I am working diligently to make the annual mix CD for my siblings. For the last decade, I've compiled it year-end, then sent it along. When I bought the computer before this one, I began tracking everything via playlists on iTunes. That makes a comprehensive list going back to 2008. I know there are, deep in the subconscious of this computer's hard drive, lists of the first few mixes from other hard drives, but to find them requires a spell of names and songs I can't quite summon. Better to visit my sister-in-law, Sheila, in Chicago, and look through her flip-case with each bulk-metal chic sphere under my hand-decorated sleeves. I know that one year I made a Wilco-and-Willie-Nelson CD, and the year before that included at least a few tracks from Matthew Sweet's Girlfriend. I used to walk around Belmont Street in Chicago in November, waiting to meet Katie for dinner, freezing, listening to "I've Been Waiting" and "Winona," over and over. They were my two favorite tracks on the album, and the black foam of the headphones was like wearing cheap earmuffs. Probably, now, I would say I like "I Wanted to Tell You" or "Evangeline" better. I don't know whether that's process-of-elimination--having listened to and loved the first few tracks best, I've moved on to love the rest--or a maturity of taste and aesthetic. "I Wanted To Tell You" almost made this year's cut, except going back to the album, and Matthew Sweet generally, feels like too much retread.
There is something beautiful about Chicago in November, especially when it is recalled from the temperate distance of November in Northern California. No hands jammed in gloves deep in heavy wool jackets, here. I posted a photo of Walt to Facebook the other day, and he was wearing my stocking cap and scarf. Meghan wrote to ask if those were indeed the ones I wore compulsively in Chicago, and then again in Romania, when she and Dave visited. I am a creature of habit. I like the few things I like a great deal. There was a brief time when I wore thin neoprene bands across my ears, the better to go running or layer with other thermo-sartorial adaptations, but the wool hat, which I grabbed from a goodwill box at my parent's house the year I left for the Peace Corps, is the one I've carried everywhere and kept. I do miss walking across the city, alone or with Katie or with a good friend, a couple of miles to some wonderful cafe, say the Kopi or the Heartland, and settling into a booth, and for those first few, precious moments, taking nothing off, letting instead the heat seep through the breathable fabrics to dry the sweat and circulate some feeling to the extremities. It's a purposeful form of suffering, entirely self-induced, but I'm not sure it's to be avoided.
Cait and I have gotten in the habit of taking a date night here and there, leaving the boys with a babysitter for a three hour stretch of early evening--long enough that if we come back and Walt's still awake, the night is not entirely lost--and walking to downtown Mountain View for dinner at the Pakistani Restaurant with the amazing samosas. I've eaten Indian food across the Midwest and long stretches of Eastern Europe, but this is by far the best. It's such a treasure to wander through the neighborhoods, walking at a pace that never has to slow to match a three-year-old. It's how we used to walk across San Francisco, the whole city every few nights, but that's probably just how I remember it. And if it sounds wistful, or passively ambivalent about the unrelenting pace of raising babies, then I can only say I love our life all the more for these little sojourns away from it. Like Disneyland or outer space, or Chicago in November, spending time away there gets lonely too quickly to like it for too long.
One song I've listened to all year is "I'm So Happy" by The Salteens. The band recorded it for Yo Gabba Gabba, and as soon as Walt heard it, the song became a select favorite. To give a sense of what that kind of commitment means in our household, I had to eventually record the song onto a CD for Cait, so that whenever she did the daycare pick-ups, she could have it at the ready to play on repeat, along with the theme from "Fireman Sam." Fourteen months on, Walt still wears the fireman get-up everyday. I love that he's so comfortable in his skin, and around us, to keep at it. A friend explained the other day that what happens is, one day, dinosaurs arrive to the Duplo fire stations. The next day, the fireman and dinosaurs play together, but really, the writing is on the wall. Fast forward a few weeks, and the station is now fully inhabited, the fireman stuck at the bottom of the toy bin, rescuing no one. For a while, it looked like police officers were coming to visit, but the pancake breakfast came and went. The stack of fire helmets in the closet lived to fight another day. I like that Walt has a passion. I don't know what he'll make of it next. I'm not too worried, though. The other day, I tried to explain that, if he wanted, he could take a nap. He just looked at me and shook his head. Fireman no take naps, he said. That night, like every night he doesn't nap, he went out like a light and slept right through to the morning.