07.18.03

"There's so much in the papers about Ronald Reagan and it looks like he's on his way to become president, ti does look scary. I voted once. In the fifties, I don't remember which election. I pulled the wrong lever because I was confused, I couldn't figure out how to work the thing. There was no practice model outside, it was a church on 35th Sreet between Park and Lex. This was when I was living at 242 Lexington. And then I got called for jury duty and I wrote back: 'Moved.' I've never voted again."

Andy Warhol - diary 07.16.80.

 
 
 
 
 

THINGS I DO:

movieblog
mediablog
photographs
hometown
scam: a novel

It's an article of political faith that conservatives fear and abhor renewable energy in directly inverse proportion to its embrace by liberals. The Bush administration will gladly turn Alaska into a snowbound version of Texas, a forest of derricks growing above the treeline, while the Gore presidency would have had millions of fuel cell cars on the streets by now, and solar panels on the White House lawn where Dubya holds his slow-pitch tournaments.

A nice fantasy, but it doesn't quite fly when you read about the wind turbine farm some private enterpreneur wants to build off the Cape Cod coast, one of the only spots in the New England area where you can rely on strong, constant winds, enough to generate enough power to make a dent in the area's considerable power demands. We've seen these wind farms before - fields of spindly white propellers on slim white trunks, spread over sun-bleached brown fields in the Southwest, on windswept coasts facing the North Sea, or sitting in thick, perilous-looking groves spiked through boiling, dark blue waves.

They're undeniably striking vistas, sci-fi images that shout "The Modern World!" And the illustration the NY Times Magazine provides of the one proposed for the Cape is jarring and impressive and - to my eyes at least - austerely beautiful. But it's apparently just a bit too modern, a bit too ... striking ... for the well-heeled summer residents of the area, like Walter Cronkite, and Robert Kennedy Jr.

"I'm all for wind power," Kennedy insisted in a debate about the wind farm on NPR Boston. But the wind farm would cost too much for the Cape, for "the people of this region", and as a "diminishment to property values, the diminishment to marinas, to businesses..."

Most importantly, Kennedy claimed, it would diminish history and nature: "People go to the Cape because they want to connect themselves with the history and the culture. They want to see the same scenes the Pilgrims saw when they landed at Plymouth Rock.'' Never mind, as the Times points out, "that the Pilgrims never saw Nantucket Sound, and if they had, they wouldn't have spied the Kennedy compound."

Sensing that appeals to scenic conservation aren't enough, opponents of the wind farm have insisted that it would destroy the local fisheries (long in decline, according to the Times), would litter local beaches with dead birds (high rises kill far more birds than wind turbines), even that whales would bump their heads on the submerged pylons (uh, there's this little thing called "sonar"...).

Most important of all, though, it would ruin the view! And diminish real estate values, even as it provided 75 per cent of the Cape's electrical needs. "Everybody will see it, anyone who wanders on the water, who has a home that faces the water,'' pleaded Walter Cronkite, after invoking the whales and the fishery and the "marvellous boating area". When the writer brings up the spectre of NIMBYism - Not In My Backyard - Cronkite is willing to admit that it's a factor, but...

Cronkite squirmed a bit at this characterization. ''The problem really is Nimbyism,'' he admitted when I reached him by phone not long ago, ''and it bothers me a great deal that I find myself in this position. I'm all for these factories, but there must be areas that are far less valuable than this place is.'' With prodding, he suggested the deserts of California. Then, perhaps realizing that might be a tad remote to serve New England's energy needs, he added, ''Inland New England would substitute just as well.''

As we talked, his discomfort was so keen that he interrupted his thought and pleaded, ''Be kind to an old man.''

I suppose the problem isn't conservative versus liberal but the rather older, deeper spectre of rich versus poor. Fishermen and whales and birds, yes, certainly, but what about the people who've spent literally millions for this view, for the comforting illusion that they own a glimpse of the unchanging, eternal face of nature. Surely they deserve an exemption from progress, from the encroachments of "The Modern World". Surely there's some dusty trailer park somewhere outside Pittsfield that wouldn't mind a hundred or so giant blades swooping over their head. I mean - the view!

And so the asshole of the month is Walter Cronkite, for revealing how poorly he presents an argument when a room full of writers aren't feeding him the words. For showing us once again how easily successful journalists can be persuaded to adopt the viewpoints of the people who pay him, and for the sad spectacle of a journalist invoking pity and the dubious privilege of age as a shield from the third degree. Walter Cronkite: stooge, crybaby, toadie, snob. Asshole.


(started 06/18/03) JUST SNEAKED INTO THE BEDROOM where, on this warm summer afternoon, my wife and baby are sleeping on the sheetless bed. We had to take the bed linens off when baby's diaper slipped down, depositing a big, wet sludgy crap all over the fitted sheet. The grandparents were just here, having driven practically non-stop from Nova Scotia in two days. I'm the only person awake in the whole apartment - the cats are all curled up here in the office, only now starting to recover from the rupture in their well-ordered cat lives that began on Friday afternoon.

There's laundry downstairs that I have to pick up, and a screen door to have repaired, and air conditioner to be purchased, and a hundred other things, but I had to sneak in and see how K. and Agnes were doing. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.

I'VE GOTTA TELL YOU, this Father's Day thing is a total crock. Hey - I'm a father now, so you know you've got to listen to me.

Let's be honest about it - Father's Day is no more legitimate than Mother's Day; a greeting card company's idea of a holiday, with about as venerable a lineage as those tree-shaped car air fresheners, or novelty ice cubes. The only difference is that while the latter has metastasized into this monster of a guilt-gift fest, with spa days and luxury goods galore, Father's day basically boils down to a week of thick circulars from hardware chains full of power tools, and possibly the chance of a lie-in late Sunday morning.

But don't get your hopes up. Man, I just love this commercial where Daddy gets breakfast in bed, prepared by his toddler offspring: pancakes and syrup and juice. He expresses his glowing bottomless Daddy thanks through bleary eyes, only to have his wife whisper something about "We don't have the stuff to make pancakes or any of this..."

Yeah, baby - that's Father's Day. Breakfast made by children, out of Borax and vacuum bags and styrofoam packing material. Mmm-mmm, Daddy. Now chow that mess down before you bweak their widdle hearts. I bet the kitchen looks like a slaughterhouse before Labour Day weekend, too, and who do you think is going to clean that up? Not Mommy, Daddy-dude - she has to take the kids to aquabatics and Junior Pilates. Happy Father's Day, schmuck.

AND SO MY LITTLE STORY begins and ends with Father's Day. If life were a movie, the camera would begin with a long, low pan along the floor of a big downtown shopping centre, past a forest of feet, before closing in on those of my wife and myself, hers swollen and stuffed into a pair of cheap sandals she'd bought a week or so before, my own in their customary Blundstones, as we make our way through the Eaton Centre in search of slippers.

Well, by this point, we've pretty much given up on the idea of slippers. A bit of information for any man who wants a nice new pair of slippers for Father's Day: Give it up. Unless you have tiny size seven fairy feet, you'll find that slippers, like fresh figs and decent tomatoes, are a seasonal thing, and not to be had for love nor money at any time except at Christmas. So when the camera of our life finds us, we're ambling aimlessly through the shopping throngs, stopping occasionally when the latest contraction brings K. up short with a whiff of pain.

The contractions aren't new - she's been having them on and off for a week, but these ones are different; deeper, more assertive, more closely spaced. I was supposed to go to a screening that morning, but she asked me to stay with her, sensing something imminent with what would be admirable foresight.

By the time we make it to the computer store for my consolation Daddy's Day gift (a force feedback joystick controller for my flight simulator games) the contractions are very nearly making her knees wobble. We jump in a cab and head home.

WITH TIMING ONLY MOVIES CAN MANAGE, we're barely in the door when the contractions redouble their efforts to put off any idea of ordering in pizza and a night in front of the TV. By the time she insists that I call her sister and the phlegmatic midwife who constantly assures us that no one is ever as far along in labour as they think they are, she's on her knees with each new spasm.

K.'s sister arrives first, eager and excited. Thanks to my newspaperman's schedule, Alex has been K.'s birth partner at the nightly classes for the last month or two, and I'm merely the relief team, only vaguely familiar with what's about to happen. The midwife arrives next, examines K. and pronounces childbirth imminent - in about a day or so. K.'s only two centimetres dilated, so she makes us feel overanxious with a few practiced words and tells us to call again when K.'s water breaks, then leaves.

Alex and I talk for a minute or two, then she heads into the bedroom to make sure K. is alright, before heading home. K. stands up to go to the washroom and her water breaks. I'm on the phone to the midwife in about twenty seconds.

She's back a half hour later, and another quick examination tells her that K. is now seven centimetres dilated. The baby is on its way.

I HAVE NOT BEEN THE MOST INVOLVED PROSPECTIVE FATHER. Thanks to my work schedule, I wasn't able to attend birthing classes, so my sister-in-law, Alex, is my wife's birthing partner. She's the one familiar with breathing patterns and birthing positions like "slow dancing" and the dangling squat. I have, I confess, been happy to abandon these responsibilities to another person; I am not sure how well I will deal with the spectacle of childbirth.

I am not, at least in the long prelude to an actual baby, anxious about being a father. Rather, I'm conflicted about how well I'll deal with the spectacle of my wife in pain, with how my sympathies will fall in the heat of the moment - with the woman I married, or with the baby, still unseen, that's causing her so much pain.

Because I know this is going to involve a lot of pain, with the solemn distance of someone to whom the pain will not be a personal matter. It's the one thing that even the most soft-focus, deliriously maternal birthing books admit - you will never feel pain in your life like the pain of childbirth. Some of the books make this statement with pride, some with a not so subtle suggestion that no man, no matter how macho, could stand this pain.

I appreciate this. I'm grateful that I'm spared this pain in the way that a rich man is grateful that he'll never have to work in an open pit asbestos mine, except as a personal choice, and in this case I've even been spared this choice. My wife is a bit afraid, despite the statistical near-certainty that she'll survive, and who who can blame her? You don't hear about a lot of men getting circumcised at thirty.

THE PAIN, WHEN IT COMES, SEEMS REMARKABLE. Each contraction elicits a stifled scream, and when K. braces herself against the dresser next to the bed, she practically pushes it over. Coping with that pain requires complete abandonment of dignity; straining squats and damp-browed spells on the toilet, and in an hour her eyes have a glazed, faraway look. Coping with that pain, and that look, is more than I can take, and I'm glad that K.'s sister and the midwife are here. I feel, frankly, totally overwhelmed.

I do my best. I fetch things for the midwives. I refill the glasses of water and fruit punch Gatorade K. sips at constantly to prevent dehydration. I spell Alex at K.'s side, saying things like "breathe" and "you're doing great, honey" like I actually know what I'm talking about. Getting the baby in place seems to involve heaving K. around, from bed to floor to stool, shaking the baby into position like a ball bearing in some gumball machine game.

At one point, I'm walking K. back and forth along the hallway, stopping every now and then to support her while she squats with each contraction, using gravity to coax the baby into place - a position I later discover is the dangling squat. All I can think about as K. hangs from my shoulders is that it would be embarassing if the baby slipped out onto the hallway carpet, onto the cheap pile and cat hair. I wish I'd had a chance to vacuum before this all got underway. And I don't know how we'd explain the stain to the landlord.

AT ONE OF OUR MANY MEETINGS with the midwives, I was asked if I was going to be taking pictures. Well, I bought a nice, retro-looking digital camera for baby pictures, but I tell her I doubt it. She seems surprised - I'm a photographer, aren't I? Well, besides the fact that my wife would kill me if I took a shot of her, red-faced and straining through the cleft of her legs, I just wasn't hot for the idea.

Would I like to catch the baby as it comes out? Uh, no, actually. I mean, that's what they - the professionals - are there for. I'm sure there are men who'd jump at the chance, but they've always struck me as just a bit more ambitious than the men who try to fix their own air conditioners. There are people who do this for a living, and frankly they're probably better qualified to handle the job. After all, it's not like I'd ask the midwife if she'd like to spend a shift or two running Photoshop, am I?

Would I like to cut the umbilical chord? Once again, no. Back to the "professionals" argument again, with a mumbled aside about being perhaps a bit uneasy with the symbolic and metaphorical implications of such a gesture. My sister-in-law eagerly offers to do the cutting. Hey - have at it. As far as I'm concerned, my efforts are best appreciated up top, with my poor wife, and not on the business end of things. I think that after almost forty years, I know what I can handle.

AFTER MONTHS OF BEING ASSURED that the decidedly oversize baby growing in my wife's stomach is a boy, I've reluctantly begun to assign a gender to the little fellow. My son - my boy. William Leo McGinnis. I've pondered just how you raise a boy, mulled over the painful circumstances of growing up male these days, and tried to imagine just how I'd deal with nascent interests in hockey or baseball, promised myself that I'd learn how to catch and throw, maybe even skate, in the scant year or three before the spectre of athletics raises its head.

I was never much of a jock as a boy, and my wife, the oldest daughter of a sportswriter, is the one who loves going to a game or watching a boxing match on TV. It remains, at this anxious moment, hours or even minutes from his birth, a nagging worry at the back of my mind.

I DON'T KNOW WHEN I JUST HAD ENOUGH. I don't know how many refilled glasses or spells beside K. murmuring "Breathe. Breathe." have passed. I just know that at some point I'm not needed, and I seek refuge on the love seat in the library. I don't know how long I'm asleep, either, before I'm woken up by the assistant midwife calling from the bedroom: "Rick! Come in here and see your baby being born!"

My head jerks up and I stumble to my feet and along the hall, coming to a lurching stop at the bedroom door where I see a little purple head, topped with a swirl of damp hair, and a face. A little face, eyes closed, mouth just emerging from ... from my wife.

It would be a shock even if I hadn't just torn myself from an anxious sleep, and I turn on my heel, lurch out of the room and into the kitchen where I start pacing circles, praying for my wife and my child. "Please God, let them both be okay. Let this happen with grace and without tragedy, Lord. God please look with kindness on my wife and my boy."

I don't know how long I pace around the tiny kitchen before I hear a squawk, and what sounds like a chorus of exhaled sighs from the four women in the bedroom. I rush the ten or so feet to the bedroom door, and see my wife clutching a squirming, naked, red and purple baby to her chest. She can't see what I can see and so I tell her: "Honey, you have a daughter."

"Oh, hello Agnes!" my wife coos to the little wet squirming thing. And for just a moment I feel a pang of loss for William Leo, the son we thought we were going to have. Goodbye, little William. Maybe some other time. Hello, Agnes.

And I stumble back a few feet, to the bathroom door, and I start bawling, uncontrollable in this strange mix of joy and relief and just a little spike of grief. And like that, I'm a father.

A DAY AND A HALF LATER, and it's Father's Day. No slippers, no sleeping in, no breakfast in bed. K. can barely walk (and Agnes is a year at least from doing any such thing) so it's up to me to feed and clean and keep the ship running, fielding the phone calls and e-mails and flowers arriving on what seems like every other hour. There you have it - Father's Day: A Total Crock. Don't be fooled, fellas. (finished 07/18/03)


Agnes Montserrat McGinnis
born June 14th, 2003
9 lbs. 9 ozs.

©2003 Rick McGinnis - all rights reserved

BIRTH

The blessed event - at last. It took me a month to write this, but I'm sure - if you've every gone through this - that you'll understand just what kind of month it's been. The dust - or rather, the doo-doo - is just beginning to settle now, so I'm hoping to get back to updating some, or all, of this sadly neglected site. Bear with me.

PLACES TO GO:

john scalzi
james lileks
alan zweig
weisblogg
justin johnson
jeff jarvis
little green footballs
tim blair
uss clueless
relapsed catholic
damian penny
lone dissenter
accordion guy
jim treacher
textism
rockcritics.com
arts & letters
talking points memo
peter maass
cliff yablonski


The New Father - click to buy it

Armin A. Brott
The New Father

My wife is always complaining that mens' things are, on the whole, better made than womens' things. Socks, underwear, clothes in general - it seems that women's clothes are sewn with thread made from lawn clippings. I still have socks and underwear I bought years before I met my wife.

And so it is with parenting literature. There are shelves and shelves of books for women on the subject of maternity and motherhood, yet scarcely anything for men. And yet, the single book I was able to find on the subject for men has become my wife's favorite book.

"It's so practical and straightforward," she tells me, "and there's none of that 'Motherhood is magical and empowering' crap." The state of a new parent is exhaustion and anxiety; sometimes you're not sure if you like your spouse; sometimes, horror of horrors, you wonder if you like your baby. These things, writes Armin Brott, are perfectly natural, and if you're a halway sane, decent person, you'll overcome then. There's nothing nearly this realistic, so my wife assures me, in The Birth Book, What To Expect When You're Expecting, or - God help us - the hateful Hip Mama's Survival Guide.

Brott's book is full of reasonable advice, tales of dark times ahead, and a withering little anecdote about actress Roseanna Arquette that fully confirms the widespread wisdom that actors, male or female, are both rude and insane, well beyond the usual self-involved psychodrama.

BUY IT