Monthly Archives: June 2007

general erections


Today’s CODE WORD in keeping with Junior High School Memory Week©: describe, in cringing detail, your most humiliating middle school moment. You can change names if you’re worried about someone finding it. I’ll cook up mine for tomorrow.

circumstance and pomp



Congratulations to my Lulubeans, who graduated from Toddler Group today, and now goes to Bridge Group, which is the “bridge” to Preschool! YAAAAAAAAAY!!!!

xanadu, your neon lights will shine


Thinking about junior high school – which they don’t even call “junior high” anymore, do they? – and the year 1980 brings up another memory. This is rare, because I can barely conjure up words to describe how much I hated those years. It was like the bullies had all grown up to be thugs, and still lay in wait for me after class, but now they could inflict real fucking damage. My parents, by 1980, had Officially Gone Crazy® and my siblings all hated each other. I remember telling CNN during an interview that all junior high kids should be frozen in seventh grade and thawed out in 10th.

Or maybe they could have just done it for me personally. I could have skipped 12 through 15 years old entirely, like a space traveler going to Alpha Centauri. Wake up with hair on my nards and be done with it.

But I digress.

In 1980, there was a presidential election between Carter and Reagan, and the bad guy won. People these days love to canonize Reagan, but he was a awful, awful man who set America back at least 45 years when it came to basic human rights for anyone not white, male and wealthy. If you still believe the canard that he “won the Cold War,” you need to examine your specific desire for this to be true. There will come a day, perhaps a hundred years from now, when sober historians will look at the Nixon-Ford-Reagan-Bush I-Bush II nexus and wonder how such a wonderful country could have turned so vile.

Of course, even saying that makes me a “left-wing kook” and thus easy to marginalize, but we’ll see. I bet any of you one hundred Euros that I’ll be proven right.

But I digress.

During that 1980 election, our school had a “mock election,” where we all got to vote for president, and for the major bill at the time, which happened to be the Equal Rights Amendment. On voting day, when the rest of the country did it for real, all the students cast their votes before lunchtime.

In math class, the teacher picked three of us at random, and told us to go to the office to count the ballots – since I detested math, I was more than happy to get out of there. After 600 ballots, however, my fingers were getting numb. At the end of the counting, Reagan had walloped Carter, just as he would do (for real) several hours later.

The ERA, however, was getting interesting. It’s impossible to explain, these days at least, how big a deal the Equal Right Amendment was. There were yard signs, constant TV coverage, even 10-year-old Tessa was marching around Texas yelling “we demand women’s libertation![sic]” If you read the text, which is unbelievably short and to-the-point, you’d be hard pressed to wonder why it was so controversial: it just said that both genders were to be treated exactly the same under the law.

Of course, right-wingers, never finding a parade of the disenfranchised too small to piss on, made bullshit arguments about the draft, abortion, gay marriage, and anything else they could think of. After all, American men in power will never tire of finding ways to make women shut the fuck up, whether it’s a campaign against the ERA, or shoving antidepressants down the gullets of Utah housewives.

But I digress.

We got to the end of the balloting, and it was 329 for the ERA, and 329 against. A perfect tie – none of us could believe it. Then I realized that I had not counted my own vote, which I had laid aside for fun. The entire fate of the mock vote for the national Equal Rights Amendment of my gigantic junior high school lay in my left hand.

When I got home, the news of our “election” had made the rounds, and I told my mom and sister-in-law Melissa what had happened. Both dropped everything and gave me a huge hug.

no place to go and all night to get there


The year was 1980, quite possibly the most emotionally-forgotten year in American history, and it was Field Day at Benjamin Franklin Junior High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I was in eighth grade, and Field Day meant that most classes were cancelled in order to make each classroom into a special learning center for some bizarre career.

This meant there was a room for sculptors with a potting wheel, there was a guy who could weld pieces of metal together, a room showing how they made Gasohol (an early Iowa-based attempt at car gas made with corn) and the most popular room featured a dude who could make lasers move to music – which, of course, would be seen later that summer accompanying “Dark Side of the Moon.”

Lots of kids were assigned to the various rooms – there had to be at least fifty – and what was mine? Why, HAM RADIO of course! I got permission from the orchestra teacher to take over the rehearsal space, and a bunch of guys from the local Ham club came over to set up shop behind the glockenspiel and the timpanis.

For my part, Brad Harris and I were up early in the morning, around 6am, to string a dipole from the rehearsal room to the basketball courts outside, about seventy feet away. It was early spring, and thus about forty below zero at that time of morning, but we got the two wires connected, and during the test, the antenna seemed to receive and send signals normally.

I was pretty psyched about Field Day because I had no friends anyway, and it meant getting to do my hobby instead of going to goddamn class. I must have seemed nonchalant enough, because the whole amateur radio thing interested Stephanie Pachinsky, the cutest girl in the second violin section. By 1980 standards, she was awesome: Polish, huge glasses and a smile that would light up every time somebody cranked “Too Much Time on My Hands” by Styx, which seemed like every other lunch period.

I casually told her I talked to some guys in Central America with an antenna made of thin copper wire and about 40 watts of electricity. Something about “Central America” during that cold Iowa April seemed to hit the right place. When I showed her a card someone had sent me from a place called Snug Harbor, she was in – she just loved the sound of it. Snug Harbor. Unbelievably, she said she’d hang in the Ham Radio room during Field Day.

This was exciting, but it put added pressure on how well our radio worked, so when Field Day came, I was praying we’d get somebody well outside of Iowa, maybe outside of North America, somewhere sultry and warm, where the beaches glittered with white sand. When we fired up the Yaesu transceiver, the Ham Radio Club guys immediately frowned like those dudes on “Deadliest Catch” when one of their crab pots gets tangled in the propeller.

Hours went by, somebody busted out a soldering gun, and I could see Stephanie Pachinsky’s attention span begin to drift away. After all, there was laser rock going on just a few rooms down the hall, and there was a rumor some guy was handing out helium balloons for everybody to suck on.

By 2pm, they got the radio working… but nobody was on the airwaves. We hunted all the way up and down the 10, 20, 40 and 80 meter bands, but some freak of nature, like sunspots or atmospheric skip, kept us from hearing anybody. At 3:20, the bell rang, and the day was over. I looked behind me, but Stephanie had long since bailed. While I was outside, dismantling and coiling shitloads of wire, I saw her with about 10 friends, all going in the direction of the Dairy Queen.

It was the only time I’d ever turned on a ham radio and not heard another soul. I thought that was just about the biggest pile of unfair bullshit I’d ever known. I still saw Stephanie every day after that – orchestra lasts forever – but somehow, I knew a window had opened and closed.

A few weeks later, we had “challenges,” where any member of the orchestra can challenge the person sitting next to them for their spot. You both go behind a huge cardboard divider, and play the same piece. The entire string section casts a blind vote for the “best” player, and that person wins the challenge. If you’re good, you can keep challenging other violinists and moving up until you’re concertmaster. Think of it like musical “Highlander”.

I challenged four people and won all of them, making me head of the 2nd violin section. Somebody challenged Stephanie, and when I heard her play the violin, I was stunned: she played the whole Bach B-minor Orchestral Suite in B-frickin’-major. I suddenly realized she was why we had sounded like shit for so long.

That’s when the crush ended. She was stunningly pretty, but I can’t deal with a chick who plays out of tune.


colecovision’s revenge


Today’s CODE WORD is… if you were to buy a video game console, like the XBOX, PS3 or whatever, which one would you get? Which is the best, has the coolest games, all that?

Yes, you can make remarks about how it was all better when we just had Centipede and Defender, and yes, you can comment on American obesity, but if you were actually buying a new game platform, which is the way you’d go?

german chocolate caulk


Dear reader, you’ve been warned. I have below The Most Boring Pictures You’ll See This Month. “Oh, they can’t be that boring,” I hear you say, but that’s where you’re wrong. If you’re not asleep by the end of this blog, then you’re not truly alive. I was making them for Tessa, but then figured – I’ve shared so many yawn-inducing home improvement projects, so why stop now?

Here’s the deal: for Mother’s Day, I gave my mom a wish. She could choose any room in her apartment for me to finish. Living above Sean and Jordi, she’s got a great space, but all of the work was abandoned once Barno popped out of Jordana’s belly (not for lack of trying – she was painting when she went into labor) and now all my mom’s rooms are unfinished with lots of boxes and half-solutions awaiting the day Barnaby can help his dad with the nail gun. So I offered to step in, even though it meant staying in NYC a few days longer without my superstar wife and the glorious Lulubeans.

My mom chose the kitchen to finish, which might be the hardest room in any house. Especially an old house like this in Astoria: it’s as though the original designers were allergic to right angles. Due to decades of dereliction, most of the walls disintegrated, and Sean did a heroic job of getting them back in shape, but it still meant that no distance in the entire kitchen is equal to anything else. This meant two things: lots of odd angles on the miter saw, and loads of Phenoseal.

I like Phenoseal. A lot.

Anyway, here’s the kitchen window. It used to be hanging in space, with the beams exposed on either side, and the counter-top material rising up into it. I liked how our barn window in our bedroom at the farm looks, so I made a close approximation, then gave it a pure-white high gloss finish:


I painted the ceiling with primer, which cut down the glare, then added crown molding along the entire top edge. I also replaced the “chair rail” thing at left, and added a floor molding for good measure. To cut down on the visibility of house imperfections, I also added molding to the inside and outside corners whenever possible, without being too prissy, and then used the same high gloss. There’s still a no-man’s-land to the left of the stove, but hopefully Sean can add some more countertop there:


The crown molding shows the Phenoseal in action – even though the actual ceiling wobbles unevenly (up to a 1/4 inch) as you go along, using the caulk with an artful finger can make it look totally even:


I’d give this particular job a solid B-minus. I could have spent three weeks in there carving each piece of wood to fit exactly, and I never found the proper kickplate to put underneath the floor cabinets. Also, if you get really close, you’ll see all the little concessions I made to time and vagueness… but it’s now a functional kitchen, cosmetically speaking, and my mom, who made me an awesome tuna and avocado sandwich while I was working, deserves it.

Happy Mother’s Day, mom! Super late, but whaddya expect?


Sláinte mhath!



What was that, you say?

How did my scotch tasting go?

Why, very well, thanks for asking!

This was the second organized tasting I’ve had – the first one was over New Year’s, when we tried something from five different regions of Scotland, and because I had strep throat and conjunctivitis, I could only watch everyone else enjoy some yummy rarities. This one, however, I partook, and it was completely Scot-tastic, absolutely Gaelicious.

I called it “The Very Young and the Very Old,” and thus we tested four different whiskies: a 6-year-old Ardbeg vs. a 27-year-old, and a Macallan 7 vs. a Macallan from 1940. Originally, I was planning to have about 10-12 tasters, but by the time everyone gathered around the table, there were 22. How was each liquid experience? Let me try to elucidate…

1. Ardbeg “Very Young” 6-year-old – In an aging process where 10-year-olds are considered immature, Ardbeg has thwarted tradition and has released a yearly sampling of their current batch en route to ten years old. The first, the “Very Young,” came out in 2004 and is impossible to find in the States, so I contacted a buddy who lives near Islay, Scotland in order to get this one.

Islay scotches are all the rage right now – Laphroaig, Bruichladdich, Lagavulin, and especially Ardbeg. True Ardbegs are known to have taste descriptions ranging from “stunningly peaty” to “this tastes like burnt rope hanging off the edge of an abandoned whaler.” Needless to say, as a sensualist, I fucking love this distillery.

The second we started pouring this one, the whole farmhouse started smelling like peat – eyebrows raised one by one as we went down the table. I made everyone add a drop or two of water to their vials, as any scotch over 50% alcohol (this was 58%) will burn your tastebuds and ruin the rest of the tasting. Personally, I hate “cask strength” stuff, because I hate adding water, but then again, I also liked Tears For Fears and Level 42.

Verdict? Even with water, it was powerfully intense, peaty, unbridled, pissed-off, an angry drunk who suddenly turns interesting. This is “screaming outside at a fire” stuff.

2. Ardbeg 1976, 27 years old (Connoisseur’s Choice) – This is one of Jim Murray’s favorite whiskies of all time, getting a 94. I have oddly similar tastes to Mr. Murray, and this was no exception. While we went around the table and tried to conjure up a memory from 1976 (at 9, I remembered the bicentennial fireworks and how they destroyed the golf course in Cedar Rapids) this one settled in your mouth and went through several incarnations before landing on a long, long finish.

Yes, the unmistakable Islay saltiness and peat bog was there, but it had more to say, better endings to longer stories. It’s a scotch for raising your feet above your heart, nights when you meant to be asleep by 11 but find yourself still talking at 2am.

3. Macallan 7 – You can only get this in Italy, where the Italians have a long-standing love affair with Macallans, the more syrupy the better. Unlike most other scotches which are aged in ex-bourbon casks made of oak, Macallan is mainly known for its whiskies aged in old sherry casks – hence the dark, brown-sugar sensation of the Macallan 18.

The Italians love a “sherry bomb,” the young Macallans that still have the alcohol but have leeched all the sherry influence they can. This 7 lived up to the Italophile fantasy, just the perfect combination. It doesn’t have the caramelized sugar snap of the 18, but I think I might like it better. Only Sean agreed with me – everyone else thought it was a little shallow, but following an Ardbeg with a Macallan is like having motor oil with a Mrs. Butterworth chaser.

4. Macallan-Glenlivet 1940, bottled 1977 – It’s not often you can bring out a bottle of liquid and have a whole room alight with genuine “oohs”, but that’s what happens when you have the opportunity to taste something made during the Second World War. When this scotch was distilled, bombs were dropping on London, and the fate of the 20th century was largely unknown. Almost none of you reading this was alive; my mom was eight, my dad was still a newborn. Thank god for a buddy in Europe, who wanted to pare down his collection, and gave me this priceless bottle for almost nothing.

Knowing history, how can you be objective about a whisky? Really, the question is… why should you be? Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony is unquestionably more heartbreaking if you knew what he was going through. Most things are inextricable from their context, and certainly knowing what mankind had been through while this whisky waited for us is an experience totally beyond the actual alcohol and taste.

That said, it was a fascinating time machine to the predilections of our great-grandparents. They liked their whisky to be sweet, to have almost no smokiness or peat, thus the 1940 Macallan tasted like a dessert wine, a floral port, almost thick with treacle. Odd how almost everything in America has gotten sweeter with the creeping influence of corn syrup, yet whiskies have inched the other direction. Honestly, this is a scotch I would bring out when your guests are uncomfortable and you want them to relax. I wouldn’t tell them it’s from 1940, though. That might really freak them out.


After our tasting, everyone got a vial of the scotch they liked the most. I purchased a box of scientific glassware from the fine folks at Indigo Instruments, who are usually supplying high schools with test tubes and pipettes. They generally have to report a guy buying 40 volumetric flasks to Homeland Security, but when I told them what I was doing, they seemed genuinely pleased. I suppose there’s only so many times you can mix vinegar and baking soda and still get a bang.

water from sky, film at 11


See, this is why I’ll never use Vonage. A rainstorm in Brooklyn just took out our internet and television – which is basically located on one black cable that serves us and about fourteen other families around here.

With all this talk of wiring our lives, it’s so easy to forget that it all amounts to a tangle of copper bullshit once the power goes out. Do people even realize the thread by which we hang so much importance/

Do any of you use Vonage? What is your ISP, and how do you get here? And what would happen if the power went out for four days?