Monthly Archives: July 2003

7/21/03 Columbia County, NY (19

7/21/03 Columbia County, NY (19 days until wedding)

I don’t know if any of you were standing on a hill in Chatham, NY tonight, but this storm kinda sucked.

7/20/03 Columbia County, NY (20

7/20/03 Columbia County, NY (20 days until wedding)

I dunno how many of you have had the pleasure of struggling with the new Epson Stylus Photo 2200 printer, but it sure is ornery, and it doesn’t help that Mac OS X has taken a giant step backward in terms of printing simplicity. The “chooser” in the old Mac platform used to be the kind of thing I could (and did) explain to my grandmother, but the OS X Print Center is a giant, non-intuitive pain the ass.

Once you get the Epson 2200 running, however, the picture quality is gaw-jus. The inks are also guaranteed to last the better part of a century, which is cool, because the old digital photos I used to put on the fridge started looking very 1974 Kodachrome after about two months. Print longevity is the only reason we sank so much $$$ into the printer – I mean, if you’re going to bother, you might as well have prints that last longer than a year or two.

This huge photo project has led me down some pretty hilarious alleys in my archive, including a roll of negatives that had never been turned into prints. This 1991 photo will mean something to about 4 or 5 people in this world, but I think it might bring some joy to those particular souls:

click for bigger

7/19/03 Columbia County, NY (21

7/19/03 Columbia County, NY (21 days until wedding)

My brother Steve got his pilot’s license about 24 years ago when I was 12 or so, and he used to take us up in his single-engine plane around the cornfields of Iowa. That terrain is not especially known for its majestic beauty (even though Grant Wood came awful close); I remember Steve letting me take the controls mid-air and saying “just keep the nuclear power plant to the right of the propeller.”

After covering the AYA show in Georgia, Steve borrowed a plane and flew up to the Berkshires, so Tessa and I met him at the Great Barrington airstrip for a quick jaunt in the skies above our farm.

click any image for bigger

Needless to say, it was magnificent. The plane was tiny, cramped and a little noisy, but who cares – by the time we got over our place and saw a little black dot called Chopin the Dog running through the fields a thousand feet below, we were in heaven.

Route 23, which is the old Columbia Turnpike from the 18th century, cut a gorgeous swath through the county and on to the Catskills. Words pauper the experience, and pictures only hint at what it’s like being up there. After circling our place three times, we decided to take the plane up to 6,000 feet to get over the clouds for a better view of New England in general.

It was a little bumpy, and I was afraid Tessa (whose summer camp friends called her “Ralph” due to her predilection for motion sickness) might hurl, but she was totally fine. We never quite got over cloud layer, but when the view opened up, and the Hudson River appeared, it was miraculous.

Steve said you used to be able to see the World Trade Center towers from up there. The visibility wasn’t stellar, but still, you suddenly had a grasp of the physical world as a map. You knew were stuff went, and saw the relationships between road, river and rail. You understood where you fit, an impossibly small creature tip-toeing across dainty lines drawn on the Earth. It’s like Douglas Adams’ “total perspective vortex,” and like Zaphod Beeblebrox, it doesn’t feel all that bad.

I hate flying commercial airlines with a two-Xanax and three-bourbon-and-ginger passion, but I’ll get up in a single-engine plane with Steve any day of the week.

7/18/03 Columbia County, NY (22

7/18/03 Columbia County, NY (22 days until wedding)

I discovered a product today that, if I had been using it for the last ten years, would have made my life infinitely more aesthetically-pleasing. I encourage each and every one of you to go out and buy a tube of PhenoSeal™.

Yes, Pheno-Seal. Unsightly cracks and misaligned wood joints are a snap with this fabulous petroleum by-product from the fine folks at Gloucester Company Incorporated. Formulated by the finest scientists, PhenoSeal™ promises each customer The Absolute Finest in Caulks and Sealants®.

Don’t like the way your crown moulding dips and curves at the ceiling? Hate those jagged seams between your wainscoting? I know I did! But with one easy application of PhenoSeal Does It All Brand Caulk Sealant©, it looks like I paid thousands to have my room renovated!

Simply insert your PhenoSeal tube into a caulking gun, ratchet up the pressure, and let that sealant go, go, go! It dries clear in one hour, and is suitable for painting. Also makes a nice dessert topping! “Make mine with jimmies, Ethel – and PhenoSeal™!”

7/17/03 Columbia County, NY (23

7/17/03 Columbia County, NY (23 days until wedding)

Wow, I sure got hoodwinked. A writer who calls him or herself “Guignol” wrote a letter to me telling me I’m a self-righteous liberal ass who is “out of touch with the life of the average person who’s not splitting his time between his country home and his urban home.” I spent about 1/2 an hour crafting a well-thought out, meaningful letter back to him explaining my vantage point, AND THE LETTER WAS RETURNED AS NON-DELIVERABLE! A made-up email address. I can’t believe I fell for it.

Anyway, in the letter I promised not to mention Guignol by name, nor quote him, but now I say fuck it. Among his statements were this: that I had “put upon” the elderly because of my last blog’s proposal that all drivers over the age of 80 get a simple visual acuity and response-time test. He said that elderly drivers are as safe as anybody else, and their accident rate “isn’t even close to drivers under 25, particularly under 20. I need not go on.”

Well, he should have gone on and done some research, but that’s okay, because I did it for him. By the way, our geriatric friend ended up claiming two more lives today, including another baby.

My guess is that Guignol, like all knee-jerk conservatives, views a driving-acuity test for the elderly as one more way Democrats are getting Big Government into our lives. As for the “self-righteous liberal ass” part, he sure as hell is right. As I have oft scribed in these hallowed pages before, this is not the place to go if you’re looking for cool-headed dialogue that gives equal time to conservative viewpoints. I mean, right-wingers get all three branches of government, all the major media outlets, Fox News, Clear Channel, and the entire AM dial – and I get my blog. I think it’s a fair trade-off.

And my “ivory tower” lifestyle? Not that I should explain this, but since these are my rules, I’m going to. I live in Brooklyn, fairly cheaply, in an integrated neighborhood. Tessa and I bought a house upstate during a depressed real-estate market and got a steal – and we only afforded the down-payment because her father died and left a trashbag full of silver coins in a closet.

I grew up in Eastern Iowa, and then in the piedmont of North Carolina. Occasionally, I was able to live in some pretty amazing places due to my father’s bizarre job, but if any of you have been in the arts, you know a conductor’s life is a lot of charisma and not a ton of money.

While I was in North Carolina, I shopped at Walmart and wasn’t even being ironic. I lived under the poverty level for seven years. My life now is blessed with the riches of good friends, the best fiance in the solar system, and enough invested to keep us afloat in times of lean. So don’t talk to me about an ivory tower, Guignol. We all suffer or bask, struggle or grow complacent, in our different ways. I came by my misanthropy honestly.

7/16/03 Columbia County, NY (24

7/16/03 Columbia County, NY (24 days until wedding)

I tried to take a picture of the fabulous syzygy of the Moon and Mars tonight, but instead ended up with something that hardly does it justice:

I mean, that’s Mars and the Moon all right, but I think they could have done better with a daguerreotype in 1853. It doesn’t matter; these things have to be experienced to be appreciated, and when Tessa and I entered the Taconic Valley tonight with both celestial objects lighting up the forest floor, it was truly stunning. Not to mention an apt metaphor for our times: Mars in conjunction with the Moon, linguistically, means “insane war.”

I was especially horrified to learn what happened in Santa Monica, CA today – an 86-year-old man plowed into the farmers market, killing eight people and injuring 45. This is a market I have been to a hundred times, and no doubt some of our friends had just been there hours or minutes before this geriatric wrecking crew smashed through. I mean, even a two-year-old died.

This news came after a car ride when we discussed the “twilight” of our parents’ lives, and what might happen to them, and how we might help. Getting into your late 80s is scary, and there has to be a plan, and damned if we know exactly what that might be. I’d also just read an unwittingly timely article by an 86-year-old woman in last week’s Newsweek about how she gave up driving when she knew it was time.

I know this accident will raise the cackles of the second-only-to-the-Freemasons power legions of the AARP, who will no doubt jump to the defense of elderly drivers. But this accident is absolutely inexcusable. That motherfucker should not have been on the road. After the age of 80, I think all drivers should take a mandatory skills test, whereby they measure visual acuity and reaction time. I mean, if you’re not allowed to drive for the first fifteen years of your life, maybe you shouldn’t drive for the last five or six. Call me, I’ll come over and take you to In’n’Out burger, fer chrissakes.

mackerel moonlight over the farm tonight

7/15/03 Brooklyn, NY (25 days

7/15/03 Brooklyn, NY (25 days until wedding)

I tripped over my Powerbook cord today, ripping the connector to shreds and denting the side of the computer. I went online to buy a new one, but our credit card wouldn’t work. Then I went to the doctor, who prescribed $105 worth of medications, and I had to pay with another credit card we’re only supposed to be using in dire situations. I figured my intestines were dire.

On the way home, I lost the keys to our car. Running out the door to Jamie’s gig, I left the directions in the apartment three times. While celebrating Jordana’s birthday at an Indian restaurant tonight, I spilled muglai paratha on my new white linen shirt. Then the caterer called us after a year of prep time and said they wouldn’t cater our wedding.

Later on I went outside and ate worms.

7/14/03 Brooklyn, NY (26 days

7/14/03 Brooklyn, NY (26 days until wedding)

We are all blessed and cursed by the company we keep, and while we might think a change of environment is easy enough, mostly we’re just stuck in our little situations until the pain of leaving them is greater than the fear of what comes next. I mention this because my sister Michelle is going through a particularly rough patch in her life, brought on specifically by some chick she works with. Seems that this girl thought it wise to dress Michelle down by listing her faults in rapturous candor, leaving my sister, who is already so distraught with her present circumstances that she is willing to join the Peace Corps to build thatched shit huts in Madagascar, in a state of further depression.

First off, if this chick is so fucking smart, why is she working in a restaurant? There’s only one smart restaurant in this world, and that’s the Jasper Family Steakhouse in Jasper, Georgia. Second, if Michelle’s so fucking smart, why is she working in a restaurant? Fact is, living in (or around) New York City is expensive enough to warrant a life-consuming job like the one she has. Her restaurant is arguably the best eatery in Manhattan, but there are scores of other things she could be doing. Working at a magazine, doing something freelance, personal assisting, putting together her own small business – anything. But her resum glows with four-star restaurants all over the country, which makes her job rut so easy to fall back on; she wears handcuffs made of mayonnaise.

She deserves better, and she deserves better friends. Michelle found her way to her 4-star restaurant through a design flaw in God’s plan; she is Rembrandt painting fences. Her co-workers found their way there through natural selection; that’s exactly where they are supposed to be.

As for the hurtful things she had to hear the other day, I have definitely been there. On two occasions I received a laundry list of my faults by two different fonts of mean-spirited invective, and those words have stuck with me for the better part of 12 years. I lived my life since then understanding that at least 15% of what they had to say was true, and worked to rectify them. As for the other 85%, they can eat me.

Perhaps 15% of what this girl had to say to Michelle might be true, perhaps by dint of monkeys typing Shakespeare in space that sage advice is delivered in nasty packages – but there is a time and place for everything, and this wasn’t it. This one goes out to Michelle, so that her family knows she is an amazing person and it will only be a matter of time before the right people, and the right person, gets it.

Michelle and me in 1974

7/13/03 Columbia County, NY (27

7/13/03 Columbia County, NY (27 days until wedding)

I usually like going to a Walmart; something about the vastness of choice and the insanely cheap Equate brand generics give me a consumerist hard-on every time. But there’s something about the Hudson, NY Walmart that is just dreadful. It’s worse than the one in the San Gabriel Valley outside Los Angeles, it’s worse than the ones on I-26 in Alabama, and it’s way worse than my first Walmart in Durham, North Carolina.

This is going to sound really judgmental and snobby, which is probably because I’m a total asshole, but the clientele at this Walmart is particularly depressing. The average weight of your typical patron hovers over 275, and the hairstyles, O God, my Captain, my Captain! It is truly the land before Mullets Galore, because these people are serious. The guy in front of me had a perfectly normal butt-cut, except the hair in the back went clear past his ass. The lady behind me looked like Steve Perry.

The aisles are way too narrow at this particular Walmart; if two people enter an aisle, one of them has to back out and risk knocking over the display of Equate brand Acid Reducers. The women’s clothing section, featuring Faded Glory

7/12/03 Columbia County, NY (28

7/12/03 Columbia County, NY (28 days until wedding)

We got our marriage license today from the Town Clerk, a very nice woman named Ruth who had a delightful sarcastic streak. She told us the story of the guy who sounds the fire horn (the kind you can hear for fifteen miles – we had them in Iowa for the tornadoes). Apparently, he’s so enamored of his job that he refuses to stop testing the horn every Saturday even though the firemen all have pagers now. Every time it goes off, Ruth bolts upright, locks the windows and holds onto the plates, just like the Banks family in “Mary Poppins” when the Captain fired his cannon.

“We all got together and asked him to stop,” she says, in her upstate farmers accent, “but he only turned it down a notch. He says he has to keep it going in case the town intersection has a problem, but then I said ‘if there’s a problem with the streetlight and the horn goes off, how is some guy from East Overshoe gonna know what to do?'”

I couldn’t answer her question either, but the fictitious town of East Overshoe sounded very exotic.

Speaking of exotic, this picture was not taken this afternoon, as it might seem, but a few minutes ago at 2 in the morning on top of our hill. The moon is brilliantly full tonight, and the camera has a great “night setting” that lets the exposure go for 5-6 seconds. What you get looks like a Van Gogh painting (click either of these pics for bigger).

that’s Mars in upper right

I demanded that everyone go to the top of our little hillock, even though they had just seen a play and were dog tired. Even Chopes was dog tired, and he usually looks upon the hill as his own private teacup ride at Disneyland. We were rewarded with a nightcap visit by the lady cows, who gathered round and snorted with pleasure. Something about a moonlit field filled with sleeping cows is unbelievably pastoral and happy-making.