May 30, 2008

A Hard Rain

When it happened, my left hand was lightly gripping the steering wheel. My right, rested casually on the stick shift. I drive in a noncommittal manner that imparts on my passengers a feeling of confidence and security. When you are on a three day road trip this is important. In order to safely cover the miles, everyone has to be on the same page. As it were, we were only two hours into this trip and my co-pilot was still excitedly picking songs from his Ipod. He probably hadn’t registered how my aloof manner of driving was instilling in him a growing tranquility.

This permeating calm made the ensuing minutes all the more jarring. When faced with peril on the road, my reflexes have yet to fail me, but I wasn’t driving the muted gray Volkswagen ahead of us. I had no idea whether the approaching storm was a concern for her or not. To this point, it simply slapped a few raindrops on our windshield. I casually flipped the wipers to intermittent and continued on, barely registering the line of eighteen wheelers travelling up the passing lane like a cavalcade.

Rain this early in the trip was a bad sign. We wanted to make it to Roanoke by nightfall. This meant about eight hours on the road, and since we hadn’t started until noon, we were in for a long day. Slowing down, or stopping if the weather continued to worsen, would mean too long a day for a newborn in a car seat.

On the surface, the point of splitting the 1400 mile trip into three days was to avoid late nights and extended days on the road. Underneath, we were more than a little excited about our planned stop at Graceland. That would be at the beginning of day three. In terms of travel, we were over a thousand miles and 48 hours away. The first day would be about cutting through the miles of rolling hills that are Pennsylvania and then lopping off that little tail of Maryland on our way to Virginia and the South. We were a hundred miles from home.

The first few trucks slid past in the usual manner, spraying our windshield with a consistent mist while I upped the interval on the wipers. I noticed the mud flaps on the middle one had those seductively posed naked ladies; they peered out at us with their come-hither stares and their matching black and white bosoms. Just as I was about to make a joke concerning a lonely trucker lying down beneath those flaps somewhere west of the Mississippi, I was interrupted by the familiar nasal twang of Bob Dylan.

Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, where have you been, my darling young one?

If I could only reach behind the seat to pull out my old book of cd’s, I could show him a thing or two about Dylan. My rummaging was blocked by a cabin full of baby gear, blankets and pillows, a computer, a Hello Kitty stool, assorted maps, and a wily, nervous looking dog. The car in front of us was free of clutter. It carried my daughter, my wife, and my sister-in-law. We continued down the highway, through the canyon of dense deciduous trees swaying in the wind. They turned up to us the white undersides of their leaves, adding to the growing paleness of the air. My right hand was still fumbling behind me as they zipped past. My protégé’s lesson would have to wait.

I've stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains,
I've walked and I've crawled on six crooked highways,

To our left, the last of the column of dirt streaked trailers was moving past us and beside my wife’s gray Passat. I was about to call ahead to them when a quivering bolt of lightning innocuously attached itself to their antenna. The rear mounted, center antenna made the Passat look like the lone bumper car in a game that they never asked to participate in. From our trailing view, we watched in dumbstruck awe while the electricity penetrated the car for a second or two. It finally let them go with a shower of sparks and smoke trailing out behind them like a free falling Fourth of July rocket.

I've stepped in the middle of seven sad forests,
I've been out in front of a dozen dead oceans,

We were still rolling when I opened the door and ran up the side of the highway. The air was charged, waiting. Their car was silent and still. I could see smoke draping around them, and as I approached, I inhaled a funny sour smell. Strangely, the last thing I remember was looking down for a moment and thinking that rumble strips were much larger than they appear at 70 miles per hour.

I've been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard,
And it's a hard, and it's a hard, it's a hard, and it's a hard,
And it's a hard rain's a-gonna fall.

May 29, 2008

The Marpac

Lately Annie has been on a sleep rollercoaster. Some nights she sleeps straight through (7-7 for you newer readers), and some nights she wakes up and cries in the neighborhood of 1-3 times. One of these times she will stand up and cry for at least an hour, and as was the case Monday night, two hours. In these scenarios I feed her. Please insert your judgemental, scathing comments here______________________________________________.

I have suspected for a couple of months now that she has been waking up due to two uncontrollable noises: the clunky air conditioning unit, whose pump (?) is in her bathroom ceiling, and the inevitable racing of silly, souped up, 90’s model Honda Civics that fly by in our backyard, er, Clyde Fant Parkway. The air conditioner wakes her, because we leave the bathroom fan on with the door open for white noise. When we close the door, she doesn’t hear the banging, cyclical nature of our overworked a/c, but she hears everything else in the house and on our would be racetrack.

For the above reasons, we have been demoing sound machines for a couple of weeks. The first one we tried was complete crap and only succeeded in scaring all three of us with its faux crashing ocean and rainfall setting that could well have been a recording of a broken car radio. The second sound machine, I’m sorry, sound conditioner, has been highly praised by the massage and incense set as a “life-saver.” One can presume that this life saving applies for both calming hippie nerves and little babies.

We had to order the $49.95 Marpac 980 sound conditioner from Amazon and wait almost two weeks for its arrival. I broke it out last night and found in the box a strange looking little cake shaped thing staring up at me. I turned it on and immediately fell asleep. I awoke, studied it further, and knew that it reminded me of something. For those of you in your thirties, you probably remember a show on Nickelodeon called Mr. Wizard’s World. I was a huge fan and remember him once making a homemade police siren. I’m a bit hazy on the science of it, but essentially it was a turbine in a cake shaped housing with holes in it. Turn it on and adjust the holes and, voila, a siren. So the Marpac seems to be the same principle, only it emits a soothing fan-like sound instead of a jarring siren-like sound.

And you know what, the early returns are fantastic. Annie didn’t even stir last night. At first I thought I just couldn’t hear her cries over the Marpac, but at 7:20 this morning I heard her banging around in her room and went in to discover a well rested little kid, Honda Civics and air conditioners be damned.

May 27, 2008


While speaking with my music loving brother-in-law this weekend I uncovered a gaping hole in his broad expanse of appreciation. I was sitting in my living room listening to In Rainbows, and IM’ing with him when it dawned on me that I didn’t know where he stood in relation to one of the more influential, groundbreaking bands of the last 20 years.

I’m not sure I would do Radiohead any justice by attempting a written history of the band. It essentially boils down to this…solid rock ‘n’ roll band with a huge single (Creep) on their first album, who instead of making a string of similar records decides to reinvent itself with each ensuing effort, thusly becoming one of the most iconic, permanently relevant bands ever.

Through all of the different forms that Radiohead has appeared as, one thing has stayed consistent; they have managed to remain both critically and commercially acclaimed. Plenty of bands have attempted to grow and shift their sound, often to their detriment or total demise. They are all left with a choice: Churn out the same record every other year, or take the leap of faith and try to keep up with the ever changing musical landscape. I would challenge you to name a band that has done the latter more successfully than Radiohead.

Not only has Radiohead stayed ahead of the curve sonically, but they have stayed ahead of it technologically, by releasing a “pay what you want” album via their website last fall.* I get it; if you aren’t already wealthy rock gods you can’t pull a stunt like that, but talk about vanguard ideas. They didn’t release sales numbers from the album, which just helps the cause. It doesn’t matter. The album is great and the press they received was through the roof.

So take a look to the right and give the new Radiohead sampler a try. If someone who is 17 doesn’t know the catalog, then my guess is that someone over 40 doesn’t either. However, if you are somewhere in the middle and were buying cd’s when OK Computer came out, and still can’t believe how earth shattering it was, then much of the list should be familiar to you.

*Editor’s Note: Unfinished Dad payed the nice, rounded sum of $0.00 for In Rainbows

May 23, 2008

The Party's Over

If you’ve noticed a lot of women, and one man, walking around Shreveport like zombies this week, don’t be alarmed. Mom’s day out ended at most of our churches, and we are all simply searching for someone to watch our kids. For Annie and me, Tuesday was the last day of our two day a week Shangri-La. Fortunately—and by fortunately I mean thank god for my wife’s forethought—I am one of the few who locked up a babysitter early. That being said, she doesn’t start until the first week of June and even these two weeks seem waaaay longer than they should. I love my daughter. Why wouldn’t I want to spend more time with her?

The answer to that lies somewhere in the identities that we homemakers used to have for ourselves. Some of us use our eight hours a week to grocery shop and clean the house. But the smarter ones use it to do the things we love from our former lives. For me this covers writing and golf. Never before, have eight hours seemed so precious. Think about it, it’s only one regular, ho-hum day of work for most of you. But for me these two short days represent the time that I get to be the old—if I were super motivated—me. I pound the driving range until my back aches and my hands are raw. I pound the keyboard until my back aches and my hands are raw. In short, I live.

So those of us that have been busy living during our eight hours are walking around lost this week, and will continue to do so for the rest of the summer. This begs two questions: Why on earth wouldn’t we want to have a year-round Mom’s day out, and if not, why doesn’t someone start their own baby minding co-op? I take your kid on Mondays and Wednesdays; you take mine on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Instant, cheap, daycare. C'mon people!

May 21, 2008


Keeping up with friends when you are a stay-at-home-dad in Shreveport can be difficult. Because my life revolves around Annie, the time that I have to correspond is most often during working hours for normal people. I learned after a couple of months that when someone is sitting at their cubicle they don't always want to talk about tornadoes, my golf game, pooping, and the other topics that dominate my specialized lifestyle. I soon realized though, that people are always willing to IM when they are "working" at their computer. This is the one time waster that is universally acknowledged as private enough to pull off at work (bonus points given for ability to curse freely) and casual enough to reply to my inanities at the worker's leisure.

IM'ing is especially great, because Annie can help. Below is one such instance where we chatted with a family member, in this case our cousin Adam, who is living in Israel for the year.

me: \][[\[[[[[[
Adam: what is that
me: --
annie is saying hi
Adam: are you and kristen having sex
well don't let her see what i just wrote
me: 665+*----+---------------------------------------
she isn't such a great 9type*r ye+-t+
Adam: hello annie
how are you doing
me: ++++++++*/*-5
han+ds*+ a lit+9l full
how are you/.
Adam: seems like it
i am doing well
tired though
me: --yeah- yo'-ll+ 9be 9ha9mo-+ soon enoug1h
i hophe that we see you this summer
Adam: i can't imagine why not, unless kristen shots out the next one soon
me: --------------------------------------------------------------
yeah that would be tough...we'd have to stay i LA for a while
okay, just wanted to say hi from annie...I'll talk to you soon
Adam: peace brother

May 20, 2008

Dear Comcast

The following is a letter I sent to Comcast on May 20th, 2008.

Dear Comcast,

I moved to Shreveport, Louisiana from New Jersey in August 2007 with my wife and newborn daughter Annabelle. When we arrived, we were happy to see that a company we were used to “back home” serviced our new state as well. Calling you to hook up our cable and internet was one of the first things we did. I think it was just after putting together the crib.

Our first call was to a diligent sales representative who informed us that ya’ll were quite busy and it would be about a week before our service was connected. This turned out to be okay, because we had a lot of unpacking to do and I needed a bit of a push to get through it. When you can’t go outside because the thermometer says 103, and the humidity would be that high if such a thing were possible, you normally would turn on the television and relax. But like I said, we had other pressing things to divert our attention.

When the time came to have our cable installed I was as giddy as a school boy on Field Day. Spending a few hot months alone with our newborn (I was a new stay at home dad, you see) would be much more fun with the crisp picture of HD television and excessive amounts of sports. The technician who completed the install was attentive and friendly and sure that the picture only appearing in black and white was something that would “go away.” Um, it didn’t. So I placed my first call to you concerning “trouble with my service.” The woman who answered the phone was positive that I incorrectly connected at least one of the many wires needed. After assuring her that I had not, she made sure to let me now that if I was wrong I would be billed $35 to have someone come out and help me connect red with red, yellow with yellow, and green with green, and so on.

Uncannily, the same technician came to the house the next day. It turned out that we had an issue that could be fixed quite easily. No mysteries here. Had he not dropped our cable box on that sneaky hard concrete sidewalk, it surely would have broadcast in color. Though ridiculous, I was happy he admitted his mistake. Strangely, the cable box he replaced it with was much newer and shinier. I wonder how old the first one was and how long it would have lasted anyway. Who new we were done a favor by having the first one battered so?

Now, I think you can admit that we got off to a rocky start. After the second cable box was installed we got everything hooked up properly and, voila, color television, the way God intended. The honeymoon, however, did not last long. Within days our cable feed began to falter. If nothing else, your cable system is intuitive. It always knew when I wanted to watch The Office and when my wife wanted to watch Grey’s Anatomy. Accordingly, the picture would “tile” (a cuter way of saying scramble) and the sound would cut out. This happened about every two minutes and lasted for about thirty seconds. I know, I know, we were only missing a quarter of each show; we needed to hang in there. This was a new venture for you, having just purchased our area’s cable from Time Warner.

As my wife will tell you I am something of a procrastinator. So it was a couple of weeks before I became too fed up to deal with our picture problems. When I called your office, the folks in our local Shreveport building must have packed it in for the day, so I was transferred to someone in Memphis, Tennessee. I detailed to a lovely and patient woman all of the issues we were having and she sympathetically laid it out for me. She explained that “down here, HD is kind of like the iPod was a few years ago. You know a bunch of people that have them, but you haven’t gotten yours yet, and you’re not quite sure how they work.” Clear as day, no?

This wasn’t a good enough explanation for me and I asked her to send another service technician to my house. The man that came didn’t exactly believe me that I even had an issue, because the television wouldn’t behave. I learned much later that many of the issues you have are due to bandwidth and so, only happen during peak viewing hours. The prime time that our tiling occurred was between 7:00 and 10:00 p.m. I don’t know if you were aware, but this is when the networks showcase their best programming. It is often referred to as, get this, prime time. Yeah, just like I wrote in the last sentence. Funny, huh?

Despite this setback I wasn’t deterred. I had DVR after all. I started saving all of the interrupted shows to properly detail our service interruptions. I waited a couple more weeks until my arsenal was loaded with ammo and called you again. As always, your customer service representatives were friendly. None of them understood my particular issue and a few still asked me to check my connections, or in the most childlike case, to simply turn my cable box off and then on again. Any idiot would have tried that old trick already, including this one.

A technician was eventually dispatched and he spent a couple of hours at my apartment pulling on some wires and checking the “levels” of each of my HD channels before deciding that what I had was a DVR problem. The issue wasn’t the feed coming into the box, but some kind of interruption whenever I recorded something. The proof, he said, was replaying right in front of him. Like all of your techs before and since, he confidently solved my problem, this time by giving me a newer, even shinier box, and then gallantly drove away to help someone else.

No, this letter doesn’t end there. The next night our “tiling” continued and in a very un-procrastinating way, I call you back. Within a few days you had another tech at my house pulling on wires and turning the box on and off. This man sort of believed me that I didn’t have a DVR issue and when he checked the signal level of my channels he realized that something was off. It turned out that we had a cracked connector on the main box that serviced my apartment building. It took a little sweat, but that man persevered and fixed that do-hicky. Before I knew it, another dedicated Comcast technician was riding off into the sunset. The proof though, as they say, is in the non-tiling, HD feed.

Later, my wife and I experienced our first night of uninterrupted TV since arriving in Shreveport. It was the middle of November. We were in cable bliss. The month of December went smoothly as well, and after a couple of weeks at home in New Jersey with our parents we flew back to Shreveport with a newfound swagger. We were DVR’ing two things at once. We were watching movies on demand. We even invited some friends over for The Super Bowl; the ultimate in high definition television viewing.

That week the other shoe dropped. No, there was not a reiteration of picture tiling, but our sound kept cutting out, again, whenever we watched HD programming. I will tell you, that this was less annoying than when the sound and the picture went on the fritz, but only slightly less so. My wife really hated it. I think it was because we saw the Promised Land and were now teetering on the edge of the abyss. One thing I was sure of was that we were not watching The Super Bowl in standard def. I immediately called (man, you guys really knocked the procrastinator right out of me) and had someone come out to look at our new issue.

I calmly explained all that we had been through, and that I was getting a little tired of everything. I let him know that there was a big football game approaching and that it better go well. Man to man, I think I got his attention. This guy, however, was at a loss. He waffled between disbelief of the issue (that old prime time thing again) and lack of knowledge about how to fix it. He was a diligent fellow though, and we slowly pieced together that this time it actually was a DVR issue. Every time we taped two HD channels at the same time the sound cut out. We immediately replaced the cable box (I was apparently at the shiniest level, so no upgrade there) and this time I joined my technician in a celebratory high five.

The next day our sound cut out again. Do I sound calm right now? I’m not sure, but I wasn’t at the time. My wife and I had a family summit and decided that our cable problems could never be fixed. We decided that we would only DVR programs in regular definition and never while we were watching something more important in high definition. Watching TV became a mathematical equation, and a difficult one at that. Our guide turned into a series of algorithms and matrices, wrapped around a Rubik’s Cube.

We continued on this way, amazingly, for a few months. The Super Bowl, under our new viewing guidelines, went fine and we often resorted to DVR’ing and watching our favorite shows down in the low digit standard channels, but we pushed through it. Hell, what are writers’ strikes good for anyway? We weren’t missing anything after all.

Eventually though, we realized that we shouldn’t be paying for our complete cable package, and I called to downgrade. It turns out that HD and DVR were not so expensive that I felt the need to cancel them. The bulk of our $120 (I know, that’s stupidly expensive) bill came from the HBO “digital silver package.” I was now squarely between a rock and a hard place. I felt like that first dropped cable box. The choice was difficult, cancel a largely ineffective service and go without television like some kind of frontier family, or stick it out and downgrade all the way to a basic, non high def package. In the end, spite ruled the day.

The month was April, and I called to give you one last chance to right what was wrong. You dutifully sent out another service technician and he checked over all of the same cables, ports, jacks, do-hickys, and on-off buttons. He replaced a splitter on the outside of the building to divert more bandwidth from our internet to our TV. He even taught me how to check the signal level of the HD channels all by myself, so that I could take notes and report back to you. In the end our problems persisted and in spite of his best efforts I was left with a non-working television and newly lackluster internet service.

Over the next two weeks you sent out four more technicians in a last ditch effort to try and save me, but to no avail. On the last tech’s visit I probed him for some answers about why I was being left alone out here in this cable swamp to die a death by a thousand cuts, or “tiles,” if you prefer. Fortuitously, the man in question was the same one who had visited us during our first week in town way back in August 2007 and secretly dropped my cable box. He proved honest then in admitting his mistake and he wanted to live up to his principled reputation. He looked around to make sure no Comcast Agents were looking or listening, and he let me in on a little secret. It was your fault all along. There was literally nothing he could do short of digging up all the cable lines and rewiring Shreveport.

That night, the decision was made. I called you to cancel my cable. Do you realize how few people do this? The person who answered the phone asked if I was switching to satellite and when I informed her that I didn’t have the proper southern facing exposure I could here her jaw hit her sad little desk. She understood the magnitude of what I was doing. I was going off the grid.

That first night was hard. Like a junkie coming off the white princess, I shook a little and felt utterly lost. But after a few days, my family started to piece things together again. I began reading more and writing frivolously vindictive letters. I started making more adventurous and challenging dinners. I even took up pottery. I’m kidding. But truthfully, without you I started living a better life. We still watch all of our favorite shows, only now on the internet without commercials. We even hooked up our flat screen TV for a larger monitor. It’s kind of like regular TV, only so, so much better. We subscribed to Netflix and are starting to catch up on all the movies we missed by having a baby. Without you, we are better. Better people without all of the pent up anger and misplaced aggression and better savers by not throwing out $120 every month.

So in summary let me say thank you Comcast. Through it all I most assuredly still hate you, but begrudgingly have to thank you for helping me become a better person.


Joseph Poulas
1000 Riverwalk Blvd. Apt. 709
Sheveport, LA 71105

May 19, 2008

More Alone Time Please

An atypical dynamic of my marriage became apparent this weekend while I was out enjoying a picaresque Sunday morning on the golf course. I left the house at 8:30 and was back by 12:30, a scant four hours, but in that time frame I started to piece together a new feeling. I was nervous about leaving Annie with my wife.

Don’t think what you’re thinking. It wasn’t that I felt she was incapable of caring for her; I just wanted her to have as much fun as I do with Annie. All morning I had thoughts of Annie skipping her morning nap for the first time in months and behaving like a total monster, even though she never behaves like a total monster. I pictured her spitting up her food and pooping through her diaper, though these are things she quit by six months of age. In short, I was convinced that Annie wouldn’t be the same baby for my wife that she was for me.

I thought about this a lot last night and two reasons for my anxiety became apparent. The first is what I’ll call the new music principle. For a couple of years now I have been trying to convince my brother Lou to listen to Arcade Fire’s first album, Funeral. I maintain that it is the single greatest album ever put together. He has yet to come around, although he recently informed me that the album has at last made it to his iPod. This amount of zeal is the worst way to convince a person to like something, but my need to do this for the things I am most passionate about apparently extends to my daughter.

I get such joy from spending time with Annie. We teach each other something new every day. So all I wanted for my wife’s Sunday morning with her was the same experience. Yes, it does sound like the want of perfection. At first this felt like the desire for my wife to have a calm, uneventful morning. Then it dawned on me that what I wanted was for my wife to do exactly what I do. That’s bad. I learned a long time ago that when it comes to other people caring for your children, you have to let go. I have no problem doing this with the women at Dad’s day out, so why the lingering feeling with her own mother?

This leads to the second cause of my anxiety; I have some scary kind of care giver inferiority complex. I'm aware that my role is unorthodox and that a mother’s bond is unbreakable, so I try to protect my turf whenever possible. I do this on a small scale with tasks as simple as cutting up bananas, and now I realize that I'm doing it on the larger level of overall parenting. What could be worse for Annie? A strong, healthy bond with both of her parents is the gift that our life’s choices have given her. This should be cultivated, not stifled. In the spirit of self realization and improvement, the ending of these thoughts has jumped to the top of my to-do list. The upside, is that this just means I need to spend more time golfing.

May 16, 2008


This is how I, a solipsist for the ages, would have responded in 1903 if my wife told me about the first flight of the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk, ”Oh, really (feigning excitement), I can’t wait to see that, really.” I then would have walked away and gone back to tinkering with my automobile in the garage, leaving my tale spinning wife alone to wonder if what she just told me sank in, and whether or not I really cared. I wouldn't have. I’m one of those people that need to “discover” things for themselves. The more I'm told how great something is the more I resist it.

Over the next thirty some odd years planes would have been tucked somewhere in the back of my head. I’m sure more people would have tried to tell me that something truly revolutionary was happening, but there I’d be, still tinkering with my slowly advancing car, and taking the train to visit my parents in New York.

Then one day in the mid thirties I would have boarded an American Airlines flight with twenty-five other people headed to the west coast. Over the fifteen hours that this flight took I would have become more and more enamored with my surroundings. I would have been chatting with the stewards in their sharp outfits and kicking my feet up in all of the space that I was provided. As each mile passed the magnitude of this crackerjack invention slowly would have revealed itself to me. By the time the plane landed in Los Angeles I would have been hooked.

From my hotel, I would have phoned my wife to tell her how great flying was. I would be gushing with details about the trip and how easy it was and how smart it was of me to travel this way and how she just had to try it. Had I taken a breath during my pleonastic recap of everything that happened that day, it would have dawned on me that my wife had taken the very same trip on more than one occasion over the last few years. Upon completion of my gushing tale, she would tell me what an idiot I was and hang up on me. "What’s her problem," I would have thought, and promptly called up my best friend Mike to tell him about all that he was missing.

Okay, so I like long segues. I discovered Pandora on the old internet today. I have been letting the smart people there create radio stations for me all afternoon. I like the idea of telling someone else the bands I like and having them figure out what other directions my musical tastes may go. Pandora has come to me because I heard some girl in a coffee shop in Hot Springs listening to Interpol and some old Radiohead back to back, and wondered how she got so cool. Sure my wife told me about it at least a year ago. This is a minor issue.

Pandora compliments my musical mission of not only uncovering new music, but refining exactly what it is that makes certain band appeal to me. I am slowly piecing together the attributes that cover my own musical spectrum. Here is what I have so far: I enjoy lo-fi, repetitive rock that is guitar centric and a little nerdy. I like the way that sounds. Now I just have to go out and find all of the bands that fit this description. Any suggestions?

May 15, 2008

The P Word

Didn't much feel like working today. I'll let one of my favorite writers explain. While you are reading his work, check out his "Well-Traveled" articles for Slate. Start with this one.

May 14, 2008

Time to go

I love Louisiana, I really do. Well, the state itself, let’s just say I like that a lot. It’s sort of like how you feel about a good pasta sauce in a jar; you’re happy that you aren’t eating Ragu, but it’s not like you’re eating Grandma’s Sunday version. It’s the friends we have made that I am going to miss when we leave in two months. I won’t miss the oppressive heat, or how slowly people drive, or how tied everything is to religion. More than anything though, I won’t miss the freaking weather. By now you know that I like to dramatize the whole ‘Nadoes thing. Most of it has been tongue in cheek, but last night’s storm here was a little scary.

While it was occurring we were not technically in a tornado watch, so the 70 mph winds that were howling outside our kitchen window seemed normal for a spring thunderstorm. Did you just read that? 70 mile per hour winds, normal? Talk about placebo effect. I guess you need a weatherman to put that little red tornado watch on the screen before you get nervous.

It was only upon waking up this morning that I realized just what those winds did. Walking the dog during the only break in rain over the last 15 hours, I came across our own little path of flattened trees. This damage pales in comparison to the flooding that much of Shreveport has seen, and it certainly isn’t even a blip on the radar when you consider the tornadoes in Oklahoma and Arkansas last weekend, but if this is what happens in a thunderstorm in Louisiana I think it may be time to go.

As of now we have received over 9 inches of rain since 8 p.m. yesterday and we are forecast to have heavy thunderstorms until 5 p.m. tonight. I can scarcely think of a time last night when the sky wasn’t thundering. Of course, Annie slept through it all. To think that if I unload the dishwasher while she’s sleeping I take care to not make the slightest tinkle of glass on glass.

Before this run of storms ends we will be well over 10 inches of rain and have more property damage than I think is normal for non cyclonic weather. I’m booking my flight to New Jersey now.

May 13, 2008

The Slot

Think of a list of things that bore you most. Have you got it? I can help you if you like. When I here or see something I hate I will tell my wife to “get out my list,” i.e., “Get out my list of things that bore me to tears and put Grey’s Anatomy on it.” Okay, so you now see how the game works and I can give you something to add to your own personal boredom list…Unfinished Dad’s golf quest.

In the up and down world of my mission to become a better golfer, I am often presented with the option of packing it in and breaking my clubs in two, or dipping my clubs in gold and mounting them over the mantel. Today was a golden golf club mantel day. Uncannily though, I can have a club breaking day and a golden club day back to back. This happened last week when my bi-polar game took me from outright bragging to anyone that would listen, to coming home the next day in a horrible mood and basically sabotaging a great night out with my family.

So today was one of those breakthrough days where everything just…clicks. We all have them no matter what we are endeavoring to master. You may be sitting at your pc right now celebrating your record breaking moment of data entry speediness. I can see you; you’re a blur of clicks and keys. You’re mastering the number pad without looking, aren’t you? I can also see you spreading that new mulch you bought at the garden center. Are you the only one basking in the joy of how good those red maple trees look in contrast to that rich, black mulch? Does it matter?

My point is that despite your inevitable boredom you may just have to deal with it. Because while I’m celebrating a golf swing that found its slot today, you are celebrating a new chord you learned, or a pristinely vacuumed carpet that has the brush marks in it like a freshly mown Yankee Stadium. Wait, that last one is me too.

May 12, 2008

Hot Springs

A monumental event occurred here in Shreveport this weekend. In honor of Mother’s Day, my wife and I pawned off our little one on a visiting Grandma Liz and Auntie Emily, and high tailed it for the rolling hills of Arkansas. The plan was to spend a night away from Annie, relaxing in the historic Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs. Massages were lined up and some hiking was in order, but in reality all that mattered was that we had 24 hours of not thinking about our baby.

I know that this can be a difficult moment for a lot of couples, um, not this one. We were busting at the seams to get out for a while. I suspect we felt this way because we have been so far away from family this year and consequently rarely get time away. The few times we have had a babysitter they were just here so we could get dinner or see a movie. This weekend we had a chance for the whole shebang and this Dad wasn’t passing it up. Listen, I definitely missed Annie, but only in the sense that not kissing and holding her all day made me feel empty. Any time these feelings set in I just kissed and held my wife.

What would have been a relaxing night had we stayed in a Howard Johnson in Monroe turned into a ridiculously relaxing day in a great old hotel, in a city that did a lot of reminding of the northeast. Hot Springs is a little town squeezed into a sharp cleft of a canyon and the streets are lined with great old buildings, street lights and, well, hot springs. It reminded me of Brattleboro, Vermont or for you real locals, Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, only with a sustainable resource that has attracted millions of people over the years.

It’s funny how sometimes you hear a descriptive name for a city and don’t put two and two together. Not only were there rows of bath houses (all but one closed down) in Hot Springs in which you could utilize the naturally steaming baths, but every other block had a hot spring fountain in which the locals all got their water…for free. The springs have not only sustained tourism and local business for over 100 years, but they nourish the locals too. The first time I saw someone filling up one their 20 or so containers, I asked her (very politely) if they were getting their drinking water. She looked at me like I was crazy and assumed that I was being critical. So she incredulously pointed at the ancient woman who was already mid fill and told me that if I didn’t believe it I should ask her mother who was 88. She did look good. Can many 88 year olds carry two gallons of water?

Once we toured the now closed Fordyce Bathhouse and saw the crazy, archaic, torture machines they used as therapy I knew I had to give a “bath” a try. I was happy to read though that they discontinued the “electro-bath,” which ran a current through the water to help ease skin ailments. The sign on the ominous looking tub dubiously told us that there were no known fatalities, but that possible electrocution was not the reason they were no longer in use. It sounded to me like a nice hour of hot tub relaxation in the traditional, but surely updated to modern tastes, style would do my ailing stay-at-home-dad body some good.

I scheduled my bath for the hour that my wife was getting her massage. When we arrived at the spa we parted ways; she to left where the ladies are still separated, me to the right, where my fate awaited me. How could a process, any process, which has been practiced for 100 years not change at all? We don’t still drive Model T’s. Last time I checked, families don’t sit around on Saturday nights listening to The Lone Ranger on the radio anymore. So why was I staring at an ancient porcelain tub with what looked like an outboard engine in it? Why, when I entered that tub naked as the day I was born, was I getting a full body loofah scrub from my older, decidedly male, attendant? Many a man would have bailed out at this point, but when I’m in Rome, even if I’m naked, I roll with it.

After 20 minutes in the tub, and some more nudity in the Sauna, I took a little hot towel induced sleep on some kind of old cot. Normally there are other steps to the bathing process, but I slept too long. Sadly I missed the sitz bath (kind of a full-assed bidet) and the needle shower, damn, and the steam cabinet.

My last treat was a quick massage performed by an even older male attendant. I haven’t received many massages and they have all been from women. I always thought this was the way to go. However, think about this guys. There is always a moment in your massage where one of you, and I’m not talking about the masseuse, thinks about IT. When you have a masseur all of that thinking goes right out the window. You have no worries about how you guys will be perceived. There’s nothing left but a good old burly rubdown that leaves you a bit dazed and totally unaroused.

The only thing left to do was eat dinner, survive our weekly wave of ‘Nadoes, and get our first totally thoughtless night of sleep in ten months. You don’t realize how different it is to sleep without the possibility of waking up to sooth or feed a baby. It is something I would love to get re-acquainted with. Naturally, while we made the three hour drive back home in the morning we were itching to get back to Annie. When we arrived, brimming with excitement and love, Annie casually looked up from her breakfast and in a baby’s amazingly adaptive way turned back to her tray of rice and bananas like we never left.

May 8, 2008

The Blue Angels Woke My Baby, or, Shreveport Rules!

Annie was rudely roused from her afternoon nap by the Blue Angels today, who were apparently going on a bombing run of the Riverwalk Apartments in Shreveport Louisiana.

May 7, 2008


I talk about milestones a lot here at Unfinished Dad. Most parents get too caught up in them and start comparing their children to other babies around them. This leads to silly competition and jealousy at best; it leads to even sillier lying at worst. How many of you out there have fudged your baby’s age by a couple of weeks to justify either their genius or your perceived deficiencies? Some parents will even post videos of their children to prove how smart and dexterous they are.

But how about when you can’t agree on what constitutes a milestone? Clearly rolling over and crawling are quantifiable and concrete. However, our household finds itself mid-argument about Annie’s most recent leap. Late last week she started (in my opinion) saying her first word. I have no idea if this is a word that I often use and I was a little surprised that she broke it out without any prompting. I was holding her in my arms and she casually said “Uh-Oh.” I don’t think she knew why she said it, maybe she was getting a poop ready, but therein lies the problem. Is a word without intent a word?

My vote is yes. My wife’s vote it no. Uh-oh is the first vocalization on Annie’s part that is not completely derived from sounds that she was already making. She can say da-da-da, but really this is just built on a crying sound that she has made for months. While I agree that she isn’t saying uh-oh to let me know that something is wrong, she clearly picked it up somewhere. Certainly it takes a new skill to make the glottal stop required to hyphenate an uh-oh. To do this a person needs to stop the airflow leaving the lungs by pressing their vocal cords together and then releasing the air a moment later. That’s a pretty cool thing to see your baby pull off.

To me when you couple a new physical skill with the know how to do something with it verbally, that equals speaking. But let’s be honest, the real issue here is whether or not I should stop cursing. I’m excited about uh-oh. I don’t think I would be too thrilled with douche bag; a word I use too much, much to my wife’s chagrin. So that’s two questions for you. Is Annie talking? Do I need to stop cursing?

May 6, 2008


Sometimes a person has a few days that, if nothing else, are marked by their sheer clumsiness. I have them when I’m overtired from too many nighttime wake ups and a different planned baby activity every day of the week. My wife has them when she has a few late nights at work in a row. Annie has them when, well, she seems to have them anytime she gets overzealous about her new found abilities.

Last weekend was one of those periods of development in which Annie couldn’t quite make all of her limbs work in harmony. Sure, she can throw a ball with relative accuracy. And she did learn how to wave and clap over the last couple of weeks, but spatial perception is not her strong suit. I can’t tell you how many times she forgets just how large her head is and gets it stuck between the couch and the wall, or underneath a chair. She also has a bit of trouble when she is standing against one object, i.e. the tub, and then decides to transfer to another object, i.e. the toilet (don’t worry I clean that thing every day).

When she attempts this move she sometimes gets a bit too careless and misses her mark. On Sunday this resulted in her very first shiner. I’m told that this will be the first of many. However, every parent out there knows how much it affects you to see your child take one on the chin. A helpless feeling washes over you as you watch their faces shift from white and calm to red and panicked. The first scream comes out healthy and loud, but then they take an instinctive, deep breath that seems to get stuck all the way down in the bowels of their little belly. At this point they look at you with wide, shocked eyes and you just know they are going to faint.

It hasn't happened yet, but I think that Annie is going to be one of these fabled fainters. She has it in her bloodline. Her Aunt Emily apparently fainted any time she got worked up into a really spectacular fit. I’m told that she would just reach the end of her rope and simply pass out. Shortly thereafter she would come to, a little dazed, but no worse for the ware.

In retrospect, the bruise Annie got this weekend could have been much worse. She was fortunate. The day will come though, that blood is drawn or a bone is broken and at that time I think little Annie is going to take the road of extreme avoidance and fade to black. Will I be the parent who keeps his cool in this case? I like to think that so far I have handled her little bumps and bruises with a realistic eye and I hope to remain cool whenever it is that Annie takes a breath that is a bit too deep to handle.

May 3, 2008

Big Baby

Okay, as friends here will tell you I am a bit of a baby when it comes to tornadoes. After yesterday afternoon's marathon session as a doomsday meteorologist I was completely let down. The forecast of large hail, violent storms and potential twisters turned out to be a bust. As the storms sailed to the north and south of us, Annie and I were treated with some low, rumbling thunder and about three minutes of rain. And to think I was going to drive to a friend's parent's house, whom I've never met, and hide in their basement.

This morning was cool and crisp here in Shreveport, the high today was just 65, so the family spent the day downtown. Ha ha, I know, for anyone who lives here that is the equivalent of spending the day strolling on the moon. As with the last time we walked around downtown Shreveport, we were outnumbered by homeless people five to three. Now normally, five homeless people in a city of 200,000 is not a lot. However, when you are the only other folks walking around, the screaming political lectures can be a bit unnerving.

There were actually two reasons that we were there, the Cinco de Mayo celebration and a quilting exhibit at Artspace. As expected, both were sad in their meager turnouts and quiet venues. We were the only three people viewing the quilts if you don't include some guy painting a wall in the back of the gallery. Quilts aren't my thing, but they looked homey and all-American on the walls. I found myself mercifully wanting to buy one. I was more interested in the wacky space exhibition they were preparing downstairs. There were spinning, brightly colored planets, pop art inspired murals about aliens, and other things I pretended to understand. Annie and I are turning out to be quite similar in our tastes, she was enthralled with all the color.

The Cinco de Mayo festival was just as sad and only slightly better attended. Although to be fair, for most people this is a day of drinking, and since it didn't end until 11 there were bound to be more people at night. The wife and I both had great sandwiches from a little stand that offered no translation of what we were eating. So the best I can do is that they were chopped beef or pork on a roll covered in onions, parsley, tomatoes, avocados and a tasty, creamy, mystery sauce. I can't tell if that sounds good. You'll just have to trust me, they were delicious.

Sadly, the highlight of the day (because we were too late for the chihuahua races) was the karaoke contest. DJ and all around good guy, Lico Reyes, tried to keep the crowd pumped up, while the three lonely contestants did their best not to rupture Annie's eardrums. She was quite scared. In the end, we had to go home for a family nap and a winner had to be announced. She danced excitedly off the stage into the arms of her adoring fans, er, husband.

May 2, 2008

We're not in Shreveport anymore

I have spent the last two hours toggling between a map of Shreveport on my new favorite website, and reading golf club reviews. I’m frantically checking the weather, because a tornado touched down just to the west of here and I don’t trust the construction of this apartment to keep me and Annie safe. I’m frantically reading golf club review because my instructor Chandler finally came out with it and told me that I’m not a strong enough player for the irons I own.

You can view the map in all of its glorious detail here. We are just to the east of the number 73, in between Youree Drive and Barksdale Blvd. And I’ll spare you the task of looking at the golf clubs that I want, because as my wife said last night, “There’s always another club, isn’t there?”

Let me dispel a quick myth for you Northerners. What do they tell you to do when a tornado rolls through your town? It’s simple, they tell you to take Toto and go down into the cellar. Well guess what? Louisiana doesn’t have cellars. That’s right; it’s a state without basements. The advice that they give you is to get in your bathtub and pull a mattress on top of you. I’m just guessing, but that may work for scattered debris, I doubt that it somehow protects you from flying off, baby in arm, into the lower atmosphere.

I will keep you posted, and as of 1:57 were are simply in a tornado watch, but if we get upgraded to a warning it’s “All babies into the tub!” That means you too Zoe.

May 1, 2008

Swim Lesson # 2

Not much going on in the Unfinished Dad universe today, so the best thing to do is update you on Annie’s swimming career. We had lesson number two yesterday. From the outset, things were looking much better than lesson number one. This time when she was handed into the pool she did not break into instant tears. She still grabbed on a little tighter, but the paralyzing fear seemed to be gone. She’s already one step ahead of her Dad.

Most of the class is about comfort and easing the babies into it. So far I haven’t seen a lot of kicking or paddling, even out of the two year olds. The best any of them muster is some half-hearted splashing. We do a lot of back floating, a safe way for babies to begin. They simply lay there while you support their heads. What a transition it will be when Annie realizes that those fat cheeks and thighs have a purpose in this life. She will be one well balanced floater; sort of like a flesh catamaran. Essentially the class is just like Gymboree, only with water and a less enthusiastic teacher. I guess it’s just too hard to be super cheery when every class has a baby who looks as if he is about to jump out of a plane for the first time. It must wear a person down.

Fortunately, Annie doesn’t seem like she will be that baby. This week she willingly went underwater and cried upon surfacing out of sheer surprise more than fear. The tears only lasted a second, and when she went under a second time she looked up to the surface with those big blue eyes as if to say, “I see you there, you better catch me when I come up.” Even underwater she is as observant as ever.