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.

Wood rosin market

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Considering that I haven’t publicized this thing hardly at all, just to a few friends, a surprising number of people have stumbled upon it. I’ve never been quick enough to even spot my own blog in the “recent updates” on Blogger, but apparently others have, because I do get referrals from it. But my favorite so far is that this blog got googled for the terms “wood rosin market.” And amazingly enough, I actually did use the words “wood rosin” in a post (“glycerol ester of wood rosin,” in fact). So now I’m going to pump up the chances of getting it again. For all I know, people do searches on the wood rosin market every day. There could be futures trading on this that I don’t even know about, perhaps at the Piscataway Board of Trade. Great, now I’m going to show up if somebody searches for Piscataway!
Listen, if I could piscataway . . .
Never mind, it’s the vaudeville in my blood.

Books

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Doing better on the book front. Carl Hiaasen’s “Basket Case”: really good. I never expect much of popular writers, and less of popular Florida writers. And I don’t usually read novels about rock ‘n’ roll, which this is, a little, but Jen Sincero’s book “Don’t Sleep with Your Drummer” changed my mind because it was such a hoot. But this was good. Never over the top, delightfully sure of itself, a little bit wacky and yet full of truth. And very sweet. Whipped right through it. And now I’m into Jennifer Belle’s “High Maintenance,” which will be good if the narrator realizes she deserves better than the guy who has attached himself to her. It’s a little flighty but not overly so, New York but not obnoxiously so, and it’s hard not to like the girl telling the story.

Linda Ronstadt

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When you really listen, especially to the albums, it probably should have been clear that her heart wasn’t in those songs. And even now, though I’m glad she helped to spread the word about Warren Zevon, you’ve gotta wonder what she was doing singing “Poor Poor Pitiful Me” or “Mohammed’s Radio.” But her voice was so incredible, and what she could do with the songs that she got into was so good, that you could forgive the production values (no drum shall go unmuffled!) and the lack of heart in some of the album tracks. She was HUGE in the ’70s. Hard to remember that now, even though she went on to reinvent herself a couple of times and still has a presence. She did a disastrous album of new wavey stuff that had my favorite cover of “Lies” (The Knickerbockers). Then she did the standards, 3 albums worth I believe, which was fun but who really listens to standards? They belong in movie soundtracks, they need pictures in front of them to make them interesting. I reawoke to her voice a couple of years ago on a drive to Boston, listening to “Prairie Home Companion,” and she was singing (Kate McGarrigle’s?) “Talk to Me of Mendocino,” one of her early covers now done with a tenderness and wisdom that she couldn’t have mustered in her twenties. It was lovely. And now Rhino has put out a greatest hits CD, not a thorough survey by any means, and presented in a frustratingly random order (I’d have preferred chronological), but good enough for $14. My albums are very well worn and won’t burn very nicely (I had to take 3 copies of “Back in the USA” back to the store because of a manufacturing defect, they just kept skipping and skipping), so this is a nice supplement. Not sure if remastering would reveal something that was buried in the murky laidback Southern Cal sound of the ’70s (the remastered Ramones discs are INCREDIBLE), but maybe someday somebody will try.

The miles roll away…

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I’ve always been a spectacularly poor judge of distance. Inches, feet, miles . . . I will always guess the distance wrong. I was pretty good with picas, in my typesetting days, but only out of constant application. So in picking my bike route for yesterday, wanting to extend a bit further than I had gone the week before (22 miles), I picked a target of Poestenkill and took off. The winds were fairly ferocious, but I had my obscenely expensive new bike jacket on so I was snug and comfy. (The jacket cost more than the bike I had previously been riding, although those numbers are not adjusted for inflation.) So, off I went, fighting wind but generally taking my time and having a nice ride, thinking I must have been doing about the same miles as last week, maybe a little more. Made a wrong turn on the way home and ended up facing a hill my legs were getting too tired to go up (in heavy traffic), so I went around it, but that only added about 20 minutes to the ride. The whole thing took much longer than I had expected, 2 hours, and even though my quads were DONE when I got up the last hill, I didn’t think I had gone that far. Then I plotted the trip this morning and it turns out I had covered 36.3 miles. No wonder my quads were done.
Great ride though. Brisk, sunny, lots of color in the hills, and once I got out past 150 the traffic fell away. But I am going to HAVE to get better at Rensselaer County backroads. Yes, I had a map with me, but having one and looking at one are not the same thing, and it often seemed easier to just keep rolling along than to figure out where I was rolling to.

Sometimes finishing is the point

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I’m just about done with “My Legendary Girlfriend,” which I borrowed on the strength of its cover, an outstanding title typeface mixed with a photograph, nicely photoshopped, of an old rotary phone. A quick skim made it seem like it was along the lines of Nick Hornby, so I gave it a shot. And it’s perfectly readable, but the narrator appeals to me not at all, a twenty-six-year-old layabout just getting his first real job, pining over a girl who dumped him three years before. Pining. A lot. Constantly. (By twenty-six, I was going back to school to embark on my second career, while working 6-2 on the first one). But I had enough invested in it to bother finishing, which puts it right in league with the previous book I read, TC Boyle’s “Riven Rock.” Listen, folks, I need a good book next time, okay?
I just learned that Donna “Where the hell did the wunderkind disappear to?” Tartt has a second novel coming out. Not sure whether to be excited or not. I wanted to hate The Secret History because she was a plucky, photogenic Bennington grad who hit it big right out of school, but then I couldn’t resist reading it and it became one of my all-time favorite novels. No telling whether she can do it again, but I’m hopeful, because I liked her writing. I’ve also got Russo’s new collection, “The Whore’s Child,” but it’s a lot easier for a book of stories to satisfy than a novel, there are always bound to be two or three things that stand out. And I never even finished all the stories in Banks’s “Angel on the Roof.” But I’d like to find something as captivating as my earlier-in-the-year discoveries of Michael Chabon and Richard Ford, and not have to slog through another book just because I may as well find out if anything ever happens. (Answer: In “Girlfriend,” it doesn’t. Ditto “Riven Rock.”)

Overheard

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Some things just brought this to mind today, but I heard it this summer, waiting around the Clayton docks for the kids to finish up in the restroom. A town worker was down there with his truck, getting some gear out of a storage area, and he was talking on his cell phone to someone at the same time. And he said to the other end, “I’m gonna tell you something Larry told me a long time ago. You can be the best boss in the world until you have to tell somebody to do something they don’t want to do. Then you’re an asshole.”
So, this guy working on the town crew pretty much has it figured out.

Wide World of Sports

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Survived the 5k. Liked the course much better than last year’s. Official time was something like 25:05, but I would swear the clock was still in the 24s when I crossed the line. No matter. Shaved a minute and a half off last year’s, stuck to my plan, never seriously thought about dropping out or even slacking back. Still, it’s disheartening when a schlub I know runs for no more than an hour once a week can come in right behind me. Sucks to be genetically challenged. But what a great time. I liked the support and chatter with other runners, the whole atmosphere, and it was a great time. Gonna psych myself up to do the Fiddlers in a few weeks. Plus, my family came and cheered me on at the finish, and that was wonderful. Then we had swim lessons, ballet lessons, lunch, a birthday party. During the party, Lee and I went down to Steiner’s and I got my bike.
I said, I GOT MY BIKE! Love it. Just love it. Fits me perfectly. Had to go with a somewhat softer seat than it was equipped with, but it’s still a bit of a hardtail, so my next pair of bike shorts is going to have to be a little higher tech (read: gel under my ass). I took it out yesterday for a great 22 mile ride through the hills of Luther and Best, all the way out to West Sand Lake, then back in on 43 (too much traffic), and down through Rensselaer (not quite intentionally, but I was trying to get away from the cars). Had to walk up Aiken Avenue, I was just about done with hills then no matter how low this thing cranks. And it cranks quite low. I took every other hill with aplomb. It was warmish, the sun was out, the fall colors were starting, and the ride through the country was just wonderful. Best bike ride of my life. No challenge to my lungs at all. And today I’m not even sore.
But I did have to take a nap yesterday afternoon. I was just beat.
Can’t wait to get it out next weekend!