Monthly Archives: June 2005

Bad flashback!

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This hasn’t happened in years, but after ages without any symptoms at all, I now have “Mahna Mahna” stuck firmly, irrevocably in my head. And the only way to deal with it is to actually play it, because when I sing it I really rumble out the “mahna mahna,” and tear out my throat. (It turns out there are a lot of “Mahna Mahna” sites out there, mostly focused on The Muppet Show version. Click it for the video!)


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Okay, I know, talking about my search requests is boring. And maybe it’s not fascinating that I have had five hits for “Kirsten Gum” today (and now I’ll get even more) (and I’m glad I’m not getting hits for The Trout, believe me). But a couple of these others are genuinely disturbing. From Bratislava, Slovakia, someone came to my site searching for “Robin Tunney muscles OR muscled OR muscled legs OR calves.” From Montreal, someone came to my site searching for “Soundtrack to Patty Duke because were [sic] cousins.” And from San Diego, “The GoGo’s are drunk and talking to video camera with boys.”

And these are just the people whose searches somehow bring them to my site. Just imagine the ones that I don’t even know about.

Because they’re cousins, identical cousins all the wayOne pair of matching bookendsDifferent as night and day.


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Not one to really wrap myself up in knots over such things, but yesterday was a day of particularly unsustainable practices around this household. I’m generally pretty conservative — combining trips, putting things off, having a lot of supplies for around-the-house projects on hand. But the sudden need for cool air led me to drive to one store and then another, and then out 10 miles to a third, in search of an air conditioner. I have finally given in to the consideration that, although there are probably about 10 days a year when this house can’t be cooled by conventional means, I spend the sweltering days safely esconced in a climate-controlled office (with a great view of the river), while wife works from the sweltering dining room and the kids set up and take down the slip ‘n’ slide every day in order to keep from melting. So, with even more reluctance than that which accompanied the purchase of a snowblower, I joined the plastic masses of the bourgeoisie and decided to give up not only my soul but also access to one of my windows in order to keep the house cool. It’s supposed to start burning in the 90s around here this weekend, so there seemed no sense in waiting another minute.

But of course, once I found what I wanted, there was the little matter of another trip back to the Home Depot to get the electrical parts I needed. Then back to work. Then home. Then back out to the Home Depot because I changed my plans and decided not to sink the box in the wall and wanted a conduit box that looked right. The only thing I did that was even slightly conserving of gas was to use the ATM for the first time since about 1980. I’ve been traveling around the country for years without even having an ATM card, just reliant on cash and a credit card, but finally gave in. Knowing I had to run to the bank this morning (I write a check and cash it. This is what people used to have to do to get cash), instead I stopped at the branch of my bank next to the Home Depot (which I didn’t even realize was there), and used my ATM card for the first time. I was surprised by how little the machines have advanced — crappy screens, lousy instructions and money still in multiples of $20. But I saved four miles of driving this morning, so I can watch sea levels rise with a clear conscience today.

Until, of course, I get the air conditioner wired.

Last day of school!

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Well, if you can call it a “day” — barely a couple of hours. As Hannah was preparing to leave this morning, spouse and I both said something along the lines of “See you in an hour!” or “Have a good twenty minutes!” To which she responded, as if she had just stepped out of Heathers, “Oh, you two!”

The Orientalist<

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/div>I’ve been dying to write about this book — The Orientalist, by Tom Reiss — since I started it weeks and weeks ago. I first heard the author on NPR, then was first in line to get it at the library, and when it was clear that a) I wasn’t going to finish it and that b) I had to read this book more than once, I ordered it up at the new Manor Block Books in Troy. Got right into it, then thought I had lost it (it turned up, having fallen behind a chest in the bedroom). And now I’ve finally finished it, and have to say, it’s the most fascinating biography/history/story I think I’ve ever read.

So, how to describe it? Its subtitle is “Solving the mystery of a strange and dangerous life.” It’s the story of an author of biographies and fiction, once one of the best-known writers in the world in the time between the wars — but one whose identities became so confused that by the ’70s, when his great novel of love between a Christian girl and a Muslim boy was reissued (Life magazine wrote: “If Kurban Said can’t push Erich Segal off the bestseller list, nobody can!”), his true identity was completely lost. Tom Reiss tracks down Lev Nussimbaum, the Jewish son of an oil baron in Azerbaijan, who over the course of revolutions and upheaval in Russia, the Caucasus, and Germany came to be the “Mohammedan” Essad Bey, and who finally adopted the nom de plume of Kurban Said. His home in Baku entertained Stalin (and there are hints his mother may have done more for the revolutionary cause). Trotsky wrote to his son, “Who is this Essad Bey?” He lived in Berlin in the 1920s, among the Pasternaks and the Nabokovs. He was the subject of a divorce scandal that played large in the American tabloids. And he died young of a rare disease, in fascist Italy, remembered by the people in a seaside town only as “the Muslim.”

In with it all, Reiss manages to paint an incredible picture of the changes of the times — the revolution, the friction of east and west in the Caucasus, the rise of Hitler — and how all of it related to this man who was or wasn’t masquerading as something very foreign in places and times where it was phenomenally dangerous to do so. As I said, the best combination of biography and history I’ve ever read, and all in all an unbelievable story.

So now I’m following it up with “Kurban Said’s” classic “Ali and Nino.” Reiss traces the authorship of this book convincingly, but the paperback edition that is currently available still raises the possibility that this was a collaboration between Essad Bey and a German baroness, who in all likelihood was the only way the denounced author could get his book published in the National Socialist era — when Jews weren’t to be published, and several spies had expressed serious doubts about the Muslim identity of Essad Bey. The book retains the flavor of an earlier time, but writes convincingly and well of the love of a Muslim boy for a Georgian Christian girl — for everyone knows that Georgian women are the most beautiful in the world. A sample:

“‘Ali Khan, you are stupid. Thank God we are in Europe. If we were in Asia they would have made me wear the veil ages ago, and you couldn’t see me.’ I gave in. Baku’s undecided geographical situation allowed me to go on looking into the most beautiful eyes in the world.”

So what are you waiting for? Order already!

You searchers are seriously lost

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Things people won’t find at my site, though they keep looking for them:

  • “Pictures of Kirsten Gum” — granted, they’re hard to find. I don’t like the brunette look on her, either
  • “fan club england dan john ford coley” — just because I smuggled a contraband girl into the Scotia-students-only free concert doesn’t mean I’m a fan
  • “words for Burl Ives messing about on the river” — simply because I opined that Burl Ives must die
  • “Schenectady Massacre images” — sorry, haven’t scanned those in yet.
  • “Finot pogo 8,5” — no idea. Really.

Lived to tell the tale

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For the past couple of days, everyone I know has been asking how I did in the Tour de Cure, and they’re asking with a certain level of concern in their voices. That’s because it was over 90 degrees, hazy, phenomenally humid, and there was a wicked headwind for the second half of the course. But in fact, I did fine. In fact, I had a really really nice time. I was sociable, chatted with other riders, rode with a couple of groups, and had a really nice time. The start was shaky, with lots of broken pavement and a water bottle that came flying at me, with nowhere to move in the pack, but after things thinned out it became quite nice. Kept running into the same group of people so we started talking along the way, took a few long rests together, rode together for a long time, and finished around the same time — which was impressive for me, since one of the guys was a fairly serious triathlete. Of course, he wasn’t really pushing it, but that’s not the point. My ego is just happy I finished just a little bit before he did. Also rode with a really nice, big guy in a SpongeBob SquarePants jersey, and learned the tremendous value of riding behind Magnus Backstedt or any of the other big men of the peloton — they’re fabulous pullers. Despite the 20mph headwind, I felt nice and rested when I was behind him. (Unfortunately, he had much more climbing ability than I had in that heat, so I’d get dropped on the hills and then pick him back up on the flats.) Anyway, a wonderful day despite the heat, and with the help of many of you folks and my phenomenally generous co-workers, we raised just a little under $1400 for the American Diabetes Association! Thanks once again.

Yesterday was spent on the Train Ride From Perdition. Not quite From Hell — I’ve suffered worse — but one of the slowest rides ever. Heat restrictions on the tracks, signal outages, all kinds of fun problems. I arrived in NYC an hour and a half late for a meeting, caught the last half hour, and turned around and came back — a little more quickly, but not much. Seven hours on Amtrak. That’s going to be much more fun when they discontinue food service later this summer — hours and hours stuck on an overheated train, waiting for relief, unable to get any food or water. Better start taking the Camelbak. (I know they’re losing money on it — but jeez, they gotta make something available. How about a couple of vending machines??)

This terrific heat wave has led me to finally give in to my long-suffering spouse (who, after all, works from home and has to sit in this overheated house all day) and buy an air conditioner. Of course, that’s a much easier decision to make when no such thing exists in the tri-city area. I could still find a fan, though not one that works. I brought home one of those little mist bottles with a battery-operated fan on top — it will just have to do.