Was I a "sad sack"? Many seemed to think so.
I remembered how I had been nicknamed "Morose Man" by a lovely woman (the word we used in college for females over 16) from Kansas who eventually became a close friend. But she had given me this nickname before she had met me, based on my demeanor.
I remembered how, while spending a semester in Denmark, my host sister, a birdlike blond girl named Pil, which meant "arrow" (her mother had had to receive a special dispensation from the Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs and the Ministry of Family and Consumer Affairs to bestow that name upon her daughter), had told me that she was afraid to knock on the door to my room when I was doing homework while listening to a cassette tape of an American contemporary string quartet playing "Half-Wolf Dances Mad in Moonlight" by the minimalist composer Terry Riley and "String Quartet No. 3" by Béla Bartók (Bartók Béla).
"I was scared," she said, even though this 14-year-old girl often had her 16-year-old half-Jamaican boyfriend sleep over in her room and come down to the breakfast table shirtless.
Back when I was young and attractive, and occasionally found myself in a retail establishment that served alcoholic beverages to non-heterosexual males, strange men would come up to me and yell "smile!" in a censorious manner.
I had had a much more colorful and Almodóvarian life from around age 30 to age 37. I didn't think I was a sad sack then. At least not as much as at other times. I was even prone to ribald tomfoolery and bawdy humor durante esta época.
While watching a so-called reality television show set in the city of Los Angeles, I thought about how much I had loved my two visits to that place. I had gone there from grim and dour San Francisco and had found all of the superficial friendliness and smiling and plastic and neoplastic physical attractiveness to be very exciting and refreshing.
"I could live here," I had said to a friend who had moved from Los Angeles to San Francisco.
"Ugh," she replied.
I then realized that I couldn't really live there, owing to all the driving.
Now that I was a parent, I experienced joy and love that I never could have imagined before. But I wasn't any more cheerful. And I was more worried than ever before, which was really saying something.
I wondered if I needed more superficial cheerfulness in my life, as I sat down to a penitential Lenten vegan meal of vinegar and rice.
A study had been released that stated that there was too much inorganic arsenic in rice and advised eaters to consume no more than one-fourth of a cup of rice per week.
I ate around two cups of rice every day.
Spring couldn't come soon enough.
I finished reading the book about the Polonization of Breslau (Wrocław). I had thought that it would give me some insights into the conflict in the Middle East about which I was obsessed.
It didn't, really. The massive population transfer had been supervised and enforced by the Soviet Union, whose absolute power had been unquestionable, against Germany, whose defeat had been utter and complete and total. This had not been the case in the Levant. There was some similarity in the practice of dredging up historical names and wiping out the traces of the preexisting population, but that had happened all over the world in many different places so it wasn't really very interesting. I knew all my Cluj-Napocas and İstanbuls and Lvivs.
Oh well, I thought.
We went out to dinner at the apartment of our affluent friends, friends I had met back during the period when I was fun and relatively cheerful: días de alegría.
I tried to keep my temporary veganism secret, shoveling quinoa on top of the pieces of mozzarella cheese on my plate.
I sat next to a young and muscular and tattooed guy from South Africa who had served in the Israeli army. We had nothing in common -- he was able to spend several hours a day at boxing and kickboxing practice -- , but, upon hearing that I was a parent, started talking about his nephew, who was roughly the age of my children.
"Like most parents, my sister thinks that he is pretty advanced," he said.
I stopped to think. We'd never thought that our kids were advanced. Maybe our son was advanced in hair?
At my job, we moved to swanky new offices. We had bought an entire building.
The offices had a strong new smell to them.
Theoretically, I loved them.
No expense had been spared.
Except that our cheap and filthy wastebaskets bad been brought over from the old place.
I no longer had an office. Our floor -- on which the head of the organization sat -- was what was called open plan.
Open pit, I thought, in a cowboy voice.
I tried to engineer Almodóvarian moments where I could.
The children were my main focus. We tried not to raise them in an ironic manner, but sometimes we failed.
A friend whom we had known back when we were fun -- a nightlife impresario -- came to visit the children.
"Is it [acceptable] for me to touch them?" he asked.
He assumed that we would be worried that he would give them meningitis or ocular gonorrhea. We weren't.
Should we be? I wondered.
It was another Jewish holiday.
We got costumes for the kids.
One of the kids didn't seem to like hers.
We went down to a party in honor of this holiday.
I realized that we were the kind of people who let their children crawl on the floor. I hadn't anticipated that development.
No one else had crawlers.
Our kids were late with walking, but their crawling was alarmingly fast.
Our son discovered drawing.
Our daughter was less interested.
Something arrived in the mail. I thought about scaring Faruq.
I took the children on a walk on a cold but clear morning, thinking they could nap in the fresh air.
I was deprived of exercise myself.
I only rarely got to go to the gym, where I was assaulted by attractive and stunningly perfect young bodies.
After only a couple of weeks of veganism, I had gained an unseemly amount of weight. It was not a healthy lifestyle.
As we arrived back where we had started, the children got restless.
We tried a new apparatus that Asaph had purchased.
Our first attempts were not very successful.
Eventually it worked out.
We went to visit a friend of ours -- a very tall non-heterosexual who had suffered a sport injury that had led to hospitalization and a subsequent frightening bacterial infection -- at his apartment.
Asaph bought and then brought him a treat.
Later that day we went to a birthday party at a children's museum called The Children's Museum.
It was full of germs.
So many germs.
The international symbol for germs, I thought.
I kept having to stop our son from eating crayons.
I really loved our kids.
I stayed up all night worrying about them.
The next day we went to visit non-heterosexual acquaintances who had adopted a baby.
There were two grandmothers available to help with one baby. We had two babies and no grandmothers on hand -- they were either outre-mer or in the grave.
Our children ignored the baby.
One of the grandmothers only spoke Italian. I understood everything she said but couldn't answer back.
Our daughter screamed and cried when the Italian grandmother tried to hold her.
There was a large dog too. But our kids only wanted to rip up magazines and open kitchen cabinets.
On the way home, we had had to take several subways. At one point a group of musicians boarded and started playing large conga drums. Since I knew that our son loved to bang on drums, I made sure he could see.
The musicians were encouraging passengers to also bang on the drums as they played. As Asaph walked over to give them some money, I got up, leaned over, and allowed our son to bang on the drums too, to loud cries of approval from the troupe or band or ensemble.
"I can't believe you did that!" said Asaph as we exited the train.
Why not? I wondered. The drums were certainly not as dirty as the cleanest exhibit at the children's museum.
Mama was queen of the mambo; Papa was king of the Congo; Deep down in a jungle I started banging my first bongo; Every monkey like to be; In my place instead of me; Cause I'm the king of Bongo baby; I'm the king of Bongo Bong, I thought.
I stayed up another night worrying about the children.
The next morning I had a horrible sinus headache. I had to stay home. After our paid childminder arrived, I fell into a deep sleep. I placed my phone next to my head. It was not put on the silent or vibrate mode.
I was shocked when I woke up.
I guessed that I had been exhausted.
I went to my attractive non-heterosexual dermatologist, owing to a suspicious melanocytic nevus.
"That's not [a suspicious melanocytic nevus]," he said. He told me about the marathons he had been running. I noticed that the small belly he had had at a previous visit was completely gone, and his well-fitting trousers aroused memories of temps perdu.
We went over my problem areas.
"Here's what we can do," he said, as I was led over to the mirror and the area under my eyes was examined and prodded with a pencil.
But we barely had enough money to pay for the childminder and all the milk and rice.
At home I read a men's magazine to which I had subscribed to allow my oldest nephew to take a school trip somewhere in the featureless hinterlands of Ohio.
Owing to reasons to complicated to understand, our paid childminder had taken our children to safety in Brooklyn (Breukelen) for two nights. It was odd to have an empty apartment. We could leave the door to the bathroom open -- such freedom!
I thought about the area under my eyes, for a change.
Our paid childminder sent us photos at a regular frequency, to show us that the children were doing well.
Since when did they sit in chairs? I wondered.
They should be photographed holding today's newspaper, I thought.
They appeared to age rapidly over the course of 48 hours.
Even thought I kept worrying, I was able to sleep a little bit.
I woke up with a terrible cold.
I had to go to an offsite meeting in a strange meeting space that was clearly overdecorated by non-heterosexuals.
It was very clean.
They played non-heterosexual dance music in the background during our breaks. There were muscular and young and attractive non-heterosexual men in tight t-shirts available to serve us, when they weren't consulting their smartphones.
I spoke to a smart young woman from our Washington office. She told me that she had graduated from the same college as I had, but 20 years later.
I am old, I thought.
We reminisced about how bleak the climate had been in northern Ohio where the college had been located. Much worse than in Columbus, my hometown.
"It took forever for spring to come!" she said.
There was a Japanese bookstore across the street. I went in before heading up to my new Hebrew class. I bought a book for my son, who loved books. But I thought of my daughter.
I loved them so much.
I sat down to a meal of rice, tahini, and chili pepper paste. The huge amounts of chili pepper paste that I consumed were having surprising effects.
The children and I woke up with runny noses.
Spring couldn't come soon enough.