Big Daddy Paul Gets Himself A Job

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Paul is a Dork

On September 18, 2014, the world was my oyster. We had established a relatively firm date for returning to  California, and I was in the process of  planning what I wanted for my remaining time here:

I was going to take my French from “I can order at a restaurant,” to “I can order from the French menu at a restaurant.”

I was going to take enough pictures of cool Parisian scenes to fill every room in our house.

I was going to museum the shit out of this town.

Big plans.

Life, however, doesn’t happen in the neat little way you think. Instead of figuring out how to accomplish all these wonderful goals, I did something else. On September 18, 2014, I became president of the PTA of Malcolm’s school.

“Wha?” you ask? Wha, indeed. I never figured I would do anything like this, mostly because I never wanted Malcolm to go to a school where someone like me would run the PTA. Alas, the circumstances were not in my favor.

The school year started and there was no president. People suggested I do it, I demurred, citing my relative newness at the school and my general distaste for both work and large amounts of children. This upset zero people, as there aren’t many people at the school who were thinking, “You know what we need more of around here? Paul Schwartz.” Weeks into the year, I refused to acquiesce. I tried to cement my refusal by acting decidedly un-presidential. I told stories that about taking my pants off, and walked out of the room whenever the check came to the dinner table. When someone gently informed me that this was actually quite presidential, I knew I was sunk.

In the end I agreed to serve as president of the PTA, mostly because no one else would do it. Like a proctologist or the slaughterhouse meat rendering technician, I may not enjoy every aspect of the work. I will, however, concentrate on the positives:

I get to schedule things. I get to deal with crazy parents. I get to ask for money. Yay!

Just think, no time to find awkward pics of wookies. (I have to assume this is Chewbacca's high school yearbook photo, something he has NEVER lived down.)

Just think, no more time to catch awkward pics of wookies. (I have to assume this is Chewbacca’s high school yearbook photo, something he has NEVER lived down.)

OK, so that may not work. I will, however, have the chance to rejoin the real world. It has been over 9 years since I have had to be part of any real organization. In that time, I have developed some bad habits, like grounding anyone who disagrees with me. I will do my best to overcome my disorganized, disheveled nature, but it isn’t going to be easy. I wonder if the well put together diplomats and executives know that, while I am planning activities for their precious little ones at school, I am wearing a skull hoodie and listening to Weird Al Yankovic. Frankly, I think the reintroduction into civilized society may be good for me.

To be sure, I will take some lumps. I already had a draft of an announcement laced with references to secret PTA missives and Dudley Moore returned for a re-write. Evidently, you can’t write for the real world like I write for this blog. You can’t swear in the PTA newsletter, either, how lame is that? (Fucking lame!)  I’ll get there though.

I have 295 days until we go home. The year looks decidedly different than it did on on September 17. I won’t say that one year looks better than the other, much in the same way that parents won’t say that they love kid more than another. (Even though they totally do!) I will meet some new people, hopefully have some fun along the way and do my best to add a skull to the PE uniforms at school. Should be quite a ride, wish me luck!

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Paul is a Dork

One of the French traditions that I am loving the most right now is the Sunday Roast Chicken. (Don’t even think of stealing the name for your bowling team. I got dibs.) Sacrosanct, like scarves or complaining about your landlord, there is nothing finer than sitting around the table on a day of rest, enjoying fresh, uncomplicated food with your people. Based on my recent experiences making this traditional meal, I have prepared a step-by-step guide so that you can do this at home. Here it is:

Step 1- Get a chicken. Why settle for a supermarket chicken? My favorite is to go to our open air market and select one from the many butcher stands there. On Saturday, my favorite butchers had a nice, plump 2.5 kilogram chicken, complete with information about the farm it was raised on. Even without a detailed description of how this bird spent its days, I could tell from the meaty legs that it got a lot of exercise playing games like, “Chicken rugby” or “Holy crap, here comes the dog, run for your lives!” With a bird in the hand, I returned to our house to cook it.

Step 2- Prepare the bird. Some people are overly fussy about their pre-roasting routine, brining, marinating, and/or seasoning under the chicken’s skin. Here, the meat is so wonderfully chicken-y that I just rub a lot of salt and pepper on the outside. This last time, I got ready to do so and discovered this:

IMG_2501

So, yes. I guess on prior trips to the market the butchers took pity on meand removed the head (and feet!) themselves. Perhaps I have begun to fit in a little around here, and this one made it home looking a little less “Marie Antoinette” than I would have hoped. I briefly procrastinated by removing the internal organs before gearing up for the final task. If this happens to you, don’t worry. You have the skills to do this.

Step 3- Cut the head off the chicken. It’s simple really. Even so, when it happened to me, I stared into the dead chicken’s eye for a few minutes and, unable to proceed, I decided to take a quick detour from the task at hand.

Step 4- Open a bottle of wine. Sure, you probably going to drink some with the Sunday Roast Chicken, anyways, but I needed some wine to just get to the point where I could get the stupid thing in the oven. I drank the wine (more like a shot than I would care to admit,) and even forced some down the chicken’s throat. None of the involved parties should be sober when cutting off a chicken’s head.

Step 5- Do it. With my newly found liquid courage, I commenced the beheading. I split the job into 2 steps, since I wanted to keep the neck for use in making chicken stock. First, I severed the head at the top of the neck. It went through surprisingly easily. Then, I rolled back the skin of the neck near the chicken’s body and found a place to hack through with a knife. When I was done, the trachea fell out of the neck, as did the contents of my lunch shortly thereafter.

Step 6- Gross your kids out. Having a newly severed chicken head is a wonderful way to get back at your kids for getting on your nerves. Don’t miss the opportunity.

Step 7- Roast the chicken. I heated up the oven to 190 degrees and then rested the bird on top of a layer of potatoes.

I really wanted to make this post about the simple, wonderful tradition of a family meal together. But seriously. I had a chicken head! What was I supposed to do, pretend it wasn’t there? Not me. You all know how to roast a chicken, it’s not rocket science. What you probably don’t know is what to do with a chicken head and some free time. I got you covered. Without further ado, here is how the chicken head and I spent the rest of the day.

First, I introduced my friend to my fantasy football team. He said I should have drafted Andrew Cluck.

First, I introduced my friend to my fantasy football team. He said I should have drafted Andrew Cluck.

 

Then, we re-enacted some famous scenes from movies. If I was a famous movie producer, I sure wouldn't want to wake up with this in my bed!

Then, we re-enacted some famous scenes from movies. Don’t mess with those Corleones!

 

Next, we had some philosophical debates. He got his feathers in a bunch over it though.

Next, we had some philosophical debates.

 

Next, we chilled out and watched some TV. I thought he'd only be into animal planet, but it turns out he's into the period dramas.

After, we chilled out and watched some TV. I thought he’d only be into animal planet, but it turns out he’s into the period dramas. Who knew!

 

Alas, only so much time could pass before he wanted to see some more of Paris. He wanted to go up it, but the lines were too long.

Alas, only so much time could pass before he wanted to see some more of Paris. What a beautiful day on the Seine for me and my chicken head!

 

Finally, our time together came to an end. (He started to smell something awful.) His final resting place befitted his status as "Something extra on our dinner that I never really wanted." That's him next to the soda can at the bottom.

Finally, our time together came to an end. (He started to smell something awful.) His final resting place befitted his status as “Something extra on our dinner that I never really wanted.” That’s him next to the water bottle at the bottom.

 

Chicken head, I will always remember our special day together. You taught me a lot, and made me constantly dry heave. Cue the soundtrack to Dirty Dancing.

Chicken head, I will always remember our special day together. You taught me a lot, and made me constantly dry heave. Cue the soundtrack to Dirty Dancing.

Whoa, America is Different

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Living in France, Uncategorized

Life abroad is difficult. Not difficult in a “I live on the Gaza Strip,” kind of way, but rather more like, “They don’t have my favorite fabric softener here!”.  There will inevitably come a time during every expat assignment when you have the opportunity to return back home an extended stay. Each expat hears a different calling. Amy heard work calling, the opportunity to return to her colleagues at headquarters instead of the Parisian office, abandoned by Les Vacances. My calling? Nacho cheese. Unsurprisingly, they don’t do canned cheese well in France.

So, we are in the United States for 3+ weeks. Amy will be working. Malcolm will be goofing off with his friends. I will be nachoing. (It’s a verb. It’s totally a verb!)

Having been back a few days, I am quite mindful of the differences. Here is what I’ve noticed:

Everything here is larger. The portions at restaurants are insane! Our Parisian washing machine can actually fit in the washing machine we have here. American toilet paper rolls are enormous, and this must be directly related to the size of American butts. You can make the argument that bigger isn’t necessarily better, but, unless you like doing extra loads of laundry or staring at boring, flat European butts, you’d be wrong.

Ok, the size of everything here is most of the difference. Owing mostly to a distinct lack of originality, here are some more size jokes:

An American menu and a French menu were sitting at the bar. The French menu took one look at its American counterpart and said, “You’re a fat piece of shit.” Seriously! We have seen menus in our short time here that are six pages long, pictures included. Hospital admission forms in France are not six pages long.

Our freezer in Paris is sufficiently small that we cannot fit a bottle of Vodka in it. You have the space to actually distill vodka in our American freezer.

So things are indeed different there. This is how Luke Skywalker would stand if he were looking for power converters in Paris. Pretty sure he would be striking a different pose in Oakland.

So things are indeed different there. This is how Luke Skywalker would stand if he were looking for power converters in Paris. Pretty sure he would be striking a different pose in Oakland.

There is more space in the cereal aisle in a grocery store here than in our entire market in Paris. I walked into a Safeway here and was struck by how much larger it was than the Louvre. The Louvre is one of the largest art collections in the world. Safeway has a million kinds of chips.

The average French car could sit in the back seat of an average American car.

Malcolm ordered a deli sandwich yesterday. It had ten times as much meat as a French sandwich. You should not ever eat anything that has ten times the meat of something else you eat.

The Champs-Élysées is the grandest street in Paris, large and opulent. It is the host of nearly every important celebration in France, and one of the most recognizable sights in one of the most heavily touristed cities on the planet. It would be the fourth largest street in Oakland.

They have soda machines here that dispense shockingly large amounts of soda to customers. The cups here are the size of most French suitcases, and contain enough ice and soda to make your pancreas groan. At most places you can order soda in Paris, they will bring you a shot glass size bottle of soda and a glass with one ice cube, (if you ask!) I love soda, but seeing the soda machines here spewing out buckets of the stuff is pretty startling. I fantasize about putting my mouth directly under the spout and guzzling some Dr. Pepper straight from the source. The only thing that keeps me from doing so is the realization that if I did, I would have ten times the meat of my former self. Unacceptable.

We are enjoying being home, visiting our friends, noticing the differences and taking a respite from living in a challenging and wonderful and frustrating and different place. Being here is nice. We’ll have to see what it is like to leave again. I bring some fabric softener though.

Les Vacances

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Living in France

If there is one thing I have learned in our time in France is that if the French are intent on doing something, they to do it well. They have exacting protocols to ensure that wine, cheese, meat, bread, butter, and even lentils all are produced as advertised. (Trust me, you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen a Frenchman get upset over the quality, or lack thereof, of his legumes.) The French take their fashion very seriously, and spend hours on end discussing the role of the current government in ruining everything they hold dear. They also place a great importance on leisure, regulating everything about the workweek from the number of hours you can work (35) to the time of day when you can no longer send work-related emails, (6:00 pm). Also, and at the heart of the French attitude towards leisure, during the summer the French take, “Les Vacances.”

“Les Vacances” is the name given to that substantial portion of the summer whereby the French flee their homes and hit the road. Spending a good chunk of the summer on vacation is a fact of life for the French; it is a crucial means to use part of the six weeks of vacation time their employers are mandated to provide by law. (!) Typically, they head south or west, heading towards the water, but the “where” isn’t all that important. It is only important that they go somewhere, and the fact that they are all doing it together at the same time creates a sense of distinct national well-being.

Raise your hands if you like vacations!

Raise your hands if you like vacations!

Wanting to fit in, we planned an ambitious travel schedule ourselves. Last week, we hit the beach in Holland, spending some time in the impossible-to-pronounce-in-English seaside town of Scheveningen. (When enunciated correctly, the town sounds like an old, beat up car with a dead battery trying to will its way into starting.) We are now in Ireland for a few days. This weekend, we will travel to Bordeaux to celebrate our wedding anniversary. Next weekend, we travel back to the United States where I will reprise my role as village idiot of our hometown, Oakland.

Before you go congratulating us for joining the French leisure class, realize this: with the exception of our weekend in Bordeaux, Amy is working for all of these trips. She travels a lot and has found that she’d rather us join her on her trips and we can spend the evenings together than be without us, even if it means a bit of envy with our day being a little more fun than hers. Of course, as a stay at home parent, heading out on the road does not mean that I am free from my day-to-day duties as a parent. I still need to find places to stay, things to do, and put food on the table, even if I don’t cook it myself. This is the part of the post where you feel bad for me because my life is so difficult.

Bon voyage Malcolm! Those flight attendants have no idea what is in store for them...

Bon voyage Malcolm! Those flight attendants have no idea what is in store for them…

As of a few hours ago, however, I am truly on vacation. This morning, we dropped off Malcolm at the security checkpoint for his first ever solo flight. That’s right, little Malkie is flying by himself, and the skies will never be the same. Outwardly, he will be as cool as Don Draper, but I am sure the inside his mind will be as random as an episode of Pee Wee’s Playhouse. I am not worried about him, the abundance of in-flight entertainment on airplanes nowadays ensures that he will be plugged into movies/shows/games until the plane has taxied to the gate in San Francisco.

Malcolm is flying home to spend some quality time with his grandparents. I am not sure whether he was more excited to get spoiled by his grandparents or have the exhilarating experience of flying alone. (He has already promised me he is going to ask the flight attendants for some bourbon on the flight.) He’ll be fine, and even if we are struggling a bit with the realization that our son is old enough to fly across the planet by himself. We will reunited with Malcolm in ten days, when we arrive in the United States. To be sure, it won’t be a proper vacances, but the village idiot rarely does anything the proper way.