Sunday, March 30, 2008

plastic bags

Here's a Catch-22 of environmentalism and urban living:

Richmond, like most cities, requires owners to pick up after their dogs. Generally speaking, this requires the use of plastic bags, which I have been running out of lately. This means I either get rid of Reilly (not going to happen) or bring some of my groceries home in cloth bags and some of them home in plastic bags.

I mentioned this to the checkout guy at Kroger today, and he said, "There's a place in this world for plastic bags."


Life with Banana

"We" have started reading. It happened a few weeks ago. At least, I got my first taste a few weeks ago when Banana went through two easy reader books. When I told her teacher the next morning, she winked at me and said, "She's been reading for me for weeks. She just turned the corner for you." The kindergarten teacher has a delicious bit of New York snark in her.

Today, we picked up her first chapter books for her to read on her own—a Magic Pony Carousel book and the first Magic Tree House book. I skipped over the Junie B. Jones books for now because they seem a little too idiomatic. I also didn't like the fact that the first one in the series had "stupid" in the title.

In any case, she did remarkably well diving into them. There are some words—"what," for example—that defy easy phonetic reading, and she gets a little frustrated with those. She's also having trouble with the combined vowel sounds, and I'm half-tempted to plop her in front of The Electric Company for a few hours. For my part, I'm looking forward to the moment when the balance of reading by memorization and phoneticization* balances out.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

New York notes

I'd been planning to write a much longer, more detailed account of the trip back to the city, but apparently I can only find so much space and time for writing these days. A few choice notes and comments will have to suffice.
  • The MoMA, post renovation. First, many thanks to Bonnie for arranging tickets for Banana and me. I don't think I've been back to the museum since I moved away, which means this was my first chance to see the rebuilt institution. The architectural work is remarkable, from opening up the galleries to creating some truly breathtaking public spaces in the common area. The place is still over-run by tourists and far too crowded, but that's a problem common to any of the major museums in the city. In any case, it is a pleasure to see the permanent exhibitions given more room to breathe, and the placement of Matisse's "Dance" is memorable. The special exhibition Design and the Elastic Mind seemed like it would be fascinating, but it wasn't as kid-friendly as I'd hoped and the crowds made it feel absurdly claustrophobic. It's a pity, though, because it looked truly cool. The other special exhibition—Color Chart—was a little more kid-friendly, however, and Banana and I sat for a while in front of the Rothkos, talking about the different colors he was using.
  • Street corner falafel. This was my first stop after we got off the train in midtown. Falafel. With everything. Bliss, pure and simple.

  • Brunch at The Farm on Adderley. When I lived in Brooklyn, Ditmas Park was still the boonies to all of us who were moving out to the boro. Or rather that's to say that it wasn't over-run by those of us who shop at organic markets and push our kids around in MacLarens—or newer, hipper strollers. Now, the neighborhoods have begun to shift and businesses catering to the Park Slope/Cobble Hill spillover have started to open, including restaurants like The Farm on Adderly. Just a couple of blocks from the Cortelyou Road train station, this place sources most of its ingredients locally, knows how to cater to families (the kids food comes first and quickly!), and serves very, very tasty fare to what seems to be a sizable foodie population. Their bloody mary was among the best I've ever had, and the poached egg with smoked trout and greens served on a potato latke was a near-perfect brunch item. Not that that quite takes the sting out of Banana's $8 hot dog—but, hey, it was organic...
  • Brooklyn dads. There's a uniform: sneakers (Converse or Vans, preferably), cool jeans or cords, layered t-shirts (either graphic, basic black, or ring-neck), v-neck or zip-collar sweater. It was one more small way I still feel more at home there than I do in Richmond.
  • Franny's redux. Saturday night, we gave Banana the choice of what she wanted for dinner. She said pizza, and Amy, Victoria, Banana, and I trotted over to Franny's to continue the locavore theme of the day. It was also the scene of one of our more remarkable meals on last year's visit. Ordinarily, I would break out and try new things, but I've dreamed of the clam pie I had last year. The crust is perfectly thin and crispy coming out of the brick oven. The pie itself has a few clams on it, some parsley, and some crushed chili. What makes it remarkable, however, is the preparation: they saute the clams in butter in white wine and brush the crust with the liquid from the saute before it goes in the oven. The result is one of the near-perfect dishes ever. The margherita with fresh buffalo mozzarella is damn good, too. So are the wood-roasted olives. And the wine... sigh...
  • The Prospect Park Zoo.In the years I lived on the other side of the park, I never ventured into the zoo. At that time, it was still trying to be a full-service zoo of some sort. After the WCS began to consolidate the zoos and aquarium, the mission became more focused on being a small, family-friendly place. They've achieved this, providing good proximity to the animals and a fun sea lion show. More importantly, they have a baby kangaroo, and it's pretty damn cute.

the ultimate Easter supper

For the second year now, Banana and I have been drawn into an Easter dinner party tradition started eight years ago. The originators are my old friend Philip and an old neighbor of his from Atlanta who now lives in Queens with her husband and two and a half year old daughter. The genesis was the decision to cook chicks and bunnies for Easter. Brilliant!

This year's rabbit preparations included braising with juniper berries and leeks and roasting with local organic bacon. There was also homemade sauerkraut, fingerling potatoes, crab and conch ceviche, arugula salad. The wines ranged from a delicious pinot noir to an interesting Croatian red. I had picked up bread and three cheeses at the Prospect Park greenmarket. (On a side note, the trip to the greenmarket was a reminder of how much easier it is to eat locally and well in New York than many, many other cities, including Richmond.) For dessert, there were dessert liqueurs, a chocolate terrine with creme fraiche and raspberry sauce, and manchego and cabrales.

Through the course of the evening, Banana acted as the perfect oldest kid of the four kids we had running around.

Friday, March 28, 2008

friday fun - sweet, sweet music edition

In 1992, I saw Taj Mahal open for Michelle Shocked. Should've been the other way around...

The song kicks in after about a minute and a half here, but it's worth it.

shooting update

When the suspect was arrested last year, the Commonwealth's Attorney nolle prossed the case (let the guy go) because of a lack of evidence. In an interesting turn of events, however, this same man was arrested in January on a concealed weapon charge. The Commonwealth's Attorney has asked the detective assigned to my case to retrieve the weapon and the bullet and send both to the state ballistics lab. This means there is a chance (albeit a slim one) that I may get some small measure of closure.

friday fun - cheese edition

Kudos to the bartender at the Corner Cafe the other night who actually had this on his iPod...

Thursday, March 27, 2008


From Gawker, this made me smile, and I desperately needed to smile...

And like they suggest, you should watch it over and over again in order to attain Nirvana. Totally.


Make it stop, please.

Binsted, a sophomore sculpture major at VCU, was walking in the park with a friend when they were approached by two males, one armed with a gun. Binsted and his friend were robbed of their car keys, and he was shot in the back as they walked away.

It was less than half a mile from my old house.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Trauma, a year later

There will be a quick recounting of the New York trip later on.

One year ago, I was sitting in a room at MCV under the alias Trauma Case Plum. My wound dressing and IV were being changed while nurses and med students were brought through to see the patient who had been shot while interrupting a robbery, the hero. The news had already hit the newspaper and television news. My father had come to the hospital to see me, and I was wheeled alternately into X-Ray rooms where they took pictures of my esophagus and into CT rooms where they determined that the bullet was large but hadn't damaged anything vital. I had what the CT tech called "The MIllion Dollar Wound." I hadn't even begun to process what had happened yet.

A year later, I am still struggling to process what happened. I am still trying to put my head and body back together. Though the simple act that brought this about seems small and far away now, the scars and ache and muddle I often feel in my head are constant reminders of how much worse it all could have been. They are also reminders of my work over the past year to make my life a better, kinder, more responsible place—despite occasional recidivism.

At the time, I joked that it was Colonel Mustard in the alley with the revolver, and that I got lucky. A year later, I realize none of this is a joke.

/navel gazing

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

I am Helvetica.

Wilco and Volkswagen. I am a cliche, which is probably why I love these ads.

And this one that is reminiscent of the famous chair ad in the late nineties:

ad moments

Mrs. Butterworth has joined Charo and Little Richard in Martin's excellent Geico campaign. Wait for the great punchline at the end...

friday fun (on Tuesday)

And I thought our PSAs were twisted. Little did I know Canada had the market cornered. Be sure to watch the whole thing.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

homecomings, pt. 1

Last year, I wrote about returning to Piccolo Angolo after a long absence. Rather than leaving things to chance this year, my friend Amy made reservations a couple weeks in advance for dinner on the day Banana and I would get in town.

When Banana and I got to the restaurant early—a shocker for anyone who's known me long enough, Renato gave us our choice of tables. The head waiter shook my hand. Renato fawned over Banana, and his daughter was over in a minute to talk to her. She reiterated that we should move back to the city so Banana could grow up in New York. A bottle of wine arrived. Soon enough, Amy and Victoria had arrived, and the treatment continued. Pasta for Banana arrived soon, so did a heaping basket of bread. The Tre Colore salad, when it arrived, had grown since the years I spent regular time at the restaurant—not necessarily a bad thing.

Not long after Anna finished her pasta, her dessert appeared—chocolate gelato. When the rest of us ordered dessert, Renato decided we needed his tiramisu. It was lighter and more fluffy—not nearly as sweet—than any I've ever had. The fresh berry cheesecake was also a revelation—and a double helping.

In the end, as always, the return meal at Piccolo was the best possible welcome back to the city. Stay tuned for comments on MoMA, falafel, more food, and parents in Brooklyn.

in the city

I look forward to the day someone gets connectivity running on Amtrak. No chance to post yesterday, and today we're about to run off to the Prospect Park Zoo. Stay tuned for city and food posting, and for belated Friday Fun.

Monday, March 17, 2008

tasty tofu

It took me a long to learn to enjoy tofu. In fact, it took traveling to China in 1996 for me to really understand all the different ways tofu can be used. Lately I've been playing with a new preparation—one that I completely blame on Trader Joe's.

Take one block of extra firm tofu. Press it to get some of the water out. Cut into strips approximately 3/4" thick. Marinate with the TJ's Soyaki sauce, just enough to cover all the pieces and leave a little liquid left over. Let soak for approximately half an hour, then lay the strips out on foil-covered broiler pan. Place under broiler for seven minutes, then turn the pieces and spoon the leftover liquid on the them. Broil for another seven minutes and drizzle the last of the liquid on them when you pull them out.

I served these with snowpeas and carrots steamed and tossed with toasted sesame oil, seasoned rice vinegar, and good soy sauce, and rice.

Lastly, drizzle a little sriricha on the side of the plate. Perfect!

Friday, March 14, 2008

friday fun – the design geek edition

If you care about type, if you truly, truly love fonts, then you need to know what font you embody. The selection is limited, but funny. Especially the description of Helvetica.

Then again, there's this:

friday Fun - the essential ren & stimpy

After a bumpy week, I can think of nothing better than this...


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

because amy asked

Amy over at Incertus challenged me and a few other people to join the 6-word-memoir meme. I batted around a few options. For instance, there was Boston. New York. Arkansas. Virginia. Daddy. Then there was Mostly happy, I watch Anna grow. But in the end, neither of those was quite as mordant as I wanted, nor as much about the reality of my life over the nearly-twenty years I've been an adult. So I landed on one that seemed to accomplish it better.

Paul in six:
Richer, poorer. Better, worse. Better now.

Per Jack: My life in diapers. No, seriously.

friday fun, 2 days early

A bit of college nostalgia here...

(Crash Test Dummies)

(Disposable Heroes of HipHoprisy)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

From the AP Wires and the NYT, this is classic:
Odom entered the house and found the two tiny terriers in pet carriers in a smoke-filled room, and shuttled them to safety.

When he removed one of the dogs from its carrier, Odom noticed it was not breathing and its tongue was hanging out. The firefighter removed his face mask and placed the dog's head inside so the oxygen could blow in its face.

When the oxygen didn't work, Odom began performing CPR on the dog by ''cupping my hands around the dog's snout and blowing until I could feel his chest expand,'' he said.

''I then did chest compressions similar to that of infant CPR. After approximately one minute of doggie CPR, I noticed the dog trying to breathe on its own.''

Five minutes later the dog began looking around and was given to the owner of the house. An oxygen tank was left with the animal.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

legislative absurdity (journalistic, too)

According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch (alternatively referred to as the Times-Disgrace or the Fishwrapper), one reason the Virginia General Assembly "matters" is that they defeated various efforts to ban smoking in restaurants and bars. As I have grown older (and quit smoking), become a parent, and researched the effects of secondhand smoke for PSA campaigns, my hope for smoking bans in bars and restaurants has grown. After spending enough time in establishments in Maine, New York, DC, and Bloomington following the enactment of bans, I've come to appreciate the opportunity to go out without hacking up a lung the next day or worrying about whether my clothes reek of smoke. I (and other parents I know) have also come to appreciate the ability to take Banana (and other kids) places where they won't be exposed to clouds of smoke.

What continues to amaze me about the intractability of the foes are the various arguments they use:
  • Business will suffer. Empirical evidence in cities and countries where bans have been enacted shows that business actually increases.
  • The effects of secondhand smoke aren't proven. First off, I'm tempted to point this one back to the arguments that climate change is a cooked-up theory; the effects of secondhand smoke on pets, children, service employees, and so forth are well documented. I mean, does anyone really believe that working in an enclosed space filled with particulate matter and chemicals like arsenic and benzene won't affect a person.
  • Smokers have rights, too. Yes, the same ones I have. The last time I checked, however, it is not a constitutionally protected right to put something in the air that injures another person.
  • Business owners should be able to run their businesses the way they want to. So develop a compromise that allows some businesses to continue to permit smoking. Bloomington's solution was to allow a three-tier set-up. A restaurant could be all-ages all the time and ban smoking, move to twenty-one and over after a certain time and only allow smoking after that time, or allow only legal drinkers at all times and allow smoking at all hours.

Regardless of the debunked argument or the ultimate solution, the reality is that none of this is truly about "rights" or even individual business owners' rights. Instead, this smacks of just another moment where the Republican-held VA legislature (and its media mouthpieces) are bowing to another powerful business lobby.


In the same section of the RTD, there was also a brief piece noting that the legislature had passed a measure requiring an adult convicted of French kissing a child under 13 to register as a sex offender. Really? Are we that backwards that we actually needed to stipulate this? Shouldn't it have been common sense (and law) all along?


bringing coney back to life

One of my most vivid images of Coney Island before I moved away from New York was the image of the parachute jump rising behind the ivy-covered Thunderbolt, like some sort of giant's broken umbrella. The repainted, lit parachute jump is a Disneyland dream compared to those dreams. Even the vague possibility that it might be restored to working order so that my generation and our kids can enjoy it is a possibility that seems almost too good to be true. Still, we can hope, can't we?

In the meantime, I'm still going to relish every plan for every return trip to the city.

brief thoughts on PTSD

One of my physical therapists has concluded that some of the issues with my back and shoulder are related to my mental recovery. After this week in therapy, I'm convinced that she is right. With more pain and more rough work to break through some of the locked up parts of my back, my head has gone into a more precarious place. Certainly there is a lot going on generally in my life, but the muddle in my head seems to come along with more pain and release in my back. What really brought this home was thinking back to last August when the trauma and anxiety decidedly returned, and the realization that their return seemed to coincide with more physical activity—and more physical pain.

With the anniversary of the shooting approaching, I look forward to some sort of breakthrough in all of this. I hope.

Friday, March 07, 2008

pound puppies. really.

Some of the things that inspire enough nostalgia to continue being run amongst such classics as the old MGM cartoons, Chuck Jones-era Tom and Jerry, The Flintstones, and Hong Kong Fuey boggle the mind. To wit, I am sitting on the couch watching Pound Puppies with Banana. Thankfully, The Smurfs aren't on the schedule for the evening.

Friday Fun - Shatner/Folds edition

Looking back at my posting for the week or lack thereof, I realize how much the time has slipped away. Stay tuned for a few jottings later this evening. In the meantime, there's this...

Sunday, March 02, 2008


I'd love it if someone could explain to me why it took me so long to see Once. I love Ireland, singer-songwriter music, and indie films. I should have been first on line to see it when it hit town for one week last year. But I didn't. I also passed it over repeatedly at our neighborhood video store. Why? I don't know. I was in the mood for zombies not love stories; I wanted to watch it as a "date" movie; I really don't know. Instead, it took the adorable moment at the Oscars for me to get clued in. And then it took seeing Swell Season on TV. Then I realized I had to do it. And now I want to know why I waited so long.

Once is a brilliant little play on the kind of intense, charged friendship that can crop up between a man and woman who connect at many levels at once. The intimate dynamic is very reminiscent of Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. I felt like I knew Hansard and Irglova's characters by the end of the film, and I cared about them. It was a world I didn't want to leave. As with Hawke and Delpy, these two were friends before the movie came about, and their sense of comfort shines through.

Visually, the stripped-down feel of the film was perfect, and John Carney pulled a few perfect visual moments out. First, there was Irglova traipsing after Hansard with her canister vac along the streets of Dublin. Then, there was a brilliant scene in the bus with Hansard narrating his story on his beat-up old Takamine.

As far as the story goes, there isn't one. The tension holds for the entire film, and all that happens is an album gets made. (Sorry if this is a spoiler for anyone.) By the usual standards we're taught in writing workshops, the story would never fly as a film or a story. It would need something more at stake. Something would have to break by minute 20. To some extent, it's all there, but very subtle. And really, when something is done well, the rules can be skirted a bit.

Ah well... it's a brilliant little flick.