Monthly Archives: March 2006

No more chocolate mice

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No more chocolate miceThere were chocolate mice in these wrappers. Delicious, excellent, perfect chocolate mice, with little almond cakes tucked inside. So very very good. But they didn’t last long enough to be photographed.

My advice? Visit the new Villa Italia in Schenectady. On Broadway, just south of the big parking garage.

Music notes

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1) I’ve written about this before, but isn’t it odd that I can sing some old rock ‘n’ roll chestnut in the car, and my daughters will sing along, too, knowing every word? That just wasn’t the musical relationship I had with my parents. Tonight, we sat in the driveway for the last six minutes or so of “American Pie,” bellowing along. I know “American Pie” can’t mean to them what it means to me — though I’ve explained to them who he was singing about and what it meant, it’s got to be pretty abstract. And it didn’t even really mean that to me — the song came out in 1971, became a monstrous hit in 1972 despite its eight and a half minute playing time. But at the age of 11, I could hardly feel for the loss of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, or the Big Bopper. I knew who they were, I knew their songs, but they were barely relevant by the early ’70s. Interesting to a kid just discovering rock ‘n’ roll, but nothing to weep over.

But the song did mean something else. For starters, it had hints of a darker world — not a lot of pop songs at the time mentioned drinking whiskey and Satan laughing with delight. For another, it had hints of a fascinating, more adult world: “I know that you’re in love with him / ‘Cause I saw you dancing in the gym / You both kicked off your shoes . . . .” Somehow that line seemed imbued with all the mysteries of teen and grownup romance, something just a little way off for me at the time, but fascinating. What kind of passion on the dance floor could cause a girl to kick off her shoes? I was dying to find out. And then, of course, there was the pure joy of trying to decode the song (please — Jerry Lee Lewis was so The Jester).

In addition, when it was a big hit, it was playing everywhere, all the time. We were on a Boy Scout trip to Lake Placid in the winter, and at the high school there had been a snow sculpture contest. One of the entries was a giant slice of pie, colored red, white and blue. I had never seen anything like it, and it really resonated with me, locking that song forever into a particular moment in time. I can’t walk by the Methodist Church in Lake Placid, where we slept on the floor of the church hall, without thinking of those weekends with my friends and their fathers, and I can’t walk by the speed skating oval in front of the high school without seeing that giant slice of American pie in my mind.

2) Does the world ever run out of groups and singers that sold more records than The Beatles, but which you’ve never heard of? In a thread on a site I contribute to, someone asked who had done “Pictures of Matchstick Men,” and as that’s the kind of question that I actually get up in the morning just to answer, I was quick to answer, “Status Quo.” But I wanted to be sure there wasn’t an extraneous “The” on their name, and so I did a quick search, and found that at the BBC, at least, Status Quo have not been forgotten. Then I was faced with the fact, according to the BBC, that “the band have sold over 100 million albums, and notched up 50 British hits (more than any other band, ever!)” Well, if that’s true, don’t you think we would have heard of them? I know not everything crosses the pond, but you’re telling me that a group whose only US hit charted in 1968 has had more hits in the UK than anyone else? Hard, I say, hard to believe.

Erroneous assumptions

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A reasonable person, upon arriving home to find little flags in the lawn, utility marker paint all over the street, and a town crew busily digging up the next intersection down the street, could conclude that the fact that we had no internet/phone/cable had some sort of relation to the work of this town water crew. That cable is not buried but in fact carried overhead concerned me not, for it would be easy to catch an overhead cable with a backhoe. For those of used to getting our entertainment from the web in the evenings, it was excruciating. I cannot quit any time I want, I’ll now admit it — if that means I never have to go without the internet for an entire evening again. In addition, this eggs-in-one-basket approach’s already obvious limitations became appreciately more obvious when all our communication utilities went out at once. (The week before, we had lost two out of three — modem trouble, they said.)

But it turns out that the old blame-the-town-workers gambit, a cheap and effective tool for most situations in the neighborhood, could not have been more wrong in this instance. In fact, in some way that has not been clearly explained, the catastrophic loss of the last major business and community center in Cohoes, the Golden Krust Bakery, in an awful fire yesterday afternoon was somehow the reason for our loss of cable service. (Cohoes, by the way, is 10 miles away, and on the other side of the river.) And service actually came back up before the night was out. Alone among my utilities, I give mad props to Time Warner for super-excellent service — when you call, you talk to human beings. When they can’t fix it over the phone, they send someone out. Who fixes it. The first time. I love them. (That’s how bad the state of consumer affairs has gotten — that the level of service that we used to consider a bare minimum is now the shining example which no other companies will care to follow.)

So we had a long evening with only satellite radio and books to entertain us. We’ve grown accustomed, of late, to having the TV on with the sound off, while listening to Howard Stern on satellite. It’s perfect — a picture of something moving, don’t much care what, combined with the funniest show on the radio. Perfect. But I finally finished “Hoot,” the first of Hiaasen’s young adult-oriented books (read the second one, “Flush,” first — both great), and am now on to something I picked up over the weekend, “The Brief History of the Dead.” Hope it’s good.

Thoughts for a transition

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“I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don’t want to do that.”

— Lloyd Dobler, “Say Anything”


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Overheard at a 13-year-old’s birthday party:

“You just dropped the f-bomb in front of a 9-year-old!” “It’s from a movie!”

“A moment of sushi! I need a moment of sushi!”

“Oh, my god, I married a hamster!”

“The problem with making yourself burp so much is then you can’t control it!”

“Homosexual!!” “You guys are gonna have to move to Massachusetts!”

“How do we know that Canada is real? Canada might be a mere illusion!”

Oh my god, there’s a teenager in my house.


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Long week in New York. Stayed way the hell downtown in some almost renovated boutique hotel, trendy as all get-out. Or it will be when they get the walls on in the lobby. This is good, in the sense that trendy boutique hotels have futons instead of beds, which are hundreds of times more comfortable to me. This is also bad, in the sense that trendy boutique hotels have “lighting schemes,” meaning they are dark. Dark walls, dark furnishings, and strategically placed pinpoint lights that illuminate nothing. Dark. I hate dark. I was also blessed with a view of an airshaft (and an interesting semi-outdoor staircase that served the hotel), and there was no indication of the sky’s temperament from where I was looking. In addition, it was, like all New York City hotel rooms, immensely overheated and, if one tried to open the windows to let some cool air in, too loud to sleep. Not street noise — way too far down in the financial district for that; in fact, the place was scary dead at night — but the hum of the adjoining building’s HVAC and wind in the airshaft.

So, what I’m saying is that I haven’t slept in days. But it was nice to see some different parts of the city. Got some photos, nothing spectacular — it was wicked windy, which always makes shooting a challenge. I did finally break down and go to B&H Photo, however, and man was that a mistake — mercifully, I had a plan and stuck to it. Otherwise, I’m sure I’d have come out with one of everything they had. And they had everything a photographer could want. Very odd set-up completely aimed at the constant up-sell, but if you can get over that, you can deal with it.

I actually haven’t set foot in a New York City photo store in more than twenty years. On one of our first visits down there, long long ago, I had broken a skylight filter and dared to venture into one of the big photo stores to get a replacement. I told the guy what I needed and he asked to see my camera . . . next thing I knew, he had yanked off my lens, slammed it down on the counter, and was wrestling some kind of fish-eye attachment onto my camera body. And it wouldn’t go on because it wasn’t the right kind of mount and I didn’t want him to do that anyway, so I retrieved my lens and snatched my precious camera back from him and stomped on out without the filter I needed, never to return to an NYC photo store again.

Pretty sure that was the same trip where we got kicked outta the Chrysler Building. I’ve since learned the importance of wearing a suit if you want to get into places you’re not supposed to be in.

The Markers Speak

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The Markers SpeakSaturday was just an incredibly beautiful day, and I had been determined that on the first sunny day I was going to get over to Schenectady (The City That Used to Light and Haul the World) and wander around the Stockade getting pictures of all the historical markers that are scattered all over. These markers were put up by the State Education Department (apparently mostly in 1932) and are as much a part of the landscape as the buildings themselves. Brief, descriptive, sometimes fallacious, but they put the modern world into a context and say that history happened here. I love them beyond reason. Rebekah wanted to join me on this little photographic expedition, so we had a delightful afternoon wandering around the Stockade together while she learned to use the old camera. We had some great conversations about old buildings, floods, the ghost of the dog on the stoop of Arthur’s, and everything else. Got some great pictures, too, which I’m still uploading — click the picture for the markers, the others will be sprinkled around them in my photostream. Then we had a late afternoon snack in the cafĂ© that has taken over the old Arthur’s Market, where some form of grocery store had operated since 1795. Now it’s a beautiful sort of espresso and panini place with a killer triple chocolate brownie, though I must say the service would have to come up a few levels to reach indifferent. It still seems to be something of the neighborhood gathering place that Arthur’s was, something very rare in our local cities.

Also got in a short bike ride on Saturday, just enough to say I’d been out. A friend told me last fall that the rollers would make my stroke smooth as glass, and he was right — I could really feel the difference out on the road. On the rollers, every hitch, every inefficiency is felt and challenges your balance, so you try to get rid of them, and it really pays off in efficiency on the road. I rode into some housing developments in North Greenbush that I didn’t even know existed — zero-lot-line condos and apartments as far as the eye could see. Quite unlovely. Remind me not to go back.

Lazy linkage

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I have very little to say other than that I’m getting out on the bike today — earliest road ride ever — but I just had to share these interesting and bizarre links I tripped across this week:

Some days, the past rings your bell

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One of the odd and interesting things about living in pretty much the same area as where you grew up is that you never know when a name from the past will pop up, and you never know in what context. I was off in another part of the state during my 20s, but had friends here who could keep me up to date on who was in the police blotter, who was getting married, who had finally left Scotia, etc. When I moved back here, I developed the habit of looking at the obituaries, because every now and then someone I knew from the hometown would pop up — a parent of someone I went to school with, someone whose lawn I had cut or windows I had washed, a second-grade teacher from my elementary school. (One of the oddest things, especially with the teachers, was that they were now dying only in their 70s and 80s, when they had seemed to my young eyes to have been at least a hundred years old back then.)

And what’s odd is how sometimes that news can really wrench me back in time. Just a couple of years ago, the father of the kids I grew up across the street from died. It seemed like everyone who lived or ever had lived in Scotia showed up for that funeral — it was the closest thing to a reunion of the kids I grew up with that I’ve ever been to.

And then this weekend came the news that Dick Fyvie died in a fire in his home. As a teenage boy growing up in a small village, we knew the names of all the police — it was just considered required knowledge. But Dick Fyvie would have been the only one I could still have remembered today. It seems incredible that he could only have been 65 (in fact my mother was shocked to learn he was younger than she by a year). He was one of those guys who just seemed to always be everywhere in the community, both on the job and off. Everybody knew him. And as a policeman, he was the model of what a village cop should be — firm, fair, and reasonable. We weren’t the kinds of kids who got into any real trouble — there were some old ladies who liked to call the cops on us because they thought we were harassing “their” raccoons, for instance — but whenever we had to deal with him, we knew we were going to be listened to and treated fairly. Thinking about him again really took me back to those long summer nights, teenage boys on bicycles looking for something to do, moving from the corner store up to school yard, over to somebody’s porch, up to the park — just staying on the move, keeping out of trouble, kinda wishing there would be some. And the police car coming through every now and then, just keeping an eye out.

The world we grew up in — a place where it was considered safe and fine for kids to wander free throughout the town — that doesn’t exist anymore. And I’m sorry to mark the passing of one of the people who was a part of it.