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2012: Please leave. Now.

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Carl & Tarri

Carl & Tarri (Photo credit: carljohnson)

I recently had a phenomenally trivial family trivia question
enter my head: I suddenly had to work out where my great aunt’s pet parakeet
went in the summer, because I had no memory of it ever being at her summer
house. There was only one person left on the planet to ask, my mother, and then
it occurred to me that someday there won’t be anyone at all to ask. It’s not
the question that’s important, it’s having someone else who was there, and as I
get older, there are fewer and fewer people still alive who were there.

I never want to wish my life away, and any year I’m upright
is, ultimately, a good year, but I have to admit that 2012 is a year I won’t be
sorry to see the door hit on the way out. Too much upheaval, tension and
change. Within the family, there was cancer, beaten for now, and suicide, a horrifying shock. At home, there was a major timesuck of a project that,
while rewarding in a lot of ways, took me away from other things I love to do.  At work, there was a change in a comfortable
routine, a change of location, unfamiliar roles, and, now, massive uncertainty
about whether the entity has a future.

There was much that was good. My girls continue to amaze and
delight. I found myself up to some new tasks. My home repair and carpentry skills are
vastly improved, if my cycling skills are not. There has been art and paddling
and jaunts and a real vacation for the first time in years. We went places we
hadn’t been before, and enjoyed the company of old friends we don’t see nearly
enough.

There’s also this weight that I’ve felt around the holidays
for as long as I can remember. Not a bad thing, or at least it didn’t  used to be, but as I get older it feels
heavier  and heavier, this memory of all
those who used to be with us at holiday time, and who aren’t any more. All those boisterous people who gathered over lasagna and creampuffs every Christmas eve, talking about not much at all. Having a
recent death in the family, a heartbreaking loss, just presses down with that reminder that so many,
many people have passed on, and that nearly everyone I shared the earliest years of my life with is gone. Some of them have been gone a shockingly long time now, and yet
it seems like just yesterday that I was young and they were there.

Nothing to do but press on and greet 2013 with a fresh coat
of spackle.

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Not up for discussion

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Please, for the sake of my sanity, and perhaps for your very survival, PLEASE: I need not to hear about any of these things again this week. Or ever, if that’d be okay. Because, seriously, the endless repetition of these words is making me insane.

  1. Powerball.
  2. Fiscal cliff.
  3. _____ Kardashian.
  4. Elf on a Shelf.
  5. ______ Wars.

The Nutcracker, 13th edition

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MiceI have it on good authority (or at least a blog entry from seven years ago) that this will be our 13th year of Nutcracker performances. It’s hard to understand how a simple little ballet that previously meant just about nothing to me has come to take over our lives (or at least our weekends) for year after year, as the girls graduated from reindeer to mini-mice to clowns to soldiers and mice. This year Rebekah gets to be Ninth Mouse, a stage dream somewhere along the lines of playing Hamlet, I’m given to understand. Or at least better than being any of the other eight mice. Ninth mouse is part of our company’s choreography, not a universal role. In fact, hardly any of the roles are universal; there seem to be as many ways to stage, cast and choreograph The Nutcracker as you can possibly imagine. Next year, our 14th, is likely to be the last, and I can’t imagine that that will be anything but a sad thing. I won’t miss the time it takes up, I won’t miss the sometimes dangerous drives to venues in the winter, and I often don’t even watch an entire performance (listen, how many times can a person possibly watch the same thing? It’s not “The Blues Brothers”) — and yet, it’s become part of our autumn rhythm, and it will be very strange when it’s gone.

By the way, the Albany Berkshire Ballet’s performance of “The Nutcracker” will be at The Egg on Sunday, December 16,
2:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. tickets available at The Egg box office.

All-nighters used to smell of hot wax and hypo

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copyfitting calculator 001There’s stuff going on that has necessitated that, once again, I work the night shift. I’ll admit I had thought (hoped) that I was past the point in my life where I would watch the streetlights turning off as I left work . . . for the most part that seemed to be way in the past. It wasn’t. And while there have been various reasons for all-nighters through the years, including legislative all-nighters, this whole up-all-night thing started long ago with a technology that is long gone: offset print composition.

In the days before WYSIWYG computer-generated pre-press (do they even call it WYSIWYG anymore? Does that make any sense when it’s been a generation since there was any other way? Discuss), everything you saw printed on a page had to be created first on what was variously called a layout, composiition or paste-up. The type was all created on phototypesetters, which early on offered little or no editing capability. When doing the layout, which was the preliminary guide for how the publication should look, you basically had to guess at how much copy you would have. Sometimes that guess was good, sometimes it was bad. Sometimes it was incredibly bad. It was based on word counts from the typewritten manuscript, which were sketchy to begin with. You had to know your planned column width, then you used an average character-per-pica count from the font you were using, also pretty questionable, and tried to guess if the manuscript would be 13 inches or 30. It often ended badly, and in the newspaper business, the person responsible for getting the newspaper “to bed” would have to make decisions about what to cut. And those cuts were literal — there wasn’t time to reset the type. You just had to cut out the parts that weren’t going to fit, and if they weren’t at the end, it could make for some awkward-looking edits.

The type was on photographic paper. You’d have to trim the galleys (carefully), and then run them through a hot wax machine. Once the back of the type was waxed, you could put it down on the paste-up sheet, then line it up with a T-square to ensure it was straight. It wouldn’t stay straight for long, so you’d do that a lot. Line images would be created on Velox photo paper via photostat camera, and then pasted right in place. For the most part, halftones (anything with a gray scale) were handled separately, shot as negatives and inserted in the negative stage. Their place on the paste-up page was taken with a piece of red paper called a “window.”

Once the paste-up was done, it had to be shot as a negative, on film. The halftones were then stripped into the windows, essentially taped in place where the red paper had created a blank spot in the negative. Then you had to go over the negative with a fine brush and a clay-based paint, a process called “opaquing,” in order to get rid of imperfections that would print. Finally, the negative would be aligned on a piece of yellow paper called goldenrod, put into the position it would finally need to be on the press. Then the negative was exposed onto a light-sensitive emulsion on a metal plate, the plate was developed, and you had a plate that would be attached to the drum of the offset press.

In the newspaper world, this was an overnight process. It had a certain rhythm — waiting for the type, sorting out the layout sheets, pasting up what you could and waiting for the rest. Finding out that images weren’t the right size and having to re-shoot them (no clicking and dragging in those days). Finding out there was too much copy, or sometimes too little, and figuring out how to deal with it (and re-setting in another size was rarely an option, especially when it meant retyping the entire article and breaking style). There was the smell of the waxers, and the smell of the hypo that fixed the photo paper and stats. There was the loud vacuum noise from the photostat cameras, which used suction to hold the film on the platen. The low gear-turning motor sound from the developers, the quick high-speed whir of the waxers and the click of their switches. The satisfying snap of the T-square and the quick sound of the Olfa or X-acto slicing through the galleys.

This mode of composition lasted for a surprisingly short period of time. It was preceded by centuries of hot lead type composition that was done letter by letter, and a few brief decades of machines that could spill out lines of type at once (hence the Linotype), a massive technological improvement. Phototypesetting and that form of pasteup grew in the early 1960s. When I started paste-up in the mid-’70s, some work was still being done in lead because it was impractical to work it out in offset (such as numbering things like tickets, which relied on a clicking device that rolled over the numbers). In the few years that I worked in the field, we went from being unable to edit what we were typesetting, to being able to hold a buffer of two lines before committing it to type, to being able to store and edit entire jobs. We still couldn’t really see what we were doing in advance until about 1985, when the first machines offering some form of preview became common. They didn’t show you your type in its proper font, that wasn’t possible, but they were highly accurate otherwise. Then came the machines that started to let you do layout/pasteup in the machine. Then came Aldus Pagemaker, which meant that the whole thing could be done on a computer, and you could see what you were going to commit to print: WYSIWYG. In just a couple of years, pasteup was dead.

Even before that, I thought I was done with all-nighters. Apparently that wasn’t so.

Top 10, right now

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  1. Herman’s Hermits
    Blaze (Herman's Hermits album)

    Blaze (Herman’s Hermits album) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    one of the ’60s British Invasion bands that really didn’t get its due. They had a couple of little inoffensive novelties (“Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter,” “I’m Henry VIII I Am”) that somehow overshadowed what was really a series of masterful pop songs, including the rocking “My Reservation’s Been Confirmed,” “No Milk Today,” and the plaintive, angry, proto-punk “Where Were You When I Needed You.” The album “Blaze” is just a wonder, beginning to end, and should have cemented them as a serious band that was in for the long haul, one that was graduating from covering the songs of others. It didn’t.I don’t know another British Invasion band that has so many songs people just don’t know and should. (The Stool Pigeons’ album of Herman’s Hermits covers is, by the way, fantastic.)

  2. Speaking of Herman’s Hermits covers: The Bangles covered “Where Were You When I Needed You,” which of course wasn’t by anyone in HH, but the songwriting duo of Sloan and Barri.
  3. English: Susanna Hoffs of the Bangles. Taken b...

    Speaking of The Bangles, where was I when they needed me? Not paying attention to their reunion album from last year, “Sweetheart of the Sun.” I should have been. Heard Susanna Hoffs on the Adam Carolla Show recently, promoting her new solo album. I’ve been a massive fan of her “Under The Covers” albums with Matthew Sweet — under her spell I’ve come to love songs that I have disliked nearly all my life. Turns out Mr. Sweet had a hand in this Bangles album, too, and it’s really quite wonderful. 

  4. Oh, are we just doing music for this Top 10? Okay. Check out Amanda Rogers, whom we’ve seen a couple of times at Troy Night Out. Like lovely, emotional piano and a sweet, strong voice? She’s seriously good. So is her band, The Pleasants.
  5. Another, more local discovery from Troy Night Out: Oobleck. Funky. Possibly non-Newtonian. Check they out.
  6. Speaking of Troy: Design It Together. These guys have turned a process into an art, and an art into a business. Their designs are excellent. I wouldn’t consider a special occasion card from anyone else — especially weddings, anniversaries, or people who need a wonderful image of the Green Island Bridge.
  7. Christopher Moore’s “Sacre Bleu: A Comedy d’Art.” If you hold the Impressionists and their world as sacred, this may not be for you. Or perhaps it is. It’s a romp, like all Christopher Moore books, but it’s an even more entertaining one than usual.
  8. “Canada” by Richard Ford. I’ve only just begun this one, but I was hooked by the end of the first page. For some reason Richard Ford speaks to me, even though he’s writing of people and places that have nothing to do with me. There’s something about the emotional state of his men that fascinates (or perhaps worries).
  9. Like highly embarrassing coming-of-age sort-of teen pregnancy class conflict comedies? Got Hulu? Then I highly recommend “Pramface.” It’s British, of course, because I really don’t think American producers could hit these notes right.
  10. Noise-cancelling headphones. Why have I denied myself this absurdly necessary travel luxury for so long? Thanks to a loving family that takes birthday hints/threats to buy it for myself seriously, I know have a pair and really don’t know how I got by for so long with earbuds gouging my aural canals. you might think they’re mostly good for drowning out the roar of the plane, the rumble of the train, and the screaming of children. And it’s all of those. But I’m especially thankful for their power to completely mask the sound of crashing golf bores detailing their last 37 boozy golf outings, complete with what they think are subtle descriptions of the attractiveness of the brew pub waitresses and hostesses.
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Quonset

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Quonset hut.pngThe war ended nearly, what, 70 years ago? I feel like I could browse through Google Street View safely without running into post-war quonset huts. But no. They are still out there.

They are still out there. And this one appears to be thriving. It may be the nest.

Rensselaer quonset hut.png

Map of the World, 1977

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Scotia Map 1977 detail.jpeg

I came across this 1977 map. It’s of Scotia, Schenectady, and Mechanicville. That third one seems a bit odd, but otherwise, as far as I was concerned, it was a map of the world. And most of the world, at least as far as I was concerned, was what is shown right here.

That whole section of the village below Mohawk Avenue down to the river,
I knew so intimately. I knew every house. I knew who lived in most of
them. From various sales activities, back in the days when kids went
door-to-door selling greeting cards, candles, and other tchochkes, I had
knocked on most of those doors. I knew where to go to find horse
chestnuts, which old lady would pay you to clean up all her acorns. I
knew every dog, in a day when almost no dog was leashed. When I go back
to Scotia today, I still remember the houses by who lived in them in the
’60s and ’70s. Every school I went to is on here (except the seventh grade building, the original Scotia HIgh School, closed and perhaps demolished by this time). I set foot in most of those churches at one time or another, too, though I never caught fire in any sense of the word as far as church went. This is truly a map of my world.

It wasn’t quite a case of “beyond here be monsters” — I was no stranger
to the wilds of Schenectady, or the hills of Glenville. But on most
days, most of the time, these little angled grids of streets, a couple
of square miles of homes pushed up against the Mohawk River, represented
everywhere I was likely to go.

The map is odd. It aggressively ignores the numbers of the state
routes that run through the village (5, 50, 147), while naming the
unreachable islands of the river. It announces “APTS” at the east end of
Sanders Avenue, as if apartments were such an odd feature they needed
to be pointed out; they weren’t a big feature in Scotia, but there were
others, and they would hardly rate special mention on a map that didn’t
name churches or most schools.

It would be hard not to note how primitive the cartography is. That wasn’t unusual for the time. It’s single-color printing (oddly, not black). I don’t know the technology used for creating these, but the type looks like some form of letterpress. No key to the symbols is given, but ‘F’ is firehouse, ‘C’ is church, ‘S’ is school and ‘P’ is post office. The ‘8’ was a bit of a mystery, but the index reminds me that it was the Glenville Town Hall, back when it was still in the village. The village’s sole public cemeteries are
marked with what looks more like a telephone pole than a cross, but
then using a cross to designate a cemetery is a bit presumptuous anyway.
Within a few years, much more colorful and better printed maps would start being printed, and the local map company would have to up its game.

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“There is no tragedy like this under the sky”

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Letters of Note.jpg

There is a popular and often-repeated notion that romantic love is a modern invention of the Western world. Writer after writer will explain to us that only in the last couple of hundred years have we had this idea of being totally devoted to another human being; before that it was all practicality and contracts. It’s a cynical view that ignores  thousands of years of evidence to the contrary. So how, then to explain this: an incredible letter found on the chest of a mummified man in South Korea. Written in 1586, the letter is a heartwrenching plea from his pregnant widow, trying desperately to understand how to go on without him.

“How did you bring your heart to me and how did I bring my heart to you?
Whenever we lay down together you always told me, ‘Dear, do other people
cherish and love each other like we do? Are they really like us?’ How
could you leave all that behind and go ahead of me? . . .

“When I give birth to the child in me, who should it call father? Can
anyone fathom how I feel? There is no tragedy like this under the sky.”

To read the full letter, go to the amazing site Letters of Note. And then tell me love is a modern, Western invention.