Monthly Archives: December 2002

Top 10:

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  1. The Jam Compact Snap One of those discs that disappears from the rotation for a year or two and then suddenly I need to hear it over and over. “A Town Called Malice” was put to appropriate use in the movie “Billy Elliott” — it’s almost impossible to listen to without beating out the drums on the steering wheel and bop-bop-bopping along. The whole disc still sounds fresh after all these years, when some of the quirkiness of the other British Reinvasion groups (say, XTC) has worn thin. Could be that whomping bass.

  2. Sledding with the girls: took two blow-up tubes, one little blow-up “Swiss Luge”, an old-fashioned, hard-bottomed flying saucer and the toboggan over to the golf course in Delmar yesterday and had a couple hours of screaming fun. They wore their ski helmets, which may have made them the dorks of the hill, but at least we didn’t have to bring it all to a crying halt after one of them took a header. My old Adirondack toboggan, circa 1974, is still the fast and furious of the sledding hill, by the way, and I took a certain uncharitable delight in the failure of some yuppie parents to get their runnered baby sled to work for little whatever-her-name-was. Runnered sleds are for Christmas catalogs, NOT FOR ACTUAL USE. Pay attention, people.
  3. Gaudi Afternoon — a completely unnoticed movie with Judy Davis, Marcia Gay Harden, and Lili Taylor, directed by Susan Seidelman. A complete hoot set in Barcelona with a backdrop of Gaudi’s architecture. Funny, interesting, fast-paced. The Spanish and/or Catalan isn’t subtitled, but it doesn’t need to be. There’s even a bizarre magic act with erotic overtones that made me wish Seidelman had had the self-reference to put Steven Wright in the audience (see “Desperately Seeking Susan”).
  4. Tony Hawk Pro Skater 4 for Playstation 2 — please. Unlike THPS2 for Mac, you don’t have to keep on restarting the game, you just pick up timed challenges when you feel like it and freeskate the rest of the time. Plus, many more songs, though I’m sure after a while I’ll get tired of these, too. Hannah thinks that my character’s top hat is the reason he’s skating so poorly….
  5. Ofoto.com — Really, it’s a dead heat with Snapfish.com, but the point is I love digital photography, I love being able to play with my pictures in Photoshop and clean them up and/or mess them up, and I love inexpensive prints that I don’t have to send back because some lab-monkey didn’t bother to blow the dust off the negative. Spent the weekend getting a bunch of Thanksgiving photos cleaned up, cropped and ready for printing.
  6. Nick Tosches. Loved “Where Dead Voices Gather.” Loved “Dino.” Now I’m reading the most unlikely thing I can imagine myself reading, “Trinities,” a Mafia/Chinese gangwar novel about the heroin trade. Too much exposition in places, but damn his writing is crisp.
  7. OLN TV — okay, so maybe there’s much more duckhunting than I really need to see, but there’s also “No Boundaries,” bicycle racing, kayak competitions and things you just don’t get anywhere else. But really, guys — if I want to see duckhunting, I’ll dig out my Chuck Jones cartoons.
  8. Random blogs — The nature of the web has changed back to what it started out as, narrowcasting of personal messages that somehow connect. On any given day, scouting through blogdom, you can find a message that you somehow relate to that hasn’t been filtered through the profit motive by a corporate asshole.
  9. The Interregnum — there is a short period of my life, just about to end, when there are no Nutcracker rehearsals, no ballet lessons, no swim lessons, no ski lessons, and no real work obligations. The house is a Christmasy disaster, there is too much food, a leaking faucet untended, chores that have to get done if we’re ever going to build a new bedroom for Rebekah, but for right now, it’s just time to lie about in it and rest.
  10. St. Helena Olive Oil. To die for. So good you want to drink it. Really.

One birthday remembered

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I’m not good with birthdays. Beyond my immediate family, I’m pretty hopeless. Even if I remember what day they fall on, I’m unlikely to think of them around that time. But for some reason I have always remembered my great grandmother’s birthday, which is today. It would be Grandma Hazel Smith’s 108th birthday. As it happens, she made it to 102. In Hazel’s last 10 years her health was strong but Alzheimer’s had taken her, unfortunately, and she spent most of her days waiting for her husband Ernie to come and get her. Ernie, who had been dead since 1963. She was a sweet woman who baked a great apple pie. She stayed tight with her sisters, most of them, all her life, though there was some kind of a feud with her sister Mamie that rose to the level of being mentioned in Mamie’s will. (My mother thinks Hazel stole Ernie away from Mamie. I guess we’ll never know.) Ruth and Helen and Hazel spent the summers up at their houses in West Glenville, and Margaret was down in Scotia, and they saw each other all the time.
They were an interesting group. They didn’t come from any money — their father was the town tinker and the town drunk. Helen, who took care of me and my sister when we were young, had a flamboyant affair with a married insurance agent who gave her some property that helped her get by. In the midst of the depression, she was able to lend a considerable sum of money to Hazel and Ernie, which they secured with everything they had, including farm equipment, an old car and 60 chickens. In addition to a rooming house in Schenectady, Helen somehow managed to get a summer house in West Glenville, just up the road from where she’d grown up. Margaret, similarly, had a lifelong boyfriend, and she worked at the Wallace’s Department Store downtown and had a two-family house in Scotia, where she rented out the upper floor. I know that Ruth had worked and somehow she had the family house on Waters Road in West Glenville, but what she got by on is a mystery. Hazel was the traditionalist of those four, in the sense that she married a man who supported her. Ernie had various ventures in his life, but mostly it centered on subsistence farming and carpentry. He died from an accidental overdose of blood-thinning medication, and after that Hazel went to live with her daughter, Thelma, but spent her summers mostly up at Helen’s house in West Glenville.
All these labors and intrigues, ways of living and relationships, arguments so important they lasted a lifetime — all viewed dimly through second-hand memories and some papers found in a wooden box — all the rest is lost to us now.

Armagideon time for Joe Strummer

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Lost somewhere in the news over the weekend was the word that Joe Strummer of The Clash had died of a heart attack. He was 50 — or, for those who keep track of such things, eight years older than I am. Okay, John Entwistle was no surprise, really, though one would think the boys would slow down after a few decades of drugs. Joey Ramone was hard to take, but he had been sick for a while. DeeDee, again, was no surprise, except perhaps that he had lasted this long. But now, Joe Strummer? Who’s going to be left?
At a time when I was very ambivalent about New Wave, hated the music of the ’70s, and was still focused on some of the music of the ’60s, The Clash were like a flash of lightning. I already knew and loved The Ramones, but they did what they did and that was it. It was brilliant and exciting and took people back to the roots and a little bit beyond. The Clash then took that and went all over the map with it — since The Beatles there hadn’t been a more musically inventive band, and I think they surpassed The Beatles in some ways. They combined ska and dub into rock ‘n’ roll and made it all make sense. They did hard-driving rock and deep, slow-tempo dubs. Nearly every song sounded different, and there was always something interesting going on. The big, triple-disc mess that was Sandinista goes through more musical ideas in one album than most bands do in their entire careers.
Like all the good ones, The Clash were a band. They captured the restless, unsettled Thatcher years for England, and a lot of that spoke to the Reagan years here. (“A lot of people won’t get no justice tonight” — “Coke adds life / where there isn’t any”) Once they were done, they were done. After they came apart, Big Audio Dynamite had some success and was certainly fun to listen to; Joe’s Mescaleros didn’t make much of a ripple. It was the band, the time, the energy.
Remember . . . to kick it over . . . no one will guide you . . . it’s Armagideon time. . . .

The holidays

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If I were being honest, I’d have to say that I haven’t really felt the same about the holidays since my father died, which was a long time ago. At some point in the very early ’70s, Christmas eve became a gathering at our house to which all sorts of family, extended family, former family, etc. were all invited, and over the course of an evening 30 to 40 people might come and go. I’m not sure just when lasagna became part of it, but it is, and I remember a disastrous year when my mother decided she was not making 5 or 6 trays of lasagna and substituted something else — grown men were practically in tears. My mom’s sister started making creampuffs, and somehow they got there every year whether she did or not. So Christmas eve always meant family, lasagna and creampuffs. Individual faces changed, people came and went, but the core families were always there. It was a very informal gathering, though on occasion my father was moved to say a word or two. It was a chance to stay up late and listen to the grownups talk (my cousins were all much younger than I was), and to me it was as important as Christmas day; maybe moreso. The year my father died (he died in September 1985) was the first year I ever missed it — Christmas fell on a Wednesday that year (like this year), and I was backed up at work and really couldn’t take extra time, and it just didn’t seem worth making the trip, so my mother and sister came out to Syracuse the weekend before and they went on and had Christmas eve without me, which was fine with me because the truth was that I couldn’t face Christmas eve without my father that year.
But the tradition went on, and the other men who had been important to me growing up were still there, and it was a chance to see them again, but I felt my father’s absence acutely. We all started having kids, which brought some spark back to the thing, but there was more loss — Hank died, then Jimmy. Duane moved away. Both my grandparents and my great grandmother died. Two years ago, my mother did something only slightly less unthinkable than not making lasagna — she moved. Not far, but still, when someone shifts from a house she’s been in for 40 years, it’s surprising. Now Christmas eve is almost entirely made up of folks from my mom’s side of the family, my cousins and their kids (though not all of them, depending on who has custody over the holidays. Modern life).
And it is joyous. The girls dress up and scurry around, passing out little presents, getting each other all wound up, chasing their cousins up and down the stairs and staying up too late. There’s lasagna and creampuffs (I abstain from the latter, but not the former). But running through it is the ones we’ve lost, the ones I miss, especially my father. I wish he were here to see these little wonders we’re rearing, that he could have been some piece of their lives. I wish there had been more time for us together.
But this is the way of things, meetings and partings, and we can’t let the ghosts of the past prevent us from being in the present, hard as that may be sometimes.

Skiing on slopes with girls

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Had a magnificent day skiing Mount Snow with the girls and their aunt on Monday. (Lee’s out for the season with a stern warning from the bonesetter against taking even a single fall.) Less sunny than Wednesday, so it felt a little colder, and there was some serious wind on the lifts, but on the slopes it was all nice. Conditions were excellent, and even though the place was plenty crowded, we really only had to wait in a serious lift line at the very outset; after that we stayed away from the main lift and were fine, and things thinned out in the afternoon.
I had been nervous about Bekah, who after all is only six and has been skiing only seven times, all for her lessons last year. So I figured she’d be going too fast and crowding the edges, like Hannah used to, and not really be in that much control. But Bekah’s more of a natural athlete, and this skiing stuff seems like second nature to her. Didn’t once feel like she was out of control or in any kind of trouble, even though she was bombing down the hill. Had to keep reminding her to turn, turn, turn and then turn again . . . she had a kid’s natural tendency to just keep going down the hill. But she was great, and I could even see her doing some natural edging on her turns. Started out on the easy easy stuff and then took some intermediates, and now I’m convinced she could go on almost any intermediate I’d go on. And that makes it easier, because I’d like to be able to take them both out again, even if I didn’t have their aunt’s help. And despite the drive — really, it’s 75 miles but two hours, despite my desire to make it less — I’m really coming to enjoy Mount Snow. The facilities are in great shape, it’s full of good intermediate trails, and I always have a good time there.
Buzzed through Bennington for the second time in a week, made me think of my old roommate Dan and his family. Learned from e-mail that yes, his folks do still live in the same place (which I could find in a hearbeat). Bennington hasn’t changed all that much in all these years, although the fringes have gotten suburbanized (it’s amazing how small a town in Vermont that can happen to) and Walmarted and so on, but the downtown is still healthy and pretty. Always liked visiting there.
Suddenly flooded with searches for gravestone pictures. It’s Christmas so our thoughts turn to . . . tombstones? Maybe it’s the ghost of Christmas Yet to Come at work, but I think it’s odd that all of a sudden I’d have quite a number of people coming to the site searching for headstone shots.
“Headstone Shots” — could be a nasty alcohol promotion. Better copyright that, pronto.

White Christmas, my ass!

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Well, we all want a white Christmas, but not quite this white, and not right ON Christmas day. My mother called on Monday night to see if we wanted to change all our plans because a big storm was a-comin’. Since she is entirely in the thrall of the weather-fear mongers, I treated this with the same personal concern I have for sea level rise — if it happens, I’ll deal with it. Then on Christmas Eve, as all anybody could talk about was the coming storm, we decided we’d better have a backup plan if it actually hit, and that backup plan did not include getting stuck in Rotterdam (“A Nice Place to Live”) for an extra day. So Christmas with my mother and sister has been put off until tonight. Did the other side of the family yesterday morning, and then had a slow but not treacherous slog home around 2 pm, then spent the afternoon trapped in the house watching the snow drift. It’s now up to the top of the tires on the Xterra, so any thought that I’m going on a road trip this morning is out of the question right now. They said it was our first Christmas storm since 1978, and it’s a doozy. Heavy, slippery, and plenty of it. On the upside, perhaps conditions will stay good for tobogganing on Saturday. I’d take the kids today, but . . . oh, maybe I’ll take them today anyway.
The girls were magnificent, and Christmas morning was nigh onto magical. Santa brought them some very nice things, and in a couple of cases their parents chose to take the credit for giving them what they really wanted. Hannah finally got her American Girl doll, which she has been lusting after for a couple of years, and which it occurred to me there was no reason on earth she shouldn’t have except that they’re expensive. I wouldn’t think twice about spending that much on a toy for ME, so I finally realized she should have it. Rebekah had wanted a real magic wand, despite several counseling sessions in which she was told that Santa probably couldn’t give away his magic. She had promised only to do good things with it, too. As an alternative, she wanted flying pills. She got 2 new sets of fairy wings to wear around the house, which she said was even better than flying pills.
More when I can. Much snow awaits my shoveling….

Cultural references, filtered

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I was sitting outside Nutcracker rehearsals yesterday. Another dad was sitting with his son and younger daughter, who took classes there but wasn’t in the Nutcracker. At one point the studio door opened and the music spilled out, and she exclaimed, “Barbie In the Nutcracker!” A pause, and then, “I never get to dance to Barbie In The Nutcracker music….”
Well, I’m sure Tchaikovsky, P.I., would be, at the least, confused to find that a child of the Aughts thinks his most famous work was produced for, or possibly by, an 11-inch plastic doll with a serious shoe fetish. Popular culture used to be a doorway to “higher” culture, and I think some of that has been lost, especially in cartoons of today. Shows like “Rocky & Bullwinkle” and their subsets were loaded with references to historical events and the arts that formed the basis of my understanding. I had seen some form of the Mona Lisa in cartoons dozens of times before I ever saw a picture of the real thing. There was an entire arc of Bullwinkle that featured “The Ruby Yacht of Omar Kayam” — believe me, it was YEARS before that meant anything. Bugs Bunny, with less wit and success, did a few historical cartoons as well. Nowadays there is a little bit of that again in shows like Spongebob Squarepants and The PowerPuff Girls, but that’s after a very long drought.
So, if a little girl thinks that the Nutcracker music (which can be just as brain-sticky as “Holly Jolly Christmas”) came from a highly annoying computer-animated feature that has almost nothing to do with the original Nutcracker story, that’s fine. Someday she’ll discover the original and it will already be full of associations for her.

Enough with the wood rosin already!

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I’m not trying to be informative or anything, but if you came here looking for glycerol ester of wood rosin (I mentioned it in passing in one blog long long ago, but it took me high in the search engines’ rankings), I suggest you look here, or consider this excerpt from that site:
The Health Canada approval allows up to 100 ppm of the wood rosin derivative in beverages. The product improves the stability of citrus-oil flavor concentrates and beverages and is used as a weighting/clouding agent in such beverages as sports drinks. Most thrillingly of all, this tremendous improvement meant consistency in beverage production worldwide. PowerAde in San Francisco and PowerAde in Beijing are guaranteed to have the same level of clouding. Think of it!
Enough!

Burl Ives must die

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It is time to end the tyranny of “Holly Jolly Christmas,” a song which gets stuck in the heads of millions each year, driving them to a slow, sputtering insanity, and if desecration of the grave of a beloved old leftist folksinger is the only way to end this, count me in. For starters, I always hated that “Rudolph” special. For some reason, the animation always creeped me out; plus, it was the same animation used for the electric shaver ads featuring Santa riding a Norelco, an image I could neither understand nor wipe from my mind. So, that’s one strike. Also, I could never stand Burl Ives. I didn’t like his voice, I didn’t like his fatness, and as a child I suspected there was something more than slightly evil about the guy. (And that was before I knew he had played Big Daddy in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” big blubbery hand on Maggie’s belly, raging about mendacity.) On top of that, one of the only record albums we owned when I was a kid was a Burl Ives platter of “children’s songs,” horrifying ditties rendered in that jaunty Burl Ives style, including a bowdlerized version of “Big Rock Candy Mountain” that, even with the removal of references to “little streams of alcohol,” was a completely inappropriate song for children. Cigarette trees? Jayzus. Two strikes. And then, there’s that hideous, unstoppable song, which seems to be nothing more than an endless loop of the chorus. Once in your brain, it never leaves. It’ll be April and a few bars of it will still sneak out. I hesitated even to name it, for fear of infecting others.
The song must die. And the singer with it. This is my fatwa.
(Great, now I’m going to get Googled for fatwa.)