Friday, July 19, 2013

Eulogy for a Beard

James had a job interview today---a white shirt and tie, clean-shaven kind of interview.

So last night we had a brief "goodbye to the beard" party, mostly to make sure the boys would still recognize their daddy.

James set up a chair so Ji could see the process very clearly. Boo was standing on another chair, but it broke about ten minutes into the farewell gathering. I held onto Baby who was most excited to be by the mirror.

And James turned on his clippers.

Buzz, buzz, buzz---down one cheek, sideburn left intact.
Little hands rub the shaven fuzz.

Buzz down the other cheek.
"Am I still me?" Daddy asks.

Baby smiles at his daddy.

"Mustache or goatee next?"
One says goatee. All is gone but a tiny strip at the chin.

"Mustache!" the other cries.
Clip, clip---the mustache is gone.

"Who is this man?" Baby wonders.
"Why is his smile familiar?"
Baby feels shy and hides from the stranger.
Stares at the stranger with his daddy's voice, then hides again.

Daddy takes his baby's hand and rubs the last of the beard,
"It's me, Daddy."
Baby recognizes Daddy from his beard and smiles.

"It's just so different," Boo cannot stop herself from saying. 

White cream smothered on face inspires Ji to call out "Joker!"
White face, red lips, and a smile.

It was a good beard:
The beard of an innkeeper.
The beard of a teacher.
The beard of a writer.
The beard of a brother.
The beard of a husband.
The beard of a father.

The beard will be back. It can't be helped. The beard wants to grow.

Thursday, July 18, 2013


It's funny that the primary way we identify people is by their hair since hair is the easiest part of our appearance to change. We tend to describe people as "the red-haired woman" or the "dark-haired man with goatee." Of course, goatees can be shaven; hair can be dyed. I've been unrecognizable to people I've seen every day of my life because of a drastic hair change.

Me? I'm always a long-blonde-haired person.

Mostly always.

I was a long-haired little girl:

Adults would notice me because of all of that hair. Since I was a quiet and shy child, the attention would embarrass me--but I loved having long hair.

When I was twelve, my aunt cut off all of my hair at my request. My mom was so upset she cried. It would have been better if I had talked to her about it first. I think she would have been all right if our family weren't having such a hard time. That was the first time I changed my hair as a protest for all that was wrong in my life.

The short hair didn't last. It was long again by the time I was fourteen. I had Michelle Phillips hair, the ultimate hippy hairstyle. During the adolescent madness (or brilliance!) of my sixteenth year, I recruited a friend to help me dye my hair pink.
I felt like a Krystal Princess. Again, my mom was terribly upset. I can't blame her too much for that. It took about two months for the dye to wash out. 

The next drastic change came just before my eighteenth birthday when I cut several inches from my hair and permed it for the first time. It was a fun hairstyle, but my hair is a little too heavy for spiral curls. So it ended up wavy within a couple of months. By the time I started college the next fall, I (once again) had long blonde hippy hair.

Over the next few years I had a pretty steady pattern of cut off a few inches, grow several inches, trim, cut, leave long. It was always past my shoulders and mostly straight and always blonde. People recognized me from a distance by my hair.

2003 was a pretty bad year for me. That's the year I ran off to Florida "for an adventure" and met the man who would end up my ex-husband. I had already started off the year by creating some new ex-boyfriends, so I can't say romance was my strength that year. The best indication that I was going through some drastic period was when I cut off thirteen inches of hair and permed the rest.

I let my hair grow out again. As usual.

But a divorce seemed a good time for a change. My sister and I had found some really lovely photos of women with deep red hair and fringe. I hadn't had bangs for years. Well, maybe I had. They grow away so quickly, I don't remember. But the divorce took forever, so I delayed the hair change. When it did finalize, I threw myself a party (James was one of my guests). I was teaching two classes that semester, working on the first chapter of my thesis, and starting to spend a lot of time with James, so I delayed the drastic hair change until just before finals. James was pretty overwhelmed by the bright red dye.

So was my poor mother. (I think I've tortured her enough with my hair changes for a lifetime.)

It had faded by the time he came back from Ohio for Christmas break. Plus, his beard had grown in. We were hair happy.

Last summer was my latest drastic change. It came from pure exhaustion over brushing my long locks. So, I asked my friend Grace to cut them all off, and I sent another ponytail to Locks of Love.

A few days ago Boo was at her friend's house and gained several stripes of pink and turquoise throughout her golden brown hair. I admit I'm a little envious, but I need to keep my hair conservative for work.

And people always mistake Ji for a little girl because of his long, curly golden brown hair. I know we need to trim it, but how can I take scissors those curls?
Summer term started a few weeks ago, so James cut his hair and beard. His time as an actor and male model is closing down. He may not be mistaken for a Muslim or homeless man once he has a short beard and hair, but he's still recognizable to our children. I worry the most for Ji if he ever shaves his beard completely. I think Ji will search everywhere for his daddy.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Being Undead Really Bites

Did you read Dracula when you were a teenager?

I started the book. It scared me so much I quit. Then I didn't sleep well for several nights afterward. I removed the paperback from my bedroom and finally relaxed.

For some people a good scare is enticing: shivering around a campfire while telling ghost stories; watching a movie about a mysterious murderer who creeps around a corner and slashes his next victim; screaming on the Tower of Terror at California Adventure.

And even though I've done all of these things (and I'm a big fan of Tim Burton and his morbidly imaginative movies), I'm not really a scare seeker.

Maybe that's why this vampire craze that has taken over bookstores and movie theatres perplexes me. But the thing is that, as scary as Dracula is, people seem to see vampires as romantic heroes rather than terrifying monsters that eat people.

Have you seen the young adult fiction section of a bookstore lately? It sort of looks like Hot Topic without the super-loud, crappy music. Since Twilight it seems like vampire romance novels are all over the place: Vampire Diaries, The Morganville Vampires, Eighth Grade Bites, City of Bones, etc., etc., etc.
All right. I confess: I've never read Twilight or even seen the movies. My sister and sisters-in-law all read them, but I really can't force myself to read sub-par prose. (My husband read the first book as a talking point; my sister quit in fury when she found out that the third book was not, in fact, the conclusion of the series.) So I didn't understand the Team Edward and Team Jacob thing until people stopped to explain who the characters are. Oh, right. Vampire and werewolf. Great guys for a high schooler to date.

And I guess the fact that this teenage girl (or is she twenty by the fourth book?) marries a 200-year-old undead, sparkly vampire gives me the creeps. But women love this Edward. I've heard weird stories about women who are looking everywhere for a man like Edward: sneaking into your window to watch you sleep, deciding what's best for you without asking your opinion, suicidal journeys upon hearing of your (false) death, leaping out of windows while carrying you in his arms, and skin as cold and hard as marble. 
One adult woman's obsession with Edward inspired her to ask her husband to bathe in cold water so he was cold to her touch.

Is it just me, or is that nasty?

I think while people are busy romanticizing vampires, they forget one important element: death.

Not only do vampires kill people, but they are actually dead people.

The truth is, being undead couldn't be anything but awful. Let's say you're bitten at fifteen: you stay in your awkward fifteen-year-old body forever, always wishing you could grow into your adult figure. You can't go out into the sunshine: the sun burns you up. You have no reflection (maybe that's why Edward's hair looks so weird in the movies). Your diet is based on human blood. If you don't kill the humans around you, you outlive them anyway.

It sounds really lonely.

I think that's why my nomination for best vampire story ever is Life Sucks by Jessica Abel, Gabriel Soria, and Warren Pleece.
Imagine you are the undead, slave to the owner of all-night convenient store, forced to watch pathetic wanna-bes pretend they're vampires.

And no one has a freaky undead baby at the end.

Now that's a vampire story worth reading.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Hogwarts Blew into Our Basement

Around here, we love a good party.

Every birthday I swear I'll simplify, but then I do something goofy like make a fondant Rapunzel (that makes me want to cry because her head won't stay on)
Boo's seventh birthday

or paint a large, sightless monster for a fun-filled game of Pin the Eye on the Monster.
Ji's first birthday
 (Or pull together a carnival for James's birthday.)

Boo had been talking for months about having a Monster High birthday party. She and her friends at school play Monster High and pretend to be characters like Skelita Calaveras (daughter of Los Eskeletos), Jinifire Long (daughter of the Chinese Dragon), Draculaura (daughter of Dracula), Frankie Stein (you guessed it, daughter of the Frankenstein monster).

My sister and I decided Monster High was exactly the sort of morbid, pretty, bizarre thing we would have been into as children. I felt all right with the silliness. The Monster High show would go on.

But then a spark of magic fell into Boo's hands.

Last month Boo was looking for something new to read, so I handed her Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Within two days, she was ready for The Chamber of Secrets. She slowed down a bit with Prisoner of Azkaban and is now about one third of the way through my favorite of the series, The Goblet of Fire.

The Monster High party was forgotten. Harry Potter had cast his spell over Boo.

Again, I thought I'd make it simple. We'd have different tables in the backyard with a few Harry Potter-themed activities. We'd make a Hogwarts table for sorting, a Honeydukes table with candy, and an Ollivanders table where each child could decorate a wand. Boo and I spent the week making signs and posters. Boo's primary president even came over and donated a Hogwarts banner, a collection of potion bottles, a Monster Book of Monsters, and a little owl.

After looking up about fifteen recipes for cauldron cakes, Boo spotted a photo online of Hagrid's cake from the first movie. She wanted that cake, the ugly cake that gets sat on while Hagrid is chasing down Harry and the Dursleys. I could do that.

Everything was under control until six o'clock that night when we started setting up. We'd had more than a week of blistering hot days. An evening party seemed like a good plan for July.
Then came the wind. And the rain. A summer storm like you wouldn't believe---not in the desert.
Friends and family who had arrived a few minutes early helped us rush everything inside. While we resituated the party, James . . . err, I mean Hagrid led the children to the cupboard under the stairs and started quizzing them on their knowledge of magical creatures.

We started with Ollivanders since our new students would need to get their supplies from Diagon Alley before heading to Hogwarts.
The children all wrote down their favorite spells and went to Honeydukes to guess the number of chocolate frogs hiding under a paper towel.
We had fizzing whizbees, Burtie Botts Every Flavour Beans, acid pops, jelly slugs, licorice wands, Drooble's Best Blowing Gum, disappearing leprechaun gold, Dumbledore's favourite lemon drops, and chocolate frogs.

Special thanks to Grandpa Zorro for sending the chocolate frog mold.
Since my brothers, sister, sisters-in-law, nieces, and nephews had all been sorted six years ago in a very memorable sorting ceremony, we gave them the honor of being House Prefects and cheering in our first-year students during the sorting ceremony.
Baby was sorted into Syltherin, just like his clever father. Boo and Ji are both Ravenclaw. I'm the only one of us who is Gryffindor. (I guess that's why when my children see a spider they call for me to bring the little dear outside. Wait. I'm Professor McGonagall in this party, not Hagrid.)

After the sorting came another quick change of plans. The grass was too wet and slippery for Wizard Tag or Spellbound Red Rover where children would be sliding into muddy pools of water. So Jame--Hagrid created a simple balloon game he called Quidditch. The object: Hagrid throws the balloon in the air, kids touch it (hot potato style) and get a point. When Hagrid would call "Golden Snitch!" the kids would rush to try to catch the balloon. Only children nine and under could be seekers. 

After a raucous tournament, it came down to Slytherin versus Gryffindor.

Slytherin won.

Interesting how life reflects art. Isn't it?
McGonagall presents the Quidditch Cup.
The winners select their prizes, another round of thanks to Grandpa Zorro.

The undefeated Slytherin team (plus their Head of House, Professor Zonts)
Hufflepuff House! Winners of the House Cup!
Ravenclaw Rules! Brightest witches and wizards around.
Brave Gryffindor! Never afraid of danger!
After a fantastic battle on the Quidditch pitch, nothing beats a refreshment from Honeydukes or The Three Broomsticks.
That acid pop burned a hole in Boo's teeth!

Goblets of Butterbeer

The best part of any birthday, of course, is the cake. Unfortunately, you need a pretty powerful spell to put out these candles.
Boo was losing her breath by the fourth time the candles relit. She didn't know the putting out spell and didn't have a deluminator to capture the flames. Too bad.

So despite the sudden changes in plans and the crowding. . . 
it was a magical birthday for our girl.