Monthly Archives: July 2008

A good shellacking

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Ask any competent home repair professional to come in and shellac your floors, and he’ll probably look at you like you have two heads, mutter something as he walks off to his van, and never be seen again. Luckily for us, I’m no competent professional. This old house’s hardwood floors were originally finished in shellac, and though some nincompoop (probably a competent professional) put a poly coating on top in some places, on the whole the floors have been untouched and have that wonderful amber glow that oak floors are supposed to have. Elder daughter is away for a week and wanted her room painted, but once I took a hard look at the hard floor, I knew I’d have to do it the hard way. She’ll be lucky if I’ve finished painting the walls by the time she gets back, but her floor will have been hand-sanded and lovingly coated with the secretions of the lac beetle. Unlike polyurethanes, shellac is a natural product, isn’t toxic, produces far fewer fumes, and dries to the touch in about an hour, not a day. You can patch a spot easily, and it’s plenty hard for floors. Thanks, lac beetle!

Rains, pours, etc.

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I never cared for the adage “it never rains but it pours,” as the antiquated use of “but” caused me endless confusion as a youth and I was unable to make sense of the sentence. Not the kind of question I’d go running to my parents with. But now I know the meaning, and it’s especially apt for those of us who live in the Northeast, where a year’s worth of outdoor activity gets crammed into a couple of months, and there’s simply too much to do in the summer. And, more literally, it’s been raining a lot, but you really can’t let that stop you from getting out and about or before you know it the kids are back in school, Nutcracker rehearsals are up and running, and you can’t do anything.

Free concerts dominated the weekend — Cowboy Junkies at the Plaza, amazing as always, though playing in the open there was no roof for them to blow off. They were preceded by The Mother Truckers, whose sizzlin’ rocker “Streets of Atlanta” had caught my attention on the Underground Garage, and their show was lots of fun. Momentary rain toward the end of the Junkies’ set, but it passed and the show went on. They’re releasing a complete remake of their first big album, The Trinity Sessions, called Trinity Revisited, which excites me and confuses me in equal measure, since the Natalie Merchant involvement strikes me as very odd, but check out a preview yourself at their website.

Then last night, a free Aimee Mann show in Washington Park. There was a well-timed downpour after the opening act, but once they got the West Side Story set dried up (lots of anxious shop-vaccing) she came out and put on her usual great show. (Note to idiot in the audience: please stop shouting out “Voices!” It’s tedious.)

Upside to outdoor shows: well, you’re outside on a pleasant summer evening. Downside: smokers. I suppose it says something that if about 1 in 50 people is smoking, it’s an annoyance and nothing like it used to be — but it’s still an annoyance or worse when the air isn’t moving, and somehow a set of hipsters and their very busy cellphones and cigarettes ended up in front of us even though we moved to get away from them. Too hip to actually watch the show (the downside of a free show) or to get cancer, but not too hip to share their endless smoke with us. Thanks, dudes!

That made three concerts within a few weeks, so we’re probably done for the year. See ya next summer, live music!

Let’s go shopping

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It’s bizarre what one can develop nostalgia for, and sometimes it’s for things you didn’t even know existed. Once upon a time, before what Bill Griffith aptly called “the rock-n-rollization of everything,” grocery and department stores would no more have thought of playing rock music on the loudspeakers than you would think of inviting Amy Winehouse to your family reunion. Now that every store blasts some level of rock — and the “edgier” the fashion store, the more obnoxious the music, and there are plenty of stores I just won’t enter because who needs the headache? — it seems inconceivable, but there was a time when even a hint of contemporary music would have sent old ladies screaming to the management. By the time I worked in a grocery store in the late ’70s, things had progressed to the point where we played what was called “easy listening,” which mixed bland instrumentals with some of the less peppy Carpenters songs, making up a mind-paste that could only be countered by young stockboys keeping an ongoing, much-more-rocking inner soundtrack going at all times, turned up as loud as the brain could make it. (No, kids, we didn’t have iPods. Or even Walkmans.) But if the radio dial strayed for even a moment into somewhat rockier territory, the bluehairs would scatter from the store like mice before the broom.

But even easy listening was a huge concession to the guitar-and-drums revolution, and it took a long time for stores to go there. For the most part, there was a thing called Muzak, which took standards and popular songs from 20 years before, set them to strings, and sweetened the living hell out of them. To anyone with any sort of musical taste, this was evidence of the existence of evil. This kind of music was poured from every corner of every store, seeping into your brain, ultimately beating you into a spending-ready submission. There’s really nothing quite like it any more — even if you were to dig up some old Mantovani or Ferrante and Teicher 8-tracks, you wouldn’t quite capture the exquisite awfulness of this variety of music.

But now there’s the internet, the final triumph of zombie culture where nothing ever really dies. And for every 100 anonymous rotting zombies seeking brains, there’s one that lights the flicker of recognition in your eyes: Hey, I KNOW this one! And so I give you something I thought I would never hear again — official music from Kresge’s Department Store (the forerunner to KMart), 1964. I dare you not to listen. By the way, the rest of the site contains many nice links to legal, free online music sources.

So while we’re traveling down retail memory lane, I highly recommend a visit to the geeky retail graveyard,, on whose message boards people like me with long memories and nothing else to do post fond memories of what stores used to be where, debate whether a particular store closed in 1974 or 1976, and generally contribute to the culture.

Havin’ a Wild Weekend

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As the Dave Clark Five would have said. Too much weekend, and it even ended early. Highlights:

  • An afternoon spent at younger daughter’s archaeology camp, which was digging at the Ten Broeck Mansion, a lovely (though relatively new — 1798) historic home on what was once the outer edge of Albany.
  • A troll — yes, like those trolls from the ’60s — showed up during the regular cleaning of the unneeded toys last week, and spent the weekend turning up in unexpected places: in sleeping bags, on the dashboard, inside pants. He’s now resting above our bathroom mirror.
  • The girls recited, from memory, ALL the lyrics to Bob Dylan’s “Tombstone Blues.” Now, I knew me some lyrics in my day, that really — that’s an impressive feat.
  • Camping trip without destructive storms. Well, that’s not entirely true, but all the destruction happened at home, where power was apparently out for hours and limbs were down all over the place. We were happily in our tent, just sitting out the rain.
  • There was paddling, there were s’mores, we made a sand dinosaur — what more do you need?
  • Of course, we missed two stages of the Tour — critical stages — so when we got back yesterday we sat down hard for a three-stage Tour de France marathon. It hurt to watch Cadel Evans, in yellow and without a team, attacked over and over and over again on the Prato Nevoso. He lost it but perhaps not forever, and Vandevelde lost his third-place spot, too. But there are two more days in the mountains and a time trial.
  • Had I mentioned that if he wins, I’m changing my name to Cadel? Not because he’s an awesome rider, though well he may be, but because he has the same crease between his eyebrows and I just like his name better.

Apple, tree, not falling far from

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We were watching the Tour de France last night (duh), and as the peloton rode through some sort of nature preserve with thousands of ponds (and a beautiful sight it was, too), the riders stopped in droves along the road for what is called a “nature break.” The cameras lingered on this action longer than they usually do, too, so there was no mistaking what was going on. Eldest daughter suddenly pipes up, “Hey! I don’t swim in your chamois, don’t pee in my pond!”

See you on the Champs Elysees

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The Tour de France has begun. Kids, you’ll have to get your own meals for a while. It’s not that your parents don’t love you, it’s that we love the Tour more. And there won’t be any Playstation for the forseeable future. There’s a box of dominoes up in the art room, and some Lincoln Logs out on the porch. See what you can do with those.

Got any idea?

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Got any idea what banana bread tastes like when you accidentally make it with a pumpkin bread recipe, and find out too late for any but the tiniest remedial action?

Me either. But I’ll find out in about an hour.

Update: delicious.

Recipe: 1-3/4 cups sifted flour, 2-1/4 tsp. baking powder, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, 1/4 tsp. ground cloves. Separately mix 1-1/3 cups sugar, 1/3 cup shortening, 2 eggs. Add in 1-1/4 cups mashed banana (2-3 bananas). Might want to go lighter on the cloves. Bake for an hour at 350. It’s perfect, trust me.

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