Friday, September 30, 2011

Loved by Toddlers, Loathed by Adults

The Vaillancourt fountain in Justice Herman Plaza is frequently cited as one of the most reviled landmarks in San Francisco. Herb Caen Allan Temko compared it to a pile of poop, and one critic called it "Stonehenge unhinged with plumbing troubles."

The fountain turned 40 this year, but its longevity hasn't seemed to blunt people's distaste for it. Compare that with the Sutro Tower. It got a chilly reception from San Franciscans when it was completed in 1973, but the generation born since then has grown to love it. In fact, a small but vocal group seems downright obsessed with the Sutro Tower. (I think you know who you are.)

Photo courtesy of

The Vaillancourt fountain is formally called "Qu├ębec libre!" — an attempt by artist Armand Vaillancourt to raise awareness about the Quebec sovereignty movement. (You know, because San Francisco is clearly the epicenter of that struggle.) He irked local officials at the time by spray-painting graffiti on his own sculpture, which the city painted over.

Just this year, the fountain was voted San Francisco's fourth-worst piece of public art by Curbed SF readers.

But there is one group that has undying adulation for Vaillancourt's work: toddlers.

I walk by this fountain almost every day, and I always see young kids drawn into its fascinating mix of concrete and water. (I should note that the structure also is popular with birds, which very much enjoy crapping on it.)

Elliot is one of its fans. He enjoys hopping from block to block, and getting sprayed by water overhead.

You have to admire any fountain that looks this much like a sewage-treatment plant.

Complete with frothy, brown water.

So maybe there's still hope that San Francisco will warm to Vaillancourt Fountain. The next generation is clearly on its side.

UPDATE: Apparently it was Chronicle architecture critic Allan Temko who compared the fountain to poop, not Herb Caen.

From his obit in 2006:
It was Mr. Temko who first described San Francisco's 39-story Marriott Hotel as "the jukebox," and the Vaillancourt Fountain on the Embarcadero as resembling something "deposited by a concrete dog with square intestines."
BuboBlog regrets the error. 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

More on the 'Up All Night' Names

Remember when I discussed the improbability of the names in "Up All Night"?

Well, I'm not the only one scratching their head. The Name Candy celebrity-names blog did a whole post on the topic.

Here's an excerpt:
Amy is the daughter of Reagan (Applegate) and Chris (Arnett). Ava (Rudolf) is Reagan’s talk show host boss. Seems a little backwards, right? The writers of the show definitely knew how to pick popular names, but — and this could be purely intentional — they seem to have the decades mixed up. 
Amy, at number 135, is by no means an uncommon name, but if Amy’s mom was born around 1975, she’d have given her daughter a name that held the Number 2 ranking for five years around the time she was born. Reagan probably knows a handful of Amys; At its peak, Amy was the name given to 0.8% of children. For reference, that’s double the amount of Avas born in 2010. 
To be fair, Reagan knows what it’s like to have an unconventional name and probably did not want that for her kid. Though today Reagan ranks a few places above Amy at number 127, it was pretty near obscure in the mid '70s, drifting in and out of the top 1000 until falling out completely from 1981 to 1992, during the years surrounding Ronald Reagan’s 1981 to 1989 presidency. Safe to say, Reagan probably got a bit of teasing in school. 
Ava is a particularly curious choice for a larger than life, Oprah-meets-Ellen, mid-thirties woman. It’s understandable that the writers chose an Oprah sound-alike, but why a name so closely associated with children under ten? In the '70s, Ava was a bit more popular than Reagan, but not by much, drifting in and out of the top 1000. But since 2006, it’s been the top five every year.
Thanks for some validation, Name Candy blog!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

(Not) the People's Park

San Francisco has finally figured out how to keep its parks from devolving into wastelands of urine-stunted grass and broken malt-liquor bottles: Never open them to the public.

That seems to be the strategy with Sue Bierman Park (once known as Ferry Park), the grassy enclave located next to Justin Herman Plaza.

The park has been under renovation since November, when the city began laying new walkways and sod. For months now, it's looked beautiful — with green grass, new trees and immaculate paths.  And yet, we've had to admire it through a chain-link fence.

According to the Recreation & Parks department, it was supposed to be opened in June. But there's no sign that anyone is going to take down the fence.

On Monday, someone finally took matters into their own hands.

I walked by the park that morning and discovered the fence had been pulled down.

By the end of the day, the fence was back up.

I understand the city's perspective. There's a homeless encampment next to Justin Herman Plaza, and when they do finally open Sue Bierman Park, its destruction will probably resemble a time-lapse film.

Still, parks are meant to be used, right?

UPDATE: I e-mailed the Parks department to see if there's an opening date.

UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: It's opening, folks. Click here for the latest.

Girl Horrified by Mucus

This video lacks any sort of plot resolution, but it's amusing nonetheless.

I think I made that face through most of "Sex and the City 2."

Monday, September 26, 2011

Pulling His Own Weight (Sort Of)

We're flying to the East Coast next month, so Kelly figured now was a good time to get Elliot his own luggage.

She ended up buying the Trunki suitcase from a company called Melissa & Doug (if you have small kids, you're already aware that Melissa & Doug are taking over the world).

The suitcase appears to be tiger-themed, which is not going to help Elliot's problem. Between this, the sneakers and the fact that he's going to be a tiger for Halloween, it's like we're buying a case of Grey Goose for an alcoholic.

Anyway, the Trunki has wheels and kids can sit on top of it, so parents can pull their children around the airport. This sounds so much better than our previous method — dragging him along the ground by his arm.

For now, Elliot is so excited about his Trunki that he wants to carry it himself, even up and down stairs. We'll see how long that lasts.

The product description says it can support up to 250 pounds. Wow.

I realize we have an issue with childhood obesity in this country. But if you're dragging around a 250-pounder on an orange Trunki, something has gone very wrong.

Reading Is Fundamental, But What About Fake Reading?

While in Santa Cruz this weekend, Elliot found a paperback copy of "The Hobbit" in my old room.

"That's not the kind of book you're going to like," I said. "There are no pictures."

"I can read it," he said. Elliot sat down on the bed and opened the book.

"Fine, what does it say?" I said.

He stood up. "I need quiet so I can read!"

Elliot marched out of the room, went into my dad's office and shut the door.

He emerged five minutes later, with the book under his arm.

"It had a lot words," Elliot said. "I liked it, though."

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Child's Sweet Laughter or a Desperate Bid for Survival?

A while back I posted a video of Alice laughing at her brother.

In the clip, Alice only responds to Elliot with laughter — her parents get no reaction.

BuboBlog Westchester County correspondent Kate noticed a similar phenomenon with her kids, so she asked their pediatrician about it.

Apparently it's a survival mechanism. The baby knows the parents won't hurt her, but the older brother is a bit of a wild card. So the laughter is an attempt to butter him up — not unlike how you'd laugh at your boss' lame jokes (except your boss probably won't smother you in your sleep).

It must be working because Elliot adores his sister. Way to kiss up, Alice!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Surefire Way to Give Your Kid OCD?

One of Elliot's little friends has a Silly Sam broom-and-dustpan set that talks.

As you sweep, Silly Sam repeatedly says, "Sweeping, sweeping" and "You missed a spot."

This goes on...forever.

You wonder about the rise of obsessive-compulsive disorder in our society. It can't help to have a googly-eyed broom relentlessly drive you to maniacal levels of cleanliness. "You missed a spot, you missed a spot." ARE YOU NEVER SATISFIED, SILLY SAM??

Tonight as I was giving Elliot his bath, he grabbed a sponge and began trying to clean the grout from the tiles. Is this how it begins?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sock It to Me

What's better than tiger shoes? Monster socks!

Alice always causes a sensation with these things — a gift from our friends Jon and Anh-Minh.

Remember, being a monster doesn't mean you can't look ladylike.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

California's Strange Monopoly on Famous Valleys

When you think of valleys that are world-famous, what comes to mind?

In America, the list would probably include:

What do they have in common? They're all in California.

No other state has a valley with the same name recognition (yes, the Grand Canyon is technically a valley, but I mean ones with "valley" in the name).

Oregon's Willamette Valley really isn't up there, and neither is New York's Hudson Valley. I was born in Western Massachusetts' Pioneer Valley, but I'm pretty sure even people in Boston couldn't tell you where that is.

What's the reason for California's dominance? Our topography is a factor, no doubt. California is a big state with lots of hills and dales.

But most of our famous valleys are also synonymous with a product. That helps make them memorable. Napa = wine; Silicon Valley = technology; San Fernando = porn.

So buck up, Californians. Our economy and state budget may be in tatters, but when it comes to valleys, we RULE.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

BuboBlog Reviews 'Up All Night'

We just watched the first episode of "Up All Night," a show about a formerly hard-partying couple who have their lives transformed by a new baby.

The series stars Will Arnett as Chris, a lawyer turned stay-at-home dad, and Christina Applegate as Reagan, a mom who goes back to work. It got fairly good reviews (at least in the Chronicle and Hollywood Reporter), and Arnett is awesome in everything ("Arrested Development," "30 Rock"). So I had high hopes.

The pilot didn't quite deliver on those expectations. The jokes surrounding Reagan's work at a talk show mostly fell flat (this is a Lorne Michaels production, so of course it has to involve an unfunny sendup of a talk show), and the pacing was inconsistent. Still, it has potential and I think it may develop a nice groove after a few episodes. For now, I prefer Arnett's last project, "Running Wilde" (that show was canceled after 13 episodes, sadly).

Oddly enough, the baby in "Up All Night" is called "Amy." That's a fairly low-probability name for a person born in 2011. Amy peaked in the 1970s at No. 2, and then plunged in popularity in later decades.

It would be like naming a baby Jennifer. I suppose people somewhere are still doing that (Jennifer ranked 120th in the U.S. last year), but its time has clearly passed. Ironically, Maya Rudolf's character on the show is "Ava." That would be a perfect name for a baby in 2011 — much less likely for a woman in her late 30s.

I suppose "Up All Night" wasn't aiming for realism with its names. Applegate's character is called Reagan — spelled like the president, not the Shakespearean character. The variant didn't really exist as a first name when Applegate was born. (She's nearly 40.)

I suppose this post would have been more accurately labeled, "BuboBlog Reviews the Names in 'Up All Night." Oh well.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Fine Line Between Useless and Awesome

The Huffington Post ran a slide show this week on Baby Products You Don't Need: 11 Useless Baby 'Essentials.'

A couple of the selections, such as the Peekaru (above) and the "ghetto Roomba," have been featured on BuboBlog in the past. But most were new to me.

The Time Out Pad, for instance, lets you set a timer to measure your kid's time-out. That way, the child knows when it's over.

I have to admit, there have been times when I've given Elliot a time-out and then wandered off to do a Kakuro, forgetting that I'd left him shut up in his room. I could definitely use this.

I also was intrigued by this padded baby helmet.

It took Elliot years before he developed any sense of self-preservation. This could have saved him from countless scrapes and bruises, even if it made him look like the slow kid.

This product just plain confused me — My Pee Pee Bottle.

Apparently your kid is supposed to pee in this thing, to spare them the biohazards of using a public restroom. But why does it look like he should be drinking from it?

When I was growing up kids didn't learn to pee in plastic bottles until high school — and then it was to trick their friends into drinking "second-hand" Gatorade. I'm not sure this is something I want to pass down to the next generation.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

How Do You Explain a Phone Book to a 3-Year-Old?

The other day Elliot and I were walking home from the library when we passed a van filled with phone books. Two men were stuffing the directories into bags in preparation to deliver them to people's doorsteps.

I didn't realize it then, but we were witnessing what may be much rarer in the near future. Like other West Coast cities, Berkeley is now moving to curb the delivery of phone books — partly to save trees, but mostly because no one wants them anymore.

From the Chronicle:
Berkeley's City Council is set next Tuesday to push for an anti-phone-book measure like the one adopted by Seattle, in which phone book companies are fined $125 per book for delivering to residents who don't want one.
"It costs a hell of a lot more energy to produce these phone books, deliver them and then recycle them than it does to not produce them in the first place," said City Councilman Gordon Wozniak. "The fact is, you can get all that information online, and most people already do."

When Elliot saw the van filled with phone books, he was riveted.

"What's that, Daddy?"

"Those are phone books, Elliot."

"What is phone book?"

"It's a book with phone numbers in it. So if you want to know someone's number to call them, you open up the book and find their name — it's listed alphabetically — and then you..."

Elliot looked confused.

I had to admit, the whole concept seemed idiotic. He knows we look up everything on the computer, and the important numbers are already stored in our phones. (I went through a similar experience when we walked by the last remaining Blockbuster Video in Berkeley and I had to explain what it was.)

"It's something people sit on to be taller."

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

San Mateo Bridge, Anyone?

After lamenting that the Golden Gate Bridge is the only Bay Area span featured in movies and books, I've been envisioning novels that would feature our other fine bridges.

I've done the Bay Bridge, the Richmond-San Rafael and now here's the San Mateo.

Would you read this?

Click here to see the whole series.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Make Your Kids Stupid or Give Them a Canadian Accent: Your Call

By now you've probably heard about the study that faulted "SpongeBob SquarePants" and other frenetic kids' shows for making it difficult for children to concentrate.

From NPR's health blog:
Researchers say that that the cartoon's fast-based scenes may make it harder for young children to pay attention and think.
The researchers, psychologists Angeline Lillard and Jennifer Peterson of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, didn't measure if the problems with attention and executive function lasted. But they did compare the SpongeBob watchers to 20 children who watched Caillou, a slower-paced PBS show that features a sweet yet whiny preschooler. Another 20 colored for 9 minutes.
The kids who watched SpongeBob, which changed scenes every 11 seconds, did significantly worse on the tests than either the children who colored, or those who watched educational TV. Caillou changed scenes every 34 seconds.
We all know my prejudices against "Caillou." But it's worth noting that the show doesn't change scenes very often because it has TERRIBLE PRODUCTION VALUES.

Do I need to remind you: The animators can't even be bothered to fill in the entire frame!

It's also a surefire way to saddle your kid with a Canadian rising.

Monday, September 12, 2011

More Musings From the Kids' Section of the Library

Lying on the table next to "Daddy's Roommate" was a "Kobe Bryant" biography for kids.

I was thinking, "Uh-oh, I'm going to have to explain a lot of delicate concepts today — for instance, sexual assault."

For better or worse, there's no mention of that in the book.

The author does do a bit of a fake-out, though, perhaps just to screw with nervous parents. One paragraph starts out: "Kobe has made news off the court too..."

And then it talks about the birth of his children.


I wonder if they have a kids' biography of Gary Busey.

'Daddy's Roommate'

I was in the kids' section of the Berkeley public library with Elliot when we came across a copy of "Daddy's Roommate." I ended up sitting down and reading it to him.

Like "Heather Has Two Mommies," this book has kicked up some controversy over the years, and it's been reported that Sarah Palin once tried to ban it from the public library in Wasilla, Alaska. (I'm pretty sure Berkeley's library is safe.)

The story is told from the perspective of a boy whose dad has a male "roommate." It details all the ordinary stuff the two men do together (clean the house together, eat together, sleep together, etc.). Near the end of the book, the kid learns that they're gay, but he's reassured that this is just "one more kind of love."

I like that the book shows the everyday normality of the gay couple, without trying to bowdlerize their gayness. I mean, this couple is super-gay. Case in point: One of them is dusting the coffee table in cut-offs.

But the first page did give me pause.

"My Mommy and Daddy got a divorce last year."

The D-word?? Jesus, are you really going to make me explain divorce to a 3-year-old?

That's about a billion times more terrifying to a small child than two dudes shacking up.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Tiger Feet

As I've mentioned before, Elliot has a strange fixation with tigers — an obsession that shows no signs of letting up.

It probably doesn't help that we purchased him these...

Tiger-themed Converse All-Stars. They even have a tail (the loop in the back).

I guess we'll see which he outgrows faster: the shoes or his love of tigers.

I just want to make sure he doesn't turn into this guy.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Suspected 'Car-nage' Vandal Arrested

Police have picked up a suspect in connection with last week's mass tire slashing — an incident dubbed "Car-nage 2011."

From the Chronicle:
A woman has been arrested and charged with vandalism for allegedly slashing the tires of 74 cars in Oakland and Berkeley, including several on the street where she lives, authorities said Thursday. 
Mandisa Monroe, 33, of Berkeley was arrested at about 12:30 a.m. Tuesday near her home, said police Sgt. Mary Kusmiss. Alameda County prosecutors have charged her with felony vandalism. 
Kusmiss said a security camera filmed Monroe slashing one set of tires and that a search of her home uncovered items that connected her to the crimes. Monroe slashed tires on 61 cars in Berkeley and 13 in North Oakland and spray-painted some of the vehicles late Aug. 30 or early Aug. 31, police said.
From what I gather on Berkeleyside, the woman was a resident of this house (below), which is famous for having black-power slogans painted on its fence. I've often walked by the home and stopped to read the messages.

A lot going on here. (Photo courtesy of Google Maps.)

It sounds like she's been foreclosed on, so perhaps the vandalism represented her final lashing-out at the neighborhood. It's been suggested on Berkeleyside that she suffers from mental illness, so I hope she gets the help she needs.

Meanwhile, I noticed a new stop-sign message nearby. Perhaps it's a response to all the exhortations to stop driving. I can't!

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

'Pin the Rocket on the Planet'

For Elliot's birthday party, Kelly came up with a clever twist on "Pin the Tail on the Donkey."

It's unclear how Kelly expected the kids to land a rocket on a jovian planet.

And You Thought Veal Was Cruel

This is the current issue of Open Exchange magazine, a local publication devoted to "healthy living."

I've heard of women eating their placenta, but this is going too far.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Hoop Dreams

Hoping to cultivate his athletic skills, we got Elliot a basketball hoop for his third birthday.

You can keep adjusting it upward as he gets older; hence, the name "Grow2Pro." 

But wait, does Fisher-Price think professional rims are six feet off the ground?

No wonder so many of our youths abandon an education for the NBA.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

My Little Pony Has Personal Hygiene Issues

Elliot is starting at a new preschool on Tuesday. It's a pretty demanding program — for the parents.

We're expected to volunteer to help with a range of school chores. That includes toy washing, a task we took on this weekend. (Well, in truth, my mother-in-law did most of the work.)

This school appears to have a TON of My Little Ponies, and they were by far the filthiest of the toys. I guess that means they're well-loved.

I wasn't aware My Little Ponies were still popular. And frankly, I'm a little surprised to see such a gender-specific toy at a Berkeley preschool.

Then again, Elliot spent several minutes playing with a pink unicorn, so maybe I'm making the wrong assumptions. And unlike Barbie, My Little Pony doesn't impose unrealistic body-image issues on young girls. (Unless they end up wanting to look like a rainbow-maned equine; in which case, there are probably bigger problems at work.)

All I ask, kids: Rather than just brushing the pony's hair, could you occasionally give it a shampoo and rinse?

Montgomery BART Station Makes Creepy Inuendos

I noticed these signs next to the Clipper readers on the BART turnstiles.

That's what he said.

UPDATE: When viewed through a perverse lens, all the BART signs begin to look dirty.

I'm not sure what to make of "Do Not Block Exit."

Thursday, September 01, 2011

STOP Driving...No, Seriously, Stop

I've previously discussed the preponderance of "STOP driving" signs in South Berkeley. Well, now it appears someone is taking the message a step further.

More than 50 cars had their tires slashed last night in the neighborhood, stranding dozens of drivers this morning.

From the Berkeleyside blog:
“This is the biggest tire slashing incident any of us can remember,” said Berkeley Police Department spokesperson Sgt Mary Kusmiss, who added that even 25-year police veterans had never seen anything like it.
No one's sure of the motive yet. It seems hard to imagine that our friendly neighborhood stop-sign defacers would escalate to hard-core vandalism.

Our street wasn't struck by the attack, and fortunately, I don't rely on a car to get to work. But some Berkeleyside commenters cited the scraggly weeds in this picture as a sign the whole neighborhood is suffering from neglect.

Photo courtesy of Tracey Taylor/Berkeleyside.

My God, I shudder to think what they would say about my parkway strip.

(To see my full gallery of stop signs, click here.)