Monthly Archives: November 2002

Always come back to The Church

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The band, that is. Way back in the earliest days of MTV, we caught a late-night video (the only time I can remember seeing it, in fact) for “The Unguarded Moment,” and we were hooked. For years, I bought everything I could find from The Church — this was back in the days when I had time and energy to scour independent record stores for import EPs. They even had a little bit of a hit maybe around 1990, but it wasn’t their strongest stuff and my interest started to fade at around the same time I was rejecting my compulsion to own everything my favorite artists offered. Then a few years back the reviews for their aurally stunning cover album “A Box of Birds” were so strong that I gave them another try. This time, the reviews and MP3 snippets for a new slew of Church albums brought me back again. “After Everything Now This” is something that, as the reviews say, any even slight Church fan must have. Then, in addition to that album, they put out a 2-CD set of remixes and live tracks and other stuff from “After Everything Now This,” so now I’m completely absorbed into a Church cocoon once again.

We’re Googling our lives away, people!

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Listen, if you’ve somehow come to this site because you did a perfectly innocent search on “glycerol ester of wood rosin” or, my most recent victory, “iliotibial band,” all I can say is, thanks for visiting and I hope you’re easily amused. I would think it’s perfectly obvious that I have nothing useful to say on either of these topics, but they generate a lot of traffic! Apparently there are a LOT of people like me who will search for a topic and hope to find something that is only tangentially connected to what they were looking for in the first place. (For the person looking for “pictures of Whipple Truss,” I’m sorry. But I’ll try to fix that deficiency.) (And for all of you who have searched for “Bennington College Photos,” my apologies. I have photos of Bennington, and I have photos of college (and even one of Southern Vermont College), but I don’t have photos of Bennington College. The shame of web deception….)

James Coburn

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One of the great things about Turner Classic Movies is that when someone notable dies, TCM will often schedule a block of movies to honor that person while he or she is still in the mind. So with James Coburn’s passing, I was treated to a lazy Sunday of folding laundry, playing Quidditch (the Harry Potter cardgame – no broomstick skills required), and three great movies that featured James Coburn: “The Great Escape,” “The Magnificent Seven,” and “Charade.” (Of course, this also gave me two glimpses of Steve McQueen, star of the best song of this past summer.) Coburn didn’t have too much of a role in any of them — he did the most work in Charade, which works well as a who’s-doing-what and less as a romantic notion; the least in Great Escape, where he struggles with an Australian accent, builds an airpump for the tunnels, and in the end escapes to Spain. His greatest asset was his determined visage, on the edge of menace, always leavened with a sign of humor. I haven’t seen “Affliction” (the atmosphere of the book was really enough), but I imagine he played the abusive father simply by turning off that little light of humor, becoming pure menace. TCM could have put on “Hell Is For Heroes,” but then we would have been even more confused as to whether it was McQueen or Coburn they were honoring.
Miracle of miracles, I didn’t leave the house this weekend. Never got behind the wheel. Lee is able to drive enough to get the girls around, and offered to do their rehearsals on Saturday, which offer I gratefully accepted. Did some scanning work, some cleaning, a little vacuuming and mopping, and generally lazed about the house with the TV on much more than normal. It was heaven.
New York awaits!

Encouragement / Discouragement

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Much encouragement this week, for a rare change. We had an event of the sort that I usually hate, where we bring in a bunch of “great thinkers” and watch them tug at their elbow patches and pontificate on how we could do things better. Normally, these thinking sessions are so far removed from the political/Political realities that we work with here in the The Entire State that they can only be seen as endearingly naive (if I’m in a really generous mood), or (if I’m more bitter) as dangerously stupid. So I avoid these sessions like I avoid rats with rayguns. But this one was stunningly good, full of people with real ideas that I could really use, presented in a completely non-threatening way. In fact, I think that I was the only person who said a negative thing about the Department all day, and I was just being honest about our historical shortcomings and our seeming inability to get out the message on what we do for the people of the State. And I walked away from the session with some very solid ideas on how to achieve some of the things I really want to get done in the next year or two, things that I’ll really be able to point to as my contributions to public health and the environment. In addition, I met someone I’ve wanted to meet for a very long time, who once sat in my seat (not literally; this seat is brand spanking new), and who is a very respected thinker who gives me hope that there is life after this, and he was warm and receptive and invited me to visit him any time I’m in DC, which I certainly will do at the earliest opportunity.
And then I got home from that heady session to find the girls’ first report cards of the year, and they both did unbelievably well. They’re both quite smart and hard workers, so I expect them to get good grades, and I praise them for what they do well and try to offer support or suggestions in the areas where they need some improvement. Except that in this marking period, there weren’t any. Well, one: the younger one needs to either sit on her bottom during circle time, or sit in the back of the circle. Not because she’s disruptive when she’s up on her knees, but because she’s too tall, and blocks the other kids’ view.
That’s it. The major academic challenge my daughters face. And Hannah, who sometimes agonizes over math but does it quite well, actually did better in math than anything else (A+ instead of poor old A’s). Fantastic.
On the discouragement side, I thought my foot sprain and iliotibial band issues were finally over, and I’ve been better again about my stretching, but I went out at lunch today, first time this week, and went right back to where I had been. Hurting left foot, f’d up right ITB. Run, walk, stretch, repeat, all the way back from the 2 mile mark. Never gonna get to First Night this way.

Googlism

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Apparently, I’m defecating in my food tray. I couldn’t be more alarmed. On the other hand, perhaps the seismology thing will really work out for me. http://www.googlism.com
Googlism for: carl johnson
carl johnson is a republican serving his fourth term representing district 3
carl johnson is now dean of the division of college extension
carl johnson is an award winning fine artist hailing from worcester
carl johnson is an enthusiastic teacher who inspires his students and improves learning through hands
carl johnson is expected to spearhead pre
carl johnson is the director and co
carl johnson is in the front position
carl johnson is a licensed clinical social worker
carl johnson is entering his secret recipe in the chowder contest for next month’s autumn gold days festival in ellsworth
carl johnson is employed at the army installation in heidelberg and has for the past few years has functioned as the bishop’s warden for the annual conference
carl johnson is prepared to fly in the great wadsworth festival
carl johnson is a native of richland center
carl johnson is the right man for district three
carl johnson is to them in concord and will turn out to support him for a third
carl johnson is an emmy
carl johnson is a gifted planner and it was a pleasure to work with a ‘master’
carl johnson is a hard
carl johnson is a multi
carl johnson is the president and co
carl johnson is president and co
carl johnson is giving local citizens
carl johnson is in the center
carl johnson is
carl johnson is a seismologist by training
carl johnson is now director loss prevention
carl johnson is the test
carl johnson is holding the plane for me
carl johnson is a six
carl johnson is now opposed to the bill
carl johnson is profiled in connection with receiving a 2002 cope scholar award;
carl johnson is a great guy
carl johnson is the new acquisitions assistant
carl johnson is temporarily stepping down
carl johnson is also interested in the position
carl johnson is looking forward to this weekend’s minnesota twins
carl johnson is on acoustic guitar
carl johnson is featured in woodwork magazine showing his built in kitchen cabinets
carl johnson is a nice man
carl johnson is working this with hopkins
carl johnson is expected
carl johnson is arrested and antagonizes the feds even more
carl johnson is looking for comments on themitsa web site which he has been updating
carl johnson is looking for comments on the mitsa web site which he has been updating
carl johnson is not the only one with the key
carl johnson is working on another case as well
carl johnson is finishing up a new display case and david thurston is working on the next
carl johnson is in compliance with the
carl johnson is represented by air
carl johnson is de zoon van een mijnwerker
carl johnson is vice president
carl johnson is a junior in political science
carl johnson is a sad testament to the courts’ lack of commitment to implementing gideon
carl johnson is unopposed
carl johnson is just some random arrestee
carl johnson is alia’s brother is truthmonger and so on is not very profound
carl johnson is a director and co
carl johnson is well aware
carl johnson is facing the federal government for threats he made against various federal officials online
carl johnson is the only reasonnable choise
carl johnson is heading an informal group to determine a format for exchanging raw phase picks via tcp/ip
carl johnson is very ill with pneumonia
carl johnson is in a
carl johnson is hereby approved
carl johnson is a product safety expert
carl johnson is an experienced practitioner in computerology with over 20 years of training and experience with local
carl johnson is looking into running for governor next year
carl johnson is defecating in
carl johnson is defecating in his food tray
carl johnson is president of beauty pageant
carl johnson is apparently our mole”
carl johnson is lake friendly and deserves our support
carl johnson is unconscious and christopher picks up the 1
carl johnson is convicted of threatening public officials

An off day

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Too difficult to explain, but mornings that begin with screaming, fighting children tend not to go well after that.
Warren Zevon is my constant companion these days. Just got the two-disc set, “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead.” The liner notes are skimpy, but hell, the songs speak for themselves. I’d love to hear updated versions of some of the older stuff, which suffered a bit in production but came crackling to life on the very raw “Learning to Flinch.” I guess that’s not to be.
Can someone explain to me how Henry Rollins, punk prince of angry poetry, came to be co-hosting a Learning Channel spin-off from “Junkyard Wars”?

Okay, maybe it WAS the last great sunny day

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I’m not complaining, because I’ve got a serious skiing jones, but how is it possible to go from a high of 59 on Friday to snow, sleet and freezing rain on Saturday, all without gale-force winds or skies of death or anything other than that deep, charcoal gray sky of winter? It was appropriate that it started to snow and get slippery as we were driving to Schenectady to see our first Warren Miller ski movie. There was a great festival atmosphere there at Proctor’s, everybody was having a good time and getting stoked about the season to come. This year’s movie (“Storm”) was really kick-ass, huge fun, scary thrills and scenes of physical accomplishment that are so close to perfection they can bring me almost to tears. Really. Sometimes I watch these movies, the Olympics, mountain-climbing, anything where tremendously gifted, highly trained people are really giving their all, and the sheer physical beauty of their effort just washes over me. Watching some of these skiers carving beautiful turns down nearly vertical faces does that for me. (And there are some days, in some conditions, when my skiing is going just right, when I can feel just a little bit of what they must feel — and it feels good.)
Then it was a long drive home on Route 20 in the snow . . . decided to skip the Thruway because I knew people would just be pinging off the road left and right. We saw several cars off the road right on 890, so it was only going to get worse. Took the local roads and things went slow but fine. Yesterday was a lazy day of work around the house while the girls went out in the very wet snow and got soaked to the skin. Today, a snow day, although the second storm of the day never materialized. Tomorrow, back to normal. Hopefully.

The last great sunny day

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I keep thinking that this is the last great warm sunny day of the year, but they keep on coming. It’s been great for midday runs, which I’ve been lucky enough to fit in a couple of times a week for the last few weeks. That’s a good thing, because I fell off the morning schedule when Lee broke her arm. I’ve been able to sneak in midday runs for the past few weeks, though, and it’s mostly been beautiful (too beautiful, because the locker room gets really crowded on nice days). I want to run the First Night Saratoga 5K, so I’ve got to get serious about training again. After the Race for the Cure, I wanted to pick up some speed and started training faster, and immediately ran into problems with a sprained left foot and ileotibial band problems on the right leg. The sprain feels 95% better, though rest alone really wasn’t enough, and now I’ve got a good stretch for the ITB that seems to have ironed that problem out. It’s always something, and you can’t stretch everything every day — after a while, I stop doing a stretch entirely and then I get hurt.
Christmas shopping is advancing nicely. Big Amazon order coming, with a couple of things for Lee. Picked up some stocking stuff for the kids at Kate’s on Tuesday. Need to find things for the difficult people (read: no actual interests in life).
Totally jazzed about Thanksgiving in New York. I got nervous over the inability of the Marriott to guarantee that we would have two beds, and I’m sure the room was a closet, so I switched us over to the DuMont on the east side. Less central location than Times Square, obviously, but that’s probably a good thing. Plus, it has a kitchen, so we can buy and eat normal food. We were shut out of just about everything that would require a ticket, but I’ve found a bunch of things that don’t (I mean, this is NEW YORK CITY, f’chrissake — there can never be a shortage of things to do). Kids want to go to Ellis Island, which I’m very iffy about, but if we could get down before the lines on Friday morning, maybe. Otherwise, we’ll take the Water Taxi from the west side down around the horn to Fulton Landing, and walk back across the Brooklyn Bridge, and that should make them happy. Bring comfortable shoes, everybody!
But most of all, we get to see the parade, live and in person. Got to figure out the best vantage point. The BEST vantage point would have been one of the rooms I regularly enjoy at the Mayflower, but those come at something of a premium on the morning of the parade, as they put you at eye level with the balloons.

The architecture of our past

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Douglas Coupland in “Polaroids of the Dead” wrote lovingly of the Lions Gate Bridge in Vancouver, how that landmark shaped the architecture of his imagination. Whether one lives in a place with such a grand landmark or not, there is bound to be some building or structure that has that effect. The World Trade Center towers filled that role for many, mostly after their fall. So many New York City landmarks shape imaginations, even for many who have never lived in the city. Bridges all over the world have this effect – a subtle visual subtext of the movie version of “The Wonder Boys” was a loving paean to the bridges of Pittsburgh. Sometimes it is hard to imagine our lives without these structures, but sometimes they are gone, just the same.
I have walked across the Brooklyn Bridge and the Golden Gate (skated up to it from Fort Point, in fact, which is a hell of a skate). I’ve been to some of the great monuments of our country. But the structures we grow up with are more intricately tied to us, more intimate and meaningful. I feel a tug just from seeing a Whipple truss bridge, hundreds of which once traversed the Erie Canal, a few of which can still be found, and which are linked to a time and place that I am linked to. But here is the structure, now a quarter-century gone, that I wish I could put back in place, just as it was:
Western Gateway Bridge, Schenectady to Scotia

This was the Western Gateway Bridge, seen from the Schenectady end. It was the grandest of all the bridges that had connected Schenectady across the isles of the Mohawk River with the village of Scotia. It was a long, graceful concrete structure, with lacy concrete x’s in its side walls, tall concrete light posts, lovely arched supports. It connected Schenectady to Scotia — I’d have to look up when it opened, though the 1930s seems right. It came down in 1973 or so, replaced by a low, unlovely, completely utilitarian set of steel spans that eliminated the dangerous curve so prominent in the center of the picture. Yes, cars did occasionally (or often) slide through that curve, through the wall (which I remember as held in place by steel cables) and down into the waiting Binnekill. That stream, a backwater of the Mohawk, is now gone, filled and made into parking and building space for the Schenectady County Community College, which overtook the Hotel Van Curler, seen in the foreground, once Schenectady’s premiere hotel. It still looks pretty much like that. The end of the bridge didn’t look quite this when I was young — those lovely grassy medians were gone. At the top end of the center median is a sign, which was later moved to a small park across from the hotel. The sign celebrates the founding of Schenectady with a cutout depiction of the 1690 Schenectady Massacre, a vision of violence no longer seen in civic displays but completely of a piece with our sense of the city when I was growing up. The Schenectady Massacre was a key sortie in the French and Indian War, in which French and Algonquins attacked the walled city on a winter night and murdered nearly everyone in it. We were all very proud of the massacre; in 3rd grade, we put on a play recreating it, which is hard to imagine doing in our current culture. Paul Dobradi and I portrayed Huntley and Brinkley, the NBC newsmen, reporting on the massacre, and I also played the role of Adam Vrooman, who survived the attack but watched his wife and children tomahawked before his very eyes. I put my little 8-year-old heart into it.
This is the bridge that I crossed hundreds of times — in cars, yes, but also in a perambulator, a baby stroller, on foot, on bicycle. My mother used to pop me in the pram and stroll across the bridge, every day (she says). I remember going downtown often, visiting my grandmother at the restaurant where she worked and getting a fresh, hot order of fries from the cook. We would shop in the old Wallace’s or Carl’s or Barney’s or Kresge’s or Woolworth’s — all those stores within a couple blocks of each other. Downtown Schenectady was in decay even then, but just barely. People had moved out to the suburbs and some of the shopping was going with it, but the big stores were all still downtown and it probably seemed like they always would be. It was the ’70s, and the bridge was gone, by the time downtown really crashed. GE shrank, the Crosstown Arterial changed traffic patterns, and bridges stopped being civic symbols and became ways to get cars across rivers that were a little too big to fill in. (Slowly, we are getting back to building beautiful things on the public dime, but for a long time we let utility and cost be our only design guides, and for this we should be ashamed. It is not a sin for the public to build beautiful things.)
I will always remember walking across that bridge, the concrete crumbling, looking through the criss-cross patterns down to the Mohawk River below, the wind blowing brisk and cold. That will always be the bridge that I walk.

So much city, yada yada

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Finally got to go back to New York after a long hiatus in travel, partly imposed by work requirements and partly impose by my wife’s broken arm, which rendered her somewhat useless in the “Responding to Childhood Emergencies with a Motor Vehicle” department. Rained like crazy, though. Wet feet throughout the day, combined with a lined raincoat that was just way too warm. Typical fall visit to the City, in other words. Took a later train down, and got to see our sparkling new train station for the first time. I must say, it’s beautiful, inviting, a delightful place to be. The cafe was busy, the newsstand was doing a business, and it was all just delightful. I’m not saying it’s worth $65 million or so, but hell, the money’s spent, let’s enjoy it. The bridge over the tracks is particularly pleasant, as it has seating area from which one can simply sit and watch the trains. A nice addition to the area and the system. Now if only Amtrak stays solvent for another few months. (I’m actually torn on that one, because I think we’d end up with Metro North service that would be, most likely, vastly cheaper. But would we still have the train option to DC — that’s the question.)
Despite the rain, got up to Kate’s Paperie (listen, I have got to start using the N/R when appropriate — I won’t even say how I got there), found a little anniversary present for Lee and a bunch of little Christmas presents for the girls and others. Best of all, Kate’s had umbrella bags so you didn’t have to slosh a wet brollie all over the store. Should have taken a bunch of spares. One of my favorite stores in the city, and I hardly ever get to go there because it’s not quite downtown , and it’s not midtown. Going there is always a side trip. But I was glad I went. I even got back up to Penn in time for the 2:45, despite somehow getting turned around at the 6th Ave. N/R station. Well, it was a pleasure just to be out of Albany. But then again, it usually is.
I was reading Douglas Coupland’s “Polaroids from the Dead” on the train. He had a nice piece about how certain architecture of your hometown can become the architecture of your mind, which I’d like to riff on later. Very much set me to thinking. The beginning of the book is a series of depictions of Grateful Dead culture, which wasn’t quite what I expected it to be. I’ve never had even the slightest affinity for the Dead. In college, I was often told by Deadhead friends (this was before the pivotal MTV video that apparently sent the band over the edge) that I just hadn’t given the music enough of a chance. Well, over those years I heard many hundreds of hours of their music, and it never grew on me even slightly. I got it, I understood why people were attracted to it and that whole dumb stare-at-your-fingernails post-hippie culture. I understood it, but I didn’t like it at all. Something about the Dead and their followers fundamentally grates on me. But the writing is clear, as always with Coupland, and the rest of the book is quite interesting.
More anon.