- It may be that Zillow lies. It tells me houses have just come on the market, and when I go to actually look at them they’re already gone. This is discouraging, because I would totally have bought that house.
- In Pennsylvania, the shirtless douchebags start driving shirtless much earlier in the season, pumping out a much worse type of music. This may be the downside to a warmer spring.
- The worst part of moving is having to break up with my hairstylist. I’ve been with her for more than 20 years. I feel like I’m cheating. It’s even worse, really, because every time I’ve gotten my hair cut it’s been by someone different, so it’s like I’m slutting around on her.
- The move south means I get to experience something akin to those people who move to Australia and get summer twice in a row: I get to have spring allergies twice in rapid succession. The dogwoods and magnolias are already in bloom down here in greater Philly. (After all, why do you think they call it “greater”?) And so’s a lot of other stuff with pollen. Then it’ll all die down and I’ll go back north and experience it anew in three weeks.
- While I do get to experience the commercial genetic superiority of a Wegman’s, which all of Albany is clamoring for, there is no such thing as a Stewart’s down here, and no local equivalent. The best I can hope for is a Wawa, whose new stores are all clean and presentable and have decent bathrooms. But seriously, it’s embarrassing just to say its name.
- I can’t say that I’ll necessarily miss living in a place where I can kill a mosquito, hatched from the April warmth, in my bathroom on the same morning that I then had to go out and scrape a significant amount of ice off my car. I’m fairly sure that’s a sign of something.
- This whole thing about no self-serve gas in New Jersey: I don’t care that it’s 20-30 cents a gallon cheaper, AND someone pumps it for you. I think those of us who can remember full serve have a romantic memory of rolling over the gas station’s bell hose and having Chip come running out to serve you, filling ‘er up while cleaning the windshield and checking your oil (in a hot engine), and making change with a smile. The current reality is sitting in line and waiting while one overworked immigrant plods from car to car, putting your credit card into a very sketchy card reader, starting the pump and then walking off to tend to 10 other cars, leaving you to sit for seven minutes after your tank is full before he gets back to you to hand you your card. The whole process takes a minimum of three times as long as pumping it yourself does, and makes you feel like you’re exploiting undocumented labor in the process.
I know that other people pick up their roots and move all the time, but I’m damned if I can understand how. We’ve been in the same house for 23 years, and along with various renovations there have been various dumpsters filled with construction waste and whatever else we had lying around that we didn’t think we needed anymore. I felt like we were pretty good at clearing things out over the years — the girls’ toys from when they were little are long since gone, old clothes go out the door, and our generally small space keeps us from filling it up too much.
And yet, over the past week, we crammed a dumpster with 15 yards of stuff that had accumulated. Some of it was just impossible to get rid of, like a steel enameled utility sink from the basement that I finally replaced a few years back but was unable to ever get up the stairs. It didn’t weigh less than 80 pounds, and that was after I separated it from its base. (Anyone who guessed “cotter pin” as the connector, you have won the no-prize.) There was crappy particle board furniture and somewhat less crappy wood furniture that just had to go away, and lots of things that I’d have had to take a saw to to fit into the regular garbage, and so it sat until there was another dumpster opportunity. All gone now. (Including one last Barbie shoe that suddenly appeared from nowhere.)
Renovations are proceeding apace, thanks only to my mother, who can do more painting and patching in a single day than I can in two. Honestly, I wish I could work at that pace. Last week I was looking at a destroyed dining room, despairing that it could ever be finished; then all of a sudden, in a single day she got all the new wallpaper up and it looked almost like a real room. I spent a very frustrating day yesterday trying to cut the ceiling cove — geometry is my greatest weakness when it comes to carpentry, and despite checking my angles over and over I still make frustrating mistakes, and so the trim, sorry to say, did not get done this weekend. But maybe next. Almost there.
Then, of course, we need to find something to live in. This has proven marginally difficult, but I have hope. The difficult part is that the houses we would want that have cropped up have sold in seconds, when we really aren’t ready to make an offer yet. The ones that haven’t sold quickly, we can see why, and having lived in a semi-finished fixer-upper for a couple of decades, I’ve decided I’d rather give my money to a bank than to the Home Depot, get some of my weekends back, and just live in a finished house. Other people do this, so I know it’s possible.
It is the little parts of this project that make me insane. I need a ceiling medallion to cover an unfortunate bit of a gap above one of my ceiling lamps, so I tried to find one at the Lowe’s. All I needed was a simple, small, 4″ medallion, of the type that should be perfectly standard. So I was surprised to find myself flying into a Hulk-like rage when I discovered that little, open medallions don’t really exist there, and that in fact most of the medallion display is given over to crafts projects you can do with medallions. I don’t know when this happened, or why, but apparently there is some kind of craze for taking ceiling medallions and stuffing clocks, mirrors, and photos into their centers. What they’re really NOT set up for anymore is hiding flaws in a ceiling, which is their complete and only true purpose. If whoever was responsible for this had been standing next to the display, beaming with pride at their innovation, there would have been an unscheduled, and entirely justified, strangling.
Crafters: just get a clock. Get a mirror. Get a picture frame. Stop ruining my America.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Hooverphonic. The Last Thing I Need Is You:
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:
It 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:
The 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.
Spent 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!
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.
- 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.
I 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.
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.