, but then they get bored and start tearing up furniture and fucking up all your Word settings.

Anyhoo. My online pal Brené Brown is starting a blog series about her research on parenting and shame. What I love about Brené is that she’s a serious qualitative researcher and knows all this stuff about shame (the difference between it and guilt, how it has an impact on people’s lives, how uncomfortable it is for people to talk about)—and at the same time doesn’t act as if she’s immune to shame, or being imperfect. (This is my pet peeve with many experts: They always have some big conversion story when they finally realized that what they were doing—read, what you are doing—is wrong and now they don’t do it anymore. The subtext is: Looky here—now you can be perfect like me!)

Brené’s blog series is a companion to her CD on parenting and shame, which is both interesting and funny. For example, she recounts the events in this blog entry of hers that I love so much. Because who hasn’t ever hoped to be a bigger deal than you actually are? I’m looking forward to the series.

Also, if you’re a reader, you will want to know about Sundae Horn’s zine Ex Libris, in which she writes about books in an engaging and personal way. I met Sundae years ago through Brain, Child, and when I got the two latest issues of Ex Libris, I plopped my ass down on the couch and read straight through. You can order it by sending $8 (payable to Sundae Horn) to P.O. Box 544, Ocracoke NC 27960. That gets you four issues.

Oh. One more thing. You might have seen this youtube video by Dennis Cass already, but seeing Jody’s post about MySpace reminded me.

Thursday, June 5, 2008


So, I’m officially on leave from Brain, Child. On one hand, I hate walking away, even for a little bit. But on the other hand, I have this genealogical obsession right now that I can’t quite satisfy while working on the magazine.

I’m keeping the project kind of vague on purpose (read: no idea what the shape of it is yet), but I’ve been talking to relatives about it. And, in my tiny, tiny infant stage of the project, this is the conclusion that I’ve come to: My great uncle Bill Crawford was a good, good man. When I was a kid, he’d call me and my sisters (and probably my cousins and distant cousins) on Christmas Eve. Santa had a definite Pittsburgh accent.

Everyone I’ve talked to so far mentions Uncle Bill—in a and you know who was the nicest guy you’ll ever meet? kind of way—although he doesn’t really have anything to do with my specific project. And I know this sounds schmaltzy, but the big takeaway for me, listening to Uncle Bill’s reputation, is that being kind and friendly and helpful really does matter. I bet he knew this when he was alive.

Here he is, having a good time with brother, sister-in-law, and my grandpap. Grandpap’s on the right, and Uncle Bill is next to him.

(For the record, I would be crazy if I had to live with that wallpaper.)

Speaking of relatives, if you’re a descendent of Adam Fisher and Clara Fisher, I’d love to talk to you. My email address is jennifer dot niesslein AT comcast dot net. Adam was born on Valentine’s Day, 1914 and served in the Army.