Monthly Archives: November 2008

Musical Phases

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The Underground Garage’s decision to put Small Faces’ brilliant “Tin Soldier,” absolutely one of the top ten rock ‘n’ roll songs of all time, into its rotation, coupled with a project to digitize many of my tapes from the ’80s and the attendant further exposure to the band’s tremendous work caused me to declare at dinner last night that I am officially moving into a Small Faces Phase. When I had my first Small Faces Phase, something like 27 years ago, a certain roommate let it be known that she had really preferred my Raspberries phase. I couldn’t blame her, but it was a weird time in my life and the rough production, edgy noise and hard beat suited me perfectly at the time.

I announced this last night, and my wife replied that that was too bad, because she was about to get into a Rolling Stones Phase. Everyone around here, especially she, knows that I just had a Rolling Stones Phase, which has lasted for months. Nevertheless, she wanted it to continue.

So Rebekah suggested that that could be her Christmas present, that I should give my wife a Rolling Stones Phase for Christmas. Which isn’t a bad idea, when it comes right down to it.

In the meantime, it takes my children to inform me that one of my favorite songs of all time is referencing a Hans Christian Andersen fairytale. Listen, I just sing along.

End of the Season

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Couldn't move if the house were on fireSo this is how the season ends — not with a bang, but with a whimper. Not with a spate of bad weather, but with a week that was warm and pleasant but demanded I finish some aggressive yardwork I had embarked on (take that, dogwoods!), and then another week that would have been fine except for how incredibly sick I was, and then a weekend of Nutcracker craziness, and now cold and rain and malaise. Normally I like to get at least a symbolic ride in on Thanksgiving week, after which I’m willing to admit that I’m not likely to do anything serious on the road before St. Patrick’s Day – though there will always be those delicious thaws that demand at least a quick 20K. But it didn’t look like that was going to come together this week, and today it was so overwhelmingly wet that I didn’t even want to ride the garage, so I brought the rollers into the downstairs hall and rode the hallway for a quick 45 minutes.

Rollers are not a trainer, on which you bolt your bike and start some pedaling and watch some TV. Rollers demand balance, strength and a commitment to continuous pedaling, because there is no freewheeling on rollers. It’s not like being on the road, because you have to keep constantly pedaling in order to keep from falling over, but it does deliver a nice workout and helps to make your pedal stroke smooth as glass. Every bit of bad form shows up on the rollers, and the slightest twitch changes how your bike is balanced, so riding the rollers is a great way to learn to keep that upper body quiet, keep the legs in a smooth rhythm, and keep that line. But it’s still not the same as riding the road, so even with a couple of podcasts loaded up and ready to go, it’s hard to keep committed to pushing those pedals forward. But that’s what winter means around here, and unless I want to lose the absolutely spectacular form I enjoyed all summer long, the kind of form that laughed in the face of Taborton Road, that thought nothing of hot 50-milers to Galway, then I’d better get on those damn rollers and keep some legs over the winter months. Besides, St. Patrick’s Day is not that far away.


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Back in the days before texting, kids, we kept in touch by something called “postcard.” Piece of paper, picture on one side, room for a quick note on the other, and it cost a few cents less than a letter to send. In any year in the ’80s, I sent and received literally hundreds of postcards; I had a box of them that I carried to work so I could write out postcards at lunchtime. I kept a list of what cards I’d sent to whom. The picture didn’t matter, though the campier the better. It became a mania for me, and I ended up collecting hundreds more postcards than I could possibly use in a lifetime. And I kept every one of them. And last night I just got so tired of it all and went through Box 1 of 2 and tossed out 90 percent of them. Box 2 goes today. Time to move on with life.

The other way we communicated was the compilation tape, later called the mix tape. Making an excellent tape required a lot of thought, planning, records and free time, and once you got a good one, you copied it and shared it around as much as possible. Again, instead of studying or doing something productive, I made dozens of these things in my 20s. Having finally given up on the idea that all my old vinyl would make it into digital form, I decided that copies of the tapes, deteriorated as they may be, would be better than nothing at all, and would finally free me to move these otherwise unplayed tapes out of this house. (I mean, who else still has a tape player AND a minidisc deck as part of their main stereo setup? And neither one has been used in ages, at a time when my vinyl has been getting a major workout.) In the box with all those old postcards? At least two dozen cassette tapes, on their way to history. It was time.

The Nutcracker Blur

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The Nutcracker Blur came early this year, with the first performances over the weekend way out in the land of no cellphone service and, as it turned out, no landlines either. But a nice venue, one we hadn’t been to in a couple of years, and for the first time there was no blizzard, ice or other inclement weather during the hour ride (though plenty of deer on the road). The shows went off without major disasters (that I heard about — I didn’t watch. I’ve seen The Nutcracker), no one broke anything, and we’re on to the next.

This week. Oy. We’re hosting Thanksgiving, which means cleaning as well as cooking. I sorta started on the cleaning yesterday and got bogged down in one of those “in order to do this, I need to do that” projects, a major distraction that resulted in more chaos, not less. So today: Focus!

Back on my feet

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I might have guessed that the price to pay for hardly having been sick in well more than a year would be, eventually, a viral ass-whomping. Woke up Sunday morning thinking I was Sigourney Weaver, not in a good way. Something was in me and it had to come out. This was followed by fever, shakes, sweating, and about forty-eight hours of disturbed sleep. Un-fun.

Be entertained.

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What I’m reading, watching, hearing –


  • Eric Hobsbawm’s books. I started with “The Age of Extremes,” so it just made sense to work backwards through “The Age of Empire.” Accessible history that ties it all together from an economic perspective.
  • About to read Artie Lange’s “Too Fat To Fish.” How can I not?


  • TV: I couldn’t decide whether to get re-involved with “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles,” especially when my DVR missed the first couple of episodes of the season. Yesterday, recovering from the creeping crud, we had the time and inclination for some scripted television (a rarity these days) and got sucked right back in. They’re keeping it interesting and moving the story forward.
  • Movies: “Monster Thursday.” Or, in the original, “Monstertorsdag.” Listen, if you watch only one Norwegian surfer love triangle movie this year, make it this one. I watched it twice this weekend, and would happily watch it again. Sweet, complicated, interesting.
  • Tapes from the ’80s. I suddenly took it into my head to just convert my old compilation tapes from the ’80s and suck them into iTunes, which has brought the realization that there are a lot of songs I used to listen to regularly that I had all but forgotten about, and that The Vapors and Paul Collins’s Beat used to play a much bigger role in my music collection, and there were a lot more snippets by Art Linkletter and Lloyd Bridges (from an instructional record on scuba diving).
  • The Best of Bob & Ray, Vol. 1. A birthday present of their public radio show from the ’80s, when there was a major Bob & Ray renaissance and we all found out they were as great as we’d remembered.
  • The Rolling Stones. Suddenly, anything they did, but especially stuff I barely ever paid attention to before, like Beggar’s Banquet and the album cuts of Let It Bleed.

Things have changed . . .

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I’ve spent a few days wandering around downtown Schenectady in the last couple of years, capturing some of the changes to the streetscape that are overtaking decades of decay and indifference. Some buildings are getting facelifts, some have been replaced, but it finally feels like there’s some energy on State Street, like something’s happening. Even the old Woolworth’s building, a low and unglamorous box that replaced the Hotel Vendome in 1938, is getting a brand new brick facade, and with that and the replacement of most of the block east of Jay Street, the block or two that most of us consider to be Downtown will have undergone its biggest transformation since the Erie Canal was filled and businesses moved into what had been a residential neighborhood in the teens and twenties of the last century.

But all this wandering about hadn’t meant much wandering in until I met up with an old friend for lunch and chat last week and ended up inside two places I hadn’t been inside in a very long time.

The first was the old Schenectady Savings Bank building, once well known by their slogan “Where Clinton Crosses State.” It was a stately, fairly modern marble-fronted edifice, and the inside was always light, grand, and quiet. Banks then were temples of commerce, and bankers very much the movers and shakers of the community. There are still some places where this is true, but nationalization and globalization of banks have removed the sense of local community investment that bankers used to represent, and with it an important part of what made a community in the first place. Look back at historic articles touting the creation of a bank or savings association in a town, and how proud the town was to have achieved that level of progress, and you see a very different sense of what banks meant to a community.

At some point in the ’80s, Schenectady Savings became part of Northeast Savings, a Connecticut bank, and then it became something else, then it became not a savings bank, and now it’s part of Bank of America. The building and its annex were once the headquarters of a modest but prosperous local bank, with hundreds of employees. The annex now houses social services for the elderly, and the main bank lobby is absolutely unrecognizable as the place where I used to meet my mother after school. What had once been grand, airy, and lovely is now dark, pre-fab and efficient. The only thing that looked the same to me was the vault door — and as a child, I was often treated to trips to the vault, which was impossibly exciting and a little bit dangerous, there always being the fear of being locked in there (though I was assured the emergency phone worked and that there was an air supply). Banks used to display their vaults proudly, a sign of their security in a time when people thought of money as paper bills sitting in a locked box. That’s all changed.

Better, though, was a visit inside Aperitivo, the new(ish) restaurant just a couple of doors down from Proctor’s. Nothing inside would indicate that it was ever anything but the stylish, warm, delightful dining spot that it is today, but when I was growing up, the building housed Peggy’s Restaurant, an oldstyle lunch counter where my grandmother waitressed. There’s no formica anymore, no stools at a counter, no fresh fries in paper baskets. When I was a teen, one of my greatest moments of independence came when I was allowed to bike over the bridge to Peggy’s with some friends and buy lunch. It felt like the coolest, most grown-up thing in the world to sit at a restaurant, without any parents around, and order burgers, fries and Cokes.

But places like Peggy’s depended on a big clientele of downtown workers, the office workers at the bank, women on break from the department stores, local attorneys and insurance men. As all those jobs disappeared from downtown, so did the need for the lunch counter. And while the only clues to the past are some lovely photographs of historic Schenectady locations on the walls, I couldn’t help but feel good to be having a nice meal in an old downtown haunt again.

Peggy’s, by the way, could not have even come up with the idea of a pumpkin creme bruleé, or anything as good as the spicy chicken sandwich that Aperitivo served up. Change can be good.

My friend that day was taking a broader view, which you can find here.

Either I’ve taught them well. . .

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or I’ve messed them up for life. It’s a fine line. I was in a shop with Hannah yesterday, and we were looking at a book of sports records, which had a classic picture of Lance Armstrong in the maillot jaune on the cover. I asked her, “What’s wrong with that cover?” and without missing a beat, she said, “He’s wearing a Postal jersey. He set the record with Discovery, and it’s a book on breaking records.”

Precisely. Couldn’t be more proud. In fairness, he broke the record, with 6 wins, with Postal. But his record of 7 was set with Discovery Channel. We won’t be buying the book.