Author Archives: Carl

Missionary positions

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This has been bugging me for months, or perhaps years, but a couple of overly well-dressed, overly pleasant Jehovah’s Witnesses showed up at my door this fall and set me off on a slow burn. When I was younger and stupider, I would actually try to engage these people and get them to understand the ridiculousness of their mission, which attempt was precisely as futile as their mission to bring me the word of the lord. Eventually, I understood this and learned to just say no. Through much experimentation, I have settled on, “I have my own religion and I’m not interested in yours, thank you” and firmly shutting the door. But if I were part of their religion, would I really want to be out signing up people who have not given life, death, and the existence of G(g)od more than a passing thought until the day someone shows up at their door in their convert-the-heathens clothes? Who would want to be part of such a church?
We are faithless. At least, I am. I was raised with a mix of Catholic and Methodist ideas, and despite quite a number of attempts, I never believed in any of it. It’s a bit of a challenge to explain various religious issues and ideas to the girls when we don’t have that simple base of comparison to rely on. We can’t just say, “Well, the Jews believe x, but we believe y.” The best approach I can take is just to inform them as best I can as questions come up, and know that someday they’ll figure out what they believe on their own.
And I’m hoping to God they don’t figure it out because some well-meaning half-wit comes knocking at their door…

It’s alive!!

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Or damn close to it. After many months (“many” being measured in the dozens, at this point) of promises, my site with information on rollerblading paths in the Capital District and beyond is up and ready for the critics. Be gentle.
I had a few hits on the page last week, and it ticked me off that I had never gotten that information up, and there isn’t any other area resource for this info, so, here it is.
Tucked in some links to other places I’ve skated, too. More to come, as they say.

By the way,

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I was right about The Hives. They do rock. The White Stripes do not. Dissent from this viewpoint will not be tolerated.


While trying to avoid the same commercials over and over during the “No Boundaries” marathon yesterday, I kept flipping over to VH1 Classic for snippets of old videos from the ’70s and ’80s that alternatively gave me a warm fuzzy (I mean, c’mon, A Flock of Seagulls’ “Space Age Love Song” did not suck) or filled me with revulsion (any song even vaguely associated with the movie “Footloose,” for example). Sometimes they cheated, showing a Meat Loaf Storytellers clip from a couple of years ago but plunking it down in the ’70s show. Yes, he was singing a song from the ’70s, I know. But really. Some elements of my musical purism remain, even though it’s been years since I had the luxury of fading down the stereo instead of just turning it off.


At some point over the weekend, I also stumbled upon something that was hypnotic and terrifying. It was called “Brian Wilson Presents Pet Sounds Live,” and featured odd, grainy black-and-white and primitive color footage of beach and surfing scenes overlain with what was apparently the Brian Wilson of today trying to sing his songs of 36 years ago. I know he’s had a hard life, but there was really no excuse. I was afraid the kids would hear his geriatric version of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and go running from the room. Judging by some of the reviews of this I just Googled up, others did not feel as I did. Those others would be wrong.

The absurdity of the Google

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In addition to a visitor from Singapore who found the blog, I have now been Googled by someone who was searching the phrase “she’s too tall”. I made that remark in reference to my 6-year-old’s major academic challenge, but it turns out to have been the title of a movie, and I’m hoping that’s what someone was looking for. But having seen just a snippet of my site with those words in it, that brave soul decided to come on in and see what was going on. It warms the cockles, it does. I’d say it seems odd, but I do the same thing — it’s the side searches that are more interesting than what I was actually looking for. For a while, I mourned the loss of the library card catalogs, and not just because I loved the scent of oak and manila card stock, but because I often found things by accident that were more interesting than what I was actually looking for. In fact, my willingness to be so diverted may explain much of my academic career. But the ability to browse was powerful. For a long time, the computerized library catalogs that replaced the old cards were hyper-efficient, delivering pretty much only what you were looking for, and sometimes barely even that, and the delightful chance encounter was lost. In libraries with closed stacks, that effectively meant the end of browsing.
But now there’s the web, and Google, and the likelihood is that you’ll find exactly what you’re searching for, and you’ll probably find something else interesting, too. Or at least I’m hoping that someone looking for information on a movie thinks the academic challenges of my first-grader are interesting. At least more interesting than a movie whose best-known stars were Corey Feldman and Brigitte Nielsen.
You just know that’s going to generate even more Googling….

Another 7 years and we’ll know what to call the decade…

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To folks who have stumbled on this site and seem to actually be reading it over and over and over again, thanks. But fair warning: I don’t post every day. Usually not even close. And some days I’ll post 3 or 4 things. I lack the commitment and prolificness (prolificy? or just plain prolix?) of a Lileks. But what I lack in prolix, I make up in oversized digital pictures. Sometimes.
Lee was still sick on New Year’s Eve (is still sick, still, in fact), so no First Night for us. We had a family party at home — Hannah and I made pizza, we watched Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (first time the kids had seen it — Rebekah, as usual, was terrified, then begged to see it again the next day), and then we had ice cream sundaes with homemade whipped cream. Homemade whipped cream rules (not that I would ever eat the stuff from a can). I got two new mixers for Christmas, as the old one, my mother’s avocado hand-me-down from about 1970, had finally bitten the dust. I’m sure if I just put new brushes on the motor it would have been good as new, but the economy doesn’t roll with 50-cent brushes and who has the time to tear down motors anymore? Anyway, a very pleasant New Year’s Eve. Oddly, there were fireworks somewhere in town, and a big party up the street, so midnight was quite noisy for the first time I could recall. Kids slept right through it though. New Year’s Day was supremely lazy. Should have done a ton of laundry but didn’t. Mostly spent the day goofing around and watching snatches of the “No Boundaries” marathon on OLN.
2002 was a pretty good year, despite the difficulty of the first few months and all the WTC work. Lee got into skiing and had a good time, and started biking with the girls, too. Rebekah learned to ski and ride a bike, and suddenly blossomed in her reading. Hannah continues to blossom on her way to the angry-pre-teen years — she got a 7-speed bike with hand brakes and can now ride along with me for miles, which is very cool. We saw the ocean at Chincoteague and boiled in Lake Ontario, hiked up the stairs at Whiteface, and oohed and aahed under the balloons at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. We saw ski jumping on the Fourth of July (2nd year in a row), camped out with friends, visited cemeteries and hiked around lakes. The girls were fabulous and incredibly smart in responding to Lee’s accident. We kept emergency room visits down to two (about average, I think), but they were doozies — anaphylactic shock and a broken arm. I ran a faster 5k and got my first new bike in 20 years, and love biking again. At work, I didn’t get to travel much (bye-bye, Silver Preferred Frequent Flyer status), but I did a number of morning runs on the National Mall in DC, skated around the bay in San Diego, and enjoyed some lovely nights in New York. Also, I got a bill signed into law by a president, which still feels pretty cool.
Changes at work, people leaving, uncertainty and tension and opportunity with our budget problems, so the next couple of months will be difficult, but that’s what comes with being the man. Damn the man!

Top 10:

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  1. The Jam Compact Snap One of those discs that disappears from the rotation for a year or two and then suddenly I need to hear it over and over. “A Town Called Malice” was put to appropriate use in the movie “Billy Elliott” — it’s almost impossible to listen to without beating out the drums on the steering wheel and bop-bop-bopping along. The whole disc still sounds fresh after all these years, when some of the quirkiness of the other British Reinvasion groups (say, XTC) has worn thin. Could be that whomping bass.
  2. Sledding with the girls: took two blow-up tubes, one little blow-up “Swiss Luge”, an old-fashioned, hard-bottomed flying saucer and the toboggan over to the golf course in Delmar yesterday and had a couple hours of screaming fun. They wore their ski helmets, which may have made them the dorks of the hill, but at least we didn’t have to bring it all to a crying halt after one of them took a header. My old Adirondack toboggan, circa 1974, is still the fast and furious of the sledding hill, by the way, and I took a certain uncharitable delight in the failure of some yuppie parents to get their runnered baby sled to work for little whatever-her-name-was. Runnered sleds are for Christmas catalogs, NOT FOR ACTUAL USE. Pay attention, people.
  3. Gaudi Afternoon — a completely unnoticed movie with Judy Davis, Marcia Gay Harden, and Lili Taylor, directed by Susan Seidelman. A complete hoot set in Barcelona with a backdrop of Gaudi’s architecture. Funny, interesting, fast-paced. The Spanish and/or Catalan isn’t subtitled, but it doesn’t need to be. There’s even a bizarre magic act with erotic overtones that made me wish Seidelman had had the self-reference to put Steven Wright in the audience (see “Desperately Seeking Susan”).
  4. Tony Hawk Pro Skater 4 for Playstation 2 — please. Unlike THPS2 for Mac, you don’t have to keep on restarting the game, you just pick up timed challenges when you feel like it and freeskate the rest of the time. Plus, many more songs, though I’m sure after a while I’ll get tired of these, too. Hannah thinks that my character’s top hat is the reason he’s skating so poorly….
  5. Ofoto.com — Really, it’s a dead heat with Snapfish.com, but the point is I love digital photography, I love being able to play with my pictures in Photoshop and clean them up and/or mess them up, and I love inexpensive prints that I don’t have to send back because some lab-monkey didn’t bother to blow the dust off the negative. Spent the weekend getting a bunch of Thanksgiving photos cleaned up, cropped and ready for printing.
  6. Nick Tosches. Loved “Where Dead Voices Gather.” Loved “Dino.” Now I’m reading the most unlikely thing I can imagine myself reading, “Trinities,” a Mafia/Chinese gangwar novel about the heroin trade. Too much exposition in places, but damn his writing is crisp.
  7. OLN TV — okay, so maybe there’s much more duckhunting than I really need to see, but there’s also “No Boundaries,” bicycle racing, kayak competitions and things you just don’t get anywhere else. But really, guys — if I want to see duckhunting, I’ll dig out my Chuck Jones cartoons.
  8. Random blogs — The nature of the web has changed back to what it started out as, narrowcasting of personal messages that somehow connect. On any given day, scouting through blogdom, you can find a message that you somehow relate to that hasn’t been filtered through the profit motive by a corporate asshole.
  9. The Interregnum — there is a short period of my life, just about to end, when there are no Nutcracker rehearsals, no ballet lessons, no swim lessons, no ski lessons, and no real work obligations. The house is a Christmasy disaster, there is too much food, a leaking faucet untended, chores that have to get done if we’re ever going to build a new bedroom for Rebekah, but for right now, it’s just time to lie about in it and rest.
  10. St. Helena Olive Oil. To die for. So good you want to drink it. Really.

One birthday remembered

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I’m not good with birthdays. Beyond my immediate family, I’m pretty hopeless. Even if I remember what day they fall on, I’m unlikely to think of them around that time. But for some reason I have always remembered my great grandmother’s birthday, which is today. It would be Grandma Hazel Smith’s 108th birthday. As it happens, she made it to 102. In Hazel’s last 10 years her health was strong but Alzheimer’s had taken her, unfortunately, and she spent most of her days waiting for her husband Ernie to come and get her. Ernie, who had been dead since 1963. She was a sweet woman who baked a great apple pie. She stayed tight with her sisters, most of them, all her life, though there was some kind of a feud with her sister Mamie that rose to the level of being mentioned in Mamie’s will. (My mother thinks Hazel stole Ernie away from Mamie. I guess we’ll never know.) Ruth and Helen and Hazel spent the summers up at their houses in West Glenville, and Margaret was down in Scotia, and they saw each other all the time.
They were an interesting group. They didn’t come from any money — their father was the town tinker and the town drunk. Helen, who took care of me and my sister when we were young, had a flamboyant affair with a married insurance agent who gave her some property that helped her get by. In the midst of the depression, she was able to lend a considerable sum of money to Hazel and Ernie, which they secured with everything they had, including farm equipment, an old car and 60 chickens. In addition to a rooming house in Schenectady, Helen somehow managed to get a summer house in West Glenville, just up the road from where she’d grown up. Margaret, similarly, had a lifelong boyfriend, and she worked at the Wallace’s Department Store downtown and had a two-family house in Scotia, where she rented out the upper floor. I know that Ruth had worked and somehow she had the family house on Waters Road in West Glenville, but what she got by on is a mystery. Hazel was the traditionalist of those four, in the sense that she married a man who supported her. Ernie had various ventures in his life, but mostly it centered on subsistence farming and carpentry. He died from an accidental overdose of blood-thinning medication, and after that Hazel went to live with her daughter, Thelma, but spent her summers mostly up at Helen’s house in West Glenville.
All these labors and intrigues, ways of living and relationships, arguments so important they lasted a lifetime — all viewed dimly through second-hand memories and some papers found in a wooden box — all the rest is lost to us now.

Armagideon time for Joe Strummer

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Lost somewhere in the news over the weekend was the word that Joe Strummer of The Clash had died of a heart attack. He was 50 — or, for those who keep track of such things, eight years older than I am. Okay, John Entwistle was no surprise, really, though one would think the boys would slow down after a few decades of drugs. Joey Ramone was hard to take, but he had been sick for a while. DeeDee, again, was no surprise, except perhaps that he had lasted this long. But now, Joe Strummer? Who’s going to be left?
At a time when I was very ambivalent about New Wave, hated the music of the ’70s, and was still focused on some of the music of the ’60s, The Clash were like a flash of lightning. I already knew and loved The Ramones, but they did what they did and that was it. It was brilliant and exciting and took people back to the roots and a little bit beyond. The Clash then took that and went all over the map with it — since The Beatles there hadn’t been a more musically inventive band, and I think they surpassed The Beatles in some ways. They combined ska and dub into rock ‘n’ roll and made it all make sense. They did hard-driving rock and deep, slow-tempo dubs. Nearly every song sounded different, and there was always something interesting going on. The big, triple-disc mess that was Sandinista goes through more musical ideas in one album than most bands do in their entire careers.
Like all the good ones, The Clash were a band. They captured the restless, unsettled Thatcher years for England, and a lot of that spoke to the Reagan years here. (“A lot of people won’t get no justice tonight” — “Coke adds life / where there isn’t any”) Once they were done, they were done. After they came apart, Big Audio Dynamite had some success and was certainly fun to listen to; Joe’s Mescaleros didn’t make much of a ripple. It was the band, the time, the energy.
Remember . . . to kick it over . . . no one will guide you . . . it’s Armagideon time. . . .

The holidays

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If I were being honest, I’d have to say that I haven’t really felt the same about the holidays since my father died, which was a long time ago. At some point in the very early ’70s, Christmas eve became a gathering at our house to which all sorts of family, extended family, former family, etc. were all invited, and over the course of an evening 30 to 40 people might come and go. I’m not sure just when lasagna became part of it, but it is, and I remember a disastrous year when my mother decided she was not making 5 or 6 trays of lasagna and substituted something else — grown men were practically in tears. My mom’s sister started making creampuffs, and somehow they got there every year whether she did or not. So Christmas eve always meant family, lasagna and creampuffs. Individual faces changed, people came and went, but the core families were always there. It was a very informal gathering, though on occasion my father was moved to say a word or two. It was a chance to stay up late and listen to the grownups talk (my cousins were all much younger than I was), and to me it was as important as Christmas day; maybe moreso. The year my father died (he died in September 1985) was the first year I ever missed it — Christmas fell on a Wednesday that year (like this year), and I was backed up at work and really couldn’t take extra time, and it just didn’t seem worth making the trip, so my mother and sister came out to Syracuse the weekend before and they went on and had Christmas eve without me, which was fine with me because the truth was that I couldn’t face Christmas eve without my father that year.
But the tradition went on, and the other men who had been important to me growing up were still there, and it was a chance to see them again, but I felt my father’s absence acutely. We all started having kids, which brought some spark back to the thing, but there was more loss — Hank died, then Jimmy. Duane moved away. Both my grandparents and my great grandmother died. Two years ago, my mother did something only slightly less unthinkable than not making lasagna — she moved. Not far, but still, when someone shifts from a house she’s been in for 40 years, it’s surprising. Now Christmas eve is almost entirely made up of folks from my mom’s side of the family, my cousins and their kids (though not all of them, depending on who has custody over the holidays. Modern life).
And it is joyous. The girls dress up and scurry around, passing out little presents, getting each other all wound up, chasing their cousins up and down the stairs and staying up too late. There’s lasagna and creampuffs (I abstain from the latter, but not the former). But running through it is the ones we’ve lost, the ones I miss, especially my father. I wish he were here to see these little wonders we’re rearing, that he could have been some piece of their lives. I wish there had been more time for us together.
But this is the way of things, meetings and partings, and we can’t let the ghosts of the past prevent us from being in the present, hard as that may be sometimes.