Category Archives: blather

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.

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. 

Rock ‘n’ Roll Mythbusters

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  1. The man who shot Liberty Valance was not the bravest of them all.
  2. No one put the “bop” in “bop shoo bop shoo bop.” It just grew there.
  3. It does not make your brown eyes blue.
  4. Phone. Fax. Voicemail. E-mail. Letter or note. In-person. Through an intermediary. Simple disappearance. There are, at most, eight ways to leave your lover.
  5. Anyone can do the shing-a-ling like you do. Anyone.
  6. You don’t have to wonder. She ran away because she was sick of all the drama. Where will she stay? She’s at her sister’s, in Hoboken. No big mystery.
  7. “American Pie” wasn’t about pie. At all.
  8. Not everybody has heard about the bird. My mother, for instance, had no idea what I was talking about.
  9. Indiana doesn’t want you.
  10. The beat actually does go on. Myth confirmed.

Surviving the weekend

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Couldn't move if the house were on fireThis weekend, I spackled, sanded, stained, grouted and painted. I cleaned all the windows on my cars and Rain-x’d them thoroughly for the fall rains. I rode my bike about 65 miles over two days, fairly casual rides with one really annoying flat. I took a couple hundred photographs (oh, for the limiting days of film), and even got around to processing a few of them. I looked at some art with my wife over in the Stockade. I talked to some strangers about bike jerseys and photo lamination. I talked to my mom about pretty much everything. I tried to get ice cream at Mac’s, but they weren’t open for the day yet when I rode by. I got groceries for the week. I made pickles. I watched “Spy Kids” and several episodes of “Angel” with my daughter.

And come Monday morning, I wonder why I’m exhausted.

I am the King of Wheat Germ

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Wheat Germ 034.jpgSo, two things happened after last week’s rant about how Hannaford was screwing with my breakfast. Well, three, really. First, All Over Albany mentioned my rant in their weekly collection of local blogs, and I learned I was not alone in my appreciation of wheat germ. (I will take validation anywhere I can find it.)

Second, the folks who do PR for Kretschmer noticed my rant, and out of the blue offered to help me out. They just sent me three jars of Kretschmer Original Toasted Wheat Germ, my new holy grail, out of the goodness of their hearts. They asked for no mention or any kind of publicity. (But now I’m beginning to see what all these consumer and food bloggers might be up to.)

Third, and I take no credit for this, a tiny, tiny slot opened up on the cereal shelf at my Hannaford, a slot that wasn’t there for the past few weeks. And a new shelf label popped up, a label that was definitely not there for the past few weeks. And a few, a very few, jars of Kretschmer Wheat Germ re-appeared at Hannaford. I can only hope they’ve been restored (“re-stored”?) permanently, so I don’t have to make good on my horrible threat to go elsewhere.

But we do have another problem, Hannaford: please, please, please, no Hall & Oates on the playlist, okay? ‘Cause the only thing worse than screwing with my breakfast is putting one of their horrific earworms into my brain.

Hannaford, you’re screwing with my breakfast

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wheatgerm.jpg

Hannaford, you’re screwing with my breakfast. It’s time to stop.

Since about, oh, say, 1985, I’ve eaten pretty much the same thing for breakfast every day. A bowl of Grape Nuts, mixed with some form of granola, Kretschmer Wheat Germ, and blueberries, raisins or dried cranberries. All these years, nearly the same thing. It’s what I want, it’s what I like.

For the past few years, I’ve used the Hannaford house brand, Nutty Nuggets, in place of Grape Nuts, which for a while were crazy expensive. In time, I’ve come to prefer the house brand. Just fine. For my granola, I came to prefer something called Chappaqua Crunch. In place of the fairly pricey Craisins, I was perfectly happy with the much cheaper Nature’s Place dried cranberries. And most essential to all this was the Kretschmer Toasted Wheat Germ. Tasty, fibery, and just about the last thing in a grocery store that is sold in a vacuum jar – every time you open a new jar, there’s that satisfying “whoosh” sound and a mini-whirlwind of wheat germ. I looked forward to that.

Years and years and years, all this came from the Hannaford. I’m not one of those people who likes driving all over creation, to Super Saver for this or Peddler Bob’s for that. I want one trip to the grocery store, some other stuff from the farmers markets, and that’s it. Then Hannaford started screwing with me.

First, Chappaqua Crunch disappeared. Or stopped being available on the shelves. It was moved to the bulk section. Okay, I’ll pretend no one sneezes into those bins and just go ahead and get a couple of pounds of the stuff every few weeks. That was fine. Then Hannaford put up a sign promising exciting new changes in the bulk section. Exciting! New! Changes! Which meant, as it turned out, shrinking the offerings by about half, and eliminating the brand of granola I favored. Okay, there are other granola options; I just liked that one. I can deal.

About the same time, the dried cranberries disappeared. It was like a miracle when the Natures Place cranberries first showed up on the shelves – they were about half the cost of the Ocean Spray brand, organic, and just perfect. Came in a bigger bag, too. So I can’t help but wonder if they were threatened off the shelves by the Big Cranberry lobby, because they’re gone, and I’m back to paying what the powers that be insist is fair for dried cranberries. I’m back to where I was, but I can deal.

But now, my precious wheat germ is gone. Kretschmer Toasted Wheat Germ, in the convenient and entertaining vacuum jar, has disappeared from the shelf, and more junk cereals have crowded into its space. It left no trace. Yes, there is another form of wheat germ in the store. It is not toasted. It is not jarred. It makes no “whoosh.” I cannot deal.

Hannaford, if I have to go to another store to get my jars of wheat germ, I’m going to another store to buy everything. That’s how it works with me. And know that I’m serious, because I HATE the other store. But if they have Kretschmer wheat germ, that’s where I’m going. Because you’ve committed several offenses against my breakfast, and, worse than all of those offenses, you’ve turned me into a food blogger. With this, I cannot deal.

The Other Side of Summer

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Last light on the tracks 2Well, it’s that time of year again: the time when the days are growing longer and longer, heading toward a luxurious apex of extended sunlight, after which I panic that the days are shortening and the summer waning before I’ve even started to enjoy it. Even in years when I was relatively unencumbered, workwise, I came up on the end of June with a gnawing sense that I hadn’t made the most of the hours of daylight afforded me. Maybe it’s just something internal to me. But every year I pledge that I will find ways to get out and enjoy the longer days before that balancing point of summer solstice comes, that I will appreciate the gift of light that lasts past eight, just sit out and marvel at it.

And every year it doesn’t happen, and somehow I always forget why. It’s the extensive rains – we had five inches ( allow me to scream that: FIVE INCHES!!!) of rain around here last week, one useable day on a holiday weekend, followed by a tornado that decided to visit my sister’s house. It’s the travel – it’s a busy time of year for me, and some of these pre-summer evenings, such as this one, I’m having to appreciate the long, low light over the Hudson from the windows of an Amtrak train. It’s the academic schedule, with school this night and school that night, tests to prepare for and projects to make sure are done.

This weekend, we’ve got the SAT and the Freihofer’s run in the same morning, followed by a dance recital that will take up all of the next day. Still it’s not that we haven’t enjoyed what we’ve had so far. We’ve eaten dinner outside a number of times already, and have found several excuses for consuming Mac’s homemade ice cream in Watervliet. While the rain has made kayaking the rivers less than enticing, we’ve gotten out on bikes as a family a bunch of times and swallowed every kind of bug the bike path has to offer. And after a nearly year-long massive construction project, my front porch is, while not nearly finished, at least a place where we can sit of an evening and stare into the westering sun (without feeling the heat; the former porch was something of a greenhouse).

So to some extent I’m writing this to remind myself: the days are long, and I am noticing them. Summer is not over at the solstice. Calm down and enjoy. There’s still time before you’re on the other side of summer.

My favorite spam in ages

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So speaking of what’s in my email, today I received this gem. It’s from “Apple:”

Dear Apple Customer, Account has been temporarily disabled.

Then log on to your Apple device carries your account information

For this reason, and limited access to your account

Please make sure your account information so that you can shop from Apple successfully.

Verify Now >

Note: Please confirm your account to verify ownership of your information Apple

We appreciate your understanding for this reason .

Thank you for your cooperation with us
Apple service

C’mon, spammers, it’s like you’re not even trying.

Why I rarely check my email

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There was a lot of controversy about eliminating Saturday mail, the elimination of which would not have bothered me at all. Once my younger one is off to the college of her choice, we’ll receive just about no mail every day. The annoyance of junk mail has been replaced almost entirely by the annoyance of junk e-mail and spam. I may go days without opening my personal email inbox, and rarely miss anything. What I learned from my email inbox today:

  • Alert! Someone has written about the videogame character that shares my name! A lot. And someone else with my name died. It’s sad.
  • There are many discussions on LinkedIn. Not one of them has ever led to anything productive.
  • Funds were left yesterday with a diplomat. Funds for me. It may involve a will.
  • I could get a bachelor’s degree, or train to be a nurse, in less time than I think.
  • Someone wants to date me, sight unseen.
  • Many people want photographs from many local cemeteries. This is a thing I do sometimes, but it is really hard to find a particular headstone in a cemetery, so many people’s wants will go unmet.
  • I could get an extended vehicle warranty at a significant reduction! I’m sure they’re dying to cover two vehicles with 125,000 miles each.
  • I could become a Mystery Shopper!
  • General ADAMS PETERSON would like me to kindly reply urgently.
  • My email doppelganger, someone local who listed my email address as her own, has been shopping at Kmart again. I get her receipts. They depress me.

Need to actually get ahold of me? Better tweet me.

Another one I forgot

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Another sign I’m not of this culture? I have never owned a video camera. There are not endless hours of video of my kids making sand angels and mud forts. There ARE plenty of photographs, though, and if later in life they feel deprived of a motion picture record of their youth, perhaps they can string the frames together into a GIF. Sorry, best I can do.

(That said, I have actually taken video in the past year with an iPad, and my new D7000 has some video capabilities. But that doesn’t mean that video isn’t the devil’s medium, because it is.)