Category Archives: blather

Best of, 2011 edition

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Finally get that tree up, do some last minute gift-bagging (wrapping is not for me), and the holidays will be upon us and gone and 2011 will be over, and once again I’ll be left feeling like I should have done one of those best-of-the-year posts that everyone seems to do  J. Eric has a nice post over at Indie Albany listing his top 20 albums of the year; while returning to the full-time working world has made it possible for me to buy albums again, as far as I can tell I bought three, and none of them was released this year, except perhaps “Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under.” Buzzfeed listed “21 People Who Died in 2011 And Will Be Missed;” I’d heard of 11 of them. Top TV shows? Well, we gave up cable this year. Movies? Didn’t go to a single one.

So with that in mind, and before I forget to do it at all, here are my best of 2011 picks:

  • Best TV Show I Never Watched Before: Doctor Who (with David Tennant, the Tenth Doctor).
  • Best Not In Any Way New Artist: Amanda Fucking Palmer and Dresden Dolls.
  • Best Book I Re-read: Erik Larson’s “The Devil in the White City.”
  • Best Movie: the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version of “A Touch of Satan”
  • Best Re-discovered Vacation Spot: Old Forge, New York.
  • Best Financial Security: Weekly paycheck.
  • Best Bike Ride: every one of them, even the commutes.

Rosebud, the bicycle

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Ross Pro Gran Tour.jpgCharles Foster Kane couldn’t reclaim his Rosebud. Until a couple of weeks ago, I couldn’t have told you my Rosebud’s name. I remember every bicycle I ever had . . . except for my first serious 10-speed, which somehow completely slipped my mind. I remember my very first bicycle, a red Columbia that cost $48 plus tax at Duane’s Toyland when I was in fourth grade, and which a local miscreant decided would be fun to steal from our back porch and smash into pieces in the schoolyard. On a school day. When he was supposed to have been in school.  (By the way, still waiting for the promised restitution, you shit-heel.)

It was some time before we scared up the money for a replacement, which was a wildly cool orange Columbia with built-in headlights that looked like a streamlined gas tank, cool chromed fenders and a rear rack. Like its pummeled predecessor, it was a single speed with a coaster brake. By then other kids in the neighborhood were getting coveted “English bikes,” internally geared three-speeds with thumb-lever shifters and handbrakes that occasionally I’d get the treat of riding. My family wasn’t in a position to upgrade, so it was several years of whining before I was able to finally convince my parents that I was actually facing complete ostracization because of my lack of a ten-speed, which by the time I was 14 had become the gold standard of personal transportation. Two rings in front, five gears in the back, shift levers on the down tube or the handlebar stem; we all had to have one. Once the ten-speed took over the culture, the only other bike cool enough to hang was the Schwinn Sting-Ray. My first one was a very cheap bike called an Iverson, which I believe was a Kmart special. Cheap, cheap, cheap, and its terrible ride didn’t quell my whining for long. I think it was only a couple of years before I was able to convince my parents that I needed a better bike, and I can only imagine the sales job I must have done, because if it had both wheels it sure would have been hard to convince my parents that it wasn’t good enough

But I prevailed, and I got a new bike. From a bike store (Plane Boys), not a toy store. And it was on this bike, with its gum-walled 27″ tires, its cheap Suntour derailleur, Dia-Compe center-pull brakes and that outrageously angled fork, that I learned everything I know about bikes. I learned to really ride, to dismantle axles and replace ball bearings, and how to take a tuning fork to a rim to true it. I rode it for three or four years, all over the place, nearly every day. I rode it into the hills of Glenville, through the streets of Schenectady, out into the horse pasture that used to be Clifton Park, and did it all in sneakers and cut-offs (and in fact my range was quite limited by wet feet and wedgies). This bike took me everywhere and taught me an awful lot. Nearly every meaningful conversation I had with my friends, those kinds of friends you only have when you’re 15, I had while describing a slow circle around an intersection under a street light, atop my trusty bicycle.

I took my faithful machine to college with me, where it was stolen within the first couple of weeks. Despite all the memories and the trauma, somehow I have not, for years, been able to recall the name of the bike. I can remember every other bike I’ve ever owned, where I was when I heard songs that I absolutely hate, where my pet turtles are buried . . . but not for my life could I remember the name of that bike.

And then, thanks to the magical Internet,  it comes rushing back to me. Some vintage bike blog mentioned the brand, which was Ross, and the light went off, and with a couple of clicks, there it was. The very bike. Absolutely in every way precisely the same bike. The Ross Professional Gran Tour. And honestly, seeing that picture, I was flooded with memories, touched in a way I could never have expected. Strong memories of sitting on the front sidewalk, my tiny Clear Creek Bike Book propped open with a rock, learning how to tear down a bottom bracket (with a chipped screwdriver and another rock as my available tools), of packing lunch in a knapsack and riding up into the Glenville hills, of competing with the other guys to see who could get across the village the fastest, or, sometimes, the slowest.

So there it is. My Rosebud. My Rossbud.

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Why so quiet?

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I could blame the lack of entries on the wacky weather, the extensive travel, the bouts of bronchitis, the insane pressure of posting clip art on Hoxsie!, but here’s the reality: we’re being very quiet so the Daleks won’t hear us.

Perfection

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Old Forge Columbus Day 2011 DSC_4152Never was there a weekend like this. Perfect temperature, endless sun, no wind. Biking, horseback riding, cinnamon donuts and Byrne Dairy chipwiches, and the most lovely paddle of the Moose River. My strategy of filling my boat racks once again worked to keep me from bringing another boat home from the Mountain Man, but it didn’t keep us from bringing other outdoor goodies home. We stayed in a cabin but would have been just as comfortable in a tent. The moon was full enough to engender an argument about whether it was truly full or not. If I never have another autumn weekend like that again, it was enough.

Three unexpected moments of the college freshman

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  1. When she first slept in our room, I was terrified that first night, listening the entire time for her to stop breathing. Since that night, even when she was away, she was always under some form of supervision, and we had some idea of where she was and who she was with. And then she posted on Facebook that she was going to a concert at SPAC. Didn’t know who was driving her or how late they’d be driving back, and of course wouldn’t even know that she got home safely. This had to happen eventually, but it was surprisingly unnerving. 
  2. She called and wants to join a fraternity. This was so far out of my realm of experience and expectations that I didn’t know what to say. (Starting with the fact that she called, instead of texting.) My understanding of fraternities is solely as organizations dedicated to binge-drinking and date rape, and I don’t think she’s into either one. Recall that I demanded that she read “Smashed” before going off to college, and I don’t think she ever did. But this is her decision, her experience, not mine.
  3. She sent a note asking us to bring her knitting needles. 

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Seen from the train, No. 1

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Generally, I would say that Newark, New Jersey is best seen from the train. Securely wrapped in steel and moving right along. I’ve seen it the other way, too, and prefer the rails. But sometimes as I’m speeding through I see something I’d love to see better, and this building is one of them. It looks much larger than it appears in Street View, and much more imposing. For a long time, I don’t know if it was an old factory, an old school . . . perhaps a factory school. Either way, I thought it was lovely and severe at the same time, and has a quality that modern architecture never does.

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A quick look around the corner reveals that it’s the Murphy Varnish Company. I hope they were proud.

Update: Turns out it’s on the National Register of Historic Places, too.

The flood this time

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What is there to say about what’s been going on in this corner of the world since tropical storm Irene started a dump of rain that has barely let up for a day since? Yesterday was another day of that mounting sinking feeling, compounded by being away and worried that I wouldn’t be able to get home. There was also substantial flooding down where I was, with delays and backups all over the place, and as I watched news feeds and Facebook and saw the bridge closings and evacuations up here all over again, it became hard to pay attention to anything other than whether I was going to have to get reacquainted with the Greyhound schedule in order to get home. In the end things were okay, a little delayed but the tracks didn’t go underwater.

Stunning to me is the damage to the Barge Canal. Infrastructure that has survived a hundred years has been damaged or destroyed in a system that was held together mostly by bobby pins and the good will and ingenuity of the people who run it. Underfunded and misunderstood, I can only hope that this is an opportunity for the Canal, that its importance will be recognized and its transformation from pure transportation to a phenomenal recreational resource will finally be understood. But it looks like it will be out of commission for the year, and some locks, bridges and dams may be seriously compromised.