Last night in a fit of frustration I couldn't remember the oldest boy's name. "Eli, uh, boy, uh, Caleb, sit down!"
With a droll expression well beyond his four years, Caleb replied, "Okay, Mommy."
This reminded me of a game Caroline used to play when she was two, and learning pronouns and gender. "Caroline is a girl," she would announce, "and Mommy is a woman, and Daddy is a man."
"That's right, sweetie. Very good."
"Daddy is a woman!"
"What?" I would ask with feigned shock.
"Daddy is a woman! Hehehehehe."
Then I would sweep her up into my arms and tickle her while I kissed her neck, until through her squeals and belly laughs she relented. "Daddy is a man! Daddy is a man! Hehehehehe!! Daddy is a ma-a-a-a-a-a-an!!"
"That's better," I'd say, standing her back up. Caroline would put her little fingers to her face to push her curly brown hair out of the way, and adopt a mischievous look. The she would curl her arms up to her chest in preparation for another tickle attack and declare, "Daddy is a woman!"
"Come here!" I'd say in my best fake monster growl, and I'd tickle her some more. It was a good way to spend fifteen minutes. I miss that.
I didn't write much last week because I took the wife to San Francisco. I'm back to report that I don't think George W. Bush will be winning that city. By way of illustration, how many of you remember Dennis Kucinich ( D Socialist, OH)? Many San Franciscans seem to remember him fondly, having enshrined him on the bumpers of their hybrid Toyotas and squat Subarus. They're warming to Kerry, though the enthusiasm is less abundant; for all his bad hair and poor fashion choices, Dennis Kucinich never murdered babies in an imperialist war of aggression.
This is a city built on the notion that man can worship nature while warring with its underlying physical laws, and win -- or at least achieve proportional representation on its democratically-elected board. They've erected (oh, the words this city has ruined) buildings where no weight seems capable of staying, laced together streets so confusingly that even Mapquest throws up its hands in disgust, and piled together a host of taxes and regulations that should, by all known tenets of economics, leave San Francisco just south of Bangladesh on any index of prosperity.
And yet, they make it work. Surely this is due in no small part to the beauty of this region, with its glorious sunshine setting the bay on fire, its misty white clouds that periodically pour over its hilltops like smoke. There are the bridges and the eclectic houses stacked side by side, broken apart at intervals by parks filled with beautiful people. There is the steady bustle of a city animated by the opposed notions that markets are bad and that acquisition is good.
Then there is the city's celebration of all that is merely tolerated in other parts of America. While the economic burden placed on its denizens is great, San Francisco's social tax is very low for many. So they flock here, and the taxes and restraints on most (not all!) forms of economic exchange are a small price to pay for this freedom from all that appears to oppress.
In light of all this, I couldn't help but giggle when I realized that turning left on most of San Francisco's major streets is forbidden. Instead you have to go right three times and then go straight. The city has yet to defeat all natural laws.
One day we drove into the hills across the Golden Gate Bridge, to the Muir Woods, named after the man who helped bring Gaia-worship to children's textbooks. It cost three dollars a person to get in, which was a bargain to see the giant redwoods stretching up toward heaven. The receipt, handed to me by a smiling pony-tailed girl, admonished me to "Hug a tree." This proved difficult, given that nearly all of the trees are fenced off, and with good reason -- we passed a woman intimately stroking a tree and passing a large white crystal up and down its bark. "I love this tree," she said throatily to her companion. Perhaps San Francisco will be the vanguard of human-flora marriage as well.
We also passed a park ranger explaining how the Sierra club had stopped loggers from clear-cutting the entire area. His listeners dutifully shook their heads in disgust. "This forest used to be all there was for miles," he said wistfully, his arms stretched wide.
"Yes," I muttered to my wife, "and five hundred years ago people lived in mud huts and died at thirty. I'd clear-cut this whole damned forest today if I thought it would save a hundred kids from exposure." In reply she gripped my arm with a steeliness that says, "don't you dare pick an argument."
So I didn't. Instead we had a lovely few days, ate too much, bought little, and flew home exhausted, to the waiting arms of our little monkeys. There was much tickling and smooching, and it struck me as I snuggled them both close: I didn't leave my heart in San Francisco; I left it someplace far less glamorous.