Author Archives: Carl

Cigars and reading material

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Back when I lived in Syracuse (The Salt City; The City Where The Sun Don’t Shine; So Much City They Named It Once; etc.) I used to make a weekly trek to a newsstand that carried papers from all over the country and just about every magazine imaginable. I never understood how they made money doing this, but it was fun once in a while to pick up the Sunday Boston Globe or the Philadelphia Inquirer, or even just another upstate New York paper. And I bought a lot of magazines back then, too, just about anything that struck my fancy. I think I had a little more time on my hands than I do now. Nowadays, my magazine selection is pretty much specific to activities that I partake in, although I can sometimes go for an Entertainment Weekly just for its infoporn value. And I mostly get to read them on the train back from NYC. But back then, I’d think nothing of picking up a couple of Sunday papers and a couple of magazines just for the hell of it, and I’d read ’em, too. The place where I got the papers was Durston Cigar Store, which at some point in its history had been on Durston Street, hence the name, but had moved to a near west side location and then moved again to a spot on Erie Boulevard across from the Niagara Mohawk building. In addition to about an acre of magazines, the store had a sizeable (though by no means fashionable — this was before cigars became high chic in the ’90s) humidor. And despite the fact that the papers and magazines were nowhere near the cigars, and didn’t stay in the store for all that long, every single thing I brought home from that store had a stale tobacco smell woven into its fibers.
Which brings us to the copy of “Sick Puppy” I borrowed from the library. I noticed that something in the bedroom didn’t smell right the other night, which was odd since the window, as usual, was open. I was sniffing around and Lee said, “Oh, yeah, doesn’t that book stink?” I already knew she didn’t care for Hiaasen, but I didn’t think he quite deserved that level of disdain, until I realized that she meant the phantom odor was in fact coming from the book. I picked it up and sure enough . . . cigars. It’s like the book was soaked in tobacco juice. So now I’m trying to whip through it so I can send it back whence it came.
When we moved to Albany, we rented an apartment on Bertha Street that would have been lovely . . . new (ugly) building, spacious apartment, decent neighborhood, I could walk to work. But the previous renters must have had special cigarette smoking machines designed to go through several dozen packs a day, more than any normal human beings could manage. The windows were literally yellow when we moved in (ALWAYS LOOK AT APARTMENTS IN THE DAYLIGHT!!!). It took hours just to get them clean, washing off this nasty tobacco juice. We scrubbed the walls, to little avail. The carpet, forget about. We spent about 9 months there, leaving the windows open a lot and trying every sachet, potpourri, baking soda concoction possible. Nothing even dented the constant, low level smell.
Stats: I’m mostly getting hits on my genealogy site. Still getting hits for glycerol ester of you know what. My pages of college photos get hit fairly often . . . some poor person looking for Bennington College photos yesterday. Well, I have pictures of college, and pictures of Bennington, but that’s as close as he’ll get.

Bring on the election

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The life of an appointee. A while back, I traded being nervous every two years for being nervous every four. Seems like an improvement, but still, it’s unsettling to have your job depend entirely on factors that are totally beyond your control, and knowing that that will be decided on a given day. I expect this will be my last go-round through an election cycle; time to do something else. Figuring out what that is is another prospect entirely. I’ve already been in this job much longer than most; it’s not a position with a particularly high survival rate. I love it and think I’ve done a lot of good. My kids almost understand what I do, and I’d like to think they’ll be proud of it someday. Any other job seems like less. Any other job probably IS less. No desire to move to Washington. Or even New York — I just can’t see how to raise a family there in the way I want to do it. And I don’t see myself as a corporate asshole whose job is to screw another corporation’s assholes out of money, so I’m a little self-limiting. And lobbying is unattractive. Consulting? Well, if I have to.
Anyway, can’t wait until it’s over with, we’re secure and can do the work of the people for another four years.

Better plan all week, better plan all month, better plan all year!

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‘Cause it’s Halloween. That’s Dead Kennedys. Once a year I am absolutely obliged to listen to Plastic Surgery Disasters, but it has to be when wife and kids aren’t around because a) it needs to be played LOUD, and b) I don’t think they like the noise. “Why not every day? Are you so afraid? What would people say?” Paradoxically, I haven’t had any interest in dressing up for Halloween for years. In college years, we dressed up every chance we got, constantly having theme parties and excuses for crazy costumes. I first got noticed by a group of people I wanted to be in with by going to a ’60s party as Ted Kennedy. The drunk part was easy, the hard part was that every few minutes I had to jump in the shower to keep my suit jacket wet, as if fresh from a dip at Chappaquiddick. Big hit. Of course, it was fall in Syracuse, and I nearly froze to death on the trudge home.
But now it’s been years since I could even think of a costume. I’m just not interested in it. The girls are a pirate and a scuba diver, using things we had around the house. When you’ve got kids, you’ve probably got swords and Jolly Rogers lying around, plus wetsuits and flippers. It’s a wacky life. It looks as if we’re not going to be trick-or-treating tonight, because they each have a party to go to, one in the neighborhood and one over in Albany, so Dad will be doing Halloween as a Chauffeur. We’ve got a little bat-on-a-hairband, maybe I’ll wear that around. And play the Dead Kennedys when the kids aren’t in the car. LOUD.

You’ll have to pry the remote from my dead fingers

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Digital cable rules. It also rocks. Just for the record. The channel guide, title searches, pop-up reminders when a show is on, instant taping. Yow! Plus, something’s on when there’s nothing on. Last night, it was Louis Vuitton yacht racing, a sport that for unfathomable reasons I am actually interested in, but which doesn’t receive a whole lot of coverage 150 miles up the Hudson from the ocean. Well, here it was on the Outdoor Life Network, wall to wall (shore to shore?) coverage, complete with computerized graphics and magnetic boats on a board to show how they were lined up and their positions in the race. Very cool. I had never given much thought to the start of a short course race, but it was clear from this that a chunk of the race comes before the starting gun, because the boats have to keep tacking and circling so they’re in the best position, close to the line and on the right side of the wind. And if one overshoots, it has to come around and recross the line, which is what happened in the heat I was watching last night, but then that boat made up all its lost time and then some. Fun to watch while sorting through old photographs and picking out which negatives would be worth scanning. The answer, by the way, is damn few.
When I started out, I was very much the artiste, working hard and pretentiously to get things just right, and especially to shoot situations in the lowest light possible (to judge by the outcomes). I never liked flash. Still don’t. Then I put the camera down for a few years, and when I picked it up again was able to afford color (and didn’t have time or inclination to do my own darkroom work), I really fell back to just taking snapshots. Poor exposures, poor framing, and an inexplicable willingness to use the highest speed film possible (ASA 1000, anyone?) rather than resort to flash. As a result, I have boxes and boxes of truly shitty photographs. Then, once the girls came, photography became nothing more than documenting babyhood and birthday parties. I got real about film speed and a couple of years ago got a cheap travel camera that still kinda outperformed my old Mamiya, and the pictures for the past few years have been pretty decent. I should have jumped over to a better camera years ago (one which I could buy new accessories for, for instance, since my Mamiya was discontinued shortly after I bought it, and “universal mount,” which sounded like the way to go, was the Betamax of lens technology). Happy with my new digital Nikon now. Seriously cool camera. Now, through the magic of digital, with its wide range of exposures and built-in filtering capabilities, a decent zoom range on the camera and a passing knowledge of Photoshop, I feel like I’m making photographs again instead of just taking “snappies” (as the Aussies would have it).
Allergies hit their peak yesterday, so I stayed home and choked on snot. And watched digital cable. There was actually something on during the daytime. It was amazing. I wanted so much to go out for a bike ride since I had time, but the whole point was that I was too sick to work, so I must be too sick to exercise. I needed rest, not exertion, but it’s hard to tell myself that. I haven’t been running because of a sprain in my left foot and a little knee pain. The price of trying to run faster. Might pick it up again tomorrow, when it’s a little warmer. Below 40, my lungs start to complain.
Enough!

Allergies begone!

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I am so sick of allergies. They seem to lessen a little bit every year, but not enough. Spent most of last week adding Sudafed to my regular scrip just so I could breathe, then took the weekend off, and this morning woke up to a crushing sinus headache. Did Benadryl (aka U-Sleep-Now) to see if it worked better for me. It did for a while, but I had to really fight to stay awake. Now, back to the ‘Fed. Just want to go home to bed right now. But I won’t. On top of the nose, (well, actually, to either side of it) my eyes are getting all red and pretty again, too, so I’m a real vision. It’s my only real health problem, so I’m not going to complain overmuch. Nowhere near as severe as they used to be, days and days of gasping for breath and praying for even a partially open nostril. Plus, they give me a nice warning these days, massive headache and a chocolate jones.
“Chocolate Jones” would make a good blaxpoitation movie title.

Enough with the stats already

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It’s like a sickness. It’s like being a TV exec, watching my ratings go up and down and trying to sort out the reasons. I did get googled for “wood rosin” again, which amazes me. Maybe people are just googling it when they see it in their Powerade or some other drink. Fiber, I guess. I also come up to the tippy top of Google if you search for “old college photos”, but whoever dug through them was probably disappointed if they were looking for pictures of a particular college. In fact, what I have on my old college photo site is a mix of college and high school stuff, and most of the “college” photos were taken away from school. I don’t think you could pick out an element of Syracuse University in any of them. Oh, and did I mention that someone got to my blog by googling “nice teenage girl photos”? All that poor person found was a reference to the medical fact that I have the blood pressure of a teenage girl (not to mention the ankles of a 20-year-old).
Finished another photo project last night, or almost finished it — scanning in a couple hundred black and white negatives from about 1977 to 1980 or so. Then I basically quit photography for a good long while (even loaned my camera to my roommate for his semester in Italy), so there’s a gap of a couple of years in my photographic history. Didn’t really start taking photos again until after college. Most of these old b&ws are detritus, and not worth even scanning, but some of the photos have become icons in my life just from having lugged them around for so many years, and I unearthed a number of new photographs of my father that I didn’t even know I had. Scanned them all in, four at a time, cut them up, doctored a number of the better ones in Photoshop (all hail the healing brush), and now they’re all backed up on CD and ready for me to print a few for Christmas gifts. I’ll throw them up on their own website sometime in the next few days and share them. Thank you, Rootsweb/Ancestry, for all that free space. Someday I’m going to end up paying for my own website, but I’ll avoid that for as long as I can. Don’t need to add host problems to my host of problems. I eat up a lot of megs, and as I add more and more photos, it will become a problem.
Decent weekend, though I felt lousy most of the time. Got out for a bike ride on the bike path yesterday, went from Colonie Town Park to Blatnick Park in Niskayuna and back. Flat and a little bit boring on a bike, but I didn’t feel like dealing with traffic or wet leaves, so it was fine. Had I mentioned that I love my new bike?

At least I wasn’t involved

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As terrible as the whole sniper episode has been, I couldn’t help thinking that at least it wasn’t happening here in New York, and I didn’t have to be involved. After all we went through, and are still going through, on the World Trade Center, all we had to do on anthrax, preparing for bioterror waste issues (all that decontamination material has to go somewhere), not to mention chronic wasting disease, scrapie, West Nile Virus and the Asian Long-Horned Beetle, I’ve really had enough. The WTC disaster was unbelievably awful, but I was glad to be part of it, because at least it made me feel useful. There were things I could do there. If the sniper had been here, there would have been very little to offer.
I’m glad all the speculation is over. As it went on and on, and the demands of the sniper got weird, it really did start to look like maybe it was foreign terrorism, just screwing with us. And the notes, what we were told of them, seemed to indicate English as a Second Language. I guess we’ll know more about these particular nuts as we go forward. I am also thankful they took these monsters alive, because if they had been killed there would always have been doubts as to whether they had the right people, sparking conspiracy theories and everything else.
I don’t know if the affected states have the death penalty. In recent years I have slid over into the lane of death penalty opponents simply because there seem to be so many cases of mistaken identity and so much potential for error. But I still believe there are crimes which are so heinous that there is no purpose to keeping the criminal alive, and a purpose is served and an example made by putting the animal down, and I think we have such crimes here.

Addicted to Stats

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I really should have known better than to add website statistics to my genealogy pages and this blog. Now I’m addicted to checking the stats, seeing who is reading, where they were referred from (turns out listing with the Schenectady County History site was well worthwhile). If they came from a search engine, I can see the search terms. I already wrote about “wood rosin market”, but I’m still on my campaign to push up the site on that search term, so there is is again. Yesterday, I got a hit from “Larry Sanders Warren Zevon”, which was so curious I had to google it myself to see why someone would be searching for it. Turned out that Warren Zevon once did the Larry Sanders Show. Turned it that was the episode airing last night. So: serendipity! (He did “The French Inhaler,” followed by “Werewolves of London,” which caused John Ritter to be bumped from the show, which was cool by me.) Today’s search term: Elihu Bartlett. He opened a tavern in Jay, New York in 1820. Apparently someone wanted to know that. Apparently my website provided that someone with useful information. How often does that happen?

Return of the Prodigal Mom, Death to the Telephone!

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Well, the girls did really well. Their mom was away since the break of dawn on Friday until midnight last night, and we all survived. (The answer to the question, “How many hours back is Phoenix?” turns out to depend on the season. It IS the mountain time zone, but they don’t observe daylight savings time. Go figure. 50 independent republics, forget that at your peril, as Bill Bryson warns.) She seems to have had a great time, though we didn’t really get to talk about it much yet. I’m not good on the phone any more, so we didn’t talk too much while she was away, and of course she was on her cell phone anyway. But in the days she was gone, we survived several meals, swim lessons, dance class, two Nutcracker rehearsals, two picture days, a trip to the Borders, and two different babysitters, virtually without incident. Plus, we got the cobwebs up in the window and threw up some orange Halloween lights on the porch. For $20 at the Target, I look like I’ve got Halloween spirit.
It’s always a delicate balance with moms . . . can’t do too well or they’ll feel unneeded, can’t let the place fall apart or they’ll be pissed off. There was enough mess in the kitchen for her to do some brusque straightening up this morning, but the laundry was all done (not folded, exactly), homework was taken care of, and the girls were clean.
But on the phone thing: scanning old negatives (still). Found some terrible 17-year-old’s idea of an artsy shot that turns out to actually be artsy, in that it really captured a representation of my life at that time. It was taken in my bedroom in my parents’ house, with the telephone (old heavy-duty Western Electric model, the kind that actually rang; rotary, of course) sitting on the carpeted floor, just inside the cracked-open door. It had to be there because that was as far as the cord reached. Next to the phone, propped up against it, my wallet, open to my girlfriend’s senior picture. We used to spend hours, hours every night on the telephone (she lived way on the other side of the city, miles from me, in another world). Hours spent just sitting with my back pressed hard against the door, just listening to her do things, chatting, complaining about her actual boyfriend (I was the slow-moving type — but I’m the one she still talks to, 25 years later), her apprehensions about college, problems with a mutual friend of ours, etc. etc. Hours. I lived for the telephone, lived for her calls.
When I went to college, my job at the paper involved lots of telephoning, and I think that’s when I started to sour on it. I started to dread the ringing of the phone. Now I spend much of the day on the phone. I hate making phone calls, I hate getting phone calls. For a while I was warming back up to it, but it is work. I love hearing from friends and family and people I want to hear from, but 9 times out of ten the ringing phone is a telemarketer or someone else I just don’t want to hear from. And so I don’t have that love affair with the phone anymore.
But this pretentious, silly little photograph I took way back in 1977 on my brand new camera, developed down the street in my friend’s darkroom — one look and I’m 17 again, big receiver pressed between my ear and the door jamb, dreaming away with a lovely girl on the other end.