Thursday, July 31, 2008

some brief political notes

I've been under a deadline the past few days, and there hasn't been much time for mental (or physical) exercise. That hasn't kept me from keeping an eye on the news, however.

It was to be expected that this year's presidential campaign would be a negative one. Not even McCain's ill-wrought attempt (his use of the Goldwater-Johnson example simply served to point up the generational difference at play) to have a series of town-hall meetings was going to keep the campaign from going down the path it has. The danger for the McCain campaign of attacking Obama personally and early is clear—McCain himself would become a petulant, cranky old man. And he has. The Maverick has turned maudlin and mawkish.

From a human standpoint, McCain must be terrified at seeing his golden Moment—his Chance—so horribly derailed. He fought back and scraped his way through primaries after years of trying to become the nominee only to find what? A kid? A guy who is smart and well-liked. A guy who can speak in an idiom that McCain can't even hope to understand. How horrible must it be to stand in front of a few hundred septugenarians and misguided young Republicans applauding tepidly when your opponent-to-be is speaking to more than thirty thousand shrieking fans? How horrible must it be to be offering some (any) continuation of the sitting president's disastrous policies while your now-opponent garners nothing but praise from sitting leaders of other countries and speaks to hundreds of thousands of cheering people—while you chuckle at a television camera in a sausage haus in Columbus.

How horrible indeed. Even more horrible must be the realization that your opponent may simply be too good. That his facility with people, ideas, and language may be more facile than you can ever hope to be. Then you bring in the people (Rove and so many others) who are most adept at destroying other people, and you hope that they can weave their tragic magic one more time.

Except that maybe this time there are enough of us—and maybe we care enough—to take our country back.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

mornings like these...

Banana was still a groggy ragdoll by 7:45 this morning when I finally got her out of bed. Before that, she was playing a bit of a game, and smiled a little when I'd nudge her or tickle her, telling her it was time to get up. Judging from the way she'd visibly fall back asleep each time—little twitches, deep breathing—it was pretty clear, however, that she could probably have slept for a good, long time. We've had some pretty active days, after all. Unfortunately, my life and job still don't generally afford me the kind of flexibility where I could just let her stay in bed any longer. Of course, I'm also caught by a guilty feeling that I might have sent her to daycamp overtired and maybe under the weather, and the sense that my first instinct should be to make that time rather than fulfilling my duty-bound, Protestant work ethic.

Monday, July 28, 2008

a pondering supplement

I realized after I wrote this post that I was being far too vague. And vagaries do nothing for good writing, as any of us who have taught writing know.

To be concise and specific, the custody agreement gives Banana mére four weeks of the summer. We agreed that trading off weeks made more sense than doing big blocks of time. This is the first time we've really been off the regular schedule in close to a year and a half. The disruption to my schedule and my inner well-being is surprising. What has been so shocking is the extent to which I rely on routines and schedules—Banana at school at a certain time, supper needing to be on the table, dishes needing to be done—to keep my peace of mind intact.

What amazes me sometimes is that it can take so long to know oneself.

a pool for summer

We joined a pool for the summer, a private community pool. I had to pony up an initiation fee and a membership fee, and I honestly agonized over the decision. Could I justify spending the money? That question went to the core of my "pecuniary indecency* of a few years ago. How would it feel for Banana if we joined a pool other than the one many of her friends belonged to? That question went to the heart of some of my social insecurities. In the end, I took the leap because it seemed to make sense on many fronts—including the opportunity for me to swim regularly and continue my rehabilitation.

As is often the case with my minor worries and insecurities, however, I needn't have worried so much.

Since Memorial Day weekend, we have been at the pool almost every weekend and at least a couple times during the week. Banana has learned to swim and begun to catch up with some of the other kids—real strokes will come next year, I think. We have made a number of good friends with other families. Physically, I have begun to feel like I am finally building up the strength that I lost in the past sixteen months, and in some cases never had. I have also built the courage to take a few chances—like trying flips off the diving board.

All in all, I'd have to say that the money I spent to join (and the money I expect to pay as members as long as we live in Richmond) was among the best investments I've ever made.


* Lewis Lapham introduced me to the phrase "pecuniary indecency" when we were corresponding about an article I was working on for Harper's several years ago. The phrase originated with Thorstien Veblein, who wrote about the middle and upper classes whose economic security was in jeopardy in the midst of the robber baron gilded age.

more muppet fun

Eventually, I will return to doing something with depth on here. In lieu of that, right now, I present Beeker and the Swedish Chef—with Animal doing a cameo.

Sunday, July 27, 2008


From Can Can, on Banana's birthday:
Me: You ate a cherry with the pit still in?

Banana: mm-hmmm

Me: Well, I guess you have a tree growing in your tummy now.

Banana: No, I don't. There's no sun in my tummy.

Me: But your mouth is open now so the sun gets in. Besides trees still grow even when they don't get sun, like at night.

Banana: Silly Daddy. The moonlight shines on trees so they grow at night.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Forest Hill market, this week

Today's market brought a nice yield...

  • More tomatoes
  • cucumbers
  • lemon cucumbers, which are small round yellow balls
  • arugula
  • green beans
  • cantalopes
  • asian eggplants
  • purple, yellow and orange peppers
  • pork chops and ribs

Oh yeah, and there was the small matter of balloon animals. For the second week running, a woman was making the most extravagant balloon creations. Banana got a ballerina and our friend Devin got a mermaid. I should have taken pictures, because even a nice descriptive paragraph wouldn't do these creations justice. Steve Martin might, however...

Friday, July 25, 2008


I spent a lot of time this week thinking about patterns and routines, and how valuable these are to life. I've noticed this summer that having a consistent rhythm really is essential to my overall well-being. When I know what I can count on, I find it easier to make plans and add new pieces to the overall puzzle of life. (Is it a paradox that consistency makes adventure easier?) When things are in disarray and I don't know what to count on, everything seems to slip out of sync and the smallest new pea under the mattress makes things worse. So irritating...

Friday Fun

Since Brian has raised the cute quotient over at Incertus, how about Norah Jones on Sesame Street...

And from the classic ad annals...

And then there's this, which just made me smile. Especially when she's got the back-up singers and really gets into it.

Ahhhhh, cheesy, but fun.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


If you've ever wondered how things actually get produced—and how clients brilliantly screw up the communication process, this should give you a pretty good idea. And a good laugh, too... "What If a Corporation Designed the Stop Sign?"

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Today is Banana's sixth birthday. What a long, strange, amazing trip it's been so far. What a long, strange, wonderful trip it promises to be. This is also the 500th post on Impolitic Eye, which has been and continues to be a valuable personal outlet for some of the strangeness of the past few years.

I'd write more, but I have to finish getting ready for work. That said... onward and upward!

Monday, July 21, 2008

childhood classics

As a kid, I played obsessively with Legos. They went everywhere with me. I had battles with them, built castles, spaceships, the whole deal. I remember the beginning of the transition to specialized pieces and kits with motors. For better or for worse, that movement defines most of the Lego business now. In fact, go into a toy store and it seems like you have to search out the classic bricks. The usual meme is that kids are taught to be less inventive now because everything is specialized and ready-to-go. Whether this is true or not will be very hard to judge.

Regardless, I just came across these videos on Gizmodo. Jesus Diaz took a tour of place, which is just mind-blowing in its complexity. If you click through to the rest of his Lego posts, there's even a Lego Airbus. It's like a pipe dream for the little boy I was thirty years ago, the little boy who carried his little brown suitcase of Legos everywhere.

note to self

After reading and editing the preceding post for clarity, I am reminded that I should not post before drinking several beers—not after.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

forest hill market, this week

So, thanks to some friends and neighbors, I barely made it to the market this week. It was boiling hot, and the mojitos from the night made for a woozy wake-up. The little bit of fruit and yogurt before leaving certainly didn't cut it, and I had to give in to the urge to try some of the barbecue sold at the market.

There are two such vendors. One is a guy who has a fairly serious tent and truck set up, complete with a generator to run everything. He sold North Carolina-style. The other pitmaster pulls a large smoker behind a gray volvo wagon, circa 1990. He made Texas-style, which should prick the ears of any BBQ-loving NPR listeners. Despite a gift of the gab, he kept the line moving and recognized repeat customers. After a taste of his brisket and a sausage, I can report that it was some of the best barbecue I've tasted. Next week, I'll have to try more—my apologies to my vegetarian/vegan friends.

In the meantime, the market report this week is as follows...
  • coffee beans
  • yard-long beans , which are purple
  • sweet red peppers
  • four kinds of tomatoes
  • cucumbers
  • cantalope
  • basil (and the pesto is already made)
  • shiitake mushrooms
  • blueberries (close to the end of the season for these)
  • chorizo
  • peaches
  • gnocchi
  • rosemary and onion focaccia (tasty, but a bit dry)

The only regret? I should have bought butter.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Friday Fun

This is to political songs as "Superbowl Shuffle" was to sports anthems.

Somewhere, quietly, Woody Guthrie is weeping.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


Rush on the Colbert Report. Playing "Tom Sawyer." These guys can still tear it up.

The video is up now. Song starts at 5:26...

coney, the beginning

Briefly put, this diagram from 1885 is where my obsession with Coney Island and elephants began:

The idea that someone would build a hotel in the shape of an elephant blew my mind. A brief intimation I later found—and hopefully will be able to dig up in more detail for the Topsy blog—suggested that "going to see the Elephant" was a euphemism for salacious fun. Then again, Coney continues to be a struggling example of salacious fun.

(Image from the New York Public Library.)

notes for my therapist, or a variation on a short story I once wrote, also known as the opposite of life-hacking

"See, here's how it works," I start.

"Here's how what works?" you ask.

"It. The whole kit and kaboodle. See, I'm really into compound descriptions right now—higgledy-piggledy and sixes and sevens. All of it," I say. "It's kind of a spiral that works like this: something dredges up a bunch of emotions or anxieties I thought I had put away—say, residual stuff from the shooting, feelings about divorce, you name it—and those feelings seed fears and anxieties and sometimes anger that I thought had gone away. My answer then is to distract myself in whatever way I can until all that's left for me to do is to pass out for a few fitful hours at night. Because I'm avoiding my own physical (and emotional) space, however, the random detritus of life piles up, and I'm left with a physical space that is as disorganized as my mental space. That, in turn, feeds my other anxieties and makes me angry with myself so that it's that much harder to pull things back into order."

"You're overwhelmed, in other words."

"Kind of. I do it to myself. It's what I've done for most of the past year or so, and I thought I was through with it."

"And you're not."

"Apparently not."

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

ads that will make you laugh, cry, and everything in between -- all with added features and fried chicken

When Brian posted this haunting video of David Hasselhof over at Incertus, I added a nice little commercial link in the comments. Brian has since responded with a classic local commercial of his own. To that end, I add one of the classic television ads of all time. All this for just...

But wait, there's more!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Monday Fun

I'm a dad. I'm a Mac user. I like Feist, and I love this clip from Sesame Street...


If I'm going to keep up with this blog over weekends, apparently I'm going to have to find a way to connect from the pool. At least for the rest of the summer, that seems to be where we're going to be spending nearly all waking hours on weekends and occasional weekday evenings. This is not a complaint, mind you, and might even be a bit of hyperbole.

One question, though: why in the hell did I think it was a good idea to try to do flips off the diving board yesterday? My nose is still smarting from the face-first smack I took on the first attempt. Furthermore, why did I agree to the challenge to learn how to do a real flip by the end of the summer?

Apparently, masochism and fun go hand-in-hand.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

the market haul

Last night, Banana and I hung at our pool for Friday Movie Night. It was a late night, and had Banana so exhausted she slept past nine this morning. Despite that and despite the fact that we got to Forest Hill more than an hour later than usual, we picked a pretty decent haul.
  • Honeydew melon
  • a small, very fragrant cantalope
  • blackberries
  • baby carrots
  • white peaches
  • corn
  • green beans
  • green peppers
  • gold cherry tomatoes
  • yellow heirloom tomatoes
  • cucumbers
  • basil
  • chevre
  • pork chops
  • coffee beans

Unfortunately, I neglected to pick up eggs. In any case, the salad I made for lunch was simple and amazing--cucumbers, tomatoes, basil, carrots, olives, the last of the feta I'd picked up a couple weeks ago, and a little olive oil and balsamic.

It was a muggy, warm morning, but I still remain amazed at how much the market grows. New farms and craft vendors arrive each week, and the crowds remain steady. There is one vendor that seems to be causing a bit of rumbling, however. They carry produce that is past or a little early for the season, suggesting that they are sourcing their wares, possibly from outside Virginia, rather than growing themselves. It will be interesting to see whether the rumblings grow louder. (And, yes, I've left the specifics out intentionally.)

Friday, July 11, 2008

Friday Fun

Thanks to John for introducing me to this one last week. The satire is pretty scathing and pretty brilliant. Definitely not one to watch with the kids around...

(with apologies for the lead-in ad.)


I've never really looked to Chris Rock for the perfect description of life. This morning, however, there was a piece in the Times-Dispatch about his show this evening that caught my attention. Part of the article covered his role as a father and he made this remark about bringing his daughters on tour with him:
"They save you from your miserable self. It's true. It's the best way to sum it up. You've got to analyze every move you make. There's nothing like kids to get you out of you."

It's a remarkably accurate, true assessment. There is nothing quite like a child's question or a laugh to make petty anxieties of daily life seem utterly trivial. And there is nothing like a child's presence to crowd out the troubling silences that creep in when you only have yourself to worry about.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

exploding ale!

Phin & Matt's Extraordinary Ale was a new find at Once Upon A Vine. The brewery is in southwest New York state, and it seemed like a promising find. On opening the first bottle, however, it seemed more like a homebrew that had escaped the lab. The first bottle literally exploded with foam when I tried to take a sip. Pouring the beer as an alternative took more than ten minutes because each short pour brought out the liveliest head I've seen since a batch of my own homebrew got a little too carbonated. I tried contacting the brewery, but their website lacks contact information. The beer itself is good, but it tastes a little yeasty, like something went just a little off in the fermentation tanks or in the bottling. You'd think I would have returned it after testing a couple of bottles, but the store is off my regular route, so I'll just tough my way through this batch.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008


So that BBQ or Teriyaki chicken you ordered at that restaurant supplied by Sysco the other day was sooooo tasty, wasn't it? But did you know it was chicken parts formed to look like real chicken breasts. ("Unique 3-D technology gives you the look and texture of a solid muscle chicken breast, at a fraction of the cost.") I'll have to dig a little further here to see what other gems of industrial food technology I can find. Eat up!

(picked up from Consumerist)

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

the pathetic political state of our nation

I could add more and might later, but for now, this should suffice:

And then there's this.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Friday Fun (before Friday is gone)

Thanks to Carolyn for this new music tip...

bloggin' the Fourth, pt. 2

So, we find ourselves down at Edgewater for the annual party. The usual band is playing, minus their full set of amplifiers. It was quieter, but nice to see them roving about.

As the cannon rumbles, so must the cannon be lit. Repeatedly.

(At least no one decided to shoot Betsy's favorite broom into the bay this year.)

The pit. In some places, it might be used for a pig. Others, clams or lobsters. Here, beans and moose.

No lobsters this year, but we did pull a pretty hefty run of salmon and crab legs. Once you dive into crab legs, you realize how wonderful the meat is—and why it's so expensive... it's damned difficult to get enough out of them!

As the night (and beer) wore on, the evening turned to a perfect color. Minus, of course, the mosquitoes.

bloggin' the Fourth

6:40 a.m. — Awakened by cannon blast.

7:30 a.m. — Finally drag tail out of bed after Banana has checked the shore to make sure it's still there.

8:25 a.m. — Walk Reilly over to Edgewater to thank the owner of said cannon for the wake-up call. He has already set it off one more time since then. Owner's reaction: "Serves you right for sleeping in that long."

11:45 a.m. — Banana and other kids playing down on the rocks at Edgewater. Another dad informs me that the cannon owner and the others have been up since four working on the coal pit. I feel both envious of their drive, and glad that I managed a couple extra hours.

12:15 p.m. — Banana enters into heavy playtime with two other girls at a house above the shore road and Route 1. I begin to feel sad that we are leaving tomorrow.

3:00 p.m. — Cooling heels at the house in advance of The Party. No cannon blasts in a couple of hours.

3:15 p.m. — Banana and grandmére go up to the field to pick blueberries. Mind you: when I was young, the wild blueberries didn't ripen until August.

4:00 p.m. — The cannon goes off. The party has begun.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

gentrification woes

It occurred to me yesterday, as we drove into Southwest Harbor to catch the Cranberry Island ferry, that gentrification ultimately destroys a place—or at least risks changing a place irretrievably. The thought hit as I watched a late-model Mercedes SUV pass an old man walking his dogs. The SUV belonged to the new Southwest Harbor, the town that has evolved as newcomers looked for new places with the appropriate "character." In this case, character comes in the form of real working fishermen and other year-round residents. Of course, as money pours in and Southwest Harbor becomes the new Northeast Harbor (beautiful burg that hasn't been a "working" place in years), the people who created that character (that old man with his working pants, massive white beard, and aging mutts, for example) are crowded out.

The flip side of this equation happens in towns like Winter Harbor. Winter Harbor has its fair share of moneyed summer communities nearby, but it is very much a working town that has been hit hard by the ups and downs of the past ten years, including the closure of the nearby naval base. The rough patches were exacerbated when Roxanne Quimby came in with grand plans to gentrify the town and make it into a "destination." Central to the plans were a massive restaurant built at the center of town. The place was designed and built to stellar specifications, and was designed to become the flagship restaurant for her thirty-something son and his chef-girlfriend. Unfortunately, running a restaurant on the coast of Maine wasn't their bag, and when they tried to turn management and part-ownership over to new people, the beautiful restaurant proved to be too costly to run. It didn't help that the place stood no chance of connecting with most of the year-round population. Result: a multi-million dollar white elephant at the heart of a town that's already holding on by its callused fingertips.

Little Tunk & Schoodic Point

I decided to do a few more repeats of last year, including swimming at Little Tunk and running around on the rocks at Schoodic Point. While the water in Frenchmans Bay has become increasingly (and disturbingly) polluted, the protected inland waters remain deliciously clear. As perfect a day as this turned out to be, it was at least partly a surprise, then, to arrive at Little Tunk and find it completely deserted. Pretty soon, other people showed up, but not before I'd had the chance to enjoy a local brew with my sandwich.

From there, it was on to Schoodic Point. We stopped at Grindstone Neck of Maine to pick up a few varieties of smoked salmon and scallops. Their selection is comparable with Sullivan Harbor Farms' smoked salmon (etcetera), and I've been meaning to investigate. Stay tuned for a report once I get my hands on some decent bagels. All that said... sheesh... we headed out to Schoodic Point, the mainland extension of Acadia National Park to run around on the rocks.

Later, we returned home to find one of the lowest tides I can remember. (A note on memories and this place: I'll write more as I have the energy. Which I do not tonight.) In no time, we were headed down to the old granite pile to look for starfish with the kids staying down there. We were lucky to find a few, lucky because there is a lot more sediment up in the bay, more scummy residue, and oddly enough piles of mussel shells collected in places where there never were mussel shells before. At least we found a small collection to look at...

Little Cranberry, 2008 — photoblogging

As we did last year, we took the boat out to Little Cranberry today. We did, however, have quite a bit more time to explore the island on this visit. The lupine were in bloom and the vegetable gardens were starting to really come in. Some of the new produce went into our lunch at the Isleford Dock restaurant—stellar mussels, excellent clam chowder, baby green salads, and a surprisingly good grilled cheese for Banana. That said, I'm exhausted, so pictures will have to suffice tonight...

Tuesday, July 01, 2008


This morning, Banana was up and about very early. We went down to the shore, and trotted back up for breakfast after a bit. Once she'd eaten, she got very tired and climbed into my arms. She was warm—not burning, but definitely not a normal temperature either. I asked my mother whether we had a thermometer in the house. She said she wasn't sure and went to rummage around around in the bathroom. She returned, saying all we had was an old mercury thermometer, and put this box on the table in front of me.

Given the design, typography, and materials, I would have to guess that the package dated from the forties—perhaps even before my grandparents built this house in the early fifties. that guess is helped by the small mark branding the thermometer as a Rexall product. Given the effort to build and brand the Rexall name in the late forties, the timing seems right.

On opening the box, the discovery became even more interesting. Both the manufacturer's mark (Brooklyn!) and the numbers appear to have been hand-painted and hand-etched. It is nearly impossible to imagine any mass market product that has such detail applied in this day and age.

This kind of direct connection to history is unique, I think, to summer homes built in the era when families could truly "summer" in a whole other place than they lived the other nine or ten months of the year. In the cases of some towns along the coast, that meant simply transplanting an entire echelon of society for a few months, i.e. Baltimore money summered on one point while Boston money summered on another point. In the cases of communities such as ours, that meant mixing centuries of local history (families with deep regional ties) with lives lived elsewhere.

The end result is that you find homes filled with artifacts like six decade-old thermometers, spice tins filled with long-stale paprika, toasters that should have died years ago, a grandmother's favorite work gloves, and generations-worth of collected beach treasures. In the case of toasters and appliances, you might feel guilty replacing them because they have nostalgia going for them, but the reality is they continue to work well because they have only been used two months a year for decades. (It is this way with the waffle maker I long since appropriated from the house.) In the case of spice tins, you don't bother replacing them; you simply supplement with fresh spices bought in smaller bulk quantities. The old tins remain because, well, they've always been there.

All this said, I should point out that there are at least two kinds of summer homes. There is the functional sort—cabins, we might call these—where order and nostalgia take a backseat to kids' feet made dirty and wet from trips to the beach. Chaos rules brilliantly in these homes. Then there is the nostalgic sort—cottages, we might call them—where preservation takes precedence and dirt is quickly whisked away. Order rules calmly in these homes.

As I've gotten older and become a parent, I've struggled with what this means to me, whether it's just a nice perq of our family (our summer house) or whether it is a legacy that I must carry on in some way (our living history). I've come to understand (accept?) it as both, but I've also begun to think about how I want Banana to see the place. In the long-run, I suspect my vision may may be noisier than history.


Sunday's Times Magazine ran an interesting piece on the dropping birthrate in Europe. Granted, there are concerns about the death of towns or the drop-off in a society's population that are worth discussing, but what struck me about the piece is the implication that a society must reproduce at or above its current population. Or more to the point: the implication that our societies must continue to grow. I suppose it's a reasonable assumption to be made by a society in which average family size continues to grow. The fallacy comes, however, when you consider questions of an exploding population—how people will continue to feed and be housed in an ever-more-stressed environment?

I wonder about such things whenever I see a family with two kids about to add a third, three kids about to add a fourth, and beyond. Granted, I would never tell any of my friends who do have more than two children that they should have made a different choice, but I still wonder about the long-term prognosis of a society where the norm is becoming R + X (replacement plus extras). When we've gone from 2.1 children as an average to 2.9, mustn't all of our institutions, stores, cars, and so forth continue to grow? Aren't they already expanding past the point of sustainability? If that's the case, what should our long-term prognosis be?

Just thinking out "loud"...

travelin' observations

A couple of quick notes...

  • Why is it that certain older couples begin to dress alike—same shirts, same shorts, and so forth? Is it so they can distinguish each other in the crowds at outlet malls?
  • On the topic of outlet malls, Freeport was busy yesterday, though the crowds did seem a little lighter than usual. Also notable were the number of signs advertising sales. You know things are bad when factory outlets begin deep-discounting. L.L. Bean was also advertising thirty percent off sale prices, a highly unusual move for them too.
  • Wilco over the sound system at Whole Foods... um... I am part of a demographic now.

That said, this is what the road looks like when you get away from the traffic: