So when’s he gonna stop already with #EllaandLouis?

Above is a photo of Ella *ahem* cleaning her brother…it was always so funny to tell Louis not to pee on his sister, because he so regularly did.

They were with me nearly fifteen years, and with my friend Larissa’s artwork of them, I still have a daily reminder of them on my wall in the new flat.

Of course, feckbook’s regular memories function allows me to share their old photos again and again. So much so that I sometimes worry it’s too much for people. When’s he gonna stop already with #EllaandLouis?

No matter how much good feedback I get for this blog or photos of those amazing dogs, I can still hear the criticism of a few misanthropes in my mind. I’m the worst critic, though. Which is what sometimes blocks me from getting my thoughts down on the page, or the screen which is more common in these digital times.

I’ve been thinking a lot about 2112, which if you didn’t grow up listening to prog rock in the 80s might not mean anything. I’ve never been much of a metal head, but I’m guilty, along with a lot of guys (and even some women) my age, of having loved the band Rush.

We even named a dog after the band at one point. Considering I’ve had a Lyle and of course Mrs. Fitzgerald and Mr. Armstrong, naming my/our dogs after a musician is about the highest personal honour I can bestow.

Their record was a dystopian fantasy in which music was outlawed. I see some parallels today and imagining a person trying to live off the grid and not under the constant watchful eye of Amazon, Google and especially the Book of Faces.

What would you be able to manage in your life today without this digital extravaganza that is the Internet? I’m doing nearly all of my teaching online these days, which is a godsend considering as many as six short months back my German clients saw working from home as a glorified sick day.

Home office or even working from home one day a week was considered such a luxury in this famously slow evolving culture. Not anymore. I’m on the edge of not taking any face to face work anymore, but then…

There’s music. You can certainly do music lessons virtually. I’ve had a few amazing lessons on Skype and even Messenger during the lockdown. I’ve continued to teach my music students virtually when a face-to-face lesson won’t do, but…

Today I met up with one of my old students. We had a ukulele/singing lesson. We laughed about old times before #Covid19, and then we made some sweet music together. It wasn’t anything like a zoom meeting.

Which is what takes me back to 2112. Outlaw face-to-face communication in the Time of Corona? No thank you.

Social distancing? Yes, please.

My friend Cay shared a post a few days ago, where they had a Brass Quintet rehearsal outside with many metres of distance between them. If I had to play in a brass ensemble, I’d want the others as far away from my poor brass playing as possible.

I can’t wait to get back to normal, but I think that normal is an illusion. We’ll see.

Upon returning home to Germany and two weeks later being released from home quarantine, I was told I’d get more used to being around other people again. I’m not so sure I want to.

We’ll see. Stranger things have happened.

Shut the hell up, for a change

Miriam won’t be seen in public with me these days & I don’t blame her

You’re sitting in your mom’s house, eating too much of her leftover food, playing with the progeny among her things, looking at photos you don’t remember ever having seen before, laughing and crying simultaneously at the proposterous nature of you and your family.

We’re all struggling in some way or other. If you deny that, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

Perhaps you like being alone.

Normally the thought of having zero contact with anyone would’ve sounded amazing. You’d have taken that deal in a heartbeat.

Now look at you. How’s that ‘i hate everyone’ stance looking now, you hypocritical fool?

Perhaps you’re rarely alone in your normal daily life with work obligations and family commitments.

And now?

How’re you distracting yourself now?

Perhaps you read articles about an uptick in domestic violence during times like these and think, ‘That could never happen to me. I certainly would never do that.’

Then your husband or partner smacks his lips while he’s eating, like he’s done since right after you both got married to be honest, and you think to yourself, ‘Why isn’t there more domestic violence?’

Your partner knows how to push your buttons like nearly no-one else.

My mother was a master button pusher of mine. She knew exactly where my buttons were.

Very few people have that knowledge that she possessed.

Where my most vulnerable spots are.

Brother Michael & me with the parental unit

At this point, it’s just my brother from the original four of us. He’s much more polite than I’ve ever managed to be, so it’s mostly me offending and then scraping and begging for forgiveness.

It’s a joy, I tell you. But I bring it on myself. If I knew how to act right most of the time, I wouldn’t struggle with people.

Right?

It just so happens that this #covid19 pandemic means for me that I have much more interaction these days with the people I least want to deal with.

Family.

They’re never easy cooped up in close quarters. What would we do these days without connection to the outside world?

To the people we normally tolerate ‘out there’?

Ask my brother Michael about Luling, Texas. We might still be traumatised by that story.

I know I am.

Stuck in a hotel room after we slid on black ice and totalled our van, we got to spend an inordinate amount of quality time together that week. It felt like a month in that godforsaken tiny hotel room.

I’ll never forget my dad accusing one of us of being passive aggressive and my response?

Dude, you’re like a year or two dry and clearly aa isn’t working for you, you old coot. Go back to your psycho babble meetings and learn about projection.

I was a joy, huh?

Want another dark family story?

Our trip driving my stuff home from Cincinnati, after finally finishing school.

Brother Michael and I were so loving toward one another that I almost walked away from the car and took a train.

Dramatic, much?

Ask my wife. I’m a pleasure to live with.

Now, aside from Miriam and our kid, all of you people are here inside my phone.

Both available and not available at the weirdest most inappropriate times.

If you want some advice you didn’t ask for, I’d say shut the hell up for a change.

I assure you I’m trying to practise what I preach.

With questionable results.

Thanks to this virus, we’re all forced to live closer to someone most of us have been running from for years if not decades.

Ourselves.

Brother Michael, Fafa, Nana & me

Taco Tuesdays and this ridiculous overblown virus nonsense

My dad Bill Auvenshine

Passed a texmex restaurant called Casa Olé on our way through Brenham, Texas the other day and it got me thinking. I told my wife the story, and she said, ‘You should write about that.’

Well, I always do what my wife tells me. Right, Miriam? Yeah, ok. That’s not entirely true. I try to at least consider what she says, before I do what I wanted to begin with. Back to the story, though.

Casa Olé was an institution when I was growing up — even went to one years later in Pasadena, Texas of all places with my then girlfriend & her family, I think.

It was the same bad texmex goodness as it’d always been. We ate a lot of that stuff, if I recall correctly.

We used to joke that dad could pay our lunch money with his beer bottle deposits from the Ragin Cagun we lived near in the Gulfton ghetto.

It was no joke.

The things that pass for frivolity when your mom’s then boyfriend, soon to be 3rd husband is drinking himself into a catatonic state on a nightly basis.

People love to talk about what a great man our dad was, and I hope I’m as revered and loved as he was at the end.

The jury’s still out, but I doubt I can make the impact on people’s lives that he did once he put the plug in the proverbial jug and gave up drinking for good.

But when we were little? Me, nine, and brother Michael, seven, hanging out in the Sunny’s parking lot while Bill, mom’s aforementioned dude, was inside playing pacman and swilling Lone Stars.

Where was mom? Teaching night school at UH Downtown, which was one of three gigs she had if you counted slinging Avon.

I still despise Avon. Even the look of one of their bags makes me cringe.

Why weren’t we at home eating chefboyardee Ravioli, which ol’ Bill had become expert at plopping out of a can into our gullets.

Our incessantly growing appetites as we transformed from children toward teenagerhood.

We were mere babes at this point. Nine and seven years old, hanging out at the local convenience store while a man we barely knew got wasted on cheap Texas beer and there we were.

In his charge.

He turned into a fine man, though. That’s all that matters, right? We’re all doing the best we can with the tools we were given.

I shared something I wrote here with a friend and he asked me very nonchalantly when I was going to be getting over my pity party?

Everyone had a rough childhood in one way or another.

Just get over it.

Really.

My wife insists I’m too negative here. She asks something like, ‘This is how you process your grief? Out in the open where everyone can see it?’

I guess so.

Maybe not.

Perhaps I should reconsider.

Here’s the thing, though. Whenever I write something truly raw, somebody thanks me and says my words somehow helped them.

I can’t ever predict how what I write is going to help somebody else. It’s a weird alchemy, if you ask me.

Read that New Yorker article about Prince and he hated that word alchemy. While I understood his point, I have no problem comparing writing to it.

You take something dirty and embarrassing. Something good people wouldn’t share openly. Or good isn’t the right word.

Thoughtful people wouldn’t do what I do here. It might be circumspect and ponderous. That’s what I’m going for, by the way.

Ponderous.

And weirdly, whether it’s clear or not, hopeful. I’m trying to work through this stuff from my childhood, because it makes me hopeful.

That my kid doesn’t have to deal with what I did. She can have a whole ‘nother bag of issues that I’ve hopefully not made worse.

Ponderous and hopeful.

What d’you think? Am I succeeding?

Leave your thoughts in the comments here.

Not on feckbook.

I hate that place.

Where’s Oma? Her progeny and namesake looking everywhere for the old lady — how we wish we could get her on the phone just one last time

My small daughter favours her Oma, which often confuses me in the weirdest moments. She’ll make a face that looks like her mama’s mama, but her whole demeanor and physical appearance is such a mix between my wife, Miriam, and my mother, Martha Frances.

As they say, she went to meet her maker a few weeks back, so I’m in Texas dealing with the fallout.

My brother, Michael, and his wife, Sara, and their kids have done so much that Miriam and I are at mom’s house wondering how we can be useful.

One thing I’ve decided is to organise her books. Some I want, but honestly? How many copies of ‘Liturgy for Living’ does one really need? I’ve got one now, if you’d like it. You may have it.

While I respect and honour my mother and her work, I don’t quite understand most of what her books had to do with her actual life. It’s too big a question to answer here, and to be candid even positing the question properly would take a lot of time.

Instead I’ll focus on the books I did find. She assured me while I was on the phone in Munich and she back here in Houston, that she wasn’t afraid of dying.

She insisted she had a few years left if not more. Even the second to last time we spoke, I said goodbye and had the weirdest feeling it’d be the last conversation we had.

I told her, and she responded, ‘Oh, darling. It’s nothing like that. I’ll be here much longer — I’m already feeling better and you and your brother are overreacting.’

Famous last words, eh?

So the next day, she called and the baby was already awake. As was their custom, the baby took the phone and walked away so she could get some alone time with her Oma.

They went in the other room – my mom on the screen thanks to FaceTime – and they proceeded to enjoy each other’s company. My loving and sometimes gentle mother and her namesake an ocean away. Singing and cooing and just being really adorable.

Watching them together sometimes made me think of that scene in The Godfather whereMarlon Brando’s character plays In the garden with his small grandchild.

That was it, though. The phone call. Their, and I suppose our, last conversation. And my kid hogged the phone. She’s only one year old!

I miss my mom, but as soon as I write that I realise everything that comes out of my mouth next is palaver.

Clichés, if you will.

She’s in a better place.

She’s no longer in pain.

She’s finally able to be back with her family that she had missed so much.

I suppose all of those things are true.

I guess.

Somehow.

Yet it doesn’t stop me missing her. Wishing she could be here in person to delight in this beautiful child growing and learning.

I just want to open FaceTime and click on the little green button next to her picture I want to hear her West Texas accent answer, ‘Hello?’

Her voice gentle as I tell her one of my problems, stern if I admit Miriam and I’ve been fighting again, and hopeful when I speak of a new job or opportunity — her voice, that melodious and lovely sound.

How I wish I could just get her on the phone.

Hear her tell me again what she said nearly daily for almost fifty years. Hear her once again profess her love. Once again say it and expect me to say it back, which often annoyed me.

That manipulation. You just told me you love me and now I have to say it back? Why? Every time?

The protestations of a recalcitrant teenager, right? Right.

Say what you want, but I’ll leave this with one last thing. I’ve got few regrets in life, but now I wish I’d responded better to her love. Wish I’d seen it it for what it was.

Her very best. All she could give. All she could manage. Sometimes not up to my standard. Often not the kind or flavour of love I demanded.

Wish I could hear her in person or on the phone assure me of her love. Wish I could say it back.

One last time.

Just one last time.

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Do as I say, not as I do

Miriam & I have had a week — the good, the bad, & even a little ugly in a few choice moments.

The progeny, on the other hand, has done swimmingly. She’s already walking, albeit full toddle most of the time, and her talking makes sense, but only to other babies.

This time of year is really amazing, if you pay attention, because some people are ready for the holidays while others? Not so much.

Look around you while others are rushing round to & fro. Watch how people behave when they’re stressed.

If I’m candid, I’m exactly the same. I was furious at the Mahag guy (that’s our local VW dealer) today, & Miriam was there to try putting Humpty Dumpty back together again after he fell from the wall.

I went full tantrum, because they reminded us repeatedly of ‘our appointment’ via text. When I arrived, they suddenly acted as if they knew nothing of us & our new Autoschlüssel (key change). Oh well.

I tried rolling with the punches, so I just did some work while sitting next to a burbling brook of a baby playing next to me.

There was another 1/2 hour before it appeared anyone was interested in helping, but when they did? It was excellent service. Really.

Good job, Mahag. Thanks.

I got home, made lunch for all of us, as Miriam was in the office all morning & we NEEDED sustenance. After that, I announced that the new key didn’t even work.

I’d figured out on my way home that although the key itself was right, the remote control function that opens & closes/locks the car was non functioning. Huh…ok.

Turns out that I had a typical expat-related misunderstanding, where I told the guy I knew our spare key didn’t work, & he said to me that there was something wrong with the electrical system – that the new key wouldn’t work.

My German is good when I’m not stressed out. It’s also good when I’m not talking to Bavarians. Sometimes I think northern Germany would be easier speaking/comprehending-wise.

So here we are. We had an appointment for after Epiphany, but they heard me cursing & spitting in the background, so apparently we’ll be dealt with first thing Monday morning.

Ok, I was a jerk. To the Mahag guy & to my wife. I was nice to the baby, but if that’s the low bar I set? Being nice to babies.

Even Jeff Goldblum’s nice to babies, & he’s the worst person I know. Sara knows what he did.

Be nicer to people while they’re Xmas shopping – whether alongside you or if you’re a Spätshopper (late shopper) & you still need just a few more gifts.

Do as I say, not as I do.

My September Eleventh Reflections

Touching and thoughtful response to events in New York, Washington, & Pennsylvania nearly two decades ago.

Laptops And Lederhosen

The sunrise yesterday was immense and memorable.

IMG_20190911_064018Exactly 18 years ago, yesterday, here in Munich, it was a mirror image on that fateful day, with a cool morning followed by a warm, sunny afternoon. Brilliant sun and sky. In 2011, I was on my way to work. On one stretch of Tagernseer-Landstrasse where my destination lie, it was very hot, as the massive length of the factory’s west facade reflected the just past midday sun down on me. I was to give an English lesson at AGFA, a company which at that time was one of the top three companies in the world on camera film quality.

I’d just begun my first real semester teaching, getting ever closer to a full schedule, and started the lesson at 2:30, or 14:30 for the Germans. It was nearly 3:05 (15:05) when in walked Frank Bauer, a gregarious Bavarian of 50 or 55…

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GTT – gone to Texas

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Dodge in the sunlight.

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“It is good that a man’s enemies want him dead, for it proves he has lived a life of worth.”

Forrest Carter, The Outlaw Josey Wales

You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas.” 

Davy Crockett

As you might’ve surmised after reading the headline or the above quotes, we’re headed to Texas.

Yes, I said ‘We’.

I mean the baby and my wife, Miriam, and of course myself.

It’s November already, so the weather should be tolerable in Texas. Might be the only month of the year where that can be said, but we’ll see.

Here are my goals for this trip:

  • to find and use a new hashtag for this trip
  • to take photos of Texas-themed advertising
  • not to eat too much
  • not to embarrass myself too much at the 30th year high school reunion.

The previous hashtag was #brotherstrip, which brother Michael and his wife Sara came up with. Brother’s trip? Get it.

But before you knew it, there were endless jokes about my disrobing. Instead of ‘brother’s trip’, people saw ‘brother strip’. They were jokes of the highest order, so here’s my idea for this one:

#familystrip

Texas is a whole other dimension, if you’ve not heard it before. Not only is everything bigger in Texas, but everything’s simultaneously worse. Both cleaner and dirtier.

So, it wouldn’t surprise you to hear that advertising is different thereabouts. I shall document the instances of this being reality. Well, Texas reality. It’s another dimension, as I said.

I doubt I can avoid eating too much. That one’s been lost before we even get to my mom’s house on the way from the airport.

The last thing on my list? Not embarrassing myself at the reunion.

I’ve probably already lost this one, as well.

The baby is a nice distraction, though. Generally, I rely on her for that these days anyway.

It’s a nice distraction.

Hopefully, this blog can be an equally joyful distraction while we make our way to Texas and back to Germany.

Oh, extra points if you know where GTT in the title comes from.

autumn leaves and keeps on leaving

autumn leaves

One of those perfect autumn days that is so golden and perfect you know it’s precious. You know it won’t last.

People meet our baby, who would be more accurately called a toddler if she just toddled a bit more, and inevitably they look you straight in the eyes as they say, ‘Enjoy every moment of this age.’

It makes me uncomfortable, because I’m not sure if I’m somehow doing it wrong. Yet it’s like that exact fall day. You know it’s glorious and extraordinary. Like nothing else you’ve ever experienced and ever will experience.

You know all of that.

You look out at the green grass as the shiny leaves fall. At first you focus on each leaf individually, but then you notice there are so many falling – the more you look, the more are falling.

The baby’s experiences are like those leaves. Trying to experience everyone is overwhelming, but then another glistening moment floats past my view.

Exquisite and not quite fully grasped and then gone.

Daddyblogging was a bad idea because…

IMG_5063

(photo credit: Meredith Marek)

Only three quarters of the way through my daughter’s first year and already I recognise the error of my ways. At least the original idea that I’d do a moomyblog but from a dude’s perspective is just dead in the water.

The first few months were simply too exhausting. Before she was born, I had this romantic picture of sitting down to chronicle her development, as well as mine, in between feedings and the demands of daily life. I’m sure others have done such a thing and are still doing so, but it turns out documenting her development is done in starts and stops.

The other major development is that the best advice I got has become my mantra about the whole experience. My sister-in-law recommended a book written by a highly-regarded childrearing expert, and the greatest takeaway for me was:

There’s no other child quite like this one and you’re just going to have to figure yours out in your own time and in your own way.

Of course there are milestones that every baby seemingly reaches in a prescribed time. Nearly every new parent I’ve talked to has made it through this existential trial by fire with a constant question in mind, ‘Wait, is this next thing normal? How exactly am I supposed to deal with this situation?

However, the swirl of things that need to get done and the biological necessities that get in the way of sitting down and pontificating on bigger questions make the days long and the months short.

She’s waking up as I type this, and her impatient whimpers are my cue. I’ve been trying to find the universal in this and keep being led back to the particular of my perspective. My daughter makes me both wonder how everybody made it through infancy and simultaneously marvel at how her jaunty manner appears to have been the only possible way for her.

Another carnival ride like nothing I could’ve imagined.