Saturday, September 30, 2006

Back baby, back in time

Being alone with the Monkey during the Monkey Mama's absence this weekend makes me nostalgic for my time as a full-time stay-at-home dad. I think the reason is adrenalin's role in memory: the stressors of being a single parent (isolated and overworked) are similar to the stressors I felt as a new stay-at-home parent.

So maybe that's why I was itching to go the arboretum. An out-of-town friend is visiting DC this weekend -- always a plus about living in this town -- and despite "iffy" weather I took her to the National Arboretum. (The Monkey and I used to go there a lot.) And when we took a long walk around the neighborhood later, most of the condo/houses currently for sale are houses that the Monkey and I saw in their initial phases of construction.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Porch blogging: Happy Dance edition

I have my permit in hand.

I suppose I should do a happy dance of some sort. No?

The Monkey Mama has left the building

The Monkey Mama is off on vacation. The Monkey and I are large and in charge.

I was catching up with an old friend who visited us this week. He asked if having kids is "hectic and stressful." Hectic, no: it's a pretty calm lifestyle. No disco dancing, no rent parties. Stressful, yes: sleep is less, responsibilities are more, and free time is out the window.

All of which is a long way to say: I am happy for the Monkey Mama. She is spending a long weekend with a close girlfriend in a resort destination. Unfortunately I had to burn 2 days of annual leave to care for the Monkey during her absence, but that's a trifle.

It helps, too, that I plan to spend next weekend kayaking in West Virginia.

It's interesting to me to compare this absence of the Monkey Mama with the previous one. Not much has changed. Of course the Monkey is much more developed: he has sign language, he is starting on regular language, and he can stand and walk (sort of). But he is still the same Monkey.

I thought it would be more of a challenge: he is more cognizant, and perhaps potentially more willful. So the absence of the Monkey Mama -- especially at bed time -- could be more disruptive. But he rolled with it then, and he's rolling with it now.

Anyway, we had a fun day together, just like old times (back when I was a full-time stay-at-home dad). Playgroup at 10am, followed by shopping at the co-op at noon. I was happy that some out-of-town visitors from Cornell could meet up with us at the co-op (kind of an unusual venue) as they rolled on their way. Then home, playtime, a potential visit to a new baby (born last week), and another trip to the grocery store. (The co-op doesn't sell red wine, and their steak is too expensive).

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Just another day at the permit office

Man, they really pulled out all the stops at the permit office on Tuesday.

I arrived late in the afternoon, with a tired and grouchy Monkey in tow. I took a (high) number, and tried to entertain the Monkey. He wasn't having it. Not wanting to increase the (high) stress level in the waiting room with my crying baby, I took him for a stroll outside.

I called the cell phone of a contact I made in the office, and explained my situation. He did not understand it. He said I should come back in. About the crying baby? "Let him cry." Ouch.

Reentering though security, I make it back in just before our number is called. I approach the desk. "Have a seat and we'll call you." But they lie; it's not until I go back up and rustle some feathers than anyone pays attention to me at all. Ouch #2.

Someone pulled a fire alarm. It was a false alarm, but it took a while to settle everyone back in. Ouch #3.

They call me back to the desk. "Take this downstairs to the cashier, and then come back up." What? I'm paying now? I'm done? Holy smokes! I pack the stroller and toddler downstairs, and fork out $147. (Ouch #4.) I take it back upstairs...and wait.

"Give me 10 minutes, and I'll have this out to you." Thirty minutes sometimes seems like 10 minutes...when you're not holding a crying baby. Ouch #5. I wait.

Meanwhile, it's not all bad for the Monkey. He gets to romp around on the carpeted floor; I give him some snacks and formula; there is an atrium with a glass railing looking down to the busy lobby below; and he gets to push his stroller around and practice walking. Except inevitably he bumps into something, falls on the carpet, and cries in fatigue and frustration. Ouch #6a, #6b, #6c, etc.

An announcement: "It is 10 minutes of 4 o'clock. If you are parked on North Capitol or K Streets, your car will be towed." Damn! I am parked on K at North Capitol. It is probably only minutes until my permit is issued -- finally! after 2 months and 8 visits! -- but I simply can't risk being stranded with a hefty ticket and a crying Monkey (hefty in his own right). Ouch #7.

I move the car to 1st and H St NW, and walk back. It's after 4pm, but they let me back through security. I get the attention of the hostile clerical worker I usually have to deal with, and eventually she recognizes me (and the Monkey). "Oh, you need to be in the other room."

-- What other room? I've been coming here for 2 months, and I have seen no other room.

"Across the hall."

-- Aha! The permit issuance office! I didn't know such a place existed!

I wait in a short line, and pick up a small piece of paper. It's timestamped 4:02pm, already about a half hour old. It probably came through around the time I was moving my car, or perhaps while I was waiting in the wrong (formerly right) room. There is a figure on it: $270. Ouch #8. (That adds up to $417 for those keeping score at home.)

"Take this down to the cashier, and bring it back up."

But the cashier closed at 4:30pm. No exceptions. Get lost. Ouch #9.

I was minutes away from being done.

By this time, the Monkey has given into exhaustion and fallen asleep in his stroller. That' great, although I don't have a book or anything to read except my bill for $270. Oh well, I recline the stroller and wheel him out to grassy area by the plaza out front. It's a nice space, and the Monkey will see only green grass and green trees when he wakes up.

I use my cell phone to call the Monkey Mama at work to let her know where things stand (and catalog the various injustices that have come my way). As I gesture about with the bill, I somehow manage to give myself a paper cut on my lower lip.

Ouch #10.

Max Weber, Franz Kafka, and All of You

The other day, while I was griping about how hard it has been to get a building permit from the DC Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, I went into a sort of reverie.

My training as an economist has convinced me that market institutions provide greater material benefits to humankind than any other institution of human devising. Adam Smith wrote:

"It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we can expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest."

Acting in their own interest, they make their goods at an efficient cost and sell them at a competitive price. And here I sit, eating my meat, beer, and bread -- with neither the knowledge nor skills required to put them on my own table, but enjoying them nonetheless.

But this thought has a partner. Perhaps the indifference of a bureaucracy is capable of greater evil than any individual could devise alone.

Oh, Weber might disagree:
"Precision, speed, unambiguity, knowledge of the files, continuity, discretion, unity, strict subordination, reduction of friction and of material and personal costs--these are raised tothe optimum point in the strictly bureaucratic organization"

But Mises is much more stern:
Those who are asking for more government interference are asking ultimately for more compulsion and less freedom.

And Kafka is positively dour:
Every revolution evaporates and leaves behind only the slime of a new bureaucracy.

Unfortunately, my musings about the impersonal evil of bureaucracies have been overtaken by events. This week, the House and Senate of the United States have each passed legislation that allow torture to be an officially sanctioned policy of this country.

Congress has voted to suspend the Writ of Habeas Corpus indefinitely. Soon You, Dear Reader, can be detained as an illegal combatant anywhere in the world -- even if you are a U.S. citizen in the U.S. -- and not be afforded the opportunity to see the evidence presented against you, or to defend yourself against the charges against you in a fair trial. You can be sentenced to death in this manner.

Congress has voted to amend the War Crimes Act (the U.S. implementation of the Geneva Convention) to grant the Executive unreviewable authority to determine what practices consitute torture. So when the U.S. government detains You and tortures You, it can declare your torture to be legal.

32 Democrats, 1 Republican, and 1 Independent Senator voted against this bill.
53 Republicans, 11 Democrats, and 1 Independent Senator voted for it.

Kafka, again:
All human errors are impatience, a premature breaking off of methodical procedure, an apparent fencing-in of what is apparently at issue.

I leave it to You, Dear Reader, to determine what is at issue.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

What is wrong with me?

I spent most of this morning (Saturday) at the DC Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs trying to get a building permit AND at the DC Department of Motor Vehicles trying to get our car through inspection.

Why did I decide to ruin my day right out of the box?

The permit was damned from the beginning. Apparently some guy named "Tony" didn't do his job, and didn't show up for work today. Incidentally, Tony is a big fat guy who is friendly, but narrow-minded. Yesterday, Tony said he would get to my permit by the end of the day. He lies. That's what's wrong with the people at DCRA: they lie. They all lie.

The car inspection thing was ridiculous. We just had our car serviced for its 60,000 mile check up. But the front brakes were apparently "uneven" so we failed. So I got back in line, and then it passed. The people there were very friendly. They were happy when my second effort made a mockery of their inspection.

The DMV...what can you say?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Porch Blogging: Limbo Edition

I managed to speak to a human at the DC Regulatory Authority yesterday about the status of my resubmitted building permit application. The zoning portion of the permit has been approved -- the part that required me to implore friends with engineering backgrounds to furnish me with signed plans. All that remains is a soil and erosion examination.

Blah blah blah. When can I get the permit?

On the other hand, a sign of our proximate liberation from limbus patrum porchum is that our contractor and his carpenter are coming Monday. That porch might just get built before the first frost yet.

Changing of the Guard

The paperwork is in. The Monkey Momma will be reducing her days in the office to three, and I will be increasing my days in the office to four. Put another way, I will be home one day/week, and she will home two days/week. The Monkey will still have a parent at home three days a week -- and a caregiver for the other two days a week -- but the actual identity of the parent in question will be different.

I don't know quite what to make of the transition. There's a lot to like, but a few things about which I am ambivalent.

The Monkey and I are accustomed to spending one errand day together, and one fun day together. You know, one day doing grocery shopping followed by a day at the zoo. A day butting heads at the DC Regulatory Authority, and a day at the arboretum or a museum. Or maybe just a day sitting in, playing and reading books.

This week was an unfortunate exception: a day centered around bringing the car into the shop for repairs, followed by a day centered around going to the grocery store (and having lunch with a friend).

But how will we cope with just a single day together? Will we make a fun day out of it -- relying on Monkey Momma to pick up some of the slack -- or will we burn it doing errands?

I will say this much about the 6+ months I have spent as a full-time or part-time stay-at-home dad: it's very rewarding, and reducing the time I spend with our son is a sacrifice.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


I guess autumn is near. The other day at twilight, I head crickets. The sound reminded me of more pastoral places from my childhood -- far removed from the urban environment of Washington DC.

Unfortunately, I was in my basement. The two floods we suffered this summer (one man-made but uninsurable, the other natural) left some serious humidity in the basement. So now we have crickets.

Speaking of crickets, that's the sound this blog has been making lately. I suppose after a few more prolonged lulls I will contemplate shutting down the blog. But for now, I remain your faithfully blogging Monkey Daddy.