Monthly Archives: November 2005

A challenge

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To all of you who would doubt the sanity of someone who would pay for radio — even radio that is commercial-free, follows you from town to town, and flips the bird to the FCC — I ask you this:

When was the last time you heard Eddie Cochran’s “Skinny Jim” on the radio?

Trust me, you have never heard “Skinny Jim” on the radio.

I am so in love with the Underground Garage channel.

First tracks

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After spending what some sources estimate may have been as much as $4 million to outfit the girls for a new ski season (just about everything from base layer to bindings, plus the skis they are bound to, had to be replaced this year), we got out to Mount Snow yesterday, the earliest we’ve ever gotten out. While there weren’t many trails open, the ones that were were in fantastic shape. The skiing was just excellent, the sun was out, it was warm, and the mountain really wasn’t that busy. Ran into an old friend, one of the people who got me sucked into skiing, in the lodge and had a nice chat. Just a fantastic day all around. Plus, satellite radio for the ride out and back is magnificent, and gas prices are finally down to where a ski trip is manageable (our fuel-efficient car won’t carry all that gear through snowy mountain roads). Just a wonderful day all around.

Thankful I wasn’t a Pilgrim

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Of course, they called themselves “Saints,” not Pilgrims, but as it is Thanksgiving (and a snowy white one at that), I can’t resist sharing a little bit of Bill Bryson’s take on the most famous early colonists. From “Made In America,” ostensibly a book on American English, a couple of quick excerpts:

It would be difficult to imagine a group of people more ill-suited for a life in the wilderness. They packed as if they had misunderstood the purpose of the trip. They found room for sundials and candle snuffers, a drum, a trumpet and a complete history of Turkey. One William Mullins packed 126 pairs of shoes and thirteen pairs of boots. yet they failed to bring a single cow or horse, plow or fishing line. . . They were, in short, dangerously unprepared for the rigors ahead, and they demonstrated their incompetence in the most dramatic possible way: by dying in droves. . . .

Then one day in February a young brave of friendly mien approached a party of Pilgrims on a beach. His name was Samoset and he was a stranger in the region himself. But he had a friend named Tisquantum from the local Wampanoag tribe, to whom he introduced them. Samoset and Tisquantum became the Pilgrims’ fast friends. They showed them how to plant corn and catch wildfowl and helped them to establish friendly relations with the local sachem, or chief. Before long, as every schoolchild knows, the Pilgrims were thriving, and Indians and settlers were sitting down to a cordial Thanksgiving feast. Life was grand.

A question that naturally arises is how they managed this. Algonquian . . . is an extraordinarily complex and agglomerative tongue . . . clearly this was not a language you could pick up in a weekend and the Pilgrims were hardly gifted linguists. They weren’t even comfortable with Tisquantum’s name; they called him Squanto. The answer, surprisingly glossed over by most history books, is that the Pilgrims didn’t have to learn Algonquian for the happy and convenient reason that Samoset and Squanto spoke English — Samoset only a little, but Squanto with total assurance (and some Spanish into the bargain).

Perfection and agony

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First, perfection. You cannot believe how perfect The Underground Garage channel on Sirius satellite radio is. Produced by Little Steven (and believe me, I’m not an E Street fan), it’s like he broke into my house, stole my CDs, my vinyl and my wishlist and threw it all on the radio. Yardbirds, Modern Lovers, Laika and the Cosmonauts, The Ramones, The Beatles, The Stones, and even a Them song that isn’t “Gloria.” Are you kidding me? After searching for more than thirty years, I have found radio nirvana. This alone would be worth the price of admission.

Less perfect (though “agony” is overstating it)? Amateur night at the grocery store. I could barely get any of the things I needed because of the carts cluttering up the aisles, people dawdling over the simplest of choices, all the folks who just don’t belong there. Thanksgiving is not an excuse for ruining my special time in the grocery store. Never mess with a serious grocery shopper.

Whizzing electrons

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It’s not all death and chocolate chip cookies around here (though it’s plenty of that) — there is also computer and cultural geekery. On the computer front, I got tired of Photoshop and SoundStudio telling me “scratch disk full” and took the plunge to replace one of the Mac’s internal hard drives with bigger! shinier! faster! Took a 30GB and replaced it with a 120GB drive, which means I can stop pruning down my iTunes and iPhoto libraries, and could even store some GarageBand stuff if I liked. iPhoto has the annoying setup of copying all photos to its own library, so it will always waste copious amounts of space, but now I can afford to keep my pictures on my hard drive. So now that the G4 would have 180 gigs on it total, My 120 gig backup drive would be too small, so I got a honking big backup drive that’s physically smaller than my old one and can back up all three of our computers. That leaves me with a nice size removable that can be used just for moving records onto vinyl — wahoo! One more step in all this — put the old 30GB drive into the iMac, which will give the kids an extra 10GB to play around with. For some reason those old iMacs won’t see more than 30GB, so I can’t make it bigger.

Cultural geekery? I got satellite radio, baby. You heard me right: I’m a huge Howard Stern fan. However, I love having all the music channels, comedy, BBC World Service, and even some NPR programming at my fingertips. Yesterday, I listened to Little Steven’s Underground Garage channel all day, and never had to leap across the room to change the channel once (well, they gave me a remote, so the leap would not be necessary, but still). Anyone who can mix The Beatles, some Stones I’ve never heard, the Everly Brothers, Stiv Bator, Los Straitjackets and The Fleshtones completely gets where I’m coming from.

Further geekery? Went with the Girl Scouts to see the premiere of “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” last night. Thought it was excellent, just excellent — as all the movies have been — though the girls lamented things that had been left out, and I certainly could have done with a little more Fleur Delacroix myself. The movie was not even spoiled by the incessant talking by a father and son behind me who were broadcasting the name of every new character and place in the movie, and who made sure they lifted their voices above the soundtrack if it happened to get loud. Very thoughtful of them.

At my funeral

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Instructions for my immediate afterlife:

  • Donate my organs. Donate my body. Cremate me. You may not have an open casket, you may not embalm me. No one’s going to be standing over me commenting how natural I look. If you need a place to go and remember me, then get a plot and stick a stone over it (I’ve always thought of West Glenville Cemetery, up the road from my great great aunt’s old house, as my home cemetery, if you need to know — but I’ve biked through Albany Rural a lot, too). But no mausoleums or crematoriumsm — for some reason those just creep me out. Too modern. You want to spread the ashes? Go ahead — Hudson River, Mohawk River, Raquette Lake — wherever makes you feel best. I won’t care. I will be dead.
  • There will be no jive-ass preacher talking about heaven and hell. You religious folks can believe what you want to believe, and I’ll respect that. Say nice things about me, say nasty things about me, but don’t say I’m in a better place. The first person who says I’ve gone to live with Jesus will be poked with a stick. I have already appointed the stick-pokers; they know their duty.
  • People can say a few words if they want to. I always find that amazing; I would never have the strength to speak at the funeral of a loved one, but some people do. But there should not be a formal program. And there will be no leading people in prayer — this is a funeral, not a public school. Keep that stuff where it belongs.
  • Music should be eclectic, mixing my all-time favorites with some good, death-related songs. There will have to be Beatles, Elvis Costello, Ramones. Of course. For death-related, look to Zevon (“My Ride’s Here”), even Crash Test Dummies (“At My Funeral”). Don’t go too poignant, I don’t want people collapsing in a heap. Look to The Death Tape for some ideas, though it’s about 10 or more years old now. If I died in a car crash, Blotto’s brilliant “(My Baby’s the Star of a) Driver’s Ed Movie” is clearly out. You’ll have to play it by ear. As in life, death music has but one definite rule: no jazz. But no matter what, you must play The Fleshtones’ “Burning Hell” — ain’t no Heaven, ain’t no burning hell!
  • A funeral is a ceremony at which we gather to provide our support to the bereaved and remember that our time here is short and precious. A marathon is a running event that requires months of training, covers 26.2 miles, lasts for a few hours, and demands enormous effort. These two things should not be confused. There is no call for a marathon of grief. Get in, have a good time, then go back to the house for food and more music. Or just have it at the house to begin with.
  • Pictures of me are no doubt interesting at a time like this. But I’d like it if you’d also look at some of the pictures I’ve taken. I just love photography, and it has played a significant role in my life.
  • There should be ice cream. I think that goes without saying.
  • You think you’re sad? I’m the one who’s dead, pal.

Breaking hearts

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So, with the distance of nearly a week, I can start to catch my breath and deal with it all. First, I got to break my girls’ hearts last Tuesday by telling them their grandma had had a stroke (it happened on Monday, but we thought things were stable, and held off telling them until their mom was back from a trip). But she was lucid and able to speak, and we thought she was going to get better. Everything was pointing that way when she had a second stroke on Tuesday night. One of her daughters was already here and the other made a mad dash across the country. We had time with her, though it was really too late.

And so we came home to where the other grandma was dutifully taking care of the girls, and we waited until we had suffered a wretched sleep to wake them and break their hearts again.

She died on Wednesday night. For a number of reasons, the calling hours weren’t until Sunday, and the funeral on Monday, which left us with several days to try to fill with something other than grief. We went to see “The Legend of Zorro,” a completely over-the-top slice of cheese that was note-perfect for our moods. We also saw the new Warren Miller film, since we had planned on doing that this weekend anyway, and there was no reason not to lust after deep powder just because we were in mourning.

The calling hours, followed by another calling hour, a protracted service, and then a mercifully short burial, were nothing other than an endurance contest. A number of our friends and our daughters’ friends came to the calling hours to pay their respects, which was wonderful and really helped to lift the girls’ spirits. But in general the overall experience seemed designed to wring maximum grief from the already bereaved, coupled with an infomercial for a religious product already possessed by those who wanted it and not at all desired by those who don’t. The girls skipped the service and joined us at the cemetery. It was bright, sunny, warm (60s) and lovely, probably the last beautiful day of the season.

I started with death too young, I think, and had too many losses in my teen years not to have been pretty messed up by the whole experience. My father died when I was 25, and I don’t think I’ve gotten over that yet. Still, the last 20 years have been kind enough — I lost three grandparents in fairly short order, but that just seemed the nature of things. I was sorry my children wouldn’t grow up with them, but I had never expected them to. But I never understood what it would be to see grief through my children’s eyes — to have to tell them they had lost someone who (as much as she drove me crazy) was wonderful with them, who connected them to a time gone by, who taught them the things that grandmothers teach — I never knew that having to deliver that pain to them could be such an awful grief itself, that I could feel their pain so acutely. It was worse than the loss itself.

But they are lovely, strong, graceful creatures, and while they feel it acutely, I know they will grow from it. Rebekah has been expressing it in writing — she posted little stickie notes (on Blue’s Clues pawprints she found somewhere) around the house that offered hugs and love to anyone who might need one. She also typed up a chronology of what happened, a very matter-of-fact account that must have helped her somehow. Hannah has had her own way of dealing with it, pulling her beloved Grandma Navee Bear, a crocheted bear Grandma made her, close to her. They’ve both asked questions and offered thoughts and, like all of us, cried a lot.

My mom reminded me of something I’d completely forgotten. When my friends’ father died, too young, when I was 15, after the funeral we went to the house and took his undershirts and tie-dyed them, and for a couple of years afterward we all had these reminders of him to wear. It touched my heart to think of what a sweet gesture that was, and I was so glad to have her remind me of it after all these years.

Broken hearts

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This week I had to break my little girls’ hearts and tell them that their grandmother died. She was the kind of grandmother they don’t make anymore, baking bread and sewing clothes with the girls in between her trips around the world. It was quite unexpected and has made for a very difficult week for everyone. There is much crying, and there will be for a while, and there should be. At the same time, there is yard work to be done and roads in the Helderbergs to be climbed. Life goes on, just a little harder.