June 13, 2003
A friend of mine forwarded a link to me, and my mind reels with the quality of writing. The verve! The simplicity of lines! My heart breaks to read such beautiful prose.
How can I hope to compete? How could I even conceive of attaining such mastery? I may as well give up all hope of becoming a well known (and well liked) author. I have met my match.
"Roy Orbison in clingfilm," indeed.
June 14, 2003
Another installment in my gingiva graft saga! A movie review! Existential angst! Haircuts! All this, and more, in one essay! The mind reels!
In case you haven't been following the my gum surgery story, or in case you'd like a refresher course on where we are, here is a brief summation of what has gone before:
- Around Christmas time, a recession in my gum line (lower jaw) split open, leaving two flaps of gum material just sorta hanging out at the base of one of my lower teeth. Icky.
- Saw a periodontist, who recommended a gingiva graft: take gum material from roof of mouth, insert into exposed area, and sew it all up.
- Had the procedure, but some of the gum material escaped, so I...
- Had a second procedure, in which the remaining transplanted gum material was more securely fastened. Alas, this didn't quite heal right, so I...
- Had a third procedure, in which other gum material (from upper side) was transplanted to the base of the previously exposed tooth, to act as a barrier to further decrepitude.
That third procedure was due to happen about a month ago, as I mentioned in a previous essay. Sure enough, I went in and the procedure itself went as perfectly as it can go -- just like the other two had -- but there was something very unsettling that I happened to notice as they were showing me the work after it was done.
[By the way, my stories about my gum surgery might be considered a little graphic by my readers who are a little squeamish... you have been warned.]
There was nothing wrong with the work they did. What was unsettling was that my mouth didn't look like my mouth anymore. Specifically, it was my lower lip. Most folks have some vertical tissue that connects their lower lip to their lower gums. I'm sure this has a name, but I haven't a clue as to what it is. Some people have two strands of tissue, others have one. It's funny, the things you notice after you've had gum surgery.
Anyway, I had one strand of tissue that rose up in the middle of my lip, rather high, connecting to my lower gums. Because there was a lot of tension on my lower gums (they were very tight), the periodontist kept cutting back that connective tissue, lowering it with each procedure. By the end of this third procedure, the connective tissue was so low as to be not even visible to a casual inspection of my lower mouth.
So here I am, looking into a mirror at my lower mouth, and the gum work is picture perfect. A fine looking set of gums on these ol' choppers. But it's not my mouth! That one little change -- the apparently missing connective tissue -- completely messed with my concept of what I should expect when I look into a mirror at my mouth.
This was not the first time this spring I'd looked into the mirror and seen someone else.
A couple months earlier, I'd gone in to have my hair cut. This was the second time I'd seen this particular stylist, and so we had to talk about kids and all that obligatory introductory stuff that you have to talk about when you and your hair stylist are getting to know each other. She was washing my hair (prelude to a cut) when I told her that I had a son at home, and she asked what color his hair was.
"Blond," I said. "Like mine."
"What do you mean, 'Like yours?'"
"What do you mean, 'What do I mean?'"
"You're not blond."
Well, my hair was wet, so certainly it must have been darker than when it's dry, but when I sat down in the chair for my haircut, I noticed that, well... my hair was brown. She cut my hair, and it continued to dry. It stayed brown. I got home, and looked in the mirror. Nice haircut. Brown hair.
Now, the area where I live happens to enjoy rather short days during the fall and winter (and early spring). Shorter days than anywhere else in the US, except for Alaska. Plus, the area where I live tends to be overcast for much of the winter, which is the rainy season. (Winter forecast: drizzle, 45 degrees. Every day. Summer forecast: partly sunny, 75 degrees. Every day.) Like many blonds, my hair tends to get lighter with exposure to sunlight; darker without.
Okay, okay, but this was ridiculous. My blonditude was in doubt, which meant my entire self-concept was in doubt. Who am I? Hair color isn't just about hair color. It's about identity. You identify people by their appearance, and that includes hair. How long their hair is, how it is styled, whether it's curly or straight... and what color it is. I began to understand why there is such a big money industry surrounding hair-loss products for men and hair styling products in general. When we look in the mirror, we want to see ourselves looking back. That, or we want to see a *better* ourselves looking back. This is why some people dye their hair, because doing so changes their identity to something they'd prefer. This is why they fight baldness, because they want to retain the identity they've grown accustomed to.
When my hair-line receded at the temples ("widows peaks" is the term for this kind of AWOL hair, but I don't know why), it didn't bother me all that much because it had happened gradually, and it was minor. I still had hair and, hey, I was still a blond.
I have an uncle who is a cop. One week, while his wife was out of town, he and his fellow cops did what cops whose wives are out of town are wont to do: they got drunk, and they shaved their heads. My uncle used to have (thinning) red hair. Very Irish. When he shaved his head, he looked, well, like a cop. A tough cop.
Then his wife came home. For the sake of this story, let us say that she was not amused. He let his hair grow back. It grew back brown. No kidding.
(For the record, let me state that I have considered the "shaving your head to change your image" idea, but it wouldn't work for me. There is a photo of me after a skiing session where I'd worked up a sweat, and my hair was all matted down so as to make me look bald. I looked like Uncle Fester, of the Addams Family. Not the image I'd want to adopt. [shudder])
So. Throughout the months of March and April, I felt my identity slipping away. I wasn't a blond anymore. Who was this stranger looking back at me in the mirror? I don't know. Somebody with brown hair. Maybe, like my uncle, the change was permanent. For my birthday, Paulette got me a card in which she had written, "You'll always be blond to me." I'm not sure if I was supposed to find that reassuring.
I've gained a few pounds over the years. Let me rephrase that. Every year since college, I've gained a few pounds. I graduated 13 years ago. A few pounds every year means... oh, brother.
And now, the inside of my mouth is completely different from what I'd become accustomed to over the last twenty years or so. Who the hell is this fat, brown-haired guy with the unfamiliar gums?
If you've read about my first two gum surgery experiences, you know that it's important to take some time off and relax just after you've had the procedure. For me, this means staying away from home, since Paulette and I work from home, and the kid is an added distraction (and he *is* work). So after my third procedure, I went to see a movie and sipped on a big gulp of Sprite. Tried to forget about my mouth for a little while. What movie did I go see?
In the movie, ten people are stranded at a hotel during a rainstorm. The roads are out, the phones are out, and one by one, people start dying. At the same time, a convicted killer is being considered for clemency by the men who put him away. The movie aspires to be Hitchcockian, and it comes close. The acting is superb, and the direction is well done. There are some very nice touches, especially surrounding how the two stories relate to each other (for example, the weather in one story line is always the same as the other story line, which is a very nice detail). Both stories are self-contained and interrelated at the same time. This is part of what makes the movie work, but it is also part of why the movie didn't quite realize its aspirations for me. I'll explain why below, so that you can skip that part if you don't want to see spoilers about the movie.
The key to the movie, to nobody's surprise, is the title. The movie isn't just about the identity of the killer, it's about the killer's Identity writ large. It's about *each* character's identity. Anyone who has seen the Twilight Zone as many times as I have will figure out the mystery before the movie reveals it, but that doesn't detract from the mystery as it unfolds.
As distractions from physical discomfort go, this film was a fine way to spend the first couple hours of recuperation from my most recent gum surgery. But spending a couple of hours in the Twilight Zone of someone else's imagination did nothing to rescue me from my own private Twilight Zone.
It's a big ol' world, and there are a lot of nasty things going on. Just a couple days ago, NBC News showed me, during the dinner hour, a man in Louisiana getting shot fifteen times by police. The guy f'ing *died* right in front of me while Tom Brokow blathered on about the investigation. In the grand scheme of things, changes in hair color or how my lip is attached to my gums is hardly Earth-shattering. I'm fortunate enough to be in a position where I can afford the luxury of a minor identity crisis.
Which is all by way of saying, the shock of seeing a different mouth in the mirror has worn off. It's still weird, but not shocking. I'm more sensitive than ever to my hair color (strange, but true), but as the days have been getting longer (longer than anywhere else in the US, outside of Alaska) and I've been taking Alexander on daily strolls through the neighborhood, I see encouraging signs that my blondness is returning. Whew.
Trivial concerns? Absolutely. But that doesn't make them any less real. I'm surprised that I would even react this way to things as minor as these cosmetic changes. But as I mentioned earlier, an entire industry is doing booming business because of these very concerns. Even you, dear reader, have been concerned about your appearance once or twice in your life. Before this little episode, though, I hadn't been so overtly aware of how much I have invested in my appearance, sloppy though it has always been. That investment includes a piece of my very identity.
SPOILERS ABOUT THE MOVIE IDENTITY
Here are some thoughts I wanted to share about the movie that give away some details about the story. If you haven't seen it and think you might see it later, you may wish to skip these comments.
Since the one story line (the one where everyone at the hotel dies one and a time) turns out to be all in the head of the main character from the other story line, the revelation at the end of who the "killer" is packs no punch for me. This is a story where I'm told *before* the ending that this part of the movie is just a dream, in essence, so it doesn't matter who the killer it. It's all imagined. Never mind that movies are all made up, anyway. The point is, I'm willing to suspend my disbelief for the story up until the story says, "This part is a dream." Once we find out it's a dream, then I don't care anymore. There's nothing at stake anymore for the characters, because they aren't real, even by the rules of the story I'm watching. See?
This is too bad, because the revelation is neat. The deaths all make sense in the context of who the killer turns out to be. Kinda like in The Sixth Sense. Tidy and clever. But since it's all a dream, it doesn't matter, and the ending falls flat.
June 16, 2003
I failed to call my father to wish him a happy birthday last month. At least, I failed to call him on his *birthday* to wish him a happy one. Yesterday, alas, I also failed to call him to wish him a happy Father's Day. I'm a bad, bad boy.
It wasn't because I don't like my father. I love him. I love my mother, too, and I didn't call her on her birthday, either. Did I remember to call her on Mother's Day? Hmmm. Can't remember. I missed my sister's birthday this year, as well, and my grandfather's, and so on and so on. Alexander's first birthday is next month, but I don't think Paulette will let me forget to mark that one on time.
I have a friend who doesn't believe in obligatory holiday observances. Giving gifts out of obligation is inappropriate, he contends. But giving gifts just because the inclination strikes you has more impact (I agree). I am increasingly leaning toward this kind of thinking, but I still hold to the idea that remembering to call someone on some special occasion (like a birthday of such) is a good thing. For whatever reason, I've been bad about being good.
Paulette was kind enough yesterday to let me sleep in, to make us breakfast, to offer me a small gift (a book from my Amazon wish list) and to go with whatever whims struck me (like taking a walk around the neighborhood, or playing Kung Fu Chaos on the XBox). It was a laid back observance of Father's Day, but a welcome one. It was nice to just take it easy. To have a day where my favorite snack foods just magically appeared because, well, they're my favorite snack foods.
So, yeah, I had a pleasant enough first Father's Day. And then I forgot to call my own Dad.
Dumb, dumb, dumb.
I'm sorry, Dad. You deserve better than that. All good fathers deserve better than that, and I happen to think you're great (corny as that may sound).
It's been weird, lately, noticing how much I sound like you when I talk. Not the voice, but the mannerisms. The style. It's spooky. Paulette will ask me a question, and I'll start to explain why this is this way or that is that way... and I'll notice that I sound like you, explaining the same kind of thing to me. It doesn't happen all the time, but it happens often enough.
You and I disagree on any number of philosophical or political points, but we have a common ground that comes from speaking the same language: a language of integrity, of a strong work ethic, of blue collar roots and of entrepreneurial spirit. I learned that language from you.
It sounds kind of hokey to say, "I love you, Dad." It's the kind of thing that feels like it should go without saying. But it also doesn't go far enough. I'm feeling a little down these days with the concerns of work and local politics and, as my previous essay mentions, my own little mini-identity crisis weighing down upon me.
But when all is said and done, my biggest hope is that I not only live up to the very best of all that you tried to instill in me, but that I exceed it. That I build upon what you've done, and go farther. You are doing so well for yourself, and after so many years of hard work, you deserve it. I want to do just as well, and then do better. I have an advantage over you, and I want to make it count: I had you for a father.
June 25, 2003
Because so many of you have asked, here is an update on Alexander. I haven't posted anything about him in a while. This isn't because nothing's been going on. No, no, no. This is because I feel the need to include photos when I post entries about him, and cropping down the photos so that they'll still look good at Web resolution (that's 72dpi to you) takes more effort than I have time for, these days.
And shrinking them down to fit... how far do I shrink 'em? I want them to be large enough for you to see, but small enough so that you don't have to resize your browser window just to take in the whole view.
And then, there's selecting which photos to post. For today's post, I narrowed two electronic rolls of 64 photos each down to thirteen representative (and relatively in-focus) shots. I put all thirteen into Photoshop, cropped 'em, shrunk 'em, and saved 'em. But, which ones should I choose to put up today?
Okay, okay. That's all a long-winded excuse for why I haven't shown you the little guy. Let's get on with the show.
A great deal has been going on since last I posted about him. Alexander's two lower teeth and several upper teeth have come in. A couple more upper teeth are on their way.
He has started walking. He doesn't walk around a lot, yet -- he'll tool around for six or eight steps and then sit back down. But he's doing that more and more often. He's been very articulate. We notice more inflection and variety in his speaking all the time, even if we can't understand a thing he's saying. More often then not, he'll explain to us that, "Bwah, bwah, bwah." Don't know what it means, but it's endearing.
As ever, he keeps going through growth spurts. At one point, his growth spurt seemed to be dealing exclusively with his head. His cranium started bulging out so much, we thought he looked a bit like a mad scientist. I've included a photo here showing the mad scientist at work on the most important tool for controlling the world: the remote control.
His appearance changes from day to day, especially eye and hair color. Most days, his eyes are a brilliant blue, but every once in a while they take on a greenish tinge. His mother's eyes alternated between blue and green for the first five years of her life before they settled on green, so it's anybody's guess what will happen with his eye color. (For the record, my eyes are green and my father's eyes are blue, which is also true for Paulette, so we know that we both carry both blue and green eye-color genes.)
On any given day, his hair will appear blond, reddish, or brownish.
Dear friends of mine across the country has a son who was born one week before Alexander, and we also have good friends here who have children just a few months younger. You can't help but compare your child to other children when certain things come up in conversation. Alexander was a late crawler compared to most of the babies we know here, but he started crawling early compared to Jack out on the other coast. But Jack, on the other hand, has been eating solid food without complaining for months. Months!
Not so, Alexander.
Alexander simply doesn't get into eating "solid" foods, like the Gerber pureed veggies and the like. For a while he'd tolerate them, but he's not even doing that any longer. There are very few things he'll put into his mouth, and food is not among them.
He will, however, chew on paper products. Napkins, envelopes, yellow legal paper. His favorite paper product, though, is playing cards. Just like his father, he has taken an early liking to playing with cards (someday I'll have to explain why I named my web site "House of Cards"...). Unlike his father, though, once he gets tired of playing with the cards, he'll put them into his mouth and gum them to oblivion.
Is the red dye in playing cards poisonous? I sure hope not.
For a kid who doesn't eat much food, though, Alexander is doing just fine. And in less than a month, he'll be celebrating his first birthday. Yee-ha! Or, in the words of Alexander, himself: Bwah, bwah, bwah!
Copyright (c)1998 - 2010 by Allan Rousselle. All rights reserved, all wrongs reversed, all reservations righted, all right, already.
Click here to send me mail.