“You’re a terrible mother.”

I got a text message at 2 p.m. Sunday from my sister asking if I had finished watching the new season of Arrested Development yet.  That should give you some idea of my level of fandom — my sister thought it was entirely possible that I could have watched 8 hours in television in the 12 hours since the show had been released, even though 4 of those hours had occurred before the sun came up.  And at a different point in my life, I very well might have.  The Maggie of 2006 whose RAZR flashed the phrase “LOOK AT BANNER, MICHAEL” upon start-up probably would have been into her slo-mo rewatch by then.  2013 Maggie, however, was only halfway through the first Lindsey episode.  I wasn’t enjoying it very much.  But then again, I hadn’t enjoyed the pilot when it first aired, either (I hated GOB, oddly enough), and I picked up pretty quickly that these new episodes were going to be structured like a puzzle that folded back around on itself.  I was impressed by the ambition of that undertaking. I have enough trust in Mitch Hurwitz to figure it would all work out and the second half would be better than the first.  That was true, although some plotlines paid off better than others. The various cliffhangers definitely make me eager to see the supposed movie they have planned.

I think this series of episodes was clearly flawed, especially compared to the original three.  My understanding is that Hurwitz was still in post-production until almost the last minute, which is sort of mind blowing and also shows…and I’m not talking about the occasionally off-putting green screen effects.  These episodes, even the best ones, needed editing.  Being a half-hour show on a broadcast network necessitates trimming each episode down to 22 minutes maximum.  Removing that particular impediment had disastrous results in a couple of the early installments of the fourth season.  I’ve rewatched the first two episodes now and looked for ways to cut the things down to under 30 minutes, preferably 25 minutes, and it would be relatively easy to do.

In the premiere, there are jokes with Michael that seem to go on and on for no real good reason.  The scene where he rambles on trying to figure out how to manipulate the roommate vote was interminable on first watch.  On second watch, I realized it wasn’t really all that bad, but it suffered from coming after the shower/post-shower walk-and-talk/uncomfortable dorm room scene/outdoor walk-and-talk — all of which could have been compressed into one scene and easily gotten Michael’s desperation across.  The shower scene should have been removed entirely.  It was too cringeworthy, even for this show, and really out of character.  I understand that they wanted to illustrate that Michael has hit rock bottom, and there’s a lot of precedent for Michael being oblivious to George Michael’s feelings, but as far as I can remember he’s always had a pretty clear understanding of BOUNDARIES, especially compared to his other family members.  And really, it just wasn’t funny enough to make it worthwhile.

The other episode I’ve rewatched is the first George Sr. episode, which continues to be among my least favorite, and just generally needs small cuts across the board to give scenes more zip and make the few punchlines there actually are land better.  The real problem with the first two episodes in particular, and the first half of the season in general, is that it just isn’t that funny.  And I understand that is a structural necessity to a certain point — the first half is set-up and the second half is punchlines.  But there is no need for the early episodes to be so bloated when there are so few laughs in there.  Run through the exposition, set up those pins, and then linger while knocking them down if you really feel the need to luxuriate in that unlimited runtime.

The Lindsey and Tobias episodes are better than the Michael/George Sr. episodes, although they suffer more from the mildly convoluted timeline, and the second Tobias episode would also benefit from some serious editing.  I strongly disliked the Marky Bark character.  Apparently the same actor also played the boom mic guy on the Office, so he’s ahead in the running for Least Valuable Player of the 2012-13 TV season.  DeBree got a lot of leeway from me because I love Maria Bamford and know she’s extremely talented, but in the end she just didn’t seem like a character that would organically occur in this universe.  It’s really not until the first GOB episode that the thing really turns a corner, and even in that, the first half needed major edits; all the Ann stuff dragged.  I appreciated seeing Bruce McCulloch, because BRUCE MCCULLOCH, but really, what was the point of having him there?

That went for pretty much all the cameos.  You had people who were way too famous for the role they were playing (‘sup, Krasinski), people who were pure fan-service for comedy nerds (Bruce, a split-second of Dan Harmon), and people who I wasn’t sure whether they counted as cameos or were just character actors who needed the work (Diedrich Bader, the guy who plays John Ralphio on Parks and Rec).  Terry Crews acquitted himself well as Herman Cain, and Garcelle Beauvais was fine as his wife.  (I snickered at her name, “Ophelia Love” — say it out loud and it’s mildly amusing.)  Isla Fisher did not convince me she was even mildly attracted to either of her Bluth love interests.  Especially George Michael.  I’m actually kind of grossed out by Michael Cera at this point.  He had a moment back in ’08 or so where it looked like he might grow up kinda cute, but my God, he did NOT.  There was way, way, way too much George Michael funsexytimes in this season, between the animation of how bad a kisser he was to half-open silk kimonos…although his punchline to the woman he slept with in Spain was a killer.

My skeevy reaction to Michael Cera definitely colored my take on his two episodes in the second half, which I found the weakest, especially considering the company they were in.  Buster, Maeby, and GOB were the three episodes in the second half I would say were the same caliber as the original series.  The Buster episode in particular had me chortling loud ugly donkey laughs on multiple occasions.  Sorry, I’m apparently a sucker for humor related to a giant rubber hand.  But while I was definitely interested in some of the cliffhangers (the Anonymous guys, villainous bald Sally Sitwell, Maeby in jail, and of course the missing Lucille…although I doubt they’ll have the nerve to follow through on the darkest implications there), I really did not care about the plotline that got the parting shot.  The season actually made me hate Michael.  And I think that was the intention, but unfortunately it’s not the kind of hate where I either want to see him redeem himself or else really loathe him and want to watch him be punished.  I kind of don’t give a shit about the ostensible protagonist of the show anymore.  It seems to be pretty universally accepted that the episodes about the more peripheral characters were more enjoyable than the episodes about the fathers-and-sons dynamic that powered so much of the original series and seems to be the intended emotional through-line of this season.  I think that making the beginning so Michael/George Sr. centric and the tail end so Michael/George Michael centric shows that we’re supposed to be oriented around that grandfather-father-son pole while all the other characters sort of spin wildly around the periphery.  And I don’t know if that bodes particularly well for the movie, in the end.  Still, I am impressed by Hurtwitz’s chutzpah in structuring this thing the way he did, and I’m always glad to watch more Bluth madness.  I can’t wait to see what these episodes look like when he tries to cut them down for syndication.

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“I like getting older, I feel like I’m aging into my personality.”

Last week I made a series of mix CDs, which is a periodic necessity since I own what is apparently the last car ever manufactured without any sort of iPod input functionality. The theme of these particular CDs is basically ’90s/early ’00s R&B and rap, and I’ve put them together in an effort to avoid having to listen to the DJ I despise who does the Throwback Lunch on the local hip hop radio station. Seriously, if I had to hear this guy mispronounce Tony Toni Toné one more time I was going to drive off the highway in a blind rage. THEY SAY THE NAME OF THE BAND IN THE LYRICS OF THE SONG YOU JUST PLAYED, TONY TONI TONE HAS DONE IT AGAIN, LITERALLY LIKE 45 SECONDS AGO, THIS IS NOT AS HARD AS YOU’RE MAKING IT.

In the process of making these mixes, I’ve noticed a few things. Firstly, it turns out that much of the joy inherent in listening to the Throwback Lunch is unexpectedly hearing a song you had almost forgotten. It’s way more fun to hear “Da Dip” randomly on the radio than to hear it for the fifth time this week, always nestled between “Rump Shaker” and “Tootsie Roll’, because you just haven’t bothered to switch the disc out. Also a lot of these songs are legitimately terrible, which I knew at the time. I went on record in high school as saying “My Love Is The Shhhh” was the worst song of the nineties, and I stand by that assessment. But something about nostalgia will momentarily trick you into ignoring their flaws until you find yourself driving around, a grown woman in a sensible midsized sedan, crooning “LEMME WORK THAT BODY, BABY!” at the top of your lungs.

The last thing I’ve noticed is that, whereas 10 years ago I would have happily driven down the main drag of a college campus blaring embarrassing pop cheese with the windows down, more and more I keep the windows up. Why? Because it has started to sink in that the kids who are currently in college have almost none of the same cultural reference points as I do. The first moment this became clear to me was when a former co-worker, who was 21 at the time (and this was a couple years back now) heard Sisqo’s “Thong Song” playing in the store and yelled, “Aw yeah, this was my JAM…in second grade!” *record scratch* (Oh god, kids today must have no idea what a record scratch sounds like…this only just dawned on me…) Anyway, I actually really love this girl, but I was absolutely struck dumb by that. Second grade! And of course, she’s now graduated. The freshmen this fall will have been born in the same year that I… I don’t even know how to finish that sentence. They were born in 1995. The first year I did, like, EVERYTHING. Probably the single most formative year of my life. So as much as I enjoy blasting “Here Comes the Hotstepper” from my stereo, the kids looking at me sideways in front of the dorms were FETUSES when that song came out. So the windows stay closed.

*

I’ve always been almost comically interested in the idea of “generations”, possibly because I started paying attention to cultural commentary at a time when the gestalt was overinvested in “generation” dialogue. In the wake of last week’s ludicrously unoriginal “Me Me Me Generation” cover of Time, it’s important to remember that we have been through this bullshit before.

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When I was an adolescent, Generation X was the focal point of pop culture. Reality Bites and Singles and Slacker and Clerks. Kurt Cobain. Marc Jacobs doing a grunge collection during New York Fashion Week. Those first few actually good seasons of The Real World. Friends sitting around coffee shops drinking from mugs that, in the words of one of Phoebe’s boyfriends, “I’m sorry, might as well have NIPPLES on them.” And the book itself, Generation X, by Douglas Coupland, which illustrated young adults of the ’90s as nothing more than essentially anonymous retro Fisher Price Little People wandering through the desert of modern society. (Honestly, having read almost the entire Coupland oeuvre, I think Generation X is one of his weakest books. Microserfs gets the same point across, with a fun Web 1.0 flavor, and is just more fun to read.) Douglas Coupland himself skirts the top edge of what’s generally considered the Gen-X timespan; he was born in 1961. Richard Linklater, director of Slacker, was born in 1960. David Foster Wallace was born in 1962. Cameron Crowe, who wrote Singles, was born in 1957 and was married to the chick from Heart, if you can think of anything less grunge than that. All the longitudinal studies I’ve seen about Gen-X tend to define it as being people born between 1961 and 1981, but anyone born at the top and bottom edge of that range would tell you that is absurdly broad. The idea that Barack Obama and I are of the same generation is ridiculous. But at the same time, Obama is clearly not a Boomer, and anyone my age would flinch at being referred to as a Millenial.

Doree Shafrir, who has written for Jezebel and Slate, coined the phrase “Generation Catalano” for the folks I’ve always seen as my cohort, people born between 1976 and 1981…basically people who were teenagers while My So-Called Life was on the air. We are the generation that aped grunge but could never truly be grunge; the generation that was raised on MTV but could still vaguely remember a time when it didn’t exist. Those of us who dragged enormous desktop PCs with us to college fall between the true Gen-Xers who used electric typewriters or went to a computer lab, and the Millenials who take the fact of having a laptop with them in seminars as a given. (I was always amused by the number of kids I saw at the Apple Store who would drop their computers off at the Genius Bar for repair like we were asking them to saw off their own arm, telling us, aghast, “But I have class tomorrow; what am I supposed to do without my computer?” I always wanted to just hand them a #2 pencil and a composition notebook and see if they would just stare, uncomprehending, like a neanderthal seeing fire for the first time.)

Clearly Generation Catalano is a stupid term, one that also reflects how much of this talk about generations is a white upper middle class thing…seriously, every article I’ve ever seen bitching about Millenials has been written by deeply myopic east coast media types about deeply myopic east coast media types, ignoring large swaths of the country that don’t have the luxury of complaining about how hard it is to find internships or arguing about how entitled Hannah Horvath is. But there is definitely a group of American thirtysomethings, of which I am a part, who were deeply influenced by the Gen-X media flurry of the early ’90s but can’t truly lay claim to the label.

I think one of the reasons I responded so strongly to the show New Girl upon discovering it this past season is that it’s the first show I can remember that’s about my peers, starring my peers, specifically addressing what it’s like being one of my peers. Like, Dawson’s Creek was people my age and older playing people three years my junior. How I Met Your Mother and Big Bang Theory are both about people generally my age, but half the casts are pushing 40. (Will Ted meet the mother before Josh Radnor qualifies for social security? Stay tuned to the inexplicable season 9 to find out!) New Girl is often described as being another sitcom about twentysomethings sitting around an unrealistically large apartment, essentially Friends redux. But Friends was a bunch of thirtysomethings (and later fortysomethings; seriously, how ridiculous was that episode about how they all turned 30 when Lisa Kudrow was clearly almost menopausal?) playing twentysomethings, whereas New Girl is a bunch of thirtysomethings playing thirtysomethings. And that’s kind of the whole point of the show — they’re living like they’re still twentysomethings, coming to terms with the fact that their twenties are rapidly receding into distant memory. I can relate to that. They’ve basically established that the characters were born in 1981-82, but the actors were all born in ’78 and ’80, and I get the sense the writers are too. The music cues are for the most part spot on. The fact that Nick’s favorite songs are “Groove Is In The Heart” and “Call Me Al” really couldn’t be possible if he was a Millenial. I don’t think Deee-Lite translates for people who weren’t alive in ’91. Although I am still boggled by an anachronistic use of Titanic in a late season 2 episode. That episode as a whole had some weird pop cultural choices (“Stay” by Lisa Loeb at the senior prom in 2000? Probably not a thing that would happen), but that was the exception rather than the rule, and I am clearly way pickier about this stuff than the vastvastvast majority of the American viewing public. I’m worse than Comic Book Guy sometimes, seriously.

The other thing I sincerely enjoy about New Girl (or at least I did until the later part of the season got bogged down in a romcom plot that I enjoyed from a SQUEEEEEE!! perspective but not so much a humor perspective) is that the sensibility is just off-kilter enough that it doesn’t seem to be written from the standard sitcom playbook. Extended slo-mo chicken dances to Phil Collins, physical comedy set in a Chinese water massage parlor, Rusted Root-soundtracked threesomes with the warlock drug dealer from Buffy, Zooey Deschanel fending off a coyote in the desert by impersonating the Road Runner…it’s just operating from a quirkier, more improv-influenced base than Modern Family or Two and a Half Men. It’s not the surreal insanity of the first three seasons of Community, but it’s the closest thing we’ve got at this point.

*

New Girl is a favorite over on the media review section of The Onion‘s website, the AV Club. AV Club comment sections have become my favorite place on the internet. It’s the sort of website where basically every thread descends into an extended “Dental Plan….Lisa Needs Braces” reference at some point. In other words, it’s populated with comedy nerds who are exactly my age with exactly my taste in humor. This is in contrast to a website that I keep wanting to like, Splitsider, which is the comedy-specific arm of the Awl/Hairpin blog empire. The Awl was created by Choire Sicha and Alex Balk, who are both around 40 years old; no one would contest them as solidly Gen-X, and Balk at the very least would probably laugh witheringly at the fact that someone born in 1980 bothered to expound at this length about something so pointless as “microgenerations”. And then he would drink more whisky and be glad that he’s one day closer to death, and that’s why I love Alex Balk. Anyway…Balk and Choire unfortunately hired a bunch of singularly unfunny Millenials to write Splitsider, which leads to me hate-reading a lot of that site the way I hate-listen to that clueless DJ on the Throwback Lunch. Any writer for a website that would describe Elf and Wedding Crashers as “classic movies” or, as triggered a tirade on my Facebook wall recently, willingly admit to being introduced to Michael Ian Black, David Wain, and Michael Showalter through Stella web shorts rather than from The State, is simply not someone I can take seriously as a comedy aficionado. There are people who watched Stella web shorts in their freshman dorm room, and there are people who watched The State Skits & Stickers VHS tape in their freshman dorm room, and never the twain shall meet.

I think there is a social context to how you encounter certain things that are considered comedy milestones that help define generational dividing lines. Someone who watched the first episode of Saturday Night Live as it happened, saw Belushi and O’Donoghue having a bizarre, contextless conversation about feeding someone’s fingertips to the wolverines, must have said, “Holy shit, we’re allowing 20-something nihilists to write and perform TV shows now??” They will always have a different understanding of that show within both the context of the time and the context of their own personal history than someone like me who randomly stumbled across it on Nick at Nite nearly 15 years later and got maybe a third of the jokes. For me, watching things like The State and Kids in the Hall and Mr. Show in their first run as an adolescent was incredibly formative to my appreciation of comedy and my sense of what is funny. Whereas someone who knows David Cross from watching Arrested Development on Netflix and goes to seek out Mr. Show years after the fact is going to be like, “Oh hey, this is funny!” But there won’t be the same sense of wonder as when your friend slips you a VHS they programmed to tape HBO Sundays at midnight, and your resulting astonishment that something so simultaneously ambitious and lo-fi and altogether bizarre is actually being shown on TV.

I will never be able to appreciate the Lenny Bruce obscenity trial as anything but a historical anecdote, but to my parents and other people their age, the fact that someone was talking about “cocksuckers” and “jacking off” in a comedy routine was shocking. Now it doesn’t make us blink. Carlin — not shocking to me. Bill Hicks — not shocking to me. Andrew Dice Clay — not shocking to me. Because I saw them all at such a young age that I just considered them the standard, didn’t understand the fuss. People who don’t remember a time before a 24-hour comedy channel are as foreign to me as people who secretly listened to Carlin LPs in the attic so their parents wouldn’t hear the words shit piss fuck cunt cocksucker motherfucker and tits.

Me, I listened to a Divinyls cassette single on a purple plastic boom box in the attic, because even though I didn’t really know what “I Touch Myself” was about, I knew enough to know I didn’t want my parents to think I did. And my jam in second grade wasn’t “Thong Song”, it was “Push It”, which I learned all the lyrics to phonetically, clearly not knowing what a “baby pop” was. And I have plenty of friends who would cringe to hear that I was in second grade when Salt N Pepa first came out, because my god, they were in HIGH SCHOOL in 1987! And so it goes. What’s more disorienting than anything is that, after spending so much time being the youngest member of various web forums, I’ve suddenly reached the age where the “Things That Will Make You Feel Old” lists on Buzzfeed are being written by and for people at least five years my junior. Don’t even get me started on Thought Catalog; that shit is incomprehensible to me, across the board. The people I thought were the epitome of cool when I was an adolescent are now impossibly old. Jon Stewart used to host a show on MTV where he would wear a leather jacket as the Afghan Whigs performed. Now he’s 50, the epitome of the comedy establishment, and everyone in the Afghan Whigs really needs to start watching their cholesterol intake. Thurston and Kim broke up because Thurston wouldn’t stop running around with a 34-year-old he worked with while writing a book about “mix-tape culture”. Adam Yauch died of salivary gland cancer last year. Hell, Jasmine Guy plays the GRANDMOTHER of a TEENAGER on Vampire Diaries. I mean, clearly Whitley Gilbert was secretly closer to Byron’s age than Dwayne’s, but that was still a swift kick to my diaphragm when I saw it. Gen-X is turning 50, Millenials are having their quarter life crisis, and I…I still know all the words to “Shoop” and follow Thomas Lennon’s twitter full of Smiths-related hashtag wordplay and Instagrammed pictures of Prince-symbol-shaped pancakes he makes for his toddler. I’m cool in my own mind. And now, when I watch My So Called Life, I sympathize with the parents and want Angela to get over herself. Generation Catalano is getting old, man. And our namesake is a mess. Have you seen that guy lately? Talk about not aging gracefully.

Things your toddler will do when you’re injured and can’t stop him:

•Take all the books off his shelf.

•Take all the books off your shelves.

•Take all his puzzles off the rack.

•Take all the pieces out of the puzzles.

•Unfold all the folded laundry on the table.

•Climb onto the table and do a flamenco dance.

•Throw all of the unfolded laundry out of the hamper.

•Put the hamper on his head and walk around looking like a Dalek.

•Take the hamper off his head and fill it with books, puzzle pieces, train tracks, train cars, and stuffed animals.

•Come upstairs and dump out all the toy bins.

•Climb onto play room table and do flamenco dance.

•Play with plug-in nightlight his dad neglected to put away.

•Eat play doh his sister neglected to put away.

•Draw on floor with crayon his mom neglected to put away. D’oh!

•Eat crayon.

•Climb onto piano bench and do flamenco dance.

•Climb into bathtub and do flamenco dance.

•Climb into dishwasher and lick silverware.

•Repeat.

Farewell, Aragog, king of arachnids, whose long and faithful friendship those who knew you won’t forget!

One of the important parts of parenting small children is modeling behavior — that is, acting like you’re not as screwed up as you are so your kids don’t grow up to be screwed up like you are. Everyone generally flubs this one here and there. Among my particular cohort, foul language seems to be the one that trips us up most often. Earlier this evening, my daughter had cause to giggle, “Did you just say ‘holy crap’?” Yes, yes I did. But that particular slip up came wrapped up in a larger package with a different aspect of modeled behavior that I’ve pretty much aced, against very long odds.

I had just seen a spider.

A flippin’ ENORMOUS spider.

Like, imagine Charlotte had a binge-eating disorder, took steroids, and then got hit by Wayne Szalinski’s growth ray. Honey, I blew up the arachnid. In my house. Where I live and eat and sleep and breathe and stuff.

I have a very strong bug phobia. Not crippling, but strong. I once spent a night in a motel shaking and weeping because we couldn’t defeat the swarms of tiny flies that descended on our room after the sun went down. I was standing on the bed, attempting to swat them, when I pivoted and saw a gigantic spiderweb in the corner just littered with the damn things. And I just melted into a sobbing, inconsolable heap. My husband had never seen me have a panic attack like that before. It wasn’t pretty.

But D luhhhhrves bugs. She likes worms best, actually, which I’m fine with. I have no real quarrel with worms. We did procure a couple foot-long fat pink nightcrawlers last week that were really pushing the envelope as far as my gag reflex was concerned…but mostly worms are OK. It’s arthropods I have the problem with. Slimy? Yuck, but whatever, you do you. Crunchy? Skittery? Get the fuck out. And now I live with a child who adores the damn things. Who will carry a millipede between thumb and forefinger for a quarter hour, chattering about how they’re going to be such good friends. Who will squeal with delight when a zookeeper offers her the opportunity to pet a Giant Madagascar Hissing Cockroach. SHE PET A FUCKING COCKROACH, PEOPLE. I pet a cockroach once, but only on accident because I thought it was a turd the cat had kicked from her litter box into her food bowl and instead it was a logy fat palmetto bug that had gorged itself on kibble and wasn’t able to scuttle to safety when the kitchen lights flipped on. Since spring has sprung, in the last few weeks, I have found myself variously poking through soil looking for potato bugs, examining the legs on a spiky caterpillar, coaxing a ludicrously large beetle onto a wood chip, overturning a rock to expose an utterly vile and teeming citronella ant colony, and generally wondering where my life took such a disastrous turn and trying my very best to only dry-heave, not actually retch, in front of my child.

When I see bugs inside, I kill them. I’m sorry, may all sentient beings be free of suffering and blah blah blah, but whatever I can do to minimize the essentially constant mild sensation that bugs are crawling all over my skin, that’s what I’m gonna do. But last week I noticed D going out of her way to smush ants out on the porch. So, although part of my brain was like, “YES, MY CHILD, JOIN ME IN MY ANT-CRUSH BRIGADE AND WE WILL ERADICATE THIS SIX-LEGGED DEMON ARMY THAT WANTS TO DEVOUR THE OREO CRUMBS YOU LEAVE STREWN IN YOUR WAKE SERIOUSLY THOUGH KID YOU ARE FOUR YEARS OLD NOW WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO BE ABLE TO EAT LIKE A HUMAN NOT A WOODCHIPPER I DIGRESS CRUSH KILL DESTROY ALL INSECTS,” I instead calmly explained that when we’re outside we leave bugs alone, because the outdoors is their home…but if she sees one inside, let me know and I will dispose of it. Go me, modeling behavior! Teaching my child respect for nature while simultaneously not passing along my own petty weird phobias and brain farts!

And then tonight that mature, totally-together posture I had thus far managed to maintain in front of this kid shattered in the face of a four-inch-long daddy long legs hanging like a skeletal venomous teardrop from the ceiling outside the basement bathroom.

*giggle* “Did you just say ‘holy crap’?”

I walked purposefully to the kitchen and grabbed a few paper towels…and then a few more, because in the time it took me to sprint up the stairs my brain had transformed the thing from an objectively-large cellar spider to Aragog the Acromantula. I started back downstairs and my breath began to catch in my chest; tears welled in the corners of my eyes; my hands shook. I was going to be a model parent. I was going to be brave. I wasn’t going to let my child see that I’m secretly broken. I’ll save that horrible revelation for when she’s an adult and has grown to resent me for other, yet-to-be-determined reasons.

But D had made enough of a commotion in my wake that my husband came to see what was going on. He found me hyperventilating, covered in sweat, clutching a wad of paper towels and cowering in front of a completely harmless bug. “I think I need you to do it,” I quavered, and he took the towels and killed the damn thing.

“Can I see it?” Dahlia asked, eyes agleam.

“Well, I think it’s pretty well squished…” he said, as he unfolded the towel…and then yanked his hand back violently with a sudden intake of breath, as if it had bitten him.

I literally shrieked and fell over backwards. Aragog was alive! WE NEED BASILISK VENOM!

My husband started to laugh. “No, no, it’s dead, it’s squished.”

“That was SO MEAN,” I hiccuped as the blood rushed back to my head.

Model parental behavior.

“And at times the fact of his absence will hit you like a blow to the chest, and you will weep.”

Aside

When I was in middle school, my mom received a delightful invitation one day from a family friend.  Richard Lee was going to be consulting on a case for the Buffalo Zoo; there was a newborn giraffe who had something wrong with one of its four stomachs (fun fact: giraffes have four stomachs!), and he thought maybe I would like to tag along.  I’m not sure what made him think of me.  Maybe he knew I needed a small infusion of whimsy in my life.  But I do know that, because of Dick Lee, I ended up in a cage with the most amazing animal I’ve ever had the opportunity to touch, getting licked by its enormous sticky purple tongue.

I remember thinking, at the time, “Why is Dr. Lee working at the zoo?” I was under the impression that he was an OB-GYN. I’d been to his office at Children’s Hospital.  But it turned out that Dick Lee had a resume longer than my arm.  According to this exhaustive interview, he was Director of Medical Clinics and the Primary Care Center at Yale, as well as chief of General Medicine.  Then he was vice-chairman of the Department of Medicine at SUNY Buffalo, while also chief of medical services at the VA.  Then he became head of the Department of Medicine at Children’s Hospital, Chief of Maternal and Adolescent Medicine and the Division of Geographic Medicine at UB, professor of anthropology, professor of social and preventative medicine, professor of pediatrics, chief medical officer at the WHO Center for Wealth in Housing, medical director of something called Ecology and Environment, Inc., and, yes, consultant in Internal Medicine at the Buffalo Zoological Society.  He was also one of the smartest, funniest, kindest and most captivating human beings I have ever had the immeasurable pleasure to know.

And yesterday, he died of a heart attack.

I was talking to a friend recently about how ages that seemed old when we were children don’t seem old now.  Obviously this is mainly due to a change in perspective as you yourself age, but I think it’s also due to men like Dick Lee.  When I told my husband that my parents’ friend had died, out of the blue, he asked how old Dick had been.  I told him 75 or 76, something like that.  “Well, then it wasn’t REALLY out of the blue.  I mean, he was 75.” But Dick somehow seemed ageless. I hadn’t seen him a couple years, I suppose, but the last time I did see him he was as vibrant and vital as he had ever been in all the time I knew him.

I met Dick when I was 7.  I had already known of his son, Ben, who was a year ahead of my sister in school and had given indelible performances in their productions of M*A*S*H, The Music Man, and The Man Who Came to Dinner. Ben was always much nicer than he really had to be to the kid who showed up backstage at her sister’s plays and gazed at him in awe.  But then I met Ben’s parents and realize that he simply came from very very good stock.

My dad got to know Dick when he helped facilitate an exchange program between Nichols and a boarding school called Loretto, in Scotland, which Dick had attended briefly as a teenager.  The teacher who came to Buffalo from Loretto, Peter Wood, became a great friend and colleague to my father, and he began coming to dinners at our house.  Soon, Dick and Susan Lee began coming along.  And that summer, we were invited to our first of many gatherings at the Lees’ house.

The Lees lived out in the country, on an expansive property called Many Barn Farm.  The name was apt.  As a kid, my favorite barn was, understandably, the stable, where they rented out stalls, and where I took one of the two horseback rides I’ve ever gone on in my life.  (Both were before the age of 10. It’s been a slow 20 years, horse-wise.)  Another barn was converted in the ‘90s into a guest house and library.  I remember Dick and Susan being very eager to show off the renovations to my parents and me once they were complete.  They envisioned holding salons there, gatherings on cold winter nights in the large library loft with a selection of the most interesting people Buffalo had to offer, where they could trade ideas and drink wine.

But every party at the Lees’ house was essentially a salon.  A salon with swimming, and volleyball, and kebobs.  Dick had, over the years, curated a collection of friends who were smart and funny and very occasionally skirted the line of pretentiousness, but regardless a fabulous array of individuals for me to be exposed to at a young age.  I didn’t really appreciate that exposure until I was quite a bit older.  When I was young, I used to spend much of the time at their parties exploring the house, which was crammed to the rafters with books and papers and maps and globes and relics and an enormous tiger skin rug that I would lie on and read the old magazines (mainly Harvard Lampoons, if I recall correctly) that I had scavenged out of his older son’s bedroom, because the actual books in the house were all too intimidating for me to touch.  Dick Lee seemed to ingest information whole, absorb it through his skin.  He knew everything and somehow wanted to learn more.  He was among the most well-read people I have ever met.

He was also one of the kindest, and almost certainly the most benevolent.  He spent his summers for years and years taking students as young as 14 on medical treks to Ladakh, a remote mountainous area in Kashmir, where they would help treat infections, administer vaccines, and care for pregnant women and their children.  He apparently took similar trips to Brazil and Kenya.  He spent much of his residency in rural Montana, doing housecalls for families in the middle of nowhere and then working on a reservation.  He managed to combine his drive for adventure and thirst for knowledge with a relentless do-goodery that touched thousands of patients over 50 years of practice.

And he somehow managed to take the time out three months ago to respond almost immediately when I sent him an email about my health concerns.  He provided some clarification about auto-antibody tests and reassured me that it was certainly possible to have positive results on those tests and never develop full-blown symptoms of lupus or Sjogren’s. (He also followed up with my mother a few weeks ago to see if I’d gotten any answers from my rheumatologist visit, and just to express general concern.)  I look at our email correspondence and feel, as my mom put it yesterday, bereft.  It doesn’t make sense.  How could he have just been here, and then, in a moment, gone?  I listened to a radio interview last night that he and Ben did a couple years back, discussing his discovery of their hidden Chinese heritage, and I just smiled hearing his voice.  His voice that was alternately calm, clear and wise, or else boisterous, rollicking, Shakespearean.  I can’t imagine never hearing it again.  The world is richer for him having been here, and poorer now that he is gone.

Feed Your Head

As some of you who know me well have probably ascertained, I am and will continue to be in the thrall of everyone’s favorite boogeyman lobbying group, big PHARMA. Yup, they make more money by perpetuating the absolutely miserable state of American health. But you know what? I take pills, and they keep me from killing myself. My father takes pills, luuuuudicrously expensive pills, and they DISSOLVE METASTATIC TUMORS. And my daughter, my beautiful little daughter, takes a pill. A pill that when the doctor first suggested it, my body tensed up in reflexive disbelief, and I barked out, without even thinking for one second, “There is no way my husband and I are medicating this child.” And then we did. And our lives, her life, changed in a way that’s been so dramatic over the last year, it’s hard to remember what she was like before. Because before, she could recite entire books and entire movies, but she couldn’t have anything resembling a conversation. Before, she had close to zero functional play — you would hand her two toys and she would simply bang them together in an effort to discover how much noise they could possibly make. Before, I had no hope that she would ever learn to write because she perseverated so intensely on writing implements that it was impossible to teach her how to use them: “I will just hold the pen. I can have that pen. I just need the pen. I can just hold that pen. Wanna hold the pen. Me to hold the pen. I need to just have the pen,” clutched in a death grip in her fists, one in each hand, a vitally necessary symmetry.

Before, she spent three years locked inside a brain that never ever ever stopped spinning, whizzing, whirring, screaming for a single second. The doctor who prescribed the medication looked at me, and then looked at D, who was, entirely literally, bouncing off the walls. Bouncing. Off. The walls. And she said, “Obviously this is making you miserable. But imagine how miserable it must be for her.”

There’s a great book called, “We’ve Got Issues,” by Judith Warner, who used to write the parenting blog on the New York Times website. She got a book deal with a proposal about how America is overmedicating its children. This was not a particularly startling thesis. It’s practically a media meme at this point. OBVIOUSLY we’re giving kids too many psychiatric drugs. DUH. No one even questions it. Warner must have thought the book would write itself. And then she went off to do her research and started meeting parents, these horrible parents who just want to drug their kids to shut them up…and she was shocked by what she found. Because none of the parents she met, NONE of them, want to be medicating their kids. These aren’t people who went diagnosis shopping, or are too lazy to bother parenting their spoiled brats. These are parents who are beside themselves with grief, children who are in pain, families who are doing whatever they can to cope with the unexpected hand they’re been dealt while simultaneously being ashamed of themselves for doing what all of society accepts, as a given, is the worst thing you can do as a parent. Drug your kid?! Who on earth would do such a thing?!

Hi. *wave*

Two days before my daughter’s third (3) birthday, I stuffed a tiny tablet of Ritalin into a juice box straw and watched her suck it down. And it was easily the hardest decision I’ve had to make as a parent, and just as easily the one I regret the least. Because the D that exists today is not the D that would have existed without that medication, and I firmly, fiercely believe that. You can throw all the behavioral therapy in the world at a child, but what good could it possibly do if she can’t hear you over the constant din inside her skull?

The first antidepressant I ever took was the wrong one. In retrospect I can now see that it triggered me into hypomania, and no one pinpointed that at the time because the psychiatrist I was seeing didn’t believe that teenagers could be bipolar. So, that put a bit of a hiccup into the first few years of my treatment. But the second drug I tried worked. It didn’t work immediately. But I remember very clearly, I was lying in a bathtub, a few weeks after I’d started the med, and I suddenly noticed that the fog that had utterly encased me for as long as I could remember had finally lifted. And I jumped out of the tub and ran down the hall to tell my mom that for the first time in a very very very long time, I wasn’t sad. I know the difference it makes when a medication can lift the fog, or stop the din.

So now I’m looking for a miracle pill that makes me not hurt. But given that the story of my psychopharmacological misadventures doesn’t end with me dripping wet and jubilant in my childhood kitchen, I know it’s never that easy. And it won’t be for D, either. We’re both in for long bumpy roads of throwing meds at the wall until we see what sticks. It’s not a road I would have chosen for my child, obviously. But it’s one that I knew was a possibility, to one extent or another, when I chose to become pregnant. And I have always felt that at least I am prepared as a parent could possibly be to help shepherd their child through this particular type of minefield. I just hope that…I don’t know what I hope. I hope she ends up happy. I hope I end up not hurting. Simple goals, but somehow also lofty ones. My hand hurts too much now to write anymore, so clearly we have a ways to go.

One time on House it actually was lupus, though.

Aside

Yes, I did finally see a rheumatologist, although my route there was almost comically circuitous.  You see, when I was at the beginning of my pregnancy with D, I developed a rash. Nothing excruciatingly itchy or horribly disfiguring, but these spots started appearing around my ankles and then slowly, randomly, scattered themselves up my legs and onto my torso.  The first ones I thought were spider bites, but then they got bigger rather than fading. They were red, kinda scaly, kinda itchy. So I showed them to my OB. “I have NO IDEA what those could be.” (In his defense, he was a third year resident at the time.) He sent me to a dermatologist (also a resident). “I have NO IDEA what those could be!…Can I take some pictures?” Nothing better than having the red splotches all over your swollen belly photographed repeatedly while you stand in your underpants waiting for a surprisingly painful punch biopsy. The results came back and the dermatologist, in her somewhat strained English, described it as “lichenoid…like lichen planus.  It’s maybe autoimmune.” “So, like, my skin is allergic to my fetus??” I ventured, although even as I asked I knew the answer would be inconclusive and unhelpful.  She ordered something called an ANA titer.  ANA stands for Antinuclear Antibody, and it’s basically a really broad test that indicates whether your immune system has possibly gone haywire and is trying to attack itself.  My result was borderline high (1:160) and I was told to go have a baby and then come back to check in afterwards.

I dragged a livid, wailing two-month-old into the dermatology clinic half a year later to show the doctor the even larger annular lesions that had formed on my thighs and chest late in my pregnancy but were starting to fade.  She prescribed a steroid cream to help them skedaddle faster and had me retake the ANA test, along with a larger set of tests that check for the presence of more specific antibodies that can help pinpoint particular autoimmune diseases you may be at risk for.  A few days later, I heard from a nurse in the office, telling me that my ANA was high again, so I might want to maybe think about seeing a rheumatologist. I said I was kinda busy with the whole “my daughter is screaming bloody murder in her car seat” thing, so I’d probably wait to see if anything weird panned out.  The nurse said that sounded fine.

And then I went off and started attempting to parent and realized with horror that it really doesn’t become any easier to make time for “self-care” as your kid gets older.  It actually gets way harder.  And then I had a second kid.  Ha ha ha ha, yeah, I know, I’m really not all that bright. And then my older kid got diagnosed with Aspergers! And ADHD! And then my fucking muscles started popping off like rusted bedsprings one at a time and I was all, hmmmmm…maybe I should get that referral after all.

A small patch of psoriasis on my knee finally gave me an excuse to head back to the dermatologist — a different woman this time, who seemed decidedly more concerned. She gave me another ANA test.  While I waited for those results, I flipped through my medical records (which I happened to have in full due to the legal process following a car accident) and found some interesting information that had not previously been adequately disclosed to me.

First of all, the pathology report on that biopsy was eye-opening, to say the least.  The rash that my doctor had said was “sort of like lichen planus” was actually described as “lichenoid dermatitis” and the pathologist specifically said he thought it was “unlikely” to be related to lichen planus but rather possibly associated with “collagen vascular disease”.  Thank god for the good folks at Habush Habush & Rottier, LLC, because none of that shit showed up on the little biopsy summary on the UW Health My Chart app. Also, some numbers caught my eye. The ANA test they took after D was born was actually higher than the first one (1:360) , and it wasn’t the only positive result.  I was also positive for something called Anti-SSA, an auto-antibody closely associated with Sjogren’s Syndrome and lupus.  I honestly don’t think the doctor ever even saw the Anti-SSA positive. Nothing in her notes says anything about it, and the last call I got from the office was the morning before that result came back.

This time around, a nurse called from the dermatologist’s office the next day.  My ANA was positive, and they would be referring me to the rheumatology department. “The good news,” she said in a misguided attempt to be perky, “is that all your kidney function tests are normal!” Was I supposed to be worried about my kidney function? Shellshocked, I hung up without asking for the actual result and had to call back to find out. 1:640. They took it twice to be sure. When they do an ANA titer, they dose the cells with fluorescent dye and look at it under a microscope to see the patterns the antibodies form on the slide. These patterns can also help indicate what autoimmune disorder you’re dealing with.  The first time they ran it, it had a “speckled” pattern, which is relatively non-specific but rules out much stuff other than Sjogren’s and lupus. The second test, the pattern was listed as “homogeneous”, which is pretty much only seen in  people who are either completely healthy…or have lupus.

So now one side of my brain has turned into George Costanza, wringing his hands and whimpering, “Is it lupus? It’s lupus, isn’t it?” And the other side of my brain is Greg House and is shouting, “It is NOT lupus.  It is NEVER lupus.” And, you know, in general I’m inclined to agree with anything Hugh Laurie tells me.  He’s the damned Prince Regent, after all.  He spent a night of ecstasy with a pair of Wellingtons and he loved it.  But given that I wasn’t seeing any doctors at Princeton Plainsboro and it’s pretty unlikely that I have naphthalene poisoning from termites or a tick in my vagina, the Costanza side of my brain seems to have more weight than usual.

But I don’t have lupus.  At least, not yet.  You have to have four symptoms off a list of a possible 11 to qualify for the diagnosis.  So far as I can tell, I have three.  Which does qualify me for rheumatologist visits every six months until one of my vital organs goes into imminent collapse.  Meanwhile I maaaaaybe have an undifferentiated connective tissue disease, but I also maybe probably have fibromyalgia? Or maybe also/or myofascial pain syndrome? Piriformis syndrome? All of the the above?  Unfortunately, what I definitely 100% do have, and have had for a very long time, is bipolar disorder, and all the drugs that work on fibromyalgia are effective because they futz with neurotransmitters.  As do the two other medications that I’m on, medications that have kept me from being a total basket case for nearly a decade.

You know what’s worse than a parent who is exhausted and in chronic pain? A parent who is manic. You know how I know that? Because I’ve been manic.  And manic people are the worst. Worse than Chris Brown.  Worse than graduate students. Worse than everyone in Keith Olbermann’s book.  WORSE THAN KEITH OLBERMANN.  Depressed, I can do in my sleep.  That’s actually a very precise description — if all else fails, if I’m depressed I can probably just go the fuck to sleep.  But mania sneaks up on you.  There is nothing more terrifying than knowing that if you let your guard down, or your prescription drug coverage lapse, there is something waiting in your brain for the perfect moment to take control and ruin your life.  Stupid fibromyalgia.  I couldn’t have something that could just lead to a relatively benign opiate habit. No, I get the pain that needs antidepressants to treat it.  Which just adds to the impression, one I myself am not immune to, that fibromyalgia is a bullshit diagnosis, is “all in your head” as they say.  It’s not bad enough that I spent the first three decades of my life dealing with the perception that all my mental health issues would be resolved if I stopped acting like such a stupid lazy fuckup who never lived up to her potential.  Now you’re telling me that the pain I actually feel, in my actual muscles, pain that makes my shoulders twist into ropey knots, pain that shoots down my sciatic nerves and stabs me in my temples, pain that makes me be for mercy when something as seemingly inconsequential as my jaw seizes up…is pain that Cymbalta can fix? Man, fibromyalgia can suck it.