Sunday, December 30, 2007

skating and the best Christmas ever

I took Banana skating today. It was the first chance to try out the new skates she'd gotten for Christmas.

We got to the rink, and I paid the $14.50 for our entry and my skate rental. We trotted into the bleachers and got our skates on. When hers were laced up, she proudly stood up and showed them to two little girls who told their mom they wanted pretty white skates. For the rest of the time, she pointed out every other little girl who wore a similar pair.

She was pretty tentative when we got out on the ice. Her nervousness probably wasn't helped by my own trepidation, but we started moving pretty well. After a few laps near the wall, she switched to holding just one of my hands and we moved into the center a little bit. A skating coach pointed out that we probably needed to sharpen the blades to stop her sideways slipping--a detail I hadn't considered when buy brand new ice skates, and a lesson I've now learned. She tried a couple times to show me how she could spin. Those were the times she fell (Rule #1, I told her, was that she would definitely fall, and get up.), and I suggested she wait until she could skate on her own before she try spinning or jumping.

My little girl is determined to jump ahead of what she can really do. It's a habit I think she inherited from me, but I hope she learns how to do all of her work and practice in order to learn how to do these things. That discipline part is the piece I've missed sometimes.

Anyway, after an hour and a half of skating, we were both ready to quit. Banana stopped, grinned, and said, "I like ice skating. This was the best Christmas ever." Very sweet.

For my part, I only remember skating once as a child--and hating it. Falling was no fun. I've skated a few times in the last ten years, and I don't mind it so much now. I might even take the time to learn how to do it better.

Why I love Coney Island, part the umpteenth

Because once upon a time, people built things like elephant-shaped hotels there.

(Image from the New York Public Library.)

Saturday, December 29, 2007


Banana is an adorable, smart, funny five and a half year old. She is also an only child, and she is beginning to exhibit--regularly--some of the symptoms of Only Child Syndrome. She forgets to share, particularly when she is tired, and sometimes she insists on dictating how other kids play with her. "No, you have to color the skirt purple, not blue," that's the sort of thing she's been known to say recently.

Based on some reading I've done, part of this behavioral development in the shift from five to five and a half--where well-behaved kids become a little bossier and a little more determined to show what they know. Part of it is clearly the fact that she is an only child, however, and conversations with a close friend who has spent a fair amount of time with her recently bear this out; she hasn't always played with the others in the way that we want her to.

As a recovering only child myself, I watch some of this with a little trepidation. Being part of community of parents and kids helps allay some of the potential ME/MINE problems, but I am beginning to realize that I have to pay close attention to head off the dreaded doesn't play well with others or share problems.

The Hobbit?

Okay, especially after a conversation earlier this evening about my old, lost D&D days, I have to admit I'm excited about the prospect of a Peter Jackson-produced version of The Hobbit. It may be the simplest of all the books, but it also has a sweetness and narrative that deserve better treatment than the old cartoon version.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Environmental "Standards" or not...

So, a week ago, the administration--er, excuse me, the EPA told told 17 states that they couldn't set their own air quality standards. Or at least, they told the states that they couldn't set requirements that were more stringent than federal standards. I mean, god forbid states look out for their interests when they don't feel the federal government is doing a good enough job. And it's not like states' rights and republicanism were ever the foundation of the Republican party or anything like that. Nope. At least not when such alternative regulations might conflict with bizness interests.

Anyway, that's what makes it extra-fascinating to find out that the EPA might have been tainted by contacts from Cheney's office. And that they might have to fess up to what really is behind their efforts to stop states and citizens from actually taking the initiative on making a change in our approach to the environment.

Stay tuned for the report that significant portions of the documentation has been redacted for "National Security Purposes" or that some low-level official "inadvertently" deleted the records.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

It's the end of the year as we know it, and I feel...

Warning: Serious, navel-gazing post ahead.

I've been away from the blog, correspondence and writing in general for more than a week in the midst of holiday mayhem and much-needed social time. The time has also afforded me plenty of moments of perspective and introspection. I suppose holidays always do that (and/or push us into abject alcohol abuse), but as I've worked to slow down the roller coaster of life and come to terms with the past few years, the effect is that much more profound. More than that, the reality of coming within an inch or so of death and the ongoing physical and psychological recovery makes every aspect of this season so much sweeter.

Since the shooting, I've been contacted by or gotten back in touch with several old friends. Some I hurt over the years; some I just lost touch with; either way, these are steps and connections that have meant a lot to me. And as much as I realized the importance of friends and family in the emotional ups and downs since 2004, the shooting forced me into a vulnerability and acceptance of my need for the people who were there after that night and in subsequent months. The bigger lesson was how to ask for and accept help. The collateral effect was the realization that I had cavalierly let valuable friendships go over the years.

I guess the point is that I never realized how much I needed the people who cared about me until I was forced to put my life in other people's hands. This isn't the ideal way to learn a lesson, but I guess some lessons in dharma and karma come in bigger packages.

And yet, for all the friends I have (loosely) reconnected with, there are many more I have yet to find.


The other day, on Christmas, I turned to Banana and told her that the sweetest part of this holiday was that I was still here. She looked at me quizzically, and I told her she would understand some day. In the mean time, being here means that I can make my life--and hers--a better place.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

sick holiday friday fun

And now we know how the tradition of angels on the Christmas tree came about.

friday fun

This gives a whole new meaning to feeling a little blue...

Another one bites the dust

Here's another bit of news from the city to make me sad. Apparently, the old donuts shop on Fifth Avenue is closing. The place has been a landmark for years, and was one of those great vestiges of the old working class neighborhood still hanging on when I moved there. It was classic breakfast/diner fare, with that hot, sweet coffee and a great bacon, egg, and cheese. They'd cut you a break if you were running low on cash, let you pay later. The old guys would sit there in the mornings drinking their coffee and smoking, talking to the owner, carrying on about a story in the Post or the Daily News. It's a world that is dying, storefront by storefront.

(Picture from Sugar Road on Flickr.)

publishing, and the beauty (and sad, sick irony) of it all

So, you're the mother of two high-profile child stars. One has become a trainwreck of highly publicized pregnancies and drinking. The other is the wholesome teen star of a popular show. What do you do to validate your role? You get a book deal with a Christian publisher to write a book about the trials and successes of raising such an impressive brood.

Until... OOOPS... your good girl ends up a pregnant teen, and your new career as an author for said-Christian publishing house gets pulled from release indefinitely. Oops, they did it again, indeed.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Washington Square, the end of an era

I've been paying attention to the discussions over the renovation of Washington Square for a while now. The debate was between those people who wanted to maintain the character of the park as it was fixed up and the city planners who wanted to remake the park. According to Gothamist, the agents of change won out. Significant elements of the park will be moved and changed, decreasing the amount of public gathering space among other changes. What has been apparent throughout the reporting is the sense that the city would prefer to follow its own plan rather than listening to neighbors and users of the park.

Then again, given some of the park's more fascinating history as well as its well-earned reputation when I moved to the neighborhood as an outdoor drugstore, their pursuit of plans to change the park and how it is used is not so surprising. Certainly, there was a similar hue and cry when Tompkins Square Park was closed, renovated, and reopened in the 90s. What saddens me about this, though, is that there was a funkiness to the park and the fountain and the odd mix of students, performers, homeless, dogwalkers, chess players, and so much more. I took a lot of pictures of the park and spent a lot of time learning its rhythms in those years. Now, it's another of my old stomping grounds that will be cleaned and remade to fit the new New York of the new millennium.

Monday, December 17, 2007

side effects

In my research on Lyrica, one usage that came up often was as a supplement to various SSRIs in the treatment of anxiety and depression. It also has a collateral side effect as a sleep aid. These are, apparently, the two side effects I miss about the stuff. Anxiety attacks and disrupted sleep are no fun.

Friday, December 14, 2007

friday fun

Via Adrants, I bring you the Mac-lovers Christmas special...

Find more videos like this on AdGabber

Thursday, December 13, 2007

mutant clementines

Have we crossed a point where citrus growers no longer market actual clementines? After two boxes of the fruit, I can only guess that we are being sold another variety packed in clementine boxes. Or perhaps they've developed a hybrid variety. Either way, they're not as good as they've been in the past.

To wit, true clementines should have the following characteristics:
  • Loose, bumpy rind that peels off easily
  • Smallish, flat body
  • No seeds
  • Loose sections
  • A sweet, almost-mandarin flavor

Instead, what has come out of the clementine boxes is:
  • A rind more reminiscent of a navel or valencia orange
  • Full, round body
  • Occasional seeds
  • Densely packed sections that have to be pulled apart
  • The tart, orange-y flavor usually associated with common varieties

I've done a bit of internet research, but haven't turned up anything yet. Anyone know?

(pictures to come)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

the huckster

This is absolutely brilliant:

Remember: don't look too close.

(picked up via DailyKos)

UPDATE: Shortly after I posted this, I was asked to sign a petition to get the Huckster on the ballot for the primary in Virginia. I laughed at the guy and said, "Hell no."

Fred Thompson, front-runner?

Would someone please explain to me why the Washington Post seems to like Thompson so much? Little by little, I've come to accept that the editorial boards at the major media outlets do whatever they can to create the race that they want. And it makes me sad.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

tuesday late fun

Reminded of this by my buddies over at Incertus:

Which then, of course, brought to mind this:

more war-mongering

Apparently it's not enough that the recent NIE publicized the end of Iran's weapons program four years ago. Nope. According to Bush today, wanting to know why they had the program in the first place is reason enough to continue to push the rhetorical momentum toward war.


like a weed

PTSD is a psychological weed. You can shut it out over time and then at any odd moment, it can swing back into action. Tonight was a prime example. I was out walking the dog, and turned the corner at one point to find two police cars in the middle of the street with their lights flashing. A couple of neighbors were talking about a black man—a stupid, self-fulfilling cliche—who had been suspiciously roaming the alleys and scared someone. I walked the few blocks back, and by the time I got home, my heart was pounding and I was full-on into an anxiety attack.

Friday, December 07, 2007

friday fun

Illustration, design, the color wheel and Philip Glass in one animation? Brilliant. From Sesame Street, even? Brilliant-er!

* via daddytypes

parenting is a constant acid trip

You never quite know what to expect, and then at some point, some morning you find your self standing in the bathroom whining, "Would you please stop changing your mind about what you like?"

Then you seriously consider selling your child to the highest bidder and checking into a sanitarium in a coastal town.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Pharma notes

My recent forays into prescription drugs for treatment of pain have included, most notably, a neuroblocker named Lyrica. It is a formulation of pregabalin, and related to neurontin (gabapentin). At first blush, beginning in early September, 75mg twice a day of the stuff seemed great; my pain went away, and in general I felt better. My sleep cycles settled, and the only side effect I noticed was a greater sensitivity to alcohol.

After a while, though, the pain began to return. The pain specialist kicked me up to 100mg twice a day, and that's when the fun really began. The side effects began to include:
  • greatly heightened effects of alcohol
  • confusion
  • loss of memory
  • inability to find words
  • thinning hair
  • dry skin
  • loss of balance and coordination
  • blurry vision

Strangely, it was the blurred vision I noticed first and most acutely. The rest of the symptoms I began to put together as I looked back at the intervening month. After a bit of research, I also discovered that these are common side effects. In response to my concern, the pain specialist decided to move me to Gabatril. After discovering that Gabatril has many of the same (potential) side effects, not to mention a host of others, I decided to pull myself off everything but Ibuprofen.

I have no regrets. The pain is within manageable limits. The experience has made me question the pharma industry even further, however, since so many patients are put in the position of responding to one foreign substance with another. In spite of everything, I'm lucky. I feel bad for the people who need stuff like this to function day-to-day.

Tuesday political notes

So, apparently the Bush administration is continuing in its quest to discredit its own intelligence sources. (There's a joke in there somewhere.) Though our own intelligence estimate--produced in 2005, mind you--has revealed the findings that Iran stopped development of nuclear weapons four years ago, we are supposed to fear them because they have the knowledge. Yes, we should be afraid of this because it's not as if any yahoo with a library card or an internet connection couldn't drum up the knowledge (that's the word a hoarse-voiced Bush actually used in the news conference today).

At some point, the bullshit meter has to break, doesn't it?


Huckabee. Huckabee?

This is the same guy who freaked out me and a lot of my friends in Arkansas. This is the same guy who was responsible for freaking out people who were already used to screwed up state politics. Good on him for losing all that weight, but you'll never convince me that he gained any real knowledge or wisdom.

Then again, it's not as if anyone among the Republican candidates has done much to warrant my respect.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

recycling old writing, one more

The other piece they didn't take. It's not perfect, but I like it.

LIGHT: Midnight Sun

Doolin, County Clare, Ireland

It’s late, well past the legal closing time of midnight, on to the real closing time, whenever the bartenders finally decide to call it a night. Two, three o’clock maybe, after the people have had a few more pints and sung another chorus of “Green Fields of France.” Everyone spills into the street that runs between the two pubs in this little spit of a town. The street is still lit from the lights on the pubs, the hostel, the GPO.

The sky above is a crepuscular, pitch black dream, a blanket of stars that looks like layer upon layer of astronomy charts. I walk up the hill to the B&B where we’re staying, and an inky blackness washes over the Burren moonscape, where boulders lay scattered in the verdant fields as though landscaped by a giant. The place feels expansive in daylight, but the night is so thick that even the lights from the B&B seem constrained within their own small sphere. A night or two in this kind of dark and you understand why the Irish believe in spirits—they’re hiding just beyond that stone wall, in amongst the sheep.

The B&B seems to be lit with an unnatural disdain for the night. In the room, Joe is passed out, long since returned from his hash-induced excursion to sit by the stream that cuts through the village. David is still awake, waiting for me to make it back safely. He’s drinking Bulmer’s from a can, and reading William Trevor.

He says, “Scored it from a guy outside The Crane. He had two cases on his shoulder. I asked if I could buy a can off him, and he gave me the whole six. Wouldn’t take any money.”

He closes the book, says he’s itching for a cigarette. W e take the cider. Outside, it is so quiet every sound seems amplified. The match being lit, the burning crinkle of tobacco, your breaths as you exhale into the cool, living night air. We move away from the door of the B&B, to the street. David’s voice cuts the night. He’s ten years younger than me, and this is all new to him, being in another country in the dead of night, when someone just gives you a six-pack of Bulmer’s cider, when there’s no light around. The Burren is so stark it feels like you’re spending the night at the end of the earth, like it all just stops at the Cliffs of Moher.

It’s as we wander in the street away from the safe envelope of the B&B’s light that we both stop. There is a meniscus of light limning the horizon, the slightest brightening of the sky as it drops off to infinity. In that small space of shadow and suggestion, there is a whole color spectrum, not our old friend Roy G. Biv but something distant, mysterious, hopeful. Black bruised by purple moving to a yellow tinged cerulean. Against it, the silhouettes of a farmhouse and a barn, the stone fences that insistently define properties here.

We’re looking West, maybe a little North, a long way from home, looking at smallest remnant of a day that won’t end for a few weeks yet, never quite leaving one end of the sky before it arrives in the other.

I reach for a platitude, but there are none to be had. The summer days are long here, but nothing quite prepares you for this betrayal of the night.

recycling old writing, ed. 43

This was one of two pieces solicited for The Believer. In the end, neither ever ran, and I never got an explanation. Such is life.

LIGHT: Amusement Parks

Luna Park, Coney Island

Cost (Advertised): $1,500,000
Cost (Real): $750,000

Number of individual incandescent lightbulbs according to advertisements: 200,000
Number according to the New York Times: 122,000

Highest point (central tower): 200 feet

Cost of admission: 10¢

The park opened May 16, 1903, at eight in the evening. In the first five hours, forty-five thousand people came through the gates to see the “Delirium of Something Doing” Thompson and Dundy had promised in their newspaper ads. So much money, so much hype for the moment when all the lights came on. Forget the Pan-American Exposition, this topped it by a mile, even the newspapers thought so. There were curves and arches, dancing like a 3,000,000 candle-power, oriental hallucination, and at the center of it all the grand tower that Fred Thompson cribbed from Buffalo. But he’d made it better, more colorful, the centerpiece of his “Realm of Fairy Romance,” a spire crusted with handblown glass and carbon filaments drawing the populus to a new age like moths to a bare lightbulb.

No question about it, the reputation of Fred Thompson and his partner Skip Dundy was already built on electricity. They’d been successful in Buffalo, and Luna Park would outlive them by 26 years. But what legacy overshadowed all else? The execution of Topsy the elephant. Most people think she killed a keeper (but her days as a killer came before she moved to Coney Island), that she went on a mad rampage (but her keeper put her up to it), and that they had to put her down no better than you would a feral dog. But the truth is that Thompson and Dundy were running out of money. They needed good publicity and Topsy and her keeper Whitey Alt weren’t exactly doing them any favors by touring Coney Island and chasing Italian workers up the tower.

But Thompson and Dundy came up with the perfect way to turn horror into fascination: they would hang the six-ton elephant. When the SPCA and a judge blocked the hanging, they agreed to let Edison electrocute her—his business needed the competitive boost—and make a movie of the event. When all was said and done and her feet had been made into umbrella stands, posterity had its ultimate say: one hundred years later, the Average Person might know that an elephant was electrocuted in Coney Island, but how many remember Luna Park?

Say what you want. Fred Thompson and Skip Dundy deserve better. You could see the glow from Luna Park (“The Heart of Coney Island”) thirty miles away when they turned the lights on. Steeplechase had nothing on it. Nothing in Coney Island ever did, not the Elephant Hotel, not Sea Lion Park, not the Parachute Jump, not the Cyclone, not even the hotel built under the Thunderbolt. (25,000 people on the beach one hot summer night, maybe.) Dreamland? Reynolds built it with an eye to what Thompson and Dundy had already accomplished. When Dreamland joined Luna Park and Steeplechase, you had the trifecta of American entertainment—innovation and incandescent light shooting up into the stratosphere, probably still hanging around in an atom or two up there—never to be duplicated. We’ve tried, and we keep trying to outdo that distant flicker, but nothing can really compete with that moment when more electricity than anyone had thought possible was harnessed and the lights were turned on at Luna Park.

One other fact that usually misses the historical record: there was a fifteen-minute blackout on opening night. Seems Edison’s company had underestimated just how great the demand would be.


So... December is here, which means I will return to blogging on a regular basis. My little experiment in the National Novel Writing Month was unsuccessful, sadly, in the stated goal of finishing a 50,000 word novel in a month. Then again, it's rather silly--wouldn't you say?--to think that a minimum of 1,700 words/day would be possible given full-time single parenthood, full-time employment, a neurotic dog, and sleep. Forget the fact that I haven't written a lick of fiction in more than three and a half years.

The end result? Twenty-two thousand words on their way to being some sort of novel, quite possibly just a long-form therapy piece that unstops the rest. Who knows right now. Regardless, it's good to be writing again, and I've begun to parse out what it would take to get back to the Coney Island book--albeit as a non-fiction narrative.

That said, I've started to think through--again--what the role of this blog should be. I have decried public soul-baring and journaling in the past, but the reality is that between personal notes on food, parenting, music, politics, and other random observations, there will always be a personal bent to this little endeavor. It is, however, my goal to begin turning the (impolitic) eye outward again. Traumas like the shooting (and the divorce) will always be with me, and that's where they belong rather than laid out as a constant, public navel-gazing. The advantage of this free forum is that it gives me the chance to explore other territory, thoughts, and ideas that may inform my other endeavors--and which may give the few regular readers and random visitors something a little more valuable to consider.