Monday, July 29, 2013

Belabor and Delivery - Three Weeks Old

So my wife and I just had a baby. And she’s great and wonderful and all, sure. But I’m trying to write a blog here and, well, she’s not great and wonderful for that. Babies are not good for writing, not good for the creative process. In fact, as symbols of the ultimate creative process, they make any kind of artistic expression seem embarrassingly trite and unnecessary. First of all, in order to create good art you have to actually care about something other than yourself, your wife, and your three-week old daughter. Which I currently do not. I am now a narcissistic asshole, and it feels great. I have played for the other side, the losing side, for far too long. So now it’s, call my parents on their forty-third wedding anniversary? Yeah, right. I am currently devoid of empathy. And without empathy, how can I reach an audience.

But wait, I write a blog, so, what audience?

And if it isn't just a phase, this feeling that my life, my new little family, is of singular ultimate universal importance, if it lasts forever, I’m okay with that. I’m tired of thinking about the NSA and methane in the permafrost and the specter of asteroid diversion warfare and Al Sharpton’s weight loss.

But wait. Shit. I really do need to write this blog. I need to pretend that I can maintain certain vestiges of my former life. I need to confirm that fatherhood won’t kill my dreams of worldly significance (see the irony?).

If only there was a way to…hmm…yes. Yes! I’ve got something! What if I wrote a blog series about being a new parent? Oh my God! That’s brilliant! I can’t believe nobody thought of that before. I can feel the flood gates opening…yes…I can feel the muse return! What if I made it funny and sarcastic and talked about things like getting babyshit on the back of my neck? How does that happen? I’ll call it…hmm…yes! Yes! Belabor and Delivery! So clever!

I’ll start with a quick list!

Ten Things about Babies I Didn’t Know Because I Did Zero Research

 1. Babies shit black tar.

2. Babies shin bones are shaped like boomerangs.

3. Babies really don’t mind puking or the hiccups.

4. Babies hate their faces and try to scratch them off

5. Babies can be fart burped

6. Babies do not care how much diapers cost

7. Babies cannot fly or swim

8. Babies think everything is a nipple

9. Babies do not know who the hell you are

10. Babies don’t look like you or your wife. They look like other babies.


Okay, good. Onward! Time for some unsolicited advice. When you step out of your post-partum recovery room to get some food down at the hospital cafeteria remember to WIPE THAT STUPID GRIN OFF YOUR FACE! Everyone else is at that hospital because of disease death and dying. Hospitals are awful places, despite the totality of your joy. Keep your head down, don’t pass out cigars, and don’t show anyone pictures of your cute little slimeball.

More on hospitals. If you’re a jaded misanthrope like myself, who finds evidence of humanity’s ultimate pettiness and stupidity in even the most altruistic of gestures, then get ye to a hospital. Don’t admit yourself, that’s not what I mean. Just go hang out there and bask in the competence. Rekindle your faith in the goodness of man. Look at all the really smart people who are really good at their jobs. Watch as professionals demonstrate compassion and skill.  Look at all the state-of-the-art technologies built and designed by brilliant minds. See people rescued from death and pain by capable folks who know what they’re doing. Yes, it’s sad that such a sight is so rare these days, that incompetence is the new gold standard, but know that there are places left on earth where shit works properly. Allow me to be specific. We dealt with at least 20 different nurses and doctors during our stay at the hospital. They all knew how to turn their machines on, and how to log into the computer system on the first try. They also all knew how to adjust the lighting in the room, how to work the TV remote, and how to turn the couch into a bed. Not once did someone say they would get something for my wife without showing up soon afterwards with the very thing they said they would get her. Amazing! I can’t tell you how my heart swelled with pride for our species. Did I get bum directions to the vending machines? No! Did they give me the wrong wifi password? No! Nor was I overcharged for parking or given a wristband with the wrong identification code. All I can say is thank God for hospitals and the miracles they perform on a daily basis.

So three weeks in and we lovingly refer to our daughter as The Little Terrorist. And the fact that she keeps us up all night (this really does happen exactly like everyone said it would) is not her fault. I mean it’s not willful or intentional. The real villain in the scenario is her immature little digestive system. Objectively speaking, it’s kind of funny how two professional thirtysomething college-educated adults and one sweet little girl can be collectively held hostage by a simple tangle of baby intestines. Today, for example. The sun is out. We’ve got this nice new stroller. I’m off work for the week. Can we head to a restaurant, sit outside, eat cheeseburgers and drink beer while our dear daughter sleeps soundly? Yes, we could, if only she’d shit first. That’s it! Just shit your pants little girl, come on! You can do it! But, alas, there is no shit. Not since yesterday. Just a bowling ball of air in her gut, and the potential to go ballistic at any moment. So we sit indoors and do nothing. We wait for the sound, like swimmers at their marks on the blocks. We wait for the sound of sweet release, of propulsive defecation.

Time for a second list! This one’s called:

Five Things Related to Childcare That Prove God Has A Sense of Humor

1. The anti-gas, calming medication from CVS causes gas, bloating, and fussiness. They should keep the stuff on the same aisle as non-drowsy Claritin (“May cause drowsiness”)

2. The only gripe I have with Gripe Water is that it costs a fortune and doesn’t work. I should have known my baby wouldn’t like ginger and fennel. Who is she anyway, Padma Lakshmi?

3. Thanks to generous friends and family, we have a bedtop co-sleeper, a stand-alone co-sleeper, a Pack-and-Play, a Rock-and Play, a vibrating chair, a mechanical swing, a stroller bassinet, a full-size crib, a plastic blue baby bathtub, several sleeper pillows, a Slingling, and a padded changing matteress. Where does The Little Terrorist sleep best? On the floor. On a boob. In a person’s arms.

4. Me (unshowered, unshaved, dark bags under my eyes) to the CVS clerk: “Quick! I need soothing nipple cream and an emery board! And some Red Vines!”

5. My daughter was born with a comb-over.

And there you have it folks, the world's first blog posting about babies and hospitals and childcare. Please feel free to leave comments and remarks below.

Click here to read other parenting posts on this blog

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Camping in the Southwest Desert: Part II


Moving on from the Calf Creek Campground we continued east towards Boulder, Utah, reportedly the last town in the Lower 48 to receive postal service. Here, you can cut south along the Burr Trail Road and descend into the canyon country that ultimately becomes Capitol Reef National Park, or you can head straight and go up and over Boulder Mountain. Ideally, you go out one way and come back the other. We decided to drive up the mountain. There's a fascinating scenic contrast along this route. You wind through high alpine forests of aspen and pine, but at the summit view points you stare way down, and way out at the barren rocklands of the massive Colorado Plateau. What appears on the road atlas as a little square of non-descript brown reveals itself to be this glorious jumble of sunset colored canyons, walled-in to the southeast by the snow-capped Henry Mountains. When Powell and Freemont first explored this area there were literal blank spaces on their maps. In terms of American population density, what you are looking at is the statistical Middle of Nowhere.

We continued on to Capitol Reef National Park with the intention of camping two more nights before returning home. Capitol Reef is a unique park in the sense that many of the trails, interpretive walks, as well as the visitor center and campground, can be accessed without paying an entrance fee. This fact, coupled with the relative remoteness of the area, creates a very different human dynamic within the park, and especially within the campground. This isn't a stop on a typical parkland itinerary. Here, I became as much an amateur anthropologist as an observer of nature. The unique cultural experience that is life at the Fruita campground is as interesting and entertaining as anything I might have seen in Las Vegas. If I had stopped there. Which I didn't. And that's fine. Really.
We turned into the campground, relieved to find numerous available spots. If you can't find camping here, you have very limited options in the immediate vicinity. As we drove around I had the impression that we were crashing some enormous family reunion. Occupied campsites were packed with people of all ages. Utah locals rather than tourists. Huge buffets were set atop folding tables with American flag tablecloths. Large daytime campfires raged in firepits, fueled by free firewood (more on that later). We selected a campsite as far away from the festivities as possible, making the mistake of assuming that the unoccupied sites nearby would remain unoccupied. The lesson is this: better to choose the enemy you can see, and not the one who will come rolling in at one in the morning and spend the next two hours hammering tent spikes and ferrying children and dogs through your campsite to the bathroom.
Anyway, we set up camp and got back in the car. We drove out the park's scenic road and continued all the way to the Grand Wash turn-off. Here, you can continue down a nicely graded dirt road that follows the floor of the canyon and offers perspectives you usually have to get out of your car to enjoy.


We stopped at the parking lot and strolled around, resolving to return the next day to take a proper hike further into the canyon. Grand Wash connects with the highway so it is possible to through-hike the canyon if you have two cars. We then drove back out of the wash. And saw this bird.


We visited a few more scenic corners of the park and then returned to our campsite. That's when the fun really began...The campground was now full, and a chorus of wailing generators filled the air. The irony, of course, is that the people using these generators were shut up in their RVs, and insulated from the noise. The rest of us were free to make dinner, drink a beer, and take in the glory of nature with a lawnmower leafblower soundtrack. I walked around to investigate, to try and learn what I could about the situation. What surprised me most of all was the lack of indignation on the part of the other campers. Nobody seemed the least bit concerned about the noise, even tent campers like myself. It bothers me that this doesn't bother you. In fact, it bothers me more than the buzzing bothers me. How are you all okay with this?

* inaudible crickets*

What's wrong with me that I'm not okay with this?

Why is this what I'm thinking about right now?

So my relaxing southwestern road trip, my pilgrimage to those natural wonders most sacred to my heart, had devolved into this kind of auto-analytic ruminative bonanza on the nature of narcissism, empathy, and effective groundsleeping.

I went to my wife for solace, for commiseration, and what did she tell me? "You gotta get this shit sorted out, dude. You're about to have a baby."

In the morning I watched the park service unload free firewood. There is a storage area where it's supposed to go, but the line of people standing at the truck's tailgate intercepted all the wood before it could hit the ground. Large families brought any kid of load-baring age to the party. There was fussing and crying and that indignation I so missed the night before: "Sir, excuse me, sir, we have been waiting here for forty-five minutes. There's a line." You can't take it all sir. How is my family going to take it all if your family takes it all first?

One thing is clear to me about life: If you are frequently bothered by the behavior of other people, if you find them to be petty and insensitive and oblivious to anyone's needs but their own, if you think people can do better but choose not to, if you think you can travel to some place where people are decent, and more perfect, and more like you, well then you're just screwed. The only defense is to raise your own little army of rationality. Shoot out your own kids and pump them full of appropriate dogmatic principles. And that will work out great, because kids always do what their parents want.

Fortunately, nature provides extra strength relief from misanthropic digressions. We returned to the Grand Wash trailhead the next day and hiked down the canyon. Everyone we passed along the way was sunny and delightful. We took a detour to a couple of water holes, and continued off trail, well back along the slopes of a side canyon. We had lunch. Fantastic scenery in all directions.

Back at the campground we built a fire (using our own paid-for wood) and had dinner. The generators continued to buzz, but I did my best to think about other things. Like the scene in the campsite next to ours. Seven unoccupied folding chairs arranged in a perfect circle around a fire pit. A dog chained to a stake sleeping under a picnic table. The whole family inside their RV, watching satellite TV. The campfire smoking, packed with free wood.

We woke up the next morning and began the return trip home by completing the loop back to Boulder, along the Burr Trail Road. The start of this route takes you along the Waterpocket Fold, a unique geological wonder set in a neighborhood already packed with geological wonders.

File:Waterpocket Fold - Looking south from the Strike Valley Overlook.jpg
from Wikipedia

At first, we reveled in the beauty and isolation found along the road. There was nobody around. No need to pull the car over to stop and take a picture. Perfect. For ten miles. Twenty miles. Forty miles. Okay... Small ruts in the road caused the car to rattle constantly. We started getting uncomfortable. We stared thinking about the baby. Was this okay? Can you hurt an unborn baby by driving on a rutty road? The second the idea was verbalized, all fun ceased. All talking ceased. The drive became an interminable series of jostling motions, each one causing who-knows what kind of damage to our little baby. This was some new kind of anguish for me, wretched and dreadful. Why didn't I think this through better? How did I allow myself to get into this position?

That's when I began brainstorming ways things could get even worse. I chalked it all up to bad karma, punishment for my intolerance of the folks at the campground. Surely, the tires would blow out soon. Or we'd overheat. Run out of water. Starve. Lose iPod battery charge. I couldn't even appreciate a series of famous switchbacks along the way, that carry you out of the Waterpocket Fold, back up onto a high plateau that links the road with the town of Boulder. So much beauty unappreciated, unphotographed. And, shit, those rocks and canyons will only be there for another sixty or seventy million years. Hope I get a chance to return before then.

We had lunch in Boulder. And a slice of pie. We both googled our way through the meal, trying to learn if we'd possibly harmed the baby. Bad as I felt, I learned there are prospective parents worse than myself asking google for answers: "Is it okay to...smoke crack while I'm pregnant?" (I'd provide the link to that one, but then you'd have both the NSA and Child Protective Services banging down your door.)

Reasonably sure we had not done the little one any harm, we hopping back on the road and retraced our steps through Escalante, Red Canyon, and Zion. We'd hoped to spend our last night in Zion, but the campground was full. So...where could we possibly get a hotel room for the night...that would be on the way back to Los Angeles...any towns or cities with nice inexpensive hotel rooms...attached to casinos maybe...No. Can't do it. We spent the night in St. George, where the hotel owner almost didn't give us a room because my driver's license was expired. The next day we rolled through Vegas without stopping. Another great trip.

And the little girl...

She's wonderful.

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Book of Woe

You will never, ever...

Ride to battle

Be spared

 Identify with "point of view"
Be Confucian 
Be French
 Do any underwater welding
Know it when you meet God and the Devil
 Make a real contribution
 Be able to get your asshole to stop smelling like an asshole
Be impressed
 Be a centaur's bitch
 Believe divorce statistics
Communicate affection properly
Be an Eskimo
Get an MBA
 Breed dogs

Get caught in the act

 Embalm something

The End

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Camping in the Southwest Desert: Part I

My wife and I have done variations of this trip many times. This one was different because of the pregnancy. No overnight backcountry camping, nothing too strenuous, and a few more nights in hotels than what we're used to. As usual, we started early in the morning in Los Angeles and drove north on I-15, heading to Zion National Park. We passed through Las Vegas without stopping. I eyed the casinos longingly, and then looked at my wife's belly. Can't take a pregnant woman to Vegas. Just can't do it. Can't lose money gambling when you've got a child on the way. It felt good to do the mature thing. Sort of. It was also sort of depressing. I like losing money in Vegas. Anyway, we got to Zion and planted ourselves at the site we reserved in the Watchman campground. I first camped there 22 years earlier, and it's one of the few remaining campgrounds with tent-only loops, where you won't hear any RV generators.

Frozen dishwater with sunrise
FYI: From spring break through the end of the summer you will probably not have much luck camping without a reservation. The South campground is first come first served, so if you get to the park early you might get a site. However, being a site vulture can be stressful, time consuming, and annoying. If you can't find a spot, camp in one of the private campgrounds in Springdale. They're not very nice, but do serve their purpose. Outside Springdale there are some free at- large camping areas as well. Just look for tent clusters on the side of the road and get ready to pee in public, and don't count on your tent site not being someone else's bathroom from the night before.

Zion, as usual, was glorious. It's my favorite of all the National Parks and the one I've been to the most. We took a short walk along the river and then drove into Springdale for dinner at the Bit and Spur, a Mexican restaurant with a large bar area and decent food. The cheese stuffed jalapeno appetizer was outstanding. Even though the place was packed, a nice couple gave up their seats when they saw my wife was pregnant. Totally unnecessary, but very cool.

The next day we enjoyed a leisurely morning (and early afternoon) at the campsite. We drank coffee, read, ate, drank coffee, and looked at hiking maps. At a certain point we were the only ones left lounging in the camp, which was fine. You don't need to do anything in Zion to appreciate the colors, the air, and the mule deer. Eventually we took the shuttle to Weeping Rock and started up the Observation Point Trail. We've been on every trail in the park, and picked this one because it gets you up and out of the main canyon quickly (after a tough uphill slog), so you can see other aspects of the geology and ecosystem. The crowds on the switch-backing trail made it tough for my wife to sneak in pee-breaks, but she managed alright and only got caught with her pants down once. We ate two killer sandwiches about two miles up the trail, and turned around. We took the shuttle to the Lodge, to get some ice cream and beer. But crowds and logistical incompetence won the day and we returned to our campsite sweaty and sober. We built a fire, cooked dinner, read a book, and went to sleep.


IMHO: The best three hikes in the park: 1. Observation Point. A long and strenuous full-day adventure. The scenery and geology constantly change and you get amazing views at the end. 2. Angel's Landing. Shorter than the OP hike, but much more intense. Go all the way to the top. It's a long way down. 3. The Narrows. This offers a very unique hiking experience. You can walk in the river, and the further back you go, the more impressive the slot canyon walls become. Great hike for a hot day. If their are thunderstorms forecast, bring your surfboard.

In the morning we packed up and drove east out of the park, through the Mt. Carmel tunnel. We stopped for a short hike to the canyon overlook, and sat at the view point for  a long time watching people and their young kids. Some parents were paranoid fanatics about their kids not getting too close to the edge, while others simply ignored their kids and took pictures of themselves.

We continued on, through the small towns along the main park route between Zion and Bryce Canyon. Was there some government program in the 70's where everyone just got an RV, whether they needed it or not? And maybe an extra car too, with no wheels? Every house, ranch, shack, and barn along this route has a rusted out RV somewhere in close proximity. It sounds like an awfully obvious remark to make about road tripping through rural America, the RVs and cars on blocks, but that doesn't make the enigma any less fascinating. I want answers.

Off the Thunder Mountain Trail
There's a lot of anticipation as you get close to Bryce Canyon. If you've never been there, then the unfathomably cool pictures you've seen of the place need immediate authentication. And if you have been there, a sort of anxiety builds ups, like it does when you get close to the Grand Canyon. You just suddenly need to see a damn hoodoo, and nothing else will do. So you might be temped to speed through Red Canyon, about 10 miles before the Bryce turnoff, without giving it its proper attention. So STOP! Especially if you don't have a campsite reserved in Bryce. We pulled off at the Thunder Mountain trailhead in the Red Canyon area. The scenery here is clearly the inspiration for the Thunder Mountain Railroad ride at Disneyland. We hiked a mile along the easy graded trail, which seemed ideal for mountain biking. Then we turned up a random side canyon and did a little off-trail exploring. We found a shinbone next to a mound that looked suspiciously like a shallow grave. This is why you have to get off the trail when you can, to see stuff like that. Plus, we saw nobody (alive) the entire hike.

We skipped Bryce Canyon this time around and continued to the town of Escalante. Something about the scenery and the remoteness of this part of Utah inspires a fascination with the human history and mythology of the region, from the pre-Anasazi to the Mormons, to the prospectors, outlaws, and outcasts. It's an area where human activity has always been dwarfed by the land. So much of what happens here is simply unobserved and unrecorded. We spent the night at the Prospector Inn, which was fine for the money. I have no memory of eating dinner that night. It's freaking me out.

The next morning we got up early and went to Escalante Outfitters, one of my favorite shops/restaurants in the world. The food is great (so why didn't I eat there the night before? Or did I? Crap.) They also have a fascinating bookstore. You can camp there too. We got coffee and some pastries and hit the road. About 6 miles past Escalante, you come around a bend in the road and get one of those Big Western Views. There's a nice view point turnoff here to pull over and finish your coffee and put your eyeballs back in your head.

If you want to camp in the immediate area, there is a dirt road just past this turn-off, that leads south. There is free camping all along this road, and some of the sites sit atop a cliff overlooking the canyons of the Escalante River. Maybe some of the best free camping on earth. We opted instead to drive a few miles further along to see if we could get a campsite at the Calf Creek Campground, which is located at the trailhead for our next hike. We lucked out and got a spot along the creek. We made camp and took a hike. The Calf Creek Falls hike is about as perfect a day hike as you can imagine. It's a good distance (about 6 miles roundtrip, mostly flat). The scenery is beautiful (obviously). Plus you see a lot of random things, like ancient pictographs and beavers and desert swampland. And there's a big beautiful waterfall at the end of the hike, plus a small beach and a pool to swim in.

Not going to spoil the fun by showing a picture of the falls
On the return hike, we were lucky enough to see a bulbous of snakes just on the side of the trail. I think they were rattlesnakes. At least that's what I'm telling everyone. There were at least fifty of them all wrapped up in a big knot. Some were tiny, others over two feet long. When we stopped to take a video they slithered apart and disappeared into the grass. Scary and awesome. At the beginning of the video below you can hear my wife warn me to be careful because "you don't have life insurance."

When I got home I did an internet search for snakes along the Calf Creek Falls hike and discovered this amusing Tripadvisor post. The original post and comments are worth reading, but I especially love the guy who wrote, "I've been hiking and racing in the desert for 30+ years and I can count on one hand the number of snakes I have seen. Yes be careful, but no need to be overly paranoid about it."

Click here for Part II