Tag Archives: child

Milk Man: The Human Moo Cow

Since Zuli’s birth, my life has become one of many things: the sterilizing of bottles, the installation of Chicco Key Fit car seats, the covering of bills. And yet the most pressing issue is one that doesn’t really involve me directly at all: lactation, with Maria on the delivering end and Zuli on the receiving one. Indeed, though I play no direct role in that equation, I do find myself acutely attentive to all matters of the boob, and not in the same way I was during my teenage years. This recent re-focus on, um, mammalian life (get it?) has been a virtual flux capacitor – a time machine, if you will – transporting me way back to a story of the lactating variety, but not like you’d expect.

While residing in Kaneohe, Hawaii from 1989-1992 as a secondary school student, I had the explicit displeasure of knowing a kid my same age named Hank (real name changed to protect the innocent). Of the angular and chatty variety, this Napoleonic cuss was a trash talker of the highest caliber even at 13 years of age. Verily did Hank possess a talent for invective-spewing loquacity that even Dave Mustaine might envy. So tall his tales, so weighty the Marlin he’d snared! And though none of us swallowed it, he insisted that his personal Rolodex contained oodles of famous rappers with whom he was intimately associated.

Though I’m not sure Hank realized it himself, his false claims of association with temporary pop icons typically foresaged their downfall. No sooner would he whisper a rapper’s name, and the weather vane would point toward that rapper’s impending departure from the Billboard Top 200. Fortunately for us all, Hank was a youth possessed of despicably poor taste, only claiming association with stars upon whom the rest of us wished rueful deaths in the first place. He never lied about knowing NWA, MC Hammer, De La Soul, or Biz Markee. But boy, did Hank love him some Vanilla Ice. He told us one day, his tongue polishing the lie as it rolled crisp as a fallen autumn leaf from his lips, “Yeah, me and Dave Van Winkle – that’s Vanilla’s REAL name – used to go on drive-by shootings to kill the Bloods in Dallas, since we were both Crips…” While it’s true that we all stopped believing in the Easter Bunny only a brief handful of years earlier, and the fairy dust of Dumbo-styled suspended disbelief hadn’t fully cleared from our pre-pubescent minds, Hank’s b.s. was a bridge too far. Unbelievable by any standard. He even pumped up the street creds of innocuous non-gangsta wanna-be boy bands like Color Me Badd, and guess what? When he mentioned having done drive-bys with them, CMB’s irridescent stage lights fell similarly dim.

When we left Hawaii in mid-1992 and returned to Virginia for my dad’s next military assignment, it was therefore a time of rejoice. I’d finally been rid of Hank. But like Brokeback Mountain, we simply couldn’t quit him, though we’d have loved nothing more than to relegate him in the dust bin of history. Thus one can appreciate the trauma I was caused a month later, at the tail end of the summer and just before the first day of 10th grade, my brother Ben came home with Hank on his tail. And my bro was not pleased to shuffle in the door with this specific straggler. Turns out Hank’s dad had also been reassigned to our same Marine base. Hank showed himself into our kitchen, popped a Coke, and told us he’d just saved all our lives when squashing a black widow spider near our front door. A smart-ass by nature, I asked him if he’d been on any drive-bys with third-rate rappers lately. Hank stared back at me blankly, then pulled the ultimate trump card and did something I’ll never forget: he pulled up his tee-shirt, locked index finger and thumb around his right nipple, and began to squeeze. We waited uncomfortably, not entirely sure where lay the punchline in Hank’s bizarre non-sequitor. But he hit payday a few pregnant seconds later when a single drop of milk trickled down his scrawny chest. Hank had milked himself, contradicting everything we’d learned in bio class ’til that point.

We stood aghast. And then we recovered and attempted to replicate the feat, which to a bunch of teenage boys was admittedly the most singularly astounding act we’d witnessed. And I’d seen MOTLEY CRUE on the Dr. Feelgood tour, mind you. Not that any of us really wanted to milk ourselves, but how could we let Hank have a monopoly on something this cool? None of us were able to do it, though. Our manly mammilla were barren and destitute landscapes, arid as the Sahara. And so we had to give some respect to the little joker, for he achieved the un-achievable as a manly human moo cow.

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Zuli and the Human Layer Cake

…whereupon we find out how one gringo burro, very much a pendejo in his close-minded thinking and tunnel vision approach to dressing his newborn daughter, is out of keeping with canonized medical philosophy involving the baby fashion equivalent of wearing a wool serape on the beach.

Our lives are full of things with layers: Taco Bell’s 7-layer burrito. Layer cake. The Big Mac. Club sandwiches. Multi-layered dips. An onion. The Pentagon. Late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez’s security detail: all those concentric rings of guards. The last three episodes of Star Wars: all those layers of dung! Yet these pale in comparison to the layers my beloved Maria – verily, apple of my ojo and mamasota to my mamacita! – drapes upon our Azul Eileen. Last time Zuli slept, I counted 37, excluding the diaper. Why do Mexican women do this to their newborns?

The answer lies in the resfriado, which basically means getting cold. I saw this for the first time under a different name, “la mojada caliente”, in El Salvador while I was a Peace Corps Volunteer there in the late 1990s. Farmers slaved all morning on their hillside plots, lathering up in sweat equity. Returning to their shacks after the corn was shucked and with machetes spent and hanging from their thin leather belts, however, the farmers refused to bathe until late in the evening, for putting col water on their hot bodies could only result in the mojada caliente. When I asked why this was bad, they looked at me dumbfounded: didn’t I know the mojada caliente caused all manner and variety malady including, but not limited to, arthritis, lumbar spine pain, and heart problems? Wasn’t I aware that the mojada caliente, if occurring with sufficient frequency, could shorten one’s life by numerous years?

No doctor myself, but assessing their arguments begin of dubious premises, I once posed a counter-argument. Could it not be that a such pains and discomforts were actually rooted in a lifetime of working in subsistence agriculture (which involves constant bending at the waist and heaving hefty loads onto the back and shoulders), eating nothing but meager servings of beans, rice, and maiz-based tortillas (zero veggies in the diet there), and having practically no access to medical care of any sort? Not to mention, you know, routine natural disasters and, until 1993, the civil war? Could all of this not warp your body and even kill you sooner than your time? My theory was never taken up for serious investigation by Don Chepe or any of his constituents, but at least they listened to me politely whilst I expounded it over coffee and sweet bread one afternoon.

Mexico’s resfriado is a mojada caliente by a different name, but the concept is identical. Like the mojada caliente, the resfriado is derived from the Aristotelian humors, a medical theory first brought to popular lighten 1025 when the Persian philosopher Ibn Sina (Avicenna to us Farsi-impaired Westerners) published The Canon of Medicine, a work of five books that compiled and presented all the known medical knowledge at the time, including stuff passed down by the Greeks. The four humors – sanguineous, serous, bilious and atribilious – were the fluids coursing thru the human corpus. Aristotle believed them linked directly to the brain and heart, our core organs. Any imbalance of one humor over another leads invariably to a system out of whack, hence sickness, disease, even death. According to this school of thought, external elements like hot and cold can have adverse affects on humor equilibrium. And who wants THAT?

And so I stand corrected. When our daughter finds herself outfitted in 53 layers of clothing and blankets before setting forth on a visit to WalMart on a 106 degree day without shade in the Mexican borderlands, it’s in keeping with canonized medical philosophy. A thousand years old, but canonized none the less. And so I should be stop being humor-less about the whole affair.

(***And no, Maria and I aren’t fighting over this. It’s humor. She doesn’t put THAT many layers on Zuli. I just think it’s funny, that’s all. No one’s gotten boiled like a crab in a crock pot yet, so I’m going to assume Maria knows what she’s doing and this is all good.)

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Sonoran Hot Dogs and the Mogwai Chicken Titty

…wherein we discover Briancito’s deftness at steering his fiancé to another brand of hot dogs, lament how this did not translate into a concurrent capacity for guiding his newborn daughter’s alimentary schedule, and address a quandary: why do babies, like Gremlins, always seem to feed after midnight?

Mexicans from the state of Sonora fashion themselves hot dog experts. Have you ever eaten one from there? It’s hardly an unpleasant experience, and their preparation certainly rivals, or exceeds, the quality of franks served at other “mega-doggo” establishments throughout northern Mexico. A decent folk, the Sonorans will be the first to admit that history has treated their state wretchedly, and perhaps this compels their tenacious belief in the superiority of their state’s hot dogs, a ready fidelity to hold alight the weenie torch in both word and deed.

Maria, my Mexican fiancé hailing from Ciudad Obregon in Sonora, is no exception to that belief system. Standing at just over five feet in height and of delicate corporeal constitution, she speaks softly in a voice that sends a thousand purring kittens scampering through my heart. A humble and polite woman by nature, she keeps her accomplishments mum (at 28 she’s finishing a doctorate and is already a tenured art professor at a major university in Ciudad Juarez). These attributes favoring humility, combined with her general humane and warm treatment of others regardless of station in life, she gives the truthful impression of a woman who loathes competition and avoids conflict at all cost. However, when hot dogs are at stake, she is unequivocal regarding Sonora’s dominance. It’s damn near a petty nationalism, though fortunately for humanity one over which no blood has spilt, save that of the swine perishing for this noble cause.

In the days before our daughter’s birth, I flew into Ciudad Juarez, where Maria lives. We crossed the border into El Paso, Texas, to purchase groceries and supplies before holing up in a temporary apartment back in Juarez for two months. In the meat section of the Target supermarket, Maria asked if I’d like hot dogs for dinner that night. A resounding yes, of course, being a gringo with fond memories of franks consumed at family barbeques and block parties all throughout childhood and adolescence. I’m predisposed and will greedily suckle at a tightly-skinned and condimented frank any time, any place.

Yet despite green-lighting the purchase and merely awaiting her selection, Maria remained static and dumbfounded, scrutinizing the available hot dog variety. I’m no expert in micro-expressions, but I know my woman well and spotted the desperation hegemonically creeping over her countenance. I asked what was wrong. As it turns out, came Maria’s apply in a nearly catatonic disbelief, Target did not offer hot dogs from FUD, the Aztec nation’s largest packaged meats purveyor and, given the fact that Sigma Alimentos (FUD’s parent company) wields a monopoly on franks sold south of the border and is consequently the only hot dog to which Mexicans of most stripes are ever exposed, Maria’s preferred brand. It took some doing, but I ultimately convinced her that this was not, in fact, the end of days as foretold in the Maya Codex, and that another variety of frank might still do the trick. Oscar Meyer, Hebrew National, and Ball Park Franks could all deliver the goods this very night. But baby, I reasoned with every iota of charisma I could conjure, you gotta let it happen. Similar to every man, my relational influence will wane severely once hitched. It is the unfortunate nature of things that I’ll go from Mighty Baby Maker to being the stiff knocking out rent and paying for cable. But on this single occasion, it pleased me greatly to wield such influence over Maria’s alimentary habits. To convince a Sonoran to consume a hot dog that is not FUD is, indeed, no dismal feat.

So foolish of me to assume that same influence would translate into guiding my daughter’s feeding schedule. As a first-time father at nearly 38 years of age, I’ve labored for years under the theorist’s assumption: babies are solely a matter of conditioning, and their eating habits may be controlled rather rapidly with the proper parental firmness, resolve, and consistency. I put this theory to the Pepsi Challenge last night once I got both Maria and Zuli discharged from the hospital and back to our apartment. At precisely midnight, Zuli’s baby lungs demonstrated fortuity unexpected by her Papi Briancito when she tore the bedroom asunder with a rapturous spate of shrill sobbing. For the next six hours, she brought shocked parents to heel, exhibiting that the proverbial new sheriff has arrived in town.

Since these sleepless nights will doubtless be my nemesis for at least the next 12 calendar months, I tore a quick page from Michael Corleone’s playbook: Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer. Thus enthralled was I to learn the innermost mechanics of this terrible phenomenon, the slumber-less eve. I paid careful attention to how Zuli attacked Maria’s jugs with gums, grit, and determination. The sole image that popped to mind was the evil mogwai, of Gremlins fame, tearing up chicken wings. Just like my daughter on her first night at home, the mogwai were irrepressible, seeking fortification as they readied to launch themselves into the world. It seemed to me at that moment, indeed, that Zuli had been duly possessed by Maria’s mogwai chicken titty.

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The Practice of Child Sacrifice: Unexpected and Insane Sidebar from Living Brazilishly

I’m a happy guy, and I’d wager that people typically come away with the impression that I’m more buoyant than average. But since childhood I’ve been inclined toward macabre subject matter in film, books, and music. Even in pre-school, I colored black into the rainbow during a class activity, my teacher promptly admonishing me. I didn’t comprehend her disapproval; in my 5-year old universe, rayon in the rainbow was perfectly sensible. And as the saying goes, it was all downhill from there.

Interest in the sinister side of our earthly experience manifested – as will happen – in my pre-teen years when I began listening to metal, and by the time I was fourteen I’d become a full-throttle death metal nut. I’m from a supportive family with reasonable parents who let me listen to whatever music I liked. My folks only asked that I understand the difference between art and reality. That’s a no-brainer for any metal fan I’ve known. None of us would want someone carrying out the sort of activity you hear about in a Cannibal Corpse song.

The sad part is, there is a sick reality in which some people exist. And it’s everywhere. It’s not restricted to a single place, time, or group of people. History shows that the world over, some folks simply live on a bizarre different plain, and their values aren’t the same as yours and mine. They are thankfully a minority, but still: remember what the cops found in Jeff Dahmer’s Milwaukee apartment?

So the week I arrived in Kampala – a city sufficiently modern that they even have Mountain Dew – I was reminded of this fact by a newspaper article entitled “East Leads Uganda in Child Sacrifice”. Which, as you’d imagine, piqued my interest for all the wrong reasons. Are we to believe that the northern, southern, and western regions of the Ugandan nation likewise have peeps who engage in activities of such perverse suffering? And the east just happens to be taking the statistical lead? And why does the east do better than the rest: is it sheer talent or conviction propelling them to the front of the pack? There’s no way around it, this stuff is insane. It also occurred to me that while metal bands frequently sing about this stuff as a matter of routine course, and all we metal fans throw up horns in approval of The Most Brutal Lyrics EVER, this stuff truly is no laughing matter and, honestly, we probably shouldn’t be treating it as entertainment, even though we do so with no ill intention. It’s probably for the same reason that the majority of the gangsta rap purchasing public in America is middle-class Caucasians; they are intrigued by a reality that most (unless you’re Enimem or Vanilla Ice, of course) will never have to live, like a kind of intellectual or artistic tourism. But in Uganda, real kids are being cut to real pieces, and that’s wroth keeping in mind

After the article, I kept my eyes open for anything related to the topic, and was frankly floored by how rapidly I found myself surrounded by information tidbits related to child sacrifice. It’s as though the gates were opened and the information flowed forth onto my daily radar. To be fair, it’s not just Uganda. The world in general is a tough place for children. Not everyone gets the “level playing field” upbringing and opportunities that come from simply being randomly whelped by yo’ momma in the United States, Canada, or another developed industrial nation; and even in those places, there abounds a plethora of youth that doesn’t carry a light load in life. Ever been so southeast DC? Los Angeles’ skid row? The Mississippi Delta and many parts of Alabama or Arkansas?

But when you add the complicating, exacerbating elements of being born in a place like the Ugandan countryside to the mix, you’re staring dumb and defenseless into the grill of a downright combustible situation, the kind of place Pat Benetar referenced in the song “Hell is for Children”. Look at the poverty into which most of the kids here are born, even ones in the supposedly “better off” urban zone; the near-total dearth of education and onward employment opportunities; the lack of adequate health care for the overwhelming majority of the national population, resulting in a high infant mortality rate, massive HIV/AIDS infection incidence, and a life span on average of 54 years. Think about that last statistic. We’re still a full decade from official retirement age at 54 in the United States, and most folks will tell you that’s when you enter the best years of life. Don’t we all joke that mid-fifties are when it’s time for a second puberty, a mid-life crisis, a new Porsche? Not so in Uganda. You’re born into a fight-or-die scenario and it doesn’t shift even marginally more into your unfortunate favor even under optimal circumstances most of the time you live. So you get the impression that even when their parents are doing their absolute best, the striking multitude of Ugandan children don’t have reasonable expectation of a brighter tomorrow.

An additional consideration ought be voiced for little girls born into these places. The countryside practice of genital mutilation comes to mind as a gender-specific detriment girls here face from the time they leave the womb. Recently, reports have been numerous on local radio shows in Kampala about the practice of female relatives using coconuts to smash the breasts of girls once they hit their teenage years. The rationale, apparently, is to make them less desirable to men, thereby reducing the possibility of teenage pregnancies. It is hard for any reasonable person to understand how this short-sighted and brutal technique makes anything better whatsoever for the child in question, the community she inhabits, or the overall Ugandan nation. And national leadership’s near-total silence on the theme can only be understood as a tacit approval of it. Then again, this ought come as no shock: even the president here recently stated of homosexuals that “even with legislation [referring to a recent draconian anti-gay bill passing through the Ugandan Parliament] they will simply go underground and continue practicing homosexuality or lesbianism for mercenary reasons. […]. You cannot call an abnormality an alternative orientation. It could be that the Western societies, on account of random breeding, have generated many abnormal people.”

So a few days ago, I had to interview a Ugandan man as part of my official duties. He came calling for a tourist visa, and would be traveling to the United States to a known university that had invited him to present a paper about the practice of child sacrifice in the Ugandan countryside. Fascinated to meet someone on the “good guy” side of the divide – and to be sure, most Ugandans ARE on the right side of history in this case – I asked him things related to his job, already planning to approve his visa but assuming his endeavors were predominantly within the academic realm. I assumed he used solely words on paper to affect a change in people’s thinking, but that he wasn’t on the “action” side of the equation. All good, since anything to fight child sacrifice is noble and worthy, since it all has the potential of changing minds and drawing awareness to the issue.

But how wrong I was. Borrowing a page from Quixote’s “hazanas, no palabras” (actions, not words) playbook, this guy also has a hardcore side: he goes undercover to infiltrate child sacrifice shrines throughout the countryside, documenting those responsible and, tragically, the children who are on the business end of the knife. With all gravity he said to me, “Believe me, I could tell you some stories.” He then proceeded to reconstruct an abbreviated version of the laundry list of horrors he’d personally witnessed in the course of his labors, and told me of the specific things that had happened to the “fortunate” survivors featured in the two info pamphlets I included at the outset of this posting: tongues cut out, heads machete-whacked, though somehow saved last-minute and spirited away prior to hearts being carved from torsos. You can’t make this stuff up. It’s insane that this sort of stuff happens in the world, but outstanding to see even one person taking a stand against it.

The interview made me feel blessed for a litany of reasons. First, though I’ll preface this by saying I’m not an uber-nationalistic guy, times like these make me feel fortunate to be American. Yes, we have our problems, but they’re nothing like THAT. Second, I’m in a job that gives me the capacity, even in a very limited manner, to combat this sort of thing: the consular officer who approves the guy’s visa so he can travel to the US and bring attention to the issue; the political officer who demarches local or national government about it; the public relations officer who gives a speech decrying the practice and condemning it with every iota of the collective spirit of the world community. Never a dull moment, even when elements of the day-to-day grind can sometimes feel frustrating or you’re dealing in dark subject matter you’d rather not. But approving this man for travel was one of the bright moments for me. It really doesn’t get any better.

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