11 Reasons Why Ted Cruz Should Shut the Hell Up About “New York Values”

Ted_Cruz_-_Caricature___Flickr_-_Photo_Sharing_

Ted Cruz should just shut the hell up about “New York values.”

Seriously.  Not just because Donald Trump owned him in the Republican debate Thursday night by pointing to 9/11.  And not just because of the brutal hypocrisy of decrying New York values on the one hand, and on the other relying on New York money and undisclosed Goldman Sach “loans” to fund your campaign.

Rather, Cruz should just shut up because he’s wrong about New York values.  Indeed, even if you look only at the kinds of “traditional values” that Cruz reveres, New York actually blows out his home state of Canada Texas.

Now, let me be clear: I like Texas.  (And Canada, for that matter!)  Love the riverwalk, Austin is very nice, I like barbecue, big fan of Friday Night Lights.  All good stuff.  As a great New Yorker once said, “this isn’t personal, it’s business.”

But in Biblical terms, which he should understand, Cruz threw the first stone. So let’s see how Texas versus New York shakes out on traditional values like marriage, chastity, life, law-and-order, and charity:

1.  Texans are more likely to get divorced.

We start with one of the most fundamental of values: marriage. Now, Ted Cruz might not like ALL marriages — if you catch my subtle drift — but he certainly would say that getting, and staying, married shows a sound value system.  And yet, Texas has a higher divorce rate and more divorced people than New York, which actually has the second-lowest percentage of divorced residents in the country — after, you’ll never guess, New Jersey!.

2.  Texans are more likely to beat their wives.

Why are so many more Texas marriages breaking up? Maybe it’s because Texas has the eighth highest domestic violence rate in America, well above New York.  Seems to me that the “family value” of “not hitting your spouse” is setting the bar kind of low, but at least New York clears it, and Texas doesn’t.

3.  Texans are more likely to be sex offenders.

Speaking of setting the bar low, Texas has one of the highest rates of registered sex offenders in the country.  Indeed, according to Parents for Megans Law, Texas has the most registered sex offenders of any state in the country.  It’s not clear from the data whether Texas breeds sex offenders, or whether sex offenders from around the country flock to the state for the barbecue, warm weather, prevalence of white windowless vans, or what, but whatever the reason Texas, with only 40% more people, has over twice as many sex offenders as New York.

4.  Texas has a higher teen pregnancy rate….

I’m sure that Ted Cruz is a big proponent of chastity as a value, and Texas is also one of the country’s leading advocates of “abstinence-only” sex education teaching.  But it’s not working so well — Texas has the third-highest rate of teen pregnancy in the country.

5.  …And a higher rate of births out-of-wedlock.

Abstinence strikes again — Texas has one of the highest rates of births to unmarried women in the country, much higher than in New York. Now, I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with an unmarried woman having a baby, but my guess is that Ted Cruz probably does.  If so, he should do something about that.

6.  Texans don’t live as long.  

If you value “life,” then you should probably value a longer life than a shorter life.  And yet, New York outranks Texas on every indicator on lifespan, with a lower infant death rate and a longer life expectancy. Indeed, New Yorkers have the sixth-highest life expectancy in the country; Texas ranks 30th.

7.  Maybe that’s because Texas has a higher violent crime rate….

Okay, Texans get divorced more, diddle the kids more, get teens pregnant more, and die earlier. But, surely, Texas is safer, right? All those guns?  Not so much —  according to Uniform Crime Reporting Statistics, Texas has a higher rate of violent crime than New York, including twice the rate of forcible rape. Shouldn’t “not raping people” count as one of those “values” Ted Cruz talks about?

8…And a higher murder rate…

Maybe it’s the heat. Or all that flatness. Or all the guns.  But Texas also has a vastly higher murder rate than New York.  Again, “not murdering people” seems kind of like an important value, almost like one of those “Commandments” that I read about somewhere.

9.  …And a higher suicide rate.

If Texans aren’t killing each other, they’re killing themselves — Texas has a much higher suicide rate than New York.  In fact, even with all those tall buildings and bridges, New York has the second-lowest suicide rate in the country!

10.  Finally, Texans care less for the needy…

Certainly, we can all agree that taking care of those less fortunate is a cornerstone of our values system.  Ted Cruz would probably call it “being a good Christian.” So why is it that even though Texas has a higher poverty rate than New York, Texans give less to charity than New Yorkers?

11.  ….And are more dependent on the federal government.

This one’s going to hurt.  Guess which of the two states gets more in federal tax dollars than it puts in?  Yeah, it’s Texas, which is one of those “taker” states, getting about $1.50 in federal money for every dollar of taxes paid.  Texans can thank New Yorkers for their generosity, since we pay more than we get — about 80 cents back on every tax dollar.  You’re welcome, Texas.  We know you need it more than us, with all those poor people who aren’t getting any charity….

So on all these measures, New York out-values Texas.  And that’s using only the “traditional” values that Ted Cruz is probably referring to: marriage, chastity, law-and-order, life, charity, all that stuff.  Let’s not even mention the values that might be considered more “partisan,” like how Texas is a bigger polluter, has more accidental gun deaths, is less tolerant, and, frankly, dumber. Okay, let’s sort of mention them.

Frankly, I would think that Ted Cruz wouldn’t want to remind voters that they’re making a choice between a Texan like him and a New Yorker like Donald Trump (or Hillary Clinton, or even Brooklyn native Bernie Sanders!).  After all, both New York and Texas have a presidential track record, contributing presidents from both parties.  But Texas saddled us with LBJ and two Bushes, a dismal bipartisan record of two one-termers and another who has been disavowed by his own party.

How about New York?  Well, we didn’t get off to such a good start in the 19th century with Fillmore and Van Buren, but the 20th century track record was, ummm,  pretty good: two Roosevelts, one Republican, one Democrat, one on Mt. Rushmore, the other memorialized on the D.C. mall.

But Ted Cruz might not be aware of presidential history.  After all, they don’t study that so much in Calgary.

Joseph Rand is the author of the Move to SUMA blog about his experiences moving to the New York suburbs. The caricature is credited to DonkeyHotey, who identifies it as based on a Creative Commons licensed photo from Gage Skidmore’s Flickr photo stream  and was found through a Google search of images licensed for non-commercial use.  If the photo is not available for non-commercial use, please advise and we will remove the picture. 

What’s the Manliest of Holidays? The Fourth of July, Although Not for Men Like Me

I love the Fourth of July.  Not only is it the best holiday of the year, and the most suburban holiday of the year, but something else just occurred to me this past week: Independence Day is the manliest of the holidays.

Everything associated with the Fourth is manly:

We celebrate the achievements of manly men.  The whole holiday commemorates a bunch of men deciding to declare their independence.  Independence! What’s more manly than that?  Now, of course, it’s absolutely HORRIBLE and SEXIST that only men signed the Declaration, and my wife has pointed out that “all men are created equal” doesn’t at all imply that any of them are the equal of women.  But it is what it is: the Fourth of July celebrates men doing a manly thing.

What do we celebrate on other holidays?  Christmas is about a woman giving birth, or more secularly about a big fat man giving away free stuff. Not manly.  Thanksgiving?  All about having a big meal, which is relatively manly except that the main thrust of the holiday is COOKING the meal, which isn’t manly at all.

We blow stuff up!  What’s more manly than taking fistfuls of gunpowder and setting them off for no reason other than to see what the explosion looks like?  It’s the ultimate peacock display: lots of noise and flashes of light, accomplishing absolutely nothing. And if you’re like me, you get the potential bonus of blowing up your house when you try to connect a propane tank by yourself.

Blowing stuff up!  Now, THAT’S a manly holiday.  Christmas? Putting up decorations, buying gifts, writing cards. Yeeesshh. Thanksgiving?  Cooking.  Halloween?  Dressing up.  All these are girly holidays.

We cook manly food in a manly way.  Indeed, the Fourth of July is the one day of the year that men are expected to do the cooking, mainly because the “cooking” is simple enough for them to handle.  Here’s the recipe: (1) take meat, (2) put on hot grill, (3) cook until done.  No measuring, no mixing, no ingredients, no setting a timer.  Simple. Easy. Manly.

All that said, I should be clear that I am not at all a manly man.  It’s sad, really. I don’t know how to fix things, or make things, I work in an industry (real estate) that is about 90% women, and my main job requires me to basically type a lot. Put it this way — at a costume party a few years ago, the theme was that people had to dress up in a representation of their “uniform,” and most of the men had ACTUAL uniforms to wear: doctor’s scrubs, fireman gear, manly stuff like that. I wore a tux.

My glaring inadequacy, in fact, has become more pronounced now that I’m living in the suburbs.  There are just more manly men living out here. You live in the city, you’re surrounded by bankers and lawyers and other girly men like me.  All the manly men — the cops, the firemen, the contractors, they live out here in the suburbs. You see them at Home Depot on weekends picking up lumber and table saws and pistons, or whatever,, when I’m usually there to get replacement light bulbs or batteries or something. I’d like to say that it was 17 years living in the city that made me so soft, but I was pretty much a marshmallow my whole life.  Living in the city just hid the fact, since I had a super and stuff like that.

So when I say that the Fourth of July is a manly holiday, I say it mostly in appreciation for OTHER men, the manly ones, the guys who can actually do stuff and fix stuff and make stuff. And I was brutally reminded of my own shortcomings in this area this year.  We were having our annual party at my mom’s house, which we’ve done for many years because she has a pool.  She also has a grill, but it wasn’t working.  So, in the classic family fashion, she didn’t actually try to fix the grill, she just bought a new one.  That’s really the way we do things in the Rand family, which might explain my basic inadequacies in this area.

Unfortunately, she couldn’t get the grill delivered, so I had to pick it up.  Ideally, a real manly man would have a truck or something to go pick it up, and maybe one of those dollies or something to move it.  Of course, I have an SUV, not a truck. And I don’t have any dollies, other than the ones my kid plays with.

So here I am, on an incredibly hot day, trying to get this giant grill into my SUV. Again, this is a challenge I never had to deal with when I lived in the city. First of all, I would never have had the need for a big grill, or a big anything, in my old apartment.  Second, no one would have ever expected me to bring it home.  What would I do?  Strap it to the top of the cab, like Mitt Romney’s dog?

Now, to give myself a little bit of a break, I will point out that grills are VERY HEAVY, and so it was never going to be easy to get in, even for a manly man.  But I tried. I actually lifted it into the air, pulling out some tendons in my back (if backs have tendons, I guess) and almost getting it in.  But it was too big.

Which brought me to the next great divide between the manly man I wish I were, and the girly man that I actually am.  A manly man would have tools to take apart that grill to get it in the car.  I, of course, had no tools in the car. But I did have something almost as good: twenty dollars of cold hard cash.  So in the great Rand family spirit that led us to buy a new grill rather than just fix the one we had, I proudly took that crisp twenty dollar bill and slipped it to a guy at the store who actually had tools. In fact, a whole STORE of tools. So he helped me take the grill apart and get it into the car.  Of course, by “helped me,” I mean that he did it while I watched with an attentive look on my face designed to indicate that I could do all that if I only had remembered to bring the right screwdriver, or wrench, or plunger, or whatever it was that he was using.

Once that beautiful display of basic economic market dynamics was completed, I sped off to my mom’s house to start the reassembly.  And I’m proud to say that I actually was able to put it back together, or at least at the very end I didn’t have any leftover screws or bolts — which is not always the case when I put something together, when I usually reassure myself that that most manufacturers put in a couple of EXTRA bolts JUST IN CASE.

Even better, the grill worked, once my manly friend Mike helped attach the propane tank, something that I’m not quite ready for at this point in my development. But I did do most of the cooking, so there’s that.

Burgers for everyone!

Three Years Into the “Move to SUMA”: Was Moving to the Suburbs the Right Decision?

Three years ago today, I moved out of the city.  I was 41 years old. I had lived in New York City since 1992, for most of 17 years, and was horrified about how moving to the suburbs of my youth was going to destroy my urban sensibility, and turn me into another colorless suburban drone.  The whole conceit of the “Move to SUMA” was the inside joke that “SUMA” was just another Manhattan neighborhood, that I needed to convince myself that I wasn’t actually moving into the suburbs if I wanted to survive.

So for the past three years or so, I’ve written about the good and the bad about living in the suburbs. I wrote about all my stereotypical suburban experiences — like getting a dog, buying an SUV, having a child, trying to find decent takeout food – and some less-than-stereotypical adventures, like when I almost killed my poor dog, or virtually destroyed my new boat.  Over time, I’ve also come to be a bit more of an advocate for the suburbs, almost to “validate” my decision — sometimes jokingly by pointing to all the celebrities allegedly joining me in suburban splendor, and other times more seriously to defend my new home from critics who argue that the suburbs are dying.  

But as I came to the third anniversary of my move out of the city, I realized that I’d never come right out to say whether I think I made the right decision to move to the suburbs. So let me make that clear: as much as it pains me to admit it, moving to the suburbs was the right call.

In fact, looking back, I’m surprised that it was a close decision at all. I’d had 17 years in the city, was looking to raise a family, and in my case my job was actually already in the suburbs.  And the more I look at the life I was actually living, the sacrifices I was making to maintain my self-perception as a smart, sophisticated city person were just too great. Frankly, it would have been monstrously selfish and unfair to try to navigate through the next phase of my life, as a parent, while still clinging desperately to that urban vanity.

For other people, the calculus might be different. If you don’t have kids, or you have enough personal wealth to provide enough space for those kids, or your work requires you to maintain that intimate urban sensibility, then maybe it makes sense to stay in the city.  I’m certainly not going to begrudge anyone that choice, particularly since it’s the choice I made for so long.

The longer I live in the suburbs, though, the more I realize that it was the right choice for me at that stage in my life. Like many people, the decision to move from the city is bound up in the decision to simply “grow up” – to get married, have kids, settle down.  It’s tough to separate one from the other.  Would I have moved from the city if I wasn’t married, or not planning to have a kid?  Maybe not.  But then I’d also have to think about the life I would have today as a 44 year old single childless man living in Manhattan, and whether that’s the life I want for myself.  That’s not a particularly pretty picture.

Moreover, I’m finding it increasingly tough to separate out my longing for the city from the general romanticizing about the life I had when I was younger.  That is, do I really miss the city, or do I just miss being the 25 year old, or even 35 year old, me who happened to live in the city — not married, no dog, no kid?   Basically, without a whole lot of responsibility and at the beginning, rather than middle, of my career?   Yes, I miss the freedom I had when I was 30 to get together with my friends Tom and Woody on a random night to play some pool and drink some beer.  But then I have to remember that they both moved out of the city years ago.  That life ended long before I moved to the suburbs.

I think that’s the challenge that anyone thinking of moving to the suburbs has to face.  Don’t think about the life you had in the city, and how living in the suburbs is going to change it.  Rather, think about the life you are looking to have, and where it makes more sense to try to have that life.

I started writing this blog to address the question of whether living in the suburbs would change me.  But that’s the wrong way to put it.  The better question is this: how will I change while I’m living in the suburbs?  The change is going to happen regardless of where you get your mail. It’s going to happen the first time you look around and realize that you’re the oldest guy in the club, or when you have a party and realize that all your friends have to drive in from their new homes, or when you realize that you can’t take cabs around the city with your baby in your lap.  The suburbs don’t change you.  You change.

And that change can sometimes be hard to accept.  You don’t want to be the guy with the two SUVs, and the Costco membership, whose nightlife revolves around game night with the other parents.  You want to be that other guy, the cool guy who still goes to Arlene’s to hear bands and chat up 25 year olds with navel rings.  But you’re not that guy anymore, not because you moved out of the city, but because that guy simply got older.  You can make the choice to stay in the city, but you don’t get the choice to be young again.  The question is whether you’re willing to accept the life you’re actually living, and give up the life that you’re living only in your head.

The mistake all us urban exiles make is that we compare our lives in the suburbs to the lives we had at the moment we left the city, a life experience captured at a perfectly romanticized point in time and lovingly encased in amber.  And then we flog ourselves mercilessly for all the compromises we’ve made and everything we’ve given up —  i.e., “can you believe I drive a minivan?” – without recognizing how many of those compromises were simply the inevitable result of, well, growing up.

And that’s what it’s really about – growing up. As I wrote last year in a riff on an old Winston Churchill quote: ”If you’re not living in the city at twenty you have no heart, if you’re not living in the suburbs at forty you have no brain.”  I lived in the city for much of my 20s and most of my 30s, and that was right.  But now that I’m in my 40s, I can’t imagine what life would be like for me if I was still living in a fourth floor walkup with a 18 month old kid and a dog.  Okay, I can imagine it.  Horrible.

But I can’t blame the suburbs.  The suburbs didn’t do this to me. The suburbs didn’t make me an uncool dad who goes out maybe once a month and drives a seven-seater crossover. For better or worse, I did it to myself. I just happened to live in the suburbs when I did it.

REVISITED: Does Having a Dog Prepare You For Having a Kid? The Answer — Not Really

About a year ago, before I ever had a kid, I wrote about how I thought that having a dog would prepare me, at least a little, for having a child.  After all, once you have a dog, you have to clean up after it, feed it, and you can’t go away for a weekend or something without taking care of it.  All true.

That said, now that I have a baby, I realize what a schmuck I was.  Babies are much tougher.  First of all, I never realized simply how stupid babies are. The dog is stupid, but at least has a survival instinct that keeps him, for example, from jumping off our deck.  The baby is not only stupid, but seems to have no interest in staying alive.  I spend a lot of time just trying to keep him from killing himself: babyproofing cabinets, putting up stair guards, etc.  Still, he keeps finding ways that could put himself in danger. Maybe he’s depressed.  Can babies get depressed?

Of course, there are other difference.  Having a dog didn’t prepare me for how needy a baby is.  The dog will usually just chill for a while, sitting in corner or in his crate.  Babies require a lot more attention.  I sort of knew that, but I sort of thought we could occasionally plop him down in a pack-n-play, away from all the dangerous things that he likes to sneak around to, and take a nap.  That doesn’t seem to be in the cards.

So, yeah, it’s a lot more work. But all that said, I do think that having a dog is one of those milestones on the road to maturity that you pass on the way to having a child.  That is, the “I am mature enough to care for others besides myself” continuum goes like this:
  • Get a plant.  Try to keep the plant alive.  If the plant dies, stop here. Don’t get any other living things that might depend on you for their survival. If the plant lives, though, then keep going.
  • Get a dog.  Try to keep the dog alive.  If the dog dies because you forgot to feed it for two weeks, stop here.  Go back to getting a plant and start over. If the dog lives, though, then keep going.
  • Have a baby.  Try to keep the baby alive.  Definitely do NOT kill the baby.  Practice is over.

So far, so good.  Most of my plants are still alive, the dog is doing well, and so far I have managed to keep the baby alive, despite all his best efforts to off himself.

Why Do People Move to the Suburbs? Simply Put, They Have Kids

Why do people move to the suburbs?  Let’s think about that for a minute, break down that question.

Note that the question is not, “why do people live in the suburbs,” which is, in my mind, a very different question.  People might live in the suburbs for a bunch of reasons. Maybe that’s where they grew up, and never left. Maybe that’s where they work, so it doesn’t occur to them to live anywhere else. Maybe they just never had the hankering for the big city lights, and prefer the quieter, slower pace traditionally associated with the picket fences and all that. Maybe it’s simple inertia.  Maybe they just like the Cheescake Factory.  It could be a million reasons.

But our question today is different: “why do people MOVE to the suburbs,” which implies that those people are currently living somewhere else, probably a city.  In that case, the answer is usually simple — they’re having a kid.

That’s what it almost always comes down to.  You don’t see a lot of happy-go-lucky 30 year olds — single, no kids, with a job — who suddenly decide to trade in their urban life so they can commute an hour or so every day to work. No single person wakes up one morning saying, “Hey, I’m just getting tired of Asian-Latin fusion takeout, and muddled drinks, and lots of 20-something single hotties who enjoy casual sexual relations, and being able to take cabs home when I decide to spontaneously celebrate Cinco de Mayo in September.  What I REALLY need is a guest bedroom!  Time to move to the suburbs!!!!”

No one does that. Single people don’t need space, they don’t care about schools, they don’t generally want the quiet. Even for married couples without kids, the tradeoffs of the suburbs versus the city don’t seem to make sense, so long as they can live in a a two room coop without ending up in a War of the Roses situation.

No, any discussion about moving to the suburbs is inexorably, invariably, going to become entwined with the decision to have kids. If it was all about you, then you’d stay in the city.  But when it’s suddenly all about a mini-you that doesn’t have a particular affinity for 20-something hotties or delivery Vietnamese or infused tequila, and who is currently sleeping in a crib at the foot of your bed, you start to re-think your priorities.

I did things a little backwards, of course. We moved from the city in 2009 simply on the anticipation of becoming parents in the near future, and our expectation that life would simply be easier for us and better for him/her in the suburbs. But for people who already have kids, who are actually living in confined space with a little child and realizing just how much becoming a parent is inconsistent with remaining an urbanized sophisticate hipster, I think the choice is even more compelling.

I was thinking about this because I came across this lovely piece by Jordan Reid in her Ramshackleglam blog, where she writes about her fear of how her life would change in moving to the suburbs: the fear that she won’t make friends, or that her friends won’t be the “kinds of friends that I have in my life now,” or that she’ll wind up feeling like she settled for a life that’s less exciting or interesting than the one she would have had in the city.

Ultimately, though, she writes that it ended up not being a difficult decision, particularly once she considered not what she wanted, but what her son needed:

Most of all, though, the reason we want to move is that city life is not what we want for our son. I grew up here, and I had a great childhood, but I want something different for him. I want him to have a yard to run around in with Lucy and Virgil. I want him to go fishing on Saturdays with his Dad not because it’s a big, special production involving car rentals and long drives, but rather because that’s just what they feel like doing. I want to pick up our pumpkin in a patch, not in a grocery store. I want him to have a swing set of his very own.

****

But now it’s not about us anymore, not really: it’s about a little man who smiles so much when he looks out our New York City window, even when there’s nothing to see outside but the apartment building across the way, that all we want to do is set him free to study the sky. And when we take that into account…

well…

it’s not really a decision at all.

It’s just what we’re going to do. 

It’s really a beautiful piece, certainly better than anything I’ve ever written about the subject, so I’m looking forward to seeing what she has to say once she settles in.

And it certainly reinforces the point that for some reason has eluded me for so long. I’ve been belaboring my decision about moving to the suburbs, painting it as something I did by choice, something that I could second-guess if it didn’t work out.  But the more I think about it, the more I realize that, like Ms. Reid, I didn’t really have a choice.

The bottom line: people don’t move to the suburbs because they want to, they move because they have to.  And the decision often isn’t theirs to make. So I should give myself a break….

First a Dog, Now a Baby: My Poop-Filled Life

I used to have a poop-free life.  Not completely poop-free, of course. I had to deal with my own poop.  Not a whole lot of fun there.  But at least it was only mine. One person’s pool.  Ahh, the good old days.

Then I got a dog, and that was the end of the poop-free life. I had to deal with poop pretty much every day. On a good day, it was a good poop: a poop on the grass, during our daily walks, while I was armed with a baggie. Or a poop on the wee-wee pad in my bathroom, which has become Kozy the Dog’s designated “inside poop zone.”  On a bad day, though, a bad poop: a poop, say, on the living room rug.  But good or bad, there was poop.  Every day.

Now I have a baby, and my life is nothing but poop. Bad poop. People warned me, but I never quite appreciated how babies are basically poop machines.  They’re amazing, these little tiny beautiful creatures, constantly pumping out an astounding flow of truly ghastly poop.

How do they do that? What kind of unholy alchemy is this? This transubstantiation of liquid into solid, or at least something that is partly solid.  You put in a little bit of harmless-looking formula, and you get back a noxious miasma of inhuman sludge.

People ask me what’s the biggest change now that I’ve moved to the suburbs.  That.  That’s the biggest change.

  • City = Poop Free
  • Suburbs = Poop Filled

Now, I know that I can’t blame it on the suburbs.  It’s really more correlation than causation.  I know that. But of the many things that I miss about living in the city, right at the top of what is a pretty long list is this: the loss of my poop-free life.

The Day I Met My Son

It happened suddenly.  After years of waiting our baby to be born, never knowing when our turn would finally come. And then, when it finally came, more months of waiting while all the paperwork was completed, torturous months where our only connection to the little boy who would be, already was, our son were the occasional pictures and short videos that we’d play over and over again. And then counting down the days while we took our last vacation in Hawaii, ultimately counting down the hours — 120 hours until we meet him, now 85, now 40, now 12 (tomorrow), now 3 (today!).

After all that waiting, it happened suddenly.

We arrived in Taiwan Sunday night, November 13, meeting up with my father-in-law, who lives right now in China and came to Taipei to meet his first grandson.  A pretty good deal for me, since now I had two Mandarin-speaking family members to help me get around in a country where I don’t speak the language.  Had dinner, tried to get some sleep, and in the morning piled into a car for the three hour drive south to where our son has been living with his foster mother for the past 10 months.

I was strangely calm.  I was expecting to be anxious, nervous about all the things that could go wrong. Maybe he would cry at the sight of us, something we’d been warned to expect. Maybe we’d suddenly realize that we had absolutely no idea what we’re doing when we actually got him back to the hotel and had to bathe him, clean him up, put him to bed.  But I wasn’t.  I was placid, relaxed, almost numb, just breathing in and out and trying to soak up the occasion.

But once we got to the town where he lived, things started to speed up as we went through a bunch of frustrating preliminaries. Go to the agency. Meet some people. Shake some hands. Accept congratulations. Fill out some more forms.  Then, for some reason, they take you out to a store to buy baby stuff.  We’d been told in our orientation meetings that this was the routine, and I guess it makes sense to do all that before you pick up the baby, but it seemed an unnecessary distraction.  I don’t need to go shopping. BRING ME MY BABY.

That’s when the movie started to really go in fast forward.  We finish shopping, and I’m expecting to go back to the car, put away our stuff, get in the car, and drive to wherever it is they are keeping my son.  Instead, we leave the store, walk down half a block, turn into a driveway, and there’s our car.  That’s the house.  We’re there.

We’re there.  This is where he lives.

What now?  I’m not ready. Totally not ready.  Months of waiting, YEARS of waiting, and it’s about to happen.  And I’m not ready.  I can see, out of the corner of my eye, a woman holding a baby about 30 feet from me, in the vestibule of his house.  That’s him. He’s right there. But I’m not ready yet. I have to savor the moment, put it in a box, store it away. And I need the camera!  We need pictures, we need to get the video.  So I don’t look at him. I look away, I focus on putting away the stuff, getting the camera. I turn to my wife. I ask her, “are you ready,” and she says yes, smiling, a nervous smile, a beautiful smile.

And so we turned to the house, and became parents.

 

Memories of 9/11, Ten Years Later

It’s just impossible to believe that it’s been ten years, that a kid could be a young teenager and not remember what life was like before.

Everyone has memories of that day. Here are three of mine:

1.  Sending Tom Off on the Plane

Early on that Tuesday morning in September, I sent one of my best friends off in a cab to JFK to send him back to LA.  Tom had come to visit for a college reunion we were having up in Maine, so he’d come in about a week earlier so that we could drive up together.  While we were there, he broke his wrist badly diving for a softball, and spent most of Monday seeing doctors while I traveled around trying to get him some medication for the pain.  His intention had been to stay for the week for a job interview, but the doctors recommended he have surgery as soon as possible, and he wanted to do the surgery back in LA.

So that Tuesday morning, he got in a cab bound for JFK.  About two hours later, I watched as the second of two planes hit the World Trade Center, and heard of the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania.  It wasn’t until early afternoon that I found out that he wasn’t on any of them. His flight was diverted to St. Louis, where he sat with that broken wrist for most of the next week while the air traffic was shut down.  But for most of that day, I assumed he was gone.

2.  Walking the Streets

Once the enormity of the tragedy became clear, a mass exodus started out of the city.  The streets were closed to traffic, so people just simply walked. My wife, then my girlfriend, worked in midtown, but we got in touch with each other through AOL Instant Messenger and worked out that we’d meet in Columbus Circle and I’d walk her to my place.

So I left my apartment and started walking south, mostly against a massing crowd of people who were all going north, away from Ground Zero.  Some of them were Manhattanites, on what would be a two or three mile hike, and some of them were from points even further north — the Bronx, even Westchester.  What else could they do?  Some of them had no place to stay, many of them just wanted to get as far away as they could, and there were no cars, no cabs, no transit.  So they walked, all of them quiet, some of them crying, some of them covered in the ashes of the fallen buildings.

As I walked south, getting on 11AM or so, two hours after the first tower fell, I could see stores shutting down for the day, maybe the week.  The local Starbucks was closed, a hand-drawn “sad face” making the announcement.  The open stores were mostly empty, because who would be shopping?  The only people doing any business were the grocery stores, bulging with people stocking up on supplies for what they expected might be a near siege of the city.

But as I walked, I came across the peculiar sight of one retail store doing a booming business, with people lined up out the door.  It was a shoe store, and I was momentarily puzzled wondering why people would be buying shoes at a time like this.  Then I realized that all the people on line were women.  Women who had already walked miles on their high heels, and were desperate to get some comfortable shoes for the long road ahead.

3.  The Friday Vigil

I remember that first week after in kind of a blur.  Looking back, it’s almost like it happened in a dream. I remember getting back to work on Thursday, following the mayor’s encouragement that we should all get back to our lives.  It was ridiculously too early to be back at work. At the time, I was teaching at Fordham Law School, and I got maybe 10 minutes into the class before I simply stopped, seeing the looks on the faces of students who were simply not prepared to discuss property law.  So we just talked about how everyone was feeling, how we were holding up.

That Friday, I remember that people started a spontaneous movement to hold a candlelight vigil at sunset throughout the country in memory of the lost.  My now-wife and I joined the vigil, going down to the front steps of our brownstone and then walking the two blocks, holding our candles, to the fire station on 83rd street, which had lost one of its firemen.

When we arrived, there was already a crowd up front. It was an electic crowd, a mix of the Upper West Side residents of the area and what seemed like a group of friends and family of the fallen firefighter.  As we got there, a man with a guitar was playing a folk tune, many in the crowd singing along. But not the whole crowd. What he was singing was “If I had a Hammer,” a Pete Seeger progressive anthem about the “hammer of justice” and the “bell of freedom,” first sung in support of men prosecuted for advocating the overthrow of the country. And the people singing along were a group of residents, reconstructed lefties, stereotypically former hippies, seemingly oblivious to the monstrously inappropriate gesture of singing a 60s protest song at the vigil for a firefighter killed in a terrorist attack.

The rest of the people, there because of a personal loss, not because they read something on the internet about walking around with a candle, seemed puzzled, not because they knew the historic implications of the song, but more just a reaction to its cheery tempo.  But they clearly felt something was amiss, so when the song ended, up started a very different type of anthem started ringing out — chants of “USA, USA, USA” started by a little boy, maybe eight or nine.  So now it was the residents’ turn to feel a little uncomfortable, as the sound of the martial chant, equally as inappropriate as a 60s protest song, filled the streets.

I remember thinking in that moment about how people could have such remarkably divergent reactions to the same tragedy.  And I thought about that moment many times in the years that followed, as we saw those two perspectives become increasingly polarized in the governmental response to what happened that day.

Does Having a Dog Prepare You For Having a Kid?

I’ve written before how all my parent friends are enjoying themselves right now at the news that we’re going to have a kid. Most of them had kids years ago, and they’re getting a lot of kicks out of the idea of me becoming a father at 44.  “Oh, it’s going to be so hard.”  “What a big change.”  Stuff like that.

So just to mess with them, I keep shrugging it off, telling them that it’s no big deal.  After all, I have a dog.  That’s pretty much the same thing.

Oh, how they hate that.  They start sputtering: “Outrageous!  How can you compare having a dog to having a kid?!?”  Okay, people don’t exclaim “Outrageous!” anymore, but you catch my drift.

And I really am just messing with them.  I don’t think it’s the same thing, but I actually think that having a dog is good preparation for having a kid.  Just hear me out.

  • First, having a dog means that you get used to cleaning up someone’s poop. That’s a big step in a man’s life.  Once you’ve broken the seal on that, a little more poop isn’t going to make a difference.
  • Second, having a dog means that you have to feed something every day if you want to keep it alive. Plants? You can water them once in a while, whenever you remember.  Plants will deal.  You have to remember to feed the dog, just like you’ll have to remember to feed the baby.
  • Third, having a dog means that you’ve already lost your freedom, anyway.  It used to be we could decide to just go away for the weekend, literally at the last minute. Those days are done.  Can’t leave a dog alone at home for the weekend.

You see my point?  Same thing!  Piece of cake.

Okay, yes, I understand that a baby has a much higher degree of difficulty.  But I do think that any couple thinking of having kids should first think about getting a dog.  At the very least, if you find that you actually can’t keep a dog alive — if, for example, you run off to Atlantic City for the weekend and only remember that you have a dog when you smell his rotting carcass upon your return — then you probably should keep practicing good birth control.

Why Do Parents Want You to Have Kids, Then Laugh at You When You Do?

Now that we’ve announced we’re going to be having a baby,  friends of ours keep giving us that whole, “oh boy, you don’t know what you’re in for” speech.

Have you ever noticed that?  When you don’t have kids, you can’t escape parents who constantly tell you about all the wonderful things you’re missing.  Picture after picture posted on Facebook, all those Christmas cards of the happy family, the occasional awkward question about whether you’re ever going to have kids.

But once you announce you’re having a kid, the tune changes.  Now, all they want to do is gloat about how miserable you’re going to be.  They laugh and laugh like hyenas — “oh, all that nice furniture you bought for you new condo, THAT’S all over,” “enjoy your nights out while you still can,” stuff like that.  Like the vampire at your window trying to seduce you into going outside, or the the old joke about the devil:

John arrives at the Pearly Gates. St. Peter tells John that he has arrived at a moment where the balance between Heaven and Hell is exactly equal. This event allows him the unique opportunity to take a look around at Heaven AND Hell and decide where he wants to spend eternity.

John takes a little stroll around Heaven … nice puffy clouds…people hanging around playing harps…smiling…peaceful. He thinks that looks pretty nice. Could be a good choice. With that he hops in the elevator down to Hell…

The doors open and the devil shows him into a big room….WOW…. What a party! People dancing, drinking up a storm, singing, laughing, having an amazing time. “Now,” he shouts, “THIS is the way to spend eternity!”

He jumps back on the elevator and runs to tell St. Peter that while Heaven is certainly lovely, Hell is simply an awesome party and that is his choice. John jumps back on the elevator and when the doors open he is shocked to see flames shooting everywhere, people screaming with fear and pain, etc….

John quickly runs to find the Devil and says, “What happened? I was just here and it was a giant party.. how could this be?”

“Simple,” replies The Devil .“Before you were a prospect… now you’re a client!”

Essentially, that’s what happens.  When you don’t have kids, you’re a prospect — all these parents want you to join the team, so they try to make it as appealing as possible. Then once you sign up, they can let it all hang out.  Jackals. Oh, how I hate them.