Kenny Smith | blog

Monday, August 29, 2005

There is a hurricane rushing in, eagerly displaying a wicked right hook. These are the days that fade into a vaguely-minded memory the quickest, apologies.

We've been wondering, after hours of innundation of hurricane coverage -- comically bad as the coverage can be, the sleepless moil of such a huge event is riveting -- how important is this story to the social consciousness? Clearly it is important to those communities brutally hit and in terms of relief efforts and our pocketbook economies. But, to the collective, how important is it?

There are a few groups -- hardier and more shaken souls -- who will be forever changed: those who are destroyed by it, those who provide relief from it and those who work, literally, waist-deep in it. These communities, judging from the estimates and the early reports out of coastal Mississippi, Alabama and New Orleans, will never be the same. The nation will grieve at tomorrow's pictures. There will be great outreach and heartache. Then people will get about the tidy business of complaining about this splinter or that stubbed toe. In time Katrina will become another name outsiders struggle to remember for context. Those communities will feel the pain for generations. Those towns will always bear the scars. Those families will never be made whole again.

Meantime, a girl last night at the gas station said she had to get gas because "someone said there was a storm coming and gas prices will go up." Another talked about "Hurricane Katarina". We've insulated ourselves to a point that even broadcast hyperbole can't pull us in.

The winds will have died down tomorrow. The images and stories will be horrific. Sections of the Superdome roof will be the least of it. May God bless them through their trying times.

Katrina, now rushing through the inland Southeast, will be here soon. We're looking at high winds, heavy rains, possible tornadoes, lots of power outages. Nothing in comparison.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

There was the weekend. A quiet affair with family. A retreat to the coziness of Rooms Your Mother Decorated. That's always a plus, unless your mother can't; mine can.

Lots of food. It being a trip home, there were plenty of desserts. Mom lately takes after my grandmother in this way, and that can be a good thing, lest ye diet.

It was also a birthday weekend. Rick's and Michelle's float around this time of the lazy end days of summer. More desserts.

There was a high school reunion here in my town that I did not go to. I had birthdays to attend, don't you know? Saved 75 bucks a person for a picnic (bring your own food, but they're springing for drinks) and an after-hours party with heavy hors d'oeuvres and -- get this -- a cash bar.

Seventy-five bucks for that. There were about 175 people in that graduating class. Someone made a car payment this week.

So I intended to rebel by watching Grosse Point Blank, saving the money and calling it a day. Never got around to that movie, but I had family. I still made out better in the deal.

The tire goes down on the way home from the airport. The tire guy, genius that he is, put four of my lug nuts on and then an alien. I have one lug wrench. It does not work on lug nut number five. I am not happy with the tire guy. Triple A is an hour away. Why do truck drivers take so long anyway?

I think to ask the nice gentleman at the gas station at which I am presently broken down. He gives me the keys, to his personal truck, telling me to grab his four-way lug wrench from behind the seat.

These are the reasons to love this town.

On goes the spare, which immediately begins making an awful racket and a dangerous full-car shudder. The whole thing is suddenly not roadworthy.

Tomorrow it'll get fixed. Mostly, I'm not very fond of the tire guy. Now there will be more comfortable resting.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

There was a sadness at home. All day I'd been looking forward to making it home to enjoy a tall glass of milk and a tomato (and ham and cheese) sandwich. Something was just the matter as I walked inside; it was a palpable feeling that one can feel, but not recognize.

Into the kitchen, preparing to lightly toast the bread. Pulling fresh cheese and ham from their snug little corner in the door of the refrigerator (the home to a lifetime of dairy and deli products). Pull a paper towel from its perch under the glasses cabinet. So calmly they wait there, the paper towels, hanging from that rod, the elder statesman of my kitchen utensils.

Just beneath them sat my tomato. Ruined. Wilted. Bruised. Old.

The ham and cheese sandwich was pretty good though. Milk could have been a bit colder. The price you pay for making your grocery shopping (of which I still forgot three things) the next-to-last stop. The remainder of the milk has nicely recovered, and is calmly chilling in the fridge, thanks for asking.

It had been some time since I'd been to Reed Books. I love that place, a dusty collection of what was.

First time I'd been there in the summer. History sweats inside Jim's walls. He offers fans as a nod to modern convenience and comfort, but the large cut-outs of John Wayne, WASPs and other important figures, big and small (historical and un-) don't seem to mind. Some of the rooms have conditioned air, a 70 degree treat to look in those rooms. In others its an 85, 90 degree duty to browse through the collection.

And you could browse forever. I want to. You could look through his shelves and baskets and boxes for days finding new things. Current events would become history before exhausting his room of 70-year-old Life magazines. Nixon looks young at Jim's place, still a junior Congressman, later an unknown vice-presidential candidate.

Today I ran across an old photo album. San Francisco postcards from the 1930s, family portraits going back farther than that. Didn't even make it into the newspaper room. Found Rasputin, the Byzantines and the French Revolution all organized together, their connection known only to Jim Reed, and that known only for a fleeting moment. That's the charm of this place. Walking through people's lifetimes, normal lives made more comfortable or entertaining or informed because of things we're now touching in an entirely new century.

Sorta makes you wonder about those books of yours that you have tucked away, doesn't it? Maybe I should go home and write notes in the margins for future owners.

You can buy stuff from Jim online, but that's not the same. I want to be tactile. He says he has some 30,000 more items in storage there on the premises. I want to help him bring it out, just for a day (ok, two or three weeks) so we can see it all again, for the first time.

I love that store.

Class tonight, Greek history. Well, sorta, but not really. Lysistrata, after all, was satire.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Some things follow patterns. Rushmore was directed by Wes Anderson and is an unfortunate waste of a movie rental. There is one moment in Rushmore, where Bill Murray literally saves the movie. An extreme close-up of his face shows him flicking his eyes from side to side. Hysterical. It, and he, is brilliant.

Bill Murray, however, could not save Life Aquatic:
I wanted to like it, but it is a Wes Anderson film.
Class today, 45 minutes of lecture. Still a promising class; talked about Andrew Jackson, Harry Truman and the 2004 race. Got caught in the daily rain, met with another professor briefly who brought up a few philosophical questions about, well, everything and nothing. Some people can do that. Why is an idea more interesting based on the person who brings it up?

For example, yesterday we were talking about pre-destiny as a method of, well, everything. If I was destined to do X, Y and Z, then people and items A through W all had to fall in place. Suddenly my destiny becomes an inconvenience for everyone in the better part of the alphabet. Greater plan indeed. The calculus gets daunting in a hurry.

That doesn't even get into the idea that maybe the larger purpose one could have is really a smaller purpose. Maybe X, Y and Z happens so that I can be at 3rd and 9th on May 28th, 2015 and keep a young woman from walking into a truck. Maybe she becomes the attorney general or president, or she donates a kidney to her brother, who becomes a great minister. He, no doubt, keeps kids off the street, three of them of special importance, for they become the scientists who solve the next great medical epidemic. And all that because I took went to the school that led to the job that led to the friends that led me to the lunch date on May 28th, 2015. Boggles the mind.

Ahhh, but how interesting that conversation would have been if someone else, other than me, had brought it up. It's a charisma some of us have. Some people have jokes, some tell good stories, others make you see things in dollar bills all based on their rhetorical skills. Me, I pretty much killed it dead by combining pre-destiny and free will together in about 13 seconds of self-discussion. Somewhere a diety is angry with me.

More birthday shopping today, but not. The plan was thwarted when the place was closed. I guess Michelle won't get a new car this year. Sorry.

Sat in a bookstore and enjoyed an overpowering air conditioner, a leather sofa, a nice chat and a good book. Someone kept stacking and reorganizing things a few rows over, but all else is quiet.

I have nice friends, a good job, a wonderful family, a continuing education, my health; I love my quiet X, Y, Z life.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

And thus begins the shopping season of discontent. A colleague summed it up perfectly for me in saying "What do you get a rich man on a poor man's salary?" So here I am, trying to buy for the step-father and the step-sister's upcoming birthdays. They have everything they could want for, and the larger things they'd want are a bit out of my price range. Smaller things can dangerously seem tacky. Perhaps I should corner the market on sentiment, that's a great gift.

A cursory run through the big malls of our time, monuments to the consumer economy, yield nothing exciting. A storm is coming through. Dinner is the best bet.

After that Mom saves the day -- Moms are good for this -- by calling and offering some options. Problem solved, let's call the whole thing off. Why shop for today what you can put off buying until tomorrow?

Started watching the latest version of 12 Angry Men:
Look at that cast! One intense and long scene! And Tony Danza!
There was a vicious and running watergun fight tonight. No holds barred. I believe I lost, though I won in the laughter. Got zapped a lot. This is very sapping. And it made me sopping.

If I were to continue this line of thought the word play would just get worse.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Class lasted some 20 minutes this afternoon. There are undergrads in there and they resent us already. "They'll change the curve," the professor said. Three tests and a paper, just like undergrad, so that should be fun. Called my brother on the way home. It was his first day of college classes. He already sounds non-chalant about it.

Threatened rain all evening. Looked like it should be cold out, but it was really quite steamy; the contradiction of a Southern August.

Watched Cobb, here's the requisite dozen words:
Never sure who made the caricature: Cobb or Stump. Still good viewing.
Read some, then wrapped up the night with the replay of last week's Battlestar. I've now seen three of the, I think, six episodes of the season. The Season One DVD is out next month. Saw about half. It will be a must have.

These are the good days, with that peaceful ticking of the clock to nowhere in particular. The days to remind me of in two or three months when everything conspires to become hectic. The slow lazy circle of a summer afternoon, enjoyable as it is frustrating. They are oak leaves falling around us; easy to see from a distance, but difficult to appreciate in mid-flight.

Tomorrow: Car work and birthday shopping!

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Brooke is rattling pans trying to wake me up. I do not wish to get up for several reasons. When I do stumble out of the bedroom, smacking her lightly on the top of her head.


My alarm clock at home has a snooze button on it. Thought I'd give it a shot ...

More time on the water. Stopped to get gas for the boat and everything is too hot. The heat index is settling in around 105 and Wads is walking around barefoot and it's clearly painful.

As he comes back out from inside the station I walk over, handing over my flip-flops. We can argue about this and burn both of our feet or you can put these on and come back to the boat. I sprint across the sizzling cement, chased by him laughing at me. Jump, literally, jump into the boat, thinking only of the comfort of the carpet there and the possibility of a moist towel. I almost ran by the boat in my pain. First degree foot burns are a relative possibility at this point. They stay a bright and tender red the rest of the day.

Chimney Rock is the next stop. Time to jump. The mortal fear of my youth is now a much less imposing feature of geography. Climbing up is still the most unpleasant part. Jumping is now easy. The first time down, though, I thought I'd exploded an eardrum. It progressively got better after about 10 minutes of agony. Four or five hours later it was back to normal.

Cruise back to the lake house and float in the water, "They've almost got it turned up too hot," Mr. Wadsworth when he came to join us on the floats. Little streams of cool water were jostling for position alternating with the warm water. This is the summer you'd spend all summer dreaming of. The slow drawl of a day that can be interminably long, but still ends too soon.

And so it was. After a long while, and no real desire to get out of the water, or leave my friends, or drive back home, it was time to do all that. This is, I believe, the third time I've said goodbye to them from the lake house, knowing it'd be Christmas, or next summer, before I got an all too brief visit with them once again.

They're leaving Penn State next year, and they're hoping to point the car south. Time will tell, but whether the Carolinas or Georgia or Florida they'll at least be closer to where they belong; below the frost line and in the South. This matters.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

At the lake visiting the Wadsworths. They're in-town for their annual summer visit, a respite from the alien land of Penn State. They visited friends in North Carolina, Georgia and have now made it back home and let me come down to spend some time.

They arrive with books, boxes of them, in tow. Brooke is taking her doctoral comps in two weeks. She's also busy with baby showers for a nephew (or was it niece?) due any day now. Wads is in between semesters also, but has about three different books on political science theory going at one time. On the side he's reading Woodward's Brethren. We bored everyone on the boat with political talk.

Other friends also came to visit. There was riding on the boat, water sledding, lunch at Poplar Dawg (one of those oddly eclectic places that sits in the middle of nowhere, that you'd try only with someone who can vouch for it and, sadly, no website). Dinner was burgers on the grill with randomly placed chipotle peppers. They got mild after the second bite, or maybe that was just my tongue and lips going numb. Good, either way.

Wound down the night with old episodes of Cheers on DVD. Here sit four people in a room, none of whom knew each other when we watched these episodes in their original showing almost 20 years ago. Here sit four people bound by location, ambition and not-quite chance. Here sit four people laughing at the same jokes for the third or fourth (or more) time. There's a harmony there that's hard to come by, but extremely comforting.

Who, when watching Frasier and Lilith get together in 1986, could see where or who they'd be -- or who they would be with to watch it again -- two decades hence? The little tendril strings of time and circumstance bring us all together and pull us all apart. Bringing us back together this particular weekend, for a meal and quiet conversation and an evening's concert of circadas. Nothing could be more right.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

I stumbled onto a recipe today for something called a 30 Day Friendship Cake. Wasn't even looking for recipes, but I saw this line, mis-read it and stared a little harder before realizing that it was a dessert. Somehow my mind began to wonder about the concept and idea of friendships in 30 days. Meet someone new, make friends, ready, set, go! Where will you be in a month? This could be a great sociological study.

Or a bad reality show.

Class began tonight. Just 90 minutes as opposed to the usual two-and-a-half it is slated for. As always, things begin with such promise. We'll revisit the situation in a dozen weeks. The syllabus did have a book on it, but the professor couldn't be troubled to let the bookstore in on this. That little oversight strikes me as disrepectful to the students -- tenure, is there anything it doesn't do? -- and puts me in the mind to not even bother buying it.

School of Rock, in a dozen words:
Cute, but Hank Black is now typecast and an annoying lead actor.
Photos from Boston are now up on the picture page.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Drove to work under an orange and purple ceiling. No sun to see, but the light was poking through and turning night to grey to lavendar. Best part about the early hours is the light show.

Had an ice cream after lunch. Childlike exuberance and hyperactive for 20 minutes, before warding off the inevitable sugar crash.

Bad news on the school front. I've dropped the history elective. I wrote the professor, explained my concerns and he nicely and candidly replied:
The books assigned are not out of line for MA courses in history at UAB. Most of them are not that long and they read well. However, there are also other assignments: considerable writing and oral reporting. This course is designed for MA history students. If you are taking the course as an elective, and you have other courses and work at the same time, you will be swamped. Also, unless you have a strong undergraduate background in history, you will find yourself behind from the beginning.
So I thanked him, told him I was dropping it simply out of consideration for the class and other demands. I'm vain this way, so I had to defend my background, telling him of the three history books I'm currently reading. For pleasure.

Anyway, maybe another time.

Instead, I've now signed up for an independent study, which is just what the name implies. Ideas?

Talked to Brooke and Wads tonight. They're back in the state (where they belong) and I'll get to see them this weekend. That's exciting. No rafting though, unfortunately; Brooke is a fraidy-cat. And I can call her that because we're all very mature. And, if I'm lucky, she'll send me an E-mail with cool little Yahoo! icons in it next week.

Picked up some movies today: School of Rock, Office Space, Life Aquatic and 12 Angry Men (which I actually plan to watch this time).

An aside, besides: this month has been filled with milestones. One year under my own domain (ICDSoft is a great host), two years blogging and the car passed 200,000 miles. Incidentally, earlier this summer marked my ninth year with a website. Some hobby, huh?

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

First day back in the office, bright and early. Retold much of my weekend adventures. Showed off some pictures. Those will be here soon as well, I decided to break the monthly gallery rule ths one time.

Had Chinese for lunch with some classmates. In honor of Terry I'll now offer my fortunes.
You will find a way to make your most arduous task interesting.

Life is like a good book. The further you get into it, the more it makes sense.
I don't think that last one works with the old fortune cookie game.

I'm also realizing how tasteless a sense of humor my friends and I have. Go us.

Went to the bookstore for classes. Found this one to order online for Seminar in Political Communication (I am really looking forward to this class). My other communication class has no text, apparently. I won't be buying anything for it because its not listed in stores or online. If one magically appears on the syllabus I'll explain this position in a rather determined tone. Finally there are the books for that historiography class. Lots of books. Ten in all. I have one. So I've written the professor to see if he actually wants me to learn all this stuff. The courseload might be a little much for my harried schedule at this point, which is a shame, I've also been looking forward to that class.

Last semester of coursework on the master's begins Thursday.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Drop the rental car off at the airport and board a plane for Philadelphia. Thank goodness for long layovers. There's a TGI Friday's at Philadelphia airport. The staff is unaware that they work at an airport.

The lady taking names, she can't hear. Mispronounces every name, gets numbers in the dining party wrong. Don't believe me: I was there, I saw it happen.

Finally we are seated. Finally Eric -- who looked incredibly like old-school Reading Rainbow Levar Burton -- showed up to get drink orders ... and not much else. Some 45 minutes later, still with no food to show for it, it was time to leave.

Remember: You should not make it hard for me to spend my money on you.

Shuttle back to the proper concourse and grab a Sbarro's. Pizza was way better anyway, even if the hungry passengers had to smell it on while we taxied down the runway.

Tomorrow, back to work. Classes start back later this week as well.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Saturday was spent in hot and humid Connecticut. Felt a lot like home. Looked a lot like home. Bringing the weather along really didn't help the perception of being in a new place. Made some new friends, had some good pizza. It was a good and restful day.

Drove into The City -- because, they say, none other matters and all of them are inconsequential. No wonder Boston has such an anti-NYC stigma. This is an interesting approach, you could be driving along any interstate in the country. Scrubby trees and a lot of nothing. A city limits sign, around a curve and under an overpass to see my first sight of New York City. And there, big as life, is a Dukes of Hazzard billboard.

Very forward thinking, culturally speaking, aren't they?

Now into the Bronx. A panhandler on the exit, across the way another man on a cellphone. Pull in to Yankee Stadium, a process which seems remarkably accessible for a weekend game. Even getting inside was fairly easy, and struck me as a moment when I'd dearly wished to have a tape recorder on me. The snippets of conversation were great, and this will surely become my next obsession.

Made it just in time to see Memorial Park, before it closed for game time. This is the place where all the Yankees of lore (and Ron Guidry) are honored. Billy Graham is there. Two popes, who've spoken at Yankee Stadium, are also listed as are the voices that brought so much Yankee joy to the world: Mel Allen and Bob Sheppard.

This is all a very big deal to Yankees fans. It was neat to see, but at the end of the day, its a few plaques and signs. The really interesting part was watching grown men -- children who watched these players -- teaching their own children who Casey Stengel was and reminiscing about the day The Mick hit one into the baseball beyond. These fans, and New York fans are amazingly gracious and derisive, are cheering for today's players for the win, but that favorite player's career is ultimately competing against the numbers put up by ghosts.

I saw a picture this weekend that I wanted to rip off, a full view of the stadium from above and behind home plate. So I ended up watching the first full inning from the highest seat in the house. Great, great view. Everything can be seen from here, every spot and place of Yankee legend, spread out before you at a glance. Every scent of the game makes its way up here as well, the wafting grass, the hot dogs and chips and stale beer, they're all omnipresent. The big screen in right center narrates club history during the pre-game, just on the off chance that anyone here needed a refresher course.

Went down the third base line to the real seat after that. Staring right down into home plate. The home team jumps out ahead early with runs in the first and second in this torturous summer heat. The Rangers score in the third and plate two in the fifth. From somewhere back across right field and in foul territory a storm is brewing. That's a good thing here, it is dangerously hot and there are almost 55,000 on hand, most of whom aren't used to the extreme temperatures. Felt fine to me, but then this weather came up on the plane, I think: I'm used to it.

Yankees have two on in the fifth as Hideki Matsui digs in and the raindrops start. Godzilla drives an 0-2 way up into the upper deck as the crowd turns to a frenzy. He rounds third and the rain really comes in, cooling everything off and earning the biggest cheer of the day. Two more runs cross the plate before the tarp comes out. We danced in Yankee Stadium and watched golf on the big screen. Tarp rolls off, thunder rolls in. Three rain delays in all, flushing most of the crowd out. We watch from after the stretch back up behind home plate once again. Yankees win 10-3. Start spreading the news ... New York, New York. More dancing. It's easy to be a Yankees fan in that building.

Take the subway to Grand Central Station. The subway: convenient, useful and I could do without it. They're hot and filled with stagnant air that smells of engine grease and some sort of mechanical dust. By appearances everything looks fairly clean, but that's not the feeling with which you leave the subway.

It was in one of the terminals, however, that I began to wonder about this whole mean-spirited Yankee thing. Everyone quietly keeps to themselves and seemed very patient. Maybe it was the heat of the weekend that sapped their energy, but the Sunday evening crowd didn't fit the stereotypical image. That kept through the rest of the day, with little exception.

From Grand Central, which is ominously quiet -- be it the design, the mute crowd or some reverence for the high arching ceiling of the structure -- is slow, even for a Sunday night it seems. Suddenly I'm wondering about this whole "City that never sleeps" concept.

Ran up to Times Square in the rain. Saw that wall-sized news ticker and marvelled at all the things a population has learned from this spot. Today its the removal of the Jews from Gaza. It recycles itself after four or five items, but I kept staring at this wall, its orange text wrapping around the corner and sliding to the left at a determined pace. What if I miss something important?

There is a guy playing a sax, we keep running into him. He's playing bluesy numbers that need the narration of a bad 1940s private detective lamenting some dame that's just put her sultry figure before him. The music you'd hear in those movies as the guy describes what we all know will end up bad. She says the cops are after her for the murder of her husband, but there's no way a gorgeous dame like that could have pulled the trigger. Next thing you know, she's shot him too. That saxophone.

The people sounds here are almost as good as in Yankee Stadium; snippets of conversation and full phrases and paragraphs are all there to overhear and to mystify the mind about the people and their lives. (Remind me to start carrying a tape recorder to busy places.)

My favorite wasn't even overheard, but something someone said to me.

"Nice hat. Nice hat. Nice hat."

He wouldn't stop about my Yankees hat, so I finally thanked him. The guy asked if they'd won and if anyone hit home runs.

Yeah Matsui hit a three run and A-Rod had a two run shot.

"Did he run around the bases naked?"

No ...

"Too bad, too bad."

Where's Michael Stipe when you need him? (What's the frequency, Kenneth? is your Benzedrine, uh-huh.)

Duck into Ellen's Stardust Diner for dinner. Stevie Wonder, Frank and Harry Connick standards by the waitstaff. Rain dripping down the windows to the city and mesmerizing pictures of old Miss Subway contestants on the walls. There was beautiful and "Blue-eyed Betty Taggart" from February 1946 and "Vivacious Patricia Burke" who was highlighted later that year. You can see them all, from the 40s to the early 60s, here and wonder what became of all those young women.

I got mugged on Broadway. Waiter stole my pen. How's that for a role reversal? Then I sang on Broadway. Right in the middle of the intersection. Some trembly and surely-off key showtune. Such a tourist.

Went south to Staten Island, wanted to ride the ferry and see Lady Liberty at night. Caught the last one over and they were shutting the doors on the last ferry back to Manhattan as we raced through. Passed by her twice, but no good pictures. Guess I'll have to go back.

Consider all that people left behind, traded their old lives for uncertainty in the hope that this will be better than that. And consider the way most immigrants were (and are) treated when they arrive here, that still they came. How tough and dead-end must their old lives have been, to warrant fleeing from everything they knew? That this was the first thing so many saw is an awe-inspiring feeling. I noticed, on the way back from Staten Island, that I was sitting with two black men, an Asian and a Middle Easterner as we drifted by the solemn statue. She would want it that way.

Back up to Broadway, where the colorful signs and the flashing lights look like the hectic scenes of Tokyo. If Boston seemed a city that was never comfortable with itself, forever growing and rebuilding, New York feels like a city constantly trying to amuse itself with some new thing. Any new thing will do. Obviously. Saw another Dukes of Hazzard billboard there, frightening neighboring tenants. There's a certain quality of temporariness involved in the signs and ads. It's the same everywhere in the world, but there are just so many here. Including, the best ever, the Lehman Brothers sign on Seventh Avenue is the convergence of art and ad. Not bad for a company founded in Montgomery.

Cheescake at The Majestic Delicatessen. Walked back to Grand Central singing and dancing in the raindrops. Took the last train out as the station was closing. Put the city to sleep.

The song says "if I could make it there, I'd make it anywhere ... " Well, 13 hours in New York City, six in the Bronx and I found myself in that quiet little deli and thinking "as soon as I get the subway figured out, destination-wise, I've got this town beat."

You'll allow me this delusion, I hope.

Friday, August 12, 2005

And now, back to the happy tone normally found here.

Boston. The airport is cold. It is filled with two young girls each wearing blue and white polka dot dresses. They match their mother. Her handbag, two dogs riding a motorcycle, sadly matches nothing. The pooches are polka-less and, were it not for them, I'd wonder what sub-culture religion they belong to. That's just the feeling you get. It is a different feeling from the man with a look in his eye that says, "I'm one week short of being sociopathic." There is the walking billboard: Timberland hat and shirt, Tommy Hilfigure bag. These are just the people that came up from the South into yankee land. It is an interesting carnival of humanity.

It is cold in here -- and to think I'd been making Yankee winter jokes for weeks -- because it is blistering outside. August has melted into something wholly unholy for this part of the world. It smells of brake dust, diesel fuel and a greasy gunk that never leaves your hands outside. Horns are everywhere immediately, honking disparate messages from car to car, lane to sidewalk. First accent: Hispanic. Ahhh, Boston.

Despite the missed opportunities of Boston (here and here) we did get a tour of Fenway.

They start you off in the pressbox which is pretty neat for most people. Having spent my time in similar sporting habitations it is just another room with big windows. They take you to the .406 club (read: expensive, climate controlled seating). One seat, per game, costs $110. Catch is, you have to buy four seats, for three years. Do the math; almost $107,000 before tax. The great part of the .406 club (named for the accomplishment of some guy named Ted, you've heard of him?) is that they have protected those fans with a huge glass wall so foul balls don't hurt anyone. The downside is that it is soundproof. They corrected this problem by piping in TV sound from downstairs, so you're paying a hundred grand to watch TV. That's how all of Fenway Park feels, ad hoc to something else.

After the .406 club it was over to the Green Monster. It's a wall. It has great seats for a good view of the game, if you're willing to go through the involved machination of landing those seats. This was the beginning of a theme today: with the exception of The Commons nothing about Boston seems to be for the hoi polloi.

There is very much an air of "you're not good enough" floating around. Maybe that's a given ingredient in an old town which is now made up of the fabulously old wealth, immigrants and college students. There are seats along the third base line at Fenway that the masses could get. They can sit in the same paint chipped, cramped seats, behind the same weight-bearing poll their grandfather did in the '30s. Charm.

There are great stories wrapped around the pillars of Fenway. There are old ghosts waiting for the next great game to be had. There is the Jimmy Fund, the lone red seat in right field, harsh angles, the manual scoreboard, doors and ladders that go nowhere. Somehow, though, after the tour the mystique lessened. Opposite of the intended reaction, but that's the case. It feels more and more like a stadium a child might have drawn. The quirks translate better on TV than they do as an empty stadium in the middle of the day. Maybe that's the element. Those are great crowds, the fans breathe the stadium to life and make this a must-see.

Alone the venerable old stadium is almost as sad as the bricked up ticket booths on the back of the stadium. They've painted in the trademark Fenway green, but the bricks there don't match, a silent and unintended nod to history for a place that revels in its history.

Each guide seems to have his or her own favorite stories told with varying degrees of enthusiam. Our tour was a college kid, not bad. The real one was led by an old man. He'd died of despair on this team and this place for dozens of Augusts before our guide came along. He had passion. That's the tour you want. The tours are good, particularly if you appreciate the history of the game, or the mystique a city block can hold.

Discover, merely by chance, the world's number one sandwiches. Hard to argue with the product. Across the way is The Littlest Bar, soon doomed to memory for the betterment of man and condos. That's progress in a city which boasts its juxtaposition: history and progression.

Took a tour of the history on the Freedom Trail -- every city should do this, it should be law, trips should be mandatory. This is a three mile honoria to colonial Boston, highlighting historic and pivotal moments and locations in our soon-to-be nation's history.

There is Park Street Church, built in 1809. The floorboards creek under the collective weight of generations of worshippers. It is both austere and ornate, a most unlikely thought until one sees long and tall flat-white walls, plain pews, extravagant trim work, pipework for the organ and sprawling chandeliers. Too busy trying to grasp 200 years of services, I took no pictures here.

Its hard to take pictures in a church, particularly older, more stately buildings. Even in as casual a setting as a tour there is a cooly dignified atmosphere that only be perturbed at a flash. For that reason I also have no pictures of the inside of King's Chapel, which has functioned since 1689. The current congregation gathers in a spry young building -- the most beautiful in Boston -- that's only 256 years old.

Those working inside, now members of the oldest Unitarian church in the nation are exceedingly polite. They attend services in the old frame-box pews, upright and uncomfortable things built to conserve heat for parishioners while also ensuring familial tranquility from the children. Hand rung before each service is a bell Paul Revere cast. The pulpit and suspended sounding board have served in this church longer than any other in the nation. This is a must see.

On down the trail is Paul Revere's home. One if by land, two if by sea, three dollars for you to go inside. The website remains free. We shuffled on. Past a statue of favorite son Benjamin Franklin -- hey, he never cared for Boston, I doubt he's offended.

Onto the Old South Meeting House. This is one of those places you might think about as a neat place to see, but never think will happen. The Revolution wasn't born here, but it stewed and stirred and fomented here. It was in the basement that the radicals steeled their nerves to be their most radical. Inside this pestle and mortar lies our beginnings. They charge too. Freedom, and the study of its history, comes at a price, even today.

Somewhere after the street performers of Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall, but before crossing over into Little Italy we stumbled through old and cramped Haymarket, a farmers market smelling of fresh strawberries and corn and rapidly wilting lettuce. There is an intersection, Blackstone and Hanover I believe, littered with brass debris. Combs, slippers, gloves, crab remnants, a styrofoam cup, all dropped to the ground on the crosswalk, frozen for immortality and pressed into the ground. It is one of the oddest things I've ever seen. I have no idea why I didn't take any pictures of that.

We eventually made it to the Prudential Tower for the aerial tour. Buddy, the bartender from downstairs gave us the 50-story overview. Another must on your Boston list. Great pictures did come from there. Tummies grumbling, we zipped over to the long warf for seafood. Gazpacho hit the spot on such a steamy night, so did the halibut.
BoSox baseball was a bust, much like US Airways, who sucks.

The tickets were bought and paid for, but held two hours away. This was all carefully arranged in advance and the logistics would have worked perfectly, were it not for US Airways, who sucks. They will most assuredly also be picking up the tab for that in short order. Much like tickets for a Boston Duck Tour, who will not accomodate in the slightest on holding a tour a few brief moments (understandable) or transfering ticket times to other times or to their second departure location (incomprehensible). They, too, have now benefitted from all of my business that they might ever ask for. This bothers me none, as it will certainly be another compensatory offering brought forth by the comedy of US Airrors.

Testament of other travelers experiences (found in the previous links) and discussed with other passengers this day show they're earning the snide nickname passengers are offering: Useless Airways. My favorite observation, among dozens found in brief seconds of research: Post chapter 11 US Airways has the feel of a dying airline. My suggested mission statement: Safety first, courtesy to the paying customer a very tight second.

Small is the new big as former boss and favorite blogger Jeff Jarvis argues. I am one and small and that makes me big. This plays nicely into my approach to personal spending -- never before written here, but now a recurring theme as necessary.
You should not make it hard for me to spend my money on you.

Corollary: You should make it even easier for me to want to spend more money on you later.
Some are destined to never get such simple concepts, and will forever mock their customer base until they, themselves, are mocked beyond reorganization. I have no problem helping in this particular case. I am small, I am big.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Charlotte. Why am I in Charlotte? I should be in New England by now. US Airways, in short, sucks.

Trust me when I say the language is clean, the fury is pure. And this could spill over into tomorrow as well. The normally cheerful tone found here is being replaced for an entry or two. Spread the word.

At 7:30 tonight the Birmingham ground crew strides boldly forward to say the 7:56 flight to Charlotte has been canceled. The plane is a paperweight, have a nice day. This flight originates, as best one can tell, in Philadelphia, so it isn't like the thing hovered over Anniston and decided "Oh, my turbines are cramping up, I'll just rest here awhile." You knew this plane wasn't coming in. The icing on the cake: This is one of the last flights of the night out of Birmingham, where three million people a year take off and land, but not after 7:55 p.m.

I am the first in line to rage with great verbosity at the young man who does not deserve it. One suspects they must accept this as part of the job. One knows this young man is not deserving of all the things that I am thinking rather loudly. We all know I really am beyond caring at this point.

He would later insist that he discovered the non-flight just as he walked up to explain it to us. A patent lie. (SO he DOES deserve it!) The plane is nowhere near the ground, to say nothing of the jetway nor the ground crew's customary half-hour minimum turn-around. His contempt for his passengers, his customers, does deserve my anger. Similarly the flight crew's reticence to say anything at all regarding the troubling issue of the day. Safety first, courtesy to those paying your salary a very tight second.

Somewhere in the repetitiveness of passenger distress the flight healed itself and was bound to appear at 9:30 or so. This gets us out of Birmingham, but eliminates any possible connections. Finally, and after many phonecalls, it is resolved that US Airways will fly us to Charlotte tonight. (Friends, if you are ever stranded by the inconvenience of modern conveniences, don't ask for options. Research and insist. Tell them where you are going. Demand it. This works better for you in the end.)

US Airways, which sucks, is forced on our insistence to buy a room and meals for the night in Charlotte. Rental car plans are rearranged, incurring a greater cost which will, no doubt, be absorbed by US Airways, who sucks. They fly us into Boston tomorrow morning.

Beyond the gross negligence, beyond the stress of designing -- in a shoot-from-the-hip fashion -- new ways to make everything work, beyond the hassle of last minute re-arrangements and rental car difficulties we intrepid travelers were able to laugh about this somewhere over South Carolina. We hadn't crashed yet at least. Sleep exhausted tonight, the logistical nightmare begins anew tomorrow, with a pre-dawn wake up call.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Winn Dixie is vainly flailing away in the grocery store business. They're closing a handful in the state, dozens across the region. Ran across one of those unlucky few today. They are selling the walls for 30-50 percent off. The store is filled with determined old women with grim looks on their faces, ready to throw an elbow for the best deal. One woman even tried haggling for a better deal on chicken fingers. The employees are unmoved, having long since moved into gallows humor mode.

The meat was gone. The wine was plentiful. I picked up several things that won't spoil. Saved 30 dollars on things you're going to need anyway like charcoal and foil and oil and detergent.

Haircut and then photographs and food from Wal-Mart. That's Winn Dixie's trouble, Wal-Mart is getting serious about food. Winn Dixie follows the Brunos group as the first regional operator to get squeezed. Publix has a niche, as does the old Westerns. Everyone else is shopping on the cramped, crowded aisles at Wal-Mart. Hating it, but saving money.

Watched The War Room. Mostly I was struck by how much they used newspapers. It was 1992 and there was hardly a computer in sight. My, how things have changed.

Tuesday, August 9, 2005

I had a professor from up north once, freshly baptized into the heat of the Southern spring, who could not understand the mixture here of all things sports-paraphernalia related. "It's supposed to be this big rivalry," the professor said, "But there's Auburn stuff right next to Alabama stuff."

The professor explained that back home, were one team's "turf" to be so thoroughly offended as to have the rival -- equally inconsequential in the Holy Church of College Football -- gear show up, there would be words.

The difference is, as all of us down here in the steamy amen pews where Kickoff Countdown clocks can't tick fast enough know, that our rival (also inconsequential at times) is right among us. It is lunch today with an alum from the school up the road. It is the boss saying, as the first words in your formal interview, "We won't hold (Auburn) against you." It is asking for a second opinion when you realize where the optometrist went to school. It is the nurse wandering around in scrubs bearing her school's logo in a miasma of mish-mashed colors. It is sucking it up to say "Roll Tide" upon the safe landing of the Discovery with a Bama grad serving as pilot. It is then feeling compelled to note that your school has still produced more astronauts than any other school.

That's why those from the Big Ten, where, I'm told, the battlecry for each school is "Down in front" can't appreciate the gleam in a friend's eye when he said, "You ready?" in passing. No need to testify here; you know what he's saying. Brother Brett knows you've been ready since the Sugar Bowl.

Radonna is about to pop. She's so cute. They're wrapping up their lamaze classes so that meant a dinner appointment. She's delivering in Birmingham, so they'll make a frantic drive down from Gadsden sometime next month. Justin showed me this neat little piece of technology that offers a password encrypted login to his work from anywhere in the world. It will let him work from the hospital, but he now has nowhere to hide.

I demanded that they be the live blogging, instant photo posting couple at the hospital when they deliver. This prompted my line of the day, "If I don't get an AIM from you that says, 'BRB, the baby's crowning' I'm going to be very disappointed."

Lovely people, shame they had to move away. Now I have a reason to visit Gadsden. Next time I'll take the camera.

Monday, August 8, 2005

We are back at full staff at work as of this morning. both sports positions filled, two nice guys. Eager to please. One is a grad school classmate. (It took three re-writes to keep from sounding old in this paragraph.) Average age of the department is 27, I am the median, but still I sound old. At any rate, our fully staffed staff is ready for the frenetic pace of football season. Promises to be an exciting year. More later.

There goes a good woman I thought as Mom left in the rain. The kind that doesn't cool you, the rain that can only occur in the South and a few specific tropical rainforests. Rain that makes you sweat. Not easily forgettable, this rain, mostly because the body and the mind can't reconcile these two disparate activities. The body just won't let you forget its most quirky observations.

Mom had been visiting for doctor's appointments and a much deserved getaway to the beach. All is well and she has now returned safely home. Her trip was brief and subdivided, but memorable -- and not just because of the meals. Mom trips are always nice.

Got Justin and Radonna a gift for Atticus. Babies R Us is a good place to meet girls, I learned, but they are all in a with-child way. Just as well; I'll stick to the library. Anyway, got them a baby sling. He's due next month, and the proud mom and dad will have to think of me every time they load him on their chest or back for the next 18 months!

Went to Circuit City. I'd been told that my print Canon lenses would work on their newest digital camera bodies. Wanted to see if that were true, because if they communicate that could save a lot of money if I go on the camera market again. Put my lens on the display body, but no battery. Try the other one, no battery. Get the associate's attention, explain all this to him, he goes in search for a battery, mumbling something that was less than full of confidence. Comes back, without a battery. Uh huh. To his credit, he does go in search of an AC adaptor, but no dice. Uh huh. To cause a scene or not to cause a scene: That is the question.

You work at ... come here, come with me. What does that sign say? You work at Circuit City!

Just wasn't worth the effort. If you can't figure out the go to the back, find a battery technique, you're probably not worth the commission.

Went down the street to Best Buy -- wider aisles, brighter, better, same batteries stocked right next to the camera -- got the camera case unlocked, and, with a battery on board, I learned that my lenses will work and that this camera is awesome.

And that's why I don't shop at Circuit City.

Honorable Mention in the OTB Caption Contest.

Sunday, August 7, 2005

You are blocked in from every direction. Tall green trees, calm and stately, sit on quiet old mountains on either side. A bend in the river vanishes the last previous moments. The uniform green tricks the eye into believing that there is nowhere further to go. This is drifting on the Ocoee River.

The calm part.

It had rained from Georgia on. The kind of discombulating rain that makes no sense. Storms travelling to the northwest. Hard rain. There is one bridge in Chattanooga that defies physics and prevents water from standing in a hard curve where your mind and experience join together to say Ummm, no mean to alarm you here, but we should be hydroplaning right about now. Others should still that technology. The rain, though, caused the river to be up. So the whitecaps were a little whiter, the rapids were a little frothier, the air a little cooler.

Only two of the five people on the boat had ever been whitewater rafting before. The guide and I. Everyone else was new to this thing, and a little intimidated by the safety lectures. But the Ocoee is a great river to raft on. Nice safe adventures. Beautiful scenic views. It's a damned river, and they start scaling back in September. It'd be a glorious ride on the few fall dates they open the gates.

Very nice in late summer as well. Much laughing and giggling and unexplained calls of "Pizza!" echoed down the mountain sides. Absolutely beautiful day. A morning in the rain. Noon at the campsite all dreary, with ominous coats of fog rolling over the peaks of rounded mountains. Brightened up after we put in. There was the river, various shades of brown and green, the mountains crowding around us, different shades of brown and green, and then from straight up came shocking patches of blue shyly coyly hiding behind happy little white clouds.

No one fell out. The 12-year-old on the boat, Lawrence, really wanted to. His mother pushed him. We did 360s through one long and low shoal. Best experience ever on that river. Surfer Jesus, from West Virginia, was our guide.

Now I'm trying to talk Brooke and Wads into a trip back on the river later this month when they're back in the state. Come on Brooke, you know you want to go! You'll have a blast! I'll drive! We can make a picnic and then slide down the river. It'll be great!

Saturday, August 6, 2005

The simplest joy of life: waking up with a start to see daylight peering through the windows only to realize that today is the day you sleep in. And sleep in. And sleep in.

Up around noon, go through a load of laundry, the token nod to productivity. One can't do much less to do much more than a load of laundry.

Sprawl out for some reading, just drifting through Schieffer journalistic memoirs. Here's a fascinating guy who's lived a fascinating life. So far his best story has been his almost by-chance meeting of Lee Harvey Oswald's mother minutes after the Kennedy assasination, finally meeting Eric Sevareid and a bland description of Nixon. But, in the book, Schieffer is just now getting underway with his national career. The stories will pick up. Then I won't be able to put the book down.

Watched Truman again tonight. A slow, but sure biopic of the President. Gary Sinise, towards the end, just becomes Harry Truman down to his cheekbones in a moment of fuzzy inclarity that I'll choose to blame on fatigue rather than any other psychogenically
unpleasant thought. Many students of history have marvelled at the uncanny portrayal. If memory serves this was about when HBO's original movie programming really gained legitimacy.

Thursday, August 4, 2005

So my boss strides from his office around lunchtime, all confident in his new discovery. He then tells us how to hack an elevator. So we sit and talk about this for a long time. A really long time. Way longer than a two button elevator hack should merit. We wonder about the applications, the ramifications, the cultural implications, whether he should show it off to his kids, "Daddy is magic!"

First, we decide, we should try it. So then the group of us spends an even longer amount of time (OK, this didn't go on forever, but we're talking about elevators here.) trying to figure out where the most easily accessible elevator is. True, the building we work in has an elevator, but if you check that link and read the hack, you'll see it isn't very functional for a two floor building. So the first problem is "What on this side of town has more than three floors?"

Not much, it turns out. Finally we settled on the nearest hospital. Four of us ultimately decided to take part in this adventure and it occurred to me that taking over a hospital's elevator might not be the most considerate thing to do, but by then we were in the parking deck and very much wrapped in our little web of intrigue.

So we push the buttons. And some more. In every order and combination possible. No override.

Finally a lady gets on the elevator with us. Two of our merry group then get off at the next floor. I, wisely, stayed with the person with the car keys. She was trying to not-laugh so hard that the whole elevator was shaking. The woman that had gotten onboard, interrupting our experiment, looked more than a little indignant.

We took the next floor. Later, after much searching, the group was reunited and then (so it wouldn't be a total loss) they stopped at Starbucks.

Somehow they figured going out for coffee and saying, "Oh, let's try this elevator thing" sounded better than going out for the express purpose of trying the elevator hack. It'll take a few more lunch hours to get the override thing down, but we're motivated by the desire to have this power few others possess.

Wednesday, August 3, 2005

Tuesday became a Mom day. She's back in town for doctor's appointments and visiting and vacationing in a place with different allergens.

So waiting for her flight to meet her for dinner was the big highlight. Thai is always good, especially late at night. By then it was time for bed.

Today the car was in the shop for a routine 200,000 mile maintenance checkup. Mom just happened to be in town to save the day, allowing me to drop it off and becoming my ride to work. (How does she time it to be in town when things like that need to be taken care of?)

Visited with a former professor now at UAT. Her new office is better than her old one, but her scholarly advice and insight is still top-notch. Though, in reviewing a paper I wrote for her during the spring semester she said, "I could take all of your paragraphs, put them in a blender, pour them out and get the same logic. So I said, 'Yep, he's a journalist.'"

Thanks. I've worked very hard to become so.

Brazil for dinner. Worth the trip. Too much turkey, though, made me sleepy.

July photographs are up on the picture page.

Monday, August 1, 2005

Wake up on an off day. Sleeping in on an off day. Until the blasphemous time of 7 a.m. That felt great.

So I'm hungry. Sifting through the embarrassingly empty cabinets I decide to make breakfast. (I'm a risk taker, don't you know?) Fire up the stove, throw in the turkey bacon. Realize, after six minutes of sizzling and then a spontaneous combustion that "High" is, in fact, too high for turkey bacon. Throw away four pieces of turkey bacon. All is well, as I still have seven strips of turkey bacon. Cook. Sizzle. Pop. Ouch! My fingers! Turn oven on, preparing for toast. Throw eggs in skillet. Scramble. Almost burn toast. Just dark brown, which just means more strawberry preserves. Hate it when that happens. Eat.

Star Trek marathon on Sci Fi. Distractedly watch that, while simultaneously flipping through a gripping (or was it daring?) escape by MacGyver on TV Land. Finally decide to get up and do something productive.

Since I worked Sunday, I received today off, which was good, because I had a final paper to write and a presentation to ready for my Applied class.

Write paper. Or not. Ultimately I write the paper in the commercial breaks of the Star Trek marathon. This was a peculiar selection of episodes as well. Most of them had their back story, like the Space Seed and The Omega Glory and several others, rooted in 20th Century culture.

Each time these particular episodes airs it just feels all the more stranger. Here are science fiction programs now almost 40 years old, with a genesis of the tale in the far off future of the 1990s, now in our past. The Eugenics Wars, as I display my total Star Trekiness, had their roots in 1993. Advance forward and you get Space Seed, and further still to Wrath of Khan. (Click that link, it's great.) If only they'd also shown Tomorrow is Yesterday they could have completely unravelled the space time continuum. Gene Roddenberry would have wanted it that way. Or maybe just Gene Coon and Harlan Ellison.

And now, in a desperate attempt to save my readership, I shall diverge entirely from Star Trek.

I will, instead, talk about my most devoted reader, and friend's, favorite topics: lawn care. After wrapping up the paper -- which, by the way, was a stunning success, with only a few 1960s science fiction references creeping in -- I decided to mow the lawn. Two sides and the front done before it was time to get cleaned up for class. My yard, right now, is a mullet.


Delivered my presentation, a glowing affair which made all of my classmates jealous. Or maybe they just wanted to be finished for the evening and were trying to tell me to hurry up. Nah, couldn't have been, everyone loves politics! I've given better presentations. Better performances. Better performances of presentations even; this one was OK, but most importantly it marked the end of the semester and that's no small consolation.

I finally finished Escape. Having realized that they were mostly short stories rather than essays, I disappointedly skimmed through the last half, convincing myself that I need to pick up Young Winston's Wars, since that was the reason for buying this book.

Next time I'll look harder at compilations to see what I am buying.

I've now stared Joe Klein's The Natural. Thus far, inappropriately titled, but I've read two other of Klein's books. He's practicing that dangerous art of journalism as a rough draft of history here. Time and extensive scholarship will tell us if this holds up, but, as one reviewer says "Klein is a reporter, not an historian and the book reads like an extended Atlantic Monthly article" and there's nothing wrong with that. That's why I'm reading myself to sleep.