The past two and half weeks felt like they went by in a flash yet lasted an eternity. There were appointments to attend and pressing matters to deal with and an unexpected ear infection that blindsided me in the middle of it, but I can’t remember that last time I felt so genuinely happy.
They tell you in pre-adoption training that you’ll know when you’ve been matched with the right kid. We felt that way from the moment we met her and the past couple of weeks have confirmed it. It feels so right. We feel like an honest-to-goodness family.
The adjustments on my part haven’t been particularly dramatic, although we’re still figuring out the scheduling for the upcoming school year. I’m eating better, gaming less, and reading more. It’s the kind of creative recharging I’ve needed for a while but couldn’t work up the discipline for until it was imposed upon me. Finding the time to act on that is another matter, but that will likely work itself out as things settle down. The point is that there are a bunch of things I’m itching to write about, and not just “IT’S GREAT BEING A DAD” stuff (though it has been pretty great, all told).
There’s no timetable for it yet, only a firm “it will happen when it happens.”
I will see you then, and thanks for all your kind words of encouragement and support.
About two months back, a drunken idiot plowed his pick-up truck into a group of motorcyclists in New Hampshire, killing seven of them. It soon came out that the driver of the truck shouldn’t have been behind the wheel — neither drunk nor sober — because he’d been picked up on Connecticut on a DUI in May and those officers put in a request to the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles to suspend his license.
That never happened, which has led to the resignation of the RMV chief and a whole lot of hand-wringing by local pundits and pols about where to assign the blame. The current narrative — played out in the political theater of a legislative investigation — is another go-round of the eternal “just another dysfunctional” public agency. While the RMV did fuck up big-time, both the rot and the blame stretch far wider and implicate some of the folks who’ve been most forcefully pointing their fingers.
“How did this happen?” they ask.
Let me tell you how it did.
First, you elect a “moderate” Republican cipher for a governor on a platform of creating a more “business-like” and “efficient” public sector in the state. Career political operatives with little experience or institutional knowledge are installed as department heads. What administrative lifers remain choose to keep their heads down and kiss-up to the new regime.
Agencies who’ve been running with insufficient funding for decades are asked to stretch themselves even further. Vacant positions are left unfilled or outright abolished. Maybe there are even some strategic layoffs carried out as both political purge and a warning to the folks who managed to survive them.
Buzzwords and catchphrases are bandied about: “Work smarter, not harder!” “Best practices!” “Removing occupational silos!”
All boil down to the same thing, which is to up the workload of an already insufficient rank-and-file staffing pool. They do their level best to rise to the occasion, out of fear for their jobs if not a sense of civic duty, but it simply isn’t enough to deal with workloads which are steadily growing in size and complexity.
Something has to give, and it’s not going to be an administrator sticking their neck out for additional hires. Every signal given by the higher-ups on the chain points to “no” when it comes to expanding the department’s payroll. So much so, that even asking is tantamount to admitting failure.
“Jane managed to staff the entire Ed Department with two cardboard cutouts and a Roomba so I don’t know what your problem is.”
It becomes a precarious balancing act where budgets must remain trim but outward-facing services are expected to be first-rate. Behind the scenes drudgery, the unsexy shit that needs doing but the public doesn’t see, gets booted down the triage ladder. There’s a plan to deal with it, eventually, within the context of some never-arriving budgetary rapture. The important thing is keeping up enough of a facade of functionality to prevent high-level administrators from losing face.
Until a drunk asshole plows through a bunch of bunch of motorcyclists. Or insufficiently maintained infrastructure leads to a subway train derailment. Or a social services staffing crunch endangers a child in a mediagenic fashion.
The gaggle of penny-wise, pound-foolish assholes who encouraged and abetted these dysfunctions take to the airwaves and feature columns and legislative podiums to announce how shocked — SHOCKED — they are about the present state of affairs and lament that they weren’t informed about the problems sooner. Then they ritually wash their hands before taking a colossal dump on the rank and file folks who’d been struggling to keep things running through the period of mandated austerity.
After a month of weekend stays, the kid — my daughter — will be permanently moving into the House on the Hillside this Friday. She’s a remarkable young woman, with each visit further reminding us how truly blessed we are for having her in our lives. I’m proud to be her “Pop.”
I’m going to be on paid family leave for the first couple of weeks after she moves in, after which I’ll have to work out a flex time arrangement for my day job. There are scores of appointments to attend and stacks of paperwork to complete and countless minor issues to resolve. I can recall some of it from my own experiences after my mom passed away, and that was for a kinship placement which involved moving between units in a duplex, not a pre-adoptive scenario stretching across the length of the state.
This is not a complaint. The kid is worth any and all schedule challenges and bureaucratic hurdles, and I’ll tackle them with gusto. However, the short-and-long term logistics do bring up the question of Armagideon Time’s future. This site — which happens to pre-date the kid by a few weeks — existed because I had too much time on my hands. That temporal wiggle room has shrunk dramatically over the past thirteen years, even before the adoption process entered the home stretch.
I’ve toyed with closing up shop a few times, but stopped kidding myself after my good pal Matt sagely reminded me that creative urges can’t be flipped on or off like a lightswitch. They need some form of an outlet, and this particular one has served me well enough so far. The problem is the “fire and forget” writing method I’ve employed doesn’t really work under the current time constraints.
I’m not suffering from a lack of topics. The record posts, the comics collection posts, the popcult history stuff — there’s a shitload of ideas kicking around in my skull, but they require a bit more than a stream-of-consciousness rant pooped out over the space of an hour. My writing may be lazy and slapdash, but I do have some sense of professional pride. If, say, Nobody’s Favorites makes a long overdue return, I want to do it properly. That would require actual research and multiple drafts and revisions, dormant writing habits I need to reawaken.
(For real, the trade paperback comics spotlight ground to a halt because the next entry is a Very Significant Funnybook For Me and I can’t bring myself to half-ass the job.)
The upshot of all this hand-wringing is that this site isn’t going anywhere, but expect some long stretches of radio silence while I adjust to fatherhood, massive schedule adjustments, and changes to my creative process. The off-the-cuff goofy stuff won’t vanish entirely, though the bulk of it will more likely end up on my twitter account where it’s a better fit.
The April 1993 issue of SPIN included the “A to Z of Alternative Culture.” It’s about what you’d expect for the time and venue, only even more so.
A proto-listicle laid out as an encyclopedic directory, it’s purported goal was to codify the semiotics of the so-called “alternative” cultural scene. Or to grab the lowest of the low-hanging fruit and process them into a field guide for the consciously hep set. The article’s introductory passage is a bit muddy on that front, with a first paragraph railing against the marketing-driven stereotyping of Gen X and a second one that flatters the fuck out of those who conformed to the cliches.
There aren’t many surprises among the various entries. ABBA is in there, along with The Brady Bunch, Heathers, Slacker and David Letterman. There’s praise for SNL, a real shocker since SPIN devoted an entire issue to the creaky institution two months prior and was chasing the same “not-quite-as-hip, not-quite-as-youthful” target demo.
The Simpsons got a longer write-up, which feels more than a little tragic in light of the show’s long slide into a rotting behemoth forever denied the sweet mercy of death. Adrienne Shelly also earned a shout-out as an indie film goddess, evoking a more harrowing form of tragedy via hindsight.
Macs, grunge, monster trucks, and MTV coasted in on the corporate-backed heels of the zeitgeist. Entries for Riot Grrrls and Queercore are there to add some socio-political cred, and U2 gets a mention because it wouldn’t be a legitimate SPIN article if they didn’t.
The only real puzzlers in the roster are the call-outs to musical genres which never really manifested on a scale to merit inclusion in an article supposedly documenting generational commonalities. Shout-outs to dancehall, world beat, whatever the fuck “eco-rock” was felt like push-marketing pieces that wandered in from some other part of the magazine. (In fairness, this was an era where a reissue of Tito Rodríguez’s back-catalog would result in articles by semi-captive music journos claiming direct connections between Cuban mambo jams and Nirvana’s Nevermind.)
In a broader sense, the article drove home something that I’ve been pondering for a while — how plastic the 90s “altsplosion” appears in hindsight. I was no fan of it when it happened. It made my drop my punk posturing out of fear of being associated with the hepcat hivemind, but wasn’t until the past couple of years I realized how utterly laughable, rote, and forgettable it all was.
It made the late Eighties seem less horrible by comparison, and that’s no small feat considering how I experienced the late Eighties.
As far as masculine role models went, the lads of the early Reagan Era could’ve done worse than Indiana Jones.
Rough, rugged, and capable of dealing out (or rolling with) a stiff slug to the jaw, the intrepid archaeologist was also a man of letters whose laconic demeanor masked a sharp wit. Indiana Jones was an archetype formed from synthesized nostalgia, but he still stood fedora-and-shoulders above similar products of that regressive age.
It was no wonder elements of his scruffy, broken-in style made the rounds of the menswear scene. Fedoras made a minor resurgence (and gained a permanent foothold from the knuckle-dragging set), while perma-stubble established a beachhead from which to build upon, and men’s leather goods transitioned from slick euro-styles into classic “adventurer models.
The trend was even picked up by a handful of pop-stars looking to toughen up their image. Kenny Loggins went all in with his 1982 High Adventure album, which deliberately echoed Raiders of the Lost Ark‘s brand aesthetics.
“Don’t Fight It,” the biggest single off the album, even included whip-cracking sound effects to the cheese rock shenanigans. I’m guessing Loggins’ goal was to shed his creepy youth pastor vibe, but it didn’t succeed in doing anything but adding a bum three-and-a-half-minutes to some otherwise flawless K-Tel compilations.
Rick Springfield also tried a variant of the look for the cover of the 1983 Living in Oz LP, hoping to stave off diminishing returns with a non-threatening “bad boy” makeover. It did not arrest the slide — though a stray memetic fragment from it slipped loose and slithered into the collective subconsciousness, where it incubated for an unlucky thirteen years before returning to this plane in its horrifying ultimate form…
Really, though, the biggest obstacle to the Indiana Jones look’s attempts to gain real-world traction was the most obvious one:
Most dudes do not look like Harrison Ford.
Retro-fashions are difficult for guys to pull off because it’s hard to avoid the stink of affectation. It requires a certain attitude, which reeks of overcompensation if presented too forcefully. While that might not be an issue with some styles, it’s extremely noticeable with the Indiana Jones look. Most dudes who attempt it look less like the guy who recovered the Lost Ark…
…and more like dude who drove the truck which dropped it off at the government warehouse at the end. In fact my old man — along with 90% of the over-60 male population of South Boston — rocked an unintentional variant of the look for the last two decades of his life.
My sixth grade yearbook is a stack of mimeographed sheets stapled between two pieces of colored construction paper. My entry for the front cover illustration — a row of inelegantly rendered arcade cabinets with “GAME OVER” scrawled above them — didn’t get the top prize but did make it onto the final page.
The document resurfaced while I was clearing out my grandmother’s house. I assumed it had been lost to history (and probably would’ve been happier if it had) but there it was in a pile of old report cards and other personal effects, stained and dogeared and chock-full of mnemonic landmines.
With a fair bit of trepidation, I flipped the yellowed pages to the one which contained the profile of one “Andy Weiss,” rendered as a list of favorites.
Favorite book? “New Mutants Graphic Novel.”
Favorite TV show? “WKRP.”
Favorite song? “Photograph by Def Leppard.”
A couple of months forward or backward, and that honor would’ve gone to either “Modern Love” or “Mr. Roboto.” It certainly would’ve been less embarrassing, though neither would’ve reflected the utter primacy of “RAWK” in the cultural landscape of my early adolescence.
In the scene’s primordial days, “rock” was the jump blues equivalent of “whoopie” on the Newlywed Game — a euphemism for sex which didn’t fool anybody. While the raunchy overtones lingered into rock music’s second and third decades, the meaning of “rock” shifted into the realm of abstraction. “Rocking” was less about knocking boots than some general notion of liberation, the type one would experience by practicing air guitar instead of doing algebra homework or blasting a Boston song on one’s car radio after a shift at the widget factory.
Nobody pondered the specifics. That would defeat the entire point of rocking out. Irony and any introspection beyond the sentimental level were right out, which is why rock-as-we-knew-it no longer exists.
In the North Woburn neighborhood where I grew up, rock was a borderline religion among the kids whose highest goals were scoring a sweet muscle car, custom van conversion, or supply of domestic beer. Adolescent gods lurked on the street-corner near the leadburning shops or convenience store parking lot, acne-anointed idols sporting denim jackets, feathered hair, patchy ‘staches, and the residual odor of dank weed.
They didn’t have much time for us younger kids, which made the few occasions when they did acknowledge us much more epic. Mostly we raided the curbside piles they left behind after they’d graduated (or enlisted) and shed their old issues of Creem, Zep-branded coke mirrors, and beat-to-shit Sabbath LPs.
By the time may pals and I had begun to age into the roles the “teenagers” had grown out of, “RAWK” had become dominated by a newer crop of acts. The bands sported a hard rock sound which managed to straddle the borders of both pop and metal. Videogenic yet not as photogenic as the glam metal which soon supplanted them, they served up unironic anthems about “rock” as specifics-free challenge to adult authority and clean living.
I didn’t own any recordings of the stuff. There was no need, due to their ubiquity on radio or as part of some acquaintance’s music collection. By the time I started buying music in earnest, I’d moved on — both figuratively and literally. In the autumn of 1984 my family relocated to the other side of my grandparents’ duplex in the center, which removed me from the daily (and increasingly dumb) antics of my childhood pals. This was further reinforced by the rigid academic hierarchy of junior high, which segregated the “smart kids” from the “burnout set” outside of lunch periods and phys ed classes.
I drifted into Sixties rock and soul, they drifted into the Crue and antics with increasingly serious consequences. The old anthems became a punchline to self-deprecating anecdotes about my wayward youth before punk-alt-cynicism purged such frivolities from my system. Or so I wanted others to believe.
“QUIET RIOT?” I’d utter too loudly as “Metal Health” showed up on a VH-1 Eighties retrospective. “Soooo cheesy! Can’t believe I was into these guys as a kid,” as I checked to make sure no one could see the goosepimples rising on my arms.
One benefit of hitting middle age is no longer having to give a shit about being cool. If “Turn Up The Radio” comes on satellite radio while I’m driving, that shit is getting cranked to the max. If I’m scanning some Discogs seller for cheap soul 45′s and I see a cheap copy of “Photograph,” I’m going to throw it into the order.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve acquired a number of these ol’ fist-pumping favorites on vinyl, with the (mostly observed) understanding that they are not to be spun while Maura is in ear shot. Accepting my white trash background is one thing, accepting its musical manifestations is another.
In November 2001, Lil Bro issued me an ultimatum regarding the fate of his former ride, a rusted out 1990 Olds Cutlass. The car had previously belonged to our grandmother, and had seen Lil Bro through his grad school years and a cross-country road trip. After he got married and moved into neighborhood where parking was in short supply, he offered me the old beater as a creaky but reliable “get around” machine.
I hadn’t been behind the wheel in a decade and wasn’t sure if I wanted to assume that responsibility (and associated expenses). The Cutlass sat in our grandmother’s driveway from late summer through mid-autumn while I hemmed and hawed my way around committing myself to taking custody of it — until my sibling cornered me into making a choice: Either I get it registered and on the road, or he’d scrap it.
Maura thought having a car might make things easier for us, so I went down to my family’s insurance office of choice (with Lil Bro escorting me) and assumed ownership of one rusty-ass Cutlass.
Owning did change everything, pulling my orbit away from the Boston-Cambridge axis I’d roamed in since enrolling at UMB and putting it back in the Metro Northwest suburbs where I’d grown up. So long Café Aventura, hello Antonio’s Pizza in Medford. Goodbye Million Year Picnic, greetings Webheads. Farewell Newbury Comics in Harvard Square, hello Newbury Comics across from the Burlington Mall.
A few weeks later, my grandmother slipped while crossing the street and shattered a kneecap. She was admitted to a rehab facility on Woburn’s West Side, and I would drive over to visit her after work. Maura went with me on the first visit, only to pass out and crease her skull in an overheated elevator, requiring a long night in Winchester Hospital’s ER. After that, I flew solo, with only some mix CDs and my thoughts to keep me company on the long depressing ride.
The rehab’s parking lot overlooked the Woburn Plaza shooping center, which happened to host a (now tragically shuttered) Toys R Us store. Staring down at it after finishing a visit with my grandma, I thought to myself “I could buy a Gamecube. I should buy a Gamecube.”
I don’t know where the notion came from or why it hit so forcefully at that moment. All I know is that an hour later I was exiting the store with a console, extra controller, memory card, two games, and a non-insignificant bump to my existing debt load.
The two games were Metroid Prime and Phantasy Star Online I & II. The former I bought because of the hype and the latter because I’m a pathetic mark when I comes to the Phantasy Star franchise. Both got a pretty decent amount of play for about a month before I forgot about them and the Gamecube in general.
The system never really fit into my gaming ecosystem, which was drifting more towards the PC platform in those days. Lil Bro wasn’t around to boost its profile, as he’d done for the N64, and there weren’t many “killer apps” to pull me away from Baldur’s Gate II, GTA III, or Knights of the Old Republic. Metroid Prime was fun, but hampered by having to a joypad after getting used to keyboard ‘n’ mouse FPS controls. PSO was alluring, but also an expansion-slash-sequel of a Dreamcast game I’d already played the hell out of. I picked up used copies of the Skies of Arcadia and Tales of Symphonia when a local shop was clearing out old inventory. Neither has ever left their cases, not even when Maura bought a back-compatible Wii unit a half decade later.
There was no space to set up the Gamecube when we got married and moved into the House of the Hillside (another major life event facilitated by owning a car), so it gradually succumbed to dust-laden entropy in the spare room’s storage area until I gave Maura the go-ahead to chuck it out during the earliest stages of converting the space into the kid’s future bedroom.
The story would have ended there, but over the past year or so I began thinking about the damn thing again. Some of the games turned up while I was reconfiguring the front room, and gave me a weird sense of nostagia for one of the last “pure” gaming consoles ever released. No hard drives or internet updates or streaming apps or subscription services — you just loaded the mini-discs into the machine, powered the sucker up, and went to town.
Plus, it hosted a lot of titles that have since fallen into the memory hole — X-Men Legends, Baldur’s Gate Dark Alliance, a decent selection of Sega’s millennial era arcade offerings — and aren’t available on non-console platforms. Yeah, I could’ve dusted off my PS2 or Dreamcast, but the Gamecube had that “missed potential” angle going for it, adding an additional aura of novelty to the experience. Used consoles weren’t that expensive, either, leaving the murky RCA to HD resolution the only real hurdle to overcome.
Well, that, and my reluctance to indulge in another impulsive whim. The past two decades have drawn a clearer mental boundary between “could” and “should.” Questions my younger self would never have asked, such as “where will I put the damn thing” or “how often am I really going to use it,” are given a great deal of consideration by present-day Andrew —
– until I spend a week busting my ass in the sweltering heat cleaning and renovating the house and decide “fuck it, I’m going to treat myself.”
The console arrived yesterday, along with a cheap signal converter, memory card, and copy of Crazy Taxi. I played enough of that last one to put in an order for a higher-end HDMI adapter, because the lowball one works fine for arcade-type games but is still a bit too muddy for RPGs or FPS offerings. A used copy of the Dark Alliance has been ordered, though I still need to figure out where PSO I & II ended up during the big attic clean-out.
Besides the early Aughts nostalgia aspect (which has also manifested through the purchase of some White Stripes singles and Fischerspooner’s debut LP), revisiting the Gamecube and its era of gaming has been a nice change of pace from the AAA live-updated rut I’d fallen into. I don’t know whether it’s the new responsibilities of fatherhood or just overdue feelings of burnout, but I just can’t embrace the all-consuming grind of titles like Destiny 2 or even Fallout 4 like I used to be able to do. I’m looking for something that’s immersive yet doesn’t feel like a second job, and the Gamecube Era’s offerings occupy that bygone sweet spot.
(In case you were wondering, the Cutlass managed to serve us admirably for about two years before the rust did her in. She was replaced by a 1997 Lumina, which was the biggest cash sink I’ve ever owned and was traded in for a 2007 Malibu which got totalled when a dump truck rear-ended us and replaced by our current 2010 Malibu.)
It was the week that put the work in “working vacation — eight days to finish getting the house in order before the Kid’s first overnight stay with us. It was also the first truly sweltering stretch of the season, coming right on the heels of having four of my teeth extracted.
By the time it was over, I’d shed ten pounds through my sweat glands, inhaled enough cleaning fumes to fill a tanker truck, and assembled so many pieces of Ikea furniture that I cursed the inventor of the hex wrench.
It was a hellish ordeal, but the weekend with the Kid more than made up for it. Ever since 2014, it felt as if I’ve been rotting in place. It wasn’t depression, but a prolonged stretch of living for the moment and not contemplating any long term goals. The early stages of the adoption process were unfolding, but distantly and at a pace so glacial it became a theoretical abstraction.
I don’t wan’t to sound like one of those parents who treat their roles as the highest calling, with the implication that childless folks are missing some essential human experience. We all have own hearts to follow, so you gotta go with what works without some asshole shaming you from the peanut gallery.
In my case, these recent developments feel like some loose bit of the cosmos has been snapped back into place — which, in turn, has motivated me to start looking for other frayed edges to fix or trim away. Having breakfast with her while Maura slept in, playing co-op videogames on the sofa, watching Match Game ’75 with Maura while the Kid sprawled on the carpet with a craft project — the vibe was simply “this is how it was supposed to be.”
And now it is, with the best daughter a parent could ever hope to have.
A stack of packages arrived shortly before the Kid did, a mix of household items and some presents for myself. Among the latter was the 7-inch release of this classic dance jam…
…”The Only Way Is Up” by Yazz (with the two z’s, not one) and the Plastic Population.
I bought it off the Discogs marketplace after watching the Top of the Pops Story of 1988 special during my post-extraction convalescence. A late 80s techno-pop cover of a Northern Soul stomper would’ve been irresistible even without the Vicodin haze clouding my judgement. It was just another impulse purchase, yet over the course of the weekend transformed itself into an anthemic affirmation.
“This is it. This is happening. This is real. This is good. This is how it was meant to be.”
When Maura drove the Kid back to her foster family, I spun the single at least a dozen times as my mind processed the events of the past couple of days. And I kicked out my leg Van Morrison-style after every “up” in the chorus…which would explain why my knee feels completely wrecked today.
Rotten teeth have been part of my brand since the earliest days of this site, when I live-blogged my way through an abscess and subsequent root canal (while a bunch of regular commenters begged me to stop).
I didn’t visit a dentist until I was almost seventeen, and only inconsistently after that. Either money was tight or the trauma from the previous visit loomed too large or I resented being lectured about stuff I already knew. Combine that with hereditary gum disease and some dentally destructive lifestyle choices, and you’ve got a general picture of where things stood for the past fifteen years.
Every couple of months, another tooth would break and I’d deal with it by changing up my mastication routine and swigging down another can of tonic. Occasionally things got bad enough to require another root canal, which I’d have done before ghosting on the follow-up procedures. It was during the last of those visits that I got a rough estimate of what it would cost to set things right, which was well beyond what I was willing or able to spend at the time.
This pattern held up this past year, when I series of events forced me to reconsider the state of my dental health. My grandma passed away and left me a decent amount of money. I watched my father — whose teeth and health habits were worse than mine — wither away and die. The previously glacial pace of the adoption process began to pick up speed, matching us with a truly incredible child.
And, honestly, I got tired of trying to deal with workarounds that kept me from eating foods I enjoyed yet did nothing to remedy the underlying problem.
I finally had the means and motivation — as well as a pretty harrowing cautionary example — to step and and finally take charge of my dental destiny.
So I spent last Monday morning getting four broken teeth (including a failed root canal on a wisdom tooth) extracted and a temporary partial fitted.
It was…not fun. I bled like a motherfucker and they tore the side of my “unusually narrow” mouth open while getting at the wisdom tooth. A black eye and and ugly bruise developed on the right side of my face. But the painkillers have been doing their job and the constant throb of background pain I’ve lived with since the turn of the millennium is gone.
The temporary denture fits well enough, though it feels weird when I try to chew and it will be a while before I learn to speak properly while wearing it. Three of the “anchor teeth” in front need crowns to better support the plate, but that seems like a breeze considering what I’ve already gone through.
Anyway, that’s why the site hasn’t been updated in a week. There probably won’t much in the way of new content until the start of next month, because we’re getting the house in order for the kid’s first weekend stay with us. Please kind to each other until I return.