Monday, July 25, 2011

Kim Kardashian's Kourt Kase is a Kolossal Load of Krap

Last week noted celebutard Kim Kardashian raised the bar for self-important narcissism so high that, given the Kardashian kompulsion to khristen everything with a 'k,' maybe we should start calling it "karcissism." Narcissism, we all learn in grade school, is named for the Greek myth of the man so vain he looks into a pool of water and sees himself, and can't look away. Karcissism would be the myth of the woman so vain she looks at someone else, sees herself, and calls her attorneys. 

Apparently Ms. Kardashian saw this Old Navy ad and decided that the girl at its center is so flagrantly stealing her look, style, identity, and persona (to paraphrase her attorney), she is owed $20 million, and has filed lawsuits accordingly.
Kind of, but not really.
The so-called lookalike, Melissa Molinaro, is indeed an olive-skinned brunette with a similar hairstyle, but if you ask me, the similarities end there. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and Kim obviously (if inexplicably) has her fans, but Ms. Molinaro is much prettier, and seems to have a bit more restraint (or at least better taste) with the cosmetics. In addition, she sings and dances throughout the ad, two things that Kim Kardashian has never been accused of even attempting. Singing and dancing, you see, are talents, and Kim has amply demonstrated over her four-plus years in the public eye that she has none of those (whatever Ray J might tell you). The ad is a dance number, and apart from a moment where Molinaro is surrounded by paparazzi, I can't see how anything here could be construed to be a specific homage or parody or whatever of Kim Kardashian. When I think of Kim Kardashian, I think of three things:
A unique contribution to society.

1) she has big butt. 2) she got famous by doing a sex tape. 3) she has two (ugly) sisters riding her coattails.  None of those characteristics, which I would argue constitute the whole of her "look, style, identity, and persona" -- at least to the general public -- are in evidence in this ad. Call me conventional, call me exploitative, but if I'm directing a video that is supposed to evoke comparisons to Kim Kardashian, there is going to be at least one, gratuitous butt shot. Probably a whole flurry of them. (Just ask early-90s George Michael how this works.) I'm thinking of a tracking closeup as she walks down the supermarket aisle: after four or five steps, the butt pulls away from the camera but then suddenly backs up to blot everything else out of the frame, metaphorically echoing Ms. Kardashian's time in the public sphere. Which brings up another point: the biggest chunk of this video takes place in a supermarket. An Old Navy-ized supermarket, which is a little confusing, but still, a supermarket. Which part of Kim Kardashian's image involves the supermarket? Hasn't she carefully cultivated the idea that she neither eats nor does what people do after they eat, much less does her own shopping? Kim would sooner use an off-brand volumizer than set foot in a Safeway. (And not just because there are no cameras there.) This alone should be enough to win the case for Old Navy. (And yes, I'm rooting for Old Navy here. I'm sure they're a despicable corporation like all other corporations but my kid is dressed head to toe in their stuff -- it's cheap and it fits. Do you want to me to take sides against my own son's comfort and personal style?) And although the actress in the ad has apparently taken up with Ms. Kardashian's former flame in real life, NFL running back Reggie Bush (clearly, he has a type), he's not in the ad. Because then, there might be a case. There is also no super-annoying pair of sisters here -- I'd have cast Snooki and Adam Sandler in the roles. They's probably turn it down, but in Hollywood you go for ideal casting first and work your way down from there. And, everybody knows what the inside of her house looks like thanks to that insipid TV show -- the ad makes no effort to duplicate that, either.
Much closer, in my opinion.
There is a good bit of irony here, considering that when Kim Kardashian herself came into the public eye, everyone said she looked just like Nicole Scherzinger, who Google tells me is one of the Pussycat Dolls. I don't recall Ms. Scherzinger making a fuss that Kim was stealing her image or her mojo or whatever (and Google seems to agree), proving -- and I'm confident this will be the first time anyone has ever made the following statement about a Pussycat Doll -- she is the classier lady. This lawsuit is like if Michael Jordan sued Nike for doing ads with Tiger Woods: They're not the same person, they don't even play the same sport, but they kinda look alike if you squint hard enough. (By the way, some kind of legal action should be taken to keep Jordan from appearing in any more ads with that Hitler moustache.) What if Kim wins? Will she thenceforth be the only dark-haired, olive-skinned woman allowed on TV? I'm sure there are more than a few guys that would be okay with that, but I'm reminded of the words of Martin Niemoller (and I'm paraphrasing): "First they came for the dark-haired, olive-skinned girls, and I said nothing, because I was not dark-haired or olive-skinned. Then they came for the blondes, and I said nothing..." And it's not as though she needs the money: The Kardashians, as a family, raked in $65 million last year, and I'm sure the lion's share of that went to Kim. So what gives? Even if Old Navy did it completely on purpose, and cast Melissa Molinaro solely because of her resemblance to Kim Kardashian, there is nothing the least bit slanderous here. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, is it not? This does no damage to her "look, style, identity, and persona," except maybe for suggesting that Kim would (*gasp*) shop at Old Navy. (Although, a recent episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians did center on Kim's psoriasis breakout, so she might want to look into wearing more light cotton garments.) And lookalike videos are nothing new: David Lee Roth danced with Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, and Boy George doppelgangers in a video, and more recently Eminem had a whole raft of celebrity lookalikes -- Kim included -- in a variety of unflattering scenes. But nobody sued them. Maybe they thought it was funny. Of course, among the many things Kim is not known for -- taste, discretion, subtlety, intellect -- "sense of humor" is near the top of the list. When Casey Anthony was acquitted last week, she tweeted her outrage, totally missing the irony that her name got its foot in the door because her father was O.J. Simpson's personal attorney, read his suicide note on live television, and helped to assemble the "Dream Team" that got him off. There's no such thing as bad publicity, my wife reminded me when I asked for her thoughts on this. I would argue that stating for all the world that you are a self-important harpy with more money than brains and no sense of humor about yourself comes pretty close, but only a fool would bet against her at this point. She has 8 million followers on her entirely vapid, substance-free Twitter feed and her blog apparently gets 40 million hits a month. I guess what I'm saying is, it's all our fault! If an overexposed, overstyled halfwit Tweets and nobody follows, did she ever really make a sound? There's only one way to find out. The Kontra Kardashian Kut-Off Kampaign starts now! (I had to go for four K's, to avoid confusion.) Ignore this jerk, and maybe she'll stop. Or better yet, if you are a dark-haired, olive-skinned female with a little extra junk in the trunk, band together with your sisters and bring a class action lawsuit against Kim Kardashian her for publicly portraying dark-haired, olive-skinned females as petty, self-important twits. There's not a court in the land -- at least, not outside of Los Angeles County -- that wouldn't find in your favor. 

Monday, July 18, 2011

A Tale of Two Cities

I read the other day about some politician who, disgusted with liberal tax-and-spendism, wants to secede Orange County from the rest of California. This kind of thinking is not uncommon: Texas Gov. Rick Perry floated the idea of Texas quitting Team America not too long ago, and I've heard many a Lefty and Righty alike wish that we could separate the red states from the blue states.

I don't think I would go that far, but there are some pretty extreme cultural differences between the coasts and the middle of the U.S. Over the course of my life I have lived on both coasts and in the middle, and I have observed this up close. Two anecdotes leap to mind:

In the spring of 2001, my wife Jennifer and I reluctantly decided to leave our adopted hometown of San Francisco. I had moved there right after college and had been living there nearly six years, Jen almost five. We had met while working together at one of the many Internet startups that came to define the Northern California economy in the late '90s. By 2001, however, the bubble was starting to burst, and we had both found ourselves without work and without prospects right around the time of our wedding in 2000. We struggled along, I taking work as a bartender and Jen as a waitress, but the situation was unsustainable. We weren't making enough to pay our rent, and the area's insanely high property values made buying a home -- any home -- so unfeasible we discussed it like a fantasy, the way we might discuss buying a yacht or a spaceship.

So we bailed. In the absence of any kind of real career plan -- we had both spent our entire professional lives in an Internet editorial industry that appeared to be permanently capsizing -- we decided to regroup and save money in the place with the cheapest rents and cost of living that we knew of: Cincinnati, Ohio, where my parents and my brother had been living since about the time I went to California. We took an apartment in the very quaint little town of Newport, Kentucky, directly across the river from Cincinnati. (Unofficial city motto: "No shirt, no shoes, no problem.")

The Brass Ass, Newport, KY
Anyway, not too long after moving there, I needed a haircut. I had grown very fond of a Vietnamese barber shop in San Francisco that gave a great short haircut for only $12. But what really set the place apart was that the guys who worked there spoke almost no English, so there was none of the awkward chit-chat that so often defines the haircut experience. That, and they gave a neck and shoulder rub with one of those huge vibrating things you put on the back of your hand at the end of the haircut. A little touch of olde-tymey class!

So I set out to find something similar in Newport, and found a little barber shop, complete with striped pole -- where else -- on Main St. I go in and take in the scene: Two barbers working two chairs. Two guys getting haircuts, two guys waiting their turn, ESPN on the TV. As I take a seat to wait my turn, I look around for something to read while I wait. (In the dark ages of 2001, we could not read the newspaper on our cell phones.) Scattered around on the floor and in the chairs are five or six different out-of-date editions of The Sporting News, which being primarily about baseball is of little interest to me, so I keep digging and find a three-month-old Sports Illustrated and read previews of the NBA Finals that I already know the outcome of.

My hopes of no chit-chat are immediately dashed because all six guys in the room are having a very animated discussion about a NASCAR driver whose name I don't remember. I don't remember much about the discussion, except one of the barbers' repeated, drawling insistence that "he's taking chances, and he's winning races!" He said that four or five times.

I'm starting to feel like my silence is conspicuous, but I truly have nothing to contribute to the discussion, but it's not like anyone cares. Soon one of the guys' haircuts is finished and he gets up, puts his baseball cap on, and leaves; one of the guys who was waiting before me gestures to the other one that he can go ahead, and he gestures right back that the other guy can go ahead. So is he not getting a haircut? I'm puzzled. The NASCAR talk winds down and the room goes quiet, and then another guy comes into the place and sits down next to me. Nobody says anything for maybe five minutes, until suddenly the guy who just came in says, "How much is it for a concealed-carry license again?" (This, my liberal pinko friends, is a license to carry a concealed handgun. My dad has one.) Everybody in the room except for me and the guy who asked the question replies, almost in unison, "Thirty-five dollars."

At that moment I realized just how different the place I was in (Kentucky) was from the place I had come from (San Francisco). I flashed on an even shorter anecdote that may illustrate just how different:

Castro Street, San Francisco
When Jen and I met, she lived in the heart of the Castro District, the gay capital of planet Earth. One day she and I were out walking around on Castro Street, and I paused in front of a storefront display at a video store with widening eyes. There, in the window, facing out for all to see, and incidentally around the corner from an elementary school, was an 8x10 framed photo of two shaved, muscular gentlemen standing opposite each other sharing two things: a passionate, stubbley kiss, and a watermelon with holes on either end. (This practice is known as a "Gallagher," as in "Thom and Marco are going to get a case of Bud Light Lime, light some candles, and Gallagher all night.")

What is the point of this story? None, really, other than the fact that both anecdotes make me laugh. But the federal government is presently headed to a potential catastrophe, largely because of the parties' (and by extension, their constituencies') inability to understand each other both culturally and politically. But I don't think that's because the people are obstinate or stupid or wrong; it's because they're different. They grow up in different places, valuing different things.

"States' Rights" is a sort of taboo term because for a long time it was the rallying cry of opponents to integration and racial equality. But that issue is (legally) settled now, and on a whole host of issues -- marijuana, gun rights, and gay marriage leap to mind -- we are not going to have national consensus anytime soon. The notion of everyone in New York City packing heat is terrifying to people who live here, just as the notion of not being able to hunt for your dinner is idiotic to the people who are in a position to do so. Neither of those positions is going to change -- nor should they. But tensions are raised because people are wary that even if something is legal in their state, that the Federal government might decide to prosecute it anyway: California's medical marijuana dispensaries are in constant fear of being raided, and guns and ammunition fly off the shelves anytime a Democrat is elected president, for fear that they'll soon become illegal. If we had more confidence that the laws enacted in our local jurisdictions are actually the laws, and not subject to the whims of politicians unfamiliar with those jurisdictions, it might leaven the mood of red-blue relations from "mutually suspicious, generally hostile" to "bemused from a distance." If you feel strongly enough about gun rights you can move to a state that supports them, and let the hippies that don't do what they want. Wouldn't that be nice? Vive la difference!

I mean sure, I'd love to see an American Utopia where Thom and Marco powder a couple of clay pigeons mid-Gallagher. Who wouldn't? Maybe with a little more understanding, God willing, we'll get there.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Vampire Fantasy Is More Dangerous Than Actual Vampires

Sookie definitely has a type.
So a new season of True Blood just started, and there's another Twilight movie coming this fall, there are still ads for The Vampire Diaries on the subway, and Johnny Depp and Tim Burton are remaking Dark Shadows. What do all these projects have in common? (Other than not interesting me whatsoever?)

That's right, they're all about vampires. Humans made immortal by feasting on the blood of other humans are a literary device nearly as old as literary devices, and over the years they've been used as metaphor for all kinds of different things, but the pop-culture vampire craze of the 2000s has been squarely aimed at the fairer sex.

On the surface, it's easy to see why women find vampires, and the vampire myth, irresistable: They wear a lot of black, well-fitted clothes. They're often into leather pants, which chicks are always a sucker for. They keep their hair slicked back, they're thin and lithe (not a lot of carbs in fresh blood), and they're seldom without a little five-o'clock shadow. And they're always played by dreamy white guys. (Although they're usually awfully pale, which, if you asked most women where "legal-pad white complexion" ranks on a list of Most Attractive Traits, I doubt would crack the Top 20, so this one's a bit of a head-scratcher.)

Team Edward all the way!
So, other than the fact that they tend to look like Robert Pattinson and Alexander Skarsgard, what do women find so fascinating about vampires? I have a couple of theories.

First, I don't think it's any secret that there's nothing more attractive to the ladies than an unavailable man. (As a happily married -- and doggedly faithful -- bartender working in Manhattan, I have observed this phenomenon in action on many an occasion. But let's stay with vampires.) And who is more unavailable than a man who can't go out in the daytime, and feeds on human flesh? Talk about a bad boy that'll piss off your dad!

And this is, of course, the ultimate version of the widespread female fantasy as regards wildly inappropriate romantic prospects, the fantasy that boils down to four words: "I can change him." He's total player, and he's slept with all my friends but never called any of them again? I can change him. He's never had a girlfriend longer than a week and he specializes in fake phone numbers? I can change him. He only calls me when the bars are about to close? I can change him! He roams the streets at midnight prowling for virgins to prey upon? He comes home just before dawn, drenched in fresh blood from the chin down? I CAN CHANGE HIM!!!

At least this guy knew how to party.
And change him they have, at least in the last decade's iterations of vampire romances. The gleeful, carefree party-all-night vamps of The Lost Boys have been replaced by the tortured, brooding emo boys who are just filled with longing that they can't be with their one true love, and they'll do anything to prove their undying devotion, including the ultimate form of self-denial: they stop feeding on people, turning to alternatives like animals and (on True Blood) a synthetic blood substitute. They deny their predatory nature in the name of true love. (Not the most complex metaphor.) Even after hundreds of years and thousands of victims, these sexy vampires can fall prey to the charms of one special girl, if she's special enough. If she's special enough, she can change him. We all like to think we're special -- there's nothing wrong with that -- but it's dangerous to think your specialness is so special it can cancel out someone else's.

And of course, a vampire isn't (usually) a vampire by choice: he was preyed upon by another vampire, or regards his decision to become one as a youthful error that he now regrets. This is another element that plays into the warped romantic fantasies of young girls: the misunderstood (and smolderingly good-looking) outcast. It's not his fault! You don't know him like I do! He's good deep down, I just know it!

On a (slightly) deeper level, some women also respond to the idea that by giving herself (and her blood) to one of these dark-eyed strangers, a woman is actually giving him life. True Blood made a point in its first season of equating vampire Bill's feeding on human Sookie with total intimacy. The sex was no big deal, by comparison: Sookie had to beg Bill to bite her, purposely sacrificing part of herself for his sake. He literally needs her.

This point of view overlooks the obvious flip side of the argument, which is that he is literally sucking the life out of her, the same way a mosquito or a leech would. Is that the exact opposite of sexy, or am I missing something? Why not take this metaphor a little further, and have Bill embezzle all of Sookie's inheritance from her dear departed Gran? Will "The Leech Diaries" or "Mosquito Cove" be the next metaphorical romance series? I tend to doubt it.

(A side note on True Blood: I know people love it because it has a lot of sex and nudity and soapy details, but I'm sorry, this show is really terrible, and not (just) because it indulges in the tired metaphors outlined above. It started with a potentially interesting premise -- vampires have found a way to live with humans without feeding on them, and now live like any other persecuted minority -- but got bored with it before the end of its first season. Does anyone even remember anymore that the show is named after the synthetic blood the vampires drink to avoid biting people? When the show ran out of ideas along these lines almost immediately, it started adding more and more supernatural elements -- shapeshifters, maenads, werewolves, witches -- that have no deeper meaning at all and totally undermined whatever higher meaning the show might have once aspired to. Watch for next year's Bon Temps mummy invasion, followed by the arrival of Dr. Frankenstein in season 6.)

Distant, cold, dreamy

I've been watching, God help me, The Bachelorette this season, and this year's lucky lady, an also-ran from the previous season of The Bachelor named Ashley, is a perfect case study in the mentality that all this vampire crap is both feeding and feeding off of. In the season premiere, before she met the 25 guys who would be competing for her hand, she was warned by an acquaintance that one of the guys, Bentley, was only coming on the show to promote his business, was a player, and that Ashley should watch out for him. When Bentley stepped out of the limo and introduced himself, Ashley was suitably guarded, but couldn't help noticing that Bentley was super-duper-dreamy. Bentley soon told America (but not Ashley) that he had come on the show hoping one of the other Bachelor also-rans named Emily would be the bachelorette, and was in no way attracted to Ashley. At their second meeting, Bentley was aloof, distant, and clearly not interested, and Ashley fell head-over-heels for him. Even after making out with her, Bentley was clear (to the cameras, not to Ashley) that Ashley was not for him, and behaved accordingly: he insulted her to the cameras and was emotionally detached whenever they spoke, but Ashley began to intimate that she had found her future husband. Bentley sensed that Ashley was over the moon for him, so he made an excuse and left the show, and Ashley spent the next three weeks pining for him, ignoring the 20 other guys competing for her attention, and generally making a fool of herself.

He's on the show to promote his business? I'll win him over. He's a player? I can change him! He's emotionally unavailable and clearly not interested? Wait till I turn on the charm! He has left entirely? I CAN GET HIM BACK!
The Bachelor is usually chosen from the losing field of the previous season of The Bachelorette and vice versa. I would bet the farm that the next bachelor will be Bentley -- with all the controversy he stirred up, it will be ratings gold. One might argue that he's such a jerk, why would any of the ladies want him? You watch. Bentley will be the bachelor, and the field of 25 ladies will have a couple of conscientious objectors; the rest will go for Bentley hook, line, and sinker, just like Ashley did, spurred on by the challenge of trying to change him with her extra-special specialness while cameras broadcast it all to an envious nation of the women who think they could change him faster.

Look, I don't begrudge anyone the right to have exciting encounters with strange, dangerous partners. But we have a whole generation of young girls who are growing up identifying with Sookie Stackhouse and Bella Swan, and imagining that the brooding, mysterious guy who won't call them back is a potential life partner when he's really just a dick.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Altamont Of Preschool Graduations

Yesterday my wife and I officially moved into the second phase of parenting. Having survived the first phase -- consisting of the sleepless newborn part, the bull-in-a-china-shop toddler part, and the awful third year (which dwarfs the so-called "terrible twos" in terms of irrational screaming, pointless contrarianism, and all-around obstinacy), we are now the proud parents of a four-year-old who yesterday finished his first year of Montessori preschool. And thus begins the second phase: the phase that will be punctuated by frequent, poorly conceived, ineptly executed, largely pointless school events, starting with yesterday’s “Graduation/Moving On” ceremony.

My son is not actually graduating from anything, even by the increasingly lax criteria that we seem to be applying the word – he will be returning to our local Montessori preschool in the fall, and then starting kindergarten (God knows where, don’t ask) a year later. So a person might reasonably ask why he was part of this ceremony. I certainly asked, more than once. But my wife, who had attended a rehearsal, assured me that it would be super-cute and very brief -- the kids had been taught to sing a couple of songs in unison, she said -- so I got the blessing to leave work three hours early so I could make a 3pm curtain at the storefront church next door to the school.

The moment I got there and took a place for myself and my wife about halfway from the front -- the closest I could get -- I resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn't be able to see anything. The church was a long, narrow room with a small stage (maybe 8" high, tops) at the front. I'm sure it works great when adults are standing on it, but the performers we were there to see are all just over three feet tall. No big deal, I thought -- he's not actually graduating from anything, and I'm sure the other parents will take about a million pictures and put them all on the parents' listserv. 

Then the music starts: A funky little clavinet riff with a hip-hop beat, with some cute kids' voices, barely audible over the backing track, freestyling strained rhymes about "Montessori." ("You won't be sorry," etc.) My wife, who's joined me after dropping off our boy and a platter of Rice Krispie Treats in the staging area in the basement where refreshments will be at some point be served, tells me that the director of the school composed it with his nieces. It's cute and very short, about a minute and a half. But I soon realize it's on repeat. And what's cute for two minutes wears out its welcome pretty fast on the eleventh consecutive listen. Imagine a TV theme song -- any TV theme song -- played over and over and over.

A bit ambitious
My wife notices that people have programs, so I go back to the front door and grab one. And it is here that I begin to realize we are probably in for a bumpy ride. There are 15 different items on it, with an intermission in the middle. Then I notice the kids' names on the opposite page. There are a lot of them -- I count 44. So the plan is to gather 44 four and five-year-olds and expect them to behave through 15 different songs, speeches, and presentations? You folks work with kids -- it could reasonably be suggested that you know our kids at least as well as we know them ourselves -- and this is the plan you're going with? We can't get our kid to sit still for five minutes if there's another kid his age present. Once again I shrug my shoulders. The stakes here are so low, I'm not about to get upset about anything, I just find it curious.

After 15 or 20 minutes, and about as many times through the now-quite-irritating Montessori Rap, the music fades and we all turn around to see that the kids are lining up in the lobby for the opening processional. A couple of the more precocious kids are hustled up to the stage first, where they read (they can read!) a short welcome to the parents. It's adorable, and we all give an enthusiastic round of applause. This will prove to be the last part of the program to come off seamlessly.

The rest of the kids begin a single-file procession to the stage, (some of them) singing "Let There Be Peace On Earth, And Let It Begin With Me." It's very, very cute, although our son looks mortified. As he realizes how many eyes are on him he totally freezes up to the point of holding up the line. It is at this moment that I realize he will not be singing anything. 

He reaches the stage and is maneuvered into the front row, far stage left, and a backing track begins to play "America The Beautiful," complete with kids' voices. The live kids on stage are meant to sing along, and some of them are, but we can't hear them at all because the track is too loud. Way too loud. It doesn't matter much to me, because my kid isn't singing anyway, though it takes me a minute to determine that: all the parents immediately rose to their feet for this song, frantically taking pictures, and from halfway to the back of the room I can't see my boy in the front row without some creative positioning and neck-craning. 

After "America The Beautiful," one of the teachers reads off a bunch of kids' names, and those kids run out into the audience to find their parents, our son among them, as the teacher with the microphone explains that not all the kids are performing the next dance. The noise level in the room begins to rise from "quiet and attentive" to "somewhat disordered." A lot of these kids have younger siblings in attendance, most of them infants, many of them crying, so a certain level of parental anxiety is beginning to take hold. (For about the thousandth time, I marvel at the courage of people who intentionally decide to raise two kids at once.) Nothing happens on stage for a couple of minutes, and then another couple of minutes, and then another teacher takes the microphone and announces, "In our haste to get the show on the road, we made a mistake -- all the children are in this next dance! So please, will everyone come back to the stage." By now the boy has found the Hot Wheels he had brought in his backpack and hidden under our chairs. We make no effort to send him back to the stage, and several other kids also stay with their parents.

Under the chairs.
After several more minutes, the dance finally begins: Louis' Armstrong's rendition of "Hello, Dolly" fills the PA, once again drowning out the kids' voices, but the dance they do is very cute. Then the kids are hustled through the door at the side of the stage leading to the basement for a costume change. Several minutes pass, and I notice that we have already diverged significantly from the printed program. The director of the school takes the stage, and the program indicates he will say a word about the teachers; instead he announces that the teachers are busy with the costume change in the basement, and he feels like they should be present for his speech. Is he going to do it later? Is someone going to get the teachers? Nobody knows, and nothing happens for several more minutes. Then the Montessori Rap comes back on and plays about 25 more times while the director and one of the teachers try to set up a laptop and projector for a slideshow with photos of the kids. Having done this several times myself I can tell you that it can be done in less than five minutes; here it takes at least 15 or 20. The computer was not turned on in advance, so it takes a while to boot up (it's running Windows), and aiming the projector at the screen seems to be much more challenging that it might appear at first glance. The image is bobbing and weaving ceaselessly, as though the projector is not on a table but being held in the lap of someone in the midst of an epileptic episode or perhaps some kind of chemical withdrawal. Finally the lights go out and the slide show starts, but for some reason it just keeps repeating the same four photos over and over. After about five laps of this the lights go on and the Montessori Rap resumes.

As the technical difficulties are addressed, the feeling starts to spread that this thing is not going well, but before anyone takes up torches or pitchforks, it seems the second dance is ready to commence; the kids are dressed in spangles and sequins and actually pull off some couples choregraphy for a tune I'm not familiar with (the program identifies it as "It's Showtime," which still rings no bells). The (still participating) kids go back to the basement, and it seems the slideshow issues have been worked out. The lights go off and the show begins. Lots of cute pictures of lots of cute kids. (There are a lot of charming and adorable kids going to this school.) Then in the middle of the slideshow, someone apparently decides to start flipping lightswitches one at a time: First the wall sconces go on and off. Then the row of chandeliers goes on and off. Then the can lights in the ceiling go on and off. The spell of the slide show is totally broken, chaos once again takes hold, and I break down into an uncontrollable giggle fit at what a total disaster this thing is becoming.

Now the head of the parents' group that, ahem, organized this thing takes the mic, but almost no one is listening to her. The kids are talking to each other, the parents have given up trying to keep the kids quiet, the younger kids are getting antsy, and the noise level goes up another notch from "somewhat disordered" to "floor of New York Stock Exchange." But I listen attentively, because there's not much else to do, and she explains that it was important to her and the other organizers to have all the kids -- both classes of 20+ -- together for this ceremony in order to underline the feeling of community and family in the school that she knows we all feel.

Here she is mistaken. I am quite fond of the kids in my son's class, as I know he is, but with the exception of his best buddy who he has known since around his first birthday, he doesn't know or care about anyone in the other class. He's four years old. He doesn't know from community, or a "feeling of family." If I were to carefully explain it all to him, I have no doubt at all that his reply would be, "Can I have a Rice Krispie Treat?" Most (but certainly not all) of the problems in this thing spring from this misguided projection of adult niceties onto these little kids. Why not have two ceremonies for 20 kids each? That would have been manageable. Why not just have a ceremony for the kids that are actually graduating, and have a separate picnic or something to foster all that community spirit? That would have allowed all these four-year-olds to act like four-year-olds.

Anyway, I don't want to get too critical, because her heart was clearly in the right place. My wife at this point starts talking about leaving, and I reply that I'm ready to go anytime, but the boy is aware of the refreshments in the basement (which includes cupcakes and Rice Krispie treats), so we start to sneak down there. The graduating kids are down there lining up in their unbelievably adorable little caps and gowns, however, and we are thwarted. We go back to our seats, and everyone is deafened by 10 seconds of microphone feedback, made all the more curious by the fact that no one is speaking into a microphone.  At this point I am starting to notice that people are getting visibly angry. Cue second burst of microphone feedback, and my second uncontrollable case of the giggles, only exacerbated by the return of the Montessori Rap. The Montessori Rap. I can hear it even now.

The kids finally return to the stage, coming single file up the center row in their caps and gowns. They are adorable. When they reach the stage, the distribution of their little diplomas (which no one but the first five rows can see) seems to take about three or four minutes per kid, for reasons that are never clear. We can't take anymore: We slip out, grab a cupcake for the boy from the basement, and exit through the fire door. We go home, put some fish sticks in the oven, and I toss him a few wiffle-ball pitches in the back yard. He hits the first one solidly and misses the rest, and I think how glad I am to be in the second phase of parenting.