Sunday, September 30, 2007

oenophilia, pt. 1

[posting from Mclean, VA, on my cousin's new iMac. Color me jealous; the keyboard and screen are beautiful on this machine.]

Thirteen years ago, I put together a mixed-case of wines for my cousin's wedding. Over the years, through a divorce and remarriage, through at least three states, a few of these wines have traveled with her. I discovered this a few years ago when I first came to visit them in Alexandria. Since then, we've talked about the weekend when I'd be able to stay over again and taste these last couple of bottles. This was the weekend.

There may be other bottles involved down the line, but the two that came out this weekend were a Dickerson Ruby Cabernet 1990 and a Renwood Old Vines Zin 1991.

The Dickerson was toast, sad to say. The cork disintegrated when I tried to pull it, and though I had hope that it could be drinkable, it was long-gone.

The Renwood, on the other hand, had a cork in good condition. It split during the pull, but only a little bit was left to push into the bottle. We poured a bit, let it breathe, and tasted it. In 2001, Tom Hill described it as
Med.dark color; fairly strong pungent/smokey dusty/old vine some blackberry/briary some licorice/pungent rather complex nose; slightly sweetish/ripe tarry/licorice/blackberry/briary/jammy very ripe flavor; long tarry/jammy ripe/blackberry/briary/Amador sweetish finish w/ modest tannins; really drinking nicely w/ a sweet fruit character; nicely developed complex Amador Zin.
Even at 16 years old or so, this description hits most of the flavor notes. What's most interesting, however, is that the character of the wine has become almost like a young Port. It has all of the above flavors, but with the sweetness of a nice port or sherry slipping in.

It was a very nice wine to sip after the kids were asleep; that's what is most important here. We rarely get that chance since the kids are always around and/or Banana and I have to hightail it back to Richmond. So, good wine and good conversation. What more could you ask for?

*Update: Should have saved the link on that one, but I forgot. Oops.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Octoberfests, pt. 4

Just one this time. The Ayinger Octoberfest.

This is a true and excellent Marzen lager. The body is light, and the flavor is malty and toasty without being cloying. As my neighbor said, this one tastes like a harvest--corn, earth, apples and crisp fall air.

Friday Fun, pt. 1

This is where my head is...

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Advertising, Politics, and Hypocrisy

I don't watch much TV, and most news programs make me apoplectic, so I missed this segment with Bill Clinton and Anderson Cooper. [just picked it up off DailyKos] Watch it.

Clinton's point about the spots the GOP ran in Georgia is dead on. One of the tricks of manipulating the medium that the GOP message machine has been so successful at has been to create such a wall of rhetorical white noise that no one in the news media seems to remember the GOP's awful, awful manipulations of the truth over the last twenty years. From Willie Horton to the blue dress to the Swift Boat vets and beyond in even more pervasive ways, they have succeeded in shredding our sociopolitical filters for what is reasonable, true, and rational.

And no matter what anyone thinks of Clinton, he deserves to speak out against this kind of message manipulation. After all, he spent eight years as victim of it.

Good Magazine

I'd heard about GOOD magazine but hadn't sought it out yet. The cover of the latest issue, their one year anniversary issue, caught my eye in Barnes & Noble earlier, and I picked it up. Having tried to launch a magazine once upon a time, I'm still a sucker for new "books."

Good is better than most, however. The writing is solid. The design is well-done--kudos to Open Design in New York. The uncoated stock the book is printed on lends a nice balance to the question: "Can design do good?"

Certainly that is a good question, and one that the issue tries to address. It's a useful question, a useful topic; unfortunately, it's hard to get away from the fact that every new thing we create adds to a potential landfill down the line.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Octoberfests, pt. 3

It's a major showdown tonight.

First challenger: Victory Festbier
These guys make some killer beers--cf. Golden Monkey and Prima Pils. This take on the traditional Octoberfest is pretty damn good, too. It loses points on being a little too sweet and malty. They gain points by noting on the label, "Brewed and bottled ... at our sole location in Downingtown, PA." A bit of the craft/micro vs. the macro/micro, eh? Anyway, the Festbier is tasty, but not perfect.

Second challenger: Brooklyn Oktoberfest
Those of you who have known me for years know that I consider Brooklyn Beers to be the perfect beers. Those of you who agree with me will understand that this Oktoberfest is perfect. The only point where I grade them down is that they have turned the corner into a full macro/micro. They brew the beers in Utica, and the days of generic caps on small craft-brewed batches are gone. Yes, business must grow, but I still miss the days when some of their beers were never distributed outside of Brooklyn. Maybe I just miss New York. Oh, and the beer? Malty but not too sweet, good body, perfect balance.

Third challenger was to be Ayinger. It will have to wait until tomorrow.

Random mid-week fun

"Pablo Picasso was never called an asshole."

Light posting so far this week. My brain hurts.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Noodle shops rule

Richmond is lucky to have several good Vietnamese restaurants. The most popular and best known of the bunch is Mekong. About two blocks away are a collection of little noodle shops--the places where most people are more likely to be speaking Vietnamese than English. The current favorite is Pho So.

Pho So is a classic noodle shop with plastic chopsticks and spoons on the table. The menu offers various rice and noodle options, but by far what you see the most of around the room are people tucking into one of the 17 pho options.

I've been timid about working my way up the list from the basic Pho ga, but I've lately been working up to the Pho Tai. Friday, I moved a couple steps higher to the Pho Tai Chin (meat warning from my veg friends), which includes rare round steak and well-done brisket. Add in the basil, the bean sprouts, the pepper, the hoi sin, the chili, and of course the lime, and all the flavors combine to create a near-perfect comfort food.

I even took a picture of it. Eventually I'll figure out how to send pictures from my phone.

Friday, September 21, 2007


I've been introducing Banana to the Looney Tunes oeuvre lately, but I can't afford to pick up the DVDs. I've had to rely on YouTube and Boomerang. All this time, I'd been missing a crucial character who never seemed to make it on to YouTube. Until now...

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Peter Principle was right -- employees, employers, and employment

Three years of management experience at a large state university, that's what I've reached now. I've also hit a wall.

Some observations:

  • Leaders who rule by fear and crony-ism will be publicly revered and privately reviled. They will inspire backbiting and jealousy. Their management will be characterized by kindness to old friends and insipid attacks on those they see as less obsequious. Ultimately, this crony-ism will lead to poorly-run organizations where the team is less important than the policy.

  • True loyalty is inspired. It grows when a team functions as a unit and all members--from the highest to the lowest--are seen as essential components.

  • People who work as administrators at large state universities worry most about protecting their retirement accounts. Anyone who threatens that is the enemy, though that enmity sometimes is sly and hidden. Furthermore, these people could work anywhere; students are a nuisance to them. Except when they can help with some of the mundane office work. (All administrative office work is mundane.)

  • An employee will put everything he (or she) has into a project, as long as he (or she) feels valued. That same employee is not likely to complain about the occasional scut project, as long as he (or she) feels like the office is fun place to be.

  • Long-time administrators resent fun, unless it is their own. (For reasons that should be obvious, I will not get into how this plays into life in my particular office building.)

  • No one deserves to be abused for balancing life with work--particularly when they are getting their work done well and on-time.

  • No senior administrator likes to be out of the loop, but they rarely want to be in the loop. And they will always discover that they are out of the loop just in time to make life hell for everyone involved.

  • Many high-level administrators do not want to be troubled with mundane details. Yet it is the details that they most need to know to understand successes and failures--these are the details that will most come back to haunt a lower-level manager when the senior administrator decides to be unhappy.

  • Work can be fun. How sad that some employers--and employees--don't subscribe to this notion. How sad.

That's enough for now.

Fall comes early

It seems odd that the leaves are already changing in Richmond. We've jumped from the oppressive heat and humidity of August to the crisp cool mornings of October in a few weeks. September lasted perhaps a couple of days, and now the maples along Monument Avenue are beginning to turn a rich, orange-ish clay-red.

In a small way, it is a reminder that no matter how much we affect our environment, we cannot ultimately control nature.

the wound

I visited the pain specialists yesterday. Their suspicion is that the chronic pain I'm experiencing is from nerve damage. Fun stuff. This means lidocaine patches on the back for a little while, Lyrica, and an EMG on my arm to determine how much sensation I may have lost. It also means dealing with the hairline fracture in my T1.

Fun stuff.

The things kids say

Last Saturday, we were at Maymont with a friend and her daughter, letting the girls tear around the lawns and then down to the Japanese garden. At one point, Banana took the other girl down close to the water. There were dragonflies of all sizes and colors around. Banana knelt next to the water and said loudly, "Look, H, those dragonflies are making love!"

My friend Angela put her hand over her mouth and laughed. I swear I blushed as I tried to find something to say. The best I could do was shrug--and worry where she had picked up that phrase.

What I hadn't seen was her putting her hands together to show H how the dragonflies made a heart with their tales when they were mating. She showed me this later, and Banana Mere confirmed that she called mating dragonflies "love dragonflies." In other words, she had mashed the ideas together. I laughed a bit at the explanation, and then told her that I understood what she was saying. Still, I told her, she shouldn't say things like that in school. (Those damn puritan and Lutheran genes...)

My biggest fear was that she had learned to say something she shouldn't say, and this drives straight to my fears that she will learn lots of things earlier than she should. It's also reminiscent of a trip to the pool where a nine year-old girl (the older sister of someone Anna was playing with) told her mom a boy had kissed her. The mom who also has custody shot me a horrified look and said, "That's it. I'm locking her in a tower."

There is an object lesson here: we can't control all the things that will come into our children's lives. Single parents whose children spend significant time with the other parent have even less control. But you can't worry too much about it, right? The best you can do is provide a firm and consistent standard for your child and hope that everything turns out all right--without any locked towers.

*Picture from University of Michigan.

A customer service winner...

On Saturday evening, I discovered that my bike had been stolen. It was a nice bike, a '99 Trek 6500 with a Topeak child seat mounted on the back. I'd traveled with the bike since '99 and enjoyed it. And no matter how carefully I locked it last weekend, someone had good enough bolt cutters to cut the cable and take the bike and the helmets on the other side of the porch. (That's the sad part, because it means someone pointedly stole from a child.)

Anyway, I called the police when I realized it was gone. Then I called USAA. Over the next couple days, I made a formal police report and gave a claims report to USAA. Today--less than five days later--USAA deposited a settlement to my savings account.

They deserve kudos for prompt, effective service. Now Banana and I can begin commuting by bike again. Less than a week later.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Octoberfests, pt. 2

Continuing the excursion to the state where I was born and an area where we spent much time...

1. Saranac Octoberfest
First off, it should be noted that Saranac beers are the house-brand for F.X. Matt Brewing. For those who don't know, Matt is the brewery that brews many, many microbrews under contract. They also create house-label brands for restaurants and people. The advantage of this is that they have some decent beers for less than most of the other craft brewers. The disadvantage is that their beers are just good, not outstanding. The Octoberfest is no exception. It's a decent lager, but very malty--so much so that the roasted malts were all I tasted at first. Simply put, this is a good one to drink after you've had a few other beers.

And then to the state where we did a bit of skiing when I was growing up...

2. Flying Dog Dogtoberfest
Flying Dog is another of those breweries that puts out consistent and excellent beers. This one is no exception. It has the light body and slightly toasted flavor necessary. At the end of the finish, there is an almost citrus-y taste where the hops come out a bit. All the way around, this one stands on its own. I think I'll have another.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Octoberfests, pt. 1

In the spirit of the reviews of spring and summer brews, I am moving into fall beer season. Apparently, I am also moving through these according to personal/geographic connection.

1. Bell's Octoberfest
It's another Bell's Beer. Need I say more? It is malty and the body is perfect. It carries the whiff of fall when it is poured. The head is light, and the first sip is crisp with a nice malt and spice to the finish. I am steadily moving Bell's up close behind Brooklyn in my list of favorite breweries.

2. Geary's Autumn Ale
The boys in Maine are apparently loathe to make anything other than an ale. Even though their Autumn Ale tastes an awful lot like an Octoberfest-style lager. Anyway, my neighbor's description was that it "tastes like a pile of leaves." She clarified that it was a compliment, that it brought out that tang in the air you smell when you dive into a big pile of October leaves. It's an Octoberfest that wants to call itself something else. And it's a damn fine beer, though not quite as succulent as the Bell's.

3. Harpoon Octoberfest
Years ago in our senior year of college, my friend Erik interned at the Harpoon brewery in the South End. He helped with marketing and business matters. On Friday afternoons, we both helped with drinking the beer. That fall was also my real introduction to Octoberfests. I've never forgotten it, and though Harpoon moved most of their operations to the former Catamount brewery in Vermont, their beer has stayed dear to my heart. This year's Octoberfest continues the tradition. It's got the perfect balance of malt and hops for a nice toasty flavor that hits the tongue crisply and lingers a bit. This beer cries for grilled brats and sauerkraut.

Oh, and two other things: 1. Leapy is still missing; and 2. The fall air has hit, gloriously.

Life-hacking, pt. 43

The latest lesson: Life is a marathon, not a sprint.

I have always been a binge cleaner. That is to say, when I cleaned my house, I did it in binges, scouring the entire place and then forgetting that keeping the place clean meant seeing organization as an ongoing project. I've also been a binge decorator. After moving into a new place, I'd keep the organization and decoration going until I got bored or too busy. Then I'd get distracted and it would take months for me to finish projects--if I ever did.

Almost exactly a year ago, I started to work intensively at cleaning up the shambles my life had become. Taking the view that the state of one's outward environment is a reflection of one's inward state, I also tackled the house intensively. It worked well for a while, until I became swamped and overwhelmed again. That state didn't really end again until I moved into the new house in May.

Since then, I've tried to take the reins again and keep up with the demands of life. (Mind you, no parent finds this easy; for single parents, it is even more complicated; unless you are Mr. Corbett.) Creating an inviting and livable space has also become a concentrated project. The problem is that I am so wrapped into the deadline-driven, binge-work mindset that I forget to finish projects if they aren't easy. The potential result is that the house never really gets settled.

I have, to this end, begun to remind myself that life is a marathon, not a sprint. If I pace myself, the daunting time (when the fuck do I do all of this?) and financial (how can I afford all the little and big things we need?) concerns seem smaller. If I see the organization as an ongoing process, I can take it in manageable spurts; if I see the furniture and other dry good needs as a medium-term process, there is less reason to be frustrated that I'll never be able to afford what I want or need. Taken at that level, one is also liberated to be more creative and flexible while still working toward the goals.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The return of Leapy

Night 1
I picked up crickets at Fin and Feather in the hopes that new food would lure Leapy back. I put a few crickets in the aquarium and put the rest in the cricket keeper, which sits on the dresser next to the aquarium. The next morning, the cricket keeper was on the floor. I had visions of Leapy lurking somewhere around the dresser, waiting for me to turn off the IKEA seahorse light, and then climbing back up to solve the puzzle of getting crickets. She's crafty, this frog.

Night 2
I stopped in the room to check on Banana before I went to sleep--far too late, as usual. At a glance at the floor, I saw a hunched lump that did not belong with the rest of the toys. She struggled a bit when I picked her up and tried to climb my arm rather than go back in the aquarium. Nonetheless, she did go back, and when Banana woke up this morning, she was ecstatic. Leapy was also quite tame and did not try to escape. Still, the screen atop her aquarium will remain weighted.

Never forget to put the weights atop the screen. The frog will escape again. And she has. Oy.

Friday fun

Aaaah, the memories.

education gets lazier?

Aren't we exacerbating our cultural ignorance by pandering to short attention spans?

I'm just saying...

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


A backfiring pickup truck sounds just like a gun shot. I have nothing further to add.

She's crafty, that frog.

This morning, Banana came to me and said that Leapy wasn't in her cage. I was incredulous at first, particularly since the kid has developed a penchant for saying things like "Fooled you" lately. When she did, in fact, show me Leapy's aquarium, it was clear that there was no frog. Not in the waterfall. Not in the corner. Not in the nooks of her log. There was no frog.

Upon further investigation, there was a trace of her next to the cricket cage--a frog pellet, if you will. Clearly she had somehow pushed the screen up enough to get out, landed near the cricket keeper and moved on somewhere else. We continued to look for her, but turned nothing up. I'm going to buy crickets this afternoon in the hopes that a new supply will bring her back to the cricket cage.

Banana has already begun to move on. If Leapy doesn't come back, she wants a pet that won't try to escape. I'm pretty sure it hasn't occurred to her yet that a disappeared Leapy means an animal hiding somewhere in the house. Will we find her by smell if the crickets don't work, or will we wake one morning to find her hugging a corner wall?

I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a random return while we're both away today.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

old writing - September 11th edition

What follows is an excerpt from an essay I wrote shortly after that tragic day. I haven't touched it since, but given the anniversary, I thought it worth digging out.

That morning, I followed the same basic routine I’ve followed since leaving the city two years ago—coffee, NPR, and the New York Times and Daily News online. The night before the Yankees and Red Sox were scheduled to play and Roger Clemens was trying to become the first pitcher ever with a 20-1 record. The game, however, was rained out. I continued to read headlines until the voices on the radio shifted and the news broke.

For the rest of that day, then, I sat glued to the TV while NPR continued to blare out of the stereo speakers. Everyone was confused over the “apparent terrorist action.” The coverage shifted to President Bush in Florida, then a short while later to reports of smoke billowing from the Pentagon, then of a plane that had crashed in rural Pennsylvania. At that point, facts were muddled; rumor after rumor spun out about the possibility of planes over the White House, a car bomb outside the State Department. Federal offices and major landmarks around the country were evacuated in a CNN-fueled panic and security increased even at the Federal building here in Fayetteville.

My first instinct was that I needed to be there; I needed to see this with my own eyes, not through a camera’s lens. I paced my small house and in the background CNN replaced the dearth of new developments with footage of the second plane crashing into the South tower. A ball of flame burst each time out of the east side of the building. I tried to reach my father in Washington. No luck. I tried to reach friends in New York. No luck. I called my mother at our house in Maine and told her what was happening. Ten minutes after I I hung up the phone, the South tower collapsed. I had no idea what to do. More phone calls and occasionally there was a fast busy signal, occasionally a voice explaining that that the circuits were full, and all too often a dead silence when the line simply couldn’t connect.

The silences were the worst—I needed to talk to someone in the city, someone who understood the sickening feeling in my stomach. I needed to do something. Then the second tower collapsed. I called my mother again and could say nothing more than, “The towers are fucking gone. They’re gone.” And still no luck getting through to New York or Washington.

As the rumors of new threats devolved into images of the real destruction, the nausea settled into my chest—it felt as though a frigid hand had reached in and pulled out my heart and lungs. I couldn’t take a full breath. Every time the images of the collapse flashed across the screen, the twin beacons I had seen so many mornings disappeared into a gray cloud and the dead phone did not help the worry that at least one of my very close friends might still have been working for the same law firm at 2 World Trade Center.

Thankfully she wasn’t. The first phone call that got through was to her and she answered; she had been scheduled to return to work the next day. The next fucking day. We repeated the words to each other as though they were a mantra that might help make sense of what was happening. “It’s crazy here, Paul, just crazy right now.” After that, a few brief emails dribbled in telling me that people were okay. Alive, but stunned beyond words. One friend, Arthur, had been at LaGuardia preparing to board a plane to Ohio when the towers were hit; he walked five miles home to the Upper West Side and said the reactions he saw of people on the street were indescribable, beyond words. This man is a therapist and a writer, and he couldn’t find words to describe the effect of what happened. Another friend had walked the opposite direction from midtown on the East side across the Queensboro Bridge and she described the crowds as most closely resembling the large pro-choice marches in which she had taken part. But she also said that the numbness with which people moved was beyond comprehension. Another friend sent a ten word email from her cellphone. Another described the dust now settling over my old neighborhood in Brooklyn. Nearly everyone signed their emails with “Love.”

The relief of knowing that everyone closest to me was safe was shortlived. There was a news conference with Giuliani and I was torn apart again. He wore a NYPD windbreaker and kept his face barely composed as he described the devastation, and the period during which his own entourage was trapped in a nearby building while assessing the initial damage. Then his efforts at composure cracked as he listed the fire fighters and police officers, all veterans and high-ranking officials, who were known to be among the dead. This hit me hard: they had been doing their jobs, on the scene of an untenable emergency, directing efforts to save people’s lives before the fire engulfed the towers. The Fire Department Chaplain, with twenty years of service behind him. The Fire Chief and First Deputy, both with nearly thirty years of service. Giuliani had to be prompted by the Police Commissioner to make it through the brief iteration of the names. More even than the images of people jumping after the planes had hit—what must it take for a person to choose between burning and falling one thousand feet?—or the repeated images of the collapse, more than anything so far, oddly it was Giuliani’s reaction that finally got to me and brought out the tears that I’d held back earlier in the day.

The pictures came fast then, too. The coffee carts and fruit stands deserted and covered in ash, like Pompeiian memorials to workaday life in the city. I could taste the buttered bagels and the hot, sweet, thin coffee; I wondered what the middle-Asian immigrant in the cart must have thought as the planes hit. The crowds must have pushed past as he turned off the coffee urns and worked to hitch the cart—complete with its cargo of donuts, bagels, rolls, apples and bananas—to the van with which he had towed it in from Queens. At the urging of the police, he must finally have given up on trying to drive his cart away from the disaster zone. In the picture, the van sits just off Church Street, covered in dust and debris, the coffee cart tilted to the side. Many of these immigrants have no insurance and get into the coffee cart business through an underground of connections from their old country, and for most of them it is a hand-to-mouth existence. What happens to him now? The quandary must be the same for the man, perhaps Bangladeshi or Chinese, who abandoned the debris-covered fruit and vegetable cart captured in another photograph. Here is their land of opportunity. That gets me every time.

Another picture from The Daily News captures people, all of them dressed for their morning commute, many already covered in dust, running down Greenwich Street. Their faces are frozen in paroxysms of terror—they look like horror film extras, in fact—and men’s ties blow out over their shoulders as they run from the expanding cloud of debris following them through the canyons of buildings. I pore over this photo the way I look at every photo coming out of the horror of that day and each day following, to see if there are any faces I recognize, any friends among the refugees and mourners.

As I scan these photos, I also notice the streets, the places, and one in particular gets me. It was taken at a spot from which one could see, if the lens were turned a bit, The Raccoon Lodge. I used to play pool there from time to time, and when I worked jobs downtown I’d stop there for a beer. It was a classic old joint with a good jukebox and enough grime to keep it from seeming like it belonged anywhere near the financial district. But even old bars often survive on shoestrings in New York City, and I wonder if the owner had enough insurance to keep him afloat until the streets two blocks from Ground Zero were opened again. That gets me.

As I continued to pore over the news, there was a picture that captured a simple handwritten sign that read in capital letters, “Morgue,” with an arrow pointing left. The sign was tacked up outside the broken windows of the Brooks Brothers store across Church Street from the Trade Centers. The sign directed those carrying bodybags into the tweed-lined room where several medical examiners worked to separate pieces of bodies. As I read the accompanying story, I couldn’t stop thinking about the three pairs of boxer shorts I had bought at that store six years ago when I didn’t have time to do laundry.

Then there are all the photographs of the fire fighters from departments across the Northeastern states, police, and other rescue workers—the construction workers, the volunteers, the steelworkers, the pipefitters, the canine search-and-rescue corps. The sheer determination tempered by exhaustion creasing these faces made me wish I could hop the subway to the Javits Center and add my name to the list of volunteers even though I didn’t have any of the skills they really needed. With each picture, the sense of helplessness grew. There were more American flags; the firefighters wore them. Mementos of lost departments appeared on helmets and jackets. The Yankees stopped wearing the interlocking NY hats and instead wore NYPD and FDNY hats as they returned to practice a few days later. Mike Piazza plastered NYPD over the Mets’ orange NY on his batting helmet. None of these men were directly involved in the rescue effort, but any show of solidarity was enough to get to me in the days after.
In the meantime, other buildings in the area collapsed and the structural integrity of several others came into question. With each piece of news, I thought back to freelance jobs that took me to 5 World Trade, 2 World Trade, lunches and dinners consumed in the Winter Garden; a picture of the atrium shows a ghost-town of restaurants and escalators bowing under the weight of debris. You take these things for granted when you’re in the city; they may not be your favorite places, but they will always be there when you need to meet a friend downtown or to show a visitor. Now they aren’t.

In their place is a 16 square acre, 70 foot deep and 40 foot tall pile of debris and what is left of more than 6000 bodies. When the World Trade Center was built, the foundation was carved out of century-old landfill and the foundation was set in such a way as to keep the Hudson River at bay. In my media frenzy, I came across articles that bring up yet more chilling possibilities of collateral damage brought on by the attacks: the civil engineers who designed this crater worry that a single wrong move while cleaning up debris may flood the entire area, and the subway tunnels, PATH train tunnels, other areas, in short that things could all-too-easily get much worse.

Friday, September 07, 2007

writing from 2004

Dug this up from some of my random, fun writings a few years ago...

The need to wipe our bums is certainly nothing new. Though I know our contemporary diet is full of additives and alternatives that humans did not consume hundreds and thousands of years ago, I feel reasonably confident in assuming that my progenitors’ poop was not remarkably less messy than my own. And I feel reasonably confident in guessing that my solution—maple leaves—this morning when the need for a porcelain basin came inpropitiously while I was in the woods was not so different from what men and women must have chosen to use in centuries past.

A bit of research into the development of this remarkable modern convenience turns up the fact that the Koran dictates the use of the left hand for cleaning up afterwards. This is, of course, a rule that must seem barbaric by our “Western” standards of hyper-hygienic, anti-bacterial obsessiveness. No wonder, some might even say, that we consider Arabs so backwards and primitive; of course anyone who actually touches his own feces must be little better than an animal. And our civilization is obsessed with nothing so much as separating ourselves from animals—and anything that smacks of the natural world. How inconvenient then that we must be faced with the fact of our animal-ness whenever we sit down to take a crap.

But what is wrong with shells and corn cobs? Or my morning choice of the maple leaf? Why supplant these with hundreds of feet of rolled, quilted, double and triple ply, bleached paper? Certainly the coastal dwellers in Hawai’i and elsewhere who have relied on mussel and scallop shells learned which shells were most efficient and felt the best on their tender-skinned bottoms. Consider this picture: a woman picking along the beach for the perfect shells for her family to use in cleaning themselves, the quilted scallop or the double-ply mussel or perhaps the rough efficiency of the clam, much as the vaunted shopping wife of contemporary culture wanders down the aisle of the grocery store deciding which package of twenty-four rolls will best serve her family’s needs. Yet the “Indian”—for isn’t every brown-skinned person of non-Western descent still an Indian (read “savage”) still?—chooses the item that can be washed after each use and reused, much like the Arab’s hand. I wonder, given our societal obsession with convenience and single-use items, whether our Pilgrim progenitors saw fit to reuse their corncobs, the mere mention of which makes me wonder if their stereotypical uptightness didn’t result from a continuous case of hemorrhoids.

But I am no better than that which I tease here. When traveling in Europe and Asia and South America before our mania for comfortable convenience began to spill inexorably over into other places, I often looked forward to returning to the States for at least this reason: my bum was sore from the use of the rough sheets that passed for toilet paper in those places. I wanted my quilted softness, my plys, my rolls that I could pull a whole wad off of for one single wipe, and then another roll, and another, until the bowl was filled with paper. It is certainly one way we can hold ourselves above other so-called civilized societies. Where they haven’t gotten beyond the 1880 introduction of toilet squares by the British Paper Corporation, we invented the roll in 1907. And life has only gotten softer and more convenient since. Never again will anyone have to rely on maple leaves, though I must admit: they were softer than your average roll of Scott tissue.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Growing up in the 70s

We were raised on entertainment made by people who did serious drugs. A lot of serious drugs. Enjoy the memories.

news like this scares me

So a B-52 flies from North Dakota to Louisiana and it's not news, right? Right. Unless it's carrying nuclear weapons. To the base used to stage Middle East operations. And someone sees fit to leak the news.

Seriously, though, the possibility that Bush&Co might try to go through with an attack on Iran is disturbing--and all-too-plausible. Jon Stewart began making the point a few years ago that we just happened to have started wars on either side of Iran. Given the hubris of our Dear Leaders, it is not a hard leap to believe that there is a long-term strategy in place for using Afghanistan and Iraq as staging grounds; such a premise is also vaguely believable since there clearly has never been an exit strategy, and another war would continue to justify a long-term occupation.

Regardless, the possibility of stepping up our military engagement is too frightening to imagine. And the thought of adding nuclear weapons to the equation... Oy.

so that erroneous charge...

has posted to my bank account. Bar tab: $17.78. Erroneous tip: $164.22. Correct tip: $4. Charges to my USAA account: $21.78 and $182.

Supposedly, the bar/restaurant manager is working to correct it. Stay tuned to see how good Embassy Suites is to their word.

Princess Valiant

A year ago, Banana decided that she wanted her bangs to be short. She disappeared into the bathroom at her mother's apartment with a pair of scissors and wound up with bangs reminiscent of Prince Valiant. It was that cute but slightly horrifying moment almost every parent of a girl talks about--the moment when that little girl takes her coiffure in her own hands. It's just a bit of a surprise.

But it's only supposed to happen once, right?

Unfortunately, she was at mommy's apartment yesterday afternoon, and while mommy was doing some reading for class, Banana decided she wanted a bob cut like one of her friends. Her bangs were completely gone before Banana Mere realized what was happening. (Oy.) Banana Mere did her best to clean up the now-nonexistent bangs (I mean, we're talking millimeters) and finish and clean up the bob cut. So now, my daughter has created a look I'll call the Princess Valiant. She is quite proud of it.

Her teacher's comment this morning may have been the best yet, however: "Oh my. Well, at least it's cute."

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Embassy Suites as an environmental debacle

On the grand football-roadtrip-adventure this weekend, we stayed a couple nights at an Embassy Suites outside of Detroit. It's become my father's default option as a hotel for these trips. He likes the breakfast, and the accommodations are comfortable. Certainly it's nice to have a fresh omelette, waffles, various baked goods, weak coffee, and all the eggs, sausage, and bacon you could crave at your beck and call. Certainly Banana loved the pool. But it is also an example of all that is not sustainable in our society. Like the low-end Hummer of hotels.

All of the food we ate was delivered by massive food service semis. Though it was early September and prime time for peaches and nectarines, there wasn't a sliver of local produce to be found. There was one entree on the dinner menu that claimed to be a local specialty--or at least a Great Lakes specialty: the pan-fried lake perch. The waffle mix was kept in small plastic cups, and in front of every set of actual glasses was a larger supply of disposable cups.

Add to this the amount of energy chewed up by the wide open atrium spaces that are lit and climate-controlled at all hours, and you have one example (emblematic of thousands) of the ways we are squandering our resources.

Life goes on...

ob-la-dee ob-la-da...

That's all I'll say for now.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

First Day of School

Banana is really a big kid now. I don't think it's quite hit me yet.

(regular posting to resume soon)

Saturday, September 01, 2007

football madness

It's very odd to be on the losing side of history. I don't have much more to add than it was clear that only one team on the field was really playing the whole game. That is to say, ASU came in ready to play, and Michigan looked like they were just muddling their way through a scrimmage.

This is also to say that the game wasn't necessarily worth the eleven-hour drive both ways, but the time with my father and Banana has been worth it. (Though not necessarily worth the mistake on a bar tab, which we're hoping will be cleared up very, very soon.)

Fall Saturdays

Ah, nostalgia for small-time college football... We will spend the rest of the day at this small, quaint temple of scholar-athletes.