If Kate Jacobs has learned one thing, it’s patience. Her latest release, Home Game (Small Pond Records), is her fifth full-length and comes seven years after her previous effort, 2004’s You Call That Dark. In that span she’s taken time off from recording and touring to raise a family while continuing to write the same vividly drawn narratives within perfect pop melodies that she’s been writing for years. On Home Game Jacobs reflects on “life among backpacks and lunches (who ever thought about LUNCH so much),” marriage, divorce, children, Ireland, the internet and the park. I spoke with the singer-songwriter from her home in Hoboken, NJ.

 

My dishwasher and I have been at war for some time. This war is being waged on two fronts. On one side is my ongoing search for a bowl or plate or pot so dirty the dishwasher cannot clean it, but so far I’ve found nothing, including a recent plate coated with the super glue residue of leftover fried eggs. The other battle is a certain steak knife I’ve run through the wash at least five straight times. There is a bit of unrecognizable debris stuck to the tip of the blade that no amount of hot water and dish detergent will dislodge. I could easily scrape the debris off with a fingernail but that would be like conceding defeat. This is a ridiculous war because the dishwasher obviously possesses the horsepower to clean any dish it wants but refuses to acknowledge the steak knife. I think it’s mocking me.

I’ve been thinking lately about something our pediatrician told us: that toddlers are sort of like teenagers.  As my twenty-month-old daughter Harper begins to precociously behave like a textbook two-year-old, this has started to seem more and more true to me.  Now, I’ve never parented a teenager but I do vaguely remember being one, and I often see them milling about our neighborhood pretending to be unprivileged and pissed off.  And I think it’s really true, that toddlers really are a lot like them. 

After months of delays, interruptions and mis-schedulings, I was finally about to drop off my second sample at the urologist’s.  This was the big one – the verdict.  The “go/no-go” on my sterility.  And, praise Jesus, it was a “go”. Or “no-go”, depending on the goal.  Regardless, it was confirmed: the baby factory was now defunct.
 
That, of course, is the short version.  The Cliff Notes.  Like saying, “World War Two was a bunch of guys fighting.  The Italians lost interest, the French lost face, the Brits lost their empire, the Germans and Japanese lost the war and the Americans and Russians lost their minds.”  While factually – mostly – correct, it doesn’t really convey the epic struggle that resulted in the ultimate victory.  There is more to the tale.
 
I’ll cut to the chase, in case you’re in a hurry and/or afraid I’ll slip in some surgical details: kids are nature’s own anti-orgasm devices. Anything else you may read below is for entertainment purposes only.  At my expense, of course.
 
At the time of this adventure, my wife was laid up with a broken foot.  The soft cast had that sort of sexy, knee-high Goth thing going… kinda… if you squinted… and were already really horny… but you’d be surprised how often the outside edge of your sex partner’s foot bumps into things in just about any position.  And while some screaming and dirty-talk can be really hot during sex, shrieks of agony incorporating various conjugations of profanities can be a little bit of a mood killer for all parties involved.  I decided to go this one alone. 
 
Sounds easy, right?  I mean, I’m a guy, right?  And it’s not like this is my first rodeo.  And – hey! – my netbook arrived the very weekend prior so I could do some private surfing for – ahem – inspiration.
 
I decided to be discrete as ever and wait until my wife was in the shower and my kids were safely engrossed in… well, whatever the hell kids do when left to their own devices in a room full of toys and crafts.

“Guys,” I called out, “Daddy has to go, um, potty for a little while.  Do you need anything before I go inside?”
 
“No, Dad,” from my daughter.
 
“Gabababum,” from my son.  It’s okay – he was barely over a year old at the time.  He’s a bit more eloquent now.
 
So I was ready.  Let’s do this thing.  Into the bathroom the netbook and I went, off to find some – let’s call a spade a spade here – raunchy, hardcore porn. 
 
Failure number one: I am not a porn connoisseur and, while it’s easy to Google porn-related terms, not all sites are created equal.  Or are free.  It took a little while but I eventually did come across a particularly diverse site with enough variety that, if I couldn’t find something suited to my tastes, I had far bigger issues than sterility.
 
Failure number two: technology.  Fucking technology.  I had configured this new netbook for maximum battery life – which meant that both browsing time and video resolution suffer.  Especially when streaming movies.  Especially large movies.  After a few selections that led more to drumming fingers than stroking hands, I tried to only peruse the less-than-three-minute selections.  Equally terrible.  It was like watching someone make a flip book of stills cut from a Penthouse magazine.
 
Of course, this soon became irrelevant.  Failure number three was on its way.  To wit, children.
 
“Dad!” My daughter, right outside the bathroom door. “He keeps taking my dinosaurs!”
 
“Sweetie, you have forty different dinosaurs. Let him have one.”
 
“I diiiiiid,” she whined back, “but he keeps taking whatever one IIIII have!”
 
Sigh. “That’s because you’re his big sister so he wants to be just like you. Look – give him one, distract him, then play with something else.”
 
“I don’t want to play – “
 
“I’M IN THE FREAKING BATHROOM, sweetie. Give me, like, ten minutes, okay?!?”  Chafing had become the least of my concerns.
 
Sulking two-step, twelve seconds of silence, a mumbled, “Okay.”
 
Alright, where was I beside half-limp?  Oh.  Right.  Strobe-light sex. 
 
“Daddy?” Again, right outside.
 
Jesus.  “What?!?”
 
Pause.  “Please don’t be mad at me.”
 
Oh, fuck me.
 
“Sweetie,” doing my best to not sound like I was gritting my teeth, “It’s okay.  I’m not mad.  I’m just busy.  Okay?  I’ll be right out.  But I’m not mad.  Okay?  I promise.  Now go inside.”
 
I was hoping to hear her stomping away but instead I heard the zombie shuffle of tinier feet heading towards the door. 
 
“Gah?”
 
Oh, please, no.
 
“Gah!” a tiny fist pounded on the door and my daughter shouted his name.
 
“No!” She defended. “Leave Daddy alone!  He’s busy.  Right, Dad?”
 
“Yes,” I mumbled, hoping they didn’t actually ask what I was doing that was taking so long.  No big loss, though – I don’t think I’d gotten past first base with myself.  Yay. 
 
“Gah!  Gah!” By now, my son sounded quite happy for having invented such a fun game with Daddy.  Fun enough, of course, for my daughter to start giggling.  And smacking on the door herself.
 
I shouted her name and she replied with, “It wasn’t me, it was – ” and she blamed her brother.  While giggling.
 
“No, it was NOT – ” And he then he made a liar out of me by smacking the door gleefully, shrieking, “Gah!  Gah!  Gah!  Gah!”
 
Out of the shower and alarmed by the racket, my wife then joined in from upstairs, “Honey?  Is everything alright?”
 
I cracked open the bathroom door and bellowed, “YES, SWEETIE!  JUST PEACHY!  I’M TRYING TO ‘GET A SAMPLE’!”
 
Snickers from the stairwell.  Yeah.  Ha fucking ha, gimpy.  Did I laugh when you demanded that epidural?  By now, my son had wedged his fourteen month old fingers into the door crack while my daughter tried to shove her face through the same space.  And then… the dreaded questions:  “Why do you have the computer in there?  What are those people doing?”
 
I will remember that moment.  There will be vengeance and much cock-blockage when they reach puberty.  But, just then, my defenses were limited and I settled for snapping, “GO INSIDE AND TAKE YOUR BROTHER! NOW!!”
 
This, of course, resulted in my daughter weeping, “Mm. Mmmm…. Mmmwwwaaaahhh!!!!  Please don’t yell at mmeeeeee!!!” 
 
As Thomas Jefferson wrote, reproductive freedom is never free and the tree of sexual liberty must from time to time be watered with the tears of nosy children who can’t give their dad just a few goddamned minutes of peace and privacy.  Or something like that.  Surrounded, beleaguered and cut off from resupply, my only choice was to counterattack.  I shoved their tiny, tear-and-booger-painted fingers back out the door and closed it.  And locked it.  And braced one foot against it.
 
I suppose it speaks to my inner horn-doggedness that I could even maintain a modicum (if you’ll pardon the term) of focus through this barrage of buzzkill but c’est moi.  I killed the browser session, eschewing technology for old-fashioned, low-tech “happy thoughts”, begrudgingly got the goddamned sample and stormed out of the bathroom.
 
Failure number four: I now had a sample cup with no discrete method of transporting it.  Crap.  It was too big (the jar, not the sample – stress is counterproductive to, well, production) to stick in my pocket so, obviously, I needed a simple paper bag. 
 
I had no paper bags.  I had plastic ones that were all nearly translucent and were actually too big to be discrete.  I finally found a fairly smallish, solid white one.  And, of course, it had “Wal-Mart” emblazoned on the side.
 
So… there I stood. Frustrated, mortified, avoiding the gaze of my sniffling children, with my jizz jar in a freaking Wal-Mart bag.  I kept thinking of phrases like “discount ejaculation” and “cheap fuck”.  The really warped part of my brain thought it would be amusing to see if I was asked for a receipt if I approached the customer service desk but I really wasn’t in much of a mood for such frivolity.  Beside, any misuse of the jar might result in my having to do this again.
 
I left for the interminably slow drive to the doctor’s office and recounted the tale while Nurse Helga searched for signs of life under the microscope.  Finally, the verdict. 
 
Clear. 
 
No survivors.  No more kids.  No more deferred intimacy.  No more condoms.  No more gut-wrenching “I thought you were supposed to buy them!” moments.  And, most importantly, no more “gathering samples”.   Well… not alone, anyway.  Or into a jar.  And definitely not if the kids are awake.


We were – what’s the name for it – a couple.  But we didn’t need to declare it.  Then a letter stamped with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services seal arrived.  Their declaration, in impressive bold type, was that Cecile’s visa terms had changed and no option of renewal would be available to her, under the circumstances.  We were to think heightened security.  Cecile would be obligated to return to her native France, having been away for a decade.

Encouraged to act the patriot, I still had the blessing of choice.  I questioned what was keeping me at my current job and whether the desk and computer I had there required my presence each morning for the years and decades to come.  I bought language tapes.  I waffled on the value of proximity to old friends.  I measured my bravado against Jean-Paul Belmondo.  I posted a classified ad for my television and my car.  I tried to cherish ice water, side dishes and wide-open spaces.  I culled my savings.  I officially declared us a couple, though not to anyone else but Cecile.  I followed her.

Angelina Jolie has everything—a successful career, a romance with Brad Pitt, a crew of cute kids and millions in the bank—except for the one thing she really needs: friends. “Angelia is hungry for normal moms to be around,” a source close to the star, 34, tells Hot Stuff. “She feels like she lives in a bubble.” She’s also having trouble managing stress, says a second insider, who notes that Jolie “has been overwhelmed lately with the children. She has nannies, but she likes to do it all herself. She’s very hands-on—but she’s exhausted!”

Us Weekly, January 4, 2010

 

Dear Angelina,

I’m writing today in response to the above-referenced piece in Us Weekly’s “Hot Stuff” section, which I read as a cry for help.

Let me begin by saying that, as a “co-parent” to two lovely children, Dominick, 5, and Prudence, 3, I totally understand what you’re going through. It’s hard enough making friends with other mommies and daddies, but for someone as in the public eye as you are? Wowsers.

Put it this way: if my only option for parental peerage consisted of Katie Holmes and Victoria Beckham, I’d live in semi-isolation, too. Who wants to go to all those soccer games?

The truth is, other than your choice of profession—and the movie-star good looks—you have little in common with most Hollywood moms (Kendra and Kourtney? Kome on). Your slender physique and great beauty belie the fact that you are quite the heavy. You’ve got gravitas, girl. And that must take its toll. Between the visits to Third World countries, the U.N. Goodwill Ambassadorship, Beyond Borders, and Notes From My Travels—not to mention a slate of roles in particularly downer films (A Mighty Heart, Changeling)—you, my dear, are desperately in need of a little sunshine.

And I know just the person to provide that sunshine, not to mention the sororial bonding you need from another in-the-trenches mommy: my wife, Stephanie.

I think you and Steph would, like, totally hit it off. I mean, you have a lot in common: You both had reluctant C-sections. You both lost your mother to cancer. You’re both of French-Canadian/Native American stock. You both like Atlas Shrugged. You’re married to two of the sexiest bohunks alive, both of whom are repped by the same film agency. You’re the same age (OK, Steph is a tiny bit older than you, but she’s still way younger than Brad). And you know how you’re a political lefty but your dad voted for McCain? Same with Stephanie!

Because she lived in the East Village for fifteen years, my wife won’t be wowed by your enormous celebrity. She went to school with Taye Diggs, she has friends who write for SNL, her best friend played Marius in Les Mis on Broadway. (Plus, not to toot my own horn here, but she shares a bed with the author of Totally Killer and the senior editor of the hottest literary site on the Web). In fact, other than the time she accosted Matthew Broderick in the health food store and told him she thought he was “the best comedic actor ever” before turning tail and fleeing in shame, Steph is totally chill when it comes to hobnobbing with the rich and famous. She knows that what Us Weekly says about stars is bang-on true—they’re just like us!

What else you might like to know is that Steph is both a talented musician and a graduate student pursuing a masters in mental health counseling. So not only can she serve as a sounding board/therapist and help you manage the stress we read about in said magazine—and frankly, it’s refreshing to hear that movie stars feel stress about their children that doesn’t involve finding discreet babysitters so they can stay out all night with other movie stars—she can also belt out a killer rendition of “Wheels on the Bus.” Plus, she’s really funny, and she does a top notch Scarlett Johansson impression.

Me, you’ve obviously heard of, because of my affiliation with this fine online magazine and because I drew a standing-room-only crowd at my reading with Duke Haney at Book Soup in West Hollywood a few weeks back. What you may not know is, I’ve spent the last five years as a sort-of stay-at-home dad, eking out a living doing freelance work. Sort of like you with Kung Fu Panda, but with a much smaller paycheck. Also, I’m an astrologer, so I can do your chart (assuming the birth time on IMDB is accurate, I already know that you’re a Cancer Rising and that Venus conjuncts your Ascendant, which means, if you will forgive a technical horoscopy term, that you’re hot).


Brangelina, meet Grephanie

Brangelina, meet Grephanie

We live in New Paltz, a charming and crunchy college town in New York’s Hudson Valley. I know you spent time in Albany while filming your upcoming blockbuster Salt. Let me assure you: this ain’t Albany. Unlike the state capital, New Paltz is a place that tourists actually want to visit. Mohonk Mountain House is here—many movies have been shot there, as you are no doubt aware—plus we have Huguenot Street, the oldest residential street in North America. Brad will like that, because he’s an architecture buff.

You know who else is an architecture buff? Our son, Dominick. He just turned five, and he spent all afternoon reading A Field Guide to American Houses, which American Libraries cleverly calls “the definitive field guide to American homes.” He knows the subtle differences between the Beaux Arts and Second Empire styles, and he really wants to visit Cleveland because of all the lovely historic homes there. More to the point, there’s a girl in his dance class who sort of looks like Zahara, and he really likes her. This bodes well for playdates.

As for our daughter, Prudence and Shiloh are the same age, and they both have awesome names. (Let me take a moment to compliment you on your good taste in that department. Maddox, Zahara, Pax, Shiloh, Knox, Vivienne…not a clunker in the bunch. No Apples, no Moseses, and no Olives, because Olive Pitt doesn’t quite work.) If Shiloh enjoys riding tricycles, belting out tunes at the top of her lungs, and playing non-competitive games of hide-and-seek, she’ll get along with Prue just fine.

While it’s true that New Paltz is quite a distance from Los Angeles, New Orleans, Paris, Berlin, Phnom Penh, Namibia, and other places where we think you might maintain residences—and, while we’re on the topic, might I suggest that, exhilarating as globe-trotting must be, especially under the imprimatur of the United Nations, it might be easier for both you and your children to make friends if you commit to a single locale—we are right down the road from Woodstock, so it’s not like we’ve never seen celebrities before (although so many of our citizens support a mandatory death sentence for television that it’s entirely possible that you could accompany Stephanie to Bacchus for a few Fin du Mondes and TMZ would never be the wiser).

Another thing: Stephanie already has a really great circle of mommy friends. These are ladies you would really dig. Liz, who has four kids—including twins, like you—is really funny and down to earth and has great taste in music. S.L., like you, has lots of tattoos and tastes that run Goth; I don’t think she’d wear her husband’s blood in a vial around her neck, but the idea wouldn’t repulse her. And check this: Elizabeth and her husband Tim have two adoptive children from Guatemala, and next month, they’re getting two more, this time from Rwanda. That’s right—Rwanda. Plus, Tim’s car runs on vegetable oil. I bet even Leo’s car doesn’t do that.

Oh, and there’s this. I’ve heard the rumors that you and Brad occasionally run into conflict because from time to time you like to—how shall I put this?—put the “XX” in sex. (I’m guessing that’s what you meant when you told Das Neue last week that you “doubt that fidelity is absolutely essential for a relationship.”) Assuming these rumors are legit, and not a feeble attempt by your Foxfire co-star Jenny Shimizu to resuscitate her career, let’s just say that in these parts, we tend to be quite liberal when it comes to that sort of thing. We’re down with bisexual OPP.

True, Stephanie and I have never broached the subject. But say you guys were hanging out, availing yourselves of the drink specials while grooving to the Big Shoe show at Oasis, and one thing led to another…who am I to deny the happiness of the Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Refugee Agency?

The point is, you’ll find my wife and I very supportive of your lifestyle choices. Like, we think it’s really cool that you guys won’t get married until marriage is a universal right. In fact, one of the reasons we moved to New Paltz is because our then-mayor, Jason West, performed gay marriages at Village Hall. Like I said, this ain’t Albany.

If you’d rather not relocate from sunny Los Angeles to a place where the winters are cold and slush-filled and the Subarus outnumber the Porsches just to cultivate a friendship with a woman you met by reading a letter her husband wrote on a Web site whose influence, while mighty, was insufficient to convince Janeane Garofalo to boink a handsome and debonair Aussie fifteen years her junior…hey, I understand. I won’t take it personally. But if you’re willing to give it a shot, have “your people” call “our people,” and let’s set up a playdate. You won’t be disappointed.

Hope to hear from you soon.

Best regards,

Greg Olear

PS

We have a jumpy castle.

My two-and-a-half-year-old daughter is obsessed with school buses. There’s a bus stop right on our corner that provides a full morning of excitement. More buses pass our house on their way to pick up “kids go big school.” We must cross paths with at least ten more on the way to daycare. Each time a bus passes out of view, my sweet baby demands, “More bus, Mama!” She thinks I control the world.

Of course, it’s developmentally appropriate for her to have this unshakable faith in me. I love her so much for her trust and optimism. But because I am so acutely aware that I do not control the world, it’s also occasionally painful.

My obsession with control started early. When I was five years old, my parents separated, and my mother and I moved away. I had been pretty happy in my small town Catholic school. I knew most of the kids before I started kindergarten, and my cousins were at the same school. My teacher was warm and friendly. My new school was a different story all together. I wasn’t used to city life where I didn’t already know everyone. It was mid-year, and all the kids had established friendships that didn’t include me. Then there was the teacher. Oh, the teacher.

I was familiar with nuns, but this one was different. Sr.Mary wore a down-to-the-floor black habit with the full head covering. Only her face showed. This type of habit was long out of fashion in the 1970’s, but she was a throw-back in more ways than one. I was scared to death of her. Her teaching style was far more authoritarian than I’d experienced previously, and I could tell that she really didn’t like me. When she broke the class into group activities, she’d take me and one other child aside.

I didn’t understand why we were singled out, but eventually it became clear, if not the reason, at least the purpose. At first, I was mere witness to the torture of my little companion. Sr. Mary had a full litany for poor Tasha. Her parents were divorced and, according to Sr. Mary, Tasha’s mother had abandoned the family. Somehow in this twisted old nun’s mind, Tasha’s parents’ divorce and the fact that they were African-American were irredeemable sins. The nun claimed all “negroes” go to hell when they die. The fact that Tasha wore braces on her “crippled” legs was punishment from god for both being African-American and having divorced parents. Tasha’s father was a member of the city’s professional football team. Each time he left town, which was a lot during football season, Sr. Mary would tell Tasha that her father wasn’t coming back just like her mother hadn’t. She was destined to become an orphan.

Eventually, Sr. Mary set upon me. She told me that, while I was at school, my mother and father would have a terrible fight, they would stab one another, and I would become an orphan. Just like with Tasha, this insane nun had figured out my greatest fears and then went about convincing me that they were a destiny over which I had absolutely no control.

Tasha and I never exchanged any words about our shared torture, just knowing glances when we were called aside. We shared a common shame. Each afternoon as the other children played with blocks or dolls while they waited for their parents to pick them up, Tasha and I sat paralyzed in fear, waiting to see if her father and my mother would arrive or if the day Sr. Mary predicted had finally come and we were orphans.

School became a nightmare. I had horrible dreams about blood, my parents’ death, being all alone, and Sr. Mary. Around the time that my parents decided to reconcile, my mother found out what the malevolent Sr. Mary had been doing and withdrew me from the school. But Sr. Mary had one last prediction. She said my parents wouldn’t stay together and that we would all go to hell. She was right about the first part.

I remember feeling a tremendous sense of relief to be away from that psychotic, but I also felt guilty for leaving Tasha. Perhaps it was survivor’s guilt. In some way, I also felt isolated to be separated from Tasha. After all, we were both on the same road to orphan-dom.

The next school year was first grade, a full day of school with bus transportation. Each morning’s goodbye with my parents at the bus stop was like then end of a World War II epic film. I just knew that this would be the last time that I would see them alive and that when the bus dropped me off in the afternoon, they would be dead in a giant pool of intermingling blood. I would be an orphan.  

Sr. Mary was gone, but my paralyzing fear was not. I symbolically transferred it from her to the school bus. After all, the bus and the school where it delivered me were the only two places I was ever apart from both of my parents. Since my child brain was convinced that I could somehow keep my parents from killing each other, the school bus was taking me away and thus creating the opportunity for Sr. Mary’s prediction to be realized.

I screamed and sobbed at the bus stop. The bus driver offered to let me sit right next to her. My mother bribed and threatened to get me on that damn bus. Didn’t she understand that I was trying to save her life?

One of Sr. Mary’s forewarnings came true. My parents’ reconciliation didn’t last, and they divorced when I was seven. My mother and I moved to a neighborhood where I walked to school, and my school bus phobia subsided. But my white-knuckle grip on everything else I could conceive of controlling did not. I became hyper-vigilant about my surroundings and pathologically organized with my toys and books. As an adolescent, I developed an eating disorder. 

Adulthood and therapy smoothed out a lot of those rough edges, and I evolved into a run-of-the-mill control freak. Through my twenties and most of my thirties, I went about doing quirky things like alphabetizing my spice rack. I found that my obsession with control and order was also a great asset. After all, that was the aspect of my personality that made me good at my job.

Then I got a rude awakening. Four years ago, while living in New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina blew my fantasy of control out of the water. Puns intended. I had moments of panic and despair and railed in anger at god. It was hard, but eventually I rallied on, feeling a bit free to relinquish my compulsion for control.

Parenthood mellowed me more. When waiting to adopt a child from Africa, you either go with the flow or go crazy. And parenting an infant who has been orphaned requires the patience and flexibility of the Buddha. I was feeling the groove, that is until the recent “economic downturn.”

It’s difficult to be a single parent and self-employed while facing economic uncertainty. I think I’m doing a good job of keeping my priorities straight and my fears at bay, but I have my moments. There aren’t a whole lot of nuns in full regalia roaming the streets, so my old symbol of panic—the school bus—sometimes flips the switch. You know, the bus I’m supposed to welcome. The one I’m supposed to materialize.

I didn’t realize that my daughter can see my face in the rearview mirror from her car seat behind me, but she can. One morning, as a bus turned a corner and rambled up a hill, she said, “More bus, Mama!” I gave my usual reply of, “Let’s look for more.” A moment later, she spied one and exclaimed, “Look, Mama, bus!” Then she sweetly added, “No more sad Mama.” 

And so it goes. It took me a while to see how the past connects to my present and how an everyday experience can have a hidden meaning waiting to be confronted. I am raising the child Sr. Mary predicted Tasha would become. My daughter relishes the sight of the very symbol of my worst childhood fear. Each day, I have the choice to fall back into old patterns of panic and control or release and relish my child’s bright-eyed enthusiasm. 

Let’s look for more!