Monthly Archives: October 2003

All Hallow E’en

10/31/03

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Halloween, as I’ve oft opined in these hallowed pages, is my favorite holiday, even more so in these blindingly conservative times – it’s the only night of the year when each and every one of us can uncork our inner gaywad and swish around in any costume we please. I am frequently dressing up as a woman, although this year I decided to forego that pleasure just so I can keep it fresh, yo.

Park Slope is no Chapel Hill, but it’s still a fabulous place to watch 45,000 kids dress up into some of the cutest costumes this side of a Texas beauty pageant. I sat on the stoop and doled out candy (note to self: kids don’t like Peppermint Patties but devour Kit Kats) to 2-year-olds barely possessing the physical means of getting up a flight of stairs. Kids that young also don’t get the whole “dual personality” thing – when you see them in a Spiderman costume and decide to play along, you ask, “who are you supposed to be?” and they invariably answer “Alicia!” like you’re a total dumbass.

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Chopin the Dog came out, and seemed to be genuinely freaked out by the idea of “strangers coming up to our stoop and taking food.” Eventually, he began to see the bowl of chocolate candy as something that belonged only to us, and decided to act as judge and jury. You had to be pretty wily to get past Chopes for your treat, and I thought his selection process was sorta racist, so I fired him on the spot. He had to watch the rest of the evening through the door.

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I always like the fourteen-year-old kids with the hints of an early moustache, slapping on some crappy mask so they can bilk the neighborhood out of Mr. Goodbars. One kid had on a basketball jersey and asked for candy at the pharmacist. The cashier said “Who are you dressed up as?” and the kid responded, “I’m Antoine Walker. Gimme some Snickers, bitch!”

I wish I had done that when I was eight, in my robot costume, doing Halloween 1975 in Cedar Rapids. “And who are you supposed to be?” “I’m a fucking robot. Gimme some Almond Joys, BITCH!”

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The insanely warm weather made this year’s Halloween a must-do for every New Yorker, thus the streets of Manhattan were packed in midtown and the Village. This year’s crop was weirdly high in Charlie Browns, Sexy Catholic Schoolgirls, Snow Whites, and good old fashioned witches. Tessa’s favorite was a guy dressed as a Twinkie; mine was some girl festooned with hundreds of loofahs for no apparent reason. By the way, I’d like call a moratorium on the “visual pun” costume, which means no more White Trash or Black-Eyed Peas, please.

Our first party was at the Arinella’s pad up on Central Park West, and it was awesome to see the gals whooping it up, swirling in a haze of Absolut and orange juice. Then we went down to the Garment District to a party hosted by James Roven and a few of his pals – the usual cadre of New York hotties were there, showing body parts usually verboten on secular holidays. We also ran into Gill, who was on his last drink of a hilarious four-day bender, and was actually leaving early (you heard it here first).

And our costumes? Glad you asked. Tessa was a Disgruntled Texas Housewife From 1971, and I was a Fat Fucking Tenor. Don’t say we never do anything to keep you entertained, BITCH!

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not my real belly

Hogwarts Headache or Potter’s Pathos?

10/30/03

In relatively stupid news today, there are 158 stories on Google about the so-called “Hogwarts Headache,” the alliteratively-titled affliction dealt to young kids attempting to pore through Lady Rowling’s latest tome. First off, let me recommend the audio CD version of any Harry Potter novel, which will not only not give you a headache, but makes a cross-country trip blow by in seconds.

Secondly, which I know is not a real word, the researchers say that kids are getting headaches by refusing to stop reading the “3 lb. book,” even way past their bedtime, just to see who gets offed in the end. But I wonder if any of these doctors have actually read “Order of the Phoenix.” I don’t think these headaches have anything to do with the voluminous number of pages, or an raging epidemic of voracious reading.

Couvade Syndrome is something you learn in advanced psych classes, a phenomenon in which the husbands of pregnant wives start getting morning sickness. It’s a sort of “empathy illness” that pops up in a lot of places (best friends, pets, etc.), and it can get pretty serious. It’s a close cousin to the human yawn, which is stunningly contagious (you may have yawned just now thinking about it, I know I did).

Anyway, if you read the Harry Potter books, you know that Harry gets these searing headaches pretty much twice a chapter, any time Lord Voldemort has a particularly nasty thought. These young kids, who identify so strongly with Harry, are getting the literary dose of a heavy migraine, a pain that has crescendoed out of control in the fifth book. These kids aren’t reading too much, they’re feeling too much, God bless ’em all. After Harry’s fifteenth headache, even *I* was reaching for my various, unmarked, illegally-stored painkilling pharmaceuticals.

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Spaz! Zork! Poindexter!

10/29/03

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Just in case you were needing more of me in your life today, check out my article featured in the Technology section of Salon (I have to use the moniker “Ian R. Williams” to avoid confusion with the wily Brit who frequently covers foreign affairs). You’d think my name was pretty rare, but it’s the equivalent of “John Smith” in Australia, and I’m the fourth one at IMDb alone.

A few words about the article: first off, you can only read the whole thing if you a) subscribe to Salon, which I heartily recommend, or b) sit through a 5-second ad for Visa. I promise it’s painless, but I know a few of you – like my brother Steve – view all internet ads as poison, so consider yourselves prepared.

The article itself stems from an older idea I had about writing a book on the history of “dorks” – the misfits, nerds and geeks of America. After ruminating on it a while, I thought a better idea would be “the death of the dork,” how mainstream, post-Columbine America has started paying attention to troubled kids, and the internet has brought millions of otherwise-spazzed-out nerds together instead of leaving them to stew in their own juices.

This piece was a stab in that direction, but due to an email mixup, Salon accidentally ended up with my first draft and published it. I had written a much better, cleaner and more funny second draft, but it will now be lost to the ages. Anyone who has done any freelancing knows how painful this is; when you fix a piece of writing, the older drafts just make you cringe, like a pair of pants you can’t believe you ever owned. If you read the article, you won’t know the difference – it’s still charming – but it gives me a certain amount of chagrin.

There is also one line in the published version that had been fixed in the second draft, but is now going to be misread forever. I originally said “If it weren’t for dorks, America would look like Chile,” but corrected it to “If it weren’t for dorks, America would be shaped like Chile.” Meaning that it would be a strip of land a few miles wide on the coast. The published version makes it look like I’m dissing Chileans. Which couldn’t be farther from my intentions. I mean, I read Alive just like everybody else.

Detainee

10/28/03

I’m going to share with a little tale, a harrowing account of How NOT To Come Back To America. Last night, having just attended the awesome, community-affirming Zap Yer PRAM conference, I sped through a pounding rainstorm to the spot on Canada Hwy 2 where New Brunswick decides to become Maine. The U.S. Customs gate is like any other toll booth, only instead of asking for money, they ask for information.

“Where have you been the last few days?”

“At a conference on Prince Edward Island.”

“What were you doing there?”

“Giving a talk on digital film.”

“Is that what you do for a living?”

You know, the usual stuff. They ask these questions but don’t look at you for the answers; instead, they dart their eyes around your myriad belongings. Now, admittedly, I was looking a bit disheveled by the time I got to Maine, desperately in need of a shower, and ol’ Bessie the Land Rover was ill-packed full of various computer crap, discarded sweaters and semi-edible snack food. If everyone who goes through the border crossing looks about 5% suspicious, I probably looked about 12% suspicious.

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Suspicious enough that they opened the back hatch of the car and rustled around. Then one guy opened the door behind the driver’s seat, saw my weird-looking boblbee backpack, immediately unzipped the top, and took out an unmarked medicine bottle filled with white powder.

I’ve had this particular object for three years. It’s only baby powder, and I use it to keep my feet and shoes dry during hoops. Unable to find a travel-sized dispenser, I poured the powder into a medicine bottle and it has served me well. Of course, this was done in a different era. The second the customs officer took the bottle, I realized what it looked like: a vial of anthrax.

The real question is this: why did it take me until this moment to realize something so obvious? I have carried that vial of white powder with me for three years around the most heavily-defended city in North America, refilling it occasionally, even taking it out on the subway. The only explanation I can give is that it is a relic, an artifact from another time that was grandfathered into my backpack without any of the new laws applying.

Either way, the customs officers were not amused.

I was ushered into a holding area, where the entire contents of my bag were spilled out. I was grilled about another medicine bottle, this one marked “VITAMINS,” which curiously held, well, vitamins. But they were piqued. They ordered a full search of my car, including a canine unit, and left me to sit for about three hours, while I wracked my brain thinking of what could possibly be in there.

Meanwhile, one of the customs officers was pulling up my records, and he asked me if I’d ever been stopped before. I thought about it for a few seconds, and couldn’t come up with anything. “Are you SURE?” he said, and although I knew he was up to something, I thought it also might be a trap. “Yes,” I said.

After making me wait for another hour, he came up to me and said, “Let’s think about a year. I’m thinking 1992.”

Again, I scoured my memory for 1992 – okay, I was living in the Purple House with Bud, Salem, Matt, Clay – but was I stopped at an airport? I was doing music sessions for my mom. 1992 was the Olympics in Barcelona. I was there a few months before –

And then it hit me. My erstwhile girlfriend was taking a year abroad in Spain, and we had smoked really bad hash on the beach. I’d agreed to take home some of her things, and she had plopped the hashpipe into the side pocket of a backpack. The dogs at Dallas/Ft. Worth had sniffed it, they had pulled me aside, but since there was only “resin,” they confiscated the pipe and sent me on my way. It sucked, to be sure, but I promptly forgot about it until now.

When I came forth with the information, the customs guy was not impressed. I mean, not to be too cool for school or anything, but I have had a lot more weird, harrowing, crazy experiences than that afternoon in Dallas/Ft. Worth. Some memories are just not going to make the cut.

Anyway, by then they’d also found out my license had been suspended because of a non-paid speeding ticket, which was news to me. This added a whole new dimension to the ordeal, as I was now stranded at the very top of Maine. Just as I got used to the idea of a night wasted at a shithole motel, more customs officers came over to me wearing blue gloves and furrowed brows. I was in a lot more trouble than I thought.

It seems that traveling with pharmaceuticals that aren’t in their proper bottle is very illegal. And I had a bunch. After my first kidney stone in 2001, the emergency room doctors took such pity on me that they shoved a bunch of pills (Vicodin, Percocet, one Klonopin) into a bottle and told me to use them if the pain came back. I had kept them, even though I’d filled the Percocet prescription and had enough for any kidney eventuality.

But my immigration problems didn’t end there. Because I hate flying, I take a Xanax – and since the pill bottle looked like all the rest, I put the Xanax pills into a white container so I wouldn’t take any by mistake. This was another big, big mistake.

Then the weirdest thing came out – apparently, my bottle of Allopurinol (used for gout) had SEVEN RITALIN pills in it. Now, I have never used Ritalin, never needed it, never even seen what a pill looks like. I began to feel myself going through the looking glass. How on earth had these Ritalin pills found their way into my ordinary gout pills? They looked like the other pills – did my pharmacist fuck up? Better yet, had I taken any by mistake?

All of this shit had a profoundly negative impact on my customs officers. One of them told me to stop lying (the Barcelona incident had been a “lie,” I guess). And then the canine unit came back from my car with the pronouncement that think they had found marijuana. Or at least what they called “chaff,” an unusable portion stuck in the seat.

Now I was really swimming in crazy crazy land. First off, Tessa has had neither drink nor drug for ten years. My own indulgencies in anything stronger than a snifter of Scotch have been so hilariously infrequent that if it weren’t for Tessa, I’d look like a Baptist Minister. Certainly neither of us had ever brought pot into our car. But I was beginning to fear the worst.

I spent the next several hours believing I was actually going to jail. I knew this nation’s draconian drug laws, and worse yet, the jocular, simian photo of George W. Bush was hanging on the wall of the customs lobby, lurching over me with his moron eyes. I looked at him and thought, “you have done more blow than I will ever see in my lifetime, yet I am going to jail because I have kidney stones.”

After six hours of sitting in the same chair, they summoned me to the desk. “We are charging you with ‘attempting to bring a controlled substance onto American soil.’ There is possible jail time and a $5000 fine. Your only way out is to write us a little paragraph explaining why you think this should not be your fate.”

I looked at the paper. “Um, is this the kind of thing a lawyer should look at?”

One of them lowered his head and took me aside. “Look, we are a whole separate deal. We are the prosecutor, the judge AND the jury. You should write something down – now.” When I told that bit to Tessa later, she remarked how horrifying that sounded, a government division with its own rules, but strangely, I felt comforted. I didn’t need a lawyer. These guys were going to decide my fate, not some faceless entity in another county. And besides, I was supposed to write an ESSAY. If my life ever hinged on anything, please God, thank you for making it an ESSAY.

And so I took the piece of paper, and did what I learned in 5th grade, honed in high school, perfected in college, and now used to earn a living: I wrote. I talked about the perpetual fear a kidney stone-sufferer is plunged into, I weaved this fear throughout the essay, ending with a mea culpa, a genuine concern for the wrong pills ending up in my oeuvre, and an exhortation of their good will.

They must have liked it, because they passed it around, even to some of the women officers who had nothing to do with my case. Finally, one of the heftier guys came over and said, “We’ve decided to let you go with a $500 fine.”

They confiscated my pills, then, on my eighth hour in that chair, they drove me to a local motel and dropped me off. By then, we had all assumed a certain rapport, and in my delirium, I thought they were basically good guys. The next day, when I got the Land Rover back, there were paw prints from the drug-sniffing dog all over everything I owned. Clothes, paper and wires were strewn all around. And I knew I was now on “that list.” To be singled out, again, for years into the future. But I was free to move about the country again, and the cold wind through a cracked window felt bracing and beautiful.

Itinerant Ian Detained in Maine

Ian promises the whole story tomorrow. How innocent foot powder and mislabeled pain meds combined with a little homeland security to delay his reentry to the U.S. by eight hours or so.

He called from "the top of Maine," sounding tired and resigned. The Caller ID was his cell phone’s, but it sounded like the fringes of some rural analog coverage. And, of course, again no internet connection.

'82 Diesel Rabbit So you’ll have to suffer through another boring account of my boring day. I visited Donsco, one of many local shops which cater to classic VW drivers like me. My quest: to order a carpet kit for my latest acquisition, an ’82 Diesel Rabbit. I got it last month from the original owner for $600. With only 120,000 miles on it, it’s still going strong. And get this: 50 mpg, baby! But the interior was too disgusting for words, so I’m gradually buying bits and pieces to make it livable. Last week I got a pair of sport seats from an ’84 Rabbit GTi. Oh, and I stopped by the Mountain View Maaco shop, who said for $499 they’ll paint it orange to match the plane!

My FreeBSD adventures continue. Today I failed again to get running a pair of Sun Enterprise Server 250s that I happened across. It’s hard to know what they’re worth or whether they’re more powerful than an old Celeron desktop computer, but now that FreeBSD 5.1 runs on Sparc, who can resist?

My new Optiplex is doing fine, too. Today it got its whole source tree updated, a customized kernel built, and all of the software updated. I hope soon it’ll be doing something useful, but you can visit it today!

“Steve, Sub,” Says Sundered Scribe

In a scratchy voicemail from Prince Edward Island, Ian asks me to “blog on whatever you want.” He is, again, suffering without internet access at the Zap Your Pram think-in.

Ian wrote yesterday that Tessa wishes I were there, and indeed I was aware of it from another blogger in attendance. (I was tempted to write that I knew of it through "my friend, Dave Winer," but then I remembered that I’ve never met Winer—I’ve only followed his life and work in detail through his blog for a couple of years.)

Surplus Dell Optiplex GX1I received Ian’s message on the road back from Napa Valley, where we met Michelle for dinner at the end of her first week on the new job. She gave us several bottles of wine already half-consumed by tourists who, she told us, dropped $50,000 in a single day at Duckhorn Vineyards. She currently explains the more pedestrian vintages to hoi polloi in the tasting room, but says soon she will be uncorking the more pricey varieties for more discerning clientele in the Estate Room.

Michelle says her ‘puter’s dead. I suppose that’s to even out the computing universe, since I just resurrected an old Dell as my second server, a $40 Optiplex GX1 from Halted Specialties, one of the Bay Areas great little surplus stores. Ah, the seeming limitless promise of a new FreeBSD server!

I, Ian Island Is

10/24/03 Cavendish, Prince Edward Island, Canada

It’s time for Name That Pictureâ„¢!

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What do you think THIS is?

The girl in the magazine shop in Halifax, Nova Scotia kept referring to Canada as “we.” I bring this up because she did it the last time we were in Halifax, about two months ago, and I think she should be made Minister of Tourism for the entire country. When I think of the Maritime Provinces, sure, I think of Peter and that creepy Anne of Green Gables chick, but this cashier represents all that is good in the world. I thought about the last time I could say “we” about the United States and not have to apologize, or make a disclaimer, or just feel a little sick inside. Sorry, right wingers, you fill me with shame.

But it’s the essence of “community” that lies in her “we,” and perhaps America just has too many people in it for that to be true as a whole. We are satisfied with our balkanized, splintered tribes of like-minded friends, artists and businessmen, but I wonder what it must be like to “we” your country like that. I’m too much of a pinko leftist froth-mouthed freak to even contemplate it.

We pulled into Cavendish (after making the 7pm ferry by seconds, thank you very much) in time for the last talk of the evening – we’re attending the Zap Your PRAM conference up here at the top of the island. Fortunately, the attendees and I don’t care what you think of the name, it’s still an amazingly cool gathering of technology-savvy thinkers that have been kind enough to import us for a showing/Q&A of “The Pink House” tomorrow night. In any other circumstance, we would never show the film like this, especially during the late trimester of its possible distribution, but we knew the crowd might enjoy the myriad techie aspects of the movie, and besides, I basically trust Peter with my first-born.

Anyway, tonight’s talk was a well laid-out metaphor of the Web versus a public library, a discourse so rife with cool emerging internet stuff that Tessa leaned over and said “I wish Steve were here.” Actually, she didn’t say it with a hyperlink like that, but wouldn’t that be cool too?

The topic devolved into the moral quagmires of Kazaa-esque file sharing, the impermanence of data (which interests me, if I want my grandkids to read these words) and then someone said that people were typing certain things into Google, and getting his blog, when they really shouldn’t be.

I have exactly the same problem. One of the top Google search terms that brings people to this blog – is “rimadyl overdose.” Rimadyl is basically doggy Advil, and is given to most dogs for hip problems, dysplasia, and lots of other painful afflictions. It comes in biscuit form, which means that dogs will find the bottle, eat the whole damn thing, and then act very strangely as their livers and kidneys begin to fail.

In desperation, their owners type “rimadyl overdose” into Google, and instead of getting Pfizer, or a vet, or a FAQ on aging dogs, they get… my story of Chopin eating 80 tablets. This ain’t right. Fortunately, I saw how many hits this was getting and inserted another blog about what to do. That can be found here, but since you’re already reading this: if it’s less than three pills, don’t sweat it. If it is any more, you need to take your dog to the animal emergency room right away so they can force him to vomit, and then treat him with fluids and “activated charcoal.” If you don’t, you risk serious kidney damage and even death.

Anyway, the idea is that the Web will have to be smarter about how it parses out information. Although I do appreciate everyone who has stuck around here because their dog couldn’t control himself. Howdy!

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Another cool thing about Cavendish, Prince Edward Island is that it is not only the ancestral homeland of that little-bit-nutty, little-bit-slutty Anne of Green Gables, but that the lodging is totally sweet! Each room is marked with a letter rather than a number, and we got room I. Do you know how rare that is? Everyone in the States always skips I, afraid it will be mistaken for the number 1. Not just in room numbers, anything. There are no key chains, letter openers, backscratchers, knick-knacks, NOTHING with the letter “I” on them.

As an Ian, I always grew up with a bike license plate that said “JAN” with half the “J” erased. It looked like shit. As for all Ians, Irenes, Ivors – the Man told us to blow ourselves. “No ‘I’ keychain for you. We’re going straight from ‘H’ to ‘J’.”

Well, not anymore. I am reporting to you from Room I.

“I” for “IN YOUR FACE, MOTHERSCRATCHERS!”

The Walmart on Top of America

10/23/03 Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Now, as I’ve mentioned before, I’ve taken on New Brunswick, Canada, the way that some families take in a stray Dalmatian – it’s the Pittsburgh of Canadian Provinces. Even the guidebook had to mention that Moncton has “some life here,” as if that weren’t a foregone conclusion.

I’m here to tellya that there is not only life, there is high speed wireless at the Ramada Inn! The signal is tiny, like a quasar repeating in the dark recesses a billion light years away, but it’s good enough to slip something into the blog. I asked Tessa to blog for me tonight, fearing I’d be stuck counting ceiling tiles at a creaky wharf, but she declined, saying she wasn’t ready for you. We’ll remedy that eventually.

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The autumnal sun tried its best to follow me up the coast, but a cold front out of North Jesus Christ said “fuck you.” This is the kind of weather you could kill yourself to, if only you could unfreeze your hand off the knife blade. I stopped in Freeport, Maine to ransack the 24-hour L.L. Bean store, and everything made for winter weather has disappeared; the only boots left were men’s size 5 and 14 (sorry, Tod). I do, however, still recommend the trip, because you can get those awesome “Smartwool” socks for $5, when they usually cost $14.95. They are all marked IRREGULAR, but it’s hard to understand just how irregular a sock can be. I checked them all, and they were all tube-shaped with a closed-off end.

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I-95 takes a hasty turn north into the middle of nowhere once you leave Bangor, Maine, about three hours into godforsaken forest with nary a gas station in sight. By the time I got to Houlton, the last town in the United States, the bright lights of a Walmart actually provided intense comfort.

I parked the car next to a giant snowbank, got a cart, and wandered the aisles of semi-functioning electronics, itchy undershirts, and shady generic bottles of Rogaine. I bought a family-size box of Wheat Thins and Trolli Brite Crawlers Neon Sour Gummi Worms. The cashier said “It’s snowing again, huh?”

I said “yep.”

She said, “That’s what you get, I guess…” To which I believe she meant to add “…for staying up here in the goddamn Arctic Circle even though my boyfriend just went to school at Pepperdine in Malibu, and he’s begging me to quit this job and live with him in his beach house.”

Or at least that’s the story I made up as I drove into New Brunswick.

I have a lot of time on my hands.

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The Northeast Corridor & Me: A Tale of Betrayal

10/22/03 Portland, ME

I started the trip up to Prince Edward Island (that’s in Canada, my fellow Americans) today, but not before a sojourn at the Park Slope Food Coop, which happens to be the largest food cooperative in the United States (no, I didn’t know that either). The orientation could have taken fifteen minutes, but wound up taking two hours, but then again, I’m sort of an efficiency expert when it comes to disseminating information.

Anyway, the Co-op is kind of amazing – they ask you to work there for 2 3/4 hours every four weeks, and in return, you get to buy food at minimal prices that hasn’t been dipped in the blood of Balinese slaves by The Man. I can tell, from some interaction with the staff, that I will be barked at. I am going to just have to deal with that. My initial reaction to being barked at is to upturn a table, piss on the furniture, tell everyone to go fuck themselves, and then go write a tortured opera. I will probably not have that option at the nation’s largest food co-op.

The drive up through New England began to get very nasty, even though the peak colors have wended their way down the Hudson Valley. Nothing is more boring than the pictures taken out of the windows of moving cars – except, perhaps, the pictures on knitting blogs – but this fall has been rather exceptional.

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By the time I got to Columbia County, it was snowing horizontally, and I had to unload Michelle’s crap into the barn. I thought it would be a nightmare, but it felt good to move around a little, especially since my body had been aching from my worst night of basketball in ten years. My hoops game was so bad that it ceased to be funny even to Lindsay, who enjoys my off-nights more than he enjoys most Broadway plays. In short, I set my self-esteem, my place in the world, indeed, the game of basketball itself back in time.

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that’s snow falling in front of the barn lights

Who knows how severe this winter will be? I do recall, in my annals of blogdom, that the first snow last year was on November 2nd. This was the second snow of the year up here, and it’s only October 21. Wait, do you know what’s more boring than pictures of knitting? Blogging about the weather!

So that’s the report from Portland, Maine, one of my favorite towns I’ll never live in. Maine sends its regards, and wants to know why New Hampshire is such an asshole. It also wants to know why West Virginia is shaped so funny. It also expressed a secret crush on Louisiana, but I told it to stick to the Carolina sisters, who are much more its style.

I Taste a Liquor Never Brewed

10/21/03

Hello there everybody, and welcome to My Blog 2.0! After two years of the old design, my brother Steve installed Moveable Type on his server, which gives us this nice new font, a “search” function on the left, and yes – all you readers with pissed-off, itchy fingers – a “comments” button so you can tell me how full of shit I am without having to go through the bother of actually emailing me!

Yes, we here at xtcian.com