Author Archives: Carl

Oh, did we skip February?

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Oh, did we skip February? (See One-armed paperhanger, busier than.) You didn’t miss much. It was a blur of cold and snow, cancelled meetings and anxiety about getting home or getting back. There’s a 225-mile commute involved, and pretty much anything can mess that up, but snow and ice are especially good at it. I’m not sure why the same snow that really has a minimal impact in upstate New York causes absolute CHAOS in southeastern Pennsylvania, but it does. Reinforcing my belief that when we move here permanently, there will be no commute short enough.

But with all that winter behind us (well, not in Albany. Enjoy your 6-to-12!), things are looking better. Been a while since I did one of these, but here’s my current Top Five:

  1. College admissions! While our younger bit of brilliance was absolutely set on WPI, we did make her apply somewhere else just because, so we’re pleased to say that another PI, this one starting with R, also invites her to bask in its truthiness. One more to hear from, but Worcester already has our money, so that entire process is done.
  2. Suddenly, Hooverphonic. I was listening to Mazzy Star on Pandora and it got me into a trip-hop groove. (Listen, no one was more surprised than I was.) One of the bands that kept coming up with songs I really liked was Hooverphonic, and then I found they had a recent album recorded live with an orchestra, so I checked that out and OMIGOD. I cannot stop listening to this album. And don’t want to.
  3. March 10: First official ride of the season. Still snow on the trail, just enough to make some areas a real mess and icy underneath, but the rest was fine. And with the onset of daylight savings, now there’s time at the end of the day to sneak a ride in.
  4. Spring Classics! More important to me than local signs of spring are the global signs of spring, pro cycling’s spring classics. Daughter came down to our renovation project we call a kitchen the other day, pointed to the laptop on the counter, and asked, “Are you watching bike racing while you’re painting the kitchen? Commented on in a language you don’t speak? DORK!” Yes.
  5. Speaking of which, during the prologue of Paris-Nice, if you were taking a drink every time the French commentators said “Gianni Meersman,” you were very, very drunk indeed. Seek medical assistance.
  6. House heartbreak! Well, we’ve already fallen in strong like with a house we could barely afford, and which will be sold out from under us before we are prepared to make a move. Timing a move is a bitch. But, as promised, suitable housing, much of it with electricity and plumbing, is now appearing on the market. The winter offerings were making us think we might be tenting in Valley Forge for a while (which, ironically, is not allowed).
  7. Stir-fry! Beets, carrots, a little green pepper, tofu, some leaf spinach on top, sesame oil and some asian spices. And peanut butter! Do it.
  8. Books? God, there is no time to read anything that doesn’t involve electricity and money. But I snuck in a little last month, and have to report that John Green’s “The Fault In Our Stars” is the first book to make me cry, ever. And I mean weeping.
  9. I want an app that identifies the horrible music that is bombarding me at nearly every retail venue I visit, then interacts with aural implants to ensure that I will NEVER hear it again. Let’s call it “Horrify.” I didn’t think it would be possible to miss Muzak, but god it was so much better.
  10. Hooverphonic. The Last Thing I Need Is You:

Why I’m not a writer

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There was a time when it was just a foregone conclusion that I’d be a professional writer of some sort. I was always writing something – newspaper articles, wild satires, the kind of feverish nonsense you can only think of when you’re 17, 18, 19. I went to school for it, shaped it, got pretty good at it. I wrote straight news, humor and satire, and even started to work on that novel we all start to work on. I took a couple of semesters of creative writing from a commercially successful writer. I started to think of myself more in terms of story-telling than news reporting.

That old quote: “All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” So true. The best thing I ever wrote, the piece that actually took people’s breath away when it was read, was basically just a recitation from a low, low point in a relationship. The people who read it were stunned by it, and the person it was about was not, it would be fair to say, pleased. And when I saw the reaction I got by opening that vein, compared to the reaction to other things I wrote where the vein wasn’t even nicked, I realized that in order to be a good writer, I’d have to be willing to tell horrible truths about myself and, more importantly, people I loved. I’d be hurting people, most likely. It wasn’t for me. I picked another path.

But I still have this urge to create. I write quick little history articles. And I tweet dumb things. This week I tweeted a dumb thing that reminded me how much I don’t have the cruelty it would take to be a writer.

The Grammy Awards were this week. I care about them not one whit (except when it’s convenient to do so, such as when they recognize the Albany Symphony Orchestra’s recording at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall for best classical instrumental solo). But millions of people apparently do, and millions of them care who is the Best New Artist, to judge by social media. I’ve already forgotten who won this past week, but I thought I’d poke a little fun with a dumb tweet:

Grammy tweet1.pngIt was just a gentle swipe at the unimportance of the award as a harbinger of talent or a lasting career in the music business. It was a joke. My followers are few, no hashtags were harmed, etc. On to the next dumb tweet.

Except this is the age of teh interbutz, as the kids say, and so a few minutes later, I’m tweeted this:

grammy tweet2.pngThe Swingle Singers, 1964 Grammy Best New Artist winners (for an unlikely choral arrangement of Bach) tweeted me a winking emoji. The Swingle Singers, who at the time I was four years old were competing in a music industry that did not quite yet include The Beatles, and winning international recognition, tweeted me a wink.

I didn’t mean to insult them. Hopefully the wink means they weren’t insulted. I tweeted back “See! You’re still going strong!” which meant absolutely nothing. They’re not even the original members, and I was still concerned that I had somehow hurt the feelings of a group of people whose name I hadn’t thought about since the Johnson Administration.

So if that’s how I feel about a choral group, what are the chances I could really write about family, friends, people I’ve known? Their stories are fascinating, sometimes heart-wrenching, but I don’t have the heart to tell them.

You know what’s weird? I don’t think I care what either The Starland Vocal Band or A Taste of Honey thinks. But I’ll keep my semi-snarky tweets to myself for a while.

Phoenixville ho!

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Phoenix bobbleheadJPG.jpgSpent the weekend checking out towns to live in. After a dreamy weekend of touring around, enjoying restaurants, cafes, and even the movie theater, we’re writing Phoenixville’s name all over our notebook, in colored ballpoint with heavy outlines.

 For one thing, the town is essentially Bedford Falls. It has a library that looks like a library, a post office that looks like a post office. It has a busy little downtown of shops and restaurants. It has a wonderful classic movie theater that features first-run and classic movies and live performances. It has a handful of coffee shops and galleries and another performance space. We don’t even have a dog and we’re in love with that fact that, up in Reservoir Park, it has Reservoir Dogs Park. (Not many municipally sponsored Tarantino references in the world.)

 It has an annual festival to celebrate the fact that a classic (and yet, really not good) movie, “The Blob,” was filmed there, with scenes in that very theater. It has another festival where they set fire to a giant wooden phoenix. There’s a farmer’s market (that no doubt can’t touch the incredible one in Troy) and street fairs. There’s a nice little True Value hardware store.

 My better half became the friend-maker, going up to random people (dog owners are great for this) and telling them we were thinking of moving there and asking them what they thought of the town. There wasn’t anyone who didn’t actually love it there.

 The challenge in leaving Albany housing for a metro area is, of course, price. Inexpensive houses in a nice neighborhood, with nice yards full of black raspberries, near a lake and seven minutes from downtown, those are things that do not exist in greater Philadelphia. Even 45 minutes out of the city, it’s challenging to find an affordable single family home (the area is filled with something called “twins,” where you share a wall and the risk of horrifying modifications to the other side of the house with someone you don’t know). Our house is no palace, but it has new windows, new heat and central air, a window in every room, an attached garage, a three-season porch: these are things that will cost about $120,000 more where we’re looking. Ouch.

 But, we’re thrilled to have found the town we want to live in. So, Phoenixville ho!

 

 

The Year in Preview

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Once again, I had the best of intentions. I was going to look back at 2013. There was a lot to look back at. But I didn’t get to it. So instead, I’m going to look at what 2014 will bring.

Some of it will be brand new. We’re moving, and not just a little bit. After 23 years in the same house, and a nice round 25 years in the Albany area, we’re moving to Philadelphia. When you have no family connections, no school needs, no history with an area, the process of picking a new neighborhood to live in is wildly daunting. Not clear yet whether we’ll be somewhere in the city itself, which has a lot of attraction, or out in the suburbs where I wouldn’t have to drive to where I work (and car commuting is AWFUL in Philly.) Finding good places for road biking is a challenge, and that weighs heavily on me.

Despite my crazy love for the history of Albany, Schenectady and Troy, I’m also crazy excited to be going somewhere where there’s so much art, a vibrant downtown, and a lot of life. Only real regret is that we’re not going to be in Troy, which has been more and more our home city in recent years, a place where we can’t go without running into people we know. Would have liked to have had that experience.

Also coming up this year, we’re kicking our younger one out the door and on to a successful career as a mad scientist. She got the college of her choice and a massive merit scholarship, so we figure now is as good a time as any to avoid empty nest syndrome by simply blowing up the nest.

Blowing up the nest, however, is time-consuming. Despite having a small house, we have a LOT of stuff. Much of it will not make the move (we try not to talk about it in front of the objects that aren’t going to make it). There’s a lot of sentiment going around as we re-discover things like the Bugs Bunny hand puppet I used to amuse my baby while “watching” her – meaning I would prop my arm and the puppet up while I napped on the floor next to her, periodically wiggling its ears, desperately dozing for as long as she would sit still. It was never very long.

There’s a new job, of course, and that’s largely underway already. It’s a huge amount of work, but nice to be doing work that people actually care about again. My previous employment was my first experience ever with being utterly irrelevant, and I can’t say I cared for it. I’m used to being ignored after I’ve been listened to.

I need to find new bike trails and roads, canoe launches, places to get my car fixed, places to get a haircut. It’s a bit daunting. Some people think we’re crazy for taking this on when we’re past the half-century mark, but serious, what else would we do for the next 50 years? I learned to ski, run and swim, all after I turned 40. Gotta try new things.

2 or 3 things I know about Pennsylvania

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Pennsylvania 2So I’ve been at this thing of being in Pennsylvania on a semi-permanent basis for a bit over a month, and there are a few things I’m learning about my soon-to-be-adopted state:

  • The roads are in crazy good shape, but they are narrow and shoulderless, and this is going to be a problem for this road cyclist.
  • Gas prices are about 20 cents a gallon cheaper than in New York (and yet more expensive than New Jersey), but a new gas tax is going to ruin that for me.
  • It took me five minutes to set up my electric account. I set up my water account entirely online. Verizon took a single phone call. Everyone showed up when they said they would. I’m wildly confused by this experience.
  • As a friend warned me, people talk to you in elevators. This is insanely unnerving to a New Yorker.
  • To what I hope is the annoyance of Albanians who pine for such things, I’m a short drive from both an IKEA and a Wegman’s, and my internet is Verizon FIOS. I hope it makes it even more annoying that I really don’t care.
  • Well, maybe I care about the IKEA more than I wanted to. My first week here, it was pretty much all I saw of the area. Much was assembled that week, I can tell you.
  • People have NO IDEA how to drive in snow. Or even rain, apparently. I know that the 20 inches a year they get in this area isn’t the 60 inches we get in Albany (and nothing like the 120 inches we used to get in Syracuse), but still … it’s not like it doesn’t snow all the time. There’s a dusting on the ground and suddenly we’re DC? Seriously, Philly, we’re going to have to have a talk.

Thinking that night about Elvis

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Elvis Costello sold out Troy Savings Bank Music Hall.JPGI can’t recall if in my brief writing career I ever reviewed a live music show, but I think I’d be the world’s worst music reviewer because I like to wait for a few days for the show to settle in on me before I really decide what it was like. Some are just enjoyable but fleeting, others are transcendant. This week’s Elvis Costello show at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall was transcendant.

If we learned nothing else, it was that the TSB Music Hall was designed and destined for whistling solos. Elvis treated us to no fewer than three of those in the evening, and the crazy effect of the delayed echo from the back of the hall was marvelous. It was also a hall designed for listening. He referred to the show, tongue in cheek, as the gospel show, but in fact there was something churchlike and reverent in listening to him in that hall. Because every sound can be heard, the faintest creak of a chair, the twisting of a candy wrapper, the audience sat in rapt silence throughout. Even the constant waving of iPhone screens was kept to a minimum. (The silence compared to a recent performance at Proctor’s where several patrons felt content to display their coughing prowess throughout the evening.) Every note could be heard. And Elvis took full advantage, moving from whispers to bombast, even singing and playing off-mike. When he played “Walkin’ My Baby Back Home,” no amplification, just singing from the stage, it felt like a show from a century ago.

Which, oddly, is what he does. He’s an old-style showman, something he started to present with his alter ego Napoleon Dynamite and the spinning songback way back when (which, for us, was in a brightly lit gymnasium at Oswego State on a cold winter night in 1987, the first time we got to see him. Nick Lowe was on the bill that night, too). What was then a smarmy caricature has become something genuine, and as he channels his entertainment lineage he really couldn’t be more sincere.

And then, there are the songs. Has anyone written a wider array of amazing songs, in a broader range of styles? Even when it’s not quite right, it’s interesting, and when it hits, it hits hard. But he didn’t choose anything that wasn’t quite right in this show. I was pleased to hear what I think are neglected gems like “Little Atoms” and “All This Useless Beauty,” and pleased that his use (one time) of the “REQUEST!” sign kept the audience shouting to a minimum. (People: seriously. You’re grownups. Shut the fuck up and listen to what the man came to play.)

We’ve only gotten to see Elvis a handful of times; in recent years he’s been doing bigger shows in bigger cities, and when he’s been here he’s been on someone else’s bill. So it was fantastic to see him in this incredible venue.

The full setlist, by the way, is here.

Sacrilege: Windows on a Mac

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I know, I know, but I had no choice. Some elements of my fancy new job absolutely require that I take my fancy new Macbook Pro and run some seriously unfancy Windows programs. So, fine. I continue my neediness and order even more new software, an install disk for Windows and a copy of Parallels for Mac (on the advice of brilliant daughter, who had already tried the Boot Camp path and found it to be silly). Software arrives, Parallels is downloaded, and suddenly I realize: the MacBook Pro has no DVD drive. I mean, I knew that, but I also knew that that really hardly matters, because I don’t think I used the DVD drive on my previous work Windows machine more than three times.

Check Parallels, and its website has a simple solution: I can use DVD sharing on one of my Macs that does have a drive, and just run the Windows disc over there. They even helpfully pointed me directly to the Apple knowledgebase article on the topic, which helpfully contradicted their contention by clearly stating that DVD sharing can’t be used for things like installing Windows. So I’ve used up Plans A and B, and am now scouring the internet for Plan C, and the advice is wildly awful. Nearly all of what I turned up was written by people who didn’t understand one system or the other; the good news was that their errors were almost always pointed out in just-south-of-trollish responses, but it was clear most of these approaches to the problem weren’t going to work. And all I really needed was a disk image of the Windows 7 install disk that Parallels could use to do the installation, on a USB drive. It seemed like it should be so simple.

Turns out: it was. I found one crucial piece of information in one of the threads regarding creating an .ISO file that the installer could read. All I had to do was insert the DVD in my Mac Pro, go to Disk Utility and choose to make a new image from the DVD. Instead of a Mac partition, I was to create the new image as DVD/CD Master. Putting that on a 4GB thumb drive, I would have a file with a  Windows gobbledygook name that ended in .CDR. So how to get that to change to an .ISO file? Ignore the people who posted Terminal scripts that would accomplish this. Just go to the file in a Finder window and change the name manually. Delete .CDR, make it .ISO. Quit Disk Utility, eject your thumb drive, put the thumb drive in the MacBook, and tell Parallels that’s where the Windows installation disk is. In the end, it almost couldn’t have been simpler.

Just a side note: I installed Windows. I installed nothing but Windows, and my entire machine is a week old. But as soon as I tried to run Internet Explorer in Windows, I found a nasty rogue that is called Antivirus Pro; it essentially hijacks your machine, redirects your URLs, and extorts you to pay for a key by putting up a list of alleged viruses your machine is infected with. The list is fake, but this thing is real. Now, where could it have come from other than the Windows install itself? Microsoft claims its antivirus tools are aware of it and will remove it, but I tried two of them without success. I found instructions for manually removing it, which took a little while and a few tries but did eventually work. So glad to be using Windows again! It couldn’t get to the FIRST task I asked of it without a massive problem.

Abandon everything that got you here!

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razr.jpgWhen it comes to my possessions and my ways of doing things, I can be loyal to a fault. I’ve had my commuter bike since 2002, though that’s not old for a bike. Until two weeks ago, both our vehicles were 12 years old. And my personal phone was a Motorola Razr flip phone from 2007. But with the recent announcement that I will be abandoning friends, family, the house in which I reared my children, and several hundred years of family history for nothing more than the pursuit of gainful employment, I’ve decided to give change a good squeeze and go all out. Three weeks ago I went out and bought a brand new car, and last weekend I finally nixed the Razr in favor of an iPhone. 

The car is hardly fancy, a brand new Subaru Forester, but ye gods — I got 30.3 miles per gallon on the 4 hour drive down to Philly. I know this because it has about 47 displays dedicated to telling you little else but the gas mileage. But for a good-sized all-wheel drive vehicle (which handles like a dream), that was pretty amazing. I love my Xterra, but I can’t say that I don’t feel the pain when gas prices go up. The Subaru also returns heated seats to my life, a luxury I haven’t had since I turned in my leased Beetle, and heated seats are just a good thing. 

It also connects pretty seamlessly with my iPhone. I’m the guy who insisted he really had no use for a smartphone (my previous job supplied me with a Blackberry, which really didn’t qualify as smart, either). I’m also the guy who thinks people should just get a map and know where the hell they’re going. But this morning, as I was bombing down dark country back roads to avoid the highway, I have to admit I was loving having the phone give me directions, through the car’s stereo. I would have been absolutely unable to follow written directions in the dark, with virtually invisible road signs, hidden turns, and fast-moving traffic. 

In other weird news, at the ripe old age of halfway to 106, I reported for work in a big city for the first time today.  After 24 years of working in a very small city indeed, that was a little surreal. 

The Farewell Tour

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Autumn 2013 049aSo weird to say this. I never really set out to make Albany (actually, Albany semi-adjacent) my home. It just happened. Grew up in Scotia, lived 11 or so years in Syracuse, landed a job in Albany, and 24 years went by. We bought our house in the Grönen Bosch in 1991, reared our kids here, were very happy here, but with our younger one finishing high school, we were thinking about a move somewhere else in the area. The job situation was unstable at best, and suddenly an opportunity arose to become much more stable and remove myself from the vagaries of political winds. But after years of dismissing offers to move to NYC and Boston out of hand, we suddenly found ourselves deciding to move to Philadelphia. Western suburbs, most likely. Valley Forge-ish; I hear the winters are delightful.

Just like our last big move, we’re not going to do it all at once. I will act as scout and ensure the area is free of both Indians and Quakers before finding a new homestead and moving my spouse; both children will be safely esconced in pricey Eastern colleges by then, and unable to prevent us from tossing their precious comic books and Matchbox collections. If they had such things.

As a result, I’m on a bit of a weird farewell tour, driving and biking to places and realizing it may be the last time I get to see them for some time. I’m probably not going to be able to climb up to Dutch Church again before I go, and our recent visit to the mummies was probably the last time I’ll see the Albany Institute for a bit. While I’m glad to see progress being made, I’m a bit miffed that the Black Bridge, the key to biking to Cohoes without having to try to cross a six-lane highway where the lights won’t change for bicycles, is finally open now that I will almost never need it. (And actually, I’ve used it three times so far this week, just out of spite.) I had the sense that these may be my last visits to the Waterford visitors center, where I like to rest my legs and sometimes talk to the boat people. I even visited my father’s grave, a location that doesn’t carry much emotional weight with me, and realized it may be a while before I’m back. Other things are done without a chance for farewell: ice skating at the Plaza after work, for instance. The lesson in all this, of course, is to take your chances while you can, because something may change and you’ll never have the chance again.

It’s a weird thing to have to prepare to become unattached to a place, when not only you and your children but your parents and generations of ancestors have had some connection to it. My family in Albany and Schenectady goes back to the Norman for whom they named the kill, and even though I don’t come from the kind of family where that kind of history was handed down, that sense of place resonates deeply with me, and I’m oddly emotionally connected to the history of this area.

But perhaps even weirder is that I feel perfectly prepared to become attached to a new place. Quite where that will be, we don’t know yet, but living in this age of the internet, it’s amazing what a sense of place you can get without leaving your wifi connection. Between Twitter feeds and StreetView, the world is a very small place indeed.

So all this will go on. This blog may become a little more frequent, if only to make “winter in Valley Forge” jokes, because the uncertainty that has been hanging over me for a very long time now is gone, and I feel more free to write about what’s going on in my life. Hoxsie! will continue — obviously I can’t stop writing about the Capital District’s amazing history just because I won’t be here anymore. It may become a tad less reliable as the actual work piles up, but be assured it will continue.

But here is the truth of nostalgia. We don’t feel it for who we were, but who we weren’t. We feel it for all the possibilities that were open to us, but that we didn’t take.

     — Welcome to Night Vale