Friday, January 13, 2006

I Have a Dream #3: New Homeowner Edition

I’ve discovered the new equivalent to the forgot-to-go-to-class-all-semester/forgot-to-study-for-the-final dream (which I still have, thank you grad school). Introducing the my-recently-purchased-house-has-all-sorts-of-problems dream. Great.

The house of my literal dream has a wet bar in the ill-advised location of just inside the front door. The bar had at least three sinks of various sizes, all of which were leaking. Water was puddling in the floor all around the bar, and I was trying to soak it up with towels. That’s when I noticed that my living room floor had several drains built into the hardwood, apparently to accommodate the leaky wet bar. The bar’s design was reminiscent of an airplane bathroom. The sinks themselves were thin metal, but the rest of the bar was brown plastic. One of the sinks was mounted on an articulated arm, like the mini-sinks found mounted on dentists’ chairs. Several dental instruments were attached. I used the water-pik, until I realized that it greatly increased the leaking.

My living room had a ratty, tattered Persian rug with gaping holes. The holes exposed a dirty, frosted, Plexiglas window. The center of my living room has a glass bottom, for drawing in light from under the house I suppose.

I went outside, and it turns out that I’ve bought the Yocum house, a trashy home across the street from where I was raised. The Yocum house was now raised on 3-foot pillars, to better accommodate the floor-window. The yard was a sea of cinderblocks. Next door was the devastated remains of what used to be the Hanif house, which belonged to a Pakistani family when I was a kid. It looked like a tornado had destroyed it years ago and no one had rebuilt it.

And finally, the cherry on top, my Explorer was parked in the driveway, minus its right front fender, which had completely corroded. The right front tire had melted into a sticky but solid, marshmallow-like mass.

I’m already dreading a dream about the kitchen.

Fa La La La La

Night Owl


Thursday, January 05, 2006

Celebrating in Style


Shröät Family 2005 Review

Greetings, friends and family! Well, 2005 has been an eventful year for the Shröäts, as I’m sure those of you who follow the local news already know! (Chuckle, chuckle.) I want to start by reassuring all of you that we are confident that we will prevail in the lawsuits brought against for what we consider to be petty misunderstandings. But more about that later, as I don’t want to start this letter off as a Negative Nelly!

First, the biggest news of the year. On June 14 (Flag Day! My favorite!) Zuzanna and I welcomed our fourth child, Lars, into the world. At 9 pounds, 10 ounces, I was understandably a little ashamed of Zuzanna for producing such a low birth weight baby (our last child was 12 lbs. 4 oz. and the twins were a combined weight of 19 lbs. 5 oz.). After all, I didn’t marry a Slovakian ten years my junior to produce scrawny kids (I could have married an American, “career” woman for that. Zing! Ha ha!). However, Zuzanna has promised to do better next time, and the runt was close enough to ten pounds that I decided not to throw him into Lake Travis in a weighted, burlap sack. Hey, I don’t have to tell any of you that sometimes, marriage involves compromise! Especially when there’s a language barrier.

As with our other children, Lars is just a placeholder name until we decide how we want to raise him, thematically. I’m leaning toward raising him as a heavy metal drummer (hence the name) but Zuzanna has always wanted a goth, shock-rocker. I keep asking her, “Do we really want to have to deal with all those buckets of goat blood?” I mean, come on…the smell. If, however, Zuzanna wins out, we’ve nearly settled on a name. I like Ethan Nunpuncher Shröät. She favors Crucifixpisser Brandon Shröät. I’m sure we’ll come to a decision in the next few months (we’ve got a nursery to decorate, after all!). We’ll keep you posted.

The twins, Nigel and Elsbeth, turned 6 this year and are already in the second grade. Zuzanna and I couldn’t be happier with our decision to raise them British. Ah, British children…so polite…so clean. I swear it’s like dirt won’t stick to them. And they say things like “ever so much”, “if you please” and “tarry”. Adorable! We’ve started both of them in a youth soccer league, or as they like to call it, football. Elsbeth shows promise, but Nigel is lagging. Suzanna thinks I ride him too hard, but I believe he lacks motivation. Here’s an argument we had during “football” season.

Nigel: “I’d much prefer to play cricket, if you please, father”

Me: “Look Neville, if I wanted a cricket player, I’d have raised you Pakistani.”

Nigel: “I thought my name was Nigel.”

Me: “What’s the difference?”

Alas, even British children can be difficult and ungrateful at times. They have no appreciation of the Lend-Lease Act, which gave their people the munitions and equipment to resist the Nazis during the early days of World War II. I try not to bring up the burning of the original White House by the redcoats during the War of 1812 when I punish them, but sometimes that grudge is difficult to forget.

In June, Zuzanna’s mother, Zofia, came to visit (live, as it turns out) from Bratislava. She surprises us nearly every day with the culinary malleability of cabbage, beets and turnips. Unfortunately, her extensive cooking has forced us to replace much of the drywall in the kitchen and adjacent rooms. It seems the smell had permeated the structure and there was no other way to get rid of it. However, we just completed converting the space over the garage into her “mother in law” chambers, and I’m sure all the parties involved are excited about that. Well, Zuzanna still isn’t happy that her mother has to use a 15-foot ladder to get to and from her room, but Zofia doesn’t seem to mind. That old bird has been through a lot. Communism. I think maybe some war or something. Maybe a potato famine? Or was it beets? Regardless, getting to live above the garage of one of the nicest homes of the Phase II development zone of the nicest gated community in greater Austin (I won’t say which as I don’t want to brag!), is probably far beyond her wildest dreams. And so what if the space above the garage isn’t heated? It’s central Texas for Christ’s sake. I’m sure I’ll have to endure a new round of bitching once the weather turns hot again, as the space isn’t air conditioned either. But as I told Zuzanna just the other day, “When I rescued you from oily tendrils of the eastern European porn trade, it wasn’t because I wanted to watch you and your mother sit around the kitchen table and smoke cigarettes and jabber in the crazy language of yours.” She suggested I climb the ladder and sleep above the garage! I responded, “I’ll do that as soon as you learn how to not spend $500 every time you go to the goddamn grocery!” We both know that means never. Marriage involves compromise.

In October, I had my first screenplay optioned by Lions Gate. Finally! Many of you have been suggesting for years that I stop wasting my time writing Colonel Sanders fan fiction. At times, I didn’t think The Colonel Chronicles would ever find an audience. But then I got wise and stopped submitting short stories to snooty, elitist publications like The New Yorker and Harper’s, and started working on a script. Because, really, the adventures of young Harlan Sanders as he battles the nefarious Kaiser Wilhelm II with delicious fried poultry, are best seen and not read. It was hard to convey the action in a story, especially since I quickly exhausted adjectives for describing fried food. But in a screenplay, where the action of the story must be conveyed in simplistic terms that any moron (producers, actors, directors) can understand, the action comes alive. We start shooting in Corbin, KY in April.

Finally, it’s been a year or ups and downs with our 4 year old son, N!xau. From the start, our decision to raise him as !Kung San (or, as our racist neighbors have labeled him, “that bushman child”) was not a popular one. Most of you don’t share my acute fear of the impending collapse of modern society, when having a hunter-gatherer in the family will prove prudent. I freely admit the unfortunate irony of making our most fair-skinned child live in our backyard during the central Texas summer. But for a while, it looked as if Zuzanna wouldn’t be able to get pregnant again, which left me with the unenviable dilemma of finding another breeder or giving our plump, redheaded boy a loin cloth, a lean-to shelter and a few sharp sticks and putting him outside. But, after a rough start and despite neighbors’ lawsuits, N!xau (formerly Phillip) has started to get the hang of things.

In the first few weeks, that little fatty was a walking sunburn, but at least I knew he was manufacturing plenty of vitamin D. By the time he’d burned and peeled half a dozen times however, he’d essentially turned into one big freckle and the weather was no longer his biggest concern. Food was, as we quickly learned that all the berries and plants in our yard, as well and our immediate neighbors’ yards, were poisonous. Not kill-you poisonous, just immobilizing-belly-ache poisonous. Don’t think for a second that it didn’t hurt me, as a father, to gaze out the kitchen window and see him lying under our picnic table, moaning in pain. It hurt me even more to have to put down my lemonade, step out of the A/C and explain to him that the !Kung San don’t have picnic tables in the Kalahari and that he needed to construct his own shelter. But the little trooper, I’m proud to say, crawled out from under the table without a complaint and, ironically, under the very bushes that had made him so ill. Frankly, the weight loss was beneficial in the long run, as the !Kung San are a lean people.

Just as N!xau turned the corner on the road to self-sufficiency, our troubles with the neighbors (and by extension the courts and the local news) started. The McKittrick family didn’t share my pride in the ingenuity that N!xau showed in constructing the snare that allowed him to capture, kill and eat their dog Muffin. He’d only been living outside for six weeks at that point! They also took no solace in the fact that N!xau used every part of Muffin, wasting nothing. The local television bloodsuckers did not celebrate his efficiency and ingenuity either, as they reported on the “Wild Child of Lago Vista”. A child is automatically assumed to be feral because he lives off the land? Bigots! They can’t comprehend a culture that is not their own. N!xau has no word for war.

Fortunately, N!xau lured Muffin off the McKittrick property and his thorough use of the carcass left scant evidence for the police or child protective services. The McKittricks can’t prove that Muffin was baited, and Travis County has a leash law to which they, obviously, did not adhere. We have a court date set for early February. I’m confident we’ll prevail and N!xau remains in our custody in the meantime.

Since the Muffin incident, I’ve encouraged N!xau to range a little farther from home. He’s had a lot of success in the Phase I portion of our subdivision, which is non-gated and many of the homes abut the golf course and have no fences. I felt a little pang of guilt as the missing pet flyers became more prevalent at the entrance to our subdivision. Unfortunately, we live in a world in which not everyone has parents willing to pay for graduate school thus allowing them to later afford to live in the gated estate section where their pets would be safe from my son. N!xau seems especially fond of Labs, as they provide an ideal (to his evolving palate) mix of fat and lean flesh. He says that yellow Labs taste the best, though I don’t believe that the color of their coat would make a difference in their flavor. Or maybe he’s trying to tell me something completely different. I confess that the addition of glottal clicks to his phonemic repertoire has made him difficult to understand.

Probably our biggest challenge with N!xau was existential in nature. Late in the summer, N!xau returned to our backyard, after a three night hunting trip into Phase I, with an empty, glass Coca Cola bottle. He presented it to me with fear and reverence and through a combination of gestures, dirt drawings and glottal clicks, he managed to ask, “The Gods…they must be crazy?” Poor kid, I thought. “Yes, N!xau, they are.”